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Irie Crossing Report. (Long, really long)

Posted By: Bryan C. (

Date: 7/20/2002 10:40a.m.

Dear everyone (and this means you),

This journal entry is far longer than the others have been. I would not have thought that an Atlantic crossing would have generated so much verbiage, but more than being a more fascinating existence the length probably owes more to having more spare time on my hands. It is probably a good thing that is not the normal situation. The condensed version is that we made is across the ocean safely and had a wonderful time. For those of you wanting more detail and having far too much free time on your hands, read on.

07/14/02 Lisbon Portugal

The Atlantic crossing

Our Atlantic crossing journey really began while we were motoring up the Intracoastal waterway, and Eileen agreed to extend the cruise another year and half for a European tour. Up to that point, it was still up in the air as to whether the cruise would be a 6-12 month jaunt up and down the East Coast or the more substantial trip. I was a little surprised when Eileen agreed to go, but also ecstatic as an Atlantic crossing and tour of the Mediterranean was the icing on the cake of my idea of a cruise.

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The plan was for the women to stay back while Art and I sailed Irie across. The first step was insuring we had insurance. Our current carrier covered the US east coast and Bahamas only, so we needed a new policy. I contacted our broker (Reese Scott of IMIS, 1-800-541-4647) to make the arrangements. He found a carrier, but that it required "two people on watch at all times." That was going to be a problem for Art and I, as it would require both of us to be on a 24 hour watch! We needed at least one (preferably two) more crew members to meet the carrier's requirement. Thus began the search.

We first contacted friends. But strangely enough, apparently not that many people think sailing across an ocean is a fun way to spend a month of their lives, if they had a month to take off to begin with. A couple buddies from internet sailing boards had some interest, but couldn't commit to the time. Art had a friend from St. Martin who was going to join us, but at the last minute decided he couldn't take that much time (and thus saved us $1500 in air line tickets we were going to pick up). At this point, we running out of time, so I hit the internet and found a couple "crew wanted" type websites. I posted a notice. I was surprised to get about 20-25 responses over the next few days. The internet is such a wond

Many of the responses were in the nature of "Hi, I'm ____, I'm 21 and want to do something fun this summer. I've never been on a boat before, but I'm a fast learner and will work hard!" The thought of being in the middle of the ocean with a total lubber barfing over the side the first time the waves got up and bawling to go home was not enticing. Fortunately, a number of the responses were also from folks with experience.

We lucked out finding a couple quality guys. Victor Chimineau, 21, a Frenchman, had been working with Deloitte Touche in Connecticut for the last 9 months. He had been sailing since he was a youngster, racing on sailboats with his dad in Normandy. His dad had sailed across the Atlantic years back, and Victor was looking for a chance to do a crossing on his way back to France. Chris Mason, 24, had been programming for a bio-tech firm that was experiencing a slow down. Chris had also been sailing for years, spent several weeks chartering, and wanted to go "to the next level." Both guys checked out and were copasetic with the carrier, so we signed them up. They proved to be good shipmates an

By June 2nd we had shipped the women off, and Art and I spent the next couple of days cleaning up the boat and taking care of financial items (which is a much more involved than you might think when you are leaving the country for a year.)

Victor and Tom joined us on June 5th. The next day we picked up a bunch of stuff at the boat store, and then made a trip to the grocery store. Art had run a restaurant so he was in charge of the provisioning plan, which seemed to basically be buy whatever you think you might want. We walked down the isles grabbing stuff left and right. We ended up with 6 full carts (one of which was nothing but meat) of $1400 worth of groceries. This on top of the stores we already had on the boat. I told the grey haired clerk that we must have earned the customer of the month award, and he laughed and said it was a "career day" for him.

I couldn't believe how much stuff we had. I'd reckon it was about 100 bags. We had to take two taxis to bring it to the marina. The road ended a good 100 yards from the dock, and it was raining, naturally. The dock had no useful cart, so we made several trips back and forth to the boat carrying groceries in the rain.

