With summer on the way, J and Jenny's job is moving north, and that means the boat. After agonising (not much, really) about my available vacation time, I decided to take up their generous invitation to crew on the trip north from the Virgin Islands to New York.
This time there were just three of us on the boat, as everyone else was tied up with work commitments; although they let us know they were terribly jealous! This shorter crew made for less sleep and more work, but it was still a fun trip.
I arrived at St.Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, after a long flight from Oakland (via Dallas and San Juan, Puerto Rico). I left Oakland at 6:40 am, so that’s just under 12 hours of travelling (taking the 3-hour time difference into account). After a taxi ride across the island – which itself was almost an hour – J picked me up and took me back to the boat by dinghy. And that’s about it for me, I'm off to bed!Thu 26 Apr 2007 11:30 US/Eastern
We’ve already had some excitement! At about midnight, Jenny noticed that the dinghy had gone – it had come adrift from its position alongside the boat and drifted off. Fortunately the wind is into the cove we’re anchored in, so we knew it was probably in the cove somewhere. At first light, we upped anchor and motored to the dock, where J and Jenny were able to borrow a skiff and go and retrieve the wayward dinghy, which was stuck in the mangroves at the back of the cove.
They had to do this in the pouring rain, because it has been raining all morning – right now, it’s absolutely pouring! Hopefully this isn’t an omen – J has just downloaded the weather package for the trip, from their weather service, and it looks like light weather from here to New York.Thu 26 Apr 2007 13:30 US/Eastern
At noon, we went to check me out of the country – J and Jenny being US citizens don’t need to. It was raining so hard that J and I got our foul weather jackets on to brave the torrent, only to discover that this is carnival day, so the whole town is blocked up. So, we decided to explore our options. After talking to two US immigration officials by phone, it seems I do not need to check out of the US if we go straight to New York. Here's hoping that's right... it certainly would make life simpler.
Now we’ve cast off for Maho Bay, St. John's, to finish preparing the boat there. And the rain has stopped, at last!Thu 26 Apr 2007 17:32 US/Eastern
We arrived in Peter Bay (slight change of plan) at 2:20 pm. This is a beautiful little bay on the north side of St. John’s, and pretty much deserted apart from one other boat. A great place to do our preparation, which mainly consists of scrubbing the hull – it’s pretty well covered in marine growth, which has a huge effect on our speed.
This turned into a huge effort – the hull is vast when you're holding your breath, trying to swim down underneath it, and scrub at the same time. Jenny was most productive of us as she used her scuba gear. We found lots of little bugs about 4-5mm long clinging to the hull – sea lice?
So that was my snorkelling experience in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hard work, but fun for all that. Of course, after we got out, we saw 2 turtles swimming by!Fri 27 Apr 2007 08:00 US/Eastern
The engines are on! The dinghy has been stowed on deck, and we're having a hasty breakfast, and a huge last glass of icy water.Fri 27 Apr 2007 08:17 US/Eastern
We dropped the ball, and sailed off! A very stylish sailing start, with J man-handling the mizzen sail to get us onto a sailing reach from the mooring.Fri 27 Apr 2007 10:04 US/Eastern
We're still sailing, as we leave the Virgin Islands behind us. It's beautiful sailing, with lovely weather; we're hand steering, but it's effortless. We phoned home with last of our cellphone coverage — the islands are now 7 miles behind.Fri 27 Apr 2007 13:34 US/Eastern
I've been sleeping since J took the watch at 11:00. All three of us are somewhat seasick; Jenny has been sleeping too, and J spent a little time singing to the fishes from the rail, but has since been fine.
Our watch schedule this trip is: 3 hours on primary watch, manning the helm and keeping lookout; followed by 3 hours on secondary watch, during which we have to be in the cockpit, but can sleep; and then 3 hours off-watch. This is a less relaxed schedule than the previous trip, and it looks like we'll be taking advantage of most of our sleeping opportunities.
Land went out of sight while I was sleeping — I don't think I've ever seen this happen, as it always seems to be on my off-watch, or we're just too busy to notice.Fri 27 Apr 2007 16:56 US/Eastern
On watch again, after sleeping all off-watch. We're currently having some nice weather after a squall, and still sailing well, 55 miles north of Tortola. In fact, the boat has been more or less sailing herself since the Virgin Islands.
