Everyone wants to get out of Dodge, and they are.

Ok, ok, perhaps the headline for this post is a bit of an exaggeration but the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean is gaining unprecedented interest.

In a “normal” year, as in “pre-pandemic” the rally generally had about 80-90 boats participating and even during the Covid years, in spite of all the restrictions, we still had 50 boats, pre-vaccination, and 80 last year in spite of boats facing pretty steep restrictions and a lot of unknowns in the islands.

This year however, is a LOT different with over 130 boats applying to join the rally.  And, what’s even more interesting is the number of folks joining us that have never done a rally before, about half.   Additionally, catamarans make up  nearly half of the fleet, the largest percentage yet.

I’ll admit that if I was just moving into cruising now I would buy a cat and not a monohull as they are just so much more comfortable.  I do worry about them in difficult weather as while they are indeed stable, once they start to go over, there is no stopping them and they don’t come upright again.

With so many more cats out cruising the ocean now, I expect that we will begin hearing more about them flipping, especially in the hands of cruisers that don’t have a lot of big boat experience.   So many of the boats in the rally are owned by folks that moved up into much bigger upon retiring from their careers.

In the “old days” the transition to “big” was to purchase a boat, sail it for a few years and then sell it and get a somewhat bigger boat.  Now it’s more like sail a small boat and when you retire, get a 40-50′ cat, and head out.  This means that there are more boats out on the water with owners that haven’t had a lot of practical experience on the ocean, especially on big powerful boats.

I expect that this is contributing to a greater interest in Salty Dawg, an opportunity to have additional education and support at a very low price.

Where else can you get dozens of targeted webinars, 24/7 shoreside side support during the passage and a near instant community of cruisers to hang out with for about $300, the cost of the rally and SDSA membership combined?

I did an Antigua and eastern Caribbean webinar the other evening and we had about 200 attending.   Additionally, as many more signed up than were able to watch the program when it was live, I expect that many more will look at the recording.

All of this is very rewarding to me as I have been “beating the drum” for years now to get folks to head to Antigua and now they are going.  It feels great.  Who wouldn’t want to make landfall at a place like this with dozens of your closest friends?I think that while a big part of all this is that many have emerged from the pandemic with a renewed belief that life is short and they want to use their remaining time wisely .   And, as Salty Dawg has shifted to almost totally online presentations, the material is accessible to many more than could every participate at an occasional live event.

In many ways Salty Dawg has been helped by the pandemic and I’ll admit that it feels pretty good to be working with a group that is growing.

There weren’t many years in my career that saw things on the up and up for several years so this is a nice change of pace.   I am under no illusion that the good times will continue for ever but it does feel like the renewed interest in cruising isn’t going to fizzle too soon.

The other night I did a presentation at our local yacht club and was astonished that nearly 70 showed up.   It was a particular thrill to me as I had not given a presentation “in person” for several years and it was a treat to see “real” people.

Along with the talk about cruising the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, I hosted a “tot” featuring “official” rum from the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Naval Tot Club, of which I am a member.

The rum…The setup…The toast, following a reading of some brief passages from a book covering happenings  on “this day in British Navy History”.   Interestingly, that night, October was the anniversary of the opening of Nelson’s dockyard in 1725, the destination of the Salty Dawg Rally each year.I supplied the rum for the tot, brought to the US aboard Pandora, of course.  And in spite of more than 60 taking part, it didn’t put much of a dent in my supply.  I will admit that this is an alarming cache of rum by any standards.   Don’t worry, I a plan to give a lot, well some, away. It was a wonderful evening and I do wish that I had taped the program as it’s the first one that I have done in a few years that hasn’t been “archived” for others to see.

No recent post would be complete without an update on the work being done on Pandora.  The short update is that the work is mostly done, well all of the battery work and the installation of the wind generator are done, as of yesterday, nearly 17 weeks after being dropped in Deltaville in May.

That’s ridiculous, I admit but finally…

Today Brenda and I head to MD to see our son Rob’s family including our three wonderful grandchillen.   I can’t wait.

On Monday I head to VA to bring Pandora up to Annapolis where there will be additional work done including some scratch repair on the hull, compliments of some small boys in Guadeloupe last winter and some work on the boom.

I’ll also be installing four new solar panels that should bring my solar capacity to a full 1,000 watts an increase from about 600 now.  That combined with my newly installed wind generator will hopefully be able to feed my new lithium bank all winter.

Doesn’t this look great?  I’m excited.  And yes, I too am looking forward to “getting out of Dodge”.  And I will, I hope.

For sure, I won’t be alone in Hampton with hundreds of my closest cruising friends.  Annapolis first…

Fingers crossed… Wish me luck.

 

 

Red Sky in the Morning… Warning? Not necessairily.

A few years ago I read an article in the NY Times about a society out of the UK that was all about clouds.  I could not resist and joined.  It seems that this “society” has tens of thousands of members.  In fact, I am member #54,749 and that is a lot of members given the fact that the society was founded in 2005.

The goal of the society is to celebrate clouds, something that really resonated with me. Anyone who follows this blog, knows that I love clouds and what better way to build on that than to be a member of a group that celebrates what I love.

The best part of this group is that the daily cloud photos that they share with their members are submitted by the members themselves. However, they don’t just take a photo and send it out.  They make an extra effort to provide context to the cloud that it illustrates.

I have no idea how many photos that they receive each week but I am trilled to have one of mine chosen and published yesterday.

Last spring, as I sailed out of Jolly Harbor Antigua on my way to St Barths, the beginning of my run to the US for the summer, I took this spectacular photo of the sunrise as we headed north. Here is what the society had to say about my photo.

