S Bimini to Eleuthera

Having looked again and again and again at the forecast of numerous web sites, asked the locals and talked to other sailors, we decided that the promised weather window where the wind would go into the N, enabling us to push E and a bit N to get us into the Bahamas proper was nigh. Having pushed off and parked up to the S of S Bimini we decided that rather than fight the big seas likely to be in our face to be found in deeper waters, the shallows of the Great Bahama Bank looked rather good.  This meant that we would take a bit of a chance that the wind would allow us to get NE but any way we looked at it we needed to get moving with our ultimate aim to reach Eleuthera, about 150 miles to the E before the weather turned again.

We had a quick run S to allow us to miss the very shallow bank running S from Bimini and then having passed the Wreck Sapora (one of the great dive sites in the Bahamas – an old rum smuggling boat from the 30’s, smashed up by the USAF in WWII as a bombing  site) we turned E and moved on to the Bank.  It did feel strange running in no more than 15 feet of water for much of the day, the bottom very clear but it did mean practically no seas which meant a pleasant sail.  We were joined for a while by a small pod of dolphin, much to the girls’ excitement.  They stayed for 15 minutes.

We decided that rather than run through the night, we would anchor on Mackies shoal, a little over half way across the Bank and well out of the established routing for stink boats taking the quick route to Nassau.  Again it felt a little bizarre being able to anchor some 40 miles from the closest land in little over 10 feet of water!

The next morning was perfect.  A northerly wind allowing us to point a lot higher than we had been able to the night before and the ability to direct route for the Berry Islands.  With us starting to wander into deeper water, we were able to deploy the heavy fishing rod for the first time.  First catch a pathetic little beast; next one was a Barracuda!  Although we have been told that Barracuda are pretty safe to eat here in the Caribbean, we have heard of the odd horror story on eating the top of the food chain in regard to Ciguatera, a really nasty toxin that concentrates in some reef fish with very very nasty long term health effects.  At only 3 feet long and maybe 8lbs it probably wasn’t big enough for a local take anyway.  We hooked one more a little later and this one really did need the dodgy groin rod support (see photo of H modelling it!).  It was a lot bigger and gave me a 20 minute work out to get it up to the boat.  Sadly we lost it as we were getting the gaff ready to pull on board.

Unfortunately, the northern islands in the Berrys have been taken over by a variety of shipping companies and when we got to the Stirrup Islands, where we were to have a stop, we found that our nice quiet anchorage was anything but.  We were greeted by three enormous cruise liners, merrily ferrying their cattle back and forth from their “island paradises”.  Royal Caribbean are the culprits here. Thankfully we arrived at the wonderfully named Slaughter Harbour, a huge sheltered pool between two islands an hour before dark so the exodus back to the ships was quick, leaving us in peace.

With very quiet wind, little current and 6 feet under the keel, it was a perfect place to start getting the girls into their snorkelling gear to pick up confidence.  Eleanor had no problems and was soon jumping off the boat in full gear, racing around to the back to climb back on with a huge grin before starting the whole manoeuvre off again. Hannah needed a little encouragement and a reminder that with the wetsuit and gear on, the object is to just float on top of the water rather than thrashing the arms and legs around (much her normal style).  However, we were all soon happy and found a very large hermit crab, some sort of sea slug and the obligatory selection of small fishes.

Day three of this trip found us with practically no wind, a NE swell running in from the Atlantic and mixing it with some large ships using the gap between Abacos and the Berrys as a safe lane to reach the American coast.  We donkey’d for a few hours pushing N and E to give us a good angle (if the wind came in) to reach down into Eleuthera.  When the wind did come, it was perfect.  15knts and across the beam allowed us to get a move on. We knew that we would have to do a night run to get down to the Eleuthera and it seemed that the wind would finally be good to us and push us down there with minimal stress.

In our dreams……

About 0230, having slowly meandered in the right direction at a couple of knots with the wind from the N but dying to register only 3-5knots, I noticed some rather nasty looking black lines of clouds with what appeared to be almost tornado type cloud extensions coming out of them.  Quickly reefing, I felt pretty happy until the wind hit, coming from the SW at 25+ knots true!  A “what the hell” and a quick dump (of sails before anyone starts sniggering) later, we were lashed with some pretty wild winds and rain. With less than 20 miles to go to our destination we were back with the wind on our bow.

After the squall went through, leaving us with a completely reversed wind, things calmed down and we were able to time our arrival to the edge of the reef at first light. On the recommendation of Duane, one of the skippers at Fort Lauderdale, Spanish Wells was our finish point and we safely tied up at the Marine Shop to refuel and get our bearings. We noticed a huge difference immediately to Bimini.  Spanish Wells is a bustling port, home to most of the Bahamas commercial fishing boats and a pretty sea front.

We are now on a mooring at the E end of the town, owned and run by “Bandit”.  Not bad for $20 a day and all of 100m from the dock as well. In regards to the weather, it turned out that we timed our trip near perfectly but it is just as well that we chose to push through the night to get to Eleuthera.  The evening of our arrival and the next 36 hrs after that had weather that the locals term “rage”.  The huge breakers on the N side of the island hitting the reef were spectacular (we could hear them quite easily from 2miles away) but I was very glad to be in the shelter of the harbour when the gale went through.

Lessons learned:

Weather forecasts here are not worth the paper they are written on beyond 48 hours.

Although we did do so, it is always good drills that if you are thinking of reefing, you probably should have already, especially at night!

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