In June 1995 I sailed on a 27' boat from Wickford, Rhode Island to St. George, Bermuda. This is a personal account of the voyage, my first ocean passage. I wrote it as much for myself as anyone else, although I have tried to explain the sailing terms. This story is on the Web at http://www.gildea.com/stephen/bermuda-sail.html.
Wickford boat ramp, 41° 34.6'N, 71° 27.2'W
640 nautical miles from Bermuda
We cast off from the dock and motored out into Narragansett Bay at
1:45 pm with our crew of three:
Ken Olum, the skipper;
There was no one at the launch point to comment on how unusual the boat looked, which was unusual itself. The boat was a Corsair F-27, a trimaran, a three-hulled boat. The center hull contains the cabin; the outer two hulls have storage space. There is a taut net (webbing) stretched between the center hull and each of the two side hulls. The whole effect never failed to draw comments from other boaters at any dock. Ken bought it because the multiple hulls give a faster, more upright ride. We came to appreciate both features. The boat is named Proton. A proton is composed of three quarks, see . . . . Yes, Ken is a physicist, studying for his Ph.D. at MIT.
This was our second attempt at Bermuda. The first, a week ago, had ended abruptly when we broke the boom in a storm the first evening out. But now we had a new boom and a repaired sail. And we were more ready and more relaxed than last week. I had more warmer, faster-drying clothes. Ken had done some more work on the boat and was happier with the state of the equipment. Valerie had packed more food after seeing the way Ken and I went through it.
The boat folds up for trailering, so after putting it in the water we unfolded the cross-beams, separating the hulls and stretching the nets taut.
The weather report was not very appealing, same as it had been last week. But with the one-week delay we were getting so close to the hurricane season that we didn't have a lot of choice. It was sail now or wait until next year. High winds, possible thundershowers--we were going anyway. The bad weather was unfortunate, because weather is the biggest factor determining what kind of a sailing experience you have. With excellent conditions, this would be a three- to four-day sail. We had been hoping for six days, but so far, the weather wasn't cooperating. As the winds grew during the afternoon, we took down the sail part way (reefed) to be better prepared in case a storm came up suddenly. Ken was always thinking about being ready for a change in conditions, which made me feel safe.
Sailing out into the ocean we saw sailboats heading back. And a huge fishing boat heading back. And a 44' Coast Guard cutter that wasn't heading back. They hailed us on the VHF radio and asked lots of questions like, "Where are you going?" "How many people on board?" "What is your boat's registration?" "When was the last time you were boarded by the Coast Guard?" Huh? "Never," we said and wondered whether that was going to change. Perhaps we looked suspicious, such a small boat heading out to sea with a storm approaching. But the Coast Guard ship disappeared, and the sky continued to get darker. About an hour later, 5:30 pm, the Coast Guard ship was back. Then there was a small launch in the water between us. Then we were being told on the radio that they were going to board us. Ken asked whether we should heave to (stop sailing), and they said no, they would catch up to us. I suspect they underestimated the speed of a trimaran, because they were a long time catching us.
The Coast Guard launch did eventually come alongside us, carrying four officers, each wearing a life jacket, an emergency light, and a pistol. Strictly a routine inspection, they assured us. Two of them came aboard, the first one tripping over the lifeline and landing on his back on the netting between the hulls. "What a funny-looking boat you've got here," he said. Thus spake the US Government. Then the Coast Guard got to the official part of the inspection. Firearms? No. Lifejackets? Yes. Drugs? Well, they didn't ask us, instead they wiped the boat down with pieces of sample paper that they said they would run through a very sensitive detector when they got back to their ship.
I suppose we would have gotten a souvenir Boarding Report, but in the middle of asking Ken lots of questions (Did he have a photo id?) they got a message on their portable radio from the big ship that the weather folks were predicting "life-threatening lightning from 1755 to 1815." It was now 1750 (5:50 pm). So they abandoned us for the safety of their own ship.
That was to be our last sight of any other humans for over a week.
Meanwhile we had a lightning storm to deal with. We had taken down our sails when the Coast Guard came aboard. Now we also unplugged all our electrical equipment and sat down inside to wait out the storm. It rained. There was lightning in the clouds, but none close, and none that touched the sea. Twenty minutes went by with no change in the weather. We got up, unfurled the sails again, and went on our way.
That evening, less than a day out, we had our first equipment failure. The mounting bracket for the VHF radio and Loran positioning system broke, dropping both instruments on Valerie. The crash did Valerie little harm, but it damaged the antenna connector for the Loran; it gave us trouble the rest of the trip.
The storm worsened again, and that night, on my watch, I took two reefs in the mainsail. Because you are always reefing in response to high wind, it is never done in easy conditions. It is hard work with two people. And because the other two crewmembers were sleeping (more likely, trying to sleep), I had to do it myself. I put the autopilot on the tiller, which nicely managed the job of keeping us aimed up wind, and then just had to manage the topping lift, halyard, and boom crank myself. I don't know how long it took me, but by the time I was finished, I was sure I'd awakened everyone with my running back and forth across the deck.
