I flew out of New Zealand on 15 April 2018 on a direct flight to Houston and then on to Washington DC. From Dulles airport an Uber driver delivered me to my daughter Casey and son in laws house in Arlington, Virginia. This was the mailing address for various ‘presents’ for my second wife, ‘Roaring Meg’. My partner, Sharon, always maintains that ‘she’ (RM) was more expensive to keep than herself!
Included in the pile was a new Raymarine type 1 linear drive for the Autopilot. After all there was no way that I intended to cross the Pacific hand steering and the old one was no longer reliable – since new she had done around 50,000Nm over 23 years! The Autopilot had provided sterling service but now the electric clutch would not engage or disengage on command. I could not envisage hand steering for days on end during some of the long passages in the Pacific in 2019 – it was time for an upgrade. This single item alone weighed over 10 Kgs. Then there was the bag of courtesy flags as we intended to visit at least 12 countries on this voyage, plus another box of parts from Annapolis Yacht Sales the Beneteau agents in Maryland.
Saltwater is an extremely harsh environment and it is never a question of whether it will destroy a component only a matter when it will destroy it. A rule of thumb is to allow 10% of a boat’s Value each year for maintenance. When I arrived in Annapolis in 2006 I learned a new acronym for B.O.A.T. – Bring On Another Thousand!
Arrival in Bermuda – April 17 2018
Preparation for the Atlantic Ocean
I arrived in Bermuda at 1 PM on 17 April 2018 and after clearing customs I met Blair Larkin, one of the crew, at the airport. Blair is a Kiwi who lives in Melbourne, Australia and was keen to experience some yachting adventure. I have known his parents Peter and Janine Larkin for many years. Blair works as an independent contractor producing content for websites and had managed to secure a 6 week leave of absence.
Blair was not a sailor but he had spent time on boats with his father Peter. I said I can teach you all about sailing so long as you don’t get seasick. I gave him some tasks to complete before joining the yacht such as; polishing up on essential knots, learning about the collision regulation (the rules of the road) and learning the language of the sea.
I said you need to be able to tie a Bowline blindfolded and a friend and fellow sailor, Graham Ridding added, ”yes, while hanging upside down naked from the forestay while at the same time pouring a rum for the skipper with the other hand!”
Blair and I took a taxi to Saint George’s Harbour, where we bought some essential groceries as we were going to spend at least five days aboard Meg, on the hard, preparing her for ocean.
Just as we left the supermarket the skies opened up and poured with rain.
We decided to take a taxi and the next stop was Sparyard/West End Yacht at the Royal Naval Dockyard. The Boat yard was at the opposite end of the island to the airport. There was ‘Roaring Meg’, standing on the hard next to the slipway and strapped down to 4 concrete drums, as a precaution against the fury of a hurricane. We met all the staff at the Boat yard for the first time as the previous crew of Graham Ridding and Violeta Owczarek and ably assisted by Hammy Hendricks had hauled out in my absence in July 2017.
A ladder was quickly moved against the swim platform and with the keys from the office we were in! Graham and Violeta had made a meticulous job of “putting Meg to bed” the previous year. All of the running rigging and sails had been washed and dried and stowed. Everything above decks had been removed to the cabins and saloon below – liferaft, inflatable dingy, outboard motor, sail bag, Bimini, Spray Dodger and the list goes on. Violeta had washed all of the linen and packed it into vacuum bags which meant that in spite of the very high humidity it smelled as fresh as if it had been laundered the day before! Well done crew – thank you. The sails had been stored above the transport museum which was an air conditioned building and therefore there was no mould to be seen.
Before long, Dougie Sutherland a shipwright appeared beside ‘Roaring Meg’ and apologised for not having completed the gelcoat repairs on the transom. Dougie had been hijacked onto a more urgent project of converting a small ship to a Pirate Boat and Bar named, ‘Calico Jack’s’.
