November 20 - November 28, 2004

Bermuda

Imagine a small island, a long way from anywhere, where people are friendly, children are well behaved, houses are neat and painted in pastel colors, streets are clean, public transportation is convenient and on time, government officials are efficient and courteous, there is no crime, the water is always 70 degrees, there are no mosquitos and it doesn't snow.

Actually none of this is an exaggeration. If the Brits had done as well in the U.S. as they have with their administration of Bermuda -- we'd still be a colony.

The only drawback is that a cheeseburger costs $10 and everything else is priced accordingly. For example diesel costs $5/gallon and oil costs $10/gallon. (We took on 160 gallons of diesel. Ouch!)

We spent two weeks in Bermuda. Here are some of our observations.

Day Hike on the Railway Trail

Our first real hike was an exploration of an old abandoned railway trail that follows the ridge line on the north side of the island. (Part of the railway was privately built by Vincent Astor to service his summer home.)

The trail takes you behind and above some Bermudian residences so we got good views of the local architecture.

The houses in Bermuda are very cheerful with their soft pastel colors. This house really stood out with its bright red/orange shutters.   Example of Bermuda architecture

 

This Bermudian house made clever use of bottles filled with colored water as a decorating device.   Bottles filled with colored water decorate the wall of this house

 

Roof designed for rain collection Bermuda has no fresh water. So the Bermudians use their roofs to collect rain water in cisterns. You can see the ridges on this roof that channel and capture the rain.

 

Looking south over lagoons near St. George's from the railway trail. We were amazed to find no mosquitos at all during our hike (or during our entire Bermuda stay). Probably because it is so arid.   View of lagoon from railway trail

Once we got past the houses, the trail felt very remote. We only met one other person on our hike. The scenery was beautiful and the ocean looked vast. (We came over all that water!)

Waters off northside of Bermuda   Bermuda is ringed on the north side by beautiful and trecherous reefs. Many ships have gone aground in the waters off the north shore.

 

Here's "Lovers Lake" -- the only fresh water we saw on the island. Mangroves and heavy foliage completely block access to the water. It sure didn't look like an appealing place to make out.   Lovers Lake just off Railway Trail

We saw some beautiful plants along the way, including this prickly pear (left below) and wild morning glory (right below).

Prickly pear along Railway Trail   Morning glory along the Railway Trail

 

Building block made from coral

Bermuda is made of coral -- the skeletons of billions of tiny animals that grow generation after generation on top of their ancestors.

Here is a block from an old building made from coral sandwiched between concrete. We guess people use what's available.

 

The old coral had lots of little caves. And in each cave lived a spider, with old webs and discarded victims littering the entrance.

We had just watched "The Return of the King," and we kept thinking about Shelob.

Here Ken tries to draw Shelob out of her lair. She didn't come out.

  Ken checking for potential inhabitants

 

Spider over railway path Here's a different spider, that hangs out in the open. He looked more like a sea urchin than a spider. We didn't bother him and he didn't bother us.

 

Ken on railway trail   Normally we like to get off the beaten track for a hike. But even Ken was glad the railway trail was there -- getting off into the bush looked really tough, with lots of thorns and thick undergrowth.

 

We stumbled on this lonely graveyard near the end of the trail. An outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1853 killed many British soldiers, and the dead from the 2nd battalion of the Queen's Royals are buried here, overlooking the sea.

The regiment came back to Bermuda from 1910 to 1914, and built this memorial to the fever victims.

Ken suspects that the regiment's stay in Bermuda ended in 1914 because they went to fight in WWI. If so, few of the men who built this memorial would have survived the next four years.

  Old graveyard off railway trail

 

Gun turret with moat Bermuda has a ring of forts all around its borders. We found this outpost at the end of our hike. This gun turret was surrounded by a deep moat.

 

The view from the top of the turret was great, but the accomodations looked damp, dark, and generally uncomfortable.

Beth looking out to ocean from gun turret

Bermuda Harbor Radio

Ever since we arrived, we were fascinated by Bermuda Harbor Radio (BHR), since they seemed to know everything about every boat in Bermuda. So we decided to go see their operation for ourselves.

BHR sits on top of the highest ridge overlooking the Town of St. George. The operators have a full view of ships approaching from all directions and in particular through the dangerous reefs on the north side.   Approaching Bermuda Harbor Radio building 

 

Bermuda Harbor Radio moat It turns out that the radio building is on top of an old fort, complete with a moat, drawbridge and cannons. This is the most fortified radio station we've ever seen!

