Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Passage Update

     We have been concerned about a Tropical Storm forming on our path south. It continues to look like a Low, possibly attaining tropical strength, will form today or tomorrow but will move rapidly to the N-NE. It appears as though the unsettled squally weather is on the other side of the low, as we have been advised by the weather advisors. It appears as though our early action to go west has paid off. See input from Chris Parker below:

"Wx Update, Interim Tropical, Tue29, 11p
Vorticity is symmetrical and strengthening near 20N/60W, and wind-shear in this area is down to 20k, and decreasing rapidly. Strong convective T-strms are abundant, somewhat-focused (near 17N/57W), and seem to be becoming persistent at the focal point. Good news is vorticity at 5000' altitude is not co-located with focal point for convection...but this could change.

More good news is squalls have shifted well E of the Islands N of Dominica...but some isolated squalls and embedded T-strms persist from Dominica S-ward thru Grenada-Trinidad NE. One strong cluster is exiting Venezuela now, and will pass near and W-and-N-of-Trinidad, and could impact Tobago/Grenada/Barbados as it moves NE tonight. Isolated lesser activity lies W of 63W along Venezuela & its Islands thru ABCs.

10:02p ASCAT:
Trinidad-Venezuela to 67W to waters W of Islands from Grenada-Guadeloupe mostly SW-W under 10k, but squalls to W@20-30 coming off Venezuela S of Testigos, moving NE. NW Leewards-VI-PR N-NE@5-15, highest BVIs.

15N/67.5W 040@6-12, 3-4'/5-8sec / 60mi SW Nevis 010@6-12, 3-4'/5-10sec/ SStJohn 010@4-10, 3' / 21N/65W 030@9-15, 6-7'/6-9sec / StLucia airport SW@5-11, T-strms in vicinity.

NOAA gives LO forming E of Leewards a 10% chance of becoming Tropical LO thru ThuDec1. I'll increase my assessment to 20% from the 10% chance I've suggested for most of the last 2 weeks...and evolution of this feature should follow discussion from this'll accelerate N-ward, probably staying E of 62W, and cross N of 30N, E of Bermuda, late Thu1 or early Fri2.

Thus...the only parts of E Caribbean being influenced currently (generally SE Caribbean) should see conditions settle-down significantly over the next 24hrs. However, it appears N-S-oriented TROF along which the LO will move N could enhance ITCZ-related squalls which could lie along S Caribbean from ABCs thru Windwards-Trinidad-Barbados by Thu1 night, and persist
into the weekend.

introducing N wind...but I would wait till LO moves N of your Latitude, which suggests a Fri2 departure.

VESSELS UNDERWAY TO E CARIBBEAN: No worries as long as you lie W of
65W - and probably no big worries as long as you're W of 63W."

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Passage Update

     450 miles down, 400 miles to go. Nice wind dead astern pushing us at 6-8 knots. Beautiful day, air temp 80F, water temp 25.5C. No squalls for last 24 hours. Everyone is healthy. Raftan just caught two 2 1/2 foot long Mahi Mahi. Maybe we should take up fishing...

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Passage Update

     We left Bermuda around noon on Sunday and were met with 5-8 foot seas (largest waves at approx 15 feet) and a good deal of chop exiting the town cut. The waves ended up being quite long with an 8 second period so it feels like a big swell with a wind chop of a few feet on top from the 25 knot N-E winds. All in the boat were seasick over the first day except Terri who used one of the seasickness patches that Julie on Raftan generously donated. They really seem to work well.

     We were concerned about a tropical low forming just east of our track to the the BVI's and were advised to stay west so we headed over the 65 degrees west. The low has formed now so the unpredictability in the forecast has been reduced. We are on the I-65 heading due south. The winds have been very squally throughout the Virgin Islands and the area north over the past week. The squalls are more prevalent at night and all of a sudden it gets very dark, rainy and windy, but we handle them well.

