If you like clouds, you’ll love this.

Nearly anyone can recall that special moment, in a field with a friend, lying in the tall grass, gazing up, watching clouds roll by.  “Look, a panda!  No wait, a horseman galloping.   No way, it looks like an embryo.  What’s an embryo?  Ask your mother…”
I have always loved clouds.  How they make a sunset.

Yes, yes, I know.  I have used this photo before, taken at Shirley Heights in English Harbor Antigua.  For me, it’s about the best place on earth, or at least the best part of the world that I have visited.  To watch the sun and clouds at sunset.  Clouds bring the sky alive.  Without them, the sky is just a Pantone color sample, I’m going with “Etherial Blue #15-4323, yes that’s the color. Pedestrian, unless a tropical long-tail happens by.  Then it gets a bit more interesting. Enter an interesting cloud and then you really have something. If you have followed this blog over the years you know that I just love sunsets and have posted photos of them more often than I can ever justify.  Perhaps my love of sunsets is equal to how I feel about clouds.    Particularly the big puffy kind that always make me think of those times laying in a field trying to decipher what they are trying to tell me.    I can’t admit what this one reminds me of.  You decide… Or this one taken off of Miami.  The sheer magnitude and so often, gone in a moment. What’s not to love about clouds and how they affect a sunset like this one on Eggemoggin Reach in Maine. The “picture” changes from moment to moment in ways that defy words.I find sunrises and their interplay with clouds endlessly entertaining and is why I always choose the “dog watch” from 04:00 to 08:00. This shot taken on an offshore passage to Antigua. Who can resist the thrill of a full moon rising through the clouds on the first day at sea.  This was taken as we approached the Gulf Stream on another passage to Antigua.  Look hard to see the sailboat in the distance, the last sighting we had of another boat for the rest of the trip.  Without clouds, this sunset shot with a shrimp boat on Albermarle sound near Ocracoke on the ICW would not be nearly as interesting.
There is no end to the shear majesty of clouds offshore.  And that’s a good thing as there’s just not a whole lot to look at when you are 500 miles from terra firma.
Amazing from one moment to the next. A view like this makes you wonder about majesty of forces behind everything in our world.  Seeing a moment when rays shoot toward the heavens from behind a cloud always reminds me of that iconic moment when God speaks to Arthur in Monty Python’s  Holy Grail movie.   Arthur!…Clouds are not always so dramatic.  Take these “clouds”, early morning fog shrouding islands in Maine.  Fog is clouds or is it “fog are clouds”?  Hmm…Along with sunsets and sunrises, I have always been smitten by clouds which brings me to the real message of this post.

I am a “joiner”.  I love being with what you might call “like minded people”.  Whether it is the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, my current number one time sink, the Seven Seas Cruising Association or a recent additions to my “club addiction” the Ocean Cruising Club or my favorite the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda.  Yup, I’m a member of that one too.

Yes, there is a club for everyone.   Have a particular passion or interest?  There’s most assuredly a club that will help you scratch that itch.  For many years, Brenda and I were members of a group dedicated to Cape Cod Catboats.  Remarkably called The Catboat Association.  We even served on the aptly named “steering committee”.

The folks in the UK are big on clubs and beyond my favorite Tot Club, they have many other obscure clubs.  Love traffic circles?  Yes, believe it or not, there is a club dedicated to roundabouts as they call them, the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, dedicated to you guessed it…

There are literally  an endless number of clubs and societies that you might join.  How about the “dill pickle club“, formed in 1914.  Sadly, they were dissolved in 1933.  I guess that their members felt that they had became “soggy and past their prime.”

So, how does the whole issue of clubs and clouds relate?  You guessed it.  There’s a club for cloud lovers.

Recently I was listening to a podcast from the New York Times, The Daily, and heard about yet another not at all obscure club, The Cloud Appreciation Society. It’s a charming recounting of the group and is worth listening to.  Prefer to read the article that the podcast is based on and learn now the group came to be?  Check out “The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort Of) Rattled the Scientific Community” a group that now boasts more than 54,000 dues paying members.

This photo, from the times article of the founder, Pinney, from the Times article.  He TOTALLY fits the part.  I joined, of course, and my membership number?  54,749.   Who knew that there could be so many that loved clouds.

Among their many benefits, they send out a daily photo, usually submitted by a member.   I have to say that it is fun to get a photo every day of something that I love.  This was my inaugural cloud-of-the-day, submitted by Amy Steinkraus, member #54,121.    Wow! Amy’s member number is not far from mine?  We’re practically related…So, there you have it, another rambling post but hey, I got to use a bunch of cloud photos and it proves that I’m not only about sunsets.

And, with apologies to Skippy Peanut butter, “if you love clouds, you’ll love The Cloud Appreciation Society”.

 

Carnival Martinique: A can’t miss celebration!

As I sit here in chilly New England, I can’t help but think about missing Carnival in Martinique that will kick off in a few weeks.  Having said that, it’s hard to imagine how an event that draws nearly every resident of the island to Fort de France, for days of riotous (but in a nice way) partying and parades each year, can possibly be safe in the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, Brenda and I joined in the fun last February when we visited Martinique.  Days of parades passing by for hours beginning in the late afternoon. We enjoyed the events along with a number of other Dawgs but I’ll admit that it really feels like a thousand years ago.   After nearly a year in the clutches of the pandemic it feels like a different lifetime.  And, as I look back on our days in Martinique during Carnival, and think of all  the crowds, it’s  a bit frightening to consider what might have been.

Carnival ended on February 26th and Covid-19 was first detected on the island on March 5th, a little more than one week later.  Given the massive crowds we experienced, I can only imagine what might have happened if the virus had appeared even two weeks earlier.

Martinique has had 44 deaths from the virus as of January which is about 1/10th of the death rate of the US.   If our death rate per capita was equal to Martinique, we would have had about 44,000 deaths, a fraction of the 400,000 that we have to date.  However, had the virus been prevalent during Carnival, I shudder to think of what might have happened.

But back to Carnival.  It’s hard to understand what a multi day party of this scale is rally like but this video, posted by Playbox Limited, a developer of high quality videos I understand (I have to give credit where credit is due) gives a pretty good feel for what it was like to be there with day after day of celebrations in the street.    It was indeed a hoot! The history of Carnival in the Caribbean is interesting, arriving with colonialism, apparently originating with the Italian Catholics in Europe, and later spreading to the French and Spanish who brought pre-Lenten tradition with them when they settled in the Caribbean.  The first island to begin the practice was Trinidad in the late 18th century and it remains the largest celebration in the Caribbean.

In Martinique the celebrations take place during the days leading up to Lent and reach a climax on Ash Wednesday night with a massive bonfire in which “King Vaval”, constructed out of reeds, wood and other flammable materials is burned as an effigy in celebration.

Life in Martinique effectively comes to a standstill during the celebration as the island develops “Carnival Fever” with parades making their way through nearly every village, with the largest celebration reserved for the capital Forte de France.   The sophistication of the costumes reflects the months that go into their construction and great efforts are made to keep the details secret until the day of their unveiling.

Every day has a theme and for Saturday and Sunday everyone dresses as they wish.  It is not uncommon to see the same reveler appear in several different costumes over the days of the celebration.   We were particularly struck by this guy.  He had a lot of flair. Another day, another costume.  By the second day, dare I say, we developed a bond.  No, perhaps not. Brenda and I had a funny moment when we saw him, out of costume, sipping a cup of espresso early one morning.  He looked, well, different.   I so wish we had said hello and I had aske him to pose for a photo with Brenda.  Perhaps next year.

