Trying to feel connected, thousands of miles away.

For many years Brenda and I have been told that we are “living the dream” to be free to sail wherever we want, whenever we want.   To be aboard Pandora for months at a time does feel, to me at least, to be a bit of a dream at times.  Brenda, on the other hand, may not always have the same view.

However, right now, as we sit here in Antigua, unable to do much of anything ashore and completely unsure how we are going to get Pandora home before the hurricane season begins in June, it is feeling like more of a nightmare than a dream.

Don’t get me wrong, we are in an idyllic spot, here in Jolly Harbor, with views each day that most will only see during a week long tropical holiday.    Today’s sunrise over the distant mountains.  Montserrat, in the distance, complete with it’s own active volcano. A couple out for a bit of early morning SUPing.Yes, all of this is wonderful but for us, but much different than in past winters, when we spent time with friends and could predict, with certainty, when and how we would be heading home in the spring.  After 7 winter seasons afloat, we have more or less, gotten into a pattern and one that has been predictable, until now.

Now the only thing that has been predictable for the last few weeks is that we can’t predict what’s going to happen at all, even a few days from now.

Every day seems to bring yet another change, often more dramatic than the last.  As an example, about an hour ago the Prime Minister of Antigua announced that a week long 24hr curfew will go into effect as of midnight tomorrow.  This means that only essential travel will be allowed, limited to food shopping or emergencies but that’s it, stay home or risk arrest.  Gatherings will be limited to no more than two individuals and no kissing on the lips.  (Ok, I made the no kissing part up.)

It has been breathtaking to see how fast predictable has given way to unpredictable.  A month ago we headed to St Lucia and the marina at Rodney Bay to spend a few days while having a new refrigeration compressor installed.  Nearly three weeks later, our plans were totally up in the air and we decided to extend our stay to a full month only to make a decision to leave abruptly and sail to Antigua two hours later.  A last minute change of plans prompted by hearing that Antigua was planning to close the island to any and all arrivals in two days.

Since we have been here, and it’s only been a few days, Antigua has gone from closing their boarders to a complete lock down.   Yesterday we went to the grocery store and to us it felt like we were courting death.  The space between the shelving felt particularly tight and it seemed like there just too many people in a small space.  We heard from friends that today there is a line out to the street, even to get into the store and no amount of social distancing to handle such crowds.

Yesterday the crowds were very light and yet we still felt very exposed, with shopper feeling like a threat and them viewing us in the same way.    One shopper, obviously a cruiser, somehow managed to touch every one of the rotisserie chickens on the shelf, trying to choose the best one.  It was all that I could do not to call him out on it.   When I came around the end of an isle, I turned the other way if it was too crowded, which always seemed to be the case.  No squeezing by for me, but as a result, so we were in the store for nearly an hour.

I’ve never been particularly good about washing my hands, but now I have become fairly compulsive about it.   The grocery store had two sinks, one on either side of the entrance so shoppers could decontaminate themselves before entering.   And, as if that wasn’t enough, I was still hand sanitizing with my own spray bottle, ever few minutes.  I read that the handle on a shopping cart has more bacteria than a public toilet.  At least my fear of virus means that I have at least one tiny thing in common with Trump.  As awkward as it is to be stuck here in Antigua, just about everyone we talk to in the US feels that we are much safer here.  It seems that in the US, every day brings increasingly bad news, with little improvement in sight.

Sure, it’s beautiful down here but I have to say that it just isn’t the same when things are so up in the air and we are so far from home.

Facebook has never been particularly high on my list but nowadays, I feel like it’s a lifeline to keep us connected with friends and family.  At least it has some humor, if often dark, to lighten the mood.

Being in such close quarters aboard Pandora, with so much uncertainty, has frankly gone better than we might have expected, and that’s good.  This short piece seems to capture the mood pretty well.    I wonder if Brenda would choose A.

So before you think “Oh, poor Bob and Brenda, stuck in paradise aboard their yacht, how sad.”  Think about how you’d feel to be “sheltering” with your partner in a space that is about the size of a bathroom as there isn’t any other option.

While some cruisers are willing to wait it out here to see what happens next, many have had their boats hauled here in Antigua and other islands and have headed home, accepting the reality that their boats may very likely be in harms way, with nearly all of the islands deep within the hurricane belt.

However, finding the best place to keep a boat tough as so many islands have completely shut their boarders.  For those wishing to keep their boats outside of the hurricane belt, Grenada and Trinidad are the only reasonable option and both are completely cut off, not allowing any new arrivals.  So, many cruisers are sitting and hoping that things will open up before the first hurricane of the season hits.

While many of our cruiser friends have headed home, they are still emailing and messaging us regularly, wanting to know how we are doing.   It’s very nice.

To that point, one good thing about the timing of this new-found isolation is that it’s happening in a year when connectivity for us is at an all time high.  Being able to call family and friends at will is making our time away, in the midst of so much uncertainty, makes things a lot more bearable.

After years of frustration in trying to find a way to stay in touch while traveling, our Google Fi phone has proven to be a God-send, allowing us to do video chats with our sons Rob and Chris and their families, nearly every day, from the comfort of Pandora.  As recently as two years ago, during our last winter afloat, we had no way to connect, beyond text and email, unless we went ashore to somewhere with strong WiFi.   With our Google service we are finding that the data on the phone is generally better than WiFi ashore.

Great connectivity comes in very handy for virtual “happy hours” in the evening family and friends, particularly our friend Craig, who is living in Detroit these days, and that’s been a nice way to have a proper evening toast on occasion.

Friends are still getting together here, albeit at a safe distance.  A popular evening pastime is to tie a few dinks together and drift around the harbor.  Out in the wind, a good distance apart, the risk is less, we hope.   However, with the new restrictions in place here in Antigua, groups of more than two are not allowed so even an outdoor drift is no longer an option and perhaps isn’t wise anyway.

Walks on the beach are a nice way to spend time.   Social distancing was very easy on this deserted beach, not far from Pandora. A peaceful moment in a world that feels anything but peaceful. A reminder, a school of tiny fish in the shallows, that life goes on, virus or not.  And its been great to have a beach nearby with decent shelling.    A pretty nice haul.We’ll have to come up with some sort of craft project to do with our granddaughter Tori using these shells.  I expect that Rhett and Emme are too young and would just try to eat them, so perhaps not a good idea just yet.  Perhaps in a year when they are three.

I will admit, that in the middle of the night, I am wondering if we are making the right decision just waiting here to see what the next month brings.  Will we be  able to do the shorter run to the US through the Bahamas, now completely closed off to cruisers not already there, or will we be forced to sail west, the 1,100 miles from the USVIs to Florida with just the two of us on board.  While the run to Florida from the USVIs is only a few hundred miles closer than a straight shot to CT, at least it’s a downwind sail and would be a lot easier on Brenda.

Better yet, will travel restrictions be relaxed so that she can fly home and crew come down to make the run north with me?   Who knows, but we are hoping that in a month, now that the administration seems to have finally taken the threat seriously and is encouraging everyone to stay home, that things will settle down and be safer for travel.

So, here we sit, trying to figure out what the best course of action is, hoping that things will improve and that we will be able to bring Pandora home with a minimum of fuss.

One thing I have been focused on, to pass the time, is finishing things that I have needed to get to but somehow have overlooked or put off.    To that point, I ran into this bit of timely advice shared by a fellow cruiser from an authority on such things…

“Heard a Dr. on TV say to get through the boredom of self isolation we should finish things we start and thus have more calm in our lives. So I looked through the boat to find all the things i’ve started but hadn’t finished…so I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiumun srciptuns, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now. Sned this to all who need inner piss. An telum u luvum xtherIn”

Well, as goal oriented as I may be, the day is young so perhaps I’ll wait a few more hours before I work in earnest on things aboard Pandora that are not “done”.

As someone once said, “sheltering on a boat is sort of like being in a prison cell, with the possibility of drowning”.  Yeah, that’s what Brenda says and that’s when things are “normal”, and things are definitely not normal now.

All of this speculation about using crew as an alternative to just me and Brenda bringing Pandora home, is probably wishful thinking but I am really hoping that things do change.

Anyway, here we are in Antigua not knowing what the future will bring and doing our best to stay connected.

So far, so good and, to date, no sign of the virus aboard Pandora.

 

Quarantined in Antigua

Brenda and I arrived in Antigua on Friday after a two day run from St Lucia, the last day that arrivals were allowed before the boarders were closed.

