The Crossing From Bahamas

I didn’t know it at the start of this particular trip, but there are 2 “Big Things” for a sailor to put in their log book as having done.

1) A Crossing.
2) A Passage.

It turns out both of these have some aspect of Term Of Art about them. A Passage is the easiest to explain. It means you left the territorial waters of one country and entered those of another. Such as in “A Passage to India” where it is from the UK to India. Both in a physical sense and in the sense of a foreign land.

Having gone from the Bahamas to the USA, I have now made a Passage under sail on my boat. So moving on…

A Crossing involves crossing some significant chunk of Blue Water Ocean. I don’t know what the smallest allowed distance is to count as a Crossing; but I was assured that crossing the Gulf Stream counts. So, OK, I’ve now got a Blue Water Crossing box ticked. Nice that.

It seems that among sailors, those things count for something. Though just what I’m not sure. But it seems that I’ve picked up some kind of Status Points I didn’t know about.

In the prior episode, I talked about sailing from Island to cay to cay to West End. On the Grand Bahama Island, it’s the last stop before leaving. There’s a small harbor with slips, restaurant, showers, bar, and all manner of Really Nice Things to have after you have spent 4 or 5 days in the same clothes, without a shower, and hauling on ropes. We didn’t get any of them. Sigh.

When we arrived, we found out all the slips were full. This we found out over the VHS radio several miles out when one boat called in and was told “Nope, full up!”. OK… So dragging ourselves in about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, we had to scout out an anchorage for the night. There was a well documented anchorage on the West side of the harbor entrance; but it was getting some fairly uncomfortable swells off of the Gulf Stream and was to windward ( a mostly South wind, but a little out of the West). We then explored the East side of the harbor entrance (even though it was not marked as the major anchorage – but there were a couple of boats there).

That water was a little small and shallow, but enough of it was over 6 feet (5-ish foot keel…) and the tide was near the lowest point, so would get deeper from there. We anchored out. The waves were very small as the wind was mostly blocked by the harbor and island. Several boats joined us. I think we had about 60 foot of “rode” or “chain” out on the anchor. Enough to assure we would stay put in tidal currents and winds. But we needed to assure we had a 120 foot diameter circle to any other boats. A couple of late arrivals started to anchor a bit too close, but realized it and moved on. An occasional shout of “We have 60 foot of chain out” to clarify things helped.

Dinner was something perfunctory after a long day sailing. IIRC it was one of the Oleo e Aglio (Oil & Garlic on noodles) days. Quick, easy, and satisfying. Then it was “early to bed” as we would be getting up VERY early for the Crossing. (It is a LOT easier to raise anchor in the dark than to moor in the dark… or enter the channel at the other end… with breakers possible…)

The sun set about 7:20 PM, and folks lit up their boats. The obligatory anchor light at the top of the mast. Some had added lights on the deck (we had ‘jars’ with solar cell in the top that light up an etched Tinker bell when it gets dark). These help folks find their own boat if coming back from shore in a dingy, and it helps you not run into another boat if arriving late or leaving in the dark (as we would be). One large power boat had a bright green light below the water line making it look a bit magical in a green sea of its own.

You take a bit of time before bed to figure out who’s where, and where you will go to leave. This isn’t as easy as it sounds since you are all swinging on different lengths of anchor chain, and any bottom contours of channels needed for the proper depth may be in a slightly different place when you wake up. Then it is always possible someone may drag an anchor and drift a bit if the wind or currents are strong enough of they have not put out enough anchor chain. We were in a line of a half dozen or so boats closest to the shore, and could just up anchor and leave just a little more inshore from everyone else (unless the wind was to shore, then we’d leave a bit off shore from the line…)

The crossing we planned was expected to take at least 10 hours. We decided not to head straight to Jupiter Harbor as that entry is a bit more tricky, and scratched an entry at Port Saint Lucie as that would be at least a 14 hour sail (and longer if the winds were poor). Even leaving at 5 AM would not get us to Port Saint Lucie in the light even if everything went perfectly. Then we’d still have a couple of hours to get to the slip, and by then nobody would be on the dock to help. A lot of risk and difficulty for no real gain. Instead we took the “nominally 10 hour” route to Palm Beach.

