EDITORS NOTE: The following is an excerpt from a story our guest blogger Bill Springer wrote after a stormy offshore passage from Bass Harbor, Maine to Bermuda on a 45-foot Boston BoatWorks-built sailboat. And as you’ll see, we built the hull and deck to be strong enough to withstand sustained 30-50 knot winds, and light enough to sail beautufully in less breeze as well!
We weren’t expecting what was waiting for us. The warmth of the sunrise, a slowly building northerly breeze, and some of the strongest coffee on the planet encouraged us to work the foredeck a bit and get code zero flying. The big headsail was drawing beautifully, the familiar drone of engine finally became pleasantly silent, the digital speed readouts were stuck on 9 knots, and the miles were ticking off just as easy as you please. This was exactly how the professional weather routing service that developed our personalized weather forecast for the passage said our weather window would look―ideal in real time just as it was on paper. But things were about to change for the worse.
We were rocking along the rhumb line with a poled-out genoa aboard a Morris 45 from Northeast Harbor, Maine, to Bermuda, and eventually on to Antigua. The long-range forecast called for northerlies from 9 to 16 knots all the way from Maine to the southern side of the Gulf Steam. There are countless stories of cruising boats getting pasted by northerlies in the Stream, but the light winds we saw were hardly enough to ruffle it. We’d been pleasantly motorsailing along for 2 and 1/2 days. Up to that point, the toughest challenges we’d faced were the bitter cold north of the Stream, minimizing our exposure to adverse current in the Stream thanks to the Gulf Stream analysis provided in our forecast. With the code zero set, and a dated long-range forecast in the back of our minds, we’d wishfully imagined averaging 9-knots power reaching the last 250 miles into St. Georges. Cue rude awakening.
The wind didn’t increase immediately. It was more like a pot that slowly came to a rolling boil. Over the course of the afternoon, true wind speeds inched into the high teens (high 20s apparent). We doused the code zero in favor of the full main and jib. As afternoon turned to evening, true winds in the high 20s wound forward off the beam and had us tucking a reef in the main and rolling up some jib. All hands tucked another reef and rolled up more jib before the midnight watch when winds hit the high 30s—true. Need I say the ride had become decidedly less placid than it had been?
A distant low developing near the coast of Georgia was compressing the edge of the high we’d been sailing through and cranking up the wind. As the night wore on we were bashing into solid 40-knot headwinds with the gusts hitting 50. Now we were forcing down water in a conscious effort to keep hydrated, and protein drinks to help keep calories in our stomachs. Green waves periodically broke on the pilothouse windows. The boat heeled 35 degrees with hardly any sail up. Now just bracing yourself in the galley had turned into the most evil ab workout ever devised, everything from going to the bathroom to moving around was an ordeal, and working on deck was an exhausting adrenaline rush that most cruisers would rather avoid. The boat was up to the conditions and thankfully so was the autopilot, and we were just wet, cranky, fighting against seasickness, and losing sleep (not unheard of on an offshore passage).
As the weather deteriorated, we knew the boat could handle it, albeit a bit uncomfortably in the conditions. But as the wind came directly from the SE―smack dab on the nose—a little frustration set in. It was about 0200 during our second night in 40-knot winds when we were forced to fall off to the point that we were sailing a course that was almost parallel to our destination. But eventually, the wind veered…a little.
The wind never relented. It blew hard on the nose and made us work even as we turned the corner around the reef and saw the pink houses of Bermuda under angry gray skies mere miles in the distance. It was only after we’d cleared customs and tied up along St. Georges’ famous wall did we learn that many other boats were cursing the weather just like us. In fact, there were four rescue missions (two boats sank) around Bermuda during the time we were out there.
But the lasting memory from that trip will always be just how strong, and capable the boat felt. Even when the wind got up to 50 knots, the value of quality can never be understated, And when it comes to boats that sail offshore, it can be a matter of life or death.