After several weeks in the marina and months buddy boating with friends, our departure was emotional, not knowing when our paths would cross again.  Those who were still there gave us a proper sendoff.We are now sitting aboard Pandora for a two week quarantine hoping that the island will open up soon.  However, given the risk of infection at any point, we are effectively quarantined indefinitely, here or at home when that day finally arrives.

As a matter of history, the term Quarantine originated in Europe during the plague, in the 14th century that killed an estimated 50,000,000 people, as much as 60% of the population of Europe at the time.  Fortunately, the death rate from Covid-19 is child’s play compared with that but it is terrifying, never the less, to be dealing with a worldwide pandemic.

As is the case today, the plague originated in China and found it’s way to northern Europe on the backs, literally, of rats that lived on ships trading between China and Europe.  The term Quarantine comes from the word quaranta, the word for 40 in Italian, rising out of the requirement for arriving ships to stay at anchor for 40 days, to ensure that there was no disease on board, before anyone was allowed ashore.

The use of the word has stuck and to be subject to quarantine now is a grim reminder of how little has actually changed in spite of all of the technological advances that we are so proud of.

So here we are, quarantined aboard Pandora for two weeks which is certainly better than 40 days.  However, even if we were not subject to this forced isolation, there’s not much on shore as nearly all businesses are closed.  Additionally, there is curfew from 20:00 to 06:00 with major fines if you don’t follow the rules.

And, to be sure that nobody sneaks into Antigua without going through proper channels, the Coast Guard is patrolling harbors twice a day. As of yesterday, Saturday, all hotels and most businesses are shuttered and all flights bringing people to Antigua have been stopped.  A few flights are still coming in empty to pick up travelers that wish to return home.   However, that is not an option for me and Brenda as it would not be wise to leave Pandora here during the hurricane season.

Many boats are kept within the hurricane zone each summer with owners hoping that the odds of loosing their boats aren’t all that bad given the likelihood of a really bad storm hitting their particular island in any given year is slight.  However, it was only two years ago that Barbuda, a mere 25 miles from Antigua was leveled.   Conventional wisdom is that there is a one in ten chance of a major storm hitting any particular island in any given year.  Those odds don’t sound all that bad unless you consider how you’d feel if you knew that you had a one in ten chance of being killed when you get in the car and head out for groceries.  I doubt that many would take those odds.

And who can forget the pictures of boats in the BVIs scattered like match sticks with nearly every boat in the entire country destroyed.  One strategy used to save boats in the event of a major storm is to weld all the stands holding up the boat together with iron pipes and to use heavy straps to secure the boat to tie-downs cemented into the ground under the boat.   However, in storms as ferocious as what hit some islands two years ago, many boats that were well secured to the ground still had their rigs ripped off at the deck.  And, no matter how well a boat is tied down flying debris from other boats and buildings nearby can still inflict a lot of damage.

This photo from the British Virgin Islands at one of the better yards is a grim reminder of what can happen.Frankly, it would be so appealing to just put Pandora on the hard and jump on a plane to the US.  However, with the constant stream of bad news coming out of the US we are probably a lot safer here than at home.  Additionally, with deductibles for losses in hurricane zones so high, I doubt that we’d be in a position to replace Pandora if the need were to arise, something that I’d prefer not to think about.  However, given our predicament, I am afraid to have Brenda weigh in on all that.

So, with all this in mind, here we sit, hoping that somehow things will get better at home so we can feel better about heading home.  As June first, the beginning of hurricane season, is still a long way off, we don’t have to make any big decisions quite yet.

However, given the whipsaw of news coming from the administration in Washington and the seeming disconnect between what’s being recommended  on a national level, verses what individual states are doing to keep people safe, we are very nervous about the risk of being so close to New York, the hottest of hot spots and fear that things are about to get a lot worse.

So, here we sit, aboard Pandora in quarantine in Five Islands Harbor, not far from St John, where we cleared in on Friday.   The only sign of civilization is a lovely resort tucked into the hillside. It’s lovely and in different times we’d be heading ashore for a drink or dinner.  However, now there is nobody there except one or two security guards keeping an eye on things.

Things are anything but normal and I’ll admit that Brenda and I feel pretty isolated and unsure about what happens next.

We are hopeful that things will settle down in a few weeks and that we will be able to make our way to the American Virgin Islands where she will be able to fly home and I’ll be able to get crew to Pandora so we can head home to CT.  Mercifully, my crew, Steve and Jim, are standing by and will come if they can.  Brenda, on the other hand is “preparing for the worse, and hoping for the best”.

I expect that getting crew to come down may very well prove to be just so much wishful thinking given how chaotic things are in the US right now and how restrictive flights to the islands are.  The news gets worse each day and there seems to be more, not less, uncertainty in Washington about how to manage what may very well turn out to be the worse outbreak of any country in this worldwide pandemic.  I expect that is going to get a lot worse in the US before things begin to get back to anything resembling normal.

Our plans about when to leave St Lucia were so much up on the air that we had changed our mind on a near daily basis on whether we should continue to hang out in St Lucia or head north to Antigua or the USVIs.  It wasn’t until we learned that Antigua would be closing it’s boarders this weekend, that we decided to leave and head here.

So, with only a few hours notice we arranged for a diver to clean Pandora’s bottom, foul from more than two weeks in the dirty inner harbor, contact the marina and advise them that we were leaving.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t clear out through Customs as the office was closed, along with everything else near the marina.  It was getting pretty depressing to be there, I’ll admit.

Our first run was 100 miles from St Lucia to Dominca where we wanted to pick up the wood I had cut for me back in January.  I wrote about that adventure in an earlier post.    We sailed to Dominica through the night and arrived just after daybreak on Thursday, not knowing what to expect when we arrived.

We were shocked to see how many boats, dozens, were still anchored in the harbor.  As the island was officially closed to new arrivals, we didn’t check in and never went ashore.  This was technically illegal but we counted on modest enforcement and we were right.

We were able to get the PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) guys to bring the wood out to Pandora.   I couldn’t believe how fast they found the wood and brought it to us.  Yikes, the boards turned out to be a lot bigger than I had remembered. I had left the boards in Dominica when we left as I was at a loss on how I was going to secure them down below so that they would not shift underway. With lots of sensitive electronics and equipment under the cockpit, where I wanted to store them, I needed to be absolutely certain that they would not come loose in rough conditions.  After a few hours I had secured the wood in the locker under the cockpit.  It was a hot sweaty job.  Yes, it was that tight back there. Getting three 5.5′ long boards through that tiny opening was no simple feat. I attached nearly a dozen metal straps to the surrounding bulkheads to tie the boards down securely.  Lacing the pile every which way with super-strong Dynema line took some doing.  Now the wood is properly secured, I think.  I expect that getting them out again when we get home, if we get home, will be quite a project.  It’s tight, tight, in there with less than one inch to the bulkhead, port and starboard. After resting in Dominica, such as it was, with a constant stream of visitors pulling up in their dinks to say HI, we headed out in the late afternoon for the 100 mile run to Antigua.

As we passed Guadalupe, yet another island that has put in tight restrictions, we were shadowed by a French warship.  I expected them to order me to head further offshore as I had heard that transiting vessels were required to honor their territorial waters, 12 miles out.  They didn’t say a word.  Hearing nothing, I decided to reach out to them and explained that we had no plans to stop and were in transit for Antigua.  Their answer, “please pass to our stern”.  We did.

In spite of the uncertainty of what would happen when we arrived in Antigua and the inability to stop along the way, we had a pleasant enough passage on a beam reach in about 15kts of wind and pretty calm, buy ocean standards, seas.  Unfortunately, Brenda didn’t feel particularly well.  It was tough for me to stay awake as Brenda slept a good amount of the time.

We spotted a lot of seabirds.  I particularly enjoyed watching the frigate birds that circled constantly, scooping up the flying fish that the passage of Pandora scared into the air. Both nights we had beautiful sunsets.
When the sun goes down I enjoy being on the water even more as it’s cool and there isn’t much to worry about with most boats in port.   We saw a lot of squalls in the distance but none passed us to wash the salt off.
After our two day run, with a stop in Dominica to rest, we pulled into St John Harbor, normally used by commercial shipping only.

