Barfing on a Bermuda Bound Boat

This is the true story of 15 strangers picked to live on a boat, sail the ocean together, and have their lives recounted on a blog. Find out what happens when people stop singing “I’m on a boat!” and start getting seasick…

As far as transportation goes, taking a sailing yacht to Bermuda from NYC sounds luxurious. Hashtag yachtlife, hashtag imonaboat, hashtag blessed.

I thought so too. I dreamed of peaceful, pensive moments like this:

Really though, the majority of my time was like:


My bucket list includes “sail a ship around the world,” so when I came upon the opportunity to crew a 150-foot sailing yacht to Bermuda, I began practicing my pirate lingo. Six of us novice sailors were fortified by the expertise of nine professional sailors, including Captain Gianni; our enthusiastic instructor, Mike; the boat’s owner, and a chef. (A chef! Ok, fine, that is really #yachtlife.) In what I hoped would turn me from landlubber to seadog by osmosis, we talked navigation, weather patterns, safety, and provisioning for a four day ocean passage.

The mission: the 15 of us were to deliver the Arabella to Bermuda in time for the America’s Cup, where it was commissioned as a spectator boat. In less than a week, ladies in their finery and gents in their Bermuda shorts and knee high socks would board the yacht, sip Dark and Stormies, and watch the airborne racing boats fly by.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our days revolved around our watch shifts. I was paired with the only other female novice crew member, Carly, and two professional crew, Colin and Frank. From 1pm-5pm and 1am-3am everyday, the four of us (wo)manned the radar to make sure we didn’t collide with massive cargo ships, recorded barometric pressure, thought about physics more than I care to ever, and made sure we continued on the right course with the help of our trusty friend, Auto Von Helm.

The first ship landed on Bermuda's coral reefs in 1609 with 150 English people expecting to settle in Jamestown, Virginia. Call it the first conundrum of the Bermuda Triangle. ⚓️ Here, @clearlycarly is using dead reckoning to plot our course, considering course over ground, the Earth's magnetic poles, and our true (not apparent) wind speed. Glad to have her navigate us through the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle and on to Caroline's Bay, Bermuda! ⛵️ 📍Atlantic Ocean 🐝 #thenoblebee #sheisnotlost _ _ _ _ _ _ #pirateslife #sailingyacht #imonaboat #wanderwoman #yacht #exploringtheglobe #solofemaletravel #adventure #travelawesome #travelblogger #bermudadreaming #GoToBermuda #bermudatriangle #oceanpassage #americascup #ocean #humansatsea #fleetweek #intrepid #navigation #MemorialDayWeekend #physics #magnetic #passionpassport #Iamatraveler #traveleroftheweek #womenwhoexplore

A post shared by Heidi Schmidt (@thenoblebee) on

To allay boredom, we shined the bell and practiced tying knots. Oh, and spotted dolphins, a needlefish, flying fish, shooting stars (not so rare!) and the Milky Way.

I peppered Frank, the First Mate, with questions about his days as a service member, when he flew and eventually crashed a helicopter in Alaska in the late 1960’s. Even after he retired he found himself in dramatic adventures, like the time he intercepted a robbery in progress and saved the bartender, but took a bullet to the thigh. No shortage of intrigue there!

Frank emerging from the belly of the beast.

The Swamp Yankee’s Savvy

Like a harbinger of grief, Steve, the ship’s engineer, whom the professional crew affectionately referred to as a “swamp Yankee,” warned us about Arabella’s propensity for rockin and rollin with the colorful aphorism, “She’ll roll the guts right outta a goat, she will.”

Twelve hours out of New York, Arabella began to fulfill Steve’s prophecy. I succumbed to the demons of the deep blue sea, and well, you can call me Goat, because my guts ended up in the trashcan, sink, and a cooking pot.

As sunny day turned to starry night, the wind chilled my skin, so I needed more layers. Before I made my way below deck to my cabin, I mentally listed the clothing I would need and the order in which I would put each item on to minimize the time I’d have to spend in the most nauseating section of the boat. My list: socks, a warm pair of leggings, my jacket, maybe gloves. Let ODB (Operation Don’t Barf) begin!

I was determined to get in and out of my cabin with Navy Seal like precision. I made it through the salon, down the stairs, passing nine other cabins on the way. I pulled on my socks, and moved on to item number two, my leggings. I got them over my ankles, to mid-thigh when I suddenly felt the meager contents of my stomach rise. I bent over the sink with my bare ass in the air, but was abruptly tossed around my cabin like a rag doll on a rollercoaster. Bread and water, the only thing I could stomach that day, came out my nose.

