In 1995 I went on a sailing vacation to Bermuda. It takes about a week to get there, a week to get back, and we wanted to spend some time being tourists on the island. That's too many vacation days in one gulp for many people. So the plan was to have different crew for the inbound and outbound legs, with Ken Olum, the owner of the boat, sailing both. We chose June in order to finish the trip well ahead of hurricane season.
Proton is a Corsair F-27 trimaran, which sleeps three reasonably comfortably. It's 27 feet long, and in the water is 19 feet wide, though the space between the hulls is only covered by netting, and so is only really usable space in nice weather and light winds. It can fold up to fit on a trailer, which is very convenient.
The outbound crew, Ken, Valerie White, and Stephen Gildea, left on Monday, June 12. Unfortunately they had mechanical difficulties only one day out, and had to return the next day, limping along. Then repairs had to be made, taking a week. The boat finally got under way around noon on Tuesday the 20th, launching from the trailer at Wickford RI. I retrieved the van and trailer on June 21. Boy is it dark in that parking lot!
We received two phone reports from the sailors, one on the 21st and one on the 23rd; all was going as to plan. The next expected report should have been on the 25th. No report came, but I figured, what the heck, maybe they were busy. But then no report came on the 26th (Monday), which was the target arrival date (and for which they believed they were on-target, as of the 23rd). I was scheduled to fly down the 28th, and I didn't want to show up before the sailors did, so I wanted to know how they were progressing so as to decide whether to move my flight. And they still didn't call. I started to panic on Tuesday. In theory I "worked from home" but in practice I spent all day calling operators on the phone trying to figure out who would know if the sailors had arrived yet, and trying to figure out when I should be sending out the coast guard. We didn't have a pre-arranged plan you see---normally when sailors set out for a short trip, they leave a "float plan" which contains "when to start worrying" (er, "when we expect to return") and "when to call the coast guard" times. Late in the day I decided that I wasn't going to Bermuda the following day, so I called the airline and rearranged my trip. We'd bought fully changeable and refundable tickets for a reason!
I'd spoken to a number of Bermudean agencies by this time, including Customs, and spent quite a lot of time on the phone to Keith Henderson, the other inbound crew, trying to decide just how badly to panic. The result of all my activities was that when Proton finally did come within VHF range (all that had happened was the SSB radio had broken and then they'd had light winds so couldn't make much progress, accounting for the delay), Bermuda Harbor Radio had said to them in a delightful British accent, "Ah, yes, Proton. There's been some interest in your progress from the United States." Some interest! I was going nuts! Anyway, they finally did call around noon the 28th, to say that they'd made landfall. I changed my plane reservations for the following day, Thursday the 29th, and went off to work for the afternoon. I made up for the previous day by actually accomplishing some stuff before heading off on what would prove to be a rather longer adventure than I'd planned. The sailors called later in the afternoon with a shopping list of things for me to buy and bring down with me. One last minute trip to West Marine!
Thursday I arrived in Bermuda, where I found the crew of the Proton well-tanned, and now decently rested and clean, having had a whole 24 hours to find a hotel and a laundromat. They'd used up all their clean clothes with the extra two days at sea!
The boat was docked in the town of St. George's (which sometimes has and sometimes doesn't have the apostrophe ess; I never did figure out which was the official name). St. George's is the smaller of the two major towns, but because of the shape of the island and the surrounding reefs, boats have to go to St. George's first, so that's where they put Customs. St. George's has a town dock where boats can tie up for free, which is nice. Sometimes the dock is full (about 10 boats can be accommodated) and so one has to "raft" one's boat to another, stepping over the other folks' boat to get to land. (This is actually fairly common in all ports.) Proton had its own spot when I arrived, though earlier it had been rafted up. All the boats in port were ocean going vessels that had made a crossing from somewhere in the US, and all of them were substantially larger than Proton (though not as wide!) It was quite amusing to see Proton, 27 feet long, next to a bunch of forty footers. Our toy boat! Though 19 feet wide, Proton doesn't look wide, because each hull itself is narrow, and the space in between the hulls doesn't impress your visual system with largeness. This led to other sailors commenting, "You crossed the Atlantic in that?!?!?"
The larger town on Bermuda, Hamilton, is where there are machine shops and authorized dealers for various boat parts, so we stuffed all the broken electronics into a plastic bag and hopped onto a bus for Hamilton. The entire island is about 20 miles long; the trip took something like 40 minutes, including all the bus stops. The bus fares are set up to screw tourists---during business hours M-F you can buy a book of 15 bus tickets for $22. But if you just get on the bus without a ticket, it costs $4, and it must all be in coin. Some places also sell bus tokens, those cost $3.50, which helps you out when you haven't got four bucks in change. There are no rental car agencies on Bermuda, by law. Weird, eh? They do rent mopeds and scooters, but they're pretty expensive and more for doodling around the island than for transportation from point A to point B. I had wanted to rent scooters for a day, but what with one thing and another, we never had a full day available for the purpose, and it wasn't worth it to rent a scooter for a couple hours.
We walked from the bus station to the Authorized Boat Bits Dealer, and had a chat with him about fixing all the things that had broken: the speed/temperature/depth meter, the autopilot, and the SSB microphone, and the VHF radio. The opinion on the microphone was we needed to order a new one and get it shipped second day air, and the rest of the stuff could be repaired at the shop (at huge expense, but one thing you learn in the boat-fixing biz is, you don't bother to ask the price. You just pay through the nose later. It's not like we had any choice in the matter.) After we left, we wandered around downtown Hamilton for a few hours, gawking at the government buildings, tshirt stores (very important!) and having dinner, before returning on the bus. Businessmen really do wear Bermuda shorts! It looked really funny: suit jacket, dress shirt and tie, Bermuda shorts, knee socks, dress shoes. The Bermuda shorts and knee socks seemed to be of clashing colors, e.g. green or pink. Very odd! Government types in some type of uniform (e.g. Customs officials) wore non-clashing shorts and knee socks. Seems pretty bizarre to wear the suit jacket, if you're going to wear shorts! Wouldn't that be hot too?