“Those familiar with the adage ‘Red sky in morning, sailor take warning’ might consider this fiery sunrise of Altocumulus undulatus with smoky Stratocumulus silhouettes to be an ominous start to the day. But the sky, spotted by Bob Osborn (Member 54,749), appeared over the Caribbean, just north of Antigua, where it turns out the red-sky warnings don’t apply. This ancient piece of weather lore is backed up by some solid science – but for the middle to higher latitudes of the globe. At latitudes above 30 degrees in both hemispheres, the prevailing winds and jet streams mostly drive weather systems from west to east. This direction of travel, and the fact that storms tend to arrive as fronts with gaps of more settled weather in between, form the basis for why the weather proverb is often accurate. A morning of bright red cloud cover suggests that the sky is clear off to the east where the Sun is on the horizon so that its light can shine uninterrupted up to the cloud cover overhead. This suggests the gap of settled weather has passed and the illuminated cloud might be the start of the next lot of stormy weather arriving. For these reasons, the phrase and its evening counterpart, ‘Red sky at night, sailors’ delight’, both work pretty well in temperate, maritime regions of the world. But winds blow differently in the tropics where Bob spotted his morning red sky. At latitudes below 30 degrees, the prevailing winds, known as trade winds, generally blow the other way: from east to west. A red sky in the morning, therefore, is of little concern for a low-latitude sailor like Bob, who told us ‘it marked the beginning of a beautiful day sailing in steady trade winds’.”

You see, it turns out that a red sky in the morning isn’t bad at all when you are in the tropics.  I will admit that I have often wondered what the day might bring as I see such a fiery sunrise.  Now I won’t have to fret any longer when I am cruising tropical waters.  Whew!

I encourage you to consider membership in this group.   For me, receiving that cloud photo every day is somehow grounding in a world that sometimes seems so terribly complex and distressing.   I’ve submitted a few dozen photos over the last two years and today I celebrate either the fourth or fifth of my photos that they have chosen to send out to their members.  I do wish that I had kept better track of the ones that they chose to share.  Such is life.

You might be interested in checking out this post that I wrote when I first learned about the Cloud Appreciation Society.

And, it’s not always about clouds as I found when they published my photo of a “green flash”.  I thought that I knew plenty about this phenomenon but I was wrong.  See if you learn something.  I did and expect that you will too. So, there you have it.  Not only is there a society for every imaginable interest but you can now rest easy when you are confronted by a “red sky in the morning”.  Well at least as long as you are in the tropics.

Just in case you are interested in hearing what Gavin has to say about clouds and how they fit into our lives, I encourage you to watch this short Ted talk by “the man”.  I think it is inspiring and his encouragement that we stop for a moment, lie in the grass and look up, into the clouds.   Perhaps we need to think of clouds as an opportunity to stop for a moment to celebrate the simple things in the world around us.I expect that I’ll be seeing many more clouds soon as long as I can finally get the work done on Pandora and spend time on the water again.

Antigua, red skies in the morning and of course, clouds, on my mind…

 

 

Socie

The saga continues…

It’s early September and Pandora is now in what I hope are the final stages of getting her new lithium house bank installed.  Yes, STILL.

Last week I decided to pull the plug on the marina in Deltaville and move Pandora to a friend’s dock nearby.  There remains more to do so I am bringing in another electrician to review what had been done to date and to recommend what would be needed to finish the install.

I made this decision as when I arrived in Deltaville to consider next steps earlier in the week as I just could not get a straight answer about how much time it would take to get the job done and how many more hours at $100/hr would be needed.

It’s worth noting that when I received my last double digit bill the yard  threatened to haul and impound the boat, when I questioned the number of hours that had been billed.   To me, that seemed very aggressive given the fact that it had only been three days since I had even gotten the bill.  Well, I paid it, under duress I assure you, but it is still not clear to me as to how they had managed to spend literally weeks working full time on the boat, with no clear completion date in sight.

Recall that what has become a very painful saga began in mid May when I brought Pandora back from the Caribbean.  It is hard to believe that it is now Labor Day, an entire summer has gone by and the job is still not completed.    There remains some work to be done on the AC side of the system as well as some troubleshooting on the DC side along with programing of various contr0llers.  And, we are nowhere on the install of the wind generator.

Here’s Pandora at my friend’s dock, a very lovely place to be sure. My plan, all along, was to get the work completed and bring her back to CT so I could get other work done before I headed south to Antigua at the end of October.  Additionally, the Salty Dawg Rally is now offering a departure from Newport and I wanted to give that a try.

Alas, the original delivery date for getting Pandora back was mid July and the yard totally blasted by that.  Silly me, I should have known I was being hosed.  Now it’s September, Labor Day, and the job was still not completed.  My only regret is that I didn’t pull the plug weeks ago and move the boat.

Ok, so now that there is a new tech focused on the boat, I am cautiously optimistic that I will have Pandora’s electrical and wind generator work by mid September when I will run her to Annapolis for some rigging and hull scratch repair at M Yachts.  Steve, the owner, is being very supportive and expects to turn the boat around quickly.  I’ve had work done there in the past and believe him.

With our son Rob and his family, complete with three grandchildren, only an hour from Annapolis, I am looking forward to visiting them when I am working on Pandora.  Tori, in the middle, the oldest, is starting kindergarten, flanked by Emme and Rhette.  Adorable.After I get Pandora ready, I will head down to Hampton to join in the fun leading up to the departure for Antigua and the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.

And, speaking of the rally, registration is running ahead of any year on record and I expect that we will soon be forced to cut it off.  It pains me to think that we may have to say no to some boats that delayed in signing up as in past years we have taken registrations up until a few weeks prior to departure.   However, this year, it seems that just about everybody that has considered heading south is doing it NOW!

As the pandemic winds down it looks like many are adopting YOLO, you only live once, and have decided to get out of Dodge and head for warmer climes.

This departure time in Hampton will be thrilling for me as president of Salty Dawg and I am SO looking forward to addressing all of those enthusiastic skippers and crew as they prepare to head south, many for the first time.

The bulk of the boats, upwards of 100 or more, will be heading to Antigua, my favorite island, and some to the Bahamas as well.

This winter will be a milestone for me and Brenda as we embark on the beginning of our second decade of seasonal cruising that has taken us the entire length of the US east coast, the Bahamas, much of Cuba and most of the islands of the eastern Caribbean from the USVI south nearly all the way to Grenada.

I have to say that I am very excited about sharing the islands with so many other cruisers, or Dawgs as we like to call them.

All I can say is that I sure hope that getting the rest of the work done on Pandora, abbreviated though it may be, goes smoothly.

