Bermuda or Bust (part II)

Copyright 1990, Jack G. Ganssle

Return to Bermuda

10 days later Cathy, Graham, and I returned to Bermuda. As a burned out business traveler with the better part of a half million air miles, flying is just one more aggravation, a nuisance I put up with to build a business. Not so the wide-eyed wonder of youth! For Graham, the flight was as much as an adventure as our sail. Three year olds are fascinated with airplanes, and we had promoted this excitement for several weeks. For, to Graham, this was his first flight. First in memory only, since he started flying before his first birthday, but he no longer remembers these trips.

We managed to get him a window seat. Unfortunately, I was separated from Graham and Cathy, and was seated next to a screaming toddler. The woman next to Cathy graciously, and I thought very bravely, offered to swap seats so we could be together. Who could refuse?

Sometimes it seems the sailing is simpler than the logistics involved in traveling back and forth to the boat. Amber was at anchor in St. Georges, but the dingy was ashore at the yacht club on the other side of the harbor. The row, to windward, would be very slow and very wet. I left Cathy and Graham in the town of St. George, while I continued in the taxi to the yacht club. I rowed out and was relieved to find Amber in very good shape. I hate leaving a boat unattended at anchor, despite having done so many times in the past. I'm always terrified I'll find the worst, and in my anxiety manage to convince myself that this time, for sure, we'll have to make a huge insurance claim. No matter how reliable the yacht is there is no protection against intoxicated joyriders and malicious teenagers.

A local resident had warned us to stow everything we could below, so while Amber was in good shape the cabin was full of empty jerry jugs, the liferaft, sails, and other cruising paraphernalia. I straightened out the mess, replaced the outboard's condenser, and then rescued my abandoned crew.

That evening Bob from the sloop Myfida came by. He and his girlfriend sailed over from Annapolis on his 25 foot wood sloop. Bob is English, but has been living in the States for a while. It's always fun to chat with a real wood boat expert - it gets old explaining to the glass crowd what a floor or garboard is. We had a rather spirited discussion of the intricacies of refastening and the relative merits of mahogany versus teak.

The day dawned bright and clear, as did every day we were there. Bermuda was designed for tourists. Even the rain behaves - we never saw rain during the day. Some powerful influence seemed to keep the days nice, the evenings starry bright, and the rain confined to late night barely-noticed showers.

We went ashore determined to find a beach. Our maps suggested a place on the island's northeast corner, so we packed our gear and hiked all the way across the country. Even with a three year old this was no more than a 20 minute walk.

Near Fort St. Catherine we expected to find a beach. Instead, we discovered a beautiful sea-carved grotto several hundred yards across. Huge projecting coral formations sheltered a tranquil, sandy bay from the sea. The sand must have been recently formed, being of rather large granules and not the fine, sugary variety so common on continental coasts. Near the coral we found the sand makers - parrotfish munching on coral, patiently converting hundred meter square coral rocks to sand with their bird-like beaks. Underwater we could hear the parrotfish munching like bad-mannered diners.

Graham loves visiting beaches. I enjoy showing him the life forms busily engaged in the work of survival. Here he walked in schools of brightly colored Sergeant Major fish, watched the little hermit crabs scurrying in the rocks, and poked at some peculiar unidentified crustaceans. He was beside himself with excitement.

Motoring back to Amber we broke yet another outboard shear pin - the fourth one this trip. I drilled a hole through the prop and shaft, and inserted a 3/16 stainless bolt. An hour later, on our way to the yacht club for showers, it too failed. The tough row back negated all benefits of the shower. In frustration I ruled that would be no more shear pin failures! I glued the prop to the shaft with 3M 5200, replaced the 3/16 bolt, wrapped stainless wire around the prop hub and shaft, and drove pins (bronze boat nails) parallel to the shaft between it and the prop.

We took a long, slow bus trip to Hamilton. While planning the trip Cathy had been pretty determined to keep Graham off of a moped, but was absolutely adamant after hearing about Bill's accident. The bus, taxis, and walking was really not too bad, but was not nearly so much fun as careening around corners half out of control on two wheels.

Bermuda is such a pretty island. Bermudians are obviously proud of their heritage, and generally keep their property very clean and very well maintained. This is in stark contrast to some Caribbean islands where poverty and ennui discourage even the most determined explorer. At the risk of sounding like the ugly American, in Bermuda the locals understand where their livelihood stems from and appreciate every tourist.

We found Hamilton to be much like any other city - crowded and swamped in tourists, so were happy to leave and return to the slower pace of St. George. Poor Graham was exhausted, so he slept on my lap throughout the bus trip with its innumerable stops.

The dingy ride back to Amber was again an adventure. Although the prop stayed on, the engine ran rougher and rougher until it died. The outboard was becoming something of an epic. Neighboring boats considered taking up a collection for a replacement, and even Graham played with it, pulling the starter cord, mouthing childhood pseudo-obscenities, and "fixing" it all of the time.

