Welcome to Bermuda

Land Ho!

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We’d sighted Bermuda; this tiny, 20.5 square mile island in the mid-Atlantic was within reach and we were anxious to drop the hook for respite from the sea. When we spotted the island, we were still approximately 20nm away and some quick mathematics confirmed that we’d not make landfall until after dark. We were approaching from the southwest and needed to sail the length of the island to the entrance channel on the east end.

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Knowing we’d arrive after dark, we consulted the chart to determine whether the entrance channel would be safe. The conditions were calm and the entrance, Town Cut, was very well marked with plenty of water for our draft. The decision was unanimous, we’d sleep at anchor tonight!

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Bermuda Radio monitors all incoming and outgoing boat traffic for the island. The radio has a strong signal accompanied by a powerful radar system that can spot boats along a 50nm radius. Per my Bermuda clearance research, I’d learned it was necessary to hail Bermuda Radio on the VHF once in hailing range which for us is about 20nm. Per Bermuda clearance research, I’d also learned that Bermuda has an online pre-arrival form. I had completed this pre-arrival form prior to departing Grand Cayman; the information provided is the standard particulars of the vessel and crew (vessel type, length, draft, number of crew, etc). You can find the link for the pre-arrival form here, as well as general information about Bermuda clearance. When I hailed Bermuda Radio the dispatcher was able to pull our pre-arrival information. We provided our latitude and longitude and ETA. We continued sailing as we watched the sunset over Bermuda.

We reached the sea buoy for the Town Cut channel at about 9:15pm. Once again we hailed Bermuda Radio and received excellent directions for entering the St. George’s Harbour and locating the Customs dock. We dropped the sails and motored through Town Cut channel; our only engine hours during the entire passage. We found the buoys to be exact.

Once in the harbour, we located the Customs dock to the north of the harbour, at the northeast corner of Ordinance Island. It was just after 10:00pm and we were thrilled to meet three fellow cruisers at the dock who voluntarily assisted us and welcomed us. After a short chat, we made our way to the Customs office, the building is on the dock; the office is open from 8:00am – Midnight. The woman who assisted us at Customs was pleasant and efficient. We completed one form, surrendered our flare gun, paid $70USD (via credit card, USD accepted) and within 15 minutes were cleared. We found a cozy spot to anchor just off the Customs dock. The hook was set in soft sand by 11:00pm.

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By Midnight we’d converted Rode Trip back into a home and had sprawled in the very spacious v-berth. Our bodies rejoiced for the stillness, the flatness of this new resting place and we slept soundly.

Happy Anniversary, Rode Trip!

Wow! Sometimes it feels like we started this journey only yesterday and sometimes it feels like we are ‘ol salts that’ve been cruising for years…but today we celebrate our 1 Year Anniversary of the day Rode Trip set sail. Our first trip as livaboards was from Portsmouth, NH to Jewell Island, ME on June 27, 2012. On day one we were already figuring it out…having to reef the main sail that wasn’t yet rigged for reefing.

One year…6,615.8 nautical miles…six countries…too many new friends to count…

It’s been quite the adventure thus far,

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and we are looking forward to year two!

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Weather Fax – another use for the iPad

One of the many uses for our iPad has been to download GRIB ( wind data) files and plan our upcoming passages. As important as Tetris and Angry Birds are to our watchkeeping our iPad was also used to gather weather information while we were underway.

The National Weather Service dramatically cut weather fax transmissions in 2007, but thankfully the high seas forecasts that we need were spared from these cuts. Twice a day a weather map showing predicted winds for the next 24, 48 and 72 hours is sent out over high-frequency radio waves. Rode Trip carries a “world band receiver” that we can use to pick up this signal. When the receiver is tuned correctly it makes a horrible beeping noise, exactly what you would hear if a fax machine has ever dialed your home phone number by mistake. The world band receiver that we elected to buy is a Sony ICF-SW7600GR. It is loaded up with tons of features that we never ever use, but does a great job of tuning in to the stations that we care about. We also carry a spare receiver that was given to us by our friend John out of Newburyport, MA. The Sangean reciever that he gave us had a better antennae so it has been put into use with our Sony.

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We use a set of ear-buds to direct the sound as close the microphone on the iPad as we can. If the boat is really rocking and rolling we use a high tech sound dampening system consisting of two pillows, one under the ipad and one on top to block out interfering noises. The iPad uses an app called “HF Fax” to decipher the incoming signal and make it useful to us. We were planning on buying a stereo-in plug for the iPad, but we haven’t gotten around to it yet and the earbud/pillow technique has worked pretty well so far.
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The signal is tuned on the reciever until the two “peaks” are as close to the red lines as possible. The red line on the left indicates a tone that represents a black dot, and the red line on the right indicates a tone that represents a white dot.

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After the receiver is tuned we just have to wait for the transmission to finish. Each image takes about 10 minutes at which point we need to manually push the save button to keep the image. The app is supposed to save the files automatically but that doesn’t seem to work right now. It takes about an hour to download the basic weather forecast that we are interested in, namely the wind/wave forecast. On a good day the files will come out looking like this.

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Many things can interfere with a good radio signal though and sometime the best we can do is an image that looks like this…

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In this case we decipher as best we can and hope that there is only one tale on that wind arrow… If you need a little more information about how to read this weather fax you can read our old post on Weather Windows.

If you are reading this post to try and learn how to download your own weather faxes, here are a few tips that I’ve learned while figuring out our system.

1. The sound cards on most laptops are not good enough to decipher weather faxes, but if yours is then a good program to download is JVcomm32. It has a good set of instructions to get you started.

2. A complete schedule of broadcast frequencies and times are available here http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/rfax.pdf

3. Make sure that you start tuning your receiver before the fax actually starts or the image will come in with a break in the middle, making it harder to use.

4. The frequency which you can receive the best image from changes from day to day. I imagine that a real HAM guru could predict which signal would work the best, but I try each of them in turn and see which gives me the best image. I usually do this on the weather fax image scheduled just before the first image I actually care about.