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So, Bob, how was your trip to Antigua?

Well, it’s done.  Pandora is now in Antigua and Brenda and I are back home for the holidays.

Our plan is to rejoin Pandora in late December so we can enjoy New Year’s Eve in Antigua along with some terrific French dining while watching the fireworks over the fort in English harbor.

If you think of fireworks as something that only happens for the 4th of July, think again. You have not experienced anything like watching a scene like this while sitting on the deck of your boat sipping a rum punch.   Incomparable…So we are in CT, Pandora is in Antigua and my run south is becoming a distanc memory.  All and all, the run was fairly easy but the fleet was frustrated by a lack of wind and when the wind gets light, I crank up the engine.  This year that meant we motored more than 150 hours over the 1,500 mile, 12 day run.  To give some scale to the time we listened to the drone of the engine, think about turning on the engine on say, Sunday and then turning it off  the following weekend.

That’s a lot of motoring.   I always find it amazing that a machine/engine, can operate for that long without something going badly, another reason that I have a mechanic go over the engine every year before we head offshore.   The idea of finding myself powerless, hundreds of miles from land, with no wind in the forecast makes me sweat.

If you follow this blog you already know much of this as I published nearly every day, during the run, sending the text of the post to Brenda via the Iridium Go network.  I will say, that while the Iridium and Predict Wind systems are a fairly expensive system to set up and use, it’s an awesome way to get weather information each day and to stay in touch with family along the way.   Being able to call Brenda every day during the trip was a real treat and something that I will not want to give up any time soon.

Being unable to hear her voice for the nearly two weeks that it takes to make the run has always been tough for me so those talks, as brief as they were, made being away from her more tolerable.   And, I know of such things after nearly a decade making the north and south run most every year.

Anyway, the question I always get when I talk with friends following a long run is “So, Bob, how was your trip?”, so I thought that I’d try to answer that in this post.

All and all, the trip was fine if a bit too long.  At twelve days, it was the longest by a few days but because we had to motor so much, it seemed like a LOT longer than that.

If the truth is to be told. about half way through the run I began to think that it might be best to leave Pandora south next summer, likely in Trinidad, instead of yet another long run north.  Fast forward to now and that’s the plan.   I think that it’s time to take a break from the three weeks in the fall and again in the spring that I spend moving Pandora thousands of miles.  It’s going to be tough to have her in Trinidad for months, while I am home in CT, so we will have to see how it goes.

One of the features of Pandora that makes her sail well, when the engine isn’t droning away, is that her engine is located below the galley, in the center of the boat.  This keeps weight low and away from the ends of the boat.  That’s good from a design standpoint, but the negative is that the heat of the engine running is inside the boat which means that a lot of heat is released into the cabin, even for hours after the engine is shut off.  And, as we can’t open up any hatches when underway to keep the errant wave out, all that heat is kept inside the boat which can make things pretty uncomfortable.

And, as we get farther and farther south, it gets hotter and hotter to a point when it sometimes feels unbearable.  “Are we there yet?”  Additionally, even if we have good wind and are sailing a lot, I still have to run the engine at least once a day to keep the batteries charged as the solar just can’t keep up with the load of the instruments and autopilot running round the clock and that means more heat.

All this means that it is nearly always hot down below when on passage.  I can, when conditions are very calm and we are under power, run the AC.  As we have a powerful alternator on the engine, linked to a power-takeoff, the engine can handle the load of the AC.  The alternator is a big one, rated 14oA at 24 volts.

However, if the boat is healing more than a few degrees, the condensate drip pan spills over and drains into an interior compartment, creating a mess.  This can  be solved by including a drain on both sides of the condensate drip pan but I have not done that yet.   I’ll add that to my to-do list.

However, when there is wind, Pandora sails really well.  During the half of the trip when there was wind, I thought it would be fun to document what it is like to be under sail in arguably sporty conditions, hundreds of miles from shore.   Aboard with me were Peter, at the helm and George, taking a siesta off camera.

Notice how much noise there was as we plowed into the wind driven chop.   As a rule, boat speeds are less offshore than in coastal cruising as waves tend to be a lot larger.  In this case, there was a powerful gale hundreds of miles to the north of us and that northerly swell combined with a wind driven chop that made for some bumpy sailing that slowed us down a bit.  In spite of that we still pounded along at around 7kts, good progress by any measure, thanks to our long waterline, plumb bow and fairly fine entry.

Rodger Martin, the designer of Pandora, an Aerodyne 47, penned a very good boat, well suited to ocean passage making.   Sadly, there were only three built.

This short clip was shot during a squall that increased the wind by about 10kts.  Normally, I would have put in a second reef, to reduce sail and the load on the boat.  However, the stronger winds didn’t last all that long.

We were fairly hard on the wind and the apparent wind peaked at 30kts, a bit much for my taste.  Pandora romped along, never the less.   Note the inner rod rigging to port, it’s normally drum tight and with all the load on the rig, it was wobbling slightly.   We run into squalls a lot on passage but fortunately, they are not as violent as those we encounter during the summer in New England, where wind speeds can easily reach storm force, if only for a short time.

