THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND, THE BALTIC AND THE CARIBBEAN, 2015 to 2016.
We left for the cruise on 5 July, 2015, the initial goal was Scotland, the Baltic and London by early November. Plans were flexible after that. The crew consisted of myself, Misha and Davy, who is a Mohawk Indian. We powered most of the way to Block Island and picked up a CCA mooring . On the adjacent mooring was a fellow CCA member with a Nordhaven trawler, Jim and his wife Tammy. We made the traditional walk to the Southeast Light in hot weather, at least at eighty-three years old I could still make it. The Oldport tender is now up to $4 per person per trip. Seems not long ago it was only a dollar. We were able to sail to Megansett for an anchorage before catching the flood tide in the Cape Cod Canal. We refueled at Sandwich and tied up at Provincetown by Happy Hour. The crew loved the eclectic store, Marine Specialties. The throng of indeterminate gender exhibitionists seemed less gaudy than usual.
There was plenty of sea-life to interest the crew; whales, dolphins, sunfish and even a shark. The wind was light and we mostly powered, except for a period along the Nova Scotia coast. I discovered the Navionics electronic chart I had purchased just before leaving did not cover Canada as I expected but stopped at the US border, this had unforeseen consequences later. Fortunately Davy had a small laptop with GPS chart plotting which was helpful getting into the Lunenburg Bay at 2 am in the morning. We anchored in Puffey Cup Bay until it was light and safe to make our way to Zwicker’s wharf. On checking the fuel consumption I received a nasty shock; although we had run on the port fuel tank the center tank was down by about 50 gallons, even though it had been filled at Sandwich. There was fuel in the bilge; the only logical conclusion I could draw was that the tank had developed a leak, a depressing thought as getting to the tank was tedious, and something I had done years ago when the original black iron tanks leaked after about twenty years of use.
The steering system displayed a fault that had plagued the 2014 fall cruise; it gradually got harder and harder to turn the wheel. Myself and Bob, the machinist, had worked on this problem over winter, but obviously not put our finger on the solution. Also when we anchored prior to entering the harbor we found the anchor winch was not working properly. Each morning we worked to correct these problems. We found the spindle carrying the wheel was a shade too long and it jammed on the bushing in the pedestal. For a small fee a machinist removed a fraction of an inch on a lathe and that cured it. The anchor winch had a wire junction that had worked loose. Sandy McMillan, a resident CCA member , was very helpful , he gave us a bottle of locally produced rum called ‘Ironworks’, quite a party developed at happy hour. Another CCA member with a summer home in Lunenburg, Tom and his wife Gail, also stopped by. We all greatly enjoyed the amenities of the town, I especially enjoyed the unique used book store run by Chris, a retired ship’s engineer. Fuel was not readily available in Lunenburg for yachts, Sandy told me to refuel at the Yacht Club on Mahone Bay, which had a fuel dock one could tie up to, and he lent me a chart of the area.
We left after three busy days , a shock was in store on the morning of departure; Davy’s bunk and lockers were stripped of his personal gear- he had jumped ship without a word. Although several crew had abandoned a cruise prematurely over the years this was the first time that a crew had simply faded away in port without a word or message. Misha and I made the long drag around a peninsular to the yacht club with the intention of filling the port tank. I was still convinced that the center tank was leaking. After adding the correct amount to refill the tank we left on a windless afternoon for the 500 nautical mile leg to St. John’s, Newfoundland. The next day, when I checked overnight fuel usage, I found the port tank was mostly depleted- want on earth was going on? The next suspect was the fuel gauge itself and then the real culprit came to light – there was nothing wrong with any of the tanks or the gauge – the filler hose had come loose and fuel was running down the inside of the hull and into the bilge when we filled the tank. Unfortunately the fuel gauge does not work during a fill-up or shortly after. A drawback of the type that reads air pressure in a thin tube in the tank. That was the problem all along, during the refueling stop at Sandwich the hose connecting the deck plate to the tanks had apparently become detached, and from then on fuel simply funneled into the bilge, scary. At least the tank did not have leak, so that long-term problem was resolved. I had bought a couple of gallons of oil emulsifier in Lunenburg at a fisherman’s store, I let that swish around in the bilge when we were well offshore and then pumped the bilge dry without causing a slick.
Fastening the hose back was done in five minutes but how to replace the lost fuel? I only had an offshore coastal chart, it was too dangerous to try to enter another port on the coast that lay twenty miles on our port without a detailed chart of the entrance. When I planned the charts for the trip I had assumed the chart plotter would be available for possible diversions. I decided to push on to St. John’s for which I did have a chart. Unfortunately the weather was very calm for a few days, normally I would have run the engine, instead we tacked against a light head wind and made little progress. Then the wind increased to gale force with no change of direction and we also got nowhere. Finally the wind backed to westerly and we flew round Cape Race and along the coast of Newfoundland. As we neared St. John’s the wind veered to northwest and we struggled to make the entrance to the harbor. I had saved some fuel for just this situation and we motor sailed in the Narrows with a few gallons remaining. We dropped sails inside the harbor and tied up at historic Queens Wharf. My old friend Jim Winter was waiting to greet us. Also waiting was the volunteer to take Davy’s place, Tom. Jim whisked us off to his house for drinks, a fine meal and a shower!
There was plenty to do, besides all the routine boat maintenance; the laptop computer was misbehaving. This equipment is important for modern boats, it permits contact with the outside world via emails and downloads weather forecasts. There was a computer store not far from the wharf, I dropped the ailing machine there with a request for a quick fix. It was very pleasant after the cold, wet ride from Lunenburg to sit in warm coffee shops and browse used book stores. Jim ran me round town picking up spare parts that I needed. I took Misha and Tom to one of St John’s’ secret hideaways; the Crow’s Nest. This club was founded during the war for Naval Officers, most of the original founders have long gone to the great ocean in the sky but it still functions as a private club, I was made an honorary member on a previous visit. The cozy bar is packed with war-time souvenirs, including the periscope off a U-boat, which permits a sweeping view of the St. John’s skyline.
