Monthly Archives: May 2017

To divert or not to divert? Waterspouts in Pandora’s future?

Yes, I know.  I’ve been home for a few days now and haven’t put up a post.  Some of you who follow my blog (Yes, both of my loyal readers.  Mom, are you there?) have been calling and sending emails wondering “what happened Bob.  Are you home?  I see that Pandora is in Hampton?  What’s going on?”.  Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been bad but the grass was really long and needed cutting and I did have to visit Mom too.

To set the record straight.  I arrived home in Hampton VA and tied up at the dock at the Blue Water Sailing Center at 05:00 on Tuesday.  I have to say that it was awesome, no make that AWESOME, when I shut of the engine and Pandora was totally silent.  No sound of wind or water rushing by the hull.   We didn’t move an inch.  So quiet.  We made it!  After we celebrated with a “wee tot” of fine rum from Martinique, time for a nap.  Less than two hours later, up again to begin getting cleaned up for the arrival of Customs and to get Pandora ready to leave in her slip for a month.

Yes, it’s been too long since my last post on Sunday, “penned” while we were bounding along hundreds of miles from shore.  As you know, our original plan was to head directly home but in my often twice daily discussions with Chris Parker, it became clear that if we were to continue on that “getting there would NOT be half the fun”.  And, based on Wednesday’s, summary forecast , we made the right call.  This is what he wrote about where we were heading, a few days out.

“Cold FRONT trailing S from LO (moving NE thru the OhioValley) will pass the region thru early evening. Strong winds will remain from a S-SW direction even after passing. Squalls ahead of FRONT will be severe with potential for damaging winds, torrential rainfall, and waterspouts”

WATERSPOUTS!  What the F%@#?   Sailing in the ocean is tough enough on body and boat and to add really nasty weather with gale force winds to the mix was not great.

Besides, remember the water in the fuel tank?   Well, that was only the most recent problem to report.  During our day spent crossing the Gulf Stream with 6-9′ “square” waves and opposing wind and current, the boom-vang hydraulics failed so I was no longer able to flatten the mainsail.  That mean that there was no way to sail close to the wind.    To have continued north and into really nasty weather, with that problem would have really complicated things.   As far as the vang is concerned, it’s being fixed in Hampton by a rigger and the fuel tanks will also be cleaned.   Remember the “water in the fuel thing”? Perhaps while the tanks are open the guy can figure out why my fuel gauges don’t work.

So, we made it, to Hampton anyway, and I’ll be returning in late June to bring Pandora the rest of the way home.

I thought that it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip before I break.

We departed from Nanny Cay marina, a really nice spot in Tortola with a great beach bar, of course. And a pool.  I forced myself, against my better judgement, to sit there for an afternoon.  Tough duty? Indeed!Once underway, the trip included just about every weather option you could expect on an ocean passage.  Days of motoring in nearly flat calm…And plenty of fast sailing with a fresh breeze on the beam.  For hours blasting along at 10kts sustained with bursts to 11kts with phosphorescent glowing waves breaking all around us on a moonless night.

Fabulous sunsets.That changed by the minute as the sun winked out below the horizon.   Pandora’s mascot Louis enjoyed standing watch as we made our way north.   Recall that Louis joined us in St Martin with the hope of “seeing the world, Pandora style”.  Someday Louis will go to live with our granddaughter Tori when she’s old enough to hear about his adventures with YaYa and Grandpy.Pandora’s crew, Cliff and Jim during a particularly tense part of the trip.  Jim “striking a pose” with his morning coffee  Amazingly, these guys were the FIRST ever to be aboard Pandora to choose decaf.  Imagine, three sailors, including me, who don’t want high test and all aboard Pandora?  There’s probably 4 or 5 more out there but I haven’t met them.
Plenty of time was spent at the helm on the chance that the autopilot would pull yet another “crazy Ivan” and head violently off on a new course which it did sometimes more than once an hour and sometimes not for days.  All this became routine when the plotter at the helm failed.  While the plotter is dead, it was still flickering, now and again, and seemingly sending confusing signals to the autopilot.
And, speaking of failed plotters.  I called Raymarine today, spoke with a tech guy, and received some really bad news that my plotter could not be fixed.  He said that the only option was to replace the other one as well as the radar. Such bad news and I don’t even want to think about what all that would cost.

