May 24th, 2003
Another step in the sailing experience starts today. Iím flying to Nassau, Bahamas to join my friends, Brian and Tammy aboard their Hunter 40, Another Road. They have been cruising the Bahamas for three months and are ready to sail back to Florida. I am joining them to cross the Gulf Stream.
In the interest of cheap, I have chosen to fly Southwest Airlines from Houston, to New Orleans, to Jacksonville, to Ft. Lauderdale. I then get a one-way twin prop to Nassau. Interestingly, the Continental agent in Ft. Lauderdale insisted on knowing how I was coming back, since I had a one-way ticket. I showed him my copy of Another Roadís Bahamas cruising permit and he was satisfied. Afterwards, I was irritated that he cared. What if I wasnít coming back? I thought this was a small example of how cruising doesnít fit into most peoples little boxes.
I arrived in Nassau about 7:00pm and took a cab from the airport to the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. Brian and Tammy were waiting for me there. After catching up a little, we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in the marina called Ichibon. We plan to depart in the morning, so we head to bed at a reasonable hour.
Well, as we all know, sailing plans must be flexible. We are awakened in the morning by a thunderstorm. The forecast is for rain all day, so without much debate, we delay our departure a day. By noon the rain has pretty much stopped. Brian has taught me how to clean conch while we killed time. He had four hanging in a mesh bag in the water that he had caught a few days earlier before they got to Nassau. We cleaned them all with minimal destruction of the shells so they could be kept for souvenirs.
In the afternoon, we went into town. We stopped at a place called the Poop Deck first. It is an upstairs bar and restaurant, and although there were no other customers in the place, they wouldnít let us sit at a table on the balcony. If we were just drinking we had to sit at the bar. Well with that attitude, we only had one beer to quench our thirst, and moved on. Next up was another patio bar/restaurant, the name of which I have already forgotten. They were also devoid of customers, and were much more accommodating. We got beer, sat by the water, and they brought free happy hour appetizers. This place caters to cruisers and has a free dinghy dock for folks anchored out.
Next up was the almost-world-famous Brian & Tammy Atlantis tour. For those of you who arenít familiar with the Bahamas, Atlantis is a large hotel/casino that is pretty much transplanted from Las Vegas. It is on a small island connected to Nassau by two one-way bridges. We walked over the bridge and through the marina that is part of the complex. This is no plain marina. There were probably 20 huge mega-yachts there. We hit the casino first, where I left a quick $20 in a slot machine. We then went to tour the aquarium. This is the part where the Brian & Tammy tour gets famous. The aquarium tour normally costs $25 per person for non-guests. However, if you know where the poorly guarded door from the casino is, the price is much less. We spend the last hour of daylight walking around the aquarium, which is quite nice. Among the highlights were a huge eagle ray, many varieties of shark, a lobster tank that will make your mouth water, a seahorse tank, several jellyfish tanks, and many, many more. It was worth every penny. After the aquarium, we slid through the casino again, leaving another $20, so I donít feel too guilty about the aquarium deal.
On the way back to the boat, we stopped and had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Howís that for native? Of course it may be the last real meal we have for a few days, so we indulge.
This morning looks a lot better than yesterday. There is still a prediction of scattered showers, but we are leaving. Tammy goes to the grocery store across the street while Brian and I get the boat ready. The transient dock at the marina was full this morning, but with the improved weather, many are leaving. Two in particular, Dream Maker and Prana, are heading to Florida too. They leave about an hour ahead of us. We pull out about 9:00am, destination Frazerís Hog Cay. The weather is not too bad Ė scattered showers, variable winds from 5 Ė 15 knots, and about 2 foot seas. We motorsail and arrive about 5:00pm. We anchor and spend a pleasant evening aboard.
Along the way, we heard Prana on the VHF telling Dream Maker that he saw whales. We were a couple miles behind them, so we immediately started watching for them. Sure enough about ten minutes later, we spotted them a little ways off to the right. This was worth a diversion. We turned towards where we saw them. As we got closer, one did a slow arch through the water, exposing a full fluke to us, and they were gone. We headed back on course, but in a few minutes we saw them again. This time they were actually behind us some. We turned around and approached again. Were tried to get on a course that would intersect their apparent course. There seemed to be five or six of them, and we were headed for one that seemed to be staying near the surface. When we got to within about 100 feet, we idled and put the boat in neutral to avoid any possibility of hurting on with the prop if they got closer. We drifted to within about 50 feet of the whale, which was probably 20 feet long. We soon realized this was a mother and there was a baby nearby. The momma did another slow arch and dove, again revealing her full fluke to us. The baby swam closer to us and then disappeared too. We waited a minute, but they were gone. We later looked at pictures in a book and determined these were pilot whales. Very cool.
We depart today at about 8:00am. In the company of Dream Maker and Prana, we head northwest in the Tongue of the Ocean (very deep water) to the Northwest Channel Light and then southwest across the Bahama Bank toward South Riding Rock. Shortly after passing the Northwest Channel Light, Prana heads northwest towards Bimini. Dream Maker follows us southwest. The Bahama Bank is huge area of water that is all about 15 feet deep. I am used to sailing in this depth of water, or less, in Galveston Bay, but to be way out of sight of any land, and still only be in 15 feet of water is pretty weird. The trip was about 68 miles, and we hoped to arrive at S. Riding Rock before dark. We almost made it, but not quite.