J is sadly still having sudden visits to the lee rail, though Jenny and I are feeling better. This definitely seems to have been one of our worst experiences for seasickness all round; something to do with the shortness of the waves.Fri 27 Apr 2007 17:10 US/Eastern
A ship is passing to port, heading south, about 3.5 miles off.Fri 27 Apr 2007 20:19 US/Eastern
Off primary watch. Still good sailing, though the wind is a bit lighter. Partly cloudy but still hot.Fri 27 Apr 2007 22:55 US/Eastern
It's turned squally, and we're now getting some strong blows. J is tracking squalls on radar.Sat 28 Apr 2007 08:00 US/Eastern
I've just finished sleeping through my 3 hours of secondary watch, and I'm very ready for more sleep in my off-watch. Presumably I'm not fully attuned to the sea yet.
My watch was quiet again; just 1 squall which suddenly popped up on radar 7 miles away, looking like a ship, then passed astern of us. The moon is nearing full, which is great for night watches.
The day now is bright and sunny, and looking like another hot one!Sat 28 Apr 2007 10:51 US/Eastern
Sure enough, it's hot. I took a shower — luxury — but by the time I'd dried off, re-stowed the shower, and sorted out some clean clothes — all the while lurching from one handhold to another as the boat rolls — I was covered in sweat again. Just in time to cover up with sunscreen — definitely no-shirt weather in the cockpit.
The good news is I have a huge icy drink. The icemaker normally gets emptied on a passage, as the door can't keep the ice tray in, but since the tray is still frozen in place, it's OK for now.
We're now 172 miles from the start as I go on watch.Sat 28 Apr 2007 14:18 US/Eastern
I'm just off primary watch, so it's time for a late lunch! We're listening to my iPod, which, as my laptop power adapter failed just before the trip, is carrying a load of music I put on months ago. And what an eclectic mix. So far Moroccan Rai music, Jewish Klezmer, Tango Nuevo from Argentina... What next?Sat 28 Apr 2007 19:08 US/Eastern
Just had a tasty fish dinner by J. It's getting cooler now, so I've got a shirt on at last.
The wind is down, so we're moving more slowly, but it's still beautiful sailing. J&J have got the centreboard working, so we're sailing with it in place. This makes the motion a fair bit more comfortable, with the rolls going less far each way.
Jenny has been knitting — what, she's not sure — and I'm reading Moby Dick.Sun 29 Apr 2007 02:00 US/Eastern
What a long watch! I just finished my secondary watch. The wind has been steadily dying, apart from one nasty squall around midnight, so J is probably going to start the motor (unfortunately).Sun 29 Apr 2007 05:40 US/Eastern
Sure enough, soon after I got to bed, I heard the engine going. The good news is that it's not too deafening, as we're using just the starboard engine, and that at about 900 RPM, which is all we need to keep at about 6 kt.
It was a fair bit cooler during the night, and now with the sun just about to rise it feels almost chilly — in a T-shirt and bare feet. Jenny is on secondary watch, and is snoozing on the lee bench completely wrapped in a blanket.
There are still one or two squalls around, but not causing us any trouble at the moment.Sun 29 Apr 2007 08:29 US/Eastern
The Tropic of Cancer: we left the tropics as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer northbound.Sun 29 Apr 2007 08:36 US/Eastern
We've now covered 300 miles; it's 540 to Bermuda. We're sailing over the Nares Plain, a flat stretch of sea bottom about 5 km below us. We still have beautiful weather, and the wind is up a little, but more astern, so we're still running the starboard engine.
The watch rota is a lot harder than it was in December; with only three of us on board, we only get 3 hours' cabin time per 9 hour rotation; though another 3 hours is secondary watch time, during which we can sleep in the cockpit. When we had 6 on board, it was 3 hours of watch total followed by 6 off, a much nicer set-up.Sun 29 Apr 2007 18:40 US/Eastern
We just had dinner: burgers, by me. We're now running on the port engine, to rest the starboard; the wind is almost dead.
It's now 1070 to NY as the crow flies, with 363 miles run. We're still crossing the Nares plain, and there's still no traffic, just the wide, empty, placid sea.Mon 30 Apr 2007 02:20 US/Eastern
The sea is incredibly calm — after coming prepared for heavy Atlantic conditions, it's almost like sailing on a lake. The calm conditions really increase the sense of being lost in the middle of nowhere.
Having seen no sign of life since we started — no ships or planes, no fish or whales — the calm was starting to seem eerie, almost as if we'd sailed into the twilight zone. But then just after midnight, a ship popped up on radar, 10 miles due west. It crossed about 7 miles behind us, heading south-east. Since that one sign of life — just a small cluster of lights in the distance — we once more have the visible sea to ourselves.
