North Atlantic Crossing Part 1 – An unexpected stop in Bermuda

Departure Day

Here we go, ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean! Last night‘s tropical depression passed west of us and we only got gusts up to 28 kts. Perfect to get some sound sleep without much healing or rocking before we embark on basically a sometimes smooth but sometimes thrilling roller coaster ride for 3-4 weeks. The garbage is disposed of on land one last time, the dinghy stored on deck, the wind vane installed. We just pulled up the anchor and left Nassau’s harbour. Max delicious curry is sitting precooked on the stove, ready to be eaten when we get hungry. The wind comes reasonably strong from SW, we have the full genoa out and sail with 6 knots towards the open ocean. After a few days we expect a large calm area, which is supposed to form after the storm around Bermuda.

Day 1 at sea

With moderate wind and constant rain we left Nassau yesterday. The boys used the rain as refreshing shower. But already in the afternoon, the wind let us down and we slowly drifted by Eleuthera, the last island of the Bahamas, which was the last stretch of land between us and the North Atlantic. In the late afternoon, the sails started to flap. That ruins every sailor‘s mood. Actually, we had hoped the wind would last for at least one more day. Well, now we were in the calm and had to wait patiently for the wind to come back. In the evening we could sail till sunset with the Spinnaker until the lightwind sail also collapsed. Unfortunately we owe the good progress through the night to our engine. In the morning we could then hoist spinnaker again. The huge light wind sail allows us to sail in very little wind, but is not easy to handle and always needs at least two of us on deck to get it down fast, if the wind increases. And that’s exactly what just happened. Although we‘ve been only sailing for 24 hours, we had several sail changes already. At least we get a little exercise. Hopefully, the wind remains this time, because with perfect sailing conditions we are about to catch up on a friend‘s boat, which we only expect to be 50-70 nautical miles ahead of us. Not that this was a race…

Day 2 – A morning swim in the ocean

All day yesterday we could sail with much more wind than predicted. Everybody onboard is well and we slowly grow back our sea legs and adjust to the watch rhythm. Only at sunset the wind disappeared again and the Genoa started flapping. So the engine came back into action until this morning. In the morning we tried to hoist the Spinnaker but even that didn‘t stay inflated. Since the warm rays of sun were already pushing through the clouds, we decided to take down all sails and to jump into the 5000 meter deep ocean. A great refreshment and at the same time intimidating feeling to look down into the deep blue water and to think which sea creatures might just happen to swim below us. After that, the engine was cranked up again and we hope that the wind increases by a few knots soon so that we can at least sail. As a moral booster, there was freshly baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Day 3 – Calm seas

The sea is so incredibly calm that sometimes you might think we‘d sail on a lake, which makes life on board very pleasant. We bake bread, cook, watch movies and read books. All yesterday afternoon it rained and the person on watch got wet while all others were hiding below deck. Since yesterday, Vivi does her own solo watches meaning after 3 hours on, we can rest for 9 hours. What a luxury! During the day it is warm, but at night we put on more layers. It isn’t actually cold with 24°C, but of course we are now used to tropical climates for one and a half years. Sometimes we had to start Perkins, our diesel engine, in the last 24 hours because the sails started flapping in the decreasing winds. We hope for enough wind today or tomorrow, otherwise we would have to stop to refuel in Bermuda. Although we motor slowly to save fuel Porky glides much faster through the water with her freshly scrubbed hull. We owe the bad 24-hour mileage mostly to a nasty current, which slowed us down with up to 2 knots at night. Now with full sails up we enjoy the quiet noise of waves rushing along the hull, of the wind blowing through the rigging and the wind generator turning while we sail northeast towards Bermuda.

