Cruising the Caribbean with Covid

It’s mid-January, and Brenda and  I are still in Antigua, nearly three weeks after we returned from the US.  We have finally recovered, well mostly recovered, from our colds, compliments of our adorable grandchildren, the little viral incubators that they are.

The weather here has been terrific, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s and 70s overnight.  Winds have been moderate which has made getting around the harbor quite simple.

We’ve been eating out a good deal with the highlight Brenda’s birthday on the 15th at perhaps the nicest place in the area.  During cocktails we had a very nice Zoom event, compliments of Chris’s partner Melody, who set it up.  Guests included, in addition to Melody and Chris, our son Rob and his family along with Brenda’s oldest friend LeeAnne and Rob and Christopher’s adopted uncle Craig.  It was a very nice event and Brenda was very touched.  It would  have been better to be with everyone in person but Zoom was a pretty good second choice.  Brenda and I continue to enjoy sitting up on Pandora’s deck, made possible by reasonable trade winds, to enjoy the sunset every evening.    Some nights it’s more colorful than others but always a sight to behold.With a full moon a few nights ago, we were treated to a great show.  The moon rose around sunset and didn’t set until after dawn.  Here’s a shot of today’s moonset and our friend Tom’s Rally Point, all by herself in the harbor.  Somehow this photo doesn’t do the moment justice.  On Friday we will make our way around to Jolly Harbor where we will do some last minute provisioning before making the 45 mile run to Deshaies Guadeloupe.  Winds on Saturday look good, about 15kts out of the east which means we will make the run with wind just forward of the beam, making for a nice run.  The seas will be pretty large, perhaps 8′ or so but the period between crests will be long, 15 seconds, making for a reasonable and fast ride.

Friends have asked what it’s like being here this winter and how we feel about the risk of infection.  The simple answer is “normal” and better than we had expected.  I expect that a few of our cruising friends who decided to sit out this season, as they endure below freezing temperatures up north, are probably questioning their decision to take a pass this season.

Last year, pre-vaccination, it was challenging to move between islands because of expensive PCR tests and mandatory quarantines upon arrival.  As moving to other islands was impractical, a big issue was finding a way to get three month visas renewed without being exposed to possible infection.   Visas had to be renewed in St John, requiring a cab ride and a long wait in line, among the then unvaccinated masses.  Not safe at all.

Now, as in pre-pandemic years, the simple option is just to leave the island and go elsewhere.  Return, within 24 hours or at any time down the road and the 90 day clock starts all over again.

This season could not be more different with regards to Covid as most everyone knows of someone that is vaccinated and yet still caught Covid and recovered.  The good news is that in most cases, with those that are fully vaccinated, a case is usually not much more than a bad cold.  Having said that, show up at an event, with even a sniffle, and you will quickly become an outcast.  It’s not really as much about the danger of Covid but more about becoming infected and the inconvenience of having to delay plans for moving to another island because of the need to quarantine and test again.

There’s no question that the governments of some islands are also feeling a bit better about all this as moving from place to place is now a lot easier.  For example, to head to Guadeloupe you are still being asked to get a rapid test prior to departure and yet nobody is asking to view the results upon arrival.  I also heard that once cleared into Guadeloupe you can travel sans-test to Martinique, another French island, assuming that you don’t stop in Dominica, a non French island, along the way.

Brenda and I don’t feel confident about stopping in Dominica this year.  When I asked  about the status of vaccination there, a friend, and admittedly this is second hand information, said that she had heard that “vaccination was encouraged”.  That’s not working for me.  Additionally, the pandemic came on the heels of back to back hurricane hits so things have been very tough on that island for years now.  Yes, I understand that the risk of infection is more about my own vaccination status than that of others but I still feel more comfortable being around others that are vaccinated.

Today I received news about a violent attack on a cruiser who had anchored off of St Vincent, when two armed men boarded his boat, tied him up and took everything that was not nailed down before fleeing.  It’s that sort of thing that makes me very nervous when considering visiting some islands that have been particularly hard hit.

Here in Antigua and on many other islands, life is fairly normal and just about the only reason you’d know that anyone is still concerned about Covid is that masks are mandatory everywhere.   In early November the Antigua government took the controversial position of requiring vaccination for all government employees and those involved in the hospitality business, firing those who did not comply.  As you can imagine, vaccination levels are much higher now.

Taking a hard line to reduce infection was vital as the economy of Antigua, like so many other islands, is heavily based on tourism.   They are receiving the benefit of this decision now as the marinas are packed to capacity and restaurants and hotels are busy.  Additionally, all visitors are required to show proof of vaccination to enter the country.

While those in colder climates struggle with finding a way to spend time in public during cold weather, here in the islands, where just about everything is outdoors, in tropical breezes, life seems pretty normal and everyone is going about their business with little restriction.

While a negative Covid test is required upon arrival in all islands, at this writing, most now allow the less expensive rapid test as opposed to the lab-based PCR test that was the norm until recently.  A few islands still require the more expensive PCR test which might lead to some cruisers heading elsewhere for cost reasons as PCR tests can run upwards of $200-$250 per person.

Many cruisers, after enjoying the holidays here or back in the states, are now beginning to head to other islands with many making the daylight run to the next island to the south, Guadeloupe.   Fortunately, entry there is still as simple in Deshaies, as it had been in the past.  Head ashore to the T shirt shop, pay a few Euros and you’re good to go.  In most cases, cruisers aren’t even being asked for their test results.Given the fear of breakthrough infection, even if it’s not particularly risky for healthy vaccinated people, many cruisers have a supply of rapid tests aboard so that they can check themselves, in advance of paying for a proctored test, the sort required for entry, as they don’t want to pay the $100US for the  rapid test only to find that they must wait due to a positive result.

The general consensus with most cruisers that I have contacted, is that they plan on more spending time in their favorite places so that they can avoid the complexity and expense of regular testing.

In addition to Deshaies, another stop in Guadeloupe is the small archipelago at the southern end of the island, Les Saintes, with its laid-back Mediterranean vibe and great French food.   From there, some will opt to head to Dominica, known for great hiking but many will choose to make the 100 mile run directly Martinique with its mix of bustling cities and quaint villages.

Both Guadeloupe and Martinique offer great variety and it’s easy to spend a few months at either island without the complexities of testing before moving elsewhere.

For cruisers visiting Martinique, clearing into St Pierre is a good first stop, nestled in the shadow of Mt Pele.  From there some move to the bustling capital city of Forte de France or, perhaps continue on directly to the village of St Anne, with its expansive anchorage, a favorite spot for cruisers to hang out, some for the entire season.  Nearby la Marin is a great place to provision and boat supplies are readily available.

All and all, as the pandemic hopefully moves into its final critical stage, life here in the Caribbean feels a lot like “old times” and there are hints that things are finally getting back to normal.

One thing for sure, based on the number of “first timers” that joined the Salty Dawg Rally last November, is that living through the last two years, with so much uncertainty, has caused many to reevaluate their lives and adopt the YOLO, you only-live-once, attitude.  As they say, “you’ll never be any younger or any healthier so cast off the dock lines and go cruising”.

