Wednesday 31 May 2017

Passage Log – St George’s, Bermuda to Lajes, Flores, Azores (Some photos will follow)

Monday 15th May

In the morning, Tom and I went ashore to undertake final provisioning for fresh stuff and to clear with Customs. Then back to the boat to stow the dinghy and make ready for sea. Weighed Anchor at 1300 and motored over to fuel dock to top up with fuel and water. Then we headed back to the Anchorage to say good-bye to new friends Bob on Pipistrelle, Justin on ??? and Trev on Liberdade. She was only 28 feet and Trev and a pal had sailed from Australia on her via The Cape of Good Hope. That’s an amazing achievement – nearly as impressive as  Webb Chiles doing it on his own in his 24 foot superyacht Gannet! I wonder if they came across each other? They must have been at sea around the same period.

Around 1400 we set the mainsail in the harbour and headed out for the exit channel and by 1530 we were sailing for the Azores with goose-winged mainsail and genoa on the port tack.

Tuesday 16th May

I took the first night watch to give Tom a chance of finding his sea legs. We had to gybe around 0130. The wind was very variable in strength between about 10 – 20k and direction and it took ages to get AS settled on a reasonable course of about 070ᵒ T with Angus our trusty Hebridean wind vane at the helm.

Around 0700 the wind fell away very light and then backed to East of North and we continued on a close reach on the port tack under full sail at around 4-5 knots.
Boat speed was up and down during the course of the day – between 4 to 6 knots.

By noon we had covered about 100 miles since departing St George’s.

I cooked dinner, the first of our two fresh meat meals. Chilli stir fried pork and potatoes. No fresh green vegetables. The prices in the local shop were so extreme and the produce was all chilled which would quickly rot on the boat. Our fridge was too small to accommodate any more too.
The wind got up sufficiently to require two reefs in the mainsail around 2000.
Tom took the first watch between 2100 and 1300.

Wednesday 17th May

By the time I took over the Watch at 0100 the wind had eased considerably and so I shook the reefs out again. Of course, it wasn’t long before it freshened and I wondered whether it was going to be necessary to re-reef. Thankfully it didn’t get that strong and so we continued under full sail for the rest of the night and up until the time of writing this – 1400. In fact the wind eased down significantly during the course of the morning and early afternoon with our speed reducing to 3 knots for periods – endangering our goal of arriving in Flores early enough for Tom to get his flight out from Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel on the afternoon of 3rd June. His daughter’s High School graduation ceremony is the following day and so it’s a date he understandably wants to keep. Sailing to a schedule on a long distance ocean passage on a small boat with only minimum reserves of fuel is a notoriously fool-hardy enterprise and so all we can do is hope that Neptune favours these two particularly fool-hardy Mariners!

So far we’ve seen little wild life – two birds one sitting on the water and one in flight, and a solitary flying fish!

The weather has for the most part been very pleasant. Yesterday after a cloudy start was a beautiful sunny day but not overly hot – indeed we didn’t need the Bimini down all day. Today has been a little warmer and we put the Bimini down at 1100 once the batteries were fully charged – earlier than normal due to running the engine for just under an hour around 0400.  I didn’t understand why at the time, but by then, we had consumed 28 amp hours – around the usual limit with the batteries in their now semi-knackered state. Since leaving the very warm temperatures of the Caribbean that many Amp Hours normally gets us through the night and so I was puzzled why we consumed that much that quickly. Later in the morning I think I discovered the reason. I heard a faint whirring noise around the companion-way area and realised that the switch for the electric bilge pump had been accidently knocked into the on position. Of course, that could have happened at any point but hopefully it will prove to be the cause of the extra consumption.

At 1430 we were visited by a large school of spotted Dolphins and they stayed with us for 20 minutes or so – another wonderful experience and Tom’s first sighting of Dolphins at sea.

Readers may recall from an earlier posting (or I may have imagined writing about it) that the boat is low on gas (the cooking variety not petrol). We carry Campinas (a Butane mix) cylinders. I normally carry two but bought a third one in Grand Canaria before departing. They are very common in the UK and throughout Europe and are available in most ports. I had also read that these cylinders were easy to obtain in the Caribbean and so it proved. I exchanged cylinders in Mindelo (Cape Verde), Martinique and Antiqua and with Neville’s help - after a major hunt around in Jamaica, found somewhere that would re-fill the cylinders there with Butane. It seemed unlikely that they would be available in Cuba and as a consequence I didn’t look. I also anticipated that I wouldn’t find them in the Bahamas (being American in so many respects and therefore probably propane/American fittings territory). However, I assumed I would be able to get them re-filled in Bermuda being British but it turned out that not only was Bermuda, Propane only, they would also not fill Butane tanks with propane. On leaving West End in the Bahamas I had one nearly full tank and one full tank left. However, carelessness early on my passage to Bermuda resulted in me leaving the gas on low for an hour or so after boiling a kettle and so midway through my stay in Bermuda I had to connect the last remaining tank. The next day I bought at great expense two small propane cylinders and a single burner. I used that for the remainder of my stay in Bermuda whilst the boat was steady at Anchor (one cylinder probably ¾ used). The upshot being that we left Bermuda with only one nearly full Campingaz cylinder to get us to the Azores – hopefully around 14 days away. It should just about be enough. Mick and I got through one cylinder during the 16 day crossing from Mindelo to Martinique. However, to preserve gas stocks as much as possible we started using the solar kettle. It consists of an internal insulated cylinder and fold around mirrored wings which when deployed direct sunlight onto the cylinder. It holds about two mugs of water. After about four hours in the sun the water reaches boiling point. We can then either use it directly to make tea or coffee etc., or transfer it to a Thermos Flask and to reduce the subsequent time it takes to boil water in the kettle. It has proved to be a very useful device. Hopefully it will help us get to the Azores without running out of gas.

Tom cooked dinner – a tasty meal of burgers and sautéed potatoes, plantain and tomatoes – the burgers being the last of our supply of fresh meat.

He took the first Watch 2100 to 0100, which for the first three hours was slow going with the wind constantly being rolled out of the sails by the swell causing the sails to crash and bang all over the shop. I know because I was trying very unsuccessfully to sleep!

Thursday 18th May

The wind picked up a little in the last hour of Tom’s Watch and the boat settled down to quieter rhythm and faster pace – up from 2-3 knots to 3-4 knots and I could get some sleep. All too quickly though it was time for me to take over the Watch. On the plus side the wind held and we continued to make reasonable speed so that by dawn we were making between 4-5 knots in roughly the right direction.

We passed East of 60ᵒ West during the Watch and so at the change over, I advanced the clocks by 1 hour so that 0600 became 0700. Our up and coming noon to noon will therefore be only 23 hours!
The batteries held out so it looks like the problem of the previous night was caused by the bilge pump being accidentley switched on.

Noon to noon, distance to Flores = 1371 which brought us only 78 miles nearer our destination. Our worst to date even allowing for the 23 hours. Tom won’t make his flight unless we can improve on that by around 20 miles a day!

The wind backed during the morning requiring us to proceed under goose-winged main and genoa on the starboard tack. That however is pushing us south of our ideal course by some 10ᵒor so. We had however tracked some 8 miles or so north of our preferred track during the last 24 hours and so I judged that a slight over correction now was better than going still further north. The only other option would be to gybe the boat again, but with the wind being so fickle it could easily change once again. Air pressure is still gradually increasing; up from 1013 mb on departure to 1023 mb now and so I fear we may well be in for light variable airs for some time to come. At this point I reviewed the above decision in light of the last grib file downloaded at St Georges which showed a ridge of high pressure west to east from Florida to about 45ᵒW and between 25ᵒ to 40ᵒN. We need to get out of that and a North Easterly track should get us out more quickly. So around 1450 we turned to port to put the wind on the beam on a heading of 30ᵒ- 40ᵒ T and picked our speed up to 3.5 to 4 knots.

By 2000 the wind was pushing us almost due North on the beam reach and had increased a little and so we changed course again to head back towards our WP on a course of about 070ᵒT at 3-4 knots. Just about respectable and we were at least now going in the right direction.

Despite the fact that we could have done with more wind it was a delightful afternoon in warm but not too hot sunshine and so we folded the Bimini away, listened to Jimmy Buffet on the ‘FLIP’ in the cockpit and downed 2 Gin and Tonics during the course of the afternoon. I was first introduced to Jimmy Buffet’s music a few weeks ago by Dave and Kimberly on board ‘Island Girl’ when we were in Hemingway Marina, Havana. They were aghast when I confessed my ignorance of his music and indeed of his existence full stop and decided I needed some serious musical re-education. Jimmy is a VERY big noise in the USA and they could not believe his music was not as equally well known in the UK. They concluded I must have spent a large proportion of my life in a dark hole somewhere. It was only later when I introduced them to Anna and Daniel, a Scottish/ Brazilian couple who had also not heard of him, that they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt! And so, I discovered the delightful “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “Margaretville”, “One Particular Harbour” and many more songs. At first I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. His songs seemed pleasant enough, easy listening but not much more. However, they grew on me once I listened to the lyrics more carefully – they are very witty and sometimes quite deep too. Anyway it turned out that Tom was also a Jimmy Buffett fan and had the full Buffett collection on his MP3 player. I took a copy so that we could play his music through my ‘FLIP’ speaker.

