Wednesday, June 29, 2011


2011 06 28

35 24N
051 48W

Many thanks to my "landslave" and son in law Nick Benner/Penney for all his help in receiving and reposting my blogs. The blog is sent as a regular email via winlink to Nick who then copies the text, accesses our blogsite and posts a new entry on our behalf.

It is somewhat ironic that Nick is doing this. In the beginning he was to have accompanied us as crew on Meredith for the entire crossing. Married to our elder daughter and eldest child Nick hails from Newfoundland, "The "Rock" and offered up as his main sailing credential that he had once sunk a sailboat during a race just south of St. Johns Nfld. Having struck rocks cutting a turn too close he adjudged he could make the finish line in time to earn a show or even a place. The leak beat him.

He was adjudged suitable by us as crew in a test conducted last summer without notice to Nick. Testing a sailor is like testing a man's character. If you want to know what a man is all about don't give a pile of adversity and danger. All you will discover is whether he is brave or dogged. No, if you want to see what a man is truly all about give him money and watch what he does.

So to with a sailor. Do not give a sailor knock down wind and raging seas. You discover only whether he is brave and proof from seasickness. Two important factors but only a partial list of what is required. No, to discover what kind of sailor a man is stick him in the lightest conditions that will power the boat. Sit back and watch.

Nick of course passed the test. He took old Meredith with her worn out genoa and fiddled and fiddled and fiddled till he near drove us mad. But... he got the old girl sailing 3.5 knots in 4.2 knots of wind.

Test passed.

So why is he not on board? Well, you see there was a final test, one not scheduled by us. Nick applied for a new job in a new city before we left. In the usual way of these things there is ample time between application and offer for a quick sail, at least to Bermuda. Naturally in the case instant Nick was offered the job in the interview and was asked to start immediately.

So here he was, looking forward for almost a year to sailing to Europe with us, counting down the days, buying offshore gear and reading all the pilot guides. He could have done the sail to Bermuda but this would have left his wife to set up house in a new city and make all the arrangements by herself.

He, reluctantly very very reluctantly, informed us he could not join us.

So, in passing the final test, the test that assured his place on our boat at any time, he was required to decline the very position he sought.

That is quite a man in our books.

And folks that is irony worthy of O Henry.

Phosphorescent Wake or Florescent

2011 06 28

35 23N
051 32W

We have not seen ship nor sign of humankind for four days.

Today the Budget Committee, sitting in the cockpit doing Sudokus, saw a four foot florescent light tube float by not twenty feet off the beam.

Not that boredom is setting in around here but we have spoken of it now four times.

An abandoned light tube. Oh My God.

Stay Tuned for All the News As It Happens

ps at the end of day ten we have made 700 miles to the good. To make that we have travelled at least 1200, the balance spent dodging threatened gales and such. Maybe we will be there by Christmas.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Day Herb Hilgenberg Did Not Answer

The Day Herb Hilgenberg Did Not Answer

2011 06 25

33 13N
55 01W

Tonight at 2200 zulu Herb Hilgenberg did not answer the radio calls of a half dozen boats.

There was stunned silence on the airwaves.

We all hope Herb recovers soon.

Bob and Connie

Paradise Now - A Report One Week Out of Bermuda

2011 06 26

35 07 N
054 35 W

Running under the big chute for the past day (except last night when "Prudence" dictated we reduce sail) in light winds measuring never more than 8 knots. We making a reliable 5 kts COG.

Weather is sunny and hot and has been since we departed Bermuda last Sunday morning at 6 a.m. local time 0900zulu. Your humble scribe, never a big fan of communist plots such as clothing, has not been draped in fabric since Meredith departed Norfolk a fortnight ago. Except for Bermuda of course where they don't understand such behaviour unless you are French or German.

Seas are calm and have been for the last 36 hours. This is the cruising dream.

During the day we fix the boat, read, eat and sleep. By night we sit and watch. Calmly by now and comfortably. As at this moment it is everything you dream about. Obviously it has not always been nor do we have any expectation it will continue to be.

We enjoy what we have.

