Halfway Home

Even though we are still more than half a week of sailing from home, I feel like I am almost there.   That’s interesting as we are just abreast of Bermuda, about 150 miles to the east, which is still a long way from home, by any measure.   Not to put too fine a point on it but, we are at just about the same latitude as the Florida/Georgia border.

It wasn’t that many years ago when that distance remaining in our trip was the entire distance that I’d be sailing to get Pandora home from a winter of sailing in the Bahamas.  How perspectives can change.   Somehow 700 miles to go doesn’t seem all that long.  Heck, I can still remember when a single overnight to Maine from the Cape Cod Canal seemed like a really long way.  Hmm…

Yesterday was a day of motoring, nearly 24 hours as we approached a front, causing the wind to clock from the east, the south and ultimately to the southwest, where it has settled for now.   It’s not possible to sail at a decent clip when the wind is that light and from directly behind.  Happily, shortly after midnight it had moved to the SW and freshened to the mid-teens, making it possible to sail again.  Now, with the wind solidly in the mid-teens, we are making good time again.

As a point of interest, we have now covered, according to the plotter, nearly 900 miles and have only put 33 hours on the engine after five days at sea.  Unless they are involved in long passages it’s unlikely that most will ever have that much time under sail, and certainly not in a single trip.

I have had difficulty in reaching Chris Parker on the SSB radio during his morning broadcasts but at 18:00, when he broadcasts on a higher frequency of 12MH, he has come in as clear as if he was on board with us.  It’s during this time of the day that a group of cruisers and Ham operators operate what is called the “SSCA trans-Atlantic cruisers net”.   It’s a terrific service for those of us making passage in the North Atlantic.   It’s during this net that cruisers, mostly those crossing to the Azores on this trip, check in, give their position and share how things are going.  Hearing their voices lets me know that we are not out here alone.  Well, we are actually quite alone, but it’s nice to know that there are others making passages too.   To at least hear a voice counts for something.

So, here we are, sailing along on a nice broad reach with fairly solid wind and smooth seas.   However, that’s not going to last for long as the wind will go away as we cross the front over the next day or so.  After that, things get complicated as we will be approaching a “cold eddy” and then the Gulf Stream.

As the Gulf Stream passes Cape Hatteras, it is deflected from it’s more or less northerly path and veers sharply out on a east-north-easterly direction. That sharp change in direction, as a result of the shallow waters of Hatteras, causes the Stream to become more confused, with less defined boarders or “walls.”   Along with the spreading out of the current, eddies form where the waters of the GS mix with the adjacent stationary colder ocean waters,  causing offshoots, or eddies, often running at 3-5kts.   This is particularly pronounced on the south side of the Stream.
As a result, it is critical to hit the “right side of these offshoots as it can mean the difference between a “lift” in speed of a few knots or a current against you at the same speeds.  For a boat moving along at say, 7kts, this can mean an over-the-bottom speed of 9-10kts with a favorable current or 3-5kts OTB against the current of the eddy.

With this in mind, Chris Parker has given us coordinates that are supposed to put us on the “right” side of the eddy. After that, I have two coordinates, one to enter and the other to exit, the Gulf Stream.   All of this will unfold over the next two days or so as the eddy is about 250nm north of us, and the exit out of  the GS about 200nm beyond that.  Interestingly, the core of the GS is only about 50 miles wide in that area with the rest of the area, literally hundreds, dare I say thousands, of square miles of ocean affected by this “river” of water marching north from the Gulf of Mexico.

The relentless trade winds blowing from Africa toward the Caribbean literally push water into the Gulf of Mexico and as that water piles up toward Central America, it has nowhere to go but around the western end of Cuba, through the Florida Straits, up the east coast of the US and into the north Atlantic.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this is the largest movement of water, or “river”, on the planet.

So, after a winter of sailing south on a port tack and a return trip nearly all the way to Bermuda on a starboard tack, the rest of our trip will require contending with constantly shifting wind speeds and directions.    With perhaps four days remaining for our voyage, we will likely be faced with conditions that range from nearly windless to near gale force.

As my Dad used to say, “Bob, that comes with the territory” so I guess we will just have to see what happens next and deal with it.

And, speaking of “dealing” we plan on pulling down the main when the wind lightens up to see how our repair is holding up.

