Category Archives: 2018-2019 Bahamas Cruise

Bimini to Big Majors Spot aka Pig Beach

On December 23, 2018, we left Bimini Sands Marina at 0530, in the dark. There was a full moon but we still needed a spotlight to get out of the narrow marina channel and then into the channel that is the exit to the Atlantic Ocean from North and South Bimini. Turning south, we were on deep ocean water for one hour before we got onto the shallow Bank. We arrived at Chub Cay at 1729, after 12 hours of motorsailing and in daylight. The last hour of the day we were in the Northwest Channel, which is deep ocean water. The seas were fairly flat most of the day.

The marina at Chub Cay is a favorite for large Sportfisher boats since it is a very short distance to deep water fishing. It is a beautiful marina but very expensive so we have never stayed there. The Chub Cay anchorage is close to the marina channel and usually we are waked numerous times in the evening and early morning as fishermen speed by to enter or leave the marina. This time it was very quiet with not a single Sportfisher or any boats in the marina channel the entire time we were there. Perhaps they were all home for the holidays.

The next morning at first light, 0635, we brought up the anchor and were on our way to Nassau. The entire day we were in deep ocean water but seas were only 1-2 feet becoming 3-4 later in the day so it was a rather comfortable sail. Calling on our VHF radio, we asked and were given permission to enter the harbor at 1130 and were at a fuel dock by 1204. After topping off both 80 gallon diesel fuel tanks, we went around the corner into a slip at Nassau Harbour Club. This was the last time we will stay at a marina until we return to Sunset Bay in Stuart in May. Holding is terrible in the Nassau harbor anchorages, there is a lot of current, and it is a dangerous city so we always stay at a marina. We like this particular marina because we can walk across the street to a strip mall with a Starbucks, a Fresh Market Grocery, a BTC office (Bahamas Telephone Company), Radio Shack and more. There are also marine supply stores a close walking distance down that street.  I gave up my addiction to Starbucks last summer but we decided to celebrate getting this far with Frappuccinos. We also picked up some fresh vegetables at the very very expensive grocery store. Most items cost double to triple what we would pay at a grocery store in Florida.
We have stayed at Nassau Harbour Club many times.  We have always paid about $1.50 a foot at this marina. Seas the Day is 42 feet long. They charge $8 for unlimited city water (not potable) and power is metered but reasonable. We like being able to wash the boat with a hose and lots of fresh water, especially since everything is usually encrusted with salt by this point. We decided to have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve since we had shore power and could heat up our frozen leftovers from Thanksgiving in the microwave. We were also able to use  the convection oven, rather than our very unreliable propane oven, for cooking some side dishes.

We were in Nassau for one night and wanted to leave early in the morning for the motorsail across the Bank to the Exumas. A very strong storm was predicted on December 26 and we needed to be in a sheltered anchorage. The marina office was supposed to open at 0730 on Christmas Day and we were there to check out at that time but after waiting about 15 minutes with the door still locked, we taped an envelope on the office door with our meter reading and said they could use the credit card they copied the day before when we checked in. We preferred to pay with cash but didn’t want to wait any longer. I checked the credit card online the next day and was shocked to see a charge of $124.26.  We had paid $100 for an entire week at Bimini Sands (an unusual “special”) and rarely pay more than $1.50 a ft anywhere.  I received the receipt below by email. The VAT mentioned is the new 12% tax on just about everything. It went up from nothing to 6% several years ago and last year jumped to 12%. We paid $2.25 a ft for the marina slip plus VAT. Guess we aren’t staying there anymore.
Our intention when leaving Nassau was to cross to the northern Exumas and then sail as far south as we could get in daylight. However, after we left the harbor the wind started gusting over 25 kts and the waves built. We had to reef in the main and were still making 9 kts motorsailing. Usually we average around 7 kts. It was one of the  most uncomfortable sails we’ve ever had and it wasn’t even on the ocean. Before we leave an anchorage or marina I always put away any items that could fall and lock all the closet doors and kitchen cabinets and drawers, but this time things were flying around that had never moved in ten years. Of course Sailor was not happy with rocking and rolling so I was in bed with him while Mark was at the helm all day. We arrived at Norman’s Cay in the Exumas at 1305 and if the weather had been good we would have had over four more hours to continue farther south, but we had no interest in continuing and entered the anchorage close to the beach.  When the front came through the next day we had 40 kt wind with strong squalls and torrential rain. Unfortunately we quickly discovered there was a swell coming around a corner of the cay so we rocked from side to side most of the time we were there. We were at Norman’s Cay for five uncomfortable days.

