TransAtlantic by Trawler
IN A HIGH-SPEED WORLD, A CAPTAIN OPTS FOR LEISURE.

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY
BY CAPT. PHILIP W. CAMPAGNA
Capt. Philip W. Campagna holds an unlimited masters license and has been a captain on a variety of yachts.

 

Patty is a 54' sea-going Krogen
trawler that the author delivered from
Florida to France. The route: Maimi
 to the Abacos, to Bermuda and then
to the Azores and Gibraltar, left.

 

     John Masefield, the great English poet laureate once wrote a poem called, “A Valediction,” which begins:
     “We’re bound for the blue water where the great winds blow./It’s time to get the tacks aboard, time for us to go./The crowd’s at the capstan and the tune’s in the shout,/ ‘A longs pull, a strong pull, and warp the hooker out.’”
     Masefield lived in the twilight day of sailing ships, but if he were alive today, he certainly would have included in his works a tribute to all the trawlermen of the world and their stout little ships.
     Fortunately for the deep-water cruising yachtsman, naval architects such as Jim Krogen and others have encouraged the growing demand for seagoing power vessels, basically trawler types, which have the stability, range, displacement, reliable power and comfort for long ocean passages.
     When I was asked by an agent of a Swiss businessman to pilot a new Krogen 54-foot trawler from Florida to the South of France and instruct the owner in navigation and seamanship, it sounded like an interesting project. Although hundreds of sailboats (mostly of European origin) in the 30-foot-and-upward class make the Atlantic crossing annually, and a dozen or so megayachts sail regularly from the Mediterranean to Caribbean or U.S. ports, few poweryachts less than 60 feet in length attempt the long haul.


Five on board, including Karen Eakin.


 


Nearly 1,600 miles into the trip, we had
our first sighting on marine life: dolphins.


Yacht paintings on the seawall at Horta.


At Fayal a trip to an extinct volcano.

 

     In the 1960’s the trawler yacht concept gave rise to a number of production models. These included boats from Grand Banks, DeFever, Cheoy Lee, and a collection of Gulf Coast shrimpers, some of which were finished as first-class yachts. All of these companies anticipated the demand for a cruising vessel of the fiberglass range. Kadey-Krogen Yachts took a good look at the trawler sales in the mid-1970s and determined that boats of this kind would be a growing segment of the market. Jim Krogen developed a beamy 42-footer, and after 150 hulls were delivered he introduced a 54-foot model in keeping with the same long-range requirements.
     I wanted to see Patty, number seven of the new series, hauled out. She was owned by the Swiss businessman who had contacted me previously. Now, at Jones Boat Yard on the bustling Miami River, she was cradled on the concrete pavement for bottom painting after she’d been shipped from Taiwan.
     Looking up at her from a head-on perspective, I was impressed with her bow sections. A fine entrance gave her the aspect of a scaled-down clipper ship somehow lost in time in the 20th century.
     Sharp lines forward gave way to a full body amidships, suggesting the graceful combination of a fast sailing vessel with the strength and power of a Halifax salvage tug.
     With this form, a five-and-a-half-foot draft, two husky Lehman diesels, each 135 hp, and the heavy specifications I’d seen in her structural plans, I was satisfied that Patty was a trawler in the real sense of the term, capable of heaving to a Force 8 gale, or pushing along comfortably toward ports 2,000 miles away at 8 or 9 knots.
     The whole interior concept was traditional, combined with modern appliances and plenty of light and ventilation. I went below to take a quick look at the staterooms. Forward was a triangular double with a large berth, hanging lockers, vanity, desk and adjoining bath. Farther aft was the owner’s suite, which featured a full-size bed, bath and shower. In the main room alongside the bed was a clothes locker, more than eight feet long.
     Opposite the owner’s room on the port side was another double cabin containing an upper berth, which could be raised to create a study or den. Next I wanted to see the engine compartment, which had access to the main salon by three long hatches and one small inspection door near the galley. One of the main hatches was open, allowing me to step down and see the machinery. There they were, the two bright-red Lehman engines, capped with chrome rocker covers. A quick look around revealed the big 20-kw Northern Lights generator; aft, an inverter, service and starting batteries, water maker, and-wonder of wonders-all accessible.
     The engineroom had ample space and the Lehmans looked simple and easy to maintain, an extremely important advantage on a long voyage where daily checks are needed in normal to severe sea conditions.       

