Last year in the Bahamas we loved the Abacos for the settlements and the Exumas for the water. Our plan when we left in May was to repeat the trip, beginning with the Abacos and continuing to the Exumas via Eleuthera and perhaps the Berry Islands. Then Dorian happened.
After debating whether to go to the Bahamas at all, we decided this time we would leave from Miami and get to the Exumas via Bimini. While the Abacos are making progress recovering, we weren’t sure we were quite self-sufficient enough vis a vis water capacity if we were to be pinned there for awhile due to weather. It seemed like a good decision at the time, but by the time we landed in West Bay on New Providence we agreed any future trips to the Bahamas from the U.S. will be via the Abacos.
When we crossed the Gulf Stream we knew we would be in Bimini for a week based on the weather forecast. While it was a great relief to finally have the Gulf Stream crossing out of the way, and while it was wonderful to see that beautiful water again (I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I laid eyes on it), we did not feel the love for Bimini.
All of the marinas except one are in North Bimini, but Bimini Sands Marina in South Bimini offered the best protection from the forecasted 25-30 knot winds so it was a no brainer to stay there. The fact that they were offering a special of $150/week made it even better. I wasn’t sure if we would regret it given how quiet South Bimini is, but it actually ended up being the best part of our stay.
The marina itself had just acquired new owners a few weeks prior and it was pretty run down. It had floating docks which were great and the employees were really friendly, but the rest of it was meh. The pools weren’t operational, only 2 out of 3 showers worked for both the men and women’s showers (and of the two, there was only 1 shower curtain in the men’s), and the island had a real issue with flies and no-see-ums. We made the best of it though, taking walks every day and getting into a more relaxed island groove.
We took the ferry over one afternoon to North Bimini and ended up being very glad that we were in South Bimini. North Bimini just didn’t have a good vibe. However, we did enjoy our first cracked conch salad and we bought our first loaf of Bahamian bread of the trip.
After a week I was more than ready to leave the marina, so we cast off the dock lines and poked our nose out to see what the conditions were like. It was clear that the forecast was correct and we needed to wait one more day, so we anchored off of North Bimini where we rolled all night even with the swell bridle. I barely slept, but Jeff said he did.
The next day it was time to head across the Great Bahama Bank. We were hoping to go straight to the Exumas (about 165 nm) but the forecast ended up underestimating the wind which, of course, was on the nose. It started out well, around 8-10 knots, but then it steadily increased up to 18 knots with the chop on the banks. Poor Pegu was averaging less than 5 knots, often times getting pushed down to 3 knots when plowing into a particularly large wave.
As night fell the wind increased, and after getting a weather report of the conditions on the Northwest Channel from a motor yacht that had sped by earlier going 18 knots, we decided to call it a night. In hindsight we probably should have kept going, but instead we pulled over and anchored on the Bank along with many other suffering cruisers. The 2 foot fetch kept us up for most of the night (are you starting to see a pattern?).
The next morning it was still blowing and choppy but we needed to get somewhere more protected before a strong front came in the following day, so we continued to hammer along. Once we were out on the Northwest Channel we actually were able to sail for two hours – the first time since the Chesapeake (cue the choir singing). But then of course the wind turned back on the nose. We would have preferred to tack and keep sailing, but we still had 40 miles to go and we don’t like entering strange harbors at night (particularly harbors flanked by reefs), so we fired up Big Red and pulled into West Bay on New Providence about an hour before sunset.
After sleeping for 12 hours that night I felt very refreshed, and we were tucked in nicely for the front which brought 25-30 knot winds for 24 hours.
By the time the wind died we had already decided to leave the next day since another front was due in a few days. With the anchorage completely open to the west, we did not want to be there when it arrived because it would bring clocking winds from west to northwest. Within a few hours of the wind dying the swells began, and we rolled back and forth in the anchorage all night long. We barely slept, but we needed to press on for one more day. For those that are counting, that makes three nights of virtually no sleep, and one night of poor sleep due to howling winds, over five days.
We left the West Bay anchorage at sunrise and after rolling up and over some 8-10 foot swells for a little while in the Tongue of the Ocean, we entered the Great Bahama Bank off of the Exumas and life started getting a lot better. The wind was 10-12 knots on the nose (of course), but finally it shifted just enough to be able to motor sail, the water was gorgeous, and we finally started feeling like we could relax. Dropping the anchor 55 nm later in Normans Cay, we looked down at the perfectly clear water and exhaled. We were finally in the Exumas. Time to slow down and kick back.
At one point during the three days of slogging through the wind and waves, I looked at Jeff and told him that if this had been our experience last year I don’t know that I would have made a return trip. The weather has been relentless this winter, with fronts rolling through and, in between the fronts, strong east winds which are no bueno when you need to go east. At another point I looked at Jeff and said, “I don’t think I want to go to Luperon if this is what it’s going to be like.” When he mentioned the next day that he really wanted to go there, I readily agreed. He looked surprised until I explained that I was just tired earlier. Luperon is definitely still on the table.
So bottom line, we would not enter the Bahamas via Bimini again in the future. Going from West Palm into the Abacos we only need a 36 hour window to get virtually all of our easting complete. The Abacos has plenty of places to tuck in to escape weather, and it’s very pretty. As for going via Bimini, we didn’t particularly care for the settlement, once we arrived we still had a bunch of easting to do, and unless you go to the Berry Islands (which we had planned to do, but decided to wait until a bit later in the spring when the weather settles down) its still another 115 nm to get anywhere.
But it’s all good, because now we’re in the Exumas where the water is simply stunning and the weather is usually less severe than in the islands farther north. We couldn’t be more pleased to be here.