Monthly Archives: November 2019

Less fuel, more wind.

It’s Thursday morning and we are again sailing along on a beam reach, flying the big code zero sail in wind of about 10-15kts which gives us about 7-8kts, which is good.

In spite of our fears of light wind, and the worse has yet to come, I am told, we have run the motor for a total of 44 hours since leaving Hampton VA on November 3rd at 07:00 hrs.  While we have been underway for nearly 100 hours, we have only run the engine for a total of 54 hours, less than half of the time.  Well, slightly less…  That’s good.

However, from here on in, as soon as our good fortune runs out, perhaps in a few hours, we will soon be motoring and may be looking at as much as an additional 100 hours of motoring, something like four days straight.  Yes, that sounds like a lot and it is but even with our reduced fuel capacity assumptions, we should be able to manage things well.

It’s been a bit stressful to think about how far we can motor and not be delayed too much but this morning I began to put everything together and realized that even if we use the motor often, we are likely to end up motoring somewhere in vicinity of 140 to 150 hours in total for the trip.  The good news is that on my last run south I ran under power for a total of 130 hours and had plenty of fuel left over once I arrived in Antigua.   Of course that’s old news but I’m goin with that.

But wait, more good news.  We have recalculated the amount of fuel we had when we started out from Hampton and are fairly confident that we have 140 gallons of usable fuel which translates into  somewhere in the vicinity of 200 hours of motoring, assuming that we keep the RPMs low and operate as efficiently as possible.   Heck, that’s two more days than my best guess.   No problem.  “Ha, we’ll see about that Bob as you are still a long way from Antigua.”

One of the issues we face is that the trades have been suppressed recently so the reliable easterly winds we are looking for won’t kick in until further south than is normal for this time of year, perhaps around the same Latitude of the southern Bahamas.  This means that once we reach good wind we will be able to sail at last the 400 miles to Antigua.

One thing that particularly stresses sailors is the fear of being struck by lightening and I have to say that I share that fear given the fact that I have several friends whose boats have been hit.

Well, last night many in the fleet sailed through some nasty squalls, including us, and one of the boats was struck.  In nearly all cases of lightning strikes, there isn’t any risk to crew as the rigging on the boat forms a natural shield.  However, sensitive electronics, such a big part of sailing today, doesn’t fare very well.  In this case, their electronics were all fried.  Fortunately, their engine wasn’t damaged and they were fairly close to Bermuda so that’s where they are headed.  If I recall, someone was struck on the last run I did two years ago, with similar results.

So, where does all this leave us with regards to getting into Antigua?    I am mindful that we have less fuel than we thought but we’ve been lucky so far and had more wind.  I hope that our luck continues to hold.

I am also mindful of the fact that Brenda will arrive in Antigua on Wednesday afternoon and it would be really nice to meet her when she arrives.   However, a lot has to happen between now and then so…

However, given what I know about the upcoming weather, I expect that we will be arriving around that time so let’s be optimistic and say Wednesday.

Wish us well.

How Far Can Pandora Go under Power?

How far can Pandora go under power?

As I write this, it’s Tuesday afternoon and we are about 1/4 of the way to Antigua.

We knew before we left Hampton that we were looking at a light wind trip, something that looks pretty appealing on the face of it.

Having done a “heavy wind” trip a few years ago with gales behind me for nearly five days, the idea of more “moderate” conditions sounded appealing.  I also recall a “light air” trip two years ago when I put 130 hours on the engine.   It is with all this in mind that I tend to heavy up on fuel, bringing along an additional six five gallon jugs of diesel to supplement Pandora’s three 50 gallon built in tanks.

For a boat of Pandora’s size, to carry a nominal 175 gallons of fuel isn’t all that common and it generally gives me a good amount of confidence that I can “power my way” out of most everything.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the news that Chris Parker, the weather router, delivered last night on the evening SSB net that we may be looking at nearly the entire 1,600 mile trip with little or no wind.

Pandora is a pretty good light air boat and she can generally keep up with boats that are considerably larger than she is.  However, I have never motored more than about 800 miles in a single trip and the thought of perhaps having to run the engine for 1,000 or more miles was pretty daunting, as I don’t carry that much fuel.

When Chris delivered the news, we were motor sailing along in around 5-8kts of wind, not nearly enough to sail, and it was distressing to hear him say that we were facing light conditions for much of the rest of the run.

He did suggest that we might run into about 36 hours of motoring if we were to slow way down and wait to run into a ridge with wind come about Tuesday.  The problem with that idea is that we were already quite close to that area and the idea of “drifting” around for several days to get 36 hours of sailing left me feeling pretty uneasy.

