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Sailing to Bermuda by Private Yacht
Bermuda is about 667 miles to the southeast of New York, 640 miles from Norfolk (Virginia) and about 687 miles from Boston. So from the US east coast, it just fits in perfectly for a few days sail along the Atlantic on a private yacht. On a 30-foot boat it usually takes a little over 5 days to complete the voyage from New York to Bermuda. So if you are planning to take a private yacht and sail during your vacation, Bermuda can be an ideal destination considering the typical vacation time you get these days.
Many also plan a one way sail and the other way by flight to save on time. From the north eastern US, over 1,200 yachts leave for the Caribbean during the fall time and return during the spring, often making Bermuda a popular stopover. Bermuda also serves as a finishing point for many international yacht races through out the year. All these make Bermuda's water quite busy with sailing activities.
Preparing for the voyage
It is always advisable to contact the Bermuda Maritime Operations Center (formerly Bermuda Harbor Radio) before you start your voyage for Bermuda and provide information related to your vessel, crew, equipment etc. You can either fill up an online form on their website www.rccbermuda.bm or call them up at 441/297-1010. This will help them to track your course and guide you as necessary. In any case you will be required to provide these information to them when you approach Bermuda.
Also connect with your country's Coast Guards prior to your sail and provide them with the necessary information of your boat and crew. Bigger the boat, safer would be the voyage. With boats of size below 30-foot, the risk increases considerably given the behavior of the Atlantic ocean. A boat of size 35 feet or more with four to five crew members can easily provide a comfortable and safe sailing across the Atlantic to Bermuda.
Safety Equipment, Gears and Provisions
So what sort of safety and other equipment should you carry with you on your sail to Bermuda? What kind of stores and provisions that you must plan for? Firstly you should contact your local Coast Guard Office prior to the sail and get a full list of safety equipment that is applicable for your voyage. The list can vary depending on the type and size of yacht. Also keep in mind that electronic navigation equipment are quite vulnerable in marine environment. So it is always advisable that at least one of the crew members is experience in celestial navigation.
Check out Safety For Ocean Sail to get a guideline about the basic safety equipment to be carried and measures taken by ocean going yachts. The link has information specific to Bermuda sailing as well.
Food and Water
Take plenty of food and water. For food, a thumb rule is to take provisions for double the number of days of a normal voyage and add few more days. So for a sail from New York to Bermuda that normally takes 5 and 1/2 days, take food for about 14 days. This is because in bad weathers and sea conditions, you can take much longer to reach Bermuda than you anticipate, and due to emergency situations, you may need to remain on water for additional days.
Go with a full tank of drinking water which is probably the most precious thing on a sail. Also try to carry a water maker that can make pure drinking water from the salted seawater. It uses reverse osmosis process and pumps the seawater through a membrane at high pressure. However, this requires substantial electrical power.
Your voyage over the Atlantic
So what do you expect to experience as you sail along the Atlantic towards Bermuda? Well the usual northeasterly flow of wind as it exists on the US East Coast, continues in Bermuda waters as well. However during summer the Bermuda Azores High, a high pressure zone between Bermuda and Azores sometimes comes into play. During such time, you will experience wind speed averaging about 15 knots.
Also remember that Bermuda's Hurricane season officially starts from June 1 and ends on November 30. Hurricanes are swirling storms that can sometimes cause major damages to yachts. These unpredictable hurricanes originate at the southeastern waters of North Atlantic, move west and hit the Caribbean or the US southeast coast before changing directions to northeast. So try to avoid sailing to Bermuda around this time. Highest frequency of hurricane activities in this area have been reported in the month of September. Although the waves in the North Atlantic are normally 3-4 foot high, but ocean swells can be far larger in bad weather conditions and particularly during hurricanes.
Bermuda's Weather is subtropical in nature. It varies from an average of 62°F in February (the coolest month) to an average of about 82°F in August which is the warmest month. While there is no specific monsoon season in Bermuda, it can rain anytime, generally in short spurts though. The average rain fall in a year is 58 inches. You can listen to the local weather conditions anytime in VHF Weather Channel 2 (WX 02), frequency 162.4 MHz. Unlike usual weather reports in TV channels, here you will only get continuous updates on wind speed, wave heights etc.
You will cross the Gulf Stream on the way. It is a current of warm water in the North Atlantic and is well defined with its boundaries in standard maps. It flows the warm water current along the northeast towards Europe in parallel with US east coast.
