A Coronavirus Winter.

Winter is on it’s way and a few days ago I moved Pandora to the yard in Deep River CT where she will be hauled.  It pains me to have her out of commission for the “season” but that’s how it will be.

As I ran her up the river, it was a beautiful fall afternoon and I couldn’t resist and asked Brenda if she would be willing to head out one more time for a short run  to Sag Harbor.  She agreed so I put off the haul date a bit and here we are again in Sag Harbor, where I write this.

We had an easy run here yesterday and were able to sail at least part of the way, a nice way to end the season.  We will head back to the marina in Deep River tomorrow where I will prepare her for being hauled.  It’s nice to have at least one more outing before the season is officially over.

The harbor here is much more empty than when we were here only a few short weeks ago with all but two of the big yachts gone for the season.

As Brenda and I sat in the cockpit last evening enjoying a G&T we were treated to the view of Patriot, a beautifully maintained classic Trumpy yacht steaming by.  It  seems that she is for sale and at $350k, if you are interested.  And, at that price, she won’t break the bank.

However, anyone who knows what it costs to maintain a classic yacht, will realize that the purchase price is only the beginning as I expect that it’s a multi six figure yearly commitment to keep her going which would surely break our bank.  It’s expensive enough to maintain Pandora and I can only imagine the complexities keeping a near 100 year old yacht in proper trim.

And, maintenance is only the beginning and assumes that no major work needs attention.  She was built in 1926 and has been heavily rebuilt over the years, most recently over a 5 year period ending in 2009.   I expect that she’s ready for yet another round of major work about now.   One way or the other, what a sight as she passed by a lovely schooner in the waning light.   The schooner is Kelpie, built in 1928 in Maine.  She too underwent a major rebuild, as is the case with all older yachts, in Maine in 2014 so she is in terrific condition.  She now calls Sag Harbor her home and is available for charter.  I wonder if she will be here over the winter.   Want to go sailing on a classic schooner?  Check out her website here.

Anyway, with the season at an end I continue to think about what life is going to be like here in New England this winter, wondering how bad things will get as people move indoors and tire of coping with the seeming never-ending restrictions required to stay safe.

On a daily basis experts are making predictions of what will happen in the coming months.  It’s hard to know what to believe when reports from medical experts suggest that the worse is yet to come, and others suggesting that the worse is behind us and that the virus will just magically fade away.

And, to add to uncertainty, the questions about vaccines in development and a growing fear that many will not trust them as safe or even protect us from infection.  One way or the other, it’s going to be a long winter.

And, speaking of winter and our missed run south, I have been working hard to arrange plans to celebrate the arrival of the Salty Dawg fleet in Antigua.  Unlike here in New England, it is fairly easy to stay “safe” as just about everything you might want to do in Antigua will be outdoors and with a fresh breeze to further minimize risk.

Last year we had nearly 40 boats make the run to Antigua in the rally and in spite of the world being in the clutches of the Pandemic, it looks like we will have a similar number of boats, perhaps a few more than last year, making the run this year.  Interestingly, two thirds of the fleet this year are first-timers, about double the fraction of what the rally sees in a “normal” year, suggesting that “veterans” either left their boats in the Caribbean last summer or have opted to sit the season out, given all of the uncertainty.

One question is if it will be safer in the Caribbean than here at home, and I find it very distressing that here in the US, we have the highest death rate of any industrialized nation at nearly 70 per 100,000.  On the other hand, the death rate per 100,000 in Antigua is a fraction of that at 3.  These are sobering numbers with our death rate more than 20x worse.  So, who’s the third world country?  As Trump would say “sad”.

Earlier in the week, Brenda and I went out for lunch, on a patio overlooking the CT River.  It was a beautiful day and really brought home just how different it will be here in a month when we are no longer able to sit outside to enjoy a meal.  It’s going to be very different and I can say with certainty that there is no way that I will be comfortable dining indoors, social distancing or not, once it’s cold, as there is ample evidence that being inside, in a public place, social distancing or not, as it is much more risky.

While we have more hospital beds here in the US, the to care for us if we get sick, the government of Antigua has been taking a very aggressive approach in keeping the virus at bay by having forced quarantine in government facilities.

They realize that if things get out of control, they just won’t be able to cope.  Or, to put it another way, “In God we trust, all positives go into quarantine where we can keep an eye on you!”.  I doubt that would fly here in the US, land of “don’t tread on my liberties”.  So, where would we be safer?  In the US with 20x the infection rate and lots of hospital beds or in Antigua with minimal healthcare risk but less risk of infection?  It’s a tough call.

One of the best parts of visiting Antigua is the availability of other islands to visit only a short sail away.  However, this year there are still a lot of questions about what will be involved in moving from island to island, with the likely need to take  a PCR test at $100 per person, just to move to another island.   That could really add up over the course of a season where a cruiser might visit as many as 10 countries over the course of the season.

Some of the islands, basically the non-French islands, have formed a sort of “bubble”.   The idea is that residents of those islands can move more freely between their home and others in the group with a minimum of effort.  However, for cruisers, non-nationals, it’s not all that clear with evidence seeming to suggest that cruisers will need to show a negative test, in or outside of the bubble islands.  At this writing, those wishing to travel within the “bubble” will still have to provide proof of a negative PCR test, regardless of where they are traveling from.

There is indeed a lot of question as to how things will evolve in the coming months and if it will be better to remain close to medical care here in the US or to bail for warmer climes.  I guess only time will tell which approach proves to be correct.

On a brighter note, recently our son Chris and his partner Melody, who have moved in with us for the winter (and yes, it’s going very well, thankyou) were aboard for an evening cruise and were witness to an amazing spectacle,  the swarming of swallows over the marsh.  What begins, as the sun sets, as hundreds of black specks…Turns into swirling clouds of hundreds of thousands…They swoop and dive in elegant sweeping clouds before diving down into the marsh for the night.  Soon they will head south and in spite of all of the uncertainty about what the coming winter will bring, seeing this natural wonder offers hope that as time marches on seasons will come and go and we too will eventually find a new beginning with life returning to some sort of normal.

Yes, time will tell but for the time being, tropical or frozen, it’s going to indeed be a Coronavirus winter.

God help us.

Now, that’s something you don’t see every day!

As I write this, Brenda and I are aboard Pandora in Sag Harbor.  This is perhaps our favorite place to visit and being so close to home, it’s a double treat.  In particular, as members of our yacht club, we are able to use a mooring here for free.  And, that’s saying a lot as moorings in Sag are perhaps the most expensive of any place we have visited at $2/ft, nearly $100/day for Pandora.

Contrast that to the $20-$25/day that we have paid in the Caribbean for the rare times we opt to use a mooring.  And, at $375/month for the slip we were on in Annapolis, just picking up a mooring here is nearly $3,000/month.  Crazy!

I guess the town fathers, if they are all men, would take the position “if you can’t afford it, we don’t want you here”.   Clearly, as the best harbor in the Hamptons, there is plenty of money to go around so they don’t need folks like us.  Some of the yachts, and there are dozens in the harbor, are pretty amazing.   I have always had a soft spot for yachts painted black.  What a beautiful shape.I often wonder what it takes to accumulate enough wealth to buy such a large “toy”.   Perhaps the name of this one, Indiscretion, offers a clue. Brenda and I have at least one thing in common with the owners.  They keep a  Mini Cooper on deck. “Oh Reginald, can I have a Mini?  They re just so cute.”, “Of course, what a lovely idea Chrystal,  have James order one post haste!”In order to fit a Mini in board Pandora, it would have to be a really mini Mini.  A “micro, mini, Mini” perhaps.  Note the white stripe on the side announcing the name of the Mother Ship.

