It’s time to head home for the holidays.

It was great fun being on the dock with all the Dawgs but yesterday I moved Pandora from English Harbor to Falmouth where she will sit on a mooring until Brenda and I return after the holidays.

It was nice to move over to where the water is clear and the first thing I did after getting her settled was to go for a swim, my first of the season.

Here’s the view I woke up to this morning.  It’s been a week since I arrived in Antigua but in a way, it feels like it’s been much longer. A beautiful way to start the day, complete with a rainbow. When I arrived a week ago Monday, ending a 9.5 day run from Hampton, I was eager to begin the daily events that I organized during the run south.  While I had spoken with all our supporters over the few months leading up to our arrival, the nearly two week delay in departing made it tough to know when we’d have enough boats in Antigua to begin having events.

As the fleet got closer and I had a pretty good feel for when we’d have “critical mass”, whatever that means in “party terms”, I began putting events to dates.

Fortunately, our partners here in Antigua were very willing to support us on short notice and jumped through some pretty big hoops to be ready to greet us with very little warning.

The staff of Nelson’s Dockyard worked hard to accommodate more boats than ever and we filled the place to capacity.  One issue that proved to be challenging was the need to plug in all those American boats that needed 110v as half of the dockyard is wired for European 220v, a problem for many in the fleet.

When we are on anchor there is no need for AC but when you pull up to a dock and the boat isn’t naturally pointing into the wind, it can get hot down below.  Marinus the marina manager and others in the Dockyard worked hard to accommodate the sweaty cruisers, but in some cases it took a few days to accomplish this and get power to all the boats.

Anyway, we’ve had a lot of events, sometimes more than two a day, and everyone had a great time.  Here’s a group photo of many that did the rally.  There were probably 100 more than this but crew generally flies out right away upon arrival. One of the highlight events was a few nights ago in Nelson’s Dockyard, a dinner event attended by more than 100.    The evening was wonderful and was hosted by Ann-Marie Martin, who runs the National Park system and has been a key contact for me over the years.

They went all out including a steel drum band. I loved the traditional dancers, including one on stilts.  Minister of tourism, Max Fernandez, was also there and spoke to the crowd.  Between him and Ann-Marie, they whipped the crowd into quite a frenzy.

Next week is the Charter Boat Show, where all the big yachts show their stuff to charter brokers who come to the island to check out what’s available for their clients.  When you are spending several hundred thousand on a week long charter, sometimes more than a million, you want to know that it will be perfect.

A week ago the marina was empty.  Now it’s filling up fast.   How about this selection?   Pick one.  Not sure Eos is available for charter.  At about 300′ long she’s one of the largest sailing yachts in the world and is owned by Diane Von Furstenburg and Barry Diller.  Nice dink aboard Eos. You get a sense of the scale of these yachts and this isn’t one of the largest.  It takes crew all day to polish them. She is owned by a guy, Patrick Dovigi, a Canadian.  He’s only 43 years old and made his money in waste management.  I’ll bet they handle trash very efficiently aboard.

So, here we are and the big kids are now arriving, day by day and soon there won’t be an open slip to be had.

As much fun as it’s been to be here in Antigua, I’ll admit that it was a bit of a downer that Brenda wasn’t here with me.  As we were so delayed, she had to stick close to home with the holidays looming large.

I am looking forward to heading back home for the holidays tomorrow.  I will put Pandora on a mooring where she will remain until we return around the new year.  With the new battery bank, wind generator and solar array, there won’t be a problem keeping the freezer and fridge nice and cold.

It’s been a whirlwind week and next week I’ll begin planning some events for January and throughout the season.  No rest for the weary cruiser.

It’s been great fun being here and I look forward to a season of cruising when Brenda and I return to Pandora.

 

 

In Antigua and the Gang is all here, sort of…

It’s Thanksgiving day, I’m here in Antigua but Brenda’s not…

Pandora is on the dock with dozens of other Salty Dawg Boats.  The weather is a lot different here than back in CT and it’s another beautiful day. Ok, a little closer as Pandora hardly shows up next to that big cat.With all the delays in getting the Salty Dawg Fleet to Antigua, half of the month of November has come and gone.  Holiday plans were upended and many found themselves away from family, well at least those who’s family didn’t fly to Antigua.