39° 22.30'N, 71° 10.39'W at 12:18pm EDT
132 nmiles out, 525 nmiles from Bermuda
Woke up to find us still beating into a high wind, and still with the
reefs I'd taken last night. It was a pounding ride, and within
minutes after I awoke I was seasick. I had taken two Bonine pills as
soon as I awoke, but they didn't help me. Being hungry contributes to
motion sickness, but I ate very little that day. I just had no
It was overcast and rainy most of the day. I huddled in a corner of the cockpit, bundled up in foul-weather gear, or "foulies." Foulies are a sailor's outermost layer and consist of pants or overalls and a jacket with hood. They are a bright color for visibility. They are supposedly waterproof, but truly waterproof foulies are like the Holy Grail. Different brands have various clever devices at the ankles, waist, wrists, neck and face to try to keep water out. For long parts of the voyage we lived in our foulies. Mine were pretty good, and between them and my rubber boots I stayed reasonably dry. "Dry" got to be a relative term.
Sitting in the cockpit sick and wet, I considered our progress and realized we had a minimum of five more days at sea. Why was I doing this?
In the afternoon I felt better enough to go below and take a nap. Ken was napping then, too, so Valerie was the only one above deck. Her cry of "Dolphins, oooh, dolphins!" woke me up out of a not very sound sleep. I decided I had to see this sight, so I struggled into my warm clothes and foul-weather gear.
Trying to put on wet foulies while not getting anything else in the crowded cabin wet is a challenge. First you sit on the "dry" seat/berth and pull on warm pants and a jacket. Then you pull up the foulie overalls as far as your knees. Then while balancing on your feet in the low cabin, pull the overalls up the rest of the way. Now sit down again, this time on something that is already wet, and put on your boots and foulie jacket. Now you are ready to go on deck.
By the time I had completed that procedure, I was seasick again. And the dolphins were gone, too. Ken was also seasick that day, but he had enough sense to skip the dolphins and go back to sleep.
Valerie was immune to seasickness, fortunately. I recommend having someone like that on your crew. She happily plotted positions on the chart, cooked dinner, and did other tasks in the cabin that would have made me sick in a minute.
Valerie pointed out that pregnant women are advised to eat a dry cracker first thing in the morning to avoid morning sickness. Well, that fits in with what I know about hunger contributing to nausea, so I started off the next morning, and every morning, with crackers, usually Goldfish. I had minor seasickness symptoms for the next couple of days, but I was careful when I had to be, and it never got bad again. After three days at sea I took only one Bonine a day instead of two. After six days, I stopped taking Bonine entirely. They say you can adapt; perhaps I did.
In any case, my appetite was back the next day with a vengeance, and I had two helpings of everything at every meal.
In the evening the wind calmed somewhat. Shortly before sunset, we saw more dolphins, and this time all three of us were out where we could enjoy them. There were perhaps a dozen, and they were swimming and leaping out of the water together about a half a mile from us.
By the middle of my watch, about 11 pm, we were completely becalmed in a fog. What little wind there was came from a different direction every minute, making a noisy racket as the sails were filled first from one side and then the other. I was glad I wasn't trying to sleep, and glad that with the calmer weather my seasickness had gone.
It was eerie being in the fog at night. I probably should have been blowing a fog horn regularly, but I decided it was unlikely there were any ships near us, and likely the others wanted to get some sleep. I satisfied myself with keeping a very good look out on the horizon all around and shining a bright flashlight on the sail every couple of minutes to increase our visibility.
By the end of my watch we had perhaps half a knot of wind. Ken took out the reef in the sail, which I hadn't bothered with, at the beginning of his watch.
38° 00.71'N, 70° 14.71'W at 2:24pm
221 nmiles from Wickford, 434 nmiles to Bermuda
Sailed 99 nmiles since yesterday.
The Gulf Stream is a well-defined current in the Atlantic Ocean. It
moves warm, tropical water up the east coast of Florida, past the
Carolinas, and across the Atlantic north of Bermuda to Europe, where
it warms the British Isles and Norway. It is about 40-60 miles wide
and has a sharp edge on the west side, closer to the US shore. In the
space of a mile, the temperature can rise 20 degrees. The stream
exists for about a mile under the surface; that's a big cross section.
It moves more water past a point each second than any river.
It is said that sometimes you find doomed tropical fish caught in the stream. The stream is not friendly to ships, either. If the North Atlantic is famous for its bad weather, the Gulf Stream is famous within the North Atlantic for its really bad weather. The current is about 4-5 knots, and if the wind is not blowing with the stream, large waves form.
