23 November 2016

Ocean Passage: Bermuda to Antigua

Let's get this out in the open right off the bat.  I'm a chicken. There, I said it.  Having made it successfully from Hampton, Virginia in the USofA to St. George's Bermuda, I felt a great sense of relief. I also felt a great sense of gratitude to our friend Lance Ryley for being our third crew.  Lance has more experience than both Linda and I combined and so it was a great peace of mind factor having him along.  I tend to have more than a little trouble sleeping the nights leading up to one of these passages.

Bob Damiano

The trip south from Bermuda to the Caribbean (Antigua) is much longer... 40% longer. Many people will say that it's usually easier and safer too. There is no gulf stream to deal with and once you get down into the trades, things are usually pretty stable. Still, it's 950 freakin' nautical miles! (that's 1092 statute miles in dog years).  I come from New England (motto: don't like the weather?  wait five minutes), and I was supposed to trust a weather window that would last for six days??

What's the worst that could happen? Don't get me started

Stopping off in Bermuda is tricky.  Often times, you will be changing crew at this stop which can get complicated.  Our original planned third crew had to bow out and we did not know this until we were in Bermuda. We immediately started looking for alternatives, asking people back in Boston, sending out queries on various crew finder websites and ultimately having Linda go out and network along the docks in Bermuda.  It was the dockside networking that ultimately landed our third crew person.  The tricky part is that if you have to fly someone in, you will likely, eat up some of your weather window (or fly him in too early and have your window fizzle out).  Either way, this can lead to going when you shouldn't go. It actually worked out very well for us to hire someone locally since he only need to drive to the boat and hop on! And so it was that Captain Andrew "Smitty" Smith joined Argon for our leg south.

With Smitty on Argon's bow shortly before departure from Bermuda.

On both of these long open ocean legs (and some previous shorter stints offshore), we had a fourth virtual crew person. Like I do for my own job, this one worked remotely (from his office in Camden, Maine).  Ken McKinley from Locus Weather was our weather router for all of these passages. He did an amazing job at helping us decide when to jump and what to expect. He never over or under-sold the weather to us. We got pretty much what we expected every time.

Once we had Smitty lined up and what looked like a good window, my sleep improved a bit. The plan was to depart on the afternoon of Friday Nov 11 just after a front (and some lingering squalls) passed.  We expected to have a bumpy night the first night but then a pretty nice ride after that. As it turned out, this prediction really did hold for the six days (and beyond).

Lending a Helping Hand

A few days before we departed, a 47' Beneteau came in to the customs dock during some particularly high winds.  They wanted to tie up on the wall behind us but the woman from the Yachting Center came running out and shooed them away saying that spot was reserved.  Winds were forecast to get near gale force later and their only option was to go out in the anchorage. After hearing some about their very rough passage (especially the previous night where they suffered two knockdowns!), we let them raft up to us.

And in the Small World department, we knew one of the crew from stateside - Linda Allen - from Blue Water Sailing Club. 

Linda and Linda rafted up in Bermuda,
Blue Water Sailing Club sailboats rafted up, waiting for the winds to build later.

Final Departure Prep

On Thursday, Smitty took Linda to a grocery store for a final provisioning run. I stayed around and did final prep stuff and inspection on the boat. On Friday morning, we got our final detailed forecast including this recommendation:

Recommendation is to depart as planned this afternoon.
Conditions are likely to be a bit better than was anticipated yesterday, and favorable wind direction is likely throughout the passage.
Lighter wind speeds during the second half of the passage may lead to slower boat speed, and this may lead to winds veering to ESE prior to arrival at Antigua, but it no longer appears that a more dramatic veering will occur later in the week. This means that conditions along the southern portion of the route will remain generally favorable into Thursday and even Friday, so slower speed is not a concern.

And a final note to the folks at home...

Hello everyone,

Just a note to let you know that we are departing Bermuda today in a few hours around 2pm local time. The forecast is looking even better than yesterday (see below).

We will try to update our position (visible on the blog http://www.argonsailing.com) periodically. We will also send status updates along the way when possible.

We are joined on this leg by Captain Andrew "Smitty" Smith from Bermuda. As of now, we expect to land in English Harbor, Antigua Thursday during daylight.

The latest from our weather router follows:
Winds will not be quite as strong for departure today, and seas not quite as high. The wind direction will be WNW, and this will continue  through this evening with winds backing to W later tonight. Wind speeds and seas will drop off significantly through this evening and tonight.

