Goodbye USA: extracting to the Bahamas


Totem has left the building USA, and all is right with our world. We stayed months longer than planned stateside. It honed my appreciaPinterest boat buildings ocean floridation for how the sea has changed us. The happy family, photographed above on North Bimini’s beach, is glad to be back!

Final weeks in Florida were a little frantic, but Fort Lauderdale was a great place to stage for departure. It’s home to a commercial stretch literally named Marine Mile, and I’m pretty sure any boat-related product or service you could want is available there. We had great service from JT Halden’s watermaker shop, picked up quality media at Bluewater Books & Charts, ordered obscure Yanmar parts from Compete Yacht Services, and refueled during jaunts with an mouthwatering $4.95 Cuban sandwich (platanos extra). The Strataglass factory where I picked up our new dodger clears is there, as is McDonald Hardware (a family-owned hometown hardware store that has everything boaters need, and skips the “marine markup”) – I nearly lost Jamie in the narrow aisles!

We called Rogers Marine Services to give our Yanmar a checkup. John Rogers came recommended by friends who cruise their beautiful Florida-based Huckins powerboat, Cortado. John was GREAT and not just because he told us the engine was in good shape. Besides being an excellent diesel mechanic with a talent for clear explanations, he’s a USCG 1600 ton master / delivery skipper; he “gets” cruisers and our needs. FLL-bound boats: reach John at (954) 309-1004.

It was also a great time for me to work with Pam Wall on our upcoming Cruising Women seminar at the Annapolis boat show next month (just a few places left!). Pam is an icon in family cruising with tremendous experience, as well as an incredibly giving and helpful human who goes out of her way to make sure cruisers passing through her hometown of Fort Lauderdale find whatever they need. I’m grateful we met and felt that mutual “click” at the Annapolis show last fall.

DSC05065 (2)
Pretty sure the dolphin was showing off! Species, anyone?

Not all of the extraction process was as enjoyable. It became plain that we had to replace our battery bank, which is a little painful (eased by our friend John, and some muscle from Niall and Mike on Gromit). We were generally stretched thin: taking on more in everyday life, because we had the opportunity and because we could. But I wouldn’t trade a single one of the things we did, from presenting at a Miami sailing club to time with new friends and memorable meetups with people we’d been in touch with over the years. But I did miss, and crave, our simpler life as cruisers.

Four batteries off, four batteries on, nearly 200 lbs PER BATTERY. Yikes.
You can only feel sorry for the officer dedicated to “protect and serve” who must issue laundry reprimands.

The clear sign that it was time to go was when a marine police officer stopped by Totem and told us to take our laundry down from the lifelines. City ordinance, you know, can’t be hanging it out! It’s not enforced unless reported, but a resident in one of the multi-million dollar homes fronting the anchorage had called us in. There are a whole host of things wrong there, but the benefits of Lake Sylvia’s anchorage outweighed any pettiness around this event: it’s free, a great Publix is walking distance from dinghy landing for provisioning, and Marine Mile is just a Lyft ride away. We simply finished drying those clothes spread on deck instead of fluttering in the breeze and were happy that a weather window had opened for us to leave.

The big bad Gulf Stream

Raising anchor at first light and sent off with a cheer from Jim, calling out from overhead on the 17th street bridge, Totem pointed into the Atlantic…and early start to help ensure enough light for the necessary eyeball navigation on arrival in Bimini.


Just offshore: replicas of the Nina and the Pinta! They’re headed to Jupiter, FL this week.

Totem blog postIt is literally just a day trip from the Florida coast to the Bahamas. The short distance is treated with respect because the Gulf Stream must be crossed, and it can run several knots. That sets up the possibility for some truly nasty conditions when wind opposes the flow of current. It’s also the first time many boaters bring their vessel into a foreign country. Just two reasons why people make a big deal out of it, considering it’s about 50 miles away!

Patience is a virtue when waiting out winter systems, but we had a mellow day with calm seas and transited from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini was a mere nine hours. As we departed, Pam’s sister—a photographer and graphic artist—turned her talent and lens toward the ocean inlet for a beautiful shot of Totem. Thank you Wendy!

