Before we decided to travel to the Bahamas, I really didn't know much about it. I knew that a lot of people from the States traveled there via cruise ship and I knew a lot of sail boaters went there year after year during the winter months, but I really didn't take the time to find out about the history, the people, or the islands we would visit. I researched some facts about the Bahamas using the country of Bahamas website, wordpress.com, and Wikipedia.
The Bahamas are a wide-spread archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean located off the eastern coastlines of Florida and Cuba which include over 700 islands, along with dozens of cays (little islands) and hidden coves. Columbus first sighted the islands in 1492 and at that time they were the established home of the Lucayan Indians. Over the next few centuries the Indian population was decimated and the islands became a major launching base for the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean as well as the American mainland. In the 18th-20th centuries, American and British forces gained control of this valuable real estate until the Bahamas finally gained total independence on July 10, 1973. With that independence came their own flag. Each part of it has a special meaning. The black triangle stands for unity, the yellow strip in the middle represents the sandy beaches of the islands, and the two blue strips surrounding the yellow symbolize the ocean that surrounds the beaches.
A few facts about the Bahamas..... the official language is English, although there are Creole influences. The population of the Bahamas is 320,000, and about 220,000 of those residents live in the capital city, Nassau. The official currency is the Bahamian Dollar, but American dollars are accepted and readily interchangeable 1:1. Popular religions: Baptist, Anglican, and Catholic. The Bahamians are warm, open, friendly people.
Today tourism is the major industry. The islands are surrounded by reefs and beautiful turquoise water. This combination of beautiful scenery and sunny skies makes the Bahamas one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean. Many celebrities have ultra-exclusive vacation homes in the Bahamas. Most of these are located on islands are small and remote... only accessible by boat, small plane, or helicopter.. the ultimate in privacy. Johnny Depp, John Travolta, Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, Faith Hill, Shakira, Eddie Murphy, Michael Jordan, David Copperfield, and Mariah Carey. How much have these stars paid for their island hideaways?? David Copperfield paid $50 million for a group of three islands, Nicholas Cage paid $7 million for a small island, Leaf Cay, that is now up for sale for $15 million, Eddie Murphy paid $15 million for Rooster Cay. Johnny Depp paid $3.6 million for his 45-acre slice of paradise, Little Hall's Pond Cay. And, just think, we get to cruise these areas for free! The entire Bahamas have just become our back yard!
One of the most famous local cuisines of the Bahamas is Conch. (pronounced "konk") Conch is a firm, white meat found in ocean mollusk. Often called ‘Fresh, Sexy Conch’ the meat is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Every part of it is edible, but most people only enjoy the white meat.
1 1/2 pounds conch
1/4 cup cucumber, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon Matouk’s hot sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Lightly pound conch. Dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss conch with remaining ingredients and let sit at least 1 hour in refrigerator. Serve over fresh mixed greens with a wedge of lime.
Talkin' Bahamian....although the language spoken in the Bahamas is English, there is a Creole influence and they have interesting sayings.....
"Looks like someone has gone shelling without a basket'
“when I slap you, you goin stay slap”
“Don’t let your mout (mouth) carry you where your foot can’t bring you back from”
AND, their own vocabulary....
boonggy: rear end; considered a national word
bust-up: badly drunk or intoxicated
conchy joe: watch out for Joe! An ethnic term referring to those of Caucasian inclination (in other words, white)
confuddle up: to get confused
crabbie: female genitals
doggie: male genitals
parrot ass: one who talks too much
stiff-toe gang: rigor mortis, or to die
Now that I've caught you up with what I know so far about the Bahamas, it's time to get there!!!
While the Bahamas are close in miles to Miami (only 43 nautical miles (nm) to Bimini), a boat faces a significant challenge to get there... the Gulf Stream. On a calm day, the Gulf Stream can be a delight-- flat seas and gentle ocean swells. Catch the Gulf Stream on the wrong conditions, and you'll live to regret it. That's why you hear all this talk about "weather windows"..... you need the right weather window to get to the Bahamas in the right conditions. Some people get paralyzed by all the different weather predictions and never seem to find the right time to cross to the Bahamas. The Florida Keys are full of people right now who are waiting on a "weather window".
