It was a sad moment when we lifted the anchor to depart George Town, effectively the start of the long haul home and the end of our Winter in the sun. Added to that feeling for me was a degree of trepidation about what might be thrown at us in terms of weather: Whilst the weather window looked good in theory, we both know that weather forecasting is not an exact science and no-one really knows what will transpire (a number of people have pointed out to me that it is one of the few professions where there isn't an expectation that the "experts" opinion will be correct ... maybe something to consider for anyone thinking of a professional career!) But leave we had to if we were to meet our crew in Bermuda on 26th April so after an early lunch and with 785 miles to go as the crow flies, we set off.
Bermuda basically lies north-east of the Exumas and so with predominantly east-south-easterly winds forecast, we fully expected to be able to sail straight there on a bearing of 45 degrees, plus a few degrees to counteract the impact of "leeway" - effectively the effect the wind and tide has on your desired bearing, blowing/carrying you off course. What we hadn't appreciated until we embarked was the magnitude of the leeway adjustment needed: over 20 degrees.
Yachts can't sail directly into the wind - usually they need to be at least 30 degrees off the wind for the sails to be filled and forward motion achieved. Therefore, for us to be able to sail at a planned bearing of 45 degrees (not allowing for leeway), we require the wind to be blowing from at least 75 degrees, an ENE wind. However, given the 20 degrees of leeway we experienced, then to achieve a bearing of 45 degrees, we would actually need to sail on a course of 65 degrees ... and the wind would therefore need to be blowing from at least 95 degrees .... just "south of east".
Hopefully if I've explained all this clearly, you'll realise that the forecast east-south-easterly winds really needed to be south-easterly to give us enough latitude to sail at a decent rate on our desired bearing. Sadly after the first three days the winds swung to blowing from the east meaning we couldn't achieve the 30 degree off the wind angle we need and so the engine was needed to supplement sail power and allow us to reach our destination without the need for myriad tacks along the way. It has meant we are close hauled, the tightest angle to the wind, which results in a heavy heeling of Jay Jay .... not the most comfortable of rides unless you're lying down.
And that's all the technical stuff out of the way! Other than the concerns about whether or not we'd be able to find Bermuda (it's a very small island in the middle of a very large ocean); the new batch of bruises from trying to do things when we're heeling over; the ongoing niggles associated with any yacht covering long distances; my feeling queasy for the first four days (I picked up a stomach bug a couple of days before we left) and suffering from sleep deprivation, the trip was a dream ...not! Have I sold anyone on it yet?!!
The last 36 hours of the trip were very windy with big seas and not at all comfortable. Paul did a great job helming "down the valleys" between the waves and minimising the impact of the big swell. As we approached Bermuda we were able to pick up the marine reports from Bermuda Radio which announced that there was a "small craft warning" in place because of the poor conditions but for those of us out at sea, there's not a lot can be done other than reduce sail and keep going. That said, it was a big comfort when the lights of Bermuda came into view and we were communicating directly with the Bermuda Radio service. We've never experienced pilotage help like it: Basically give them your lat / long co-ordinates and they then tell you what course to steer to avoid reefs and bring you safely into harbour. Incredible.
So after six and a half days at sea two tired sailors arrived in St George's in time for a good sleep! Before we could do that though we had to clear in with Customs and Immigration at just before midnight .... again, never known these places to be open so late. And then finally after a shower to wash off all the saltwater, we fell into bed and a deep sleep .. bliss.
In all honesty, long-distance passage-making isn't really for me but as Paul keeps telling me, it's a means to an end and so I guess I'll have to continue to put up with it if I want to sail the Mediterranean in the years to come. There are a few things that can make it pass more pleasantly, primarily having additional crew on board so everyone can get a reasonable amount of sleep. Also, not having a deadline to meet so if weather conditions aren't favourable, then wait until they are before you set off. And, I think, planning your adventures such that passages are restricted to a couple of days maximum whenever possible, obviously not something that is possible crossing the Atlantic but hopefully more achievable in the Med. And finally, avoid trips where it is necessary to be close-hauled for long periods ... the heeling over does become wearing after time.
And on a final note, I've penned a ditty about heeling over.
An Ode to Heeling
On waking up this morning aboard my heeling boat,Climbing up out of bed for another day afloat,Doing my ablutions at twenty degrees lent over,Cooking, cleaning, everything, it's no life of clover,Keeping my balance and holding on for all I'm worth,I'm not sure we're designed for sea, maybe only for earthBut seeing those white beaches, coral reefs, turquoise seas,Cutting through the water powered only by the breeze,Visiting different countries, sending senses reeling,So many new adventures, so what's a little heeling?