Cruising in an age of pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to be among the first to know? Go to the Salty Dawg Rally home page and sign up for the free newsletter so you’ll know what cruising in the Caribbean will be like next season.

Where is Pandora going?

So, where is Pandora going?  Since last fall, Pandora has been on the move and covered a lot of ground.  From CT to Hamption VA, onto Antigua, south to St Lucia, north to the USVIs and Bahamas, to Florida and most recently, to Annapolis.   Where will she go next?

It’s a good question and I really have no idea.    All I know for now is where she is and that’s near Annapolis.  When we were in the Caribbean, and trying to find a way to get Pandora, and ourselves, back to the US, I spent a lot of time thinking about where to go, where to base Pandora for the summer and what would happen next.

I will say that being stuck in the Caribbean and confined aboard week after week, took a lot of the fun out of the cruising lifestyle and now a six hour drive from her isn’t fun either.

Our friends Bill and Maureen, who have lived aboard for years now, are truly in limbo, back in the marina in St Lucia, where they have been for several months now.  They were there when we arrived in February and haven’t left the island since then, still hoping that Trinidad will open up again before they are deep in the hurricane season.  If the island doesn’t open up, well, they will just have to work hard to dodge any hurricanes that come their way.

While things have begun to settle down, well at least into a routine, in many places, Trinidad, outside of the hurricane zone, where they normally spend their summers, still hasn’t opened up for new arrivals.  This means that they must stay constantly on alert for the possibility of developing hurricanes and the fear that they may find themselves in the path of a devastating storm.   Actually, they say that they aren’t worried but I will admit that we are and hope that all goes well.  We spoke with them on Zoom the other night and they seemed calm enough.

As beautiful as the islands are, life aboard isn’t always “living the dream” as being anchored in one place or stuck in a marina for months at a time gets old especially when you are confined to your boat and there is nothing to do beyond hanging out or perhaps some time ashore at a nearby beach.  And, to make matters worse for anyone still waiting to move to safer waters, most all cruisers have already headed elsewhere in anticipation of the hurricane season so it can get a bit lonely.

While some are confined, others have found themselves to be “confined to nowhere”.  There have been many stories within the cruising community of cruisers that were on passage when the pandemic hit and upon arriving at their destination, were turned away, only to find that they were hundreds, or thousands of miles from their next, uncertain landfall.

Indeed, this is a difficult time for cruisers, especially those who put careers on hold, sold everything last fall and headed out only to find that they had nowhere to go and that their cruising plans are now on hold.

Pandora too is on hold in Annapolis, and I am not sure if I’ll have much time aboard for the next few months.   Another complication in all of this that the slip she is in has turned out to be a lot shallower at low tide than advertised so she is hard aground except when it’s nearly high tide, so for half the time each day she is truly “on hold” herself.

There are a few other slips in the marina that are deeper but they are occupied.  I am hopeful that I can find a way to temporarily swap with one someone else for a month or so.   Baring that, I may have to find somewhere else to keep Pandora or I’ll have to be content to restrict my coming and going to high tide.

Our next visit to Pandora will likely happen in about two weeks when we head down to MD for the second birthday of our twin grandchildren.  I wonder when high tide is?

In the mean time, things are now in place to get the aft AC unit replaced.  I have a unit on order and an installer that will work with me as the job is not as simple as just swapping the old for the new.  My plan includes adding a third vent, which should make the new unit much more efficient than the last at cooling the main cabin.

My plan is to head down to Pandora a few days before Brenda heads to Rob’s home in MD so I can remove the old AC unit and prepare for the new installation.  As the installer is are very busy this time of year he really didn’t want to get involved in a more complex job and encouraged me to do whatever I can to simplify the portions of the work that they need to do.  If I am lucky, I’ll be able to handle all of the demo of the old unit, prepare the site and install the new vent in the galley so all they will have to manage is some of the hookups and check to make sure that the unit is functioning properly.

When we head out on Pandora, we won’t be alone as it seems boating is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance as a way for everyone who’s feeling cooped up after months confined to their homes, to get away and yet remain safe and away from possible infection.  I

I read that being inside a building such as a restaurant puts you at an 18.5x greater risk of infection than being outside.   Anyone who has spent time aboard knows that “social distancing” is easy on a boat, well certainly not from those you are aboard with but at least from those on other boats.  Just try social distancing from your family in a space that is about the size of a modest bathroom.

Tempted to get a boat and head off into the sunset?  With so many desperate buyers, if you don’t already have a boat, prepare to spend time in line, as entry level boats are pretty much sold out.

On my way north from Florida after leaving the Atlantic and entering the Chesapeake, I was struck by the rapid shift from the Atlantic waters to the milky brown waters of the Chesapeake.  It was a dramatic change from the deep blue waters of the Atlantic and Gulf Stream.

Hundreds of years ago, the Bay was crystal clear but these days the Chesapeake is much degraded and must endure the indignities of agricultural runoff, overflows of municipal sewage and a constant influx of anything else that finds it’s way into the bay.   The Bay is also heavily fished, home to one of the largest fisheries on the east coast, menhaden.

As we made our way north past Reedville, home of the Menhaden fishing fleet, we passed this boat, one of many that make their base in that seaside town.  These boats are incredibly efficient at catching thousands of tons of menhaden.  They use spotter planes to find the schools of fish and huge nets drawn together so that they can literally vacuum the fish aboard.  It is a wonder that there are any menhaden left in the Chesapeake given the sophistication of these boats in sucking up stock, day after day, year after year and this fishery is just one of many contributors to the poor water quality of the bay.

This short piece is a good background to this fishery and worth watching.However, that is just one perspective on the subject and state fisheries agencies that oversee the fishery suggest that the stock is stable and being well managed.  I guess time will tell.

It is also important to see how this little fish, also referred to as bunker, fit into the local ecology and how intensive fishing is impacting the health of the bay.Another interesting boat that we passed was the research vessel Virginia.  She was launched in 2018 and is dedicated to improving the health of the bay as part of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and College of William and Mary.  It’s a pretty neat looking vessel.  I’d love to get a ride on her.It is good that the Virginia is keeping an eye on things and while there is a long way to go, the bay is in better shape than it was in the recent past.

