AMBERJACK LOG   Florida and the Bahamas   1999


Ellis Simon


Copyright, 1999.  All Rights Reserved




Foreword.  This log documents a cruise from Fort Myers, Florida to the Dry Tortugas, up through the Florida Keys, and to the Bahamas and back to Miami, Florida. 


Monday, April 26, 1999.  Ft. Myers to Cabbage Key.  We depart Calusa Isles Marina and start this year’s journey.  Don Hartz and Jim Shannon have joined us for a couple of days of West Florida cruising.  Clear weather and temperatures in the 80s make the trip down the Caloosahachee River a pleasure.  For the family gathering, we had considered a trip to Cabbage Key, a small island located between Captiva and the mainland.  It was just too far for the round trip with the whole family, but it makes a nice trip for today.  We tie up at the dock and have a pleasant dinner in the open dining area, which is papered in dollar bills.  Many diners leave an autographed dollar bill glued to the wall.  The story goes that the management has to count all the bills annually for tax evaluation reasons.


Tuesday, April 27, 1999.  Cabbage Key to Cayo Costa.  Another beautiful day.  The guidebook tells me that Cayo Costa State Park is located just a few miles to the north.  We head up there and get a spot at the dock.  Amenities are few, but a walk of a mile brings one to a beautiful Gulf beach.  The cost of docking is interesting: the same as a camper pays ‑‑ $14.17 per night.  I can't pass this one up.  Since this park can only be reached by boat, it is not heavily traveled, and the shelling is good in some areas.  Everyone gets a dip in the Gulf.  We have a pleasant dinner aboard.  The weather is warm and humid, and we're the on1y ones at the dock, so we run the generator and the air conditioning all night.


Wednesday, April 28, 1999.  Cayo Costa to Naples.  We leave our quiet dock space and head for Naples.  A short run to the north brings us to Boca Grande Pass, at the north end of Cayo Costa.  This Gulf inlet leads to Port Charlotte and the Peace River.  This pass is also known as the tarpon fishing capital of the world.  Alas, there'll be no tarpon fishing for us now.  We run out the straight and deep channel and head due south.  The seas are about 4 feet coming in on the starboard bow.  They produce a nasty roll, so we put the Amberjack up on plane to increase stability and eliminate much of the roll.  We travel the length of Captiva and then Sanibel Islands, and then make a turn to the east for the final run across San Carlos Bay, to Gordon Pass, and into Naples.


Naples, Florida can hold its own when it comes to the abodes of the rich and famous.  After crawling humbly past these estates, we come to the Municipal Dock, where we refuel.  It appears at first that there will be no opening for us today, but they discover a cancellation and we're soon in a slip.  Don and Jim go off to get their car.  When they return, Marilyn does a little food shopping, and then they leave us to head back north.


Thursday, April 29,1999.  Naples.  We had hoped to make the jump to the Dry Tortugas today, but the weather is indicating the arrival of a cold front, which would produce heavy seas enroute.  We decide to lay over another day in Naples.  I get some chores done on the boat while Marilyn goes off to shop at Tin City.  This is an upscale shopping center in an area that was noted for its tin roofs fifty years ago.


Friday, April 30, 1999.  Naples to the Dry Tortugas.  That cold front is still supposed to come through but it hasn't.  I take an early morning walk over to the Gulf shore and find the conditions almost perfect.  Seas are one foot or less and there is no wind.  There isn't a cloud on the horizon.  and at the rate this front has been moving,  I feet maybe we can outrun it if it does show up.  I decide to go, but just to be on the safe side, we'll go on plane.  Hopefully, we'll outrun the front and be safety in port when it arrives.


We exit Gordon Pass at about 8:30 and take a heading of 220 degrees.  It's 105 nautical miles to the north side of the Dry Tortugas and that's 6 hours away at our speed.  The first thing I notice is the color of the water.  Such a deep turquoise I’ve never seen before.  The winds stay down, the seas stay flat, and the sky stays clear.  There are no markers in this part of the Gulf.  The only physical references are mysterious private towers that sprout everywhere.  They aren't oil platforms, and I'm in no position to determine what they are.


The day goes on, and despite the excitement of the skipper, it is a very tranquil day, indeed.  At 2:30 we come up on the marker that designates the park boundary.  The Tortugas are a rough ring of islands and bars that may  be a crater from a meteor strike of eons past.  There are entries into the ring at various points.  The center forms the best deepwater anchorage in this part of the world.  In the days of the sailing ships and early steamers, this was used as a supply and fueling port.  We turn to the south and cross this anchorage, which is now empty except for a fisherman or two and a dive boat.


At the south end of the ring lies a small key, Garden Key.  This island is almost entirely covered by a huge hexagonal brick fortress, which is Fort Jefferson.  There is a small harbor to the south of the fort, which is used by visiting boats.  We approach the charted channel from the northeast, only to find that the daybeacons have been replaced with signs stating that the channel is closed.  My first COOP Charting change for 1999!  We reverse course and head around the fort to the southwest.  A large dock is limited to two hours at a time for any vessel, and there are plenty of tour boats dropping off passengers.  There are a dozen boats at anchor and we join them, anchoring in 15 feet of water.  The water is so clear that we can almost see the bottom.


We dinghy in to the beach and tour the fort.  Built to house over 300 guns and the men to support them, the fort is massive.  It was not fully equipped at any time, and never saw action, perhaps because no one would be foolish enough to get near it.  It is equipped with ramparts, extensions on each of the six corners, to protect itself from attack.  It also has a large salt water moat.  The fort was used for a time as a prison.  ­Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination.  Dr. Mudd spent several years at the fort and was released after he saved many lives in an epidemic.


The cold front arrives this night, and while it is dry, it blows hard from the northwest.  We hardly feel the effects in the lee of the massive fort.


Saturday, May 1, 1999 Dry Tortugas.  We spend the day touring and watching tour boats and seaplanes come and go.


Sunday, May 2, 1999 Dry Tortugas.  We're getting a bothersome surge, so I move the boat a little further into a protected area and anchor again.  The one negative thing on the trip down is that the starboard engine is heating up a little faster than it did last year.  There has always been a problem with the cooling on both engines at full power.  This is presumably caused by the water intakes being just a little too small.  This is not a normal operating mode, and is costly to fix, so it has stayed that way.  A little bottom paint on the screens on the intakes will affect this considerably.  The problem is that there are 600 1/8 inch holes on each screen.  The only way to clean them is to run a drill bit into each hole, a rather time consuming task.  With the clear water, I get out the scuba gear and start.  I get about 250 of them done when I call it quits.  Staying in position and keeping the mask clear so I can see what I'm doing isn't easy.


Monday, May 3, 1999 Dry Tortugas to Key West.  The weather looks good, and the seas are calm, so we set out for Key West.  We're running a little low on fuel because of our dash to beat the cold front, and I must go at hull speed or we'll have a fuel problem.  We travel on the Gulf side of the chain of flats that extend from Key West to the Tortugas.  We pass north of the Marquesas Keys, another ring with a shallow anchorage in the center.  Entering the northwest passage, we continue into Key West Harbor.  We take a slip at the town dock, which has been recently renovated and is located where the turtle pens used to be.


