2007 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making, Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 28-July 5, 2007
Students: Mary Lihou, Mike Robinson, Roque Reis, Carl Wilson
First Mate: Jim Bortnem
Captain: Jack Morton

These ocean training cruises really begin well before people arrive onboard, as they go over gear lists, check the weather on the web, and exchange thoughts, hopes and fears by email. All that happens for the Captains too, so by the time we actually meet at the boat, the trip planning is well underway. That said, most of the crew had checked in by the afternoon of June 27th, and several of us had dinner together that evening at the White Horse, one of the traditional St Georges restaurants before starting in earnest to go over the boat and our plans the next day.   

The crew for the return cruise gathered at the boat, Med moored at Captain Smokes Marina, prophetically named, as the whole place went up in flames a couple of years ago, with the fortunate exception of the head.  Mike and Mary Robinson had taken courses through 106 (107 for Mike) with the Maryland School, and pretty well knew the drill for the boat, but had more to learn about the ocean, and were still gathering thoughts and impressions about the boat to buy for their great escape. Roque Reis already had the boat, and had done some ocean cruising in his native Brazil. Carl Wilson was a retired corporate pilot  with lots of offshore experience, but most was not at sea level. Jim Bortnem had been First Mate on the trip out (and about ten others with us on Halimeda) and as he brought the troublesome autopilot back to life while we lay over in Bermuda, was allowed to keep that job for the trip back. 

June 28, Thursday: As is customary, we spent the first day and a half ensuring that everyone was familiar with the rig, sails (plain and storm), and general procedures for engineering, safety, bosunry, galley, plumbing, and the various pieces of gear we would be using.  

June 29, Friday: With stores from Somer’s Market aboard, and Customs cleared, we embarked about 1530, and by 1600 had Spit Buoy abeam. A little confusion on identifying Kitchen Shoals light initially called for a course change, reminding us all how important it is to be sure of your location in coastal piloting. No harm, and on our way.  By the time we left North Rock abaft our port beam, we were sailing an easy five knots with a light SW wind. As on the trip out, we were noting that we seemed to require more genset charging than we should. Amperage use not that heavy. Batteries? Xantrax? (the magic system that determines how much charge each battery needs, and delivers it)  It’s nice to know that even if the Xantrax does have problems, we’re redundant, and can charge with the main engine, and have solar cells pouring juice in at four to five amps in sunshine. Part of what makes going offshore a little more reliable. 

June 30, Saturday: The gentle wind of last night is rising, and the first reef goes in the main, and by afternoon we are booming along at seven to eight knots, under reefed main and full genoa. We hove to for lunch, partly to show those who hadn’t done it before what a marvelous respite it can offer when you don’t want to cook or do some other task while being bashed about by the seas. Liked it so well we did it again for dinner. 

July 1, Sunday: No sun today. That will teach people to take their sun shots while the sun shines! A weak front passes, and we get a bit of weak NE wind, dying down to motoring conditions. So when the fish strikes, we’re maneuverable, and can keep the line out from under the boat - harder to do if you have to fight fish while hove to. After a twenty minute tussle, a nice dolphin  - maybe 30 pounds - is close enough to gaff, and is on it’s way to being two dinners and two breakfasts for the boat over the next few days. By late in the third watch, a NE wind pipes, and we secure the engine. 

July 2, Monday: By morning we’re again flying along at seven to eight knots under a double reefed main and half a genoa. As the morning passes, the winds builds, and we strike the genoa in favor of the stays’l, which is a pretty good, if small, sail for reaching, but trying to beat with it is much like heaving to. So, we again set the genoa, a little smaller, and again make progress to windward. Later in the day, as the wind shifts a bit, we add the motor to the mix, not because the wind has gone, but because it lets us point a bit higher and maintain our line for Block Island sound. 

July 3, Tuesday: As morning dawns, the wind has dropped some, and we can again fly the full genoa, and do. We’re now entering the Gulf Stream, find it not quite as our most recent Gulf Stream Charts (ten days old) describe it. Wind out of the north and the current is most foul; one tack goes nowhere, and the other goes off to the east and slightly backwards. We commence trying different headings and tacks and finally have to settle for making five knots to the north motoring through the water while making only two knots over ground. Might not have been so discouraging with less hi tech information;  progress would still have been lousy, but at least we wouldn’t know it. A long time getting free of the Gulf Stream this time around. 

July 4, Wednesday: Happy Birthday, America! The NMN radio weather has confirmed what we have been expecting, that the weather buildup preceding the next front will be giving us 25 to 35 knots from the WSW, starting around midnight. Having gone through some weather now, the crew is neither afraid nor discouraged, but businesslike. In the calm before the blow, we sight an impressive school of dolphins, and a few hours after them, a large pod of pilot whales, that look for all the world like sperm whales that smoked as children, and stunted their growth. The wind returns from the SSW around nightfall, and in anticipation of the buildup, we’ve put in the 2nd reef. Sailed wing on wing for a while, and back to broad reaching as full dark sets in. We’ve set waypoints for Block Island Entrance - the ‘slot’ we’re hearing it called on the radio, as submarines approach it - shortly after midnight, right on schedule. 

July 5, Thursday: After midnight the wind builds to the upper twenties, and into the thirties, and we’re on our way. Seas build, wind rises, and the boat careens along like Mr. Toad’s wild ride. As one of the crew notes in the log, “what more can you ask for?” By 1100 we’re passed at pretty close quarters by a submarine running on the surface, heading for the same “slot” we’re heading for, and find that situation repeats itself inside Block Island sound as we are approaching the west end of Fisher island. Seems to be rush hour for subs, as we see at least four before the morning is out. Winds are abating as we enter Fisher island sound, and calls have arranged for Customs to be on the dock when we arrive at the Mystic Shipyard at 1615. A quick, efficient entry and the trip is over, all but the celebratory dinner. Another job well done with an excellent crew!

Captain Jack Morton
Mystic, CT
July 5, 2007

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