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Stranded in Paradise

On Tuesday, May 6th, we crossed the Gulf Stream to Bimini, our first intended stop in the Bahamas. Actually, “Bimini” consists of two islands, North Bimini and South Bimini, and the marina we chose, the Bimini Sands, is located in a very protected and serene harbor on the island of South Bimini. It was a great place to come back to each day after experiencing what the Biminis have to offer.

Whenever we wanted to cross over to Alice Town on North Bimini, we just walked to the ferry landing at Buccaneer Point (a 10-15 min. walk on a dirt road) and for a $2 fee we took a very short ride (literally two minutes!) across the channel separating the two islands.

Alice Town, the heart of North Bimini, is best explored on foot, and this we did on the morning of our first full day in the Bahamas. Just a short distance from the ferry landing at the edge of town we came across this ruins and quickly realized that it is the remains of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunt, The Compleat Angler Hotel, which burned to the ground in 2006 and has been left as is, an interesting monument to a bygone era in Bimini’s colorful history.

A little further along the main street, called the King’s Highway, we began to see some small, well-tended, pastel-colored shops and restaurants as we walked on the shady side of the street toward our first destination, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company office, to purchase a BTC SIM card for the unlocked cell phone we had brought with us.

Having completed that little chore successfully, we decided to reward ourselves with an early lunch. While searching for a suitable waterfront restaurant, we were greeted by a friendly looking Bahamian woman at the entrance to the Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina. Not sure whether it was open to the public, I asked her if it would be alright for us to go in and have a look around. With a big smile on her face she replied, “You can do anything you want, Mama; you’re in the Bahamas!” And that set the tone for not only that day, but every day we spent in Bimini.

A quick look around convinced us that this would be a pleasant spot to stop for lunch, so we did. To quench our thirst after our morning walkabout, we started off with some tasty local beverages, a Kalik beer for Ken and a Bahama Mama (of course!) for Sharon.

After a delicious lunch of Mahi Reuben (for Ken) and Conch Salad (for Sharon), followed by a photo op in front of someone’s impressive catch, we headed back to the ferry that would return us to South Bimini, deciding that we would leave further explorations of Alice Town and the rest of North Bimini for another day.

The walk back to our marina gave us an opportunity to reflect on our impressions of this little slice of the Bahamas (and more specifically, Bimini) and its people, based on our experiences so far. Of course the tropical beauty of these islands and the gorgeous turquoise waters surrounding them come to mind immediately, but what caught us off guard was the friendly, welcoming attitude of nearly everyone we encountered along the street in Alice Town. “Good morning.” “ How are you?” “Welcome to the Bahamas!” These phrases were repeated time after time as we passed local pedestrians along the King’s Highway on that first day.

Back “home” at the Bimini Sands, satisfied with the morning’s explorations, but hot and tired from the excursion as well, we settled into what would become our daily routine: early afternoon nap followed by a dip in one of the resort’s swimming pools or a walk on one of its beaches.

Thinking that we would only have a few days more before moving on across the Great Bahama Bank to the Berry Islands, we went back to Alice Town the following morning determined to find the famous Dolphin House, conceived and built by Bahamian visionary artist and historian, Ashley Saunders.

Still a work in progress, this extraordinary building, a combination of residence, museum, and gift shop, lovingly constructed out of a huge variety of found and/or discarded materials, is a tribute to this incredible man’s love of dolphins and also of Bahamian history. We were lucky to find him there when we arrived unannounced, and he graciously invited us in for a guided tour.

Ending our tour in the downstairs museum and gift shop, Mr. Saunders pointed out various quotes written on the ceiling, including this one attributed to Ernest Hemingway which he said that he always makes visiting school children read.

Back on South Bimini we decided to take advantage of the free transportation (which we called the Happy Bus) provided by our marina to visit their sister establishment at the southern end of the island, the Bimini Sands Beach Club.

On this site, along with a rather nondescript marina, more beautiful beaches and another swimming pool, are two restaurants: one a fine dining establishment called the Bimini Twist, plus a casual local favorite bar and grill called Mackey’s Sand Bar. The latter is named after Col. Joe Mackey, owner of the famous Mackey International Airlines, who pioneered routes to the Bahamas back in the 1950’s and was also the previous owner of this property.

Monitoring weather conditions and forecasts (especially wind direction and velocity, plus wave heights in the ocean waters surrounding us) was an important daily routine. As long as we were securely tied to a dock in this safe haven, very breezy weather was welcome since it made very warm days more comfortable and kept away any troublesome insects. However, we were hoping for conditions more favorable to safe cruising so that we could make the 90 mile open water crossing from Bimini to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands as planned. Along with other sources, we utilized the Sirius XM Weather feature on our Garmin electronic GPS system to access marine weather forecasts, and so far what we were seeing did not bode well for leaving Bimini anytime soon.

