Thoughts on the Bahamas

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…

Until then….

Key West

We all, all being Pat and Doug from Sanctuary along with Sue and Mick from Jenny, decided that Monday would be a fine day to take to bus to Key West. The weather was in the upper 70’s lower 80’s instead of in the 60’s. In case you didn’t know, when the thermometer hits 62 degrees in Marathon the water freezes. At least it feels that way! 🙂 The bus only takes an hour and a half and costs 1.50 for seniors, 2.00 for military and 4 bucks for everyone else. If you take this bus, be warned that it gets so cold inside that you may need a sweater or light jacket. On the way back someone finally told the driver to turn the air up because the shivering was gettin’ annoying. 🙂

Our big plan for the day was to have lunch and just walk around taking in the sights. And we did just that. Had lunch at a place called Conch something or other. I’m sure Pat will let me know the name in the comment section. Everyone’s lunch looked great and my fish and chips were delicious. The fish, in the fish and chips, was Mahi Mahi! Michele’s salad looked pretty tasty too. After that, we ambled around taking in the all the sights that Key West is known for. Key West is a great walking town that would probably take days and days to really explore and partake in all the local flavor.

P1040113This is not Key West but the tiki hut at Marathon City Marina. On the weekend the cruisers get together and throw together jam sessions that are very entertaining.

P1040117This one is for you Pat..:)

P1040124The old road heading into Key West. Scary narrow!

P1040126Michele in front of a beautiful old woodie.

P1040128The dinghy dock at Key West.

P1040130 P1040137Local wildlife..

P1040145 P1040150All over Key West you’ll find these roosters. Not sure the backstory on them. Time to Google…

P1040138And, of course, Key West is a major cruise ship destination.

P1040140 P1040142 P1040135Local colors..


Until then…


Dinghy Safari

Ask any cruiser what one of most important pieces of equipment they have is and the answer will always include the dinghy. A good dink is worth it’s weight in gold. It’s the car that carries you back and forth to the dock or shore, it’s the truck that hauls groceries, fuel and water. It’s the vehicle that makes it possible to discover new places to explore. It’s both a serious piece of equipment and a “play” thing too. Can you tell we love our dinghy and what it can do for us.

Today our good friends Pat and Doug took us on what we like to call “dinghy Safari’s”. One of our favorite things to do while cruising is to jump in the dink and go exploring. And that’s what we did. They took us to Sister Creek off Boot Key Harbor and we explored the mangrove canals that are prevalent in the area. Some of the canals are lined by mangroves on both sides while some of the canals had houses on both sides, which created some diversity and interest. We didn’t spot any manatee’s this time but I have a feeling that next time we will..

P1040081 P1040078 P1040080Turned out to be a beautiful day to go exploring..

P1040085 P1040090As you can see, some of the canals are very narrow. At one point we went down a narrow canal and I thought we may have to back out because there wasn’t room to turn around. A little further ahead though it opened up and we did manage to turn around.

P1040100Sister’s Creek heading out into Hawk Channel and the Gulf Stream beyond that..

P1040102Huge Banyan tree…

P1040103 P1040109 P1040110An iguana we spotted up on someone’s lawn…

Until then…


DIY Anchor Remote Switch

We were very fortunate in the fact that El Camino had no major breakdowns while we were in the Bahamas. The only things that come to mind are the “up” switch on the windlass went bad, the kill switch on the Yamaha outboard went bad and one hatch hinge broke. Not bad considering what broke on some folks boats. Of the things that did break, the one that needed attention right away was the “up” switch for the anchor windlass. When the anchor is down it’s kinda, well, important that you be able to get it back up. And pulling in anywhere from 60-120 feet of 3/8 anchor chain by hand is not what you would call fun in any stretch of the imagination. So here’s what I did to solve the problem until I can get a replacement foot switch. Even after I get the new switch installed, I enjoy the remote switch so much that I will wire it directly to the windlass solenoid to clean things up a bit.

P1040065After I removed the bad foot switch this is what’s inside. Even though the foot switch looks heavy duty, this tiny micro switch controls the solenoid. I took the micro switch apart and it was corroded inside beyond repair. Not sure how it got so corroded as everything on the windlass is watertight.

P1040075I then cut the wires that connected to the micro switch and added about 3 feet of wire that I had onboard. I know that the wire nuts are not a proper connector but this was a temporary solution. Besides there was not enough wire sticking out of the windlass to make a temporary butt connection and then later make another permanent butt connection to the new foot switch. The Gorilla tape is there just to provide a little strain relief on the temporary wires.P1040077I still needed a switch, so I robbed a cockpit light switch and installed it using more Gorilla tape to sort of insulate everything. Remember this was to be just a temp solution until I got a foot switch. The cool thing is that it worked really well and even though I only had three feet of wire it gave me a little more mobility at the windlass. So when we got to Marathon I got to thinking that maybe a permanent anchor remote would be cool to have. Being a cruiser ( read cheap), I thought I could make one that was suitable for less then you could buy one and it would be a fun project.

P1040067I started with this momentary spring loaded switch that I found at the marine flea market for 3 bucks. From Home Depot I bought one 1 1/4″ PVC pipe cap, one 1 1/4″ x 1/2″ PVC bushing  one  1/2 ” PVC pipe cap and a short piece of 1/2″ PVC pipe. The 15 feet of wire I found onboard by accident. So total cost under 7 bucks.

P1040066It’s hard to see in the pic but I had to use a carbide burr and routed out the inside of the pipe cap. Since the switch was flat and the cap was rounded the switch would not stick far enough out of the cap to screw the nut that holds the switch in place. With the burr I made two flat spots for the switch to sit in. The hole in the top of the cap is 1/2″.

P1040069The switch inside the cap..

P1040068This is the 1/2″ pipe cap and pipe. The hole in the cap I sized to be really tight to help with keeping any moisture out. The two nylon cable ties are there to provide some strain relief.

P1040071Here is the finished remote all put together. Inside the bushing there was a little ridge that I had to remove using the burr. By removing the ridge it gave the wires more room and let the bushing slide up further into the cap. Your switch may be configured different and fit a little better up against the bushing. The remote fits the hand and feels good and solid. I could have made the remote for up and down but then I would have had to buy a different switch and wire. Hope this helps someone who has a foot switch go out. If you don’t have a spare this will get you by in a pinch..

Until then….