Christmas day in Bermuda

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sun 26 Dec 2010 03:06
Saturday night, St George

Well, that was a bit different from the usual Christmas day. I decided that I wasn't going to spend all day feeling sick so I stuck to a normal breakfast at a normal time. Once I'd finished that, it was time to get Skyping. I got hold of Andrea straight away. She was already wearing a party hat and was almost ready to have lunch so we had a brief chat and then her kitchen timer went off so they all went off for lunch.

I rang my mum and dad and then tranferred to Skype to Skype and they had their video sorted so I could see them both really clearly, upstairs in the new bungalow. That was great. We had a lovely chat about nothing in particular which is just the perfect thing to do on a holiday. By the time I'd finished that, I was in need of a cup of tea but Andrea rang me back before I could enjoy any peace. They were all in high spirits having eaten far too much so we had another good chat about not much.

Then it was really time for a cup of tea. I gave Kali her little presents and she gave me a lovely card then we set to moving Saxon Blue forward a couple of meters so we're in a better position to rig a line right across the harbour to hold ourselves off the dock when the wind changes into the South later tonight. The wind dropped during the day today but it's due to pick right up again tomorrow and then blow a full gale for a couple of days.

With the boat secured to several bollards and a cannon - seriously, our bow line is tied to a cannon barrel embedded in the dockside - it was time to go round to Big Bill and Mike's for lunch. Bill cooked a stream of crepes and we had our own choice of fillings. Kali was sticking with French tradition and chose lemon and sugar. I went for a savoury option with bacon and mango chutney which Mike first scoffed at and then copied. After that, we all went to work refitting their mainsail which had been off to the sailmakers to be re-stitched. They actually blew out a seam on their voyage to Bermuda from Newport so had decided to get the whole sail reinforced. It was lovely and warm outside by this time as the wind had really dropped.

I had a chance to have a close look at their boat. Swans have a reputation as super high quality boats that can race and cruise. She's 20 years old now but still looks fresh and all the hardware is in great shape. It's all massive compared to ours. In particular, the spinnaker pole track which we broke on our trip to Bermuda is bombproof on the Swan. She also has an aluminium toe-rail all the way around which doesn't look as nice as our teak but is very practical as an attachment point for fenders or anything else.

After we'd re-hoisted the sail, Bill and I had an excellent talk about weather predictions. We've been using Grib files which are computer-generated and easy to download with the software and SSB radio that we have. Bill explained why the Gribs can be misleading and how the surface pressure charts available from the various meteorological services are better, given that they have had a real live person look at them. They also show the fronts which can affect the wind. It was great to talk to somebody so knowledgeable, both about the weather in theory and how it affects sailors in particular.

Then it was time to go snorkelling. Little Bill had returned from his trip to Hamilton so we got all our new kit together, Kali got her stuff out of the locker and we all walked over the the other side of the island. Tobacco Cove was looking a bit windswept so we went to another bay nearby in the lee of the island. Bill was the first to get his kit off, get his hair tied back and flex his muscles. In he went, all the way up to his ankles before his piercing screams reached us. Apparently, the water was too cold for his delicate physique.

Kali and I are made of sterner stuff - and we come from higher latitudes - so we waded out and dived in together. I left my fins on the beach and just got used to the mask and snorkel to start with. The water was pretty churned up from all the wind we've had but there was lots of interesting household refuse to look at on the bottom. I honed my skills diving onto a mop and some old rope then Kali collected the fins and showed me how to put them on in the water. They're very comfortable but the movement is strange. You have to hold your legs apart and I felt very ungainly although I got plenty of propulsion from them. Diving to the bottom is easy with the extra drive and I got a good look at some small fish and a large sea-urchin.

I enjoyed myself in the water and the snorkel felt natural. It's a very simple one so it's easy to blow the water out. By the time I got out, I realised that it was pretty chilly. The wind was colder than the water and I jogged up the beach, gave myself a vigorous towelling and put my jacket on. Still shivering, I ran up and down the beach a couple of times. Kali and Bill had been climbing palm trees and we then went to look at the old British fort at the end of the beach. I stood there trying to look innocent while Kali and Bill attempted to scale the walls then we collected our stuff and set off back to Saxon Blue - just in time as I was in dire need of a cup of tea and slice of Stollen.

Not so fast, though. Kali wanted to take us up to the Bermuda Radio coastguard station on top of St George's Hill. She'd been up there in the morning with Big Bill to take them a Christmas present. We walked the whole way along the coastal golf course and up the hill. It took a while as we had to stick to grass in order to protect Kali's feet as she didn't want to wear shoes. The radio station is built on the top of an old British fort. The fort is a square tower, maybe 30 meters on a side and 50 meters high but it's built in the bottom of a pit so that the top only just sticks above the ground level. Around it is an artillery battery with 11 inch guns commanding St George's harbour and the passage south to the Royal Navy Dockyard. It was a lookout point from the earliest days of Bermudan history and is still one today.

The modern coastguard station with its radars, antennae and tall mast is plonked on top with scant regard for history. Kali was clearly getting fed up waiting while Bill and I clambered over the ordnance so we followed her up the "no entry except authorised personnel" stairs and rang the doorbell. A cheery chap with a Geordie accent stuck his head out and it was soon established that we were from a yacht so we got invited inside. He was on watch on his own but was accompanied by his wife, it being Christmas. Their setup is very impressive. They have multiple radar stations around the island, all feeding data back to this central point and it's all collected into one system showing the island, the AIS data, radar information and anything else they want to display. They are responsible for an area 200 miles in radius around the island although most of the Search and Rescue assets are provided by the USA. It was great to see the other end of our VHF calls and it felt that we're in very good hands all the time we're within that 200 mile radius.

By now, I really needed a cup of tea so we set off at a brisk pace down the hill to the docks. At last, a lovely cuppa, slice of cake and another Skype call to Andrea. Then a quick shower and time to get ready to go out for dinner. Kali had her dress on by now so I thought I'd make and effort and put my smart trousers, shirt and Paul Smith jacket on. Bill didn't have any dressy stuff but he always looks good anyway so I think we cut quite a dash, especially Kali in her dress, stripy tights and Dubarry yachting boots. That's a look that all the celebs will be emulating next season. Along with Big Bill and Gary, we walked up to the hotel for our Christmas dinner.

The food was good and we had a lovely comfortable evening chatting away. Once we'd finished, it was lucky that it was downhill back home as we were all stuffed. That's one good thing about living on a boat - it's always at sea level so there's a good chance that it's downhill all the way back.

So that's it - a very different Christmas experience for me. It was great that I got to see my mum and dad, even if only via Skype but it made the distance seem a bit less. Andrea and I had hoped to spend Christmas together for the first time but ended up spending it further apart than ever but, again thanks to the internet, that wasn't too bad. All that and I went swimming in the sea.


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