 



     Finally, I went up to see the pilothouse. This too was well thought out, with excellent visibility forward and aft. The wide console and upper window framing could hold more than enough electronics, while eye level at the wheel position was high enough for easy maneuvering.  Opposite the console was a lounge, which opened by sliding a frame forward, converting the lounge to a single or double bed.
     On deck, Patty’s pronounced sheer line, had enough incline to qualify as a beginners run at an Aspen ski resort.
     In the final analysis, Patty appeared to be just what Jim Krogen promised, a no-nonsense seagoing trawler with plenty of luxury features.
     We planned the crossing for mid-June, after the late-spring gales, when the cold North Atlantic is settling down for sultry weather in July, and mostly calm and light variable wind in the latitudes would follow.

       In the more than 15 crossings I’ve made with yachts and ships from the East Coast to the Mediterranean since 1953, the pilot charts have always been reliable and an excellent guide to planning.
     Basically, there are several routes that are appropriate for small power vessels wishing to make such a passage in late spring or early summer. Each of these routes will have favorable currents. The traditional stops for refueling are Bermuda and the Azores.
     The northernmost route is from New York, or Block Island, following an approximate Great Circle curve to the Azores, then to Cape St. Vincent, the southwestern point of Europe, and another day’s run to Gibraltar. This route has favorable currents, and according to the pilot chart, in July, more than 65 percent of observations showed winds of Force 4 or less and from a favorable direction. Moreover, Gulf Stream currents have a maximum velocity of .8 knots, or almost 20 miles per day, a big help when fuel is a factor. The disadvantages of this route are the probability of fog, more unstable weather, and the large number of ships in the East Coast approaches.
     The second route is from the Middle Atlantic ports to Bermuda, thence to the Azores and Gibraltar. Once in Bermuda, you’re out of the Stream and you then follow a slight ENE curve to the Azores. There are a few favorable currents on the run from Bermuda, but the short initial leg of less than 700 miles gives an opportunity to prepare for the long stretch to the Azores. The weather is generally more stable than the Gulf Stream. Gales are rare and, with the exception of an early hurricane, originate more to the north.
     There are two routes from Miami. The first follows the Stream to a point north of the Bahamas, thence to Bermuda and beyond.
 


The trip took place in June, when storms
are rare. Above: Port Vauban, Antiles.


The author using the single sideband.


Scott and Karen taking the noon fix. The
entire trip lasted 24 days over 4,800 miles.

     The final route, and basically the shortest to the Mediterranean, starts in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, then through the NW and NE Providence Passage taking departure from the SE tip of the Abacos, then to Bermuda and the Azores. The majority of large poweryachts and ships use this route when sailing eastbound from the Florida Straits.
     Captain Mike Anderson on the Sophie B has been making this passage regularly since the 1950s. On one occasion we passed in mid-ocean separated by only five miles and talked on the VHF radio.           

 