Right now, great sailing on a broad reach.   We will see what the next 12 hours brings.

Until tomorrow

Stay tuned, I hope.

Now for the Boring Part

It’s Thursday morning and the wind has nearly gone away.  It has been a great run since leaving Antigua, under sail nearly the entire way.  Actually, had the main not been damaged, we would not have had to turn on the motor at all.

Not now.  The wind that was so consistently pushing us along on a wonderful beam reach has gone aft and dropped to about 10kts.  It seems that this will be the case as we make our way across a high pressure area for the next 24 hours at least.

As is the case north of Bermuda, the winds are driven by a series of high and low pressure areas that exit the US East Coast year round.  In the winter the lows are stronger, rushing down from Canada but the constant battle of weather and wind is the rule.

That’s so unlike the Caribbean where the wind is nearly always from and easterly direction except when a tropical low makes it’s way west from Africa.

We are a little more than 200 miles from Bermuda and roughly half of the way home.   As consistent as the winds were for the first half of the trip, we will have the opposite for the second half, when the wind direction and speed will change on a near daily basis.

The forecast for the coming days, and it will surely change as the we make our way north, calls for 10kts on our stern for at least the next 24 hours and that will be followed by a virtual collapse of the wind on Friday.  After a small low comes through the area we should again be able to sail, perhaps for a day with strong SW winds, perhaps in the 25-35kt range.  That’s a lot of wind but at least we will be on a broad reach so the apparent wind will be less daunting.

So, as we cross the front, perhaps on Saturday, we will face, well we don’t know what for sure as it could be a brief period of NE winds before the wind clocks back to the SW.  However, there is enough uncertainty in the forecast that it will be a few days until that becomes clearer.

One thing for certain though, is that the second half of the trip will involve wind from just about every direction and periods of no wind at all.  Welcome to the North Atlantic.

So, for now we continue to motor along and the weather is getting somewhat cooler by the day and the seawater temperature has dropped about 5 degrees as well, however, I can’t give you a number as my thermometer isn’t properly calibrated.  The cooler temperatures are very welcomed as it’s been hot and stuffy down below with everything buttoned up.

After days of “sporty” sailing I suppose that it’s a welcome break to be motoring in increasingly flat seas and I took advantage of the relative calm rinse down the cockpit with fresh water and to wipe the cabin which had gotten pretty nasty with salt tracked down below.  It’s at times like these that the watermaker really shines.

So there you have it.  We are about half way home and things are good onboard Pandora.   Half way or not, I am anxious to have this delivery behind me and to be back home with Brenda.

The title of this post says that this is the boring part of the trip.  Perhaps that’s not completely accurate as the weather and constantly shifting conditions will be anything but boring.  However, I expect that the motor will be on for a good amount of that time so it surely won’t be nearly as much fun as blasting along at near double digit speeds is aboard Pandora.

I understand that Brenda got the Spring Cleaning Bug a few days ago and cleaned and dusted the house from top to bottom.   That’s good and she knows how happy clean makes me too.

Sunday is Mother’s day and I am bummed that I won’t be with her.   She’s going to see my mother who I have neglected nearly all winter.   It will be a good day with two terrific mother’s spending time together.

Thanks Brenda, for taking care of Mom.

See you soon.

Nothing Good Ever Happens after Midnight

Brenda used to say this phrase often when the boys were young, and especially when they first got their driver’s licenses! I can’t say that I always agreed with her, but aboard Pandora when I am on passage, that often seems to be the case.

Before I get into all that, I should note that we have made, according to the chart, an average of 190 miles each day over the bottom since clearing Falmouth Harbor.  That’s pretty good and takes into account a slow start as we dealt with the bad batten pocket in the first few hours of our trip, as well as the mess that we ran into yesterday that I’ll recount shortly.  That’s pretty good time and has taken us 1/3 of the way home in only three days.  I expect that our speed will be a lot less than that beginning tomorrow when the wind is expected to go light for a few days as we sail a lot faster than we motor.

All and all, we are making good time.  At this point, the big question is if we can time our arrival at the Gulf Stream to avoid the NE winds that are forecast to be there late Sunday.  For those who have crossed the Stream, you don’t want to be there when the wind direction has an “N” in it.  However, as Chris Parker says, “that’s a long way off and things may change.”

