Showing posts with label sailing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sailing. Show all posts

11 December 2016


Most mornings commence in a similar pattern... awake with only the morning sun through the hatch as an alarm, prepare a pot of deep brown coffee with the french press (no electric coffee maker available, of course), relax in the cockpit sipping the dark brew and take in the surroundings.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Sometimes there is a cooling breeze while the sun remains low in the sky, other times the heat and humidity blanket is felt immediately having never quite lifted during the night, at other times there is a passing shower or thunderhead. Ahhhh.... exhale. Most mornings but not all... sometimes prohibitive conditions make even preparing coffee impossible (more to come on this below).

I love the mornings at anchor. Coffee, some reading, writing, a swim, bathing in the salt water.

Dominica - The Most Unspoiled of the Caribbean Islands

Although our initial landing in the Caribbean after the off shore from Bermuda was the lovely island of Antigua, this blog chapter begins with the beautiful island of Dominica (accent on third syllable), or Dominique as also called due to her French history, or Wai'tu Kubuli (which means "tall is her body"). Dominica should not be confused with the much larger country of Dominican Republic 400nm to the northwest.

Dominica is rugged and dramatic. Her mountainous composition forces a ripple in the easterly trade winds. As the warm air is forced up along the mountain sides, the higher altitudes form frequent clouds and brief but intense rainstorms. The regular rainfall and unspoiled landscape give rise to seemingly endless rain forests as well as hundreds of rivers. Dominica has many hot springs and the world's second larges boiling lake (which was unfortunately closed to visitors currently) as well as many rare bird and plant species. It is a nature lover's paradise.
Our sail to Dominica directly from Antigua consisted of 100nm initially at about 190 degrees then shifting to 160 degrees as we passed Guadeloupe off to port. We decided to tackle our first Caribbean hop rather aggressively by departing Antigua one Friday afternoon in late November, sailing overnight largely in the lee of Guadeloupe, arriving in Prince Rupert Bay Portsmouth, Dominica at daybreak Saturday. The initial leg between Antigua and Guadeloupe was choppy and we were surprised that our normally strong stomachs were not feeling so well. At about 0200 in the dark of night we were asking ourselves why we ever decided to make our first Caribbean run a long overnighter as we counted down the hours to daybreak. (Most Caribbean island sailing consists of 10-40nm hops from harbor to harbor or island to island.) This was a difficult sail for much of the passage and we welcomed the approach to Dominica at first light.

The sail from English Harbor Antigua to Prince Rupert Bay Dominica was fast - 100nm in less than 15 hours, but also difficult much of the way. The open waters between Antigua and Guadeloupe were choppy, then we experienced the variable winds created by the mountains of Guadeloupe off to our port causing swift wind shifts and, as the night progressed, frequent squalls with bursts of 30 kt winds. This sailing leg felt more like an off shore passages than a leisurely island hop. We decided after this passage that we will stick to shorter day trips and harbor jumping for a while.
Plenty of heavy weather on our 100nm sail south from Antigua to Dominica. Dominica is the southern most of the chain of Leeward Islands (some consider it the northern most Windward Islands) and will be our most southern latitude during our Caribbean journey. This may mean a return trip to explore the Windward Islands in the future

European colonization of Dominica happened later than with most of the other islands in this region of the world, perhaps initially being considered too rugged to be of interest. French eventually inhabited the island in the late 1600's hence the continued common creole cuisine and sprinkling of french language. The British eventually took over in the late 1700's and, having abolished slavery in all their territories (except India) in the 1830's, Dominica became an island of refuse for many slaves from neighboring islands in the 1800's.

Dominica is the most mountainous of all the islands in the expansive Lesser Antilles range. Much of its nearly 300 square miles is a protected natural park including extensive rain forests and mountains. Dominica has many waterfalls and hot springs and a whopping 365 rivers! There are few predator species on the island and no large mammals.

