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Running Pandora’s AC on a Honda 2000

I’ll be truthful when I say that we hardly ever use our AC, especially in the Caribbean where there are constant cooling breezes.  However, in New England and the Chesapeake, where the breezes die at night, that’s a different story.

On the rare occasion that we tie up in a marina, even in the Caribbean, we use our AC to stay cool.    The problem, even in trade winds, is that in a marina, we are generally not facing directly into the breeze so getting sufficient air below can be a problem.

When we found ourselves in the midst of pandemic lock-down in St Lucia last winter we fired up the AC units only to find that both units were just blowing hot air as they had lost their coolant charge.  We contacted a tech who quickly recharged them both and cool we were again.

Unfortunately, that “repair” was only short lived and when we arrived in Florida, following our run home to the US, both units were again low on coolant.

I contacted a local tech that declared both units dead and recommended that they be replaced.  His opinion, after making a service call of course, was that it never made sense to try and repair what he referred to as “package units”, those units where the entire system is housed in a single “package”.   He went on to say that the life expectancy was about 7-8 years.  So, I guess that Pandora’s units, now more than a dozen years old, were well overdue.

This is the front unit after it was removed, and it sure looked ready for the scrap heap.  Note all the rust in the drip pan.   I had the forward unit replaced by a tech in FL, but replaced the aft unit myself while Pandora was in Annapolis.  It was surprisingly easy although I did have a tech hook up the unit and check that it was running properly. The forward unit, a 6,500 BTU Dometic unit was very easy to get at, located in the back of a roomy forward hanging locker.  Getting to the unit was very simple and yet the installation still took the tech nearly two days.

The new unit, also the same 6,500 BTU output, but with a stronger blower, is much improved and works beautifully.  One issue with any AC unit is that they give off a lot of water that drips off of the condenser and can add up to several gallons per day, per unit.   Normally, this water drains into the bilge, which isn’t ideal.  In this case, the tech recommended that I add a special positive drainage device that installs into the cooling water exit line.  It is the grey unit with the red arrow.  It also has a small strainer to the right to be sure that nothing can be sucked into the unit and block the tiny exit hole.  The principle behind this active condensate drain is that when the water is forced through the narrow part of the fitting, it passes a small hole on the bottom, causing a vacuum that sucks out the condensate and evacuates it overboard as part of the cooling water.   The suction is caused by the venturi principle where a fluid is passed horizontally, constricted as it passes a hole, causing the formation of a vacuum. It’s a simple, elegant approach and works very well.  I installed one on both units.  I’d put in a link but could not find one on the Dometic site.

The aft 16,000 BTU Dometic unit had never cooled the main cabin effectively and after analyzing the installation, we determined that the two ducts that were part of the original installation, did not allow for sufficient air flow over the condenser and therefore caused the unit to ice up and further restrict air flow.  We were never able to get the main cabin down below the high 80s.  The prior owner told me that the unit was just too small for the boat.  However, with modifications, this hypothesis proved to be incorrect.  It was simply a badly designed installation.

After thinking about the problem, the simple answer was greater airflow, the addition of a third vent.   The fix was simple, well simple in concept, as I had to install a new duct that went through the top of several lockers, using a 5.5″ hole saw, intimidating to use as it creates a lot of torque as it bites into the bulkhead.   I’ll admit that I really took a deep breath when I started to cut that 12″ square hole in a cherry bulkhead, but it turned out well.  What a difference it  the extra air flow has made and basically doubled the cooling capacity of the system.  The original ducts included a 4″ duct with a very long run, in the main cabin and a 3″ vent in the aft cabin.    It was not practical to change the main cabin duct but I upgraded the aft cabin duct to 4″ and the new duct in the galley at  5″, allowed for a substantial increase in capacity, matched to the system.