PS: And if I can find that darn Prudence I will throw her off the boat without her lifejacket.

Comparing Troubleshooting Methods: Aspergers v. Politics

2011 06 26

"You know, until you woke up I was having a wonderful morning!"

With that pronouncement the Budget Committee slammed the bread pan to the counter and turned away. The bread pan had contained a lovely rounded well risen ball of dough perfect in every way to be baked into the BCs very good bread. I say "had" contained for the drubbing it received at her hands caused the fragile little co2 pockets so nicely trapped amongst the skein of dough to collapse and the nicely rounded ball to become, well, flaccid. Now it lay limp and deflated and glistening in the bottom of the pan looking thoroughly inedible and beyond repair.

"Well, I can fix that in a hurry" was my sleepy reply and I turned and walked the five steps back to the head from which I had just emerged. Clearly I had done something wrong. Strange since all I had done since waking up a few minutes earlier was visit the head and discover that it was plugged. Try as I might the hand pump would not pump. It must have been something I said. Usually I will start the day with "Hey beautiful' or "what are you making. Smells fantastic!" or "Looks like a great day". Today my greeting had been "The bloody head is plugged". Somewhere in there I just knew was the reason for the BCs strange response.

It had been a difficult couple of days. We had discovered two days ago that the fridge was running continuously. Seemed clear to me that the thermostat had malfunctioned and needed replacement but I wanted to run some tests. That of course was just my Asperger's speaking. Like any self respecting male of my generation I am afflicted with a touch of Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. In most of us this "ism" manifests itself as a form of compulsive behaviour - the bug collector who knows everything there is to know about dung beetles, or the stamp collector who has every Disney stamp ever printed by very country ever. My particular compulsion is tracking down the "exact" cause of a problem. It drives me crazy not to understand what is wrong with a system once I find there is an error.

You would think compulsion of this sort might be advantageous in finding the source of trouble. Frequently my efforts run into interference from the Budget Committee who applies a political approach to sorting out problems. It works like this: I like the fridge.  Just because my friend the fridge won't shut off doesn't mean it is broken and I won't let you attack it that way. There is a perfectly good reason for the fridge not to shut off.

In this case it was mentioned to me frequently that the fridge worked very well at anchor so it must be the rocking of the boat that caused the thermostat to stay on. Soon though the problem intensified. I initiated a program of manually controlling the fridge: we would run it one hour out of every three. This was when the real problem began. Because the Link 10 ammeter is installed right at the breaker panel we noticed that when we turned the fridge on there would be a very high intial current draw. Very high. On the order of 40 amps. This was not normal. My pronouncement that there was more wrong with the fridge than I initially feared drew nothing but a "hmmph" from the BC.The current draw grew worse. It got to the point that turning the fridge on caused a huge fluctuationg current draw running to 80 amps then 125 amps then 250 then 350 and maxing out at 427. This was bizarre and dangerous. It also made no sense. The fridge was fused at 20 amps which should have burned out if we ran 427 amps through it. The fuse did not burn through.Yet the batteries confirmed the amp draw. 427 amps draws down your voltage very quickly and the batteries were depleted in minutes during one of the current draw phenomenon.

Sitting that evening listening to Herb Hilgenberg the BC lit up. "Did you see that!" she shouted. "When you hit the [tune] button on the SSB the current draw went way up". She continued "It must be the SSB. And you are blaming the fridge". You see I was in trouble.

That I tore the electrical system apart. Every separate system was tested then every separate current using device. I could not find the problem.

In the middle of the effort the BC called from the cockpit "Benner the staysail is broken." Up I climbed from the engine room, a polite noun describing a box with enough room for a diesel and almost enough room for an arm to work on said diesel, and to the bow I went. The staysail traveller had swung across the track and broken the end stop. The stop didn't and ended up somewhere in Neptune's living room. The boom was flailing wildly in the wind its pinioned end no longer pinioned. It was wrestled to the deck and tied down. I returned to the engine room and my electrical investigation.