Until fairly recently, Dominica had a surly reputation with cruisers due to crime and pollution throughout the two main harbor cities (north in Portsmouth and south in Roseau). Several years ago, however, an organization was formed called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) to provide security as well as tours, local information, and other services to visiting yachts. Working with one of the many "PAYS certified" Dominicans proved to ensure we had a fantastic stay.

One of the several PAYS boats that provide security, tours and overall great support for visiting cruisers.

It has become part of our routine upon setting anchor to snorkel to check the placement. The clear waters allow for great visibility and assurance that the anchor is holding well and there are not nearby risks to fouling.


Customs procedures is different for every country. The cruising guidebook provides some helpful information as does For Dominica, the customs office is closed on weekends thus our Saturday arrival required me to go to the home of someone who acts as a contractor for the customs official. (But I did not know this at the time.) A PAYS guide (who I had just met 2 minutes prior and was pretty sure he was legit) wisked me away quickly from Argon towards the south side of the bay and walked me through some intimidating gates, down a deserted broken concrete passage way, to a weathered concrete building with no obvious activity around. (I kept telling myself "I can trust these PAYS guys" but I admit I was a tad uncomfortable). I was brought up to the second floor of an apartment building when my PAYS friend knocked on its door several times, obviously waking up whoever was inside on this early Saturday morning, and then told me to wait a few minutes while he went off. Eventually a sleepy eyed, friendly young man gave me papers to complete outside his apartment door on a table with toys, then I was summoned inside to the one room apartment where he checked Argon's documentation, our passports, and I paid him. Whoops.... he needed cash and I did not have enough EC on hand! But by this time my PAYS friend, Daniel, had returned and he lent me the needed money! All was well and I felt ridiculous for ever feeling uneasy.

Unconventional, weekend version of the customs office for check in clearance. Although strange and initially disconcerting to be lead to a back roads concrete residential building, it was ultimately fairly easy. Dominica also does not require a separate checkout upon departure for short stays, which is very convenient.

Land Exploration

We found Dominica quite intriguing and fantastic on land (not so much on the water... see further below). Portsmouth is the town on Prince Rupert Bay and the second largest city in Dominica, next to the capital of Roseau at the southern end of the island. There is a mixture of French and English spoken (the local dialect can be challenging to understand for my naive ears, even when English is being spoken) and the currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (about 2.7EC to 1USD). People were extremely friendly and seemed to welcome cruisers. The buildings are seemingly haphazard; amenities and commodities are very rudimentary. This is clearly third world lacking any sign of abundance except for the never ending fresh fruit.

Open local produce market along the main strip in Portsmouth. I initially was accidentally offended a couple of vendors when I tried to negotiate on the price. Whoops. I soon learned that this was not the way here and I felt a tad ashamed.

Fresh coconut milk being poured in the market.

Busy town dock.

Dozens of small, simple fishing boats bring their daily catch to the main concrete dock in Portsmouth.

Alexis, one of the PAYS guys, guided us up the enchanting Indian River. Scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean II were shot here.

Alexis from PAYS arranged for Robert (aka Bob) to take us to explore the Syndicate rain forest and waterfall. Robert was a complete joy to spend the day with sharing his knowledge and experiences. Dominica has strict requirements for their certified tour guides who must be very knowledgeable about the island's history and plant & animal species.
The Syndicate rain forest is part of Morne Diabolitin National Park and is filled with the gigantic Gommier trees (dacryodes excelsa).

Enjoying freshly picked and peeled grapefruit along the path. Robert also found and gathered cinnamon, sage, basil, lemon grass and thyme. We were able to use the spices in our cooking on the boat during the following days.

Yes, we really swung on long vines across a river!

In addition to the beauty of the rain forest, it was surprisingly serene. Only two other hikers were passed over several hours as we made our way eventually to a waterfall.
Restaurant options with good local food seemed to be scarce perhaps partially due to it being a bit prior to the real tourist season. But we experienced some eclectic places.

