A Maiden Voyage

We went from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas and back. As you can imagine there is a story behind this.

We purchased Cream Puff in Ft. Lauderdale. The timing of the purchase could not have been at a worse time for us. We were both busy with our jobs and one day our phone rang. Joel Potter, the Amel broker for the United States and foremost Amel expert called and said he had a boat we needed to see. We told him we would be there in a couple of weeks. He firmly told us it would not last that long and we needed to come now. We both rearrange schedules and bought last minute, expensive airline tickets for that weekend.

The first time we stepped onto Cherlou, now Cream Puff, we knew we were going to buy her. We had looked at boats for 3 years and this 12 year old Amel looked almost new. After the initial look around we made an offer, pending a formal survey. Joel was right; this boat would not have lasted long on the market. We are glad we made the trip. Thus began about 4 months of paperwork.

We purchased the boat from a Canadian who had the boat documented in the Turks and Cacaos. We are both different nationalities (American and British) and documented the boat in the British Virgin Islands and the whole time the boat remained in Ft. Lauderdale. Just imagine the paperwork with three governments involved. Needless to say, we could not have accomplished this on our own. To guide us through the process and to ensure we really owned the boat at the end of the process we engaged the services of Jan Painter at All Yacht Registries:  www.allyachtregistries.com Jan kept us on track and was worth every penny.

During the era of paperwork, the boat was meticulously cared for by Steve Leeds. On a quick side note here, anyone looking for a competent captain for either a delivery or vessel management should seriously consider Steve. He is top notch. Here is a link to him: http://bellsouthpwp2.net/l/e/leedss/  Okay, back to the era of paperwork. To satisfy the State of Florida, we needed to remove the vessel from the state within 180 days of purchase. This was the last step after of a mountain of paper.

The paperwork took a long time. The 180 days clock was ticking. We were getting a little nervous. During the purchasing process, we could not legally use the vessel. Once all was completed we had exactly two opportunities to sail Cream Puff and “learn the ropes” before making the trip to South Bimini. During the purchasing process, Cream Puff was tucked up the New River and moored at a private dock arranged by Steve. This was a nice haven since we purchased at the beginning of hurricane season and sat unable to move during the entire 2011 season. How much fun would that be to buy a boat only to lose it in a hurricane without ever taking it on the ocean? The thought did cross our minds once or twice. It also crossed the mind of the various insurance companies we contacted to underwrite the boat. They get a little nervous about hurricanes. But, finally all was done and we were ready for our maiden voyage. South Bimini, here we come.

South Bimini is a Bahamian island about 45 miles east of Miami, very reachable in one day. The tricky part is crossing the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a strong current which runs 2 ½ to 3 ½ knots from the south to the north off the coast of Florida. When this current is combined with any aspect of a north wind, the sea can be extremely uncomfortable. Crossing the Gulf Stream requires waiting for a weather window and patience. Even the most seasoned sailors will not take this trip lightly. As for novice sailors with a new boat to learn, we wanted to make darn sure were got there and back with minimal damage. We saw a window approaching during the week of Thanksgiving. We asked Captain Steve to move the boat to Pier 66. This gave us a nice jumping off point and we did not have the chaos of the New River and the 5 draw bridges from Cream Puff’s dock to the open water. Our itinerary required for us to leave about 4am to ensure a daylight arrival. We really did not want to mess with the bridges or navigate the river at night. At Pier 66, we provisioned for the week and hung out waiting for the anticipated weather window. There are several sources for weather and sea conditions. The one we rely on the most is Passage Weather: www.passageweather.com This is easy to understand and combines all we need to know in one site.

On The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 2011, the alarm clock woke us up at 4am. We were shooting for a 4:30am bridge opening of the 17th Street bridge but were slow getting started that morning. We made the 5am opening and headed out sleepy eyed to the dark abyss.

Looking back at the city of Ft. Lauderdale the lights of the shore made everything quite clear and easy to see. Looking out to the ocean was a different story. The morning was very dark with clear skies.

