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What next for Pandora?

We are well into spring with the yard greening up and the daffodils faded.  Unfortunately, Pandora is still covered and will remain that way for some time as I have not begun working on her.

Actually, it’s not as bleak as it sounds as I have been “gainfully employed” in my continued quest to build a robust cache of “cruising credits” that I can redeem for time aboard Pandora this summer in Maine and next winter in the Caribbean.

And speaking of “credits”, one big project that I mentioned some time back, when I showed some rough lumber, is a new dining table.  The wood was so weathered after years in a neighbor’s shed that I couldn’t even tell that it was cherry, my favorite.  I thought walnut until I ran it through the planer.  So, now less than two months later, magic, a new kitchen table.   It took longer than I would have expected as I wasn’t working from plans and it involved some techniques that I didn’t know and some new power tools.  The table can also be extended with two 18″ leaves to make it really HUGE, over 90″.  For years, Brenda has been very focused on having a table that could be expanded to accommodate 10-12 diners although it’s hard to imagine a time when that will again be possible.  And after year of relative isolation, I’m not sure I still know that many people.  Friends or not, Brenda has her table.  Cruising credits in the bank.  Check!

With the table project behind me, we’ve also decided to have our front porch and walk, replaced with something new, field stone and blue stone, instead of the brick one that we inherited.  Sadly, as the mason dug into the project, we discovered that the bricks had near 18″ of concrete under it.  I guess that the porch was covered over at least twice before with subsequent layers of brick, concrete and cement.  What a mess.

Getting that out has proven to be as quite a job.  After the mason we hired messed with it for a day, we had to call in the big guns, this digger machine, the biggest one that they could realistically fit so close to the house.  In spite of being very powerful, we are now into the second day of the demo part.   It’s slow going as he had to be careful not to damage the foundation to the house as he wrenched it out.

He’s farther along than this photo would suggest but the progress is s-l-o-w.  So much for staying within budget for the new porch.  But, as I am a card carrying member of the “cup is half full” club, I’d prefer to look on the bright side of this.  I’m prepared to rationalize that the extra expense on the patio will be offset, I hope, for what we would have had to pay for our new kitchen table if I had not built it myself.

And, as a good amount of the wood I used was given to me by a friend who had it in her attic for years, materials for the whole project cost less than $500.  Well, that’s if you don’t count the new tools that I purchased to complete the project that cost more than the project itself.   But wait, the cost of buying tools doesn’t count as they can be used for other projects.   Besides, Brenda’s list still includes three bar stools.  Yup, I can rationalize with the best of them.

So, while Pandora sits on the hard, covered from the elements, I am plenty busy putting credits in the cruising bank.  Perhaps I’ll put together a scrapbook that I can pull out and review with Brenda come fall before we head to the Caribbean for the winter.   “Easy Bob, that might just piss her off.  Just keep working through her list. ”  Ok, I guess you’re right…

As I write this the “digger guys” are using a gas powered saw to cut into the remaining part of the slab so they can pull it out with the machine.  That’s the sound of money running full speed away from me.  But, I have to admit that it’s not as loud as the flushing of “boat dollars”.

Nope, for a number of reasons, I am not in much of a rush to put Pandora in the water.  With Memorial Day less than a month away, I can still remember the scramble in my “pre-retired” life, rushing to get our boat ready for the long weekend, the official beginning of the summer sailing season.  Now, as a retired guy in a pandemic, most days seem like every other day, so I guess there is less urgency.  Besides, I have little interest in being out with the Memorial Day hoards.  We will see how I feel about being “on the hard” when the weather is warm and Pandora is still sitting in the boatyard all by herself.

As I have mentioned many times, I am very active with the Salty Dawg Sailing Association and while I was planning to cut back on my time commitment somewhat, it seems that will not be happening anytime soon.

Recently, the Rally Director resigned and I agreed to take on that role as ACTING rally director, in addition to my work as Port Officer for Antigua.  I say ACTING as I haven’t committed to the position yet so there’s still time to escape.  Besides, I don’t have to worry about them finding someone to work for less as my total fee is just a few “at-a-boys”.   So far, so good, on that score.

