Made it to Bimini, Bahamas!

We made it to the Bahamas! Two and a half months after leaving Maine and 2,000 miles of Atlantic coastline/Intracoastal Waterway – we are finally here! And what a trip it’s been!

On Tuesday night, January 13th, we anchored the Abby B. in No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, Florida (southeast of Miami) in preparation for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas.

The Gulf Stream crossing is one of the most difficult passages of our entire trip. The force of the wind on the fast moving, northbound current can create immense, dangerous waves. The conditions can worsen quickly, and if that happens, you’re stuck 30 miles offshore with few options but to sail-on. Needless to say, the right weather window is necessary, and we had been waiting for optimal conditions for the last week or so to make the crossing.

Typically, any winds from the north can render the Gulf Stream passage very uncomfortable (and even impassable). In our case, the winds were supposed to remain light all morning and slowly clock around to the north around 10am. The weather window thus opened from Tuesday evening to Wednesday at noon – a narrow window… After consulting with several other cruisers looking to cross during the same window, we left No Name Harbor at 1:30am destined for the Bahamas.

Tired and admittedly nervous, our first mental obstacle of the transit was seeing a far-off lightning storm. Flash, flash, flash. Were those clouds coming our way? Given the low light conditions, it was hard to tell… if we wanted to turn around, now (3am-ish), this was our only chance. After a VHF conversation with another sailboat a couple miles off our stern, we decided to press on, hoping we wouldn’t encounter thunder and lightning in the Gulf Stream itself.

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And as sun rose over the Gulf Stream waters, conditions remained favorable! The clouds and lightning remained to the north and we maintained a great speed. We were motor-sailing at 6-7 kts, with the Gulf Stream’s current in our favor. The sunlight revealed the deep, perfect blue of the Gulf Stream surging below us. Flying fish leapt out of the water and over the rolling swells.

Around 7am, the winds veered to the north (3 hours earlier than forecasted) and the seas started to pick up. White caps dotted the waters all around us. (A warning from fellow sailors was to clear the Gulf Stream before 12pm or expect the worst.) We were due in Bimini around 9am, and were glad to be getting out of the Gulf Stream sooner rather than later. The increasing winds pushed us along at 7-8 kts and Bimini got closer and closer on the horizon. Nearing the marked harbor entrance, perfect turquoise shallows surrounded the island.

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We entered the harbor right on time at 9am. Glad to be out of the increasingly choppy offshore conditions, we sought refuge at one of the several marinas in the harbor. None of the Bimini marinas responded to radio hails (welcome to the Bahamas, haha), so we pulled into a slip at Sea Crest Marina, cleared customs, and hoisted the Bahamas courtesy flag before happily napping the rest of the afternoon away, exhausted.

We have now been in Bimini since Wednesday, soaking up the sun, and exploring the island and surrounding waters. We ended up moving to the cheaper ($1/ft) Blue Water Marina nearby, and even spent a night at anchor by the Bimini Big Game Club. Yesterday, we snorkeled the wreck of the Sapona off Turtle Rocks to the south of Bimini, and fished the Gulf Stream on the way back to North Bimini harbor, landing a small King Mackerel.

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Hopefully tomorrow, Tuesday, January 20th, we’ll set sail for the next leg of our Bahamian adventure: Bimini to the Northwest Channel, and eventually on to Nassau before we reach our final destination: the Exumas.

>>> Obviously the blog has fallen by the wayside as we adventured south. But with any wifi we find, we’ll be back-blogging, to fill in all the details of our trip down the Intracoastal Waterway from North Carolina to the Florida Keys! Thanks for reading – there’s lots more to come! <<<

Also, some necessary shout-outs to our friends along the way: Mike and Ben on Chloe, Tim and Kathy on Carina, Jay and Bridgette on Celest, and Stormy Mayo on Istar. All the way from New England and we found each other en route to Bimini! Such a small world.

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Dismal Swamp Canal, Intracoastal Waterway

16 November: Before departing, we made a brief foray to the Dollar General in Portsmouth, VA for food (quality, always), then left North Landing en route to the Dismal Swamp Canal. We joined a long line of boats exiting Norfolk and making the turn for this portion of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW): a long, narrow (man-made) waterway between Norfolk, VA and Elizabeth City, NC.

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First stop: the Deep Water Lock, my first lock experience(!!), and the first of two locks along this stretch of the ICW. Several boats lined up in front of the lock before the 1:30pm lift and the radio chatter was priceless. Really, it was superfluous boat banter at it’s finest. For example, in response to a question from one of the sailors in line, the lock attendant replied over the radio (for all to hear), “Actually, that is the exact opposite of what I just said.” Alex remembered this same attendant from his last trip through the Deep Water Lock five years ago. This guy’s a lock All Star.

Once in the lock lift area, we took the first position on the right side, which the attendant told us was the worst possible location. “Let me tell you, I will be releasing a million and a half gallons of water directly at your bow.” Yessir, I’ll be careful haha.

