We finally leave Marathon and make a 22 hour trip across the gulf stream to Bimini, Bahamas.
Start: Boot Key Mooring field, Marathon, FL, 0745
End: Blue Water Marina, Bimini, Bahamas, 0644
Total Distance: 125.1 nm
Average Speed: 5.4 kts
On the third of January, we paid for another week and we realized that it would be our forth week in Marathon, FL. Nice place, sure. But we really wanted to get out of dodge. But the creature known as the ‘weather window’ was fleeting and elusive. We subscribed to a man named Chris Parker who provides weather analysis for sailors on the east coast and sends a daily report on crossing to the Bahamas. Since just after Christmas, they have been along the lines of “No.” An example from early in the first week of Jan:
“No advised travel thru Sun7 due to N component winds. Salty W-bound vessels may be able to sail Mon8. Sailing for both directions may briefly resume late next week in S winds depending on fate of upper TROF/surface LO. Next benign travel window unknown.”
Next benign travel window unknown. All we want is benign. My middle name is benign.
But as we go through the week of 7 Jan, it appeared that there may be an opportunity to go sometime between Wed, 9 Jan and Sat, 12 Jan and then a long, long time after that for another crossing. We are ready to take some risk to get a cross the water.
So on 9 Jan we waited anxiously for the Parker report and it said:
“Risk for squalls/T-strms with locally-strong wind/seas suggest I’d stay in Port thru Wed10 – but W-bound “Salty Sailors” might do OK since wind directions will be mostly aft-of-the-beam. Assuming a couple things, Thu11 might be a reasonable W-bound sailing day / E-bound motoring/motorsailing day.”
Good enough. We were heading east, we have been motorsailing the heck out of this boat, we have our opportunity.
Queue mad scramble to get boat ready to go. I’ll write about that debacle later. Our plan was to leave Marathon Thursday morning, top off fuel and head up to one three anchorages to stop, pee the dog, catch a couple hours of shut eye and then get up super early and cross to Bimini.
So on Thursday mooring we awoke, showered, pulled up the dinghy and waved good-bye to the Marathon City marina. We got fuel and by 0830 were turning to the NE. Since we
were planning on anchoring, we stayed in the Hawk Channel which runs adjacent to the East Coast of Florida, instead of heading directly out into the Gulf of Mexico and the gulf stream and heading to Bimini. We knew quickly that we would have to modify our plan a bit. The winds and the waves were coming out of the NE, precisely the direction we were heading. And the waves were not nice little rolly things, but couple of feet, one right after another. Consequently, our forward progress was severely limited. We pulled into our first potential anchorage just after noon and couldn’t find a place to walk the dog, so we scratched that. We pulled into our second anchorage just after 3pm and it was exposed to the wind. When we dropped the anchor, the ground was so hard we dragged our anchor, and I kid you not, for a mile. We gave up.
As we turn the boat to head towards our third potential anchorage we realized that we wouldn’t get there until after dark. So we made the decision to take a right and shoot overnight for Bimini. Why the hell not. We only live once.
We are going to leave the coast of Florida, enter the Gulf Stream, which is thousands of feet deep and which flows from south to north across our path. We are going NE across the stream which is good–we get a nice push from the stream. But the wind is from the East which means no motor sailing. Just motoring. And the waves are in the 4-6 foot range and coming off our front starboard corner. Benign this is not. We set our course for 69 degrees. This line will take us to a point about 20 miles south of Bimini, but if we have done our calculations correctly, once the gulf stream pushes us over the 12 hours it will take us to cross, we should end up just about at Bimini without fighting the stream.
So at 5pm, as the sun starts to go down, we head off into the big unknown. We decided to break the watches up as we did before. I would take 2100-0000. Jan on from 0000-0300. I’m back on 0300-0500, Jan takes it to 0700. We figure we should be in Bimini sometime early morning, hopefully after sunrise. We call and get a reservation at the Blue Water Marina. Sounds nice.
I kept a log of the trip as we went. Notes are below:
1724: Course is 67 degrees, speed is 5.3 kts. Jayzus it is wavy. Boat sounds like someone is beating the bottom with ball peen hammers.
1817: Course is 69 degrees. 5.9 kts. Almost dark. I’m looking at a tanker to the right of us
about 10 miles away which is a little too close. Jan rocked dinner. In the middle of getting bounced around she made Ramen stir fry. Jan found the clamps that hold the pans onto the stove1 and whipped it up and by the time it was done we were starving. And then we remembered that because we kept trying anchorages, we never ate lunch.
