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The many textures of Guadeloupe

It’s another beautiful day in Deshaies, Guadeloupe where we expect to spend another few days before heading farther south.

A few days ago a large cat pulled in behind us to drop the hook.  That was fine except when it came time to watch the sunset.  As the sun dipped below the horizon they obscured what turned out to be a green flash.  It would have been the second for us this season.

However, all was not lost as after dark they turned on some underwater lights.  The scene was amazing as the moon set behind them.   Thanks to Brenda’s iPhone, that takes amazing low light photos, check this view out.   The light in Pandora’s cockpit wasn’t all that bright but glows in this image.  Note that this is not altered in any way beyond the way that iPhone sees the world.   The wonders of modern photography. It’s been nice to be back in Deshaies, having visited this tiny port on our every trip south.  The village is very quaint.   I suppose that “shabby chic” describes it pretty well.

It is also the village where the filming for much of the BBC series Death in Paradise is filmed.  It’s fun to watch the trailer to see images of this very harbor.  Yet, I have not yet seen any detectives cruising the harbor in a business suit.  And, the only thing that I’ve seen killed on the beach is a cold beer.In the village there is a nice mix of places to eat out and a lovely shop, Les Cave, that sells a number of gourmet items including foie gras that you can order with a few days notice.  The shopkeeper, who greeted me this year with “I remember you.  You are on a boat”, told me that the liver comes from France but that a friend makes up the pate here in Guadeloupe.  Brenda had ordered a batch and I picked it up yesterday.  It was quite pricy but worth it.  I froze it all and we will portion it out so it will last as long as possible.  Perhaps I will take it to NYC where it is illegal and sell it.  “Hey buddy, want to buy some…”

We have been buddy boating with our friends Lynn and Mark on Roxy since Antigua as we have been for the last few years.  It’s fun to go from harbor to harbor with folks we know.  Here’s Roxy.  She’s a huge 60′ ketch and very heavy at 80,000 lbs.  By comparison, Pandora weights in at about 32,000 lbs. fully loaded.  Yesterday I went on a hike with Mark and the girls met us at a nearby beach for a late lunch.

Along our hike, we encountered some leaf cutter ants, seen as a near perfect example of a symbiotic relationship.  They being leaves back to their nest and a specific fungus grows on them.  Then they feed on the fungus and the fungus feeds on the leaves.  In a very real way they are farmers.  For more about leaf cutting ants and their unique relationship with a certain fungus, check this out.

This is the beach our hike ended on.  A beautiful spot.  You might recognize this beach from the Death in Paradise teaser. Later we walked back to the boat.  It was a very nice walk with huge trees lining the road.The other day we went to the local botanical garden, Jardin Botanique.  It’s up the mountain a short way but the walk would be treacherous as the road is one switch back after another and the drivers go like they are in a race.  Best to take the shuttle that they will send for you.

It’s sometimes hard to decide what to write about when I have already done posts about a place a number of times.  However, I really wanted to do yet another post about these wonderful gardens but this time I decided to focus on textures instead of trying to document the place itself.    Under the “been there, done that category” check out this post about the gardens from our first visit in 2017.  

Anyway, as we made our way through the gardens, I enjoyed looking for patterns in the plants.  There were so many to choose from it was hard to focus.   This season has been wetter than normal and the condition of the gardens were particularly lush.

Some of the flowers looked fake but weren’t.Palm fronds never disappoint. This succulent was not as velvety and soft as it looked.
A tangle of palm berries.
I will never quite get used to seeing “house plants” that aren’t in a house.
These flowers look like little soldiers.
More soldiers.  The soft texture of cypress. I love the koi.  They are as big as they look, some 18″ long. Every where I looked, beautiful textures. And colors. And so many plants that we think of as house plants growing outdoors and loving it. I don’t know, just a dramatic pattern…A beautiful giant fern.A not so giant epiphytic fern. Some that looked like they would be right at home in more arid places. Just love these flowers. I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for orchids and to see them growing on trees here is a treat.And who doesn’t love flamingos?Who you lookin at?Texture in water or is it an aquatic Cousin It?
You don’t have to be green.
And speaking of standing at attention.
Some flowers don’t look anything like flowers.And a view of Pandora in the harbor far below. And what post is complete without clouds?That look, upon closer inspection, like a baby duck reclining on the cloud bank.  Get it, his head with feet to the left?  Well, that’s what it looks like to me.  Not buying it?  Work with me on this. Ok, anyway, I love clouds so perhaps yet another.  Pretty dramatic day here in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

The sun is out, the sky is blue…  And I see textures all around.

Antigua, so yesterday! Guadeloupe today!

It’s a beautiful day here in Deshais Guadeloupe.  Not sure what this is all about but at daybreak yesterday morning in Antigua this unusual cloud formation appeared.  It’s not a jet trail. We made the 45 mile crossing to Guadeloupe in sporty conditions from Antigua yesterday, where Pandora had been since we arrived in mid November.   Along the way we were hit by a squall with near 30kt winds.  Brenda was not amused.

