Bimini to Freeport
15 November 2008 | Freeport, BahamasG
As a weather-window approached, we planned to leave Bimini for Westend and then the Abacos. Leaving means filling the water and fuel tanks, stowing things below decks, lashing items above deck, collecting weather information, charting a course and entering waypoints.
A couple hours before we left, a pastor I'd met a month earlier (while on an evangelism trip to the Bahamas) called, inviting us to come to Freeport (a larger centre on Grand Bahama). We adjusted course and planned to leave for Freeport.
The Bahamas are located on shallow banks; a vast area of very, very shallow water, with crystal clear turquoise water and lots of coral. By contrast, the water off the south coast of Grand Bahama, is deep....something like a thousand feet deep, just a quarter to a half mile off shore....with the shoreline being lined with shoals are reefs. Also, after leaving the United States, the standard for marking harbor approaches, channels and such is greatly reduced...even if noted on the charts, the marks may, or may not be there....or in the location indicated. Because of all this, we decided that we didn't want to approach Freeport during the night, but rather would much prefer to approach during daylight hours. This is somewhat complicated, because the trip was too far to make during daylight hours....and we also didn't want to 'feel' our way out of the scantily marked Bimini harbor during the night either. I also knew that because of the off-soundings water 'till almost on the beach at Freeport, I would probably be unable to anchor 'till a dawn arrival, meaning I've have to hold the boat off shore in waves, for many hours 'till morning (not fun). I settled on leaving Bimini in the later afternoon & sail slowly all-night to Freeport, arriving after sunup the next morning.
Just before we got the call from the pastor in Freeport, a very large motor yacht docked right across the dock from us, fresh in from Florida. I grabbed a line and helped secure them to the dock as they came in. We exchanged brief greetings and chatted about the state of the sea, outside the harbor. We noted that the name of their boat is "Shekinah Glory"...figured that there was some meaning behind it....wanted to ask, but the business of readying to leave won the day. A couple of days later, we found that these folks were friends from the U.S. of the pastor we were going to see in Freeport....they were on their way further south to the Exumas to spend the winter working on a church plant.
Leaving Bimini it was once again fascinating to see the color of the waters, change from clear (approaching too shallow for us) to turquoise (just right) & eventually drop off to the deep-water blue as we sailed off the banks into the deep Gulfstream. Beautiful!
Sailing north in the Gulfstream. We unfurled the Genoa & doused the diesel. I was going to set the mainsail, but our speed was already hitting seven knots & much faster than I wanted if, I was going to hold off arrival 'till morning. What an enjoyable sail north. As we approached New Providence Channel, we began to see the waves out of the east (general direction) grow. Reaching our mark, we turned further east, fired up the iron genny (the diesel), furled the Genoa....slowing to 3.5 knots and began to plod east. The growing seas made us roll crazily...some times we'd have the toe rail on first the starboard & then the port side in the water. Sleeping was very difficult. Poor Jacquie threw up twice during the night as the boat pitched and rolled like crazy (good thing M&D weren't with us for this trip....they'd have freaked). We knew we were not in danger, just uncomfortable. The seas grew, bit-by-bit during the night. Looking back now, I should have railed a reefed mainsail, reefed the Genoa, turned off the diesel & tacked back and forth up the channel. Don't mistake this as a narrow channel; it's many miles across, with Open Ocean on one side (open, but shallow banks). We would've traveled much faster, but the tacking back and forth up the channel would've burned the extra time. Most importantly, we would have been much, much more comfortable, as the sails steady the boat against roll, making travel infinitely more comfortable.
We saw a lot of other traffic during the night. We saw a few boats crossing the track we were on, coming from Florida and heading up onto the banks north of Bimini, heading for the Berry Islands and Nassau. Soon after turning into New Providence Channel, some lights approached from the stern, approaching quite close off our stern, on the starboard quarter. I'm struggling to recognize the light pattern....one white light was out of place....hmmm. He was approaching very close on what seemed like the same course as us, so I hit him very briefly with the spot to make sure he saw us; he was close enough for my spot to light him up. As he passed on our starboard side, we saw a very impressive yacht towing a very large launch showing an all-around white light (I'm impressed....didn't think anyone displayed a light on their launch). They traveled at a very high rate of speed & were soon past and gone in the night. Later on we saw lots of ships, one that seemed to be stationary (confused me at first, trying to identify his direction of travel). Another time, I was on watch while Sue was napping (imagine napping while having to hand on to stop being thrown off your bench). Very tired, I began to check for lights, check our course and then lay down for a few minutes and then check all over again. I lay down pressed my feet against the end of the seat, my head against the top, my right arm over the edge of the cockpit an around one of the bimini bows and my left stretched over the other side to brace me....sound comfortable? I guess I eventually found some sleep, 'cause Sue woke me by asking something like 'did you know we were this close to that ship?'....okay, I'm awake now! We were pretty close, but not that close....close enough to alarm me into wakefulness. Did we ever see a ton of cruise ships! Cruise ships approaching Freeport, leaving Freeport, sailing to Nassau from Florida, to Florida from Nassau....cruise ships, cruise ships, cruise ships. Getting close to Freeport, we had to alter course briefly to allow a cruise ship to pass in front of us. Are these ships every well lit....often can't make out their navigation lights, but they are lit up like Las Vegas at Christmas, so establishing their location, proximity & heading isn't exactly rocket-science. We saw numerous other ships & vessels, but all much, much larger than us, and no others ones requiring a course change to avoid.
