Now for some real sailing, for the moment.

It’s noon on Friday and we are booming along on a close reach in 13-15kts of wind and making between 7-8.5 kts.  It’s exhilarating but at the same time, as the hours roll on, the seas are getting choppy, with Pandora crashing into wave after wave, sending spray everywhere.  This is not a casual holiday sail.

However, it seems that each day brings with it an entirely different experience, sometimes exhilarating like now and sometimes depressing as we inch along making virtually no headway against current and wind.  In the ocean even the smallest amount of breeze on the nose can slow you down to a crawl.

Last night was perhaps our most frustrating yet, as the wind shifted south to around 6-11kts, directly on the nose, and that combined with a slight northerly current, slowed our progress to a glacial 4.5kts.  Given the fact that we are still something like 800 miles from Antigua, that was painfully slow progress.

Even with the engine running and sails up, we were lucky to make even 5kts and usually less.  Of course, Pandora can go a lot faster under power but as we continue our laser focus on the amount of fuel left and the amount of time we will be motoring, I have been running the engine at a very low RPM.  As the speed of the engine increases even a little bit, the fuel consumption per hour goes up a lot but not in proportion to the increased speed, substantially reducing the number of hours and distance traveled that we can continue under power.

On my last trip south, two years ago, I ran the engine for a total of 130 hours, arriving in Antigua with fuel to spare, and as of today we have a long way to go to beat that.  That’s good but it’s hard to say what will happen given the fact that the wind shifts around the compass so often.

When I spoke to Chris Parker today his forecast suggested that we would likely enjoy sailing for the next day and then the wind would just about go away when and we will face another 24-30 hours under power before we reach the more predictable trade winds.

By comparison, as we beat our way south into SW winds, two years ago I had a spectacular multi day run with solid easterly trade winds, in this exact same area.  There is a large high pressure zone over us that has basically killed the northern parts of the trade winds, pushing them hundreds of miles south, reversing the wind direction or killing the wind altogether.   Fortunately, for now at least, we have wind and can sail in more or less our intended direction.  When it comes to long distance passage making, it’s better to keep moving than to go where you intend.  And, on top of that, it feels better.

I expect that you may be following my travels on the tracker, my own or on the joint Rally page that I shared and know a lot more about where we are verses the other boats in the fleet.   I know that there are some boats behind us and plenty in front, but I understand that there are a many in the fleet within a radius of perhaps 75-100 miles of our position.  Given the fact that we’ve been at sea for nearly a week, it’s unusual to have so many boats in a relatively tight area.

Twice a day I am in communication with about two dozen boats that are equipped with SSB long range radios and it’s fun to hear what they are up to.   Most of the boats are doing fine but a few days ago one boat was struck by lightening and had to divert to Bermuda because their electronics were nearly all ruined.  On my last run south, two years ago, another boat lost their electronics and two others experienced structural damage.

The constant movement and large loads on equipment means that things can break, and they do.   That reality explains why I tend to spend so much time and energy, not to mention dollars, on keeping Pandora in top shape.   Broken stuff can surely ruin your whole day, especially when you are over 600 miles from the closest land, as we are now.  Come to think of it, it’s the farthest from land I have ever been, if you don’t count flying on a passenger jet.  Trust me, this is different and a lot more sweaty.

I have written about the recent addition of a Hydrovane wind vane steering system last month and have been largely silent on the subject since leaving.   My silence was because it wasn’t working particularly well and I found myself wondering if it was a waste of money and a big effort for nothing.

However, after tinkering with it for several days, I am happy to report that it steers remarkably well and given the fact that it has only a few moving parts, no electronics and uses no power, I have to say that it (she?) is proving to be the most reliable crew member yet.

It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to set and modify a course and as the wind direction changes, even slightly, she adjusts and keeps us moving along without a complaint.   I am told that just about everyone that has one of these ends up giving “her” a name and given my history with Brenda, she will have to decide what our new crew member should be called.

So, here we are, having the best day of sailing yet under a sparkling clear tropical sky and near perfect conditions that follows the worst night yet on this trip.   As the say, “what a difference a day makes”.  Here’s hoping that I haven’t jinxed the good sailing.

Brenda arrives in Antigua on Wednesday evening and I am beginning to accept the fact that I won’t be there to greet her as I doubt that I will arrive before Thursdsay.  At the very least, I have alerted Astrid at the Admiral’s Inn to expect her to arrive unannounced and to have a room ready for her.  I also asked her not to treat Brenda too well as I’ll never be able to pry her loose and move aboard Pandora.

