From Bermuda to St. Martin
The crew of Tioga makes a fast passage through tradewinds and storms from Bermuda to St. Martin. Part II of "Caribbean Bound on a Budget" from our September 2011 issue.
The Atlantic can be a contrary place in late November, so our timing for the second leg was tricky. We planned to give ourselves a few days in Bermuda to fix what had been broken during the first leg and to wait for decent weather for a departure. Once under way, we used 100 miles a day as a conservative estimate in case the trade winds proved elusive. And, having sailed the 1,100-some miles to our destination in Antigua, we wanted at least a day or two to explore. All told, we booked our flights 16 days apart.
That’s not at all how the voyage played out, of course.
We arrived in Bermuda on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. By late afternoon, the coolers of food had been stored under the bunks in the V-berth, our gear was aboard, a repaired mainsail had been collected from the loft and was bent on, and the vang was back in place, though we couldn’t bleed the air out of its hydraulic lines. We also discovered a short in the solar panel that had been mounted on the transom, but we concluded it was unfixable, at least until we could order parts and have them delivered in Antigua.
Friday morning, we awoke to clear skies, a blustery northwest wind, and a forecast that promised at least a day or two of good sailing. Unfinished repairs aside, it was time. We wrapped up our provisioning while Philip and Peter, our resident handyman, made one last—futile, it turned out—attempt to fix the vang. We watched as the other few boats tied along the docks departed, and by midafternoon, we did the same.
Outside, a noteworthy swell was running as we unfurled the genoa and bore off to the southeast on a reach. The six of us sat in the cockpit, suddenly with nothing to do after 48 hours of frantic travel and pre-departure chores. As we left the island behind, though I knew we sailed with the proper gear, backup provisions, and good hands on board, I couldn’t help but wonder—with some apprehension—about what the weather and the days ahead would bring.
Now most voyaging articles advise a simple, bland meal on the first night out, but apparently my watch partner, Ulf Westhoven, hadn’t read those particular stories. So as we sat topside watching our first sunset, he busied himself below making a spicy tomato and olive-loaded pasta dish. It was a hit for the most part, though it did bring out an anti-olive bias in some.
He and I came on watch at 2100 to a still quite gusty wind and choppy swells. Behind us we still could see lights from Bermuda on the horizon, and the moon, two days from being full, shone brightly overhead. Our course took us generally southeast at a pace of seven to eight knots and would position us—we hoped—for a beam to broad reach once the easterly trades filled in. Off watch at midnight, we headed below. I was tired but tossed and turned most of the night as I tried to find a sweet spot in the berth and get used to Ulf’s snoring and Tioga’s motion. Both were impressive.
Saturday, the wind continued to blow northwest. The morning was consumed by breakfast and my first attempt to connect via satellite phone to pull down weather forecasts and emails. By noon the breeze moderated, and we at last hoisted the main and settled in on a beam reach, ticking off the miles at six knots.
After dinner that evening, I got my first good sleep and arrived for the midnight watch well rested and ready to go to work with my new mate, Doug Frauenholz. The wind, however, had taken a holiday. Tioga languished on remnant swells, the sails slatting loudly until finally we rolled up the genoa and drifted for an hour, waiting for the breeze to return. On Sunday morning, conditions remained light, and we lazed around in the cockpit, enjoying the mild temperature, if not a brisk pace.