'Dark and Stormy' - A passage to Bermuda
29 April 2019 | Convict Bay, St George's Harbour, Bermuda
TITLE: 'Dark and Stormy' - A passage to Bermuda
LOCATION: 32:23N 066:40W
AUTHOR: Richard Rowley
At Anchor, Convict bay, St George's Harbour, Bermuda.
Monday 29th April 2019
'This Little bay where winding in from the oceans rude and angry din
The billows kissed the shore then flow calmly to the deep again'
I have written up an account of our passage from West Palm Beach, Florida to Bermuda. This was the first passage on our Atlantic Odyssey where we encountered any real adverse weather of note, touching gale force 7 to 8 on occasions but nominally a strong force 6 for two and half days. On several occasions on our voyages we had experienced 30-40kt winds as we had rounded headlands or in acceleration zones etc but these not being part of a diverse weather system only last for a few hours or so at most and in a comparatively benign sea, nothing quite like we what we experienced on this passage in the open sea. I knew that we would hit this low coming though and knew that we would be encountering gust up to 35kts. Having sailed Cerulean in 40kt+ winds previously on several occasions back in the UK I knew that I, my crew and the boat could handle it.
I have included extracts from the log to give you the full picture.
910 down 0 to go
West Palm Beach, Florida USA to St George's Harbour, Bermuda.
We arrived at St George's Harbour, Bermuda at 06:45 local time Friday 26th April.
Distance run: 910 Nautical Miles; Duration: 7 days 22 hours 55 minutes; Average speed 4.77kts; Engine Hours 84.3; Percentage motoring 44%
We left West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Inlet on 18th April at 07:50 and moored at the customs dock in St Georges Harbour, Bermuda 26th April at 06:45.
I had been studying the weather since we arrived at West Palm Beach to looking for a suitable window to leave for our passage to Bermuda. A series of lows flows out of the Carolina's to the north of Florida and head south east at a regular rate, probably one a week, thus on a passage of 8 days or thereabouts we were likely to encounter one of these fronts at sometime or other and with it some unpleasant weather some where on passage.
I noticed a weather window for Thursday 18th April, just after the wind had round back to the South East after the previous front. This gave us a days or so to cross the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream before the next front was due. What I wanted to ensure was that we would not encounter any aspect of northerly wind whilst we were crossing the Gulf Stream, as this can whip up a rough sea against the northerly flow of the Gulf Stream. There seemed to be another front following on a couple of days later but not as deep the the previous one. This was our opportunity to jump or be holed up in Florida for another week or so, the next weather system following seemed to be a series of lows coming through. Not that staying in delightful Florida would have been a great hardship, perhaps venturing up the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) would have been a great experience traveling through some beautiful and pleasant waters, but we have a schedule to keep to and this low did not appear to be as severe as some of the others we had watched going through.
Our plan was to get across the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream as quick as possible. It was about 70 miles for us to cross the Florida Straits rounding the top of the Bahamas, at 5kts only 14 hours may be less. The intention was to to keep as far south as we could and pass as close as we could above the northern Bahamas so that we would be as afar away as possible from the low that was going to be passing through with in the next day or so. The further south we were to be the less wind strength we would encounter.
As it happened as soon as we motored out of the Lake Worth Inlet, the Gulf Stream was on us trying to take us north, with the south easterly (150deg) wind the best course we could lay was NE, perhaps 065deg may be less, even though we were hard on the wind, we really wanted a course of East 090deg to counteract the strong Gulf Stream Current. Our boat speed and speed over ground created by the Gulf Stream current brought our apparent wind angle well forward of the beam, putting us hard on the wind. We were soon out into the full flow of the the northerly current. The wind was southerly force to 4 to 5 and nice stiff breeze, not too much and not too little. With 2 reefs in the main and 50% genoa we were making a nice 5-6 knots, the current was taking us north at 4kts, as we got to the centre of the stream the current was shooting us northwards at 4.8kts, our speed over ground over 9kts, fantastic sailing with the sea pushing us along and fair breeze, although we were hard on the wind, with the modest amount of sail we were not healing too much and the motion was comfortable. We had crossed over the Florida Straits by easily by 20:00 about 10 hours but 30nm north of my desired position but still in the influence of the Gulf Stream,the surface sea temperature being still at 27.5 degrees C, but the current had reduced to just a couple of knots and turned a bit more to the east. Once out of the Gulf Stream the current continued to fluctuate quite a bit in direction and speed, sometimes NE, other times NW, occasionally south varying from 1-2 knots
The barometer had now dropped 3mb over the past 6 hrs from 1020 at 14:00hrs to 1017 at 22:00hrs.
