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February 18, 2005  

Update from Miami

Sorry it's so long between updates! We thought we had a method to update the site worked out, but it appears not to be working. So we have to wait until we find a "wifi hotspot", or someplace where we can log onto the internet with our own computer, in order to send updates. As you can imagine, in the remote islands we are visiting that does not happen often. I am writing this update with the hope that we'll find one at a marina where we need to get fuel later this week...

Well, a lot has happened in the last month and a half! We're finally beginning to settle into the rhythm of island life, and really enjoy ourselves. If it weren't for the all-too-frequent battles over school and kids' responsibilities, life would be just about perfect. We're hoping that that will get better, too, as we settle into the lifestyle even more.

OK, so back to Miami in early January..... we FINALLY got a weather window to allow us to cross the gulf stream. It was not an ideal one by any means, since the wind, of course, was coming from nearly the exact direction we were headed, but the seas were forecast to lay down some and the wind to be only moderate. On the night of the 6th we "staged" ourselves at Fisher Island, a little open anchorage near the "cut" out of Miami harbor. We planned to wake up in the wee morning hours to set off for Bimini. However, when we woke up, the wind had really picked up. We heard several boats on the VHF radio who had left a few hours earlier: they were reporting 10 foot seas and at least three of them had to turn back because they had mechanical failures and/or could not make more than 1 or 2 knots headway against the seas. We debated some, but decided to put off leaving until the next night.

Friday, January 7th, we upped anchor at about 0300 (3 AM). By 0400 we were going out Government Cut, accompanied by our friends on the catamaran Alohomora, and wooden boat Linnett II from Maine. Our friends on the C&C 48 Galadriel were a couple of hours behind us. Going out the cut was a bit scary! It is quite narrow, you have to pass between two breakwaters and then into a narrow dredged channel that twists and turns a couple times. It was pitch black and the seas were tall, steep and confused. We were passed at VERY close range by two enormous cruise ships in the channel. It was, to say the least, stressful! We were motorsailing with 2 reefs in the main into SE winds and seas that moderated to about 4-6 feet after we got away from the shore a few hours. Dawn found us in gorgeous deep blue water, and we shook out the reefs and continued motorsailing. We tried to just sail for a while but we had to sail so far off our course, and we'd lost so much time against the steep chop earlier, that we were afraid we wouldn't make landfall during daylight hours (important in the Bahamas with no lighted bouys!) so we continued motorsailing. The catamaran Alohomora was having some difficulty pointing into the wind, and we soon lost sight of them. Poor Linnett has a really small motor, so they fell behind. And big Galadriel, with her big engine, zoomed ahead of us during the day. By late afternoon we realized we were making great time (finally got a boost from the gulf stream) and decided to go on past Bimimi and anchor on "the banks" overnight.

The Bahamas are made up of various islands and chains of islands which sit on huge shallow banks interspersed with deep ocean cuts. Bimini, the first landfall, sits on the west edge of the Great Bahama Bank, which stretches almost all the way over to Nassau, Grand Bahama to the east. The bank depth ranges from about 5 feet to a bit more than 20 feet. Most of it is in the teens. It was eerie to round North Rock just off Bimini and suddenly go from many hundreds of feet deep to 9 feet!!! And, of course, the water is so crystal clear that you can see each blade of grass on the bottom. It was very weird anchoring on the banks, out of site of any land (you felt as though you were in the middle of the ocean) with 12 feet of water under you. We had a glorious sunset, our first sunset over the water since the passage to Nova Scotia! When it got dark, the only lights were a few clusters of anchor lights from the other boats who were making the crossing. It was rather rolly, too, and after a fitful nights sleep we got under way in the dark at 0430.

Since we had to make Chub Cay, where we intended to check in to the Bahamas, in daylight, we again motorsailed:  the winds were nearly on the nose again and we could point higher that way. But we had full sails up and were SCREAMING along over glorious blue water and under bright sunshine. Our friends on Galadriel, with similar sail/engine combo, could not catch us!! (Alohomora had stopped at Bimini and we lost touch with Linnett the night before...)

Here are some pictures of that day, with the Q flag up and ready!

At Chub Cay we had to check in at a marina, a splurge for us and the first marina of the trip. But at least we got to take long showers!! The next morning we set off an hour or so after Galadriel did to sail SE to Nassau. We knew that another "norther" was coming in a couple days and we wanted to get as close to the Exumas (our intended cruising area for the month) as possible. An hour out, Galadriel called and warned us, "It's really nasty out here! 35 knots on the nose and confused 8-10 foot seas!! We nearly broached!) We looked at the clouds and could see the squall line that they were under, and decided to push on anyway.  Liv and I were queasy but we reefed Zora down and -again!- motorsailed into it. It was slow going at first, because the seas were so steep (about 4 knots headway) but we got into the groove, picked up speed, and made the harbor entrance with plenty of daylight. We were glad we had sail up, we think that was the difference between our experience and Galadriel's, since they were under power only.

Nassau was quite something. The skyline is dominated by Atlantis, a huge Vegas-style resort on Paradise Island. The city is very, very dirty, and the cars drive a million miles an hour! We had some fun going to the straw market and provisioning with cheap rum and canned butter.

One day there was a celebration downtown. It was the opening of the courts for the year, and the barristers and judges paraded through town to the courthouse, where the police band played, complete with colonial leopard skin uniforms!


That's Liv and her friend Martha from Taku with a guard at the government buildings. An interesting contrast to the US: while we were hanging around the plaza waiting for the parade, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas arrived in a limo and simply got out of the car in the middle of the crowd of onlookers and walked inside. No secret service. No guns. No problems.

Nassau was interesting, but not the Bahamas we'd come for. So after the winds let up a bit, we decided to make a run for the Exumas before the next big front came through. We headed first out an hour east to Rose Island. It was our first time really using "eyeball navigation" through the sand bars and reefs, learning to read the depths and bottom types by the colors you see. We were nervous but thrilled when we rounded the last sand bar and dropped anchor with two other boats off a pristine white sand beach with palm trees. We quickly jumped in the water and snorkeled to shore. WOOOO HOOOO!!! This was what we came for!!!

Next page: the Exumas...