Those of you who haven't visited Key West in the past decade would hardly recognize it.  The waterfront has been totally refurbished and updated.  The town itself is much the same as it always was.  Our main interest this time around is to get fuel, water, and supplies.  All three are available within easy walking distance of the boat.  I'm even able to get my scuba tanks checked and refilled.  I now have enough air for another 400 holes on the water intakes.


Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Key West to Bahia Honda.  The weather is still clear and calm, and we pass by a cruise ship as we make our way out to the south.  We take Hawk Channel and head east to Bahia Honda.  This is a Florida state park of considerable renown.  I’m not sure of the depth in the marina, so we anchor in the space between the two bridges.  The park is beautiful with palm trees and a nice beach.  The anchorage is quiet and it is a very relaxing stay.  While we're at anchor, Marilyn recalls that Jerry and Judi Gorman, who have a 40‑foot Mainship like ours, live in Marathon.  Marathon is our next stop, and we plan to do some provisioning there, so we give them a call to see if they have any recommendations.  Jerry tells us that he'll meet us with his small boat when we arrive.


Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Bahia Honda to Marathon The run up the Hawk channel is just bumpy enough that I run on plane for stability.  We enter Boot Key Harbor at Marathon and top off the fuel tanks.  They’re having the marine version of a gas war, and the price at Pancho's fuel dock is 93 cents per gallon.  Marathon is one crowded harbor.  There must be 200 boats at anchor, and this is the off-season!  Many of the anchored boats are live aboard and some look like they haven't moved for decades.  While fueling, we call Jerry and he meets us with his Aquasport.  He guides us back out into Hawk Channel and to a private lagoon where we tie up behind their 40‑footer, the El Gato.


Thursday, May 6, 1999 through Sunday, May  9, 1999  Marathon.  Jerry and Judi very kindly let us take a vacation from our vacation.  They have a lovely home, right on the lagoon and across from Marathon airport.  Jerry has made arrangements for us to tie up behind the next-door neighbor's house.  They have a swimming pool, so whenever we feel too hot, we can take a refreshing dip.  Tarpon swim in the lagoon beside the boats.  Their cats watch us as we catch up on maintenance.


We rent a car so that we can get around Marathon.  Supply trips and shopping are easy this way.  There is a Home Depot, a Kmart, a West Marine, and supermarkets in town.  Jerry and Judi kindly include us in their dinner plans and we dine at the Marathon Yacht Club and a local restaurant.  One evening, after dinner at the yacht club, we sit on the Amberjack and watch an impressive lightning show to the north over the Gulf.  Happily, it doesn't come near Marathon.


Monday, May 10, 1999 Marathon.  Today I shift to a different mode of transport.  I'd gone over to the airport to see about flying for an hour.  I noted that they had an amphibious seaplane available.  I've always wanted to try a water landing, so I signed up for a lesson.  The takeoff from the runway was similar to other planes except for the fact that you sit about twice as high.  We flew up the Keys to a well-protected cove above Duck Key.  We made seven water landings and takeoffs.  What I learned is that I don't want to get into this type of flying.  It is very demanding.  There is no forgiveness like there is in normal landings.  If you are a little bit off on your technique, you will crash the plane.  It was informative and a lot of fun, but not for a steady diet.


Tuesday, May.  11, 1999 Marathon to Jewfish Creek.  It has been a wonderful week, but all good things must come to an end and it is time for us to get on with the trip.  The weather is sunny but with a breeze out of the east.  We leave Marathon and head north to Long Key.  Here, I have a choice.  I can either continue up on the outside, or I can cross over to the Gulf side and run up through Biscayne Bay.  If I stay on the outside, and the weather gets bad, there are few harbors of refuge for perhaps 30 miles.  There is a possibility of thunderstorms, and the wind has freshened, so we cross under the highway and head east on the inside.


There is a 40 percent probability of a thunderstorm tonight, and I don't want to experience that at anchor right now, so we stop at a marina in Jewfish Creek.  This is one of the marinas you see when driving Route 1 from Homestead to Key Largo.


Wednesday, May 12, 1999  Jewfish Creek to Key Biscayne.  The predicted thunderstorms of last night didn't come our way, although there were storms in sight.  We leave Jewfish Creek and head up through Card Sound and into Biscayne Bay.  The wind is calm and there isn't even a ripple on the bay.  It is like floating in air 8 feet above the bottom.  We're traveling at hull speed and a 7‑foot dolphin hitches a free ride.  He gets in the wake, about ten feet off the side of the transom and just rides along, hardly moving a muscle.  He's surfing in our wake.  He stays with us for about 30 minutes before disappearing.


The skyscrapers of Miami appear on the horizon and we make for the Marina at Key Biscayne.  We refuel, and take a slip for the night.  In order to take Duchess with us to the Bahamas, we have to satisfy their rules regarding animal imports.  The first hurdle was getting an import permit.  This took from February through May, and finally arrived in Marathon via Lawrenceville just two days ago.  The next hurdle is getting her a veterinary exam, which must be done within 48 hours of arrival in the Bahamas, Marilyn takes on this job while I hose down the boat.  It involves a call to a vet, two taxi rides into the Coconut Grove area of Miami, and the exam.  The first cabbie doesn't want dogs in his cab, but he relents.  The exam goes well, and so does the ride back, but Marilyn finds she's left her credit card at the vet's.  Several panicky calls later, she finds the card in her purse and everything quiets down.


We're all set for the big jump to the Bahamas.  We'll do it tomorrow or Friday, depending on the weather.


Thursday, May 13, 1999  Key Biscayne to Bimini.  The weather looks real good.  Light winds out of the west, and no seas.  We leave the marina and head up to Government Cut.  As we’re passing the Coast Guard station, the stern of a container ship appears from the right.  Several tugs are working at pulling this monster out of a side cut.  It blocks the channel, but there is plenty of 10‑foot water to port, so I move over there and pass the ship.  Just as we’re passing, the prop of the big ship goes into action, to stop it from going into the shallow water.  A great rush of prop wash comes out, but we’re already past.


Out between the jetties, the hotels of Miami Beach come into view.  It is a lovely day, and there really isn’t much wave action.  I put the Amberjack on plane and head 120 degrees for Bimini.  The Gulf Stream can be a nasty place in any kind of wind, and I want to get across while it is calm.  I watch the depth finder drop from 100 feet to 1000 feet and then shut down.  There are places here where the water is over 2000 feet deep.


We see the treetops and towers ahead of us, and the islands of Bimini materialize out of the water.  Alicetown, with all the commerce and government activities, is on North Bimini.  but you must head for the southern tip of south Bimini to avoid a long sandbar that extends southward from North Bimini.  We follow a range in to the beach, and then turn north in 8 feet of water.  With our yellow quarantine flag flying, we make our way to the fuel dock at the Bimini Big Game Club.  But they won't let us fuel up until we’ve cleared customs.  I tie up at their dock and trot down the street to the customs office.


