June 1 - June 5, 2008: From Bermuda - Milford, Connecticut
June 1 - Sunday. After breakfast, we went to the Custom's Building to clear out. It took quite a while as nobody seemed to have their papers in total order (or they were too sleepy from their long trip up to Bermuda, or whatever). We met some Danish captain with interesting crew, a young American, and someone who denounced his Swedish as well as his US citizenship, has no passport, refused to fill out any government issued documentation or even sign his name. It was almost comical. The customs official was really polite, but in the end, she indicated that he was not permitted to leave the boat at all during the entire stay in Bermuda. "It was as if he were not even there" - very strange. We were wondering, how US officials would have handled that one...
Almost two hours later, we were finally back on board, quickly sent a few emails to inform our family and friends of our upcoming departure, one more flushing of our water maker, then Nick and his crew helped us untie the "gangplank", a fancy word for a miserable board that was our access to land, constantly moving, threatening to fall off the boat, or land. Walking on it was always a challenge, particularly during low tide (a 3-4 foot affair). We promised to each other to stay in touch, then our lines were all cast off, I started coiling them, taking the fenders in, calling Bermuda Radio to obtain clearance to depart. As usual, the officer in charge was extremely friendly and polite. It was as if a friend said good-bye. You may remember that we had visited with them a few days before - he might have been up there during our visit...
As we went through the Town Cut into the open ocean, we took a last glance - including with our cameras. It felt sad to leave as we most likely will never sail to Bermuda again, at least not the way things are looking right now. From the Spit Buoy via a few others to the Kitchen Shoal Tower (it used to be a buoy) we were soon out in deep water, going straight towards the Montauk Point sea buoy with the racon, an eery feeling. But the sun was shining, the weather forecast was reasonably good (some stronger winds - around 20 knots tomorrow - there after very light winds like today..., and then we would miss the really nasty front that was projected for Thursday - as we expected to be in Montauk or near Montauk around midnight on Wednesday night).
Well, things turned a little different than anticipated. The winds that were supposed to subside on Monday in the afternoon remained fairly strong, building huge and rather confused seas. One other sailboat had left Bermuda about 45 minutes or so after we did. They had remained behind us pretty much at a constant distance, but overnight, they must have picked up speed as we had slowed down some. In the early afternoon, the boat was right near us, both main and genoa up in full (while we had reefed a little). I quickly got my camera and my 200 mm lense out to take some pictures though I had felt miserable and actually had been lying down below for that reason. Juergen, however, awakened me with the news that the boat was very close and so I got up. I think some of the images are quite good, particularly when considering the immense movements our boat also made while I was trying to hold the camera still. As if posing, the helmsman (or captain?) looked at us while steering, then turned a little to port and moved ahead of us. (I wished he had taken some pictures of us there as well). - We later on lost sight of them.
Tuesday, June 3rd, the sun was shining, the sea much calmer. It was a picture perfect day - at least we thought so. Even most of the night was reasonably calm. Unfortunately, Juergen was not able to listen to Herb Hilgenberg, the weather guru who we and lots of sailors listen to every day while underway in the North Atlantic between the Caribbean and Europe. So we also could not get an update on that terrible low that had been forecast - and we had seen on Sunday already for Thursday. We had heard the day before that Herb warned people not to enter the Gulf Stream on Wednesday as the winds were supposed to reach 35 knots and higher and worse in the Gulf Stream due to the temperature difference between the Gulf Stream itself and the surrounding waters. We were early enough far enough North to get through the Stream before the bad weather. We were quite happy about that. We actually made such good speed thanks to great current in our direction that we were convinced to make Montauk around midnight. Then, after having exited the Gulf Stream, we hit an Eddie (a counter current) and crawled North at only 3.4 to 3.9 knots for hours on end. It was infuriating.