Tom also smoked his pipe handed down from his father and I took a few puffs finding the experience quite pleasant. Unfortunately, both our fathers are now dead; mine much too early at the age of only 56 in 1984, Tom’s rather more recently a few years ago aged 75. Both were consummate pipe smokers and so Tom’s pipe brought back memories for both of us.

I have to confess I was a bit sleepy after the second G&T and so took an afternoon snooze! It was then my turn to cook. We had snacked our way through the G&Ts with pistachios and trail mix and so neither of us were feeling overly hungry. Dinner was therefore a simple meal of frankfurter sandwiches with onions and garlic fried in chilli powder. They were rather yummy.

At 2100 I noticed the barometer had dropped a little – down from 1023 mb @ 1350 to 1021 mb and so I was hopeful of picking up a fresher breeze. During Tom’s watch it did pick up a little and we averaged just over 4 knots. We still had a very confused swell however and so the boat was rolling with the sails crashing - not conducive to good sleeping. I did though manage to get a couple of hours. However, during my Watch I felt incredibly tired between 0300 and 0400 and had to resort to dozing in the cockpit. It was quite a sound tactic from the point of view of still maintaining a lookout because the rocking and rolling of the boat meant I kept slipping off the cockpit seat and therefore never really nodded off!

The wind more or less held during my night watch and through into Tom’s early morning Watch. When I took over at 0900 we had a decent breeze and Tom reported 4+ knots with the boat on course for the duration of his watch. Unfortunately, as soon as he departed for his bunk the wind departed too – or at least died away significantly, such that we were soon barely making 2 knots and were once again rolling and crashing in the sloppy seas – I’m beginning to suspect that regular ocean swells from one consistent direction do not exist – I don’t think I’ve experienced them since leaving the Canaries! By noon I’d had enough and we headed northwards once again on a beam reach in an effort to clear the high pressure area and find a stronger breeze. Our speed increased to a little over 3 knots but of course we were no longer heading in the right direction! To rub salt into our wounds the boat’s motion was such that we couldn’t find a secure location in which to deploy the solar kettle. Yesterday, the plastic hinges on its solar reflectors broke because of it repeatedly capsizing. Tom fashioned a running repair with Gaffer tape but I don’t want to damage it further. Another set-back was discovering the solar shower bag that we had left out in cockpit over night was empty. Four gallons of precious water literally down the (cockpit) drains! At the time of writing I haven’t investigated to establish whether it had sprung a leak or simply that the tap had been knocked on.
It’s another sunny day – we just need more wind!

We deployed my pathetic fishing gear at 1330 to supplement our now rather boring protein stocks!
Tom cooked an excellent meal of tinned Tuna, fried Plantain Onions and Tomatoes and boiled potatoes. We followed that with tinned peaches and evaporated milk.

Around 2030 we headed back in the general direction of the Waypoint again but still very slow going at around 2.5 – 3 knots. It remained like that throughout the rest of the night.

Saturday 20th May

The wind picked up again at around 0430 and we were making 4 knots once again. However, when I took over again at 0900, Tom reported that the wind died back once again shortly after he took over – around dawn.

The low voltage alarm went off again around 0900. There was no sun. We had however only consumed 25 Amp hours which was down on the previous occasion when it went off at -28 Amp hours. I hope that doesn’t prove to be a trend. I want to avoid replacing the batteries before we get back to the UK if possible. I’m more likely to get a better deal there – and will not have to rush into making what will be a major and costly purchasing decision. I ran the engine for an hour and a quarter in gear and reduced the negative AMP ours to -7.8. We made just under 4 knots during that period. Back under sail alone we were down to 3.5 knots or thereabouts.

Around 1130, I decided to try the spinnaker to increase our speed. Half way through setting it up the breeze increased again and so I abandoned the idea at least for the time being – the spinnaker is a bit of a handful and I didn’t want to get caught with it up in a fresh breeze – we were sailing at 4 knots again. Of course, by the time I’d tidied everything up the breeze was down once more. As I write however (1245) I can see speeds of over 4 knots again, so perhaps we are beginning to finally push into stronger winds. Our course over the ground is around 60-65ᵒwith our next Waypoint bearing 82ᵒ. We would need to gybe to head directly for it, but I don’t think is worth it until we have made more ground and/or the breeze becomes better established.

At 1330 the wind freshened again and we picked up speed to around 5 knots which we held for the rest of the day. After dinner, which I cooked – chilli fried frankfurters, potatoes and fried plantain – and just as Tom was about start his Watch at 2100, the wind freshened further and I contemplated reefing but didn’t. I went to bed but was nervous about whether I should have reefed and so didn’t get much sleep – but was too lazy to get up and put the reef in!

Sunday 21st May 2017

By the time, I took over from Tom at 0100, he was having difficulty controlling the boat and so I put two reefs in the Genoa which quietened things down a bit for a while and things remained like that for the remainder of my Watch and the first two hours of Tom’s that started at 0500. At 0700 he had to call me up the wind had freshened further and had veered into the Northwest requiring us to gybe and put two reefs in the main. Within minutes of completing that change the wind died away again and I had to shake out the reefs once more. By 0930 the wind was up again and so I reefed the main again! The day was grey, drizzly and rather cold! Later in the morning as the weather got even more grey and wet it also got very cold for about half an hour. The weather up until then had been classic warm front conditions. When it got cold it was still gloomy and wet but clearer weather was evident to windward and I surmised that the leading edge of a cold front must have been passing over. By the time the brighter weather arrived the temperature had recovered. For a while I was reminded of Autumn sailing back in the UK!

Our noon to noon plot put us 110 miles nearer to Flores with a mere 1,116 nautical miles to go! We had probably sailed nearer to 120.

The clearer weather arrived around 1400 and we got enough sunshine to charge up the batteries and whilst still pretty blowy it was quite a pleasant and reasonable warm afternoon.
Tom knocked up an excellent late breakfast around 1500 of bacon and egg sandwiches in flat bread. Absolutely delicious and just what was required to keep our spirits high in the boisterous conditions.
Around 1930 the wind freshened still further and a third reef in the mainsail was required – so in total we had one and half in the Genoa and three in the main. Under this rig on a Port beam reach we were making 5 to 6 knots. Time spent in the cockpit or on deck was now only when required to manage the boat – it was too wet up there! The washboards went in around 1945 too.

Monday 22nd May

I came on Watch at 0100 and everything was much the same as before. It’s difficult to be accurate in the dark without a reliable anemometer but I think we are in near gale conditions. A prolonged gust just hit us and Arctic Smoke veered into the wind with her sails flogging. I waited to see whether it was indeed a gust and would pass or whether this was a more permanent deterioration in the conditions. Fortunately, it was the former and after a couple of minutes Angus was able to bring us back on course. He has performed remarkably well the whole passage but particularly so during this recent spell of windy weather. He’s been out there all on his own for hours now getting soaking wet without any complaints whatsoever. I’m very glad he’s a member of the crew! Tom’s doing pretty well too! Whilst in the middle of writing this entry we must have been hit square on the beam by a large wave because suddenly Arctic Smoke took a lurch to Starboard and all the loose contents of the galley arrived on the chart table including a fairly heavy half full jar of marmalade which I think would have given me a serious headache if it had connected. That’s back in the locker now. Although it later it escaped with various other contents when we took another mighty blow on the Port beam. The Barometer has dropped a millibar since 1800 yesterday evening. It had dropped around four millibars in the preceding 24 hours – not a huge amount and I’m therefore assuming we’re in the southern half of a depression which the last grib file we have, put to our North. I was just about to write (at 0350) that I was therefore hopeful that weather wouldn’t get any worse when it did! The boat rounded up into significantly stronger wind and this time the wind did not die down. I went out to investigate in the dark and eased the main out fully and wound another couple of rolls in the Genoa. That seemed to be just enough so that Angus could bring the boat back under control. She still veered up in the stronger gusts but that’s fine if she returns to her course after the gusts passed. I did debate with myself whether further action by way of sail changes should be made. I hadn’t got round to rigging a fourth reefing pennant and so the choices were: rig one ‘on the hoof’ by reusing an existing pennant – but that would require messing about on top of the cabin top in a gale which was probably not a good idea; getting the main down completely and continuing under the Genoa alone – on a beam reach that was probably doable but I would still have to get up to the mast and do it – again doable but unpleasant; or heave to and wait for the wind to moderate. The easiest of the three options – to heave had one big disadvantage – we would slow to a snail’s pace. Eventually, I decided to leave things as they were and heave to if the boat became unmanageable again. Fortunately, although we had to endure some prolonged heavy gusts when AS veered up into the wind with sails flapping, they eventually passed and we could continue our way at 5-6 knots. The seas by this time were BIG – probably as big as those Mick and I encountered on our crossing to Martinique. This time however they were on the beam and whilst every now again we got hammered and the boat lurched to leeward, for most of the time the motion was much more pleasant. That awful and extreme jerky rolling we suffered during our westward’s crossing being absent.

Tom cooked up a very welcome hot meal of corned beef, baked beans and rice.

Monday 22nd May

The conditions remained much the same during the night and into the first half of Monday. At 1125 I made a note in the log – “moderated slightly?” It hadn’t – just a temporary lull.

I missed the noon position but at 1230 the range to Flores was 969 nautical miles and we were closer by 125 nautical miles.

