January 9, 2016
We got up this morning with no particular plan for the day. We were still hoping for a slip in the marina before the weather set tomorrow. We listened to Chris Parker's weather forecast on our Short Wave radio. We turned him on at 6:30 which was when the Bahamas forecast is supposed to begin but as usual he was still handling the Caribbean. At about 7:00 he begins the Bahamas forecast from north to south. At 7:45 he starts to talk about when we might have another opportunity to cross. He suggested that today would not be a bad day to cross to Bimini as long as you were tucked in for protection for the night. Bimini was not our desired destination but it was the Bahamas and we could finally leave the USA behind.
I took off the dodger covers and slipped the mooring by 7:48. Karen was still in her pajamas and wondered what was going on. I told her we were headed for Bimini. She had no problem with that. We headed into the marina and out the channel to Key Biscayne Bay. Once in the bay I set a course for No Name Harbor and turned on the autopilot. The Bay was nice and flat. We then prepared for sea.
I pulled up the dinghy and secured it. Then collected all the empty jugs and spare life jackets on deck and stowed them in the dinghy. Karen got dressed, went below, and secured everything that we normally leave out when onshore. Finally we donned our lifejackets and settled in for a day's crossing.
The winds were out of the west at about 5 knots and we were travelling east at about 7 knots which meant that there was little or no apparent wind. We had the engine RPMs up at about 2700 which is not optimal, we end up burning a lot more diesel at this setting than our normal 2100 RPMs, but we were in a hurry to get into some shelter by the end of the day so we pressed on.
We picked up the channel that goes by No Name Harbor and headed through for the sea. No Name Harbor is a nice little harbor with a state park around it and a restaurant at one end. Very picturesque and very protected. There is room there for about 10 boats but because there were so many boats waiting someone told us there were about 20 boats in there waiting to cross. Way too crowded in there.
We passed into the ocean with the Key Biscayne Lighthouse on our left. We got a nice shot of the lighthouse as we passed by. We got to the Gulf Stream at about 9:30 and set our course for 110 degrees. This setting would give us a course of about 90 degrees due to the current running north and should take us right into Bimini. We have 46 nautical miles to go.
The seas were not too bad. We had two to four foot seas running from the north. We did not see too many other vessels out there. We saw a few freighters and had to alter course for one of them so we would not be in their way. You should always make your turns early so the other traffic understands what your intentions are to prevent any confusion.
The winds continued to be light all day and did not pick up until late in the afternoon. The current still continued to push us north most of the way to Bimini. As the current slackened I adjusted our course to just about a true 90 degrees. Bimini rose out of the ocean in front of us. The west wind had strengthened to about 15 knots and the rollers were now with us headed for Bimini. This was not good for our entry into the channel that went north and south.
The entrance to the channel doglegs left as you enter it and runs just along the shore on your right and the reef on your left. The chart showed 1.9 meters of depth at the channel at mean low tide and we draw just under six feet. The rollers were running about three to four feet and unknown to us we were at low tide.
I asked Karen to get on the bow and watch for shallow water as we entered the channel. I was hoping to time it right to catch a swell as we entered the shallow part of the channel to avoid hitting the bottom. The channel was a bit intimidating. The water was breaking all around us and the depth was coming up fast. I caught a wave in the channel just before we entered the charted shallow waters. I am making the turn as the depth finder reads 6.8 feet when Karen screams "turn around." Too late, we were committed. If I turned around we would end up on the bottom of that wave and be aground… Sailing is a lot of sheer boredom with intermittent periods of sheer terror.
We were lucky and made it over the shallow water. Soon we were seeing 10 to 12 feet in the channel. We were still being knocked around quite a bit with the rollers at us abeam and breakers on both sides of us. We were also very close to the beach.
Once in the harbor things settled down quite a bit. We passed the Bimini ferry connecting North and South Bimini and found Brown's Marina just past the ferry landing on the left. We pulled into the last slip on the north side and tied up for a few days. This would be the first time we had been tied to a dock in over a month. Having electricity to charge the batteries would be great, we never seemed to get the batteries fully charged on our trip down. We just did not get enough sun on our trip down for the solar panels to charge our system fully.
