Monday, January 11, 2010

Sapphire, cerulean, azure, cobalt, indigo ...

I ran out of names for all the different shades of blue we saw crossing the Gulf Stream. We left Florida at dawn and when we were just 5 miles out, quite abruptly the depth dropped from tens of feet to hundreds and the water temperature jumped, and we were in the Stream. At the start it was quite rough, but after about 2 or 3 hours of really bad rolling, things mellowed to just a pleasant motor-sail across incredible liquid blue. By late afternoon the island of Bimini was in sight, but we continued onto the Bahamas banks (fifteen feet deep, clean sand, and now, calm and flat). I added names to my catalog of blues - ink, midnight, navy. Stars so dense I could barely find familiar constellations against the crowded background. Navigating by both GPS and paper charts across the emptiness. We saw the lights of a few fishing boats, one other cruiser, and one large cargo ship going our way. The moon came up about midnight and dimmed the stars; we took turns cat-napping in the cockpit while the other stood watch (with our faithful autopilot, nicknamed Baron Otto von Pilott, doing much of the work). By morning we were just a few hours from our destination of Morgan's Bluff, Andros Island, and the seas were kicking up again. We adjusted our course to take the waves at a more comfortable angle even though it would make for a slightly longer trip. Soon we were turning toward the harbor looking in vain for the channel markers shown on the chart as the water abruptly shoaled from hundreds of feet to about 30. Then, as we were getting quite close, we learned that Bahamian channel markers looked more like floating oversize beach balls than the triangles or squares on a stick that we became familiar with on the ICW - and we were in.

We anchored in 10 feet of water so clear we could simply look down and see the bottom, the boat floating above its own shadow. We followed the traditional nautical protocol and hoisted a square yellow flag, the "quarantine" flag. "Town" seemed to consist of just a few concrete buildings, the largest and closest of which was a bar. Dan and James went in to ask where they could find the Customs and Immigration officer, and the bartender handed them a cellphone. The officers (one for Customs and one for Immigration) came to us, and we filled out paperwork sitting at the picnic tables at the bar. Customs officer was a woman whose island accent was so lovely, I could have listened to her read all the fine print on all the forms out loud and not get bored. Heck, I could have listened to her read the phone book! I wonder if I can learn that lilt, while we're here?

The quarantine flag today simply indicates that we haven't cleared in with Customs and Immigration, but the original meaning truly was a quarantine to ensure diseases weren't brought in, and some of the questions on the paperwork harked back to those days: "Did any person aboard die (other than by accident) during the passage from your last port?" was an ominous reminder of how tough life at sea was. There was also a question about the rats on the ship (signs of plague? yikes!) Anyway, when the forms were complete and the passports stamped we returned to the boat and took down the quarantine flag and hoisted a Bahamian courtesy flag. Tempting as it was to explore, most of all after the all-night passage, we needed a nap!
Cinderella at anchor at Morgan's Bluff, Bahamian courtesy flag in the rigging

(originally published 17 December)

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