the long slog home -- Bimini

Sat 10 Apr 2010 14:20
25:44.8 N
79:16.9 W

We motored across the Banks last night. It was not the magical glassy calm moonlit night that we had way back when we first crossed from Bimini toward Andros. Last night was a bit rough -- not terrible, but enough to make it a bouncy ride, which feels a bit disorienting and unnerving in the dark. It was cloudy and misty at times with a persistent dew that kept us soaked, and Lilly got rained on briefly during her watch. The clouds had heat lightning dancing back and forth which every now and then would illuminate the whole surface of the sea. A few bolts of lightning went from clouds to ground, but that stayed away to our north, luckily. (In my worst-case-scenario pantheon, a lightning strike that destroys Sea Fever and Amazon on the cabintop all at once, plus fries our SPOT emergency beacon ranks right up at the top.)

Lilly and I took turns at the tiller and letting the other rest. We would check the GPS now and then to make sure we were headed in the right direction, then try to find a star to steer by. Usually when you found a good star, a cloud would come along and obscure it. But steering while looking up into the night sky is much more pleasant that staring down all the time at the glow of the GPS or the compass. And of course we scanned the horizon all the time looking for the lights of oncoming boats. Early in the night we passed a few sailboats outbound, who had probably started from Miami that morning and were going all night to Nassau. And we passed a few well lit-up motorboats that seemed like sports out fishing. But after midnight the boat traffic disappeared.

We faced a huge dilemma as to whether we should try to press on across the Gulf Stream all in one shot. Our GRIB from last night at 7 PM showed winds on the Gulf Stream light SE all day Friday (so nothing to have roiled up the waves before we arrived); and staying light SE through 6 AM Saturday, then going ENE 11-14 by noon, and 16 NE by the end of the day. It seemed like a window of opportunity -- Gulf Stream calm to begin with, and then a moderate following wind for the second half of our passage, before it got stronger and more northerly (bad against the flow of the Stream) later in the day. We might just slip through and not get our tail feathers slammed shut in the window. At the rate we were crossing the Banks, we could enter the Stream at Gun Cay around 4 AM, and arrive in Miami by 2 PM. But . . . we also got a Gulf Stream text forecast from the National Weather Service, which said "NE 15 knot winds all day Saturday," and "Small Craft Use Caution." We have learned that when there's a small craft caution, we really don't like to be out. And the Gulf Stream has a reputation for punishing fools. All this was chewed over endlessly, and decided around 1 AM on the Banks in the dark, with the winds blowing a bit more strongly than our GRIB had predicted. We had to weigh our trust in the GRIB data -- not always perfect -- versus the advice of the weather service. So we decided to err on the side of caution and simply head for Bimini.

We arrived in Nixon's Harbor, a wide shallow bay on the south side of South Bimini that was easy to enter in the dark, at 4:30 AM. We dropped anchor and slept for a few hours, and then motored out and around to the main harbor on North Bimini in time for breakfast. We'll be socked in here for several days now, probably, as we wait for a front to move through. We'll go into Bimini to do some laundry and see the sights and maybe try to find a good swimming beach (our current anchorage is in a crowded channel area). Then we'll catch the first good crossing window for home.