Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crossing the Straits of Florida

Thursday, January 19, 2017  12:30am

Well, we successfully got underway to Bimini at 12:30am.  The half moon was just rising, although low clouds were obscuring most of its light.  Many of the cruisers down here, even the experienced ones, fear a night crossing.  But our extensive amount of nighttime sailing on the Chesapeake, with all its ship and tug traffic, has made us quite comfortable with it.  And it has the significant benefit that it lets us arrive at Bimini while the sun is high in the sky, allowing us to more easily "read" the shallow waters.

In clear conditions at night, the big ships, especially the cruise ships, are visible from a long way off.  The cruise ships are so lit up that they're impossible to miss.  And our AIS display gives us all the data, including closest time of approach and distance.

So, off we went into the darkness.  The trip around Cape Florida was interesting, as there was a large number of sailboats anchored outside of No Name Harbor.  I guess it was too full inside, as is often the case.  This made me glad we had decided not to anchor there.

Once past Cape Florida, we headed South East to a point a few miles South of Fowey Rocks Light.  This was intended to give us enough distance South at the start to compensate for the amount the Gulf Stream would push us North as we crossed it.

Conditions offshore were extremely calm.  Swells less than 2 ft, and winds light and variable.  Couldn't be more benign. We motored off into the distance. 

At around 4am, I came off watch and woke Joan to join Bill for the next three hours.  Three hours later, I awoke and relieved Bill, just before dawn.  The new dawn over the calm water 20 miles offshore was spectacular.
Dawn halfway to Bimini
The GPS/AIS display showed that a cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's "Empress of the Seas", was going to pass too close for comfort, so we deflected our course northwards, giving up some of our "southing", in order to pass well astern of her.
 When she transited the rising sun, she gave us a great photo op.
Empress of the Seas
A little later on, a cargo ship was also going to pass too close.  This time, I hailed him on the VHF radio and gave him our distance and bearing.  He said he had us on his radar, and offered to change course to starboard to pass astern of us.  I accepted and thanked him.

Somewhere around 10 miles out, we caught our first sight of land!  We had managed to locate the little patch of sand in the middle of a whole lot of water!
Land Ho!
As we approached the cut between North and South Bimini, the decreasing depth, clean clear water, and sandy bottom combined to start creating that indescribable blue color.  We hoisted our yellow "Quarantine" flag, to show that we had not yet cleared customs,  and began looking for the deepest parts of the channel.
Bimini Beckons!
Gliding Through the Shallow Entrance Channel
Once inside the harbor, we headed for Blue Water Marina.  We chose this one because they are further up the channel, and thus better sheltered, and are only a dollar a foot!  Several boats were stacked up in front of us, awaiting slip assignments, and things were made more complicated by a large freighter who missed his approach to his berth and had to go around again in the confined space for a second try!
Waiting for a Slip
Dockmaster JR was a wizard with the lines, and in no time at all, he made what looked to be a difficult docking in wind and current into an easy 1-2-3 and in!  Finally, at 10:30am, we were docked in the Bahamas!  We made it!
Docked in the Bahamas!!
I made the hike up the road to the Customs and Immigration offices, filled out numerous forms, paid our $150 fee, and we were in!  I returned to the boat and swapped our yellow "Q" flag for the Bahamian courtesy flag, which we will fly for the duration of our stay.

We had one quick decision to make.  The weather window was good for about two more days.  We could use it to make our next leg to the Berry Islands, but since that's a 24 hour trip, it meant that we would have to leave first thing the next morning!  Since all of us were operating on only about three hours sleep from the night crossing, we decided to wait it out here while the window closed and the front passed through before moving on at the next window, sometime around Tuesday.

So, we will be here in Bimini with its crystal clear waters for a few days, giving us a chance to explore the islands.  Life is good.


  1. Congratulations! I guess all your planning helped to make it uneventful. How are you getting the forecasts for the weather windows and fronts?

    1. We subscribe to Chris Parker's marine weather service, and get it by either email, webcast, or SSB, although we haven't had much luck yet with the SSB.

    2. We also use the app "Windfinder"