Chapter 5 - Bermuda to the BVI


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What follows is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour journal of our Voyage from Bermuda to the British Virgin Islands in the northern Caribbean, taken (with minimal editing) from my hand written Deck Log. This is the raw material for a future book, but I share it here with friends and family, and for editorial input. Comments are of course welcome.

Why the Virgin Islands? Why not further down the chain of tropical islands? I know the Virgins, well, having spent nearly 15 winters here when I was single. It’s a pretty place, with undulating mountainous islands, lots of anchorages, and access to US services, like the post office, AT&T wireless and boat parts. Good place to park for a while, to repair the boat and ourselves before we begin the next adventure.


We arrived in Bermuda on Friday, November 6, shaken but safe after a harrowing 4.5 day sail down from Newport (RI). We experienced gale force winds and towering seas that saw us surfing down the fronts of waves at close to 16 knots. We arrived physically and emotionally exhausted. I, the family and crew needed time to recover before venturing out onto the broad Atlantic again. So, Searcher sat at anchor in St. George’s Harbor for ten days, together with another dozen boats also waiting for a comfortable weather window before departing for the 850 mile trip to the Islands. Some boats left despite the contrary or opposing winds and a few returned after a few days to await better winds. Some of the boats that did leave early, bashed their way south, an uncomfortable ride to say the least.

Bermuda is expensive, but the people at the St. George’s Dinghy Club, which played host to the NARC Rally, could not have been more accommodating. We had free WiFi, reasonably priced drinks, a restaurant on site, a coin laundry, water and dockage for those boats that could afford the price. We hung out on the hook, with daily trips ashore to explore the Island, visit the beaches, shop and run errands. David Harvey, the father of a dear friend and one of my former faculty members, Cig Harvey, took the family to lunch one day and on a guided tour of the Island’s resorts, golf courses and beaches. We had a marvelous lunch at the Elbow Beach Club, an exclusive beach-front resort. Our crew Rob and Emily bought day passes to ride the buses and ferrys and explored the Island on their own. We could get WiFi on the boat from Bermuda Yacht Services, a small repair operation on shore in St. Georges, so life went on.

Each morning at 11 am,we boat owners, skippers and crew met on the deck of the Dinghy Club to discuss the weather forecasts and to assess the possibilities for departure from this too pretty of an Island parked in the middle of the Atlantic. Many skippers were making this offshore voyage for the first time and relied on those of us who had some experience for guidance. This was my 16th crossing of the Gulf Stream, so I was one of the old silver backs.

The weather discussion began with Herb Hidleburg’s comments spoken the previous evening on his routing SSB net, followed by Chris Parker’s advice on the Caribbean Weather SSB net that morning. We compared all this with the information we had on the  hand in the form of weather charts from the Internet. I logged on to the Dinghy Club’s WiFi and connected up to Bermuda Weather, which provides a series of charts showing winds and wave predictions for five days. Very helpful, but not conclusive. Next we looked at the charts provided on This site is excellent, almost everything you need for long range weather and routing. is there. I tape a piece of string down the center of my screen, indicating the course I planned to take to the Islands, then animated the wind charts over the next 6 days. This showed what we may expect for winds on each day as we progress down the line. The same can be done for the wave prediction chart over the course of a voyage. NOAA also has a string of weather fax charts at This is the same series of charts as you would receive were you using an SSB on board fax machine. is another site, but more complicated to use.

Other options are to call up Commander Weather in New Hampshire, a weather and routing service, and ask them for a report and guidance. It costs $35 a phone call and for those with satphones only (no SSB radios), this is a good option. I used them on the trip down to Bermuda. For $69, they will help you find a weather window and send you a set of charts for the recommended route, a chart showing the important features of the Gulf Stream, ands a snap shot of what to expect each day.  You can call them every day prior to leaving and speak to a real meteorologist, who will give you an idea of what to expect and tell you if there is a better weather window ahead. I bought the pre-departure package and was pleased. I call them twice while at en-route to Bermuda for clarification of what I’d received via SSB. They were wrong about the Gulf Stream prediction, but so was Susan, who provided a weather briefing for the NARC fleet. Had we I’d known the cross of the dastardly maelstrom would have been as benign as it was, I would have left a day earlier, and beat the gales and high seas we met our last day out. Would I use a phone in weather router again? You can sign up as a “sponsoring  yacht” on Caribbean weather and pay Chris Parker $200 for a year’s worth of advise when sailing to and around thew Caribbean. Chris also provides a free, detailed weather report  each morning on SSB, plus on his web site. I’m about to  sign up today, as I need to know when I will have favorable winds and seas for our trip from the BVI down islands to Bequia.  I can get the wind and sea prediction charts myself off the Internet, but the crossing from the BVI to St. Martin or Saint Barts or a straight shot  down to Antigua is always  dicy and I do not want to get caught out, short handed, as it will be just Julie and I steering.

Back t Bermuda and the Skipper Meeting: Armed with these charts, our discussions, and the information from Herb and Chris, we each made our own departure plans, which changed daily.

I elected to depart on Tuesday, with about 5 other boats.  The skippers at the meeting wanted me to continue the noon radio net I managed on the way down from Newport. I agreed. It was a valuable experience for me and a valuable part of the Rally.

Here are the hand written notes from my deck log.

SUNDAY: NOV. 15  - St. George’s Harbor, Bermuda

5:30 pm - The gang arrives back from grocery shopping. My tranquility is broken. A dinghy filled with bags of groceries and people arrives along side. Julie, the crew and kids have been shopping at White’s Market over by the old US Naval Air Station, near the airport runway. A large supermarket, and according to Julie, with US prices, and only a short dinghy ride across the harbor and a short walk. The local market here in St. George’s is very expensive, but handy.

I’d spent the afternoon alone on the boat fixing the sink pump, securing life lines, listening to and talking with Herb on SSB.  Disappointing. We would have wind for 2 days after departing Bermuda. Then as we cross a trough at 27N, the winds would go light to nonexistent. I expected this, for nearly every voyage I’ve made along this course has included a day or two of motoring.  So, I worked out fuel consumption rates to see how far we could motor if we had to.  We carry 150 gallons in our tank, plus another 24 gallons in 6-gallon jerry cans on deck. At 1.2 gph, making 6 knots, we can cover 750 miles, that’s just 100 miles short of the entire 850 miles to the BVI. If we throttle back to 2,000 rpm, we might use 1 gph, which gives us a range of 900 miles. We could make it, but without much of a comfort factor. I would rather be sailing most of the way, not motoring. With diesel prices at $5.45 a gallon in Bermuda, I shudder at the thought of using even one gallon.

MONDAY, NOV. 16 - St. George’s Harbor, Bermuda

There’s a small Southern Cross 31 anchored behind us. I see the lone sailor rowing to the Dinghy Club each morning for a shower. I dinghy over to inquire. Kevin Boothby is a 40-year old solo sailor. He bought “Ruth Avery” on 2001 and immediately embarked in a   3-year solo circumnavigation.  Did I mention “Ruth Avery” has only a 14-foot oar for propulsion? He left Maine, sailed to the Caribbean, solo, without an engine, then because he could not transit the Panama Canal without an engine . . . . he sailed to Texas, and trucked “Ruth Avery” to California, to resume the voyage. He sailed through the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, around South Africa, across the South Atlantic to the Caribbean and back to Main . . . no  engine, no mates, just a 14-foot oar and sails.

He was returning to the Caribbean, wind permitting, this fall. Kevin and “Ruth Avery” left Orr’s Cove, near Brunswick, Maine on November 1, sailing outside Cape Cod directly to Bermuda, experiencing the same gales and towering seas that greeted many of the smaller boats on the NARC Rally south of the Gulf Stream.  It took him 8 days to sail the 750 miles. An impressive set of credentials from a former financial advisor now in his early 40s. You can see more at

Afternoon: I bite the bullet and fuel up at Darlings gas station on the Harbor at $5.45 a gallon. I used to be able to fuel up, duty free, at the Shell depot at the Dock Yard at the other end of Bermuda, but rules have changed here and to get duty free now, a boat has to take on a minimum of 700 gallons. The duty free price is $2 cheaper per gallon.

We take on 138 liters = 36.6 gallons at $213.57, plus 6 gallons of gas for the dinghy.

We top off the water tanks at the Dinghy club, and are back on the hook in our same spot. That afternoon Rob and I hoist the outboard and the dinghy aboard ready for departure at day break.

