Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Travel Report No 70: From Bahamas to Bermuda and the Azores

Travel Report  No 70

From Bahamas to Bermuda and the AzoresFor all the pictures & captions: Picture Gallery No 70

Now that family visits were over, the plan was to sail White Admiral back home to Norway after  more than 10 years of cruising around in the Caribbean. Although we have had a wonderful time, we are now getting older, have had our fill of white beaches and snorkeling and would like to have more time to do other types of travelling.  It is much easier to do ocean crossing with a crew of four rather than two, mainly because of the night watches, and we were happy that two good friends were able to join us for the first leg to the Azores:  Frode Filseth, our old friend and Diana’s colleague, who is an experienced sailor and has sailed with us many times, and Andrew Fraser, an old University friend of Stein’s who studied engineering in Glasgow and is an intrepid traveler. This however was to be his first ocean sail.  

The captain and crew a few days later out at sea: 17th May - Norwegian National Day, hence all the flags.
Stein, Andrew and Frode
Frode arrived on the 10th May and Andrew on the 12th, so more exercise marching to the airport. Frode came through immigration no problem, but Andrew was stopped because he had no return ticket, and had to pay for a flight out of the country which he has hopefully now been refunded. We had ordered a new satellite telephone via Frode, which we knew he had bought, but could not understand why he had not replied to our requests for his bank account number. Now we got the answer, he presented it to Diana with a birthday card, a present from himself, Andrew and their wives, Andreas Hauge (who would join us in the Azores) and his wife, and our old sailing friends Anne and Knut, many thanks to all! The time in Marsh Harbour was spent shopping for provisions and getting the boat ship-shape for the crossing.  Andrew is a keen geo-cacher, so we had a stop first in Hope Town, Elbow Cay, where we also filled water and diesel, and at Man of War Cay, where he could find caches as well as enjoying two interesting islands in the Bahamas.
On the evening of 14th May we were all set to leave, and after a last swim at the Narrows, motored out through the north Man of War channel into the Atlantic Ocean.  Ahead lay 733 nautical miles to St George’s in Bermuda! There was a moderately strong SE breeze the first night and a big swell so we made good progress with the genoa, but it was pretty bumpy. Diana is usually tired on the first day if the weather is rough, so often prepares a casserole dish to eat, this time a chicken stew which we ate on the first day, Stein has to do the serving and any other cooking until Diana is in action again by the second day.  Frode and Andrew soon became friends and made a good team, especially at the kitchen sink where they made short work of the washing-up.  We decided to split the night duties into four, Frode and Andrew would take the first two from 8-11p.m. and 11p.m.-2a.m., alternating as they wished, Stein took the middle of the night watch from 2-5a.m. and Diana the dawn watch from 5-8a.m. This worked well as necessary sail changes could often be made at the beginning or end of Stein’s watch. He generally slept on the sofa in the central cabin, so that it was easy for the person on duty to give him a call if there was any problem. This was particularly important for Andrew who had never had a night duty on a yacht before, but he is a quick learner and was soon able to judge if everything was going as planned, and if any sighted ships were on a collision course or not.

Our biggest problem on this journey was the new  Raymarine autopilot, which had trouble steering, it made us go zig-zag and kept peeping to tell us that we were off-course, so Stein spent quite a bit of time trying to calibrate it, and did eventually manage to get it to steer quite well. This is absolutely necessary for comfort during the night, hand steering is very tiring, even with a crew of four. We began to use our new satellite telephone, nice to be able to send text messages to the family, although we were a bit disappointed that not everybody were able to send messages back, and also that it was not always possible to get adequate satellite connection.
The 733 nautical miles took us five and a half days. For the first two there was a strong SE breeze, then there was a period with variable winds, cloud and  rain when we had to do a lot of motoring, but the wind picked up again the last day with a light NW breeze which gave us a pleasant last night as we approached Bermuda. There was a bright half-moon as we approached and saw the lights on land getting closer, always a thrill after an ocean crossing. After dawn we motored in through the narrow buoyed entrance into St George’s sheltered bay on the north-east side of the island, and we knew from an old Atlantic guide of Frode’s where to tie up at the customs jetty.
Safely tied up at the Custom's Jetty, St George, Bermuda