So, the question remains, when will we arrive in Antigua and given the ups and downs of the last few days, I guess the answer is “I have no idea.”  However, for the moment, things are going well.
Let’s hope that things keep going well.  That’s what’s supposed to happen when it’s good?  Right?

Will There Be Wind??

Will there be wind?

As I write this it is mid afternoon on Wednesday and we are sailing along at nearly 8kts on a broad reach.  Yes, sailing

I am particularly impressed as we spent much of the morning trying to figure out, really figure out, just how far we can motor and exactly how much fuel the three built in tanks hold as the wind was impossibly light and expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

The “brochure” for the boat says that we carry 150, or 50 gallons in each of our three tanks, but when you are talking about a design where only three boats were built, it’s hard to say exactly what’s what about anything.   In the past I have described working on Pandora as a sort of “scavenger hunt” to find out what wire does what and exactly how to fix anything.

After considering the weather predictions of no wind for much of the trip I felt compelled to check, once again, my assumptions for how many hours we could motor.

We had to begin motoring again as of about 02:00 today and after listening to the motor drone on and on for hours and speaking with folks on other boats, I found my anxiety about running out of fuel to be on the rise.

So, George and I decided, actually I decided, that we’d take measurements of the three tanks and try to calculate the volume in cubic inches, feet and ultimately gallons.  Of course, I didn’t know how many cubic inches a gallon of fuel is but did some rough calculations using a gallon engine oil container.  Then we took measurements of the tank that was the closest to being square, the one under the floorboards in the galley.  I had been told that the tank was 50 gallons but as near as I can tell, it’s more like 40.  Bummer about that.  After thinking about that for a while longer, Cliff remembered that on our trip back from the BVIs a few years ago, we had run that tank dry, so I looked in my log to see how much fuel it took to fill the tank up again when I got home.  Magic, 40 gallons.  Ok, so now I know that what is perhaps my largest tank is about 40 gallons, or at least has 40 gallons of usable fuel.

We then took measurements of the other two tanks, the ones under the settees port and starboard and after a number of rough calculations of these really oddly shaped tanks, we estimated that each of them holds something like 35 gallon which suggests that between the three tanks we might have more like 110 gallons, not the 150 that I had assumed.  However, in the past I have always assumed that some amount of fuel remained in the tanks when they were “dry”, so my “”new number isn’t all that much different.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time on this and came out a belief that, unless the wind were to pick up, that we’d be in pretty tough shape by the time we reached the more predictable trade winds.

It is human nature, well at least my nature, to assume that whatever is going on at that exact moment will continue.  If there is good wind, of course, it’s going to continue to be good.  Motoring?  Well, you get the idea.  Ask Brenda, she will back this up.  What a great day!  Tomorrow will be great too.  What a terrible day…

So, the motoring continued until about 13:00 and then the wind picked up to near 18kts and we are now moving along really nicely on a broad reach at around 7 to 8 knots.   Who knew?

Will the wind go away again?  For sure.  Will it come back?  Well, ask me later when the wind is light…

I guess all this leaves me with the questions of if our voyage will end before the fuel is gone.  I guess we’ll be the first to know.  All I know for now is that for every hour we sail we will burn less fuel and that’s good.

Right now, we are sailing so I guess it’s going to be OK.   Well, at least I’ll feel that way until the wind dies.

Less fuel, more wind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish us well.

How Far Can Pandora Go under Power?

How far can Pandora go under power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where does all this leave us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

As they say “we’ll see about that!”.

Antigua…Day One Done

Antigua here we come. Day one done…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish us luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s looking like Sunday morning so stay tuned.

Yup, going to Antigua soon. And how fast can crabs run?

In my last post I reported that my crew had problems with their passports, both of them, with expiration within the minimum required six month window.    However, with some fast footwork and phone calls to Antigua, they were given the “green light” to come anyway.  I fully expect that we will encounter some resistance in Antigua when we check in but we “have names” and will say that we were told that it’s AOK.

Anyway, that’s all set for now.  I guess all I can say is “details to come”.    “Yes, officer, most excellent immigration person, we have flights booked to go home in a few days.  Not to worry we will be gone before our passports expire.”

Today I address the Salty Dawg fleet regarding our arrival plans for Antigua, checking in and other mundane issues. I’ll also talk about the week of events we have planned to celebrate our arrival.   I’m here to tell you that I am really excited about sharing all that.

It seems that we also have a pretty good number of kids on this trip and I’ll be reaching out to my contacts at the Antigua Yacht Club to see what we can come up with to keep the “younguns” happy.  That should be fun.

