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Passage to Bermuda, North Bound

This has not been the finest sailing passage from the British Virgin Islands northbound for Bermuda and Nova Scotia. Winds started out light as Picton Castle and crew sailed north out of Jost Van Dyke and past Anegada into the North Atlantic for the first time in a year. Still warm, it remained so all the way towards Bermuda. But light winds called for motoring. Or motor sailing. But North we must. And not all that far really. We sailed on a Thursday noon and we found ourselves off St David’s Head, Bermuda, picking up our pilot at noon five days later.

The weather has not been bad at all. Seas have been modest, not cold yet, winds light but fair, flying fish in abundance, dolphins in attendance from time to time. Pretty sunsets. Apart from the motoring, altogether quite pleasant. The gang finishing up personal projects, ditty bags, sea bags and such. Work on deck carries on. Mates making rig surveys. Engineer making shopping lists. Sue seizing ratlines. Carlos, Katie, and company cleaning all the nice crooks felled at Jost Van Dyke. Stephanie painting the chart house and here and there, and tarring, caulking, sailmaking on the quarterdeck. Chief Mate Erin (of Bermuda, by the way) led a series of classes in chart work and basic piloting. The dedicated navigators had their sextants out every day. In between cleaning Sargasso weed off the fishing lines trailing astern, we have even landed a few fish. A big barracuda the other day making a dinner for all those who eat fish.

Once out of these tropics, watching the North Atlantic weather forecasts becomes of great interest. From about the Tropic of Cancer some 500 nautical miles south of Bermuda and to the north, any kind of weather can be expected. Well, snow would be unusual. The steady trade winds become a memory. Right now we are looking at an extremely early season tropical low about 300 nautical miles SW of Bermuda. Even got assigned a name: Andrea. Does not look like it will amount to much but you never know with long term forecasts even as they have improved so much in recent years. More than 48 hours out it is still an attempt at foretelling the future, a dodgy business. Four or more days out, it’s reading tea leaves. Better than that but… There is another low pressure expected to boil off southeastern New England and head our way in a couple days. This will influence when we sail onward.

If ever there was a divinely inspired place in this ocean to put a pretty island with deep protected harbours it would be exactly at the very spot where Bermuda emerges from the sea. Settled about the same time as the Jamestown settlement was founded in Virginia, and with far more success, Bermuda has been a siren call to sailing ships and their crew for centuries. Privateer base, coves for smugglers, Navy base and the put-in island for north and southbound yachts and sailing ships, Bermuda knows how to host a crew. And especially the charming historical town of St George’s, just a little over a mile in from the sea through Town Cut. A lovely place for crew of a northbound vessel to have a run ashore in familiar yet changing surroundings. Bermuda will let you think you are still in the tropics with the lovely pastels, swaying palm trees, warm waters, pink sandy beaches, and coral reefs. But then again, a cold northerly can disabuse us pretty quickly on that score too and out come the sweaters, jackets and rain gear. And Bermuda is also a great place for a sailing ship like Picton Castle to stage for the final 700+ nautical mile passage to Nova Scotia and the end of our voyage around the world.

At about 0930 we made contact with Bermuda Harbour Radio at 20 nautical miles distance, confirmed pilots boarding time and heard the latest weather forecast. Looking to blow some here at Bermuda soon due to Andrea. Calling for gale force gusts.

At noon right off St Davids’ head, Captain Mario Thompson boarded the ship from the pilot boat with two able trainee pilots and we headed for the channel.

With pilot aboard, our Bermuda Chief Mate steers the ship through narrow Town Cut. Water so clear it looks dangerous, sharp coral outcroppings on either side, but 30,000-ton cruise ships navigate this channel routinely, if with nervous trepidation. With white knuckles if a strong cross wind. Then the almost landlocked turquoise harbour of St George’s opens up in front of us. We had to manouver around a large yacht anchored in the fairway. With jib and spanker, we slid the Picton Castle sideways to berth starboard side to the key at Ordnance Island and get tied up for the duration. Or until we move to Penno’s Wharf after a cruise ship sails. Or go to anchor when the winds die down. Anyway, welcome to Bermuda.

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