08-09 January 08
If I'm going to have to sit somewhere and wait for weather, this is probably the best place. This time I anchored closer to the bridge and away from that sunken boat I got my rode tangled in.
Back at Miami Beach anchorage, FL
While leaving the Water Stadium today, I passed a nice Westsail 28 named Eagle. And it was home ported in, of all places, Cleveland, Ohio. Oh, Galena is home ported in Lorain, Oh, just a few miles west of Cleveland.
The weather looks good for either tomorrow or Friday. But this is starting to get frustrating. I'm lowering my standards for what constitutes an acceptable weather window. Now I'll take anything that is at all doable.
s/v Eagle of Cleveland, OH, a Westsail 28
I put the solar panels on deck and used fenders to prop them up and point them at the sun. I really look a little trashy, but it works. I'll mount them permanently sometime real soon now.
Late on the afternoon of the 8th, as I sat in the cockpit reading and napping I heard an anchor chain rattling down. Someone was anchoring nearby. I peaked around my sun screen and there was Tom and Joyce aboard s/v Stella Polaris. I had not seen them since I had met them at Great Bridge, VA, back in November.
Solar Panels on Galena's deck.
I gave them a few minutes to get settled and dinghied over. They had also been in the Miami area since Christmas, just not in the same anchorages/marinas as me. We had a great time catching up and swapping stories.
On the 9th someone organized a sundowner on the beach at Monument Island, right next to the anchorage. So I went as did 15 or so others. There I met quite a few cruisers, all 'heading south.' There was also a representative of the local boaters' community. They were looking for some cruiser to stay and fight the 'no long-term anchoring law in Miami Beach. The fight would be swift, but you had to sit in Miami Beach until about April. I was all for fighting the system, but I was not about to waste a winter just to prove a point.
At nightfall, I took what I hoped was my last look at the Miami skyline.
The Miami Skyline at dusk
10 January 08
No Name Harbor
Key Biscayne, FL
I'm leaving tomorrow for sure! At least I think I am.
I'm here at No Name with s/v Stella Polaris and a harbor full of other cruising boats. This place is really packed. Tom, Joyce, and I went to the little restaurant located at the southwest end of the harbor for dinner. Again swapping sea stories and lies. The place is very small. If you want to use this as a staging area, get here a day early and plan on arriving early in the day; preferably in the morning.
The plan is to leave here as soon as it's light enough for them to navigate out without hitting anyone. s/v Stella Polaris is way up at the SE end of the harbor. s/v Galena is way back at the entrance. I can get out in the dark without any problem.
I phoned Tom (s/v Evergreen) just to check in. His boat was still on the hard in Miami and would be there for at least a few more days. He has decided to cruise the Florida Keys this year and save the Bahamas for another time. So I wished him well and I'll see him in the spring on my return to the Chesapeake Bay.
11 January 08
Well, Stella Polaris and Galena left early this morning as planned. We were underway before dawn. But the wind and the waves were almost right on the nose. We made some headway until we were about 8 miles off shore. There we hit the full force of the Gulf Stream. The heading was 30° south of the track because of the set of the Stream. That put the wind exactly on the nose. The seas were still up to 4-ft and had not subsided to the 2-ft as forecast. The wind was still at 150° and had not clocked to the south, as forecast. My speed was way below the planned 5-kts. That gave me an estimated arrival time at Gun Cay of well past sundown. I called Stella Polaris on the radio and said I was ready to admit defeat. Tom wanted to give it another hour or so (hoping the wind would finally clock another 30° around to the south). But 10 minutes later he called me back and concurred. We reluctantly decided to turn around and head back to Miami at about 0930hrs; after 3 hrs of fighting our way east.
Anchored at Pumpkin Key, FL
Talk about disappointing! Maybe it's because we tried to leave on a Friday. That's one of those rules, you know? "Never begin a voyage on a Friday," is what they say.
But, since we were both in 'cruising mode' we decided to head on down to Angelfish Creek. That inlet is about 30 miles further south and would give us a much better angle heading across the Stream to Gun Cay. Some people shy away from this inlet. The eastern end carries only 5-ft at MLW. That's a true five feet. If the tide table for Ocean Reef says you're at plus 1.5, you will see 6.5 ft as you cross the rock ledge in the eastern channel. If there's a heavy swell running, you might hit bottom. And it's a rock bottom.
We had an absolutely wonderful sail down Biscayne Bay to Angelfish Cay. Galena was sailing well with the 15 kt wind almost enough to the east to make our line down the Biscayne Bay. Just a couple of tacks were required to make it all the way to Pumpkin Key, the usual staging ground for departures from Angelfish Creek.
