The Delivery of Williard G

Source: Sandy Burton

Fueled up Williard G and left Norfolk, VA Bay Point Marina at 3:00 pm. The fuel dock is right across from a Navy base with a string of landing craft berthed across the channel. There was also a large Navy vessel, with a helo pad on the aft deck.

We fueled next to a 55ft schooner that was built in 1986. A bit scary pulling up to the schooner, with the large square rigged spar hanging over the side at the height of our mast top. As we pulled next to the schooner the end of the spar came within inches of our topping lift to mast connection. I held my breath as we squeaked by, while at the same time imagining what would happen if the spare hooked the topping lift.

After leaving the dock we had to sail out past several freighters and over the tunnel that crosses the bay.

We left the Chesapeake Bay at 4:30 with the wind blowing from the South West at about 15-20 kts. We put up all sails and the boat was making better than 7 kts. The wind was forecast to build to 30 kts by sundown, which it did, with puffs in the low 30ths. The weather forecast told us that we needed to get to Bermuda before Thursday to avoid a tropical storm. So we had to sail as fast as possible.

We reefed the main and the Genoa and dropped the mizzen sail. When Don went forward to clean up some outhaul lines on the boom, the boat hit a wave and he was thrown forward, with a face plant on the mid hatch cover. His glasses cut his nose and he scraped up his knee, but no serious damage. Our captain was then decorated with a large bandage on his nose for the next four days.

The wind continued to build during the night and into the next morning. We had selected a 4 person watch schedule that had a gradually shifting schedule so no one would have a repeat of the prior day's schedule. I had the first late watch from 12:00 am to 4:00 am. Our watch plans were drastically changed when, during the morning after our first night, the autohelm died. It was about 7:00, just predawn, when I went up to relieve Moby on watch. He looked and sounded very ill, with seasickness taking its toll. He mentioned on the way below that he had puked during his watch. Note that even though he was feeling very ill he held his watch. Also worthy of noting that Moby has sailed for over 50 years in every kind of wind and was never before sick. The wind was now blowing over 40 kts, with 10-15 foot seas. The boat motion was violent with lurches and slams with every wave. We had a small scrap of jib out and the main double reefed. The mizzen sail was still down from the evening before. We were doing better than 8 kts. We sailed on a close-reach to beam reach.

Day 2: Sunday, October 31, 2010

During my watch that early morning 7:00 - 10:00 am the auto-helm cut out. We were than committed to hand steering. The hand steering was very demanding, with the high winds and the waves. The following waves would push the stern hard and we would have to turn the wheel hard over to compensate until the boat responded. Then quickly back in the other direction. Exhausting constant motion and constant attention to course. An added challenge was that the compass light was not functioning so we had to use a head lamp to illuminate the compass.

We had to adapt the watch schedule to 3 hours on and 3 hours off. Moby and I were on one watch together and Don and Phil were on the other. Moby and I used a ½ hour on and off rotation. Don and Phil used a ¾ hour on/off rotation. The person off the wheel would try to rest lying in the cockpit. The weather was nasty with breaking waves and the screaming sound of wind and waves rushing by. I wore all my warm clothing and of course full foulies. Our new Sperry leather sailing boots were a great investment, being warm and dry.

Resting down below between watches was very challenging with cabinets being forced open by the violent boat motion and stuff flying out and onto the floor. The forward head had a cabinet that would swing open and slam shut with every wave. Good sound sleep was not happening.

The first night I did a 5 hour watch, which left me exhausted, so during the next watch I was falling asleep immediately after I sat down between sessions on the wheel. Fortunately the day was bright and clear. The autopilot was on and off but mostly off. The winds reduced 12-20 kts during the night. We were steering 133deg toward the Gulf Stream. We knew when we entered the Gulf Stream because the water spray felt warm and the water had small patches of bright blue water. We didn't need our polar fleece. In the first 24 hours we went 160 miles. We crossed the Gulf Stream during the night of our second day at sea.

Day 3: Monday, November 1, 2010

Raised the mizzen sail during our 12:00-3:00 am watch. The winds lessened so that the steering was much less work. However with the lower winds the sailing was still challenging having moved aft, with the tendency to unintentionally jibe. When the sun went down the stars came out. Glorious, glorious, glorious. Reminding me of our place in the universe, small, insignificant. The stars were a great aid to our steering, providing a constant point of reference without the need for headlight or flashlight on the compass. A great relief. The steering was still very active with winds in the teens to mid twenties.

During the night I think I saw a comet in the SW. Actually, Don pointed it out. So I decided to name it the Burton-Lieber Comet.

Day 4: Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The auto helm came back on from the 12:00-3:00 am. What a relief. Steering in the night with cloud cover we were forced to steer again with head lamps, focused on the compass. With no visible stars the visual world was shortened. From the compass to the horizontal bar supporting the dodger, 5 feet in front of the wheel and the white of the waves breaking along the side of the hull, the world had shrunken. The front of the boat 40 feet in front is totally obscured by the dark. Using the red beam headlamp, the compass digits were visible, but not much else.

In the afternoon the wind started to lessen to under 10 knots. We were forced to turn on the engine and motor sail to keep up boat speed. With all sails up and the engine running at 1500-1800 rpm we made better than 7.5 kts. We continued to motor into the next day. It was a bright beautiful day, with the sun sparkling off the water and heating up our bodies. At the wheel the wind was still cool, but sitting under the lee of the dodger we were able to take off our foulies and feel the warmth of the sun.

Day 5: Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Still on a beam reach with the sky dotted with clouds we continued sailing SE. Another beautiful day with assorted cloud shapes bringing to mind fanciful animals. Moby spotted Bermuda at 3:00 in the afternoon. We didn't hit our waypoint North of the island till about 5:30. Turning south we made for the final turn that would bring to a westward heading into the St. Georges cut. We dropped the main and mizzen and roller furled the jib. At 7:00 the sun was down with a magnificent red sunset. We now had to find our way into harbor. The approach to St. Georges harbor is very confusing with many red and green channel maker lights. Phil had the helm and 4 captains told him how to steer. Sharon stood next to Phil to relay the course commands. As it turns out the harbor approach had several buoys with no lighting. We got very close to a couple of them. We finally entered the harbor at about 8:00, checked into the Customs house and then dropped anchor. We had made it from Norfolk, VA to Bermuda in 4 days. An impressive crossing.