     Today the wind is down to 15 knots from the E-S-E and the seas are much smaller. With the low forming it will now move rapidly to the N leaving behind much more settled weather in the BVI's. It looks like we may be motoring the last couple of days into the BVI's. So much for the trade winds!!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bermuda Sights

Mor' Childs Play and Raftan in St. George's Harbour, Bermuda.

Some video of sights from our trip to Bermuda.

Moving On

     We have had a fantastic stay in Bermuda. The weather has been great with daytime temperatures of about 75F and night-time lows of about 69F pretty much every day. It is a beautiful place and we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, but it is time to move on. The winds have been very strong (25-30 knots) for the past few days but they are starting to drop and it appears as though there is a pretty good weather window in the next few days that we will take advantage of.

     Our plan is to leave Sunday morning and we hope to make it to Jost Van Dyke in the BVI's in approximately 5 days. We are expecting squally weather as we get closer to the Carribean. We will use the SPOT to track our position. You can expect that instead of following directly south down the I-65 (as the cruisers call the path directly south from Bermuda to the BVI's at 65 degrees W longitude) we will try to go a little east (to about 63-30 W)so that as the winds swing around from E to S-E later in the passage that we can keep our speed up and not have to sail directly upwind.

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So Long Bermuda

     Bermuda has been a breath of fresh air on this trip. From the beautiful tropical plants to the bright green water to the buses that slalom along windy roads cut straight through the rocky landscape Bermuda captured our attention from the moment we entered St. George's Harbour. But everything good must come to an end and tomorrow we will head out on our second major ocean passage and the destination that has stood for so long in our minds as the place to get to, the British Virgin Islands. Wish us luck! Hopefully the next passage will take about five days and we'll be sending updates via the SSB radio throughout the trip. In the meantime you can check out some more pictures from our time here by clicking the links on the right side of the blog under "Travel Photos." I will upload more when we get an internet connection that is more reliable.

All the best,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Passage Hampton, VA to Bermuda - Video

A video showing a few clips from our passage.


     Our time in Bermuda has been relaxing, exciting and rejuvenating. Over the days here we've explored the town of St. George's, snorkeled among tropical fishes at Tobacco Bay, traversed the mesmerizing Crystal Caves and rode a bus the length of the island to the Royal Naval Dockyards to watch dolphins perform inside the stone enclosure of an old fort. The weather has been warm for the most part with a few cooler days as a cold front came through. But today is gloriously warm and we've moved to the other side of St. George's Harbour and now have internet access. I will add more details of our time here soon, but for now the pictures will do a much better job of illuminating this lovely country to you.

St. George's Harbour
Tobacco Bay
Tobacco Bay
Fort St. Catherine
Inside the Crystal Caves
A banyan tree

Maritime Museum at the Royal Naval Dockyard
Dad's snorkeling buddy

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ocean Passage Part 1- Hampton to Bermuda.

     After five days at sea we arrived happily in Bermuda for an unplanned break in our journey. On day four we made the decision to shoot for Bermuda after learning of some potentially rough weather around the BVIs. We figured a break in the trip was a good plan and we may as well start our time in a tropical paradise somewhere a little closer! What a strange place. Bermuda is an island surrounded by and made up of coral reef, located way out in the ocean far from any other land. During the trip I wrote jot notes so that I could remember a bit of each day, which was a good idea because the passage now seems like one big blur. We got a kick out of reading them out loud last night, so I've included them here for your reading pleasure:

Friday Nov. 11- Day 1: Left Hampton at last! Cold + windy. Seasickness for Mom and Sarah. Night watch #1 inky black clouds with silver moon-lit lining.

Saturday Nov. 12- Day 2: Mom sick all day. Feeding Dad + solo watches. Gulf Stream crossing, but no current. Warmer water @ 21 degrees Celsius. Dolphin sighting in the AM + Dad catching flying fish on deck in the PM. Life @ sea is lived in three-hour increments.

Sunday, Nov. 13- Day 3: Steady winds. Waiting for Raftan.

