Sunday, November 30, 2008
WE MADE IT TO THE BAHAMAS, MON!
Just after dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, we started the engines on Sunshine, raised the anchor, and motor-sailed out into the Atlantic, headed for Nassau.
We had waited several days for the weather to be calm enough for us to safely cross the Gulf Stream. Our weather window looked good for two to three days.
The Gulf Stream is a deep, wide river of water off the southeastern U.S. coast, with north-moving currents up to four knots. Ships heading north use the current to speed them along. Sailors like us, with relatively small boats, try to avoid crossing the Gulf Stream when strong opposing winds from the north can kick up mammoth waves.
Therefore, wise sailors wait until there are no North winds in the forecast. Any winds under ten knots from the south, southeast or southwest will usually give you a calm crossing. And that's what we had.
Once you enter the Gulf Stream, which this day began about four miles off the coast of Florida, the water turns a deep violet blue. As we traveled along, we spotted large jelly fish pulsating in the water. Creatures that looked like bubbles floated on top of the water. Perhaps they were another type of jelly fish. At times, the surface of the water was smooth. At other times, there was just the hint of waves. It was a beautiful day. The word that best describes our Gulf Stream crossing was "uneventful."
We approached the Bimini Islands about 3:00 p.m. Our course led us through a small cut between Gun Cay (cay is pronounced "key" in the Bahamas) and Cat Cay. (We didn't see any guns or any cats.) Once through the cut, the 2,500 ft. depth immediately changed to 10 feet of beautiful gin-clear, aquamarine water. In fact, it was so clear that we had to keep checking our depth sounder to convince ourselves it was actually ten feet deep and not two or three.
This was the Bahama Banks, the beautiful shallow sea of the Bahama Islands. We steered a careful course to make sure we stayed within the deeper channel. It would have been easy to go aground just a few yards outside the channel. But the course was relatively straight and, with the help of our chart plotter and auto pilot, we kept moving.
As the sun set, we watched for the famous "green flash" that people report seeing just as the sun sinks below the horizon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_flash). We saw none, but Mac on Cat's Paw claimed he saw one. We'll keep trying every day until we have seen it.
Soon it was dark. Pitch black. The no-moon kind of dark. We traveled on through the night, following the light on Cat's Paw and carefully checking our course on the chart plotter. We also kept our eye on our radar screen to keep track of other boats in the area.
I discovered that depth perception, at least for me, is non-existent in the dark. With no land masses or structures as points of reference, it was difficult for me to tell whether a light was 20 feet away or two miles away. It was also difficult to tell if the light was moving or still. I may get used to night crossings, but it's going to take a while.
We had something that passed for dinner, but I don't even remember the menu. One of us ate while the other drove, then we switched and the driver ate. Late in the evening, we made a pot of coffee. We each took turns trying to nap, but one hour each was the best we could do.
About 2:30 a.m. we reached the end of the Bahamas Banks and the beginning of the Tongue of the Ocean, a 45-mile wide channel of deep water (4,500 ft) running north and south through the middle of the Bahama Islands. Where the Tongue of the Ocean met the shallow Bahama Banks, the waves were much stronger. At the same time, the winds had increased to about 15 knots, much greater than the 5-10 knot winds that were forecast.
Soon, it became rough enough that we had to hold tight when we moved around the boat. We couldn't see the wave action in the dark, but we could feel as the rocking horse movement began to increase. Even sitting at the helm, we had to hang on to keep from getting pitched out of the chair.
The rising sun around 6:00 a.m. was a welcome sight. Being able to see our surroundings lowered our stress level. We might as well have been in the middle of the Atlantic because we couldn't see land in any direction. We had been traveling 24 hours at this point and had another eight hours to reach Nassau.
The last 50 miles seemed to take forever. It was around 11:00 a.m. when we finally spotted New Providence Island in the distance, but it took another two hours to reach Nassau Harbor.
Once inside the harbor the winds calmed and the turbulence stopped. We glided past cruise ships and resorts. Hundreds of people were lined up to board a Carnival cruise ship. Young people on jet skis zoomed around the harbor, sometimes cutting recklessly close to our boat. The weather was beautiful and the water was the same clear blue-green that we saw on the Bahama Banks.
We followed Cat's Paw to a marina where we had reservations and within a few minutes both Cat's Paw and Sunshine were securely tied in our slips. We were not allowed to leave the boat until customs and immigration authorities had visited our boats, which happened within an hour.
This trip has been our most challenging experience so far and we are glad to have it completed. We are pleased to have made the trip, but I've decided that overnight crossings are my least favorite aspect of cruising. I would like to reserve them for times when we have no other option.
It's good to know that folks our age can actually remain awake and functioning for 31 hours straight. I do know that we were exhausted when we got here. We slept for 12 hours last night and are still not very energetic today. I'm hoping we'll be back to normal by tomorrow.
Today's activity consisted of washing one load of laundry here at the marina and visiting the grocery, which is right across the street. Food prices here are very high. A gallon of milk is $8.95 and bananas are $1.09/pound. We are going to have to alter our eating habits and learn to eat local. To that end, I bought Goombay punch, which we love, and pigeon peas, which I will fix with rice when I get my nerve up. Fresh pineapples were the only bargain in the produce department, so I bought one of those, too.
We are truly excited to be in the Bahamas. There is another northeastern front with very strong winds moving in tomorrow and prudence dictates that we'll be here until Wednesday waiting for it to pass before we begin moving down into the Exumas.
Isn't that a shame!!...stuck in Nassau for three days. We'll get another good night's sleep and then do some sightseeing.