We stayed in the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne until January 13. We celebrated Tim’s 49th birthday on the 11th with a nice dinner on the boat followed up with his birthday Summer Berry Pie for desert.
We had bought a pair of folding Dahon bikes while we were in Vero Beach and one of them was stolen while we were at the Marina. We had secured the bikes to a bike rack with a sturdy chain and lock but someone managed to steal one of them anyway. Luckily Tim was able to find another used Dahon bike the same day we discovered the other stolen but it isn’t quite as nice. You can add that to the list of other reasons why we didn’t care much for the Miami area.
We did ride our bikes quite a bit while we were in Key Biscayne especially back and forth to the library and grocery store. Groceries are pretty expensive in the Bahamas so we stocked up on quite a few things. Tim and I love to drink milk but I guess we are going to have to try and cut back. Fresh milk isn’t readily available in the Bahamas and the boxed milk (Parmalat) costs about $4 per quart. Guess that means we will be cutting back on cookies too!
We received Shamus’ dog permit from the Agricultural Dept. of the Bahamas so we only had to wait for a good weather window to cross the Gulf Stream over to Bimini Island in the Bahamas. That window opened on Wednesday, January 14 so the afternoon before, we fueled up and left Crandon Park Marina and headed further south on Key Biscayne to No Name Harbor which was where we planned to begin our crossing to Bimini.
January 14 – January 19: Crossing the Gulf Stream / The Bahamas
Crossing the Gulf Stream in the wrong weather conditions can be trying on the hardiest of sailors. Generally you want to cross when the winds are light and are blowing from the south or east. Winds from the north are generally not good for crossing as they can stir up some pretty big waves and rough conditions because they blow against the Gulf Stream which flows north anywhere between 2 and 4 kts. We left Key Biscayne at 3:30 a.m. in very light winds and relatively calm seas. The winds were forecasted to build from the north throughout the morning so we had to be across by noon to avoid worsening sea conditions in the Gulf. It was a narrow but decent weather window and we took it as did several other boats that left shortly after us. We arrived in Bimini around 10:45 a.m. The wind had definitely perked up by the time we arrived and the seas were beginning to build but nothing uncomfortable for us. Boats crossing a couple hours behind us probably had it a little rough towards the end of their trip.
When we arrived in Bimini we picked up a slip at the Blue Water Marina in North Bimini. We have made some more new friends along the way especially another couple from Maine named Alex and Alexa and their two dogs Luna and Piper. We first met them at the Crandon Park Marina in Key Biscayne and ran into them again at No Name. They crossed the Gulf Stream a couple hours ahead of us and have also been staying at the Blue Water Marina.
All of us were waiting for a good weather window to make the next leg of our trip on our journey to the Exumas. We will cross the Great Bahama Banks to Chubb Key which is roughly a distance of 80 nautical miles. The crossing will take roughly 13 hours. We are going try to break that up into two 40 mile days by spending a night anchored out on the Great Bahama Bank. Similar to the crossing of the Gulf Stream you need the right wind and wave conditions to have a comfortable crossing of the Great Bahama Bank especially if you plan to anchor at night on the Banks.
Over the past few days while we have been waiting for a good weather window to arrive:
· We have explored most of the island!
· Had a fun night out with a man named Keith who was another cruiser we met in No Name on Key Biscayne and who crossed just behind us. The three of us had drinks on the beach with Sherry and her husband Eric at Sherry’s Beach Bar and then over to another pub with a local man named Oscar for a game of pool, some dancing, and yummy fried lobster dinner.
· We took our boat out to a shipwreck on the south side of South Bimini to do some snorkeling with Alex and Alexa and had a great sail back to North Bimini. We followed that up with happy hour on a little uninhabited island here in the harbor. All of our dogs had a blast!
· We have not done any swimming off the boat in the harbor considering the very first thing we saw when I got off the boat the morning we arrived was a HUGE Bull Shark swimming next to the boat! Turns out they feed them here when cleaning fish so there are several prowling about! We are all keeping our toes out of the water!
· We had a lot of fun watching the Patriots whoop the Colts butts in the AFC Championship Game at the Bimini Big Game Club. Alex and Tim enjoyed a couple Pina Coladas while Alexa and I drank some ale (role reversal?). So now we need to make sure we have a place to watch the super bowl in February. Yippee!!!! Go Pats!!!
Finally a good weather window arrived to cross the Great Bahama Bank! We dropped our dock lines around 8:00 A.M. and headed out just behind Alex and Alexa on their boat the Abby B. We planned to cross and anchor out on the banks together and then head on to Nassau the next day. Sea conditions were a bit choppy but not uncomfortable while we were underway and we were concerned that it would be uncomfortable anchoring out in those conditions. Around 9:30 p.m. we tucked in behind a shoal located north of the Northwest Channel Light. Both wind and sea state calmed down and we ended up having a peaceful night at anchor. It was a very cool experience being anchored out of sight of land in 14 feet of water. You could see the bottom like it was only 1 foot deep. The stars were spectacular!