Monday, Nov. 14- Day 4: Under 999 nautical miles to go! Resting, eating, hair-washing. Mom feeling bit better. Nerves over possible rough weather near BVIs. Fear, stress, tired. Solo watch= calming and the moon and soothing companion. Good for solitude. Rougher waves.

Tuesday, Nov. 15- Day 5: Bermuda bound! Stoked, stopover in Bermuda agreed with Raftan to await better weather. New place, no knowledge. Warm! T-shirt + shorts day on deck. Satellite phone texting with Jamie. Excited. One more night then rest! (Later in the dark of night) Hell night- squalls, steep seas, exhausted, so close to Bermuda.

Wednesday, Nov. 16: Heaven! Tropical paradise in the middle of the ocean. Relief and joy and overflowing excitement. Green waters, buildings of St. George's the colour of hard candies- pastels in blue, yellow, pink. Quiet and chill. Reefs to explore, foods to savour, sights to visit. Hot sun! First tropical swim ever! Bermuda is a heavenly haven in the sea.

     Since arriving we have felt stoked, relieved, and overwhelmed with excitement all at once. We are so happy to be in such a beautiful warm place and to have arrived here safely! The majority of our passage had the best weather we could have asked for. The seas were light and the sun shining during the day and at night the moon would rise to light our way over the dark waters. Eerily enough we encountered strange currents and choppy waves a few days out from Bermuda, which brought to mind the unsettling tales of the "Bermuda Triangle." On our last night we hit a couple of brief squalls and although we weren't in danger during them it was nerve-wracking and stressful. This strange current turned out to be caused by cold eddies that appear on the US Navy Gulf Stream current charts and are a common occurrence in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the concept of the "Bermuda Triangle" is a myth, we could understand how it came about as a legend after sailors encountered these unpredictable squalls and hit the choppy waves thrown up by currents in even the lightest of winds.

     Now a few "thank-yous" for my fellow crew members. The trooper award for the passage goes to Sarah, who despite throwing up many times was always up and ready to help just a few short minutes afterwards. The endurance award goes to Mom because although she was sick and dizzy for the majority of the trip she still tried to help out where possible. Dad was an amazing, calm captain the whole way, who made solid dependable decisions and kept us all safe. As for myself, I tried to keep everyone fed and rested and did many solo watches at night to ensure everyone had enough sleep. All in all each of us did an amazing job of helping out where we could to make the passage as safe and comfortable as possible and I am so proud to be a part of this solid family crew! This is definitely an experience that each of us will look back on with a strong feeling of pride and a tinge of awe.

     Now that we are safely in what constitutes as our idea of paradise we are busy grabbing pamphlets and travel guides to optimize our time here with snorkelling sessions, scuba diving adventures, museum and aquarium visits, and possibly even a swim with dolphins! Yesterday we explored the lovely and historic town of St. George's on the northern end of the island. The foliage and vegetation here is overwhelmingly beautiful and hibiscus adorn bushes in reds, whites and pinks. In the afternoon we rode in the dinghy to snorkel around a small shipwreck across the bay in St. George's Harbour. We were in complete awe of the corals and colourful fish as we kicked leisurely around a rusted shipwreck in the shallows. These tiny fish with black vertical stripes and yellow on their backs floated around us so close and unafraid. We also spotted lots of brain corals and two angel fish which we identified in our Reef Set (Reef Creature ID books) as a Townsend Angel Fish! It was a perfect first snorkel in the tropics.

     Our plan is to stay here for at least a week before deciding when to depart for part two of the ocean passage to the BVIs. Over the last few days cruising boats have been pouring into Bermuda for a stopover on their way to the Caribbean. Bermuda is a popular destination for cruise boats but they dock in the capital Hamilton or the south-west end of the island whereas St. George's is filled to the gills with cruisers and delivery crews migrating south. The boats here make ours look small. After just one day here we have a lot of pictures to sift through for posting, but that will have to wait until we get to a wireless hotspot as we've had no luck at our anchorage.