Well, it is July 4th and while just about everything is canceled due to the virus, I guess I had better get on with my day.  One thing for sure, aboard Pandora or not, Brenda and I will work hard to remain “socially distant” but hopefully not from each other.

So far, so good… “Brenda, are you there?  Brenda?”  Where has that girl gone?

Not sure but I do know that Pandora is hard aground, distant and going nowhere right now.   For me, I’d better go…

On our last leg(s)?

This morning we headed out from Hampton to begin our last leg north to Annapolis and bid the Hampton YC adios.  Dick and I were going to stop about half way there to sleep but since it’s flat calm we decided to keep going and should arrive in Annapolis around dawn tomorrow.   I didn’t plan on yet another overnight but heck, it’s only one and I am sick of being at sea.  Besides, that means that I can probably go see Rob and his family one day earlier and on to Essex and Brenda sooner too.  Perfect.

Below is a screen shot of the course we took from Ft Pierce to Hampton. By taking this curved course to the west we were able to stay in the middle of the Gulf Stream and maintain a good turn of speed, covering about 220 miles per day over-the-bottom with a through-the-water distance of approximately 160 miles per day.  The current provided a good lift.

The overall distance over the bottom to Hampton was 685 miles and yet we clocked only about 535 miles through the water with the balance being the northward “push” of the Stream.   We were in the Gulf stream all the way from a few miles out of Ft Pierce until we rounded Cape Hatteras so the GS gave us a lift of 150 miles over the course of the trip.    To put it another way, we moved through the water at a speed of about 160 miles a day and the current pushed us an additional 75 miles per day during that same period.   We tied up at the Hampton YC yesterday for one night, in part, because we had to address the misaligned roller foil and fix the rip in the jib.  Trying to do that at anchor, with the boat swinging to the wind, would have been quite challenging.

As I suspected, the problem with the jib furler was that two set screws had backed out of one of the joints which allowed the upper foil section to ride up and pull free of the connector.   As luck (planning?) would have it, I actually had spare set screws in my toolbox so the repair was very simple.

Less simple, was fixing the jib but I was able to smooth things out and put on some temporary repair fabric that should hold for the rest of our run.  Actually, with absolutely no wind the jib will remain furled so there will be no pressure on the repair for this run.   I pains me to have such a nasty tear in my brand new jib.  So much for that “new jib glow”.  I guess it’s about the same as getting all those nasty scratches in my no-longer-new paint job. All, sort of, better now.   This should make our sail maker happy.So, here we are, motoring along in flat calm conditions, making our way north.  Pandora will be at a small marina off of Whitehall bay.  Remarkably, the cost per month is only about 2/3 of the cost of a mooring in CT.   It will be a sort of “coming home” as we kept our “old Pandora” in the same marina, the one with the two head stays in the middle of the photo, way back in 2010.  I hope you are impressed that I was able to find this photo of that spot. It’s been a long time since I’ve kept a boat in the Chesapeake and what I remember most is that it is HOT!

With that in mind, we are exploring the addition of a generator as the simple fact is that it’s just too hot to consider being aboard without a way to run the AC.

Of course, being hot was somehow acceptable back in the day when we were young.   Not so much now.  How our perspective has changed.   That reminds me of someone I spoke to years ago who famously quipped that he would “no longer crew on a boat that was shorter than his age”, another way of saying that small, hot, you name it, discomfort is fine when you are young and we aren’t.

Of course, a new generator is a lot less expensive than a “proper size boat” for my age.  As my dad used to say, “you can talk yourself into anything it you work hard enough at it”.   Dad was right.

 

And, speaking of hot, our run up from FL was, mostly, uneventful if you set aside the fact that we had to motor much of the way and that it was HOT, HOT, HOT.  I am always amazed by how uncomfortable it is to be aboard a boat that is all buttoned up in the GS, surrounded by 80+ degree water.

We did have wind but it was directly behind us and not quite strong enough to keep us moving so we had to keep the motor running nearly the entire way, racking up a total of over 60 hours.

When we finally rounded Hatteras, and exited the Stream, things cooled down a bit and we had some wind for at least part of the last 100 mile run to the Chesapeake and were able to sail some of the time.

But even that wind eventually died only to pick up to 20+ for the last 6 hours as we made our way past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and into Hampton.   By the time we passed the bridge, against a strong 2kt outbound current of course, we were motorsailing on  a close reach at 10kts so our speed over the bottom was respectable.

With a strong wind against the current, things became quite choppy and provide perfect conditions for the navy to practice maneuvers in their stealth gunboats that roared past us time after time. Of course, in the time of a pandemic, they blasted along while keeping an appropriate social distance.  I would LOVE, LOVE a chance to get a ride on one of these.  What a rush that would be…

Nearby Norfolk has a huge military presence and there was a constant parade of cool stuff in the air and on the water.  And, who doesn’t love the USCG patrol boats. They say that form should follow function and this dredge is a perfect example of that.  No way to imagine the ship being used for anything but dredging up silt and sand.  I spoke to the captain who said that they just “wanted to make the world a better place”.

If the depth of the channel is important to you than he’s doing his job.  I expect that the Navy would agree. So, about the bow of the ship.  If form follows function, I have no idea what the what the function of this form is. So, here we are, still motoring along, making our way north, the last leg of our trip, for the moment, hopefully for a more than a few moments.

For me, I’ve had about enough of passage making for a while and I do feel like I am on my last leg but hopefully, not on my last legs.

Get me home!

Nearly there…

It’s Monday morning and we are about 125 miles from making the turn at Cape Hatteras and toward the Chesapeake Bay.  We still plan to stop in Hampton for a day or two and then will make the final 120 mile run north to Annapolis where Pandora will be moored for at least the next month.

From a few miles after leaving Ft Pierce, I have worked to keep Pandora solidly in the middle of the Gulf  Stream with the hope of squeezing the most out of the northward current to push us along.  Chris Parker gave me a good number of way-points and I put them in the plotter with the hope of capturing as much of the favorable current as possible.

