Sailing Cristina: Week Four
Our fourth week of sailing took us across the Gulf Stream from Florida to The Bahamas. We braved night sailing, open ocean, and stormy weather before taking refuge in a secluded bay off Whale Cay in the Berry Islands.
Day 22: Indian Key State Historic Park to Kawama Yacht Club, Key Largo
We woke early but stayed at our mooring ball as we researched the next steps to prepare for our Gulf Stream crossing into The Bahamas. Before crossing, we needed to do a number of errands (grocery shopping, West Marine, etc.), complete all the requirements for entering The Bahamas (COVID tests within 72 hours of arrival, a veterinary assessment for Lulu within 48 hours of arrival, as well as our cruising permit and health visa paperwork), and finalize our route planning based on weather. We decided to spend a couple of nights at the Kawama Yacht Club in Key Largo, so we set our course and headed north. After inching through a narrow, shallow cut into the marina, the rather quirky owner of our slip met us at the dock and showed us around the property. We explored a bit and watched a mother manatee and her baby lazily floating in the water off our dock. The tiny baby followed close behind mom as she munched on lettuce thrown into the water by visiting tourists.
After our visit with the manatees, I headed off to pick up our rental car from Budget (cheaper to rent a car for 2 days than take Ubers back and forth between errands), before returning with just enough light to take a winding 3-mile run through the neighborhoods of Key Largo. For dinner, we treated ourselves to a feast of pizza and tiramisu on the outdoor patio of the Italian Food Company restaurant. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a stop!
Day 23: Kawama Yacht Club, Key Largo
Due to the post-holiday spike in COVID cases, there were no COVID test appointments available within the Keys, so we decided to drive to the Miami Airport for tests - a bit of a trek but a sure bet to get the tests we needed to enter The Bahamas. We popped by Starbucks for coffee and breakfast before beginning our drive north. After following the long highway back to mainland Florida, we spotted a sign on the side of the road advertising free, rapid COVID tests at the Tropical Everglades Visitors Association. We pulled into the parking lot and had our rapid antigen test results within 15 minutes of arriving. What luck!
With the Miami Airport no longer on our itinerary, we headed to Costco, Whole Foods, and Target to do our shopping. Then it was back to Kawama Yacht Club to complete paperwork and plan for our Gulf Stream crossing.
Day 24: Kawama Yacht Club, Key Largo to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Taking advantage of our time on land, we all headed out on a morning family run before finishing our errands for the day. A quick stop at West Marine got us the new line we needed and a visit to the Upper Key Veterinary Hospital got us a signed certificate confirming Lulu’s good health. Highly recommend Upper Keys if you're looking to prepare your furry friend for a trip to The Bahamas!
As a final “on land” treat, we stopped at a hidden-away Cuban restaurant, Habanos on the Creek, in Tavenier. The Cuban sandwiches were absolutely ginormous and easily the best I’ve ever had. We returned to the boat to finish organizing and cleaning before motor-sailing north to anchor off of John Pennekamp State Park.
Based on the forecasted winds and the strength of the Gulf Stream current, we estimated that a departure from our position off John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park would deliver us directly to Bimini Island in The Bahamas. The Gulf Stream current pushes north at approximately 2-2.5 knots, so we planned to start south of our destination in order to avoid fighting the current. By starting to the south, we could chart our course straight across the Gulf Stream but end up being pushed on an angle north to Bimini.
With no more planning left to do, we crawled into bed to steal a few hours of sleep before our early morning departure.
Day 25: Gulf Stream Crossing to Brown’s Marina, Bimini, The Bahamas
We woke at 2:45am for our 3:00am departure across the Gulf Stream. I’d worried about sailing in the pitch dark but the glow from Miami and Nassau softened the darkness and glittering stars winked at us from overhead. We pulled up the anchor and set sail on calm, blue-black seas. As we sailed, our radar picked up on large tanker ships transiting the deep water in the distance but none were close enough to be seen. The sun rose and the hours ticked by as we took turns napping, reading, and piloting. We eventually crossed paths with a large tanker, slowing to allow it to cross in front of us.
Then, all of sudden, small dark spots arrived on the horizon giving us our first glimpse of The Bahamas. The water flowed from deep navy to teal to crystalline aqua as we approached the small cluster of islands. After winding through a narrow but brilliantly colored channel we pulled into Brown’s Marina at 1:30pm. We’d planned to arrive around 4:30pm but had made excellent time, thanks to fair seas and the push of the current. Tyler walked our paperwork down the road to Customs & Immigration; once cleared, we lowered our yellow Q flag (quarantine flag) and raised our Bahamas courtesy flag. We’d officially made it!
We walked around the island of Bimini, stopping to take in the sights of the small town, before returning to the boat to plan the next leg of our journey. Bad weather was approaching and we had more than 170 miles to cover before reaching The Exumas - our ultimate goal. Would we stay in Bimini for a week, waiting out the cold front, or would we leave immediately for our next long journey?
Day 26: Brown’s Marina, Bimini to Chub Cay, The Bahamas
After much deliberation, we decided to make a run for it before the cold front rolled in. We left Bimini at 4:00am and motor-sailed for nearly 18 hours to reach Chub Cay at 9:45pm. To reach Chub Cay, we crossed the Great Bahama Bank, a wide, shallow bank with average depths of 12 to 15 feet. Clear, blue water and sky stretch endlessly in either direction with no sign of land. It’s a beautiful and quiet place on a calm day.
In the afternoon, gray clouds began nipping at our heels as thunder booms and lightning flashes signaled their approach. The thought of being caught in a storm with no protection for miles made me immensely nervous, but thankfully the storm fizzled out and dispersed over the Bank. Darkness fell, we made dinner underway, and took in the starry skies. Eventually, the blinking lights of Chub Cay, a private island boasting a newly remodeled marina, guided us into a semi-protected anchorage. We anchored in the dark and fell into bed, exhausted.
Day 27: Chub Cay to Whale Cay
Up at 3:00am, we attempted our final long run across the Tongue of the Ocean to Nassau but were met with intimidating wind and waves. We circled back to Chub Cay, pulling back into our original anchorage at 5:00am. We slept until 10:00am, before taking Lulu ashore briefly. After studying the map, we decided to make a move east to Whale Cay where we would wait out the bad weather for a few days. Rolly waves knocked us around but we made it to a protected bay inside the tip of Whale Point and anchored in soft, white sand.
Whale Cay is a private island, however, it has clearly been damaged in hurricanes and the beach near us was deserted, with bits of trash and a falling down beach cabana. We watched the beach for a few hours for signs of life before going ashore for a quick beach workout and playtime for Lulu. We returned to the boat for a dinner of chickpea curry and homemade naan.
Day 28: Whale Cay
After our series of three pre-dawn wake-ups, we were in need of some sleep and rest, so we spent a quiet morning on the boat, reading, writing, and dozing. Eventually, we ventured ashore to explore the deserted lighthouse on the tip of Whale Point. We meandered the overgrown sandy paths, navigating amongst sea grapes and coconut palms. After a bit of movement, we dinghied back to the boat for a quiet evening.