North Carolina - Bermuda
May - June 2001
Jan Hermans hatched the plan to sail his CSY 37 "Scimitar", from Beaufort, NC to Bermuda, then on to Connecticut (from whence he would attend the Gordon conference, the apparent excuse for the whole exercise), and then back to North Carolina. All of this was to take place over a two month stretch of summer starting Memorial day 2001. I signed on to crew the leg to Bermuda, along with Keith Watenpaugh, Charlie Carter, Ted Williams and, of course, Captain Jan H. himself.
The boat had been prepped for ocean duty: outfitted with a life raft, EPIRB, storm gear, and new rigging. Despite these advance efforts, the alternator and refrigerator drive belts self-destructed spectacularly the day before departure.
That was our first challenge, but fortunately one that did not take us long to overcome. We readied the boat for an evening departure in order to cross the off-coast Gulf Stream in daylight. The Gulf Stream features some local weather anomalies, and with substantial storms in the days leading up to our departure, this would be prudent. In fact more storms were on their way, but we were undeterred.
Here we are ready for our night time departure. Just moments before a large yacht had come in from the ocean, its crew warning us not to leave. It was brutal out there, they claimed. We do not look worried. From left to right, Charlie, Jan H., Jan P., Keith, and Ted. Indeed the wave action out in the bay that night was substantial, but we made Cape Lookout, our last shelter behind the outer banks, sometime well after midnight. We anchored there for the night; the last full night of sleep before starting our four hour deck rotations.
We awoke to deceptively calm water behind the lighthouse next morning only to discover that the self-steering rig was inoperable, so there would be no dozing through any watch.
As we entered open ocean we encountered a series of increasingly violent storm cells. When Charlie's hat was blown off we took the opportunity to practice the man-overboard drill (minus the marker buoy). Despite several brief sightings of the hat between large waves and a GPS fix on the location, we were unable to retrieve the hat.. This lesson impressed everyone, and we vowed to keep our safety harnesses tethered to the boat at all times. Here is Charlie in gear, tethered at the helm.
By late afternoon, the boat was being pitched around mightily by waves coming from two different directions. Despite powerful medicines and long histories of seaworthiness, the crew succumbed one by one to debilitating seasickness. As it emerged, Ted, who we had assumed to be the first victim when he disappeared below for many hours, had actually gone for a nap, and was the only person to remain unaffected!
One storm cell came up particularly rapidly and caught the clew of the jib as it was being rolled up onto the forestay. The clew was shaken so violently that the jib sheet defrayed. Keith heroically climbed to the front of the pitching boat and reversed the jib sheet as the storm raged around him. Not suprisingly, little photographic record exists of this part of the trip, although it certainly was the most dramatic part of the voyage!
Over the next day the storms cleared and the trip started to settle into a routine. While the wind direction was not favorable, the skies were spectactular and the sailing good. Here is Keith thoroughly enjoying the sail.
As the wind settled, so too did the waves, and by the dawn of day 4 we found ourselves becalmed! This gave us plenty of time to contemplate the number of days of water, provision, and diesel fuel remaining. Only the latter was clearly insufficient to get us to Bermuda.
The sea was eerily quiet as we motored through it. A misty horizon close-in seemed to fix us in the center of some inverted bowl without other life: no fish, no boats, not even any floating debris. Here I am at the helm, not doing much.
The calm weather did give us a chance to diagnose the GPS unit that had been consuming batteries at an alarming rate. That turned out to be a bad ground on the power receptacle in the steering post, which we bypassed. At the end of the day, the mist started to lift and we enjoyed a gourmet dinner under a lovely sunset.
That evening we spotted the lights of a boat. It seemed to be very large and gaining on us quickly, but we could not discern any navigation lights to clue us into its course relative to ours. After some worries and speculation, we realized that the boat was in fact enormous and sufficiently far away that its navigation lights were below the horizon. As it passed well behind us, other signs of life began to appear as well. A group of Dolphins spent some time jumping through our bow wave before tiring of our slow pace. It seemed like we were coming out of the quagmire, and we were approaching the half-way point.
Over the next days a favorable wind started to build, and we made good progress toward Bermuda. We saw increasing signs of life including flying fish, Portuguese Men 'o War, and floating Sargasso. We also saw birds, which seemed unusual, 350 miles from the nearest land. Later I read that the birds have salt secretion glands so that they can drink and feed on the ocean. Here Jan H. is at the helm.
We experimented flying the Jenaker and made our best progress toward destination on that day. In fact the wind died down again before we reached Bermuda but we were close enough that we knew we would make it.
With dawn on day 9, we spotted land!
It took a good 6 hours to make our way around to the channel through the coral into St. Georges harbor. The closer we got, the greener the water became. Here Ted is at the helm entering the channel to St. Georges harbor.
By early afternoon we passed the last of the channel buoys and arrived at customs. We felt (and looked) mighty peculiar standing on solid ground. But friendly officials granted us a very nice Bermuda "entry by sea" passport stamp nevertheless.
John Gullon, a 3rd generation Bermudan, and a relative of an English friend, met me at the customs dock and showed me around the whole island, an incredible treat. The island is quite a paradise, but I only stayed a day. I was keen to get back home, since the trip took somewhat longer than initially anticipated.
Jan H. and Keith remained in Bermuda for a few days longer and were joined by a replacement crew. Then they continued on through further storms and fog to reach Connecticut and the Gordon conference. Later the boat returned to Beaufort, NC. Jan H. clearly had the itch for more adventure, since he bought a Tayana 42 earlier this year (2002), with a rock solid self-steering system. More ocean voyages are planned!