My first night in Bermuda I was surprised by incredible noise made by tree frogs. MEEP MEEP! Very loud. We eventually saw one of the little buggers, it was tiny. About the size of your thumbnail and nearly transparent. Earplugs for me in Bermuda!
On Friday, Stephen and Keith passed like ships in the night---well, airplanes in the sky. Stephen wanted to do more tourist stuff before he vanished from Bermuda---he had intended that his eight day sail be a six day sail and so he'd have had more time in Bermuda to vacation, but unfortunately had other plans for the weekend and had to leave on Friday. He didn't want his whole Bermuda stay to consist of doing laundry! So I accompanied him to the Bermuda Aquarium/Museum/Zoo. It was billed in the travel book as just the Aquarium, so Valerie and Ken begged off on the grounds that we were going to see fish in the wild, so why did we need to see them in a cage? However, when we arrived we discovered there was much more to the place than that.
It did start with an aquarium, fairly small, maybe 30 tanks with 4x4 foot windows into them. The only things of real note were a really huge green moray eel, and a bunch of harbor seals that we'd seen playing in a tank on the way in. But once through the aquarium, there was a small museum, with quite a nice display on the geologic formation of Bermuda and nearby ridges under the ocean, and another nice display of the life cycle of whales. Beyond the museum was the zoo. The zoo was primarily birds and reptiles (after all, what big cats live on Bermuda?) with a lot of imports from Central and South America. They had the most amazing collection of parrots, perhaps 30 birds in all, ranging from the standard blue and gold ones you see performing in circus acts to a beautiful bird with rainbow stripes of feathers. Honest rainbow of bright colors: red head, orange neck, yellow upper body, green midbody, blue base of tail, purple tip of tail. Amazing.
Past the parrot display, there was a large pool and grounds with many pink flamingos standing around on one leg. Did you know that baby flamingos are gray? They get the pink color from eating shrimp. If you don't feed your flamingo the right diet, it will be the wrong color! (Makes me wonder if anyone has fed their flamingo blue food coloring to see what happens!) The final interesting thing in the zoo was about six Galapagos tortoises in a large pen. These guys get up to about 500 pounds, and boy do they look like they're tired of lugging it around. We watched one of them walk from one side of the pen to the other, and it sure looked like more work than it was worth. It was very interesting to see how they moved and how the shell was attached.
Stephen had to catch his plane at 2pm, so we ended our tour of the zoo with a tshirt purchase, ate lunch, and took the bus to the airport where I left Stephen and continued back on the bus to the Hillcrest Guest House, where we were staying in St. George's. Keith arrived shortly thereafter, we did rooming logistics (which isn't as simple as you might think, as the guest house was disorganized and moved us from room to room on a daily basis), and decided to go for a walk since it was getting close to 4pm and everything on Bermuda closes about then. Way too early, IMHO. First we dropped off damp and salty sleeping bags at the laundromat.
We walked clear to the other side of the island---at most one mile---to Tobacco Bay, where we saw various people lounging on the beach. We continued up the road to Fort St. Catherine, which was closed for the day, so we couldn't get in, but we walked around outside and gawked at large cannon (labeled nearly illegibly with what we believed to be Queen Victoria's seal). Nice long vertical drop down to the beach---no getting in that way! Beyond the fort was the site of yet another fort---but that one had been torn down and replaced with a huge hotel for Club Med. Turns out that the hotel had been the first thing our intrepid sailors actually saw while approaching Bermuda. Lots of signs on the beach: "Private Property Club Med Only." We continued in our path, which stopped being scenic for a while as it went past sights such as the parking lot for out of service busses, and finished the loop back in St. George's at the laundromat; a nice three or four mile hike in all. For Saturday I had made reservations at a SCUBA diving place for their afternoon dive, starting at 1pm. Keith had once upon a time taken scuba classes but was not certified. However, the place had what's called a "resort course", which means you show up an hour early and they show you a video, and have you wade out into the water with scuba equipment where they let you get a feel for it. Then they take you on the regular dive boat with the rest of the customers, only they put more instructors with your group in case you get into trouble. So we all went on the bus early. Keith went in to get videoed, and Ken and Valerie and I wandered off in search of entertainment. Turned out the scuba place (South Side Scuba) was at a hotel called the Grotto Bay. Grotto means "cave", which I hadn't known before. They have some really nice caves, which we walked through. Very traditional looking caves, stalactites, stalagmites, drips from the ceiling, cold pools of stagnant water, and a nice break from the heat of the Bermuda day. One of the caves advertised swimming at some time other than now, and indeed there were stairs down into a pool. I tasted the water; it was brackish but not salt. We then hung out at the hotel pool and had lunch at the associated restaurant before returning to the scuba place.
The lesson had taken longer than they had planned, and so they were late. About this time, the heavens decided to open up. Bermuda doesn't have a rainy season, per se; it rains about the same all year long. I hear tell from descriptions of my experience that we got rained on more than average. But, what the heck, we were going to get all wet anyway, so I stripped down to my swimsuit and waited in the rain. I chatted with some of the other customers, and was surprised to learn that my 45 dives worth of experience (which I think of as still a relative newbie) was much more than most people on the trip had. We finally all got on the boat and got underway. About half an hour later we were out at North Rock Buoy. They know their way through the reefs, and just went straight there. There are a lot of places where the sea is only 3 feet deep. From the surface, it looks a lot like where the sea is 15 feet deep, but you smack up your boat. So you really have to know what you're doing to travel through the reef. These dive operators do it twice a day... On the boat they organized us into different groups, as to which divemaster was going to lead us on a little tour underwater.
