Monday, December 04, 2006

Blind date on the ocean - by Leo

From the 28th of October until the 18th of November I had my blind dates on the Atlantic Ocean, from Galesville MD at the Chesapeake Bay to Bermuda. We went sailing with a rather unknown crew, one of them I had never met before. It turned out to be a fantaxtic and exciting vacation, among other things because of the hurricane and gale we went through and survived.

In my opnion, we had to struggle to make progress almost all the way down to Bermuda. We began with delay because of the not functioning navigation lights and Geert had it repaired. Next day we had the wind dead against us, so we stayed at the harbour for another day.
Tuesday the 31st we sailed off. Because of the strong wind, Geert set a reef, maybe two. Unfortunately the wind blew a tear in the main sail, near a batten, so it had to be repaired. Fortunately Geert knew a wharf on Solomon’s Island, in the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay. We sailed in in the middle of the night, it was pitch dark. We anchored in the bay and went to the wharf the next morning, where the sail was fastly and neatly repaired.

We finally sailed of to the mouth of the Chesapeake, encountering two black pelicans. Geert and I had the shift during which we reached the ocean. Immediately after coming into open seas I felt seasick. Of all the things I expected, this was not one of them. I only had been seasick on one occasion in my life before, when I was thirteen. Never after I sufferd seasickniss, though I was on high seas on many occasions. Pity for me, I was down under and mostly sleeping and feeling very miserable for over 24 hours.
So I missed the big sea turtle that Astird discoverd only a few feet from the boat, as well as the crossing of the Gulfstream. The crossing went by 7-9 knots they told me afterwards, extremely fast since the average speed of the Sea Scout mostly is between 3-5 knots. Although Geert expected it, we were not drifted to the North by the Gulfstream. We stayed mostly on course. One of the follwing days we did not. We encountered a real hurricane, 50 to 60 knots... Geert and Astid hove the boat to, so that we were always in the same and safe postiion to the wind. Waves were sometimes 30 feet accourding to the article in a Bermudan newspaper we read later on. It turned out that we were swung back for about 100 miles to the north, so we had to sail this distance again to get on course again. It was a bit terrifying, also because we didn’t know when it would end.
It felt like serious trouble when Geert ordered us to put on our clothes, sailing trousers and life vest while he was preparing the life raft. We were not sure that the mast and stays would hold to the immense power of the hurricane. During the hurricane we heard about two other sailing boats in deep trouble over the radio. One boat called Carpe Diem had the crew preparing to leave the vessel. We heard the coordination of the rescue action by the pilot of the coastguard airplane. They had to wait till the helicopter and rescue swimmer would arrive within only 30 or 45 minutes (we were in theri neighbourhood and at least 300 miles from the coast). The Bermudan newspaper mentioned a third vessel to be abandonned that night.

After this exciting night the storm held on during almost the whole day, though not as fierce as durring the night. We were unable to sail en kept hoven to. When Geert inspected the boat after the heaviest gusts and waves had calmed down a bit, he discoverd that the Sea Scout had some damage. At first it seemed that we only had lost the lid of the anchor locker. In the middle of the night we succeeded in maiking a temporary repair of the lid, so that we would not have a lot of water of the waves directly in the bilge of the boat. Our selfsteering device called Navik had not survived the storm. So we had to steer the boat ourselves fron that moment on. On top of that, we had another serious problem, the boom broke off from the mast. At this point I asked Astrid whether it wouldn’t be wise to try to get some help. She dryly remarked that it is not possible to get help when you are hundreds of miles away from land...Luckily Geert had a spare boom-connector on the front side of the mast, and we managed to fix this problem too. Imagine a repairing job on high seas with waves over 8 feet, sometimes it was not so easy. During one of the following days we encountered another storm, which was only a gail . By what we already had experienced, this was not as terrifying. But during the night with vigorous waves I had an accidental geep through which the boom touched Geert’s head and the sheet of the main sail slammed into my face. It hit the headlamp which made a bleeding cut in my eyebrow. The good thing about it was that during the rest of our trip I really looked like a pirate.

