We had a quick visit with Les & Carl and their friends the Hoys. They were attending the Miami Boat Show and since we were anchored in north Key Largo, we weren’t too far from there. We met at a local seafood shack called Alabama Jacks and had a good meal with great conversation. The next days the kids were super disappointed because they thought they were going to get a few days with their grandparents, but they couldn’t stay, but they were able to stop by the boat for lunch before heading back home.
So now we’re prepped for the Bahamas, and a weather window has finally arrived! Bahamas…here we come!
We get up early to cross over to the Bahamas, 0600. We have no issues going out Angel Fish Creek. We go straight out to the reef and cross into the Florida Straights. The waves are only about 2-4’, but they are at a close interval and we take a fair amount of water over the bow. The forecast calls for a SE wind, but we never see anything better then a ESE, so we have to motor sail the entire way. I am able to get the main up to stabilize us. My calculations are almost dead on. We sail on a heading of 85-90 deg the entire trip save for one fishing incident.
About half way through the Gulf Stream the fishing pays off. hear the big real sing. By the time I get to it 1/3 of the line has been peeled off. I tell Kelly to bring in the other real. Just as she gets the real it starts to sing with a fish on. About that time a huge mahi mahi on my rod jumps out of the water. Then a smaller one jumps out of the water on the other rod. We have two fish on! Kelly is able to reel her’s in while mine is still taking out line. I’m not able to pull it in and need the fighting belt. I’ve never used a fighting belt before and to be quite honest, without it, I’m surprised I didn’t just pull myself into the water. (When he came back from the store with the fighting belt awhile back, I balked. I now stand corrected.)
The girls get me the belt and the fight is on. We need to idle the boat in an effort to start reeling it in. The fish is jumping and pulling and I am impressed. I continue to reel the fish in, but it is a fight. The fish heads over to the starboard side and I am sure our lines are going to get tangled, but then it jumps and I pull the rod and it comes back over to port. Just as I get the fish back to my side, Kelly, who has reeled her’s in, shouts that she can’t get it on the boat and the fish escapes. (Which, in hindsight, was a blessing because I can’t imagine we had enough room in the freezer.)
After about 10 minutes of fighting I am able to get my mahi mahi up to the boat. I have Tali get the gaff. On my second strike I get the gaff in good, just behind the eye. I bring the 5’+ fish onto the back steps, and just then, the gaff brakes. I grab the fishing line out of the air and drag the fish back up. Kelly gives me the cutting board and a knife that I plunge into where I figure the brain and spine is; however, the fish is still thrashing, so I have Kelly hand me the spicy vodka. (It was quiet awful, and we couldn’t drink it.) I pour that down it’s gills and the fish slows down. I finish cutting through the spine and need both hands to bring it over to my fillet table. An unanticipated problem is that my fillet table is only 4’ long. The fish drapes over both sides. I want to weigh the fish, but our scale isn’t meant for fish of this size. I’m intimately familiar with the feel of a 45 lb plate at the gym, and this fish feels about the same weight.
As I carve out the fillets, I feel the muscles still twitching. That’s the sign of a fresh fish! Kelly comes up with some great marinades and I overstuff 3 gallon ziplocks full of fish. I toss the carcass back to the deep and we head back on course. (I was on the helm for a good hour while he was filleting.) We put the fishing poles away because we have all the fish we can use for a while. We sail into Bimini at around 1500 where I get off the boat, go to customs and immigration, and come back in time to take a swim with the girls and grill some really good fish.
We are finally in the Bahamas, and have new concerns. The waves rock us all night and our sleep isn’t great. (true) The next day we decide to move to find more settled water, and so begins the constant search for calm water while we’re at anchor. (At this point the girls and I have nicked the Bahamas, ‘The Bumpy Bahamas’.) Most of the time this means finding the lee side of an island, but as we find out, this isn’t always easy. At Bimini we move up to the northern end, and that settles things down a little.
Bimini is home to the Bimini Road which is a coral reef formation where the sections look like paving stones. I am able to convince the girls to go on a drift snorkel. It is our first snorkeling experience in the Bahamas, and it doesn’t disappoint. When I first jump in I see a morey eel and a couple lobster. It is great to drift around and see the life. The visibility is good at 50+ feet and the current is going our direction so we can drift with the reef. We get to see grouper and all kinds of fish. The girls really like the snorkel. This is the kind of experience the girls need to enjoy the snorkeling ahead.
We go back to the boat which is still rocking unacceptably for some of the crew (true) and we move around the north end of Bimini where the waves are calm. We spend the night in calm seas and wake to a glass calm sunrise. (It really was. I think I took 20 pictures of the water this morning because you could see right down to the bottom 10 feet away, but you’d swear it was less than a foot. That water clarity. Amazing.) Unfortunately the calm is short lived and by the time we finish school, the wind has started to pick up out of the north east. It doesn’t appear to be much of a wind, and I don’t mind it much. I tell the crew in ignorance that the wind will die with the sun and we will have a fine night. I was wrong. (Yes. Yes, he was.) The wind increases with the sunset and the waves come with it. There is exactly zero protection from a northern swell on the north side of an island. My crew is quick to point out the I have misjudged the sea condition and they quickly turn on me. (true) Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it as we are not going to move to a new anchorage at night so I settle in for an uncomfortable night brought on by the near mutinous state of the crew. The night is bumpy and the waves grow to a few feet. I get up before sunrise, or more appropriately, I get out of bed before sunrise as I have been up many times from wave motion or the occasional elbow “accidentally” hitting my ribs. (None of us slept. It was gonna be a long day.)