We have been motoring for the entire way even though there has been wind behind us, especially over the last 12 hours (more about that in a bit) as we want to keep our speed up.  At minimum, I have set the RPM of the engine high enough so that with the modest lift from the light winds and the engine, we keep moving though the water at about 6-6.5kts.

The gulf stream, sometimes referred to as an enormous “heat transfer conveyor belt”, moves northward at a respectable rate, often near 4kts.  The water in the Gulf Stream is in the 80s and serves to move an enormous amount of heat from the tropics north.   Being in the middle of all that hot water makes for some sticky conditions, especially in late June.

The Gulf Stream roughly parallels the US East Coast until it reaches Cape Hatteras where it is “kicked” east by the shallow water of the Cape.   It is there that we will exit the stream and head north to the Chesapeake Bay.  Once we leave the GS, we will still have over 100 miles until we reach Hampton.

Some boats are well set up for running dead down wind but Pandora isn’t one of them.  On this trip the wind, when there has been more than say, 10kts, has been nearly directly behind us and that makes for difficult conditions.   Take our forward movement, away from the wind, along with a current of several knots and the “apparent wind”, what we feel aboard, has been around 5kts, not enough to really sail.

Trying to keep the sails full and not banging around is nearly impossible with so little wind and after hours of the main slamming around yesterday, I finally gave up and took the main down.  My concern was that the constant slamming of the boom and sail as the boat wallowed in the swell, would cause breakage and chafe.

That concern was heightened late yesterday afternoon when I rolled out the jib and discovered that the foil on the jib, the part of the system that runs up the forestay and furls the sail, had come loose, with one of the sections separated from it’s mate.  That left a gap in the support for the bolt rope that threads up the extrusion on the jib to hold it in place.   As a result, the two extrusions had rubbed back and forth and cut right through the edge of the sail and ripped the front of the sail back about a foot.  The resulting mess looked quite precarious and I had no interest in going up to put a temporary fix on the sail so I just rolled up the sail and that’s that for the rest of the run.

I expect that we will be in a good position with wind from a good angle after turning at Cape Hatteras but I’ll have to see if it makes sense to put the jib out part way so that the rip is covered and supported or if I will just continue to motor.  I hate to make such a long run with the motor running the entire time but I have enough fuel so that might be the sensible thing to do.

My plan, when we reach Hampton, is to go into a marina and unfurl the jib so I can go up the forestay in the bosun’s chair and see what I can do to secure the separated sections of the aluminum foil and get the two separated sections back in place.  I expect that the repair may be as simple as a missing set screw but a simple temporary repair might be to put some strong tape on the foil and then a temporary repair to the rip in the luff of the sail.

That should stabilize it for the rest of the run to Annapolis and then I can remove the sail and send it out for repair.  It’s unfortunate to see the damage as the sail is new as of last fall.  Bummer.

Other than that, it’s been pretty much an uneventful trip.  Dick, who I have known for many years, is good crew member and I trust him.  After living on his own boat with his wife Anne, for ten years, he knows his way around and I am completely comfortable having him aboard and on deck when I am sleeping or down below.

All and all, it’s been a good trip so far and I am hopeful that we will be in Hampton by Tuesday evening.  The big determinant is if we hit the mouth of the Bay with a flooding tide or at the ebb.  The Chesapeake Bay is the outlet for a huge body of water and the currents run hard at the entrance so arriving at the mouth of the bay at the beginning of the flood can make a huge difference in how fast we will make our way the final miles to Hampton, with the outbound current subtracting from our forward speed.

And, speaking of miles, as I write this, we have gone about 2/3s of the nearly 700 miles of our trip to Hampton in just two days.  With the help of the GS current, we have covered about 220 miles per day, over the bottom, verses in the neighborhood of 150 miles a day through the water.  That’s a boost, from the current, of about 40 miles a day.  That’s a lot of current.

After the difficult run from St Lucia to Florida with Brenda, I’ll admit that I am not too interested in passage making so as far as the Gulf Stream is concerned, I’ll take all the help I can get to get us there sooner.

Here’s to continued luck and a safe arrival in Hampton tomorrow.   We’re nearly there, I am thankful for that.

In the Clutches of the Gulf Stream

It’s Sunday morning and we are making good time and are about 1/3 of the way to Hampton, VA, our likely stopping point before we head up the Chesapeake to Annapolis, our final destination.  We are currently about 90 miles offshore from Georgia and have turned toward the NE to follow the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf Stream roughly parallels the coastline and the edge of the Continental Shelf, where the bottom drops from 200′ or less to a half mile or more and after going north along the Florida coast, we have worked our way to a more North East course and as the coastline bears more to the NE, so does the current of the Stream.

We departed Ft Pierce yesterday morning in near windless conditions, as expected, based on our discussions with Chris Parker who said that he expected us to pick up decent SW winds sometime on Sunday, today.

However, even though the winds have filled in pretty well, now in the mid-teens, it’s from the SW and pretty much behind us so the apparent wind isn’t quite enough to make any decent speed.  As a result, more than 24 hours into our trip we are still running the engine, albeit at a somewhat lower RPM, given the push from the wind behind us.  That’s good as it conserves fuel, although I have plenty given the fact that our total run is only about 700 miles and we do expect to be able to sail perhaps 1/3 of the way or more.

As of today I’ve been aboard for a week and I am happy to be underway.  Getting to Pandora last Sunday and having to address the leak in the new refrigerator was really frustrating and having someone aboard installing the new forward AC unit, tiring.  In retrospect, that install was quite simple and I expect that I could have easily done it myself.

However, I am really glad to have the unit in place an even though the aft unit remains to be dealt with, and being able to retreat to the forward cabin when it is hot a real treat.

Interestingly, the forward AC unit is wired to work underway via the inverter, so when we are under power, in flat conditions, which they are, I have been able to run the AC, through the inverter, which has made a huge difference in comfort.   I have never tried this before and am surprised at how well it works.

Dick and I have taken turns sleeping in the forward cabin that has been kept at a very comfortable mid 70s, which is a lot more comfortable than the 90 degrees of the main cabin.  Actually, with the AC unit running and the door to the cabin open, it’s keeping things aft somewhat cooler.

