The Bimini Road

Monday April 7, 2014

sunrise on the Gulf Stream

As with any late timed departure that we need to make for a passage, we can never seem to wait long enough for the alarm to actually go off before we get to anxious and want to get underway. Usually there is a forced after dinner nap which never actually happens, and instead of waiting for the clock to tick by extra minutes as we lie there awake, we figure it’s better just to get the show on the road. Luckily this has never afforded us a before sunrise approach yet.

Looking at the clock as it dragged to only ten o’clock, three hours before our intended departure time, we figured it was better to get in too early than too late. Even if we could manage the 48 miles from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini in ten hours, it would still be light enough for us to make our way in the harbor. Raising the anchor as all the boats in the lake were silent and still around us, we navigated out the tricky entrance and into the ICW. Hailing our friendly bridge operator at the 17th St. Causeway, we slid under and were quickly on our way out the Port Everglades inlet with our bow pointed a few degrees south of Bimini to make up for the push of the Gulf Stream. After verifying our course of 120 degrees and sitting with Matt until we were out of range for the late night shipping traffic that was exiting with us, I took my leave to get a few hours of sleep.

17th St. Causeway at night

ICW at night

Since we had both basically been up all night my sleep was cut short after only an hour and a half when Matt’s head starting nodding off too many times and he needed to seek refuge in the comfort of the sette. Harnessing in and taking my spot in the cockpit, I was pointed out the numerous cruise ships that were transporting their hoards of tourist between the Bahamas and the States, but told that everything else looked fine. It wasn’t until Matt was (quickly) snoring below that I noticed that one thing wasn’t quite as I had hoped. We had obviously entered the Gulf Stream, and that 120 degrees we had been holding so perfectly was now faltering to a mere sixty degrees.

We had expected to be pushed a few miles north of where we actually wanted to be, and anticipating this, left ourselves plenty of time to make it there once day broke. This is why we had felt so comfortable leaving at such an early time in the night. Trying to send all the good vibes I could from myself and into the boat, I tried to mentally convince it to point further south. When this didn’t seem to work I took to reasoning with the stream itself, begging for it to end as soon as possible. Once we didn’t have the force against us we could head directly south if we needed to, I just hoped it would be sooner than later. By the time my three hour shift was up, none of my reasoning had done any good against the stubborn boat and the stubborn Gulf Stream. Having the opposite effect that I’d hoped, I actually seemed to infuriate both of them and they conspired to work against me, pushing us off course even more into the fifty degree range. I gave up and hoped the master of sail trim coming up to replace me could work his magic on the situation.

Gulf Stream Sunrise

Serendipity on the Gulf Stream

The next time I was up on deck I had not been greeted with the results I was hoping for. We weren’t doing quite as bad as when I had left, but we still weren’t able to point ourselves toward Bimini. This is the day the stream decided to take up the whole expanse between Florida and the Bahamas. When we had finally reached a point that we were at least in the same longitude of Bimini, we pointed the bow due South, and right into the wind, and motored on with the most pathetic progress I’d ever seen. I’ve become quite used to our downwind travels of at least five to six knots, and the fact that we weren’t even doing close to that was complete torture. And it seemed like no matter how far east we were, we could not escape the clutches of the stream. Even though our heading was pointing us toward the safe haven and peaceful night of slumber that is Bimini harbor, our course was slowly but surely sneaking in a southwest direction. Eventually I had enough and tacked the boat so that we were pointing, both with heading and course, directly into the middle of the island. I’d run us up on the beach if that’s what it took to escape the forces working against us.

This plan seemed to actually do the trick. We crashed through the building wind and waves, but we were finally heading in a direction we actually wanted to go. Normally the last two to three hours of a passage will drive me insane, seeing your destination right in front of you but knowing you’re still a few hours away from actually getting there, but this time I could do nothing but smile that we would actually make it there before dark. Coasting in from thousands of feet to only 40, I waited until we were just a few minutes from the channel entrance before waking Matt from his afternoon nap to have him help me navigate in.

Matching up the multiple sets of charts we have to make sure the buoys were correct and marked what they claimed to, I figured this last bit would be a piece of cake. I was just about to cross in front of the first green buoy and round into the channel when out of nowhere the engine cut out on us. By this point we weren’t actually in the channel yet, but depths had gotten down to fifteen feet and a very swift current was about to send me directly into green buoy number 1. While Matt was having a quick panic attack and a cuss storm a few feet ahead of me, I calculated my options. Try to start the engine again? Roll out the headsail? No, not enough time. Steer into the current to avoid the buoy but then put myself in the channel and possibly the shoals without total control?

Within ten seconds, of which felt like an eternity, the engine was purring again and I was able to narrowly avoid the buoy as I gunned us into the channel under full throttle, afraid to douse it any for fear it might shut off again. Shooting into the channel at seven knots, I was not able to regain my breath until we had gotten through the worst parts and were now passing by the marinas lining the entrance to the harbor. Confident that we could drop the anchor in this part of the channel if absolutely necessary I let myself pull back on the throttle while Matt brought down the main and we continued to cruise in at just over four knots now.

Still trying to avoid marinas since we like to be at anchor whenever possible, we noticed the first marked anchorage just past Bimini Big Game Club was a little too crowded. Resigning ourselves to the only other anchorage, a mile down the channel, I tried not to let myself get upset about the long dinghy ride in my near future to get us checked in, but only focused on the fact that in just a few minutes the anchor would be down and I could spend the rest of my day night fighting the elements. I don’t know if it was just bad luck that we received or if I should have heeded the warnings that it’s better to cross from Miami than Ft. Lauderdale, but I will give this one tip. Don’t ever cross from Ft. Lauderdale. Spend the extra day and get yourself down to No Name Harbor first. You’re likely to have a much better crossing than we did.

dinghy dock in Bimini

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2 thoughts on “The Bimini Road

  1. I’m sure it’s much too late for this comment to matter but, the wind and current were taking you directly into Freeport, which seems to me to have been an easy sail, rather than beating into Bimini. Is there something I don’t know that makes Freeport a place to never go? While I’m at it; I can’t understand you sticking so long in such a lousy place as that island off Cancun, when you could have had fair winds and travelling seas to Campeche. I DON’T KNOW, I’m just wondering if you may have missed a wonderful opportunity.

  2. Hi Eric. We actually want to see Freeport very much and were quite disappointed when we were in West End last month and didn’t get to make the trip over. The reason we ended up beating down to Bimini is because there are no anchorages outside of Freeport and we would have arrived in the dark. Neither of us wanted to enter an unfamiliar harbor and would have had to sit outside until morning anyway, so we figured we may as well use that time to get ourselves to Bimini where we had originally wanted to be anyway..making us closer to friends that we were trying to meet up with in George Town, Exumas.
    As for sitting so long at Isla Mujeres…we loved it there! Yes, we did spend a good 4-5 weeks waiting for a weather window once we decided it was time to get moving on, but at that time we wanted to get ourselves to FL as soon as the next window popped up. Campeche would have been heading in the opposite direction and we also wouldn’t have been able to keep an eye on weather while there. So we spent afternoons at the beach and went to local baseball games and just enjoyed ourselves. I don’t regret spending 7 weeks there at all.

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