It was a good crossing but not very pleasant. There were a lot of lightnings around us when we crossed the gulf stream… lucky enough the kids were asleep, so they did not notice the tense atmosphere. On Amina’s birthday on the 16th of May we were still on passage, but had luckily passed the worst. We were not yet in the mood for celebrating with cake and candles but I managed to bake some quick cinnamon rolls and many dolphins were swimming with Mirabella as if they came to cheer Amina. We promised her a nice birthday lemon cake after our arrival in New York.
On the 17th of May afternoon we could see the Verrazzano Bridge and Manhattan Skyline in a distance. We were all very excited. The one and only time I had been in New York was a long time ago. I remember that we did a boat cruise around Manhattan on my 16th birthday. I took so many pictures of the skyline with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and now, more than three decades later, I was here again with my own family on our own boat. Tragically, as we all know the Twin Towers are not there anymore… but the skyline is still as breathtaking as I had it in my memory. By the time we had passed under the bridge and arrived in front of Manhattan Island it was already early evening. We anchored next to the Statue of Liberty and enjoyed the moment of the arrival in such a unique place. It is permitted to anchor there but of course it is not a very quiet anchorage because of all the traffic around there… ferrys, daysailors, sightseeing boats, commercial boats, helicopters and so on… a very busy area of course. But for one night I think it is a must if you sail to New York. Just to have the excitement of waking up with the skyline view to one side and the Statue of Liberty to the other. We thoroughly enjoyed this arrival. Another epic moment on our journey we will never forget.
We continued our way up the Hudson river the next morning. There is a small marina called 79th Street Boat Basin. They have buoys only for smaller boats, but after the buoy zone you can anchor. You pay a daily charge for using the dinghy dock of the marina but still this is the best and cheapest option you have when you want to explore the city. There are also showers, a washing machine and a dryer you can use. So perfect for cruisers like us. We arrived exactly on the right time in New York. It was middle of May, covid restrictions got lifted, businesses started to open again and the weather was just perfect to visit the city and thanks to covid-19 almost no tourists around.
Not many boat anchored in the Hudson river. At the beginning it was just us, then ARIA and one or two days later there was a blue boat called ASTA. I met Annika and Thomas, a nice Swedish couple, when I was doing laundry. Funny enough we found out that we had some friends in common. They had cruised together with VILJA in 2020, a Norwegian family boat we had met in New Zealand 2019. VILJA had inspired us to take the Northern route to Europe. They had returned this way back home to Norway in the previous year. The sailing world is really small…. After a nice chat we exchanged contacts to stay in touch. Their plan was to sail up the American East coast and wait for Canada’s borders to open.
We really enjoyed exploring the city. New York offers so much – impossible to get bored. Jaël and Amina loved strolling around in Central Park. We rented some bicycles one day and Jaël and André did the big loop in Central park while I walked with Amina doing a few of the shorter loops. She improved with every round and at the end I had to run to keep up with her. Together with Karsten, Lucia and Luca we explored the High Line, an elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan. It leads from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea to Hudson Yards with it’s extraordinary centerpiece “The vessel”. It had 154 interconnected staircases totaling around 2500 steps but it was not yet open to the public. We rounded off this beautiful day of with a delicious meal in a good Italian restaurant.
A few days later a catamaran with American flag arrived. A family from Park City, Utah with a 12 year old boy arrived. They had just started their sailing season and planned to cruise up to Maine. Andrew, the captain, grew up in Portland and Michelle was originally from Boston. They were planning to visit their families in Boston and Portland. Jaël and Amina hit it off with their son Cortland straight away. So with ARIA and LITTLE CLOUD we were already three boats heading towards Maine. ASTA had already left by that time.
We were not yet ready to leave this fascinating city. In addition we also wanted to get a second shot covid-19 vaccination. Jaël and Amina could stay with Cortland on their boat and André and me tried our luck in the vaccination center in the Museum of Natural history which was in easy walking distance. We had our vaccination cards from Antigua with us, proof of our Astra Zeneca first shot. But we were not lucky… they refused to mix the vaccine from different manufacturers. So they would neither give us a Pfizer 2nd shot nor a Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine. We left the center and changed our plan… we walked to the vaccination center on Times Square and said we have no vaccine yet. We asked for the Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine to be fully vaccinated afterwards and everything worked out perfectly fine. We were happy to be fully vaccinated now. This will make our ongoing travels much easier.