The sail was sporty, fast and we averaged over 8kts on a close reach.   As we passed Montserrat, we could clearly see the smoke from the volcano. Here is the view of the town of Deshais, Guadeloupe that greeted me this morning.Deshais is a charming little French village on the NW end of Guadeloupe.  The harbor, more of an indent in the island actually, is very tiny and the bottom drops off rather fast as you get a few hundred yards from shore.   To port is an impossibly steep cliff.The down dinghy dock is very large but sometimes the wrap-around swell from the ocean makes it unusable.  In those cases the town pulls off the wooden top of the dock to keep it from being wrecked.  It’s amazing how clear the water is.   Pandora is anchored in about 30′ of water and you can see the bottom.   This shot, off of the dock, gives a feel for the beautiful color of the water.  Hard to believe that it’s about 6′ deep here. Pretty nice beaches too.  Of course, baguettes, foie gras (not frowned upon here) and many wonderful cheeses in the stores.  Unlike stores in the US where soda, chips and, God forbid, fried pork rinds, take up multiple isles, here the mix is very different where even the smallest grocery has a great selection of pates and cheeses, not to forget loads of rum and wine choices.  I do know the word for rose, it’s rose but with a funny thing over the e.  I so wish that I had paid attention…

After a croissant and coffee, at the local boulangerie of course, we went for a short walk up the of “river”, more of a stream.  It was very peaceful.   Babbling brook. No idea what this flower is called.  In town we did a bit of provisioning.  Chicken on the hoof anyone?  What sort of dish can you make with chicks?  Chicklets?Mainstreet is very charming.  Lots of colorful shops. A lovely church. A bit of excitement.  Some sort of rescue mission going on on the hill overlooking town.  Hope it was a drill. One of the crew was dropped on a cable a moment later. Unlike in Antigua where checking into the country involves going from window 1 to window 2, window 3 and back to window 1 again and then to window 4 to pay, here you clear in at a kiosk in a T shirt shop.  One and done.  “That will be 5 euros please”, up from 3 a year ago. Inflation.

This is an important fishing port for the island and before daybreak many of the boats head out to sea, gently rocking Pandora on her anchor.    The teacup harbor where the boats are stored is protected by a large stone breakwater. To the side is another wall that lines the river that feeds into the harbor.  It’s more of a stream actually.   When the surge in the harbor is too big and they have to dismantle the top of the dock, you can bring your dink up here into calm waters.   This sign says “no swimming!”  See, I can speak French after vall. Here’s someone who decided to dock here for the day.  I fear that if I spent time alone in the Caribbean, without Brenda, this would be me in a few years.  Can you say “man bun?”  I do already have shades like his.   Somehow I doubt that they are trifocals though. And speaking of civilization.  I came upon a local tourist office, set up to give information to folks off of a small cruise ship that was visiting the harbor today.  They had lovely flower arrangements on the table and I asked if there was somewhere I could purchase some flowers for Brenda.

The lovely ladies offered me their flowers so as not to let Brenda go wanting.  It was such a nice gesture.  “Here, let me yank your lovely arrangement apart.  Quick, look away.  Run!”  Not wanting to seem to grabby.  “Sorry Bob… too late. You are grabby”.  I asked one of them to pick for me.   Excellent choices.   And, delivered with a smile! Quick!  Back to Pandora.  Can’t let them wilt.  Well trained after 50 years…

Some late afternoon entertainment from a small sloop.  It was plenty windy and these boats don’t have internal ballast.  Notice how the boom is bending.  They are full keel and this one looks like it was brand new.  A gust of wind.  These boats are very heavily canvased.  Everyone hike out!Like most days, a late afternoon squall.  Rainbow!And about 20 minutes later.  Rainbow #2.  It landed right on the church.  “Jesus, look at that!”  No, I take it back.  That was bad taste. What a beautiful place.  It’s going to be hard to leave.  Well, unless we drag in one of those strong wind gusts that Deshais is known for.  Then I’ll have to add Honduras to the list.

Tomorrow, what to do?  So many choices…

I love Antigua but, well, for the moment, I guess it’s love the one we are with.  Guadeloupe is just so today.   Well, for today anyway.

I do love those baguettes though.

Campaign against living miserably.

A few years ago Brenda and I were in Antigua and learned about a rowing race across the Atlantic, 3,000 miles, the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.  That’s twice as far as the Salty Dawg Rally run from Hampton VA to Antigua and to make matters worse, they have to row the entire way in an open boat.

The idea of purposely heading out into the ocean in an open boat for a month or more sounds nuts.  For me, the 9-12 day run from VA to Antigua in the relative comfort of Pandora is not all that appealing but I do it because I want to spend a winter in the Caribbean.

The crews that make their run do it for the experience, not to enjoy time here as I expect that after being in Antigua for a short time, they fly home and back to work.

For me, the run to Antigua is a big deal and not all that comfortable.  However, rowing across the Atlantic? Now that is an entire different kettle of fish.

It seems that several dozen boats do this every year and some crews do it more than once, perhaps as many as ten times for some, I am told.  And every crew has a specific goal beyond successfully completing the trip, a charity or something to raise money for.

Here’s one of the boats that made the trip.  All of them are very similar in design with one, two three or four crew.  This one, had a crew of three.Their goal is clearly stated on the aft portion of the hull. When I think about what being at sea for a month in an open boat doing nothing but sleeping and rowing, day after day, I guess that they were truly living their goal.   Misery!  Or should I say, “misery loves company” and they lived that, all together for a month.

And they can’t say that they did it for the cuisine.   This is a lovely sample of food that they enjoyed on passage.  I also saw bags of vacuum packed stuff that looked like oatmeal.   Every item brought aboard has to be accounted for at the end of the trip and a race official audits the items as they are removed to ensure that every single items that they took aboard is accounted for and noting was tossed over the side. The race officials are very serious about all this and monitor the boats for any perceived infraction.   I  had heard about a women’s team a few years ago that thought it would be fun to hold up a sheet as a sail and make a video of what they must have thought was a moment of hilarity.

The committee saw the clip and disqualified them on the spot.  I’ll bet that they had fun explaining this to their supporters.