Throughout the day we had seen the evidence of the approaching warm front with the fair weather cumulus clouds clearing and giving way to to a mackerel sky with thickening cloud beyond, the winds steadily building. Within a couple of hours we had winds gusting up to 40kts, Force 8 although the nominal wind speed remained force 5. The main sail tore...it had burst a seam near the top. I had spotted a small hole, I had just gone down below to wake Alison up to help me and put some bits and pieces away, and a big gust and wave hit us and knocked us sideways, jolting the rudder and knocking us of course to windward. When I got back up on deck i noticed the mainsail had split right across the seam. I quickly dropped the sail...and left Alison sleeping oblivious to what was going on...
With the stay sail set, a handkerchief of genoa I reset 'Old Harry' the Hydrovane our windvane self steering gear, too my surprise Cerulean balanced under head sails alone in 25-30kts of wind and kept a steady and true course to windward making 4.5 to 5.5kts in a heavy sea with a relatively comfortable motion. Great! The nominal wind speed force 5-6 with the occasional gust up to 30kts. The mackerel sky had now given way to patchy cloud cover with some menacing looking dark patches lurking here and there, but still patches of clear sky.
We were now getting the odd rain shower and the sea state was getting a little rougher and more and more waves were starting to break over the boat. Cerluean is generally a dry boat with just the occasional wave catching us unawares and giving us a soaking, someone was now throwing buckets of cold water over us a regular intervals. With Alison now on watch from midnight to 4am i went down below for a kip.
When I cam back up at 4am I noticed that Alison had noted in the log at midnight 'growing cloud gusting 25kts' followed at 2am by Wind speed and direction SSE force 5/6 and the comment 'big splash made me very wet.' The wind was backing SE to SSE. I noted in the log at 4am that the sea temperature had dropped 2 degrees to 25 degrees C, direction 349 degress (T) and 1.2kts we where now getting out of the Gulf Stream.
Day 2 Friday 19th April:
0800hrs course: 090;heading: 090;log: 124nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: South Force 6; Sea Temp: 25,5degC; Barometer: 1018; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 4/8; weather/visibility; Good; Position 28deg 17'.2N 077deg 58'.8W; Comment 'Taking lots of waves over deck; reefed genoa and staysail.
We had averaged over 5.1kts over the past 24hrs, not too bad considering conditions.
1600hrs: comment: Water in stern gland bilge; what! is the stern gland leaking? that could be a real problem, this could sink us. I looked around the stern gland and could not see it dripping, that was a relief; shut engine down and felt around with my hand, still no signs of it dripping, but where has the water come from, I stuck my hand into the bilge and found that the lumber hole that drains the this bilge into the main bilge was blocked, i pulled out some rubbish and it quickly drained away. Where had this water come from? well I was quite sure it was not coming up through the bottom of the boat, more likely spray and the driving penetrating rain coming in through the cockpit hatches which drain down to here, i could see the trial of water. In actual fact when the bow gets buried down into a wave and comes back up again the foredeck is awash with water which pours down the sidedeck and if there is enough of it, which there had been of the past day or so pours over the into the cockpit at the aft end around the back of the cockpit coming with some of it draining down through the lazerrete, plus we had quite a bit of water leaking down through the mast, a problem with keel stepped masts, so I turned on the auto bilge pumps to empty out the bilge.
