Across the Stream and Banks to Nassau

Dec 11 – Nassau (*Note we are posting this from Warderick Wells on Dec 16, but it only covers the trip as far as Nassau.  We will try to upload another post in the next couple days.)

I heard a voice calling my name. It was 2 AM and Jackie waking me to take over on watch. I got my act together and climbed up into the cockpit. There was Jackie sitting in the command spot where she could see the sailing instruments, the GPS, and the radar as well as reach the VHF and the autopilot. Her binoculars, the log book, and sailing charts were nearby as well as her book. After every page or two she would scan the horizon to check on Reach and look for other boats. Just another night on watch. She briefed me on what was happening and then went below for some rest.

We left Miami about 6 AM the previous day, Thursday, Dec. 10. We followed Reach out of Government Cut – the main shipping channel for Miami – and headed east for the Bimini Islands. It was a beautiful morning with clear skies and calm seas, but little wind. We had the main and jib up to get a little push as we motored east across the gulfstream.

The gulfstream spans the ocean between Miami and Bimini. The current is weakest at the edges and strongest in the middle so you need to correct your heading periodically to keep heading in the desired direction. Pretty easy sailing – until the depth guage switched from showing numbers to showing three dashes. This was disquieting to say the least because we were headed for some of the shallowest cruising grounds in the world. I took half the floor out of the boat to trace the depth sounder wires looking for breaks, but all looked fine. Then I found out that we were “off soundings” meaning the water was too deep for the depth sounder to read. It stops at about 400 feet. We were sailing in 500 – 800 feet of water. All we had to do was wait until we reached the Bahamas Banks and see if we got depths again.

Once that crisis was postponed we could get down to serious business, so we tossed a line over the side to see if we could find a fish looking for breakfast. I tried the lure we used to catch the yellow jack, but with no luck. We switched to a different lure and finally got a hit. I had all the gear ready and we were starting to get the drill down. I grabbed the rod and tightened the drag while Jackie slowed the boat. I worked the fish in, gaffed him, and dropped him into our “fish cleaning station” – a big plastic storage container. By then Jackie had the camera and the fish identification book. We looked through it and found that it was a Wahoo.  A bit small as they go, but enough for a meal. I commenced to clean the fish and can proudly say that the process went much better than with the last fish.

Wahoo! Another fish!

We trolled the rest of the way to Bimini, but didn’t have any more luck.

The waypoints on our cruising charts put Bimini a bit over 50 miles from Miami. It was pretty cool to see Bimini emerging from the sea on the horizon. But even more impressive is the water. Three things happen as you enter the Great Bahama Bank. The first is that the water changes from deep blue to aqua. I now know why people paint swimming pools the color that they do – it looks like you are swimming in the Bahamas. The second thing is that you can look down and see the bottom as you sail over. It’s very cool except that it looks closer than it is. It is truly amazing. The third thing that happens is that the depth guage begins to display depths again – very comforting now that the bottom looks so close.

We rounded the light at North Rock about 1:30 PM and pointed Little Rosie across the Banks. After a while the wind filled in a little and we were able to cut the engine and sail. Mark and Michelle had stopped Reach’s engine and were sailing, too, but Compass Rose slowly reeled them in and passed them by.

Compass Rose on the Bahama Banks

Rosie was in her element and slid across the banks. Jackie and I went up on the bow and enjoyed the moment. This is why we were here. It is hard to describe the feeling of Compass Rose surging forward beneath your feet as she powered her way through the beautiful, clear water.

We were sailing our boat in the Bahamas.

But as the afternoon faded, so did the wind. We finally switched back to motor sailing after Reach passed us. Jackie and I switched into our formal watch rotation where we take turns doing 4 hour shifts. The night was pretty uneventful. Just after midnight we left the Great Bahama Bank through the Northwest Channel and entered a deep area called the Tongue of the Ocean. In less than a mile the water dropped from about 15 feet to over three hundred feet deep. In a few more miles the charted depth was over 800.

A little after dawn New Providence Island appeared on the horizon. Nassau is about in the middle of the north side of the island. The good and bad news is that the west entrance is a Class A channel and accomodates large commercial vessels and cruise ships. It’s easy to find your way in, but you might have to contend with a cruise ship. And almost if on cue, One of the Disney ships appeared on the horizon. Luckily it was going quickly and it entered the port ahead of us.