The news on the computer was not good; the mother board was ruined, it was fairly new, being the machine I had bought in Cape Town when we returned from the disastrous voyage to Antarctica in early 2014. The solution was for me to buy a used computer of the same type, which was available, and transfer the hard drive. It was only a partial solution, when we got to sea I found some programs which appeared to be on the machine did not actually work, specifically Sailmail and Office. Fortunately Tom, who is quite a computer whiz, had down loaded the Sailmail program onto his tablet as a back-up while we were in a coffee shop with wi-fi. He was able to install it on the new computer, that restored Sailmail which was the major way of communicating to and from Fiona. Apart for a southerly wind for a few hours we had head winds as we ploughed into the Atlantic on a northeasterly course, Scotland lay about 1800 nautical miles ahead. Progress was slow for a week then we sailed with a beam wind that gradually swung behind us and we set the jib wing and wing. On 6 August the GRIB forecast showed that and intense low (992 mb) was chasing us. We set the first reef in the storm mainsail and waited. The forecast wind was 35 knots – gale force. As the low passed, about 60 miles to the north, the wind increased to 45 knots with gusts to 55 knots. The staysail outhaul broke with a bang and I rushed to the mast to lower the sail, but it was already damaged. We lashed it to the lifeline. Working on the wave -lashed foredeck we were all soaked to the skin, despite wearing foul weather gear. Next we tied a second reef in the main but as we tried to hoist it the halyard fouled the spreader. Conditions were very difficult, so I decided to furl the main and lie a-hull. It was a rolly night, but by daybreak the conditions had improved and we sailed wing and wing with a breeze that gradually fell to 15 knots and we even saw some sunshine. The next morning I called Oban marina to check they had space for us, the weather was fair for the next couple of days.
The next minor crisis involved the fresh-water foot pump in the galley. A day after we switched to the center tank for our water it jammed up. Tom pulled it apart but it seemed to be perfect. Then we discovered the filter on the line to the faucet had accumulated enough sediment from the tank to be completely blocked, so after cleaning it the system worked fine until it blocked a day later. The sediment had a white flocculent appearance, it had not been present in the other tanks, even though all were filled at the same time back at Weeks. Fiona has three water tanks altogether; two fifty gallon tanks and one hundred gallon tank. The two smaller tanks were empty. I carried two emergency jerry jugs of water, so we emptied these into one of the smaller tanks and hoped it would be enough to get us to Oban. I instituted a ban on washing with fresh water.
Next we found a new low pressure system was following us, but the center was well north and the wind did not exceed 35 knots, which we dealt with handily by reefing early. After the low came a few days of west winds which whisked us to Scotland in fine style. We mostly ran wing and wing with the jib poled out to starboard. Each morning I filed a report for the Yachtfiona website using Sailmail. The report is typed on a computer and then sent digitally using single-sideband radio. One morning the computer refused to boot up. I asked Tom his advice but no amount of key pushing would change its mind. We decided to look at the hard drive and perhaps check the contacts on the plug. When Tom opened the bottom of the computer we saw immediately that the hard drive unit was skidding about in its compartment. The technician who installed it in St. John’s had not replaced the screws that held it in place. Tom sliced up a toothpick and used the bits to wedge the board into the screw holes, and that way we brought the computer back to life.
Apart from problems with the anemometer the boat sailed with without serious maintenance issues until we got to Oban, Mostly we had westerly winds, sometimes up to 30 knots and it was chilly – typically 50⁰F in the cockpit at breakfast time. We raised the misty outlines of the Western Islands on August 15th, and lost the wind as the sun set. We powered up the Firth of Lorne and tied up at the familiar marina on Kerrera Island before 6 am. Apart from a few hours of powering at either end we had made the 1922 nm logged from St. Johns under sail. Zoe was in the office when it opened, she found us a slip for a few days, completed the customs and immigration paperwork and arranged for the staysail to be repaired. We took the noon tender from the marina to the mainland, a short ten-minute ride, and wandered down the familiar promenade to the corner coffee shop. We picked a few groceries at Tesco and had supper at the restaurant on Kerrera, since my last visit it had been transformed from a tent to a pleasant wooden building overlooking the harbor. In the next couple of days we got maintenance chores out of the way in the mornings, showered, did the laundry and toured Oban on the afternoon. Another important task in this electronic age was to get our email answered using Wi-Fi at the marina or in the numerous coffee shops in town.
Tom found himself a train that would carry him to Glasgow in time to catch an early flight the next day. We went with him to the station, I was sorry to say goodbye, he had been a great shipmate, handy at many things from computers to needlework as well as being an artist and musician. Misha had found an old friend, Josh, who flew in to take Tom’s place. A day after he arrived we left Oban for a two-week tour of the Western Islands. As it happened I had chosen the perfect week to leave; the tides were low in the morning and the ebb current carried us north, after another week the morning current tended to take us south! We sailed to Tobermory on the island of Mull and tied up by lunchtime, the wind had mostly been favorable but a little erratic, no doubt caused by the high hills in Mull Sound. We refueled at the small marina, diesel was $6.30 a gallon, it was the first fuel we had loaded since leaving Canada, we needed 56 gallons, but, of course, we had sailed for most of the Atlantic crossing.
After browsing the shops we had a curry supper and we left the next day for Maillig, the wind was very light. The town is a hard scrabble fishing port, the harbor was busy with trawlers and ferries entering and leaving. It is the terminus of the Fort William to Maillig steam engine railway, we were fortunate to catch the old steam engine at the station. I believe the engine was built in the late 1930s, carriages are in first class condition as the ride is a major tourist attraction. A nice southwest wind drove us to Loch Scavaig on the Island of Skye. The anchorage was recommended to us by a Scottish sailor we talked to at Oban. He said it was the most beautiful anchorage in Scotland, lying as it does in the Cuillin Mountains. Perhaps my view of it was colored by bumping a submerged rock on the way in, but I was not too impressed. It hardly compared to the numerous anchorages we found in 1998 in the Chilean Canals. We inflated the dinghy and landed on the rocky shore. As usual the Tohatsu engine was not running well; no cooling water, and from then on we used the old Seagull engine to power the dinghy. Before going ashore I spent an hour at the masthead in the bosun’s chair rewiring the anemometer, much to the delight of tourist visiting in launches. Misha and Josh went for a long hike along the shore of Loch Coruisk. We left the next morning on a windless, rainy day, a light wind developed before lunch and we sailed to Dunvegan. We anchored in 12 feet a mile southeast of the castle.
We ate ashore at small café and in the morning walked along the leafy road to the castle. It was home of the chief of the clan McLeod for eight hundred years, although it has been considerably modified over time, including a stucco outside coating put there recently. The current chief still lives in a few rooms in the castle when he is Scotland, but I suspect he spends a lot of time at his London residence. The tour was mildly interesting; dozens of paintings of confident-looking chiefs in kilts and in the kitchen, old photos of disconsolate crofters who lived on the estate. At the time of the Troubles Flora McDonald helped Bonny Prince escape to France, he forgot his shirt, which is still hanging on the wall.