I am enjoying this new role but the jury is still out on whether I want to continue to invest so much time in the group as it is a big job that has burned out a number of folks before me and I was pretty busy already.  I am somewhat optimistic that there is a way to simplify the position so it’s more manageable.  Time will tell.

For the moment being Rally Director isn’t all that tough as the fleet is small with about 8 boats leaving from the US Virgins, headed to Hampton VA.  After the balance of the boats depart in a few days I will not have much to do to support them as other volunteers take over at that point.  If you’re curious and want to follow along, check out this link to follow along with their tracks as they make their way north to the US.  It’s still early in the season so the weather is a bit unclear and might get rough as they reach the US coast.   However, everyone is working with Chris Parker, our weather router, to avoid just that.

The next rally is the Down East Rally to Maine coming up in July, so I will also handle that one.  I expect that rally will be about 20 boats and I am really looking forward to being a part of the group.   I’d love to have you along so how about signing up?  Follow this link to learn more.

As I add all of this up, I am wondering if I can see that continuing to be focused on my “cruising credit” effort may be a bit challenging.

For the moment, at least I can make a list of what I have to do on Pandora to get her ready to head to Maine.  Besides, I don’t plan to launch until late June so there’s still time.

So, what’s next for Pandora?  One thing for sure, I’m going sailing but not quite yet.

When she’s finally launched the next big step will be heading to Rockland and Penobscot Bay, one of my favorite cruising areas.  When I get there perhaps I’ll mix up a rum punch and watch a beautiful sunset like this one on Egamoggen Reach, not far from Rockland.
And after some time in Maine, on to Annapolis when I will again try and coax my son’s family aboard for some cruising in the Chesapeake.

And, then to Hampton VA and then to Antigua.  And I am really looking forward to a real Caribbean sunset there too. Maine of Antigua?  Which is better?  Hard to say but perhaps with one more visit to Maine and the Caribbean, I’ll be able to figure it out, with rum punch in hand, of course.

So there you have it, the answer to one of life’s most persistent questions.

What’s next for Pandora.

Now you know as much as I know.

Permission to board? Have you been vaccinated?

Brenda and I are now fully vaccinated and our boys, will soon be as well.  With the summer cruising season up0n us, thoughts turn to staying safe on the water and how one’s “status” will play out when it comes to socializing.

A big part of the cruising lifestyle is spending time together aboard and the ubiquitous “sundowners” at the end of the day with friends.  Sure, most of the time these encounters are outdoors in the cockpit but behind the dodger on Pandora, you might as well be indoors.   With the pandemic still in full swing, especially for those who have not been vaccinated, we will have to decide how we will handle the inevitable question of “have you been vaccinated?” when it comes to having someone come aboard.

Over the years we have hosted countless gatherings without thinking about anyone’s health but now?

For seven years I co-organized an event for cruisers at our local club.  Imagine that now?Jammed under Pandora’s hard dodger these days?  Not so sure about that.The arrival events in Antigua, sans mask?Or, a tot with my favorite club in Antigua, the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Tot Club.  Mask less?  Perhaps after a few stiff tots.  Life used to be so simple.A full house down below?  Perish the thought of sharing both food and viral particles…Even worse, how about Carnival?  Nope, can’t even imagine. I read in the NY Times today that there is a tendency for those who have been vaccinated to have an irrational fear of infection.  Presumably safe or not, they don’t want to even want to be around those who haven’t been vaccinated.  I can relate to that, especially because of the variants that have cropped up and threaten to bypass the work of the current vaccines.

In the EU there is talk about a “vaccine passport” in order to be admitted into the country or to events that will be crowded.  Imagine that in the “US of A, the land where “I can do what I want, when I want.”  Not likely…

To make matters worse, worldwide, the vaccination process is probably years from completion and recently there have been a record number of infections identified every day.   And with more infections there is a  greater likelihood that the virus will mutate in a way that will make it more infectious and more deadly.  Actually, that’s already happened and the “variants” are now the standard here in the US.   Normally, over time, viruses are expected to become less dangerous but COVID-19 seems to be bucking that trend which does not bode well for getting things under control anytime soon.

