November 26 – November 27.
The human mind is a curious thing. One day you’re “living the life” on a sailboat in southern Florida. Then you get it in your mind you want to cross the Gulf Stream over to the Bahamas. You start looking for a weather window with clear skies and southern winds. The window keeps not coming. Then you worry you might be “trapped” in southern Florida for weeks. The state shrinks. It’s just not good enough. You have to get out of there.
I listened to Chris Parker, the weather god of the Bahamas, on our single side band radio the 26th of November. I remember hearing the words “wow”, “two really big systems”, and “squally” wrapped around a forecast of southerly wind. I told Duwan we should probably wait for calmer southern wind to cross.
We decided to dink ashore and walk to Virginia Key Park. We packed our raincoats as it was cloudy. We had a nice two mile hike out to the beach, then to a point overlooking the Government Cut inlet. The conditions seemed much less menacing than those forecast by Chris and by windfinder.com. We talked ourselves into going for it.
So, fortified with a four mile hike instead of a nap, and with a quick supper, we struck out.
I have been dreading this crossing for weeks. Our first season we ended up motoring into the wind to Bimini, happy to sink our anchor into any kind of dirt we found, and getting thrashed around in Nixon’s Harbor from 2:00am until sunrise. We basically lost our mainsail crossing the second season and arrived in West End after a 20 hour trip. But this would be better. We have south wind.
With the mainsail up we motored out the cut after sunset into a heavy chop. Duwan steered us out of the channel around a dredging operation and then back in. She had taken her seasick medication, but by the time we passed the Miami light it was clear she would be down for most of the trip. But even hen there was no talk of going back.
We put out the headsail and flew into the night. Once we got into the Stream the seas were only about two feet. The wind was blowing 15 to 20 and on our beam reach we cruised along at 8 knots toward a point just north of Bimini.
I didn’t even worry about trimming sails until we had crossed the halfway point. Finally, 20 miles from Bimini we trimmed up and close hauled toward th wind. Our speed dropped to about 4 knots, but that was fine. The channel into Bimini is one that should be negotiated in daylight anyway.
It was cloudy the whole trip. No stars were visible. There were signs that we would soon get wet. The air cooled. The wind speed increased, and the heat lightning flashed all around us.
Reluctantly, I asked Duwan to take the helm. I knew she felt miserable. She responded without complaint.
We tried to strike the headsail. Normally Duwan steers and slowly feeds out the jib sheet while I haul on the furling line. The sail rolls up around the jib halyard until it’s wrapped up. You want to stay close to the wind to get a nice tight wrap.
The furling line was stuck. So, with the jib sheet flapping wildly against our dodger I crab walked up to the bow to find out what it was hanging on. Before this I had secretly thought all of Duwan’s concern about jacklines, tethers and better life vests was a little extreme. Now, hanging out on the bow with waves crashing over I really appreciated my new safety gear.
I think the furling line was pinched under one of our water jugs. I’m not sure. Everything on deck had shifted around. The dinghy wasn’t fully secure any more. I moved some stuff around, crawled back to the cockpit, and was able to pull on the furling line. We struck the headsail.
Duwan suggested a little rest before we dropped the mainsail. I was fine with that. No exceptional problems dropping the main, but again I was grateful to be tethered to the boat as I tied the sail down to the boom.
When the first squall hit we were nine miles west of the northern tip of Bimini. I was wearing a bathing suit, and had slipped a raincoat on over my t-shirt and life vest. (I should have taken time to put on my foul weather gear.) Duwan had been pointing us into the wind to dowse the sails. As I took the helm I saw that the GPS showed us going backward.
I throttled up and played the game of moving us toward the island. To make forward progress I had to constantly watch the compass and GPS. Look away during a lightning flash and we’d be driven backwards again.
It was very encouraging to finally see the lights of Bimini. At one point, though, I saw three lightning bolts hit the island simultaneously. Then nothing. Had the island lost all power? After a while the lights returned. The island had been obscured by rain.
We approached the channel entrance around 5:00am. We were cod and wet. With the wind shifts of the squalls I was afraid that a west wind might pin us against the island. I as so soaked I thought my life vest might deploy, rip my raincoat, and block my view of the GPS. The dink, Fever, was shifting around on deck.
When we came to Bimini two years ago there was only one channel marker. Now there were lots of lights. I told Duwan we could make it. Even though it was dark and raining we were going to head in.
Now I know that you enter then take a jog to the left. If you don’t there is a private community straight ahead with a shallow entrance for the residents’ power boats. We didn’t belong there.
We passed the first lights leaving red to starboard (right) and green to port. Then the next pair. Up ahead were two much brighter lights. They looked so inviting. There were welcoming lights behind them. It looked like Christmas…
Reverse! Reverse! Reverse! I had failed to see the turn to the left. Now, in front we had shallow water, behind we had breakers, and on either side were rocky sea walls with about 40 feet between them. Reverse just held us still, swinging toward one wall or the other. We had to get out of here.
I don’t think there is enough room to turn the boat around but we have to try. I turn sharply to the left, and just before hitting the sea wall throttle down. Then neutral. Turn hard right. Throttle all the way up.
Blue Wing spins around into the surf as she was designed to do. We go nowhere. Then, ever so slowly we creep forward into the waves.
Looking out into the darkness it’s easy to see the turn I missed earlier. Another channel light is out, but I can see that the Batelco phone tower light will keep me in line.
We arrive at Brown’s marina. We aim for a slip and work our way in. It’s not a picture perfect docking, but we manage to get tied up.
Wet, cold, miserable, and thankful, we unwind. Duwan lies down, this time inside the cabin. It’s 5:30am. I decide it’s time for a beer or two.
I’m not going back out into the rain now. In a few hours I’ll raise the quarantine flag and go to customs and immigration. Heck, it was a good trip. We made it in twelve hours, and nothing is broken. That’s a record for us.