If you want to sail to the Exuma islands in the Bahamas, there aren’t very many chartering companies offering bareboat charters to do so. In fact we could find only two: Moorings operating on the north side of New Providence, on Paradise Island, and Navtours (member of Dream Yacht Charter) located on the southeast side of the island, operating out of Palm Cay Marina. We chose the latter, and this is a post about our experiences.
Before the Trip
Navtours’ online booking system worked well. We booked a few months in advance and managed to secure a booking with the last available monohull for New Year’s 2018-2019.
After locking in on a time slot (you’re allowed to board the boat not before 4 pm on your first day and have to leave the boat no later than 9 am on your last day!) the booking request is sent to one of Navtours’ agents who will help you to complete it.
We had the pleasure to be assisted by a charter broker called Annie. All communication went by email everything was sorted out brilliantly. Thank you, Annie! 🙏
The final price was about 25% higher than the online price after adding all the extras (of which some were mandatory, like the damage waiver and the Nassau charter tax). We added the shuttle service (they pick you up from the airport and drive you back there, and drive you to the store and back for provisioning) and the WiFi option. You can add more extras like kayaks, SUPs etc if you like but we were fine.
We paid 30% of the final invoice at the time of booking and the remaining 70% one month before departure. Navtours accepts PayPal (any credit card), so we used that. It’s possible to use wire transfer as well, if you prefer that.
Pre-trip experience: 2/2 thumbs up!
Sailing Curriculum Vitae
Before the trip we had to fill in all our personal info as well as resumés of sailing experience. We did this online as well.
If Navtours is of the opinion that the prospective bareboat skipper isn’t competent enough to handle the boat, they do have the right to assign their own skipper to tag along. I don’t know how usual this is (and all their skippers we’ve met are really nice!), but the extra cost would be substantial in any case.
Of the two of us, only I had any previous sailing experience but luckily my resume was ok so our crew of two was good enough. (This is something best confirmed in advance.)
From the Airport to the Boat
Navtours’ shuttle service is great!
We arrived really late on our first day (about 11:45 pm) and it was good to have someone standing outside the airport waiting for us and relieving us of the last mile stress. (A wonderful woman called Cassandra usually handles the shuttle service. Our best wishes and thanks to her as well! Hope to see you again! 🙏)
The taxi took us to the Palm Cay Marina (it’s a 20-30 minute ride) and left us right outside our boat. We arrived after work hours and when that happens, they just leave the boat open with the lights on.
Everything was good and working. We showered (felt wonderful after twenty-plus hours of travel), brushed our teeth and went to bed.
Shuttle service: 2/2 thumbs up!
Check-In and Provisioning
Next morning we went to Navtours’ office and were once again greeted by smiling faces and happy attitudes.
We let them know that we had arrived and scheduled our check-in (a staff member goes through all the systems and checks us in to the boat) and provisioning (a staff member picks us up and drives us to the nearby supermarket, then waits for our call to come back for us and help us load our groceries and beverages onto the boat).
We were in no hurry since there was too much wind (for us) to leave the marina the same day and we had decided to take it easy and leave the next day.
If you want to leave the same day, then you may have to rush it a bit. Sunset in December is at about 5:30 pm and you have to leave early enough to do the 30+ nm first leg from Nassau to the one of northernmost Exuma islands before it gets dark.
Check-in was really nice and quite thorough. Once again the Navtours’ staff member (or captain as they call themselves) doing it with us was relaxed and seemingly good at what he was doing. He made us feel equally good and relaxed.
Exiting the Marina
The next morning we left the marina at about 9 am. We asked the Navtours’ staff to lend us a hand and yet another happy person came to help us with the lines. It went quite well (with just a couple of hairy moments) and we were on our way.
Overall, our impression with all the people of Navtours so far was excellent!
2/2 thumbs up to the all the staff members!
The sailboat, a Dufour 382, was good. It was quite new and the interior was actually a bit fresher than I had expected. (Charlotte, again, thought it didn’t seem that new, but we agreed to disagree.)
Sailing it: very ok. It took some effort to raise the main (and also some to take it down), but it was ok. The genoa shape wasn’t that good (or maybe a problem with my sailing skills), but that was ok as well. The sheet point was adjustable, which helped a bit. Reefing worked easily without any lines jamming.