I fixed the depth sounder and log. Both instruments needed new front panel switches and replacement rubber boots, but fortunately the internal electronics were in excellent condition.

We returned to the little northern lagoon for more beach time and snorkeling. We shot off a roll of film, hopefully capturing some of the underwater marvels. Fantastic snorkeling! We watched a flounder slither off in the sand under our feet, totally unafraid of our presence. It is illegal to use a speargun in Bermuda, so there seems to be none of the usual fish timidness we're all used to.

It's great fun to swim in the middle of a bus-sized school of fish without seeing them quickly dart off. Like an undersea cowboy I experimented with dividing up a school, waving flippers and swimming violently, creating three separate groups. Within seconds the school reformed its original single mass.

A school of 18 inch Needlefish looked wicked and intimidating. Nearby, a single, fat, 2 foot long Porcupine fish lazed quietly under a rock shelf.

Cathy and I could not identify many of the species we saw. Some, possibly groupers, were as large as Graham. The larger fish stayed near the coral that fringed the lagoon, like the walls of a volcano. I swam around the outermost wall on the ocean side, and several hundred yards later re-entered the lagoon at its furthest end. There, 10 feet underwater I could look through big holes in the coral and see other fish grazing the bottom. The crystal clear water had the clarity of a swimming pool, so looking in the holes was like looking in a tank in the aquarium, except that both the viewer and viewees were swimming in the same medium.

Afterwards, Cathy was anxious for a fresh water shower, so, with the outboard inoperative, we sailed the dingy to the Yacht Club. We dropped her off and Graham and I painstakingly rowed back all the way to St. Georges so he could go back aboard the "Deliverance" replica, his favorite tourist stop. He loved the row, since he could sit by himself and not be held and protected by mom. Even better, it is quiet. He detests the outboard's racket. Rowing that far to weather is just too demanding for this 90 pound weakling. We made it to the dock just before the ship closed. Racing over to it, Graham dying with excitement, and I dying with exhaustion, we arrived 5 minutes before closing. He managed to explore the entire ship and fall down only one set of stairs.

Graham and I went to the White Horse for a cold milk and rum swizzle and watched the fish feeding on table scraps tossed over the side by bored drinkers. The fish were quite large, and all were quite tame. No doubt they faced more danger from cholesterol than sharks. When each french fry landed on the water there was a sudden boiling as if dozens of piranha were attacking the tasty morsel.

We rowed back to Amber, with Graham at the tiller, squinting into the spray and spitting tobacco. Or, so it seemed. It is funny to hear him talking about the yacht club - not a term one expects from a three year old. Are we raising SuperYuppie?

Anne (of Peace) came aboard that evening after Graham went to bed. She made him a Peace Dove of paper. This is apparently practiced in Hiroshima as a votive offering to peace. Anne has tied over 18,000, setting some sort of world record. Graham was out cold, so we hung it from the overhead for him to see in the morning.

Civilization...Ho!

We were to spend a few days in a hotel, giving Cathy and Graham a chance to have some civilized comforts. I called Bermuda Harbour Radio Saturday night and discussed our plans to motor to Castle Harbour. Thank god. The charts are apparently all but worthless, and they suggested that we ignore all of the buoys shown. In Bermuda inland waters are marked by fixed daymarkers with little (and I do mean LITTLE!) arrows on the top pointing to deep water. Some of the arrows point in just the opposite direction you might expect from studying the chart, but it seems the arrows are correct.

First we motored to the Esso dock for fuel and water. 135 liters of diesel (35 gallons) and 30 gallons of water cost $114. Cash only. As an American I expect to be able to charge anything anywhere, so rarely travel with much cash. This, coupled with Bermuda's generally outrageous prices, essentially wiped out our supply of dollars.

We powered up Ferry Reach and thence to Castle Harbor. Despite a lot of shallow water, the markers were pretty accurate and it was an easy run. I can't overstate what a beautiful country this is. In places Ferry Reach parallels the airport, yet even here the water is crystalline blue, the houses are neatly whitewashed, and everywhere there is an explosion of plant life. The sun is so bright, the water so clean, and the land so beautiful it seems almost like paradise.

Motoring up Ferry Reach

The water is shallow. We carried 10 to 15 feet through most of Ferry Reach. Amber needs an honest 6 feet to float. At the end of the Reach we made a left-hand turn towards the causeway. A shoal sticks out pretty far, and the buoy shows deep water in exactly the direction opposite that indicated on the chart. The buoy is right. Passing though the causeway bridge (which, when open, is no more than 20 feet wide) we carried less than 8 feet, with shallow rocks visible only 5 to 10 feet away even when in the center of the channel. The tide runs fast, and the backed up bridge traffic is impatient. We kept our speed up while nervously watching the underwater rocks. Chesapeake-brown water might have been an improvement, at least to our peace of mind.