The customs people are quite pleasant, as one might expect from a nation that depends solely on tourism.  Following customs, I must go to immigration, which is located a block the other side of the boat.  It’s a good thing, too.  I didn't have Marilyn sign a form.  Immigration is quickly taken care of, and we're official visitors with a license to fish.  Down comes the quarantine flag and up goes the Bahamas courtesy flag.  We check in at the Bimini Big Game Club and the paperwork is done.


Friday, May 14, 1999 Bimini.  While sitting on the back deck, Marilyn notices that the back tire on my bike is blown out.  Apparently it has rotted in the sun and just gone to shreds.  So I walk down to the general store to see if perchance they may have one.  I'm asked to wait a minute or two while the owner ambles off to the warehouse to get me a tire.  A half hour later, he really does show up with the correct tire.  As I walk back to the boat I get all kinds of comments from the natives.  I guess that a bicycle problem sets you apart from the hoi poloi and makes you seem to be one of them. 


It's interesting to see rather large Grumman seaplanes take off and land in the channel right next to the docks.  Its also interesting to watch a 4‑place helicopter, which is filming the performance of some deep vee speed vessels.  This chopper is landing on a 20‑foot by‑ 20‑foot plot right next to the fuel docks.


Saturday, May 15, 1999 Bimini to Chub Cay.  Today, we plan to take a leisurely run east to Chub Cay, another sport fishing center.  We reluctantly leave the slip at the Big Game Club.  We take on water (20 gallons‑‑$8.40) and fuel at $1.54 per gallon.  After fueling, I go to the office to settle up the bill.  At this point, the helicopter needs to lift off.  He asks Marilyn if we'll be leaving soon, but she tells them that we've been watching them come and go and that she doesn't know how long I'll be.  She notes that she’s always wanted a new boat anyway.  They depart, and the prop wash throws a little grass and dust all over the boat.  There goes another 8 dollars of water.


We depart the harbor as we entered and head north around Bimini.  The seas are 2 to 4 feet from the southwest, but they drop to one to two feet as we swing eastward across the Great Bahama Bank.  This is a new experience for us.  The depth varies from 8 to 15 feet, but the water is as clear as it was in Biscayne Bay.  Daybeacons are not in place as marked on the chart.  The guidebook has warned us of this.  The large tower marking the entrance to northeast channel, a key choke point, was wrecked by a small freighter several years ago, and hasn't been replaced.  A small buoy warns us off the wreckage, which extends to the water line.  Incidentally, only a note on one chart tells us to pass close aboard this tower or risk running into foul water.  The guidebooks missed that one completely.


Being accustomed to the buoyage in the United States, it takes me a while to become accustomed to the system in the Bahamas.  Or maybe I should say the lack of a system.  There are very, very few navigational aids and those that are charted are not likely to be on station.  GPS is a major blessing in this regard, and when combined with a charting system, makes a very safe system for navigation.  The Explorer chartbooks, which are highly recommended for cruising the Bahamas, have established a system of plotted GPS waypoints.  These waypoints serve the function of buoys and are easier to find in bad weather.  I have a feeling that the US will be leaning in this direction, especially if the abhorred selective availability goes away.  GPS is important enough that we must get a second unit to serve as a backup.


Once clear of the pinch point, the bottom drops to several thousand feet.  It’s an easy twelve-mile run to Chub Cay Marina.  Unfortunately, when we arrive they are starting a fishing tournament and have nothing available.  We can always anchor out, but there is a resort listed on the other end of the island.  This is about four miles away and we go there.  Nothing looks like what the guidebooks describe, but there is a new dock with several open slips.  We find that the place is now called the Berry Island Club and they would be happy to accommodate us at 65 cents a foot.  We tie up and call it a day.


Sunday, May 16, 1999 Chub Cay to Nassau.  The man I spoke to last night had told me that there was plenty of water here.  I decide to avail myself of it and give the boat a quick washdown.  I hook up to one of two water faucets and start the rinse.  The manager comes running over to inform me that I'm using drinking water, not dock water.  Further, water is sold at 25 cents a gallon.  I get on the right faucet and finish the job at a cost of $3.00.


We leave from Chub Cay and head southeast to Nassau.  The seas are small and the day is nice, so we go at hull speed.  An hour or two passes and the wind suddenly picks up and gusts to 25 knots on the port beam.  I still have 10 miles to go, but I don't fancy spending much time in this wind.  We'll get rolled on our beam ends if this continues.  So I put the Amberjack up on plane.  Ten minutes of wind, just enough to get spray all over the boat, and it drops to calm again.


Nassau Harbour is a major shipping port, and they require that all motor vessels call them and get permission to enter the harbor.  I call, and permission is promptly granted.  I had wanted to stay just one night at the new Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, but the 3 dollar a foot dockage has put a damper on that.  We go to the Nassau Yacht Haven, which is near downtown and advertises shopping, laundry, and other things we need.


Monday, May 17, 1999  Nassau.  The day is spent shopping, doing laundry, and getting other provisions.  There seems to be no logic whatever to what a store will carry.  They may carry copper tubing, but not flare nuts.  In my quest for a couple of  flare nuts, I am introduced to the bus system.  The vehicles are similar to those the rental car companies use.  Some are new and some are ancient.  You can flag one anywhere and get off most anywhere.  Cost for a ride is 75 cents.  I'm told that you can get on one and ride to the end of the island, then pay another 75 cents to come back, but I didn't try it.


Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Nassau to Highborne Cay.  The morning is a busy one.  Final provisioning to do and I want to get some Email in and out, if possible.  I ask at the marina office and I'm told that Bahamas Telephone Company might help.  Their office is two or three long blocks away.  I tote my computer up to their office.  There I stand in line for ten minutes.  They tell me that they have no facility there, and I should go across town to another office.  This will take too much time, so I go back to the marina office.  I ask again if there is some way to connect to the telephone.  Then they tell me that there is a computer type place up near the Batelco office that I just left.  So I hike back up there and find that for $5.95 1 can have 3 minutes of connect time anywhere in the US.  It takes five minutes to complete the task.  It took an hour and a half of running around prior to that.


We've lost the safety of high tide, and we're well past noon, but we leave.  The run is a 30-mile run southeast to Highborn Cay, at the northern end of the Exumas.  Now starts our venture into the out islands.  Midway in the run is a shallow area known as Yellow Bank.  The sandy bottom is 10 to 12 feet deep with patches of grass.  The real problem is a sprinkling of coral heads.  These heads come to within 3 feet of the surface and could be shallower.  Fortunately, the guidebooks assure me that they show as a very black patch on the water and can easily be avoided.  Still, it is my first time, and so I approach the area with great concern.