 

Just in case you had any thoughts of not following the directions you get from Bermuda Harbor Radio...   Cannon outside Bermuda Harbor Radio

If BHR feels a little 18th century on the outside, it's all 2004 inside.

Danny was the operator on duty at the time of our visit and he was also the person who helped guide us in as we approached Bermuda.

The operators have one central goal -- keep ships off the reefs.

We were in awe of high tech displays and tracking equipment at the station. Sure makes our gear look puny.

  Danny talking with a vessel in transit

BHR really got started in the 1980's after an oil tanker ran aground on the reefs. If the oil had spilled, it would have been worse than the Exxon Valdez, and the prevailing currents would have brought it right onto harbors and beaches. By coincidence the tanker had a double hull and the oil stayed on board, but the Bermudians realized that their environment and tourist industry had almost collapsed. So they set up BHR, and -- in a radical break with Bermuda's history as a destroyer of ships -- there have been no further groundings.

BHR keeps a detailed database on every boat that enters or leaves Bermuda. All of this information helps with search and rescue operations if a vessel should go missing or encounter problems. BHR works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and they have been the communication link for numerous rescue operations.

Danny organizing weather forecast for transmission

The staff at BHR also provide weather reports on the local VHS weather station. Here Danny is preparing a report.

 

Big Brother is watching. HR has a high-powered telescope and can see just about everything that happens on the island (outdoors, anyway.) That's our boat down there. BHR telescope looking out over St. George's  harbor

Danny casually mentioned that he knew we had been snorkeling on a wreck in the harbor the previous day! Even Ken had to admit that Beth's paranoia about people with high-powered telescopes seemed justified.

Maybe there's a downside to all this efficiency.

Hamilton and Royal Naval Dockyard

The Town of St. George is the official port of entry for vessels arriving in Bermuda. Hamilton is a much larger town on the opposite end of the island and we took a day trip by bus and ferry to check it out. We also wanted to see the Royal Navy Dockyard located there. (Although the Navy is now gone from the island.).

Approaching the Dockyards aboard the Hamilton ferry The Dockyard was fabulous. At one time this was the largest British naval facility outside of the UK. Many of the buildings at the fort have been converted to museums which explore Bermuda's social and political history as well as nautical history. This was one of the best museums we've ever been in. The fort itself was built by slaves and British convicts in the early 1800's.

A great deal of Bermudian history is tied up with the African slave trade, and the museum had a lot of artifacts from those days. Black people may be a majority in Bermuda (we don't know the offical statistics) and here, as in the Caribbean and North America, the black population is descended from former slaves.

Somehow, however, the Bermudians seem to have overcome the bitterness and hostility that still characterizes race relations in the U.S. and most of the Caribbean. Of course it's dangerous to generalize, but we were really struck by how friendly and relaxed race relations seemed here, compared to the U.S. The constrast is even stronger with the American Virgin Islands, (where things seem kind of hostile), as we'll discuss in a later update.

The Dockyard fort/museum compound is home to a flock of sheep and goats who go anywhere they want. Here's one atop a fort wall. We were advised not to mess with the goats.   Sheep munching grass on top of Dockyards wall

 

 

Dolphin playing with soccer ball

 

The fort also has several pools of dolphins. We could have gone swimming with them, but it was just too cold. (Now Ken is sorry he didn't do it.)

At first we felt sad that the animals were in such a confined space. But the handlers told us that these dolphins are really like pets and don't choose to leave even when the gate to the ocean is opened for them. So we felt a little better about it.

 

The view from the top of the fort was spectacular and we were treated to several rainbows. Here a rain squall moves in on Hamilton.   View of rainbow from Dockyard fort wall

We ate a nice dinner in Hamilton before returning by bus to St. George's. After dinner, Beth asked the waitress for a chocolate dessert recommendation. The waitress replied that there were two choices but one was "way too chocolatey". Beth knew right away that the "Chocolate Explosion" was her dessert. She wasn't disappointed.

Crystal Caves

We also took some time to visit the famous Crystal Caves. These caves were discovered in the early 1900's when a couple of boys lost their cricket ball down a hole. They got a rope and a lantern, and -- if you can imagine -- lowered themselves 120 feet below ground into the vast Crystal Caves.