Like the boats in the Salty Dawg Rally, each boat in the race has a tracker on board so that folks on shore can follow along.   This is a screen shot of the fleet.  A few days ago I decided to go over to English Harbor to welcome one of the boats that was arriving.  There were hundreds on hand to welcome the crew including perhaps 20 or so that were wearing matching shirts.  It was fun to see the boat as they entered the harbor, serenaded by the horns of the big yachts and accompanied by a number of dinks that were happy to greet them too. These guys, all members of the Scots Guard or military, were clearly pretty excited to be nearing land.  I was told that one of them played the bagpipe but I didn’t see or hear that.  Ashore was all done up with banners and such. While I was standing around waiting for the boat to appear, I heard someone call my name.  It was Ann-Marie Martin leaning out of her office window, obviously also excited about the arrival of the boat.  She’s the Park’s Commissioner who I have come to know over the years of bringing the SDSA fleet to Antigua.  As each of the crew stepped ashore, after more than a month at sea, emotions ran high.  It was moving to see them greeted by family after so long apart. There was plenty of enthusiasm for the UK and Scotland in evidence. Next on the agenda was a sit down interview and when that was over, a meal of cheeseburgers and beer.  I’ll bet that it was a welcome change from oatmeal and freeze dried food.  Their accomplishment was really something, rowing across the Atlantic but it didn’t take long for them to announce that “the Atlantic Guardsman were formally retiring from ocean rowing”.  That makes sense to me.  For them, been there, done that.  If you’re curious about this team and want to learn more, follow this link. 

When asked about a memorable moment on the trip, one shared the experience of looking up at the stars on a clear night.  Another, recounted when the boat was rolled completely over, tossing all of them overboard.   Yes, that sounds memorable if not in a good way.  I’ll take the Milky Way above being tossed into the drink.

And if you are part of the “I want to cross the Atlantic because it’s there” group, follow this link to learn more about the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

And, I expect that the crew of the Atlantic Guardsman would have something to say about that other team’s campaign against living miserably.

Finally, tomorrow we head to the other side of Antigua to provision in Jolly Harbor with our friends Mark and Lynn on Roxy and then on to Guadeloupe in a few days.

Perhaps I’ll close with a shot of the rainbow that we enjoyed this morning following a brief shower.  Another beautiful day in paradise.   Nope, no rowing in my future.  Well, at least unless my dink motor fails.

Royalty in Antigua

There are an amazing number of beautiful yachts here in Antigua.  Between English Harbor and Falmouth they are too numerous to count.

I’ve been taking photos of a number of particularly memorable ones and yet have struggled to find a way to put them all in a single post.

Today it became clear to me about which boat I wanted to write about when the iconic Christina O pulled into the harbor.  You may remember hearing a lot about her years ago as she was once one of the very largest yachts in the world.  She was certainly the most famous of all as the private yacht of Aristotle Onassis who entertained, heads of state and movie stars too numerous to mention.    She still ranks up there in the list of the 100 largest yachts in the world at #65.  The fact that she is now more than half way down the list speaks to the increasing size of yachts in the world.

She really is an amazing yacht and her design has stood the test of time, standing out in any harbor she visits. She has a long and storied history with many famous people gracing her decks.

I expect that her launch has tales to tell.  While Onassis owned her she had an amazing guest list including this list that I pulled from her Wikipedia page.

Apart from Onassis’s mistress Maria Callas and his wife Jackie Kennedy Onassis, he entertained celebrities such as Umberto Agnelli, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Richard BurtonClementine ChurchillDiana ChurchillWinston ChurchillJacqueline de RibesJohn F. KennedyGreta GarboRainier III, Prince of MonacoGrace KellyAnthony Montague BrowneRudolf NureyevBegum Om Habibeh Aga KhanJ. Paul GettyEva PerónFrançoise SaganFrank SinatraElizabeth TaylorJohn Wayne.[12][15][16][17][18]

In 1956 the wedding of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and Grace Kelly held its reception on Christina O

This video is packed with amazing photos of her years entertaining luminaries.
Now as a private yacht available for charter, she continues to have a remarkable number of luxury appointments worthy of note including some that aren’t particularly PC these days.  I’ll let you be the judge…

Christina O has a master suite, eighteen passenger staterooms, and numerous indoor and outdoor living areas, all connected by a spiral staircase. Compared to a typical 21st-century superyacht, her staterooms are small and Christina O lacks the indoor boat storage that is now standard; however, the number of living areas is large, and the amount of outdoor deck space is generous. The aft main deck has an outdoor pool with a minotaur-themed mosaic floor that rises at the push of a button to become a dance floor. Bar appointments included whales’ teeth carved into pornographic scenes from Homer‘s Odyssey.[7] The bar stools in Ari’s Bar retain the original upholstery crafted from soft, fine leather made from the foreskins of whales.[32]

As is the case of many yachts that are available for charter, there are a number of promotional videos.  This short piece follows a model who wanders languidly  through the yacht, drawing attention to various aspects of Christina O’s appointments. It’s hard to imagine any yacht that is more remarkable than Christina O.  Wonder if I can wrangle a tour?  Not likely.  However perhaps I can find some friends to split a charter.  It’s only $800,000 a week plus expense, whatever that might total.

It’s hard to imagine a yacht that is more amazing than Christina O but there are actually a number of other classic yachts here right now including one that once was chartered by King Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson.

In more ways than one, royalty has definitely entered the harbor.

But I’ll just have to be happy with little Pandora swinging on her anchor.  Besides, nobody had a better view of the sunrise this morning than we did. Or the rainbow yesterday, one of many in the last few showery days. And those puffy clouds that pass overhead all day long. I guess I’ll stick with Pandora for now royal or not.

Broadband for Pandora! What’s next?

Recently, I have been thinking about all the changes that have come to the cruising community in the decades Brenda and I began sailing together.

It wasn’t all that long ago, for those of a “certain age,” that electronics onboard were mostly limited to a few cabin lights and a VHF.   Forget navigation equipment beyond perhaps Loran or an RDF, and if you were a “real” cruiser, you found your way around using a sextant.

Just a few years back the Iridium Go was the hottest new thing and in this year’s rally, nearly every boat in the fleet had one.  The Predict Wind maps and routing software, were a game changer and great addition to Chris Parker’s forecasts when on passage.  However, the GO service, at $135/month is limited to downloading weather information and sending email.  And, it is terribly slow at that.

