Halifax to Bermuda

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheshire Cat and crew ready to sail on the high seas for the first time

On October 29th we were finally given a very small weather window by Herb – just as well as it was beginning to get very cold and there was frost on the decks. We were very happy to leave. This was the moment of truth - we were going to sail in the real ocean - the North Atlantic. In clear skies and sunshine we motored up the calm waters of the West Arm. All three of us were in high spirits, full of anticipation for our first voyage. But as we left the shelter of land we found ourselves bouncing around in 35 knots of wind - much too much wind for our comfort! The seas were pretty huge as well. Poor Nick was hanging over the rail in minutes! Heave ho….. It was at least three days before he felt better, and was really able to take his turn with boat work.

Nick at the wheel, mostly recovered

Out in the open sea we had a terrific struggle trying to adjust our wind vane to hold a steady course, with the wind coming over our starboard quarter. We got so fed up we reverted to using the electric steering system, our Otto (the Auto helm 4000), which kept us going in the right direction but complained loudly all the while.
Early in the night we saw what appeared to us to be an enormous cruise ship quite near, on our port side seemingly on a course to close for comfort. I called them on the radio to see if they could see us. When they replied they told us they would alter course a little so we wouldn't get too close for which we were very thankful - we couldn't have turned around if we had tried in those conditions! As it was we broke some of the sail slides that attach the mainsail to the mast track. We jibed unexpectedly, making the sail whip across the boat with a loud bang. From that point on the mainsail wasn't fully attached to the mast.

We had intended to take three hour shifts whilst at sea, but it all got a bit messed up when Nick was ill, and we had more bad weather than any of us had ever experienced before. We were all very anxious - this wasn't at all like sailing in the Great Lakes!

When waves came into the cockpit the water came up to our knees - we frantically bailed it out as best we could using buckets. Later I discovered I had lost my lovely Tim Horton's thermal coffee mug to Neptune. We were cold and wet and becoming very miserable! Luckily we had lots of wood fuel for our little wall mounted fire and we were able to get warm when we were down in the cabin. All our wet socks and gloves went up the side of the mast to dry beside the fire and we searched for extra pairs gloves and long pants and sweaters. It seemed that everything we had was soaked with salt water.

Improvised drying tree on the mast

Listening to Herb for our weather report next day we discovered that there was another boat called Pearl 1 somewhere in the same area, suffering the same sort of weather. From then on we got a certain amount of comfort knowing that we weren't absolutely alone in this heaving ocean. We talked to them occasionally on the radio, and knew that they were having a pretty wretched time as well. Later we found out that they were both seasick for the first few days. At one time we were near enough to see the lights on their boat for a few hours. A very comforting sight – for both boats!

Eventually everything calmed down - and although it seemed longer the storm only lasted into the following day. We were on course making good time southwards towards Gulf Stream and warmer waters. It was still cold, and we spent a lot of time drying everything out, but at least we had time to sort ourselves out, sleep and take the opportunity to have a decent meal.

We knew we were heading into the warmer water of the Gulf Stream when we saw the water temperature on our instruments go up from 45 degrees to 74 degrees. It was great to know that we were soon going to be warm as it was still very cool where we were. The fire was nice, but fluctuating wind angles made for lots of smoke inside and even worse - a fine coating of soot everywhere! But we were content to be in calmer seas and even settled down enough to enjoy glass of wine with dinner that night.

Just our luck - another storm coming our way, forecast 40 knots plus! This time we knew we had it coming - Herb had warned us and gave us directions to follow a route where he thought the weather would be kindest to us. But once again - we were pounded by the seas and strong winds. By now Mike had set up the self steering wind vane - which meant that we no longer had to steer by hand and when we were on watch we were able to shelter under the canvas dodger in the cockpit instead of getting a salt water bath behind the steering wheel.

Rain came and we had a little light headed fun

Darkness fell and somehow the jib lines got tangled and Mike had to spend a long time up at the front of the boat getting them untangled. He was plunging and pitching on the forepeak for what seemed like a very long time and came back soaked through and very tired.
As the night progressed, so did the weather deteriorate. Below decks we took turns to lie in the one place on the sofa bed where one could relax - sitting anywhere else was a matter of bracing the body against any surface that would support it and even then we were in danger of being thrown to the floor. In fact if you were sitting on the starboard settee you could look through the hatch window in the roof and watch the tall 20 ft waves roll away. We had a tiny slip of jib out so the boat was moving along very slowly, but we were weathering the seas quite comfortably really.
All we poor frightened souls could do was hold on and wait for it all to pass. Truly - it was a very long night.

Eventually the weather cleared - and once again we dried what we could and settled down for the last couple of days’ run into Bermuda. We were in a real hurry now - Herb had told us to put all sail up and get going as fast as we could - if we wanted to avoid another even stronger gale coming down to catch us! Nobody on board was very keen to go through any more weather, so we did as we were told and raced for the safety of the Island of Bermuda - a tiny speck of land somewhere over the horizon.

I was in the galley getting something for us to eat when Mike yelled from the cockpit. Nick went up to find out what was happening. He turned to me, suddenly ashen faced - "He's bleeding!" "He's what?" I couldn't believe what I'd heard. "Mike's bleeding - his hand is covered in blood." We were up the steps and out to see what had happened in a flash. Mike had tried to stop the wind generator turning because it had suddenly gone into an overspeed condition (it had overheated and stopped generating power). When he turned the blades to stop the motion he reached up to loop a line over the blades. The wind caught the blades again and they suddenly started rotating, catching his hand. Blood was gushing and Mike was in shock. Bandages, a hot drink and into bed was the order. We hoped he hadn't broken any bones, but later when we cleaned everything up we found that Mike had just missed slicing his thumb and first finger off - as it was his hand was bruised and swollen and the wound was ugly and probably needed stitching. By the time we reached Bermuda it was starting to heal but it was stayed very painful for a long time.

Forty winks in the cockpit

At some stage we discovered that the freezer had stopped freezing - and we were about to lose all the food in it. Luckily I had a pressure cooker on board and so I spent several hours 'canning' the meat. It was hot and tedious work in the rolling boat, but we saved everything - and I had the extra bonus of a full night's sleep when Mike and Nick took my turn, in compensation for working most of the day!

Even though we had made a big effort to reach Bermuda quickly, trying to avoid the next bad storm, we found ourselves trailing about four hours behind Pearl 1. Bermuda Harbour Radio - called up to identify us, and said they would help us into St George's Bay if we needed to get in that night. The alternative was to 'heave to' for several hours and go in next morning. Needless to say we decided to keep going.
We knew there were several other boats heading in the same direction - they obviously knew about the approaching bad weather as well - in fact as we were told on the radio - it was a bit like Piccadilly Circus with all the boat traffic going in! Everyone says that Bermuda is a tricky place to get into and advise never to enter at night - here we were making yet another landfall in darkness. This time we were lucky and were able to follow another much larger yacht through the narrow cut into the shelter of the bay.

Once we were inside the lagoon our VHF radio got really busy - friends and even a few complete strangers who had already arrived and who had been listening to our progress on the radio called us on the radio to congratulate us on our arrival. At the Custom's dock we threw our lines to Itza Purla and China Moon - friends we hadn't seen since we all left Toronto.

What a glorious feeling, safe harbour, friendly faces to greet us and well wishers around us!
When Mike jumped ashore - he kissed the ground! No wonder - it had been an overly exciting little voyage for a crew who had never been to sea before!