Next stop, Florida!

Well, after months of planning, Brenda and I shoved off from the USVIs yesterday to begin or long 1,100 mile run to Florida.  Making such a long run was the LAST thing that Brenda ever imagined she would do and yet, when considering all of the options open to us, she decided that it was the “lesser of all evils”.

To have crew fly in was our first choice but that proved to be much more difficult than we had imagined and with that option, Brenda too would have to spend time in an airport and on a plane, during a time of such danger and uncertainty.   And, crew, not knowing if they were infected along the way, would have to hang out with me in the USVIs for a while to be sure that they were healthy enough to make the trip.  And that would make for a very long time away when you consider that it’s a full week to get home once we shoved off.

Knowing how much Brenda did not want to make the run says a lot about how anxious she has been about flying into the US, with so much uncertainty and potential danger.  She just didn’t feel safe at all and was concerned about the dangers of the virus in large public spaces, airports and aboard planes.   We both feel that things are just not being handled very well in the US when compared to other counties.

So, after months of back and forth, we are making the trip together.

Seasickness has plagued Brenda for as long as we have spent time aboard and even that did not deter her when compared with the possibility of contracting the virus on the way home on a plane.

Over the years, she has tried about everything possible to solve her nausea and on this trip, we decided to give a good try to the “patch”, something that she has used off and on over the years and always giving up due to side effects such as a sore throat.

We also hoped that after a few days into a trip that will surely take more than a week, that her nausea would subside, as it does for most.

So, two days before we were to depart, she put a half patch behind her ear.  Fingers crossed.  So far, it’s working and while she doesn’t feel completely ok, she is able to be down below to sleep, wash up and use the washroom, something that has never been possible in the past.

So, we headed out yesterday afternoon, three hours after I headed ashore to get three more jerry cans to carry extra diesel.   I am really anxious about running out before we get to Florida as the wind is expected to be quite light. However, as luck would have it, the credit card machine in the hardware store was down and I only had enough money to buy one single 5 gallon can.  I thought that I would be able to go to a cash machine but we’ve been away from home for so long that my debit card expired and in spite of being on hold with Bank of America for a half hour, I wasn’t able to connect with anyone to try and get my card reactivated.

And, to make matters worse, after schlepping that one lonely can back to the marina to fill with fuel, I discovered that it had a small crack and it immediately began leaking my precious diesel all over the place.  So, back up the hill to the hardware store, dripping diesel all the way, to transfer the fuel into another can.  I was so frustrated and exhausted.  Up hill both ways, as they say.

Finally, I was able to get it resolved and headed back to Pandora to finish all of the last minute details like hoisting the dink on deck and securing everything for the long run to the US.

So, as I write this, into the second day of our voyage, we are nearing the western end of Puerto Rico and will soon be passing the Dominican Republic, both places that we would normally stop at to break up a trip like this.  Unfortunately, both are fully locked down because of the virus, along with every other island in the Caribbean.

It is interesting to note, that we passed the Puerto Rican Trench, the deepest spot in the entire Atlantic Ocean, over 27,000 ft deep.  There is only one place on the planet that is deeper and that’s in the Pacific, the Marianas Trench, I think.   It’s hard to believe that there is so much water beneath us and that to get to the bottom would involve going down as far as Mt Everest goes up.  And, the crushing pressures are far greater than the dangers of being at the summit of the highest mountain on earth.
I’ll admit that it is a bit creepy to think about how deep it is and at the same time, being out of sight of land for days at a time.

So, that’s our story, we are at sea and while the weather is nice, the wind is directly behind us and is barely strong enough to keep us moving.  Yes, it’s not too rough but Pandora is still doing plenty of bucking around with a following sea and you never know, from hour to hour, if there will be enough wind to keep us moving and how often we will have to run the engine and burn our precious fuel.

We do have enough to run the engine for more than 140 hours but that’s not enough to get us the entire way so we have to be very careful.

For now, we are making the best of it and getting into a routine, standing watch, resting, reading and doing what we can to pass the time as we make our way, non-stop, west to Florida where we will leave Pandora for a month while we head home in a rental car for a much anticipated return to CT and home.

I’ll continue to keep my GPS tracker going to don’t forget to follow us on the Garmin shared page under “where is the world is Pandora” and also through the Salty Dawg Flotilla page. I’ve shared that link in prior posts.

A special thanks to Melody, our son Chris’s partner for putting this up for me.

Stay safe and keep us in your thoughts and prayers.  We need all the help we can get.

Here we are, with nearly 1,000 miles left to go.  Next stop, Florida, sometime next week, I hope.

USA, here we come. Leaving the USVIs on Sunday

It’s been a long journey, getting to a point where we can say “we’re leaving the Caribbean and heading home”.  In a way, it seems like only yesterday when we were in Martinique enjoying the days of Carnival.  So much has changed.

Our plans on departing have changed.  As recently as yesterday Chris Parker, our weather router, suggested that leaving on Tuesday for Florida made the most sense.  However, after speaking to him again today, he has changed his tune and now thinks we should leave on Sunday, the original departure date for the flotilla.

The rub is that I had become focused on a Tuesday departure and am not quite ready.  In particular, I had hoped to purchase a few more diesel cans in town but they won’t be in stock until Monday.  However, fingers crossed, we probably have enough fuel as long as we can sail about half of the distance, so I won’t dwell on that.

However, I do need to fill the jugs that I have on board as I emptied two of them, five gallons each, into one of the tanks today.

So, the fuel dock opens up at 07:30 tomorrow and I’ll head in to fill the cans.  Brenda also wants me to make a last run to the grocery to get some provisions.  A rotisserie chicken will be a good first dinner out.

Next, the dink on board and off we go, hopefully by noon.

However, no post is complete without a picture, or two.  How about some fish?Our son’s partner Melody gave me this great GoPro camera.  I have underwater color correcting filters but they don’t seem to understand the exact color correction needed.  Each filter is coded to depth.  This one was for 5-15’depth.There were some nice modest reefs near where we had our mooring.  I didn’t get the color filter quite right on this one either.  A lovely French angel. I don’t know if these sea urchins are good or bad for the reef, but there are a lot of them. Well, I thought that I needed to put up some photos of fish before we shoved off, my first of the season.

I had hoped to use the camera  lot more this season but somehow I didn’t.  Blame the virus.  Thanks Melody, I hope to use the camera more next season.

Actually, I do wonder when the next season will be.  November?  I have my doubts. 

Anway, we are out of here.  Next stop, Florida.  

I hope to put up some posts, sans photos, along the way but that depends on being able to spend time below if Brenda is doing fairly well.   Hard to tell.

Wish us luck.

Remember, you can track us on “where in the world is Pandora”.  And, on the shared Salty Dawg Flotilla page.

 

So, we wait…

After much back and forth about how we will be getting Pandora back to the US, Brenda and I have decided that the best option is just for the two of us to make the run ourselves.

It’s been a tough call as Brenda does not do well when things are rough as she is so prone to motion sickness.  We have found that the Scope patch is sorta, kinda, pretty good for her, even though it gives here a pretty bad sore throat.   For most, seasickness tends to go away after a few days but Brenda’s longest run wasn’t long enough to try that theory out .   For sure, this run will test that hypothesis.  Fingers crossed.