I’ll be sharing the “lessons learned” about all this in future posts.   One thing for sure is that this turned out to be the most frustrating process EVER in getting work done and, for me, crystalized what the phrase means when someone says BOAT, Break Out Another Thousand…

Let’s hope that all of the expense and frustration pays off and that the new lithium bank and upgraded electrical system lives up to it’s promise.

Perhaps I’ll focus on what is to come, a winter of sunshine in the islands.   Yes, looks like it will be fun.  I can almost taste that rum punch at sunset with friends aboard Pandora. I guess that I have to say that the SAGA continues but hopefully, no more surprises await.

That’s all for now.  Time to head to the farmer’s market.

 

 

It’s time to upgrade Pandora to lithium

For the last few years I have known that it would soon be time to replace my aging AGM house battery bank aboard Pandora.  In spite of nursing it along with full charges regularly and being certain that I equalized the bank several times a year, the inevitable happened, and the nearly ten year old bank lost meaningful capacity and was no longer serving our power needs.

The bank still worked fairly well when we were living aboard at anchor during the winter season in the Caribbean but I was beginning to see that the resting voltage was lower the next morning than had been the case just a few years earlier and was having to work a lot harder at managing our power consumption than in past years.

The decay was very gradual and I didn’t notice it much for a few years, but the last season the problems were more acute.   I particularly noticed it when we were on passage when the voltage dropped sooner than it had in the past and when I was charging the bank, the draw was much higher than had been the norm.

Pandora’s house bank was made up of four Lifeline AGMs rated at a bit over 1,000 AH at 12v, plenty to run our electronics, watermaker and even heat domestic water when we had sufficient sunshine on our 600 watts of solar panels.  I plan on adding a wind generator before we head south this fall to increase our ability to charge batteries in the strong Caribbean trades and on passage as I make my way south and back north in the spring.

When considering replacement batteries for our house bank, and lithium in particular, I recalled horror stories of batteries catching fire aboard planes, in cars and on boats.   However, as so many parts of our world now rely on high-capacity energy storage and our boat has become ever more energy hungry, I decided to look more closely at lithium electrical system.

I say “electrical system” as converting to a lithium bank is not as simple as pulling out those trusty AGMs, that has been the standard for years, and plunking in lithium.  There were also considerations of how Pandora was wired when she was built in Europe in 2006 to European codes, and how that wiring would handle the potentially increased loads and whatever else was needed to ensure that the installation is up to code and safe.

A few years ago I had decided to swap out our aging AGMs and just put in a new set of the same batteries.  However, this proved to be easier said than done with two years of pandemic delays making it difficult to even find reasonable source for quality batteries so this spring we finally were able to move forward, and decided to make the change to lithium.

There are some fundamental differences between the basic characteristics of lead acid batteries and lithium and I learned that a switch to Lithium is not as simple as looking on Amazon for the cheapest options, swapping out those old batteries, reprograming the charger and off you go.   At first glance it I thought that I could take that approach but was told that unless I optimized the rest of the electrical system, I might not achieve the expected performance out of your new bank.  Additionally, a “non-code” installation could very well make it impossible to secure insurance or worse, expose Pandora to a major electrical problem or fire.

The American Boat and Yacht Council will soon issue guidelines for the installation of lithium batteries and a milestone that now makes many more insurers willing to cover boats with lithium aboard when installed properly so getting the new bank assembled to those standards was a must.

Over the last few years Pandora’s insurers changed their rules from “no lithium” to “lithium is ok as long as the installation is done to ABYC standards” an important development that gave me the confidence that move forward.

Finding a trusted source of the batteries was important as cheapest isn’t always best and equally important, I needed an installer that knew how to configure a system that was done right.

Questions include, do the batteries have the type of chemistry that are less prone to overheating and do they have a well-designed BMS (battery management system)?  I chose to go with batteries with lithium phosphate chemistry, also called liFeTO batteries, as they are generally considered to be the most stable and safe in a marine installation.  Quality batteries come with a bewildering array of safety features, chips to monitor charging and discharging along with aps that will run on your smartphone or tablet to allow you to keep track of exactly what is going on “under the hood”.

The AGM bank was shoehorned under the cabin sole so I didn’t have a lot of room to make adjustments if the new batteries weren’t a similar size. With this in mind, I decided to use four 210Ah, 12v “drop-in” batteries from Blue Heron Battery.  They are called “drop-in” but that only means that they are roughly the same physical size as the batteries that they replace, minimizing required changes to the battery box.   One of the principles of the company, Hank George, has a deep background in engineering so I trusted him to help design a system that would provide substantially more usable power to handle the growing power needs of Pandora without triggering major changes in Pandora’s wiring or battery containment area.

I had gotten to know Hank when he was my predecessor at Salty Dawg as president. When he “retired” from the SDSA board, he started Blue Heron.  I understand that the maker of these batteries is also a supplier for BMW so that sounded good to me.

As a first step before specking out the project, I prepared a full inventory of my electrical system, engine alternators, solar controllers, charger inverter and any components that distributed power to my starter battery, bow thruster bank as well as my house bank to determine which components could be used and reprogramed to be compatible with lithium.   Some components needed to be replaced but most proved to be reused, which was good news.

Pandora is equipped with 600w of solar and will soon have a new wind generator and I wanted to increase the usable kw/hrs available from the house bank with this upgrade.   As I don’t have a house generator it was important to balance usage with the ability to put power back into the bank every day.  As Brenda and I spend the winter cruising season in the Caribbean there is generally ample sun and wind that should keep the bank up and fully charged.  On the occasion when mother nature isn’t cooperating, I have a small portable 2kw Honda gas generator that has proven its worth over the years.

An additional consideration in favor of lithium is that they take a charge much faster so I should be able to get more AH out of my panels and wind generator than was the case in the past.  And, unlike lead acid, that have increased resistance to input amperage as the batteries get closer to 100% charged,  lithium continues to accept charging at a high rate until the batteries are full.

The original bank was comprised of four Lifeline 8DL AGM batteries each with 255AH at 12v, for a total of just over 1000Ah or 500Ah at 24V when new.  However, for practical purposes, I rarely used more than 25% of rated capacity as I wanted to extend the life of the bank as long as possible, only allowing about 200 usable amp hours.   Some suggest that a quality AGM bank like mine can safely deliver about 50-60% of rated capacity between charging but this does have an impact on lifespan of the batteries so I used less as a rule.

