Tuesday 5 Jun: Santaren Channel to Bimini Islands (Bahamas)
At midnight we are 2/3 of the way around what seems like the never ending Bahama Bank. The wind picks up to 9-10 kts SW, so it’s time to give the engine a break. But after the 22h the propeller still wants to carry on! The propeller is not folding properly. There is a rumbling noise and the prop shaft is spinning. Maybe there is something caught in the gearing? Maybe it’s just one blade that doesn’t fold? Whatever, it certainly doesn’t sound healthy as it spins with an odd vibration. We switch the engine on-off several times, trying different ways to make the prop fold. All unsuccessful. Last solution: on Oana’s wise suggestion we put the sails away, turn the boat into the wind and reverse at full blast. That did the trick! When main and genoa are back out, the prop folds away nicely and falls silent at last, and soon we are sailing at 6kts in 9kts wind. We were hoping to get a fast ride in the Gulf Stream, but for the moment we have 1kt of current against us!
When Oana goes to sleep at 1am, Glen vouches that there will be peace on deck and he will let the boat sail with the wind. Will see about that… soon the wind increases to a perfect 12kts and we are zipping along on moonlite water at 8 (AW at 60deg, COG 338 towards Miami). We start to see the water temperature rise and we finally have a current pushing us … the Gulf Stream at last? Lovely-chubbly!
By 3am we are level with the most southern point of US. After 8 days at sea, it feels we are getting there now. Certainly the VHF tells us so, with lots of US sounding voices on, USCG PanPans, and all sorts. When we passed Cuba we didn’t hear even a squeak on VHF. Civilization brings noise pollution to Cloudy Bay!
As dawn approaches we are still doing a good speed (8kts SOG) but the wind is backing and we are now heading slightly east. So before Oana goes to bed, autohelm is altered to sail hard on the wind and sails are tightened. Good, we are heading north again, but only just.
But the wind continues to back. Hey, Mr.Predictwind, this wasn’t in your forecast! What happened to our promised beam reach to Miami, the golden land of 3G phone signal? Ooph it’s great to have a break from the relentless easterly trade winds but we guess its now firmly back to sailing in winds that can come from multiple directions! No wonder most Americans have motor boats!
The wind keeps taking us eastwards back towards the Bahamas, and over breakfast we joke maybe we should go there instead. Hm, quick look at the chart, and indeed we could potentially go into the Bimini Islands on the NW tip. We are certainly heading that way anyway! We’ll have to go into a marina though, as there is no sheltered anchorage deep enough for us, at least none that we can see on the chart. Navionics saves the situation; this detailed chart we bought, includes pictures of marinas and phone numbers. So a few IridiumGo calls later we are booked, and we’ll be there in 3hrs. Enough time for Oana to top-up her tan while we still have our privacy and for Glen to clear the ropes on the deck. Oh, but do we have a flag of Bahamas? Our flags book enlightens us on how the flag looks like, and one shuffle in the flags cupboard reveals we do have one. Brill, we are ready for Bahamas!
At mid-day the wind dies, so time to put the engine on and run the water-maker to be topped up for the next couple of days. And 9kts suddenly feels very fast, as we are admiring Gun Cay in the distance and try to make out through the monocular what delights they might have ashore.
Before getting to Bimini, we briefly anchor at Barney Harbor, for Glen to visually check the propeller and to have a swim in the spectacular blue water. We think it’s the most beautiful sea color we have ever seen, and so crystal clear we could see the anchor from the swim ladder. So this is why people rave about the Bahamas.
After an hour in that magical place, we up-anchor and make our way towards North Bimini and to the channel that leads all the way to the end of the island. Getting into the entrance channel was a bit tricky: we could see it marked on the plotter, but some of the buoys were missing, and depth was only 3m (chart showed 4.5m). Our bums were twitching as we gently edged in.
A few minutes later we arrive at Sea Crest Marina. Not a glamorous affair. Just a T-pontoon with concrete piling. Glen spins Cloudy Bay around in her own length and ends the maneuver perfectly parallel to the dock – the equivalent of a handbrake turn into a street parking space! … he couldn’t do that 2 years ago! A helper assists us with the lines; we are alongside at the end of the T.
