Kyle and I have made it to the Bahamas! We arrived on December 1st around noon and since have had an enjoyable time exploring some islands. We left Key Largo around 9:30pm on November 30th to make the crossing across the Gulf Stream and North to Bimini, a small Eastern Bahamian Island. We chose to leave at night because it was important to us to arrive to Bimini during the day light. There is a general “rule” of sailing that you don’t arrive to a foreign port at night – although we have done it many times – but it is much less stressful and easier going if arriving during the day – especially in the Bahamas where it is shallow and surrounded by reefs. With this thought in mind, we calculated how many hours it should take us to make it to Bimini and chose to arrive at noon. That way if we went faster than planned we’d still arrive after sunrise and if slower, before sunset. We had spent quite a bit of time planning our route from Key Largo to Bimini- pouring over charts, weather, and others’ accounts of crossing the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream, according to Wikipedia is: “a warm and swift Atlantic Ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and stretches to the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.” This is why we chose to leave from Key Largo, south of Bimini, so that we could ride the Gulf Stream to our destination. Being so strong, the Gulf Stream can cause some pretty hazardous conditions in the Atlantic if the wind is blowing against the current, so our weather window was very important to plan and I am so thankful we took the time to wait and really choose good conditions to cross. Anyway, it took us about 14 hours to make the crossing to the Bahamas. It was a pretty easy going passage, we had to motor sail a lot which neither of us really like, but being that we were playing a weather game, we didn’t want to spend any more time out there than necessary as heavy winds were forecasted for the following day. We took two hours shifts with the wind vane steering. So when on watch, it was pretty simple and relaxed: keep an out for ships, make sure we are staying on course, check that the sails are trimmed correctly, and just have an overall idea of what’s going on. While I was on watch I would listen to podcasts and enjoy the vividness of the stars. Kyle listened to some music and also enjoyed the stars and night sky while he was on watch. The night went by quickly and when I woke up from my third off watch the sun had risen, its rays shining through a cloud and illuminating the surface of the deep blue ocean water.
Around 10:30am Kyle spotted land and we excitedly peered through the binoculars to see what we could make out on the horizon. I kept commenting on the water color and how teal it was, and then an hour later we crossing the depth contour which brought the depth from 600ft to 30ft and my mind was blown! I had always heard of the clear waters of the Bahamas, but we were just in the Keys which also has clear water, how different could it be?! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The water was as clear as drinking water and I could instantly see the entire bottom of the ocean, despite it being 20-30ft below us. “Is this really how the water is?! It’s this clear?!” I kept asking Kyle over and over as my mind took some time to adjust to something I had never seen before. He laughed at me and assured me this is how the Bahamas are. As we came closer to shore I made us lunch and we ate veggie sandwiches and carrots while taking in the white beaches, rock ledges, and incredible water that surrounded us. A bit after noon we spotted our entrance into Bimini and dropped the sails before turning up into the entrance. The entrance wasn’t very well marked with markers as we are used to in Florida, but we had two different charts guiding us as well as the ability to see the bottom. While a bit intense for a moment as we went over a shallow spot, we were quickly inside the break water and spotted the marina we planned to stay at for a couple nights while we got settled and checked into the country.
I really had no idea what to expect from the Bahamas. I had zero expectations and hadn’t done much research on Bimini itself, other than navigating to it. I figured it might be similar to Florida since it was only 40 miles away. Within 10 minutes of docking the boat at Brown’s Marina I was quickly proven wrong. Nothing like Florida. It only took 14 hours and I felt like we landed in a different world. From the color of the water, to the way the people talked, to the just overall feeling of “island time”. I was thrilled. After docking and high-fiving and hugging a bit to celebrate our successful crossing, it was time to take care of paperwork and checking into the country. I had already printed and filled out our paperwork and had everything neatly organized in a folder, but the marina needed some additional information from us so we filled out some extra forms. We then stuffed all our important documents and passports into a backpack, dug out our shoes, and took instructions from the dock master on how to find Customs and Immigration. We walked out of the marina and onto the street and I instantly felt like I was in the Caribbean, in a land far away. Loud Caribbean music blared from speakers, run down and abounded buildings were scattered in between small dark bars also blasting music. Colorful buildings and shops with even more colorful clothes were scattered here and there. Cars and golf carts and mopeds zipped around the single road which had zero traffic signs. Everyone was very friendly as we walked down the road keeping an eye out for a building labeled “Customs”. Having found the building we found ourselves in a small, stuffy room surrounded by thick clear class, with the government workers behind the class enjoying lunch. Kyle and I stood around chatting quietly, wondering how long we should wait to say something to one of the 8 employees who were all looking at us through the glass but making zero moves towards talking to us. A few minutes passed and a younger woman reluctantly got up from her desk and came over to the counter. “How can I help you?” We explained that we had just arrived from Florida on our boat and she quickly asked for all our papers and documents. I let Kyle take over at this point as we were confusing her by both trying to answer her questions and I quickly learned that while we do most everything shared on the boat, this was a job for a single person. Some more forms, $150 dollars, and a couple stamps later, we were sent to immigration to finish the check-in process. We walked a few more minutes down the road, looking for a pink building labeled “administration”. A woman sitting in the courtyard of the building smiled at us and said “that way” pointing to a hallway. Clearly we stood out as tourists and we were thankful for her guidance. Walking down the barren hallway we followed a hand written sign: “Immigration – Third door on left.” The immigration officer wasn’t unfriendly, but also wasn’t friendly. Kyle tried chatting, asking him his favorite restaurant on the island, how his day is going, etc. He participated a bit, but mostly just wanted our paperwork. “That’s it”, he said and handed us back our documents. It only took 30 minutes and we were cleared into the country.
At this point we were both loopy, exhausted, and very happy. Despite taking two hour shifts, neither of us slept well the night before and I was really starting to feel it. We walked back to the boat, let the dock master know we successfully checked in, and in return he gave us the gate code and the WiFi password. Going back to the boat we quickly dug out some cold beers from the fridge and cheers’d. We had made it to the Bahamas! Kyle has been dreaming of this for over 8 years and me for half that long. With nothing on our agenda for the day, we called our families to let them know we made it and I quickly passed out taking a nice long nap while Kyle poured over cruising guides of the Bahamas. I woke around 4:30 and we decided to walk down to the beach and watch the sunset. It was a quick walk from the marina to an interesting little cemetery and over a little hill. The sun was closing in on the horizon and the clouds provided awesome textures and colors. The beach curved a round to the inlet we had come in earlier that day, and we could see the thin pass over the sandbar and into the harbor. It was a wonderful evening of sunsets, beach exploring, lots of thank you’s and of course a deep needed sleep.
The next day we packed a backpack and went to explore the island. We walked almost 2 miles to the end of the island before turning back. Along the way we stopped and got a Bahamian SIM card and took some little side streets to explore the small island bit further. Later we met our neighbors at the marina and spent the rest of the day hanging and relaxing at the marina. I found myself with a cold drink and book sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the marina and the crystal clear water below. Life is good!
As I write this we are currently in the Berry Islands, 80 miles East of Bimini. In the last week we have crossed the Bahama Bank and snorkeled an incredible ship wreck as well as explored lots of uninhabited islands. But I’m ready for breakfast, so that’ll be for another day! -D