The Marriott is on the southwest corner of Castle Harbour, perhaps 2 miles from the bridge. The chart shows lots of reefs in this expanse of water, but our route was clear of most of these dangers. Amber was the only vessel in the huge bay, making me think that perhaps some unknown danger lurked nearby. None appeared, but we only saw 2 or 3 other boats in three days here.

100 yards from the hotel's seawall the water is still 30-40 feet deep. I wasn't thrilled about dropping the hook in 40 feet of water, so we tied up to the hotel's mooring, right in front of a swimming pool loaded with guests. Needless to say, we caused a bit of a sensation as we tied up and rowed ashore. For the next few days there was almost always a group (usually men) staring wistfully at Amber and discussing her attributes.

I met with the hotel's manager and discussed our plans. He graciously agreed to let us use the mooring for free during our stay. Free may be a bit of an exaggeration, as the hotel bill did eventually run about $1200. Still, it was fun to be able to swim and use the complex's facilities, and see Amber swinging around, biding her time, waiting for the next voyage.

Our cash all but gone, we took a cab into Hamilton to visit the American Express office. Don't leave home without it. While Carl Mauldin was not on hand to great us, they were courteous and efficient, and quickly restocked our depleted funds.

Rich again, we strolled to the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and unsuccessfully explored the nearby markets for canned butter. We ran across Van Holstein (sounds like a rock group), a sailing friend from the Bay. He raced over in the Newport to Bermuda event as crew. It was fun meeting up with him, and we did have a nice chat. Apparently he reads my Ocean Navigator articles, and like everyone I run into who reads them, wanted to discuss autopilots. Only now, after letters and discussions from readers, do I realize just how little I know about the subject.

We wandered down the docks at the yacht club. Every slip was assigned to a racer. Most boats were being repaired and refitted for the return journey. One boat had been dismasted and seemed abandoned - I guess that would be depressing! Boomerang, a huge maxi and first across the line, departed as we watched. The winner on corrected time was Arcadia. She was also getting ready to leave.

Strolling along the waterfront we ran into Johnny Barnes. The local paper, the "Mid Ocean News", did a story about him that week. He calls himself a "greeter". Every day, rain or shine, he walks around and waves to cars and chats with tourists. His big smile and colorful personality make him somewhat of a local legend. The story in the paper told how a local banker had recently presented him with a new raincoat. Slow news day, I guess. We chatted briefly, and I asked about the new raincoat. Nice guy.

We met Cathy's dental hygiene friend Myrna Outerbridge and husband (who obviously didn't even make enough of an impression that I can remember his name) for a drink before dinner. Myrna is a native Bermudian. She went to DH school with Cathy. She seems like a fun person. Hubby was sullen and withdrawn.

Numerous coastal trips prepared us for it, then sailing across the ocean to Bermuda warmed us up for it, but that evening we embarked on a real adventure. We took Graham out to a fancy restaurant. The Mikado was a Japanese Benihana-style overpriced eatery. The entrance lead to a small arched bridge that crossed a pond, winding up in the restaurant proper. I wished I had brought the camera to capture the image of a geisha leading diminutive Graham by the hand over the bridge and to our table. He was rather amazed to find a stove on the table, and was delighted by the chef's show. Unfortunately, he was particularly enthralled whenever the chef tossed a shrimp in the air and caught it in his hat or shirt pocket. I had visions of food stuck to the ceiling at home...

Today we took a hotel shuttle to a south-side beach. Beautiful! Rimmed by rock formations, the beach itself was sparkling white/pink and the water Bermuda clean. The waves weren't too big because of the offshore reefs. Tiny tar balls floating in the water were the only sign that, yes, man is trashing even this environment.

Of course I went snorkeling, and of course managed to find the only threat in the islands - Portuguese men-of-war. Snorkeling in 15 feet near the western rocks something abruptly went wrong with my starboard ear. I thought at first that a shark bit it off. The pain was searing, intense, and sudden. Somehow I got ashore and stumbled up the beach, only to discover a number of men-of-war washed ashore. Apparently I ran into one's tentacles. My ear and chest were on fire from the stings. We went back to the hotel where I had a beer and spent the afternoon in bed. A most unpleasant experience, but by the next day there was no sign of the stings.

Leaving Bermuda

Today Cathy and Graham went home. I rowed out to the boat to get her underway, every stroke under the supervision of a dozen pot-bellied vacationers. It's somewhat sad to see the wanderlust in envious eyes of those forever shorebound, captured by their own golden chains. Maybe they dream the dream of adventure, perhaps unconsciously living Walter Mitty lives.