As my friends up in New England are coping with single digit temperatures lamenting for the days when they were able to enjoy alfresco dining, those of us that are here in the Caribbean are enjoying gentle trade winds, daily visits to the beach and those iconic sunsets that the tropics are known for.

So, if you have been dreaming of a tropical winter, now’s the time to begin planning in earnest for next season.   And speaking of planning, why not sign up to participate in the Salty Dawg Sailing Association webinar series, more than 40 topics in all to help jump start your plans to head south next season.  www.saltydawgsailing.org

So, here we are, hanging out in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua for a few more days before beginning our journey to Guadeloupe.  And, like most afternoons, I expect that Brenda and I will head to the beach for a swim before heading back and showering before dinner aboard Pandora. As is so common here, we were treated to a brief shower this morning followed by a stunning rainbow.  This is only a sliver as it was tough to capture the whole spectacle.  Beautiful never the less and more proof that cruising the Caribbean with covid is still a great place to be.

Antigua eye candy.

It’s hard to believe just how much money there is out there but to see all the huge yachts here in Antigua makes it pretty clear that there is plenty to go around, at least among the .01% crowd.

I was meeting with a friend that runs a restaurant here in Falmouth this morning and she showed me an order for $2,ooo for sushi, something that happens most every day from one or more of the mega and giga yachts that fill the marinas here.  She says that the amount of takeout is way up because many of the charter boats don’t want any of their crew to spend time ashore because of the risk of getting Covid, vaccination or not.

That makes sense given the fact that these boats charter for upwards of $250,000 to $500,000 per week.  Having even one crew test positive could cause them to loose a charter.

Yesterday we moved Pandora out to closer to the entrance of the harbor so that we could enjoy some time on the beach.   We try to stay out of the sun in the heat of the day but enjoy doing a bit of swimming in the late afternoon.

This was the view from the deck of Pandora last evening where we enjoyed a glass of nice rose. This boat passed us this morning.    She’s huge at nearly 350′ and is owned by a Russian, if I recall.  We have seen here before.    Note the chopper on her aft deck.   Wouldn’t want the owner to have to endure a cab ride from the airport.  While Anna is only a few years old, Shemara is from the 1930s, rescued as a derelict by an owner with the resources to renovate her properly.   She had been abandoned in the UK for many years.  In order to make sure that the renovation went according to plan, the new owner actually formed his own restoration yard so that he could control the process and be sure that it turned out well.  And, it did, She is a classic beauty.She is a bit of a peanut compared to Anna but so classy.  Her superstructure evokes a bygone era.Check out this link to learn more about her 3.5 year refit.  There are over 1,000,000 man hours in her and so much of her was upgraded and replaced that there is only about 15% to 20% of her that is still original.   She is diesel electric with dual azimuth drives, a system where two pods are on the bottom of the boat that can be rotated in any direction, a blend of old and high tech.

Better yet, check out this 2.5 minute video of her.  It begins with her launch in the 30s.  Even though she is over 200′ long, she looks tiny compared to some of the other boats here.Another beauty that showed up today is Nero.  She’s even bigger and is actually a new boat, launched in 2011, but designed to evoke a yacht from Shemara’s time. This short video gives a terrific tour of her, inside and out.  I’d love to have a G&T in her salon.It’s hard to know where to stop with so much “candy” to talk about.

But, before I break, I have to note that the competitors in the Talisker’s Whisky Challenge have begun arriving in Antigua.  These boats, some with only two crew, will have rowed across the entire Atlantic.  It’s billed as the “toughest race in the world”, and I believe it. Given my choice, I would much rather spend time aboard one of the “big girls” here in the harbor than to spend months rowing across the Atlantic.  But, perhaps that’s just me, getting softer as I get older.

One more thing.  Speaking of getting older.  Brenda’s birthday is today and this evening we will be having dinner where I am writing this.   The evening will begin with a Zoom with friends and family followed by a really nice dinner.   What a great spot to celebrate and enjoy the view of all the eye candy here in Antigua.

Happy Birthday Brenda!

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

It’s Friday and we have been back in Antigua for a week.  I am finally, nearly, almost, mostly over the particularly nasty cold, compliments of our grandchildren that I have suffered from for over two weeks and now Brenda has the scourge.

Her cough sounds terrible and I am hopeful that she will improve enough to join me at the Antigua Yacht Club event this evening.  Angie, the proprietor of the place, has arranged for Antigua Distillery, local makers of fine rum, to host the event with tastings.   It should be fun.  Besides, when you are in the Caribbean, what’s more important than rum?

A few days ago we fueled up and moved from English Harbor over to Falmouth where the water is a lot clearer.  I was stunned by the barnacles that had grown on Pandora’s bottom during our 6 weeks away.  Think popcorn sized barnacles covering every inch of her bottom.  I hired a diver to clean things up as it was a far bigger job than I could have possibly tackled myself. It took two hours for him to get everything off.  He did a good job, which I’d expect for $4.00/ft

Here’s Pandora on the fuel dock with a slew of Oyster yachts in the background, all cueing up to begin their “around the world rally”.  I’m not sure that this is the year to set off on such an adventure with the virus still running rampant.And speaking of fuel, a few years ago one of my tanks developed a leak which I had repaired.  Well, the repair turned out to be more like a temporary band aid and yesterday, when I filled that tank up again, we ended up with a load of fuel in the bilge.  I discovered the problem late in the evening and spent the next few hours pumping out what fuel I could from the tank into jugs.  What a mess.  As I have three tanks, I don’t have to worry about this for the rest of the season except for whatever is left and seeps into the bilge.  It seems that just about every time I leave Pandora for more than few weeks, something goes amiss.   I guess it’s time to get a new tank instead of a patched one.   Another day, another boat dollar.

When we arrived, on New Year’s eve, there were very few yachts in the marinas as many of them were out on charter.  Well, yesterday, one week later, they are all returning and the marinas are packed.  I was told that every slip is booked for the entire season so I am guessing that they are paying for their slips even if they aren’t there.  Must be nice to live the life of “if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it.”

