In this part of the world, cruisers behave like pack animals. When a favorable weather window for travel opens up, bunches of us head out like flocks of birds. The same was true of the Boot Key Harbor crew in Bimini; on March 5, we, s/v ‘Bout Time, s/v Empress, s/v Nellie Bly, and s/v Moonshadow all left bound for Nassau or the surrounding area. We didn’t plan on leaving in a pack, but weather and trip time dictate departures.
We were a couple of hours into the trip when we received a text from our friends G & J aboard s/v Zen. They were in Nassau and texted to warn us that due to huge swells, Nassau harbor was closed, with a tentative reopening time of the next morning. Since that was when we were scheduled to arrive, this was a problem. We soon lost cell signal and kept in contact with Zen over email and the occasional phone call on our Iridium GO. The Captain kept checking Predict Wind forecasts as well. We were the only ones with a satellite device, and it proved to be a lifesaver (more on that in a future post). Some boats were ahead of us (‘Bout Time and Moonshadow) and some boats were behind us (Empress and Nellie Bly), and we kept the flow of information going between the BKH “fleet” all night.
Our tactic was to slow down drastically in order to let the swells in Nassau die a little and give Nassau Harbor Control time to reopen the harbor. If the north/west entrance to Nassau remained closed or too dangerous to use, our plan was to circle the island and use the eastern entrance or to bypass Nassau entirely and head for Rose Island and anchor. We spent many hours overnight going around 3 knots and checking email and weather analyses.
As we neared Nassau, the only word to describe the swells is massive. They were easily 15-20 feet but had a long period, so we would surf down the swell and then claw our way back up. When we went into a trough, we’d lose wind in the staysail, causing it to luff madly. When the sailboats around us went into troughs, we would lose sight of them entirely—including their 50+ foot masts. This is what a blue water boat like Kestrel is made for, though, and she handled it like a champ. We did, too; we’ve done a lot of offshore sailing in all different conditions at this point, each passage building our experience and confidence. We knew we had the skill to control the boat and keep her on course in those kind of conditions.
Nassau Harbor had reopened at that point, although it was with an at-your-own-risk warning. We made it through the entrance channel, the Captain helming as we surfed into the harbor. One final wall of green water broke over land to port and gave us one last shove, but we were steady on course. Once we were in the protected waters of the harbor, it was eerily calm.
Paradise Island, which is connected to New Providence via bridge, was to our port as we entered Nassau Harbor. The spa at Atlantis Resort was sounding pretty good right about then.
The trip from Bimini was 124.1 nm and took 29 hours (it should have taken about 24 hours at our normal average speed of 5 knots).
We took a slip at Nassau Yacht Haven, and unbeknownst to us, the rest of the BKH crew had planned on doing the same.
Nassau Yacht Haven is quite large and had every kind of boat: sailboats, trawlers, sport fishers, runabouts, dive boats, tour boats, and megayachts. It even hosted the two Pilot boats used by Nassau Harbor.
We spent the next few days taking care of boat chores like getting fuel, changing the engine oil, dumping the composting head, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and route planning. We interspersed our chores fun with our friends. We all had a amazing (and amazingly cheap) breakfast at a place called Caribe Café that S on Moonshadow found, and then we all wandered Potter’s Cay looking for the fresh produce market. We found it, although at the moment it’s only three vendors. One night we hosted a drinks-and-weather-strategizing party that ended up turning into an impromptu dinner (thank goodness for cooked pasta left over from our overnighter!).
Some of the offerings at the vegetable vendors. There were also homemade mixes like sea salt mixed with red pepper. I keep seeing baggies of dried thyme in all of the small grocery stores in the Bahamas, so it must be a popular cooking herb here.
Dried, flattened conch. It felt like rawhide and had no odor.
Nassau was a utilitarian stop for us, and to be frank, wouldn’t be on my list of must-return places. It was neat being there, as we have watched all seasons of the highly entertaining pirate series Black Sails, which is primarily set in Nassau. But in the current day, Nassau is too busy and noisy for my taste. It was also weird being “buzzed in” to every business; when the Dairy Queen is locked 24 hours a day, you know that crime is rampant.
Nassau did give us access to some big city opportunities; I was able to find Stugeron, an anti-motion sickness drug that isn’t available in the US, and Solomon’s Fresh Market was like a Whole Foods magically transported to the island (along with their insane prices).
Solomon’s Fresh Market has whatever you want, but buddy, you are going to pay. The price in yellow includes the 7.5% VAT charged on pretty much everything here.
We ate wonderful Chinese food at Double Dragon and had soft serve ice cream at Dairy Queen. But basically we were biding time until the next weather window to get on out of there.
From a cruiser’s perspective, this was a useful stop, and we liked Nassau Yacht Haven a lot. The docks are in good shape (fixed wood with pilings), and the dockhands are outstanding. The marina charges $2.15/foot including VAT per day. Sailboats using electric are charged a flat fee of $10 + VAT per day, and all boats are charged $12 + VAT per day for water. The water is not reverse osmosis, but it is city water and was reported as being safe to drink. They don’t have fuel available, but across the street there is an Esso gas station that fills jerry jugs with either gas or diesel (bring a tip, as the pumps are full service with uniformed attendants). The onsite laundry facility is clean, has numerous machines, and costs $2 per wash and $2 per dry (purchase tokens at the dock office). The heads are clean and have two showers each with good pressure and lots of hot water. There is 24 hour security, although the security personnel is not going to be hired by the Secret Service anytime soon. There is an onsite restaurant that we didn’t try and a great onsite dive shop/souvenir shop. All in all, the marina was worth the money in our opinion.
All good things come to an end, and after Nassau, the BKH crew scattered. Empress and Nellie Bly went to the south side of New Providence, and Moonshadow stayed in Nassau awaiting a parts shipment. We headed northeast to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, for some peace and quiet at anchor.