The cloud steadily built through out the day, I could see the warm front approaching with a thick bank of cloud being lit up by a spectacular thunderstorm. By 1600hrs the cloud was beginning to envelope us to either side and to the aft but could still sea fair skies ahead 5/8ths cloud cover
By 22:00hrs we had a steady force 6, sea temp dropped to 24.2degC; genoa furled to 10%, full staysail and the torn mainsail already stowed away.
Day 3 Saturday 20th April:
0000hrs midnight; course: 080;heading: 090;log: 208nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: South Force 6; Sea Temp: 24,2degC; Barometer: 1017; Sea State: Moderate;Cloud; 8/8; weather/visibility; poor; Position 28deg 24'.9N 076deg 25'.8W; Comment 'Staying inside; ship passing 2 miles ahead'.
0200hrs; 'Alison being sick' was not feeling great myself, not normally ever seasick but found myself taking a Kwells seasickness tablet.
With 'Old Harry' taking the helm and the boat nicely balanced and settled we could take a watch from down below. Being a deck saloon we have good all round visibility even at night. With the chart-plotter displaying our course and heading and AIS and the radar we can keep a good lockout. We also have AIS and Radar alarms in case we have missed anything. with the egg timer set for 20 minutes to remind to get up and have a good look around, even up in the cockpit if necessary, but we can stay snug and more importantly dry in the cabin.
0400hrs; 'Dark and stormy' (interestingly enough that is the name of our favourite rum cocktail)
0800hrs; course: 070; Heading: 090 log: 247nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: South Force 5/6; Barometer: 1017; Sea State: Moderate/Rough; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Thunderstorm; Position 28deg 30'.2N 075deg 52'.66W; Comment 'Front passing over; on course for Bermuda; Genoa only; max wind speed 35.6kts'
123nm in past 24hrs average speed 5.125kts...and in the right direction! always a bonus.
1100hrs; 'wet rough and leaking'
by now, as the front passed over we were in torrential rain, never seen or been in anything like it before; I went out into the cockpit with the full wet weather gear on, jacket, salopettes and boots, first time they had been out of the locker for 8 months, completely soaked through in 5 minutes, but a spectacular sight, wished I had set the GoPro up. GThe sea was a bright turquoise colour under a steely grey sky, visibility severely reduced because of the rain. Although there was a large swell, may be 5m+ the period was 6 or 7 seconds and the motion relatively gentle, the surface of the sea almost smooth excepting the splashes caused by the giant raindrops, the waves dissipated and the sea smoothed by the rain...quite and extraordinary sight to behold, a surreal experiencee...but bloody wet...back down below to get out of these wet clothes and warm up...brrr...hatch covers in...
1200hrs; course: 065T; Heading: 060T log: 267nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: North West Force 5; Barometer: 1019; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Poor; Position 28deg 36'.5N 075deg 17'.4W; Comment 'Wind veered heavy rain engine on for 20 minutes'
This is the front passing over and the wind with a defined veer to the NW, no problem as we are now out of the Gulf Stream; as the wind veered quite quickly the sea state and changing wind direction made the boat wallow a bit and it was difficult to hold a course, we put the engine on for a while whilst the wind settled down and keep the motion of the boat steady. Barometer rising.
1400hrs; course: 085T; Heading: 050T log: 276nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: North West Force 5/6; Barometer: 1020; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Poor; Position 28deg 41'.8N 075deg 05'.7W; Comment 'Heavy rain'
1600hrs; course: 070T; Heading: 080T log: 287nm; Power:Sail; Wind Direction/Speed: North West Force 4; Barometer: 1020; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Calm; Position 28deg 47'.24N 074deg 53'.7W; Comment 'Rain stopped'
1700hrs; course: 067; Heading: ?? log: 291nm; Power:MotorSail; Wind Direction/Speed: North West Force 2/3; Barometer: 1020; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Fair; Position 28deg 48'.54N 074deg 49'.01W; Comment 'Wind dropped; engine on'
That was the cold front passing over, the winds have now dropped, still from the NW but backing to West force 2/3; with the wind behind us and a wind speed of between 5-10kts we were not making much headway on a broad reach with the apparent wind speed (wind over the deck) being less than 5kts, we put the motor on, and furled the head sails as they were just flopping around, with the torn mainsail already stowed we had no sail up to steady the boat and we were 'rocking greatly' as Alison noted in the log a midnight. The wind now light and variable for the next 48hrs, sometime we would have enough wind to sail others not, if the boat speed dropped to less than 2kts we started to wallow and the motion was a became uncomfortable and time to motor again until the wind became more favourable for sailing thus we progressed for the next couple of days covering a further 229nm in 48hrs averaging 4.77kts.