The next day a brisk wind of 15 to 20 knots drove us down Rassnay Sound to Uig, a town which has special memories for me. As a nineteen-year old student I drove with an old school chum using a motor bike borrowed from my uncle to spend a few weeks in Scotland. We took the ferry from Kyle of Lochalse to Skye and after many adventures wound up at the youth hostel in Uig. In those days the roads on Skye were not paved. I bought a postcard of Uig and mailed to my old chum, who had emigrated to Australia many years ago. Sadly, I got an e-mail some time later from his widow. We ate a meal in a pleasant restaurant overlooking the harbor. I watched a large flock of gannets going crazy as they dived on a school of fish, they caught so many it’s amazing they could fly. The anchor winch had been giving trouble again – at Dunvegan we had to lift the anchor by hand, so while hanging on a mooring at Uig I replaced some of the heavy wiring, which had badly corroded over the years. I had hoped to sail west from Uig to visit the Outer Hebrides, but when we awoke in the morning a wind of nearly gale force was howling out of the west and a trip across the Minch was not a good idea. Instead, we sailed north with reduced sails and round the cape at the north end of Skye, thus committing us to a circumnavigation of the island. Conditions were very rough as we rounded the cape but once we sailed a short distance to the southeast we got a lee and anchored in calm water in Loch Stiffen, several fishing boats were also sheltering there. It was still blowing hard the next day, under a reefed mainsail and staysail we tacked down Raasay Sound to Portree, the largest town on Skye. In town we took care of email and had a pleasant supper before chugging back to Fiona with the asthmatic Seagull.
From Portree we followed the route we had taken when heading north, with stops at Maillig and Tobermory. After leaving Kyle we passed under the new, very impressive bridge. The author of the Scottish Islands guide we carried rather pedantically declared the bridge made Skye an island no longer and deleted reference to it from his book. The current under the bridge was very strong, at times we were making good eleven knots over the bottom, good thing we had timed the tide correctly and were not bucking the current. On leaving Tobermory we had a brisk wind from the north and made a fine passage wing and wing, arriving back at Oban in just over four hours. This was the end of the line for Josh. The next day he took the train to Edinburgh and then a flight home. He sent me an e-mail a week later saying that his stories of derring-do in Scottish waters had made him the toast of a Manhattan cocktail party.
The next day Misha and I started to take Fiona through the Caledonian Canal, her third trip through the waterway. It took us half a day to get to the entrance at Corpach. The sail through Loch Linnhe was very pleasant, the countryside looked particularly attractive with farms set in green fields with protective trees. We entered a lock and tied up for the night. I was delighted to find a restored ‘Puffer’ tied up at the lock. ‘Puffers’ were ubiquitous small , steam driven ships that delivered goods and passengers to remote islands for many decades before the 1950s, when larger car-carrying ferries doomed them. Later on I meet the same ship at Inverness and was able to take a tour aboard. An English couple who were just finishing a cruise with their sailboat came over for Happy Hour cocktails. The canal is a wonder of pre-Victorian engineering, the construction between 1804 and 1822 was supervised by the famous engineer, Thomas Telford. It winds about 60 miles along a natural rift and mostly uses natural lakes with man-made connecting canals. Twenty-three locks lift boats about 100 feet above sea level. It was built to enable small craft to bypass the often rough passage past Cape Wrath at the north end of Scotland. Each lock has an attendant to open the gates and supervise the crew pulling the boat into the lock. Some locks are single but the majority form a ‘staircase’, with about half a dozen grouped together. It takes about an hour to transit these combined units. We stopped for the night at Fort Augustus, in earlier times this was a popular watering hole for wealthy Victorians to sample the Highlands from the comfort of steam paddle wheelers that plied the canal. Our next stop was Drumnadrochet on Loch Ness, here we toured an exhibition devoted the Loch Ness Monster. It was a short ride after that to Inverness, where we stayed at a marina on the canal for six days. The ‘Puffer’ I had seen at Corpach chugged into the marina. She was dropping off a dozen charterers, who had spent the week aboard. The ship was called ‘Vic 32’ so named as she was built during WWII for the Admiralty as Vessel, Inshore, Cargo number 32. She was open to the public for a tour, including scones and tea. The cargo hold had been enlarged by about two feet in height and converted to a pleasant dining cabin and lounge. She is one of the few Puffers still operating under steam, the boiler was replaced a few years earlier with financial support from a trust and the National Lottery.
At Inverness I was able to meet up with some of the family; my cousin Phil and his daughter Sheena. Misha signed off and took the train to Edinburgh. A couple of days later I met his replacement at the railway station. Alan, a South African, had signed up for the next leg months before. Sheena put my crew call for the third crew member on the notice board of a climbing club she belongs to which attracted Andy, who is a keen sailor as well as a climber. Both Alan and Andy own small sailboats and were experienced sailors. Unfortunately I also got news via e-mail that the reservation I had made at St. Katharine’s dock in London for November could not be honored. I had stayed there about eight years earlier and found it very nice to be in central London with a boat to stay on. I guess too many other people had dis covered this bargain. Other marinas on the Thames were also full and so I decided to push on to Portugal once we left the Baltic in late October.
After refueling we passed through the last lock of the canal and sailed with light winds along the south coast of the Moray Firth. We were bound for Thyboron on the Danish coast and the entrance to the Alborg Canal. The wind died as we left the Scottish coast and we powered past the numerous oil rigs which dot the North Sea. The weather forecast was for increasing wind by morning, as the crew were not familiar with Fiona’s rig I decided to reef the main before nightfall. By early the next day it was blowing hard with rain, the wind backed to northerly and we were able to sail on course with Victor the Vane at the helm. We set the ship’s clock to European time. As the day wore on we encountered considerable ship traffic and we had to request a steamer on the VHF radio to change course to avoid a collision. The wind continued to back and we set the jib on the whisker pole, sailing wing and wing. By 3 am it was blowing gale force, the North Sea was living up to its reputation. Because the water was so shallow the sea state was very rough, we sailed into the bay east of Thyboron and found a lee that enabled us to drop the sails in calmer water, the jetties of the harbor entrance were just a few yards away and we tied up in time for a pancake breakfast, a Fiona speciality. The 458 nm passage had taken a little under four days.
The Danes are boating mad – every town and village seems to have a large marina well stocked with boats, mostly sail. Many had a chandlery nearby and there we picked up a chart set of the Alborg Canal. Rather like the Caledonian it consists of mostly natural lakes interconnected by dredged canals. The Canal leads to the Kattegat, there are three ways to get to the Baltic; the more open, deeper channel called the Store Belt is used by commercial ships. We were advised by several amateur sailors to take the easterly route called the Lille Belt. They said it was quiet and very scenic, what they did not say was that in places the route was very shallow – 6 to 8 feet. As Fiona draws a touch over 6 feet we had a few nail-biting moments, especially under sail with a strong wind on the beam. At times if the wind had dropped and the boat lost the heeling angle I think we would have been aground!
The big point of interest at Thyboron was a museum devoted the WWI battle of Jutland which occurred a few miles to seaward from the port. Numerous artifacts had been salvaged from the wrecked warships over a period of many years. They ranged in size from sewing kits to heavy guns. Most had been restored to their original condition, but a few had been left with all the barnacles attached, just as the divers found them. In the museum some areas on the ship had been re-created using the original equipment and mannequins, for example a ship’s sick bay from a British battleship.