Brenda piloted Pandora down the channel as I prepared the anchor.  I was a bit nervous about dropping an anchor in a harbor where surely there was lots of refuse on the bottom after so many years of heavy commerce, out of fear that it would get hung on something and not come up. There wasn’t a lot of activity in what is usually a very busy port. Containers were being lifted off of the one ship in port, one of several that arrive here from Miami each week.  Some of the locals have expressed anxiety that shipments of food may be disrupted by the increased quarantine.   So, far, so good. When we are underway for distances that go beyond day sailing between islands, we put our dink on deck.  Securing things properly is quite a process involving full deflation and securing it carefully with straps and ties.  When we arrived in St John we had to re-launch to get ashore for customs and immigration. We had heard from friends, who cleared in a few weeks ago, that it was quite difficult to get ashore as the docks are set up for cruise ships, not small private boats.  They had to scramble up tall ladders onto the dock.  Until recently, cruisers were able to clear into other harbors but in order to have better control over arrivals, the government has designated St John as the only place to clear in.  They set up a convenient containment area and clearly brand new, floating dock to tie up to. We aren’t the only ones “sheltering” here in Antigua.  How about this yacht Joy.  I doubt that they feel all that bad being forced to hang out aboard.
How about a bit of fun on the water slide, day sailor, jet ski, you name it. A round of basketball on the bow?  Brenda often says that her “natural state is asleep”.  How about this as a perfect spot for a nap or…All rested?  I expect that they won’t be eating Ramen noodles for dinner any time soon.  “Jasper, please fetch me a margarita, on the rocks and a glass of champagne for the little lady.”According to the official Joy website, the owner Sameer Gehlaut is a business owner from Mumbai India and when he commissioned the yacht, launched in 2016, his brief was to “create something different than any other yacht”.

Well, Sameer, you got what you paid for and she’s different all right, different from any yacht we spend time on.  Check out her site.  Want to see more, don’t forget to look at the gallery of photos.  Not a shabby place to be quarantined.

However, perhaps to remind us that there is a proverbial “storm on the horizon” we saw a funnel cloud nearby yesterday afternoon. So, back aboard Pandora.  At least the view from aboard Joy isn’t any nicer than this.  It’s a beautiful place.  I just wish it was under different circumstances.

Once our two week quarantine is complete not a lot will change as just about everything ashore is closed anyway.  Besides, we have no idea about what’s in store next.

Quarantine or not, and far from home, I have to admit that a beautiful sunset still goes very well with a glass of white wine.  So, that’s the news from Pandora.  Quarantined in Antigua for now but who knows what the future will bring.

But all of this is “just one Man’s opinion”.  So, if you haven’t already read Brenda’s last post, you should.  It is a very moving review of some of the stories that we have heard from fellow cruisers and friends.

Oh, are we glad that we have great connectivity on our Google Fi phone.  Can you say “unlimited data”?

I sure hope that things settle down soon.  We want to go home.

We were leaving until we weren’t

Never mind checking out of St Lucia yesterday!  We decided to stay a little longer.

This isn’t the view that I expected to wake up to today.  Pleasant enough but it’s still the marina. And we are still here.  That’s what Brenda and I decided yesterday about our plan to head north from Rodney Bay to the USVIs to hook up with the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound flotilla to the US.

All along I have been focused on making the run north as comfortable as possible for Brenda because she just isn’t an “offshore kind of girl” and given her tendency to get seasick, we are careful to choose our weather carefully.

So, we agreed that we would not make a final decision yesterday until we took a look at Chris Parker’s daily weather forecast and to call him directly to get his take on things.

After speaking to him it did look like the weather would be good with moderate close reaching conditions for much of the trip, heading into NE winds.  However, he was forecasting a pretty big north swell of 8′ that we’d be going into for the second half of the trip, something that would make for a pretty salty ending to the run.

After digesting that bit of news, and knowing that we really aren’t in a rush, I asked about perhaps waiting for the next window.  Chris’s answer, “sure, but who knows.  However, if you have time, there will be another window”.

Staying put turned out to be a good idea as of today the USVIs are now closed to all entries, US citizens or not.  We’d be able to anchor in the harbor but there would be no way to get ashore, even to register for quarantine.

At the same time I have been checking with my contacts in Antigua and learned that as of this morning that they actually extending clearance hours, now 7 days a week, 08:00 to 20:00.  Of course, you have to be checked for symptoms and may be subject to quarantine.  However, it looks like they will remain open, at least for now.  Additionally, while those who have expressed interest in the Salty Dawg flotilla to the US are scattered just about everywhere from Grenada to the DR, a good number of them are congregating in Antigua so we are now recommending that Antigua is the better option.

It’s pretty lucky that we decided to stand down for a day or we’d be in the same predicament that a fellow cruiser Merlin is, who will be arriving in the USVIs in a day or so and will learn the bad news.  They won’t be happy at all and probably won’t learn about the restrictions until they get there as they have only limited shore side communications on board.

So, yet another plan, for the moment.

Most of the businesses in the marina here are now closed so the place is mostly vacant.  I ran into a uniformed customs agent again today who told me that there was no way to clear out and that we should “just go”.   I couldn’t believe it. “Can’t you just give us some paperwork to prove where we came from?”  His answer, “no, just leave”.

The problem with “just leaving” is that there is tremendous sensitivity in most Caribbean islands regarding where you have been and when and there are a number of islands, particularly Martinique and Guadalupe that have more infections than others.   So, for us to leave and just show up somewhere, unable to prove where and when we left another island, could lead to being expelled and not allowed to check in at all.

To that point, I learned that the skipper on one of the boats that did the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua last fall fell ill with the virus in St Martin and wasn’t able to get himself ashore without help.   He ended up being airlifted to Guadalupe where he is undergoing treatment.   Very scary.

So now, it looks like the best place for me and Brenda to head to is Antigua.  And I have to wonder how we will be received without clearance papers.  At least I hope to have the invoice from the marina stating when we checked out.   Antigua is particularly strict about clearance papers, even during normal times and these times are anything but normal.

The US, unlike all of the Caribbean islands, does not issue check-out papers which are required when you check into Antigua.  So, an exception is made by US customs  for those in the Salty Dawg Rally that are heading to Antigua .  They make a special point of issuing clearance papers through their office in Norfolk VA, which makes it a lot simpler to check into Antigua when we arrive.

I had also arranged for a diver to clean Pandora’s bottom yesterday, something that I normally do myself, because I thought that it was prudent to avoid an hour or more in the water, out in the bay, before beginning a long run.  However, with the change of plans, I canceled that, for now.

So now, with the USVIs closed completely I guess that Antigua’s the best option and I am making calls to some folks in the government that I know there to learn more.

Another unsettling development is that the Bahamas have issued new even more stringent guidelines.  All residents are now subject to a 24 hour curfew and boats already in Bahamas waters had to stay where they are, no movement at all.  Worse of all, no new boats are allowed to arrive and any boats caught transiting their waters would be heavily fined.

Hearing this was quite a blow to our plans as crossing the Bahamas was the preferred option for us as it cuts out a lot of miles to the US.

There seems to be a great deal of interest in the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound flotilla and in the very few days since we announced the plan, nearly 60 boats have expressed interest, many have begun signing up and more will surely do so each day.

The simple fact is that with such stringent quarantine plans in the islands, I expect that we are a lot safer here than the US but being in what was a bustling harbor a week ago is eerie.

Tables and chairs stacked and all businesses in the marina now closed. You could shoot off the proverbial cannon here and not hit anyone. A week ago, this place was packed. A lone kitty making the rounds. This sign about sums it up.So, here we sit, probably safe from infection given the fact that just about everyone is gone so “social distancing” is not a problem.

Again, as I said yesterday, the difference in how things are unfolding here in the islands, with strict rules about who can come and go, compared to the US where Trump just suggested that he expected that things would be open again within weeks even though new infections are increasing hugely every day.  Unfortunately, most experts feel that is a terrible idea.

And remember that malaria drug that Trump was pushing?  The FDA has determined that there is no evidence that the drug is any better than “established therapy”.   I guess it’s time to call off that run on the drug that his comments unleashed.

As long as the fight against this virus is focused more on “instinct” and less on science and decisions on how to fight the acceleration of new cases is left to a patchwork of states and municipalities, everyone is at a huge risk of things really spinning out of control.

Heck, even Prince Charles has tested positive.  Who’s next?  The Queen?

So, there you have it, we were leaving and now we’re not.

Details to come is all I can say.

Homeward Bound

As I write this we are nearly ready to leave St Lucia and begin to head north and home to the US with Pandora.