We finally got it all onto the boat, filling up the whole cockpit. I reasonably figured that since Art was in charge of provisioning he should be in charge of storage also, and left to pick up some things at the drug store. This task took me well over two hours. By the time I returned, all the stuff had magically disappeared. Victor was cramming the last bit of hamburger into plastic bags (the styrofoam packaging took too much space) so everything could be jammed into the freezer. All the school supplies had to be moved into my closet, and poor Victor had to live out of his suitcase because his closet had been confiscated by cans of food.

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By the time we got to Lisbon, we had made a good dent in the food supply, though we probably could have sailed back across with our remaining supplies. I gotta say, though, we ate pretty damn good on the trip.

We left that same day just before midnight, because the nearby Woodrow Wilson bridge only opened after midnight. We crept into the same little cove we had anchored in on the way in. The next two days we worked our way down the Potomac River to Norfolk. We found a couple nice, out of the way anchorages, and we barbequed steaks (out of necessity; we had no more room in the freezer).

We got into the marina at Norfolk on Sunday the 9th at 6pm. We spent the evening packing away the dinghies, cleaning the boat, and changing the fluids and filters. Next morning, we picked up a rented life raft, did some last minute errands, and shoved off at 1:30pm.

On the way out of the Chesapeake, a plane flew over us and dropped a bunch of parachutes. I hope the guys had their PFDs (personal flotation device) on, because they landed in the water about 50 yards off the beach. Later, a couple hovercraft type landing craft whizzed by us, another part of the invasion of Virginia Beach. I figured the were US forces in exercise, but if not, we had got the hell out of there just in time.

Winds were light that first evening, and we were feeling good as land slowly faded out of sight. A beautiful sunset (the first of many) saw us off for our first night.

A beautiful sunrise (the first of many) greeted us the next morning. The winds began to pick up a bit, a few dolphin escorted us for a while, swimming between the bows in the bright, blue water. We were going East, the winds were coming on the beam from the South, and the current was with us as we headed into the Gulf stream about 60 miles offshore. We were making way at about 7 knots (9 knots = 10 MPH), and it was looking to be a fine passage to Bermuda, our first stop, about 650nm (9 nm (nautical miles) = 10 statutory miles) southeast of Norfolk. I calculated it would take about 4 days to get there.

Now, we had been hearing chatter on the radio about the naval exercises going on (accounting for the invasion), including live fire practice. From what we could tell, it seemed to be happening well to the north of us. A couple times Art had called the Coast Guard and Navy vessels to try to determine exactly where the live fire area was, but could not get a response.

That afternoon, we spotted a large Navy ship (a destroyer, I think) heading straight towards us. It was flashing Morse code at us with their signal light. Damn, I knew I should have brushed up on my Morse before I left. Finally they must have figured out that this catamaran was totally lacking in Morse ability and called us on the VHF radio:

Naval vessel: Sailing vessel on my port bow, this is naval warship number 97. You are in a live fire zone as announced in the notice to mariners. (We must have missed that one.) What is your destination?

Me: Bermuda, sir.

Naval vessel: [After a moment of silence]. Divert your course go due south to 35* 05' (that is, 35 degrees 5 minutes) North and then you may continue west. We are going to commence live firing exercises at this time, but we will fire away from your vessel.

Me: I particularly like the part about firing away from my vessel, sir.

This was not good news. We were, at that point, at 35* 45' North, or 40 nautical miles north of the 35* 05' parallel to which the Navy wanted us to go. The Gulf Stream current was coming from the South at about 1.5 knots, and the wind was blowing from the south. Plus, at the moment, one of the engines was MIA as I had been working on a balky alternator. (It had burned out, we had it repaired in Bermuda.) All this meant that the best we could make in a due south direction was maybe 3 knots, and it would take us 12 hours to make 40nm south. I called the Navy to ask about diverting north, and was told we'd have to go about 150 miles in that direction; not an option.

