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Stoneways Marine 2021 - LEADERBOARD

Crossing the Atlantic to Europe

by Reg and Nicky Barker 20 Dec 2020 15:32 UTC
Nicky Barker at helm © M H R Barker

From lockdown in the Western Caribbean to Mexico and the US East Coast before setting off to return to the UK.

We last wrote from West End, Roatan in the Honduran Bay Islands, where we were locked down along with 20 other yachts. Included in the group were seven other OCC yachts, amongst them RoRCs Suzanne and David Chapple on Suzie II who described the lockdown in their September report.

From the beginning we kept a close eye on the status of the countries to which we had hoped to travel during the remainder of 2020 and carried out all the necessary servicing and provisioning requirements to prepare Blue Velvet of Sark for a long transit should the situation require that we move on at short notice. Happily, the Bay Islands Government and the local population were welcoming to those yachtsmen who were trapped there from the start of the lockdown period and we were beset by few of the problems that cruisers elsewhere experienced. Better still, at the end of our two-week maintenance period, just as we were wondering how we would fill our days, the Government announced that SCUBA diving (as individuals, not via a dive shop) was permitted again, so we could take advantage of the excellent diving on the marine park reef.

There was no immediate need to move on from Roatan but we wanted a plan for the coming hurricane season that didn't involve staying 'within the zone'. The Canadian border was firmly closed, likely making tricky the usual visa juggle to remain in the USA and Canada for the season, and we didn't want to leave Blue Velvet in, say, the USA without a clear idea of when we could return to her. So, like many others, we resigned ourselves to a transatlantic west to east crossing. 'Resigned' not because we didn't want to do the journey but because we knew if we did it would be a few years before we made it back to the west side of the Atlantic.

We left Roatan on 6 May, having spent nearly 2 months on the same mooring - the longest period by far that we have spent afloat in one place since leaving Gibraltar in April 2014. We left with Robert and Carla on Moody Mistress, both crews hoping to make landfall in Key West before a series of strong easterlies hit. However, the weather window closed and with violent thunderstorms in the Florida Straits forecast for the hours before we would have reached Key West, we elected to divert to Isla Mujeres (photo of empty beaches) in Mexico where we spent three days at anchor. In many respects, the windward bash north was a blessing as it revealed that both Moody Mistress and Blue Velvet had developed quite significant deck leaks. Robert had a large tube of an excellent sealant, used the little he needed and gave us the remainder before it went off.

So we spent an entire day removing the forehatch and rebedding it. It was a horrible job - the hatch DID NOT want to come off the deck - but we are so glad that we bit that particular bullet as the forepeak stayed perfectly dry throughout our transatlantic passage.

From Isla Mujeres we sailed up to Fort Lauderdale where Richie and Susan Goldstein are Port Officers. We had long planned to stop by Fort Lauderdale over winter 2019/2020 to see them but by the time we got there, they had gone north to escape the city. However, they were still very happy for us to use their dock from where we were easily able to access local shops and services (notwithstanding the need to take appropriate Covid-19 precautions). This was particularly fortunate as one of our instrument displays was failing, so we took the opportunity to buy and fit a replacement.

Before leaving Roatan we had bought a package of 10 custom weather routing forecasts from Chris Parker of the Marine Weather Centre. Discussing our departure from Fort Lauderdale he advised that, with the Azores High oddly positioned, we would find long periods of very little wind if we tried to head eastwards from there. Instead, he recommended we move on to Beaufort NC, from where he expected we would find suitable weather for our passage.

So, we went north and spent three nights dodging thunderstorms, something we have been lucky enough to avoid on this coast in the past and something we don't want to have to do again. But radar, a sharp look-out and sheer self-preservation kept us clear of the worst of the cells. We arrived in Beaufort on the first day of the Memorial Day weekend and the place was heaving with boats and people having fun and there seemed to be precious little going on in the way of social distancing and mask-wearing. We anchored in Taylor Creek, enjoyed the hubbub (from a distance) and stayed pretty firmly aboard until things had quietened down.

We have stopped in Beaufort several times and consider Dianne Tetreault, PO for Beaufort and Morehead City, a good friend. She very kindly accepted some packages for us and gave us a lift through the pouring rain to carry out some last-minute tasks. We also met up with Dianne, along with Elspeth and Lionel (ex of Ruby Tuesday) one morning for breakfast, which was a lovely get-together. It's a shame we couldn't spend more time socialising but, for obvious reasons, it wasn't advisable.

After about a week in Beaufort the wind and the longer-term forecasts aligned for us. Many OCC members had been busy setting up lists of crossing vessels, an HF net and a Predict Wind fleet for keeping in touch with and tracking crossing vessels. We had already taken advantage of these on our route north, as well as having been one of the early group of net controllers - though achieving that from so far west (Roatan) was not easy. Through these links we received a message from Hagen on Salmon, a German flagged yacht, who was interested in our plans for arriving in Guernsey. We exchanged emails and were later able to assist Hagen, with his wife and 3 young children, make an agreed arrival in Guernsey, their new home, after their crossing from Maine, via Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland.

With the help of Chris' weather advice, we made excellent time on our crossing - 4000nm in 26 days. We experienced a full range of wind and weather, calms to near gales, rain (and more thunderstorms) to blue skies and glorious sunshine. We also sailed quite a lot further north than is often usual on our routing, which took us towards the middle of Biscay, before heading north into the English Channel. Early on we had decided not to stop at the Azores as it was likely to make our arrival in Guernsey too complicated and for that decision we are very grateful. Firstly, we ended up only having to do two days of quarantine in Guernsey. Secondly, and more importantly to our on-passage sanity, by following the wind north we didn't end up virtually becalmed for days as happened to so many yachts we heard on the radio.

It wasn't all plain sailing though. Halfway through our passage, the computer that interfaced with the HF radio failed, meaning that we could no longer access emails or GRIB weather files. Though we could speak to Chris Parker on the HF radio, he didn't have the time to give us verbal descriptions of the GRIB files. Here the OCC HF Net came into its own and Tim Corner (Rohkea), one of the Net participants, did just that for us on two occasions in advance of a big low-pressure system reaching us. It made all the difference to our understanding of the 'big picture', our routing and to our peace of mind.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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