The concern is relieved when I see the first one.  Indeed.  it looks just like a patch of oily water, perhaps 20 feet in diameter.  Soon, I encounter an area where there are a half dozen.  It is simple to give them a wide berth, and the depth indicator rides steady at 12 feet.  In one or two isolated instances, a spike shows a smaller head, extending perhaps to 8 feet below the surface.  Soon, the depth drops off to 20 feet and we're past the danger.


We proceed to a point west of Highborne Harbor.  There is an anchorage in 12 feet of water on the west side of the Cay.  This presents a nice beach for dog walks so we drop the anchor.  3 or 4 sail vessels and a couple of cruising yachts flank us.  There is also a beautiful mega yacht at anchor.  We make sure that the anchor is holding, but a look from the dinghy shows one fluke in and the other one out.  I back down on the anchor with both engines.  It holds, and I check it again.  Still the same.  There are a lot of areas like this.  Thin sand over hard marl.  It will hold well, but a wind shift may cause it to break out.  There are a couple of thunderstorms in the far distance.  Where we are, the weather is almost calm.  We go to sleep early, but it’s an uneasy sleep.  The night passes with flashes of light but no wind.


Wednesday, May 19, 1999  Highborne Cay to Warderick Wells.  This is an easy run of some twenty miles.  But first we have to make our way through Highborne Cut from the Great Bahama Bank to the Exuma Sound.  The current is against us, which is ok with me.  This allows me to proceed slowly and back off quickly if I get into anything I don't like.  You never want to be carried down on a shoal while trying to back off.  We get on the range for the western approach to the harbor and soon we're inside with 19 feet of water.  The tricky part is getting through the dogleg on the other side, but the hazards there are few and well marked.  Shortly, the depth finder drops from 12 feet to over 1000 and we start a rhumb line course for the entrance to the north harbor at Warderick Wells.


The sea is azure and there is less than a foot of wave action.  Since the run is short, and we have plenty of time, I shut down one engine and we proceed on a single engine.  We're making 6.6 knots, the boat is riding very well, and we're saving a bundle in fuel.  After an hour, I switch to the starboard engine and run it for an hour.  It is a quiet day on a beautiful sea, and before we know it, we're at the entrance to the harbor at Warderick Wells.  This is the home of Exuma Park.  This land and sea park covers some 176 square miles of spectacular subtropical waters, coral reefs, and cays.


We don't have a reservation, but a call to park headquarters gets us a mooring assignment, and less than 3 hours after pulling the anchor, we're safely moored.  The mooring area is located in one of the passes through the island chain and is spectacular in itself.  While preparing the dinghy, we see 6‑inch gar fish and some 2‑foot jacks that are stalking them.  Park regulations prohibit taking any wildlife, living or dead, otherwise, this would be a good fishing spot.


We get registered and set out in the dinghy for a little snorkel trip.  The water is 12 feet deep and crystal clear.  The bottom is a sea reef in its natural, undisturbed form.  I won't bore you with descriptions but it was like a lot of dive book advertisements.


Thursday, May 20, 1999 Warderick Wells Park.  We sleep restlessly as flashes of light and rumbles tell us of distant thunderstorms.  It doesn't matter because we’re staying on the same mooring for another night.  The morning brings closer storms, but they pass us by with only a few drops.  By late morning it has cleared and the tropical sun is beating down.  We try one of the park trails, but it is largely natural coral and rather dangerous to walk on.  One fall and the trip would be seriously compromised.  So we return to the dinghy and take a much easier trail.  The top of the island, BooBoo Hill, is 67 feet high.  A funny looking cairn on the top turns out to be hundreds of carved driftwood pieces.  Most have a boat name, crew names, and dates on them.  When I note that none of them are dated earlier than 1992, I lose interest.  The ten-year storm blows your effort into the bush.  Not a very permanent memorial.


In the afternoon, when the current goes slack, we go over to the nearest of many reefs within the park and I slip into the water for a little snorkeling.  There are interesting coral formations and a few fish, but nothing spectacular.


Friday, May 21, 1999 Warderick Wells Park.  There are clouds and scattered thunderstorms in the distance,  and we decide to stay for another day on the mooring here.  At slack water, I go back to the reef and try the second buoy.  This is far more interesting that yesterday.  Huge balls of brain coral, a yard in diameter, dot the sand.  There are excellent examples of stag horn coral and fan coral.  There are numerous reef fishes, and I'm surprised to see a large lobster stroll across below me.  Of course, the park is a no fishing zone, and that is why the wildlife is so prolific.


In the evening, I take Duchess in for a walk.  As we're debarking, the park warden's two large dogs come bounding down the beach, barking like crazy.  I don't think it would be a good idea for them to mix it up with Duchess, so I put her back into the dink and shove off.  There is a dry sand bar 100 yards across the channel, and I go over there with Duchess.  I no sooner get her out of the dink than the two dogs begin to swim the channel, bucking a considerable current.  Once again, I load Duchess and take off.  I go way up the channel but first I try to assure that the dogs can get back to shore.  The next morning, I take Duchess in to the remote spot and the damn dogs come bounding out of the bush.  I give up and let them approach.  They just sniff Duchess once and then wander off.  All this concern for nothing.  It turns out that the big dogs swim back and forth all around the Cay.  They don't bother other dogs, except for a casual greeting.


Saturday, May 22, 1999 Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay.  The wind has blown from the east all day and into the night, but this morning it has dropped.  Still, my morning walk shows rather strong seas to the east.  We drop the mooring and head out the cut.  It doesn't take but a quarter of a mile to realize that I don't want to go to Staniel Cay on this side of the Exumas.  I spin the Amberjack around on a wave and hustle back to calmer waters.  We go on through the pass and come out on the west side.  Sand bars stripe this side, and we have to run west for several miles to find safe water.  The ride is quiet and we arrive at Staniel Cay by 1:00.  A call to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club gets us a spot on the dock and we're good for a couple of days.


The owner of the yacht club also owns a reverse osmosis water making company, so the water here is reported to be excellent.  It is, however, 45 cents a gallon.  Fuel is reportedly two dollars a gallon.  Dockage is only 80 cents a foot, but the electricity is staggering.  It’s 25 dollars for 30‑amp service and 35 dollars for 50‑amp service.  We decide to do without electricity, since they are working on the system, and none is available anyway, but later, when power becomes available, the hot and muggy evening drives us to hook up for $25.


Sunday, May 23, 1999 Staniel Cay.  This is home to the famous Thunderball Grotto, where parts of two James Bond movies were filmed, and where parts of Splash were filmed.  I have to see it for myself.  They have convenient moorings for dinghies outside the entrance to the grotto.  The grotto may be snorkeled at slack low water.  At other times, scuba gear would be necessary, and the tidal currents make such an action dangerous.  We’re told to take food to feed the fish.  Cereal, dog food, bread, anything will do.


We arrive at slack low water.  There are a couple of other groups there already, and more coming.  Marilyn is not comfortable with the idea and stays with the dink.  I put on my fins and slip into the water.  As I approach the entrance to the grotto, a huge school of sergeant majors, vertically striped fish, about 6 inches long, swarm toward me.  I swim with them under the rock overhang.  My snorkel gear shows a blue lighted opening ahead.  The fish stay with me.  The tunnel makes a turn and opens into the main grotto, which is about 30 feet in diameter and about 30 feet high.  At the very top is an opening, which admits light to the space.


