The week of 7-14 February involved long travel days during good weather and days at anchor waiting out a blow. The departure from Sarasota at noon was uneventful save a slight grounding that occurred in the outer reaches of Big Sarasota Pass. We wandered across a sand bar and had to back off to seek deeper water. One nice thing about Chapter III is her big heavy keel that completely protects the prop and rudder. With little delay we were soon out in the Gulf of Mexico headed south. That night we passed the lights of Ft Meyers, Naples, Marco Island and rounded Cape Sable as the sun came up. Our crossing of the Keys came about noon at Channel Five, near Islamorada. This is the site of our mail forwarding service and we were tempted to put ashore for mail. But, good weather on the Atlantic side urged us on.
We anchored the night of 8 February in the lee of Rodriquez Key along with five sailboats waiting to cross. This first 28 hour leg had covered some 209 Nm; thank goodness for an autopilot and a good wife to spell the captain. Up at 0400 the next morning, we were the first to clear the anchorage and led the band of crossers out into Hawk Channel and through the outer reef to the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Coming at Bimini from the Keys provides lots of time with the current that flows northward and gives a welcome boost to the crossing. We made Bimini by 1300 that day and moored at the Big Game Marina to clear customs and immigration. Both clearances were quick and straightforward. And yes, we parted with the $300.00 cash willingly, for the annual cruising and fishing permit.
North Bimini is a quaint place. Hemingway's house has burned down with just an incongruous chimney standing in the rubble. Across the street we found Big John's Hotel and Bar where a sign at the door warns that pot smoking is not permitted inside. Another says that Big John doesn't permit patrons to bring their own drinks inside. We watched the weekly supply ship arrive and offload; a big social event that lures most of the residents to the wharf. On the way back to the boat, a local fishing charter pulled in with seven of the biggest wahoo we have ever seen. The anglers were ecstatic, but could never have consumed all the meat. In talking with the crew we learned that there was a new channel dredged last year that cut off about a half hour of shallow water at the entrance.
Departing early Saturday, we took the new cut and began the 90 Nm leg across the Great Bahama Bank to Morgan's Bluff. A delightful day running thru clear green water was interrupted as we dropped off the bank at the Northwest channel and into the Tongue of the Ocean. This is the deepest place on earth and at the north edge we were met with big waves on the bow. The result was an arrival after dark at Morgan's Bluff on the north tip of Andros. Then the fun began. We had the bay pretty much to ourselves, but for some reason the ground was hard as rock and the anchor wouldn't stick. Along about midnight, with lots of scope, she began to hold. Then out of the dark a huge vessel appeared, lit like a city. This big guy backed and filled around us and finally secured to the long quay to our east. As morning broke, we discovered the Nassau water barge was the new arrival and it was his turning basin that had so scoured the bottom. With bad weather coming, the move in the morning involved Bill hand setting the anchor in close. We were soon joined by five sailboats that chose spots close by.
Sunday and Monday we waited out squalls in the comfort of Morgan's Bluff. Bill made Jean a "look bucket" so that she won't have to get wet to see the bottom. It also serves well in checking the anchoring spot. Two boatloads of Canadian travelers joined us for an early cocktail session in pouring rain. Good food was brought by all and we had little need for dinner. The next morning, we led the group out the harbor. They headed to Nassau and we set our course for Fresh Creek in the middle of Andros Island.
Here in Fresh Creek we continued the search for the father of Anna Nicole's baby, covering the town on foot and even walking down the road to the AUTEC facility that the Navy runs. Bill's father had worked here after the Navy in 1966-68. The base CO gave us a tour of the place, checked the weather and came back to the boat for a visit. He sure has a great assignment...and is an avid fisherman. Valentines Day concluded with a tour of the Androsian batik factory and a dinner at Hank's place in Coakley Town across the river.