Leaving the Caribbean – Heading North

Published: May 18th 2013
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Crossing back across the Atlantic sailors largely have two choices; go direct from the Caribbean to the Azores or go via Bermuda and skip around the western edge of the Azores High to get a better wind angle for the Azores. By choosing to head to Bermuda additional miles are added to the crossing but rather than facing an upwind slog all the way to the Azores with retching children (and adults!) it seems sensible to head the 850 miles to Bermuda. In addition Bermuda is not a place that one might usually travel to. It sits 500 miles from the coast of America and is a beautifully sculpted and manicured island with pastel coloured buildings and white sand beaches encircled with vicious reefs. It is not a centre for yachting but is a transit point for smaller yachts crossing or the final destination for open ocean races, such as the biannual Newport to Bermuda race. For us it is the chance to gradually gain northing and adjust to the cooler sub-tropical climes before the 1800 mile schlep across the Atlantic.

We are joined by Alex Banham and his son Bertie (12) and Jonathan Baumber. Alex was formerly a Royal Navy aero-engineer and now works in engineering for the National Grid. Jonathan has a number of Specsavers branches in the South West. Bertie is dodging school (who are we to talk) and fulfilling a dream to sail across the Atlantic with his Dad. Our newcomers have immediately established themselves as keen and able. Alex has more than his heart’s desire of engineering challenges with Fabiola and Jonathan has a never-ending supply of bonhomie and enthusiasm to get involved with everything. They are very welcome aboard for the upcoming two legs. Neither have done huge amounts of sailing so this will be a relatively steep learning curve but the basics are all they need to start with – the rest will come.

Setting off from Virgin Gorda Sound, having filled with fuel and water we head north with a 25 knot beam reach. The sky was ominous but with a let-up in the rain we had experienced in Nanny Cay we felt that a change in the weather was likely. High pressure systems sitting over the Atlantic, few isobars and only the faintest possibility of a depression from the continental United States the conditions look as good as we could expect. Alex, Bertie and Jonathan were keen as mustard to get on with it. The boat was ready as it ever could be following a comprehensive set of pre-flight checks to include a rig-check, polishing the hull, fixing the engine complaints, fridge and windlass and Lisa having prepared 5 evening meals in advance – all was set.

We made very good speed for the first day until the wind picked up to 35+ knots and we felt the need to use the third reefing point and the staysail but even still Fabiola was still heading northwards at 7 knots but life below was not very comfortable. I think that the daily email logs paint a pretty good picture of what was going on:

Day 1

As at 1115 local time we are:

21 27 48N
64 26 20W
Speed: Average 8 knots
Distance to run: 653m
Wind: ESE 21 - 28 knots

We have endured just shy of 24 hours. It has been a swift beam reach northwards from Virgin Gorda, around the western tip of Anegada and onwards. We will have achieved, I feel sure, a solid 200 mile+ day which is gratifying. The boat is a little wet down below but nothing unexpected with the old girl bashing into quite high seas and plenty water over the deck. The forepeak hatch seal will need re-examining in Bermuda but the others are holding out very well. The Dorado vents will also need an overhaul.

Sea-sickness has been felt by all with JB and Alex, so far, proving the most adept at avoiding the dreaded chunder. We have eaten but fed quite a few fish in return! We are tramping along with 2 reefs in the main and a few rolls in the genoa and all systems are functioning.

We saw one ship crossing from left to right in the evening otherwise very quiet bar a couple of dolphins, a bird or two and a hitchhiking flying fish (posthumous).

We can't raise either Herb (the meteorlogical man) or Rafiki on the SSB (long wave radio) but will keep trying.

All well aboard - if a little skinny! But as the anorexics say "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!"

Day 2

Posn as at 0930:
24 07 277 N
64 38 032 W
Wind direction and speed ENE 25 - 35 knots
Boat Speed 7-ish
Bearing 14 degrees
Pressure 1014
Sea-state Rough

Not such a fun night. Very heavy rainfall and squally thunder storms. JB was not so well on his first night watch of the evening but much better now.