The night before, we had listened to the weather report on the shortwave radio. The weather report is not like any weather report on land. No news about high and low temperature. Instead it is full of wind speeds and wave heights. And the position of the Gulf Stream, determined from infrared pictures taken by satellite. We were expecting to enter the Gulf Stream today, so we had written down the coordinates of the western boundary of the stream and plotted them on our chart.
Where we were going to be crossing it, it was moving northeast. Because we were traveling southeast, it was at right angles to our path. Looking at it on our chart it appeared to be a wall that we had to cross. To make things more interesting, the weather report said we were in the middle of an eddy of the Stream--an eddy 80 miles across.
The report was not encouraging; the wind would be almost against the Stream. We had decided to sail through the night and see what things looked like the next day. Here it was the next day, and things looked a lot better. The wind was out of the south, so it was more nearly aligned with the current.
We took many position fixes with the Loran to chart our approach to the wall of the Stream. And we periodically took samples of the water to see if the temperature changed. At 74 degrees and holding we were not there yet. Perhaps it was because of the eddy, but we never saw a sharp rise in the water temperature. But we did see a rise: later in the day the temperature was 88 degrees.
"Don't go swimming," said Ken, and pointed. A Portuguese man-of-war, floating on the surface. Like jellyfish, they have poisonous tentacles, only much, much more poisonous. We continued to see them, one every hour or so, for the rest of the trip. No one went swimming.
By the afternoon we had a pretty stiff wind, and I was steering through 4 and 5 foot waves, zipping along at about 10 knots. Ken was napping. Valerie was also below, reading a novel; she has an iron stomach. So far, so good. It was fun to be sailing.
Ken, worried that conditions might deteriorate, got dressed and came up on deck. And conditions did deteriorate. The waves got bigger and steeper, and bigger still. I was too inexperienced with ocean sailing and this boat to know when to be worried; I left that to Ken. And he was worried. After one particularly nasty wave, Ken decided to change course and sail downwind while we figured out what to do. Sailing downwind has two advantages. First, because you are going with the wind, the apparent wind is less. Second, if the waves are going with the wind, they come at you more slowly, too. Perhaps most importantly, a following sea pushes the boat along like a surfboard. With waves coming from ahead, each wave slows you down and makes the boat less maneuverable. We now had the waves coming at us from the starboard quarter, that is, 45 degrees from the stern, just where we wanted them.
Almost as soon as we changed course, a steep 10-foot wave came at us. Waves coming from the stern may be safer, but they look scarier, because the cockpit is near the stern. Perhaps my scariest moment of the trip was looking behind the boat and seeing a wave twice my height just off the stern of the boat, a mountain of water only a few feet away. I was glad Ken was there, and that he was driving. Proton took the wave as a boat should, riding up it to the crest and down the other side. I relaxed, but only until the next wave. The boat climbed over many steep waves before some part of my mind stopped gasping at each one.
Now, how to get out of the Stream? Sailing downwind was safe and relatively calm, but it wasn't getting us to Bermuda. After deciding that these waves probably weren't going to capsize us (but how could we know for sure?), Ken cautiously turned the boat into the wind a little. And then a little more, until I thought he wasn't being cautious at all. As we sailed along we kept an eye out in all directions for rogue waves. And we discussed the fact that we really didn't know how big a wave it would take to capsize us. The one good thing was that now when we got splashed in the face it was so warm it felt like bath water.
Late afternoon, and no improvement in the weather. Ken decided we didn't want to sail through this stuff at night, and we talked through how to deploy the sea anchor. The sea anchor is a twelve-foot parachute at the end of a 300-foot line. You deploy the sea anchor off the bow of the boat, and it keeps you from drifting (unless there is a current, of course) and keeps the boat pointed into the wind (and thus presumably bow-on to the waves). It is what you use in mid-ocean where it is too deep to anchor to the bottom.
Around 7 pm things started to look calmer; the wind was slacking, and the waves didn't seem as big. At 8 pm it was decision time: if we wanted to deploy the sea anchor in daylight we had to start now. The weather was continuing to improve, and we wanted to be out of the Stream, so we decided to keep sailing. We regretted this in the coming hours.
Ken took the first watch. We agreed that if the weather deteriorated, Ken would wake us up and we would deploy the sea anchor. If the weather got better, I would have a nice watch. Two hours into the watch, at 11 pm, Ken woke me up and said he could not stay awake any longer. He had been driving almost continuously since mid-afternoon. I came up on deck, and we again discussed setting the sea anchor. It was raining, but the seas were not bad. I felt rested, so we decided I'd relieve Ken on watch. It was my worst watch of the trip. The rain was heavy and even the lighted instruments, the compass and knotmeter, were hard to see. I was unhappy about not being able to see the approaching waves until they hit the boat, and I kept our speed down to four knots. About 1 am Valerie woke up and came on deck to keep me company, which helped. About 3 am Ken woke up again and relieved me. It was very nice to be able to fold myself into a sleeping bag and fall asleep.