Monday is the day of the “Burlesque Weddings” with men dressing as brides.  Based on the enthusiasm that guys bring to this spectacle, it’s pretty clear to me that many/most guys, deep down inside, want to dress up as the fairer sex.

Some were pretty convincing.  Well, sort of.  I guess you had to be there. Some, well a little less so.  No, yes, no…  Last time I saw such high heels, was the First Lady.  And, some not quite so convincing.  Perhaps that’s the point after all. . Perhaps it was the week long stubble that gave it away.  Seems a bit heavy on the testosterone.  And the cross-dressing wasn’t limited to those in the parades.  Bystanders totally got into the moment. Tuesday is the day of the devil with everyone dressed as the devil, in red and black.    Remarkably elaborate “devils” paraded by for hours. Everyone working hard to outdo…I’ll admit that I am still a bit fuzzy on this theme, with everyone slathering themselves from head to toe with molasses, mixed with ashes.  The smell of sweet sugar fully enveloped the downtown area.  Imagine what the tropical heat mixed with sticky sugar felt like.  Good thing that the beach, and a bottle of beer, or two, or three, were only a few steps away. No rush to get cleaned up.  They didn’t rinse off until after hours of parading through the city. And devil or not, my favorite…  If it’s not obvious, her costume is made up almost entirely of beer can pulls and caps.  Forget a glass of chardonnay.  She makes me want to drink more beer. The celebration ends at the beginning of Lent, leading up to Easter, marking a period of fasting and abstinence.  Tradition dictates that one does not dance or listen to music and all weddings are postponed during the period.   After experiencing Carnival myself, I’ll bet that it takes that much time, and more, for many of them to fully recover.

Carmival Martinique isn’t the only thing that makes cruising the islands from Antigua to Grenada special but it ranks right up there as a “must” event to put on your cruising calendar.

Yes, Carnival is schedule to run this year but with the threat of pandemic everywhere, it seems like a big risk.  However, next year, I sure hope that we, and other Dawgs of course, will again have an opportunity to experience the join in celebrating this remarkable tradition.

You just can’t miss Carnival in Martinique.

Fingers crossed, Pandora, crew and perhaps you too, will be there.

Escape from Pandemic: 1,500 miles from St Lucia to the US during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Brenda and I were in St Lucia, aboard Pandora last winter when virtually every island in the Caribbean suddenly shut their borders with the arrival of  the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some cruisers abandoned their boats in the marina where we were and flew home within days but we were unwilling to leave Pandora in the hurricane zone, with no idea when we would able to return.

Recently we shared our story with members of our local yacht club.  There is a link to a recording at the end of this post.   This is a clip of the presentation title page. So there we were, in St Lucia and day by day, our crew options were evaporating, leaving us no option but to sail Pandora home alone.  Brenda is not a blue water sailor and while we have been sailing together since the 70s, she had never done an ocean passage beyond a few hundred miles and the realization that 1,500 miles of ocean lay between us and the US was a daunting prospect for her.

When we left St Lucia in late March, the only islands between us and the US that remained open were Antigua and the USVI.  Our first stop after being locked down for weeks in St Lucia, was Antigua, a 200 mile overnight run and we arrived on the very last day before they too closed their boarders.

Our initial thought was to make the 400 mile run directly to the USVI but reports revealed that hundreds of cruisers had already descended on the islands and that restrictions on additional arrivals were feared.   We had been hearing about cruisers that headed to countries only to find that they were turned away upon arrival leaving them with few options but to look elsewhere.

After weeks locked down and forced to stay aboard Pandora in Antigua, we headed 200 miles to the USVI where we took a mooring in St John. There we again waited several weeks before heading for Florida, a route of 1,000 miles that would take us south of the Bahamas, north of Cuba and to Florida.  We opted to take this route because we expected this to be an easier downwind sail verses the direct run north to New England and home.

As a member of the board of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, I thought it best to take advantage of the near 20 shoreside coordinators helping with what was to be known as the “Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla” to smooth our return to the US in addition to the near 200 other boats that participated.

In particular, we thought that we might need to stop in the Bahamas on our run home.  That country was completely locked down and were not allowing arrivals.   Fortunately, the support team for the Flotilla was able to negotiate an agreement with the Government of the Bahamas that would let boats in the Flotilla to anchor in Bahamas waters if needed.

As we approached Great Inagua, Bahamas, the half way point of our 1,000 mile leg, tropical storm Arthur was developing off of Mexico.  Our weather router, Chris Parker, suggested that we stop and allow the low to pass, so we decided to stop, anchor and wait for better weather.

After several uncomfortable days anchored in near constant wrap-around swells, we continued on.   We had to watch our speed, staying at about 3.5kts, as instructed by Chris so that we would not enter the Gulf Stream too soon and collide with Arthur’s prefrontal squalls.

To keep our speed down in brisk winds on a broad reach, we furled the jib, put a third reef in the tightly sheeted main and towed a sturdy bucket which finally slowed us sufficiently.

Then, as so often happens, the forecast changed, and we had to quickly speed up, passing the Cay Sal Banks on a reach in 20-25kts of wind. In Gulf Stream where we were hit by squall after squall with sustained winds in the 30s, one particularly nasty squall stayed with us for more than 8 hours.

Waves slammed again and again, against the hull, washing over the decks, terrifying Brenda, who had never experienced such conditions.  At one point overnight there was a loud crash as a wave slammed into the boat and I  went below to confirm that something hadn’t broken or caved in.   It hadn’t.  Later, again in the pitch dark, a wave slammed into us with such force, we were certain that our cockpit enclosure was ripped away as water flooded across the back of the cockpit.  Fortunately, there was little damage.  Nearby, an unlucky 40’ catamaran was pooped with waves breaking through their cabin doors and  washing into their cabin.

In spite of everything we entered the channel to Ft Lauderdale safe and sound, although in the middle of a torrential downpour making for a dicey entrance.

While Brenda will not soon forget the experience, the allure of the Caribbean remains and I am already making plans to take Pandora to Antigua next fall.

Recently, Brenda and I shared our experience in a presentation on Zoom.  Follow the link below to hear the story of our trip home, short handed,  an experience we are not anxious to repeat any time soon.

The Lesser Antilles, our favorite cruising grounds.

Over the last 40 years Brenda and I have cruised much of the US East Coast from eastern Maine to Key West, the Bahamas, Cuba and for the last few years the eastern Caribbean.

While many sailors are familiar with the Virgin Islands, from years of charter vacations, many are not familiar with how much the islands to the south have to offer.

Several years ago, when we first headed to Antigua we did not know what to expect.  Based on our travels, we have become convinced that the SE Caribbean, Antigua to Grenada offers the best mix of cultures, beautiful landscape and consistent easterly winds for a winter of cruising.

Recently, I hosted a presentation highlighting what a season of cruising the islands from Antigua and south to Grenada might look like and some of the must-see places and events that await.  This presentation was the first of 40 being organized by the Salty Dawg sailing Association, focused on many aspects of preparing for blue water voyaging.

In spite of the widespread Covid-19 pandemic, SDSA was able to hold their annual fall rally to the Caribbean with 50 boats safely making their way south for the winter season.   Most of these boats headed to Antigua and upon arrival participated in more than a week of events.