By 1600 conditions had eased. I let a little more Genoa out and hardened in on the main sheet a little. Our speed was down to 4.5 to 5.5 knots and we were tracking southwards a little due to the reduced weather helm and less rounding up. I may have to make further adjustments if the conditions continue to ease.

They didn’t, at least not in a sustained manner. The wind was up and down for the rest of the day, often blowing as hard as ever and we continued under three reefs in the mainsail and two and a bit in the genoa. The biggest gusts provided an extra helping of drama. A couple of days ago, one of the slides on the mainsail (these are attached to the front edge of the sail and which slide up and down the mast in a grove) had worked lose and so I removed it with the intention of re-attaching it later when conditions improved. The stainless-steel eye into which the slide would otherwise have been attached was now up against the aluminium mast and the strongest gusts caused it to vibrate and make an eerie screeching wail adding to the rest of the gale’s cacophony. The conditions were such that visits to the cockpit were made only for the essential purposes of maintaining a lookout and making the occasional adjustments to sail trim and/or to Angus. Otherwise we remained down below with all hatches and the wash-boards battened down. In the worst spells of weather, waves crashed into AS’s port beam and broke over her decks as she then rounded up into the wind to deal with the gust before Angus’ determined efforts brought her back on course. These episodes were sometimes accompanied by driving rain and we could see thick sheets of rain and seawater cascading down the outside of the cabin windows and then along the side decks before returning to the Atlantic Ocean. I was so glad that Chris had managed the re-bedding of the cabin windows in Gran Canaria last November. It would have been absolutely miserable to have gone through this weather with water running in around every window! As it was, apart from a moment of ill-judged optimism (see later) when I thought the conditions were improving and left the companion way hatch open a crack for air and got the ocean instead, not a drop of water entered the saloon except via the mast partners. Despite the drama outside, inside was (unless being it by one of rogue waves on the beam) surprisingly peaceful. The strength of the wind kept the sails full at all times and made the boat more stable than when being tossed about in that most frustrating of conditions - sloppy seas and light airs. With the companion way hatch shut and washboards in the cabin was surprisingly quiet once one’s senses adjusted to the background din of the gale. The quiet was though, pierced from time to time by the wail of that missing mainsail slide!

It was my turn to cook dinner – a very basic bean and sausage stew out of a can with pasta!
We were visited by Dolphins again at dusk as we have been for the last few evenings. It’s strange the way they often seem to find us then. Perhaps related to their hunting schedule?

Tuesday 23rd May

When I came on Watch at 0100 the wind was still gale force or thereabouts although the barometer had started to rise – up 2 millibars to 1012/1020 (ship’s Barometer/my Casio watch). At the end of my Watch at 0500 I noted that the wind had moderated a bit.

Our noon to noon run got us 114 nautical miles closer to Flores, now 855 away. The wind had also moderated sufficiently to shake out a reef in the mainsail. I had earlier unfurled the genoa fully. I was just about to shake out the remaining 2 reefs at 1315 when the wind piped up again and I began to think I might have to put the third reef back in. Thankfully that was not required. By 1330 the Barometers were up another 4 millibars and at 1430 I did shake out the remaining two reefs in the mainsail. The wind continued to die during the afternoon.

After 24 hours of gale conditions I was pretty hungry and so Tom knocked up a great lunch of ham and cheese flat-bread sandwiches cooked in the frying pan – wonderful.

The weather was not quite done with us yet however. Tom and I were both seated on the starboard lee bunk finishing the afore mentioned lunch when we heard a terrific banging crash on the port side of AS, the next second a breaking wave had engulfed the boat and we watched through the windows, fascinated, as it drained off the cabin top and down the side decks and made its way aft, whereupon it reached the gap I had left in companion way hatch and surged through completely uninvited and without a ‘by-your-leave’. The companion way steps turned into a temporary waterfall and the chart table and seat suffered an indirect hit. Fortunately, all our electronic gadgets were stored well away to starboard on the chart table shelf and only got splashed. I wiped down my two phones that got with a tissue dampened in fresh water and they seem to have survived the ordeal. We also had quite a wipe up job to undertake throughout the saloon.

By mid-afternoon the conditions were sufficiently pleasant outside for us to celebrate passing the half way mark earlier in the day (about 850 nautical miles) with another draft of Tom’s Tennessee Bourbon and a couple of my Cuban cigars!

We received our regular visitors at dusk – the Dolphins.

The wind was now easing significantly however and we made little ground during Tom’s Watch between 2100 and 0100.

Wednesday 24th May

I nursed the boat along at a snail’s pace during the four hours of my Watch but by 0500 we were almost becalmed and without steerage way. I decide to motor for the coming four hours of Tom’s morning Watch in the hope that the wind might find us once again during that period. We couldn’t afford to motor for much longer than that if we were to keep sufficient fuel in reserve for charging batteries (when we have no sun), emergencies and getting into harbour. I set the boat up for motoring and left Tom to it for the next 4 hours, during which I got a surprisingly good sleep with the noise of the ever reliable and mighty 10hp Bukh cranking away in the not so ‘back’ background!

When I got up at 0900 there was a little wind – just enough to push us along between 2 and 3 knots under goose-winged mainsail and genoa, initially on the port tack and then the starboard. Progress though has been painfully slow and the sails continued slatting and crashing as the swell left behind by the gale, continuously rolled the light breeze out of them.

By noon we had endured our worst run yet – we were only 61 miles closer to Flores which is now a mere 794 miles away. We had a little wager on the distance. I had guessed 75 miles, Tom 69, so he won. I have still to decide the prize to award him for the dubious honour of being more right than me!
The afternoon weather however was delightful, warm and sunny with a breeze pushing us along at around 5k and the cockpit dry. We therefore decided to drown our disappointing day’s run in a couple of Dark ‘n Stormy’s each – the local Bermudan Rum cocktail, made with their dark rum and ginger beer. Perfect. We made a special toast to Rolph up ahead of us somewhere in his boat – ‘Dark n’ Stormy’.

The wind gradually increased during the late afternoon and night time and by the change of Watch at 0100, Tom reported a steady average of 6 knots.

Thursday 25th May

We had been gradually moving north of our desired track so during my Watch I gybed and poled out the genoa to enable us to head further eastwards. At 0230 I noted that the Barometer was falling slowly. I went off Watch at 0500 but at 0700 Tom called me up. The wind was up significantly and the mainsail had backed putting us in a rather unpleasant situation – the preventer and additional kicking strap had done their jobs and stopped the mainsail from crashing across the boat in an uncontrolled gybe but now the strong wind on the full mainsail set to windward was pushing the boat onto her beam ends. I needed to control gybe the mainsail as quickly as possible. I decided I would first release the kicking strap set to windward (requiring a trip up to the shrouds where the fall end went through a block) and then ease the main over using the preventer. However, I quickly discovered that the snap connector joining the two parts of the preventer had got itself snapped onto the windward cap shroud (the wire stay that runs from the top of the mast over the spreaders half way up and down to the deck). I quickly cut preventer in two and then went up to the shrouds to ease the main across using the kicking strap – a little tricky because the integral jam cleat was down at deck level making it difficult to release – I’ll need to make some changes to the set-up. Once sorted I put three reefs in the mainsail before we set off once again at a good but more comfortable pace.

Our noon to noon to noon run brought us 124 nautical miles closer to Flores, now 670 nautical miles off. We had another competition to guess the day’s run and Mr Feeney won with his guess of 128. Mine was an optimistic 132! The Barometer had and continued to drop over the coming hours. The good news was we were still going like the clappers with 6 knots regularly displayed and sometimes 7+!

At 1300 I gybed the genoa and took it off the pole. By 1800 it was blowing a full gale and even with three reefs in the main we were significantly over canvassed. We therefore hove-to whilst I re-rigged the second reefing pennant to act as the pennant for reef number four. I had the 4th reefing point added to the sail in Gran Canaria. The modification was an expensive one and ever since I’d doubted whether it was worth it and whether the new reef point was in the right place. It looked like the sail would be VERY small when reefed. However, it’s now clear that both decisions were the right. Without the 4th reef we would have had to either ‘heave-to’ and wait for the wind to diminish or run under genoa alone – a rig that would not have been nearly so well balanced and which might therefore make steering more difficult and quite possibly impossible for Angus. As it was we were able to proceed with Angus at the helm under the deeply reefed main and a scrap of poled out genoa. Under this rig we were still making 6+ knots and surging to 7+ in the gusts.

At 1930 I noted in the log that the wind had eased a little but that the swells were worse making life rather uncomfortable down below. The lull was a temporary one and by 2000 the wind was once again blowing a full gale. Despite these conditions, Mr Feeney set-to in the galley and produced a most welcome bean stew with rice. Just before sitting down to eat it though, the mainsail backed once again and I had to go on deck to manage the gybe and tack back. We proceeded under goose-winged rig albeit on a broad reach to avoid backing the mainsail once again. This meant our track was 15ᵒ or so south east of the ideal. I went to bed after dinner and left Tom to it – I slept well!

