Sunday, June 4, 2017

Our First Bimini Cruise in Eximius

Two Years

That's how long it took for us to get the boat ready and ourselves ready, and looking back at what we have done to the boat and the knowledge we have gained, it could have been cut shorter but worth every bit of the effort.

Not our first trip to Bimini

In 2007, just 2 years after we purchased our first sailboat, we took 'JD' over to Bimini for a short weekend. We only stayed there for 2 whole days, arriving late, next day doing the customs thing, walkabout, and then back starting at 5am on the 4th day. Exhausted. But what we didn't know was how ignorant we were about our boat, our sailing skill, navigation, and preparedness.

Bimini 2017

Short Version: Motored / Sailed from the US to Cat Cay and the Bimini Islands and back to the US during out 10 day trip.

Great Start

We took care of a few final issues (like installing a new Alternator and Starter Solenoid) and loaded the boat during the week before our trip. On departure day, we only had to load the cold stuff and our electronics & meds, must have items 😊 

On Sunday May 21st, we motored out of our slip as soon as the tide had risen enough for us to get out of the canal, then the usual trip down the New River into Lake Sylvia ready for an early start Monday Morning.

Everything working fine. Our new InReach tracker was automatically recording our position via Satellite, and as we motored beyond the 17th Street Bridge we raised the Main & unfurled the Jib, but continued to motor until we were out of the Port Everglades Channel.

As we headed South, we could see another sailboat astern. Sjofn with Dave & Pam were motor sailing headed to Nixons in Biscayne Bay - We would meet up there.

The wind was OK, but I really didn't want to arrive at the entrance to Biscayne Bay at night, we have never navigated that channel in the dark yet, so we got the motor running and motor sailed easily down past Miami and Key Biscayne to the Stiltsville channel. Tide was in our favor and we were up to 7 knots under motor sail but the engine barely running at just above idle.

Chatting with Sjofn, we advised them that our plan was for a 1am start for the Bimini Crossing. Their plan was to leave a bit later.

Departing Florida

Navigating to the channel at night takes a bit of getting used to, lights look nearer than they are and there's a tendency to give turns a wider berth just to make sure.

We followed the track on our GPS, but quickly found a marker that we didn't notice on the chart. Note to self: Zoooooom In when setting the route. Peggy stood on the Stbd combing holding onto the Dodge grab rail and panning our powerful flashlight across our path. It got a bit hairy but we came through just fine.
Then, once out of the channel, we turned towards Fowey Rocks, which was the point that I had used to calculate our course for the crossing to Gun Cay Cut.

Time to wake up the Auto Pilot and head along our Course steered which, allowing for the flow of the Gulf stream, would keep us pretty close to the Rhumb line. Although we planned on taking a break it was still a new experience for us both, and we both ended up staying awake the entire crossing.

As we neared Gun Cay, I was concerned that we were too far south of the Cut, so I made a few corrections to the course steered, thinking that we were out of the Gulf stream at that point. Wrong! I should have left it alone, we ended up having to steer further South in order to make the Cut as the Northward flow on the West side of Gun Cay was significant.

Our first ever passage through Gun Cay Cut, so we stayed extremely focused. The Cut appears to be about a 1/4 mile wide, but on the North side there is a Rocky face and not far South from that is a mostly submerged rocky outcrop that it waiting to bite the unwary sailor.  Then, just inside that cut is a moving shoal that we could see because of the clear color change in the water.

We motored along the suggested shallow draft route and easily made it down towards Cat Cay.

Cat Cay

I had read a little about Cat Cay, but didn't hoist in enough. We knew that they charged a fee to tie up a dink in order to check in at Customs & Immigration, but didn't know it was $107 !!! Just to tie up the dink (although we could have tied up Eximius, same price). So we decided to take a slip for the night and that worked out to $199 including electricity, Vat etc. The Custom & Immigration fee was $150 which included our cruising permit which I believe lasts for 6 months.

