20 March, 2015
Sunday, the 15th, and time to depart Pancho’s Fuel Dock and Marina on lovely Marathon Key. We topped off our tanks with 100 gallons of their (overpriced) diesel on the way out, as we wanted full tanks before departing for the Bahamas. The 2 Girls had a sunny, calm cruise up to Lower Matecumbe Key, where we anchored in 8 feet of water in Matecumbe Bight. I took the opportunity to get my weights set, as we had recently replaced our 30 year old SCUBA equipment with new rigs (and I’ve put a few pounds of not muscle on since my last dive in salt water). J & S came over for Chicken curry dinner, courtesy of the Admiral. In the morning we took “Idyll Time’s” dinghy, “Time Out” for breakfast at “Robbie’s”, an outdoor restaurant on Lower Matecumbe, where we watched touristas feed the Tarpons that were congregating under the docks. After breakfast, we hiked around Indian Key State Park, before heading through the mangroves and back to the boats. It was time for “Alizann” to be moving on, so we bid our good friends “adieu”, upped anchor, and headed to Rodriguez Key, where we would meet up with Julia and Steve Erben aboard their 42’ Krogen, “Erben Renewal”. After meeting them in Solomon’s in the fall, we visited them at their dock in Marathon, where we learned of their plans to head to the Bahamas. When they heard that we were headed out on the 17th, they arranged to buddy with us, which does make for a nicer trip. As we neared Rodriguez Key, we recognized the familiar Krogen profile on the horizon. Anchor down by 1700, we agreed to head out at 0700 the following morning.
St. Patrick’s Day. As the fiery red sun broke the horizon over our bow, we were underway to the Molasses Bank, and out of Hawk Channel. South Bimini was about 11 hours away. The seas were dead calm, and the wind was non-existent. “Erben Renewal” fell in behind us. Steve got a line in the water, and was immediately rewarded with a 10 pound Wahoo. Throughout the rest of the day, in the 900 foot deep desert, neither of us got a nibble. Not surprising, as the fish tend to congregate where the depths are changing rapidly. Still, never hurts to try. Temperatures in the high 70’s, and lots of sunshine made for a good passage, and the Gulf Stream gave us a good push on our course to the Northeast. Nearing the sea mount that comprises the Bahamas Bank, the depths changed abruptly from 700 feet to around 40. We were to clear customs and spend the night at Bimini Sands Marina and Resort. As we pulled in to the man-made harbor, we were surprised that there were only 4 other boats in the 80 slip marina. The floating docks are well-maintained, and Donny and his partner were there to catch our lines. Electricity is billed as a flat fee, and water is metered at $.35/gal. Not bad, as many marinas out here are charging $.50. No worries, we make our own water, and the harbor here is very clean. We had to take a taxi to the airport to clear customs, but they were done for the day, so we were confined to the Girl until we could go over in the morning. Steve and Julia whipped up a nice salad with grilled Wahoo on top for dinner after sips and apps at our place. The following morning, Steve and I grabbed a taxi to the airport. Customs opened at 0800, so we figured 0930 would be safe. NOT. We waited on the bench for the agent to arrive (around 0945). Island time-“Soon, Mon”. She had misplaced her keys, so was unable to unlock the doors. After a fair bit of consternation and door pounding, the Immigration officer who had been inside the whole time unlocked the doors, and we did our thing. $300 later, we had our cruising and fishing permits in hand. We unloaded the bikes and took the ferry (a covered pontoon boat) over to the booming metropolis of Alicetown on North Bimini. It only took a couple of hours to ride every road on the island. The north end of the island was dominated by new construction consisting of a Hilton, 2 marinas, single and multiple unit condos, and a casino. As we cruised through this development, we were struck by the lack of inhabitants. The decks around the swimming pools were basically empty, the restaurants and bars the same. I would guess around 10-15% occupancy. Same with the marinas. Maybe it just wasn’t high season yet. The rest of the island was typical of many tropical islands-lots of poverty and no place to dump the trash for the last couple hundred years. I have to say that we were surprised, as we expected a more touristy, flashier economy, as our only experience with the Bahamas was in Nassau, and Eleuthera. We really weren’t disappointed by the lack of tee shirt and ice cream shops, though. We bought our Bimini Bread from Charlie, who sold out of the kitchen at his home. After our obligatory stop at the Bimini Big Game Club (Hemmingway fished there), we threw the bikes back on the ferry(?) for a ride back to South Bimini. Suzanne had read about the shark research center on South Bimini, so we rode our bikes over to check it out. Staffed by volunteers and various PhD students, the research activities have been ongoing for the past 25 years, funded by grants and contributions. One of the marine biology students, here on a 5 month stint, was kind enough to give us a guided tour of the facility, including a walk across the sand flats to the shark pens where we saw juvenile Lemon Sharks awaiting release after their being worked up and tagged. Cool. Back at Bimini Sands, we found that six or eight other boats had come in, including two sailing catamarans with 35 Spring breakers from Ohio State on board. Lots of sun, hormones, music and alcohol really livened up our little neighborhood. Too bad they weren’t having any fun. Good neighbors, they shut things down around 2200. Nice, as we were leaving for the Berry’s at 0700 the following morning.
Thursday, the 19th, and “Alizann” with “Erben Renewal” following are off the dock at 0730. The forecast is for calm winds, and seas, and as the sun rises lazily over the horizon, it looks like the weatherman got it right. Our plan is to head to the Isaacs, which are basically a couple of coral rocks sticking out of the sea, and do some snorkeling for lobster. The trip out is uneventful, sunny skies and calm seas. We get the hook down at Middle Isaac, and find a pretty fast current, maybe a knot or so. Steve splashes their dinghy, and comes over to get us. We’re not finding a whole lot in the way of lobsters, and the current makes swimming difficult so we opt to push on a little further towards the Berry’s. Six or eight miles East, there is a spot that shows only five meters of depth. Even though there is no shelter, the forecast looks good, so we’ll spend the night there. We get a feel for just how accurate (or not) the charts are when we spend a half hour or so crisscrossing 30’-40’ depths looking for the shallow area to anchor on. 17’ looked pretty good, and there was enough light to see the bottom, so the Admiral maneuvered us over a patch of sand amidst the coral to drop our hook. Bullseye! Got a good grab, swam the anchor chain just to make sure, and then it was time for sips and dinner. We opened a bottle of “Ecluse” Zinfandel, and marveled at the 360 degree view of nothing but horizon-no land in sight. After the sun went down as a ball of fire, we laid on the deck, spotting orbiting satellites and a few “shooting stars”. The hook was up by 0730 after a super peaceful night, and we fished the dropoff during the rest of the morning. Our first hookup was a 30” Mahi, which the Admiral filleted on the spot after I dispatched it with a rubber mallet. Our next 6 were Barracuda ranging from 2 1/2 –almost 4 feet. After hooking the last one in a way which didn’t allow hook removal and live release, we called it a day on the fishing program. Steve got lots of Cuda’s too, along with a 3’ King Mackerel. On our way into Great Harbor, on Great Harbor Cay, so gotta go.
P.S. I’ll fill in the Marathon blanks in a little bit