Dashing for refuge from the driving rain, Sue and I found the bar already packed with a veritable kaleidoscope of sailors in brightly colored foul-weather gear. Puddles of water were forming around the unmistakable feet that could only belong to a bunch of cruisers. The White Horse Tavern, a notorious sailors hangout on the waterfront of St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda, was obviously the preferred port in this storm. Theres not a salty sea tale in the world that hasnt been shared within the rustic walls of this age-old sailors haunt.
As the rainy afternoon progressed, we started to get the true flavor of Bermuda. Having just sailed here ourselves a couple of days before, wed already found this Mid-Atlantic island to be a constantly changing melting pot of sailors from around the world. People were arriving from and departing to all corners of the Atlantic, at all hours of the day or night, and very often in vessels of astounding dissimilarity.
It didnt take long to get to know everyone around us. One British fellow on an Amel 53 was using Bermuda as a stopover on his way from the Caribbean to Newfoundland, in search of an iceberg. As soon as he sees one, he said, hed be turning around. A young American couple had arrived from Florida two weeks earlier on a CSY 37. Theyre on the first leg of an adventure to the Azores, Portugal, and Spain, then planning to work their way back home through the Caribbean in the fall. The happy crew of six at the end of the bar were Canadians who arrived just yesterday from Halifax aboard a J/ 44 and were leaving to sail back home again the following day. Then there was the Dutch single-hander on his last leg of a five-year circumnavigation in a 29-foot schooner he built himself. All in all, it was quite a diverse group.
Many sailors find Bermuda a welcome respite when headed to Europe or transiting to or from the Caribbean. Others perceive it as the ultimate Mid-Atlantic challenge. This accounts for the large number of organized races to Bermuda each year, and probably for those crazy Canadians who turned right around and sailed home the next day.
Sue and I chose to sail to Bermuda to combine the personal challenge of making a serious offshore passage with putting our newly refitted 46-foot boat to the test. We felt that a 1,600-mile journey from southern Florida to Bermuda, and then north to Nova Scotia should provide us with a good shakedown of both the work wed done and our own sailing skills. With much of our recent activities directed toward making Serengeti a comfortable offshore passagemaker, we were anxious to take up the gauntlet and see the results.
Outside the White Horse Tavern, the winds howled and the rain continued to come down in sheets. We could see no other logical course to steer than ordering another round of Dark and Stormys, the local concoction of Goslings rum and ginger beer. As we swapped stories about our recent passages to Bermuda, we heard a multitude of varied experiences. Although most boats and crew had a pleasant trip, plenty had tales to tell. Hearing these firsthand tales of woe confirmed what we already knewany passage to Bermuda should be taken very seriously.
With still 750 miles to go, one sailor told us that his boats autopilot had packed it in. That crew of two toughed it out and hand-steered the remainder of their eight-day trip. Two other couples told us their crossings were so wet and miserable that they were changing their plans and no longer continuing on to the Azores. They would be heading back to the States as theyd had enough of being drenched with saltwater for days on end.
While we were there, two boats arrived in Bermuda dismasted. One, an older Tartan, lost its rig due to chainplate failure. The other occurred on a custom French boat with rod rigging. The three-year-old backstay insulator snapped in half while the boat was running downwind in moderate conditions. A Hinckley Bermuda 40 bound for Rhode Island had been forced to return to its namesake due to a parted stem-head fitting. The crew lost their forestay, but good seamanship prevailed, and they did not lose their rig.
Several boats found their fuel supply insufficient for the light conditions they were to encounter along their route. This meant spending many days uncomfortably bobbing about, needing to save what fuel remained for their approach to the rocky and reef-strewn shores of Bermuda.
|"The camaraderie of the sailors rose in keeping with the noise level in the bar."|
A 40-foot catamaran hit a whale, was abandoned by its crew in mid-ocean and later rescued. Another boat en route to Bermuda spotted and boarded the abandoned ghost ship four days after this incident. They reported via their SSB to the US Coast Guard that the boat was floating just fine.
