Quick stop in the Berry Islands

Bimini was very enjoyable. The Bimini Big Game Club is a great facility and very comfortable. I could easily have stayed for several more days to explore the town and the neighboring islands but a nice weather forecast got me moving again.

We left Bimini yesterday around noon with the high slack tide. The wind and seas were just perfect for a sail north around the island and onto the shallow bank. The water was so clear I could clearly see individual starfish on the seabed and the shadow of Andante’s mast on the sandy bottom. Around sunset the wind died completely and many of the hours of darkness were spent drifting under a crystal clear sky and coordinating passing maneuvers with freighters and mailboats. Altogether very pleasant.

This morning we reached the Berry Islands and found a nice one-night anchorage between Frazer’s Hog Cay and Bird Cay. One-night because its a bit rolly and both islands are private so not much to explore. But that’s ok since we’ll be leaving again in the morning for 5-hour trip to a small harbor on the western end of New Providence (Nassau is on the northeastern side of the same island). Then there will be just one more day-long passage to the northern Exuma Cays where I hope to spend several weeks exploring, hiking, and snorkeling.

Leaving Bimini it was nice to be able to see that the prop was nice and clean while standing on the dock. Just after dawn I heard a big splashing sound outside. I stuck my head up just in time to see a gigantic spotted eagle ray doing a bellyflop just a few feet from the boat. I don’t know why.
Sunrise in Northwest Channel just west of Chub Cay. The wind picked up considerably right at sunrise and we were able to sail again for an hour or two before it died again.
Andante anchored east of Frazer’s Hog Cay. The water depth is about 11 ft and the bottom is covered with rocks and coral heads with small sandy patches in between.
The view of the same location (Andante’s anchorage) around noon. The perceived color of the water is very dependent on the angle of the sun. It is much easier to see coral heads and sandbars when the sun is fairly high and behind you, as in the this photo.

My communications capabilities will be a bit limited for the next few weeks. I hope to have cell coverage in most places — but not everywhere. So I anticipate there may be some delays in updating this blog. Thanks for your patience.

Welcome to Bimini

Finally.

I sailed across the Gulf Stream in a small boat for the first time in 1988, the year Andante was born. I was an undergraduate working on an oceanographic project in the Abacos and our base of operations was the chief scientist’s sailboat. He had just completed a circumnavigation with his family and had much to share about sailing and island life. It was great living aboard that summer in a tiny Bahamian cove eating the fish and lobster we caught and doing cool science. Later, while in graduate school, I crewed on several sailing races from south Florida to the Bahamas. I even served as navigator on races to Bimini and Great Issac because somebody thought I knew something about ocean currents. We did ok anyway. That was 30 years ago.

Yesterday I finally made the short trip myself in my own boat. It was a very satisfying accomplishment — even though there wasn’t much sailing because of the light headwinds. The mechanics of the trip were no different than before though technology has changed the stressors. In the before times if you couldn’t see the container ship bearing down you just assumed all was well and you could relax for a bit. Today with radar and AIS you can see where everyone is all the time and can visualize in graphic detail exactly how and when you will collide. So there is never the chance for ignorant relaxation. I was thinking last night that the Miami-Bimini trip is less about sailing than it is a giant game of Frogger. After about 10 hours of dodging traffic and constantly updating our heading to stay on course we arrived offshore of Alice Town, North Bimini, around 0400. I anchored just off the beach for a few hours to take a nap and wait for sunrise to pick our way along the shallow channel and enter the narrow harbor.

Andante dockside at the Bimini Big Game Club. (North) Bimini has been described as an island 7 miles long that is nowhere wider than 700 yards. Fishing and tourism are huge here and have been for decades. Ernest Hemingway is an important and revered former resident.
Departing Biscayne Bay in Miami after sunrise meant threading through the narrow and shallow Biscayne (Stiltsville) Channel at night with no moon. This was the only part of the trip with any real pucker factor for me because of our draft (about 6.5 ft). A slow speed and a really good flashlight got us through.
Looking over the side of Andante at the dock. The water is as clear as, well, water. Without getting too sciencey, the water is clear because its mostly just water — there is very little in the way of life or suspended stuff. This is typical of mid-ocean water and is why isolated island groups (Hawaii, Bermuda, Bahamas, Maldives, Seychelles, Micronesia, etc.). are blessed with such clear water. Lively productive water is generally cloudy and full of plankton and such. Dead water looks like gin.
Local fisherman clean fish and toss the scraps into the harbor. Big nurse sharks (and rays, and lots of smaller fish) swim freely through the marina and congregate under the boats.
Folks at the marina recommended a really cute little restaurant serving breakfast on the beach…
…the same beach that I anchored off earlier this morning for a nap. Even in the dark it was attractive but in daylight the colors really pop.
The breakfast I’d been waiting for. Eggs and conch and grits. With a friend.
Tomorrow is another day. I’m not sure where we’ll go but I expect it will be warm and beautiful. Stay tuned.

Key Biscayne

We’ve spent the last couple of days anchored offshore of the old Nixon winter white house site near the Key Biscayne Yacht Club. This spot is also just a few blocks from where Paula and Cheese and Basil and I lived in the mid 1990’s.