This photo, taken by SDSA member Ralf of SV Flora, shows many of the boats that completed their run to Antigua.  Thank you Ralf. Over the years, I have put on many events and given talks about the areas that we have cruised and have often been asked if these events were recorded.  Until now, with the widespread use of Zoom, this was not practical.  Now it is and I am able to share our experiences more broadly.

This presentation highlights of what a “normal” winter of cruising the eastern Caribbean is like and it is my sincere hope that the winter of 2021-2022 will once again offer the opportunity to visit the many islands of the southern Lesser Antilles.

A special thanks to Ralf as well as Bill and Maureen of SV Kalunamoo and Lynn and Mark of SV Roxy for the photos that they supplied for this presentation. While Pandora is on the hard this winter, I am hopeful that I will be able to, once again, participate in the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua next fall.

As I mentioned, this was the first of some 40 webinars on many topics related to blue water sailing.  Click here for a full list of coming topics at the Salty Dawg Sailing Association.

I hope that you enjoyed this program as much as I enjoyed telling the story.  Please feel free to reach out to me via the comment window.   I look forward to hearing from you.

2020, the year that changed everything.

Here I sit, finishing up this post on the very last day of 2020, wondering what the coming year will bring.  By any measure, 2020 has been one that will go down in the record books, perhaps as the most unsettling and challenging in our lifetimes.  It’s hard to imagine a year that would include a once in a century pandemic killing countless thousands here in the US, many in their prime of life, nationwide racial strife and unprecedented government disfunction.   I, for one, will be happy to close the books on this year.

2020 had a very uneventful start with Brenda and me ringing in the new year together in English Harbor, Antigua.  When the clock struck midnight we sat on Pandora’s deck and watched fireworks explode over the old fort, following a wonderful dinner at the Admiral’s Inn.  I’ll admit that the dinner was one of the most expensive meals ever for us but it was a wonderful way to close out the year and ring in the new. Aside from a failing refrigeration compressor that dogged us for months before I was finally able to fly in a replacement from the US, there was nothing on the horizon suggesting that the year would be any different than others we have spent aboard Pandora for a winter of cruising. 

Later today, with our son Christopher, his partner Melody and their dog Mila, and the only person outside of our four walls that is part our bubble, our friend Craig, we will celebrate the end of the year and look forward to 2021 being more, dare I say “normal” 2021.

Many share an annual “holiday letter” with friends and family at this time of year.  These are most often heartfelt tributes to family but there is also the occasional letter sounding more like a “brag book” of the year’s accomplishments and victories, sometimes detailing legal cases won, a “who’s who” of celebrities met and accomplishments made that you surely must wish you had.  Not to be left out of the “can you top this”, I had a lovely lunch with Raquel Welsh years ago.  It’s totally true, but that’s a story for another day.  And, when I was in high school, where I also met Brenda, I worked in a hardware store and once sold a bird feeder to Dustin Hoffman.   So there, top that!

2020 was indeed a year that has changed everything.  Happily, our family has been spared much of the unhappiness wrought on so many.

My mother died recently but her passing was the natural progression of a life well lived. The nursing home where she lived for her final years, was spared all but a few deaths by the virus, a remarkable achievement and a testimony to their  remarkably effective infection control.  While I miss her terribly, as I do my father who died in 2013, I feel good about the wonderful life that she lived and the graceful way that she left us.  I won’t repeat any more here as I wrote at length about her passing in my last post  if you missed it.

It is no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been a year that changed just about everything in ways that we could never have imagined.   I still remember how awkward I felt the first time I wore a mask in public earlier this year and now, I’d feel terribly exposed without one.  That moment was in St Lucia, where we were, when the virus arrived in the Islands.

We had to make due with what we had on board, with Brenda hand sewing a mask out of an old handkerchief, a bilge “diaper” normally used to sop up oil, and some very stylish green ribbon.  It was a pretty good mask but it was quite uncomfortable in the tropical heat, especially as I stood in long lines trying to buy increasingly scarce provisions.

Forget finding anything that resembled an N95 mask, much less hand sanitizer or denatured alcohol.  Of course, the local rum, some varieties, plenty stiff at 85% alcohol, would do the trick in a pinch and a lot more pleasant than injecting bleach.Our world is very different now and the risks are real.   At this point we are doubly focused on staying safe with only a few months ahead of us until we hope to get the vaccine.  I guess being in the over 65 crowd does have some benefit.

As just one example of how being responsible can hold the virus at bay, this fall, the annual Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua was successfully completed with 50 boats and crew heading south.  With strict quarantine, testing and safety measures in place, there was no illness among the 200 skippers and crew.

Last year’s “normal” arrival in Antigua seems like a different world, everyone cheek to jowl, sans mask.  Indoors or outdoors, imagine being shoulder to shoulder with so many now.   Being in groups maskless is sadly still the norm, especially in “red states”, but not in our  little “bubble”.
In normal years, day after day for more than a week, we attended parties, without a care in the world.  How I long for that freedom again. We jammed down below on Pandora for loud parties with friends.  Imagine doing that now?  Not likely. Last season, after ringing in the new year and after the strong Christmas Winds began to die down in mid January, we began our annual pilgrimage down island, working our way south, visiting many islands along the way.

Life was easy, with days shared with friends sightseeing on the islands and evenings aboard toasting the sunset with friends.

We visited Fort de France during Carnival, the largest annual celebration in that country, rubbing elbows with literally thousands.  It seemed like everyone on the entire island descended on the capital for day after day of parties and parades.  The crowds were just staggering. Then, less than two weeks later, the virus struck and in the blink of an eye, “open” became “closed” and everything changed.  I recall reading a quote from Dr Fauci, in the early days of the pandemic, where he marveled at the unprecedented rapidity with which the virus enveloped the globe.  In a single month, the virus was literally everywhere and in a world where suddenly every encounter with another person was a possible threat.

Imagine if the virus had arrived in Martinique, during Carnival.   Fortunately,  It didn’t and surely thousands were spared, perhaps including us.  One skipper who had participated in the fall rally last year, a retired physician, contracted the virus while in St Martin and became so sick that he had to be evacuated from his boat,  flown to Guadaloupe and ultimately to Florida where he died a few weeks later.

Even the closest of friends became potential “foe” and from that point on we never set foot on any boat except our own.  For a full two months, Brenda only went ashore a single time.

And, in some cases, this forced isolation caused friction with friends who viewed the threat as questionable, “it’s just a bad flu”, and the local governments’ total lockdown was overblown.   We still did some socializing but at a distance kept reasonably safe by the constant trade-winds. In reality, the risk in the islands was quite low but only because of the aggressive steps taken by local governments to isolate even a single case.  Quarantine was never voluntary and those who broke it, were fined or worse.  That approach worked well and most islands can now point to infection rates far less than the US and other “developed” nations.

To that point, the fatality rate in Antigua is about 1/20th per thousand than it is here in the United States, where things have been everything but “united”.  The current death rate here is now approaching 4,000 per day with estimates predicting that another 100,000 may die in the next few weeks alone.  That’s particularly sad given the fact that a vaccine is now available and on the near horizon for many.

Given the ongoing problems with Pandora’s refrigeration we had made plans to put Pandora in a marina for a week in St Lucia, while we waited for a new unit to be shipped from the US.  The compressor assembly finally arrived and less than a week later, when we were still in the marina, Covid-19 arrived and shut down the island.  Our week long stay stretched to a month and during the height of the lockdown even the “essential” businesses were closed.As soon as things began to get dicey, some of our friends left the island on the next available flight, fearful that if they didn’t go NOW, they would not get out.  With only a day or two of preparation, they tossed their food, shut down systems and made arrangements for someone put their boats into storage.

