SAILING BELAFONTE LOGBOOK
Chapter 1: Newport to Bermuda
Ever since I was a kid I've always wanted to sail the open ocean, the ability to travel using the power of wind has always fascinated me. My parents put me into a summer sailing camp when I was 14. I learned the basics of navigating, safety and the science of sailing. The Ottawa River is a narrow winding river with strong westerly winds funnelling through the rocks of Parliament Hill with 1 to 2 knots of current. The camp instructors always made us beat upstream and upwind to improve our skills. The first kids to make it to the Parliament would win prizes consisting of candy bags, free hotdogs and the first pick of the boats the next morning at the clubhouse. The prospect of free treats made this feel to us like our own teenage version of America's Cup. We would go full speed, tightened mains, trapèze, and extra weights. Utilizing all the skills we learned in class to fight the strong upriver currents, the waves and the beating headwind to be the first to make it to the Parliament Building. As life took over and sailing took the back seat I never forgot about this sailing camp and everything I learned. Many years later I rented a laser here in Vancouver. Sailing the windy English Bay here made all those feelings come back and had me itching for more.
We're surrounded by boats and chandleries, marinas here have a 2 year waiting list, everyone here seems to be into sailing or attached to the sea in some way. I spend my free time reading blogs about people sailing around the world. I seem to always find myself on yachtworld.com with an eye out for a cheap 40’ boat. I must have spent 1000 hours on that website narrowing down searches for our dream boat. We found a salvaged Beneteau located in Boston that was up for bid with a very minimal reserve price. Before putting in a serious bid I decided to fly down with my dad and uncle to have a good look, checkout potential boatyards and to make sure the area we would leave the boat in would have the right sailing resources and facilities to repair and outfit for blue water cruising. On arrival we surveyed the boat. The engine had only 500 hours, the galley and floors were spotless, the mast was true and the hull was perfect. We don’t think this boat was used very much. It was kept in great condition and probably kept at the dock. All this boat really needed was some fibreglass work on the bow deck from a broken mid-stay and a fresh coat of anti fouling. I went back home and we decided to put in a bid. We didn’t hear back from the auctioneers until a phone call came through about two weeks later. We found ourselves into a live conference bidding war over the phone. A very stressful 30 seconds of gambling and we won. We spent a little over what we had planned and our Canadian dollar being so low didn’t help but we ended up buying the boat for under a quarter of market value. A very good investment.
Before arriving my parents had already drove in and had already sanded the entire hull! So thankful that they had brought in all the tools. There is no way we would of tried to do all of this without them. We spent the next few months in Rhode Island with my parents and Daena's parents repairing the deck fiberglass, swaged our new rigging, sanded and painted the hull, replaced hatches, fixed the rudder bearing, installed a ship identification system. LED lights, installed 400 watts of solar, launched the boat and deck stepped the mast. We had two days at the dock booked and then we had to leave the marina. Our Iridium Go satellite internet and Predict Winds Offshore gave us our 4 day departure planning window and this was it. Tomorrow we set off to Bermuda.
Sailing Newport to Bermuda
DAY 1 (Daena)
I check the horizon non-stop, apprehensive for when I will no longer be able to see the wind turbines spinning off the coast of Block Island. Born and raised on a farm in the prairies this is my first time ever really sailing, let alone making an ocean passage. My experience is limited to what I've learned in the classroom in my oceanography, marine biology and atmospheric science classes. My mind often wanders to thoughts of different sailors’ accounts of the feeling when everything "land" disappears from sight. This to me feels like the point of no return and I worry that when this happens I will then feel fear. The size of the waves and the strong winds already make me a little nervous when I'm behind the helm and the feeling of the boat under sail pitched to the side still feels unnatural. Nausea overcomes me every time I dip below deck to make food or grab something we need. Worse than that I begin to dread Robin asking me to take the helm even to relieve him for a moment. I feel uneasy and that I will misstep and ruin something, especially after the snubber I accidentally jammed into the winch just Yesterday. I don't voice any of these insecurities aloud instead I spend this first day catnapping and crossing my fingers that my stomach won't betray me. Night comes and with a broken autopilot we agree Robin will continue to sail through the night.
