Considering that 2008 was the rally's first year, we were quite pleased. We had three boats, which was
just fine, as we learned a lot about the logistics that might have been more difficult to manage with a larger group the first
time out of the gate. The boats were "Miracle," a Freedom 45, "Wind Runner," an
Island Packet 420, and "Daydreamer," a Gemini 105.
To start, Tania did
the general briefing about what to expect, life at sea, how to cope, and things like that. Having Tania's attention
in such a small group was quite an experience. Not only is she knowledgeable, but she's hilarious and great fun
to be around generally. Tim Hasson, our communications expert, then went over the radio
and satphone sked procedure. Jenifer Clark then briefed the fleet on the recommended Gulf Stream and eddy routing.
As a surprise, she provided laminated routing charts for each boat, which not only were useful tools, but made for great souvenirs.
For the trip down we had a remarkably good current setup. The rhumb line provided good current just about the whole
way down. The fleet had a large warm eddy north of the stream that gave us fair current for nearly 100 miles, then the
stream itself set us east to a spot where an anomalous warm eddy and a cold eddy converged to give the fleet even more good
current for another 50 miles or so. All in all, we had good current for well over half the trip down, and no adverse
current to speak of. Quite an unusual occurrence for a Bermuda trip.
Our boat techie, Toby, inspected the
boats, made some recommendations, helped address a few things, and even went up the mast on Wind Runner to help install
a spinnaker halyard. All good stuff. Speaking of Wind Runner, she was berthed in Westerly, Rhode Island.
Because our fleet was to sail east down Long Island Sound and out around Montauk, Wind Runner did not sail to the
departure point, and instead chose to leave from Westerly and meet up with the remainder of the fleet in Block Island (more
on that below). So, Wind Runner's crew did the only natural thing in order to be present for the pre-departure
routine -- they flew on her owner's private plane from Westerly to Westchester airport to attend the pre-departure
routine. That's a crew who really wanted the free beer!
Back to the pre-departure routine, Dane Clark did our weather routing, and he did a very nice presentation, showing
live models on an overhead with Internet hookup. He spent just about the whole day with the fleet, explained the features
of the various models and charts, answered questions, and generally did everything anyone could ask of a router. We
also utilized Chris Parker along the way, just to have a second view on things.
As to the
weather, we had a nasty cold front coming through the day we were planning to depart, so we adjusted. The fleet shot
out in the protection of Long Island Sound to Block Island, where we spent the day and waited for the front to pass (there
are worse places than Ballard's on the Beach to wait out weather). When the front got to us, it was packing
45+ knot winds and a good four foot chop in Great Salt Pond, which is saying something if you know the harbor.
Our weather routing had paid for itself right then and there.
The fleet left Block Island Tuesday morning at first light (June 17) and headed out. Miracle
was greeted by
several sharks as she entered the Atlantic. Not exactly the omen everyone was hoping for, but it was cool nonetheless.
Generally the weather was good on the trip and the fleet got a little taste of everything. The first day and a half
out provided great sailing conditions, as all boats sailed a reach on course and at speed. It was exhilarating.
The fleet had some squalls to deal with in the stream and eddies, but nothing unexpected and nothing that the group couldn't
The fleet participated in the twice-daily conference call skeds with satphones, and used the
SSB as backup. The calls worked very well. We had a glitch the first day of the return trip, but all things considered
it worked great. We had our weather and Gulf Stream routers on the line for each call, and they gave updated weather
and waypoint routing, which was particularly useful on the return trip for Daydreamer, as she was routed out of and
around a relatively strong low that was moving across her path.
Plus, the organizers, as well as friends
and family, were able to track all the participants' positions, speed, course, conditions, etc. via the iBoattrack
system. The system worked quite well, and it will be making another appearance in future events.
event also provided evidence of how a rally can help from a safety and comfort standpoint. Daydreamer had a
problem with her charging system on the way to Bermuda. Toby was able to walk the skipper through the diagnostics over
the VHF and talk him through the fix. That wasn't the last time the rally format helped participants, and even some
non-participants (that's some foreshadowing folks, so keep reading).
On Miracle, Dan and Toby actually
had some excitement. Nothing serious, but as Bob Bitchin would say, the difference between ordeal and adventure . .