We stopped half-way down the canal at a boatyard owned by a very well-known sailboat racer and designer, NIels Mathiesen. He was very helpful and let us stay tied-up gratis for two nights. A Westsail enthusiast and friend of Drake Roberts, Mads, drove over and ultimately arranged to crew on the Portugal to the Caribbean leg.
We refueled and just made it to the two lifting bridges across the canal in time for their hourly opening, we still had miles of the canal to traverse. To our surprise a dense fog enveloped us which came and went. We tied up at a marina in Hals, from here we were in the Kattegat. The villages and marinas in this area were very similar; the villages were clean and neat with typical Danish architecture, sometime including an old, possibly medieval, center. At the marinas we checked into an automatic machine with a credit card, selected options such as electricity, showers, washing machine, etc. and got a sticky tag to show the boat was ‘legal’ for the night. Usually there was a restaurant nearby, or a short walk into the village. Typically the evening’s stay cost US$30. From Hals I decided to make an overnight push to the entrance of the Lille Belt, which would then take us into the Baltic. The wind soon picked up after we left Halls, peaking at 28 knots for a few hours. There was plenty of commercial traffic about, including one ship I had to contact on VHF to suggest a course change. Another large ship did not respond to my radio call and we had to start the engine to avoid a collision, even though as a vessel under sail we had the right of way – might is right, as they say! We arrived at Ebeltoft twenty-five hours after leaving Hals.
Hals, a somewhat rough ride but the scenic Lille Belt lay ahead of us. We explored the village in the morning and bought a few supplies before leaving at lunchtime. As night was falling we anchored in Asvig Bay after a pleasant sail. Slowly turning wind turbines dotted the shore. The next morning a short sail brought us to a marina at Middlefart.
A huge high pressure system moved in which gave us sunny, gorgeous days for over week, the price was little wind. We powered over a calm sea for eight hours with the old Perkins diesel rumbling away at low rpm and tied up at Faaburg, another charming village. In the town center cute half-timbered cottages painted yellow and black, leaned slightly on each other. I think Hans Christianson Andersen lived in Faaburg for a while. Another short sail under power (the high was not going away quickly) brought us to Svendborg. The town had a modern center and seemed to be a holiday resort, we had a coffee at an outside café on the promenade. The next stop-over, Vordingborg, was quite different, a very shallow approach channel several miles long led to a more conventional dock than a modern marina, many old, wooden boats were tied to stakes. A short walk into town brought us to a medieval tower, once part of the missing city wall, on which a sign proclaimed it as the best preserved, 12th Century, tower in the country.
The next day we followed buoyed channels through very shoal water until we could safely set sail as the depth under the keel increased a little. We tied up at a small fishing harbor called Rodvik, our last port in Denmark for a while. To be frank it was a dump, the town was several miles away, the area was pervaded everywhere by the smell of fish. There was a fast food restaurant near the dock, assuming that at a fishing port at least the fish would be OK we stopped in. We were wrong – it was one of the worst meals I have ever eaten, I think the fish of which a microscopic fragment was embedded in a thick shell of batter, must have been frozen years ago in the Far East. We were able to sail all the next day with a light northwest wind to our first port in Sweden, Gislovs Lage. We were hardly welcomed with open arms; men on the dock chased us away to the other side of the harbor which was so shallow we were dragging through mud. We returned and tied up near a small gin pole, we were told it would be needed by seven the next morning. After a pizza dinner we returned to the boat and fired up the engine before sunrise so we could creep away by seven, naturally not a soul was stirring on the dock.
Our somewhat negative impression of Sweden was improved a good deal at our next port – Simrisham. It is a pleasant town with a fairly large shopping center. The spout had fallen off the teapot (at least that was the story told to me), and so we made an effort to find another. Surprisingly, we found a shop that sold only tea, and the equipment needed to brew it. We stayed for two nights and then left for another brief visit to Denmark – the island of Bornholm, lying in the middle of the Baltic Sea. This island was central to the power exerted by the Hanseatic League; Sweden, Denmark and other Baltic nations fought over it for years but it finally wound up Danish. On the way over several very small birds, Crests I believe, fluttered on and around the boat and even flew into the cabin.
We spent two nights at Ronne on Bornholm Island. Unfortunately the great weather we enjoyed the past week broke and chilly, brisk winds developed from the east, blowing from Russia. We greatly enjoyed Bornholm; Alan took a bus tour of the island, Andy and I got some maintenance chores done and walked to a wonderful old boatyard where they were rebuilding traditional sailboats, some over a hundred years old. The owner, Peter, grandson of the original owner, took us along the dock to a beautiful sloop built in 1916 called ‘Rosa’, it looked immaculate. The visitor's center near the marina had good Wi-Fi and Andy and I cleared our backlogged e-mail. The east wind was ideal for the leg to Germany, we left in late afternoon for an overnight sail.
The winds were favorable for heading west - 20 to 25 knots from the southeast. The seas were moderately rough with heavy swells pushing round the port stern quarter, especially when we sailed out of the lee of Bornholm. At first we were making 7 knots with just the reefed jib, but that would have got us in too early so we reefed down to handkerchief size and sailed at 5 to 6 knots, The last part of the route was through tricky channels in shallow lagoons called Bodden, which are typical of the area, at 5 am we anchored in Libben Bay and slept for a few hours, We tied up in mid-afternoon. Because we were entering Schengen territory the police and customs met us on the dock and Alan’s papers got a good going over because he is South African. In Scotland and Denmark no one seemed to care. We spent two nights at Stralsund, a pleasant city that covers a small island. It was an important city in medieval times and the cultural museum was very interesting. Prices in general were lower than Denmark, Andy and Alan had a slap-up dinner at a fine restaurant on the town square, Andy was impressed by the amount of meat that came with his order. The hearty German fare was not for me and I stuck to a bowl of soup. On the down-side, a good Wi-Fi hot spot was hard to find. The cold Russian air that arrived when we were in Bornholm was still with us; it was 41F in the cockpit in the morning but the day turned sunny.
We sailed 54 nm from Stralsund to Warnemunde, the first 7 miles under power threading our along a dredged channel through shallow water, characteristic of the German Boddens. Despite our care to stay in the buoyed channel we went hard aground, we sounded around the boat with the boathook which has a painted mark corresponding to the draft of Fiona and managed using lots of power to bump the boat into deeper water. After that we had a wonderful sail with 12 to 15 knots of wind on the beam. Warnemunde is at the head of the estuary leading to Rostock, a very busy commercial port. When we arrived the yacht harbor was jammed with about thirty boats, all the same class, enjoying an end of the season rally. We finally managed to squeeze into a space at the head of an old dock. The next day all the rally boats disappeared like migrating geese and we moved to a better spot. Andy and I took the train to Rostock, about a twenty minute ride costing about US$2.50 one way. The train ride was extremely quiet and smooth, the Long Island Railroad has a long way to go to match it. We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, it was warm out of the wind and we spent the afternoon touring the town center. There was a good museum in an ancient convent which miraculously survived the WWII bombing while all around was devastation. The weather has been exceptional for nearly a week; clear blue skies with easterly winds. It was cold however, 38F in the cockpit in the morning.