Experienced cruisers we have consulted over the years concerning traveling by boat to/from/in the open waters of the Bahamas seem to agree on these three most important bits of advice: wait, wait, and wait (until the weather conditions are right). And each time (during what finally turned out to be our 17 day stay at the Bimini Sands) that we agonized over whether we were being too cautious by choosing to remain in our safe port, a boat would arrive with crew so beat up and exhausted by the adverse conditions they had just endured, our decision was validated once again.

Finally, we just decided to amend our cruise plans and cancelled the Berry Islands segment. We were having such a great time in the Bimini Islands, so why not just enjoy ourselves? So that’s what we did. Instead of rushing around to see everything of interest in just a few days, we slowed down the pace, adjusting our internal clocks to island time. Rather than feeling that we had to “go somewhere” each day, we began to realize that interesting things were happening right where we were, if we would just stop and take notice.

Our friend and crewmate, Don, was becoming quite skilled at spotting opportunities to acquire fresh fish right on our dock from locals who had braved the angry seas. First he scored some Hogfish (which Ken turned into a delicious meal), and before we knew it he showed up with a big bag of freshly cleaned Conch. Of course, it required a bit of pounding to tenderize it before Ken once again created a mouth-watering treat.

On Friday, May 16th, day ten of our Bimini adventure, we began to switch our weather watching focus to planning for our return trip across the Gulf Stream to Florida. But with marine forecasts more troublesome than ever for the weekend to come (seas of 6-10 ft.), we began to notice large sport fishing boats arriving, actually surfing through the normally calm entrance to our marina and tying up to the docks near us.

Who were these crazy people, we wondered, and why were they venturing out in such angry seas? A few questions to marina staff revealed the answer: a big fishing tournament was about to begin, and we were going to have front row seats when they came in to weigh their catch. A couple of days before, a group of guys had shown up with a whopping 12 mahi mahi, so we wondered what these tournament contenders could produce to match or surpass that, if they dared to even go out fishing in such awful conditions.

As it turned out, only about half of the boats expected for the tournament actually showed up because of the poor conditions, but it was exciting none the less to watch them struggling to get out through the waves breaking at the marina entrance in the morning and then hearing them swapping tales of bravado at the end of the day as they weighed their catch. It was so rough, in fact, that the huge sport fishing boat next to us came back with a broken granite counter top!

By Sunday afternoon most of the tournament boats had left, and things were getting back to normal, everything, that is, except for the waves in the Gulf Stream, visible even without our binoculars, and appearing like a herd of elephants marching across the distant horizon. But on this day, we really didn’t care. It was May 18th, my 68th birthday, so we spent part of the day enjoying a walk on the beach, followed by a gourmet dinner at the Bimini Twist, culminating with a dramatic sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. Not bad, huh?

One of the things we loved about our marina was that you never knew what you would see coming and going from one day to the next, from high speed Cigarette boats with engine trouble, to ferry boats dropping off people headed to the airport, to tankers and freighters delivering goods, then turning around in the harbor and heading back out again.

Yet with all of these boats coming and going, and even with fish cleaning tables scattered along the docks, somehow, miraculously, the water in the marina remained clear and clean, home to a host of beautiful tropical fish, appearing almost like a saltwater aquarium. We regularly saw schools of little black-striped Sergeant Majors, some beautiful Rainbow Parrotfish, plus a couple of baby Barracudas. One day we even saw a Spiny Lobster sitting among the rocks in the water right in front of our boat! Obviously, he knew that lobster catching season was over and wouldn’t begin again until August

By now we were getting used to sunny, breezy days in Bimini, and were almost taken by surprise when it did finally rain one day.

But this front also signaled a change in the weather pattern, and as we studied the marine forecast for the next several days, we began to see that an appropriate weather window might materialize soon that would allow us to safely cross the Gulf Stream back to Florida. With that in mind, we discussed what else we still wanted to do and see before leaving Bimini.

We knew that there was more on the island of North Bimini than we had explored on foot, so we decided to rent a golf cart so we could venture further a field than Alice Town, through Bailey Town to the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina, the newest and most luxurious facility in Bimini. At the Port of Miami, we had seen the huge 1200-1500 passenger Resorts World Bimini SuperFast Ferry at its mooring and heard that it was capable of whisking people over to the resort in just two hours. So we were surprised to find it nearly deserted.

Apparently, the same rough conditions that had kept the “Docker” confined to our comfortable marina at the Bimini Sands had also kept the SuperFast Ferry from leaving Miami. Also at issue is the new jetty under construction near the resort which has run into delays due to legal problems.

