I’m just back from sailing Lunacy down to her winter berth in St. Martin. For this year’s passage I had a professional weather-router, Rick Shema of WeatherGuy.com, give me advice on how to finesse the notoriously dodgy conditions that plague any boat trying to get from New England out to Bermuda and thence south to the W’Indies in th e fall. As Andy Griffith once put it in his famous comedy spiel “What It Was Was Football,” the name of this game is to get from one end of the field to the other without either getting knocked down or stepping in something. Which is none too easy, what with late hurricanes and early winter storms to contend with, particularly on the first leg to Bermuda, where the Gulf Stream, perhaps the most significant climatological feature on the face of the planet, gets to play the role of the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.
I’ve been commissioned to write up the details for my print comic SAIL (they promised to pay Rick’s bill; a tip of the hat to Peter Nielsen on that one), so I’m not going to spill too many beans here, but I thought I’d share some general impressions. Plus, of course, I urge you all to read the full write-up when it appears on newsstands sometime in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.
I originally planned to leave for Bermuda from Portsmouth, NH, where I live, on Sunday November 1, but Rick did such a good job of getting me nervous about potential problems from developing low-pressure systems that I instead punted and sailed inside Cape Cod through the Cape Cod Canal down to Newport to await a better window. Ironically, this inherently conservative decision led to some of the roughest sailing of the whole trip, which was beating down Buzzard’s Bay dead into a 25-knot sou’wester for an entire afternoon after we cleared the canal. Fortunately I had my just-turned-18 cousin-in-law Ceilidh Trites, from Toronto, Canada, along to do all the heavy winch grinding. Here we see him helming the boat as we exited the canal, not long before all this grinding took place. To his credit, he looked much the same afterward, except he was asleep.
In the end I departed Newport for Bermuda with a full crew on Saturday November 7. Last year (without professional weather advice) I made it from Portsmouth to Bermuda (a distance of about 725 nautical miles) in less than four and a half days, sailing on a fast broad reach or reach most the way with the engine running for less than two and a half hours. This year it also took about four and a half days to make it from Newport (over a lesser distance of about 655 miles), but we had mostly headwind s and endured over 40 hours of motoring. The story was much the same on the second leg. Last year Lunacy sailed from Bermuda to St. Martin (a distance of about 845 miles) in less than six and a half days, with just 15 hours of motoring. This year it took over eight days (my worst time ever on any boat on this particular passage), with about 82 hours of motoring. Last year’s total transit time (Portsmouth to St. Martin) was actually 17-plus days, which included a long stop in Bermuda waiting for Hurricane Paloma to declare her intentions. This year the total transit time, including the long delay in New England and a shorter one in Bermuda, was just over 21 days.
WeatherGuy obviously had nothing to do with the expanded time frame of this year’s voyage. His job, after all, is only to predict the weather, not control it. Indeed, I am sure I would have taken longer, maybe much longer, getting to St. Martin without his advice. I can say, however, that the advice had something to do with the great increase in motoring time and with the increase in anxiety I experienced during the voyage.
On the one hand, I was more than happy to have more rather than less information about prospective weather conditions. More info certainly increases your chances of avoiding uncomfortable conditions and in some instances may help you avoid genuinely dangerous conditions, most particularly on a north-south passage like this one. On the other hand, the extra knowledge made me worry a lot more. Knowing you might get clobbered by a big breeze in the next few days always makes it much harder to enjoy the mild breeze you are sailing to right now. And in several situations this year, where I previously might have been happily sailing slowly in weak wind in ignorance, waiting to see what might happen next, I was instead motoring anxiously trying to outsmart the next big breeze Big Brother assured me was on the way.
Ultimately, I think, the extra information interfered with the purity of the experience. Call me crazy, but having more hard WX data made it harder for me to commune with the chaos of the elements. The voyage was less of an adventure, less of a dance with chance, and more of a clinical problem to be solved.
In other news: this year Lunacy is staying at the Radisson Marina at Anse Marcel, which is on the northeast corner of the island. It is perfectly protected and affords a splendid opportunity to use the marvelous homemade-from-a-ladder passarelle that came with the boat when I bought it.
Last year Lunacy spent the winter at Capt. Oliver’s at Oyster Pond, which also has great protection, and a great vibe, but has a very dodgy entrance. For more info on just how dodgy it can be, and on how this woman got this whomping big bruis e on her butt…
…after losing control of her charter boat trying to enter the pond after last year’s Heineken Regatta, I recommend you follow this link here.