Down below Pandora is always pretty well trashed on passage with the cushions covered by canvas covers to protect the interior from the inevitable salt that finds it’s way down below.  The footage doesn’t really show clearly how much we were heeled. but note the angle of the gimballed stove and the water rushing by the porthole above the seats on the port side.  In spite of the conditions, Peter, sitting behind the helm, looked comfortable.  Note that we have a full enclosure, to keep the salt spray out.  Before Peter agreed to do the trip he asked about the enclosure.  “don’t get my wet!”.   Been there, done that and he’s not going to do it again.   Bashing along in wind and rain while getting soaked can really get old and the older we get…

The covers on the cushions helped a lot so when we arrived in Antigua, it was a lot easier to just hose off the canvas covers than to attempt to clean salty cushions.

Again, as it is on deck, the boat is very noisy when we are crashing along.    So much for keeping things neat and tidy.  When we are preparing for a passage of more than 3-4 days, we have to be ready for conditions that range from flat calm to gales as you just can’t get forecasts that are accurate for more than hand full of days.

As you can imagine, with that sort of uncertainty, keeping up on what sort of weather is heading your way is a near full time job so I watch closely to the twice a day forecast both through Predict Wind and our weather router, Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center.

The trip s0uth this fall was the first time I had used Predict Wind and I have to say that it was pretty neat.  Check out this video that describes the service.As neat as the graphics are and the ease of downloading them via the Iridium satellite system, it’s pretty clear to me that a combination of this service and a weather router like Chris Parker makes the most sense.   As good as Predict Wind is, you really need a live person interpreting the long range forecasts as computer generated models can only really go out a few days and beyond that models are just not accurate enough to trust.

So, here I am at home in CT, with the holidays upon us.  I am excited about spending time with family, especially our grandkids, but heading back to Antigua is high on my list.

There are still plenty of uncertainties about how the season will unfold as COVID is still a threat everywhere.  However, I have to say that the prospect of being outdoors all winter, with balmy trade winds blowing, sounds a lot more appealing, and safer, than being cooped up with snow blowing around outside.

So, how was my trip to Antigua?   It was annoyingly long but now that Pandora is there, I am excited to rejoin her as the winter promises to be warm days and steady breezes, something to look forward to.

Did mention that it’s warm in Antigua, even in the winter?  Thought so…

 

The best ataboy of all time!

In 2012, when I retired, Brenda and I expanded our cruising grounds, beyond New England and began spending winters aboard.  Our travels took us south on the Intra Coastal Waterway to Florida, four seasons in the Bahamas, several months cruising much of Cuba and most recently, the Eastern Caribbean where we have explored many islands from the Virgin Islands south to Grenada.

While our cruising has covered thousands of miles and dozens of islands, we have come to love visiting Antigua most of all.

When we first came to Antigua I was already involved with the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean which had a long history of visiting the British Virgin Islands.  However, when hurricane Irma devastated the BIV and many other islands in 2017, we had to move quickly to find an alternate destination.

Based on my limited experiences in Antigua, I got on the phone and within weeks we had everything in place, complete with a dozen events to celebrate the arrival of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua.

So, here we are, five years later and Antigua has proven to be a wonderful partner.  This year, I was thrilled to have more than 50 boats, a record, pointing their bows south with the goal of making landfall in Antigua where we filled Nelson’s Dockyard to near capacity.

A few days after my arrival aboard Pandora, I was told that Brenda and I were to go to St John to meet the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams, the Queen’s representative (yes that Queen) to Antigua and Barbuda.

I was told that I was to be thanked for my work in bringing so many boats to Antigua over the years and I was excited to meet him.  I imagined that we would meet briefly and I would get a nice note saying how much everyone appreciated my work on behalf of Antigua.

There is no doubt that I have worked hard, with presentations and articles in publications, always singing the praises of Antigua as “the best place to begin and end the winter cruising season”.

My enthusiasm for Antigua, that I feel is not as widely known in the cruising community as it deserves, has sometimes gained me criticism for being, what some felt, was overly aggressive and too single minded in pushing Antigua.  Apparently, Sir Rodney didn’t feel that way.

Friday morning arrives and a car, complete with a very dapper uniformed driver, arrives in Nelson’s Dockyard to whisk us off to St John and Government House.  We arrived and were ushered into a large and very ornate room, with only a few chairs.  My question, as we were escorted to our seats… “So, who else will be here today?”  Answer:  “Just you…”.   Just me?That was my first sense that something more than a simple ataboy was heading our way.

We were not alone for long and soon others entered the room, all dressed in sharp suits and uniforms.   Brenda and I were handed a “program”.  A program! I opened it up… Yikes!   My name was on it.

And they even spelled our name right.  Almost nobody gets it right…

Brenda and I sat, trying to look casual, waiting for something to happen.

Soon we heard a siren and a motorcade, complete with a police motorcycle escort, pulled into the drive, delivering Sir Rodney to meet with us.

More evidence that this wasn’t a simple meet and greet.  On the back of the program was a description of what was to come.  Soon someone in uniform approached the podium and announced something to the effect of “all rise for His Excellency, Sir Rodney Williams”.

The national anthem was played, of course.