In the morning we went for a stroll around the Island. To the East is the Airfield, (cannot really call it an Air Port) and the Cat Cay Light

From the Light, we took this pic showing the crowded the marina (sic), at least it shows Eximius alongside in front of Mimms Magic.

 There's a Restaurant and Admin building, it's all very nice, very private, but very nice.

The Bay to the East of the Airfield looks really nice, but wouldn't want to be there during bad weather.

Customs & Immigration offices

Looking out from in front of the Customs building.

After paying for the slip & electricity in the morning, we cast off. Peggy did a great job of turning us around in the narrow area adjacent to the alongside slip and staying well clear of Mimms Magic (From the Lauderdale Yacht Club) and we headed out of the Marina.

Looking at the conditions reported in the weather printout from the Cat Cay Admin office, it seemed wise to just anchor rather than head out of the Cut. The Cruising guilds advised not to anchor in the glide path of the Airfield, so we dropped our hook closer to the shore, east of the glide path.

We were only the 2nd boat in the anchorage, both of us on the Shore side of the glide path. During the morning, several other boats came across the Banks from the direction (East) of the Berry Islands. They headed towards the Gun Cay Cut, slowed when they saw the conditions, hesitated for a while and then, sensibly, chickened out and decided not to try going out of the cut.
If you maximize that video, you can see the Cut just in front of the Catamaran off our Stbd Quarter. The winds had picked up substantially and the waves coming in through the cut would making transiting a really risky ride. So we didn't and neither did any of the other boats, many larger than us.
By the evening there were 7 sailboats nearby. One and a power trawler, were too close to the Glide path, so the dockmaster came out on a PWC and told the owners that they had to move. One got a bit shirty, and had to be told again a little later on.

Overnight it was blustery and noisy, so we didn't sleep too well. At least the breeze kept us from sweating all night.

The next day was the same, so we just piddled about in the boat fixing / upgrading things. Seems that I always have something to work on.

Here's a link to our InReach Map Site

Friday was expected to improve and it did. We pulled anchor after a light breakfast and headed up to the Cut entrance, the conditions were much better this morning and we had no problem exiting the Cut then turning Northwards towards North Bimini. Wind was barely enough to sail, so, again, we motored. The trip up to North Bimini was without incident, we did see a couple of other sailboats, both heading North and we were able to see the Sapona to the East in Barnett Harbor, but our destination was Bimini Big Game Marina.

We had read about the entry to North Bimini and it didn't read well. But turns out it's not so bad. The GPS shows the way and the Buoys, although not quite 'Official' were a big help in getting into the channel past the shoaling near the entrance. A fueling ship was at anchor outside of the Bimini Sands Marina on South Bimini, but easily avoided. We knew about the marker in the middle of the channel, but didn't expect it to be what looks like a Concrete post with a light on top.

Calling into the BBG marina seemed a waste of time as it was obvious that other boats were not getting replies to their calls on VHF. We eventually just idled up and down the channel opposite the BG marina and were able to get a response. I'm glad we didn't have a Video cam working as we tried to pull into the dock. Next time I'll prepare lines on both sides of the boat, long lines, rather than wait to find out which side of the docks we would tie up. It turned out that there was about a 3 to 4 knot current into the dock on North side of the marina, and luckily no other boat in the slip next to the one designated for us. As we backed into the slip, the current took charge and dragged Eximius broadside to the dock with all hands ashore helping to prevent the boat getting damaged. In retrospect, I should have put the bow into the current and just held station. That way I would have been able to simply go astern by reducing the power while maintaining steerage. But friends and the dock team all helped out and we quickly got the boat facing the right way and tied along side. Thanks Astrid, Lee, and everyone else that helped out.

Once alongside and securely tied up, I headed up to the Admin office to register. We had requested the slip over a month ago and paid a deposit about a week ago, so it was an easy registration. Back to the boat and time to cool down. Hooking up the 110v shore power allowed us to get the boat's AC running. Then it was time for brunch on the Host Boat - Commotion. A bunch of us in their huge cockpit and typical banter of sailors on their boats, but everyone being in the same sailing club makes a difference. The start of a great visit to North Bimini.

