Bimini to Nassau
Departure: Monday 5th March - 08:00 am
Arrival: Tuesday 6th March - 16:00 pm
Having spent a full week in Bimini putting Empress back together after our slightly turbulent Gulf Stream crossing, we left the marina and exited the channel at around mid tide to head north around the top of the island and across the Great Bahama Banks.
Our damaged mainsail had been repaired thanks to the incredible help from Beth, and her sewing machine on SV Kestrel and everything that had previously been thrown around the cabin was now securely bolted down or stowed in the head. As if to give us a sign that we were going to have a much smoother journey this time around, a pod of dolphins started swimming and jumping around the boat.
This time we were traveling with three other sailboats; Kestrel, Moonshadow and Nellie Bly. We were much better prepared for this journey than the previous one thanks to about five days of meeting to look over charts and weather forecasts with Clarence (Kestrel), who also introduced us to Predict Wind Offshore and how it can be used for detailed weather and route planning.
As soon as we rounded the rock and made our turn east, we raised our sails and started out across the Great Bahama Banks. With the winds quite light out of the north-northeast we raised the full mainsail and pulled up the 140% genoa to make the most of the beam reach and calm seas across the banks. It was a perfect sailing day; clear blue skies, smooth water, and just enough wind to keep us moving at about 4 knots, but because we already had a 30-hour journey ahead of us we decided to motor-sail at a steady 5 1/2 knots. We carried on smoothly all day, totally uneventful which was fine by us!
At some point in the late afternoon or early evening, Kestrel hailed us on the radio with some news from their friends who were already in Nassau - it wasn't good. The Nassau Harbor Authority had closed the west entrance to all traffic because huge waves were breaking across the channel.
We found out the next day that some of these waves broke across the road opposite the channel entrance, pushing cars across the street and smashing the windows of a restaurant. It was decided that we would simply slow down and take our time getting there since the later we arrived the better conditions would be for us to enter the harbor the next day.
As the sun set, I pulled the genoa down and changed it for the smaller working jib so there would be no need to leave the cockpit overnight. Both Kach and I were starting to feel pretty tired, and the genoa was causing too much weather-helm for the autopilot to keep up. The winds continued to die down while Kach made up the bed on the cockpit floor so we could start our “night shifts.” Kach took the first watch so that I could get some sleep before we exited the banks through the Northwest Passage at the Tongue of the Ocean. Buy the time we reached the passage the seas were completely flat, so we needn’t have worried.
Staying awake at the helm was difficult this time around; with nothing to do other than keep an eye out for nothing, I found myself starting to nod off for a few minutes at a time. The sun rose as we passed Chub Cay and we found deep water again. The waves started to grow, but with long periods of well over ten seconds, they were more like a long, slow swell. That is until we approached Nassau later that day and any boats ahead or behind of us disappeared completely into the troughs of the waves which we were now much larger and rolled us from side to side.
We heard from Kestrel and Moonshadow that the harbor entrance had been reopened and that they had made it through just fine. However, they both warned us there were still breaking waves on either side of the channel entrance which could be very disorientating in combination with the rolling waves following diagonally through the channel, some verging on big enough for the boat to surf down. We changed course to give us a direct approach into the channel from the north rather than along the coast from the east. We could already see the spray of big waves breaking all along the seafront, and we didn’t want to to be anywhere near that!
As we approached we could see what they were talking about; waves were still breaking over the lighthouse rocks and sending white water across the entrance along with all kinds of debris. We entered with enough speed to keep the steering responsive but with enough reserve power left over to give us some extra push if we needed it.
In the end, it wasn't nearly as bad as it looked from the outside, but there was a lot of pre-emptive steering involved to keep us on course as those steep rollers passed under the hull and reduced the steerage for several seconds at a time. We found out later that these conditions are what the locals call a “rage” and the local news and radio issues warnings for small craft not to try to pass through.
So as we pulled in Nassau Yacht Haven Marina, our second long journey was over, and at 32 hours we barely had the energy to put the sails away and tidy up before we crashed out. The best part about arriving in Nassau - we were just one small jump closer to a whole month of short day and half-day sails between the islands of the Exumas!