Again, a bit of an issue with the water depth. We were told our draft of 2.5m will clear ok, but the bottom looks very close and the depth reads 2.9m. Once tied up, Glen dives with mask to see our clearance. All looks OK, there is almost 75cm between keel and mud. But our relief is short lived when a neighbour tells us it is now high tide, and the range is about 3ft. Gulp! And to add to our worries the wake from a passing boat moves Cloudy Bay up and down about 20-30cm! Not good at all. Nowhere else to go.
We also have to blow up our 2 very large AVON sausage fenders to keep the rubbing-strip off the jetty pilings. Why don’t they have normal pontoons where normal fenders work? You can’t fend off from pilings without a fender plank.
It’s really blisteringly hot today. So next job is putting up the boom-over sunshade. With its sides down, everything aft of the mast is in shade plus, if the wind is from the bow, it creates a tunnel effect for cool breeze to blow through. Instantly the boat feels cooler, and so do we.
Once Cloudy Bay is safely moored and we are registered into the marina, we walk to Big Game Marina nearby where the customs office is. After the online check-in formalities in the French islands and in Antigua, we are now reverting to hand written forms, 3 different ones. Each with some duplicated entries. We found it very weird that the customs officers haven’t checked a single boat document or last port clearance.
But the big shock was yet to come … when we were told we have to pay US$300 entrance fee. Outrageous! Whether we stay for 5 minutes or 1 year, the fee is $300. And, as we have stepped on land we HAVE TO pay. For an hour or so, we really felt like we are being robbed. If we added up all the entry fees and cruising permits we payed in the Caribbean islands, it will probably not amount this much. I guess that explains why the documents were not checked, their priority is to cash in, not see if a stolen boat has just come in.
Next stop, Immigration Office, 6 buildings further on the left. Again, 3 different forms to fill in, hand written. But otherwise it was a quick affair and the official very polite.
We intend to drink our sorrows with a beer at the Big Game Marina bar, but the place is deserted and overpriced, so we walk back to Cloudy Bay. Again, 5pm and we haven’t had lunch yet.
After we have our meal we walk back into the village and over the “hill” to the Radio Beach, where we were told there are some sunset bars. But instead we found the usual shacks with loud awful music and a few locals. So we carry on walking along the beach road, hoping to find something more attractive.
But our peaceful walk is abruptly interrupted a hundred meters away by the bark of a dog. Then another one … and another … and another, all running towards us from what looked like an abandoned place. In few seconds we were surrounded by 6-7 very aggressive dogs all barking and snapping. They were clearly in pack-mode and we weee the prey! Very very frightening. Glen was wildly swinging the GoPro stick and shouting, trying to keep their snarling teeth away from us. Luckily for us, a local came out from the nearby building and the dogs backed off. Otherwise we would’ve most likely ended up bitten by the beasts. Oana fears dogs and this incident added even more towards that feeling, leaving her shaking and in tears for sometime.
Oh, and the GOPro stick is now bent and the camera housing cracked. So it did connect with at least one dog …. or was it Oana’s knee, that is now hurting. Hm, could our day get any worse? Is this really what Bahamas is about? Chased by sharks and dogs for our meat, and by customs for our wallet!
We carry on walking hoping to find the pretty part of this island. But it’s garbage, junk cars, junk golf carts and debris everywhere. Humans do have a way of destroying nature. Houses look like they were touched by a storm and we ask a local if it was one of the hurricanes last year. To our surprise, she didn’t know which hurricane it was that hit the island. We learn from her son it was in fact Irma, the same that hit Barbuda, BVIs, and Puerto Rico.
This Bimini island being only 50miles from Miami, we expected a glamorous and welcoming place. Whereas, it is the same as most other islands where the locals are banished to a small part, where they make their mess, and at the opposite end of the scale, 5-star resorts with marina complexes. Such disparity. And again we marvel at how the French islands were devoid of these extremes.
As the evening sets in, we walk back to Cloudy Bay and we are happy to find her still afloat, as it is now dead low tide. We are looking forward to a full night sleep, our first in 8 days. But, we have wifi signal, so most of the evening is playing catchup on emails and IT admin whilst being bitten by mossies! Ocean sailing, away from bugs and internet does have its advantages!
Tuesday 5 Jun: Santaren Channel to Bimini Islands (Bahamas)