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A Sailors Dream - Sailing Across the Atlantic
By Paul Viverito



There is some necessary background to this adventurous story:

This is a true story about a sailing yacht named Iemanja that sailed the Caribbean as a crewed charter boat. The yacht was about seventy five feet long from the bow sprit to the boat davits. It was a Ketch rigged boat with roller reefing on the Jib, main and Mizzen sails and all electric winches. It had GPS controlled auto helm, weather fax, single side band radio, Diesel engine and diesel operated generators etc.. The boat was built in Florida boat but at this time I don’t remember the age of the boat, but it wasn’t very old and in pristine condition. The Iemanja was owned by a Frenchman that lived in Paris that was well acquainted with the aristocracy of France who were his primary charter guests. To better accommodate his guests he had the boat cut in half and extended ten feet to provide larger cabin quarters for his French guests. My daughter was the chef on the boat , as she was on many other charter boats, so I became familiar with the then captain and the crew of the boat and the areas of the Caribbean that it sailed. I received a phone call from my daughter that the boat needed another crew member to act as medical officer and engineer on the boat, and as I was a sailor and an engineer and a medic with the Navy and Marine Corps they thought that I would fit their needs for an additional crew member. This was to be a temporary assignment as the boat was scheduled to sail across the Atlantic ocean to France. As any sane (some would have and did say insane) sailor would have done for an opportunity to sail across the ocean, I immediately accepted.
This is where this adventure would begin. The boat was scheduled to leave Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean on the tenth of May, as it had a charter to complete first. On my birthday, the 25th of April I received another call from my daughter asking me if I could come down to the Islands right away as they had a problem with the boat. While the boat was out on charter the rudder broke but enough of the rudder remained so they were able to limp back to port. I flew out the next day to the U.S. Virgin Islands only to find out when I arrived that the boat was in Dry dock in Roadtown in the British Virgin Islands. So my first boat ride on this trip was in a not so pristine , small motor launch that delivered me to the British virgin Islands. After going through immigration and customs I was picked up by another member of the crew and brought to the boatyard where the boat was dry docked. The first thing I did was to check out the damage to the boats rudder, the gudgeon broke . The gudgeon is a U shaped heavy steel structure that held the rudder in place and also functioned as the hinge for the rudder to turn through. When the Gudgeon broke it left the rudder without any support. The rudder which weighed about three hundred pounds was constructed with a foam core and a steel plate embedded in the foam core, the entire rudder was covered with fiberglass. The steel plate was welded directly to the rudder post. About half of the rudder was broken off. In discussing the problem with the crew, I found out that the gudgeon broke once before. We weren’t able to positively confirm it, but the consensus was that the first time the gudgeon broke it cracked the fiberglass covering allowing water to seep into the core of the rudder, which weakened it, eventually causing it to break off . It’s not known if the rudder broke first putting undue pressure on the gudgeon causing it to break or vice-versa.
So the only solution was to replace the entire rudder with a totally new rudder and have a new gudgeon built. The problem, we were in Roadtown in the British Virgin Islands and the three hundred pound rudder was in Florida at the Manufacturers Factory. In calling the factory we were told that they a spare rudder that was made for that boat and that they would ship it down immediately. It would take at least ten days for the rudder to arrive.
Well we had a lot of time to kill, the only thing I could contribute to the boat while waiting was to build Lee cloths for each of the bunks on the boat. When a boat is under sail there is a weather side to the boat, the direction the wind is coming from and then there is the Lee side, the side of the boat leaning away from the wind. The Lee cloths (which were made from heavy canvas) were placed across the edge of the bunks that were on the center side of the boat. The purpose of the Lee cloths were to prevent a person sleeping in the bunk from rolling off the bunk when the edge of the bunk that was towards the center of the boat was on the windward side of the boat (The bunk would be tilted toward the center of the boat on one side and tilted toward the hull on the other side of the boat) so the person sleeping on the Lee side would rolled towards the hull and the person sleeping on the windward side would roll towards the center of the boat and up against the Lee cloth. I also had the pleasure of cleaning the bottom of the boat. The rest of the free time we had was touring the Island and sampling all of the bars and restaurants.
If I can remember correctly, the charter that the boat was on when the rudder broke was worth about $40,000 which had to be returned to the group that scheduled the charter. The five crew members, including myself, had private rooms in a local motel, the cost of which was borne by the boat owner as was the ten days that the boat was in the yard. The cost to the owner also included the cost of the rudder and it’s shipping costs, plus other costs. Building a new gudgeon of twice the strength of the original, cost approximately $16,000 dollars.