     The weather is fairly stable, fog is unheard of, at least until one nears the European coast, and the winds are generally fair and light to the Azores, with only a 25-percent chance of being from a forward direction. Wave heights will normally be from two to four feet in July with swells up to six feet.
     Despite the lack of favorable currents and the erratic cross streams, I opted for this last route.
     Before we did a shakedown cruise, Patty had to undergo a complete outfitting as well as our making some extra preparations and taking on some emergency gear.
     In a little more than two months’ time she was shipshape and in Bristol fashion, masts stepped, with all systems checked, and interior furnishing, linens and galley ware purchased and installed.
     After a survey of inflatables, we decided on an 11-foot Nova for the best all-around construction, full fiberglass bottom, and considerable reinforcing. A 30-hp Johnson gave it plenty of power, while a second 15-hp motor served as a spare. The are a number of life rafts on the market, but we selected a SOLAS-approved eight-man Viking. These are used on many passenger and cargo ships and are well worth the extra expense. Besides the usual safety gear such as lifelines, an emergency locator radio, CO2 system, and overboard lights, we carried a 300-foot hawser as a stern drag, two sea anchors, cable cutters, a power saw, and a two-inch gasoline powered, heavy-duty pump. As emergency starting power a 1-kw. Honda generator was put aboard. In case of collision with debris, barrels, or other floating objects, we had ample repair materials, plus a ten-pound bucket of hydraulic cement for underwater repairs.
     I was satisfied that Patty was well equipped as any motor lifeboat, and that we could perform a limited salvage or a rescue operation all by ourselves should we meet a boat in distress.
     I had signed on Jennifer McGee, Paul Wagner, Scott Jordan, Gerry Long and Karen Eaken to be crew, and planned a shakedown cruise to the Bahamas in late April.
     With the exception of some minor adjustments and a few warranty items, the two-week run to Cat Cay, Bimini, Nassau, Chub Cay and the return went smoothly and without incident.
     Sunday. On the 18th day of June 1989, the little trawler Patty cast off from the Kadey-Krogen yard at 12:30 p.m. and headed downstream with a light outgoing current, bound for European waters.            
     We glided past the venerable Merrill Stevens Yard with its bright new sheds on the right, then under the 12th Avenue bridge, past the rusty fleet of Haitian cargo boats, and finally after the last of the bridges, into Biscayne Bay. The waves at the Miami harbor entrance flattened out to a moderate swell by the time Patty cleared the sea buoy. An easterly heading was set for Great Isaac light, then beyond, a course change to the Hole in the Wall and the open Atlantic. We checked all the gauges and systems, secured the deck gear, dogged the hatches, and settled down to a nice Sunday in the Straits of Florida. The wind and sea were moderate to the Bahama bank. Then the seas diminished as we neared Great Isaac light.
     We set a daily routine for the sea. The engines pushed Patty along at eight knots with a little effort at 1,800 rpm. Each day at noon we shut down one engine at a time, and Gerry checked oil and water levels, gear box oil, and made a visual inspection for any leaks, water in the bilges or other signs of problems. No other checks were necessary since Patty was equipped with the usual pressure alarms, auto pumps and warning lights to indicate any malfunction. Radio communication was mainly via WOM in Ft. Lauderdale, which came in loud and clear on an eight-mHz channel until well beyond Bermuda when we switched to 12 or 16 mHz. Most of the 50-odd cruise ships out of South Florida use the same frequencies, so one must wait for a break in the traffic to get a standby number.
     On the fifth day, Bermuda appeared as a speck just off the port bow on the 48-mile setting for the radar. Approaching from the southwest, one parallels the coast of the main island with its white beaches and hotels, then turns in at the sea buoy off St. George, calling harbor control before entering.
     We found a berth on a commercial dock, but were told that a liner was coming in the following Tuesday. This was Friday and we expected to be underway by then. Dockage is scarce in St. George, but the harbor is wide and has plenty of space in the anchorage opposite the town.
     The following day at Dowlings Shell Service we replaced the 650 gallons of diesel oil that was used on the 1,000 mile run from Miami. Then, as a precaution, we lashed an extra 360 gallons on deck in heavy plastic drums, in case a rare head wind and unexpected sea conditions made our normal 1,250-gallon capacity insufficient. After changing the oil in the main engines, fuel and oil filters, and checking out all the systems, it was time to go.
     On Tuesday the weather report was good, so we cast off.
     Now the little trawler had about 2,000 miles of Atlantic ahead, about ten days of sea and sky, a passing ship or two, and I hoped fair winds that would not slow down our progress. It was July 27, and we were now nine days out of Miami.
     Everyone was in good spirits, with the weather holding fair, favorable winds from aft and mostly clear skies. Occasional storm cells appeared on the radar, but were usually to the north.
     The routine aboard was simple, everything was kept in place and stowed properly. Navigation was limited to noting hourly coordinates from the satnav, checking off on a plotting sheet, then making course changes as necessary. A daily noon position was noted on the big North Atlantic chart.
     For communication, WOM usually came in on the SSB very clearly after dark when the phone lines were usually free of traffic until dawn.
     On a sunny Friday, June 30, Jennifer spotted something large off the port bow, probably a blackfish or small whale, the first form of marine life we’d seen in 1,600 miles, except for the ubiquitous flying fish.
     Each day we would log from 185 to 200 miles, depending on the ocean currents and wind conditions.
