Caliber 40 Circumnavigation of the North
By Dave Harris, Skipper of the s/v Nonstop
is not a new thing for me. I’ve been sailing on and off for
fifty years, but seldom out of sight of land and never days from
shore. I believe I was subconsciously working my way up to a
trip just like this when I purchased my Caliber 40LRC. It was
reputed to be, and I have confirmed, an excellent blue water
boat. In years past I have made the usual pilgrimages to the
Florida Keys and the Bahamas, but I knew that this boat was
built for the long haul and just crossing the Gulf Stream was
not challenge enough. I was shorting myself, and the boat, by
not treating her to a real adventure. And besides, I wasn’t
getting any younger.
everyone I spoke with who had blue water or trans-oceanic
experience had been very vague about the hardships and in many
cases described the passages as easy. I knew they were being
modest so I began researching on my own, reading accounts of
ocean travels from any source I could find. There was a great
disparity in the information I was accumulating. What it came
right down to was that you really have to consider the source.
The offshore articles in magazines are good information, but if
they are full of harrowing experiences and brushes with near
disaster, don’t focus too heavily on the scary stuff. If you
are prepared for the worse case scenario, what do you have to
fear? That was my focus, be ready, be prepared.
experience is most likely your greatest asset as you prepare for
an ocean crossing. If that experience includes extended
offshore passages all the better. The best experience to draw
from would be an ocean crossing as a crew member, but you will
never fully appreciate the scope of the adventure unless you are
the skipper. It is being in charge that places you in that
unique position of responsibility for the safety of crew and
other resources do you have that may help you on such an ocean
adventure? Surprisingly, your personal or professional
background may have prepared you for something just like this.
Hopefully you are a good swimmer. Are you trained in CPR, First
Aid qualified, have had military training in Survival at Sea,
corporate training in Human Factors or Resource Management or
had any crisis management experience? You are going to be
interviewing potential crew members and once you are under way
it will be important to keep them focused on the crossing.
During the interview process, inquire who may have unique
abilities that will be advantageous for the crew as a whole.
vessel, properly equipped and maintained, will not sink on this
crossing unless something catastrophic occurs. Things like
collision or fire on board are the most severe situations but
they are controllable by keeping a continuous watch for traffic
and by using common sense with open flames.
no doubt, however, that the Human Factor will be the most
vulnerable area during your passage. Some of your crew may not
adapt well to the environment and all of you will be sleep
deprived most of the time. This will create friction between
crewmembers and unless vented or dealt with quickly will strain
friendships or result in squabbles which would not normally
result on shorter trips. If anyone becomes ill or incapacitated,
this will further increase the strain on the remaining crew.
This Human Factors area needs to be given equal time during
preparation and crew briefing.
of your crew will depend upon the size and accommodations
available on your boat. There is, however, only one captain and
that needs to be reinforced at the crew briefing. There are too
many topics for the briefing to mention all of them here, but it
is essential that a formal briefing be held and before departure
date all on board should be as familiar as you with the
operation of the vessel. Once you are offshore your crew should
not require any more training or explanation. Having to explain
or train someone while underway detracts from the mission at
hand and places an extra burden on you. It is far better, in
many cases, to go shorthanded than to take someone with you that
is only marginally qualified.
to sail with a crew of three. Two is doable and what I had on
the trip most of the time. Out of necessity, I made a six day
passage by myself, but I would not recommend single handing any
great distance. The only advantage to single handing is that
there are never any crew issues. When we departed from the Cape
Canaveral Barge Canal on May 29, 2004, I was fortunate to have
my very good friend Rick Heimes aboard, who I have known since
our Navy days in the 60’s. Also aboard was Captain Doug Yox of
Cortez, FL. Doug was with us as far as Bermuda, then Rick and I
continued on to the Azores and Portugal. In mid-January I
single handed from southern Spain to the Canary Islands.