In the months leading up to the departure of this year’s rally, I learned that a few boats had installed Starlink but didn’t think much about it.  All that changed for me when one of the Bahamas rally boats called in for a Zoom weather briefing.  They were on passage, 200 miles north of the Bahamas and while the rest of us were using sketchy marina WiFi or cell data to connect, there they were calling in on video, clear as day, with a view of their wake streaming to the horizon.

So, here I am just a few months later and it seems like every other boat around us here in Antigua has Starlink and are enjoying streaming video.

Starlink is a product of Elon Musk’s Space X and just in case you have been living under a rock I expect that you would have at least heard about it through reporting of the war in Ukraine as he sent over a bunch of stations for the Ukrainians to use to stay in touch.

The Starlink service is powered by thousands of satellites in orbit that Space X launched over the last few years and much of the world, including the Caribbean and north America are now blanketed by this service.  There are several versions of the service available, including, residential, RV and marine.   I had assumed that the marine version was what we’d need to use and that’s really expensive, I think about $2,500 for the hardware and $5,000 a month for the service.  That’s not a lot different in cost than the satellite services that have been around for years and there is no way that it would be useful for small cruising boats like Pandora.

The residential unit uses a fixed antenna that you mount on the roof or somewhere with a good view of the sky.  It is fixed and doesn’t move.

The RV version, designed to be used on a moving object like a van or RV that travels from place to place looks about the same as the fixed version but has a built in motor to point the unit toward the best satellites.  That’s the version that cruisers are putting on their boats.  It’s not designed for use on boats and I have no idea how long it will work in the harsh marine environment.  However, at $600 it’s not expensive compared to other things for a boat and the monthly charge is $135 for something like a terabyte of data at high speed, I think about 100 mb/sec which I believe is faster than our home internet.

A common question that I get when folks are preparing for the rally is “what sort of connectivity is there in the Caribbean?”  The answer was always about a mix of WiFi hotspots and the best options for cellular, island by island.  Starlink changes all that with its low entry price and reasonable monthly charge.

So, after seeing a unit in action here in Antigua on my friend Herb’s boat,  I had to have one.  I ordered it a few weeks ago to be shipped to another Salty Dawg’s home in VT and he carried it down to Antigua, arriving on the island a few days ago.

Yesterday I installed it and while I had to fuss with it for a few hours using the Starlink app on my iPad, I gave up on that, installed the app on my Android Google fi pbone and it worked almost immediately.  Yahoo!

I will say that when it initialized and the antenna moved around to find the best sight to the sky, it was amazing to watch.  Magic!

Here it is, temporarily installed on Pandora’s cabin top.   After I get a feel for it, I will install it more permanently on the radar arch. A closeup of the unit.   It’s crazy as when you turn it on, it rotates and automatically points to the optimal source of signal.  As the boat moves around in the very light winds that we have right now, it follows the satellites by rotating to compensate for the boat’s movement. 

While you turn the unit on it draws a good amount of power but once it settled down and the router is initialized it doesn’t use a ton of power but more than I would want to leave on 24/7 when we aren’t using the unit.

The Starlink website says that the power drain doesn’t seem to be much I’ll know more once the sun goes down and I see what it uses this evening.

This unit should be  game changer for Pandora and having the power to watch movies on Netflix while on the hook will be a remarkable change.  Actually, last night we streamed PBS All Creatures Great and Small and it was amazing.   It wasn’t without a few glitches as Antigua isn’t in a high speed area yet, compared to other islands in the Caribbean but I did a speed check a moment ago and while the speed varied moment to moment, it peaked at about 80MBS, about the same as at home with cable.

The pace of change in every aspect of our lives continues to accelerate and none will have more of an impact on the cruising community than reasonably priced broadband internet.  The need to stay in touch with aging parents, grandchildren or with customers for those who are still working is more critical than ever.

Now that I have seen this amazing service first hand, I just had to get one and now it’s here.

Who know how this will all unfold and if Space X will decide that using the RV unit on small boats thousands of miles from where they shipped the unit, remains to be seen.   However, given all of the boat dollars we burn on Pandora this seems to be a decent risk, even if the service is somehow restricted in the future.

For now, having broadband aboard Pandora!  Who knew?

We’ve come so far and it’s hard to imagine what’s next.

Now, if Pandora could make the run north to CT on her own.  That would be awesome.

 

Settling into life aboard Pandora.

It’s Saturday afternoon and we have been aboard Pandora for a week since heading back to Antigua from the US.

We are now anchored in our “normal spot” in Falmouth Harbor and are getting rain showers every few hours, night and day.  It is mostly sunny and then the skies open up for perhaps ten minutes and then it’s sunny again.  As they say “into every life a little rain must fall”.  And, of course a rainbows follow.  This one at dawn yesterday. For the first few days we moved over to historic Nelson’s Dockyard and tied up to the quay.  This involved Mediterranean mooring where we dropped our anchor out in the harbor and backed up to the marina wall, using the anchor to hold ourselves off and safe from hitting the dock.  It’s a tricky process but after you get the hang of it, not too bad.    When we moor this way, Brenda is up forward dropping the anchor.  I power backwards, using the bow thruster to steer the boat.  I say not too hard but my heart is racing the whole time as we always have to do this between a few other boats with feet on each side and of course there is always a nasty cross wind.   And, to add a bit of fun, this is a very popular spectator sport, as is all docking.  Sometimes it feels more like Nascar with the excitement of crashes always a moment away.

In spite of this, it’s very convenient to be able to step off of Pandora right onto the dock. We had some canvas repairs done while we have been in Antigua and that included a new mast boot, to keep the water out of the boat.  Actually, this “fix” included an inner boot of rubber covered by the canvas.  That part was done in Annapolis.

