PASSAGE FROM ELEUTHERA, BAHAMAS
TO MIAMI FLORIDA

Unnamed Harbor

Unnamed Harbor is a well protected inlet less than a mile south of Cape Eleuthera, with an entrance similar to Hawksnest Creek on Cat Island. There was a 35 foot monohull sailboat anchored inside when I explored by dinghy. It is reported that the owners of the property charge for anchoring in the harbor, but no charges were being levied during the time I was there. As I did at Hawksnest, since conditions were favorable and I wanted an early morning start the next day, I anchored offshore to the north of the entrance channel near a large low lying rock called Chub Rock. The bottom there is good holding clean white sand. The drawing shown is a reprint of the one shown in the Yachtsmanís Guide to the Bahamas with my notations on it.

Governorís Harbor is only about 20 miles northeast of Unnamed Harbor, so to allow for better light while crossing the shallow Eleuthera Bight into the rising sun, I waited for a mid morning start. Rounding Cape Eleuthera about 1/4 mile offshore, I noted several more discrepancies between the chart (US DMA 26305) and the guide I was using. There is a rock shown on the chart within a mile northwest of the point not shown in the guide and which I was not able to visually confirm. And Sandy Cay with a 22 foot marker about the same distance to the northeast of the point which is in the guide is not on the chart. Sandy Cay, the obelisk and a whole area of shallow sand were clearly visible as I passed during high tide. The ship channel northeast of the point which is both in the book and on the chart between fix #1 and fix #2 seemed accurate. I plotted both fixes using chart 26305 and the GPS and followed the course closely. But the ship channel, which is shown as 11-14 feet deep at low tide, dipped to considerably less than 8 feet at high tide nearing fix #2 and seemed as if it might have been deeper farther to the south by a quarter mile or so.

The town is easily identified from many miles out in the Bight. Passing a small flotilla of friendly local dive fishing boaters out for the dayís catch, I soon had the anchor down in the clear water of that protected harbor. As always after anchoring, I put on my snorkel gear and dove in the water to make sure it was dug in. Most of the bottom of Governors Harbor is covered in sea grass with roots growing through the soft sand. That can create holding problems for Danforth type anchors in particular. But in the 8 or 10 feet of depth, it was easy to dive down and help shove the plow deeper into the sand for a better nightís sleep.

Europeans first settled on Eleuthera in 1649 and it is at Governors Harbor where they set up what is said to be the first democracy in the western world. The original settlement spread from Cupids Cay up the beautiful hillsides surrounding the town. There are anchorages on both sides of Cupidís Cay which was once detached from the rest of Eleuthera.

The guide book I had with me noted that the customs office was closed at Cape Eleuthera near Unnamed harbor where I had spent the previous night at anchor. So it was with some apprehension that I tied my dinghy to the quay on Cupids Cay after securing my anchor in the harbor and walked up to the Customs House on the northern end of Cupids Cay. I wasnít sure exactly how they would take to the fact that my shipís papers showed I had checked out of South Caicos a week earlier and that I was only just now ďarrivingĒ in the Bahamas.

But no matter where I went in that little town, the friendliness seemed to be bubbling over and in the Customs Office was no exception. Although the officer and his secretary took care of my arrival in a very businesslike manner, it was all done with plenty of smiles and without the need for me to go through any inspection or even to make other stops at the immigration or health offices. It was all done in one simple and inexpensive procedure.

The town is small. There is a public phone near the Barclays Bank. You can place long distance calls there and charge them to an ATT calling card account. Otherwise, reversing the charges is necessary or paying for them with a credit card (expensive). Also in town is a bakery, ice cream shop, dive shop, several gift shops, other shops and two large grocery stores. One is just up from the beach, connected to a gas station where you can also fill jerry jugs with diesel fuel or kerosene. I bought the last bag of ice there and it was expensive.

Governor's Harbor

There is an old stone church along the waterfront at Governor Harbor that chimes softly every hour. And in the two story wooden government buildings next to the church is a post office. But most of the shops are nearest the extreme northeastern end of the bay. Getting ashore there to do provisioning is a bit of a problem because in that corner of the harbor, there is a long distance of very shallow water over sand that drys at low tide. A shallow draft dinghy and a couple of oars are needed to get close enough. Even so, some wading and dragging of the dinghy is necessary to get close to shore. In the southern part of the bay, getting ashore is easier, but it means walking to the stores or getting a taxi.

