Miami, USA to Nassau,Bahamas

1st February -  12th February 2005

We said fond farewells to our friends from the yard in Miami, the Cole family from Red Flash and Scott and Barbara from White Caps, who had all generously spent a lot of time chauffeuring us around the nearby chandleries and supermarkets for supplies.  It was also time to say goodbye to our neighbours the manatee family, who had kept Anju company while we had been away.   It was time to head back down the Miami River, through the eight lift bridges and head back to the South Beach anchorage to resume our cruising lifestyle.    

Of course our timing was all wrong, as soon as we'd left the dock we discovered that one of the bridges would be closed for lunch, leaving us circling against the river current in a small space for an hour.   Finally, however, we were back anchored amongst the millionaire's houses near South Beach, ready to prepare for our trip to the Bahamas.

Anju's companions, the manatee family

Our wishes were answered!

Several dinghy trips to the supermarket later we were almost ready to leave.  Next came the normally irksome task of refueling.    We were trying to psych ourselves to take up our anchor, locate a marina with an easily accessible and deep enough fuel dock and top up our fuel tanks and were wishing that a magic diesel genie should pass by and drop off our fuel, when what should we spot in the anchorage but a floating diesel delivery service.   Our wishes had been answered!  We called up Matt the captain, and he skillfully brought the tanker close to Anju and dropped two hydraulic piles into the mud to anchor himself.  Once he was fixed we simply hauled Anju over to the tanker by hand and fuelled up.   Unbelievably the fuel prices were cheaper than the marina and we hadn't had to risk our new paint job on a dock!
Our next challenge was to find out how to clear out with Customs and Immigration in the US. We rang around and nobody seemed really sure. Finally we managed to track down an Immigration Officer who told us we'd have to take our landing cards to the immigration building in the cruise ship dock - easy if you have a car!  We had to dinghy to the nearest marina, pay $10 to tie up the dinghy, hike three miles across a highway bridge to the port and then wander around until we finally found a person who gave us correct directions to the office.  By the time we arrived we were very hot and frustrated.  Then we tried to hand in our cards to the officer on duty, who wouldn't take them off us as we weren't leaving until 4 am the next morning.  We were told we'd have to post them back to the office when we arrived in the Bahamas.  Why we couldn't have been told this on the phone, saving ourselves a lot of trouble, was a mystery!

We left Miami at 4 am on the 3rd February and made our way out to sea through the deserted cruise ship docks in the dark. The forecast was for light and variable winds, so we were expecting a gentle motor across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas but what we found was 10 - 15 knots from the east, right on the nose of course!  

In the yard in Miami we'd changed the stuffing in our stuffing box (the thing that stops the water coming up the prop shaft and into the boat) and part way across the Gulf Stream we found the stuffing box was getting very hot, so we had to take the engine out of gear, to make an adjustment by loosening the nut a little bit.  Once we were out of gear and drifting,  we could really tell we were in the Gulf Stream, as the boat turned by herself to head due north at about 3 knots!

We'd planned to head straight to Nassau but a combination of the stuffing box problem, the stronger winds and rougher conditions that we'd expected and the fact that we had hardly slept the night before and didn't fancy another overnight trip to Nassau made us decide to put into a marina in South Bimini. 

The approach to the marina was pretty scary!  We had to follow leading lights, little more than orange sticks on the shore, until we were very close to the beach and then run about half a mile parallel to the beach in the swell.  Once we reached the rock breakwater of the marina entrance, when we had to make a quick turn to avoid hitting it!   It was also the first time in a long while that we'd been navigating without the reassurance of electronic charts showing our exact position however we found the Explorer chart books we'd bought were excellent. 
Phil's the Captain's first job was to go ashore and clear into the Bahamas, coughing up the $300 fee for a cruising permit - ouch!

The marina was part of a condominium complex development which was pretty quiet, most of the houses were only just being finished and people were moving  their furniture in when we were there. Most were holiday homes for people based in Miami.  We realised we'd have to stay a few days until the next cold front had passed, but at least the marina was running a special offer, giving us a free night's berthing! 

The only problem with the marina was that the swell from outside found its way into the marina, leaving Anju surfing backwards and forwards on her dock, straining against her lines.  By the next morning one of our lines had already worn right through!

Bimini Sands Marina and Roller Coaster!