At 5 am, Ken woke Valerie and me saying, "we've got to get out of this." I pulled on my warm clothes and foul-weather gear and climbed out of the cabin. It was just before dawn, and in the grey light I saw a 15 knot wind and very heavy rain deforming the waves. At times the wind was blowing 25-30 knots. It was an eerie scene. We set about deploying the sea anchor: bridle, anchor rode, parachute, chute float, retrieval line, retrieval float. Even simple tasks like taking down the mainsail were difficult in the wildly pitching boat. It took us until 6:30.
Finally we were done, and we all went below, shed wet clothes, and fell asleep exhausted.
37° 53.22'N, 68° 55.78'W at 12:39pm
250 nm from Wickford, 391 nm to Bermuda
Sailed 66 nm since yesterday.
We slept until 11 am and woke up to find a bright, sunny, relatively
calm day. We had drifted only 15 miles northeast in the Gulf Stream
current. We must have been near the weaker southeastern edge, so at
least we gained something by spending an exhausting night battling a
storm we could have slept through.
We retrieved the sea anchor and raised sail. We were glad to have had the sea anchor. Another piece of emergency equipment I was glad to have, and even gladder not to have to use is our EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicator and Radio Beacon. The EPIRB has one control--an On switch. When turned on, it sends a distress signal to the Coast Guard via satellite giving our serial number and location. Very slick. We stored it in a compartment that is accessible even if the boat is upside down.
The water was a deep blue, a color I've never seen near the coast. It was pretty, and I sat at the edge of the rail and stared straight down into it. Now I knew why oceans are blue on maps. And why they call this "blue-water sailing."
We laid lots and lots of wet clothes out on the deck to dry in the sun. You can tell a cruising boat by the laundry drying on deck, says Ken. Valerie taught us an appropriate ditty: "Black socks, they never get dirty, The longer you wear them the stronger they get. Some day I'll probably launder them, Something keeps telling me don't do it yet." Indeed, "clean" got to be a relative term.
Today we charged the battery fully. We made power with a generator powered by a propeller. We dragged the propeller behind the boat at the end of a 100-foot specially-constructed stiff rope. The propeller spins one end of the rope, the other end of the rope is attached to a generator. Making this work requires relatively calm seas, enough wind to turn the propeller, but not so much wind that the propeller bounces out of the water, which would tangle the rope. Because making power requires fairly exact conditions, we couldn't always do it. Conditions today were good, though; we were sailing at about 6 knots.
In the evening we called Ken's housemate Judy at work on the shortwave radio. On Tuesday we had called, and been excited that it worked, but had had to leave a message on the answering machine. Talking to a real person from hundreds of miles off shore was fun. First we raised AT&T's "High Seas" station in New Jersey. They asked us our position and tuned their reception for our direction. New Jersey passed us off to a billing operator in Florida who did a phone patch to Massachusetts. Ring, ring, and we were talking to Judy.
After cleaning up dinner, most evenings we would sit in the cockpit together as the sun was going down, and Valerie would play tunes on a penny whistle. Ken would usually be steering, because I had the first watch and liked to be rested going in to it. It was the only part of the day I thought of as recreational.
The only time we formally scheduled who would be driving the boat was for night watches. From 9 pm to 9 am, each crew member was on for four hours and tried to sleep for 8 hours. The original plan had been for Ken and me to take turns doing the undesirable middle watch from 1 to 5 am. But Ken found that he couldn't stay awake on the first watch, so we settled on my always standing it.
I learned that on Ken's watch in the storm last night both the knotmeter/depthmeter and the autopilot broke. We hoped the Loran (and its antenna connector) would hold up; we would have a tough time navigating by sextant and dead reckoning without a knotmeter.
I especially missed the autopilot; it is tough single-handing on night watch when you always have to keep one hand on the tiller.
In clear weather the night sky at sea is lovely. There are so many stars visible that familiar constellations get lost in the blaze and are hard to pick out. All through the trip Jupiter was bright in the south in the evening. This made for relatively easy steering, because we were heading south. I liked the feeling of being alone at night, looking at the stars and listening to the waves against the boat.
It was becoming hard to sleep at night because it was so warm in the cabin. Waking up at night is an odd feeling. You cannot tell the conditions outside from the cabin at night. You lie in the dark, feel the motion of the boat, and wonder, "Are we sailing through minor chop at 5 knots? Or are we doing 10 knots in a heavy wind and the person on watch is contemplating having to reef single-handed?" Often the first thing someone would do when waking up would be to call out to the person on watch, "How are we doing?"
37° 23.81'N, 67° 21.98'W at 1:50pm
314 nm from Wickford, 329 nm to Bermuda
Sailed 106 nm since yesterday.
"It's Saturday! What shall we do for the weekend?"
And so we did, pounding through a strong head wind and high waves most of the weekend.