At about 4 AM we woke up, had coffee I think (I was a bit foggy about then ;-), and prepped the boat for departure. The evening before we’d put the rubber dingy on the fore deck and roped it down (seems this is a common thing to do so any following waves don’t mess with it). So the morning prep was mostly setting lights right (cruising lights on, anchor light off…), raising the anchor (in the dark on the front of the deck that can be “interesting”…), getting the VHF on, and the GPS / navigation system lit up. Then looking for all those anchor lights you memorized before bed time.

A few boats had already left before us. Probably going for the longer run to Jupiter Harbor. Or a power boat to Port Saint Lucie. There were a couple with working lights on, prepping to go. Plus a couple still sleeping in. Perhaps having arrived from the USA the day before…

We’d originally expected to spend up to a week at West End if the winds were against us. Best sailing is a South Wind. It is then one long tack to cross. Set the sails once and just let it run. Also, wind with the current makes for smaller waves. A North Wind tends to make bigger and more uncomfortable waves as you have 3 to 4 knots of gulf stream current added to the wind speed making the waves, instead of subtracted. Crossing into a head wind is brutal and mostly just All Motor All The Time. Noisy, and not real fun. Also, wind much over 20 knots is a PITA and uncomfortable. Wind under about 10 knots is slow sailing, and winds under 3 or 4 knots is again motoring time…

When we first anchored at West End, Florida Friend did the usual weather lookup and planning and announced that “Tomorrow ought to be about ideal” but that 2 days later was maybe not so good. It was at that moment that thoughts of a shower, restaurant dinner, and bar time evaporated… Just dinner and bed.

But suddenly, here it was, Oh Dark Thirty in the morning, anchor was up, and motor was on. By starlight we turned the boat toward the open ocean, and the Gulf Stream, and motored out into the Blue Water (that was inky black in the darkness). Sky was mostly clear (a few puffy clouds mostly seen as places without stars). The moon was, IIRC, about 1/2 full, but following the sun down, so not up yet. We got out of the anchorage area, and into the deeper water at about 4:45 A.M. Waves were about 2 to 3 feet and the wind was about 15 knots from the south.

We decided not to raise the sails in the dark (something about falling overboard without any light being a risk… and the lack of sufficient coffee at Oh Dark Thirty…) so motored until sun-up at about 7 AM.

There’s a spooky aspect to night sailing. All you can see of other boats is their marking lights. For sail boats, it’s a couple of tiny lights, red & green, at the top of the mast, and one white light lower down. For large ships, there’s some code to what the lights mean; and IF versed in it, you can tell freighters from cruise ships from tankers etc.

At about 5:30-ish AM, there were a couple of lights off to the starboard (right or north during the crossing) side of the boat. These seemed to not change position relative to us. After about 10 minutes, they looked further apart. This is “not a good thing” as lights that just get bigger and further apart while staying on the same bearing are usually something headed right at you… After about 1/2 an hour, and with the lights getting even bigger; there was a tiny bit of worry of “what is it?”.

Eventually it got close enough to make out that one light was a white deck light on a big (VERY big) freighter, and the others were navigation lights seen from the side. They looked so big and far apart as one was bow and the other stern (a long distance) and not just two sides of the bow… It was going a little west, but on a south converging course with us, but going to cross well ahead of us. It later crossed just as enough light was showing up to make out it was a big freighter.

There were a few times another sail boat would be seen in the distance as dim navigation lights, but most of the time it was just You And The Empty Blackness with stars. One odd bit was realizing that even in nothing but starlight, you could clearly tell where the horizon was. Lighter sky and stars, ending abruptly in a dark ocean.