While some of the yachts, many actually, are mega, some are exclusive in their own way.  This one surely shouts “I don’t care what it costs, mine is the only one”.
The Hamptons have long been the playground of the rich and famous.  Many are merely rich but some, like the owner of Alexa, are both.  She is one of Billy Joel’s boats, named after his daughter.   Alexa, the boat at least, has been a fixture on the Sag Harbor waterfront for years.    She’s quite a looker with classic lines. In addition to beautiful yachts, the town of Sag Harbor has some beautiful buildings, many dating back to a time when this was a major whaling port.    This elaborately decorated gem, is now a store.  I’ll bet that the bill for the silk flowers surrounding the entrance alone would set you back thousands.  Very tastefully arranged.  Love the yellow chairs.  I wonder what would happen if I plunked myself down with a cup of coffee there.  “Sir, can I please seem some form of identification documenting that you are “sheltering legally” in Sag Harbor.”
Speaking of Sag Harbor and whaling, that brings me to the highlight of Brenda’s and my time aboard Pandora,  so read on…

A few days ago, we decided to head from Block Island to Sag and headed out in nearly windless conditions.  We had hoped for a nice breeze to move us along but instead motored the entire distance.   As we passed Montauk and approached Gardner’s Island, I saw a huge splash a few miles off.  At first I thought it might be a wave breaking on the reef off of Gull Island, on the eastern end of Plum Island.

It was hard to tell what was going on but as we got closer, a geyser of foam leapt up again and again.  Finally, I realized it was a breaching whale when I saw this enormous dark bulk shoot up nearly clear of the water, only to land with an enormous splash.

As she/he? came closer, there were a few more leaps out of the water and then she continued her slow trek toward Pandora.I took dozens of photos as she came closer and  closer.  We never changed course but were careful to slow down to a crawl and stay out of her way.   Perhaps she was feeding as her mouth was agape as she rose up.  You can be certain that we were seeing a Humpback because of the long black and white pectoral fins, unique to this species.We never changed course but she came closer and closer, passing within about 100′ of Pandora.   She wacked her fin hard on the water, making a loud slapping sound, again and again.  We were awestruck.   I could hear her breathing.   What a moment. From start to finish, we were with her for perhaps 20-30 minutes.    And, all of a sudden, she was gone. It is very unusual to see a whale in Block Island Sound as for much of the summer, they congregate in the Gulf of Maine.  I do wonder if she was lost as this area isn’t known as a good place to feed.  They eat tons of plankton every day, and that sort of food is much more common in the colder waters north of here.

There is so much boat traffic here that the risk of collision is high.  These beautiful creatures swim very slowly and are often struck by ships, causing perhaps more deaths than by most any other cause.    I called the USCG to report her position which they repeated as a notice to mariners.

In the 40 years that Brenda and I have spent cruising this area, it’s the first time we have ever encountered a whale together and while I have seen quite a few off of Provincetown over the years, this was Brenda’s first time to see such a show.

Setting aside the fact that a sighting in our home waters is so rare, to see a breaching whale from the deck of our own boat, with no other boats for miles in every direction, was an experience that we will remember for many years.

So, there you have it, visiting Sag Harbor, once a major whaling port and now the final stop on what may very well be our last cruise of the season before Pandora goes on the hard until next spring, and a whale sighting.

When we arrived in Wickford about a week ago, it really felt like winter was coming and with a cold front coming through on Wednesday, I guess it’s time to head home tomorrow.

The good news is that while it’s pretty cloudy today, it’s warm and a nice day to eat outside on the patio of a lovely spot we have been wanting to try for a while.

While our cruise is nearly over, one way or the other, Brenda and I will have something to talk about as seeing a whale in Block Island Sound, now that’s something you just don’t see every day.

Perhaps I’ll close with a shot of Pandora, snug on her mooring here in Sag Harbor.  I’ll sign off for now.  It’s time to head ashore to lunch.   Socially distanced, of course.

Things may change but the sun still rises and sets every day…

It’s only been a week since I was last in Block Island when I was here with my friend Craig.  Yesterday, after waiting a few days in Wickford for the strong north winds to settle, Brenda and I made a run here, our second stop on the “twilight cruise”, our last for this season.  Sure, we may still make a short evening run or two on the CT River, perhaps to see the swallows gathering before their run south, but it won’t be long until Pandora is out and on the hard for the winter.

Yesterday I hosted a Zoom meeting as part of the Salty Dawg Webinar series, with the Director of National Parks in Antigua, Ann-Marie Martin.  She was joined by Paul Deeth, owner of the Admiral’s Inn, also in the Dockyard.

They spoke to captains making the trip there this fall as well as others considering Antigua as a destination in the future.  There were questions about how the island is handling the virus and what cruisers could expect as the season unfolds.

While there is much uncertainty, one thing for sure is that being in Antigua, with the warm weather and the opportunity to continue to live life outdoors, will be a lot safer than life here in the Northeast US where everyone is bracing for a resurgence of the virus.  To that point, we are expecting that a record number of boats in the rally will head to Antigua.  I find that very rewarding given all the work that goes into preparing for the fleet’s arrival.   This will be the first year that I won’t be there to welcome them.  Next year…

Here in the US, as winter approaches, experts are reminding us that what is coming won’t be a “second wave” as there was never a reduction, with infections near an all time high so we are still in the clutches of the first wave.   Scary stuff.

Brenda read this morning that doctors are seeing many more patients than normal complaining of hair loss and their best explanation is stress, perhaps associated with the pandemic.   I’ve often heard dog owners speak of their stressed dog as “blowing a coat” to explain why their upset dog was loosing much more hair than usual.

Perfect.  One more thing to worry about, as if having a president who is suggesting he won’t leave the Whitehouse, even if he looses the election, isn’t enough.  Now we can look forward to being part of a nation of “coat blowers”,  going bald on top of everything else.

So, here we are, me and Brenda, back in Block Island, a place we have been visiting for nearly 40 years.  Much has changed since our first visit, so long ago, in our very first boat, a 20′ Cape Cod catboat, Tao.

We were reminded of those times yesterday when this little Marshall catboat, 18′, arrived and pick up a mooring nearby.  I could not resist the temptation to stop and say Hi.  Brenda could not resist taking a picture.  Hard to believe that Pandora’s dink is half the length of our first boat.

Also near by, a lovely yawl, I think an Invicta, sister ship to our own Artemis, one of 11 built in the 60s.   Her lines are beautiful.  Alas, not such a fast boat.  When Craig and I sailed from Block Island to Newport last week, we had a wonderful downwind sail and after days of strong north winds in Wickford, wouldn’t you know that Brenda and I had to motor directly into a south wind?  Such is life.

Brenda and I arrived in Wickford, where I had left Pandora for a few days, to head home to visit.   You know, the lawn does need to be cut.  When we returned to Pandora it was really chilly for the first few days and very windy.  Good thing our diesel heater was working as it kept the outside low 40s temperatures at a bay.  Down below we were warm and comfortable.

Wickford is a place we have enjoyed visiting for as many years as we have been boating although I don’t think we took Tao there.  I do recall at least one departure from Newport aboard Tao that, like yesterday, had us motoring directly into the wind, trying to get out of Narraganset Bay and around Point Judith on our way home from a vacation.  For sure, yesterday’s trip was a lot more pleasant.  Brenda still remembers that trip, and not in a good way.  She does have a very long memory.

Back in those days, when the weather cooled in the Fall, our only solution to stay warm was to invert a clay flowerpot over our tiny kerosene burner.   These days time aboard, complete with central heating, is a bit more civilized.

One thing that has changed a lot over the years is the size of the yachts in Newport.  They are huge.   How about this monster speedster?  I expect that he burns more fuel in an hour than we burn in a whole year.  And I mean more even if you combine all that we use in our cars, boat and at home.  With a burn rate, of as much as 1,000 gallons per hour when she’s speeding along at 30+ kts, a lot more.  Talk about a carbon footprint.