How about Mayan Queen.  She’s over 300′ long.  We’ve seen her before.  If I recall, she belongs to a Mexican guy that made his fortune in wireless phones.  It must be quite a fortune. And, under the category of mine is bigger than yours, how about the swim platform?  It’s quite a bit bigger than our back deck at home, and a whole lot nicer. And, you about this, their tender with quad outboards?  It’s hard to imagine the need for 1,800 hp on a boat that’s less than 40′ long. Well, everyone needs a way to get ashore but few can afford a “limo tender”.  Nice ride.   “James, take me to the quay.  And be quick about it.”   “Madam, there is a 5kt speed limit here in the harbor.”  “James, be real, that’s just for the little people.”Readers may recall that Brenda and I spent three days racing aboard Marie, a 182′ ketch a few years ago.  She has a new owner and is here in her “usual” slip.  With all the teak, and there’s tons of it, covered, clearly the owner isn’t aboard.
Antigua, known as the “sailing capital of the Caribbean” generally has her share of beautiful sailing yachts.  Here’s two classic J class racers, Ranger and Lionheart.  Ranger is the white one.  I’ve never been crazy about her unorthodox bow configuration.   Her boom is so big that it was dubbed “Park Avenue”.  She has an impressive array of chrome.And, how about Adix, a “classic: built in the 80s.   She’s spectacular.She was once owned by Alan Bond who named her XXX after one of his beer brands.   She has a lot of teak aboard, all varnished to perfection. And, where there are mega-yachts, there are toys.  want to spend $5,000 on a surfboard, look no further.  These are becoming very popular with the mega-set.  Lithium powered and you don’t need waves to surf.  Part of the parade of huge yachts returning to Falmouth this morning is Marie, a a real stunner.  Sadly, as there are so many yachts with that name, I was unable to find out anything about her.  Want to charter a classic?  How about Eros, a meticulously restored schooner from the 30s.  She can take 8 guests so how splitting the cost 4 ways makes it a bargain at about $14,000/week per couple.  Hard to pass up a deal like that.Oh my, so many yachts to choose from.  Where do I begin?No wait, here’s another one, just pulling in.   Sorry, no-go.  She sports an orange boot top, and I drank way too much orange soda as a kid. There must be one that’s right.  Yes, some are nearly prefect but I struggle with the price point.   Sadly, I DO have to ask how much.

For now I will just have to be satisfied with our little Pandora.  At least I can be confident that our view is as good as the big boys.
I’d better sign off now as it’s nearly time to head to the beach for a swim.   I feel sorry for my friends up in CT.  I hear that the forecast is for around a foot of the white stuff.

I’ll settle for a white sandy beach.

I was Blue but now I am better.

It’s been two weeks since my last post but it feels like a lifetime.  When I last posted, I didn’t have passport with enough time remaining to be valid for the duration of our winter in the Caribbean.

I went to the passport office website and the details of an emergency renewal, defined as taking less than a few months, said something like “you better hope that someone had died or don’t bother us, EVER!”.  Not terribly encouraging so in desperation I opted for one of those services that promise a quick turnaround for about $1,000.  However, after filling out the questions on the website, including credit card information, and tons of personal stuff, when they asked for my SS number, I bailed.   But not soon enough, it seems, to avoid a charge of nearly $700.  The resolution of that issue is still pending.

As you can imagine, by that point, I was really  becoming desperate and decided that my only hope was to contact CT Senator Chris Murphy’s office.  Problem solved and Senator Murphy is now my NEW BEST FRIEND, in a few days one of his aids secured an appointment, in person, at the passport office in Stamford.  Problem solved with a turnaround of a few hours.

Ok, so now I have a new passport albeit with a photo that makes me look like a criminal.  When my son Christopher saw it, his reaction was “if you ever get arrested you’d better hope that the jury doesn’t see this phot0 or they will vote to convict before the trial even begins”.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Christopher.

Our six weeks at home after leaving Antigua was a whirlwind, visiting our son and his family in Maryland, (more about that in a moment), helping our other son and his partner move into NYC after being with us for nearly a year and a half (what a great experience that was).  Make that driving 6 hours round trip to NYC, three times, celebrating Christmas with Chris and Melody and our friend Craig at our home.

Oh yeah, Brenda and I also decorated our home for Christmas, and then she took everything down the day after Christmas, while I drove Chris and Melody and Mila, their dog, back into NYC.

Back home to pack and winterize the house, blowing out all the water pipes with compressed air, antifreeze in the washer, dishwasher, icemaker, drains and toilets.  A long list.

Finally…. Picking up a rental car so we could drive into NYC to stay with Chris and Melody before going to Kennedy Airport.  The next morning, at 0-dark-30 we headed to JFK only to learn that our flight to Antigua on Jet Blue was canceled 15 MINUTES BEFORE WE ARRIVED AT THE AIRPORT THANKYOU.

Teh terminal was a zoo.  I have never seen so many people in one building.  So much for social distancing.  It was like a giant mosh pit, with luggage.  Beginning at 04:00 we stood line for the next six hours before we were able to finally secure a hotel room.   By the time we made it to the hotel it wasn’t even noon and after a an early lunch Brenda fell asleep on a bench in the bar while we waited for our room to be ready.  Asleep in the bar you say?  No, no gin involved.

When we finally got to our room, we slept the sleep of the dead only to wake up in time for dinner.   No, make that the sleep of the sick and dead.  Sick?  Let me explain.

Remember that we visited our son and his family in MD?  We had a terrific time and as usual, came back with more than we arrived with.  Repeat after me “small children are noting more than adorable viral incubators”.

Oh boy, did I come back with a doozy of a cold.  Here I sit more than two weeks later and I am still coughing my lungs out.  And no, it’s not COVID, although I was concerned enough to take two rapid tests and a PCR, all negative.

Below is a photo of our family and those adorable vectors.  It’s been four years since our boys, Rob and Christopher, have been together.  Now that Chris lives in NYC, as opposed to Oakland CA, I am sure that we will all be together more often.

Yup, that’s the adorable petri dish gang on the lower left.  From left to right, twins Emme, Rhett and Tori.  When they are sick, you can hardly tell.  With me, yes, you can tell, for weeks on end.  On the top, from left to right our son Rob, his wife Kandice, Brenda, Melody, Chris’s partner and  Christopher.

And, me, down low sucking in all those viral particles.  And Mila, happy, no matter what. So, after all that we are finally back in Antigua and while our “home friends” are feeling the effects of winter up north, we have this view out of Pandora’s cockpit. On our starboard side is Nelson’s Dockyard, home to some remarkable boats.  How about this three masted schooner?   She’s huge.  Ada, I think.  All the schooners here aren’t quite so well kept, though most are.  How about this lovely yacht?  They say that “he who dies with the most stuff wins”.  If that’s true, this guy is a shoe-in. This is really a beautiful place and we are looking forward to hanging out for a few weeks before we head to Guadeloupe.   I guess that’s it for now.  I’m happy now but heading back to Antigua was quite a trial thanks to Jet Blue and I have to say that that experience on “Blue” really made me  blue.  Today I received a survey from Jet Blue and as they say “I told it like it is and as Brenda would say “and that’s what I really think?”  It wasn’t pretty but I hope that they contact me as I included my email.

Blue or not, I’m mostly better now except for one tiny little thing…. Now Brenda’s sick.

Life can be cruel but at least we are aboard our boat in a tropical paradise.  it could be worse.

Will returning to Antigua be easier than visiting Cuba?

It’s nearly Christmas and life is a bit crazy, with family events and all the details of getting ready to close up the house and head back to Antigua and Pandora.

And, speaking of Pandora, my friend Bill sent me this photo, taken from his room at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor earlier this week, of Pandora safe and sound on her mooring, awaiting our return.  Our plans for heading back to Antigua have us getting a rental car on the 29th and heading into NYC to visit our son Christopher and his partner Melody before going to JFK the next day to fly out.

