Friday, January 7, 2011

Key West to Bahamas

North Bimini Island, Bahamas
25 43.49 N 079 17.84 W

We woke to a beautiful sunny Christmas Day in Key Biscayne. It was the proverbial calm before the storm as the next strong cold front was due to arrive in south Florida the next day. Many cruisers took advantage of the mild weather and light winds to leave No Name Harbor and make the crossing to the Bahamas on Christmas Day. We motored 7 miles up to Miami where we had reserved a slip at Miamarina.

At the Miamarina in downtown Miami
on Christmas Day awaiting guests.
This marina is located right in the downtown Bayside riverfront area and the sights and sounds created stimulation overload for us after our quiet anchorages. The marina basin is ringed with 14 restaurants, a shopping mall and about 8 different harbor tour boats. Five cruise liners were lined up in one direction and the American Airlines Arena (home of the Miami Heat) was in the other. By afternoon thousands of people had descended to Bayside. Music from a great salsa band echoed loudly across the marina basin. The smells from the restaurants were delicious. It was a very unique Christmas Day to say the least. Sunday we cleaned Carina, did laundry and “turned” the boat around for guest cruising.

Chilly kayaking off of Butternut Key
Jason & Veronica caught one of the last flights out of JFK airport before it closed down due to the blizzard in the northeast. They arrived on Monday morning and after taking advantage of their rental car to stock up on provisions we left the marina and headed back to No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne for the night. Tuesday morning we raised anchor and had a nice sail to our first anchorage on the way down to Key West off Butternut Key near Key Largo. Jay and Veronica may have escaped the snow but the cold did follow them. It was interesting to see them kayaking bundled up with long pants, sweats and even hats.
A chilly dinner at Burdine's in Marathon
Our next port of call was Boot Key harbor in Marathon. This harbor is the end destination for many cruisers in the winter. The harbor was packed with over 200 mooring balls and has quite a large cruiser’s community and every facility you could want or need nearby. We did a little exploring by foot and dinghy before having a light dinner at Burdine’s Marina Restaurant overlooking the harbor.
We had a slip booked at Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island just north of Key West for the next few days so we slipped the mooring lines early on Wednesday for the sail down the Keys. The winds were 15-18 knots out of the northwest with 4'-6’ following seas making for a brisk sail down island. Mark was in his element!!!
Playing tourist in Key West
We tied up at the marina in the early afternoon and hopped a local bus into downtown Key West to scope out the area and decide where we might want to spend New Year’s Eve. Schooner Wharf seemed to be the choice but after talking to some folks at the marina and cab drivers we decided it would be best to take in the sunset on Mallory Square and then get back to Stock Island before the clock struck midnight. Apparently there are about 70 taxis in Key West for the 60 – 70 thousand people in town for New Year’s Eve. It turns out we made the right decision as we had a wonderful late dinner at the Hog Fish Grill at our marina and enjoyed the music of a very good bluegrass band as we rang in 2011.

Jay and Veronica left on Saturday morning and we spent the afternoon doing laundry and boat chores. On Sunday 1/2/11 we left Key West and traveled 21 miles to Newfound Harbor off of Big Pine Key. The weather had been slowly moderating and with temps now in the upper 70’s. We kayaked for 1st time since Chesapeake Bay in Oct. The weather outlook was also looking very favorable for a Gulf Stream crossing on Wednesday. We upped anchor early Monday morning and made our way 75 miles back up the Keys to Tarpon Basin in Key Largo anchoring just as darkness set in. Since we were familiar with this area and knew the grocery store was close by it was easy for us to provision one last time in the States. With the cupboards and refrigerator once again well stocked we took on fuel and water and dropped anchor behind Pumpkin Key on Tuesday afternoon to be in position to make a dawn departure through Angelfish Creek on Thursday.

Finally turquoise waters
and white sand beaches!
We awoke Wednesday morning to calm wind and flat seas – Kathy’s kind of crossing weather. We were both much more confident that these were the right conditions than on our last attempt 3 weeks ago. We raised anchor before sunrise and motored out the creek, through Hawk Channel and into the Straits of Florida. Winds gradually built and shifted southwest through the morning. We were able to raise sail and cut the engines by about 10:30am. The water became a beautiful shade of indigo blue and the depth sounder hit its limit at 398 feet although we had 2,000-2,800 feet under our keels. 
Blustery conditions on the western,
windward shore of No. Bimini

We had a great sail across the infamous Gulf Steam averaging 8 -9 knots speed over ground. Through the afternoon winds increased to 16-18 knot range, producing lumpy and confused seas. As you approach the Bimini Islands the water depths rise precipitously from 2,800 foot depths to 25 foot depths in a matter of 3 miles distance with the water color changing from the deep ocean blue to a clear turquoise. We both decided it was a good crossing even though winds and seas ended up being more than forecasted.

The calm waters on the eastern,
 lee side of the island
 We tied up at Blue Water Marina in North Bimini with our “Q” flag flying at 2:30pm (about 61 nm & 7 ½ hours after leaving Florida). Clearing in through customs was very easy and quick. We were able to lower the “Q” flag and raise the Bahamian flag in time to enjoy our first “sundowner” in paradise.

Center of Alicetown on the island of North Bimini

King's Highway is the main road
running the length of Bimini.
The Bimini Island group consists of the islands of North & South Bimini as well as Cat & Gun Cay (Cay pronounced as Key). North Bimini is about 7 miles long and 700 feet wide. We have been exploring the island on foot, meeting other cruisers and getting used to “island time”. The Bahamian people  are all extremely polite and very warm & friendly.
4'- 5' fish under Carina's keel
while tied to docks

Another “cold” front went through yesterday afternoon ushering in slighter cooler temps (mid-seventies) and north – northwest winds. Winds and seas should subside enough by tomorrow to venture across the shallow Bahamas banks on our way to … “somewhere south of somewhere”. Stay tuned.



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