Thankfully my “mate,” Jill, joined me in Gran Canaria for the
westbound crossing to the USVI. Rick sailed with me again from
St. Thomas until we cleared back in at West Palm Beach, FL on
May 12, 2005.
a useful tool to use while preparing your boat for this
Safety, Comfort, Speed, in that order.
primary focus should be on Safety and this is never an area to
consider lightly. At bare minimum you should have a suitable
life raft, personal flotation devices for all with harness and
tether, and jack lines on the deck. An EPIRB, ditch bag and
storm sails are also essential.
necessary to consider the Comfort of the entire crew. Each
person on board needs to have his/her space available at all
times where they can go to rest or just get away from everyone
else. A suitable watch schedule needs to accommodate each
person’s sleep habits if possible, but at the very minimum
everyone needs to be able to rest comfortably. One of the
highlights of the day will be mealtime. Therefore, tasty and
nutritious meals suitably prepared are important for all.
a relative term. If you are racing that’s one thing. On a
voyage of this type a comfortable speed in order to cover a
desired daily mileage is adequate. This minimizes the workload
for the crew which in turn allows them to conserve their energy
for the necessary sail changes should you encounter adverse
properly loaded vessel, a clean bottom and a folding prop are
speed items to consider when preparing your boat.
have owned your boat long enough to know it well, you will
probably be able to physically prepare it for this voyage in a
year’s time. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is no place to
be wishing you had done a better job of getting ready, so get
started early and do it right
been called several things, “Circumnavigation of the North
Atlantic,” the “Atlantic Circle” to name a couple. Regardless of
its name, it is a 12 month period of time in which the
prevailing weather offshore is ideal for transiting each of the
four sectors of the circle. During this twelve month period a
clockwise voyage around the North Atlantic is made from the east
coast of the United States, beginning in the spring. Spring is
selected for the eastbound crossing to Europe as it offers the
best balance between the diminishing winter cold fronts and the
receding ice line to the north and the beginning of hurricane
season in the tropical Atlantic on June 1st. It is still
possible, therefore, if you sail above 40 deg north latitude in
very early spring to encounter some fairly harsh weather.
the route takes you across the famous (or infamous) Gulf Stream
to near 40 deg north latitude where you join the prevailing
westerlies to Bermuda. You can expect some unstable weather
conditions to exist in the area of the Gulf Stream as the warm
waters interact with the cooler air above. Encountering winds
with a northerly component while still in the northbound stream
will generate a very unpleasant sea state you should be prepared
to deal with. Once east of the eastern wall of the Gulf Stream
you will lose the additional push you were getting, but weather
and the seas will moderate considerably. From Bermuda to the
Azores the weather and pressure pattern are normally such that
many prefer to sail northeast to join the westerlies again and
even possibly get some assistance from the clockwise winds
around the Azores high.
Azores to the European continent can be more complicated,
depending how early in the season you travel. If you sail
above 40 deg north latitude in very early spring toward England
or Ireland may mean encountering very harsh weather with gale
force winds. However, from the Azores to Spain or Portugal the
weather can be fairly benign until joining the Portuguese
trades. These winds blow from the NW through NE down and along
the Iberian Peninsula. If planning a landfall at Lisbon or some
port farther north, allow for these prevailing winds and, in
addition, expect a southerly setting current of a knot or more
approaching the mainland. It is very difficult to describe what
a sense of satisfaction one gets at the first glimpse of land
following an ocean crossing. It falls in the category with all
the other great events in one’s life. In addition to the
personal feeling of accomplishment, it will have prepared you
and given you greater confidence to take on the return crossing.
for rest, recreation and weather in Bermuda and the Azores and
average vessel speeds, you will most likely arrive in the UK,
Spain or Portugal in early to mid August. It will be warm,
except in the UK, and also busy at the seaside communities.
This is when many of the businesses in Europe close up and take
off to the beaches. But fall is just around the corner, and
with the Portuguese Trades it is easy to sail south along the
Portuguese and Spanish coasts. Visiting this area can easily
take two or three months, even without inland trips. As
November and December roll around, the tourist trade drops off
and the small port villages become excellent spots to mix and
mingle with the locals and try their foods and wines in relative
November you will be hearing that the vessels in the ARC
(Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) are assembling in Las Palmas, Gran
Canaria. This is a reminder that it will soon be time to head
south again. No hurry, though. The ARC leaves the Canaries
relatively early in the season. These cruisers, many of them
from northern Europe, want to arrive in the Caribbean before the
Holiday Season, plus this allows them more time before their
scheduled return to Bermuda or the Azores in the spring. You
still have plenty of time to enjoy southern Spain, Gibraltar
with its complicated weather pattern and Madeira before going to
the Canary Islands for the return crossing. The prevailing wind
is still from the north or northeast with just very brief
periods of westerlies. If you plan to approach or transit the
Straits of Gibraltar, do so with caution. The winds and current
can be treacherous at times and the effects can be felt many
miles out into the Atlantic.
Whale in the sunset
begin your journey south on what may be considered the second
segment of the Atlantic Circle, I would be cautious about
calling on any port along the African coast. They, I
understand, have beautiful marinas, however few visitors. From
the reports I have received, even from the cruisers that were
delighted with their stay in West Africa, security in many ports
is virtually non-existent. Enough said.