3:45 pm - Herb’s SSB Net

Ticonderoga left yesterday and is already 100 miles south, but facing E to ES winds at 8 Kts. Herb suggested we steer SW to get west of the Rhumb Line to skirt the low pressure area that is the remnants of Hurricane Ida.  “You can expect to run out of wind below 27N. The winds should pick up tomorrow from the ENE and build over the next few days to 20 to 35 kts, to near gale force by Wednesday in the Bermuda region. I’d get south if I were you . . . Once you are past the trough, it looks like it will be a motoring experience. What’s left of Hurricane Ida has stolen the Trade winds. The Trade will not kick in until you are nearer to the Islands . . say around 19N to 20 N . . . I have never seen such a strange weather pattern . . .”

TUESDAY, NOV. 17 - Depart Bermuda for the BVI - 850 miles . . .

3:40 am - Quiet outside. Still. Frogs chirping ashore, stars out, street lights shine, the blinking green channel marker flashes on .  . off . . next to us. St. Davids Head light and the Aero Beacon at the airport sweep the low clouds that linger over Bermuda. I’m up. Too nervous to sleep. Sent a few emails, looked at the Blog from the yacht Gypsy.

Leaving this morning, slightly nervous, not about the winds, but about the lack of winds and the need to motor for 3 to 4 days. We can expect some winds to arrive later today, but we’ll be motor sailing during most of daylight. My only real worry is the engine. Will it keep running? What problems can we expect? None that I’ve not already addressed. The bilge pump cycles. Too many times. I investigate. Is the starboard water tank leaking? I tear up the floor board while others sleep. Nope, but the stuffing box is leaking . . . more than I like, so I give the grease pump a few twists which squeezes grease into the stuffing box and the leak slows to an occasional drip, which it’s supposed to do. I reset the counter, which will tell me how many cycles the bilge pump has made between inspections.  A million things on this boat to be aware of, to fix or look at . . . its a juggling act to keep this boat afloat and moving. I’m constantly amazed at her and her systems. Someone did some smart thinking when they built this ketch.

I plug “way points” for the Islands into the 3 GPS  systems. The distance is 835 miles to a mark in the sea 15 miles northeast of Jost Van Dyke. It’s still way before dawn and I’m ready to go. I draw up the watch list and schedule. Same schedule as on the way down to Bermuda. One person steering for 2 hours, then 6 hours off. That gives each of us, 6 hours of being on watch and 18 hours off duty.

8:06 am - off the hook and headed for Town Cut and the Atlantic. We leave the safety of St. George’s Harbor as we head out into the Atlantic to face what the adventure offers. Winds are light with a left over swell, making the exit from Bermuda rocky. Kids are on the foredeck with Emily and Rob, Julie still below securing things.

We reach the sea buoy and turn SSW, sliding down the shoreline of Bermuda.

10 am -- wind 8 to 10 kts NE with NE swells, we’re making 6 to 7 kts motor sailing at 2100 rpm. It’s sunny, with typical tropical popcorn clouds, warm. Steering 222M west of the Rhumb Line.  Stronger wind due tonight. So, we motor along with the Main up, prevented off to starboard rail. The wind coming in over the port quarter. It’s 150 miles to our first turning point.

I rig the cockpit awning. It’s going to be hot.

I put on a sea sickness patch, not that I need it, but I don’t want to risk feeling poorly this first night out. Julie steers while I check below, secure the hatches and table in the cabin. Bermuda still visible astern.

11 am -  Rob and I cover and lash down the dinghy on the aft deck.  The Main sail is slanting in these seas as we roll, for lack of wind.

12-Noon -  I call the other boats on the NARC Radio Net.  Two boats left yesterday and report in. A few are yet to leave St. George’s harbor. Nice to be in touch with others sharing the adventure. Each boat reports in with their Lat/Long, wind and sea state, their course and speed. This is valuable information for it tells us what’s ahead and what might be approaching from behind us. The radio net also provides a feeling of security, community, there are others out there, nearby that can provide advice, encouragement and help if needed. Herb’s weather routing in the afternoon does the same thing, but the boats do not talk to each other, just to Herb. When I did these north to south voyages in the 80s and 90s, I was solo. Herb’s afternoon radio net was my only touch with the outside world. That was a valuable experience as well.

2:30 pm - Havana and I have just spent a delightful two hours on the foredeck, in the sun,  talking about model boats, mega yachts, designs and hull shapes. If he keeps up this interest, he’ll be another Ron Holland or Chuck Pain. The time was spent with me mostly listening as he went on and on about his plans. He’s got a vivid imagination and an ability to articulate what is going on inside his head.

3 pm - Fish poles rigged and deployed.

3:15 pm - the first dorado otherwise known as Mahi Mahi is on the line. The 15 pounder did not put up much of a fight as Rob reeled it in. We boated it in ten minutes. I dressed it, sawed it into steaks, washed up the mess and we had fresh fish for dinner. Everyone was ecstatic about catching a fish, the first for my family and for Rob and Emily as well. We have some of the action on video tape.

3:40 pm - Sitting in the Nav station, smelling of fish, waiting for Herb to come on the net. Location: 31.42 N by 64.53W. Winds ENE 8 to 10 kts, Seas diminishing. Clear overhead with clouds around the horizon.

Herb says . . . “steer SW until tomorrow night, when we should pass the trough. To the east will be stronger winds to near gale force.”

6 pm - Dinner of left over shepherd's pie . .  we put the fish on ice for tomorrow’s dinner.

8 pm - I go on watch, listening to talk radio on the AM band. It’s either talk radio or fire and brimstone evangelical preachers on the AM band these days, each spouting the same dire predictions for humanity and hatred of anything liberal. All I hear goes in direct opposition to my values and beliefs, but their tirades again those values does keep one awake while on watch.

9:30 pm - Wind filling in . . .engine off. Doing 5.5 to 6.5 kts with the Yankee, Main and Mizzen.

10 pm - Winds now E- NE 8 to 10 kts. They come and go. Steering 200M to 230M.  Julie is on watch next and I tell her to steer whatever course will keep the sails full. No sense in being accurate at this stage of the voyage. There will be plenty of time to correct later, better to keep the sails filled and prevent them from collapsing.

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 18 - Great Day of Sailing . . . almost.

1:30 am - Location 30.45N by 65.12W. Winds have filled in nicely from the  NE. We are doing 6.5 kts under Main, Yankee and Mizzen, steering 215M. Boat moving along nicely, at times up to 8 kts.

6 am - Off watch. It’ll be a spectacular sunrise in an hour, but I’m too tired to photograph it . .  there’ll be more sunrises throughout the week. Winds ENE 15 to 22 kts. Seas calm, Boat doing 6.5 to 7.5 steering 210M

8 am - Location: 30.04N by 65.24W

Listening to Chris Parker on SSB 4045.0. Rough weather behind us tonight and tomorrow until we pass the trough at 28N. We can expect squalls with winds up to 40 kts. “Be prepared for a nasty day . . “ he says. We should be ahead and to the west of that stuff.

ETA BVI . . .  my guess 2 pm Monday.

So. . . we continue steering SSW (215M) to move away from the rough weather, and get as much distance as we can from the higher winds. What I hope to do is ride the leading edge of this front that’s moving south of Bermuda, where the winds are fair and manageable, and not get caught in the thick of it. That’s one reason I bought a longer boat. My previous boats have all been around 40 feet, and would average around 144 miles a day. Searcher, at 57 feet can make make 200 miles a day and that’s enough to stay ahead of any nasty weather.

9:30 am - So . .  I can get Chris Parker on SSB, loud and clear. We are sailing along on a typical, tropical, mid-atlantic ocean day, clouds around  . . . its warm with periods of sun. Winds ENE 10, 12 to 15 kts. It comes and goes, making 5.5 to 7 kts under full sail. Julie makes pancakes for breakfast.

2:35 pm . . .  you could not ask for a better, nor could you get a better day of sailing. Dodging rain cells, wind ENE at 12 to 15 kts, steering SSW, 190 to 210M, making 6.5 to 7.5 kts. We are now running down Route 65 to the Islands.  Kids knitting in the cockpit, Emily writing in her journal, Rob steering,  Julie reading. Now, the kids have their feet over the side, waiting for the boat to heel over so they can get their feet wet.

These are the moments I remember with great fondness of my solo voyages down this same road to the Tropics.  I’m as thrilled as this old man can be about riding it again . . . with family and a crew that’s a delight to have on board.

3:30 pm - Location 29.17N by 65.25W. 200 miles from Bermuda. Winds NE 12 to 18 kts. Rain cells about, rainbows abound. Steering 190 to 210M making 6.5 to 7.5 kts. Winds still variable.

Herb comes on the SSB and we hear from boats bound for the Canaries, for  Bermuda, for the Caribbean via Norfolk and of course a few of the boats that are nearby on the same path as Searcher. I tape record one of Herb’s advisories for us . . .  “you are in a good position . . . head further south before making any easting.  Try to get to 28N by 65W by tomorrow. You should cross the trough on Friday. Winds will be light and variable until you reach the trades, but do not expect them to kick in until you are south of 20N.”

