"2001, Feb 15-22 1st Gulf Stream Crossing to Bimini" Bimini District Travelogue by grandmaR
Bimini District Travel Guide: 51 reviews and 79 photos
We've been in Florida since the end of November. We need to leave the state before 90 days is up, or we have to re-register the boat in Florida. Even though we've been down to the Dry Tortugas, that is still considered Florida. The closest non-Florida place we can go to is the Bahamas. Our son-in-law goes over in his power boat all the time - takes him a couple of hours. But our sailboat, although it is bigger has a smaller motor and goes much more slowly. We needed for the wind to NOT be from the north in order to make a halfway comfortable and safe crossing. The reason is that the Gulf Stream which is right off the Florida coast (as close as 1 mile off Ft. Lauderdale) is implacably going north whatever the weather is doing. It moves at a speed of 3 knots more or less in the middle of the Stream and somewhat less on the edges. The waves in the Stream go north also. If wind comes from the north (or north east or north west), it ruffles up the northbound Gulf Stream waves, like stroking a cat's fur the wrong way. It makes the Stream 'angry', and the waves turn from long low rollers into taller (in height) bouncy choppy (close together) nasty waves which get higher and higher the longer the wind is coming from the north. These waves are referred to as 'elephants', and you can see them from shore if they get big enough. Even quite big ships like freighters can be rolled and sunk by the elephants if they are not careful.
Our object was to cross when the wind had been from the south (or southeast or south west) for several days to allow all the elephants to lie down. Wednesday the wind was from the south, and was predicted to be southwest on Thursday/Thurs. night, so that's when we would cross - that would be good as we were going east and we could sail. Wednesday was Valentine's Day. We decided to eat at the restaurant at the marina called the Rusty Anchor. We had forgotten about Valentines Day. However we had a nice romantic dinner on the water.
The distance from Miami to Bimini is 42 nautical miles. However -- our boat only does about 5 knots (5 knots is 5 nautical miles an hour. A nautical mile is slightly longer than a statute mile) under power, and the Stream will be going 2-3 knots minimum perpendicular to us. So we expected the trip to take longer. But since we can sail faster than we motor (7-8 knots), I didn't think it would take more than about 12 hours. We'd heard lots of stories about people going aground in Bimini, so we wanted to arrive there in daylight. (It's not good to sail in the Bahamas after dark because where the water is shallow there are uncharted coral heads which can tear a hole in the boat.). We decided to leave Miami at dark, sail through the night and arrive in the morning.
Thursday February 15, 2001
We left our mooring Thursday morning (after I attempted to sleep late, and Bob attempted to make it impossible to sleep late), and went over to Crandon Park Marina on the other side of the key to get fuel and water. Rickenbacker Marina where we had a mooring normally doesn't have diesel fuel. Fuel and water are expensive in the Bahamas. Then we went down near the end of the Key near a place called No Name Harbor, and anchored, and took naps, and had dinner. I didn't want to go around Cape Florida in the dark, because it is not as well marked as the channel out through Stiltsville (Biscayne Channel), so we pulled the anchor at about 5:45pm. By the time we got out by Fowley Rocks, it was dark. Bob put up the staysail and the main. But the wind was an east wind.
We motored sailed as hard as we could, but it was slow work. If we tacked to the north, we'd be up to 8 knots really quickly. But when we tacked the other direction, we'd only be going 2 or 3 knots. And we couldn't go north very long or we'd be in Bermuda or Grand Bahama or somewhere. I went to take a nap, while Bob was trying to deal with the big cruise ships which go out beyond the 3 mile limit and then wander around at random. Bob thinks they may be gambling cruises. At least they are all lit up and you can see them.
About 11 pm, I sent him down for a nap. But the waves were rolley, and he said every time he'd get comfortable, I'd tack and roll him over. He tried the main saloon too, and it didn't work. He couldn't relax. So he came back up into the cockpit. It was cold, so we both got our coats. Spray was coming up over the bow as the boat plowed into the waves, and we could see in the reflection that our green running light was out. We sailed through the night - I would doze off and my auto inflate PFD acted like one of those blow up collars that you use when you sleep on an airplane. Bob was dozing off too. We sat in the cockpit until dawn, and we were still only 3/4ths of the way there.
Finally about 10 am, we saw the island on the horizon in the distance. There is a range down on South Bimini, and one has to come in along the range almost to the beach and then follow the beach north past a long shoal that comes out from the south end of North Bimini. We couldn't find the range. I called Sea Crest Marina to get a slip to go to Customs and asked them, where it was, and they said to go to the end of the beach, and to come in on a course of 085 deg.
