25 Apr 2013

[Cruise News] St George's, Bermuda

The long trousers were out the morning after we arrived in Bermuda - it really is a lot cooler than the Bahamas.  We went ashore to explore St George's (a UNESCO world heritage site) and no sooner were we ashore than we bumped into a couple we last saw on the pontoon in Las Palmas.  They had arrived a couple of days before us from the Dominican Republic and after a chat in the town square, where the annual Peppercorn Ceremony was underway, we arranged to have drinks and dinner that evening.

After 6 days at sea, and the Bahamas where things were fairly primitive, Bermuda is somewhat of a revelation.  Everything is well maintained, neat and tidy and feels very British.  There is a good selection of shops and some interesting and colourful old houses.  All in all, a good feel to the place.

Today we caught the local bus service down to Hamilton and spent a couple of hours exploring what is basically a very modern and affluent city.  After lunch we took the ferry across to the Naval Dockyard but got caught out in heavy rain so as soon as the next ferry arrived we hopped on it to return to St George's.  It was a good day out and nice to see more of the island.

23 Apr 2013

[Cruise News] Crossing from The Bahamas to Bermuda

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?

15 Apr 2013

[Cruise News] Monument Beach, George Town, Great Exuma

We returned to George Town on Wednesday just in time to honour an invitation to dinner we'd made to some British friends, David & Lizzie, who we met at Bog Major Spot a week or so ago.  So at 6pm we sailed into the harbour and by 7.30pm we had dinner ready and spent a very pleasant evening.

We were discussing our lack of crew for the trip back from the Azores and asked whether or not they knew of anyone who might be interested.  They mentioned a friend of their daughter's who is saving up to do the RYA fast-trak Ocean YachtMaster course and said they would contact the family to see if it was of interest.  Well I'm pleased to report that Georgina is hopefully to join us and seems to be very excited at the prospect, viewing it as a great opportunity to get a head start on her sailing training.  We're delighted to be having someone along who is bound to be enthusiastic and keen to learn - always a good start and we're more than happy to pass on our experience on the journey.  So all in all, a win win!

David and Lizzie also introduced to the delights of coconut rum, served simply over ice.  Well we're now converts and have bought our own bottle ... apparently also nice added to pan-fried dishes .... lobster, shrimp etc etc.  We're looking forward to practising.

One thing Paul has wanted to see whilst we've been in the Bahamas is a "blue hole": Basically a very deep spot of water surrounded by shallows, so we went on the hunt of one yesterday in the dinghy.  We found the one we were looking for and were a bit disappointed we couldn't see the bottom ..... no idea how deep it was, just a dark blue circle of ocean in a shallow turquoise sea.  It would have been good if we'd had a depth guage fitted, but in the absence of one and the depth not being declared on a chart, then it will have to remain a mystery. 

We now have less than two weeks left in the Caribbean, 6 days of which are needed to sail across to Bermuda.  The weather forecast is looking favourable for this coming week and so we plan to head off on Tuesday across to either Cat Island (I'd like to visit Father Jerome's monastery which, being on top of a hill at 206ft, is the highest point in the whole of the Bahamas.  It's supposedly an intriguing and unusual place to visit) or Conception Island, just to the south of Cat Island, a nature reserve but further south and so would give us a better bearing for the passage to Bermuda.

We treated ourselves to dinner out last night and sat on a verandah overlooking the water and watching the sun set ... all very beautiful.  It's hard to believe I'll be home again in 12 days .... is it a good idea given the British summers of recent years?!!

Tonight, our last evening in George Town, we plan to go to a local bar which has a "Rake and Scrape" band on a Monday evening ... the local style of music and something we should experience before we leave. 

We've very much enjoyed our time in the Bahamas and were lucky enough to spend an evening with Becky and Joe who we met in Boqueron, Puerto Rico.  It was lovely to see them again and we hope we'll all keep in touch in the future.

7 Apr 2013

[Cruise News] Big Major Spotty Pig, Exumas

We've just spent several days north of here visiting the Exuma Cays Marine Park, centred on Warderick Wells Cay.  The park comprises 20+ cays in total, some privately owned (Johnny Depp rumoured, but no sign of him) but the majority uninhabited and very natural.  Once again the waters and beaches were incredible.

We spent a lot of yesterday ashore on Warderick Wells following the maze of hiking trails that circumnavigate the island. It was a little like being on an orienteering course, struggling to spot one cairn from the next in a rocky environment where not many people tread and the local hutia (critters) eat everything and obscure the trail.  We eventually made it back to the dinghy after over 3 hours of scrambling over rocks in the heat of the day.  Thank goodness we had a water bottle with us.

We both got very hot, however, and when we descended to a pristine and deserted beach, Paul suggsted a skinny dip.  Now as blog-readers know, Paul is not adverse to shedding his clothes but I am somewhat more reluctant.  In fact, yesterday was the first time I can remember ever doing it - and it was both liberating and exhilirating .... and badly needed to cool us both down.  So, at very nearly 50, I finally skinny dipped!  Way to go!!

When we arrived at Warderick Wells it coincided with a low pressure front passing through with high winds and large-ish swells,  Getting on and off Jay Jay into the dinghy was not for the faint-hearted: The stern of the yacht was bucking through at least a metre and timing was everything.  We'd been invited out to dinner on a neighbouring motor cruiser that same evening, and it was a similar story, if not worse, getting on and off their boat.  In fact, they were moving around so much with the swell that I ended up feeling sea-sick and had to go home early, despite having taken a sea-sickness pill!  Pretty embarassing but not a lot I could do about it.  Fortunately a good night's sleep and a near-calm sea by the next morning sorted me out.

2 Apr 2013

[Cruise News] Staniel Cay, Exumas

We're hanging around here a few days as it's so lovely.  The winds dropped last night and the waters became calm and crystal clear - perfect for seeing the sharks circling the boat!  And I'm pleased to report the blanket has been put away again now that the winds have swung around to coming from the south.  Hurrah!!