The cold front will pass the yacht by tomorrow afternoon with winds shifting to NW and then N, but the front will not be that active with only a few showers, and wind speeds not that strong. Tomorrow night the yacht may actually re-cross the weakening front with winds becoming lighter and backing a bit. Later Sundayand Sunday night the building ridge to the north will lead to winds veering more toward NE and increasing, and swells will begin to build from the north.

A gradual veering of winds toward E will occur through the first half of next week with wind speeds becoming lighter farther south. Swells will gradually subside as well.

If the yacht arrives at Antigua Wednesday evening, winds will still be generally E, but if arrival occurs later, winds will tend to veer a bit toward ESE through Wednesday night and into Thursday.

 The forecast is presented for a departure from Bermuda this afternoon, and assumes a rhumb line route to Antigua. 

And We're Off!!...

At 1400, we were cleared out of customs (and got our flare gun back) and were pushing off from the dock. This involved un-rafting from our new neighbor who was very happy to get our spot on the wall after we left.

As expected, our first night was a little bit bumpy.  The seas were not especially high but they were a bit confused. This motion surprisingly had us all not feeling so great. We were all medicated enough to get through it fine however.
Smitty on watch.  Bob on deck.

My first watch. Determined or terrified?
Linda sporting her new "Trade Winds" hair style.

And my first nap after my first watch.

First Sunrise.

12-Nov 0900AST
Good morning. 

All is well at position 30:27.2N/63:53.3W

First night very fast sailing and just a little bumpy.  Wind much lighter today and sailing with full sails.

Water temp is 78.8F (sorry)

Everyone is getting rest and we still like each other. just uploaded latest track points.

Argon out

The forecast updates for the next few days were practically copy-pastes of each other.  Moderate winds veering toward the east later in the week with pretty tame seastate.  The second day, winds got slightly lighter than forecast.  They were also dead astern, so we really couldn't keep our sails full.  We ended up burning quite a bit of diesel for the next 20 hours (and making a lot of electrons)

Relaxing on the chute while we're motorsailing for a spell.

As the wind began to build, we finally deployed the spinnaker and were able to sail again.  Overnight the wind continued to build but still remained very moderate and in-control.  We switched from the spinnaker back to the full reacher and had a great fast night.

Smitty had a fishing line out for quite a while with no luck.  About as soon as we put the spinnaker up however, we had a fish on!

Deploying the Lure.

Prepping the chute.

Feeling very proud of our well-deployed chute.


Chez Smitty working his magic.  We ended up getting 4 meals (12 servings) out of this fish!

13-Nov 0900 AST:

Good morning. 

Pos 27:45.6/63:04.7

All is well. Very light wind and flat seas.  Motoring for most of last 20 hours.  Expecting some breeze later. 

Smitty caught a wahoo yesterday which we enjoyed for dinner

so ends another day

Each sunset was even more beautiful than the sun rises.

14-Nov 0900 AST
Good morning,

Winds finally filled in a little yesterday afternoon and we started sailing again around 3pm.

We had very moderate winds and flat seas overnight which made for a nice sail.  Winds are predicted to only build a little for the rest of the passage.  Some very long period swells are starting from the north as predicted.

No more fish caught yet.

Today is Smitty's birthday.  Linda is baking cookies.

Pos. 25:20.4N/62:18.0W
Wind 10-15 NNE
seas: 1-3' swells

Smitty's lucky navigation carrot (aka Nav Co). Normally we turn him around so he can see the compass heading, of course.

Renaissance Man - sailor, fisherman, chef, and musician. And all around cool guy.

And another beautiful sunset


Super Moon

One great thing about this passage vs the Virginia-Bermuda one is that we actually had moonlit nights.  Not only moonlit, but in this case SUPER MOON-lit!  This made the overnights much more pleasant (as did the moderate conditions). The cockpit and deck of the boat was nicely illuminated but the best part is that you could actually see the seas we were rushing into at 9ks. The added bonus were the spectacular moon rises and sets.

Supermoon just an hour or so after moonrise.
15-Nov 0900 AST:

Hi everyone.

Winds 10-15ENE
Sea 1-3'

Another easy and pretty fast night.  Winds were lighter but on a great angle for this boat.  This morning wind was up a bit more but seems to be easing now. Boat speed still very good.

We put a little more east in the bank but are now heading due south.

No more fish but Smitty provided musical entertainment.  We have decided he can stay onboard for the rest of the passage.

Everyone is rested and in good spirits. 