The rudder finally arrives. Remember when I said the boat was extended ten feet? Well that extension changed the contour of the bottom of the hull and as the rudder was built to fit the original hull contour, the contour of the rudder to the extended hull would not match. That left us with one choice cut the top of the new rudder off and re-cut it to meet the required contour. No easy job and it was beyond our capabilities. So we had to hire a local firm to do the job, which took about three days. The rudder was finally done and the next job was to lift the three hundred pound rudder and fit the rudder post through the hole in the bottom of the hull to the Quadrant (which is the turning mechanism for the rudder), and attach the new Gudgeon. You’ve heard about the 8oo pound gorilla? Well lifting a three hundred pound rudder and fitting a post through a hole six feet above your head, we might as well have dealt with the 8oo pound gorilla. As the engineer of the boat this job was left to me. We managed to manhandle the rudder until it was in the right spot under the post hole. Now it was just a question of lifting it and getting the rudder post through the hole. It turned out to be a rather simple job using a lever and a fulcrum to gradually lift the rudder and putting blocks under it until we got it all the way up.
Now the boat is ready to be put in the water. As I mentioned earlier we are going to sail across the Atlantic and with the rudder problem, even though we were satisfied that it would hold up and work well we were all still a little apprehensive. I should mention at this point the reason for sailing the boat to France. The owner is going to have the boat cut in half again and extend it another ten feet. This time so he can add separate dressing rooms for each guests cabin. My daughter being chef on the boat said that the French guests usually dress formerly for dinner, hence the added dressing rooms, but spend the days on deck in the nude.
The 60,000 pound Travel lift is now at the boat to lift it and put it in the water, The boat unloaded weighs 30,000 plus pounds. The boat is strapped to the travel lift with one of the straps passing under the stern and between the propeller shaft and the hull. Once the boat is in the water someone has to dive under the boat and feed the stern strap through the propeller shaft and the hull to make sure it doesn’t snag and damage the propeller shaft. That job was assigned to the
second mate. The water was warm so the job wasn’t difficult or uncomfortable. I mention that here because we would repeat this operation at the end of our journey under different circumstances.
The boats in the water the whole crew is aboard and the next task, and if I might add an unexpected problem, is to be accomplished at Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands. All of the necessary stores for a crew of five for about twenty five days have to be bought and stored aboard, fortunately that job was left to the chef. In the meantime a new suit of sails were purchased for the trip and they were delivered as soon as we tied up at the dock. So we put up the new sails to be sure everything was OK. As I mentioned earlier the boat had roller reefing. Instead of lowering the sail to reef it, it rolled into the main mast around a PVC type of tube that ran the full height of the mast. I said we would experience an unexpected problem, well we did, as we reefed the mainsail into the mast it got hung up for some unknown reason and wouldn’t roll in or out. As it turned out, whether it was caused by the reefing of the sail or if the problem happened first and caused the sail to hang , we don’t know. We found that about three feet of the PVC type tubing broke off in the top of the mast. We couldn’t sail without it. We tried to purchase a new full length of the tubing but found that it was only available back in the states and it would take about a week to get. It was the engineers job to solve this one. I mentioned above that it was PVC type tubing but I really didn’t know that until I was able to see the material myself. As it turned out it looked exactly like PVC pipe with a slot down the length of it. Well that was the solution, cut a small part of the broken end of the tube to even it off, buy a piece of PVC pipe which happened to be a standard diameter for the piece we needed, put a slot in it and insert it in the mast on top of the remaining part of the tube. The slot in the tube is where the Luff of the sail would slide into and that would keep the added piece of tubing in position. We put the original suit of sails back on and it worked perfectly. We had one more task to accomplish and that was to fill our tanks with diesel fuel and fresh water, and unbeknownst to us at the time, another problem to solve. When we reached the fueling dock the first mate asked if I would fill the water tanks, which I did. I filled the tank on the port side and moved the water line over to the starboard side. As I had done this many times before on my own boats and others, I didn’t pay attention and ( I’m embarrassed to even admit this) I started to put the water in the fuel tank. Fortunately the first mate saw what I was doing and yelled to me to stop. It wasn’t as serious a problem as you might think as the fuel would float on top of the water so we just had to siphon from the bottom of the tank until we started getting fuel out. That completed all of our tasks before venturing out to sea and into the unknown.