Isn’t sailing posh?!

Spent four days crossing the ocean to deliver a sailing yacht from NYC to Bermuda for the America's Cup. ⛵️My fellow sailors are the heartiest mothas I've ever met. Think rugby players are badass? Try climbing on deck at 2am after something snaps in half and the mainsail is flailing in the wind, the moon and stars the only light guiding your hands, the sea tossing the boat into 45 degree angles, and the last sign of people was six hours ago when you passed a cargo ship. 💪🏼 Meanwhile, I lost my lunch…and dinner, and next breakfast. 🤢 #seasick 🌊 📍Atlantic Ocean 🐝 #thenoblebee #pirateslife _ _ _ _ _ _ #sailinglife #sailingyacht #imonaboat #Bermuda #wanderwoman #naturelove #beebold #yacht #travelbug #exploringtheglobe #wanderlust #solofemaletravel #adventure #travelstoke #lessismoreoutdoors #worldcaptures #travelawesome #followmefaraway #WeLiveToExplore #earthfocus #travelblogger #bermudadreaming #GoToBermuda #americascup #ocean #humansatsea

A post shared by Heidi Schmidt (@thenoblebee) on

Days later I learned most of us novices had weak moments. The way Justin described his attempt to sleep in bed, I imagined him as a Taco Bell chalupa, holding onto the corners of his mattress as the ship pitched from side to side, folding the corners in on himself each time he rolled.

And Jason–poor Jason, suffered privately, until one morning it became very public. As he was frying eggs for breakfast, the boat pitched and the frying pan flew off the stove, onto the ground. Cleaning up gooey egg yolks is gross in and of itself, but the myriad smells emanating from the galley pushed him over the edge, so he stuck his head in the trashcan and barfed. Our instructor stood behind him holding a tray of bacon, which eventually met the same fate and slid to the ground. Breakfast fail.

In the haze of my nausea, Colin sang, “Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate’s life for me!” to which I replied, “Is it though??! Is it really!?”

Captain Gianni scaling the rigging. Gianni embodies the spirt of a true leader, one who says, “Let’s go!” rather than “Go!”

The fresh air a tonic, the stars a steadying point of reference for my rattled vestibular system, I laid outside on the upper deck for the most part of our four day journey. As the hours progressed, I woke to find pillows, blankets and eventually a mattress beside me, brought by my fellow sailors to minimize my discomfort. There’s truth to the idiom “curse like a sailor,” but not an equally established truth of “caring like a sailor.” There should be.

Seasickness and no internet gave me space to sit with my thoughts. As sailors rotated watch I heard them regale each other with tales that drove out boredom and inflamed passions. I considered how many of our ancestors came by boat to the U.S., by choice or force, and the physical, mental and emotional intensity of that experience. I asked myself, and couldn’t answer, if I’d ever sail an ocean again, even though I managed to earn glory as the “Permanent Watch Keeper.”

After four disjointed days, we arrived in Bermuda. The journey was not at all what I expected, and that’s OK, because slow travel gave me the opportunity to withdraw from perpetual noise and busyness. Taking my first steps on land in four days on fluffy pink sand didn’t hurt either.


Check out my previous post on what to do when you’re in Bermuda.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Bermuda 

Bermuda is a natural beauty, clean, easy to get around, and only an hour and a half flight from New York City, making it a perfect long-weekend escape…if you have the dough. Pretty much everything, from the food, to the gasoline to the building material is imported, and the average cost of a home is a milli, so budget travelers beware.

Who doesn’t need a helicopter for your yacht?!

To make it affordable take the bus, bring your own snacks from home, go to the grocery store, and get into nature–it’s free and makes you feel free! Splurge on drinks, locally produced perfume, and at least one fancy dinner; you are on vacation, no?!


Getting around

You’ll likely have better success navigating the island than the 150 English people on a fleet of ships who ran aground the coral reefs in 1609 expecting to settle in Jamestown, Virginia.

The island is relatively small, only 22 miles long by 1 mile wide. Despite its tiny stature, taxis are sooooo expensive–and I say this as a New Yorker. I’m talking a $5.15 initial fee, and $2.75/mile; after-hours rates increase by 25%. The bus comes every 15-20 minutes, and you can get a transportation schedule. I took the bus during the day, and taxis when I’d return in the evening (no uber, or lyft here).