. The autopilot's linear drive decided to give up the ghost on the trip, so Miracle's crew had to hand
steer roughly the second half. Miracle had six crew, so that truly was no more than an inconvenience.
The more entertaining event had to do with Miracle's boom. She has a Furlboom in-boom mainsail, and the
stainless "toggle," which essentially is the gooseneck on this boat, gave way. Literally at the 300+ mile
mark, right after Miracle crossed the stream, the toggle broke. Miracle's crew
jury rigged the connection between the boom and the mast for a time, but that didn't work so well, and the crew
was prepared to take more extreme measures for a jury rig if it came to that. At that point, Miracle began
to motor, and it was doubtful whether she would have enough fuel to motor the rest of the way to Bermuda. The next morning
brought some unusual northerly winds, so Miracle was able to fly her chute for a while and gain some miles that way.
Then, the wind just died. Flat calm. So, on Miracle motored, hoping to make it close enough for
a tow, or maybe get a wind shift that would allow her to make way under spinnaker again.
Then occurred what might have been the most unusual part of the trip. Miracle
a cruise ship, "Explorer of the Seas
," speaking with a supertanker on the VHF about passing port to
port. The Explorer of the Seas
also was on her way to Bermuda. So, naturally, Miracle
and chatted a while. The first officer was incredibly nice, and Miracle
's skipper, Dan, advised
of the situation (damaged rig, low on fuel), and asked if they could spare some diesel. In a most gracious way, Explorer
obliged. She came along side about 50 or 100 yards off (it was hard to tell for sure in the dark), dropped a boat
into the water, and sent four crew over with six jerry jugs of diesel. It was dark, and there was a four to six foot
swell running, so the exchange was a bit challenging, but with six crew on Miracle
and four in the boat
, all went well. All the while, Explorer
's 3500 passengers were watching the
spectacle, with flashbulbs popping and spotlights glaring. It must have looked like a Bon Jovi concert at Giant's
Stadium. With the added fuel, Miracle
was able to power her way to Bermuda in the light winds.
Daydreamer also had fuel troubles. She didn't carry that much fuel, so with the light winds she wasn't
going to make it in anything close to a reasonable time. Obviously she could have just waited it out, but the rally
couldn't let a participant just sit there like that and miss out on all the rum drinks! So, Bermuda Yacht Services
arranged with a sport fish that already was heading back to the east coast to take out several jerry jugs to Daydreamer,
who was over 100 miles out. After this second fuel drop the organizers are thinking of renaming the event the "New
York to Bermuda Fuel Drop Rally."
Another hero of the rally was Offshore Passage Opportunities, Hank Schmitt's
outfit. As it turns out, two of our three boats needed crew for the return, and one other boat not in the rally also
needed crew. Daydreamer wanted to sail back singlehanded, but reconsidered after the trip over. OPO
got her skipper two crew on very short notice. As for Miracle, because she was waiting for parts
for the boom and the autopilot, she lost some of her crew for the return trip home due to schedules (including her skipper,
Dan). So, Hank Schmitt himself came on over with two crew to sail Miracle home.
The non-rally boat who benefitted from the rally nonetheless was a Little Harbor 42, "Night Shadow."
She was being delivered from the Caribbean to Rhode Island, but she had engine trouble and diverted to Bermuda. While
waiting for parts, she lost her crew to schedules also, and the skipper, Judy Hildebrand, needed to get replacements, which
was no easy job considering that any sailor on that island worth his/her salt already had a gig taking a Newport to Bermuda
Race boat back to the States. The rally and OPO came to the rescue again, and Hank was able to procure crew for Judy
in short order.
Our host, Bermuda Yacht Services, was absolutely fantastic. BYS is owned by Mark
Soares, but his mom (Sandra) runs the office, his dad is around, and Francis is the rigger, glass expert, and general boat
maven on premises. They were great hosts, helping with any and everything we needed. They arranged for Bacardi
to sponsor a party for our rally on the dock, which was great fun. Bacardi is trying to compete with Gosling's Dark
'n Stormy, and they've developed a new rum drink called a "Partly Cloudy." It's golden rum and
ginger beer, instead of dark rum. The tagline is "Who wants it Dark 'n Stormy when you can have it Partly Cloudy?"
It was a great party and a great time.