Bermuda Bound – The Uphill Slog

We motored out of the harbor Wednesday morning, set our sails and turned off the engine as soon as we cleared the Town Cut.  We made a final check with Bermuda Radio and we were cleared to go.  The wind was out of the south (astern), and we poled out the Genoa to sail wing on wing.  We settled back for a smooth ride home.  The boat seemed to fly, and we covered 130 nm that day. With “Buddy” our wind vane steering the whole way.  We often made 6.5 to 7 knots over the bottom, with only 11 knots of apparent wind.


A large school of dolphins entertained us for nearly 20 minutes, diving repeatedly under our bow and reappearing on the other side just ahead of us.  Several of them actually leaped entirely out of the water, waving their tails at us; it was a wonderful show.  Around 3:00 am we reentered the cold eddy on the south side of the Gulf Stream and the water temperature dropped to 79°.  We discovered a minor problem with the windvane’s control drum on the steering wheel, which was quickly repaired as dawn arrived on our second day at sea.


When I checked in with Dan by satellite phone for a weather update at noon on Day Two, he warned us that a very strong weather front was crossing the Gulf Stream.  Dan cautioned us not to go north of 34 degrees latitude for the next 24 hours.  Dan had told me to expect winds of 30+ knots and seas that were likely to build to 10 – 12 feet and his predictions would be right on the mark.  He also felt that by morning the wind would have shifted to the northeast as the bulk of the storm would have passed north of us and we could again begin moving north. 


After sharing Dan’s weather report with the crew, I decided to reduce sail, and generally “park” the boat for the next 24 hours.  We put up our Gale Sail as a storm jib and tucked the third reef into the main.  Since we were already well north of 34, I also changed course and headed off on a West South Westerly direction in an attempt to stay south of the weather.  Soon the wind was blowing in the upper 20s, a “Near Gale” and with Buddy our wind vane steering, we settled back to wait out the weather.  By 1800 the winds had reached the 30s with much higher gusts.  At that point we were all very happy at that we had reduced sail early.  That night, as the wind howled as we sailed WSW to avoid the heavier weather to the north.  At dawn we charted our position and realized we had traveled less than 40 nm towards our destination in the last 24 hours.


Day Three found our Gale Sail still up and a triple reef still in the main, but the winds had dropped to the mid 20s and shifted to the Northeast.  I decided it was time to change course, and we began sailing roughly WNW to weather.  By 1000 the winds were gusting again into the upper 30s, reaching nearly 40 knots for several extended periods, with 12 to 16-foot seas.  Isabelle handled it all beautifully.  At no time was I concerned about our safety, even though we found the going a bit uncomfortable as the boat was heeled well over and we had waves breaking over the bow.  I will have to say these were some of the most interesting conditions I had ever sailed in, and to be in gale or near-gale conditions for more than 24 hours gave me a new appreciation for the power of nature.


So much for being east of the rhumb line as the routers had recommended; we were now well west of the line with little hope of moving to the east without adding a lot of extra miles and time to our voyage.  We just had to deal with the northeasterly winds and prepare for a long homeward beat to weather.  By noon the seas had settled down some and the wind had dropped to the teens, so I decided to take down the Gale Sail and unfurl the Genoa.  By 1800 we were back flying a full main, but as darkness came on, so did the winds.  I put two reefs back into the main and reduced the Genoa to about 100 percent.  By morning we were making more than six knots over the bottom and we had covered 133 nm over the last 24 hours.

Day Four brought shifting winds out of the NNE and the NNW in the mid-teens — still pretty much on the nose — so we just worked the boat as much to the northwest as possible.  By 2100 we were clearly out of the cold eddy and back into the Gulf Stream with water temperatures of 82 degrees.  The wind died by midnight so we started motoring.  Around 0300 the wind returned this time out of the NW — precisely where we were heading.  We sighted a number of ships while in the Gulf Stream, so we didn’t feel completely alone as we dealt with Mother Nature.  All in all 118 nm was not a bad run for our fourth day.


There were other issues on Day 5.  Just when we thought everything was going fine, the 2nd brand new starter solenoid failed.  Its mounting bracket broke exactly where the previous one had broken.  But by now I’d become something of an expert at replacing solenoids.  I quickly replaced it with the one I had purchased in Bermuda and we were on our way.  Later that day, our main GPS unit stopped working (I determined later that it was just a blown fuse), so we switched the navigation over to a small Garmin 76 handheld unit.  We exited the Gulf Stream at about 4:00 that afternoon and were headed north towards a warm eddy which was sure to have its currents flowing against us.


Towards dinner time, I again spoke to Dan regarding the weather, and he told us that based on his models we should be experiencing westerly winds in the teens.   I told him his models must be wrong because we had NNW winds blowing in the 20s.  Around 9:00 that evening, the winds did in fact shift to the west, just about the same time we entered the warm eddy.  Now, with the wind off our beam blowing in the upper 20s, we really took off.


This was really the only time during the trip that I became concerned about the wind and sea conditions; we had both the wind and the waves on our beam and every 30 seconds we had a wave splashing into the cockpit.  As the evening wore on we had larger waves literally hitting the helmsman in the face, nearly every minute, making the cockpit a very wet place to be.  In fact, we had so much water coming across the deck that night that the transponder on the foredeck, which was sending a signal to a satellite tracking our position, simply stopped working and folks ashore could no longer follow our progress on the web site that had been set up to track us.  The 25+ knot winds blew all night and into the morning.  Around 6:00 am as we were preparing for a watch change, we were hit on the beam by a wave I estimated to be at least 16 feet.  It knocked the entire crew out of their seats and one unlucky individual out of the head with his pants down.  By 9:00 a.m. the winds and sea conditions moderated somewhat and it was turning into a beautiful day.  We had put another 142 nm under our keel.


On day 6, we exited the northern part of the warm eddy and were now out of the influence of the Gulf Stream.  We saw many more dolphins as well as several ships.  Both the wind and waves diminished the farther north we went and by early afternoon we were motor sailing on a direct course to Montauk in light winds.  After all the excitement of the previous days this was a “cake walk”.  The boat finally leveled out and once again it was easy to get around down below without having to hold onto something continuously.


That night, as we approached Montauk at the eastern end of Long Island, NY a submarine running on the surface came up on our port side and appeared to be headed to its home in New London.  We kept a safe distance from it, not wanting to excite any of its gun crews, and it slipped past us as dawn appeared on the horizon and land was sighted for the first time in 6 days.


We rounded Montauk Point about 7:00 a.  m.  and decided to anchor for breakfast just outside of Montauk Harbor in 20 feet of water to wait for a more favorable current flowing into the “Race” (area known for its fast currents and turbulence), just 15 or so miles to the west.  We had put another 105 nm under the keel and I was back in my home sailing grounds of Gardiners Bay and Long Island Sound.


It took us until 5:00 that afternoon to clear US Customs in Westbrook, CT and we were back on our mooring in Old Lyme around 7:00 that evening.  It had been 19 days since we had left Isabelle’s mooring in Old Lyme and we had traveled nearly 1,400 nm together in a wide array of wind and sea conditions.  In the end everyone had big smiles on their faces and we were all ready to go sailing again very soon that is, after we all got several good nights of sleep.


My thanks to my crew Rich, Joe and Doug, and “Buddy” my windvane, my boat wonderful Isabelle and especially my wife Christine who all made this adventure possible.


Fair Winds and Smooth Seas to All

Rich, Joe, Dpug & Captain George

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