Opening the engine room door I noted a drip from the raw water cooling pump. I grabbed a readily available screwdriver and tested one of the bolts holding the cover on the pump. The head of the bolt fell off. Flush with the pump housing. Now I would have a major leak but first I had to find the electrical problem. First stop the boat from burning down, then stop the leak that will sink us.

After a full night of fruitless investigation I grabbed a couple hours sleep and it was from this that I awoke to greet my wife with news of her fourth major system failure.

Cut to the chase:

The electrical problem was with a bad ground connection due to a badly manufactured lug on the end of some big (2/0) wire. The coating had corroded and started to heat up as current crossed it. The SSB draws a lot of current and so caused a lot of heat, so much heat that the lug melted, welded itself to the post it was connected to and the stainless steel washer and nut holding on. Then the heat had melted through the post and it had come loose. As the loose post vibrated against the electical buss it caused more and more arcing and heat build up. Had we not found it the ground connection could very well have generated enough heat to cause a fire.

The fridge drew enough current to set off the bad connection. In fact the fridge was an early warning system that alerted us to the whole problem.

The staysail traveller has been jury rigged to work fairly well.The raw water pump was repaired when I was able to back out the bolt from behind, then cut a line in the end of the bolt big enough to insert a screwdriver which I then used to unscrew the bolt from the pump housing. Pure luck had an exact replacement in my "junk box" spare parts bin.

The head was not totally plugged. Some judicious work with the plunger and I was able to free the obstruction. Half an hour of pumping made sure the obstruction was out of the system and the BC hit it with a gallon of vinegar to try to forestall failure until we reach civilization.

The bread rose again and fed us quite nicely for two days.

I am in remedial classes on how to greet my wife in the morning.

The thermostat on the fridge has started to work again.


2011 06 25

33 40N
055 20 W

With the cruising chute up we find ourselves lounging in a somnolent cockpit while light air drives us along at at a restful two knots. Except for the piercing sunlight the cockpit resembles nothing so much as a good old heroin den, we the denizens. Wind is somewhere between 2 and 3.5 knots, direction irrelevant.

About four days ago we made a serious error of judgement and ran south from what we feared would be serious winds. One commentator had referred repeatedly to "gale force" in describing the situation. As so often happens the meek don't inherit the earth they just suck all the life out of it. On the second day of the "gale" the area under threat was in fact reformed as a "high pressure ridge" which is death to a sailor. No wind, no way through or across it.

Last night we took a gamble and motored in an attempt to move sufficiently north to gain some ten knot winds forecast by the GFS grib data. At the outset we agreed to commit 15% of our fuel reserves to this effort. We failed. It seems it will be Tuesday before the winds pick up from their current tragic levels. We will use the time to rest, to effect more boat repairs and complete some unfinished reading.

There is irony here, running south to avoid high winds only to find yourself running north in search of them.

Not all irony is found amusing by the ironer.

Do You Speak Swahili on Board as Well?

2011 06 21

Here is what we have learned so far.

AIS Receiver - Five Stars

Replacing our VHF radio with a similar radio with AIS receiver capability was a stroke of brilliance. We purchased a Standard Horizon Matrix AIS + GFX2150. This model was reasonably priced at $350 US. It requires no changes to your VHF wiring or wiring in of antenna sharing devices. Just remove the old radio and plug in the new. You must provide a GPS feed to any AIS receiver for it to be able to interpret and display information but this is easy done with any handheld GPS or your chartplotter if you use one.

If you are coastal cruising the AIS would be even more effective for night passages.

Big Ocean Going Boats do Not Always Display Their Lights.

You cannot see these behemoths in the dark when they are dark as well. The AIS takes care of this. Lasts night the Budget Committee was alerted to a passing "dead" ship which closed to less than four miles. She never saw a thing. One wonders why a ship showing no navigation lights powers its AIS transponder.

Chartplotter & Instruments - Mostly off.

They take too much power. Our new radio, with GPS wired into it, gives us lat and lon, zulu time and if needed a bearing to the next  waypoint. We have never needed it. Chartplotter on when near shore.

Time - Zulu All the Way (but no swahili)

All radio broadcast schedules are in zulu or GMT time. We have zulu, local, home and children's time zones to contend with. Clocks are set to zulu on board - we both agreed this was so much easier. Conversions are made from one single reference point. Very Cool.