Kamaloha is 30 miles north of us.

Teragram is 100 miles ahead. Ticonderoga is 150 miles ahead.

8 pm - Location 28.47N by 65.22W. We are making good progress south, but not much to the east.  We’ve covered 85 miles in 12 hours. . . that’s a solid 7 kts.


Navigation is an art form . . . not a science, at least not for me. I use a paper chart to record the boats position (Lat/Log)  throughout the day. This is an INternational Chart #403,  showing the entire eastern Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Antigua, from the entire Easxt Coast of the US to 60-degrees West.  I make little + marks on the chart,  in ink, recoding the latitude and longitude, as taken from the GPS unit in the nav station. I pencil in notes and draw arrows indicating wind direction, make notes on the speed, and sea state. Draw clouds and diagrams of squalls and anything else that captures the voyage. Looking back I can see an over all picture of the voyage.  I also  uses the char to look ahead, as I include penciled-in notes and winds arrows of what to expect, taken from Herb’s predictions and any weather sources I get of the SSB. 

I have one of these charts for every off shore voyage I’ve made. This is my 16th one.

My Thoughts on GPS

I have three unites on board. A new Garmin chart plotter at the wheel. It has radar overlay, which is great for coast-wise navigation,  but to totally useless on n off shore voyage. The only time I used the wheel stationed unit was to see where the squalls and rain showers were heading, or a passing ship was going to hit us, or pass safely by. The rest of the voyage from Newport to the Caribbean it was turned off. I have an older Garim 230 black and while unit mounted next to the companion way under the dodger. It lacks charts, but is very helpful when at sea, for the large numbers can be seen from the helm, and it give me all I need to know while underway: course to the next waypoint or destination, course steered over the ground (COG), the  speed over the ground (SOG), battery levels, Lat/Long, distance traveled and the accurate time -- sent down from the satalies. This is all I need to see while underway off shore.

I have a third unit in the Nav Station. This Garmin 130 GPS was the first GPS I purchased 13 years ago and it still is useful. It gives me an accurate Lat/Long, SOG, distance traveled and COG. This information is what I plot on the Chart 104.

Determining a course to steer on long off shore voyages is not an exact science, you steer more by looking back at where you’ve been as you do about where you want to go. Certainly the destination is important, but getting there, on a sail boat, is never as direct as one might expect or wish for.

The tried and true course from Bermuda to the Caribbean Islands, has always been to get as far east of the Rhumb Line (that difrect Point A to Point B line)  as is comfortable after leaving Bermuda. Sail east to perhaps 63W. There is a good reason for this. The Trade Winds blow NE to SE with regularity and they blow from 15 to 25 knots, but they do not kick in until you reach 21 to 20N. If the winds happen to be blowing SE when you reach them, by being out to the east of the Rhumb Line, you have the wind on your beam as sail back to Southwest entering the Island chain. If the winds are East or NE, that’s even better for then the wind will on your quarter . . . a very comfortable point of sail as you navigate between the Islands.

This year’s screwy weather had us steering “West” of the Rhumb Line to avoid gale force winds to the Northeast,  then running East after passing a trough a few hundred miles south of Bermuda, We would then be in  dead air for 3 days, before seeing any of the traditional Trade Winds.

11:35 am - receive a SAT phone call from Harmony one of the yachts in the NARC Rally.  They left a day or two before us, and are a few hundred miles ahead. They have run out of wind and are running out of fuel and water.

12-NOON - Talk to the rest of the fleet on SSB 4046.0. All are doing well sailing. Teregram has run out of wind but she’s ahead of us.

10 pm - Location 28.30N by 65.21W, Winds ENE 15 kts. Steering 180M to 200M. Boat doing a comfortable 7 kts.

A dark night, unable to see the weather or the seas that are building behind us.  We just  feel them. A short-lived squall got us from behind and rinsed off the boat. Julie steering as I roll in the Yankee, and reduce the Main by half.  Rain. Then it’s over. I roll out the Main and we are back up to 7 kts under Staysail and Main.

But . . .  it’s black tonight save for the canopy of stars overhead that silhouette the sails. A thumb nail of a moon followed the sun over the horizon some hours ago. The clouds, the sunset, the colors of the sky were as I recall them from my earlier days on this same voyage. I am glad to be sharing these with my family. A perfect day for sailing, wind on the quarter . . this makes up for the thrashing we took on the way down to Bermuda a few weeks ago. The seas are building, lumpy, but do not really bother this boat, as we slide along,  This is what she was built for, this is what she wants to do and she does it better than the majority of the newer boats built today.

THURSDAY, NOV. 19 - Out of Wind!

3:40 am - I’m up for my 4 to 6 am watch. I check the Lat/Long, speed and course and the miles yet to cover on the GPS in the Nav station, make my log entries and observations, and go on deck to greet Emily, whom I am relieving.

Location: 27.53N by 65.18W, Steering 180M to 200M, making 7 kts. 563 miles to go. Three days at this rate. We’ve made 93 miles since yesterday afternoon, 12 hours ago. that’s 7.75 kts. The half way point is only 150 miles ahead. We’ll be there tomorrow.

6 am  - I am off watch, waves and swells diminishing, wind too . .  down to 12 to 15 kts ENE. I unrolled the Yankee while on watch.

Tired, I need an hour’s sleep before catching Chris Parker’s Caribbean Weather report.

7:33am -  Caribbean Weather on 8137.0 “Belame” is the name of his station. We can look forward to increasing Trades on Monday, below 20N. Expect NNE winds at 18 to 22 kts. Get east as soon as we can.

The plan: continue on course till dark, by then we should be through the trough. The winds will drop and we’ll be motoring for the next few days. This is not unusual.  I remember one voyage bringing Searcher back to Maine from Antigua, solo. I motored for five days before reaching Bermuda, with only a few gallons left. We can change course to a more easterly heading when the wind dies.

Out of Wind

10:20 am - Looks like we’ve run out of wind. Yes, the wind indicator says the breeze is now 5 kts, from the NE with long lazy swells. We turn on the engine. 

534 miles to go, 3 - 4 days?

11:26 am - Location: 27.08N by 65.23W. Light easterly winds 5 to 8 kts. Dry, clear overhead.  Motoring at 6 kts.

11:30 am - I call Harmony on the SAT phone, to see how they are doing before I start the Radio net with the other boats. They have one day of fuel left. Harmony is an old Gulfstar 38, a small boat for this trip, with three older gents aboard experiencing their first offshore voyage. They must be getting nervous.

NOON - Talk to the remainder of the five boats on the Net.

Location: 27.02N by 65.22W. 100 NM to go to the halfway point.

The Gales of November

The contrast of this voyage compared to the first leg into Bermuda is like night and day. We began this voyage south from Newport in cold, raw, gray, overcast rainy weather with high winds and seas. My worries began with warnings of a nasty, rough and dangerous crossing of the Gulf Stream, which turned out to be a piece of cake, in fact the best part of the trip. Our next set of worries included a forecast with a frontal passage, squalls with near storm force winds, followed by gale force winds and seas as we neared Bermuda. The weather people were wrong for most of the trip, but they got the front and gale force winds right. The fears of meeting a gale as we approached Bermuda, turned to reality Friday morning as the winds picked up to 35+ knots and the seas grew to towering 20+ foot breakers that hurried us along to the Islands of Bermuda. Luckily for us, Searcher is a fast boat, with a long water line, and an under-body built to handle following seas. She was easy to steer in the seas that came up from behind, threatening to engulf us, only to crash along side in a frothy mess of boiling water. . . . our wake disturbed the waves surface just enough to prevent a cresting wave to break over our stern.  While Rob was steering mid afternoon on Friday, having a ball as Searcher shot down the surface of the waves at up to 16 kts, he let a wave throw the stern to the side and a combination of wind and wave power slew the boat sideways as it skidded down the wave . . . we broached . . .  water filled the leeward decks and flew into the cockpit. “Rob . . .  don’t let that happen again,” I said in a stern voice that even scared me . . . All of us realized just what dangerous conditions we were in . .  the highest seas I’ve experienced in 50 years of sailing.  Rob got the the boat back under control and I put the hatch boards in the companion way. I remained standing in the companion way for the rest of the afternoon, watching the as come up from behind., coaching Rob urtill I took over the helm toward dark.