Canary Islands, a five to six day sail southwest of Cadiz,
Spain, are a real mix climatically. Lanzarotte is very arid
with little or no vegetation. From offshore the island looks
like Las Vegas with beachfront property, and they have a lot of
it. Gran Canaria with its volcanic peak at near 3000’ is lush
and tropical on the north side and desert like on the south.
While we were there in late January there was great excitement
with an accumulation of several inches of snow on the peak.
elected to stay in the marina at Las Palmas because we knew it
handled the ARC and should be an excellent place to provision
for the return crossing. It was, and the markets and several
department stores are just a short walk from the marina. Marine
supplies and services are in great supply right there on the
marina property. The slip fee was certainly reasonable, roughly
seven Euros/nite + water & electricity, though it required a Med
moor at the transient pontoon, #18, quite a distance from the
other facilities. This was the only time we were required to
Med moor on the entire trip. When you check in at the fuel dock,
ask Pedro, who appears to control most everything there, if
there isn’t a slip closer in.
the Canary Islands are nearly 800 nautical miles southwest of
the Iberian Peninsula, there seems to be a real bond with the
Spanish people on the mainland. While there is some agriculture,
the primary income in the Canaries is derived from tourism.
Spaniards from the “peninsula” vacation often in the islands as
do many others from around the world. I found the Canary
Islands, Gran Canaria in particular, very commercialized, very
busy and a little expensive.
your departure from the Canary Islands you begin the third and
longest segment of the circle and it can be done safely,
weather-wise, between November and May. During the beginning of
this period, however, the occasional cold front can bring high
winds and seas to the Canaries and may possibly push well south
to even disrupt the flow of the NE trade winds. If you should
delay toward the end of this period, you are banking on the
Tropical weather not being a factor until its assigned time in
June. Generally speaking, the winds along the West African
coast and near the Canaries will blow from the northeast. If you
do not plan to call on the Cape Verde Islands, plot a course to
a point west of the Canaries, near 15N35W, where you should be
well established in the trades and able to proceed on a more
westerly course. If you have good winds as early as 20N, I
would advise to ride them if you can, but consider that the
better winds may lay just a bit south.
trade winds are historically very consistent in direction and
speed, northeast to east at 15-20 knots and are usually well
established at 15 degrees north latitude. The southern edge of
the trades can usually be found near the equator though it
meanders ever so slightly north and south near the ITCZ (Inter
Tropical Convergence Zone). This area is known for little wind
but plenty of atmospheric moisture, thus considerable cloudiness
and rain. When the occasional cold front pushes too far south,
it will disrupt the normal flow of the trades causing changes in
direction and speed and temporarily increasing wave heights
above the usual four to six feet. Even during the periods of
apparently consistent NE winds, you will detect subtle changes
in the velocity during each day.
mid-morning will bring a certain freshness which will subside
early in the afternoon. Late afternoon into early evening you
will also have a slight increase in velocity which will settle
down as evening progresses. Maybe this afternoon “puff” is a
reminder that a prudent mariner will take a precautionary reef
before dark. With each familiar “fair weather” cloud passing
overhead, both day and night, you will encounter a slight lull
as it approaches from astern, then a surprising freshness until
it is well ahead of you. This is the result of the cloud drawing
energy from the surface and creating an updraft which reduces
the wind’s normal horizontal velocity. Some motor-sailing is
usually required on this passage, not always for no wind at all,
but rather for insufficient wind to keep the sails full thus
exposing the sails and standing rigging to undue wear and tear.
As 99% of this passage will be downwind or nearly so, it is
important to have the appropriate sails in your inventory. Aside
from equipment failures of any kind, the major concern with a
long passage such as this is chafing of the sails and sheets.
Protective covers on stays and shrouds and stick-on patches over
battens and other wear areas on sails will go a long way toward
prolonging their useful life.
expect a passage of 22 to 28 days, subject to many variables.
