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Land ho! Actually, home ho! Tomorrow!

It’s Wednesday morning and I am snug on a mooring in West End, Soper’s Hole, Tortola, where Pandora will stay for two weeks until I return.  Yes, I am heading home to CT, but first to MD where I will visit our son Rob, his wife Kandice and, of course, little Tori, our granddaughter.  Actually, Tori isn’t quite so little any more, well at least not as little as she was when I saw her more than two months ago, prior to heading out for the winter aboard Pandora with Brenda.

“Grampy is coming to see me?  Who’s Grampy?”“Whatever.  I’ll get dressed up anyway, just in case he’s nice.  Do these pigtails make me look older?”My friend Craig headed back to work after a week aboard as we ran from Antigua to the BVIs and I have been alone since Saturday although I’ll admit that it feels like weeks. I don’t do “alone” well.  Actually, I haven’t been alone, just without Brenda, which is about the same thing.  “Bob, Bob, you are such a sap!  Pathetic, you’re an adult!”  Yes, I know but it’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

After Craig left on Saturday I decided to head over to St Thomas, Charlotte Amali, the largest harbor in the American Virgin Islands, so that I’d have access to my phone for “local” calls since I was going to be alone for a few days.  As luck would have it, my friends Maureen and Bill of Kalunamoo were there to so I followed them around for a few days.  That was a good distraction and it was fun to see the sights through the eyes of someone who’d “been there”.

The harbor was a riot of activity as there was some sort of week-long festival going on.    There was a nasty wrap-around swell coming into the harbor that made it pretty uncomfortable to be on board with Pandora rocking one way and the other all night long.   During the day there was loads of boat traffic that added to the confused waters in the harbor.

There was a powerboat race one afternoon and the crowds lined up on the waterfront to watch the action.This guy did a lot more “tooing and frooing” (sp?) than was really necessary as he showed off his boat.  Not sure how he did it, but he somehow found a way to make his outboard way louder than normal.   He did look pretty pleased with himself.   I guess if that was my boat, I’d do the exact same thing.  I am positive that my son Rob would be that way also, the “motor-head” that he is.

On shore there was plenty going on with stalls selling drinks and food along with blaring music pumped out of oversize speakers, each louder than the last.  There were also a number of steel drum orchestras, if that’s what you call them, including this “mobile” version with it’s own custom trailer.   I guess that this saves them a lot of packing up time when they need to get on the road.I enjoyed watching this group of kids playing their hearts out.This girl was clearly absorbed in the music.  Love the hair style.  I wonder it hurts to comb it out.If there was any doubt that I was back in U.S. waters with all the racing powerboats, the tricked out cars lining the road made it perfectly clear.   This line of VWs on display was terrific.No, this Bug is not “factory original” but awesome.  I wonder how many sets of tires he, and the owner must be a “he”, goes through in a year, or month?The waterfront is lined with historic warehouses with lovely alleyways lined with restaurants to explore.   A very popular pastime for visitors is to climb the “99 steps”, actually 103 but who’s counting.   They end at “Blackbeard’s Castle” although it’s now the site of an inn and restaurant.  The view of the harbor from up top was beautiful.With gardens and wonderfully restored buildings.
There’s Pandora out in the harbor, dwarfed by the nearby cruise ship.  The water looks smoother than it was.  Did I mention that it was bumpy? I loved this sculpture of three women who led a slave revolt in 1878.  Beautifully done.So, after a few days enjoying the sights in St. Thomas I headed back over to Tortola were I’ll be leaving Pandora while I head home.   Happily, Bill and Linda of Sapphire are here and will keep an eye on Pandora to be sure that all is well until I return.

The plan is for crew to join me here for the run north to CT in mid May.

I am looking forward to being home and then my return to Pandora.  I sure hope that the run north is smoother than our run was to get here in January, gales and all.

But, that’s another story and one that I am not looking to repeat any time soon.

Home Ho! Totally ready.

Pandora’s not in Kansas any more. Inching closer to home.

Nope, not in Antigua, I’m back in the U.S.S.A.   Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m in St Thomas, Charlotte Amalie, the largest port in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Yesterday I dropped Craig off at the airport in Tortola, capping a week together and a run from Antigua to the BVIs with a stop in St Martin along the way.

It was nice to spend time with Craig and great to have help to bring Pandora the 200 miles back to the BVIs where I will be meeting crew for my run north to CT in mid May.

I was even able to save Craig the cost of a cab ride as I took a mooring near the airport.  So near in fact, that it was only a one minute walk to the terminal from the beach.  That’s close.  I’ll bet that this isn’t a normal view of a walkway to the terminal when you head out to catch a flight.  Me neither.Brenda and I had heard about a “full moon party” that was held in Trellis Bay Tortola, the harbor where I dropped Craig at the airport, put on by some artist guy named Aragorn in a spot aptly named “Aragorn’s Studio”.  Aragorn?  I saw the guy and it seemed to me that he looked more like a “Burt”, albeit with an artist flair.   I wonder if he changed his name?  Actually, his real name is Dick. Hmm.  Surely “Dick’s full moon party” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Here he is working in his studio.  He’s the guy on the left.  He invited me into his studio, sand floor and all.    So much for OSHA safety regulations.  “Don’t worry, you’re in the islands mon.”  This link will tell you a bit about his background.
So, twelve times a year he throws a “full moon party” a sort of cookout in celebration of the full moon.   There are twelve full moons a year and twelve parties.  Get it?  Pretty symmetrical.

So Dick, AKA Aragorn, is a sculptor and makes all sorts of metal sculptures.  His work is very unique.  For the full moon party, he has made some huge open sculptures that he apparently stuffs with flammable stuff and lights them on fire, out in the water.This is what it looks like when the party is in full swing.   Well, I’m sure it looks great, but I guess you had to be there.  Perhaps next winter. And, there is a “full moon guy” too.   As you’d expect, the parties are held on the full moon so they happen on the lunar calendar verses the tourist calendar.  Even though there is a “real” full moon that same night, he provides a large round white sculpture that I think has spotlight projected on it to simulate the, not surprisingly, “full moon” just in case it’s not going to rise at a convenient time on the appointed evening.   As you’d expect, the “full moon guy” faces Aragorn’s (Dick’s) “moon”.   Aragorn is clearly a showman.  I’m impressed.