Oh boy, if I had ever been in a desperate need of a blue blazer, that was THE MOMENT.  I felt like a kid being awarded for perfect attendance at Sunday school.  At least he didn’t pat me on the top of the head.  I was asked to stand while the reason I was there was explained.  Oh, did I mention that there was a video crew and photographer capturing the whole thing.  His Excellency said some very nice things…Then he pinned the award on my shirt.   Oh boy, that blue blazer would have been way better.   The award.   Snazzy, yes?   I believe that the big version is for formal occasions and the little to wear “just because”.  Meanwhile a photographer snapped away and the entire thing was taped for the evening news. I could not resist putting in a plug for Salty Dawg,  presenting a rally flag, the very last one I had on board Pandora to His Excellency. Oh yeah, recall on the program “remarks from honoree”…  I gave a brief speech on why I was so focused on Antigua.   That part was actually pretty easy as I had been “pounding the drum” for Antigua for years so telling that story was second nature.

Anne, from the Governor General’s office was nice enough to send me the footage of the ceremony so you can see an edited version here.  I say edited as I didn’t expect that you, or anyone would stick with me for the nearly half hour that the formal part of the ceremony took.

I hope that you enjoy this but note that His Excellency was, shall we say, a bit generous with the facts, making me sound bigger than life.  But, as they say , you had to be there.
Next stop, “processing” for a photo op.  I can’t say that I have not had all that much experience “processing” except for when Brenda and I were married over 40 years ago.  I felt like a little kid then too at our wedding, which I was, but at least I was appropriately dressed.
Next and final stop, out on the veranda for an interview with the local TV station, and another opportunity to talk about the great partnership between Salty Dawg and Antigua.As if all of this wasn’t surreal enough, it turned out that the ceremony ended up as one of three top news items on the evening news broadcast that night.

Check out this link to see the broadcast yourself and let me know what you think.  My bit appears at 11:49 on the timer.

The next day I participated in a meeting of the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Navy Tot Club and Anne, a sweet woman who was my sponsor when I joined the group, congratulated me on my award.

Then she leaned close and said, in a whisper almost to soft to hear…  “you did look a little like a deer in the headlights”.   No kidding Ann.  Perhaps I would have felt better if I had a blue blazer.

Deer in the headlights or not, it was a great day.   My only regret is that my Dad wasn’t there to experience it with me.

I mention this as I have been keeping this blog for 13 years.  This post is the 1,010th and for the the first 7 years I wrote for my Dad and Mom.

Whenever I put up a post, Dad would pull it up and he would read it aloud to Mom while they were having a glass of wine before dinner.

I expect that he’s up there now, probably having a glass of wine together with mom, and feeling pretty good about all this.  For me, this is indeed one of the best ataboys ever and that’s why I do what I do.

And, finally, a special thanks to Ann-Marie who I came to know as Park’s Commissioner of Antigua and a good friend to me and the Dawgs, for helping to make this happen.

Rum, parties and a donkey blocking the way…

It’s been more than a week since the first boats in the Salty Dawg Rally began tying up in Nelson’s Dockyard and a few are still on the way and should arrive soon.   I don’t know where to begin with all that has been going on here as we have been busy with events, sometimes two, every day.

We’ve had cocktail parties and group photos.  And, the group is getting so big that we had difficulty in fitting everyone into to the shot. As in past years, we were honored by a visit from the Minister of Tourism, Fernandez, a highpoint of the evening. And me, the tireless Antigua cheerleader, always happy to address the group.  What’s with the grey hair?  My mom used to say that I was blond.  Hmm… Following cocktails at our arrival event, we had a lovely meal poolside at Boom, part of the Admiral’s Inn.  It was a beautiful night. We celebrated the arrival of one of our boats, Nobody Home, that had come to the rescue of another rally participant that lost part of their rig and sails, helping them sort through a mess of sails and lines that ended up in the water, hundreds of miles from land.   Nobody Home stayed on station for several days helping to  sort things out before continuing on to English Harbor.

When Nobody Home finally arrived, they received a hero’s welcome from the fleet who went out to escort them into the harbor.The Antigua Coast Guard was on station to lend a hand if needed. I greeted the crew at the dock when they were finally secured, with a “tot” of Antiguan rum to celebrate their arrival.  It was good to see them safe and sound. With the fleet tied up in the Dockyard, we filled the place.  It was very rewarding to me, after so many years of beating the drum about Antigua, that we had a record number of boats finally here.
It is remarkable how big the boats have gotten over the years.  When we first began cruising, decades ago, a big boat was anything over about 35 feet.  Nowadays, the average boat in the fleet is over 50′.  These two carbon cats are part of a trend toward catamarans as opposed to the tried and true monohulls.  And they sport all the comforts of home in a very stable platform. Another great event was “rum in the ruins”, hosted by Dr. Christopher Waters, head archeologist for the island.  He spoke to us about the history of the Dockyard.   Chris is an excellent speaker.   And the rum part, tasty but REALLY strong. Thinking ahead to what else we can do in Antigua and “down island”, our friend Bill from Kalunamoo shared his knowledge with others about what awaits the explorer. About 2/3rds of the fleet are visiting  Antigua for the first time.  They were all ears about what to see and where to go. There are still a number of restrictions here in Antigua so some of our events had to be postponed until January when things are expected to be more or less back to normal.