The conditions are beautiful, despite the solitude — gliding along under the light of a nearly-full moon, the moonglade on the water, gazing at the sea and stars, is just wonderful. Even at 2 in the morning when the captain can't be roused to take his turn at the helm.Mon 30 Apr 2007 08:00 US/Eastern
I'm on watch again, and the conditions are much the same — incredibly calm and just about windless. After a refreshingly cool night, it's already starting to get hot.Mon 30 Apr 2007 08:16 US/Eastern
We're now at our farthest point from land — 390 miles from the Bahamas, and 391 from Bermuda. We've covered 442 miles, and a crow would fly 983 miles to NY.Mon 30 Apr 2007 09:21 US/Eastern
We're trying to decide on our course. The latest forecast from the weather service is for bad winds against the gulf stream north of Bermuda; their advice is to wait in Bermuda a week — which means I would have to fly home from there, since sailing on to New York would take more vacation than I have. An alternative would be to head east and cross the gulf stream sooner, and farther south, maybe even make landfall at the Chesapeake and work north from there.
J and Jenny are crunching the numbers...Mon 30 Apr 2007 10:29 US/Eastern
We are running both engines now, trying to open our options a little.Mon 30 Apr 2007 12:25 US/Eastern
Waterspout! There are big squalls ahead, two of them 6 miles off either bow; from the starboard one, we watched as a waterspout extended down gradually from the clouds until it touched the sea. For a while it whirled up great clouds of spray on the sea, then gradually contracted up again.
The starboard squall is still huge on radar, the biggest one we've seen this trip; we're going to run through to its left. J has increased speed to try to shoot past it.Mon 30 Apr 2007 13:23 US/Eastern
We're now steaming between the squalls: though they're barely a mile away to each side, and several miles across, it's still oddly calm here. A solid bar of black cloud lies ahead, though.
Just for atmosphere, I'm reading Moby Dick...Mon 30 Apr 2007 13:29 US/Eastern
The rain has hit us, and it's torrential! But in a few seconds we got all the side curtains rolled down and zipped up, and suddenly we're indoors!Mon 30 Apr 2007 13:39 US/Eastern
We seem to be past the worst of it — nothing too bad really, just a soaking, though the swell has become distinctly more pronounced.Mon 30 Apr 2007 14:16 US/Eastern
We've motored into an area where the water is just like glass — there are swells, but their surface is absolutely smooth. As we were making our way through the squalls we had seen this as a light area of sea ahead, but now we're here it's quite amazing. We've all gone completely camera-happy trying to capture what it looks like.Mon 30 Apr 2007 14:54 US/Eastern
We just — and suddenly — left the area of glassy water. There are lots of flying fish about. Amazing flyers, they pop out of the water and fly along just above the surface, turning now and then, for 10 or 20 yards before dropping back to the water. I hadn't realised that flying fish can really fly, but here they are; occasionally one will dip to the point where its tail touches the water, then lift again so it's flying clear of the water, and carry on for quite a distance.
It's still warm, at 28°C, but now completely overcast.Mon 30 Apr 2007 16:45 US/Eastern
There's another ship! Passing ahead of us, to the west.
We've now set our course for Bermuda. According to the current forecast, if we head for the gulf stream, we'll get there with a strong north-east wind blowing. That kind of wind against the strong current will create awful conditions, so a stop until it blows over is the only sensible course. We should make Bermuda in about 2 days.
Unfortunately, it probably means that I'll have to fly home from there, since my vacation won't be enough to cover me for the next leg; but at least it seems there are a couple of people who could fly out to take my place, so J&J will still have crew.
I would have loved to sail into New York past the Statue of Liberty, but it can't be helped.Tue 1 May 2007 02:03 US/Eastern
I'm just on watch. We just passed a ship which appears to be stationary; presumably not anchored, since it's still deep. Maybe a fish processing ship.
The 02:00 watch is horrible — another 3 hours in bed would have been just fine. Jenny, who's on secondary watch, is sacked out on the side bench; I can't wait to take her place, but it leaves me with no-one to talk to for the whole watch.Tue 1 May 2007 05:00 US/Eastern
Secondary watch. It's getting chilly; so much so that I'm wearing shoes for the first time, and using a blanket in the cockpit. We're now 250 miles from Bermuda.
The line of squalls and glassy patch that we passed yesterday was obviously a front, and its passing has brought this cooler north wind.Tue 1 May 2007 14:05 US/Eastern
We've done 660 miles, and it's 188 to Bermuda, so we should be there tomorrow night.
It's getting hot again but with a cool edge to the breeze now, which is nice. I had a shower and actually feel clean now.
