It’s calm now. The water is flat. Interestingly, my thoughts coincide with the sea state. The incessant recollection of lists no longer exist nor the slight panic caused by the overwhelming amount of self imposed deadlines. Our sailing to Bermuda trip has been completed!
Before the five day crossing from Charleston, South Carolina to the isolated island of Bermuda there was a serious amount of preparation. Our 56-foot boat had to be seaworthy, stocked with food/drink and ready to tackle wind, waves and whatever Neptune wanted to dole out to us. Between the straight shot east from Charleston to Bermuda the only thing around would be ocean.
In other words, no alternative safe refuges.
There was a list on what needed to be fixed before the voyage. Items included fixing the forward furling electrics (pulled out by last years hurricane), replace our dinghy davit motor (to allow us to raise and lower our dinghy), caulk the anchor plate, new boom lights, and around ten more jobs that kept us busy during the lead up to departure.
In addition to fixing things we also had to service the boat. Britican needed her hull scrubbed. Her raw water intakes had to be voided of barnacles and other life. Otherwise the consequence might be a dangerously hot engine. She needed an engine service, generator tune up, rigging check and serious tidy job. A year’s worth of stuff had accumulated around the boat that needed to find a secure home.
After our temporary one year sabbatical from sailing Britican, she became a house rather than a boat. We needed to wake her up, bring her back to life and prepare her for the long voyage.
In hindsight, we should have started off with a few day trips up or down the American coast instead of sailing to Bermuda.
Before leaving, however, my husband, Simon, and I had this need to be free. We needed to get out of America. We needed to get away from our American reality and reconnect with our much-loved cruising reality. The two realities are so very different.
In August of the previous year we settled in Charleston with the intention of staying until the hurricane season ended in November – just a few months. The plan was to put our at-the-time six-year-old daughter into First Grade, do necessary work on the boat and then head out when the coast was clear.
After sailing around the Mediterranean, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, enjoying the voyage through the Caribbean and visiting the southern east coast of America we developed a ‘normal’ way of life and that was the cruising lifestyle.
Stopping our sailing way of life created a strange conflict.
On one hand it was sad to stop the momentum that we had going. We knew how to sail around. It became comfortable to enter a new anchorage, anchor and then explore land. It became easy to meet new people, share stories over a potluck dinner and form deep connections.
We became accustom to fixing stuff. Things would often be smooth sailing for a while and then there’d be a litany of breaks. We’d sort them out and then we’d be off and running again. Our longest ‘break’ from moving was six weeks. We needed to have our gooseneck (attaches the boom to the mast) repaired so we enjoyed the hospitality of Antigua for over a month. Otherwise, we were on the move every few days.
Life was lived more in the now. Every day was a new page that could go in any direction.
On the other hand, making a long-term stay in the States felt desirable. The idea of being in one place seemed relaxing. We wouldn’t have to search out the closest supermarket or learn the pleasantries of a new language. We wouldn’t have the constant knowledge that our futures were so uncertain.
My family and I would gain a sense of stability and comfort. Life would become easy again.
Our three-month stay in Charleston turned into a year’s stay. Thanks to Sienna’s amazing teachers, our daughter showed massive growth at the school we put her in. Simon and I felt that a full year would make a huge difference going forward. We wanted her to have a solid foundation and then transition into homeschooling.
Would our three-month stay that slid into a year’s stay transition to staying forever?
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for annoyances of land-based life to make their appearance. We wouldn’t stay forever. No. We wouldn’t.
I could write a book about the shockingly inefficient and down right broken US government. We were given wrong information about our US Cruising Permit. The authorities told us we didn’t have to leave America after a year to reset it (due to be being American). That wasn’t true. If a boat is foreign flagged it must leave after one year to reset the cruising permit. In part, that’s why I’m sitting in Bermuda now rather than a US Port.
We were told that Simon could get a work permit within three months if he applied for a Green Card. After nine months and still no permit I can attest that’s not true. Interestingly, he was offered a job on the Charleston Water Taxi but was told by the US Coast Guard he couldn’t take the job. Foreigners can’t captain a US Flagged vessel. ‘National Security’ was mentioned.
National Security for a water taxi?!?!
