Ice on the sprayhood at the end of November was the final reminder that the sailing season in North America is well and truly over. It was high time to head south.
Our second visit in New England was later then originally planned. This time we came in from Canada. However, due to US travel restrictions, travelers from Canada were not allowed to cross the border to the US on land or water until 8 November 2021.
Why so late?
So instead of an October visit to see our dear friends in Maine and Massachusetts again, it turned out to be a November visit. November in New England is beautiful. The automn colors are still there, the days are often sunny and cool and everything is in a very nice light. The nights were getting really cold, but thanks to our forcefull diesel heater, we never had a cold cabine.
The thing that remained was the thought of when to escape to the Caribbean. An old salt in Halifax told me that there is no weather window before mid December. I wasn’t convinced and consulted the pilot charts instead. They were very clear. November is not a good month to cross to Bermuda, but December is definitly worse.
Additionally, Eva Maria and the kids wanted to visit Switzerland to see family and friends again. The grandparents were asking more and more often.
Shall I try it alone?
I thought this might be the best opportunity to have a go at single handed sailing. This is something I always wanted to try and I felt that both Mirabella and myself were ready for it. We booked flights to Switzerland and return to the Caribbean for Eva Maria and the kids at the end of November. And I watched the weather closely.
On the 24. November, there was an acceptable weather window. Strong NW winds till Bermuda, forecasted mostly around 20kts, increasing to 25-30kts when the front passes, gusts forecasted in the 30+kts. Not great, but by far the best for a long time and probably as good as one can expect at the end of November. I spoke to Ed, our friend who has done the crossing to the caribbean in November/December multiple times. He agreed, yes, this is an ok window.
On the eve of the departure Eva Maria and the kids left the boat, it was freezing cold and I planned to leave at first light the next morning. After a good but short sleep I got the boat ready at 5am and slipped the mooring line shortly before sunrise.
It is happening
Ice cold wind blew in my face as I made my way out of Buzzards Bay, the diesel furnace blew hot air into the cabin, but outside I was exposed the the elements. I needed to sail upwind for the first 20 miles before I could turn south towards to sun. It was a challenging sail against the wind and it gave me a queasy stomach that wouldn’t go away for a day. After 3 hours I happily turned the bow south, getting the wind over my starbord stern. Much better.
First time alone on the ocean
The feeling of sailing alone was very strange. After 45’000 miles with the family, it was an unnatural feeling to be alone on the boat. There was no one to talk to, no discussion about the sail plan or weather routing. No kids that demanded my attention. Only me and some less then ideal weather.
The first two days were broad reaching in 25kts of wind and maybe 3m of wave. Not very comfortable but managable. It was the anticipation of the front passing over us on the 3rd day that occupied my thoughts. 30kts steady wind, gusting to 40kts was forecasted.
I kept Mirabella moving quickly, I wanted to be south of the gulfstream when the front hit. The gulfstream can be treacherous place to be caught out in bad weather. This strong current quickly creates waves that are much higher then normal. Luckily, the wind was in the same direction as the current, this should keep the waves to a more normal level. But still, better to be out of the current.
On the evening before the front would hit, I took the main sail down completly and tied it down. This way it could not accidentially open up again. My plan was to weather the front under genoa alone. Just in case I needed to reef further.
The strong front passes
The front arrived as predicted the next day and quickly we had winds gusting into the 40s. I observed the spectacle from the companion way when I saw a large mean looking cloudbank arrive. Heavy rain and even stronger winds were coming for Mirabella! The wind started to gust up to 54kts, it was loud, wet and uncomfortable. The genoa was reefed to a few m2, we surfed down the waves with up to 16kts. It was freightening but everything was stable and all I had to do was hang in there.
After an hour the winds reduced to 30kts again. Coming from 50+kts this felt already normal again. I gradually unfurled more genoa and continued on my path to Bermuda.
When the wind pipes up like this, it feels good to be on a well maintained X-Yacht. Luckily, nothing got damaged, no water came into the boat and all systems just continued as normal.
After 4 days I arrived in Bermuda after sunset. Bermuda is very professional and everything is well marked. They have the worlds best radio operators and a very efficient customs. One hour after my arrival, I was cleared in. I dropped the anchor in the Powder Hole bay and was ready for a long sleep.
Together with Aria, I enjoyed 5 days of relaxed life in Bermuda. Then a nice looking weather forecast came up. 5 days / 880nm of beam reaching to Saint Martin. Yes, that sounds like me.
Most beautiful sailing to the Caribbean
The second leg was everything the first wasn’t. The wind was great, the weather was warm and it didn’t rain. I managed a very good 180nm per day. Alone! Sailing was just great. I started to really like this way of sailing. When the going is great, I found the solitude beautiful. I was busy keeping Mirabella moving, checking all the systems and cooking. But there was enough time to watch the dolphines and read a book in the cockpit. If it wasn’t for the interrupted sleep pattern I would have wanted to sail on for much longer.
We arrived in Saint Martin at lunch time after 5 days. Marigot bay, the French side, was too rolly so I moved on to Simpson bay on the Dutch side and anchored there for the night. On arrival I spotted Patrick on Ostrika. He gladly helped me to get the dinghy in the water.
Together with Patrick and some of his friends, I spend the night at Lagoonies. A great evening with very good food and a nice beer. What a way to arrive, Caribbean I’m here!