Because of unfavourable winds (no wind or dead against us), we sailed at least 1000 miles instead of the esteemed 700. We were hardly ever able to sail the set course. At the end, the last three days, we encountered better weather conditions, although we never could sail a flat course to our waypoints. Heading southeast, we had mostly southeasterly winds..As a result, I missed my plane home. At first, I was worried. Later on I considered it a chance to enjoy some extra holidays.
We had another serious problem, a threatening shortage of fuel. When Geert discovered that the wind against and the big waves increased the use of fuel dramatically, he decided to change the plan. Instead of directly going on course to Bermuda by engine we had to sail a zigzag course to save fuel for the final approach of the island. It’s almost impossible to reach the harbour entrance sailing because of the danger of the reef underneath the surface of the water. More than 400 steel vessels on the bottom of the ocean around Bermuda can witness that, apart from all the perished wooden ships that no longer can be traced. That’s what the supposed Bermuda Triangle really stands for: desorientated ships who encountered the reefs, in the dark I presume. Since GPS there were no more wreckings.
We had nightshifts of 3 hours, during whick we mostly sailed the boat alone. Advantage of these shifts are that everyone can sleep for 6 hours. These nightshifts were very nice, steering the boat in my own, feeling the responsabiltity, with or without the light of the moon, with or without the stars as means of help to navigate. Sometimes it was pitchdark so that we only had the compass or the GPS to stay on course.
During the whole trip Geert proved to be a very good captain. He was always in control in every situation. Geert likes to frequently check the waypoints, sitting on his chart table. He filled in the log frequently, although Astrid was the most accurate one in this case. He is always checking the material, and repairing things or changing them. He is always steady, secure of what he must do and thouroughly thinks over a situation before he comes to a decision.
Finally we reached Bermuda at about 8 p.m.., again manouvering the ship very gently between the beacons in the pitch dark, and in a pooring rain as a matter of fact. To our surprise Bermuda radio informed us that Jennifer was waiting on the dock, as well that the Windsong, another sailing boat with which we had had radio contact was standing by with extra fuel in case we could not manage te reach the harbour. It’s amazing how friendly and kind skippers are to eachother.
We disembarked, filled in the forms at the customs, drank a glass of wine to celebrate our safe entering to Bermuda.. Astrid and I had our first shower in two weeks, we felt like newborn afterwards.
After two weeks on the boat it felt very insecure on solid ground. Clearly it was our balance organ that had to adjust to the new situation, but I felt like drunk. Maybe it was the alcohol a bit as well.
We slept a very short night, we had to get off the customs dock by 6.30 a.m., and went only to bed at 3. The next day Geert succeeded in getting new tickets for my homeflight, without extra costs! We said goodbye and I was on the plane to New York only two hours after our breakfast. Which by the way folks consists of oats, honey, granola and peaches.
The excitement was not yet over. When I disembarked from the plane on Schiphol, I heard my name from the speakers to get in contact with the airport information desk as soon as possible. So I was immensely worried, and appeared to be right. My wife who was driving to the ariport was involved in a terrible accident. A truck hit our car from behind with a giant blow, smashing it to the railing. She must have had a guardian angel, because apart from a few scratches on her hand, some bruises and some pain in her neck and other muscles, she is unharmed. Our car is of course total loss, so I have to find another one asap because I drive more than 100 miles daily to my work.

Thanks a lot Geert, Olina and Astrid for this fantastic experience. It was by far the most exciting vacation I ever had. Thanks for the joy, your hospitality and good caring.
Geert you are a really fine skipper. I wish you, Astrid and Jennifer good luck for the the trip towards the Virgins, and Geert also further on. May you have favourable winds! Maybe we’ll meet eachother somewhere in the Caribbean, depending on your scheme and mine.
And, of course, stay on course mate.

Best, Leo.

(Pictures to follow; this posted by Geert on the island of Saint John, using Leo's email message...)