The Log - Amazingly Valuable

When coastal cruising most of us forgo keeping a log. For our transoceanic adventure we purchased a separate log and are keeping it  fastidiously. I love it. At a glance you see your progress, the barometer, the wind shifts. Maintaining timely entries also gives you something to do.

Stores - You will have lots Cause Nobody Has an Appetite

If you have provisioned for a typical three month trip to the Caribbean you just do the same thing for the Atlantic. Then you have way too much food, as if there is ever any such thing. For the first 10 days we have not touched much meat - two pounds of sausage between the two of us. We live just now on pancakes, rice  and beans and my favourite: Kraft Cheesewhiz on bread. Our stomachs have not developed a sufficient tolerance for the motion of the boat to make food much of an issue.

Water - We have lots of this too. Conserve. Conserve. Conserve.

From Norfolk to and including Bermuda we used 4.4 us gallons of water a day. We were not profligate with our water use but once in Bermuda neither did we stint. Meredith carries 150 us gallons so we have all the water we need for a 21 day crossing with a 100 percent allowance.

Weather - Grib Files are Amazing - Even When They are Wrong

One of the joys of SSB is being able to download Grib weather files via Saildocs. A few cruisers with ability in radio and computers have set up a network of radio sites around the world which can be accessed by any boat with a SSB radio. There is a separate network for ham operators - those guys who have their ham licence and access to more frequencies. Using your radio you can get weather forecasts for up to 7 days ahead broken down into 6 hour interval on spacing as tight as 0.5 degree by 0.5 degree. We use them on Meredith but always look for enhancements to the data from sources like Herb Hilgenberg. Never forget grib files are raw data straight from the computer model and have not been considered by an experienced meteorologist. Still. Fantastic.

Man Its Hot!!

We took clothes for a north Atlantic crossing. You know, gales, icebergs, freezing rain. Now we sail naked to stay cool enough - even in the middle of the night.

We are All Alone Out Here

This is the best part.

Except for the freighter last night we have not seen another vessel - commercial or pleasure. We know a couple of boats that are out there and within 250 miles but this far exceeds VHF range. No one runs their SSB because it uses too much power (2 amps an hour at rest).Since leaving Norfolk we have spoken to no boat by radio.

Software Wins

Open CPN - open source navigation program that displays AIS and GRIB data. Best overall nav programm I have used.UGrib from - For simple downloading and elegant viewing of grib files this is the program. The program needs an internet connection for easy downloads but will display grib data from any source.

Software Losers

OCENS weather software. Expensive, complicated and unreliable. I still cannot get it to work with my satellite phone despite the company assurance that it works. Using it with the SSB is a joke - I can get the files they charge for without charge using saildocs. In addition the company touts its exclusive data compression as a big plus. I use 7 Zip a free open source compression/decompression program to open their files so they do not have exclusive anything - they are selling another man's work as their own. I take a dim view of such things.

Navigation At Sea

2011 06 20

31 17.95N
062 01.37W

Route planning on a transoceanic is a hoot. There are a number of possible ways to get where you are going:

1. Europe is East of here, go that way.

Upside: This is fast, easy to understand and it works.

Downside: People look at you funny when you tell them about your route.

2. The Rhum Line: draw a straight line on a Mercator projection map or even better just crank up the old chartplotter, point and click on your destination and sail away.

Upside: This is easy, you can use any highschool geography textbook to draw your line and if you are rich enough to have a chartplotter and the batteries and generating capacity to run it all day long then you may never have to think about what you are doing.

Downside: You have to be rich enough to afford the chartplotter, generator and batteries.

3. The Great Circle: knowing that the Rhum line is for know nothing dorks you buy an expensive great circle chart which looks really weird but allows you to draw a straight line that is instantly translated into the shortest real world distance between two points on a globe.

Upside: People look at you like you are very cool when you are at the club explaining how you routed the trip.