The finished boot looks very sharp.Even more impressive from the back as it’s pretty intricate with multiple Velcro flaps to keep it affixed. .  It’s a bit hard to see but there is a lot going on including fittings for the boom vang and lots of other stuff to work around.  This is what’s under the new canvas boot.This has been a major source of leaking down below, especially on this last passage so I hope that things are finally solved.  Fingers crossed.

Brenda’s also getting settled in and has met some new friends who knit.  They meet twice a week at the Antigua Yacht Club for a few hours.  A very nice group.  The knitter on the right lives in Antigua year round having visited years ago and fell in love with the island. All that electrical upgrades we had done on Pandora over the summer are paying off with plenty of excess electricity to power the boat.  Lots of hot water and I am thinking of having a change done on my electrical panel that will allow us to run our washing machine off of the batteries as well.  We have a very powerful inverter to run appliances and it seems pretty clear that we can use a lot more power with the wind generator, new solar panels and those power hungry lithium batteries to suck all that juice up.

Here’s the solar array and wind generator.   This combo is a remarkable supply of power in the sunny and windy Caribbean.  Of course, Falmouth Harbor in the background.  Beyond the entrance, the island of Monserrate, home to one of the active volcanoes in the Caribbean. Of course, it’s Saturday afternoon and it’s time for club racing.  This lovely classic sloop tacked back and forth before heading out for the races.   What a contrast to all the huge mega yachts lined up cheek to jowl in the Antigua Yacht Club marina. And, speaking of clubs.  I belong to plenty and enjoy flying the flags.    Of course, the Antigua courtesy flag followed by the “white penant” of the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda.  Of course, I am a card carrying member of this terrific group.  Below that, a big Salty Dawg rally flag. And speaking of the White Pennant.  This beautiful classic yacht, Shemara, built in 1938, pulled in today flying a White Ensign, which is very similar to the Tot Club flag.  This version signifies that someone aboard is a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.  I have seen this yacht before and wrote about her in this post.  With one million man hours in the restoration, she deserves to be beautiful. On the port side…  The Salty Dawg battle flag and club burgee, the “flying fish” of the Ocean Cruising Club and finally, the Seven Seas Cruising Association Commodore Burgee.   Brenda and I earned that one for living aboard for 12 out of 18 months a number of years ago and also sailing at least 1,000 miles in that  season as well.Beyond that, not a lot to talk about.  Brenda’s birthday is coming up on the 15th and she’s none too happy about being away from family so I will have to work hard to make it up to her.

I guess that’s one part of living aboard that she will never settle into.  Other than that,  we are settling pretty well into life aboard Pandora, here in Antigua.

The second decade.

It’s hard to believe that it is 2023.  Happy new year wherever you are.

2023 brings with it the beginning of Brenda’s and my 11th year of winters south aboard our Pandora(s).  I say “plural” as our current Pandora is the second in that line.  Now that I have cleared that up…

Let’s just say that it’s been a long time since that first winter south and our run down the ICW.    Our first stop after exiting the CT River was to visit Black Rock and and our first yacht club, Fairweather Yacht Club.

This photo of us on the dock at Fairweather as we prepared to head to NYC and south. It’s amazing that this year is a full decade as a retired person.  If you haven’t tried it, being retired is easier than working, most of the time, anyway.

It’s remarkable to think about all of the places that Brenda and I have been since 2012 when we took our first run south.

I can still remember heading down the East River and having our youngest, ride his bike to across town to wave from us as we exited Hell Gate on our way down the length of Manhattan island. This post was about heading through NYC aboard Pandora #1.  Camera in hand, Chris took this shot of us as we headed down the East River.   He then jumped on his bike and raced us downtown and waved us bon voyage from Battery Park.  That moment was so long ago and yet it seems like yesterday.  Christopher was at Columbia University for grad school where he would ultimately earn is PhD in Physics.  Brenda cried alligator tears as we made our way down the harbor, Christopher fading into the distance.

After finising up at Columbia he flew to CA to find his future, bunking with a friend for a few months while he began work on a tech startup.  He’s now on his third startup attempt.  He’s still in the fairly early stages of building his company, with more than a dozen employees.  It’s going well.

Even better, he’s back living in NYC again, this time with his partner Melody and their husky dawg, Mila.  After months of begging them to come east, during the early days of the pandemic, they finally agreed to move back east and stay with us.  Nearly a year and a half later living with us, the pull of NYC became too much to ignore and they moved into “the city” and are now on the Upper East Side.

It’s interesting to note that 2012 was also the first year that we spied our “new” Pandora, Arial at the time, on a mooring in Block Island.  I was immediately smitten with her and more than a few years later she was ours. Now she’s a light grey, a lot cooler in the tropical sun.  Here she is in English Harbor, Antigua.   She’s in better shape than ever and really tricked out for long distance cruising, sitting in a place that we could not have imagined all those years ago. What a view from her bow, tropical breezes blowing while it’s cold and rainy up in CT.  A week ago at home  it was in the low teens, a lot different, that’s for sure.  And the boats in the neighborhood are a lot bigger these days. The show of wealth here in the Caribbean, especially Antigua, is remarkable.  How many outboards does it take to push your dink?Happily we haven’t been home for too many winters since that first run to the Bahamas and during that time, our travels have taken us the entire length of the US east coast, the Bahamas, Cuba and most of the islands of the eastern Caribbean.

I still remember how awestruck we were when we first saw the unreal blue waters of the Bahamas.   Anyway, it’s been a long time and here we are in historic English Harbor.  And speaking of “here”, what a spot to sit and have a glass of wine.  Ok, getting another glass of wine…And speaking of here, you should have seen the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.A short but remarkable display. There is nothing like tropical fireworks and we actually stayed up till midnight when the show began.We were not alone with a big crowd in the Dockyard, thumping music and all that ran until 02:00.  We had no trouble “tuning” out the revelers out with the hatches closed and AC humming…

It’s hard to believe how much has changed in the last decade and to now find us wintering in Antigua,  place that I could not have even found on a map when we began heading south in 2012 is still a bit of a head spinner.

