An extended fishing vacation to the Bahamas is on the bucket list of many adventuresome saltwater anglers. The variety of less-pressured fish plus the challenge of crossing the Gulf Stream on your own boat are certainly alluring. It can also be daunting if safeguards are not taken, especially for first-timers.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has a great solution to shorten the learning curve with its Summer Boating Flings. Richard Treco, the senior manager for boating, diving and fishing with the Ministry, has been leading the regular flotillas for 28 years.
“We started the Flings to show boaters, especially novice boat owners, how easy it is to make the crossing over and back. We organize regular flotillas of up to 30 boats, pair boats up, and then teach them how they can do it on their own and be safe doing it. Our crossings are like a Boating 101 familiarization trip,” he explains. Treco and other experienced boaters lead the group, and the destinations are always marinas with hotels nearby to accommodate open fishing boats. The minimum required boat length is 22 feet.
Participants pay $75 to register, and that fee includes two yellow T-shirts (which can double for the required customs quarantine flag), a Bahamas yachtsman guide and help with immigration paperwork. In addition, Treco books marina dockage and hotel rooms at a 10-percent discount. The Fling schedule includes four round-trip crossings to Bimini and two to Grand Bahama Island (Thursday to Sunday), plus one extended trip each season. The longer trip this year is to Abaco, and it will include stops at Treasure Cay, Boat Harbour and Green Turtle Cay over the course of 12 days. Each segment departs from the Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“We have a mandatory captains meeting and match boats of similar size and power,” Treco adds. “We always organize the fleet so the smaller open boats can ride in wakes of the bigger ones, and we go over the rules and regulations for crossing, GPS headings, emergency procedures and local knowledge, like tides and reference points for various channels. We do require all boats to have a fixed-mount VHF radio for dependable communication.”
While there are planned activities, like scuba diving and cocktail parties where participants get to share stories, sticking to the itinerary isn’t mandatory.
“The boaters are on vacation, so we keep it fun and stress-free,” Treco says. “Most go fishing in the morning and we don’t see them again until it’s time to go home. We just provide the knowledge and confidence to enjoy fishing and boating in the Bahamas.”
To learn more about the Bahamas Summer Boating Flings or to register, call 800-327-7678 or visit bahamas.com/boating-flings. If weather forces a change or cancellation, the registration fee is credited toward a future crossing.
Tips from a Veteran
George Poveromo, my Salt Water Sportsman colleague and host of George Poveromo’s World of Saltwater Fishing television show, has made the run from South Florida to the Bahamas more than 100 times in the last three decades. In preparation for an island trip, Poveromo always checks his required safety equipment, including life jackets, flares and fire extinguisher. He also carries a first-aid kit, an EPIRB, and, in recent years, he added a compact Viking life raft.
“If you don’t have a quality EPIRB, you need your head examined,” he says. “Not only will it reveal your position if you go in the water, it’s also good for medical emergencies. I added the life raft to my safety gear because you may choose not to be out in rough conditions, but you can’t predict an electrical fire or something else unexpected, even in calm seas, and you’ll be much safer in a raft than floating around in life jackets until help arrives.”
Poveromo is a firm believer in system redundancy too. He rigs his boats with twin outboards and dual VHF radios operating on different batteries and matched to separate antennas. He carries spare bilge pumps and propellers, plus a prop wrench, a tool kit, engine oil (for two-strokes) and extra power-steering fluid. He also packs spare fuel and water filters, which he explains are essential to guard against problems from substandard gasoline.
“You’re required to have your VHF radio on when you’re crossing,” Poveromo says. “That way you can monitor for emergencies and respond if the Coast Guard hails you. You’re also not supposed to fish on the way over until you clear customs. I always play by the rules and abide by all the Bahamian bag limits, which are more than generous.”
Poveromo leaves a float plan with family members before departure and lets them know once he’s arrived safely at his destination via cellphone or email. He’ll typically cast off at dawn to allow enough time to cross, clear customs and check into the hotel, then he has the rest of the day to fish. Customs stations are usually manned from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Upon arrival, a boat must fly the quarantine flag, and the captain goes to Customs and Immigration with all passengers’ passports while they wait aboard. Once cleared, it’s common courtesy to fly the Bahamian flag alongside the stars and stripes.
“Fishing in the Bahamas can be sensational,” Poveromo adds. “Getting there and back doesn’t have to be an overwhelming obstacle, if you’re prepared with the necessary safety gear and use common sense.”
Must-Have Gear and Docs
Before attempting a crossing to the islands, make sure you’re prepared with the following necessary items: * Offshore Type I life jackets for all passengers on board * All required safety equipment, including flares and signaling devices; fire extinguisher * Operating VHF radio * GPS with backup paper charts * EPIRB * Compass * Compact life raft (recommended) * Ditch bag (with waterproof handheld VHF and signaling devices, plus water and protein bars) * Tool kit with prop wrench * Spare essential parts (props, filters, pumps and oil); foul-weather gear for all passengers * U.S. passports and boat registration