However, not to be deterred and as Brenda says, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful”, I called my “friend” at one of the local marine electronics installers on the off chance that he might have an “old” plotter from a boat that he worked on that was still functional.  Remarkably, he told me that he’s pulling one off of a boat next week that’s probably never even been turned on.  That owner had replaced the plotter two years ago and never launched the boat.  Now, he’s doing a full electronics suite replacement and is tossing all of his “old” equipment.  Go ahead, toss one my way!  Perfect!  I can get a “new” plotter for a fraction of the price.   Come to think of it, I think I’ll purchase some of the other instruments to keep as spares.  Am I lucky or what?  A new “obsolete” plotter for a discounted price and I don’t even have to pay postage to get it.

It’s remarkable just how isolated you are when sailing offshore.  We were hundreds of miles from “anything” and went for 4-5 days without seeing more than one or two ships and for several days, nothing at all.   You are really on your own.

We were visited by pods of dolphins (notoriously difficult to photograph) on a few occasions.  ‘They departed as quickly as they appeared. Of course, each morning we found flying fish on deck and in the cockpit.   I used some of the larger ones as bait but we didn’t catch anything.  However, something caught the bait.  And once, the lure was taken too with the wire leader broken.  I wonder how “big the one that got away” was?  Perhaps I don’t want to know.  I have been cautioned never to use “really large” lures as there is a relationship between the size of the lure and the size of the fish.  In fishing, it seems, that indeed, “size matters”.

Of course, If you’ve been following on “where in the world is Pandora“, you’ve seen the course we took as we headed north.  For me, it’s endlessly entertaining to see the actual track from our 8 day voyage from Tortola to Hampton VA, a distance of about 1,200 miles.   It’s a pretty straight shot and you can even see where we were set north-east by the strong current of the gulf stream, 100 miles wide running to the NE at about 4kts.   That’s a lot of moving water. So, there you have it, Pandora’s safe and sound and her crew, none the worse for wear.  I’ll be back aboard to finish the trip north in late June.

When I head back south to rejoin Pandaor, I’ll be able to visit our new granddaughter Tori.  Tori was very excited, as you can see, when she learned of our pending visit and jumped up on her father’s shoulders.  Grandpy’s coming to visit.  Who’s Grandpy?So, there you have it.  That’s my report and I’m sticking to it.  Perhaps I’ll close with a sunset photo which is fitting as our arrival in Hampton signals, sort of, the end (sunset?) of our 2016/2017 season afloat as I’ll be hauling Pandora for a few months of maintenance and repairs in July.   Besides, I have another bathroom to remodel. Yes, leaving Tortola when we did and diverting to Hampton were good calls as if we’d left later or kept heading north.  Who knows?  Waterspouts, gale force winds.  I don’t want to think about that.

I guess that’s it for now.  Time to put down some more grass seed.  It just wouldn’t do to have bear spots on the lawn, would it?

 

Nearly Home and Change of Plans

It’s Sunday night and we are approaching Cape Hatteras and the Gulf Stream.  The wind is on the beam and we are barreling along at nearly 9kts, and that’s through the water as there isn’t any current yet.  Our original plan was to enter the GS, head north with the current and exit after about 150 miles to head either to Montauk or NYC for the final run home.

However, Chris Parker, weather router, has been unsure about a series of small lows that will roll off of the East Coast over the next few days and how they will affect the coastal waters from VA to NY.  The problem is that if the first low, due to hit the area around Tuesday shifts about 60 miles east of the coast, it will bring gale force winds of about 40kts from the SW.  This isn’t terrible as the wind would be behind us but there will also spawn strong convective squalls that may bring winds to near hurricane force and that would not be fun at all.

On the other hand, if the front happens to head up the coast, perhaps 60 miles to the west, then sailing north could end up being quite a nice ride.  But the uncertainty of the forecast will make it tough to predict until perhaps one day before the low will arrive and once we have begun running up the coast there aren’t many places to stop before Cape May and that’s not sounding to good to me.

So, what’s a voyager to do?  Bail and head to Hampton VA.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

The good news is that the Blue Water Marina there gives Salty Dawg Sailing Association members a very good price on dock space.  Pay full price for a week and get to stay for a month at the same rate.  And leaving Pandora there for a month works for me as I didn’t plan to do anything with her until after my SSCA event in Essex the weekend of June 17th anyway.   Besides, while she’s there, the yard can clean my fuel tanks and get out the water that has caused such problems on this trip.  BTW, today I was able to clean the filters out well and was alarmed by the amount of water that had accumulated.  And, I can send out the plotter for repair.  It’s always something.

Of course, it’s going to take some time to get Pandora ready to be on her own for a month but Cliff and Jim will be a big help and as they have never been to Hampton we’ll make some time to see the sights and have an “arrival dinner” together.