I am not sure how many boats are actually here or will be very soon, but perhaps it’s about 60-70.  Hard to say without a laborious review of the tracker page showing the tracks of 100 boats.

Anyway, here I am and Brenda’s not…

As we got closer to Antigua I sent out a barrage of emails to those who I had been working with to cobble together as many events as possible before I was to fly out on December 1st.  Sadly, the day that we tied up on the dock was the day that our events, as originally planned, were to end and I was to fly back home with Brenda for Thanksgiving.  It was weird to know that I had just arrived and my two paid for seats on a flight home were going to leave, unused that very day.

So, of the 18 events that I had put in place months ago had to be re-scheduled but I was only able to fit in 9, one every day until my departure.  More to come, as there will be plenty of our boats still on the island for the holidays.

Last night North Sails put on an open house with a local jazz band.  Andrew, the proprietor, also invited folks from the Antigua Yacht Club and others from the island.  It was a huge success. This evening Angie, over at the Antigua Yacht Club is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner and I expect that it will be packed now that most of the boats are here in Antigua.

There are still events planned for every day until I leave including an arrival dinner at The Admiral’s Inn and a special welcome event here in Nelson’s Dockyard where most of the Salty Dawg boats are tied up.  I have been working with the Commissioner of the National Parks and understand that the Minister of Tourism, Charles Fernandez will be with us as well.  It will be a fun event.

As fun as all this is, I have to say that not having Brenda here with me is a bummer but with the arrival of the fleet pushed back so far and the approaching holidays, she just has too much on her plate with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, pun intended, for her to fly down and join me.

However, she is with our son Chris and his partner Melody in NYC enjoying Thanksgiving.  At least I can video call in.  I’m looking forward to that.

So, that’s about all and at least I can say that the Gang is all here, sort of…

I’ll make the best of it for now and look forward to a video call at least.

It is a beautiful day…

Post-Sundowner Tonight—Antigua Here We Come!

It’s Monday morning, the beginning of the 10th day of our voyage.  As the sun came up we were treated to a squall.  Actually, yesterday ended and today began with squalls and I expect that we have not seen the last of them.

The wind is just forward of the beam, close reaching, in the upper teens, pushing us along at 8 kts or so.  When a squall comes by, the wind, within moments, increases to the upper 20s with apparent wind in the low 30s.  With a reef in the main and the jib out, we are pushed along at 9-10 kts for a bit before the wind nearly dies, as fast as it freshened.

As these squalls are coming at us on the beam, they pass by generally in about a half hour with peak winds only lasting for a short time.   I know that facing squalls freaks out most people and I’ll admit that I’d be very worried if my sails and rigging weren’t in top shape.

With all the “squall drama” I would prefer to have the trip to end with more benign conditions but if I have to chose between slogging along motor sailing in light wind or fast sailing with squalls, I’ll take reeling off the miles anytime.

So, it’s looking like we will be arriving in Antigua at about dusk so I am not sure if I will head into English Harbor or Falmouth.  For sure, we will anchor, rinse out the cockpit and enjoy what will likely be a “post sundowner”, that’s a sundowner that happens after sunset. Get it?

And on Tuesday, tomorrow, our first arrival event begins, with events daily through the end of the month when I head home.

This abbreviated event schedule will not be the end of it as there are still plenty of programs in the wings to schedule.

So, with about 75 miles to go I have to say that I am really looking forward to my first “post sundowner” of the season.

No rest for the weary voyager.   ANTIGUA, HERE WE COME!

So Close I Can Almost Taste It!

It’s mid morning on Sunday and we are about 130 miles from our destination, English Harbor Antigua.

It’s hard to believe that we are so close and yet STILL NOT THERE!

Or, perhaps from a more adult perspective, we are more than 90% of the way there.

As we move along on the last leg, we are spending more and more time putting in and shaking out reefs as we encounter squall after squall.  Wind speeds within an hour can vary from 14kts to nearly 30kts in squalls. It’s frustrating to tie in and then shake out reefs so often but it is important to keep sail area balanced with the wind.