A powerboat owner once quipped to me, in response to a question by me about how much fuel he burned in an hour,  “8 gallons an hour but I can afford it”.  Ok, but some might suggest that isn’t really the point.

Some might suggest that burning that amount of fuel is wasteful.  However, if I could afford it, I’d probably find a way to rationalize it and have a big beautiful yacht myself.  Perhaps something like this.  Or, if I couldn’t stand the idea of a power boat, something like this beauty.  Call me a carbon footprint hypocrite but I do love beautiful yachts and if I had the coin…

It’s always interesting to see some of the same yachts, year after year.  This is Spartan, the last remaining of the NY 50s class, built in Bristol RI by the famous builder Herreshoff, one of several built for members of the NY Yacht Club, launched in the spring of 1913.  Her current owner spent millions having her restored during a project that began in 1981 and took 8 years.  It appears that she is, once again, having major work done.  Here’s Spartan under sail.  I first saw her when she was on display at the Wooden Boat Show in Mystic a number of years ago.  For some reason, I can’t find that photo?   Pretty remarkable and at more than 70′ long, she is primarily a day sailor and a big one at that.  However, by today’s standards, a small yacht.

As Craig and I made our way from Newport to Wickford, we were passed by the Oliver Hazard Perry, a reproduction tall ship berthed at Fort Adams in Newport.  She was conducting man overboard drills.   When the breeze picked up and she put out all her sails, Pandora still passed her easily.  The Perry isn’t great in light air, it seems. She is quite a contrast to Pandora but an even greater contrast in designs was when Enterprise, one of the 12 meter yachts built to compete for the America’s Cup.  She is still sailed out of Newport as one of a number of 12s that have been kept in sailing trim.  She passed us like we were standing still. What a contrast to see her and the Perry in the same frame.  Escapees from such different times.And speaking of yacht racing,  Brenda and I got a kick out of this boat load of guys heading out with their RC boats for an evening of racing.  Love the dual engine pontoon boat.  Actually, the motor on the left is on a “chase boat”, I guess to retrieve errant yachts.    They seemed to be having a very nice time, no doubt helped along with cans of beer. I was struck by this Buddha, guarding Wickford harbor, a sort of silent guardian of the people of Wickford.   I’ll go with that.  In these days of pandemic and the polarization of our country, we need all the help we can get.  Unfortunately, during a particularly high tide, while were there, the water was right up to his chin, yet another metaphor for what many of us are feeling these days as we all work hard to keep our heads above high water.

At least we can take solace in the fact that the sun continues to rise and fall every day, always predictable.    Our neighbor, the catboat, nicely framed by yet another beautiful sunset.  Yes, the sun will come up again but I fear that there are going to be a number of nasty gales along the way.

Batten down the hatches…

Listen carefully and you can hear the gates slam shut.

By any measure, this year’s boating season has been unique.  In a socially distant world many have turned to boating as a way to spend time with family and yet avoid infection.   Anecdotally, I have heard that boats, both new and used, have been selling like hotcakes and in spite of some pretty daunting requirements, with testing, quarantine and huge complexities for entering the islands, registrations for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua are running nearly the same as last year.

As I write this I am aboard Pandora in Block Island, cruising with my friend Craig for a week.    This is the first time I have been here so late in the season and it’s pretty clear that the season is over.   There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of open moorings.  We used an Essex Yacht Club mooring, free for our use.  It’s not uncommon, during the high season, for every mooring to be occupied.  Not so now. Champlins Marina, a very popular spot had only a single boat.   I am told that if you want a spot on the dock during their busy time you have to book and pay by March.  Even with a reservation, you had better be prepared to raft up with other boats on the dock. At another marina, nearly all of the floating docks were already out of the water, and it’s only one week past Labor Day. Craig and I sat out on a patio on the dock overlooking a sparsely occupied marina.  I was impressed with all of the safety precautions in place.  At the Oar, a popular spot, we had to sign our names and list phone numbers in the event that any infection broke out and they had to trace who’d been there.  The place was very lightly attended and tables were widely spaced in a fresh breeze.  We felt safe.  So many open moorings.  No surprise given the fact we are well into cooler weather.  These same moorings, during high season, are so scarce that anxious boaters hover nearby with a dink every morning so that they can race to claim a mooring when someone drops off. We went for a walk and while there were plenty of tourists around, it was not crowded at all and we only saw a few mopeds, the usual scourge of summer.  The constant buzzing of racing mopeds, was nowhere to be seen.

I had remembered that there was a petting zoo near Old Harbor, on the other side of the island, where most of the old hotels and shops are located.  They have quite a collection including a Yak.  I think that’s how it’s spelled.  He’s the big black guy on the right.   Quite the menagerie. I have always loved turtles and this one is a big boy, upwards of 40lbs.    He was quite interested in getting some sort of handout and raced, as much as a tortoise can race, over to greet me.   How about these horns? Reminds me of one of the characters in the movie by Monty Python.   Not sure but I seem to recall his name as Kim.  Of course, what zoo is complete without a camel?Or a lama?   Or is this an Alpaca?  Whatever…Unfortunately,  all is not peaches and cream at the zoo.  This crane, was being tormented by a particularly aggressive goose who kept bugging him, squawked and flapped noisily. Later, a much happier egret, checking us out on the dock. When Craig and I headed out earlier in the week, the wind was strong and directly from the SE, which didn’t leave much choice of where to go.  We opted to head to Mattituck, a tiny harbor at the end of a 1.5 mile twisting channel on the North Fork of Long Island.   I had not been there for years and never with Pandora.  The channel has some very shallow parts so we were sure to head there at high tide.  No problem, and we never saw less than about 8-9′.  However, at low tide, I am certain that we would have run aground.  There is a small anchorage at the end of the channel that is kept open for anchoring boats.   It was disappointing to see that a few moorings have been placed, limiting room for anchoring but we were able to find a spot.

A short walk brought us into town.   Not a lot of action but we did have to wait for coffee and a muffin that we ate outside on the sidewalk, socially distanced of course.   I was impressed that everyone we encountered was wearing a mask.   It was encouraging.   There was a terrific grocery and also well stocked cheese shop.   Eating out didn’t seem like a good idea but we ate well aboard. Years ago Brenda and I had “discovered” nearby Shinn Vineyards, about a 1.5 mile walk outside of town on lovely country roads.   We have visited the vineyard by boat a few times.  We also stayed in their B&B for a long weekend during a snowstorm once, taking advantage of a winter special, complete with wine, of course, and wonderful food.  The vineyard has changed hands now and much has been done to make it even nicer.   Craig and I ordered a bottle of wine, cheese and bread.  All the basic food groups. I thought that these chairs were pretty neat.  Wonder how they keep them from getting filthy on the lawn. The rows of grape vines were meticulously trimmed and shielded with webbing from marauding birds.  The amount of labor that goes into producing wine is remarkable.    And, to make things even more complicated, Shinn is an organic vineyard.   Having  seen so many vineyards in CA that had no grass or weeds at all between the vines, everything burned out by herbicide, made me appreciate the difference here. Nothing quite says clean like glistening stainless steel.  Tonight Newport and Thursday off to Wickford and a mooring at the Wickford Yacht Club where I will leave Pandora while we head home in a rental car.  On Monday, Brenda and I will head back to Pandora for the last hurrah before Pandora is hauled for the winter.  I have written in past posts about all the projects that are lined up for the winter, both aboard Pandora and at home.   It’s going to be a busy winter.

