An unfamiliar feeling as land draws near

By Dodge Morgan
Sailing into Bermuda, on June 7 at 5 in the morning was a very busy event. Wings of time and I folded into a traffic jam of two big square-riggers, an immense cruise ship, a United States Navy submarine and two more sailing yachts not far behind us. Bermuda Harbor Radio was earning its keep in traffic control. St. George’s Harbor, which is threaded with a very narrow channel, looked more like 1900 than 2000. The OpSail 2000 fleet was in, over 100 vessels and 18 of them the class A tall ships.

It had been a rather standard five days of blessed solitude for us from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Our first day out saw us average over 8 knots, a 24-hour run of 196 nautical miles in a close reach on 20-knot east-northeast trade winds. Days two and three, however , were slow and branded with a sun that turned the boat into an oven and me into baked goods. The sky was cloudless and the sun passed directly overhead, both of us at the same latitude, while the breeze dropped and veered south behind us. A noon sight , or meridian transit of the sun, had no zenith but straight up and straight back. What a blessing it was when squall clouds populated the sky and the breeze snapped back to the northeast. A great circle from Tortola to St. George’s is 836 nautical miles; the course is dead true north. This gave me welcomed dead reckoning simplicity since the two GPS machines aboard decided on a vacation.

The arrival at Bermuda was a culture shock. Usually I am ready, even after just five days, for some hard drinking in crowds. But this time not. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and to do it well in advance of the Newport-Bermuda race fleet heading east in a week. I heard there were more than 150 boats registered for the race and could not imagine sailing into that mass of a fleet, even though sailing into it makes more sense than sailing with it. (My coping mechanism would be an endless loop audio tape played through a loud hailer on the foredeck, repeating over and over the phrases, “starboard tack, woman overboard, I am not insured.”)

The passage from Bermuda to Casco Bay, Maine, is 735 nautical miles and the challenge, if any, is the “Blue God.” This year, we crossed the Gulf Stream at right angles, in kind, westerly winds. The stream was carpeted with flying fish. Our only screw-up was to get hung on the wrong (western) side of a cold eddy, which reduced our ground speed under our water speed by a knot and a half for eight hours. Well, almost our only screw-up; a container ship passed not a hundred yards from us in broad daylight and was unseen by the crew until on a departing course. Gulp.

Sailing across George’s Bank was unusual in that those shallows were barren of fishing vessels, if not barren of fish, which eliminated the constant game of tag with circling boats and trailing gear. Just east of Provincetown, the sea erupted with dolphin and whale. Night fell into a dungeon of fog.

We made our landfall on the lights of Biddeford Pool under a dense overcast in medium grade east winds. Then Portland came up with lights nearly 20 miles distant. For some reason, it seemed to take forever to bring those lights abeam. What is going on here, I thought to myself. Am I perhaps for the first time ever anxious to get ashore from a sea voyage?’