So, happy new year to you and I hope that 2023 is a good one for you.

Ah, to our second decade…

 

 

When worlds collide, in a good way.

As I sit down to write this post, it’s two days before Christmas and Brenda and I are in the midst of a whirlwind family holiday visit tour.  Unbelievably,  a week from today we will fly to Antigua just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve in English Harbor.   If you haven’t celebrated from the bow of your boat in the tropics… Timing is good for us to be on “tour” as there is no power at our home in CT, compliments of the winter storm that is sweeping much of the country.  Tonight will be the coldest of the year in the mid teens.

We drove into NYC yesterday, loaded to the brim with presents and holiday food, to stay with Chris and Melody for a few days and then on to MD and Rob’s family on Christmas day.  After that, home in CT for less than two days before we winterize our home, head to the airport and fly back to Antigua to begin our winter season afloat.  Whew!  No rest for retired boomers.

I was reminded just how different life in The Big City is, both from our home in CT and winters aboard Pandora when my alarm went off this morning telling me to head outside to move our car to the other side of the street.  I wasn’t alone in my quest for another parking spot, but competing with just about everybody else in town. We had to move in time to accommodate the street cleaners, with everyone jockeying for a spot after the sweeper came by.  Of course, after the sweeper came by a bit after 09:00, I still had to sit in the car until 10:00 when it was “legal” to park again.  Such is life for those too cheap to pay for parking.

Anyway, here in the “big apple”, life is just so different than when we are onboard Pandora.

As a seemingly random segue, when I was in Antigua at one of our arrival events, a Salty Dawg member who had organized our Hampton departure activities, Kathy on Island Time, presented me with a rally flag that had been signed by most of the boats that had sailed to Antigua.  I was very touched.

I mention this as Zelensky, president of Ukraine, when he addressed a joint session of Congress the other night presented a Ukraine flag signed by soldiers at the font line in the battle with Russia, to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house, at the conclusion of his speech. It was a moving moment.

When I told Kathy that Zelensky had stolen her idea, she said “who’s Zelensky?”,   thinking that I was talking about someone in the rally, not knowing who that was.   Being in Antigua and on Island Time, in more ways than one, she was, for the moment at least, oblivious of what was going on in the US.  Good for her!

I get it.  When I told her who I was referring to, she said, “Of course, that Zelensky!”  Such is the life of the cruiser.   It’s so easy to become detached, often in a good way, from all the troubles of the world.

When I am on passage I do wonder what’s going on in the “real world” but am generally focused on the boat, weather and of course,  the proverbial question of “when will we get there”.

I was reminded of this disconnect at 07:30 today when my alarm went off, reminding me to move the car to the other side of the street or get a ticket.   The thought was just so far from my consciousness that had no idea what the alarm was for and just rolled over.  Thankfully, a short while later, Brenda said “when are you going to move the car”.  I bolted up, pulled on my pants, jacket and ran, hoping that I wasn’t too late.  The traffic cops were ticketing cars but hadn’t reached mine yet.  Whew!  I sat and waited nearly an hour for another spot to open up.

A friend told me that when he lived in the city, drivers would take parking spots that opened up all day long, “giving” them up to anyone willing to pay $10 instead of having to wait themselves.  Then they would wait for yet another spot to open up and sell that one for $10.  Park, repeat, park repeat…

I suppose that there is a parallel to this in the cruising community when we wait for a prime anchoring spot or mooring to open up and then race over in our dink to claim the spot.   “Hey buddy, for ten bucks this mooring is yours!”  Beer money!  An idea?

To the point of how different life is aboard, especially on passage.   I tried to capture the feeling excepted from a recent piece that I wrote for a recent club newsletter, that follows about my most recent run from Hampton VA to Antigua.

I wrote…with some heavy edits, I’ll admit.

It’s 04:00 and I’ve emerged from down below to begin my watch and relive Bob, who’s been up since midnight.  He updates me on what’s going on: nothing sighted for the last few hours, little change from the last few days when we never saw another boat or much else for that matter.  I generally do the 04:00 to 08:00 watch as I really enjoy seeing the sun rise over the eastern horizon.  It’s very peaceful, well peaceful most of the time anyway.  We are more than half of the way to Antigua, with 600 miles to go, on the final third of what will be my fastest southbound run yet, 9.5 days.

Pandora has been moving along nicely, reeling off the miles for what turned out to be one of the four days when we covered about 200nm, pretty fast for a cruising boat where that many miles in 24 hours is generally beyond most boats of her size.  Fore days now, I have been focused on the boat, our progress and little else.  My time, when I am not on watch is consumed by chores, keeping things clean, cooking and hours spent reading each day.  I generally read an entire book every day when on passage.

The wind is ESE at 20kts and we are on a close reach with gusts that often brings the apparent wind into the low 30kts and even higher during frequent squalls.  Fortunately, tropical squalls are rarely convective so lightning hasn’t been much of a concern.  The idea of losing my electronics, 500 miles from land, is a sobering thought.  We are double reefed with a 100% jib.  With frequent squalls over the last 24 hours, we have done plenty of reefing, requiring at least two of us on deck.  A rigger had recently adjusted my slab reefing system with new leads and lines that are considerably slipperier than their predecessors so this process is as smooth as could be.

At speed, Pandora is a wet boat and we are taking plenty of water over the bow with beam seas in the 10’ range.  Occasionally, we ship a good amount of water, especially when her fine bow plows into the back of a particularly large wave, but with her generous hard dodger and full cockpit enclosure we stay fairly dry, save for occasional water that washes across the back of the cockpit after sluicing under the enclosure panels.