Most of my long runs in the past have been on the wind and I would hesitate to run the unit in those conditions as the water rushing by the water intake, while heeling, creates some suction and puts strain on the water-cooling pump for the unit.  Additionally, the condensation from the drip pan on the unit would have spilled all over the place.  With this in mind, the next time Pandora is out of the water, I will install a small scoop on the water intake, much as I have done on the watermaker and refrigeration to avoid that suction problem.  Additionally, I will install another condensate drain outlet on the port side of the new AC unit so that it can drain regardless of which tack we are on.  At the moment, the only drain is on the port side, and that means that if we are on a port tack, heeling to starboard, the pan will spill over and make quite a mess.  I’ll be sure to do that on the aft unit as well.

However, an overflowing drip pan isn’t an issue on this run yet as we aren’t going very fast, about 6-6.5kts, and are sitting quite level, and the unit seems to be performing nicely.

I should note that while our through-the-water speed is modest, our over-the-bottom speed, with the GS adding an additional 3-4kts, our speed made good is a very respectable 9.5 to 10.5kts.  We are making quite good time and will remain under the influence of the GS until we get to Cape Hatteras, the bulk of our trip.

We were thinking of stopping somewhere, perhaps Charleston, for a few days but with good passage conditions and the threat of Covid-19 just about everywhere on shore, we decided to just keep going and not to stop until we get to the Chesapeake.

I do expect that we will opt to stop somewhere along the way but if the sailing is good, who knows.

For now, it’s nice to be underway, on my way home and away from the torment of fixing broken stuff.  Sure, there’s still more to do but that can wait until Annapolis.

For now, I am happy to be moving along in the clutches of the Gulf Stream, helping us make our way north.

That’s all for now.  Stay tuned.

The next leg toward home and I wonder what the future holds…

Pandora is still in Ft Pierce and I will be heading there next weekend to bring her to Annapolis with my friend Dick.  Brenda and I buddy-boated with him and his wife Anne years ago when we first headed south and spent time in the Bahamas.

At the time Anne and Dick owned Nati, a catamaran that they lived aboard for a number of years before “swallowing the anchor” and moving ashore to Florida where they live now.

The Bahamas, where we met Anne and Dick, was our first winter adventure after heading to Florida via the ICW, Intra Coastal Waterway.  Since then, we have sailed many thousands of miles and visited places I never imagined we would go, much less do so aboard our own boat.  Cuba? Who knew?

This is “old” Pandora anchored off of Chubb island shortly after clearing into the Bahamas back in 2014.It seems like just yesterday when we spent months with Anne and Dick moving from place to place in the Bahamas.   I guess that Dick never listened to his mother who surely told him NEVER to stand up in a moving vehicle.  “Down boy, down boy!”   With Anne aboard at least she kept him moving at a stately pace.
At that time we owned our “old” Pandora, a SAGA 43.  She heeled a LOT and to sail along with Nati, a cat that was always level and smooth, was totally annoying, especially to Brenda who often felt she was hanging on for dear life as I pushed Pandora to try and keep up.  While we had to stow everything that wasn’t nailed down, Anne and Dick would just wave to us while taking at tiny sip of coffee as they glided serenely by.We did a lot more fishing back in those days.  Now, I am less inclined to get all the blood and guts aboard as we have found that the biggest problem with fishing is that we catch stuff and when landed I wonder how I am going to deal with ALL THAT FISH.  This was one of my biggest catches that year, a Mahi Mahi.  Notice the beginning of the whole “blood and guts” thing on the cockpit settee.We all had a bit more hair back in those days.  Well, at least it was a lot better distributed.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see about Dick and how his mane has fared.  In terms of sheer volume, my hair is pretty long these days as I haven’t had a “professional” haircut since February but somehow it has become distributed differently, a sort of gravitational migration leaving my own personal “north pole” mostly vegetation free.

I still remember when I had my very first “outdoor” haircut that year in Black Point, Long Island.  It was only time I ever spotted a ray while I was getting a hair cut.  This isn’t me ‘under the knife”, but you get the idea.   That’s Ida, doing the cutting.   And, of course, back in those days, see the guy with the laptop, the only way to get email was to go to a hotspot as cellular Wifi was not as usable as it is these days.  Every day was a scavenger hunt for connectivity.  And, later that same year, a random sighting of what would one day be our current Pandora on a mooring in Newport RI.  We never imagined that we would one day own her ourselves. So, off to Florida and Pandora in less than a week.  And, while I am not enthusiastic about getting on a flight, that’s exactly what I am doing next weekend.   You can bet that I’ll be fortified with my slightly used N95 mask, germicidal wipes, killer spray, hand sanitizer, my own food and well, you know the drill.  Actually, my hope is that EVERYONE else on the plane knows th drill and takes it seriously.  If not, it will be my last flight for a very long time.  Bad flight or not, I hope that I don’t become “positive”, which I suppose could make it my “very last flight, ever” which would be very bad.  Based on our experience in Florida when we arrived there last month aboard Pandora, I am not optimistic about the “locals” taking the risk seriously.

And, fast forward to the fall, am hoping against hope that we will be heading south again but it’s very hard to say what will happen next as Brenda isn’t crazy about that idea and with the pandemic still a threat and no certainty about what island to island travel will look like, who knows…

I guess I shouldn’t stress too much about what the future holds as there is really no way to know what that might look like.   For sure, it will surprise and delight me, if history us any guide, and to think back to that winter in the Bahamas, a lot has happened that I would never have predicted anyway.

It’s been a few years since I have seen Dick too so it will be fun to spend time together.  Perhaps he will have some answers.  Dick?

Here’s to the great unknown and wondering where Pandora will take me next.

Well, the “next” it seems will be Annapolis with a few stops along the way.

Stay tuned and you will be the second to know.

 

 

She hoped for a zephyr. She got a tempest

Well, it’s been over two weeks since my last post and I feel badly about that so let me try to bring things up to date.  Here goes…

First, recall that Brenda and I participated in the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, an effort designed to help nearly 220 boats, stranded in the Caribbean by the Covid-19 virus, return home following the closing of nearly every island.