We would like to have made it further east, but yet another northerly wind forecast loomed and we didn’t feel like tackling the shallows of the Bahamas bank in poor conditions. Waking to squally skies and rain, it felt like a good choice to have stayed put. The anchorage we tucked into at the far end of the channel into North Bimini utterly lacked aesthetic appeal, but the recently dredged harbor-in-construction had great depth and a very sticky mud bottom…two things that can be hard to come by in the Bahamas. Clearance was friendly and efficient; one of the easiest examples of international clearance I can remember.

What the wind DID do is give us a great chance to truly road test a new design for clothes pins (pegs, clips, whatever you call them). With breeze solidly in the 30 knot range, we put up a heavy fleece blanket to get aired out, snapped on the FixClips, … and, well, check it out!


DSC05103The way that blanket whipped around (and it did, ALL DAY), the FixClips had a thorough test. These fit variable widths, so you can use them on thin lifelines or fat stainless pipe; they have a simple locking mechanism that clamps them on tight. We were sent a few to try out last year, and I know they’re great in normal conditions…now we know they truly rock for high winds too (OK, so the Swedish manufacturer has a good demo video too). Our normal clothes pins wouldn’t stand up to what we put the FixClips through; we’d have lost pins, or laundry, or both. The only downside: they are bulkier and cost more than standard pegs. But given the fact I’m pretty sure I’ll *never* lose one and the UV-resistant material should give them a long life, it’s a good pick for cruisers.

When the wind did finally settle down we got to explore. Friends who are old hands in the Bahamas cautioned us not to develop strong impressions of the islands based on accessible, touristed Bimini; maybe expectations factored in, but we found it sweet. Supermarket smaller than our old garage. Pillowy-sweet Bimini coconut bread, hot from the oven, “like a coconut croissant” said Mairen. More golf carts than cars, and mostly with 3-digit license plates. Smiles or waves from passers-by, just because.


The days of wind had kicked up sediment enough that the water clarity was poor, but that didn’t stop a few hours of fun splashing around.

Testing out the new snorkeling masks. 42 Wallaby Way, anyone?
Pelicans look suspended in the clear blue of Bahamian water

It felt good, SO GOOD, to just hang out as a family again. Walking on the beach, finding stray dogs to play with, looking for sea glass, reconnecting.


The epic-sized hot tub at the nearby resort–  a monstrosity we forgive for also making wifi available to the anchorage– was just fine, thank you!


Burial grounds for conch bones, in mountains behind various shacks and wharves in town.


Invigorated by the prospect of so much to explore, so much to learn, so much to experience.

36 Responses

  1. Florida is getting a bad reputation with it’s restrictions and attitudes. I’m glad you had a good experience overall. I’ll bet it’s a relief in many ways to be outside the country once more. And that beach! Woww.

    1. Honestly, we didn’t find the restrictions that onerous. We didn’t try out a lot of places, either, so hardly a fair synopsis. The only mar was really the bit with laundry in FLL, which is more ridiculous / laughable than anything else! But yes it is a great relief to be out of the country again!

  2. Amused about the laundry because In Eagle Harbor a few winters back our raw aluminium boat was complained about a being a derelict boat. Of course Tammy ignored it but just goes to show east coast west coast, cruisers are not as welcome as they were.

    BTW did you meet up with the Dashews while you were in Ft Lauderdale. If you know Pam Wall then you must know of their fabulous MV for your next go around.:)

    1. I thought of Eagle Harbor and the “land lawyer vs liveaboard” situation more than once! And of course Tammy is awesome. We did not meet the Dashews but did see Cochise (from the outside anyway). And yes, they are pretty spectacular boats! If I were a powerboater…that would be my dream boat…unless it was a Nordhavn. Hahahaha

    2. I thought of Eagle Harbor and the “land lawyer vs liveaboard” situation more than once! And of course Tammy is awesome. We did not meet the Dashews but did see Cochise (from the outside anyway). And yes, they are pretty spectacular boats! If I were a powerboater…that would be my dream boat…unless it was a Nordhavn. Hahahaha

  3. Nice to hear from you again. Glad you are back “on the road.” It is what you do best!


    Rob & Carol

  4. Am I right in remembering that you had those batteries new in Malaysia, what 3 years ago? We did the same thing, I wonder how long ours will last. Great to hear that you are Back in the Blue. All love from ATEA.