Dougie did however supply me the materials that I needed to do the job and got me kicked off in the right direction. He also mentioned that it was ‘ Quiz night at the Frog & Onion’ and that Blair and I would be welcome to join him and his friends. We were both able to contribute to the knowledge pool and the team (Gone Fishing) finished in third place. A very enjoyable evening.
The next day Blair and I were hard at it preparing everything below the waterline so that we would be ready to “splash the boat” on the Friday. They were long days and after the antifouling paint had been applied we looked like the Blues Brothers and the water in the showers ran Blue for at least two days! We checked all of the through hull fittings, polished the propellor and attached a new sacrificial zinc anode.
It is always a good feeling to see her back in the water. We immediately checked for leaks and then fired up the motor, a 78Hp turbo charged Perkins diesel. She started immediately and the raw water from the motor was circulating – looking good!
The total list of jobs exceeded 50 and we were working our way through them now above decks. The sleeping quarters were cramped. We removed the larger objects like the liferaft, the inflatable dingy and the outboard motor. We rigged up a scaffolding plank onto the stainless steel arch so that Blair could fit the carbon fibre blades to the SilentWind generator. Cruising yachts need a lot of equipment when going to sea as we need to be able to repair anything, anywhere. One cannot just pick up the phone and call for help when out in the Big Blue.
Saturday 21 April was a big day for two reasons;
1. Chris Lovell, brother in law and crew member was arriving in from Auckland. Chris had only 3.5 weeks of leave as he is an economist with the ANZ Bank and I guess they must value his services!
2. By 1900hrs Dougie was ensconced at the Fish Bone Restaurant in Naval Dockyard with his boss Charlie and neither of them were feeling any pain. We were invited to join them and it was going to be a big night of Dark N’ Stormy’s the national drink of Bermuda.
Drinking rum and telling rum infused lies at the Frog and Onion Bar and Restaurant, Naval Dockyard Bermuda(Dougie Sutherland, Chris Lovell and Noel McGuigan)
We told Chris on the phone to come direct to the Fish Bone in the taxi from the airport – do not pass go or collect $200! He arrived around 2100hrs and he was greeted by all and sundry with hand shaking, back slapping and lashings of rum.
The National drink of Bermuda is the ‘Dark N’ Stormy’ – Goslings Black Seal rum with ginger beer plus a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of Angostura bitters over ice – Yeah Mon!
Dougie (a Scotsman from John O’Groats) was in full flight and insisted on educating Jimmy, a young barman, to the ways of the world. It was all done in good humour and went something like this – “Jimmy, come here boy! Now listen I am a local here, and that means that I should NEVER have to ask for a drink twice! Never mind what else you are doing just get me a drink!” This message was reinforced by the Restaurant Manager and the owner to our amusement. We finished the evening sometime after midnight and after a full tour of Calico Jacks Pirate Ship with drinks in hand!
The next day the crew was sluggish- but it was Sunday! Well onward and upward. The running rigging had to be installed but the first job was to sort out the tangled mousing lines which had been through the winter storms. The crew took turns at grinding the Skipper up the mast and we sorted the lines and took some aerial photos of our surroundings. Then there was the mousing line that had disappeared inside the boom – bugger! We had to create a 6 metre plus pole with a hook on the end. Dougie to the rescue with and old paint roller quickly bent in the vice and then joined to the rods in the sail bag – boom with the right tool we were back in business! El Capitano at the top of the mast untangling the mousing lines. On the dockside the sails retrieved from the loft above the transport museum.
A short video panorama shot from the top of the mast
The crew on Sunday morning with the home made ‘fishing pole’ for retrieving the moused line.
All systems were function tested. The new linear drive was installed and it worked a treat. Also the new alternator that Graham Reiher (Radar) had shipped to Bermuda ex Auckland was also installed.