On December 30, 2018, at 0745 we left Norman’s Cay and motorsailed to Big Majors Spot at Staniel Cay, known for the Pig Beach. We didn’t make our usual stops in the Exuma Land and Sea Park since it had taken us longer than expected to get this far but we will visit the Park in the Spring when we go to Eleuthera and Spanish Wells. Many cruisers no longer stop at Big Majors and Staniel Cay for a variety of reasons. First, each year more and more large yachts are in the anchorage with their toys: Seadoos, tenders with large fast motors,  water skis, water slides off their decks, and we even saw a motorized surfboard this year. Also there are many tour boats and float planes that bring tourists all day long from Nassau to see the swimming pigs. There are several resorts in the area and those visitors often come through the anchorage with fast small boats, which seem to be driven by people with no idea of the problems they cause the anchored boats when they race between us and come within a few feet of boats. We used to snorkel in Thunderball Grotto and loved it but now numerous tour boats are there at slack tides and the coral is almost dead rather than the showing their vibrant colors of a few years ago plus there are few fish in the Grotto. Just a few years ago we were surrounded by colorful fish while snorkeling inside the grotto.  In addition, if you want to get rid of a bag of garbage, two years ago when we were last here it cost $6.00. We didn’t even check this year. On most islands in the Exumas we pay a dollar or two to put la bag of garbage in bins. In Spanish Wells garbage can be put in cans on the streets for free. On all of the islands garbage is burned at dumps. There is rarely any chance to recycle although sometimes schools collect recyclables to raise money.

The three very small grocery stores located in houses in Staniel Cay are poorly stocked and very expensive. They get fresh supplies once a week which stay on the shelves about one day or less. Local residents place bulk orders from stores in Nassau and have them delivered to the public government dock when the supply boat arrives so they don’t depend on the local stores. On the positive side, there is a nice restaurant at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The fuel dock has diesel and gas. One huge draw is there is a heavily used airport at Staniel Cay with both commercial and private planes landing frequently. It’s a good place for guests to fly in and out and for cruisers to have parts or other supplies shipped in.  

We stopped at Big Majors for the beaches for Sailor. Blackpoint is five miles south and it has many advantages over Staniel Cay but not very good beaches near the anchorage for dogs. When we arrived at Big Majors, Sailor was anxious to get to the beach but he has learned to be patient because there is a lot to do after we anchor before we can leave the boat.
Here a few photos of Sailor enjoying on of the beaches at Big Majors. There are three on the anchorage side – Pig Beach, Pirate Beach and a third beach that we use.  Even though there are many boats here, we were alone on this beach for over an hour. We are anchored on the west side of Big Majors, and there are more beaches around the corner on the south side.

On January 2, we will motorsail five miles south to Blackpoint. We’ll stay there a day or two, then go further south to Cave Cay where we will hopefully leave the Bank through Galliot Cut and sail south on the Exuma Sound to Georgetown on Saturday. We expect to have lots of company on the Sound since many boats have been waiting for good weather to continue moving south either to Georgetown or further on to the Caribbean. 

