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Postmark: Bahamas!

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March 30, 2021

The alarm sounded at 2:30 am. Ordinarily, the sound of an alarm at this hour of the morning would have startled me awake. However, I hadn’t slept a wink since my head hit the pillow 5-1/2 hours earlier. Jane and I were about to undertake a 75-mile offshore passage from Key Largo, Florida to the island of North Bimini in the Bahamas. Ordinarily, a 75-mile passage would be no big deal for us. We had done several 75-mile offshore passages while cruising up and down the U.S. east coast. This time, however, we had to deal with the dreaded Gulf Stream, a strong north-flowing current originating in the Gulf of Mexico and following the eastern coastline of the U.S. The stream averages 50 – 60 miles wide, with a current averaging about 2 knots.

I’d been agonizing about this Gulf Stream crossing for months. I’d read articles warning of its dangers. I’d gone to seminars presented by experts on Gulf Stream navigation. I’d watched YouTube videos and talked to dozens of fellow cruisers from around the marinas who had done it dozens of times. I’d spent hours studying my charts while carefully calculating a course and heading to compensate for the anticipated current speed. I’d fully prepared. I was nervous as hell!

(Note to reader: At least on this passage from Key Largo, it turned out to be no big deal. Just point the boat towards Bimini and make some minor heading adjustments along the way to stay on a straight-line course to Bimini. Piece of cake; easy sneezy.)

A good weather window is without question the most important aspect of a successful Gulf Stream crossing. Winds that come out of the north will conflict with the north-flowing Gulf Stream and can produce waves the size of railroad box cars. So, it’s important to sit patiently and wait for the right weather conditions. Sometimes this wait can last several weeks. We’d waited about ten days in Key Largo for the optimal conditions. We’d contracted the services of a professional meteorologist (Chris Parker) to tell us when to go. He was telling us to go … now! The winds were light out of the southeast and the waves in the Atlantic were forecasted at 2-4 feet, 8 seconds apart. These were good conditions for Dejarlo and her crew. We had a one-day window. Let’s go!

Our Predictwind weather app.
Careful monitoring of offshore wind and wave conditions is essential to a smooth Gulf Stream crossing.

We had purchased Dejarlo three years ago, always with the intention of taking her to the Bahamas, and points beyond. Since our first trip heading north to the Chesapeake from Florida in early May, 2018, we’d traveled more than 4,000 miles along the coast – from Fort Pierce, Florida to Solomons, Maryland to Key Largo, Florida, back to Solomons, Maryland, and finally back to Key Largo. For those that have followed this blog, you know that our first trip to Key Largo in 2020 was for the purpose of crossing over to the Bahamas. As (bad) luck would have it, just before our departure, the Bahamas closed its borders due to the Covid pandemic. We spent almost three months anchored off Key Largo before making the long trip back up to Maryland, our home port during hurricane season.

Now we’re back at Key Largo, ready to try again. This time it looks like we’ll make it. The required Covid tests necessary to enter the Bahamas are completed, we’ve provisioned the boat to overflowing, and all the necessary paperwork is in order. The only requirement now is to start the engine and make our way out of our anchorage, cross over Molasses Reef five miles to the east of us, and head out into the Atlantic Ocean.

We pulled up anchor at 4:00 am, making our way east while carefully monitoring our Navionics navigation app displaying our GPS position. It was pitch dark! We were all alone except for a couple of early morning fishing boats heading out past the reef. An hour later we were in the open Atlantic. I pointed Dejarlo towards Bimini and settled in for, what turned out to be, a twelve-hour passage.

The sun slowly begins to peek over the horizon as we make our way northeast towards Bimini.

There was no wind, so sailing was out of the question. We motored the entire trip. The downside to having no wind is not being able to sail. On the flip side, no wind ordinarily means very small waves. And that is exactly what we experienced, very small waves. That is with the exception of the fifteen-foot high “rollers”, spaced about twenty seconds apart, that turned out to be rather fun riding up and down, kind of like a roller coaster.

Our AIS system showed marine traffic in the area (we’re red, they’re green), but nothing on a collision course with us.