We were treated to a visit from about a dozen dolphins along the way. Dream Maker was about a mile ahead of us and spotted them first. Sure enough, about ten minutes later, they swam around us and directly under the boat. I have seen dolphins in Galveston Bay many times, but the water there is brown and you only see them when they surface. It was very cool here to clearly see them swimming under the boat.
S. Riding Rock, really is just a large rock. To call it an island would be generous. It is about 1000 feet long (north to south) and about 50 feet wide. It stands out of the water about 15 feet. All it is good for is a little shelter from the waves if they are coming from the east or west. Unfortunately, they were coming pretty much from the south, so it made for a restless night. We had anchored on the west side of the rock, and Dream Maker anchored a little west of us. Given the proximity to the rock, and the wind and sea state, we decided we needed to keep an anchor watch. That means somebody stays up. Tammy took the first watch, and Brian the second. By midnight or so, we were a little more confident that we were secure, so we all slept, but nobody slept well.
We have a long day today crossing the Gulf Stream, so we get up about 6:00am and depart at 7:00. The Gulf Stream can be a mess to cross if there is any north to the wind opposing the stream. Well, today there was no wind, so the water was as flat as a swimming pool. Of course, with no wind, we were just motoring, and since we were going west-southwest, slightly against the current, we were only making good about 4 knots. This put our expected arrival at Molasses Reef at about 11:00pm. Molasses Reef is a reef about five miles off the coast of Key Largo. It is a popular dive site, so there is a mooring field there for the dive boats. Our plan is to pick up a mooring for the night. Dream Maker is about three miles ahead of us by the time we get across, and they get a mooring first. As we approach, they shine lights our way so we can find the moorings easily. We pick one up and shut the boat down. We are all tired, but about 30 minutes after mooring, a thunderstorm pops up out of nowhere. Thank goodness we are on a mooring instead of anchored, and thank goodness this storm didnít come about an hour earlier while we were still underway. The wind howled, and it poured, and the flat seas got quite churned up. Brian was exhausted and went to bed, secure in the fact that we were on a mooring. Tammy and I stayed up a while, but when the storm started to slack, we too retired. About 4:00am, the original storm had passed and it was quiet. Suddenly we were hit by a gust of wind that heeled us over enough that I rolled in my bed. Immediately, there was thunder and lightening, and another downpour. This storm lasted about half an hour and then passed. Thank goodness we were moored and not anchored.
Morning dawned with scattered storms again. We had decided when we went to bed, that we would Ďsleep iní today. So we slept until about 8:00. Dream Maker lives in Key Largo, so they are near home. We had some minor engine problems yesterday, so we decide to stay on the mooring, make some repairs, and later head closer to shore near Key Largo. About noon, Dream Maker departs for Rodriguez Key, just off the coast of Key Largo. Although they live in Key Largo, their marina is hosting a fishing tournament this weekend, so they may not be able to get a slip today. We wait a little while and then sail off the mooring and head for Rodriguez Key too. We sail so that the patch on the engines exhaust system can cure. There is little wind, so it takes us a couple of hours to sail the five miles to Rodriguez Key. By the time we get close, another thunder storm is coming, so as the rain starts, we quickly drop the hook and hustle below.
After that storm passes, we dinghy to shore and join Randy and Bonnie from Dream Maker for dinner at the Mandalay Tiki Bar. It is an outdoor affair, so we are the only dinner guests due to the weather. Nevertheless, we have a good dinner and a few beers. Randy & Bonnie get a call from their marina that indeed they can get in tonight. So we head back to the boats and they depart. We listen to the weather and hear that the storms are going away and tomorrow is forecast to be a nice day.
We awake to a calm, sunny day. We debate whether to proceed south to Marathon, or get a slip in Key Largo for a day or two. After consulting the charts and tides, we decide getting in to a marina in Key Largo could be tough until high tide, much later in the day. So we head southwest to Marathon. Again, the wind is light and the seas are pretty calm. We motorsail all the way, with little excitement. After three days of nothing but water, it is different to have land in sight all day, and to have to watch for other boat traffic.
We arrive in Marathon about 5:00pm. We are going to get a slip at Burdines marina, where David and Susan Miller, other friends of Brian & Tammyís from Kemah, are already staying. They meet us at the dock, and help us tie up. After cleaning up, and getting the a/c running, we meet them for dinner at the marina restaurant. After dinner we are chased from the restaurant by the noseeums. For you land lubbers, noseeums are nasty little bugs that bite hard, even though you canít see them since they are so small. We retreat to David and Susanís boat and chat until almost midnight.
My small part of this journey ends today. I head back to Ft. Lauderdale to fly home. Even though the Gulf Stream was no big deal, I can say Iíve crossed it now, and when I come back and do it in my own boat, it wonít be as big an unknown. Thanks to Brian & Tammy for sharing part of their trip with me, and my apologies for defining the end of their extended vacation.