First you have to cross the Gulf Stream. That ferocious current that runs south to north, and creates enormous seas when opposed by northerly wind. Best to shorten the crossing as much as possible and cross at a right angle, which gets all screwed up because to compensate for the three-knot current you head about 20 degrees South and end up making an S curve to your destination. We crossed from No Name Harbor, just South of Miami to Alicetown, on North Bimini, a 60 mile run. Having run into an impromptu group of cruisers gathered to plan the journey a day ahead, we hauled anchor 45 minutes ahead of them and slipped out.
Like many well-planned experiences, the foreboding crossing turned into a non-event, just what we wanted. The sea was glassy calm. As the water deepened to half a mile, it became sapphire blue, and as Bimini quickly rose from the depths, it became clear turquoise. So different from the waters in Maine. We landed at Brown’s Marina, where dockage was a cheap $.90/foot per night, along with about eight boats on the same passage, a fleet that became known to us as the B to B fleet. We reconnected with Mary Marie (Ems) and Frank on Eleanor Q, who were traveling with Annette and Anthony on Magnolia. We had met Eleanor Q at the SSCA gam on Isleboro back in August in Maine. Several boats hailed from Canada – Toronto and Montreal. We soon learned from weather predictions that we might be in Bimini for a week! And we were.
Bimini had much in store as it was New Years, and the Bahamians know how to celebrate. But first the cruisers partied with a very well organized and fun pot luck in the marina. I expressed interest in joining in and took off for a walk when the potluck organizer found unsuspecting Ron on the boat and told him simply “potato salad.” That was our first introduction to being part of the B to B fleet, which stuck together tightly and kept you in its fold. Potato Salad became a song down the line.
New Year’s Day featured two parades. After church, the older group turned out in their finest, women in starched white dresses and hats, and men in their black suits. They played Silent Night on traditional instruments with the elders waving from golf carts. The night parade was loud and raucous, women shaking their voluptuous bodies to men drumming, and all of Alicetown dancing down the street, drinks in hand.
The Tongue of the Ocean
After 18 years enjoying life on land in a house with a cat door providing the ultimate in freedom, Athena became a boat cat. Her world shrunk to 50 feet and she was subjected to kitty litter versus the great outdoors. She quickly grew to love it, hanging her head and double paws over the side to stare at her reflection in the water. She was also a great companion.
But 18 years is a long life for a cat, and she lost hers while sailing in the Tongue of the Ocean, where water depths of 50 feet on Great Bahama Bank suddenly drop to a mile through a narrow passage causing a tumultuous hobby horse motion on Mandala. We were traveling from Bimini to Nassau, an overnight passage of 120 miles. Our companions were10 boats from the B to B fleet. On the hour, every hour, the fleet checked in, reporting on conditions on the water and on the boat. The roll call was in the order of location, and while we ended up first into Nassau, we were dead last at the start, having chosen to sail for a bit, when others were motor sailing. While the check ins were humorous for their overly cautious approach, they also helped the night go by. Last boat checking in at 4am, Ron’s update was that our cat died and we buried her. That caught the fleet by surprise. There was an awkward silence, followed by condolences.
Athena was buried with 18 cans of cat food, one for every year of her life, and a diver’s weight, wrapped in an sentimental shirt. She suitably came to rest in waters a mile deep in the Tongue of the Ocean at 25 degrees 09 minutes North, 77 degrees 28 minutes West. She made her mark on many cat lovers.
Moving down the Exumas
From Nassau, cross the Yellow Bank and you reach the Exumas, a long chain of cays with skinny water on the Bank side (west), and a deep windward shore on the Sound (east). There are several cuts from one side to another, but watch the current or you will experience the rage when the wind meets the current at full force. A powerful boat is essential.
We spent a couple of weeks moving South, exploring mangrove swamps, snorkeling reefs, hiking the hills, finding a beach that leads to a great restaurant and a cold Kalik. Eventually, all cruisers find themselves in Georgetown, the Southern most town of any size. Some stay for the winter, others get out as soon as they can. We were in the vicinity for five weeks, a couple of which were due to waiting for friends of friends to fly in with a part for our fridge, and another waiting for a weather window.
A Water Family
There are buddy boats and there are water families. Often boats travel together, in twos, threes and more. Buddy boating has as many meanings as there are boats. Do you stick together like glue on the same course checking in hourly, or travel loosely in the same direction loosing each other for a night or a few and joining up again? Are decisions agreed upon or each to his/her own? On Mandala we prefer independence knowing that tolerances differ and we don’t want anyone to feel responsible for our mistakes or mishaps.
But then a water family is born. We all have close friends that have been with us through decades of careers, children, retirement. Amazingly, cruising creates a friendly, welcoming community, always willing to share experiences and help out. Some of these relationships endure, others provide friendly reencounters up and down the line. The water family is very sticky and anything goes. Lots of stories are shared. We became attached to the crews of Eleanor Q (Frank and Mary Marie Quigley) and Magnolia (Anthony and Annette Baker) and travelled together for about six weeks.
We parted ways as Eleanor Q turned around and headed north, Mandala headed east and south and Magnolia eventually turned north as well. They have been good company, are now good friends, and a rock solid water family. We reunite in Chesapeake Bay.