     The wind diminished to 15 knots by Monday, and for the first time we passed a sailing yacht two miles to starboard. We tried to call on channel 16, but had no reply.
     On July 5, 17 days out of Miami, Scott at last spotted a school of dolphins. They were, as usual, a pleasure to see, leaping and scampering around the bow, and my belief that marine life still survived in the Atlantic was revived. It was a good feeling.
     Now, were only 185 miles from the Azores islands, and we decided to run to Horta, instead of the capitol, Ponta del Gada. I still had to fulfill a promise to Jennifer that we would see a whale. I’d always spotted them around the Azores.
     The following day, I saw the first of several spouts well off to starboard; then later, the unmistakable sight of two mammoth sperm whales a few hundred yards off the bow.
     Fayal appeared on radar at first light on July 6, then began taking on a ghostly shape as visibility improved. Gerry Long was on watch, and, being an old movie buff, said, “It looks just like Skull Island. I expect to see King Kong coming out of the trees.”
     We rounded a small peninsula, and Horta, with its modern harbor and picturesque light blue, yellow and pink houses, came into view. I had brought my first ship here in 1953. At that time Horta was primitive with only an occasional vessel stopping for fuel or provisions.
     After refueling with export prices of 75 cents a gallon, from a truck that looked as if it had come off a showroom floor, we prepared to get under way for the 1,000 mile run to Gibraltar. Dockage was only $18.50 for the entire four-day layover.
     Horta has a population of 14,000 and is surely destined to become a popular summer resort. It can be reached by ship or air from Lisbon.
     July 11 was a sailing day. This time the top of Mt. Pico was clearly visible across the calm channel. We headed for San Miguel, about 160 miles to the east, then for the final stretch of open sea.
     When we arrived in Gibraltar, it was at the peak of its season. Marina Bay, the principal yacht harbor, was crowded with boats of all description. The majority were of British origin, but many from Western Europe were represented along with a few American boats.
     After stopping at the custom’s dock opposite the marina, fuel was taken aboard for the final run to Antibes. A berth was found for us at Marina Bay, then the crew pitched in and gave Patty a wash-down, which she sorely needed to remove a fine layer of salt from everywhere on her decks.
     After two days of rest and a final check for the last 800-mile run, preparations were made to leave bustling Marina Bay with its sidewalk bars and restaurants and to head to Antibes.
     On July 19, we called Gibraltar control and cleared the bay in a light mist and fair winds. Nearing Europa Point, the VHF came in slightly broken up, but I could still detect the familiar Midwestern accent. “Gibraltar…Harbor Control…this is…American warship…entering…bay.”
     I thought, “Must be one of our destroyers or a cruiser coming in for a few days.” Then she appeared out of a light haze off our port bow, with one of those long, sleek, sheer lines that are rarely seen these days. Destroyer? Cruiser? Not with those guns! That’s history! A battleship! A helicopter buzzed around in circles, warning ships to keep a safe distance.
     We made a 30-degree turn to starboard to clear the radius of the helicopter. As the gigantic vessel passed we made out the name on the stern: IOWA…a great sight to behold! This still modern warship was carrying her age proudly over the seas, thrilling all who beheld her wherever she sailed.
     We set our most direct course to Antibes, about 800 miles away. We left the mountainous Spanish coast hidden in a mist to port past Cabo do Gato and Cabo de Palos, then the Balearic Islands on the right. Just ahead lay the Gulf of Lyon, one of the nastiest and most unpredictable stretches of sea in the world. A mistral can start at any time without warning and scream down from the northwest, building up mountainous seas with 40-mile winds along its path, all the way to Corsica and Sardinia. Toulon radio, however, came in with a perfect forecast, except for a warning of patchy fog.
     The weather held, with light winds, but a fog rolled in on the Gulf and for four hours our visibility was reduced to 150 feet.
     The fog lifted as quickly as it had set in. From then on to Antibes it was clear sailing, and calm enough to give the decks a coat of teak oil. On Sunday, July 23, we rounded Cap D’Antibes and headed for the breakwater at Port Vauban, one of the Mediterranean’s largest marinas.
     A few hours later we were relaxing in Patty’s leased berth, stern to, 35 days after sailing from Miami.
     In the next few days we changed the engine oil and filters again. Patty was given a thorough cleaning, and a new custom-fitted rug was laid in the salon and staterooms. After having all her silver and brass polished, Patty looked as of she had just come from the Miami Boat Show. We turned her over to a proud owner amid popping champagne corks and gave a silent prayer of thanks for a safe voyage.
     Patty logged 4,800 miles in 24 days at sea, burning 3,000 gallons of diesel oil, her engines never missing a beat. No problems of any significance were encountered, and the usual good weather prevailed for the most part for this route and time of year.
     With in 24 hours, the Krogen 54 was again under way for a cruise to Porto Cervo, Sardinia.
     The keys to success for any small motor vessel making an eastbound Atlantic passage to the Mediterranean, in my opinion, are seaworthiness and range of the vessel itself, the condition of the engines and equipment, the time of year, the route chosen, the weather forecasts, and the experience of the captain and crew, one of whom should know basic marine mechanics.
     If all these factors are favorable, the run can be fairly predictable and pleasurable in June, along one of the routes I’ve suggested, but treacherous in early spring and fall, and out of the question in winter.

Reprinted with permission from Yachting Magazine.