Adding air flow capacity to the system was doubly important as the new unit has a larger blower with greater flow.  Now we get 60 degree air blowing right into the galley, where it is needed most. I also split the forward unit so that I could divert some of the cold air from the forward cabin back to the main cabin.  That involved putting in a small 4″ louvered vent on the bulkhead adjacent to the unit in the forward locker.  That was fairly simple and it is set up in a way so I can close it and divert all of the air into the forward cabin as needed.  It is a nice edition and blows cold air over the starboard settee, the hottest part of the main cabin.The unfortunate reality is that we had not been able to use our AC at all at anchor as Pandora does not have a built in generator.  As I mentioned, previously, we have not felt a need to use the AC at anchor, when there is a breeze, but summers in the Chesapeake or New England, south of Maine can be stifling at night when the breeze dies.

With 600 watts of solar we have never felt the need to have yet another complex and EXPENSIVE piece of equipment on board and many of my friends with generators have reported plenty of maintenance issues, especially if they don’t use the generators regularly.  And, to spend $20k+ to put in a generator and add all that weight to the boat when we won’t be using it much, doesn’t seem prudent.

Once the 16,000 BTU unit is running it doesn’t draw all that much power and the small Honda 2000 gas generator can handle it.  However, when the compressor starts, the draw causes too much of a amp spike and causes the generator to surge, tripping the fuse every time.

With this in mind, the installer suggested that I install an “easy start”.    It seems that these are very popular with the RV set as they are rarely “off the grid” but when they are, want to be able to use their AC.    On boats, the surge of the compressor isn’t usually a problem because so many boats have diesel generators on board. I understand that the Easy Start’s magic is that it “learns” the momentary peak draw of the starting compressor and somehow smooths out the load so the generator is not hit with a sudden jolt.

Installing the Easy Start was a bit anxiety producing even though it only has four wires as I was terrified that I’d “fry” my new AC unit if I made a mistake.  However, the tech person at Micro-Air was very supportive and endured my four phone calls for reassurance.

Once installed, the instructions told me to turn on the generator and disable the Eco Mode, so that it was running at full RPM.  Then I was to turn on the AC unit, wait for the compressor to kick in and then turn it off again.  After 4 starts and stops, the unit will have “learned” the characteristics of my compressor and be ready to use.

After I completed this procedure, I restarted the Honda generator in eco mode and held my breath.  It worked!  The fan started, the compressor slowly spooled up along with the Honda, and cold air came out of the vents.  Magic!  What surprised me most was that the generator really didn’t seem to be running as fast as I had expected and wasn’t all that loud.

I won’t say that the generator, loud at nearly any speed, was quiet enough to run in a crowded anchorage at night but it was definitely a lot quieter than I had expected.

So, to make the generator quiet enough not to annoy my neighbors, I plan to build a sound deadening enclosure out of high temperature foam and a cooling fan to encase the generator.   I will be sourcing materials for this project from McMaster Carr, an industrial supplier that I have used before.

They sell every imaginable type of material and I am sure that I can find what’s needed to muffle the sound so stay tuned for updates on that project.  My plan is to share what I learn in putting this enclosure together along with a detailed materials list.

And Lord knows that I’ll have plenty of time to research and build that enclosure as I WON’T BE HEADING SOUTH THIS WINTER!

Did I mention that I will be hauling Pandora for the winter?

Thought so.

As always, details to come…

 

Where is Pandora headed? To the hard…

While it pains me to write this, we will not be heading south this fall.   Aside from a local trip or two between now and when Pandora is hauled for the winter, Pandora’s destination will be to the “hard” and that’s going to be doubly hard for me.

There are a number of reasons for this but I won’t dwell on it except to say that the two key reasons are…

  • The Pandemic and the threat it represents.

Yes, I know, it’s a problem everywhere but given the chaos here in the US and the relative safety of the Caribbean, with so few cases, it’s likely to be safer there than here.  However, if we were to get sick in the islands, as remote a possibility as that may be, good luck with that as there are very limited medical facilities in the Caribbean.  I also fear that if we were to head south, come spring, I would, once again, be unable to get crew to head down and help me return Pandora to New England.