As you pass to the west or northwest of the Cape Verde Islands
on a more westerly course, you leave behind the last opportunity
to divert to a safe haven, particularly if the trades are well
established. These islands do offer an alternative if not ready
to commit to the crossing due to boat or crew concerns. Once
west of the Cape Verdes, however, it’s time to look ahead,
toward a landfall in the eastern Caribbean in just over three
weeks. You will detect very slow changes in the weather
en-route. The sky will appear more tropical as the air and sea
water temperature begin to climb. More Sargasso will mix with
the deepening blue of the ocean. Due to the higher salinity of
the seawater in this area of the ocean, you will notice your
water-maker working just a bit harder to get the ppm count
down. As you have been off the normally traveled routes, ship
and commercial air traffic will be more frequent. You’ll begin
to feel that you are not the only one on the planet and begin to
expect landfall at any moment.
is finally sighted and actually reached, you will enjoy a
tremendous sense of satisfaction with a second Atlantic crossing
on your record. Having arrived somewhere in the Leeward Islands
you have the option to go south toward Trinidad and the
Venezuelan coast to wait out the hurricane season or make your
way back toward the Continental US.
Jill & Dave in Antigua after 21da, 23hrs, 50min
Underway from the Canary Islands
you return to the United States, you will begin the fourth and
final segment of the North Atlantic Circle, a reverse of the
well documented “thorny path” and certainly much easier to sail.
This segment offers you an immense number of ports to call on in
the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Spanish
Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. As you
approach the US mainland you will have accumulated nearly
10,000nm on this voyage and gained knowledge not available in
any cruising guide.
and Cultural Differences
prepare for this adventure I urge you to recall all the recent
historical events that have occurred around the North Atlantic.
With the formation of the European Union in 1992, the attack on
this country in 2001, political conflicts in various countries
around the Caribbean and very recently the hurricane damage in
the US and around the Caribbean, your cruising guide information
may be grossly out of date. Particularly outdated will be entry
and departure procedures in various countries and the
availability of marinas and other services in the Caribbean and
southeast coast of the United States. It behooves you to insure
you have the latest information before you depart.
is a self-governing territory of Britain. Make a good showing
when you clear in. Fly your national ensign proudly and show
respect for the country you are visiting by flying the
appropriate courtesy flag, here the red duster, in good
condition, slightly higher than the “Stars and Stripes.“ Below
the courtesy flag fly the yellow quarantine, “Q,” flag but only
until you have formally cleared in. Adhere to the rules on
clearing in. When the procedure indicates that only the captain
should go ashore until the vessel is cleared in, brief your crew
to stay aboard. The currency used is the Bermuda dollar on a
par with the US dollar and either is accepted. Electrical power
is 110V at 60Hz . Propane is available at the hardware store in
St. George and if you will be driving on the island, please
remember to keep left.
everything is expensive in Bermuda, although food and drink are
excellent. Arrival within 3nm of the Bermuda shoreline requires
calling Bermuda Harbor Radio for clearance into St. George‘s
Harbor where vessels will clear in at Ordinance Island. This
radio clearance is required due to heavy traffic, much of it
cruise ships utilizing the narrow channel into the harbor. If
you fail to call Harbor Radio, fear not, they will be calling
you on VHF Ch 16, and be forewarned that they will track you on
radar all the way into the harbor. So, heads up! Clearing into
Bermuda is very straightforward. It does, however, require
taking the usual ship’s papers, crew passports and any firearms,
including flare guns, to the Customs Office on the east end of
Ordinance Island. The cruise ships tie up in the same area, so
it will be easy to find. If crew is leaving your boat or
flying in on a one-way ticket to join you, it is important to
advise the authorities early on as special procedures are in
place to cover these crew changes. Clearing out of Bermuda is
simple as well, though if you have checked a firearm or flare
gun and your boat is not at the Customs Dock, it will be
necessary for the customs agent to personally deliver it to your
boat as they do not want those items “loose” in the city.
The nine islands of
the Azores are of volcanic origin and have been Portuguese since
the 1500’s. The date you officially arrive in the Azores starts
the clock on the 18 months that non-EU citizens remain exempt
from the VAT (value added tax). Clearing in at the marina in
Horta, Faial is easy enough, though with a serious and
militaristic air about the authorities. There are the usual
multiple copies of paperwork and various stamps and signatures.
The authorities were very formal, very polite and genuinely glad
to have us there. The date stamped in your passport is your VAT
clock time. Not a factor, however, if you plan to do the
begin using the Euro on arrival and money is easily obtainable
from ATM’s in the town. Slip fees are very reasonable and the
water is good at the marina. Electrical power now comes at 230V
and 50Hz. A tradition which we took part in was painting our
vessel logo on the marina seawall. It is said anyone that fails
to do so will have bad luck the next time at sea. Few sailors
ignore the warning, thus there are many hundreds of paintings
covering the concrete. The food is excellent most everywhere
you dine in Horta and the Imperial draft beer is cold and
plentiful at Peter’s Sports Café. Peter’s is located just
across from the marina and is THE place where sailors of all
nationalities go to “meet and greet.”