One of our concerns about anchoring out was whether or not we could convince Shamus to go to the bathroom on the boat. While on shore in Bimini we had him urinate on some palm fronds and brought them on board. We hoped having something he had gone to the bathroom on would convince him to go. It didn’t even after Tim tried to show him by example that it was okay to pee on deck! Oh well! Our vet, Chris Allen, told us he would go when he needed too. So with that in mind we all went to bed and slept well.
During the hours it took us to cross the Great Bahama Bank Tim and I talked about our journey. We have been on the move almost constantly since we left Maine in the end of October. We kept reading about an island chain here in the Bahamas called the Berry Islands. Everything we read said they are beautiful and have exquisite beaches and better yet are a mostly overlooked destination by other cruisers and visitors to the Bahamas. In addition, Great Harbour Cay Marina had fabulous reviews from cruisers who had visited there. They mentioned the marina staff are super friendly, the facilities are very clean and the rates to stay at the marina are very affordable. Even better – Great Harbour Cay Marina is a considered a hurricane hole – a very protected place to keep your boat in weather as severe as a hurricane.
When we woke up on the Great Bahama Banks we decided to head to over to check out the Berry Islands. We said our goodbyes to Alex and Alexa who continued on to Nassau and then the Exumas.
We hope to run into them again and if not will look them up when we all get back to Maine.
We arrived at Great Harbour Cay Marina late morning and as wonderful a place as was described in the cruising guides. The people, marina staff and other cruisers, are super. The beach just down the road from us is beautiful. After spending our first day here we decided to stay for a month. No more pushing to get somewhere or worrying about what the weather conditions are going to be. We will use the marina as our home base and take the boat out to explore the other islands anchorages in the Berry Island chain. Great Harbor Cay was developed by the rich and famous back in the 50s. Such notables as Cary Grant, Bridget Bardott, Telly Savalas and many others spent time on the island playing. They built an 18 hole golf course, tennis courts and an exclusive hotel(Sugar Beach Hotel) overlooking the beach. The hotel was abandoned in the 70s and about half the golf course became overgrown. There are still nine holes but the Island is now largely undeveloped except for a handful of private residences on the beaches. The sand on the beaches here is like talcum powder. We have never felt such soft white sand.
As for weather here, the first few days were in the high 80s but it is now in the 70s and sunny during the day and 60s at night. We get an occasional shower that lasts about 10 minutes. It feels like typical Maine summer weather which we love. The locals and many of the other cruisers think this is cold!
Since we arrived we:
· made friends with several of the other cruisers staying here at the marina as well as several members of the marina staff including Meco, Hans who is the marina manager, and Rufus who runs the marina shop.
· had a fabulous cheeseburger at the Beach Club. A great little bar and restaurant on Sugar Beach. While there we met several of the locals including Malesto (spelling? Pronounced Mal-est-toe) and her husband Terry who is a builder. We have been warmly greeted each time we have returned. We will go there on Thursday for a specially prepared native Bahamian meal of hog fish and / or chicken, and again this Sunday to watch the Super Bowl!
· met a great couple named Dennis and Gwen Tynan at the Beach Club. They invited us over to their beautiful beach house (built by Terry) and took us over to Hawks Nest Cay in their dinghy to show us the natural bridge and beautiful beaches located there. We saw a small shark swimming in the shallow water as we all climbed into the dinghy and another one swimming in the surf just off one of the beaches on Hawks Nest Cay! Lots of sharks in these parts! Yikes!
· attended several social gatherings since we arrived including a Chill and Grill hosted by the marina, a potluck organized by a couple of the other cruisers, and had a lot of fun at a big birthday party thrown at Hans’ house for his friend Ruth Ann and Gary a fellow cruiser staying here at the marina. Gary and his wife Christelle (spelling??) have visited the marina before and have spent quite a bit of time here. Both are a hoot and are very popular with everyone!! The party was attended by several of the marina staff and some of their friends, and also several of the cruisers staying at the marina. It was a hell of a party. Lots of laughing and dancing! Tim and I separately received marital advice from one of the Bahamian men who attended the party. He seemed to want to make sure we knew how to keep each other happy! Some of his advice got a little x-rated so I won’t repeat it here! Very funny!!!
· helped pick up trash on the island. One of the cruisers who recently came in organized a trash pickup event. While this is one of the cleaner islands in the Bahamas there is still a bit of trash along the road. Several of us showed up and we all spent a couple hours cleaning up a small section of road near the marina. Several local people passing by in their cars honked their horns in approval of our efforts and a few of them even stopped to pick up our filled trash bags to bring them to the dump.
· swam with a manatee! Well Tim did. There are a few that come right into the marina and it is legal to swim with them here. I ran to get the camera to take pictures of Tim with the manatee but I hope to get in with one of them before we leave! They seem to like being scratched and will come up to you for a pet! They are huge but incredibly cute!
While I write this several of our friends and family are probably digging out from a blizzard that just swept through the Northeast! I am sure several of you are wishing you were away from the cold and snow and sitting on a beach in a nice warm place! Well you might think Tim and I are crazy but we actually miss winter – A LOT! We both love the snow and have always loved a good blizzard! Oh well - no snow angels this year!
Also, we have made some exciting plans for the summer. We rented a small place in Burke, VT where we love to mountain bike. We will be spending time there during the week and cruising on the boat on weekends and probably make it up to Penobscott Bay towards the end summer.