Taking our Albin Vega to the Bahamas across the gulf Stream!

Last sunset in the Keys

We left Islamorada at 5:00pm on Friday. We sailed out towards the edge of the reef as the sun descended in the west. We debated about anchoring at Rodriguez Key to sleep for a few hours or the entire night before taking off on the crossing. The weather was nice, though, and the forecast was in our favor. We figured that if we stayed the night and left in the morning then we wouldn’t have enough time to make it into the Bahamas before sunset on Saturday. As it turned out, we were thinking right.

So we decided to keep going and cross the gulf stream on an overnight passage. We got out to the reef that protects the Keys as the sun was setting. We blew our conch shell to the four directions as it dipped beneath the horizon. The depth meter started displaying deeper and deeper depths until it finally read “—“ meaning depth in excess of 200 feet.

We wanted to actually sail to the Bahamas, not motor like everyone other “sailor” that we know. Most sailors leave from a launch spot as close to the Bahamas as possible, like Miami, in order to minimize the time in the gulf stream. We’ve even had professional sailor captains try to convince us to just motor full-throttle the whole way to “just get there.”

We calculated our course on paper to account for the northern 2 knot+ current of the gulf stream. It indicated to us that if we wanted to sail and not motor, we’d have to launch from a spot far south of Miami and Bimini. As it worked out, leaving from Islamorada was just the perfect amount of distance south to allow us to sail all the way to Bimini. Our calculated compass heading that we would maintain for the entire trip was an easy one: 90degrees. That’s due east, magnetic. Simple enough! All we had to do was point our bow due east for 19 hours, and we’d end up in the Bahamas 80 miles to the northeast.

We were both nervous about the crossing. It’s the first time we were going across a major ocean current on a significant open water ocean passage, and we were doing it alone without a buddy boat. Not only that, but we were going to actually SAIL it and not motor it, and we were leaving from a jump off point that no one leaves from, and we were doing an overnight when most everyone crosses starting at dawn. Leaving to cross at night can really be scary. But, the weather was perfect and delicious, so there was nothing to hold us back but ourselves.

We said our good-byes, send last emails and made the last phone calls that we could until our cell signal ran out on us. Then we were truly out of range of all friends and family. The wind was mostly out of the east-southeast, so we had to sail close-hauled and beat to windward the entire trip. It wasn’t bad, but when the wind shifted a bit to the east (on the nose), we actually had a few hours when we had to motor to keep up our speed so that we would make Bimini and not get blown by the gulf stream current too far north.

There was a significant amount of BIG boat traffic out there. We had to slow down and alter course to allow two separate cruise ships to pass and also once for a container ship and another time for a fuel barge being pushed by a tug. This was all under the near full-moon light on gleaming water only seeing the boats by their lights. It’s so difficult to figure out how far away the boats are, what direction they are heading, and what spped they are traveling at night just based on their lights. Thank goodness we have a pair of good binoculars! We were able to assess their heading and speed well enough to navigate safely around them with lots of comfort room.

Had one accidental heave-to in the night due to complications with a change in wind speed and direction and the autopilot’s inability to compensate quickly enough. We had to start the motor again and run on fuel for an hour until the winds picked up and shifted southeast again. While we were motoring in the luminous moonlight over the 2000 feet deep water, three dolphins came and raced us. The water was so amazingly clear that even just by moonlight we could see them swimming in the water aside and beneath our albin vega. They seemed to have mottled or spotted backs rather than the usual all gray dolphins we have seen in the keys. They were really hauling fin too, because we were cruising at 5 knots at that point.

We took shifts on deck while the other got to rest in the cabin below. At times it was a bit of a bucking bronco ride, but overall it was just a stimulating sail for 18 hours. We had picked a good weather window. The swells were maybe 5 to 6 feet with maybe 1 foot waves on top of them, all from the southeast. After experiencing this “calm” night, we definitely don’t want to ever experience it in BIG conditions.

By morning we were both very tired, but the color of the water was rejuvenating. Imagine grey merging with lapis lazuli. We caught the Bahamas weather forecast net on the shortwave radio at 6:30am, and the sun rose behind the clouds on the horizon at 7:00am. By 11:00am we were within 1 mile of our goal: North Bimini, Bahamas. We had traveled 85 miles over open ocean with a somewhat predictable current and a decently cooperative weather forecast. It was amazing to us that we didn’t miss the wee little 2 mile island in all that open water. We arrived spot on our target after 18 hours of pointing our bow at 90 degrees. Amazing! It worked! We arrived within 100 yards of our goal waypoint without even having to correct our navigation or heading.

Blue waters of the Bahamas

By 12:00 noon we had found a marina for $30 for a slip, and we were eager to tie up and rest. We considered just continuing on across the Great Bahama Bank towards the Berrys or Nassau or Andros, but we were too tired to just start another 80 mile trip without rest. We raised our quarantine flag and went to the customs and immigration office, a bit worried about whether or not they would turn us away because of our two cats.

It really comes down to the luck of which agent you get at the counter! The guy next to me got asked about having pets on board, but I didn’t. If I’d have answered “yes” then most likely our cats would have been quarantined for a month or we would have been denied admittance to the Bahamas. Phew! The agent gave us our entry visa and cruising permit and fishing license, and that was that. I lowered the quarantine flag and raised our new Bahamas flag on Wee Happy. We are now official and able to cruise the Bahamas until we want to leave or our permits expire on July first, whichever comes first.

So now we are planning our next trip: crossing the Great Bahama Bank to the Berrys or Andros.

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6 thoughts on “Taking our Albin Vega to the Bahamas across the gulf Stream!

  1. Jim

    Congrats on a successful passage! I am very glad to hear that you were able to sail most of the way as I would want to go the same route when the time comes. I too am always amazed at the amount of motoring sailors are doing. Oh well, to each his own. Really looking forward to your adventures.
    Fair winds!

    1. wh-admin Post author

      Thanks Jim! Yeah, we’ve talked to so many sailors here that waited for there to be no wind and then they motored across. Guess it makes sense in terms of having calm waters, but DAMN, you’ve got a sailboat! Why wait until there is NO WIND!!!!

    1. wh-admin Post author

      Yeah Wes, you’d love it here! Next time! Thanks so much for those charts and cruising guides. They’ve been really helpful on our trip!

  2. Pam

    I am so Happy for you and es[pecially that the cats got in under the wings of some angel. What a blessing!
    Do be careful out there and have a great rest and a great time.
    Look forward to seeing more pics. The water is amazing. Color like I have never seen before!
    Praying for you always


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