And, speaking of Chris and Melody, who have lived with us here in CT for much of the pandemic, decided not to move back to San Francisco and instead moved into NYC a few weeks ago.  Yahoo!  So great and they actually have a two bedroom place so we can visit, and NEVER LEAVE!.

So back to Antigua.  Some months ago I noticed that my passport expires in May but with all the delays caused by the pandemic, I didn’t worry much about that, knowing that I would be heading home to the US with Pandora, in the spring, about the time that my passport will expire.  I figured that if I arrived in the US aboard Pandora with a nearly expired passport, I’d be Ok.  What would they do?  Send me back?  Not likely and then I would be in the US anyway and could get my passport renewed. 

Wrong!  The problem with all this is that I didn’t even think about the  plan to visit other islands in the Caribbean this winter, all of which require a passport to be some 5-6 months from expiration, which it won’t be.   Don’t ask how I got confused about all this, I just did.  Now, not so confused.  Well, not on this topic anyway.

This is now a LOT more urgent as we will likely leave Pandora in Trinidad this summer and there is no way that I will be able to clear in with a passport that will expire within a few weeks of my arrival.

So, on Monday, a few days ag0,  I focused on trying to find a way to “expedite” the renewal.  No simple feat, as these days, in an age of Covid, it takes months to renew unless you are able to use the “life or death emergency” option.  “Officer, it’s life or death as I really need to get back to my boat in the Caribbean, you know, where it’s warm when you are freezing in the north.  Yes, I need to see fireworks.  I’ll die if I don’t.”  Hmm…  I’ll have to work on the message.

So, in a near panic, I began to search online and discovered that there are plenty of services that purport to be able to get a passport renewed in just a few days, for a price.  Well, that price, it turns out, is upwards of $1,000 including government charges.   Not a trifling number but I’m desperate.

So, I picked one, www.govworks.com, and began to fill out a series of questions.  Oddly, the first step was to put in my credit card number before I had even applied.  I should have seen that one coming and bailed immediately.  However, I stuck with it.  After a long list of questions including email addresses, birthdate and contact info for Brenda too, they asked for my SS number.  RED FLAG!  Alert! Alert!  Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson!!! NO WAY, so I bailed and tried to undo what I had started.  No such luck and a short while later, a charge to my credit card of $700.   It’s going to be fun to get that charge removed from my Visa account.  I do love a challenge.

Ok, so that service was a bad idea.  What next?  I had no idea so I called the office of our town First Selectman and they recommended that I call our state senator, Chris Murphy.

Bingo!   One of Senator Murphy’s aids called me back and said that he would personally expedite my request.  I guess he likes fireworks.  Actually, I didn’t say anything about that but my tale of woe seemed to be enough to inspire him to help.  I did own up that I had voted for the Senator, a democrat, in the last election and likely would again.  I also mentioned that I am registered as a republican, albeit a disenchanted one just to confirm that I was a constituent worth helping in my hour of need.

Anyway, my new best friend Claude, the senator’s aid, said he was going to bat for me and get an appointment.

Of course, passports apply to all sorts of international travel, both by boat and jet but for me, the bulk of passport use involves Pandora.  With all the island to island travel over the last decade, I have a good number of pages in my passport full of entry and exit stamps, including from Cuba in 2016.

How’s that for an awkward segue?  Cuba?  It makes sense to me as I am reminded of the last time I had to really think hard about the complexities of traveling outside of the US, in 2016 when we visited Cuba.

If you were to look at all the stamps in my soon-to-expire passport, you’d see a very faint stamp from Cuba.  I mention the fact that my passport has a stamp from Cuba in it as the standard when an American visits Cuba is for the officer to insert a piece of paper into the passport and stamp that, instead of stamping a page in the book itself, lest a US official will see that we visited Cuba.   Of course, that’s because Americans are not supposed to visit Cuba.  In our case, we were there legally so I was sure to make them stamp my book.  Sadly, the stamp is so faint you can hardly read it.

Things have changed a lot since that brief moment in time when Cuba was open to US citizens. and once again I am focused on all that goes into international travel, if for different reasons.  When we went to Cuba we were visiting an “enemy state” and now just about everywhere you might go, you are visiting “enemy territory” compliments of Covid-19.

I can still remember the surreal experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba, all bleary eyed from our long three day run from Georgetown Great Exuma. in the Bahamas.  We were very exhausted, and a bit overwhelmed, with the more than two hour process, meeting with multiple officials who had all the time in the world to spend with us as they had so few visiting boats to process.

All of this conjures up some wonderful memories.  The experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba is a story worth revisiting so check out this post.  The photo below is of the medical officer that visited us in quarantine, flaming red hair and all.

Everyone flies a Q flag when clearing into a country but it’s not a formality in Cuba where we were instructed to head to a far away corner of the harbor.  And, certainly not these days when “Q” as in quarantine is taken seriously, with the risk of importing yet another case of Covid.  Back then, in Cuba, it was all about yellow fever.

Quarantine or not, formalities completed, we shared a beer with the medical officer.  For us, a first, not before or since…Meeting a medical officer with punk style red hair was nothing to compare to seeing the Rolling Stones play in Havana.  Perhaps yet another random segue but since I brought it up here’s a link to a post about that amazing experience.

It’s hard to imagine a time when being in crowds like this will ever feel normal again.
To say that this was a unique, once in a lifetime, experience doesn’t begin to describe what it was like to be there, on a sultry night in Havana with a million fans.  It was crazy.  Think of a mosh pit covering acres and acres and you get the idea.

This short clip below gives a feel for what it was like that night.  The Stones opened with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a song that they first sang at concert in 1968.  It’s still a great tune decades later.

You can watch the entire “Havana nights” concert on YouTube but this short clip captures the feeling of that night when they opened with their first song.
In spite of the massive crowds that night, The Stones actually played to a larger crowd when the did a free concert in Rio de Janeiro in 2006 reported to be more than 1,600,000.   That was their largest concert ever and perhaps the largest in history for any group.

I mention our visit to Cuba as it was the last time that I had to hustle to get paperwork for any trip, as visiting Cuba, even then, when things were fairly open, took months to put together.

I had explored visiting Cuba earlier in 2015 but abandoned the idea as it was just too complicated. However, when I ran into problems in running Pandora to the BVI that fall (another story) and had to abandon my run, I became determined to revisited the idea.

As with my current passport issues, I doubt that I would have ever been able to get all the details in place without the personal assistance of someone in government.   Visiting Cuba, open or not, was complex as I had to get approvals from the State Department, Commerce Department and the US Coastguard.

It wasn’t until a few days before we were scheduled to leave Georgetown Great Exuma for Santiago de Cuba in early March, 2016 that I was finally able to get everything in place to go was finally in place.

So, here I am again, scrambling to get ready to head back to Antigua and Pandora.  Last time it was an enemy of the state, now, in part, it’s an enemy of humanity, Covid-19.