Formations in Crystal Caves The caves have beautiful lime and calcium formations of stalactites (from the ceiling) and stalagmites (from the floor). We learned that the stalactites have hollow cores. Stalagmites are solid and are formed by drips from the stalactites. After many thousands of years, the stalactites and stalagmites meet to form columns.

 

The waters of the Crystal Caves are crystal clear, but devoid of life, due to the toxicity of the high lime content. Lighted Crystal cave formations

 

Petrified root in Crystal Caves This petrified root is over a million years old.

Locals

We were struck by how content and relaxed the locals seemed to be. Maybe some of that easy-going attitude will rub off on us. This is apparently a very good place to raise children. We talked with a number of locals, including some who emigrated from the U.S., who commented about how well-behaved the kids are here. We did notice that the kids all said good morning to us. We kept looking for the "slackers" and alienated kids hanging out, but we never saw any.

 

Here's a quick shot of a school boy in his uniform.

 

  Bermudian youth in school uniform

We met one woman at a bus stop who was a native Bermudian but who had lived in New Jersey for a while. She said that she had picked up some bad habits in the States. Bermudians tend to be very measured and easy-going, but she felt in a rush all the time. She said (half joking) that she has "road rage, walking rage, and bus rage" because everybody else is so slow and casual. We can see where we might need to slow down a little.

This is Zimian (left), the owner of the fishing boat "Wonderbar." (Means "wonderful" in German.)

  Zimion with mechanic on his boat Wonderbar

We always tied our dingy up behind Wonderbar when we went to shore. And Zimian always laughed at us because we kept locking our dingy with a big lock and cable. He said that we didn't need to worry about such things in Bermuda.

We said we were from Chicago and we just couldn't be that relaxed. But we have to say Bermuda felt like the safest place we've ever been in.

Walking in Bermuda

Bermuda has great buses and ferries. Sidewalks, on the other hand... If we have one complaint about Bermuda, it's the complete lack of sidewalks outside of the main towns. The roads are very narrow and people zoom around in cars and scooters (on the left side of the road, too.) You have to walk right in the traffic. We didn't see anybody else on foot.

Walking along main drag into St. George's Town

Walking in the roadway was a bit harrowing, as vehicles go very fast, even around blind corners.

 

Tourists aren't allowed to rent cars, but they can rent scooters. In the interest of self-preservation, we decided to take buses and ferries.

In Harbor

The rusted hulk of a wreck shown below was close to our anchoring spot. We had to anchor in a way that avoided swinging onto this wreck if the wind shifted. Ken was constantly getting up during the night to make sure we were positioned properly.

We shared the anchorage with this wreck   The wreck has a strange beauty in the evening twilight

Other Cruisers

When we arrived in Bermuda, we thought this was a real "destination". It was for us, since we had never been there before. But it turns out that cruisers don't hang around here for very long -- the island is normally used as a brief stopping point for boats in transit to the Caribbean. The weather turns nasty in December and it is possible to get trapped in Bermuda for the winter if you wait around.

We also came to realize that most of the boats here were manned by delivery crews who were moving them to the Carribean for the winter season. And even the boats that were owner-operated generally had hired crew on board. Seems like its fairly unusual for two owners to make this trip by themselves.

Fortunately we were able to make friends with the crews on two different boats. John and Susan (who we mentioned in our last update), run "Direct Sail," a 58 foot Hinckley, for its owner. Effectively that means that they have the boat to themselves almost all the time, and the owner gets to use it a few weeks a year. Also, they do almost all the long distance passage making. They are really knowledgeable, and took us under their wings a little bit, giving us a lot of really good advice. (Starting with "Don't stay in Bermuda too long -- you can get stuck.")

We also made friends with Ryan, from Holland, who was the delivery skipper on "Runner," a 55 foot Bristol. Ryan had just taken charge of the boat for the first time after it had been on the hard for several years. He had a hellacious passage from the States -- the fuel had crud in it from sitting so long, got stirred up in the Gulf Stream, plugged the fuel filters and shut the engine down. With no engine Runner lost its electricity, which meant no autopilot, so Ryan and his crew (one guy) hand steered for the whole passage. When they got to Bermuda the crewman was so dissillusioned that he quit and went home. Then to add insult to injury, the outboard wouldn't work, so Ryan had to row his dingy around. (Inflatables don't row worth a darn.) Ryan also lost an entire freezer full of food, including a pile of meat he had stocked for the cruising season.

