25 May 2013

Bermuda, a little paradise

St.George's street view

As you may know we stay already more than a week in paradise, eh Bermuda. It's true, Bermuda is simply gorgeous. 

It's basically a mix of the Bahamas and the Caribbean with an English high-end touch. Another reason why it looks so picturesque is for sure that this is a very rich island. Did you know that they have the highest GDP per capita in the world?  No reason to elaborate why, but you can see and feel the money and it's for sure well spent.

First of all, all the houses have a similar white roof; mix that with all the different colors of the houses, the green landscape and you get the perfect postcard picture. New to us is as well the fact that every house here has a chimney which proofs that we are much more up North already. The famous Bermuda roofs are stone made and designed to collect 80% of every raindrop that touches it. And they need to withstand at least wind speed up to 100 miles an hour. That’s the law and it looks just perfect.  

roof with rainwater collection drain
Besides the architecture, the landscape and gardens are well maintained, the people are unbelievably friendly and the island offers an amazing variety of restaurants, shops and sightseeing options, easy accessible by bus. Even though Bermuda doesn't come cheap - a pint of beer sets you back seven dollars and the liter of diesel is currently 1.88 USD (compared to 85 cents in Puerto Rico) - it has a touch of “perfect ville” out in the nowhere of the Atlantic Ocean. Together with our German friends Sybille & Hugo on s/v Brigo we started to point out houses we could imagine ourselves to live in ;-)

when can we move in?
Worth mentioning as well is the national business dress code for men. Try to wear this somewhere else in the world: It consists of a pair of Bermuda Shorts which need to end exactly six inches above the knee, preferably in a fancy color like salmon pink, yellow or so. Combine that with a pair of so called “Bermuda Hose” which are basically socks up to the knee, mostly in navy blue. Then you wear a traditional shirt with tie and a jacket, again preferably in navy blue. Together with business shoes you're perfectly dressed. And you see this all over here. It's not a tourist thing, stand in front of an international bank or office building and just wait and see….

official Bermudian dress code
Since the weather is once more a bit confused and our next trip will be again 600nm or so we may spend some more time here to hopefully find the perfect weather window. We'll keep you posted.

view of St.George's from our anchorage
PS: Cruiser Information:
There is a lot of writing about checking into Bermuda. We think it’s a fairly easy and painless process: Due to the reefs all around the island "Bermuda Radio" has a 24/7 Radar and Radio Watch. As soon you're 30nm out, call them on channel 16 or they will contact you to guide you into the channel. They like to know a lot of information about your boat. You can do this over the Radio, it will take at least 15min, or you send them before your departure to Bermuda the “pre arrival” documentation by email (download it here). If you have done this, the call only takes 2 minutes and you can proceed fast forward to customs dock in St. Georges after Radio Clearance. Customs and Immigration is quick and easy done with a lot of friendly chat and smiles.

18 May 2013

Bermuda - Trip Update

imagine this view for 6 1/2 days

Sorry for the delay – but as we have no internet on board everything takes more time. As promised here is the update on our longer crossing from Puerto Rico to Bermuda. In simple words, it was surreal!

We left Palmas del Mar Marina in Puerto Rico early on Wednesday morning 8th of May at 06:00. We knew we had to hurry as there was a ColdFRONT/LO predicted which would hit Bermuda around Monday night and bring strong northerly winds – right on our nose. We did know as well that we would be hit by some squalls during our trip, but staying another week or two in Puerto Rico was even less promising.