Once in the water, things got disorganized again. He'd said, "wait for me over there", and wait we did! Unfortunately the guides all had to hold the hand of a resort course attendee, and there were quite a few of them. So the certified divers had to hang out in 25 feet of water wasting their air for 10 minutes. Oh well, I don't breathe so it's OK for me (that is, I'm efficient in my use of air, and so I can stay down for longer than average), but I'm sure the others were annoyed.
Eventually our guide finished with his newbie duties and took the lead. I think seven divers were in the group. Two couples, and Ken and Valerie and I. This was Valerie's first dive in salt water (she had gotten certified in Lake Champlain the month before). She thought it was tremendously wonderful. I've been to some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world, so I thought it was merely nice. The dive was fairly shallow---we never got below 30 feet, and spent a fair amount of time up around 15 feet. This was kind of hard on my ears, as the pressure changes a lot while you're going up and down, but I managed OK. (I have more than the usual trouble with pressure in my ears.) I thought the most outstanding feature on the dive was the purple fan coral; lots of it and really large specimens. There weren't very many fish as compared to the other places I've been diving. The really amazing thing about this dive, though, was the thermoclines. There were huge pockets (probably really rivers) of warm and cool water, with what felt like a ten degree difference as you went through a transition. Every time I'd get too cold, well, we'd just swim right into a hot tub!
After an hour, we surfaced, climbed aboard the boat, and they took us back to the hotel. Valerie effused the entire time about how wonderful it had been. Back at the hotel we got shuffled one more time, and had the delightful prospect of not having any water in the shower in the room. Whups. The hotel did find another room we could use the bathroom of, and gave us a discount, but it was pretty inconvenient, especially considering we needed to rinse off all our dive gear in a room far from the one with the beds. But, the hotel probably hated us by now anyway, as we had been rinsing rather more than just dive gear---everything on the boat including foam mattresses had gotten soaked with salt water and needed a fresh water bath and to be left out in the sun for days. (And to get rained on, delaying the process.) So our gear was scattered all about in the back yard of the guest house.
On Sundays, Bermuda shuts down completely. Well, not really, but pretty close. So we chose to pack up all our stuff, check out of the hotel, pile into Proton, and sail to Hamilton. The first part of the trip to Hamilton consisted of getting a swing bridge (the kind of drawbridge which rotates 90 degrees) to open for us! I'd never been through a drawbridge before. We had to chat with the bridge operator over the hand held VHF radio (which is theoretically part of the emergency gear) as our regular VHF radio was still in the shop in Hamilton. The boat looked a little bedraggled as we had all the still-damp foam mattresses lying out on deck to dry in the sun.
Once through the bridge, we traveled along the shipping channel, which basically hugs the island. Along the way we were treated to an incredible power boat display: apparently that was the day of a powerboat race. Those things were fast! I was a little concerned they were going to hit us; they passed quite close.
Upon arrival in Hamilton, we were faced with the "what do we do with the boat" question. A local charter captain suggested that we could tie up at a dock at a city park that said in large friendly letters, "No Docking"; he assured us it would be OK, as long as we checked with the city the next morning. So we took his advice, and began the unloading process. We had found a guest house in Hamilton, the Oxford House, that could take us, but only for one night. This place was quite nicely furnished, but priced to match, so we didn't mind all that much that we couldn't stay long.
Monday we spent all day on logistics. First, Valerie went off to the post office to find out if the microphone had arrived. We'd had to have it shipped to "General Delivery, Hamilton, Bermuda", you see, not having any better address. The electronics supplier, SGC Inc., hadn't been real happy about that address when we gave it to them... Of course, Valerie stopped at the laundromat on the way, to do the last three days of clothes, since it was our intention to set out Tuesday morning, and we wanted to have the maximum possible number of clean changes of clothes on the sail home. I went off to check out, and check into another guest house, Fordham House, that the Oxford folks had found for us. I didn't bring any stuff with me, because we had so much luggage we would need a taxi, but in case there was some problem (for some reason the Oxford folks were very concerned that the quarters wouldn't be acceptable) I didn't want to be randomly stranded with tons of luggage. Ken and Keith headed for the electronics shop where the autopilot, depth meter, and VHF radio were being repaired, stopping first at the park where the boat was tied up to litter park benches with damp foam cushions. Fordham House was just fine (and about half the price---which is probably really what had Oxford concerned), so I left and headed back to Oxford to rendezvous with Valerie, stopping at the electronics shop to find out the scoop. Valerie wasn't back at Oxford yet, but while I was writing her a note saying I was heading back to the boat, a telephone call came in from the post office, letting us know that our package had arrived. Figuring that Valerie had gone there too early to fetch the microphone, I changed my plan and walked to the post office. Too late! She'd been and gone, and had gotten the package. So I walked back to Oxford, and was surprised she still wasn't there. (Turned out she'd been at the laundromat, which I'd forgotten about.) So I wrote some more on my note, and went down to the boat, which needed substantial cleaning up before it was ready to go out on the ocean for days and days.
By this time, Ken and Keith had checked with the city about the legality of the boat location (bad idea!) and been told "of course you can't stay there! it says so!" Probably nobody would have given us a hassle if we hadn't asked... So we retrieved our cushions from the park benches and went off in search of an anchorage. First we tried to get permission to tie up alongside various docks, even being willing to pay money for the privilege, but there wasn't any space except one place, and they wanted us to tie up "stern to", which is pretty inconvenient as the distance from the place you can safely stand on the boat to the dock is too far to jump. And besides, it's silly---this boat is 27 feet long, and 20 feet wide. You just don't save any space by tying up stern to! So we decided to punt them, since they wanted about fifty bucks. It took a while to find a place to drop the anchor, and then about three or four tries to get the anchor to set and hold, but eventually we did. Ken and Keith and I hung out on the boat for a while, continuing the cleanup process: removing water from places water shouldn't be, plugging leaks, tightening hatches, and so forth. Valerie relaxed on the shore with a book, having earned her keep with laundry and schlepping all the luggage from Oxford to Fordham House. Eventually we ran out of little tasks that didn't require a trip to a marine store or other specialized equipment, and all got in the inflatable dinghy (called Electron) and headed for shore. We got permission to leave our dinghy overnight near the electronics shop, and dropped by the marine store to buy some fiddly bits.
