Hey there all. So, we're now back about a week from the rally, and I thought I would post something about it. I still need to do a full write-up and submit it to one of the rags, and that will be more extensive and have pictures and all, but I figured I would share some stuff with the fine folks trolling Sailnet.
Considering that it was our first year, I was quite pleased. We had three boats, which sounds small, but frankly I'm glad, as we learned a lot about the logistics that might have been more difficult to manage with a larger group the first time out of the gate. The boats were Miracle, a Freedom 45 (us), Wind Runner, an IP 420, and Daydreamer, a Gemini 105.
To start, the pre-departure routine went great, or at least I think it did. Tania Aebi did the general briefing about what to expect, life at sea, how to cope, and things like that. Plus, she's hilarious and great fun to be around generally. Then we had our communications expert, Tim Hasson, go over the radio and satphone sked procedure. (Some of you may know Tim from Blue Water Sailing, as he's a relatively frequent contributor.) Jenifer Clark did her thing with Gulf Stream and eddy routing, and she gave out laminated routing charts, which was a very nice touch. For the trip down we had a remarkably good current setup. The rhumb line provided good current just about the whole way down. We had a warm eddy north of the stream that gave us fair current for nearly 100 miles, then the stream itself set us east to a spot where an anomalous warm eddy and a cold eddy converged to give us something like a watermelon seed effect that gave us fair current for another 50 miles or so. All in all, we had fair current for well over half the trip down, and no adverse current to speak of. Quite an unusual occurrence.
Our boat techie, Toby, inspected the boats, made some recommendations, helped address a few things, went up the mast on the IP to help install a spinn halyard. All good stuff.
Dane Clark did our weather routing, and he did a very nice presentation, showing live models on an overhead with Internet hookup. He spent just about the whole day, explained the features of the various models and charts, answered questions, and generally did everything anyone could ask of a router. We also utilized Chris Parker along the way, just to have a second view on things.
We had twice-daily conference call skeds with satphones, and used the SSB as backup. The calls worked very well. We had a glitch the first day of the return trip, but all things considered it worked great. We had our weather and Gulf Stream routers on the line for each call, and they gave updated weather and waypoint routing. Plus, we were able to track all the participants' positions, speed, course, conditions, etc. I was very pleased.
The iboattrack system also worked well, as we're told by friends and family that they all were able to track us on the Internet the whole way.
As to the weather, we actually had a nasty cold front coming through the day we were planning to depart, so we adjusted. The "fleet" shot out to Block Island where we spent the day and waited for the front to pass. When it got to us, it was packing 45+ knot winds and a good 4 foot chop in Great Salt Pond, which is saying something if you know the harbor.
In any event, we left Tuesday morning at first light (June 17) and headed out. For our part on Miracle, we were greeted by several sharks as we entered the Atlantic. Not exactly the omen I was looking for, but it was cool nonetheless. Generally the weather was good. We had a bit of everything. The first day and a half out we had great sailing conditions, as we sailed a reach on our course at speed. It was quite awesome. We had some squalls to deal with in the stream and eddies, but nothing unexpected and nothing that the group couldn't deal with.
From the rally standpoint, we were able to provide assistance to Daydreamer en route with a problem they were having with their charging system. We were able to walk him through the diagnostics over the VHF and talk him through the fix. That wasn't the last time the rally format halped participants, and even some non-participants (that's some foreshadowing folks, so keep reading).
On Miracle, we actually had some excitement. Nothing serious, but as Bob Bitchin would say, the difference between ordeal and adventure . . . Our autopilot linear drive decided to give up the ghost on the trip so we had to hand steer roughly the second half. We had 6 crew, so that truly was no more than an inconvenience (though an expensive one for me). The more entertaining event had to do with our boom. We have a Furlboom in-boom mainsail. She's worked awesome for us ever since we've owned the boat, with not a lick of a problem. Well, on this trip, we learned that some runs of the unit used inferior stainless for what they call the "toggle," which is the stainless steel fitting connecting the boom to the mast. Literally at the 300+ mile mark, right after we crossed the stream, it broke. We jury rigged it, but that didn't work so well for reasons that I'll save (just too long an explanation). We could have jury rigged the main if we needed to do so, but we motored for a time. It was close as to whether we would have enough fuel to motor the rest of the way in. The next morning we were fortunate to have a northerly wind, so we were able to fly our chute for a while and gain some miles that way. Then, the wind just died. Flat calm. So, on we motored. We really just weren't sure whether we'd have enough fuel, but I knew we'd have enough to get close enough to Bermuda either to get someone to run some out to us, or to jury rig something to sail in.
