Cruising Florida & The Bahamas In A ...
By Little Gidding - Published March 28, 2006 - Viewed 3191 times
I am looking to buy a 25 foot or 28 foot Irwin sailboat, shallow draft 2 1/2 feet with centerboard. Do you think this boat will work in the Keys, Florida Gulf and maybe the Bahamas? Also, how do you communicate out there?
We're not personally familiar with smaller Irwin sailboats, but we have a number of friends who own larger Irwins and seem to be satisfied with them. We wouldn't let size be a deterrent one way or another. We know lots of people cruising on boats around 25 feet long, including a family of four on a Jeanneau 25. Certainly for cruising the areas you cited you don't need a large, bombproof, bluewater sailboat. And shoal draft makes a lot of sense in the Florida Keys and Bahamas.
As we tell anyone who will listen to us, "Cruising is NOT primarily about boats -- it's mostly about experiencing new places and meeting new people". We know too many people who spend too much time and money agonizing over having the perfect boat (which, incidentally, doesn't exist), and never leave the dock.
On the question of communication, there are several options, depending on where you are and what's your budget.
Cell phones work reasonably well along coastal North America. You can even get some US cell phones to work in the Bahamas. You can buy a Bahamas cell phone to use in the Bahamas, but all communication by phone between the Bahamas and the States is generally pricey (typically, around $1.00 per minute). It's a bit cheaper if you buy a Bahamas phone card (North American phone cards almost never work in the Bahamas, despite claims that they will).
Cyber cafes are rare and expensive in the Bahamas. Consequently, many cruisers use Pocketmail, despite limitations on message size and attachments (www.pocketmail.com). Its great advantage for travellers is that it works with public pay phones. You access the service with a handheld device that incorporates a miniature keyboard and an acoustic coupler.
For business, we need Internet access that goes beyond just e-mail, so in the Bahamas we open an account with the Bahamas ISP, Batelnet. The downside is that we have to lug our laptop ashore and find a Batelco phone office to connect (most towns have a phone office and most -- but not all -- will allow Batelnet subscribers to plug into their phone line free of charge).
Sending and receiving e-mail on board via the ship's radio is becoming more common and more economical. The upfront equipment costs are high: a high frequency transceiver (either marine SSB or Ham radio); a computer; and a modem to connect the two. But once you're set up, you can do e-mail on amateur radio frequencies for free (if you're a licensed ham radio operator); or on SSB frequencies for around $250 per year. There are practical limits to file sizes and the speeds are slow by landline standards.
Finally, there are satellite phones like Global Star and Iridium. They work just about anywhere for both voice and digital communications. The price has been coming down and you see more and more of them in the cruising community, but they're still outside our budget.
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