December 31, 2018

It’s better in the Bahamas

We left Palm Beach via the Lake Worth Inlet on Saturday, December 22 at 9 pm to head to the Bahamas, specifically the northernmost islands of the Abacos. To get from Florida to the Bahamas, you have to cross the Gulf Stream, a deep and warm 40-mile wide body of water that flows north along the Florida coast at about 2.5 knots. Depending on the day, the stream moves closer and further from the shoreline, and the waters in it can move upwards of 1 - 4 knots as you travel east and then gradually subside, dragging any object north along with it.

Imagine trying to cross from one side of a room to a specific location on the other side of the room, and to get there you have to walk perpendicular across multiple moving walkways all traveling at different speeds. Crossing the Gulf Stream, and ensuring you end up at your destination, is very similar and requires careful planning and consideration of your direction, distance traveling, boat speed, and wind, sea and current conditions.

Our waypoints (yellow stars) across the gulf stream to Great Sale Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

Borealis’ course was 110 degrees magnetic (southeast), but our track was northeast
until we left the strong northerly current of the Gulf Stream
We would have preferred a daytime crossing, but our weather window was short, and nighttime was the better and safer option for crossing in lighter northerly winds under 10 knots. The challenge of crossing at night is navigating through cruise and cargo ships in the very busy shipping lanes heading to and from Florida. Thankfully, we had clear skies and a bright full moon, which helped us to see the sea state and lights from other vessels, since not all appear on our ship tracking.

When we sail overnight, we take 3-hour shifts while the other goes below and sleeps. During our "watch", we adjust the boat's speed or sails if necessary, look for any other ships or hazards to navigation, eat snacks, and listen to music or podcasts to pass the time. On this trip, both of us made calls to large vessels during our watches - Sara to a Carnival cruise ship and Nick to a cargo ship - when we were on course to cross paths within a half nautical mile of the other vessel...a little too close for comfort without confirming with their captains that they can see us on their radars and know our intentions!

Borealis crossing paths within a 1/2 nautical mile of a 560-ft cargo ship during Nick’s watch 
After leaving the Lake Worth inlet we arrived to our first waypoint of Memory Rock just as the sun was rising. There is little better than seeing the sun rise after sailing all night, but this one was especially nice since we could already see a change in the hues of the water. A few hours later, shortly after lunch, we arrived to Great Sale Cay (Cay is pronounced key) - a small, uninhabited island with good protection and ground holding. We were exhausted but incredibly happy to drop the anchor in clear aquamarine water.

After an early dinner and bedtime, we were back at it the following morning for another 56 nm hop to Green Turtle Cay, a small, but populated island of about 500 people, where we planned to clear into customs and celebrate Christmas.

Christmas day aboard Borealis

When you arrive into any foreign port, it's international law that a vessel must raise a yellow Q (or quarantine) flag, which signifies that you haven't been granted clearance into the country. You must typically clear into a port within 24 hours of arrival and all passengers must stay onboard (and only the captain may go ashore) until you clear customs. Since we entered the Bahamas during Christmas, we flew the quarantine flag for nearly three days before the customs office finally opened (Nick went ashore several times and on his last attempt sat outside the office for nearly 2 hours before an officer arrived). Once granted clearance to cruise, it's etiquette to then raise a courtesy flag of the country you are visiting.

Nick pulls down the Q flag to raise the Bahamian flag

Unfortunately, as soon as Nick cleared into customs, the weather from a front arrived and for three days it blew a steady 20-30 knots and was too windy and dangerous to take the dinghy ashore to explore for fear of being overtaken by large waves.

Banana muffins baked by Nick while stuck aboard
The weather here in the northern Bahamian islands is pretty much the same as southern Florida - it's warm, but not at all hot. We've had sunny days in the mid-70s, but early spring, and not all winter, is the the high season for tourists to the Abacos since it is still cool in the early morning and at night, and the water temperature - at 75 degrees - is a bit cool for swimming.

After a full week aboard, we finally made it ashore to explore. Green Turtle Cay is halfway down the Sea of Abaco, and is a small but popular island and historic New Plymouth offers restaurants, shops and a few small grocers.

Our plan is to stay at Green Turtle Cay for the new year and their annual Junkanoo street parade with music, dancing, and costumes.

After 1,100 miles and countless cold and low fronts, we are incredibly happy to finally be here and spending the next few months exploring and beachcombing the Bahamas' many islands and white sandy beaches.

Cheers to a happy, healthy and joyous new year!

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