And that’s good as my mother used to quote, allegedly from Mao, “busy people are happy people”, and busy I’ll be.  And that’s good, as I really don’t want to have time to think about the warm weather of the Caribbean that I’ll be trading for what I hope won’t be a harsh New England winter.

The good news though, is that our son Chris, his partner Melody and their dog Mila are settling in nicely at our home with everyone sharing in the housework, cooking and grocery shopping.  Mila isn’t much of a cook and is spending much of her time on the back deck, concentrating on keeping all the birds and squirrels in their place.

Hopefully after a winter with us they will decide that moving back to California isn’t a good idea.  With wild fires raging everywhere, the ever present risk of earthquakes and, these days, pestilence, perhaps they will decide that boring New England might seem like a good place to stay.  It would be nice to have them nearby.  One can always hope.

One thing that is certain though… summer is over.   Here in Block Island, the crowds have gone and the harbor is nearly empty.  It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago this place was hopping.

If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the iron gates of summer slamming shut…

Me, I really want to do what I can to wring a bit more time out of this season. I sure hope I don’t get bruised by that slamming gate.

Running Pandora’s AC on a Honda 2000

I’ll be truthful when I say that we hardly ever use our AC, especially in the Caribbean where there are constant cooling breezes.  However, in New England and the Chesapeake, where the breezes die at night, that’s a different story.

On the rare occasion that we tie up in a marina, even in the Caribbean, we use our AC to stay cool.    The problem, even in trade winds, is that in a marina, we are generally not facing directly into the breeze so getting sufficient air below can be a problem.

When we found ourselves in the midst of pandemic lock-down in St Lucia last winter we fired up the AC units only to find that both units were just blowing hot air as they had lost their coolant charge.  We contacted a tech who quickly recharged them both and cool we were again.

Unfortunately, that “repair” was only short lived and when we arrived in Florida, following our run home to the US, both units were again low on coolant.

I contacted a local tech that declared both units dead and recommended that they be replaced.  His opinion, after making a service call of course, was that it never made sense to try and repair what he referred to as “package units”, those units where the entire system is housed in a single “package”.   He went on to say that the life expectancy was about 7-8 years.  So, I guess that Pandora’s units, now more than a dozen years old, were well overdue.

This is the front unit after it was removed, and it sure looked ready for the scrap heap.  Note all the rust in the drip pan.   I had the forward unit replaced by a tech in FL, but replaced the aft unit myself while Pandora was in Annapolis.  It was surprisingly easy although I did have a tech hook up the unit and check that it was running properly. The forward unit, a 6,500 BTU Dometic unit was very easy to get at, located in the back of a roomy forward hanging locker.  Getting to the unit was very simple and yet the installation still took the tech nearly two days.

The new unit, also the same 6,500 BTU output, but with a stronger blower, is much improved and works beautifully.  One issue with any AC unit is that they give off a lot of water that drips off of the condenser and can add up to several gallons per day, per unit.   Normally, this water drains into the bilge, which isn’t ideal.  In this case, the tech recommended that I add a special positive drainage device that installs into the cooling water exit line.  It is the grey unit with the red arrow.  It also has a small strainer to the right to be sure that nothing can be sucked into the unit and block the tiny exit hole.  The principle behind this active condensate drain is that when the water is forced through the narrow part of the fitting, it passes a small hole on the bottom, causing a vacuum that sucks out the condensate and evacuates it overboard as part of the cooling water.   The suction is caused by the venturi principle where a fluid is passed horizontally, constricted as it passes a hole, causing the formation of a vacuum. It’s a simple, elegant approach and works very well.  I installed one on both units.  I’d put in a link but could not find one on the Dometic site.

The aft 16,000 BTU Dometic unit had never cooled the main cabin effectively and after analyzing the installation, we determined that the two ducts that were part of the original installation, did not allow for sufficient air flow over the condenser and therefore caused the unit to ice up and further restrict air flow.  We were never able to get the main cabin down below the high 80s.  The prior owner told me that the unit was just too small for the boat.  However, with modifications, this hypothesis proved to be incorrect.  It was simply a badly designed installation.

After thinking about the problem, the simple answer was greater airflow, the addition of a third vent.   The fix was simple, well simple in concept, as I had to install a new duct that went through the top of several lockers, using a 5.5″ hole saw, intimidating to use as it creates a lot of torque as it bites into the bulkhead.   I’ll admit that I really took a deep breath when I started to cut that 12″ square hole in a cherry bulkhead, but it turned out well.  What a difference it  the extra air flow has made and basically doubled the cooling capacity of the system.  The original ducts included a 4″ duct with a very long run, in the main cabin and a 3″ vent in the aft cabin.    It was not practical to change the main cabin duct but I upgraded the aft cabin duct to 4″ and the new duct in the galley at  5″, allowed for a substantial increase in capacity, matched to the system.

Adding air flow capacity to the system was doubly important as the new unit has a larger blower with greater flow.  Now we get 60 degree air blowing right into the galley, where it is needed most. I also split the forward unit so that I could divert some of the cold air from the forward cabin back to the main cabin.  That involved putting in a small 4″ louvered vent on the bulkhead adjacent to the unit in the forward locker.  That was fairly simple and it is set up in a way so I can close it and divert all of the air into the forward cabin as needed.  It is a nice edition and blows cold air over the starboard settee, the hottest part of the main cabin.The unfortunate reality is that we had not been able to use our AC at all at anchor as Pandora does not have a built in generator.  As I mentioned, previously, we have not felt a need to use the AC at anchor, when there is a breeze, but summers in the Chesapeake or New England, south of Maine can be stifling at night when the breeze dies.

With 600 watts of solar we have never felt the need to have yet another complex and EXPENSIVE piece of equipment on board and many of my friends with generators have reported plenty of maintenance issues, especially if they don’t use the generators regularly.  And, to spend $20k+ to put in a generator and add all that weight to the boat when we won’t be using it much, doesn’t seem prudent.

Once the 16,000 BTU unit is running it doesn’t draw all that much power and the small Honda 2000 gas generator can handle it.  However, when the compressor starts, the draw causes too much of a amp spike and causes the generator to surge, tripping the fuse every time.

With this in mind, the installer suggested that I install an “easy start”.    It seems that these are very popular with the RV set as they are rarely “off the grid” but when they are, want to be able to use their AC.    On boats, the surge of the compressor isn’t usually a problem because so many boats have diesel generators on board. I understand that the Easy Start’s magic is that it “learns” the momentary peak draw of the starting compressor and somehow smooths out the load so the generator is not hit with a sudden jolt.

Installing the Easy Start was a bit anxiety producing even though it only has four wires as I was terrified that I’d “fry” my new AC unit if I made a mistake.  However, the tech person at Micro-Air was very supportive and endured my four phone calls for reassurance.

Once installed, the instructions told me to turn on the generator and disable the Eco Mode, so that it was running at full RPM.  Then I was to turn on the AC unit, wait for the compressor to kick in and then turn it off again.  After 4 starts and stops, the unit will have “learned” the characteristics of my compressor and be ready to use.

After I completed this procedure, I restarted the Honda generator in eco mode and held my breath.  It worked!  The fan started, the compressor slowly spooled up along with the Honda, and cold air came out of the vents.  Magic!  What surprised me most was that the generator really didn’t seem to be running as fast as I had expected and wasn’t all that loud.

I won’t say that the generator, loud at nearly any speed, was quiet enough to run in a crowded anchorage at night but it was definitely a lot quieter than I had expected.

So, to make the generator quiet enough not to annoy my neighbors, I plan to build a sound deadening enclosure out of high temperature foam and a cooling fan to encase the generator.   I will be sourcing materials for this project from McMaster Carr, an industrial supplier that I have used before.

They sell every imaginable type of material and I am sure that I can find what’s needed to muffle the sound so stay tuned for updates on that project.  My plan is to share what I learn in putting this enclosure together along with a detailed materials list.