Brenda, and others who have suffered from mal de mer, say that “at first you feel like you are going to die and then fear that you won’t”.   Not her first choice, to be sure.   So, what to do?

We have considered many options for Brenda to allow her to avoid the run to the US, including having crew fly in so she can fly home.   However, as expected during this scary time, my crew didn’t feel comfortable flying down and Brenda also decided that she didn’t feel comfortable flying home herself.

So, the plan is for Brenda to make the run with me, something that would have seen unthinkable only a few short weeks ago.  It’s safe to say that much of what’s going on in the world these days we unthinkable only a few weeks ago.

So, what about the trip?  We spoke with our weather router, Chris Parker a few days ago to see what we can do to make the run the least uncomfortable for Brenda.  As we have been working with him for nearly 8 years, he knows Brenda well and is very sympathetic. His suggestion remains for us to take the southern route via the Old Bahamas Channel to Florida, basically 1,000 due mile west from here.

The problem is that the wind, beginning this weekend, is forecast to be very light, too light for sailing, for much of the route.   However, Chris holds out hope that if we wait a few days longer, perhaps until the middle of next week, that there will be more favorable wind and we will be able to sail more of the run, perhaps much of it.  Having wind is very important as we simply do not have enough fuel to make the entire run under power.  Experience tells me that if I manage things well I should be able to make as much as 3/4 of the 1,100 miles to our destination under power.

As recently as last fall, on my run south to Antigua, winds were quite light and contrary and I was under power for over 100 hours.  I can tell you that the anxiety about running out of fuel was all consuming and I have no interest in going through that again on this trip.

Light wind or not, it’s hard to forecast the weather even one week out.  However, with weather, a week is a long time and it’s highly likely that we will get some wind as long as we choose our departure date carefully.

We do know that Brenda is most uncomfortable when we are off the wind in rough conditions (isn’t just about everyone?) so leaving here when the winds are behind us makes sense.  Having said that, it is also a good idea to plan things so that there won’t be wind of more than 20kts behind us as above those speeds is what causes her the most discomfort.

Ideally, we will want to leave with a good wind forecast to allow us to do well for at least the first few days and allow us to put some miles “in the bank” before we have to rely more on the engine.

The winds south of the Bahamas, our planned route, are nearly always from an easterly direction so it’s not likely that we will be dealing with adverse winds until perhaps as we approach Florida where fronts exiting the US east coast can bring adverse clocking conditions.

One way or the other, it’s just me and Brenda to make the trip so we will just have to work through this, something that we have been doing together for nearly 50 years so I’m sure that we will again muddle our way.

So here we sit, and over the next few days we will just have to hang out and be ready for a quick escape as soon as conditions are right.   I plan on calling Chris again in a day or so to check on his “Brenda forecast”.  While we recieve a general forecast via email each day, speaking to him directly is good for Brenda as it gives her the feeling of Chris’s hand on her shoulder and, to her, it’s like him saying “Brenda, it’s going to be OK.”

That’s it, we are counting on you Chris so give us a good forecast and soon.

For now, we’re here in St Johns, a lovely spot with lovely beaches to walk on and water so clear you can see 40′ down. And sunsets that will take your breath away.
Remember, the Salty Dawg Flotilla has a tracking map compliments of Predict Wind, to help you keep track of where all of the boats are as they leave each week for the US.   Note that the map has a listing of all the boats down the right side of the screen so you can click on Pandora to see where she is and what her speed and course are.

To date, there are over 200 boats signed up to participate in the Salty Dawg Flotilla to the US, a great example of Cruisers helping Cruisers during this difficult time.  I am glad to be a part of this effort and hope that I NEVER have to be involved with something like this again.  Just sayin…

We’d love to be home but here we wait…

We are here but not yet there.

Two days ago Brenda and I arrived in St John after a 200 mile run from Antigua.

Clearing in was easy using the ROAM app on my phone.  I tend to be a bit skeptical about any government sites or apps but this one worked remarkably well.  I opened the app, scanned the photo page of our passports, it populated almost everything needed and automatically sent a notice to customs and Immigration.  About 10 minutes later, my phone rang and an officer cleared us in.   It was amazingly easy.

The only thing I had to do after that was to call a second number and submit to a brief Covid-19 health survey.  I was also surprised to learn that by clearing into the USVIs, a territory, that we were cleared into the US, as long as we didn’t stop elsewhere prior to arriving in the US.

We made the run here at an average speed of about 7kts with the wind on a very deep reach.  This made for a very easy run until the wind picked up to 20+kts and the seas rose to a lumpy 4-7′.   The problem with being on that deep a reach is that I was unable to use the jib as a way to more fully stabilize the boat and with the waves nearly directly behind us, we rolled a lot which was quite uncomfortable for Brenda.

Overall, Pandora is fairly stable, even with a following sea, but being sure that we didn’t end up with any sort of unexpected jibe required constant vigilance as having the boom slam over unexpectedly can cause all sorts of mayhem.  Fortunately, between the boom break securing things and a careful eye on the wind, we had no problems.

The biggest issue for us was that Brenda really didn’t feel well and at one point we forgot to dose her on additional Stugeron seasickness pill, so as that wore off, that was the end of her taking anything to keep her comfortable.

As we passed St John on our way to St Thomas to pick up Brenda’s meds that had been shipped here from the US,  the waves got pretty big and we decided to bail from rolly Red Hook harbor and head over to the more protected St John national park and the site of the old Caneel Bay resort, where we now sit on a mooring.

We still have to get her meds so I am thinking that I’ll head over there on a ferry in a day or so to meet the folks that accepted our package.   In spite of the fact that there are more virus cases here, I went to a small market yesterday and felt pretty secure with the safety considerations in place, distancing, sanitizer and my mask in place.   I hope I am right.

There are some pretty inquisitive turtles keeping an eye on us here.   This guy, about 2′ in diameter, would approach us within 10′ of the boat, poke his head up seemingly to say “do I know you?”Most of St John, one of three major islands in the USVIs, is a national park and anchoring is not permitted in park areas.  The primary reason is that anchors and chain will damage coral and tear up the grass that grows on the bottom as the boat boat drifts one way or the other.   The moorings, managed by the National Park Service, are $26/day.    Fortunately, I signed up for a senior discount card for use in any National Park which gives us access to any services at half price “for life”.  I purchased the card 3-4 years ago when Brenda and I were visiting Chris and Melody in San Francisco.  Frankly, I haven’t used the card, even once, since purchasing it and was shocked to find that it was still in my wallet.   Lucky us as this means that we only pay $13 a night.