Yesterday I received a note from my contact Andrew at the North Sails sail loft in Antigua.  He’s putting on a reception for our group which I am sure will be great fun and now it’s going to be even better.  He’s proposing that we have “crab races”.   Yes, crab races.  “So, Bob, what are crab races?  What sort of crabs do the racing and how long is the race?”.

I have absolutely no idea but he sent me this photo of a “race”. As near as I can tell, the pink one is winning,  This sounds like fun and probably even more so after a few rum punches.

We have a full week of events planned and I’ll surely be gushing about each of them here as the week unfolds.  Wish me luck.  I’m all about Antigua.  Can ya tell?

From your end, you will be able to follow the fleet along as we make our way south as each boat will be checking in multiple times a day with a GPS tracker.  The page with all the boats listed will look something like this with tracks of the 70 odd boats that are making the run to various ports south.  The largest group is the one going to Antigua and perhaps after my scintillating talk today, perhaps even more.  That’s me, ever hopeful…

So, the page you should bookmark and refer to day and night by clicking here.  When you open the page put in SDR for the “group” and see everyone or just Pandora under “name”.    You can also select specific date ranges or just opt to see each boat’s most recent position.

Another option is to follow this link to see Pandora’s track alone on my Garmin page as I will be putting up a new position note every four hours for the duration of the trip.  You may have to zoom in to see where I am as the page often opens up with a “world view”.   Once you zoom in you can click on each position “spot” and see what our speed was at that moment.

But wait, there’s more!!!

I also plan to put up posts, perhaps as often as daily, about what’s going on aboard Pandora as we make our way south.  Alas, no photos as my SSB modem is PAINFULLY SLOW so words only.   If you want to send me a note along the way, feel free to send a note to my “at sea” email,  Remember that this is SLOW connection so please choose your words carefully.  Als0, if it’s rough I may not be in the mood to write.   If you want to get a “ping” when I post, sign up with your email.

We don’t know yet when we will be leaving as the weather picture isn’t clear quite yet.  It is important that we wait for a good weather window to make our run across the Gulf Stream, which can be really nasty when conditions are not right.   Not to alarm anyone, but they don’t call the area around Cape Hatteras the “grave yard of the Atlantic” for nothing.  Don’t worry, we will be careful.

So there you have it and today we begin our daily weather briefings so I expect that I will be able to put up more details soon.

And about that crab racing and exactly how fast can they run?  I guess we will both have to wait to find out.

In Hampton and (mostly) ready to go! Getting excited!!!

I arrived in Hampton on Friday morning at 07:30 with my crew Hank after an uneventful run from Annapolis.  There was hardly a breath of wind so we motored the entire way.  It was a pleasant overnight run and surely better than slogging into a strong southerly which is what we have today.   We met up at BWI where I returned my rental car, did a bit of last minute provisioning and were able to shove off of the dock and get underway around noon for the 120 mile run to Hampton.

So, after months of preparation I am finally here and nearly ready to go.  Actually, if it was time to go, I wouldn’t be exactly ready as I am hard aground in mud.  I anchored here instead of going into the marina only to find that the wind direction put me into the shoaling area of the harbor which is tight at best.  Never mind though as the bottom is soft and while a bit more bottom paint is showing than usual, she will float off in a few hours.  Well, perhaps it will be more than a few hours.  As they say “time heals all” well, most of the time anyway.

At least I won’t have any slime on the bottom of my keel.  And, the part of the bottom that is showing looks pretty clean.  That’s good.

Another little wrinkle is that both Cliff and George, my crew have passports that expire in less than six months, less than the minimum time prior to expiration that is required on passports when entering Antigua.    Both may have to expedite expedited renewals for their passports but there is a question if that can happen fast enough to get them here in time for us to leave on the 1st or 2nd.  Ugg…

As Gilda Radner famously quipped “its always something”.

So, here I sit, hard aground literally and figuratively…

In the next few days I’ll be posting updates including how to follow along as we make our way south.  Stay tuned.

Yesterday I’d have said that I am getting excited.  Now, it’s more like a nervous excitement.  Isn’t that always the way?

It’s almost time to go.