But wait, there’s more and it gets even better…

Brenda and I planned to visit Rob, Kandice and Tori the following weekend in Baltimore so it will be a cinch to take a train from Baltimore to Hampton to rejoin Pandora after our visit.

I wanted to be sure to post this so that anyone, and there must be at least a few of you, who have been tracking our progress won’t wonder “wait, what are they doing.  Is something wrong?” when we continue west from the GS and head to Hampton.

So, that’s the plan, arrive late Monday in Hampton, I hope, clean up Pandora, rent a car and be home on Wednesday.  That’s the plan.

First we have to get through the Gulf Stream.  Did I mention that wind of 15 to 20 kts will kick up seas of about 6-9 feet?  That’s just a detail…

Water in the Fuel Tank? It’s Always Something.

It’s Sunday morning and we are happily sailing along on a close reach at about 7kts after motoring much of the last few days through a high pressure ridge with no wind.   If the wind holds out, we should enter the Gulf Stream around midnight tonight and I expect that it will be a pretty “salty” 12 to 18 hours of sailing before we make our way to the north side and into calmer waters.

They say that you don’t want to be in the Gulf Stream when the wind has a “N” in it, North West, North or North East.  The problem is that when wind blows over water it makes waves and when the current opposes the waves, and the GS flows north, the waves get big and steep.  Think of the rapids in a river and how steep the waves get.  Well, think about trillions of gallons of water moving along like a massive river, add an opposing wind and you get “salty” conditions, really quickly.

On my trip north last spring I was traveling in the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions and a large thunderstorm came up.  All of a sudden the wind was strong, around 20+ knots from the NE and in less than an hour the seas had built and it got really rough.  After bashing around for an hour I decided to tack west to get out of the stream and as soon as we passed the western wall, things calmed right down.  It’s pretty remarkable how quickly it went from nasty to fine and all that changed is that I left the north flowing current of the Gulf Stream.

Earlier in the trip the forecast called for near gale winds in the GS so we have been very focused on getting across it before the really strong, near gale force, SW winds hit.  And, based on that forecast, many of the boats in the Rally decided to bail to Bermuda and wait for better weather.  After thinking about our options I was pretty confident that we could get north of the GS before the nasty weather hit so we pressed on.

However, that was a week ago and what looks like a sure thing weather-wise from that far out, can change a lot in a week.  Fortunately, that’s been the case here and the conditions don’t look that bad now.  However, the near gale force SW winds which would have been behind us are now expected to be from the north so even if they aren’t strong, conditions will be rough and we will be heading into the wind and waves.  Not a great combination.  However, we can always tack to the west and get across the stream.  If we do that, we won’t be in nasty conditions for more than about 100 miles, say 10 to 12 hours, verses the 150 miles that we had hoped to cover if the weather forecast was more positive.

We expect to be in the stream as of around midnight tonight (Sunday)and there will be a new forecast this evening so I’ll have the most current information to work with.

What’s going to happen with the wind as we work our way up toward NJ and NY is uncertain as there are a number of small lows coming from the midwest and it’s hard to say what sort of conditions they will bring.  Usually, lows bring NE winds which would make going toward NY a chore however, Chris feels that the winds won’t be that strong so it might not turn out to be too bad.  We will know more on Mondaymorning when he gives his next morning forecast.  I guess all we can do at this point is to keep moving and be prepared for whatever we run into.

A complication in all of this is that yesterday, when I switched fuel tanks, Pandora has three, the engine started running rough and died.  After messing around with filters and such for over an hour, I realized that there was water in the system suggesting that one of the tanks is contaminated.  I don’t know if I got some water when I filled that tank earlier in the winter or if seawater got in at the deck fill when we were in heavy conditions over the winter.  One way or the other, it caused a lot of anxiety when the engine died as we were more than 100 miles from an area with any wind and to sit for days, 350 miles from land, waiting for wind was quite upsetting.

However, as with everything else aboard Pandora, I carry plenty of spare parts so I was able to put in new filters and get rid of most of the water in the system and isolate the tank with bad fuel.  Good yes, but the bad tank has left us with about 30% less fuel and perhaps not enough to get home without stopping along the way.  And, there is the added anxiety of worrying that we might have some water in one or more of the two remaining tanks that might cause problems down the road.  Fortunately, I have an extra 25 gallons in jugs to use if needed and I put most of that supply in the nearly empty tank that I had been running on from when we left Tortola.