Paul Bracken, a Canadian and the Master of the ‘Spirit of Bermuda’ invited us aboard his three masted training ship which had cost more than USD6 million to build. We had the guided tour which was very much appreciated by the crew. She had been modelled on a previous tall ship but this time with carbon fibre masts and bowsprit. There had been a collision in the Great Sound with a ferry boat some months before which was not the fault of the sailing ship. The net result was that the carbon fibre bowsprit had skewered the steel hull of the ferry boat and had to be ‘disengaged’!
Blair Larkin, Paul Bracken(Master) and Chris Lovell on the ‘Spirit of Bermuda’.
Spirit of Bermuda
She was modelled on this three masted ship
The last task was provisioning which we did collectively at one of the larger supermarkets in Bermuda. We needed food for a minimum of 8 days for 3 pax and as we don’t have a freezer on board we look for preserved and vacuum packed items. Fresh fruit and veges will last up to two weeks so long as the air can circulate around the product. After that we are on canned food.
Blair and Chris standing on the steps of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club where I had stood just 9 months earlier, before my heart attack. On that occasion Sam Wallace of TV One news had interviewed a group of us who were celebrating the success of Team Emirates New Zealand at the RBYC.
Eventually after a solid safety briefing we were ready to slip the lines. The three biggest threats at sea are Fire, Man Overboard and Abandon Ship due to flooding or a stranding. The crew must be ready to deal with an emergency anytime day or night. They must know where all of the emergency equipment is kept.
The first Port of Call was just 10 Nm up the coast to St. George’s Harbour to clear out with Immigration and Customs. We retrieved the flare pistol and cartridges that had been placed in bond 9 months before. Note Bermuda considers flare pistols and spear guns dangerous weapons and they must be declared on entry.
Voyage from Bermuda to Tortola, BVI (900 Nm or 1660km)
At 1430 hrs on 24 April 2018 we sailed out through the Town Cut and into the Atlantic Ocean. We had called the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre filed a Trip Report and requested permission to enter the Town Cut which is a very narrow channel that should only have one vessel pass at a time. Using the Iridium Go (a modem and direct uplink to the Iridium satellite network) we were able to update our position every 24 hours. Plus we had a satellite tracker on board via the PredictWind network operated out of New Zealand. By using the link friends and family could track our progress.
It was blowing 26 knots and we had wind on the beam. We put a double reef in the main sail and unfurled two thirds of our head sail and we were off heading south and making 7.5 knots – Meg had the bit between her teeth!
This was to be short lived however as the wind soon turned to the south east and we were hard on the wind and being pushed somewhat west. This called for some rather vicious tacks to the east.
Chris and Blair were seasick for the first two days which meant that they were extremely economical on groceries but hard on drinking water. The wind did not let up but stayed in the 20-30 knot range and we were bashing into it. The crew came right on the third day and began eating solids instead of feeding the fishes.
For Chris it was his third Blue Water passage with me. The first was when he and I flew into Noumea, New Caledonia and crewed on Dean Lamb’s yacht ‘Risque Affaire’ bound for Brisbane in October 2003. Then in 2007 we sailed Roaring Meg South to Valencia to support New Zealand in the Americas Cup. Then we sailed a circuit around the western Mediterranean visiting Mallorca, Menorca, Corsica and the South of France and left Meg at Torredembarra on the Costa Brava after crossing the Gulf of Lyon. He knew the yacht well and in spite of his seasickness he was able to stand watch.
Blair kept his own hours spending time with both Chris and I and learning from each of us. It was baptism by fire! I expected him to be able to stand a day watch before we reached Tortola and he was up to the task.
The wind map as we sailed south. Cuba for us would have been an easy target but we had set a course for Tortola, BVI. St. Martins and Antigua were no easier as we were pushing slightly South and mostly East!
There was no reprieve as we struggled to hold our southerly course, constantly being pushed off our rhumb line to the West.
