Dutch sailor Area “Marcel” Heybroek (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Dutch sailor Area “Marcel” Heybroek admits to being a bit superstitious. Last year, he was scheduled to sail from Oriental, North Carolina, to the Azores on July 13.
“But I didn’t like number 13 and decided to leave on the 14th,” Mr Heybroek said.
But bad luck seemed to follow his 40-foot sailboat, so ronganyway.
Eighty miles north of Bermuda he encountered a winter storm with winds of 30 to 40 knots.
He thought he held up to the windy weather very well, until he woke up at the bottom of his boat hours later.
“I was lying in front of my oven inside my boat,” he said. “The last memory I have is of being splashed with water.”
so rong at anchor (Photograph provided)
He had no apparent injuries except for a bruised buttock.
“I wondered what happened to me,” he said. “It was dead calm. There was no sign of the storm. My sails were flapping so I rolled them up and decided to fish.
It was only later, when he unfurled the sails again, that he realized they were torn. And looking around the boat, there was other damage. His solar panels were hanging from a cable and he later discovered a leak.
“I thought about what happened to me,” he said. “How is it possible, I didn’t notice it when I furled the sails earlier?”
Now the 73-year-old thinks he may have lost not just a few hours of his memory, but possibly even days.
“It would normally take about ten days to sail from North Carolina to Bermuda,” he said. “It was July 29, 14 days later.”
He bought the blue hull so rong in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2019 and then spent the early months of the pandemic in lockdown in Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Florida. In the summer of 2020, he leaves Florida but quickly discovers a problem with his diesel engine. He ended up spending a year in Oriental, North Carolina doing engine repairs.
Off Bermuda in July 2021, she found she was again in need of major repairs.
“The nearest land was Bermuda, but by then I was already 200 miles from Bermuda,” he said. “So I went back in that direction.”
Mr Heybroek said he tried to establish radio contact with Bermuda, but said he became involved in managing his escape and missed a radio response. As he approached Castle Harbour, the Bermuda Regiment’s boat appeared.
“They came in force,” he said. “They said you can’t come here, you have to go to St George. They guided me to St George.
When she anchored at Convict Bay, St George’s, her whole rig broke loose and slipped.
His first days in Bermuda were spent waiting to be cleared of Covid-19. When this was settled, he spent the next ten months repairing his boat. The pensioner had few funds, so he had to work on it himself.
Since being here he has become a regular at the Boardwalk Cafe on Water Street in St George. He said the wi-fi there, the pastries and the cafe make it a popular meeting place for sailors.
It was also a good place for him to meet people. Mr. Heybroek loves chatting with other customers.
“Everyone speculates that the Bermuda Triangle got me, but I don’t know what happened,” he said.
It started out moored at Convict Bay, but moved to Dolly’s Bay, St David’s.
“You can just see my boat from the old Black Horse Tavern,” he said.
While there, he was assisted by the Mariner’s Club of Hamilton. Many Bermudians also reached out to him, providing him with free moorings, transportation, and help finding materials to repair his boat.
In fact, he has tears in his eyes talking about the friendliness of Bermudians.
Once, someone at the Boardwalk Cafe overheard him talking about the need to move his boat to new moorings and offered him theirs.
“Their boat was in the UK, so they said I was welcome to use their Dolly’s Bay mooring for free, as long as I was in Bermuda,” Mr Heybroek said. “With my anchor platform, a Frenchman who was diving there came close to my boat. I said if you see a platform with rollers at the bottom, it’s mine. He dived and came and said is that the one? So I got my rig back, but some parts were missing.
This has now been fixed.
He is originally from the Netherlands, but lived in Granada, Spain for 40 years.
At one time he ran his own beach restaurant that could seat 500 people.
“When I sold my business, I thought I was ready to retire and enjoy life,” he said. “But you have to be mature for this moment. After a year of doing nothing, I went back and worked for the last ten years in a pharmacy.
In the 1980s, he built his own sailboat.
“I was originally a tailor,” he said. “I thought that at a certain point, when you’re a tailor, you can put pieces of fabric together to make something. I could also build a boat. It was my old boat. I lived almost permanently on this boat.
But when he retired, he wanted more luxury. He sold his apartment in Spain, bought a smaller room and also so rong.
He described life on a boat as “ultimate freedom”.
He plans to head back to the Azores next month, when the Gulf Stream currents and prevailing winds are most conducive to sailing.
“Now I have almost no ties with Holland,” he said, “only the language.”
His plan is to end up in Spain again, where he will sell his small apartment.
“I thought it would be nice to have a place to come back to,” he said. “Now I realize that where you live and your home is where your heart is and where you drop your hook. I have a buyer for that, but I have to go back to make all the paperwork. And you have to do it in person.
Mr Heybroek said it will be very difficult to leave Bermuda.
“I couldn’t afford to live here,” he said. “I can afford it now because I live on the boat. But I lost my heart for Bermuda. I have so many friends here now, they drive me everywhere.
He really likes Bermuda and is happy to have come. His hope is to return one day.