Sittin’ here in Marathon reflecting on our trip to the Bahamas and thought maybe I would put some thoughts down that might help others with their own Bahamas trip. First, let me say that this was our first trip over and I’m no Bahamas expert by any means. Our thoughts and observations are based on our budget, our boat and our comfort level. Your experience may be vastly different.
Let’s start with the two things I believe most folks stress out about, the crossing and provisioning. It’s hard to imagine how much fuss has been made about the 50-70 mile stretch of water between here and the Islands. From what you read and listen to, you would think the preparation for the crossing is akin to a lunar landing. That’s not to say you should take the crossing lightly, far from it. Look at it this way, most cruisers who are getting ready to cross have already navigated hundreds if not thousands of miles. Those miles required planning, navigating, weather watching and good old common sense. It’s no different crossing the Stream. You have to plan, navigate, watch the weather and carry a dose of common sense. You don’t have to subscribe to a weather routing service, you don’t have to attend a bunch of “planning” meetings with other cruisers, you don’t have to cross over in a caravan of boats thinking it’s safer and you don’t have to cross at night. If you want to do any or all of the above, that’s ok, but you don’t have to.
Our simple recipe for crossing was to first decide where to cross over. Since we were going to the Exumas via Bimini, the Miami area to Bimini route at 50 some miles made the most sense. Next was the weather “window”. And this is the toughest part for most folks, deciding when to cross. You’ll have it pounded into your brain about never crossing over when there is a north component to the wind. For the most part this is true, however, if the wind has been coming out of the north for the past few days at 5-6 knots or less, then consider this a viable window to cross over even though there is a north component to the wind. If the wind from the north has been blowing 15-20 knots or more for two days or more, be prepared to wait a couple of days for the Stream to lay down when the wind stops blowing from the north. If the wind was blowing from the north on Monday at 20 knots, don’t think that on Tuesday you have a window because now the wind is blowing from the east. Let it lay down.
When we got our window we left Miami at sunup because I wanted to be in Bimini with plenty of daylight left. Once we cleared the buoys out of Government Cut I set a course for 18 miles south of Bimini. This was to allow for the northward push that the Stream would give us. I didn’t do a lot of math or plot out an “S” vector to reach that number, I just figured we’d be in the Stream for about 3-4 hours before the next course change and that would give us a about a 6-8 mile push north. I wanted to be well south of Bimini when we changed course. In retrospect I could have set the course 10 miles south and still been ok. In the middle of the Stream we set a new course straight for the channel at North Bimini. The Stream would give us a really good push because now we were headed northeast instead of southeast. As it turns out we made Bimini in a little over 7 hours with no muss, no fuss. That’s from anchor up to tied at the dock.
The whole point is don’t let the magazines and even other cruisers make the crossing more complicated or scary then it need be. Use the skills it took you to get this far and you’ll be fine. Just pick a window that’s comfortable to you and remember that the Stream will push you north so make allowances for that push. It’s not rocket science. 🙂
This ran a little long, so next post, provisioning…