the Little Bahamas Bank
The Little Bahama Bank is a large area of shallow
water roughly 40 miles on it's northern and western sides. It averages 14 feet in depth, but has many coral heads or extensive sand banks reaching nearly to the surface, particularly near it's edges.
There are also many small rock islands. It must be crossed in some fashion on most trips to the
Abacos from anywhere in Florida south Cape Canaveral. If the bank is an optional route, it will still frequently represent a better seastate than the oceanic alternative.
In the summer it's large enough and warm enough to
generate it's own weather in the form of massive thunderstorms that test the mettle of
even the most seasoned boater. Also, despite the best laid plans, you'll occasionally get caught
trying to get off the bank at night. Since there are plenty of places for the
unwary to get into trouble, its best know where you are and what your options are at all times.
There are 3 ways to get on/off the western side of the Bank:
- Crossing White Sand Ridge
- Passing by Memory Rock
- Via Indian Key Pass near West End
White Sand Ridge
Latitude 27 17.0N
Longitude 79 10.3W
This is an easy entry, day or night. There is no land anywhere in sight and nothing to hit. The only change is the depth will shallow up from 2000 feet to about 10, and seastate will soften.
The waypoint is on a straight line course from Ft Pierce to the south end of Lily Bank, but entry onto the Little Bahama Bank can be made safely anywhere north of it, and for several miles east of Matinella Shoals.
This area is the site of a large school of
spotted dolphins, visited weekly by the pocket live aboard dive boat Dream Too doing dolphin encounters. If it's good daylight, keep your eyes peeled and they might play in your bow wave.
Latitude 26 57.151N
Longitude 79 06.234W
Memory Rock, a lonely, isolated rock island about 15 miles north of West End. It is the ideal place to go onto the bank, day or night. Get within a mile of the rock (lit at night, most of the time), and turn east. Avoid hitting the rock and you're on. Hold the easterly heading for about 2 miles before turning onto the next leg of your trip, and you'll avoid trouble with any of the sand banks near the western edge.
Caution: Strong tidal currents
3 to 5 knot tidal currents affect all navigation on and off the bank.
The entire transit from the ocean through Indian Cay Pass has strong
currents on both incoming and outgoing tides. Slower boats should keep a watch astern to note when they
are sliding out of the channel. Entry at White Sand Ridge and Memory Rock also have currents, but no tight passage to drift out of, so are much better choices.
Any passage parallel to the edge of the bank near rocky or sandy edges should pay close attention to the current, as a current running onto the bank will put the vessel quickly into shallow water.
Indian Cay Pass
Indian Key Light is NOT a channel marker.
Indian Cay Pass is to it's north.
Ocean side of Indian Cay Pass
Latitude 26 43.10N
Longitude 79 00.29W
Stand well off from Indian Key Light (see photo above) as it is not a waterway marker and the water is very shallow around it.
Stay in deep water until you can line up the first two piling markers, as shown below,
or take the first piling on a 37 degree heading. Hold a true course,
as the channel shallows up on north edge well before the small island.
Leave the pilings to the south as you pass them.
The 1st two pilings marking Indian Cay Pass.
The next two waypoints require careful attention to where
you are and where you are going next. It's very shallow on both sides of the perferred path.
There are (sometimes) three stakes over this 1.9 nm passage, and all should be left just to your south, and on a 37 degree magnetic heading.
The last two times I've made this passage, the 3rd piling was missing.
It takes a long time for them to get replaced in the Bahamas, so keep a sharp watch as to when this waypoint occurs, as turning toward
the next one is mandatory.
The Missing 3rd Piling
Latitude 26 44.75N
Longitude 78 59.17W
Run to this mark as if the piling were there. It's important to note when you arrive, as
a heading change is required on arrival. Remember, always
watch for underwater hazards, and avoid them regardless of where your GPS route is sending you.
South of Barracuda Shoals
Latitude 26 45.75N
Longitude 078 58.08W
The Barracuda Shoals visual marker and light is NOT one of the three pilings associated with Indian Cay Pass. It is also NOT a channel marker, but is on a rocky shoal, awash at low tide.
It is NOT to be left on your south like the 3 pilings coming through the pass. The above GPS waypoint is 500 feet south of the visual marker, where you should be too.
This short 1.4 nm leg is uneventful unless you miss the turn to the 50 degree heading at the (currently missing) 3rd stake coming through
of Indian Cay Pass. The is still shallow water on both sides of the channel, so pay attention, and do NOT make for the lighted visual marker.
Once clear of Barracuda Shoals, the vessel is on the bank and can turn onto the next leg of the route to its final destination.