Others opted to stay aboard and hunker down, ultimately remaining in the marina for the entire summer, unable to head elsewhere with every other island closed.  As they were now stuck in the “hurricane zone” they followed the progress of every tropical storm with trepidation, wishing and hoping that the storm would not cross “their” island and destroy their boat, their home.

Resorts emptied out as vacationers scrambled to return home.   One after another, commercial flights were canceled and some friends chartered small planes to fly them to Puerto Rico with the hope that they could connect to US bound flights.  At least one couple ended up having to fly from the islands to Canada and finally home to the US after a circuitous route that took what seemed like forever.

After regularly scheduled flights were history, others booked seats on “repatriation flights” at double the normal rate, $500 or more, per person, one way, to Puerto Rico where they connected to the US.  Planes arrived completely empty and left without an open seat.

Another cruising couple, who had left their boat in Antigua to fly home for a family ski trip in Europe, right before the pandemic struck, were unable to return to Antigua.  They had to pay over $17k just to insure their boat for the summer as as Antigua falls right in the middle of the “hurricane zone” and is deemed a big risk by insurers.

In “normal” years I had crew, who would fly into Antigua, to help bring Pandora home.  Getting crew has always been fairly easy but suddenly, those who had signed up to make the run were unwilling to get on a flight.  I’ll admit I too was concerned about crew arriving, appearing to be “safe”, only to become ill once aboard.  And the thought of having to wait two weeks once they arrived, just to be sure everyone was well, meant that crew signing up for the run home would have to commit up to a month onboard and that assumed that nobody got sick.  That would be a tough request to make of anyone, especially when so much remained uncertain at home.

In the end, Brenda and I decided to make the run to the US together and I won’t repeat all that as I have written about the trip in nauseating detail in past posts.  It was a challenging trip spanning several months and one that we have no interest in repeating.

The virus has indeed changed everything and even more so given a president that continually preached/tweated “hoax”,  he himself became a “super spreader” and by some definitions, “the viruses ‘best friend”.    Whether you think that the virus is a hoax or not, entire industries have been laid flat, countless thousands have died and nearly 4,000 are now dying every day as we close out the year.

Video calls, long a staple of movies about interstellar travel, are now routine, Zoom entered our lexicon, and what was once science fiction has become the default way to keep in touch with groups of family and friends for millions.

Overripe bananas, once relegated to the trash, are no longer tossed and are now a vital ingredient needed to make banana bread with everyone stuck at home and plenty of time on their hands.

Wine consumption is up just about everywhere with endless Zoom happy-hours to break up the sameness of each day.  Home life is beginning to look a lot like the cruising lifestyle on small boars, with daily sundowners in your own tiny spaces, virtual or not.

And that’s nothing compared to y0ung parents trying to juggle work with the demands of child care.  To that point, we have hardly seen our three grandchildren in months.  Thanks to Facetime, we have “seen” them nearly every day but it’s just not the same.

Boating, after years of decline, is booming with marinas full to capacity and boat brokers struggling to find enough inventory to satisfy customer demand.  Everyone suddenly decided that being on the water is safe with others fleeing the city for the “country”.  Even here in our little town, here in eastern CT, home prices are up by double digits after years of stagnant prices.

2020 has indeed been a year to shatter norms with everyone forced to revaluate their lives and what is important to them.   It’s hard to imagine that after decades of “remote work” being talked about, it’s now here and perhaps will be with many of us forever.

And, speaking of work, a number of our friends are now contemplating retiring in the coming year.  They are taking seriously the adage we have often heard from fellow cruisers that “you will never be any younger or healthier”.    A travel editor for the New York times recently encouraged that we resume travel as soon as it was safe as there is no way to know if by delaying we might find ourselves in the clutches of yet another pandemic when we finally decide it’s time to broaden our horizons.

Whatever good will arrive with the new year is darkened by the reality that in 2020, there have been so many deaths, many unnecessary.   So many have died from the virus and in staggering numbers, with more than a death every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day for the year.   It’s hard to wrap your head around numbers like that and it is particularly pathetic that the US, long the envy of the world leads with more deaths per capita than nearly any other nation on the planet.

So, here we are, on the precipice of the new year with everyone struggling to see what that future holds.  How quickly will we receive the vaccine?  How long will the vaccine keep us immune from infection?  Can we eradicate the disease?  How many will avoid vaccination, clinging to conspiracy theories, viewing the virus as a hoax?  So many questions.

like so many others, I am focused on what cruising will be like for next year and am excited about being part of a post-pandemic Caribbean where travel between islands will once again be as simple as going into a T-shirt shop in Guadeloupe, filling out information on a computer kiosk, paying 3 Euros and heading off to buy a nice bottle of French wine, cheese and, of course, a warm baguette.

Here in CT, it looks a lot different than the Caribbean where an early snowstorm blanketing everything recently.  The snow is gone now, save a small pile or two, but it was sure fun while it lasted.  Melody and Mila, who had never seen a real snow storm just loved building a snowlady, running in the snow and doing a bit of sledding.I cling with hope to what Dr. Fauci is right and that most of us will have been vaccinated by the middle of next year.   Fingers crossed.  I can hardly wait.

With some luck, next summer will begin looking something like “normal” again.  Although, I am struggling to imagine exactly what normal will be like.   For sure, I can’t wait to eat out again with Brenda or go to the Club for a drink with friends and stand around the bar talking boats.

After enduring the last four years of, conspiracy theories and crazy stuff about how the virus is just going to disappear I am looking forward to once again living in a country where science is fact.

In a somewhat depressing way, all this sort of sums up a year with so many believing that somehow they could not be harmed by a virus that has claimed so many lives.

I guess all of this should not be much of a surprise when you think about the quote often attributed, probably incorrectly, to the famed circus entertainer P.T. Barnum who is said to have uttered “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”.

The big question is what will be learned from all this and what will the “new normal” look like?  Time will tell as it always does.

Recently, with the hope of better understanding the science behind the virus and vaccine, I watched a fascinating presentation by Dr Denison, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  Dr Denison is a prominent and leading researcher who has spent the last 35 years studying Corona viruses and is perhaps the world’s leading authority on the subject.  He talks about Covid-19, why it is so dangerous and the remarkably fast development of an effective vaccine against a virus that has spread to every continent and country, a feat unprecedented in recorded history.  It’s worth watching but I warn you, it’s quite detailed and runs an hour.Well, that’s about it and later today we will close the books on 2020, a year that even those of us that were spared the worse, will not soon forget.

Let’s hope that when we think back on 2020, the year that changed everything, that much of what has changed will be for the better.

I had better signt off now as I have to punch down Brenda’s sourdough.  Yes, she, like so many others, is baking up a storm.   We are even baking with those overripe bananas.

Happy New Year!

We deserve it.

 

 

Shirley Osborn, 1929-2020. The end of an era.

Last Thursday my mother Shirley died peacefully after a long slow downward slide into dementia, a condition that was a part of her life for far too many years.  Hers was a very slow but relentless decline, beginning when our boys, now in their mid 30s, were just entering highschool.