Fingers crossed as I await to hear back from my new best friend, Claude and I guess I’ll find out soon if heading back to Antigua will be easier than visiting Cuba.

At least there isn’t much of a risk of testing positive for Yellow Fever.  It could be worse.

 

 

 

 

So, Bob, how was your trip to Antigua?

Well, it’s done.  Pandora is now in Antigua and Brenda and I are back home for the holidays.

Our plan is to rejoin Pandora in late December so we can enjoy New Year’s Eve in Antigua along with some terrific French dining while watching the fireworks over the fort in English harbor.

If you think of fireworks as something that only happens for the 4th of July, think again. You have not experienced anything like watching a scene like this while sitting on the deck of your boat sipping a rum punch.   Incomparable…So we are in CT, Pandora is in Antigua and my run south is becoming a distanc memory.  All and all, the run was fairly easy but the fleet was frustrated by a lack of wind and when the wind gets light, I crank up the engine.  This year that meant we motored more than 150 hours over the 1,500 mile, 12 day run.  To give some scale to the time we listened to the drone of the engine, think about turning on the engine on say, Sunday and then turning it off  the following weekend.

That’s a lot of motoring.   I always find it amazing that a machine/engine, can operate for that long without something going badly, another reason that I have a mechanic go over the engine every year before we head offshore.   The idea of finding myself powerless, hundreds of miles from land, with no wind in the forecast makes me sweat.

If you follow this blog you already know much of this as I published nearly every day, during the run, sending the text of the post to Brenda via the Iridium Go network.  I will say, that while the Iridium and Predict Wind systems are a fairly expensive system to set up and use, it’s an awesome way to get weather information each day and to stay in touch with family along the way.   Being able to call Brenda every day during the trip was a real treat and something that I will not want to give up any time soon.

Being unable to hear her voice for the nearly two weeks that it takes to make the run has always been tough for me so those talks, as brief as they were, made being away from her more tolerable.   And, I know of such things after nearly a decade making the north and south run most every year.

Anyway, the question I always get when I talk with friends following a long run is “So, Bob, how was your trip?”, so I thought that I’d try to answer that in this post.

All and all, the trip was fine if a bit too long.  At twelve days, it was the longest by a few days but because we had to motor so much, it seemed like a LOT longer than that.

If the truth is to be told. about half way through the run I began to think that it might be best to leave Pandora south next summer, likely in Trinidad, instead of yet another long run north.  Fast forward to now and that’s the plan.   I think that it’s time to take a break from the three weeks in the fall and again in the spring that I spend moving Pandora thousands of miles.  It’s going to be tough to have her in Trinidad for months, while I am home in CT, so we will have to see how it goes.

One of the features of Pandora that makes her sail well, when the engine isn’t droning away, is that her engine is located below the galley, in the center of the boat.  This keeps weight low and away from the ends of the boat.  That’s good from a design standpoint, but the negative is that the heat of the engine running is inside the boat which means that a lot of heat is released into the cabin, even for hours after the engine is shut off.  And, as we can’t open up any hatches when underway to keep the errant wave out, all that heat is kept inside the boat which can make things pretty uncomfortable.

And, as we get farther and farther south, it gets hotter and hotter to a point when it sometimes feels unbearable.  “Are we there yet?”  Additionally, even if we have good wind and are sailing a lot, I still have to run the engine at least once a day to keep the batteries charged as the solar just can’t keep up with the load of the instruments and autopilot running round the clock and that means more heat.

All this means that it is nearly always hot down below when on passage.  I can, when conditions are very calm and we are under power, run the AC.  As we have a powerful alternator on the engine, linked to a power-takeoff, the engine can handle the load of the AC.  The alternator is a big one, rated 14oA at 24 volts.

However, if the boat is healing more than a few degrees, the condensate drip pan spills over and drains into an interior compartment, creating a mess.  This can  be solved by including a drain on both sides of the condensate drip pan but I have not done that yet.   I’ll add that to my to-do list.

However, when there is wind, Pandora sails really well.  During the half of the trip when there was wind, I thought it would be fun to document what it is like to be under sail in arguably sporty conditions, hundreds of miles from shore.   Aboard with me were Peter, at the helm and George, taking a siesta off camera.

Notice how much noise there was as we plowed into the wind driven chop.   As a rule, boat speeds are less offshore than in coastal cruising as waves tend to be a lot larger.  In this case, there was a powerful gale hundreds of miles to the north of us and that northerly swell combined with a wind driven chop that made for some bumpy sailing that slowed us down a bit.  In spite of that we still pounded along at around 7kts, good progress by any measure, thanks to our long waterline, plumb bow and fairly fine entry.

Rodger Martin, the designer of Pandora, an Aerodyne 47, penned a very good boat, well suited to ocean passage making.   Sadly, there were only three built.

This short clip was shot during a squall that increased the wind by about 10kts.  Normally, I would have put in a second reef, to reduce sail and the load on the boat.  However, the stronger winds didn’t last all that long.

We were fairly hard on the wind and the apparent wind peaked at 30kts, a bit much for my taste.  Pandora romped along, never the less.   Note the inner rod rigging to port, it’s normally drum tight and with all the load on the rig, it was wobbling slightly.   We run into squalls a lot on passage but fortunately, they are not as violent as those we encounter during the summer in New England, where wind speeds can easily reach storm force, if only for a short time.

Down below Pandora is always pretty well trashed on passage with the cushions covered by canvas covers to protect the interior from the inevitable salt that finds it’s way down below.  The footage doesn’t really show clearly how much we were heeled. but note the angle of the gimballed stove and the water rushing by the porthole above the seats on the port side.  In spite of the conditions, Peter, sitting behind the helm, looked comfortable.  Note that we have a full enclosure, to keep the salt spray out.  Before Peter agreed to do the trip he asked about the enclosure.  “don’t get my wet!”.   Been there, done that and he’s not going to do it again.   Bashing along in wind and rain while getting soaked can really get old and the older we get…

The covers on the cushions helped a lot so when we arrived in Antigua, it was a lot easier to just hose off the canvas covers than to attempt to clean salty cushions.

Again, as it is on deck, the boat is very noisy when we are crashing along.    So much for keeping things neat and tidy.  When we are preparing for a passage of more than 3-4 days, we have to be ready for conditions that range from flat calm to gales as you just can’t get forecasts that are accurate for more than hand full of days.

As you can imagine, with that sort of uncertainty, keeping up on what sort of weather is heading your way is a near full time job so I watch closely to the twice a day forecast both through Predict Wind and our weather router, Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center.

The trip s0uth this fall was the first time I had used Predict Wind and I have to say that it was pretty neat.  Check out this video that describes the service.As neat as the graphics are and the ease of downloading them via the Iridium satellite system, it’s pretty clear to me that a combination of this service and a weather router like Chris Parker makes the most sense.   As good as Predict Wind is, you really need a live person interpreting the long range forecasts as computer generated models can only really go out a few days and beyond that models are just not accurate enough to trust.