Finally, we were tired of doing work, and wanted to do something touristy. Of course, it was getting on towards 4pm again... This happened way too often. We poked about in our guide book, and learned the largest fort in Bermuda was Fort Hamilton, just outside the city.
Fort Hamilton was built later than some of the other forts, and has bigger gun emplacements. It is quite large and has a dry moat, which has been turned into a quite nice botanical garden, with a path down the center and lots of interesting tropical bushes and flowers, all nicely labeled. We wandered through the moat looking at the plants and then ended up in the passageways in the lower part of the fort, where it was refreshingly cool, though not as cool as a natural cave. The view from the top of the fort is quite nice---you can see the entire city and harbor of Hamilton. We then walked back to Fordham Guest House, stopping at many tourist trap shops along the waterfront.
Tuesday we departed Bermuda. Well, no. Tuesday we went grocery shopping (no mean feat: have to provision for two weeks with food that's interesting and doesn't require refrigeration), had some more work done on the boat (some of the chores required tools we didn't have along, so we got the electronics repair guy to do some non-electronics work for us), topped off the gas tank and water tank, laid the ubiquitous foam cushions out at the park for more drying (their final bout, this time), packed everything into the boat (again, no mean feat: that danged cabin is small), and then we set off from Hamilton for St. George's, where we had to do our final business with the customs house. We got going around 2pm from Hamilton, Proton crew Ken, Keith, and Judy, leaving Valerie awaiting a bus to take her to the airport. On the way to St. George's we had a Man Overboard Drill, in which Keith and I both steered the boat into the cushion hard enough to give it a concussion, were it actually a person. Oops.
When we finally pulled into St. George's, it was getting on towards dark, and we decided that it wasn't actually such a great idea to do all the hairy navigation of leaving the Bermuda shoals in the dark, plus that would throw off our intended watch schedule right at the beginning. Besides, July 4th is Keith's birthday, so Ken and I took him out to dinner at an actual restaurant (which turned out not to be as good as we had hoped, unfortunately), and stayed the night at the good old Hillcrest guest house.
We got an early start Wednesday morning, well, early for us, and cleared Customs by 8:30am and headed out to sea. Unfortunately, the wind was not blowing. Kind of a puff every once in a while, push the boat at a knot for a minute, then taper off to 0.1kts. Every once in a while it would be exciting, we'd go two knots. Not going to get to the US in a hurry that way... Of course, we weren't really planning on sailing at half a knot for fifty days, it just felt that way. We were waiting for the wind. When you're waiting for the wind, you may as well point the boat in the direction you want to go. One advantage of the light winds was that when we were passing over the reef in 20 foot deep water, we could look down and see fishes and corals. The surface of the water was completely calm, no little ripples. There were still waves, about a foot high every ten feet, but these didn't interfere with vision. Kind of like snorkeling without getting wet!
When we went to have lunch, we discovered that our ice was melting at a prodigious rate---it is not exactly air conditioned on the boat. Well, refrigeration is overrated anyway. But, unfortunately, the hamburgers which I had intended to cook that evening (which I didn't, because it was so beastly hot and I didn't want to cook) kind of got soaked and leaked all over the water in the ice chest. Eew. Time to throw it out? But, all that gross water has all that thermal mass... Sigh. Wrap the meat in a ziplock and pretend the water isn't gross... Sometimes it's just better not to be squeamish.
Around 9pm it was time to get started with the "night watch" schedule. Keith volunteered for "the icky watch": 1am to 5am. Staying up is my forte, so I took 9pm to 1am, and Ken took 5am to 9am or whenever the first of Keith and I awoke. It was still dead calm on my watch, with little bursts of 2 knots, and the sky was gorgeous. The moon was just setting at the end of my watch, and I got to watch the big dipper rotate around Polaris. In the middle of the watch, I heard really strange sounds. It sounded like loud breathing, and it sounded really close, but not so close as the cabin. I got pretty nervous, and shined flashlights out into the gloom. Unfortunately I didn't illuminate anything, because there was light fog, which reflected the flashlight back at me. I have no idea what it was. I thought it was a whale breathing! Meantime, we made two miles of progress. I gave up on the whale, woke Keith, and went to sleep. One nice thing about no wind---it's fairly easy to sleep. A bit warm though; I slept on top of the sleeping bag. Keith's watch was even less eventful, he had no phantom whale, and it was much less pretty, as the moon had set, so all he got to watch was another sixty degrees of progress of the big dipper. Ken's watch was eventful; we had a squall, so the wind came up, and we made five miles of progress in less than an hour. But then it was over, and we were back to plodding. I slept right through it.
Thursday dawned hot and humid, hotter than the day before. We were still going a knot. Total distance traveled, maybe 30 miles. Not great, considering we had 600 to go! Keith and I got up, Ken went down to take a nap. Keith felt awful. I diagnosed heat exhaustion and seasickness, and prescribed lots of water, looking at the horizon, sitting in the shade, and candied ginger. It didn't help much; what he really wanted was a cold shower and an air conditioned room that wasn't moving. He was also depressed about our lack of progress. I tried to convince him that we weren't going to take twenty days to make the crossing; wind would come, we were just waiting for it. As the day wore on, Keith got more and more depressed and panicked about how long the trip would be, it would never end, he would be sick the whole time, it would be unbearably hot the whole time, etc. The idea of returning to Bermuda was raised, and Keith did indeed want to do that. Ken tried to figure out if Keith was really thinking clearly (it's very hard for seasick people to make rational decisions), and eventually called Valerie (in Vermont) on the SSB radio to find out whether she could return in a big hurry, since she had originally expressed interest in going both ways. We had the worst connection on the planet; it is amazing she understood us well enough to figure out what we were asking. As soon as it was definite we were turning back, Keith became unseasick, unpanicked, undepressed. So it seems we made the right decision...