Eleuthera is known for its farming which is better than most of the other Bahamas. The commercial AM radio station from Nassau was broadcasting ads for the upcoming 9th annual Pineapple Festival at nearby Gregory Town, and I was looking forward to sampling some of the harvest. Big ripe ones bursting with sweetness like the kind you can find being sold by street vendors in Puerto Rico and other places famous for pineapples. But instead, scrawny green things were on display in the grocery store along with scrawny lettuce and cabbage selling for outrageous prices. But the friendliness of the local people more than made up for any disappointments provisioning.

Current Island

Since leaving Puerto Rico two weeks prior to my arrival at Eleuthera, I had been depending mostly on the US Coast Guard broadcasts from Portsmouth Virginia for weather forecasts. There were other sources as well. One of particular benefit was the discussion by maritime ham operators every morning at 0720 on 3696 khz. Another was the daily marine weather report from the commercial AM radio station in Nassau. All agreed there was a combination low pressure trough and high pressure ridge hovering somewhere overhead, but there the agreement ended. The Coast Guard predicted NE winds 10-15, then southerly up to 25 mph in the next couple of days as the ridge passed over. I decided it would be better to take advantage of NE winds and move to Current Island, then sit out the southerly weather on the north side. So I started early the next morning under clear skies and calm winds on a course for Current Cut 30 miles to the northwest.

The Coast Guard was consistently a day behind in their forecasts and I should have interpreted that to mean southerly winds were nearby, but I didnít. Half way to the anchorage on the north side of Current Island, a breeze began to come up out of the south. By the time I arrived in the vicinity of Current Cut the sky was mostly overcast and it was blowing in excess of 15 mph. The anchorage I intended to reach for the night was near the extreme western tip of Current Island on the north side. The channel down the south side of the island is much deeper and straighter than going through the cut and up the north side of the island, so I opted to head southwest for the tip of Current Island.

By late afternoon and half way to the tip of Current Island, squalls with thunder and lightning began moving in with heavy rain and wind from the south. The course required staying close to the rocky shore of Current Island because of shallows farther offshore in the Bight of Eleuthera. But the wind direction made it difficult to sail the course without fear of being blown ashore. I went forward on deck and dropped sail just as a curtain of rain and wind descended over the boat and obscured all visibility. No sooner had that squall passed with a brief moment of clearing than another, more intense storm with lightning and simultaneous loud cracks of thunder took its place wiping out visibility again. Following the compass closely was the only way to stay in the channel which according to the depth sounder was several feet shallower than indicated on the chart and in the guide.

The western tip of Current Island has the menacing look of flint stone that has been chipped to a razor sharp arrow head. The current there becomes a wild boiling rip tide as it races toward the islandís rocky cliffs. When I arrived there, it was pouring rain with a wind of more than 30 mph blowing the boat toward shore. The anchorage was on the other side and to get there, I had to pass very close to the headland to avoid the shallows that surround the entire area. I imagined the engine failing at any moment.

But on the other side of the headland the wind abruptly died and the sea became flat calm. About a mile north of the tip of the island, the anchorage looks exposed but is protected from wave action by surrounding shoals, reefs, rocks and cays. It is in the narrow channel close to the island where the tidal current runs rapidly first in one direction, then the other. At my arrival, the tide was falling and the current was running northeast at least 5 mph, making it very difficult to set the anchor. The bottom there has been mostly swept clean of sand, so I had to make several attempts before the anchor held. Then I put on my snorkel gear and got in the water to dig the anchor in by hand. But the current was so strong that I could hardly swim against it even with big SCUBA diving fins. After struggling up to the anchor line, I held on to catch my breath for a few minutes and avoid being swept away. To get down to the anchor, it was necessary to pull myself against the current as fast as I could before breath ran out. It took 3 attempts before I could get the point of the plow to dig just a few inches into the bottom.

Current Island

Back on deck, another line of squalls came through from the south with much thunder, lightning, rain and wind. One blew at over 50 mph with sheets of rain for more than ten minutes straight. Although the anchor held, I was concerned it might break out when the current changed directions, so just before dark while the current was slack, I got back in the water again and nudged the anchor a couple more inches into the hard bottom while from a state of suspended animation, a giant barracuda watched my every move. Rain continued on and off all night and when I arose early the next morning it was still drizzling. There were storm clouds everywhere and a breeze was blowing out of the southwest. I planned my next stop in the Berry Islands 60 miles to the west which would mean getting an early start in order to be there before dark. I had no intention of getting under way in those conditions, so I spent the day working on the boat and was frustrated when conditions improved as the sun came out and the wind became more light and southerly.