Peggy & I went for a stroll down the main highway, Peggy thought it was just a lane, but Nooooo! That's the main roadway. There's enough room for 2 golf carts to pass each other, if they are careful. If one of the very few cars or fewer trucks come along then get to the side of the road. We passed the Library

On the way back we stopped at one of the house stores, I can't think of a more descriptive name, it looks like a house on the outside with a door into a front room that's a store. The owner makes her own Ice Cream - and that's worth tasting! Really good, especially in the dry heat of the day.

We had a lunch at the BBGM restaurant which was pretty good, but Dinner was on Commotion. Astrid & Ross, Tina & Lee, Guiseppi, Peggy & I shared a great Salmon & Chicken dinner which included Astrid's famous Kale Salad and more. We were trying to solve the important matters of the world, then Astrid produced her bottle of KillerPitch which I had never heard about before, but, trust me, I've been researching it since we returned, it's absolutely delicious.

After dinner, as Peggy & I stepped onto the dock from Commotion, the underside of the boat was lit up with their own lights and those of neighboring yachts, it was surreal. The boat appeared to be floating on air because the water was so clear.
Here's a pic of Eximius in the same waters.
This really is a magical picture, but the view down as we step from the dock to the boat is out of this world.

Here's what it looks like during the daytime, and yes! I know we need to clean the hull, it's on my list.

It's obvious that there's a significant tide range at the Bimini Big Game Marina, Peggy could only just manage to get on and off the boat during low tide, I'll have to look for a suitable temporary dock ladder. And in case you're wondering, they are not depth charge holders, those two white cylinders are the holders for our Propane tanks and the smaller tube is home for the Regulator and Solenoid.

The high street does have a bit of sidewalk. If you pass a building where the door is closed, then it's probably got AC inside or big fans. And it's not always obvious which are homes or Stores. Apparently, the Southern end of North Bimini has suffered by the Development to the North, it has significantly reduced the demand for the many small B&Bs that helped support the local community. There are signs that investment is happening, but there are as many signs that areas are heading in the wrong direction.

During our stay, the power went down multiple times, some for just a few minutes, at others it seemed down for over an hour. Consensus has it that the problem is poorly maintained electrical distribution and that the current fix is to reset the breakers at the power station rather than fix the problem which would benefit everyone.

I'm a die hard liberal, and it's sad to see the disparity between the wealthy yacht owners staying at the Marinas and the Locals that seem to be barely keeping things together. I'm not in favor of hand outs, but can see that with proper planning the town could benefit all around, but proper planning can only be achieved without the specter of corruption which is something that many of the locals blame for the disparity.

It's rare on a 30 year old boat to go out for a week or more and not have something break down. But when the AC shutdown while at the dock on shore power and power was available, that was something that had to be fixed right away. No surprise, the Raw Water Filter to the AC coolant pump was clogged with flotsam from the every changing water current at the dock. This was the first time I had to clean out that filter, so I didn't realize that I had screwed up when installing it. The tangs on the hose clamps were very close to the base of the filter cover and prevented it from rotating. I thought it was just stiff from never being opened during the nearly 2 years since it was installed. So when I tried to delicately unscrew the cover with a wrench, I heard a pip sqeak of a crack. Yep, the cover now had a crack in the side of it. I re-positioned the hose clamps to eliminate the problem but realized that the pump would suck air through the crack. Rescue tape to the rescue (sorry no pun intended). Now I'll have to replace that filter when we get back to Florida. I'll buy the replacement which matches the other Raw Water Filter (for the Engine) so that I have one set of spares rather than spares for different designs.