On a rainy day we explored the Vessel together with LITTLE CLOUD. It was open now and they gave away a certain amount of free tickets on the internet. We were very lucky to get some of them. It was a lot of fun to explore that unique building. We continued on the High Line towards the “Little Island” at Pier 55. This is an artificial island park in the Hudson river. We had passed it on our way to our anchorage and were wondering how it looked like from land. It has several stages for theater or music performances. I am sure it will be very popular in summer time.
On June 6th we left our anchorage towards the Statue of Liberty again. We stopped on the fuel dock of Liberty Landing Marina and anchored next to the Statue of Liberty again. The plan was to wait there for the current to turn in East River. Our plan was to anchor in Manhasset Bay for the night. It was a great sightseeing tour around Manhattan Island up the East river. We passed the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and felt very lucky to have our very own private Sightseeing Tour on Mirabella. Bye bye New York, city that never sleeps… we will come again one day!
After a tearful goodbye we left la Réunion together with our friends from MILANTO and LOUMARAN. SEA LOVER waited for a crew member to fly in and followed after lunch. As usually on passages friends boats disappear very soon from the AIS because every boat has a different pace and routing but with MILANTO we finally found a buddy boat with very similar speed. We were able to talk to each other regularly on the VHF and once on a sunny morning we even got a short guitar concert from Lorenzo via VHF and we crossed. We sailed together the last day of our passage with 30 knots wind from behind and strong Agulhas current with us and the coast of Africa in sight. It was beautiful sailing and a special and unforgettable day.
We arrived in Tuzi Gazi, Richards Bay and were welcomed by our friends Rudy and Tom who crossed on MONFREID, our neighbour boat in La Réunion. They had left Reunion on the 1st of November. Also Alejandro and David from SEALOVER were there and took our lines. Unfortunately it was Friday afternoon and the PCR test could not be done before Monday. So we were not allowed to leave the boat and could not yet move to the Zululand Yacht Club where our friends from Réunion were. The waterfront was very busy on the weekend. Locals were strolling up and down the pier, taking pictures of the boats. Every morning at sunrise the monkeys came to the boats on the pier and were looking for open hatches to steal some food. We had been warned before so we had closed the windows and the companionway over night. On a catamaran they had found an open window and they managed to steal a few oranges before they were discovered and chased away.
A staff member of one of the waterfront restaurants was very clever. He brought us the menu and offered delivery to the boat. What a treat! On Monday we could finally do our PCR Test but unfortunately it took a while until we got the results. After that we had to go to customs and immigration to fill out some more forms… Mélanie and Romaric had rented a car and took us to the grocery stores. We had heard about the braai culture in South Africa and after we had seen the meat in the supermarket we understood why it was so popular. We have not had meat in that quality at such a reasonable price for a long time…
Finally on Wednesday we could move to the Zululand Yacht Club. There we met more of our Réunion friends again. Mélanie and Romaric were there of course, Fred, Rudy and Tom from MONFREID, Daniel with his crew Marcella, Alejandro and David from SEALOVER, Valerio and Lorenzo from MILANTO and Alain with his crew Jenny and Mia from TEC’HADENN. It was nice to be together again. There was also the Swedish boat DAWNBREAKER. Lars had flown home from Réunion and had the boat on the hard for most of the time there so we had met him just towards the very end of our Réunion time.
