Brookhaven, N.Y., May 2005
In this short letter I will describe our equatorial crossing, visits to St Martin and Bermuda and the last leg across the Gulf Stream to Long Island. It was very hot in Brazil and on the equator, so perhaps the theme is that we followed the first law of thermodynamics – we flowed from hot to cold. We spent only two days at Jacare but we got a lot done. The major job was to replace the engine exhaust hose, which was leaking fumes and sea water. The owner of the marina, Brian, managed to find me a piece of hose that was a little too thick and a little too large but in this remote part of Brazil you work with what you have got. It was very sweaty work installing it; the temperature in the engine room was close to 100º F and every few minutes I had to stop to drink copious drafts of water. I rarely drink water, I remember the remark made by W.C. Fields when he inadvertently tried some-‘I don’t know what it is but it won’t sell!’ The two ladies retired to the Orca Pousada (Brazilian B&B), so at least they were spared the salty language emanating from the engine room. When the engine was running again we restocked at the Hipermarket and refueled by jerry jug, transferring ninety gallons of diesel by dinghy into our thirsty tanks. After a delicious home-made dinner at the pousada which cost all of $4 we left in the late evening down the Paraiba River. On the open sea there was no wind, as we powered towards the equator the electric autopilot, George, began to show signs of heat prostration. It is located only a couple of feet above the engine and was so hot I could not touch the case. I cannibalized a blower and hose from the cabin heater and rigged a cooling breeze for the unit. After a day we encountered the Doldrums; grey skies, plenty of rain squalls and fitful winds. Five days out from Brazil we crossed the equator and Ruth and Sasha joined the many pollywog crews who have made their first crossing aboard Fiona. Naturally Father Neptune showed up and we killed a bottle of champagne that Sasha had brought along. A day or so north of the equator we picked up the Northeast Trade Winds. We made good time compared to our beat along the South American coast; our best day was 151 miles made good towards St Martin. But the winds were not as favorable as those we encountered on the same leg on the 2002/2003 cruise when we averaged nearly 170 miles a day during the last week on the way to Barbados. Another reason was that we bucked a counter current that at times ran as high as 2 knots. Although the Pilot Charts show a smooth flow of ocean current from the equator which eventually turns into the Gulf Stream in practice the flow is obviously very turbulent, with many whirls and eddies. The nice weather gave Ruth and Sasha a chance to practice celestial navigation, but I did not have the Nautical Almanac for 2005. Then I remember Kathy had installed a program in the laptop when we were cruising in the Baltic. Sure enough, this had all the data we needed for about the next fifty years. The ladies were quite good and our position lines coincided with the GPS to within 3 miles. Before we got to St Martin the wind veered so that we sailed past Barbuda and Antigua on a run. We arrived at Marigot before lunch after a 16 day passage. After refueling we dropped anchor in the bay just north of my friend Kay’s condo. Kay and her late husband were fellow cruising sailors when Edith and I lived in the Caribbean aboard Iona, so many years ago.
St Martin is getting over-developed with terrible traffic problems, but you can still get the finest croissants and coffee for breakfast that I have ever tasted. Once again our visit was brief. We replenished the propane, bought some rum and had dinner a couple times with Kay and some guests who were staying with her. We left after two days.as the sun was setting. We sailed with the Trade Winds until about 24º N, after that we experienced indifferent winds, sometimes on the nose. One afternoon two large whales surfaced just behind the boat, I think they were Minke. The whales came just in time for my 39th birthday (again), I baked a cake and the ladies sang the traditional song, but I have never liked birthdays. We made the passage in just over a week. My daughter Brenda and old friend Lew were waiting to greet us in Bermuda. Sasha decided to leave the cruise in Bermuda and I went in a flurry of e-mail activity to find a replacement. I also put up a notice at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and that produced several enquiries from young people who were signing off a large Canadian ex-fishing boat called Farley Mowat. Perhaps the ship should be called Fairly Militant as it is run by conservationists who do such things as harass sealers. One reason for pushing to get to Bermuda was that the spring meeting of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) was coincidentally being held there at the same time. The opening reception was in the afternoon of the day we arrived. We all enjoyed this party and the next evening Brenda and I attended a swish dinner celebrating the centennial of the founding of the Bermuda Race. When Brenda left we sailed to the west end for a couple of days to anchor in Mangrove Bay and Ely’s Harbor. I have sailed to Bermuda many times in the past 35 years and there have been great changes in that period. For example, black Bermudians were virtually invisible in the 60’s and now they run the government. But there are signs of stress in the society of this beautiful island. A symptom is that Trimingham’s, a flagship department store chain, is closing down after 160 years in business. The reason was explained to me by a Bermudian friend; the offshore banking and insurance sector of the economy pays such high salaries that the cost of living has sky-rocketed. The other major sector, tourism, cannot match these salaries and remain competitive with other vacation destinations. As there are many more unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in servicing the tourism sector than there are in the offshore sector that is the problem. Lew flew home after a week and Mahius joined us from the Farley Mowat. Ruth, Mahius and I set sail on the last leg of the cruise to Long Island after refueling with duty-free diesel.