In the distance, we could see the feint sky glow of some cities. When leaving West End, we’d had plenty of shore lights. A harbor entry light. Buildings along the coast. Eventually they faded away and all that was left was a small cotton ball kind of effect in the sky from some bigger city further down the island. Eventually we could see some sky glow ahead of us, too. Probably Miami about 90? miles south west and Palm Beach 50 or 60? ahead of us. With some practice, one could navigate off of those known sky glow patches.

After what seemed like ages, but was really only about 3 hours (or about 15 miles) on the motor, the sun came up and we raised sails, shut off the motor, and it was suddenly quiet. Just wind and the sounds of water on the hull. It mostly stayed that way for the next 9 hours or so. It took us longer than the expected 10 to cross, for several reasons, not the least of which was that we didn’t try to make it as fast as possible.

One odd bit: About 7 AM I’d guess, there was a LOUD BANG! and SPLASH of water off the stern of the boat. WT? Then it happened again! We were still running the motor, but some light was up. Florida Friend was on the helm, and reported that a Big Fish about 4 foot long had banged into the stern. Likely trying to get some smaller fish hanging out under us. He didn’t hit the prop or the rudder. Then there was a third, smaller bang and he decided this wasn’t working out as expected and we never saw him again. Note To Self: Next time bring fishing gear…

The sailing part of the crossing was mostly uneventful. We tuned the sails a lot and got up to about 6+ knots. Most was closer to 5 something. Most of the time there was just you and a LOT of water. Deep Blue Water. Winds were about 15 knots most of the time, only dropping once to about 7 knots, then recovering.

The occasional power boat would rush past (having gotten up later since they cross faster). There were just a couple of other sail boats seen some times. About the 1/2 way point, there was suddenly a lot of traffic. It looked like we had an intersection. A line of boats from Starboard North heading to Port South. Likely headed to Nassau. Our line doing the straight crossing. In the middle of nowhere, we had 4 boats all maneuvering to avoid each other. Very strange. But it makes a kind of sense. All leaving about the same time to reach the destination in the light. All reaching the middle about the same time.

We saw a couple of other freighters, and I think one cruise ship in the distance.

Then it was a few more hours with only the occasional other boat passing by.

Eventually, about 5 P.M., there were high rise apartments visible poking out of the ocean… Land still not visible, but there was Palm Beach. An hour or two later, we dropped sails and motored into the channel and to the anchorage. A huge space with what looked like a freeway traffic jam of anchored boats. Including some large power boats, a huge barge, a fuel barge, and some tour boats.

After anchoring, we had a bit of whisky to celebrate, and I made dinner. Don’t remember exactly what it was, though ;-) Either that night, or the next, I made chicken nuggets and cottage fries, I think…

Next day, we went up the Inter Coastal Waterway. The ICW. Through 7 draw bridges (though one was being taken down, to be replaced with a 60 foot clearance bridge). Eventually reaching another anchorage just about 2 hours from our marina. Another night anchored out (as it is a lot easier to dock the boat when the dock hands are working and you are not tired for a long day of working… or a hangover ;-) This being a very protected space, called a “Lake” but really just a wide / deep spot in the ICW, with land on both sides.

Next morning it was the “just motor in” to the marina, dock, and a very nice long hot shower, Cafe Mocha from the coffee bar, and a fresh change of clothes. Clean At Last!

Friends were met, dinner at the Fancy Restaurant with beer & wine. Another restful night, then the next day the drive home. It was Very Strange dealing with cars way too close and 70 MPH after 1.5 weeks of 5 knots and nobody for 100 miles… or visible at all.

After about 3 days, I finally felt like the land was no longer gently rocking ;-)

All in all, a fascinating set of new experiences. A very Slow Life process. Living in our own little self contained world for about a week of it. Seeing parts of The Bahamas that you can only see from a boat.

Not quite ready to “Do It All Again!”; but certainly interested in the future. Perhaps to some other islands then, too… I’d want to make sure we reserved some more marina time, and / or got the shower on the boat fit to use (presently had more storage than shower set up…)

I was mostly surprised to see just how much being in the middle of Blue Water was like being in the Desert. Flat to the horizon. As alone as you can be. Surrounded by less than hospitable circumstances if your “Ride” failed. Self Reliant. And at peace. And the same sky with the same remarkable stars…


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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11 Responses to The Crossing From Bahamas

  1. John Howard jr says:

    Have we a potential cruiser here?