For all that, Ryan was completely unfazed and happily went about sorting out all the various problems, hired new crew, and was about ready to leave in a week.

This is Khamsin, which caused quite a stir on Herb's radio weather net. She had departed the East Coast about the same time we did and was reported overdue by the (over-anxious) family of one of the crew. Herb asked for reported sightings each day at the start of his broadcast. It turns out they encountered some bad weather and decided to "heave to" for a few days. They did not have a working SSB and couldn't communicate. We were all relieved when she arrived safely.   Sailboat Khamsin in Bermuda Harbor

 

Sailing vessel Grebe arriving in Bermuda Grebe, the boat pictured here, is sailed single-handed by its owner. The boat didn't have a favorable weather window when it left the East Coast bound for Bermuda and encountered heavy conditions. We listened to his report on Herb's network as he got hammered. We admire the guts of people who sail alone, but it doesn't look like much fun to us.

Boat Projects

We took time off from sightseeing to work on the boat (our favorite pasttime). We both tackled projects that had been hanging over us for a long time.

Disassembling winch   Our winches desperately need cleaning and Beth took most of a day to disassemble, clean, and reassemble one of the electric winches. Ken has dubbed her the "Winch Wench". Beth suspects Ken thinks up clever sounding titles to get her to do unpleasant tasks.

 

This winch had been making unhealthy noises and it took a great deal of effort to remove the inner housing, exposing the gear controlled by the electric motor. Winch cleaning tends to be a very messy job.   Removing winch gear

 

Winch totally disassembled and cleaned   Beth hoped she wouldn't develop amnesia and forget how to put this all back together! Fortunately it all went back together nicely and the winch now sounds smooth as silk.

 

Both heads were leaking and Beth disassembled and replaced leaking valves. This was an even ulgier job than cleaning winches. Ken calls this "Sanitation Engineering." Repairing leaking head

 

Beth checking out fittings on mast   Ken hoisted Beth up the mast to check for any loose fittings that might have developed during the passage from Newport. The view is great from up there! She's wearing a climbing harness, which is much more comfortable and safer than a bosun's chair (which you could slip out of). Everything looked fine.

 

Our boat has several macerator pumps and this one (which services the forward shower and sink) was not working properly. Ken disassembled it and found broken impeller blades and a collection of debris (Beth's hair) wrapped around the shaft. Ken fixed the pump and we also installed screens in the drains to catch debris.   Ken with clogged macerator pump

Ken also spent a great deal of time devising a tie-down system for four cabinets in the main salon. These cabinets are only held down by a few wood screws and would likely tear loose if we were knocked down in a storm. Ken epoxied studs to the hulls so that he could bolt the cabinets down. He's still working on this project.

Beth cleaning topsides   The saltwater environment is brutal. Our "stainless" fittings and railings started to show signs of corrosion. Ken sprayed everything with a protective coating, but some of the coating made unsightly drip lines on our topsides (area of boat from waterline to the deck). Here Beth is cleaning the topsides to make the boat more presentable.

Life Aboard

Learning to live aboard has been tons of fun, but it has its challenges. Normal tasks can be more difficult and time consuming to do.

Even doing something as simple as laundry requires a great deal of forethought and coordination. Here Beth is ready for Ken to take her via dinghy to a location on shore where she can do laundry. Unfortunately, the driers malfunctioned and she had to bring back several loads of wet laundry to hang around the boat for drying.   Beth ready for dinghy ride to laundry facility

 

Riding around in dinghy looking for hotspot   One thing we really miss on the boat is an internet connection. We were teased by sporadic wifi connections from our anchoring position and we spent one evening cruising the entire harbor in the dingy trying to find the location of the strongest signal. We never did get a really consistent result. We found an internet cafe in town and they charged $10/hour to connect.

 

Provisioning can also be tricky and you don't want to run out of your favorite foods. Before we left Newport, we were smart enough to stock up on Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chunk cookies. Here we have 7 packages stashed away in a cupboard. Chocolate chip cookie stash

In an alarming development, Ken, who has never been big on desserts, has begun to eat chocolate. Beth could always offer to share her desserts, secure in the knowledge that Ken would say "no thanks." So she was appalled when he took her up on her offer to sample a piece of her "Chocolate Bomb" dessert at a local restaurant one evening, and proceeded to eat half of it. From now on, Beth thinks Ken should get his own dessert.

