Europe bound! – Leg 1 Tortola to Bermuda

Many sailors dream of crossing oceans on their own boat. I am one of them! When we bought Mira it was for, among other reasons (see Why Antares?), its suitability for long ocean passages…that is, if someday we wanted to venture out. That day came in April 2019.

We’d been aboard Mira for a year and a half and had enjoyed two wonderful seasons cruising the Caribbean chain. This was preceded by two decades of bareboat chartering throughout the islands. It was time for something new. As seasoned travelers, Pam and I concluded our next adventure would be to return to Europe by sailing Mira across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The journey from Tortola in the BVIs to Lagos on the south coast of Portugal would be approximately 24 days, 3,500 nautical miles.

This was a big decision for us. Was the crew ready? Was the boat ready? Long offshore passages were not new for us, but this would be our longest and most challenging. Previously, our first passage aboard Mira was 10 days/ 1,650 nm from Fortaleza, Brazil to Grenada as we moved the boat from its factory in Argentina to the Caribbean. Participating in last years ARC Caribbean 1500 rally (from Portsmouth, Virginia to Antigua; 12 days, 1,745 nm) really helped us “up our game”, and put Mira and crew through her first really tough passage. While still building “miles under the keel”, my recipe for our successful passages has always included two important ingredients: 1) seek advice from a professional weather router, and 2) have at least one crew member aboard with more ocean sailing experience than myself.

From our time in Argentina we knew several accomplished ocean sailors, and I was excited when Diego accepted my invitation to join as crew for the three legs. I would learn much from him, and he would also bring along Javier, another Argentine sailor. We also engaged the services of Chris Parker’s Marine Weather Center for weather routing advice. Chris’ sage weather wisdom and conservative approach has served us well in the past.

So the Atlantic crossing would be divided into three separate legs:

  • Leg 1 – Tortola to Bermuda (5-6 days, 850 miles)
  • Leg 2 – Bermuda to the Azores (11-13 days, 1,800 miles)
  • Leg 3 – Azores to Portugal (6-7 days, 1,000 miles)

Pam opted out of the first two legs, but was a huge help in preparing the boat, provisioning, and pre-cooking dinners for the passage. She would fly home for some girl time and join me in the Azores for the final leg to Portugal.

Below is a summary and my daily diary of Leg 1 – Tortola to Bermuda

  • Depart Nanny Cay, Tortola April 21, 2019 12:30pm
  • Arrive St. Georges, Bermuda April 27, 2019 12:00pm
  • Total distance 843 nautical miles
  • Total time 142 hours (5.9 days)
  • Average speed 6.0kn
  • Max speed 12.3kn
  • Max wind speed

Glenn

21 Apr Sunday – Departure

Left Nanny Cay at 12:30pm and headed west around the southern side of Tortola and then north around the west end of Jost Van Dyke.
Nice 15-20kn ENE winds as we set main sail and genoa
Agreed with Diego on 3hr watches and dinner daily at 5pm
Seas were 2-3m from the East but pretty choppy which made for lots of roll
First night had Pam’s pasta Alfredo and salad
Not a very restful first night due to sea state

22 Apr Monday – Hot.

Continued same sailing conditions in the morning. Winds eased in the afternoon. Started starboard engine @ 2200 rpm.

23 Apr Tuesday
Temperature coming down
No winds. Motoring both engines at 7kn. Caught a nice 5ft wahoo on pink lure and filleted. Enjoyed it on the grill for dinner. Froze the rest. Lots of fish left for meals.

24 Apr Wednesday
Passed large tanker heading south in the night. Closest point was 2 miles.
Still motoring both engines at about 7kn in very clear skies, gentle rolling seas, deep blue ocean
Saw first grey dolphins of the trip
Beautiful, low humidity day. Longing for return of sailing

ETA likely Saturday morning
Running both engines at 2200 rpm doing 7.3kn. Will need to use some fuel reserves at this rate.

25 Apr Thursday
Calm night. Glassy calm seas. Moon reflection is beautiful. Morning still very calm. 1-2kn from west. Rate of speed will have us at St George’s at midnight Friday so we reduced speed to 5kn with one engine at 2200 rpm. Added 10 gal of jerrycan fuel to each tank. Noticed continuous drip/leak in port side stuffing gland under motor. Will need to fix this in Bermuda.

26 Apr Friday
More motoring, alternating engines for 12hrs each. Caught up to becalmed sv Salana who left 1 day before us from Nanny Cay. Crossed shipping lanes with large cargo and tankers heading to Europe. Contacted the manufacturer about port side drip from stuffing gland. Offered steps to fix leak which we’ll try in Bermuda. Winds supposed to finally arrive this evening, from the south and build to 20kn by the time we arrive Sat mid morning. Leftovers for dinner. Sea temp now dropped to 72 from 79 in BVIs.