As soon as we were in the Gulf Stream, I noted a couple of degrees increase in sea temperature along with a very notable change in water color – to a color somewhere between turquoise and emerald green, with some occasional cobalt blue mixed in. We saw very little marine traffic except for a few cargo ships that never got more than a mile or so from us. However, our fancy AIS system (similar to an aircraft transponder system) indicated several vessels, both commercial and pleasure craft, within ten miles of us, some clearly also headed to Bimini.

About five miles out from Bimini, I called out “land ho”, as I could clearly see the entrance to Alice Town on North Bimini.

Time to hoist the quarantine flag as we enter Bahamian waters.

An hour later we were tied up at the Bimini Big Game Club Marina, handling Customs and Immigration forms, and preparing for a long night of much needed sleep.

After three years of boat refits, repairs, and 4,000 miles of coastal cruising, we were finally in the Bahamas!

A couple of spotted eagle rays, each with 5′ wingspans, play under our boat.
Walking the narrow streets of Alice Town on North Bimini

This place is filled with history. As I write this blog post from the comfort of Dejarlo’s cabin, I’m reminded that less than twenty-five yards from me is the, now in ruins, cabin where Ernest Hemingway stayed during his many visits to Bimini. He kept his famed fishing boat, Pilar, just a short distance from where Dejarlo now sits. From his many visits here came the inspiration for his books, Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea. If you use your imagination, you can still hear Hemingway’s boisterous laughter coming from across the road as he recalls the day’s fishing adventures with his Bahamian drinking buddies.

Hemingway’s Cabin

We’ll be here for about a week as we enjoy the local Bahamian culture and wait for a good weather window to continue our journey further east across the Bahama Banks to the Berry Islands, and waypoints beyond. We’ve got about three months before we must return to the States and settle in somewhere for hurricane season. We should be able to see lots of the Bahamas in three months.

More on our Bimini experience later. Perhaps Hemingway’s ghost can inspire my next post.

Enjoying the iconic conch salad with an equally iconic Kalik beer
In spite of the beauty all around, there’s a constant reminder of past hurricanes.

A word from Jane regarding the Commonwealth of the Bahamas …

What do you think when you hear those words? Most think of sandy islands, fifty shades of blue water, warm breezes, swaying palms, pastel-colored homes and buildings, and friendly islanders.

Yes. That’s it, all those words and, we suspect, many more to come.

Some history of the Bahamas:

We all know the story of Christopher Columbus (and his three famous ships) discovering America. Most historians now say no, that was already accomplished by others well before 1492. Columbus left Spain and reached a Bahamian island, probably San Salvador, and sailed around other nearby islands, Cuba, Hispaniola, and twenty years later America’s east coast. Then came invaders, sugar cane plantations, enslavement, traders, privateers, pirates, abolishment of slavery in 1834, and independence from Britain as a constitutional monarchy in 1973. History is everywhere on these islands.

And us? We’re pretty awestruck and ready to go as soon as the next two high wind events have passed and the weather gods have cleared the way.

Ah, three more months of awestruck, mon …

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33 Comments
  1. Reply

    Randy & Diane

    April 3, 2021

    So glad to hear you made it to the Bahamas! We’re happy for you. We really appreciate you sharing such a well written and photographed story.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      April 3, 2021

      We’re really having lots of fun and loving learning this different culture. However, we’re having to deal with missing friends and family. We’re thinking of you. Hope all is well.

  2. Reply

    Pat Ridgeway

    April 2, 2021

    Hey guys, so glad to see your dreams coming true. What an experience. Stay safe. Watch out for pirates 🤓. Happy Easter!

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      April 3, 2021

      Same to you, Pat!

  3. Reply

    Steve Moeller

    April 2, 2021

    So glad to hear that you’ve arrived in the Bahamas and had safe travels doing so. Savor your time there and may the ghost of Hemingway be with you!

  4. Reply

    Becky Lopanec

    April 2, 2021

    Love following your journeys. Congrats on reaching another of your dreams. We love the Bahamas! We got engaged and married in Nassau and have returned many more times. Hoping 2021 is our year to return.

