Newsletter #5- Barbados to BVI, Bermuda

The character of the cruise changed radically after I returned to Barbados in early June. No more long hauls across thousands of miles of open ocean; what I envisaged were leisurely sails in the islands of the Caribbean, Bermuda and the coast of Maine. The longest legs would be Puerto Rico to Bermuda and Bermuda to Maine, each about 800 nautical miles. It did not quite work out that way, as you will learn. I brought back two duffel bags packed with spares, including the radar, depth finder, newly-machined support tube for the self-steerer and a new lower unit for the jib furler. American Airlines were nice enough not to charge for excess baggage. I had left Fiona at a very odd marina called Port St Charles, which consists of luxury condos costing half a million dollars and up with slips for the owners’ yachts. The marina was a small addition to the development, unfortunately the builders apparently ran out of money before they completed the toilets, showers and any social amenities such as a bar. It was like living on a film set. The day after I got back I moved the boat to Carlisle Bay near Bridgetown, completed a few repairs and waited for the new crew, Jacqui, to fly in. Unfortunately the refrigerator would not work after I got back, in the 90º F heat this was a serious problem, especially as I was expecting my daughter Brenda and her husband Rich to spend a week on the boat when we got the Virgin Islands. When Jacqui showed up we lugged the refrigerator out of the galley, into the dinghy and took it to a repair shop. Fruitlessly, as it turned out. It still didn’t work. One day we took a bus along the winding lanes of the Barbados back country to an old slave plantation that had been restored for the tourists. The bus home filled up with chattering school children and the driver turned up the volume of the rock music on the radio. He drove faster and faster, screeching the old bus round the tight bends. Suddenly he stopped at a gas station, the conductor dashed inside for a bottle, which I assumed was to drink. Wrong. It was brake fluid, he poured down a hole in the dash, pumped vigorously on the pedal for a couple of minutes and, satisfied with the pedal pressure, resumed his mad ride to the center of Bridgetown. About a week after Jacqui joined the boat we sailed overnight to Union Island in the Grenadines. As we were checking in with the customs and immigration officials at the airport a yachtie came up to me and said, ‘Eric, remember me?’ I confessed to a senior moment. ‘Rich and Nancy’ he replied. ‘We met at the marina in Portland, oh, about four years ago.’ It slowly came back to me; I had been on the way to Maine after the cruise to Antarctica in 1999. Such is the small world of the cruising fraternity. We agreed to meet at a bar on the shore for a sundowner, but we never made it. Why? Because about an hour before our rendezvous we dinghied to a tiny island in the harbor called the ‘Happy Hour Bar’. We had a very acceptable rum punch and then hauled the inflatable dinghy alongside for the ride to shore. I then discovered the ‘dock’ was made of conch shells set in concrete. As Jacqui and I climbed in, the dinghy rubbed against the shells which tore a one-inch gash in the rubber. The dinghy began to deflate very quickly. We made a dash to the boat as it settled lower and lower in the water and stepped aboard just as the dinghy sank. Fortunately one pontoon was still intact and we were able to hook up a halyard just as the outboard motor was about to disappear under the waves. Rich and Nancy finally came looking for us, only to find me gluing a patch on the remains and muttering about idiots and conch shells. We had our sundowner on Fiona, in fact; several. From there we sailed to Mayero, a small island that was a favorite anchorage of Edith and me when we cruised the Caribbean aboard Iona in the late 1960’s. Progress had come to Mayero; they now had a central generator and the village had sprouted poles festooned with street lights and electric distribution wires. We climbed to the top of the hill for a breathtaking view of the islets and reefs forming Tobago Cays lying to the east; they were to be our next stop. Unfortunately it was very windy the next day as we edged our through the shallows and dropped the hook in company with about twenty other boats behind Horseshoe Reef. Snorkeling in half a gale wasn’t much fun and the wind was too strong for us to rig the awning to keep off the sun. The next day we sailed to Bequia, we discovered Rich and Nancy anchored off the village. We dined with them a couple of times, hiked over to the south shore (there is a very friendly bar) and got our laundry done. The plan next was to sail to Martinique, but fate intervened. As we sailed out of the lee on the west side of St Vincent we encountered a notorious wind acceleration zone. Although we only had a reefed jib set Fiona heeled in the gusts. Suddenly there was a loud bang, I made a quick trip forward to confirm my fear, yes, the bobstay had snapped, again. It had broken before on the transatlantic leg of the cruise. We had then used a piece of anchor chain which seemed thick enough to last the remainder of the trip. But when I examined it after this failure I found deep corrosion on the link attached to the hull at the waterline. The loss of tension on the bobstay caused the bow platform to move up and this, in turn, jammed the jib furler. I could not roll the jib in or out. The flogging sail made a tremendous racket and the slack headstay snapped viciously in the wind gusts. Poor Jacqui, who did not have much sailing experience, was clearly very frightened but she managed to steer the boat downwind to keep the tension off the sail while I worked with a chain wrench to slowly roll in the jib, inch by inch. Then I had to brace the headstay. When I looked closely at the bow platform I noticed a heavy stainless steel bracket which attached it to the hull had cracked. Obviously I was in for some heavy maintenance again. I decided the only practical solution was to sail directly to St Martin, more than 400 nautical miles to the north. All the facilities I needed could be found there. We set a reefed mainsail and with an assist from the engine made the trip in two and a half days. We were both heartily thankful that the hot. refrigeratorless, trip was over when the anchor dropped into ten feet of clear water in Marigot Bay. My old friend Kay Pope has an apartment overlooking the bay, she immediately invited us to dinner preceded by a shower. Her daughter Victoria came over too, she was a playmate of my son Colin when they were both small children living on boats in the 1960’s. How time flies. The next week was mostly devoted to fixing the boat, although every morning we started the day with a delicious breakfast ashore featuring French croissants. We usually picked up a baguette at the same time for our lunch. I installed a new refrigerator, bobstay and jib furler. One day Jacqui and I powered Fiona over to the Dutch side of St Martin for a visit to the welder. The next day we started to bend on the jib, but the sail caught on a protruding cotter pin and tore. When I went to inspect the offending pin the boat gave a roll in the wind and I gashed my leg badly on the same pin! Kay ran me over the emergency room of the local hospital where a doctor put in five stitches, total cost- $23. When I took the sail for repair it cost $40, but they put in more stitches. When the sail was returned we were ready, but Jacqui had had enough of the continuous maintenance, it certainly had not been the kind of cruise she hoped, and she left by air. I sailed the boat single handed to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands just in time to meet my daughter Brenda and her husband Rich, who are, incidentally, the mistress and master of the Yachtfiona website. Rich brought a new laptop, my old one was never the same after the rigors and dampness of Cape Horn.