We joined the PAYS sponsored beach BBQ Sunday night with grilled fish and chicken and very strong rum punch along with a reggae band.

My PAYS friend, Daniel. Daniel helped me with the unconventional customs check in upon arrive our first morning.

Very funky beach bar and WiFi by Felix who also displays his beautiful art inside.

View of Argon anchored in the distance across a calm Prince Rupert Bay with a bottle of Presidente beer in the foreground from Sandy's beach bar. Unbeknownst to us, this calm water would soon be changing.

Experimenting muddling various local fresh fruits for some yummy beverages on board. Yes, there was rum in addition to the club soda!

But All Was Not Well in Paradise... 

The initially serene anchorage became very uncomfortable as some weather far off to the southwest produced some waves that rolled easily into Prince Rupert Bay. The two and a half mile wide bay opening offers no protection from seas with a westerly component.  The relatively constant trade winds had the boats pointing mostly south-east which put these rollers on our sides causing some pretty dramatic rolling side to side.

After a sleepless night and no sign of the conditions easing up, we decided to deploy a stern anchor using our Fortress 23 (which is perhaps one size too big for this purpose but manageable with the dinghy) to keep us somewhat pointing into these waves. The stern anchor helped a bit, however, when a squall would come through with an associated burst of high winds from a different direction, our stern anchor either held us parallel to the rollers not allowing us to swing with the changing winds, or other boats would swing too close to us and we needed to redeploy.

This two and a half minute video shows a bit of the conditions leading us to deploy the stern anchor in an attempt to keep Argon perpendicular to the rollers. Needless to say, no relaxing morning coffee in the cockpit! Conditions "improved?" when we moved to the southern part of the harbor but not enough for us to stick around.

Along with a handful of other boats, we decided to move to the southern part of the large harbor which seemed like it might offer some protection from the rollers, however, we would be outside the protection zone of our PAYS friends. At first, we got some relief from the rolling but we continued to experience squalls. In addition, we were unsure if it was safe to leave the boat unattended in this part of the harbor which is out of range of PAYS oversight. Later, the rollers started coming in from slightly more north and this part of the harbor no longer provided any protection from them.  After two days of these rolling conditions, we reluctantly cut our time in Dominica short, hauled anchor, and set sail for the french islands of Les Saintes 24nm north which would offer more protection.

Good bye Dominica!

Although we were disappointed to limit our time in Dominica to less than four days, we were to soon be anchoring in an unexpectedly gorgeous and relaxing harbor off Terre-de-Haut, part of the french islands of Les Saintes. Dominica was our southern most stop on this journey; we now begin leisurely exploration and island hoping northward for the next few months.

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!!

31 October 2016

Offshore Passage to Bermuda

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Let's Start at the End... 

1900 hours on Wednesday 26 October (approximately 82 hours in to our transit):
I hailed Bermuda Radio on VHF channel 16 about 25nm away from the island, per required procedure, requesting permission to enter St. George Harbor and check in to customs. The friendly Bermudian operator with a slightly Scottish accent asked a series of standard questions about the crew, vessel, safety gear, and our intent; and requested I contact him again when we arrived at C buoy 2.5nm before the narrow opening, ominously named "The Town Cut", leading in to St. George Harbor and our destination. Excitement and anticipation eclipsed our fatigue.

Final 25nm leg was fast and exhilarating, much like the entire passage. Our fatigue was pushed aside as the first glimpses of the island were visible as dusk approached. We closed in on the island as dark set in, with only scattered navigational lights and distant land lights visible as we sailed fast just north of the outer reef.

Argon screamed along with full main and 150% genoa at 9kts heading southwest on a beam reach in 20+kts of wind for these last couple of hours continuing to require strong helming to ride the generous seas.