Before the lock lift:

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After the lock lift:

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The Dismal Swamp Canal is actually far from dismal. It’s slow going, but oddly magical, surrounded by deep woods, snarled roots, and twisting vines. You feel like you’re taking a walk in the southern woods (and you’re going about that speed as well haha). Today was overcast but warm, and the trees were in full fall colors the whole way. Birds in the sky overhead and floating branches in the murky, brown water below.

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… Okay, sometimes it looked dismal:

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We crossed the North Carolina state line, and headed to the Welcome Center for the night, which provides free docking for cruisers. Naively, I thought that one or two other boats would tie up there for the night. But when we arrived, it was a nine-boat party, with people rafted up three boats deep in the middle. Woo! We came alongside a young couple from Denver in a junk-rigged schooner, who had sailed from Nova Scotia. (We had actually passed them as we left Annapolis earlier this week.) Since leaving Maine all those weeks ago, we have found that the vast majority of sailors are older in age. So, when we meet other young sailors, it makes for a celebration.

The lighting of the picture doesn’t do justice to the Welcome Center crew last night:

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17 November: Being on the outside of the Welcome Center raft, and eager to get to Elizabeth City, we left before any of the other boats in the morning.

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We motored to the second lock and tied up in front of the drawbridge. To get the dogs off the sailboat for their morning walk, we had to lift them over the 5 foot wall that we were tied to. I don’t think Piper will ever get comfortable being lifted over somebody’s head. While we were doing our doggy lifts off and on our boat, the other vessels started to arrive. As always, we must have made for quite the spectacle!

By 8:30am, six boats had arrived for the bridge lift and lock drain, exiting the Dismal Swamp Canal, and entering the Pasquotank River. Several of the boats we’d met at various stops in our travels were converging in this lock at once: Ally Cat, we’d met yesterday at the Deep Water Lock; Makana from Georgetown and Deltaville; Falcon from the Welcome Center. All headed south! What a silly, yet vibrant, cruising community. (And to think, until a few months ago, I had no idea this lifestyle existed.)

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The Pasquotank River is another beautiful, narrow waterway. The sun came out and we got to shed a few layers for the first time in weeks! (Can you tell we’re eager to get to warm weather? haha) At the end of the Pasquotank, we passed under a drawbridge and into Elizabeth City, NC for free dock space at Mariners’ Wharf. Just as we arrived, a surprise rain/wind shower bombarded the Abby B. while we scrambled to secure our lines to the pilings (pilings are the worst…). A nice gentlemen later informed us of a tornado warning in effect until 6pm. Welcome to Elizabeth City!

imageA long dog walk (in shorts!!) all around town led us to the fast food capital of the region, including fast food chains I’d never even heard of. In all, we counted at a dozen different fast food restaurants in a mile long stretch of road. Impressive and obese are the only two words that come to mind.

For dinner, we decided to skip the menagerie of fast food options and dine out at the Toyama Japanese Restaurant for sushi. Our appetites far exceeded our stomachs, and we committed the usual error of ordering far too much food. However, we are proud to say that while it was a struggle, we managed to finish everything that was placed before us. Good sushi can’t remain on a plate. Who knew Elizabeth City would be an acclaimed sushi destination for travelers?

Deltaville to Norfolk, VA

15 November: Deltaville to Norfolk was a quick and easy day. We left the Deltaville Marina around 8:30am with a whole parade of other sailors, some of whom we’d met last night in the marina lounge. We took the lead down the Chesapeake, and rounded the entrance into Norfolk mid-afternoon.

BoomSailing into Norfolk is wild! So many enormous Navy ships at docks as far as the eye can see. Aircraft carriers, destroyers, hospital ships – and everything a distinctive gunmetal gray. You almost feel like you’re getting too close, as if trespassing on a military base, which in a way, we were. I can’t imagine anyone on land getting that close to those ships.

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Otherwise, the trip to Norfolk was largely uneventful. We tied up to the free dockage at North Landing in Portsmouth, VA, just across the water from Norfolk. Ferry boats zoomed in and out, waking the poor Abby B. all evening. Several other cruisers were at North Landing as well, including Ishtar and Allegro, two solo gentlemen who we’d heard talking on the radio over the past few days. Allegro is a beautiful new boat who’s decks get scrubbed everyday, and Ishtar is an older replica boat of Joshua Slocum’s sloop (the first man to sail singlehandedly around the world, 1895-1898).

The town of Portsmouth is another sad/dying community. Clearly built during the financial boom, it was almost completely empty on a Saturday night. Lots of closed shops, etc.

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Deltaville, VA

13 November: After Solomons, we jogged south towards Deltaville, VA. Even with the cold temps, it’s nice to keep moving south and crossing into new state waters. The transit to Deltaville was gray and choppy, but not bad, even with a few light/passing showers. The whole muttley crew cuddled under blankets in the stern:

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Tons and tons of birds flocked at the surface, and Alex had his lure in the water for most of the day… with SUCCESS! A nice striper finally hooked itself on the line! Seafood feast here we come! (Also note, the beard is gaining volume by the day.)

