It was tight, 20-25 knot North winds would start creating 8-10ft waves in the Gulf Stream Tuesday at noon but the window of opportunity was there and we took it. We crossed to the Bahamas. Actually more than just crossed, we essentially squeezed two pretty significant legs into twenty four hours.
Woke up early in Fort Lauderdale to take advantage of the forecasted light weather to take the ocean down to Miami. We had planned to head to Miami and then cross with Lilly Pong. They are now a crew of six on so it would be mutually beneficial for both boats; we'd gain a hand and they'd have slightly more room. Unfortunately at the last minute Lily Pong had a refrigerator equipment issues and couldn't leave. We were torn but decided to continue on, we've made it this far as a crew of two haven't we? The weather was not as settled as forecasted for our ocean passage to Miami and we considered just taking the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Our two weeks at anchor in Fort Lauderdale had dulled our seafaring senses though so we felt that we needed a refresher before the upcoming crossing. Out into the ocean we go. It was pretty rough (as usual) but no engine problems (thank goodness). Cassy got seasick again and was pretty comatose but still helped with tacks. It took us longer than expected to get to Miami and we entered this major port in darkness. The weather window was holding so we planned to fill up on diesel, pump out, take on water for the last time (in the US), find an anchorage, sleep for a couple of hours and depart at midnight. We stopped at the marina closest to the inlet but only after tying up to the fuel dock did we discover that it was actually closed until 7am the following morning. Griffin, the dock hand, was a hero and provided us with a free pump out, water fill up and allowed is to use the shower facilities. While not completely topped off we actually had plenty of fuel for the crossing. We would be the furthest offshore we've ever been. This would be our first night time navigation. We had planned to cross with a buddy boat but would be alone. Two hours later at 23:30 we checked the updated forecast and the window was still holding. We threw off the dock lines and headed out the inlet.
Passed the channel markers, in very little wind we raised sails. Even if it could give us only a half knot of extra speed over 45 nautical mile distance to Bimini we had to travel it would get us there that much earlier. Fortunately, relatively minor, this ultimately turned out to be our biggest error of the whole trip; we were so focused on getting the sails going that we were distracted to the effects of the northern flow of the Gulf Stream. I was actually surprised how soon the Gulf Stream flow started pushing us north. The forecasts showed the Gulf Stream located about five miles offshore of Miami (it moves). I think we started significantly sliding about two miles offshore. To make matters slightly worse we wasted our time dithering with the sails early in our crossing the Gulf Stream thus amplifying its overall passage effect. Once we realized the wind would not help propel us and that we were already in the Gulf Stream we had been pushed north a few miles and thus would have to aim further south to hit our destination. Having to point our bow further south reduced our speed toward Bimini by about 30% and would extended our passage by about two hours. Not good when a weather window is about to slam in your face.
The darkness and solitude enveloped us. The depth sounder was incapable of reading the two thousand foot deep waters below us. Beyond the territorial waters of the USA. No more Tow Boat US. Our only company was the regularly repeated US Coast Guard radio broadcast about a 6'5” male overboard in a 17ft vessel with a 4horse power engine in the vicinity of some far off creek. Our autopilot is non-functional so we hand steered the whole way. Eyes on the compass every 10 seconds. Move the wheel 3 degrees. Smell of exhaust. Tiring. 4:00am. Been up since 7:00. Pushed myself but when I started seeing things and nodding off I woke Cassy up to take over. Two hours later she woke me up to see the beautiful sunrise.
In the light of day the waters were so blue. You know just from that you've crossed into another realm.
Our entrance into Bimini inlet went smoothly. The small inlet was well marked. After going the length of the main channel we actually found our friends Brin de Folie and Oceane anchored. In their last communication before crossing a day earlier they had said they intended on staying in a marina but as it turns out they found this good little anchorage. We anchored near them and celebrated the reunion. Entering the anchorage a float plane actual came directly at us while landing in the channel. It followed us into the anchorage propeller spinning at off our stern. That's never happened before! Too cool!
First things first. When entering a country by boat you raise the yellow quarantine flag. Theoretically only the skipper goes ashore with all documentation and clears into customs. Brin de Folie however told us that the previous day they both went ashore to clear in. We all dingied ashore, found the customs office, completed a multitude forms, got chastised by the officer for all being there (Cassy stepped outside to right things). The funniest thing for me was that out of the six free wickets available the customs officer called me over to the only one with a Christmas tree half in front of it. For the next fifteen minutes I answered questions, produced papers and paid fees with trees branches & ornaments literally in my space. I don't think he was conscious of it or did it on purpose. I thought the whole situation was hilarious and surreal but contained my amusement as an ode to the gods of administrative bureaucracy.
So this was our crossing. Under a bright moon and rising sun we motored on lake calm waters. Thirteen hours we motored. A 10knot Southwest wind would have been perfect, but given the rare opportunities to even get across (many boats are still waiting) we are very happy with our crossing.
Later that evening the strong north winds did pick up and the window slammed shut. As happy as I was to have arrived my thoughts and prayers were with anyone possibly still out there.
|Hard day's night
|Our wake was the biggest wave
|Now I will smile more!