Argon skirted north of the outer reefs of Bermuda then turned downwind at Kitchen Shoal finishing her port tack heading south in complete darkness. Mariners unfamiliar with this area are warned not to enter at night but with four prior passages to Bermuda between Lance and Bob, we felt capable, although alert and appropriately nervous, entering the narrow inlet with many of the channel markers unlit. Only a sliver of a waning moon and a maze of distant navigational and land lights broke up the blackness.

As we approached C buoy, I again hailed Bermuda Radio and we received permission to enter St. George Harbor and report in to Customs and Immigration. For the first time in 650nm and 85 hours, the engine was fired up and the sails were dropped and furled. The winds and seas were still up tossing Argon about as we motored. Bob was tethered in on the foredeck with a spotlight to help us find the unlit channel markers and guide Argon in through "The Town Cut" in choppy seas. Once we transited the intimidating, narrow doorway in to St. George Harbor, it was as if we entered another world.... Suddenly, after days of winds mostly above 20kts and seas often greater than 10 feet creating a constant roar of water around Argon, we were in a tranquil, peaceful bay. We did it, and we did it well! But not without some challenges and adventure.

Argon at the quarantine dock at the Customs and Immigration office, St. George Bermuda. The extremely friendly customs official walked us through the paperwork as he checked our passports and vessel documentation.

Sharing the traditional Dark-n-Stormy's after clearing Customs, first at the White Horse...

... then more Dark-n-Stormy's Wahoo's. We all slept well that night.


  • Distance and speed:  650nm in 85 hours... that is an average speed of 7.65kts! Argon often surfed down big waves at 11-13kts! We even saw 15 and 16kts a couple of times. Crazy given our hull speed is just over 7.5kts. Much faster than the 120 hours initially planned.
  • Diesel burned: 0.75 gallons. Pretty cool to travel with our entire home hundreds of miles on less than a gallon of fuel.
  • Conditions: Great for constant fast sailing; very challenging especially the first 40 hours of the trip; this was expected based on the forecast. Winds mostly around 20kts initially out of the west, then veering to northwest and eventually north; some winds 30+kts. Seas often around 10 feet and sometimes 15 feet.
  • Casualties:  Three dead birds, one dead flying fish, one boat injury, and one bruised human.

Let's Start with Explaining the Casualties: birds, flying fish, topping lift, and Bob

When we were well over 100nm off shore, a friendly but tired little bird joined the crew of Argon. He was not at all intimidated by us and seemed content to explore the cockpit and sometimes flew down below to the cabin. When he nestled in to some bed sheets, I gently scooped him up in a cloth napkin and he seemed content to nest there for the entire night. Well, until he was found toes up in the morning.

The friendly bird visitor did not survive the night.
The next day we had a pair of chickadees join us. Initially they busied themselves pecking at various places seemingly to nibble at the salt deposits gathering everywhere. Dismayed that I allowed the last bird to croak, I worked hard to offer these friendly visitors fresh water and various foods, which they ignored.

Two more birds joined us for the ride. They surely wandered way too far off shore as we were hundreds of miles from any land. They were completely tame often landing on us and just hanging out in the cockpit.

This chickadee found sheltered in a starboard rolled up side panel as sunset approached, seemingly wanting to settle in for the night.
But alas, although both of these two visitors were alive in the morning, they were not very chipper; and within a few hours after sunrise, after continued failed attempts at getting them to eat or drink, both had died.

I have since learned that there are various meanings to dead birds. The interpretation I chose to believe for these three doomed avian visitors is that a dead bird symbolizes: 

a new beginning... the end of something and the start of something else

Yes, very appropriate.

We had a running joke on board about flying fish. Lance and I would see flying fish but Bob always seemed to miss them. This apparently also happened the last time Bob sailed to Bermuda with Lance. Bob was beginning to think everyone was teasing him about the existence of such creatures. During one of Bob's night shifts, he heard a strange noise kind of like something hitting and fluttering around the port side cockpit enclosure but could not see anything. After we had arrived in Bermuda and daybreak came, we found the culprit... the elusive flying fish who by that time was quite stiff and smelly.