Happily, we are now sailing but that may come to an end in a day or so when we encounter winds from the north and with some 500+ miles to go a lot can happen.  Assuming that we have burned a good amount of our remaining fuel by the time we are near NJ, we may opt to stop in Atlantic City to fill the two clean (I hope) tanks to make the rest of the trip.

So there you have it, and as Gilda Radner used to say “it’s always something”.  And that’s particularly true when it comes to boats going long distances.

Well, wish us luck as we continue to work our way north.  Hopefully we will be home by Wednesday or Thursday, even if we have to stop for fuel.

We are really, really far from land. No “land ho”

It’s Saturday morning and we are motoring in an oily flat calm, about 250 miles from the south wall of the Gulf Stream.  I say “wall” as that’s exactly what it’s like when you enter as within a very short distance you cross from the waters outside to inside of the stream.  You can tell because the temperature goes up about ten degrees, the water is more unsettled and the color changes to a more dramatic blue.  And, if conditions are settled, you can actually see the “wall” as you approach.  It’s pretty wild to see a break in the otherwise uniform waters, miles in every direction.   It’s remarkable that the transition is so sharp after the waters have traveled so far north from where it passes the southern tip of Florida, a thousand miles south.

To be so far from land and have absolutely flat water to the horizon in every direction when we are so far from land, 500 miles from Jacksonville FL and about 350 miles from Cape Hatteras and the Bahamas.  This is the point of our trip that has us furthest from land.  As the horizon is only 15 miles in any direction, I guess it really doesn’t matter how far out we are as we won’t see land until we approach either Sandy Hook or Montauk.  I don’t know yet which will be the best spot to head for until I better understand what the wind will be like after we leave the Gulf Stream on Monday evening.  As of now, it looks like the wind will be out of the south-west, which is a good direction for sailing but perhaps it will be a better wind angle to approach Sandy Hook and make our way through New York.

Jim has not been through NYC by water and I thought that it would be fun too as it’s been a few years for me.   Also, with very strong currents we will have to time our transit based on a flood tide.  I also like the idea of going through NYC as that will put us within cell range sooner, which is good.   Clearing customs should be easier too as the other times I have gone that way a simple phone call was all it took to clear us in.  I’d prefer to avoid having Customs and Immigration come to the boat, or worse, make us come to them, as that will just lengthen our trip.  Unfortunately, we would have to stay aboard once in port until we officials arrive and inspect the boat and crew.  Clearing by phone is clearly better.

We haven’t seen much in the way of ship traffic in several days with only one sighted in the early hours of today, a freighter that crossed our bow, probably less than a mile off.  It’s very hard to gauge distances at night and without radar or AIS, I have no idea as to how close it was except that it felt TOO CLOSE for comfort.

I had hoped to catch a fish but alas, no luck in spite of trolling a line for two days already.   And, while we have seen an occasional bird, no sightings of dolphins or anything else, for that matter.  That’s unless you count a few Portuguese Man-of-War jelly fish with their air filled “sail” floating along with the wind and current.

Because of the anticipated bad weather in the Gulf Stream, most of the Salty Dawg fleet decided to divert to Bermuda to participate in the upcoming America’s Cup festivities.  I would have loved to do that myself but I have so much to do at home and would have really complicated things with regards to crew.  I expect that a week long delay would have cost me both Cliff and Jim and then I would have had to scramble to find replacements for the trip home.  Finding crew who’d like to visit Bermuda for a few days prior to heading out would have been pretty easy but that would have necessitated my staying in Bermuda for perhaps two weeks between crew leaving and new ones arriving, a non-starter as I really don’t want to be away from Brenda for that long.

Interestingly, all of the participants in the rally check into both a morning and evening SSB radio net and it’s fun to hear who’s caught a fish, has gear problems (not so fun) and their location relative to Pandora.  It’s fun to connect and hear what’s up with the others making this trip and after so many miles and days at sea, the fleet is very spread out with none within sight of Pandora.

Well, that’s about it for now.  No wind for the next few days so I’ll be putting a pretty good dent in our diesel supply until we enter an area with some decent winds north of the Stream.  You can also be sure that I am watching my fuel consumption very carefully as we are totally dependant on our engine and that’s especially important as we just SO FAR from land, the furthest point of the trip.

