Note: Bahamian wi-fi appears to be on “island time”so I can’t upload pictures. Thus, you’ll be getting 1,000 words with this post 😉
Spoiler alert…we made it! Hazel James and I made the passage from Florida to the Bahamas, and are now in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas. While I know that pride is one of the 7 deadly sins, it’s a pretty cool feeling to have successfully sailed from one country to another.
Building on my previous post (The Shakedown), I departed home on Saturday morning (1/18). The wind was out of the east at 20-25 knots (nautical miles per hour, 23-29 MPH). While the closest inlet to my house is Hillsboro Inlet, it’s small and shallow, and wind-driven ocean swells really stack up at the transition from inlet to ocean making it nasty to transit in a good blow. Thus, I opted to motor south in the Intracoastal Waterway for about 10 miles and enter the Atlantic at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s full-fledged port that freighters and cruise ships use (if you’ve taken a cruise out of “Ft. Lauderdale” you’ve transited Port Everglades). Where Hillsboro Inlet can be as little as 5 feet deep, Port Everglades has a depth of at least 45 feet. When waves “feel the bottom”, they start to break—that’s bad.
After topping off my diesel tanks and getting out into the Atlantic, I had a spirited sail due south for 30 nautical miles to Biscayne Bay, just south of Miami, where I anchored up for the night. The reason I went south when I eventually wanted to go east, is the Gulf Stream. The Stream is moving northward at 2-4 knots off South Florida. Given Hazel James’ likely sailing speed of 4-6 knots, I wanted to start as far south as possible. Imagine swimming across a swiftly flowing river. If you try to swim perpendicular to the current, you’ll work really hard. If you walk upstream a ways and then do it, it’s a lot easier…same principle. After anchoring-up in 13 feet of water and sorting out some anchor and anchor chain issues, I heated up a can of chili in HJ’s galley on her propane stove and got a good sleep.
The next morning (Sunday 1/19), HJ and I headed east across The Stream. It was slow but peaceful going as the wind never came up to really drive HJ through the current. We were carried north about 30 nautical miles by the Gulf Stream as we were sailing east. All in all the passage was about 61 nautical miles from Biscayne Bay to a waypoint just north of the Great Isaac Cay Lighthouse. We reached the waypoint about 11:00 PM after 14 hours of sailing. HJ and I then entered the Northwest Providence Channel in the Bahamas and set a new waypoint for Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas (“Cay” is pronounced “Key” and has the same meaning).
After midnight (MLK Day, Monday 1/20) the breeze picked up and shifted favorably making it a fast sail (>6 knots) for the 70 nautical miles from Great Isaac to Great Harbor Cay. Incidentally, just north of Great Harbor Cay are the two Stirrup Cays, Great Stirrup Cay and Little Stirrup Cay. Little Stirrup Cay was bought or leased by Royal Caribbean and dubbed “CocoCay”. I guess a marketing whiz determined that CocoCay sounds sexier than Little Stirrup Cay. I understand it’s been made into a “destination island” complete with swim-up bars and water parks. I gave that a wide berth.
On Monday morning I reached Great Harbour Cay and radioed Great Harbor Cay Marina to arrange for clearing customs and immigration (in many ways similar to doing so at an airport). When a vessel enters foreign waters, she’s to hoist a yellow “quarantine” flag in her starboard (right-side) rigging. This indicates that she and her crew and passengers have not yet cleared customs and immigration. Thus when I rounded the Great Isaac light some 70 nautical miles back, I had hoisted my quarantine flag. As I neared Great Harbor Cay, I dropped sails and motored into Great Harbor.
After clearing customs and immigration, per regulations, I lowered my yellow quarantine flag and hoisted the Bahamian flag in HJ’s starboard rigging. Since Hazel James is a U.S. vessel, we fly the stars and stripes off the stern (back of the boat). This configuration of flags (U.S. off stern and Bahamian in starboard rigging) indicates to all that HJ is a U.S. flag-state vessel who has been cleared to cruise Bahamian waters.
The last couple days I’ve been staying in the marina, enjoying a pot-luck dinner/party with marina staff and other cruisers, fixing and adjusting some things on HJ, exploring around the island on a borrowed bike, and waiting out some moderate gale-force winds.
Likely tomorrow (Thursday 1/23) I’ll depart from the marina and anchor-up outside the harbor for a couple days. It’s forecast to be light easterly winds through the weekend so hoping to find a nice, protected anchorage and do some snorkeling and exploring on my inflatable kayak. I’ll be waiting for some favorable winds (north, south or west) to make my next intended destination, the Eleuthera Islands and the village of Spanish Wells.
All-in-all a beautiful crossing. While I had some mechanical and other issues, so many things went right and all came together. More importantly, I had the tools and wherewithal to work-around, address and eventually fix the things that didn’t work or broke. Self-sufficiency is key and feels good.
Yesterday (1/21) was both my daughter Emma’s birthday and the 5-month anniversary of Colleen’s death—birth and death all wrapped in one. My son Jack is back in Florida and I was talking to him on the phone yesterday and he said, “Mom would be really happy you are doing this.” I’ve thought about that a lot and think he’s right.
Thanks for reading and following-along. Hazel James out.