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The build-up to a Bahamas crossing, especially your first one, can be incredible. First there is the realization that you are so close to arriving in tropical waters, and although the distance to cover to get there may not be incredibly far, there is that dreaded Gulf Stream that must be crossed. With so much water moving through that river in the ocean, one apparently does need to take care and choose the right weather to traverse it.

As far as preparation goes, I think the two of us were as prepared as we would ever be. Although we hadn’t spent weeks studying our charts and reading the guidebooks, we knew where we were going and what we thought was the best route to take. We also had been watching the weather quite closely and felt that the wind direction was correct to not buck the gulf stream (a very bad thing — say NO to north winds) and the wind speed would make for a quick passage.

It was surprising to us though that given this weather, we were the only other cruising boat anchored in Hurricane Harbor, an anchorage commonly used by boats waiting to cross (there was one other sailboat there but I’m not convinced it was a cruiser). We assumed that everyone left the day before but it still seemed a tad eerie.

When deciding at what time to depart the US for the Bahamas, we needed to work backwards from the time we wished to arrive, taking into account what we feel is the worst speed that we would make. Using 5 knots for this calculation, we were anchor up at 2:00 AM hoping to arrive in Bimini by 1:00 PM. Although all the charts show routes departing from Government Cut in Miami, that would have taken us an additional hour to go around that way. Our charts showed that there was plenty of water on the southern end of Key Biscayne so we plodded our way between the marks under the light of a near full moon. Again we saw no other boats!

It would have been a beautiful sail if not for the waves.

It was 3:30 AM when we had sails raised, beyond the shallows of the bay and our boat had already started to hobby horse. I was smart enough to down some preventative Gravol when this began. Fortunately Rebecca does not seem to have any ill effects from rough seas. I, on the other hand do, not yet to the point of throwing up but it does make me feel unpleasantly queasy.

The route that we had intended on taking was to sail south of our course rhumb line, knowing that the Gulf Stream would ultimately carry us north. Once in the stream, we would sail at an angle across it and then sail back south any distance we overshot our destination once clear of its power. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, no one told the wind. To start, the wind was just under 20 knots when we set out and if we were to follow our planned southerly leg, it would be right on the nose. Are you noticing a trend here? We are. In fact, I am starting to feel a little jinxed about rigging our large Genoa. It seems that every time we do this we have winds directly on the nose. There may be one or two non-sailors reading this so in case that’s true, you can not sail directly at the wind. It just doesn’t work. You need to sail at an angle to it and depending on the boat and the sail, that angle could be 30 degrees or 45 degrees. With this large sail it is super fast off the wind but we can only point about 60 degrees to the wind. So for those following our Spot tracker’s “footprints” that would account for our northerly heading. We were trying to point up but it just wasn’t happening.

Wind right on the nose… typical!

We were partially convinced that the waves we were taking at the beginning of the journey were caused by the shallow waters surrounding Key Biscayne. When into 500+ foot depths well offshore and the waves were continuing to build, we knew that wasn’t the case.

A point or two about sailing in the dark… we have heard many people rave about how beautiful it is to sail in the dark of night. I am pretty sure they are referring to doing so on a glassy lake, not a bucking ocean. We have all heard how those who are visually impaired develop through necessity, a more keen sense of hearing. I have found that this is very true even while deprived of sight for a short period. Unable to see the waves, save for the random white crests breaking towards us, we became very aware of the sounds around us, especially the sound of our headsail flogging as we were pointing too high, knocked there by the waves. There was also that one WAY TO CLOSE experience with that large ship. A downside to our big headsail is that it totally blocks our vision from one side. We do love our AIS though and are very glad that the ship in question was transmitting. Even though we technically had the right of way, we hastily changed course and moved behind him.

In the book, An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude (I sure hope that’s where I read it) the author states that she feels cruising has made her a better lateral thinker. This is no doubt due to the fact that there are always problems to solve on a boat. To start, we have still not perfected how our new dinghy is secured to our davits. Our previous one seemed to rest there almost perfectly while this one does not. The way that it was swinging to and fro was causing it to chafe on of the davits themselves and the new solar panel supports. This needed to be fixed and the easiest and most convenient solution was to grab a couple of handy T-shirts and tie them around the offending supports. Something more permanent will be rigged before departing next time.

As our bow buried itself in the water over and over, we could occasionally hear poor Rocky, our Rocna anchor, clanging against the bow roller. At one point though, Rebecca noticed that one of the two lines that I use to secure it was gone AWOL. This meant that, while bucking through the waves, I then needed to go forward, while clipped in to our jacklines of course, and re-secure it. Borrowing random pieces of line from other items not currently in use, I lashed it down twice as good, not wanting to repeat that procedure. I should point out that I took numerous waves in the face while completing this task and was completely soaked by the time I made my way back to the cockpit.