Half Way Home and Making Good Time

It’s Friday morning and we are half way home to CT as we enter our 5th day underway.  We have traveled about 750 miles at an average speed of nearly 8kts.  That’s a pretty remarkable speed over such a long distance.  Actually, a good part of that speed was tweaked up last night when we were blasting along at around 10kts for about 10 hours, sometimes we even cracked 11kts for short periods, and it wasn’t all that windy with wind on the beam of about 20-23kts.  At those speeds you can put a lot of miles in the bank.  It was a wild ride with the crests of waves glowing with phosphorescence.

Jim had not sailed at night prior to this trip so it’s a very new experience for him.  He was blown away by what it feels like to sail at those speeds.  For one thing, it’s pretty noisy.  After a while I put in a reef which slowed us down less than a knot but it seemed a lot less hairy.  Given the issues that we have had with the autopilot going “rogue” I was concerned about how fast things would go wrong at 10+kts.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have been anxious about getting through the Gulf Stream by mid day Monday because winds were forecast to go to near gale force after that and while the wind will be from the SW, a favorable angle, it would still be very rough with steep waves of about 10′ and with a very short period between waves.  The good news is that last night Chris Parker reported that the expected strength of the wind is being downgraded to the mid to high 20s from near 40 and that will make for a lot less excitement.  He also pushed back the arrival of those winds until Monday evening from an original noon estimate.  With the extra time and lighter winds, we should not have a problem getting past the Stream before it get’s “sporty” or, as Chris Parker likes to say “salty”.  That’s good as once those strong winds arrive, it will be as much as a week until we were able to cross the Stream again.   And to make matters worse, winds south of the stream will be considerably stronger than what we will experience north of that area, where we expect to be.

Of course, Monday is still a few days away and things can change but I am feeling more confident that we will be able to get home without having to bail out somewhere and wait for better weather.

The winds for today are supposed to be in the 15kt range from the east, although it’s a bit lighter than that right now, with tomorrow expected to be lighter and then on Sunday we expect very light wind in advance of the expected stronger winds late Monday.  I guess that we will be doing plenty of motoring to keep our speed up.  Such is passage making with a timeline.  The anticipated foul weather caused a good number of the Salty Dawg rally fleet to bail for Bermuda.  I’d have loved to visit there but loosing crew there and having to start all over again with new crew doesn’t appeal to me at all.

So, here we are, hundreds of miles from land and not a ship or another boat in sight for more than two days now.  I expect that we will see some activity as we get closer to the gulf stream and much more traffic as we pass the major shipping lanes along the MD, DL and NJ coasts.  Without AIS and Radar, that will surely keep us on our toes.

Well, that’s today’s report.  More to come Saturday.

Yes, it’s going well and I am happy to be able to report that we are half the way home.  Still, it’s a long time at sea, no matter how you slice it but we are making great time and things are going well.

I guess I’d better break as I have to make breakfast.  Perhaps it’s cooled down enough to make some biscuits.

To the Gulfstream, or not….

It’s Thursday morning and not much is going on aboard Pandora.  We had an uneventful night with the exception of a few unexpected course changes thanks to the balky autopilot.  I really don’t know what’s causing the pilot to slew off on a new course but it does remind me of a problem that I had on my last boat/pilot that did the exact same thing.  In that case, it had to do with settings on the computer that called for a gyrocompass even though the boat didn’t have one.  Once I changed the settings, that solved the problem. Based on that, I think that I know what will need to be done to fix this but don’t want to take any chances of messing things up further so I’ll wait until I get home and talk to the tech folks.

All things considered, things are going well out here in the “deep blue”.

There is one little thing that might cause problems though and that’s a forecast calling for near gale winds from the SW in the Gulf Stream near Cape Hatteras beginning on Monday afternoon.  Wind at that strength in the Gulf Stream will kick up some very nasty waves and I would prefer not to be there when it’s that windy, even if it’s from a “favorable” SW direction.  In the event that I am unable to make it through the GS by that time, I’ll have to bail to Beaufort and wait for better conditions to continue north.  However, while it’s too early to make that call, I think that we stand a good chance to make it through the stream before things get really nasty.

The big question is if that front is going to come through as expected, around mid day Monday or if the timing changes.  Our arrival time at the GS will also depend on when favorable trade winds return as we make better time when we are sailing verses motoring.  In order to conserve fuel, we are only able to motor at about 6-6.5kts and when we are sailing, we generally make a knot or more faster.  That may not sound like a lot but it’s pretty meaningful to go even a knot faster as over four days that can add up to an additional 100 miles toward the GS by the Monday “deadline”.