Forth animal to die in the cockpit of Argon, a flying fish.
Argon proved a strong and reliable yacht for the open ocean. The only structural issue we had was a broken topping lift. This is a strange failure as there is no load on the topping lift while the sail is hoisted, and the sail never came down the entire transit. 

The adjustable part of the topping lift with what is left of the block which attaches it to the cable from the top of the mast.
Topping lift repair the morning after arriving in Bermuda. This was the only thing that broke on Argon for the entire passage.
The final casualty was Bob suffering several bruises from a fall in the cockpit. I was at the helm on port tack so we were heeling to starboard. Bob was standing in the port side of the cockpit attempting to adjust the traveler when a large wave slammed in to us on the port side. This knocked the boat way over on its side causing Bob to go airborne and "fall" across the cockpit. Argon has a wide cockpit but at that heeling angle, it's a tall cockpit! Bob was tethered in, of course, and this kept him from rolling over the coamings into the lifelines and stanchions. This was a great affirmation of our "always tethered in" rule in the cockpit. Bob also learned that it really knocks the wind out of you when you fall and your tether pulls tight!

Safely double tethered on starboard bench trying to get some sleep after getting thrown across the cockpit. It was scary for me to see Bob being hurtled across as the wave hit us but I really wish I had the Go Pro camera going at the time... would have been a great shot!

Now, Back at the Beginning...

Weather Forecast and Final Preparations Before Departure

The couple of days prior to departing Hampton, Virginia were busy with last minute preparations. The day prior our third crewman, Lance, arrived and we had time to review plans, line handling, weather forecast, and have a fun evening.

Our third crewman, Lance Ryley, arrived the day prior to departure. This provided plenty of time to review preparations, rigging, etc.

Lance examines the charts and checks our plotted waypoints.

Lance's friend, Professor Greg Cutter, happens to be a oceanographer and very experienced sailor. Greg brought along his weather modeling data so we could compare with the forecast from our weather router. It was reassuring to see the data align. And although the conditions were to be robust, the vessel and crew were prepared.

We started medication to prevent seasickness the day prior. A combination of Scopolamine Patches and Stugeron was effective in staving off seasickness for all of us.

Pulling away from Hampton, Virginia Public Pier at 0745 Sunday 23 October 2016. Photo is courtesy of our dock neighbors, Tina and Steve from Nova Scotia.

The Sailing and Blue Water

From the Hampton, Virginia area, Bermuda lies on a course about 115 degree (true). That said, the crossing of the Gulf Stream is usually done at some pre-planned entry and exit waypoints to take advantage of favorable eddies which spin off from the stream.

Argon was hailed on the VHF just a couple hours in to our journey as we passed the Cape Henry Virginia Pilot Tower. The Operator noticed Argon was a Tartan and called to ask our model and where we were headed. He also owns a Tartan (3700) and is planning a southerly journey in a few years. The Tower Operator kindly e mailed us this photo he took of Argon through binoculars.

The initial 200nm of the journey was on starboard tack. The wind and seas picked up as forecasted as we entered the Atlantic Ocean. We were prepared for a rough initial 36-40 hours and the conditions did not disappoint.
At the helm during Day 1. Temperatures started off cool but warmed along the passage.
The water becomes a deep, ink blue as we sail well in to the Atlantic Ocean. We were scheduled to hit the Gulf Stream about 2300 that night.

The first sunset off the stern of Argon about 11 hours and 90 miles in to our trip. We were making good time and our spirits were prepared for the expected increasing winds and seas as we approached the Gulf Stream for a night crossing.

Bob was at the helm around 2100 when the seas became significantly more rough. The six to eight foot following waves increased to twelve feet and the periods decreased somewhat causing the boat to be tossed around more. Fortunately, the wind stayed from its forecasted westerly (and even slightly southwesterly) direction which was favorable to ensure there would not be wind opposing the Gulf Stream current. However, many large waves relentlessly charged against our stern quarter requiring much diligence and strength at the helm. This was to become the norm for the rest of the passage.