And Lord knows that I’ll have plenty of time to research and build that enclosure as I WON’T BE HEADING SOUTH THIS WINTER!

Did I mention that I will be hauling Pandora for the winter?

Thought so.

As always, details to come…

 

Where is Pandora headed? To the hard…

While it pains me to write this, we will not be heading south this fall.   Aside from a local trip or two between now and when Pandora is hauled for the winter, Pandora’s destination will be to the “hard” and that’s going to be doubly hard for me.

There are a number of reasons for this but I won’t dwell on it except to say that the two key reasons are…

  • The Pandemic and the threat it represents.

Yes, I know, it’s a problem everywhere but given the chaos here in the US and the relative safety of the Caribbean, with so few cases, it’s likely to be safer there than here.  However, if we were to get sick in the islands, as remote a possibility as that may be, good luck with that as there are very limited medical facilities in the Caribbean.  I also fear that if we were to head south, come spring, I would, once again, be unable to get crew to head down and help me return Pandora to New England.

Given the terrible track record that we have had here in the US in keeping the pandemic under control, I expect that air travel will remain anxiety producing in the spring, vaccine or not.   It is Labor Day weekend as I write this, and to date nearly 190,000 people have died of the virus in the US alone and with some 1,000 more dying every day, medical experts are predicting we may reach 400,000 deaths by the end of the year, with deaths accelerating as those in colder climates move indoors.

I would not be surprised if Antigua and the other islands that have been much more effective in keeping the virus under control, decided to restrict travel from the US, making it tough to get anyone into the islands to help bring boats home come spring.

And that brings me to the second reason and certainly the biggest.

  • Brenda hated the trip from St Lucia to Florida

Of all the passages that I have made over the years, the run from Great Inagua Bahamas to Florida, the second half of our run to the US VIs, was the most unpleasant yet.   And that’s saying a lot when compared to a four day run in the teeth of a gale that I experienced several years ago.

No, it wasn’t quite as rough as that trip but with sustained 30kts on the beam and waves breaking over the boat regularly, Brenda was terrified and  miserable.  And I was forced to stay awake for a lot longer than I was safely able, so it was a pretty tough trip for us both.

She hasn’t really gotten over that run and it has proven to be pretty difficult to coax her back aboard.  The good news is that while she hasn’t spent more than a few hours aboard since returning to the US, we are planning an early fall run, south of the Cape, in the next few weeks.  It will be interesting to see how cruising in New England is during a pandemic, even after the summer crowds are gone.

It’s going to be very tough for me to give up a winter afloat and endure a New England winter, but at least I’ll be home with enough time to tackle some of the larger jobs that I have been meaning to address aboard Pandora and at home.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what’s on the agenda except to say that I plan to repaint the interior/underside of the hard dodger.  For some reason, the paint has pealed and is looking scruffy.  The decks also need some love where the paint has worn through from traffic on deck.  Fortunately, the cabin top is fine as that would be much more difficult to address with all the fittings I’d need to work around.  The side decks are mercifully free of hardware so preparing them for painting will be fairly easy.  Well, easy when you consider that there is nearly 100′ running feet of side deck that is about 2.5′ wide.

While I have no experience working with Alexseal, the paint that her hull was done with, the local company rep is a good guy and I expect he will be very open to guiding me through the project.

And that brings me to the biggest and most intimidating job I need to tackle, fixing a number of scratches and dings in the hull.  There are three areas in particular that need addressing.  The dings in the aft port quarter made by the couple aboard a small catamaran that rammed us in St Lucia.  I wrote about that experience in this post.   And, there is always a “first” scratch that happen to “christen” my shiny new paint job, and this one, my fault, happened when a squall came up last fall in Hampton.  As the gusty winds shifted during the squall, one of the fenders fell off of a piling that put a deep scratch in my shiny boat.  The first scratch in a new paint job is always the most painful.

But the biggest painting task is will be to address a large number of scratches on the port bow that came about when I dropped the anchor in the middle of a fierce squall in Ft Pierce on the ICW.  Those scratches, while fairly light, run all along the port bow and will require painting a section of at least a 3’x6′ area.  I am not confident that I will be able to blend such a large area properly so I guess I’ll have to see how that goes and then decide if I am going to hire the work out to fix my (perhaps) botched job.   Time will tell on that front.

However, the most annoying , and depressing, job of all will be the process of winterizing Pandora to keep her systems from freezing.  That job, the risk of mistakes leading to damaged equipment, and the reality of knowing that I am facing a long winter in New England, is what I am dreading most.  At least I have an extensive list to refer to, and it’s a long list.  I’ll need to add one more item this year, blowing out the watermaker product tube, which I missed last time, leading to the damage of the flow meter.

However, there is still some warm weather left before things freeze over so I’ll try to focus on that.

It’s good to have Pandora nearby.  This was the view that my crew George and I enjoyed as the sun rose up in the east as we rounded Montauk on our run from The Chesapeake  few weeks ago.  Pretty impressive glow in the east.  Montauk light showing the way.  As we headed down the Delaware river we were passed by many ships.  It’s hard to get a real feel for how big these ships really are. Well, at least until you see how big these “tiny trucks” are, secured on deck. And, the final view, one of my favorite lighthouses.  Saybrook Point light at the mouth of the CT River, freshly painted.So, home we are, me and Pandora.  And me, pining for the warm tropical winter that will not be.  I’ll admit that I am quite anxious about what life will be like here in the US when the weather turns cold.  Gone will be the outdoor dining options and combined with a desire to be with family for the holidays, I fear that many will let their guard down and infections will skyrocket.  Medical experts are also sounding the alarm, in particular, about what will happen this Labor Day weekend when party-goers throw caution to the wind and gather together for one last fling of summer.

In about two weeks we will know more about that…

Anyway, a cold winter awaits…

And speaking of cold, it was in the 50s when I got up this morning, the first morning cold enough to close the windows to keep things a bit warmer indoors.

Not a good sign.

For a while, I had toyed with the idea of moving Pandora back to Florida and heading to The Bahamas after the holidays.  However, the government of The Bahamas has been particularly erratic in how they are handling the pandemic, closing airports with little warning, only to open them again a week later.

I understand that they have limited medical facilities and their population is spread out in many small settlements, but the on again, off again that has become the norm, and the thought of crew arriving and not being able to fly out when they arrive, makes it nearly impossible to make plans.  And, that is in addition to the mandatory two week quarantine upon arrival, regardless of any virus tests that you might have taken prior to departure.   And, once you are there, any time you move to a different location, another 14 day quarantine is required.

Unless you are willing to arrive in the Bahamas and stay for the entire winter it seems to me that we are better staying away for this season.

Having said that, I much prefer the variety of cultures, food and geography of the eastern Caribbean to the relative sameness of the Bahamas.  I will say that one thing the Bahamas has going for it over the Caribbean is the near crystal clear waters and wonderful beaches that you won’t find anywhere in the southern islands.

A ray of brightness in all of this is that our son Christopher and his partner Melody, along with their husky Mila, have come to stay with us for an extended visit.    They arrived last week from the San Francisco Bay area.    At our prompting, they decided to leave their sky-high priced apartment in Oakland, in part because they were tired of being in such an expensive area and unable to enjoy all that it has to offer.  Because of the danger of infection, they have isolated themselves from friends and all of the culture that the Bay area offers, which takes a lot of the fun out of living there.  Additionally, the relentless fires in the area and the rising infection rates tipped the balance East which made us happy.

Brenda and I were also feeling pretty isolated so it was quite appealing for us to expand our admittedly tiny “bubble” and have them join us.   