Through the magic of reciprocal privileges and a timely letter of introduction from our RBHYC commodore I was able to gain access to the club to use their dinghy dock to access groceries and water and covid testing. It was fun walking around the town again after so many years. The yacht club itself is much bigger and fancier than when we lived here — but the people are still super friendly and helpful and the view of downtown Miami across Biscayne Bay is still spectacular.

All the water tanks are topped off, fresh fruits and veggies are loaded, I’ve got my health visa, the weather forecast looks good and we’re ready to go. We’ll depart late this evening for the quick overnight trip across the Gulf Stream to Bimini. The plan is to stay at a marina in Alice Town for the first night (or possibly two) to get my bearings and wait for the next front to pass. Then I expect to head further east across the bank to the Berry Islands. Or not. From here on there is no real schedule or itinerary.

Andante in Key Biscayne. More boats arrive every day to wait on weather for a Gulf Stream crossing. After several weeks of lousy conditions it looks like the next 2-3 days will provide light winds and reasonable seas — so expecting to motorsail most of the 50 miles from here to Bimini.
Key Biscayne Yacht Club. A bit too fancy for my taste but amazing view from the bar.
The old Nixon helipad is on the right side of this photo. The homes along the shore are in all different styles and some are really attractive — but its the view from the houses that makes the location appealing. And I get the same view (maybe better) from Andante for free.
The view. Even better when in focus.
After weeks of worrying about logistics it was crazy simple to get a covid test from this little trailer about a mile walk from the yacht club. Same-day appointment for a rapid PCR test that gave a result within two hours. That allowed me to get all of my Bahamas health visa and immigration paperwork out of the way. Yay.
Road ibis. Use caution.
The moon over Miami was underperforming this week even with an assist from Jupiter.

A Spirited Sail South

Fort Pierce to Lake Worth Inlet / Palm Beach to Miami.

It was time to move on. The weather windows have been few, far between and brief. To improve our chances for a near-term crossing to the Bahamas we set off for Miami with an intermediate stop in Lake Worth / Palm Beach.

Leaving Fort Pierce we had great conditions and a very comfortable and sunny sail to Lake Worth Inlet. Palm Beach was much busier than Fort Pierce with a mix of commercial and recreational traffic. Temperatures were in the high 30’s overnight and low 70’s during the day.
Our anchorage in Palm Beach was very crowded but still pleasant with plenty of shelter to the east. On one side of us was a row of mini-mansions and an endless parade of megayachts. You could hear the waves crashing on the beach just behind these houses.
On the other side was the heavy industrial section including a substantial container terminal and the I-95 bridge. The visual contrast between the working port and the homes of the idle rich was pretty dramatic. I’m OK with either view — I find working ports really interesting and spent a few hours staring though binoculars watching the cranes unload this ship.

We left Lake Worth early the next morning. The gusty east wind made for a sporty sail with seas building from 3-4 ft in the morning to 5-7 by the evening. It was lumpy and at times uncomfortable but the conditions made for some of the best pure sailing we’ve had on this entire voyage. We made great time with typical speeds above 7 kts and seeing 8-9 kts occasionally when surfing down a wave. Good fun.

A boat that had anchored near us in Lake Worth also departed around 0400 and we stayed in touch both visually and by radio. Here they are to the east of us just before sunrise.
Shortly after sunrise the seas were still pretty mild
Later in the day the wind and seas built and we spent a good portion of the afternoon with a shoulder down going very fast with the starboard rail in the water.
Even though the conditions were pretty sloppy there were a large number of small boats out kite-fishing for sailfish along the edge of the Gulf Stream. The kite is supposed to impart a desirable motion to a suspended bait at the surface of the water. I didn’t see anyone catch anything but I did see one fisherman leaning over the side orally chumming. Interesting strategy.
Entering Government Cut in Miami. Miami Beach is on the right and Fisher Island is on the left. The east wind interacting with a strong ebb tide made navigating the entrance channel challenging. Our arrival at the “wrong” tide was a consequence of sailing ridiculously faster than anticipated. Next time I’ll know to plan for a faster transit.
Because of the many cruise ships berthed in Miami traffic is diverted south of Dodge Island in Fishermans Channel. We cruised right under those big cranes and got up close and personal with the big container ship. I wonder if they’d let me use those cranes to load groceries?
Finally anchored in Biscayne Bay just south of the Rickenbacker Causeway. I still find the Miami skyline breathtaking, day or night.

After picking our way through the shallow waters near the mouth of the Miami River we anchored just off the beach south of the Rickenbacker Causeway. This less-than-perfect anchorage (noisy, smelly, wavy) is intentional and temporary. Because of the recent weather there is a substantial population of boats down here waiting on a window to cross to the Bahamas. Rather than try to squeeze into a more favorable but crowded anchorage late in the day we chose to hang out somewhere easy and well-protected. But definitely not quiet. And definitely smelly (Virginia Key sewage treatment plant is nearby and upwind). Tomorrow morning we’ll move to a more peaceful and secure location to make final preparations for the jump across the Gulf Stream.

Temperatures here are consistently in the 60’s and 70’s. Barefoot at last.