Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update From Bermuda

We’ve already been here a week! We’ve been visiting our Bermudian friends and watching our tans fade. The cloudy sky and cool breezes have forced me into wearing pants most days and giving my captain reason to pause regarding our departure further north.

We continue to hear horror stories from people who used the bank in Antigua. The theory is that the phone lines used for doing bank transactions were tapped because the crooks also got pin numbers – they print new ATM cards using the real (stolen) account numbers with another name that matches their id and because they also know the pin number, they can get cash. I though I was so smart draining my account but earlier this week I noticed it was nearly $2000 overdrawn. I purposefully do not have an overdraft service, but according to my bank they sometimes have a “cushion” for accounts considered to be in “good standing”. Lucky me. The two biggest transactions were $1000 cash from a Post Office and a $500 ATM withdraw both on the same day in a town in Illinois. I never withdraw that much, never mind on the same day. Lucky for me I was out at sea and have paperwork to prove it. However I still must deal with claim papers to clear up the mess, which I have to sign before they can be processed! Never did like this bank… Apparently the US banks have deferred making some security changes to keep up with the times (relative to other parts of the world) because it is so expensive. No wonder our banking fees keep going up - we’re covering people’s fraud claims.

We’ve been asked to deliver a Bermuda based racing boat, a Swan Club 42, to Newport. We set sail shortly. This will be a unique experience because this boat, while new, is a very light weight boat and it lacks many of the modern conveniences I have grown so accustomed to such as heat, a real galley and other basic living comforts. We also won’t have single sideband radio but I will attempt to post a blog via satellite phone for the first time. We have two additional crew making the passage and no doubt their helping hands will make things easier for me. It should take us less than 5 days to reach Newport.

Monday, April 21, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda – Arrival

Day 6 of our passage consisted of only ten hours and a total of 65nm by way of sail and engine power. We arrived in St George’s Harbour under a cloudy sky and wearing fleece.

Since the winter of 2005, each time I arrive in Bermuda I get an odd yet nice feeling, like one gets when you visit some place that holds a special memory. Upon reaching the Customs dock we were welcomed in a distinctive accent and an extra friendly manner, both so wonderfully Bermudian. After our paperwork was complete we anchored in the main Convict Bay anchorage area – you can probably see us on the web cam. We decided to leave the fenders and warps on until this morning just in case we got a visit from the police, customs or sniffer dogs like last year, but so far no visitors.

We enjoyed a nice motionless dinner at the dining table and celebrated with a bottle of Stags’ Leap Winery (2000) Napa Valley Petite Syrah, for years one of my favorite wines. Better still was 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Total passage: 5 ½ days and 884 nautical miles.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda - Day 5

We spent most of our time watching the Ockam sailing instruments, which I call the boat's entertainment center, with the intensity one might watch a finals sporting event, willing Eve towards the finish line. Overall wind conditions improved allowing us to sail most of the day, get closer to our rhumb line and accomplish 160nm.

During watches my captain spotted a distant ship and a sea bird, and I averted a buoy - not sure if it was for Oceanography or deep-water lobster. One thing I have failed to mention in my daily passage entry is air temperature. With each day my captain and I have needed less sunscreen and with each night watch we've wanted another layer of clothing. A couple of days ago a cold front met up with us requiring the immediate excavation of all cold weather clothing. By last night we were wearing full gear (minus socks) on deck and my captain turned the heat on down below. We didn't expect to experience these cold weather adjustments until after we departed Bermuda. I suspect I'll be doing more blog whining than usual in the next few weeks...

As far out as 110nm we started hearing the familiar voices of Bermuda Radio hailing traffic within 30nm of Bermuda and often guiding boats into St George's Harbour. Soon they'll be talking to us because we've less than 45nm to go.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda - Day 4

Another slow day... We changed from a 100% to a light-weight 135% jib to help with our light wind dilemma but we still needed the engine to move forward on and off during the first sixteen hours. The wind situation improved around midnight with a steady 16kt breeze and for the past 8 hours we have enjoyed making way in the right direction, close hauled. The sea state is gradually decreasing but remains large enough at 5-8ft. Still no sightings, just us surrounded by lots of water. This time last year on the same passage I saw pods of dolphins and whales everyday, especially after dawn. I can't help but wonder why things are so different this year... Day's run was 153nm. We've about 200nm yet to go based on our current point of sail, so if our luck holds we should arrive in Bermuda on Sunday.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda - Day 3

We spent the day under a thick canopy of clouds but didn't mind because it was a welcomed reprieve from the sun's rays. The daylight hours were surprisingly almost rain free but by night we were visited by squalls. Throughout the day the wind continued to lighten resulting in a disappointing day's run of only 156nm. Early in the day we did a port jibe attempting to get us closer to our rhumb line, which we did but by the end of the day the wind direction forced us back to where we had started, 40nm to the right. While the wind was directly behind us, we opted against a spinnaker due to the sea state and instead sailed wing-on-wing with the jib poled out. Wind became more scarce as my first night watch started at 8pm. At this point the flogging of the sails was painful so we went under engine for 4.5 hours. By then the wind was from the north as forecasted. The wind remains light (unless we are near a squall) but now the boat is sailing close hauled (35 degrees apparent) just the way she and my captain prefer. As for the sea state, now there is less wave chop but the 8-10ft swells remain. This was our second straight day without traffic or wildlife sightings. We still have nearly 350nm yet to go and another three days at sea, based on the rate of progress as I write.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda - Day 2

Lighter wind resulted in slower progress. As forecasted, the wind gradually clocked behind us and eventually forced us east of our rhumb line. Building seas. Overall an uneventful day. Still no wildlife sightings, aside from flying fish. Day's run was 169nm, approx 500nm yet to go.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

St Martin to Bermuda - Day 1

Before we had even lifted the anchor, my captain and I were commenting about our screaming feet. After months of happily walking free or relaxing in flip-flops, wearing what used to be comfortable sailing shoes now felt like footwear prison. What wasn't said out loud, but I know we were both thinking it, was that this is only the first of many readjustments we will be making as we return to New England.

