Crossing the New Providence Channel
16 December 2006 | Nassau
We got up a little late today because we planned to make just a short hop around the North end of the Berrys and over to Devil's/Hoffman Cay area. We've heard wonderful stories of great fishing, protected anchorages, blue holes and more. Our friends on Shanty were there and we had heard a bit of traffic from other boats in the area on the VHF who seemed to be enjoying themselves. We wanted to sneak back into the no surge, low current anchorages on the west side of the islands. This would require a high tide entrance as we couldn't clear the two foot something depths at low water. Our trusty tide graphic for the day said high water at 2PM so we set our sights to arrive around noon on a rising tide. This provided a little fudge factor on the timing, which is never spot on due to the distance between tide stations, and ensured that if we bumped into some sand we would rise off and have an opportunity to abort the mission, backing into deeper water.
The weather was looking grim for the rest of the week and we needed to be in Nassau by the 22nd at the latest and preferably a few days earlier. We were hoping for a day or two in the central Berrys and then an opening to cross the Providence Channel in comfort.
We settled up at the Marina and motored out of the harbor at around 10:30 in the morning. Magic had anchored out the night before and we could hear them making good progress to Nassau on the radio (not to mention hooking several fish across the drop off). We rounded the outer end of the Berrys, Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup Cays, as two floating hotels came into view. The northern most Berrys are a regular stop for cruise ships and there are supposed to be some big moorings without lights floating in the area. We didn't see any so perhaps they were both in use. We dodged around the para-sailors and jet skiers as we turned into the wind to raise the main.
This was our first time to raise the entire main. You can use the windlass to get the main up on our boat but I prefer to use the two speed winch. We have a huge, heavy main. In order to get it to the top of the stick as quickly as possible I pull it directly by hand up to about the third reef, then use the fast speed on the winch to somewhere between the first and second reef, and then the slow speed to the top. I can just about do this without stopping if nothing gets hung up. However, given that we have a topping lift, traveler, main sheet, outhaul, long battens with lazy jacks, zip up sail bag, and three reef lines (the third of which is longer than a lot of people's halyards) it is fairly easy to end up with something wrapped around something. When you raise the main by hand you can really feel when there's something amiss, even when everything looks ok. On this go I had the main sheet a little tight which made getting the battens through the jacks easy but shut me down about 5 feet before the mast head.
We were motor sailing along and I kept running the weather forecasts through in my head wondering if Thursday would be tenable for a run across the deep water to Nassau. Then I heard some more boats having a wonderful sail to New Providence 10 to 20 miles ahead of us. Next we got on course for a Devil's/Hoffman way point we had set that coincidentally lined up with Nassau approach. Hum, it's only 40 nautical miles to Nassau Harbor from our current position. We're doing 10 knots. It's a little after noon. Nassau it is.
The seas were pretty flat with a long duration swell. The swell was on the beam so we rocked a bit in the light wind. Heading to a new harbor I wanted as much light as possible so I did a little bit of sail tweaking and got us up to 11 knots for a bit. Everything was running smooth and it was certainly our most comfortable passage yet but the skies were very gloomy. Our leeward shrouds were deflecting a bit more than I'd like when the swell counter healed the boat, which I need to check into, but everything else was humming along.
The Nassau Harbor entrance is made to sound pretty nasty in many of the Cruising Guides and Chart Books. It was getting toward sunset. We were all geared up to take bearings, binoculars in hand and a weather eye on the horizon. Then we saw the Atlantis Hotel. It's pretty big and hard to miss. It also sits very close to the North West harbor entrance. As we approached the rest of the island formed a thin line on the horizon and other towers and landmarks materialized. Shipping and other power boat traffic are another tell tale. As you approach, shoot for the middle of what looks like a singular long rocky break water and as you close on it an opening will appear in the middle (it is actually several stretches of break water). Pretty straight forward really. It was overcast but not stormy and we had no real problem getting in.
Holding inside the diminishing quantity of anchorages in the harbor is not rumored to be good and the forecast called for squally weather with winds above 20 knots. Most folks were taking spots in marinas. We called in to get a slip at the Atlantis Marina for a splurge, expecting $3-5 a foot. It was $7. Apparently 26 feet of beam keeps you out of the cheap spots. Next we called into the harbor master, a requirement to enter Nassau. They took our Boat name and ID, port of entry, last port of call and gave us the green light in what seemed to be a fairly routine VHF affair. About a mile out we furled the jib and dropped the main in the bag. We were in the harbor and entering the Atlantis marina in no time. In my mind this was like returning to Marina Del Rey, a cake walk. If you think Nassau is bad I don't think you could justify getting within 5 miles of Bimini or Great Harbor.
The harbor is busy. There were four towering cruise ships in port, our mast didn't even reach their first deck level. It was fun tooling by them a few 10s of feet away. Tour boats with a drag coefficient of an African Bull Elephant with five sheets of plywood chained loosely around its waist, brutally forced their way through the water leaving unprecedented wakes. Boats pass on whichever side of you they feel like. It's a little hectic. On the other hand, there's lots of water and plenty of room.
The only other sailboat in the Atlantis Marina was a 100 foot monohull at the entrance. Everything else is either a mega yacht over 80 feet or a crazy slick Sport Fisher, not much smaller. We went from being a big boat in Bimini to being a speck in the water in Nassau.
All of the docks in the Bahamas that we have seen so far have concrete or wood pilings on the out side of the dock. This sucks. With winds in the teens and twenties you need to get real good at docking real fast. There are no long smooth surfaces to come along side and gently rub, no rubber bumpers on the concrete pilings and certainly no floating docks. It's just you and your fenders, and it's just about impossible to get you fenders hung horizontally in exactly the right spot to take the first touch on a leeward dock. Given the chance we hang the fenders on the post rather than the boat so that the fender is always between the boat and the post. This doesn't fly when you're coming in for the first time of course. Moral of the story, don't let anyone tell you that a rub rail isn't a necessity. You have to have one! Also fender boards (a board that runs horizontally across two or three vertical fenders) is a great thing to have handy.
We got tied up and as seems to be our fate it began to rain and blow. It was nice to be situated and relaxing. We ended the day with a bit of sushi at Nobu and then turned in. I regret not visiting Devil's/Hoffman but the tales I keep hearing about the Exumas make me hopeful that there will be plenty of beautiful anchorages down island to make up for the miss.