Monthly Archives: December 2017

 Out with the sub zero, in with the sub tropics.

It’s December 31st, the last day of 2017 and we are back in Antigua to begin our 6th winter afloat.  Tonight we will be celebrating the dawn of the new year with other boats from the Salty Dawg Rally and will have what will surely be a wonderful dinner at perhaps the best restaurant in these parts, the Admiral’s Inn in Nelson’s Dockyard.

We are tied up in the dockyard along with a good number of other Salty Dawg boats, all lined up Mediterranean moored, stern too on the same dock that was once the home to the English Navy.It’s hard to see Pandora in that lineup, all Salty Dawg Boats, but here she is.  Unlike in the days of Lord Nelson, the boats are mostly fiberglass and stainless verses the wood and canvas of so many years ago.

When we left home in the US the weather was just north of single digits and after a few, not so short, hours on a jet from Newark Airport we are once again in the heart of the tropics and enjoying a balmy overcast day here in Antigua.

After five weeks in the north I’ll admit that it was a jolt to be back in the tropical warmth.

The Salty Dawg boats, here on the dock, plans to head to Guadeloupe in a few days and we are currently on the fence about what we will do as our good friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo will be arriving on the 2nd and it would be good to catch up with them too.   Besides, we were hoping to head the short distance to the west to to visit Montserrat and Nevis, some of the smaller island. It’s looking like later in the week the seas may be calm enough to take a mooring and do some exploring.

Montserrat has an active volcano which would be pretty interesting.  I understand that the capitol of the island had to be moved because it was buried under lava and ash following a particularly big eruption not that long ago.    The problem with visiting some of the smaller islands is that there are no harbors so you just anchor or take a mooring in the lee of the island.  If there is a big swell running, conditions in the mooring field can be quite uncomfortable.

As we haven’t been there yet, we will have to get advice from “someone in the know” and decide if it’s a good time to go.

One way or the other, we will enjoy our time here in Nelson’s Dockyard.  It’s hard not to when you wake up to a view like this. Oh yeah, with all the snow and frigid temperatures in the US, we have had our own “weather” here in the form of very heavy rain that filled the dink nearly half full overnight.  In all the years we have been sailing together, I don’t think that I’ve seen that much water in a dink yet.

I guess that’s about all I can say for now except that we will just have to work hard to adjust to the warmth and to ringing in the new year with palm trees and of course, fireworks.  Yes, there will be fireworks following our 5 course dinner tonight over the fort.

Stay tuned for what will surely be scintillating prose and fab photos of what it’s like to be in Antigua, along with 1,000 of our closes Antiguan “friends” as we enter the new year.  2018?  I still remember when George Orwell and his novel, 1984 seemed a very long way off.

As I think about all those huddled in Times Square tonight, I’ll choose the subtropics over sub zero every time.

Nothing goes to weather like a 737.

It’s Saturday and today we put the finishing touches on getting our (land) home ready for a long winter snooze while we’re south aboard Pandora.  There’s antifreeze in the boiler, I’ll blow out all the domestic water pipes with a compressor, put antifreeze in the toilets and run it through the pumps in the dishwasher and washing machine.  After all of that is done, along with setting more mousetraps, we will jump in the rental car and head to our friend Craig’s home for a visit and a snooze.  Then on to MD on Sunday, Christmas Eve, to see our family for Christmas.

Yes, you go it, we will be driving through NY on Christmas Eve!  Driving through NY on Christmas Eve?  No problem… Brenda would fight her way through the flames of hell to be with our son Rob, his family, our still new granddaughter Tori (still remarkably cute and so smart, BTW) and our son Christopher who is flying in from CA.  It will be a full house and it’s going to be great.

It’s hard to believe that we are about to head south for our 6th winter afloat and second in the eastern Caribbean.  I can hardly believe that I have been retired for six years now.  How’d dat happen?

Perhaps almost as astounding, if a seemingly random addition to this post, is that our monthly healthcare insurance premiums, I am under 65 thank you very much, have gone from $500 to $2,200 a month during that same time frame.  But that’s another story so all I’ll say for now is that the system is clearly broken when any family of two with an income above the $66,000 Obamacare subsidy cutoff, should somehow be able to pay $26,500 a year for healthcare coverage and that’s before they even go to the doctor and begin to work off their $5,000 per person deductible.   So much for the “affordable care act” being affordable.

Anyway, I’ll return to heading south.