The sea is very placid, and the horizon almost dead flat in all directions; the sky is now virtually clear.Tue 1 May 2007 19:00 US/Eastern
We just had an amazing sunset. The sea is calm and very glassy again, and the sky is perfectly clear, except for a slight haze around the horizon. All three of us were snapping the sun as it set, lighting up the whole western surface of the sea with beautiful colours; and as this was happening, the near-full moon was rising exactly opposite. Jenny says she saw a tiny green flash as the sun set, though J and I missed it.Tue 1 May 2007 19:47 US/Eastern
Now it's dark, and the moon is shining brightly, but there's no moonglade — the sea is too glassily smooth! Instead there's just one, or sometimes two or three, reflections of the whole moon. I can see the oceans of the moon reflected in ours, the reflections are so clear.
On the other side of the boat, the same thing is happening with Venus.Tue 1 May 2007 20:26 US/Eastern
I just spent some time up at the bow with J (both of us tethered on) — I can as well watch from up there, and out of earshot of the engines, the only sound the hissing of the cutwater as it parts the sea. It's a beautiful place to just stand and watch the moon, Venus, and the stars. So far, it's a much milder night than the last, which is very pleasant.
The horizon haze seems to be turning into a light fog, so I’m back in the cockpit watching the radar. Now it's fully dark, and all the stars are individually dancing on the waves on the port side, while the bright moon does the same to starboard.Wed 2 May 2007 05:13 US/Eastern
The wind came up on my secondary watch, so it got noticeably chillier — and rollier. I'm actually wearing a jacket for the first time.
Jenny and I have just set the jib and trimmed the main and mizzen, so we're now making 8 knots with reduced engine RPMs. That should make it a bit easier for J to get some sleep (and me, in a few hours!).
The fog has gone, and the air is crystal clear to the horizon. With 70 miles to Bermuda, we should be there (at the entrance to the reefs) about 1 or 2 pm.Wed 2 May 2007 11:05 US/Eastern
Land-ho — Bermuda is in sight ahead. We still have some way to go, as the entrance to the inner harbour is at the north end of the island.
The breeze is still quite cool, but at least we're not needing jackets any more — and it looks like my foulies are going to stay unused this trip.Wed 2 May 2007 13:01 US/Eastern
J&J are getting their paperwork in order for Bermuda customs. They require an absurd amount of information from visiting boats, including models, makes and serial numbers for all our safety equipment, a complete list of stores, and so on.
The islands themselves are fairly unspectacular from this distance; low-lying, and heavily built up. They're surrounded by reefs, and the harbour we're heading for is in a large lagoon towards the north end; since the entrance is very narrow, we have to get clearance to enter from Bermuda Radio.Wed 2 May 2007 17:30 Atlantic/Bermuda
We're anchored! After 850.3 miles run from the Virgin Islands (by the boat's GPS), we're safe and sound and properly checked in.
The entrance was interesting. Having come up to the north of the islands, we entered the harbor through a narrow cut with steep, rocky walls on both sides (the Town Cut). It looked barely wide enough for us, but somehow cruise ships come through this same gap — in fact, there's one docked in the harbour now.
We had to go into the customs dock first to check in; this was pretty straightforward, except for the dock being 4 feet above deck level. The customs building itself is a beautiful old colonial building; and like all the buildings here, its roof is set up to catch rainwater in cisterns, for drinking.
Once checked in, we just had to pull out into the bay and anchor. This was a prolonged struggle due to a sticking windlass, and the anchor chain having got fouled up in the locker while sailing (a very common problem). But now we're safely anchored, and relaxing at last.Wed 2 May 2007 22:13 Atlantic/Bermuda
We just got back from dinner, courtesy of the boat, at a nice restaurant, the White Horse, on the waterfront. Excellent food, and nice cocktails.
As we were eating, we noticed a group of people in full Highland regalia, with bagpipes, preparing for what looked like some kind of event, just off the main square. As we left the restaurant, an announcer explained all: we'd arrived just in time for the ceremony of Beating the Retreat, with the U.S. consul in attendance. The ceremony consisted of a marching band and a pipe band, performing their drills, and the ceremonial lowering of the flag.
Now we're all back aboard the boat, which fortunately is still lovely and warm, and definitely ready for bed.Thu 3 May 2007 19:10 Atlantic/Bermuda
Ahoy! There's much merriment here in Bermuda, as we're having our first Dark and Stormies of the voyage.
We spent the day sleeping, and touring Fort St. Catherine, which was very neat. They have a huge basement where the magazine was, all well preserved, including a little horror section which is totally unsigned and unlit, and which you just wander into all unsuspecting. Lots of big guns on display, and great views over the crystal-clear blue water around the islands.