The new lithium bank is comprised of four batteries, each rated at 210AH for a total of 840AH at 12v and as the batteries can be drawn down a full 90% between charges, that is more than 700AH of usable power, more than doubling of our power reserves.   Additionally, lithium isn’t damaged by being left partially charged unlike lead acid that can be damaged if left partially discharged for any length of time.

I’d like to say that getting these “drop in” batteries in place was as simple as that but the yard, without much communication with me about what they were doing day to day, ended up making changes that went well beyond what I expected and running up bills that proved to be astonishing.  Sadly, much of this was done with minimal warning from the yard or approvals by me.

I mention this, as yes it can be complicated to make the switch to lithium but you have to be certain that you are consulted every step of the way to ensure that the changes being made are “need to have” verses “like to have”, a seemingly subtle point that can make a big difference in the overall cost of a job like this.

To be fair, the yard discovered a number of unexpected areas of corrosion and wiring that I was told was substandard, causing the job cost to balloon alarmingly.  While this development and the lack of communication with me was very unwelcomed at least I can now be confident, I hope, that the electrical system, that is so fundamental to safety aboard Pandora, is up to snuff.

I am not the first owner of Pandora, and have no idea what sort of modifications were made to the electrical system prior to our ownership.  It was particularly alarming when the yard discovered that when I had a new new inverter/charger installed about 5 years ago that the unit had not been properly grounded along with other issues.   I am told that fixing this problem required that the entire nav station be disassembled, a huge job.  

I am sure that everyone who owns an older boat has seen terminal corrosion like this.And, the scorching on this wire clearly demonstrates that it overheated at some point.I guess that I’ll rationalize the increased cost as an electrical system “refit” and not just the installation of a new battery bank.

One good thing is that the “drop-in” sort of dropped in after all. Another big advantage of lithium is weight and as the new bank weighs in at just under 250lbs, a savings of nearly 400 pounds when compared to the old AGM bank.  A weight savings of this scale would be particularly valuable for cruising cats that are becoming more popular.

All and all, I am optimistic that the addition of the new lithium bank was a meaningful investment and having the additional power aboard an increasingly power-hungry vessel was an important upgrade that should pay dividends in the coming years.

I will be keeping track of how the bank performs this winter season and plan to do additional posts about how things perform in the “real world”.

If you want to learn more about installing lithium and want to find a tech that is certified to do the job right, ABYC maintains a database of marine electricians that have been credentialed to do what is needed to make for a sound lithium system.

As I finish up this post, I took the unprecedented move of telling the yard that is doing the installation to stop working on the project as the work is not complete and they can’t say with certainty when they will be able to finish, or what it will cost.  Considering that I originally thought that the work would be done by mid July, where we are now, nearly to Labor Day and the job is still unfinished, risks risks my ability to get Pandora ready for the run south to Antigua.

I have lined up someone else to finish the remaining work so I can run her from Deltaville VA back to CT to get her hauled so I can finish all of the rest of what needs addressing before heading south in about two months.

When I dropped Pandora at this particular yard in mid-May, I never imagined that I’d be debating how to get the job done, after months of back and forth.

I am hopeful that the process of finishing up the job will prove easier than the process that has ever so S-L-O-W-L-Y and EXPENSIVELY unfolded since May.

I guess I’ll close with a shot of Pandora in Antigua tied up at Nelson’s Dockyard.  That’s what I am trying to stay focused on right now.Oh yeah, the rally is shaping up really well and we are now expecting perhaps our largest yet with over 100 boats making the run south, mostly to Antigua.

That’s amazing, actually.

As they say, stay tuned for details.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes being prepared isn’t enough.

When I talk about sailing offshore I often get comments wondering about how scary it must be to be so far from land, of course, followed by something like “what’s the worse conditions you have encountered”.

Fortunately, I have never run into any conditions that were truly life threatening or at least if I did, it wasn’t clear to me at the time.

Life threating our not, I am keenly aware that when I am at sea, hundreds of miles from anything, I am, for all intents and purposes, on my own.

I love to read when I am on passage and it isn’t unusual for me to read a book every day.  However, when it comes to subject, I almost never read stories about sailing or worse yet, disasters at sea when I am aboard.   Being aboard and in the middle of nowhere is enough excitement so I read books about anything but being at sea.  I’ll read books about disasters when I am in my “armchair sailor” mode.

I generally feel pretty safe aboard Pandora, but there are times when I wonder what would happen if we had a major gear failure far from land.   I stock spare parts for everything that I can think of and might possibly fix while underway with the hope that what breaks is the stuff that I have spares for.  That generally works out but sometimes not.  Fortunately, I have never had to deal with a major failure like the loss of the mast or major leak.

When I think of injuries at sea, the first one that comes to mind is falling overboard and the recent fatality in the Bermuda race illustrates this point.    It was reported that the skipper fell overboard and was lost.  His body was recovered after an extensive search by his crew.

I do not have any details to go on but it reinforces the point that being securely tethered to the boat is the best way to avoid being lost in the wake if you fall in the water.  Aboard Pandora, when we are offshore, everyone is to be clipped on at all times, even when in the cockpit and especially on deck.  Additionally, nobody leaves the cockpit unless there is someone else in the cockpit to keep a careful view of those on deck.  The sad fact is that if someone falls into the water, untethered, especially at night, the odds of finding them is not great.

I can not imagine a more distressing view than to see your boat sailing off into the distance while you float helplessly in it’s wake, in the dark.

There are so many things that can go wrong aboard a sailboat in the ocean and it is important to try and be prepared for anything that might go wrong.

In addition to having the right gear on board it’s so important to get good weather information and to follow it.   I have been working with Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center for a decade now and I take his recommendations seriously.   I also have a subscription to Predict Wind and can download detailed weather gribs via my Iridium Go.  Seeing the graphics on my iPad make it much easier to fully appreciate the weather information that Chris is providing.

This spring, as I was bringing Pandora north from St Thomas, I heard about the loss of Calypso, lost off of the South side of Long Island.  Fortunately, the crew was safely rescued.  I recall wondering what they were doing in that area at that particular time as the conditions that they encountered were forecasted.  I have no idea about what specific circumstances lead to the loss but this video of the rescue is hair raising. Tragic events like Calypso are rare and with modern weather forecasting, it’s easier than ever to avoid conditions like this.   This link is a report out of Boston covering event and loss.