We were entering a foreign country and had to follow their procedures. The first step was to hail Nassau Harbor Control and request permission to enter. They ask a few basic questions including boat name and destination so they know where to send the customs and immigration people. The next step is to raise your Q flag – a solid yellow flag – to signal that you are a foreign flagged vessel that has not checked into the country. In Nassau you tie up in a marina and the Customs and Immigration people come to you. We had planned on staying over night so this worked out well for us. Mark and Michelle planned to head for the Exumas, so they tied up to the fuel dock at the marina next to us.

Jackie raises the Bahamas courtesy flag

The Customs and Immigration officials arrived at the marina and we were able to clear in without any trouble. We went back to the boat for our own little clearing in ceremony. We lowered the Q flag and raised the Bahamian courtesy flag – the one Jackie so carefully sewed for the occassion.

We could now go anywhere in the Bahamas. The first place we went was to take a shower at the marina facilities. There we were reminded that we were after all, in the Bahamas. There was no water in the showers and no one knew why. Luckily the marina complex includes a small hotel and they were able to find us a vacant room that had a light in the bathroom and a shower curtain. We felt human again. We then set off on our mission.

When cruising your boat is your home and your dinghy is your family car. Our car had a 1960 vintage outboard engine that was given to me by a friend and was really too small for our dink. It was like driving your car and never getting out of second gear. Then in Miami we started to have fuel delivery problems. I tried a lot of things and even thought I had the problem fixed, but it came back. We had strongly considered buying a new engine in the Bahamas and the fuel problems pushed the issue. We already knew that engines were cheaper in the Bahamas and there is no sales tax. We did some shopping and ended up with a 15 HP Yamaha for less than we would pay for a 10 HP in the states. And they delivered. I shrewedly traded the Johnson to someone at the marina for a fresh papaya so it will end its days pushing a little skiff around the Nassau waters.

Our next stop will be Highbourne Cay in the Exumas.

8 Responses to “Across the Stream and Banks to Nassau”

  1. Crew Rest Says:

    This is sooooo cool. We are hanging on every post and enjoying your experiences right along with you. Please keep the updates coming–and wishes of calm seas to you.

    Barry & Judy

  2. Haf Jonsson Says:

    Wow…Jackie and you are living the dream. Thanks for letting us live it with you. I’m reading the details carefully, because I will be in your wake soon.
    Best of luck.


  3. katie Says:

    So cool !!! I was holding my breath while I was reading (lucky I am a quick reader) Whenever I fly into the bahamas I always have to take a peek at that aqua water- it is an amazing view!!! I am so happy for you-take care Hugs & fishes kt

  4. Mark & Beth Says:

    Cool read. I wish I was there.
    Can you call or e-mail your latest contact info. Beth saw you tried to call on Skype a few days ago but she is not too well versed on that. And there is like a million Whites in the directory.


  5. Pam Morris Says:

    You are kicking up my wanderlust…and memories. It sounds like everything is going great and you are truly experiencing the magic of cruising! No fishing in Warderick Wells and it looks like you have become quite the angler! Fair sailing on to the Exuma’s.

    PS. I left a Blue Moon keychain and a Sea Monkey Shirt on Booby Hill “1997”. There is also a foot of snow in Annapolis.

  6. joan Says:

    Yeayy!! Or should it be wahooo!!!? You made it. I love reading the log & all the details. Can almost smell the raw fish (not a good thing for my fish allergy) and the fresh breeze ( a great thing).

    Question: is that my dad’s motor ending it’s days in the Bahamas or another lucky motor? If it’s his, he’d get a real charge out of it.

    Are you stringing Christmas lights on the boat?

    Take care,

  7. Chris & Bill Says:

    Christmas in the Bahamas!!! And we have 19 inches of snow here! Wish we were there! We hope to see Don & D next week.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for the next decade!

    Chris & Bill

  8. Susan French Says:

    Hi Jackie and Eric,
    It’s been so much fun to read your postings! Hope you had a nice day Christmas Day. Please let us all know how you spent the day on your next post. The trip sounds wonderful. (It was 15 degrees here yesterday and high winds.) I’ll bet you two look nicely tanned and healthy!!
    Take care,

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