Dreams of a Bahama Cruise are coming true! On our own boat no less!
Weather Window and Navigation Challenges to reach the Bahamas
It is just 56 miles from Lake Worth Inlet to West End Grand Bahamas. Traveling at 8 mph; 7 hours travel time- our plan is to pull anchor at 7 AM and reach our destination in the Bahamas at 2PM.
Factors to consider are distance, wind, current, tide, speed and the gulf stream! Another factor-just as we are leaving the anchorage, we hear a radio notice from the coast guard requesting all boats to clear the area while a Carnival cruise ship enters the harbor. (add 20 minute to our trip and we haven’t even left the harbor yet).
The weather predictions made us very optimistic:
CROSSING THE GULF STREAM
We were missing our travel buddy boat, as Enterprise was delayed for repairs. They will get the repairs done and catch up with us later. While waiting for the cruise ship to pass, we heard a call on the radio from the trawler behind us- “Sleeping Bear hailing Moon Shadow- are you crossing to the west End?” We responded yes- at 8 mph- and we offered to stay in radio contact on the crossing. Good to know we will have a buddy boat as we proceed out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Our compass course is set at 120 degrees; heading 20 degrees south of our destination to compensate for the drift caused by the gulf stream. The first few hours were light chop, and light winds with about 2 foot swells at 7 seconds.
The skyline of Florida disappears behind us after about 18 miles – with no sight of land, we rely on the GPS course, compass and chart plotter.
As we entered the Gulf Stream, the swells shortened and the waves increased. Our speed was decreased by 2 mph due to heading into the gulf stream on the starboard bow. With the decreased speed and course heading southerly; our estimated arrival on the GPS is 7PM! Hopefully this will improve as we adjust our course and take advantage of the gulf stream to push us back north!
As we approached half way, we reset our course to 95 degrees to go with the current, and it increased our speed to 10 mph. The Garmin recalculates; and we have a revised arrival time of 3 PM.
Riding the current in the stream, the winds and waves increased- now 6 to 8 foot waves with the occasional 10 footers made the ride a challenge. The wind and waves are on our beam causing the boat to dip and dive side to side. The shortened intervals increased the slop.
The wind changed from the South East to a more southwesterly direction; now hitting our starboard stern- giving the effect of surfing down the waves as they pushed us from behind.
Still no land in sight. The islands are so flat, we do not expect to see land until it is within 8 miles. This leaves at least 5 hours or 40 miles traveling with no land in sight.
We are in radio contact with several boats that are nearby. Sleeping Bear is just ahead of us. We receive radio contact from a Sailboat indicating they are also heading for West End. They left the anchorage at 4 am. but are traveling at a slower speed- we expect to pass them in a few hours. Turns out they are three Canadian sailboats crossing to the same destination. Everyone is commenting on the rough ride- the shifting winds were expected but seem to have arrived earlier than anticipated.
WEST END GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND
Finally, Land HO! Just as noted in the guide book, we see the West End Water tower indicating we are on track for the break wall leading to the harbor entrance.
Navigating through the Gulf Stream was successful and we reached our destination by 3:15. We get in line with several other boats waiting for radio instruction to get a slip assignment. While hovering in the outer basin, we raise our yellow quarantine flag as required to indicate we have entered the country and are waiting to clear customs.
The dock hands helped us tie up. Hurricane Matthew had caused severe damage last fall; and it is apparent as soon as we dock. The electrical hook ups at the docks are in disrepair, and the buildings have roof damage temporarily covered with tarps.
Gathering our boat documentation, passports, custom declaration forms and cash, we walk over to the customs building to check in.
CUSTOMS CHECK IN
The check in process is formal – but pleasant; the government workers are happy to help with any questions and were even able to exchange some US money for smaller denominations.
We paid the $300 cruising fee and filled out the forms with the necessary details- “yes we have kayaks, two bikes and a 10 foot dingy with motor.” In return we received our cruising pass – including a free fishing license- authorizing us to cruise the Bahamas for up to 60 days! Next stop is to check in and register for our slip. The rate is reduced to $1 per foot due to lack of amenities (no electricity). Once the paperwork is completed, we return to the boat and raise our Bahama Courtesy flag.
Boats continued to enter the harbor until dark-The last boats arrived in heavy rain, high wind and after dark -not ideal conditions! Today was a short weather window for crossing; and many boats took advantage of it. The winds are predicted to blow over 30 MPH from the North for several days- North is the least favorable wind direction to cruise in this area as the Gulf Stream flows North and any winds from the North cause confused seas. We are all glad to be in a safe harbor and plan to watch the weather forecasts for the next window of light winds before moving on to the next harbor.
The West End Marina and Resort is located about 25 miles north of Freeport. It has several buildings with hotel rooms, a restaurant, a pool and beaches. We are well provisioned and plan to prepare meals on the boat.
The upcoming forecasts are predicting 12 to 14 foot waves in the gulf stream due to continued high winds; the conditions will be extremely rough. We don’t expect any boats to arrive or leave for several days! This is not a bad place to be weathered in!
ANCHORING AND MARINA WITH NO SHORE POWER
We left the marina at Loggerhead Palm Beach Gardens on Monday, February 27th. After spending one night anchored by the Lake Worth bridge and two nights anchored by the inlet we are already 3 nights without shore power. Add 4 nights at West End with no electric waiting for winds to die down. Once we leave West End our next anchorage is 50 miles to Great Sale Cay, then an additional 50 miles east to anchor at Allans-Pensacola Cay with the following nights anchorage at Manjack Cay. We may accumulate 10 to 11 days on battery power before we hook up to shore power at our next marina destination of Green Turtle Cay. Without shore power the generator will be running about an hour each day to keep our batteries charged ensuring that the refrigerator and freezer are cooling properly (with a little boost from our solar panels). Not to mention basic creature comforts – microwave, charging of electronics, hair dryer. So far, the running the air conditioning has not been a factor as it is sweatshirt weather here in the Bahamas.
The best wifi connection is at the lobby- so there is a steady stream of people checking their emails in the lobby. Once boat has guests aboard with a connecting flight scheduled out of Miami – they don’t seem pleased to learn the wind and waves will prevent them from crossing back to Florida for 4 to 5 days. I overheard them trying to arrange a flight from here. A puddle jumper from Freeport to the mainland with extremely high winds?? No thank you.
What better time to install the recently repaired shifter and recalibrate fuel senders? A little down time for boat projects, catching up on reading, boat cleaning and engine maintenance.
It’s great to be here in the Bahamas – definitely a high point of our trip. Looking forward to snorkeling, exploring and enjoying the island life.