Having said that, some years ago I took Pandora on a run from Beaufort NC, to the BVI with the plan of leaving in early January.   I had consulted with Chris about that plan in advance of leaving Pandora in Beaufort earlier in the season.  For family reasons, I needed to delay my run south until after the New Year and wanted to be sure that a departure at that time was prudent.  He said it was and would work with me as I prepared to leave.

As we prepared for departure, Chris told me that there would be a developing ridge near Puerto Rico but that I should be able to get ahead of it as long as I was able to maintain a speed of about 7kts which should allow me to get past that area before the ridge moved into our path.  As long as we were south and east of the ridge we’d have good sailing with 10-15kts on the beam, wonderful tradewind sailing.

However, my speed was about a half knot slower than expected and the ridge passed in front of us about 12 hours sooner than forecasted.  As a result, our lovely tradewind sail was replaced by 40kts and 20’+ seas from our stern.  We had a wild ride for more than four days, surfing down big waves at double digit speeds, a few times cracking 20kts, only to crawl up the back of the wave at 4-5kts.   It was way to rough to do much but hold on and not fun at all.   It also put  a lot of strain on the autopilot that lead to breakage of a critical linkage.  Fortunately, I had a spare part but it took hours to locate it and make the swap.

I shudder to think of what that sail would have been like if we had been forced to sail on a beam reach or worse in those conditions as strong wind wind was bad enough.

The simple fact is that when you are at sea, and far from land, you basically just have to do your best to take what is thrown at you.  This all sounds pretty terrifying but nasty stuff doesn’t generally come without warning so as long as you are prepared and do what is needed to make the best of difficulty conditions, things generally go pretty well.

With bad weather you generally have time to get used to it.  The analogy that comes to mind, and I’ll admit that this comparison is fortunately anecdotal, is to compare what it is like to “inherit” a teenager by marriage, being tossed into the deep end of the pool, as opposed to starting out with an infant and growing up with them for more years before they become surly, or should I say “stormy” teens.

However, in spite of our best efforts, things can still go bad with little warning.

You may have heard about the recent tragic loss of long time cruisers and fellow SDSA members, Annemarie and Frank of SV Escape as they made their way from Bermuda to Nova Scotia this spring.  They had hoped to participate in our Homeward Bound Rally from the USVI in May but mechanical issues kept them in St Martin.

After an uneventful run to Bermuda they met crew for the run to Nova Scotia.   Facing a narrow weather window they departed, well prepared with a well maintained boat and the experienced crew needed for such a passage.

A few days out, conditions began to deteriorate and as they prepared to reef the main the mainsheet parted, allowing the boom to thrash wildly.  As Annemarie and Frank attempted to bring things back under control, both were seriously injured.

As they were so far from land, it took time for the USCG to reach them.  Everyone aboard were evacuated yet both Annmarie and Frank succumbed to their injuries during the return to shore.

It’s hard to prepare for everything that you might encounter and in spite of being on a well found boat with experienced crew, things went terribly wrong aboard Escape with devastating circumstances.

This spring, as I made my way back to the US as part of the Homeward Bound Rally, everyone aboard Pandora came down with Covid.  Our symptoms proved manageable as we were all fully vaccinated, a good thing, being so far from shore and isolated from medical support.  I had spent two seasons in the Caribbean and successfully avoided infection but it finally caught up with me and my crew.

There is no question that everyone who heads offshore wants to be as safe as possible and while tragedy rarely strikes, it is important to be as prepared as we can possibly be.

The terrible loss of Annemarie and Frank reminds us that while tragedies like theirs are rare, there are still risks.  We all need to continue to do everything we can to ensure that when we head to sea we are as prepared as we can be with the knowledge that sometimes being prepared just isn’t enough.

Escape was salvaged and is now in Nova Scotia.

SDSA made a donation in memory of Annmarie and Frank to the USCG foundation. They will be missed.

 

 

She wrote in her blog: “We really enjoyed our short visit to St. George’s. We are really looking forward to what Bermuda has to offer in the coming days.

“However, we are well aware that the foreseeable future does not hold just relaxing sightseeing for us. ‘Alex’, the first tropical storm of the season, is approaching.

 

 

Registrations for the fall Rally to the Caribbean are running well above any year in recent memory and with the addition of a planned departure from Newport we are expecting very strong turnout.

Everyone involved in the rally, SDSA shoreside support, skippers and crew, are very focused on doing what is needed to prepare for a safe and fun passage and recent tragic events remind us that regardless of how well prepared we are, things sometimes go terribly wrong.

 

Antigua, here we (all) come, soon.

Last week I presented an overview of our plans for the fall Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, along with a broad “itinerary” of what cruisers might want to do during the season as they make their way down the islands of the eastern Caribbean between Antigua and Grenada.

Some will likely opt to make the run home to the US in the spring but some will also plan on leaving their boats in the Caribbean, mostly in Grenada and Trinidad, outside of the hurricane belt.

It looks like we will have a particularly large number of boats heading south this fall with the rally.  As of now, we are running way ahead of normal pre-pandemic signups with nearly 50 already booked to join the rally.  This compares very favorably with 30 signups by this time in 2019, the last “normal” year.   If this continues to hold, and most signups generally happen in the last few months, we could very well have 100 or more boats in the fleet.

This year we are going to try a second start point, Newport RI, when we join forces with another rally, the NARC, North Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.  And, as an added treat, we have a planned stop in Bermuda, a nice way to break up the 1,500 mile run to Antigua.

Being back in Bermuda will be a bit of a milestone for me as it will be the first time I have been on that island since I did my very first offshore run several decades ago on a friend’s boat on a delivery back to Norwalk CT following the Bermuda race.

My presentation, tailored to those who are considering a run to Antigua, focused on some of the highlights of Nelson’s Dockyard and the two weeks of events associated with the fleet’s arrival.