DAY 2 (Robin)
The first night watch onboard the Belafonte was quite uneventful apart from falling asleep periodically even after drinking a full thermos of tea. the constant winds of 15-20knots kept us pushing through the night without much sail trimming necessary. We encountered what I believe was an illegal fishing vessel with no AIS information and no contact on VHF channel 16. We ended up sailing about one mile away from the fishing trawler with no response. A few hours later around 3am we sailed passed a cruise ship that changed it's course to let us keep our wind angle which was quite nice. Around 7am is when Daena comes up to the cockpit and grabs the wheel to let me catch a couple hours of sleep. The morning and early afternoon were constant beam winds of 15-20knots again but the winds and waves climbed rapidly to 3 meter waves and 30knots and higher around 5pm. Around 10pm the waves were beginning to crash over the bow. With no way to see the oncoming wave and spray at night it was getting very hard on my arms to fight the wheel as the rudder crashed onto oncoming waves with the crashing spray onto the dodger glass. The boat gybes and I furl the sails and heave-to. the sails tight and a constant drift downwind I go below to see how Daena is doing.
DAY 3 (Daena)
It’s 1 AM, even though I’m groggy and don’t completely comprehend what is happening I can immediately sense the gravity of the situation from the way the boat is moving and the way Robin is acting. We’ve heaved-to. We’ve basically pressed pause on the sails because we can no longer keep a course with the size of the waves that are crashing over the Belafonte. With a broken wind instrument were not exactly sure how many knots the wind is blowing but one thing is certain the height of the seas has picked up and we aren’t able to keep sailing. Even with the protective slick the hull is creating the boat pitches back and forth with each assaulting wave crashing over us. Everything that is not completely secured in place shifts each time we’re rocked, the boat creaks, the wine glasses have shattered and shards of glass clink around in the cabinet, the rigging over our heads produces a disconcerting cacophony as the wind rattles into the mast through the deck and into the floorboards. Every noise seems to intensify our perception of the severity of the situation and we are both bracing ourselves as the onslaught continues.
The conversation quickly turns to one of our own safety. We begin to evaluate our options, this is something we’ve considered and prepared for but neither of us really thought that we would be in this situation on our first sail. I can see by the look on Robin’s face he is overwhelmed with guilt for having put us in this situation and he broaches the question of whether to use the EPIRB to alert a search and rescue team. I turn the EPIRB device over in my hand, considering the proposal and my eyes scan over the words on the back “USE ONLY IN SITUATION OF GRAVE AND IMMINENT DANGER TO LIFE”. Although, I'm uneasy and worried for what's still to come something about those words makes me feel that we absolutely cannot press the button. Stubbornly, I refuse this suggestion.
Suddenly, the boat stops rocking with the ongoing waves and I can feel as a strong gale fills our sails and the weight of the wind pins us sideways. I can feel panic rising up inside me and for the first time I look to Robin for reassurance that the boat's rigging can handle this assault. As quickly as it came it’s gone and I begin to lose track of time, I don’t know how long we’ve been heaved-to at this point but I am unable to rest as all of my nerves feel electrified. I’m jumpy and I feel myself anticipating with dread each shift of the cabin.
With the rain coming down sideways our skylight has sprung a leak and everything in the salon is soaked through. Water has found its way behind the nav station into the cupboard housing all the electronics. Robin gets to work jury-rigging a contraption to drain the water that is rapidly flowing in.
I’m fearing of our 12 volt system as water is rushing through the breaker panel at an alarming rate. I know I have to get this water flowing out of the instruments and away from our radio and GPS. The good thing about mass production boats is the amount of random parts you might find behind walls that were left there. In our case, I find a piece of plastic from behind the panel that was left from the factory while installing the wiring harness for the boat. The perfect ramp to get the water out of our electronics and into into the bilge. As it flows I place a finger on my tongue. Saltwater coming through the breaker switches and cables would eventually rust and ruin everything. Turned out this water was coming in from the skylight windows. As I stand gripped tightly to the mast post down below being tossed back and forth I look up through the skylight windows up the mast. I can't stop thinking about the tension the cables must be enduring to keep the mast and it's 2 tons of wind pressure being applied to our furled sails to keep a 13 ton boat pinned down sideways at a constant pressure. I keep thinking about the repair I've made to the mid-stay cable doubting myself and it's rigidity to keep the mast from crashing down on us.