Were the waves in the Gulf Stream that had us so worried this size? We were pretty sure they were steeper, but perhaps by now we just had a different perspective on big waves. I spent much of the afternoon steering the boat up and down big waves trying to trade off the conflicting goals of making the ride smooth, fast, and headed toward Bermuda. It was fun and not at all scary.
As we left the Gulf Stream we had the strange sensation of getting sprayed with warm water one moment and cold water the next. Each spray of warm water was bad news; we found the Stream so unpleasant we really wanted it behind us.
We had two boat cushions, orange and red. They are designed to be thrown to someone who falls overboard, but mostly they are very nice to sit on. We did a lot of sitting, and the hull is hard. Some time during the morning I noticed that the orange cushion was nowhere to be found. We concluded it must have blown overboard. Actually, I was somewhat surprised we hadn't lost either of the cushions before. Two cushions are nice on watch, when you can sit on one and lean against the other. At least we still had one. Later in the morning, the red cushion was missing, too. Sigh. Hours later, after lunch, I found the red cushion at the aft, leeward corner of the netting, in danger of washing overboard. I scrambled out on the net and retrieved it. It is amusing that the trimaran has so much deck area that we lost track of a cushion for hours. I clipped a tether onto the cushion. We didn't lose anything else.
In the afternoon we hove to and tried to get the boat still enough for Ken to shoot the sun with a sextant. After a day of pounding through the waves, it was nice to stop sailing for a bit. Heaving to involves setting the two sails at a certain angle so they work against each other and the boat neither moves forward nor turns. We hove to again for a calm dinner, additional sightings, and pumping out the bilges. The port-side float had about six inches of water in it, which I pumped out with a hand pump. After pumping out the various bilges, we were perhaps several hundred pounds lighter.
After dinner, Ken pulled out the shortwave to get the evening weather report and found that the compartment it was in had several inches of seawater in it. Presumably the through-hull for the antenna was leaking (it is above the water line, of course, but we were getting a lot of spray). We were somewhat lucky: only the microphone was sitting in the water in the bottom of the compartment. So while we could not call Judy any more, we could get weather reports. Before leaving we had warned everyone that shortwave radio over long distance was an iffy thing, and they shouldn't be concerned if they don't hear from us. We hoped no one panicked; it turned out we hoped in vain.
Today we were low on power again, mostly from trying to make enough water to drink. We had a reverse-osmosis water maker on board. It converts sea water into pure drinking water by pumping it at very high pressure through a membrane. An impressive feat, but it uses a lot of power. We had started the voyage with our 15-gallon water tank mostly empty to reduce weight. With so much cruising gear on board, we were hundreds of pounds over the design weight of the boat. We had hoped to make more water enroute as we ate food and lightened the boat. (Of course, we had probably taken on an equivalent amount of weight with all the water in our wet, dirty clothes.)
The other big power drain besides making water is using the running lights at night. For eight hours each day we had bright fore and aft lights and instrument lights. Today we considered using just the one anchor light instead of the standard running lights to save power, but we rejected the idea. I prefer running lights because they cast some light on the bow and stern of the boat and the nearby water, giving me some reference points in the pitch black of night at sea. We spent the second half of the voyage chronically short of power.
36° 00.80'N, 66° 52.74'W at noon
396 nm from Wickford, 244 nm to Bermuda
Sailed 88 nm since yesterday.
I woke up to find the boat still pounding through the waves. Almost
as soon as I came completely awake and sat up on my berth I started
feeling seasick--the pounding was really getting to me. I called out
to Ken, who was driving, asking if we could have a half-hour break for
a relaxed breakfast. We hove to, had breakfast, did various chores,
and pumped bilges again.
I took a sighting of the sun. Each sighting, coupled with the time and a celestial table, makes a line of position on a map. Taking sightings at two different times of day gives a position and enabled us to check that the Loran isn't lying. The need for an exact time is easy to satisfy today, with wristwatches synchronized to WWV on the shortwave. But a few hundred years ago, when Europeans started making ocean voyages, a reward was offered to the first person who could build an accurate clock that would work on a ship. Ah, technology!
The sextant is a cool instrument. It allows you to measure the angle between two objects very accurately. It has two mirrors that can move relative to each other. One of the mirrors is partially silvered so you can see one object (the horizon) through it, and the other object (the sun or a star) reflected. Both sight paths have lots of filters you can swing into place for looking at the sun under different conditions. By adjusting the angle of the mirrors, you can bring the image of the sun down to the horizon. Although the entire image bounces around as the boat moves, the two images move together, allowing you to line them up very accurately. Experienced users can take sightings accurate to a mile in seconds. Ken and I took minutes for each sighting. The next day Ken reduced his sightings to a position and put us within 10 miles of where the Loran reported us; good enough, this made us happy.
The next day Ken also took our only sighting of an object other than the Sun; he shot Jupiter at sunset. Shooting stars and planets is hard because it has to be dark enough to see the object and bright enough to see the horizon. On Tuesday Ken reduced the sighting and decided he was 4.5 degrees off in his angle. More practice needed.