His studio is out back and is a jumble of materials and partially finished pieces. Clearly, he draws inspiration from nature in the Caribbean. With a marine theme throughout. This piece is about 8′ wide.  While there’s plenty for sale in his shop, the grounds are littered with much of his work as well as that of other artists that share his space. A lot of his work is fabricated from “found” items.  Once a cargo net?  Now, who knows but it is very purple.
I liked this driftwood “lizard”.  Or, perhaps it is a dragon.  I guess it’s up to you and perhaps how many rum punches you’ve had. Certainly, his signature pieces are the “fire balls” that star at his parties and this is how they start out.  He told me that they are mooring buoys and that finding them is getting harder and harder.  He gave me his card and asked me to keep an eye out for more like these.  I’ll bet that there would be an “Aragorn T shirt” in it for you if you find some.
I dropped Craig off and then had to decide what I was going to do with myself for the next five days until I headed back home for a two week visit prior to returning to the BVIs with crew to run Pandora north.   Those that know me understand that “alone” isn’t something that I do very well.

Not to repeat myself, but I really only want to be all alone while I am in the bathroom and that assumes that it doesn’t take too long.  “Brenda, can you come in with me and sit for a bit?  I need company.”

I was also a bit anxious about managing a 47’ boat, Pandora, for anchoring and picking up, horrors, a mooring if that’s the only option by myself.  The constant struggle for Internet and phone access is beginning to wear on me so I was also focused on being in a place where my T-Mobile phone was going to work consistently.  Oddly, in spite of that service having an “international plan” we found that it just didn’t work well in the BVIs or Antigua.   In other islands, it worked fine and provided excellent, if a bit slow, Internet access.

As the American Virgin Islands were only a few miles away I decided to make a run for the main harbor in St Thomas, Charlotte Amali.  Perhaps not the most scenic spot but convenient and provisioning there for the run north will be easier than Tortola, not known as the “gastronomic hotspot” in the Caribbean.  Did I mention that we love the French islands?   Can I have another baguette?

I don’t want to give the impression that St Thomas, with it’s fine T shirt shops, hasn’t got any good dining but I don’t believe it’s chock full of patisseries and I sincerely doubt that I’ll find a fresh baguette for $1 in these parts.  However, at least I’ll be able to visit an “American style” grocery to stock up on food for the trip north.  Can you say “Guys, how about soup for dinner tonight?  No? Hamburger helper?”   What do you expect from a country where cheese “American Cheese” named after the country isn’t even cheese?

So, here I am in St. Thomas and as luck would have it, my friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo are here too.  How convenient and now I have Maureen to keep me on the straight and narrow while I am away from Brenda.   “Down Bob, down Bob, only one ice cream per day for you.”   No, I’m exaggerating, if only this once.   Maureen would never say that.  She likes ice cream too.  It’s terrific to see them again.

My mother always says that I generally luck out.   What are the odds that some of my favorite cruising buddies would be here too?  For me, pretty good it seems.  Lucky me.

When Craig joined me in Antigua, we spent a few days seeing the sights albeit at a faster pace than Brenda and I have been at the last few months.  And, with only one week to move Pandora the nearly 200 miles from Antigua to the BVIs we had to keep moving.

Given the short timeline for our trip we opted to make the 100 mile first leg run from Antigua to St Martin at night.  We had a great run with a 16-20kt wind on the beam and made the run in 12 hours, an average of 8kts.  It was quite a ride and I always marvel at the amazing stars on an overnight passage.

From St Martin to North Sound in the BVIs, a somewhat shorter run, also took us about 12 hours as that run is nearly due west so the easterly trade winds were behind us.  However, we were also able to make that leg under sail the whole way.  It’s great to be able to run 200 miles in two legs and to be able to sail the entire time.   This was Craig’s first experience with “trade wind sailing” and he was liking it.  We even caught a small bonito tuna on our last day as we passed between some smaller islands in the BVIs. It’s much different than sailing in New England where winds always seem to be blowing from exactly where you want to go.

We arrive in North Sound BVIs at 04:00 and picked our way into the anchorage.   After a few hours of sleep we cleared in and took a mooring at the Bitter End Yacht Club, a very nice resort.   It’s very well manicured with paths along the water.  There are also plenty of “villas” up on the hill and plenty of spots to sit and relax. Perched on the hill, some of the villas look more like tree houses. Here’s Pandora on her mooring off of the beach.  We chose mooring “0” as it was the closest to the dock.As the sun set Pandora looked lovely framed by the palm trees. That evening a yacht, more like a ship, pulled up nearby. It was nearly 300’ long.
Savanna, doesn’t have a traditional transom. Actually, nothing about this yacht is traditional and her name is spelled out in cushions on the aft deck.  How trendy.  She sports a plumb bow and looks like she means business.Savanna sports a crew of 20.   A few of them on the dock give a feel for the scale of this boat. So what does it take to be able to afford such a yacht?   The answer is a net worth of $1,000,000,000.  Did I get the number of “0s”right?  That’s a billion.  And they say that when considering how much to spend on your yacht assume that you should not spend more than 10% of your worth on such an endeavor.   It seems that’s exactly what Lukas Lundin did when he had her built as it’s estimated that it cost him $100m by the time Savanna was launched in 2015.

His father was a co-discoverer of a very large oil field in the middle east and he’s now chairman of the company that bears his name.  Good thing as I’ll bet that Savanna has a pretty health appetite for oil.   Before you get too jealous of good old Lukas, he’s divorced.  I guess that a billion dollars can’t buy marital bliss.

However, he does have Savanna and she’s a remarkable vessel.  Unfortunately, she can’t be chartered so you won’t be able to see for yourself.  This article has some great shots of her interior.

So, here I am, back in the good old US of A, sort of.  Unfortunately, while I can make “local” calls on my T-Mobile international phone, I can’t get wifi over the phone so here I sit in a coffee shop typing away.

The harbor here in St Thomas is quite large, with room for many boats as well as huge cruise ships.    This one came in this morning and maneuvered itself up to the dock. As it turned to back into it’s berth it looked like it was going to sweep a few boats away in it’s wake.  It looked precariously close to this powerboat but probably wasn’t.I am told that sometimes there are four of these monsters in residence with one having to anchor out and use it’s stern thrusters to keep from swinging into the anchored boats.