I take out the dog food and am immediately swarmed by the fish.  They are so aggressive that they scare me.  I get a few pieces out into the water and they go crazy.  I empty the packet and things quiet down enough that I can get a look around.  The cave has been etched in the coral over the centuries.  It is intricately carved.  There is nowhere to stand, and I can't determine the depth.  I swim back out and try to convince Marilyn to go in, but she is having no part of it.  I make a couple of trips back into the grotto and take in the experience.  While I'm going in and out, another group discovers some largish sharks lurking in a nearby underwater cave.  This makes it absolutely certain that Marilyn isn't getting in the water.


We take the dink north toward the cut between Big Major and Small Major.  This is a well-protected anchorage whose only drawback is having a harbor swell when the wind is out of the east or southeast.  We walk a small beach and Marilyn finds a pretty conch shell.  Unfortunately, its been opened and is of diminished value.  We’re short on fuel so we go back to the marina.  Being Sunday, the fuel dock is closed for the day, so this limits the dinghy operations.


Monday, May 24, 1999  Staniel Cay to Little Farmer Cay.  I go for a more extended walk and jog around the South end of Staniel Cay.  There are some nice homes here.  Looks like off island vacation homes to me.  A couple of them even have passable landscaping, a rare thing in the Bahamas.


There are a few food items that we need, so Marilyn and I go off to the two stores in this part of town.  There is a pink store and a blue store.  Stores here are not air conditioned, and must be protected from storms, so they are generally very dark with small windows.  The stocks on the shelf are small, but most of the essentials are covered.  Each store also offers some frozen foods, and some foods that must be kept under refrigeration.  No fancy showcases for these items.  They just use a household refrigerator.


We get fuel for the dinghy and water for our tanks.  Try 65 gallons at 45 cents a gallon.  But it's reverse osmosis water made by the company that's selling r/o plants all over the Bahamas, so it's good water.  I've been wearing the same boat shoes for two years now.  The soles, which were non‑skid, are now smooth.  One of these days, they'll take me right into the water.  I decide the time has come.  I get the new shoes out of the box and put them on.  The old ones are history.  Better to be safe!


As we're getting the cabin ready to travel, I glance out the port window and see a show in the making.  I call to Marilyn and go out on the dock.  A 35‑some foot sail vessel has come into the slipway between the two docks, one of which we are on.  They did this going downwind with a strong current from astern.  They then tried to back up, and that didn't work.  Next thing they know, they've been swung sideways.  They now have the bowsprit with its anchors, etc., between two pilings across from the Amberjack.  Their stern, with inflatable on davits, is hanging over the cockpit of a 60‑foot Ocean sportfisherman.  And there they sit.  Several men from the Ocean are on deck, protecting their vessel.  This is where I entered the picture.


Several men have gathered on my dock, and a stout line has been passed from the stern of the offender to the dock.  These men are heaving away to bring the stern of the vessel back into the wind and parallel to our dock.  I grab the 3/4‑inch line and start heaving with them.  Suddenly, the line goes stack.  The several guys who were heaving abruptly sit down on the dock.  I’m the one on the end of the stretched line.  The momentum carries me across the dock.  I reach out with my hands as I fall, but the dock flashes by.  Then there is nothing but free fall.  I hit the water six feet below on my back.  I come up to the surface and find a workman with a whaler type workboat a few strokes away.  They’d been rewiring the dock when this whole fiasco occurred.  He calls me over and helps me aboard the workboat.


It turns out, of course, that the line was not cleated off at the boat.  The two men aboard, having got into this mess, each assumed the other had secured the line.  A second effort, with the line properly cleated, was much more successful.  Meanwhile, I had two new shoes, salt water laden, and one wallet, equally saltwater laden.  There's a whole load of messages here, gang.  And I'm not sure I've received them all yet.  First, just imagine if there had been something tied to the dock where I fell.  I went into the water clean and clear.  Second, when you accept help, you'd better be sure that you're not putting your rescuers in danger.  Third, when you jump in to help someone, you'd better be sure that you're not putting yourself at risk.  And on and on it goes.


We leave Staniel and head south.  This is the furthest south the Amberjack or I have ever been.  Marilyn grew up in Panama, so she still has me beat.  I’m anxious to get a big fish, so we troll the 17 miles to the Farmer Cays.  No luck at the fishing.  We go through the cut and ask folks in a dinghy for directions to the mooring field.  They kindly lead us in, and we're soon moored between a Grand Banks and a sloop.  There's a beach a hundred feet to the east, so Duchess is in good shape too.


There is a hand painted sign on the beach, which tells us to call ‘Little Jeff’ on VHF to settle up for the mooring.  I take the dink over to the town dock and pay "Little Jeff" for two nights.  Of course, he turns out to be larger than me, physically.  (His name isn’t Little Jeff, either.)


A comment or two on reading the water depth is in order now.  You cannot really tell the depth of the water even though you can see the bottom clearly.  This is particularly true when the depth is less than eight feet.  Yellow means a sand bottom.  Blue means very deep water.  The water here acts as a blue filter.  The deeper the water, the bluer it gets.  When you are off soundings, in 4 or 5 thousand feet of water, it gets very blue indeed.  When the blue water filters the yellow bottom, you get a distinctive emerald color.  So, blue and green are very good.  Brown means reef or rocks.  Keep clear.  Black really is dark brown and means a coral head that may or may not have enough water to pass over.  Best to avoid these.  Whenever the water looks light, I look for detail in it.  Deeper water won't show any bottom detail.  Bright yellow where you can see the bottom sharply is a matter for concern.


Light is extremely important in this reading of the water.  Stillwater will give you a better picture than water with waves.  If the sun is in your face, you cannot see anything below the surface.  If there are clouds overhead, you won't see much either.  In these cases, it is best to avoid areas where there are coral heads.  And the charts tell you this, too.


Tuesday, May 25, 1999  Little Farmer Cay.  We've been advised that there is an isolated dry sand bar that goes on forever (3 miles) just south of our mooring.  So we set off to find this wonderful bar and do a little shelling.  The ride is long.  We can't get the dink to plane for some reason.  Marilyn wants to drop it, but I’m determined to get there.  We eventually come to the end of the bar, but we have to walk in shallows about a quarter of a mile to get to the dry part.


We do some shelling, but it isn't as good as an average day at Sanibel.  When we get off the bar and back

in the dink, there is some weather making up to the southeast.  It probably won't amount to anything, but we want to get back to the big boat as soon as possible.  Fortunately, we’re able to get the dink to plane and we're back home in no time.  The storm clouds ignore us too, and go off to the southeast.


Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Little Farmer Cay.  Yesterday, folks on the nearby boats came back with conch and took them up on the beach to open and clean them.  This piqued our interest, and we go off to do a little conching ourselves.  In chest deep water, I walk along, pulling the dink and searching for the animals.  At first, I find many, but they're all too young to be taken.  The law is that they must have a well-formed outer lip prior to harvesting.  Having been told about this trick by some old-time Bahamas visitors, we rig a towline and Marilyn tows me behind the dink.  Ere long, I find a field of conch, many juveniles, but here and there, an adult.  Shortly.  we have five good specimens.


Back on the beach near the boat, we go to work with hammer and screwdriver, and soon we have some souvenir shells and some conch ready to be cleaned.  I'd watched carefully while a native islander cleaned conch at Staniel Cay.  I do one conch partially before I lose interest.  I turn the job over to Marilyn who is an instant expert at preparing any seafood.  For those who are interested, conch must have the mantle removed, the claw cut off, and other parts like the eyes removed.  The remainder is filleted into thin strips.  These strips are then beaten with a mallet to tenderize the meat.  Then it can go into the cooking process.  The dinner was the finest conch dinner I've ever had.


Thursday, May 27, 1999 Little Farmer Cay to Norman Cay.  We get what amounts to an early start for us.  We're off and moving by 8:30.  This island living really gets to you.  I remember when we’d have the boat moving before the first rays of dawn.  The plan is to troll northward on the Exuma Sound side of the archipelago, and see how far we can get before we feel we must pull in and anchor for the night.


The seas are very small, and the trolling goes well, but the fishing doesn’t.  We make our way up along Great Guano Cay, and pass several smaller Cays when we approach Dothan cut.  This cut between the Exuma  Sound on the east and Exuma Bank on the west is known for very strong currents.  As we approach, I can see a chop and a boil.  Maybe there'll be a few game fish taking advantage of the violent outflow of warm water.  Sure enough, as we hit the boil, the fish finder shows lots of big fish near the surface.  I turn to check the lures just in time to see a splash and a flash.  We have a fish on!  He’s hit the really big tuna rig, and there is not much of a fight.  When we get him aboard, we have a 36‑inch bull dolphin weighing 14 pounds.  Of course, Marilyn makes me put away the fishing gear.  We now have enough conch and mahi mahi to take us all the way back to New Jersey.


We take Wax Cut across the archipelago and run a couple of miles north to Norman Cay.  This used to be a drug smugglers port, but has been cleaned up and is once again available to yachtsmen.  There is a DC‑3 in the water as a relic of the more wild days.  A couple of megayachts and a half dozen normal boats are in the area when we drop the hook.  Two boys who look to be about seven or eight years old have two very powerful jet skis from the megayacht.  They nearly ram the Amberjack, and it is evident that they don't know what they're doing, as they are looking over their shoulder and not where they are going.  Fortunately, one of the machines dies, and then several adults arrive on a large rigid inflatable.  We couldn’t tell what happened, they were speaking a foreign language, but that was the last of them.  The megayacht pulled anchor and left before dinner.  Dinner was mahi mahi, of course, served with stuffing and 3‑bean salad.


Friday, May 28, 1999.  Norman Cay.  Morning brings more perfect weather, and I go off to explore the island while Marilyn sits on the beach and cleans conch shells.  There isn't much to report on the island.  The drug operation apparently owned a good part of the south and western leg of the island.  The area is charted as being in ruins and that is an accurate description.  The buildings are shells.  One can make a case for this being a restaurant, and that being a hotel, but beyond that, everything lies in ruins.  The dock, which is rather large, is rotting, and the fuel dispensing meters are rusted and vandalized.  I walk up the road, which is carefully shaded, (could this be part of the cover for covert operations?) and come to the airstrip.  As with many of the ground structures in the Bahamas, I get the impression that this dates back to WWII.  It's paved, and not overly long, but new hangars on the east side and a small but thriving operation on the west side attest to its viability.  I later saw a 2‑bedroorn home on this cay listed at $375,000.  I'd rather just visit by boat, thank you.


Saturday, May 29,1999.  Norman Cay to Hawksbill Cay  Just to be on the safe side, we decide to call the Nassau Yacht Haven and assure that we can be accommodated.  It takes several tries before I master the Bahamian cellular system.  There is no room at the marina.  We've been sharing the Bahamas with a group of 14 trawlers from south Florida.  They are scheduled into the marina tomorrow, and there isn't likely to be space for us.  This is a really tough break, and we'll just have to find something to do here in paradise for a couple of days.


We decide to backtrack a short distance and visit a cay that was highly recommended to us.  We turn south and go to Hawksbill Cay.  This cay was obviously named after the hawksbill turtle, but we don't know why.  Entry to the anchorage is the most complex that I've tried to this point.  It requires passing between coral heads on either side and then dropping the hook between the coral heads and the beach.  This is accomplished without incident, and we're anchored.  When I take Duchess ashore, it is the perfect travel photo.  A pristine beach, azure waters, and the Amberjack floating serenely.


When we return from the beach, Marilyn advises me that we have a visitor.  A 5‑foot barracuda has come to hang out under the boat.  Since we’re inside the national park we can assume that he’s a permanent resident and is just looking for a handout.


As the sun sets, we realize just how alone we are.  There doesn’t seem to be another boat between Exuma Park headquarters fifteen miles to the south, and Norman's Cay fifteen miles to the north.  If you wanted a deserted tropical isle, this is it.  Our barracuda friend hovers just below the boat as darkness falls.


Sunday, May 30, 1999  Hawksbill Cay to Highborne Cay  This morning is not as glorious as those past.  there is an overcast, and the wind is about ten knots out of the east.  Bahamas radio gives us the synopsis.  There is a high-pressure system over Georgia that is sending a steady stream of air over our area.  We pull the anchor (One blessing is sand and no mud, the anchor comes up clean every time.) and head west to clear the sand bore in the region.  Getting the outboard off the dink and stowing everything is a big hassle, so we choose to tow the dink.  There is some concern about our ability to see the coral heads in the flat light, but they show up in the water and we're able to avoid them.  When we're in clear water, we head north to Highborne Cay.  The dink rides well, even in some 4‑foot seas we encounter off one of the cuts.


I'd intended to anchor to the west of Highborne Cay, as we'd done on the trip south, but it's been a long time since we’ve tied up to a dock and we decide to go into the marina here.  We find that it's pricey ­($1.25 a foot, plus electric and water), but it is a very pretty place.  There is a well raked sand beach, several gazebos, and even a hammock slung between two trees near the beach.  We’ve missed the Saturday night barbecue put on by the local gourmet hostess, and Sunday is her day off, so we are forced to dine on steak aboard.


Monday, May 31,1999  Highborne Cay to Nassau   A short jog in the morning shows me the paved part of the island.  There are walking trails that extend for miles, but for now, I'll stick to the roads.  I get a good view of Exuma Sound to the east.  The wind is strong, and the seas are definitely in the 4 to 6‑foot range.  We'll be dealing with the same thing later, I fear.  At 9:30 Janet, the gourmet hostess and operator of the store, picks us up and drives us the half mile to the store.  It is surprisingly well stocked, with relevant books, the unavoidable tee shirts, and a considerable variety of foods, including frozen meats.