Friday 26th May

When I came back on Watch at 0200 we had slipped 12 miles south of our preferred track and so I decided to ship the pole and gybe the boat on to the port tack. This I managed successfully despite being thrown across the fore-deck and getting a bash in the kidneys for my trouble. I was sore but not severely damaged. By 0315 the wind had eased a little despite the Barometer continuing to fall albeit more slowly. At 0500 the wind died further and backed to the North West. I rolled out the genoa to the first reef point and set Angus to sail us on under a broad reach. Our speed was down to 4-5 knots.
At 0600 I noticed an AIS contact to our North going in the opposite direction. It was the cargo ship Vogerunner – Dutch I think. I called her up on the VHF and asked if they could give me a weather forecast which they did. Indeed, after our initial conversation during which she provided the forecast, she called us back to clarify our vessel type and destination. Our AIS signal was clearly not reaching them. On learning we were a tiddly sailing boat bound for the Azores she warned us of a low-pressure system moving in that direction from the North West. The forecast was for winds of 13 knots today from the NNW (we actually had rather more) diminishing to 8 knots tomorrow and backing to the SSW and rising back to gale force on Sunday! The centre of the Low was moving SSE at 20 knots which would place it over Flores on Monday 29th May – probably a day or two before we would get there. It looks like our approach and landfall may be a windy one therefore. I’m estimating based on that information that we’ll encounter strong winds from the SW which will back round to the North/North West during the last two or three days of the passage (i.e. commencing Sunday). I’m going to ask Mick to provide a forecast too.

Later forecasts received from Mick confirmed the general situation – i.e. we had fresh to strong winds for most but not all of the rest of the passage.

Our noon to noon run was a good one; we were closer to Flores by 127 nautical miles.
The wind moderated during the afternoon requiring the shaking out of all reefs. With the light wind in the NW we sailed on a beam reach on the port tack somewhat north of our desired track to maximise boat speed in the sloppy seas.

Saturday 27th May

By 0430 we were totally becalmed and I therefore turned the engine on to motor for a few hours. Given the forecasts the wind should return before too long. By 0745 a breeze had indeed returned from the South East and so we continued sailing once again.  By midday we needed two reefs in the mainsail in the fresh E/SE wind.

The distance to our Flores waypoint at midday was 450 nautical miles and we were 103 miles closer.

We enjoyed steady consistent sailing more or less on course at around 5.5 knots for the rest of the day. I’m typing this a few days after the events and have therefore lost track of who cooked what when but we continued to eat pretty well by supplementing our tinned meat and fish with the remaining ‘fresh’ onions and garlic. We also had a couple of fresh limes and strangely enough the other ingredients for making Gin and Tonics and Dark ‘n’ Stormy’s. We were clearly getting hardened to the conditions because whilst a pleasant sunny afternoon in the cockpit was a great incentive to enjoy yet another cocktail, it was no longer a necessary precondition and a number were enjoyed below decks whilst it was dark and stormy above!

It was around this point in the passage that Tom showed an interest in Arctic Smoke’s original brass clock and barometer, both of which had ceased to function since before she fell into my possession in 2011! I had of course fiddled with them a little but to no avail and they therefore remained on the saloon bulkhead as lazy mementos to bygone sailing and sailors. I explained to Tom that they were hopeless relics but he was not easily deterred and so with the boat rocking and rolling he first turned his attention to the clock and through cunning use of the wind-up mechanism coaxed it into life! Personally, I was not fooled; it was clear to me that he was acting as some sort of divine conduit for Father Time. I had wound that clock several times in the past and it had steadfastly refused to tick one single tock. Next, he turned his attention to the barometer. A more challenging project. First it had to be removed from the bulkhead and then taken apart. Shortly afterwards we were both on our hands and knees trying to find one of the tiny screws that we thought had ejected itself from the case as Tom dismantled it. The cabin sole was not exactly spotless after days of rough weather on and off and so the task was not an easy one. A number of holes in the inspection hatches to the bilges also offered the little renegade plenty of opportunity to make a permanent escape. After numerous fruitless minutes of searching amongst the passage detritus we gave up and commenced the useless pastime of staring at the machine and wondering whether the missing screw was really necessary. “That’s where it goes” said Tom pointing to the inner mechanism “hang on a minute, what’s that stuck on the frame just there” – more pointing… Sure enough there was the errant screw stuck on the frame curtesy of a blob of oil. Tom proceeded to take everything apart and then re-assemble all the various bits. Nothing seemed to account for the barometer’s lack of activity. Oh well back on the bulkhead with it. At that time, we happened to be in period of stable air pressure and therefore it was not possible to establish whether the Barometer was working or not. Some hours later however and to our great delight movement was apparent, the Barometer was working once again – well done Tom. Not satisfied with getting the instruments functioning once again, Tom later polished them up so that they shone like new. Arctic Smoke therefore now has two Barometers and two clocks. The new ones I received as presents a couple of years ago, now unfortunately need re-plating, but at least I’ll be able to remove them for that purpose and still have two functioning instruments on board.

Sunday 28th May

By the time I got up to take over the Watch at 0100 the wind had clearly increased significantly and therefore my first job was to put another reef in the mainsail – which, once the task was completed, had three reefs in. I also furled the genoa deeply and gybed it to port alongside the mainsail. We continued under this rig for the rest of the morning.

During the afternoon, the wind backed and veered several times requiring the genoa to be alternately poled out to starboard and then set back to port again a number of times. We ended up with the genoa poled out to starboard and goose winged once again.

A further forecast in from Mick via the YellowBrick, confirmed the continuation of fresh winds and his prediction we would be in Lajes in time for Lunch on Wednesday!

At noon, we had 335 nautical miles left to run to Flores, 114 miles closer than the same time yesterday.

The afternoon passed without anything of significance to note. We were though once again visited by Dolphins at dusk. They had done so nearly every evening since we left Bermuda.

Monday 29th May

This time at the change of Watch it was clear we had too little sail and we were heading too far to the North of our intended track and so I gybed the genoa off the pole once again, unfurled it and set it on the same side as the main – to port (we still had three reefs in the Mainsail). As a consequence, we headed to far to the SE of our desired track! However, I decide to let things be for the time being.
At noon, we had 218 nautical miles left to go and were 117 closer.

After various sail plans during the afternoon including the shaking out of the reefs as the wind died, at 1530 the wind backed and increased in strength once again and so I put two reefs in the mainsail.

Tuesday 30th May

The change of Watch at 0100 had brought yet another change in conditions. The wind was up once again and the barometer was dropping. We were surging along at 6+ knots and the wind continued to gather in strength. Time for the third reef once again. Once done we were still making 6 + knots but Angus was having a much easier time keeping AS on course.

Our noon to noon run was 123 nautical miles closer to our WP, leaving just 85 miles to go to our destination.

During this period the GPS/AIS unit developed what turned out to be a temporary malfunction – the cross-track error screen (XTE) – which shows how far off the initial track from point A to point B the boat is at any given time - was showing the error opposite the boat’s actual position. At the time there was a lot of head scratching going on as we tried to make sense of the contradictory information the machine was showing us. We weren’t even sure if it was a fault or whether it had only recently developed. Perhaps it had been like that all the time and I had only just noticed it. My brain was feeling rather mushy. Then just as mysteriously the fault disappeared!

At 0030 the low battery alarm went off – there had been very little sunlight to charge the batteries over the preceding 24 hours but even so, the gauge showed we had only used 25 Amp hours. We had been getting a little more than that out of the knackered batteries. Anyway, the engine went on to charge them up and then shortly afterwards the wind died away completely and we had to motor for a couple of hours. At this point I discovered the steaming light had packed up. It had been raining for hours and we were getting increasingly soggy below decks with all the water that got brought in every time one of us went out and in again.

By 0300 the wind finally returned from the NW – I think it had backed but it was difficult to tell. We then ‘enjoyed’ a cracking sail to our landfall albeit in the pouring rain. Visibility was poor and so we didn’t get our first sight of Flores until suddenly the top of the volcano emerged from the cloud only a mile or so away. It was a spectacular sight – all the more awe inspiring in the terrible weather – it was a view straight off the pages of a Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway novel. During the last few days, I had been reading Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ which no doubt helped conjure up the comparison. The weather remained awful for the rest of our approach; visibility was poor and it was bloody chilly. Just like a November day on the Medway! However, the wind died as we entered the lee of the island. We moored up in the marina at 1030 local time and with that, after just under 16 days (the same time as the longer outward passage to Martinique) our passage from Bermuda to the Flores – all 1680 miles of it was complete.

Monday 15 May 2017


Friday 5th May – Monday 15th May

Having arrived at 0500 on Friday I slept for most of the rest of the morning and then set about tidying up the boat a little above and below decks. Once things were reasonably ship-shape I blew up the dinghy in preparation for going ashore. There was already quite a strong wind from the South which was creating a significant chop in the harbour and the dinghy was bouncing up and down alongside the boat. I thought twice about going ashore but in the end decided to do so. I didn’t bother with the outboard motor being anchored only a hundred or so metres from the town quay I reckoned I would be able to row back against the wind and would probably not get as wet as I would under engine.
I left about 1630. The short trip ashore was easy – just blown in on the wind within 5 minutes and didn’t get wet. I had a look around the centre of the small attractive town with a number of historical buildings which I looked forward to investigating in more detail later. I bought a loaf of bread to take back and despite having been warned of Bermuda’s prices, I was shocked to have to pay $6 dollars for a cotton wool sliced loaf – albeit apparently wholemeal. I later found the town’s main store where bread was a dollar cheaper but still…

Next up was to find an internet connection so that I could ring Sharon via WhatsApp. My phone had no signal and so I couldn’t use the mobile network (although later I discovered I was able to manually select Digicel and get a connection). The local pub – the White Horse – had wifi and internet so I settled in there with half a pint of beer – another $6 – and got online and spoke to Sharon. I then caught up on my other email and WhatsApp messages, and filed the company’s NIL VAT return with two days to spare before the deadline.

