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Tuesday 31st May 2011

A flat, calm ocean on the way to Newport.

At this time of year a large number of yachts, having spent their winters in Antigua, begin their migration east or north for the summer months.  This year I had an opportunity to do the same on an Oyster 56 headed for Newport, RI.

As usual, it was a mad last-minute dash to get ready to leave Antigua for a few months, but somehow, as always, we managed it.  Our departure date was postponed and postponed pending the outcome of so many indefinites, until we finally had no choice but to go.

We set off around 7 am on Thursday, the 19th of May, planning to sail directly to Newport.  As we set sail on a course of 345°T the whales, which have been very active around Antigua all season long, made an appearance to say goodbye for now and to remind us that they’d be waiting for our return in the fall.

As we settled in for what we hoped would be an eight to nine day journey, we were treated to 15 knot winds and very quiet seas, allowing us to complete just under 200 nautical miles in the first 24 hours.  Luck didn’t stay with us, though, as the wind died and the rain set in.  By the second day the wind had all but blown itself out and we had no choice but to motor and motor-sail while dodging rain squalls and thunder storms.

It was very quiet at sea with little swell and no marine life in evidence until the Portuguese Man-of-War began floating constantly by and the occasional dolphin popped its head up only long enough to remind us that there is life in the sea.  We saw no ships or other yachts.  The days passed with little or no wind while we motored towards our destination until it became apparent that a stop in Bermuda to refuel would be essential before setting out once again for Newport.

So we slightly altered our course towards Bermuda, sailing at every opportunity in an effort to conserve fuel for our arrival in St. George’s Harbour.  Within 100 or more miles of Bermuda the silence of the ocean was broken by the exceptionally friendly voice of ‘Bermuda Radio’ which tracks every vessel within at least 100 miles of Bermuda on its radar screens. If a vessel hasn’t initiated contact within 30 miles of land, it can be sure that Bermuda Radio will make contact with it.  While it may seem that the radio operator is being excessively ‘nosey’, the questions asked of each approaching vessel are all designed to make entry to and arrival in St. Georges Harbour easier and safer.

Bermuda is a lovely island sitting all alone in the Atlantic Ocean about two-thirds of the way between Antigua and Newport, almost as if it was intentionally positioned there as a refueling station for the twice-yearly migration of yachts.  In many ways the island itself is much like Barbuda – low-lying and completely surrounded by reefs, with more beaches and reef areas than land itself.  But it is much more developed and populated than Barbuda and has a unique architectural style adapted to life in the hurricane belt.  Bermuda, however, is a very popular tourist island unlike sleepy Barbuda.

After 5 ½ days at sea, we arrived in Bermuda on May 24th – Bermuda Day.  Why is it that when doing an ocean passage you inevitably arrive at your destination on a holiday?  There would be no refueling until the following morning so we had no choice but to find somewhere to eat and drink – both of which are guaranteed to be open to satisfy transient sailors, even on a holiday.

Velsheda stern-to the dock in Bermuda.

One of the wonderful things about Bermuda, as with the Azores, is that no matter what bar you walk into for that first cold beer, you are guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen for . . . at least a week . . . someone like you who has also just left Antigua.  On this occasion we immediately discovered Stuart and his all-woman crew who had just arrived from Jolly Harbour on a stop-over of a few days before sailing on to the Azores and ultimately to Lisbon.  Then, as I strolled down the road wearing a fleece with ‘Endeavour, J K4’ on the breast, the crew of Velsheda bounded out of the next bar to welcome us to Bermuda.  After a quick stop, they too were heading to Newport.  The yacht looked lonely but exceptionally beautiful stern-to the dock at Bermuda Yacht Services where she stood alone as opposed to disappearing into the crowd of much bigger yachts as she sometimes does on the dock in Antigua.

By 11 am the following morning we were fuelled up and ready to continue our journey to Newport.  As requested, we contacted Bermuda Radio to advise of our departure from St. George’s Harbour.  We were asked how many people were on board, what our destination was and when we expected to arrive there.  Rather than feeling irritated, we left Bermuda with an exceptionally warm feeling that the voice at the end of the radio was concerned about our safety.  It’s rare that one leaves a port that takes a genuine interest in your sail plan.  When Bermuda Radio invited us to return to Bermuda again soon, we felt that the invitation was sincere and we do look forward to our return.

So on to Newport.  We set off again with absolutely no wind and flat calm seas – not even a ripple.  We motored and motor-sailed again for the first three days before we found enough wind to actually shut the engine off and sail for a few hours – it was heaven!  A few ships passed in the night (and in daytime!), dolphins danced in front of the sunrise one morning and a few tropic birds made attempts at landing on the rigging before they finally gave up.  Bermuda Radio entertained us until we were about 200 miles north, when their pleasant radio voices finally faded and we were left to the silence of . . . the boat’s engine!

On the final night of our approach to Newport the fog rolled in and radar became our eyes.  Of course, the closer you get to land, the more traffic there is on the water.  We were kept very busy all night and it didn’t let up when the sun rose.  With the thick fog our visibility was about two boat lengths and it remained with us all the way into Newport Harbour.  Radar is great but it didn’t pick up the boats sailing around the harbour in the fog that we had to quickly dodge when they suddenly appeared a couple of boat-lengths away.  Eventually we made it to our destination at New York Yacht Club where we received a very warm welcome from Kathy, the waterfront manager, who arranged dock space for us to await a visit from a Customs officer.  We were very impressed that we were able to call in advance and have a Customs officer sent to our destination where he came on board, was exceptionally friendly and efficient and welcomed us to the United States.

Newport is a wonderful place where so many of the yachts that we are familiar with in Antigua choose to spend their summers.  Our hosts at the Yacht Club have been exceptionally hospitable and have made us feel very welcome.  We have a couple of days to connect with old friends and make a few new ones and then we’re off in another direction for the next few months.  It was a wonderful trip and one I would welcome doing again next year!

Article and photos by Kathy Lammers

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