With clear skies I hadn’t thought to close the hatches in the front cabin before going to sleep and the waves crashing over the bow drenched everything including most of our clothes. Not long after I realize our waterlogged cabin I discovered my toothbrush, toothpaste and hairbrush sloshing around in the front head with everything the toilet decided to regurgitate. Morale was at an all-time low.
Day 4 (Robin)
6am, I fall asleep through the storm on the salon sofa exhausted from hand steering and keeping the bow to the swell. I wakeup in the early morning to Daena telling me the waves are looking slightly smaller and the wind blowing less than before. We go up with our harness and tether into the cockpit line-lines. Our onboard library contains several books about heavy weather sailing and storm tactics on how to properly heave-to in a storm. These important books that I read before leaving on this journey into the Gulf Stream really helped us secure our rig and make sure we wouldn't get de-masted in these giant waves. It's clear that we are still in the gulf stream, warm water coming from the Gulf of Mexico towards the coast of the U.S coast towards Canada at a rate of 6.4km per hour. This current facing an opposing wind can pickup the seas and form very large swells. We end up trapped in this system for the full day. As the winds calm the sea flattens to a glassy surface. Daena reads some books down below as I sleep and decides the best way to avoid another day of terrible weather is to turn on the motor and get out of the Gulf Stream.
Day 5-6 (Robin)
As we motor along I catch up on some sleep, it's evident that we are now out of the Gulf Stream. I look back to see this giant wall of grey sky, a good sign. The sailing becomes very enjoyable for the rest of the day, constant winds at a good reach, heading of 179 degrees at 7-10 knots, dolphins at the bow, blue skies and warm sun. Through the night the winds change direction, we're barely making the 179 degrees needed to reach Bermuda. The chart-plotter GPS is saying another 2 days of sailing to reach the island. 4am and the windspeed picks-up. I'm so keen to reach landfall at this point I decide to take out all the sails and winch them as tight as they get. The boat suddenly takes on an extreme Starboard lean. The chart-plotter calculations suddenly changes from a 2 day ETA to 7 hours. 7am, the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Daena wakes up from the extreme tilt angle and spots land in the far distance.
I immediately call Bermuda radio on Channel 27 to notify of our 20 nautical mile approach. It feels so good to see land again.
Sailing Bermuda to Puerto Rico
Our departure window to leave from Bermuda is quite slim. We leave on the 14th or we try again in April. Lucky for us the weather changes before departure. Our routing software finds a departure window by taking the tail ends of a storm system coming through Bermuda form the West. We leave in 30-40 knots of wind in 4-5 meter swell with a heading towards Africa. In doing so we avoid the next storm coming through Bermuda in 3 days. This leaves us enough time to head South enough to miss the heavy weather and catch the steady trade winds blowing from the East in 4 days. 4 other boats leave the harbour, a little bit of relief and peace of mind knowing we've chosen a good departure time.
Large swells from the passing storm makes incredible loud explosion noises in the bow cabin as we sail up and over the swell smashing into the next oncoming wave. With not much appetite we boil water on our gimbal stove and make tea to keep us alert. As night approaches it's impossible to sleep, we convert the living room table into a berth and sleep in the midship salon with the window shade open looking directly at the sails for the duration of the storm. I read about autopilots failing to keep a heading in large seas and I'm nervous we are drifting off course through the night.
As the seas begin to calm, I feel some puffs of wind coming in from the East. A sure sign of peace, trade winds at a constant 15 knots all day and night. We always hear about the Caribbean being such a perfect sailing destination and I'm beginning to understand why. No swell, steady winds and great weather. We make the big turn right and set our heading locked in at 190degrees. We're only a few days away from reaching Fajardo.