Given the terrible track record that we have had here in the US in keeping the pandemic under control, I expect that air travel will remain anxiety producing in the spring, vaccine or not.   It is Labor Day weekend as I write this, and to date nearly 190,000 people have died of the virus in the US alone and with some 1,000 more dying every day, medical experts are predicting we may reach 400,000 deaths by the end of the year, with deaths accelerating as those in colder climates move indoors.

I would not be surprised if Antigua and the other islands that have been much more effective in keeping the virus under control, decided to restrict travel from the US, making it tough to get anyone into the islands to help bring boats home come spring.

And that brings me to the second reason and certainly the biggest.

  • Brenda hated the trip from St Lucia to Florida

Of all the passages that I have made over the years, the run from Great Inagua Bahamas to Florida, the second half of our run to the US VIs, was the most unpleasant yet.   And that’s saying a lot when compared to a four day run in the teeth of a gale that I experienced several years ago.

No, it wasn’t quite as rough as that trip but with sustained 30kts on the beam and waves breaking over the boat regularly, Brenda was terrified and  miserable.  And I was forced to stay awake for a lot longer than I was safely able, so it was a pretty tough trip for us both.

She hasn’t really gotten over that run and it has proven to be pretty difficult to coax her back aboard.  The good news is that while she hasn’t spent more than a few hours aboard since returning to the US, we are planning an early fall run, south of the Cape, in the next few weeks.  It will be interesting to see how cruising in New England is during a pandemic, even after the summer crowds are gone.

It’s going to be very tough for me to give up a winter afloat and endure a New England winter, but at least I’ll be home with enough time to tackle some of the larger jobs that I have been meaning to address aboard Pandora and at home.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what’s on the agenda except to say that I plan to repaint the interior/underside of the hard dodger.  For some reason, the paint has pealed and is looking scruffy.  The decks also need some love where the paint has worn through from traffic on deck.  Fortunately, the cabin top is fine as that would be much more difficult to address with all the fittings I’d need to work around.  The side decks are mercifully free of hardware so preparing them for painting will be fairly easy.  Well, easy when you consider that there is nearly 100′ running feet of side deck that is about 2.5′ wide.

While I have no experience working with Alexseal, the paint that her hull was done with, the local company rep is a good guy and I expect he will be very open to guiding me through the project.

And that brings me to the biggest and most intimidating job I need to tackle, fixing a number of scratches and dings in the hull.  There are three areas in particular that need addressing.  The dings in the aft port quarter made by the couple aboard a small catamaran that rammed us in St Lucia.  I wrote about that experience in this post.   And, there is always a “first” scratch that happen to “christen” my shiny new paint job, and this one, my fault, happened when a squall came up last fall in Hampton.  As the gusty winds shifted during the squall, one of the fenders fell off of a piling that put a deep scratch in my shiny boat.  The first scratch in a new paint job is always the most painful.

But the biggest painting task is will be to address a large number of scratches on the port bow that came about when I dropped the anchor in the middle of a fierce squall in Ft Pierce on the ICW.  Those scratches, while fairly light, run all along the port bow and will require painting a section of at least a 3’x6′ area.  I am not confident that I will be able to blend such a large area properly so I guess I’ll have to see how that goes and then decide if I am going to hire the work out to fix my (perhaps) botched job.   Time will tell on that front.

However, the most annoying , and depressing, job of all will be the process of winterizing Pandora to keep her systems from freezing.  That job, the risk of mistakes leading to damaged equipment, and the reality of knowing that I am facing a long winter in New England, is what I am dreading most.  At least I have an extensive list to refer to, and it’s a long list.  I’ll need to add one more item this year, blowing out the watermaker product tube, which I missed last time, leading to the damage of the flow meter.

However, there is still some warm weather left before things freeze over so I’ll try to focus on that.