With vaccinations mandatory for many here in Antigua and vaccination required for all visitors, Antigua is a lot safer than the US.  With over 90,000 citizens living on the island they have only had 100 deaths due to Covid, a remarkable achievement.

Our host for many of our events, Paul Deeth of the Admiral’s In, treated me, Brenda along with my crew Peter and his wife Jane to a harbor tour in his Longtail from Thailand.  Paul brought that boat back when he captained a yacht on a round the world tour many years ago.   You will recognize this design from a James Bond movie.  It is powered by a diesel engine mounted on a swivel to steer the boat with a surface piercing propeller. Paul treated us to a much more stately cruise than James, the “shaken not stirred” Bond guy. We passed Pandora docked with other Dawg boats.Past Fort Berkley at the entrance of the harbor. The Pillars of Hercules, dramatic stone columns opposite the fort.I just can’t get enough of being on boats and I was having a wonderful time. We rented a car yesterday with Peter and Jane, to tour the island.   I won’t go into too much detail except to say that on the way back to English Harbor I let Google Maps choose the way.  Not a great decision as it routed us down an “alternate” route that was little more than a narrow and really rocky single lane road. There were times when it was so narrow and rough that I was certain that we’d be hopelessly stuck.  Peter thought the exact same thing.

After miles of lurching along, certain that the “end was near” and we finally began to see “the light at the end of the (green) tunnel”, our path was blocked by a very stubborn donkey.  Pull as I might, I could not get him, her? to move out of the way.

As I tugged and coaxed, I was worried that I might be kicked.  Never get behind a donkey, I have been told.  Alas, no kicking and we finally got by and continued on our way.  I’ll admit, and so would Peter, who was driving, that there were times when we both thought that we’d soon be marooned in the middle of the wilderness.  To say that it was a rough ride doesn’t do it justice.  For miles we lurched along a path as the brush scraped along the side of the car and the rocks banged against the undercarriage.

I would have taken photos but was too busy gripping my seat to pull out the camera, fearful that I would jinx things by saying “this is an awesome adventure guys, right?”  Repeat after me “collision damage waiver, collision damage waiver…”

Anyway, we made it back…

So, with our departure for the holidays coming up on Sunday, It’s hard to cover all that has happened since we arrived in Antigua.  With that in mind, perhaps I’ll leave it at that for now.

I’ll admit that I am looking forward to catching my breath as it’s been plenty busy here in Antigua.   What with cocktails, and a lot of rum and even a donkey to liven things up, yes, I’ve been busy.

One more thing.  Brenda and  have been summoned to Government House today to have an audience with the Governor General, ostensibly to thank me for my work in bringing the rally to Antigua.    All I know is that they are sending a car to pick us up at 09:00.  At least Brenda and I won’t have to ride a donkey to get there.

Brenda and I are asking ourselves, what does one wear to meet with the Queen’s representative, someone that everyone refers to as “his excellency”.  Wish us luck.

We made it, finally… How about a rum punch?

I am so glad to be in Antigua.   Pandora is all snug on the dock here in English Harbor and about half of the 50 boats heading here have arrived, with many more to pull in over the next few days.  This place is perhaps the most scenic place I have ever been.  It just drips of history as the harbor was, for more than 100 years, the Caribbean base for the British Navy.

We are really the only boats here, so early in the season.  Clearly, the docks are beginning to really “go to the Dawgs” and that is a very good thing. It feels like an eternity since I cast off from the dock in Deep River to begin my run to Antigua with a stop in Hampton to join up with the fleet, three weeks ago today.

The run south was painful if not particularly rough but it seemed that for much of the trip, the wind was either on the nose or there was no wind at all.    We set a record for motoring, 152 hours listening to the engine rumble away.  And, as Pandora’s engine is under the sink in the galley, all that heat of 500 lbs of iron radiate into the cabin for hours after the engine is turned off, which it seemed hardly ever happened.    As we weren’t able to open hatches much of the time, that heat had no place to go.

For much of the run, the seas were so smooth that you’d never know that we were 500 miles from land.  That swirl in the water was a dolphin surfacing.  We had a small pod running along with us on several occasions.  Try as I might, I could never get a decent photo.  Other times, plenty of wind to move along, sometimes at nearly 10kts, a pretty impressive turn of speed for a boat like Pandora. Sadly, Pandora doesn’t motor particularly fast when there isn’t wind to help the boat move.  And at the low RPM that I need to use in order not to run out of fuel, I am not getting much of a push at all.

Slow or not, better to go REALLY slow than to be becalmed with NO WIND AT ALL, a constant fear for anyone trying to keep moving when there isn’t wind.  But, you already knew that, if you follow this blog.

If I want to up my speed from 5.5kts to even one knot more, the fuel burn rate can nearly doubles and that means that I will run out of fuel twice as fast without really going much faster, a real life example of “better late than never”.

The three of us, George, Peter and me, divided up the “watch” at night in four hour increments.   George and Peter swapped the 8-midnight and the midnight to 4 watches, every day or so, but I always took the 4-8 as that allowed me to enjoy my favorite moment, the sunrise, as the sun brightened the sky to the east.  Sunsets are great too but nothing to rival the rise in the morning after a dark night.   I have no idea what that stripe on the cloud was caused by but it struck me as particularly interesting.  And, a day later or sooner, a very different view.   “Sorry Bob, that looks just about the same to us, just another sunrise.”   Ok, ok, I guess you had to be there.  Besides, with nothing but the horizon, clouds in any direction for days on end, it doesn’t take much to make you excited about something new, even if it’s not really new at all.