    1. Those were the Malaysian batteries we replaced! Disappointed in their lack of longevity. You should watch yours (Utopia has a similar generation of batteries). The time you spent off ATEA back in NZ may help you here as they won’t have cycled as many times as ours have just yet. Ditto for the many months Utopia just spent at the dock in SA. But yes, something to anticipate!

  5. Feel like I’m right there with you – inspirational as always to follow your adventures. Blogs and photography always so easy to enjoy. Keep safe guys 🙂

  6. Great to hear from you again. What is the update on Niall and SATS and college choices? I’m surprised to see him sailing off with you, thought he’d be staying back for school. Or is that next year? Best wishes to all.

    1. His SATs and ACTs both very good! Proud of him. When it hit home that Niall wouldn’t technically circumnavigate (but the rest of us would) if he left Totem for college this year, he made the fast and easy decision to postpone for a year. Also, his choice school requires all homeschoolers to take the GED. Florida wouldn’t grant him an underage waiver (required to take the GED if under 18 there) so he’ll take it in the Caribbean this summer… 18th bday in May. 🙂

  7. Great update. Especially like Watson’s store… a tropical version of the little store on Cuttyhunk.

  8. So much good information for those following in your footsteps. Thank you for writing with such detail. Just wondering how you get access to the resort from the anchorage…..Do you have to pay a day fee and is there a dinghy dock on site?

    1. No fee, this resort welcomes cruisers, you tie your dinghy to the dock in front of the big red ice machine. I think the idea is that cruisers are a source of revenue at the bar or casino – if we remain good citizens I presume we’ll remain welcome!

  9. I’ve heard a few crazy stories about crossing to the Bahamas but didn’t know that was why- thanks! (My parents have done it a handful of times from Naples, but my mom gets quite seasick so they tend to stick to the Gulf side these days.)

  10. Great post, Behan. Photos are lovely. It IS nice to see you in your natural habitat! (I’m so happy you found the coconut bread!)
    Love all around! xx

  11. Wow you replaced you battery bank.. Did you do that less than 2 years ago? Maybe I’m just remembering it wrong. I seem to remember you doing it in Thialand maybe?

    1. This is that same bank! And yes, it did die young. We purchased the batteries in Malaysia three years ago. The seller agreed they should have lasted longer but not much we can do from half an ocean away.

  12. Woo hoo! Back to freedom again. Looking forward to your excellent posts. Fair winds, Totem.

  13. GREAT that ya’ll are back in and along the ‘flow’ again, yahoo for ya’ll! Love that you are in the wind and we get to hear about your travels and adventures .. such is journeys in life … yours flows beautifully as life 🙂 XOXOXO

  14. Hi Behan, I wanted to tell you our canal fees were $2,420. We love Bimini and have been there many times for diving. We just haven’t been there yet on Starlet. Have fun, we miss you.

  15. Behan, wonderful to follow you all in my favorite place for cruising in the whole world, the beautiful Bahamas! It was so much fun for me to have you here! Working together was a real treat for me, and meeting your adorable family made me so hungry to start all over again with my children and husband, Andy! Maybe in my next life I can try and duplicate the joy of being aboard a wonderful sailing home, with my family, and again experiencing the world of wonders!!!
    I shall never forget your three beautiful children telling everyone at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club that they were ‘best friends’ That is what comes from children living aboard boats! How wonderful!
    Enjoy enjoy, and see you in Annapolis!!!

    1. I loved getting all the time with you in Fort Lauderdale and I CAN’T WAIT for our seminar ahead! That moment with our kids was one I’ll never forget. Thank you for all the help you gave our family in FLL!

  16. have you ever found agates on any of the many many beaches that you have been on in the last eight plus years?
    i’m sorry that you had to stay stateside for so long however, it appears from your posts that you were able to meet many people and cruisers that you have been in touch with for all these years.

    1. You know what? Nothing compares with agate hunting in the PNW. Many beach treasures but not the PNW! Still, I channel Toto ALL THE TIME. I drew a circle in the sand just yesterday to help a little girl find a special shell, just like she used to do for me with agates on Guemes. 🙂 <3

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