Crossing the Stream
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
We’re finally here! Bimini, Bahamas, baby! Woo Hoo!
Wow, what a trip it was too! But let me back up a bit.
We finally untethered the mooring line and departed Key West on the 21st, making our way up the Hawk Channel, using the same route we did when we came down. We planned on making the same stops we did before – Key West to Marathon to Key Largo then finally into Biscayne Bay, Miami.
The trip to Marathon was rough. Winds from the east at 15-20 mph gave us 3′-4’ waves in the channel. Obviously we had become very comfy on our mooring ball and this much action was a shock to our system. We arrived in Marathon and ducked under the famous Seven Mile Bridge over to the Gulf side to escape the winds. What a difference that made. The water was much calmer on the west side. Tried to anchor in three different spots before we finally got one to stick (we really suck at anchoring), and were able to get a good night’s sleep listening to Caribbean music drifting from a local waterfront bar. Woke up the next morning to winds building from the northwest and saw a nasty band of storms on the radar moving west across the Gulf. Jesus, can we not get a break? Decided to stay in Marathon for another night to let the front pass through and avoid another day of crappy sailing conditions on our leg up to Key Largo. Because there were no mooring balls available in Boot Key Harbor, we convinced the dock master at a restaurant called Burdine’s to take pity on us and let us tie up on their bulkhead for the night. The storms ended up breaking up and not even raining, but it felt great to be tied to something in the 30mph winds and have access to nice showers and shore power. We spent the day catching up on a series we’re watching (Vikings on Amazon – check it out!), and eating every meal at Burdine’s. It ended up being an unexpected and pleasant stay.
Left the following day and headed up to Key Largo. I spent the day calling every marina I could in Miami searching for a mooring ball or slip we could get while waiting for a good weather window to cross over to the Bahamas. Unfortunately for us, I found that everyone was booked thanks to the Miami boat show happening the following week. The same show we recently brought a Lagoon 52 down for. Ugh. What to do? The thought of hanging out on the hook in Biscayne Bay for at least a week was less than appealing to us, especially since the next cold front coming thru would be bringing 30+ mph winds. Our options were not looking good.
As we made our way to Key Largo, the winds started settling down and the water was nearly glass by the time we dropped anchor off of Rodriguez Key. Very odd. We checked the weather again and saw that we had a (very) small window where the winds would be out of the W/SW – PERFECT for crossing the Gulf Stream. However, the wind would be shifting to the north again early Monday morning, so if we did cross, we had to get over quickly.
So, we said f*ck it, let’s cross. Our alternative was being stuck in Miami for who knows how long, so it didn’t take much debating.
Matt ran into town to fill up our diesel jerry cans and I called AT&T to get our phones unlocked and our service suspended while we’re out of the country. A few quick calls to family and friends, and we were on our way east, with calm seas and a beautiful fiery sunset at our backs. I wasn’t too thrilled about crossing the stream at night, but the way things were looking, it seemed like it would be a pretty pleasant trip.
And it turned out, it was. Winds were blowing from the west at around 5-10 mph, giving us gentle swells and just enough wind to fill our sail. With the push of the swells and the current of the stream, we were averaging 7.5 knots, which would get us the 70 miles or so to Bimini in about 10 hours. Aside from a few freighters to look out for, the night was pretty nice.
Of course, I was silently freaking out, because I HATE overnights. And crossing the Gulf Stream – that huge formidable great rushing river that everyone warns you about – at night, in the pitch dark, scared the sh*t out of me. I had a few beers to take the edge off and spent my shift gazing at the star filled night sky to take my mind off of what we were actually doing. Holy crap, we’re ballzy.
Around 3am, we saw land. Well, we didn’t actually see it because it was completely dark out, but our radar & GPS told us we were close. Also, the depth finder started working again, and we saw the depths rise from 300 to 150 to 60 to 30 ft. Crazy. As the depths were rising, so were the winds. And shifting too, so they were now blowing out of the NW, and the waves were building. Holy Crap. Here it is, pitch black, approaching a bank full of coral heads, we can’t tell what’s what on land, and we’re just circling aimlessly out in the open ocean waiting for the sun to rise so we can see where we’re going.
As the waves built, so did our nausea. Matt’s at the helm hand steering (autopilot wouldn’t work in the kind of seas we were having), I’m sitting in the cockpit, and we’re trying to make conversation to get us through the next few hours until sunrise, while waves are rocking the boat and we’re both looking for convenient places to puke should the need arise. Add to that, it’s been about 24 hours with no sleep. There was talk about us selling the boat. As in immediately after we got to Bimini. Along with a lot of cursing. It was not good.
What the hell happened to our peaceful, easy crossing?? This was quickly turning into one of the worst experiences either one of us has ever had on a boat. I guess Poseidon didn’t care for the Coors Lights we gave as an offering for a safe passage when we left Largo. Should have busted out the good stuff.
After nearly three hours of circling North Bimini in open seas, with 6-8’ waves and 30+ mph winds, we finally had enough light from the sunrise to make it into the Alice Town Harbor entrance. This was probably the most hair raising part of the trip – a narrow channel, at low tide, with crashing waves picking up the boat and pushing us all over the place. Think of white water rafting, only instead of a raft you have a 40’ catamaran and instead of a river you have the Atlantic Ocean. Something like that. By the time we arrived, the inside of our boat was a disaster from all of the constant pummeling. It pretty much looked exactly like the way we felt.
I need to give a shout out to Matt, who was absolutely AMAZING. He was in control and calm the entire time, which made me feel as safe as possible given the situation. I love him to death and can’t thank him enough for bringing us in safely.
As we come into the channel and duck behind land, the winds die down and it’s a much better ride. I begin frantically hailing each marina listed in our guide book to see if there’s any place open for us to tie up. After the night we had, all we were looking forward to was securing the boat and getting to bed. The lack of sleep and the adrenaline rush was making us crash – hard.
Finally we heard a response from Bimini Blue Water Resort, who said they had a spot and someone would be meeting us at the dock to help us in. Finally, we were able to catch a break! After we tied up, we sat in silence in the cockpit, still unable to wrap our heads around the traumatic morning and thankful that we made it into safety with no damage to the boat and ourselves. We stuck around for the beautiful Bahamian sunrise and went down blow to pass out from exhaustion.
After a quick nap, Matt walked over to customs and cleared us in. The whole process took less than 30 minutes. We lowered the yellow quarantine flag and raised the Bahamas flag. And just like that we’re in!
Looking back, I’m glad we left during that small weather window, even though it did get a little uncomfortable at the end. With all of these cold fronts coming up the east coast, there’s no telling when we would have had another opportunity to cross. Just shows you how unpredictable the weather can be, even when you have several reliable forecasts giving you the green light. We realized we got lucky, and have been scared into playing it super safe from now on. Let’s hope the rest of our trip isn’t as adventurous as the first night was!