To The Bahamas, Part 7: Miami to West End and Great Sale Cay

2012-04-11, 19:30 — Great Sale Cay, Northwest Harbour anchorage

Yesterday, we were up bright and early. Well, early. Well, we got up, anyway. The first thing we had to do was return the rental Fiat to Enterprise. Frank and I drove over there around 08:00, turned the car in, and walked the 10 or 12 blocks back to Miamarina. Once we returned, the three of us spent the morning making the boat shipshape. We put the (pathetic, semi-inflated) dinghy back onto the foredeck where it lives when we’re sailing. We put almost everything below back into its proper lockers. We checked the engine oil and fresh water. We filled the fresh water tanks. In short, we did all the things one does when preparing for a sail. By plan (yes, I’m serious! we sometimes do things according to plan), we didn’t set sail until just after 15:00. Our first stop was to be the fuel dock at the Miami Beach Marina (Miamarina had no fuel dock), so we motored out of Miamarina and under the bridges, then down the channel past the container port, and into Miami Beach Marina, to their fuel dock.

After a flawless docking (I will pat myself on the back and claim to be reasonably good at docking — and un-docking — under engine), we filled the fuel tanks. Let me say now that I’m increasingly annoyed that we don’t have fuel tank gauges. We always fill the tanks until they are overflowing because we have no way of telling when they’re “just full enough”. That wastes fuel, uses up fuel diapers, gets diesel all over the teak decking in the scuppers, gets our hands all smelly, etc. Without fail, I am always stunned at how little fuel we actually take. It seems that our engine, the operators manual for which claims it burns two to four gallons per hour, consumes diesel in tiny, ladylike sips instead of great macho gulps!

Once refueled, we motored back out into the ship channel (a/k/a Government Cut — funny how much Floridians like the benefits of large government products while hating the government so much!) and found ourselves trying to outrun a very large container ship that was slowly accelerating down the channel. Needless to say, we got well out of its way :). After we were out of the channel and into the Atlantic, we raised the sails, and turned off the engine. Wow! Sailing to the Bahamas. On our very own boat, too! Way Cool!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 031 -Jim at the helm leaving Miami

Euphoria notwithstanding, we soon learned that the winds were both too light and variable and from the wrong direction, so we fired up the iron genny again and motor-sailed. It was pretty obvious when we entered the Gulf Stream (just about four or five miles out of the Port of Miami ship channel), because it was suddenly warmer and our speed over ground (SOG) suddenly increased as the Stream began sweeping us north. One thing that really surprised us was how quickly the water got deep off the Atlantic coast of Florida. On the Gulf coast, we can be 30 miles offshore and the water’s not even 100′ deep; but, on the Atlantic coast, we could be just three miles off the beach and be in water 300′ deep!

We set up our watch schedule and settle into our routine. We fixed some chicken noodle soup (which, by the way, doesn’t work at all well in an air pot!) so whomever was on watch would have something hot and trouble-free to eat while under way. We also started the hourly logging on which I insist when out of sight of land or in strange environs. (I want to know where I am at all times and have data that is no more than an hour out of date. That makes it feasible to determine, starting with the last known point and applying dead-reckoning techniques, to know where we are to within just a couple of miles, even if all of our electronic charting and GPS gear were to die. Just another safety policy…)

This was the longest one-way passage Barbara and I have ever made on Dream SeQueL! How cool, I kept thinking, to be sailing our own boat across the Gulf Stream to another country! There was far more traffic than we’d anticipated. This is a much busier bit of water than the Gulf near the west coast of Florida. Whomever was standing watch at any given time had to watch the chartplotter for AIS targets, watch the water for traffic that didn’t have an AIS transmitter, listen to the VHF for hints of other traffic that might not be readily visible, etc. Not too hard to do, but different in degree than we’re really used to. (Frank, having no former points of reference, saw nothing unusual about any of this.)

Around 05:30 this morning, I dropped the mainsail (everybody else was sleeping and I was on watch alone — which got me chastised by both Barbara and Frank for going up on deck to do sail work without notifying anybody) and continued motoring. I awakened Barbara around 06:15 and Frank got up on his own around 06:40. About this time, I went up on deck and raised the yellow “Q” (Quarantine) flag. We spotted the entrance into Old Bahama Bay at West End very shortly thereafter, lined the boat up with the entrance markers, and crept into the narrow channel (using our Cruising the Abacos book for guidance). We easily tied up at the marina’s fuel dock to await the arrival of the customs official to check in! Hooray! We did it!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 038 -The customs house and marina in West End Bahamas -1

At roughly 07:40, the customs guy arrived in a sort of golf cart kind of vehicle. He opened up, we (and the crew of three other boats) grabbed our paperwork, and we all stormed the building. It seemed confusing and chaotic to me as four boats were trying to check in, fill out the forms, pay the cruising permit fee, ask questions of the official, etc., but it really went very quickly and smoothly. The customs guy was very patient with us all and it went like, well, clockwork.