While the exact timing of her passing was quite a surprise, as I had been fretting over exactly how to manage things as she became more and more withdrawn, it actually worked out very well.   Due to the pandemic, I had not been able to see her in person much lately, save a single visit about a month ago.  We were only able to communicate via video call since the pandemic reared it’s ugly head and given her condition, those calls didn’t really work out all that well.  However, she always seemed to be happy to hear from me and was basically content.

More than a decade ago I began keeping this blog in order to keep my parents up to date on our sailing adventures. (When I hit “publish” this will be my 971st post) Even then, so many years ago, dementia was taking it’s toll on her and a routine that she and my father enjoyed was for my him to pull up my most recent blog post on his clunky desktop computer and read to her while they shared an evening glasses of wine, or more often two, together.  As they sipped wine and my Dad read to her, they followed along with us as true “armchair sailors, as we made our way up and down the coast and through the Bahamas on our travels.

When my mother passed last Thursday, it was very difficult day for me but as they so often say “it was for the best” as with every passing month she had become more and more withdraw, increasingly struggling to pull herself up out of the mist to communicate.

Unlike so many with this affliction, she seemed very content up until the end and more than once when I visited her in her nursing home, she asked me “Did you pick this place for me to live?” and when I replied “yes, I did” she would say “good choice, I like it here, they are very nice.”

That Brenda and I were allowed to visit her that last time, albeit with surgical gown, mask and plastic face plates, as she slipped away was important as she had always been there for me and then for Brenda and me in High School when we began dating.

Her final decline was so rapid that she breathed her last only a few hours after she had eaten lunch and less than half an hour after we arrived to be with her.   It was a very moving time for Brenda and me and brought back so many wonderful memories.

I recalled the time when I made arrangements with a local marina in Norwalk CT so we could get my parents aboard Pandora.  My friend Chris helped me wheel Mom down the steep ramp, in her wheel chair, onto the dock and aboard.  As we maneuvered her down the steep gangway my mother held the arms of the chair with all her strength, fearing that we’d loose control at any moment and she’d end up in the water.   In spite of her obvious anxiety, she barely said a word.

However all went well and we had a wonderful afternoon on the water.  As a friend of our once said after returning from a day on the water on her own for the first time, “no loss of life”.    Mom’s visit to Pandora in 2007 was her last. It’s a very sad day when a parent dies but I believe that the timing was good for my mom and it was a relief to know that there were none of the heroics that so often play out in the last days and hours of someone’s life with test upon test, taking blood and whatever else is recommended by well intentioned doctors and caregivers.

My father died in December of 2013, shortly after everyone met to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.  We arranged the party on very short notice as his condition was deteriorating and in spite of the last minute change of date, everyone came.Including fully half of their wedding party.  A really remarkable turnout that after all those years and a testament to what friendship meant to both of them. Legend has it that my father, after a particularly rough time out the night before, their wedding, compliments of my mother’s brother, my father fainted at the alter and while he was “out” she is rumored to have added a few clauses to the wedding vows.  Whatever they were, I guess dad stuck to the agreement.
Yes my mother could be quite a character and I recall distinctly, when Brenda and I were visiting them at their home many years ago, for some holiday, she picked up the vegetable sprayer by the kitchen sink (remember those hose sprayers that you pulled up from the back of the sink?) and doused the lot of us, with a laugh, telling us to stay out of her kitchen.   They did love a party. Mom and dad were devoted to family and friends, especially grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I have always been particularly moved by this photo of mom with our first grandchild Tori.  Tori is now 4 and quite the pistol.  Mom would surely have loved her even more now. Shortly after our youngest, Chris, defended his physics dissertation at Columbia, he visited my parents with us.  I recall mom and dad listening intently as Chris described the intricate details of his thesis on cold trapping of atoms and quantum molecular optics.  Like the rest of us, mom and dad had absolutely no clue about what he was saying but were completely thrilled to hear all about it, never the less.  So many years have passed and as my brother said to me when I called him with the sad news, “It’s the end of an era.”  Yes it is and what a wonderful era it has been.

Wasn’t my mom a babe?   Nice car too.She always told me I had good genes.

I was told by nurses that took care of my mother over the last few years, that every morning, when she woke up, that she would look a this photo, that was next to her bed and say “good morning Bob”.  I guess that just about sums up their marriage. It is said that the greatest gift parents can give their children is a good marriage.  On their grave marker we had inscribed “their marriage was an inspiration to us all”.

Yes, my brother was right, it is the end of an era and so many of us are better for having them be a part of our lives.

 

 

Solo to Antigua in 7 days.

This year’s Salty Dawg Rally, with more than 50 boats participating, departed from various points on the East Coast in early November with the bulk of the fleet heading to Antigua, 1,500 miles to the south.

As part of the “shoreside team” for the rally this fall, I had heard that someone was doing the rally solo.   At the same time, I had seen a boat Fatjax, pull way out in front of the fleet 0n the tracker, wondering, what sort of a boat is that?

Most boats had multiple crew aboard but Iain, on Fatjax, made the run solo.  Rally management doesn’t necessarily recommend doing the run alone but with a properly outfitted boat and an experienced skipper, solo sailing can be a rewarding experience.

After Fatjax arrived in Antigua I was able to speak with Iain about his remarkable run.

Here’s Fatjax at anchor in Antigua. Maintaining a near double digit average speeds over the nearly 1,500 miles to Antigua was impressive, especially given that for most of the trip this year, boats had the wind forward of the beam.   By the time that Iain arrived in Antigua he was hundreds of miles in front of any other boat in the rally.

Yes, Fatjax is fast but it is important to note that the Salty Dawg Rally is not a race and every skipper is encouraged to make their own decisions on when it’s time to depart and what course to take.  However, race or not, everyone who has been on a sailboat knows that when push comes to shove, they want to go as fast as possible and get there first.   “Welcome guys.  Have a fun run today?  It was nice to watch you come into the harbor.  I am about to have a second rum punch.  Want to join me?”

Iain told me that Fatjax sails close to the wind most of the time as the faster you go, the apparent wind is brought forward, something that happens on really fast boats but not so often on mere mortal cruising boats.

So, after 7 days at sea, pounding into the waves he pulled into English Harbor, eager to dry off and get some rest.

Here’s Iain on the dock in English Harbor, the first boat from the rally to arrive in Antigua. Last fall, Iain and his wife Jacqueline, both from the UK, sailed Fatjax to the Caribbean from the Canaries, landing in St Lucia.  Like so many cruisers, me and Brenda included, they suddenly found themselves locked down due to the virus a few months later.

When the pandemic struck they had only made their way north as far as Guadaloupe.  With island after island closing it’s borders, they planned to head to the BVI, which seemed like a good idea as they are both British citizens  Unfortunately, the BVI closed their boarders leaving only the USVI as an option.

With no other options and like so many other stranded cruisers, they headed to the USVI as their final stop before continuing north to the US as part of the Salty Dawg “Homeward Bound Flotilla”.

This photo of Iain and Jacqueline suggests that their run north took them through NYC.  Welcome to America!They cruised the US east coast and made their way to Newport where Iain spent much of the summer alone after Jacqueline flew home to the UK only to learn that she was unable to return due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Fast forward to October and Jacqueline was still unable to return to the US so Iain had to decide what he was going to do about crew for his run to Antigua.

After considering his options and spending much of the summer alone aboard Fatjax,  Iain decided that he would join the Salty Dawg Rally and make the run from Hampton to Antigua solo.

Iain is no novice at ocean sailing as he has sailed nearly full time for the last 20 years, participating in many ocean races, including the Fastnet race.   As an accomplished racer he readily admits that the cruising lifestyle is new to him and to Jacqueline, who herself is fairly new to sailing.