We spent the night at Christmas cove near the Island of St. Johns. The following morning after the captain took the motor boat to check us out of immigration we hoisted the anchor and started out to sea. It was a beautiful sun shiny day with the blue waters of the Caribbean sparkling like diamonds. We had calypso steel drum music playing to set the mood for the trip. All sails were up and full, we were cruising at about nine and a half knots with the angle of the boat at about twenty two degrees (Where it remained for most of the trip). The water was relatively calm with a slight chop. The captain set the watch schedule, as someone had to be on deck at all times, night and day. The reason being that, although sparse, there is other boat traffic around. Most people might think that the ocean would be somewhat clean, but that’s not so. There is much flotsam and jetsam floating in the water, most of it would not be harmful to the boat but there are 50 gallon drums floating around, and worst of all the large containers that are carried on container ships have been know to fall off a ship and they float just under the surface of the water.
Although sailing across the Atlantic ocean is an exciting venture it can get very boring very quickly, especially in calm waters. In a few hours we were out of sight of land and would be for the next ten days. It is difficult to describe the feeling to be alone in the middle of the ocean with only water from horizon to horizon. I can only equate the feeling with those of the Astronauts being alone on the moon. Our planned route was to sail from St. Johns to the Island of Fayal in the Azores then north into the North Atlantic to the town of La Foret on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. As we had Auto Helm and GPS to steer the course we very rarely had to touch the helm. For some reason our single side band radio interfered with the Auto Helm so when it was used we had to manually steer the boat. With nothing to block your view isolated rain squalls were visible from horizon to horizon so it was easy to avoid them. As I mentioned earlier we did have weather fax on board so we were aware of the weather ahead at all times. As you don’t file a route plan for a boat as you would file a flight plan for an aircraft, if you didn’t maintain communication with someone it would never be known by anyone if you
were still afloat or in some sort of trouble. As it turned out there was a ham operator in Bermuda, call sign “Southbound Two”, all boats making the crossing would make contact with this Ham operator. We would give him our boat name and planned route and the weather conditions at our present location. We would check in with him every evening at six PM and give him our position and local weather. He in turn would give us the location of boats that were ahead of us in the area of our route and the weather that was ahead of us. Which I must say was very comforting to know that someone was keeping track of you. We had one occasion to have a Grain ship pass us somewhere about a thousand miles out to sea. It was coming from New Orleans and delivering grain to Israel. We did have a short opportunity to talk with them on the radio. They were the ones that advised us to watch for containers that may have fallen off a Container Ship. Other than meeting up with that ship the trip was uneventful and boring. With one other exception, On Friday the 13th of May we were fortunate to see a sunset that was unbelievable. It was almost neon in appearance with many different colors. We did get photos of it.
The Azores! When we first sighted land again it was the Volcanic mountain on the Island of Pico in the Azores. Much to my amazement the bow of the boat was heading directly toward the small mouth of the harbor of Fayal, exactly the location where our GPS and Auto Helm was set for. The ocean floor surrounding the island was covered with large rocks so it would be impossible to anchor outside of the Harbor. The reason for such a craggy bottom was the Island of Pico which was almost within a stones throw of Fayal, It was a volcanic island with a high volcanic peak almost in the middle of it, it wasn’t active now but sometime in the distant past when it was active it must have thrown thousands of rocks and lava in the areas surrounding the Islands which could very possibly foul any anchor. The harbor at Fayal was small and we were concerned if we would find a berth, otherwise we would have no choice but to continue sailing as the Azores is some 300 plus miles from the nearest coastline. We checked in with immigration first. Our first mate was South African and this was near or slightly after the apartheid era in South Africa so they wouldn’t accept his passport or give him a visa which would allow him to go ashore. As we expected there wasn’t a free berth available so what they do is raft the boats together, we ended up being rafted to three other boats, so to go ashore we had to walk over the three boats we were tied up to. There were hundred of boats berthed in the harbor from all parts of the world and going to all parts of the world. Most boats if not all that are making the crossing stop at Fayal on their way across. The harbor has a concrete dock surrounding it and each boat that passes through paints their boat logo and the crews names on the dock. We had all we could do to find enough space to put our logo and names on the dock. We spent two days at Fayal, sampling the local food and Bistros and replenishing our supplies. If I remember correctly we left on the 21st of May, and headed north towards the Bay of Biscay.