Now we're in the Captain's Lounge in Hamilton, Bermuda, having some well-earned drinks.
A re-check of the weather shows us that the boat is stuck here for a few days. J and Jenny are currently planning to leave Monday, aiming to reach New York on Friday. After much thought, and checking in with my boss, I've decided to stay with the boat, so hopefully I'll make the second leg of the trip.Fri 4 May 2007 21:00 Atlantic/Bermuda
It's totally pouring here, so not much is happening today. I decided to straighten the seat covers in the cockpit, and discovered that the non-skid mats underneath were wet and slimy, so that project exploded into a full scrubbing out of the cockpit. Later we went over to get some engine oil for an oil change — 20 gallons, $230!
Not much else happened today; most of the shops seem to be shut for some reason, and our search for easy Internet access didn't come to much. The big cruise ship that was docked near us just left, so maybe the shops are taking a rest in the lull. We did manage to get our laundry done, though.
Tomorrow we'll be getting fuel, which is $5.25 a gallon here! (It's about $3 in the U.S.) Quite a price when you need 300 gallons.Sat 5 May 2007 22:00 Atlantic/Bermuda
Welcome to the hotel Bermuda — you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave! Last time J and Jenny were here, with Rachel that time, they kept getting delayed by bad weather; and it looks like it's happening again. A low pressure that we've been keeping our eyes on is now forecast to blow up into a fairly large storm, which will make the Gulf Stream pretty intolerable for a while. It looks like we could leave Wednesday, which might just give me time to fly home before next week; but it's very tight.
It's pretty frustrating — I would love to sail into NY, and I don't want to leave J&J half-way through the voyage if at all possible. (They could manage without me, it would just mean a lot more work and less sleep.) But if I'm going to fly out, I'd like to leave as soon as I can, to salvage as much vacation as possible.
We decided to let the situation develop for another day, anyhow. Since the weather has improved somewhat, we decided to head into Hamilton — the main city, some miles south-west of here. There's an excellent bus service in Bermuda, and a one-day pass gets us onto the ferries too, so getting about the islands is very easy.
On the way down we stopped off at the Crystal Caves, a pair of show caves a few miles south. These are beautiful caves, although fairly small, festooned with fantastic rock formations, and both leading down to water which connects to the sea; in fact, one of the cave tours finishes with a walk along a floating pontoon.
We went on to Hamilton, and Jenny hit the shops while J and I went hunting for a marine store where J was hoping to get a new outboard. After a long walk and some hunting, we found it — closed. Luckily there was someone there, and while they didn't have the engine J wanted, he at least got some info.
After walking back to town — and by now with aching feet — J and I took the ferry to the Royal Naval Dockyard, now a major tourist attraction, with a maritime museum, shops, and a craft centre. We spent some time walking around and checking out a remarkable charter yacht — a traditional design, but with carbon-fibre spars and hi-tech synthetic rigging.
We headed back by ferry and bus to the Swizzle Inn, where we met Jenny for dinner. The Swizzle is probably the most famous pub in Bermuda, and although pricey, the food (and cocktails) were fantastic.
We've been very impressed with how well-run Bermuda is. The public transport is modern, extensive, and (so far) reliable; the attractions are well-kept and well organised; and there seem to be good planning controls in place, as all the development in historic areas like St. George's is in keeping with the traditional building styles — I don't think we've seen one building which doesn't have the traditional Bermudan whitewashed rain-catching roof.Sun 6 May 2007 22:00 Atlantic/Bermuda
We're still in Bermuda, and still watching the weather. It's now looking like the wind should be slacking off by Tuesday, so if we leave mid-day Tuesday (after picking up fuel), then we should hit the Gulf Stream Wednesday, when things should be quite calm, and should get to NY on Saturday. So I’m going to hang on a bit longer and see how things work out.
Today is a bit of a maintenance day on the boat. J changed the engine oil — a big job, with 10 gallons being exchanged in each engine — and we did some work on the varnish. Since we're forecast to get some of the big winds tonight, we also adjusted our position in the anchorage, and we've been generally battening down for gales.
For dinner, it was another fantastic gourmet meal, but this time prepared by Jenny.Mon 7 May 2007 18:10 Atlantic/Bermuda
We kept on eye on the wind conditions all night, since it's been pretty stormy since yesterday evening. The wind hasn't really been all that bad — up to 30 knots or so — but J spent much of the night in the cockpit in any case.
It's been the same all day, which is pretty annoying, since there's not much motivation to get out and explore. Jenny and I finally took the dinghy to shore for a last (hopefully) shop and to stretch our legs a bit. There wasn't much going on ashore by that time, though.
