During the last week of March 2023 five of us (Forrest, Ralph, Mike, my cousin Kevin, and myself) headed over to the Bahamas aboard Forrest’s 2003 Cabo 35 Express. Throughout the eight-day trip, we ran the boat hard through rough seas and calm. My analysis of how the boat, her equipment, and crew fared follows.
We provisioned for all contingencies – enough food for an army, and lots of ice, beer, wine, liquor (rum, of course!), and cigars. We also carried plenty of spare filters and lubricants, impellers, safety gear, and lots of fishing equipment.
Our plan was to motor fast over to Bimini for one night, then head to Great Harbour Cay in the norther Berry Islands the next day. Not everything goes as planned when it comes to boating.
Day one: We left the dock in Boca Raton early to try to stay ahead of the rising northeast swell in the Gulf Stream. We were able to maintain 20-22 knots using the Cabo’s Caterpillar 3126B diesel engines running at 2200+/- RPM. We ran southeast toward Bimini taking the seas and wind on the beam, which resulted in a very wet ride over. Thankfully, the Cabo has excellent Exalto pantograph windshield wipers with washers, as well as helm air conditioning! The isinglass enclosure kept us dry. We arrived at the Bimini Big Game Club Marina at around 9:30am local time. After checking in at Customs, we headed out to fish along the ledge of f the west cost of Bimini, and Ralph reeled in a nice mahi.
Upon heading back in, we checked into the marina and our rooms at Resorts World Bimini, and relaxed on the dock after cleaning up. The rooms are architecturally beautiful, but anyone who has stayed there knows how annoying the lighting controls are! I must say, the resort is starting to appear well-used. The condition of the Hilton shows some decay that has accumulated since our last visit in 2019. We had drinks and appetizers at the Sushi Bar, then went into The Tides restaurant for dinner.
Day two: Our plan to continue on to Great Harbour Cay were spoiled by the continued rough seas, which had swung to the east overnight. Strong east winds had whipped the Northeast Providence Channel into 5-6 foot head seas, and we wanted no part of that! We decided to fish off Bimini for the day. Prior to setting out, our daily engine check revealed a black mess forward between the engines. MY FAULT! I had checked and topped off the oils the day prior, and forgot to install the oil cap on the starboard engine. The small mess demonstrated that the starboard engine has a good set of rings. It also demonstrated that Tim does not perform well at 0600!
Fishing had mixed results. Lots of barracudas! We hooked into one sizable fish (suspected wahoo), that unspooled nearly a whole reel-full of braided line (on a size 30 reel). We are not seasoned sport fishing pros. Advice from some captains says to keep the boat moving so the fish can’t let go. Others say stop the boat and reel like crazy. We opted for the former, and as the spool of line on the reel became smaller, the temptation to increase drag won out. The line parted at the splice between braid and mono. It appears that the splice slipped. Reminded me of a tip from my father, an avid fly-fisherman, to put a dab of nail polish on the splice to keep it from unraveling. We haven’t had a chance to try it yet, as non of the guys on the trip carried a makeup bag. Kevin cooked up the mahi from the day before for an excellent dinner, with leftovers used for superb smoked fish dip.
Day three: We headed out early to make the deep water run around Great Isaac Cay and fish the canyons along the way. The seas had settled some, but not very much from the day prior. We ran hard out of Bimini harbor heading north for about an hour until the seas were too rough to go fast. We trolled instead, hoping for a wahoo for which the area is well known. We trolled straight into the 4-5 foot head seas, and caught nothing but barracudas! After about four hours of trolling, we decided to pull in lines and head southeast in the hopes of finding calmer seas in shallower water to make the next 60 nautical miles before dark. Amazingly, no-one got seasick. We all got a laugh watching Kevin trying to take a nap in the forward berth, only to be thrown in the air over every wave!
We could run at about 18 knots max into the breaking swells, and sometimes had to throttle back to avoid crashing hard off the back of the occasional 6-8 foot wave. It was a very intense slog. I found myself pleased that the Cabo still has Furuno NavNet 3D plotters. The old Furunos are bullet-proof, and the physical buttons proved very useful in the rough seas. I do not recommend tough-screen only installations for any boat that may experience seas of four feet or more. Most modern touchscreen displays are compatible with a keypad input device – a must-have item.
The Cabo is equipped with a Standard Horizon GX2200 VHF with built-in GPS and AIS receiver. This allowed us to hail an oncoming freighter by name, to coordinate passing starboard-to-starboard and avoid confusion. Gotta love AIS!
