St. George's Town, Bermuda
11 November 2012
This rainbow over the harbor yesterday morning was a beauty - not bad in the pic but even more brilliant 30 seconds earlier when I first started fumbling for the camera.
Around here the carnage continues. Boat after boat arrives with tattered sails and tired, glassy eyed crew. The churned up seas from Sandy were just starting to abate when the Nor'easter hit. Many boats felt its effect. One boat that was out at sea in the nor'easter arrived completely saturated with water. By the time I got to shore the next day, ALL of the gear, cushions, clothes, bedding etc on board had been pulled off it and, resembling a nautical yard sale, was hung or laid out anywhere the sun and breeze might start to dry it. The crew's dishpan bodies were slowly returning to a more normal pink and rosy hue. Alcohol taken internally undoubtedly helped with that a bit.
Not all the entertainment was storm induced. Around 4:00am one morning on a fairly calm, quiet night, I woke up to the sound of voices very close astern. I popped out of bed in time to see S/V Makatack ghosting by under a small bit of mainsail with no lights and no engine. Their engine had died in the cut and in a masterful bit of sailing, the crew (All of whom, I was to learn later, were excellent sailors/accomplished racers on a professional delivery job) had sailed her in and, when I spotted them, were on the final approach to the customs dock. They did it beautifully, kissing the dock gently - no damage. Later, after checking in and succeeding in restarting their engine, I woke up to hear them trying to grab the mooring right off KR's stern. That is not an easy task in the dark in any event. With the chain mooring pennants used around here it is even more difficult. Just as they missed their first attempt, their engine failed once again. They were ready for that and an anchor was almost immediately rattling its way to the bottom. Still, they were too close to the rocks and concrete bulkheads astern. On a windier night and despite their best efforts they would quickly have had the boat aground - rudder pounding on ugly things. When I had seen them attempting to grab the mooring I considered jumping in the dink and rowing over to help and had, in fact put on some shorts and grabbed my headlamp in preparation. When they dumped the anchor overboard and the Captain jumped in with a rope in his teeth (How Errol Flynn!) to try to get something attached to the mooring, I stopped hesitating. By the time I got there in Katerik, he had the line through something on the mooring and was trying to tie a bowline - a task much more easily accomplished sitting in a boat with a headlamp shedding some light on the subject. Once it was tied we hailed the boat to "Haul Away". However, as soon as they started to haul on the line, the knot they had too hurriedly tied to join together a couple of mooring lines came untied. The Captain dove for the rope end still attached to the mooring and I rowed off at full steam to get the other end back from the boat. This was accomplished, the knot retied (I am not proud of the knot I tied - but it DID work) and the crew was again, and this time successfully, hauling the boat away from danger. In the morning I loaned them KR's starting battery so that they could restart their engine and move to the bulkhead. They are still there waiting to leave while the local diesel mechanic tries to figure out why their engine keeps cutting out.
These are fun people and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing a few beers and many sailing stories with them since their arrival.
Another bit - Last night an Italian flagged boat entered the harbor and was wandering about trying to find the Customs Dock. The US based crew had not planned on a Bermuda stop so had no charts on board for the harbor or approaches. I happened to be hanging about in the cockpit after dinner so had a front row seat for the lead up to the festivities and was feeling great compassion for them. There are some very bright lights on the shore beyond Ordnance Island and it is very difficult to see when approaching. With Bermuda Radio's help they eventually found their way and made the turn towards the Customs Dock. They approached way too fast and, inexplicably at the time, passed it by with a full head of steam up. I learned this morning that their transmission linkage had failed and when they tried to hit reverse the tranny stayed engaged in forward. Not being aware of that, apparently, the helmsman hit the throttle hoping to slow the boat. This obviously had exactly the opposite effect. His last chance to avoid a calamitous entry and sudden very hard stop was to spin the boat hard around right by the customs dock - and didn't do it. Once in the narrow, boat and concrete bulkhead lined slot between Ordnance Island and the St. George's waterfront, he was out of options. I watched as first the boat and then its mast rapidly disappeared behind the Customs buildings. Within 10 very long seconds (which were undoubtedly even longer for those onboard) there was a loud and very expensive sounding crash. The boat had run directly into the concrete bridge which connects Ordnance Island to the "mainland", took a major chunk of concrete out of it and did some serious damage to the bow area where the head stay and anchor roller attach. A surveyor will be needed to assess the repairs required but it could have been much worse.