Whilst all this was happening our AIS signal and GPS signal kept on dropping out, not sure why, rain in the electronics? atmospheric conditions? I do not know, but it eventually settled down.
Day 4 Sunday 21st April Easter Day
0800; no log entry just a note 'Engine off; spotted fuel leak'
I had checked the bilge, there was quite a bit diesel fuel slopping around in the bottom, a fuel leak somewhere, immediate thought was it from the engine supply or return. I dipped the tank, we had used 30 litres more than we should have done. Looked as though the engine fuel filter had a small leak, it always weeps a bit but... I changed the filter and the 'O' rings with it, that will hopefully do the job. We had to bleed the engine to get it going again, after priming the filter and the fuel pump with the manual pump, i cracked open two of the injectors and as Alison turned the engine over on the starter button i noticed a big spark coming from of the wires near the starter motor, 'STOP' I shouted then looked at the wire more closely, it was still smouldering.
I pealed back the insulation tape binding the wiring loom together and found that this wire was from the relay that controls the starter motor. The same relay we had problems with at the start of our Odyssey back in August last year whilst we were at Dartmouth, when the starter motor did disengage and turned it into a generator and blew up the starter battery and welded the 2500amp battery switch. The engineer who came on board replaced the 24v 40amp relay with a 100amp relay and it worked, he said 'probably one of the wires has lost some its resistance' I said 'don't we need to trace the wire down and replace it' the reply was 'na, it will be fine.' I suspect that this smouldering wire could of caused a serious engine fire that would have disabled the boat and possibly led to us abandoning ship in the middle of the ocean, or at least failed and prevented the starter motor once again failing to disengage and blowing up the batteries again, I digress, now back to the story. Within the next half hour the wire had been replaced the fuel system bled and the engine up and running again. I was quite sure that there was no fuel leak now from the engine. I ran the generator and could not identify any significant leak there either, but where was that leak coming from. I will find out. but for now we must carry on, the longer we are at sea the more fuel we would be loosing. I will find out where this leak is coming from, I will have to monitor the situation closely.
1000hrs; course: 060T; Heading: 080T; log: 375nm; Power:MotorSail; Wind Direction/Speed: SSW Force 3; Barometer: 1022; Sea State: Calm; Cloud: 8/8 weather/visibility: Good; Position 29deg 15'.6N 073deg 45'.5W; Comment; Engine on - wire replaced; fuel leak fixed hopefully.
1200hrs: Comment: getting warm and sunny
We were now back into fair weather with light and variable winds still motor sailing on and off.
2200hrs; course: 068T; Heading: ?? log: 439nm; Power:Motor; Wind Direction/Speed: South West Force 3; Sea temp: 23.2; Barometer: 1023; Sea State: Moderate; Cloud: 3/8 weather/visibility: Fair; Position 29deg 33'.3N 072deg 38'.6W; Comment: engine on 22:40; HALF WAY.
A helicopter had shown up on the AIS 11 miles to the starboard quarter at about 21:00hrs, making less than 2kts, it kept on appearing and disappearing, no sign of any ship. A bit strange what would a helicopter be doing out here at least 300 miles from anywhere, hovering in approximately the same place disappearing and reappearing...the Bermuda Triangle... This went for all my watch may be 3hrs. All I can think is a military/Naval exercise, training new recruits to take off and land helicopters aboard ship. A naval warship does not usually display a AIS signal...destroys the element of surprise I guess.