Richards Bay was a good starting point to go on safaris. There were a few nature reserves within a few hours driving distance. As South Africa had just opened his borders there were not a lot of tourists yet and the safari lodges offered discount rates. Together with MILANTO, LOUMARAN and SEALOVER we had booked a stay in the Rhino Ridge Lodge in Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserve. It is the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa. Still very wild with a size of 96000 hectares. The last half hour of the drive to the lodge led through the reserve. We already saw some zebras and impalas. The location of the lodge was a dream. It was on a hill looking over the nature reserve With the binoculars you could observe the rhinos and zebras drinking at a waterhole. There was always a morning safari with a coffee break and an afternoon safari with sundowner drink on a beautiful view point. It was beautiful! We saw lots of warthogs, zebras, impalas, nyalas, rhinos, girafes, wildbeests and elefants. Our guide was very experienced. He was very good at spotting also the smallest creatures like leopard turtles along the road, baby crocodiles in a creek or a dung beetle rolling his huge ball of dung to create the perfect home for his future family. He also knew a lot about the plants. He tried hard to show us a big cat like a lion or a leopard. I always had a sharp lookout too if I would spot a sleepy leopard on one of these beautiful amarula trees… but no luck. But also without seeing any wildcats this was a unique and unforgettable experience. After three nights we drove to St. Lucia and visited the Isimangaliso Wetland park there on our own. You think twice when there are some rhinos or buffalos close to the driveway. Should we stop or should we try to pass slowly… or maybe turn around…. it is very different to drive by yourself a normal car and pass these powerful creatures than sitting in a safari jeep with an experienced driver and ranger. These people know so much better how to read the animals signs. But nonetheless we had a great day in the park and in St. Lucia. We stayed at the Urban Glamping tented village which was a lot of fun. The staff told us to lock the tent because of the curious monkeys… and indeed there were a lot of them all over the place. It was fun, to watch these clever mammals from the veranda of our tent. The following day we were heading back to Richards Bay.
If you want to sail around the Cape of Good Hope you have to be patient and wait for the right weather window. There are just a few stops on the way where you can hide. The wind is usually blowing full speed North or South and changes direction very quickly, which makes the weather windows very short. There is also the strong Agulhas current pushing South. You absolutely have to avoid having the current against the wind as this can produce high standing waves.
To make things short the passage to Durban did not get very high ratings among the crew but we made it in time to Durban before the wind was turning again. Valerio always said it is not a pleasure cruise it is a delivery that is how you should see it!
Durban is not a very nice town. People told us it was nice once but now it is very rundown and even on the short way from the marina to the Durban Beach Front we did not feel very comfortable and safe. We were really just waiting for the right weather to head further South. If possible we wanted to skip East London and sail directly to Port Elizabeth. We wanted to visit the Addo Elephant park from there as it is very close and in addition we wanted to visit the parents of a former colleague from work from André. After 4 days we left Durban and really got a window that took us all the way down to Port Elizabeth. MILANTO and SEALOVER were with us, LOUMARAN decided to pull into East London. More boats of the Reunion fleet followed early next morning like Mélanie and Romaric on REDER BRO and Niklas on HAFSORKESTERN.
The marina in Port Elizabeth is in very bad condition. The pontoons are all moving around a lot and the wind blows all the metal dust from the iron ore storage just next to the marina on the boats. And of course there is a lot of wind and therefore a lot of dirt. Because of that you can not really sit outside in the cockpit and downstairs you get seasick because everything is moving. For the boatschooling we moved to the nearby restaurant on land and most of our cruising friends were there too because of the same reasons. It is a DELIVERY we were once again reminded from Valerio… But in spite of the bad maintained marina we had a nice lunch at Donald’s parents place and a great day in the Addo Elephant park together with Mélanie and Romaric.
Our next planned stop was Knysna. The entrance is only doable in settled conditions as it is narrow with dangerous rocks on both sides. It looks spectacular and beautiful but you have to pay attention to get your bearings right. The Knysna Yacht Club is one of the most welcoming Yacht Clubs in the world and definitely the best Yacht Club in South Africa. They let us stay at their dock at the prime spot, free of charge and even brought us a wooden staircase (normally only the superyachts have those)! What a treat after the rocky pontoons and howling winds in Port Elizlabeth! We felt at home immediately. There is a nice restaurant in the Yacht Club, a lively bar and even a small playground just around the corner and the view over the Knysna lagoon is fantastic. Welcome back to the cruising mode… the delivery was done – not yet around the cape but it seemed at least the worst part of it.
While MILANTO and SEALOVER soon wanted to move on to Cape Town we decided to stay a little bit longer. André had found a paragliding school in Wilderness where he could do his licence and I made a few beautiful excursions with the girls. Lars and his crew from DAWNBREAKER asked us if we would like to join them on a excursion to Plettenberg. We visited together the huge free flight bird santuary “Birds of Eden” and the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation & Awareness Center. Both places we can highly recommend.