The latest weather check from our weather service tells us that by tomorrow, the wind should be 15 knots from the east-northeast, which should give us great conditions to get under way. Right now it's still howling, but hopefully that will change overnight.
One nasty surprise was that the memory card I'd been using in my camera since we got to Bermuda has failed — so I've lost all my Bermuda pictures. Fortunately, Jenny has kindly donated her (much better) pics for my use.Tue 8 May 2007 08:39 Atlantic/Bermuda
Unfortunately the wind is still blowing up to 25 knots, and — much worse — the seas outside the reef are up to 14 feet. Pretty nasty stuff to set sail into.
Our fuel pickup is set for noon today, so I guess we'll re-evaluate at that time. The wind is forecast to calm down by then, but the seas will only go down slowly, so we'll see.Tue 8 May 2007 09:05 Atlantic/Bermuda
We've just been approached by a harbour patrol boat, checking the position we're anchored in — apparently there's a cruise ship coming in, and they want to make sure that the channel is clear for it. Apparently we're good where we are, though one other boat has been asked to move.Tue 8 May 2007 09:48 Atlantic/Bermuda
The latest weather charts are still showing a decent weather window; but now another low-pressure area is forecast to move across Bermuda in a couple of days, so if we don't get out today, J and Jenny are going to be stuck here for a while. I'm a bit concerned about the wave heights, but things are calming down for now — though not as fast as I'd like.Tue 8 May 2007 11:15 Atlantic/Bermuda
Nasty weather! The dinghy's onboard and stowed, ready for sea (and the move to the fuel dock), but it's still blowing 22 knots.Tue 8 May 2007 12:33 Atlantic/Bermuda
We're docked for fuel. The cruise ship that we were warned about came in about an hour ago, but there is apparently another one coming in which will be docking very close to where we are. We spoke to Bermuda Radio, who told us that the ship has been delayed, and we should have time to get our fuel.
The fuel is going to be delivered by truck, and will be duty-free, which takes the sting out of the cost a little (normally $5.25 a gallon here). You have to buy 300 gallons to get that deal, which is about what we need.Tue 8 May 2007 14:23 Atlantic/Bermuda
We've just taken on our fuel, which is a tedious process — taking well over an hour — but it went smoothly. The weather has settled a bit, but not as much as we'd like; the waves are still pretty high outside the reef.Tue 8 May 2007 15:34 US/Eastern
We've cast off!Tue 8 May 2007 16:23 US/Eastern
We're plugging along under power towards the sea buoy, into a stiff head breeze — definitely a boisterous ride, but we're going to turn north-east past the buoy, and should be able to get some sail set.Tue 8 May 2007 20:10 US/Eastern
I just got off primary watch, after 3 hours of hand steering in pretty nasty, lumpy conditions. Before we left, we spoke to a few other boaters, who all said the same thing — "you're leaving TODAY?!". (This includes 3 Norwegian girls, who are preparing to sail for the Azores en route back to Norway.) Still, conditions have been manageable, at least, and the weather in Bermuda is set to turn bad again, so I think it's as well we left when we did.
The seas settled down noticeably during my watch, and things aren't so bad now, but still not terribly comfortable. We all went through a patch of pretty bad seasickness as we were motoring out of the islands, but having turned downwind, that seems to have subsided. Still, hand steering in these conditions, with the seas on the quarter, is at least great exercise — we're all going to have great shoulders after this. We're motorsailing, with the jib and mizzen up, so the engines aren't working too hard.Wed 9 May 2007 08:11 US/Eastern
Just went off-watch, after a hideous 2 am watch. Good news is we're now using the autopilot.Wed 9 May 2007 11:00 US/Eastern
On watch again, after an unsatisfactory attempt at getting some sleep down below — the engine noise and the rolling make it pretty well impossible.
Nothing much is going on — J & Jenny saw a sailboat during the night, some miles off, but that was it. The sea is still not too bad overall, but with occasional large waves; as these are hitting us on the quarter, this is the cause of the unpleasant ride.
And, of course, we're going through the process of acclimatising to the sea all over again. The first 3 days of any trip are always pretty rough — we're feeling queasy and out of sorts, and the continuous movement is just an annoyance. After that, though, it couldn't be more different; we're in tune with the motion of the boat, and sailing becomes a genuine pleasure. The three of us were discussing the huge number of cruisers we had met who had got all the way around Central America by harbour-hopping from one port to another. For these folks, even an overnight trip was a big deal. It seems sad — if sailing affects them the same way it does J, Jenny, Rachel and me, then they're missing out on all the best parts of sailing.
