Early in the morning May 20, after nearly two months in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamie and I cast off our docklines at St. Thomas’s Yacht Haven Grand Marina and headed out to sea. We faced an 840 NM passage headed due north (15 degrees magnetic), with light winds forecast the entire trip. With a full bunker of fuel, plus 20 gallons in jerry cans, we had over 1,000 NM range, and anticipated no problems. Due to several recent storms passing between St. Thomas and Bermuda, we did expect rather confused seas left over from the high winds. To make Jamie happy, I had subscribed to a forecasting service, Commander’s Weather, for this passage, although I felt their input, however excellent, was rather redundant on top of the resources I’ve been using over the past 23,000 miles. Commander’s predicted we would have a trouble-free passage, but with light and variable winds.
Upon rounding the western end of St. Thomas around 0800 our first day, we picked up a nice 15 knot breeze just forward of the beam, perfect Swan conditions, and knocked out our first 100 miles by 2200 that night. Jamie volunteered for the first “dog” watch, 2300 to 0400, so I went below and slept. Around 0500, she woke me up, because I had inadvertently set my alarm for 3:30 PM, not AM. Such a nice wife, letting me sleep an extra hour. We continued our 5 on, 5 off watch schedule, both getting decent sleep the first few days. While off watch, I was thrilled to hear Jamie occasionally grinding winches and letting out sails, something she would previously not have done without my prompting. All those training sails we had together in the USVI were paying off!
We also ate quite well, as Jamie had prepared and frozen big containers of chicken chili and tuna noodle casserole. With such a relatively short trip planned, we splurged on our passage and ran both our freezer and refrigerator, the latter of which had been used for dry storage since the Marquesas Islands. With provisions spread over two boxes, it was great not having to unload everything from our top-loading freezer compartment to retrieve a jar of jelly for my go-to passage staple, PB&J, buried at the bottom.
The first few nights on this passage were clear, and there was no moon, so the stars were spectacular. Having spent the past year sailing towards the Southern Cross, we are now seeing that constellation astern, and the Big Dipper and North Star dead ahead. The Little Dipper is still low on the horizon and faint, but we know it’s there hanging onto the North Star, which is clearly visible. The skies are starting to look more familiar to me, now that we are getting closer to home.
By the end of Day 2, we were motor-sailing in light air, still making 6 knots, but the seas were getting confused. We always had enough breeze to keep the main deployed, which helped keep the boat from rolling too much in the 1.5 M waves, but it wasn’t pleasant. It was also hot, almost impossible to sleep during the day as the sun beat down through the hatches. While I was not enjoying this, Jamie was thankful for the boredom.
By Day 4, the seas had become glassy, the winds had gone to zero, but the temperature had cooled considerably. After baking in the Caribbean sun for the past 4 months, it was great to feel spring-like weather at long last. Commander’s Weather had told us to expect wind once we got to 27 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude, about 100 miles north. By Day 5, figuring we had a good 12 hours of light air, I went off watch at 0800 and promptly fell asleep. Two hours later, I was jolted awake by seas slamming into the boat, and bolted up on deck to find Jamie had just successfully rolled up our jib in 25 knots of wind, no mean feat, but was overwhelmed as “Nor’easter” still had a full main and was beating into wind and seas that had gone forward. It was also pouring rain, and my wife had that look on face that told me she was contemplating a call to a divorce lawyer upon first landfall. I suggested she go below and let me take over until things stabilized, which she agreed was a good idea.
After rolling up the jib a bit more, double reefing the main, and heading off the wind 15 degrees, “Nor’easter” was happily, and smoothly, ripping along at 9 knots. By around 1600, the squalls blew through, Jamie took over, and I crashed. When she tried to wake me to ask a question two hours later, she gave up twice when I didn’t respond, and finally got me conscious again on her third attempt. The only other excitement Jamie had on watch was when, in the middle of the night, the autopilot shut off, causing the boat to slowly head upwind and tack. Since she was clipped onto the boat with her safety harness away from the helm, she couldn’t readily grab the wheel and control the boat. In the dark, she was unable to find the lanyard on the snap shackle to release her tether, and by the time she did, the boat was sailing in a circle. I was, fortunately, still awake in the forward berth and knew instantly what had happened, bolted on deck, and found Jamie at the wheel, looking frantic. I asked her to look at the compass and get back on course, but she was so flustered, she couldn’t even utter her words. I thought she was speaking in tongues, but wisely didn’t start laughing. There was no danger, just a back-winded jib, but we were still moving fast enough that I just turned the wheel downwind and got us back on proper course. The same thing had happened to me the previous evening, with similar results.
Our final day at sea was glorious. We had a full main and jib, following current, 15-20 knots of breeze on the beam, and flew along 8-9 knots all the way to Bermud, arriving 1300, just as I had planned. The Harbor Master on Bermuda Radio directed us through the narrow passage to St. George’s harbor, where we tied up to the Customs Dock and were quickly processed, had our temperatures taken, given a thermometer to record twice-daily readings, and sent out to the anchorage, where we’ve been ever since. Now the weather between here and Newport looks horrible until June 5, and if we stay that long, we will have nearly satisfied our 14 day quarantine period ending June 8, when we can go ashore and actually see Bermuda on land. That’s currently the plan. The only other time I was here was for the 2005 Newport to Bermuda Race, one of the slowest on record, and when we finally finished, I had time to drink one traditional “Dark and Stormy” before bolting to the airport to catch my scheduled flight back to Ohio. Hopefully this time will be different.