Fatjax is a Shipman 63’ carbon, fast cruiser launched in 2007.  She has a lifting keel that draws 11 1/2 ’ keel down, and 7 ½” when retracted.   Iain purchased Fatjax in the Mediterranean from some neglectful Russian owners.  According to Iain “she was quite a wreck,” and he spent the next two years refitting her, mostly by himself.   Seeing her today shows that he did quite a job putting her right.  She is a remarkable boat.

Sailing solo is challenging, especially in a boat that cruises at double digit speeds.  As you would imagine, at those speeds, the motion is jarring and the noise deafening, especially on a close reach.  Fatjax is so fast, moving to weather at close to 10kts, the apparent wind is just about always far forward of the beam, with spray and water flying everywhere.

Unlike most cruising boats, Fatjax’s flush deck design and open cockpit does not offer much protection from the weather, and when on passage Iain keeps both the dodger and bimini out of the way.   After so many years as a racer, he values a clear view of the sails and surrounding conditions.  He realizes that when traveling at double digit speeds, things can head south quickly.

Yes, Iain is pretty tough but admits that on this trip, close reaching much of the time, he was below 90% of the time.  In order to keep watch,  he set an alarm to scan the horizon and check on the boat every 20 minutes.  In lower traffic areas, he sometimes pushed his “cat naps” to 40 minutes.

And Fatjax is fast.  She made the entire run in only seven days and four hours, anchorage to anchorage, at an average speed of 8.9kts.  Iain told me that the run would have been under 7 days except for light winds during the last 36 hours.  7 days plus, 7 days minus… that’s fast.

Solo sailing isn’t for everyone, but for this trip it was something that Iain felt that he had to do.  He plans to fly to the UK in December to rejoin Jacqueline, and together they will return to Fatjax to continue their journey.

Their exact plans are still a up in the air but one thing is for sure: wherever they go, they will get there faster than the rest of us.

As they become accustomed to the cruising lifestyle, it will be interesting to see if Iain and Jacqueline continue to keep their dodger and bimini secured on passage.  Jacqueline may have something to say about that.

And speaking of the cruising lifestyle, Iain hosted sundowners aboard Fatjax for some of our cruising friends from Roxy, Kalunamoo and Skylark.   Bill sent me these terrific photos.  Thanks Bill.

Welcome aboard!
Huge cockpit.  Maureen, AKA: Vana White of Kalunamoo, taking a tour below.
Nice spot to take a nap. Yum…  So wish Brenda and I were there…  In case you are wondering about social distancing.  Remember, Fatjax is open to the air, alfresco as it were…   Just wait till the Christmas winds kick in in a few weeks. I still wonder if Iain will still keep his dodger down all the time once he spends more time with us old cruising types.  It’s all about comfort, isn’t it?  

And, of course, going fast!

7 days to Antigua… I’m jealous.

The gang is all (mostly) here, or should I say in Antigua.

Most of the boats in this year’s Salty Dawg Rally fleet have arrived in Antigua.  There are still a few underway and some had to stop elsewhere because of gear issues.

All and all, the fleet had a good run and made pretty good time in spite of a bit of a pounding due to strong winds and a tight wind angle.  However, most were able to make it to Antigua with plenty of fuel to spare unlike some years when winds were light and nearly on the nose.

Astrid Deeth, of the Admiral’s Inn, in English Harbor  and someone who has been really supportive of the rally from the beginning, has a home overlooking the anchorage in English Harbor and took this photo of the Dawgs at anchor when the first of the boats were arriving.  This time of the season the bulk of the boats are from the rally.  I’ll admit that I was quite moved when I saw this photo knowing how it feels to arrive after a long journey and wishing I was with them. A number of boats stopped in Bermuda, one in Puerto Rico and several in the USVI, only long enough to fix stuff and lick their wounds before pulling up their shorts and heading out yet again for Antigua, their destination.

One boat stopped in Bermuda due to a crack in their crash bulkhead, left for Antigua after a few days only to be forced to turn back due to additional issues that came up.  I understand that they remain determined to continue on to Antigua, in spite of everything.

The boat that stopped in the USVIs only stayed there long enough to sort out multiple issues and yesterday finally arrived in Antigua to join up with the rest of the fleet.

And yet another, that arrived overnight, will be putting their boat in a marina for a few weeks to fly back to the States to attend to the funeral of the skipper’s mother.  I recall some years ago when Brenda’s mother died a few hours after I left cell range on my way south.  Being as sea can be tough enough but to be separated from family under those circumstances is particularly difficult.

This is the fourth year that a destination for the rally was Antigua and it seem that this year nearly everyone “got the memo” on all that Antigua has to offer.  For several years now I have been preaching that Antigua is the place to begin and end the cruising season and I am beginning to feel like word is finally getting out and it is very rewarding to see how determined skippers were in getting to the island.

It has been four years since we first decided to offer Antigua as a destination. The first year was catalyzed by the devastation that was done to the BVI by back to back hurricanes.  We had a few cancelations that year but most everyone quickly switched gears and headed to Antigua.

Year two, the rally offered both the BVI and Antigua as destinations and the fleet was split, in part because the winds were particularly difficult and by the time the fleet got close to the BVI some had had enough and just decided to skip Antigua.

This year, however, seems to be different and nearly everyone who had decided on Antigua as a destination has been single minded about getting there, which has been very rewarding for me.  After putting so much work into arranging more than a dozen events spread over a nearly two week period, and preaching the virtues of cruising the southeast Caribbean,  I am just so pleased that the fleet headed that way.

This year preparing the fleet was the most complicated yet from an organizing standpoint, with restrictions making it impossible to have any group events in Hampton prior to departure.  All participants in the rally were required to adhere to a strict quarantine protocol prior to departure and submit to a PCR virus test before even leaving the dock.  It is tough enough to prepare for an offshore run but to be confined to the boat for nearly a week before leaving makes for some very complex logistics.

Rally planners met many times and communicated closely with the authorities in Antigua to establish a plan to keep skippers and crew safe and to allow for smooth clearing in process upon arrival.   Our greatest fear is that one of our boats would be offshore and have someone fall ill, which would have been tragic.  Happily, none did.

All of the issues of planning for a run were even more complex during the pandemic when the risk of infection are added to the sort of normal weather issues encountered on a long journey.  Add to that the usual equipment and electrical issues, made the run south this year the most complex yet.

As always, stuff broke but happily there were no outbreaks of the virus on any boats, which is good news and proves that if you are careful, and take reasonable precautions, you can stay safe.  I am hopeful that by the time of departure next year that everyone will have been vaccinated and things will be under control here in the US and that our run south will be more routine.

The real change this year is that it seems we are beginning to get the word out about all that Antigua has to offer.  Antigua remains an underdawg (pun intended) and fact is that when sailors think about cruising in the Caribbean they think of the BVI as that’s where most if not all of them have chartered while vacationing.

The reality is that the BVI is a near perfect place to take a short holiday of a week of two, with a variety of islands to explore, all a short day sail away.  It is easy enough to get up in the morning, have a leisurely breakfast, set sail and get to your destination in time for lunch.  That sort of leisurely week long vacation really isn’t possible elsewhere in the Caribbean where the distances between islands is greater.