The water here is remarkably clear, more so than any place that we have visited since being in Cuba and the Bahamas and surely more clear than most places in the Caribbean so far.    I’d guess that the visibility is about 40′, much more than the 6′ of Falmouth Harbor, which was more green from algae than the pure ocean blue here.  We are on the closest mooring toward shore, perhaps the best location of all.   On shore is a resort, the Caneel Bay Resort, closed like all others in the Caribbean these days.  However, I don’t think that they will be emerging from lock-down any time soon as the resort, destroyed in 2017 after being in business since 1956 it has yet to be reopened.  It was an eco-resort, opened by Laurance Rockefeller when he owned nearly the entire island.  Their site suggests that they may open up again soon but I didn’t see any evidence of construction or demolition in evidence.  I guess we will have to wait and see.There are dozens of moorings in the area with only one or two opening up most days.  I recall seeing this very unusual catamaran in Antigua a few weeks ago.   Having one mast on each hull.  Very unusual. I think she was designed by Chris White from RI.  It seems that he is known for some unusual designs, many of them multihulls.  Not sure as I wasn’t able to find her design on his site. However, he seems like a logical choice to have been the designer based on some of the details of other models he’s drawn.

So, here we are in St John and our next step, planned for on or about May 10th, is to head to the US.  However, I’ll admit that I am a bit unclear as to how our plans will play out given how uncomfortable Brenda was for much of the trip here.  And both of us are nervous about making such a long trip without a clear plan for dealing with her sea sickness.  We have been told that nearly everyone gets over nausea after a few days but not always and the idea of single handing back to the US is not sounding particularly appealing to me.

Before we left Antigua we had to go back to St John harbor, an industrial, wholly unattractive and smelly port to clear out.   The one bright spot was seeing the ship, known as “the big lift” that transports yachts from place to place.  There’s a lot to be said for putting a yacht on a ship to avoid the wear and tear of an ocean voyage.  However, to move Pandora to say, Newport, would costs more than $20k, and that would pay for a l0t of repairs.This is a big ship.  Her biggest passenger was the classic J, Topaz, one of the boats that competed in some races in Antigua prior to the arrival of the Covid-19.  Topaz was on the receiving end of a dramatic collision between her and Svea with Svea ultimately found at fault.  Check out this article chronicling the event.   This very brief video shows what happened.  It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have Svea ride up over her stern.  Amazingly, the mast didn’t come down.  That had to have been some really fancy footwork on the part of the crew of Topaz to secure the missing aft support for the mast.

Another boat to be hoisted aboard was Maiden.  We had seen her in Antigua, most recently in English Harbor.  Maiden, the first round the world race boat to carry an all female crew.   Brenda and I enjoyed a showing of the movie about that race at the Antigua Yacht Club back in early January when we first returned to Antigua after the holidays.  How much has changed in a few short months.  When we met the still all female crew of Maiden, they were planning to sail up the US East Coast this spring to visit many yacht clubs along the way.   Not now…It was interesting to see yachts pull up, one after another to be hoisted aboard.  The crew made pretty fast work of getting the boats prepared. In the slings, and over onto the deck.  I’ll admit that seeing all this happen made me wonder at the simplicity of it all as a way to get Pandora home.

Alas, we headed back to the harbor near St John to spend a final night in Antigua.  Quarantine or not, we did have our friends Mark and Lynn over for a brief visit before we headed out on Thursday morning.

I expect that these two cavorting on their boom were likely more focused on fun than the risk.  Down below, parents holding their breath…So, off we headed the next morning.  Things were very settled for much of the day, mostly with just enough wind to make a decent speed. We passed to windward of Nevis and St Kitts. And into the night as the sun set.  From there, not a sight of land for another 100 miles.  Unfortunately, it became progressively windier and more lumpy.   Brenda wasn’t amused and didn’t feel well at all.  She was only able to stand watch for part of the time.

However, it all worked out even if I didn’t get much sleep.   So, here we sit waiting for our date and a good “window” to head to the US, unsure about exactly when it will be the right time to head out.  Mostly, because we are both fearful that Brenda will not be able to hold up her part of the crew responsibilities.  And, if I don’t get at least some rest, I won’t be able to make good decisions and that will put us both at risk.

We are still considering options and the best approach to use to get Pandora and us back to CT safely but for now we will hang out here and come up with a plan that is safe and workable.

I did talk to Chris Parker yesterday to compare notes on the best options and as the next few weeks unfold, I am sure that we will figure it out.

For now, were’re here but it’s not the “here” that we want, not quite yet, anyway.

Athos: The world’s largest schooner.

As I write this we have moved Pandora to Deep Bay, a small harbor right next door to St John, the main commercial port for Antigua.

We moved here today as St John is the only place where we can clear out of Antigua.  Normally, we would be able to clear in English Harbor, near Falmouth where we have been, or in Jolly Harbor, near here.

However, we called the Antigua Coast Guard and were told that the only place to clear in and out now is St John and that they would arrange for an appointment  for 09:30 on Wednesday morning.

We were going to do some provisioning in Jolly after clearing out before we head to the USVI’s Thursday but we have decided that we have plenty of food to last for our run to the USVIs where we expect to arrive on Friday afternoon so we will just come back here.

So, tomorrow afternoon we will just hoist the dink aboard and prepare for our 200 mile offshore run to the USVIs.  We have been offered the use of a mooring in Red Hook, St Thomas, the same couple that has offered to receive the prescriptions that we had Fedexed to them from the US.

After all the back and forth on getting Brenda’s scrips delivered, we learned that there is a Walgreens pharmacy in St Thomas where we could have had her prescriptions filled.  Live and learn.

I expect that the provisioning in St Thomas will be better than here in Antigua so we have decided to pick up things for our run to FL there instead of trying to determine what we need now, two weeks before we plan on heading out to make our way to Florida.

Before we head out I thought that it would be fun to share some information about a spectacular schooner that is in the marina in Falmouth.

Meet Athos, tied up at the Antigua Yacht Club Marin.  She is the largest schooner in the world at over 200′ long and she cost her owner $30,000,000 when she was launched in 2010.   Her profile is pretty impressive and yet, she doesn’t look all that big against the mega-yacht dock.   No, I take that back, she looks huge.Her interior is very lush with cabins for ten guests.   Brenda would take one look into the cabin and say “I need a nap!”And his and her’s sinks.  Brenda would settle for nothing less, of course.  I’ll bet that these aren’t stinky potties.   It is remarkable how acute Brenda’s sense of smell has become when judging imagined smells aboard Pandora.   Why is that? Not so sure about what she would say about this Pullman berth.  That’s perhaps the only thing that we have in common with Athos.  Aboard Pandora I am always stuck in the “airless corner”, against the wall.  No, wait, it wouldn’t be ANYTHING like Pandora as the AC would be blasting.   This would be a terrific cabin to host a visit from our “grandbaby-twins”, Emme and Rhett. I would enjoy writing blog posts from this office.   Athos features satellite broadband internet, 24/7 at sea or in the harbor,  a service that I am told runs in neighborhood of $5,000/month.   And, I’ll bet that coffee cup doesn’t have mud in the bottom.  “Garcon, please fetch me a cafe late. without mud please.”
And, when it’s time for dinner.  Decisions, decisions, where to eat?  “I don’t like to eat in the cockpit.  It’s way too buggy outside!”   “No problem Madam, we can move you and your guests to the salon.”   Under full canvas, she flies 10,000 feet of sail area.   Just look at the scale of her main boom.  It must be over 5′ wide.    Note that she was black when she was launched.  Now she’s white.   I am told that most mega-yachts are painted every four years.   Pandora, now grey, has been painted three times since she was launched in 2007.    Of course, one of those paint jobs was when she was fresh from the yard.  As an epoxy boat she does not have gelcoat.   Athos has a huge sail plan and a spinnaker that alone is nearly 5,000 square feet.  That single sail has 5x more sail area than Pandora’s main and jib combined. As Brenda and I make plans to run Pandora home ourselves, the owner of Athos doesn’t have to worry about those pesky details.   Nope, just hop on his private jet and fly away.  It’s up to the crew to move her to, well, wherever he says to go.