Before leaving for Bermuda we discovered that Simon couldn’t leave America with a pending Green Card application. He would have to fill out a special form to be granted parole. If he didn’t get approval the chances for a three-year ban into America was a high probability.
So…the boat had to leave America to renew the cruising permit but Simon couldn’t leave. The Green Card process was backlogged by nine months so getting the card was nowhere in sight. The parole process was also backlogged by nine months.
So…if Uncle Bob in England is about to die Simon needed to make a choice – miss his death and stay in America or leave America and get banned from the US for three years. Thank you President Trump. I won’t tell you about the depths we went to to find a ‘solution’ but in the end we extracted the necessary parole paperwork. It wasn’t easy.
I could go on, but let me put that behind me.
I need to actually thank the US Government. If it wasn’t for them I might just want to stay in the States.
Instead, I’m sitting in a lovely green-blue bay with smell of lavender floating though the air. There’s very little noise and the atmosphere is filled with calm air. A calmness that comes with leaving the grid…leaving modern civilization.
I’m now on my boat floating in my own domain. It feels like heaven, but that’s now. Getting to heaven wasn’t easy.
During the lead up to our departure I had many nightmares of us capsizing or having engine failure. One particular dream enabled me to experience an enormous giant-sized pink octopus climb up the side of our boat. With boat oars (that we don’t have) Simon and I fought the head-sized suction pads with all our might.
Eventually our departure date arrived.
The weather was not in our favor but we had to leave. We had to get out. We needed a break from ‘normal’ life and after a year of watching boats enter and leave the harbor it was now our turn. I felt as if we had no choice.
Simon and I kept reminding ourselves of the rewards. We’d be able to anchor in CLEAN water – not the polluted muddy brown Charleston water. My family and I would have the ability to jump off the back of the boat for a swim. We’d have lists but they wouldn’t be two pages double columned. Life would return to a less complicated lifestyle. We could feel our old reality calling us back. No, not calling – it was shouting for us to make our move.
If we didn’t leave I felt that life on land would find a way to keep us there.
The day before we set sail, Simon climbed to the top of our 85’ mast. I assumed everything would be fine but of course at the last moment a deal breaker was discovered. Our forward halyard for the headsail was frayed. The outer sheathing was completely gone. Without a replacement our headsail could drop from the mast at any moment.
Several phone calls were made. Four hours and $831 later a new halyard was delivered. Thankfully, it wasn’t going to stop the trip. Two hours before we departed Simon and I installed the new halyard without a hitch.
Then, upon testing our watermaker, it died. To be specific, the low-pressure pump wasn’t playing ball. Who needs water?!
We didn’t need to shower too often – we had the sea for our bathtub.
Discussions were held on the dock with our boatie friends about the weather. It wasn’t looking good. The experts suggested a sail to Bermuda on Friday would be more suitable – five days ahead. Nope. No…we’re not going to wait five days. We’ve been land-locked for a year. We were ready now.
At 10am on Sunday, we said farewell to our amazing boat buddies. They helped with last minute preparations and waved us off yelling ‘fair winds.’ I was sad to leave them but our trip to Bermuda wasn’t our final exit from America. We’d be back in Charleston within a month’s time.
Our trip to Bermuda would allow us to reset our US Cruising Permit. It would also give us a trial run for our final US departure in November, four months later.
With our friend and extra crew member, Becky Royal, on board, the four of us waved goodbye to our friends on the dock. I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘Keep going Britican. Keep going…make it out far enough for us to get our sails out and sail off into the horizon!’
At 10am Simon took us out of the marina and into the channel. Simon and I piped up, ‘Thank you for having us Charleston Harbor Marina. Thank you for having us Charleston!” It’s a tradition we have when we leave any port or anchorage. The one time we failed to show our gratitude our boat broke down!
As we made our way away from Charleston, Becky and I cleaned the deck. We stowed the fenders and warps. I then put our mainsail up and we patiently waited for wind. As we motored out into the Atlantic I kept looking at our engine vitals and kept praying that we’d be able to keep going.
By 12:20 we were sailing! FINALLY – WE WERE SAILING!
I felt great. I laid in the cockpit stretched out feeling elated. We were back in action – Britican, Simon, Sienna and me. While laying on the soft cushions enjoying the motion of the boat I looked out over the sea. My whole mind and body groaned with delight. I heard my thoughts announce, ‘Boy, did I miss this!’