I’ll be here for a few more days and then will head back to the BVIs where Pandora will be on a mooring for a few weeks till I return to bring Pandora north in mid may.

No, I am not in Antigua any more, or Kansas, but I am getting closer to home, inch by nautical inch.

 

St Martin, out. The BVIs, in. I’ll take that baguette to go please.

This is it!  I am heading to the BVIs this afternoon for an overnight run with Craig so today is my LAST day in St Martin.  As we prepare to leave it’s time to say goodbye to French food, baguettes, croissants, French wine, fine pastries and little bags of aromatic spices at farmer’s markets.

When I unzipped my camera bag this morning an intoxicating aroma of the islands wafted out and I was reminded that I had purchased some small bags of spices in the outdoor market yesterday.   I have to admit that I have been terribly spoiled by the French islands over the last few months to a point that I have developed a preference of one bakeries’ baguettes over another.

As access to great bread will come to a screeching halt after today, I plan to buy a “brace” of baguettes and a few croissants to bring along.  Yes, I know that baguettes get stale in a day but a stale baguette will be far better than any bread available in the BVIs.   “Bob, Bob, you are such a snob.  It’s disgusting!”.  Yes, I know and considering that I am one of those who “eat to live” verses those who “live to eat” that’s saying something.

As I write this I am sitting in a lovely little cafe, this is what’s in the case behind me.    I must avert my eyes lest I find myself drooling with nose and cheek pressed against the glass.  Oh wait, there’s more.  Is it sin to eat an eclair before noon?Well, at least I’ll have photos to look at and remind me of what awaits next winter when we return.

Last night Craig and I had dinner at a lovely little French place on the water.    And yes, that’s a bottle of French wine in the ice bucket.  I know that putting up photos of one’s meals is tacky but I can’t help it.  But wait, all’s not lost as the BVIs have the boat bar Willie T’s.  I visited it in January.  It has a certain charm.   Lovely clientele.   Very sweet, taking a nap together. Ok, Ok, I am exaggerating as there are some lovely spots in the BVIs but nothing competes with the French islands, nothing and I’ll miss it here.  But, as my father used to say “there’s always next time” and there WILL be a next time.

When Craig arrived on Monday morning we headed ashore but everything was closed because of the long Easter weekend.   There is, as is the case on most islands, a fort overlooking the harbor.

From the summit, the view of town and the harbor is beautiful.   We are anchored between the French side and Dutch side which is on the other side of the mountain to the left.  We are to the right of the small island in the middle of the photo with the little pointy top.  Actually, and not to be indelicate, that island, surely named by the French, is called “witch’s tit”.    Yes, I think I can see the resemblance to a certain anatomical feature if I think like the French.  Oui!The downtown area surely has a French feel with all the red roofs. As the lagoon on the French side is too shallow for large yachts, unlike the Dutch side, they have built a large marina surrounded by a breakwater in the harbor.   Here’s Craig “conquering” the fort.   Notice that he is sporting the same dorky type of hat that I wear.  So practical though.
And speaking of the French, which I was until I began focusing on Craig’s hat, ocean racing is dominated by the French and there is no shortage of go-fast yachts.  These are built with the singular goal of getting from here to there as fast as possible.  This machine was tied up at the St Martin Yacht Club.  She clearly means business.  No creature comforts here. Absolutely no protection from the wind and waves.   But, wow, I’ll bet she’s fast.   Looks completely miserable to me. Brenda’s goal is to “retire” Pandora and to get something to putt-putt up and down the CT River, preferably with a glass of wine.  Perhaps one of these would suit her.   It has just about everything she might want.    A motor, 5HP anyway.  A grill, check, umbrella, check, cooler, check and plenty of cup-holders.  Perfect!   And, while it was designed in France, with the name of Donuts Dream, it looks to me, totally “American”.  It even has running lights for use when it’s dark.  What more could you want?   Baguettes perhaps? Well, they have them here.    The donut boat company even has a facebook page.   You can follow them if you dare.  Nobody will know if you do, I promise.All kidding aside, BVI’s or bust it is and in about a week I’ll be back in the US with Brenda and will soon see our “now not so quite new” granddaughter Tori again.  I don’t know who’s more excited, me or Tori about my return as it’s been a few months since I last saw her.

Grampy is coming to see me!Grampy who?

I won’t think about that right now.

Well, that’s it, French food out, bar crawling in the BVIs, in.   No wait, home to Brenda.  Yes, that’s in.  Totally in!

Can’t wait.  I’m coming Tori.  Soon.

For now, I’ll take a baguette to go.  No make that 6.  I do need to keep my strength up.   Oh yeah, toss a few eclairs in the bag too.

Heading home, sort of…

It’s Easter Sunday and I have to admit that it doesn’t feel much like Easter. Brenda’s in MD with our son Rob and his family and it’s a beautiful day here in Antigua.  However, I’d rather be with Brenda and kin, frankly.

Yes, it’s a beautiful sunny day which is good as yesterday was uncharacteristically cloudy and rainy, something that I haven’t seen in at least a month.  Yes, we do get showers with fair regularity but a grey day with showers and rain, not so common.

Craig arrived on Saturday afternoon and seems to be settling into the cruising lifestyle.  Last night I invited two couples, Sue and David of Sans Cles and Al and Tess of Inomar, both Salty Dawg Sailing Association members and live aboard cruisers.  Sue and David are heading toward Panama for the hurricane season and no return home date on their calendar and Al and Tess will be heading back to work after taking a year off to cruise.

I thought that Craig would enjoy getting the perspective from cruisers to better understand “how the other cruising half lives”.

Yesterday we cleared out at customs as it’s our plan to set sail later this afternoon for the 100 mile run to St Martin.  Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to visit St Barths along the way, we have decided to bypass that island as it’s likely to be somewhat rolly in the anchorage with the expected north swell.

The wind forecast is for moderate easterly trades which should make for a very nice run.  I expect that we will pick up anchor and get underway around 16:00 this evening.  Of course, if you are curious, you can follow along under the link “where in the world is Pandora” on the home page.  Or you can go right to the dedicated Google Maps page and see where we are “sort of” right now.

