Bermuda 2010 - The Preparations

The 2010 Bermuda Rally began nearly 50 years ago for me, when I was a small boy growing up in Minnesota.

When my father was a boy he’d built a small wooden row boat. One summer when I was about 10 years old he encouraged my brother and I to turn his little boat into a “sailboat”.  We used 2 small trees for the mast and boom and a bed sheet for a sail.  I would often lean over the side and place my eye near the water’s edge imagining that the lake was actually an ocean while we “sailed” her in the small lake near our home.    My desire to explore the oceans and to sail away didn’t end there: I read many stories of sailing adventures, and my early heroes included people like Phil Weld, Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnston, Francis Stokes and of course Tania Aebi.  All these sailors were single-hander’s, and all were people who knew that with a good boat and proper preparation you can sail most anywhere.


Fast forward 46 years.  I now consider myself a semi accomplished sailor, having had several blue water adventures on other people’s boats as crew.  I also have many years under sail as a coastal cruiser, much of it as a single-hander, and I have raced around the buoys on a variety of boats ranging from a 16 to 35 feet.  After owning a succession of small boats, in 2004 my wife and I purchased Isabelle, a 1984 33-foot Cape Dory sailboat.  Isabelle is a Carl Alberg designed full keel sloop that I felt would be capable of taking me to places I’d often dreamed of.


In the spring of 2007, while I was in the boat yard preparing Isabelle for the season, I met Dan Stadtlander, the owner of a Bristol 39, a boat similar to mine.  He told me of his plans to participate in that year’s Bermuda 1-2, a single-handed race from Newport, RI to Bermuda with a double-handed race back.  As I watched his preparations, and followed his adventure, I began to think that Bermuda might just be in my future.


The following year, I mounted a Monitor windvane (a self steering device) on Isabelle, and took her to Maine to stretch my sea legs.  In the fall of 2009, I came across an article in the local sailing publication, WindCheck, about a “Bermuda Cruising Rally”.  I read how Dan Goldberg and Tania Aebi had just completed their second year of leading an “organized” cruise to Bermuda for people like me; people who didn’t want to race, but want to be part of a “flotilla” sailing to Bermuda with a small amount of support and guidance.  The Bermuda Cruising Rally had sailed with 8 boats in 2009 and they were hoping for a larger turnout in 2010.  This rally seemed custom made for me, and in early September I told my wife Christine that I’d made the decision to go in 2010.

I had a few things to do besides getting the boat ready.  I needed to find a crew, learn more about weather and the Gulf Stream organize my safety gear, do some menu planning and provisioning.  I wanted to attend several offshore and weather-related workshops, upgrade my first aid skills and talk to as many people as I could who had sailed to Bermuda to get their insights and advice.  With nine months to go until June 2010, I felt I would have enough time to pull everything together.  But first I had to get my boss to agree to let me schedule the 3 weeks of vacation I needed to do the actual trip.

What to do next?  I knew my friend Dan had replaced his standing rigging, and I’d had heard that if you plan on taking a boat with rigging over 25 years old offshore, replacing it was a very good idea.  I didn’t want to risk losing my rig at sea, so I had Sound Rigging of Essex, CT replace both my standing rigging and lifelines.  Over the winter, I went over all the mechanical systems on the boat looking for potential problems.  I found very few issues; Isabelle is a very well built boat and I pride myself in keeping her in Bristol condition.

Dan offered to loan me some personal safety equipment for the trip, including his EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), SOLAS flare kit and 2 PLBs (small personal EPIRBs).  He also offered to loan me his life raft if I would help cover the cost to repack it as part of its normal maintenance schedule.  I quickly agreed, as this would be half the cost of renting a life raft, an EPIRB and a SOLAS flare kit for the trip.  Another friend, Paul Von Maffei, loaned me his man overboard pole and shared many of his own experiences in sailing to Bermuda. 


I was on my own for the required emergency ditch bag and the extensive first aid kit I would need.  Collecting all the necessary contents for both of these items while keeping the costs down required me to do a lot of research on the Internet, but that was half the fun.  I also rented a satellite phone so I could keep in contact with the rally organizers during the trip, and of course my wife, who was a bit of a worrier, back home.

I had set aside $10K above my regular boat’s annual budget to cover the equipment, supplies, mooring fees, fuel, registrations, rental items, provisions, classes, seminars, meetings and other misc. items necessary for the trip.  In the end, that was just about what I needed.  I was also fortunate to be able to rent a small apartment at a reasonable cost, for my wife and I to stay in while we were in Bermuda from Brian Oatley, the Commodore of the Dinghy Club and Sports Club in St. Georges, Bermuda.  Christine planned to fly over and meet the boat in Bermuda and share in some of the “fun” of the trip, and I used some of my frequent flyer miles to subsidize her plane fare.

Finding room on a 33‑foot boat for 4 guys and their personal gear, 21 days of provisions, 120 gallons of water, 40 gallons of fuel, all the safety equipment, life raft, ditch bag, spare parts, tools, extra sails  etc…was not an easy task.  I’d decided to carry extra provisions because I’d heard that to restock everything in Bermuda would be quite expensive.   In the end, it all fit comfortably aboard, leaving us plenty of room to move about below although Isabelle was floating well below her waterline when we departed.