The run has been fairly uneventful for the nearly a week that we have been underway as part of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, Rally to the Caribbean.  I serve as president of the group and after a few smaller “pandemic” rallies this year’s run was a record for the group with a capacity crowd of 120 boats.  About 30% of the fleet went to the Bahamas with the rest heading to Caribbean, and the bulk of those planning landfall in English Harbor Antigua, the official Caribbean home of the rally.

Our planned departure date of November 1st came and went with unfavorable weather, and while the Bahamas bound boats were able to leave as planned, they later endured a direct hit from Nicole, huddled in Marsh Harbor, Abacos.

It wasn’t until 11 days later than the Bahamas bound boats left that the remainder of the fleet, including Pandora, patiently waiting in Hampton for the go-ahead from our weather router Chris Parker, departed.

While participants in the rally can opt to leave from anywhere they choose, the vast majority of the fleet staged in Hampton, VA, as this port offers good services and a simpler run to cross the Gulf Stream.  It is also far enough south to avoid most of the late fall gales that plague New England.  We had a Newport start for the first time this year and a handful of boats opted to leave from there.   The run from Newport is farther east than Hampton, with a more direct route to Antigua passing about 150 miles west of Bermuda.

However, unless you have a particularly fast boat you are unlikely to make it to the south side of the Gulf Stream without encountering at least one gale.   As it turned out, this year the wind was unusually favorable from Newport, a welcome surprise.

The run south in the fall always feels a lot like “threading the needle” as we try to find a decent weather window between lows, with the hope of being far enough south and east to avoid unpleasant conditions, and this year was no different.

As we waited for good conditions to carry us south, one low after another exited the coast, keeping everyone in port.  I won’t go into detail but it’s always best to “stay out of the red stuff”.For the last 5 years the rally has been heading to Antigua, a destination that I championed after visiting there on our first run to the Caribbean in 2017.  It is a remarkable place with the government and so many businesses enthusiastically welcoming our fleet.

The arrival of the “Dawgs” signals the beginning of their yachting season and to see Nelson’s Dockyard full to capacity with our boats was a rewarding sight.  As we are the first to arrive, normally in mid-November, nearly all of the local businesses celebrate the Dawgs with parties and special events too numerous to outline here.In spite of the nearly two-week delay we were still able to have 9 events in a little over a week, capped off with an amazing welcome in Nelson’s Dockyard attended by the director of The National Parks, Ann-Marie Martin and Minister of Tourism, Charles Fernandez.  It’s worth noting that both, huge supporters, have welcomed us personally every year except during the height of the pandemic when social distancing made that impractical.

Antigua, the self-styled “sailing capital of the Caribbean” is very focused on the cruising community at every level as they know we will arrive thirsty, ready to party and with a lot broken stuff that will need to be fixed after a long 1,500nm run.

This year Pandora came through with minimal “issues” which was a first, and yet I still ended up with a rigger, canvas maker and electrician aboard upon arrival.   And, with nearly 100 boats arriving within a few weeks that’s a lot of broken stuff…

Over the last decade Brenda and I have sailed the full US East Coast from eastern Maine to Key west, thousands of miles in the Bahamas, Cuba, and nearly every island from the USVI south to Grenada.  I can say with confidence that making landfall in Antigua is my favorite.  Once you arrive you have made all of your “easting” so everywhere else you might go to from there is a reach.  During a season of exploring the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, you need never do a run of more than 75 miles as the islands are all so close together.

Located solidly in the easterly trade winds that, with rare exception, are from the east, perhaps slightly north or south of east but always from the east, sailing there is a treat for anyone who has sailed in the NE where wind direction changes daily. While heading east for a cruise in the NE is fairly simple, returning home means, more often than not, beating against the prevailing SW winds that are prevalent during the summer.

For many doing the rally, the 1,500nm to Antigua is their longest run to date.  And while most boats are crewed by couples, nearly everyone takes on at least two additional crew for the run.   Sure, some do the trip themselves but with gear breakage always a risk, having extra hands aboard is prudent.

Since the pandemic, many have taken stock of their lives and have decided to focus more on their “bucket list.”  For many this involves heading south and SDSA and the rally is the perfect way to gain needed skills.  And crewing on a rally boat is often a first step for many and with more than 100 boats, there are plenty of berths.

Since I retired over ten years ago, our lives have certainly changed.  And as a long time member, and now the reluctant president of Salty Dawg, I can say with confidence that I would not have ever made the leap to sail the 1,500 miles to Antigua had it not been for what I learned through the group.

Heck, I can still recall how I felt as I exited the Cape Cod Canal for an overnight run, my first, way back in the early 90s, on my way to Maine.  At the time, I was pretty confident that I had no business being out there.  Little did I know that in  years hence,  I would be on yet another 1,500 mile run to the Caribbean, this time in the company of more than 100 boats, myself having accumulated nearly 20,000 miles at sea since that first run to Maine.

After living through the pandemic, I can say with confidence that “life is short and you will never be any younger or healthier,” so don’t wait!  Cast off the dock lines and head south.  After making a long voyage in the company of dozens of other boats you will be a part of a rarified group of sailors, those who have successfully completed a major blue water passage.  Estimates are that only about 1,000 boats head south in any given year so that is indeed a very select “club.”

As I woke up to that jarring alarm this morning, unsure of where I was, I was again reminded how different things are ashore, especially here in Manhattan, than when I am aboard Pandora.

I am so excited about the next week, visiting family and seeing the excitement about Christmas from our three grandchildren.   And their Dad, our Rob, is whipping them into quite a frenzy over the whole Santa thing, using their own personal “Elf on a Shelf” to help things along.

A very creative dad who never seems to run out of things for Elf, or for the kids to do, here Elf ziplining in the den.   Love the tutu.  Looks like Elf is in touch with his/her feminine side.  Of course, these days Elf is able to identify with whatever… For me, it’s wonderful to move between the many “worlds” that make up our lives.  But for sure, confused or not, I am very happy to wake up, unsure where I am from time to time, today bolting out to move the car and I hope to continue to do all this as long as I can keep up the pace.

