Monthly Archives: December 2021

Will returning to Antigua be easier than visiting Cuba?

Erbaa It’s nearly Christmas and life is a bit crazy, with family events and all the details of getting ready to close up the house and head back to Antigua and Pandora.

frenziedly And, speaking of Pandora, my friend Bill sent me this photo, taken from his room at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor earlier this week, of Pandora safe and sound on her mooring, awaiting our return.  Our plans for heading back to Antigua have us getting a rental car on the 29th and heading into NYC to visit our son Christopher and his partner Melody before going to JFK the next day to fly out.

And, speaking of Chris and Melody, who have lived with us here in CT for much of the pandemic, decided not to move back to San Francisco and instead moved into NYC a few weeks ago.  Yahoo!  So great and they actually have a two bedroom place so we can visit, and NEVER LEAVE!.

So back to Antigua.  Some months ago I noticed that my passport expires in May but with all the delays caused by the pandemic, I didn’t worry much about that, knowing that I would be heading home to the US with Pandora, in the spring, about the time that my passport will expire.  I figured that if I arrived in the US aboard Pandora with a nearly expired passport, I’d be Ok.  What would they do?  Send me back?  Not likely and then I would be in the US anyway and could get my passport renewed. 

Wrong!  The problem with all this is that I didn’t even think about the  plan to visit other islands in the Caribbean this winter, all of which require a passport to be some 5-6 months from expiration, which it won’t be.   Don’t ask how I got confused about all this, I just did.  Now, not so confused.  Well, not on this topic anyway.

This is now a LOT more urgent as we will likely leave Pandora in Trinidad this summer and there is no way that I will be able to clear in with a passport that will expire within a few weeks of my arrival.

So, on Monday, a few days ag0,  I focused on trying to find a way to “expedite” the renewal.  No simple feat, as these days, in an age of Covid, it takes months to renew unless you are able to use the “life or death emergency” option.  “Officer, it’s life or death as I really need to get back to my boat in the Caribbean, you know, where it’s warm when you are freezing in the north.  Yes, I need to see fireworks.  I’ll die if I don’t.”  Hmm…  I’ll have to work on the message.

So, in a near panic, I began to search online and discovered that there are plenty of services that purport to be able to get a passport renewed in just a few days, for a price.  Well, that price, it turns out, is upwards of $1,000 including government charges.   Not a trifling number but I’m desperate.

So, I picked one, www.govworks.com, and began to fill out a series of questions.  Oddly, the first step was to put in my credit card number before I had even applied.  I should have seen that one coming and bailed immediately.  However, I stuck with it.  After a long list of questions including email addresses, birthdate and contact info for Brenda too, they asked for my SS number.  RED FLAG!  Alert! Alert!  Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson!!! NO WAY, so I bailed and tried to undo what I had started.  No such luck and a short while later, a charge to my credit card of $700.   It’s going to be fun to get that charge removed from my Visa account.  I do love a challenge.

Ok, so that service was a bad idea.  What next?  I had no idea so I called the office of our town First Selectman and they recommended that I call our state senator, Chris Murphy.

Bingo!   One of Senator Murphy’s aids called me back and said that he would personally expedite my request.  I guess he likes fireworks.  Actually, I didn’t say anything about that but my tale of woe seemed to be enough to inspire him to help.  I did own up that I had voted for the Senator, a democrat, in the last election and likely would again.  I also mentioned that I am registered as a republican, albeit a disenchanted one just to confirm that I was a constituent worth helping in my hour of need.

Anyway, my new best friend Claude, the senator’s aid, said he was going to bat for me and get an appointment.

Of course, passports apply to all sorts of international travel, both by boat and jet but for me, the bulk of passport use involves Pandora.  With all the island to island travel over the last decade, I have a good number of pages in my passport full of entry and exit stamps, including from Cuba in 2016.

How’s that for an awkward segue?  Cuba?  It makes sense to me as I am reminded of the last time I had to really think hard about the complexities of traveling outside of the US, in 2016 when we visited Cuba.