Additionally, I talked about a number of special events that we will tie in with during the season including Carnival in Martinique, Yachtie Appreciation week in Dominica, the Easter Regatta in Bequia and the Classic Yacht Regatta in Antigua in April.  We also plan a week or more at a beautiful resort in St Lucia, Marigot Bay Resort.

My talk was about 40 minutes followed by 15 minutes of questions.  If you want a sense of what visiting Antigua and cruising the eastern Caribbean is all about, check out the link to the presentation below.

Doing a talk via Zoom isn’t quite as much fun as presenting to a live audience, with the unblinking camera the only feedback, but it’s a great way to get the word out.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on my presentation.On the home front, it’s nearly the end of June and I am making pretty good progress on my “honey-do” list.  The gardens look wonderful and the kitchen and guest bathroom are “demoed”, if that’s a word and the kitchen floor tile is in place.

Over the next few weeks the new kitchen counters will be delivered and the painters will begin prepping the cabinets for a fresh coat of paint, light grey, I think.

I have also made good progress on the guest bath and expect to begin Sheetrocking today in preparation for the waterproofing of the shower enclosure.  While things are progressing nicely on the kitchen and bath, I’ll admit that I am tiring of living in a construction zone.

The good news is that we can now begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and soon, I hope to turn my attention to Pandora.

Sadly, work hasn’t yet begun on the installation of the lithium bank and wind generator but I am told that they expect to have the work completed by the end of July.   If they make that date, in spite of having Pandora since mid May, I guess that will be OK.

The good news is that I am not paying for dockage so that has saved me some money at a point when I would not have used Pandora much anyway.  I don’t want to get too excited about that savings as it will be dwarfed by the expense of the new systems.

As soon as I get Pandora back to CT I’ll have to consider what I have time to tackle prior to heading back to Antigua.

All I can say is that I am very glad that I tackled the big projects at home as it makes having Pandora stuck in Deltaville a bit easier to swallow.  Boatless or not, at least I am busy.  However, with Brenda away for much of the middle of July, that would have been a great time for me to bring Pandora north.

Well, we are where we are and things here at home are progressing nicely.  I hope the same will soon be the case for Pandora.

One way or the other, late October and the plan to head south is coming soon and I hope that I am ready to head south with what will likely be the largest fleet, perhaps ever, for the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.

Antigua, soon, here we come soon and I hope I’m with them.  If I am, I expect to be warmly welcomed, as I was last November when I was summoned by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda and presented with a medal for service to the Yachting Community.   I just stumbled on this link to an article about that event.

I wrote about that experience in this post.  I’ll tell you it was a thrill, for sure.  As for Pandora, all I can do is hope…

Kitchen and bath?  That’s a lot more certain, for the moment anyway.

I hate to have to say this yet again but wish me luck and while you’re at it, consider heading to Antigua with the Salty Dawg Rally.  

I sure hope that when it’s time to head back to Antigua, that I am ready.

 

 

Pandora awaits…

Pandora has been in Deltaville for a few weeks now and I am told is in cue to have work on her begin soon.  Having said that, I really don’t know when they will begin the jobs as they are very busy with other work.

Between the upgrade to lithium, the wind generator and the new fuel tank, there is certainly plenty to keep them busy for a while, once they get started.  All of this is going to cost a lot and with that in mind, I wanted to do some of the prep work  to get the boat ready for the new battery bank.

There was a lot of disassembly needed to pull up the floor in the main salon, where the house battery bank is secured.   To provide context, here’s a shot of what the main salon looks like with everything in place.  This photo was taken underway in “passage mode”.  Trashed, yes…but it’s the only “before” shot I had. While I’m on the subject, on passage, we store all of our gear up in the forward cabin, complete with lee cloth to keep everything in place. The batteries are under the main cabin sole and to get at them for replacement, is not a simple job and involved hours of disassembly, something that I didn’t want to pay two guys by the hour to do.

As you can see below, the benches are out as well as the dining table.  The floor had to come up too, obviously.   The batteries, toward the back of the photo, look tiny but they weigh nearly 200lbs each.

Interestingly, the new lithium bank will save in the neighborhood of 500lbs, compared to the current AGM battery bank and yet provide more usable power.

The two tanks forward are for water.  I am told that the two of them total 100 gallons?  I guess, but they re different sizes.  I’ll have to measure them when I get back to see if I can better understand their capacity. If history is any guide, the design specs for the water capacity will not match what is actually in the boat.  To that point, each of the three fuel tanks are reported to be 50 gallons each but based on how much fuel I have been able to fit into each “empty” tank, I believe that it’s more like 35 gallons of useable fuel per tank.

Because of the leaking fuel tank that is out for repair or replacement now, I installed a temporary fuel bladder in one of the vented aft cockpit lockers.  The lost capacity from the leaking tank was about 35 gallons so the 45 gallon capacity of the bladder more than makes up for the missing tank.

Setting aside the leaking tank I have I have two more 35 gallon permanent tanks and 6 five gallon plastic jugs.   So once the leaking tank is repaired/replaced, I will have a combined capacity of 180 gallons.   This will allow me to motor nearly 280 hours, more than 11 days without turning off the engine, a remarkable capacity.

This will allow me to motor at a low RPM, in fuel conservation mode, for more than ten days, enough time to motor nearly all the way to Antigua.

However, more likely, I will just run at a higher RPM to keep moving when the wind is light.   To date, the most hours on the engine for a run south has been 150, more than 100 hours short of my “new capacity”.

I installed the fuel bladder as I was quite concerned about having enough fuel for the run north this spring.  However, we ended up sailing so much of the time that I only used a small fraction of the fuel.  I still had all the fuel left in the jugs as well as the bladder and at least one of the two remaining tanks.   All and all, I only ran the engine about 50 hours, consuming about 30 gallons of the 145 that I had on board.

Here are the components of the bladder assembly as I prepared the system to take to Antigua and Pandora.  The bladder itself is over 5′ long.  There are a lot of parts involved in setting up the system.  The tank does not come with fittings as that gives you the opportunity to put them wherever you wish so you can get good access for filling and transferring fuel at sea.  The bladders are often used by sport fishing boats or yachts making a trans-Atlantic run.  They come in a variety of sizes, most much larger than what I have installed.