Mildred, our hydrovane, is working loose at the bottom again - this is a real shame as she was proving really effective at holding the general direction and allowing us to work on speed. Additionally we could turn the response down on the electric autopilot (George) and save electricity. Now we are having to run the generator for longer - which seems to be working fine.

We still are leaking diesel into the bunkroom lockers - the temporary repair in St Maarten is not holding and the smell below is a little unpleasant.

I am still not reaching Herb - this may have something to do with the cloud cover and electrical interference with the weather. The GRIBs show that the wind should come round a little more behind us this afternoon - at the moment it is just forward of the beam. We slowed last night in the squalls and reefed down to 3 reefs in the main and just the staysail. This helped all sleep a little more soundly but we did not cover the miles. Yesterday was 192 and I would guess that we should be at about 170 by midday today.

Morale is ok. It would be nice to be able to have 3 square meals a day but that is simply impossible in the galley at 45 degrees! All are getting used to angle but it isn’t comfortable - that said when you are tired you can sleep pretty much anywhere. Cameron is trailblazing in this department. The new boys are doing well – Bertie is proving to be half boy and half mattress.

Day 3

As at 1630 local:


28 12 988N
65 20 688W

Course 030
Speed 8-9 kts
Wind SSE 21 - 25kts
Barometric Pressure 1017mb

Much better 24 hours after feeling a little sad-arsed yesterday we have again started to drive the boat well. Carrying enough sail to punch through the beam sea. The wind, as forecast, has come a little round to the south and the mid 30s are now mid 20s in speed making life more bearable. Water
ingress is manageable but plentiful and needs pumping every 3/6 hours.

Lisa has produced the most amazing curry and morale is on the up. All feel much better than before. We have only 250 miles to go to Bermuda so the end is coming into sight (of this return leg). Still booted and spurred in full oikskins thought and plenty wet enough in the cockpit for ducks! A larger
flying fish ploughed aboard today and encircled for hours by a lonely brown skua - but too windy to get him to land on.

Day 4

As at 1000 13 May
30 31 330N
64 45 968W
Distance to run 110nm
Boat speed 8 kts
Bearing 027
Barometric Pressure 1018
Wind SSE 18kts

This morning JB has knocked up some excellent bacon and egg rolls and some fine coffee - morale is good. Like animals coming out of hibernation we have 3 kids in the cockpit for the first time in ages. Happy troops. We should arrive tonight.

Both Alex and Gill have bad arms, me having been thrown down below across the saloon and Alex has no idea why his is so swollen - both get the same treatment - ibuprofen and a couple of paracetamol. Last night we all enjoyed pleasant new moon watches with a dropping wind and sea and broad reaching along at good speed.

Last night's curry was phenomenal and the curry was made into biryani for those who wanted it during the night - no surprises that the goblins struck and there is now none left.

It has been tough but hopefully the bits we will remember will not be the mammoth pumping-out of bilges but the fine sailing of the last 24 hours. It would be rounded off nicely if we managed to catch a fish - the line is out for the first time since leaving the BVIs 4 days ago.

Day 4 – Part 2

All was going so well until about 30 mins ago (see below).

Just a short while ago we were luckily all on deck having a nice relaxed time at last when we suddenly saw the genoa falling into the sea. On initial inspection it looked like the halyard had parted - but I think it is more serious - there was no tension in the forestay or roller furling foil -
which was on the verge of splitting. I think that we have a broken forestay. We immediately had all hands running around securing halyards, and the pole topping lift, forward to support the mast, a new halyard pulled the sail out of the sea and we immediately furled it away and dropped the
mainsail to take all strain out of the rig. In about 5 / 10 mins we had all ropes out of the water and the engine on.

The crew were fabulous. I have asked a great deal from them this trip and I was amazed at how quickly and brilliantly they reacted. Without doubt it saved the rig from a far worse fate. We are now motoring at 7 knots with a following sea and winds into Bermuda with 68 miles to run - we need to get our skates on a little as the wind will come around in about 12 hours onto the nose which will slow our progress significantly. It will be dark in a few hours but we are now in good shape - monitoring engine temp and gauges to ensure that all is well there. We are rolling around a lot without any lateral support but luckily the sea is nowhere as lumpy as it was and all crew have been given stugeron or scopaderm to dull down the effects. I have tried to call the MRCC at Bermuda to warn them of our arrival - purely as safety measure so that they keep a weather eye out for us. We should arrive in about 10 hours and I will email again then to tell you that we are all in safely. Never a dull moment!

