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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
12/08/2006, Bimini

We are getting one front after another here. The winds have been north-ish at over 20 knots for a few days and are planning to stay that way until Monday.

A group of young hard core exchange students from Germany were sailing and diving Bimini in a 50 foot mono hull over the past few days. It looked like they were having a lot of fun. They were planning to head back to Fort Lauderdale with a broken VHF radio tonight. NWS predicted winds 25-30 knots from the North with gusts to Gale force and seas over 20 feet. I hate to butt into other people's business, but I walked over and handed the skipper a weather print out anyway, just to make sure that he knew what was going on out there. I was glad to see that they stayed the night at the dock. They did leave early the next morning though, which was only a little better. On the plus side they had their VHF working at that point.

The Bahamas
Move the Boat
12/07/2006, Bimini

The Dock Master came by late in the afternoon to inform us that the fuel tanker was coming in and that we couldn't stay on the dock where we were. Apparently the tanker was a couple of days early. We were on the North end of the dock and all of the fuel dock gear was on the South end. I asked if the Fuel barge couldn't just tie up on the South end of the dock. The Dock Master looked at me for a second and said, "no mon, this one takes up the whole dock".

He wasn't kidding. I saw the thing at that point, making its way into the harbor. It was like a mini oil tanker. Having minimal docking experience with our 50' long, 26' wide boat I was not excited about trying to get out of the way as the steel behemoth bore down on us. Even more interesting was the shoal directly in front of our current position, the crazy current, the 20 knot wind and the fact that the inside slip he wanted me to pull into had a foot and a half of clearance on each side. It's times like these that you're glad you have rub rails.

As luck would have it the operation went without a hitch. A great crew on Cat's Paw helps us from the dock. Hideko got us all tied down and I didn't plough through any pilings. We now have shore power for the first time in a month. Time for a cold Kalik...

The Bahamas
The Empty Harbor Syndrome
12/06/2006, Bimini

All of our friends have left. Meridian, Edelweiss and Red Leopard are all on the other side of the banks. It kind of makes you feel left behind. It's not like we were headed to the same places or anything, you just get a certain feeling when you see friends sail off. Perhaps our friends felt this way when we left California. Everyday is an adventure when you are cruising to new places but you have to get used to missing people you've become fond of.

The weather has closed in so it will be a week before we can expect a nice sail to the Berrys. We could go anyway without any danger on several different days but I prefer to sail when the sailing is fun if possible.

Hideko and I are getting a lot of reading in. I'm really enjoying the weather and island effects stuff in Van Zandt's Gentlemans's Guide to Passages South. Also, after coveting everyone else's Explorer charts we finally bought a set. The last set in Bimini at that (I was surprised to find them at all). The Explorer charts are certainly the charts you should have for the Bahamas. I started planning a more detailed version of our cruise in the Berrys today.

The Bahamas
A stay in Bimini
12/05/2006, Bimini Harbor

We unfortunately did not go to bed as early as we like to the night before a passage. Since the boat is tied to the dock, we decided to swap the anchor, then laundry and cooking and so forth. By the time everything was done, it was almost midnight; not a preferable time to go to bed before an all day crossing of the Great Bahama Bank. We woke up at 6AM. We were both tired. The weather wasn't great. Can we have fun staying in Bimini for a while? The answer was yes! So we decided to stay. This is the great thing about not being on a schedule.

Randy helped Edelweiss leave the dock, and Roque went for a short walk and we went back to sleep.

The Bahamas
Bimini Blue Water Marina
12/04/2006, Bimini Blue Water Marina

It was another beautiful day in the warm, transparent waters 100 yards off of the beach on North Bimini. We spent a lot of the day looking over weather and our route across the banks. I have finally figured out how to get specific weather information on a request basis over SailMail. Very cool that. My Weather Fax application tends to crash before copying an entire Fax at night for some reason. It works much better in the morning hours.