Personally, I’d like to fast-forward a day or two right now...Wed 9 May 2007 14:10 US/Eastern
We've been visited by dolphins at last! A few of them came to play in our bow wave for a few minutes.Wed 9 May 2007 21:09 US/Eastern
On watch since 8 pm. Nothing much going on, although we had another brief dolphin visit earlier. It is distinctly colder now, despite the wind being from the south-east; long trousers and shoes are being worn, even during the day. Yikes!
We're still motorsailing, and still rolling uncomfortably with the wind and seas on the starboard quarter.Thu 10 May 2007 08:11 US/Eastern
I just finished my dawn watch. The seas seem to have calmed somewhat, and our speed is up to 8.5 knots, which is great. However, it's solidly overcast with a lot of rain, so we have all the cockpit panels buttoned down, making a real greenhouse. I don't know if that's the cause, but it seems a lot warmer; I’ve just pulled a layer of clothing off.Thu 10 May 2007 14:25 US/Eastern
Afternoon watch. The wind has shifted a little south, so we've gybed. We're still motorsailing, though; the apparent wind is still just 8-9 knots, and close to dead astern, which is always very awkward. It's definitely warmer, in any case, which is nice.
I just finished reading "the Sea Wolf", by Jack London. On to Shackleton's "South".Thu 10 May 2007 16:50 US/Eastern
We just set the mainsail, at long last. I did the deck work, which is definitely a time to be tethered on; the boat rolls pretty wildly when we head in to the wind to hoist sail, and the high, wide cabin top doesn't offer too many handholds.
We're still running both engines, but hopefully the extra sail will reduce rolling and give us a bit more drive; just as well, since we seem to be fighting a 1.5 kt head current of late, so our speed has been down.Thu 10 May 2007 18:23 US/Eastern
We just had dinner, for which I made pizza. I'd forgotten just how hard it is to work with a red-hot gimballed oven in a boat that's rolling wildly, so it was a bit of a mess, but it tasted OK.
The head current we had seems to have gone — we're guessing it was a counter-current of the gulf stream, which we're still approaching — so our speed is up, to over 9 knots, which is fantastic.Fri 11 May 2007 08:03 US/Eastern
What a long night that was! I spent an hour of my 11 pm watch trying to dodge a massive squall that was developing in front of us. When I realised that it was turning into a huge line of solid rain, I gave up and turned us into it, watching out for sudden winds. The wind stayed reasonably consistent, except for its direction; I had to make some sail tweaks and course changes to keep us sailing. But the rain came down in torrents, finding every leak in the dodger (and there are many). It also found a leak right over the nav desk, and flooded the computer we use for weather and logging our course — right now it's drying out, in hope that it may be of use again.
By the end of my 3 hours, it looked like we were past the worst, and that's when J took over. Unfortunately, the squalls and rain continued; and to make it worse, the wind all but died, so we had to strike the jib. The main and mizzen are up, but sheeted flat, just to help with the rolling.
By the time Jenny came on at 5:00 am, ending my secondary watch, I was glad to get below out of the hideous weather. Worst of all was that we hit an adverse current, which has taken over 4 knots off our speed! It's also setting us well to starboard — the north-east — so this could be the east-running turn of the Gulf Stream. If so, that sucks, as we were hoping to cross south of there — but of course the stream is pretty unpredictable.
I've just come up to start my 8 am watch, and what a change — the sky is clear, the sun is out, and it's warm. Unfortunately, progress is still poor — the diesels are pushing us through the water at 8.1 knots, but we're only making 3.5 over the ground. We're losing an appalling 4.6 knots to the current, and we can only hope this doesn't continue too long.Fri 11 May 2007 12:35 US/Eastern
We just had a major dolphin visit — about 10 dolphins swimming under the bow, and the water was so clear it seemed we could see every detail on their skins. All three of us were on the bow, and many pictures were taken, so let’s hope there are some good ones in there.
Apart from that, we're still struggling with the rotten current; J has increased the engine speed a little, but we're still just making 3 knots over the ground for 8.5 of water speed.Fri 11 May 2007 16:59 US/Eastern
Back on watch, and thank God, there's been a change over the last 3 hours — we have passed out of the Gulf Stream, which was obviously setting east and causing our problems. Now we're doing 8.5 kt through the water, and getting 8 over the ground — much better.
