Monday, February 9, 2015

How Long DOES It Take To Get To The Bahamas From Texas?

It takes 497 days!  Tell the folks back at BYC that betting is closed!  We made it!  We had begun to feel like poor ol' Susan Lucci... Always nominated, but never quite winning the prize.  (she did finally win that Daytime Emmy by the way)

The moon to light our way
It really hasn't truly sunk in yet that we're HERE!  Somewhere in the Gulf Stream last night or early this morning, Bruce and I were talking about how strange our lives are.  Here we are, hurdling blindly through time and space... not really knowing what's up ahead.  What will it be like?  What will we do?  Will we like it?  (and more immediately... will a sea monster eat us)  It is the most liberating thing in the world.

Loading the dinghy onto the boat with a halyard
But let me back up a bit...
We arrived a day early at the anchorage outside No Name Harbor near Miami with a one day weather window to cross to the Bahamas.  No problem, we can do an easy daytime passage and be there by mid afternoon.  But our weather window began to tighten and it looked like, once again, we would be stuck here in the good old U S of A.
Stephanie Dawn Arrives!
Kelly Nicole - another Morgan boat
We were traveling with two other sailboats, Stephanie Dawn and Kelley Nicole.  There's safety in numbers, even if we are all Newbies... But forget the easy daylight passage.  We figured we could beat the forecast bad weather and arrive in the Bahamas on a high tide if we left the anchorage at 2 am.

Bruce and I (read mostly Bruce) worked on preparing for our crossing all day long.  We had to load the dinghy up onto the foredeck, pack a ditch bag, clean the boat's bottom, prepare passage food and get things stowed away down below.  It's a lot of work and it would all be for naught if the hint of big squalls got much more serious.

We were in good company as towards the end of the day, the anchorage began to fill up as, one by one, boats arrived and anchored to await their chosen departure time.  There were sixteen boats in our anchorage by the time we retired for the day.

As soon as the sun went down, the last we'll see from US waters for some time... we went to bed.  I took a Benadryl in hopes that it would help me sleep and for it's anti-seasickness  qualities.

At about 11 pm we woke up to the sounds of rain and gusty winds.  Dread crept in for those few moments as we imagined our crossing opportunity draining away with the rain through our scuppers...

But the rain and wind lasted only a few minutes and was replaced by clearing skies, a big bright moon and almost calm flat waters.  Stephanie Dawn texted us:  Would you guys consider leaving earlier?  

We considered it for all of about two minutes.  We're awake, we're ready... Let's DO THIS!  Kelly Nicole would wait a bit, so it was just the two boats picking our way out of the anchorage between the flashing red and green channel markers.  Somehow I got volunteered to go first.  Lucky ME!

With the help of the recorded track our friends on S/V Magnolia had sent us, I felt as confident as one can when traveling in unknown waters, in the dark, for the first time...  But I found the flashing navigational aids and it all fell into place.  Suddenly we were out of the gate and heading for open water and the Gulf Stream.

Our SPOT Track
It is a daunting thing to cross the 'Stream.  The currents can run over 5 knots that can literally sweep your boat northward like a magic carpet.  Tonight it was meandering at a more stately rate giving us a more direct route.  This being my first crossing, there was a little bit of wandering about as you can see here.  But thanks to Stephanie Dawn for the gentle advice, we got it sorted out.

Once we got going on a more direct route, I handed the helm over to Bruce and took a little nap in the cockpit.  My sleep was full of images of what we might find when we arrive... beautiful beaches, blue green waters, and the dripping snarling teeth of some sort of sea monster that was part wolf!  Yeah, where did THAT come from??? Certainly it couldn't have been brought on by the bubbles from the "Gulf Crossing Good Luck Orange Crush" given to me by my good friend Jan from S/V White Pepper...  A new ritual is born!

There isn't much to do out there in the dark.  You stare out onto the sparkling undulating waves thinking that there just isn't much in the world that's more beautiful than what you're seeing right now.  There is a warm/cool damp breeze blowing strange scents over us.  Ooh... was that a shooting star?  There... that looked like a dolphin although it's too dark to be sure. We're just bounding along talking about nonsensical stuff... when suddenly Bruce says "What is THAT???"  He sees what looks like breaking waves glistening blue/white off to our Port side just ahead and in the blink of an eye, yet slow motion I see a dark shape.  It is accompanied by the roar of a big engine and we both realize... too late to change course or do anything but wait for the end of this little tableau... The speedboat bounces right across our bow from left to right... 150 feet in front of us.  We were stunned.  I hailed Stephanie Dawn on VHF 16 and we switched to channel 11 to talk and I tell them what just happened as my knees shake.  This could have totally ended badly, but I have to wonder if the driver of the boat, that must have been running drugs... if it wasn't just sport for him to scare the crap out of hapless sailboaters in the night.  Just a perk of the job.  I hoped after signing off the radio that he hadn't caught the transmission.  I dared not hail the US Coast Guard and give them our position because they would come back and get us and we would end up like those poor schmucks in the Florida Murder Mysteries I've been reading.  I'm sorry to say that self preservation won out over saving the world from drugs tonight.  And then somehow the sky became lighter looking one way... still night if you look back from where we had come.  And it was nearly over.