-argon crew


More Sea Candy

Smitty is many things - including a determined fisherman.  As we sailed along at 7-8kts, we were trolling a lure several boat lengths behind. And things started to heat up.
Fish on!

A nice Mahi Mahi.

The Veering

We knew winds would veer (turn clockwise toward the east) as the week progressed, but we had hoped to be closer to our destination when they did.  Well, wind doesn't always cooperate like that so we ended up doing a fair amount of upwind sailing the last couple of days. This was beginning to get a bit tiresome and I don't think any of us were resting as well anymore. The boat was heeled over pretty far and we had a very noisy bumpy ride. It just becomes hard to do anything on the boat when it's like that and after 40 hours or so, it gets a bit exhausting. As it came time for my watch at 0300 on our last overnight, it was clear that we were not going to make it east of Antigua anymore. So, the plan was to motorsail due south for the duration of my watch (until 0600) and see if we could have a good enough angle to sail from there. The wind, only continued to veer more during my watch and in fact was nearly due south a few times.  At 0600 when Linda came on watch, we decided to just motorsail most of the rest of the way.

16-Nov 0900 AST:
Good morning. 

All is well with less than 200nm to go!

Winds 10-15E starting to veer south a bit.

Boat speed has been mostly mid-6s to mid-7s.

Been sailing much higher since yesterday afternoon and that is interfering a bit with getting rest. We have a heeled over, bouncy, noisy ride. We're a bit tired but excited for arrival tomorrow afternoon.

Had a fish on but he shook the hook.  We still have plenty of pasta.  No one has mentioned cannibalism yet.

And the seawater is 84 degrees Fahrenheit 


Land Ho!! 

I pretty much passed out after my watch and so I never got to do my "Land Ho" joke. Instead, Linda just nudged me awake and whispered "by the way... land ho". I went back to sleep and didn't even look.

Tracking our progress on paper along with all our fancy gadgets. Note the three arrival time guesses. Linda won this bet.

As we got around the south east corner of Antigua, we finally had a good enough angle to sail again.  The main was already up so we rolled out the genoa and killed the engine. Quiet at last as we sailed into the spectacular entrance to English Harbour, Antigua.

Sailing the last 12nm approaching Antigua.

Anchored in beautiful English Harbour, Antigua.
17-Nov 0900 AST:
Good morning.

Directly in front of us is antigua.  Winds veered more on our nose overnight so we have been motorsailing since 3am to maintain direction.  Engine is off now and we are under sail to final approach.

I am sending this using Mobile data instead of $10/mb satellite data.

I think we made it!

Argon Crew

Toasting a successful passage and enjoying Mike's Sloe Gin under the Caribbean sky.
We've come so far!

08 November 2016


Captain Linda Perry Riera

Bermuda is an improbable outcrop barely peaking its head out of the ocean, hundreds of miles from any other land, surrounded by ocean water thousands of feet deep. Bermuda is a geological anomaly; part of an archipelago string of volcanoes along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Most people think of one island as being the country of Bermuda, but it collectively consists of a whopping 181 islands (many quite tiny with the same names causing confusion), as well as more than 60 miles of coastline; but it long and narrow totaling only 20 square miles of land with a moderately dense population of just over 60,000.

Bermuda is partially surrounded by a ring of coral reefs along the western and norther sides providing partial protection from the seas and thriving environment for sea life, but also navigational challenges, especially in the days before modern GPS. The sea depths drop off as one sails away from the island quickly plunging from 70 feet to more than 10,000 feet.

Anchored in St. George, A Nautical Rest Stop

After a thrilling and successful off shore passage from the east coast of the US, we spent a couple of days tied to the sea wall but then moved out to the anchorage where Argon could swing and dance with the water and wind as she is meant to. Initially we were accompanied by only a couple of other sailboats in this anchorage near the town center. Each subsequent day brought an increasing number of yachts all proceeding directly to the customs and immigration dock for check in per procedure, followed by the crews celebrating the accomplishment of their major transit from Newport, or Martha's Vineyard, or Nova Scotia or Virginia. The harbor filled with sailing yachts all tricked out for off shore, and then the handful of restaurants filled with sailors. Conversations often start similarly... "How was your passage? What were your conditions". "Where did you depart from?", "Where and when do you go next." No one stays here; it is an elaborate, subtropical, nautical rest stop.

Argon in the sparse anchorage as seen from Barracks Hill. Each day brought several more sailing yachts as the yearly migration from Nova Scotia, Newport, and Virginia got in to full swing. Within a week there were about 20 other sailboats in this anchorage.