So, here I am at home in CT, with the holidays upon us.  I am excited about spending time with family, especially our grandkids, but heading back to Antigua is high on my list.

There are still plenty of uncertainties about how the season will unfold as COVID is still a threat everywhere.  However, I have to say that the prospect of being outdoors all winter, with balmy trade winds blowing, sounds a lot more appealing, and safer, than being cooped up with snow blowing around outside.

So, how was my trip to Antigua?   It was annoyingly long but now that Pandora is there, I am excited to rejoin her as the winter promises to be warm days and steady breezes, something to look forward to.

Did mention that it’s warm in Antigua, even in the winter?  Thought so…

 

The best ataboy of all time!

In 2012, when I retired, Brenda and I expanded our cruising grounds, beyond New England and began spending winters aboard.  Our travels took us south on the Intra Coastal Waterway to Florida, four seasons in the Bahamas, several months cruising much of Cuba and most recently, the Eastern Caribbean where we have explored many islands from the Virgin Islands south to Grenada.

While our cruising has covered thousands of miles and dozens of islands, we have come to love visiting Antigua most of all.

When we first came to Antigua I was already involved with the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean which had a long history of visiting the British Virgin Islands.  However, when hurricane Irma devastated the BIV and many other islands in 2017, we had to move quickly to find an alternate destination.

Based on my limited experiences in Antigua, I got on the phone and within weeks we had everything in place, complete with a dozen events to celebrate the arrival of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua.

So, here we are, five years later and Antigua has proven to be a wonderful partner.  This year, I was thrilled to have more than 50 boats, a record, pointing their bows south with the goal of making landfall in Antigua where we filled Nelson’s Dockyard to near capacity.

A few days after my arrival aboard Pandora, I was told that Brenda and I were to go to St John to meet the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams, the Queen’s representative (yes that Queen) to Antigua and Barbuda.

I was told that I was to be thanked for my work in bringing so many boats to Antigua over the years and I was excited to meet him.  I imagined that we would meet briefly and I would get a nice note saying how much everyone appreciated my work on behalf of Antigua.

There is no doubt that I have worked hard, with presentations and articles in publications, always singing the praises of Antigua as “the best place to begin and end the winter cruising season”.

My enthusiasm for Antigua, that I feel is not as widely known in the cruising community as it deserves, has sometimes gained me criticism for being, what some felt, was overly aggressive and too single minded in pushing Antigua.  Apparently, Sir Rodney didn’t feel that way.

Friday morning arrives and a car, complete with a very dapper uniformed driver, arrives in Nelson’s Dockyard to whisk us off to St John and Government House.  We arrived and were ushered into a large and very ornate room, with only a few chairs.  My question, as we were escorted to our seats… “So, who else will be here today?”  Answer:  “Just you…”.   Just me?That was my first sense that something more than a simple ataboy was heading our way.

We were not alone for long and soon others entered the room, all dressed in sharp suits and uniforms.   Brenda and I were handed a “program”.  A program! I opened it up… Yikes!   My name was on it.

And they even spelled our name right.  Almost nobody gets it right…

Brenda and I sat, trying to look casual, waiting for something to happen.

Soon we heard a siren and a motorcade, complete with a police motorcycle escort, pulled into the drive, delivering Sir Rodney to meet with us.

More evidence that this wasn’t a simple meet and greet.  On the back of the program was a description of what was to come.  Soon someone in uniform approached the podium and announced something to the effect of “all rise for His Excellency, Sir Rodney Williams”.

The national anthem was played, of course.

Oh boy, if I had ever been in a desperate need of a blue blazer, that was THE MOMENT.  I felt like a kid being awarded for perfect attendance at Sunday school.  At least he didn’t pat me on the top of the head.  I was asked to stand while the reason I was there was explained.  Oh, did I mention that there was a video crew and photographer capturing the whole thing.  His Excellency said some very nice things…Then he pinned the award on my shirt.   Oh boy, that blue blazer would have been way better.   The award.   Snazzy, yes?   I believe that the big version is for formal occasions and the little to wear “just because”.  Meanwhile a photographer snapped away and the entire thing was taped for the evening news. I could not resist putting in a plug for Salty Dawg,  presenting a rally flag, the very last one I had on board Pandora to His Excellency. Oh yeah, recall on the program “remarks from honoree”…  I gave a brief speech on why I was so focused on Antigua.   That part was actually pretty easy as I had been “pounding the drum” for Antigua for years so telling that story was second nature.

Anne, from the Governor General’s office was nice enough to send me the footage of the ceremony so you can see an edited version here.  I say edited as I didn’t expect that you, or anyone would stick with me for the nearly half hour that the formal part of the ceremony took.

I hope that you enjoy this but note that His Excellency was, shall we say, a bit generous with the facts, making me sound bigger than life.  But, as they say , you had to be there.
Next stop, “processing” for a photo op.  I can’t say that I have not had all that much experience “processing” except for when Brenda and I were married over 40 years ago.  I felt like a little kid then too at our wedding, which I was, but at least I was appropriately dressed.
Next and final stop, out on the veranda for an interview with the local TV station, and another opportunity to talk about the great partnership between Salty Dawg and Antigua.As if all of this wasn’t surreal enough, it turned out that the ceremony ended up as one of three top news items on the evening news broadcast that night.

Check out this link to see the broadcast yourself and let me know what you think.  My bit appears at 11:49 on the timer.

The next day I participated in a meeting of the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Navy Tot Club and Anne, a sweet woman who was my sponsor when I joined the group, congratulated me on my award.

Then she leaned close and said, in a whisper almost to soft to hear…  “you did look a little like a deer in the headlights”.   No kidding Ann.  Perhaps I would have felt better if I had a blue blazer.

Deer in the headlights or not, it was a great day.   My only regret is that my Dad wasn’t there to experience it with me.

I mention this as I have been keeping this blog for 13 years.  This post is the 1,010th and for the the first 7 years I wrote for my Dad and Mom.

Whenever I put up a post, Dad would pull it up and he would read it aloud to Mom while they were having a glass of wine before dinner.

I expect that he’s up there now, probably having a glass of wine together with mom, and feeling pretty good about all this.  For me, this is indeed one of the best ataboys ever and that’s why I do what I do.

And, finally, a special thanks to Ann-Marie who I came to know as Park’s Commissioner of Antigua and a good friend to me and the Dawgs, for helping to make this happen.

Rum, parties and a donkey blocking the way…

It’s been more than a week since the first boats in the Salty Dawg Rally began tying up in Nelson’s Dockyard and a few are still on the way and should arrive soon.   I don’t know where to begin with all that has been going on here as we have been busy with events, sometimes two, every day.

