Bermuda to Flores, Azores
5th to 24th May
One of the Bermuda radio stations asked the question, “Is Bermuda still boring?”. It seems there had been some concern that people might think so. Personally, I think the answer’s ‘no’. When I was a tiresome child, my mother would often say that it’s only the boring who are ever bored. While usually true, in Bermuda I found the trick was to think of yourself as inhabiting a kind of pastel Legoland.
The best thing about the place was certainly the friendly helpfulness of local people. Almost everyone went way beyond normal courtesy in wanting to help. The rest of Bermuda was pleasant enough. As I said, I just felt I was in a sort of pale imitation of Legoland: neat tidy buildings were pink, powder blue and cream (rather than bright Lego red, blue and yellow), and people smiled and were black, white and brown; there were clear labels like ‘Bank’ and ‘Bar’ on symmetrical buildings. There were yellow sandy beaches and very little litter, and even the uniform palm trees, fronds blowing in harmony, might have come from a Danish drawing board. Of course I shouldn’t judge. I was there for less than five days. It rained hard for two of them.
I was anchored up a creek in St George’s Harbour, a big natural harbour with the World Heritage St George on one side. It’s the second town and when the sun shone and cruise ships were in, it was busy with tourists crawling past neatly painted old buildings and perusing high quality nick-nack shops. When it rained it was empty and I went for a super soggy walk around the top end of Bermuda, buffeted by gale and horizontal rain, all a bit reminiscent of some childhood summer holidays in Lyme Regis – which coincidentally is twinned with St George’s.
The capital of Bermuda is Hamilton. It oozes wealth and complacency and alcohol. I visited by bus a couple of times hoping to find something out of the ordinary. But there isn’t much that I found: big smart shops with enough posh wristwatches to garland everyone a few times over, big square colonial buildings, lots of bars with pretty much wall-to-wall ‘happy hours’ and herds of motor scooters. This place makes its money with insurance and reinsurance, and other mysterious forms of money-making paper-pushing, so what was I expecting? I cut short my second visit to Hamilton as the rain was unremitting and two shops in a row had said goodbye with the cheery bastard English phrase, “Have a good one”. (Am I the only one who feels grumpy when this is said too often?)
Then later, as I rowed out to my anchorage a big man on the jetty near his big house shouted in tax-exile American that I was anchored among moorings with big chains that I’d probably snarled. “You won’t be able to get your anchor up; you’ll have to cut the chain, lose the anchor. No way will you be able to get free…..blah blah”. I said I hadn’t wanted to pick up a private mooring in case an owner came along (most were not being used), and he said something along the lines of “Quite right, they’re private”. To save you any more of this, I’ll just say that there are a lot of these dog-in-the-manger moorings in the area, unused but effectively making it difficult to anchor. My anchor was fine by the way.
To end on a brighter note, I’ll restate that with the one exception of ‘big man with big house’, people were delightful. I was given lifts without asking; people took me to show me round; bus drivers smiled and helped; shopkeepers were out-of-the-way friendly. But I left. Yachtie rush-hour for Bermuda was starting nd whereas there were ten yachts as I arrived, there must have been over thirty by the time I left.
Oh! I should also tell you too that I met a lovely young couple on a huge catamaran, Ocean Swift, which he, not as young as she, had built. They came aboard Henrietta for a meal and told me of working in Antarctica, where he’d built those amazing hut things that rise on their legs as the snow builds up, and in Falkland Islands and places where you and I shan’t ever go. They’d cruised at high speed all over Scotland and Ireland too, so we shared memories and opinions of the wondrous British Isles. Anyway, their catamaran was 44 ft of streamlined fibreglass (he’d even made the moulds for the hulls) and it cruised at about 15-20 knots. Another of the extraordinarily talented people you come across who you sense could fix anything anywhere with whatever was to hand. I said as we parted that our paths might not cross again for a while. They go too fast.
Sailing out of Bermuda is not like sailing out of most places. You cannot quickly leave their border surveillance system. They have the most amazingly powerful VHF transmitter, radar and AIS detection network I have ever come across, and it’s not until you’ve sailed over 200 miles that you cease hearing their broadcasts and inquisition of approaching boats. (But even with all their powerful equipment and 24 hour staffing, many boats seem to sail in and out not answering radio calls . It does I suppose show how very difficult it is to control your maritime borders – whatever the wishful thinking of Brexit xenophobes.)
And then I sailed east across the Atlantic. It’s about 1,800 miles to the Azores, and not as straightforward as westward sailing in the Trade Winds further south that had taken us the other way to the Caribbean. This time I aimed for an undulating path eastwards, between eastbound gales to the north and calms to the south, which is pretty much what sailors have always done.
Nowadays I have a radio and try to download and interpret weather faxes. In the old days, sailor folk looked at clouds. So I did that too, and coupled with a brilliant book on weather forecasting, reckon I can see what’s coming – in the next few hours anyway. In summary, there’s been a bit of everything in the spectrum of ocean sailing: some sail-flapping calm, wallowing without steerage, fine spirit-lifting reaches, spray sparkling beats and several hard rough days.
Rough days culminated in two days and nights when wind never dropped below Force 7 and was mainly F8/9. I knew I was too far north but I was nearly there and unprepared to sail the wrong way for 200 miles completely to avoid the storm. As you may know, one of the great delights of sailing is the contrast from a day of brisk wind and choppy sea to an evening in a calm sheltered pretty anchorage. Nowhere have I felt this contrast more acutely than on reaching, yesterday, the charming tiny friendly marina in Flores after two days and nights of very rough testing sailing.
After a few days of gales the North Atlantic grows very wild, and though my pictures cannot capture the sheer magnificent panorama of massive breaking ocean waves, I can say I was overawed. It’s best not to think about it too much – the ocean waves are too massively powerful and magnificent, and sometimes threatening – but I spent much of the time below in bed reading books, washboards in and everything tight closed, as waves crashed around and for a while we maintained over six knots with no sails up at all. Henrietta probably hasn’t enjoyed it any more than me, but she’s behaved beautifully. Apart from some frayed rope and torn dodger and a few bruises, nothing has failed.
Anyhow, I’m now moored at Flores in the far west Azores, 15 days after leaving Bermuda. Goodness, I love Europe! This little bit of it, the furthest west of the Continent, is fresh tidy honest friendly. The tap water tastes nice, bread is not sweetened and red wine is less than two euros a bottle. The marina captain’s mother does my washing (for a fee) and there’s a shower (albeit cold water). After 12 hours sleep I’m fresh, have friendly French and Norwegian neighbours, and am off to explore.