We Done Reach

A voy­age to the Ba­hamian out is­lands un­der­scores the de­lights of cruis­ing un­der sail

SAIL - - Un­der Sail - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY ROBERT BERINGER

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.

1

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

sail­magazine.com/rac­ing/volvo-ocean-race

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

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