Beth with M&M treasure trove  

We've both developed a real hankering for M&M's. Ken even eats them when he's working out on his little staircase machine. We were able to locate M&M's at the grocery store in Bermuda but they were VERY expensive.

We decided to head for the American Virgin Islands because we were pretty sure we could get M&Ms there at reasonable prices.

Since leaving Newport, we have spent 3 weeks either in transit or anchored. This is the longest we'd ever been away from shore power. Managing our power consumption has been a real learning experience.

We have a DC generator that charges the big house batteries when we are not hooked to shore power or using the main engine. We'd been perplexed by the inability of the alternator on the generator to reach the appropriate target voltage. This meant we couldn't charge the batteries properly.

Ken eventually figured out that our installation was never properly tuned and the generator was never reaching the proper RPM's. It appears the previous owner of our boat never really used the generator and didn't uncover these problems.

Our generator doesn't have a tachometer or throttle control and Ken fashioned shims of various sizes to stick in the throttle lever to get the RPM's up, to get to the proper voltage. Those two sticks in the middle of the picture are shims to rev up the RPM'S.   Shims used to increase RPM's of generator

Trying to Leave Bermuda

We began checking in with Herb to find a good weather window to head for the Caribbean. A window opened up for November 27th and we started to make preparations to leave. Several other boats were also planning to leave and we would have had company on our trip to the Caribbean. We cleared out with Customs the night before we intended to leave.

The next morning, we noticed that our main house batteries (these are our brand new industrial fork lift batteries with a capacity of 1100 amp hours) were not taking a charge. This is a serious problem as we are dependent on these batteries to run our systems. We thought we had solved our charging problem earlier by upping the RPM's during charging,

Testing electrolyte levels in batteries  

We checked the electrolyte levels on all of the cells and found they were too low even when the batteries had just been charged.

We slowly realized that our batteries probably had a serious "sulfation" problem, and might be permanently ruined -- a very expensive and inconvenient problem.

Our refrigeration system puts a tremendous load on the batteries and we may have over-taxed the batteries by running the refrigeration system without having the engine or generator running to support the load (sometimes the refrigeration system would kick on in the middle of the night and we weren't awake to see the problem). We were seriously worried that the batteries had failed.

Ken waiting for batteries to equalize  

We decided to delay our departure for a few hours to run an "equalization" cycle in which the batteries are charged at very high voltages in an effort to reverse the sulphation.

Here Ken is checking out information on the Virgin Islands while waiting for the equalization cycle to finish. He was very keen to get moving.

After the equalization, we found the electrolyte levels did show some improvement, but it was clear the batteries still had not recovered. We decided to leave anyway.

Then we discovered our anchor was fouled. During our stay in Bermuda, we changed anchoring locations several times to find protection as the wind changed direction. The last spot we anchored in was way down at the west end of St. George's Harbor. We had gotten there at high tide in a blinding rainstorm.

As we were raising anchor, we realized we were fouled on an old buoy that had been submerged when we came into this anchorage spot.   Buoy we were fouled on

 

Ken getting ready to check out how we were fouled Ken got out his snorkeling gear to take a look.

 

Ken found that our boat had swung a revolution around the buoy. There was an old heavy rope that was fouling things as well and he was able to get that cleared. We were able to untwist the boat from the buoy but we still could not raise the anchor. There was something else fouling the anchor chain at the bottom in 35 feet of water.   Ken clearing heavy rope from buoy

By this time it was late in the afternoon, the wind was blowing 15 - 20 knots and the water was quite cold. After several attempts to freedive to the bottom, Ken was exhausted and couldn't get all the way down see what the anchor was fouled on.

We called Bermuda Harbor Radio and told them our problem and they offered to arrange for a diver to come help us. Within an hour, a diver arrived and determined we were hooked to an old 18th century anchor! He was able to free us and we motored back to a different anchoring spot. We decided we just weren't meant to leave Bermuda that day.

We had checked with Herb on whether we could go the next day, but he suggested waiting an additional day, due to a weather system that was moving through Bermuda.

So we bought ourselves a couple extra days in Bermuda. During this time, we equalized the batteries two more times, visited the Crystal Caves, and did another laundry. Beth was glad we got to stay -- she really wanted to see the Caves. We had to clear back in through Customs -- but they were very nice and didn't give us any hassles.

We did finally get out of Bermuda on the 29th of November. We had a great passage down to the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a harrowing experience along the way. We'll share that with you in the next update.