The Bahamas, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, has been an independent nation since 1973. The country consists of a chain of islands east of Florida and extending far to the south almost to Cuba. This location, and the proximity of the warm Gulf Stream, makes The Bahamas a desirable tourist destination for Americans, Canadians and others during the winter months. In Nassau, the capital, for example, one can see some of the same cruise ships from Florida that also stop in Key West, The Grand Caymans, Cozumel, etc.
More than three-quarters of the population are descendants of African slaves imported by British Loyalists during and after the American Revolution. Subsequently, for better or for worse, the history of The Bahamas has been heavily influenced by the activities of its economic and political giant to the west.
The majority of the population speaks Bahamas Creole English, an English-based Creole that is also spoken in some parts of the Southern United States. The currency is the Bahamian dollar, which equals US $1. The islands do not abound in resources, but tourism and a European work ethic combine to give The Bahamas one of the strongest economies in the Caribbean region.
I have avoided cruising The Bahamas in the past because much of the water is shallow and infested with reefs. The low-lying islands provide little or no protection from hurricanes. But this year I have crew to help navigate the shallow waters and narrow inlets, and I was able to depart in June, well before the peak hurricane season. Of course I did not realize at this time that 2005 would see the most hurricane activity of recent history. Nor did I anticipate that the impact of these hurricanes would affect us even before the end of June and that The Bahamas would give birth to two of the strongest hurricanes of the year! Such is cruising.
Most of the first day of sailing is actually motor sailing, as we are going east and the winds are out of the east sometimes and southeast at other times, which makes sailing a possibility.
We elect not to stop at Baiha Honda (in the Florida Keys) and to continue overnight straight to Bimini in The Bahamas. We establish a watch with Tinnele at the wheel from 9:00 to Midnight, Mike taking over at Midnight to 3:00 a.m., and Jim finishing the night with a 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. watch. Then, if no one else is available, I take the wheel.
We motor through the night and in the darkest of night cross the Gulf Stream. The added turbulence loosens some marine growth in the fuel tanks, which foul the fuel filters. Just about daylight I have to rouse the crew in order to raise the sails, shut the engine down and, in the turbulent seas, change the fuel filters.
From then on, however, we have excellent sailing conditions, reaching, with the help of the Gulf Stream, speeds over nine knots. But this course, while comfortable and very enjoyable, is taking us past Bimini. By early afternoon we elect to lower the sails and motor into the wind so as to reach Bimini while still daylight. Which we do, tying off to Weeches Bimini Dock. We clear immigration and customs and return to the boat in time to cook the dolphin fish that Jim caught while underway just as night fell. All in all, this is a good first passage. And a good crew.
Tuesday June 14, 2005. We spend the day getting to know the island, our neighbors and swimming and snorkeling on Radio Beach, about three blocks to the other side of the island. Bimini mainly attracts big game fisherman, although there are a few sailboat cruisers here as well. Two or three from Canada; the rest essentially from the United States. The main social activity for us is Sherry’s, an outdoor bar overlooking the beach on the Atlantic side of the island, known for its witty owner, rum drinks and sunset views. We close the bar and learn that her mother, Sara, is the bartender at The End of the World Bar, so we feel an obligation to close this bar as well.
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