So, back to my question of the vaccinated spending time with the not-vaccinated.   I am a port officer for Essex for a number of sailing groups, including the Ocean Cruising Club and in an email exchange between other port officers over the weekend, the topic came up of what to do about this issue.

The universal reaction from those that commented was that they would ask about vaccination status and not invite anyone aboard who wasn’t up to date on their shots.  Awkward?  YOU BET!

“Permission to come aboard?”  “Have you been vaccinated?  Nope?  Permission denied.  Next…”

I’ll admit that I am firmly in the “permission denied” camp, partly out of fear but also because I have a problem with those who do not have what I expect of everyone and that is a “strong sense of community responsibility”

The politization of pandemic safety and COVID denial here in the US still annoys me and the idea that “refusenik” minority will somehow set policy for the majority, just pisses me off.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of being in a situation where I have to ask the question of anyone that wants to visit about their vaccination status is not appealing, but I suppose that is what will have to be the norm for now.

One possible solution suggested by a fellow port officer was to fly a “V” or victor signal flag.

That’s a pretty appealing option but the actual meaning of the Victor flag is “I require assistance”, which is quite ironic, under the circumstances.

Another suggested a club flag “I’ve been vaccinated” as an option and a way for the club’s ships’ store to make some money.

So, want to board Pandora for a sundowner this summer?  That would be great.  No wait, have you been vaccinated?

Yes you say!  Permission to board.

How about a rum punch while we enjoy the sunset together?And in case you are wondering “what do you think about all this Bob?”.   Well, that’s what I really think.

Coaxing your reluctant partner aboard.

There are plenty of cruising couples where both are equally enthusiastic about spending extended time aboard.  If you are one of these lucky ones, good for you.

However, often and perhaps more often that not, one member is enthusiastic and the other, well, not so much.

Our boys, Rob and Chris, now adults, and witness to Brenda’s and my cruising together, like to say that my efforts to coax her aboard are best described as “40 years of Dad’s desperate moves trying to make Mom like sailing”.  I suppose that is a true statement but so far, it’s gone fairly well as we have been sailing together since the late 70s, well over 40 years now, logging more than 1,500 nights aboard together and months at a time since I retired in 2012.

I won’t say that I have been fully successful in my goal as there continues to be a big difference between the amount of time I want to spend aboard and what she’d prefer to do.

However, so far, so good but the quest continues.

Over the years I have observed that among cruising “wanabees”, more often than not, one partner is generally more enthusiastic than the other.  I’ll go further out on a limb to say that it’s the guys that are inclined to be more enthusiastic.  Ok, sure, there are plenty of the fairer sex that love to be aboard but the are mostly all called for and for us “mere mortal guys” it’s up to us to work hard to coax the reluctant partner aboard.

For the last few months, I have been involved in a series of weekly Zoom meetings with a half dozen couples to talk about the cruising lifestyle and most of them fit the pattern that I have laid out.

That’s not to say that this reluctance is insurmountable but it’s has been my experience, and I understand among many others, that to head out and spend months at a time aboard together, often takes some convincing.

Our Zoom discussions were wide ranging and over the months I kept track of what I was hearing and tried to distill those thoughts into a talk presented recently to a group of cruisers, as part of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association webinar series.

With this talk, about a half hour long, I try to get at the heart of some of the issues that cruising couples face where one partner isn’t as enthusiastic about spending extended time aboard.  Brenda’s and my cruising has taken us from Maine to the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Cuba and most recently the Lesser Antilles, in the eastern Caribbean where we plan to head again next winter.

I’d be interested in what you think.

They said a zombie apocalypse would unite mankind! They were wrong…

Aa few days ago earth had a “near miss” with an asteroid when FO32 passed within 2,000,000 kilometers of us.  At about 500 meters wide FO32 would have made quite a mess if it had crashed into earth at a speed of 15 miles a second, instead of passing harmlessly by.