And Athos has gone to plenty of places, Greenland, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and South Pacific.

Her owner, Geert Pepping, knows a bit about the ocean as he operates one of the largest fleets of refrigerated transport ships in the world.  There must be money in “fridging” as it seems he’s done pretty well for himself.

That’s good to hear as while Athos cost about $30,000,000 to build, that’s just the beginning as it costs at least an additional 10% of that in operating expenses every year.  The rule of thumb, I am told, is that you should not spend more than 10% of your net worth on a yacht.  While estimates put his net worth in excess of $100,000,00o, I’m guessing that the operative phrase must be “in excess of” as it surely takes plenty of coin to support such a magnificent vessel.

Athos is truly a spectacular machine and perhaps her owner is ready for something else as she is currently for sale.  And, for a cool $28,000,000 Euros, she can be yours.   Check out this link to learn more. 

So that’s about if for now.  We have left Falmouth and will leave Antigua on Thursday to head for the USVIs.  And after a brief visit, on to the US, toward home.

Don’t forget to check in as we will be posting our position every four hours on the “where in the world is Pandora” button on this page.  And, as always, you can sign up to receive a notice when I post so you won’t miss even one scintillating rant ever again.

So, there you have it,  we’re on our way and all about Athos, the largest schooner in the world.

Well, we’re outa here!  Wish us luck.

And so, the journey begins…

It’s almost time to for us to leave Antigua and we hope to begin moving north on Thursday, a few days from now.

The run home will be a long one.  First, two hundred miles to the United States Virgin Islands and the second leg from there to southern Florida and probably to Lake Worth, where we will make landfall and clear customs, a run of nearly 1,200 miles and about a week at sea.

After that, it remains to be seen if we will leave Pandora somewhere and drive home or if we will continue part or all of the remaining 1,200 miles north to CT.

I expect that the best option will be for us to leave Pandora somewhere in the southeast US for a few weeks and I’ll come back down with crew to bring her the rest of the way north.  The good news is that we have until July 15th to move Pandora north of Cape Hatteras, and out of the hurricane “box”.

A few weeks ago, when it became clear that the USVIs were, along with Antigua, the only two places left in the Caribbean where we could still make landfall legally, some cruisers, like us, headed to Antigua but many more rushed north to the USVIs, fearful that that they would be denied entry if they didn’t get there as soon as possible.

When we left St Lucia to begin our trip north, we too considered continuing on to the USVIs, after a short stop in Antigua, but after hearing that the USVIs were  becoming terribly overcrowded with so may cruisers, we decided to wait here in Antigua until the crowds thinned out.  I was fairly certain that the USVIs would remain open to US citizens for the duration and fortunately, at least as of today, I was correct.

So here we are, several weeks later, the crowds in the USVIs are thinning as cruisers begin to move north toward the US and we have heard that there are once again, moorings and reasonable places available to anchor available.

The Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, now numbering nearly 180 boats, just added yet another departure date in the second half of May.  The first group that left a week ago Sunday is now arriving in Florida.   The second wave of boats left the USVIs yesterday, Sunday for what will likely be a week long run to southern Florida.

The goal of these flotillas is to provide support for any cruisers that wish to head to the US, many that will be making the run shorthanded.  Quite a few of the boats heading north are doing so as they are fearful that Trinidad and Grenada, where many cruisers store their boats for the summer, will remain closed to any additional seasonal arrivals.  Those islands are vital to cruisers as they are the only islands in the eastern Caribbean that are generally safe from hurricanes.

Many other cruisers, who do not want to make the run north to the US, are opting to leave their boats in Antigua and other islands that lie within the hurricane zone.  However, given the arrival soon of what is being forecasted as  especially active season, with more and stronger storms than normal, that may prove to be a very risky decision.  Only time will tell if any given island will be hit, but it’s not a chance that Brenda and I are willing to take.

There has been much discussion within in the cruising community about the flotilla and what the Salty Dawg Sailing Association is doing to support those trying to get back to the US.    Amazingly, the SDSA received enough exposure to catch the interest of the NY Times.  Although the article, published last Saturday, is more focused on the effect that the huge increase in cruising boats is having on the USVIs, it does touch on the good work that our group is doing to help cruisers during this difficult time.   If you’re curious about what the Times had to say, check it out here.

And speaking of difficult, it is hard to fathom how much things have changed in the last month and while there are signs that some areas are beginning to emerge from the initial onslaught of the virus, it is becoming clear that we have a very long way to go before we will be able to reach anything that resembles “normal”.

More and more, estimates suggest that we will not really see any meaningful relief for perhaps 18 months when there is hope that a vaccine will become available.   If that’s the case, there will not be much of a cruising season in the Caribbean next winter at all.

So, getting home becomes an even greater priority for us as the idea of leaving Pandora in the islands for perhaps two years, sounds like a terrible idea.

With some luck, we will only be here in Antigua for a few more days and then our journey begins.

Even though it feels like forever that we have been killing time here, waiting until we can head home, that didn’t keep me from being in awe of today’s spectacular sunrise.   For better or worse, I see the sunrise nearly every day as being aboard means “early to bed and early to rise”.  Last night we were in bed before 9:00.  Lights out…The sun came over the horizon in a fiery blaze.
As I sat in the cockpit with a cup of coffee, I was struck by how peaceful the view in “our world” was in a world that is anything but…While every day begins with hope that things are heading closer to normal, those hopes always need to be tempered with yet another round of disclosures out of Washington from a president that seems Hell bent on sowing division. with his latest installment, calling for demonstrations against restrictions and closures that have been put in place in a number of states.  And that was only one day after he announced that those decisions and what is the best timeline, state by state, lies with those duly elected governors.  It’s hard to imagine how this is going to have a happy ending when there continues to be so much division and turmoil.

In spite of all the death and sadness, at least there are the beginnings of a better understanding of what needs to be done.  However, in spite of our best efforts, thousands more will likely become sick in the coming months, suggesting that the current “new normal” will be with us for some time now.  I read today that Singapore, a model for control of the virus, has seen a resurgence of cases as lock-down measures were lifted, not encouraging news at all.

For now, here in Antigua, a country with a very limited capacity to deal with a major outbreak, restrictions remain firmly in place with only the most limited movement allowed and only between 07:00 and noon.  As witness to how things have come to a nearly complete stop, this view of the parking lot at The Admiral’s Inn, which would normally be completely full, was sobering.  The Inn is a place where the Salty Dawg Rally has held so many events, it made me sad to see just how far we still have to go to get back to anything like normal. There has been considerable debate among cruisers who normally keep their boats here in the Caribbean over the summer, about what to do with their boats, take them home or arrange to keep them here in the Caribbean.