We have spent the last week buying provisions for a month and getting Pandora ready to be sure that everything is in it’s place.  Every day I have tackled a series of projects, some big and some small.  One small thing that I have been meaning to get to for some time was to mark my anchor chain so I’d know how much was out when we put down the hook.  Yesterday I laid all 225′ of the chain out on the dock and marked it. I put these little colored plastic pieces in between the links, every 25′, a different color pattern marking each segment.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to keep track of which color pattern is for which length but I should be able to at least count each marked link, 25′, 50′, 75′.  Let’s hope that I can still add and that the pieces don’t fall out.  Time will tell, about those pieces and my continued ability to count. As of this afternoon, Monday, I have finished all of the chores that I can think of, including multiple visits to the market to accumulate provisions for a month and several trips to the fuel dock to be sure that all our tanks are full, not knowing when or if, we will be able to get more.  The dink is well secured on deck and things feel about right to me for us to head out.  In a normal year, Brenda and I would probably be heading to Antigua to enjoy all of the fun surrounding the Classic Yacht Regatta, a spectacular assembly of beautiful yachts from all over the world.  Following that would be the Antigua Race Week and then Brenda would fly home.  In late April crew would fly in, and I’d be heading back to CT with Pandora, non-stop, passing about 100 miles to the west of Bermuda, a fairly straight run home.

But this isn’t a “normal” year by any definition.  When we arrived here in St Lucia, two weeks ago, the plan was to stay just long enough to have our new refrigeration installed, do some work on our water-maker and then head south to Bequia, one of our favorite islands, with some cruising friends.

When we arrived, the marina was bustling with shore-side restaurants full of customers most evenings, cruisers and locals enjoying themselves.  Our most pressing goal was to find out which of these eateries were the best and enjoy eating out with friends.

Well, everything has changed since then as Covid-19 rages it’s way around the world.  For months the US administration has referred to the virus that is now killing so many as a “hoax” and “that Chinese virus”, leading many to feel like the threat was far away and no danger to them in the US leading to very risky behavior.

It did seem that things were going to be OK for a while and here in St Lucia it still looked to us that perhaps the more out-of-the-way places would be spared.  However, as cruise ships, long associated with outbreaks of disease, with thousands of passengers crowded into floating “cities”, the local governments realized that these “incubators” posed a huge risk to their islands and stopped their visits.   Given the fact that tourism makes up better than 80% of the local economy of many islands keeping tourists out was a tough call so by the time they finally canceled the visits, the proverbial “horse was likely out of the barn”.

So now, a short two weeks later, everything has changed, both here and at home.  Having said that, while infection in the US is raging, there are very few cases locally and I expect that being here will continue to be a lot safer than in the US.  To head home now to the US now, is probably like heading into the proverbial eye of the hurricane, but that’s our plan.   God help us. 

Within the last week, even though there are only a handful of cases known on the island, we have stopped going out in public spaces, began washing our hands obsessively and moved our occasional evening “sundowners” onto the dock with only a few friends, always keeping a safe distance from each other out in the wind. Most of the islands in the Caribbean have put in place increasingly tight restrictions and they are getting progressively more aggressive every day.

Yesterday, Martinique and Guadalupe announced that only EU citizens and their boats, and that everyone else, even those that had been on there for months, have to leave and go elsewhere.  And they are enforcing a “no sail zone” within 15 miles of their coastline.   And while the restrictions elsewhere may be slightly different,  most of the other islands are following suit.  I believe that between us and the American Virgin Islands, where we are headed, over 250 miles north, Antigua is the only island left where we can stop legally, even to anchor for the night.

Many cruisers were hoping to head south to Grenada and Trinidad, islands that are generally safe from summer hurricanes, but as of last week, both islands are closed to new arrivals so they will have to wait in the hope that things will open up before the storms arrive.

Even in the face of all this uncertainty, Brenda and I still plan to head home to CT.  However, the prospect of being back in the US is making us increasingly nervous given the contrast between the sort of restrictions being put in place here in the islands compared to what we are hearing about in the US, suggesting that the risk of contracting the virus is much greater at home than here.

Brenda heard from a friend in Texas yesterday and was shocked to learn that many of the people in her area of Texas still believe that the virus is a hoax being pushed by democrats to undermine the administration and that restaurants and bars were still open and busy.  Social distancing isn’t a priority and well, you get the picture.

In the Florida Keys, all non-residents are barred from entry and beaches in south Florida are closed because so many people were still having large beach parties.  In New York, the “epicenter” of the virus in the US, some religious groups are still defying safety recommendations and have continued to have large weddings and parties.   This sort of disregard to science and social decorum can only lead to bad news for us all.

It’s alarming to think that in our desire to “get home” that we may be putting ourselves in harm’s way and given our age, over 60, that we will likely be at higher risk of severe illness, or worse once home than we are here.

When the severity of what was going on in China and elsewhere began to be better understood, our cruising friends Bob and Carol picked up and took their boat to Grenada where it is to be stored so that they could return home early to be with family.

Of course, it takes time to move a boat, remove canvas and sails, dispose of any food and generally get it ready to be vacant for months in a tropical climate.  While they have done this for a number of years, proper preparation takes time.

As of yesterday they were ready to be hauled out only to learn that their flight was canceled and that there was no option to re-book for the foreseeable future.  As of now they have canceled their haul date and are in the process of re-provisioning the boat, not knowing if or when they will be able to fly home.

Bill and Maureen, long time cruising friends, summer on their boat in Trinidad and yet that island has closed to arrivals.  Will that change before hurricane season when being in St Lucia will be risky at best and their insurance likely void?  Who knows.  Their home port is New York City and to head to an area with the greatest concentration of virus in the US is a terrible idea.  So, here they sit, all the nearby islands are closed to arrivals and if they leave they can’t return.

For those who read this blog know that I am involved with the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a group that organizes the largest rally to the Caribbean each fall with a primary landfall in Antigua.

Along with the fall rally, the group runs a smaller rally back to the US each May.  After sharing ideas with fellow board members, we began to talk about organizing a more informal rally back to the US to help cruisers who are struggling with the details of heading home in such uncertain times.

While being at sea in a small boat is very much a solo experience, there is something comforting to know that someone is watching out for you and monitoring your progress.  For those of us that have a long range SSB radio on board, it’s nice to have the ability to participate in organized talks each day, an opportunity to share news and generally know that there is someone out there with you.

Normally, in order for a skipper to join us, they have to agree to a certain level of preparedness and have certain safety equipment aboard.  However, in order to help the greatest number of cruisers head home, and in order to offer a blanket welcome to cruisers means that we will have to relax our requirements.  With this in mind, and a desire to welcome anyone and everyone that wants to head home with us we decided relax these rules.

While there is a modest recommended fee of $150 per boat, even that is being waived if anyone feels that they are unable to pay.   I expect that some, perhaps many, will opt to pay the fee and perhaps a bit more as a way to help SDSA manage the expenses associated with this effort.

A few days ago word began to get out about what we are doing and the response has been very positive.  Normally, this early in the season only a handful of cruisers would have signed up and already nearly 30 skippers have expressed interest.

Another question that had to be answered was where to leave from, and we quickly settled on the American Virgin Islands, an American territory.  Brenda and I had already decided that we would head there, bumping up the island chain so that we could clear into an island as US Citizens.   Closed or not, we expect that we will not be turned away.  Fingers crossed as the “rules” are changing every day.

With mounting restrictions in the islands along the way, we now realize that we will have to do most of the 300+ mile run in a single or perhaps two non-stop ocean runs.

So, our current plan is to leave the marina tomorrow afternoon and anchor out in the bay.  After two weeks in the marina Pandora’s bottom is pretty foul and I want to scrub off the slime before we get underway as she is much faster with a clean bottom.

The run to Dominica, our first leg, is about 1o0 miles, a longer distance than we can cover during daylight hours so we plan on leaving St Lucia before dawn on Wednesday so we can plan for a daylight arrival.

We feel that this first leg, partly in the dark, is important for Brenda who hasn’t done much nighttime sailing for some years and we want to be sure that we don’t bite off too much up front.

The weather forecast suggests that we should have a few days of favorable winds and seas, perhaps lasting until next weekend when things are expected to get a bit more “salty” but we hope to be in the American Virgins before that happens.

We are hoping that stopping in Dominica won’t be a problem in spite of the island being closed to arrivals, as we don’t plan to go ashore and will likely leave the following morning.  If we need anything we will look to members of the local PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) guys to bring us anything that we might need.

After our arrival in the American Virgins we will decide if we are going to head north through the Bahamas, the shorter and easier option, or take the longer downwind route past the north coasts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before heading up the FL coast with the Gulf Stream.

In any event, this should all be an adventure and we hope to hook up with other cruisers who also wish to return to the US.

