SOUTHBOUND LUNACY 2023: Phase Two; Newport RI to Antigua

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Nov. 29/2023: And here I am—way late—with a description of how the good ship Lunacy and her faithful Lunatics finally finished their voyage down to the warmth of the W’Indies. The last photo in my previous post, some may recall, was of a massive barge/crane/ship thingy that I found anchored across the way in Jamestown when I first arrived in Newport, after my solo jaunt down from Portsmouth. On our way out of Newport on October 28, within a couple of hours of setting sail for Bermuda, we found out exactly what that thingy is up to.

I had been told by friends in Jamestown that they thought the wind farm off Block Island was being enlarged. In fact it turns out a new, much larger wind farm, dubbed Revolution Wind, is being planted 15 miles further offshore. We sailed right through a scrum of barge/crane/ship thingies (see image up top) that were busy erecting turbine pedestals. I counted 12 pedestals under construction, but I gather the entire farm when completed will contain 65 turbines.

Yikes! The future is here already.

The Lunatics in question, gathered on deck in Newport prior to departure: your grizzled narrator on the left; Brian Neubauer (ex audio engineer and erstwhile session musician, now a pro boat skipper with some solo racing experience) in the center; and Dave Walsh (EMT firefighter guy with some offshore delivery experience, recently retired from speed skating) on the right. I found my Lunatics via Offshore Passage Opportunities

 

In addition to signing up crew from OPO, I also signed up to join my buddy Hank Schmitt’s NARC (North American Rally to the Caribbean) event, as he had announced this was the very last time (after 24 years!) that he’d be running it. A major milestone indeed. Interestingly, it was also the first time the NARC partnered (sort of) with the Salty Dawg Rally, which was running boats this year out of both Newport and Hampton, Virginia.

The weather briefing the afternoon of October 27, the day before we left, which featured Zoom presentations from both Weather Routing Inc. (WRI), the NARC’s regular weather service, and Chris Parker’s Marine Weather Center (MWC), the regular Salty Dawg service, was unlike any I had ever attended. WRI went first and their briefing was concise and straightforward: that we’d have good conditions leaving Newport the following day that would hold across the Gulf Stream, but on the fourth day, approaching Bermuda, we’d likely see strong southeasterly headwinds to 30 knots with higher gusts. As in: this was pretty normal. Followed directly by MWC’s briefing, which was much more alarmist: that we should have already left yesterday, or this morning, or short of that we should jump out of our seats and leave right now, because the strong headwinds approaching Bermuda would be on the order of 50 knots. As in: we were pretty much doomed.

Interestingly, what a few owner/skippers in the room were most concerned about was their insurance coverage, which they insisted would be void if they set out for Bermuda prior to November 1.

The resulting atmosphere was, let us say, pessimistic.

I have sailed between New England and Bermuda many times in the fall, and my view on weather-routing for this passage is pretty simple. Between the late tropical systems and early winter messes, you should expect to get beat up at some point. The window you should look for is one where you don’t get beat up too badly in the Gulf Stream. And if you’re not willing to get beat up a bit, plain and simple, you should not do this passage. It is almost always challenging at some point. Only once have I done it without meeting strong conditions, and that, it should be noted, was on a passage in mid-October.

Bottom line: the longer you wait for a window on this route at this time of year, the smaller the windows get. So if you are so pessimistic that you are defaulting to the assumption that you will be making an insurance claim, and your insurer is telling you to go later rather than sooner, regardless of the forecast, you should maybe just take an airplane instead.

As it turned out in this case, both WRI and MWC were sort of correct. We had ideal conditions to start. The best ever, in my experience, as the weather was warm when we left Newport, and I never had to put on any heavy clothing. And yes, after we sashayed through a veritable forest of Gulf Stream eddies in continuing moderate conditions, we did finally hit the hard stuff approaching Bermuda. Wind from the southeast at 30 knots plus, accelerated to over 40 apparent as we motorsailed into it, trying to get as close to Bermuda as possible before submitting to the inevitable. And yes, there was also one big gust to well over 50 knots as we bore away downwind and tucked a third reef into our mainsail.

