Good morning from the stunning little islands of Bimini in the Bahamas where I’ve set up my recliner on Mavis’s deck determined to get some words out of my head and onto the screen. I have to admit that looking at the empty screen and blinking cursor is a little overwhelming. Last year on this voyage I got into a writing groove and found it easy to pound out some words for our blog every few days but this year’s been different. Perhaps it’s because it’s not our first season out cruising and the novelty has worn off or maybe it’s because I did the first 500 miles in chunks as opposed to straight through but whatever the reason, I haven’t been writing. I’ll change that right now. It’s hard not to find inspiration here with the knowledge that at this very dock, Ernest Hemmingway was known to write from his boat the Pilar. He’s quoted as saying “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Hemmingway loved Bimini and wrote quite a bit from here. In fact, his novel Islands in the Stream takes place on and around this picturesque little island. So here I am tied up at Brown’s Marina opening up a vein. Let’s see if the words flow today.
The sun is shining and there’s a warm, comfortable breeze out of the east — a good day for sailing around the island. Everywhere I look there’s crystal clear water, shimmering in unbelievable shades of blue and turquoise. Sometimes the vistas here look Photoshopped yet at the same time unquestionably genuine. Does that make any sense at all?
Life is good. As I look around our decks, glistening in the morning dew, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of appreciation, admiration and genuine love for this tiny ship. Once again, she’s taken us comfortably all the way down the eastern seaboard of the United States and across the notorious gulfstream to this beautiful and interesting island nation.
Looking up at that courtesy flag waving in the breeze from our starboard spreader I let it sink in again. We’re really back in the Bahamas! We’ve had to make all kinds of sacrifices in order to be able to live this kind of life and it hasn’t always been easy but every now and then I take a moment to appreciate this and to recognize that it’s all worth it.
Unlike our trip last year which brought us into the Abacos, about 170 nautical miles east of Florida, this year we have decided to hang around in Bimini which is only about 60 miles from Miami. We absolutely fell in love with Green Turtle Cay and wanted to return this winter but the Abacos were absolutely ravaged by hurricane Dorian. As badly as we wanted to support them by spending some money there, the infrastructure still isn’t stable enough for us to operate our business from the boat. Batelco, the Bahamian phone company is having a hard time keeping mobile data alive and we depend on a reliable connection to the internet to be able to get away with this lifestyle.
Despite being so close to Florida, arriving in Bimini you immediately realize you aren’t in the states anymore. When most people think of the Bahamas they picture Nassau or Freeport with cruise ships, towering hotels, waterparks and drunken tourists. That’s not Bimini. The Bahamas are comprised of over 700 islands. While 95% of the population of the country lives on Grand Bahama (Freeport) or Nassau there are settlements on many of the islands and cays. There are lots of uninhabited islands as well.
We’ve been here for a little over a week now and are settling into island life and figuring things out. Simple things like banking, shopping and getting fresh water which you take for granted at home can be a little more complex here.
After spending about a week in Coconut Grove in Miami at the Dinner Key Marina a window opened up for our crossing to the Bahamas. We left late Monday afternoon and had planned on arriving around 5am Tuesday morning and waiting a few hours for daylight to navigate the inlet and channel in Bimini.
The gulfstream crossing was a little rough at times. We were motoring into a 15 knot headwind and the seas, although not terribly large, were steep enough to cause a bit of unpleasant slamming of the hulls and some rolling.
We only encountered a few ships in the Straights of Florida. A few cruise ships and two tankers that required me to hail them and work out how we would cross. Cindy slept for some of the trip and because this was a short hop I never got very tired.
We arrived much earlier than expected because we were really zooming along there for a while and ended up arriving at 2am. I thought about dropping the anchor off the beach here but there was enough of a surge that I preferred to just bob around off the shoreline. A power vessel who was circling around out with us attempted to enter the channel before light and as a result the vessel was lost. That boat sat on the rocks for a few days unable to get free. Every day we watched it get pummeled by the waves crashing over her stern. The boat is a write off. It’s still out there. Full of water. I imagine on my next visit to the area it may be charted as one of the thousands of wrecks I see on my charts.
The entrance channel here at Bimini is notorious for its strong current, shifting sand, reefs and lots of limestone ledges that can really ruin your day. The navigational aids don’t mean anything as more often than not are they aren’t in the right place. The only way to safely enter here, in my opinion is to do it by reading the water in daylight unless you are already familiar with the channel. I took a dinghy trip out to this vessel and saw her cabin full of water. I’m REALLY glad I waited for dawn. Even in the incredibly clear water here we managed to find a little sandbar on the way in but quickly got to deeper waters.
After getting through the channel we were escorted to the dock by HUGE eagle rays swimming alongside Mavis in the still and crystal clear water. Even in 30′ of water the bottom was clearly visible. We tied up at Brown’s Marina and I quickly ran up to the customs office and then to the immigration office to check us in. Because we are only planning on staying in the Bahamas for a few months at most, our cruising permit was only $150 which includes a fishing license for the vessel as well.
Just as it did last year, it gave me great joy to take down our yellow quarantine flag and hoist the Bahamian courtesy flag. Nothing quite sums up the accomplishment of cruising out here than hoisting the flag of our host nation. It’s really a great feeling.
Cindy and I took a few days to settle in and did some exploring. Bimini is very different than our beloved Green Turtle Cay but charming in its own way. It’s the off season here and many of the island’s residents make $5 per hour when they are working but over the winters there isn’t much work. Many sailboats cruising the Bahamas only stop at Bimini to check into customs and pick up fuel and water before departing to the Berry Islands, Nassau, Eleuthra and onward. It’s interesting and disturbing to see million dollar yachts sitting on the dock a few steps away from the island’s modest homes.
The beaches here are beautiful and Willow has been enjoying herself and has gotten back into one of her favorite island activities… She loves coconuts and enjoys retrieving them from the water. We have to be careful though… There are lots and lots of sharks here. The aggressive bull sharks swim under our boat all the time and I imagine Willow would make a nice little meal for them. Her new nickname is SharkBait. Now that we are on a dock again it’s easy for her to get on and off but depending on where the wind is blowing from sometimes it can be a little bit of a hop. We’re being careful to make sure she doesn’t end up in the water at the marina.
Knowing that there are so many sharks in these waters makes snorkeling interesting. I’ve only been out once so far looking to see if I could find some lobster (I failed) but while out there I nearly soiled my shorts when I came across a shark underwater. It took me a few seconds to realize it was either dead or stunned. I didn’t see any wounds on him and his mouth didn’t have a hook hanging out of it so I don’t know what killed this magnificent animal but even though I’m pretty sure he was dead, it didn’t feel right to hang around him. In retrospect, I kind of wish I would have posed with him. I think a shot of me riding him underwater would have been badass.
That will be it for my update today. I just wanted to get some words out to break the silence. It’s hard to believe I’ve let so long go between updates. I’ll try to catch up documenting our decision to bring the boat south again and the trek down the coast. As I said earlier, we did things differently and had some adventures. Stay tuned.