Thanks for reading and here's hoping you've enjoyed our tales so far,
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Arrived in Bermuda

We have safely arrived in Bermuda. Wow, what a beautiful place! We love the blue water.
Will update later.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stop in Bermuda

     We have been doing a great job of going east but the winds haven't allowed us to go south as much as we would have liked. We are stuck on the north side of a high pressure ridge and to get south of it requires a few days of solid motoring into the wind, which neither us or Raftan enjoy.

     Believe it or not we have used only 2 gallons of fuel and half of that was when we left Hampton. I suspect most others have used 30-50 gallons. It looks like there is a 20% chance of a tropical low forming east of the Virgin Islands. Even if it does not form it will bring strong weather that we will need to sail through later in the week.

     Given our current position and the concern about a tropical storm, we will likely stop in Bermuda early Wednesday morning. We have been aware of this system potentially forming since before we left and in fact it was given a 1 in 2 chance of forming when we left Hampton. Patrice (Raftan) and I have always viewed Bermuda as a safe bail out point and current winds are allowing us to sail directly there.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 3 Update

     We are currently 225 NM northwest of Bermuda (34-38N, 68-20W). We are supposed to be in a ridge where there is no wind but we have 20 knots and are sailing S-E in a perfect summer day for sailing. Air temperature is about 80 F and the seas are not that big. We are trying to get further south but we want to ride this wind east while we have it. It looks like we may get a windshift that will allow us to proceed more south in the next 12 hours.

     We are sailing in company with Raftan. They were a bit slow going upwind yesterday but have put their larger headsail up and they are now going well. How come I haven't been getting any emails? It's lonely out here. If you do respond please eliminate the copied text before sending.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 2

     Hi Everyone, Nicole here. We are currently ahead of our plan and making good time. Over the first 24 hours Mom and Sarah felt seasick, but Sarah has gotten used to the motion and is now content and comfortable. Mom is having trouble getting used to it again but we are keeping her well fed and giving her lots of drinks and hope she will feel better in the coming days. Dad and myself have been feeling fine most of the way. The waves have been small and the winds hovering between 5 and 15 knots the whole way so we had a great Gulf Stream crossing.

     We exited the Gulf Stream at 4:15 this morning and are still making good time. The water warmed up to 21 degrees celsius and the winds are much warmer on this side of the Gulf Stream. Raftan is a few miles behind us and we have another boat from the Salty Dog Rally alongside, so there are things to look at other than the waves. Last night Dad had a flying fish land on the boat deck. He had to pick it up and chuck it back in the water. Yesterday Mom and I had dolphins dancing alongside our bow in the morning light. Our overnighters have been comfortable and lit by the moon.

     We are all ensuring we eat lots and take turns resting. Currently Sarah and I are taking watches together and alternating with Dad every three hours or so. Note to Jamie and Granny H- Dad just called home on the Satellite phone and left a is 1:08 pm Atlantic Standard Time for us. Hope everyone at home is well. We are enjoying the passage so far and hope to have decent winds continue over the next few days.

All our love,
Nicole and crew.
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Our Way

     We completed the first day of our passage as per our plan. We left Hampton in a strong, cold wind from astern. Today was sunny with winds around 20 knots, which was perfect to push us east across the Gulf Stream

     The water temperature rose from 14 degrees C to about 23 degrees C. We had dolphins playing in the bow wave for a while. We will exit the Gulf Stream in a few hours. We are travelling with Raftan and doing our best to stay within about a mile. We are sailing right now with another boat that we have been passing for the last couple of hours. The wind forecast for the coming days is looking better than it was with a bit more wind. So far, so good. I will check in again tomorrow.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Detailed Passage Information

     I have tried to capture a high level view of the route planning. Note that this is a rough plan. Winds can’t be predicted accurately more than a day or two out, but this is our current thinking. The first chart is the route out of Hampton Virginia. Note the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in the lower right part of the circle. This is the tunnel that we always travel through on the way to Cape Hatteras.

