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Cay Sal Bank Cruising Information:
The Cay Sal Bank is situated about 60nm SE of the Florida Keys, between Andros Island Bahamas, and Cuba. It is part of the Bahamas but there are no facilities nor Bahamian officials there at all, and it is too far away to be patrolled by the Bahamian Royal Defense Force. It is patrolled by USCG Cutters looking for drug and Cuban smuggling operations. Many fisherman from the Keys make this a day trip, though it’s at least an overnight stay for slower cruisers. This is the most remote area of the Bahamas, with more Blue Holes than any other place in the world. It consists of almost 100 small Islands spread out over an area about 40 nautical miles across, but over 140 nautical miles in circumference. Please take note that you FIRST have to check in with Bahamian customs and immigration, and there are NONE in the Cay Sal Bank. Closest are Bimini and Andros, so it's not practical (legally) to go directly from the Keys to the bank. Many fishing boats do, but it is illegal and you could lose your boat. You should write to Bahamian officials to encourage them to develop some mail-in permit system where you can pay a fee and get back a short term permit by mail, and then just go directly to the bank. In the interim your best bet might be to hook up with one of the commercial diving groups out of S. Florida that take you via liveaboard boat and check in along the way. However, if you've been in the Bahamas cruising for a while, it might be a good spot before you leave, and you could go straight on up to the Keys.
North/W: Elbow Cay (with tower), 17 Islands – 5 are major (Photos Courtesy of Greg Gulik - http://www.gagme.com/greg/vacation/2001/bahamas/index.html
(Major defined as being able to see brown coloration on electronic chart – rather than just a speck of black ink.)
Double Headed Shot Cays, 23
Islands – 13 are major
Navigation from Marathon: From Sister Creek R2 Channel Entrance into Boot Key Harbor, it’s 147 degrees magnetic and 55.5 nm to an approach point onto the Cay Sal Bank which is about ½ mile out from the SW corner of Elbow Cay (23 57.116N 080 28.611W). This is across the Florida Straights and Gulf Stream so plan for the strong current and watch the weather. Winds that are from the NE will be right against the Gulf Stream and build large seas. 15 Knot winds from this direction typically produces 7-9’ in the Gulf Stream with occasional 12 footers. We prefer to wait until winds are clocking into the SE to S, and 10 knots or less. This will bring the wind with the current and lay down the seas. Your course from Marathon will be pretty much at right angles to the Gulf Stream coming and going from Elbow Cay. You should plan on enough fuel for about 120nm round trip to Elbow Cay, then enough to cruise around the bank and the use of the Generator. It’s about 18nm going outside the bank to Cay Sal at the SW edge of Cay Sal Bank, or about 34nm to Dog Rocks going east. The Charts don’t show much detail once you get onto the bank for cruising and anchoring, so use the Bahamian eyeball method of navigating by reading the water color. This works best with the sun from your back while piloting high up on a flybridge, wearing polarized sunglasses. Much of the bank is 20-30 feet deep. Use caution if anchoring around blue holes - the tidal currents can draw boats to the bottom sometimes - according to local lore.
Activity: Fishing, Diving, Snorkeling, Exploring, Gunkholing. You must be entirely self sufficient here. There are no facilities whatsoever. A Single Sideband Radio or Satellite Phone is recommended.
Boot Key Harbor website created and maintained by Capt.
Gregory T. Absten, Marathon. - A Boater's Guide to the Florida Keys & Cuba