Yes, you had to be there, and I was and for a longer time than I really wanted.   Nice view, never the less. We went for days without seeing a single boat.  This yacht transport passed us on it’s way from the Med to Ft Lauderdale.  Does this count as a single sighting or multiple?  You decide.  I had explored the idea of having Pandora shipped to Greece aboard a transport like this but was put off by the $30,000 price tag.  Perhaps in my next lifetime.

Imagine what the cost to run big yachts like this is across the Atlantic?   As Commodore J.P. Morgan of the NY Yacht Club once quipped, “if you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford it”.  Ship Pandora to the Med? I asked and sure enough, I couldn’t afford it.  Next question…

And, speaking of really expensive stuff, how about this sub we passed leaving Hampton?I could almost hear the conversation on deck.  “Captain, can I drive?” It isn’t all about sunrises, sometimes it’s about rainbows. Who doesn’t love rainbows?We fished a number of times and caught a nice Mahi-Mahi.  I was so anxious to deal with the bloody flopping thing that was regurgitating his last meal as it made a mess of my cockpit, that I forgot to take a photo.  You’ll have to trust me that we caught, and ate, a fish.  After landing one, enough fishing as we just might catch something bigger.

And speaking of the “one that didn’t get away”, other boat on the run caught a marlin, a powerful fish.  Theirs was over 4′ long.  They didn’t even try to bring it aboard.  What do you do with a fish that weights nearly 50lbs?  Take a photo and say “goodbye little fishy”.

So, exactly what did we do all day long, aside from worrying about running out of fuel, while waiting for the wind to pick up?  We read books and when we were done, we read a book that others had already read.  And, as the pickings got thinner, we re-read the same books. We even talked to each other but honestly, much more time was spent with noses buried in a book.   For sure, that’s a lot better than fiddling with a phone.  Right?

Doesn’t Peter look like he’s having a good time?Well, here we are in Antigua and if you ask me, none too soon.

Now the fun begins.  Can you say Happy Hour!  I can and will, again and again…

Antigua, Here We Come!

It’s hard to believe that we are finally within a day’s run of Antigua after nearly two weeks at sea.  The motor, and adequate fuel has kept us moving for half of the way.   I really feel for the boats that don’t carry enough to crank up the engine when the wind gets light.

And, speaking of wind, one of the boats, a 40’ C&C, Calypso, lost their forestay in particularly rough conditions, and their headsail ended up in the water.  They had had some rigging work done recently and it seems that the fitting on the end of the stay at the masthead let loose.

I won’t go into all the details but conditions were rough and it took the crew some four hours to get the mess back on deck.  Fortunately, the mast didn’t come down too and they were able to secure a spare halyard from the masthead to the bow to keep the mast from buckling.

Once the mess was cleaned up, sort of, they went to start the engine not realizing that there was still a line under the boat.  That line promptly wrapped around the prop and stopped the engine dead.   Not good as their batteries were low and now they had no way to charge things up as the engine was jammed in gear.

Things went from bad to worse but fortunately another rally boat, Nobody Home, was less than 20 miles away and came over to offer assistance.  Another boat, a Salty Dawg member not in the rally, also heard about what was going on and joined them to offer assistance.

Once the seas had calmed down somewhat, someone went into the water and was successful in clearing the line from the prop.  Fuel, water and some food was shared with the exhausted crew of Calypso.  I can tell you that getting in the water near a pitching boat and moving heavy jugs of fuel is no simple task and not for the faint of heart.

All the while the shoreside tracking and emergency response team for Salty Dawg stayed in touch with the stressed crews, helping them work through the problem and getting everyone back on track.

As of now, the three boats are sailing in company for the remainder of the run to Antigua.  I’ll arrange for a rigger to meet up with Calypso so that they can get things sorted out.

This experience, and how quickly other members pitched in to help is a great example of how close knit the Salty Dawg community is.  Everyone working hard to live by our code of “sailors helping sailors”.

I plan to recognize the crew of all three boats at our arrival dinner a week from now so hopefully they will have arrived in Antigua by then.  It’s an impressive story.

So, speaking of arriving in Antigua, when will Pandora arrive?  TOMORROW!!!, and I can not wait.

With about 120 miles to go, we should arrive sometime between midnight and 0300 tomorrow, Thursday.  Perfect timing as Brenda will be arriving in Antigua on Friday.

Last night we ran the second of three fuel tanks dry.  It was my plan to run each tank until the engine quit and then switch to the next tank.  Generally that works well and squeezes the maximum number of hours from our fuel.  However, when the engine quit last night it did so very abruptly.  Normally, when the fuel is running out, the engine begins to stumble and slow down but last night it just stopped.

When a diesel engine runs completely out of fuel you have to open a number of fittings and “bleed” the system before you can start it again.  Normally,  this isn’t needed as just a quick use of the starter motor is generally enough to get things moving again with fuel from the “new” tank.

