Note: Photos will be sparse for the next few weeks. We are currently in the Abacos out islands where reliable and fast wifi is not readily available. We do have internet via cell phone hot spots; however, photos consume a lot of data which our plans don’t have. The waters here are gorgeous shades of turquoise and gin clear, the bottom can be seen in 15 to 20 feet of water.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022: The weather forecast for Gulf Stream crossing on Friday afternoon looked promising. Winds would be light and shifting from the southeast to the southwest. Caribbean weather guru Chris Parker said, “E bound sailing vessels can depart Fri1 morning from FL with the mildest conditions in the S ROUTE. Sat2 is more uncertain, but a possible E bound motor-sailing day, best in the S ROUTE.” Time to begin final preparations.

High on the To-Do List was receiving the new prop for our new electric dinghy motor. The new gas fueled Honda was not reliable and needed warrantee service not available in Marathon. As a result, we purchased an electric outboard, a purchase we had been considering anyway. Within days of the new motor arriving, I managed to break the prop. A new one (and a spare) was on its way via UPS overnight service.

Without a dinghy motor, our dinghy was pretty useless, while it had oars these were only good for short distances measured in hundreds of feet not the mile or so to the mail room. Fortunately, a couple motored up and asked if the outboard fuel tank we had posted on a Facebook group was still available, it was. This tank was offered at Free or OBO and we quickly negotiated a deal, they got the tank and in exchange they would retrieve our package from the mailroom. By early afternoon the prop was installed. (Perhaps as a good omen, the couple’s names were Dave and Sue.)

In the evening we went out with friends Jon and Margarite on Quicksilver. Jon and Margarite sailed out of our home port in Fair Haven before leaving for the Keys in 2020. Once here in Marathon they were helpful in showing us around, connecting us with local services, and playing chauffer when our dinghy motor started acting up. We met at the Dockside, a waterfront dive bar where we shared experiences and plans, enjoyed delicious fresh tuna, and listened to Igor and the Red Elvises, a lively dance band that could only have been created in the mind of Borat.

Thursday, March 31, 2022: The press was on. After living on a mooring for several weeks, the boat was not really ready for sea. On mooring convenience reigns; frequently used items are placed in convenient spots which makes them flying objects at sea, they needed to be stowed. A large provisioning trip to Publix was necessary. This is both a convenience and necessary. In the larger towns in the Bahamas there are grocery stores, however, we were more interested in the smaller towns and out of the way places, provisions where they are available are considerably more expensive. Some items, such as beer run as high as $50-60 a case.

Susan spent the afternoon storing our provisions. I spent the time checking engine systems, securing items on deck, and checking our rigging sailing gear, making certain all was in order. By evening all was secured and stowed. All that remained was to fill our water tanks, fuel up, and pump out, tasks we would complete in the morning prior to our noon departure.

Chris Parker’s assessment: “A mix of motoring and sailing in both directions along the S ROUTE Fri1.” We were good to go.

Friday, April 1, 2022: No fooling, we were leaving. Our morning routine was abbreviated and we headed towards the City dock to fill the water tanks, dispose of trash, and settle our account. As luck would have it, we had a last chance to thank a few people who were exceptionally helpful during our Marathon sojourn and it was off to the fuel dock shortly after 1000.

After waiting for our turn at the fuel dock, we filled up and emptied out the holding tank by 1100. From there we went out to the anchorage to gather our wits and give everything one last look over the boat before heading out.

At 1205 we hoisted the mainsail and by 1215 the anchor was up, and we were off.

The Route: The route was simple, from Sombrero Key near Marathon 110 nautical miles to South Riding Rock on the edge of the Bahamas Bank. From there a pretty straight shot for 70 miles to Great Harbor Cay where we would clear customs and immigration and plan our next leg into the Abacos. If all went as planned, we would arrive at the Banks around 6:30, a half hour before sunrise at 0707 hours. To cover the next 70 miles in daylight we would have to maintain a boat speed greater than 6 knots and closer to 7 knots. We were optimistic about sailing.

The Crossing: For several days there had been a strong breeze out of the northeast. This caused large swells to build across the Gulf Stream. Although the wind abated, the swells continued their march across the GS. Leaving Hawk Channel water depth increases rapidly, from twenty feet or so to hundreds of feet. When ocean swells encounter the shallows the wave pattern becomes disrupted, short steep waves form in a chaotic pattern. These are the seas we encountered motoring past Sombrero Key.

The erratic seas are uncomfortable at best. These are fertile conditions for mal de mare. Fortunately, neither Susan nor I succumbed to the dreaded disorder. As we moved to deeper water the seas evened out, a more consistent and predictable wave pattern formed. Still, the swells were three to five feet, but the interval was longer. Second Star handled motoring into them with aplomb.

Marine wildlife was sparse, there were many small flying fish skimming over the wave tops, a few birds, and what we believe to be a sunfish feeding on the surface. Known as an opah in Hawai’i, the sunfish is a large flat fish, much like a way overgrown flounder that swims and feeds at the surface. The dolphins must not have gotten the memo about our crossing, there were none to be seen.

The new moon didn’t rise on April 1st thus as darkness fell, it was dark. Far away from any light pollution the sky was filled stars, many, many more than we are used to seeing on land. Sailing at night, one is quite alone. For most of the night there were no boats within 25 miles of us. The horizon was dark, the radar screen empty, and AIS targets absent. Around 10:00 pm there were a few ships, freighters headed out to sea and cruise, ablaze with lights, passing nearby. Cruise ships sail a circuitous route from Florida to destinations in the Bahamas. Sailing at 20 knots they can reach Nassau in four or five hours. This is a marketing problem, nights at sea is a promise made by the cruise lines. To meet the hype, they sail in a large circle adding time to the journey. From Florida, they sail south far offshore, out of sight of land, for half the night and then turn back north to arrive in a Bahamian port the next morning.

The Bahamas Bank: To the west of the main islands of the Bahamas is the Great Bahama Bank. This expansive area rises from the sea depths measured in thousands of feet to just 15 to 20 feet or less. The edge of the Bank is dotted with islets and rocks, in other areas there are numerous shoals and coral heads. Our course took us 70 miles from west to east across the northern end of the Bank.

Making better time than expected we arrive off the Bank about 90 minutes before sunrise. Too early to enter, we turned around sailed back towards Florida for a half hour before resuming our passage across the Bank crossing onto it minutes before sunrise.

Once onto the Bank the seas settled down, the wind became steady from the southeast, and the color of the water turned from the navy blue of the ocean into shades of turquoise reflecting light from the sandy bottom. Prior to entering the Bank we were apprehensive about the depth and obstructions. The area is charted, yet we were not confident in the chart soundings. Our fears for this section of the Bahamas were unfounded.

Crossing the Bank we motored sailed under clear blue skies dotted with small clouds. The wind, while steady was not quite strong enough for us to sail at the speed we needed to reach Great Harbor Cay before sunset. Arriving at Great Harbor Cay in late afternoon we arranged for a slip the next morning at the marina, anchored, and raised the Quarantine Flag. We would clear customs and immigration the next morning, lowering the Q Flag and raising the Bahamian Courtesy Flag, we were in the Bahamas, finally.

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