Finally Bahamas Bound

After weeks of patiently waiting, all signs were a go. We have been disappointed before, but this time the signs were there, the planets aligned and Neptune was napping. The alarm went off at 5:30 AM and we fired up the computer and checked all four resources. Nothing had changed for 3 days and that was an excellent indicator that the weather window was correct and would hold for the distance we needed to travel. At 6:30 AM the light was more than sufficient for us to get down the canal from our friend's dock and head out into Cape Florida Channel.


As we motored out into South Basin, there were 3 trawlers and a few sailboats at anchor. One trawler, we later learned was Monty and Sara Lewis of Explorer Chartbooks, was hauling up their anchor, but no one seemed to be stirring on any of the other boats. As we headed into the channel, we were happy to see the flat water and clear blue skies. As we motored on, we found another couple of boats anchored near the southern tip of Key Biscayne. A few boats were coming out of No Name Harbor and we knew we would not be alone on this crossing. The seas were a bit rough as we moved out the Cape Florida Channel and into the Atlantic. This area always seems to be rough no matter what the time of day or wind conditions. As a perfect send-off, a large sportfish flew past us at full speed and rolled everyone nearby with a huge wake. Goodbye Miami!


The waypoint for the channel entrance at Bimini was set on our chartplotter on the flybridge and the navigation computer at the lower helm station. Because of the strong north-setting current in the Gulf Stream, it was necessary to set a course well south of our destination. To determine what that course should be, we would have to calculate the speed our boat would be traveling, the strength of the current in the Stream and how long we would be exposed to the current. On this day, the west wall of the Gulf Stream was about 5 miles off Key Biscayne and we would stay in it until we entered the channel into Bimini. Doing all of the calculations for the average speed across the Stream put our course at about 125 degrees magnetic. The strength of the current isn't the same all the way across. Close to the Miami coast it would start out around 1.5 knots. In the center of the Stream, it would run about 3 knots, and as we approached Bimini, it would drop to about 2 knots, then down to about 1.5 knots as we made the entrance channel. The heading worked out to be just about perfect. The conditions turned out to be very good for a trawler crossing. Winds were light at about 5 to 8 out of the south and we had swells at 2 feet with the occasional 3 footer. Within 20 miles of Bimini, the swell pattern switched from the east to the south and put them right on our beam. Fortunately, once we were in deeper water, the swells were long and gentle. But it still made for the occasional rolling for a few hours. All in all we rate this crossing about an 8.


We first sighted the buildings on North Bimini about 12 miles out. Within 7 miles, we could start making out some of the land features, and within 5 miles, we could see both North and South Bimini, but no sign of the buoys that mark the channel entrance. We had received some info from the folks at Bimini Big Game Club to look for the condos and head in for them. These particular condos are townhouses with red tile roofs and easy to find as we approached. There is an entrance to Bimini Sands Marina between the condos and their entrance channel lines up with the two outer red and green buoys. Several boats were coming out of the channel, making it easier for us to figure out the layout. The buoys finally came into sight and it was a happy afternoon for the crew of Beach House on her first Gulf Stream crossing. The boat, not us. The current Lat and Long as of today just west of the buoys (things can change) is 25 42.671' N and 079 18.522' W. The channel requires frequent dredging and it was just finished in the last several weeks. We happen to hit the entrance at low tide and saw 9.7 feet over the outer bar. Once inside the channel that leads up to Alice Town and North Bimini, the depths were 15 to 17 feet.


Once through the outer buoys, the channel turns to port on an angle. Our plan was to arrive in the early afternoon so the sun was high and behind us and it worked out perfectly. Some of the clouds we had experienced earlier were gone and the darker waters of the dredged channel stood out clearly through the white shallow bars on both sides. The small mountain of white sand to starboard was the sand dredged from the channel, and that pile of sand stands out for miles before you arrive. At one point earlier in the day, we had counted 18 boats that we could see all heading in the same direction. It was going to be a busy afternoon in Bimini, but there were plenty of slips in the local marinas and a couple of small anchorage areas.


Our plan was to spend at least one night at the Bimini Big Game Club Marina so we could clear in at Customs and Immigrations. We had been in contact with them several times during our waiting period in Florida and they were very helpful and understanding when weather delayed our departure over and over. The Customs House is under renovations so Customs has an office at the marina, making checking in easy. At 2:30 in the afternoon, we were comfortably tied up at the dock and really enjoying the moment. Could it really be that we finally arrived after waiting and waiting? But the wait was worth it after a very uneventful crossing. I took the ships papers and forms we needed to the Customs office. The marina provided the forms for us as soon as we were tied up and secured. Check-in took about 10 minutes at Customs and then a short walk of a few blocks south to Immigrations took another 5 minutes. By this time, new arrivals were lining up behind me to go through the check-in process. The Immigrations Office is in a small pink building next to the Tourist Office at the town dock. There is a small craft market there making it easy to find.


The Settlements of Alice Town and Bailey Town make up most of North Bimini. The Island is rich in history but has definitely seen better days. There is an effort underway to clean things up and revitalize the area. The very narrow streets are lined with small grocery stores, shops, restaurants and a few pubs. All of the marinas line the main street. We counted about 5 small grocery stores and found a coin-operated laundry just north of BBGC. One of our errands was to go to the BTC office and get sim cards for both our phone and the data stick for the computer. We wrote details of how to do this in a previous post. We carry an unlocked GSM phone and using a prepaid sim card, we now have a Bahamas telephone number. The sim card for the data stick turned out to be more work. We purchased the card and were told it was activated. When we returned to the boat it wouldn't connect. We took both the computer and the wifi stick to the BTC office the next day and sorted it out. When using the USB stick, it asks for an access point, user name and password - a few things that the young lady at the BTC office neglected to provide the first day. In addition, even though we paid for the sim card and $30.00 for a months worth of data, we still had to add funds to the data plan online in order for it to be activated. So we added $5.00 to the account, input the needed login information and all was right with the world. The ladies at BTC were helpful and courteous.