Downside: Great circle charts are hellish expensive. On a trip of 1,000 miles the distance saved using the great circle method is about 20 yards (give or take), because the great circle route is not a straight line you have to break up your trip into small segments with waypoints, find the lat and long for each waypoint on the great circle chart nand then enter them in your chartplotter, and if you already have a chartplotter so why are you wasting your time. Do it like the rich stupid people.

4. Bob and Connie's Method: buy an expensive chartplotter, generator, battery bank, buy an expensive great circle chart, raise your sails and figure out that you can only sail one direction anyway - some version of east - and that you will have to sail east until you hit the far shore and then work out the details. Call it the expensive Number 1 option.

Upside: It is practical

Downside: It is hard on your ego and your pocketbook

5. The Herb Hilgenberg method: Call up Herb Hilgenberg, find out how bad the weather is on your planned route, divert south a hundred miles or so and wonder how the heck you are going to get to Europe by sailing south from Bermuda.

Upside: we are waiting to see. If there is one we will let you know.

Downside: There is a lemming problem here. If I am going to end my life broken and bleeding at the bottom of a cliff I want it to be because I walked up to the cliff, looked over the edge and declared to the world "I think it is a great idea to jump off this cliff. Anybody want to watch" after which I jump. My decision. Not for me the death of all those other lemmings who leap from the cliff's edge because somebody told them to. This lemming will jump to his own death.

Here is how this line of thinking came about:

We left Bermuda at 0000 local time, 0900z on the 19th. From the grib files preceding departure for 36 hours we should have found ourselves in a pleasant ENE run in light winds for about 3 days. A low pressure cell was to intrude into the more northern bit of ocean but by making more east than north We could avoid it handily and use its winds to power a run to 38 degrees North latitude.

Setting off we found it more comfortable to sail more east than anything. Good thing.

At 2000z we logged in to llisten to Herb Hilgenberg who advised of a line from 32N 60W to 35N 55W North of which he saw nothing but gales. At the time we were at about 32 35 N. We angled south.

At 2200z we actually began a correspondence with Herb and were logged in as one of his sheep. He advised us things had intensified and we could expect sustained winds to 30 knots tomorrow and as high as 40 knots by Thursday. He advised we make for 31 N and calmer air. We agreed.

Immediately the wind built to 22 knots and there it has sat all night. Conditions are vigorous as we run on a course vaguely 150 degrees true to get well south of 32N by break of day. We have just crossed into 31 59N territory so it looks like we will avoid the worst of it.

We both hate vigorous sailing, especially at night. The alternatives are a lot worse.

Bob and Connie

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the Switzerland of the Atlantic

20116 17
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda

Meredith is just above the a in above.

Here we sit waiting for sufficiently strong winds to be able to sail out of Bermuda.  After five days we have had all the Bermuda we can handle.

So what is the scoop?

Connie engages in the national sport: shopping

British Heritage is Ubiquitious
Well, this is a beautiful island country.  Measuring only 20 or so miles long and 15 wide and consisting of 180 islands it is not terribly imposing.  What there is is unparalleled.

It is clean, civilized, its people friendly well dressed and well fed, the houses well kept, the transportation system efficient and very inexpensive.  The government runs well and society seems well integrated and at peace.

This Ship is Moored in Downtown Hamilton
And that my friends is what is wrong:  this is an island which makes its living on tourism and banking.  Especially  banking.  Basically the locals make a decent living working restaurants, hotels and shops.  The new people as they are called make their fortunes banking.

So this almost a paradise has all the charm of a banking nation.  Clean, precise, ordered.

What's the point?  

Diesel is $1.90 a litre at the cheap station, $2.17 at the dear one.  Food is maybe 25% more expensive than back home but not on everything.  Liquor is dear by any comparison  except Canada.  Restaurant meals cannot be afforded by middle class people (two eggs and bacon,  no sides $7 at the greasy spoon).

Make no mistake we would like to live here when we are old and retired.  It seems a perfect place.  

Need I say more?

Welcome to The Switzerland of the Atlantic

2011 06 17
St Georges Harbour, Bermuda

Approaching Bermuda but still out of range after 3 days of nothing but seascape, you are immediately comforted when the radio sparks up with the disembodied voice of Bermuda Radio.  The broadcaster becomes an instant friend.  