If you were to look at all the stamps in my soon-to-expire passport, you’d see a very faint stamp from Cuba.  I mention the fact that my passport has a stamp from Cuba in it as the standard when an American visits Cuba is for the officer to insert a piece of paper into the passport and stamp that, instead of stamping a page in the book itself, lest a US official will see that we visited Cuba.   Of course, that’s because Americans are not supposed to visit Cuba.  In our case, we were there legally so I was sure to make them stamp my book.  Sadly, the stamp is so faint you can hardly read it.

Things have changed a lot since that brief moment in time when Cuba was open to US citizens. and once again I am focused on all that goes into international travel, if for different reasons.  When we went to Cuba we were visiting an “enemy state” and now just about everywhere you might go, you are visiting “enemy territory” compliments of Covid-19.

I can still remember the surreal experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba, all bleary eyed from our long three day run from Georgetown Great Exuma. in the Bahamas.  We were very exhausted, and a bit overwhelmed, with the more than two hour process, meeting with multiple officials who had all the time in the world to spend with us as they had so few visiting boats to process.

All of this conjures up some wonderful memories.  The experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba is a story worth revisiting so check out this post.  The photo below is of the medical officer that visited us in quarantine, flaming red hair and all.

Everyone flies a Q flag when clearing into a country but it’s not a formality in Cuba where we were instructed to head to a far away corner of the harbor.  And, certainly not these days when “Q” as in quarantine is taken seriously, with the risk of importing yet another case of Covid.  Back then, in Cuba, it was all about yellow fever.

Quarantine or not, formalities completed, we shared a beer with the medical officer.  For us, a first, not before or since…Meeting a medical officer with punk style red hair was nothing to compare to seeing the Rolling Stones play in Havana.  Perhaps yet another random segue but since I brought it up here’s a link to a post about that amazing experience.

It’s hard to imagine a time when being in crowds like this will ever feel normal again.
To say that this was a unique, once in a lifetime, experience doesn’t begin to describe what it was like to be there, on a sultry night in Havana with a million fans.  It was crazy.  Think of a mosh pit covering acres and acres and you get the idea.

This short clip below gives a feel for what it was like that night.  The Stones opened with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a song that they first sang at concert in 1968.  It’s still a great tune decades later.

You can watch the entire “Havana nights” concert on YouTube but this short clip captures the feeling of that night when they opened with their first song.
In spite of the massive crowds that night, The Stones actually played to a larger crowd when the did a free concert in Rio de Janeiro in 2006 reported to be more than 1,600,000.   That was their largest concert ever and perhaps the largest in history for any group.

I mention our visit to Cuba as it was the last time that I had to hustle to get paperwork for any trip, as visiting Cuba, even then, when things were fairly open, took months to put together.

I had explored visiting Cuba earlier in 2015 but abandoned the idea as it was just too complicated. However, when I ran into problems in running Pandora to the BVI that fall (another story) and had to abandon my run, I became determined to revisited the idea.

As with my current passport issues, I doubt that I would have ever been able to get all the details in place without the personal assistance of someone in government.   Visiting Cuba, open or not, was complex as I had to get approvals from the State Department, Commerce Department and the US Coastguard.

It wasn’t until a few days before we were scheduled to leave Georgetown Great Exuma for Santiago de Cuba in early March, 2016 that I was finally able to get everything in place to go was finally in place.

So, here I am again, scrambling to get ready to head back to Antigua and Pandora.  Last time it was an enemy of the state, now, in part, it’s an enemy of humanity, Covid-19.

Fingers crossed as I await to hear back from my new best friend, Claude and I guess I’ll find out soon if heading back to Antigua will be easier than visiting Cuba.

At least there isn’t much of a risk of testing positive for Yellow Fever.  It could be worse.

 

 

 

 

So, Bob, how was your trip to Antigua?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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