  5. Reply

    Alan and Ruth

    April 1, 2021

    We are so happy to hear that your passage was easy and now you can relax and explore. Enjoy this wonderful adventure!

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      April 1, 2021

      … and the alternator/regulator have been replaced!

  6. Reply

    Randy Watson

    March 31, 2021

    Glad you made it. We were there 2 years ago on Exuma with the whole family and had a great time. Hope you enjoy your time.

  7. Reply

    Marlene

    March 31, 2021

    So happy to hear from you! The pictures are great! So is the dialogue.
    Enjoy every minute of your dreams coming true. Love you both. Hugs.

  8. Reply

    Judy Blackmarr Stejskal

    March 31, 2021

    John and Jane….how intriguing! We learned a lot as you took us along your journey! We definitely felt we were there with you. Your blog was so enjoyable! Can’t wait for the next! Safe journey!
    Judy and Jerry

  9. Reply

    JANICE WESTER

    March 30, 2021

    Living the dream. Glad you finally made it safely. Love reading your blogs, don’t stop John, just need them more often. Miss and love you guys. Enjoy the Bahamas.

  10. Reply

    Brother

    March 30, 2021

    What a way live. Go Go enjoy Love y’all keep on sending.

  11. Reply

    Kenneth Gano

    March 30, 2021

    Thanks. I do enjoy these post, and living vicariously through them 😀.

  12. Reply

    Chris Havener

    March 30, 2021

    Wow! So beautiful you guys are just living my dreams….. I hope someday to follow,someday soon!!
    Remember
    Without taking risks you will never taste the rewards of life and fear will steal all.
    Have fun and blue skies

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Keep the dream going, buddy!

  13. Reply

    Noni

    March 30, 2021

    So great you finally made this goal. Enjoy your exploring! Can’t wait for the next post.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Thanks, Noni. We’ll keep them coming.

  14. Reply

    Tom & Trudy

    March 30, 2021

    We are simply awestruck by you tenacity!
    Yes, 3 years on the Dejario but several years dreaming of this goal….
    CONGRATULATIONS🍷😍🍷

    Enjoy the fruits of your dreams🍒

  15. Reply

    Rick Dertinger

    March 30, 2021

    Congrats and take care.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Thanks, Rick. You too.

  16. Reply

    Robert Ronchetti

    March 30, 2021

    Congrats, just think you accomplish this sooner than we have gotten together to play golf. I bet the view of their sand traps are better that what we would end up in on the course.

    Have fun and be safe.

    Bob

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Everything’s a sand trap over here!

      John

  17. Reply

    Sharon Dalton

    March 30, 2021

    Hey guys! So glad to hear you have arrived in Bimini! It is only the tip of the iceberg in sights sounds and incredible knowledge waiting for you to explore. We miss you already and are reliving vicariously through you, until we can somehow make it over to those gorgeous crystal blue Bahamian waters.
    Smooth sailing

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Thanks, girlfriend! It’s been worth the wait. We’re missing you guys, too. Plenty of time this summer. Hey to Jim.

  18. Reply

    Colette Bertrand

    March 30, 2021

    Hi Jane and John,

    So glad you made it. Enjoy every minute.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Thanks, Colette. Hi to Kimmer.

  19. Reply

    Steve McFerrin

    March 30, 2021

    Hi Steve from Flyer in FP. Awesome! Congrats to you guys!! I am next. Hope to cross paths again someday soon. Have fun and safe travels.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Hey, Steve! Long time since we saw you in Fort Pierce. Get your butt over here. We’ll get together and lift a Kalik. Hell, for an old jump pilot, I might even buy.

  20. Reply

    Ken

    March 30, 2021

    If you still hear Hemingway’s laughter you should cut back on the Kalik beer.
    Looks lovely. Keep having a great time.

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      Good point. I hear these Bahamian beers can have some strange after effects.

  21. Reply

    Tony Vogel

    March 30, 2021

    YOU MADE IT!!!!!

    Congratulations!!

    • Reply

      John & Jane

      March 30, 2021

      And it only took 3 years! Miss you guys.

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