Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gulf Stream Crossing to the Bahamas

Art Deco Festival at South Beach, Miami
by Joe Boulay
     Decisions are made, unmade, questioned, pondered, remade and after a time settled upon when staging for an upcoming Gulf Stream crossing. Fellow Island Packet owners and full time cruisers Jim and Laurie aboard Their Island Packet 350Kismet stopped by while both boats were anchored in South Beach. We went out for lunch at the Japanese Buffet and chatted about potentially crossing together. Jim is a sailor and he prefers heavy air...he did not want to motor if at all possible. We on the other hand, prefer sailing in moderate winds and if it happens to pick up during the sail that's OK because Simple Life is a plus size model and we're confident that she'll handle rough conditions. If there's a choice for Gulf Stream crossings we'll choose the lesser of "two weevils" and even motor across with hopes for benign conditions. Since Simple Life and Kismet are both Island Packets of similar size a simultaneous crossing would have been ideal for both safety and friendship during the wee hours of the morning when a passage can challenge a weary mind and body. However, it's still each skipper's decision as to when the timing best suits their comfort level.   
A classic Chevy on display during Art Deco Weekend, Miami
photo by Joe Boulay

     With a mild weather window fast approaching Joe and I decided to leave on a solo passage from Miami leaving behind all of its captivating charms to venture east toward the Bahamas on Monday morning with a departure at 8:00 AM and an ETA arrival in Nassau on Tuesday afternoon at I:00 PM. Kismet opted to wait for brisk conditions on Tuesday morning. Alas, the compromise. Should we stay or should we go? We went.


      The weather predictions for Simple Life's Monday morning departure called for calm winds during the day and evening. Conditions in the Stream were calm for our crossing. At sunset after exiting its indigo waters wind freshened and Simple Life carried full sails throughout the night skipping along at 6.5 knots and above for the duration of the evening and into the following morning and afternoon. It was a total of 18 resplendent, engineless hours under sail. At times it was akin to riding the subway. Streaming forward in darkness hearing the whoosh of the waves on her port side. A slight side to side mesmeric motion and the sensation that someone else was at the controls. Ideal conditions such as these rarely last. However, throughout the evening we experienced a steady breeze with no gusts in the range of 12-15 knots, flat seas on the Great Bahama Banks along with a bright orange waning moon to light our our way marking this the most memorable passage thus far. The near perfect transit made me feel slightly guilty for complaining about...anything. Our crossing couldn't have been better unless it took place entirely during daylight hours. Glistening moonlight lit our way throughout the darkest hours making the overnight passage much less daunting. 

Joe completing paperwork for
Customs and Immigration.
         At dawn on Tuesday morning we'd negotiated the Northwest Channel Light passage (it's the Bahamas and of course the light was missing) exited the Great Bahama Banks, bypassed the Berry Islands and were on the final leg of the journey through The Tongue of the Ocean headed for Nassau. During the night we'd monitored VHF radio chatter from several other cruisers who were also sailing on to Nassau where they also planned to clear customs and move on toward the Exuma Islands. Right on schedule at noon on Tuesday Simple Life was on final approach into Nassau Harbor where she was granted entrance permission from harbor control. She was secured to her berth at Nassau Yacht Haven Marina by 1:00 PM. Upon arrival in the Bahamas all vessels and crew are quarantined until clearing in with Customs and Immigration. The dock master arranged for the authorities to meet Joe at the marina office where they reviewed our passports and vessel documentation. After some discussion we were granted a 180 day visa and cruising permit. The cruising permit will allow us to freely explore all of the Bahama Islands for the duration of the visa including a fishing license as well as a license for spear fishing with mask and snorkel and a Hawaiian sling. Now that the most challenging part of our jaunt is behind us we hope for mild, front free conditions this winter while exploring a cruisers' paradise and one of the most remote places south and east of the continental United States.
After clearing customs Joe raises our Bahamian courtesy flag.