In the last 30 minutes we decided to take out the remaining reef only to be hit with wind that piped up within 10 minutes to nearly 30kts and there was no sign of a squall or any dark clouds on the horizon.  Go figure.

Keeping our speed up is important as we’d really love to get into English Harbor in the daylight.  I have never gone in when it is dark, opting for Falmouth, with it’s wide and easy entrance, instead.

At this point it’s hard to say if we will arrive when it’s still light and even less certain if it will be early enough to tie up to the dock on Monday at Nelson’s Dockyard.

One thing for sure is that as soon as we arrive, and I expect that some 25 boats will arrive within 12 hours of each other, we will begin our events.
As of last April, when I left the island, I had nearly two weeks of daily events planned only to have the entire schedule thrown to the wind with our nearly two week delay.  It is ironic that the first event on Tuesday will mark what should have been my flight home for the holidays and the end of the events that I planned so long ago.

It is ironic is that I will be on-island, theoretically early enough to catch my already booked flight on Tuesday.   However between the rescheduled events and getting Pandora cleaned up after ten days at sea, just isn’t reasonable.  I want to be sure that she is ship-shape when Brenda and I return in late December.

Also, the last few days of sailing have given me some insight into how the new wind generator, solar panels and lithium battery bank are working out.

I have to say that it is even better than I had expected.

In the past I have not been able to run my watermaker on passage unless I had the engine on as the load from the instruments and refrigeration was more than the solar panels were able to sustain.

However, the replacement panels are amazing, putting out enough power to fully top the batteries up before noon and the overnight input from the wind generator has a big impact as well.

An unexpected benefit is how easily the lithium batteries accept power.  With my old lead/acid batteries, the closer that they got to being fully charged, the slower the charging process, meaning that as the day progressed less and less energy was put into the batteries.

Not so with lithium as they are able to absorb current as fast as you can feed it to them until they are fully charged.  It is only then that they shut off.  Because of their “all or nothing thirst for power”, the charging efficiency is multiple times better.

In a way, having this setup is sort of like water management when you have a watermaker.  No longer do you have to worry as much about every gallon you use.  And, now knowing that almost no mater what I use from the batteries, the panels and generator will put it back.

I log a number of critical numbers every two hours when we are on passage, wind speed, direction, boat speed etc and now I have been logging batter percentage to full.  In spite of using loads of power for all matter of electronics, refrigeration and even the watermaker, the charge level of the battery bank has never dipped below the mid 90% range.

Granted, it’s been plenty sunny but hey, it’s always sunny in the tropics.  However, I expect that even if it was partially overcast, that we’d still have full batteries sooner rather than later.

It’s making me wonder if we might be able to run our washer on the inverter from Solar?  Something to think about.  No Honda droning away on the deck.  Brenda would like that.

It’s worth noting that in the time it too me to write this post I was interrupted with calls to reef twice.   No rest for the weary delivery crew.

However, with one day to go until our arrival in Antigua and I can almost taste it.  What can I taste you ask?  Not sure but it definitely includes a rum punch.

The End Is Near, but in a Good Way

It’s Saturday morning just after dawn and the sun has risen in brilliant yellow on the eastern horizon.  We are sailing along in about 15-18 knots on a close reach, still working to put some miles to the east in the bank, anticipating that the wind will freshen to the low 20s as we get closer to Antigua, making if more difficult to hold our course in waves that will likely build to 10’ before we round the southern side of Antigua and arrive in English Harbor.

I am always trying to predict when we will make landfall when I am on passage and that desire to know “when will we get there?” is alway just below the surface, it becomes an obsession as we get into the trade winds and Pandora is reliably ticking off mile after mile.

Will we average 7.5 or perhaps 8kts between here in Antigua for the last 450 miles?  It’s hard to say but one thing for sure is that the forecast is for conditions to deteriorate as we get closer, with wind in the upper 20s and increased squalls to the mid 30s, conditions that are doable but unpleasant, for sure.

The sense of urgency is driven by a desire to finish the run but also by fear of being caught in the unpleasant conditions coming our way late Monday and into Tuesday, when I sincerely hope and expect to be snug in port.