The anchor comes up with the sun and we sail south to the next island called Gun Cay. The sail is brief at only a couple hours but it is glorious. It seems so long since we could really shut down the engines and hear the waves lap against the hull. (At this point, I could care less. As long as we were heading somewhere where we will NOT rock all day and night, I’ll be a happy camper.) We speed south to Gun Cay with the wind and waves behind us. We are heading to Gun Cay for two reasons, looking at the chart it has protection from a north swell, and there are supposed to be friendly stingrays that let you touch them. Anchoring in the lee of the island proves a little difficult as there is a rock/coral bottom under a few inches of sand. We have to search around for a sand hole that will allow our anchor to dig in well. Once the anchor is set we are able to teach school and have a nap.
After our well deserved rest, the girls and I go to see if we can find the friendly stingrays. And find them we did. The stingrays usually get fed by tourists and come right up to your feet. I find this very cool, but the girls are a little timid at first. The stingrays swim up and nuzzle around your feet and ankles then swim away. They return again minutes later and do it again. Cloe desperately wants to touch one, but her legs just don’t let her. It is as if her body parts have their own brain. Just as a stingray comes close, she bends down but her legs run away. Several times I watch her face light up with excitement as a stingray starts to glide toward her. She starts to bend over to touch it and then her legs say, “Hey what’s going on here! That thing is coming right for us. Quick run away!” And as she dashes up the sand, her face looks confused as if to say, “What’s happening? The stingray was so close we almost touched it. Why is it getting further away?” It was interesting to watch such conflicted actions.
After a few minutes of Cloe’s deceptive dance, she comes up with a different plan. Because her legs are keeping her from touching the stingray, she surmises that I should become the replacement for those insubordinate legs, and hold her. I pick her up in my arms laying her horizontally a few feet above the water. As the stingrays come to circle around my ankles, she reaches her hand into the water and pets the stingray! It is so great to see her reach down and, against her fear, touch the smooth slimy skin of the stingray; however even as I hold her, when she reaches down, her legs still to move about like they can still get away.
We hang out like this for several minutes. Tali on the other hand is able to get in the water and after touching the skin of one stingray feels that the task is complete and has little desire to do it again. She decides her time is better spent wandering around and seeing what has drifted up on the beach. Eventually Cloe is able to get comfortable enough and stand on her own. We then go into the water and snorkel with the rays. (I have a 5 min. video, that I will post below when we have good wifi, that we clipped from our GoPro during this snorkel. Admittedly, it’s not very good, but it was our first time using it & we’ve figured a few things out since then.) There are about a dozen of them around us and we even see some small sharks and a sizable barracuda. With the introduction of the sharks and barracuda, there is no amount of coaxing that will keep the girls in the water and we go back to the boat. We spend four days at Gun Cay, and each day we go and play with the stingrays and watch the sharks. It is a great spot.
The wind swings from the northeast to the northwest and we move to the other side of the island. As I go snorkeling, I find an old oven that someone has thrown away, and in it are half a dozen lion fish. All right, kill on sight fish. I grab my spear and go back down. The lion fish is not an illusive creature to kill. They basically just hang out. So I go down with my spear and skewer the largest one. Just to paint a picture for you, there are 6 fish in the open area of an oven. I’m literally shooting fish in a barrel. The best part is, they don’t even move. I shoot one, bring it up and put it in a bucket, go back down, shoot another, come up, put it in a bucket. I get all six of them.
Then comes the real question, “what to do with them?” Three of them were good size and can be filleted and grilled. The other three will have to be gutted, and cooked. My crew tells me with no uncertainty that they will not be eating lion fish, something about the poison. (true) No amount of my arguing that the poison is only in the barbs changes their minds. (also true) In the end, after gutting one of the smaller ones, I determine that any fish you have to gut is too small and too much work to eat, so I throw the small ones overboard. I fillet two of the larger ones and accidentally drop the third in the water. That night I grill up my catch and, in contrary to my naive crew, I eat the fish and have no ill side effects. As a mater of fact, it is a light tasting white fish and quite pleasant. I definitely recommend eating lion fish, the only problem is that they don’t seem to get that big.
Through the night the wind picks up to about 20 knots and we decide to take advantage and sail across the Great Bahama Bank to Chub Cay. The sail is epic. (It really is. We also know that we will be playing ‘beat the sun’ sailing from sunrise to sunset.) We cruise across the bank at 8-9 knots and, because the bank is about 12’ deep, there are no waves to speak of. It is just wind and the hulls cutting through the water. About half way through the bank, the wind is gusting and I decide to take a reef. With the increase in wind we are still making 8-9 knots. It is glorious. We pull into Chub Cay at about 1630 and, after a wonderful sail, we tuck in behind the island for a calm drink with the sunset and a peaceful nights sleep.