As Monday, February 1st passed into Tuesday at midnight, Liberty was tied to a mooring ball at the Dinner Key Marina mooring field in Coconut Grove, Florida, immediately south of Miami, ready for her offshore passage to the Bahamas. Our friend John Dragat and his 15 year old daughter Juliana had arrived from Boston late Monday night to join us for this passage, and as midnight turned, they had just barely settled in for a short night's sleep in the main cabin. Except for the dinghy floating behind Liberty, everything else was stowed and ready to go offshore - Liberty was probably in the best shape she had ever been in for an offshore passage.
We had been checking weather for several days, and had spoken with Chris Parker on Monday morning, and everything looked good for a Tuesday morning departure. Winds were predicted to be fairly light from the south-southeast in the morning, then clocking south-southwest, southwest, west and eventually northwest as a weak cold front passed through the region late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. However, the weather Monday had been viciously squally, and we were worried that squally conditions would continue into Tuesday morning. We arose early, before 5 am, with clear skies and stars overhead, to begin the last minute preparations - raising the dinghy and motor, stowing and lashing the boarding ladder, stowing sail covers, checking engine oil and coolant, and having a quick cup of coffee. We dropped the mooring lines at 6:30 am on the nose, and turned on the SSB to catch Chris Parker's weather. His general forecast confirmed it was a good window to cross to the Bahamas, and when he called for "vessels underway", Nancy was first - for the first time ever - Liberty was the first vessel Chris spoke with! We said we were underway across Biscayne Bay, Bahamas-bound, and Chris confirmed our decision to head slightly north of east for a waypoint at North Rock just north of the Bimini islands on the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank, then turn slightly south of east to cross the banks towards Nassau, and forecast favorable winds for the entire trip.
We motored into the southeast breeze across Biscayne Bay for over an hour, then raised our mizzen and reefed main sails just before motorsailing out of the Biscayne Bay channel into the coastal waters of the Atlantic. As soon as we hit 25 feet of water depth, we cut the engine, furled out the genoa, and began sailing east. As predicted, the 10 to 12 knot winds had already shifted more southerly in the two-plus hours we'd been out, so we were on a nice point of sail. Within an hour, the effects of the Gulf Stream could be felt - the bow was pointed south of east, but our course over the ground was north of east. Both fishing poles were baited with rigged frozen ballyhoo and we were ready for gentle sailing and aggressive fishing!
The southeast breezes of Monday and Monday night had left a few waves coming from close to the bow, but as the day wore on, both the waves and the wind continued to move aft as Liberty gracefully danced through the Gulf Stream waters. Our crew of six - three adults, three kids - got along great, chatting away while enjoying the warm sun, the gentle breeze, the blue waters, the clear skies. We occasionally spoke with other boats ahead of us, listening in as they caught a couple of fish, rescued a dog that had jumped overboard, and planned course changes. A veritable flotilla of sailboats had been waiting in Miami for this crossing window, and we had gotten to know some of them at the marina as we made our final preparations for leaving the USA.
With an extra couple of souls on board, night watches were a breeze. Everyone but Dave and John turned in after dinner, and the men sat up talking until a little after 9 pm when John hit the rack for a nap. Dave turned over the helm to Nancy and Juliana at midnight, and at 2 am John and Chris went on watch. They gybed the sails through the wind shift as a weak cold front passed around 3 am, shifting the winds from south of west to the northwest, but still holding around 15 knots. Dave and Josh got up around 4 am, and all four boys stayed on watch until after Liberty cleared the light at Northwest Channel where we sailed from the banks to the deep waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. At that point we had around 40 miles of blue water sailing to go, our destination being the Bahamian capital of Nassau on New Providence Island.
During our crossing of the banks at night, we passed a group of sailboats that had chosen to stop and anchor on the banks for the night, and the horizon in front and behind us was dotted with masthead lights as the parade of boats continued towards the islands. At dawn there were nearly 10 boats under sail bound for Nassau, and a wind shift to the northeast put us closer to the wind (and led several other boats to begin motorsailing). Liberty fell off a few degrees and continued under sail, not turning on the engine until we were about an hour outside of Nassau and needed to come back to the east to make the channel entrance.
Our second "land ho!" of the trip came before noon, and by 2:30 pm we cleared the breakwaters of Nassau harbour. There were huge cruise ships at the piers as we transited the harbour, bound for the Nassau Harbour Club marina where we would spend one night to clear customs and immigration, obtain our cruising permit, wash off the boat and fill the water tanks. When the Bahamian official asked us how long we would be in the country, we replied "five months," and got our cruising permit and visas through early July. How sweet it is to be back in the islands!
Our first errand on shore was to find a grocery store to stock up on Barritt's Ginger Beer and Gosling's Dark Rum, and on Wednesday evening, February 3rd, we enjoyed Dark and Stormies in the cockpit while the kids sipped Goombay Punch. Life is good!
As morning slid into afternoon, the breeze continued to blow around 10 to 15 knots, and we made great time in the Gulf Stream, sighting land early in the afternoon and crossing into the azure waters of the Bahama bank around 4:30 pm. Our only disappointment was, of course, no fish! We had been hoping for a nice mahi-mahi to grill for supper, but none came to our bait. We normally do not drag lures in shallow waters - barracuda tend to be the only takers over the
banks - but our desire to hear the reel whiz won out. As the sun dipped low on the horizon, Dave was down in the galley preparing veggies for fried rice, when Chris noticed a rod tip dipping and tension on the line. The drag was still set for big offshore fish, so we didn't get the satisfying "whizzzz", but we still got to shout out "fish on!" Dave reeled in a 26" cero mackerel, a strong flavored but tasty fish, and in less than an hour the fresh filets were diced into a nice fish curry over jasmine rice, which we enjoyed in the cockpit while sailing over the banks in 12 to 20 feet of water.
Miami as seen from the mooring field in Biscayne Bay
Chris & Josh with new friends
Lighthouse as we left Biscayne Bay into the Atlantic
Stilt City - these houses are sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay
Chris and Juliana do some school while underway
Josh, Chris and Juliana enjoying the passage
John, Chris and Juliana pass the time playing cards
The azure waters of the Bahama Bank
Yeah - the first fish of the season!
Sunset over the Bahama Bank
Can you see the fire-spitting dragon?
Lighthouse at the entrance to the Nassau Channel
Dave raises the Q flag announcing our need to clear Customs
Nassau is a big cruise ship destination
Here's to a great passage. Life is good!