Friday, July 3rd, 2015
I had only planned to spend about 10 days in Bermuda before hurrying on to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, but it was not to be. The problem was that my SA passport was coming up for renewal and I found out, from talking to other South Africans, that it could take up to 6 months to get this done.
Still pondering over this problem I met up with Dale Howe whom I had been urged to get in touch with by an old school friend, Michael Best and his wife Margaret. Margaret is a well known botanical artist who regularly gives courses in Bermuda. Have a look at www.bestbotanical.com to see some of her exquisite work.
Dale and I became good friends and I was wonderfully pampered and looked after by her at her beautiful house overlooking the sea. When I told her about my passport dilemma she came up with the astonishing suggestion that we could make a quick trip to Washington, DC together and put in the application in person at the SA embassy there. This would greatly simplify and speed up the whole process. I was a little overwhelmed at this amazingly generous offer but it seemed just too good to refuse and a day or two later we were winging our way to DC, first class. We checked into the Grand Hyatt and got the passport application done very easily with plenty of time for a whirlwind tour of the famous Washington sights. Our last night was spent enjoying a performance of ‘Carmen’ by the Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Centre
Before leaving, I had moved Speedwell across the harbour to a very secure anchorage at Elsie’s Bay on the St Davids side and Bermuda Yacht Services undertook to keep an eye on her while I was away. It’s a lovely secluded little cove away from the busy main anchorage and I was happy to stay there after getting back.
I also had a chance to see Grahame and Monica Rendell again and catch up with their news. Grahame has recently been made the Foreign Representative in Bermuda for the Royal Cruising Club and must surely be the perfect person for the rôle with his cruising experience and friendly helpfulness.
Bermuda itself, of course, is one if my favourite places and after the harsh super highways and traffic of Florida it was an enchanting feeling to wander through the quaint and narrow lanes of St Georges, admiring the old buildings and pretty English-style gardens in the historical town.
I also spent a few days ambling along the Railway Trail which follows the remnants of the old railway line. After a few years of grand success during the first half of last century, it proved too expensive to maintain and had to be abandoned. The trail runs along the north coast giving magnificent views of the cliffs and clear, shallow reef waters. Long tailed Tropic Birds make their nests in the limestone cliffs and it is breathtaking to watch them swooping and turning with their strikingly marked wings and beautiful tails highlighted against the turquoise water.
But time was running on and not only did I hope to finish the crossing back to the US before the end of June, while hurricanes were still unlikely, but I now had the additional consideration of entering the states before my passport was reissued in Pretoria making the one I still carried invalid. In their inscrutable wisdom, SA no longer issues temporary passports so during the time between it being approved in Pretoria and actually reaching me in Washington, I would effectively be without a passport.
I cleared out on Saturday, 13 June and set off for the Chesapeake Bay. 3 days out and only just over 100nm from Bermuda, I decided to try to pick up a weather fax from Boston. Oh dear! The second ‘named’ storm of the season was being warned of and could move up the coast of the southern states. It looked as though our paths might cross and after the second warning, 6 hours later, I reluctantly made the decision to turn back to Bermuda to wait it out.
I got back, cleared in again, and learned that it was no longer a danger. Oh well. It’s always easy with hindsight. So after refuelling and a quick reunion with Dale, I set off again. The wind was light for the first few days but we were just about able to lay the course with the junk sail managing quite respectably to windward. As we approached the Gulf Stream the wind picked up and for a few days we were forced hopelessly too far north being relentlessly pushed by 30 knot winds and 3 knots of current. Massive and confused waves did not make it any easier. Reefed right down we doggedly clawed our way at what I hoped was almost right angles to the stream and after a few days it released us and marvellously we were moving in the same direction that we were pointing. A few calm days followed which allowed me to replace 3 parrels that had almost chafed through at the mast. Apart from that, the rig had survived the heavy weather remarkably well and I once again blessed the ability to reef so easily in difficult conditions.
With about 60 nm still to go the wind died completely and I used the engine to help us along. We entered the bay in the early morning and spent the rest of the day motoring along, following the markers and trying to avoid a fleet of battleships doing manoeuvres in the bay. Turning into the Elizabeth River the tidal current was strongly against us and we were down to just over a knot, being buffeted by the wakes of enormous container ships, fast moving tugs and the occasional battleship. Quite an adjustment to make after 10 days alone at sea.
At last, at 4 in the afternoon, I anchored in the small boat anchorage on the Portsmouth side of the River opposite downtown Norfolk. Next morning I was able to get ashore and cleared in at the beautiful old customs building nearby. To my relief, the passport was still valid and everything went smoothly.