It’s good to have Pandora nearby.  This was the view that my crew George and I enjoyed as the sun rose up in the east as we rounded Montauk on our run from The Chesapeake  few weeks ago.  Pretty impressive glow in the east.  Montauk light showing the way.  As we headed down the Delaware river we were passed by many ships.  It’s hard to get a real feel for how big these ships really are. Well, at least until you see how big these “tiny trucks” are, secured on deck. And, the final view, one of my favorite lighthouses.  Saybrook Point light at the mouth of the CT River, freshly painted.So, home we are, me and Pandora.  And me, pining for the warm tropical winter that will not be.  I’ll admit that I am quite anxious about what life will be like here in the US when the weather turns cold.  Gone will be the outdoor dining options and combined with a desire to be with family for the holidays, I fear that many will let their guard down and infections will skyrocket.  Medical experts are also sounding the alarm, in particular, about what will happen this Labor Day weekend when party-goers throw caution to the wind and gather together for one last fling of summer.

In about two weeks we will know more about that…

Anyway, a cold winter awaits…

And speaking of cold, it was in the 50s when I got up this morning, the first morning cold enough to close the windows to keep things a bit warmer indoors.

Not a good sign.

For a while, I had toyed with the idea of moving Pandora back to Florida and heading to The Bahamas after the holidays.  However, the government of The Bahamas has been particularly erratic in how they are handling the pandemic, closing airports with little warning, only to open them again a week later.

I understand that they have limited medical facilities and their population is spread out in many small settlements, but the on again, off again that has become the norm, and the thought of crew arriving and not being able to fly out when they arrive, makes it nearly impossible to make plans.  And, that is in addition to the mandatory two week quarantine upon arrival, regardless of any virus tests that you might have taken prior to departure.   And, once you are there, any time you move to a different location, another 14 day quarantine is required.

Unless you are willing to arrive in the Bahamas and stay for the entire winter it seems to me that we are better staying away for this season.

Having said that, I much prefer the variety of cultures, food and geography of the eastern Caribbean to the relative sameness of the Bahamas.  I will say that one thing the Bahamas has going for it over the Caribbean is the near crystal clear waters and wonderful beaches that you won’t find anywhere in the southern islands.

A ray of brightness in all of this is that our son Christopher and his partner Melody, along with their husky Mila, have come to stay with us for an extended visit.    They arrived last week from the San Francisco Bay area.    At our prompting, they decided to leave their sky-high priced apartment in Oakland, in part because they were tired of being in such an expensive area and unable to enjoy all that it has to offer.  Because of the danger of infection, they have isolated themselves from friends and all of the culture that the Bay area offers, which takes a lot of the fun out of living there.  Additionally, the relentless fires in the area and the rising infection rates tipped the balance East which made us happy.

Brenda and I were also feeling pretty isolated so it was quite appealing for us to expand our admittedly tiny “bubble” and have them join us.   

Brenda will surely whip herself into a holiday frenzy this year and I expect that the forthcoming holiday decorations will be “epic”.   It will be fun to watch as Melody and Brenda as they have a lot in common and both have strong artistic interests.  It will be interesting to watch the cross-pollination of ideas and experiences develop between them.

So, there you have it,  Pandora’s heading to the hard and I’m headed, well nowhere.

There’s always next year to look forward to and, of course, our upcoming mini-cruise to the Vineyard.

For now, I’ll focus on our “land home”.   There’s no place like home…at sea or on the hard.

 

 

 

Heading to New England. Where next?

As I write this Pandora and crew are anchored in Chesapeake City, a tiny harbor of refuge at the western end of the C&D canal.

The town is impossibly quaint, with a main street lined with colonial homes.  The view from Pandora this morning was a wonderful way to begin the day.  I have been here many times, stopping for at least one night when I am heading south or north.    Brenda and I passed this way together in 2012 on our first big voyage south together.  I wrote about that “historic” visit in this post.   That visit was particularly memorable as a large storm lashed the NE while we were here causing much flooding.  I expect to spend two days anchored here, waiting for favorable winds before we head down Delaware Bay and up toward Montauk and Long Island Sound.

The forecast suggests that we will pick up favorable winds, if light, for the run north as we turn the corner at the mouth of the Delaware late Friday or early Saturday morning.