Well, no harm done as we “dodged the bullet” and it won’t pass by us again until 2058. By then I’ll likely be long gone or 103 years old and if I am not, I won’t be aware of much anyway.  I guess my kids and grandkids can worry about that one.

A direct hit?  If you find yourself wondering what a direct hit by a 500 meter piece of rock whizzing along at 15 miles per second, you aren’t alone.  Don’t forget that a big reason we, the billions and billions of people on earth, are here at all is probably because of that asteroid that struck earth and wiped out all those nasty, toothy dinosaurs millions of years ago.

This short, if slightly irreverent, piece suggests what it might be like when, and they do say “when”, the earth is next struck.

Or, more importantly, is there anything that we might do to stop it from wiping us out? I would like to think that if a catastrophe of this magnitude was in the offing, we would unite in finding a way to work together and save all of mankind.

If the worldwide reaction to the risk that Covid-19 is any indication, we are just  F*&%#$ if the worst happens.

As a result of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to enjoy our local yacht club since we returned to the US nearly a year ago.  As our membership begins to be vaccinated, and with the hope of making the club safe for visiting again, the board recently issued a directive that they were setting aside a room in the clubhouse for those who have been vaccinated.  They thought that their plan was reasonable and would allow those who decided to follow the CDC recommendations of being vaccinated to enjoy the club and let others, who took a different position on the subject, do so as well, but in a different area.   Simple right?

Wrong!  Within hours of that announcement, pandemonium erupted with some members threatening to resign “give me my money back!” and even a few calls from lawyers saying that wasn’t legal.

So much for a simple fix to keep everyone happy.   The tempest made me think of this scene from the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”, a hysterical take, by the Cohen Brother’s, of “Homer’s Odyssey”.   I this video clip, think of George Clooney, up in the hay loft, as the board and the guys holding the torches, well, they were the ones that took a “dissenting view”.All of this controversy about how to handle the virus in the US and elsewhere in the world, is making me think about what cruising in the Caribbean will be like next winter.  At this point, we have no idea if proof of vaccination will be required for entry in each country or if that, in addition to a PCR test to prove that you are “clean”, will be required.

If you have been vaccinated, will that offer an opportunity to move to other islands without quarantine?  A required period of quarantine to move from island to island that will have a huge impact on cruising in the islands and I expect that many will opt to skip the season altogether.

So, what will cruising in the Caribbean be like next fall?   I think, and I will admit that I am speculating at this point on this, that it might look something like the following.

There is a good chance that the French islands, Guadeloupe, St Martin and Martinique may follow whatever restrictions are in place for travel within the EU, perhaps requiring “covid passports” for free travel.   The non-French islands, known as CARICOM, from Trinidad north to The Bahamas, tend to work together so as long as vaccination rates are high, easy travel might work out for those who can show that they are vaccinated and “safe”.

Recently, Gaston Brown, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, petitioned the US Government on behalf of CARICOM to get vaccines to their residents.  It will be interesting to see how that goes.

One way or the other, there is little question that the Caribbean will be open for business next winter as the vast bulk of their economies rely on tourism, but the question is how restrictive arrival and travel between islands will be.

With regards to the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean, we are encouraging our members to follow the advice of the CDC and get vaccinated but there is currently no requirement to do so in order to participate in the Rally.

It’s interesting to see how so many people here in the US are beginning to feel that things are back to normal as more and more vaccinations are available.  Last week the Governor of Texas said “Texas is 100% open for business”.  With only a fraction of the population currently vaccinated and virus variants moving into every part of the US, experts don’t agree that anything like “open” is reasonable quite yet and fear that risky behavior will lead to yet another spike in infections.

So, here we are, enjoying the freedom we have here in the US to say, “vaccination, no vaccination, I ain’t afraid a no virus” and something like 25% unwilling to, “take the jab”, it seems that, once again, the vocal minority can, can decide for the majority about what can and cannot be accomplished.

So much for “all for one, and one for all”.  In the US, sadly, it’s “all about me”.