We made the most of the opportunity to slow down to Bahamian pace and visit the sights of Bimini.  It was great cycling as it was completely flat.  On our first trip we visited the very under whelming "Fountain of Youth" on South Bimini.  Our next trip explored the south end of the island to see the other "marina" which seemed to be about a foot deep and unsurprisingly empty. 

To get to the North island, where the main settlement Alicetown was located, we had to take the ferry, which provided excellent service for only $2 including our bikes. As we were well stocked up all we needed to buy was fresh bread but despite searching every shop in the metropolis, all we could find was banana bread!  We toured both the Kings Highway and Queens Highway, the island's only 2 streets, on our bikes.  On our way back we stopped off at the Yacht Club on the South Island, who not only refilled Phil's dive bottle but also filled us up with a hearty and good value curry meal.   The Club was a popular spot with the locals.

Finally we had weather to leave for Nassau and made our way out of the marina on the high tide just before dark. We had a fright a couple of miles out when our autopilot compass decided to go crazy, but it quickly calmed down and we decided it must have been something to do with huge communications satellite dish we'd just passed.  Being a steel boat, for our autopilot we need a very complicated electronic fluxgate compass, which has to be located high up the mast, away from the steel hull and as a result has to compensate for any rolling or heeling of the boat.   Sailing near to power cables, communications equipment and military facilities often causes it to have a brief and alarming fit.

Our overnight trip across the shallow Great Bahama bank was quite surreal - we could see the glow of the red and green navigation lights reflecting on the sand two metres (6 feet) below our hull.  We travelled in company with the yacht Meredith, our new Canadian friends Bob, Connie and son Jake.   Another boat had left earlier, planning to anchor out on the bank that night but we were glad we hadn't selected that option, as the waves would have been pretty uncomfortable. 


Our trip had only two scary moments, one when a power yacht was heading straight at us but we managed to hail them on the VHF radio and the other when we spotted some red lights which we couldn't identify on the chart and after worrying about them for a long time, we finally realised that they were actually about 20 miles away, not close at all.

In the early morning as we approached Nassau, we managed to hook three Dorado fish (Mahi Mahi) but only landed two.  It would be great to be eating fresh fish again!

By lunchtime we were calling up Nassau Harbour Control for permission to enter the harbour.   We anchored in a spot close to another OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) boat, Catspaw, and were immediately invited aboard for drinks by Pat and Liz.

Approaching Nassau Harbour Entrance

We'd been pre-warned that the holding in Nassau harbour wasn't very good, with the sea bed being littered with several hundred years' of junk and only a thin covering of sand above the rock below.   This proved true as whilst we were aboard Catspaw, their anchor dragged and we had to depart in a hurry to allow them to find a better spot in which to anchor.     After that fright, we re-anchored with two anchors in series, totalling 100 pounds in weight and finally, on hearing a forecast of 25-30 knots of wind for the next day, found ourselves in a marina next to Meredith again!   


Spot Anju in scenes from Nassau's busy harbour!


At least knowing Anju was safely tucked up in the marina meant we could spend our time sightseeing instead of on anchor watch!    We paid a visit to the swanky Atlantis Resort, where both the rooms and marina berths were just a little out of our price range but where visitors were kindly allowed to visit their very impressive aquarium.   The tank was actually the outside pond shown in the photograph and the marine fish were viewed from an underground walkway inside the building.

Once the cold front had passed by, it was time to head to the Exuma Islands but first we had to somehow get out of our marina berth, which wasn't as easy as it might seem.   First a motorboat which had been moored behind our berth, blocking us in and which was being pinned on the dock by the strong winds, had to be sprung off the dock in a military style operation involving half a dozen people and several long lines on loan from Anju.   Under the watchful eye of Tony the dock master, it all went smoothly, then it was our turn. 


Our departure involved almost as many people and lines because as soon as we backed out of our berth, with our prop kick which always turns the boat to port in reverse (always the wrong way!), the strong wind would pin us onto the dock the motor yacht had just left.   Unfortunately our maneouvre didn't go quite so smoothly, Anju was unscathed but poor Anjulita, our dinghy, which was hanging on the davits behind the boat, caught on a tall wooden post, several of her securing rings were ripped out and the Hyperlon fixing the tubes to the fibreglass hull got slightly torn.   Luckily the damage wasn't serious and the dinghy would still be seaworthy until we could carry out a repair.   If only we'd dropped the dinghy and towed it alongside - hindsight is always 20/20!
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