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How to Find a Good Boatyard while Cruising

The boatyard at Abaco Yacht Services, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Recently Paul and I made a change to our cruising plans for the summer. The freedom to be flexible and completely change your plans while cruising is one of the appeals of the sailing lifestyle. “Make a plan and stick to it” doesn't always serve you when cruising. You may be held up by weather or break-downs, friends may recommend a great destination you hadn't considered but that now you want to sail to or perhaps you realize you want to spend more time in the place that you already are. Maybe a work opportunity comes along that you want to take advantage of.

Our original plan for this summer had been to sail north from the Bahamas to explore more of the east coast of the U.S., but for various reasons we decided to extend our time in the Bahamas and store the boat there for a few weeks while we flew home to complete a work project. Once the decision had been made, we then had to find a place to safely store the boat in the Bahamas for a few weeks during July and August while we were back in Canada.

The Bahamas are located in the hurricane belt and July and August are smack in the middle of the hurricane season (June to November). We needed a really secure way to store the boat that met the criteria for hurricane coverage by our yacht insurance, Pantaenius Yacht Insurance who we have insured with for many years. We also needed to have easy access to an airport since we were flying home.

We were in George Town, Great Exuma, when we made the decision to leave the boat in the Bahamas. There is an international airport there plus good hurricane holes nearby on Stocking Island where you can rent a hurricane mooring from Kevali House Marina or St. Francis Marina. However all the hurricane moorings were fully booked.

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Stocking Island showing the hurricane holes to the right

The next option was to leave the boat in the water at Marina Emerald Bay, part of the Sandals resort on Great Exuma just north of George Town, but although this marina is a great place to stay short-term it doesn't offer full protection from surge. Many of our friends store their boats there but we just didn't feel confident leaving Distant Shores II there during hurricane season. We depend on our boat for our livelihood so any damage or loss would seriously affect us. Generally when we leave the boat for more than a couple of weeks, we prefer to haul the boat out of the water and dry-store it. That way we're not worrying about it taking on water and sinking, lines possibly chafing or some other boat hitting it.

So now we had to find a good boat yard that met our requirements.

First we put out a call on VHF radio asking for recommendations on the George Town Cruisers Net, a gathering of cruisers via VHF radio that meet every morning to share information on weather, boating topics and local events. Since we were there is low season, most of the cruisers in the area were visiting from Florida so didn't have experience storing their boats in the Bahamas but general knowledge seemed to be that the only reliable yards for dry-storage during hurricane season in the Bahamas were in the Abacos, the most northern group of the Bahamas, although no one could provide specifics.

We then went to the internet to do some research, asking for recommendations on Facebook groups and cruisers forums. We also searched on “boatyards in the Bahamas” and found many references to a couple of yards in the Abacos. I also found several cruisers blogs that discussed dry-storing their boats in the Bahamas. The consensus seemed to be Abaco Yacht Services on Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos was a good choice.

Checking our cruising guides, this yard was mentioned and recommended.

We then took a look at the location via Google Earth as well as our charts and verified that the yard was situated in a secure protected location. In fact, we realized that we had seen the yard on a previous cruise through the Abacos and had been impressed by the cleanliness and orderliness of this yard.

We called for rates and availability and booked a haul-out conditional on approval by visual inspection when we arrived. I had a few additional questions and when I had to leave voicemail my call was always answered promptly. The receptionist also gave me good advice on booking our flights home. Very helpful.

Abaco Yacht Services also met a few of our other criteria – we could stay on our boat while working on it in the yard (although they did have air conditioned accommodation available on site which we decided to take advantage of), we could do our own work on the boat (bottom paint needed to be done when we returned) and the boat yard was close to two airports – Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour.

So in early July we sailed north through the Exumas to Abacos and anchored off the town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. It was an easy dinghy ride over to the yard and when we headed up to the office one of the yard staff immediately came over to see if they could help us. This showed friendliness and customer service but also attention to security. Both good.

Distant Shores II preparing for haul-out at Abaco Yacht Services

As we recalled, the yard was spotless and well organized. There was a locked gate, shower facilities, no derelict boats. Work was being done on well-blocked boats. We spoke to a couple of cruisers who were working on their own boats there and they all who had good things to say about their experiences keeping their boats there.

We quickly confirmed our booking and proceeded to book our flights home. Haul-out went smoothly and efficiently and we left feeling confident our boat was in good hands while we were away.

There are many reasons you might want to find a good boat yard when you're out cruising – to have maintenance or repair work done to your boat; to haul-out to check the hull, propellor or to clean the bottom or, like us, to dry-store the boat while you fly home for a few weeks or months are examples.

Distant Shores II with keel retracted moving through the boat yard

Here are the steps we recommend to find a good boat yard.

1. Clarify Your Criteria
Before you begin your research get clear on the reasons and criteria for needing a boatyard. In our case it was location, the cost, the ability to liveaboard in the yard and work on the boat ourselves, a secure place to store for hurricane season and proximity to airports. Other things to consider are does the yard have the ability to lift your boat? In France when we needed to have our mast taken down to travel through the canals we discovered that the two popular yards offering this service couldn't handle a mast our size. If you are planning to have work done do they have the proper qualifications to carry it out? If yes, will there be a language barrier that may cause problems. Get really clear on what you need and want to avoid disappointment and frustration.

2. Ask for Recommendations by Friends or from the Cruising Community
This is the best place to start for first-hand experience whether you do it in person via email , VHF net or other method.

3.Check Online
Blogs, articles, forums/groups, and wiki sites are great sources of information. Post your questions and follow up on the info provided.

4. See What Cruising Guides for the Area Recommend
Cruising guides are written by experts. See what they recommend to cross-reference your other research on boatyards available. Email them with your questions, if possible.

5. Contact the Yard(s)
Once you have narrowed down the options, contact the yard(s) you are considering based on your initial research and confirm that they can meet your criteria. Take this opportunity to ask your questions and clarity any concerns.

6. Ask for Rates or a Quote
It's good to get information on rates in writing and be sure there are no unexpected additional charges. Check on methods of payment accepted, whether a deposit is needed or if payment is required up-front.

6. Do a Visual Check
Before committing to a boat yard, do a visual check if possible. Is the yard, clean, tidy, and well-organized? Is their attention to security? If you're having work done check for certificates showing qualifications of the technicians. Are their tools organized or rusty and disorganized? Talk to boaters who have their boats in the yard at the time for their opinions on the boat yard.

7. Make a Reservation

Once you feel confident that the boatyard in question meets all your criteria, book your reservation and prepare your boat for haul-out.

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