Sailing Alone to the Bahamas
Florida Keys to George Town, Exumas, Bahamas - 215 miles
Just for fun I thought because no newspaper / magazine reporters, cheering crowds, adoring fans or family greeted my arrival on the beaches of the Exumas, I would stay on board Mystique so I could interview myself after having sailed to the heart of the Bahamas by myself.
Why did you sail nonstop from Florida to the Exumas?
I wanted to take advantage of the favorable winds. It was blowing 18-22 knots most of the way. I love sailing much more than motoring.
And the weather and winds could change and make sailing southeast more difficult. I wanted to take advantage of the conditions - the clocking winds: south - west - northwest - north.
Why didn't you anchor to rest and/or explore the islands? Were you in some kind of a rush?
I also knew I would be returning north in the very near future with loved ones. I felt sharing those discoveries would be more fun with others.
My Solo Route
Mystique's route to George Town: (almost 300 miles)
- No Name Harbor to Biscayne National Park (Florida) - 26 miles
- Broad Creek to South Sliding Rocks (Bahamas) - 59 miles
- South Sliding Rocks to Northwest Channel marker - 55 miles
- Northwest Channel to West Bay, New Providence (Nassau)- 42 miles
- West Bay to within 2 miles of Allans Cay (Exumas) - 42 miles
- Allans Cay to Cistern Cay - 22 miles
- Cistern Cay to Compass Cay - 16 miles
- Compass Cay to Monument Cove, Stocking Island - 71 miles
- Monument to George Town, Great Exuma - 1.5 miles
What did you think about most when you were all alone?
Present moments, sail trim? course? depth? chart position? other vessels? what's up ahead? what is next? food? sleep?
And then in more reflective moments....what really matters, who really matters, family, love, life's brevity...
Mostly during the early stages of the trip -
- How the hell do I extricate Mystique from a Floridian shoal?
- Can I get her off by myself?
- Do I call for help?
8-10 knot breeze moderating at dusk on the first night...Florida Keys power plant in the distance (24 miles south of Miami)
Power plant can be seen lighting up to the west.
Mystique's draft is 3'8", but she ran aground twice going through Broad Creek, Key Biscayne National Park....("broad" seems like a misnomer!)
My GPS displays how far astray from the channel Mystique ended up when I ran her aground at night. None of the display markers were lit and the GPS did not show 8-10 stakes.
After I contacted BoatUS, they came to the rescue in 30 minutes and got me unstuck in 15. AWESOME!
Cost $900 for the tow, but BoatUS waives first time groundings so I got off cheaply.
Would you sail this distance alone again?
Yes, but maybe to another destination. This seemed like a "piece of cake" compared to other past voyages. But I had never sailed this far alone so that made it unique. And because I hadn't planned on being alone, it took a little time to imagine doing all the tasks by myself.
I would never do this to be competitive with anyone, but myself. This was all about the adventure and thrill of the experience. Of course, the challenge of taking on the sea is always exciting.
And I ascribe to the adage "been there, done that". So, something other is in the offing next year.
Evidence of the Gulf Stream usually shows up lots of ways. Here the numerous patches of seaweed mark show me I have entered its forces.
Did you learn anything?
I hadn't prepared enough physical training for this trip. I wasn't as in shape as I would have been if I knew I was going to be by myself.
Just before I entered Bahamian waters, freighters appear on the horizon heading south.
BEFORE: Full water and diesel jugs were firmly secured when I left Florida.
AFTER: The waves had their way with this bunch when they all came tumbling down.
Note my shock cord temporary remedy in the walkway. That seemed like the best place for them for the time time being.
A yacht anchored on a calm sea a few miles south of southwestern New Providence.
Anchoring here suggests the water isn't very deep here.
What was the high point(s) of your passage?
Any time this kind of question gets asked, I always think you have to pass a value judgement on all the experiences and rank them as if one were better than another to answer the question fully. So I prefer to answer which ones impacted me the most.