Getting a good feel for the wind has been a challenge as each day’s forecast is very different than the last but now that we are very close to our departure, tomorrow, things are beginning to settle down.  Light winds, shifting from one direction to the other is standard for this time of year in spite of the generally prevailing direction of SW but we hope to at least have favorable, if light, winds.  I’ll be sure to have plenty of fuel aboard as I expect that we will be running the engine quite a bit.

The total run from our starting point near Annapolis is about 350 miles a distance that way-back-when, would have seemed like an epic voyage.  However, after years of 1,500 mile runs, this run seems more like a day sail.

As we headed north from Annapolis yesterday the winds were very calm and the bay, more like a lake.    The afternoon clouds began to look quite impressive but we never saw any rain.  Along the way we passed some really palatial homes with acres of perfectly manicured grass.   Some homes looked like they had been there for generations.  Some more like a sprawling and not so “micro mansion”.Of course, osprey nests on just about ever navigation mark.  As we approached our destination and the entrance to the canal, a lovely sun dipping toward the horizon in our wake.  The more obvious landmark in the town is this bridge that looms over the downtown area.  Of course, what post is complete without a view of Pandora.  We have the anchorage nearly to ourselves.  I have mentioned that both AC units aboard have been replaced the forward one in FL and the aft, a much more complex installation, by  me personally while the boat was in Annapolis.   I still have to install a unit that will smooth out the amp spike when the aft unit cycles so that I can use my small Honda generator to keep us cool when we are desperate and want to use the AC while at anchor.

That small generator is pretty noisy and will surely upset our neighbors so I am exploring some sort of sound enclosure that I can put over it.  I have been looking at some foam products that McMaster Carr, an industrial supplier, sells and will report back on what I come up with.  It’s not really reasonable to run the generator in a crowded harbor as it’s just too noisy but if I can muffle the sound with a proper enclosure, that will make it practical.  We’ll see.

I also had the aft AC unit wired to run, when we are under power, using my inverter driven off of our 200 amp high output alternator.   Yesterday was the first time I used it that way since the installer visited to hook things up.  It worked perfectly and what a treat to run both AC units while under power.  It was quite very cool down below and quite “yacht-like”, I have to say.    Decadent, actually.

Brenda and I had hoped to get our granddaughter Tori and son Rob out on Pandora for a few days while Pandora was in Annapolis but anxieties of the virus conspired against us so I finally just decided to bag it and head to New England.

I am looking forward to doing some local cruising if I can and now that Brenda’s book is at the publisher after a decade of work, perhaps she’ll agree to a “cruise”.

Hopefully the “fun” of the spring escape from the Caribbean will soon become a distant memory.  So far, not much luck on that front.

So, where will Pandora be going next?  Well, New England at least.  Heading south?   Now, that’s another story and I have no idea.

Fingers crossed but I fear that the state of the pandemic isn’t giving me hope that things will be under control any time soon.

Oh boy, I can hardly wait to be housebound all winter. Hope I’m not…

Ever hopeful.

What will cruising in the Caribbean be like this winter?

This is the question on everyone’s mind these days.  Well, at least those who cruise the Caribbean in the winter season.

“What will cruising look like and if I go, will I be able to get home in the spring?”

As port officer for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, I am focused on what the arrival in Antigua will look like and perhaps more importantly, what will the rest of the season bring for cruisers wishing to visit other islands in the Leeward and Windward island chains.  Here’s the fleet last fall in English Harbor.  Hope to see this scene again soon. But, it’s complicated.  Last week the government of Antigua renewed a state of emergency which is to remain in place through the end of October.   For practical purposes, this allows them to put curfews on place and add additional restrictions as needed.

That’s probably the right thing to do as nobody really knows what will happen over the winter with tourists coming and going from the islands, perhaps bringing infections to islands with very limited resources for dealing with patients who fall to the virus.  Having said that, Antigua has been quite effective in controlling outbreaks and aside from an occasional “imported” case arriving by airline.  I understand that there have been no community outbreaks for some time now.   They have been particularly effective in keeping infections under control as anyone who test positive is put into mandatory quarantine in government controlled and monitored hotels, a sort of modern day leper colony.  That’s a good incentive to follow guidelines and stay safe.