Those of you who follow this blog will note that I did not post yesterday and if you didn’t notice, well, I didn’t post yesterday.  I was licking my wounds, both figuratively and literally, and thought that it would be best to “sleep on it” before putting my thoughts down.

For clarity, it’s early on Wednesday morning and the sun is just peaking up over the eastern horizon as I sit down to do this post.  Conditions are just about perfect with us broad reaching in 20kts of wind with a single reef in the main and the small jib.  Our course is due north and the wind is from the southwest.  As today progresses, we expect that the wind will continue to clock toward the south and lighten so I expect that by this time tomorrow we will be motoring.

There’s a front that is supposed to exit the east coast later this week that will bring adverse winds to the area where we will cross the Gulf Stream over the weekend so we are watching this carefully.  I have had pretty good luck hearing Chris Parker in the evenings but not early in the day as I am used to.  The propagation hasn’t been good for the SSB and even getting my simple emails has been a chore.   If today is any different, I expect that this post won’t be sent to Brenda until sometime this evening.  If not, that will be an improvement as I have not had any luck during the normal daylight hours.  This has primarily been because the favored stations that I link to with the SSB email from this area are in Panama and Trinidad have been very busy with other traffic, a problem that I have found to be the case in past years.   Later in the day and evening I find that the Lunenburg, and Rock Hill ,North Carolina, stations seem to work well and they are generally not that busy.

Anyway, I didn’t feel like writing yesterday but I am better now so here goes.  Better late than never.

At midnight on Monday morning I was down below filling in the log of our location, speed etc. that I keep on all our voyages and suddenly Bob, who was on watch, shouted “the main is down, the main is down, put on your gear and get up here”.   Bob is not prone to overstatement so I knew that something bad had happened.

I came up to see that the entire mainsail was draped over the cabin top and Bob and George were working feverishly to secure it before it was damaged.   Not to put too fine a point on it but the damage had already been done as the fitting that attaches the sail to the main halyard had failed and shot up to the top of the mast so there was nothing at all keeping the sail up, so down it came in a heap.

So, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, some 600 miles south of Bermuda and hundreds of miles from anywhere — with no mainsail.  The sailing conditions were perfect and we had been blasting along at sometimes double digit speeds with about 20kts on the beam and a single reef in the main.   Of course, all of this had to happen the day after I wrote about our 200 mile day.   Actually, we have had a number of them so far and to loose the main under perfect conditions was doubly upsetting.

I started the engine and was disappointed to hear massive vibration in the propeller. Isn’t that priceless?  I expected that it had caught something like kelp or perhaps a piece of floating line on the prop.  Whatever it was, there was no motoring and it wouldn’t clear.   I searched in the engine compartment to see if perhaps there was another cause for the vibration and discovered that a shaft bearing, universal coupling was very loose because the bushings had deteriorated.  In spite of keeping a careful eye on the engine, somehow I had missed that.   So, I tinkered with the bushing for several hours and finally had it adjusted and while the bushings were still bad, I was able to get it into alignment and back in reasonable condition.   I had never paid attention to this piece of gear, so when I noticed that it was getting pretty hot a while later, I didn’t know if that was normal or a problem.   Fortunately, I have a laser thermometer and with that I was able to monitor various parts of the bearing to see if the temperature readings were changing.  They continued to go up as the engine ran but finally stabilized and it didn’t seem to be too hot to me.   Problem solved, well, sort of as the vibration in the shaft was still more than I would like.

After a few stops and starts with the engine in both forward and reverse, I was finally able to clear whatever was on the prop and the vibration smoothed out.   We were back in business, if you don’t take into account that our primary sail was out of service and that we had with 600 miles to go to Bermuda.  I really didn’t want to head there under power alone with no backup sail.  Additionally, the sailing conditions were perfect and I didn’t want to give up on that.

Since it was the middle of the night, I went to bed with the hope that things would seem clearer by morning.

We all arose early the next morning and talked about what to do.   I had awakened with a strong sense that we needed to repair the main, as aside from the head board separating from the sail, the sail was in good shape.  The problem, and it wasn’t a small one, was that the headboard was now over 61′ in the air at the top of the mast, the wind was blowing at 20kts and the seas were in the 7-9′ range.