Amber slipped her mooring at 1050. I motored up to the seawall to wave good-bye to the family. They were to leave about 1230 for the airport. I headed across Castle Harbour for Ferry Reach, arriving at anchor in St. George about noon. With a lot of work to do before being ready for sea, I immediately started cleaning up and discovered that I had both hotel keys! After a fast row ashore and a quick cab ride to the Marriott, I found Cathy and Graham already gone. At least all was apparently OK.

Alone now, leaving Castle Harbour

Graham had lots of fun on this vacation, and was a never-ending delight to be with. We're always wary of potential three-year-old disaster situations, but he rose above them all. Cathy worked with him to keep a logbook, in which every evening they drew pictures of the day's activities. All three of us enjoyed this.

I purchased provisions, but unfortunately also bought tiny flying insects in the onions. This is, after all, a third world country. I should have known better.

After an afternoon of cleaning things were finally in place. In a way this trip would be a lot easier than the voyage over. With only one person aboard, there was tons of extra stowage space, and no junk stacked up in the berths. I wouldn't even need lee cloths, since I could sleep in the leeward berth.

Bermuda is so small that everyone seems to know everyone else. This must have a profound impact on their culture. No one can afford enemies! In the US we can create waves and animosity, knowing that those we offend we'll likely never run across. Not so here.

Bob of Myfida came by this evening for a beer. Later I returned the visit and met Anne, his girlfriend. Bob knows the Annapolis crowd well, including Dan Pyzel, Andy Teeling, and even Dutch. Some of the stories I told him of our adventures apparently have become Annapolis legends (or maybe apocrypha?). He knew about the winter of 76, Dutch's march across the ice, the sinking of Bluenose, and the Albert.

This was Anne's first honest sail. Since Myfida is a 7/8 24 foot sloop with runners, it was more of an endurance contest than something she fondly remembers. Myfida is a pretty boat. She's a Clark design built in 1947 of Mahogany on Oak.

The three of us went ashore to see some sort of native ceremony. It took place in an abandoned lot on the waterfront, totally without tourists, yet a dozen dancers were dressed in some sort of brightly colored African costumes. Several "bongo" drummers provided the beat. Perhaps they were practicing for a show?

I called the Naval Air station at 295-5111 and spoke to the chief meteorologist. The Navy is more than happy to prepare a written weather briefing for departing yachtsmen, but they need 24 hours notice. He assured me that no tropical formations were expected. Although there was a trough halfway to the coast, it was not expected to develop into a large storm.

As a matter of interest, in Bermuda a decent VHF is necessary. Harbour Radio primarily uses channels 16, 07, and 68. They are helpful and courteous, but arriving yachtsmen MUST call for permission to enter while still offshore. The sailors all use the radio as an intercom - all day you hear calls going back and forth between boats in the anchorage. No boat is allowed to even shift its berth without permission from Harbour Radio.

At about 10 AM I tied up to the customs dock for outbound clearance. Only a minimum amount of paperwork was involved. One of my most important concerns was to recover the flare gun. I told the officer that it was in an orange Olin cylinder. He snorted and opened the closet. At least 20 identical orange Olin cylinders were arranged on the shelves. Fortunately, each was carefully marked with the yacht's name.

I left the dock at 1035, bound alone for Norfolk. The wind was light, so I motorsailed for most of the day. The Annapolis to Bermuda racers were expected this day, so I ran a course well south of the rhumb line to avoid them.

By 1600 Bermuda was fading astern and I put away the last of the local charts. Now all of the navigation would be on universal plotting sheets and the big Atlantic Ocean chart.

While offshore I enjoy listening to Radio Moscow. Their signal is strong and their stories frequently entertainingly bizarre. That evening they hurled invective against the Japanese. One of their comments was that no one can forget the Japanese's brutality during the war overnight. Overnight! It's been half a century!

The seas were fairly calm due to the cursed lack of wind (force 2). What a beautiful evening! The stars and moon were more interesting than any book. A very clear night.

By 0548 the wind finally picked up enough to sail. Force 4 - almost ideal. I cruised along at about 5 knots under full main and genoa. With a gentle 3 to 5 foot sea, the sail itself was idyllic. I'm always tempted to assume, or at least hope, that the current weather will last the entire passage.

I read "The World Encompassed" today. This is an account of Drake's 1577-80 circumnavigation. The book does a good job of putting Europe's political climate into perspective, showing how Drake's role changed from pirate to privateer as the winds of fortune blew differently in England.

Next I read "Magellan". There's an interesting analogy to be drawn between early exploration and NASA's mission. Portugal, at the time an impoverished country, explored for 50 years with no apparent payoff until Vasco de Gama found a commercially useful route to the East. They made an investment in the future that eventually gained them almost half the world (via the Treaty of Tordesillas). We should do no less, and expect results no faster.

The genny was chafing on the pulpit, so I made a length of baggywrinkle for the bad spot. After all, I could be on this tack for a week! I haven't made baggywrinkle in a dozen years. It's surprising how you never forget some skills.