Wouldn't you know it? Our weather window to cross the banks to the Berry Islands did not materialize when we thought it would. It's almost 90 miles from our slip to Bullocks Harbor in the Berry Islands and that's our next destination. For us that means a long day and spending the night anchored out on the banks. We will then finish the trip the next morning. With the number of hours of daylight we have and the speed we travel, our arrival would be midday the following day. So we need at least 2 good weather days to get there and get settled into a safe harbor, because it will start to blow again for 3 to 5 days before there will be another 1 or 2 day window to travel again. It's just how the weather patterns have been in the Bahamas all winter and the pattern does not seem to be changing any time soon. But Spring will be here soon. Won't it? Since we're being held up again, some exploration is in order. There is a LONG white beach on the northwest side of the island and we took a long walk on this great beach that we had to ourselves. Many of the homes that line the beach are in serious need of repair and the erosion will put many of them in the water in the not too distant future. Some of the once grand resorts are in a sorry state and a few appear to have been converted into apartments. But all in all we're absolutely delighted to be here. We have already met several other boaters that made the crossing at the same time we did and they are preparing to move on, too. We are glad to finally have experienced Bimini and look forward to new harbors and walking new beaches.

12 comments:

  1. Could you post a map with route of your travels. We plan to follow similar route in our 36 ft. Albin. "0 Regrets". We are cruising along with you and as always, have fun.

    Barry & Denise

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    1. Thanks Barry, That's a good idea. Let me look at some of the options and see what might work best. We will need to be able to update it. Chuck

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  2. Thanks for the great story and information. Any tips for a first timer heading out of FT. Lauderdale in a 43 Gulfstar trawler? I'm heading over May 24th and plan to stay just for the long weekend and return Monday. I hear the Bimini trip is a great first trip to gain experience with the crossing.

    I'll be watching the weather and more importantly, the winds. I just need to figure out what my bearing will be so I can land close to the Islands. I am figuring my cruise speed will be 9 knots.

    Thank you!

    Tom B.

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    1. Tom, You will need to do a little work with your charts. You can plot the distance the Stream will carry you north based on the miles and your speed. Aim for that distance south of Bimini and you can adjust your course as you approach. My best advise is to take the right weather window. It will be the longest 5 or 6 hours of your life if you choose wrong. Consider plan B because there is a good possibility you won't get the right weather for the time you have. Consider also that if you don't get a window coming back, you will be in Bimini many more days than you plan. Chuck

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  3. Thanks very much. I have told my friends that I will be taking no chances on this trip. If it looks like trouble, we'll just go to Key Largo instead and have fun close to shore.

    I'm very optimistic but I won't take a foolish chance. I'm very comfortable with my boat and I know how she handles however I have no experience crossing the stream. My hope is that the few boats in my marina that say they are going as well, are in fact going. I wanted to travel alongside someone who has done this before.

    Thanks again for all the terrific articles, I've enjoyed them quite a bit!

    Tom

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    1. Good luck Tom and we hope everything works out. Just be sure and get up to date forecasts for winds and seas to make your crossing and use as many reliable sources as you can find. When they are all pretty much in agreement, make your decision. You can usually find boats heading in the direction your going once you get to the more popular staging points. This time of year, May and June, folks are heading for the Abacos or Bimini. Have a great trip, whatever you do. Chuck and Susan

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  4. Hi Chuck and Susan - Hope all is well. I really enjoy this post because of it accounts the crossing. How rare are the good weather windows? How big are the swells if caught out in them? For 53 miles, flat water, for me (we have similar engines) would be about 7.5-8 hours. But - I know nothing about the actual crossing. Is the water surface mostly long period swells? Mostly a beam sea, right? Any worries about big ship traffic?

    Seems like there's no issue as long as the forecast is kind...

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    1. Ben, It depends on the time of year. During the winter months the good weather windows can be few and we have waited up to two weeks or more for a good one. Remember, once you get across the stream, you need to get somewhere. A minimum of 3 days is best for a slow moving vessel. You may only get that once a month during the winter on average. The swells can be 3 to 4 feet on a good day, usually long and gentle. But add wind and then your in the 4 to 6 feet range and shorter duration. The swells will usually come from the direction of the prevailing winds, but large weather systems hundreds of miles away can send substantial swells from a different direction. On this trip, we had swells from one direction and wind waves from another. Strong winds out of the north against the current from the south can produce dangerous wave, close together and can easily reach 12 feet or more. That's why this is not a crossing to be taken lightly or by the uniformed. There are ships to watch out for, but we have never found them to be a problem. Stay safe. Chuck and Susan

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  5. Wow! Thanks. 12-foot is huge. I didn't have to think about the crossing time in my formerSea Ray days. But even 4-6 short duration is just unpleasant. Definitely NOT the Pamlico Sound though the distance from Oriental to Ocracoke is similar. Thanks for the detail!

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  6. Ben, The Coast Guard announces the location of the west wall of the Gulf Stream as well as sea states on their VHF weather broadcast. My three pieces of advise to everyone is, wait, wait, and wait. Chuck

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  7. Hi Chuck and Susan, still catching up on your blogs in order. What was your fuel usage on this hop and at what speed?
    BTW great wealth of information and education from your blogs, Thanks!

    Rob

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    1. Rob, We did not track actual fuel consumption. But Beach House burns approximately 2 to 2.4 gallons per hour at 1750 RPMs and that computes to about 7 knots. We could have done the trip on a single fill up of 300 gallons but we found good fuel prices in Nassau so we topped off. Chuck

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