From time to time we ‘Hove To’ perhaps to eat lunch or to repair the navigation lights on the bow which were being pounded by waves. This is a great manoeuvre used by ancient sailors to ride out a storm providing they had sufficient sea room. One simply tacks the Yacht through the eye of the wind without moving the headsail sheets. This backs the headsail against the main and stops the yacht from sailing. To have her completely ‘dead in the water’ one needs to ease the main until there is NO movement and she sits in her own keel slick. The helm is then held hard over to weather and locked down. The Yacht will sit like a duck on the pond and the keel will destroy waves as they roar in!
The nights were cool if not cold and we wore foul weather gear for the first 5 days which was what I expected. The days drifted by as we bashed our way South. We saw the occasional pod of dolphins who would perform on the bow of the Yacht before becoming bored and swimming off in another direction.
At first there were small tufts of seaweed from the Sargassa Sea but the further south we sailed the weed became more prolific and mean’t that fishing was impossible. Every time we deployed the lure it would quickly become fouled in seaweed. This weed looks like turf grass that has had Roundup applied and is yellow in colour. At times it was so thick that it prevented waves from breaking!
At one stage we saw no ships for 5 days. One must always keep one eye over ones shoulder for a Tropical Revolving Storm as they are lethal and often unpredictable. Hence the reason for PredictWind as a way of receiving accurate weather reports when deep sea. Because the yacht has an average speed of say 6 knots then we must make a very early decision about outrunning a storm as in perhaps 5 days before it is due to strike!
The saying here in the Caribbean is ” June – too soon, July – stand by” with most hurricanes striking in August, September and October.
We always carry paper charts with us and a sextant in case of electronic chart failure. Our position is recorded on that chart every 4 hours as a point of reference should we need it. Then we record the day’s run every 24 hours. Our worst performance was a day in which we made only 75Nm towards the mark.
When I saw the depth of the Puerto Rico Trench I could not believe it. I went back to the Chart to make sure the depths were not recorded in feet. In one spot it is 8,600 metres deep and just 50 Nm off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Road Town Harbour, Tortola as seen in the pilot book
We approached Tortola from the North West slipping between Scrub Island and Dog Island and avoiding Tow Rock in the middle of the channel. It was pitch black and 2200hrs on 2 May 2018 as we found the Sir Francis Drake Channel (named after the Queen’s Pirate) and worked our way into the Road Town Harbour. We found an anchorage not far from Customs House after Blair had earlier run up the ‘Q’ flag and the courtesy flag for the British Virgin Islands.
It was time to break out the rum and celebrate another successful voyage. Blair had his own bottle of Goslings Special Reserve while Chris and I attacked a bottle of Goslings Black Seal. By morning the bottle was gone along with many of the worlds problems. Customs wondered why it took us so long to weigh the anchor and present ourselves to complete formalities the next day. I explained how we had had trouble with the anchor winch!
Likely Lads – still feeling happy😏👌
In daylight we could see just how much damage had been inflicted by the hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The trees on the hillsides had been stripped of their foliage and there was debris strewn everywhere Yes, they had power and water and food but many buildings had been destroyed and the marinas were shut while barges and cranes removed sunken vessels. Not a pretty sight.
We were unable to find a berth in a marina and we tried four, however Moorings Charters were kind enough to allow us to use one of their mooring balls outside of the breakwater for the night. Well I suppose a shower wouldn’t hurt after 8 days! We pumped up the Rubber Duckie and installed the oars (auxiliary propulsion) and fastened the outboard to the transom but no fuel for the outboard. The wind was blowing 20 knots and because it was behind us I was able to row ashore with all of us but there was no way that we could row in the opposite direction with fresh groceries aboard. First move was to get fuel before the filling station closed. We had an excellent meal ashore and did the shopping for provisions. The outboard started on the third pull of the cord thanks to Graham Ridding (GR2 AKA Squelch) who had thoroughly flushed the motor in Bermuda the year before. By the time we reached ‘Roaring Meg’ we were thoroughly soaked but happy!