While we'd love to stay at any of these islands for another month, we have to take our departure and head for Nassau.  We get the dinghy aboard.  It would be a liability if the seas are very big, and we won't be needing it for a couple of days.  The departure from the harbor is calm, being protected from the wind by the cay itself.  But not more than a mile or two downwind, the effects of the wind are felt.  It becomes evident that we don't want to hold a course direct to Nassau, for the beam seas set the Amberjack to rolling far too much.  A course more to the west puts the seas on our starboard quarter, and makes the ride bearable.  Still, it would be a long haul at hull speed, so we go up on plane.  It is a real Nantucket sleigh ride as we careen from wave to wave.


The course I've chosen takes us clear of the yellow bank and its coral heads.  I'm not at all sure I could spot the coral heads in these seas.  After what seems like half an eternity, we get to the waypoint and turn directly north into the wind and toward Nassau.  The pitching on this heading is too much at planing speeds.  All sorts of things are moving around and we have to slow down.  It matters little.  The worst is behind us, and soon we're in the calmer waters by Rose Island.  We call up Nassau Harbor Control and get permission to proceed to the Nassau Harbour Club.


Tuesday, June 1, 1999.  Nassau.  This is a lay day to shop, do laundry and clean up the boat.  It is also time to change the oil on all three engines.  We make a date to go out to dinner, but by afternoon, there is no way either of us wants to stir.


Wednesday, June 2, 1999.  Nassau.  The wind has been out of the east for four days now, and it isn't showing any signs of letting up, so we decide to take another day in port and wait it out.  There are people here who have been waiting for nine days, so we don't feet so bad.


Getting a good weather forecast is not easy here.  Those who have a single sideband radio can get verbal reports and can also, with the aid of a personal computer, get weather fax info with prognostic charts, etc.  The only VHF weather comes out of Miami and peters out somewhere between Bimini and the Berries.  It is not generally possible to receive it in Nassau.  The Bahamas radio broadcasts a fairly complete marine forecast at 8:00 am.  and that was what we generally listened to.  Many of the marinas have the report faxed to them and then post it.  We will need a single sideband radio for safety, and already have the pc, so we will be going that route.


Thursday, June 3, 1999.  Nassau.  The wind has abated, and it looks good for a departure for the Berry Islands.  First, we have to get fuel and I want to go to the store and exchange email.  We crank up at 8:00 am and head to the fuel dock at Yacht Haven.  I want to use them because they are one of the busiest docks in the harbor, and a busy dock is less likely to have stuff in the fuel that you don't want in your tanks.  While waiting for fuel, I call a trawler that left with us but went on out the harbor.  They give us the good news that the seas outside are almost flat.  It is a great ride, and they advise all to get out and take advantage of it.


We fuel up and I go off to do my computer thing.  This time I know just where to go, but when I get there, I'm informed that the phone line is down, and has been down for several days.  I go back to the boat with no email.


When we backed out from the fuel dock there was a jarring collision with something.  It looked like a shipping pallet.  At the time, it was of little consequence and I noted nothing wrong as we moved over to another dock to tie up for the computer thing.  Now, as soon as I run the engines up past idle, I feel the dreaded wobbling feeling of a bent prop.  We motor on down the harbor, trying this and that, but it is inescapable.  We've got a bent prop.  A review of the options leaves us with two choices.  We are a mile from the only two haul out facilities in a long ways.  We can go get it fixed, or we can try to get back to Florida on one engine.  The one engine option is certainly feasible.  We’ve been doing that in the Exumas.  But, if something happens to our only functioning engine, we'll be stuck.  We decide to go to Brown’s Marina and Boatyard and see what can be done.


Mr. Walter Brown is one of the last true gentlemen in the world.  He can haul us, but tomorrow is a National Holiday (Labour Day, as it were) and so the boat would have to stay out until at least Monday.  And there are no facilities for us to live aboard in the closed yard.  We would have to find a room somewhere.  He suggests having a diver remove the prop and then goes about spending an hour searching by telephone for a diver and for the availability of a person who could fix the prop.  No diver can be found, and the prop repair is equally in doubt (I have two spare props in New Jersey, but they didn’t ­make it onto the radar screen in our planning.) The only sure option is to haul the boat and remove the damaged prop.  Then launch the boat and live aboard until the prop can be fixed.  Then haul the boat again to replace to prop.  A very costly and time consuming process.


It dawns on me that I can probably put the prop back on, using my scuba gear, if we can get hauled and get the prop off.  Mr. Brown is amenable to that plan, and we set about getting ready for haulout.  When the boat is out of the water, we can see the damage.  The tips of two blades have been curled over about an inch.  It looks easy to repair.  Mr. Brown and his foreman are of the same opinion.  I'm concerned about tying up his travelift, but the person who was due in behind me has canceled, and my only problem is the tide.  I have about an hour and fifteen minutes to do something.  Then we have to go back into the water or start looking for a room until Monday.


The foreman produces a couple of substantial ball peen hammers and I go to work.  I peel the metal back slowly, using one hammer as a backing and as a bending point, and striking with the other hammer.  It is something I've done once or twice before, but never with this much of a bend, and never with these high stakes.  While I'm working, I hear a voice behind me.  One of the Bahamian yard workers says, "You savin youself five hundred dollahs.  Mon.  That's jus what they do when you send it out.” I agree and go back to work.  When I finish, it looks good by all the rudimentary tests I can apply.  The real test is when I put the power on in the water.  I get away from the prop and go after those blocked holes on the starboard engine water intake.  I’m able to get most of the holes cleared before time and tide demand a launch.


Back in the water, we take the boat out to the east to check out my handiwork.  There is no vibration up to hull speed, so I put it up on plane.  Everything feels OK.  Looks like I can add propeller repair to my resume.  The cooling intake seems to be performing better too.  We go back to the Nassau Yacht Haven and settle in for the night.  This is cause for a little celebration,  so we go out to dinner at the Pink Pearl, one of Nassau's premier dining establishments.


Friday, June 4, 1999  Nassau to Berry Islands  Once again I call Nassau Harbor Control and get permission to depart for the Berry Islands.  The wind has picked up again from the east, but I hope it won’t give us too much grief.  When we depart the harbor, we have grief, but it is right at the limit of acceptable travel.  The seas are coming in on the starboard quarter and they are four to six feet with occasional eight footers.  The tops are capped in white.  Since we're going with and across them, the ride isn't too bad.  But we do not want to turn and run against them.  Once again, despite my repeated efforts to stay at an economical speed, I put the Amberjack up on plane.  It's an odd kind of ride:  a surge forward, a careening ride down the face of a wave, and then a seemingly interminable climb up the back of the next wave.  But nothing is flying around and the ride is relatively smooth.  Soon we’re off the slough on the east of Chub Cay and the seas are down to less than a foot.  Shortly, we're tied up to the dock of the Berry Islands Yacht Club.  Turns out we're the only visiting boat at the dock tonight, although there are several vessels anchored or moored nearby.  Most of the day, the wind has been blowing steadily from the east at 6 to 8 knots.  At dinnertime, the wind suddenly picks up to 20 knots.  The water gets choppy, but the limited fetch cannot make it any worse.  An hour later, the wind dies down.  I expect an uncomfortable night but it is quieter than Nassau Harbour at its best.