That approach has been quite effective but would never work here in the US with our preoccupation with personal choice.   Quite simply, they have to be aggressive as they just don’t have the medical infrastructure to deal with a major outbreak.

And speaking of outbreaks, it’s scary to imagine what things will be like here in the US this fall when temperatures begin to drop.  Sheltering at home for even a few months last winter was an eternity and now we are facing months of restrictions in the northern states as outdoor activities are sharply restricted bu the cold.  Heck, it’s been bad enough in the south this summer where it’s warm.  Get a grip on our mask, you’re going to need it.

One of the issues that caused so much concern to cruisers, including us, last winter when the islands closed down so abruptly, was what to do with boats when skippers were unable to get crew to help run their boats home.    Many made a beeline for Grenada at the first sign of trouble only to find that island closed and flights canceled and Trinidad, long the go-to place for summer storage, is still closed with no clear plan as to when boats will be able to head there.

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association is working hard to figure out exactly how to manage things for this November’s rally to Antigua, when so much is still unclear.

What will the season bring and will we face the same problems that cruisers encountered last spring when suddenly when most islands closed and crew could not get to the islands to help bring boats home?

One issue that we all faced last spring was really not knowing about places to keep our boats for the summer season that were “safe” and how to purchase  insurance coverage to ensure our boats when they were left in the “zone” during the height of the season.

I was on the phone last week with several of my contacts in Antigua, including the Antigua Slipway, a small working yard in English Harbor.  The Slipway is working on a plan to address the issue of safe storage and insurance for those that opt not to make the run home to the US and need a safe place to leave their boat for the summer.

One thing that the Slipway has going for them is that they are located inside English Harbor, a natural “hurricane hole” with relatively high hills all around, a sort of protected bowl, perhaps the most protected harbor in the Caribbean.  The relative safety of English Harbor is one reason that the English Royal Navy used the harbor year round and I guess had pretty good luck keeping their ships safe there.I will say, from personal observation, the yard, as small as it is, looks pretty safe when compared to other yards in Antigua and the other islands, that are more exposed to the winds.

Events have always been a key part of the rally and one of the key issues that we will have to work around is the need to keep a proper “social distance” from one another and to find a way to celebrate our arrival without violating the 25 person gathering rule.  That may prove to be a bit of a challenge as so much of the experience is making friends and spending time together.  At least these events will be outside which seems to be a LOT safer than congregating indoors.   I long for the days of fun arrival events like our arrival dinner.   This shot, from last fall, looks responsible to me.How about a “responsible” tot of rum?  We’d have to stand a bit farther apart nowadays. Or, a dingy drift that’s safe?  I’ll want to be upwind from the group. A group shot?  Perhaps a smaller group, spaced out.  Not sure how to do that, actually. So, there you have it.  Plenty to think about and with a few more months left before many will make a final decision on where they want to be this winter.

Oh yeah, with all of this in mind, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association is organizing a series of twice weekly webinars focused on next season and getting you and your boat ready to make the run south.   For better or worse, your’s truly is deep into planning this series which will shortly be posted on their site at www.saltydawgsailing.org

To kick off the series of twice weekly events I will be sharing what we know about the coming season along with fun places to visit in the Leeward and Windward chains at 16:00 EST on August 27th, two weeks from today.

I’d better get cracking or I won’t be ready to talk about what to expect cruising the Caribbean this coming season.

All I know is that if given the choice of this…I’ll take this any day.  Or at least during happy hour…Of course, all of this will be just so much easier once there is a vaccine.

No wait, there already is one.  Just call Vladimir.

Sorry, the line is busy.  Donald is on the line with him.

Cruising in an age of pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is Pandora going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On our last leg(s)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get me home!

Nearly there…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Clutches of the Gulf Stream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all for now.  Stay tuned.