As always, we will be logging our position every four hours when we are underway via our Garmin InReach unit.  If you’re interested in following our progress, check out “where in the world is Pandora” on this site.

I also plan on putting up posts every few days as I am able to keep everyone posted on our progress.  You can sign up to receive a notice when I post as well.

Here’s to smooth seas and wind behind us.   One way or the other, we are homeward bound.

Wish us luck.

Hope springs eternal.

Yesterday was the first day of spring and we are still in St Lucia.  Normally we would be making our way back toward Antigua to enjoy the festivities of the Classic Yacht Regatta and to prepare for Brenda’s return home and springtime in New England.  However, everything has been canceled, flights, social events and islands are locking down and not allowing yachts to check in.  In some cases cruisers have been pointedly asked to leave and anchorages closed.

However, virus and lethal pandemics aside, it’s a beautiful morning and given the spectacular sunrise, you’d never know just how unsettled things are in the world.And, a beautiful view of the nearby mountains.  The fact is that things are really heating up in the US, with a reported 40% increase in virus cases in just one day.  And, yesterday the State Department said something like “Come home now or plan to stay where you are for the indefinite future!”  Not very helpful for anyone who’s on a “slow boat to, well, somewhere…”

We could certainly just ditch Pandora and fly home but it’s beginning to feel like this whole thing could take a year or more to sort through and the idea of leaving her in Trinidad when things are becoming chaotic, doesn’t seem like a good idea to us.

Of course, the massive overnight increase in cases in the US is, in part, because of much delayed testing, and late warnings from the administration about how dangerous things are.  Nobody really knows what the death rate will be and for those in the 60+ age bracket, like us, for example, it’s higher than for those who aren’t so “mature”.   For years, I have been quite happy to be in the over 50 crowd because I was quite excited about our retired years but now being older is a liability and that new reality is taking some getting used to.

I’ll admit that I have mixed emotions about where we are as on the one hand, I’d like to be home where we could be helping out with Rob and Kandice and our three grandchildren.   However, here, we are pretty safe with only very modest evidence of infection.  We’d love to be able to help out with Rob and Kandice as they are in the healthcare business, supplying testing materials and equipment, and  have been very busy.  Kandice’s mother Pat, in her 70s, watches the kids during the day, she is also being pressed to put in more hours at the grocery store where she works to deal with the “hoarding hoards” that are swamping the store.

Instead of being able to lend a hand, here we are hunkered down in a marina,  thousands of miles from home afraid to leave and give up our spot for fear that we won’t be able to return and yet not being sure where to head.

All of the islands in the Caribbean have implemented various forms of restrictions with the hope of slowing the outbreak of the virus in their country as it has done elsewhere in the world.  And, that’s a worthy effort given the fact that, as just one example, Antigua has only three ventilators in the whole country.  Think about that for a moment…

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a group that I work with as a board member, has taken the lead in sending out updates, much of which is reported on Noonsite, that serves the cruising community,  about what’s going on in the Caribbean, islands are open and those that are closed.   It’s amazing that it was only about three months ago that the virus first made it’s appearance in China and now has so quickly spread to nearly every country on earth.

As so many nations have become much more nationalistic, BREXIT, Trump, etc, I am hoping that this epidemic will help leaders understand just how interconnected we are and that to withdraw from the world community just isn’t realistic.

Cruiser friends of ours decided a few days ago to head to Grenada to have their boat hauled for the summer.  They sailed overnight to reach there before midnight on Wednesday to beat the deadline for a 14 day quarantine that went into effect yesterday.  They wrote to say that in a single day, prior to the deadline, 50 boats cleared into the island, a huge number by any measure.

Here’s the list of who’s open and who’s not as of yesterday.

These countries are now closed to visiting yachts.  St. Martin, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Mustique, Trinidad & Tobago, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Statia, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Anguilla,  Saba.

And, for those who are considering a straight offshore run to the NE US, Bermuda has a 14 day quarantine (so if you are planning a stop there plan on a long one)  And, you had better hope that nobody on board is harboring the virus when you begin a ten day run to New England.  To get sick at sea, a half week or more from help if you have to bail out along the way, is a scary thought.

While still open, other islands are adding restrictions to entry.  For example,
Antigua has a single port of entry, St John, where cruise ships normally dock.  Friends of ours that arrived there a few days ago spent much of the day getting through customs and immigration, 6 hours standing in line.

Grenada has only two entry points and Turks & Caicos will not allow entry if you have been to St. Martin as that islands has, for the moment, the most confirmed cases in the Caribbean.

In most cases yachts on passage are still able to anchor most anywhere as long as they don’t go ashore.  However, that may change as it has in Les Saintes, part of Guadaloupe, where local law enforcement has told all visiting yachts to leave the port and go elsewhere.

Marinas along the US coast have begun to close to vessels returning from other countries.  Given the increased restrictions on anchoring in the SE US, anyone entering the US will have few places to anchor, US citizens or not.  Even Puerto Rico is in lock-down mode, marinas are closed and they are considering a full travel ban.

So, all of this leaves us wondering what we will do to get home and where to leave Pandora.  At this point, we are focused on trying to find a way to get back to CT with Pandora but how to do that and as getting crew is unlikely, we want to do what we can to make the run as easy as possible and avoid passage legs of more than a few days at a time so that we remain close to help, such as that might be, if we need to bail for health or mechanical reasons.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to address any issues that will keep Pandora from being ready to head out as needed, beginning with some small projects like re-bedding fittings on deck to fix tiny leaks and the major addition of our new fridge.  As the new unit is much larger than the old one, the old unit on the left and new on the right.  There was no way that I was going to be able to install the new fridge to the left of the watermaker so the watermaker was moved to the other side of the workshop.   This is how it was prior to the move.
Thanks to Brenda for suggesting that I move the unit there.  It’s not completely installed yet but is getting close.   A working watermaker will be critical if we can’t go ashore for the next few weeks at least. The installation of the new fridge unit only took a few hours under the able guidance of our refrigeration tech, Prudent.  Now I know why he came so highly recommended by other cruisers.  Although, I’ll admit that seeing an “open flame” as he soldered the pipes did give me pause for thought.  Here we are, with the new fridge purring away and using much less electricity than the last one.  It’s a very nice piece of equipment, even if it did take three months to get to u.  However, now it’s all done and was worth the wait.What’s next?  It seems that after two weeks of back and forth we have decided to head for the American Virgin Islands where we will likely hook up with other cruisers heading to the US on what will likely be billed as a “flotilla” of cruisers with the support of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a group that I serve on the board of and act as port officer for our fall rally to Antigua.

The plan will be to help cruisers who are US Citizens bring their boats back to the US with a minimum of fuss.  Volunteers with Salty Dawg will work hard to smooth our return process with local officials, US Coast Guard and perhaps senators, where appropriate.

Today, I’ll tackle the last bits of installation on the watermaker, another trip to the bank to get cash to pay for all of this and more provisioning for what may very well be several weeks on the hook and underway with no hope of resupplying.

And, to make it feel, sort of, like normal aboard, I was able to get fresh tropical flowers yesterday.  Our little flower and herb garden.  And yes, we think we have enough toilet paper.  At least we think we do.  No, better check…

Well, I’m optimistic that we will figure all this out and make our way home.  At least we have a plan even if it’s likely to change along the way.

That’s me.  Hope springs eternal…

Or as Brenda once said, “Bob and the Dog, Ever Hopeful.”

 

It’s a Zombie Apocalypse and we are on a boat.

As everyone knows, during a Zombie Apocalypse, the best place to be is on a boat.  Not only are you isolated from just about everyone but Zombies can not swim.

However, not to spread “fake news”, but the apocalypse we are facing is the Caronavirus and an administration struggling with the question of what to do next to keep us safe.

Cruisers are generally a healthy lot and we rarely run into anyone who is sick.  Over the seven winter seasons that we have been afloat, the only sickness Brenda and I have faced has been from bugs caught from family and on flights during a stateside visit.

There are bugs that are unique to the Caribbean such as Dengue Fever, which one of our friends caught earlier in the season.  Fortunately, this disease generally isn’t life threatening but it can be very uncomfortable and lay up a sufferer for weeks.

Back in the day when sugar was king in these parts and the European powers were battling it out out for control of the islands of the West Indies, disease was rampant with tens of thousands loosing their lives from myriad diseases including  yellow fever, malaria and often, thanks, in part, to those boiled wool uniforms that the British wore, heat stroke.  It is said that as many as 50,000 British troops died in Antigua alone and that to this day, after a storm, bones still wash up on Galleon beach near the entrance of English Harbor where so many were buried.