We were sailing in the “Groove.” That small window of opportunity that allows you to run down wind without jibing, or rounding up into the wind resulting in a broach. With the wind and seas at our back, we ran a narrow course to Bermuda, 10 degrees off the wind. With winds over 30 kts Searcher was driven at hull speed under only a small Stay sail and an equal amount of the Main. The Main boom was secured to starboard toe rail with a stout line to prevent a jibe. To get off course even 10 degrees put more pressure on the helm as the boats and sails wanted to round up into the wind. . . which is what sailboats like to do if you let go of the tiller. But to round up in these seas would have been disastrous. While Searcher is a heavy, well found boat, built for these conditions, a knock down in these seas could smash the cabin windows, flood the boat, knock out the electronics, flood the engine compartment and leave us in a disparate situation. We were committed to this course, hanging between a jibe and a broach, but this course also sped us on to Bermuda and safety.

Just after sunset the loom of Bermuda’s lights on the low lying clouds over the island was a welcomed sight.  But we had to steer further to the east to give the reefs that extend out for miles to the north a wide birth. This required that we jibe twice to adjust our course. This a delicate, but manageble meneuvour, requiring team-work and timing With a well reefed Mainsail the exercise was accomplished without mishap.

The gale lasted all day and was still blowing over 25 kts when we reached Bermuda.  Searcher had managed the seas and winds for just 12 hours, other boats in the NARC fleet, the small ones that could only make 5 to 6 kts were caught out and experienced rougher conditions for 2 days. Peer Fancy, a 41 foot Novy schooner, rode under bare poles for 2 days. Moonlight Maid deployed a sea anchor, only to get the lines fouled in their prop. Others just hoved-to and rode out the gale, limping into Bermuda a few days later, many with blown out sails, damaged steering systems, water in their fuel tanks, and crews that jumped ship as soon as the lines were made fast.

Back to the present

Here we are now motoring south to the Islands on flat seas, warm, sunny days, catching fish and listening to Jimmy Buffet reminding us why we go to the Islands in the first place. Our only worries being will we run out of fuel, will the engine quit, will we be able to get there in time for the crew to meet their flights back to the States for Thanksgiving.

2:22 pm - we drop and stow the Stay sail. Main is out and the boom secure to Starboard with a preventer.  This is as much to get the Main sheet out of the way, so we can rig the cockpit awning as to prevent a jibe. The awning is necessary, giving us all some protection from the sun. The kids and Emily and Rob on the foredeck sunning themselves.

3:30 pm - waiting for Herb. “This is the strangest weather pattern I’ve ever seen . . “ he reports.

Julie and I sat on the foredeck this afternoon eating a lunch Julie and Emily had prepared. Nice. We talked about the “perfection” of the day. Sunny, with popcorn clouds dotting the horizon and a few passing overhead, obscuring the sun for a time, sending blessed shade over us. The breeze is gentle, actually of no use, even to cool us. The swells from the NNE have dampened leaving behind a smooth, undulating sea that reflects the sky. The boat moves along in this wide world of blue sky and blue sea. We are making 5.5 kts at 2200 rpm. We could go faster, 6.5 kts, but that would burn up more fuel. We don’t need speed right now . . . we need to get there.

We can expect these windless conditions for another 3 days, until we are below 21N, when we might see the Trades kick in, slow at first, then building to 20+ kts as we near the Islands. Chis Parker, who is the voice for the morning Caribbean Weather Report said there would be blustery conditions on Sunday and Monday, south of 21N, with squalls. This means getting further to the east, to put the Easterly Trades on our beam or quarter as we come sliding into the Islands our last 2 days out. Great way to end a three week journey . . .  almost makes you want to keep going.

This last crossing of the Gulf Stream was my 16th.

4 times on Fare-Thee-Well

7 times on Afaran

5 times on Searcher, including this most recent crossing

16 times  . . not a record, but a sizable wealth of experience.

3:30 pm -  Boats are signing on to Southbound II. Gypsy, Ticonderoga, Kamaloha, En-route, Midnight Maid, Teregram at 25.53N by 65.27W.

Location: 26.46N by 65.15W. Winds light 5 kts East.

No change in conditions for Friday. Saturday we might see winds E/SE 10 kts.

Monday, Trades to fill in below 21N.

7:46 pm - dinner in the cockpit, chicken and pasta, with a cheese and veggie combo. Emily is a marvelous find. I’ve told her so. You can read about her cooking at Emily’s Journal.

Motoring along at 5.5 kts, Main up to steady the boat. In 50 miles we’ll be half way there.

I do the dishes, kids fighting, not over anything of substance, just fighting . . . like Julie and I do on too many occasions. I go on watch in 15 minutes, then I can look forward to 6 hours of sleep before the next watch.

My days are made up of navigating, the two radio nets, resting, eating and worrying . . .

10:17 pm - no wind . . . other than what we make by our passage through the water and still night air . . . 5 kts over the deck.  Steering 150M, 467 NM to go.

Marvelous Days . . . Great evening with crew and family . . . and boat. The kids, Julie and Emily playing Monopoly in the cockpit. Spectacular cloud formations and a sunset to photograph, boat moving along under power, the Volvo purring, all the lights on, no lack of electricity now with the engine on.

It’s quiet now . . . boat moving along. I’m tired, hallucinating as I steer.  Julie takes over and I go to my bunk.

FRIDAY, NOV. 20, 2009 - Half way Point

3:48 am - Location:  25.48N by 64.37W, steering 196M at 6.6 kts, we’ve picked up a south setting current. No wind. Motoring at 2200 rpm. 437 miles to go.

We’ve made good easting since yesterday, but I think we need to make some more . . . to put the 20 kts Trades off our Port quarter when we find them. New way point to aim for at 21.00N by 63,30W . . . 150 NM from here. We’ve run 65 NM since yesterday afternoon which is less than 6 kts.

6:00 am - Off watch. I stay on an extra half an hour to watch the night turn into day . . . sunrise at 6:22 am. Clear skies overhead, but complex cloud formations are ahead. Squalls? Wind? Rain? The boat could do with a good down pour to wash off the salt.

We are now steering 200M into a SE breeze that’s 5 kts. The sea surface is really smooth, undulating with the energy of storms and gales far to our north, winds that are battering our home in Maine. “It’s like two cats, chasing each other under the bed covers,” was Emily’s observation.

7:30 am - waiting for Chris Parker on SSB to give us some good news about winds.

He tells the boats nearby that are logged on to his service to expect SE breeze, 5 kts today, squalls could produce some locally stronger winds.   Tomorrow, winds should move to the South then SW, but light and variable. Sunday, the Trades should be light, easterly at 5 to 10 kts. Monday we can expect the Trades to fill in from the E to ENE at 20 kts.

The day arrives and I write . . . the days now blend together with their sameness. The boat’s routine of watches, navigation, weather, the Noon radio net with the other boats, checking in with Herb on his Southbound II radio net, sleep, and meals have me forgetting what day it is. I do not want to forget these days. I want to capture the uniqueness of each day. I want to hold on to this experience, made up of the specialness of each day . . . but what is different about each day? The weather from one day to the next changes little, especially now that we are under a large area of stagnant air, motoring along. We catch a fish, that’s enough to separate this day as special . . .  we reach the half-way point . . . the wind arrives, then it leaves . . the Trades begin to fill in, but so slowly as to almost be unnoticed. I photograph each sunrise and each sunset, just to have a record of the beginning and end of each day. This may be my last long voyage . . . I want to capture it, to have something to look back on, to make sense of later. No . . .  what separates the days for me are the meals that celebrate the end of each day. It is Emily and her galley magic that marks each day as special for me. Not only did she prepare most all of the dinners on board, she brought imagination and creativity to the feeding and nurturing of a crew under sail . . . well, under power on this part of the trip.

What Separates One Day from Another?

I asked Emily to see if she could reconstruct the menus from our voyage together. She sent me her notes, taken from her diary. You can read these notes and comments at: Emily’s Log Book.

Emily Slocum is from Castine, Maine. Her father was the Town Manager there and is now the Town Manager in Belfast. She can trace her ancestry back to old Joshua Slocum, who was the first person to sail around the world, single-handed.  She took to this voyage, her first, like a cat to milk. She was the only one to not get seasick on the first leg of the voyage. But this was her first experience offshore, the first time she had to stand watch and hand steer at night. She did fine, but it was her cooking that made her a star in the eyes of all aboard. Not only did she turn out interesting dinners, but she enjoyed the process. Emily spent a semester abroad in her final years at Simmons College, taking a cookery course in Florence, Italy. It paid off. Thinking about, planning and figuring out what to do with the limited resources on board is a challenge I’ve always enjoyed, as it takes up the afternoon between watches and the radio, but I discovered Emily was not only good in the Galley, she actually liked her role as the ship’s Chef de Maison. It was the meals that separated the days, as much as anything else. When we could, we dined in the cockpit, discussing the day and what was ahead. There were stories about previous voyages each of us had made, adventures and discoveries . . . even the kids related stories of their adventures.  Dinner each day was a celebration, and communal event that marked our days as Searcher made her way south to the Islands.