Another driver for me to know “when” is that there are so many unknowns, hanging over my head after the weeks of delays in getting the rally started.  How am I going to schedule arrival events when the fleet is spread over nearly a thousand square miles and their arrival will likely happen over a period of a week or more?

And, the less than subtle pressure I am feeling of when I will fly home knowing that I already have a flight that I booked, the day after our likely arrival.  Yes, that’s convenient but after all that the fleet has been through I don’t think that it would be particularly good form for me to bolt the very next day, before the bulk of the fleet has arrived.    And, to make matters worse, my flight, booked months ago, is a few days before Thanksgiving.  No pressure…

Besides, I want to celebrate with the fleet too and it would be such a downer to put Pandora on a mooring and head out without even saying goodby.   “say hi to everybody.  Gotta go…”

Tough issues but back to Pandora.

We finally shut off the engine last evening after motoring non-stop for over three days beginning Tuesday evening.   It gets pretty hot down below, near 90 degrees with the engine running and the boat all buttoned up, so it’s always a relief when We finally shut it down.

Up until this season, keeping the batteries charged when we were able to sail has been very difficult, needing to run the engine twice a day and adding even more heat to the cabin.  However, the upgraded solar and the wind generator, has been a game changer.

I don’t have quite enough experience with the setup yet but the wind generator seems to keep up pretty well with all the instruments and autopilot.  At 20kts apparent the generator produces enough power to fully offset the load when we have all the instruments and our trusty autopilot running.  That does not account for the substantial load that the refrigeration has on the system but I expect that the solar will be able to put back at least a portion of that power, even if we are on a port tack which tilts the panels away from the sun.

The extra input combined with the lithium bank that accepts power much better seems to suggest that even on passage, we should not have to run the engine except when the wind is light.

So, here I am, the sun is up and it’s time to make a pot of coffee.

After a week under way, this is our 8th day, it’s nice to know that the end is near.
Perhaps now I can turn my attention to what happens when we arrive.

A tot of rum?  A beer?  A swim?  All of the above or as I used to say when I was small, I’ll take “both of each!”.

The Next Few Days Could Be Interesting for the Fleet!

It’s Friday morning and we are far enough south that we should pick up the easterly trade winds sometime today, hopefully around mid day.

The trade winds are consistently from the east and this time of year they will begin getting stronger and peak in December and January.  These winds can be quite strong as mentioned in prior posts but it’s a bit unclear as to how much they will impact our ability to make it to Antigua.

Fortunately, we are in the front part of the fleet with the bulk of boats behind us.  That’s good but we aren’t as far east as we’d like so the angle of the wind and our course will put the apparent wind forward of the beam which can make for challenging sailing when the wind and seas are up.  Exactly how far forward the wind will be will have a lot to do with how easy, or not, our run is the rest of the way to Antigua.

By the time we get to Antigua, hopefully sometime around mid-day on Monday, the wind will not be too strong and won’t be blowing south of east.   However, for those boats that are 60-100 miles north of us, the winds Tuesday might be so strong that they will opt to bail into St Martin to waif for more reasonable conditions later in the week.

As much as I want to get to Antigua, if things get nasty, I too will opt to take a break and then continue on to Antigua a few days later.

The problem with all of this is that even a few days out it’s hard to predict exactly what conditions will be like and the difference between 25kts and 30kts is bigger than you’d think and even that small difference could make the trip quite unpleasant.

Additionally, while we have been blessed with very few squalls, we expect to hit more of them as we move south.  Squalls come with more wind so that 30kts could be 40kts and if there are enough of them, they could also cause the seas to build up higher.  As it is, we are expecting seas in the 10’ range that will be coming at us from the side of the boat.  That’s not a terrible angle but will be interesting, for sure.

Thinking forward to arrival events in Antigua, it continues to be tough to plan with so many uncertainties.  With this in mind, I have been in touch with some of our key contacts in Antigua and we also plan on sending out a note to all skippers to ask if they have a feel for their arrival and about travel plans. Armed with this information, we should be able to begin scheduling at least a few events over the next few weeks.

I’ll admit that it’s a bit frustrating as I try to know the unknowable and somehow organize events with so little certainty.

For the moment all I can really do is to plan to keep Pandora moving in the right direction and do my best to end up in Antigua with no stops along the way.

