Editorial February 1, 1999 Issue

Fast Trip to Bermuda

Last summer’s sailing season closed with me feeling more than a little frustrated that I’d managed so little sailing on Viva. When Bill Seifert, an occasional contributor to Practical Sailor, invited me to help deliver a Sundeer 64 from Portsmouth, Rhode Island to Bermuda at the end of October, I said…“No, too busy.”

As soon as I hung up, I said to myself, “That’s stupid. Here you are castigating yourself for not sailing more, then when someone invites you to cruise to Bermuda on a big, fast boat, you turn him down? What’s up with that, Spurr?”

I dialed Bill back and righted the wrong.

The big Sundeer is owned by a former Boston mutual fund manager, Mike Fitzgerald. In his mid-40’s, Mike and his wife decided it was time to take a break from the rat race, grab the kids and embark on a family adventure. A circumnavigation is that.

Due to the lateness of the season, Mike elected to take on a professional crew for the ride across the Gulf Stream, which can be hell in a winter gale. His wife and three kids would meet him in St. Georges.

The air was brisk and clear the morning of our departure. I knew this wasn’t going to be the kind of passage I’m used to when Mike fired up the 165-hp. turbo diesel and Discovery started stroking south at 10 knots. I mean, the wake looked like it was made by a powerboat.

Once outside, we set the jib and large, low-aspect, full-batten mainsail and mizzen, and sailed close-hauled at speeds ranging from 9 to 11 knots. The autopilot took over the helm. We sat in the pilothouse and watched the instruments. The horizon was a straightedge.

Seifert, aka Chef Guillaume, plays it pretty safe with the first night’s dinner, allowing stomachs to settle. After that, it’s all gourmet: roast turkey and prime rib. And so much of it, Mike couldn’t help but exclaim, “My God, man!” (Or maybe it was because he was paying for it!). Salad. Two vegetables. Dessert. Coffee. Ahh!

For course routing through the Gulf Stream we relied on Canadian Herb Hilgenberg, who broadcasts daily on 12359.0 (ITU channel 1253 or 12 Charlie) at 2000 UTC. There is no charge for his advice. But because helping cruisers in the Atlantic Ocean is a full-time job, he depends on contributions to keep his station going. Seifert, as always, had sent Herb a check prior to departure. Being able to talk to Herb everyday is a bargain at most any price. His address, for those anticipating need of his services, is Herb Hilgenberg, 5468 Hixon Ave., Burlington, Ontario L7L 3S2, Canada.)

As luck would have it, we ended up motoring across the Gulf Stream in calm winds and fair skies. The boats a day behind us had 40-knot winds and 20-foot seas. Discovery made the 635-mile passage in 74 hours, this after a pleasant spinnaker run.

No one had done my work for me while I was gone. But it was a good thing to have done. Clears the mind, you know. Next time, I’ll just say yes the first time.

—Dan Spurr

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