Unforecast Weather in Bermuda Teaches 3 Valuable Lessons

When the eye of the storm unexpectedly passes over St. David’s Harbor, the Dashews are re-acquainted with three valuable lessons.

St. David’s Harbor on the island of Bermuda is a wonderful calm spot in the midst of what can be a very turbulent ocean. If you’ve been following our reports, you know that we’ve been anchored for a couple of days, awaiting the right conditions to proceed to the US East Coast – while a slow moving NE gale has pummeled the region.

Yesterday Beowulf was anchored in the lee of some cliffs, just to the west of the Bermuda Dinghy Club, near the narrow entrance to the harbor known as “Town Cut”. Even though it was blowing a gale, this spot was calm, albeit somewhat gusty. We had room to swing for any wind direction from NW to E. S quadrant winds would turn our stern towards the shore, and there were some shallow spots in that direction.

The barometer had been making a steady descent for the past three days – from 1019mb to 1003mb. Late in the afternoon the breeze had backed off to a more reasonable 20 knots and after checking the latest weather update with Bermuda Harbor Radio – things were expected to stay moderate through the evening – we decided to take a walk ashore, and maybe grab a bite to eat.

While we enjoyed the change from being weather-bound aboard the boat, we were both a little uncomfortable with the weather – and were relieved to be back aboard just before dusk. It had become eerily calm – so much so that our suspicions were aroused. Nothing unusual was noted on the barometer, but the fact that the wind has not shifted direction – just dropped – indicated we might have an actual “eye” situation. A double check of the afternoon fax charts indicated the center of the depression was indeed close by. Another call to Bermuda Harbor Radio elicited the latest weather report – still no real excitement forecast.

If this were the “eye” of the depression, the odds are we’d be seeing a major wind shift in the near future. And not being sure of the actual position of the eye, we could not be sure how the wind would swing. Although our present anchorage was protected, if the wind went to the SE or S, we’d be on a lee shore – albeit one with a short fetch.

Re-anchoring on Beowulf is a simple matter of pushing a few buttons – so with the light dropping fast, we pulled up our 240-pound Bruce anchor and moved to another spot – one with room to swing a full 360 degrees – albeit with a bit more exposure to harbor chop.

Linda was taking a bath, and I was reading in the pilot house when the lightning show started. First it was a general illumination of the clouds. Pretty soon there were cloud-to-cloud and ground or ocean strikes all over the place. Very spectacular. The barometer started going down, and then the wind shifted to the southeast, and commenced to blow. At first it was 25 knots, then 35, then 40, with gusts coming through in the 45- to 50-knot range.

We were using the GPS and chart plotter to make sure our position was holding. At the same time, the radar provided backup position data as well as keeping track of our neighbors’ positions. To make ourselves more visible to our neighbors we turned on the main mast spreader lights. As you would expect with our huge Bruce anchor, we remained firmly attached to the bottom. A couple of boats dragged a bit, but there were no real problems.

Within two hours the excitement had subsided. The wind was back down in the 20-knot range and the lightning storm had been replaced by occasional squalls with heavy rain.

The only evidence of the excitement was left on the barometer – an almost 2mb instantaneous drop in pressure – and in the dinghy, now filled with four inches of rainwater.

There are several lessons we relearned. First, never trust the weather professionals when your instincts tell you otherwise. Second, be ready to change tactics – in this case our anchorage – if there is a change in the weather situation. And third, use big anchors!

Posted by Steve Dashew  (May 9, 2001)

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