Captain's Log, Stardate:12/09/03
Guh Die Mites:
Our Summer Partner turned over the boat to us in Miami on Oct 23, 2003. It was spic-and-span and ready to rock-and-roll, in the musical sense of course. Mary's parents and her aunt and uncle (most in their 70's) joined us for a cruise 28 nm (nautical miles)down Biscayne Bay to Elliot Key, staying there for two nights. Also my sailing mentor from Duluth joined us with his wife for a similar "sea trial." All reported having a good time.
Then Layne (who made the "crossing" with me and two others in 2001) and his friend Tom joined us in Miami for the long beat to the Abacos in the Bahamas. The first step was to negotiate the Gulf Stream, the huge "river" of warm water flowing north along the eastern seaboard. The current isn't so much the problem as its ability to kick up large, steep waves whenever any component of the wind is out of the North, opposing the current. Our first landfall would be Bimini in the Bahamas which lies 47 nm straight east of Miami. Hence, and ideal wind would typically be N or NE but that is the exact wind direction we must avoid. Equally desirable would be S or SW which is rare in these latitudes except when immediately preceding the passage of a cold front. Although cold fronts march regularly across FL and the Bahamas all winter long, they also herald strong NW or N winds for a few days after their passage. Hence, if we waited for a cold front to bring SW winds, we could not be sure how far we could get across the stream before the wind turned on us and howled out of the North.
That, plus the fact we only had ten days to make the long passage and, hopefully, enjoy some of the "off the beaten track" places along the way prompted us to sail down Biscayne Bay and overnight off Pumpkin Key near the Angelfish Creek "cut" to the Atlantic. This gave us a little better angle on the wind and allowed us to get going prior to the arrival of the next cold front forecast to pass over us in three days. At sunup the next morning, we headed out into ENE (076M) winds of 15 kts so could only make good a SE course when we really wanted to go ENE. However, after 37 miles sailing "in the wrong direction," we tacked and headed NE (024) for another 50 miles. One more short tack to the SE for 7 miles put us directly out from S. Bimini. Hence, we sailed 122 miles when we could have dieseled a mere 47 miles. Such is the plight of true conservationists (who just happen to enjoy sailing as well). But we were now positioned to take advantage of the forecasted cold front passage since we could now make good use of the associated clocking of the winds to the NW and N in order to make the "easting" we so badly needed.
We spent the entire next day in Bimini walking the streets where Earnest Hemingway walked and drinking in the same bars in which Papa drank as well. The next morning, winds were light out of the S boding well for the blow out of the NW. As we rounded North Rock and headed for the NW Channel Light, sure enough, the wind was blowing 15 to 20 kts on our port beam. We just chewed up the miles making mostly 8-9 kts and occasionally 10. But it was a long trek and we sought shelter for the night in Fraser Hog's Cay (in the Berry Islands) making the entrance at night under radar and gps.
More "easting" was to be easily had the next day as we blasted over to the northwest tip of Eleuthera Island where we anchored off Egg Island to enjoy the nice 15 LB wahoo we caught on the way. It was only yesterday--some two weeks later--I read an article written by Arne Molander making the nearly irrefutable case that Columbus' first landfall was not at San Salvador (in the Bahamas) as is widely believed but really at Egg Island! I put that a cut above "walking the same streets as Earnest Hemingway." And, like the great Admiral, we didn't know the significance of our landfall either!