As the rain built, so did the camaraderie and the noise level. Sailors heading for similar destinations after Bermuda congregated and made plans to stay in contact with one another during the next leg of their trip. Radio schedules were established so the sailors could check-in with one another daily to swap coordinates and reports of the weather. Other boats exchanged must-see attractions in Bermuda and made plans to do some gunkholing together. It was a memorable afternoon.
When the rain finally let up, Sue and I grabbed our foulies and with a gaggle of other giggling cruisers weaved our way out to the dinghy dock. As we slowly putted back through the anchorage, we contemplated how well the additions and changes we made to Serengeti had affected our comfort on this first leg of our offshore shakedown. We could honestly identify only a few minor things that had gone wrong.
Considerable chafe occurred on our main halyard at the masthead, and the off genoa sheet chafed the stitching on the UV cover of the staysail. Both of these areas of chafe were due to the constant up and down and side to side movement of the boat in the following wind and seas. Our depthfinder stopped working early on, but we had a spare packed away that we were able to jury rig and deploy over the side lashed to a boat pole. Other than these few items, our trip was problem-free and we enjoyed a pleasant passage.
We discussed some of the reasons that might account for our having a more comfortable trip than some of the sailors we talked to back at the White Horse. Part of it we attributed to having a 46-foot boat. Smaller boats have a different motion through big seas and are not able to travel as quickly. Our passage of 875 miles took only five and a half days. But many sailors complained of being drenched with saltwater for days on end during their journey. This doesnt have to be the case, no matter what size your boat. Thanks to protection provided by our fiberglass dodger and bimini, Sue and I stayed dry for the entire passage. With the side curtains zipped down we could keep out all the spray, rain and cold wind, while the safety glass windows in the dodger afforded crystal clear visibility ahead at all times. Leading our sail controls aft to the cockpit and having both our headsail and staysails on roller-furling drums eliminated the need to leave the cockpit. We believe this further contributed to our overall comfort and dryness.
The malfunction of an autopilot can leave a shorthanded crew on a long passage exhausted. For that very reason, we installed a second autopilot on Serengeti several months prior to this trip. We didnt need to use it, but it certainly added to our piece of mind.
The wind and seas we experienced were remarkably close to what we had advance notice of by studying the pilot charts, receiving the daily weather faxes, and consulting via the single-sideband radio with Herb, the cruisers weather guru. Todays available weather information allows you to be a heads up sailor. Choosing the right weather window and being able to travel at a good speed to reach your destination before that window closes helps to ensure a more pleasant journey. This sometimes means motoring and/or motor-sailing to keep your average speed up.
Well never forget listening to one concerned sailor asking if it was possible to get a fuel delivery 200 miles outside of Bermuda. He was nine days into his trip, and still had a long way to go. Anticipating this circumstance, Sue and I increased our fuel capacity during our refit when we replaced both fuel tanks. In Florida just before departing, we also added a couple of extra jerry cans, just in case. Having plenty of fuel on board gives you the luxury of continuing on to your destination at a good speed whether there is wind or not. We feel theres no need to become a sitting duck in the middle of the ocean if you dont have to.
We were also able to conserve fuel by using our solar panels and wind generator to charge our batteries. Weve never had to run the engine just to recharge our battery bank. Our alternative power has enabled us to run all the boats electronics and even power our refrigerator and freezer, while conserving precious fuel.
All in all, were now very glad that we took two years out of our cruising lives to make all the changes and modifications weve done to Serengeti. Its a boat, so well always have something we need to work on, but hopefully weve nipped many potential problems in the bud.
The sun finally returned overhead with the fast-moving bank of rain clouds heading off towards the Azores. The harbor were transformed back to their an amazing aqua color scheme. Ah! This was the Bermuda you see in the travel brochures. We both stretched out in the cockpit in need of a slight recuperation period from our unexpected afternoon activities before we could undertake anymore Bermuda experiences. Sue patted the cockpit coaming and said quietly, "Thanks for bringing us over here Serengeti. You done good!"
"Hear! Hear!" I echoed heartily, and promptly drifted off to sleep.
Back from Bermuda by John Rousmaniere
LandfallSt. Georges Harbor, Bermuda by Beth Leonard
Using a Weather Service on Your Next Passage by Michael Carr
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