Once we were cleared into the Bahamas, we lowered the Quarantine flag and raised the Bahamas courtesy flag, then studied our charts and cruising guides to figure out what to do next. Clearly, we had to exit the marina and Old Bahama Bay, then we had to tackle the (dreaded, although we didn’t believe that before we got there) Indian Cay Passage to get onto the Little Bahama Bank. OK, we figured, it’s a narrow little entrance in very shallow water, but we’ll soon be across the “lip” and onto the Bank. Let’s Go!!

Ummm, not exactly. In fact, not at all. Just finding the exact place to enter was hard enough, but we stationed Frank at the bow with an agreed set of hand signals to use in guiding us safely through. We quickly discovered that the various markers that the charts show and cruising guides discuss were simply not there. None of them! In fairness, the cruising guides do state, clearly and repeatedly, that the markers are often absent in part or in whole, but we didn’t really believe that would be a situation that would be allowed to continue. Man, were we wrong!

April 2012 Dream SeQueL Trip 043 -Jim removing the quarantine flag and replacing it with a Bahamian flag

There was no marker for the entrance to the Passage, although there was one “marker” (a big pole) on Indian Cay Rock, which did give us some orientation. Once into the Passage, there are supposed to be three “markers” (stakes) that sort of guide one in the right general direction. The cruising guide books seemed to indicate that at least one of those stakes was almost always present, but there were none of them at all this morning. None! So we headed off toward what we though had to be the right general direction, with Frank at the bow waving us starboard or port to avoid obvious subsurface rocks. As it turned out, Frank wasn’t seeing the big picture — he was (as instructed) staring down into the water. Consequently, he ended up steering us more consistently to starboard than we should have gone, and we found ourselves semi-trapped in a bunch of rocks and very, very thin water. Our clue, actually, was a boat following us in that seemed to be going well to port of where we were. So we started working our way back to port and into slightly(!) deeper water.

All in all, it took us more than an hour (nearly an hour and a half, I think) to get through Indian Cay Passage and into “deeper” water (all of seven feet of it!). But, once in that deeper water, we could start making some headway towards Mangrove Cay (there is more than one Mangrove Cay in the Bahamas; this is the one just a few miles inside Indian Cay Passage on the Little Bahama Bank). Mangrove Cay is just a waypoint for us, not a place where we plan to stop. In fact, most people don’t seem to stop there at all, but I suppose a few do. There’s a bit of an anchorage, but it’s still pretty shallow.

Instead, we continued across the Little Bahama Bank for the entire day, headed for Great Sale Cay (which, in case you have a spare $10,000,000 burning a hole in your pocket, is for sale). Great Sale Cay is over half way from West End to the Sea of Abaco, our “real destination”. There’s a decent anchorage here in a sort of narrow bay called Northwest Harbour. We pulled into Northwest Harbour around sunset, slightly surprised to find about 10 to 15 other boats (only about half of them sailboats) already there. We decided not to bunch up too close to the other boats, and dropped the hook a bit farther out than the other boats were anchored. They were nearer the eastern shore of the bay, but that’s not to say that we were near the western shore…just not as far east as the other boats were.

Imagine our surprise when we realized that the dark blue boat just next to us (well, 50 to a hundred meters away) was Pacific Pacer, our friends from Miamarina! We could see them sitting out in the cockpit eating dinner or having drinks or some such and hollered over, but it was too far for them to hear us. We hailed them once on VHF, but there was no sign that they had their VHF turned on (and, of course, it wasn’t one of the three times we’d pre-arranged to attempt contact).

Tonight, we’re going to have a real sit-down dinner. Barbara’s putting together a lovely (east) Indian all-vegetarian mean, complete with naan (a kind of Indian bread). Yummie! Plus, like the increasingly confident cruisers that we’re becoming, we’re going to eat in the cockpit. I’ve got this huge feeling of accomplishment and am feeling really good about everything. A good meal, followed by some reading and relaxation, will be awfully nice. We haven’t decided what we’ll do tomorrow — probably continue over toward the Sea of Abaco.

On a less happy note, I’ve been finding myself asking Barbara several times a day if she’s OK. She usually responds affirmatively, but without being convincing. When I press her, she admits that she’s absolutely miserable and scared to death. She seems to literally believe that we’re going to die on this trip and says that she does not ever want to subject herself to this sort of thing again. She rightly hates being scared all of the time. But I really don’t understand why she’s feeling this way. Nothing the slightest bit scary has happened since we left SIBW — even that squall with the 50+ kt gust wasn’t scary, because Dream SeQueL didn’t even shudder, but hunkered down and felt as solid as anything. Barbara hasn’t even been seasick enough to throw up (well, maybe I’m not remembering quite accurately…there might have been one time when she spit up a bit, but that’s all). She’s really gotten her sea legs and everything is going so well. What’s going on?

<<All photographs Copyright © Frank Pellow, 2012. Used with permission.>>

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