The loran was not acquiring signals, of course, so all navigation was by sextant. I shot a running fix with 1 mile repeatability.

The wind had been southwest, making Amber beat hard. Later it shifted to the west southwest, making me alter course a bit to the north. The strength increased as well. The seas picked up, tossing water everywhere.

The one bright spot was an unexpected south setting current, possibly a vortex from the Gulf Stream. From the start I was concerned about making Norfolk. The pilot charts call for mostly southwest winds. That, combined with hundreds of miles of north-bound Gulf Stream, all conspire to make fetching Norfolk chancy at best. The next option was Cape May. I had charts of every port between Charleston and Canada, so no matter what happened I could put in somewhere. However, for no good reason, perhaps sheer obstinacy, Norfolk was my goal. Tacking was not realistic, as it would add a staggering number of miles to the voyage. To make Norfolk I'd have to fight to stay below the rhumb line.

The Wind Turns Foul

At 0150 the wind shifted to the West! Bummer. I altered course to 315 magnetic. It was still blowing force 5 and was very wet on deck. Amber sailed on under reefed main and genoa.

Until 0330, when I hit a series of line squalls, the milky way was bright enough to illuminate the boat (the moon set earlier). In the rain I dropped the genoa for safety's sake and motorsailed through the thunderstorms under just the reefed main. Actually, Amber handled the weather so well that I went to bed during one of the squalls.

Sailing fast into an oncoming squall

In the morning I found three flying fish on deck - a new record.

I had to alter course to 320 because of the wind, which continued to build slowly. Without a favorable wind shift I'd be forced north of the rhumb line. I reduced sail to a working jib and reefed main, and sailed fast with 25 knots of breeze from the west into some nasty-looking tall, black line squalls.

At 1125 it was blowing like hell from the west. Amber was beating hard under reefed main and working jib into force 7. The wind blew the reef out of the main! The load was so high the boom unwound the worm gear. I lashed the reefing handle in place so this couldn't happen again. At least the barometer was high and steady.

At 2040 I saw the first ship of the trip, after almost 3 days at sea. This sure is an empty ocean. They didn't answer my call on the radio.

It blew throughout the night and stayed very wet, but the wind went back to southwest where it belonged and I was able to go back to 305 magnetic. The rhumb line was 297 true, but the variation changes from 15 degrees west in Bermuda to 9 degrees at Norfolk. Various moon, sun, and running sights put me about 40 miles south of the straight-line course, so I was strategically in a good position. I knew the Gulf Stream would eat up all of those 40 miles.

And on the seventh day they rested. They must not have been sailors, as Sunday was no different than any other day. It was very rough. The seas stayed around 10 feet and the wind went back up to gale force. Worse, the barometer started to fall and seemed determined to head down for a while yet. At least the loran was acquiring signals.

I continued under reefed main and working jib in 30 knots of southwest wind. Amber showed just how tough she is, carrying on at great speed in lousy conditions. She occasionally rolled the windows under water. It was a bit disconcerting to look up and see green water through the plexiglass.

Lots of heavy seas came aboard, but Amber struggled free of every one with little trouble. We took a couple below. The radio equipment was pretty wet - the VHF and ghettoblaster were waterlogged and not working. The pressure water system went down as well. I stayed below because it was just too wet on deck to read. Below, despite the gale, life stayed pretty pleasant. The motion wasn't too bad - I could sometimes move around holding on with only one hand!

About noon a heavier squall blew through (on top of the gale). After dropping the main and disconnecting the halyard, I lost control of the free end. It immediately started wrapping itself around the rigging. The end was out of reach. It described crazy loops over and around the boat, on each pass making one more turn about the rig and fouling things even more. Like a one-man band of Keystone Cops I madly chased it with a boat hook, running from stem to stern in an effort to snare and secure the end. In the Chesapeake Bay this would be almost impossible. In a force 8 gale with 10 foot seas 300 miles offshore, it was a nightmare. Finally it made a pass near me and with a lucky grab I tenuously hooked it. A tiny slip would have dislodged the boat hook's grasp, but the halyard was by now so fouled I couldn't get closer than the 8 feet afforded by the boat hook.

Somehow I managed to work the end up to the shrouds and tied the boat hook around the port upper shroud. Miraculously, the shackle stayed attached. I had to get that end before it dislodged. I climbed the mast, hand over hand up the running rigging, to the lower spreaders (about 20 feet up), and secured the end to a line. Just hanging on wore me out. Exhausted, I slid down and started unwinding the halyard from the rest of the rigging. Unfortunately, on one wild pass the end apparently shot through the gap between the upper shroud and the intermediate. Somehow I had to pass it back through this three foot wide gap 20 feet up. I tried tossing a line through, but even without the heavy seas my aim just wasn't up to the task. Brute force seemed the only solution, so I went back up the mast and threaded the halyard through.