NOON , the NARC Radio Net brings no new news.  Most boats are under power.

Location: 25.25N by 64.40W. We are half-way there!

The Crew.

I used to do these voyages, alone . . . bringing my boat to the Islands each fall, then back to Maine in the spring. The aloneness of the voyages were my retreats from humanity and the running of a people and ego driven summer school. Time alone in nature . . . like a monk on a mountain top, these voyages were as spiritually enlightening as they where physically challenging . . . and rewarding. I learned a great deal about the sea, navigation, weather, boats . . . but mostly I learned about myself. I survived three hurricanes. The lessons learned during those storms carried me through the challenges of building an institution and later with the letting go of that institution . . .

Now, I have to have a crew, and perhaps it is better. The insurance companies insist.  I’ve done my solo sailing, that’s behind me . . . although I do relish the thought of another major solo voyage before I die. But today, the crew is welcome company and a necessity. I have family aboard and a wife on her first major offshore voyage. I want this to be a pleasant and safe voyage. I enjoy scaring myself but I dare not do so with wife and kids aboard . . . so we have crew.

Emily, whom you’ve already met above, and Rob came by way of a website that pairs yacht owners and skippers with people who want to crew to gain valuable offshore experience; to build a resume. Hank Schmitt, runs and has for ten years, along with the NARC Rally. Hank found my last crew for me when I brought Searcher to the Caribbean in 2002 and back in 2003.

We did interview a Polish engineer from Webster who wanted to join us, but when Rob and Emily called, their combined experience, ages and the fact that they were a couple prompted us to invite them aboard for a visit. They spent two days with us on board Searcher the week prior to departure.  They wanted to see the boat, meet the skipper (me) and discuss our plan. Julie, the kids and I wanted to know if they would get seasick, could follow a compass course, and could they get along with the kids. The later requirement was cemented within half an hour of them being on board. Rob and Emily were Kid Approved right away.

Rob is the son of a Connecticut surgeon and a sailor. A recent graduate from Wentworth College in Construction Management Rob wanted to do something challenging, something dealing with the sea, before settling down to a real job. He has sailing experience on his family’s 34-foot sailboat, his three summers as a launch operator at his family’s yacht club in Connecticut, his mechanical abilities and his enthusiasm all added up. Emily was a harbor rat while growing up in Castine, just as my kids have grown up and around boats and the waterfront in Rockport, Maine. Emily’s cookery school training in Italy, cemented the deal. I would provide food and accommodations while they were on board, they would provide their own transportation to and from the boat.

It all worked out and our crew and my family bonded during our first meeting, and we have become good friends. There were tears on the ferry dock at Cruz Bay in St. John, as we parted, Rob and Emily promising to join us again on another adventure on Searcher, soon.

With a crew of two there have been four adults to stand watch. That means we each stand three 2 hour watches with three 6 hour breaks to sleep, read, write and rest. Having crew on board has made the trip safer, and a great deal more enjoyable.

Tropic of Cancer

10 am - we cross the Tropic of Cancer . . . we are now in the tropics!

Mid Ocean Rescue

10 am - I check the fuel gage. We have a bit more than half a tank left.

Engine hours since leaving Bermuda = 39. We’ve burned perhaps 46 gallons at 1.2 gallons per hour. That leaves us with perhaps 100 gallons in the tank and another 24 on deck in Jerry cans. A total of 126 gallons at 1.2 gph = 105 hours of motoring at 5.5 kts = 577 miles we can motor the entire way with the fuel on board. I know we’ll be able to sail the last 150 to 200 miles in the Trades, we have fuel to spare. The reason I did these calculations is because when I call Harmony I can tell them if I can spare them some of our 24 gallons in the Jerry Cans.

11:30 am - I call Harmony on the SAT phone. Tony answers. He’s been waiting for my call.  He’s at 23.58N by 64.45W.

We are at: 24.56N by 64.40W just north of his position. They are dead in the water. No fuel and very little water. Someone left the tap in the head running so what water they did have is now in the bilge. They hailed a passing cruise ship, who told them that since there was no threat to life, they would not help. I tell them we can spare some of our on deck fuel and give them some drinking water. We are 60 miles north of them. It’ll take us ten hours to reach them.

The seas are calm, undulating but calm . . . good conditions for an UnRep . . . underway replenishment.

4 pm - I hear an LNG tanker somewhere over the horizon talking to someone on the VHF Channel 16 about fuel. It’s a one-way conversation as I cannot hear the other station.

“ I am an LNG carrier, I have no diesel fuel to give you,” we heard the captain say in a   French accent.   We radioed the LNG tanker. “Break, Break, Break . . . To the LNG Carrier . . . this is Searcher. Do I understand you are talking to a yacht in need of fuel?”

“To the ship calling . . ., yes, we are in communication with the yacht Harmony requesting fuel.”

“To the LNG Carrier, this is Searcher . . . tell Harmony we are on our way to provide fuel and water to them. Can you relay this message and give us their current position?”

The LNG tanker gives us an updated Lat/Long of Harmony’s position. Harmony had no SSB radio, which is a lesson for all long distance, offshore voyagers.

3:34 pm - Herb’s Radio Net. Lousy reception on 1235.9 . There is little Herb can share that’s new, but it’s nice to hear from the other boats out here on the Atlantic going places.

4 pm - we land our second Mahi Mahi, within three minutes of putting the line over the side.  . .  another 15 pound fish, all green and gold. Dinner tonight. Emily will bake it with veggies, and debone and skin it after it’s done.

When might we pick up Harmony on the VHF? Our Antenna is 40 feet high, that gives us a range of 7.3 miles to the horizon. If Harmony is 30 feet high, that’s 6.3 miles to the horizon, for a total of 13.6 miles. 

We now have something to distinguish this day from all the others.

Night falls . . . another great sunset as the sun provides a light show of colors and shapes. Dinner of baked Mahi Mahi.

10:30 pm - We are in VHF radio contact with Harmony. This is an older Gulfstar 37 foot sloop with a crew of older gents, some older than me.

“Harmony, Harmony . . . this is Searcher . .  come back on 16.”

“Searcher. This is Harmony . . .  we’ve been trying to raise you on channel 68 for an hour. Where are you?” A hint of desperation came across in their radio transmission.

“We are about an hour from you. I have your location from the  LNG Tanker. Can you give me an up date? “ Harmony passed along their current Lat/Long, which I plug into the GPS chart plotter, giving us a new course. Organizing a transfer of fuel at sea is something I am familiar with.  When I was an E-3 in the Navy, one of my stations was was aboard the USS Caloosahatachee (AO 98), a Navy fleet oiler.  Her duty was to refuel other Naval ships while underway, traveling along at 14 knots with hoses and lines going over to a carrier on one side, and a destroyer on the other side. It’s called an UnRep, an underway replenishment. The cables and hoses are kept out of the water by the careful matching of ship speed and accurate steering, plus the manpower of thirty deck-hands pulling on the cables to keep them taught. I envisioned us sending over a transfer line to Harmony, then sliding each of the 40-pound jerry cans across with a second line. We discussed this with Harmony on the VHF

Later: “Harmony . . . This is Searcher. Been thinking about the fuel transfer. We have three 6-gallon jerry cans of diesel we can spare, plus a ten-gallon can of drinking water . . . we will throw you a line then ferry the cans along with another line. 

“Which direction do you want to steer?”

“Into the swells . . .” I replied. “We’ll know better when we get there.”

As we got near, Rob and Emily, my young crew, moved the cans to the foredeck, and prepared spare lines. As I saw them struggling with the heavy cans, I thought . . . there is no way we are going to keep these out of the water during the transfer. I discussed this with the crew, then radioed Harmony.

“Harmony . . . Searcher . . . been thinking. There is no way we are going to keep a line tight enough between us to keep these cans out of the water . . . . I feel it better to have you stationary . . .  I’ll come along under power . . .  throw you a line, and if you catch it, we’ll then drop one of the cans over the side and steer away . . .  you pull the can over, and we’ll circle and make the next drop.”

We found Harmony and her crew in a circle of light from her spreader lights around midnight in a moonless, black night with a SE swell running. There was no wind. My foredeck lights were on . . . 

“Harmony . . . Searcher. I’m going to make a dry run pass first, to give us all a sense of the distance for the line toss.”