Should they stand by and wait for Trinidad and Grenada to open up again or just cut their losses and head back to the US.  It’s anyone’s guess about what will happen but to me the real question is what will next winter’s season look like.

Will we be back to “normal” with restaurants open and again have the freedom to mix socially, or will there still be restrictions and the now required social distancing still in place while the islands wait for the availability of an effective vaccine.

I for one, doubt that next winter season will end up being anything like “normal” so the idea of leaving Pandora down here for what might end up being be two years until the threat of the virus is contained, seems like a terrible idea to me.  I can only imagine what sort of condition she would be in after two years on the hard.

Having said that, I am doubtful that Pandora will see much use back in New England either with the summer sailing season almost upon us and it’s not looking good with restrictions galore and event after event being canceled.

In closing, I should mention that a sub-line for the Salty Dawg Flotilla is “cruising helping cruisers” and that is exactly what the group is all about.

As they say, “what goes around, comes around” and now it’s Brenda and I that are getting help, first as part of the flotilla as well as in other ways.  The outpouring of support has been wonderful with daily notes from friends asking how they can help us and wishing us well on our journey.

We have been invited to visit friends in their homes as we make our way north, eager to do whatever they can to help.  Making grocery runs, receiving packages and even the free use of a dock near Baltimore where we can keep Pandora until mid June if we decide to leave here there on our way home to CT.

Things are crazy in the world right now but in many ways beyond “cruiser helping cruisers” and all this is helping to bring many of us closer together.

So think of us as we begin our journey north and to home, a voyage that Brenda is not looking forward to in the least.

Today I gave Pandora’s bottom a last scrubbing before we begin to head north.  While we are in the USVIs I expect that I’ll do a bit of last minute touch-up to be sure that we can make the fastest passage possible passage on our way home.

In a few days we will pass through the mouth of Falmouth harbor as we continue our voyage home.  Fortunately, Pandora’s a pretty fast boat but any sailboat still moves at a glacial pace when you really just want to know, “when will we get there?

Our journey begins very soon.  Wish us luck.

Today, it’s a little bit brighter here in Antigua.

Yesterday we got the news that after weeks of being confined to our boats that it was now permissible to go for a walk on shore between 07:00 and 12:00 every day.  What a relief, after weeks of confinement aboard Pandora.

While there are still considerable restrictions in place on the island, being able to go ashore, even for a short walk, without feeling like a convict, was great.  Brenda dressed up in her best Covid-19 protective gear and out we went.   And, you can rest assured that under that elegant silk scarf is a proper mask given to her by another cruiser.

As Billy Chrystal, of Saturday Night Live fame, once said, “doesn’t she look marvelous darling?”.  And, with a lovely hibiscus in her hat. So, off we went for a morning walk, our first in, well, I can’t remember the last time.  We headed towards Nelson’s Dockyard.

Almost nobody on the road.  Deserted.  The entrance to Nelson’s Dockyard is normally bustling with yachties and tourists.  Not today. Almost nobody around.  I wondered if we’d be turned away, actually.  To see all the businesses we normally frequent closed was creepy. Sure, it’s mid April and the season would normally be winding down, with many yachts heading out for the season, but it’s a lot more vacant than normal.   The docks are normally packed with yachts of every size, getting ready for the last big event of the season.  In a normal year, the island would be gearing up for race week, when hundreds of competitive sailors and ocean yachts would be descending on the island. Even the mega-yacht dock , generally full of 100’+  yachts, nearly empty. There are still a good number of huge yachts in the harbor but, one by one, they are heading out, headed to the Mediterranean or Newport for the summer season.  I do wonder if there will even be a summer season this year.  Like us, I expect that many owners are wondering where their yachts should actually go.

Newport, for one, has quarantine restrictions in place that are pretty restrictive and it’s still too early in the season to head that far north.  Just last week, there was quite a nasty storm with gale force winds kicking up, south of Bermuda that would have been quite dangerous for even big yachts to be out in.

Virus or not, nature continues to amaze with beautiful flowers everywhere.  An egret hunting for fish in the shallows. A lone ray nosing around for a meal. And, a school of enormous tarpons looking for a handout where fisherman normally clean their catch. Don’t be fooled, these fish are each nearly 5′ long.   Much larger than they look in the photo. One particular yacht worth noting, that’s still in the Dockyard, is Adventuress, a lovely 1924 Scotland built, Fife that was beautifully restored in Maine in 2009.  She is a work of art and in spectacular condition, in spite of her 90 years.  This photo doesn’t do her justice.  Under sail, spectacular in every way. Follow this link to an article about her with more great photos.   She’s a remarkable yacht with a caring owner that is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her in top shape.  I wonder where she will be heading this summer?

While a very different type of yacht,  I have also admired Skat for a number of years now.  Launched in 2009, the 240′ long Skat is owned by Microsoft alum, Hungarian born, Charles Simonyi.

The owner lead the team at Microsoft that developed Office, the program that  runs on nearly every computer in the world.  When Microsoft went public, he became an instant billionaire.  These days, in spite of being an active philanthropist, giving away millions, he is still worth some $3,3b.   I understand that he is aboard Skat for half of the year.

Skat, in Danish is the word for “treasure” and a term of endearment like “honey”.  His danish wife, who he married in 2008, is 32 years his junior.   Interestingly, he dated Martha Stewart for 15 years.  He broke up with her and shortly after that was married in 2008.   Skat has a decidedly military look about her.   As Charles was dating Martha Stewart when she was in prison, I wonder if this photo of Martha’s cell was inspiration for the color scheme for Skat? Who knows.  Anyway, when Skat was launched in 2009 she her design was way ahead of her time, with a much more angular look.  Nowadays, many of the design details of Skat are fairly common in modern yacht design.

The other day there were two fully rigged catamarans on her stern ready for an evening sail.  Off and on, I have also seen a portable table saw set up on the stern.  I suppose for one of the crew to do a project.  It’s hard to imagine what they might be cutting with a crude carpenter’s saw to fit aboard a yacht of this level of fit and finish. Note the number 9906 on the starboard quarter.  It’s the build number assigned to the boat when she was in build at the Lurrsen Yard.  At launch, she cost in excess of $75,000,000.   Check out this link for some background and thought behind the development of Skat.

And when he’s not aboard, Simonyi lives in a very unique home in Washington state, not surprisingly referred to by some as “windows”.   It is also grey along with having some similar design elements to Skat.  Check more about this very unique home at this link. As you’d imagine, he also has a private jet and yes, it’s grey too.  And you can’t land a jet on a yacht so Skat also sports a helicopter, grey of course. A yacht, amazing home, personal jet and even his own chopper.   What else can an energetic billionaire do to keep busy?

How about a trip into space and a visit to the International Space Station?  Yes, he’s done that and even holds the record for being the only civilian to do so twice, in 2007 and again in 2009. Anyway, I think that his yacht is pretty neat.  Skat has been docked here in Falmouth every year that we’ve visited.   Two years ago, after we had already left for the season,  I heard from a fellow cruiser that the crew of Skat hosted a dock party and invited all the cruisers in the harbor to join in the fun.  I’ll bet after a winter hanging around the harbor that Skat’s crew was also ready for a good time as well. 