We stopped for a soggy night at Heilingenhafen, approached as usual though narrow channels dredged in the Bodden, and then left for Kiel. We were stopped twice by unmarked patrol boats to politely inform us we were sailing on a firing range. We made a wide detour which put us well out of our way, only to be hailed by a Coast Guard boat which directed us southeast because of ‘Underwater Activity’, whatever that meant. But somehow we made it into the Kiel Forde, where we would find Kiel and the entrance to the Kiel Kanal.
It was cold, misty and raining when we tied up at a marina a couple of miles from the city center. I called my friend Christina who lives in Kiel on my satellite phone. As it was ringing Christina walked down the ramp to dock, saw me in the cockpit with the phone and called ‘Are you ringing me?’ I turned, saw who it was and thought ‘My God, they must have developed teletransportering in Germany.’ As it happened she was just coming home from work and stopped by the marina on the off-chance we had arrived. Later she came back with her friend Sarah and took us all to a typically German Rathskeller, a restaurant in a vaulted basement. The next day Alan took a bus to Hamburg airport to start the dreary trek to South Africa via Dubai. Andy and I took the chart plotter which had developed a serious illness to a chandlery. They were pessimistic about getting it fixed in the time available but later Christina tracked down a technician. Andy and I walked back to the boat along the river shore. We stopped at the maritime museum and toured an old steamship that was moored nearby. The next day Christina drove us out to the technician’s combined house and service lab to get the plotter fixed. It didn’t take him long; surprisingly some of the compact flash drives providing data for a given area can overload the plotter’s memory if too much zoom is selected. This seems like a design weakness but now I know how to reset it. Christina also took us to the Kiel Machinery Museum, a wonderful place with all kinds of engines including a 50 kW steam driven generator. They also had Dr. Rudolph Diesel’s prototype single cylinder diesel engine. Christina had arranged for a reporter of the local evening newspaper to interview me about my fifty years of sailboat cruising, the article appeared in the on-line edition, in German, of course. I haven’t read it but I posted a link on the website, I am told the reporter, a woman, got some of the story mixed up and made me sound a little more against lady crews than I really am.
Andy and I sailed the boat through the Kiel Kanal; it is one of the great bargains of the cruising world; 18 Euros one way, about US$24. There are locks at either end but for nearly sixty miles the waterway is unimpeded. The banks are mostly quite pastoral, with many birds. The Kanal itself was very busy with commercial vessels of many nationalities going both ways. We moored for the night at a pleasant village called Rendsburg, where we refueled at the yacht club. We left early, back on the Kanal a small German sailboat flagged us down to beg a tow, their engine had broken down. We towed them all the way to Brunsbuttel at the western end of the Kanal, the captain insisted on pressing fifty euros in my hand and later an elderly lady dropped off a box of sumptuous chocolates, also a reward for the good deed.
We waited in Brunsbuttel for the new crew to show up; Peter, another South African and friend of Alan, and Sander a young Dutchman who signed on as far as Lisbon. Peter only had time to sail to Falmouth in England. Andy left to return to Scotland, he was pressing to get his own boat out of the water before the end of the month. I was sorry to see him go, he had been a competent and easy-going shipmate.
There was a very interesting shop in Brunsbuttel that sold nautical artifacts of all kinds; models, paintings, antiques, etc. I visited it several times and bought a ship in a bottle. It was obviously made by a sailor judging from the detail. The day before we left the owner of the shop came to the boat, he enthused about the ‘ Yachtfiona’ website. He said he was an official with the Bremerhaven Sailing Association and had come to make an award. To my surprise he produced a splendid silk tie and he gave it to me, saying the Association gave the tie to visiting amateur sailors that they felt enhanced the sport. I was very flattered.
Peter and Sander both arrived within a day of each other and we prepared to leave. We checked the tidal current in the Elbe and decide to enter the lock on the Kanal about lunchtime, this would give us about six hours of favorable current. As we got offshore the wind strengthened, until we could clear the sandbanks on both sides we had to butt into a rising sea. Eventually we gained enough sea room to alter course and set sail. The area was full of marine traffic and we had to avoid extensive wind farms which were not shown on our charts, both paper and electronic. Sander suffered terribly from mal de mer and spent most of the time until a few hours before landfall in his bunk clutching a bucket. Peter had never been offshore before and was clearly nervous as large freighters passed us heading in all direction at high speed. But we had a perfect wind from the southeast of fifteen knots. A full moon brilliantly illuminated the seascape, Fiona tore like a racehorse down the North Sea toward England. We entered Ramsgate harbor in the small hours of the morning, two and a half days after clearing the lock at Brunsbuttel having sailed nearly four hundred nautical miles, it had been stressful for Peter and Sander, their first time at sea, but it was wonderful sailing.
Ramsgate is a traditional English seaside resort, but the season was running down and many attractions were closed. I had an interesting experience; on old friend who had flown with me on 613 Squadron in the 1950s contacted me via my website. We rendezvoused for lunch at a pub and had a wonderful nostalgic chitchat, Mike had brought along a photo album of those days. The crew took the train to London the same day and apparently had a great time, getting back to the boat long after I had gone to bed. Talking with a local sailor at the hospitable Royal Temple Yacht Club he gave me some good advice; leave Ramsgate on a foul tide and get to Dungeness after the tide has turned, otherwise the cape is very hard to weather. Consequently we left Ramsgate at lunchtime and locked into Sovereign Harbor at Eastbourne in the early hours, the crew seemed much happier on this leg. A few hours’ sleep and we were ready to explore Eastbourne. We passed a large department store and decide to have a bite in the cafeteria but as we stood in line the fire alarm went off and we were herded into the street. Altogether too exciting so we retired to a hostelry across the way for a typical pub lunch.
In the evening we ate at one of the many restaurants surrounding the marina and discussed tactics for the next leg. We had to get Falmouth in about six days to meet incoming crew and Peter needed time to meet relatives in London before flying back to South Africa. Sander had agreed to sail to Portugal, or at least to Falmouth, depending how well he had overcome his seasickness. In the end we agreed on an overnight sail to Torquay and then hops down the coast with day legs to several port on the way to Falmouth. Imagine my surprise when I got up in the morning and found Peter and Sander had packed up their kit and decamped. Peter had left a rather curious note on his bunk; he apologized for their, quote ‘cowardly’, way of leaving the cruise, apparently it was not what they had in mind. No use crying over spilt milk – I locked out of the harbor and started a single-handed sail to Falmouth, a distance of 200 nautical miles.