Anyway, I guess we will just have to wait another day or so to decide if we are going to bail to Beaufort or continue on to New England.  Of course, I’d prefer to continue on as I’ll likely loose my crew if we are delayed in Beaufort by more than a day or so.  Oh well, that’s how it goes and any time you try to make a blue water run that takes a week or longer, it’s hard to predict how the weather will evolve over that length of time.

I have to say though, that I am optimistic that we will be able to make our way through the GS in time.  Fingers crossed.

I guess that all I can say for now is that it’s “details to come” and the rest is just conjecture to predict if we are going to get through the GS before the going gets rough.  I’ll continue to talk to Chris Parker and get his thoughts on the timing of the arrival of the strong SW winds when he does his evening broadcast tonight.

Fingers crossed that we will get through the GS before things get nasty or if we will have to bail into Beaufort, south of the Cape.  Let’s hope not.

Settling into the Passage Home with Crazy Ivan

It’s the beginning of the third day of our passage from Tortola to New England and there’s not a lot to report except to say that there is still a very long way to go.  Yesterday we entered the convergence zone between two weather systems and the wind became a lot lighter.  This area also treated us to a large squall cell where the wind quickly shifted from the SE to NE.  That put an end to sailing and brought with it much choppier conditions and some rain.  It’s remarkable how different 20kts on the nose feels from that same amount of wind on the beam.  It’s the difference between uncomfortable and wet verses near perfect sailing.

As I write this it’s 07:00 and we are motor sailing and charging the batteries.  I am also taking advantage of the engine to run the watermaker.  We haven’t used much water since leaving but we all took showers in the cockpit yesterday and I also washed the cockpit down well this morning as there was a lot of spray going everywhere when we were in the squalls last night.  Yes, I am anal about salt but it’s just so much more pleasant when things aren’t salty. It’s also quite hot and sticky but noticeably cooler than it was in Tortola and during the first day out.

I mentioned yesterday, I think, that one of the two plotters stopped functioning and because of the way that the system is wired, we no longer have access to radar or our AIS.  We are still transmitting on AIS but we can’t see other boats on our plotter.  Fortunately, there hasn’t been much ship traffic to worry about but that will change as we get closer to the congested shipping lanes of Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware River and New York.

The autopilot is also acting up oddly as every so often, a few times a day, it just decides to head off in a totally different direction, pulling a sort of “crazy Ivan” maneuver, with no warning.  Experiencing a 180 degree crash turn, seemingly “just for fun” is really disarming and takes some of the relaxation out of the passage.  However, compared to other problems that we could have, it’s not too bad.  And, with the boom break in place to soften the blow of a “surprise” jibe, we aren’t at major risk of gear breakage from the autopilot maneuvers.  My last boat, with a very similar autopilot and plotter system, also had this problem and I was able to modify the settings on the computer to solve it.  I’ll call the tech support folks when I get home to sort this out.  Of course, the “dead” plotter will also have to go out for repair.  Let’s hope that they can fix the plotter as I don’t want to think about having to upgrade the entire system as they no longer make the particular model that we have.  Fingers crossed.

While I carry about 175 gallons of fuel, I don’t want to motor any more than we must as I want to be certain that we have plenty to use if we run into unfavorable winds later in the trip.  We continue to be in the convergence area between two weather systems, with little wind so we are motor-sailing but I am hopeful that we will get out of it later today and back into good sailing conditions.

In any event, the trip is coming together about as expected with some excitement but mostly, it’s been an easy run.  Not at all like my trip down in January and that’s good.

Well, I guess that’s about all I have to report for now.  There’s still plenty of miles left between us and home and we aren’t even half the way there.  The earliest that I expect to be home is likely not until about next Wednesday or Thursday.  Hard to say but that’s my best guess and a lot can happen between now and then, so fingers crossed that everything will continue to work out in our favor.

Yes, we are a long way from home, hundreds of miles from land but we are settling in to the passage.  So far, so good with a dead plotter, Crazy Ivan and all.

Glad to be underway and Heading Home

It’s Tuesday morning and we have been underway for nearly 24 hours.  The sailing has been good and Pandora’s reeling off the miles.

We were originally planning to head out on Wednesday but after hearing the long range weather forecast we decided to head out on Monday with the rest of the fleet.  Our plan to leave later was based on George’s schedule as he had business and family commitments that would not allow him to arrive until late on Tuesday.  However, after hearing Chris Parker’s forecast on Saturday that called for a cold front with strong north winds to exit the east coast around the 24th, I realized that we could not afford to wait past Monday. Besides, Cliff and Jim arrived on Sunday afternoon so we could leave sooner if needed.  And, as is so often the case, it was “needed” so we did.

