Crossing the Gulf Stream – Take Two!

Crossing the Gulf Stream – Take Two!

Those of you who have been following us for a while may remember that last year we hung out in Lake Worth for about three weeks waiting on a weather window to cross to the Abacos in the northern Bahamas, and when we finally got our window, conditions ended up being less than ideal. And then, once we got there, it was cold! We spent the month of February wearing sweatshirts and hardly ever getting in the water. This year we decided to try a new approach and cross from Miami to Bimini and then make a beeline for the Exumas where hopefully it would be a bit warmer.

Things went a little differently this time. We dropped anchor in the Marine Stadium anchorage in Biscayne Bay at 4:21pm on January 3rd and immediately got to work readying the boat to cross the Gulf Stream the next day. Yup! The next day! No waiting around this time, which also meant no time to explore Miami, but we were so excited to have a window to cross that we didn’t really mind. We hit the sack at 10:30pm with our alarm set for 3:00am. Oh boy….

Securing the dinghy on deck the night before crossing the Gulf Stream. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight!

We managed to drag ourselves out of bed when the alarm went off, and at 4:02am the anchor was up and we were on our way! One more bridge to go under – the William Powell fixed bridge with 78 feet of clearance, which still managed to freak me out a bit! At 6am it was pitch black out as we headed towards the ocean through the Biscayne channel. We had on our headsets (which we LOVE!) so we could easily communicate, and with Jim on the bow and me navigating using the iPad and our Garmin GPS, we were flushed through the channel with the outgoing tide.

Stowaway! Not sure where he came from, but this little tree frog was hanging out on deck as we were getting ready to raise the anchor.
The Miami skyline as we pulled away in the early morning hours.
Sunrise offshore near the Fowey Rocks light
Motor-sailing at sunrise

Finally there was a hint of light in the sky and about an hour after exiting the channel, the sun rose on a beautiful day. By 7:45am we were feeling the effects of the Gulf Stream pushing us north. The winds were very light and at 8:15am we decided it was time to start fishing. Within two minutes we had a fish on one of our hand lines, but he quickly got away. An hour and a half later I told Jim it looked like we’d hooked a pretty small fish. The rod was barely tipped and no line was going out, so Jim figured we’d probably just hooked a bunch of seaweed and were now dragging it, so he started reeling it in. Turns out that we had indeed hooked a fish. As soon as I caught a glimpse of it, I said, “Barracuda”. Ugh. Not what we were hoping to catch! We got it on board, removed the hook, and then Jim threw it back overboard. Well…at least he tried to, but the fish flopped as he went to throw it, hit the lifelines, jumped off the gaff and back into the cockpit where it continued flopping around while Jim tried to get it back on the gaff so he could get it off the boat. I helped by staying out of the way…in the cabin…where those teeth couldn’t get anywhere near me! I had told Jiim earlier in the trip that we’d been lucky not to catch a barracuda last year and that we would for sure this year. Kinda hoping that was our one and only!

In hindsight, this probably would’ve been a great fish to keep. Barracuda are supposed to be very tasty, but as they get larger than about 3 feet, they are at an increased risk for carrying the Ciguatera toxin. However, Ciguatera is most commonly associated with fish who are eating off reefs, and since this barracuda was caught in the Gulf Stream (and was right about 3 feet long) it was highly unlikely that it carried the toxin.

Fast forward a couple of hours. Jim was in the cabin and I had also just walked down below to grab something when I heard a noise and went back up to check. Fish on! Jim came running up and said something about catching another fish on the rod…What the heck was he talking about?!? The fish I was talking about was on one of our hand lines, so why was Jim heading for the rod? OMG! We had hooked two fish pretty much simultaneously! What the heck do we do now? We’re still pretty new at this whole ocean fishing thing, you know… We brought the engine down to an idle, but were still going too fast, so Jim furled the headsail and I reeled in the second (fishless) hand line.

Fighting with fish number one

We could tell that the fish on the rod was quite large and Jim really had to work to reel him in. It ended up being a large male mahi – 51 inches long and weighing in at 19.3 pounds. As Jim was reeling this one in, we could see the other fish hooked on the handline swimming behind the boat and it was another mahi. A big one too! She was his mate…mahi mate for life. Kinda bittersweet… She was only slightly smaller than him at 50 inches and 18.3 pounds.