island in the Azores has a beauty all its own and I regret not
spending more time there. Ten days was barely enough to explore
Faial with its lush green countryside and hedges of blue and
white Hydrangias which bloom, incidentally, in July and August.
out is equally as formal, and be prepared to give the
authorities your best guess on your next port of call as they
forward the information to that city. Your arrival in the next
and subsequent EU ports in any EU country requires only the
usual clearing in formalities at the marina without the stamping
of your passport. Your passport will be looked at, but you will
not receive another passport stamp until you enter another non-EU
country. This clearing in and out of the different marina
offices appears to be primarily for identifying you and your
vessel and to determine trends and routes that cruisers take.
are considering taking pets with you on your cruise, you may be
interested in knowing that there have been some recent changes
in the EU regulations. These changes have, in many cases,
relaxed the very stringent importation rules of many of the
countries, the UK in particular. For the latest information on
pet importation, contact our own USDA or the EU web site.
arrived in Lisbon in late July and cleared in with the local
authorities at an office in what used to be a fish processing
facility just downstream from the Tagus River bridge. The young
lady clearing us in was surprised to find out that the
Immigration Officer in Horta had not issued us a cruising permit
though made light of the fact and issued one on the spot.
Surprisingly, nobody ever asked for it or looked at it again.
We took a
slip at the Alcantara Marina located immediately upstream of the
bridge. It is centrally located with bus and train stops
nearby, has good security, but not in a very picturesque part of
we met in Portugal was very friendly and eager to help us. Most
of the people we met spoke some English and no telling how many
other languages. I had hoped to use my Spanish as many of the
words are similar in meaning and pronunciation. It took me a
while to determine that the Portuguese resent, in many ways, the
use of Spanish instead of Portuguese while you are in their
country. They would rather you use English or try, as best you
know how, to speak Portuguese, even if it means with dictionary
in hand. I pursued this language issue and received the same
report many times, particularly from the people that had contact
with the public. I was told more than once that “when in Spain
you speak Spanish and when they, the Spanish, are here, [in
Portugal], they want us to speak Spanish as well.” Can’t really
blame them, we have that same situation in many parts of the
US. Then there is the relationship of the Portuguese mainland
people with those in the Azores and Brazil. They speak the same
language, but their lifestyle and even quality of life is much
not surprising that seafood is still big in Portugal. Bacalau
(Cod) and sardines are typical and very popular in this
country. Cod, formerly taken from the Grand Banks off
Newfoundland, is now taken and salted in great quantities off
Norway and Iceland. Sardines, mostly fresh, are taken nearby and
served grilled and lightly salted.
Portugal are very reasonable. Wines and olives are excellent and
Sagres beer, available most everywhere, seems to be the “beer of
Algarve area of Portugal is receiving much publicity and draws
tourism from all over the world. This area includes all of the
south coast of Portugal and inland about 30 miles. It is bounded
on the west by the Atlantic Ocean north of Cabo Sao Vicente and
on the east by the Guadiana River. There has been a very
noticeable increase in repair of the older villages in the
Algarve. These older buildings will retain their original
appearance, while new construction tries to blend in.
the Guadiana River from Vila Real de San Antonio (abbreviated
VRSA), Portugal is Ayamonte, Spain. There is marked difference
in the architecture and the cleanliness of the city. The
buildings were for the most part in good repair and there were
obvious signs of the Moorish influence in Spain. Spanish was
definitely spoken here and all who we came in contact with were
very friendly and polite. I certainly enjoyed utilizing my
Spanish, and I could see relief on the part of some of the folks
we met when they realized they were not going to have to
struggle with English, though they would have. I was also
relieved after having to struggle to get by with my limited
Portuguese. It is definitely an asset to be fluent in the local
language. At the bare minimum, a visitor I believe should be
able to ask simple directions, know how to greet and how to
thank the people they are dealing with. Too often I see my
fellow countrymen refusing to at least try to speak a few words
and thus embarrassing themselves and the rest of us who come
along later. We all need to make a good first impression. Too
much of the world watches our TV news and we know how disturbing
that can be.
impression of Spain was that it was much more affluent than
Portugal and there seems to be a greater interest or focus on
cleanliness. Food and fresh produce is readily available at the
local markets and at grocery stores. I was interested to find
in the produce section of many grocery stores that only the
employees were allowed to actually touch the produce. One would
select by pointing and the attendant would weigh and bag the
item. Other stores were less sophisticated but required the
customers to utilize a plastic glove to handle the produce. All
of the full service marinas we stayed in had excellent water.