However, if you are cruiser, out for the season, the BVI does not, in my opinion, offer as much.   Most businesses are focused on the one week charter trade, for whom a $50/night mooring isn’t a big deal.  While they are visiting, everyone  eats out most nights, spend lots of money and then fly home.   Cruisers, on the other hand, spend less per day and yet spend a lot more over the course of a season.  With a constant stream of vacationers booking those charters, it makes perfect sense that local businesses would focus on those who offer a more lucrative spending “per diem”.

Cruisers, in spite of the large spending over the course of a season, just can’t compete with a constant flow of high spending vacationers in the BVI who are in and out in a week or two followed by yet another group of vacationers.

Antigua, on the other hand, can’t compete for this segment of the market as it’s just not practical to charter there, especially when the strong “Christmas Winds” are up from mid December through much of January, when travel between the islands is “sporty” at best.

Additionally, many sailors just don’t know much about the southern Caribbean as the area doesn’t receive much attention from the sailing magazines.  Editors and publishers know who “butters their bread” and tend to write about topics that are in line with the interests of their advertisers.  And the charter companies, especially from the BVI are one of their biggest categories sothat’s what they write about.

The simple fact is that most cruisers just don’t know much about Antigua and the islands to the south so when they decide to “cast off the dock lines” the first thing that they think about is “well, we had fun when we chartered in the BVI, so let’s go there”, and they do.

It seems to me that that a lack of information about what the islands outside of the Virgins is the biggest hurdle that cruisers have needed to get over in deciding where to go.  I still remember the pressure I felt from crew when we were considering where to make landfall the first year I headed south as the were pushing hard for the BVI.   Getting information about St Martin and Antigua, the two spots I was considering, was very tough to find.  It wasn’t until I actually showed up in Antigua that I understood why knowledgeable captains from the really big yachts chose Antigua as the island as home for the winter season.

Interestingly, this year fully two thirds of the boats in the rally are first timers at long distance ocean cruising, many more than usual, and the fact that the bulk of them chose to head to Antigua suggests that they are finally getting the message of all that Antigua has to offer.  I have to give a lot of credit the rally director Sheldon for helping everyone understand that Antigua was a great place to visit and not that much farther then the Virgins.  We even had a few captains that were considering other destinations only to switch to Antigua at the very last minute.

For me, after pounding that Antigua drum for years now, it has been very rewarding to see that the bulk of the fleet decided to head there and most have arrived or will be there soon.

As is nearly always the case, weather plays a big factor in where boats end up and this year is no different.  As you can see from today’s tracker, there are a number of boats that are spaced along the southeast US coastline where they have ended up given the drumbeat of difficult weather that they have faced in trying to get to The Bahamas, their choice for this season.  As the map shows, there are persistent NE winds, fairly typical for this time of the year, making it impossible to cross the Gulf Stream.  So far, only two have made it to their destination of choice.  Hopefully, things will improve but the waters of the coastal US and Bahamas have been particularly hard hit by the remnants of a parade of hurricanes and tropical storms in what has been the busiest year on record.

Arrival events in Antigua are going really well and for the first time the bulk of the fleet arrived in time to participate in the very first one.    As all of the events will be held outdoors, being safe is fairly easy, with a constant flow of tropical tradewinds blowing at all times.

My friend Bill on Kalunamoo posted some very nice photos of the pool party at Boom at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor.   It looks like it was a very nice day. Bill’s view as he surveyed the activities and slept off lunch I expect.  Yup, that’s Bill, the guy. And, just to prove that all the folks in the rally aren’t as old as Bill (it takes one to know one), some younger Dawgs enjoying the day. Of course, one of the key questions you have to ask yourself about is the wisdom of being in a country like Antigua, with very limited medical facilities, if you were to fall ill.   When the rally was preparing for departure, everyone was very aware of the possibility of infection and the importance of staying safe.  Now that they are in Antigua and likely free of infection because of their time at sea, they are once again ashore and it is possible that they will come in contact with someone who is ill.  At least those who made the run are part of a large “Dawg Bubble” and probably safe.

This is the current “dashboard” for Antigua showing the rate of infection currently on the island.  There have been a very limited number of “community infections” with most coming in by air from other countries.  Fortunately, the bulk have been captured shortly after landing and with good contact tracing, the virus has not been able to gain a foothold on the island.In the last two months, the number of confirmed cases has increased from 95 to 139 and there have been a total of three deaths.    In spite of all that, the death rate by thousand residents is still a fraction of that in the US.  As of yesterday we passed the sobering milestone of 250,00o deaths, with some experts predicting that we could log yet another 200,000 deaths before a vaccine is widely available.

The question that has to be asked is if the tradeoff of a lower case load in Antigua verses better medical facilities in the US, with out of control spreading of the virus, is a good bet.  I’d say that it is a tough call but the alure of warm breezes and the ability to do most everything outdoors is sure appealing to me.

Only time will tell which is the best approach but when I got up this morning and saw that it was 20 degrees out, I have to say that sitting by the pool in English Harbor seemed mighty appealing.

In spite of my obvious self-pity, it is rewarding to know that the Salty Dawg fleet is now in Antigua and are having a good time.

As jealous as that makes me,  at least I can take solace in knowing that the weather will get better in May.   That’s me, ever hopeful.

Ocean sailing just isn’t just a walk in the park.

Many of the boats that are heading to Antigua this year in the Salty Dawg Rally are getting close and it looks like the wind that they face from now on will be fairly steady in the high teens and just forward of the beam.  Conditions are pretty sporty but at least they are heading toward their destination.

Last fall it took me 11 days to make the run and for several days we were heading due east, never getting closer to Antigua, something that I found to be extremely frustrating.   For us the problem was not enough wind and persistent SE winds that made it tough to head in the direction we wanted to go.

However, rough or not, well not too rough, I would definitely prefer to be heading in the right direction and not toward some imaginary waypoint somewhere to the east, waiting and hoping for a favorable wind shift.

This year’s run has indeed had it’s share of challenges but it is nice to see that the bulk of the fleet is doing well and heading in the right direction.   Unfortunately, there are always a few that are unlucky enough to break stuff along the way and this year is no different.  One boat developed a crack in a crash bulkhead and is now in Bermuda having the damage diagnosed.  While I have had plenty of stuff break on passage I have never had to deal with structural issues, but whenever I am on passage, I have always worried about something big failing, especially when I am hundreds of miles from anywhere.

And speaking of being miles from anywhere, I happened upon this video of the always flamboyant ocean racer, Alex Thompson of Hugo Boss, who is competing in the Vendee Globe.   In this video I was struck by the spartan interior of his yacht.  Aboard Pandora, I worry a lot about salt getting down below.  A simple spray with a hose would clean up both Alex and his boat.  Even this early in the race the fleet has already encountered conditions that are worse than most of us will ever see.

The communication technology aboard these boats is amazing.  In the case of Hugo Boss, based on how the video angles are shown, it appears that Alex has multiple cameras on board.  Pretty sophisticated stuff.  And, I guess he has plenty of bandwidth to send it out. As these powerful machines, each with only a single person on board, make their way around the world non-stop, it will be interesting to see how things develop and how much stuff breaks.  There is no way that I could do such a voyage if for no other reason than I can not bear to be alone for that amount of time, much less endure the continual discomfort.  No full enclosure on these boats.   See Brenda, it could be worse.

And speaking of the boats competing in this remarkable race, this video gives an excellent overview of what makes these boats tick.  The increasing sophistication of ocean racing today and the idea of foiling along at super-fast speeds, makes me wonder and it seems that others are wondering too.

