August, 2010

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To Chub Cay, Nassau & Highbourne Cay

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

(24⁰43.181′ N by 076⁰49.894 W -  Mile 3423.13 - Highbourne Cay, Bahamas)

On January 13th, 2010 the winds died in Bimini so, we left early that morning to run 87.5 miles east (9 hours) across the Bimini Bank to Chub Cay.  The run was uneventful and with barely five feet below the hull and props we crossed this section at a leisurely 8 to 9 knots enjoying the warming air and for the first time, the very clear Bahamian water allowing us to see the flat sand bottom below.

Bahamas has reasonably good charts but, since the British Admiralty were the last to conduct official hydrography and sand bars tend to shift while coral heads grow over short periods of time you need to keep a watchful eye and learn how to read the colors which reveal visual clues to the water depth.  Light green means shallow water, dark green could be plant growth or coral and dark blues tell you that the water is very deep.  If the bright sun is behind you the bottom contours are there to be read.  These would be the new boating realities that we would have to learn to navigate in the Bahamas.

Sunset - Chub Cay Anchorage

Sunset - Chub Cay Anchorage

When we arrived in Chub Cay Melanie Bear and Prime Time V would experience their first time at anchor in Bahamas and overall it was a pleasant night off of a sand beach protected from the mild northwest wind.

By morning we were ready for the last 34.2 miles to Nassau.  As we crossed the Tongue of the Ocean the seas built to 2 to 3 feet from the side.  The Tongue of the Ocean is the name of a deep oceanic trench that separates the islands of Andros and New Providence.  The depth of the water drops from 115 feet off Andros Island barrier reef to over 6000 feet and the drop is nearly 100 miles long.

The US Navy runs small, highly restricted navy bases along Andros Island’s eastern shore and it is said that the Tongue is lined with hydrophones and is an excellent training area for American submariners.

You will never know for sure because you won’t see them but, my guess is that whoever and whatever is below the surface in the Tongue of the Ocean knows who is above them at all times.  And for Tom Clancy readers perhaps there are not just US Navy submarines under the surface but other nations stealthily probing a territory the USA and Bahamas assume they control.

Carnival Conquest

Carnival Conquest

When we arrived at the west entrance of Nassau Harbor on New Providence Island we passed Nassau’s newest cruise ship docks which have been dredged and improved to accommodate the newest and largest cruise ships in the world.  While the Carnival Conquest you see in the picture to the left is impressive in its own right it pales in comparison to the newest and largest cruise ship, the “Oasis of the Seas”.

Oasis of the Seas is 1,187 feet long, 208 feet wide and towers 236 feet above the surface of the ocean.  By comparison it holds 5,400 passengers nearly double Conquest’s 2,974, weighs in at an impressive 225,282 Tonnes compared to 110,000 for Conquest and is driven by six 25, 290 horse power engines.  It is the same size as the aircraft carrier “Nimitz” and more than double the size of Titanic.  Needless to say, you don’t want to be in Nassau’s straw market or try to hail a taxi when this ship comes into dock!

While the south side of the channel holds cruise ship and freight docks as well as the downtown business core of Nassau the north shore of the harbor is protect by Paradise Island home to the hotel and casino complex called “Atlantis”.  Paradise Island is the home to up-scale condominiums as well as a PGA caliber 18 hole golf complex surrounded by single family homes on the eastern tip of the island.  A large causeway spans the harbor from Paradise Island to Nassau’s business center.

Highbourne Cay Beach

Highbourne Cay Beach

After a fuel stop at Brown’s Marina and a rocking and rolling overnight stay at Nassau Yacht Haven, Prime Time V and Melanie Bear left the harbor to meet Dealers Choice who was ahead of us at Highbourne Cay.  Highbourne is only 38 miles from Nassau and only four hours at a slow cruise.  We arrived in time to remove the dingies and enjoy or first beach experience in Bahamas.  White sand, 78.5 degree F water and sunshine.  Finally, we had arrived!

Highbourne is near the northern tip of the Exuma Island Chain.  Unlike the Great Lakes Basin, good weather does not come from the west it comes from the east and if you quickly study this chain of islands it becomes apparent there is little shelter on the western side of most of the islands from bad weather.  The eastern side of the islands drop off quickly in most cases are you are typically exposed to the open ocean.

This night would be our first experience sleeping in a westerly blow and the boat in spite of it size bucked and rolled in the anchorage all night making sleeping almost impossible.  While the winds push you to the east strong currents may be to the side of the hull inducing a rocking motion front to back and side to side at the same time.