Brenda will surely whip herself into a holiday frenzy this year and I expect that the forthcoming holiday decorations will be “epic”.   It will be fun to watch as Melody and Brenda as they have a lot in common and both have strong artistic interests.  It will be interesting to watch the cross-pollination of ideas and experiences develop between them.

So, there you have it,  Pandora’s heading to the hard and I’m headed, well nowhere.

There’s always next year to look forward to and, of course, our upcoming mini-cruise to the Vineyard.

For now, I’ll focus on our “land home”.   There’s no place like home…at sea or on the hard.

 

 

 

Heading to New England. Where next?

As I write this Pandora and crew are anchored in Chesapeake City, a tiny harbor of refuge at the western end of the C&D canal.

The town is impossibly quaint, with a main street lined with colonial homes.  The view from Pandora this morning was a wonderful way to begin the day.  I have been here many times, stopping for at least one night when I am heading south or north.    Brenda and I passed this way together in 2012 on our first big voyage south together.  I wrote about that “historic” visit in this post.   That visit was particularly memorable as a large storm lashed the NE while we were here causing much flooding.  I expect to spend two days anchored here, waiting for favorable winds before we head down Delaware Bay and up toward Montauk and Long Island Sound.

The forecast suggests that we will pick up favorable winds, if light, for the run north as we turn the corner at the mouth of the Delaware late Friday or early Saturday morning.

Getting a good feel for the wind has been a challenge as each day’s forecast is very different than the last but now that we are very close to our departure, tomorrow, things are beginning to settle down.  Light winds, shifting from one direction to the other is standard for this time of year in spite of the generally prevailing direction of SW but we hope to at least have favorable, if light, winds.  I’ll be sure to have plenty of fuel aboard as I expect that we will be running the engine quite a bit.

The total run from our starting point near Annapolis is about 350 miles a distance that way-back-when, would have seemed like an epic voyage.  However, after years of 1,500 mile runs, this run seems more like a day sail.

As we headed north from Annapolis yesterday the winds were very calm and the bay, more like a lake.    The afternoon clouds began to look quite impressive but we never saw any rain.  Along the way we passed some really palatial homes with acres of perfectly manicured grass.   Some homes looked like they had been there for generations.  Some more like a sprawling and not so “micro mansion”.Of course, osprey nests on just about ever navigation mark.  As we approached our destination and the entrance to the canal, a lovely sun dipping toward the horizon in our wake.  The more obvious landmark in the town is this bridge that looms over the downtown area.  Of course, what post is complete without a view of Pandora.  We have the anchorage nearly to ourselves.  I have mentioned that both AC units aboard have been replaced the forward one in FL and the aft, a much more complex installation, by  me personally while the boat was in Annapolis.   I still have to install a unit that will smooth out the amp spike when the aft unit cycles so that I can use my small Honda generator to keep us cool when we are desperate and want to use the AC while at anchor.

That small generator is pretty noisy and will surely upset our neighbors so I am exploring some sort of sound enclosure that I can put over it.  I have been looking at some foam products that McMaster Carr, an industrial supplier, sells and will report back on what I come up with.  It’s not really reasonable to run the generator in a crowded harbor as it’s just too noisy but if I can muffle the sound with a proper enclosure, that will make it practical.  We’ll see.

I also had the aft AC unit wired to run, when we are under power, using my inverter driven off of our 200 amp high output alternator.   Yesterday was the first time I used it that way since the installer visited to hook things up.  It worked perfectly and what a treat to run both AC units while under power.  It was quite very cool down below and quite “yacht-like”, I have to say.    Decadent, actually.

Brenda and I had hoped to get our granddaughter Tori and son Rob out on Pandora for a few days while Pandora was in Annapolis but anxieties of the virus conspired against us so I finally just decided to bag it and head to New England.

I am looking forward to doing some local cruising if I can and now that Brenda’s book is at the publisher after a decade of work, perhaps she’ll agree to a “cruise”.

Hopefully the “fun” of the spring escape from the Caribbean will soon become a distant memory.  So far, not much luck on that front.

So, where will Pandora be going next?  Well, New England at least.  Heading south?   Now, that’s another story and I have no idea.

Fingers crossed but I fear that the state of the pandemic isn’t giving me hope that things will be under control any time soon.

Oh boy, I can hardly wait to be housebound all winter. Hope I’m not…

Ever hopeful.

What will cruising in the Caribbean be like this winter?

This is the question on everyone’s mind these days.  Well, at least those who cruise the Caribbean in the winter season.

“What will cruising look like and if I go, will I be able to get home in the spring?”

As port officer for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, I am focused on what the arrival in Antigua will look like and perhaps more importantly, what will the rest of the season bring for cruisers wishing to visit other islands in the Leeward and Windward island chains.  Here’s the fleet last fall in English Harbor.  Hope to see this scene again soon. But, it’s complicated.  Last week the government of Antigua renewed a state of emergency which is to remain in place through the end of October.   For practical purposes, this allows them to put curfews on place and add additional restrictions as needed.

That’s probably the right thing to do as nobody really knows what will happen over the winter with tourists coming and going from the islands, perhaps bringing infections to islands with very limited resources for dealing with patients who fall to the virus.  Having said that, Antigua has been quite effective in controlling outbreaks and aside from an occasional “imported” case arriving by airline.  I understand that there have been no community outbreaks for some time now.   They have been particularly effective in keeping infections under control as anyone who test positive is put into mandatory quarantine in government controlled and monitored hotels, a sort of modern day leper colony.  That’s a good incentive to follow guidelines and stay safe.

That approach has been quite effective but would never work here in the US with our preoccupation with personal choice.   Quite simply, they have to be aggressive as they just don’t have the medical infrastructure to deal with a major outbreak.

And speaking of outbreaks, it’s scary to imagine what things will be like here in the US this fall when temperatures begin to drop.  Sheltering at home for even a few months last winter was an eternity and now we are facing months of restrictions in the northern states as outdoor activities are sharply restricted bu the cold.  Heck, it’s been bad enough in the south this summer where it’s warm.  Get a grip on our mask, you’re going to need it.

One of the issues that caused so much concern to cruisers, including us, last winter when the islands closed down so abruptly, was what to do with boats when skippers were unable to get crew to help run their boats home.    Many made a beeline for Grenada at the first sign of trouble only to find that island closed and flights canceled and Trinidad, long the go-to place for summer storage, is still closed with no clear plan as to when boats will be able to head there.

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association is working hard to figure out exactly how to manage things for this November’s rally to Antigua, when so much is still unclear.

What will the season bring and will we face the same problems that cruisers encountered last spring when suddenly when most islands closed and crew could not get to the islands to help bring boats home?

One issue that we all faced last spring was really not knowing about places to keep our boats for the summer season that were “safe” and how to purchase  insurance coverage to ensure our boats when they were left in the “zone” during the height of the season.

I was on the phone last week with several of my contacts in Antigua, including the Antigua Slipway, a small working yard in English Harbor.  The Slipway is working on a plan to address the issue of safe storage and insurance for those that opt not to make the run home to the US and need a safe place to leave their boat for the summer.

One thing that the Slipway has going for them is that they are located inside English Harbor, a natural “hurricane hole” with relatively high hills all around, a sort of protected bowl, perhaps the most protected harbor in the Caribbean.  The relative safety of English Harbor is one reason that the English Royal Navy used the harbor year round and I guess had pretty good luck keeping their ships safe there.I will say, from personal observation, the yard, as small as it is, looks pretty safe when compared to other yards in Antigua and the other islands, that are more exposed to the winds.