 

Waiting in Bimini

We left Dinner Key Marina on Sunday, December 16 at 0649 and arrived in Bimini at 1430. We had 3 to 6 foot swells on the port aft beam and it was an uncomfortable motorsail although we’ve had much worse Gulf Stream crossings. The first thing we had to do when we got to Bimini was check in with Bahamas Customs and Immigration. We filled out some paperwork and Mark took that, along with all of our other paperwork concerning us, the boat, and Sailor, in a taxi for a short ride to the airport. It costs $300 for our cruising permit. This allows us to stay in the Bahamas for eight months and the boat can be in Bahamian waters for 12 months.  However, Customs and Immigration officials never give cruisers more than six months, with the ability for us to extend it to eight months. Usually they only give cruisers three of four months. Only one time in seven visits to the Bahamas have we gotten six months and we have always checked in at Bimini.  In order to extend our cruising permit, we must be near a town with an Immigration official within a few days before it expires. We know we will be in Georgetown in three months so that is what we asked for this time. The last time we were in the Bahamas we asked for six months and were given four months. When it was about to expire we were in Spanish Wells where there isn’t an immigration office. We had to take a water taxi to Eleuthera and a land taxi to an immigration office to get the extension. Hopefully when we extend it in Georgetown the official will give us another three months. This does not always happen and we might need to extend it again in Spanish Wells. After Mark returned from the airport, he took down our yellow “quarantine” flag and raised the Bahamas courtesy flag.

Our plan was to stay at Bimini Sands one night and leave the next morning for Great Harbour Cay in the Berries. We got up at 0400 and Mark took Sailor for a quick walk. He went to the beach and saw rough seas in the inlet and further out in the ocean.  We sail on the ocean for several miles before we reach the shallow Bahamas Bank. We decided to stay in Bimini and went back to bed. A very strong cold front was forecast to come through the Bahamas Thursday night and Friday so we needed to be in a safe place by then.  We could have gotten to the extremely protected marina in Great Harbour Cay the following day when the seas were calmer and many cruisers did go there to wait out the storm. We stayed in Bimini because the marina we are at, Bimini Sands Resort and Marina, is running a special of $1 a foot ($42 for us) a day or $100 a week for a slip. If you have a 100 foot yacht, it’s still $100 a week. Great Harbour Cay has a weekly price of $10 a foot, or $420 for us before a discount with our Active Captain account.  Since we had already spent much more money than planned on a marina in Ft. Lauderdale for two weeks and the mooring field in Miami for a month, plus the unexpected cost of replacing the jib furler, we decided to save about $300 and stay in Bimini. Oddly, even with the extremely good prices at Bimini Sands, only a few boats are here. Perhaps that is because Bimini Sands is not advertising their special prices. We didn’t know about it until we checked in. After the pictures below were taken several other boats did come in. We noticed the marinas in North Bimini were not full either, so most cruisers must have moved as far into the Bahamas as they could get before the predicted cold front arrives.
On Monday we took the water taxi a very short distance from South Bimini to North Bimini and walked to the Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office on Kings Highway. After getting a new SIM card for our Bahamas smartphone, and some scratch off cards to add data and phone time to it as needed, we went back to South Bimini. For $29.95 we have 15 GB of data, unlimited phone calls within the Bahamas, and 1000 minutes to call the States or Canada for 15 days. The data rolls over if we don’t use it all.  Every year we have come to the Bahamas Batelco seems to have better deals. There are several other options in the Bahamas for unlimited data with different companies which we will probably investigate when we get to Georgetown.
On Thursday, a prefrontal trough came through the Bahamas with high wind and torrential rain. We are tied up in a wide slip with numerous lines going from the boat’s cleats to both sides of the slip, so we hardly moved even when the wind picked up overnight with gusts over 40 kts. During the night the cold front arrived and all day Friday we had 30 to 35 kt sustained winds but the squalls had stopped. By Saturday morning the wind was down below 10 kts, and the high seas were slowly calming down. The photos below show waves crashing into the Bimini Sands Inlet on Friday.

At this time of year in the Bahamas, there are never more than three or four days of safe traveling weather in a row. The forecast for the next three days is good for getting from Bimini to the Exumas so we will leave at about 0500 Sunday morning and sail to Chub Cay.  Both Chub Cay and Great Harbour Cay are in the Berries and we could go to either one on Sunday. However, Chub Cay is closer to Nassau and will make our second travel day quicker. We will arrive in Chub Cay around 6 pm and anchor near the shore. Since days are short, we will be leaving Bimini in the dark and anchoring at Chub in the dark, but the anchorage there is a wide open area and there are usually few boats in the anchorage area. We will leave the next morning, arrive in Nassau in the early afternoon, get fuel and motor through the harbor to Nassau Harbour Club where we have a reservation for Monday night, which is Christmas Eve.  Our Christmas present will be to arrive in the northern Exumas on Christmas Day. There will be several sections during the next two days where we will be on deep ocean water. Most of the sail from Bimini to Chub is on the Bahama Bank but the first part and the last part are on the ocean. From Chub Cay to Nassau we will be in deep water on the “Tongue of the Ocean” as soon as we leave the channel out of the anchorage at Chub Cay. The sail from Nassau to the Exumas is on the shallow Yellow Bank. 

