Apr 3, 201309:19 AM
Swing Set: Cruising Full Time
Finally in the Bahamas
On Monday, April 1, we took a cab to the Marathon Veterinary Hospital so Holly could get her "physical" and health certificate for entering the Bahamas. Seventy-five dollars later, we were headed back to Boot Key Harbor, exactly one month to the day after her rabies shot. Her shot had to be administered no sooner than one month prior to her entry into the Bahamas, but we now also had, by law, 48 hours to check in at customs and immigration. We'd heard there is wiggle room in the 48 hour stipulation, but we hear lots of things.
I'd filed a float plan with the Small Vessel Reporting Service, a feature administered by the U.S. Customs Service. This should allow us to enter back into the U.S. with just a phone call. I stated our last port as Marathon, knowing full well we would be getting fuel before we left U.S. waters, but I didn't know where. Already breaking laws.
We pulled out of Boot Key Harbor and made our exit into Hawk Channel through the Little Sisters cut and headed east, or northeast. I thought we might stay overnight at Rodriquez Key, near Tavernier, Fla., but I cranked Swing Set up to cruising speed and we arrived at Rodriquez Key just after noon, too early to call it a day. I used the Active Captain feature on our Garmin Bluechart Mobil app on the iPad to find a marina that sold diesel, so we pulled into the Key Largo Harbor Marina for a $500 fill up of 100 gallons of the red stuff.
I picked out Angelfish Creek on our chart for our intended overnight stay and was making way towards it when I saw a line of clouds forming to the north of us. I used the XM Weather feature on our Garmin chartplotter and found out there was a big storm cell coming our way. I got on the VHF for a NOAA weather report and confirmed the report on XM of an intense storm with a severe marine advisory on our hands.
I reacted too quickly, not knowing for sure which way the storm was heading, but I thought I could get around it to the east, so I headed out to sea to circumvent the storm. I didn't seem to be making any headway, so I listened to the NOAA report again and found out the storm was heading southeast at 25 knots. We weren't going to outrun it at our present rate, so I did a U-turn and headed back toward land, not knowing where I was going to find a safe harbor. The only nearby place was a small channel into the Ocean Reef Club, so I made way towards it, and once in the harbor, I called the harbormaster and requested to tie up until the storm passed at their very exclusive and no doubt expensive club. He gave us permission to tie up between two megayachts, as long as we needed to in order to avoid the serious weather headed our way.
After an hour, the major part of the storm had headed out to sea, and the marine advisory had been concluded. I called the harbormaster and thanked him for his hospitality, and we pulled back out into Hawk Channel for our short hop into Angelfish Creek, a cut-through from Hawk Channel to Card Sound. Just as we got into the narrow channel leading into Angelfish Creek, the skies let loose and we got a free boat wash. By the time we put our anchor down, the rain had stopped and we were able to enjoy a pleasant evening once the big boats traversing the cut stopped for the night. None of them seemed too concerned about any "no wake near boats at anchor" protocol.
I was up by 6 a.m., checking the weather and the oil in the Cats. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when I began to get under way. Hold it right there, partner. The port engine wouldn't crank over, and during my diagnosis of the problem, I ran the batteries down and the starboard engine wouldn't crank either. Dead in the water.
I started the generator to charge up the batteries and then climbed into the engine room to see what was going on. I can't seem to climb into the engine room without cutting myself somewhere, and this time was no exception. I checked the alternator belt and battery voltage and didn't find anything wrong. The back of my right hand was bleeding as I climbed back out of the engine room, adding to my displeasure.
I was able to start the port engine with the starboard engine already running by holding the jumper switch down, but the port engine would die when I let loose of the switch. To keep the engine running, I used a clothespin to hold down the switch, but we weren't going to be traveling to the Bahamas that way, so I used the offshore services feature on our Garmin chartplotter and found a MarineMax dealer in Miami, plotted a course to it and pointed Swing Set toward Card Sound, scrapping our long-awaited crossing for at least another day. But who knew how long we would be delayed?
