Bermuda to the Azores

From Bermuda to the Azores

Ship in channel

The Law of Gross Tonnage Applies!

With 1960 miles of open ocean ahead of us, we departed Bermuda at 1100 on June 14th, having waited five days for persistent easterly winds to shift to a more favorable direction. Before leaving St. George’s Harbour, we had to check in with Bermuda Harbour Radio for permission to transit the Town Cut. In the photo on the left you can understand why this is a prudent thing to do!

Waiting for good wind turned out to be a good move. After motoring most of the way to Bermuda, the start of our second leg provided us favorable winds in both speed and direction. We hoisted the sails within minutes of leaving the harbour.

With thousands of miles and limited fuel, motoring was just not an option! We quickly settled back into the at-sea routine we’d established on the passage to Bermuda. Day one was twenty four hours of great sailing, but day two gave us high quartering seas that left some of us as gray as the skies.

The next five days gave us great runs of 130-170 miles per day. This was the most continuous sailing we’d ever done aboard Liberty, and she performed superbly.

Ty used his meteorological skills to pick the best route for us. Then, each day he would get on the single sideband (SSB) radio and confer with Herb Hilgenberg, the professional weatherman turned volunteer who guides cruising boats across the Atlantic with his advice. Here on the right is Ty talking with Herb while looking at the daily weather faxes that he has just downloaded from the SSB.

Ty with Herb

Ty discusses weather with Herb Hilgenberg

It’s Always Something...

One thing we couldn’t help but think about was the amount of stress on the boat with all that continous sailing. The seas weren’t exactly flat, so Liberty and her crew did a lot of bouncing around. While doing a routine inspection of the engine room, Ty discovered a pin hole leak in the exhaust manifold for the generator. This left salt water dripping on the starter -- not a good situation! While rocking and rolling, Ty the Contortionist managed to remove the manifold, repair the hole, and replace the pipe. No small feat. He was looking pretty tired after that job. The rest of us were dragging a bit, too, and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

Not so fast...

It was 0200. Ty had relieved Suzanne on watch and was sitting at the helm when he watched the jib slide down its track! He quickly went below to wake Travis (With our watch system, when a watch stander needs help, he doesn’t call the person who just got off watch, nor the person who will come on next, to allow those two to get sleep. Travis was two watch sections ahead of Ty). When they got back to the cockpit, Ty saw that the jib had done more than just slip, it had parted from the halyard. By now several feet of the large sail were already in the water. He clipped his tether to a jack line and ran forward, telling Travis to roust the rest of the crew for immediate assistance. Suzanne was deep asleep when she heard Travis’ urgent voice shout, “All hands on deck, NOW!” When someone shouts this in the middle of the night, it cannot be anything good. Knowing that Ty had been on watch, and because it was Travis, not Ty, who had shouted, her immediate thought was that Ty had gone overboard in the dark. She shouted an obscenity and bolted out of bed so quickly that when her feet hit the small step in the passageway, she went sprawling.  Wrestling that big jib onto the foredeck and making sure no lines got fouled around the prop was a big job for the guys. Soon they had the jib lashed to the handrails on the coach deck. Finding out what had caused it to fall would have to wait for daylight.

Meanwhile, as we were all trying to settle down, Suzanne noticed a strange sound coming from the engine room, just as Travis noted to Ty that the water in the bilge seemed a little higher than usual (There’s always about an inch of water in Liberty’s bilge. Checking it hourly is part of the watch stander’s duty). Ty went into detection mode and discovered, much to our dismay, that an unused through-hull that had been incompletely plugged in the engine room was allowing a steady stream of sea water into the boat. This is not something you want to discover while in the middle of the ocean. Luckily, it was above the waterline.

We tacked the boat to put the leak on the high side. Then Ty lightly pounded a wooden damage control plug into the hole, added duct tape and hose clamps, and effectively stopped the leak. Just goes to show how important it is to constantly be on the lookout for problems. 

The next day we saw that a clevis pin on the furling assembly attached to the head of the sail had broken. The halyard and assembly were still at the top of the mast. Someone would have to climb the mast while at sea to retrieve it. All eyes turned to Travis! He was up to the task, but unfortunately, Liberty had entered

a low pressure system, and now the winds and seas were too high to allow him to safely do the job.

For the next 3 days we rocked and rolled uncomfortably through ever growing seas and winds that consistently blew 18-20 knots. Even worse, the winds were out of the east. Without the jib, our main didn’t provide enough drive to get us past the low, and we coudn’t motor because we still had far too many miles to cover. Three days is a LONG time!