As part of Isabelle’s upgrades for the trip  The Sail Repair & Canvas Company in Westbrook, CT went over my head sail, a 12 year old 135% genoa, with a fine toothcomb; reinforcing the sail near the spreaders and adding a stitch or two where needed.  I also had them add a 3rd reef to the mainsail.  I kept my small 110% jib aboard the boat as backup, and brought along my asymmetrical spinnaker.  In addition, I carried a 100 sq ft ATN Gale Sail as a storm jib.  My entire sail inventory, including the 3rd reef, was used extensively during the trip, except for the small jib which stayed in its bag.  To supplement the mainsail’s simple preventer I added a Dutchman boom brake, which worked as advertised once we got used to it.


Finding crew for the trip turned out to be much easier than I’d thought.  I normally sail my boat by myself or shorthanded, so my “regular” crew list was a bit short.  Potential crew would have to have the desire to spend 3 weeks aboard a sailboat in all kinds of wind and weather conditions, know something about sailing and not have a problem with sea sickness.

I contacted Doug, a 60+ y/o friend, who had accompanied me on two trips to Maine already, and to my delight he immediately signed on.  I wanted to add two other crewmembers, so I put a post on the Cape Dory Sailboat Owners Associations web site.  Within hours I had multiple responses from other interested Cape Dory sailors.  I followed up on all the responses, sending them a brief outline of the rally and some of my expectations for crew.  After one-on-one interviews with all “finalists” I made a decision and invited Joe, a 60+ y/o Cape Dory 25D owner and professional writer from the Boston area, and Rich, a 40+ y/o Cape Dory 28 owner and boat builder from Cape Cod.

It was more important to me that I feel comfortable with each individual’s personality than they have a big sailing resume.  I knew that I could sail the boat by myself if I had to, but I did not want to spend a week or more in a space not much larger then a closet with someone I might not get along with. 

Each of my new crewmembers were excited about the opportunity and they all committed to both legs of the trip.  I gave them the key dates, a list of the equipment they would need to bring for themselves, and encouraged them to attend safety seminars and first aid training prior to our departure.  I also tried to schedule a couple of weekends for “shakedown cruises” prior to departure so my new crew could get familiar with the boat and I could check her out before we actually left for Bermuda.

In late January, the four of us got together for the first time as a group to discuss my plans and share any concerns they might have regarding the rally.  Several of the crew made plans to participate in the Newport to Bermuda Race safety briefing and first aid training to be held in May, and Joe also planned to attend a life raft orientation course in May as I had appointed him the safety officer.

Isabelle was launched in early May 2010 and a “shakedown” cruise was scheduled for the Memorial Day weekend.  Rich joined me for that cruise and we sailed from Old Lyme to Greenport, NY.  The trip went smoothly and we got an opportunity to go through most points of sail.  We practiced reefing of the sails and Rich had a chance to use a windvane for the first time.  I continued to add provisions and fine tune the gear aboard Isabelle throughout May.

On Friday June 18th my crew and I left Isabelle’s mooring in Old Lyme and headed for Greenport, NY to begin our great adventure.  Once we arrived in Greenport, we were greeted by Dan Goldberg who was organizing the rally. He hosted a little get together later that afternoon on the dock near his boat for the other nine assembled crews.  During the get together, Dan outlined what was going to happen over the next two days:  safety inspections, weather briefings and, of course, the party.  Later in the day I had Isabelle inspected by the Rally’s safety officer for the required safety gear and equipment and she came through with flying colors.

On Saturday a Gulf Stream and weather briefing was conducted by Jenifer & Dane Clark, (both experts in their fields) and it was quite informative.  Jenifer suggested what she thought would be the best route to take to Bermuda (with way points) based on her analysis of the current Gulf Stream patterns.  Jenifer explained how the Gulf Stream generally flowed in a north easterly direction.  Warm patches of water often spin off on the northwest side of the Gulf Stream know as warm eddies with clockwise circular currents and cold eddies that generally spin off on the southeast side with counter clockwise currents.  The currents in the Gulf Stream and its eddies often times run 2 or more knots and it can be very advantageous to have the current running in your favor as it will pull you along, adding several knots to your boat speed.  It can also be quite dangerous if you have strong winds blowing against the currents as this can cause very large and rough seas and make for some very uncomfortable and dangerous conditions.

Dan Goldberg and Tania Aebi covered other topics including what we might expect to see during our voyage, proper procedures to follow when we entered Bermuda territorial waters and they provided us some “local” knowledge of St. George’s Harbor and its amenities.  My friends, Regor and his wife Christine, came by to wish us well and left us with a 2‑day supply of Christine’s homemade beef bourguignon for the trip and helped us with some last minute provisioning.

A casual group dinner/party took place in the park overlooking the marina on Saturday evening.  We tried to settle into our boats for a little sleep, but the sounds of a local establishment Claudio's kept us awake until well after midnight.  Just after sunrise, after only a couple of hours of sleep, my crew and I rose, ate a quick breakfast, stowed our gear and dropped the dock lines.  It was 6:15 am and we were now bound for Bermuda.



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