Finally found the range (which is two sticks one behind the other and you are on the range if you have them lined up so they look like one) and we motored slowly in and along the shore through the beautiful turquoise waters. I stood on the bow with polorized sunglasses so I could see if there were shallow spots. When we were partway in a little power boat came out and led us around the shoal that has developed where they have dredged a new marina on South Bimini. We didn't go aground anywhere and tied up at Sea Crest in the first slip on the northeast side of the dock at 11:30 Friday morning Feb 16th after 69.5 nm at an average speed of 3.8 knots. We went an extra 27 nm while tacking across the Gulf Stream. Bob had put up the yellow quarantine flag before we came in. The dockmaster brought us the forms when we were tied up. We each had an immigration form, and there was "Bahamas Immigration Inward Passenger and Crew Manifest", Customs Inward Report, a Maritime Declaration of Health with questions such as 1) "Had there been on board during the voyage any case or suspected case of plague cholera, yellow fever or smallpox?" 2. "Has plague occurred or been suspected among rats or mice on board during the voyage or has there been any usual morality among them?" On the back was a chart to list "Particulars of every case of illness or death occurring on board" The last column was headed "Disposal of case".
I filled everything out, and took our passports and the boat documentation and registration up to the customs office while Bob stayed on the boat and got it reorganized. (Only the captain is allowed off - all crew has to stay on board until the formalities are finished.) A nice young black woman in a neat uniform helped me with the paperwork, which included asking me what dinghies and motors we had on board. Then I paid $100 for the overall permit which included all fees and a fishing permit. I used two $50 traveler's checks, and had to pay 25 cents each to use them. Bahama money and US money is interchangeable but we had difficulty using anything but cash. They often didn't take credit cards and wouldn't cash traveler's checks except at the bank, where the rate of exchange was less. Then I was to go to immigration, but the lady told me that they were at lunch now, and what I should do was go back to the marina and get the dock master to call for me to see when they got back before I went. She said Bob could get off the boat and have lunch. However, by the time I got back to Bob with that information and he got the boat locked up, the dock master said he'd seen the guy going back to his office. So Bob went over to the cafe across the way(Skipper Bob's) and Cap'n Pat (the local golf cart king) took me in a golf cart up to the governmental office (police department, post office, immigration and tourist bureau) and I got our passports stamped and then rode back.
Then I ate the sandwich Bob had ordered for me. It was supposed to be a BLT, but I thought it was a bacon sandwich. It had a lot of bacon on it. Then we took the quarantine flag down and put up the Bahamas courtesy flag.We rented a golf cart for an hour ($20) and I drove it to the north end of town and then down to the south end. (They drive on the left in the Bahamas.) Then we went back to the boat and took a nap. We had dinner at the Anchorage which was a nice place up on the hill. I had lobster and Bob had the catch of the day. Service was quick and efficient. They gave us a pitcher of iced tea so we could serve ourselves. And the food was good and the bread was hot. They only had lemon cake for dessert, but it was good. Then we crashed.
Saturday Feb 17, 2001.
Electricity was a horrendous amount (like $40/day) where the general slip rental was 90 cents/foot. Water was 20 cents a gallon, and there were meters on the piers. So we formed a habit of running the engine to run the refrigeration in the morning and in the afternoon and we didn't hook up to water either..
Everyone uses the VHF like a phone, so we had it on all the time. We listened to people calling for the water taxi (to South Bimini), and asking the restaurants what the specials were. We also could watch the sea planes land and take off in the channel next to us. I could use my Verizon bag phone. My ATT phone didn't work at all. To get pocketmail (email), I could use the bag phone, call the USA direct 800 line, and call the pocketmail # (not an 800 # in the Bahamas) and then give a phone card # to charge it to. I could use the pay phone outside the marina, but the touch tone part didn't work so after I dialed the US, I had to say my credit card number to it, which I didn't like, but I wouldn't have to pay roaming charges on the air time on the bag phone. Eventually I discovered that the phone at the next marina would let me use the touch tones instead of saying the number. I tried the phone card from Sams club that my mom gave me, but 500 minutes became less than 30 minutes, and I had to dial the US, and then dial the phone card number, and then dial the phone card ID and then dial the phone number I wanted.
I called the dive shop and was told that they were leaving at 10. I didn't
think I could get my gear together by then, so I decided to go on the afternoon dive. We walked up to the outdoor market (mostly t-shirts) and bought Bimini bread and coconut candy. After lunch, I took my cart and put the bag with my dive stuff on it onto the pier and went down to the dive shop. I went out and had a nice dive at Turtle Rocks. There were two of us diving and two snorkeling. There was a bit of current and it was a shallow dive and I had some trouble getting the weights right. One of the two snorkelers (it was a young couple) got frightened by the surge near the rocks. I rented a camera, but it wouldn't rewind the film, and the dive master opened it up in the sun and ruined all the film, so they refunded my rental money. They delivered us back to the pier and I rinsed off my gear in a wheelbarrow and took a shower. Meantime, Bob went to the hardware/marine store and tried to get an offset screw driver and some little ignition wrenches without success. Then we walked down to the Red Lion for dinner. It was OK but the service wasn't as good as the Anchorage. I had calamari and Bob had snapper.
