St. Augustine to Grand Bahama

After several weeks of preparations, we dashed from St. Augustine to Grand Bahama island over the course of 46 hours, seizing a rare winter weather window that allowed us to skip a stopover in Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale.

Entering the Bell Channel on our way to check in at Grand Bahama Yacht Club.

We departed with two stuffed freezers and canned and dry food filling the  usual lockers, plus many other nooks and crannies around the boat. Yes, there are places to provision in the Bahamas, but we’re usually nowhere near them. And the supply chain disruptions that have made it hard to find certain things on U.S. grocery shelves are impacting the islands, too.

The pandemic added some costs and complications, compared with our trip two years ago. We needed negative covid test results ($25 each) to obtain a health visa ($40 each) within 72 hours of our arrival. 

We opted for proctored eMed tests that can be done via video call and started our testing at 5:55 a.m. on Sunday. We’d set up Navica accounts beforehand, and we both had our negative test results by 7 a.m, and our approved Bahamas health visas by 8:20 a.m.

Allan had also setup our Click2Clear, but we were stymied by how to pay for our cruising permit. Fortunately, helpful cruisers on FaceBook’s Bahamas, Land and Sea group quickly provided a link to a YouTube video that got us over that hurdle.

We were aiming for a 10 a.m. departure from St. Augustine’s north mooring field, but the dinghy’s outboard decided not to start on that very cold morning.

Allan gamely rowed against a strong current to get us to the boat, and our friend Kevin, whose catamaran was tied up to an adjacent mooring ball, helped with a subsequent tow. By the time I got back from parking our car in our garage, Allan had the outboard running again.

We made it out of St. Augustine’s inlet around noon, motor sailing under clear skies. Our enclosure kept the cockpit warm and cozy enough for shorts that afternoon. As a beautiful sunset silhouetted the high rises along Daytona Beach, the temperature plummeted.

Sunset over Daytona Beach.

Our light winds vanished around midnight so Allan furled the mainsail to keep the rigging from taking a beating as the boat wallowed along in the gentle swells.

Our second day was warmer and rather bumpy. This is the price we pay for jumping on this no-wind weather window for crossing  from St. Augustine, I told myself during my queasy 5-9 p.m. watch as the the engine droned and Vinyasa rolled in the Gulf Stream. 

We used PredictWind’s ocean data to decide where to cross the Gulf Stream.

Fortunately, the sea was flat when I came on my 1-5 a.m. watch. We saw the most marine traffic of the trip outside of Freeport, with several cruise ships, container ships, and a few sailboats transmitting their positions on AIS. 

We pulled into Grand Bahamas Yacht Club a few minutes before 10 a.m., fueled up, checked in with customs and immigration, and were tied up in a slip by 11 a.m. It all went smoothly except for the immigration process, where the agent decided she would only allow us two months instead of the six we requested. 

Why two months we asked? When we checked in in 2020 at Great Harbour Cay we got 90 days, can’t we at least get that? No, she said, because you want six months. But while we’d like to stay six months, insurance may force us to leave in 90 days, can’t we please get that? Our pleas weren’t persuasive, so two months it was. 

That means we must visit another immigration office wherever we may be in March to request a “free” extension “three of four days” before our immigration documentation expires.

The Near Bahamas Explorer Chartbook says “there is no evenly applied policy for Bahamas immigration in terms of length of stay granted to persons on cruising boats…The statutory regulations allow all persons a stay of 3 months with a maximum of 8 months, as deemed appropriate by the clearing officer; however that is a courtesy, not a guarantee…Sometimes, less time is granted.” 

So it was our bad luck to have an agent who decided to give us the less  than usual amount of time. On the plus side, we were able to bike to an Aliv store to buy a sim card, and enjoy a tasty dinner at Rosie’s poolside bar in the marina.

Getting our bikes off the boat and ready to go.

Today’s agenda: get our required covid tests at a Bahamas lab, explore a bit more on our bikes, wash down the boat, and maybe go to a fish fry. 

Our intention is to get south as quickly as we can to escape the winter cold fronts that roll through the northern Bahamas every few days this time of year. So tomorrow we’ll do an overnight to Spanish Wells, and sit out a bit of weather Friday night and Saturday before continuing on to Eleuthera. 

We’re looking forward to moving at a much slower pace soon!