Friday, October 25, 2013

It's Better in the Bahamas

Posted by Scot

After our fiasco with our engine work at Dinner Key, we spent the rest of the day working on the outstanding boat issues that had kept us from leaving for the Bahamas the night before.  The main one was our power monitoring system.  By pulling the monitor out of the wall and trying a new Cat 5 cable to connect it to the power hub, we finally determined that the monitor was fine, but the cable seemed to be shot.  We'll need to run a new cable through the boat to get it back to its original spot, but for now we have it hooked up and sitting under the kitchen sink.

Given that our alternator seemed to be working, and we had managed to start the generator, there really wasn't anything keeping us from heading across the Gulf Stream.  And the forecast showed that Wednesday would be our last day of good weather.  After that, there was a week of strong northerly winds coming through that would make it impossible to get across.  So, we decided we would get up at 2 a.m., have another look at the wind and weather, and if everything seemed OK, we would give it a try.  We were clear that if for any reason either of us was uncomfortable, we would just go back to bed, even if it meant waiting another week.

When the alarm went off at 2, we both woke up full of hope and optimism.  We let the kids stay asleep, and after quickly getting everything ready for our first passage, we headed out into the Dinner Key channel.  Sara sat on the bow with our super bright Lupin headlamp, picking out markers for me and watching for anything in the water, and I used that and the GPS track from our inboud trip to carefully guide us out.  It was tense work.  At one point early on, as we were getting our system sorted out, we came as close to a marker bouy as I ever want to be.  But with some careful work, after about an hour, we were heading out into the Atlantic.

The receding lights of Miami, from the Gulf Stream.
The wind and waves were exactly as forecasted, which is to say, calm.  As we started to relax in the deeper water, Christopher woke up and came to join me at the helm.  He started to look at the AIS readout on the GPS as I stared into the night.  "Dad", he said.  "Did you know that freighter is coming at us, and is going to cross our path in about 15 minutes?  Should we be worried about that?"  Sure enough, I checked the AIS info, and realized that the freighter, which I had thought was sitting at anchor, was bearing down on us.  I had seen lots of freighters around us on the AIS, but since they had always been at anchor before, I had just assumed these ones were too.  Fortunately, Christopher had remembered how to look up their details on the AIS, and had checked them out.  Turns out, most of them were moving.  We altered our course and speed to keep all of them at least a mile away, as the last thing I wanted was a close encounter with a freighter in the dark Gulf Stream.

Sailing in the dark, dodging freighters.
Eventually, Christopher went back to bed, and we motored on into the dark, watching the lights of Miami recede behind us.  Sara and I sat at the helm, and kept each other company, enjoying what seemed like the first quiet time we had to sit and chat in the last month.

A welcome sunrise.
As the sky lightened in front of us, we briefly raised the mainsail to see if it would help our speed at all, but after about half an hour, the wind died completely, so we lowered it again to stop it flapping, and Sara lay down for a bit of a nap.  She woke up again after about an hour, and I took a turn to rest my eyes, too.

Catching 40 winks.
Eventually, the kids woke up, and we had a great morning just hanging around the boat, eating muffins from the Miami bakery, and drinking hot chocolate.  We steered our course trying to use the current in the Gulf Stream to push us along, and made good time, sighting Bimini after about 9 hours.  Almost exactly 10 hours after we left, we were dropping anchor in the little bay next to the Bimini Bay Marina.

As Sara and the kids started to organize the boat, I raised our yellow Q flag, then lowered the dinghy, and headed back down the channel to where the guidebook said customs and immigration was.  It took a little bit of figuring out, and another trip back and forth to Monashee to get all the right paperwork done, but eventually we were cleared in to the Bahamas!

Monashee flying her colors over the Gulf Stream.
I arrived back at Monashee exhausted, having only slept a few hours, and feeling the adrenaline of the crossing draining from me.  We all hung around on the boat for a quiet, hot afternoon.  We couldn't resist taking a couple of quick dips in the water, even though it really didn't seem like the cleanest bay to be swimming off of the boat.  On my first jump in, I was checking out the bottom of the boat, and was a bit shocked to see a huge fish hanging around under our hull (Barracuda?  Tarpon? - can anyone tell from the picture?).  He seemed content to keep his distance, staying at the far end of the boat from me, but he certainly wasn't scared of me, and didn't swim off when I got a closer for a picture.  That put a damper on the rest of our swimming for the afternoon.

He was even bigger than he looks in this picture.  We think about 4 feet long.  Really.
We were all in bed by 8, and I was fast asleep by 8:30, although Sara didn't sleep well.  Despite being up most of the night before, she slept on the salon couch as the forecasted winds started to pick up.  We hadn't had room to let out a lot of anchor chain in this little bay, and she was worried about dragging.

Today, we got up, and could see the forecasted north wind and overcast skies had arrived.  We were pulling hard at our anchor in about 15-20 knots of wind, which was predicted to go up to 30 in the next couple of days. The boat was sitting right at the edge of the little dredged bay, and we would only have to drag a few feet to be aground.  We discussed pulling up the anchor and trying to drop it further into the middle of the little harbor.  There were no other boats here, so there is lots of room, but the harbor is really busy, with sea planes and tourist boats coming and going all day.  We didn't really want to be sitting in the middle of that.

So, I jumped in the dinghy, and checked out the marinas right next to us.  They are both really empty, with only a couple of boats in them.  I went ashore, and realized that they are part of a huge resort complex, which reminded me of Arbutus Ridge on Vancouver Island.  I checked out the price for a night in the marina, and it turned out it was less than what we paid at the civic marina in Miami, but included full access to all the resort amenities, including 2 pools, nice showers and wifi.

Once I was back at the boat, it was a quick conversation to decide we were moving over to the marina. With strong winds coming in, and still exhausted from our passage, a couple of nights tied to a dock seemed to be just the thing.

So tonight, we are the only boat on this entire pier, and are firmly tied to the dock as the wind picks up in our rigging.  The whole resort is dead quiet.  This is definitely their low season, and one of the employees said the ferry that brings guests from Miami has been cancelled for the next few days due to high seas in the Gulf Stream. We really just squeaked in to the end of our weather window.

Looks like we left all the boats back in Miami.  No problem finding a spot for us here.
We spent a rainy, cloudy, and pleasantly cool afternoon in both the pools.  One of the locals took one look at us going swimming in this weather, which is freezing to them, and said "You must be Canadians."  Nailed it!  Ironically, since we actually have power tonight, as the temperature drops, this is our the first time since we got on the boat that air conditioning won't help us at all.

Infinity pool and grey skies over the Bahamas.

We found a mermaid in the pool.
Ironman pose.


  1. Yayy! You made it out of the US. Typical boat teething problems and I hope most of them are behind you. I suspect your fish is a barracude - they are always curious and do love to swim around the edge of your visiblitity and check you out. If you're swimming with them take off shiny rings. They're usually harmless but they have been known to closely investigate shiny objects like rings sometimes.


    1. It seems that most of the boat issues are more or less behind us. Apparently the alternators are working fine, and behaving like they always have, and we are running the generator without difficulty now. Still a couple of gremlins in some systems, but nothing that should slow us down. I think you are right about the Barracuda. We seem to have one with us pretty much everywhere we stop. They are a bit intimidating. The last one we saw would swim away from us when we approached him, but if we retreated, he would advance. Makes things interesting though.