South Bimini, Bahamas
Posted by Bill
We really love cruising in the Bahamas. Our favorite place to be so far is the Exumas. When we originally set sail 3 years ago, we thought we would do the Bahamas and the Keys and then work our way through the Caribbean. We have chartered boats in the Virgin Islands several times and also flown to many other places in the Caribbean for vacations over the years, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into. Once we got to the Bahamas, we realized that there is no need for us to go further, and we may not…we shall see. The Exumas are beautiful and you can find seclusion. You can also find food, trash disposal, fuel, and visit some small towns to eat out and/or check out the culture. The biggest problem we have dealt with is the weather. The first year was not as bad as the last 2, which have really made it difficult to see and do all of the things we wanted. We get pinned down by weather for 5-10 days, have a couple of days to move to another place, only to prepare for another 5-10 days of bad weather. By bad weather, I am talking mostly winds and the resulting sea state. We are not fans of getting rocked and rolled for days at a time, and unfortunately, you find you are getting your ass kicked while underway and at anchor. After awhile, it just gets to us. This year my new cruising goal was “not to get my ass kicked”. Sometimes that means you have to sit somewhere for a long time. I know that this is just part of the deal, and I would not trade our experiences if I had it to do over again. We feel so fortunate to have seen the world like this. If you are thinking about going cruising, just know that this is a major pain in the butt, and some people go back to dirt dwelling because of it.
There seems to be more mega-yachts, boats in the 150-250 foot range, in the Exumas. Most of them appear to be chartered. The typical passengers are not cruising savvy, which means, they don’t understand common courtesy or respect, for other boaters or for nature. They congregate in certain spots that have become tourist attractions, and are essentially ruining the experience for everyone else. The Bahamians naturally cater to this crowd because most of their livelihood is dependent on tourism. Passengers are rude, arrogant, with a “we own the Exumas” mentality. We will not go back to some of these places because of it. The mega-rich are also buying cays or islands, and making them private. Fortunately, the law through all of the Bahamas is that 50 feet above the high tide line on all beaches are public property, so you can still enjoy the beach and water. From what we have read and heard, the privatization of the cays is changing the culture and feel of the area, and not for the better. One of the cool things that we noticed at some of the settlements like Blackpoint, is that you see the children outside playing…swimming, riding bikes, and having the same kind of fun we did as kids. You don’t see them consumed in the world of electronics like kids in the States are. They are out interacting with everyone in the streets. There is also no need to worry about their safety besides drowning or something like that. There is no crime. It was an interesting contrast. Traveling with Matt and Shirley, Grady (their white lab) is always an attraction wherever we go, especially with the kids. You don’t see many large dogs in the islands, and all of the kids want to pet him and walk him. They all asked “does he bite?” first thing upon seeing him!
Back to the weather….we got pinned down in Spanish Wells for 16 days, and for most of the time we had winds over 20 knots and open water seas to 9 feet. Spanish Wells is one of our favorite towns in the Bahamas, so there could be worse places to get stuck. We ate at Budda’s often and also wallowed at the beach on the west end of town. We also read a lot. Several times it looked like a weather window was opening up, only to slam shut. Some of the locals made comments about how bad the weather was, how long it was lasting, and how abnormal this was. We chose to abandon our plans to go through the Abacos and started looking at windows to cross the Gulf Stream back to the States, figuring we would take our time going back up the coast to Southport and enjoy some of our favorite spots along the east coast. This approach led to a plan to make passage to South Bimini, and cross to West Palm Beach. A couple of crossing weather windows came and went in the course of a week, and finally we saw one for April 25th through the 27th. Unfortunately, most routes from Spanish Wells to Bimini were 2 day hops, and we settled in on a direct route in an overnight passage. Even with an overnighter, we had to get to Bimini before the 25th and there wasn’t a very comfortable passage in the forecast to get us there. We opted to leave at dawn on the 21st and arrived in South Bimini 24 hours later, 6 hours ahead of schedule. The reason we were so far ahead of schedule is because the winds were higher than forecasted and we had good sailing. The bad part is that the sea state was not anywhere close to the forecast. After weeks of high winds, the seas didn’t have much time to settle, and to top it off, we had to go across an area where 3 oceanic bodies of water meet: the open Atlantic, the Tongue of The Ocean, and the Northwest Passage. To make matters worse, this area is thousands of feet deep, and the water goes from thousands of feet to 20 feet in ¼ mile of where it meets any land. You might be able to imagine the sea state that this creates even when there is no wind. In the middle of where all of these waters meet, we encountered very steep 6 foot seas coming from almost every direction at once, lasting for hours. It was miserable at best. Matt and Shirley had waves breaking into the dinghy hanging on the back of the boat. The bottom line is that we made it…yay…and nothing broke, and no one was injured. When we arrived in South Bimini, we slept, took a walk on the beach, and sat by the pool for the afternoon. Everyone was exhausted. Today it is raining and we are chilling on the boats. As of today, it looks like the best crossing weather is going to be Wednesday, so we are planning to depart then. These weather windows are usually very short, and they change more often than not, so you have to take the first good day you get, or you could be sitting for weeks at a time again.
We had hoped to spend more time in the Bahamas, but we are anxious to get back to the States as well, especially with tropical storm systems starting to develop in the Atlantic already. We certainly don’t want to weather those out here in the Bahamas.