Spanish olives, wines and beer are excellent, with CruzCampo
beer apparently being the most popular.
Customs and Immigration office is on the perimeter drive facing
Las Palmas Marina on Gran Canaria. After receiving my slip
assignment from Pedro at the fuel dock (can’t miss the Texaco
sign). I was told I could check in with the authorities after I
had rested up… tomorrow or the next day would be alright. Not
knowing if I should wait that long, I cleared in as soon as
Nonstop was secure in her slip. It was a very relaxed
procedure, one officer handling everything. Clearing out was
just as easy.
arrive in the Caribbean, you enter a new dimension, a land with
a laid back attitude toward most everything except enjoying
yourself. You will be surrounded with beautiful water and
islands with lush vegetation just waiting to be explored.
Passing through the USVI will be a reminder that you are nearly
home, not to mention the ability to re-provision with many of
the products and brand names you are familiar with.
be required to clear in to the US Virgin Islands as you will be
arriving from a foreign country. Customs and immigration in St.
Thomas is located at the ferry/seaplane terminal near the
downtown area. It is necessary that all persons aboard be
present when clearing in with US Immigration. I made the
mistake of trying to clear myself and my entire crew in when
arriving from a short visit to the BVI. I was chastised for
“violating the rules” and even threatened with a penalty of
several thousand dollars for doing so. Welcome to the US! I
would not have tried to clear everyone in had I not done so the
week prior after having arrived from the Canary Islands.
out of the USVI is not required if sailing to Puerto Rico or
directly to the US mainland. A clearance is required if you are
going to a foreign country (except the British Virgin Islands;
we must have a “deal“ with them). Clearing in on arrival in
Puerto Rico or any of the nearby islands (Culebra, Culebrita or
Viequez) is required as it appears there is a different level of
security in Puerto Rico. If you have a current Customs decal for
your vessel, you may be able to clear in by phone
(787-742-3531) or cell phone if on one of the more remote
islands, and receive a clearance number. Cell coverage appears
to be good in those areas. We had a good experience clearing in
over the phone from Culebrita. The officer was polite and
genuinely interested in getting all the details of our arrival
correct. Speaking Spanish with him no doubt helped. Now, once
again, you will need a departure clearance when leaving PR for a
foreign country. The requirement is not for the US necessarily,
but for your destination. The Dominican Republic, for example,
requires this clearance as part of their clearing-in procedure.
Among the flowers
Dominican Republic is a very beautiful country. Unfortunately,
it is a very poor country as well, and Luperon is a prime
example. It is a seaport, but unfortunately, pollution,
prostitution, poverty and graft are evident everywhere. Aside
for the fact that it is in a convenient location, I am surprised
Luperon is such a popular cruising stop. It is in no way
properly described in any cruising guide I have ever read.
Anyone touting Luperon as a great cruising stop is looking for
cheap. I was very disappointed.
in takes the better part of a day and you will be asked in
several different ways to help “support” the continuing good
service the authorities provide the cruisers. La Marina de
Guerra (the Navy) will come aboard first, with at least one
uniformed officer for effect. While completing the paperwork
($10.00 each person + $10.00 for the vessel), you will be asked
for additional donations. You will meet with the Immigrations
Officer ashore. He will stamp your passport and issue a 15-day
tourist card ($10.00). At some point you will meet with the
“Agricultura” representative who will come aboard and ask about
and possibly want to see the food you have on board ($10.00).
You may get a visit from the local Veterinarian who will inquire
about any live animals you may have on board. And finally, you
must check in with the Autoridad Portuaria, Port Authority, in
the office at the base of the city dock and pay a port use tax,
four departments must be checked with on departure. Your vessel
may need to be re-inspected by the agriculture people. You must
verify with the Port Authority that you have no debt on the
books, obtain a required departure stamp and, finally, the
Marina de Guerra is required to give you a “despacho” (departure
clearance) before you leave. They all want (and need, no doubt)
money, but you are not obligated to give them more than the
amount on the corresponding receipts.
polite, be firm, smile and say “no gracias.“ Don’t be coerced!
leave the DR and are working your way through the Bahamas, you
will most likely be in familiar waters. As of this writing, fees
to clear into the Bahamas are still $150.00 for a vessel up to
35 feet LOA and $300.00 if over 35 feet. There have been recent
reports from cruisers that officials at some ports of entry
have been charging $300 if the vessel exceeds 30 feet. Nothing
official yet, so stand by for a change.
southernmost port of entry is Matthew Town on Great Inagua. If
you plan to go ashore, don’t fail to properly clear in. We
sailed well into Bahamian waters flying the “Q” and courtesy
flags before actually clearing in at Cat Island. The fact that
we did not clear in at Matthew Town did not seem to concern the
Immigration Officer. The unusually high fees for clearing into
the Bahamas does not appear to have turned many cruisers away.