Well, it’s nearly here, the time for my departure for Antigua and my part in the Salty Dawg Rally.  Pandora is in Annapolis following the Sailboat show two weeks ago.  The show was great fun and I spent a few days there.   I was able to secure a spot to anchor in Spa Creek, very close to the show.  I had mentioned that I put on a new vane steering, which I used for a while on the run from Essex to Annapolis. I still have to figure out to balance the boat better so that it can keep a good track but it did work quite well when I set up the boat properly.  Details to come on that point.  Here’s a shot of the unit, mounted on the stern, sans the big red wind vane that goes on the top of the unit when in use. In the creek nearby was a Pearson Invicta yawl, sister ship to my old Artemis.  I have always liked the lines on this design, penned by Bill Tripp back in the early 60s.  Nearby a smaller sistersjip, a Medalist, somewhat smaller but in perfect shape.  I was told that the owner of this beauty purchased the boat new. As a member of the Essex Yacht Club, I was able to register to use the facilities at the Annapolis Yacht Club and enjoyed a meal there with Brenda and more than a few drinks at the busy bar.  The clubhouse burned to the ground a few years ago and has been completely rebuilt and is better than ever.  It’s a spectacular venue.  The burning of the clubhouse, sparked by a short on their Christmas tree, was a tragic turn of events with so much history lost. However, it’s back and more beautiful than ever.

It’s amazing how they transform downtown Annapolis into such a big event.  I have heard that only about 300 new sailboats in the 30′-70′ range are sold in the US every year, a tiny number at best.  However, that doesn’t seem to discourage builders from putting their wares on display.  We’ve heard a lot about global warming and while some seem to view it as a “hoax”, it seemed real enough when a particularly high “spring tide” came up during the show. Flooding downtown Annapolis has been a problem for years during storms or when the wind is particularly strong from the south but this is the worst that many have seen and I expect that it will only get worse as the years roll by.  In the 50 years of the show, it’s the first time flooding was so bad that they had to close the show early on two days. Even Alex Haley was up to his knees.  I wonder if the kids at his feet lost interest in his story as the water reached their chins. And speaking of Alex, author of the famous book Roots, this quote somehow seems particularly fitting given the threat of rising seas.

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you”  Alex Haley. 

Pandora is now in a small fairly scruffy marina near downtown Annapolis waiting for my return. Interestingly, my friend Dick suggested that I leave Pandora in that marina next door to his home and thought that the owners wouldn’t even notice as the marina isn’t really a “happening place”.  HA! Wrong!!!  When I was aboard for a night last week someone came up to the boat and said something like “what are you doing here”.  Oh and BTW, that will be $150 a day.  How long will you be staying?

After a bit of back and forth we finally settled on $1,000 for two weeks, a very stiff amount to be sure and more than I had ever spent on dockage.  So much for a free slip.  That really hurt, to be sure.  However, I really didn’t have much leverage as I was uninvited.  So much for local knowledge.  “Don’t worry Bob, they won’t even know that you are there!”  NOT!

Anyway, I guess that I’ll get over it.  Besides, it was only one boat dollar.

So, back to Pandora and the plan this weekend to move her to Hampton.  I’ll have a “friend of a friend” aboard, Hank, well recommended by my bud Ken who lives locally and has sailed with me many times over the years.

The run, will probably be a motorboat ride and should take something like 20 hours to cover the 130 miles.  With light northerly winds predicted, at least I won’t be slogging into stink.  Not sure if we will just push through in one shot or stop for the night on Saturday and continue the rest of the distance on the second day.  I would like to get to Hampton soon though to participate in all the run-up activities for the rally.

For now, I guess this shot of a sunrise on the last morning at the show sums it up nicely.  The dawn of a new season for Pandora as she heads south to the Caribbean.  Winter is on the way but this is what is ahead for Pandora.   Yes, this is what a sunset should look like in the dead of winter.

It’s almost time to go and I can’t wait.

Heading south. Leg one, nearly done!

As I write this it’s Tuesday morning and we are broad reaching down the upper  Chesapeake from Chesapeake City toward Annapolis at better than 8kts where we spent yesterday enjoying the charms of this beautiful colonial town.   Here’s the view as we make our way south.  It’s a cool day with a nice breeze out of the north.Today we are on the final leg of our delivery from the Essex Yacht Club where she was on the dock for nearly a week as we packed her with provisions for our winter season aboard.  Of course, my little truck, better known as “Pandora’s box truck” did the heavy lifting to the club.  We cast off Pandora’s lines at the Essex Yacht Club on Saturday morning at 04:00 and picked our way down the river in the pitch dark.  On board are my crew including Jim, who has sailed with me from the Caribbean along with Shawn, who works for Chris Parker the weather router.  Shawn wanted to get some offshore experience and Chris asked if I could bring him along.  A fourth, Steve joined us to get some offshore experience as well, Steve has been sailing for years but has not spent a lot of time in blue water.

So, off we went in the cold and dark.  Cold enough to risk frost, the first of the season, I was warned.  Time to head south for sure.