And then there were the sails. We were expecting (hoping? PRAYING!) that the wind would veer a bit but it never happened. It only strengthened and we endured 20-25 knots on the nose for much of the day. We were constantly tweaking the sails, trying to make better ground. When at one point we looked up and saw that our headsail had developed a fair sized rip in it from chafing on the spreaders, we knew that it was done for the day. Hopefully the rip is only on the protective sun layer along it’s rear edge. We’ll know today when we take it down and inspect it.

Our 1:00 ETA had long since come and gone and we were now fighting to just make it to our destination before sunset. The weather had not improved, quite the contrary actually. Our radio has a feature where it will start to beep really loudly when there is a weather alert. At least once per week this occurs when they test the system. Surprised or not, when it occurred yesterday afternoon it was not for a test. A ridge of thunderstorms were making their way eastward across the waters at a speed of about 20 knots. Yes, we were east of them and there was no way we were outrunning them. I did change course to try to move to where the clouds seemed lighter and apparently it worked. The sad part is that they were talking about water spouts developing (tornadoes on the water) and the best way to run away from them and I had just joked to Rebecca 30 minutes prior about a cloud that looked like a funnel (it wasn’t, but the colors looked that way).

With all sails down, we motored the last 2 hours directly at the channel entrance and made it there right at 4:00. It was only while negotiating this entrance channel that the question came to us, why didn’t anyone warn us about how sketchy this entrance is?!?! With breakers on both sides, we had to motor in towards (surf actually) the beach, turn 90 degrees and motor parallel to the beach, all the while surfing on waves pushing us in towards the shoreline? WTF? Will this day never end?

Yes, we made it without crashing on the rocks. Thank God our engines didn’t quit while in the middle of that! With all the bashing we had taken throughout the day, we decided to splurge on a night on the dock and radioed in to Weech’s Bimini Dock to secure a slip. It turns out this was the perfect thing to do as the marina is right beside the customs dock. After helping us tie up, Hank went and retrieved the customs and immigration papers that we needed. Rebecca quickly filled them in for us while I tried to tidy up our now disaster-area boat. At pretty much exactly 5:00 PM, I made my way in to the customs office and with the help of the nice lady behind the counter, we were made all legal. She was extra helpful in fact because the immigration people in the building next door had already left for the day. She was able to complete whatever paperwork they would have required so we didn’t have to wait and come back again the next day (or perhaps Monday as I don’t know if they are even open today).

Man, we sure needed this beer, obtained from CJ’s, a cool little beachside “Deli.”

A topic of much discussion on the radio nets as of late is how much time each boat checking in has been granted by immigration. It appears as if some new rules have been put in place which only allow the officers to grant 30 days when checking in. Captains can go to any customs office near the end of this period and get a free extension but because there are still ports giving longer stays right off the bat, many cruisers are choosing where they check in based on this information. We received only 30 days but in truth, it’s not such a big deal for us. We don’t even have any idea where we’ll be in 30 days!

PS: Although Rebecca and I made it through this passage unscathed, my Alfa Wi-Fi amplifier did not. It’s now being held together by duct tape. 🙁 I think I’m going to try to have our friends pick one up (or 2 perhaps) and bring it to us when they cross.

PPS: Our new solar charger is not working. 🙁 🙁 More troubleshooting fun.

The water where we are docked. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

44 Comments

  1. Congratulations! Watching your track throughout the day, I was wondering if you had changed your minds and were heading to Grand Bahama instead.
    Sounds like you have an experience that will leave you a little more confident of your abilities.
    Have a great time! We’ll keep watching you at the trailer shop, and wishing we were there too.
    Todd

  2. WOW!! That was a crazy crossing; especially for the first time. So it seems it took all of 14 hours. At any point were you worried (scared)? I’m just happy to once again be reading your accounts of the crossing. Water looks amazing at the dock. Just a week now before I’ll be experiencing similar waters….ya hoo!!!

    • Were we scared? No, not really. I mentioned this on facebook too when someone asked. On several occasions during the passage we evaluated the situation and determined that although we were uncomfortable, we were still very safe. This guided our decision making throughout the day.

  3. Wow guys what a crossing!!! I am here sunday moring in Mississauga , Canada. And yes it’s snowing!!! Have fun in Bahamas you guys earned it!!! I will be reading thanks for the great blog!

    Scott Lewis

  4. Many congratulations on arrival. Am I right this was your first big offshore passage? If so well done if the only things that broke was your wifi amp and the sun cover! (Remind me sometime to tell you the story about our Biscay crossing!)

    Those waves can be a shock – and I get seriously throwing-up seasick regularly. It wears off in the end. Once you’re used to it and you know everything is secure night sailing on the ocean out of the loom of the land is magical.

    • Yes, although we have done some legs offshore of the coast, that was our first passage out of sight of land. I would like to hear/read about your story! Is it on your blog?

      The waves were not scary for us, but they were uncomfortable being on the nose. The waves we had in the Chesapeake WERE scary!!!

  5. Congrats, not sure I’m motivated, maybe motivated to just stay in the keys. YIKES. I do love the colour of the water tho. Enjoy is since you made it safely.