The first couple of hours we mostly had to use the engine as we headed into the wind to pass the reefs on the northeast side of Puerto Rico. Once in the open Atlantic waters the wind picked up to 20 knots and we made good speed. For a few hours, at least. Then the first squall hit us with 30+ knots. And that squall never left us! For three days in a row we saw sustained winds of 30 – 40 knots and seas as big as houses! Even with the cockpit enclosed we got so much rain and green water over that after three days everything was soaked. The front of squalls (TROF) had turned into an unpredicted LO itself with us right in the middle (as we learned later, of course). The wind never dropped below 30 knots at all. Habibi did great, the crew however was more at their limit. I tell you, nothing beats a heavy full keel boat with a staysail in conditions like that! Yes, it sucked but we were never scared or so, it was simply like living in a washing machine for three days in a row. In such bad weather the biggest fear is actually that something could break and you won’t be able to fix it as there is simply no chance to get some quiet five minutes. “Our loss” wasn’t that bad though: The only thing that didn’t survive was our glass oven door: We once tried to cook a warm meal. Bad idea! The boat was surfing such high seas that the oven, which is gimbaled, flipped in one big wave so heavily that the glass front shattered in million of pieces! Can you imagine, a heeled and moving boat and you then have to clean up glass pieces which of course are sliding in every hidden corner of the cabin? The rest of the stormy days we stayed on a strict diet: tons of clementine, snack bars, nuts, chocolate and everything you can grab and eat with your bare hands.

we'd made sure that we didn't have to starve while underway
Nevertheless, after three days the wind calmed finally down to 20 knots, the seas decreased some and we had a few days of beautiful sailing. But as the “washing machine sailing” before had slowed us down too much, we wouldn’t be able to reach Bermuda before the ColdFRONT arrived! So we started planning to divert to the East Coast of the US, adding another 600nm to the tap.

But sometimes even we get lucky. On Sunday Chris our forecaster mentioned that the ColdFRONT over Bermuda was delaying. All of a sudden we had time until sunset on Tuesday to avoid bad weather. Speed was now everything. For two days we sailed 160nm a day! That’s an average of 6.8 knots and higher for more than 24 hours! I know Island Packets are no race boats but calling them slow is simply stupid! 

calm again after some stormy days
Of course the wind died as soon Bermuda was in sight on Tuesday morning 14th of May. Some last squalls with tons of rain had washed down the whole salt (prefrontalTROF) and we happily motored towards the entry channel which we were going to reach in 4 hours or so. But Neptune was not out of surprises yet. The northern wind picked up a bit too early as predicted. For the last 20 miles we again had 25 knots of wind and high seas but for a change well on the nose (ColdFront)! Which of course soaked Habibi once again in saltwater… but that lasted just a few hours until we finally reached the town cut and the well protected anchorage in St. George’s/Bermuda after exact 904nm of very mixed sailing. We tied up on the customs dock and the first steps on land after 6 ½ days out at sea felt both weird and great together!

Habibi at the Customs dock in St.George's
The passage was pure solitude - for one week the only things we saw were three birds and three big ships far away. Otherwise nothing else than water. The only visitors we had were the occasional suicidal flying fish that jumped into our dinghy or on deck to die there.

As you may know most sailors are diagnosed with a very bad short-term memory. Which means if you asked us now a couple of days later we wouldn’t think it was too bad anymore. Let’s be honest, the first three days of our trip haven’t been too much fun but gorgeous Bermuda simply helped us to forget the nasty stuff quickly. Overall we’re happy we did it and Yes, we would do a longer trip anytime again (which we have to!) – off course if there was better weather ;-)

anchorage in St.George's/Bermuda

07 May 2013

900nm ahead!

Even if many ocean crossing saltwater sailors may laugh - we're a bit nervous about the upcoming trip. If weather permits we will sail from Puerto Rico straight up to Bermuda starting by tomorrow. And if you check the map carefully you may even find Bermuda on it... It's not some fly poop in the middle of nowhere, it's actually a bunch of islands, tiny and "just right" off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on the US East Coast. 

And as usual we say "if weather permits". As you can imagine, getting a weather forecast for a week is very difficult since there is a constant movement (and if one of my previous managers is reading - the same applies sometimes for sales planning :-)). Until beginning of this week it was clear we should leave Thursday or Friday. This morning (Tuesday) our forecaster meant we should run right now as there might some storms approaching. Of course traveling to the next city to check out of Puerto Rico took too long and we had to postpone for tomorrow. So again, our plans are on the edge. We may leave tomorrow Wednesday towards Bermuda, and on day three or so we have to check where the nasty weather is moving, it's either to the SE Coast of the US or Bermuda. Which means we may have to adjust while underway... Isn't that nice?