When condition were finally good enough -- and believe us -- they weren’t exactly “good,” Travis went up the mast. His efforts were nothing short of heroic. (See the Photo of the Month for a great shot of this feat). The seas were far from

Travis bruises

Travis displays his bruises

calm, yet up he went. The mast swayed back and forth through a 30 degree arc, but he held on and made it to the top as the rest of us held our breath. He successfully rescued the errant jib furler swivel and carefully made his way back down. By the time he got to the bottom his arms were completely spent. The next day both his arms and legs were covered in bruises -- “badges of honor” is more like it.

Grants cake02

Grant, you OLD sea dog!

When you’re at sea, just about anything out of the ordinary becomes an “event.” Grant’s birthday was a special day, complete with steak dinner and birthday cake. Suzanne baked a chocolate sheet cake from scratch. Only problem was, with the oven swinging on its gimbals, the cake came out decidedly slanted!  The recipe Suzanne used was called a “wacky cake,” but seeing the slant, Travis dubbed it a “port tacky cake.”

In honor of our Canadian Mountie birthday boy, Suzanne decorated the cake with a red maple leaf which turned out kind of shaky due to the boat’s rockin’ and rollin.’

 (That’s her excuse and she’s sticking to it!)

Close Encounters of the Haze Gray Kind

One of the most amazing aspects of being in the open ocean is the uncanny, almost “magnetic” attraction of two vessels. Once east of Bermuda we saw only seven ships, yet in FIVE of those cases either Liberty or the ships had to alter course to avoid coming too close (less than 1/2 mile)! The most interesting of these encounters became a highlight of the entire passage...

At 2000 on our 13th day at sea, Travis declared, “I have a contact at 12 miles.” Then he joked, “We haven’t seen a Navy ship yet...” We all smiled and commented how cool that would be, but earlier in the voyage we’d discussed how slim the chances were of seeing one out here. At 8 miles Ty picked up the binoculars and said, “You know... I think that IS a Navy ship!” Talk about a rise in the excitement level aboard! At 6 miles Ty keyed the VHF mic as we all stood around the cockpit watching the ship grow larger. It was headed right for us! Ty hailed him, saying “Navy warship in approximate position 38-10N 42-45W, this is sailing vessel Liberty, 6 miles off your port bow.” Right away a voice came back and said,

”This is Navy Warship 8.” Boy, did we hoot and holler! Ty greeted the officer and told him that he was a retired Navy captain and the former Commanding Officer of USS John Rodgers, and his wife was a retired Navy Commander and former aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After a brief exchange, Ty asked who the CO of the ship was, as he might know him. The voice came back and said, “Stand by, we’re sending someone to get Charlie Oscar.” (Phonetic for C.O./ Commanding Officer). Next thing you know, the CO came on and said, “This is MCINERNEY,” meaning, CO of USS MCINERNEY. “Ty said, “McInerney! I steamed with you several times in battle groups in the Med!“ They had a nice CO to CO chat. The ship had been in the Med and Northern Atlantic and we were the first vessel they’d seen in days, and here we were, so close! The ship continued towards us and crossed our bow at one mile. Ty had raised our big US flag and our over-sized 

Ship and sail

Although hundreds of miles from land, USS MCINERNEY (FFG 8) crosses Liberty’s bow at a distance of one mile.

Navy and Marine Corps flags so they were silhouetted perfectly against our mainsail. We all went out on deck and watched the ship run down our port side. What a magnificent sight, so full of emotion for us. Then the ship turned on its Restricted in Ability to Maneuver lights, turned astern of us and launched her helo!


USS MCINERNEY (FFG 8) prepares to launch her helo astern of Liberty

The helo flew off, then flew back and did a fly-over. Next thing we knew a voice came over channel 16 saying, “Sailing Vessel Liberty, this is Venom 512. How do you read me?” Suzanne picked up the mic and said, “This is Liberty. Read you loud and clear.” Venom replied, “Just wanted to check out your boat. Your sails are looking pretty good down there.” Knowing everyone on the ship’s bridge was monitoring 16, Suzanne replied, “Roger. We were wondering when the airdrop of the ice cream was going to be.” He laughed and said, “Roger. I’ll have to check with my SUPPO (supply officer) on that. We’re getting kind of low on ice cream.” Suzanne said, “Thanks for the thought,” and signed off. What fun! Go Navy!

Sailing, Sailing!