One thing for sure is that this is all interesting, perhaps a bit too much so.

Details to come, is about all I can say with certainty.

Big Wind Coming Our Way?

Early in our trip we encountered pretty strong winds, upwards of nearly 30kts sustained and Pandora handled it well.  Conditions were wet and we were getting tossed around but with two reefs in the main she handled it well.  In spite of water flying everywhere, we felt that the boat wasn’t laboring and we were moving at quite a clip of upwards to 8kts and sometimes more.

Most cruisers do not like to sail in aggressive conditions but sometimes it’s necessarily to get from here to there and it looks like we have some coming our way before we get to Antigua.

It’s Thursday and we are motorsailing along in light winds but making good time.  We could probably sail, if a bit slower than we’d like, but we decided to keep pushing to catch up with the building trade winds that are supposed to fill in sometime tomorrow south of us.

As in most trips, the wind zones are divided into three segments with the middle one, where we are now, a high pressure area with little to no wind.  Above that area and the first area we encountered as we headed out from Hampton, the winds are dominated by cold fronts coming off of the US east coast.   The area below the high, sometimes called the Bermuda hi, is dominated by fairly consistent easterly trade winds.

These trade winds can be influenced by the size of the highs exiting the coast every few days and whether that hi is pushed north of south as the cold fronts push east.

This time of the year, as we get closer to December, the trades strengthen bringing with them what is often described as Christmas Winds, that make for very salty sailing.

As we get closer to Antigua, over the weekend, these trade winds, from the east, are expected to build until they are in the upper 20s and low 30s with waves on the beam of 10’ or more.    However, those conditions will not fully arrive until late Monday and into Tuesday when things get the snottiest.

With this in mind, we are pushing along motorsailing with the hope of getting to the trades and to Antigua by Monday morning before things become nasty.

This is speculative as Monday, when the conditions are supposed to deteriorate, is still a ways off and things could change.

I am not sure it’s fair to say but I am not expecting that things would be worse, and hopefully better than that.

Anyway, we are making haste to join the trades by sometime tomorrow and burning some fuel with the hope of coming out ahead.

Over the next few days we will learn if big winds are heading our way, or not.

At least is smooth motorsailing for now.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Not Our Fastest, but Faster Than Some

After days of near perfect, if wet, sailing in brisk winds, we are now settling in for a few days of motoring close hauled in 10kts or less.

We knew that we’d have this “transition zone” with very light winds to contend with but it looks like it’s going to be a larger zone than we had anticipated.

As of last evening at 1700 we cranked up the engine and here we are, at nearly noon the next day, still motorsailing along.  Based on the most current weather files, it looks like we will be doing just that until perhaps late Friday or early Saturday.

At that point, we hope to be able to sail again as the trade winds fill in from the east.  They are expected to be brisk and will build as we head farther south so it is quite possible that we will end up in winds in the upper 20s on a close reach which will make for fast if wet and bumpy sailing.

If things play out according to the “plan of the moment,” then we should arrive somewhere between Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

That’s good as conditions several hundred miles north of Antigua will begin to deteriorate for the boats that left after us or are slower.

At this point we are slowly creeping up through the fleet so that now most of the boats are behind us.  Well, at least a lot of them.   Most of those ahead of us left earlier in the day or the day before.

Part of our growing lead has to do with the speed of Pandora but some of it stems from my willingness to turn on the engine in marginal conditions to keep moving.  Others are not able to do so as they just don’t carry enough fuel and nobody wants to run out.

With regards to running out of fuel, never say never, but I have 180 gallons on board and probably burn around .65 to .70 GPH which gives me a range under power of more than a week of running.

Sadly, our early speeding along has turned into clawing our way in light winds so I am afraid that a record passage, for Pandora at least, isn’t all that likely.

However, after all the hand wringing about getting to Antigua by Thanksgiving is no longer a huge risk, ten days at sea is still a pretty big deal.

Now I have to sort though my desire to head home after arrival against the need to be supportive of the fleet and not bolt the moment I arrive.

Nope, not likely to be our fastest trip but faster than some other boats and that’s something.

Day Four: perhaps my fastest day ever!