We found the conditions a bit better in less than 500 feet of water, as the Great Bahama Bank sheltered the area from the larger swells. We were able to increase speed slowly, until we were running at 24-25 knots at 2300 RPM. We made it to the Great Harbour Cay Marina at about 4:30pm exhausted and ready for rum! We rode in our rented Toyota pickup, with Ralph at the wheel (remember to stay on the left!), to the wonderful beachfront home called Casa Marina (rented via VRBO.com). Our hostess, Isabel, left the house nicely decorated and well equipped for a comfortable four-night stay. The views are spectacular!
Great Harbour Cay offers an extremely well protected marina, and friendly, helpful people. There is a Customs officer on the island, and he will come to your boat to check you in if needed. A fuel dock with diesel and gasoline is available adjacent to the island’s power generating plant. We found two liquor stores, one with Cuban (maybe) cigars, a small grocery store, and lots of beautiful views.
Day four: Our group decided to fish the deep water of the Northwest Providence Channel to the northeast of Great Harbour Cay, and try out the new dredges to see if we could raise a wahoo. We trolled around between 200 and 800 feet, and caught nothing by barracudas again! The home-made dredge rigs performed well, and were easy to manage. We turned northeast for deeper water to try to get away from these pests, with no luck. Eventually, in about 1400 feet of water, we began to see pings on the Furuno fishfinder at about 300 feet. We also sighted two frigate birds circling and diving for the water, so we felt we would have good luck following the birds. After chasing the frigate birds for an hour we grew weary of or lack of success and trolled toward the route back to the Great Harbour Cay Marina. Just as we were reeling in lines to pack it in for the day, a hard strike hit one of the 50s, and all five of us jumped into action. Kevin worked the reel, with no short supply of advice from backseat fishermen. After about a 20 minute fight, we successfully landed a 45-50 pound wahoo! Kevin, our very own amateur chef, made an awesome sushi dish for dinner that night!
Day five: Our team got off to a casual start at around 11:00am and after buying fuel, motored southwest across the bank headed for “The Pocket,” a narrow chasm between Chub Cay and Andros Island. It was a smooth ride running 22-24 knots at 2200 RPM. The Pocket is a well known fishing spot, and the light southeast breeze on this day made for the best conditions for game fish. As we turned east and passed the channel marker, we knew we were in the right place.
About a half-dozen large sportfishers – Viking, Hatteras, Merritt and others – were trolling at the western lip of the Pocket, all within about two miles of one another. We politely worked our way into the rhythm of the trolling patterns and prepared our gear. Within about ten minutes, we hooked a nice sailfish, and had the attention of all the big rigs! Mike fought with that sailfish for about 30 minutes to land it. After the fight was over and we had safely let the big fish return to the sea, we trolled for about another hour with no luck before packing in and heading back to GHC.
Day six: The crew decided to have a low-key day, so after some local shopping we cruised up to the area northeast of GHC again. Nothing by barracudas again. We still had lots of wahoo left, so we didn’t take it personally. We headed back to Casa Marina to relax with drinks and cigars. This was our last evening at Great Harbour Cay, so we soaked it in.
Day seven: The seas were building again, and it was time to head back to Bimini. We took the same route we used to get to Great Harbour Cay, with the goal of fishing the canyons off Great Isaac Cay again. We found nothing but barracudas again! We pulled in lines and cruised southwest as fast as we could with reasonable comfort. Once we gained shelter off the west coast of Bimini we turned toward the harbor entrance and made full speed. We checked into the Big Game Club Marina for the night. Talking with other people on the docks, we were the only boat that caught anything you could eat! Seems the ‘Cudas were all that were biting. We decided to have dinner upstairs at the Bimini Big Game Bar & Grill to give Chef Kevin a break.
Day eight: Time to head home! After sleeping in late, we discovered that there were several electrical glitches in the DC circuits on the Cabo. The Balmar SG200 Battery Monitor system indicated no faults with the batteries. After some quick troubleshooting and no luck finding the problem, we decided to run on minimal DC loads and deal with the problem back in Florida. It appears that all those waves and heavy spray over the bow have taken a bit of a toll. Curiously, the electrical ghosts cleared up along the way back to Boca Inlet. That was a very good thing! A dredging crew had equipment blocking most of the entrance to the inlet, and I needed the wipers/washers to see clearly to safely helm the boat through the inlet on an outgoing tide with 4 foot following seas that rose to 6 or 8 between the breakwaters. Everyone clenched and held on tight, and we rode the top of a breaking wave all the way in. After breathing a sigh of relief that I didn’t crash Forrest’s pride and joy, we turned for home and contacted US Customs for clearance.
After packing up our gear and cleaning the Cabo, I reflected on how five men from widely varied backgrounds remained on speaking terms for eight days. Our common interest in boating surely helped! The biggest test of all was for the crew, and we all want to do it again.