So while we are still in Falmouth, if slightly less hemmed in, it’s looking like some of the most restrictive rules put into place are beginning to loosen here and hopefully in the USVIs as well, where we will be heading in the next two weeks, as we begin our trip back to the US and home.

As anxious as she is about the trip home, Brenda seems to be beginning to make peace with what she will have to do to get herself there.   The good news is that the weather reports that was have been hearing about the first flotilla that left the USVIs last Sunday, have been quite reasonable, with nice easy broad reach sailing, all the way to Florida.

Just as with the fall Rally, you can follow the boats in the Homeward Bound Flotilla, this time on a really interesting page provided by Predict Wind, for all participants.

With a total of over 160 boats participating in weekly departures through mid May, there will be plenty to follow.  Brenda and I are tentatively planning to join the Sunday, May 3rd departure that will take us to Florida, weather permitting.

The group that left last Sunday is nearing the US and the next group, totaling about 20 boats, is scheduled to leave on Sunday, weather dependent, of course.

We don’t know exactly when we will head out to make the 200 mile run to the USVIs but it will probably be in about a week.  Right now we are waiting for a shipment of prescriptions to ship out either to here in Antigua or to the USVIs.

Of all the “details” that are challenging when living aboard, I have to say that keeping stocked with current prescriptions is the most daunting.  Here in Antigua, we have to hire an import broker just to receive the order, and with the closures related to the virus, it took about two weeks even to find someone to accept the shipment.

Like it is for everyone these days, life is way more complicated but it’s encouraging that perhaps the worse may be over.  At least we can go for walks now.

Yes, today things seem to be a bit brighter here in Antigua.  Let’s hope it’s the sign we’ve been waiting for.

Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Home, but how? When?

It’s hard to believe that it was a short five weeks ago when we arrived in St Lucia to arrange for our new refrigeration to be installed aboard Pandora.  When we arrived first tied up in the marina the virus was far away, something effecting China.  We had no idea what was coming and how fast EVERYTHING would be different.

So much has changed since then, with the world gone mad and Covid-19 invading nearly every corner of the planet.  One by one all of the Caribbean islands closed their borders, with new and more restrictions coming in a daily barrage.  A tsunami of bad news effecting cruisers with one island after another cutting themselves off from the world, trying to protect their people from an invisible invader.

Antigua, where we have been for the last two weeks, was the last island to close down and now the American Virgin Islands is the only place in the Caribbean that  a cruiser can make landfall legally.

Flights to and from Antigua have been cut off for some time now and last night I heard that there would be “one last flight” off of the island for US Nationals.  And at $550 per seat, you would only find your way to Puerto Rico. From there you’d have to catch yet another flight to get yourself to the US.

Who would have guessed, last November, when I headed south from Hampton VA with the Salty Dawg Rally, that the world would be in the grips of a once in a 100 year pandemic.  And that we would be stuck here in Antigua, unsure about when and how we would be taking Pandora home.  And, on top of all that, there is NO WAY that I would have imagined Brenda facing a 1,000+ mile ocean voyage to get back home.

In spite of being one of the most powerful nations on earth, the US seems to have met her match, at least from the standpoint of national leadership, in trying to come to grips with this threat.  The latest installment by Trump is to cut off funding from the World Health Organization, blaming them for bungling the handling of the pandemic.  What better time to lash out at the one group tasked with being the world wide disease watchdog in the middle of a once in a century pandemic?   Holy crap, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Being outside of the US for so much time during the last few years has sensitized me to how the US is perceived by other nations and lately that perception has not been good at all.  Recently I subscribed to the Times of London to get a different perspective on all this.   It has been sobering to read what’s being said about our leadership and most recently about Trump’s move against the WHO in particular.  The current view by our closest ally is not in the least bit flattering and that makes me sad.

Anyway, so much has changed and here we sit, confined aboard Pandora with only very limited rights to head ashore now and again for groceries.

Fortunately, we are at least allowed to swim around the boat as I am told that in Grenada, even that is no longer allowed.

The week long quarantine here has been extended to a second week and it seems that most everyone has gotten used to the “new normal”.   Unfortunately, there are outliers, in particular, a few cruisers that are really chafing at the restrictions and somehow find a way to have “essential reasons” to head ashore each and every morning, to go to the grocery or whatever for several hours. 

A grocery run does adhere to the law but a daily run is not what is intended and certainly not in keeping with the spirit of what is being asked of us.  Somehow  some cruisers seem to have that we are guests in this country.  From our perspective, we are being treated very well here and want to do whatever we can do to honor that.  The mere fact that Brenda and I were allowed to clear into Antigua, the last available island for hundreds of miles north or south, says a lot about how the government views our presence.

Other islands have not been so welcoming and Brenda and I will not soon forget how it felt to be shadowed by a huge French warship as we made passage along the coast of Guadalupe, on our way here.

Of course, there are always a few that find it hard to understand what’s being asked of them and I really hope that the broader cruising community, the vast majority who are following the rules, aren’t painted with the same brush.

The Antigua Coast Guard continues to patrol the harbors and anchorages daily  and if you wish to head to another harbor in Antigua you must ask them for permission.  Yesterday morning Brenda and I decided that it was time to pump out our holding tanks, brimming from use since our last trip out of the harbor,  more than a week ago. We called, as required on VHF 16 to ask permission.   It took a while to connect with them but finally we received a reply and we were granted a one hour “permit” to head out, “do our business” and return to anchor.

Later that evening I was participating in a “virtual Tot” on Zoom with the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Navy Tot Club, and some of those on the call said that they had heard our discussion with the Coast Guard and commented that we were likely the only “environmentally oriented cruisers” in the harbor.   Sad but true, as I had noticed that nobody seems to be upping anchor to head out briefly, for any reason.  It’s sad to see that cruisers seem willing to “dirty their own nest”, the water that we all swim in.

And, speaking of the Tot Club, they meet every evening, to carry on a long British Navy Tradition, at 18:00 to “toast” the end of the day and, of course, the Queen.  It’s a terrific group and I am happy to say that I joined a few years ago.  They are very supportive of each other and it’s a nice group to be involved with.   For those who may not recall my description of the club and it’s purpose, I wrote about my effort to join in this post.  

So, every night for the club, and a few nights a week for me, there is an opportunity share fellowship and a Tot on Zoom, as they are no longer able to meet in person.   On any given night, members call in from all over, some 20+ in all. I do hope that they consider meeting an evening or two a week on Zoom over the summer when most of the members have scattered to the US and the UK and  most are not on-island.  It would be a nice way to stay in touch.

Just in case, I have stocked up on the “official” rum of the club, bottled by English Harbor Distillery, here in Antigua.  I am told that the “formula” and it’s very different than what the company sells under their own name, is based on a bootleg version that was made on the island years ago, by some of the same employees of the current business. That bootleg version, at the time, was called “Post Office Rum” for reasons that I am unclear about.  All know that along with the now abolished daily issue of rum in the British navy, the group has resurrected the long gone bootleg formula as their own.  This is indeed a very special rum as it can only be purchased by card carrying members of the club.  I guess that would make it one of the most exclusive rums in the world.  I’m going with that.  One way or the other, it’s pretty good stuff and I’ll be sure to bring a few bottles home to share with some special friends.   Are you my special friend?