A large high pressure zone had settled over Bermuda when we left and this provided nice sailing with northeast winds in the 15 knot range for a couple of days. Then we ran into the inevitable front that always seems to lurk between the island and the mainland. But the winds remained fairly light and we crossed the Stream in cloudy weather with moderate seas. It certainly felt colder after our sojourn in the Tropics. Again we sailed into high pressure which killed the wind and we powered for the last day and a half across a sea that was so calm we could see stars reflected in it at night. Soon we were picking New York radio stations and a small land bird found a temporary home on the boat. We got stuck in the Patchogue River and my friend Bob on Fireplace pulled us through the mud. Perhaps one day they will dredge it. Gale warnings were broadcast for the day after we arrived, so we timed it just right. The leg home from Bermuda was 680 miles, making a total of 3,789 miles for the leg from Brazil to Long Island.
Here are a few thoughts on the 2004/5 cruise. Since I retired in 1995 I have sailed five long cruises and a couple of shorter ones to Maine. The details are listed on the website; see ‘History of Fiona’. This cruise has not been one of the most enjoyable for me, but I think most of my crew had a good time. I had 15 different crew members during the cruise and therein is the problem; only four had sailed with me before, the rest had literally to learn the ropes, a period that can be trying for me. I was also very disappointed we did not achieve the ultimate goal of sailing once again to Antarctica. This was largely my fault; the strategic planning of the trip was poor. With hindsight it is obvious I should have planned to fly home from Lisbon, not London; we would have had better weather in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay and would probably not have lost as much time as we did in port. I should have planned to arrive at Port Stanley much earlier to leave a bigger margin for contingencies, such as breaking a bone or two. You live and learn. The cruise has also been characterized by mild or non-existent winds. Although we experienced heavy weather in the North Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the South Atlantic near the Falklands the rest of the trip was very benign. For example, we never reefed the mainsail all the way north from Port Stanley to Long Island, a distance of about 8,000 nautical miles. I see from the log that about 14% of all the time accrued on the diesel engine since the boat was launched in 1983 was added on this single trip. Days on end under power are not much fun. There have been a few highlights, of course; the Baltic, London at St Katharine’s Dock, cruising the Falkland Islands and our visit to Uruguay were all very enjoyable. Perhaps that is because they were new for me, on my next cruise I must aim for fresh fields. We watched many movies on DVD using the laptop computer and I read a good deal. Outstanding books that come to mind are ‘Into Thin Air’ by J. Krakauer, ‘The Selfish Gene’ by R. Dawkins and ‘Ice with Everything’ by W. Tilman. Fiction I enjoyed includes ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ by M. Helprin, ‘Birdsong’ by S. Faulks and ‘Bright Day’ by J.B. Priestley. A log of the trip is appended below.
Until the next time, best wishes, Eric.
Shopping for presents at Jacare.
Emergency cooling for George the autopilot.
Ruth and Sasha greet Father Neptune at the Equator.
Ruth on the beach on a small island at Ely’s Harbour, Bermuda.
Palm Island, Bermuda.The notice welcomes visitors.
Ruth finally puts a face on Victor the Vane – the self-steerer.
Eric, Ruth and Mahius, the last crew of the cruise; Bermuda to Long Is.
A barn swallow hitches a ride on the cabin compass.