Monday, November 10, 2014

Days in Bimini

This morning, we are sitting at anchor just east of Cat Cay. There is a blustery cold front moving through ('cold' being a relative term) and I have been up several times in the night to check our position to make sure the anchor is holding. When we set the anchor, it did not want to dig in at first. I could feel it skittering across the bottom as Junie backed SeaClearly down. It did, finally, grab onto something after about 30 seconds and we hoped it had found the sandy patch it liked that would hold us through the night.  As the front arrived, it has turned the wind from south to southwest to west to northwest to north and, now at 5:30 am, northeast.  Our perspective of the few lights on shore changes every hour so your confidence in your position is shaky. We have an anchor alarm application, “Drag Queen”, that sometimes just adds to the drama by screaming at you when the boat swings around on the anchor or the GPS fix varies. Short story – the sun will be up soon and we are not on a reef, sandbar or rocks. Good news!

I do need to back up a little to fill in our story. It may take a couple of days because there is no way to tell a good story in a few words. And, we have a limited data connection so the pictures will come when we get back to a good wifi signal in a few days.

November 6

We dropped our mooring in Dinner Key at about 1:30 pm and went in to the designated marina slip – number 18 – where mooring ball people like us can fill up water tanks and pump out. We were also still waiting for a UPS delivery to show up. We had some additional water filters (never enough filters) coming and had expected them earlier. We were in no particular hurry so we hung out in the slip, hoping no other boaters would need to get in, until the stuff showed up. Moments later, at around 4:15, we were on our way.

The plan was to cross Biscayne Bay, pass NoName Harbor through the narrow channel near the key and sail into the ocean. The crossing to Bimini is only about 46 miles from that point but it is crossing the Gulf Stream and still a pretty big deal. We had a nice weather forecast and a beautiful night. As we rounded Cape Florida into the ocean, the sun was just slipping below the horizon and behind us as a huge full moon came up in front to guide us through the night. It never got dark the entire trip.

We had way too many hours in the night to make this trip. We could make the trip, in this weather, in about 7 or 8 hours,  which would bring us to the entrance to Bimini in the dark at low tide. Not good. We had elected to take it slow and had resolved to hang out off the coast once we got there and wait for daylight. We wanted to get checked into the Bahamas but, also (and far more important to the Communications Officer) to get a Batelco SIM card for our phone. It would be Friday morning when we arrived and the office would be open.

The crossing was a fairly uneventful motorsail except for the dozens of ships – cruise ships, cargo ships, hazardous tankers, tugs pulling barges - passing north and south as we traveled east. We had radio conversations with a couple of them to make sure they saw us and to confirm courses and close passes. The tug captain was funny. In our initial conversation, he says, “Yeah, I do see a little red light out there.” When I asked him to confirm the nature of his vessel, it turns out he is a tow boat pulling a barge with about 800 feet of cable between the two. Then he says, “Lord, don’t try to go between them! You will give me a heart attack.” I responded that, perhaps, my day would be even worse than his. But, then, he would have to fill out all that paperwork involved in running over a sailboat.

The full moon and clear skies made the passage somewhat less intimidating but the AIS and radar are still your best friends at night. We did have, as a result of the minor north wind, a beam sea for the whole trip which made for a rolly ride. There was not really enough wind to hold SeaClearly over to a good heel. That orientation can be uncomfortably queasy so there was no sleeping in the cabin. Between the mesmerizing moon on the ocean and this uncomfortable motion, neither one of us got as much sleep as we needed.

Despite taking a slow ride, we were already sitting off of Bimini by 4:00 am and sort of hove-to in the building southwest winds to wait for daylight. The entrance to Bimini is not hard but it is interesting. After cruising along in thousands of feet of water, you suddenly pass through the markers in beautiful turquoise waters that are less than 10 feet deep in a couple of spots. Believe me, you still feel like you are out in the ocean. You then have to make a sharp left turn to avoid shoals on your port side and the beach to starboard. Throw in a couple of landing craft-style cargo ships that also were waiting to enter at daylight and you have an exciting ending to a quiet night.

We called Brown’s Marina, our destination, and got the usual Bahamas response (none) so we proceeded to land SeaClearly on our own. We had picked our arrival time to catch the slack tide. That is a big deal here in Bimini. The current rolls through at 2 – 2 ½ knots so it can make docking a nightmare. A dockhand did show up as we pulled into the slip (we had our choice since there was only one other boat in the 18 slip marina at the time) and we landed perfectly. Back in Bimini! We missed Roux as we thought about our arrival with him here last year.

The first order of business is to check in to the Bahamas. Only the captain can leave the boat, with all of the ship and crew information and a handful of cash, to clear in with customs and immigration. I changed into some more presentable clothes (they take that seriously here), and walked the half mile to customs while Junie stayed on the boat (she told me I was captain).  There are about three forms, some serious stamping, no humor and 10 minutes involved at customs. And $150 bucks – I had expected $300 and still think they may have messed up so, hopefully, that won’t be a problem. They did give us a 90 day stay which is good for us. Sometimes (if you don’t dress nice or if you are an a$$hole) they only give you 30 days.

Immigration is in a different office which was located down the street in the police station this year. I got there and found that my tired self had forgotten to pick up and fill out the immigration forms at the marina so I had to hike back to the boat for Junie’s signature. We took a chance on running afoul of the Bahamas officials and Junie walked back with me since it was in the right direction for the Batelco office. We wrapped up the paperwork and we were in! An hour later, we had our new Bahamas phone, complete with data plan, and were headed back to the boat.

By 10:00 am, we were already thinking that it must be getting late in the day. But the clear water, constant boat traffic and new arrivals at the marina kept us entertained throughout the day. As evening fell on the waterfront, the sky softened into gorgeous colors. The still-full moon rose over the flats to the east. Reggae music mixed with the lilt of Bahamian accents and deep laughter and echoed across the docks as the last of the fishing boats came in with the last of the light. It is great to be back.

We have big plans for Day Two in Bimini. We are renting a golf cart and doing the island!


  1. Where is the picture of "Captain Duane" is his Bahamas customs visit finery??

    1. The Customs guys wouldn't take my picture. No sense of humor.