The best part of the passage has been the sailing. Well, yeah! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? But talk to cruisers and they’ll admit that more often than not they use the motor or motor-sail. It’s a fact of life that the winds are often either too light or on the nose. (For you landlubbers out there, you can’t sail into the wind). During past offshore passages, we would have the best of intentions to not use the motor, but then the winds would drop. There we’d be, poking along at 3 knots or the sails would start slapping and banging. We would look at each other, roll our eyes, and start the engine. Not this time! On coastal offshore passages you have the fuel to motor. We carry enough for about five days of motoring. This leg of the crossing is three times that! The sailing alternated between exhilarating and extremely frustrating. That’s pretty typical of sailing anywhere, though!

 We moved along on every point of sail at every speed from 1 knot to 9. We used our asymmetrical spinnaker on light wind days and our whisker pole on  downwind runs - two methods of sailing that in the past often didn’t seem worth the effort for short sails. The stress on the boat was tremendous and we learned how quickly chafe affects everything when sailing continuously for days on end. On one day near the end of this leg we flew the spinnaker continuously for about 18 hours - the longest to date. We doused the sail at 3 in the morning when the winds picked up. Good move! In the photo at the right is the halyard which was very close to breaking. Wouldn’t that have been a treat to have the spinnaker go into the water and under the boat?  ...Not!

Chafed line03

Suzanne shows the chafed spinnaker halyard
while our new whisker pole does its job

On our fourteenth day underway, after a full day’s downwind run, Ty noticed that five of the grommets on the foot of the mainsail that are attached to the sail slides were 90% pulled out, even though they were triple-stitched. Only the bolt rope was holding the luff to the boom. Ty’s solution was perfect: put a single reef in the main, thus relieving the pressure from the foot of the sail. It might have cost us a little in speed, but that was far better than tearing the main. A salty old sailor in Bermuda told us before we left, “You’ll have sail repairs to make in the Azores,” and he was right.

Land Ho!

At 0850 on Thursday, June 30th, sixteen days and two hours after leaving Bermuda, Travis called out, “Land Ho!” Everyone thought he was kidding, because our position held us still fifty miles from the Azorean island of Flores. Everyone anxiously peered ahead and sure enough, clear as day, there was the unmistakable outline of a very high hill. We usually lose sight of land at 20 miles, but that’s FLAT land. Obviously the “Isle of Flowers” is also the “isle of high mountains!”

dolphins 3

Porpoises escort us to the Azores

The night before Ty had drawn a grid of 60 blank squares. Then the four of us put our initials randomly in 15 of the squares. On another equivalent grid he’d filled in each square randomly with the numbers 1 through 60. This was our “Land Sighting Pool.” Travis had sighted land at 50 minutes after the hour. Suzanne’s initial was in the box which matched a box containing the number 50, so she won a Flores T-shirt! She was so happy to see land she felt like she’d won the million dollar lottery, instead!

Within minutes of sighting land, a dozen porpoises showed up and escorted us for the next few miles. They rode our bow wave, zipping back and forth in the crystal clear water in the best show any of us had ever seen. Some would dive straight down, getting smaller and smaller as if in a dream, then come back to the surface and lead us on to Flores. What impeccable timing!

By this time we were running on fumes, having used our engine judiciously during the 16 days when the wind was too light or on the nose. Wanting to make sure we had enough to motor into the harbor at the little town of Lajes on Flores, we killed the engine at 1230. For an hour we creeped along making little over 1 knot. This was just a LITTLE discouraging, with that big old island looming so close, yet so far. And then, like a gift from God, the wind started creeping up... and up... and up... until it was a whopping 7 knots (woohoo!). That was all we needed to fill our spinnaker, so up it went and off we went, enjoying a picture-perfect 5-7 knot sail under a beautiful blue sky. All afternoon we stared, mesmerized, at the lush 3000-foot cliffs as they got ever closer. Liberty looked magnificent, pulsing toward her much-deserved landfall with her billowing red and white spinnaker announcing our arrival. We pulled into the anchorage and dropped the hook at 2023. We’d done it. We were in Europe. We’d crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Wow.(Ok, so it’s not ALL the way across, but the longest leg is behind us and this IS Europe!)

By all accounts, and from what we’ve seen of Flores, we don’t want to rush through the Azores. We plan to take our time and leisurely explore as many of the islands as we can before departing on the third leg for Gibraltar. Check back for special coverage of the Azores.

That’s all for now. Time to head ashore and explore...  

For a personal account of the crossing, read excerpts of Suzanne’s daily notes in “Atlantic Crossing Journal.”