We left Lake Worth (West Palm Beach) on December 22nd at 10:00 p.m. and lived to tell the tale of crossing the Gulf Stream. Our passage was rough. We lost the wood inserts for the anchor platform due to the boat crashing in the waves, but that was the only casualty. The wind was 25-30 knots, gusting to 39 knots, on the nose and it was ROUGH! The weather report indicated there was a window to cross the Gulf Stream and the winds were to diminish during the night. They didn't. Even worse, every now and then, a rogue wave hit us from the side and the boat bounced around like a cork, going up and down and sideways all at the same time. I got sick and threw up. I did manage to relieve Bob a few times so he could nap, but basically, he was on watch for the entire crossing. It was probably good that it was dark so I couldn't see the waves! By daybreak, we were approaching the Bahamas Bank with much shallower and calmer water. We sighted Sandy Cay then West End on the Grand Bahamas Island. We entered the channel about 8:30 a.m. and were tied up by 9:00 when customs opened. The timing was perfect.
Bob used his most persistent skills to get a 6-month cruising permit rather than a 3-month permit. The customs officer who came aboard the boat usually gives only a month or two, he said. Once he confirmed that we had enough groceries and funds to last 6 months, he agreed to the longer time period. We probably won't use the full 6 months, but it's a hassle to get an extension.
We spent three nights at the little West End Marina. While securing the docking lines, Bob asked a guy on the boat next to us about the tides. He indicated they were not much. We took a nap at noon and woke about 5:00 pm to find our bowsprit just resting on the concrete sea wall. Bob was able to lift and push the boat off the wall. An hour later and the boat would have been hanging by the bowsprit. Bob asked another guy on the same boat later (the captain) about the tides and he confirmed that they were about four feet, given the full moon. A lesson learned. Know the person who's giving you the information.
The second day, Christmas Eve, we took a bus into Freeport. We walked around the International Bazaar, a duty-free shopping area with expensive shops like Versace, Columbia Emerald, Little Switzerland, etc. Obviously, we didn't buy anything. There were also straw shops and local craft shops. We didn't buy any of that either since we don't have room for much stuff. We walked to the downtown area where we bought a telephone card and used it to call our respective families and report our safe arrival. We walked through the Winn Dixie. It was like being in the states except that prices were 30-50% higher, an example being a small package of Oreo cookies for $5.89. That's why you bring a lot of groceries with you. We shopped for bread, milk, and produce then returned to the boat.
Christmas Day, we walked 2½ miles to West End Settlement because someone had told us that the bakery was open. It wasn't, but we found a lady who baked and sold Bahamian fruit cakes out of her home. We discovered that Ovie had ridden the bus back from Freeport with us the day before. We bought a cake from her and she gave us another small one to snack on as we walked back to the boat. Upon inquiry, she told us about a woman who baked bread in her home. We walked to a church and then beside it along a path and then behind it and found Effie's house. Sure 'nuff, she had a loaf of Bahamian bread. It's a huge loaf of white bread, a little sweet, with a close texture almost like a pound cake, very tasty. The Bahamian fruitcake is also different, not at all waxy like its American counterpart. It's like a very moist gingerbread with a lot of spices and a small amount of finely chopped candied fruit and nuts, soaked in rum or brandy. We were very pleased with our Christmas Day purchases and returned to the boat, snacking on our gift fruitcake as we walked.
For Christmas dinner, we had Stovetop cornbread stuffing, grilled chicken breasts, cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes, asparagus, Bahamian fruitcake, and wine.
We left West End on December 26th and headed to Great Sale Cay. "Cay" is the word for key as in the Florida Keys and is pronounced "key." We left about 7:30 a.m. and motored all day since there wasn't enough wind to sail. We arrived about 4:30 p.m., just in time to anchor under dark clouds before high winds hit. A few drops of rain fell, but not enough to wash the boat down. The next morning, it did rain so we stayed another day. The cay is uninhabited and it was just us, two other boats, and nature. We did odd jobs on the boat, and at dusk, were sitting in the cockpit for happy hour. Boats had been coming in all afternoon, and another pulled into the area and dropped anchor. Bob said, "That looks like Dick and Kathy." He got the binoculars and then called them on the VHF radio to confirm that they were the people we stayed with at Punta Gorda back in August! We had talked about crossing with them, but our schedules didn't mesh. Now, we had run into them by chance! We accepted their suggestion to go to Allans-Pensacola Cay the next day, a trip of about 30 miles. We followed their lead and were anchored by 2:00 p.m. We went to shore in the dinghy and Kathy, Bob, and Dick went snorkeling and found 6-8 conch (pronounced conk, rhymes with honk as a Yankee would pronounce it). They put the live conch into buckets of sea water and, the next morning, Bob and Dick took them ashore to clean them, a rather messy, smelly job best not done on the boat.