While some boats in the flotilla opted to take a northerly run directly toward New England, the bulk of the fleet, like us, chose a southerly route, departing from the USVIs, heading west, south of the Bahamas and on to Florida, a mostly down-wind route.

Even now, weeks after our departure, there is still a large flotilla making their way along that same route.  Here’s a screen shot of the group, 65 strong, as of this morning.  While many cruisers decided to take their boats north, some opted to stay in the Caribbean for the summer and not make the long run to the US.  The decision to stay in the islands was easier said than done with most all of the islands still locked down and closed to new arrivals.  As a result, they were faced with the difficult decision of keeping their boat wherever they were when islands closed their boarders, many deep in the the hurricane belt.

To avoid the risk of hurricanes, Trinidad is the only island generally considered to be safe, but that island is still closed and there is much uncertainty as to when the island will open up again and if they will do so before the hurricane season is in full swing.  At this time there is hope that boats wishing to summer in Trinidad will be able to head there, by mid June, at the earliest.

Additionally, getting insurance for boats summering outside of Trinidad, at an affordable price, or at all, is increasingly difficult due to the back to back destructive hurricanes that ravaged many of the islands.

A friend of ours, with a nearly new 47′ Hanse, is paying a premium of nearly $18k to keep his boat in Antigua where his boat happened to be when everything closed down.  That’s a huge premium with many restrictions and is indicative of the risk that the underwriters see for what is expected to be a particularly active season.

Happily, Pandora is now in the US and as long as I am north of Cape Hatteras by mid July, we will be in good shape.   I’ll be heading back to FL in a few weeks to bring Pandora north for the summer.

I say for the summer as opposed to “forever” as I am still holding out hope that there will be a next winter season of tropical sailing but, frankly, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.  Between the ongoing threat of the virus in the islands and the huge number of cases in the US, I expect that many countries will think twice before they welcome us from the US to visit.

The Prime Minister of Antigua recently stated that they may be forced to keep restrictions in place until a vaccine is available.  Additionally, I am wondering about island to island travel once we are there?   Will it be possible to go down the chain freely without a two week quarantine when transiting between islands?

I wouldn’t blame the local governments if they were concerned about visitors from the US given the fact that with only 4% of the world population we have  a third of the deaths and no national testing and tracking plan to manage things going forward.

And another and certainly the biggest complication in all of this is that Brenda, who was traumatized by how rough it was for the second half of our trip, is not enthusiastic about stepping aboard Pandora again any time soon, and surely not about heading south this fall.

As I mentioned in my last few posts, the first half of our trip was fairly benign, with conditions that were pretty much as ordered, modest winds from behind us and seas that weren’t too bad.  We even spent a few days motoring as the winds just weren’t strong enough to keep moving well.  However after we departed Great Inagua, things deteriorated and were much worse than expected.

For the first few days after leaving Great Inagua, Chris Parker advised us to go slowly, no more than 4.5kts so that when we exited the Old Bahamas Channel it would be late enough to have allowed the forecasted adverse winds in the Gulf Stream off of Florida to have calmed down.    With Pandora on a broad reach in 20kts of wind, keeping her speed down was no easy feat.   Even with a third reef in the main and with the boom centered along with a fully furled jib we were still moving along at a good 6kts which was still way to fast.

All I could think of to slow us down more was to trail a sturdy bucket behind the boat, which finally did the trick.  However, just a few hours later, we received another email from Chris telling us to speed up as the forecast had changed and we now had to make landfall in Florida sooner than he had expected in order to avoid a possible tropical low that was developing in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, out came the bucket and let me tell you, retrieving it was no easy task as I had not been able to put a trip line on the bucket and pulling it in was very difficult.   The seas behind us, at that time, were not that large but, never the less, looked ominous.  With the forecast changing, Chris advised us to go as fast as we could to avoid getting tangled up in what could be strong NE winds in the Gulf Stream, bringing with it short waves in the 10-12′ range, punishing or worse with wind and current opposing in the stream.

His email stating that there was a change in plans included words of warning, “this is going to be horrible”.   Brenda loved that…

One of the key issues for us in taking the southern route, below the Bahamas in the relatively narrow channel between the banks and the north coasts of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, was to stay out of the shipping lanes and yet not stray into water that abruptly rose from 1,000′ to 20′ or less. These shoal areas are very poorly charted and waves can pile up and break with such an abrupt change in depth.

You can see the shipping channels, west and east, on this chart.   Our plan was to stay just north of the west bound channel so we could be in deep water and still stay out of the way of shipping.   See the “ruler” showing 3.3 miles on the chart to give a feel for scale.    We didn’t want to stray any closer to the banks than a few miles, “just in case”. A closer view will give a feel for how close to the shoals the channel was, only a few miles.   However, it seemed to me, as I planned our route, that there was plenty of room to work with. However as made our way through the area and were within a few miles of the shoals, I had serious doubts about my plan as I started to get some odd depth readings on my depth-finder.   And, to make matters worse, it was in the middle of the night with no moon so there was no way to gauge the depth of the water by color.

As I came within a few miles of the shallow area on the chart, I began to see readings on my instruments suggesting that I may have strayed onto the shoals.  I have found that my depth sounder often shows random readings, even when the depths are great, which I assume are schools of fish, temperature gradients, seaweed or other debris that cause the instrument to flash random and very shallow depth readings from time to time.

However, in the dark of night and with little sleep, I really didn’t know what to think.   All I could imagine was that the charts were wrong as I was seeing accurate  readings suggesting depths of less than 20′, and counting down slowly to ten feet and less, only to begin counting back up to deeper readings before loosing depth readings altogether as we headed back off-soundings.  It sure looked to me like a grounding was going to happen at any moment.

Here I was, in the middle of the night, sleep deprived, and I wasn’t sure what to think as I just didn’t know what to make of the readings.  After seeing the depth readings methodically count up to alarmingly shallow depths and then back down, I became convinced that I was going to run aground at any moment.

At one point, after “bracing” for what seemed like an inevitable impact, with readings near the depth of Pandora’s keel, I decided to jibe, turning sharply away from the imagined shoals and back toward the shipping lanes only to see a continuation of unexpected readings.  I really have no idea if I was close to running aground or not but the charts, if they were correct, had me at least several miles away from the shoals.   The good news is that we didn’t run aground but I am still unsure if it was the instruments or if I was really in danger.  I guess I will never know.

