BOAT TRIP TO THE BAHAMAS 2009
By Frank and Laurie Donaldson
We departed St. James City, FL about 8AM on the 8th of June, 2009, the day that the western Locks on the Okeechobee Waterway were to close for the summer, not to open again until September. The weather was bright and sunny, with a slight breeze from the South; however the tide was low and we had difficulty transiting our shallow inlet on the way out to San Carlos Bay. We left our canal system and entered the ICW at marker R-12. We headed towards Ft. Myers with dolphin playing in our wake and on thru the Miserable Mile and past Cape Coral under the Cape Coral, Mid Point, and I-75 bridges. We then passed the Ft. Myers Power Plant on our way to the Franklin Locke. We waited an hour for Locke personnel to first pass the West Bound Traffic before getting our turn with other East bound traffic. On to Alva, Labelle, Ortona Locke, Moorhaven Locke and to the perimeter canal that took us to the Clewiston Channel and on East through Lake Okeechobee. As we passed by the Clewiston Locke we noticed it was operating as usual, this Locke is the entrance to the Roland Martin Marina. As we approached the Mayaca Locke we found it was in the open position, which allowed us to pass on through without a waiting period. Here we entered the St. Lucie Canal system and on to Indian Town Marina. We decided to spend a couple nights at Indian Town because we were informed that the St. Lucie Locke would not open until the next day or so. We found the staff at the Marina to be very friendly and offered us a wonderful lounge area, with comfortable patio furniture, A/C, free ice and information on the St. Lucie Locke. We walked a short distance to town to have dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant, which was as good if not better than expected.
The next day we left Indian Town Mariana aboard the “Fin-ale” heading towards the St. Lucie Locke to await our turn to pass through with other east bound boats. We waited about an hour before getting waved into the Locke and our decent of 8’ to sea level. We pulled out of the Locke and on our way to Stuart and the Manatee Pocket and our destination the Mariners Cay Marina. As we took on our first load of fuel we excitingly noticed our old boat “A Weigh of life” that we sold 3 years ago, tied up in a slip next to the one we were to use for the night. We tried to get the telephone number of the owner but it was too late to find anyone that knew it. She is still in fine shape, as the new owner is taking good care of the “A Weigh of life” as we did.
The next day we shopped for provisions in preparation of our trip across the Gulf Stream and on to the Bahamas. A friendly guy at the marina drove us to the nearest Publix and West Marine to get those last minute items that you always need. We spent the rest of the day in the pool and enjoying some Spirits and suds.
It is June 11, 09, the time is about 9AM. And we are departing the marina and Stuart, FL on our way out into the Atlantic to start our trip across the Gulf Stream and on to the Bahamas. As we passed through the St. Lucie Inlet, which is about 2 miles from the marina and the Manatee Pocket, the weather was picture perfect with winds of less than 5 MPH and seas with barely a ripple. We passed many boats engaged in fishing and waved as we passed by them. We set our initial course to White Sand Ridge (51.3 NM from St. Lucie inlet, at a bearing of 98deg.). This point is north of Memory Rock and the West End Settlement of Grand Bahamas. This is also the point where we change from 2300’ of water depth to 30’ and enter the Little Bahamas Bank. This area and south to Biminis was a great fishing area for Hemmingway and other prior great fishermen. Most came across from Palm Beach and frequented the Big Game Club of the Biminis and points north to West End and Lacaya on Grand Bahamas. The next time I come this way, fishing is a must.
Now that we have entered the Little Bahamas Bank we set our course from White Sand Ridge to Little Sale Island (52 NM at a bearing of 101deg.). The water colors on the Bahamas Bank are breathtaking pastels, light blue to medium blues; in 25’ of water you can clearly see the bottom traveling at approximately 25MPH. Next we set courses to: Sale rock (1NM at 97deg.); S.W. of Carter’s Bank (1 and 1half NM at 121 deg.); Hawksbill Cay (5.4 NM at 104 deg.); Center World Rock (4.1 NM at 86 deg.); Crab Cay (5 NM at 90 deg.); and Spanish Cay (5 NM at 90 deg.). These Islands are surrounded by shoaling and one must be careful in plotting courses to prevent running aground. In addition, you will quickly learn how to read water colors in determining depth. Don’t let this scare you because it is simple; especially if you have a late model Garmin GPS electronic plotter, which has most of the courses already entered for your convenience. As you pass through these Islands you will enjoy the beauty of countless sandy beaches, Islands and colorful waters second to none. Our first stop was Spanish Cay. This is where we checked into customs figuring it would be less crowded and it was; we were the only customer and, it took only 15 minutes, then we were on our way to Green turtle Cay, which was only 16 NM at a bearing of 90 deg. One note about checking in at Spanish Cay is that it cost $50 to tie up the boat for the convenience. Next time I will check in at Plymouth Town on Green Turtle, because you will visit there anyway and you can use the $50 to rent a golf cart for the day.