  2. John S Howard Jr says:
  3. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ll likely do more cruising as time and tides allow… Just where and when TBD.

    It was, in some small way, a “life changing moment” (spread over a week+).

    Something about being 1/2 day or more from “anywhere and anyone” in the middle of the ocean changes you a little. Being dependent on your own skill and equipment to cross 10 hours of ocean (or more….). The only person who can do anything for you, is you. Making meals on a rolling boat. Figuring out which way to go. Knowing that if anything goes sideways, it’s on you.

    Then just the fact that you have done something very few people have ever done. Yes, I know. Crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas is about the smallest “crossing” you can find on the planet. Still, it comes with something special. At one point I said “Gee, we could just turn right and go to England.”… and it was true. Just sit in the Gulf Stream long enough, you end up in Ireland / England / Europe… And we (barely) had enough food we could have made it, too. (Boat has a “water maker” so that was covered…) It puts you in touch with ancestors who came from another continent to here in a wooden boat. It connects you to generations of other sailors. You realize how small you are, how big the oceans are, and just what you are doing.

    Then, even though we had a GPS navigation aid and VHF / HF radios: Being out of touch with the internet, email, and with no cell phone service… that special feeling of “being away”… Just you, ocean, and wind. Very peaceful. Had W.W.III broken out, we might have known… or not. So you “worry about it later”… and when everything worth worry is “later”; then you are in the moment in the peace of the sea.

  4. Sera says:

    So, you have picked up the Florida accent quickly. Most people say ‘inter’ coastal when actually it’s ‘intra’ coastal. Back in my day we had Loran because GPS had not been invented yet. Sailing is not just fun, it’s addicting. Enjoy every minute of it!

  5. Sera says:

    Forgot to ask, have you started your chart collection?

  6. E.M.Smith says:


    The boat came with some charts. We’ve added the Bahamas (so far…). The charts stay on the boat. FWIW I also have one of the San Francisco Bay / San Pablo Bay / Delta complex from my old boat about 40 years ago…

    Then on the Tablet ( iPad I think…) there’s an electronic set. Feels a bit like cheating to me, but it displays the bottom contours, depths, and shows your course, heading, and track and position. IMHO makes it way too easy. Then again, I learned “old school” and for depth you had to trust your chart and your ability to judge where you were and read the water… Then again, I had a full length 12 INCH keel with 27 INCHES of draft then so it was easier ;-0 Now it’s something like 5′ of keel… so a bit more precision needed ;-)

    Intra / Inter: I’d not really seen it written anywhere, just heard folks say it. It was in very small print on the channel signs (too small to read) and I wasn’t doing the driving / navigation so not seeing the charts. I was mostly “Deck Hand” with only modest times at the helm (and those were in the Bahamas or the Crossing). So yeah, I picked up whatever other folks were saying …

    I got somewhat addicted back about 1980 when I got my first big boat and Live Aboard. Spent a couple of years “at home” on the San Franciso / San Pablo bays. (S.F. bay is below the “middle” up to the Golden Gate. Then it becomes San Pablo bay in the top half toward the Delta). Something about getting off work Friday, waking up Saturday Morning on the boat, casting off from the dock, setting the sails for a tack to the other side of the bay, and then just leaning back for the next 4 hours as the world goes by. All with zero fuel cost… Anchor for lunch, then point the boat the other way and repeat it back to the slip. Beats the heck out of mowing a lawn on Saturday ;-)

    I was an “on the road” Database Support Consultant, so week days were spread over a few hundred miles and often some hotels. Some clients were near enough for week nights to be back on the boat too. Waking up at the dock, and then driving into the Metropolitan Area also keeps you centered on just how much you don’t want to live in the Metro Area Apartments…