The first time I had experienced this was was in 2016 off of the south coast of Cuba, again late at night,  in depths that showed on the chart as nearly 5,000′.  It was totally unnerving then too.  In retrospect, with a mile of water under our keel then, the readings were surely false.

After jibing and back toward and area that I was certain were plenty deep, we raced on to the west and Florida.  As we passed the Cay Sal banks to port, our course turned to the NW and we entered the Santaran Channel.  The wind freshened and squalls increased.  Still double reefed and with a fully furled jib we were now on a beam reach and moving fast.

Pandora, sails really well on a reach in those conditions, a double reefed main and no jib and we were flying along at 8.5 to 9.5 kts, sometimes as fast as 11 kts.  We were regularly hit by squalls with sustained 30 kts.  One squall followed along with us for nearly 8 hours.  That was a wild and wet ride and, as luck would have it, was in the dark with no moon so we couldn’t see what was coming until it hit us, and hit us it did.

Regularly, larger waves would slam into the side of he boat and rush over the deck.  One wave hit so violently we both thought that the vinyl enclosure on the aft of the cockpit had been blown out.  So much water came across the aft area of of the cockpit from the starboard side that we really thought that the enclosure had been breached.    As it was pitch dark at the time, it was difficult to see clearly but what we thought we saw, was quite unnerving.   Later, another wave hit the starboard beam with such a bang that I went below, sure that one of the ports had been breached.

Earlier in the trip, when we were running nearly dead down wind, we were “pooped” several times with waves rising up behind us and slamming violently against the transom.  Fortunately, not much water found its way into the cockpit but it made quite a noise.

A 40′ catamaran that was close behind us, was not so lucky and as a large wave ran up their stern, it flooded over the aft deck, stove in their in their big sliding cabin doors, and soaked their cabin.  They were able to clean things up and keep going but sustained a lot of water damage.

And, a number of other boats, mostly smaller ones under 40′, had boarding stern waves shove water up their exhaust, flooding their engines.  As a result, they  couldn’t get their engines started, unable to find a way to get the water out of their engines while underway.   A water-locked engine can be a common problem when waves hit the transom if there isn’t enough rise in the exhaust from the engine to where it exits the transom.   Unfortunately, salt water left in an engine for several days can be fatal to the engine.

Fortunately, Pandora’s exhaust system exits the transom close to the waterline following a large rise that brings it up under the cockpit and then down low again under the companionway before rising yet again to meet the engine.   Given that final rise to the engine, if water were to find it’s way into the exhaust, it would likely not reach the engine itself.

As I have doggedly pursued leaks aboard Pandora for years now, we had very minimal water below, in spite of the rough conditions, with the exception of a “new” leak around the mast boot on deck which got our custom mattress quite wet.  When we arrived in Ft Pierce I fully rinsed the mattress with fresh water and purchased a dehumidifier and a fan to be sure that it dried out quickly before any mildew set in.  I think it’s fine now but time will tell if it ever feels clammy.  Frankly, I was surprised that we didn’t develop more leaks given the massive amount of water that we took on deck.

Crossing the Gulf Stream, in conditions with about 30kts out of the east turned out to be a lot easier than I had expected except that a particularly persistent squall stayed with us for nearly eight hours, making for a miserable night.  We could see the squall all around us on radar but as we moved toward the NW, we were unable to move away from the rain and wind as it was moving in the same direction as we were, hour after long hour.

But wait, there’s more.  Things finally quieted down as we passed Miami but as we approached Ft Lauderdale, an hour before daybreak, we were hit by yet another nasty squall, just as we approached the sea buoy at the end of the channel.

Conditions were quite rough and as I dropped the main, the boom dropped lower than normal and nearly slammed into the top of the hard dodger.  Normally, the hydraulic vang holds the boom up but somehow some of the pressure had leaked out and it drooped down more than it should have.

I thought that the topping lift line was up enough but it wasn’t and the boom nearly crashed violently into the top of the dodger as the boat rocked from side to side in the swell.  After a few alarming moments as the 20′ boom slammed from side to side, I was able to secure an out-haul to stabilize it but working my way up onto the deck as the boat rocked violently was not fun especially after two days and nights with little sleep.

It’s safe to say that all of this was not amusing to Brenda but we made it and finally passed the breakwaters and entered calm waters.  We were back in the US.

When Brenda and I had been discussing the best options for getting us and Pandora home, we decided that her getting on a plane with the risk of contracting the virus so she reluctantly decided to make the run back to the US with me in what would be the longest run for her to date, some 1,500 miles, beginning in St Lucia, all the way to the US.

While the final run from the USVIs to FL was only about 1,100 miles, it was still nearly three times longer than her longest run to date and along the way the only option to stop and rest was Great Inagua, an unpleasant and exposed anchorage, with every other port closed and off limits, if things deteriorated.

So now, with Pandora back in the US, even if it’s only Florida, it’s looking very iffy that I’ll be getting Brenda back aboard any time soon.

Brenda wanted the run home to be a “zepher” but it turned out to be more like a “tempest”.

I guess time will tell with what the next chapter will look like for me, Brenda and Pandora.  For now, I’ll just focus on getting Pandora north and as Scarlet O’Hara once famously said.

“I won’t thing about that today, I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

On the home stretch, we think.

It’s Tuesday morning and I just shut down the motor that has kept Pandora moving since we left Great Inagua at 15:00 yesterday.  We are currently about 50 miles north of Cuba and making our way west toward the Old Bahamas Channel.  The wind has finally begun to fill in at about 10kts from the NE giving us a nice beam reach sail.  These conditions are expected to continue until tomorrow when the wind should increase 10-20kts, from the same direction.

We spent three days waiting for good weather in Great Inagua and with the exception of a few brief intervals of calm, it was a miserable anchorage, with a steady stream of swells coming around the southern tip of the island, making for very uncomfortable conditions as we rolled violently from side to side, sometimes enough to knock things off of the galley counter into the sink.