Customs, where you clear in and out here, is located in English Harbor, home of Nelson’s Dockyard.  As they are hosting the Classic Yacht Regatta, only a week away, a remarkable collection of boats are beginning to arrive for the festivities.

After finishing up the paperwork required to leave Antigua, Craig and I walked out to the lookout at the head of English Harbor, to the spot where British troops were once stationed to watch out for enemy ships.    Along the way was a beautiful flowering tree with perhaps a dozen hummingbirds vying for the most choice flowers.  Now, we are working to get a glimpse of the beautiful classics.  Turn around, face the harbor and there is plenty to look at.  A few days ago these docks were nearly vacant.  Now, more yachts arrive every day.  In a week’s time the place will be wall to wall classics.  As we watched, the three masted schooner Spirit of Bermuda rounded the point and prepared to enter the harbor.   She was built in Rockport maine and launched in 2006 and serves as an educational vessel and ambassador for Bermuda.  I have seen her in Maine and now here.  She’s a sight to behold with her impossibly tall masts.    You can crew on her if you’d like to spend time aboard.  Check out their site. The deployed their dink to help maneuver into position to med-moor against the bulkhead at the dockyard.They dropped their two bow anchors and backed toward the dock yard wall. The line handler caught the lines tossed to him by crew.  Neat, what you can do with action shooting at 4 frames per second.  Action shot, anyone?Even though they had a large crew on board, a tender pushing the stern as needed and line handlers on shore, it still takes brute strength to bring everything together.
While this will soon be the near exclusive domain of classics, there are a few super high tech beauties there.  It’s hard to believe that the “little” one on the left is nearly 100′ long.  Nice cockpit.  However, not a lot of protection from the sun.  Well, this is the last post I will do from Antigua this year as later today we begin heading home, sort of.   Craig and I will be leaving this afternoon for our run to St Martin, a few days there and then on to the BVIs where Pandora will sit for two weeks while I head home for a short visit.

It’s a bummer to be away from Brenda for so l0ng but at least I know that as I head toward the BVI every mile brings me closer to her and home.

Well, wish us luck in our overnight voyage tonight.  It should be a great sail with wind and a clear night to carry us on our way.    Antigua’s been nice but I can almost taste the baguettes and pastries.  You gotta love those French islands.

Yes, it’s good to be heading home, sort of…

 

 

Another day in Antigua. Iconic yachts everywhere.

Well, here I am and it’s yet another day in Antigua.   Brenda’s settled in at home in CT and my friend Craig arrives in a short while for a week of sailing.  I expect to be underway and bound for the BVIs by Sunday evening.  We hope to stop in St Martin and perhaps St Barths along the way, but it looks like that a coming north swell will make the St Barths anchorage unpleasant.  Alas, an extra day enjoying French food in St Martin.  I expect we will find a way to adjust.

A friend of mine sent me a note a few days ago asking “what great boats arrived in Antigua today?”.   That’s a good question as it does seem that, as the classic yacht regatta gets closer, more and more iconic yachts are making their way here every day.

Just for fun, and it was fun, I walked around Nelson’s Dockyard today and took some shots of a few new-comers.

Of course, it’s debatable if there is a more iconic yacht than Bolero, the Olin Stephens designed 72′ yacht launched in 1949.  She was first to finish in the Bermuda race three times and set a speed record for that race that stood or 17 years.  Her current owners have lavished attention on her and she’s a sight to behold. This article from Yachting is worth reading about the history of this very special yacht.

Here’s a modern classic from Gannon and Benjamin in Martha’s Vineyard.   This isn’t the first photo I have posted of Juno but what a beauty she is and to see these two magnificent yachts right next to each other.  What a sight.Want to see more about Juno.  This link has a number of additional photos.

Perhaps the most remarkable arrival today is the schooner Columbia, a replica of the famous fishing schooner of the same name launched in Essex MA in 1923. Years in the planning and construction, Columbia is true to her history.    At 141′ long, she is sleek and a sight to behold.   This is an excellent article and gives a good feel for how much thought and care went into bringing her to life.  I wish I could be here in Antigua to see her stretch her legs.  Alas, I have to leave before the racing begins.

You get a feel for the attention to detail down to how carefully her jib is stowed.This video of her launch and sea trials is worth viewing. Of course, there are still plenty of “big girls” that dwarf these classics here in the harbor.  How about this lineup?  “Excuse me, can you spare a bit of Grey Poupon?”Just about everything here seems bigger than the next.  The masts tower into the sky. To give you a feel for the scale of these monsters.  This closeup of the mast on the left above has someone working aloft.  As I type away, I a feathered visitor seems completely unconcerned that my hands were typing away so close by. Well, I could go on all day about the magnificent yachts here in Antigua.  Perhaps I’ll, close with shot of a rising nearly full moon last night.  What a view. Yes, just another day in Antigua and what a day it is.

It’s almost time to meet Craig at the dock and head out to Pandora, a welcome “tot” of rum and a swim.  Yes, that will surely set the tone for Craig’s visit.

Welcome to Antigua for yet another day in the winter home for the icons of yachting.

 

Yes, I’ll have a tot. We do have to keep busy, right?

Well, my visit here in Antigua is just about over as my friend Craig will arrive tomorrow and we plan to head up to St Martin on Sunday night.  We’d love to stop in St Barths but there is a large northerly swell running that will likely make the anchorage there very rolly.

I spoke with Chris Parker, our weather router, today and he told me that the sailing conditions should be great, likely a broad reach in 15-25kts, but that any anchorage that might be affected by a northerly swell, in this case 7-8′, is probably best to avoid.

I guess I’ll check back with Chris on Saturday and see if his forecast might have changed.    Happily, my SSB radio is now back in perfect health which is just so great.  I have participated in a number of nets over the last few days and I am told that indeed they “can hear me now”.  What a relief.  It took months and more than a few “boat dollars” to sort through that problem.   All better now.

When Brenda and I were tied up in English Harbor Antigua during our last visit here a month ago, while our son Christopher was visiting, we saw a group of folks standing outside of a bar in the dockyard doing some sort of chant.  Actually, the looked positively “druidesque”, if you ask me. When we returned to Antigua last week, our friends Sue and Dave of SV Sans Cles, invited me (Brenda had already flown back to CT) to participate in an evening meeting of, what I now know is the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda.