The trip is roughly 900nm long, that's 1'700km. And we plan to travel with a speed of around 10kmh. Means it'll take us between 7 and 8 days to get there. Since there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, between Puerto Rico and Bermuda we will have no internet, no cellphone coverage or so. Our only connection to the rest of the world will be the Shortwave Radio SSB and the Satellite Phone. So if you're not frightened of the trip, think about this: Eight days no Facebook, no Skype, no News! That's almost as challenging as the trip itself. I mean, what happens if the world as we know it comes to an end and we will not even know it?

Nevertheless, we're getting ready and hope it will be a very boring trip with settled weather and no other challenges than a big fish on the hook. Keep fingers crossed!

05 May 2013

Blows & Blasts in the Spanish Virgin Islands

Culebra - anchorage in Ensenada Honda

We arrived in Culebra and dropped the hook in Ensenada Honda - a huge landlocked bay - just off the little town Dewey. It's a little island with a population of just 1'800 East of Puerto Rico and part of its commonwealth. Together with Vieques to the South of Culebra they are known as the Spanish Virgin or the Passage Islands. After the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas with its cruise ship traffic the idea of staying in this sleepy and non-touristy place for a couple of days felt appealing... Just that in the end we didn't just spend "a couple a days" there but almost two weeks! Due to weather, of course.

The original plan was to enjoy Culebra for 2-3 days, then head on to Puerto Rico, pick up Marco's brother Serge, circle the Spanish Virgins for some time together, sail back to Puerto Rico to explore the island before his departure. But it started to BLOW and the sea state was predicted a mess for days. So change of plans - Serge booked last minute an additional flight from San Juan PR to Culebra. We figured better to be stuck in a spacious anchorage on this nice little island than in a marina in Puerto Rico. Even though it meant to get soaked with saltwater on each dinghy ride to shore... We rented a car for one day and zoomed around the whole island. Top of the list was to pay Flamenco Beach a visit - the water is really almost like in the Bahamas, so clear.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra

Then you have to eat in Zaco's Taco's and it was well worth it. Even Marco who isn't a big Mexican food lover ate 4 tacos! To go snorkeling was not an option as it was just too windy. But as friends of ours have written in their blog: "Culebra is a 3-4 days island. After 3-4 days you probably have done all there is to do". Fortunately there was the "Dinghy Dock", a bar and restaurant with - as the name says - a convenient dock to tie your dinghy on. They had a sign up that said: Free Beer Tomorrow! We were there so often for some beers (unfortunately never for free) or a bite to eat that the staff (and the regular guests) knew our names... I guess this meant it was time to move on or we'd have stayed there and become liveaboards!

We started to make plans as soon as the weather seemed to clear up. We wanted to visit Vieques and friends of ours offered to point out on the chart where they had been and what they liked. There was one particular anchorage on the South East in which they found the snorkeling to be nice. "But there are some bombs, so you have to be careful on where to drop anchor", said Ron. "Bombs? Did you say there are bombs?" I asked stupefied. "Oh yeah", was his dry reply. He made me giggle. I knew that both islands have been gunnery and bombing practice sites of the U.S. Navy since 1939. In Culebra they removed the Navy in 1975 after people had began to protest. Vieques wasn't so fortunate, the Navy withdrew much later in 2003 and only because of a lot of political pressure. The islands have been closed off by the Navy for 40 to 60 years which means they were undeveloped for tourism. Or in other words - they are sleepy, unspoiled islands with pristine, deserted beaches. But nevertheless we don't want to lose our boat in a BLAST because we dropped the anchor on a bomb! Therefore we decided against going in this particular anchorage and sailed to Green Bay on the West of Vieques instead. Also recommended by our friends, we were only two boats and it was gorgeous! Miles of white sand beach lined with palm trees and clear water. Nevertheless, I decided to snorkel and check what's around our anchor. And guess what? A lot to see but at least not any kind of unexploded grenades or similar...phew!

Green Beach, Vieques

From paradise with love