The wind began to pick up a tiny amount, plus we were sailing at a better point of sail, so we were able to go three and four knots on the way back to Bermuda, which was a lot better than the half and one we had been going the preceding day. Plus, since we knew we only had 35 miles to go, and the motor was good for about 15-20 of those, we were able to turn on the motor whenever the wind quit blowing completely. It was kind of amusing, actually: watch for the little ripples on the water's surface that advertised a puff of wind, turn on the motor to chase after it, turn off the motor to sail through it. With the motor on, we went about 6 knots. So it took about 8 or 10 hours to sail back what had taken 30 hours to sail out. We arrived in Bermuda around 10pm and checked in with Customs, who were rather surprised to see us return so early. We found a pier to dock the boat against.
By this time I was kind of tired of paying for hotel rooms, and it was late anyway, so we just slept on the boat. This turned out to be an error, as there were two very obnoxious noise sources: the cruise ship in dock was literally 100 feet from us, running its engines all night to generate electricity, and only a few hundred feet in the other direction was a very loud Karaoke bar taking advantage of the cruise ship's last night in port to get the passengers good and drunk. Boy were they bad. I mean bad. And they got louder and worse as the night wore on, until about 2am when they finally all staggered off to the ship, I guess.
Friday morning we poked our noses in at the custom's office, where there is also a mariner's weather service and were dismayed to learn that a tropical depression had formed during the previous day (while we'd been out being depressed by the tropics) and it was going to be in our way. Argh! We tried to call Valerie to say "no no don't get on that plane!" but we were too late; she'd already left for the airport.
Well, if we weren't going home that day, we didn't need to spend the morning reprovisioning the boat, so, it must be time to do touristy things! I made reservations with a parasailing outfit for Ken and me to go up on a ride before Valerie's plane was to land.
Parasailing is this activity where they take a really powerful boat, install a power winch system in the rear of the boat, inflate a parachute, hook people to it, and winch it out into the sky! The rope is 500 feet long. The parachute gets up to about 200 feet. It's not at all an exhilarating ride; it's very relaxed. You have a harness which works basically like a swing; you sit on a band under your thighs, and there is an arrangement around your waist to hold it on. In front of you, there are rings that they hook another bit of harness to which attaches in turn to the rope in front and the parachute behind. You hold onto some handles near your shoulders, but it's not really necessary. They have you sit on the sling in the boat, and slowly winch you out. The boat appeared to tow me through the air at about 10-20 miles an hour, I would say. The interesting thing is, when they are going upwind, they hardly have to move, because the wind is doing most of the work. Then when they turn around to go the other way, they have to really fly to get you moving faster than the wind. I could see practically the entire island from the heights, since Bermuda has no hills to speak of. I saw other parasailors one bay over! I don't think they saw me wave, though. The ride lasts about 10 minutes, and then they winch you down into the boat. Not a drop of water touches you. We saw an advertisement for another parasailing outfit which had you ride on what appeared to be a lawn chair. I thought that was just a little too tame. I would have liked to have gotten dunked in the water at the end too, and had worn my swimsuit with the idea this might actually happen. They did six riders on the boat ride we were on, at $50 apiece. Not a bad business! Afterwards, I inquired of one of the employees what the boat requirements were, explaining I had a small powerboat. He said, not quite verbatim, "Don't Try This At Home Kids." Awwwww. I was unable to eke out enough details to be willing to actually give it a go anyway. The boat they used was very powerful, and my boat is the gutless wonder.
So, having had our fun, it was time to fetch Valerie at the airport and drop Keith off. Actually we had to square Valerie's arrival with customs first---generally you can't fly to Bermuda without having a round trip ticket. They're very happy to have you come visit, but they do want you to go home again. So we dropped in at the customs office, and learned that we should write a note explaining the situation, have it stamped by customs there, and hand deliver it to the airport.
We headed for the airport and waited around for Valerie's flight to land. She emerged from customs, and before even giving her a welcoming hug, we announced, "We're Not Going." She said, "What?!?" and we explained about Tropical Storm Barry... So we saw Keith off and headed back to St. George's to wait out the storm. I called work and explained I wouldn't be coming in on Monday. They were unhappy, but what could either of us do? I'd get there when I got there.
While a tropical storm is very large, it is not 600 miles across, and Barry fit neatly between Bermuda and the U.S., dropping nary a drop of rain on Bermuda, so waiting out the storm was fairly pleasant, though we were eager to get on our way again. We did spend some time re-provisioning, since we'd eaten a number of our stores, and the rest of the perishables were going to perish before we could set out again, and of course we had the inevitable laundromat trip. Friday night we again slept on the boat, this time because the Hillcrest was full. Sleeping on the boat has a distinct disadvantage: it has no shower. Some yacht clubs will rent you a shower for a couple dollars, though, and we availed ourselves of this service. It also was still noisy (though not as bad as the Karaoke the previous night) and there was some inconveniently placed bright light on the wharf shining in through the windows.
I had hoped to rent scooters and travel around the island, but Ken was feeling a bit crummy Saturday and wanted to sleep, so we again didn't have enough time. Instead we read books and took walks. And every couple of hours we would drop in to check the latest report on Barry to figure out when it would be safe to leave. Bermuda had a railroad in the 1930's---all eleven miles of it. Seemed a bit silly. Apparently they thought so too, and eventually disbanded it. They then sold the tracks and railroad cars to some third world country, and turned the railroad right of way into a nice walking trail. Nice views of, of course, the ocean.