Day 5 22nd April
I was one watch the next morning at dawn, looked like it was going to be a nice day. When it got light I thought it was time we repaired the mainsail. I took the halyard off and disconnected the sail from the cars that connect it to the mast track, and managed to get enough sail down the saloon hatch so that we could sew up the sail on the comfort of the saloon without having to remove the entire sail which would have ben a real pain. The of both us spent the next 9hrs from 0900hrs to 1800hrs, sewing up the the 4ft seam, two roaws of zig-zag back stitch, a painstaking, labourious job, very tiring and hard on the fingers. The main sail was hoisted at 18:09 but unfortunately not enough wind to fill it. The wind had gone a bit light and variable again.
Day 6 23rd April; St George's Day.
By 0400hrs the wind had settled down to N/NE force 4, we could make some speed sailing, not quite the right direction, we needed 070deg, the best we could make was 090 deg, East not North East, well at least we were making way 4kts without the blasted engine.
We had furled away the genoa a couple of days ago as we had noticed a couple of small holes in it and did not want them to get any worse, but we needed more sail up in these light winds. When daylight came I rigged up the Yankee a high cut jib; In order to do that I had to set up the secondary forestay and hank the sail on and rig up a new set up sheets. With this sail now rigged we had full sail up. The slot created between the yankee and the staysail should mean that would be able to point a bit higher and hopefully get a a knot or so of extra speed....that would be handy.
Day 7 24th April
We were back to motoring, we were just not making our course under sail, yes we could put in a few tacks but that would probably take a couple of extra days, we wanted to get in before the nest front hit us, and before all the fuel drained out of thank from the leak.
0450hrs I dipped the fuel tank again; good news the fuel leak had stopped, although we had been using the engine since last dipping the tank, 9hrs engine use actually we had actually used less fuel than I calculated we should use, but that was ok, we had been on low revs motor sailing just using the engine to help us point a bit better on our course and give us a bit of extra speed...whoo, what a relief.
We motor sailed the rest of the day, I dipped the fuel tank twice more that day, both times with positive results, no more lost fuel. great.
Day 8 25th April
Light and variable winds N to NW force 1,2 occasionally 3 lots of motoring I am afraid.
By now we needed to plan our landfall. We did not really want to arrive in the dark, Bermuda is surround by reefs with sharp teeth that eat up ships...the Island of shipwrecks and the wailing of drowned sailors...about 100nm or so to go, we was not going to make it by nightfall today, we needed to slow down so we did not arrive in the middle of the night...
By 18:15 we were sailing again, making 5-6kts....to fast we need to slow down or we will arrive in the middle of the night.
1945hrs: Comment; Lighthouse on the nose, LAND HO!
'What's it flashing', Alison asks, 'hold on a minute' I replied '1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000, 9000, once every ten seconds I reckon' 'that will be Gibbs Head lighthouse then, visible 26M' Alison replies.
2000hrs I called Bermuda Radio on the VHF 16, a requirement they have for all shipping within 30nm of the Island and for all those making an approach. Alison's brother had already submitted an online arrivals notification on our behalf, that should save a lengthy VHF conversation.
21:50hrs; damn it...the the chartplotter on the steering pod in the cockpit has failed...grrr, it has stopped showing me the detailed chart information, I could really do that for our entry, especially if we are going to enter at night. After trying to reset it for an hour or so I eventually switched the whole lot off and switched it back on again...hey presto all came on back to normal...thank god for that.
by now we could see plenty of shore lights and some light on the navigation buoys, I called Alison up on deck from her sleep 'I could do with some help identifying the navigations marks' We could now clearly see the clear water tower buoy, not enough daylight to make out its red and white strips but, we could see the buoy and light...'what's it characteristics'...i don't know, 2 every 5 seconds'...'is says on the chart plotter white Morse A 6s'....'morse code A?'...'may be, what's that'...'I dunno, but its got to be it'
As we approached our waypoint at the clear water buoy SB dawn was breaking, just enough light to make out the outline of land against the shore lights. still an hour before sunrise. We knew that there were a couple of ships due in, we could see them approaching. Another call to Bermuda Radio with our ETA to SB buoy, 30minutes 0600; 'you have permission to enter the Town Cut, but please make hasty progress and there are two ships behind, Amerigo Rio has a rendezvous with the pilot boat at 0615.