As we approached Green Turtle Cay it was obvious that this would be a delightful place to visit. The surrounding waters were blues and greens; the land had native beautiful vegetation and majestic beaches. Upon entering the channel we passed though an anchorage made up of mostly sailboats all there to enjoy the wonderful weather. The channel into White Sound was narrow but well marked which made our pass into this wide body of water which looked more like a lagoon, simple and safe. The water was about 8’ to 10’ deep and crystal clear allowing the bottom to be completely visible. You could see fish swimming around and clumps of sea grass nestled in the sand. To the South of White Sound a short distance is Black Sound which is the other deep body of water suitable for navigation. The town of New Plymouth is located in Black Sound.
We cruised on into White Sound where on the left was the Bluff House Marina and on the right Green Turtle Club Marina. We checked in with the Bluff House where we had a reservation for two days and the Dock master directed us to our slip for our stay. The piers and docks were big and in excellent condition, as was the entire Marina and village. Not many visitors though, just a scattering of boats from Florida there to fish or enjoy the beautiful scenery. There were 20 to 30 sail boats moored in the middle of the Sound a stone’s throw from us. After we secured the boat we checked in, took a walk and tour of the place and checked out the scenery before taking a swim in the pool. There was a bar close to the pool (they were offering drink specials at $4) and of course cold drinks were in order and a second round after that before returning to the boat for dinner. We spent the evening exchanging tales with our new boating friends, having drinks and enjoying the beautiful sunset. In addition, boats were returning from fishing the whole period since we arrived; the crews were busy all this time cleaning hundreds of snapper and other species of fish. In fact they were still cleaning fish after dark. The next day we moved the boat over to the Green Turtle Club to fuel up. The cost of fuel was not much higher than Florida, which was a relief since we heard stories of very high prices-not true. After fueling we rented a golf cart and toured New Plymouth, A quaint little town with many old English style homes and small businesses. Here we tried our first ever raw Conch and it was excellent. Our stay at the Bluff House was enjoyable; when we paid our bill using the Boat U.S. membership card it turned out to cost about $70 per night, including water and Electric; cheaper than most places in Florida.
The next day we cruised over to Great Guana Cay passing by Whale Cay, and the Cruise Ship turnaround at Baker’s Bay. This area from Green Turtle Cay to Marsh Harbor is considered by many to be the most beautiful 20 miles in the Bahamas. This area is known for its Snug harbors, beautiful beaches, ocean cruising, quaint villages, good diving, excellent restaurants, good anchorages, fancy marinas, and good shopping for the ladies. Treasure Cay is off to the right and is mostly a resort community. It has a marina, condos and privately owned villas and homes. It also has an Airport similar to Marsh Harbor. We checked in at Orchid Bay Marina for the night. Orchid Bay is on a par with the better marinas in Florida; has a pool, good restaurant and excellent facilities. After checking in at the office we hitched a ride on a golf cart operated by a friendly American who lived there. He took us to the famous Nipper’s Bar and Grill located on a dune overlooking the beach and the reef. Ocean Frontier Hideaways offers accommodations nest door to Nipper’s. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Abacos. On the way back to the boat we shopped for a few item at a well stocked little grocery store. That night we dined at the Orchid Bay Bar and Restaurant; the meal was first class at a reasonable price.