Not last night, and it ended up requiring me to get out my tools and go through the bleeding process.  I’ll admit that I was anxious to get the engine going agin and ran the starter a bit too long.  At that point, I was concerned that I might have run the starter battery down too much and would not be able to get the engine started again.

Note that the starter for the engine is 12V and the boat is 24V so you can’t just use jumper cables from the house bank if the starter battery fails.  I’ll have to figure out a work-around on that one, just in case.

However, after a proper bleeding of the system, the engine started right up so all was well.

Engine or not, and I am very glad that it isn’t “NOT”, we have finally found our way to fairly consistent trade winds and it’s none too soon.  After more than 1,400 miles under our keel we finally have good sailing for the last few hundred miles.  What took so long???

And, speaking of wind, we had a few squalls last night with one bringing with it over 25 kts of wind.  Pandora was screaming along at nearly 10 kts and after about an hour of that, I decided to reduce sail and calm things down.   Blasting along at near double digit spreads is exhilarating, but all I can think of when that’s happening is that something is going to break.

Now, a few hours later, we don’t have quite enough wind but we are still moving nicely toward Antigua.

After nearly two weeks at sea, it’s about time that we have fair winds and seas at our back.   We deserve it.

And, all this with no particular gear failures.  Perhaps I shouldn’t even bring that up since I might jinx it.

Oh, yeah, it will likely be dark when we arrive so I plan to enter Falmouth Harbour, right near English Harbor, where we plan to clear in when it gets light.  Getting into English harbor in the dark is tricky because the entrance is narrow and the marks are not lit.

While there is a nasty reef at the entrance, Falmouth is well marked so that is our choice.  We will take a mooring in the harbor and as soon as we are tied up… I’m going for a swim, then a tot of rum with my crew to celebrate our arrival.

Then a nap…

Antigua, here we come and I can’t wait.

Tuesday: Counting the Days…

It’s Tuesday morning and we continue to motor along.  It’s hard to believe that we have put so many hours on the engine and have still not entered the trade winds.

In past years we have been able to sail for much of the trip and this time, not so much.  As I write this we have been motoring for nearly 6 days in total.  That’s half of the way and pretty much what Chris Parker had warned us would be needed if we wanted to keep moving.

With such light winds, I know that some boats are surely having difficulty with fuel, some precariously close to running out and yet with days left to go before they arrive.      It’s a tough position to be in.

There are always gear failures along the way, which you’d expect with 80+ boats sailing such long distances.  One boat lost their headstay, so their jib ended up in the water and one of the lines wrapped tightly around their propeller.  They haven’t been able to free the line so they can’t get the engine out of gear or start it to charge this batteries.   Another boat came to their rescue and shared some fuel.  The crew on the stricken boat were able to stabilize the rig and are heading to St Thomas for repairs.  That is a long way off, hundreds of miles but at least it’s down wind.

Another boat lost their anchor when the swivel came loose and the anchor just fell into the water.  I wonder how long it took to reach the bottom, 15,000 feet below.  Not great to loose an anchor but better that way then when anchored in a tight anchorage.

Fortunately, the bulk of the fleet is doing well if anxiously nursing their fuel supply.  On this front, we are doing well as we are still on our second tank, having used a bit more than half of our fuel.  Hopefully, we will be sailing soon but who knows.

While we aren’t particularly concerned about running out of fuel, fresh food is getting a bit scarce.  I clearly did not buy quite enough bread for sandwiches. Having some more eggs would be good too.  And some more apples would be welcomed by all.

However, we still have some flour so I am baking for the third time, making Raisin Bran muffins.  They smell great and I am getting hungry.  Baking does really heat up the cabin.

To that point, with little wind last night and the engine running all the time, it was pretty hot and stuffy down below.

I mentioned that we had caught a Mahi-Mahi, and last night I baked it, seasoned with a bit of Old Bay.  That and new potatoes were a hit with all crew.

It’s not great to run the oven in the evenings but a hot meal is pretty important, I think.

Well, only two more days of meal planning before we are in Antigua.  That’s good as I am running out of ideas.

I guess that’s all I can report right now and the muffins smell like they are ready to come out of the oven.

Let’s hope that the wind fills in soon.  So sick of listening to the drone of the engine.   Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to be sailing but the drone of our trusty engine is music compared to no engine or fuel to run it.  Fingers crossed that things continue to go well and perhaps soon the wind will fill in.  That would be nice.

With Antigua so close, we are all counting the days until we can dive off of Pandora and enjoy a swim in English Harbor.

I can see clearly now, I think….

It’s Sunday morning and we are finally less than 500 miles from Antigua.  The trade winds, still perhaps 200 miles south of us, are at least looking like something that we will encounter in this lifetime and we are looking forward to finishing up our run with a few days of easy trade wind sailing.

We could probably be sailing now but it would be SLOW SAILING and would prolong our trip by several days, something that would surely cause a mutiny with Pandora’s crew.    And even motoring as much as we are, the trip is going to be my longest, nearly two weeks.   Fortunately we sailed a lot in the early days so I am fairly confident that we will arrive in Antigua with fuel in at least one of our tanks.

While the wind is from the south, the conditions are light with about 5-8 knots that is allowing us to move along motor-sailing, close hauled.  That’s not ideal but fortunately, we think that we have plenty of fuel to continue pushing along to make it to the favorable trades.