Everyone arrived on Friday and after a short night, getting up so early, we headed toward Long Island Sound and Annapolis.  Some years ago Brenda and I decided to purchase a set of good quality audio headsets to keep on board and allow us to communicate from helm to bow in a normal speaking voice.  They  sure proved their worth on Saturday morning as we picked our way out of the river in the dark.  As I piloted, Jim stood up on the bow with a powerful flashlight, calling out marks along the way.  The headsets were great as we could easily hear each other in a normal speaking voice.  It made a stressful run in the dark much simpler.

So finally, Pandora was on her way to Annapolis, my first big trip since heading north from Antigua in the Spring of 2018.    It’s been a long road with many projects completed over the last 18 months including a new paint job along with other projects and upgrades too numerous to mention.   Although, if you follow this blog you’ve heard about all of them in excruciating detail by now.

And that would include plenty of whining about the “headliner from Hell”, a project that it seemed would never end.  Happily, the job was finally completed and turned out well, beautifully actually, if a few months late.  Chad, the canvas guy, ultimately did a beautiful job and I am really happy with how it turned out.  The problem is that he took on too much work and the guys he hired to help weren’t able to produce the quality he expected and so he ended up way, way,  behind.  Delayed or not, he ultimately did a great job and everything looks great.  I’m happy now.

As is so often the case, as the deadline for our departure approached I decided to tackle yet another job with precious little time to spare before leaving.  This time, to install a Hydrovane wind vane, which will steer the boat by wind only, something that I have wanted to do for many years.   Getting it installed in time for departure was a tough as I didn’t even order the unit, shipped from England, until a little less than two weeks prior to shoving off.  While it only took one week to get to me, which was amazing, I only had less than a week to do the install.

Installing the unit was pretty straight forward over three days but involved drilling more than few holes in Pandora’s transom, something that I positively had to get right.  There was a lot of head scratching, measuring twice and drilling once, well actually measuring many, many times but it turned out very well.

There remain a few details to work out with regards to how to best stow the dink when underway as the unit is now sticking out on the transom.  Not sure exactly how to resolve that but I expect I will find a way.  I was able to try the unit on the run down  for a while and after fiddling with the boat balance it worked quite well.   Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of it steering happily with a rooster tail spraying up as it sliced through the water at close to 10kts and I’ll have to remember to take some photos when I use it again.   It’s an impressive sight and pretty neat to see it steer to the apparent wind for hours at a time, using no electricity at all.  As my electric autopilot is very energy hungry, that’s going to be good for my batteries on passage.

We spent much of the first 24 hours of our run motorsailing as it was critical that we keep our speed up and make it far enough south before the wind shifted to the south and directly against us.  While the wind was behind us at about 15kts for much of Saturday the apparent wind speed is only half that and not nearly enough to keep our speed up enough to make it to our waypoint by the time of the expected wind shift from north to south, anticipated to be around midnight Saturday.

With more favorable winds, we would have set a course directly for Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware River but because of the expected adverse winds, we instead headed to a waypoint about 50 miles offshore and east of the Delaware river.  The idea was to head south and as the wind began to shift, adjust our course an follow it around, ending up on a reach to the river mouth up the river to the C&D canal with a south wind behind us.

This approach, suggested by Chris Parker, would allow us to move faster and be more comfortable, even if the distance is a bit farther.  Happily, it worked and the strong southerlies didn’t actually kick in until around 04:00 Sunday, about three hours later than expected, giving us the opportunity to make our waypoint and enjoy some fast if bumpy sailing on the final leg to the river.

We anchored on Sunday night on the DL just north of the Canal entrance and then headed into the Canal and Chesapeake City on Monday morning.  With an expected wind shift back to the north on Tuesday we decided to wait a day and enjoy the quaint colonial town before continuing south to Annapolis.  Main Street has some really lovely old buildings.  The view from the town green of the harbor shows how quaint a spot it is, with plenty of space to anchor. Pandora riding comfortably in this tiny harbor.  The bridge that towers over the village is a dramatic contrast to the colonial era homes.  I’ll bet there was plenty of controversy when that bridge was proposed.  On the one hand, it made the town much more accessible so perhaps it was welcomed.  With a few more hours of sailing in front of us, it’s a lovely day to be on the water and Pandora is happily moving south to our final destination, Annapolis.   

I’ll be in town for much of the week, giving a talk at the Annapolis Boat Show on Thursday morning and enjoying the boat show and visits with friends.   Brenda arrives on Friday and after that, we will head to Baltimore to see our son and his family before heading back to CT.

When we leave I’ll put Pandora in a friend’s slip close to downtown Annapolis for almost two weeks before I return to bring her to Hampton to prepare for the run to Antigua and the Salty Dawg Rally.

Other than that, noting much going on.

I can’t wait to see Brenda.