Sails are readily repaired or replaced, cushions and other gear will soon be dried, gear and equipment failures will be promptly corrected and fiberglass and gelcoat can be repaired. The crews, showing the apparently unlimited resilience of human beings in general and sailors in particular, will be laughing and joking about their experiences by the time the second round of drinks at the White Horse has sunk home. (The biggest danger to them now is the threat of a serious hangover the next day - historically not much of a deterrent for your average sailor recently arrived from a passage at sea.)
Yes, sailors are resilient - but tragedy struck Friday when one sailor was apparently not resilient enough.
Friday night I had the VHF radio on - not common for me. If Makatack's engine had gotten fixed they would be heading to sea. If not, they would be heading to the White Horse and would call me to join them. I was, therefore, listening when Bermuda Radio started broadcasting a Pan, Pan announcement requesting assistance in searching for a man lost overboard from a sailing vessel at a position 30 miles west of Bermuda.
By the time I made it in to the White Horse that night, the stories were circulating that the missing crewmember had reached a point mentally where being on the vessel for even a minute more was intolerable - and he had jumped overboard! This is clearly not a rational choice and just as clearly he was no longer capable of listening to reason as the other crewmembers tried to talk him back aboard. I won't go into the details that I have heard - they are 3rd or 4th hand at best and therefore very suspect. The one clear fact is that the vessel eventually lost visual contact with the man and, despite staying on station and searching all night (and being joined in this effort by the Bermuda Search and Rescue Boats) never saw him again.
I have not used crew on a passage in over 5 years and am often asked why. The very truthful answer I always give is that while using crew brings with it many benefits, it also brings many responsibilities. When I go to sea by myself, all of the pre-passage preparation and many strategic and tactical decisions made under way affect only me and KR.
I will, however, have crew aboard when I depart Bermuda for St. Martin in the next week or so. I will enjoy having someone to talk to as well as getting a bit more sleep and, frankly, am looking forward to the opportunity to do a bit of teaching of a very interested student.
Despite this, watching the carnage arrive here every day has made me very reflective on the choice to use crew.
I have seen a couple of cases where everything was well done by a capable and experienced crew and Captain with a strong, seaworthy boat, and yet the significant wages of a difficult passage were still paid.
In the majority of cases, however, it is clear that major deficiencies existed even before the boat left port. The worst cases seem to have been when a clearly incapable Captain leaves port without (apparently) even checking the weather. Lack of boat preparation, particularly in assuring not only the condition but also the redundancy in critical systems seems to be the other biggie. That the first often coincides with the second is not, I think, actually a coincidence.
As for crew that comes aboard, crew that in some cases should never have been aboard in the first place, or who are so cavalier about the risks involved that they don't double check the important things (like the weather report for instance) themselves - I am afraid that I just don't understand.
Stephan, while not a sailor, is clearly a fit and capable waterman who knows what the ocean can dish out. He will need no coddling from me. He doesn't know what questions to ask me about the boat, its condition or the capabilities and condition of the gear aboard. In effect, he is judging and trusting that I am capable (and obsessive) enough to have done the worrying about such things for him. He's right, of course - at least about the obsessive part.
Still, I feel the extra responsibility and find myself rethinking/reanalyzing my trip preparations to see where they might be improved. There isn't much - but a few items could use some attention. As an example, the Abandon Ship grab bag will be much more complete on this trip than previous. I wonder if it wouldn't be wise to take a slow, thoughtful trip through the First Aid Kit as well.
Stephan will be clear of his dive shop responsibilities after next Saturday and we will take the first window south after that. We will be prepared.
That's the plan in any case.
Best to all.