We are planning to reach the Exumas on Tuesday because on Wednesday another system with high winds enters the Bahamas. As weather allows, we will continue south on the Bank along the Exuma chain of islands and cays. Eventually we will exit the Bank  through a cut between islands out to the deep Exuma Sound and sail to Georgetown where we plan to stay until the end of March.

Finally Ready to Leave Miami

We have been in Miami for three weeks, since November 29. We knew we would have to wait at least two weeks to get the part for our jib furler. That came and we had it installed on Wednesday, December 12. Our rigger, Kyle, had estimated six hours to remove the forestay, install the new furler, and put it back on the boat. Like everything on a boat, this did not go quite according to plan. Below are two photos of the parts of the furler that we had installed.
First, since we are on a mooring ball at Dinner Key Marina and Mooring Field, we had to go to a dock in the marina for the installation. This marina was partially destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and there have been few, if any, repairs made so some of the slips and docks are still in pieces. We went to a sea wall in the marina and were told we would pay $23 for every three hours we stayed there.  There was no power available so our riggers had to use our Honda generator to power their tools. 

We moved to the sea wall at 8 am and the riggers arrived at 8:30 am. They  began by taking down the forestay, which included the furler that no longer worked, with a swivel at the top and a drum at the bottom. Mark had already removed the jib sail which saved some time. Before they took down the forestay, which supports the mast, they had to add several lines from the mast to the deck.  In order to do this, Kyle, the rigger, needed to climb the mast, attach the lines, and then release the forestay.

Once the mast was secure, Kyle lowered the forestay while his helper guided it to the dock.

Once the forestay was on the ground, they discovered a big problem. A cable that runs through the forestay was twisted and needed to be replaced. They hopped in their truck, drove back to Ft. Lauderdale where their office is located, had a cable cut to the exact length needed, down to a fraction of an inch, and returned with it. By then it was early afternoon. The addition of the cable replacement added time to the repair and by 6 pm they were still working. We contacted the marina office which closes at 7 pm and told them that we were not going to get off the sea wall and needed to spend the night. Normally this is not allowed. Apparently at that point we became transients, i.e. we were staying overnight and needed to pay $3 a foot. With taxes it came to $132.00. By 8 pm the riggers had raised the new forestay, attached our jib sail, tested the furler, and were finished. We don’t have a picture of them putting the forestay back up since it gets dark here in December by 6 pm.
While this repair delayed our ability to cross over to the Bahamas, and the cost was about the same amount we budget for our entire six months in the Bahamas, it was well worth it and thankfully we discovered the problem while still in Florida so it could be repaired.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the next weather window. Sunday, December 16, looks fairly good for crossing to Bimini. The wind is WNW.  We usually avoid any wind direction with “north” in it because when the Gulf Stream, which runs north, meets wind blowing from the north, the seas in the Stream are higher.  However, the forecast is for 2-4 or 3-5 ft seas and 8-15 kt wind. We suspect it will be rougher than we like, but the relatively mild conditions will continue for several days, hopefully allowing us to continue on to Great Harbour Cay in the Berries, Nassau, and possibly even over to the northern Exumas. However, it is very rare for us to be able to continue on to our next destinations so quickly, and we fully expect we’ll need to stay in one of those stops more than a day. 