Today the islands of the eastern Caribbean are generally safe from those scourges and to visit them doesn’t require any special preventative vaccines.

However, this year, as Coronavirus rages it’s way around the world, Brenda and I have found ourselves in an unsettling position, not sure if we should try to cut short our season and head home to the US or to extend our time here and wait to see what happens.

They say that one of the best ways to protect yourself from infection is “social distancing” and it surely seems that being on a boat with hundreds of feet between you and the next anchored boat is a good way to stay safe.   While we are currently in a marina we are still a lot farther from the next person than we’d be, in just one example, on a NYC subway during rush hour.

With all of the uncertainty, staying in touch with family and friends is particularly important and the good news is that making calls, getting email and keeping up on the news is easier than ever and our best year yet with our Google Fi phone that provides virtually unlimited data and phone calls.  While the speed of the service is slower than high speed cable, as long as we are in cell range, we are almost always in contact.  And, to that point, cell coverage in the islands is far better than at home given the fact that the towers are located on the top of high mountains and as long as we are within about 10 miles from shore, we are connected.  I wish that was the case at our home in CT where cell coverage is poor.

In past years we have relied on phone service and data from TMobile but that service remains quite slow and is often not strong enough on some of the islands to even make calls.   Today, with our Google Fi phone, we nearly always have access to data and calling the US is a snap as we can make totally free international calls to any phone using the Google app Hangouts.

Hangouts is wonderful and the connections are clear, unlike Skype which we used for many years but worked only sometimes and often dropped calls.  Another feature of Hangouts is that the person that you are calling doesn’t have to have the app installed on their phone and calls, local and long distance, are always free.  Prior to Hangouts, we used, and still do, WhatsApp but that service must be installed on both ends of the call.

So while our “social distance” is a lot better than it would be in the US, we are still being careful and we make a point to avoid anyone who looks like they have recently been on a plane or, God forbid, a cruise ship.   You know, tourists who are wearing new white sneakers, have a pasty complexion, camera hung over their neck, fanny pack and a fresh sunburn?   And, with fellow cruisers we no longer hug or shake hands although “elbow bumps” haven’t been a big part of our greetings so far.

And, speaking of contagions, while there are only a handful of confirmed cases in the Caribbean, and one reported here in St Lucia, all of the local stores are sold out of anything that even remotely resembles hand sanitizer.  Good luck buying Isopropyl alcohol although some very strong local rums that are  85% alcohol can probably be re-purposed as a sanitizer if it’s not made into a rum punch first.

All of this means that we really don’t know what we will do next, leave Pandora in Trinidad or take her back to CT for the summer?   So, for the moment we are here in the marina, waiting for the arrival of our new refrigeration compressor unit and monitoring the spread of the virus.

And, speaking of our fridge, I haven’t spoken about this for some time but when we returned to Pandora on New Year’s Eve, we discovered that our refrigeration was showing signs of failure and it was time to either get new parts for the current system or to yank it out and put in something else.  While there are other systems on Pandora that are more critical, like the main engine, navigation plotters or perhaps most importantly, the autopilot, refrigeration looms large as something that we’d prefer not to live without.  A room temperature rum punch just wouldn’t do.

After a few techs visited us we learned that it was only a matter of time until our fridge would be totally dead so I arranged an order to replace the compressor and electronics from a supplier in the US.

The problem is that the vendor didn’t stock a 24v unit and had to order parts and put a custom unit together as a special order.  At first he told me that it was going to be about six weeks before he would be in a position to ship out the unit but it seemed that every week and missed deadline had him pushing out the ship date yet another week.

Eventually, he said that he “felt very confident” that he would be able to ship on February 24th, more than two weeks ago.  After that, “radio silence” and finally a message that the unit would finally ship after a series of missed deadlines.

He blew by that and other deadlines but the good news is that on Friday, two days ago, I finally received a note from FedEx confirming that the unit had been shipped and that it will be arriving here in on Tuesday evening.  That’s very good news but I’ll admit that the urgency of having perfectly functioning refrigeration is fading a bit when put up against the looming threat of the Coronavirus as it makes it’s way, wreaking havoc, around the world.

Of course, as we sit here in the sunny Caribbean, an area that has been relatively isolated from the virus so far, with only few cases scattered here and there, we are beginning to wonder if we will be able to bring Pandora home or if we will have to make other arrangements and run her south to Trinidad for the hurricane season and fly home from there.

And, the question of, will we be able to get a flight home at all, has added a mix of uncertainty and anxiety to the situation and put us in a position that we never would have imagined just a few weeks ago.  Additionally, some of the islands have added very strict rules and reporting before you are able to check in.   For example, Panama, not on our itinerary, has instituted a mandatory two week quarantine on your boat before you will be allowed to go ashore.  Trinidad now requires a detailed list of health questions and landfalls made over the last few months, submitted 72 hours prior to arrival, before they will decide if you can check in at all.

And, as we sit here, relatively isolated from crowds, it seems that perhaps we are better off in this out-of-the-way place, than if we were in the more heavily populated NY-Boston area.   Tourism has all but dried up and the islands are no longer allowing cruise ships to dock at all.

I spoke with one of my delivery crew a few days ago and he remains committed to coming down to make the trip home with me but did mention that he was wondering if flights south to Antigua, where we plan on leaving from, might be canceled.  Or worse, that we would somehow be denied entry into the US once we arrived.

In any event, I guess that we will just have to sit here and wait to see how things unfold and hope that the current administration can find a way to calm things down and project a sense that they know what to do, if anyone does.

For now, hunkering down, with a nod to social distancing,  in paradise.  Not a bad view of Pandora in her slip. And, all of this brings me back to the question of where is the best place to be during a Zombie Apocalypse or, in this case, an outbreak of Coronavirus.  So, with that in mind, I decided to do a bit of research and here is what I found.

According to the definitive website Zombie-Guide,  lucky for us, they say that a boat is the safest place to be during an apocalypse so I’ll close with this bit of advice from them.

“Boats and ships can make a great escape vessel in case of any emergency. Most important however is that you train your crew before SHTF and for ALL supplies to be packed and ready at all times. An added bonus here is that your emergency vessel becomes a holiday home and every vacation is a prepping experience that combines your vacation with crucial training. Learning how to fish and cook in the wild are now fun and a vacation activity, while still teaching valuable lessons in case of an emergency. During these vacations you’ll already find out what items you missed, so you can pack them for the next trip. My only real concern with boats and ships though, is that you’ll be vulnerable. Make sure you pack guns and plenty of ammo and have at least one big caliber gun on board to pack a punch. Also, learn how to fix the engine…”

But, I didn’t stop there and checked out YouTube to see what other experts had to say about boats and Apocalyptic events.    This is one video in a series of “where to ride out a zombie apocalypse”, covering such locations as a mall, office building roof etc…  It seems that indeed, boats are the #1 recommended place.  So there you have it, in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse or viral outbreak, boats are a pretty good place to practice “social distancing” and Pandora, beyond being a great place to spend time when it’s cold up north, may prove to be a great hedge against threats from Zombies and rampant virus attacks.

I sure hope I’m right.  So far, we haven’t seen a single zombie.

 

 

Cruising: Boat repair in exotic places.

As I write this we are tied up in the Rodney Bay Marina, St Lucia where we plan to stay for about ten days while we wait for our new fridge compressor to arrive and be installed.  Wish us luck as it’s supposed to ship FedEx tomorrow, Monday.  Fingers crossed as he has blown by prior deadlines.

It’s been a long and winding road, waiting for the unit to ship.  Part of the problem is that the company that made our system, Glacier Bay, went of business more than ten years ago so I am only able to get replacement parts from a small company in CA that purchased the rights to the products and now sort of makes them to order, in a garage I suspect give the fact that it’s taken more than 6 weeks since I ordered it, for them to finally ship.

Getting parts for boats in the islands is notoriously difficult as anything sent has to go via something like International FedEx or by ship in a container and then, once arrived, cleared through a local agent.  In the case of St Lucia, at least there isn’t duty to pay as the parts I have ordered are going to a “yacht in transit”.

Some islands, like Grenada, apply extra import duty but St Lucia and many other islands understand that boats are portable and can go elsewhere if they are competitive and don’t apply extra fees to things shipped in for boats that are transient.

