We’re in the Bahamas Now!
After detecting an earlier than expected weather window, we left Lake Worth bound for Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island. The trip to Lucaya would take about 15 -16 hours. The big consideration when crossing from southern Florida to the Bahamas is taking the weather (wind, waves, and storm potential) into account, but also considering how the Gulf Stream will affect all those things. From Lake Worth to the Bahamas, one is in the Gulf Stream virtually the entire time. The stream was forecast to be running up to 3.5 knots. The Gulf Stream runs south to north so we wanted winds to be light and preferably out of the south so that the wind is with the stream, not against it. If the wind has a northern component a Gulf Stream crossing will be somewhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. The winds were predicted (an important word) to be light, initially out of the east but quickly clocking to the south. Waves and swell, less than a meter, and low CAPE (the potential for storms). We knew there might be some pop-up thunderstorms, which the CAPE index doesn’t fully take into account, but there is always the potential for thunderstorms in southern Florida and in the Straits of Florida.
We untied the mooring lines at 6:45pm so that we would arrive the next day during daylight hours. Going out of Lake Worth Inlet was a rocking and rolling affair. Once clear of the inlet things settled down but the swell was still higher than predicted (there’s that word again). Our first AIS/radar contact was the cruise ship “Enchantment of the Seas”, and we had lots of other boat company for the entire crossing. Between 8:00pm and 1:00am a long line of thunderstorms, called “squalls” out on the ocean started to stalk Ocean Song. One motor yacht, “Ruff Seas” radioed us to warn us of the intense lighting storms closing in. We acknowledged and let them know we had our weather radar operating and were actively trying to dodge the storms. On a sailboat moving at less than 7 knots there isn’t much dodging, just speeding up slightly or slowing to a crawl to let storms pass. The Jimmy Buffett cruise ship “Margaritaville” was about 9 nm ahead of us most of the night. We could see Margaritaville actively trying to stay just in front of the storms … it didn’t work. We were luckier, our “slow down” technique worked. Our weather radar showed a break in the huge cell that was pursuing us so we slowed down and tried to steer where we thought the break would cross our path, it worked! We had an incredible lighting show all around us, but only a few drops of rain, and based on our radar data the closest cell only came as close as 3nm. That’s still close enough for a lightning strike, but better than being inside the cell. Because of all the squalls, winds were much, much higher than predicted (that word again) all night. We were borderline uncomfortable because of the higher winds and bigger swell and waves, but overall, it was OK.
One other weather/routing note: We took a NE course out of Lake Worth which to most people makes no sense because Lucaya is to the SE. The theory was to “ride” the Gulf Stream through the strongest portion, then circle south once we were out of the strongest current. Our planned route did not take squally weather into account, but by going north initially we found the gaps in the storm cells. Had we sailed a more southeasterly, traditional route we would have been caught squarely in the middle of all the storms. You can see it on the radar photo I took. Also, we hand steered for several hours to make sure Linda and I had a feel for the sea state should something happened that required us to manually steer during the storms. Once we put Otto (the autopilot) to work, he performed flawlessly. Otto always gets the “Crew of the Day Award”. He does his job, never complains, doesn’t eat, sleep, or take bathroom breaks! He doesn’t even ask for a beer at the end of a passage.
Just before sunrise we were off West End, Bahamas. We made our way along the coast, slowed to make water, saw numerous cruise ships, including Margaritaville docked in Freeport, and eased the 10 -12 nm to Lucaya. Linda hoisted our “Q” flag and we radioed the Grand Bahama Yacht Club for instructions on where to dock for customs and immigration check-in. The Q-flag in simply a yellow flag flown on our starboard flag halyard that shows everyone we’re in “Quarantine’ until cleared in by the country’s officials. We were instructed to land at the fuel dock and the officials would meet us aboard Ocean Song. Linda had filled out all the paperwork in advance, sent it in electronically (thanks Starlink), including payment for our cruising permit, and once accepted, printed the forms we would give the customs (for the boat) and immigration (for the people on the boat) officers. The customs officer came to the boat, stood on the dock never coming aboard, asked me two questions, took our paperwork and came back 15 minutes later and gave us our approved and stamped cruising permit. The cruising permit includes a fishing permit, the fish in the Bahamas are now shaking in their scales knowing we are here. Then the immigration officer took our one-page form and our passports, 10 minutes later she handed us our approved and stamped paperwork along with our passports and we were officially checked-in to our first foreign port! The Bahamian officials could not have been nicer or more efficient! After completing check-in, the Q-flag came down and the Bahamas courtesy flag went up in its place.
We topped off our diesel tanks, filled our 8 diesel jerry cans, topped off our gasoline for the dinghy outboard, and bought ice. We decided to take a slip in the marina for a couple of days to rest, explore Lucaya, and have access to unlimited fresh water (to clean the boat), enjoy the pool, restaurants and other amenities at the marina/resort. We went for an early dinner at the marina restaurant, Pisces, and had our first curry pizza. It was a chicken curry pizza, and it was wonderful! One margarita, one Bahama Mama, and 2 Sands (Bahamian) beers were required to make the evening complete. Once back onboard Ocean Song it was straight to bed for an 11-hour nap.
We will probably leave for the Berry Islands on Friday. The weather is “predicted” to be pretty good. Well, we’ll just see about that! The Berrys are about 60 nm away and that’s where we’ll be for the next couple of weeks.