     Our plan is to leave at about 2pm on Friday Nov 11. The Caribbean 1500 is starting at 10 am and the start is off Old Point Comfort (see lower right in chart below). They will have about 70 boats on the start line. The Caribbean 1500 boats all have transponders (like our Spot) and can be followed here . I suspect that there will be a variety of different routes chosen. Up until yesterday we were planning to follow the coast south to just off Diamond Shoals / Cape Hatteras to cross the Gulf Stream at its narrowest point. Now we plan a more direct east route to where we believe that we will see better winds in days 3-5. We hate motoring!!

     Here you can see the route out of the Hampton, Norfolk area. Note the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – Tunnel on the right of the chart. This the route that we have taken on our way to Cape Hatteras when we have gone down the Delmarva Peninsula. The bridge-tunnel is almost 20 miles long and has two channels above the tunnels for boats/ships. There is plenty of naval traffic here as Norfolk is the largest naval base in the world and it is full of aircraft carriers, submarines and other warships. On the VHF radio they talk about how they will use “deadly” force if you get closer than 500 yards to a naval ship.  We hope to see some aircraft carriers and submarines on our way out to sea.

     Once offshore the challenge is the Gulf Stream. Opposing wind to the current in the Gulf Stream can build up mountainous seas. According to the wind predictions, once the cold front goes through tonight the winds will back to the northwest and then west. This is the first time that the wind will not be opposing the Gulf Stream in the last week.  Based on our projected departure time of about 2pm on Friday we should be entering the Gulf Stream in the early morning on Saturday with expected 10-15 knot winds from astern.  The Gulf Stream current will be about 4 knots and the water temperatures will rise from 58F where we are presently to 75-78 degrees. The chart below shows the predicted currents and water temps for our Gulf Stream passage. I want to look at a revised Gulf Stream entry about 10 miles south of that shown to pick up the stronger currents to the south. We can’t go too far south though because there is a cold eddy rotating counter clockwise (centred at 34N/73W) that we must stay north of so that we don’t pick up an unfavourable current.

     The predicted sea state and winds when we enter the Gulf Stream look like this.  The dark green shading represents 10-12 foot seas and the brown is 12-14 feet. The largest waves in this sector would be 24-28 feet. Most of this is from of Tropical Storm Sean that is lying SW of Bermuda. By the time we get to this area seas should be down to 5 to 10 feet. The wind will be about 10 knots from the west, it sounds like we might be flying spinnakers at this point.

     Here is the complete route to Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Note that the other way points are those from the southern route that we will not be following. Note that Bermuda is approximately 150 miles east of our planned Day 4 position.

Hopefully in about 9-10 days we will be entering  Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.

     The above routing is based on the weatherfax charts below for present , 48 hr and 96 hours. The tropical cyclone activity chart shows that Sean is heading off to the NE after passing Bermuda.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The closest we've been to leaving

     If all goes well with the weather we should be departing tomorrow. As Dad pointed out this morning this is the closest we've ever been to finally leaving. This morning everyone was chatty and busy getting to those last minute tasks before departure; Mom and Sarah have gone off with the laundry, I've been cleaning and organizing the boat and Dad went to West Marine for two yellow diesel jugs to add to the six already occupying the deck. Mom has stocked and re-stocked our cupboards until they practically overflow with food, so there's no fear of running out, and Dad has been glued to the computer trying to plan out a safe and comfortable route. Some final tasks on our to-do list include: wash the boat, put the dinghy on deck, set GPS coordinates, fill up water tanks, get a pump-out and re-fuel.

     There are nerves underneath the excitement of course- this is our longest passage yet after all- but we are definitely looking forward to getting under way after sitting tied to the same dock for so long. We will do our best to leave the nerves on land and settle back into the tasks and rhythms of life at sea (with the help of a few natural ginger-infused seasickness remedies!). Although we'll do brief updates during the passage it's unlikely that I'll be able to do a proper post, so this is Nicole signing off for now. Next time you hear from me the pictures should be a little sunnier and the words infused with the warmth and colour of the tropics!