Whilst on the phone to Sharon I moaned about the prices and said I might splash out the $16 required for a Burger and Chips but lovely lady, she encouraged me to treat myself to a steak. So I did – it was gorgeous – the first steak I had had since the British Virgin Islands many weeks ago. With a glass of red wine the meal cost $50!

As I was tucking in, the Swedes – Andreas, Mimi and Maria from the two boats next to me at anchor sat at the next table and we got chatting. One was another single hander who had been particularly friendly when he anchored next to me earlier in the day. To my great embarrassment it turned out that we had met before at Hemingway marina, Havana and had – albeit only briefly chatted about what turned out to be our common passage plan to sail to Bermuda via the Bahamas! Rolph kindly excused me offering his cleanly shaven appearance as my excuse – he had previously sported a splendid beard. In fact he had already shaved it off by the time of our conversation in Havana! The other a couple in their thirties and a friend who had recently joined them in the Bahamas were aboard a boat about the same size as Arctic Smoke. They were on their way home having explored many of the same islands as us during the season. We had probably been in the same places at the same time on occasions but had never previously met. They had spent the last few weeks in the Bahamas whilst I had spent most of that time in Cuba. They all ordered their food and we spent a very enjoyable evening together. Rolph was on his way back after some years away having spent time in the Mediterranean as well as the Caribbean with his wife and others joining him now and again. The others had taken in Morocco before crossing to the Caribbean. Like me they now had to get home to replenish their coffers! Rolph was semi-retired and ran his own cutting tools supply business in Sweden and had left his son in charge whilst he was off sailing.

Saturday - the bad weather continued - I had decided it was now too bouncy to make a trip ashore worthwhile and I spent the morning reading and cleaning up a little more. By the afternoon although still very windy it was pleasant enough to read in the cockpit. Around lunch-time Rolph came by in his super RIB and offered me a trip ashore which I gratefully accepted. We explored the town a little more found the chandlers which was well stocked and would probably have most boaty things I might need albeit it at very inflated prices. I asked about getting my gas cylinders re-filled but the balance of opinion amongst the staff there was that their supplier would only be able to re-fill cylinders with American style connectors. This was a bit of a blow because I was pretty sure that I would have to connect the last of my three cylinders any day now and that we would need more gas to get me and Tom to the Azores. At the time of writing the issue is still unresolved.

Saturday night was very windy. I found a pay for access wifi/internet connection available on the boat that evening and signed up for a week’s service for $30 and managed to upload the passage log to the Bahamas. Today however I’ve only been able to get an internet connection for a few minutes and have not been able to upload the passage log to Bermuda. If the service continues to be unavailable I’m going to want to get my money back – although quite how I have no idea. I was going to watch one of the films that Laurent had given me copies of (by the way Laurent – if you read this I have tried to email you but the email address you gave me does not work) but I got immersed in reading Webb Chiles’ latest passage log from St Helena to St Lucia. Webb’s ocean wanderings make my sailing seem like an outing on the Serpentine. For a while it looked like we might meet up (he’s now heading for Key West) but my inability to get an American Visa and my need to link up with Tom, has put paid to that. I did scoff half of the very expensive chocolate I bought earlier however!
During the night I had an unpleasant dream that the anchor was dragging!

Sunday continued wet and windy and I took the opportunity to stay in bed until 1000 having treated myself to Tea and toast and marmalade in bed. I’d bought the marmalade yesterday as well as the bar of chocolate.

I took the opportunity provided by a slight improvement in the weather to sort out the stern light. I discovered a spare navigation light fitting amongst my spares and although I didn’t have everything required to make a permanent job of it I think it should now get us back to the UK. It needs an appropriate means of properly attaching the flat back plate to the round section vertical tube section to which it is now attached using a cable tie and a piece of kitchen sponge, with hopefully enough silicone plastered around to keep the water out.

Earlier I got around to tackling the leaky galley sink pump. It was squirting a stream of water out of the back with every pump stroke and this was seeping into the fridge which was, as a consequence filling up slowly with water. To my pleasant surprise the simple addition of an O ring over the pump-hand shaft and nipped up did the trick.

I’m still left with a very annoying issue with the water system though which is that neither the galley nor the head water pumps (both manual) are pumping properly even though there is plenty of water in the tank. It’s as if there’s an air lock in the tank/pipes but I’ve repeatedly forced all the air out by filling the tank to over flowing to no avail. I think a pipe must be squashed somewhere and fear I’m going to have to empty the tank completely in order to find out what’s happened.

Tonight, I think I will watch a film once I have sorted out some food. Hopefully the weather will have improved tomorrow so that I can get ashore.

Monday – Rolph and I explored St George’s further and I bought a couple of small propane gas cylinders and a single burner to use on the boat in Harbour in the hope that there will enough gas left in the last gas cylinder – connected yesterday so virtually full – to get us to the Azores where I know I can get my Camping Gaz cylinders exchanged. We also treated ourselves to a decent lunch in one of the local restaurants – expensive again.

Tuesday – Again with Rolph we took the bus to Hamilton and then on to the Naval Dockyard at the other end of the island. We bought a card of 15 tickets from the local Post Office for $47. One ticket each took us to Hamilton then another each to a stop-over in Somerset Island and then another to Hamilton. We then used two more each to get the Ferry to Hamilton and then the bus back to St George’s at the end of the day. Our stop-over on Somerset Island was to try and track down the first owner of Rolph’s boat who at the time of purchase lived there. We found the house but he had long since moved, the current occupant having lived there since 2006 I think. That was a shame – it would have been fun to have surprised him. However, we enjoyed a walk alongside the very attractive coastline that we would not otherwise have undertaken. We also stopped off for lunch in Somerset Village and had a very goof Fish Chowder. Given we economised on the main course we both treated ourselves to a large slab of chocolate cake with coffee for desert. After lunch we continued our journey by bus to the old Naval Dockyard/Cruise ship terminal. Nearby was the base for the America’s Cup Fleet and we saw a couple of the incredible machines practice racing on the water. It would have been great to have stayed on for the racing proper in a few weeks’ time but my time-table didn’t permit. It would also no doubt be an extremely expensive way of spending the time!

We looked around the Dockyard and I decided to return later in the week when more time was available go round the museum. The Dockyard was very extensive and was originally built by the Brits in the immediate aftermath of the war of independence with the , which we of course, lost. The Empire needed a new North Atlantic base with the loss of Halifax and Bermuda was ideally situated and had the necessary protected deep, if hazardous, waters needed by the fleet.

We tried to get close to the America’s cup crews with no luck but discovered later that our Swedish friends did manage to get into the Swedish compound where they had some sort of open day underway.

After exploring the Dockyard area we took the Ferry back to Hamilton and had a look around. We found Goslings – the main booze suppliers on the island who also sold apparel. Rolph’s boat is named “Dark and Stormy” after the famous Bermudan Rum cocktail – Dark rum mixed with Ginger Ale or beer. Rolph took the opportunity to buy a Dark and Stormy T-Shirt and Baseball cap! We also considered ordering some duty free booze but decided we’d come back later in the week. We had good quality burger meal at one of the local eateries and then took the bus back to St George’s where we arrived just as darkness was enveloping the town. The full moon lit up a most impressive navy blue sky as we returned to the boats.

Wednesday was a boat work day. Having tried and failed to re-reeve the reefing pennant that had pulled through the boom, I finally plucked up the courage to try and remove the fitting at the end of the boom that held the three pulley blocks in place through which ran the pennants. I had avoided doing so until now because I was half expecting the four screws that held it in place to be corroded and or seized in place. They were very firmly screwed in but they did eventually unscrew and to my great surprise the whole assembly then easily came off the boom. I had expected that to be corroded in place too. With the aid of the powerful spotlight that Mick had got working some months ago I was now able to look up the inside of the boom and establish where the end of the plastic reeving got to when inserted from the mast end of the boom. With a great deal of fiddling about I could get it about three quarters of the way down the inside of the boom – too far away to reach by hand, but at least now I could see it and with the end fitting off should be able to get some sort of hook device far enough in to grab it. I still had the length of copper plumbing tube that I had bought in Gran Canaria with the intention of making a lightening conductor (which I never did) and was able to jam a small hand held hook tool into one end. After numerous attempts at inserting this up the inside of the boom and twisting it around I was finally able to pull the end of the reeving tool through. Then I attached a length of this cord to it and pulled the cord through the boom. Next I needed to attach the pennant to the cord and pull that through the boom. I whipped the cord onto the end of the pennant and hoped that the two lines would not part company once under load which they would be when being pulled through the pulleys. Everything worked fine and to my great satisfaction I was able to complete the job.

