February, 2010

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A Guide to Crossing From Florida to Bimini, Bahamas

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(25⁰43.4580′ N by 079⁰17.8755 W -  Mile 3250.64 - Bimini, Bahamas)

Leaving Fort Lauderdale

Leaving Fort Lauderdale

When you cross from Florida’s east coast to the Bahamas Bank you will encounter one of nature’s most formidable forces, the Gulf Stream. This stream of warm water runs northward along the American coast traveling from two knots up to four knots with a mean average of 2.5 knots.

In fact it is part of a much larger ecosystem which constantly circulates in a constant, clockwise rotation north along the Atlantic coastline past the US and Canadian eastern seaboard, north easterly past Greenland and Iceland touching Great Britain then turning southward along Europe’s western shoreline to the Azores then westward back to the Caribbean.

This constant clockwise rotation brings life to Bahamas steadily streaming warm water and plays a large role in determining the weather for the region.

For the cruising sailor several factors must be considered before attempting to cross from Florida to the Bahamas Bank.

Wind velocity and direction play a major role in determining the frequency and the height of the waves in the Gulf

Leaving Fort Lauderdale Cut

Leaving Fort Lauderdale Cut

Stream. Winds from the southwest (traveling with the Gulf Stream) typically tend to quell the height of the waves while winds from the northeast tend to “stack” the Gulf Stream waves making them higher and with shorter wave intervals. The higher the waves the rougher the crossing will be not only making the trip unpleasant but possibly dangerous as well.

Crossing the Gulf Stream in a slightly north bound direction will give you the advantage of a free push from the current. Remember, for every hour you are in the Gulf Stream the current will push you two or more miles north bound. Why not use it to your advantage? Conversely, taking a course with a south bound direction will only add more miles to your trip.

Plan to arrive on the Bahamas Bank during the day. If you are crossing from Florida to Bimini for example, the sun will be at your back and will give you excellent visibility of the bottom contours and obstructions.

Prior to leaving, purchase up-to-date charts (both paper and electronic) to help you avoid the hazards of Bahamas shallow waters. Experience tells us that Explorer Chart books are an excellent source of hard copy information. Nobeltec VNS charts as well as Garmin and C-Map charts provide a wealth of information while Navionics charts

Arriving In Bimini

Arriving In Bimini

(used by Raymarine on their latest chart plotters) leave vast sections of water with little or no information.

If possible, travel with another boat to ensure if difficulties arise assistance is near.

Ensure you have suitable safety gear on board with redundancy where practical. For example, take an extra GPS if you have one and include a 406 EPIRB in your emergency kit.

The Gulf Stream is 10 to 15 miles off the southern coast of Florida around Miami and Fort Lauderdale. While waves might be a moderate four to six feet off the American coastline seas in the Gulf Stream could be considerably higher. Watch NOAA weather reports or internet weather resources such as www.passageweather.com, www.buoyweather.com, www.hamweather.net or www.windguru.com . If you find wave and wind conditions are worse than forecast, don’t be afraid to return to shore and wait for a better day to cross.

On arrival in Bahamas territorial water you are required to display a solid yellow “quarantine flag” indicating to authorities that you have not cleared Bahamian Customs and Immigration. Once you land the dock master will either direct you to the local Customs and Immigration offices or the authorities will visit your boat.

Even The Pro's Can Miss The Bimini Cut!

Even The Pro's Can Miss The Bimini Cut!

It is a good idea to have the following ready to present.

a)   Ship documentation with an extra copy to give to customs officials;

b)  Passports, photo drivers license or birth certificate for each crew member;

c)  If you have weapons the serial number for each along with a count and caliber of the rounds;

d)  Documents for your dingy indicating the serial numbers;

e)  Serial numbers for value items like computers, GPS, scooters or bicycles.

Once the lengthy forms are completed you will be cleared to Bahamas. The cruising permit for vessels 35 feet and under is $150 and for vessels over 35 feet the fee is $300. This fee covers the captain and up to three crew members with an additional $15 to be charged for each person in excess of the first four on board.