Saturday night we tried much harder to get a room in a guest house, and actually succeeded. Not the Hillcrest this time, rather a place called the Severn House, which was really just a "mother-in-law" apartment downstairs of a couple's house. They didn't normally advertise their availability, but a shopkeeper took pity on us and called them up to arrange the room for us. Ah! Beds and a shower, especially welcome immediately before setting out, which we had decided it was safe to do on Sunday. The owners were very helpful to us, offering to drive us into town in the morning.
Ken gets seasick---he often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms, but since he knows he's susceptible, he never goes below except at night for sleeping. Valerie was quite pleased to have me along, as I don't get seasick, and could do some of the cooking. Valerie doesn't get seasick either, and on the outbound leg of the trip had done all of the cooking, chart plotting, and any other activity which required being down in the cabin.
We set out at around 10am on Sunday July 9. On our earlier departure, the harbormaster had wished us safe sailing and a hope that we might return to Bermuda someday. On this occasion, they wished us safe sailing, and hoped that we wouldn't be back quite so soon this time! Another boat, Chasing Rainbows, was also setting out towards the U.S.; we heard them on the radio to the harbormaster. There was moderate wind, from a good direction, so we raised sail even before exiting the harbor, sailing through "town cut"---a channel blasted between the harbor and the ocean, exactly wide enough for a cruise ship to pass. We had nice weather all day, generally averaging about 6 knots. If we could keep this up, we'd be home in 100 hours!
The night passed smoothly, with me on the first watch, 9pm-1am, Ken on the second watch, 1am-5am, and Valerie taking the dawn watch from 5am to 9am. There being only two accessible bunks in the cabin (there is a third, but it is difficult to get to while under way), Ken had to start out sleeping in one, give it up to me at 1am, and take over Valerie's at 5am.
In first 24 hours we made 167 miles! This rate of progress continued throughout the day on Monday. We went through a number of squalls, where we would reef (that is, roll up our sail partway so as to go more slowly and cautiously), get in our foul weather gear (waterproof jacket and pants, called foulies), and go through quite strong winds, which were sometimes exciting. The squalls were fairly small though, only taking about 20 minutes to sail through.
Monday night we set out to do our usual watches. I was on watch, midnight or a little after, cruising along at about 4 knots, when I noticed the horizon ahead had no stars, being entirely obscured by a large black cloud. I kept sailing towards it, but got more and more nervous. When it seemed like we were about to go directly under it, I decided to reef. This was the first time I'd attempted that by myself. The procedure is that you head the boat directly downwind (that is, the wind is directly behind you), raise up the back end of the sail with a line called the topping lift, uncleat the main halyard (which holds the sail up), and roll up the sail partway.
I shined a flashlight on the indicator that shows where the wind is coming from, so as to know how far to turn the boat, and gave a yank on the tiller. The boat turned through a much larger angle than I had intended, and the boom went WHAM as it came up short against one of the lines. It wasn't supposed to do that. I quickly thrust the tiller the other way so as to go back on our original course and try again. Again I misjudged, and went way further the other way than I'd intended. WHAM! I don't think I actually turned the boat through 360 degrees, but it sure felt like it. I tried to shine the flashlight on the wind indicator, but everything was happening so fast and I got so confused that I hollered "WHERE THE FUCK IS DOWNWIND?!?!", which naturally caused some consternation in the cabin below.
Ken came up and we got the boat settled on a course. I explained that I didn't want to sail through the aforementioned cloud, and suggested deploying the sea anchor (a parachute that keeps the boat from going anywhere, and is used primarily in bad storms) and all going to bed until the storm went away. Ken thought that it would be better to just wait for it while awake, as perhaps it would go away sooner than we would wake up, and after all, if nobody is awake to steer the boat, we don't go anywhere. 8 hours of not going anywhere is a substantial distance (we went 60 miles the previous night, 10% of our total distance). So we took the sails down, and I agreed to stay up and wait for the storm to pass. Nothing happened. We didn't go anywhere, and the storm didn't go anywhere. An hour later, Ken got up again to see what was going on. I decided I was willing to sail around the storm, but not through it. We put the sails up halfway, and I headed slowly off parallel to the storm edge, which wasn't exactly the direction we wanted to go, but was better than not doing anything. After all, perhaps I would get to the edge, and be able to resume our previous course.
For perhaps half an hour I meandered about at the edge of the storm, mostly making negative progress as it forced me back southwards (since it was too scary for me to go through it). Valerie got up, and volunteered to sail through the storm. With relief I gave up the tiller and took her sleeping bag in the cabin. She turned the boat back on our course, and headed directly into the storm. It began to rain, and lightning, and thunder, and the wind got stronger. Every time there was a crack of thunder I would wake up (not that I was asleep, mind you), stick my nose out the hatch (which was closed up pretty tight against the rain) and holler, "Are you OK?" Yes, she assured me, she was all right. Our sails were reefed, and we were going 3-4 knots, all in the right direction. Once, the line that held the jib (the front sail) reefed came loose, and there was all sorts of flapping from the sail and cursing from Valerie. I pulled on my boots and my foulies and charged up on deck and, tethering myself securely to the boat first, scrambled forward to grab the errant sail, roll it back up, and see about securing that line. Then I went back down in the cabin to continue with the "Are you OK?" drill every thunderclap. I don't think I slept.
Around dawn the storm abated some, and Valerie was exhausted (well, so was I, but somewhat less so), so I came up on deck and took the helm so she could go to sleep. I have no idea if Ken slept through all this noise.
As I kept watch, over the horizon came a small white triangular shape, slowly gaining on us. Another sailboat! Since the wind was light and the day was dawning mostly sunny, I figured I could let out some more sail. I carefully practiced heading the boat upwind and downwind, noticing just how little thirty degrees is! Then I unreefed, putting up all the sail. We picked up a little speed, though still not the nice six knots we'd had the first day. But it was enough that we started outstripping the other sailboat. Ken came up on deck, I showed him the sailboat, and he made a comment about how nice it was for our trimaran to be doing its job: blue skies, fresh winds, and blowing away monohulls!