Oddly, a few hours after his forecast, the wind filled in at around 10-15kts from the east, although it was quite variable and required us to constantly adjust our sails and direction.  Eventually the wind settled in so we could sail on a reasonable close reach, able to make a decent turn of speed toward our destination.

As I write this, around noon on Tuesday we have been sailing for 12 hour since the wind came up and while we haven’t covered a lot of distance, as conditions are light, we have traveled about 60 miles which translates to a 120 mile day.  Not a lot given our normal days in the 170-190 range.  I was also heartened to learn, during our SSB radio net this morning, that other boats, some 150 miles ahead of us, had similar conditions with decent wind for sailing which give us hope that we may be able to sail for some hours longer before the wind dies.

As they say, “past performance isn’t a guarantee of future results” but every mile that we put under our keel without burning precious fuel, is a mile I the bank on our way to Antigua.

So, where does all this leave us?

We have already covered about 325 miles out of a total of more than 1,200 and Chris says that even if we don’t have much more sailing before the wind gets very light again, we are only about 750-800 miles from picking up the easterly Trade Winds, which are fairly predictable and should make the last 400 miles fairly easy sailing.

All of this suggests that even if we loose the wind soon, and it does appear to be getting lighter over the last few hours, we can still make it to the trades with the amount of fuel that we have left.

Since leaving Hampton with something like 175 gallons in three 50 gallon tanks and 5 jugs, totaling 25 gallons, we have run the engine for 29 hours, consuming about 19 gallons which suggests that we have perhaps 130 gallons of usable fuel left.   I say “perhaps” as I have not actually calculated the volume of usable fuel in each tank as there is always something left when the tank level gets low enough that the engine can no longer draw fuel.

I find that at low RPM I burn about .65/gph so if I have to motor an additional 800 miles I’ll burn approximately 80 gallons in addition to the 20 gallons that I have already used.  If that’s all true, I should end up in Antigua with some fuel left over.

Of course, all of this depends on many variables that will come into play over the next few days.

Bottom line, if all goes according to “plan” we should arrive in Antigua sometime between late Monday and late Tuesday.  And then I’ll know a bit more about just how far Pandora can go under power, or not.

As they say “we’ll see about that!”.

Antigua…Day One Done

Antigua here we come. Day one done…

It’s mid-day on Monday and we have been at sea for a little more than 24 hours. I don’t have a lot to report beyond that it’s been mostly uneventful.

We picked up our anchor at 07:00 on Sunday and headed out to sea along with quite a few other boats in the rally. It seems that a good number of them left about 12 hours earlier than we did and when I spoke to a few of them on the SSB radio this morning they reported that they had been sailing most of the way since leaving Hampton.

I wish that was the case for me as we have found ourselves motoring much of the way in little wind, about half of the time, more than I’d like.
Chris Parker, the weather router advising us on this trip, has said that the winds this year are likely to be pretty light for much of the trip. That’s unfortunate, as we will have to balance the need to keep moving in light conditions with a need to conserve fuel. In spite of the fact that I carry a nominal 170 gallons, I doubt that I can actually use much more than 130-150 gallons, with the rest stuck below the fuel pickup in the tanks.

I keep careful track of hourly consumption throughout the year and am pretty confident that I can move along at a decent clip under power, using about .65gal/hour. That’s not bad and I can likely stretch things even more if I run even slower.

I can generally motor/sail at about 6.5 to 7kts at that consumption level as long as there is some wind to fill the sails and am not motoring directly. This translates into somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 miles. As Antigua is around 1,600 miles from Hampton, I can afford to motor quite a bit of the way.

However, I’d much prefer to sail as it’s a lot more pleasant and for every gallon of fuel that I burn early in the trip, I have a lot less flexibility when I am close to my destination.

The conditions in the often dreaded Gulf Stream have turned out to be pretty benign with a bit of a chop, as expected, but not much more to report. That’s a lot different than they were a few days ago when there were gales pushing up huge waves, something that we really need to avoid.

While conditions are pretty calm, the one thing that has proven to be a bit bothersome is the watermaker which isn’t working properly. I had some problems with it earlier in the season when the computer that monitors it malfunctioned and I thought that I had it fixed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to properly test the unit until I was out in clean water yesterday morning. A few hours out of Hampton I fired it up and it seemed to be working fine but after about an hour it went into a backflush mode, out of the blue, and dumped nearly half of my fresh water overboard. After messing around with it to see if I could figure out what the problem is, I decided to just shut it down and wait until today to resume my diagnostic efforts.

