The Road to Bermuda: So That’s How You Find the Gulf Stream!

Chris Museler updates Aura’s progress and morale as the race reaches midpoint, with Father’s Day, steering lessons, and some insights into the Stream and navigation all coming together during one watch.  

Chris Museler

Chris Museler

Here’s to a fine halfway point for this race, late on Sunday. The easterlies are only in the teens to 20 knots, but watching the big Spirit of Bermuda (an entry in the Spirit of Tradition Division) march by us was a fine sight only imagined in a Hornblower book. Because so many of the modern large boats decided not to compete, the race is now dominated by smaller ones, like us in the Swan 44 Aura. As the weather continues to moderate (and the forecasts with it), we have been sailing with a pack of mostly smaller boats. Last night’s calms revealed no fewer than 40 of them nearby.

This close racing by so many boats is delightful—and new to me, with my previous Bermuda Races in a Class 40 double-hander and in custom, grand prix boats. I’ve been missing out on the fine tuning and the bow-to-bow inspiration that we have been having out here, since the start at Newport on Friday. It may take longer than usual to sail the course, but this could be a glory year. Who knows? Aura is sailing along, and navigator Frank Bohlen believes we have a nice route. As we make the turn around the cold eddy of the Gulf Stream, we realize that a battle between a big breeze and big current—the sort that was forecast, but never really happened—is always a possibility near or in the Stream. Perhaps that’s why dinner Sunday night is a simple Gulf Stream chicken stew.

This is the fourth Father’s Day I’ve spent in the Gulf Stream on this race, and though I miss my three young daughters terribly, the tiny red, yellow, and blue felt coaster my four-year-old dressed with her tiny hands has me smiling. I’m not alone. We are a boat full of fathers. For Schuyler Benson, having his 16-year-old son Gray aboard on his third Bermuda Race is just plain sweet. Gray is fresh off a win at the high school team-race nationals, sailing for St. George’s School.

Frank Bohlen (Barry Pickthall/PPL)

Frank Bohlen (Barry Pickthall/PPL)

He’s raced with his father and grandfather aboard the Swan 47 Bandana, and now Frank Bohlen (a father of four, by the way) is keeping the lad honest while training him to steer well as we sail in the Stream. Frank is developing a manual for Gulf Stream navigation and steering using water temperature as the guide. He pumps the galley’s salt-water foot pedal, takes the water’s temperature, records it on his iPad, and keeps at it as we sail across the continental shelf through patches of warm water and finally through the north wall of the Stream.

Gray was instructed to hold compass course 200, but as the cockpit conversation meandered again, so did Gray’s steering.  Within moments, Frank’s white hair and quirky grin appeared in the companionway hatch. “I’m watching you,” he told Gray, with a raised eyebrow and a teacherly voice. “It’s not about me being a pain in the ass. We’re trying to figure out currents. If you hold a certain course, but we’re tracking elsewhere, that means we’re in current.”

And there are plenty of currents out here.

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