Of course over the years I have sailed thousands of miles single-handed, usually for the same reason; the crew jumped ship or simply failed to show up. These trips, however have usually been on fairly remote ocean passages, the English Channel was another kettle of fish. I was able to stay north of the sea lanes for ocean-going ships, but other pleasure boats and particularly fishing boats were a hazard. Also in vicinity of the Solent there was a lot of cruise ship traffic. At night I made a visual, radar and AIS ( Automatic Identification System) scan, if the area was clear of ships for 8 miles or so I was able to snatch a couple of hours sleep. In the early hours of the first night the wind picked up to ten knots on the port and I set sail. The wind continued to build during the day and I enjoyed a wonderful sail. In fact I was ailing too fast and it looked like I would arrive in Falmouth before sunrise. I reefed the jib and steered a dog-leg, which eventually put me off the Mangles as the sun rose. About 9 am local time I called Falmouth Haven Marina on VHF and was directed to an open slip. I was very familiar with the marina and downtown Falmouth. Now I only needed to wait for my next crew to show up and also see if I could replace Sander with a local sailor for the leg to Portugal.
There were plenty of pubs and coffee shops nearby. A five minute walk finds the main square, called ‘The Moor’, which boasts the library, supermarket and a cinema. One rainy night I caught a movie; the latest James Bond epic. I found it rather boring. The library had wi-fi and I cleared out the enormous backlog waiting at my in-box. One day I took the bus to the next village, Penryn, to get a small inverter for use in cars, I did not trust what I had on board. This was prescient- I am typing this on a computer powered by it. To defend the harbor entrance Henry VIII built Pendennis Castle, it has remained an artillery base to this day, it is an easy walk from the marina. It is open to the public now, the guns are ceremonial. In the evening many pubs had live shows, at a hostelry called 5 West (the longitude of Falmouth) I enjoyed some ‘50s rock and roll, which reminded me of party nights in RAF messes, very nostalgic. The days passed quickly, when the new crew, Steve, showed up he had a rental car. We drove to Penryn to meet Helen, the daughter of Nick Franklin who designed the Aries vane gear, called Victor the Vane aboard Fiona. She let me have a spring to replace one we lost in Scotland. The next day we drove the Truro to turn in the rental car. We toured the small museum devoted to local subjects of interest and had lunch in the cathedral. A local teenager, Gus, contacted me about filling the berth remaining for the leg to Portugal. He had just completed the RYA competent crew course, so I signed him up.
It is always tricky crossing the Bay of Biscay and this trip proved to be no exception. Adlard Coles’ authoritative book, ‘Heavy Weather Sailing’ was largely based on the experiences of yachtsmen in the Bay of Biscay. The forecast on the day we left indicated southerly winds for the day, veering to west later. That seemed OK, we would head west and then south. However the wind once we cleared the Lizard was SSW and we could not lay a course to clear the Scilly Islands. With reefed sails we rounded Lands End and headed north of the Scillies. It was very rough with gale force winds. This was the pattern for several days; strong winds from the SW , we sailed closed hauled and made what progress we could. I tried to get as far west as possible to keep us west of the direct course to Cape Finisterre. It was rough going, the boat pounded into heavy seas which found every crack to saturate the interior. The area was busy with ship traffic, several times we had to call an approaching vessel on VHF to request a course change. Equipment failures were common which had to be fixed in the rolling boat; for example the starter for the engine had to be changed and the solenoid valve on the propane tank burned out. It was rough for all of us but poor Steve got whiplashed by the main sheet during a jibe in the middle of the night, he lost a tooth. Surprisingly, the forward hatch disintegrated, even though it was located under the upturned dinghy on the foredeck. We slowly clawed our way past Cape Finisterre , the wind increase to over forty knots with very rough seas. Gus nodded at the speed indicator on the cockpit bulkhead , it showed we were making eleven knots though the water, a speed record for Fiona in non-surfing conditions. I hesitated to ask the inexperienced crew to tie in the second reef in such rough conditions but it was essential to reduce sail. When we got the reef tied it looked awful but the boat was manageable. Later the wind veered to northerly and we zoomed into the Portuguese port of Viana do Castelo. It was the first fair wind in the nine days it had taken to beat our way across the Bay of Biscay, we had logged just over a thousand nautical miles to make good a direct distance of six hundred miles. The real cost was apparent when I inspected the boat after we tied up ; the brackets securing the bow platform were twisted and broken, we would not be able to set the jib until the damage was repaired.
Steve slaved all day in the marina laundry to get most of our clothing and bedding washed and dried. Gus and I fixed myriad minor problems; non-functioning lights, halyards stuck at the masthead and a broken door to the head. The next day the marina manager, Carlos, drove me to a hardware shop and we got a sheet of acrylic to repair the forward hatch. We met a live-aboard, Binkey, who is a part-time sideman for ‘The Who’ and other rock groups. We had a great dinner together entertained by his stories of touring with the band in many countries of the world.
There were no facilities for yacht repair at Viana so I decided to sail rather gingerly to Nazare, bearing in mind the delicate condition of the bowsprit. Fortunately we accomplished the 130 nm leg in very calm weather using the engine. As soon as we pulled into the small marina I ran into Alec, who owned a steel fabrication business. He was in favor of making some radical changes to the bowsprit attachment points as this was at least the third failure over the years. With the help of several live-aboard yachties we unshipped the bowsprit and Alec used a fork lift to get it to his shop. Gus got the unenviable job of squeezing into the chain locker and locking the nuts tight as we unscrewed the bolts from the outside. After Alec ground off the failed metal brackets he brought the bowsprit back for a fitting. Without making any sketches on paper he designed and fabricated four attachment brackets using much thicker metal. When we re-installed the bowsprit the brackets were a perfect fit, I was impressed.
There was a social life centered around Luis’ snack bar, there were half a dozen live-aboard boats at the marina. One afternoon we had a BBQ, Binkey drove over from Viana to see how we were getting on. As I mentioned Steve had a tooth knocked out during a midnight jibe in the Bay of Biscay and his mouth had been getting more painful. When Binkey drove back to Viana do Castelo he dropped Steve off at Porto airport, from there he flew to England and an appointment with a dentist. Gus and I sailed Fiona to Cascais at the mouth of the Tagus River and tied up at the huge marina an hour after sunset. The wind was light on the way there, so I did not get the chance of evaluating Alec’s handiwork. This would have to wait until I started the leg to the Caribbean in February. Gus and I did some light maintenance, visited Sintra and Lisbon and parted company in the middle of December when he returned to England and I flew to New York for holiday season hiatus. The European leg of the 2015/2016 cruise was over, we had logged nearly 7,000 nm from Long Island.
I flew back to Cascais in early February carrying a duffel bag full of spare parts and fittings. It was a pleasant change to walk about town without a jacket. I kept myself busy repairing some more of the damage that Fiona had suffered in the Bay of Biscay using the stuff I had brought back. Life was quite pleasant; after a couple of hours work on the boat I walked into the town center, bought a copy of the International New York Times and read it at one of the many small cafes drinking coffee and snacking on a ‘pattiserie’. After a few days Mads showed up, a Dane we first met when we arrived in Denmark, he planned to sail to the Caribbean with me. We carried out a few more repairs that were easier for four hands and waited for Tom, who had crewed on the Atlantic crossing the previous summer.