Events have always been a key part of the rally and one of the key issues that we will have to work around is the need to keep a proper “social distance” from one another and to find a way to celebrate our arrival without violating the 25 person gathering rule.  That may prove to be a bit of a challenge as so much of the experience is making friends and spending time together.  At least these events will be outside which seems to be a LOT safer than congregating indoors.   I long for the days of fun arrival events like our arrival dinner.   This shot, from last fall, looks responsible to me.How about a “responsible” tot of rum?  We’d have to stand a bit farther apart nowadays. Or, a dingy drift that’s safe?  I’ll want to be upwind from the group. A group shot?  Perhaps a smaller group, spaced out.  Not sure how to do that, actually. So, there you have it.  Plenty to think about and with a few more months left before many will make a final decision on where they want to be this winter.

Oh yeah, with all of this in mind, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association is organizing a series of twice weekly webinars focused on next season and getting you and your boat ready to make the run south.   For better or worse, your’s truly is deep into planning this series which will shortly be posted on their site at www.saltydawgsailing.org

To kick off the series of twice weekly events I will be sharing what we know about the coming season along with fun places to visit in the Leeward and Windward chains at 16:00 EST on August 27th, two weeks from today.

I’d better get cracking or I won’t be ready to talk about what to expect cruising the Caribbean this coming season.

All I know is that if given the choice of this…I’ll take this any day.  Or at least during happy hour…Of course, all of this will be just so much easier once there is a vaccine.

No wait, there already is one.  Just call Vladimir.

Sorry, the line is busy.  Donald is on the line with him.

Cruising in an age of pandemic

As we approach the fall and the beginning of the traditional snowbird migration,  I have been thinking a lot about what the Caribbean winter cruising season will look like as we face a second winter season of pandemic.  I have been in touch with some of my contacts in Antigua with the hope of better understanding what a visit to Antigua and the islands of the Leeward and Windward islands will look like this winter.

While the details remain fuzzy, it is clear that Antigua, and other islands are anxious to return to some sort of normalcy, given the outsize importance of tourism to their economies.  For many islands, tourism represents upwards of  80% of their economy and for them to miss next season will have a devastating effect on their economy.

As of now, anyone visiting Antigua will have to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure and be compelled to have a rapid test on arrival if they are showing any symptoms of illness, Covid or not.  And, in many cases, they will still be subject to quarantine after arrival.   I guess that means staying on premises at a resort for the duration of your time on the island, assuming that you aren’t going to be there for more than 14 days.

As far as group events are concerned, they are limited to a total of 25 attendees which surely suggests that the Classic Yacht Regatta and Sailing Week will both have to be canceled unless things improve by April.  There is a long time between now and next spring but we will just have to wait and see how things develop.  Given what’s going on in the US with our out of control response to the virus, I am not optimistic about how the season will develop for us.

However, with regards to Antigua and arrival in private yachts, the same will apply as with airline based arrivals but I understand that credit toward quarantine time will be given for days at sea.  Additionally, there is a widely held belief that the yachting segment will rebound faster than short term visits.

I guess that we will have to wait and see how things develop as the season wears on and see if outbreaks occur, which they likely will, on various islands, likley leading to additional restrictions.  My greatest concern is wondering what air travel will be like by spring when crew is trying to head to Antigua to help bring back boats from a winter of cruising.   It would be terrible if we again faced the difficulty in getting home.  I don’t expect that many cruisers will be happy to face the prospect of returning to the US under such difficult circumstances for a second year in a row, certainly not Brenda.

Again this week, the Bahamas issued revised rules for visitors that were a dramatic change from their guidance of only one week ago.  Most recently,  visitors from the US were not allowed in the country at all and now, just one week later, that’s been changed to say that visitors from the US can come, along with everyone else but all will be subject to the same mandatory 14 day quarantine.  In the event that someone tests positive at the airport, or are showing signs of illness, they will be put into mandatory quarantine in a government facility for the duration of their illness.  If you don’t show symptoms, visitors who are on a short stay of less than 14 days, can serve their time in quarantine at the resort where they are staying, provided that they don’t leave the grounds.

Additionally, at the end of a visit, if it is less than two weeks, departing visitors must submit to a second Covid test to confirm that they are still well and have not exposed anyone to the virus.   All of this makes sense as these islands have very little infrastructure to address a major disease outbreak so they must be especially diligent in keeping the disease out of their country.

As I write this, we have just departed St Michaels MD, aboard Pandora with my longtime cruising buddy Craig.  It’s really hot, in the mid 90s, and unlike the Caribbean, the breeze dies completely at night which makes for really oppressive heat and humidity.   While I recently upgraded my AC, I still don’t have a large enough generator to handle the load when at anchor so it’s tough to be “off the grid” in the evening when the wind goes still.

I’ll admit that at my tender age as a newly diagnosed “senior” I am a lot less tolerant of the heat, been-there-done-that, so being comfortable is my preference.   While it’s not much hotter here than in the Caribbean, the humidity seems worse and the lack of a breeze at night makes sleeping conditions much more uncomfortable than we have experienced in the Caribbean where there is always a breeze.

With all of this in mind, Craig and I decided that we’d spring for some time on the dock and booked a few nights at one of the marinas.  The rates from marina to marina vary a lot but we found one that wasn’t bad at $1.75/ft, during the week.

Originally, we had planned to anchor out and swim if it was too hot.  However, the jelly fish that the Chesapeake is famous for, Sea Nettles, are out in force and I am told that keeps most folks out of the water in the heat of the summer.  This specimen, one of thousands in the waters around us, was about 18″ long and packs an unpleasant sting if you are unlucky enough to tangle with one.  I went in for a brief swim but had to abandon after only a brief dip as the “herd” closed in.  When we were tied up in the marina, AC blasting, the whole system abruptly shut down when one jelly was sucked into my strainer and filled it with goo.  I’d expect that was one unhappy jelly.  Of course, that’s if jellies can be happy or sad.  I cleaned out the goo and and was able to restart both units.

High season or not, I was shocked by how empty the marina was.  We were the only transient boat there for our two nights.In spite of the empty marina, I had heard anecdotally, that boating is booming right now, with boats selling fast and the used boat market showing signs of significant growth after years of stagnation.  All of this does make sense given that being aboard a boat is naturally a pastime that offers good “social distancing”.

Even the anchorages near the harbor were empty with only a single boat anchored outside. The Chesapeake Bay Museum, a large facility, is vacant too, with only two boats tied up at their docks. There is a tiny inlet behind the museum where Brenda and I have anchored in the past.  Vacant, save a single visiting boat. Craig and I toured the museum, it too largely empty, and saw a lovely exhibit of Rosenfeld prints.  This view of a crowded ladies day gathering at Larchmont Yacht Club in 1911 seems so quaint given all the restrictions about group gatherings these days.  We walked along Main Street and it wasn’t very hard to get a shot of the stores without the view of a single car passing by.  It’s hard to imagine that we were here during high season with the place to ourselves.  Sure, there were others on the grounds but we were never anywhere with more than two or three visitors, all wearing masks when they got close. The collection of working boats at the museum seem well cared for and it’s a fairly large collection including several ketch or sloop rigged oyster boats.   This push boat was all muscle and little boat.  The engine used to push the “mother ship” around when the winds are light. This “buy boat” that would have gone from boat to boat to buy their catch and take it to market, has charming lines. You can tell from the low freeboard on this boat that the waters she fished were well sheltered.This working boat was designed to run crab lines, long and narrow as it could be counted on to track easily on straight runs as they ran down long raising crab lines with baits along the bottom that were left in place or “soaked” for an hour or two.  After a while the boat would head back down the string, pulling each bait up toward the surface so that the fisherman could use a dip net to catch the crab before it reached the surface of the water and dropped off.    The museum is building a replica of the Dove, the first ship to brought settlers to Maryland in the 1600s and a replacement for a prior reproduction built in 1978.   The project is expected to take two years to complete.  I expect that is an optimistic goal given the pandemic.    She is a sweet little ship. Her replacement has a long way to go, in frame now. As we headed out from St Michaels today, it was nearly dead calm and in our wake, a charming view of the city. We passed a fleet of young sailors out for classes on the water, part of a summer sailing program.  They were adorable, sailing in formation in their little prams. Cruising in the age of pandemic, whether in the Caribbean or here in the US is very different than what we have grown up with but hopefully we will soon be looking back on this as a distant memory and looking forward to many more years of carefree time on the water.