The inevitable result: we hove to for eight hours waiting for conditions we could work with. This shot was snapped later in the game, when the wind was down but still contrary, and seas were still high but decreasing. Note the angle of the staysail here. Rather than sheeting it hard to windward, I found it worked better sheeted closer to the boat’s centerline. We were very comfortable and only lost 15 miles progress before resuming sailing at a favorable angle straight at Bermuda. My Lunatic crew, I should note, reveled in the harsh conditions. Exactly the sort of crew you want on a passage like this!

 

After we started sailing again, we found several tiny squids that had been stranded on deck

 

After arriving in Bermuda the NARC fleet was feted by goombay dancers at the St. Georges Dinghy Club

 

Lunacy at anchor in St. Georges, as viewed from the Dinghy Club

 

Our neighbors in the anchorage were my old friends Steve and Irene Macek, who succeeded in selling their old Marco Polo schooner Star and now live aboard a much more modern Alliage named Perle Rose. Here we see Steve atop the boat’s stern arch, proudly polishing up his radome during a strong blow that kept us weatherbound for most of a day aboard Lunacy

 

We also had a chance to visit with another acquaintance, Peter Bourke, aboard his Open 40 Imagine. Peter had signed up to race this boat around the world in the Global Solo Challenge, but a bad case of Covid kept him from making the start line. The boat, built in 2000 to a Finot-Conq design, previously belonged to James Burwick, who, amazingly, sailed her as a family cruiser named Anasazi Girl. James and family were dismasted 300 miles west of Cape Horn in 2014 and were rescued by the Chilean navy

 

Honking big parrot fish spotted along the quay near Imagine

 

After five days in Bermuda we set out for the sunny south on the morning of November 8. We had a fine moderate breeze to start, sailing first on a reach, then dead downwind as we made off to the southeast to gain easting for the final descent to the W’Indies

 

That breeze died off, and we motored for a time, and eventually found enough easterly breeze to fly the A-sail

 

This is how good my crew was! When two of the three straps holding the headboard to the mainsail blew out, Brian and Dave organized and executed the repair with minimal supervision. Dave drilled holes through the heavy-duty material at the head of the sail with an electric drill; Brian did the stitching

 

The end result. Not too pretty, but plenty strong

 

The final phase. Reaching across strong easterly trades under a reefed main and headsail. We got as far east as 61 degrees, a bit east of our destination, and even so life was a bit rugged the last couple of days, as we had the wind right on the beam or a little forward of it much of the time

 

By the morning of November 13 we had Barbuda in sight and by that afternoon had arrived at Jolly Harbour on Antigua’s west coast. We had to handsteer the last several miles, as the autopilot unfortunately crapped out. We spent a full day exploring Jolly Harbour, and I consulted with the marina staff re leaving the boat there for a while. The following day we sailed around to English Harbour, on the south coast, and I sussed out long-term parking options there.

On the Antigua Yacht Club Marina docks, on the Falmouth side of English Harbour, we happened across Jerry Callen (seen here) and Katy Pedersen aboard their Garcia 45 Idril. They had sailed down from Newport in the Salty Dawg Rally, without stopping in Bermuda, and arrived in Antigua just a day or so ahead of us. Back when they were boat-shopping, Katy crewed on Lunacy in the fall of 2018, on my run down to St. Maarten that year. In the end she and Jerry opted for a Garcia over a Boreal

 

Just across from Idril we found this Russian-owned superyacht that was seized by the Antiguan government in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. The Antiguans had a deal earlier this year to sell her to Google CEO Eric Schimdt, but that fell apart

 

In the end I decided it would be best to put Lunacy to bed in Jolly Harbour until I return for a family cruise after Christmas. I’ll share details on that when the time comes.

MEANWHILE: Many major thanks to both Brian and Dave for all their help getting the girl south this fall. Greatly appreciated!!!

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2 Responses
  1. Steve Saylor

    Sorry we missed you in Newport, ONCE made decision to leave afternoon of the 27th and rode out that front on the customs dock in Bermuda. A passage without thermals! Now in les saints, hope we cross paths later this season.

    1. Charles Doane

      You hit the sweet spot! Steve and Irene on Perle Rose left Newport that morning and told me it was their best passage ever to Bermuda. And they’ve done a lot of them!

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