27 Apr Saturday
Winds finally arrived around 2am and built to the expected 20kn from the south. Night skies under sail were special! Half moon, bright stars, shooting stars, and gentle rolling motion. Just amazing. 7am watch. Land ho! About 20miles from Bermuda. Winds same, waves from behind building. Sailing under full Genoa. Arrived at customs dock at 12:00 Bermuda time.

2018 Review – Our first year, our hardest year?

By the time we pulled into Falmouth, Antigua this November, 2018, we had not only completed our longest non-stop passage, but also eclipsed our one year anniversary aboard Mira. It had been an amazing and certainly, eventful year. But, this auspicious anniversary didn’t really sink in til well into January as the remainder of November and early December were spent fine-tuning Mira from her recent long ocean passage and hosting family on board for Thanksgiving. We returned home to Atlanta for Christmas, while Mira enjoyed a week in the spa. Actually, she was on the hard, being pampered by Karen and Jason, and receiving a fresh coat of anti-foul paint.  As we began preparations to return to the boat in January, we reflected on our amazing year.

When we first joined the Antares cruising community, we recalled other owners telling us that the first year is the hardest. “Hang in there, and the second year will be more fun”, they said.  So how was our first year?

Intense and fun!  As first time boat owners, the learning curve was steep.  It seemed we were doing everything for the first time. We read tons and took any advice we could get as we dove right into learning. We built lots of lists and spreadsheets. All in a effort to develop a set of comfortable routines for life aboard our boat. The wonderfully supportive Antares owners community were key in shortening the learning curve. Thanks guys!  Despite all of the reading, preparation and lists, we still managed to make plenty of rookie mistakes.

Here are a few of our take-aways from 2018: 

Defining roles and responsibilities — After thirty three years together, this was fairly natural.  Captain Glenn: navigation, sail handling & trimming, fix stuff; weather routing, and all the more physically demanding work.  First Mate Pam:  Chief Communications Officer – blogger, travel planner and researcher, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Risk Analyzing Officer, assistant helmsman, Chief Provisioner and chef, and social chairman!  Yes, we managed to strike a pretty good division of labor.

Boat maintenance and repair — You can always find someone to pay to repair the boat, but it turns out that if you want to maximize your time sailing versus sitting in a marina, it’s helpful to be willing to do much of it yourself. It ain’t rocket science.  Invest in a good set of tools and spare parts and plan to do some maintenance task every day.  Cruising has been cheekily defined as “doing boat maintenance in exotic places”.  We get it!

Learning to sail the boat — Antares is a very well designed and built catamaran.  She is capable of both performance and comfort and the learnings on sail selection and trim are continuous.  We’ve come a long way and are still learning and trying new techniques.

Staying connected – We have been able to get reliable mobile phone & data service (plug for Google Fi) in all but the most remote destinations, often while we are offshore.  For the longer passages, our IridiumGO! satellite system has proven quite serviceable for receiving weather data, text and short email messages.  Gotta love modern technology!

Weather routing — Interpreting weather data and marine forecasts.  Since we depend more heavily on the weather living on the water, this was something new for us. Fortunately, modern weather modeling & forecasting has become quite reliable – particularly for 1-3 days ahead.  We are constantly checking the weather from PredictWind, Windy, and Chris Parker to plan our travel.

Learning to live aboard a boat — Keeping our home self-sustainable and moving requires managing our energy requirements and water consumption.  Something that definitely didn’t come naturally to us! One huge bonus that we appreciate every day is the amount of solar energy capacity on Mira.  Though we haven’t yet made the leap to lithium batteries, she has 1200 watts of solar charging capacity, and we have found that we are rarely required to run the generator – usually only to make water or do laundry.

Maintaining our health and fitness — Other than random cuts and bruises, we have remained quite healthy (as evidenced by our recently completed annual physicals). We love the water and most days there is opportunity to swim, dive, paddle, or snorkel.  While ashore, we try to walk to the local grocery store or chandlery and are always looking for trails for hiking and scenic vistas. We also keep a set of elastic fitness bands, small dumbbells, and exercise mats aboard for those days when we just need a good work out.