Checking in was easy and friendly, a minimum of forms to fill out, 35 dollars each to pay, and we were free to explore Bermuda. There was little room for yachts to tie up so an hour later we were lying at anchor out in the bay with other yachts from many countries. Bermuda was new to us all and we spent three days having a good look around.  St George’s is the oldest town on the island, a UNESCO world heritage site, settled in 1612. We found it delightful, with its old well-kept buildings and friendly people. There are no car-hire firms on the island, so we hired a taxi for one day, and were driven around with a running commentary on what we saw. Bermuda looks very prosperous, lots of luxurious homes with well-tended gardens, no litter, small sandy bays and interesting rock formations along the coast.  The prosperity of this old British Colony is due mainly to off-shore banking and to tourism, more than 100 cruise ships stop every year, and the income from these for 2014 is expected to be about 82 million dollars! In addition there are many hotels with visitors from Europe and the States, and a few yachties!  Our patient driver stopped every time Andrew called out that there was a geo-cache nearby, and Andrew and Diana logged 18 new finds! Another day we took a local bus to Hamilton, the capital in the south end of the island, a bright little city on the sea-front with a population of only 1800. Nevertheless it is a busy shopping centre, and we made our way to the marine warehouse for a couple of boat items and new rain-clothes for Stein. His old wet-weather gear was not keeping him dry anymore, so he needed both a good pair of waterproof trousers which we got at the marine store, and a jacket which we found in a sports shop, surprisingly a Norwegian make, Helly Hansen. The city is also very modern and prosperous looking, due to Bermuda’s successful financial and business sectors.  It was amusing to see the dress of the business men which consisted of shirt, tie, jacket and Bermuda shorts! When we stopped one of these men to take his picture he was a little skeptical, but Stein asked so nicely that he let himself be photographed.
Frode, Diana, a local gentleman in typical attire and Andrew. Hamilton, Bermuda.

A Tough Crossing
On 23rd May we were ready to set out on the longest leg of the crossing, 1793 nautical miles to the Azores and Europe! We had managed to get a place alongside one of the quays in St. George’s for the last night, making it much easier for us to get our provisions aboard. As we moved out from the quay, a strong wind caught us giving a little bump and a scratch on the starboard bow. We filled diesel and water at the fuel jetty, took a round in the bay as we tidied up ropes and fenders, then made our way back out through the channel to the Atlantic ocean.  We started off in a fresh SE breeze sailing with the genoa , but by the next day the wind had increased to 35 knots and when Stein saw us surfing at 18 knots for a moment on the speedometer he was quick to reduce sail! The next few days were pretty miserable weather-wise, periods of rain with thunder and lightning, varying winds mostly about 20 knots from N or NW, current which seemed to be against us and bumpy seas. Our new autopilot managed to steer most of the time, but we had periods of hand-steering when there was a strong following wind. Andrew had brought a gadget called Spot which could send out coordinates to up to ten people, so our families and friends could follow our progress using these spots on Google maps. The satellite telephone kept us more or less in touch with families, and Stein and Diana heard about their crazy son Martin’s non-stop 720 km cycle trip from Stockholm to Oslo! It was also surprisingly cold, only about 14 degrees in the sea, and not much more in the air, so we were very happy to have a well-functioning cabin-heater on board.


On the28th May the weather was deteriorating and the barometer falling. By the next day there was 30-40 knots following winds and big, rough seas, and there was no way the autopilot could manage to steer. After two days of hand-steering, doing one hour on and three hours off, we were all tired and on the evening of the 29th, decided that we would lie hove-to for the night with a tiny storm-sail and try to get a good sleep. Once we had done this the boat seemed to be riding the waves ok, and we had our supper with a glass of red wine. But suddenly we experienced the biggest crash we have ever felt as the boat was thrown by what we think must have been a freak wave, which partly broke over us on to port-side. Everything that was loose flew out of its place - books, shells, galley equipment, and we all began to tidy up.  

Just after the freak wave hit port-side and before we knew about the damage outside. Diana starting to tidy up (Photo by Andrew Fraser) 

As Frode went down to his cabin, he noticed water trickling from under his bunk, and at the same time Stein went out to the cockpit to pump out the engine room as a routine and discovered that the port-side engine was covered in sea-water!! It did not take him long to discover the cause – a big hole in the back steps of the port-side hull! The bottom step must have been pushed in by the wave, maybe because it had the bathing steps resting on it. The most important job was to plug the hole, the port-side was already floating lower in the water. First Stein and Frode tried the plastic kayak, but that was too stiff, then they tried the extra genoa sail – a large amount of polyester cloth - and managed to get it into the hole which pretty well stopped the sea flowing in. Towels and sailbags were added later and all heavy items on that end of the boat, inside and outside, were shifted to the opposite end of the boat to get the port stern to float higher. They bailed out the engine compartment, Frode working the pump from outside, Stein standing in water inside nearly up to his waist, and throwing buckets up through the opening. (It is true as the saying goes that there is no pump as efficient as a scared man with a bucket!) while Andrew and Diana bailed the bilges inside the boat, and gradually we managed to get the place fairly dry. Then we discovered that there was a huge compartment under Frode’s bunk which was supposed to be watertight, but it was also full of water and Stein had to drill a hole and cut it wider with a saw before pumping it out.  We spent the first few hours of the night bailing out as seas kept splashing through the plugged hole, with a little sleep for some, but none for Stein who was up all night. As we had no guarantee that the sail would stay in place we gave a message to Martin that we had some damage and a leak in the boat, and that we would send another report when we were sure we were safe.
Next morning, May 30th, the weather has improved, the waves and splashes are smaller and repairs can begin. (Photo by Andrew Fraser)