Next I rigged up an additional kicking strap for the boom. The existing kicking strap is a traditional one – a block and tackle with the fixed end secured on the boom about a quarter of its length from the mast and the other adjustable end secured to the base of the mast where one can tighten or loosen the ‘strap’. The purpose of it is to stop the boom from lifting when one is sailing down-wind (it’s not needed when sailing up-wind because the main sheet pulls the boom down). There are two problems with the existing kicking strap. One is that I’ve damaged the friction jaws on the adjustable end and so it keeps working lose. The other is that whilst the location of the adjustable end at the foot of the mast means that it work equally well on either tack and looks after itself, it doesn’t work particularly well – the angle of the strap to the boom is so acute that even when the strap is as tight as one can get it, the boom still lifts. The second strap will be secured on the lee rail at the shrouds and will therefore be more at right angles to the boom and so pull down more effectively. It will also help prevent the boom from crashing from one side of the boat to the other in the event of an accidental jibe. That’s when the wind gets around the back of the sail and pushes it over from one side to the other. In high winds that can be dangerous, with a real risk of injury and/or gear breakage. An accidental jibe can easily be induced when sailing downwind with a high swell running (the stern gets pushed from one side to the other by the swell), or simply by poor helmsmanship. Of course, most of the time Angus will be steering and there’s not much point in blaming him!

Thursday – Rolph and I went to the Dockyard and Hamilton again. We took the Ferry to the Dockyard and once there I went around the museum situated in the impressive Commissionaire’s House. The museum charted the history of Bermuda from the initial settlement by the British in 1609 (when a two ship expedition to reinforce the British colonies in New England foundered on the Bermudan reefs and the resulting enforced stopover - during which time the crews built two new ships to continue their rescue mission – resulted in the creation of the first settlement on Bermuda) through the slave trade era and the building of the Dockyard using convict labour to the second d world war and beyond. Interestingly in addition to the British colonisers there was significant immigration from the Azores and Madeira when their skills in Agriculture were much sort after. Today a quarter of the island’s population has Azorean ancestry. Bermuda suddenly became pivotal to the continued success of the British Empire after the United States gained their independence. Prior to then Halifax was the home of the North Atlantic fleet. Once lost a new base was needed and Bermuda was ideally situated. With slavery abolished the Brits thought up a great wheeze to get the new base built quickly and cheaply – convict labour!

Slavery in Bermuda was amongst the earliest development of that practice across the whole empire and was initially an insidious process of the white land-owners disenfranchising the existing population of often highly skilled black sugar cane and tobacco farmers and associate craftsmen and then enslaving them. It was of course little comfort for the slaves themselves but after the island’s tobacco farming boom collapsed in the late 17th Century and the island’s economy turned to commerce, may slaves occupied highly skilled positions in the booming maritime trades. It appears that these economic changes were therefore also indirectly responsible for the early abolition of slavery in Bermuda. On August the 1st1834, slavery was abolished on Bermuda. Full political franchise and equality before the law did of course take a great deal longer to come about. Today, Bermuda’s black population appears from casual observation to have a significant middle class element but as elsewhere, black people also seem to be over represented amongst the poorer.

In contrast to with most of the Caribbean islands we visited, Bermuda today seems an affluent and well run economy and society. I’ve seen no slums or outright poverty, indeed the island compares favourably with the more well-to-do elements of American and European society. The contrast with Cuba, couldn’t be more stark! I don’t know whether the island’s wealth is all self-made or if it gets a heavy subsidy from the UK, of which it’s an overseas territory. The closest comparison I can make is with the French Caribbean islands such as Martinique and Guadalupe which are fully French. Unlike those islands however, which seem French from top to bottom and appear to benefit from central funding just like any other part of France, Bermuda quite clearly has its own unique identity. The extraordinary high prices of everything on the island must mean there is no subsidy from the UK. I must find out more!

After the Dockyard we took the Ferry to Hamilton. First stop was the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (Bermuda is most definitely a Royal island) because Rolph had arranged to have a package shipped to him care of the Club – a service the apparently provide for free to any visiting Yachtsman requiring it. After that we returned to Goslings to order our duty-free liquor! Then on to the town’s main supermarket to (part) provision for the passages ahead – Rolph plans on leaving on Saturday and I plan on leaving on Monday after my American friend from Boston – Tom Feeney, arrives on Sunday. Then it was the bus back to St George’s heavily laden with probably the most very expensive shopping I’ve ever done.

On our return to the boats, Rolph hosted drinks on board Dark and Stormy, for his fellow Swedes, Andreas, Mimi and Maria who were leaving for the Azores on Saturday. We had yet another very enjoyable evening.

Friday – a full gale hit St Georges building from about 0730 and peaking around 1000. The anchorage was a wild scene for a couple of hours. A number of boats dragged their anchors and at least one on the other side of the harbour ran hard aground when the wind veered from the south west to the north. Some of the boats near to Arctic Smoke were pitching wildly up and down and dinghies were being tossed into the air all over the place. Fortunately Arctic Smoke’s Anchor did its job well and we stayed put. AS seemed to be much more stable than many of her neighbours, some of which were significantly bigger.

St George’s is the first Anchorage where AS has had the company of a significant number of boats of a similar or smaller size. There must be a dozen or so in the immediate neighbourhood below 35 feet. First prize goes to the Ausie boat next to me. She’s all of 27 feet and has sailed here via The Cape of Good Hope with a crew of 2. That’s pretty impressive! We’re nearly all bound for the Azores over the next few days and so hopefully we’ll meet up again then.

Saturday – Monday – sorry not finished and got to go. Quick Summary…

Saturday I spent working on the boat. Checked the rigging and discovered the radar reflector bracket had split and that a block at the top of the mast for the spare halyards was about to break up. Lashed up the radar reflector and replaces the block. Also, set up emergency rope backstays.
Sunday morning prepared the boat for Tom’s arrival and met him at the Airport. We then took a bus and ferry trip up to the Dockyard in the hope of seeing some of the America’s Cup boats but we were too late. A quick look around Hamilton then back to St George’s just in time to get a good dinner at the local restaurant then back to the boat.

We now need to get going after some last-minute provisioning, fuel and water and clearing out. ETD 1400 local on Monday 15th.

Monday 8 May 2017

Passage Log – Old Bahama Bay, West End, Grand Bahama Island to St George's Bermuda