There’s not much to report except that there is really nothing out here at all with the exception of an occasional ship that passes us.  Yesterday a freighter and a yacht transport ship passed us on their way to Ft Lauderdale.  In spite of the big ocean, I had to call the on the radio to confirm that they saw us.  The AIS tracker showed that both of them would pass us within about a mile.   One had to alter course a bit to avoid freaking me out by passing too close.

I can tell you that AIS is perhaps the most important piece of safety gear to get on a boat for passage making.  To be able to see a ship 15 miles away and calculate how close they will come to you, is very big deal.  It gives the name of the ship so you can hail them by name.  It wasn’t very many years ago when we had to look at running lights and try our best to understand where they were going and if they might be a threat.  And, without a ship name to call directly, they almost never responded.

On the home front, Brenda continues to get a lot of “atta girls’ for her new book and it is just so exciting that she has a hard copy of the “real thing” after all these years.  Yesterday she also taught a class on Zoom to the Rhode Island Handweavers’ Guild. The class was about a Japanese braiding technique that she has enjoyed doing over the years.  The technique is not very well known so whenever she teaches it, the response is great.

And, speaking of the book, all 5 pounds of it, you should check out her recent post to see first hand what a great book it is.  More than a decade of hard work and it finally arrived just a day before the second anniversary of the death of Archie, the co-author and subject of the book.  Heavy or not, I hope that Brenda brings a copy to Antigua so I can see if first hand.

Life at my Kitchen Table

If all goes well, Pandora will be in English Harbor and all tied up by sometime on November 11th so I can be there to greet Brenda when she arrives the next day.  We have booked a room at the Admiral’s Inn for four nights and it will be nice to spend some time on land after three weeks since setting sail from Essex.

It’s nice to be far enough along to be able to begin seeing clearly when our voyage will be over.  I am totally, totally ready.

Remember my post about leaving Pandora south for next summer?  The more I think about that, the more appealing the idea.   So much to look forward to over the winter aboard Pandora with Brenda and lots of fun on the horizon next summer in CT along with a trip to Europe next fall.  Besides, I haven’t been to Grenada or Trinidad, two likely spots to keep Pandora, where I can have some work done on her.

Busy, busy.  No rest for the weary retired..

Light at the end of the tunnel

It’s Saturday morning and as of this afternoon we will have been at sea for seven days.  It’s been somewhat frustrating as the winds have been relentlessly against us with no end in sight until we are perhaps 300 miles north of Antigua.

When will we get there? A question that has been on my lips since I was a young passenger in my parent’s car and is always top of mind when we are on passage.

The first week was full of uncertainty and now that we are about 575 miles from our destination, I am beginning to relax about running out of fuel.

In past years, I have found that we tended to put about 100 hours on the engine but this year it looks like the total will be 125 or more.  That’s more than 5 days with the engine running, around the clock, a lot of motoring.

Yesterday we ran one of our tanks dry after 59 hours of motoring, and with two more full tanks and an additional 30 gallons in jugs, it looks we will have plenty of fuel to complete the run.

We are hopeful that the forecast of enough wind to sail for the last 300 miles will pan out.  If not, I am cautiously optimistic that we will still have enough fuel but it might mean that we just squeak into port with fuel in the tanks.  Fingers crossed.

A big part of all this will hinge on having at least a light wind for the next few days, and that assumes it isn’t directly on the nose, as our speed motor sailing in light wind is about 5-6.5kts and yet in dead calm, only about 4.5 to 5kts.  Over several days even a single knot can cut a trip by a day or more.

When we left Hampton, it was quite chilly and I have heard that those who weren’t able to leave with the bulk of the fleet are still in port and have seen temperatures in the 30s.  Sadly, those that didn’t catch the window we made will be stuck in port until perhaps this coming Tuesday.

You have to wonder if some might just end up bagging the run for this season as getting crew to be with you long enough to make the run will begin feeling crowded by a need for them to be home for what is shaping up to be the first “post pandemic’ Thanksgiving.

I mention chilly in Hampton as that is in great contrast to what we are experiencing now.  As a rule, once you cross the Gulf Stream, it gets warmer pretty fast with water temperatures in the stream in the high 80s.    And while the water cools a bit south of the stream, it never really gets much colder than about 80.  This means that the air is warmer too.

Pandora’s engine is mid-ship, under the galley, so when it’s running and for hours after it stops, the cabin get’s quite hot.  Last night it was really too hot to sleep so I turned on the forward AC unit, which I had set up to run on the house DC/AC converter.  I can only run it when the engine is on but with the boat only heeling a bit, and the seas fairly calm, having the unit on helps a lot.  In anticipation of using the AC this way, I Installed a small vent that directs the cool air from the forward cabin to the main salon.  It makes a tremendous difference.

Anyway, things are going well and we are heading, more or less, toward our destination, Antigua.

So, as we begin our second week at sea, at least we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, when will we get there?  I’m guessing sometime on the 11th.  However, with nearly 600 miles to go, well, who knows.

“See” you again tomorrow.  With us luck.

