On March 6th 2010 I left Annapolis Maryland on a 6 day sail to Bermuda as crew on a boat delivery. Having watched the weather in the North Atlantic for weeks prior to my trip I was apprehensive about what I was getting into. Winds often blew 50 miles per hour in those days leading up to the crossing but this will not be a story about high winds and big seas. The term weather window fit our trip perfectly. The day we left Annapolis winds calmed and stayed that way until we were safely in the cut leading into St. Georges Bermuda. This trip was a lesson in cold weather sailing and conforming to fit into the lifestyles of those I sail with.
Cold! Air temperatures in the 20’s cold! cold bay temperatures cold! and I had a cold. When I stepped onto the boat at 6:30 am that Saturday the air temperature was in the 20’s and I had a rather bad cold. I was miserable from the lack of sleep for the past four days, two of which were on a Greyhound bus, never will I do that again, and two were from fighting a cold at my father in laws house in Maryland. Norm the captain greeted me with “You must be Kevin, I am Norm, grab these groceries as I hand them to you.” Soon it was “Get the bow line and don’t let us hit that pole on the way out.” And off we went, me sitting in the cockpit shivering, and the sausage biscuit I picked up at McDonalds sitting down below getting equally cold.
Norm has been delivering boats full time since 1985 and I was recommended to him by, Angie, a friend I met on a delivery we both did to Mexico last December. Norm and I were headed from Annapolis to Solomon’s Island where we were to pick up Angie.
Even though the forecast was for temperatures in the 50’s, being surrounded by the colder bay waters, we would not see fifty degrees. I missed on my clothes selection for this trip. My white rubber shrimp boots were not cutting it for keeping my feet warm, so I put my tennis shoes on and that helped some. The wind was cutting thru my foul weather gear and I wished I had some sort of wind breaker on top. Down below, with the hull surrounded by cold water, it was not much more then a refrigerator. I was screwed. My feet hurt from the cold. I was chilled to the bone and the only source of heat on the boat was what ever I could generate from my own body. I kept warm at night by staying completely covered and allowing my breath to warm my body. Thank god the boat had linens because before we departed I looked at that bare bunk that was to be mine and told myself, if I was suppose to have brought my own linens, which I did not, I would have to just add layers of clothes for the night. After spending the first day topside shivering and hoping I made it to Bermuda before pneumonia kicked in I knew adding layers was not going to cut it. It sure was nice to hear Norm say, “this boats has a lot of linen.”
My watch was to be 6pm to 10pm and one hour on and two hour off during the day. My first evening watch was cut short as we were ahead of schedule and Norm decided to go to a anchorage on the Great Wicomico river. I did get to earn my keep that night by fixing the LP solenoid for the gas stove. The breaker for the solenoid kept popping and Norm feared that there would not be the proper fittings on board to bypass it. I checked the solenoid and determines it was shorted out, and no we did not have the parts to bypass it. What I did was gut the valve so gas would flow freely. The tanks were suppose to have been filled prior to leaving but the gauge read 60 PSI. I was concerned that it there was a leak somewhere, so after dinner was cooked I went outside and shut off the valve at the tank. Sounded like a wise decision to me but you would not think so listening to Norm grumbling at 3am when he wanted coffee.
Crossings are not pleasure trips as much as they are endurance trips. You have to be able to make yourself ready in a moments notice if something goes wrong, and it will. When a boat is heeled over there may only be one spot in the entire boat suitable for sleeping so you have to be able to adapt to being able to sleep while holding on. Therefore a good nights sleep has proven to be rare for me on the crossings I have done. When I am part of a crew I am usually early for my shift and offer to relieve the person on duty early. I clean up after myself and spend my off time resting and, yes, sleeping.
A good night sleep can even be more challenging because I have sleep apnea. Therefore I use a CPAP machine to help me sleep. It uses very little electricity and is capable of running on both AC and DC current. I informed Norm of this prior to agreeing to take the trip and was assured this would be no problem. Unfortunately for the Island Packet being a gazillion dollar yacht it had only one DC outlet and that was in the salon by the starboard settee. There also was no inverter. The first night I slept without the machine and managed but really wanted a better night sleep on the second night so I plugged in and slept on the starboard settee. That morning I really did not feel like listening to how this was some sort of imposition. I went to sleep late and work up early to put my linens and CPAP up as not to be a problem.
I guess it could be considered a bad trait by some that I have little tolerance for people bad mouthing me. On this trip I had to bite my tongue several times. Between the complaining about needing to shut the gas valve off and me sleeping on the settee and another time when Angie woke Norm up when she became disorientated and could not get the boat to perform right. Norm being tired and grouchy sniped about how I was sleeping while this was happening. Sleeping? Kind of. Just how deep of a sleep can one be in while holding on. After hearing the snipe I got up to see what I could do to help. The next day I made sure I addressed things in a tactful way that would make my mom proud. Things did get better after this.
I enjoyed sailing with Norm and would like to do it again. I just wanted to make the point that when you get on a boat with others especially if you don’t know them you need to be able to adapt. Even if you are in the right never is it the time to prove your point at the risk of causing more friction. For a lot of you this is just common sense, but for me it goes against my competitive nature. If you tell me I am wrong I usually will prove to you I am right. So for me to bite my tongue is a great achievement. I must have done a good job at it because when we said our good byes Norm complemented me on my ability to adapt and felt I was going about my sailing adventures the right way. He was also appreciative of my ability to trouble shoot and fix problems we had. One of which almost caused us to turn around.
I was down below resting when I was called to help out with the main boom. The pin that held the boom to the mast lost a retainer and worked itself most of the way out. After re-installing it, it started working it self loose immediately. We were not going to finish the trip with the pin as it was. We were two and a half days into the crossing and none of us liked the idea of turning around. After tearing the boat apart looking over the available tools and spare parts we decided to remove a bolt holding an anchor roller on and see if it would fit. It did not fit in the hole. It was the difference of one being ½ inch and the other 13mm. In most cases they will interchange but in tight fits maybe not. We had a cordless drill but no drill bit big enough. I told norm that if we could wrestle the boom down to the deck I could use the edge of an undersized drill bit to shave the ID of the holes to allow the bigger bolt to fit. We did. It fit and we were back in business. Afterwards Norm seeing me studying a book for getting my captains license showed his appreciation by offering to help.
As far as sailing, for most of the trip the winds were calm and from behind. We did not have a whisker pole and it was difficult to keep the sails full. The seas were usually off of the beam and light. As the boat rolled the sails flogged. Norm paid for some charts that showed the locations of eddies, rotating currents spinning off of the Gulf Stream. We were able to navigate to these currents and have them propel us towards Bermuda at speeds in excess of nine knots. Hitting one of these eddies on the wrong side would have all but stopped our forward progress. Seeming as we aimed for these eddies I do not know when we hit the Gulf Stream, it must have been about the time I could take off some clothes.
I mentioned earlier that we were in a perfect weather window. On the last morning of the trip the sky was blood red. We knew the weather was predicted to change starting later that day and I found it cool to see the old wise tale “Red sky in morning sailor take warning” to be true. The weather progressively got worse but we were able to make it to St Georges before it got too bad.
I had a great trip and as usual it was educational.