Funny how it is, traveling at 3.5 - 3.8 knots....objects sighted, take a long time to approach. Just like a week or so earlier, sailing into Miami....watching the same buildings approach for hours. We sighted the lights of Freeport, then approached 'till we felt we were really close, could see detail, then calculated our arrival and were still three-hours off....bummer!
About an hour and a half after daylight, we began to look for our channel markers for Bell Channel (Port Lucaya). We spotted the first marker, and approached. This area is full of reefs, so we didn't want to be wrong. Approaching the sea buoy, we looked to shore and didn't see the channel. We'd been here before, on a snorkel boat and knew where the jetty was in relation to the large hotel buildings on the beach. I sighted the jetty & posted Sue on the bow and the kids on the decks to watch the water for depth (with such clear water, this is a common navigation method in the Bahamas). We proceeded slowly and by the color of the water.....clear water, means VERY shallow....black means, coral head, sea fans, or something indication what might be shallow. Later after we left the harbor again, we realized that it was simply my screwed up perspective....the markers were all in the right places, I was just approaching from an angle that made things look different than expected.
Inside Bell Channel, we anticipated proceeding to Port Lucaya Marina and either taking a slip for one day or persuading them to let us tie-up 'till we could get a hold of the pastor, to get details on the dock he'd lined up for us. As we cleared Bell Channel, I saw an open basin, with no indication that one could not anchor. With an eye to the depth sounder, I motored out of the main traffic lane towards a major condo tower, slowed and dropped the hook. Sue was exhausted...she was down below and asleep in her bed before we'd finished getting inside the harbor. Jacquie took the helm as we anchored.
After we'd anchored, I fired up the generator, started the air-conditioner, launched the dingy & loaded the kids aboard for another adventure ashore. Approaching the shore, I spied a wifi signal on my Skype internet phone (www.skype.com ...recommended). I chatted with a couple dock attendants....they figured it'd be fine for us to tie up while we went ashore to make phone calls and get a cold Coke. We walked the Port Lucaya market for a bit, got a cold drink and connected the Skype phone to the local wifi network and called for our dock information. It was quite relaxing to stand on the Warf, watch tourists load on the 'submarine' ride, the street vendor begin shelling conch, in preparation for conch salad, the straw market vendors calling out & the place generally coming to life for the day.
Margo (Pastor Eddie's wife) gave me a latitude and longitude for the dock we were to dock at, so we jumped back in our dingy and ran back out to the boat. For some reason, I'd left the propane tank hanging on our bbq for the ride from Bimini....the whole thing hanging over the ocean. I removed the tank and regulator to be sure the wouldn't be lost overboard and that second I bumped the whole thing and the pipe that connects the regulator to the burner fell into the ocean. I thought for a minute about diving for it, but the water was a bit more than fifteen feet deep and being inside the harbor I couldn't quite see the bottom clearly...though almost (mud bottom).
Soon after returning to the boat, a shuttle boat from a local marina approached, informing us that anchoring was not allowed....something about a power cable underneath the harbor. I'm not sure this was the case, nor whether this gentleman from a local marina had any authority to shoe us off....but we were leaving anyway, so didn't 'rock-the-boat'. He did tell us about an area up the canals where people sometimes do anchor.
Leaving Bell Channel, we proceeded through the reefs & shoals; the markers seeming more logical this time. Adjusting the alternator belt before leaving Bimini, I twisted a head off the tensioning bolt. It held fine all night, but as we left Bell Channel, the belt began to squeal. We crept out of the channel and down the coast to the next channel at one and a half knots or so....a snail's pace! At that, belt-smoke kept rising out the companionway....guess a belt replacement is in order...and a new bolt!
I found the coordinates Margo gave me; it was for an unmarked waypoint (also on my chart) for the approach to the channel to the dock we are now at. This channel cannot be approached straight-on, as a reef is in the way. One should proceed to the waypoint, and then head for the jetty, thus approaching at an angle. Approaching, we knew the entrance to the channel was charted as shallow....according to the chart, just too shallow for our boat. Waves were breaking at the entrance to the jetty as we crawled closer. Sue and the kids were trying to get me to turn back....figuring with our engine we couldn't go much further, I burned the belt for a could minutes, raising our speed for the entrance. Every wave would make our boat fall to one side or the other...the extra speed made this easier. We passed over the entrance without touching....or more than just touching. Watching the bottom, we saw shoaling alternating on both sides, so had to zig zag in, but in we went without incident. It was kind of a funny scene really, with folks standing on the jetty fishing all over the place and even folks swimming off the sandy shoaling areas while we threaded our way past.
The directions we had, were to enter the channel and turn right.....that is simple enough....and enough to find our dock. It's just that there were several right turns and after that several more and then a couple more. We wandered through and were about to turn back when we spotted a landmark to confirm the location of our dock. A crosswind made the approach interesting. A number of the docks are in disrepair....others are too short. We jockeyed around with a small amount of stress, while the wind was trying to blow us to the rock end of the canal, 'till we got a line on a piling and eventually we were 'home'.
Not sure how long we will be here....God sent us here...he'll set up our next move.