Finally I managed to sort the whole mess out. Then the wind died. I never needed to drop the sail in the first place! Fortunately for my sanity the gale resumed 30 minutes later.

Sailing under storm jib

Within a few hours the southwest gale built to force 9. Amber is pretty happy about sailing under working jib in a force 8 gale. At 9 she was overpowered. I hove to, but it was clear that the wind was still building and the sail looked ready to explode. After dropping the jib I started to run downwind under bare poles (no sail up) as the wind built to force 10.

The Beaufort scale lists force 9 as "Strong Gale" and 10 as "Storm - seldom experienced on land". This was my third force 10 storm and the first for Amber. I don't mind a force 8 gale; in many ways they're a lot of fun. Force 9 is a drag and my two previous run-ins with 10 were both terrible. Force 10 is what devastated the 1979 Fastnet race and killed 20-some sailors.

Even under bare poles Amber sailed along at 5 knots. With astonishing speed the seas built to 20 feet. The danger of huge seas is getting turned around broadside to the waves and then being overwhelmed by the crashing impact of water. Safety lies in keeping the stern to the seas.

Up to this time Inga 2, our trusty Autohelm 2000 autopilot, had steered every inch of the way. Inga couldn't handle these conditions, so I took over and hand steered down the backs of the rolling monsters. At the top of each sea I could see forever; at the bottom only nearby walls of water were visible. At the top the wind blew at a steady 50+ knots; at the bottom there was a nice 15-20 knot sailing breeze, the wind being blocked by the seas.

I steered down the seas, trying to keep a small angle between my course and the waves to avoid pitchpoling (where the bow digs into the trough and causes the yacht to pirouette upside down), but avoiding too much of an angle to keep the boat from broaching (turning sideways). Amber didn't have enough speed in the troughs to maintain steerage way, so the trick was to start at just the right angle when she started sliding down the sea to keep her positioned correctly at the bottom. I wanted to go forward and lash a sailbag in the rigging to give us more speed in the troughs, but it just wasn't safe to leave the tiller.

Twice she nearly broached, both times filling the cockpit with water. The motion was bad enough to toss most of the water out, but we still need bigger cockpit drains.

The ocean was a mass of white foam with breaking waves on top of the seas. Visibility to windward was negligible. I felt like an ant on the ground in front of a marching army. The seas just came and came, ignoring my feeble attempts to deal with them.

But... it was kind of fun. There's a rhythm to the ocean, to gales, and to full storms. I was running downwind, not trying to maintain a course as I had been for the previous few days, so Amber wasn't falling off the side of seas any more. The motion was incredible, but Amber handled it well. I've always loved the power of the elements, which are nowhere so apparent as in a storm. My only fear was that the blow would last into the night. As long as I wasn't too tired to steer, Amber would most likely be OK. I was also concerned that in the dark I wouldn't be able to see the waves to steer down them, even with the spotlight.

Just before dark the storm ended. The wind dropped to force 8. In less than an hour the seas subsided to 10 feet. It was amazing how quickly they built and dropped; it takes a lot of energy to keep that much water in motion. I put up the staysail. An hour later the wind was down to force 4 and I raised the reefed main and working jib. Amber could have used more sail, but I was just too tired. A squall line up ahead portended more trouble. The barometer continued to fall.

At 2208, two hours after the big storm ended, the wind was back to gale force. I dropped the main and watched a spectacular lightening display.

Just after midnight Amber was once again banging into a southwest force 9 gale under staysail. Three hours later - unbelievable! The wind veered around to a gale from the north. By now I was feeling a bit abused and bruised.

The wind moved all over the compass until noon, and the logbook is a weary recitation of reefing and sail changes. Finally it seemed to settle in the northwest at force 4, which kept Amber again hard into it, now on the starboard tack for the first time in almost a week. I saw reassuring proof that humans still existed as the second ship in 5 days steamed past. The VHF was still down so I couldn't give them a call.

At 4 PM I was 181 miles from Norfolk. The sailing improved as the seas calmed till Amber was blasting along very comfortably.

Dolphin Visitors

At 0226 I saw yet another ship. Three ships in 6 days! The traffic picks up a lot near the coast.

Amber crossed the Gulf Stream's west wall. The water temperature dropped from 81.9 to 71.6 in 10 hours.

The dingy's outboard gave us nothing but grief in Bermuda. We clearly needed a new one, but I was undecided about throwing it away. In lieu of making a decision I put it on the starboard sidedeck aft of the cockpit. As it was not tied down, I thought that perhaps some greater power could decide for me. Sure enough, as I came on deck at dawn it was dragging astern tangled in the man overboard line. I hauled it in, and with full honors buried it at sea at 36 01.4 North, 73 59.8 West in 12,000 feet of water.