I am afraid that nothing has changed and as soon as I turned it on it again began pumping my water tanks dry. Not good.

Fortunately, over the summer when problems first cropped up, I installed some backup plumbing so I could run it in manual mode, just in case I had a problem like this with the computer again. I am really happy that I did as we would have been down to about fifty gallons to last us for the entire trip which would have made for a real hardship.

I have no idea what is causing the problem with the computer and I guess all I can do is to pull it out and take it back to the US when I return for the holidays. Perhaps they can tell me what’s wrong.

The good news is that I can run the unit in manual mode, which I did today, so now our tanks are full again.

So, there you have it, another day and another problem to be sorted out. It’s surely always something with a boat, especially one as complex as Pandora.

Oh yeah, am also trying to get a handle on my new Hydrovane self steering system, and I have to say that’s turning out to be a steeper learning curve than expected.

So, here we are about 200 miles into our trip and things are going pretty well.

I guess that’s about all I have to report.

Wish us luck.

This is it. We’re on our way to Antigua. Sunday morning?

It’s been a long time waiting, having arrived here in Hampton VA a week ago, but it now looks like we will head out for Antigua on Sunday morning at first light.   I am still a bit up in the air on this but unless Chris’s forecast this afternoon is different Sunday first thing is probably best.

The timing of all this is very important as the conditions in the Gulf Stream will be very nasty if we arrive there too early and bad again if we don’t exit soon enough.  When the NE current in the Stream is against the wind life can be miserable, or worse, with steep waves with a very short period, the distance between crests of only a few seconds.  Miserable!

So, it will be very important for us to cross the stream when conditions are more settled, a sort of meteroligical “threading of the needle” to arrive and depart when conditions are good.  All this suggests a departure sometime early tomorrow morning.  Later this afternoon we will hear another briefing from Chris and then I will sit down with George and Cliff to settle on our plan.

It’s been a great week of events here in Hampton along with the skippers and crew of the nearly 80 boats that are participating in this year’s Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.  Nearly half of the boats are headed to Antigua with the rest split between the Bahamas and various other ports to the south.

As port officer for Antigua, I have enjoyed telling everyone about the week of events that we have planned for their arrival along with sharing some of my favorite places to visit at other islands to the south and around Antigua.   We had visits from the USCG, someone to tell us how to fish off of our boats and there was even a fun afternoon of trick-or-treating by the kids on the trip.  They were just adorable. Just about every seminar was terrific but certainly the most photogenic was the life raft deployment in the marina pool.  We even had one of our members jump in, wearing a “gumby” survival suit, to show us how to climb into the raft, once it’s deployed.  These suits are made of neoprene and are insulated to keep you warm in cold conditions.  Pandora doesn’t carry these so we will just have avoid the whole “abandon ship” thing on this trip.  Wish us luck on that.

All of the boats in the rally carry a variety of safety gear to ensure that we are safe if things go badly.  Perhaps the most important item that we all hope we will never use, is the life raft.  The good news is that most sailors, even those who sail around the world, never have to climb into theirs.

The demo raft was one of the type that is stored on deck.  This one was donated by one of our members.  I guess that they had decided to get a better one.  We tossed it into the pool. Gave the attached cord a hard yank, harder than you’d expect, actually.   And it started to inflate.It didn’t take more than a few seconds before it resembled a real raft.Then the upper part, to protect you from waves and weather, popped up.  And, in went “gumby”.  As a participant in Iron Man competitions, she made climbing into the raft look easy.  Trust me, it’s not, especially as it’s almost never needed in calm conditions.   She was a very good sport about the whole thing. The week included lots of social events, happy hours and a “departure pig roast” with over 220 attending.   Everyone made many shopping runs to pick up supplies.  For me, even though I had already packed Pandora with lots of stuff, I still had three trips to the local grocery.  As we will be at sea for perhaps ten days, that’s a lot of meals.

One unfortunate thing that happened this week was that I now have a really nasty nasty scratch on Pandora’s new paint job when she rubbed badly against a piling during a particularly nasty thunderstorm the other night.  It didn’t need to happen but when I tied her up in the slip an important spring line was not secured properly.  My mistake and now I have a nasty scratch in my brand new paint job to have fixed, perhaps in Antigua.  Made me sad, I’ll admit.

So, we are on our way very soon, probably early tomorrow morning, so please follow along with the fleet.  As I mentioned this in my last post click here to see how to follow the fleet or Pandora alone.

For now Pandora’s all snug, if a little worse for wear, here in her slip, crew ready and raring to go.    And, of course, I’ll be keeping you up to date with frequent posts, I hope.

It’s looking like Sunday morning so stay tuned.