Happy Ship, Happy Trip Aboard Pandora

It’s 03:00 on Thursday morning and all is well aboard Pandora.  Jim and Rich are sleeping below and I have been on watch for less than an hour.  The moon has set, the stars are out in profusion and there is a phosphorescent glow in the water surrounding Pandora and streaming off in her wake.  It’s a truly remarkable time to be out on the ocean making passage.

We are about 1/3 of the way through our voyage from the Bahamas to home in CT and I have to say that I am enjoying this trip more than perhaps any I have taken in 40+ of sailing.  Pandora’s performing well with no major issues and the weather, THE WEATHER, is perfect; Sunny warm days and pleasantly cool nights.  I have even taken to wearing shoes, if only at night, can you believe it?  I haven’t had shoes on since leaving home in late January.  Who knew?

With a third of our 1,300 miles behind us, we have been able to sail the entire way, all but a few hours, without running the engine.
Conditions have been about perfect with a nearly flat sea and winds that are running in the 10-15 kt range on the beam or just behind, ideal for Pandora.  Our speed through the water have been consistently in the 5 to 7 knot range, which is great for fairly light winds.  Unfortunately, the forecast for today is for the wind to go light so we will likely be motoring much of today until the wind fills in from the south.  I’ll learn more from Chris Parker later this morning.

With regards to putting miles under our keel, what’s even better is that we have been able to keep Pandora in the strongest part of the Gulf Stream for nearly the entire time since leaving the Bahamas, giving us over-the-bottom speeds in the 8-9kt, sometimes 10kt range for the last two days.   The “stream” runs north at a good 3-4 knot clip which adds to our speed as we move along.

The near perfect conditions that we are enjoying are in stark contrast to those being “enjoyed” by our friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo who are about 200 miles east of us.  They left about the same time as we did but from the northern Bahamas. I have been speaking to Bill each morning and evening on the SSB long range radio to compare notes and their experience has been very different.  While we are having moderate and favorable winds, Kalunamoo has had virtually no wind.  That’s amazing as they aren’t very far from us. They have had to motor the entire time and I can assure you that listening to the drone of a motor 24 hours a day can get pretty old.

What’s causing the difference in conditions is that there is a high pressure area east of us that is surpassing the wind so while we are sailing merrily along Bill and Maureen have no wind and have had to keep the motor running the entire time so far.  I am certainly sorry about their plight but am happy that we are where we are.

Speaking of “where we are”, our current position puts us nearly 70 miles from land and off of St Augustine FL.  It’s hard to believe that we have been underway nearly two days and are still in FL.  It’s a big state.   Of course, you can check out “where’s Pandora” on this site and see where we are on a Google Map.   As I have mentioned, we “push the button” on our GPS transponder every four hours to keep everyone up to date on where we are.

It’s certainly hard to say exactly when we will be back to CT but it’s looking like it could be as early as Monday or Tuesday.  Of course, as they say in the investment community, “past performance is no predictor of future returns” but we are making good time and I am hopeful that our good fortune will continue.   Yes, indeed, and as Brenda says, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful”.

Or, on the other hand, as my dad used to say, “we’ll be there when we get there”.

Having good weather has been just terrific and I am appreciative of Chris Parker, the weather router, for giving me forecasts that have turned out to be spot on.  He also provided me with coordinates for the Gulf Stream which I am following as we head up the coast.  In southern Florida the “stream” is well defined and very close to shore, but as it heads north, it becomes more diffuse, with eddies and meanders along the edges.  These “eddies or meanders” can be very frustrating as while currents a few miles away might be running 3-4 knots to the north, you can find yourself in an area where the currents may suddenly head off to the east or west.  Happily, our task heading north is simple, as we are just trying to stay in the middle of the stream where the currents are quite consistent. Chris provided me a series of about 10 waypoints to put in my navigation plotter and steer for as we head from the Bahamas to Cape Hatteras.  This course looks like a gentle curve the northeast after we hit Georgia and, at times, diverges from a northerly course to one that’s nearly east in direction.  Yes, this means that we are not going the most direct route but with a 3-4 knot current pushing us along we get quite a boost to our speed and will cover the distance faster.

Sailors spend a lot of time thinking about what constitutes an “ideal cruising boat” and one of the greatest attributes of Pandora in this area is her ability to sail in conditions with marginal wind.  The fact that she can keep up a respectable turn of speed with winds in the 10-15 knot range is remarkable with most cruising boats needing at least 15 knots to keep moving well.  Pandora can make good speed in conditions where most boats will need to have their motor on to make progress.  I am also appreciative of her easy motion as she reels off the miles.  There have been many times in the last few days when I was resting down below and thought we were nearly dead in the water only to learn that we were moving well but so smoothly that it was hard to tell we were making any progress at all.

As I sit here, alone in the cockpit writing this post, I am also enjoying the fact that there isn’t another sole within some 50 miles of our position.  The VHF radio is silent and there are no lights on the horizon in any direction except a gentle glow to the west, I guess from St Augustine.  The radar and AIS confirm that there isn’t a ship anywhere near us.  As we were leaving the Bahamas yesterday and were near Miami and Ft Lauderdale, there were dozens of ships to contend with and some were on a course that would cross our path so keeping a careful watch was critical and often stressful.   Twice, on our first night out, I had to contact nearby ships to confirm that they saw us and confirm what they’d like me to do to avoid getting into trouble.

Now that the three of us, me Jim and Rich, have settled in to a routine aboard, I am less concerned about keeping two on deck for each watch which is making things easier and allowing us to get more rest.  On our first night out, as is customary for me the first night when making passage, I wanted two on deck at all times.  Given the fact that we were in pretty congested waters and both Jim and Rich were not familiar with Pandora, I wasn’t comfortable having just one of them on deck while I was down below.  As a result, none of us got much sleep.  Me, perhaps an hour all night.    That’s in marked contrast to tonight, when I slept from shortly after dinner till I woke up for watch around 02:00 this morning.  If feel very well rested.  That’s nice.

Now that we are in a less busy shipping area and everyone is better acquainted with the boat, I am comfortable with having only one on deck at a time.  The watch schedule is pretty easy with Jim on deck from 20:00 (8:00pm) to 23:00, Rich from 23:00 to 02:00 and me for three hours till 05:00 when Jim takes over again.

At 06:00, each day, I listen to Chris Parker’s forecast and talk to him to get an updated forecasts for my area.  At 08:30 I check in with Cruiseheimers, the SSB Net, to give my position as well as with the Do-Da net at 17:00.  I have also been speaking with Bill on Kalunamoo in the morning and evening to see how they are doing.  It’s nice to know that we are able to communicate with others in spite of being so far out in the ocean.  We are very aware that we are truly on our own out here but it’s nice to be in touch with others.

I also check e-mail several times a day to get news from home as well as my evening weather update from Chris Parker.

All of these activities along with cooking and keeping the boat in shape keep me pretty busy but still allows for plenty of down time to catch up on my reading.

All in all this run is shaping up to be the best one for me in nearly 40 years of sailing and at 1,300 miles non stop, the longest yet.

So, what next?  While Brenda and I have talked about what we will do next winter, I have to say that making the run to the Caribbean, a trip I have wanted to do for years, is sounding very appealing.

Well, I guess that’s about it for now.  Alas, still no pictures.  I could send a shot of water but while it’s a lovely shade of cobalt blue, well, it’s just blue.    I guess I’ll just have to see how many more meteors I can count before the day begins.
Wish me luck for continued smooth sailing aboard Pandora.  Signing off…

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