By 8am we were under full sail. We had comfortable sailing conditions for our fist 24-hours, just the right amount of wind on our beam and moderate seas. No wildlife sightings.

Days run 180nm - approx 670nm yet to go.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

No Scurvy Here

For weeks I have been trying to persuade my captain to delay our journey north. Ever since my wish was granted (due to weather uncertainty near Bermuda), the sky above St Martin has been filled with dark clouds gifting showers and her waters rough from wind. Since this weather has made outside activities less inviting, I started reading my book selection intended for the passage.

And since this uncharacteristic weather has continued, I finished my book. Scurvy, by historical writer Stephen R Brown, combines maritime, medical and exploration history to explain the greatest medical mystery during the Age of Sail and reveals how scurvy was a crucial link in the chain of events that shaped the world as we know it. Despite already knowing the importance of Vitamin C, I found myself popping an extra Vitamin C tablet each day I absorbed this interesting read.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Holding in Marigot

The computer models are still disagreeing and our narrow window of opportunity is closing. Since the worst case scenario involves a small storm building near Bermuda, we will remain in a holding pattern until at least Tuesday morning.

We’ve pumped the dinghy back up and put the outboard engine on so we can get to shore and access the internet for more weather reports while we wait...

Delayed in Marigot

Our last minute check of the weather revealed uncertainty just shy of Bermuda. The computer models used to predict the weather were showing conflicting results. Therefore we have opted to stay put until the models agree. Meanwhile our clearance paperwork is complete and everything is stowed, including the dinghy, so my captain is pacing the deck as we wait for the "green light" to lift the anchor and be on our way north.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caribbean Departure

Sad but true. I am only hours from departing St Martin for a non-stop passage to Bermuda. We have a short but good weather window for what we hope will be a 6 day trip. At least part of the 860 nautical mile journey will be in the glorious Caribbean Sea and then I will have a few days in beautiful Bermuda before we make the final and toughest passage to New England.

The above photo was taken underwater next to the boat in Marigot Bay. What the photo doesn't reveal is the true scale. This was one of several very large starfish initially spotted from the boat's deck.

Friday, April 11, 2008

ATM Drama

While strolling the Sint Maarten docks one evening, we ran into a fellow sailor last seen while we were all in Antigua. He was the barer of some important bad news. The (one and only) ATM that services Antigua’s Falmouth and English Harbour areas was part of an ATM card cloning scam. His shipmates had already lost thousands from their bank accounts. We were quick to check our balances and relieved to find we were safe, at least so far. We’d also heard some people were experiencing delays in fraudulent activity. So as a precaution, I withdrew my daily limits to drain my account and my captain ran his balance down and closely monitored the account in an attempt to still have access to more money since we will remain far away from our banks and the USA for a few more weeks. Meanwhile we notified our guests and other sailor friends that were also in Antigua during our stay. The plan seemed to be working until yesterday when my captain’s bank notified him that his ATM was cancelled due to “irregular activity” and hours later our guests experienced the same. Now we all remain shutoff from our funds until we have access to new ATM cards. At least my captain and I are only hours away from setting sail to Bermuda so we won’t be spending any money for about 5 days.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Feeding Frenzy

This season I learned a little trick for attracting the cute little reef fish while snorkeling. Take something like dry cereal or dry bread and place it in a small airtight plastic bag. Put a tiny hole in one corner of the bag so you can slowly release its contents as you squeeze the bag underwater.

This trick has worked like a charm, often luring skittish fish out of hiding and some will follow as you release the snack. It’s amazing to turn around and see an array of these colorful reef fish so close to you. On the downside, I have not been successful at handling the snack bag and my camera at the same time so I have no proof.

The other day I went snorkeling with a snack bag – only melba toasts this time, which seemed to work better than cereal. Before too long I had fish following me without releasing any food. I waited until I was surrounded by a sizable group of these cute and colorful fish and then motioned for my snorkeling partner to join me for “the show”. As I waved her over, I inadvertently released a little food. This is when my fun ended. More fish joined what appeared to be a tornado of feeding fish next to me. When the food was gone the situation got worse. They remembered I was the source and came after me. I was frantically trying to swat them away as they started to nip at me. As I swatted I accidentally released more food and the nipping turned into biting. This is when I was forced to let go of the bag in hopes of making an escape. This decision allowed me to loose most of the pack and the few fish that followed were persuaded to leave by my frantic motions. At a distance I watched as a huge blur swirled around the tiny bag until it was shredded. Even from a distance, after the feeding frenzy some of the fish saw me and came closer. The little fish no longer looked cute. I swam as fast and with as much motion as possible to the safety of the dinghy.

Oh yeah, and for days I had teeth marks to prove it.

Lesson learned. Do not feed the fish – no matter how small or cute you think they are!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Winter Finale

We’re back in St Martin enjoying the company of guests and doing some of our favorite Saint Martin and Sint Maarten things as well as making new discoveries. I’m being extra appreciative since I know my Caribbean winter is coming to a close. Although not my favorite Caribbean island because it’s not as “native” feeling, you can’t help but love all the comforts of St Martin; duty free shopping and stores for just about anything you can need or want including boat stuff, bakeries & restaurants (especially the French side) and bars & nightlife (especially the Dutch side). Plus you get the two-countries-in-one feeling by just taking a dingy ride through the lagoon or jumping in a taxi.
Simply stated, St Martin is a small slice of Europe surrounded by sandy beaches and warm turquoise waters.