We Done Reach
A voyage to the Bahamian out islands underscores the delights of cruising under sail
phone from which to call the base which can provide Wi-Fi on the boat and be available if you need other assistance. “We provide a complementary check-out skipper to the first anchorage and ensure that our clients have 24/7 customer service while on the water so they never feel like they’re on their own,” says Guy Phoenix, marketing manager at Horizon.
Choose only partial provisioning and then supplement with food and beverages from the local markets. However much you think you need, cut it by a third. There will be more temptations to eat and drink out than you think.
Don’t over plan your itinerary. Sailboats are slow, winds don’t blow and rushing around makes for a lousy vacation. “Plan to be flexible,” says Dan Lockyer, general manager of Dream Yacht Charter. “Do not set yourself rigid itinerary plans. You may find a hidden gem you had not expected.” Wilson agrees, “We find people come down to the BVIs with a jam-packed itinerary, and the number one thing that we always tell people is to take each day as it comes.”
Consider shoulder seasons for savings. May and June are good times in the Caribbean when charter rates are lower and the crowds are smaller. Also, don’t discount the low seasons of July and August—the temps aren’t that much higher and the worst of hurricane season usually doesn’t hit until September/October. “Not only are shoulder season prices considerably lower than the peak dates (as little as half the peak months), but there are often additional incentives such as extra days allowing you to sail longer for the lower prices,” says Lockyer.
Capture your trip in writing. “After your first charter, make notes— sounds boring, but you won’t remember a year later what you learnt a year ago,” adds Ashford. For easy sailing, affordable travel costs and a low hassle factor, here are a few tropical destinations, beginning with the easiest and working your way to the more challenging.
2Cruising the Sea of Abaco in the Bahamas is the closest thing to lake sailing you’ll find and still be on crystalline tropical waters. Most of the sea is ringed by protective islands, so even if the wind is kicking up to 30 knots and the Atlantic outside is roiling, you’ll have flat-water sailing inside. The distances are short and there’s good diversity between the cays. Hope Town is quaint with its historic lighthouse, Green Turtle Cay has a lovely restaurant, Little Harbor has a fantastic foundry and gallery, and Man-o-War Cay is a step back in time where locals have lived in mostly set ways for over a century. Dream Yacht, Moorings and Sunsail all offer boats in the Abacos. If you’re looking for natural beauty and a remote feel, you’ll be happy to be all operate in the area. The natural unspoiled beauty of Culebrita Island and the great diving off Vieques will make you forget civilization. Best of all, and despite their name, you can travel to Puerto Rico (where most of the bases are) without a passport or a beauty without the crowds and commerce. the 1780s, and the place is infused with history. Antigua is known for its sandy beaches, the party atmosphere of Antigua Sailing Week and steady breezes that make easy sailing on the western (leeward) side. An easy 30-mile reach away is Barbuda, a quiet paradise with pink beaches and great snorkeling. “Pack a lot less than you think you will need,” says Ashford. “Sailing Antigua in the Caribbean and the surrounding islands is all very casual. You won’t need long pants, and the temperature does not drop at night.”
most of them with Olympic or previous VOR experience. At press time, the only boat that had not yet listed any women in its crew was the seven-man team of Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. However, it was reported to be considering adding women to its roster as well.
Prior to 2014-2015, the first team to start designing and building a custom boat had a clear advantage over those that began later, which meant all the campaigns were forced to start very early if they were ever going to make it to the start line. Crew selection also happened early as the teams struggled to get their new boats up to speed.
With the advent of one-design racing, however, teams can now enter the race much later: so much so that Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag received its boat just 16 days before the start of Leg Zero (a series of qualifying events clustered around the biennial Rolex Fastnet).
Naturally Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag will have to play catch up with, say, Chinese-flagged Dongfeng, which has a boat packed with people who sailed the last VOR and has now had another 175 days to further work out its maneuvers, boatspeed and angle crossovers for its new sail wardrobe. Similarly, Spain’s Mapfre received its boat in March, 149 days before the Fastnet race, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing received its boat 128 days in advance, during which time it sailed not one but two transatlantics. For its part, Britain’s Turn the Tide on Plastic received its boat 58 days before the start of the Fastnet, and Team Brunel took delivery of its boat only a day before Scallywag.
To make things worse for the newcomers, back when the first race stage went directly from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town, those teams still on the learning curve only suffered on points in one leg. This time, however, they will suffer on two legs, as not much will be learned during the very short and mostly sheltered course through the Strait of Gibraltar from Alicante to Lisbon.