1917: 71 degrees. 6.3 knots. Made slight adjustments to heading because we already started moving a bit north, so wanted to get us pointed a bit more south. Won’t touch now since don’t want to fight big stream. Florida is on our left side and the clouds are LIT UP from the lights of Miami. And you can trace the shoreline of the keys with all the lights. To the right? Black emptiness. No boats in sight though got final text from Mahi. Mahi is a family we met in Marathon and they left for Bimini at 1600. First one to Bahamas buys drinks. They left eight hours after us. They will probably wi
2018: 71 degrees. 6.7 knots. Depth 508 feet. For eight hours we were under 20 feet. Now? Notsomuch. Eta is 5:30am. Too fast. But will get close and find anchorage until daylight. Good news is it is no longer dark black on right side of our boat anymore. Bad news? It is lightening from a line of squalls.
2120: 71 degrees though our course made good is definitely pushing north. 6.7 knots. We
slowed engines down when we got over 7 knots for two reasons. One is our ETA is still way too early and second is the waves are really kicking the crap out of us. Our depth sounder went ahead and threw up and then took a knee. It isn’t reporting the depth anymore because it is too deep and it is afraid. Got lightening way in front of us and off to the left. Wonderful. Jan has gone down for some sleep as have AJ and lucky. Sid has slept all day.
2220: 71 degrees. 7.1 knots. We are getting hammered by waves off starboard front side. Lots of splash on the deck ands if Jan left the window open she is wet. Figure we might as well get it done. Cruise ship 10 miles away but we won’t pass too close. Lightening show still in in effect to front starboard but I see no squalls in forty miles on radar and the stream continues to push us north so we should be ok. Stars to the south and a ton of them. If I didn’t feel like I was going to puke this would be an awesome night.
2253: I had to go below to change my shorts. Was watching a tanker passing to my front when all of a sudden I saw an EXPLOSION off in the distance. Red fireball, right at the water line. Either a ship just had a catastrophic failure or the Cubans launched a missile from a sub (do they have subs?) at Florida and the world was ending. I literally jumped out of my seat, cursed and grabbed the radio to listen to the chatter for what happened. But nothing. Not a peep. Then another explosion. And another. Which turned out to be a fireworks show from a Disney cruise ship. The nice ship announced ‘fireworks complete’ at the end, I had obviously missed the ‘fireworks starting’ message.
2317: 71 degrees but course over ground is 45. Starting to move closer to our rhumb line. Big ships all over the place. Two cruise boats. Couple cargo ships and some smaller boats. Waves still kicking. Jan poked head up so she isn’t sleeping. 7.1 kts. Stars all over the sky except by Florida where still big clouds. And lightening still off in distance to our front which is where we want it to be! Depth. Infinite apparently. Chart says 2228 but our chart plotter displays a ‘-‘. Looking at the charts, there is a line that shows a submerged cable way down on the bottom. In case you wanted to drop anchor in 2000+ feet of water.
Jan came up at midnight and we did the battle hand off. I went down until 3am. No sleep. When the waves slap the bottom of the boat, they basically hit our beds. Doesn’t appear to bother AJ, Sid or Lucky.
0323: 5.8 knots. We are on other side of stream. Still at 71. Crossed rhumb line and will start back south in a bit to finish the 21 miles to Bimini. Depth sounder is still on a break. Jan had the pleasure of driving our boat across the shipping lanes. When I got out of bed there were eight ships in sight including another lit up cruise ship. On the chart plotter we appear to be boxed in by the ships. And once again the smartest decision we made was putting AIS on our boat. At night we appear on their instruments and we can see them. More importantly we can see their track and how close we are going to pass. It is fairly easy on most of the cargo ships to see the nav lights and pick out which way they are heading, but lord help me when it comes to the cruise ships. Those things are lit up and I have no idea where they are going. It is still bouncy. Moon and stars are now out. Lightening gone. Can still see the lights from Florida.
0424: 5.3 knots. Slowing down on other side of stream. 14 miles to Bimini. Waves still knocking us and apparently will be all the way to the end.
——Jan back on deck at 0500
0633: Wakey wakey because we have arrived. A bit too early. It is still dark, so we anchor in the sand just off the town beach. The depth finder is back and working showing us in 10 feet of crystal clear water. There is enough light to see the bottom and watch the anchor bury itself in the sand. By 0640 we are in bed and asleep. Two hour nap and we head into Bimini to Blue Water Marina.
1When we bought the boat, the pan holders were on the burners. We took them off and commented that we would ’never use those things,’ or something like that. FORTUNATELY we didn’t chuck them overboard and they allowed us to cook while underway!