Lucy and the New Dawn Traders

Fare Traded by Sail

Category: Bermuda

Whale of a time….

Moonrise over Starboard bow


Our passage from Bermuda to Bayonne in France took 24 days in total, the longest time I have ever spent at sea. The original planned stop at the Azores was cancelled in Bermuda due to the delays we had experienced necessitating a non-stop passage to Europe.

Conditions at sea changed rapidly and it wasn’t long before we were donning full oilskins and thermals. It felt like we had been plunged back into the depths of darkest winter.

Emma not liking the rain much!

At these times the weather was foul and we fully reefed the sails. Waves frequently crashed over the bulwarks and it felt like living in a washing machine on spin cycle. Helming in those conditions was physically and spiritually exhilarating. Storming through the sea at 10 kts steering a 200-ton ship…. AWESOME! On day 9 we covered 100 nautical miles in 12 hours  (OK OK I know its nothing compared to the speeds reached on some of those tea clippers or grain ships like Moshulu)

Our course was mapped out as a great circle route and our initial bearing was set for 60°. We embarked on our passage at a longitude of N32° 20′ W64° 45′. Our final destination of Bayonne is N43° 50′ W01° 28′. The route took us on an arc from a bearing of 60° to 100, heading more northerly than the rhumb line would indicate. Just drawing a straight line on a Mercator projection chart would mean you actually end up sailing further due to the curvature of the earth skewing distances on the charts. Ocean navigation is a complex business even with modern technology, I’ve been learning.


Our passage was not without problems. On day 2 the staysail boom snapped, along with the boom jib lashing and the main preventer (line that keeps the mainsail from crash-gybing – at least 5 of these have broken on the voyage). Then the main sail foot lacing broke leading the main sail to detach from the boom.  Then the end of the main boom where the main sheet and the topping lifts attach fell off.  This led to an afternoon where the deck resembled an intricate game of jump rope to secure the boom while the officers set to work with an array of power tools to fix it.

Then finally the gooseneck sheared off the main boom!

The main sail is now ‘jury-rigged’ without a boom but with the addition of 2 ‘vangs’ to keep the gaff under control.

The jury rigged main sail

Mid ships became a little more dangerous and unpredictable with the mainsheet block more mobile then when attached to the boom, the addition of lines to negotiate as well as the topmast, main boom and staysail boom to all clamber over as they are all now stowed on deck (perfect for tripping over while on night watch).

I’ve been thoroughly impressed at the skill and the cool of the officers dealing with the steady stream of breakages on board throughout this voyage. Catastrophic moments are creative moments. It’s been a veritable gumball rally on water.


Jamie, Emma and I each took turns in the galley cooking up a range of delectable meals. We made it to the end of week 2 still with fresh vegetables and some salad. The last week we were back to being ultra creative with cans. The highlight of the cooking for me was when I learnt how to make pan bake garlic naan breads to complement 3 different styles of veggie curry and dhal one evening. The lowlight was when being tossed in the swell I dropped a baking tray as I was removing it from the oven and it shattered the glass in the oven door.

Other culinary delights included delicious boat made pizzas (Jamie’s pizzeria opened 3 times on the return voyage – lucky us!) and a sweet treat of sticky toffee pudding with custard from Emma (sticky school dinner style goodness for cold wet sailors).

Finally I understand the point of tinned condensed milk.  I never had as it tastes like robot breast milk and is in my opinion completely disgusting… Apart from when used in sticky toffee pudding. Obviously! 

By double digits at sea we had devised a menu and started rationing our supplies again just to make sure the last weeks weren’t a repetitive menu of plain pasta because we had run out of anything that could go with it.  However despite our efforts at stock control we ran out of flour by the end of week 2 unexpectedly putting an end to our bread making sadly. It was partly because the bread got munched so quickly! Within moments of a fluffy loaf emerging from the oven, the smell would waft up through the hatches and a hungry sailor would immediately take a chunk off it. I was as much to blame as anyone. I can’t resist bread fresh out of the oven.

On the 6th of June we prepared a special Mexican meal in honour of the passage of Venus across the sun and pay tribute to the Quetzalcoatl bird (The Quetzalcoatl bird is a myth originating from the Mayans and the reputed Lord of the Dawn – we like myths and stories of old). Events like transit of Venus are significant in history as they were times when astronomers were able to make accurate measurements of celestial bodies and their relationships to each other. Captain James Cook, for instance, helmed a ship that traveled halfway across the planet to Tahiti to observe the transit. A few days later we celebrated World Oceans Day, an international day to inspire action and create awareness of the plight of our oceans (acidification, loss of species, changes in currents, pollution).