Chores done, we started sailing again. Every time the bow of the boat went down into a wave, it sent spray flying, often into the face of the crew. Salt crystallized on my face: on my forehead, on my eyebrows, and on the bridge of my nose where my glasses irritated it. The bow of the center hull never went under water. If it had, we would have had a very wet boat. And if one of the men-of-war were washed aboard, it would have been really bad news.
After some experimentation, we discovered that we had to start dinner at 5 pm in order to be done with the evening chores in time to start the first watch at 9 pm. Getting dressed for watch is a chore itself. First come warm clothes, of varying thicknesses depending on the weather, but usually ending with a waterproof layer on the outside. A whistle around the neck, to make it easier to wake up your crewmates if you fall overboard. A bright strobe light strapped to your arm, so they can find you in the dark water. A harness to allow you to tether yourself to the boat so you don't fall overboard in the first place. And finally, a Type 1 offshore life jacket. That's what you wear. Then you have to get other gear to hand: a full water bottle, snacks ("California Bars," mini bread loaves, make great watch snacks; we brought three bags of a dozen each and should have brought even more), powerful flashlight, and handheld compass. (The compass is for taking sightings of other ships to determine if you are on a collision course; if the bearing doesn't change over time, you need to take evasive action. This was never a problem for us.)
34° 18.49'N, 66° 11.69'W at 2:32pm
501 nm from Wickford, 139 nm to Bermuda
Sailed 108 nm since yesterday.
Finally, a warm, sunny, calm day. The weather was a bit too calm, and
we flew the spinnaker all day to try to get more speed. The spinnaker
is a huge triangular sail that flies out in front of the boat in place
of a jib. As is common on many multi-hulls, we weren't using a
spinnaker pole, so neither of the two lower corners attached to any
fixed point. Instead they both flew on lines that went through a
series of pulleys and eventually back to the cockpit on opposite sides
of the boat. Keeping both lines, the sheet and guy, trimmed properly
is tricky. The boat also must be steered on a steady course because
the trim of the spinnaker is very sensitive to the wind angle.
We again covered the sunny deck with wet clothes. The wool and synthetics dry. The cotton clothes do not; any cotton clothing that got worn, got wet and stayed wet for the rest of the trip.
Valerie put a fishing line out trailing from the aft of the boat. I missed her setting this up because I was napping. The next day the line looked like it had been bitten off above the lure. The day after that the line was all tangled and the bait was gone. We never caught anything.
During the heavy sailing over the weekend we had rigged a Cunningham, a line that attaches to the tack of the mainsail (near the boom and mast) and pulls it down and tight. When we weren't using it we left it lying on the deck (still cleated to the mast). It had seemed harmless. Wrong. The free end fell down inside the daggerboard well and fouled on the daggerboard downhaul pulley just under the waterline at the bottom of the well. Impossible to reach and free. Fortunately we could still operate the daggerboard, and we didn't need the Cunningham the rest of the trip. I spent a long time that afternoon trying to free the line, peering into the well with a flashlight and poking at it with various long objects such as the tiller extension. No luck. All I got for my efforts was a very bad sunburn all over my back. It hurt for a week and peeled for weeks after that.
We rigged up a solar shower. This is a plastic bag that holds 6 gallons. It is clear on one side, black on the other. You put seawater in it and lay it on the deck, clear side up. The sun is supposed to warm the water, and it does. The shower was good and hot. You hoist the bag up on a halyard, open an attached nozzle, and shower under it. There is even special sea-water soap, but I'm not sure why. Finally, you wipe yourself down with a small amount of precious fresh water to get the stickiness off. We took turns showering (don't stand up; the wet deck is slippery with bare feet!). It felt very, very nice to be clean again. I went all the way and shaved off my week-old beard.
We should have been in great shape for power, because in addition to the propeller, we had a solar panel. But on this nice sunny day it wasn't working; the problem appeared to be that the connector was very badly corroded.
That night on my watch I heard splashing sounds right near the boat. When I shined the flashlight on them, I found that dolphins were swimming around the boat, about 20 feet away. Delightful!
33° 22.45'N, 65° 37.72'W at 3:26pm (now keeping Atlantic time)
565 nm from Wickford, 77 nm to Bermuda
Sailed 64 nm since yesterday.
The weather was similar to yesterday, only more so. It was very hot
even in the morning, and there was almost no wind. We opened the
pop-top cover on the cabin and put its sun shade on over it. Then I
rigged a sun shade for the cockpit using the mainsail cover.
There was almost no wind, and we estimated we were doing 2-3 knots. Boring. And frustrating. At this point we were only 50 miles away from Bermuda. If we had had decent wind yesterday, we would already be there. We raised the spinnaker again.