For now, north or south, we are all adjusting to new normal and the realities of cruising in the age of pandemic.  Let’s hope that things head back toward normal again soon, whatever normal ends up looking like.

 

Should you cruise the Caribbean or stay home next season? It depends…

For the last seven years, Brenda and I have spent our winters at various points south, following the sunshine, in recent years to Antigua, the southern Leewards and Windwards.

Last season we cruised the islands south of Antigua for several months, beginning after the holidays, working our way south to St Lucia where we found ourselves locked down as the pandemic hit in force.  As we sat in Rodney Bay Marina, during the early days of the pandemic, we were wondering what would happen next as restrictions there and in other islands increasingly tightened.

Less than two weeks earlier, we had been traveling with other cruisers and had been enjoying the week long fun of Carnival in Fort de France, Martinique, a must see event if you haven’t done it.

The crowds were remarkable and luckily the event was over and crowds dispersed before the virus arrived on the island.   With crowds like these, I can only imagine what would happened if infection had begun on the island even a week earlier. Day after day, marchers impossibly crushed together. Pre-pandemic, this is what we thought of when we heard the word “mask”. Brenda made me a Covid mask from some package ribbon, an old handkerchief and a piece of “bilge oil absorbent material”, all we had on hand.  Within days we went from party time aboard Pandora with our cruising friends. To socially distanced sundowners on the dock made even safer by the constant easterly breeze.
And then, after curfews were put in place, weeks of time alone, just the two of us aboard, with our only exercise, laps around Pandora.Our time aboard went from “living the dream” to “being in prison, with the possibility of drowning”.  It wasn’t great but we made the best of it, read a lot of books and consumed gigs and gigs of data on our phones, trying to keep in touch with friends and family.  Oh yeah, and an alarming amount of wine.  However, we did remain true to keeping our evening “tot” no earlier than 17:00.Zoom, something that we had never heard of before Covid-19, became our lifeline to the world. Now were’re home. back in the US, just Brenda and me, mostly alone again, after our “homeward bound” ocean voyage, a trip together that we never imagined.  Just the two of us 1,500 miles at sea, all the way to Florida.   For many cruisers, that’s just a short jaunt but to Brenda, a veteran of no more than a 350 mile passage, it was a very big deal.

We, along with nearly 200 boats and some 500 cruisers, took part in what was likely the largest flotilla from the Caribbean to the us ever held, the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, with staggered departures from various points in the Caribbean, departing from mid April through mid May.

As I write this, tropical storm Fay, the 6th named storm of the season, brushed us here in New England, the 6th named storm of the season, less than two months after Arthur, who we nearly tangled with as we made our way to Florida.

With fall and the time of the year when many cruisers migrate south for the winter only a few months away, many are wondering what the 2020-1021 season in the Caribbean will look like.   It is unclear at this point with regards to how many cruisers will opt to go south and I am sure that some, perhaps many, will opt to take the season off, fearful that they may find themselves locked down all over again if there is a strong second wave that finds it’s way to the Caribbean.

As those in colder northern areas are forced to move indoors, many fear that much of the US and for us, New England will not be a safe place unless you are willing to become a hermit for the winter.  Personally, that concerns me a lot and I am pretty confident that being in the Caribbean will be a lot safer than here in the us and I am not looking forward to being stuck at home, month after month, until it’s warm enough again here to enjoy my coffee on the deck come spring.

Making matters even worse are the conflicting messages between Washington and local governments about wearing masks and how significant the threat of infection actually is.  With all of this uncertainty and predictions from the medical community that the fall will bring a much worse second wave of infections, only time will tell how safe or dangerous it will be here in the north, especially for those of us that are, shall we say, “upper middle age”.

Now that we are back in the US, Brenda and I have been able to live a, sort of, normal life by staying away from crowds and being very selective about who we come in close contact with.  And, with warm summer weather, we have been able to spend a lot of time outdoors.

There is a growing body of evidence that risk of becoming ill is many times greater indoors if you are exposed to those who are not part of your family “bubble”.   I read about study done in China, where they have done an amazing job of tracing infection, that the risk of contracting the virus is 18.5x greater indoors than out.  In the UK, a similar study shows an increase in infection of ten fold.  If these findings are true, it does not bode well for the coming colder weather.

I can still remember how shocked we were when we anchored in Lake Boca, with dozens of boats with groups partying like things were normal.   While these boats look like they are staying a distance from each other, they were packed and I  would bet, not all aboard from the same family. West Palm Beach, where we stopped on our way north to Ft Pierce, offered another shocker.  When we headed ashore we were stunned by size of the crowds packed into street-side bars.   Sure, everyone was outside, but they were packed tightly, shoulder to shoulder, somehow feeling like the danger of infection was long gone.   How wrong they were now that the rate of infections has spiked to record levels.

Recently, as part of my responsibilities as port officer for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, I spoke with the director of the National Parks Service in Antigua about their plans for welcoming cruisers to Antigua this fall and confirmed that they are working hard to put safeguards in place for the coming season.  By mid August they hope to announce the protocols for yachts visiting next season.

Cruisers have always been important for Antigua and while many more tourists arrive by cruise ship or visit all-inclusive resorts, they do not spend much at local businesses, unlike Cruisers that frequent local services and stay on the island for weeks or months at a time.

The NY Times reported a few days ago, that St Lucia and the Grenadines, were exploring accepting visitors, with a minimum of fuss, from other islands in what they called the “Caribbean bubble”, those visitors coming from other islands that were deemed to be “safe”.  Surely cruisers, having spent time in Antigua, would fit that description.

While the exact plans are still being formulated, the leadership in Antigua is exploring options that may include cruisers receiving “credit” toward a 14 day quarantine for their days spent at sea voyaging to Antigua.  Additionally, there is talk of skippers and crew recording the temperatures of all aboard each day and keeping the log as evidence of health when they arrive in Antigua.  I expect that getting a Covid-19 test in advance of departure may be encouraged or perhaps required.

While the details of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua in November remain unclear, It is possible that all heading south will be encouraged to be tested for the virus prior to departure and that they should not depart without the certainty that they are virus free.   The thought of heading out to sea and having a crew member become ill and infecting everyone else aboard, all the while 500 miles from shore, is a terrifying prospect.   It was this fear, along with our discomfort of putting Brenda on a plane last spring, that directed us to make the run home aboard Pandora together instead of my trying to find crew.

The approach of testing prior to departure for the islands is not unprecedented and has historically been the approach for bringing pets to the islands.  Rabies is not a problem in the islands and any pets coming via cruising boats must be certified by a veterinarian prior to departure and checked again upon arrival, to confirm that the pet is well.

The pandemic has changed so many things and many are wondering what the coming season will look like and when, if ever, things will be “the way they were” again.

When Brenda and I will be returning to cruise the Caribbean again is unclear but we are certain that Antigua, perhaps the best island to make landfall for a season of cruising, will be on our list.  I cannot think of any place I’d rather be, while snow and Covid-19 are swirling around up north, than enjoying a sundowner on Shirley Heights, overlooking English and Falmouth Harbors, watching the sun set.  So, what does the future bring for us cruisers this coming season?

Right now, it’s hard to say but I have a call with the National Park Service in Antigua to learn more, so stay tuned.

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