We hit our stream entry waypoint exactly.  Because of wind direction, we left the stream well south of our planned exit waypoint. To hit it would have required a jybe overnight, and we felt it better to not attempt that maneuver in those conditions. Besides, the crew was actually starting to sleep a bit on their off-watch times by now.

The most difficult part of the trip for me was my watch at the helm during the first night transiting the Gulf Stream as I used all of my strength to control Argon's rudder through each huge wave coming up behind. And in the pitch black, one is going completely by sound and feel of the approaching wave. At one point, I became disoriented and lost control of my direction accidentally jybing... the boom violently thrust to the other side of wind alarming my crew mates.  Fortunately, we had a reefed main at the time so the impact was not so huge. As I regained my composure, and with a bit of support from Lance who was resting in the cockpit at the time, we jybed back in a more controlled manner and I resumed my watch a bit shaken but focused.

Dawn of the second day and the other side of the Gulf Stream.

Brilliant sunrise of Day 2 after transiting the Gulf Stream. The winds increased to 30kts and the seas increased with occasional 15 footers all day!

Lance at the helm. We were very disciplined about using our tethers at all times, clipping in from the companionway before entering the cockpit.
The first 36-40 hours were all hand steering, no autopilot at all, as the seas were too big for the autopilot to steer in to; in addition, when manually steering one can better anticipate the waves when feeling the stern start to rise and compensate in time to avoid turning dangerously in to the wind. We were able to use the autopilot with some regularity a good part of Day 3 but overall, we manually steered at least 75% of the time.

Continuous walls of brilliant blue water rise behind Argon. We transited an impressive 206nm during the first 24 hours (which is an average speed of almost 9kts!) often surfing down waves at 11-13kts, and even occasionally hitting 15 and 16kts, well above Argon's hull speed.
The most challenging part of the sail came during the second day when we were sailing with a double reefed main and the big genoa. The winds increase to 30+ kts. It took both Bob and Lance to furl in the genoa with the enormous load on that huge sail while I struggled to keep Argon pointing low, so that the main would offer some shielding, but working hard to avoid jybing or rounding up in the 15 foot seas. 

Another spectacular sunset in large seas as our second night approaches. I was not looking forward to another 12 hours of darkness in high winds and large seas.
Sailing in the darkness in mild conditions can be very relaxing and zen-like. However, for me, sailing at night in 20-30kt winds and 10-15 foot seas is the opposite of relaxing; it is moderately terrifying. One relies heavily on instruments fixated on the wind gauge ensuring Argon stays on a broad reach, but careful not to jybe as the huge waves roar up from behind; and keeping close watch to the compass heading as we were expecting a wind shift from west to northwest and needed to time a midnight jybe.

We jybed during the second night shifting to a port tack which we would hold for the rest of the trip.

Going forward on the deck is not taken lightly in these conditions. Double tethered and with complete concentration, Bob is securing the flailing topping lift by taping it to the spinnaker halyard to keep it from fowling anything or causing any other damage.

The non-stop tossing of the boat gets very tiring both in the cockpit and down below. But our spirits stay up the entire journey. Our clothing got lighter the further along we traveled as we enjoyed warming temperatures.

The seas offshore are cobalt blue walls of water growing behind the stern; marbled with bright, white, fizzing foam; the tips of the most mature waves were topped off with a translucent turquoise ridge as the sun shined through.

That's a big wall of deep, ink blue water coming up behind Bob.

Motion Picture

Here is a short video of some scenes from the passage. It was basically like this for 85 hours as we cycled through our watches. Our lives consisted of sailing, resting, eating, sailing, resting, eating, etc. We all had plenty of time on the helm negotiating these seas. It's very hard to capture the impressive size of some of these waves with a video camera.  Not only that, but Bob is sure that the seas always get flatter as soon as we roll video.