So we cheated a little bit. I got the starboard engine going again, and we motored sailed just enough east of south to keep the sails pulling -- though we were still not heading for Bermuda.

All night we continued to hear chatter on the radio as boats were diverted from the target area. The Navy was strangely reserved about telling anyone exactly where the firing was occurring, and would just tell where to divert to. Secret stuff, I guess. We had a helicopter buzz us later on, but by early morning we were out of the target zone and back on course to Bermuda.

We had lost a lot of time, but nature stepped in and helped us out. The wind picked up to 20-25 knots, from the south, and we had a great ride the rest of the way to Bermuda. Even with sails reefed, we were making 8.5-9.5 knots. We covered more than 200 miles the third day, making up for our little detour. We entered St. George's harbor in Bermuda almost exactly 4 days after we left the Virginia coast.

Bermuda is really a delightful place. The Island (about 25 x 2 miles in size) has a tropical Caribbean feel to it, but Bermuda is more prosperous than others I have visited. It is more densely populated, and everything was very neat and clean. Houses were painted in pastel colors, lawns and gardens were trimmed, and there was no litter. People were very friendly. I was very impressed with the place; the only drawback is that it is quite expensive.

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Tourists there cannot rent cars, but scooters. The scooters cost $35 a day to rent, but then you also have to pay $20 for insurance, which indirectly makes an argument for cars, I suppose. We rented 4 and had great fun scooting around the island, even though we got caught in a squall and spent an hour (literally) riding back through a downpour.

After four great days in Bermuda, we filled up with fuel and water and headed back out. We stopped off at a nice reef (20-25' cuts) on the way out, but the water was a little murky from the recent winds and so visibility wasn't that great.

It is about 1800 miles from Bermuda to the Azores island chain (which itself is about 800 miles west of the Iberian peninsula). Bermuda is about 32* North latitude, about the place of the North/South Carolina border. The Azores are at about 39* latitude, 400 miles farther north. The area between the Azores and Bermuda are marked by a weather phenomena called the Azores High, dominated by a permanent high pressure zone. The winds associated with this area can be light (calms are frequent), so sailors typically generally don't head straight for the Azores from Bermuda but venture north at first, until the range of 38-40 parallel. In that zone, you are more likely to have the currently with you, and in Ju

So that is what we did; we headed NNE out of Bermuda until we got to about the 38th parallel, and then hung a right for the Azores.

Well, once we got up there, the winds *did* pick up, but they apparently hadn't studied the charts. The Log shows only one day where winds were from the west or south; the rest of the time the winds were from the N, NE, or SE. I gave up my junior meteorologistirations trying to figure out why. From the weather reports we knew there were fairly strong Lows to the north and west of use, but I figured we should have been getting winds from the west. NE winds would mean a Low to the SE of us, or a High to the NW, but the opposite was true.

However, during the first few days in the upper thirties we got some good beam winds; one day from the north and one from the south. The winds blew in the 25-30 knot range, gusting into the upper 30s. This continued for over a day. When the waves built up a little bit the boat would surf down them, rumbling over the waves while the speedo would read 10 - 12 knots or more. On one particularly long surf we hit 15.2, about twice the hull speed of the boat. Kind of made you want to go up front and hang ten. It was fun until every once in a while a breaking crest would come from the wrong angle and then wham! smack against the side boat and you'd get drenched. Didn't happen too often; the helmsman's

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We made good time those two days, but the rest of the time the winds were lighter and more from the east. The easterly winds got a little tiring, as we had to beat, or sail into, the waves. Not the best angle on a catamaran, as the oncoming wave would frequently pound against the bottom of the cabin between the hulls.

The other surprising thing about the weather was how cool it was. The day temps were frequently in the low 70s, and felt cooler because of the winds. We wore sweatshirts and foulies frequently. Downright chilly for this Miami boy.

Finally, after 5 straight days of beating back and forth against the uncharacteristic east winds, we were about 400 miles from the Azores and hit the Azores High. We spent the last 3 days motor sailing in very light winds, and it warmed up a bit.