Saturday, June 5, 1999.  Berry Islands to Bimini.  We get up at first light and assess the situation.  We’re able to get most of the NOAA weather out of Miami on the VHF.  There is a tropical wave, the first of the season, east of the Windward Islands.  It isn't expected to develop much, but it will be moving into the area of the Bahamas in the next few days.  Winds today are predicted to be in the 10 to 15 knot range, but right now they are 6 to 8 knots.  We decide to go, but just to be safe, we’ll do the 90 miles on plane.  That way, it will only take 5 or 6 hours, and we won't be exposed to higher winds for a long time.


The extremely deep water off Chub Cay is relatively calm, but as we move west, the waves build to about 4 feet.  The charts and guidebooks warn me that seas can be bad in the northwest channel on an outflowing tide, but we are past low tide and the ride is uneventful.  We pass the pinch point and head northwest across the Great Bahama Bank.  The first leg is directly to the northwest, and the seas are out of the northeast.  This makes it impossible to stay on autopilot.  For an hour and a half I have to fight the waves and keep the boat on course.  After that, we turn a little to the west, and the seas are not so demanding.  I put the autopilot on and sit back and enjoy the ride.


We hit our waypoint north of North Light, which is in turn north of Bimini, and turn to the southwest.  The run down the west face of Bimini is no problem.  Soon, we are lined up on the range and charging in to the beach.  What a difference a couple of weeks in these waters makes.  This time, we are completely relaxed, and know what the colors in the waters mean.  We run up the beach and refuel at the Big Game Club Fuel Dock.  Shortly, the Amberjack is in a slip and we're in the club pool.


Sunday, June 6,1999.  Bimini to Miami.  The wind hasn't let up much overnight.  I'm up at 6:00 and it is still out of the northeast at 12 to15 mph.  We've had this for over a week now.  We secure everything and shove off.  Our plan is to run 49 nautical miles on a magnetic course of 305 degrees, which will bring us to Port Everglades, and Fort Lauderdale.  It's going to be rough, and it’s going to get rougher, so we'll try to stabilize the boat and shorten the trip by running on plane.  Since the wind and seas are out of the northeast, they will be hitting us on the starboard beam.  If it is too rough or rolly, I can turn downwind and make the shorter trip to Miami.  If it gets really ugly, we may end up in Key Biscayne ‑- or Cuba.  One thing is rather sure.  We won't be seeing Bimini again today.  The trip out to the drop-off of the continental shelf is like a millpond.  But then it should be, we're in the wind shadow of Bimini Island.  When we're about 5 miles west of Bimini, we've lost that protection, and the seas start to build.  I set us onto our course for Fort Lauderdale, but after a scant five miles, it is evident that we can't hold this heading.  The seas are 5 to 7 feet and hitting us squarely on the beam.


We agree to change course for Miami and the ride gets somewhat easier.  But this is just the beginning.  We have a tough slog across the stream ahead of us.  We’re moving faster than the seas, which slow us down a lot.  We climb forever up the back of a wave, and then crash down its front face, only to climb the wave ahead of it.  Meanwhile, a cross chop does everything possible to throw the Amberjack into a breach.  The autopilot is helpless in a situation like this.  It can only see how the boat is turning, not what is happening.  I can steer much better, and head off the broach situations.  So I'm in for several hours of fighting the steering to keep her headed where I want to go.


Keeping a heading in such a confused and huge sea is not easy.  I can watch the compass, but this makes me little better than the autopilot.  The best thing is to pick a fixed point on the horizon and try to keep the head of the ship pointed toward that point.  But there is no point on the horizon.  All I have is the cloud structure in the sky.  This isn't good, but it'll have to do.  It isn't good because clouds move steadily, and if you follow the same cloud, you’ll wander off somewhere you don't want to go.  It isn't good also because clouds are continuously changing their shapes.  If you look away for a couple of minutes, that distinctive cloud has become very indistinct!


The time stands still.  Repeated stolen glances at the computer chart makes one suspect that it's become stuck.  Meanwhile, my hands are literally developing blisters from spinning the stainless steel steering wheel from side to side.  Roughly at the mid point of the trip, the seas grow really large and vicious.  They are so nasty that I throttle back rather than tackle them.  The estimated axis of the maximum current is still ten miles west of us, but the water here is awesome.  I don't know what I'll do if it continues to get nastier.


I don't have to find out.  Imperceptibly, the seas flatten.  They are still bad, but they're not boat killers, at least not now.  The first building of the Miami skyline materializes out of the haze and gives my morale a boost.  The computer is displaying the desired course and my actual course in living color.  We're being swept upwind by the strong current.  It takes a ridiculous correction to the south to make any headway ­toward getting back on course.  We cross the charted axis without incident.  I believe the real axis was back east where we had the huge seas.


More and more of the shoreline appears, and finally the sea buoy for Government Cut is in sight.  The seas aren't willing to give up, however, and they hound us right in to the jetties.  But inside it is quiet and I make a snap decision to take a slip at the Miami Beach Marina.  Once we're tied up, we have a look at the trip.  While it seemed to take forever, it really took just two and a half hours, yielding an average speed of 16 knots.  The waves and the current have knocked one and a half knots off our cruise speed.  Not too bad.


Once we're settled in, we take a tour of the South Beach area.  This is eased by their free Electro‑wave trolley system.  It runs from the marina, which is on the southern tip of the island, to Lincoln Road, which is the major shopping strip for the area.  We were a little surprised to find that Lincoln Road has lost most of the fine shops that were here in the 70s.  Now there are dozens of restaurants.  Any nationality and type of food may be found, but not much in dry goods.  The area is, however, the center for culture in the Miami area, and there are many theaters, concert and dance halls nearby.


Looking back on the trip thus far, it has been very pleasant, and we will definitely plan on doing it again.  Water is an issue, and we will probably put in a reverse osmosis desalinator.  Water is readily available, and probably cheaper than making it ourselves, but we have a concern about quality in many areas, and as we range further afield, it would be reassuring to know we have a ready supply.  We also want to use more water and a water maker makes this easier.  There is also the advantage of being able to offload about 700 pounds of water that we now carry around.


Speaking of offloading, a live aboard boat tends to get heavier and heavier.  We need a campaign to get unneeded stuff off and needed stuff on.  We've lost about three knots in planing speed, and we can only recoup this by making the boat lighter.  In the islands, running at a slow speed on one engine does a fine job of extending the fuel.  Of course, this is better on short trips.  5 hours at 7 knots is about the limit for me.  Still, we could cover 500 miles in 2 weeks this way.