to Bermuda -- November 2000
We made our
passage from Hampton to Bermuda with fellow Hampton Yacht Club members
Tina Lotts and Lou
We left late
morning the 18th of November, not in much of a hurry because Herb
Hilgenberg had told us the weather was not conducive to a Gulf Stream
crossing. Herb is an amateur meteorologist in Canada, who runs a
net on the SSB radio every day (as far as we can tell, he works
7 days a week, and takes no vacation). He plots the positions of
every boat on his net, and makes up detailed weather forecasts for
each boat. At about 2:30 p.m., EST, all the participants call in,
and at 3:00 Herb comes on, calling each boat in turn, finding out
their lat/lon and how things are going aboard, and then gives them
the weather forecast, usually going 3 or 4 days out along their
routes. The number of boats on the net at any given time can be
upwards of a hundred, and this whole process takes until 6:00 or
later. Of course, you only have to stay on long enough for Herb
to get to you, and because he follows the same sequence daily (Bermuda,
then Eastern Atlantic, north to Nova Scotia, then Western Atlantic,
thence south to the Islands, over to get the boats crossing from
the Canaries, then the Caribbean and Bahamas) one can tell approximately
when he'll call, so it's not necessary to stay on the whole time.
But sometimes he pauses to chat and other times just streaks through,
so you have to start listening 15 minutes or so before you expect
to get called. Anyway, Herb may or may not be an accurate forecaster,
but lots of cruisers swear by him, and he's the best source of data
on big things like tropical depressions, fronts, lows, etc., relative
to your own boat's position.
Herb was saying
a big low (developing gale) was about to come up from the Gulf of
Mexico and across our path, so we should either wait in harbor or
head south down the coast to about the latitude of Beaufort, then
enter the Gulf Stream behind the low. We chose the latter option,
planning to take advantage of the lower winds on the western side
of the moving storm and also of the west winds expected right behind
the gale (recall that winds go counterclockwise around lows). So
we sailed south, along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, making
good progress in northerly winds, but not heading toward Bermuda.
By midday the
19th, we were past Hatteras and continuing south. We entered the
Gulf Stream in an easterly meander, but kept more or less to our
southbound course. Imagine our surprise when Herb told us that we
had almost crossed the Stream and were directly in the path of the
oncoming low! The gale sounded really bad, so we turned around and
sailed back west, out of the Stream and into the bight south of
Hatteras. About midnight the wind went from northeast to north,
and then northwest, and we decided this was our passing low. We
jibed and headed back into the Stream.
By this time,
the northerly winds had been blowing for a day or more, and the
seas were pretty big -- 10 to 15 feet; but we were broad reaching,
and Akka's also pretty big, so it wasn't too bad. Worse than the
seas was the rain, which was light but unrelenting.
We got through
the main body of the Stream by first light. The low did pass through
to the west of us, according to the weather fax we got, but we never
saw it -- the barometer stayed rock-steady at 1016 mb, which is
about average pressure, and the wind didn't go west of northwest
until days later.
The wind was
northwest to west ever after. We had a couple of opportunities to
fly the chute, but the first time, darkness was coming on and everybody
(but Rob) felt it prudent to take it down for nighttime sailing.
The second time, the wind immediately built to over 30 and the pole
toppinglift broke, so again we had to dowse the chute. From then
on, the wind stayed above 25 knots -- too heavy for the chute. The
sun was shining, but we were still in foul weather gear. For all
of Tuesday and half of Wednesday, we ran downwind under increasing
winds and seas, until we were down to our main only, double-reefed.
We were running before the wind, and got some prety exhilerating
rides. Andi managed to hit 16 knots running down the face of one
wave, and then on the next watch Rob caught a monster for a 17 knot
moment! Tina struggled more with the steering, expressing her frustration
with colorful language at the top of her lungs when she felt out
As the wind
started blowing the tops off waves and spume covered the sea around
us, more and more waves broke into the cockpit. One went through
our elderly dodger, blowing out its windows at the seams. Finally,
it became impossible to hold the bow down, and we broached twice,
jibing and breaking the preventer line on the second broach. By
this time, the waves were uniformly over 20 feet high, and breaking.
So we set the staysail, tacked under power, and sat hove-to for
us a chance to get a good night's sleep and even to make some needed
repairs (though any reference to "heaving", to or otherwise, was
discouraged during those repairs). When we squared away late Thursday
(Thanskgiving) morning, we found good following winds continuing,
but the seas had moderated to about 15 feet and they were no longer
curling over at the top. They still made an impressive sight in
the sparkling sunshine as they broke over a northbound
So we didn't
get to do any more "pipeline" surfing, but generally everybody was
a bit happier with the conditions, even enjoying a Thanksgiving
turkey dinner. Eventually, the wind died to the point where we were
motoring, for the first time since we left Hampton a week earlier.
Harbour Radio operator was extremely helpful and courteous, as was
Adam, the customs agent, who turned out to be a friend of Eddie
Williams, our old Hampton friend and fellow J/24 competitor! Adam
told us that he and Eddie crew for John Kenerson in his Etchells
when they compete in Bermuda, and Adam had just returned from a
visit to Hampton, where he had dinner at the Hampton Yacht Club.
The food must have been satisfactory, as Adam gave us a warm reception.
We crossed the
harbor to St. George's Dinghy Club, which was closed until 4:00
p.m., but a member who was there offered to drive us into town.
As we were leaving, a guy drove up on a scooter, and explained that
he had all the yacht club forms for us to fill out, and tokens for
the showers, etc., in case we didn't want to wait until 4:00. He
had been waiting for us, because he had monitored our reports to
Herb on the SSB radio and so knew when to expect us! I'm not sure
the term "friendly reception" even covers our arrival in Bermuda.