Starblazer - 25/05/2016 - Bermuda to the USA
We didn't make it 'up at first light' because I failed to start the kitchen timer! I woke up at 0630, early for me, woke John and we started pulling up the anchor at 0700. I don't think that missed hour proved too important. We motor-sailed all day Tuesday until about 0600 Wednesday because the batteries were rather depleted and were badly in need of a good charge. The wind was not very strong but we made our required average of just over 6 knots.
The first problem was highlighted in the weather e-mail sent to all the rally boats by WRI at about 0800 ship's local time on Wednesday. A low was developing off Cape Hatteras and was expected to move in an unfriendly ENE to NE direction, crossing our path during the night. WRI suggested that the boats should head towards South Carolina, which was met with an indignant quote from John: "if we had any idea where South Carolina is!" I showed him on a chart. He also downloaded a GRIB which gave us a 6 hourly image of the expected pressure map so we could move forward and plot our position as the time increased. We decided to head a little South but, in reality, we did not have enough time to run far enough to avoid the weather. We put two reefs in the main but kept up a full genoa until the winds increased. The pressure dropped steadily throughout the day and the first strong winds arrived at about 2200 hours, during John's watch. He managed to roll away a lot of the genoa on his own. The rest of the night was wet and noisy but the wind rarely peaked above 26 or 27 knots though the seas built quickly. By breakfast time it had passed, or we had sailed around the bottom of the low, either way Thursday morning was much more pleasant. We shook out the reefs in the mainsail after the morning radio net but a line got caught and I couldn't pull the sail right up or drop it right down, we had to settle for 1 reef. They say there is a first time for everything; in nearly 30 years of boat owning this was the first time John has had to go up the mast whilst at sea! We hove to which stopped the boat and I quickly hoisted him aloft and let him down again then pulled up the sail, except the Milwalkee ran out of battery part way through raising the sail. It's a good job it didn't die while John was part way up the mast.
The 'elephant in the corner', so to speak, was the impending low on Saturday. The GRIBs showed it starting its track NNE or NE rather earlier than first thought, we really needed to arrive early on Saturday morning. The engine was called into service to help the sails push us along. The cooling problem has not gone away completely but we could run the engine at 1900 rpm with no ill effects, 2000 rpm caused the water temperature to jump up to an unacceptable level. All day Friday we watched the barometer drop while making best speed with sails and engine towards our waypoint. The rain and wind slowly built, we were back to having two reefs in the main and rolled the genoa away whenever the wind piped up. By Saturday morning we had passed in front of the low, the winds moderated, the pressure slowly increased but the rain continued until mid afternoon. We were lucky, our sister ship Viva had an engine failure and sailed somewhat slower than us, getting caught up in some very unpleasant winds of over 40 knots.
Our waypoint at the Chesapeake Bridge slowly got closer, slowly because we were severely hampered by a foul tide. We reached the bridge at high water and had hoped for a favourable current, we didn't get it until the final 5 miles down the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth. It took us over 5 hours to cover the final 20 miles, very frustrating. Rally Control Jake was on the pontoon to take our lines aided by Graham and Matt from Pure Elegance when we arrived at 2320 Bermuda time, 2220 local time. Customs and Immigration were due to arrive after 0800 Sunday so we fell into bed for a well earned sleep but not before I'd hung up all the wet weather clothes.
Sunday was busy; the officials arrived just before 0900, were efficient and very pleasant and quite quick. Next we caught the foot passenger ferry across the river to Norfolk with the other crews as the skippers had to apply for a cruising permit. Fun and games! Cost of permit $19, but they would only accept the exact money and were not allowed to accept a $20 bill, the official l was not best pleased when he was handed a handful of change! This was a slow process so the ladies decamped to Starbucks. It was raining almost all morning so our next destination was the MacArthur Mall to find John a waterproof jacket as he left his white one somewhere. Back on board we barely had time to change before we were invited on board Hugur for a drink before walking to the final rally dinner in the Bier Garden where they serve German food and about 250 different beers. It was a great evening, there was a huge cheer when Petra and her crew from Viva came in the door. Viva was towed in by the US Coastguard and were tied up in a marina on the other side of Norfolk. This was the last time we will see the World ARC boats Ayama, Exody and Hugur who are speeding northwards to return to Sweden, Scotland and Iceland respectively via Greenland and Iceland.
The rally is now over, only Pure Elegance and Starblazer remain in the marina. This will be my last blog on the World a Cruising Club website but you can follow us at www.yachtstarblazer.co.uk where I will try to post a bit more often.