The next morning, once again, the US Coast Guard weather report from Virginia said nothing about southerly weather in the immediate forecast. They predicted NE winds 10-15 for our area turning stronger and southerly in the next couple of days. Instead, I found a light southeasterly breeze blowing the next morning as I motored out the channel between the southern end of Little Pimlico and the Six Shillings Cays. Passing over the edge of the bank and into the deep water of Northeast Providence Channel, the tidal current rippled like crazy as I raised sail and headed off on a broad reach for Chub Cay.

After a few hours of pleasant sailing, the wind began to die. The sea became like glass and the only wind and waves were those created by the boat as it moved forward under power. Approaching the Berry Islands, a breeze began to build out of the northeast which allowed for raising sail again and a couple of hours of reaching under the lee of those beautiful islands at the end of the passage.

Chub Cay

By 16:30, I had the anchor down off the beach behind the north side of Chub Point near the entrance to Chub Cay Marina. Inspecting the situation as I always do with my mask, snorkel and fins, I found plenty of sand on the bottom with sea grass growing through it similar to Governors Harbor. The guide I had with me said the bottom there had been ďscoured out and holding is not very good.Ē But in about 6 or 7 feet of water I found the bottom more than adequate.

After getting settled, I launched the dinghy and went into the marina to get a couple of jerry jugs of diesel fuel and some ice. The gas dock attendant there was a young man in his early 20s or so with a definite attitude problem. I didnít ask, but he seemed more like a US expatriate with an ďup yoursĒ attitude than a Bahamian. But it was a shame he occupied such an important position. For many boaters entering the Bahamas from Florida he would be their first impression.

There were seven other cruising boats at Chub Cay besides my own and while I was there it was reassuring to be able to receive one of the NOAA marine VHF radio weather channels from more than 100 miles away in Florida (VHF WX Channel 1 broadcasting from Florida International University on KHB 34). They broadcast the changing speed and location of the Gulf Stream MWF from 1600-2000 hrs and TuThSat from 0400-0800 hrs. But they had the same prediction for southerly weather in excess of 25 mph as all the other forecasts, and so I was anxious to get across the Great Bahama Bank and the Gulf Stream before the southerlies arrived.

Great Bahama Bank

I rose well before sunrise the following morning and by 6 AM had the anchor up and was passing Chub Point light on the way to cross the Great Bahama Bank. There were a few clouds overhead and the wind was light from just south of east as I hoisted sail and headed straight down wind toward North West Channel Light. It marks the eastern extremity of the bank where the depth drops off into the Tongue of the Ocean.

The tidal current on the Great Bahama Bank flows back and forth abeam of the course between Gun Cay and Chub Cay. With a GPS you can steer an almost perfectly straight line, current or not. But with only a compass, you must guess at where the current is pushing you, because there are no reference points on the horizon from which to take bearings until you reach the other side of the bank.

At the end of the passage, with the sun setting over Cat Cay and reflecting off the water, it would have been impossible to see the way through the very shallow areas there and around to Gun Cay from the south. So I used Bruce van Zantís waypoints from his book Gentlemanís Guide... and my small scale chart to enter the Gun Cay anchorage from the north. His waypoints and stated depths seemed to check out fine.

I sailed along the east side of Gun Cay and dropped anchor about mid way down the coast. The southerly breeze made the anchorage a lee shore, but the bank keeps the wave action there from developing anything more than a slight chop most of the time. There were 7 or 8 other boats in the anchorage and I could see an equal number of masts over on the north side at Honeymoon Harbor. That seemed like the optimum place to be, under the circumstances, but I didnít have a large scale chart or guide for that area and didnít want to eyeball the passage in the diminishing light of the evening. So I resigned myself to a rather bouncey night off the east side of the island and dove in the water after the anchor was down to make sure it was well buried in the sand.

Gulf Stream

The wind blew out of the south all night making the anchorages on both the east and west sides of Gun Cay uncomfortable. After a night with little sleep, I rose to find rain squalls with up to 30 mph winds coming through. I wanted to get an early start around the southern end of Gun Cay and out in the Gulf Stream for the long haul to Government Cut at Miami, but was forced to postpone my departure until the squalls passed, which they had by 0730 and then I was on my way.

The course from Gun Cay to Miami is about northwest and the distance is 43.6 miles. But with the Gulf Stream chugging northward at 5 mph you must steer about due west the whole time which seems a little strange and increases the distance travelled substantially. Once again the GPS proved invaluable. The strong effects of the Gulf Stream persisted almost all the way across, and by evening, the heavy traffic of freighters, cruise ship liners and weekend pleasure boaters made it clear that Government Cut was dead ahead.

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