Back in the day, when we didn’t sail overnight, we used to say that it took a whole day of motoring/sailing to go the same distance, about 55 miles, that we could cover by car in a single hour.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, my runs are much longer and involve multiple overnights at sea but the comparison still, sort of, holds.

Let me explain.  This fall it took me a total of nearly 13 days at sea to get to Antigua, including a stop in Hampton VA where I joined the Salty Dawg fleet.  By comparison, a direct flight from Newark NJ to Antigua takes the better part of a day, call it 13 hours if you include the time getting to and from the airport.  So, as a very loose comparison, it takes an hour in a plane, including ground transport, to cover what takes a full 24 hours in a boat.

Ok, perhaps the comparison is a stretch but it seems to me that there is a certain symmetry to the whole thing after all these years.   The point is that many of us, for some reason, still choose to go really, really slowly in a boat in order to spend time on the water.  However, I guess it’s not that odd if you subscribe to the perspective that  “the journey is the destination”.

Of course, there are plenty of times on a long voyage, the journey part, when a loud in-my-head voiced yells, “are we there yet?” or perhaps more to the point, “Bob, will we ever f*&%$#% get there?”

Somehow, after all the days at sea, finally arriving at a spectacular destination, that the “are we there yet” thoughts fade away and are replaced by “wow, this is a beautiful spot” and the “I’ll never do that again” somehow seems worth it.  Inexplicably those annoying days aren’t that bad when the are balanced against the great stories you can tell, again and again.  It seems that the human spirit is really terrific at making lemon-aid out of lemons.

Yes, sometimes being aboard can be tough when things aren’t going well but what makes it worthwhile is moments like first light in a peaceful harbor.Or when a morning shower gives way to a double rainbow.Or ending the day with a beautiful sunset…
Watching a full moon rise over the hills.
Or a full moon in the twilight at sea with a single sailboat on the horizon. Or dropping anchor for the first time in a new harbor.But, perhaps best of all, it’s about slowing down and making new friends or meeting up with old ones that you haven’t seen for months or years for sundowners.However, when you absolutely, positively have to get there to be with family for the holidays, there’s no question that a 737 goes to weather better than a 737.

Enjoy the holidays and, if it floats your particular boat, Merry Christmas!

Editor:  It this post seems a bit more strained than normal, just try writing while blowing out the pipes, setting mouse traps, picking up the rental car….

Where in the world will Pandora go in 2018?

Earlier this week I gave a presentation at the Essex Yacht Club about Brenda’s and my trip south through the Leeward Islands last winter and I have to say that sharing the photos and stories of our months cruising the islands brought back some wonderful memories.   It also gave me an opportunity to make a plug for Antigua as a destination that EYC members really ought to visit, by boat or otherwise.

I also took the opportunity to make a formal exchange of club burgees between EYC and the Antigua Yacht Club.  As it’s currently way below freezing here in CT, the thought of a visit to Antigua and the AYC looked plenty inviting to our members.  Thanks to Commodore Thomsen for his support in granting reciprocity between the two clubs.  When I return to Antigua later this month, I’ll present this “anointed” EYC burgee to AYC Commodore Braithwaite and close the loop that formally links our two clubs. Of course, it really got me thinking about what’s in store for our run south after Christmas when we return to Antigua.

Having Pandora in Antigua as our starting point this season will be terrific as it will put us right in the heart of some of the finest cruising areas in the world and there is so much that we haven’t yet explored.

The furthest south that we made it last year was Portsmouth Dominica on the NW side of the island, just south of Guadaloupe.   Dominica is perhaps the least developed island in the Caribbean and as it’s quite mountainous, it has some spectacular rain forests and miles of hiking paths going the length of the island.

During the 2017 hurricane season the island took quite a beating and I am hopeful that with all the rain the the trees will soon leaf out again.  Rebuilding is underway and I have been told that they are in need of plastic tarps to provide temporary roofing so we plan to bring along a small supply with us to donate when we visit.

While we were there last winter, Brenda and I took a number of tours and were blown away by how beautiful it was.   When I say “tours”, I mean we hired a van with some friends for the day, pretty informal.  It was great fun.

It’s hard to believe that there are still trees like this around.  We saw ferns that were impossibly tall. I did the whole “Tarzan” thing over a stream.  Twice, just to prove I could.
Of course, we visited a beautiful waterfall. And met some wonderful local folks. like this woman in a local market wearing traditional Caribbean garb.  It’s worth noting that this market wasn’t in an area frequented by many tourists so she wasn’t dressed like this “just for show”. Unlike many of the islands further north, including the BVIs that are pretty arid, there is considerable rainfall here to support a wide variety of agriculture which makes for lots to choose from in the local markets. We enjoyed visiting Dominica and are hopeful that the forests will recover quickly.