Finally, our seventh cruise to the Bahamas can begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ft Lauderdale to Miami

After a week in Ft. Lauderdale we were ready to leave. On Thursday morning, November 29, 2018, at 0647 we dropped the lines at the New River Docks. Since the railroad bridge goes down frequently and the two bascule bridges on the river we have to ask to be raised are closed between 0730 and 0900 on weekdays, we needed to plan carefully to get out to the ocean. We waited for the 0730 opening of the 17th Ave Causeway bridge and then were out on the ocean. 

Mark finally got the watermaker working so on the way to Miami we filled some gallon water jugs for drinking. We left Ft. Lauderdale with our three water tanks (120 gallons) full, so no need to make water for them yet.
It was a beautiful day with wind under 5 kts and following seas with a small swell. Proof that it was comfortable was that Sailor stayed under the helm seat through the Port Everglades Inlet and all the way to Miami. He has quickly remembered what goes on when we are sailing. He recognizes the difference between the ocean (which he usually doesn’t like), the ICW and the New River and when we leave the ocean through an inlet he quickly realizes that it is “safe” to go outside. However, this time he was fine staying outside through the Pt Everglades Inlet where amazingly we were the only boat in it and then again at Government Cut into Miami where once again we were the only boat. That was extremely unusual. The picture below is Sailor on the ocean just after we left Ft. Lauderdale. We stayed about a mile offshore the whole way following the coast south.
After entering Government Cut we motored to Crandon Park Marina in Biscayne Bay where we got fuel. We then continued across the Bay to the Dinner Key Mooring Field and picked up Ball 84 at 1347.

We came to Miami without our jib sail on and will be getting the parts for the furling mechanism in about two weeks. In the meantime we will enjoy walking around Coconut Grove which has a small downtown area with restaurants, stores, and coffee shops. Sailor is thrilled that we can walk to the best dog park we’ve ever seen, Blanche Park. There is no dirt, just AstroTurf, paved walkways, lots of benches to sit on in the shade, balls for the dogs and best of all the dog owners watch their dogs and the dogs are well behaved. Sailor goes there every morning and then goes ashore again for a shorter walk in the afternoon. It gets dark early in December so he doesn’t get a nighttime walk since we have quite a long dinghy ride in the dark to the dinghy dock at the marina. Below are some pictures of Sailor enjoying the area.

Sailor always has fun at  Blanche Park. There is a dog park and a separate fenced playground for children.
Sailor is standing by a fountain in the shopping/restaurant area of Coconut Grove in the photo below. The area that had a two story outdoor mall with a theater, restaurants like Cheesecake Factory, stores and a large Starbucks with a lot of outdoor seating is gone. A highrise building is going in its place. We will miss that area of Coconut Grove this time of year since it was always decorated beautifully for Christmas and had a nice place to sit outside.

Sailor is posing in this photo next to another sailor.
This is one of the many peacocks that can be seen around the Coconut Grove area. 

We can walk to two nice, although pricey, grocery stores, Milans (an IGA) and Fresh Market. Since all we need to buy is fresh produce, either one works for us. 

One advantage of being on a mooring ball is that you get to use the marina facilities. When we go to the marina office building we can use their free wifi, a nice laundry room, and great showers and bathrooms. While we can easily shower and wash clothes on the boat, we would have to also make water or bring it in five gallon jugs from the marina. We’ve decided we’ll take showers in the morning at the marina and wash our clothes there to save on water and power on the boat. 

Another way to save water is to give Sailor a bath using the free water at the marina dock. We have to use the Honda generator plugged directly into his blow dryer when we get back to the boat. If we don’t blow him dry he gets very matted. Also, to keep the boat clean, since his feet get very dirty walking on the city streets, we use a “paw plunger” to wash his feet after he gets out of the dinghy.


We love seeing dolphins but when we see manatees they are usually under water and not very visible. Also they aren’t as interesting to watch as dolphins since they usually just float around. Dinner Key Marina has a manatee named Puffy who has lived here for several years. In this photo Puffy is cleaning the dinghy dock so we were able to get a close up view.
After our jib furler arrives and is installed we will leave for Bimini or possibly Great Harbour Cay in the Berries at the next good weather window. We hope to be able to do this before Christmas and will then head straight to the Exumas and Georgetown. However, the most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule so in reality we’ll get there when we get there. 

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