Of course we also wanted to see where André was doing his flights. One day we accompanied him to Wilderness and Mélanie and Romaric joined too. We had a great had a great day at on the beautiful beach together and joined André later in the afternoon to watch him paragliding. As the monitor asked me if I would like to come on a tandem flight I spontaneously said yes. It was really beautiful and I could understand André’s excitement about the paragliding there. You fly alongside the cliffs and you can even spot the dolphins in the clear blue sea!
The amazing thing when you travel with kids is that they make new friends in no time. On Friday, 18th of December, André was back from paragliding and had to do some work on the boat and I went off to do some laundry. When I got back late afternoon Jaël was all excited telling me they got two new friends and as I stepped on the boat there was a woman in the cockpit I had not seen before. She introduced herself as Silvana and was mother of two boys, Michael and Gregory same age as Amina and Jaël. Her boys were invited at a kids birthday party on the Yacht Club terrace. Jaël and Amina were hanging around and kind of joined the party. They told the other kids that they live on that blue sailboat and had sailed all the way to South Africa. So Silvana (she has Italian roots) of course wanted to know if this is all true and asked them for a boat tour…. and there she was 🙂 her husband Warren joined, we offered them a drink on Mirabella. Later on we all moved by dinghy to their holiday apartment for a BBQ. They were from Johannesburg and spent their Christmas holiday always in Knysna where Warren’s father lived. They invited us over to a big family lunch at Warren’s uncle’s place. It was a beautiful afternoon with a lot of laughter and fun. Thank you again Warren and Silvana for inviting us! And of course thank you Jaël and Amina for chatting up these nice people!
As most boats of our Reunion fleet were already in Cape town and we wanted to spend Christmas with them we thought it was time to move on. André had accomplished his paragliding pilot licence and there was a good weather window ahead. On the 21st of December we passed the heads of Knysna and left for Cape town. We rounded the Cape Agulhas, the most southern point of Africa the following day in settled conditions. What a mile stone of our journey! We arrived in Cape town on the 23rd of December. One of these moments that I will never forget… arriving in Cape Town on our own sailing boat, seeing the famous Table Mountain in the morning sun.
We decided to stay in the V&A Waterfront Marina as you can discover the town on foot. Andre’s sister Karin was supposed to visit us and therefore it would be much easier to explore if we do not need a car. The other option would have been the Royal Cape Yacht Club which is less expensive and very cruiser friendly with a nice BBQ area. But it is located near the industrial harbour area and from there you do not get anywhere without car. The location of the V&A marina is simply unbeatable. It is well protected and very calm. From the boat you can watch the sealions swim around and at night you find them sleeping on the pontoons. Within a short walking distance you can reach supermarket, shops, restaurants and also a playground.
Our French friends from Reunion were all in Hout Bay so we spent the 24th of December there together with REDER BRO, SOLEDAD, MONFREID and TEC`HADENN. The 25th December we celebrated together with the boats who were at the V&A Marina, like MILANTO, SEALOVER, LOUMARAN, SEABISCUIT, OSPREY and ANNA CAROLINE. As the Covid-19 cases were rising the gouvernment implemented a night curfew and selling alcohol was prohibited in restaurants and supermarkets. Normally we would not have cared about the ban on alcohol but being in South Africa with all these great winerys and not being able to go on a winetram in Stellenbosch was a bit of a shame… Most of the restaurants closed earlier as everyone was supposed to be home at 9 p.m. But during the day everything was open, so no need to complain.
One day André took the kids to go climbing near Hout Bay with Charles, Fanny and Tom. We arranged to meet at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in the afternoon. Mélanie, Romaric, Charles and Fanny would join for a visit too and I would take the kids while André would go back to Mirabella. I had a nice city stroll in the morning, I walked to Greenmarket square, the Company’s garden and the Bo-Kaap area. Cape Town is a beautiful town with a lot to discover. The history lays still heavy on it though and you still rarely see black and white people together. Too many things have happened and still happen. The call for redemption was so loud that now things seem to turn the other way around which is not good either and will only cause more hate again. You can not make things undone but you can learn from mistakes. It is never good to legally favor a group of people. I do hope that South Africa will find a way to solve these difficult conflicts. Naturewise it is a beautiful and very rich country. We cought a glimpse of that beauty in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The location is a winner already and the variety of protea flowers (South Africa’s national flower) is incredible. On New Year’s eve we made a small get together with all the cruising boats in the Waterfront marina. By the our French friends were all in the Cape Town Yacht club and because of the curfew we could not celebrate all together. Instead we made a BBQ at the Yacht Club early January.