Flying the spinnaker is especially tricky when you want to hide behind the ad hoc sun shade and cannot see the sail. We decided we wanted to get every knot we could out of Proton, so we devised the following scheme: One person sat forward on one of the nets in the shadow of the mainsail. From there they could watch the spinnaker and call instructions back to the helmsman in the cockpit. I sat in the cockpit; Ken and Valerie at various times watched the sail. I was sitting on the starboard side, so the compass and guy were both conveniently in front of me. But the sheet was cleated behind me. This meant that I could either pull on it at an awkward angle with no leverage, or turn around, taking my eyes off the compass and losing our course. I solved this problem by running the sheet around a winch, across the cockpit, around another winch, and to a cleat conveniently in front of me. It worked nicely, but having the sheet running across the cockpit was rather in the way.
With this scheme we estimated we were getting 5-6 knots, which made us happy, and it was fun to be actively sailing, too.
We had our first indication that we were getting close--we sighted a Bermuda longtail, a large white seagull-like bird with a single long tail feather as long as its body.
Ken took apart the solar panel connector, and it seemed okay despite the corrosion. The problem turned out to be a fuse, for which we didn't have a spare. Ken worked around it with a kludge that involved having the multimeter in the circuit. It wasn't neat, but we were making power again.
The week before we left was the Marion to Bermuda race. (Marion is near New Bedford, Mass.) Because of this and the Newport-Bermuda race, there is a nice chart showing the path from New England to Bermuda; we had a copy, of course. For the second half of the trip, once or twice a day we would pass a boat heading back from this race. The last two days of the trip we passed returning racers about once an hour. The day before we had spoken to one passing boat and asked them how well their Loran worked near Bermuda. Loran uses land-based radio transmitters on the US coast, so we were pretty far away. The other boat said their Loran stopped being reliable about 50 miles out from Bermuda.
Having good positioning information is important because Bermuda is not only small and easy to miss, but it is also surrounded by dangerous coral reefs if you do find it. We expected to make landfall that night or the next morning, and we wanted our Loran to work. Ken decided to be clever and reprogram our Loran receiver to use stations that would give us the best triangulation and signal strength near Bermuda.
In the evening we discussed how to handle landfall. We got out a whole new set of charts and familiarized ourselves with the location and appearance of lighthouses and buoys. Surrounded by reefs as they are, the Bermudians take navigational aids very seriously. (Bermuda was first settled by an English ship that was shipwrecked on its way to the Virginia colony.) There are lots of aids, and they all have different shapes, colors, and (at night) flashing light patterns.
Ken wanted to be awake and rested for the tricky business of sailing in, so we agreed Valerie would take the middle watch (normally Ken's), and we would wake Ken up if at any time we didn't know where we were relative to the reefs. Because the reefs of Bermuda are on the north and west sides (the sides towards the US), the prudent thing to do is aim to miss the island slightly, sail past it, and come back. We plotted a course that would take us five miles outside the reefs to the east. We thought this the right compromise between being too close for safety and having to sail back too far.
All day long we had been trying to raise Bermuda on the VHF radio without success. We figured after five days of radio silence, people might be starting to be frantic about us. And due to having light winds the last two days, we were two days overdue.
At the end of my watch, at 1 am, everyone woke up and we did a position fix. We were 38 miles out. I looked into the darkness in the direction Bermuda was supposed to be, off the starboard bow . . . and there it was! A faint glow on the horizon, a glow that could only be the lights of civilization reflecting off the sky. We had found Bermuda! Subtle as it was, the sight was thrilling.
We tried again to raise Bermuda, and this time a charmingly British voice answered, "Hello, this is Bermuda Harbour Radio; your signal is very weak." No kidding. When we identified ourselves, he said, "Oh, Proton. There's been some interest in your arrival from the United States." Some interest, indeed. Judy had been calling every authority on the islands asking if anyone had heard from us. She said later that the only reason she didn't ask the Coast Guard to look for us was that she knew that her phone was the number that would get called if we got in trouble and turned on our EPIRB. Bermuda Harbour Radio asked us to call again when we were about an hour out. We signed off, and Ken and I went to sleep.
We were still very low on power and ran the propeller all night. We normally didn't like to do that, because the propeller is one more thing to worry about if conditions change.
St. George's Harbor customs dock, 32° 22.8'N, 64° 40.5'W
Sailed 80 nm since yesterday.
Some time during the night, the islands rose above the horizon,
lighthouses first. I slept through Valerie's announcement of "land
ho!" When I woke up around 8 am and stuck my head out of the cabin,
I saw what we guessed was Fort Victoria spread out in front of us.
Lovely. I put on my last clean change of clothes and went on deck to
We spread the Bermuda Approach chart out on the deck and spent a long time peering through binoculars, taking bearings, and looking at pictures of navigation aids in a book. Finally we identified some landmarks and got our position pinpointed. This task was made harder because our Loran was three miles off, leading us to initially mis-identify some landmarks. Ken let the Loran go back to choosing its own stations, and it was happier, giving us a more accurate reading.