And before technical catastrophes...

Today is the first day that I have surfaced and even been able to do any more than simply survive! This is not an experience or way of life it is an endurance test of the body and mind - one of which I'm not sure I was prepared for. Gill always says that it will be better next time and unfortunately for me it is never better, but simply a new set of challenges that you are faced with every day. OMG - its the hardest thing I have ever done and now puts child birth down the list!

Today is better as we are now only 100 miles away with the sun shining and the thought of a late evening arrival. Boys are ok and are now in the cockpit enjoying a book ( I'm Bored - present from CFB) which the boys and Alex are enjoying, including a new game called "Today, I'm a customs officer and I will allow you to bring....... Its a fun game and the boys seem to have forgotten about being sick and enjoying looking for land.


We arrived St Georges by 0300 having motored the last 75 miles. It was such a shame to end a passage that way. There is an intricate passage through the reefs and into the Town Cut. The Bermuda MRCC (Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre) are very supportive in getting us in safely. It is now that the customs debacle begins. With 40 knots+ in the St Georges anchorage the customs mongs are insistent that we come alongside immediately to check in. So far as I am concerned this is a bridge too far so I flatly refuse and we anchor in the bay opposite with promises to be alongside the following morning prior to 0800. They are not happy.

True to our word Fabiola is alongside the quay with very little water below the keel and we are all required to step inside their small office to clear in. Having done the form-filling we think that we are home and dry. Not a bit of it – Lisa and I are required to report to the customs officer for a 1 hour+ bollocking for breaking the law... An hour later and we are still having all our documents pored over by him with officious pettiness. “Do we know how close we were to being shot last night...” and other utter nonsense to include 6 months in prison or a $10,000 fine. As soon as he says “I could”... do this or that we know we are in the clear but it is a painful process, particularly when Lt Smith pulls out a gun receipt from Alex’s passport which has been in their 12 months – I make a mental note to kill Alex on return to the boat and eventually we are released. After all, as a former sergeant major of mine used to say, “It’s only a bollocking in your listening!” Finally he tells us “and my second task here is to welcome you to Bermuda...” – Lisa and I struggle to stop ourselves from bursting out laughing. Lisa, dressed in dirty pyjamas beneath her oilskins and me not having washed for 4 days – we feel well and truly welcomed!


21st May 2013

Great story, our breakfast table sat in suspense. A prolonged stay in Bermuda sounds bearable! Take it JB won't be back to open the batting on Monday.
22nd May 2013

The Opening Batsmeally good an
Peter, Jane and gang, Thanks for following us. JB has been fabuous. Great repartie, really enthusiastic and helpful. He's also becoming an excellent helmsman. Not sure that I can release him back to the Doctors as we still have many miles to cover. Best wishes, Gill and the gang
25th May 2013

Mojito Anyone???
Sounds like you could have used a Mojito after this "welcoming". Love your blog!
12th June 2013

So right! We have found wild mint in the Azores and might have a go at making some. Are you guys back in the US now? We'd love to keep in touch. Best to reach Lisa at lisa@thebigevent.uk.com Best wishes, Gill and the Gang x
5th June 2013

nice story! when are you planning to leave Bermuda for next step? How many days are you planning on next leg? could you repair the forestay? It seems impossible you lost the forestay without loosing your mast... good job! greetings from italy bob
12th June 2013

Forestay problems
We were lucky that we were all on deck at the time the halyard parted. The forestay stretched but did not part and the GS52 has a keel stepped mast which would have given more support and with the staysail and running backstays connected there was additional support. We left Bermuda over two weeks ago and are now in Flores - the first Azores island. We had a great crossing in mixed conditions. We will cruise here for a couple of weeks and then head to Gibraltar and the Med. Gill

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