The sprayhood and bimini offered great protection from wind and sun, but unfortunately it was a bit hard to see the sails and the sail trim through them.
The sailing experience: 1,5/2 thumbs up!
We noticed some problems with the boat, though, after getting to our first anchorage:
- The mooring/anchor light didn’t work. It should be an easy fix but still, felt a bit silly to be at anchor with the navigation lights on. The navigation lights where at the top of the mast, though, so they were a good substitute.
- The rudder was missing a small part! I was snorkeling around the boat when I noticed that maybe a couple centimeters of the bottom of the rudder was missing. Don’t know what had happened there, but I called it in the next morning and Navtours said they would look at it immediately after our charter. I don’t think there was much danger of it completely failing, but still, it felt a bit weird to see the damage on it.
- The freezer wasn’t really freezing. This is almost something I’d put into parentheses since I’ve never expected a boat freezer to actually keep anything really frozen 🙂
- Some gremlins in the B&G instrument connections. They kept losing the network connection at times, but a simple “press OK” helped and after a while the connection was established again.
That was it. A really really short list of problems, on the whole. It wasn’t perfect but I think anyone looking for perfect charter sailboats will have a hard time, since they are, after all, sailboats with their own issues and personalities.
For the whole week sailing, the boat never gave us any more problems and everything worked nicely.
So to the boat: 1,5/2 thumbs up! (without the rudder it would have been a bit more)
Some Other Notes
- The WiFi option is good for getting weather forecasts (we used PredictWind and WindFinder) but the cell coverage was quite bad. The data went through only when really near either the Highborn Cay or the Staniel Cay BTC cell towers.
- Coral heads were really hard to spot when the conditions weren’t good. Check my blog post here for our solution that actually worked really well.
- The tides and wind combined made it hard to find calm anchorages.
- We took a drone with us. The Bahamas has very strict rules regarding these so you have to apply for permission beforehand and pay a large deposit to be allowed to take it into the country. We got the permission but didn’t complain when nobody at immigration asked about the drone and for the deposit. (It does happen, though, I’ve heard!)
- Come with your own copy/copies of the Explorer Chartbook(s). Navtours supply them as well, but they may have older editions (ours didn’t have 2018-2019 tide data, for example) and some of them may be a bit worn out.
- I think it’s good to wear lifejackets whenever out sailing so we took our own inflatable ones with us. The boat’s lifejackets may be non-inflatable ones that aren’t as nice to wear (at least when its hot!).
Returning to the Base
After a week of wonderful sailing (well not the first day, though, when Charlotte wasn’t feeling very well) we returned with our sailboat to Palm Cay Marina. You’re supposed to call ahead and make sure someone’s on the receiving end but there was something wrong with their VHFs so we couldn’t hear them although they heard us.
If you don’t choose their fuel options (we didn’t, I think it’s a bad deal) you navigate to the fuel dock (immediately to the left when entering the marina) and park the boat there. We had one of the staff members meet, greet and help with the lines, so there wasn’t really any stress in that (thanks again!).
After filling up the fuel for both boat and dinghy the Navtours captain drove the boat back to its own slip, with our assistance.
And that was it!
You’re supposed to return before 4 pm the day before your charter ends, so the last night we slept aboard and then next morning we left the boat at about 8:30 am (have to leave before 9).
The check-out was done the day before, though, immediately after getting to the slip. The staff member went through a list of all the equipment and checked that the boat was in the same shape as it left. After that he interviewed us shortly to find out if there was anything he should know, and finally asked us to sign his document. And then we were checked out.
Returning to base and check out: 2/2 thumbs!
I think Navtours is a good company and I’ll happily recommend them to anyone. If you want to sail in the Exumas (and you really should!), they’re a good choice.
The boats are charter boats, though, so be prepared to the fact that there may be a few issues. (Check out everything as soon as you board it since they are really quick to repair stuff if needed.)
All the staff members were great. I can’t stress this too much: having nice and smiling people making you feel welcome and helping you along is so very valuable!
Will we go back? Absolutely, as soon as we can.
Overall: 2/2 well deserved and happy thumbs up to Navtours! 👍🏻👍🏻🙏
If you have any further questions, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them 👍🏻