On the bright side, the water was impossibly clear and a beautiful shade of blue, a reminder of the past seasons that we have spent in The Bahamas in.   The water in the Caribbean, while nice, is nowhere as clear as it is in The Bahamas.  We were anchored in about 25′ of water and you could see the bottom as clearly as if it was a mere 5 feet deep.  I did go swimming once during our visit and while hanging off of the stern of the boat I could see the anchor chain entering the water and going all the way to the bottom.  I’d guess that you could see between 75′ and 100′ through the water.

As I mentioned in a past post, less than a half mile behind us the 25-35′ depth abruptly dropped off of a cliff to over 1,000′ deep and it was all I could do to keep from looking over my shoulder when I was in the water, imagining a shark lurking up and over the cliff looking for dinner.  Thanks Peter Benchley, you’ve ruined swimming in the ocean for me, forever.

Anyway, the water was a remarkable blue and while I did go swimming, I can’t say that it was relaxing.  Brenda decided to skip it.

Oh yeah, and I did I mention that it was HOT?  Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind as that did keep the wrap-around swell down somewhat but it made for a very hot anchorage.   Additionally, in the evenings, even thought we were hundreds of yards off of the beach, the mosquitoes were terrible.

Each night seemed to be progressively worse and by the third night Brenda and I ended up sitting in the salon swatting mosquitoes, well after midnight, trying to reduce the resident population, at least a little.   We have screens for our hatches but with the very light wind, to close them made it even hotter down below.  Finally, after several hours of swatting, Brenda went back to bed and I sat up alone trying to attract and destroy the rest of the “armada”.    It wasn’t until I had the brilliant idea of lighting a bug coil and placing it in the forward head that the problem was finally solved.   The mosquitoes were still there but somehow, they no longer tried to land on us.  Those coils really worked for us.

Anyway, after that “final” night we swore that we’d not stay for even one more and when you added the boat snapping from side to side, sometimes nearly 20 degrees in each direction, “enough was enough”.

Sympathetic cruisers who were in contact with us suggested that we put out a bridle on the anchor chain to the stern of Pandora to pull her more in line with the waves.  That would normally be a solution but with the light and variable wind, constantly changing direction, that was unworkable.

Chris Parker was advising us to stay there for another day but we just could not stand the thought  of another night at anchor 4-5kts and leave earlier.  The idea being that we would not get to the Gulf Stream until the adverse winds cleared out.   So, we left early but have to go slower.    With that in mind, we are trying to keep our speed down by going under main alone.  I expect that I will need to put in a reef soon, as well.  Making Pandora go slower goes completely against my instinct but, in this case, it’s what we need to do.

A friend of mine, Tom on Aladdin, is a day ahead of us and will be right in the middle of the nasty winds in the Gulf Stream so let that be a lesson to us in keeping Pandora from getting there too soon.

Keeping our speed low is important as we have to be sure that we don’t exit the Old Bahama Channel and Santeren Channel and into the Gulf Stream off of Florida until some bad weather that is forecasted to clear out by sunset on Thursday.

Keeping our speed down will be particularly tough as a NE wind in the 15-20kt range is supposed to arrive here later today and we will need to reduce sail to keep our speed down.   Hopefully, when I speak with Chris Parker this evening, he will say that conditions in the Gulf Stream will clear up a bit sooner than he had anticipated so we can keep moving.

When I say “clear up” I am referring to strong those strong NE winds in the 25+ range that will be in the Gulf Stream later in the week, and anytime that the wind in the Stream opposes the northbound current, you get really steep waves that are very close together.  In this case, they would be 10′-12′ steep waves, really miserable conditions and something that we really need to avoid.

Oh yeah, speaking of seasickness, Brenda has adapted to life at sea, a first for her.   She is eating well, knitting and reading and has also been able to stand watch both at night and during the day.

She is even able to move around down below, something that is normally not possible for her.  I will stop short of saying that she’s “having a ball” but at least she doesn’t feel sick all the time.  That’s good and is making a long trip more bearable for us both.

We are staying pretty loose on keeping watch while underway and it seems to be working out well for her to sleep down below until about midnight and then to stand watch for several hours while I catch some sleep myself.  It’s an informal plan and is working well for us both.

So, here we are on the “final stretch”, sort of, of a 1,500+ journey that began back some two months ago in St Lucia when the Covid-19 virus began to wreak havoc around the world.

I’ll admit that we are both anxious about re-entering the US given the fact that our home country seems to be really struggling to keep things from spiraling out of control.

So, with some luck, any changes in the weather forecast will be for the better and we will still arrive in Ft Pierce by late Friday or perhaps Saturday.  Of course, that assumes that we don’t have to divert to Key Largo or perhaps Miami to wait out adverse weather.

Wish us luck.

Half way home. Sheltering in Great Inagua.

It’s Saturday morning and here we sit, at anchor, in Great Inagua, the most southern island in the Bahamas where we will “shelter” until the coast is clear to make our way to Florida and the second half of our journey as part of the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla.  We are one of over 200 boats that are taking advantage of the support of this wonderful group.

I should note that I am a proud member of the SDSA board of directors and am thrilled with what all the volunteers are doing to support cruisers making their way home during this difficult time.   Up until only a few days ago, even being able to stop and rest here was forbidden and is only now available to us, in part, as a result of the hard work by SDSA volunteers and their work with the Government of The Bahamas on our behalf.

The sunrise as we approached Great Inagua yesterday morning was spectacular. When we first arrived, along with another 7 flotilla boats, we had a welcome sight, a USCG chopper paid us a visit. The USCG is always really supportive of the Salty Dawgs and carefully track the movement of the fleet each year.

It was a welcome sight to spy land for the first time since leaving the USVIs.  Not much to look at, I’ll admit. As we rounded the western point of Great Inagua, one of the very few lighthouses anywhere in the Bahamas.  Along the way here, we saw some spectacular sunsets.  And the setting full moon. And a day that had so little wind and calm seas that it might have been a sunrise  in August on Long Island Sound. Brenda and I are thankful for the many notes of encouragement congratulating us on being able to rest for a few days before heading out again.    Let me temper the thought of “resting” as the anchorage is remarkably rolly with the wrap around swell from the ocean.  And, with little wind, it’s oppressively hot and sticky.