I was wary during the taxi rides for a few reasons: the drivers were all male, there was no vetting system like when I use a ride-share app, and the roads to my place led out of town and into more remote sections that weren’t as heavily trafficked or well-lit. Come to think of it, I never buckle my seat belt in taxis, thinking I may have to get out quickly. I also make sure I know where the door handle is, that the door is always unlocked and that my purse strap is across my body. I tell a friend I’m leaving, how long it should take me to get home, and that I will text when I arrive. It sucks having to be wary of people this way, but unfortunately I’ve had friends experience violent drivers (in the U.S), so it’s necessary to remain vigilant.

Still, I arrived home safely every time, and the most insightful  conversations I had in my four days were with taxis drivers. We talked politics, racism, materialism, and about their personal and professional lives. All of them had second jobs (one was a DJ, one a NBC correspondent, one a retired corrections officer), many of them had lived abroad for a period of time (London, Atlanta, San Francisco), most of them encountered racism on a daily basis, and one of them has had three wives, a Bermudian, a Brit, and currently an Italian-American whom he was still deeply in love with after 23 years because “we balance each other.”

Your other options are to rent a moped (about $50/day), or walk shorter distances, though sidewalks often end abruptly and it can be terrifying looking at an oncoming car and pondering the possibility of it smashing you against the limestone wall. I’d rather not end up like this guy: <—————


St. George’s

With streets named Taylor’s Alley and Printer’s Way, St. George in the eastern most part of the island is quaint and historically rich. A replica of the town’s stocks and whipping post sit in the town square where tourists drop their shopping bags and put their head and wrists in the stocks to smile for the camera. Three hundred years ago passersby were publicly humiliating the bound “criminals” by throwing rotten food or dead rats at them while they suffered the wind, rain and sun for days on end, some even dying of exposure to the elements. Say CHEESE!

On a lighter note, I really came to St. George’s to visit The Bermuda Perfumery on Queen Street. Being quite sensitive to fragrances makes summer in New York City rough, but vacation in Bermuda sweet! The Cape Dutch style building dates back to the 1700’s and the cedar floor, staircase and ceiling beams are original. If you ask, they’ll likely take you on a quick tour of the perfume making process that happens right there on-site!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


DRAAANKS

I had a couple of good meals, but nothing incredible. The best locale was the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel. It overlooked the water, and the service was spectacular. The White Horse Tavern in St. George overlooked the water as well, but it was, well, a tavern. I heard Mickey’s Restaurant in the South Shore is good, but I didn’t get a chance to try it. Despite mediocre food, the drinks were consistently the perfect balance of tasty and twisted.

Swizzle Inn, Swagger out

Swizzles are ubiquitous in bars and restaurants across the island, but the best one is at the Swizzle Inn. It’s a hyped up tourist spot, but the hype is real. I should know–I had about 5 Swizzles from 5 different places in 3 days. There are two locations, one on the East side, one on the South Shore. They also have some bangin’ nachos. When you’ve left this island paradise, here’s a recipe to make your own.

Dark and Stormy

Ginger beer and Gosling Black Rum. I’m not a fan of either individually, but when combined, a miracle of chemistry occurs and deliciousness ensues. Ten times more palatable than a rum and Coke! The best one I had was at the men’s bar–um, yes, and it even has a separate entrance–at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Second best, Bermuda Bistro, and the glasses they’re served in are cute, shaped like beer brewing barrels.

Club Scene

Virtually nonexistent. I went to The Pickled Onion in Hamilton one night with two friends I had just made, and I woke the next morning with a crick in my neck from all the rubbernecking I was doing in “the club.” A live band sung syrupy pop songs my 10-year-old niece would love, while 18-year-olds took shots like it was their rumspringa; woo girls and bachelorette parties dominated the dance floor…and eventually the raised stage. No bueno for anyone over 23. Just go to bed!

(Unless the whistling frogs that emerge every dusk are keeping you up. It’s like they’re in their own Pickled Onion, creating their own overwhelming cacophony, hopping around on the dance floor, hoping their antics will attract a baby mama.)