We sailed from Trellis bay to the beautiful, unspoiled (relatively) island of Anegada , we hiked along the sandy beach, stopping for refreshment at convenient small hotels. From there we sailed to West End and the next day we took the ferry to St John in the US Virgin Islands. After this brief taste of the US we made the short sail to Great Harbour and the famous Foxy’s Bar on Yost Van Dyke. The next day we re-entered the US at Culebra and then sailed to the huge marina just south Fajardo in Puerto Rico. Brenda and Rich liked the showers. We rented a car and drove to the old part of San Juan for a day. While Brenda and Rich explored the casino I scouted for a doctor to take the stitches out of my leg, which had become swollen and red. We finally wound up at the emergency room of the local hospital, where a very nice young physician snipped away, total cost $106 – I was back in the US. Brenda and Rich flew home the next day, and the day after that I picked up the first of my new crew, William, who runs his own computer company. He brought along his laptop so that he could do some work while sailing. Combined with my new one I suspect we had more computing power aboard than was possessed by the Pentagon ten years ago. While waiting for the arrival of the second crew member, William and I drove to the Caribbean National Forest, a wonderfully scenic rain forest on the slopes of El Yunque – the ‘Rainmaker’. We parked the car and climbed the last 1000 ft in the trees to the summit. It was shrouded in cloud so we did not get a view, and the top was cluttered with antennas, transmitting equipment and a diesel generator. The next day Andrew showed up to sign on the crew list, he is a young Australian on a six month walkabout. We left the marina almost immediately for the 850 nautical mile leg to Bermuda. We enjoyed great beam winds for the first four days, then we ran into a windless high pressure ridge lying over Bermuda and had to fire up the old Perkins, but we still managed to tie up at St George’s a little over six days from leaving Puerto Rico.