We have been gifted by an incredible number of whale, dolphin and turtle sightings. In the first few days sailing while on watch with Emma and Sam we made a collective wish to see lots of sea creatures. Later that afternoon we were overjoyed to see a couple of pilot whales, a pair of leaping dolphins and a turtle! Over the course of the voyage we have seen whales or dolphins nearly every day along with the occasional turtle (4 spotted in total).

On a dawn watch Jamie, Emma and Damon spotted 2 large whales, which Damon thought might be similar to humpback whales. I spotted one about 3 m off the port bow and saw it’s face before it submerged once more – my closest wild whale encounter yet.

The piece de resistance came in the final few days when we were joined by a huge pod of dolphins who danced along our bows for what seemed like hours. We later witnessed them hunting for fish as a pod leaping and coralling the fish as a team.

We have all spotted numerous Portuguese man ‘o’ war which Damon calls ‘blue bottles’ and I have nicknamed ‘jelly punks’ after spotting one with a particularly pink crest over it’s sail which to me looked a bit like a mohawk.

Sadly we also spotted a lot of rubbish in the water including orange fencing, white sticks, discarded fishing net, jerry cans, crates and various unidentifiable pieces of plastic debris.  Bizarrely we also spotted a number of plastic mooring buoys in the middle of nowhere (900 miles off shore).


By the end of the first week I was feeling like being on board was good training in case I ever find myself in prison. I haven’t ever had such a time where I’ve been able to take so much time for my thoughts. Hemmed in by the horizon but in the widest wilderness. Every day a groundhog day of routine with the occasional sparkle from a passing whale or dolphin.  I’m surprised at myself that the monotony of the days hasn’t driven me insane.

Reading has been the main past time and I’ve read a series of fantastic books which surprisingly complemented each other despite the fact it was neither planned for nor were they brought by the same person.  My favourite was ‘Skinny Legs and All’ a surrealist romp in New York featuring an artist, talking animated supposedly inanimate objects (a spoon, a can ‘o’ beans, a dirty sock to name but a few) and a Jewish Arabic restaurant in the heart of New York opened as a political statement for peace opposite the UN. I also evaporated time revising for the ocean yachtmasters exams copying out and sketching the entire handbook (at one point I was that bored).

Despite the boredom and even in bad weather I’m still enchanted by the sea. At moments I’ve wandered out in my mind to float alone on the ocean to experience the vastness in solitude. Floating above deep ocean trenches and high mountain ranges thousands of miles from the shores of the Atlantic. In moments I can understand why people want to sail solo around the world.

Fortunately we have a great range of spirits onboard to lift us at sundown and assemble all crew around the skylight for a gossip, update and wind down.

Onboard I’ve felt more alone than I’ve ever felt while suffocated by the closeness of strangers. Of course they are not strangers. They are my journeymen of up to 5 months. But we only know each other in the narrow experience of this ship, which is a sliver of a fraction of who we may really be. They’ll go back to their respective lives and I to mine and I’ll ponder if I know anything of them at all. I’m aware I’m burnt out so this is probably a case of glasses encrusted by 5 months worth of sea salt and grime distorting my vision.

So this is the end of the voyage.  The end of the New Dawn Traders adventures on Irene. For now.

Jamie, Emma, Antoine and I have disembarked in France, not quite our final destination. The ship requires a number of repairs before travelling to Ireland for a previous commitment (we were due back in UK 4 weeks ago originally). She will then return to Bristol (with our delightful cargo in time for the Bristol Festival). I’m travelling back to the UK by train and ferry in the meantime.

I’m not ready to write my reflections on the viability of trading by sail (I need sleep and time out). We’ve learnt some harsh lessons but hopefully these will propel us forward to a more successful future voyages. Nothing has been as planned. The reality has been that the good ship Irene and her foibles have directed this voyage from start to finish. And we were thwarted by bureaucracy on a number of occasions. Whatever visions and ideas the New Dawn Traders have had for this mission have been mostly kyboshed by this tempestuous and cranky old lady.  A clear winner in a ‘Miss Adventure’ contest I’ll say that for her!

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world though. Indeed she has carried me to a fat juicy slice of it! When all is said and done I’ve had an incredible sailing adventure!

Experiments rarely succeed first time. If they did then they wouldn’t be experiments.  This is not the end of New Dawn Traders!

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Bermuda 3 angles

We stopped in Bermuda for 36 hours to break our passage to Europe and take on fresh water and drop off a crewmember. Our berth for the night was alongside the quay in St Georges.  St Georges is a quaint town with obvious British and American influences. It’s very ‘neat’ with its brightly coloured houses and it’s immaculate cobbled streets.

