The wind this year has been relentless – in fact, if last winter had been like this one I honestly don’t know if we would have come back. From what we understand, winter in the Bahamas can be a crap shoot. Cold fronts regularly move down into this region, and it’s a given that the farther north you are the windier it will be. Some winters if you are far enough south (for example, Georgetown in the Exumas), the fronts won’t reach you, Other years there is no escape. This is one of those years.
What does that mean? It means that since we arrived we have typically had about a day and a half of decent weather and five days of winds in the 20’s. A front blows through but instead of the wind relaxing after it passes, ridges cause high wind to stick around for days. Repeat week after week.
A few people have said “Screw it” and gone back to Florida. I’ll be honest, it’s crossed our mind once or twice. Others have debated throwing in the towel all together and selling their boat, realizing that full-time cruising isn’t what they thought and hoped it would be. What about us? We decided to move down to George Town to get better weather protection and revisit it with a critical eye.
We had read many posts about how expensive groceries are in the Bahamas, so when we left last year we made sure we had three months of non-perishable food and other household goods. We realize that people eat everywhere, but we wanted to be prepared until we could see the availability and prices for ourselves.
By the end of our first winter there we knew that, yes, some items are incredibly expensive. Snack food in particular was very pricy. For example, a small package of Dove chocolates were $10, a normal size bag of potato chips was $5 or more, and a box of brownie mix was $5. Some items were from foreign countries but subsidized, so they were cheaper than comparable U.S. products. We ended up buying Nabisco Club Social crackers from Peru (which we referred to as Peruvian crackers) which we prefer over Ritz, and I love the Hill Biscuit chocolate cream cookies from the U.K. At $2/sleeve, what’s not to like?
The water in the Exumas is unquestionably gorgeous, and it feels like you could spend months here in a different anchorage each night. But one thing it lacks is an abundance of anchorages with good all-around protection from the wind. As a result, you will generally find yourself sharing one of the decent anchorages with a bunch of other boats. Not a big deal if nobody drags, but as we witnessed in Norman’s Cay, you can’t necessarily count on that. So with those events fresh on on our mind and another front coming in, we decided to head to Pipe Cay.
Pipe Cay was one of our favorite anchorages last year. A quick five mile hop from Staniel Cay, we decided to head over there just before high tide to see if we could sneak into the back on the northwest side of Little Pipe Cay. Last year we had seen one boat anchored there, and it looked skinny but doable on the charts.
It was a cloudy and windy morning and we were keeping an eye on a big squall heading our way as we motored over. Fortunately it dissipated before arriving, but by the time we were entering the Pipe Cay channel I was out of sorts.
We arrived in the Bahamas on January 7th and true to form, our spending has started to drop considerably.
We didn’t have too many unusual expenses in January. We picked up a few last minute spare parts before we left Miami, spent a week in a marina in Bimini (which will be our last marina stay for quite some time), and filled up the diesel tank and jerry jugs in Staniel Cay for $5.20/gallon (which will be the last time we need to do that until we leave). The only other outlier was the $300 in entry fees which allows us to stay in the Bahamas for a year. Practically speaking, however, we anticipate leaving the Bahamas around the middle of May.
We do seem to be in the midst of a streak of adventure. Hopefully it’s almost over and I can go back to more boring posts (we swam, we snorkeled, repeat) complete with pretty pictures.
The cold front had finally passed and we decided it was time to get out of Norman’s Cay and move to one of our favorite anchorages last year, Pipe Cay. We were down to slightly over a half tank of diesel and our reserve tank of water, so it was time to make tracks down to Staniel Cay where we could replenish both. The plan was to stay in Pipe Cay for a few days, wait out a mild front with westerly winds, move to Staniel, and then backtrack north and spend some time in the Land and Sea Park. Well you know what they say about plans.
After several days of traveling in sportier conditions than we prefer, we were more than happy to wait out the next cold front in Norman’s Cay. The protection was o.k. and the holding was very good, so we spent a few days relaxing and playing in the water before the front moved in.