Jim worked up a sweat reeling this big guy in! It’s easy to tell the male (bulls) and female (cows) mahi apart because the males have prominent, protruding foreheads, while those on the females are more rounded.
And his only very slightly smaller mate.

As we were reeling these in, we could see some weather forming behind us. It had taken us a half hour to get the two fish on board and now we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to outrun the brewing storm. The seas were getting larger, the winds were picking up, and then, of course, it started to pour. Now we couldn’t see a gosh darn thing. At this point we were about three-quarters of a mile away from Bimini, but it was lost somewhere in the rain. Would not have been safe to enter the harbor in these conditions, so we turned around and stayed out in the storm until conditions improved.

Oh yeah, and where were our two little fishies hanging out the whole time we were battling wind, waves and rain you ask? Why, just sloshing around back and forth on the cockpit floor of course! When we finally pulled into Browns Marina, we got lots of oohs and aahs from the folks who saw the fish laying there, and since we unfortunately didn’t have room for much fish on board (we had JUST filled our freezer before leaving the U.S.), plans were quickly hatched for a fish fry at the marina later that day.

But, first things first. After freshening up and putting on some clean clothes, Jim walked over to the customs and immigration offices to pay the $300 fee and get us all legal and checked in to the country (we were given a 90 day cruising permit which we will need to renew in order to stay longer). Only the captain is allowed to leave the boat until this piece of business is taken care of, and we’ve decided that Jim is the captain for these instances, which is just fine by me! 🙂

Catch of the day!

As soon as he returned to the boat, Jim and another fellow got to work cleaning the two mahi. As they did so, they’d toss the scraps in the water, and before long there were a couple of bull sharks there to scoop up the bounty. Now we understand why we were warned not to swim at the marina! We took half of one of the fish and were able to make room in our freezer for it, and Dan on Quest (who’d helped with the cleaning), took the rest of it, and invited everyone at the marina to bring a dish to pass and join us later for a fish fry. Dan kept some of the fish for himself and his wife, he fried up a bunch of it that evening and his wife made a huge plate of delicious poke (which we had never had before and totally enjoyed) with the rest of it. Several cruisers and several locals happily helped us eat the catch of the day!

Step One – remove the skin
Step 2 – cut out the huge filets (there is hardly any waste on a mahi)
Step Three – find someone to make a delicious platter of mahi poke (as well as deep fried mahi fingers!) to share with the marina
Step Four – Find a handsome man to enjoy it all with!

We filled our bellies, made some new friends, and then got a good night’s sleep. In the morning we’d be pushing away from the dock in Bimini and doing an overnight passage to Nassau ahead of a cold front that was working its way toward us. But first we needed to replenish some of our diesel. We had been in such a rush to get down to Miami for the weather window to cross to Bimini that we hadn’t had a chance to top up our supply. We would just fill our two five gallon jerry jugs here and completely top up once we reached Nassau.

Far from your typical U.S. gas station! There is room for only one vehicle at a time to pull in off the road.

Question for you all….we do not have a lot of experience with sushi/sashimi/raw fish consumption, so were excited when someone offered to make poke with some of our catch, but also a little nervous to try it. It was delicious! How open are you to trying new foods? Raw fish? Is there something that you thought you’d never try, but are glad you did? Also, does anyone have a killer poke recipe for our next catch? Just curious to hear your thoughts!

4 Comments

  • Kevin Walden

    February 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm Reply

    Annnd now I’m hungry

    • Chris

      February 17, 2017 at 9:04 pm Reply

      Ha ha! You’re always hungry! 😂

  • Sharon Holbrook

    February 19, 2017 at 8:37 pm Reply

    Wow, what a way to start off on your trip! As far as raw fish, never will I ever try! I didn’t even eat fish until I was in my 20’s.
    Safe travels my friends.

    • Chris

      February 20, 2017 at 1:47 pm Reply

      Ha ha! You’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t try! 😉

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