Bob walked all the way up to see where the other hardware store was, and listened to the church singing along the way. He said the Baptists sang the loudest. Some Bahamians came in a boat and tried to sell us lobster. We weren''t sure if it was a good price or not, so we didn't buy. Also saw a bull shark cruising in the marina where one of the guys in a power boat on the other dock had been swimming earlier. Some boys that had been fishing tried to catch him on a fish head, but he took the whole hook and all. We had dinner down at the blue restaurant that you see coming in called Fishermans. I had chicken. We also talked to the folks at Brown's Marina which is near there. There is a bar down in that area called the End of the World Bar which has a sand floor. Then we had ice cream at CJs which was the only place on the island that I found any ice cream and they only had chocolate.
The wind really had kicked up and when we got back to the boat, we turned on the wind instruments and saw gusts of up to 41 knots. The boat was heeled in the slip, and salt spray was all over the port side. The waves hit the back of the boat so hard that it sounded like it was being hit with a baseball bat.
A power boat came into the slip beside us and everyone got off (which they are not supposed to do until they are cleared in). One of them was in a wheelchair. I was sitting there trying to decide where we should go next, and reading stuff to Bob out of the guide and I looked over and there's pink stuff running down the side of the boat. He'd left a transfer pump on and was pumping diesel overboard. Bob went and got the harbor master, and he went to customs, and the guy moseyed back to the boat. He kept saying it was an honest mistake. That wouldn't cut it in the states. The marina people just shrugged and said the tide would take care of it. We had dinner at the Anchorage again.
A cruise ship, Black Prince, anchored off the town (the name of the town on North Bimini is Alice Town, but everyone just says Bimini), and they ferried the people ashore - met an old couple (he was 85) from England where he used to teach school. The cruise ship comes about once a year. I went and bought post cards. The selection was really poor. I mean one was of the bank.
We walked around town and observed the tourists. The music was playing even louder than usual at the Hideaway which was a place where Ernest Hemingway hung out. The beach was especially crowded - there were people on it!!
There are two streets - one is King Street which is the length of town, and Queen street is up on the hill and is only a few blocks long and not much more than one car wide. You climb up the hill to Queen Street, and on the other side is the beach. We had dinner on the boat - I was going to go to Opals which is a place where they announce what they have, and you can order from that - it is in someone's house. But we decided that we didn't want to try it this time.
Wednesday February 21
We are getting ready to leave as the wind is dying down some and the forecast is good for tomorrow. We've been talking to Herb of Southbound II on the Single Side Band (SSB)(maritime weather reports for cruisers). The French boat which came in from Mexico the day after we did has had their son and DIL visiting, and they are heading for Nassau. We lent them our guide and they wanted to buy it from us. They left, and so did the next boat down - they were going down to Gun Cay to go across to the Berry Islands. Originally we were going across the flats, but that trip will take two days and we either have to spend the night in transit (and the Banks aren't well marked) or anchor somewhere. So we are going to go to Grand Bahama Island instead. I wrote post cards, and then took them up to mail at the post office. We went snorkeling off the beach in the afternoon and saw some big barracuda, and a school of permit and lots of other fish. Also saw a pair of blue jeans on the bottom. I talked to Barbara on the phone and she said CJs was Jim's favorite and all we'd had there was ice cream, so we went there Weds instead of to Opals. We had cracked conch as that was Jim's favorite thing and then had an early night.
Thursday: February 22
WInds were predicted to be light from the SW, and the elephants in the Gulf Stream that were riled up by the strong NE winds we had have gone to sleep. Bob got up real early and went up to the bathroom (They have two bathrooms which are locked except at night when they put a piece of cardboard in the lock. Each is one narrow un partitioned room with two toilets, one sink and a shower.) and shaved. I got up at 6:30, and put the stuff in the cockpit (computer, GPS, binoculars, charts), and Bob singled up the lines and started the engine at 6:40. There were two BIG power boats on the outside of the dock - one of them came in late yesterday- so that guy came down his gangplank (he had one) sleepily with a coffee cup in his hand. Bob said we were going to back a little and I should cast off the lines (which I did) and the boat backed down into the marina and then swung around nicely (not much wind) and we headed out. The power boat guy had gotten on his swim platform just in case, but he didn't need to worry. We were underway out into the channel by 6:45. We motored slowly out the channel. A power boat had gone out before us, and there were a couple of big sailboats with dive flags that came out of one of the marinas nearer the entrance, and one fell in behind us. Ahead of us, opposite the new marina entrance on South Bimini there was some additional shoaling and the power boat ran aground as he had been too far off the beach. The big sailboat passed us on the beach side, and we followed them out to the range, and the power boat got himself off and followed us.
The chart for the Bimini area is seriously out of calibration. The electronic chart has us sailing from an area of mangrove flats down the middle of South Bimini, instead of where we actually were - the marina and down the channel next to the beach. We turned north after we ran out along the range and put up the sails and had breakfast. The winds were light - about 10 mph so we were motor sailing, but the Gulf Stream was pushing us north at over 7 knots. Pretty soon, we saw the lighthouse at Great Isaac.
Next: Going to Lucaya
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