I feel badly that we had to bolt and leave George but if we had waited we might very well have ended up in Bermuda to wait out the adverse winds or worse, been caught in some really nasty conditions later in the trip.

This is my first Salty Dawg Rally and it’s fun to be making the run north with about 25 boats.  Some are headed to the Chesapeake, others to Bermuda and some to New England like Pandora.  Each morning and evening there are SSB radio nets that allow us to call in and talk to other boats in the fleet.  The others share stories of how things are going, fish caught and gear that doesn’t work.

One boat in particular is stopping in Bermuda as their autopilot stopped working and they are now hand steering, which is very tiring.   I heard that a hatch was left open and a big wave splashed in and flooded part of the autopilot equipment.  Salt water getting into the boat is a constant worry and that’s why we keep Pandora pretty well buttoned up while offshore, regardless of how hot it might be down below.  I have had my share of gear issues this winter and I really don’t want to tempt fate. Losing the autopilot is the thing that I worry about the most as hand steering is not something that we take lightly.  Years ago I was on a boat from Nassau to CT and the autopilot crapped out. We had to steer for about a week with no break.  The crew of four was taxed by that experience.

Speaking of “gear issues”, we do have one issue that came up yesterday shortly after leaving Tortola.  Pandora has two chart plotters, one at the helm and another up under the dodger.  The one at the helm is the “master” with feeds from AIS and radar and the other plotter is a “slave” to that one.  The problem is that the helm plotter stopped working yesterday, it just went dark, so now we don’t have access to AIS or radar on the remaining plotter.  The good news is that the AIS is still transmitting, we just can’t see it on the plotter.   At least other ships can see us, assuming that they are watching.  I just can’t see them.

I had thought about swapping the two units as they are the same but I am concerned that I might somehow make things worse so have decided to just go without AIS and radar for the duration.  I guess it will be just like the “olden days” but with autopilot and refrigeration.  Oh yeah and a watermaker.  No,I guess it’s not really like the olden days, just less than perfect.

At least it will sharpen our lookout skills.

So, that’s about it and we only have about 1,200 miles to go.  Yikes, that’s a long way. At this rate we should be done with the trip in about 8 more days.

Beyond that, nothing much to report.  However, the trip is young and I am expecting some “sporty” conditions later in the week.  Until then, sailing and perhaps a few days of motoring as we cross a ridge, a sort of “convergence zone” between two weather systems, just west of Bermuda, where there will be little or no wind.

Stay tuned for more details and don’t forget to check out the tracking on my blog to see exactly where we are, well at lest within the last two hours as that’s how often we send out position reports.  Also check for a recent post, a few days ago, to see a link to view Pandora and the rest of the fleet.

I plan to write again tomorrow and hope that post will be boring too.  Excitement aboard Pandora when we are hundreds of miles from shore is something that I’d like to avoid, if possible.

Until next time.

On our way Monday. Pandora’s homeward bound.

After all the weeks of planning we are going to head out from Tortola on Monday for home.   It’s been a whirlwind of activity over the last few days with chores to get Pandora ready and having crew arrive but it’s time to head home.

My original plan was to head out on the 17th but the weather is very iffy for then so I have opted to leave a few days earlier with the fleet.

The big problem is that if I were to wait a few more days I’d run into heavy squalls on our second or third days out, hit a much longer windless patch of perhaps two or more days of motoring near Bermuda and run the risk of being clobbered by a front that is expected to head off of the NE coast around the 26th as we approached CT.  All of which sounds like more work than fun.

Unfortunately, because of this change, moving our departure up by two days, one of my crew George, won’t be here in time to leave with us. It’s a total bummer but I guess that weather and safety trumps just about everything else when it comes to passage making.

Anyway, we still have a few chores to do in the morning but should be underway by noon.  I’ll be sending out position reports to this site which you can access at this link.  You can also right click on any particular position report and see how fast we were going when the tracker sent out the “ping” to the server.

I expect that our trip should be relatively uneventful with the exception of the squalls and will probably involve a day or more of motoring when the wind gets light.  But hey, that’s a lot more appealing than the gales that we experienced on the way down in January.

So, you can track us a number of ways but I am not certain that the rally page will have us on it as I have had difficulty in getting that set up with all the last minute changes in our plans.  Anyway, I wrote about the tracking options in a prior post.  You can check it out at this link.

Underway on Monday.  Finally!  Wish us luck.

I’ll be writing more about how things are going most days while we are underway.

Yes, we are leaving and it’s going to be good to be homeward bound.