What does our handling of COVID say about how we will do in the event of a Zombie apocalypse or a deadly meteor strike?  Not good I fear in the good old United States of America, where we are united in perhaps only one thing, that  “I”ll do what I want, when I want”.

I expect that there are plenty that, in the event of a Zombie attack would say “Heck, them zombies, they only hurt people that can’t take care of themselves.  Me, I’m safe.  To get to me and mine, they’ll have to get past my trusty Smith & Wesson.”

Or, perhaps a little less subtly.
And, if all else fails, and to close the loop…Yup, we have always been a nation of “do-it-yourselfers.”

Zombie apocalypse, meteor strike?   We’d better not face one any time soon.  If we do, it probably won’t turn out well.

Brenda and me?  We got the jab but we’re still not quite ready to face the Zombie horde., here in town or anywhere else for that matter.

One robin doesn’t make a spring…

After a long winter that seemed like it will never end, we are beginning to see the first signs of spring.  A few days ago, I was able to take a walk in the woods behind our home, without a jacket, hat or gloves.  It wasn’t warm enough for shorts but it was positively glorious to be outdoors “unbundled” after such a long winter.

And speaking of things that never end, after more than a year of viewing nearly every other human as a possible “contagion”, Brenda and I will receive our second vaccine “jab” tomorrow, surely a sign that our own long Covid winter will soon be over, or at least heading in the right direction.

Sadly, there seems to be many here in the US that are resistant to getting the vaccine and growing evidence that we may face another wave of infection in the Fall, due to the mutating virus, vaccine or not.  It is unsettling to hear recent poll suggesting that a third of Republicans are hesitant to get the vaccine which will only make matters worse.  Who would have ever imagined that staying safe and healthy would become such a political issue?  This does not bode well for the future, or as Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Vaccination or not, the lack of clarity regarding asymptomatic secondary transmission of the virus suggests that we will have to continue to isolate at least until our son Christopher and his partner Melody, who we asked to move in with us last fall, are fully vaccinated, hopefully by mid May.

And speaking of vaccines, from my perspective, it is a miracle that less than a year after the pandemic struck, there is a way out for anyone that chooses to, as Dr Fauci says, get the vaccine, “follow the science” and find their way to safety.

Springtime or not, vaccinated or not, we are not quite out of the woods, or the house quite yet. 

However, spring is showing early signs of coming our way.  The snow is gone save a few piles here and there and some early flower bulbs are beginning to show signs of life in the garden.

Here in the Connecticut I am getting excited about the coming season and hardly a moment goes by without my thoughts turning to my upcoming trip to Maine this summer and run to Antigua in the fall.

And speaking of future plans when life is back to normal, we have been talking to our friends Tom and Sarah, who sailed around the world as part of the Oyster Round the World Rally.  After “seeing the world” they have decided to spend their cruising time for the next few years in the eastern Mediterranean.  They have spent the last three seasons working their way west and have encouraged us to give it a try.

I’ll admit that doing an Atlantic crossing has been a dream of mine for decades but I had not realistically expected that Brenda would ever go for the idea.   I can still remember when my late father said to me “imagine going through Gibraltar aboard Pandora.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”  Yes, Dad, it would be awesome and maybe, perhaps maybe, it might happen.

Brenda does love that part of the world and during college, she majored in Greek and Latin and spent semesters in both Italy and Greece.   After our discussions with Tom and Sarah, she seems at least somewhat open to spending some time there aboard Pandora.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Will it happen?  I have no idea but at least we are talking about it and that alone is super awesome.

And, not to put the cart before the horse, or as my father would put it “say that another way”, putting the dink before the boat.

The itinerary might look a bit like this.   Head to Antigua this fall and come May, instead of heading back to New England, make a run for the Azores and then on to the Med.  That would be a long trip, nearly 3,500 miles from the Caribbean to Gibraltar and then another 2,000 miles from Gibraltar to Turkey, the most eastern part of the Med.   Of course, we wouldn’t go all the way, as we’d want to spend time in the Western Med.

