Getting There

You have three choices for a voyage to the Caribbean.  The traditional time to leave the east coast of the United States is early November, after the height of the hurricane season and before the winter gales begin to blow in December.  If you leave any earlier than November you will risk the fury of an Atlantic hurricane – something you do not want to do.  If you want to leave later than November you must wait until at least late March to begin your journey to avoid the winter gales that will mercilessly pound your vessel.

Your choice of routes to the Caribbean are:

Motor-sail the Thorny Path route through the Bahamas, Hispanola and Puerto Rico by using Bruce Van Sandt’s excellent guide to get you there.

Beat your way to windward by sailing the 1500-mile offshore route into the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in the Virgin Islands (The Caribbean 1500 Rally provides a group experience for this journey if you so choose).

Ship your sailboat with Dockwise Yacht Transport and arrive in pristine condition (and well stocked with food, spare parts, etc.,) in either St. Thomas or Martinique.

The choice is yours of course.  Any of the three alternatives will enable you to get yourself and your vessel to the islands in the sun.  Here is a summary of each choice:

The Thorny Path – This route is the traditional island hopping method to the Caribbean.  However, there are many pitfalls along the way that lie in wait for unprepared sailors.  You may have heard of Chicken Harbor in Georgetown, Bahamas, in Luperon, Dominican Republic or even Salinas in Puerto Rico.  Many sailors who manage to get to these relatively protected and cruiser friendly harbors never leave.  The thought of beating any further into the large, steep and uncomfortable Atlantic seas is too much to overcome, in some people’s minds. Boats take a beating as well with equipment failure rampant among Thorny Path cruisers.  The glossy sailing magazines never mentioned this in their sugarcoated articles!  The normal passage time from Florida to the Virgin Islands will be a minimum of 2 months, depending on the weather windows.  Some sailors leave Florida in November and make it to the Virgin Islands in May.  It all depends on the weather!

1500-Mile Offshore Route – You can do this route with other like-minded cruisers, without the company of another sailing vessel or you can join the Caribbean 1500 rally and have a group of sailing vessels to communicate and commiserate with along the way.  Whatever method you choose this is a true blue water test of your sailing skills.  Sailing conditions will be extreme – remember you are in the Atlantic Ocean!  You should expect gale conditions at some point during your passage so be prepared.  A well-seasoned crew will help you achieve your goal of a Caribbean landfall.  The normal passage time from the US East Coast in November will be 10-12 days to the Virgin Islands or possible 16 days to St. Maarten.  If you decide to join the Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally please fly the flag awarded you when you finish to acknowledge your accomplishment (the flag is also called a diaper by veteran Caribbean Cruisers).  Besides a banner of victory, the flag helps to warn other cruisers that you have not been cruising aboard your vessel in the Caribbean before and have little knowledge of the sailing conditions, weather windows or anchoring techniques required here.  In essence the flag tells other cruisers to beware until you get established down here.  Thanks!

Dockwise Yacht Transport – This is the easiest and most efficient way to get to the Caribbean.  Dockwise offers the cruiser a relative inexpensive way to make landfall in the Caribbean (St. Thomas or Martinique).  The points of departure in the United States are Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and Newport, Rhode Island.  This journey entails getting your vessel to one of the points of departure at the specified date, motoring your vessel onto the submerged Dockwise ship that is waiting for you and leaving your boat in capable hands while you fly to the Caribbean to meet the ship 4 days later.  That’s it!  Well, that is all except for paying for the shipment of your vessel.  The cost of shipping your vessel depends on the length and width of your sailboat.  The latest figures put the cost for shipping at approximately $6,000.00 for the journey for a 40-foot sailboat.  If you weigh this cost with the time required to reach the Caribbean and the damage that will be incurred to your vessel during one of the other two methods, this is the obvious choice in terms of safety and convenience.  Ah but you will miss all the adventure of getting to the Caribbean onboard your own vessel!  Never fear, you can have that adventure waiting for you when you decide to return to the US.

Handbook for Caribbean Cruising

Volume 1: Eastern Caribbean

Getting There