Details to come.  Yes, that’s true.

You can’t get there from here…today.

Well, here I am, back in West End Tortola.  I arrived late morning today after leaving home at 0-dark-30 yesterday morning to head to the airport.    My flight to get me to Tortola was actually to St Thomas where I planned to catch a ferry yesterday to West End Tortola from downtown Charlotte Amalie.  Well, that’s at least how it was supposed to work.

However, as luck would have it, “no-can-do” ruled the day, with delay after delay.  The airport, Hartford, was a mess when I arrived.  Who’d expect so many people would be up at the tender hour of 05:00.  What a mob, a sea of humanity.

No problem, I made it through security with plenty of time left for my 06:30 flight and we left pretty much on time.  We landed in Charlotte and I had 3.5 hours to wait for my next flight to St Thomas, still with plenty of time to connect with my ferry .  However, when it came time for us to board in Charlotte, well, we didn’t.

After a long while we learned that catering, yes the folks that bring the little bags of pretzels, were AWOL and the crew had absolutely no idea of when they would be arriving.   We were on board, the plane was totally packed, and we were just sitting there, for a long time.  How long?  Not sure but it was long enough that the pilot came on a number of time to talk about the delay and finally said, “we’re leaving, catering or not.”  The problem was that while they had plenty of lovely snacks for the run down, they needed food for the run back but that now the plan was to fill up again in St Thomas.  We left the gate, finally.

After that we sat, and sat, and sat and finally the pilot came on to say that we had a mechanical problem and needed to talk to the repair guys.  Ok, I get that as it’s always a good idea to have a “happy landing” at the other end of the flight. However, by the time they crew sorted all of this out they decided we just had to head back to the gate and assess the situation.    We need a new plane! Awesome.

We “de-planed” and were sent to another gate…. at the total other end of the airport.   I was one of the first to arrive at the “new gate” only to learn that we had to be sent back to where we had “arrived” as they had “changed the changed gate again”.  Never mind.

Ok, so we got back to the gate and waited some more, much more.   To their credit, they did bring sandwiches and drinks.   A sort of “peace offering”, I guess.

So, fast forward several more hours and we finally left on another aircraft and arrived in St Thomas about 5 hours after our planned arrival time.   The problem for me is that the last ferry for Tortola had left hours earlier and I had to now find a hotel.  Lucky me.

I had decided to fly into St Thomas as it’s a lot less expensive than flying into Tortola.  Oops.  It didn’t look so inexpensive now.   Hotel at 21:00 hours?  No idea where to stay?  Don’t want to pay much?  Have fun Bob…

The information lady at the airport, who BTW was giving out samples of Cruzan Rum as we entered the terminal.  “Welcome to the Caribbean Mon!”.   Anyway, I asked for an “inexpensive” hotel and she recommended that I call Franko’s Guest House as it wasn’t very expensive.    However, she warned me that she had recommended it to a lady a few days ago and that lady didn’t even get out of the cab and went somewhere else.  Ok, sounds perfect, I’ll take it!

When I arrived, after a stop in the cab at a convenience store to get a toothbrush, Franko’s wife was waiting on the front porch for me.   “Welcome to Ranko’s.”  I thought it looked quaint. Besides, it wasn’t too expensive and anything was better than a nap on a bench at the airport. They have a cute little open air dining area. Believe it or not, he, Franko himself, even took me to the ferry terminal this morning.   Along the way he told me about how, when he was younger, he drank a LOT of rum but after his older brother “gave him a stern talking to” he shaped up and became a carpenter and later opened his B&B.   He does all of the work himself and is clearly very proud of his place.  “I make a little money and fix the place up a little bit ore.”  All and all, a simple place, Franko’s and a very charming experience.

So, I went down to the ferry terminal this morning and as I arrived I spied this terrific float plane.  I totally should have gone in that.   It looked awesome at the dock. Off she went.   I want one of these!I’ll bet that he has to wash things off really, really well every evening with all the salt spray. Yes, really salty. Yes, after all the shenanigans yesterday I should have treated myself to a trip on one of those.   And then he was gone and on his way. So, here I am and Pandora’s looking good and none the worse for two weeks alone.   A few chores and tomorrow I head over to nearby Nanny Cay to take a slip for a few days to participate in the run-up to the Salty Dawg Rally and to wait for my crew.

Yes, I’m here but it’s pretty clear that sometimes you just can’t get there from here.  Or, at least you have to take more than one day.

Finally though, I’m here, back aboard Pandora, and it’s a beautiful day.