And then, the front approached. The winds started kicking up to about 25 knots (true), the waves became rather huge, in very short intervals, and rolled Impromptu by more than 50 degrees to either side, depending on which side of the wave we were at the time. The next wave would crash into Impromptu, sending tons of water into the cockpit. It sure was not fun, and as the winds were supposed to strengthen, we decided to change course so we could take the waves at a more favorable angle. This worked for a while. It started raining and got even more miserable. In the end, while the gusts may here and there have been higher than 25, the winds themselves really remained at that level and, as the thickest fog sat in, the winds calmed significantly. Was it for good, was it temporary only? We did not know but reasoned that in heavy fog, there is generally not a lot of wind, so as long as the fog surrounded us, we should be ok. We had our radar on, our AIS, and we were sitting in the cockpit, watching. The Eddie had also slowed us enough that, on Wednesday morning, we realized that we would never make it to Montauk Point during the coming night - another burden taken off our shoulders. We had been concerned that the shoals around Montauk Point would not be a good place to be in 35+ knots of wind and darkness.
Well, the night came, the storm had subsided and never resumed, the wave action had softened to an acceptable level - even for my damaged stomach and head - we changed watches around 0700 when Montauk Lighthouse was almost visible, the racon already sent its signal on our radar screen, there was almost no ripple in the water, no ship to worry about. Juergen could go back to sleep while I took over, admiring the beauty of Montauk Point, albeit still in some fog (but nowhere near as thick as the fog from the day before). A fishing boat left for the ocean, another sailboat slipped around Montauk Point towards New York. The world seemed to be "in order" again. We rounded the reef, headed for the ruins near Gardener's Island.
Once Juergen woke up, we had breakfast in the cockpit. The water was so calm that we used our regular china cups, opened our cockpit table. I made pancakes, bacon, lots of coffee. We sat, ate, drank and enjoyed the scenery. We had also noticed that the tide was with us. We actually passed Plum Gutt with 10.4 knots - fantastic! THAT is sailing!!! (at least to me, and I think Juergen loved it, too). We had both sails up, kept the engine on just to ensure that we would continue and made the trip from Bermuda to Milford in 99 hours exactly and from Montauk Point to Milford in six hours. We have never managed to do that before ever.
We tied our docklines quickly, connected the water hose and our power chord, had lunch in the cockpit, waited for the customs official who announced his arrival around 1630. Luise (Juergen's sister) had offered to pick us up. We were so glad that she came. It was fun to see her but it was also very convenient for us to get home by car rather than train, with most of our belongings. A dinner on the way sort of rounded up the conclusion of the trip.
While we are glad to be back home, we are also sad that our trip has ended. We experienced a lot in the three years (with interruptions) that we sailed to Europe, in Europe, in the Bahamas, now the Caribbean. We met a lot of wonderful people, sailors, locals, we saw lots of wonderful nature, learned to appreciate different cultures and are eager to help here and there in people's efforts to make their islands more attractive to boaters, visitors. We are eager to go back at some point, not by sailboat but by plane or how ever. Islands like Montserrat, Dominica, St. Kitts, Saba are those we definitely want to revisit. The other better known islands also had their attraction for us. We loved Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, St. Barths (for its beautiful bays, not the rolly anchorages), we adored the BVIs and wished we would have had more time to explore, stay in different bays, visit different islands. There just was not enough time. We might be back some day... Who knows.
Bermuda has a special spot in our hearts. This was our fourth sailing trip to the island, the first three (round-trip) from the North (i.e., Milford), this one from Tortola and then back home. It is an island with a lot of sophistication, friendly people, cleanliness and a place where skin color does not seem to matter. Everyone is equal, everyone behaves the same polite way, everyone enjoys a good education, the same healthcare, the same foods, similar housing. The island has lots of history but it is also rather modern without the negatives of a growing economy and system. Bermuda, we will be back!
Bermuda Radio added another special effect for us. The officers on call are total professionals with a heart. They are firm but not bureaucratic. They like to help however, wherever they can. We were so comforted hearing their voices even 170 nm out at sea.
We thank all the many people we met for their contribution to make our stay, our lives enjoyable, to help us understand their lifestyle, their culture and still to respect our differences as well. THANKS!!!