A few more days with Chris and Melody, then off to see the kiddies, home to winterize our “land home” and on to Antigua.

Indeed, it often feels like a “collision of worlds” but USUALLY in a good way.

Oh yeah, and all this happening in the midst of a “polar bomb” that’s impacting much of the lower 48.  Yes, plenty of variety for us these days.

I have to say that given the choice, as we head into the teeth of the northern winter season, I am all about those sunny beaches of the Caribbean.  Besides, I won’t have to worry about moving the car…

 

 

Down the energy rabbit hole.

It was some 25 years ago when I first installed mechanical refrigeration aboard one of my boats.  The install was quite simple.   I drilled some holes for wires and cooling lines, maneuvered the cold plate into the cooler, hooked up the wires electrical leads and turned it on.  Done!  Not…

It turned out that it wasn’t all that easy after all.  What about an energy audit?  Did I balance the consumption against my power reserves?  How would I put the power I used back into the battery?  No, no and NO!

That simple install turned out to be just the beginning of a tortured process that would last years and cost more than a few boat dollars.  And those cold beers, well they were a long time coming.

So, here I am decades later and I finally feel like I have things fairly well figured out.  When I think back to that initial install and where we are now, I am struck by how much things have changed, the sophistication of the equipment and how much greater our energy needs are now when compared to years ago.

Back in the “olden days” the need for power was primarily focused on a few lights and perhaps mechanical refrigeration, if we even had that, with little else.  Nowadays, it is not uncommon to have a whole fleet of devices, computers, cell phones, rechargeable lights, autopilot, navigation instruments, microwave, TV, watermaker and much more, all needing greater and greater amounts of power, loading up our little “grid”.

Over the summer I upgraded the house batteries to lithium, replaced four of the 5 solar panels and added a wind generator.   Here’s what the “array” looks like.  A lot of capacity in a small space. As recently as last year, on passage, I had to run the engine to charge the batteries at least once a day.  As I don’t have a house generator, unusual for a 47′ boat, running the main engine heats up the main cabin terribly as we made our way south.   Pandora is a wet boat so we have to keep everything sealed up to avoid an errant wave finding it’s way below making things a lot steamier down below. 

While we don’t have a generator, beyond my little gas Honda 2000, I should mention that the main engine has a power takeoff to a large alternator that can easily put out 200 amps at 12v for extended periods.  That, along with our house inverter, are powerful enough to run our AC while motoring, which we did for nearly three days of near calms on the trip this fall as even an hour of engine runtime each day adds a lot of heat to the main cabin. 

Prior to our recent upgrades, we had an AGM bank of just over 1,000AH but for practical purposes I wasn’t able to use more than about 25% of that capacity before recharging.  While my new lithium bank totals, slightly less, about 840 AH, I can easily use 90% or about 750AH before recharging.  That’s a tripling of  usable capacity.

On passage, with both plotters, many instruments and the autopilot going, we use, on average, about 8 amps which can deplete the batteries pretty fast in the overnight hours.   Happily, the new wind generator, in about 20kts apparent, now puts out enough energy to offset the entire suite of electronics.   Note that this is a 12v power curve so you’ll need to divide the amps by 2 to get the correct output at 24v.  In this case, the curve in 20kts of wind matches the house load for Pandora when we are underway, a huge gain when on passage. As the generator output matches exactly what the power curve of the unit is rated at, suggests that the new batteries will take power as fast as you can give them with virtually no resistance. I chose the Marine Kinetix unit as a few of my friends have one installed on their boat and are happy with how well it performs and how quiet it is.   I also found Jeff in tech support particularly helpful as the install on Pandora was a a bit more complex being a 24v boat.

Having had a difficult experience with a wind generator years ago due to how loud it was, I have been thrilled with the fact that the unit is basically silent.  You can only hear a very slight hum when at anchor and you have to listen closely to even hear anything at all.   Under way, in any wind up to about 30kts when it begins to power down, the only way to tell it’s working is to look at the spinning blades and the amps that are showing on the controller.

In addition to the electronics and other equipment load that is covered by the wind generator, the largest load aboard Pandora is refrigeration and that was easily handled by the new solar panels.  I was surprised to learn that solar panels loose efficiency each year and in my case, the four older 80w panels were probably down to about 40 watts each so replacing them has made a huge difference.

The amazing thing was that on passage, once we hit the trade winds, the batteries were fully charged each day and never went below 84% of full at any point during the last 600 miles on our way to Antigua.  Amazing and way beyond what I had expected from the upgraded system.  No more daily running of the engine unless there isn’t enough wind.

I had heard that lithium batteries take a charge much faster than traditional batteries but to see this happen in the “real world” was impressive.

That’s pretty amazing and with even a reasonable amount of sunlight the solar puts back the power used by the refrigeration.

After messing with power issues for so long, it’s remarkable to see how much better things are now.  The lithium bank has made more of a difference than I expected as the batteries suck up power at a rate that I have never seen before.  Even if the batteries are nearly full, they continue to suck up all the power available right up to 100%.  That is so different than lead acid where the acceptance rate slows to a trickle the closer the batteries get to 100%.

Charging now takes a few hours to reach capacity verses all day, if at all, for the old AGM batteries.  And, having the wind provide enough power to cover the overnight usage on passage is a very big deal.

Sure, our energy needs continue to grow but I now have excess power storage capacity, multiples beyond my old AGM bank and now I can even keep everything fully charged on passage without running the engine, something that was never the case before.

So, with the wind generator spinning happily and those new solar panels sucking up the sun, Pandora is on her own for a few weeks, making ice and keeping that elusive beer cold along with a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate our return on December 3oth.

Fortunately, that rabbit hole isn’t nearly as deep as it used to be.

 

It’s time to head home for the holidays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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