Far from anywhere

As of today we have reached, sort of, the part of the trip where we are just about the farthest from land that we will be for the entire run.  Not to put too fine a point on it but here goes…

Bermuda:  300nm
Bahamas: 500nm
Puerto Rico: 620nm
Hampton: 660nm
Antigua: 780nm

I’ll admit that writing nearly 800 miles as the distance to Antigua is a bit disconcerting but any least it’s not 1,500, a step in the right direction.

As of now we have motored 51 hours and I expect that soon the first of our three fuel tanks will run dry.  As a rule, I run each tank until the engine begins to stumble when the tank is fully depleted.  I can’t say that I am fully confident in how many gallons of fuel each tank holds as I rarely run them dry.  In most cases, as I get low, I switch to another tank to avoid running out at a critical time, like going up to a dock or perhaps in an area where I have little time to avoid an obstacle.   Not a lot to run into out here, hundreds of miles from anything and an ideal time to run a tank until the motor quits.

When will I run out of fuel, on this tank?  Hard to say but it could be most any time.  As there are only 3 Aerodyn 47s out there, I really don’t have anyone to asm for advice. Besides, my boat was built in Finland and the other two, hulls 1&2, in South Africa.  Who knows if the tanks were even made to the same specs.  The literature, such as there is, suggests that each of the three tanks is 50 gallons, which I doubt.  For the purposes of planning, I assume about 35 gallons of usable fuel in each tank.  I also carry 30 gallons in 5 gallon cans.

So, when will this tank run out?  I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

So, for now, as predicted, the wind is very light so we continue to motor south toward a waypoint that Chris Parker provided.  We are still about 36 hours from that goal but by getting there by Saturday should keep us south of the worse adverse winds associated with the nasty gale that is lashing the US East Coast.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like we will be seeing the easterly trades winds until we are about 3 days from Antigua.  In the meantime, we are anticipating stronger winds on the nose that will force us to head more to the east, perpendicular to our desired course, perhaps for a few days.

However, if all goes according to plan, and that’s a big if, being farther east should position us to take advantage of the trades when they finally fill in.

We are waiting to hear from Chris today with his recommendation on how to position ourselves best for the adverse winds, to head east or perhaps even to the southwest.

One more thing.  Yesterday we trolled a line and caught a small pompano but tossed it back.  We heard that another boat caught a 33lb tuna, a huge fish.  I plan on fishing again today but hope that whatever we catch is q LOT smaller than that tuna.

I guess I had better ring off for now and get fishing.  As my grandfather used to say “you can’t catch fish if your lure is not in the water”.

Will we catch something today?   Are there fish nearby?

Hard to say but one thing for sure is that we are a long way from just about anything.

A Little Better, and Closer, Every Day

It’s Wednesday morning, our fourth day at sea.   Yesterday wasn’t a great day as there wasn’t much wind at all.  No make that NO wind, so we had to motor all day.

And, the forecast wasn’t looking good either with  Chris suggesting that we won’t see many days of favorable winds for much of the trip.

As a result, I was becoming a bit preoccupied with the possibility of running out of fuel.   No, we haven’t put much of a dent in our fuel with less than 24 hours on the meter since leaving Hampton, but it’s impossible not to project out when the forecast suggests that we won’t reach consistent trade winds until a few hundred miles from Antigua.  Amazingly, Pandora carries enough fuel to motor over 1,000 miles but that’s still not enough to get us there if we have to motor a week or more.

One of the great things about my new Iridium Go unit is that I am able to download weather GRIBS every 12 hours that gives me a forecast out a week so between those and the written forecasts from Chris Parker, the weather router, we have a fairly good feel for what is in store.

However, with such a huge gale coming up the US east coast this week, the effect on the wind to the south is a bit hard to predict.  As I mentioned previously, when there is a big low in the North Atlantic, those lovely easterly trade winds are suppressed.  In this case, the easterlies become southerlies, keeping us from pointing in the direction that we need to go.

Another thing that happens is that the winds tend to go away, so we have to spend a lot more time motoring.

Over the last 24 hours the forecast, now that we are south of Bermuda, is becoming somewhat more clear and suggests we will not encounter quite so much light air or wind on the nose.  And, the trades might also kick in a bit sooner.

All and all, things are looking brighter for a good run, well mostly good, from here on out.   Yes, we expect to be doing some sailing to the east, not good, but that might not be for as long as expected and then we should be able to turn south, perhaps over the weekend, and continue on our way to Antigua.

The biggest issue we face is a delay in our arrival and I’d really like to think that we can get to Antigua by the 10th or so and beat Brenda and Jane, Peter’s wife, who arrive on the 12th.

One way or the other, wind or not, favorable wind direction or not, we can sail and motor a good distance and we will eventually get there.

I am already looking forward to a “tot” of rum with my crew and tying up in the Dockyard in English Harbor.

So as we inch our way south and closer to Antigua, I think it’s safe to say that “it’s getting a little better every day”.  Let’s hope that the forecast continues to improve.

So that’s about it from Pandora as we sometimes motor sail, sometime sail on our way south.  It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, the sky is blue and the seas are calm.  Not bad for a day on the water.

One more thing.  Peter has proposed a wager on our arrival time and the one that best guesses the time when we drop anchor in English Harbor gets, well nothing.  However, the one of us that is most off buys the first round of drinks.

I’m on it.