We’ve had cocktail parties and group photos.  And, the group is getting so big that we had difficulty in fitting everyone into to the shot. As in past years, we were honored by a visit from the Minister of Tourism, Fernandez, a highpoint of the evening. And me, the tireless Antigua cheerleader, always happy to address the group.  What’s with the grey hair?  My mom used to say that I was blond.  Hmm… Following cocktails at our arrival event, we had a lovely meal poolside at Boom, part of the Admiral’s Inn.  It was a beautiful night. We celebrated the arrival of one of our boats, Nobody Home, that had come to the rescue of another rally participant that lost part of their rig and sails, helping them sort through a mess of sails and lines that ended up in the water, hundreds of miles from land.   Nobody Home stayed on station for several days helping to  sort things out before continuing on to English Harbor.

When Nobody Home finally arrived, they received a hero’s welcome from the fleet who went out to escort them into the harbor.The Antigua Coast Guard was on station to lend a hand if needed. I greeted the crew at the dock when they were finally secured, with a “tot” of Antiguan rum to celebrate their arrival.  It was good to see them safe and sound. With the fleet tied up in the Dockyard, we filled the place.  It was very rewarding to me, after so many years of beating the drum about Antigua, that we had a record number of boats finally here.
It is remarkable how big the boats have gotten over the years.  When we first began cruising, decades ago, a big boat was anything over about 35 feet.  Nowadays, the average boat in the fleet is over 50′.  These two carbon cats are part of a trend toward catamarans as opposed to the tried and true monohulls.  And they sport all the comforts of home in a very stable platform. Another great event was “rum in the ruins”, hosted by Dr. Christopher Waters, head archeologist for the island.  He spoke to us about the history of the Dockyard.   Chris is an excellent speaker.   And the rum part, tasty but REALLY strong. Thinking ahead to what else we can do in Antigua and “down island”, our friend Bill from Kalunamoo shared his knowledge with others about what awaits the explorer. About 2/3rds of the fleet are visiting  Antigua for the first time.  They were all ears about what to see and where to go. There are still a number of restrictions here in Antigua so some of our events had to be postponed until January when things are expected to be more or less back to normal.

With vaccinations mandatory for many here in Antigua and vaccination required for all visitors, Antigua is a lot safer than the US.  With over 90,000 citizens living on the island they have only had 100 deaths due to Covid, a remarkable achievement.

Our host for many of our events, Paul Deeth of the Admiral’s In, treated me, Brenda along with my crew Peter and his wife Jane to a harbor tour in his Longtail from Thailand.  Paul brought that boat back when he captained a yacht on a round the world tour many years ago.   You will recognize this design from a James Bond movie.  It is powered by a diesel engine mounted on a swivel to steer the boat with a surface piercing propeller. Paul treated us to a much more stately cruise than James, the “shaken not stirred” Bond guy. We passed Pandora docked with other Dawg boats.Past Fort Berkley at the entrance of the harbor. The Pillars of Hercules, dramatic stone columns opposite the fort.I just can’t get enough of being on boats and I was having a wonderful time. We rented a car yesterday with Peter and Jane, to tour the island.   I won’t go into too much detail except to say that on the way back to English Harbor I let Google Maps choose the way.  Not a great decision as it routed us down an “alternate” route that was little more than a narrow and really rocky single lane road. There were times when it was so narrow and rough that I was certain that we’d be hopelessly stuck.  Peter thought the exact same thing.

After miles of lurching along, certain that the “end was near” and we finally began to see “the light at the end of the (green) tunnel”, our path was blocked by a very stubborn donkey.  Pull as I might, I could not get him, her? to move out of the way.

As I tugged and coaxed, I was worried that I might be kicked.  Never get behind a donkey, I have been told.  Alas, no kicking and we finally got by and continued on our way.  I’ll admit, and so would Peter, who was driving, that there were times when we both thought that we’d soon be marooned in the middle of the wilderness.  To say that it was a rough ride doesn’t do it justice.  For miles we lurched along a path as the brush scraped along the side of the car and the rocks banged against the undercarriage.

I would have taken photos but was too busy gripping my seat to pull out the camera, fearful that I would jinx things by saying “this is an awesome adventure guys, right?”  Repeat after me “collision damage waiver, collision damage waiver…”

Anyway, we made it back…

So, with our departure for the holidays coming up on Sunday, It’s hard to cover all that has happened since we arrived in Antigua.  With that in mind, perhaps I’ll leave it at that for now.

I’ll admit that I am looking forward to catching my breath as it’s been plenty busy here in Antigua.   What with cocktails, and a lot of rum and even a donkey to liven things up, yes, I’ve been busy.

One more thing.  Brenda and  have been summoned to Government House today to have an audience with the Governor General, ostensibly to thank me for my work in bringing the rally to Antigua.    All I know is that they are sending a car to pick us up at 09:00.  At least Brenda and I won’t have to ride a donkey to get there.

Brenda and I are asking ourselves, what does one wear to meet with the Queen’s representative, someone that everyone refers to as “his excellency”.  Wish us luck.

We made it, finally… How about a rum punch?

I am so glad to be in Antigua.   Pandora is all snug on the dock here in English Harbor and about half of the 50 boats heading here have arrived, with many more to pull in over the next few days.  This place is perhaps the most scenic place I have ever been.  It just drips of history as the harbor was, for more than 100 years, the Caribbean base for the British Navy.

We are really the only boats here, so early in the season.  Clearly, the docks are beginning to really “go to the Dawgs” and that is a very good thing. It feels like an eternity since I cast off from the dock in Deep River to begin my run to Antigua with a stop in Hampton to join up with the fleet, three weeks ago today.

The run south was painful if not particularly rough but it seemed that for much of the trip, the wind was either on the nose or there was no wind at all.    We set a record for motoring, 152 hours listening to the engine rumble away.  And, as Pandora’s engine is under the sink in the galley, all that heat of 500 lbs of iron radiate into the cabin for hours after the engine is turned off, which it seemed hardly ever happened.    As we weren’t able to open hatches much of the time, that heat had no place to go.

For much of the run, the seas were so smooth that you’d never know that we were 500 miles from land.  That swirl in the water was a dolphin surfacing.  We had a small pod running along with us on several occasions.  Try as I might, I could never get a decent photo.  Other times, plenty of wind to move along, sometimes at nearly 10kts, a pretty impressive turn of speed for a boat like Pandora. Sadly, Pandora doesn’t motor particularly fast when there isn’t wind to help the boat move.  And at the low RPM that I need to use in order not to run out of fuel, I am not getting much of a push at all.

Slow or not, better to go REALLY slow than to be becalmed with NO WIND AT ALL, a constant fear for anyone trying to keep moving when there isn’t wind.  But, you already knew that, if you follow this blog.

If I want to up my speed from 5.5kts to even one knot more, the fuel burn rate can nearly doubles and that means that I will run out of fuel twice as fast without really going much faster, a real life example of “better late than never”.

The three of us, George, Peter and me, divided up the “watch” at night in four hour increments.   George and Peter swapped the 8-midnight and the midnight to 4 watches, every day or so, but I always took the 4-8 as that allowed me to enjoy my favorite moment, the sunrise, as the sun brightened the sky to the east.  Sunsets are great too but nothing to rival the rise in the morning after a dark night.   I have no idea what that stripe on the cloud was caused by but it struck me as particularly interesting.  And, a day later or sooner, a very different view.   “Sorry Bob, that looks just about the same to us, just another sunrise.”   Ok, ok, I guess you had to be there.  Besides, with nothing but the horizon, clouds in any direction for days on end, it doesn’t take much to make you excited about something new, even if it’s not really new at all.

