For those that routinely cross the Gulf Stream between the Florida coast and the Bahama banks, the search for “whales” has little to do with mammals and a lot to do with whether you should attempt the crossing. Now, for the rest of the story. We left Key West on Tuesday morning early, after a month long stay. The trip east on the Hawk Channel between the Keys and the outer reef to the Indian Key Park was calm and unremarkable. The Park had five free moorings and there were no takers upon our arrival about sunset,. After checking the next day weather…wind and wave height…and ensuring that no “whales” were visible on the thin horizon to the east, we decided to try the 90 Nm crossing to Bimini in the morning.
The trip began at 0330 on Wednesday, 17 December and we soon cleared the outer reef and curved up into the stream. By our calculation we would feel the northerly push of the stream for at least 50 Nm of the trip. All went well until sunrise with mild wind in the east and the waves under a foot. We were soon clipping along at nine knots and barely noticed the whales on the bow. At this point the return to the Keys would have been easy, just a few miles distant with a favorable course choice. An hour later, the wind shifted slightly to the north and the standing waves began to build. But, we were still making excellent speed and the wave action was manageable. Looking back now the time in the stream seemed like purgatory as each wave seemed to queue up on our bow. The wind stayed around 10-15 Kts, but these waves reached the 4-5 Ft category in short order. We pulled into North Bimini at the end of a twelve hour ordeal and quickly tied up at Blue Water Marina. Tired, but perhaps a little wiser; following listed are our lessons for the day:
1. Don’t be driven by schedule on the crossing…the kids rendezvous in Nassau was on our mind.
2. Can’t see whales in the dark; so, start in daylight. Another day in Hawk would have been good.
3. Shorter is better , even if the prospect of the 2-3 Knot north current is tempting.
4. Don’t believe all weather data, or choose the worst of the information you are getting.
5. Don’t hesitate to turn back while you can. You lose a lot of options at the half way point.
6. Any part of the wind from the north will create standing waves; even some from east.
7. Regardless of the crossing, tie everything down. The boat does much better than the humans.
We had called in from the states to secure a tee at Blue Water Marina where the rate was still a dollar a foot with reasonable wireless, clean restrooms and a pool. But the R/O water there is $.50 per gallon. A good strong current exists in the relatively narrow harbor so we planned arrival and departure accordingly. The new channel is unmarked, but the old channel to the south tip of S. Bimini is still useable. We followed a gamefisher in on the new channel and have saved the track for the outbound. It is much shorter and greater than 10 ft at mid tide. The town is in a down cycle, with some places that were thriving two years ago, are now boarded up. Lots of lobster and conch for sale by locals at good price. Customs/Immigration is a breeze, except for the annual $300 fee. We plan to spend two nites here and proceed across Great Bahama Bank on Friday to an anchorage at Morgan’s Bluff off Andros.