Stacy from Pipe muh Bligh had been watching the weather closely and decided that Sunday was a good day to depart for the Bahamas. Destination..... Nassau. We planned to leave late in the day, traveling at night to reach Mackie Shoals, a shallow shoal on the Bahama Bank 88 nm away where we could anchor and rest before resuming our trip to Nassau. Finally, we are ready to leave Miami (and laundry!) behind. Rene and Stacy needed fuel, so they left earlier in the afternoon and waited for us behind Fisher Island, near Miami Govt. Cut. We weighed anchor at 6 p.m. (running late due to the laundry!) and made our way through the waterway and hooked up with Rene and Stacy near Dodge Island. It was already getting dark. We followed a big cruise ship out of the channel, met a couple of big freighters coming in.... just another day in the channel at Miami....
Nice night. Calm seas, no wind. Motoring. LuLu, harnessed in. (Yep, after that little stunt she pulled on the way to Miami, I bought a dog harness and lead for her to wear in the cockpit!). Note: there are no CAT harnesses. They don't make them, because most cats are smart enough not to need them. She is totally insulted about having to wear a harness made for dogs, but if she is going to act stupid, she's going to have to suffer the consequences.
We took 2 hour shifts. I used my Navionics software on my iPad as a chart plotter in the cockpit. Worked great. Threw in a few good games of scrabble along the way and I was good to go. Shifts came and went with no problems. Even got some sleep along the way.
We arrived at Mackie Shoals at 8:00 a.m. The weather was clear. I saw the sun rise (yes, I can see the sun rise if I am already on watch!) It was simply beautiful. Stunning. The kind of morning where you are in awe of being alive. Feeling that being on your boat at this moment is what you were meant to do in your life. We were anchored essentially out in the middle of the ocean. The water was gin clear. We could see our anchor chain. We were in the Bahamas!!!
After I got over my reverie, what did I do?? I immediately launched into Laundry Version 2.0 and proceeded to hang out my damp laundry! We took a nap around noon. At 3 p.m., we awakened refreshed, and voila', my laundry was finally finished! Life was good!
Around 6 p.m. LA fixed smoked chicken and sun-dried tomato ravioli for dinner. We ate and got ready to depart at 7 p.m. Stacy and Rene had decided to leave about 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., but they couldn't hail us on the radio. We forgot to turn on our VHF radio when we woke up. They tried to get our attention from their boat, to no avail. So, when we did our final prep to weigh anchor, we finally turned on the VHF and hailed them. They let us know they wanted to wait until 8 p.m. so that we would be sure to arrive in full daylight in Nassau. All dressed up and no place to go! Waited another hour until 8 p.m., then off we went for another night crossing to Nassau, an 80 nm trip.
WE ARRIVE IN NASSAU!
Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and is located on the island of New Providence. The island is 21 miles long, 7 miles wide, and is about 80 square miles. Winter temperatures average 75 degrees during the day. Summer temperatures average 90 degrees. Rainy months are May through October. Nassau goes back 350 years, and its history includes French and Spanish invaders, gun-runners, and bootleggers. Bay Street, home of the famous Nassau straw market, was once the haunt of pirates. It is now lined with stores and markets to lure tourists from cruise ships to spend their money.
Before you can start enjoying the island, you and your boat must clear customs for the Bahamas. We stayed at a nice marina, the Nassau Harbour Club Marina (tele 242-393-0771). We called them before we left Miami to let them know we would be arriving two days later and sent a confirming e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org). The harbormaster, Peter, and his staff helped us get the boat docked, then notified the customs officials that we had arrived. Two nice ladies from the customs office came to our boat and reviewed our paperwork. Thirty minutes and $300 later, we received our visa and were cleared for a three month stay in the Bahamas, with a one-year cruising permit for Genesis. After 90 days, we will be required to go to any customs office in the Bahamas and renew our visa. No more money has to be paid... just paperwork so that we can continue to stay in the country. LA is hoisting our courtesy flag that shows we have cleared customs and are ready to cruise this beautiful country.
After clearing in and getting our boats secured, we were all ready for a cold welcome to the Bahamas! We went to a local restaurant, The Poop Deck, and had touristy umbrella strawberry and mango daiquiris and lunch. We were all tired, but exhilarated after our passage and ready for some relaxation!
Our first island fun fact!
The Bahamas have their own drink, the infamous Bahama Mama. This drink will put you on island time no matter where you are.
1/4 oz. coffee liquor, 1/2 oz. dark rum, 1/2 oz. coconut liqueur, 1/4 oz. 151 proof rum, juice of one-half lemon, 4oz. pineapple juice. Combine all ingredients and pour over cracked ice in a glass. Decorate with a strawberry or cherry, and, of course, an umbrella!
