farewell to the Caribbean on 29th April - after spending nearly 3 warm,
sunny and fun-filled months there. As we motored out of Culebra one of the
other yachts signalled to us asking "why are you leaving? I wouldn't
go - the lumpy seas would make me sick"!!!! Was this a good idea?
We had spent the previous three weeks firstly in a
lagoon a couple of miles outside Culebra town - where we worked hard and
removed the old varnish from the bright work on the topsides, grab rails,
trim, etc. then re-varnished with four coats of Cetol. We also did some
other maintenance and repairs. Of course, the work was interspersed with
snorkelling, sight seeing and generally lazing around. We then moved closer
to Culebra town so that we could provision for our trip north to the USA.
There is a good ferry from Culebra to mainland Puerto Rico (only $2.25PP
for a one-and-a-half hour trip). Complete with four holdalls and a "granny"
trolley we loaded up with essentials at the large supermarket just out
of town. We also loaded up with 76 gallons of water, transported by multiple
trips with jerry cans from the "Dinghy Dock" - the local bar.
Now we just waited for a weather window
We were looking for a high
pressure just forming over Bermuda; this, theoretically, would give us
easterly Trade Winds up to Bermuda and settled conditions when we approached
the island. A few days of waiting and a few happy hours at the Dinghy
Dock gave us time to study the weather maps downloaded from the internet.
Finally with one last drink at the bar (and promises to return and send
a postcard from Cuba
when we get there) we decided to leave the next
|The wind was blowing the forecasted
E 18-20kts in the harbour. Once we rounded the island, though, we hit the
full brunt of wind and waves. After being in harbour for a month-or-so this
was a bit of a shock! A short discussion ensued; do we turn around and wait
for another week or carry on? The decision hinged on Henry (our Hydrovane)
- if he could keep our course then we would continue! Henry coped really
well - so on we went. For the first three days we were close-hauled with
18kts of wind. Not much fun living at 15-20 degrees of heel and being lurched
about the inside of the boat every time you went down below. Then a pleasant
4 days of beam reaching with 10-15kts followed, by a yuck day of 20-30kt
head winds...... we ended up motoring for the last 6 hours to get into port
in daylight! Sailing-wise these conditions weren't a problem - we'd set
Henry as we cleared Culebra and didn't touch him for 3 days. Then we let
out the sails and adjusted Henry a bit; the next day the pole went up; 3
days later it came down and we were close hauled again. A small depression
developed over Bermuda which we hit 30 miles out. So, jib in and motor on!
Bermuda Coast Guard monitor the radar and had picked us up (which is reassuring!)
so they were able to talk us into St Georges Harbour to avoid a cruise ship
just leaving. Although we had our electronic charts (which are very accurate),
we didn't have a pilot book for Bermuda. The island is surrounded by a huge
reef (with lots of wrecks) and the channels are fairly narrow.
Bermuda (colonised by the Brits after being shipwrecked there) is really a gem of a place -everyone is really friendly and the town of St George is very pretty and dates back to the 17th century with lots of original houses, etc. It's also a little cooler than the Caribbean (which was a nice change) but still sunny and warm. We had two surprises at St. Georges. Following a pleasant exploratory walk we sat down at a waterside pub and heard a "Hello, Poco Andante" from the next table and, lo and behold, it was a friend we had met in Antigua who had "stowed away" aboard "Tenacious" the big Jubilee Sailing Trusts' square rigger. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon especially as another couple from a boat from Antigua pulled up alongside the quay to join in the party! A few days later we were met by a lad on the quayside who had recognised Poco Andante and wanted to say hello to Nick (the previous owner). It turned out that the guy had crewed with Nick from Bermuda to Virginia about 10 years ago - it's a small world! St Georges harbour is a bustle of activity this time of year, with sail boats arriving and preparing for the trip back across the Atlantic (via the Azores). We spent a few evenings with a couple of these folk, either using Poco's facilities to help fix self steering gear and solar panels - or just enjoying a pleasant meal and chat with them.
Bermuda was just a welcome break for us, waiting for the right weather to continue our journey north. This weather came sooner than expected so we had to cut short our visit and head out. Bermuda is in the "Horse Latitudes" where a high pressure system with no wind can settle in for weeks. Ancient mariners, running out of water, often sacrificed their horses in order to survive. We were waiting for such a High as this creates settled weather all the way up to Maine. Not having any horses to throw overboard, we just made use of our 75 HP and motored for two days through the calm centre of the High until we hit the westerlies on the other side! A major navigational hazard is the Gulf Stream current that can flow up to 3 knots easterly, taking the warm Caribbean water in a clockwise path around the North Atlantic to the UK. So monitoring the water temperature is an excellent navigational aid in this part of the world. What a shock crossing the Gulf Stream would bring - up to the Stream we were in tropical waters (around 24C) with lots of jelly fish with sails set like fleets of model boats, flying fish, etc. then there was a jump to 28C as you enter the Gulf Stream which was about 50-60 miles wide flowing at 2-3 knots (and goodness knows how deep) - that's an awful lot of water. Then BRRRRRRR!!!!!!!! The water temperature dropped to 16C in the space of 2-3 miles reaching a low of 8C as we approached the US coast. This brought cold winds and grey seas - a big shock having to put clothes on again!
200 miles out we hit our first major fog bank - no wind and visibility down to 1 mile. We were now running short of diesel and decided to run the engine for 6 hours in the hope that we'd motor through the centre of the high pressure to pick up wind on the other side. Luckily we picked up a light 5 knot breeze from the south so we set the spinnaker and achieved 3 knots through the water. This we maintained through to around 4am. Christine was on watch and I was below asleep. I woke to Christine's call through the hatch for some relief. Six months ago raising the spinnaker at all was a cause for major debate; now I found her at the helm in 20 knots of wind, full main and spinnaker, doing 8.5+ knots through the water!!! We've certainly come a long way