It’s Tuesday mid morning and we have not used the engine since  0400 early on Sunday morning.   As the wind has been pretty strong in the upper teens and low 20s, the wind generator has done a pretty good job of keeping the batteries up.  While the load from the fridge uses more than the wind and solar together produce, I am getting substantially more power from the solar than prior to the upgrade and after nearly three days, the batteries are still at 93%.

Prior to upgrading the solar and adding the wind generator, I would have been fighting a loosing battle with power and would have had to run the engine for at least an hour in the morning and at night just to try and keep up.

It was my hope that the wind generator would have at least provided enough power to keep all the instruments going.  It is doing that and more.

And, as an added benefit, the cabin is a lot cooler than when I run the engine.

Solid wind and a reasonably favorable angle has allowed us to make great time and our distance covered with in the last 24 hours is upwards of 200 miles, a remarkable showing for most any cruising yacht.  We had left the harbor about 3 hours behind most of the other boat that left when we did and over the last few days we have passed many of them

Conditions have been pretty sporty with Pandora on a close reach with apparent wind over 20kts much of the time.  This means that we are taking water on deck almost constantly.

Ever since I purchased Pandora I have been chasing annoying leaks and while most all have been corrected, there is still a pretty meaningful leak around the deck joint for the mast.  This isn’t a problem on a port tack as the dribble ends up on the floor.  Fortunately we will spend much of the run on a starboard tack so I will be fighting salt water getting on our bunk.
I had a new mast boot installed right before heading out and I don’t know why there is still a leak.  I hope to better understand this but won’t be able to address until things settle down a bit.

The good news is that other leaks, coming from some of the big deck hatches, are resolved, at least as of now, which is good news.

The GRIBS, weather forecast, call for good sailing in brisk conditions, for at least the next day or so and then we will be motoring for a day or two, perhaps longer, before picking up the trades as we head due south to Antigua.

Unfortunately, they are expected to be quite strong and now may have a slight southerly direction which may make for some close wind sailing and wet conditions.  This is a departure from more a more reasonable forecast only a few days ago.  Hopefully, this trend will reverse before we get to that point later in the week.

So, here we are, bouncing along in pretty stiff winds and seas but at least we are making good progress.

Additionally, the improvements that were made to the reefing system, new lines and some other upgrades, are making all that a bit smoother.

Wet and sporty aside, covering 200 miles in a day is not too shabby.

Shaping up To Be a Great Run

Dare I say it?  Could this be our fastest run yet?  I am hesitant to declare victory though lest I jinx it.

Early in the trip, we were very focused on getting across the Gulf Stream and ran the engine for hours to be sure that we got far enough south and east to be ahead of a strong front.

We did well but caught the end of that front which gave us high 20s with gusts to the low 30s on a very deep reach overnight.  Yes, we were going pretty fast, sometimes breaking 10kts briefly but it was pretty bumpy.  We put away the jib and sailed under a double reefed main.

As of now, 10:00 Sunday, we have been sailing for nearly 30 hours without the engine.

To that point, this is the first run that I have done since having the new lithium batteries, new and larger solar panels and a wind generator installed and It’s great to see that things are working out.

After running for all that time with no engine to recharge the batteries, they are still charged to 88%.   The new solar did some of that but a big boost was from the wind generator that mostly kept up with the instruments overnight.  Having said that, we were mostly off the wind so the apparent wind was not all that high so it could not keep up with the refrigeration as well.

I do expect that by this afternoon most of the power will be back in the batteries as it’s a fairly sunny day.

having the batteries well supported by wind as well as solar is a huge difference from having to run the engine twice a day to keep the batteries up with the load of running the instruments 24 hours a day.

I’ll be keeping track of how the system works in the “real world” and will try to summarize things down the road.  One thing for sure is that solar and wind work well together but the biggest output for the dollar is surely solar at about $1/watt.

I’ll stop there for now except to say that the trip is going well and we are hoping, expecting perhaps, that the rest of the trip will bring reasonable conditions.

Dare I say that we might actually do the run in 9-10 days?  That would be great.

While we are still in the early days of this passage, it is beginning to look like this is shaping up to be a great run.

I hope so.