"Light Blue"

Lawry and exhausted bird

Did you buy that bird on higher perches?

Living the dream

Escape from paradise USA

April 2008

In spite of the soft touch lack of release from the most powerful federation in the universe, we managed it in reverse, as usual, and sailed out of St Augustine inlet calmly on 10 April 2008, followed by the privateer ‘Freedom', which returned its earthling load back to the quay, safely and in an excited state.

We set a course of 092º magnetic for the beautiful islands of Bermuda, some 850 miles away. To us it was planned as an eight-day voyage, but we were not to know that it would take us all of the eight days and another two hours to finally reach our haven. Nor did we know that we would encounter the roughest and most prolonged bout of adverse weather since we left Plymouth, England, in June 2006. Florida and Atlantic weather forecasts were benign to say the least.

The start of our journey eastwards was very gentle and enabled Siobhán and me to settle our new crew Kent and Mary Lou into sea life aboard ‘Light Blue’. They appeared to be very relaxed as they were soon snoozing in each others’ arms in the warmth of the cockpit. Within hours, the wind died and we switched on the engine to charge the batteries and maintain our speed. I wanted to reach the Gulf Stream at an opportune time, when the wind was in the south, so that we didn’t have wind against tide, which for those non-sailors among our readers makes for very lumpy seas.

Shortly afterwards, the wind piped up to 14 knots from the north east and while everyone napped below, I unfurled the light wind genoa (LWG). I then had to alter course to pass behind an ocean going tug towing a large container barge. Meanwhile, on watch, I saw a large turtle and just before dark a few dolphins, but only for seconds, followed by my first flying fish for months.

RIP Lolita

The following day, at 13.45, I wrote, ‘A small pod of (5-6) dolphins pulled us through the purple seas of the Atlantic Ocean at 6 knots and then off after the flying fish — an idyllic day of sailing’.

By midnight, the wind had risen to 21 knots, so we furled the LWG, unfurled the working jib, put one reef in the main and settled in for a fast bout of broad reaching. I wrote, ‘Good to be alive’.

Over the next day and a half the wind built up to southerly force 6, then southerly force 7 and we gambolled through the waves with half the working jib and three reefs in the main. The wind was predominantly between 26 to 32 knots, but occasionally gusted to 36 knots.

At 15.00 hours on 13 April, we were joined by a tiny flycatcher-type bird, which we named Lolita. She had a reddish brown cap on her head, white eye shadow on the lower lids, white flecks on the tail and a yellow breast. She had picked a good time to land because at 17.00, the log recorded southerly gale 8. She stayed with us until 10.30 the next day, spending time below and also in the companionway. However, notwithstanding our attempts to feed her, her little heart gave out and she was given a burial at sea. RIP Lolita. She gave us some joyful hours of companionship.

... all is peace and tranquillity

By noon, we had flaked out all reefs and were trying to sail with the LWG and full main, but by 15.00 had given up and lowered the main completely and furled the LWG as they were flogging, because of the variable winds (south-westerly to north- westerly) and swell. A northerly wind finally came in with a vengeance at force 6 to 7 at 23.00 and we sailed with half the working jib and the engine ticking over at 1 500 revs.

Siobhán's name in lights

Crew settling-in time (not only the reefs that were flaked out, ed.)

The adverse winds continued to harass us ranging from WSW, NW, north, south and west and ranging in strength from force 3 to force 7. However, at 16.45 I wrote, ‘How things change, everyone soundly asleep below — on watch under a beautiful blue sky interspersed with fluffy white clouds — doing 2.6 knots. Both foresails furled as they were slapping about. The mainsail centred and the wind indicator swinging from NW to SW and back again. I’m awaiting the next definite change in wind direction. “Light Blue” is rising and falling with the ocean swell and all is peace and tranquillity.’

On the morning of 16 April, with the winds up to 38 knots, with three reefs in the main and half the working jib, we hove-to, to give us all a rest. She hove-to reasonably well, drifting with speeds of 0.9 to 2 knots towards the north. While we were hove-to and at about13.00, we experienced winds of force 8 to 9 (34 to 47 knots), but following this short gale the winds decreased via south, west and north to 12 knots variable. During this time Siobhán, Kent and Mary Lou released all reefs, and then took in one reef to stop the roach of the mainsail from slapping against the back stays. Siobhán wrote, ‘Seas choppy with large swell. Engine on heading for Bermuda again.

The boom was held secure by the mainsheets and a short preventer to a padeye on the starboard toerail.’ At 18.45, Siobhán ‘saw dark blue skies and a dark blue waterspout off our stern’. Kent wrote later, ‘After 19.00 the wind increased from 6 knots to 22 knots. We could see rain to the south coming toward our position. We reduced sail to the third reef without a foresail. Within minutes after the rain started, the wind was 47.5 off the beam. We heeled over to about “18º and a near knockdown” (Kent’s estimate). The boat was turned downwind. After a violent half hour the wind dropped back to force 7.’

The wind abated, but towards 02.00 hours rose to gale force and stayed within the range of 34 to 52 knots for the next 24 hours, during which time we scurried south east on a broad reach with just the mainsail with three reefs in. At times we were surfing down the mammoth swell and waves at over 8 knots, but ‘Light Blue’ was in her element and all of us agreed that during that severe gale, she looked after us so very well. All crew were magnificent and the skipper was grateful that he was able to leave the wheel during this stormy period to get some rest. Just as with every fishy story, the length of the gale has grown and grown, but the log shows quite clearly that for four days we were continuously in winds ranging from force 5 to force 7 (20 to 33 knots) and for 24 hours we experienced continuous winds in excess of 34 knots and up to 52 knots.

And the damage to Light Blue and crew. Mary-Lou had a bump on her head, where she collided with a head-high fiddle. We lost one dorade vent and a floating Lewmar winch handle (not much good at 8 knots) over the side. One of the mainsail battens popped out of its luff pocket and one of the new Selden mainsail/mast cars snapped.

Cape Canaveral

Two happy gals off to Bermuda

For those of you who are aware of the rigging problems we had while in the USA, we have just heard that Selden placed the wrong cars on our mast/mainsail. They are replacing the whole batch with the correct size and strength cars with a breaking strain of 6 000 Newtons. And an apology? Not yet.

So, as I write this, I am sitting on the boat at Captain Smoke’s Marina in Bermuda, having spent the week so far repairing the heads, the cooker gimbal and electric switch. The sail will be refurnished with new cars next week, our Inmarsat and SSB will have been rewired with more modern and efficient wiring, the spray hood rip will be mended and various other little jobs will be completed. A cool breeze is wafting down the hatch. I am drinking a cool Corona Extra, Siobhán is in Ireland awaiting her second interview for a job, and Kent and Mary-Lou have gone for a day sail on a catamaran. All is peace and tranquillity. Time for another beer.

Will write again soon

Love to everyone from all the crew

28 April 2008

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