It was difficult enough steering along side another boat in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean, with the large ocean swell running . . .  thank heavens there was no wind . . . but Harmony had no sails up to steady her. We did. Our Main sail, with a preventer to keep the boom stationary kept us from wallowing as we made each approach. What worried me most was Harmony’s mast.  As their boat rolled in the swells, their mast came dangerously close to our rig . . .  to foul our rigs would have been disastrous for both boats. We kept a cautious distance away, making the toss that Rob had to make that much harder, but he made each toss a successful one . . . the lines coiled in a way that allowed them to snake out over the distance between the boats, without a snag, to the ready hands of the crew that lined Harmony’s rail. Seeing the line was on their hands, Emily, picked up the jerry can of fuel and dropped it over the side, with a safety slip line. As Searcher turned away and Harmony’s crew pulled, Emily released the safety line and the can was dragged across. We made the circle past Harmony’s port side 6 times, including the dry run and a final pass where Rob threw over a tightly wrapped package of Mahi Mahi that we’d caught and baked earlier that afternoon.

The two kids were up and awake, still in ‘jammies’, but quietly watching the entire operation. Swimming behind and alongside  in the pool of light from our deck light was a school of Mahi Mahi. There were dozens of them. The kids were excited, more about the fish than the process of supplying Harmony and her crew.


1:15 am - Our mission done, we resumed course.

“Searcher . . . Searcher . . . Harmony. Many thanks . . . David what course are you steering to the Trades?

“Harmony .  . Searcher. We are steering  165M. But I would suggest a more southerly course for you. Get south as fast as you can . . .  We’ll see you in St. John toward the end of next week . . .  I need those jerry cans back.” The 18 gallons I loaned them would last less than a day at a gallon an hour . . .  but it proved enough. I spoke to Tony every day on the SAT phone and found they were taking the more southerly route, but keeping up with our Latitude. When I spoke with them on Sunday, they had turned off the engine and were under sail, making 4 to 5 knots in 8 to 10 knots of SE breeze. “That’s more wind than we have here . .  .” I said. Our winds kicked in an hour later. At 1 pm on Sunday afternoon, we are sailing again . . . making the same speed as we were under power. The Engine is off, after 3 days of motoring. No fuel worries now. We had about ten gallons left in the tank and one of the 6-gallon jerry cans left on deck. 

4 am - I was at the helm for 6 hours last night from 8 pm until 2 am this morning. I’m dead tired, but I’m below in my bunk for no more than 15 minutes when Julie calls me back on deck . . . threatening clouds ahead.  Squall?

Okay, let’s prepare. Shorten sail. Roll in the Main. Take down the awning. Turn on the radar. I want to see what’s ahead and if there is a way around or through the wall of clouds ahead. There is definitely some weather under those clouds. Chris Parker warned of squalls in this region, with up to 40 kts of wind. The radar shows rain, some heavy down pours as indicated by the yellow and blue bands on the screen. We tack due east, along the wall of clouds and rain. You can see it coming down 2 miles away.  The wind freshens . . . SE 15 kts. We find a hole through the rain and turn south into the wall. We experience little rain but are surrounded by dark, dense clouds with an increase in wind.

Later that morning I hear that Shazza, 40 miles behind us is experiencing 40 kts of wind in a squall. The 7:30 am weather report is the same as the prediction yesterday. Winds light and variable, mostly from  the SE, 5 kts. Some squall activity north of 22N. Trade winds to fill in below 20N, ENE building to 18 to 20 kts as we enter the Island chain.

8 am - The squalls are behind us. There are clouds about, but nothing threatening.  Wind is south, about 12 kts. We continue to motor sail, making 5.5 knots. There must be a negative current on our bow. We were making 6.5 kts yesterday at the same 2200 rpm. Course is 120M, this will give us more easting, placing us in a good position to take advantage of the Easterly Trades.

9:38 am - 22.54N by 64.28W

Well  . . .  we are back to the Longitude where we were last night before diverting west to rendezvous with Harmony. Steering 150M into bouncy seas on the nose. Motoring with half the Main rolled out to steady us. It’s sunny. Some clouds about. I’m beat. 6 hours at the helm last night and no real sleep. I lay in my bunk, napping, the kids running around chasing each other as Julie, Emily and Rob handle the steering. Sleeping during the day is not as good as sleeping at night.  Two more nights at sea. I’m beginning to think about what needs to be done when we are finally at anchor in the BVI.

We need propane, water, a good fresh water wash down, fuel, ice and more fresh food and some fun before the crew leaves on Friday. They will have 3 days to experience what drew us to the Caribbean in the first place, what drove us to go through what we have just experienced in order to get here . . .  the sunsets, snorkeling, visiting beaches and beach bars, the quiet evenings and star-filled nights . . . and the warmth.

Engine hours since we left Newport 90. I’ll need to change the oil, when we get to the Islands. Where? What are the options for getting the boat clean and the salt rinsed off. I had hoped we would have had one rain shower by now to wash us down. American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook? Yacht Haven in St. Thomas? West End or Village Cay on Tortola, . .  there are few places that have these services.

Once the boat is re-provisioned, fueled and watered what can we do with the remaining three days, which includes Thanksgiving and my birthday. I’ll be 70. Don’t feel it. We have to show Rob and Emily the Caves on Norman Island, Foxy’s, White Beach, Sandy Cay, before we enter the USVI on Thursday. We can drop the couple at the ferry terminal in Cruz Bay Friday morning to catch the 8 or 9 am ferry to Red Hook and a van to the airport.  Then, The Lyman Family can get on with living the dream . .  there is laundry to do, mail to pick up at Caribbean Connections, food to buy and swimming to be done.

11:37 am - Waiting for Tony on Harmony to call on the SAT phone.  I’m worried about them. The 18 gallons I gave them will last perhaps a day, if they throttle back and conserve. I also want to alert the other boats on the radio net about Harmony’s situation and location, in case they need further help, but without a SSB radio and only a SAT phone that’s not easy. Tony calls to report they are motoring along at 1600 rpm, doing 5.5 kts. I ask if that’s a conservative rev.  Is he conserving his remaining fuel?  I get his Lat/Long.

We are down to a quarter of a tank of diesel. That’s around 40 gallons. At 1.2 gph that’s 33 hours, or 180 miles at 5.5 kts . . . enough fuel to get us to the Trade winds, if not all the way. I am beginning to worry less, and am enjoying the experience of being out here on the open Atlantic more.

12- Noon - The radio net. There are six other boats out here with us. They are all motoring conservatively and experiencing light winds of little use. While we are discussing the winds, Shazza's engine quits.  The skipper inspects his filters, finds them clean. The engine will start but not rev up . . . fuel starved?  The filters are not the problem . . .  The crew on Kamaloha suggest it must be a fuel line. Which it proves to be an hour later.  Sialia, the Hinkley is now below 20N and has SE winds 10 to 12 kts.

2:40 pm - Groggy. Only one hour’s sleep last night from 2:30 to 3:30 before going on watch again at 4 am. I’m not thinking clearly . .  I’m not thinking at all, just hanging out, waiting for this boat and the engine to get us to the Trade Winds.  I hope nothing breaks. In my present state of mindlessness, I don’t know if I could figure out what to do if anything does break.   I’m out of patience with the motoring and lack of wind on this trip. I can imagine what it must have been like in the old sailing ships, with no engines, only wind to drive them. Being caught in a pool of stagnant air such as we are experiencing could mean a week or more of just sitting, drifting in the relentless sun. No wonder they call these the “horse latitudes.” This is where the sailors had to dump the horses overboard for lack of water to keep themselves alive.

3:30 pm -Location: 22.30N by 64.04W.  Herb comes on. Missed him yesterday as reception was poor. There was little new information he provided. We all know what’s in store for us . . . we just have to make it to 20N to pick up what little wind there is there and begin sailing again.

5 pm - I’m worried about the engine. It’s been running non-strop now for over 90 hours. Well, I have to worry about something or I feel empty.  I tell everyone I’m going to stop the boat, shut down the engine to check the oil and the water.  All are just fine, but as we sit there on a flat sea, drifting a pleasant feeling comes over the boat and crew. It’s quiet, It’s still. “Let’s have dinner in the cockpit while we drift for a while,” I suggest. All are in agreement. So we rig the cockpit table, get out the deck lamp and set the table, Even the kids are eager to help. This is something new, something different. Emily makes a pumpkin soup with freshly baked bread. The sun departs amid its regular scheduled light and cloud show. Darkness descends quickly in the Tropics.  We linger over dinner, savoring the meal, but also the uniqueness of our location and situation. We are in a special place. We have stopped our relentless dash south, to look around, take stock and reflect.

But reflection can last only so long and the engine comes back to life and we are once again heading south to the Caribbean. As I look at the GPS I noticed that during the hour and a half that we were drifting, we actually drifted west for 2 miles. There is a west setting current here, but that’s to be expected. It’s the  Antillian Current that’s driven by the Easterly Trade Winds. This wind driven current piles up the Atlantic sea water in the Caribbean Basin and the Gulf of Mexico. The water level there is actually higher than in the open Atlantic. The water is trapped, surrounded on all sides by South, Central and North America. The only escape route for this excess water is the Straights of Florida, a 60 mile wide trench between the Florida Keys and Cuba. The overflow of sea water rushes through this passage way, up the east coast of Florida, hemmed in by the Bahamian Bank to the east - at up to 6 kts at times. This is the Gulf Stream, first acknowledged by Benjamin Franklin. The Stream squirts out into the Atlantic as it exits Cape Hatterass, like a garden hose in a swimming pool.  The Stream wanders back and forth as it spews out across the Atlantic, warming much of northern Europe and the UK.