Normally, cruising permits are good for up to one year while immigration permits may vary from 90 days to 12

Sunset In Bimini

Sunset In Bimini

months.

If you have safely crossed the Gulf Stream and negotiated your way through Customs and Immigration, “Welcome to the Bahamas!” Cruising in paradise is about to begin.

Christmas In Florida

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(26⁰07.040′ N by 080⁰08.465 W -  Mile 3171.29 - New River Marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Karen & Peter In Florida for Christmas

Karen & Peter In Florida for Christmas

On December 22nd, we left Stuart, Florida on our way to West Palm Beach where we would meet our daughter and her boyfriend on the 23rd. They were flying in for a week on board for Christmas and they would cruise south to Fort Lauderdale and Miami with us since neither had been to the boat when it was in Florida in 2007.

West Palm Beach Marina has been refitted with new floating docks, new electrical power and water lines and when we arrived the Captain’s lounge was still not open. It was a great place to stop since you are literally only four or five minutes to the downtown business district of West Palm. There are a number of good restaurants and entertainment in the area. We’ll stop back here once we get back to the ICW just to enjoy West Palm’s ambiance.

The weather in December leading up to Christmas was still cooler than normal with periods of overcast and occasional rain.  As long as the rain held off we were content to travel in the comfort of the bridge on Prime Time albeit with the heat on making it a comfortable ride south to Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Two Manatees (Note The Prop Scars)

Two Manatees (Note The Prop Scars)

Unfortunately, with the dismal weather we did not encounter very many manatees or dolphin as we traveled along the ICW.   Manatees are a hazard since their nose barely clears the water when they breath and their 600 to 800 pound body lies just below the surface easily within striking distance of the propellers on the boat.  These two were spotted sleeping in the Miami Beach Marina their propeller scars clearly visible on their backs.


An ICW Bascule Bridge

An ICW Bascule Bridge

On Christmas eve, we pushed south on the ICW taking seven hours to travel 36.5 miles to the Swimming Hall of Fame Marina in Fort Lauderdale. It is a slow process since there are 19 bridges between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Prime Time V’s air draft (from the water’s surface to its highest point) is 18.5 feet which requires us to wait for many of the bridges to open. All Southern Florida bridges that open are either single or double bascule bridges and while most open on demand some are on a half hour operating schedule requiring you to wait some times.  There are also a few bridges that are 65 feet or higher that do not open thus restricting the air draft for very large sail boats.

Ely's First Florida Christmas

Ely's First Florida Christmas

We arrived in the Swimming Hall of Fame Marina to meet the crew of Melanie Bear once again. This time the “crew” had grown from two to seven. This was a special Christmas for Bob and Debbie since not only did they have their son and daughter and their spouses there but also their three week old granddaughter who came to Florida to visit grandma and grandpa.

With only one day left to Christmas and the boats decorated with lights around the decks and garland and lights on the interior it seemed like a perfect if not different Christmas celebration with family. Christmas day dawned and we spent the morning opening presents on the bridge with the television on showing a picture of a fireplace with a decorated mantle and fire burning on the hearth. The Christmas presents were arranged around the television.

The Christmas Television

The Christmas Television

On Christmas Day, we received a call from a friend of ours who’s daughter and son-in-law asked us on the spur of the moment to join them for Christmas dinner. While at first reluctant to take them up on their offer Neil’s daughter Marilyn explained she would be pleased to have us. After all, four more people in addition to the ten or eleven that were already at the table wouldn’t be a problem. It was a great evening for a traditional Christmas Day dinner in a very beautiful home on the ICW with their boat parked at their back door by the pool.

We cruised to Miami to stay at the Miami Beach Marina within walking distance of Miami Beach with Karen and Peter on December 28th allowing them to see the sights of South Miami Beach for the first time. For those of you who have not been to Miami Beach it is a great spot to spend a day on the beach, chill out in a restaurant, catch the night life in one of the bars along the strip or just chill-out watching the people. It is what you have seen of South Beach on television and more.

If South Beach not your cup of tea try Lincoln Road which has been turned into a pedestrian mall for about six or seven blocks and has many of the fine shops you read about but seldom see. It is another great spot for dining as well as watching the beautiful people of South Beach and frequently their dogs.