The running aground for 12 hours was frustrating. The favorable winds for most of the trip amazed me. I felt like I had some force of nature taking me to my destination. I'm always amazed how night distances distort light. Light at night always seems closer than it really is.
Calm seas west of Nassau meant motoring for a few hours.
Note the private yacht anchored just to starboard of dead ahead.
Did you see or experience anything unusual?
- The absence of birds and fish. I only saw two flying fish and not a single bird the entire trip.
- Running aground is infrequent, but I have done it enough to know what to do. I guess that isn't unusual.
- Except for a few hours, I thought the favorable winds spoke to me. "Keep going while you can."
End of my 2nd day passing the 150' private yacht with helicopter.
Early morning of Day #3
2 miles from Allan's Cay, Exumas
What was the most challenging part of sailing by yourself. Were you ever fearful?
I wasn't scared, but when I was aground, I knew the high tide window was closing fast. I was nervous about getting some assistance and getting towed off the shoal by flood tide . I knew if Mystique wasn't pulled off soon, she and I could be stranded for another twelve hours.
Keeping awake when all I wanted to do was close my eyes. Paying attention to depth changes. It is shallow in so many places in the Bahamas. And I am sure my close-to-12 hours grounding kept me awake. Running aground always seems to be my biggest concern.
Finding some time to sleep always takes some planning. Can't just catch some shut-eye whenever the mood strikes...I could sleep only when I knew the "coast was clear". When I knew rocks were not far from my course, I wasn't going to rest.
This whole experience was a little bit like a one-man juggling act. Taking full responsibility for everything isn't as fun or as easy with crew on board, but the challenge still feels exhilarating.
I never felt lonely...on passage there is always something to do that keeps me occupied. And I always like the challenges...anticipating what's next.....figuring things out is exciting to me.
The fresh westerly winds near the northern Exumas brought ominous clouds but no rain.
What would you do differently next time?
- Leave Florida's coast much earlier in the day.
- Not attempt to steer through an unfamiliar channel in the dark.
- Not run aground
- Possibly drop anchor at West Bay, New Providence or Allens Cay in the northern Exumas.
- Enjoy an island anchorage for a few days and explore
I will always continue to ADJUST and MODIFY to each circumstance / situation
Arrived at night in some familiar waters.
My first visit here was the last year so I knew what to expect. I did not expect the significant number of boats in Elizabeth Harbor.
My anchorage at Monument on Stocking Island Thursday morning
- departed No Name Harbor 10:30 am Monday, January 26, 2015
- sailed close-hauled 25 miles in 12-15 knots of wind to Biscayne National Park
- ran aground near a channel marker east about a mile off shore around 9:30 pm
- rescued by BOATUS Tuesday morning around 9:30 am
- crossed Gulf Stream with favorable southerly 18 - 20 knots in 6.5 hours
- waves 4-5 feet high during crossing stream
- 70 degree weather, overcast, but no rain
- arrived Northwest Channel marker (42 miles northwest of Nassau) by 3:00 am
- by 10:30 am wind diminished 20 miles northwest of Nassau
- dead calm by noon - motored 8 hours west of Nassau to Allan's Cay, northern Exumas
- wind freshened westerly 15-18 knots at 4:00 Wednesday morning
- Raised sails, changed course SE, broad reaching 7-9 knots under full sail
- Compass Cay Cut by 7:30 am
- winds diminished to 10-12 near Emerald Bay
- anchored at Monument Cove, Stocking Island, Elizabeth Harbor, Great Exuma at 8:00 pm
- slept 12 hours
- logged 44 hours nonstop
- greatest speed under sail: 9.3 knots
- average speed +/- 6 knots
- slept 4-5 hours 3 separate times during passage
- Thursday morning discovered 300 +/- cruising boats anchored in and around Elizabeth Harbor...(later heard on Cruise Net radio the number was 341....more than 100 boats from the previous year.)
Enough already...This is my final post regarding my recent solo from Florida to the Exumas. I promise.....! Well, maybe something more about running aground.
Off to sail the Exumas Land and Sea Park.