8:30 pm - I’m on watch again. An easterly breeze kicks in, but only 8 kts, hardly enough to bother with, but I tack the boat and put the Main boom on the other side, now steering 179M. We are making 6.8 kts! But the breeze dies in 15 minutes, back to SSE breeze at 5 kts.  

SUNDAY, NOV. 22 - Our last full day at sea . . . if we’re lucky.

2: 45 am Location: 21.32N by 63.36W. If we can maintain this speed, we’ll be at Foxy’s at 4 pm tomorrow. I predicted 2 pm arrival on the day we departed Bermuda. How close will I be to my prediction after 6+ days at sea?

Motoring along at 2200 rpm, making only 5.5 kts, steering 180M. We have 90 miles to go to reach the Trade Winds. I look at the fuel gauge and see that the pointer is between 1/ and E, that should be 15 gallons, plus 6 gallons on deck. Enough.

I change our way point on the 3 GPS units to a location just northeast of Jost Van Dyke. We are east enough now, at 63.30W. We can change course now directly to Foxy’s, a distance of 189 NM. Course is now 211M, we are now heading directly to Sandy Cay.

8:15 am - On course but only making 5.5 kts. With a west setting current I would expect we would be making 6.5 to 7 kts. Still, not a major concern. We’ll make it. But, what about Harmony? Will they be able to reach the Trade Winds in the 18 gallons I gave her?  I have to worry about something. I’ll talk to the other boats on the Net at noon, see what they suggest.

9 am - 66NM to go in order to reach the Trades . . . a little more than ten hours of this motoring. The engine just purrs. We spent a lot of money on the engine this summer, getting it ready for just such a task. The heat exchanger was removed and cleaned . . . which it needed. The engine now runs 20-degrees cooler. We replaced the injectors and sleeves, and the engine no longer smokes. An old black West Indian mechanic once told m that these diesel engines can run for 10,000 hours . . . “ just feed them clean fuel, change the oil regularly and make sure they get water to cool them.”

10:26 am - Emily and the kids see their first land bird.

11:30 am - Attempt to call Harmony on the SAT phone. No answer.

12-Noon - wake up the guys on the radio Net. We are at 20.52N by 63.50W. Winds appear to be SE at 5 kts. Motoring at 5.5 kts. I learn that Teregram is at 21.25N by 64.24W, hoved-to and drifting, waiting for Harmony to pass in case they need more fuel. I call Harmony on my SAT phone again and connect. “Well . . . Tony, how’s it going? Teregam is standing by if you need more fuel. . . “

“Good news . . . we turned off the engine at 11 this morning and are sailing at 5.5 kts in an easterly breeze. I think we’ll make it now . . .  many thanks for your fuel drop yesterday. It saved our skins . . . and we ate the Mahi Mahi last night and the crew wants to thank your chef . . . it was delicious and much appreciated.”

“So . . . you do not need Teregam to stand-by?  Can I tell them to get back underway?”

“Yes . . . tell them thank you, we are alright now.”

Back to the SSB radio: “Teregam . . ,.Teregam . .  Searcher.”

“Teregam here . . .”

“Tony on Harmony is now sailing. He turned off his engine at 11 this morning . . . says he’ll not need anything . . .  you can resume your course.”

“Thank you Searcher  . . . . we now have enough wind and will be sailing with the engine off.”

As the other boats check in, I find most of them now have enough wind out of the east at 8 to 12 kts to raise sail and turn off their engines.  Some thank me for my role as Communications Officer, and wish me a Happy Birthday.  Someone suggests all 5 or 6 of the boats on the Net sing me a happy birthday. “Wait a minute,” I radio back. “Stand-by . . . this I have to record.” I dig out my iPhone, which is akin to a Swiss Army knife in that it can do almost everything. I open the voice memo application, and tell the boats . . . “Okay . . . here we go . .  on the count of 3 .. . everyone chime in . . . One . . Two . . Three . . . “ I get a SSB birthday song from five radios out there on boats sailing along toward the Caribbean Sea. I have it.

By the time I finish with the radio Net it’s 12:30. I go on deck to see if we can also raise some sail. Yes! I unroll all of the Main, unroll the Yankee, and set the Mizzen sail. I put the engine into neutral, and watch the GPS for a drop in speed . .  it stays the same . . . 5.5 kts. Why waste fuel when the wind can drive us at the same speed as the engine. I shut down the engine, kick the shift level into reverse, which feathers the folding prop, creating less drag and to keep the shaft from spinning. We are moving along now, on course, under sail. It’s quiet, except for the gurgle of water along the hull, and the swoosh . . .swoosh . . .  of the bow wave as we dip onto a small SE swell.

My fuel worries are over, I can stop worrying about Harmony.

3 pm - Hot . . . sultry . . .sticky afternoon. Temp is 85-degrees. I’ m not used to this heat . . . it’s not been this hot in Maine for years, not even in summer.  The heat and the burning sun takes the starch out of you. I can’t focus, I’m hiding in the shade of the dodger, the awning over the cockpit shading the helmsman or woman. Julie is napping and reading in the aft cabin. Emily at the helm and reading. Rob is doing the dishes, and the kids are scouring the boat in an attempt to find something suitable to fire off in the bungee cord launcher I made for them. I’m slow to move, not so much tired as worn out from the stress of the voyage. Lethargic is a good word, but I’m loving the day nonetheless. I take my camera forward and shoot the bow wave, watch clouds form, grateful my two big worries are behind me . . . our fuel consumption and that of Harmony.

It’s slow going as we slide south and west toward Jost Van Dyke in the BVI. We have another 43 miles before the Trades really kick in.

6 pm - I’m on watch, steering 205M, making 6.3 kts under full plain sail. The boat takes on a gentle motion, with not much of a sea way running, a flat sea and winds over our beam at 10 kts.

8:44 pm - Dinner and conversation done, I wash the dishes as Julie steers. I go to the foredeck to sit alone for a spell in the night, listening to the boat move through the water, the swoosh . .  swoosh of the bow wave. The moon is up and nearly full, its path of light reflecting on the water’s surface creating a highway to the heavens. The Yankee casts a moon shadow over me and the foredeck, there are gray and white clouds about.. . .  in the cockpit behind me there is light and laughter, my crew and family are enjoying the evening and friendship formed during this voyage. I’m content . . . no, more than content,  I’m happy to have brought this about. It’s what I’ve dreamed about these past 10+ years . . . to go off sailing on Searcher with my family, to be on an adventure sharing what I’ve learned about the sea and boats with my kids.

10:04 pm - Dinner and dishes done, Kids to bed, Julie at the helm.  But tonight is wonderful, I’ll not let anything spoil it, not the family squabbles, the interpersonal friction, the arguments, and the blame that’s flying around. That, I guess, goes with family life, at least this family life. I sit on the line locker ahead of the Main mast, a rum and tonic in hand. The moon to starboard, the three stars of Orion belt off to port. By morning those three stars will be all the way around the other side. The wind is a gentle breeze, 10 to 12 kts, no swells, the boat sliding along at 5 to 6 kts . .  the slosh, giggles and swoosh, swoosh of the bow wave.

My last night at sea for a while. It is a gift to be here, at sea again, away from land and a world of people . . . to be out here in nature, with the extremes of weather . . . I may never come this way again . . .  my age, death, financial matters, the kids, Julie, work . .  all may conspire to keep me from this experience again. I’m saddened by the thought, but for only a moment, for the present it’s here and I’m loving it.

Julie wants to know when the kids can expect to see land. I walk her through the calculations. Our “height of eye” is 8 feet off the sea. We can see the horizon at 3.2 miles. The hills of Tortola are 1400 feet high. From the top of them you can see the horizon 42.9 miles away.  Add the two together and we might see the hills 50 miles out, if the weather and clouds permit. You can calculate these numbers, or look them up in Eldridge’s, a nautical almanac for New England waters.

MONDAY, Nov. 23 - Our Last Day At Sea

3:34 am - up for my 4 am watch. What a wonderful night at sea. A gentle 10 kts breeze wafting Searcher along to the Islands. I awoke in the darkness, thinking . .  are we at anchor? . . . have we arrived? . . .  did I miss something? There was no motion to the boat, no motion that I was used to . . . no engine sound, no heel . . , all was quiet as I came on deck to relieve Emily. The boat was under full sail, making 6 kts with a comfortable heel to starboard in a 12 kts breeze over the port quarter.