The north Atlantic! We left the Island of Fayal on a day that didn’t look too friendly to sailors, it was damp and grey with overcast ominous clouds. The weather forecast for the North Atlantic was Stormy and Gale force winds. We decided that if we ran into weather that was too dangerous we would “heave to” and wait out the weather. Heaving to is a procedure used to set the boat into the wind and set the Jib and main sail to hold the boat on the right heading, if necessary we would set out a storm anchor that would float off the stern of the boat to keep the bow into the wind. As it was at the moment the weather and seas were reasonable for safe sailing so we carried on. We even put out a fishing line with a large lure off the stern of the boat. After a few hours the reel on the fishing rod started screaming and the line was spinning off the reel at a rate that would empty the spool of line very quickly. The first mate grabbed the pole and set the tension on the reel and with difficulty started reeling in. We all watched anxiously as we were expecting that being this far out at sea it has to be a large fish. It took some time before we could get a glimpse of the area where the lure was and we could see a dark object that appeared to be attached to the lure but we couldn’t yet tell what it was. As it got closer to the boat we were sure we had a fish, but as it got even closer we began to doubt that it was a fish, more likely to be sea weed. As it turned out it wasn’t either a fish nor seaweed, it was a black plastic trash bag. From then on known as a Portuguese Bag Fish.
We continued north about 120 miles off the coast of Spain. I was standing at the cabin door and something flew past me and into the main salon of the boat. It was a small bird about the size of a Sparrow and it stayed on the boat overnight and the flew off. As we were getting further and further north the wind was increasing and we were into a following sea of swells about ten foot high, the wind was up to about 30 knots and howling through the shroud lines of the boat. Another bird landed on the boat, this time it landed on the boom of the Mizzen sail. It was a Pigeon that had some sort of band on it’s leg, we presumed it was either a racing bird or a homing Pigeon. It spent the night and flew off the next morning. The same night that the bird was on board, about midnight, I had the deck watch, a multi-engine airplane flew directly over the boat at about five hundred feet and shined a powerful searchlight down on the boat and continued to fly off. We found out later that these were regular patrols made by the French coast guard looking for pirates.
The seas were rough and confused so they were coming from different direction but mostly on our bow, which slowed us down considerably with green water breaking over the bow. The next day the wind was still on our bow, I failed to mention that we were traveling under diesel power for the last couple of days, and we were not making much headway. We began to see some commercial boat activity, pilot whales and many dolphins swimming in our bow wave so we were getting close to the coast of France. We expected to reach our point of entry to the town of La Foret sometime early the next morning but the wind and currents slowed us down so that we didn’t reach our point of entry until later in the afternoon. As it happened approaching the Azores, in our approach to France the bow of the boat was pointing directly at our intended point of entry. GPS was absolutely amazing. Our destination was a fairly large marina off a small river that flowed from the Town of La Foret to the Bay of Biscay, it was only a short distance up the river to the marina. Upon reaching the Marina the boat owner was there to greet us. We were the largest boat in the marina so the owner arranged for us to dock at the outermost dock. Having crossed the ocean we were the Premier Crew for the length of our stay at the Marina.
Our adventure at sea is now over but there is more to come. The next day we moved the boat to a dock where a crane could reach it. We brought the boat here to be cut in half, so there was work yet to be done. The masts and rigging had to be removed from the boat as would all of the loose fixtures in the boat. A small crane was brought in to lift the masts off the boat. Then a 60,000 pound crane was brought in to lift the boat out of the water. As I mentioned when we first
put the boat in the water at Roadtown straps had to be put under the boat so the crane could lift it. One of the straps had to go under the stern of the boat but as it was in Roadtown the strap had to be fed between the propeller shaft and the hull and someone had to go underwater to put the strap in place. Again the second mate was chosen to do the job. This time he didn’t have a bathing suit on so had to strip down to his underwear. Also at this time it wasn’t Caribbean water it was North Atlantic water and it was icy cold. The job was done and the crane proceeded to lift the boat out of the water and place it on a multi wheeled cradle that sat very low to the ground. The boat had to be moved about 200 yards to large warehouse type building where the work would be done. A semi tractor and a fork lift were attached to the boat to haul it the 200 yards. The boat and cradle were sitting in a shallow indentation in the pavement and the semi tractor only spun it’s wheels without moving the boat at all. They had to use the large crane so they backed up the crane hauler and attached it to the front of the semi tractor and were then able to haul the boat to it’s destination. We spent an additional week in France observing the preparations to cut the boat in half.
Well that’s about the end of my story I’m sorry that I had to omit many details, but it’s not the end of Iemanjas story. Iemanja is still sailing the Caribbean but now I believe it is 101 feet long. We covered approximate 3500 miles and spent 19 days at sea. There is a sailors saying that I don’t remember exactly so I’ll paraphrase it. Sailing is 85% boring and 15% of sheer terror. We experienced both.



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About the Author

Paul Viverito, Lindas Florida Photos
118 rroyo Parkway
Ormond Beach, FL 32174
386-761-0970

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