Can you get used to it?  You can but, it makes sleeping very unpleasant when it happens.

About the Bahama Islands

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

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

To quote Kurt Russell, the star in the movie Captain Ron -  “This isn’t the Pirates of the Caribbean boss!  This is the the Spanish Main!  The land of who-do, voodoo and all sorts of scary stuff!” We have finally arrived in Bimini, Bahamas the destination that we had dreamed about visiting by boat for many years.

Pirate's Plunder?

Pirate's Plunder?

Bahamas is the location of the pirate stories that you heard when you were a kid.  History records Christopher Columbus as the first explorer to reach Bahamas but, he was just the first to record his landing. In the 10th century, Lucayan Indians (a branch of the Arawaks) settled in The Bahamas. The Lucayans had fled the Lesser Antilles to avoid the Carib Indians, who were their enemies, astute warriors and cannibals. The Lucayan Indians were a very peaceful people, who farmed, lived in thatch huts, used stone tools and made their own pottery. They were politically, socially and religiously advanced. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 on San Salvador (the former name of Cat Island), he enslaved them and coupled with new diseases brought by Columbus and crew, wiped out the entire tribe within 25 years.

The Bahamas became a favored hunting ground for privateers, pirates and wreckers from the late 1600’s through the early 1700’s. This was largely due to the ineffective governors and the many inlets, islands, islets, shoals and channels that provided hiding places to monitor the main passageway for merchant ships and Spanish Galleons.  Of course, England, France, the Dutch and other European countries turned a blind eye to the privateers who plunder the Spanish fleet.  Spain after all, was profiting from the New World and they wanted their share without the investment.

Notice the "Down-Filled Vest"!

Notice the "Down-Filled Vest"!

Today, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas consists of 700 Islands and nearly 2,500 cays. About 30 of these islands are inhabited. The capital city of Nassau is located on New Providence Island. Close by is Paradise Island which is accessed by bridges from Nassau. The nation’s second city, Freeport, is located in Grand Bahama Island along with the port city of Lucaya. The other populated islands and cays are called the Abacos, Andros, Eleuthera and Exumas chains of islands, the later being commonly known as the Family Islands.

The many islands and cays of The Bahamas stretch southeast off the Florida coast.  The closest Island to the U.S. is Bimini, about 45 miles off the coast of Florida. The islands and cays sprawl across nearly 100,000 square miles of ocean, beginning at the northern point east of Palm Beach, Florida and spanning practically 350 miles to the southeast where they come as close as 50 miles of Cuba and Haiti.

For our first trip to Bahamas by boat our plan was to cross to Bimini where we would clear Customs & Immigration then move on to Nassau and finally move south to the Exumas Chain farther south.  The logic in our minds was simple.  The further south you go, the warmer the weather.  True but, we were to learn that winter of 2010 proved to be one of the coldest and windiest since the 1960’s.

570-274-0879

570-274-0879

We crossed the Gulf Stream on January 9th, 2010 leaving Fort Lauderdale early in the morning.  The forecast predicted low winds and calm sea conditions and for once, the weatherman’s predictions proved to be correct.  Steering 130 degrees opn dead flat water conditions we cruised at a leisurely 8 to 9 knots across to Bimini.  Good thing we did not wait for another day because, as predicted the next day brought winds out of the North West at 20 knots which kept us pinned in Bimini for the next three days.

The weather did give us a chance to walk around North Bimini and we found that as an island that is dependent on fishing and tourism from the United States the US recession had direct effects on the local economy.  Bimini Big Resort once noted as a destination for the South Florida game fishing community was closed and you could tell that unemployment was rampant in the village of Alice Town.

The little village that once advertised Hemingway’s Bar (lost to fire) is now in a state of disrepair waiting for the next economic boom to build its economy.  (This is where Hemingway set his book Islands in the Stream when he wrote it in the 30’s.)

Bimini Bay Island Resort

Bimini Bay Island Resort

To the north of Alice Town on North Bimini lies Bimini Bay Island Resort a new development carved from the mangrove swamps.  Environmentalists fought this development over their concerns to the damage it would do to the eco-structure but, in spite of numerous protests the development proceeded.  Today, the development has its own electrical, water and sewage treatment plants as well as a small shops, a hotel, single family homes and condominiums.  All of this sets the back drop for a full service marina.

We had finally arrived in Bahamas and our education was about to begin to learn how to survive on a boat in the islands!