Karin had booked a flight to come and visit us in Cape Town but things had become quite complicated with the new South African variant of the virus. Her flight was firsts cancelled, then put back on schedule and finally postponed by a day. We could hardly believe, that she managed to come and visit us in these circumstances . But there she was – she arrived on January 1st! The last time she stayed with us on the boat was from Niue to New Zealand in September/October 2018, that was a while ago. So nice to have her back again. André managed to rent a car for a few days so that we could also explore the surroundings of Cape Town with her. There were plenty of things to do and see . One day we drove to Simons Town. It is famous for it’s colony of African penguins at boulders beach. This picturesque area, with enormous boulders dividing small, sandy coves is home to a colony of some 3000 African penguins. Fascinating to see those funny walking creatures that close. They can make quite a noise…
On another day we booked the Cape Canopy Tour near Grabouv. We left Cape Town early morning and had a late breakfast at a cool Sunday market, the Elgi n Railway Market. There was a big selection of delicious food stalls located in a beautifully restored old apple warehouse. What a great start into a beautiful day. We continued our drive to to the Canopy tour location. We got equipped with helmets, harnesses, gloves and the zipping device. A 4×4 jeep took us on a 45min. mountain trip to the starting point of the Canopy tour. All in all there were 11 slides and a suspension bridge all beautifully hidden in the mountainous scenery. It was a lof of fun and we would highly recommend it!
The Elgin Railway Market is just one of many cool weekend markets in and around Cape Town. In the waterfront area there is the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. It is a great location and the perfect way to start a Saturday or Sunday. There is a huge variety of food stalls and it is difficult to make a choice. The Old Biscuit Mill is another cool place we visited one weekend. Valerio was with us that day and there we met Maurizio and Catherine, who were selling delicious salami on one of the numerous market stalls. Maurizio is Italian and if an Italian sells salami you can be sure that it is really good! We bought some for our next passage and Valerio exchanged phone contacts and invited them over.
While Karin was still with us, André and me could go on a hike together without the kids. We normally wanted to hike up Table Mountain but unfortunately there was too much wind that day so we decided to hike up to Lion’s Head instead which offers a beautiful view on Cape Town too and you can walk down Signal Hill afterwards, where they still shoot the gun at 12 o’clock midday. Karin had to head back to Switzerland after 8 days. We had had a great time together!
Maurizio and Catherine visited MILANTO and came to see us on Mirabella as well. We suggested to go on a hike all together and Maurizio and Cathering picked the hike to Suther Peak. What a great choice. There were some friends of Catherine joining as well and so we met Nina from Geneva, Elena, a very experienced sailor, and Sylvie, an English Teacher. It was an unforgettable and beautiful hike with stunning views. Nina and Sylvie wanted to see our boat as well, so we invited them over another day. Maurizio and Catherine joined as well and also Alessia, who had two kids, Aline (10 years) and Conrad (8 years). It was just great to meet all these people. The longer you stay at one place the more connections you make and the harder it gets to leave. Alessia invited us over at her house (by the way a really cool house) and the kids had a lot of fun to play together in the pool and in their tree house.
Our friends from SOLEDAD; REDER BRO and MONFREID had already left for Brazil early January. St. Helena whose borders had been open all the time suddenly closed the borders because of the spreading South African variant of the virus. What a pity! We had been looking forward to stop on that interesting island in the middle of nowhere… Frank from MAXIM had decided to sail directly to Martinique, many others decided to stop at the northeastern tip of Brazil. Cruising friends recommended us a marina in Cabedelo where they would let us in even if Brazil was closed. We were not yet ready to leave. André had helped Valerio with his engine problem and after what he had seen there made him think that maybe he should take a closer look on our engine as well…. It is like opening Pandora’s Box… What he discovered was not so good. The turbo was completely stuck. To get the turbo cleaned he litterally had to take all the engine apart. A quite adventurous thing. Luckily he found a good Diesel engine specialist, a very relyable guy named Werner (with German roots) who could clean all the parts. It was a challenging two weeks project. But at the end André had put all the cleaned parts back together and the engine worked! Well done Captain!