By morning to our delight the weather had settled and the day was sunny, the barometer was rising quickly and there was a light NE breeze. This was a blessing as it was now essential to get the hole repaired. Stein got out some old boards which had been in our dinghy before we got an inflatable floor, and cut them and some rubber canvas (from an old water tank) to shape to make a cover for the back steps. This he managed to get into place, hanging with a safety line over the stern, with Frode handing him tools and screws and hoping nothing would end up in the sea, which amazingly it didn’t. When the repair was finished and seemed solid, we felt a great sense of relief, and Diana made raisin buns to celebrate. Never has a lunch been more enjoyed! But then we heard a plane over us, in fact it was circling over us and calling us on the VHF. Andrew is an old pilot and recognized it is a Hercules, it was the American Coast Guard! They told us that they had been given a message that we had a problem and came to see if we needed help, and we were able to tell them that we were now fine. What had happened was that Martin had been trying to call us and send text messages on the satellite telephone, but had not been able to get through, so of course he thought something serious had happened and called the emergency services. We feel bad about criticizing a kind gift, but this showed that the new telephone was absolutely useless for an emergency situation. It had been recommended to Frode as very reliable for this purpose, but we will be taking it back and upgrading to a better model with an external antenna.

We were now nearly half way to the Azores, it was nice to get under 1000n.miles the next day. There was still current against us, where was the Gulf Stream? The weather was now reasonable, in fact we had one day of good sailing in a moderate southerly breeze! Stein had another job to do and that was to see if it was possible to get the port side engine going again. During the first night he had already poured a lot of fresh water over the engine and taken off the starter and alternator and left them submerged in fresh water until we would reach Faial and expert help. Now he changed the oil, took out the injectors, flushed the cylinders with diesel, cleaned all electrical connections with WD40, cleaned and dried the air filter and replaced the starter and alternator with old spares. We all held our breath as he pressed the starter – and hallelujah - after about 20 seconds it coughed into life! This was also worth a celebration, this time in the form of apple-pie and custard!

Horta of Faial, Island in the Azores

The last few days were mostly cold and rough with east or south winds, giving us fairly good progress, but on the 5th June it was again very unpleasant with the wind up to 35 knots, though no more damage. The day before reaching Horta , the weather calmed down, making the last night at sea quite magical, motoring quietly round the north and east sides of Faial to reach the main town of Horta. 
Nearly there! Only a few minutes before we enter the breakwater outside Faial, Horta.
We passed the breakwater outside the harbor at dawn on 8th June after a 16 day trip which was the toughest and most dramatic we have experienced in all our years of sailing. The harbour was surprisingly full of yachts of all nationalities. Out at sea one hardly ever sees another yacht, but when they all meet at the same place in the middle of the Atlantic there are quite a few gathered. We drove near the jetty where the authorities seemed to be, and an official told us on the VHF to anchor until 8 a.m. when we could check in. There were already many yachts at anchor, but we managed to find enough space to join them. Never has it felt better to lie peacefully at anchor in flat water!

Looking back at our tough crossing, it is funny how the bad memories fade, and one remembers the good things. We had a marvelous crew, Frode always calm and good humoured and Andrew acting as though he had done nothing else but steer downwind in 35 knots! (The most difficult point of sailing.) We had lots of good meals and chats together, and did not exchange one cross word in spite of often differing political and religious beliefs. Nature showed herself in different moods, and we saw various forms of wild-life, including dolphins, a turtle, Portuguese Men of War (a nasty jelly-fish also known as Blue Bottle) and sea-birds, mainly skuas and storm petrels.  Andrew wrote in our guest-book that the reality of the crossing did not quite correspond to the smooth, comfortable sail which the brochure offered; at times it was scary and awful! But in conclusion he would not have missed it for anything – it was the experience of a lifetime!

Safely alongside the quay in Faial with another large catamaran outside us. The temporary repair on port side is seen + an extension of canvas that was added a few days later to stop spray and rain from entering.


  1. A brilliant post.
    I closed my eyes, and for a while, there we were on "Scally"- crossing from Brazil to Fial.. What an adventure we had..
    It was another wonderful crossing for you both..with your good friends.
    Great reading. something we never did. We kept it all in our memory.. and when together we talk often of our trip across north and south Atlantic.. sailing to Morocco.. and the coast of Portugal. Our sails in the med.
    What a wonderful life we have all led.
    best wishes dear Stein and Diana..
    val xxx

    1. Dear Val and the rest if the crew of "Scally",
      '32 years since we had some good times together in the Azores. I particularely remember sing-sings together and visit to the whaling station, Pico. And back comes more good memories from when you entertained us in Portugal when we went south on Red Admiral in1989 and 1995. Keep in touch, Val, and will meet up again, and lots of love to your children from
      Diana and Stein