Karen and Peter had to get back to Canada to visit Peter’s family so, they left to go home on December 30th from

South Beach At Christmas

South Beach At Christmas

Miami while we ran the Atlantic Ocean from Miami back to Fort Lauderdale our kick off point to Bimini, Bahamas.

It was a great family Christmas before we were to leave to cross the Gulf Stream.

Getting Ready For Bahamas

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(27⁰12.662′ N by 080⁰15.424 W -  Mile 3076.90 - Stuart, Florida)

Having traveled 101 days since leaving Honey Harbour in Georgian Bay we arrived at Harborage Yacht Club and Marina in Stuart, Florida on November 13th ready to relax and enjoy the club’s pool over the next five weeks and to start provisioning Prime Time V for our journey to Bahamas in the New Year.

Harborage is a new condominium project near US1 with excellent docks, power and water and a surprisingly low monthly rental rate due to a local marina dockage price war which was a great benefit to us.

Time For Some Maintenance!

Time For Some Maintenance!

It was also a great place to work on some performance issues that had been plaguing Prime Time on our journey south. The port engine was showing signs of sluggish acceleration and both engines were smoking under load. A visit by a qualified Caterpillar mechanic identified three problem areas. First, the inter coolers needed to be boiled out and pressure tested as part of routine maintenance to ensure they were not leaking. Secondly, the turbo chargers were out of spec showing signs of wear on the blade tips to the body and third, the exhaust risers were showing early signs of leakage and needed to be replaced. Annoying mechanical issues to deal with and costly but, not unexpected for high performance diesels. All the engine work was completed and a short sea trial proved all was well once again.

On our list of “Things to Do” was the addition of a reverse osmosis water maker. Water in Bahamas can cost up to $0.50 per gallon to say nothing of the inconvenience of finding a marina that has it for sail. Prime Time has 200 gallons of water storage on board and while this amount can last up to a week with conservative use with the two of us on board it can also disappear in as little as a day if we decide to wash the boat or do laundry on board. Little did we know how valuable the addition of a water maker would be until we arrived in Bahamas. It certainly proved to be a great investment for Bahamas cruising.


A Trip To The Farmers Market

A Trip To The Farmers Market

While all of this was going on the captains were constantly making daily trips to the local chandleries stocking up on replacement parts and conducting maintenance that was due or pulling the maintenance forward in anticipation of our cruise time in Bahamas.

Provisioning the boat was the focus of the chef. From previous visits to Bahamas we knew that finding specialty foods and spices, fresh fruit and vegetables and red meat would be a challenge. (Surprisingly, fish has been a challenge as well something we thought would be easy to find.)

What else should you bring to Bahamas? Here is a quick lesson in provisioning economics. A case of beer in Florida costs $16.99 per case. The same case of beer in Bahamas costs $42.00 per case. A case of Diet Coke in Florida costs $6.99 per case while the same case of Coke costs $24.00 or one dollar per can. Wine is similarly priced and far more expensive in Bahamas. Guess what was in our hold coming across?

It was a busy five weeks provisioning the boats and for the record, we never did get to the pool but, we did manage to get to the marina pub most nights to discuss what we had to do the next day in preparation for our trip to Bahamas.


Jacksonville Beach, Florida to Stuart, Florida

Friday, February 5th, 2010

(28⁰24.474′ N by 080⁰40.673 W -  Mile 2988.20 - Stuart, Florida)

Following the ICW South

Following the ICW South

When most people think of the Intracoastal Waterway they think of Florida’s ribbon of protected water on the eastern shoreline. Florida boasts the greatest length of protected coastal shoreline access of any state on the Eastern Seaboard. It stretches from Fernandina Beach just south of the Georgia state line to Key West in the Florida Keys a distance of 572 miles.

Don’t be fooled in thinking that is Florida’s only protected waterway though. The western shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico has another 406 miles stretching from Key West to Apalachicola on the Florida Panhandle.