Ok, sure, I’ll go.  How could I say no? And, I didn’t.

So here’s the deal and once again this proves, without a question, that there is indeed a club for everything and everyone.  And now that I know about the Royal Navy Tot Club I am fairly certain that the Brits lead the way in that department.

So, you might be asking yourself, who are these people that stand in a circle and drink rum?   This is what they have to say about themselves.

“The Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda was formed in 1991 by a small group of ‘like minded people’ who met at the end of the working day to toast the Queen and reinstate the Royal Navy’s tradition of a daily tot of rum which had been discontinued in 1970.

Very soon, others began to join the ‘circle’ and the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda developed into an organisation recognised not only in Antigua but worldwide.  The Tot Club formalised itself by writing some rules known as Standard Operating Procedures.  It is only possible to join the Tot Club in Antigua and well over 500 have joined to date.  An aspiring member has to be invited to join by an existing member and pass though a joining routine which includes a test on Royal Navy history.

The Tot Club meets at 6 pm each evening when guests may be introduced, announcements made relating to points of interest and a reading from Royal Navy history pertinent to that day.  The reading is followed by a toast which is different for each day of the week, however, all toasts end with the words ‘…and the Queen, God Bless Her’.”

All of this grows out of a long tradition in the British Royal Navy to issue rum/grog to the troops.  Sadly, this tradition was abandoned in the 70s.  I guess in our “PC” obsessed world, issuing rum aboard ships full of guys with big guns was no longer considered to be a good idea, and to carry on that tradition was the reason that the club was formed.

They even have an “official” website  .  Who knew?

So, Sue and Dave delivered me to my official meeting of the Royal Navy Tot Club.  It was a hoot.

“Bob, what was it like?  Do tell.”   Here’s the deal.  To join the club you must show up for seven nights within 14 days and “take a tot” of rum.    Of course, to attend you must have a sponsor and be recommended by a full member, in my case, Willie and Kathleen.  A nice couple who were sponsors for Sue and Dave.    Don’t they just look so, well, so British?I won’t go into all of the details of what transpired except to say that on your “introductory visit” you, and in this case, I was presented with  a “megatot” of fine Pusser’s rum, the very same that was issued to the troops for so many years,  in a rather large, or so it seemed to me,  glass tumbler.  The deal was, that when prompted, I was to take the “full measure” in a single gulp.  And, let me tell you, it was a big gulp.

The group gathered around a table with a “tot” in one hand and a water “chaser” in the other.    You really need that chaser to take away a rather substantial burn from such a gulp of rum.  Well, I needed it. Before the tot and chaser, a passage, I guess about Lord Nelson, is solemnly read.  That evening’s “reading” was shared from “the book” by Peter, a very solemn British bloke.  After that, well, I am not completely crystal clear on what happened after my “tot” but I am confident that Sue and Dave were “inducted” and I was smiling.   As near as I can recall, it was a lot of fun.

Fortunately, with the exception of the “intro” night and the night of “induction”, you can pour your own tot so it needn’t be too big and after a week of that and memorization of important facts and details, you may become a member.

Unfortunately, I won’t be here for another week so I will be deprived, at least until my next visit to Antigua, from applying to be a full member of the Royal Navy Tot Club.

Well, at least there is something to look forward to when Brenda and I return to Antigua next winter.

Don’t you feel sorry for all the sailors here in Antigua who don’t know about this exclusive club?   So, what does everyone else do to keep busy if they can’t attend?

Well, last night, aboard The Maltese Falcon, it was movie night.   Yes, movie night.  Unfortunately, while I did spend some time with the crew of Marie, the 200′ Vitters Ketch that Brenda and I sailed on two years ago. I wasn’t invited to the movies aboard Falcon.  They unfurled one of the aft sails and voilas, a movie. So, if you wonder what folks to do keep busy here in Antigua, now you have your answer.    If you are one of the .001% crowd, movie night.  For the rest of us, assuming that you know the right people, there may be a tot waiting for you here in Antigua.

You just can’t make this stuff up.   And why would you want to when real life is just so entertaining.

Sure, I’ll have a tot.  Just one more, for now…

The Maltese Falcon and a pain in my AIS.

I wasn’t sure what to have as a title to this post and was thinking that I might use yet another reference to whacking moles.  However, as has been the case with so many issues that have come up this winter, I thought that something about it being a “pain in my AIS” was more fitting.  So, that’s the title…

Anyway, dear reader, I have certainly had my share of “technical challenges” with Pandora this winter and it is worth noting that, for the moment anyway, the FINAL mole was whacked into his hole as of this morning.

When the SSB radio crapped out a while back we had a power surge that also took out the AIS transponder.  AIS, the following link is a bit outdated as the system is required on much smaller vessels now but not on those as small as Pandora.

Automatic Identification System, is a program similar to that used by aircraft designed to make it easy to identify who’s going where and how close they are likely to come to one another.  From my perspective, it is a terrific safety feature to have aboard as it allows us to monitor other vessels in the area and to determine if they are a threat to us.

Getting the AIS repaired proved to be problematic and we ended up having to purchase a new one.  That was very painful but it had to be done.   The installer, with the hope of saving time for the installation, made a point of replacing it with one from the same manufacturer so that it could use the same cabling and simplify the installation.   Well, it did include the same cables but getting it up and operational proved to be anything but simple.

As so many hours are in the SSB replacement job, I opted to do the AIS installation myself.  The electrician labeled the wires so I’d know which went where.  Simple yes?  Not!

I put it in place, powered it up and it sent out a signal but didn’t show up on my plotter.  Fast forward a day of fussing along with a few hours of diagnostics this morning it still didn’t work.  After we had exhausted every possible option the manufacturer finally suggested, “just switch the two wires and see what happens”.   Well, it worked.  All better now.  Of course, we won’t talk about the hours I messed around with it and all the back and forth with the installer.

With a functioning AIS I will be able to see all the big boats on my plotter and will be able to see them on my chart plotter including how fast they are going and how close they will come to me.   As an added bonus, those ships will also be able to see Pandora, assuming that they are looking, which they sometimes aren’t.  You too can track Pandora using this system on your smartphone.   Check out this link “where in the world is Pandora” to learn more 0n how to, sort of, “friend” Pandora and keep track of where we are.