Heading there directly from the Caribbean makes sense as the best time to cross the Atlantic is between May and June before the hurricane season kicks in.  At least the prevailing winds would be in our favor crossing east.

It’s a big commitment and would require us to cruise the Med for at least several seasons given the complexity and expense of all this, so we will just have to see how it all works out.

Along with everything else, I’d have to learn a whole new set of navigation marks.  So much for “red right returning”. I’ll give credit where it’s due.  I scanned the two images above out of the Imray Mediterranean Cruising Handbook.

Well, a lot to think about but first I have to get Pandora ready to go into the water.  I’ve been spending a lot of time on Salty Dawg rally details, the Down East Rally and the fall Rally to the Caribbean and Antigua recently so now it’s time to begin turning my attention toward her.

Oh yeah, and speaking of “her”, I am making good progress on Brenda’s new dining table.  The table top, leaves and legs are mostly done and I’ve ordered a few tools to finish the job.   I also have to get bids to do some renovation on our kitchen so we can get some much needed, especially by Brenda, upgrades done.

Yes, I’m pretty busy but at least I’m not bored.

Yes, springtime is getting closer every day.  But, as they say, the first warm day, a second vaccination or a single robin, doesn’t make a spring.

 

Only 18 days till spring… Yahoo!

It’s been a long COVID winter but as I sit here watching the snow, that has been carpeting the ground for the last month, finally melt, I am encouraged that we have left January and February in the rear view mirror.  With multiple snowfalls, my snow blower has had more use this winter than it has for many years.  I am very hopeful that it will be along in “cold storage” for all next winter, snow or not…Next winter I am looking forward to tropical sun warmed “white”, the type you get on a sandy beach.  That’s our friend Maureen enjoying the warm weather in Antigua back in January, a big contrast to our frozen time up north. Here, a glimmer of hope as the spring flower catalogues have begun piling up in our mailbox, knowing that we are all desperate to see something new and green poking up from the ground, bringing the promise of warmer weather.

Brenda and I received our first Moderna vaccination two weeks ago and will soon return for our second.  Hopefully, after that, we will be able to begin resuming something resembling a normal life.  Fingers crossed that research will show that we won’t be at risk of asymptomatically passing the virus to Chris and Melody before they get their vaccinations in mid April.

Once the “coast is clear” we are totally going out for dinner.  I can not wait for that and to hear the words “Welcome.  What can I get you this evening?”

Yes, it’s been a long winter but having our son Christopher and his partner Melody with us, along with their Husky Mila, has done a lot to keep us from going completely stir crazy.   As of this week, they have been with us for 6 months and I can not imagine this winter would have been like without them in our “bubble”.

Here’s my buddy Mila with her own new baby husky.  After a few days of “love” the “baby” is headless and somewhat worse for wear.   “What are you looking at?  I didn’t do anything, nothing…  If you’d only take me for a walk.  Now?”And speaking of afternoon walks, Mila always seeks me out around 3:00 knowing that it’s time to head into the woods for a walk.

Yes, it’s been great to have the three of them with us so the next order of business will be to convince them not to return to San Francisco any time soon.    Hopefully, they will decide to set up house, not that we are trying to get rid of them, somewhere within a reasonable distance.  “I hear that you need to have someone watch Mila.   We’re on it…”

Just how isolated have we been?  Today, I cleaned out old receipts from my wallet and discovered a few from my trip back to Florida in June to bring Pandora north.  With these forlorn slips of paper, I was able to follow my progress up the East Coast, Fort Pierce Florid, a stop in Hampton VA, and on to Annapolis.

Aside from trips to the grocery, and an endless number of Amazon charges on our card, there have been precious few trips out since the weather turned cold.  Totally depressing.  And, I expect that the few $20 bills accompanying those old receipts are probably from an ATM months ago.  Remember cash?  How quaint.

I’ll admit that I am really f0cused on next summer and the coming cruising season and am praying that we will be able to go out in public without too many restrictions.  There’s been a lot of discussion about how masks are here to say that I am not all that unhappy about that possibility as I have become quite used to wearing one.   In particular, with masks, the wildly coughing people on planes and other public places will seem a lot less intimidating.    Remember the flu?  That seems like such a long time ago.