In Portsmouth there is a group of local guys, and they are all guys, that have established a group, PAYS, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security.  They offer services to visiting yachts and also patrol the harbor at night to be sure that visiting boats are safe. In the past, Portsmouth wasn’t the best place to be but now it’s a great spot to visit and every February they put on a week long festival, Yachtie Appreciation Week, with cookouts, tours and all sorts of fun events.

This year I plan to organize some social events, in conjunction with their activities, for fellow Salty Dawgs as well as other cruisers sporting the Seven Seas Cruising Association burgee.  Brenda and I are members of both groups and it will be fun to catch up with them as well as make new friends.

Here’s a shot of Fauston Alexis, one of the PAYS guys, as he sped Along side Pandora last winter to “claim” us and welcome us to Dominica, shouting “welcome to Dominica, welcome to Paradise”.   This post gives a pretty good feel for what we experienced during our first few days in Dominica.  I really can’t wait to visit again.

Of course,  there are plenty of islands south of Dominica for us to explore along the way and I am excited about what’s in store.

For now, we will enjoy the holidays and time with our family but in the back of my mind will be thoughts of what’s in store for us this season as we make our way south from Antigua to Grenada and back before I run Pandora north in the Spring.

When we return to Antigua we will move Pandora into Nelson’s Dockyard to enjoy the New Year’s Eve celebrations.  I understand that there are a number of other Salty Dawg Rally boats that will be there with us.  It will be fun to enjoy the festivities with them and 1,000 or more locals as we party our way into the new year.  And, speaking of “where in the world is Pandora”, which I was, kinda, click here and see where she is”right now”   The link will be current all winter as we explore new islands between Antigua and Grenada.

So, as they say, “but wait, there’s more”.   Yes, there’s plenty in store.

 

 

 

Oh yeah, that lawn… Does it need cutting already?

We’ve been back in the US for nearly two weeks now and I feel like I have barely caught up with things.  My lawn, that I am determined to keep from looking like a “cruiser’s lawn” is looking fairly good in spite of being littered with dead leaves for longer than is reasonable.  The rose garden, and it’s a long one, try 150′ or so, is pruned and ready for a winter nap and I am about ready to drain the fuel from all the garden equipment, the chain saw, leaf blower, trimmer and mower… Whew!

I can’t say that I feel like we’ve been home all that long as we spent the first four days in MD with our family celebrating our granddaughter Tori’s christening.  At nearly one year, she still wasn’t the oldest that the priest baptized and I would say that it was quite a sight watching her walk down the isle with her parents and the priest.  🙂The holidays are always a busy time but this year is particularly nutty as we are visiting MD three times, and it’s not just around the corner,  in a single month.   I’ll also be putting up and taking down holiday decorations as well as winterizing our home and setting tons of mouse traps before we head back to Antigua.  It’s a whirlwind and after less than ten days here off to MD again for Tori’s first birthday.  Crazy travel or not, it’s a real treat to see her an her parents three times in a single month.

However this is a sailing/boating blog and I have been meaning to write about a boat that I saw in Antigua that I was particularly struck by.  First of all, she’s huge, perhaps better referred to as a ship, visiting Falmouth for the charter boat show.

Nero, and I am not sure where that name comes from, is a real beauty and at nearly 300′ long, is one of the longest yachts in the world.  Actually, in total volume, there are some that are much, much larger,  However, as she is designed in spirit of a sleek classic, Corsair, the yacht once owned by J.P. Morgan her total volume is not as large as others of this length and that’s one of the key attributes that makes her magnificent.

Here she is berthed at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina in Falmouth.  She can’t be missed, with her distinctive yellow funnel.  Oddly, as I took this shot, the crew didn’t pluck me from my rubber boat for a tour.  However, personal tour aside, as she is very popular charter yacht, there are plenty of great photos on various sites.  “So, Bob, how much does it cost to charter her”?  Well, as J.P. once said “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.  But, since you asked, a few years ago the rate was $555,000 a week during the high season.  Heck, off season, you can get her for just a tad over a half mil.   “Holy mega-extravagance Batman.”  And I thought Pandora cost a lot to maintain.

Heck, my annual budget for her wouldn’t even pay the salary of the assistant to the assistant stewardess.   And, there are 20 crew to attend to the needs of a mere 12 guests.