Having spent only a very short time at only one of many of the Bahama islands I can see why they are such a popular cruising ground. Lovely beaches, crystal clear waters and friendly locals. One could easily spend months cruising the chain provided one had time and deep pockets. However, I had neither and needed to move on for my rendezvous with Tom in Bermuda (another expensive location I had been warned). He arrives in Bermuda on the 14th May and has a flight booked from the Azores on 3rd June so that he can make his daughter’s High School Graduation. We will therefore need to leave Bermuda as soon as possible after the 14th May and I want to have as much time there as possible to rest up and undertake the inevitable jobs on the boat before we depart. It’s going to be a bit tough on him though, he’s going to have the long ocean passage without the holiday stuff at either end.
After a great deal of consideration/faffing, I finally decided the route I would take from West End would be across the Little Bahama Bank to Great Sale Cay and then though Strangers Channel into the Atlantic Ocean. The alternatives I considered were either to go North and leave the entire island chain to the West, or to cross the bank and finish crossing the bank North West of Grand Cay. I perhaps should have also considered other alternatives further to the South East in order to get a better angle on to the forecast South East/East wind for the crossing. I didn’t because at the time they seemed too much of a detour. I was nervous about crossing the bank at all due to the risks of running aground in the shallow waters, but having talked to Scott and Laurie who very kindly invited me to dinner on the Tuesday evening, and who had crossed the bank a few days ago from Grand Cay, I was persuaded that crossing the bank was doable provided I was careful. The route involved a short leg of a mile or so up the Western edge of the Bank from West End and then North Westwards through a narrow channel for 3 miles or so with about 1.5 metres under the keel before arriving in slightly deeper water (about 2.5 metres under the keel) for the 40 mile North Westwards leg to Great Sale Cay via Mangrove Cay.
The passage coming up would be new territory for me; approximately 800 miles and if I was lucky, perhaps 8 days of Atlantic Ocean on my own. To date the longest solo passage I had completed on was the previous one from Havana to West End, Bahamas, that was 3 days and 2 nights. That was of course in the coastal (and therefore fairly crowded waters of the Florida Straights); the passage to Bermuda would be in the open ocean. Yes, I felt rather apprehensive at the prospect but it was also a challenge I had (sort of) hoped I would face sooner or later. Prior to that I’d completed a number of day & night passages around the coast of Cuba and of course the crossing from Jamaica. During these previous passages I had experienced most conditions I was likely to encounter short of a full blown gale, including calms, thunder and lightening and strong winds requiring three reefs.
The forecast for the week/route ahead was for strong winds from the East/South East easing to probable light airs nearer to Bermuda with high pressure sitting over the island. My main concern on leaving - apart from the need to complete our crossing of the Little Bahama Bank without incident – was therefore the prospect of having to get through those calms. In theory, Arctic Smoke carries enough fuel for about 36 hours of motoring (that includes use of 15 Litres of fuel in spare cans). That’s at 4 knots in calm conditions. Any significant chop and her 10 hp Bukh can’t push her along at much more than 2k! However, I’ve never pushed the little Bukh for that long and would be reluctant  to motor for more than 12 hours at a stretch without undertaking an oil check (requiring the engine to cool down). I’d probably need to re-fill the stern gland greaser with grease around then too. That all adds up to getting within 100 miles before resorting to the engine. Unless that is I get hold of good weather data indicating a that a few hours motoring in a specific direction will get me into winds. I’ll be therefore be quite content if we make the passage within 8 days which is about a hundred miles a day. Short of really bad weather, no/little wind with sloppy seas are the conditions I most dislike. The sails bang and crash all over the place placing an extra strain on the rigging and little if any progress can be made under power.
Fingers crossed…
Thursday 27th April
I left the berth at 0700 on Thursday morning and went over to the fuel dock to top up (2.5 gallons) with fuel and settle my account - $350 for three nights (plus the previous $150 for the compulsory 6 month Cruising Permit) made Old Bahama Bay the most expensive marina yet!
Things went more or less to plan except that a lapse in concentration saw us wander outside the narrow channel early on and the depth went down to 0.5 metres. I had chosen a rising tide to get through the channel but the last thing I wanted was to ground in unfamiliar waters. The wind was light to moderate from the SE byE for most of the leg to Great Sale Cay and so we were able to lay our course on a close reach/close hauled but there were a couple of periods when the wind died and where I used the engine for an hour or so in order to keep our average speed up and therefore ensure arrival at Great Sale Cay in daylight. For some reason, I expected a deserted anchorage but there were quite a few boats there including a number I recognised from the marina. Most had left before us but one overhauled us about half way there. I dropped the hook at about 1830 outside most of the others in about 3 metres of water an went for a quick swim. In doing so I noticed a pretty thick growth of weed along the water line and decided I would have to scrub the bottom in the morning before leaving. I had worked out that I would need to leave at about 1400 the next day in order to catch the latter part of the ebb to the mouth of Strangers Cay Channel and therefore pass through the cut in the reef at around low water.
Friday 28th April
In the morning before leaving I oiled the very neglected tiller and Angus and spent a couple of hours scrubbing the bottom of the boat which thankfully was not as bad as I had feared following my initial inspection the previous day.
Anchor up at 1400.
My charts showed a minimum of 9 metres in the cut and my guide warned of the risk of lumpy seas in the cuts when wind was over tide. My timing was bang on – we arrived at the cut just before low water but the depths outside the cut were a good few metres lower than charted and once outside the swell built considerably and I had an anxious 20 minutes or so in the large swell with the echo sounder registering only 4 metres whereas I was expecting 7 or 8. However we got through safely and I trimmed Angus and the sails to set us close hauled on the Starboard tack. We couldn’t lay Bermuda at about 065ᵒM, 045ᵒwas as good as we could make. As a precaution,
I had earlier rigged the emergency forestay which would make tacking rather a faff (I would either have to remove it before tacking each time or completely furl the genoa before unfurling it on the other tack) and so I hoped the wind would eventually veer further south to enable us to lay our preferred course. I had also set two reefs in the main on the basis of the forecasted 15-20 knots of wind from the E/SE. I was glad I did because once out of the sheltered waters of the bank the wind increased significantly in strength.
We carried on for the rest of the day and night on roughly the same course. Our speed over the ground was down to 4 knots and because it felt like we were sailing rather faster I concluded we must be in an eddy of the North Atlantic Current, which I was pretty sure should be giving us a slight lift.
I ‘settled’ down into my night time routine with the Alarm set every hour when I would poke my head up top to check for shipping before returning to bed with the Alarm reset. I figured that in this empty patch of ocean, and with the AIS CPA (Closest Point of Approach) alarm set for 2 nautical miles that should be sufficient. I did manage to get a reasonable amount of sleep. No shipping appeared.
Saturday 29th April
The wind did indeed veer southwards during the early hours of the morning and we were able to lay  Bermuda for quite a few hours. Around 0730 our speed went up a couple of knots so that we were now making around 6 knots with 722 miles to go to our Way Point off SE Bermuda. During the afternoon the wind backed for a few hours to push us off course further North once again but then veered again and at the time of writing this section – 1800 local we are heading slightly East of Bermuda. It’s tempting to ease the sheets but we are still West of our rum line and with High Pressure over Bermuda the winds seem likely to remain in the East for the foreseeable future.
The rest of the afternoon and night passed without incident. The wind stayed fresh but backed further Eastwards preventing us from laying Burmuda. I wasn’t in the best of spirits. Not sea-sick – I’m lucky not to suffer that; just not enjoying the conditions and feeling a bit anxious. We were taking regular splashes into the cockpit which kept me down below most of the time and required both hatches to be tightly closed making conditions rather muggy below and we were being thrown around a fair bit. As we came off the bigger waves I could hear the Anchor banging about in the roller and knew that additional lashings were really required. The thought of going right up to the bow and getting a good soaking on the bouncing foredeck was not an attractive one and I figured that no damage was likely to occur and so left it until conditions moderated.

