There are few offshore destinations readily available to the East Coast sailor that can boast so impressive a vessel traffic oversight capability as Bermuda. Sitting high atop Fort George Hill, Bermuda Harbor Radio (BHR) maintains a lordly view of the waters surrounding the clutch of islands. With its powerful, narrow beam width radar, the watch stander at Bermuda Harbor Radio can survey all traffic to and from the Onion Patch out to 50 miles. Its high site VHF antennas allow BHR to speak with vessels out to 150 miles. In 2008 alone, BHR shepherded more than 440 ships and almost 1,000 yachts into port.
The oversight of BHR was highlighted on the last day of schooner Virginia’s passage to Bermuda in mid-November. Facing an unfavorable easterly wind, Virginia was forced to tack upwind to make the final 150 miles to her destination. Captain Stefan Edick laid a final port tack that took us up into the lee of Bermuda and the reef that encircles the western side of the island group. But tucking up behind the reef, Virginia was able to get out of the worst of the sizeable easterly swell and make better time.
We had previously checked in with BHR when we reached a point 30 miles out, so BHR was aware of Virginia’s approach. And since Virginia had made previous visits to Bermuda, BHR had a full profile on and was familiar with the big knockabout. Ian Brooks (seen in photo), the watchstander at BHR was not aware, however, of Captain Edick’s approach strategy. Brooks, in his Fort George Hill aerie, watched on radar as the 126-foot schooner plied ever closer to the reef. Finally, Brooks picked up his handset and called. After making contact, Brooks posed a question with classic British aplomb, “I know that you know, but you do know there’s a reef ahead of you, don’t you?”
Captain Edick thanked Brooks and assured him Virginia was well aware of the reef (still miles ahead) and was about to tack away. Brooks, for his part, can’t be too careful when seeing vessels approach from the west. “I knew it was Virginia,” Brooks said. “But people get tired and go to sleep.” During his four years at BHR, following decades in the British merchant marine and several years in the U.K. Coast Guard, Brooks has seen yachts sail unknowingly toward the reef because a single handed or shorthanded crew has been incapacitated by fatigue. All of which would prompt one to ask, “You do know there’s a reef ahead of you, don’t you?”