Back in Alice Town, we went up and down some of the side streets that connect the Kings Highway to its parallel road, the Queen’s Highway which runs along the western shoreline of North Bimini, a view of which we had seen previously from the rooftop of the Dolphin House. But now we had the time to take a closer look.

While doing so, we stumbled across an interesting cemetery and ruins, wondering what tales they had to tell which we would never know.

Then it was back to the Bimini Big Game Club for one last lunch and a walk along their docks before dropping off the golf cart and heading back to South Bimini.

Oops, did we really forget to stop at the End of the World Saloon? No draft beer? Too bad.

We knew that the island of South Bimini also had more experiences to offer than we had the time on this trip to take advantage of, such as touring the Bimini Biological Field Station Shark Lab, where the role of the Lemon Shark in the tropical-marine ecosystem is researched. The day we stopped by, the team was just heading out, so we left them to their work.

That same day we passed by the entrance to the Bimini Nature Trail, but without our insect repellent handy, we decided to forego that experience. We did come across this little guy though, right at the edge of the dirt road we were walking along.

As so accurately predicted, the weather turned in our favor after 17 wonderful days stranded in paradise. With winds of 5 knots or less and only a light chop on the ocean waters, we decided to take advantage of the northward push of the Gulf Stream, and on Frday, May 23rd, we cruised comfortably all the way from Bimini to the Lake Worth Inlet and on to the North Palm Beach Marina, traveling a total of 92.8 miles in just about eight hours.

Since this was the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, we did encounter a few crazy, inconsiderate recreational boaters who waked us pretty severely as we entered Lake Worth, so we left all of that madness behind us and continued on to the welcoming serenity of Loggerhead Club & Marina -Vero Beach, our home port marina, the following day. Ah!












Patience, Patience, Patience

Our “plan” was to stay at the marina in Miami for three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 25th through the 27th) and then anchor out in No Name Harbor at the southern end of Key Biscayne on Monday, April 28th, ready for an early departure the following morning. But as all cruisers know, so called “plans” are written in sand at low tide, subject to being washed away, and so it was with ours. Weather forecasts predicted that conditions would not be favorable for a safe, smooth Gulf Stream crossing for at least several days, so we would just have to be patient (not really one of our strong suits). Attitude adjustment, anyone?

And there are always little chores that one can do to while away the time, such as giving Ken a haircut and beard trim. It has to be done sometime, right?

Of course, when conditions are not perfect for cruising, one can always rent a car and take a road trip, so we decided that a trip to Key Largo would be fun. By this time, our good friend, Don Graf (who was going to join us on our Bahamas cruise) had arrived, so off the three of us went, away from the hustle-bustle of Miami toward the laid back atmosphere of the Florida Keys.

Many years ago we had visited Key Largo and remembered seeing the “African Queen” (from the movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart) moored next to a Holiday Inn, so we decided to see if it was still there. Guess what? It is! It’s now used for boat tours and charters.


Deciding to spend the night at this scenic spot, we checked in to the Holiday Inn and enjoyed a dip in one of their two swimming pools before deciding where to go for dinner.

We ended up making a great choice, dining at the Bayside Grill overlooking Sunset Cove, very picturesque, with wonderful food.

Before heading back to Miami we decided to stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which is the first undersea park in the U.S., encompassing 70 nautical square miles. We had hoped to see the Visitor Center’s exhibits, but it was closed for renovation, so we checked out a couple of replica cannons from a 1715 Spanish shipwreck and then donned our snorkel gear for a quick dip in the water.

On Monday, May 5th, the weather window we were waiting for opened up, and we headed out into Biscayne Bay for a short, uneventful cruise to No Name Harbor (located inside Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park), where we dropped anchor and prepared to dinghy ashore to pay the $20 fee required for an overnight stay.

Then, off we went on foot in search of the oldest structure in Miami-Dade county, the 95-foot-high Cape Florida Lighthouse. Of course, it was closed for renovation, but it was still a beautiful sight to behold in its lush, tropical setting at the southern tip of Key Biscayne.

After our long hot walk, we were ready for a cold beer and tasty lunch at Boaters’ Grill, conveniently located at the head of No Name Harbor.

Back aboard “Docker’s Inn,” we spent the rest of the day soaking up the atmosphere of this marine environment, surrounded by several anchored sailboats which only added to the serenity of the scene.

As the sun set that evening, we felt more than ready to be on our way across the Gulf Stream the following day.

By 6:00 a.m. we were up, making final preparations for our departure, and expecting to see all of the folks on the sailboats around us doing the same. But, at 6:40 when we pulled up anchor and left the harbor, everyone else appeared to be staying put. So off we went, out the Cape Florida Channel toward the Fowey Rocks Light, whose position five miles offshore enables it to better guide deep-draft ships than the Cape Florida Lighthouse ever did.