  6. Good move to take a marina slip. Only two places in the Bahamas I always take a slip, Nassau and Bimini.

  7. Wow -what a trip-hopefully next leg will be calmer!! Relax for a while!!!

  8. Congratulations!

    You are certified Blue Water cruisers now!

    And that beer/beach picture and the water at the dock make me officially jealous!

    bob

  9. Congratulations on finally reaching the Caribbean!! Isn’t that water something else??!?!?! It’s why I fell in love with the BVI – just wait until you get to the BVI and see the water in White Bay on Jost van Dyke!! One of the most beautiful beaches anywhere!

    A FaceBook friend, Gary Guertin – radio host for a little program called Talkin’ Tourism (http://talkintourism.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html) focusing on Florida’s coast and the Caribbean, put a little video of Bimini up on his page yesterday so I commented that I knew of first-time cruisers who just arrived. He said this – “Make sure you tell them to go to Stuart Conch Stand for the best conch salad on the island and have a drink at the Bimini Big Game Club/Guy Harvey Outpost Resort.”

    So there you have it! Enjoy your stay. You have now arrived in paradise and life from here on out is going to be a dream. Can’t say I am not tinged with green. And that’s not the sea-sick version!

  10. Have a rum drink for us! Sounds like the crossing is not the ICW. Be safe and keep up the details, we are experiencing the trip with you as we prepare ourselves to follow your paths. Weather here is in the 40s with rain; however, we are steaming some oysters today with friends.

  11. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Piece of Cake!!!!!!

  12. Wow, it sounds like an intense experience. Thanks for (another) great post, very interesting reading. The Gulf Stream doesn’t sound like much fun. We’ll have to deal with the Columbia River bar at some point but it doesn’t take nearly as long to cross. I am glad you made it safely.

  13. Well, YOU MADE IT!!!! You also proved to yourselves that both you and the boat can take the Gulf Stream. The amp, not so much! The water is lovely, and you sure earned your chance to enjoy it! Just imagine what it would have been like had the wind had a northerly component!!! Now you can relax and enjoy. 🙂

  14. Wonderful, wonderful blue water!!! One thing about accomplishing something on a boat – you’re so proud of yourselves!! We’re looking at snow on Christmas Day and if the flakes fall it will be the third time this winter. We winterized Isabella today and now I understand why most boaters want to head to warm climate! Great job!!

  15. Congrats on the crossing! I do have a question for you, or maybe a topic for a future post? Do you think the crossing would have been any easier if you had been on a little longer catamaran? Tim and I are having this discussion about the length in our choice of what boats to look at. The Lavezzi 40 that we took our ASA catamaran course on didn’t hobby horse at all, even in 8-10ft waves and 35kts of wind, but it’s out of our price range.

    Would appreciate your input,

    Deb
    S/V Nomad
    http://www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

    • Hi Deb

      We have no experience sailing any other cat so I can’t comment for sure. My assumption would be yes, it would be a better ride. We would have a bigger cat IF we had a bigger bank account:(

  16. Sounds like a good learning experience to me! I’m sure the next big one will be easier.

  17. Mike –

    Topic for future post:

    What we are thinking and what we are feeling, now that we have achieved the goal we seto for ourselves so long ago.

    bob

  18. So for future offshore planning use this trick taught to us by an experienced cruiser awhile back. Take the wind prediction, say 5-15, and add them together. That number is likely what you will actually get at the high end. If that seems OK go. If not don’t go. It really ends up working about 75 per cent of the time. That us way better than the real forecasters. Also, take Willy Nelson’s On the Road Again, keep the tune and change the titl to On the Nose Again, then make up your own versus from there. Or I can send you ours. Making up new versus helps pass this long hours slogging into it.

    • Hi Eric

      Our friends Bill and Ana said the exact same thing about the wind. We hadn’t heard the Willy Nelson thing though. Hopefully we won’t need to be singing that tomorrow during our travels!

  19. Wooooohoooooo! You’ve made it, enjoy!

  20. Congrats on the crossing!

  21. Mike and Rebecca,

    Congratulations on achieving this incredible milestone in your journey. I can only imagine how it feels. Probably still a little surreal I would imagine. 🙂

    We’re still in the planning phase and hoping to follow suit in a couple years. For now I’m contenting myself to dream of warm sandy beaches and to live vicariously through your blog and those of other cruisers.

    I’d be curious to know, now that you’ve pretty much completed the first transit to ‘where the butter melts’, is how your experiences differed from what you thought they’d be, and how effective your planning was, or wasn’t, as the case may be?

    Thanks for all the great posts, and please do try to keep bringing us all along with you as you make the Bahamas your new winter home. My mental survival of yet another Ottawa winter depends on it! (well, not really, but it’ll surely help :D)

    Rick

    • Hi Rick

      I think I’ll confer with Rebecca and write on this topic because several people have asked about it. I do think that we went into this with fairly realistic expectations (we didn’t believe it was going to be like an all-inclusive vacation at a resort). Hope the cold months pass quickly for you!

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