Some time later we wondered if they might want to talk to us, so we turned on the radio, and indeed got hailed. It was Chasing Rainbows! We thought this amusing. They were on their way to New York, and wondered if we had an SSB radio (we did) and whether we'd had a weather report recently. We hadn't, but knew the schedule of reports, and so we made an arrangement to chat with them later in the day. I think they just wanted to chat, but we really didn't have much to say other than "heck of a storm last night, huh?"
For the rest of the day we continued to have nice weather, going along at about 4 knots. We'd run into a small squall, reef, poke through it, and come out the other side. This happened a few times. Finally, we came through the other side of a squall into complete dead calm. Absolutely no wind. No going anywhere for us! Chasing Rainbows, whom we'd long since left behind out of sight, hove into view. They'd put on their motor and were going to just trundle on until they found wind. Well, that's the advantage of a monohull---they're so heavy anyway that you don't mind carrying a hundred gallons of fuel!
Not going anywhere is really frustrating. It's hot, because there's no wind. And even though there's no wind, there are still waves leftover from before that rock the boat from side to side. With each rocking, the sail slams from one side to the other. When there's wind, this doesn't happen even in heavy waves, because the sail has force against it from the wind that is much higher than the force from the boat rocking. When it got to be evening, we decided that the slamming and banging of the sails would be too noisy for the off-watch crew to sleep---and after the night before we sure needed our sleep! So we rolled up the jib, and tightened the main sail to reduce the noise as much as possible. I sat up on deck, admiring the moonlit clouds, and seeing if I could receive anything on a little portable AM radio. We were, of course, still 300 miles from civilization, so it wasn't likely to receive anything strongly, but it's always fun to see how far off you can receive. I never got anything clear enough to be sure where it was coming from, but it was entertaining for an hour to try. By the end of my watch the wind had gathered a bit from zero, though still quite light.
Wednesday continued with light winds and slow progress. But the wind was from behind us, which meant we could raise the spinnaker---that's the big brightly colored balloon sail that sits way out in front of the boat. It is very thin and lightweight, so even a small breeze will hold it up and give impetus to the boat. It's a bit tricky to manage, though, since it isn't held rigidly to the mast like the ordinary sails are, but can billow and collapse as the wind shifts. So it requires constant attention by one or two of the crew. On the other hand, we didn't have much else to do! With the spinnaker we made about three knots most of the day.
This put us firmly into the gulf stream. We had been monitoring the temperature fairly often to see when we entered the stream. The water around Bermuda is in the high 70's F, the water on the north side of the stream is in the high 60's, and the water in the stream is in the mid 80's. The north/west wall of the gulf stream is fairly sharp, and you can see the temperature change dramatically over the span of a few miles. The south/east wall is much more gradual, so there was no point we could say "There! That's where we should draw the dotted line." What we could do, though, is listen to the official gulf stream reports on the SSB. The stream is always in approximately the same position, but it wanders around by as much as a hundred miles, and is sixty miles wide, we wanted to know a more accurate location. The reports are long lists of coordinates of the north/west wall and large eddies, delivered over a staticky radio by a horrible speech synthesis program that puts pauses in all the wrong places. Fortunately it is delivered very slowly so it can be transcribed with reasonable accuracy. Then you plot the coordinates on the chart.
With the temperature peaking at 84°F, the winds and weather calm and cooperative, and our bodies completely slimy from a three day coating of salt water, sweat, and sunscreen, Ken suggested we try taking baths just before sunset. We stripped and sat in the forward netting with a bucket. Pour a bucketfull of salt water over yourself. Soap down. Salt water and soap don't quite get along, it just doesn't do the suds thing very well, but it does get you sort of clean. Use more buckets of salt water to rinse. Dry off with a towel (preferably one that's already pretty salty, no need to dirty another). Finally, with a pint waterbottle of fresh water and a clean washcloth, carefully wipe the remaining salt off. This techique doesn't work perfectly, and it won't last indefinitely, as more and more of your washcloths and towels become salt saturated, but we weren't living in Waterworld---we did plan to get to dry land and laundry facilities some time, and soon even!
We had been seeing portuguese men-o-war all along since leaving Bermuda, about one every few hundred feet. Don't fall overboard! Once we got out of the stream into the cold water, they disappeared. In the stream we saw a lot of flying fish, and several times had them kamikaze dive into our boat. They really fly. It's quite amazing. They leap out of a wave, and fly literally hundreds of feet, fairly rapidly. Fast enough to make a pretty loud thunk on the boat as they hit it. They make a buzzing sound, so I assume they actually flap their fins. The other major wildlife we saw were dolphins. A few times we'd see a pod swimming past, displaying their tails for us and then continuing on their way. They really are quite beautiful beasts.
The waves in the gulf stream are often quite a bit worse than would be accounted for just by wind, because the four knot current pushes them around and changes their shape. The outbound crew had had significant trouble with steep and chaotic waves in the gulf stream, but we had very good luck, with our light winds leaving small ordinary waves, and taking us directly across the stream in just about 24 hours.
Wednesday night my watch was uneventful. The wind had lightened even further, almost to the point of the night before, but not so bad that we went nowhere. The wind had a hard time making up its mind which direction it was coming from, so I ended up tacking a bunch (switching the sail from one side to the other) even though we didn't change direction. In my mind, I have an image of Tuesday night as somehow "yellow", and of Wednesday as somehow "blue." Perhaps there was more or less moisture in the air, and the clouds and the moon took on different hues. Or perhaps it is all just poetry in my mind.
We flew the spinnaker again on Thursday, with the wind still light. Eventually the wind changed direction so that we had to take down the spinnaker. You can only use it if the wind is behind you to billow it out in front. If the wind is coming from the side, the spinnaker can't be trimmed usefully. On the other hand, with the wind coming from the side is when the regular sails really make the boat move, so we got some more speed out of it. It was clear we were going to make it home by Sunday, and possibly by Saturday, so we used the SSB to call home and arrange for a car to be dropped off at the New Bedford marina. We weren't up to the two additional days it would take to get all the way through the Cape Cod canal and into Boston Harbor. Well, I wasn't, anyway. Calling on the SSB via AT&T is expensive! It cost $56 for a twelve minute call!