When we backed out of the slip to start our journey to the Caribbean I discovered the wheel was frozen solid, fortunately we were able to get a line to some English sailors on a nearby yacht and they pulled us back to the slip. While I had been away the roller chain connecting the autopilot to the steering system had rusted and refused to budge. We soaked it in oil, added plenty of WD40 and we were on our way a couple of hours later. We picked up good winds in the 15 to 20 knot range which veered over the course of a couple of days to the north and we set the jib wing and wing using the whisker pole. Unfortunately the single sideband transceiver stopped transmitting and we were unable to receive weather forecasts using GRIB files sent via Sailmail . Also I could not post daily updates on the Fiona website, except by calling my daughter Brenda on the Iridium satellite phone. After five days we had the mighty volcano on Tenerife in sight and as we approached La Gomera we doused the sails and powered the last ten miles as there is a notorious wind acceleration zone on the west side of Tenerife where winds frequently gust up to gale force in a few minutes.
We tied up at the familiar marina in San Sebastian and for a few days enjoyed the balmy weather. Mads had been quite sea-sick on the leg from Portugal, so he decided to fly home from La Gomera. We were unable to recruit anyone to replace him; Tom and I double-handed on the crossing to the St. Martin. For a few days we enjoyed good winds from the northwest. To my surprise the turnbuckle on the bobstay fractured in winds that did not exceed 20 kts. The half-inch diameter threaded stud sheered quite suddenly. We fished up the stay with the gaff and fitted a new turnbuckle, we had to lay full-length on the bow platform to tighten the turnbuckle by reaching underneath. At first we sailed south of the direct rhumb line in case we decided to touch the Cape Verde Islands to refuel. After a week we decided to head directly to St. Martin, fuel use had been modest up that point. The Pilot Chart showed good winds, but we soon found out the chart numbers are averages. The SSB radio had died on the way to La Gomera so we were without email and GRIB forecasts. We still had communication home via the Iridium satellite phone. Ten days into the trip the wind faded, eventually we powered for about five days, hoping to find wind further southwest. No such luck, we stopped using the engine for propulsion and sailed with very light winds, sometimes making good only fifty nm per day. It was quite pleasant, the temperature was in the 70s, and the only pressure on us was to get to St. Martin before March 23rd, when Tom had a flight booked back home. Most evenings we watched a movie, Tom refreshed his celestial navigation skills and we cleared up a backlog of minor maintenance chores. The refrigerator died but the freezer still functioned well, we had enough fuel saved to run it for an hour a day. However a few days before we arrived we ran out of beer, a minor tragedy, leavened by the fact we still had plenty of rum. As we neared the Leeward Islands the wind picked up from the east, touching 20 to 25 kts the day before we arrived. We anchored in Marigot Bay, St. Martin early in the morning of March 21st and when the Fort Louis Marina opened we moved to slip G14. It had been a slow passage, 27 days, but Tom caught his flight to Ohio on the 23rd.
With Tom gone I was left with over a week at the Fort Louise marina in Marigot before the arrival of my daughter Brenda and her friend Laura. I linked up with an old friend from my early cruising days in the Caribbean, Kay and her daughter Victoria. I spent the mornings on the numerous maintenance chores that are always waiting on a sailboat. Before I started work I made the short walk along the waterfront to SerraFinas for a delicious croissant and coffee, at the same time I picked up a baguette for lunch.
When Brenda and Laura arrived we had a few days of tourism which started by taking the ‘publico’ to Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of the island. One day Kay drove us to a butterfly farm which was very interesting; a large space had been created with fine plastic netting . Inside exotic trees and shrubs grew in profusion which were the favorite food of a wide range of butterflies. The whole life-cycle from caterpillars to chrysalis to mature adults could be viewed.
When the ladies flew home my son Colin and family friend Lewis arrived at the busy airport. Lewis had never been sailing and had often expressed a wish to see what the life-style was all about. After a couple of days, which also included a trip to the Dutch side and a visit to see Kay we left the marina and made an overnight sail across the Anegada Passage to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. After a check-in with the Immigration Department we sailed to an anchorage off Setting Point, Anegada Island. This island is still like the Caribbean used to be when myself, Edith and Colin lived there aboard Iona in the 1960s. From Anegada we sailed to Trellis Bay at Beef Island. This too was an old 1960s haunt, although far busier and crowded now. The runway, which was being built when we lived there, was very busy. I donned SCUBA gear and went down to change the zinc on the propshaft. From there we sailed to Jost Van Dyke, it was Colin’s first visit since the ‘60s, although he was only three years old then. It has changed somewhat – ‘Foxys’ bar has appeared and is now a popular yachtie hang-out. There are even a few cars on the island. We entered the USA when we anchored at Culebra for a night before we moved on to the huge Puerto del Rey marina, on the east coast of Puerto Rico.
I rented a car the day after we arrived and we drove to the wonderful ‘El Yunque’ National Forest. The visitor center features numerous exhibits about the wide diversity of flora and fauna that live in the forest. The center itself is an impressive piece of architecture as much of it is at the height of the tree canopy. We walked along a one mile-long path through the jungle to a spectacular waterfall called ‘El Minah’, it was exhausting in the heat as the path is by no means level but makes steep ascents and descents. It was created in the ‘30s by the CCC as a Depression era project. The next day I drove Colin and Lewis to San Juan Airport for their trip home and then waited for the arrival of flights carrying my next crew – Julie and Neil, both experienced small boat inshore sailors. Julie arrived first and I helped carry her gear to the car in the parking garage. As we crossed the busy road to the garage I tripped on a large, protruding speed bump and made a heavy landing on the ground; I cut my jaw and I think cracked a rib. As we waited for Neil I staunched a seemingly never-ending flow of blood from the cut on my face using copious paper towels from the ‘Banos’. After Neil arrived we decided I ought to visit an emergency room, Julie navigated me through the teeming streets of San Juan using her cell phone to a hospital. A technician examined me and said I need a couple of sutures, but the place was so busy that after an hour’s wait I signed my self out and we all went for some supper at a nearby ‘Chilis’. When I got back to the boat I glued up the gash with superglue. That seems to have worked fine but my ribs remained sore for weeks, especially when I sneezed. The next day we repeated the visit to ‘El Yunque’, but I skipped the walk to the waterfall. On the way back to the boat we stopped at a Walmart and stocked up with food for the trip north to Bermuda, paying especial attention to items for Julie, who is allergic to gluten.