On nights like this one I could go on sailing forever, reluctant to end the voyage or even approach land and all it brings with it.

Location: 19.35N by 64.23W. 67 miles to the waypoint near Jost Van Dyke Island. Ten more hours. ETA 2 pm, That’s what I predicted when we left Bermuda 6 days ago.

4:38 am wind picking up . .  we are now making 7 kts. I shorten in the Yankee to make steering easier, we drop a knot.

6 am - We are now flying 7 to 8 kts. Steering 207M Wind is East at 15 kts. A few showers about, but none to wash us off.  Sunrise is half an hour away. I decide to stay up to watch it.  7 hours before our way point, then another 30 minutes to Sandy Cay and 15 minutes to Great Harbor on Jost, where we can clear customs. We all want a swim. Dinner? There is not much left on board, other than what’s in cans. We need water, propane and ice . .  I want a cold rum and tonic to celebrate the conclusion of this 3 week, 1,700 mile adventure.

To my bunk for a nap . . .

8:55 am - The mountaintops of Tortola and Virgin Gorda are sighted . .  we’re 32.2 miles out, but there they are . .  the high and green hills of Tortola, getting greener as we sail nearer. The crew is shouting and running around with cameras. I’m back on deck with all the commotion. Landfall lacks the thrill it once held for me . . . I’m jaded . . too old. But I’m there, smiling and enjoying everyone else’s excitement.

9 am - I’m asked to rig the fishing lines . . . and agree . .  it would be great to land another Mahi Mahi and have it for dinner . . . at Foxy’s. Within three minutes of setting the first line, we have a fish on it. This one is Emily’s and she’s more excited than anyone I’ve ever seen as she reels in the 15 pounds of fish. I back the Yankee and stall the boat, which takes the pressure off the line. Emily reels and reels for it takes her some time to bring the fish along side. It’s all green, yellow and gold. It’s a smaller fish than the two others we’d caught en route so I haul it up over the life lines by the wire leader. The fish comes on deck, flapping and wiggling . . . Renaissance is there with a cup of rum . . . I pour it down the fish’s gullet and he or she goes immediately into a relaxed mode. It works every time. This time Rob wins the honor of dressing the fish and gutting it. His father is a surgeon and Rob himself is an EMT, so why is he so reluctant to wheel the knife and dispatch this fish? But, he does it, while I call Foxy’s on the VHF.

“Good morning  . . . We are heading into Jost from Bermuda and just caught a 12 pound Mahi Mahi near Kingfish Banks. Can you folks bake it for us for dinner tonight?”

“Searcher . . . when will you be here?”

“We should be there later this afternoon . .  . we have to anchor and clear customs first.”

“Let me check with the chef . . . yes, he says fine. Do you want it in steaks or whole?”

“We’ll bring it in whole . . .  there will be 4 adults and two young kids. How much per person when we bring in our own fish?”

“That’ll be $15 a head. Half price for the children.”

“We’ll come by with the fish around 4 pm.”

“That’ll be fine . . . give it to Dave the Chef . .  he’ll be expecting you . .  and the fish.”

Green Cay, Little Jost and Sandy Cay come up and are put behind us, as we sail into Great Harbor, find a spot and drop the Bruce anchor in 34 feet of water.  

It’s  3 pm, an hour later than I‘d predicted but we have stopped. The anchor is down in 3 feet of water in Great Harbor on Jost. Rob and I launch the dinghy and turn on the engine . . . I have to insist that everyone puts on suitable clothing for our visit to the Customs office. The fish goes with us, wrapped up in a brown paper bag. Clearing Customs is a simple affair here at Jost. It costs $20 for the entry fee and forms. We walk down to Foxy’s with our fish . . .  Foxy is there and we have a chat and have our picture taken with this old black man of the Caribbean. I meet and chat with Tess, Foxy’s  Australian wife. The crew, family and I share drinks at the bar, the floor covered with sand and the rafters festooned with bras, panties and t-shirts from previous crews that have stumbled off their boat into this idyllic beach bar with its resident philosopher, balladeer, and storyteller. I’ve known Foxy and his wife Tess for many years, when I was single spending winters in the Islands. I’d spend weeks anchored here, swapping stories and photograph Foxy and the scene. On New Years Eve this island holds the largest party in the Caribbean. I’ve experienced three of them . . . a thousand boats are anchored nearby. Ferries brings thousands more to the beach. Some say more than 2,000 people line the beach that night. To be part of the scene, but not get drunk, I once volunteered to bartend one of the satellite bars Foxy had set up on one of these evenings.  This gave me proximity to the action without making a fool of myself.

It’s still afternoon. We all head back out to the boat for a swim. The water, 84 degrees, is fantastic, like stepping into a warm swimming pool. Renaissance Emily and Julie jump off the pulpit, frolic and swim around and around the boat. I tow the kids on a line behind the dinghy. Emily joins them. Darkness should have forced the kids back on board, but not until I told them dusk was feeding time for the Barracudas that would be certainly gathering under the boat. We showered off with the remaining fresh water in the tanks, changed and went ashore to Foxy’s for dinner - Mahi Mahi, presented whole with vegetables and a light white wine.

People at a nearby table asked us what was the dish that was served with such ceremony. “Its a 12 pound Mahi Mahi we caught this morning on Kingfish Banks as we sailed into the BVI from a 6 day voyage from Bermuda. . . “ now there’s a story.

Reflections On Arrival

That night, Searcher was still . . .  no engine running, no heel, no sound of water washing along the hull, just the tinkling sound of tree frogs reaching out to us from ashore. I went on deck at 2 am to be alone.  This was the end of one of a major voyage in my life. . . as well as in the lives of my children, my wife Julie, and the two young crew members who had joined us.  This was my 16th voyage to the Islands, perhaps my last, whereas for those who joined me, it was their first.  This voyage was my opportunity to pass along some of what I’d learned about sea voyaging, to introduce these novices into a world of magical nights at sea, to storms and gales, to the tranquility and anger of the sea. I was alone just then, with my thoughts of past voyages . . .

I got us here. That felt good. I could still sail a boat all the way from Maine to the Caribbean, over 2,000 miles, what with all the tacking and detours around weather systems and mid-ocean rescues. I’d make good decisions, perhaps not perfect choices, but choices that worked. We arrived in one piece with the crew still talking to each other. No mutinies, no crews desertion, no blown-out sails or damaged gear. We arrived when I said we would. The voyage was more than just a few days sailing, it was a true life-changing  experience, one I’ll not forget,  and I’ve made many of them in the past. We’d caught three fish, which we had eaten . . . . we’d taken a detour to drop off our spare fuel and water with another yacht which was drifting in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. We came through one of the roughest passages on our way to Bermuda that any bunch of sailors have faces. The crew and I now have bragging rights.

In total, from Newport to the BVI, we travelled a total of 2,000 miles. We burned up 180 gallons of diesel fuel, went through 800 gallons of fresh water, and ate up $1,200 worth of food. I changed the engine oil twice. I introduced my two kids to a world few kids, few adults, will ever see-- the open Atlantic, the sea and its weather patterns, the stars which can only be seen in their totality on a moonless night at sea. I’d mentored two young sailors, our crew, through the process of long-distance, off shore voyaging. Searcher and her crew of six were safely at anchor in the Caribbean.

At 70 years old, I feel like I was just starting out on my next adventure . . .

Tomorrow? We’ll stop in at West End for fuel, water, food and ice, then sail over to the Caves on Norman Island, Benures Bay then snorkel along Soldier’s Bay and spend the night. We’ll visit White Beach, Sandy Cay, Sopper’s Hole, Cruz Bay, Caneel Bay and Honeymoon Beach. 

We’ll linger her in the Virgin Islands for a few weeks. There’s more than enough to do and see, and the boat needs some attention as does the family. We’ll head south toward the middle of the month, winding  our way through the windward islands on our way to Bequia for Christmas with friends  . . . . That’s the plan . . . More to come in the next chapter.

Searcher at anchor on my favorite cove on Norman Island, BVI on November 25, 2009.

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A Bermuda sunset over the commercial docks in St. George’s Harbor, the night before we depart. Bermuda was a delight to visit, if expensive. WiFi on the boat from Bermuda Yacht Services ashore, plus the nice people at the St. George’s Dinghy Club, helped make our ten-day stay enjoyable. DHLyman

November 15 to 27, 2009

A Visual Journal

These image are from from my Camera Journal. These photos are as valuable as written journal entries I make, more so in many cases, but together they form a more complete picture of our journey to the Caribbean.

Heading out from Bermuda through Town Cut, the kids on the bow. It’s a relativelty calm day.