I opted for the 52 gallon tank as it fit perfectly in my aft vented cockpit locker.  I sourced the bladder from Defender but the photo on their website shows it with fittings, which it does not include.  However, there are a number of options available and are easy to install.

Beyond working out how to configure the full system, it was particularly difficult to source the fuel transfer pump.  After a lot of looking,  here’s what I came up with.  There are battery powered versions too but I was concerned about the battery loosing it’s charge as it would be used so infrequently.  The roll of tubing is to run from the pump to the forward fill ports for each fuel tank.   The bladder, installed, but still empty, in the aft port vented locker. Here you can see the fill tube, installed near the end of the bladder, with the transfer tube nearby.  The clear tube will attach to the transfer pump that will be stored remotely until I use it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the filled bladder in place.  I did have some difficulty in filling the bladder with fuel as when the diesel foamed, which it always does, a large “bubble” accumulated in the highest part of the middle of the bladder.  I had some difficulty “burping” out that air.  The foam made the bladder look full even though it was nowhere near capacity.  I was able to get some of that air out by pulling up on the fill hose.  However, that proved to be messy as when the air was released through the fill tube, diesel splattered all over the place.  The solution will be to put a vent tube in the highest part of the bladder that I can open up with a valve to bleed off the captured air.  There is already a screw fitting in place that I can adapt.

All and all, there’s a lot to do on Pandora and that’s only the things that I am asking the yard to do.  I have no idea when I will have Pandora back home but that’s ok if it takes weeks as I have a load of stuff to do here at home.

Having said that, Brenda has a conference in the Carolinas in mid July and that will be a good time to head to VA to bring Pandora home.  I sure hope that the work is done by then.  Given current progress, I can’t say that I am particularly optimistic.

Meanwhile, things are progressing here at home with the tile guy coming on Wednesday to begin putting down the floor tile in the kitchen.  Getting the old tile out, by me, was quite a job but the site is nearly ready to transition from a destruction to a construction zone. . The rebuilding begins this week, first the floor, then the counters and backsplash and finally, painting the cabinets a light grey.  I have been a bit overwhelmed by the process as all the demo had to be done by me.   But, all that is nearly done now so I can turn the job over to the professionals. 

In a few days I begin remodeling the third and final full bath, the one off of the guest room in Brenda’s studio.  I’ll be doing most/all of that job myself and I have to begin the demo before the dumpster is taken away later this week so I can get any rubble out of the place easily.

No rest for the weary, or handy.  Meanwhile, Pandora awaits…

 

 

Pandora is a pariah, but it could have been worse.

Pandora arrived in Deltaville VA this week after an 8 day run from St Thomas.  My crew, Craig, Alex and me were part of the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Rally to the US, along with about 20 boats, most heading to Hampton VA.

The run was fairly uneventful, setting aside minor mechanical issues and a leaking heat exchanger on the engine.  All and all a, sort of, uneventful voyage.  We did have a very sporty last day before crossing the Gulf Stream when winds picked up to near 30kts for about 12 hours but other than that, we sailed much of the 1,350 miles.

Oddly, after those strong winds and as we approached the Gulf Stream, we had a 180 degree wind shift that took less than a half hour to unfold.  At first I thought that it was actually a result of a squall but then realized that the shift was not temporary.

By the time we got to the Gulf Stream, some hours later, the wind had diminished to less than 10kts and we crossed the Stream in near flat calm conditions.  It felt more like Long Island Sound in August than the mighty Gulf Stream.  It’s all about timing and with Chris Parker’s support, we hit it just right.

As we approached Deltaville, we decided to use the last of our supply of covid tests and learned that all three of us still tested positive.   As you can imagine, this was quite upsetting as it had been quite  along time since we had tested Alex and learned, a few days out from St Thomas, that he was positive.  We assumed that me and Craig were too although we didn’t check ourselves as we didn’t have enough tests on board.

When Craig and Alex first noticed symptoms, we were very upfront with the rally fleet, sending out an an announcement to all that we had been in contact with prior to departure.  We didn’t hear anything back so I am assuming that everyone else was ok.

Fortunately, our symptoms were limited to sore throats and a cough and as all of us had been vaccinated and had been twice boosted, the problem was fairly minor.

By the time we got to our destination we were faced with the question about what to say and do about our condition.  In my case, we were pretty certain that I was the first to get sick so I was probably no longer a threat to anyone.

I won’t go into any details about what happened next except to say that our arrival was akin to a group of lepers showing up at a garden party for hypochondriacs and it wasn’t pretty.  Given the response when word got to them.

I was unsure about how candid to be about our status and ultimately decided not to say anything because I had likely been positive weeks prior and, according to CDC guidelines, was no longer contagious.   However, news travels fast and the marina management found out anyway, along with everyone else in the marina.

To say that it was awkward doesn’t begin to describe what happened and it was clear that we were not welcome.

So, the question wasn’t really about if we were still contagious but that we had tested positive, something that I have learned isn’t necessarily a marker for being contagious after enough time has passed .    The current science, and CDC guidance, is that you are safe ten days following initial onset of symptoms but public opinion isn’t clear on that at all.

Testing negative isn’t necessarily the marker of safety as omicron, the now dominant variant, can continue to test positive up to 90 days past the initial infection.  Based on the reception that we received, good luck trying to explain that when everyone thinks that you can’t reenter society until you have had two days of negative test results.

In the interest of fair balance, I will acknowledge that there are two sides of the story and I should have been more upfront with everyone.  Having said that, there is so much emotion and misinformation out there, I doubt that things would have been much different if I’d said something upfront.   I guess I’ll never know.

Yup, really awkward.

So, we cleaned up Pandora and left as soon as we could.  No reason to hang around when we were clearly not wanted.

Pandora remains in Deltaville awaiting the installation of the lithium bank and some other work to be determined.

Enough of that for now.

Meanwhile… when I’m on passage, I always worry about a catastrophic failure of some sort.  Things always break but they are usually little things.   When it’s really “sporty” or “salty” as Chris Parker likes to say,  I listen to the sounds of the boat and always have in the back of my mind, a fear that the rig is going to fail in some way.

I say this knowing that my standing rigging was replaced two years ago by a very competent rigger but I still worry.   Given all the stresses on any boat in a seaway, I am always amazed that Pandora holds together in spite of everything we run into.