And our spirits began to soar.  We're going to make it this time.  Nothing is going to turn us back.  Those rain clouds are still far away...

Land HO!  
There... I got to say it!  We've spotted the islands on the horizon.  The Gulf Stream releases us unto a gentle and soft morning.  The deep blue of the waters, still too deep to register on our depth sounder... raises memories of vacations past in tropical places.  Only this time it's not a vacation.  It's the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.  We've left our old lives on the other side of the 'Stream... and it feels... exquisite.

It's after five a.m. - feline breakfast time.  Jezabelle comes up into the cockpit, no sign of seasickness, just a little dab of butter left on her paw from the Dramamine I had given her.  She's needy and we had a little snuggle as the sun continued to welcome us to the Bahamas.

Jezabelle and I took a little stroll onto the foredeck to feel the wind and smell the new smells.  The one disappointment in this has been that we could not see the water as we crossed.  But here it is, still that deepest of blues...

Do you think they know something is different?
All night long the light winds have been on our nose.  Not good for sailing.  We have arrived a little bit early.  The channel leading in has some shallow spots and good light is essential.  We backed off the engine RPMs and rolled out the headsail.  For a while we sailed slowly along, but then it started to rain and a wind gust convinced us that rolling the sail would be the better choice.  We could ghost along here and wait for our buddy boats to catch up.  We see them on the AIS as Kelly Nicole has made good time.  We make VHF contact.  They're going to follow us in.

Even though we couldn't see them, it's nice to know they were out there...
My spotter
It's good to see our friends.  We sped up and I started trying to make what I see on the chart plotter come alive in real life.  Finally I spot the red and green navigational aids that will lead us into the home stretch.

Bruce takes his place on the bow to direct me away from possible shallow spots.  This entry is notorious for those.  We have a rising tide just about 3/4 ft. above mean low water.  I think that's a good thing because if we do get stuck, we can expect to float free with the rising tide.

We marvel as the waters go from being too deep to register on our instruments, to 12 ft... in a manner of minutes!  Now don't TRY to convince me that there aren't sea monsters hiding down there...

The water goes from deep blue to impossibly turquoise and we're giddy!  Bruce does a good job of spotting and we never see anything less than 7.5 ft.  The other two boats bumped briefly but came on through.

The current was running swiftly as we radioed back and forth with Brown's Marina.  They had four boats coming in all at the same time and they were directing us like air traffic controllers.  I saw a guy waving for me to bring the boat in and I fought the current to get the boat back around while Bruce scrambled to get the dock lines ready... they had told us Port side tie, but it turned out to be Starboard... Oopsie!

All at once, we were tossing lines and shutting the engine down.  We're HERE!  We've made it!  The water beneath us is crystal clear and teeming with all kinds of fish... and we can SEE them!

The raising of the "Q" Quarantine flag is a rite of passage.  We have arrived in another country on our own boat.  We must segregate ourselves until we can gain approval from Immigration and Customs.

A moment we've dreamed of for years!
Bruce finishes securing the boat while I complete the forms, gather the appropriate documentation and join the others on a short walk through town to visit the authorities.  My fears that it would be a lengthy process with all of the boats trying to beat the weather were unfounded.  The process was relatively easy.  The people here are unfailingly nice, everyone we met on the street greeted us and smiled.  We feel very welcome, and very honored to be raising the Bahamian courtesy flag to fly over Dos Libras until we've had our fill of this lovely country.

The rest of our day was spent getting settled and getting our first look at what the coming months have in store for us.  This is it.  We've left our old lives behind for a while to become... I'm not sure what.

Here are some highlights from the rest of our day.

Bruce and Sandra checking out the fish lurking below
Conch shells lining the top of a wall fence

The beach on the other side of the island

Tide Pools

Simple streets - could be anywhere in the Caribbean

Bahamian guys just back with a boatload of conch


  1. Congrats to a successful Gulf Stream crossing. Let the fun times roll.

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

    1. Thanks you guys! Ahh we can hardly believe it. We are trying to adjust our entire way of thinking... This is really happening!

  2. Congratulations! You did it! Fun times ahead.....

    1. Finally Marie, thanks for hanging in there with us. More wonders to come!

  3. Congratulations! And let the adventure begin! And to Bruce . . . Go Shockers!

    1. Thanks! Yes, more adventures to come. We're like kids in a candy store! I had to ask Bruce what a Shocker was... he said it was University of Wichita Basketball team... yes, GO Shockers!

  4. With Lucky Orange Crush on board what could have possibly gone wrong? Welcome to the Bahamas!

  5. Congrats on your arrival. We hope you enjoy the Exumas as much as we did.

  6. You must be giddy with excitement ... it's been a long time coming. Congrats!

    1. Oh Cheryl you just can't imagine the feeling. Hurry up!

  7. Oh you won't regret it Paul and welcome to the Cruising Class of 2015!

  8. Speaking as a long-time Abaco charter captain, my opinion is that Bimini is pretty much the least impressive of all the islands of the Bahamas. It will only get better as you go! Enjoy yourselves thoroughly.

    1. Oh I can only imagine! It's all good to us right now. I hope this high never wears off! Thanks for reading and for your comment... glad to have you along!