A comfortable sail across the banks brought us to Spanish Wells. We had all heard what a unique place it is so were curious to see for ourselves. Sure enough, it was truly "off the beaten track." No fancy restaurants, bars, discos, cruise ships, or towering beach front hotels. There were good restaurants but not "fancy," more like you'd find in rural America. All of the locals spoke with a much different sounding accent than the rest of the Bahamas, or Caribbean for that matter. Plus, they were 90% Caucasian, an anomaly anywhere in the Caribbean. The reason is that there never were the sugar plantations, etc., that necessitated the importing of slaves centuries ago. Nearly all Spanish Wellians make their living from the sea or the infrastructure supporting it. So it was a good thing that when we went to launch the dinghy, the outboard wouldn't start. It turned out "Porter" had the reputation of being the best outboard mechanic in the Bahamas and was just a mile's row from our anchorage! After working on it for an hour and a half, he had it working great . . . at a cost of $50. Did I say, "No bars?" That's right, "No bars." You know you're off the tourist path when there isn't even a bar on the island but that's exactly right. These islanders believe that drinking like a fish is not the way to catch one, apparently. Nearly all the houses were well maintained and well kept. Although it's a very small island, some 2-3 miles long by 1/2 mile wide, half the people drove golf carts and the other half late model cars! How else do you demonstrate your success as a fisherman if you already have a nice house with an ocean view? We even saw a new Corvette! As of November 21 when we arrived, we were told we were the first cruiser to visit in some four months! Best of all, early in the evening on our second night there, we could here strange breathing noises and splashes near the boat. Brandishing our portable 2,000,000 candlepower spotlight, we could see three dolphins feeding on a school of fish there. They would break water and splash down a la "Sea World" in their eagerness to consume a surf-sans-turf dinner!
Having made all our easting on the back of that one cold front, our last leg was straight north to Marsh Harbor and, since the winds had clocked back into their prevailing easterly direction, the four of us enjoyed one final fast beam reach. We again touched on 10 kts several times which is not bad considering we provisioned in FL for the entire winter including fuel, beer, wine, canned goods, etc. Upon coming back "inside the cut," one crew member remarked how concerned he was that we took the southern, more "exciting" entrance past Man-O-War Cay in such winds. We literally surfed down the large waves. All in all, the 175 nm line-of-sight distance from Miami to Marsh Harbor took us over 278 nm of ocean bottom.
Our daughter, Tara, and her husband, Eric, arrived in Marsh Harbor the day after Layne and Tom flew out. We had a nice sail to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, another very quaint island, although you could buy a drink there and thus a mutiny was averted. Since they were on a fast track, we sailed the next day down the "inside" to Pete's Pub in Little Harbor and the day after that, we sailed over open ocean, the 75 nm to Nassau. The cold front having passed, we again had favorable (prevailing) winds for our 75 nm passage SSW to Nassau where we visited Atlantis.
Except for the total number of rooms (a mere 2,300), Atlantis puts any hotel/casino in Las Vegas to shame! It is truly unique with its enclosed man-made lagoon and beach, its water sports (including a water slide taking you through a clear plastic tube under the water and amongst the large sharks), its 22 restaurants, its casino-with-windows, and most of all, its fish tanks and aquariums! "Aquarium" is really a misnomer since they are all housed in backwaters of the ocean with Plexiglas walls. Ocean water, with all its nutrients, is allowed to flow through the "tank" continuously. When I was here in 1997, I remember seeing a huge jewfish (in the grouper or sea bass family) weighing 250 LB or more. It was very impressive but alas, Atlantis no longer has any jewfish. But they do have a 300 LB "goliath grouper." Same fish, as it turns out, but now more enlightened politically. Look for similar treatment of the American Robin and French Angelfish in the future. Of course there are huge manta rays, sharks, and several hundred other species including a gigantic sawfish which looks like a shark but is actually of the skate or ray family.
Covering several hundred acres, Atlantis stretches from one coast of Hog Island, where it is located in Nassau, to the other. It cost $850 million to build (so far)! Atlantis was much smaller when I went through the first time back when the public was welcome to visit all the aquariums. Five years ago, I was barred from the best fish tanks because I was not a guest of the hotel.
Wait a minute; I forgot about another word transformation: Probably out of respect for all the pigs of the world, "Hog Island" was changed to "Paradise Island" some years ago. Anyway, I really wanted Tara and Eric to see Atlantis but wasn't about to pay the rack rate starting at $350/night. Eric, however, discovered we could take a slip at the newly built Atlantis Marina paying a mere $150/night and all four of us would have hotel-guest status. So for those of you who own boats, here's yet another way to save money. Reminds me of the name of this one sailboat I saw in Georgetown one time: "False Economy."
Visit www.escapecay.com to see if you might be able to join us yet this winter. In any event, we hope all is well with you and your family!
Coming about now,
Lee and Mary