All better now.  So all that’s left is to pay for all the work that’s been done over the last few weeks.  It’s going to be interesting to see what the bill says.  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.   It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.

The good news is that Pandora is operational now and ready to head off into the sunset.   Let’s hope that no more moles show up.

Enough of that for now.  Let’s talk about boats, no make that REALLY BIG YACHTS.    How about the Maltese Falcon, an ultramodern square rigger, a nearly 300′ long technological wonder, as it were?   She’s one of the largest, and certainly the most technologically complicated sailing yachts in the world today. She was launched in 2006 in Turkey and was built for the Venture Capitalist, Tom Perkins, perhaps one of the most successful ever.  He made his money investing in early web startups including Amazon, Google, AOL and other high profile businesses.   And given the fact that he made his m0ney in Tech, it stands to reason that Falcon would be so technologically advanced.   Her rig, known as Dynarig, was originally designed as a way to power cargo vessels.

She’s known as The Maltise Falcon, but as I motored up to her transom I realized that she’s actually “Falcon” from Malta, the country where she’s registered.  Oh yeah, I get it.  Clever.Perkins is deceased now and Falcon was sold a few years ago for $60,000,000 Euros, which is proof that no matter how much you have, “you can’t take it with you”.  However, if you rank him on the “he who dies with the most toys wins” scale, Perkins was a standout.

Falcon is now owned by a charter company and it is no longer used as a private yacht.  However, if you want to sail on her you have to pay for the whole kit and kaboodle.  No renting a cabin on her, it’s all or nothing.   Check out these photos and videos.  Amazing.

Want a video tour of your charter option?  Check this out. 
You really get a feel for her “hugeness” when you see one of her 17, count em, crew on deck.   Big boat, little crew person, by comparison. Her unstayed masts rotate to orient her 15 square, self furling, sails totalling nearly 26,000 square feet of sail,  to the optimal angle of the wind.  When fully furled they are oriented fore and aft, I guess, to minimize windage.  Windage? Good luck with that on a 300′ yacht.  When viewed from her stern, the pattern of the spars remind me of a double helix DNA strand. Falcon was the largest sailing yacht in the world when she was launched and surely reigns supreme as one of the grandest “high tech” achievements on the water today.    I am amazed every day when yet another magnificent yacht sails into Falmouth harbor here in Antigua.   I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

As amazing as they are, I can’t help but wonder what sorts of moles their crew must spend countless days whacking into their mega-yacht holes.

For me and Pandora, and I don’t want to jinx it, perhaps the worst is behind us but there is one thing for sure keeping her running well can sometimes be a big pain in the AIS.

I can’t wait till I get the bill.  As they say, “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.   Well, I’m asking and my fingers are crossed.

Wish me luck.

Grand Dames of Antigua

Well, that’s it.  Brenda caught a cab for the airport on Sunday and I am on my own until Friday when Craig arrives.  I’ll focus on Craig’s arrival as I don’t want to think about the fact that I won’t see Brenda again until the 17th when I fly to Baltimore to see our son Rob, daughter-in-law Kandice and mother of our granddaughter Tori.  I can’t wait to see them all and Brenda will be there when I arrive too.

So, here I am ALONE in Antigua, admittedly a magnificent place that I couldn’t even have imagined visiting until a few years ago.

Alone or not, I’ll just have to make the best of it by having ice cream each day and take pictures of some ot the magnificent yachts here in the harbor.   Yes, ice cream and sailing yachts.

And what better yachts to focus on than the magnificent “J” class, the America’s Cup racers from the 1930s, of which there are only eight in the world, with another three in the development/build stage right now.  Already, there are more of these remarkable racing machines in existence than was the case when they were raced for the America’s cup during the Great Depression.  There is a website dedicated to the class.    It’s worth checking out.

As I understand it, the class was revitalized by Elizabeth Meyer who funded the rebuild of Shamrock V, the first of the “Js” to be rebuilt back in the 80s.  Actually, most of them on the water now are replicas built from the original plans as the boats themselves didn’t survive.

There is a special event here in Antigua in a few weeks, the classic yacht regatta, probably the largest gathering of classic yachts in the Caribbean each year.   Antigua is also the place that many of these huge sailing vintage America’s Cup yachts make their home for the season and I think that there are 5 or so of them here right now.   In May they will head up to Bermuda to race in conjunction with the America’s Cup event itself.

Brenda and I were here for nearly a month in March and now that we are back, many of these beauties are still here.  I know that they have come and gone for other superyacht regattas in St Barths and the BVIs.

These boats, while each unique, have a similar hull shape and are not to be confused with most any other classic design.  With most over 100′ long, they are sleek and fast.  The first of the J boats to hit the circuit in modern times was Shamrock V, the only wood J sailing today.  She is wood on metal frames and was restored by Elizabeth Meyer back in the 80s, long before the huge sailing yachts were as popular as they are today.   She has beautiful copper colored hardware, all custom, I would expect. While most of them have their woodwork covered while they are at the dock, they have impressive attention to detail as does Topaz.One of the boats Velsheda, has it’s own “tender” a magnificent yacht designed to look like a classic.  Bystander is it’s name, the same name as a tender owned by Vanderbilt when he campaigned a J in the 30s.  Can you imagine having the ability to have a 100′ racer and a support yacht like this?Neorion was launched in 1999 and yet looks like she might have been build 100 years ago.  She was built in the Netherlands and was completely refitted just a few years ago.
The attention to detail on Neorion is really remarkable.  You can’t let this varnish go for even a moment. Now here’s a real looker, Adix.  She’s probably the largest boat here in Antigua right now.  She’s also new and is over 200′ long, 213′ not to put too fine a point on it.   Learn more about her here.
She has a number of “toys”.  Nice little daysailer.  Nice davits too.  Everything about these yachts is huge.  How about the scale of the masts on this one. This is a Wally tender, I think made in Italy and cost, well, they cost a lot.   However, it’s peanuts compared to the “mother ship”.Of course, there are plenty of contemporary designs in the harbor.  I wrote about Leopard recently.  She’s one of the fastest mono-hulls in the world, capable of speeds of about 40kts.  She’s available for charter if you have the coin.   She looks fast from the bow. And from the stern.  All business. And speaking of charter, 100′ Penelope was designed for the charter business and even makes the point on her stern, “by Luxury Living”.   Check out her site.Want to charter but prefer a grey ride?   Check out Seawave. She’s fast too.  The site says that she cruises at 9kts and has a top speed of 11kts.  Pandora goes 9kts and she’s less than half as long.   Heck, skip this and go with Leopard if you want fast as she’s 4x faster.
Fast, sleek or even grey, there is nothing that compares to a classic schooner and Elena was designed by Nathaniel Herreshoff “the wizard of Bristol” in RI in 1911. Her namesake didn’t survive but the design lives on in Elena, a replica launched in 2009.I guess that the owner wasn’t hurt too much by the recession.    Check out her site.  Lot’s of great information about this remarkable yacht.