As this chartlet shows, this is hardly a harbor, as we are basically resting in the lee of the island with the wind coming, more or less, from the east.  That’s Pandora, the red triangle to the left of the island.  BTW, the east in this chart is to the right.  As you can see, not much protection at all.  The swell that’s coming around the point isn’t particularly large but as it’s hitting us on the beam, causing us to snap-roll, up to as much as 15-20 degrees in each direction, sometimes violently enough to dislodge everything on the counter in the galley.  Last night, horrors, my stemless wineglass went flying on the chart table, with the contents of the “full” glass draining down into where the charts are stored.  The ensuring mess paled when compared to the terrible waste of wine.

And later, as I was pulling a package of meatballs from the freezer for dinner, they spilled back down into the freezer.  Fortunately, as Brenda made them herself, she knew exactly how many there were so I could confirm when I had collected every last one from the depths of the freezer.

Also, a bit unnerving is that we are anchored so close to a “cliff” where the water depth drops from the 20′ that we are anchored in to depths of 1,000′ and more, only a mere half mile away, as shown by the “ruler” on this chart. I thought that it would perhaps be helpful to provide some context on where we are, waiting for Chris Parker to give us the “all clear” to get underway again. BTW, that’s likely to be Monday a few days from now.

Our arrival in Great Inagua marks the successful completion of the first half of our voyage, with 550 miles of the 1,100 to Florida, now under our keel.  You can see the route in it’s entirety below.  Again, we are the red triangle.  Note that we are just north of the Windward Passage, marking the separation of Cuba and Haiti, the passage that Brenda and I took to get to Santiago de Cuba when we landed there from the Bahamas back in 2016. The remaining distance between us and Ft Pierce, where we will make landfall late next week, still seems like a long way off, and it is.   The run will take us west through the Old Bahama Channel, waypoints 13-16, and the Santarin Channel, waypoints 16-18 and then the rest of the way up to Ft Pierce.  The northward current in the GulfStreem will provide a boost of several knots,  as we make our way north the final 200 miles to our destination. Of course, being in Florida will not really be “home” as we will still have to drive the rest of the way to CT.  Our plan, once on land, is to leave Pandora in Ft Pierce and rent a car to make the run home non-stop, with me and Brenda sharing the driving, or should I say “standing watch”.  Oh boy, what we wouldn’t do to have a self driving car waiting for us.  I’ll return to retrieve Pandora in a few weeks with crew for the run to CT, as I have until mid July to have Pandora north of 35 degrees, or Cape Hatteras.

So, here we sit, waiting for the all-clear from Chris to get underway again.

I thought that I’d provide a look at his forecast for the rest of the trip, with some thoughts on what it should mean for us.  Of course, the last few days days of the forecast, in particular, are a long way off so they may very well change.  But, for the moment, it appears that the really nasty weather, that’s hitting the waters of Florida and the northern Bahamas over the weekend, should be history when we are making our run back to the US.

We expect to depart on Monday, the exact time subject to a revised forecast by Chris.  Here is Chris’s forecast as of today with his assumptions on how things will look each day as we make our way to Florida.

Chris:  During Monday the 11th daytime and nighttime: The wind will be variable at 0-15kts from a variety of directions.  You will be motoring.

Bob:  That’s good as it will be fairly calm and while we have motored a good amount already, we still have plenty of fuel left.

Chris;  On Tuesday the 12th all day and into the evening, the wind will be from the NE to ENE, building from 10k to 15k, with sailing on a beam reach.

Bob:  At that point, we should be near waypoint #12, north of Cuba. That should be good sailing as Pandora performs well with full main and jib in those conditions.  The seas should be reasonable and our speed, in the 6-8kt range.

Chris:  On Wednesday the 13th, the wind will be ENE at 15 with gusts to 20, ideal for beam reach sailing. 

Bob: At that point we will be in the Old Bahama Channel, a narrow waterway north of Cuba.  The conditions Chris describes sound pretty good, with the wind hitting the boat directly on the starboard beam, a comfortable point of sail and at those wind speeds, with little heeling, probably about 12 degrees.

Chris; On Thursday the 14th, wind will be from the east at 20, with gusts to 25 in GulfStream, sailing on a beam to broad reach.

Bob:  By then we will be off the coast of Florida and moving north.  With wind at 20 with gusts to 25 the sailing will be “sporty” but with a reef in the main, we should be OK.  At those wind speeds, and wind aft of the beam, but not too deep on the wind, Pandora should be hitting 8 to as much as 10 kts through the water helped along by the current of the Gulf Stream, giving us speed over the bottom of 10-14kts over the bottom.  This will, I hope, be very fast sailing.

Brenda:  “Fast sailing perhaps, but that day will pretty bumpy, or should I say shitty!  Just sayin…

Chris:  On Friday, heading north with the GulfStream from Miami-FtPierce, the wind veers from E to ESE or SE at 15-20 with gusts to 25.   And there may be a few mild squalls with up to 30kts of wind at any time between the Old Bahama Channel north to Ft Pierce.

Brenda:  “Shit, Shit, Shit.”

So, there you have it, here we are, sheltering in Great Inagua, waiting for the dust to settle along the path between us and Florida.  At least we can have a glass of wine in the evenings and not worry too much about the weather.   Of course, with all the rolling, we will have to hold on tight to our glasses.

While this post is, and nearly always is, “all about us”, there are a lot of other boats making the same journey now and in the next few weeks, with the next group heading out in the next few days.  This is a screen shot of the tracker as of Saturday morning.  That’s a lot of boats are underway.  You can see this tracker in real time, for yourself as the upcoming days unfold by following this link.

One more thing…  Sunday is Mother’s day and Brenda is none to happy about spending it here, having to clutch that celebratory wine glass tightly to keep it from spilling.

At least we have excellent cell coverage here so our son’s Rob and Chris will be able to talk to their mother.

And I know that they will, as they always are, very attentive to their mother.  They are very good boys!

Wish us luck.  500 miles to go to the US.