Bahamas or Bust

On Friday, 16 February, almost a month after setting off from St Petersburg, we finally made our crossing from Florida to the Bahamas.

We left No Name harbor in Biscayne Bay with two other boats: Chris and Stan on SE of Disorder, and Bob and Laura on Orion, and headed east. Our goal was to benefit from the fast river of water known as the Gulf Stream to give us a little boost of speed and assist us in covering the 92 Miles to West End on Grand Bahama Island. Why cross at night? Good question! I suffered from FOMO all day on Friday, because the rest of the boats that had been anchored near us weighed anchor at 4:00 am and headed for Bimini, leaving just the three of us to wait for an evening crossing!

Two reasons:

  • Winds and seas tend to be calmer over night, as a land breeze creates winds flowing from the Florida land mass out to seas, and
  • We wanted to arrive at West End in daylight, allowing us to see the clear customs as soon as they opened, and to continue on across Little Bahama Bank when we could see the color of the water, and watch for unexpectedly shallow areas or coral heads.

Not much in the way of photos documenting this momentous occasion, because of the night crossing, but our wait for a weather window paid off, because the trip was relatively uneventful. The down side of waiting for light winds was that we could only sail about half the way, and had to motor the rest of the way to make forward progress.

We managed to stay within a couple of nautical miles of our two buddy boats all night, which was rather comforting. On watch by myself in the middle of the night, I could see a dim red light to my starboard that was Orion’s port navigation light, and a dim green to my port that was Disorder’s tri-color mast light. It also allowed Mike and me, on Sanitas, to serve as air traffic controllers for our tiny flotilla, since we were the only vessel with a functioning AIS system.

Thank goodness for AIS! Literally the last boat project we completed before leaving St Pete was to pay a technician a large sum of money to program our VHF radio, chart plotter, and short wave radio with our MMSI identification number to allow us to broadcast our information over the AIS network. As we crossed the busy shipping lanes outside the port of Miami, one of us would notice a light on the horizon and start to worry that the cruise ship or cargo ship bearing that light might be on an intersection course with our slow, teeny, sailing ships. Cruise ships, by the way, are lit up like a Christmas tree and can be seen for miles and miles (plenty of time for me to fantasize about what they were serving for dinner, and how cold the champagne must be) while cargo ships are dimly lit with only the required identification and navigation lights. Zoomed to the correct resolution, our Simrad chart plotter showed a triangle for each ship transmitting AIS, and with a click I could request the ship’s name, size, course, speed, and an estimate of when it would make its closest approach to Sanitas and how far away it would be at that closest point. Pretty cool technology, and invaluable when the horizon was filled with lights at 3:00 in the morning! Once, the City of Bismarck, listed in AIS as a military vessel, hailed us by name on the VHF radio to let us know that they saw us, and were changing course to avoid our path. None of the cruise ships or cargo ships lowered themselves to speak to us, but we did correct course several times to ensure a safer distance.

The Gulf Stream is no joke! Sanitas usually putters along at about 5 knots. With perfect sailing conditions, she gets up to 6 knots, and her hull speed is 7.2 knots. Crossing the Gulf Stream, we saw our speed over ground exceed 8 knots! (Of course that is only impressive if you don’t think too hard about the fact that I can still run faster than that for short distances.)

We haven’t quite got out overnight watch routine down yet, so we just sort of winged it. Mike slept under a blanket in the cockpit from 10:00 until midnight, when he wind changed and there were cargo ships everywhere so I woke him for reassurance. Then I “slept” until 4:00 am (if you can call it sleeping when every noise or change in motion of the boat causes me to bolt upright and yell, “Hey Mike! Are we ok?” Then Mike slept below through the rolliest part of the night until about 7:00 am when we could see Grand Bahama Island approaching.

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