Rosie had gone below for something and then came to the bridge and asked me if I had turned off the breaker for the port ignition. I said I had not, and then the lightbulb came on. I asked Rosie to switch the breaker on, then I removed the clothespin, and the port engine kept purring along. Rosie was quite proud of herself, and this was one of the times I was reminded that we are truly a team. We seem to make up for what the other sometimes lacks. We did a little dance, and I turned the boat around 180 degrees. Bimini, here we come!
We were about an hour behind schedule, knowing full well it could have been much worse. I could only imagine running all the way up to Miami to the MarineMax dealer there only to find out the ignition was off. I may have quit boating on the spot.
We had smooth sailing, as you can see from the photo above, but about halfway across the 56 miles, the light northerly winds kicked up a 3 knot Gulf Stream and things got bumpy. The ship's bell was ringing almost constantly once I put Swing Set on plane to get on top of the waves. I'm not sure if the pounding at speed was worse, or the extreme rolling we were getting at our slower, more economical speed, but we made up some time and were soon in sight of land.
We were just so excited to be entering the channel into the North Bimini Harbor! Our destination was the Bimini Bluewater Resort Marina, and we quickly found it and called them on the VHF. We were met at some nice docks by Lewis, who helped us tie up. Then it was into the office to arrange for dockage for one night, but I was told to go to customs first to check in. We left Holly to guard the boat and both walked to the customs office with all our papers, all filled out, and most importantly, cash.
Typically, only the captain is allowed off a vessel to check in, but the customs office in Alice Town is, well...laid back. But we dressed up a little for the process, something I learned that is appreciated by the authorities. We had everything pretty much in order, so when the officer asked how long we wanted our cruising permit for, we said 180 days and were granted that amount. Some folks who we know who had just come through here only got 90 days, with the option to extend their stay, but it requires checking in at specific locations, and still the extension is not guaranteed.
Once leaving the customs office, which is on the grounds of the Bimini Big Game Club, it was a short walk to the police station, where Bahamas immigration had set up a "temporary" office. The man there was very nice, and we were soon on our way to BaTelCo, just up the street, to see about some Internet service here. We found out the iPad we have is "locked" and a Bahamas Telecommunications Company SIM card would not work. I made a few calls to AT&T but was only able to speak to a robot before getting cut off. We'd purchased an international calling plan before leaving the U.S., so we could make calls for 25 cents a minute for a monthly fee of $3.99, but I wanted Internet service through BTC so I could check weather, get email and post blogs. Basically, what we wanted was a reduced roaming charge plan.
As we walked down Kingshighway, we stopped in front of the Bimini Big Game Club for this photo. Kingshighway is very busy, and there are no sidewalks. Speed limits seem to be non-existent. We made notes of places we wanted to visit later; it was becoming clearer to us that Bimini wasn't going to be a one-night stay. According to the weather reports, we would either have to leave Bimini first thing in the morning or be here at least until the weekend. It didn't make much sense to come all this way to leave in such a short time.
Rosie went to work on the iPad, trying to line up some international Internet service through AT&T, similar to our international calling plan, but the WiFi service we paid for at the marina left much to be desired. We could only connect while sitting just outside of the office. While Rosie worked on the iPad, I worked on a couple of Bud Lights to sooth my nerves after quite an eventful day. But there was more to come.
We wanted a plan for our MiFi device on the boat, so we could stream data through it to not only the desktop computer but also to the iPad, or even the iPhone if we wanted to, but Rosie could only manage to get the iPad set up for a global Internet and WiFi service, at a cost of $60 per month for 300 MBs. That's not much, but if we could avoid staying at marinas with poor WiFi service, it would be worth it. I soon found out that only having the service on the iPad was going to severely hinder our ability to manage our "household" stuff, plus posting a blog was going to be next to impossible. But, the iPad plan was better than nothing, and I could use it at the helm to check on weather when we were near a BTC tower, which many of the islands have.