MISSING IN NASSAU... ONE LITTLE KITTY
On Sunday, we spent the entire day getting our boats cleaned up from the passage. Salt water was everywhere and we took advantage of the fresh water at the dock and thoroughly hosed down the boat and the dinghy. We worked on several projects all day, and at the end of the day, we lost track of LuLu. All day long, she had slept in her hiding place in the quarter-berth, rarely venturing out. This was not unusual, so we didn't think anything about it until we got ready to close up the boat and go to dinner that night. We called and called, and she did not appear. We looked everywhere on the boat.... LuLu was no where to be found! LA and I were both distressed. We thought she might have jumped off the boat and onto the dock. I walked the docks and called and called. I stopped everyone I met and asked if they had seen little LuLu. It got late, and we finally had to resign ourselves to the fact that our dear LuLu was gone. I cried myself to sleep, and woke up at midnight and walked the docks again. Still no LuLu. About 3:30 a.m., I was awake and I thought I heard a faint kitty cry. I listened again... nothing. I decided that I was hallucinating and it was just wishful thinking. LA woke up shortly thereafter. Again, I heard a faint cry. This time, LA heard the cry also. We leapt out of bed and began calling. LA heard her again, and realized that she was in the engine compartment! Earlier in the day, he had the engine compartment open changing the oil, and she obviously slipped in there unnoticed. He opened the compartment door, and who sauntered out?? Just as pretty as you please, there was Miss LuLu! We didn't know whether to kill her or kiss her!! (So, we kissed her, of course!!).
SIGHTSEEING IN NASSAU
We planned to spend two nights at the marina, but the weather had other ideas for us. We arrived on Saturday, January 4 and by Monday the 6th, it was blowing like stink... over 25 knots. Not very pleasant weather for a crossing to the Exumas. So, what to do?? Settle down and enjoy being a tourist.
First stop.... The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. We took a taxi from the marina with Stacy and Rene who dropped us off at an entrance, where we quickly found out that we were classified as "day guests" and would not have access to the entire property. There were plenty of things to see and do and several of them charged an admission fee... a dolphin habitat, water park, archaeological exhibit, spa, and golf course. However, we could go to the casino, restaurants, lounges, and clubs. We had an excellent lunch at the Atlas Bar and Grill, then had a great time touring the beautiful hotel grounds and the marina.
Marina Village in Atlantis has elaborately paved streets, colorful buildings and is a marketplace offering resort wear, local artisans with crafts from the culture of the Bahamian people, as well as the familiar Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. The marina's docks are a veritable who's who of yachts... each one bigger than the next! There are 62 slips which can take vessels up to 220 ft. Guests enjoy 24 hour room service and full access to all the services of the Atlantis resort. Too high end for us, though.... this is where the jet set luxuriate around on their yachts to see and be seen!
Next stop, the straw market. The straw market is located on Bay Street, right along the waterfront where the cruise ship lines dock. Established in 1983, the old market building was destroyed by fire in 2001. It is now located in tents while a new building is under construction, slated to for completion in late 2011. Construction moves very slowly in the Bahamas. The straw market is lined with stalls where vendors display their wares... local Bahamian crafts, but primarily fake knock-off purses and luggage. They obviously do a big business with the cruise ship tourists. They have everything... Coach, Gucci, Fendi, Dooney & Bourke. Stacy and I looked everything over, but ultimately did not buy anything. Don't really need a lot of purses when you live on a sailboat!!
While we were shopping, we heard a commotion and many of the vendors ran out of the tent to the street. Cat Fight!! Two women got in an altercation when one of the women ran into the other woman's car on one of those weird touring unicycles. Everyone came out into the street and watched while the police were summoned to break things up. Lots of yelling, hair pulling, and several women watched with scowls on their faces. After a while, things quieted down and the crowd dispersed.
We did our share of shopping while we were in Nassau. Jewelry? Nope. Leather handbags? Nope. Designer shoes? Nope. Try again.... remember our provisioning illness?? Yep, back to the grocery store!! The City Market grocery store was conveniently located right across the street from our marina and we took full advantage. Some guys came by in a boat one afternoon and we bought six nice-sized lobsters for $20. Stacy knew an authentic Bahamian lobster recipe that she had in the Abacos last year, so she cooked them up. Ummmmm!! Great! Our first lobster in the Bahamas!
We dream of getting lobster at every island and having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
Finally, after four days at the marina, we finally head out to the Exumas Islands. First stop, Allan's Cay, 30 miles away.
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