12/06/2007, St. George’s Harbour, Bermuda
Chris, Sima, and I made Bermuda at 2:00 a.m. last night! It is wonderful to be in safe harbor again.
Mark Twain said, “Bermuda is paradise . . . but you have to go through hell to get there.” Truer words were perhaps never spoken. We forget in this age of jet travel what it meant for our grandparents to come visit a place like this, or to go back home to Europe or such.
We left Beaufort, NC, on December 1. We figured that the trip would take about five days, and it took four and a half. The weather was very good for making good time, but not so good for comfort. We usually have a tough time our first couple of days at sea, as we are both prone to mal de mer (it sounds so much more distinguished than “seasickness,” doesn’t it? A bit of an aside here, but we had thoughts of installing a camera in the cockpit that takes a photo every five minutes, or hour, or whatever, so that folks could see what we are doing at any given moment. But at any given moment during the first two days we could be getting rid of our lunch over the side of the boat, so opted against that.) The forecast upon leaving called for a low to be passing above us, of the coast of NJ, and gale-force winds of 35-40 knots and 10-12 foot seas starting on our second day. That’s a lot of wind and a lot of sea, and we probably wouldn’t have headed out in that kind of weather but for having Chris aboard. Even with Chris, if the winds and waves were to be against us, we wouldn’t go. But these promised to start out on our beam (across the side of the ship), starting from the south as we travelled west, and then clocking around to SW, W (behind us), and then NW, as the low pressure system passed about 200 miles above us. That’s just what we got. It blew awfully hard (I saw gusts to 49), and the waves did indeed grow to about 13 feet, many of them breaking with great wisps of white water blown across the tops.
Leander handled herself well in these seas. She rises well to meet the waves, and gracefully slides down the face. That said, there still was quite a bit of pounding. From time to time, a wave would break in the cockpit, creating a washing-machine like effect for any and all who happened to be on watch at the time (and for the first couple of days, that was everybody, as no one seemed eager to be done below in the rough weather). When the frontal system associated with the low finally came through in the early evening of December 4, it brought with it sheets and buckets of rain. It was cool – maybe fifty degrees or so – and the cockpit wasn’t a very fun place to be, even with all of our high-tech waterproof gear.
When the low pressure system finally moved away, so did the strong winds. This usually means calmer sailing. But sometimes it doesn’t. And it didn’t this time. The high seas driven by the gale stayed for the rest of our trip. With the wind gone, the ship is less stable, as there is less of a force to keep it on a straight track. So rather than going up and down the waves, Leander goes at them at goofy angles. Add to this mixture the 7 foot waves that came from a completely different direction -the remnants of a low pressure system elsewhere in the Atlantic- and we had in our hands a recipe for a rather uncomfortable ride. By day four, we were mostly over our seasickness, but the ride was still uncomfortable and not enjoyable.
Here’s what I mean. Typically, when one is on watch (meaning responsible for sitting out in the cockpit and watching the ship), here is a strong wind from one direction or another forcing the boat to heel over on one side. As a result, one can simply brace onself against one coming or another, and can get some comfort. When the boat is rocking back and forth, however, one then needs to set up something to provide a brace on both sides. But when the seas are confused and high, as they were on this trip, there is no rhyme or reason to the motion of the boat, and one gets tossed to and fro at the will of the waves. When the waves are the size of a greyhound bus, and the boat is climbing up and over and around and down them, it starts to get a bit annoying, and even aggravating. Simple tasks like boiling water for noodles become major challenges. Getting up in the pre-dawn hours to start a watch, I struggled to get my bib overall pants on, as there was no place where I could sit or brace myself (I was finally able to brace my head against a protruding bolt on one of the portlights, and had a nice little bump on my head to remind me not to do that again!). And sleeping is also a bit of a challenge. We have lee cloths that provide braces in our sea berths as we get tossed back and forth. But when you’re constantly rising and falling ten feet in random directions, there’s not much that can be done to secure comfort.
With that kind of motion, the boat also gets a bit loud, a special challenge for me given that I need almost perfect silence to fall and stay asleep. Good luck with that! The boat is stuffed with canned goods, books, dishes, pots, pans, tools, spare parts, electronic gear, and other things that go bang, clang, and whack in the middle of the night. It helped that we were completely exhausted when sleep shifts came around, but even still I was having problems falling to sleep one night. To help me get there, I visualized being on a Conastoga Wagon travelling west, with all the pots and pans that, according to the movies anyway, banged about as the wagon bounced along the trail. Don’t know why that worked any better than visualizing being on a boat, but it did!
Night watches are exhausting, especially in the first couple of days as we battle seasickness. Chris, with Sima’s help, took one of the watches, and I took the other. I took watches from 17:00 to 20:00, 23:00 to 2:00, and 5:00 to 8:00, and Sima and Chris took from 20:00 to 23:00, 2:00 to 5:00, and 8:00 to 11:00. Waking up at 5:00 a.m., for example, on only 4 or 5 hours sleep, with the wind howling and the boat in a washing machine, was hard to do.
But we made it! And the payoff is wonderful. We’ve checked in at customs, and a short time ago Sima struck the yellow quarantine flag and hoisted the Bermudian colors. We’ll stay here for three weeks or so, with nothing to do but see the sights, do some research on Alexander (my great, great, great grandfather who spent time here in the British Royal Navy back in the early 19th century), and slowly get ready for our next trip. The weather here has been a balmy 70 or so, which means shorts and t-shirts in the day
Our next leg will be ten days down to Tortola in the BVI. The added challenge there is that it will be the first blue water trip that Sima and I take without Chris, Ben, or some other more experienced sailor. But that’s a while away, and there’s lots of relaxing to be down before then.
Some may find this a bit ironic, but we really need this vacation. We realized that we’ve been flat out for several months getting the boat outfitted, getting ourselves prepared, and moving the boat constantly south. It’ll be good to catch our breath.