There many will be watching to see if these boats will hold together when things get really rough or they encounter “things that go bump in the night”. I mention all of this as my boat Pandora, launched in 2007,  is considered a pretty fast ocean cruiser and yet she is a total sloth when compared with some of the more modern cruising boats, much less the super exotic boats in the Vendee Globe. Here’s a large part of the fleet as of today, Thursday morning, north and east of Puerto Rico.  The bulk of the fleet is still days away from arriving in Antigua but are moving along well.  I would be quite happy to be aboard Pandora and moving along with this group about now, with good if brisk sailing on a direct run to Antigua.
And, when it comes to crew, the bulk of boats in the rally take on extra hands for the run.  Remarkably, Iain on Fatjax, a go-fast carbon flyer, made his run as a single hander and arrived only a week after leaving Hampton, a remarkable accomplishment.  I caught up with Iain earlier today on a call and learned more about him and Fatjax.  I’ll be sharing what we talked about in a few days so stay tuned.   For now, here’s a shot of Fatjax anchored in English Harbor awaiting clearance.  Ocean voyaging is a big deal and to sail alone around the world, like the boats competing in the Vendee Globe, especially without stopping, is a very big deal.

An interesting fact is that more people have been up in space than than have sailed around the world alone.  It says something about how tough you have to be to accomplish such a feat.  Sure, Hampton to Antigua alone isn’t quite like circumnavigating but it’s still a big deal, especially for mere mortals like me.

One thing for sure is that the Vendee Globe and even the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, single handed or not, isn’t just a walk in the park.

Ocean sailing is a pretty big deal, if you ask me.

 

Mom (and your weather router) knows best.

As I sit here and watch the Salty Dawg fleet, heading to the Caribbean and points south, I recall my trips over the years and am imagining the questions that are going through the minds of captains and crew of the many boats underway.  Being far out at sea and knowing that there is a hurricane bouncing around the Caribbean, first heading west to Honduras, on to Cuba and now up the west coast of Florida does give pause for thought.

It’s been a very busy season for hurricanes and may very likely end up being the busiest on record, with nearly 30 named storms.   As the fleet left the US to begin their run, there was at least one comment on Facebook questioning if it was a good idea for everyone to head out with a hurricane moving through the Caribbean.   Now, days later, Hurricane Eta (they ran out of names and had to start all over again because there have been so many storms), continues to bounce around the Gulf and is not expected to threaten the fleet.  Chris Parker, of Marine Weather Center and the router for the rally, felt strongly that the storm would not be a threat to the fleet and it seems that he was right.

Three years ago, I decided to leave Beaufort NC much later in the season than I would normally, January verses November.   After speaking with Chris his observation was that the weather leaving from south of Cape Hatteras was often more predictable in January than in November, when the summer and winter winds are still duking it out.

As we approached our anticipated departure date, I spoke with Chris and we settled on January 5th, if I recall, to head out.  There was a developing ridge near Puerto Rico and as long as I was able to maintain a speed of at least 7kts, I would pass the area before the feature moved into my path.  By taking this approach we assumed that I would pass the area ahead of the ridge and avoid the gale force winds north of the ridge and instead, be south of it and enjoy trade wind sailing with 15kts on the beam.

However, it didn’t work out as planned as I was slower than anticipated, averaging only 6.5 knots and the ridge moved into my path about 12 hours earlier than anticipated.   As a result, instead of our enjoying trade wind sailing, we had 4.5 days of running before a gale with nothing up but a double reefed main.  It was not a fun experience as we crawled up the backside of 20′ waves at 4-5 knots and surfed down their face, sometimes at 20+kts while we all lived in fear of an uncontrolled jibe or something breaking. The autopilot steered the boat very well but ultimately a linkage failed and while someone was able to take control quickly, but before things were under control, we slewed nearly broadside to the waves.  It was a very hairy moment, and one that I don’t want to repeat.  I was able to repair the broken linkage but it took several hours and after the failure, we really didn’t trust my fix and someone stood at the helm every moment for the rest of the trip.  It turns out that the prior owner had experienced this exact same failure multiple times over the years.  Great to hear, after the fact.  I was determined to avoid a repeat and re-engineered the linkage assembly.  Now, thousands of miles later, no breakage.

The point of bringing up this experience and why I ran into terrible conditions,  is that I underestimated my speed and the ridge came in early.  What I learned from this trip is a clear understanding that I need to always need to take into account how the forecast might change and build in contingencies.  Or as my wife Brenda likes to say, “prepare for the worse and hope for the best.”

It’s pretty clear to me now that I should have just waited a few days instead of assuming that everything would go according to plan.  Chris’s forecast wasn’t off by much and had warned me about the possible variables, but a small change in the weather and my underestimating my speed made a big difference in our experience.   There I was in Beaufort, crew on board, itching to get going and so was I, so we left.  Fortunately, those 40+kt winds were behind us instead of us having to close reach in a gale, which would have been much worse.

So, all of this brings me to the topic of this post and that’s what’s going on with the fleet who are participating in the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua.

For several days in advance of the fleet leaving each year, Chris conducts an evening briefing for skippers and crew to help them better understand the developing weather picture.  In spite of what the weather expected, he always stresses that with a trip of 9-14 days, it’s very hard to anticipate what will happen after the first few days.

In this case, Chris recommended that boats leaving from the Hampton VA area should head NE for the first few days before tacking and heading for Antigua.  The point being that by making as much easting as possible early in the trip, they would likely avoid having to beat into strong easterly trade winds later in the trip.   This advice seems to be playing out as the fleet gets closer to their destinations, some of skippers that are a bit west of the bulk of the fleet will have a tough time making enough easting to avoid a stop in the USVIs or perhaps Puerto Rico.  Chris is anticipating, and the current maps show, that winds will be a bit south of east as they approach the Caribbean and boats that are not far enough east will have a rougher go of it.

Chris is sensitive to the needs of many of his clients, often older folks, like Brenda and me, who are looking for easy conditions and adjusts his forecasts accordingly.  In this case, recommending that boats put some “easting in the bank” by heading to the NE early in the trip would give them a more favorable point of sail as they passed east of the Virgins.

Boats that are farther east will have apparent wind on the beam verses being on a close reach or worse and as the wind is expected to increase into the 20s ore higher.   The closer to the wind the more uncomfortable the run will be.

Note that I have marked Antigua, the destination for most boats, with an arrow below.  Of course, some boats were headed to the Bahamas and a few to the USVIs so it is expected that some may be on a track that takes the west of the rhumb line to Antigua.  However, those who are west of their intended track may very well find that making it all the way to Antigua could be a challenge.   To see the fleet in real time, and see how this all plays out, click here to go to the Predict Wind Salty Dawg Page.

The point is that when Chris recommended that the fleet head to the NE, and most did, he wanted to allow for a possible subtle but important shift in the weather days down the road that would avoid the discomfort of beating to weather.  Chris is not always right but he works hard to allow for unanticipated changes in the forecast, an opportunity to “prepare for the worse and hope for the best.”

It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next few days and I am hopeful that the boats that are more to the west won’t have to abandon their goal of arriving in Antigua with the rest of the fleet.

From my perspective all of this and my own experience over the years and from my youth, is that sometimes “mom, and your weather router, really does know best”.

Trust your mother, or at least your router, and more often than not, your trip will be more fun.

And, as they say, “gentleman and cruisers never beat to weather”.

Good luck with that!