Day 4 – Change of plan

Yesterday noon it was hot in the blazing sun, so we wore hats, sunglasses and UV protective clothing on deck. We were able to sail well until the afternoon, when the wind died again. At least the mild current was now with us. When we wanted to hoist the Spinnaker, we fortunately noticed before pulling it up that the halyard’s mantle was completely shaved through only leaving the core exposed. We therefore decided not to fly the Spinnaker until we find what causes the shaving. We poled out the genoa while slowly progressing. We also had the fishing line out for the first time but have not caught anything yet. Unfortunately, we had to throw most of the 4 cabbages overboard, which were completely moldy already. Cabbage is usually one of the most long lasting fresh foods. Well, we still have plenty of other food onboard. During the night, the noise and vibration of the engine was nerve wrecking. As soon as we could turn the engine key in the morning and let the wind carry us over the calm water the bad mood vanished right away. The weather forecasts for the next few days seem to agree that the becalmed area south of Bermuda remains the same. Therefore, we are now aiming a bit more north, in the eternal hope of a few more knots of wind. Since we have consumed much more diesel than planned, we decided to stop briefly in Bermuda, 370 nautical miles ahead, to refuel. Very practical that the archipelago is located exactly on our way to the Azores.

Day 5 – Sailing and games

Yippee, it’s been more than 24 hours solely sailing and the engine remained turned off. That meant no earplugs and vibrating heads while sleeping in Daniel’s and Antonia’s aft cabin! We are slowly progressing but that doesn’t bother us at all as long as the wind fills the sails. With our daily trivia exchange via the satellite phone with our friends on SV Philos, who are currently at sea heading for Curacao, we keep ourselves entertained. Vivi beat us all yesterday at Stadt-Land-Fluss (a German knowledge game). Our British friend on SV Barefoot, whom we met in Honduras and who left the Bahamas the same day with us towards the Azores, has chosen a more eastern route and motored much less, because he doesn’t want to stop in Bermuda. Yesterday morning, we were already over 70 nautical miles north of him; after yesterday’s tack to north probably much more by now. It will be interesting to see how the different routes play out in terms of time and comfort. A little misfortune happened to us in the galley yesterday, as a carton of milk spilled and we had to take everything out of the fridge and clean thoroughly. Such mishaps are no problem in such calm seas and easily fixed. At the same time, it allowed us to take inventory of the refrigerated food and check everything for spots or mold. Well, such simple daily tasks keep us busy at sea. During the day we even trawl 2 fishing lines behind the boat, but no fish has bitten so far. We’re still trying different lures until we find a “lucky one” for this crossing. Are fishermen just as superstitious as sailors? With the wind, we no longer need to steer by hand during night watch. Very relaxed! Since our electric autopilot has not been working for a long time, we have become used to hand-steering while running under the engine. However, we rarely use the engine for so long that it gets exhausting or boring behind the steering wheel. After several nights manually steering, we are glad that Tippin ‘Tony, our mechanical wind vane, now keeps Porky reliably on course. We just passed a weather buoy by a few meters to starboard. We were asking ourselves what data exactly the long antenna bobbing in the waves records for marine research or meteorology purposes. Otherwise, there is nothing but blue water and the horizon surrounding us.

Day 6 – Bird on the hook

For several days now our boat was circled by paradise birds. Every time we joyfully search the sky when the elegant, white birds with their long tail feathers announce themselves with their intrusive chirps. We don‘t know if its the same group or always different individuals that curiously look at our boat. Since the sea creatures don‘t really show themselves yet, we enjoy every company we get from the air. Daniel and Antonia already spotted small, not particularly playful dolphins next to the boat at night, but they disappeared again quickly. We regularly have to clean our fishing lines from sea weed. The self-built soda can fishing alarm goes off often, but mostly it is false Sargassum alarm. We are close to the Sargasso sea, from which the sea weed allegedly spread across vast areas of the Atlantic ocean. It is located west of the mysterious Bermuda triangle, which we are crossing. There are many horror stories about planes and ships that mysteriously disappeared between Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, but apart from little wind and a lot of sea weed, we have not yet found anything mysterious or extraterrestrial and at least we believe that our compasses are still working. We’ll figure out whether that’s true when we expect to see Bermuda in 170nm on the horizon. When we pulled in the reel the last time our fish alarm went off, we immediately saw two large wings fighting with all the strength to stay above the water surface. Well, before we even caught a fish, we had a bird on the hook. That’s never happened to us before! It wasn’t one of the paradise birds, who had gone for our bait, but a seagull. It was so exhausted that it patiently sat on the bathing platform, while Max removed the hook which luckily only superficially pierced the side of its head. As soon as the bird was free, it immediately jumped in the water, shook itself as to let go of the shock and rose up into the air again after a few bumpy flying attempts. Surgery succeeded! We believe it will survive the incident without any greater damage. At night we had really good wind and are now sailing broad reach with both sails fully hoisted on course towards Bermuda. We should arrive there in 1-2 days. Friends wrote us that clearing into Bermuda is expensive. We therefore think we’ll only briefly stop in transit to fill up on diesel and continue sailing to the Azores straight away.