Yes, you had to be there, and I was and for a longer time than I really wanted.   Nice view, never the less. We went for days without seeing a single boat.  This yacht transport passed us on it’s way from the Med to Ft Lauderdale.  Does this count as a single sighting or multiple?  You decide.  I had explored the idea of having Pandora shipped to Greece aboard a transport like this but was put off by the $30,000 price tag.  Perhaps in my next lifetime.

Imagine what the cost to run big yachts like this is across the Atlantic?   As Commodore J.P. Morgan of the NY Yacht Club once quipped, “if you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford it”.  Ship Pandora to the Med? I asked and sure enough, I couldn’t afford it.  Next question…

And, speaking of really expensive stuff, how about this sub we passed leaving Hampton?I could almost hear the conversation on deck.  “Captain, can I drive?” It isn’t all about sunrises, sometimes it’s about rainbows. Who doesn’t love rainbows?We fished a number of times and caught a nice Mahi-Mahi.  I was so anxious to deal with the bloody flopping thing that was regurgitating his last meal as it made a mess of my cockpit, that I forgot to take a photo.  You’ll have to trust me that we caught, and ate, a fish.  After landing one, enough fishing as we just might catch something bigger.

And speaking of the “one that didn’t get away”, other boat on the run caught a marlin, a powerful fish.  Theirs was over 4′ long.  They didn’t even try to bring it aboard.  What do you do with a fish that weights nearly 50lbs?  Take a photo and say “goodbye little fishy”.

So, exactly what did we do all day long, aside from worrying about running out of fuel, while waiting for the wind to pick up?  We read books and when we were done, we read a book that others had already read.  And, as the pickings got thinner, we re-read the same books. We even talked to each other but honestly, much more time was spent with noses buried in a book.   For sure, that’s a lot better than fiddling with a phone.  Right?

Doesn’t Peter look like he’s having a good time?Well, here we are in Antigua and if you ask me, none too soon.

Now the fun begins.  Can you say Happy Hour!  I can and will, again and again…

Antigua, Here We Come!

It’s hard to believe that we are finally within a day’s run of Antigua after nearly two weeks at sea.  The motor, and adequate fuel has kept us moving for half of the way.   I really feel for the boats that don’t carry enough to crank up the engine when the wind gets light.

And, speaking of wind, one of the boats, a 40’ C&C, Calypso, lost their forestay in particularly rough conditions, and their headsail ended up in the water.  They had had some rigging work done recently and it seems that the fitting on the end of the stay at the masthead let loose.

I won’t go into all the details but conditions were rough and it took the crew some four hours to get the mess back on deck.  Fortunately, the mast didn’t come down too and they were able to secure a spare halyard from the masthead to the bow to keep the mast from buckling.

Once the mess was cleaned up, sort of, they went to start the engine not realizing that there was still a line under the boat.  That line promptly wrapped around the prop and stopped the engine dead.   Not good as their batteries were low and now they had no way to charge things up as the engine was jammed in gear.

Things went from bad to worse but fortunately another rally boat, Nobody Home, was less than 20 miles away and came over to offer assistance.  Another boat, a Salty Dawg member not in the rally, also heard about what was going on and joined them to offer assistance.

Once the seas had calmed down somewhat, someone went into the water and was successful in clearing the line from the prop.  Fuel, water and some food was shared with the exhausted crew of Calypso.  I can tell you that getting in the water near a pitching boat and moving heavy jugs of fuel is no simple task and not for the faint of heart.

All the while the shoreside tracking and emergency response team for Salty Dawg stayed in touch with the stressed crews, helping them work through the problem and getting everyone back on track.

As of now, the three boats are sailing in company for the remainder of the run to Antigua.  I’ll arrange for a rigger to meet up with Calypso so that they can get things sorted out.

This experience, and how quickly other members pitched in to help is a great example of how close knit the Salty Dawg community is.  Everyone working hard to live by our code of “sailors helping sailors”.

I plan to recognize the crew of all three boats at our arrival dinner a week from now so hopefully they will have arrived in Antigua by then.  It’s an impressive story.

So, speaking of arriving in Antigua, when will Pandora arrive?  TOMORROW!!!, and I can not wait.

With about 120 miles to go, we should arrive sometime between midnight and 0300 tomorrow, Thursday.  Perfect timing as Brenda will be arriving in Antigua on Friday.

Last night we ran the second of three fuel tanks dry.  It was my plan to run each tank until the engine quit and then switch to the next tank.  Generally that works well and squeezes the maximum number of hours from our fuel.  However, when the engine quit last night it did so very abruptly.  Normally, when the fuel is running out, the engine begins to stumble and slow down but last night it just stopped.

When a diesel engine runs completely out of fuel you have to open a number of fittings and “bleed” the system before you can start it again.  Normally,  this isn’t needed as just a quick use of the starter motor is generally enough to get things moving again with fuel from the “new” tank.

Not last night, and it ended up requiring me to get out my tools and go through the bleeding process.  I’ll admit that I was anxious to get the engine going agin and ran the starter a bit too long.  At that point, I was concerned that I might have run the starter battery down too much and would not be able to get the engine started again.

Note that the starter for the engine is 12V and the boat is 24V so you can’t just use jumper cables from the house bank if the starter battery fails.  I’ll have to figure out a work-around on that one, just in case.

However, after a proper bleeding of the system, the engine started right up so all was well.

Engine or not, and I am very glad that it isn’t “NOT”, we have finally found our way to fairly consistent trade winds and it’s none too soon.  After more than 1,400 miles under our keel we finally have good sailing for the last few hundred miles.  What took so long???

And, speaking of wind, we had a few squalls last night with one bringing with it over 25 kts of wind.  Pandora was screaming along at nearly 10 kts and after about an hour of that, I decided to reduce sail and calm things down.   Blasting along at near double digit spreads is exhilarating, but all I can think of when that’s happening is that something is going to break.

Now, a few hours later, we don’t have quite enough wind but we are still moving nicely toward Antigua.

After nearly two weeks at sea, it’s about time that we have fair winds and seas at our back.   We deserve it.

And, all this with no particular gear failures.  Perhaps I shouldn’t even bring that up since I might jinx it.

Oh, yeah, it will likely be dark when we arrive so I plan to enter Falmouth Harbour, right near English Harbor, where we plan to clear in when it gets light.  Getting into English harbor in the dark is tricky because the entrance is narrow and the marks are not lit.

While there is a nasty reef at the entrance, Falmouth is well marked so that is our choice.  We will take a mooring in the harbor and as soon as we are tied up… I’m going for a swim, then a tot of rum with my crew to celebrate our arrival.

Then a nap…

Antigua, here we come and I can’t wait.