The wind died about noon, so I motored much of the day. After coming across the Gulf Stream the ocean lost its beautiful deep blue color and assumed more of a green shade.

I repaired the VHF by rebuilding the microphone. The Ghettoblaster was harder - the entire power distribution circuit board had corroded away. I wasn't even sure where the PC board tracks went, so redesigned the board and got the unit working. There's nothing like a 12 volt soldering iron and spare electronic components! The pressure water's demand switch failed. Without replacements, I couldn't fix it.

Some aluminum drink cans corroded during the bad weather, so I did a lot of housecleaning. The port side lockers were starting to smell from the leaking sodas. I spent a few hours with buckets of seawater scrubbing everything down.

By midday it was flat calm. I motored along at about 5 knots, avoiding the constant stream of ships. I was reading on deck when with a big bang the backstay flew by. One of the two bolts that secure it broke, and the nut came off the other. I suppose the nut probably came off first, causing the second bolt to fail. Talk about luck - if this had failed during the storms Amber would have been dismasted.

As soon as it let go I hauled in the mainsheet to use the topping lift and sheet to keep the mast aboard. Then, I rigged a tackle from the main halyard to a bridle between both stern cleats. With the threat of immediate dismasting abated, I broke out the tools and my carefully hoarded bolt collection. It was only a matter of a few minutes work to replace the broken bolt and reinstall the missing nut (with a dab of Locktite).

In the evening the VHF started to pick up Norfolk marine weather. As Paul Simon says "I get all the news I need from the weather report".

Just before dinner, while still 70 miles offshore, I looked up from my book when water started flying into the cockpit. With no wind this was rather odd. A pod of dolphins was splashing me! "Can Jack come out to play?" they seemed to be inquiring. I went up forward with the camera to watch 50 to 100 dolphins put on the trip's farewell performance. They immediately stopped splashing the cockpit and came forward to play. The ocean was almost like glass, so I could see their antics 10 and 15 feet below the surface. Though dolphins are common on these trips, never have I had such a good view. The amazing clarity of water, with no ripples to disturb the surface, made this like watching them in an aquarium. But I had the added benefit of motion, for they played under the bow at exactly the same 5 knots Amber was making. I observed them pacing the boat, and watched every muscle movement as they stayed exactly in the same place alongside. What would Leonardo have given to be able to sit on a moving chair next to the birds he studied while learning about flight? I was in an aquatic equivalent of this fantastic position.

Dolphins playing in Amber's bow wave

With the start of this last evening at sea I decided to stay up all night. The traffic was rather heavy, and would only get worse closer to land.

Under the cover of darkness two navy frigates towing subs, escorted by another navy vessel, steamed by not far away.

Around 1 AM the wind picked up and I raised the main and working jib. Amber was sailing fast now, making about 6.2 knots in the right direction.

After a week alone the ocean seemed quite crowded. All throughout the night at least one ship was in view. The Watchman radar detector kept picking up conventional ship radar and a lot of those miserable naval air search units that create so much interference.

At 0340 I passed by "Chesapeake", the Texas tower that replaced the lightship years ago. This is about the 20 mile mark from the bay. I could feel the shallow water under Amber's keel. The motion was a lot different from the deep ocean swells I'd grown accustomed to.

I passed through the Bay Bridge-Tunnel at 0800, officially entering the Bay. Earlier I had changed into a carefully hoarded set of dry clothes. Dumb move - I forgot about the Bay chop. The wind was blowing about force 6 almost on the nose and I got totally soaked.

At 1221 I tied up at Waterside, Norfolk. The last few hours were slow and wet, with a strong wind trying to keep me from making the turn at Fort Wool. A turn to the north to head back to Annapolis would have put the wind on the quarter, making for a quick, easy 22 hour or so run. I was just not willing to stay awake two nights and days in a row because of a little foul wind - especially after beating into it for 6 days already!

Amber logged 735 nautical miles from St. George to Waterside, in 6 days and 2 hours.

After tying up, I immediately called home and discovered that Cathy's amnio went fine. Then, I dashed over to Reggies for food and beer. When the ice ran out I lost interest in drinking anything, and had to force myself to consume enough liquids. I had a sudden interest in beer!

This was the fourth of July, and as Waterside is the center of Norfolk's celebrations I had a fantastic seat for the fireworks. 1000 points of light...

Sailing Up the Bay

Leaving Waterside I motored alongside "Steel Breeze", a 45 foot (steel, of course) ketch bound north from Florida. The owner yelled over that he bid against us for Amber when we were negotiating for her purchase. It's a small world.

I watched the oystermen tonging in the Elizabeth River. What an incongruous sight: beat up wooden workboats operated by one man crews laboriously lifting scoops of oysters in front of a hundred high tech warships at the Navy yard! They leave their gas-guzzling converted automobile engines running all day, just to power the tongs' hydraulics, raising pitifully few oysters in the process. A lot of energy is invested in harvesting each of the shellfish, obviously contributing to the expense of these delicacies. Fuel prices must rise. At some point the costs will be so high no oyster demand will exist. Diesel was four dollars a gallon in Bermuda - if we experience these rates the oystermen' days are over.