Red Leopard and Two Tops both set out across the banks today. We hope to run across them down island.

The front looming over Florida finally arrived in the afternoon. We re-anchored farther off shore in anticipation of its passage. As usual it was a little stronger than predicted, and a bit more squally. The biggest problem was that it was blowing from West of North, not North Northeast as advertised. This pressed us back toward the Bimini Harbor entrance reef and the beach, which incidentally has the rusting remains of a cargo ship right where we would have ended up if the anchor broke out. Ominous.

So after a bit of that we hauled up and went in to tie up where Red Leopard had been at the Bimini Blue Water Marina. BBWM is sleepy but the folks are nice, they have fuel and a swimming pool, at $0.75 a foot it is the cheapest, and it is quiet off season. There's a sand bar in the middle of what looks like the channel running a third of the way up the BBWM dock from deeper in the harbor. Stay near the docks or have less than 4 foot draft if it isn't high tide when approaching from sea. I've seen two mono-hulls ground here.

We're going to try to get things prepped for a passage across the Great Bahama Bank tomorrow.

The Bahamas
Anchorage off of North Bimini Beach
12/03/2006, North Bimini

On the night of the 1st and during the day on the 2nd a few other boats came across the Gulf Stream to Bimini. None of them had fun. One of them was Red Leopard with Rick and Myrna aboard. Rick and Myrna were commissioning their brand new Leopard 40 at Lauderdale Marine Center while we were there. It was great to see them and catch up. We went to lunch with Edelweiss, Two Tops and Red Leopard today at the Bimini Big Game Club, one of the better spots in town.

Some charts mark the anchorage West of the North Bimini Beach as a pilot boarding area. Being from southern California this brought to mind images of the oil tanker field off of El Segundo. With the new channel in place I doubt you could get someone to talk you in here, much less come out to drive your boat to the dock. The anchorage was idyllic and we went to the beach with Roq a few times. Some dolphins came by to say hi and a large Barracuda took up residence under our boat. I think that if you look under all of the sailboats in the Caribbean half of them will have a Barracuda underneath sheltering from the sun.

The Bahamas
Bimini Harbour
12/02/2006, Bimini Harbour

We woke up facing an East wind in a beam swell flowing North from the Gulf Stream. A little rolley on a catamaran, but no big deal, especially given the great location and wonderful holding. Then I went outside and saw the spar on Edelweiss swinging like the pendulum on a coo-coo-clock. The inside of that boat must have been like a fun house. Lowell and Jane confirmed said affect later in the day after moving to an end tie at Bimini Blue Water Marina in the harbor. I felt bad about telling them this was a nice anchorage, one must keep in mind the differences between catamarans and mono-hulls when making anchorage recommendations.

Meridian picked us up to clear customs early in the morning and then they set off across the banks. They were meeting family in the BVI and needed to stay on the go while conditions were favorable. So there we sat alone in the anchorage. This is a great feeling when you're in a protected lagoon. It is a little ominous when you are in a well traveled area fully exposed to the open ocean on what could quickly turn into a lee shore. The weather forecast gave me no reason to be overly concerned but we feel better about leaving our boat when there are other cruisers around and we wanted to see Bimini.

So off we went into Bimini harbor even though none of the marinas had an end tie for us. Now the word harbor brings to mind a certain amount of maritime organization, structure and security. The use of the word here is a stretch. First let me correct the various cruising guides and charts, there is no place to anchor in North Bimini harbor that you could justly refer to as a proper anchorage. No place. The so called anchorage just past the Big Game Marina has room for one shoal draft boat, the skipper of whom must be adept at deploying a very tight Bahamian moor. Just off shore from the noisy power plant, Dock to the South, Grassy Bank in 4 feet of water to the West, Busy channel to the East and a three to four knot tidal current that swaps 180 degrees every 6 hours having no acquaintance with the word, "slack". What anchorage?

So we anchored there. One nonexistent slot down from the guy in the good spot.