This does not even count the St. Lucie/Okeechobee Waterway system that runs from Fort Meyers on the Gulf side to Stuart/Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic coast or the fresh water access provided to the inner state by the St. Johns River. Certainly count the Sun, the Surf and Florida’s Waterways as the things that attract tourists and residents to the Sunshine State.

Most people, when they think of Florida will inevitably also imagine a picture of unprecedented develop with new homes, shopping malls and high rise buildings and that would be an accurate picture. But, we were about to stop in St. Augustine a town know for some of the oldest history in North America with many of the original structures still standing in place.

Flagler College - St. Augustine, FL

Flagler College - St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine was founded in 1565 as a Spanish military outpost. It is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. Traces of the city’s Spanish heritage are everywhere and the Spanish Quarter where the conquistadors strolled has been recreated for the 21st century visitor and we were keen to take in its charm.

Before getting to the old-town, we walked from the boat along King Street to the downtown district to Flagler College which occupies Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel, built in 1888. Henry Flagler is honored in many places in Florida (primarily on the East Coast) since he was the business man who built the ribbon of steel which carried the railroad from the northern border of Florida all the way to Key West opening up the state for commerce and tourism in the late 1800’s. You will find a street named after Flagler in nearly every city and town in Florida.

Across the street from Flagler College is the Alcazar Hotel (also built by Flagler in 1887) which has been carefully restored to its original condition and now houses the Lightner Museum. Nearby, the Casa Monica Hotel houses an upscale restaurant and bar and the city offices are located within the court yards of these two structures.

From here, we walked down the narrow streets which were lined by homes that were built as early as the 1600 and 1700’s. We took a tour of a small local hotel which was operated by a single woman and her staff. The tour guide told us that at the time, St. Augustine although prosperous and was protected by a military garrison was under attack by the local Indian population. Consequently, most stayed within its walls for security and protection.

Alcazar Hotel (St. Augustine City Offices & Shopping)

Alcazar Hotel (St. Augustine City Offices & Shopping)

After lunch, we went to the local tourist district, San Augustin Aquino which has been recreated to depict Spanish colonial life. Of course, being America, all of today’s tourist attractions are there (Starbuck’s, Ice Cream, Taffy, Tee-Shirts etc.) but, the buildings and the interpretation of life in the 16th century is accurately depicted.

From here it is just a short walk past the ramparts of a fortified city and on to the battlements and dungeons of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. This fort has been maintained in as close to original state as possible today.

On November 4th, we left St. Augustine promising that we would return to this city to explore it once again. Our objective now was to travel south on the ICW to Palm Coast and New Smyrna Beach to reach Harbortown Marina on Merritt Island near Port Canaveral which is just south of the Space Shuttle launch sight.

Over the next three days we slowly worked our way down the ICW watching the scenery change from deciduous trees to palms, from mangrove to sandy banks and to see dolphins and manatees for the first time. For the most part, we were also required to go slowly to not only protect the manatees and ourselves from prop strikes but to protect the boats and the shoreline that were on either side of the ICW.

We arrived in Harbortown Marina on the afternoon of November 6th to park down the dock from Dealers Choice, the first time these boats had parked close together in a year. Although Brian was not at the marina, he had given us the name of some local skilled tradesmen who could conduct some engine tests and repairs as well as cabinetry repairs

The Walled City of St. Augustine, FL

The Walled City of St. Augustine, FL

that we were anxious to take care of before leaving for Bahamas in the New Year.

Six days later, repairs and maintenance completed for now, we headed south to Stuart, Florida with a stop overnight in Fort Pierce.

Stuart would be our home for the next five weeks. This is Prime Time V’s original winter home port and the place I first discovered the boat in the fall of 2006. When we bought the boat in 2007 it became our winter home port as well (part of the deal) for four months.

I felt comfortable here since we knew where most of the needed marine supplies could be purchased and that the local shopping allowed us to provision with the staples we would need when we crossed to Bahamas. It was also a good place to finish some key maintenance to the diesels as well as to install a water maker, something we considered essential for longer term cruising in the islands.

For Melanie Bear, this was a good time to stop as well. Not only for repairs and supplies but, as an easy access point to the Palm Beach Airport. After all, they had to get home for the arrival of their first grandchild.