So, the latest news has our unit shipping, all 40 lbs of it, on Monday and I am told that it will arrive here on the island on Wednesday or Thursday.   The next step in the process will be for the local agent to clear the package which I am told, from the “horses mouth” that this will happen quickly, in a day or two.  Once it’s here, I have an installer lined up who seems to be very responsive so I am hopeful that we will have everything resolved by the end of next weekend.

The good news about the “waiting part” is that marinas in the Caribbean can be quite reasonable, in this case, the weekly rate per foot is something like $.75/ft per day with the weekly rate at buy-a-week and only pay for 6 days.  And, it gets better as with a week you get three bonus days at no charge, which works out to about $25 a day for our ten day stay.

Of course, water and electric are extra and can really add up.  However, all and all a day on the dock here is about 1/4 of the cost of tying up to a mooring in Nantucket and here we are on a dock and a nice one at that.

And, even though it’s inexpensive, it’s a really nice marina with beautiful floating docks. Here’s Pandora all snug and tied up.Just about everywhere we go we are approached by locals who offer to do work on our boat.  Here I hired a guy, one of many that approached me, to clean Pandora from top to bottom.  A key part of this was to polish the stainless, which had gotten a bit dingy and spotty over the last few months.

When I was in Antigua I hired someone to clean her and we agreed to a price of $250US for a job that took nearly two full days which was still a good deal.   However, here in St Lucia, rates are even lower and I was able to get the job done for half of that price and he even supplied some of the cleaning products himself.  He’s a very nice gay and spent all day yesterday working hard and today showed up with a helper to finish the job.  Again, he was here for much of the day.

Now Pandora is really clean and all the stainless sparkles.   He was even able to get some stubborn over-spray paint off of the bowsprit that was left there when the boat was painted in the US.  The guy in Antigua couldn’t get it off but somehow he did.  And, the anchor, after so much time in the water had become very discolored.  Not now.And speaking of the paint job.  My new paint took a turn for the worse when a young couple ran into me with a small Hobie catamaran from the nearby Sandals resort out in the bay, where we anchored the first night when we arrived in St Lucia.  It was quite windy and they lost control of the boat as they raced along near Pandora.  In spite of my fending them off twice, they finally rammed me and put some nasty scrapes on the aft port quarter that will have to be repaired when I get home.

Fortunately, the water sports manager at the Sandals resort was very diligent in helping me quickly file a claim.  Within a day he had hired a surveyor to assess the damage and two days later saw to it that I was paid.  After only three days all of this was done and the couple send money to us to cover the damage via Venmo, a total of $1,400, not a trifling amount.

I felt badly for the young couple but with may new paint job, I hated to have scratches so am glad that they were willing to cover the damage.  Had they put up a fight, I doubt that I would have been able to find a way to enforce the claim.  So, one more thing to address when I get home.

Perhaps it’s time for me to learn how to repair scratches as hardly a year goes by without a new one or two.  In anticipation of getting scratches, I had Pandora painted with Alexseal specifically because it’s supposedly somewhat easier to repair than other harder paints.   Details to come on that score, I guess.

I can tell you that things could have easily been worse.  One of the boats that we have been cruising with had major engine problems about a week ago and are now waiting in Martinique for a new engine to be installed.  Another is making plans to limp back to Trinidad to get a crack in their hull fixed.  They tangled with a piece of floating line, while towing the boat that lost their engine, and the tangled line wrenched their prop shaft and cracked the hull.  Now they can’t use their engine and had to be towed to anchor in Martinique by me and a friend with our dinks. Once we arrived where he wanted to anchor, we both backed down to set his anchor.   Cruisers helping cruisers and boat repair for yet another in exotic places. Setting aside the inevitable damage, 0ne of the fun parts of cruising is seeing friends along the way, some new and some from prior years.    This season we have been buddy-boating with a number of couples and in particular, Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo, who we first met on our initial trip down the Intra Coastal Waterway our first year out in 2012.

Kalunamoo is here in the marina across from us.   They are also here for boat repair in exotic places.  In this case, to their engine, hopefully beginning tomorrow. It’s pretty amazing that everywhere we go there is someone we know.    This is a photo of the group that we were with for several weeks.  We had the gang over for drinks on our last night kin Martinique before everyone headed their own way.    And when we aren’t hanging out with friends, it’s, you guessed it, boat repair in exotic places as I have also been tackling a number of other smaller projects. I’m  chipping away at the list and still have a few more to go.  However, we have plenty of time as we expect to stay here in the marina for the rest of the week and their is a great ship’s store in the marina.

Perhaps when I have a break from, y0u guessed it, boat repair, we will rent a car and tour the island with Bill and Maureen.  Tuesday looks like a good day.

So, for now, it’s what it always is, boat repair in exotic places.  I sure hope that the compressor ships tomorrow so we can get on with this and find a new place to fix things.  Of course, it’s only a matter of time till something else breaks.

 

A most amazing party. Carnival, Martinique.

We are in St-Anne Martinique at the southern end of the island, where we arrived a few days ago.  It’s a lovely spot, a charming little town with long sandy beaches and more cruising boats than you can count.  And, nearby is La Marin, home of the largest, if not the largest, marina in the Caribbean, with access to most anything that you might need for the boat.

It’s quite quiet, St-Anne, a welcome break from the craziness of Forte de France, the constant ferry traffic and the noise of Carnival.

We stayed for much of Carnival but decided to skip the last day even though we likely missed the biggest parade of the four day celebration.  However, the third day of celebration, “the day of the devil” was crazy enough with thousands participating in the parade and perhaps even more spectators, nearly all dressed in red.Each day had a different theme and some participating in the parade showed up with a different costume on each time.  This guy was one of the most elaborate and was clearly enjoying himself, mugging it up for the crowd. This was him the day before.  And yes, he knew then that he was fabulous then as well.Not to be outdone, this was also quite the get-up. And, from the back, making his best impression on the day of the devil.  Oh, you devil, you!

A high point for many participating in the parade was to coat themselves from head to tow with cane syrup, mixed with ashes, a slimy gooey mixture.  You could smell them coming.  I can only imagine how nasty they must have felt in the heat and humidity.  Earlier in the afternoon, near the beach coating each other from buckets and liberal use of paintbrushes.  If it were me, I’d have hightailed it to the beach to wash off after only a few minutes. The parades, and each day had it’s own theme, was louder and louder with huge crowds lining the route.  The procession of revelers went on and on for hours with some groups coming by time and time again.  I doubt that this car has much use outside of Carnival. This rolling “boom box” was just one of many vehicles piled high with speakers,  all louder than the last.  And where there is noise, responsible parents do their best to protect the little ones. “Mommy?  Is that man hurt?  No honey, he’s just channeling the devil.” Amazingly, in spite of the throngs, there is very little police presence and unlike the good old USofA where there would be ambulances and firetrucks along with heavily armed troops everywhere, here it was just thousands of people having fun with a minimum of mayhem.

And the fun they were having,  drink in hand.  Of course, you do have to stay hydrated. No getting face cramps for trying to smile for hours.
There was also an endless “parade” of spectators dressed for the occasion.  I asked if I could take a photo of them. They where thrilled and agreed provided that I took a photo of them with their camera as well.   For my money he was a more convincing as a woman than she was as a guy.  Perhaps it was her glasses that gave it away.  Or was it the vinyl bikini top?  Hard to say.  Funny how both women and guys want to dress up as a woman and yet, not generally the other way around.  “Honey can I wear your jeans?  You know, the ones that you wear half falling down below your waist?”  Not likely. “OMG dad, did you see that?”Again and again the “cane sugar crowd” would pass by.  You could always smell them coming.  “Hugs, anyone?  Hugs? “And speaking of hot and sticky, I wonder how it feels to be inside this.Or this. Real wigs?  Only their hairdressers know for sure. “Does this dress make me look fat Charles?”  Only when you aren’t smiling so just shut up and have another beer.”  Do you think they talked that morning before they got dressed?  What to wear?  What indeed!
Love the hat. Here kitty, kitty, and a matching purse.  Perfect. Some political statements about pesticide use. “Yes Mom, I’ll be home soon, I promise.  Just out picking up a few groceries.”
This woman would move along a few meters with others in her group and then stop to strike a pose.  Something about clay.Daddy,  can I march in the parade next year?I just love face painting.  There were a lot of elaborate costumes, day after day.  It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of chiffon and devil horns. Colors from every part of the rainbow. And pink, red and pink. And, of course, what’s better than a guy in drag with horns.What is a parade without stilts.  I’ll bet that the view from up there was terrific. Loved her headdress.  However, nobody had quite the “stage presence” as this woman.  Let’s call her the “Budwiser girl of Martinique”.  That’s a LOT, LOT of bottle caps and pull tops.
These guys were into the moment and came by multiple times.  If it’s worth parading once, it’s worth doing it again.  Besides, wasn’t it once said that “these  boots were made for walking…”I liked this little guy the best.  However, I doubt that he will wear this costume when he’s a teenager.  Perhaps then he will be in drag just like the rest of his friends and probably his dad.   Bumble bee or not, I’ll bet he’s a bit of a devil himself. Yes, he was having a blast, just like everyone else at this most amazing party.