As for the crews themselves, the pool of experienced Volvo sailors is quite limited, and as you’d expect the veterans are in high demand with the early birds catching many of these worms. As a result, the boats have vast differences in their combined VOR experience. AkzoNobel’s crew, for example, has sailed a combined 25 races, Vestas 11th Hour Racing 24, Mapfre 19 and Dongfeng 18, while late starter Brunel has just 10 races
Based in Spain, Rob Kothe is a long-time Olympic and grand prix sailing journalist, and the founder of the sailing news network Sail-World.com
and managed effort, with Newport-based 11th Hour Racing and Vestas as our main sponsors. You couldn’t ask for better partners. In the last race, on Alvimedica (which Enright also led with Towill) only one sailor, our navigator Will Oxley, was a previous race participant. By contrast, this time the crew has sailed in a total of 24 Volvo races. That will make an enormous difference to our performance.”
With respect to Leg Zero, which was still ongoing at press time, Enright added: “While the boat has done two Atlantic crossings, we haven’t all been on the boat together as a unit yet. I think the important thing is that we have the right people, which I think will always make the difference. In some positions, we have got guys who have won the last race in these boats. I would like to think of that as a noexcuses roster. We certainly try and surround ourselves with the best folks we can.”
Enright noted that for the Fastnet Race some crews were using old sails, others were using new canvas, and some were still trialing crew. As a result, he said, finish times should not be interpreted as a true guide to form in the VOR itself. “It’s not about peaking in August. It’s about improving throughout the course of the race and hopefully finishing on top in June,” he said summing up his take on the situation.
BACK IN THE U.S.A.
Crew depth and odds-making aside, if there’s one thing everyone can agree on it is that the Newport stopover midway through the last running of the event was a tremendous success, and that it will hopefully be even bigger this time around.
Back in 2015, at the end of the 5,010-mile passage from Itajaí, leg leaders Dongfeng and Abu Dhabi were scrapping for the win as they entered Narragansett Bay, and ultimately finished late at night separated by just three and a half minutes. An estimated crowd of 5,000 was on hand to bear witness, with some 2,500 still around at 0330 when Enright and Towill’s Team Alvimedica, the hometown favorites, finished.
Recently retired Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad said after the Newport stopover, “I’ve been to an American stopover seven times now and can’t recall anything as good as this. We waited 42 years to come to Newport, and that was way too long.” Frostad added that the final visitor count (131,346) was four times that of the previous North American stopover in Miami for the 2011-12 race.
Finally, after getting off to a slow start, it looks like the 2017-18 race will once again have a healthy-size fleet that should make for close, exciting racing without overtaxing the efforts of race organizers.
“Seven great teams, diverse in their approach, nationalities, types of sponsor, but united by their obsession to win the Volvo Trophy, all make for a strong event,” said CEO Mark Turner late last summer. “One surprise in the past weeks has been the steady flow of high-quality crew announcements, of a depth and caliber that has perhaps not been seen for several editions: from veterans returning to the race after a few editions absence, to Olympic medalists dipping their toes offshore for the first time and America’s Cup sailors coming straight from Bermuda.”
“It’s great to see U.S. sailors Charlie Enright and Mark Towill kicking off again,” Turner added, “along with quite a few companies backing teams with the U.S. market as part of their objectives. Vestas itself being a great example, but AkzoNobel and others too.”
All of which is great news for U.S. race fans. Over the years, the center of gravity for grand prix offshore racing seems to have been drifting farther and farther from American shores: with France obviously ground zero for shorthanded offshore sailing, and the America’s Cup going to New Zealand after having been held in to Bermuda.
The VOR, however, has developed ties to North American that are not only long-lived but stand a good chance of becoming even stronger in the future. Let’s hope that trend continues, and good luck to all the sailors taking part in of one of the world’s great sailing adventures. s
Done reach. It’s Bahamian for “arrived,” and is always an occasion for a warm welcome and celebration with friends or family, something never to be taken for granted in this widely scattered archipelago that has seen its share of boom and bust over the years. Friends Coy and Christina had recently purchased a 1982 Morgan 38 which they christened Delia, after Coy’s mom. They invited me to join them as they sailed through the Bahamas, bound for Ragged Island. This small out island is part of the Acklins and holds a special place in their hearts. Coy is a commercial pilot with UPS and has made many private flights here, providing relief after Hurricane Joaquin swept through in 2015 destroying much of the island’s infrastructure. “The storm surge rose up to nine feet and wiped out most everything they had,” Coy says of those days.