The cold front was predicted to arrive in the evening bring steady winds of 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40 for around 24 hours before “dropping” to 25-30 without the 40 knot gusts for another 12-18 hours. There aren’t many good options for protection from westerly component winds in the Exumas, so as the day progressed the anchorage steadily filled until there were 23 boats that had joined us.
Boats were spaced apart pretty well so we were feeling pretty good until just after sunset when we took one last look out of the cockpit. Where the hell did he come from? A sailboat had parked himself a bit too close for comfort off of our starboard bow. Hmmm. Well, we had been there for two days and had gone swimming over our anchor earlier so we knew it was well dug in. The anchorage had a reputation for good holding and the sailboat’s chart plotter was still on so we figured he was paying attention. We decided to take a calculated risk by not moving. Nevertheless, given his proximity we were going to keep a close eye on the situation.
Around 11:30 p.m. the winds really started picking up, so I got up to take a look around. The latecomer was definitely closer and I could see someone on the bow with a flashlight. O.k., he’s dragging but he knows it. After nothing changed for a few minutes, Jeff shined a flashlight on his boat to get the boat name and I called him on the radio.
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.
After spending several lovely days in Oleta River State Park, it was time to move down to Miami to wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. We had passed up an earlier window because it was a bit short for our taste and we just didn’t feel mentally ready for it. That turned out to be a good call. We later learned that a cruiser who had done the crossing over a dozen times considered it his worst ever, and we also heard of a few other boats that turned back. That was NOT something we cared to experience.
We dropped the anchor at Marine Stadium on New Year’s Eve and ended up having a great stay in Miami.
Some people complain on Active Captain about Marine Stadium on the weekends. It gets pretty busy with power boats coming over from the city and anchoring out, partying with Latin music pumping, but we loved it. People were courteous about not anchoring too closely and everyone was obviously having a great time. It was impossible not to enjoy it. And boy those boats can party! We went to bed after the fireworks at midnight (we had a great view of them from the anchorage) and when I woke up at 7:00 a.m the next day I could hear the bass thumping. I looked at Jeff and asked, “They’ve been partying literally all night?” It was pretty funny. Oh to be that young again.
We knew going into December that it was going to be an expensive month. We decided to buy a whisker pole so we could actually sail downwind efficiently, and we bought a flotation collar for the Walker Bay dinghy which had proven to be entirely too tippy without it. Those two items represent almost 40% of this month’s costs. We also stocked up on groceries and supplies for our Bahamas trip, and paid for our chart plotter to cover the Caribbean. All of those items add up but they needed to be purchased.
They say if you want to cruise less expensively you need to get out of the United States. Our three months in the Bahamas last year were definitely our least expensive months, lending credence to that theory. When we leave for the Bahamas we won’t be returning to the states on the boat for at least a year, maybe as many as two or three years, so it will be interesting to see what our expenses end up looking like in 2020.
Either way, 2019 proved to be less expensive on a monthly basis than 2018 (although we were only cruising for four months that year), so we are trending in the right direction as we continue to settle in to this lifestyle.
As Jeff and I were walking to an auto parts store in North Miami to find carburetor cleaner for the dinghy outboard (the subject of another post), I took note of the fact that it was December 29th and I was warm. It was cloudy but there was a warm breeze, and I was perfectly content. I turned to Jeff and said, “I’ve found my maximum latitude.”
I’ve written before that we are chasing the warm weather. We aren’t going to live on our boat forever, and something we frequently ask ourselves is where we might want to live when we’re finished. Annapolis is great, but it’s too cold in the winter. We love Beaufort, SC but again, it can get pretty chilly. St. Augustine? Getting better, but it still occasionally has lows in the 30’s. Vero Beach? Better still, but the average low in January is 51 degrees. But now we’re in the Miami area and I can feel it in the air. If we’re living on the east coast, this is the furthest north I want to be.
Last year we only went as far south as West Palm Beach, FL before crossing over to the Bahamas. This year the weather systems have been much stronger and more frequent, with crossing opportunities proving to be few and far between. Rather than hang out in Vero Beach or the Palm Beach area while we wait, we decided to head farther south. We’ve never been to Miami and we wanted to check it out, and given that we plan to focus on the Exumas this time it made sense to make some more southerly progress while we wait.