Tom on s/v Stella Polaris as we sailed south on Biscayne Bay
Just as we arrived at Pumpkin Key the wind clocked to the South and piped up to over 15 kts. We had to drop sails and motor into the anchorage in the lee of the key.
There we again bumped into Blake and Sunny aboard s/v Slow Mocean, a nice Manta 42. They were staging for a run to either Bimini or Gun Cay. We all went over to Slow Mocean for dinner and had a fine evening. We decided to head out at 0600. That would give us a predicted +0.5 ft of tide. That would be important because the ocean side of Angelfish Creek is only 5 ft deep!
The difference between the Miami-Bimini route and the Angelfish-Gun Cay route is significant. The first is only 43nm while the second is 54nm long. But more importantly the second route (the one I was going to take now) runs 12° north of the first. That makes a big difference when you're waiting for winds to go south of southeast. Plus the route from Angelfish to Gun Cay takes better advantage of the Gulf Stream. Remember that the set of the Stream requires that one take a heading of 20° to 30° south of their course.
Routes between Florida and Bahamas
12 January 08
Anchored behind Gun Cay, Bahamas (N 25° 34.9' W 079° 17.8'
Trip 60nm, Total 1272nm, Engine 1575 hrs
We (Galena, Stella Polaris, and Slow Mocean) weighed anchors at 0600 hrs as planned. Stella Polaris was underway before Galena. Tom was motoring around Galena's bow as I was weighing anchor. As Stella Polaris motored past me I said to Tom, "That shoal is directly north of me." Tom said, "I'll just follow you." But then he went around me to the north. You guessed it, he went hard aground on that rock.
The route through Angelfish Creek. Also the shoal that caught Stella Polaris
Blake quickly launched his dinghy (Slow Mocean is a large Cat and the dink is carried on davits). After about 30 minutes of effort he was able to twist Stella Polaris off the shoal. So we got into the creek a little later than we had planned. Since Slow Mocean only draws 4.5 ft, he went first and called out soundings. As expected, the shallowest spot was just inside the ocean end of the creek. I saw 5.5 feet of water for just a moment. Most of the time it was about 7 feet deep. But that one 5.5 foot spot is supposedly a hard rock ledge.
Once we were all out in the ocean we raised sails and with the wind just a little too close to the bow, we all motorsailed toward Gun Cay.
In the Gulf Stream, the current is substantial. The course from Angelfish Creek to Gun Cay is about 73°. But we had to point at 100° to track at 73°. The winds were light at less than 10 kts. I could motorsail and make over 6 kts all the way. The seas were less than 4 ft and diminished all day until they were less than 2 ft.
A couple of times during the day I cut off the engine and tried to just sail. But each time the speed dropped to about 3.5 kts and the ETA went up to well after dark. So the motor came back on.
Blake on Slow Mocean decided to 'follow the wind.' He headed further north, toward Bimini. But at the end, he turned south and entered the Bahama Banks at Gun Cay, too.
Stella Polaris followed me around Gun Cay. I don't know about them, but I was a little unnerved again by how close you have to get to Gun Cay before you turn and head south along the beach. The sailing instructions direct one to head directly east toward the light house. Then to wait until you're in about 12 feet of water. At that point you should turn south and follow the shoreline around to either the back of Gun Cay and head north into the anchorage area, or to a point where you can see down the back of Cat Cay and then turn south again.
The Gun Cay Light is very close aboard when you make the turn South along the coastline
The bottom comes up from 'off soundings' to 30 feet very quickly. Then it holds that depth for a while. Then it comes up fast again. I turned south at 14 feet of water. Then I followed the shoreline around and to the back of Gun Cay. I think I saw a minimum of 7.8 ft. But that was just for a moment.
Behind Gun Cay the water is about 8 ft deep. We motored north until we were clear of the swell coming into the cut and there we anchored.
Stella Polaris had me over for dinner and drinks. We had another great evening of swapping stories and making plans.
During the night Galena dragged her anchor. I didn't have enough chain out and the wind came up for a while. Just long enough to allow Galena to drag too close to Stella Polaris. So at about 10pm I hauled up the anchor and repositioned Galena. This time with a lot of chain. But she started to drag again! So I just dropped the other bow anchor and about 50 ft of chain. That held her! The Bruce is not showing well in this soft, fine, Bahamian sand. [Later Note: I would continue to have problems with the Bruce. Finally I swapped the Bruce and the CQR (each about 34 lbs) so that now I had the CQR as the primary (starboard) anchor. After that the dragging problems stopped.]
13 January 08
Galena is anchored about 0.3nm south of the line from Gun Cay to Northwest Channel Light. That should keep me out of the way of anyone making the run at night. I'm just 1.7nm west of Russell light.