This 40 - 60 miles wide Gulf Steam lies in between Bermuda and the U.S East Coast and there is no way to avoid it if you are sailing to Bermuda from the U.S. The water in the stream is some one mile deep, and the current flows at a speed of some 4-5 knots. While the North Atlantic is known for foul weather, the Gulf Stream is the worst patch in the course. So make sure that you have heard the weather forecast carefully before you get into the stream.
There are some personal gears that you will need. Take a Foul Weather Gear which will help you to stay dry even in bad weather. It is the outermost clothing of a sailor and consists of a trouser or an overall, and a jacket with a hood. Different makes have small devices attached at the ankle, neck, face or waist to keep the water out.
Once you get close to the Gulf Stream, the water temperature can increase by 20° within a space of a mile. But do not go for a swim. There are Jelly fish like marine creatures known as the Portuguese Man of War which are quite common in this part of the Atlantic. They have attractive purple bladders and long tentacles, and their stings can really hurt and sometimes be quite poisonous. You will see them every now and then floating and hunting for fish.
As you come out of the Gulf Stream, you will find sprays of water that are warm and then much cooler in the next moment, and realize that you are finally leaving the stream behind as the cooler water settles down. While you may be deprived of a swim, you may be rewarded with the sights of dolphins swimming alongside your boat just yards away.
Although a swim might not have been possible, you can still take a bath on the boat. How? A useful kit to carry is the Solar Shower. It's a plastic bag of usually 6 gallons capacity, and has one side transparent and the other black. You fill it up with sea water and keep it on the deck for a while with the clear side up. Sun warms up the water. And now you can hoist the bag on a rope, open the nozzle of the bag, and shower under it. Finally use a little fresh water to remove the stickiness.
If you wash your clothes, remember that in tropical humid weather, cotton clothes do not dry fast. In fact they are likely to remain wet. So while packing, take light and easily washable synthetic clothes as much as possible.
Many people do not get affected by sea sickness. But if you happen to get caught in that during your voyage, take as much rest as possible. And remember, hunger adds to the nausea and therefore do not stay starved. It's a good practice to have something like a cracker first thing in the morning. You will of course need medication if it persists or worsens.
If you like to talk to someone back home from the middle of the ocean, you can use the short wave radio transmitter. One way would be to first raise AT&T's High Seas station. They would ask for your location and tune their reception accordingly. They will then connect you to a phone operator who in turn would patch you to the telephone number you give them and bill you for the call. There is no such facility for VHF radio-telephone link calls from Bermuda.
If you need any emergency or other assistance on the way, you can call up the Bermuda Harbor Radio (now the Maritime Operations Center) at VHF Channel 16, or at 2182 kHz, 4125 kHz. They are 24-hours on duty and in touch with the coast guards and other rescue centers of US, Europe and Caribbean. They should be able to get you the assistance in the quickest possible time and there is no service charge for this.
So how do you know that you are close to the island which you have been sailing hard for days? Of course Loran will give you an indication. But what are the first signs that you get while approaching Bermuda? When can you see the Islands of Bermuda for the first time from the waters and how is the experience? And most importantly, what are the navigational measures that you must take to avoid any problems?
After all, we know that Bermuda's waters are full of hazardous Coral Reefs that extend up to 10 miles beyond its shoreline in the north. Also the channel Town Cut through which you enter the St. George's Harbor is really narrow and can barely let one cruise ship pass at a time without any further space left to its sides.
Check out Approaching Bermuda by Yacht for information about how to approach Bermuda by a private yacht, sail into St. George Harbor and complete customs formalities.
Anchorage & Berthing in Bermuda
Many anchorage facilities are available in St. George Harbor and Hamilton Harbor. However you should go by instructions from Marine Operations Center (former Bermuda Harbor Radio) for the berthing. Unless you get a clearance, you should not move your vessel out to another berth.
Berthing is not allowed in Penno's Wharf (where the cruise ships dock) and south side of Ordnance Island (where the customs dock is located). However, sometimes exceptions are made in emergencies and then berthing is charged separately. There are limited berthing available on the north side of Ordnance Island and on Market Wharf area of St. George Harbor that are allotted on a first cum first served basis with time limits and are chargeable.
Other than these, there are mooring facilities available at private clubs and marinas around the island. Check out Bermuda Marinas for complete information on berthing and other facilities for yachts.
Complete Bermuda Vacation & Travel Guides on eBooks!
1) Check out Boatyards in Bermuda to get information about repairing and maintenance services available in the island, as well as haulage, slipping and bunkering facilities.
2) Visit Bermuda Travel Guide for many other useful information about Bermuda.
By Raj Bhattacharya
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