However, classic or not perhaps the queen of the fleet here in Antigua, if age and heritage is any measure, would be Mariette, also a Herreshoff design but she’s an original and was launched 102 years ago in 1915.   What an amazing boat.    Check out some great photos and information about her history hereWell, I guess that’s about it for now.  I could go on all day as there are many more yachts that I have not included here.   Antigua, at least in the winter season, is home to the world’s most magnificent yachts, that’s for sure.

And what better place to view the scenery than where Brenda and I had her “departure dinner” on Sunday before she flew out for home.  Did I mention that Brenda’s gone home?  I miss her, even if the Grand Dames of Antigua are here and she’s not.

SSB mole whacked and it feels great! Finally!

I can’t believe it.  After months of frustration, the SSB long distance radio is back and running and it feels wonderful.   This morning I was actually able to talk to someone in FL as well as Bonaire.   To be able to say “can you hear me now?” and get an answer… Perfect.

I won’t recount all of the SSB trials and tribulations but I began to have problems months ago and it finally gave up the ghost back in late January.  Unfortunately, and for a number of reasons, not the least of which was a major misdiagnosis by the electronics guy that getting everything back in order has taken a really long time.    However, it works now and that’s good.

The only thing left to do will be to wrestle with the electronics guy when he presents me a bill that will likely include time spent on “a wild goose chase” or should I say “wild mole chase” for hours, no make that several days spent hunting for the real problem.  Anyway, days before the tech came to the same conclusion, I as pretty sure that it was the tuner but it wasn’t until he and I both reached out to ICOM tech support that he finally realized that the tuner was a major part of the problem.   Oops.  Very expensive Oops.

So, here we are again in Antigua, Falmouth harbor and Brenda flies out tomorrow for home.   I am sorry to have her go but she has a conference in TN that she wants to attend so that’s that.

Our trip south this winter was shorter than normal for a number of reasons, but it looks promising that we will be able to spend more time aboard next winter which will give us the time needed to go further south and spend time exploring the Windward Islands, perhaps as far as Grenada as well as many of the islands we had to skip this year due to a lack of time.

My good friend Craig will arrive on Friday to spend a week aboard while we make a run for the BVI.  It will be a lot of fun as it’s almost assuredly a downhill run and we have plans to stop in St Barts, St Martin and then in the BVIs where he will fly home.

After a few days spent cleaning up Pandora and no doubt visiting with other cruising friends in the BVIs, I’ll fly back to the states for two weeks to spend time with our son Rob and his wife Kandice as well as our new granddaughter Tori before I head home to CT with Brenda to get our house and gardens in shape for the spring.

After all that, I’ll head back to the BVIs in mid-May to bring Pandora north for the summer.  There are plenty of projects that will need to be done on her before I head south again in the fall as well as a solid list of “land home” projects like remodeling yet another bathroom that will keep me plenty busy.

Of course, I hope to fit in a bit of cruising in New England but Pandora will have plenty of time to rest after the many miles she will have traveled during our first winter in the eastern Caribbean.

It’s remarkable that we are here, Brenda and me, after so many years of being together and I have to say that I would have never imagined that I’d  ever be in a position to say that we have now spent five winters afloat and have spent so much time heading up and down the U.S. East Coast, sailing in the Bahamas, Cuba and now the Eastern Caribbean.   Who knew?

So, back to now, today, here in Antigua.  It was great to get up this morning and see this beautiful sunrise.It rained a few times last night so the salt was rinsed off of the decks.  That’s good as it was pretty thick after our somewhat sporty run from Guadeloupe the other day.

One of the squalls arrived after sunrise and left a beautiful rainbow in it’s wake.  I have posted so many sunrises and rainbows, you’ll just have to trust me that these are not recycled.  Honest…really.

When we were in Les Saintes last week I was impressed with how clear the water was, even near the docks and by the number of small fish that schooled near shore.   I wish that I could take underwater shots that look this good.  These “minnows” are about 6” long and are fished for by the locals.  They are pan fried whole and eaten, I am told, like French fries.  Yum… I guess…I thought that this ship/tug, military I think, was pretty neat. We saw her in a number of harbors in Guadeloupe.   I’ll bet that she can handle pretty rough seas. This ship, the Oosterschelde, now doesn’t that just roll off the tongue, is a three masted schooner training vessel from the Netherlands.  She will celebrate her 100 anniversary next year and is still going strong.  We have seen her in a number of harbors, most recently when she arrived in Antigua this morning.  She’s a bit rough but has nice lines.The stern is pretty jaunty, right?So, I guess that’s about it for now.  Brenda’s leaving, the SSB is working and I am going to be lonely, well, at least until Craig arrives on Friday.

After that, it’s north I go and back to sort of “real life”.   Let’s hope that I can keep the moles in their holes until I get back home.

A walk in the woods, Dominica style.

It’s Tuesday and Pandora is back in the islands of Les Saintes, just south of Guadeloupe, making our way back to Antigua where Brenda will fly out for home on Sunday.

Yesterday we had a great sail back yesterday from Dominica, a beam reach with about 15kts of wind.  We moved along nicely, sometimes at over 9kts.   What a perfect dqy on the water.

Visiting Dominica was a real treat.  We had been told that Dominica was one of the most beautiful islands by a number of cruisers and they weren’t lying.   It’s very rural and quite different than the other islands that we have visited this winter.  I have to say that the variety is one of the best parts about this area as each island has it’s own unique personality and most all are within a day long sail.