Anchored on the Grand Bahama Banks (N 25° 28.7' W 078° 27.6')
Today was a perfect day of sailing. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. The water was perfectly clear and only 12 feet deep. Harvey (my Aires wind steering vane) steered Galena perfectly all day long. That left me free to alternately read and sleep and eat and mess around with other stuff on board.
The wind was from the SSE most of the day at about 12 kts. I was heading just about west. So I had pretty much a beam reach all day long. It was great sailing! The 'seas' if you can call them that, were less than 1 ft all day long. This is what cruising is about. At least the sailing part of cruising.
Slowly the wind clocked around to the SW and diminished. I went below to make dinner and honestly couldn't tell we were moving. The angle of heel was only about 3° and we were making 5 kts though calm water.
14 January 08
I awoke after a wonderfully quiet and comfortable night on the Banks. This was the first nice night I've ever had out here. If you check out the other times I've stopped here you'll know what I'm talking about. Here's a rule of thumb for you: if the wind is blowing over 10 kts, don't stop on the banks. It will be very rough. I've known two cruisers who have lost their ground tackle here in unsettled weather.
Anchored in Nassau Harbor, Bahamas.
Trip 68nm, Total 1388nm, Engine 1586hrs
I had dropped the hook at 1800 yesterday and had been asleep by 8pm. So I naturally woke up at 0300hrs. That was good. I could get all the way to Nassau if I left early enough.
The night was fabulous! Stars like you don't see anywhere else. A faint loom in the east (Nassau?). And a couple of anchor lights in the distance, just to let me know that I was not really the last guy on the planet.
I sailed on in this beautiful blackness until sunrise. I arrived at Northwest Channel Light at 0700 (sunrise was at 0708 hrs). I passed about 200 yds north of the light and turned into the deep waters of the Northwest Channel. The water depth goes from 12 feet to over 3,000 feet in just a few hundred feet. Once again Galena was sailing in the deep, deep blue water. The water that looks almost black, but not quite. The water that, while it looks dark, is also very, very clear. The foam from Galena's bow wave is pure white in stark contrast.
But the winds continued to die as the clocked around to the west and then northwest. By the time I was passing Chub Cay I had to fire up the engine. I motorsailed toward Nassau.
Just 1 mile west of the harbor entrance a small squall hit. I had rain falling just at the time when I was going to go out on deck and drop sails. I got a little wet but Galena got a much needed bath.
The marinas were all full. I guess a lot of people had taken advantage of this weather window and left Florida on the same day as I.
So I anchored out in the harbor. I'll go into a marina and clear customs tomorrow.
I briefly spoke with Mark Tindall (m/v Ibis). I was anchored right next to him; actually maybe a little too close. Anyway, he asked, "Is that a Westsail?" I said, "Yep." He said, "I have a very good friend who has one of those. His name is Ky." One more guy who knows Ky. For those who have not read all of my web site and blogs, There's a story here. My best boating buddy, Capt Ron, told me about this friend of his named Ky. Ky is from Vietnam and Capt Ron (and I) occasionally fly a South Vietnam flag from our boats (we're both Vietnam veterans). Ky came over and started talking with Ron because he was flying that flag. Now, many years later, they are still good friends and talk regularly. Ron has told me about Ky for years. In my travels I've met about 6 other cruisers who know Ky. I even have a picture of him on my web page. But I've never met the guy. Anyway, Mark said that he and Ky are like best buddies. And that Ky is heading this way. So I might actually meet him some day soon.
15 January 08
I cleared customs and immigrations this morning, just after I moved into Nassau Yacht Haven. That's the only drawback to clearing customs here, you have to check into a marina. They want to see the boat and they insist on being able to walk to it. Actually, since I arrived here yesterday and didn't call custom's until today, the custom's guy was a bit miffed with me. He said that technically I had broken the law by not clearing customs as soon as I arrived in Nassau. I guess I should have just told the guy I had just arrived. After all, I had left Miami and stopped at Gun Cay, then stopped on the banks, then stayed on the hook in this harbor, then moved to this marina. I could have just moved everything up a day in my narrative.
Nassau Yacht Haven, Nassau, Bahamas.
Staying in a marina for a day is no big deal. I could use a shower and there are a few things I should work on.
I called Jane and she has booked a flight to join me here on the 30th of January. She'll fly back on the 20th of February from George Town, Grand Exuma. Together we'll sail down the Exumas and see some of the places we missed on the last few trips through here.
While waiting for Jane to arrive, I'll sail somewhere and just hang out. Maybe down to Highborne Cay. That's a nice little island. I could also just hang out here for a while. I can't afford to stay in this marina ($2/ft) but I can anchor out in the harbor for free.
It's really great to be back in the Bahamas. I enjoy myself here.