When we were still miles away from any visible land, but very near the reefs according to the charts, we could see surf breaking over the reefs. As we sailed past one fixed light, I looked at the chart. On our side of the light, depth 1000 fathoms. On the other side, five feet. I would not want to do this approach without charts and buoys.
As we approached the channel into St. George's harbor, we were greeted by an impressively bright and large row of buoys guiding us in. The water was a bright green here, reflecting off the sandy bottom.
The cut into the harbor is very narrow. As we passed through it we saw two huge, and I mean huge, cruise ships docked at St. George. Now we understood why harbor radio wanted us to contact them before entering. When one of these cruise ships is going through the cut, there probably isn't room for a canoe alongside, let alone a multi-hull.
We sailed to the customs dock and tied up at 11 am. There were people walking about on shore, and it was very strange. Other human beings. People who weren't part of our little crew. My society expanded beyond the edges of the boat, and the world got much bigger. A customs official came aboard with paperwork for us to fill out. "Unusual boat you've got here," he noted. Thus spake the Bermudian government. Having legally entered the country, we raised our Bermuda courtesy flag and looked for a place to tie up.
A helpful person hanging out at the dock offered to show us possibilities for where we could tie up. Ken went ashore and started to follow him, and nearly fell down. He was walking like a drunk. We had our answer to the question, will we have a bad case of sea legs? I didn't feel as though I was affected, but Valerie said I didn't quite walk in a straight line. What I did notice is that whenever I woke up I felt as though I was at sea. The bed would be rocking, and I would find myself wondering how the person on watch was doing. The rigors and danger of being at sea had become part of me more than I was consciously aware. These effects lasted for six days. Even after I got home, I woke up in my own bed, looked out my window, and thought, how odd that there should be a tree in the middle of the ocean.
Finding a place to tie up turned out to be a problem. After sailing around the harbor twice we found no available berths, and even everyone we asked to raft to refused us. Rafting means tying your boat to the side of a docked boat away from the dock. This means you have to walk across the deck of the other boat to go ashore.
We called Harbor Radio back and asked for help. He didn't have any specific advice, but on our next pass around the harbor, someone came out of the harbormaster's office and said he'd arranged for us to raft to an unoccupied boat. They had found the owner and gotten permission for us. This was only the first of many incidents showing us how nice and friendly people of Bermuda are. Everyone we passed would smile and say hi, even delivery workers unloading trucks on the curb.
We rafted up where instructed, to a German boat near the customs dock. We left a thank you note ("Danke!") and wandered off into town looking for a room and a shower. Later, after a very nice, long, fresh-water shower, I returned to the boat to get something I'd forgotten. There I found out that we had to leave our berth by 9:00 the next morning because a ferry was coming in. Well, I'm glad I happened to wander back. We scouted other places to tie up that evening.
That night I slept in a real, stationary bed, but in my dreams it moved anyway.
The next morning we got up early to move the boat. We wanted to get a
jump on all the other boats that might be looking for berths. And we
wanted to be gone before the boat we were rafted to wanted to move. We
found a very nice spot, even nearer our motel. Valerie stood by the
spot to reserve it, and Ken and I motored Proton around to the spot.
We were by far the smallest boat I saw. Everything else was over 30 feet, and most were over 40 feet. The new berth got a lot of foot traffic. Several times passengers from the cruise ships stopped and gawked. "You crossed the ocean on that?"
Now, when I look back on it, I am amazed to think that I was on a
little boat in the middle of the big, big ocean. But at the time, I
remember just dealing with the small part of the ocean right around
us. I suppose if we had pulled out a whole-ocean chart, plotted our
position on it, and noted that we were in the middle of nowhere, I
would have been amazed. But we never did that.
I spent two days in Bermuda. I had wanted to spend more time, but our sail took longer than expected. Flying back in the airplane, covering in hours what had taken days, I looked out over the water and watched the sailboats below.
Would I do this again? Yes.
How am I different? Well, my sunburn hurts and is peeling. I also have a deep, deep tan. I've learned that I can really sail. I could go anywhere. I could sail across the Atlantic.
What would I do differently next time? I'd be concerned about power. Start with a full tank of water; it's almost like bringing an extra battery. (The new crew did this for the return trip.) Have a larger boat. (I know, everyone with a boat less than 30' long says that.)
During the passage I made a point of remembering the happenings, and I took notes of our voyage the morning of our arrival and while in Bermuda. This account was written from those notes over the next three months.
Finally, this log wouldn't be complete without including the Proton Fight Song, composed by Valerie the day we left. Sing it to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and substitute "New Bedford" for "Bermuda" if you are on the return crew.
Take me out on Proton.
Take me out on the sea.
Beating along on the starboard tack,
I don't care if we never get back!
So it's root, root, root for Proton,
Bermuda bound is our plan!
And it's one, two, three hulls we sail
in our trimaran.
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