St Georges is a UN World Heritage site although it could have easily been mistaken for a colonial town in Disneyland. To me the bright, quiet neatness was a little overwhelming and I found myself imagining that somewhere so outwardly perfect must have dark secrets like the fictional murderous village of Midsummer Norton.

It transpired later that St Georges is twinned with Lyme Regis in Dorset and that the island has an area called Somerset (Big up the West Country!). The other thing you notice is that EVERYONE says hello to you, even people in passing vehicles. By the end of the day I felt like I’d met everyone in the town and had lived here for years.

Lastly there are serious numbers of people (I swear half the town) who wear Bermuda shorts with knee high socks and leather lace up shoes like some overgrown uniform at a school for those in their sunset years.

Other key aspects that Bermuda is known for include Bermuda the yacht pit stop, the biodiversity hotspot and the Treasure Island.

1) Bermuda is a well-known Yacht Pit Stop for vessels crossing the Atlantic to Europe ever since the 15th century and most famous for the myths of lost ships into the Bermuda triangle.  No one can agree on what the triangle is or if it exists at all. Many theories abound that ships are lost due to magnetic variation, methane hydrate landslides, underwater earthquakes, hidden reefs, freak waves and winds, sea monsters. You name it. Someone has proposed it. This doesn’t stop the majority of vessels crossing the Atlantic using this as a convenient out post to restock. We spotted a number of vessels we had seen in St Martin along with 2 other sail training tall ships in the harbour. One of the tall ships, the Corwith Cramer, a Oceanography and Marine Ecology Research ship from Woods hole was kind enough to give a behind the scenes tour of their labs (Gulp! They have PCR machines on board!!), living quarters and galley. I was green with envy and massively inspired. Check out the full story here with lots of lovely pictures.

2) Bermuda is an incredible unique Biodiversity hot spot (Check out the Bermuda Global Ocean Legacy project). Bermuda is at the centre of the Sargasso Sea and is surrounded by a series of reefs. The Sargasso Sea is a breeding ground of international importance with many sea creatures making an annual pilgrimage to these waters to breed. The waters are rich with sharks, turtles, seahorses and a myriad of small creatures. There are many creatures unique to these waters and this has led to an international campaign to get these waters protected. The research vessel Corwith Cramer, our neighbour  in Port, is working with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences contributing significantly to the campaign to conserve Bermuda’s underwater riches.

Bermudan residents are pretty hot on ecological issues. All the shops give paper bags to customers. The island is very remote so water conservation is a high priority. But the island is far from self sufficient with near 100% of food being imported by cargo ship to the island. What I really liked was that the local currency featured their native flora and fauna, including the delightful singing tree frog. You cannot miss the singing tree frog chorus as you head home from the bars at night.

3) Bermuda – the notorious Treasure Island AKA tax haven for virtual wealth. Bermuda enables the wealthy to ‘lose’ their wealth in a virtual black hole safe from the sticky mitts of tax collectors.  If you are interested in the role that tax havens play in furthering inequality and impeding international development check out this website. Apparently the Cameron dynasty (the current British PM) enhanced their assets by burying it on a virtual treasure island don’t ya know.

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Corwith Cramer

The Corwith Cramer alongside the dock in Bermuda. The Corwith Cramer is a 280 ton steel Brigantine with a sail area 7,800 square foot.

While in Bermuda the Irene was moored next a beautiful tall ship called The Corwith Cramer. The Corwith Cramer  is owned by the Sea Education Trust which delivers 12 week university level marine education courses. As it was Irene’s birthday while in Port we invited the crew of the Corwith Cramer over for some birthday drinks and a tour of the ship.

I got chatting to scientist and deckhand Greg about life at sea. Greg is studying for a Phd in Marine Microbial Ecology on board as well as supervising students on board with their research projects and teaching sailing. One of my first questions was about the labs on board. I was stunned to learn that they had a microbial lab, microscopes and equipment for DNA analysis (including a PCR machine which is used to amplify DNA for profiling) along with a host of equipment for sampling marine environments like neuston nets and realtime surface water monitoring.

I was also keen to see the galley which was a large square room mid ships decked out with stainless steel worktops, an 8 ring gas hob and a large provisions store underneath. They had a large fridge and freezer which resembled morgue cabinet freezers.

Each person aboard has their own private bunk. The trainee bunks line the sides of the saloon. And the officers and scientists share 2 berth cabins.

A great fact about the Corwith Cramer is that she has a female Captain and a gender balanced permanent crew. Apparently the Trust realised very early on that to provide a safe and conducive learning environment presence of female officers was key.

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