    Now? Well, we’ll see just how far we end up going and when. Florida Friend lives aboard, so he is getting that side of things. In an odd way we are living lives in opposite directions. I did live aboard as a single young guy; now he is doing it as a single old guy. When I want to go sailing, I’ll have a built in crew. When he wants to go sailing he can call me, or get folks from his sailing club to join him. It works fairly well, I think. The boat is rigged to single hand (all lines lead to the cockpit), but it’s just a bit big for that. It does have an autopilot so you can set it to hold a course while you work the lines; but you would get very very tired … We’re going to take it into the bay and practice single handing in flat water at some point. I’d not want to be doing it in big swells…

    Yeah, it is special to go across the Gulf Stream using just the wind… and know that you could just keep on going…

  7. Josh from Sedona says:

    Somehow I’m getting a vision of a Sextant/ astrolabe in your future… I mean after all your talk about Stonehenge, it just makes sense

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, just a bit further back…

    The Polynesians have a slightly unique method of navigation. It depends on knowing the stars rather well, though, so I’m not that good at it (yet…). But, when you set out, you note just what star is on the horizon setting, and which is on the horizon rising, just as the day starts and ends. With changes of latitude, these change a little. They would sail to a latitude, then know which direction to go to reach a particular island (longitude). So you can get E / W points by the ecliptic (sun / moon), and N / S by the pole star. Then latitude by which stars set or rise when. When there is no sky visible, you steer by the direction of the waves. (In the Pacific, most rollers come from a major storm well out of sight and the direction persists for many days – so you orient to the waves when you have celestial points, then remember that angle when the sky is all clouds. There’s also relative wind mixed in too (so things like trade wind / angle).

    Looks like there’s a wiki on it… I’m not too far wrong:

    The other really old one is that there’s a thesis you can use a Celtic cross as a navigation instrument. Some guy has even managed to patent it as a rediscovery…

    So yeah, I have an interest… but a Sextant? Might as well have a computer if you are going to have a Sextant… it just isn’t quite primitive enough ;-)

    An astrolabe, maybe…

  9. Keith Macdonald says:

    The other really old one is that there’s a thesis you can use a Celtic cross as a navigation instrument. Some guy has even managed to patent it as a rediscovery…

    That would be Crichton Miller. Demonstrated at Cambridge University in 2006. He wrote a book about it.
    “The Golden Thread of Time: A Voyage of Discovery into the Lost Knowledge of the Ancients”
    Copies available on Amazon, etc.

    He said
    ‘Scotland’s” Holy Rood” literally means a sacred measuring instrument. ….rood means rod and rod means a measuring stick named after the ancient reed, a segmented length of grass’.

    He did have a website –
    But it seems to have gone dormant, or someone is cyber-squatting on it.

  10. Josh from Sedona says:

    Ok how about a sunstone?

    Btw, prolly old news to you… bot ok is short for
    “Oll korrect”

  11. Keith Macdonald says:

    A Crossing involves crossing some significant chunk of Blue Water Ocean. I don’t know what the smallest allowed distance is to count as a Crossing; but I was assured that crossing the Gulf Stream counts.

    A good target to have for any sailor.

    A Passage is the easiest to explain. It means you left the territorial waters of one country and entered those of another.

    Undeniably true, but even though I’ve been a recreational sailor for c.30 years, I still have to stop and de-confuse myself between the two.

    Like, crossing the Channel from England to France (and back again) by sail. I’ve crossed the Channel several times. But it’s not a Crossing, because we weren’t out in the open ocean of the North Atlantic. So it must have been a Passage.

    My wife has sailed on boats from Wales to Ireland (Eire) – different territorial waters (UK to Eire), so that’s a Passage as well. But she’s also been on a boat from Wales to Northern Ireland (both part of the UK, staying inside territorial waters) so that’s not a Passage, and it’s not a blue water Crossing, so not sure what to call it. Just a Journey or a Trip?

    She’s also sailed from Scotland to the Shetland Islands. Both in the UK but you have to cross open waters of the North Atlantic. So that is a Crossing (I think).


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