The nest day we departed Orchid Bay and headed across the Sea of Abaco towards Marsh Harbor. Only a short distance (8 miles or so). The channel is well marked and easy to follow all the way into Marsh Harbor Marina and Yacht Club. The staff here was accommodating, making our stay comfortable. They have a pool, with a restaurant and bar. Bar and food prices are reasonable and food excellent. We went into town, shopped and enjoyed a fine meal of conch chowder and seafood at Mangoes Restaurant and Bar. Before leaving Marsh Harbor we fueled up. Fuel was $3.08 a gallon for diesel. Our marina bill was $139 for two days, including water and electric and a few drinks at the bar. Not bad!
The next day we headed out of Marsh Harbor, past Matt Lowe’s Cay, on to the South Man-O-War Channel to the Atlantic Ocean for our run to Great Harbor. We passed close enough to Hope Town to get a good view of the Hope Town lighthouse.
We then set our course just off shore of Little Harbor to Hole in the Wall at the South end of Great Abaco Island, about 60 NM, seas were a little choppy but calmed down as we neared Hole in the Wall. From there we set a course to Great Stirrup Cay where the cruise ships anchor (about 50 miles).
As we approached Great Stirrup Cay (part of the Berry Islands) a cruise ship came into view, anchored off the beach about a mile. Passengers were being ferried to the beach by shuttle boats. The beach area had all the amenities necessary to satisfy their needs and more. We continued on to Great Harbor (about 10 miles). The channel was well marked but the inlet into the lagoon was not visible because we had to make a 90 degree turn to the port and enter into a cut through the rocks and then into the lagoon. Once inside we were protected even from a hurricane if necessary. Nice place but run down and in ill repair. The swimming pool was not fit to enter and the restaurant was less than inviting. Our worse stop ever in the Bahamas. All other stops were memorable. We fueled up the next day ($3.36 per gal. Slip for the night $63) and headed east on the Great Bahamas Bank north of Chub Cay (seas were calm) and onto Cat Cay (58 NM). We passed between Cat and Gun Cay and then set our course to Key Largo about 55 NM at 243 degrees. We arrived at the Marina Del Mar in Key Largo about 3PM; we stopped here on our last trip from the Bahamas and we like it a lot. Good marina facilities; good restaurants and bars and Mariana staff treat you like royalty. A little pricey at $3 per foot, but we enjoyed our stay. If you are a diver, which I am, you will love this diving paradise. We spent $276 for 2 nights.
The next day we headed south towards Marathon, not knowing where we were going to stay for the night so we consulted our Garmin services data on our 4212 chart plotter and found a wonderful place called Key Sombrero Resort and Marina, just east of the Seven Mile bridge. We called and made a reservation. On the way there we went into Key Colony Inn Marina and filled up our tanks for the trip back home to Pine Island. (Fuel cost $2.51 per gal.).
Sombrero Resort was just what it was described to be by the Dock Master when we called. The resort had a great pool and bar (right at the pool) with $1 Jell-O shooters, cold beer and reasonably priced drinks. In addition, a good Italian restaurant, also with reasonably priced food and drinks and friendly staff and it was right there near the pool. What else could a mariner want? The Showers and facilities were clean and in good condition. We had a wonderful dinner and relaxing evening.
Due to the fact that there was a fishing tournament going on at the marina, breakfast was furnished to everyone staying there. We enjoyed our breakfast and began preparing for our trip home.
We departed the Sombrero Resort and Marina at about 8 AM passing under the now non operational Boot key draw bridge (to be torn down shortly) leaving Boot Key to our left on our way to the Seven Mile bridge. We passed Pigeon Key Banks then turned right to pass under the bridge and onto Moser Channel and into Florida Bay. We set our course and the auto pilot for Marco Island (about 90 NM) and set back and enjoyed the trip. After passing by Marco Island we set our course and the auto pilot for the San Carlos sea buoy and the “A” span of the Sanibel Bridge. All the way from Marathon the seas were about 1 – 2 feet, making for a very pleasant trip. We arrived home (St. James City) at about 2 PM. The inlet tide level was just deep enough for the Fin–ale to safely pass through and on to our dock at 2309 Sapodilla Lane.
In summary, we had an enjoyable and wonderful two week cruise through Florida, onto the Bahamas, the Keys and back to St. James City. We will definitely do it again next year.
If any of you are interested in cruising with us next June to the Bahamas give me a call at 239 560 0128 or email: [email protected]
Capt. Frank and Laurie Donaldson, also Paco.
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