We cranked up the water maker, as water here is 60 cents per gallon. We're paying $15 per day for electricity, so we might as well use it to make our water. One thing, the dockage is only $1 per foot per day, a reasonable amount. We took showers and grabbed Holly for a walk to the End of the World Sand Bar on the southern end of the island.
On our way there, we found out it was closed, so we turned around and climbed a small hill on the west side of the island to Sherri's Diner, or something like that. Sherri's is not much more than a shack. We ordered two Kalik beers and contemplated having dinner there. We watched the sunset and ordered two more beers and two Snapper fried fish dinners. No other customers arrived, and we watched some local boys breaking glass bottles for sport on the beach, which of course, is littered with glass and trash. Talk about killing the goose that laid the golden egg!
Our fish was ready, and we picked it up at the window, ready to dig in. Good thing we had the two Kalik beers, because the only thing the fish was missing was its eyeballs and entrails, having been fried nearly whole, something Rosie had never been exposed to. It was tasty, but it came time to pay and we were presented proudly with a bill of $48, plus tip. Did I mention we were the only customers they had? No wonder. We vowed to never order anything again without asking the price first. I know this, but I keep forgetting my own rules. Might always be the beer.
Back to the boat and early to bed after a long day, but I woke up around 1 a.m., bothered with the Internet plan we pressured ourselves into with AT&T. I poked around on the computer for a bit and found what I thought was a solution.
In the morning I called a number I found on the "My AT&T" application on our iPad and made a call. We were easily able to transfer the global data and WiFi plan to the MiFi device on the boat for the same money we were going to pay just for the iPad. Life was looking pretty good again!
To celebrate (we don't need much reason to celebrate), we went out to breakfast. Captain Bob's, our intended cafe, was closed, so we asked the woman at the marina where we could go and were directed to CJ's deli, just up the hill next door to Sherri's Diner. CJ's had a menu posted on the wall, and the prices were reasonable. We had a good breakfast in a very small place, only four stools along a little counter, where just on the other side our breakfast was prepared by the two women who were running the place at the time. Everyone who popped in to get something to go was friendly and offered a "good morning." We've found everyone so far to be polite and friendly, something we hadn't experienced in Nassau or the West End, many years ago.
We took a walk after breakfast into Bailey Town, just north of Alice Town. Bailey was a Prime Minister at one time. I don't know who Alice was. Buildings are for the most part very run down, and like I mentioned, there's trash everywhere. It's a shame really, because the water surrounding Bimini is spectacular. We also stopped in at the Bimini Big Game Club to see if they sold diesel. Fuel at the Bluewater is $6 per gallon, and I wanted to see if they had a cheaper price. Turns out Big Game doesn't sell fuel at all, but all of the boats there get fuel at Bluewater and it is judged to be good fuel, so we'll get it here before we leave.
Back at the boat, Rosie polished the fender holders on the bow that had begun to tarnish with rust again, an ongoing process. I got out some contact cement to repair the gasket on our flybridge hatch that was a victim of the rough crossing. I also talked to some others who'd also made the crossing yesterday and who also have decided to wait until the weekend to head out, with the weather being forecasted to get rather blustery.
Not sure how much data transfer is used in posting a blog, but I'll soon find out. We'll have to severely reduce our Internet browsing, because we normally exceed 5 gigs a month on the desktop, not to mention the 3 gigs we use on the iPad. Blog posts may be few and far between, but I wanted to get this one out because finally being in the Bahamas is another milestone for us. We've been at this for 11 months now, and it's hard to believe we've met our goals thus far. But now we have at least six months of exploring these islands ahead of us, hundreds and hundreds of them over thousands of square miles. We won't see them all, and we won't know where we're going until we see the weather each day, but if we can stay for the summer and avoid the hurricanes, we can come back next time to see what we may miss this time.