I have mentioned that the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, known for running the largest cruising rally from the east coast every fall, decided to organize a “flotilla” to the US to help cruisers, many stranded by the virus, here in the Caribbean,  to help them make their way home to the US.

Most boats making the run, in normal years, take on additional crew so it’s going to be quite a burden, for most that will have to make the run home short handed.    With that in mind, SDSA decided to do a series of special flotillas that would provide cruisers logistical support, tracking and weather forecasts along with help finding crew, where possible, and to do so at no or minimal cost.  And, to make sure that upon their arrival in the US that they would be welcomed home.

While or normal spring rally north attracts around 20 boats, this flotilla has attracted, at last count, nearly 160 boats, a testament to the anxiety that many  cruisers are feeling about getting home.

As an added bonus, and there are many reasons to tag along with The Dawgs for this run, the fleet will be tracked on a map provided by one of our partners, Predict Wind.  They offer, along with monitoring by Chris Parker, our weather router and the US Coast Guard, it will provide friends and family of those participating the opportunity to watch the fleet make their way home.

As the 160 boats making the trip will be leaving with staggered starts over a 5 week period, with recommended Sunday departures each week, there will be lots to watch, wind information along with a graphic display of every individual boat positions, updated several times a day.   The first group, below, left last Sunday, most making the run toward Florida, the easier down-wind run. And you can zoom in and view whichever part of the fleet you wish. Hover your mouse over any given “boat” and see the location, time of last transmission and speed for that particular vessel. I find that friends and family tend to stress a bit when I am on passage and being able to keep an eye on things is very popular.  You can click here to see the present position of each boat on passage.

In case you’ve missed it, Brenda hates overnights and has never done more than a few nights in a row at sea.  As you can imagine, her anxiety is rising with each passing week and day as we get closer to our departure.  We are hoping that crew can make it down from the US so she can make her departure via jet and not aboard Pandora.  Whatever happens, she can be plenty tough when pressed, and I am sure that she will ultimately do fine on the trip.  At the very least she will end up with quite a story to tell.

Sea voyage or not, she is also very anxious about any sort of time on a plane or in an airport.  She views the risk of infection on a jet or visiting an airport as just a bit less dangerous than a week on a cruise ship, and we all know how sketchy that has turned out to be.  Considering all of this we feel that it is increasingly unlikely that crew will be able to arrive so we will just have to see what happens between now and the middle of May when we have to start heading north.

One thing that we have been holding out hope for, is the ability to take Pandora through The Bahamas, a somewhat shorter route, as opposed to having to make a 1,100-1,200 mile non-stop run to Florida from the USVIs.  That longer route would take us south of the Bahamas, passing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba before catching the Gulf Stream north to Florida.

If we are allowed to traverse the Bahamas that would allow us to shorten the distance to the US by hundreds of miles and give us the opportunity to stop, a number of times along the way.  In that case, our longest non-stop run would be about 500 miles, requiring only a few nights in a row at sea.  That’s a lot better than a week or more for the direct southerly run to Florida.

Even better, if also unlikely, would be an opportunity to stop in The Turks and Caicos, which would cut another 100 miles off of the longest distance between stops.   All and all, the ability to traverse the Bahamas would make the trip a lot less daunting to Brenda as well as more enjoyable for me.

And speaking of the Bahamas, I heard today the government of the Bahamas may be considering opening up to yachts transiting but not going ashore.  Unfortunately, the announcement wasn’t completely clear.  As we don’t plan on beginning our run north for a few more weeks, perhaps things there will open up a bit as we get closer.

So, here we sit in Falmouth Antigua waiting for a sign that we should begin heading north.   And speaking of “signs”, today’s sunrise might have been trying to send a signal.   What do you make of this?  To me, it looks like a rat?  Not sure that’s a good thing. Seeing a rat isn’t what we want.  What does this say to you?  I have no idea.Still no answer?  One more…I guess I will just have to continue looking for a sign, a message from someone, anyone, to let us know what’s in store.

For now, here we are in Antigua, waiting for a sign.   Such is the uncertainty of life.

One way or the other, we will make our way home.  How or when?  I have only an inkling.

For sure,  I won’t run out of rum.  Make that Tot Club rum.

 

The Easter Bunny: Essential!

As we sit here in Antigua on Easter Sunday, Brenda and I feel lucky to be safe, even though we are thousands of miles from home.  It’s been frustrating to be locked down aboard a small boat (sure bigger than some but still small) in a foreign land, with no clear idea of when we will be heading home.

However, all is not lost as the Easter Bunny visited Pandora to help us feel like there is some semblance of normalcy. Oh yeah, if you have little ones under foot as you deal with the frustration of “sheltering” this Easter, at least you could rest easy knowing that the Easter Bunny will indeed have found his (if the Easter Bunny is a guy) way to your home because, at least in New Zealand, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are considered “essential services”

Some weeks ago, New Zealand’s prime minister, a woman of course, said, when she laid out restrictions that would be necessary as a result of Covid-19, “You’ll be pleased to know that we consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” she explained in a completely serious tone, although taking care to add, “But as you can imagine, at this time, of course, they’re going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies.”

So, there you have it, the Easter Bunny has full travel privileges during the pandemic so I guess that explains why he visited Pandora.   As far as bunnies in the US are concerned, fortunately  it doesn’t matter that Trump hasn’t embraced the Easter Bunny as essential because most restrictions, at least on a federal level, are optional so the Easter Bunny has been able to made his rounds, unchallenged.   Thankfully, he must be concerned about social distancing as he almost never seen as he makes his way from house to house.

So, it’s Easter, and I’ll admit that it feels a lot like most any other day as we sit here in Antigua, waiting for a “sign” that its time to head north.

At the same time, many of our friends wait and hope that Grenada and Trinidad, below the hurricane belt and where they keep their boats during the summer, will open up before the hurricane season gets going in earnest.  A few of them have told us that if they have to take their boats back to the US this spring, that this will be their last season afloat in the Caribbean as they feel like they are too old to make the arduous trip south again.

For me, I am hopeful that we will be able to use Pandora at least a bit this summer, so that makes the trip north worth it to us.  Also, I am fearful that there won’t be a cruising season here in the Caribbean next winter and the idea of leaving Pandora here for two years is a non-starter.

To that point, Prime Minister Brown of Antigua recently announced that some form of restrictions will likely remain in place until a vaccine is available and that seems like a long way off.

The simple fact is that countries like Antigua don’t have the infrastructure to deal with a major outbreak that would quickly overwhelm their health services.  As just one example, a local doctor here in English Harbor,and there aren’t all that many doctors on the island, tested positive for Covid-19 and now they have the daunting task of tracking down all of his patients.

So here we sit and with the hope of not becoming “setee potatoes” (no couches on Pandora).  Brenda and I continue to do laps around Pandora, generally twice a day, in the morning and evening, our only way to get even a modest amount of exercise.  The exercise app on my phone reminded me today that it recorded 85 steps yesterday.   Wow, that’s a full two laps around Pandora’s deck.