The wind and the seas were calm as predicted. We were off to a great start. Once out of Ft Lauderdale we activated the programmed autopilot. After a couple of hours, we saw our first sunrise aboard Cream Puff. We had to allow for the current to push us north. This meant we set sail on a course direction much further south than we wanted to go, knowing the current would keep us in line with the actual direction we needed to go. The boat is equipped with Nobeltech software navigation that aids us with these calculations. However, it always pays to have a second look at everything. We made a table with variations of the current, speed and correction needed. We made our initial deviation of +32 degrees based on 2.5 knots of north current and a speed of 6 knots. We were not too far off. As you can see from out screen, we were just south of course when the South Bimini islands appeared on our computer navigation screen.

We raised our quarantine or Q flag with the beginnings of the island in sight. This is an indication to the authorities the vessel and passengers have not yet cleared customs and immigration. Entering South Bimini is not as easy as we hoped. The charts had shown a clearly marked passage through the reef and the sand bar. Once we saw the entrance, most of the markers were not there. We carefully watched the depth gauge and found our way in. We were very glad we had given ourselves plenty of time to avoid a night arrival. By 2:30pm, we were safely tied up at the Bimini Big Game Club.

At the Bimini Big Game Club, Robbie helped us tie up and brought us all the customs and immigration forms. He directed me to customs (short walk) and how to process in. We gave him a nice tip. We were on D dock which has all new everything.

The Bimini Big Game Club was founded in the 1930’s as an elegant dinner club, and later in 1947 relocated to its current home and expanded, the Bimini Big Game Club (BBGC) is known the world over among “top of class” sports fishermen and their families. We stayed off season and had the place almost to ourselves. The resort is under new management, Guy Harvey Outpost Resort & Marina, and we could tell they had pumped a whole bunch of money into the facility. The resort was freshly painted, the pool was clean, the staff friendly and helpful.

The raising of the courtesy flag takes place once customs and immigration is cleared. We paid the $300 entry fee to the Bahamas. I paid with $US which is used interchangeably with the Bahamian Dollar. I laughed and gave the customs agent a hard time as he put the money in his shirt pocket. He flashed me a big smile and we were officially welcomed.

Our Thanksgiving Day began with a long walk on the beach picking up conch shells which are plentiful on the island. The long walk was followed by a delicious meal back at the BBGC. They served a full Thanksgiving meal with turkey and ham. This was topped off with a choice of pie. About the only difference from an American restaurant was the meal was served with a strong rum concoction and outdoors. We sat on the upper deck of the restaurant overlooking the marina and harbor. Who could ask for a more relaxing Thanksgiving Day and such a wonderful view. The staff could not be nicer or more helpful. Everyone went out of their way to make sure we had a nice time. At the end of the meal the restaurant waitress thanked us for being such friendly, happy, relaxed customers. She had spent a long day taking care of quite a few tourists who had been rushed and abrupt. It is sad that people do not take time to slow down and enjoy vacation time. Even though we get precious little of it, people should try to relax and enjoy it. With the walk, the turkey and rum, sleeping that night was not a problem. The winds howled all night rocking our boat but we slept soundly for the night.

During our short stay, we walked the entire Island and enjoyed the friendly people, shops and restaurants. The townships are small with all the basics within walking distance from the resort (food market, laundry, liquor, bank etc.). The streets are narrow and very few cars. Most people drive golf-carts. We particularly liked CJ’s Deli and Capt. Bob’s. Homemade ice-cream was available at a store just outside the property gates but we never managed to eat some. Oh well, a reason to go back someday.

On Saturday, it was time to head home. We managed to time our departure with high tide and unfortunately the arrival of the daily supply freighter. The freighter took the entire channel forcing us to wait in the shallow areas where we found the bottom. We learned the depth gauge was accurately adjusted. When it read zero, we ran out of water. We were quickly off the sandy bottom and on our way. We also found the sand bar on the way out and bounce across the edge of it. Thank goodness it was high tide.

The return sail was a little rougher than the crossing a few days before. The wind was a steady 15 knots from the NE. This northerly factor sent an occasional big wave in our direction as we crossed back over the Gulf Stream. With the wind on our hindquarter it did not take long to see the skyline of Miami. We raised our Q flag once again as we now had to clear customs and immigration in the USA. We cleared the 17th Street bridge and made our way up the new river. Our first adventure on Cream Puff came to a close. Time to head back to home, back to work and plan the next big adventure, moving Cream Puff to her new home…yet to be determined.

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