Thursday, May 21st, 2009
Bermuda – this small island, or more correctly, archipelago, 13 miles long, almost equidistant between the Caribbean, Florida, Virginia, Newport Rhode Island and Lunenburg Nova Scotia was clearly dragged up from the sea floor right here in this very spot by Providence with north bound passage making sailing vessels in mind. Bermuda is in exactly the right spot for a vessel to put in to take a breather and wait for weather when north bound.
Not so necessary when bound for the south, as every mile made south of Bermuda is all in the right direction, towards reliably good weather, sweet winds and small seas. Bypassing Bermuda when south bound is often a good idea. Putting in to Bermuda is just what the Picton Castle did for a few short days on the way north. Now grant you, in olden days this island could be pretty hard to find when sailing from Europe against the prevailing westerlys coming from the east before they got figuring out longitude sorted out.
Great mystery surrounds this small coral rock literally right here in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of a convergence zone you can get any kind of weather making it hard for Elizabethan ships. It probably did not help that for a very long time they were not quite sure where this island was. Some even thought it moved about. So much mystery that we are told that Shakespeare set his famous play “The Tempest” on Bermuda.
We don’t know much about “The Tempest” but we know Bermuda pretty well. Our passage north from Jost Van Dyke was fine with good sailing until about a day and a half out when a big high pressure system filled in, as it often does round about here making for clear skies but stealing all the wind. We fired up the strong, reliable Alpha diesel engine and motored onward before the weather changed to something less useful.
We get asked plenty about the ”Bermuda Triangle” do we believe in it? Is it real? How come so many ships, planes, boats have been uniquely lost there? Why such a mysterious place? And so on… Now, I am all for a good mystery, even a good proper conspiracy, but the Bermuda Triangle is a pretty easy thing to understand and sadly requires little or no proper mystery.
Of course more planes, ships, boats have been lost here. There are probably more car accidents in Chicago, New York or London then there are in say, the middle of nowhere, pick a spot without a road or town in maybe the Great Plains, not so many accidents there, eh?. There is an enormous amount of human vehicular traffic in what is called the Bermuda Triangle. Unlike most of the rest of the world’s ocean, this patch of Atlantic is infested with craft of all types, many of which might be well advised not be out there to begin with. In this oceanic region we have all the shipping routes from east coast US and Canada including the Gulf of Mexico (Montreal, Halifax, Bay of Fundy, Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newport News, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami, around to New Orleans, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Galveston, Houston) back and forth to Europe (fill in the names of any significant European city on the coast) – lots and lots of ships in this old triangle.
We also have an enormous amount of amateur yacht traffic and now, with the unleashing of fleets of weekend sailors due to the simple and cheap navigation capacity of GPS, we have even more yachts out there sailing deep sea, or trying to sail back and forth from north to south in quest of tropical dreams. Many of these yachts would not have ventured off shore without GPS and wisely so too.
Same goes for air traffic, compounded by back in the day so much military flight training of brand new and inexperienced aviators taking place right here, not to mention that there was once a very important US Naval Air Station at Bermuda, an exceptionally effective one on that big permanent aircraft carrier 650 miles off the US coast – now long gone due to Bermuda’s lack of congressional votes. And all this was true before radar, satellite navigation, Loran, RDF, Omega, Decca etc, etc making things just that much harder when visibility and weather got not so good.
Ah, the weather! And then there is the weather – weather can be quite convoluted all around Bermuda. This region is dominated by a big convergence zone of North America; Cape Hatteras is right there spewing low pressure and other weather systems off the continent, expanding and intensifying when they hit the ocean first hitting the Gulf Stream with its hot waters, the dribs of the Labrador Current (very cold) mixing in and crazy systems coming out of Alberta – you could call this area a weather cauldron and, back to point #1, all right next to one of the most populated and nautically busy parts of the world. Are there more marine incidents in this Bermuda Triangle of ours? No doubt – but how could it be any other way? The North Pacific has typically worse weather but so few ships transit that ocean we see very few incidents in that part of our water globe. Not so many traffic accidents in Siberia either is my guess…
Taking a Pilot
We took as our pilot Captain Wendell, who has guided the Picton Castle into Bermuda before with excellent professionalism, with his two trainee pilots this time to practice taking a ship through Town Cut which leads into St George’s. Easy enough for a ship like ours really, the channel is 250 feet wide and about 25 feet deep, plenty enough room for us. But they take 40,000 ton cruise ships through there too with only feet to spare under the keel and no possibility of turning around or stopping, meaning they had better be pretty good. They are, so not to worry. As most commercial ship traffic now goes to Hamilton we had a nice berth alongside at Penno’s Wharf right in downtown St George’s. This was nice for us in this short visit and permitting us to just step ashore as we pleased and also paint the skiff instead of working her so hard. She has been hard at it for months now in the islands.
Old St George’s
Old St George’s Town is a very pretty town and remarkably historically intact. All pastels and plaster and narrow streets right up to the front door steps of the low houses, many of the buildings date back to the 1700s. A walk around through narrow stone streets is a treat. There is a beautiful old church that looks like some ruins from the middle ages – it turns out that this is the ”Unfinished Church” that got damaged in the 1920s and for that and other reasons never was completed. It sits atop a hill overlooking St George’s and the harbour making a perfect place for a picnic. All around St George’s are little park-like settings and small coves for crew to go off to, throw a frisbee and generally ‘hang out’. A few of our more senior crowd make a point of finding some fine B&Bs to relax in on their off watch and I am sure they found a nice one here.
This was also a last chance to get some second layouts on sails, David spread out a new hand sewn jib and a new royal for final cutting and sewing. Of course the Mate got the topsides painted to perfection as well as re-stowed the hold, always a big job. Lynsey was very busy with getting customs and immigration forms sorted for our arrival in Canada ever so soon. Donald got some eggs, fruits and vegetables for the 730 mile passage but no too much as everything is some expensive on this mid-Atlantic rock. But it is nice to eat well too, and we do.
Picton Castle Stamp
And here is an excellent place to make an announcement: the Barque Picton Castle is to be featured on the new Bermudian 70 cent stamp, so honoured as a frequent visitor to this hospitable isle. June 11th these will be released, we are told.
Time to sail – no storms predicted, not great sailing or fair winds on the screen either but nothing bad – drills completed, lines singled up, engine warmed up, push boat standing by the bow, jib loosed to pull the bow off the quay. Captain Myron Robinson, Senior Pilot, stepped aboard and took his place on the bridge with me and the Barque Picton Castle put to sea again on this last passage for Nova Scotia from which we sailed a year and 18,000 miles ago.
Bermuda – in diver’s lingo, quite the decompression stop as we keep rising to the surface of the world we left behind a year ago in Lunenburg.