As everyone here is confined to their boats and hoping to avoid becoming stir-crazy, I saw this couple out for an evening sail last night, technically a violation of quarantine.  Never the less, it was nice to see as they went drifting by in the light breeze.  While I respect that the Prime Minister would not approve of what they did, an evening sail seems fairly innocuous to me and I was frankly jealous that Brenda and I weren’t able to do it too.

The problem is that human nature being what it is, when you “give them an inch, they take a mile” so the harsh restrictions are needed to keep things from getting out of control.  To that point, the other evening there was a raucous dock party at one of the big marinas involving the crew of several mega-yachts with blaring music heard all over the harbor.  The authorities arrived to break up the party and the next day a reminder was sent out via the Antigua Marine Trades Association reminding everyone about the rules.

When the extent of the Covid-19 threat began to become clear, my friend Bill on Kalunamoo remarked, “what next, a plague and swarms of locust?”.  Bill, you were right.  Check out this headline today on Bloomberg News.  “In nearly 20 states, the Easter Sunday forecast includes snow, tornadoes and hail the size of tennis balls.”   

Yikes!  No locust but just about everything else.   At least I’ll be safe as Brenda made me a face mask out of a handkerchief, a bilge oil diaper and some lovely green ribbon.    Safe or not, let’s hope that things get better soon.  It’s Easter, the daffodils are beginning to bloom at home and that’s where we want to be.

For now, Brenda and I are doing what we can to make the best of it here in Antigua, waiting for a sign that it’s time to head home.

At least the Easter Bunny found us.  And everybody, and I do mean everybody,  knows that’s essential.

There’s not place like home. Zoom yourself there!

It seems like just yesterday when I watched with longing as “Genie” wiggled her nose and like magic, she was there.    I guess I “dreamed of genie” perhaps in more ways than one.   However, we won’t dwell on that right now.

When we started our winters afloat in 2012, staying in touch was very tough and even finding Wifi hot-spots and trying to feel connected with home was an all consuming pastime.

Our “disconnectedness” reached it’s zenith, and not in a good way, when we were in Cuba where the only way to connect was to “rent” time on a government computer in 30 minute installments.  We would purchase what looked like a lottery ticket, scratch off a small area and reveal a code, for time on the computer.  While the time itself wasn’t expensive, tickets could be hard to come by and when they weren’t in stock, there was no way to connect.  As you can imagine, “ticket hording” was common among cruisers.  And, to make matters worse, the service, via a cable from Venezuela, was S-L-O-W, like an old version of AOL dial-up.

Knowing that we had to be prepared to work fast when we finally were able to get on-line.  In order to get a post done in 30 minutes,  we would work up all the text of our blog posts and then frantically upload photos that we reduced to a much smaller size and then flowed in the copy as best we could, plugging a USB stick into the computer.  Getting a post done at all was a huge effort but somehow Brenda and I were able to put up 30 posts over the two months that we were in Cuba.

However, the worse part of the experience was being so out of touch, being denied all but the most rudimentary contact with family for that two months.

Well, here we are, 4 years later and so much has changed.  With Covid-19 raging around the world and so much uncertainty, we are still able to stay in touch with family and friends in a very personal way and we can do so, using our phone as a hot spot.  No, the service is not particularly speedy but compared to past years, SO MUCH BETTER.

Yesterday was our younger son’s birthday and her partner Melody hosted a surprise party for him on Zoom.   Even with very limited bandwidth on my Google Fi phone, we had a blast joining in.   Brenda even baked him a cake, which we each ate a piece of on his behalf.  Sharing experiences was easy but “sharing” a piece of cake still isn’t possible.  Something to look forward to perhaps.  Check back in a few years and we’ll see how it goes.   A cake teleporter perhaps?  “Get on it Chris!  You’re a physicist.  How hard can it be?  As they say, it’s a piece of cake. ”

Teleporter or not, we showed the cake Brenda made, complete with a candle, to him first before cutting and eating a piece ourselves.   The “party group”, some 20 in all, were scattered over a dozen time zones, I think.  Chris, Melody and a number of others in CA, us in the eastern Caribbean and I believe that I heard one participant say that it “was the middle of the night”, where he was.  Europe perhaps?

It was so much fun to be able to sing happy birthday to him.   With the web delay on each window, let’s say that “you had to be there” to even know what song was being sung.  Of course, everyone knows that “it is the thought that counts”.  We “thought” it was great.

The birthday boy. And Mila, their ever attentive husky, seeming to say “can I have a bite?”.  Wondering what that is on her neck?  A party hat?  Or is that a doggie tracheotomy?Along with much of the world, we are struggling to stay sane while confined at home, or in our case, aboard Pandora and in a very small space.  Did I say that Pandora is about the size of a generous bathroom?  “Yes, Bob, more times than we can count!”

In a feeble attempt to stay active within the confines of our now so restricted world, we have been spending time each day swimming around the boat, Brenda wearing her Apple watch, that somehow knows she is swimming, even if she doesn’t tell it.   One lap, two laps… “the wind splashed water in my eyes!  I just hate that!”  Ok, no more laps today.

Everyone is struggling to stay active given the rules that require us to say aboard except for “essential” trips ashore.  Unfortunately, some cruisers in the harbor seem to be finding an “essential need” ashore just about every day.  I hope that doesn’t end up backfiring on us all.

However, most are doing the right thing and are adhering to the “spirit” of what’s being asked of the cruising community.  This morning I saw a guy doing arm exercises on the bow of his boat using some sort of green strap wrapped around the rigging. Yesterday, after nearly a week of very light winds, the trade winds began to fill in again.  This crew deployed their spinnaker to do a bit of “surfing”.  The process involves securing the top of the sail to the mast facing aft with a seat secured to the two lower corners.  When the wind catches the sail just right, up you go. It’s a very tricky maneuver with some risk to both boat and crew.  After one quick jerk out of the water, it suddenly looked  like things might be getting out of control.   A strong gust, would put a lot of strain on their anchor and it would get messy pretty quick if they started to drag.  It seemed to take a long time to reel the flogging sail back into the cockpit.  “Ok, ok, enough fun for one day guys.”So, here we sit, not knowing how long it will be until we are able to head to the US.  It’s still too early to head north anyway with cold fronts making for challenging conditions north of the Bahamas with a constant parade of cold fronts exiting the east coast.

Yesterday I spoke briefly with Chris Parker, our weather router, and his advice to me.  “If you are comfortable in Antigua stay where you are for a month and then consider heading north when the weather is more settled.”  Sounds like good advice.   Besides, our family has said, time and time again, please stay away until things are more under control in the US, with they clearly aren’t.

With so many cruisers in the USVIs right now, all raring to go home, much earlier than they would during a normal year, I asked Chris what he made of that.

His answer, “they are assuming that the grass is greener on the other side”.   I guess that’s human nature but we’re staying here in Antigua for the time being, hoping that things will somehow get better at home.

One can always hope.  In the meantime, we’re enjoying “Zooming” from one “event” to another.  Tonight, happy hour with fellow cruisers, some local and some in the US.  At least it’s a taste of “normal” in a world that’s anything but that.

All I can say that if there was a way to Zoom ourselves home, we’d do it.  Where’s a magic genie when you need one?

Perhaps if I click my heels together.  “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.” 
Nope, still in Antigua, for now.