Bermuda seems much the same, we arrived at the peak of the cruise ship season; during the week there were usually two in St George’s. The locals appreciate the week-ends when the hordes of pale, often overweight tourists are briefly gone. Several days after we arrived Bermuda held a general election, the ruling Progressive Labour Party was returned to power The scandal came a couple of days later when the party fired the leader, who is automatically the premier, in an internal coup. The new deputy premier was quite frank that this change was in the works before the election but they kept it quiet so as not to affect the outcome. I was amazed at the passivity with which the voters and the opposition party accepted this bit of double-dealing. We stayed over a week in St George’s, tied up to Somers Wharf. We got the mainsail repaired and did other maintenance chores, but it was about 90ºF each day, so we didn’t push it. The next big event was the annual cricket match between St George’s representing the east end and Somerset the west end. The two day affair ended in a draw, but nobody minded, it was the festivity that everyone enjoyed. William and I went to the first day, Andrew saw the match through to the end. Visitors were able to sit on benches in a shaded stand. Free drinks and fresh fruit were frequently passed out to counteract the heat. After the match we moved the boat to Mangrove Bay, just in time for another big party, this time on the water; the annual Non-Mariners Race. Spoof boats are specially built to take part, none are expected to finish as it is a non-race. The event was attended by literally hundreds of boats, with many of the spectators jumping in the water and swimming over for a better view, this was no hardship; the water temperature is 85ºF this time of the year. We anchored near the head of the bay early in the morning, but by lunchtime we were hemmed in by dozens of boat that came within a few inches of us as the rafted clusters swung in the light breeze. It was all very noisy and jolly and a great deal of beer was swigged. From there we sailed to another favorite anchorage; Ely’s Harbour. This is a beautiful spot with small beaches, clear water and great snorkeling. Andrew had bought a disposable underwater camera he was eager to try. We visited the massive fortifications of the old naval dockyard by bus and then sailed in Great Sound to anchor in Paradise Cove. On the north side of the cove is Long Island. During the Boer War the most obstreperous Boer prisoners of war were sent to Bermuda as escape was virtually impossible from there, about a couple of dozen died and they are buried on Long Island. For some reason the gravestones are identified only by a number, at some stage the Boers themselves erected a memorial which named each numbered grave. We landed by dinghy and wandered through the lonely cemetery, it was impossible not to feel sorry for these men dying so far from home. The next day we picked up a mooring at Hinson Island belonging to Tony Jones, the Rear Commodore of the Bermuda Station of the Cruising Club of America. He and his wife Liz treated us to a memorable supper in a gazebo on the lawn overlooking Hamilton harbor. Then it was time to return to St George’s and get our clearance for the leg to Maine.

We experienced mostly fair winds for the trip. We encountered some adverse currents in the Gulf Stream but we sailed out of them in a day or so. As we sailed north we finally encountered cooler weather. Near 40ºN Fiona crossed her outward track and thus completed her second circumnavigation. A day later we picked up a mooring in Bar Harbor, Maine, a week after leaving Bermuda. During this leg William assiduously practiced celestial navigation; he is planning to buy a sailboat of his own and the trip aboard Fiona was a way of getting back in the swim after a long break. He left us at Bar Harbor, his place was taken by Lew, an old friend who is now a professional video editor. We anchored or moored at several lovely islands as we slowly made our way through Penobscot Bay. In Stonington we ran into a young woman at the old opera house who was working on its restoration, she gave us a guided tour of the dark interior. Many Maine towns had an opera house during the late 19th century. The one at Stonington is quite large, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. After a night at Belfast we spent two nights at Rockland, a small town with two great museums; the Farnsworth and the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. The Farnsworth always has a number of Andrew Wyeth paintings on view as he spent his summers nearby where he often painted members of the Olson family. From there we explored Hurricane Island, where the Outward Bound School is located. We watched the students learning rope climbing at an abandoned granite quarry and when I stepped off the trail to inspect an old, rusting steam engine I nearly poked my eye out on a tree branch, and sported a black eye for my pains. I had arranged to meet a fellow vintage car enthusiast at her summer cottage on Muscongus Bay. Sarah is a Buggati fan, several other Buggati drivers were staying with her before attending a meet in Connecticut. We all went out for a sail aboard the boat to give them a taste of Maine cruising.