However, sometimes things do break but fortunately, Pandora’s failures have been pretty minor.

Last fall one of our rally boats had a major failure when they lost their forestay in pretty rough conditions.  I won’t go into detail about this except to say that things turned out fine but several Salty Dawg boats came to the rescue and at one point the USCG came out in a chopper from Puerto Rico as someone on board set off their EPIRB emergency transponder, only to cancel the call by the time the chopper arrived.

Fast forward and that same boat was heading back to New York a few weeks ago and found themselves in pretty rough conditions off of Long Island, this time with terrible results.

I don’t know the specifics except to say that the captain reported to the USCG that they had been hit by a “rouge wave” and lost their entire rig.

The USCG send out a Jayhawk chopper and lifted all four crew to safety.   The Coast Guard records video of all operations and to see this footage is very sobering.Check out this link to a news report of the incident from a TV station in Boston.

So, there you have it.  Sure we had a good passage but the arrival, not so much.

All I can say is that it didn’t feel good to be greeted like lepers but at least we didn’t have to be rescued by the USCG.   Having said that, it’s nice to know that they will be there if we need them.

Let’s hope that’s never the case and I hope to never hear the words, “Good evening, I’ll be your USCG rescue swimmer today”.

Nope, I’d much prefer being a pariah as it could have been much worse.

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Gulf Stream

It’s been 8 days since we left St Thomas to make our way back to the US and, all and all, it’s been a fairly easy trip.

Last night, running into a line of nasty squalls, was the most difficult day of the trip.  We had a few minor gear issues that required two of us on deck at midnight to fix an errant reefing line that had to be rerun a few times until we finally got it right.  And there were myriad issues that needed attention but are too numerous to list here.

We were also treated to a full moon that lent a bit of additional drama as we surfed along at 10 kts in big seas and nearly 30 kts of wind. I understand that there was also a lunar eclipse but somehow we missed that, perhaps due to all the excitement and efforts at managing the boat under difficult conditions.

It was certainly our most challenging night of the trip but it’s actually been a pretty uneventful run.  It seemed like I had to go up on deck a dozen times last night to check lines or make minor tweaks and repairs to keep things running smoothly.  It’s been a long time since I had to reef and un-reef so many times in a single night.

It was tough on all of us and I don’t think that I had more than perhaps a cat nap for 10 minutes before things calmed down around dawn when I was finally able to lie down for a few hours.

We also had 180 degree wind shift that happened in about 15 minutes, and was totally unexpected in spite of our downloading current weather information.  It took me a while to understand that it was a shift and not some sort of squall that was changing wind direction temporarily.

As I write this we are about 2/3 of the way across the Gulf Stream, that conveyor belt of warm water that moves up from the Gulf of Mexico nearly to the Arctic and back down past Northern Europe, tempering the climate for millions.    The amount of water that is moved by the current, often at up to 5 kts, is the largest moving body of water on the planet and a huge amount of heat is circulated from the tropics to the Arctic year round.   Imagine a body of water a mile deep and 50 or more miles wide moving at 5 kts 24/7, day after day for millions of years.  That’s a lot of water.

The Gulf Stream also marks the end of the trip for us as the entrance to the Chesapeake is only about 100 miles beyond the western wall of the Stream.

We still have another night at sea and come morning we will enter the Chesapeake and then in another 30 or so miles we will arrive at our destination.

One night more or not, crossing the Gulf Stream is a big deal and signifies  that we have come a long way.

Here’s to being mostly there!

This Could Get Interesting. I Hope Not…

It’s Sunday afternoon and we are sailing along on a broad reach, about 440 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay

I still think that we will arrive in Deltaville, our destination, on Wednesday, probably in the afternoon.

There’s not a lot to report about the weather with pretty good conditions for much of the rest of the trip.

Yesterday evening the wind began it’s shift from the East to the Southwest as the prevailing winds off the US East Coast began to kick in.  This meant that we had wind directly behind us for many hours and light until things finally filled in and allowed us to turn off the engine and begin sailing again.

We ran the engine most of the night and while I generally look into the engine compartment, under the galley sink, about once an hour, I didn’t notice that the engine coolant overflow, a white translucent reservoir that captures excess coolant from the engine when it expands with the heat of the engine, was overflowing.

Normally there is a subtle ebb and flow of coolant in and out of the reservoir as the engine heats up and cools after being shut down.   However, late last night I noticed that the reservoir had filled to overflowing and was spilling into the bilge.

This is not a good thing as it suggests that there is some sort of leak between the heat exchanger that circulates fresh water mixed with antifreeze within the engine and the seawater that circulates around the heat exchanger.
There should not ever be any mixing between the internal cooling system and the sea water (raw water) flow.   Clearly, something has happened to allow seawater to get into the internal cooling area and is forcing the coolant into the overflow.

And it appears to be happening at a fairly consistent rate of about a cup or so every 4 hours.   That doesn’t sound like a lot but it means that when the salt water gets into the engine it is diluting the antifreeze which might allow the hottest parts of the engine to make the water boil.  If that happens, it could cause problems with some portions of the engine not getting enough coolant or the engine cooling system might boil over.

I have estimated that for us to finish the trip we will have to run the engine at least another 24 hours so that suggests that the antifreeze will become dangerously diluted.  The good news is that I have about 1.5 gallons of new antifreeze but in order to make sure that what’s in the now diluted system, I will have to find a way to drain out some of the antifreeze and replace it with new fluid.

This isn’t a terribly complicated process except that it will have to be done on a hot engine, which isn’t great.

All and all, this is manageable but will take constant monitoring to be sure that things don’t get out of hand.

The good news is that we have mostly favorable winds and if needed, we can just go slower and avoid running the engine if the wind falls light.  However, some adverse winds will come up in the Gulf Stream early on Wednesday morning, say around 04:00, and we really have to be past that point by then, so going slow if the wind drops isn’t very practical.

I believe that we can manage things but it could become interesting.  Let’s hope not.

It’s funny, in a not so funny way, how making passage seems to be just a series of “issues” that have to be resolved.  I suppose that’s just like life except you can’t call a repair guy when you are 500 miles from land.

Such is life on the high seas.  Wish us luck