And, speaking of summer cruising, I’ll be leading a rally to Maine from Newport in July for the Salty Dawgs, which should be fun.  This summer will mark by 16th trip “Down East” and I am really looking forward to the trip.  I really don’t need a rally for the one day over-night to Maine but really want to support those who are doing their very first run in the dark.

My friend Bill recently quipped “sailing at night is exactly like sailing during the day except that you can’t see anything”.   Yes Bill, that’s correct but to many it  sounds a lot like “So Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, what did you think of the play?”

It is widely recognized that anxiety about doing “overnights” is one of the top issues with first timers.  Personally, I can attest to that as I vividly recall the first time I headed out of the Cape Cod Canal for my first overnight run to Maine.   It was about 20:00 and I thought “I have no right to be out here in the dark”.   But I made it and over the years I have spent countless nights at sea.

Our friends Tom and Sarah, who sailed around the world as part of the Oyster Around the World Rally, shared that when Sarah first began sailing with Tom said that she WOULD NOT sail overnight and yet went on to sail some 25,000 miles, including many-many overnights.  You never know until you give it a try.

Anyway, sailing in the dark isn’t for everyone but it’s a hurdle that must be overcome in order to do anything other than short local hops.   I am hopeful that we will have good participation in the Maine rally this summer so more can take the important step from coastal to extended cruising.

And, speaking of learning new skills, I have been hosting a series of nearly weekly Zoom meetings since January with some cruisers who want to head out and away, mostly this fall, probably down the ICW and onto the Bahamas.

Brenda and I have enjoyed these sessions and it will be fun to have Tom and Sara as special guests tomorrow evening to provide insight from their own experiences, about what it takes to “cast off the docklines”.

While most of our sessions have been more of a Q&A format, I did a presentation recently about crossing from FL to the Bahamas, strategies for crossing the Stream and the Banks along with some highlights of Bahamas cruising.    Check out the recording here.I am also kicking around the idea of preparing a recorded talk about the plans for the Down East Rally and if that works, I’ll do the same about planned highlights for the upcoming Caribbean Rally to Antigua, yet another opportunity to take advantage of what Zoom Culture has brought to us.  The ability to easily share stories and “see” others, when we can’t, is one positive to come out of the Pandemic.

It is bringing me some solace to be able to think about the coming cruising season but it’s still too cold to begin projects on Pandora to get her ready and in proper cruising shape.

In the meantime, I am trying to build good will with Brenda by building a new kitchen table out of cherry.  I still have a long way to go but I am confident that a new table that will replace the one we purchased when we were first married over 40 years ago, will be a welcome addition to our home.

I began with rough lumber and yesterday joined the boards together for the top.  They were really rough and you can see that much will have to happen to make them “ready for prime time”. ‘

Partially planed rough boards.  They were completely grey when I received them, compliments of a friend who had them in her garden shed for years.  I thought that they were walnut but was thrilled to learn that they were cherry, my favorite, when they emerged from the planer. Some of the board were fairly irregular so it took a number of passes through the planer and I ended up with tons of shavings.   This is only half…Meanwhile, Brenda is weaving away.  This project, her first on a 16 harness loom that we purchased recently, is very complicated and involves 1,000 threads in the warp,  a major undertaking to set up.   Now that all the bugs are worked out, and there was a “bug swarm”, she’s a very happy camper/weaver.So, that’s about it.  Our world has been pretty narrow for the last 6 months, made better with our “brood” here with us.

Soon, very soon, we will be able to once again sit outside and enjoy the springtime weather.

“Did I hear someone say OUTSIDE?  Is it TIME FOR A WALK?”, says Mila.

Oh boy, I sure hope so, and without a jacket…

So much to look forward to and only 18 days till spring.  Yahoo! Yahoo!

YAHOO!

If you like clouds, you’ll love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Carnival Martinique: A can’t miss celebration!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just can’t miss Carnival in Martinique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesser Antilles, our favorite cruising grounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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