While André was busy with the engine project we focused on boat school and bicycle practice. Very close by there was a bicycle rental where. We went there several times in the afternoon and rented a bike for one hour. It was not a very busy area and Amina and Jaël could do rounds and practice their bicydle skills. At the beginning I had to hold Amina and run along with her but she quickly made progress. At the end she just needed a little help to start. We also went on a short bike tour in Stellenbosch, that was fantastic. There André rented a shadow bike for Amina .
As soon as the engine project was finished we were getting ready to leave. We ordered some first class parmiggiano and more salami from Maurizio for the passage which lasted by the way until Antigua and was a real treat! Best cheese on board since a long time!!! Thank you Maurizio! Nina brought us some Ragusa chocolates and Jaël and Amina got two heart shaped boxes with Lindor chocolates from Maurizio and Catherine which they both kept like a treasure. Before we left we had a lovely dinner at Maurizio and Catherine’s place and farewell drinks with all our cruising and Cape Town friends on LOUMARAN. When we left Cape Town for Brazil we even got escorted by MILANTO with Lorenzo singing a farewell song. It had been a lot of fun cruising together. MILANTO, LOUMARAN and SEALOVER were not ready yet to leave beautiful Cape Town and we where not sure if and when we would see each other again. Thank you South Africa for a wonderful time!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
‘You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’
was the answer that followed shortly after we filed the arrival with our yacht Mirabella in New York. In the end, the whole story how to enter the US by Pleasure Boat turned out to be fairly easy.
I wasn’t too sure about it for a long time and maybe some of you fellow sailors can/will benefit from our experience.
The visa rules that apply if you arrive to the US on a private yacht are different then when you arrive with an official carrier like an airline. For most european citizens and many other countries traveling to the US for tourism is not too complicated. Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program the need for a visa for short term visits is, as the name suggests, waived. One needs to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ESTA) before starting the journey and on arrival you get a 90 days visa waivered stay.
If you arrive by a private pleasure boat, however, you are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. In this case you need a B1/B2 Visa, an actual visa. This requires a bit more planning as the process can take some time and involves an in-person interview at your nearest US Embassy.
Cruising friends of ours have done this in the past and we were prepared to go down that road as well. Due to Covid, the waiting times at the US Embassies in the Caribbean (Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Bermuda, etc…)varied a lot. Mostly the waiting time was many weeks, possibly months. Not practical for us.
Bermuda however, had a waiting time of one week only. Great, the decision was made quickly, we sail to Bermuda!
Unfortunatly, during our sail from Antigua to Bermuda a new Covid-19 wave hit Bermuda and everything went into shut down. By the time we arrived in Bermuda, the embassy stated the waiting time as ‘maybe 6 weeks’. Bummer.
So, we searched for alternatives and found various information of cruisers who entered the US with just a Visa Waiver. They all did this in the Caribbean and the story goes like this: You sail to the BVIs with your yacht. You complete an ESTA. Then, from the BVIs, you take a normal ferry to the USVI, get your Visa Waiver for 90 days and return to the BVIs.
Next day or later you sail to the USVI with your own boat. As you posses already a Visa Waiver everything is in order and no B1/B2 Visa is required. The stay is limited to 90days from your first entry.
As we were in Bermuda when the problem with the closed Embassy arose a simple sail to a US Port of Entry with a ferry was not possible. However, we could fly to the US and return to Bermuda within days and then sail to New York.
Unsure if this is really a correct way of entering I asked the US Embassy in Bermuda and they pointed my to the official Customs and Boarder Protection website. But the website was not overly clear and left some room for interpretation in either direction.
We decided to give it a go anyway. We filed in our ESTA, got it approved and flew to Atlanta for two nights. Visa Waiver and corresponding I-94 optained. A weather window to sail to New York opened shortly after we returned back to Bermuda and so we set sail immediatly.
Before we left we filled in the electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure (eNOAD) and once we arrived we reported our arrival via the Customs and Border Protection App ROAM. Everything as per the book.
Within hours after arriving we got the information from Customs and Border ”You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’