I often wonder if in the coming post industrial fuel scarce economy if old technologies will again be important. Will skipjacks become economically viable? Now they're supported by government rulings. Expensive fuel could make them the fishing vessel of choice. If fuel, instead of salaries, dominates costs will low technology, perhaps enhanced by modern designs and concepts, become more attractive? The tugantine, a sailing tugboat, is docked not far from here. High salaries and infatuation with speed and schedules killed off sail powered vessels. What sort of novel enterprises could be spawned by expensive gas? Sailing ferries? Doesn't this sort of imply a lower value of labor, in that even the passengers' time is not quite as valuable as that of the modern jet commuter?

What about a sailing navy? Obviously, the broadside will never replace a guided missile, so I have this frightening vision of a modern military, depleting all of our resources while the rest of the population lives like serfs, much like the USSR. It's hard to believe that a fuel crisis will lessen our national paranoia (rather the opposite), so justification will be made for diverting whatever gas is needed to the military.

The wind was light, so I sailed up the bay under main and spinnaker. Later the wind died altogether and we motored in the hot calm. The temperature hit about 100 degrees.

The radio started broadcasting dire warnings of bad thunderstorms, advising all mariners to return to port. The squall hit while Amber was just starting across the mouth of the Potomac River. With Amber still rigged for sea the blow was no big deal.

The engine's oil pressure was down around 40 PSI, lower than I'd like. The tanks were also a bit low on fuel, so I tacked into the light northerly breeze, motorsailing under full sail.

At 0100 we passed Hoopers Island Light. Since the oil pressure was still low, I navigated like mad to minimize the distance covered on each tack.

Even an old wood boat like Amber benefits from the electronics revolution. The ghettoblaster provided taped entertainment, the VHF was in dual mode, automatically monitoring channels 13 and 16 to capture ship and yacht traffic, the loran, autopilot, log, depthsounder and radar detector were all keeping me safe and comfortable.

I finally gave up and anchored in Solomon's, arriving at 0506 for rest, fuel, and an oil change. I slept for two hours and then started getting ready for the day. Bob Rosenthal called me on 16. It turned out that he was down here on Gypsy, and had had a number of expensive adventures, culminating in dragging an anchor and running into two sailboats. We had breakfast on Gypsy.

I ran into the fellow on Steel Breeze, who also anchored there for the night. Later, while Amber was tied to the diesel dock, Walt rowed by and came over aboard. I changed the oil, and discovered that the main bilge pump had failed. While we chatted, I replaced the defective main pump with the emergency spare, which fortunately fit in the same bracket.

Later I motored off to Edgewater and our slip, arriving at 1933, logging 152.3 miles on the Bay leg.

As I reread these words, I'm somehow disturbed by the constant patois of heavy weather commentary. I hate gale stories. They seem a part of a macho ritual I have little respect for or patience with. Sea stories tend to be boring. There are no sights to see and describe. Wind, wave and sky are all the sailor sees and experiences on any trip. Singlehanded sailing sounds even more boring, since there are no relationships or gossip to describe. How much does anyone want to hear about reefing and winds? Yet this is all I have to report, particularly regarding the return voyage.

Despite the heavy weather and constant pounding to windward, this was a fantastic trip. To a non-sailor it might read like a horror story. To the outward crew and me every day was high adventure and an experience to be savored. As Bill, who suffered through seasickness, sunburn, and over 100 stitches, left Baltimore's airport, he weakly grinned and said "to the next trip!"

Now, writing this account some weeks after returning from the voyage, I'm most impressed by the sense of contrast between "normal" life and that at sea. Somehow this trip crystallized my years of sailing - more than ever I feel the urge for distant horizons. I cannot look at the moon without feeling the weight of the sextant in my hand; I can't see the sun low in the sky without checking its color for a crude weather prediction.

On the return trip I read biographies of Drake, Magellen, and Cook. Amber's voyage was not even trivial compared with these and those of the great explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries (who often didn't have even a chart, and who usually had no way to measure their longitude until chronometers became common). I can't help but think of those early adventurers, recently returned from some impossible trip, strangely perfumed and garbed in attire appropriate to Victorian England. I can only imagine these scenes: the Captain addressing a room full of powdered gentlepersons. Probably the listeners were bored, but how I'd love to have seen the adventurer's eyes! Looking beyond the room, seeing images of sights unimaginable to those hearing his words. Somehow these sailors conveyed a sense of mission, of adventure, to their shorebound listeners, convincing the bankers to underwrite yet another voyage.

To the next trip!

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Email me at jack@ganssle.com