Nero was built in China and launched in 2007.  Wow, Pandora was launched then too!   What a coincidence.  I just knew we had something in common.

Nice “dink”.   We have a dink too!Brenda and I have a dining table on Pandora. Actually, this coffee table is about the size of Pandora’s dining table.
And we have companionway stairs too although ours are different, they are brown.And, of course, we have our own bed.  However, I have to climb over her to get into my corner.  If we had this bed, I’d still want to…  Never mind. Speaking of that, perhaps a dip in one of the two pools to cool myself off would be more in keeping with this blog’s PG rating.  No need to declare “adult swim!” as the kids can use the other pool on the bow. All and all, a remarkable boat, yacht, ship.  Whatever, shes something.  Want to learn more, check out this brokerage link.  Lot’s more to see.

Perhaps when we return to Antigua her crew will take pity on us when we get all sweaty and invite us aboard for a dip.   Perhaps not, but if they did, I’d settle for the kid’s pool.

I guess if you have to ask…

And, to add insult to injury, I have a sneaking suspicion that the owners don’t cut their own lawn when the are home.   “Buffy, can you bring me that red gas can?  Can you believe how long the grass has gotten?”

Oh well.  But I doubt that their grandaughter, and I sure hope that the owners aren’t too young, is as cute as Tori.

 

 

Antigua?  Been there…  Port Captain?   Done that…

It was a few days in late October before we were scheduled to leave Hampton VA to head to Antigua and anticipation of what was to come was high.  Pandora, my Aerodyne 47 sloop was as ready as she would be and my crew was excited.

We’d been listening to Chris Parker, who I had been working with on each of my trips for the last 6 years, and were trying to make sense of his forecast calling for extremely light winds and how we’d make it the 1,500 miles to Antigua without running out of fuel.   Fortunately, Pandora is what Chris refers to as an “easily driven vessel” so I was feeling like it would likely be easier than predicted and besides, there always seems to be more wind than is called for when I am offshore.

After my previous experience of making the run to the BVIs in January of this year and “enjoying” gale force winds and 20′ waves for nearly 5 days, the prospect of a calm run was very appealing, although, as port captain for the rally, I was feeling real pressure to get to Antigua as soon as possible so that things would be ready when the rest of the fleet arrived.  Of course the Dawgs would be looking for a good time and I didn’t want to be the one that fell short. And not to torture the whole “dawg” thing too much, I was really hoping when they got to Antigua, that “the the Dawgs would like the Dawg food”.

As far as planning was concerned, with all the hurricane damage in the BVIs in October, just a few weeks prior to departure, the board decided to head to Antigua and with less than a month to plan, it was my responsibility to be sure that those who made the run would have a great time when they arrived.   It just wouldn’t be fitting if 50+ boats sailed 1,500 miles and didn’t feel “the love” when they got there.

Brenda and I visited Antigua for a month last winter and had really enjoyed our visit so I was anxious to do everything possible to make for a great time for the 55 boats that would ultimately make their way to Antigua.

Even with nearly 80 boats leaving Hampton, we were only within eyesight of any other members of the fleet for a few days.  A view like this, a boat on the horizon and a full moon rising isn’t something you see every day.  We took it as a good omen.  While it’s not news for those of you that follow this blog, the trip was indeed relatively uneventful and we did what we could to get as far east as possible, get around the ridge, catch the trade winds and avoid motoring the entire way.

Don’t Chris and Jim look happy?  Actually, that was about as rough as it got on the whole trip.  Well, that’s if you don’t count the 20+ squalls we went through.  With our new cockpit enclosure, what squalls?Things held together pretty well and it was only Jim’s eagle eye one night that averted disaster when the fitting on the boom that holds the tack of the main broke.  A few minutes longer and the main would have ripped from tack to leech.  I dropped the main immediately and went to work lashing the clew to the boom and mast.

It wasn’t pretty but held just fine for the rest of the trip.  This is just one reason that I keep a good supply of Dyneema, super strong line, aboard.  You can see that one “ear” of the “rabbit ear” fitting is gone.  I always thought it looked a bit fragile.   In Antigua I swapped it out for another bolt I had on board. All better now. And, speaking of sailing, or at least motor sailing as the engine did run 100+ hours on our way south, Pandora is a fairly light boat and can sail at a reasonable pace, assuming her main isn’t ripped to shreds,  in wind as light as 10-12kts so I was fairly confident that we’d be able to make it all the way without using up the 155-175 gallons of fuel that we had on board.   I use that capacity as a liberal estimate, as I really don’t know exactly how much of the fuel we have in our tanks we can actually use.   It turns out that the one “50 gallon” tank we ran dry, only took 38 gallons to refill.  I do wonder about the other two that supposedly hold 50 gallons.   Before learning that at least one tank is smaller than advertised, I assumed that we held 150 gallons between the three tanks and another 25 in Jerry jugs.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I guess I’ll have to run the other two tanks dry and hope that the engine doesn’t quit at an “inopportune” moment.   Having a boat where only three were built is always a bit of a “scavenger hunt” any time I need something.