Day 7 – Marine life sightings

It’s been exactly a week at sea now and the mood on board is very relaxed. Already tonight we plan to arrive in Bermuda, possibly drop anchor for the night and refuel on Monday morning. We then immediately leave for the Azores. Current weather forecasts show a front with strong NW winds from Tuesday to Thursday. We’ll continue to watch the weather conditions and accordingly plan our route. After reporting yesterday that the sea life seems to hide from us, they suddenly showed themselves. It started with a huge marlin on our fishing line. Max tried to pull it in, while the largest fish we’ve ever had on the hook jumped several times out of the water and showed itself in all his splendor with its sword-like mouth and long dorsal fin. It ripped off the hook pretty quickly, which is good, because that would’ve been way too much fish for us 4 to eat. But we are getting closer to catching the first fish! Just a short moment after, two pilot whales jumped out of the water a few hundred meters to our starboard side and then swam slowly away. While we devoured Daniel’s delicious chili in the early evening, we sailed past several tiny (about 20 cm) transparent sails on the water. At first you think it would be plastic, but when looking closely, you can recognize the blue-purple shimmering, with gas filled bubble of the Portuguese Man o‘Wars. These fascinating colonies of polyps spend all their lives on the ocean‘s surface and drift with the wind and currents. What looks so inconspicuous above the water surface, reveals up to 12 meters long (which corresponds to the length of Porky) extremely toxic tentacles, which entangle stunned fish for food. Nature never fails to impress. When I downloaded the latest weather update during my night watch sitting in the cockpit, I suddenly heard the exploding sound of air coming out of several breathing holes right next to me. Even before I could raise my head, I knew that Porky was surrounded by a pod dolphins. Full of excitement I jumped up and cheered, while about 10 mammals appeared in the moonlight from all sides around the boat for several minutes. No matter how often it happens, the feeling of dolphins accompanying your sail boat will always be special. Anyhow, I hope my euphoria did not wake up the others…

Day 8 – Quick stop in Bermuda

As long as it is still warm enough, we take advantage to wash on deck with salt water. We pour the now chilly sea water over our head with a bucket. After the first shock, it feels very refreshing, especially in the light winds. Plus we can also use the opportunity to hand wash some clothes, which we then hang on the lifelines for drying. The further we move Northeast, the colder the water and air temperature gets and we put on more and more layers at night. In the afternoon we saw another sailboat on the horizon for the first time. It appeared to be much bigger than us also on its course toward Bermuda. With its spinnaker and full main hoisted it was much faster than us too. Later, we learned that two regattas (the Clipper-Around-the-World Race and the Annapolis-Bermuda race) arrived with us and kept the radio traffic entertaining. In the afternoon we finally caught our first fish. The medium sized jack (at least we believe that it was one) had enough meat and offered us a delicious dinner. Upon approaching, we hailed Bermuda Radio and learned that every boat is required to clear in, even if you stay less than 24 hours without going ashore. When we entered the narrow but well-marked channel into the bay, we were hit by the smell of land. After several days at sea, the scent of trees was so strong that the vegetation almost smelled artificial for us. After that, we were directed to the Customs & Immigration Dock, where we got permission to stay at anchor overnight and to take on diesel early in the morning before leaving again today. We were surprised to be welcomed by very friendly officials at 3 o’clock at night. It was almost scary, how quiet the boat laid in the protected anchorage, without any waves, healing, or creaking noise. It was so incredibly quiet that one might think to hear the own thoughts while falling asleep. When the sun rose after a few hours of sleep, a small village with colorful, colonial houses appeared next to the boat. During the night we could only recognize lights and outlines along the coast. Now dark green vegetation surrounds the town and then turns into a rocky coastline. Too bad that we will not explore this archipelago. It was still good that we could replenish our diesel supplies, if we were to hit more windless days. After refueling, we will get going again today. We already have 1/3 of the crossing behind us, but 1800 nautical miles still to go to the Azores. Let’s go!

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