Around 4:30pm I asked Simon if he was going to be a provider for us and catch us dinner. Simon put one of the lines in the water and five minutes later we had a tuna. While Simon brought the tuna in, several spotted dolphins came to swim along the boat and flying fish sporadically jumped out of the sea. Could life get any better?
Simon filleted the fish and made fish tacos.
Before dinner, however, our wind reduced to nothing. We put the engine on and headed in a direction that circled 360 degrees of blue expanse. The waves and swell were small. The Atlantic Ocean seemed quiet – very quiet.
We motored into the night and as morning arrived we hit some heavy rain.
The night watch system we instigated was three hours on and six hours off. Becky took the 9 – 12, I put myself down for 12 – 3 and Simon opted for 3 – 6. I only lasted one hour. Seasickness had set in and I felt like I was going to die. Perhaps more sleep would ease the pain?
Side note – have you read my book yet?!
Once everyone was up, I took my position in the cockpit lying down. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t eat. I forced myself to drink water knowing the dire consequence of dehydration. Thoughts started going through my head…’Why didn’t I take some pills before we left? How come I though that I’d be okay? Why did we plan such a long trip – what if I’m unwell for the next four days?
How can I call myself a sailor if I can’t freaking handle sailing?’
If I didn’t have the year break, the sailing and motoring conditions would have been fine for me. The ocean was calm. I was just out of touch with the movement of the sea. I needed to re-habituate myself. That was all.
For day two we enjoyed the slate blue colors of the sea. There was quite a bit of low cloud coverage and the ocean was dark rather than the blue you traditionally expect to see.
We sailed a bit but we were really relying on the engine. Simon started measuring our Diesel consumption. If we failed to find wind we wouldn’t have enough fuel to make the full trip. We downloaded a weather report from our Satellite communications system. Becky and Simon studied the GRIB files for several moments. Where can we get some wind?
We spotted wind northeast of us. If we didn’t get the wind we needed, we could turn west and sail into Annapolis, Boston or even New York. None of us wanted to change plans but we had to consider our situation.
I felt like this tiny little object slowly scouring a massive sea to find something we lost.
It was like looking for a needle in haystack. Our wind display showed a maximum of five knots and it circled the dial. The wind was lacking and what wind was around was all over the place.
For day two I slept almost the full day. All I could do to ward off the desire for death was to close my eyes and spend time dreaming. At least sleep provided an escape from my hell. I managed to eat dinner – chili over rice with sour cream and cheddar cheese. As a side note, I made a double batch and froze it before we left (I also made beef stew, chicken pot pies (2), pasta bake, and the fixings for chicken soup/stew.)
I couldn’t eat much chili but what I did eat did provide a tiny bit of pleasure. With my head tilted sideways, I had to lay horizontal and guide the spoon over to my mouth. I couldn’t lift my head.
If I did I was surely go to slip from feeling like I was going to die to truly wanting to die.
During the night we hit squall after squall after squall. The first one wasn’t too bad – only 20 knots of wind and a lot of rain. Then the lightening made its appearance and higher winds. Nothing’s more unnerving than seeing a massive lightening bolt hit the water right in front of you. I’m not a religious person, but I quietly prayed to God asking for protection.
At one point I managed to get up to help Becky. Errr…actually I’m not sure I helped. Too much wind hit our sails and we lost control of the boat. Both of us forgot the age old saying, ‘when in doubt, let it out.’ Simon rushed to the cockpit, eased out the main and we regained control. On the sea in the pitch black, winds can go from nothing to 40 knots. It’s scary. Yes, you can often see squalls on radar but we didn’t have ours on. We were managing fine through previous squalls but we just happened to hit one that was more severe than the previous.
Without knowing it Becky and I managed to turn the boat completely around. I looked out on our plotter and saw that we were heading back to Charleston!
Needless to say, I used my adrenaline to help as best as I could and then I was back in my horizontal position. At least I had some comfort in the fact that I can become an active crew member when emergencies arise.
During the night we sailed half the time and motored the other. We used the wind from the squalls to propel us east. And on day three we split our voyage between sailing and motoring. Once we dropped below 3.5 knots we’d put the engine on.