Somewhere along the trip I managed to develop some sort of rash on my behind. I think it was exposure to salt water accompanied by sitting all day long, and exacerbated by the inability to get and stay clean. There just isn't anywhere to stand or anything else to do, really. I spent most of Thursday lying on the nets on my stomach, naked, reading my book, hoping that the UV from the sun would make the little rash welts decline. It didn't really work very well, but it kept me off my rear end, anyway. This rash was the worst part of the trip.
Towards evening, the wind started to build. When it came time for my watch, we were doing about seven knots, with gusts that would bring our speed up to nine. I was worried about my ability to reef, if the wind continued to build in the night, so I had us reef before Ken and Valerie retired for the night. This slowed us down to about five knots, but by the time Ken woke up to take over, we were back up to seven gusting to nine! I had been getting somewhat nervous as the night wore on and the speed got higher, but I never go so nervous as to take action to slow further down. By morning, the wind had built more. With all of us awake and daylight to show us the waves coming, we took the reef out of the sail, and then we really took off!
The waves had also built with the wind, and were getting on towards six to eight feet tall. It's interesting to steer the boat over such waves, especially a multihull. The wave comes and lifts the windward hull out of the water. This twists the boat a bit and sends it about twenty degress off course. The wave continues its travel under the boat, dropping the windward hull and lifting the leeward hull, which twists the boat in the other direction. It's a bit tricky to actually steer a straight course under these conditions, compensating for the twist (which isn't the same in the opposite directions). It's better to anticipate the twists than to respond to them, but in daylight this is doable---both because the waves are fairly regular, and because you can see them coming and see if one is going to be oversized. There's still a knack to it, but I seem to have acquired the knack. If you aren't anticipating, but rather responding, it takes much more muscle work to slam the tiller back and forth to correct the course.
The wind went faster and faster as the day progressed. We called the marina on the SSB to say it looked like we might get there today instead of Saturday as we had earlier predicted. We called U.S. Customs to inquire about the procedure and keep them apprised of our ETA. The morning was spent at over 10 knots sustained speed, steadily increasing. As the speed increased, the tiller fought back with more strength despite my anticipating and correcting for waves. Eventually, just as a gust and a large wave combined to give the tiller a hard pull and the speed a push to 14.6 knots, Ken suggested we reef. I agreed with vigor, and we cut our speed to nine knots by reefing.
At 1:20pm we saw our first glimpse of land in five days: Noman's land, a small island off of Martha's Vineyard, appeared out of the haze a mile away. We saw other signs of civilization as well---lobster pot bouys to dodge and lots of chatter on the radio. We now had to put a lot more attention on our navigation. For five days we'd been steering pretty much the same direction, but now there was land and shallows to avoid. Shortly after we saw land, we saw what looked like an upside down boat, with lots of seagulls flocking. It turned out to be a dead whale! Ew! We called the coast guard and reported its position---things like that can be quite a hazard to navigation.
Our next adventure was going through Quick's Hole between Vineyard Sound and Buzzard's Bay. The wind, which was already very strong, was channeled between two islands to be even stronger. To make matters worse, we had to turn the boat, and that meant changing the angle of the sail. Since it was reefed, it wasn't the normal shape, and a batten got caught in the rigging as we let it out. It was pretty scary looking, with the sail all pushed out and twisted. Ken got nervous and had us pull in the jib to slow down (since we couldn't do anything with the mainsail all tangled up). So there we were, in a gale, poking along a channel at four knots. It was pretty nerve wracking, actually. When we got to the end of the channel we were able to turn downwind and free the sail. But I wasn't quick enough with the lines to prevent it from going out there again, and it tangled a second time! We were able to free it again, and get it under control, and then we were in fine shape for the rest of the ride in to Pope's Island Marina in New Bedford.
We took the sails down at 4:45pm, and motored the rest of the way in. The fellow from Customs met us at the dock, and had us fill out forms saying who we were and where we'd been. Meanwhile we cleaned up the boat and packed up our belongings. I'm not sure what we would have actually done had we not arrived during Customs hours. The legal thing is to stay on your boat until Customs opens the next morning (or, worse, Monday morning) and then have them come meet you. But I'm certain that with a real bed, an air conditioned house, and a real shower only an hour's drive away, I would not have been able to cope with such an artificial delay. We've been fortunate in both our crossings to other countries (the other being to Nova Scotia) to have arrived at the destination and returned to the U.S. during business hours.
Walking on dry land was kind of a trip. We didn't fall down, as the Bermuda-bound crew had upon reaching Bermuda, but we'd been sailing for five and a half days rather than eight, and most of our days had had smaller waves. Sleeping on dry land was a bit more of a trip. The world did in fact feel like it was moving. I sleep on a waterbed, though, so having it feel like there are waves isn't nearly so unusual as it would be on a standard bed. We were exhausted from the trip; I was very glad of the whole weekend to recover before returning to work, exactly one week late.
I enjoyed this trip, and I'm glad I did it. I don't think I'm cut out to be a real blue water sailor---I have no desire to cross the whole atlantic; 650.11 miles was plenty for me. I just like getting clean too much. The other big problem was lack of sleep. The quality of sleep you get in a boat that's slamming through the waves is just too poor to do on a sustained basis. It's fine to do for one or possibly two nights, but five is just too many in one gulp. In 1996 we cruised down the coast of the U.S. to Virginia, pulling a couple of all-nighters, but mostly putting into port to sleep. You do go noticeably further if you don't put into port. But you get way better sleep if you do.
Stephen also wrote up his half of the trip. Check it out!