Broadcasting on channels 16 & 27 VHF from an antenna built on top of the island's hill we could hear the reassuring tones of the very British radioman from 250 miles out.

On channel 27 we got local weather for Bermuda, hurricane updates and entertainment by way of the clearing in conversation with yachts wishing to enter Bermudan waters.  Before you get close to Bermuda, Bermuda Radio has you located and tracked.  If you have not called in by miles offshore they call you.  And then they grill you.

They grill you even if you call in as we did.  They wanted boat registration number, number and type of radios (DSC, AIS, VHF, SSB), the phone number for our satellite phone, the maker of our liferaft, maker and registration number of both of our EPIRBS.  "Was the cove stripe on your boat dark green or light green or forest green.  What shade of green is it Sir?" inquired the firm but polite representative of Bermudan sovereignty.

Our call to Bermuda came 45 miles out as we headed South east into building wind (and wave) so we could round the southern tip of the Bermudan island chain and run up the safer eastern shore to St. Georges which is located inconveniently at the North East end of things.  Bermuda is surrounded on the west and north shores by as much as 30 miles of ugly, sharp, shallow rocks and coral reefs and the derelict hulls of ships that chose not to take the coward's way in (like we did).

Meredithwas running hard to get to protected waters ahead of a forecast low pressure area and it was a close finish.  We came on the southern tip of the island about midnight in heavy seas and 25 knots of wind on the nose.  That only lasted an hour and we were able to turn North east and run with the wind for the final two hours. 

About 2 am we called Bermuda Radio.  Just off St. David's light and two miles out of the cut we needed final clearance to enter the harbour.  It was forthcoming as was a reminder that we needed to report immediately to customs before anchoring. 

So here we were: no sleep for far too long, coming into a strange harbour, winds about 20, waves 4 to 6 off the beam, and a key hole entry to make.

Easy peasy.  The BC and I gulped another Red Bull and sailed for the lights.  That was red on the right, right?

Turned out the cut was just as easy to negotiate as the RAC Crossing Guide said it would be.  Piece of cake.

If only finding Customs was as easy.  It is 2 am and it is dark and I am thinking in fragments of single syllable words, more grunts than words actually.  The BC is sitting resolutely in the cockpit staring straight ahead.  Madame Tussaud could not produce a more lifelike image of a living person. But it was all a fake.

We had to get to the North East corner of Ordinance Island, as instructed by Bermuda Radio referred to us by now as "Oz".

The helm on Meredith was increasingly sluggish, or maybe it was me that was increasingly sluggish.  Slowly we turned to Ordinance Island circling like one of a school of sharks.  Despite herculean effort we could not find anything remotely resembling a Customs office.

I hit on on a sure fire solution.  Once again I circled and we came at Ordinance Island on a direct compass course of NE.  If I was aiming NE I had to hit NE, right?  Right?  Wrong.

As Oz explained to us, when we finally called him in total frustration, if our compass was pointing NE then we were actually looking at the SE corner. 

Oh.  Damn.  I knew that.

We cleared with the very polite and understanding Customs men, whom we had rousted out of the bed at 3:00 in the morning, headed for the anchorage which was several square miles in area and had no boats in it.  Gravity being almost foolproof we managed to drop the anchor.  Two stiff drinks later we hit the V berth in buffeting winds and growing wavelets.  It was going to be a long night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Finding Bermuda - The Passage

June 15, 2011
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda

If you have done an overnight sailing passage of three days or more there is nothing I have to say to you here.  A five day passage is just the same, only it is two days longer.

If you have not done a three day passage there is nothing I have to say to you here.  You are just going to have to do a three day passage and find out.

We anticipated gentle following winds.  We started with 20 to 25 off the starboard bow. That lasted for the first two days.  The boat sails in both types of wind, it just sails more comfortably with wind aft of the beam.  If you are going to sail from here to there you have to sail what you got.  

After two days of being thrown around the boat by incessant pounding of waves just off the starboard bow you get a bit testy.  This is more so if you are large and clumsy like your humble scribe.

