I hope to see some more BCC’s down here in the Caribbean someday. And it looks like Ben is on his way. I just wanted to recount my experience with the trip from S. Florida. IT IS NOT EASY. I would advise, if at all possible, for BCC’s in the NE to go via Bermuda.
I have twice made the trip to the islands from south Florida. The first time in Angelsea (an engineless Falmouth Cutter, the little sister to the Bristol Channel Cutter) in 1990. That trip was not bad…just LONG. I figured I would wait for a front to make my easting out to 65w then turn right for the islands. We waited and waited for a front to come through. No luck. Wind was East, then east some more. We were hanging out at Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas waiting while it blew east, east, east…god if it blows ANY direction except east I’m leaving I told myself. Oh, did I tell you the winds were east? We waited for 2 weeks. Finally the wind went SE, so we left on a starboard tack. A few days later the wind went E again and we tacked to the SE at about the latitude of Jacksonville (we departed from Ft. Lauderdale). So we continued tacking and tacking until we finally reached 65w. Boy was I looking forward to a little reaching, as we would be heading due south towards St. Thomas. Well guess what??? The wind went south on us! GRRRRR! So we tacked all the way to St. Thomas. Mind you we never saw more than 22-24kts and the average was around 15kts on the trip. So the sailing was easy. But it was a 21 day sail (we average 100 miles/day) from our departure from Green Turtle Cay. Total time from departure from Ft. Lauderdale was around 6 weeks. Went into emergency rations and were using country time lemonade to mix with our warm rum. Glad I threw on a couple of bags of beans and rice!
Ok that was the first trip. I think I remember swearing I would never make that trip again. There is a reason they call it the thorny path. But I’m getting old and my memory is failing, So what do I do? I make the trip again with Shanti in November of 2007 from Palm Beach.
Ok, forget about making easting…I have an engine now. Ha! Lots of good that did us. So my plan this time was to draw a rhumb line from S. Florida to St. Thomas and bounce off that to the east each time we were taken back down to the rhumb line. The pilot charts show mostly NE winds in November at an average of 15kts. (remember that’s an average, so it has to blow harder to make up for the light days). Well our course to STT was going to be basically ESE to STT. So hey, maybe we will get lucky, it will blow NE and we will have some close reaching and not much tacking. Jeeez am I getting stupid in my old age. But with the memory of my first trip lingering in the back of my mind I even considered just sailing up to Bermuda, then head south. Fortunately I had hired 2 guys from STT to make the trip with me (insurance required it), but I’m glad I did.
One must realize that just a little south of Ft. Lauderdales latitude you start picking up the Trades. These winds blow ALL the way from Africa. They build up some pretty good seas that you have to tack into. Ugly business!
Ok, so we left from Palm Beach across the gulf stream with light NE winds. Tacking towards the east to transit the Northwest Providence Channel through the Bahamas then out into the Atlantic. At least that was the plan. We made it into the channel late into the second day. That night we played dodge ball with a continuous line of cruise ships(they stretched from horizon to horizon), while tacking into 20kts of wind. It was a scary sight with all these huge ships steaming through the channel. I was going to put a radar reflector on, but one of my crew reminded me that a working radar was one of the best solutions for ships to see us. Well we lost our radar that night. Tense!!!
By the next morning we were roughly 2/3 of the way through the channel and had been sailing hard on the wind for 2 days. But we had problems. Of course the radar was down. We had also lost the self-steering. Our water and fuel were contaminated. Things were going to hell in a hand basket. So the decision was made to put into Nassau. We had already put in 2 1/2 days beating to weather, so we turned south for rest, repairs and some gambling. We arrived in Nassau in the early afternoon. We picked up a fresh load of water and fuel, Then looked for a place to stay for the night. We decided to get a slip at Atlantis, since none of us had ever been there. It’s a very nice marina geared for Mega yachts. It was quite the sight, little Shanti tied up amongst 25+ million dollar yachts. We had foulies and stuff hanging all over the place drying. We had fresh showers and hit the slot machines that night. Next morning we left to cross the Exuma Banks and breakout into the Atlantic at a little place called Highbourne Cay. Winds were still on the nose, but reasonable. We actually had a nice sail. But we could not make it across in one day. So we anchored on the banks that night. It was only 10-15 feet deep. Very strange feeling anchored out in the middle of the ocean with no land around…all by yourself. At around 2am that night I heard …Gary…Gary…you better come up here! Under a full moon we watched an old gaffer sailing towards us. It was quit a beautiful sight in the moonlight actually, but stories of pirates played through our minds and we were ready to repel borders. The old gaffer sailed up to us, then headed off towards Nassau. Whew! the next morning we awoke to find the wind right on our nose again. Imagine that. So we motored into it and arrived at Highbourne Cay on Thanksgiving day. That afternoon we broke out a bottle of wine and popped some Marie Calender Turkey diners in the oven. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving day. It was to be the last nice day for the next 2 1/2 weeks.
The next morning we awoke to a very nice sunny day for our transit of the pass at Highbourne Cay. The tide was ebbing so we had a 10k flow going with us through the pass. We broke out into the Atlantic about 11 am that morning with the wind blowing about 15kts. Soon it was back up to 20 and we were hard on the wind in 5-7ft seas. The next few days we were hard on the wind, tacking in 25kts of wind, making very little progress. Day and night living with the rail buried and getting drenched from punching into large seas. We lived in our foul weather gear and ate very little. Some days it was so hard to get around we didn’t eat at all. So for the next 7-8 days we tacked and tacked. Bouncing off our rhumb line. Wind was averaging 25+ knots and the seas were upwards of 6-8 ft. Finally the NE winds started to fill in and we were able to lay a course for STT. But, we were still hard on the wind. Still had our rail buried. Still getting soaked! One night we encountered up to 40kts of wind and 14ft seas. After Shanti fell off the backside of a particularly large wave and my crew levitated off the deck by 3 ft, we decided to heave to. We slept hard that night, for we knew what the morning would bring. You guessed it, what was your first clue? More 25kt winds on the NOSE. Ah, but we were at least laying our course. Towards the end of the trip we were pushed a little SW of our rhumb line and ended up off the east end of Puerto Rico. The morning brought squally weather with winds ranging from 0-25kts. Soon these squalls past and we turned on the motor in flat calm seas. Motoring for the remainder of the day we reached St. Thomas a 9pm that night.
What a relief! Hot showers (I think we all took 2 actually), big cheese burgers and this strange clear kinda square things floating in our drinks.
This trip was HELL. My worst trip in 40 years of voyaging. I implore anyone coming from the NE U.S. to jump off at Annapolis at least. The best would have been to go straight to Bermuda, then south. Reaching with a BCC (or any boat) you will make great time to more than make up for the extra distance.
Well at least I now have a BCC by the name of Shanti here in the Caribbean and life is GOOD!