Sunday Morning we had breakfast at the Sharkies 'pavilion' on the South end of the Big Game Marina. Astrid seems to be able to pull a great cooked dish out from nowhere at any time. Tina made a delicious Bread pudding. Add to that a couple of Mimosas and good friends banter, it was a great close out of the HISC Memorial Day Cruise. Several of the participants were going back to Florida after that, others, like us, were going to stay around Bimini and the Cays a few more days.
An especial thanks to Ross & Astrid for making it a great weekend at Bimini Big Game Marina.

As the other boats departed, we stayed one more day at BBGM, then on Monday we checked out of the Marina and headed down to Barnett Harbor. We had seen the Sapona Wreck during our passage up from Cat Cay and several folks had mentioned it was worth a snorkel trip down there. So we headed out of the channel at North Bimini and turned South towards the Barnett Harbor cut.
When we got to the wreck there were several other boats anchored and by the time we had our snorkel gear ready, several more Yahoo boats turned up and some were anchored literally within docking distance of the wreck. I'm getting old, hearing the drunken shouts and taunts to the kids climbing on the wreck to jump off of the remnants of the wreck's Bow, was enough to stay clear. And of course, some power boaters had to let everyone know that they could blast towards and away from the wreck at great speed which didn't enhance the visit. So we didn't get to see much around the wreck. We'll plan to go back again but not on Memorial day.

After pulling the anchor, we turned towards the East and headed the mile or so towards the deeper water that would give us a clear path down to Honeymoon Harbor. The water was crystal clear, the view to the bottom and the grasses and fish was amazing. We arrived in pretty light winds and anchored off the East side of the Cay in sight of several other sailboats and a couple of multi story power yachts. Quite a few of the boat crews had taken a dinghy ride ashore, the beach looked really nice, we just relaxed with a glass, or two, of wine. Then we ran our Generator and got the AC running to make it bearable below decks.
Over night the wind picked up and I was concerned that we may get stuck inside the Cays again like the previous week, and at 0200 the Anchor Drag alarm went off, fortunately I had not had too much of the wine and was able to make sense of what was happening. We basically had swung 120° but had not dragged. Still, I remained in the cockpit for an hour just to make sure while Peggy went back down below to the V-Berth.
By morning the wind had subsided slightly, but was still high enough that I had a concern about transiting the Gun Cay Cut from the inside again. The Cut lay to the South, so, before we pulled anchor, I raised the Main with one reef set. Then we pulled the anchor, turned South.
We were headed directly into wind as we kept away from the Shoreline just West of us and avoided going too far East to waste time getting to the Cut. We turned Westward in deep water and now the wind was on our Port side, engine running well but the sail should help us sail through the cut if the engine had decided to take a break. It didn't! Once through the Cut, we turned to deeper water and then onto our heading to bring us back to Fort Lauderdale, and I unfurled the Jib to one reef also.

We were doing 6 knots on course and the Gulf Stream working in our favor by dragging us Northwards while we steered a course aimed to the South of Fort Lauderdale, finally! some sailing. The wind was on our Port Quarter, so were the waves and that's not the best situation for the Auto Pilot, so I manually steered and enjoyed the feel of the boat as she sailed smartly to our destination - Florida.

The wind only lasted for about 2 hours, then it backed and dropped so that we only had 3 knots of apparent wind almost on our stern. Time to get the engine back on line. With the engine running at about 1900 rpm, we kept up our speed around the 5 - 6 knots, and with the change in wind conditions, the Auto Pilot was able to handle the task so we let Otto take the helm while we kept lookout.

It's a long ride back home. But having a good friend (Peggy) on board helps pass the time, we talked about just about everything we had done on the trip and even some plans for future trips, what we would do and what we would not do.

My navigation planning for the route home was spot on, and we were destined to reach the entrance to Port Everglades without changing course. It takes a bit of getting used to ignoring that direction that bow is pointing towards and focusing on the direction that the boat is moving. In our case, we appeared to be headed a bit South of Hollywood, but our track on the GPS showed us heading directly towards the Outer marker of Port Everglades.