Carnival,  Martinique.

It’s Carnival, Martinique, and it’s party time!

After a few days in St Pierre in the shadow of Mt Pele, our first stop in Martinique, we moved down to Fort de France, the capital.  This is one of our favorite stops where we anchor in a historic harbor sandwiched between a Napoleonic era fort to one side…And a modern city on the other.  Big city or not, the view in the distance is a constant reminder that we are still in the tropics with distant mountains shrouded in clouds and mist. The harbor is busy and very rolly during the day with a constant stream of ferry boats leaving big wakes and cruise ships, sometimes 5 a day, coming and going. Yesterday was the first day of carnival, a four day festival of parades and fun that runs though next Wednesday.  The fun begins each afternoon at 4:00 and continues well into the we hours with near constant drumming and firecracker detonations late into the night.

The parade, which passed us three times, began with what looked like, I guess,  some sort of nod to native Americans. This lady was clearly not a newcomer to such events and knew that she was indeed “looking marvelous”. Not sure what this costume was all about, very elaborate and festooned with  with coconuts. This one was, well, I’m not sure but it was, but it was very elaborate. And an enthusiastic group with REALLY LOUD drumming. Many of the children in the group sported these hats.  What were they all about?  I have no idea. This young woman was clearly having a great time. Spectators, many decorated with face paint, lined the route.
But this guy was perhaps the winner.   Of course, he, like everyone else, had his smartphone.  No pockets I guess. There was something about going in drag was a common theme.  What is it about guys and bikinis?  I’ll have to ask Brenda what she thinks.  A g-string and feather boa?  Is it me?

Not sure where the stuffed giraffe fit in.  I guess you had to be there to see the connection, such as it was. Umbrellas were clearly a theme for this large and LOUD group. The noise of this VERY enthusiastic drummer set off Brenda’s Apple watch alert that she was being exposed to damaging noise in excess of 90db.Clearly feeling the beat, this particularly well put together lady was clearly enjoying herself and posed every few feet for photographers. This young lady seemed a bit insecure in her costume.  Her “get-up”, like many of the others, was so heavy that it had wheels to help her along as well as an “escort” to give her a shove when she was hung up on rough pavement.  Her costume looked vaguely sinister.  Perhaps a rain forest queen?This young woman carried herself in style, never letting her radiant smile fade for even an instant, well perhaps not until she passed us for the third time. This photo of a mother and daughter pretty much sums up what it was like to be there.  I can’t wait till tonight to see what is in store.
And, with all the fun in town the harbor is getting crowded as more cruisers arrive each day.    This is what I woke up to this morning after the wind shifted direction over night.  And yes, they were as close as that.   They were a nice couple from Denmark, taking time off from work to cruise with their two children.   Can I borrow a bit of Grey Poupon?  It’s great sport, watching newcomers look for a spot to anchor and it seems that there is always, sort of, room for one more.

“Dad, I see a spot, over there!”It’s pretty clear that the people of Martinique really know how to put on a party. Brenda and I can’t wait to see what tonight will bring.

It is, after all, party time and the folks in Martinique really know how to put on a party!

Humty, his snake and a saw

When we first arrived in Dominica I took a walk along the main road in town to visit the market and spied this guy with an alarmingly large snake wrapped around his neck.

Separately, I had heard that there was someone living on the beach that salvaged wood in the rain forest from trees that had been knocked down during hurricane Maria that had so decimated the island.

It turned out to be the same guy and his name is Humty.  I’m not positive about the spelling but it is pronounced (Hum-tee).  He told me that he had found the snake in the bush while working.    I wanted to learn more. I had gotten a taste of some of the exotic hardwoods available on the island when we visited the chocolate factory and now wanted to see for myself, how the wood was salvaged.   When I asked about how he cut logs into boards he told me that he just used his chainsaw and free-handed the log into boards.  Now that I had to see…

We agreed to meet the following morning, Sunday at 09:00 and head out.  I had somehow assumed that he had a truck or at least access to one and I was surprised to see him hoist his saw, an alarming one with a blade of some 30″ long, up onto his shoulder and off we walked down the road.  Along the way, and the walk on the road was about two miles,  a friend of his stopped with a pickup truck and gave us a lift.

Before we headed into the forest we stopped at a small general store for something to drink if we became thirsty.  I got a bottle of water and Humty, a beer.  So off we walked into the bush, Humty with this huge saw on his shoulder and beer in the other hand.  Oh yeah, and he had a ganja cigarette in his lips.   And, don’t forget that it was still early on a Sunday morning, a sort of double fisted hair of the dog, I guess.

I can’t say that I had ever thought of beer, “local herbs” and a chainsaw were a great combination, especially first thing on a Sunday morning.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he also had a long and quite menacing looking machete. Over the years, I had seen portable sawmills that can turn a log into boards using a really long chainsaw that was guided by rails and other equipment that made the cuts quite precise but the idea of someone cutting logs into boards by eye and a steady hand was something I found hard to imagine.

We didn’t have to go very far into the bush but after perhaps a half mile we crossed a small stream and found our way into a clearing with huge downed trees scattered here and there.  In the clearing some locals had planted a large number of what I learned were coffee tree seedlings along with banana plants.    Humty selected a promising log, some 20″ in diameter and sat down to sharpen his saw, one tooth at a time with a round file.  30 minutes later he was ready to make his first cut. Then he marked the log to a bit over 5′ and removed a section.   His newly sharpened saw went through it like soft balsa.  After rolling the newly cut log onto a base of smaller logs and bracing it up against a small tree, he proceeded to carefully run his saw down the length of the log, marking it for the individual boards he planned to cut, each about 1 1/4″ thick.   The  cuts were more precise than this photo suggests.  He began at the end of the log closest to him and progressively drew the saw from end to end, each cut only a fraction of an inch deeper than the last.    Beginning on the left, after marking all of the boards, he slowly cut deeper and deeper until the board was only supported at the far end by a small uncut wedge of wood.  The process of cutting all the way through the log, end to end, took more than two hours and in the end he had three boards.  He paused once to resharpen his saw, a few gulps of beer and puffs.

All the time the noise of the saw was deafening but no hearing protection needed.   I suppose that to someone who uses a huge chainsaw with shorts and open toe sandals isn’t all that concerned about hearing loss.  However, after twenty years of this sort of work, he still has all of his fingers and toes.

Meanwhile a small lizard watched from a distance as Humty did his work. He paused from time to time to check his measurements. As one cut was mostly finished he moved onto the next, from left to right.
Once the four cuts were complete with only a small sliver of uncut wood on the end of each board he made the final cut, beginning on the left and the boards fell away. These finished cuts were remarkably consistent and all done by eye. What was left of the log could have yielded a few more boards but I had asked for three so that’s what he cut.  The boards have beautiful figuring. The dark markings are not water staining or rot, it’s the way the trees grow.  Notice how smooth the cuts are.  You would never know that he had just held the saw and cut them freehand.  I have no idea what I will make these boards into but they are remarkable and I’ve never seen anything like it.   The wood is very dense and HEAVY.Even though the wood had fallen nearly three years ago, there was not rot but OMG, they are heavy, perhaps 70lbs each.

Humty, in spite of their weight, hoisted each board and held it over his head, with the saw in the other hand and carried them out.   He enlisted a friend to help carry the final board out. He didn’t miss a beat as he forded down into the stream and up the other side. As I write this we are now in Martinique and for the time being, the boards are still at Humty’s home on the beach.  I am hoping that they will dry out a bit so that they aren’t quite so heavy and I’ll need time to think about how I am going to secure a few hundred pounds of boards down below the cockpit.  I sure don’t want them to come loose along the way as I can only imagine what sort of damage they would do if they started crashing around making a mess of my autopilot and who knows what else when the going gets rough on the trip home,  which it always does.

So there you have it, a guy named Humty, his snake, an alarming saw and don’t forget a beer to get in the mood along with a bit of ganja.

You just can’t make this stuff up.