But, then ocurred what might have been the most cool, though unusual, part of the trip for us. We heard a cruise ship on the VHF with a supertanker talking about passing port to port. The cruise ship was on her way to Bermuda. So, naturally, we hailed her and chatted for a while. The first officer was incredibly nice, and I advised of our situation (damaged rig, low on fuel), and asked if they could spare some diesel. To our utter surprise but delight, they obliged. They came along side about 50 or 100 yards off (it was hard to tell for sure in the dark), they dropped a boat into the water, and sent 4 crew over with 6 jerry jugs of diesel for us. It was dark, and we had what I estimate to be a 4 to 6 foot swell (give me a few more weeks and it will be 10). I felt like Bon Jovi, as every one of the 3500 passengers seemed to be on the side of the ship taking constant pictures. All we could see were flashbulbs popping, spotlights, etc. All I needed was smoke and some teenagers holding up lighters and it would have been exactly like a Bon Jovi concert! Anyway, with the fuel drop, we just powered on in.
Our catamaran participant also had fuel troubles. She didn't carry nearly as much fuel as we carried, so with the light winds she wasn't going to make it in anything close to a reasonable time. Obviously she could have just waited it out, but we couldn't let a rally participant just sit there like that and miss out on all the rum drinks! So, through our host in Bermuda (Bermuda Yacht Services, which by the way is an absolutely amazing outfit), we arranged for a sport fish that was heading back to the east coast to take out several jerry jugs to Daydreamer, who was over 100 miles out. We're thinking of renaming this the New York to Bermuda Fuel Drop Rally.
Another hero of the rally was Offshore Passage Opportunities, Hank Schmitt's outfit. As it turns out, two of our three boats needed crew for the return, and one other boat not in our rally, though we adopted her, also needed crew. The catamaran wanted to sail back singlehanded, but reconsidered after the trip over. So, OPO got him two crew on very short notice. As for us, because I was waiting for parts for the boom and the autopilot, I needed to fly home (schedules, I hate them!). So, Hank Schmitt himself came on over with two crew to sail Miracle home. The other boat was a Little Harbor 42, and she was being delivered from the Caribbean to Rhode Island, but she had engine trouble and diverted to Bermuda. While waiting for parts, she lost her crew, and the skipper, Judy Hildebrand, needed to get replacements, which was no easy job considering that any sailor on that island worth his/her salt already had a gig taking a Bermuda Race boat back to the States. So, our rally and OPO came to the rescue again, and Hank was able to procure crew for Judy in short order.
Then there is our host, Bermuda Yacht Services, owned by Mark Soares. Mark owns the place, but his mom (Sandra) runs the office, his dad is around, and Francis is the rigger, glass expert, and general boat maven on premises. They were great hosts, helping with any and everything we needed. They arranged for Bacardi to sponsor a party for us on the dock, which was great fun. Bacardi is trying to compete with Gosling's Dark 'n Stormy, with a new rum drink called a Partly Cloudy. It's golden rum and ginger beer, instead of dark rum. The tagline is "Who wants it Dark 'n Stormy when you can have it Partly Cloudy?" It was a great party and a great time.
There's more to tell, but this post is way too long already. Happy to answer questions if anyone has them, and look for something in some upcoming edition of Latts & Atts, CW or one of those. We're not entirely sure who will take the story, and in part that will depend on how well we write it!
For a little more information and some pictures, check out Wind Runner's blog, at WIND RUNNER
And just in case you're wondering, we definitely are doing the rally again next year. We already have expressions of interest, and participants signed up. We'll change a few things as we've learned a little, but there definitely will be a 2009 iteration.