For our rainforest tour we hired the same guide, Faustin Alexis, that we had used to do the river cruise.  He does a very good job.  He was busy that day so sent us with his nephew Fitzroy, a nice young man.  However, if you can, I recommend that you ask for Faustin himself as he is especially entertaining.  He can be reached on VHF channel 16 or at faustinalexis@gmail.com  His phone is 1-767-615-8821.

We were picked up at our boats by Faustin precicely at 08:00 and brought to the fisherman dock where we joined a van to take us up to the rainforest, a long and winding trek up into the mountains to the center of the island.   Some fisherman were cleaning their nets as we arrived at the dock. As we climbed the winding road you could feel the air get cooler as we rose in altitude.   The van seemed to work pretty hard to make it’s way along the increasingly narrow and steep roads, most of which were barely wide enough to pass.

Commercial farming has not found it’s way to this island which is a good thing.  They are still practicing “slash and burn” agriculture where a small plot of land is cleared in the forest and planted with a crop such as yams, coffee or perhaps bananas.  This “plot” is farmed for several years until yields decrease and than it is abandoned to be reclaimed by the forest.    This approach to farming is very gentle on the environment and can go o for hundreds or even thousands of years without destroying the forest.  This assumes, of course, that the clearing is done in moderation.  Unfortunately, in much of SE Asia, commercial farming, especially for palm oil and sugarcane, in part to fuel the ethanol/biofuel market is ravaging the tropical forests.  So much for “green” fuel.  Thanks Al Gore for helping to encourage such practices.   Think of him when you next fill up your SUV with gasoline that’s 10% ethanol.

Anyway, I digress.   Our trip took us by some beautifully tended farm plots as we drove up into the mountains.   Each tuber, probably yams or something, were planted in a perfect little mound of soil. Later a pole is inserted so the vine can grow up and mature.  Banana flowers are distinctive and lovely.   I understand that it takes many months for bananas to mature and then the plant itself dies.   However, little shoots come out of the base of the plant that flowered so they are removed and planted by themselves to begin the process all over again.  Bananas are not grown from seed, just from shoots off of those “mother” plants. When  Brenda and I were in highschool we purchased a banana plant that we had in our home for many years after we graduated from college.  That plant, or shoots from that plant, live on today in a friend’s garden in Florida, nearly five decades later.   Sorry, no bananas until “Bob” as the plant is known, found his way to Linda’s garden in Florida.   He’s doing very well now, thank you.

Actually, Brenda and I visited “Bob” last winter.  Here’s “Bob” with me and his “mom”, Linda who he lives with now.  Brenda and I no longer have many indoor plants now that we are away for such a long time in the winter. The locals also grow coffee up in the mountains.  The beans grow right on the branches and are harvested by carefully plucking off each ripe bean as it begins to turn red.  There were many birds in these garden plots carved out of the fores.  We spied a hawk looking to feast on something a little farther down on the food chain. Along the side of the road, plants so beautiful it was hard to remember that these are a “weed” of sorts here.   Nice weeds.  We spotted this beautiful amaryllis growing on the side of the road.  I don’t know for sure if this is endemic to the island or if it was planted.  Of course, you’d recognize this from the same bulbs that us northerners force for holiday bloom.  These flowers were the size of a large salad plate.   Beautiful. Not all the flowers were that showy.  Some were not much larger than a fingertip. I saw this beautiful vine growing on a dead branch.  The leaves are smaller than a pencil eraser. Everywhere you look something wonderful.  These ferns sported fronds that were only an inch or so long. It was hard to focus on them when faced by what might be called the “queen of all ferns” the tree fern.  They grow to great heights and look like something right out of Jurassic Park. Even big ferns start out little, but not that little.   No short jokes please.  There isn’t much more impressive than a stand of tree ferns in the distance. A mix of textures and shades of green.
As we entered the forest we were blown away by the majesty of it all.  Hard to take in the scale of these trees that lined the path. One view more magnificent than the last.
Just huge.Everything is competing for light.  The trees grow up and everything else uses the trees to climb up too. Some were hundreds of feet tall up in the canopy with roots that ran all the way to the forest floor.   Anything to reach the light.Some plants very small like this vine with leaves that were barely an inch long.  Vines of nearly every shape and size clinging to their host.
Once things drop to the forest floor don’t last long as there are plenty of fungi ready and willing to make short work of them like these beauties. We nearly stepped on this tiny frog who was hopping in the middle of the path. He blended in perfectly, well almost perfectly, into the ground litter. Along the way we stopped to do a short hike up a riverbed to an amazing waterfall.    As we made our way into the forest we spied the only orchid that we saw in bloom.  This one was growing on the side of the road.  The flower spike was several feet tall.  This African Tulip tree, with magnificent flowers was quite a stunner.  Each individual flower was perhaps 6″ wide.    Very showy and a stunning blaze of color in a sea of green. We hiked up the stream bed crossing first to one side and then the other as we made our way toward the falls. The trees towered over us. At one point we even did a “Tarzan” thing swinging from a vine across the river.   Not bad for a 61 year old guy.  Right?Made it. As we worked our way toward the waterfall we could hear it a long way off. I would have loved to go for a swim but there wasn’t time for that.  How about a photo op instead?This photo of our traveling companions, Dave and Chisholm of Plantina II and Bob and Carol of Oasis,  gives a better feel for the scale of the falls. That evening, as the sun set over the ocean to the west, we were treated to a real show, a wonderful way to cap off a great day.  We even saw the elusive “green flash” something that you rarely see except when the horizon is haze and cloud free.   The sun set like a giant fireball.And, just as it dropped down into the sea, a momentary flash of bright green. A closeup of the “flash”.  You can see it’s green on the edges.   I am told that it’s much easier to see when mixed with rum.  We have found that wine works well too.   However, too much wine somehow makes the horizon tip a bit.  How is that?Others have told us that Dominica is their favorite island for hiking and enjoying the natural wonders of a tropical paradise and if our experience is any indication, than they are right.

The opportunity to see such natural beauty, go for a walk in the woods and do so without seeing another soul all day long is one of the things that makes Dominica a real treasure.

So,there you have it, visit Dominica and go for a walk in the woods.  You won’t be disappointed.