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The channel into Jackson Creek in Deltaville, MD is very narrow! It is well marked and dredged to 8-9ft in the middle, but along either side, the sandy/muddy shoals come up to 2ft very quickly. We called ahead to to Deltaville Marina for channel advice, and swung wide on green marker #9 as recommended. Didn’t run aground at all – Go Captain Al!

Once in the creek, we tied up to the town dock to let the dogs off for a bit. A sign at the end of the dock forbids overnight tie-ups (lame!), so we anchored in the cove to the west of the town dock and the Fishing Bay Yacht Club. Makana, a large catamaran we’d met in Georgetown was anchored there as well.

I butchered the striper on deck in the dark haha, and seared it to perfection for dinner. The winds howled all night, up to 30 kts, so neither of us got much sleep, but the anchor held like a champ. (Well done Rocna!)

14 November: We decided to stay in Deltaville another day, given the winds and freezing temps. And we had a birthday to celebrate!

Instead of remaining at anchor, we called the Deltaville Marina around the corner in Jackson Creek and motored over to their dock for the day. The marina has a sweet loaner car, which we used to run errands for most of the morning: West Marine, Nauti Nell’s marine consignment shop, and J&W Seafood market.

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We lounged for most of the day – made lots of food, drank birthday Bloody’s, Alex worked on the outboard engine, snuggled with the pups. At night, we hung out in the marina’s heated lounge with a bunch of other southbound cruisers from all over the world: an older Dutch couple on a beautiful catch, a younger Brazilian couple embarking on a sail around the world, etc. Plus, someone gave us free pizza! And there were warm showers! ‘Twas a Happy Birthday indeed.

Annapolis to Solomons, MD

11 November: We woke up early to a dense fog bank in Worton’s Creek. Once the sun comes out this will all burn off, right? Erm, nope!

Unfortunately, the fog never lifted and we sailed toward Annapolis with less than a quarter mile visibility. Good thing we have radar… oh wait. I spent most of the day in the bow with an airhorn, signaling our approach to other vessels and trying to spot tankers and barges before they ran us over. The closer we got to Annapolis, the more shipping traffic we could hear, but not see. The passage was simultaneously very cool and mildly unnerving.

As you approach Annapolis from the north, two large bridges greet you before the Annapolis harbor. In theory, you can see these immense bridges from miles away, guiding your entry into Maryland’s capital city. We started to see the bridges emerge from the fog from about a half mile away haha. Eerie and beautiful!

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The City of Annapolis provides transient moorings for a small overnight fee ($35), so we took an ball in the main mooring field, chatted with the Harbor Master’s assistant who motored over to register our vessel, and then dinghy-ed the dogs into Downtown Annapolis for a nice walk. (Only one other cruiser in the mooring field? What?)

We arrived at the dinghy dock to a flock of very fat ducks, begging from the kids walking along the waterfront. And the nearby crowd got a kick out of Piper and Luna disembarking with their lifejackets haha.

Dinghy dogsAnnapolis is my favorite city we’ve sailed through so far! It is equal parts young, old, maritime, whimsical, historic, worldly – very cosmopolitan! (And dog friendly!) Art galleries, seafood restaurants, lots of “GO NAVY” flags, cadets/hipsters/businessmen, and plenty of tacky t-shirt shops.

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We also hiked 2 miles outside of the city center to Bacon Sails and Marine Supplies – Alex was in heaven at a marine supply warehouse stocking used/secondhand EVERYTHING. Literally everything. And cheap, so so cheap. We decided that all future sailing adventures must start with a trip to Annapolis before we buy anything in Maine. (We won’t disclose how much money we could have saved… but even with gas money from Maine to Annapolis, it would have been worth it haha.) Alex got new parts for the crane on the back of the boat and lots of spare line.

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Note about the Annapolis public transit system: the Green Bus does not run on Veteran’s day. Oops. Instead of walking home, we discovered that the Purple Bus brought us back downtown for much needed drinks.

Our next stop for the evening was McGarvey’s Oyster Bar for Bloody Mary’s and oyster shooters! And a surprise call from my dad that turned into a bar-wide saga. For dinner we were craving Maryland blue crab, and feasted on all kinds of seafood until we literally could not eat any more.

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12 November: Woke up to a beautiful fog bank again this morning, this time one that (thankfully) burned off quickly. Took the dogs for another nice walk around town, and got a late start to our sailing day. Piper and Luna loved the U.S. Naval Academy lawn 🙂

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Smooth sailing from Annapolis to Solomons, MD with lots of other boats heading our way. Alex mounted the whisker pole and we cruised wing-and-wing with favorable winds.

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Arriving at Solomons Island just after sunset, we set our anchor a little ways down Mill Creek (instead of the more-trafficked Back Creek). Our anchorage neighbor was a cooky Canadian in a bright yellow catamaran (Lapis Lazuli) with no mast, who zoomed out to our dinghy to say hello as we headed into town to take the dogs for a walk.

A Roy Rogers fast food joint was a solid choice for food tonight. West Marine was closed. And we walked through some beautiful neighborhoods back to the dinghy. Solomons must be a gorgeous town in the summer!