Beaches

Tobacco Bay

The most diverse place I saw on the island, locals and tourists alike indulged in Tobacco Bay. Little kids played along the shore while trendy locals dressed like Lower East Siders drank and ate at the beach bar. A DJ spun dancehall while I vegetated on a rented beach chair ($10) under an umbrella (free for the lady, exactly the type of patriarchy I’ll accept). Tobacco Bay is listed as one of the best places to snorkel, and though my underwater videography doesn’t portend that fact, I did see a gigantic parrot fish and a surreal turquoise fish and coral swaying in the ocean current and lil fishies errywhere. It’s also safe to leave your stuff on shore as you snorkel or swim, a huge bonus for a solo-traveler.

South Shore

Horseshoe Bay sucks. Nuff said. Avoid the crowds (why else did you come to a small remote island?) and take a walk eastwards and you’ll be met by mystical coves formed by outcroppings of black volcanic rock. Careful when you’re climbing, or you could slice your feet.

My favorite little spot was just after the border of Warwick parish, where the land forms a lobster claw on the map, by Jobson’s Bay. It’s accessible from a trail just off the South Shore Road. There’s no amenities, nothing but salt, sea and sand.

 


I’m not usually about this plush travel life; I prefer remote, rugged places. In a way, because of how expensive it is, Bermuda is remote, difficult for many people to access. For the sake of travelers and local people alike, I hope the beaches remain undeveloped, pristine and free. Nature like this really does soothe the soul.

Up next, how I got to this lonely Atlantic Island.

Azores: Running with the Bulls in Terceira

Every Sunday from May to September, Terceira Islanders take to the streets for “tourada à corda,” a celebration of tradition, tenacity and togetherness. Touradas are similar to running with the bulls, except this bull is at the end of a long rope, which allows for the five men called pastores to control its direction and advance (to some degree). Another distinction is that the bull is not killed at the end of his run, though I doubt this fact will mollify PETA or any vegans.

The tourada has a state fair vibe to it: mobile vendors sell whole crabs, ice cream and donuts, older men in short-sleeved button-down shirts tucked into their starched blue jeans line up behind street level barricades while women and young children sit along the volcanic stone hedge walls that are prevalent in the Azores. 

Young men, eager to prove their bravery through bravado approach the bull head on, stomp their feet and wave their arms. Once the bull charges, it’s imperative to have a nimbleness about you, to react decisively and climb a wall ninja style.

Across many cultures the bull represents determination (AKA stubbornness), unpredictability, stamina, and an unbreakable will. The 400-year-old tourada tradition plays with this symbolism, and provides Azoreans with an adrenaline rush I’m not sure any other local activity could. Maybe cliff diving? Bars and restaurants offer highlight reels of the most spectacular leaps, dives and dodges. On occasion, a man misjudges, falls prey to the bull and is trampled or gored to death.

I was initially apprehensive, but the longer I watched, the more anxious I was to participate, even wearing a dress. I spoke to the pastores during an intermission, while the bulls were crated and spectators bought snacks.

At the start of the next round, I joined the older men in jeans at a driveway lined with hydrangeas. I didn’t even see the bull coming our way, but I followed the tide of men scurrying up the driveway, laughing maniacally. It reminded me of sneaking into haunted (abandoned) houses as a teenager, the thrill of the unknown eliciting giddiness, the perceived anxiety worse than any real danger. Later, the pastores amused themselves by letting out the rope’s slack and allowing the bull to chase me, the only woman runner, all the way to the safe zone, demarcated by two white stripes on the road.

Pastores removing rounded-tip brass covers from a bull’s horns.

The mere fact this tradition continues to exist ruffles some feathers. Maybe it is time to phase it out, though I’d approach it from the perspective that men dying in an attempt to prove their masculinity is problematic, rather than an animal rights issue. Something I’ve come to realize through living for over two years in a rural South African village as a Peace Corps volunteer is culture is more deeply embedded than a tick after a long hike. Merely proclaiming “it’s wrong, it’s evil!” without understanding the history or value behind the tradition doesn’t motivate practitioners to reconsider. Speaking up against what you perceive as injustice is a moral imperative, and part of an informed advocacy campaign is one which appreciates the value in the why, and offers alternative traditions. Practitioners must be partners in the change process, not simply on the receiving end of intolerance, benevolence or cosmopolitan ideas. As long as the touradas are tied to masculinity, and without a meaningful substitute, they will continue despite condemnation or deaths.

After being chased by the bull, with adrenaline still coursing through my veins, I walked around the corner and through the airport parking lot to hop on a 30 minute flight. Next stop,  Graciosa.