18 January 2013 | Bimini
EVS: Cold, cloudy, and some Rain
We made the crossing to The Bahamas yesterday from outside of No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne to Bimini. We had arrived in Biscayne Bay on January 14, having come up the inside route via the Intracoastal Waterway. We had not attempted that in the past because we feared our draft was too deep, but Steve, on Living Well (which draws more than Gratitude) said they had made it, going aground only once. Also, the tide was forecast to be rising and high throughout most of the trip so we decided to make the effort. We are glad we did as the winds continued high on the outside and “on the nose” so it would have been a wet and bumpy ride.
We had only one spot where the water was too “thin” and we “plowed new ground” and that was just SW of Pidgeon Key in a sharp bend where we might have gotten too close to the channel marker and the sands that shift in that area. We arrived in lower Biscayne Bay and headed toward Miami, but anchored to the south off Elliot Key along with several other boats seeking a lee shelter. We spent a pleasant night there and were most impressed with the cleanliness of Biscayne Bay. (Actually, all of the water we have been in – even in Marathon – appeared cleaner than in the past. Not sure if it is weather or pollution control, but good to see.)
The next morning, Tuesday, we sailed (jib alone) to Dinner Key Marina, on the west shore of Biscayne Bay, to take on fuel, water, and to acquire a replacement macerator pump for our aft holding tank. Although we tested the old pump when the tank was installed, and it seemed to work then, it would not evacuate the tank and that is a much needed function. We had been in contact with Dave and Mary (Sanity II) and told them of our need. Dave called around, found the necessary pump, and then they picked us up and drove us to get it. We enjoyed lunch out with them and then they dropped us off to do more errands for other friends who are awaiting them (and the “barge” of spare parts they are transporting) in The Bahamas. The old pump was out, the new installed, and tested before 5:00. It was nice to have a task that took the time it should have and not four times as much despite the unexpected dip into the cruising kitty.
On Wenesday, we departed Dinner Key and motored across Biscayne Bay to anchor outside of No Name Harbor, on the southern end of Key Biscayne and a favorite jump point to go to cross the Gulf Stream. From the forest of masts, we could see that No Name was packed. Other boats arrived and several of us were anchored out to depart the next morning.
We did so, at 6:00 am, but not without some difficulty. With the strong current dictating our position, we were swung stern to the wind. We usually raise the mizzen sail before we up-anchor as it is one less sail to deal with once underway. I thought that, by raising the mizzen, we also would have more control by the wind and one wants to raise anchor into the wind. (Lauren asked whether the mizzen might not prove to be a problem, and she was right, despite my bravado assurances.) We proceeded to sail downwind, up current, and with the anchor chain beneath us. After much reversing and turning in tight circles, we got things under control and the anchor up, but it took longer than in should have, or would have without my putting up the mizzen.
We followed another sailboat out and soon were exiting the protections of Key Biscayne and entering the ocean. The winds were SE at about 13-15, so we were close hauled once we set our course to Bimini. Although the seas were not bad (1-2’ chop), they were on top of a 4 second ocean swell of about 4’, so we were very glad for the enclosure and protection from wind and spray. Although we tried to proceed under sail only, we were not making good enough speed to get to Bimini at a proper hour (when the sun is high so you can see the water colors and hence depths). Also, the tide would be high at noon in Bimini and by the time we were estimated to arrive, the outflowing current would be in full force. We ran the “iron genny” to boost our speed to about 7.5 (from just under 6) knots and that made our ETA a much more comfortable 1:30 PM.
As we approached Bimini, we heard boats calling the Bimini Harbor Dredge to get directions into the entrance, and to avoid the dredge and its paraphernalia – including a pipeline strung across the entrance. (That was the reason we avoided Bimini last year.) There were no responses but some excited shouting to the effect “you are doing fine, come straight in”, which did not offer much precision in direction. Finally, I saw (on AIS – see below) a vessel leaving the harbor and I called it to ask directions. It was an inter island freighter and the Captain told me to stay outside the dredge but pass between it and the large float. Great, I had a path. When we actually arrived, however, the dredge was being towed back into the harbor. We could see the float, but had no idea where “between it and the dredge” might have been. There was a workboat nearby, so I hailed the Bimini Harbor Dredge – no response. Because the float was to the west side of the channel, near the shoals over which the ocean waves were washing, we thought we must proceed inside the float (which is where the “preferred route” is shown on the charts), so we headed that way. Suddenly, our radio blared the same excited voice we heard before telling us “you cannot go that way, there is a pipeline there; go outside the float”. In terse terms, I advised the dredge that we had tried calling, repeatedly, but got no answer and “thanked him” for the information. We did a quick course change and proceeded into the harbor with no further issues.
We tied up at the docks of the Bimini Blue Water Resort and I then went to customs and immigration to “clear in”. We had chosen to come to Bimini for that purpose because we had such a helpful clearing procedure the last time here, in contrast to a very short term (30 days) clearance in Nassau last year. When the officials asked me how long we might be staying, I said maybe to the end of April to attend the Family Island Regatta. They cleared us, and gave us permits to, April 30! Best of all, Thumbelina (our cat) was cleared in too, no questions asked, even though a vet is supposed to check the animals within 48 hours of arrival. (Because one can wait weeks to get a weather window to cross, we do not know how anyone can satisfy that.)
AIS is a new system we installed this year. It stands for Automatic Identification System (you can look at vessels at sea here: http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/). Although private vessels are not required to have it, commercial vessels over 300 tons are and it displays a wealth of information on your chart plotter – vessel name, course, speed, destination, etc. We got a transponder system (i.e. we not only can receive, we also transmit our own information) so others can see us too. Because crossing the Gulf Stream requires crossing the sea lanes, which often are full of ships, having AIS onboard enables us to identify the ships, determine whether we are on a collision course, and (a) contact the ship by name and (b) take appropriate action to avoid collision. En route, our AIS showed a 600’ vessel moving in our direction at about 14 knots. We could not see it over the horizon, and our chart plotter told us we would miss each other by over 2 miles, but still I called the tanker and spoke with the Captain. It was most reassuring.
So, what does all this have to do with the title? Like the kitty in the picture, despite the fact that unexpected expenses pop up, weather gets in the way, people do not respond to radio calls, and other challenges arise, etc., sometimes the best thing to do is curl up, relax, and close your eyes.