Learning to slow down — Most of our recent sailing experiences have been one week charter trips. We needed to change from the “vacation mentality” drilled into brains over years of cramming all the fun into one short vacation window.  This has not been so easy for two type “A” people. We are learning to slow down, be flexible, and cherish every experience. Our goal is to have as many C+ days as possible. 🙂

Questions we are often asked —
  • Don’t you get bored?  The only times we ever get restless are when we are stuck in one anchorage or in a marina waiting for bad weather to pass.
  • Don’t you miss your family and friends? Yes, every day!
  • Don’t you get tired each other? never 🙂
  • Are you still having fun?  most days – occasionally, the continual maintenance and repair of our floating-in-salt-water home gets tiring.
Mira’s first year milestones:
  • Total distance traveled:  10,086nm (Argentina, Caribbean, Bahamas, Chesapeake Bay, and back to the Caribbean)
  • Longest non-stop passage:  12 days, 1,745nm (Virginia to Antigua)
  • Maximum speed:  16 knots
  • Countries visited:  15
  • Islands visited:  lots
  • Magnificent sunsets:  too many to count
  • Sundowners shared with friends:  not enough
  • Fish caught:  a few (let’s just say we are getting better)
  • and, brand new Volvo diesel engines installed (by recall – at no charge)!
As we head into year two aboard Mira, we are still learning every day, though not as intensely. We love that every single day is different. Indeed, this is an intellectually and physically engaging lifestyle which we truly love and are blessed to be part of.

The Carib 1500 Rally – preparing Mira & crew for the tropical migration

The Caribbean 1500 Rally is orchestrated by the World Cruising Club. For this November’s rally from Portsmouth, VA, to Tortola, BVI – 21 boats participated. Mira elected to join the rally – despite our ultimate goal to sail past the BVI to Antigua. The WCC offers a wide range of benefits when you join their rallies. They provide a superbly prepared Rally Handbook with a wide range of safety and sailing system checklists, off-shore seminars in the week prior, and last but not least, camaraderie with other sailors through happy hours and local events.

Contemplating another winter in the Caribbean with limited marine resources and summer 2019 in the Mediterranean, this fall seemed the perfect time to join a rally and complete some additional safety and comfort features on Mira. So, the Captain detailed a long list of projects to be completed and items to be purchased. Annapolis without wind seemed like the perfect spot to accomplish this list.  So …. during the months of August and September …. we added the following,

  • replaced our nearly new two Volvo diesel engines due to an emissions recall by Volvo,
  • new refrigerator handle & stainless kick plate,
  • European power battery charger,
  • 5 zone bilge dry out system
  • Exhaust system in galley over the stovetop
  • New mirror in master head,
  • Fixed freezer refrigerant pressure,
  • New Seagull water filtration system,
  • New life raft & stainless steel mount cage,
  • Mount on our arch for dinghy motor,
  • Newly configured arch davits for dinghy,
  • New outhaul line for mainsail,
  • Protective covers for hatches,
  • New stainless pedestals for cockpit table
  • New salon carpet & mat,
  • Stern anchor,
  • New jumbo ‘super yacht’ fenders & fender covers,
  • 4 inflatable life vests and personal locator beacons,
  • Wide variety of aerial, smoke daytime and night flares,
  • and we completed extensive offshore safety requirements for Carib 1500 including authoring our first official Mira Ships Operations & Procedures manual.

Yes.. it was a very busy (and expensive few months).  As the leaves were starting to drop, Mira sailed down from her fall home in Annapolis and arrived at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, on October 25. The next week was reserved for additional preparation before the official start of the Carib 1500 Rally on Sunday, November 4th. Pam and Glenn were happy to be joined by Karen and Jason Trautz, who had recently completed a ten year circumnavigation on their own Antares catamaran, YOLO. We were thrilled to have sailors with their incredible sailing experience aboard Mira for the offshore passage to Antigua.  Our week was filled with boat work, seminars, meetings, tours, provisioning, cooking and happy hours.

Mira’s interior was well protected during her engine swap out.

New life raft and stainless steel cradle.
Check in for the Caribbean 1500 at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA.
Glenn and Jason hard at work installing new pedestals.
Glenn installing a thru-hull cap amid provisioning stores.
Chafe gear – always a necessity!
Just a fraction of the provisions necessary for 4 people for a 12 day passage.
The view from above!  A trip up the mast is always required before a long passage.
Mira festively decked out in her dress flags for the Rally.
Mira passing the rigorous safety inspection.
Safety demonstrations included PFDs, life rafts, and flares.

Glenn, Karen and Jason at Happy Hour in historic Portsmouth, VA.
Mira’s crew decked out in their Halloween best.
Pam and Karen off to provision!
Glenn studied weather information for the passage.
Departure Day! Sunday, November 4th!