After getting fully connected at the marina I took our forms down to Customs for our proper entry to the country. I went into town looking for the customs office and would not found it if I had not seen someone in a uniform out on the street to point me the way. The Customs office was inside of The Big Game Club.
We had filled out the forms the marina had given us for entry but when I got to the customs office they provided me the proper forms to fill out. I had to do them all over again. The customs agent was kind enough to help me redo the forms.
A few minutes later and $350.00 poorer I had finished customs and was sent to immigration. The customs agent asked me if I knew where it was. I told him no. He said I better hurry up and catch up with the guy who just left. I did and we walked down to a pink and white building with the immigration office in the back.
Once in the office I was told to take a seat while the guy in front of me was taken care of. The guy did not have his paperwork completed so he was asked to take a seat and they took care of me. In less than a minute the immigration paperwork was done and we were free to enter the country.
When I got back to the boat there was a crowd around our boat. Everyone was visiting with Karen at the boat because she was not allowed off the boat until we had completed the Customs and Immigration activities. The cruisers overall are a friendly group. It is amazing the number of Canadians we meet in the Bahamas. The country has such a small population compared to us but there are almost as many Canadian Cruisers as there are ones from the US.
January 10, 2016
Brown's Marina is not very well protected when the seas are up. The rollers do seem to make it down the channel and the traffic going by often put out a big wake. Here we sit getting knocked around a bit even though we are in a marina.
Brown's Marina is in Alice Town. Alice Town is a typical Bahamian town. There are modest homes and shops at various states of disrepair. The locals are quite friendly and almost entirely black. We only met a very few white locals. At the northern end of the island is a huge resort that is just now being completed.
This Island used to be the base for smuggling booze to the states during prohibition. Brown's Marina was also where Earnest Hemingway used to keep his boat when he was on the island writing some of his books. More recently the islands have been used as a base for smuggling drugs into the US.
We met up with several cruisers here: Bright Eyes (Wayne and Betty Romberg,) Truant (Mark and Jo Simpson), Mar-a-Largo (Brian and Jane Wilson), and Mañana (Linda and Nile Schneider.) Truant we had met in Miami previously and we had just caught up with Mañana at Dinner Key. We were only a day behind Mañana and Truant getting here. They crossed in much rougher weather than we did.
We walked the town to see what it had to offer. Then we went over to the beach and spent some time there. The weather is still too cold and windy to really enjoy the beach.
In the afternoon a few more sailboats started to arrive outside the island. They had very much the same conditions we had when we came in and it was also at low tide. We watched the first boat come in and he had quite a ride. We all felt for him. His mast was swinging back and forth making an arc of over 60 degrees! Once they were in we helped them tie up. You could see they were quite shaken by their rough entry but their draw was only five feet so their risk was not too bad of going shoal.
We watched the next boat coming in. He was warned off by another boat because of his deep draft but he did not listen. We watched him enter the channel then turn around, enter again and turn around, then entered one more time before he ran aground. It was hard for us to determine what was going on from shore. One of the cruisers had a good sized motor boat as his dinghy so he headed out to give the boat a hand.
Once he got out there he found that they had no steerage and were unable to help them off the shoal. He did manage to tow the boat off the shoal and bring them into the harbor safely. We helped them tie up to the end of the T dock. Again you could see they were quite visibly shaken. We had to do all the tie up for them. They were just out of it.
Later we found out they had a paid captain on board and the boat was only a few months old. I cannot say that the captain was earning his pay that day. Their rudder had been bent up against the hull when they hit the shoal and had to cut the top of the rudder off to regain steerage.
Well the last sailboat waited until the tide came in a bit and had no issues with coming in. This boat drew over six feet and was 70 feet long. It was an impressive boat, big black and shiny. It had everything on it anyone would ever need.
That evening Karen and Jo (Truant) arranged a happy hour for all the cruisers on shore. The turnout was great and everyone had a good time.