After upgrading Delia with a new icebox, autopilot and chartplotter, Coy and Christina decided to leave the plane at home this time and travel the hard way to their beloved island. Starting in St. Augustine they made their way to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, where I flew in to replace outgoing crew.
Of course, no voyage is complete without boat issues. The alternator, fuel, radio and autopilot all caused us fits on the Sea of Abaco, but throughout we benefitted from a combination of teamwork, good tools, spare parts and a good cell phone connection. The spirit of MacGyver lives in all who ply the sea.
An update of the weather via the Windfinder app showed many days of light easterlies with plenty of sunshine, perfect for heading south. We therefore weighed anchor at 1300 and I hurriedly programmed the necessary waypoints into the chartplotter that would take us along a 280mile route skirting the east sides of Eleuthera, Cat and Long Island, with landfall on Ragged Island in about 50 hours.
Joining us on this adventure were Nikki (a travel writer) and Erik, a free-spirited sailor with boundless energy and a passion for big fish. Hardly a mile was sailed without a pair of lures running aft, and it wasn’t long before we were eating fresh seafood.
Most of the crew were new to passage sailing, so I wrote up two-by-two watches: two people for two-hours, so no one was alone at the helm. After a tasty repast of venison burritos the sun dipped behind Eleuthera and a sublime gibbous flower moon rose up to make the wave tops sparkle. This is why we sail—this night made all the hard engine work worth it.
Christina and I had part of the first watch, and she experienced night-time instrument overload. The bright lights of the chartplotter, AIS and digital compass all combined to overwhelm her senses and made it difficult for her to hold course. I eventually asked her to ignore all the lights before her eyes and instead raise them to the lights above: specifically Mars, which was just a shade to the left of the mast providing an easily followed celestial beacon. Problem solved.
By 0900 we raised the north tip of Cat Island above the horizon. This would be our last chance for fuel, so Coy decided to alter course and stop over. The east wind sent us careering along and shortly after breakfast we boated our lunch, a good-sized tuna. As we zigzagged through the shallows, Coy surprised us with some maguro sashimi and nigiri sushi, complete with soy and wasabi. There’s nothing like eating a fish that was swimming under your keel only an hour earlier. Get those lines back in the water! After that the wind freshened about noon, and we tucked a reef into the main. After rounding Bonefish Point I put us into the wind, and by 1730 we were setting the anchor at New Bight Settlement. High above us on Comer Hill, the highest point in the Bahamas, stood the Hermitage: the one-man monastery and final resting place of master stone mason Monsignor Jerome Hawes, “Father Jerome” to the many people who knew him here.
Trained in the UK as an architect and ordained as an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism and was re-ordained in 1915. Throughout his long life Father Jerome designed and built hurricane-proof churches, most of which are still in use as houses of worship. His final masterpiece looked down from its lofty perch and demands a visit by all who arrive here.
Coy, Christina, and I marched steadily through the dry heat toward Comer Hill and something strange happened; the Hermitage began to shrink. The Latin inscription at the concrete entrance sets the stage for the visitor: “My God, my all.” And by the time we reached the summit it was patent that he did just that. This is a hauntingly beautiful place. The way up the limestone scree and rough-cut stones are lined with carvings of the 14 Stations of the Cross. Stopping to catch my breath, it finally hit me—Father Jerome deliberately placed the stations like this, to give the visitor a sense of what it was like for Jesus as he made his way up to Calvary.
At the peak, a steady trade wind fanned our faces. Ah, that’s the other reason he built it way up here. As for the Hermitage, it’s no longer an imposing edifice, it was built for one inhabitant and is quite small—its apparent size is an optical illusion. But the 60-year-old masonry is as solid as the day Father Jerome finished it and I have no doubt that it will be here for a thousand years. He lived a simple life: no electricity or running water, a small kitchen with a wood-burning stove, praising God in his tiny chapel, contemplating the ocean and the passing ships that surrounded him.
Back in New Bight, we were delighted to learn of a new public restroom and hot showers available free to mariners. It’s a pink building that’s easily seen from the anchorage—yet another example of the amazing generosity of the Bahamian people. Erik and I then grabbed the jerry cans and began the long walk to the distant diesel station. A truck soon stopped and gave us a ride there and back to the boat.
Underway the next day at 1230, we rounded Hawkes Nest Point and
Turtle watching at the Tobago Cays is a experience not to be missed