I saw our first ship of the passage around 1000; initially heading directly for us but he took avoiding action before I needed to call him up to make sure he knew we were here!
As at 1815 we have 665 miles to run to our Approach Waypoint. The GPS is predicting arrival on the morning of May 5th but that’s pretty meaningless at this stage especially with High Pressure sitting over Bermuda. Our speed may slow considerably over the second half of the passage if not before.
Sunday 30th April
The wind gradually eased over night but by the morning although going slower we were still making around 4.5k and still had water occasionally breaking over the boat and into the cockpit and I therefore left the reefs in the main and stayed down below as much as possible, still rather fed-up!
At midday we 581 miles to go to our waypoint. By 1530 – 48 hours after exiting Strangers Cay Channel it was down to 565, 207 miles nearer to our destination.
At 1400 I noticed that the Starboard tiller line to Angus had worn through its outer covering at the block and so I replaced both lines. By 1600 the wind had eased further and our speed was down to 3.5k. It was now time to shake out the reefs. The seas were down too and therefore it was a reasonably easy operation. I took the opportunity offered by the calmer conditions to replace the sail batten that had gone missing. Mind you I had to hunt high and low for the spare battens. I had forgotten that I had stowed them in the bottom of one of the cockpit lockers when previously they were stowed on the quarter berth. I also put an extra lashing on the Anchor which had been bouncing around in the earlier more lively conditions. A little later I also noticed one of the struts supporting the solar panels had worked loose. A nut had come undone and so I replaced that too.
The calmer conditions made for very pleasant sailing and we were still making 5 knots and I was at last able to open the skylight in the Saloon without getting drenched. I felt much perkier. The enforced activity after a long period of slouching about probably helped too.
On average we appear to be tracking at 060ᵒrather than the 070ᵒneeded to lay our Waypoint off SE Bermuda. It’s too early to consider tacking however. If high pressure is sitting over Bermuda for the next few days, which was forecasted when we left, the wind is likely to ease further as we get nearer and we will probably have to use the engine to get us through calms.
Unlike last night when I had no appetite and made do with just a couple of slices of Jamaican spiced bun, tonight I was quite peckish and therefore after enjoying a rum cocktail in the cockpit watching the sun set, I cooked a basic supper of fried eggs, fried yam left over from Thursday night and Baked Beans. Nothing fancy but it did the job.
The night hours passed without incident and we continued more or less on track for our Waypoint under full sail.
Monday 1st May
A new month but apart from being a little closer to Bermuda everything else was thankfully much the same. The wind veered somewhat during the early hours – so much so that we were actually tracking South of East until I decided to adjust Angus and ease the sheets. When I looked around at 0400, the Ocean was a little crowded. One ship a few miles off our Port bow was crossing us happily at a safe distance – the AIS confirmed it would not get closer than 2.5 miles. The other on the Starboard bow seemed nearer and also appeared to be crossing in front of us, but we were getting no AIS signal at all. It was also extremely long, so long in fact that it had me checking the charts to make sure there wasn’t an island out there that I had overlooked. I think it must have been a giant tanker – the deck lights weren’t the sort of thing you see on cruise liners. Perhaps it was one vessel towing another, that would have accounted for the extreme length of lights but it would be most unusual for such a combination not to broadcasting on AIS. Mind you it was odd that anything of that size especially in these waters was not so doing. Thankfully it crossed us some miles ahead and disappeared over the horizon.
By midday we had 469 nautical miles left to go to our Waypoint and were 112 nautical miles closer than the same time the previous day. I was quite pleased with that given that much of the previous night we seemed to be pushing a foul current once again. The boat felt like she was sailing at least at 5.5 knots but only 4.5 was registering on the GPS. Our speed now was back up to 6+ knots and the wind had moderated. I continued to feel in good spirits, so much so that I decided to have another go at making bread. Just in the frying pan – I didn’t want to use too much gas having discovered a couple of days ago that I had left the gas on low for a while without realising it. I had one round of bread fresh from the pan with lunch of fried egg, fried plantin and the baked beans left over from last night. It was OK and certainly made a pleasant change from the white fluffy Cuban rolls that I had finished off yesterday. They did keep very well it has to be said. Indeed, rather better than the much more recent bread I bought in West  End that had already turned moldy. I’ll be trying some of the rest of it a little later for tea!
At 1700 we had another odd encounter with largish vessel not transmitting an AIS signal. It crossed us from East to West but it’s course and speed was very erratic and occasionally it was omitting large amounts of black smoke. At its closest it was probably about a mile off and it looked like it might have been a large deep sea trawler but I couldn’t make out sufficient details to be sure. It occurred to me that it might have been in some difficulty but I received no hail on the VHF and just in case they were up to no good I decided not to hail them. It was very unlikely that I could have provided any assistance in any case. At 2000 I saw another ship with no AIS signal a few miles of the starboard bow. I began wondering if there was something amiss with the AIS transceiver but there’s a separate receiver in the VHF set and that wasn’t picking up any signal either.
The night hours passed without anything of note occurring. I managed to get a few hours sleep with my routine of an Alarm every hour. The wind remained more or less constant from South of South East and we continued broadly on course for our Waypoint on about 070ᵒM.
Tuesday 2nd May
The wind gradually increased during the second half of the night and by dawn I was considering reefing but laziness got the better of me for a few of hours. By 0930 it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the right balance of the various Angus adjustments and the sheet tensions to steer a steady course and I finally put two reefs in the main. That made matters much easier. At noon we were 142 nautical nearer our Bermuda Waypoint which inevitably meant we’d sailed an even greater distance. Not bad at all.
The wind gradually eased after midday day and at 1530 after an afternoon nap I shook out the reefs from the main. The wind continued to rise and fall somewhat in strength such that a couple of times we wandered off course a couple of times when Angus got confused (he needs adjusting when the amount of weather helm changes a lot – and that happens with significant changes in wind strength) and I was fearful of it dying to inconsequential levels. Happily, however, as at the time of writing -1940 - that did not happen and we continued to sail more or less on course at around 5 knots give or take.
Dinner comprised frankfurters from West End,fried with onions and garlic (from Havana) and green pepper (from West End) and sweet potatoes from Havana and the last of the Yellow Yam from Jamaica – that certainly keeps well – cooked in the pressure cooker. It was all quite tastey!
The night passed without note or shipping.
Wednesday 3rd May
 At 0730 I noticed we had exactly 200 NM to go to our Way Point. A little later I also noticed that the new tiller line to Angus on the Starboard side was already fraying where it went through the cockpit block. I’d used a slightly thicker line than the previous one and it was clearly rubbing on the frame of the block. I therefore replaced both the Starboard and the Port the blocks (which had been showing signs of wear for some time) with the two new ones which were slightly larger and which I’d bought at great expense in Fort De France, Martinique.
For some time I’d been puzzled that our bearing to the next Way Point on the main GPS did not match with our projected track on the tablet with the Navionics software. I had set the Way Point on the Tablet and entered the co-ordinates into the GPS. After doubling checking everything I noticed one of the co-ordinates was a degree out but even after correcting that they did not match up. Suddenly it dawned on me – I was entering ‘True’ co-ordinates from Navionics into the GPS which was set to Magnetic – a difference of some 12ᵒ at our current location increasing to 14ᵒaround Bermuda. I decided the simplest thing to do was to set the GPS unit to ‘True’ and take the difference into account when steering my compass – which is not often.
By midday we were 152 NMs closer to our Waypoint since midday yesterday. Another record for Arctic Smoke (albeit I am sure, current assisted). The previous best I recall was during the Atlantic crossing which we equalled yesterday.
Good news too with respect to both an antique piece of boat equipment and the weather. When I bought Arctic Smoke, built in 1974, she came complete with a 1970/80s NAVTEX unit. The system is still operational today and allows one to receive weather and other information in text format over VHF frequencies. Most of the world’s coastlines are covered and some ocean areas within 300 or so miles of a transmitter. Today’s units however are all solid state. Arctic Smoke’s unit is very similar to the first Word-processor screens and displays green text. I had in the past had it working intermittently but had more or less given up on it prior to the Atlantic crossing. Prior to the crossing I had to either remove or re-site the Antenna because it fouled Angus’s wind vane on certain points of sailing. I decided to re-site it “just in case” and unsurprisingly given it’s age discovered that the cable to the antenna was severely corroded along a significant length. By removing as much as possible from the antenna end of the cable I uncovered cable that looked like it might just be capable of carrying a signal. Mick was very dubious at the time but I re-assembled it all and hoped for the best. Well we never received anything! After Mick had left Jamaica, I had another ferret around and noticed that the connection between the receiver and the other end of the cable was loose. Without any great confidence I tightened it up. Much to my surprise that did the trick and I started to receive transmissions. They were patchy until I got to Cuba’s north coast but then pretty regular. Geography probably being the main reason. From Havana into and leaving the Bahamas I recieved regular transmissions from the USA’s Miami transmitter. This covered the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and 200 miles off Florida’s East Coast. I was still receiving these yesterday despite being more than 300 miles off shore and outside the area covered. Then to my surprise, today I started receiving transmissions from a new transmitter – St George’s which up to now I had assumed was a USA station somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard - covering the offshore area I was in. Close study of the content revealed it was from Bermuda Radio. Then the penny dropped – St George’s is the principle Port in Bermuda to which I was headed! The even better news was the weather ahead was forecast to be more of the same – South Easterly winds of 10-15 knots for the next few days (turning South West nearer the island). It seemed that the dreaded calms forecast earlier had moved off to the East and less settled weather was due to arrive at the weekend. By that time, I should be safely tucked up in St George’s Harbour.
I spent a couple of hours this afternoon examining the route options from Bermuda to the Azores. I had three sources of information on board. The first and the oldest I consulted, recommended heading North East to avoid the calms caused by the Azores High to pick up the prevailing Westerlies and the East flowing Atlantic current. The down side was that it’s longer with a significant chance of encountering shitty weather (and possibly even ice)! The second discussed two further options, the direct Great Circle route with an increased likelihood of calms due to the proximity of the Azores High, and an intermediate route. The last and most recent source, referencing 2014 data showed that ‘in fact’ there was little chance of calms along the direct Great Circle route in May in a typical year. I finished my research feeling slightly re-assured but of course what really counts is the weather prevailing at the time. We’ll just have to wait and see!
The temperatures have certainly dropped as we’ve progressed North East. I’m now wearing a T-Shirt during the day and using a light sleeping bag to cover myself during at least the early hours of the mornings.
I’m finishing up for now at around 2115 and will shortly start my 1 hour Alarm regime for the night.
I might as well not have bothered because shortly after writing the above the wind started playing silly buggers and continued to do so all night. The effects of the high pressure to the North East of Bermuda were clearly now being felt despite the earlier forecast I had received over the NAVTEX. I was up and down all night trying to get the boat to sail in little wind and sloppy seas with the sails crashing and banging as the swell from starboard continuously rolled the wind out of the sails. We crawled along roughly in the right direction at around 2 knots, my hopes of getting into St George’s tomorrow evening in the daylight completely dashed.
Thursday 4th May
The breeze steadied around dawn however and we were once again sailing smoothly in the right direction at around 5 knots – I suspect we were still being helped on our way by a knot of current.  I noted that once at Bermuda we will be 1100 miles North of our Christmas Eve landfall in Martinique. I’m not sure how many nautical miles we will have travelled since then, but perhaps another 500 or so. I will have to check it out.
By noon and despite the slow night we were nearer by another 120 nautical miles.
Shortly after noon I began considering the logistics of our approach. It was beginning to look like a speed of around 4-5k would mean arriving in the dark which was not ideal although my Pilot book stated the narrow approach channel was well lit and that entry in the dark in good weather was entirely feasible. The other factors to take into account were the state of the tide and approaching bad weather. From the information available on the Navionics navigation App, it looked as if HW would be about 0500. Ideally, I would like to enter in daylight and on the flood – I wasn’t sure how fast the ebb would run and it looked as if it would be against the wind which was forecast to strengthen. That could create a nasty chop and I didn’t fancy a repeat of the experience getting into Hemingway. I therefore decided that catching the tide and good weather were more important than daylight. At that time, no further action was required, we just needed to carry on at around the same speed. My early afternoon however we were completely becalmed once again. After waiting for a couple of hours I got the engine on and under half revs we carried on with the current at about 4 knots.
During the afternoon, with a night entrance all but assured, I tackled a job I should have done in Havana, which was to try and get the stern light working again. The light fitting was on it’s last legs and once again salt water had corroded the connections. I fought with it for a couple of hours and then gave up. Later I realised I had blown a fuse in the process and may well have repaired the connection but by that time I had taken it all apart again! We would just have to make do with the mast-head tricolour (white pointing backwards, green to starboard and red to port) which is only supposed to be used whilst sailing. Under power, a yacht is supposed to display separate navigation lights below a steaming light and with a stern light. With the stern light not working the other lights were redundant.
At 1730 local time (which it turned out was an hour ahead of thought I thought because of the use of summer daylight saving time which was not mentioned in the Pilot Book) we had about 30 miles and so as required I called up Bermuda Radio to inform them of our coming arrival and warned them that we would only be displaying our tricolour light.
The wind returned in fits and starts from about 2030 with us sailing for a short spells and then motoring. Finally, around 2300 it filled in properly and we had a very pleasant night sail up the South East coast of Bermuda.
Friday 5th May
The wind died again at around 0230. I would have been turning it on for our final approach at about 0330 anyway and therefore it was no great frustration to do so an hour earlier. The approach was well lit and so coupled with being able to ‘see’ the boat on the Navionics chart plotter, the entrance was reasonably straight forward. It did seem very narrow however! I cleared with Customs and Immigration around 0500 and got the Anchor down at 0530 and headed for my bunk.

Passage completed.