Unfortunately I made it too realistic by running the boat onto a ledge as we entered the anchorage at Harbor Island for lunch. In my defense the ledge was not on the chart. Andrew and Lew got a lift to Brunswick from Sarah’s place and departed on the daily bus to Portland and points south. I was joined by Malcolm, who is a friend from vintage Bentley rallies. We sailed west at a leisurely pace. One day we sailed to Damariscove Island for lunch and anchored in the narrow harbor. It is a small island about a quarter mile wide and a mile and a half long. It lies five miles south of Boothbay Harbor in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite its small size and remoteness it has an amazing history. It was visited by the Mayflower in 1620 and frequently used by ships from Europe in the 17th century for the transshipment of cargo so they avoided running closer to the coast. It was very busy, in the late 17th century hundreds of colonists fled to the island during the Indian wars. Much later a farmer kept cows and delivered milk to nearby islands by rowing boat, winter and summer. It is now a Nature Conservancy, we walked along one of the trails, scattered foundations and dry stone walls were testimony to its past. In the late afternoon we sailed to Monhegan Island, about 12 miles to the east. We arrived an hour before sunset so that we could use one of the moorings of the charter vessels that make daily visits to the island. This is perfectly acceptable provided you leave before 10 am the next morning. As the sun sank we sat in the cockpit with our Fiona rum cocktail and witnessed a strange sight. A lobster boat circled the harbor with a knot of people standing at the stern. A small crowd gathered on the wharf. Then the boat launched something on the sea that blazed with crimson flames and sent a plume of black smoke into the sky. Looking through the binoculars I saw it was a miniature Viking ship. We found out the next morning when we went ashore that we had witnessed the Viking funeral of a local resident whose ashes were in the little ship; they do things differently at Monhegan. At Five Island Harbor on the Sheepscot River we collected mussels off the rocks and put them in a bucket to clear themselves of sand. We ate them for happy hour at Seguin Island the next afternoon. This remote offshore island has one of the first lighthouses to be built in the United States, it was authorized by George W. himself. We spent a night at Sebacus where Malcolm and I contacted some friends who live locally and we had dinner together. The next day we sailed to a yacht club on Orr’s Island where we made contact with the family of a CCA member we had met in the Azores last year at the start of our cruise. His mother arranged for the commodore of the CCA to visit the boat the next day, He and his wife came for happy hour, they were very interested in the trip and it turned out that they and Malcolm had mutual friends; small world. The next day we sailed to Eagle Island, the retirement home of Admiral Peary, but the house which is now a museum was closed. We sailed on in thick fog to Jewel Island for the night. The island has WWII fortifications, we climbed to the top of the old watch tower and then squelched our way through the thick undergrowth to the rocky south side. From Jewel we sailed to South Freeport and then Portland where Mike came up from Long Island to join us for the jaunt home down the coast of New England. I was sorry to leave the wonderful coast of Maine, we had enjoyed great, warm weather even though we could have used more wind. We were delayed a day by a gloomy weather forecast caused by hurricane Isabel.

There was no wind as we left Portland, we powered to Isles of Shoals and stopped for supper. There we met another CCA member and his wife, Skip and Ilze, who lived on their boat and had completed a circumnavigation of several years. I decided not to waste the night sleeping so we cranked up the engine and powered overnight to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. Compared to my previous visits it seemed very quiet, a situation attributed equally to the economy and hurricane Isabel the locals said. The next day we had a wonderful sail across Cape Cod Bay to the canal but when we emerged into Buzzards Bay we encountered steep, unpleasant seas kicked up by a southerly wind blowing down the bay at up to 30 knots. We sought a sheltered bay for a quiet night on the anchor. The following day we had great sailing conditions for a sail to Newport, a charming town. We were just in time for a party at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club where we picked up a mooring. After exploring the town in the morning we sailed to Block Island but head winds delayed us and we arrived after dark. In the old tradition of the square riggers we spruced up the ship the next day and then left for the drag down the south shore of Long Island, which we did under power. We had a tense time sailing the shallows of Great South Bay in a thick fog. When we tied up at Weeks Yachtyard it was a year and fifteen weeks since we departed with 32,869 nautical miles logged. The condition of Fiona certainly reflects this high mileage, about half of it in the Southern Ocean. It will take me many months to get her shipshape again, after that who knows? Best Wishes, Eric


David with his new surfboard at Ihla Grande, Brazil

Jacqui and Eric enjoy a beer at Mayero Island in the Grenadines.

Eric with Brenda and Rich at Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Brenda and Rich are Webmistress and Webmaster respectively.

IMG 0571 Eric, Rich and Brenda at the famous Foxy’s Bar on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands.

Foxy’s viewed from the beach

The great two-day cricket match at St. George’s, Bermuda. It’s not who wins or loses but how they play the game.

The non-mariners race and spectator boats in Mangrove Bay, Bermuda.

Entertainment at the non-mariners race, Bermuda.

L to R, William, Andrew and Eric on the aft deck with a massive cruise ship in the background, St George’s Bermuda.

Gentle sailing among the islands of Maine.

A typical Maine lighthouse: Marshall Point near Port Clyde.

The island of Monhegan. It was here we witnessed the unique Viking funeral.

Fiona finds a sheltered harbor at Seguin Island, off the Maine coast.

Fiona approaches the Robert Moses Bridge on Long Island’s south shore as the fog thickens on the last day of the cruise.

Eric poses with flags of some of the countries visited as Fiona sails close-hauled towards Patchogue.