Dry fuel tanks or not, I was very focused on keeping Pandora on the move without burning any more fuel than I had to and to get there as close as possible to the ten day goal that I was shooting  for.  Besides, Brenda doesn’t do the long runs with me and I really wanted to be there by the time she flew in on the 15th.

I have done a fair number of offshore passages over the years and find that for the first few days I feel like “are we there yet” and by the 4th or 5th day the only way I can even tell how long it’s been is to look at my log and count the days that have passed.  Being a skeptic about electronics and knowing more than a few friends that have had all their electronics knocked out by a lightening strike, I log our position every two hours including our course, speed, battery level and other important numbers , just in case.

As I am a pretty fastidious guy, “Well Bob.  Actually, the word that comes to mind is anal”, I tend to do all the cooking and besides, it gives me something to do.  With the limited amount of ingredients to work with, sometimes I have to be creative, like this banana, zucchini, raisin, date etc. quick bread.  It tasted great, like most everything aboard does.  I guess if you are hungry enough…Preparing three meals a day along with keeping things clean down below, staying in touch with Chris Parker’s twice daily SSB nets and checking in with the fleet keeps me pretty busy.  I also like to do a daily blog post when conditions are reasonable and that burns up a few hours.

Under the category of “just how much can you photograph while underway” category, here I am at the nav station writing a post. Anyway, we made it and were one of the first boats to arrive in Falmouth Antigua.  I tied up at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina where I stayed until Brenda joined me and got settled, nearly a week.  Chris and Jim had to head out the very next day so I made sure that before they left that they had the best breakfast in Falmouth or Antigua, at the Admiral’s Inn.

Just so you’ll think, for a moment, that this post is actually a shot of my breakfast on Facebook,… Why is it that EVERYBODY puts photos up of food?Yes, it was really tasty and my crew, they sure look happy. Hope it’s not because they FINALLY had a decent breakfast.  I rarely tie up at a marina but the convenience of just stepping onto the dock is pretty intoxicating, as was the wine I shared with other Dawgs on the dock, I’ll admit.  Besides, if I’d anchored out I would have been all alone and you know how much I hate that.

As port captain and “responsible party”, I was really focused on making the shore side activities so great that nobody would question why they had come all the way to Antigua.  And given the long history of the rally, that was going to be a tall order.

So, there I was, a Dawg with a mission.  A mission to making landfall in Antigua the best it could be.   However, that was complicated by the fact that nearly a quarter of the fleet decided to divert to Bermuda to refuel because of the light winds and others waiting it out in Hampton for better sailing conditions.  That meant that the fleet was spread out with nearly 1,000 miles between those who left with us and those who opted to leave later or stop in Bermuda.

For the month or so after hurricanes roared through the eastern Caribbean I spent countless hours on the phone contacting folks in Antigua.  At first I was just trying to find out who to talk to and then focusing on setting up events.  All the while not knowing exactly when the fleet would arrive.

“Yes, we’d like to have a welcome dinner at your place but I really don’t know when it will be.  Interested?”  Fortunately, they were and everyone I spoke to was very supportive and anxious to help.

We had some really terrific events including several cocktail parties at Pillars, part of the Admiral’s Inn, a fabulous spot in Nelson’s Dockyard in historic English Harbor. We held our arrival dinner at Boom, another part of the inn, overlooking the dockyard.   Then you already knew about that if you follow this blog as I have written more than anyone wants to know on the subject.

So, here I am in CT struggling to get the lawn and gardens put away for winter and to prepare our home for a long winter nap before we return to Antigua after Christmas.   And, all of this is punctuated by visits to MD to see our family and our new granddaughter Tori who’s about to turn one.   I can’t resist sharing a photo of her when she was christened last week.  Yes, as they say “home for the holidays” and as far as Antigua is concerned, been there and Port Captain, done that, so I’ll just leave it there for now.  Besides, Brenda’s home and it’s opening time.

And, you wouldn’t want me to get out of practice, would you?