So what is it like living out in the middle of the ocean? It is an immense, empty place. Without anything to give context, the horizon loses perspective. It is at the same time near and far. Without anything to impede, things seem to take on more impressive proportions. I can't describe the depthless blue of the water, the searing fire of the sunsets, the imposing power of waves towering over your sight, the pitch blackness of night when it was overcast, and the brilliance of the moon and stars when it was not. All of these perceptions take on a greater magnitude when you have seen nothing for weeks but sky, water, and the horizon.

Just looking at unimpeded nature kept us entertained for hours. On clear nights I'd take my "The Stars" book (by H.A. Rey of Curious George fame, highly recommended for amateur stargazers) up on top of the cabin and look at the stars, picking out new constellations. During sunsets all four of us would take our cameras for the evening sunset photo session. I got some nice ones I'll post one of these days, but photos only capture part of the picture.

Otherwise, we kept ourselves occupied by keeping watch, messing with the sails, cooking, and reading. We all did a lot of reading. Obviously I also spent way too much time working on this journal.

That old America song Horse with No Name has a line: "the ocean is a desert with its life underground." It is apt. We would sail for hours and days without seeing anything but water. But there were signs of life. Most days we would see these little ocean birds; one kind was about the size of a seagull and another was smaller, black and white, and about the size of a robin. They would be out flittering among the waves hundreds of miles away from any land, regardless of the weather. When the waves picked up they'd fly in between the waves, seeking shelter from their lee, I suppose. Why they figured it was worth flying hundreds of miles to find some chow I'm not sure. Must be something really tasty out t

Probably fish, but we wouldn't know. I figured they must be down there; every once in a while the depth finder would start working and would indicate a depth of say, 12 feet. I knew the ocean was about a mile deep, so some kind of creature was setting off the depth indicator. But the only fish we caught were a couple unlucky flying fish that became airborne at precisely the wrong time and landed on our trampolines. We had the poles out the whole time, and had a few bites, but whatever bit would break the line or lure off. Art almost landed a yellowfin tuna once and Chris almost reeled in a blackfin, but they both broke free. Fishin' just ain't up there in our talent pool.

We were regularly visited by dolphin. Both the bottlenose and darker, smaller Atlantic varieties came by. Usually they'd show up at dusk or dawn, and they would swim around our boat for a few minutes before taking off. I figured it they were on their way to work or coming off quittin' time when they came to visit us. We never got tired of watching them swim around and between the bows. One day a particularly huge herd swam with us for a while; they were fired up about something, and frequently launched themselves clear into the air. It was spectacular to watch.

At night the "empty" ocean would sparkle with phosphorescent creatures. Little critters would sparkle in our wake, and frequently we'd pass over some jellyfish that would light up like glow in the dark frisbees. Very cool.

About 250 miles from the Azores, we came across a pod of whale. None of us are very good whaleologists, but the ones we saw were dark grey colored with a blunt nose, and we reckoned they were sperm whales. We chased them around for a couple of hours; there were probably 30 whales in the pod. But unlike dolphin, they don't swim very close together. Two or three might, but most were several hundred yards apart. They let us get fairly close to them, maybe 50 feet, before they'd dive down, fluking their huge tail fins. We could see and hear them blowing all over as they continued their northward trek at about 2 knots. Once we went right over one, and could see its huge shape swimming under th

On day 11 we ran out of water. I'm not sure how this happened. We had been very careful not to waste water. We were washing the dishes in salt water, and taking showers in the rain. Running out of water, of course, was a very serious problem for sailors of old. My response was to take a hot shower. After setting up the watermaker, of course.

We arrived in Horta, in the Azores, on July 2nd, 14 days after leaving Bermuda. The Azores islands are volcanic, and feature spectacular geography. It was a cloudy day when we approached, and didn't see the island of Faial (Horta's island) until it materialized in the mists about 15 miles away. We were all pretty excited to see land after 14 days, everyone was jumping up, singing and dancing.