The water here is crystal clear and 86 degrees. It's beautiful even though you can see the Coke bottles and beer cans on the bottom. Most are blended into the sea floor so it's not too appalling. I dove on our anchor for the first time and had a blast in the water. I'll let you know if I grow a third arm or anything from the power plant effluent. The tide was a foot above soundings and after letting out a tight scope on the bow we were about 6 inches above the bottom at the keel. Not optimal, especially considering the likelihood of a 360 degree swing here.

As the tide began to really get going I found that it was all I could do to swim up current with fins. The boat completely ignored the 18 knot wind and faced the current. You're anchor can do some weird things in this situation. The boat is almost completely controlled by the current, but unlike the wind, the current is not uniform and as the speed and pattern change, ebb and flood, your boat will move to different positions above or to the side of the anchor. There were a few times when we could not even figure out which rules of physics were applying.

Unfortunately we didn't have our second bow anchor set up yet (Rocna still in the cockpit). The only thing I could think of to keep us from swinging into something or turning 180 degrees and dragging into one of the several hazards was to set the stern anchor. So I dutifully deployed our shinny new Fortress FX-37, dove on it to ensure that it was well set, and got on with other tasks.

Rick from Two Tops, a very clean Prout, came by on his dinghy on his way to customs. He mentioned that he had never had any luck bow and stern in Bimini. When he returned from customs he looked over at us, hauled anchor and left the harbor. Ominous.

11PM. I'm standing on the swim step watching an incredible amount of water flowing aft to fore, splashing and whirling across the transom. Ever gone 5 knots in reverse? Boats aren't supposed to do this. I was wondering how long our's would. The stern anchor rode was tuned to G sharp.

11:30PM. It was near peak current when we heard a loud pop and the boat swung wildly out into the channel. Hideko and I ran outside and started both auxiliaries as we careened back toward the guy with the one good anchoring spot. Would our 66 pound Claw hold? Could I stop the boat in this current with the diesels in time? These and 50,000 more thoughts crossed my mind as we reached the end of the arc. Perhaps concurrently the Fortress grabbed hold at a 90 degree angle to the boat keeping us a bit into the channel and the Claw, which had tripped reburied and, no doubt grabbing various tires and car batteries, took hold with a vengeance. We stuck. Not far from the boat off of the Big Game dock but just far enough to live with.

At this point we had a ships meeting. Hideko, Roq and I had to decide whether to haul anchor and leave the harbor, re-anchor at a safer distance, or stay put with a watch on duty for the tide swap at 1AM. Navigating into Bimini harbor is harrowing on your first pass and I wasn't excited about trying my first exit at night. Re-anchoring in this current in the dark with the poor bottom didn't seem like a high success operation either. We were set and holding, so we stayed. We left the port diesel running as a provision. Now what about this stern anchor?

The Fortress was hooked, and good. Nothing I tried would budge it and it was set out in a spot where the current was even worse. I set a sharp knife out in the cockpit and tabled the decision until later in the morning.

1AM. Hideko and I napped with one eye on the boat to our stern and a tight anchor alarm setup on the chart plotter. As the current began to subside for an ever so brief slack before the swap, I made one last attempt to retrieve the Fortress before cutting it loose. Surprisingly, with some serious effort, it came up. Even more surprisingly a third of one of the flukes was sheered off. This gives you some idea of the load that must have been on the anchor with the current flowing from the stern. I can only assume that it was hooked on a rock under the sand.

Now we were at least in a reasonable anchoring situation. The current was running in and we were set on a reliable bow anchor facing it. We didn't get much sleep over the next 6 hour tide cycle. When morning came we left the harbor and anchored off to the West of North Bimini in nice sand 12 feet deep along with four other boats that already knew better.

I hear Fortress will replace a broken anchor under warrantee. Although ours broke on the first use, I have a lot of respect for the thing given how long it held up. Maybe an FX55 will fit in my lazarette?

The Bahamas

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