Over the VHF we heard a call from the Navy that they were performing and unmanned vessel exercise in the area South of Port Everglades, right in our path, and, of course, they asked all vessels to stay out of the area. I called the Navy Range boat Kate to confirm the extent of the navigation box that was affected, and that confirmed that we would pass right through the middle of the box, pretty much from the South East Corner up to the North West Corner. Oh well! Change course. So we turned North so that we could get directly east of the Port entrance, time for a sleigh ride! We were doing 5 knots through the water and at one moment I saw 10 knots GPS speed (Our tracker reported that our max speed was 9.42knots) WooHooo!

Of course, there was a downside to that high speed Northwards. We were now ready to turn West but had to turn almost South West to make up for the Roaring Gulf Stream Flow to the North. So we probably added about an hour to our trip, we felt the consequence of the Stream right up to where we were inside of the Outer Marker for Port Everglades. If we get caught like that again, I'll opt to take the inside track nearer to the shoreline even though there is normally a bit of a Southerly current along there.

Finally we arrived at the Port and turned up onto the Intracoastal Waterway, then down into Lake Sylvia.

Lake Sylvia is a popular anchorage for boats just arriving from the Bahamas or from Miami or even from the Palm Beaches and North, but it's also becoming crowded with Liveaboards. Now, some of those boats give the rest of us a bad name. Eximius is not the smartest boat in the South, but we maintain her and we use her, with her permission of course. And there are many folks that live on their boats full time that do likewise, keeping their boats safe and sound. The problem is that there are several boats that are lived aboard but are in almost derelict condition. I'm guessing that the problem is insufficient earnings by those that live on those boats. And there's a good chance that if they did not live on their boats then they would be homeless. The liveaboard lifestyle is not sustainable if the crew are not earning enough to take care of their boats. Eventually those boats become wrecks and that empowers local residents to take action to eradicate them. And, of course, that results in the Baby being tossed out with the Bath water. If regulations are imposed to prevent anchoring in order to eliminate the derelict boats, it also eliminates the anchoring for every boat. I'll vote for improved wages.

As it happens, we could not find a location with enough space to anchor where our anchor would hold. I pulled the anchor four times, and puling 80' of 5/15" anchor chain is a work out! Peggy finally suggested (thank you honey!) that we head up to Sunrise Bay which is normally pretty clear and has some good holding. We did, it did and we had a quite night at anchor after cooling the boat for an hour using the generator.

While in Sunrise Bay we had great cellphone coverage and we had the chance to catch up on our emails and messages, the regular world was coming into view.

Wednesday morning we prepped the boat for unloading while still at anchor, tides were a factor and departing the lake too early would result in us being unable to get to our dock. The Fridge/Freezer was turned off, food transferred to coolers, clothes and bedding packed and lines on the boat rigged for being alongside our dock.

After pulling the anchor and heading down to the Sunrise Blvd Bridge we arrived in time for their 1100 opening. We motored easily down the ICW towards Los Olas Blvd Bridge. enroute we saw Silver Cloud waiting for the bridge opening. I hailed them on 09 and switched to 68. We had not seen them in the area before, yet their registration port was Deerfield Beach. A quick chat and found that they were preparing for a trip over to Spain. Young couple and gutsy, I would have guessed the boat to be about 38feet. Back to 09 and we passed Los Olas and Bahia Mar, then turned Westward and towards the New River. The bridges were very obliging and opened in time for us without hardly any delay. We turned into the Canal where we keep Eximius and headed towards our dock. Then, just as we got to the dock, we went aground. Dang! Too Early! With a bit of nudging using the engine we were able to turn Eximius so that she faced East, Port side too.

We're back.

It took about an hour for us to unload the boat and load the car before heading home. Exhausted! Felt like Jet Lag.

We went down to the boat the next morning to wash down the boat and unload the additional Fuel.

Time to get the laundry done.

Great Trip. Looking forward to the next one.

To Do list has grown a bit.

Here's a screen shot of our Trip's Map using InReach. If you go to this link each dot has a date and time stamp.

See you on the Water!

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