Horta is a famous cruising stopover, and a wonderful place to visit. Most everyone crossing the North Atlantic stops there, so at any given time you have a marina full of ocean venturing boats. Horta features friendly folks, good provisioning for cruisers, and cheap prices.

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We spent four days in Horta. We again rented scooters for a couple days (at $20, less than half the Bermuda fare) and rode up into the mountains. There is a huge crater in the center of Faial, about a mile across and ~~ 1500 feet deep. Chris and I spent three hours walking a trail around the rim, taking in the spectacular views. The rough trail went up and down fairly steeply, and Chris, who is a hiker, covered ground at a surprisingly brisk pace. Of course, I wasn't about to let some 24 year old kid out-hike me, so I marched along in pace, trying not to huff too loudly ascending the steeper sections.

There is also a Horta (Hortese?) tradition for cruisers to paint their boat name along the pier, a cruiser's graffiti. There are hundreds of little signs painted from the hundreds of boats that have visited over the years. Most of the paintings would degrade after 10-15 years, and someone would paint a new one. All are hand drawn, some are very clever. After looking around, we decided the original plan of spraying stenciled letters just didn't have any class. So I spent a day drawing a pair of dolphins jumping like the ones on the front of our boat, with the word "Irie" on it in the same cursive font on our hull. Art, Victor and I spent a couple days prepping the wall section we found, and drawing and painting the dolp

We met folks from all over the world, including one boat (Guilana) whom we had met in the Bahamas. A good percentage of other boats encountered problems. One boat left Bermuda the same time we did, but stayed in the lower 30s hitting calms and taking 18 days to cross, and still managing to blow out the spinnaker. Another fellow who arrived a few days before us said he hit Force 11 (~~ 55-60 knot) winds that beat his boat up a bit. I couldn't believe there were winds like that anywhere south of 45*, based on the weather reports I got. An old guy was single handedly sailing his ketch across and lost his autopilot and had to sail several days without one. A couple Englishmen were towed in, their prop

All in all, we felt pretty lucky to have made the crossing to that point with minimal disruption. Our only problems were the burned out alternator, a speaker failure, and the pin securing the mainsheet block busted, but Art jury rigged it with a shackle.

After 4 days we said goodbye to Horta, and headed out. We made an overnight stop at the Azores island of San Miguel and the city of Porto Delgado, had dinner and topped off the tanks. At 1030 the next morning, we shoved off for Lisbon, 800 miles to the East. This time, the winds acted a little more like they were supposed to, and we got to fly the spinnaker a few times. The winds were pretty light till we were a day from Lisbon, when they picked up to 30 knots coming in.

The winds and waves we experienced on the trip didn't really provide a tough test for our boat, but I was very happy the way she handled. She never felt out of control. When the waves came from behind she was very happy, surfing down the crests with no rolling or wallowing. When larger waves were coming from the side she would slide down and around them. She would bounce around a bit in the choppier waves, but not heeling is a big benefit. When the waves were up some would pound the bottom, particularly when we were on a beat, but you got used to it. With the exception of the Lewmar traveler, the rigging, controls and gear all worked and held up well. In general we have been very happy wit

It was again great to see land and glide into the marina in the port of Lisbon. Victor's mom and dad had drove down to meet him, and they were there waving at us at the dock when we came in, which was very nice. The bought us dinner that night and gave us a 3 cases of wine from their vineyards, which was even more nice. They kept saying, "Thank you for bringing our Victor home safe." Chris and Victor helped us clean up, and packed up and left. Victor is going back to France to find a job, and Chris is spending a few weeks backpacking around Europe before heading home. They were great guys, and we'll miss their help.

Eileen and the kids arrived on the 15th. Tracie and Jackie missed their plane in Miami (they thought the flight left at 1215pm, not am) but made it the next day. We have spent a few days exploring Lisbon, but that will be for the next installment.

Till then, I hope everting be irie with you.

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Unskilled and Unaware

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