By day three I managed to be able to read in my horizontal position. I sought relief by submerging my mind into a book. I needed escapism! Sienna watched some movies, played on her Ipad, read some books and chilled in the cockpit. She also managed to lose her second ever tooth.
Discussions were held as to whether or not Sienna’s tooth fairy, Toothina, would find us in the Atlantic.
I told Sienna not to be discouraged if she didn’t make it to us. Becky helped Sienna to write a letter to Toothina and we put the tooth in a special glow-in-the-dark tooth holder.
Between days three and four we had nice wind. The water was a deep royal blue. White caps where forming and the clouds where big and fluffy. Every once in a while I’d have moments of bliss. I’d look at the sea and feel good.
Unfortunately, however, our mainsail clew ripped out. That’s the area of the sail that is connected to the back of the boom. At first we were going to drop the sail but then Simon decided to reef it (reduce the sail and clip a reefing loop to the boom). Even when motoring into the wind having the mainsail up provides stability. It prevents the boat from flopping around.
Our fears of running out of fuel disappeared.
Eventually the wind wrapped around to our bow and we had to change course to keep sailing. We discussed options and decided to sail for a while before turning the engine on once again. It felt as if we were squeezing out everything we could get.
Fantastic chats were held in the cockpit. With my head down I’d often be able to hold a conversation for quite some time. As long as I didn’t move too much I felt a tiny bit of control over my affliction. Spending five days with someone on a boat is such a present. We were so fortunate to get to know Becky better. Stories were shared, laughs were had and special moments, like this amazing sunset, were captured.
Toothina found us on the Atlantic. She left $2 and a note for Sienna.
With only 24 hours left to sail/motor there was a sense of relief amongst us all. Going into the night, however, I started to feel slightly insane. I felt so awful and I couldn’t stop my fears from spiraling. Worries plagued me about rouge waves, the keel falling off, engine failure, Simon falling overboard. I tried sleeping in our bed, on the sofa, in Sienna’s bed (Sienna slept on part of the sofa)…in the end I finally fell into sleep in the cockpit.
In the morning the sea started to calm down a bit – we had a landmass to thank for that. It was a great relief when we saw something different on the horizon – it was Bermuda! There she was. Simon and Becky yelled ‘Land A’hoy!’ and we all cheered.
Around 9am in the morning we made radio contact with Bermuda Radio.
They gave us brief instructions, asked several questions (Call sign, MMSI, EPIRB number, passengers on board, nationality, size and description of the boat, last port, future port).
The excitement of talking to land got us all riled up. We then had to motor for six more hours to make it to Customs. We felt so close yet still so far away. Knowing that I’d be on land soon gave me some solace. I spent most of the time lying down in my horizontal position reading my book.
As per instructions from Bermuda Radio, we called as we approached St David’s Head. The radio controller asked us to wait for the cruise ship to leave the channel and then proceed. Just as we started to enter a very narrow channel, a fast ferry called us to say for us to proceed first. It was fantastic to see land and talk to people. Our trip was almost over.
Simon took us into the harbor and we easily moored up at the Customs building. All four of us got off the boat, filled out the necessary paperwork at Customs and prepared the boat for the anchorage. While on the dock we got rid of our trash, put our sail cover on and tidied the boat. Within an hour or so of being in the harbor I felt fine. The seasickness was gone. I ate a full meal of sausages, coleslaw and macaroni salad (all purchased from a supermarket before we left America). And I managed two glasses of wine!
Being at anchor in a beautiful bay with amazingly gorgeous blue-green water was bliss. The voyage was worth it! I was finally in heaven again.
Hey – I made a video about how to provision and prepare for a boat passage during our lead up to sailing to Bermuda. Click the link to watch the video.
What more from Sailing Britican?
Well…if you like reading about our adventures, please make sure to read my book! It covers our first three years and over 18,500 miles of traveling from the Med across the Atlantic, up the Caribbean and along the east coast of America. The book also covers the lead up to why and how we sold up to sail away.
If you’re interested in getting into sailing, and haven’t purchased a boat yet, make sure to read my guide: ‘How To Buy A Sailboat Without Getting Screwed.’