All the best,
Nicole. xo.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Information on Passage from Hampton, VA to Tortola, BVI

     Here is our contact information while we are on the passage from Hampton, VA to the Tortola, BVI. Due to weather that remains uncooperative it is unlikely that we will leave before Thursday, November 10th. We will be sure to send out emails and put an update on the blog before we depart.

Contact Information

  • Email: TBD
  • Satellite phone:  +870776453672 or 00870776453672 **please note that we will use this mostly for outgoing calls and it will not normally be on.

1. We are part of the Salty Dog Rally which has daily check-ins/chat at 9am and 8pm EST where we will update position/conditions etc. As part of the Cruiseheimers Net/Doo Dah Net we will also check in daily at 5pm EST . **If you need to contact us on an urgent matter use Dick Giddings who runs the net at . We will be talking to him daily on SSB. 

2. Herb Hildenberg runs a daily weather forecasting and ship routing over Marine SSB from his home near Toronto, . We will be checking in with Herb once a day (2:30 EST). He is also available to communicate urgent messages. Herb can be reached at 

**Please note that we have used the name “Mor’ Childs Play” with the Salty Dog Rally but simplified it to “Childs Play” for Herb as we have only communicated over SSB. In an emergency these two names should be considered the same and refer to us. It is highly unlikely that “Childs Play” is in the same vicinity if it even exists.

Communications Equipment On-Board:
  • VHF radio for communications up to 50 miles (Call sign:CFN4919, MMSI: 316011825)
  • Marine SSB HF radio for long range communications of voice, email tbd ,  weatherfax
  • Position information will be updated on passage on the blog. The blog home page also has the links to position information
  • EPIRB for activation in a distress situation
  • Satellite phone:  +870776453672 or 00870776453672 **please note that we will use this mostly for outgoing calls and it will not normally be on.
*Clearly if both EPIRB and SPOT are activated it is a distress situation not an accidental activation.*

On a happier note, the weather here in Hampton is much nicer today with the sun out and everything, so we can enjoy that at least while we continue preparations for the journey.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Waiting and Waiting and Waiting

Dad at work up the mast
     Still in Hampton, Virginia. Dad has been working away at jobs on the boat to prepare for the ocean passage as well as looking at weather forecasts and consulting with Patrice about a possible departure date. At this point the weather isn't cooperating and there appears to be no good weather window to cross the tricky Gulf Stream before Wednesday of next week. So for the time being we are stuck in an open-ended pattern of waiting. 

     We joined up with a group of cruisers doing the same passage and are now part of the Salty Dog Rally. It's free and composed of people not wanting to fork out precious funds for the Caribbean 1500 as well as people who have done the 1500 in the past. Rallies like these follow the concept of 'safety in numbers' and offer participants weather information as well as access to the expertise of cruisers with more ocean experience. While out on the passage we will check in daily with rally organizers who will track the progress of participants and ensure their safety. Despite being part of this larger group, though, our major priority will be to stick with Raftan the whole way. 

     While in Hampton we've all tried to keep busy in our own ways. While Dad works through his ever-growing list of jobs, Mom, Sarah and I have gone on lots of walks, been reading and watching movies, used a laundromat on the campus on Hampton University, and visited the Virginia Air and Space Centre. It has a ton of interactive exhibits on airplane history, US Navy History and Space exploration and while there you can fly lots of different aircraft on simulators and even land (or in my case crash) a space probe on Mars.

     Some details from the week: The temperature has cooled a lot, but despite that houses here still have gardens blooming with pansies, chrysanthemums and roses. The people we've encountered on our stay, be they cruisers or locals, have been very friendly and helpful, some even offering to drive us to stores for supplies. Sarah got a kindle of her own and we can share all our books between our two kindles. Dad ordered boat cards (business-like contact cards for the boat) because everyone else has them to keep in touch with fellow cruisers they meet. Krill continue to crackle on our hull eating algae from the carpet of marine life growing there.

That's all for now, passage info to come soon,