Offshore to Bermuda

It had not completely sunk in yet, in just a few short weeks I would be home.  I would be able to take a hot shower every day, sleep on a bed that does not move, and I would not have to pump water or manually flush the toilet.  Unfortunately, I could not begin dreaming of such things just yet.

Four days out of St. Maarten, we still were not completely sure if we were stopping in Bermuda or not.  The weather was very fickle, much as it had been all winter, and it was difficult to find the shortest and safest route.  The first few days had not been bad, just dull and monotonous, but from past experience we had learned that dull and monotonous was a good thing, especially when it came to offshore sailing.  We had fallen into our daily routines of eating, sleeping, going on watch, and for my brother and I, doing schoolwork.

Of course, it eventually started getting rough and all the unpleasant memories of our last offshore passage came flooding back.  But things were different this time.  It was still rough and uncomfortable, but we were able to cope better.  We had many weeks to prepare, and things were stowed away properly, for the most part, so all our gear did not go flying every time a wave hit.  We knew what meals were easy to cook given the conditions, and when it was entirely too rough we had an ample supply of easy to eat snacks in reach.  Most importantly, we were now a much more experienced and able crew.

There was one specific event where we worked so well together we even surprised ourselves.  We were five days out, almost six since it was late at night, and my brother and I were just finishing our watch.  My father peeked up to tell us he’d be ready to start his watch shortly, when we heard the clatter of something falling on the deck from high above.  We whipped our heads around to see the throat of the main gaff slide all the way down the mast.  My mother quickly came up to see what all the commotion was about, and we all automatically set to work.  In under fifteen minutes we lowered the gaff, fixed the throat halyard, and had the sail back up.  All this was in the middle of the night, under the spreader lights, on a pitching vessel in the middle of the ocean.  We were all quite impressed with ourselves.

I both despised and adored those nights out in the middle of the ocean.  I loved to look up at the stars, each one a sparkling gem placed on a backdrop of black velvet.  I enjoyed trying to spot the different constellations as well as finding my own patterns in the sky.  What I hated was trying to sleep.  Most of the time on that voyage we were heeling drastically, and if we tacked I would have to switch bunks from one side of the main saloon to the other.  I felt like an accordion the way I was squished up against the hull and released with the motion of the boat.  I had to curl my toes around the edge of the cushion to stay in place.  These conditions were not very conducive to sleep.  As a result, I was tired most of the time.

On our 6th day out, my father made the popular decision to stop at Bermuda.  Although, if he hadn’t he might have had a mutiny on his hands.  We were just under two days away, and we were all very excited to have one last stamp in our passports.  The last leg of our trip to Bermuda was beautiful.  The winds were agreeable, as well as the seas.  The only problem was it was starting to get cold as we headed north.  It felt weird to have to wear jeans once again, since I hadn’t needed to in months.

As we got closer to Bermuda we kept seeing what we thought at first were clear water bottles floating on the surface of the water.  We were utterly perplexed when we saw them floating all over the place.  Finally curiosity got the better of us and we decided to try and pick one up in a bucket, whatever it was.  When we pulled out my brother’s marine science book to try and figure out what it was we found out it probably hadn’t been such a good idea to catch it.  It turned out it was a deadly Portuguese man-of-war, a colonial hydroid.  A Portuguese man-of-war isn’t just one animal, but a number of different types of microscopic animals all living together in harmony.  On the top is a clear air sac that floats on the surface and supports a mass of tentacles that can be up to 165 feet long!  One type of animal creates a highly poisonous substance.  After we dumped the creature back in the water, my father accidentally touched the bucket we had caught it in, and some of the residue it left got on his skin.  He couldn’t have gotten much on him, but that small amount made his hand a bit numb and tingly for a few hours.

Later that same day, when we were all just sitting around in the cockpit reading and whatnot, we heard a splash up forward.  We all got up to see what it was, afraid something might have fallen overboard.  Off our starboard bow was a whole pod of dolphins welcoming us to Bermuda.  I climbed up on the bowsprit and sat down with my legs dangling over the side.  I looked down between my feet and saw the grey speckled backs of no fewer than three dolphins skimming the surface with their dorsal fins, and off to the side there were many more.  A mother with a baby half her size raced along with us.  A small group of about five or more dolphins arched their backs out of the water in perfect synchronization with one another.  A few even made daring leaps clear out of the water.  This was all going on no more than 10 yards away from us.  The dolphins below me splashed up water with their blowholes and tickled my feet.  If this was just a sample of what Bermuda would be like, I could not wait to arrive.

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