In our particular case, only spending a couple days ashore for
the same price with no allowance for the short stay, made the
cost extremely high. We have to admit, though, it is beautiful
in the Bahamas and it’s just a day sail away from our shores.
United States of America
arriving back in the United States you may again be able to
clear in over the phone. It will be up to the Customs Officer
to decide if he/she wants to come and board your vessel. All
persons on board, however, will have to appear in person at the
closest immigration office. Be patient with the process,
remember we are all trying to protect our borders. Yes, you
have been gone from home a long time. Maybe you’ll actually get
a “welcome back” from the inspector!
arrived in Palm Beach, once moored at the marina, we cleared in
with Customs over the phone (800 432-1216 or 800 451-0393) and
received our clearance number. At that point we were given 24
hours to clear in with Immigrations. We had the option of using
either the office at the Port of West Palm Beach (hours 9-3) or
clear in at the West Palm Beach International airport. We opted
for the port location which is in the cruise ship terminal,
second floor. With passports in hand and our Customs clearance
number available, we were all legal in just moments and very
glad to be back “home.”
A welcome sight offshore!
nearly 10,000nm around the North Atlantic. Being able to
communicate with family, friends and support groups around the
world will make this trip safer and much more enjoyable.
what it was like to sail the Atlantic just a few years ago
without GPS, Chart Plotters, SatCom, Email, Internet, and the
list goes on. Now, more than at any other time in history, we
can stay in touch and be aware of or precise location on the
earth’s surface for a fraction of the cost of previous years.
The level of complexity of most systems is only limited by the
amount of money you want to spend, however, for just a few
hundred dollars you can assemble an adequate nav/com system for
been an avid ham radio operator for many years. There are many
cruisers who are not hams, but I would venture to say that a
cruiser that is a licensed ham is far better off while sailing
offshore than the non-ham. While marine single-sideband
provides an adequate amount of HF communications frequencies,
the ham bands are commonly listened to and operated on more
regularly. This regularity offers the ham more opportunities to
receive and pass information than could normally be done on the
there is a licensing requirement for the Ham Radio Operator that
is not required for the Marine bands. This licensing and
testing requirement does deter many and sadly puts them at a
great disadvantage when trying to communicate from their
vessel. During this required licensing process the Ham Radio
License applicants not only learn the rules, but also simple
electronics and techniques preparing them for installing and
troubleshooting radio station problems underway. More good
news, never before have the licensing requirements been so
simple to obtain the General Class Ham Radio License.
with the learning comes the camaraderie. And, yes, hams have
their “lingo” and sometimes come across like they know it all.
I believe it may appear that way because they are so “into”
their hobby. And frankly, they may be entitled because they have
had to do some studying. Most hams, however, are very
interested in helping those having rig and other communications
problems. Careful, though; once you get them started talking
about amateur radio, there may be no stopping them!
communications at sea fall into three main categories: VHF, HF (ssb),
and Satellite. I have no experience utilizing satellite
telephone communications, though I have been told that it is
becoming more popular as the rates are now at least palatable.
high frequency) radio communication is considered
“line-of-sight” communications and of relatively short distance
and seldom affected by weather conditions. Basically, if you
can see it, you can talk to it. If the other station is behind
a mountain or below the horizon, don’t plan on making contact.
However, from the top of a mountain to a vessel at sea or from
the top of one mast to the top of another vessel’s mast you may
be able to make contact 20-30 miles or more.
frequency) radio communications, also known as SSB (single
side-band) is our method of long-range communications, but it is
frequently affected by the weather and dependent upon radio wave
propagation. Radio wave propagation varies on different
frequency bands with the time of day. It is therefore not always
an easy method of communications. With all this to be
considered, let me say that as a ham you will learn to utilize
the different bands with little thought as to all the mechanics
of sight of the US coastline you will begin to lose VHF
weather broadcasts and be unable to communicate with shore based
stations. Assuming you have no satellite capability you will
dependent upon HF for communications.