The harbor town of St. George. The tower on the hill is part of Bermuda Maritime Operations (aka Bermuda Radio) that monitors all of the boat traffic approaching Bermuda starting more than 100 hundred miles away.

Peaceful westward view at the end of a day.

Two weeks of our island layover have provided plenty of wonderful experiences including:
  • Visit from two of our sons
  • Ferry to Navy Dock Yard and Hamilton (with Lance before he returned to Boston)
  • Snorkeling and climbing rocks at Tobacco Bay
  • Exploring Fort St. Catherine Fort and St. Catherine Beach
  • Cave tour
  • Swimming, bathing, and paddle boarding off of Argon
  • Walking the streets of St. George
  • Meeting lots of other sailors, hearing their stories, checking out their vessels

Exploring the Island

Enjoy some photos below!

Evening dinghy ride from Argon to shore with Christian and Jon.

On the road to Tobacco Bay for some snorkeling.

Rock climbing.

Cave tour

When not out in the anchorage, we tied up to the sea wall in town.
Finding boat parts is a bit challenging. When inquiring at a shipyard in the Navy Dock Yard section of the island, we were brought to the a trailer at the back of their lot, behind various debris, and offered to see if their workbench area had anything we needed. Not West Marine for sure but very generous to offer up their goods in this informal setting.

Ventured to the Navy Dock Yard and Hamilton by ferry one day. Navy Dock Yard is home port for the big cruise ships. Hamilton is the main city on the island.
Fort St. Catherine is a coastal artillery embankment situated on a rise at the northeast corner of the island. The initial structure was built in the early 1600's and expanded several times over the ensuing couple of hundred years. One can now wander the myriad of expansive passages and peer out in the direction of the many canons as the entire fort is preserved as a national landmark.

Secluded and beautiful St. Catherine Beach adjacent to Fort St. Catherine on the north western part of the island.

St. Peter's Church in St. George is 400 years old.

The rafters of the interior of the church were made with local Bermudian cedar trees 400 years ago.

We hired a local rigger, Steve Hollis, to inspect the rig to be doubly sure we are ready for the next, longer off shore leg. All looks strong and ready for the trip.

Christian relaxing in the bow hammock.

Jon napping in the cockpit after an afternoon of swimming.

Jon paddle boarding.

Bermudian Peculiarities

It is always interesting to discover unique cultural differences in new places. Some of what I noticed on this isolated, volcanic island include:
  • Friendly toots of of automobile horns are prevalent clearly for saying hello to other drivers and pedestrians, not to express dismay. The general friendliness level on this island is very high with many smiles and salutations among strangers and acquaintances alike.
  • Dusk brings a cacophony of chirps from Bermuda Tree Frogs that are only the size of a thumbnail. Although there are thousands within ear shot, I tried several times to find one but they are tiny and elusive.
  • Experiencing public transportation buses driving fast along the very narrow roads is as thrilling as a modern amusement park ride.
  • We quick assimilated to Bermuda as we started to feel like a regulars in St. George and beyond after only a couple of weeks.

Bermudian Challenges

A few difficult or frustrating experiences include:
  • Unreliable and/or expensive WiFi.
  • General high cost of items including groceries and restaurants as virtually everything has to be imported from very far away to this remote island. Burn rate of our cruising caddy has accelerated beyond plan while here.
  • Difficulty securing a third crew person for our next leg and confirming a good weather window for a safe transit.

Weather and Crew

Now we are preoccupied with weather... and it has been complicated, we start to plan for our long off shore southward to Antigua (almost 1000nm, 6-7 day trip). A series of low pressure systems in close succession have provided narrow windows with gale winds and very high seas outside the protection of our large harbor, as well as very windy conditions even in the harbor. In addition, winds are forecasted to be somewhat southerly at lower latitudes for a spell in the near future. All of this is causing us to sit and wait for more favorable conditions, hopefully later this week. We were finally able to confirm a third crew person which was no easy task. I have combed the docks putting the work out locally that Argon is in need of crew. We after a couple of days, we ended up with a few options and just secured a local, very experienced Captain from the island to join us. We will stay in regular communication with our trusted weather router so that we select a safe departure date but Friday 11 November is looking likely as of now.

Argon and crew will sail about 950nm from Bermuda to Antigua departing at an upcoming favorable weather window. The  next update will be from the Caribbean! Until then, We ARe GONe!!