Friday, June 17, 2011

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.

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