We encountered more traffic than expected but were always able to spot it on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) well in advance and track the course of a couple of cruise ships and cargo ships. Two of our ocean companions were a bit tricky. The first was a tug but we could not see his towing lights at first; the tug captain hailed us to explain to us that he was towing a 700 foot barge. We confirmed we would alter course and pass behind the tow by turning upwind. With the high winds and full sails, handling Argon was difficult as was knowing for sure that we were clearing the lengthy tow in the dark night. But after a stressful half an hour or so, we were safely past, fell off the wind, and resumed our course.

The next night we were on course to cross uncomfortably close to an 800 foot tanker. Lance hailed him and he surprisingly indicated that we should hold our course and he would alter. This is unusual as sailboats are more maneuverable and we are the ones that normally alter course, not the tanker. We held course, and we held our breath, as we continued to monitor our converging paths. After a spell, it was obvious that we were well out of range and we were able to sit back again.


Celebration and Debrief

No amount of exhaustion could keep us from celebrating the completion of our passage. Thus at about 2130 (ADT) hours immediately after clearing customs and tying Argon to the Yachting Center sea wall, we hopped over to the White Horse for celebratory Dark-n-Stormy's. Then on to the more vibrant Wahoos Bistro around the corner for another round. Lance and Bob were thrilled to see their old friend Geza Wolfe ("Klaus" to us) working diligently behind the bar as he was last December when they landed in Bermuda on s/v Acedia. Despite the kitchen being closed at this late hour, Klaus fired up the fry-o-later for chicken wings and fries for the hungry sailors.

Lance and Geza Wolf (aka Klaus) at Wahoos.

As we drank and laughed, we also talked about what went well and what we could have/should have done better. (Ok... this is because of me, but the guys played along.)

What Went Well:
  • Crew dynamics and camaraderie
  • Preparedness of the vessel and crew
  • Conditions were challenging but as predicted/expected and we mostly handled them well (see below for mostly caveat)
  • The food (Lance felt well-fed) 
  • Rhythm of the watches, taking turns at helm as needed based on conditions and fatigue
What Went Less than Well:
  • Linda's accidental midnight jybe
  • Waiting too long (as the winds rose) to furl in the genoa

Lance's Feedback

Lance Ryley is a very experienced sailor and his input on how the boat is rigged and sailed is invaluable. He had a few great suggestions during the trip:

Lance cranked the Autopilot up to "performance" mode. Argon, with her big fat comfortable cockpit gets knocked way over when large waves hit her on the stern quarter. The autopilot was never able to recover from these - hence all the manual steering. In performance mode, it should do a little better.  Bob may dig into the setup as well and see if there is anything to tweak for offshore performance.

Reefing off the wind
We found ourselves needing to put in a reef after a couple good wipe-outs. Bob and I have always turned up into the wind to do this. Given the sea state at the time, this seemed impossible or at least very dangerous. "You can't reef off the wind? Why not?" Lance said. We tried it. It worked perfectly.  We learned something.

Marking Reefing points on lines
With Argon's slab-reefing system, you lower the halyard and then take up about 4x the amount of line on the reefing line. It requires constant looking aloft and at the end of the boom to know when things are set.  Lance suggested marking the halyard and reefing lines with some whipping (stitching) so those points are very easy to find while making the adjustments. Bob did this yesterday at anchor.

Lance flew back home a couple of days ago after we enjoyed the island a bit and we moved Argon from the sea wall out to the anchorage. Now that this major passage is completed, and we find ourselves surrounded by warm, turquoise water and palm trees in a new country, it definitely feels as if we have started a new chapter of this journey... Perhaps those perished birds really did symbolize a new beginning... the end of something and the start of something else. And now we are eagerly awaiting a visit from a couple of our boys later in the week and starting to think about the next, longer passage southward.

Sitting in my new blogging office!

a new beginning... the end of something and the start of something else

Now time to enjoy Bermuda for a bit and an upcoming visit from two of our sons!