Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We Are In The Bahamas!

This post could be three separate stories and I struggled with what the titles will be so lets break this down into a few parts.

Getting Prepared

Now that Pearl was ready to go we were anxious to move on from Marathon. It has a great community and there were fun things to do but 3 weeks on the mooring ball is too much for us. Gayleen sums it up this way.."we are on a sailboat, we should be sailing and not sitting on moorings". We have assumed our roles on Pearl where I do all the worrying about the things that need fixing or all we should do to prepare for the next trip while Gayleen pushes us to just get out there and find another adventure.

We had been talking about finally crossing to the Bahamas and the middle of last week there appeared to be a weather window coming up on Sunday and Monday. The decision was made that we were going to do it one way or the other. We have had some casual conversations about how to do the crossings and what we needed to do to prepare but they were just that, casual. With 3 days to figure out how to go and how to prepare we now had a mission. We went into overdrive asking anyone we met or were nearby if they had been to the Bahamas and to give us some newbie advice. I met several generous cruisers in the internet area of the marina that got us started but the plan really came together when Gayleen went to a cruisers yoga class and met Rob and Sue from s/v Mandate. I'm not sure what Gayleen said to them but shortly after the class Rob said if you want to go then just go and was insisting she talk to me about having them stop by later in the afternoon. It took me bout 2 seconds to say get them over here and they agreed to come over to Pearl and review charts and pass on their experience. Well they came by Pearl and time flew by reviewing charts swapping stories and having a lot of laughs. Before they headed back to their boat, Rob decided that he was going to mention on the radio cruisers net in the morning that he would do a session for anyone in the Marathon harbor about going to the Bahamas in the afternoon.

There is a white board in the marina building where folks that are going to cross that are looking for other boats to travel with "Buddy Boating" list where they are going and when they want to leave as well as how fast their boat travels. On the list was a boat named "Dream Catcher" and they had the number of the mooring ball listed so Gayleen and I took the dinghy by and knocked on their door. They were planning the same itinerary we were so we made plans to speak more at the on shore Bahamas meeting that afternoon.

Rob and Sue's Bahamas session was very helpful. Some other experienced Bahamas cruisers came as well as several in the same situation as we were. We came out of that meeting even more excited and determined and less than 2 days to get prepared. We took our last on shore showers, did the last load of laundry, bought $550 of random groceries, found a guy who would fill our propane tanks and a bought a few hundred dollars of different types of fuel. We hired a local diver to clean the underside of Pearl so she was prepared to show off in the clean waters of the Bahamas. We were also mentally prepared with two rules of thumb that came out of our fun discussions with Rob and Sue. "if you want to go then just do it" and more importantly, "if nothing went wrong then you wouldn't have any good stories to tell"

Trip Day 1, we already have a story to tell

The trip to Bimini from Marathon can be done in one very long crossing that would go through a night all offshore, or it could be broken down into 2 parts with an overnight anchorage. We decided to sail up the keys to Rodriguez Key where we anchored on the way down from Miami on day 1, anchor there and leave at 4:30 AM the next day to Bimini. The weather looked good and the winds were set up for a nice reach up to Rodriguez Key and then southerly winds giving us a nice smooth reach across the gulf stream to Bimini the next day. You need the right wind direction to head back north up the keys from Marathon so when we left on Sunday morning there was a parade of boats heading out the harbor all looking to go north for the summer.

The winds were brisk and it was a great day for sailing. Pearl had full sail up and we were flying along pulling away from many of the other boats until...things didn't feel right and we felt ourselves slowing down and the other boats catching up to us. I went to the back of the boat and looked in the water and when the light was right I thought I saw a brown line coming out from under the boat but it was faint and hard to see. I called Gayleen back to have a look and she saw it too....we **expletives deleted** snagged a crab pot!!! We had been playing dodge the crab pot all morning and thought we missed them all but evidently one got us. The sails came down. I tied a rope around my waist attached to Pearl, put a knife in my teeth and went for an open ocean swim. Fortunately it was only hooked on the rudder skeg and not wrapped in the propeller so after a couple minutes in the water I was back on Pearl and we were raising the sails again. I was excited to have a fun story to now tell...NOT!

After removing the pot we had been dragging it was as if Pearl was turbo charged and we flew the rest of the way to Rodriguez Key and met up with our crossing buddy boat Dream Catcher anchoring next to them.

Trip Day 2, all dressed up with nowhere to go

It takes about 10 - 12 hours to make the crossing across the Gulf Stream from Rodriguez Key to Bimini so we decided to leave at 4:30 A.M. to make sure we arrived by mid afternoon to be able to enter the channel and get settled into the Bahamas before dark. The winds looked perfect from the South for the crossing and we tried to get to bed early to be well rested. It seemed the adrenaline was flowing and we really couldn't fall into a deep sleep I fell asleep at 10 and got a few hours in but woke up at 1:30. There was cell service in the anchorage so I turned on my iPad to check the wind and weather sites for the hundredth time and there, out of nowhere and unexpected, was a line of squalls across the southern keys spreading all the way east into the southern Bahamas. I could faintly see lightening when I looked out my hatch. I watched them for the next 2 hours hoping they would dissipate but they didn't. I talked to our buddy boat at 3:30 and we talked and talked on and off for the next 2 hours hoping the storms would go away before 6 which was our daylight arrival cut off time but they didn't so we decided not to go. We had a fully provisioned boat all set to go and no more weather window because the winds were going to swing back to the North for the next few days. All that anticipation and excitement was gone and it looked like we would have to wait at least 3 days before the next chance to cross safely. Butch and Sue on our buddy boat, Dream Catcher, decided they were going to sit on the anchor there and wait. Gayleen and I talked and we decided that we would go crazy sitting on anchor there for 3 days because there is nothing to do there. You can't even go on shore, so after the squalls passed we decided to do the full day sail up to Miami to wait up there since there would be places to go and we now know the area well. We pulled the anchor, raised the sails and started on our way.

