Heading for Bimini
by Lee Martin
We'd have to watch the weather closely, but having made the trip twice before, we knew the Dovekie would be up to the crossing. It was quite a shock when N.O.A.A. predicted south to south-west winds at 10 mph for the next two days.
Katie and I slid "sea biscuit " into the water at the South Dade Marina the day before, provisioned, sailed past Pumpkin Key and into Angelfish Creek on the north east side of Key Largo. It's the classic jumping off point for Bimini.
By the time we put the sleeping gear up, ate a fast bowl of oatmeal and stowed the "back porch", the bugs were thick. It was 5 A.M. , time to inch out of the creek, South East over the reef and into the stream. The channel is narrow and shallow, we navigated by dim flashlight on the unlit marks and the scratch of the leeboards on the sandy bottom.
We had a 4 H.P. Johnson that was mounted on the port topsides, much stronger than the rudder mount. Our idea of a gulfstream crossing is wide open, as fast as possible. We slow down once we are in the islands, out of danger from the ship traffic. True to our creed, we cranked the Johnson, snotted the sprit and were over the reef by daylight.
This trip kept us more relaxed than the previous two, which were nerve wracking because of our inexperience. We knew what to expect, more or less, this trip and that was calming. We always keep watch 2hr on 2hr off, but we were able to lay back some, read and rest during our off periods, much less stressful. While this is a lightweight offshore trip in the overall, it's relative to your experience. Anytime I'm offshore, in whatever size boat, I run wary!
This was the first experience we'd had with G.P.S. and it certainly proved itself. We'd borrowed a friends handheld, it was the first we'd seen!
I didn't trust it in the least. At about 4 P.M. I decided to check our position, miles to go, that page of information. The G.P.S. indicated 11 miles remaining and that Bimini was straight ahead. I knew all along that these newfangeled machines would never work!
"Katie, look at this damn thing. What a joke. Told ya so! My calculations have us 30 miles out and way south." Katie calmly surveyed the area and said,
"If we've got 30 miles to go, what's that island doing straight ahead?"
We were in before 6 P.M.. That's pushing it in a 21' leeboard sharpie.
We figured the stream must have had us a surfing speeds with the outboard and sails. It can give a three knot advantage when things are right --- guess they were!
We spent the next 2 weeks exploring the shallows of North and South Bimini and Gun Key, eating in the local restaurants and wandering the streets of Alice Town. It's a beautiful area with clear water and fish galore. While it may not have the draw of the Berries or the Exumas, if you've only got two weeks, you can hardly do better!
While the Dovekie is certainly a minimum boat for this type of trip, many smaller have safely navigated to the Bahamas. The key, of course, is to closely monitor the weather and have your mind set to go or not depending on the forecast. We maintain that we're already in the Keys, and that's a great cruising destination in itself.