We left the next day, the forecast was for light northeasterly winds which turned out to be reasonably accurate. We powered through the reef off the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, past Cockroach Island and when clear of land set a full suit of sail. The light head wind persisted for three days, we powered and motor sailed as appropriate but progress was slow. The Julie and Neil were interested in learning something about celestial navigation and in brilliant sunshine every day took a series of noon sights. When we were about 350 nautical miles from Bermuda the wind finally veered to the southeast and were able to sail free, that is, not constrained by being close-hauled. This happy state of affairs did not last long however, the wind continued to veer slowly and after a day and a half we were close-hauled again. Worse, the Navtex weather forecast from Bermuda predicted a fast-moving Nor-easter. Sure enough, when we were only 150 nm from Bermuda we were frustrated by strong winds which at times touched gale force on the nose. For nearly a day we tacked every few hours but made little progress towards our destination. Julies and Neil got a taste of real off-shore sailing; during one tack the mast-head flag halyard had become adrift and fouled the jib sheet. A horrible tangle ensued as the ropes flogged in the wind. Neil tried to pull the mess within reach using the boat-hook but the lines were so knotted together that the hook was wrenched off the pole. I gave the order to cut the mess free and we sacrificed the halyard- a bit of drama played out with the shrieking wind driving spray over the crew. The storm conditions blew by and we had nearly a day of fair winds that got us to within 45 nm of Bermuda when they failed. We powered the rest of the way and checked into customs at 7:30 am (local time) on Wednesday, the 27th. My old friend Bernie Oatley was waiting to greet us, later we moved to Captain Smokes’ Marina.
Neither Julie nor Neil had ever visited Bermuda before and so the unique delights of the island were fresh for them. They thoroughly enjoyed our week spent in St. George’s. The weather was perfect; sunny with a temperature of mid-70s by lunch-time. They explored several beaches including the nearby Tobacco Bay. The town was fairly quiet with few tourists in evidence. This a consequence of the large cruise ships docking exclusively at Hamilton or the Dockyard, none stop at St. George’s anymore. This change, of course, has drastically affected the local merchants, several shops were closed and sadly, on the day Julie and I bussed to Hamilton there was an armed robbery at a jewelers on Front Street. The economic climate is bringing the outside world to Bermuda’s shores. Still, the old White Horse Tavern on King’s Square was still functioning and we all enjoyed its hospitality. To tempt tourists to venture east on the Sunday of our stay a very festive marine expo was organized. I was intrigued to find the local Sea Gull outboard engine enthusiasts had set of a display with engines dating from 1934. At another stand a craftsman had a number of beautifully made model ships for sale and I bought a small replica of the ‘Victory’ from him.
As our time to depart drew close I started to pay attention to the weather forecast, the crossing to Long Island can be rough, long-term readers of my newsletters probably recall the mast was blown off Fiona during a crossing in August, 1988. However I did not expect such strong winds in May. The forecast looked fairly good; fair southwest winds for a day followed by a bout of heavy weather and then mild conditions in the vicinity of the Gulf Stream. As it turned out the forecast was fairly accurate; the heavy winds arrived on schedule , somewhat higher than expected with a few hours of gale force wind with gusts to 40kt. The seas were also higher than I expected, one wave boarded the boat and washed away the cockpit cushions. Within a day the wind died down and we started the engine. The next problem was the Gulf Stream crossing, my friend from the South Bay Cruising Club, Bob Foreman, had e-mailed me a chart of the current in the Stream before we left Bermuda. On inspection I decided the best tactic was the head a little east to pick up the north-bound flow on the east of a cold eddy and then cross the main body of the Stream at right angles to the core flow. The water temperature reached a maximum of 82⁰F in the center of the Stream, by 10 pm Saturday it fell quickly to 67⁰F, showing we had crossed into cooler slope water. The wind remained light during the crossing. Once clear of the current we laid a course for Fire Island Inlet using the engine to assist the mainsail. Intense squalls developed during the night with rain and sheet lightning; very much a Gulf Stream scene. By lunchtime on Sunday the wind had picked up from the northwest – on the nose. It was futile to run the engine as the seas made up. We tacked back and forth in winds that reached 40 kts, basically holding our position without making progress towards Long Island. It was frustrating to be so close to home without the wind to get there. Finally the wind god relented; the gale force winds diminished to 15 to 20 kts and backed to the south west. We moved nicely under sail and held the rhumb line. The wind slowly backed to the north, eventually we tacked and motor-sailed to hold as close as possible to the course. By Tuesday morning the wind had died and we powered over a sea that got flatter and flatter, Fire Island Inlet got closer and closer, but it looked like we would arrive at dead low tide. We made the Inlet at 18:30 on Tuesday with enough daylight to see the buoys until we got to Nicholls Point, from there the navigation was simpler. Unfortunately I misplaced the strip chart of Great South Bay and I found the chart plotter virtually useless, at the Inlet it showed Fiona firmly on the beach, so the trip was made from memory, but I had probably sailed the same leg a hundred times over the years. We touched bottom for few seconds at one point but easily sailed into deeper water. We tied up at 22:30, a little over six days out of Bermuda. The log showed 12,554 nm since I left on July, 2015, but it did not function some of the time and tended to read low at other times, so the total mileage is probably greater. Holly was waiting at Weeks Yachtyard to greet us and to provide lift to Brookhaven Hamlet. After a day Julie took the Long Island railroad to Penn Station then an Amtrak train to Philly. Neil had another day to spare before winging his way to Nashville, I gave him a tour in my ’37 Bentley of the shore near Brookhaven which included a few drinks at a typical dockside bar.
Clearly not all the crew who signed up for this cruise enjoyed it, three jumped ship and some suffered from sea-sickness and terminated early. Ironically, Steve and Chris , who endured some of the worst sea conditions in the Bay of Biscay that I have personally experienced in many years of sea-going, enjoyed themselves and, I think, would sign up again.
Chris, the unusual bookseller of Lunenburg, Canada
Fiona anchored at Loch Scaviaig in the Cuillin Mountains, Skye, Scotland.
A classic Highlands ‘Puffer’ in the Caledonian Canal, Scotland.
Crossing to Bornholm, a small bird whispers in Andy’s ear.
Passing the White Cliffs of Dover, England.
Crew member Gus demonstrates the missing Lucite in the forward hatch.
In the middle of a gale Eric replaces the engine starter.
Bow platform mounting bracket fractured in Biscay crossing.
New bowsprit bracket fabricated at Nazare, Portugal.
Bizarre sculpture over the Palace entrance, Pena, Portugal.
The quaint streetcars (Trams) of Lisbon, Portugal.
Tom displays a hapless flying fish that flew on board.
An old sailor’s superstition; Tom sticks a knife into the mast ( tough as it’s aluminum) to summon wind
Fiona lies motionless in the mid-Atlantic calm.
Eric takes a dinghy ride a thousand miles from land.
The Puerto Rico to NY crew, Neil and Julie at the White Horse Tavern, St. George’s Bermuda.
Eric going scuba diving to replace the prop shaft zincs.
Eric, Colin, and Lewis at Foxy’s.