Early morning ICW
the ham and marine bands there are several nets which handle
weather and position reports for vessels eastbound out of the US
crossing to Bermuda I had arranged for weather briefings daily
from Herb Hilgenberger, vessel name Southbound II. Though there
are many weather briefers available, Herb has quite a following
and is known around the world. He is a ham radio operator but
works the marine bands and is usually found on 12.359 Mhz daily
at 2000 UTC (1600EDT). His area of coverage is the North
Atlantic and is most effective as far south as the Caribbean and
as far east as the Azores and the UK.
Waterway Radio and Cruising Club (WRCC) net operates daily at
1145 UTC (0745 EDT) on 7.268 Mhz. A very structured net, reads
the latest NWS weather forecasts for the SW North Atlantic,
Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the coastal forecast for South
Florida. At precisely 0815 EDT, position reports are taken and
logged. Also at this time, a float plan for an upcoming passage
may be placed on file or activated. This net is excellent for
departures from the US to as far east as Bermuda then once again
on the return trip from the Caribbean back to the US mainland.
More information is on the web at
UTC (0830 ETD) the Cruiseheimer’s Net operates on the marine
frequency of 8.152 Mhz. Here weather, position reports and
messages of interest are passed and initial contact is made with
other vessels. Most cruisers utilizing the Cruiseheimer’s Net
are located in the Caribbean, Bahamas and along the east coast
of the US.
UTC (0900 EDT) the Trans-Atlantic Maritime Mobile Service Net
operates on 21.400 Mhz, a ham only frequency. On this net there
are three stations, the primary in Barbados and two relay
stations, one in Pennsylvania and one in Belgium.
also passes weather as needed, takes position reports and is
excellent in mid-ocean, as usually at least one of the stations
is easily worked.
UTC (1200 EDT), the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN)
operates on 14.300Mhz giving priority to stations that are
maritime mobile. This net also passes weather information as
needed and has become one of the primary nets for cruising hams
as they operate until 0100 UTC, moving the net control station
west during the day as propagation changes. The net has a site
on the web at
UTC (1400 EDT), the Italian Net operates on 14.297.5 Mhz passing
weather as needed and also taking position reports. This net
has a primary controller in Pennsylvania and relay stations in
Belgium and the Azores. The name of this net implies that it is
run in Italian. Not at all, only named so because the initial
organizer was in Italy at the time of its inception.
coasts of Portugal, Spain, North Africa, the Canary Islands,
Cape Verde Islands and as far west as the Caribbean, the most
notable weather briefer and marine advisor is Rafael del
Castillo. This gentleman operates his own service to cruisers
from his powerful station on Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. He
operates every day on the marine frequency of 14.358 Mhz at 2200
UTC and almost exclusively in Spanish, though he has been known
to brief and advise in English. This is not, however, a free
service. Quite expensive, I have heard, though listening to his
briefing of other vessels is free.
or after arrival in the Caribbean, the Caribbean Maritime Mobile
Net is available to you on the ham frequency of 7.241 Mhz at
1100 UTC. This net is operated by hams in the USVI and offers
check-ins and weather information for the Caribbean at 1115 UTC.
UTC on the marine frequency of 8.104 Mhz the Caribbean Security
Net is operated by a station in St. Lucia. This net provides a
source for reporting and re-broadcasting of confirmed reports of
theft or assault on cruisers. If you have been concerned about
security in the Caribbean the information at
will be worth reading.
GPS the best thing to come aboard a cruising sailboat is Email.
Now with the ability to transmit Email messages to a station
ashore which in turn sends those messages to the Internet has
made staying in touch a reality. The system, known as Winlink,
is available for free to the ham radio operator in a program
called Airmail, and to the non-ham, at a reasonable cost, in a
program called Sailmail. Not only are you able to send and
receive personal text messages, but from a “list” of items, too
many to mention here, you may also download such items as
weather in text or in chart format.
recent circumnavigation I sent at least one email or position
report daily and received sometimes five or ten on a good day.
There was never a time that I was not able to send or receive
my messages at some time during each day. That’s how reliable
the system is.
circumnavigate the North Atlantic in one year takes commitment
and planning. It is physically difficult, mentally challenging
and somewhat expensive in the preparation. However, the rewards
are countless. Are you ready for such an adventure?
note: This article is not meant to be a complete guide to the
Atlantic Circle, but rather a supplement to the commercially
available cruising guides. The comments and observations in
this article are my own. If they appear to conflict with other
available information, consider the source. It was my first
time around the North Atlantic, I’ll learn more the next time.
If at least one person tells me he/she benefited from what I
have written because of content or currency of the information,
then I will have accomplished what I set out to do.