The sea conditions have also changed; the water is now almost flat calm, and there's a heavy haze in the sky ahead. No sign of squalls.Fri 11 May 2007 19:36 US/Eastern
We've just plunged into a dense fog bank, so it's a radar watch now. It's still calm, but much colder, so we've buttoned up the cockpit again; there's not much point in going outside to scan the horizon now. J has just put out a call on the radio to let other traffic know that we're listening on the radio if they have any concerns.Sat 12 May 2007 02:14 US/Eastern
On the misery watch again. It's not as foggy as it was, although there still seems to be some about; but it's freezing cold. We're now just 70 miles from land, 95 from the entrance to New York harbour, and we're starting to see more traffic; Jenny saw a cruise ship and a freighter on her watch. There are some lightning flashes about, but nothing too serious-looking yet.Sat 12 May 2007 05:10 US/Eastern
What a hideous watch! We ran into the ultimate nightmare — a fishing fleet. Not only are there dozens of boats covering a huge expanse of ocean; not only are they all zooming around in crazy patterns like a bunch of drunken ballet dancers; but when they're showing their fishing lights — which they are — they all have right of way over us, regardless of what direction they're going in.
I've spent the last 2 hours picking my way through this chaos, and it's been pretty stressful. When you have boats heading towards you from opposite directions, and they both have right of way, it's pretty hard to figure out. Even worse is when you think you've set a good course to pass a boat's stern, but then she suddenly reverses direction! That happened twice tonight; the second boat actually called up to apologise.
Well, it's J's problem now; though I think we're pretty much through the worst of it.Sat 12 May 2007 11:27 US/Eastern
We're cruising along in a stiff breeze and bright sunshine, though it's still rather chilly. We're getting towards the New York approaches, with the Ambrose light now 24 miles away, so traffic is getting heavy. We're heading up between the traffic lanes, so we shouldn't have any close encounters.
We're motorsailing, with the wind close to the bow, so not getting a lot of help from the sails, but still making a decent 8.3 kt.Sat 12 May 2007 13:29 US/Eastern
Land-ho! Land is now visible to port — the New Jersey coastline, 14 miles off. We're still heading north towards the Ambrose Light.
We just had another huge battle with the fishing industry — we ran into a huge area of buoys in the water, probably crab pots. Getting a line tangled in the props is something we'd definitely rather avoid; the boat has line cutters on both props, but if they failed, things could get very expensive. Dodging them involved Jenny (my watch back-up) at the wheel, and me standing out in the freezing wind as spotter.Sat 12 May 2007 16:51 US/Eastern
We just passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into New York Harbour! The Statue of Liberty and Manhattan are visible ahead. Still cold!Sat 12 May 2007 17:46 US/Eastern
We're docked! Motoring up through the harbour was amazing, with world-famous landmarks in every direction, and the Staten Island ferry cruising past. We got loads of pictures while nibbling on a tray of appetisers that Jenny whipped up.
We're now at Liberty Landing Marina, in New Jersey, with views straight across the Hudson River to Manhattan.
We have 692 miles on the meter since Bermuda. By my reckoning we covered 1,584 miles (I think the GPS got reset some time after Bermuda). This is a big personal milestone, as between Moonrise and Wyjnte, I've now covered over 10,100 miles on the ocean.Sun 13 May 2007 14:50 US/Eastern
Last night was pretty quiet, at least for Jenny and me — J was off to a stag party in the city, so Jenny and I had a little walk around Jersey City, and got some Indian takeaway. That was about all the excitement I could handle, so I crashed out for a sound night's sleep — at last.
Today I said my goodbyes to the boat, and to J and Jenny, and headed over to New York and checked in, or rather didn't. Before we got into the harbour J had called immigration and spoke to an Officer Siegel, who said that I should check in at the cruise ship terminal on the west side of Manhattan. So I took a taxi over this morning to the immigration office at pier 92 (not 90) and they didn't know what to do with me (of course). Finally an Officer Faraone, who looked and sounded like Sylvester Stallone (it’s my first time in New York) checked the computer and decided that I was already in the US as far as they were concerned, so I just shouldn't bother. I'm still a little concerned about the Bermuda stamp dated when I was technically out of the US, but they didn't seem to think it was a problem, and hopefully it'll get sorted out next time I travel. They were very nice anyhow, but I think officer Siegel is getting an earful for sending me over there.
So I came over to JFK fairly soon, mainly cause my shoulder was killing me from hauling the heavy bag. I'm not very impressed with the airport; or terminal 8, anyhow. There are basically no cafés airside, so I hung around on the land side, where there are just 2 or 3 tatty little concessions. The terminal 8 airside (where I am now) is tiny, about the size of a normal gate lounge.
Oh well, takeoff in 40 minutes; it's a long direct flight back to San Francisco, but I have two thick books and an iPod.