You cannot move easily anywhere on the boat.  You have to sleep in the port settee so as to prevent falling off.  You have bruises.

It was hot and humid and salt water got into everything.  

It was glorious.  Our windvane which had lain fallow lo these many years decided to work.  Of course first we lubed every bearing and faired and tightened every line.  And we worked hard at balancing the sails.  It worked.  Finally and reliably and reproducably.  

We spent a day working on the SSB wiring and groundplane and that device decided, after a ten furlough, to return to stellar duty.  We emailed and downloaded grib files just to allay the boredom.

We listened to Herb Hilgenberg, whose unique service we will try to enlist when we leave Bermuda.

We read, we did Sudokus, we played computer games, we cleaned and put stuff away and sat looking at the horizon.

We did not get bored.

W did not eat except for the blandest of foods and little of that.  We discovered Krusteaz pancake mix which nourished us through several days and which we continue to have each morning.  Oatmeal was another staple.

Three days into the voyage we realized a low pressure cell was moving in on us and might envelope us before we made Bermuda.  Our first warning was not the grib files or Herb Hilgenberg.  It was the warm front developing right over our heads.  The progression from cirrus to cumulous to stratus played out in the heavens as we sat mesmerized.  Warm fronts take a long time to move in out in the ocean.

About two hundred miles off the island we began to pick up weather broadcasts from Bermuda Radio.  Our concern over possible storm was born out although conditions were not looking to be threatening.

By day 4 the winds had died and the sails were flapping.  With a storm approaching we turned to the diesel.  Twenty four hours later the wind had picked up - right on our nose and we were pounding into wind and waves trying to make the refuge at St. Georges Harbour before things blew up.

We almost made it.  

About midnight on the fifth day out of Hampton Roads we rounded the southern tip of Bermuda as the wind hit 20 knots and a little bit more.  This was ok because rounding the southern tip of the island we then had to make 16 miles, all of it northbound.  Wind at our backs we flew up the east coast and made our entrance.

More on that next time.

God Watches Over the Watch Standers

June 15, 2011
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda

If it had not been for the Tennessee Moonshine runner things might have been better.

Not that they wanted a scene.  Not for them the 1930s crowd of well wishers standing on the pier waving as their friends and family boarded and embarked on the massive ocean going cruise ship. 

Still, as things developed it was a bit tawdry, even mean spirited. 

As they cast off from their dock in Hampton Roads there was no one there.  Not even dock staff could be bothered casting off lines for them, it being too hot in the Hampton Road noonhour for anyone to do anything. 

The only witness to the beginning of their "adventure of a lifetime" was a well preserved Tennessee farmer, sitting, beer in hand, on the rear deck of his Sundancer 370 where he had been sitting like Clint Eastwood in El Camino, since sunup.

"Do you know how far it is to Azores?" he slurred as they backed out of the slip.  "You can still change your mind."

With that they slid their boat into the dirty piss warm water of the Hampton River.  Immediately the skipper steered his precious vessel directly into an immobile object scraping the teak on one side. 

The value of having no observers was made apparent:  No one saw the impact.  Only ego was destroyed and a bit of teak.  Both repairable.

It was, as they say, an ignominious beginning.

The act of steering their vessel into the waters of the Elizabeth River thence to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean capped a week of soul damaging consumerism as the crew of two prepared themselves and their tiny plastic boat to leave safety of land and brave the North Atlantic Ocean. 

Not ordinarily religious the pair had acquired talismans against evil spirits: A special radio was purchased to warn  of and  protect from  ocean going freighteers - half million tonne leviathons that lurked unseen waiting to pounce on them and send their vessel in splinters to the bottom consigning them to the briny deep.  As if two pounds of plastic were proof against 100,000 gross tonnes of steel and oil moving at 20 knots.  It was a religious experience: long on faith and hope and short on practical value.

Even they realized the folly of looking for some machine to do for them the jobs they feared they might not do well themselves.  If only it could be that simple: a radio to warn them, a motorized winch to pull lines when the effort overwhelmed them. 