Day 3, yes there is more to this crossing story

On the single sideband radio there is a weatherman named Chris Parker who comes on a few different times in the early morning and provides very detailed weather reports for different cruising areas especially the Bahamas. Unlike here in the U.S. where we get the coastal weather all day from N.O.A.A. weather radio, there are no resources like that for the Bahamas so cruisers actually pay to ask Chris for detailed weather where they are and for their next passage. Since he uses the long range SSB radio to speak to them anyone can listen in. As we headed to Miami I tuned in to Chris's 8 A.M. broadcast and overheard a boat that was moored near us in Marathon, Alchemy, asking Chris about crossing from Rodriguez that night. We ruled that out because the winds would have already switched to coming from the north but Chris said the winds would be light enough to not cause the waves to kick up in the gulf stream until mid day on Tuesday. That was all we needed to hear. There was still a chance to get there BUT we would have to do an overnight crossing in North winds, all of which were not in our original plan or any plan for that matter but we really wanted to go. Since we had a buddy boat that had every electronic gizmo every created for cruising we felt that an overnight crossing could be doable for us. I called Dream Catcher and told Butch what I heard Chris Parker say and we decided to go for it..we were doing a night crossing! We are getting good at U turns so we turned around and sailed back to our anchorage at Rodriguez Key to reunited with Dream Catcher. It was April 1st and all we could think of was "April Fools".

After relaxing all day, the boats from Marathon arrived in the late afternoon so we spoke with the folks on Alchemy and the others about all crossing together and we drew up a new plan. Pearl and 3 other boats would leave at 11:30 P.M. in the dark and do a night crossing arriving in Bimini mid morning. We turned off our radios at 6 P.M. and tried to get a few hours of sleep in before leaving. This didn't work so well because of adrenaline and also because I kept thinking about things that had to be done to be safer in a night crossing and other things I wouldn't be able to easily do while sailing in the dark. Flash lights were strategically placed in the cockpit and below. I pulled out a life jacket to wear with a whistle so I could be heard if I fell overboard and pulled out the safety harness to wear so I could attach myself to the boat if I need to go forward to raise or lower the mainsail or tend to something.

With 6 hours of sleep in two nights, a strong cup of coffee and lots of adrenaline flowing, our flotilla of 4 boats left the anchorage in the middle of the night bound for the Bahamas. Interestingly, the part that made us most nervous was the first 5 miles as we weaved our way out through the shallow reef through the crab pots that we couldn't see hoping to get to the deep waters offshore. Our 4 boats followed the waypoints we prepared in advance on our chart plotters and successfully made it through the reef to the deep open ocean. It was a perfect night and the moon rose just as we left the reef. Just as Chris the weatherman said, the winds were light from the North and the seas were especially calm and hadnt had a chance to start forming the chop and swells that come with the north wind flowing against the Gulf Stream current. We were doing it, a night crossing in North winds, and enjoying every minute of it. It was reassuring to have the other boats with us and we all kept talking on the radio throughout the night. As expected, we could see the boat speed kick up as we entered the current helping us move North as we sailed East at an angle that would have us hit the entrance to Bimini harbor. The two boats with the fancy electronics that identified the larger shipping vessels out there kept a watch for ships that would cross our path and contacted them in advance to make sure they saw us. It appeared to me that each of them already knew we were here and knew that they would pass in front of us or behind us by at least 1 mile. One large ship asked us to slow down a bit because he had to pass between us and some other boats ahead of us.

Before we knew it, the sun was rising and we only had about 4 hours of the 11 hour trip left. The last 2 hours started getting a bit rock and rolling as the north winds kicked in but it was still fine and we only had a short way to go. We found it easy to travel with the other boats and were still all together as we approached Bimini in the daylight.


Dream Catcher

Before long we were entering the channel to Bimini harbor and I asked Gayleen to go up on the bow and watch to make sure I stayed in the channel so we didn't end up on a coral reef. Although the depth in the channel is fine for us, there aren't all the channel markers we have here in the U.S. and what are there aren't always maintained.

I'm on the radio talking to the marina to let them know we were here and also worrying about staying in the channel and all Gayleen did was keep screaming "look at how blue and clear the water is" as she pointed to everything around us. I'm not sure she was watching where we were going but I could understand her excitement. We were finally getting to where we wanted to be and experiencing the clear tropical blue waters and white sandy beaches that all we could do was dream about as we sailed along the coast of Florida. This is what we saw as we entered the channel.

This will be our home for the next couple of weeks while we wait for Brandon and Salem to fly in and join us to cruise north through the Abacos islands.

There will be a lot of exploring in the days to come but for now it's time to catch up on sleep.


  1. Congratulations! So exciting that you guys finally made it! What an exciting post :)


  2. Great story - we're glad you made it safely and that you had company to cruise with.

    Mel & Jim


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