The Lunacy Report

NORTHBOUND LUNACY: Sailing From Puerto Rico to Bermuda

Sunrise at sea

This was a fast passage with very little motoring. My mate Mr. Lassen and I covered the 830 some miles between Fajardo and St. Georges in less than six days and burned only about five gallons of fuel in the process. Not my fastest passage ever between the Onion Patch and the W'Indies, but I think it's the fastest northbound trip I've ever made at this time of year.

The normal pattern is to have moderate to strong easterly tradewinds for the first two or three days, followed by variable junk the rest of the way to Bermuda. If you're unlucky you may see more junk than wind and end up motoring most of way. What we saw was almost the opposite of normal--a good dose of light air during the first few days, then moderate to strong wind through the latter part of the passage.

 Spinnaker flying

Fortunately, we had some nice light-air sails aboard--my old asymmetric spinnaker and the new screecher--to keep us moving at a decent rate of speed through the soft stuff.

The transition started on day 3 of the voyage (May 3), and it's interesting to compare the actual surface chart for that day (which I just pulled from NOAA's archive) to the 96-hour forecast chart valid for that day that I downloaded just prior to leaving Fajardo.

May 3/13 surface chart

The surface chart shows an occluded front forming right over our position (in red). The front, as you can see, trails between a double low to our west over Florida and a stationary double low to our east. We experienced this as light easterly wind that veered very briefly to a moderate southerly breeze as a line of rain squalls moved over us from south to north. Then the wind backed to the east and went light again. This breeze within a few hours died altogether, stayed dead for an hour, then suddenly blew briskly but very briefly straight out of the north, then veered east again and moderated.

May 3 forecast chart

The 96-hour forecast chart valid for just about the same time also shows an occluded front in exactly the same position, but trailing only off the well-developed low to our east. This had existed and was hanging out in about the same location starting a day or two prior to our departure. Instead of getting deeper, however, it spread out and became more amorphous.

May 4 surface chart

The following day, May 4, was our most rugged day, with rain and moderate to strong northeasterlies (17-22 knots) that had us closehauled and not quite laying Bermuda for nearly 12 hours. The cause, it would seem, was a weak low that formed in the stationary front behind us, south and a little east of our position (again indicated in red).

Standing watch in rain

Our hero stands watch in the rain

Flying fish aboard

A flying fish in our scuppers. Again, as on the southbound passage last fall, we saw many fewer flying fish than in the past

On May 5 the wind moderated a bit, but stayed northeast, then veered a little bit the following day, which put us on a hot close reach that we carried most the way into St. Georges.

I would tell you this was a perfect passage, except we did have one big technical problem. This manifested itself on May 5, when I noticed water slurping out the siphon break on the engine's exhaust line (which is plumbed into a fitting on one of the galley sinks, which are directly over the engine). I knew immediately what this meant and instantly remembered that which I had conveniently but only temporarily forgotten--that we'd had trouble with the exhaust line filling up with water in rough conditions during the southbound passage in the fall. I had deluded myself into believing this had been a one-off problem, but now it seemed clear that it is chronic.

That the water had backed all the way up to the siphon break was definitely bad news, and for a while the mate and I fretted over whether any had gotten into the engine proper. After we drained the line, fortunately, we did manage to get the engine going again, and it seems no harm was done.

Muffler drain plug in bilge

But now using the engine at sea involves a most tiresome procedure, as, to be safe, it is necessary to both shut off the raw-water intake and open the fiddly inaccessible drain plug at the bottom of the muffler (see photo above) when the engine isn't running so as to make sure no water is creeping in either its front or back end. The drain must also be closed before the engine is started, and inevitably some amount of exhaust water ends up in the bilge after it is shut down and must eventually be pumped out.

What's truly mysterious is that I've never had this problem before on Lunacy and sailed many, many miles offshore prior to last fall, often in rough conditions, without flooding the exhaust. I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what's different now... and hopefully will somehow succeed in permanently solving this conundrum.

St. Georges mooring

After reaching Bermuda, we scored an excellent mooring courtesy of Bermuda Yacht Services right behind the old wreck of the bark Taifun, which lies at the east end of St. Georges harbor. Taifun, a 236-foot cargo vessel originally built in Scotland in 1894, was towed into St. Georges in 1920 after being partially dismasted in a gale and was sunk as a breakwater a year later. She has been a prominent feature in the harbor ever since.

After settling in and attending to chores, Mr. Lassen and I took some time to dinghy over to nearby Paget Island for a ramble, a reprise of a jaunt I made 21 years ago while crewing aboard the schooner Constellation. I have very fond memories of exploring the ruins of Fort Cunningham, including a vast network of underground tunnels, but alas, we found the old fort is now off limits to visitors.

Lassen breaks in

Mr. Lassen is nothing if not determined. He wanted badly to break in, but fortunately I was able to restrain him.

I'll be returning to Bermuda late next week for a short cruise around the neighborhood (something I've never actually done before) and will then finish the delivery home to New England.

So stand by for all of that.

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