They were filled with self doubt and insecurity and sought to allay their concerns on the altar of technology.  In this approach lay sure failure. Whatever came, they knew deep down, would be a test of them not their possessions. 

Once in Chesapeake Bay, only a few miles from the dock, they raised sail, anxious to experience again what it was they were about, to feel the wonder and mystery of a vessel moving silently on the breeze.  As they bent on the main one of the mainsail battens, a fiberglass rod that helps the sail maintain its shape, popped out of its vecro pocket and flew straight as an arrow some fifty feet out into the fifty foot water of the Bay.  Staring aft at the uncommunicative waters of the Chesapeake Bay he commented "Well, now we have a partially battened main".

Sail up, their plastic hull softly schlussing through light waves, they experienced tranquility so long missing from their hectic lives. 

Under the spell of the sea they began to talk to one other, something they had not had much of a chance to do in the past month as they each raced to prepare themselves for their quest. 

He voiced his concerns, not for safety of the ship or his wife, but of his ability to do the work they might face, to withstand the physical pounding of it all.  At the onset of late middle age he feared not being able to execute the jobs that would be required of him. 

She expressed her frustration at having worked so hard and still feeling so unprepared, as if there could never be a point where she would feel ready to do what they were about.  She was concerned that she could not work all the electronic stuff on the boat and that she might need to someday for both their sakes.

They realized that they had already crossed several Atlantics: a well of self doubt as wide and deep as any part of the ocean, a growing gap between them and some of their friends  whom seemed to resent their going, separation from family. 

It might prove that the body of water which they were to cross was the least demanding of all the Atlantics they would have to cross to get where they were going.

For an hour they sat together just enjoying each other's company.  Uncertain they were but also happy to be where they were, with each other in the embrace of the salty, building seas.

Then the wind rose to 25 knots and they got to work.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And So.... We Are Away

June 7, 2011

Interlude Interrupted.  We Are Outward Bound 

Today about noon Meredith sets sail from Hampton Roads bound for Bermuda.   This with pleasure.  Too much preparation can kill a journey and we are at the tipping point.  Action is the call.

Temperature on our arrival in Norfolk last Thursday was 98 degrees F and daytime temps have not dropped below 90 since then.  Our boat, stored during our absence on a gravel lot was covered in a patina of grit deposited in the dust bowl meteorology of the heat wave that grips and plagues the town of Chesapeake VA (not to be confused with Chesapeake City VA perish the thought).

First step on hitting the gournd was to inspect the work we commissioned at the yard.  Half the job was well done.  Bottom sanding was very well done and worth the money we invested.  

 On this I know some boaters insist you should do everything yourself and look down on those of us who have others perform tasks on our boat.  To these expressive individuals I say "blow it out your pie hole you pompous asses".  It is one thing to know how to do all the tasks on your boat and to be able to do them if required.  

Only an idiot thinks he does every task well.  When we have jobs that need doing and there are trained professionals available at reasonable cost we have no hesitation at all in having work done on our behalf.

Some work however was very poorly done and I am going to have to redo work for which we paid far too much (any price for bad work being far too much).  Another pot of epoxy will solve most of the issues. 

To avoid the heat we  launched from Chesapeake Yachts and moved a mile and a half to the dismal swamp where we tied up at Deep Creek Lock in a lovely treed park close to groceries and auto parts stores.  

A car was rented.

The Budget Committee provisioned the boat in a day and a half.  Installation of the new AIS radio and reinstallation of the SSB took about a day.  We then spent a day running around in an airconditioned Hyundai rental car picking up last minute items like a p/a horn for the new radio, a carbon monoxide detector and GCFI receptacles required by the survey and a pair of old fashioned rubber boots for those stormy days on the ocean.

 Supplies laid in we sailed up the Elizabeth River to Hampton Roads for the night.  Enroute we passed a destroyer and a diesel submarine both coming in after a lengthy time at sea, the submariners all standing on deck breathing fresh air in friendly waters.

We rose early.  BC took off for the laundry, I filled the fresh water tanks, we checked the forecast and are now leaving.

More from Bermuda.