From there we had plotted a course on our electronic chart plotter to Bimini, 50 miles east northeast of the Fowey Rocks buoy. Most of that distance we would be crossing the Gulf Stream, an actual river in the Atlantic Ocean which flows north with a current ranging from 1.5 knots on either side to 3 knots in the middle. Because of this we had to steer a course well south of our intended destination to allow for the current always pushing us northward. With east winds blowing at 10-12 knots and waves ranging from 1-3 ft. in height, it was a bumpy enough ride that we had to hang on to something most of the time, but overall, it wasn’t too bad. We did, however, have to carefully observe northbound and southbound freighters and tows in our path, three of which prompted us to temporarily change course and/or slow down to allow them to pass us, and thus, to avoid a possible collision.

At 11:40 a.m., less than five hours after leaving Key Biscayne, we first spotted land way off on the horizon, right where our GPS electronic chart plotter indicated that it should be. Almost simultaneously the bumpy sea began to calm down a bit, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that our long-awaited cruise to the Bahamas was really materializing at last. Not long after that the red rooftops of the Bimini Sands Resort and Marina on South Bimini came into view, and we knew that we were headed directly for the red and green buoys marking the entrance channel to both North and South Bimini.

A brief conversation with the harbormaster provided the instructions we needed to safely enter the harbor and find our reserved slip, and before we knew it we were there, tied up and raising our yellow quarantine flag, ready to clear customs and immigration. That process required the captain (Sharon) to fill out a bunch of forms and take a short taxi ride to the airport while Ken and Don sat on the aft deck of the “Docker” drinking beer and congratulating themselves on having the good sense to not be designated as “captain” of the vessel.

Finally, with passports stamped and $300 boat tax and fishing license paid, the quarantine flag came down and the Bahamas courtesy flag was raised, and we were free to check out our new surroundings. As we looked around at what this marina has to offer, we were very glad we had made this choice.

And now, having had to extend our stay here twice already due to windy and rough conditions in both the Gulf Stream to our west and the Great Bahama Bank to our east, we are still happy with our choice.  So, this is what it’s like to be stranded in paradise!






Bahamas Bound?

By mid-April we were ready to begin heading south for our long awaited voyage to the Bahamas. The plan was to take our time cruising down Florida’s east coast, stopping over at other Loggerhead marinas along the way in Stuart, Palm Beach Gardens, Lantana, and Hollywood, ending up ten days later at Miami which would be our jumping off point for a Gulf Stream crossing to Bimini. We were all set to depart on April 16th, but the weather was not good, so we waited a few more days until conditions were just right, sunny and calm.

Adjusting our schedule, we decided to by-pass Stuart and move on to Palm Beach Gardens while the weather was with us. We left at dawn on Easter Sunday to get a jumpstart on what would be a long cruising day. Conditions were calm enough in our harbor that we didn’t need assistance with our lines. Just past the St. Lucie Inlet which has dredging going on, we came upon a tow in Hobe Sound heading toward us. Luckily we remembered “tow boat language” when he requested a “2 whistle pass” (starboard to starboard) on the VHF radio. The sailboat in front of us, however, was clueless (didn’t even have his radio turned on) and almost collided with the equipment being hauled to the dredging site.

Our next destination , South Lantana, was just 21 miles down the ICW at the southern end of Lake Worth. Although conditions were favorable most of the way, as luck would have it, the winds picked up considerably by the time we reached our marina. Anxious to get safely tied up before conditions deteriorated any further, we called the marina for our slip assignment. After two aborted attempts at docking (once because they directed us to the wrong slip and once because the assigned slip was too small), we finally ended up securely moored in a desirable spot.

The next day, running the 42 mile gauntlet of bridge after bridge between Lake Worth and Hollywood wasn’t as bad as usual because the wind was just a light breeze, making waiting for bridges to open not too difficult. What a relief also when we arrived at the marina to be assigned a slip on the inside of a T-head with a long finger pier to tie up to. This location with a view of the ICW just outside the harbor was very pleasant, with lots of shade and cool breezes, too.

By this time we were back on schedule, and thus, were able to relax for a few days before continuing on to arrive in Miami by Friday, April 25th as originally planned. With less than 20 miles to go, we fueled up at the Hollywood Municipal Marina and then headed south once again.

Our destination was Miamarina, located adjacent to the Bayside Park Marketplace in the heart of downtown Miami. This day we only had to wait for two bridges (one of them for a half hour!), arriving at our marina before noon without too much boat traffic to contend with, except for a water taxi trying to exit just as we were entering the harbor. Luckily, he observed the Law of Gross Tonnage and moved out of our way.

Following our plan, we will stay here to await a favorable weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream to Bimini.




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