'Alison Can you see Spit Buoy, east cardinal' I called out, 'yep over there to port 3 flashes white' she replied. We headed to port leaving the buoy to on our port side we were now entering the narrow channel, 'just keep between the red and green buoys, remember red to starboard, green to port on the way in, the other way round to at home, IALA B'...'right got it'...
I put a few more revs on, we passed the pilot boat on its way out as we entered the approach channel. As we approached the Town Cut, a narrow opening between the rocks that leads us into St George's Harbour the sun rose behind us lighting up the way head for us.
We moored up against the Customs Dock in St George's Harbour at 06:45. Formalities completed we headed just across the way and dropped anchor in Convict Bay had a cup of tea and fell into bed. We awoke a few hours later to find the we had anchored adjacent to S/Y Concubine, one of the yachts we had sailed the ARC+ with to the Caribbean from Las Palmas back in November last year...its a small world.
A bit more about the fuel problem and my investigations if you are interested:
I dipped the tank to check the fuel level and noted the engine hours and the generator hours, calculated what the fuel usage should have been based on the nominal fuel consumption I had previously worked out over my time the with the boat. 3.47lt/hr for the engine and 1.26ltr/hr for the generator. I have clocks on both generator and engine for hours run, so do not have to rely on the log book to work it out, and I have a filler cap in the inspection plate in the centre of the tank. a dipstick graduated off in inches and a chart marked up with inches where I can read of how many litres left in the tank, and thus how many litres have gone from the tank. With all this information, and dipping the tank at suitable intervals I would be able to measure the rate of fuel loss, I created a spread sheet on Excel to help me understand the information and make the calculations for me. The problem was I could not be sure when the fuel leak started, had it started whislt we were back in West Palm Beach? we had been using the generator quite a bit there, or had it only started when we had got out into open sea, and where healed over and plunging into the swell? All questions I did not know the answer to. All I did know with a few calculations was that we had lost may be 30 litres of fuel on top of fuel consumption between filling the tank when we arrived at West Palm Beach in the 11th April and now 235hrs later and having run the generator for 13.65hrs and the engine for 15hrs. When I dipped the tank again 60hrs later we had lost a further 72 litres, even worse and we had only been using the generator. This was looking to be a serious problem, I now suspected a ruptured tank due to the heaving of the tank in the swell. I checked again 9 hrs later, we had not lost any more fuel, I checked several time later at regular intervals, we not loosing any more fuel. Good news but what was happening where had the fuel leaked from, was it the generator, was it a hole in the tank??? For now I was confident we were not loosing anymore fuel and that we had sufficient fuel left in the tank to get us to Bermuda even if we had to motor all the remaining 177nm.
As it happened we did not have to motor all the way to Bermuda, quite a lot of the way but not all, the wind
It was important that I found out we, need a full tank of fuel for our next passage and we cannot afford to loose any fuel, we will be on passage 2000nm to the Azores and through the Bermuda Azores high and we are likely to experience light winds, not enough to sail in, it is recommended that we carry at least enough fuel for a 1000nm of motoring, which for us is a full tank full plus our reserve of 80 litres in containers.
I suspected that it was not a rupture in the tank or leak in the fuel system as such, but fuel leaking out through the inspection plate, which can be difficult to seal. Once in Bermuda I pressure tested the tank. Connecting the foot pump for the inflatable dinghy to the vent pipe spigot and a pressure gauge to a spare tapping, the tank is supposed to be tested to 5psi at manufacture, I barely got to 1psi when fuel seeped out of the tapping for the the old 'Tank Tender' fuel gauge. having tightened this up a bit it leaked less. In conclusion I suspect with a slightly overfilled tank and the combination of the boat heeled over, and the leaking tapping being below the fuel level in the tank due to the angle of heal and possibly the vent pipe outlet as well, and the pressure build up in the tank. Now to get rid of a bilge full of Diesel. Hopefully problem solved for the next leg of our adventure.
Fayre Wynds and Kynd Seas
Richard and Alison
yacht Cerulean of Penryn
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