So, the decision… Go up the mast in the bosun’s chair and bring it down.  Bob said it simply: “It’s just a go and grab job”.  Go up the mast, grab the slide and bring it down again.   Easy for him to say and he was right– well, sort of.

The problem is that it’s tough enough to walk around on deck or down below in a seaway but the higher up the mast you go when it’s rough, the more violent the movement becomes the higher up the mast you go.  A few feet of movement near deck becomes a wild whipsaw at the top of the mast.

After the decision was made to run up the mast, we stopped to work out the details.  Bob would work the main winch (fortunately electric) from the cockpit and use the spare spinnaker halyard to hoist me.  George would work an additional spare halyard to pull up by hand to act as a safety line in the event that the main hoist line broke.

I got in the bosun’s chair, which I have used many times in calm conditions, with good results.  It’s pretty secure, but I also put a sail tie around my chest, just in case I might get forced backward in the chair.  I also put on my inflatable vest and foul weather jacket with the hope that the extra padding would provide some modest protection from getting banged up.  Additionally, I used the long lanyard to my harness to run around the mast as I went up, in case I might lose my hold on the mast, a decision that turned out to be a very good one.

The boat was pitching pretty hard in the 7-9′ seas and the 20 kt winds and without the main to stabilize the boat, the small jib was all that I had to rely on and it only somewhat moderated the role and pitching of the boat.

I’ll say that I was very nervous about all that, but up I went.  As Bob pulled me up the mast, with George taking up the slack with the safety line, I clung onto the mast like a koala bear hugging a tree.  In spite of this, I still felt like I was going to be plucked off at any moment.

I had made the decision to wrap my safety strap around the mast as I went up but that proved to be much more difficult than I expected since I was forced to unhook it at each set of spreaders.  For the few moments that I was unhooked, I was very vulnerable to loosing my grip on the mast.  I also found that Bob could not hear me at all over the noise of wind and waves, so I had no option but to use hand signals, again taking one hand off of the mast.

The higher I went, the more the mast whipped around, threatening to break my grip.  Twice I lost hold on the mast and swung out, jerking back on the tether, and banging back against the mast.   George said that I looked like a fish on a lure, thrashing about as the mast whipped from side to side. I was terrified and could only think about the scene in the movie “The Martian,” when Matt Damon was being retrieved by another astronaut and was violently whipped around, enduring tremendous centrifugal forces, powerless to control his movement or save himself.

I finally worked my way up to the top of the mast and a few times I froze, unable to move my hands and legs, clinging to the mast.   Finally however, I was there, at the mast peak, as was the headboard.

I worked it down the track, pulling a few feet of halyard with each movement trying to get it back down so George could secure it to the boom.   Finally, it was down.

So now, to get back down to the deck.  The trip back down was even worse than the trip up, since I was exhausted and my adrenalin was just about used up.  And, to make matters worse, I had to stop at each spreader, unclip my harness lanyard and reattach it below for the run to the next spreader.   While the movement of the mast was less the closer I got to deck level, I was really beginning to loose my nerve.   By this time I was also pretty banged up from the two times that I lost hold of the mast on the way up and was jerked around by the whipping mast.

As far as holding on, I generally did pretty well except when a particularly large wave hit the side of the boat.  As a rule, whatever the sea state, there will be the occasional wave that will be half again larger than the average and when one of these hit, I felt like a fly being flicked off of a branch.

The only thing that I did wrong in with my planning, with the possible exception of deciding to go up in the first place, was that I had opted to clip around the mast as opposed to the safety line that had a clear run down the front of the mast.  Once I was up there, I realized that if I had been badly hurt, Bob and George would have had no way to get me past the next set of spreaders.  And even now, the thought of that makes me shake.

When I finally got back to the deck I was just exhausted and could barely make my way back to the cockpit, even with George holding my arm for support.After a short time for regaining my composure, we sat down to consider how to fix the problem and get the sail ready to be re-hoisted.    The damage to the top of the main was fairly straightforward.

The top of the main was strongly reinforced and was attached to the headboard with three web straps.  Over time these straps had chafed through and ultimately failed. This is something that I never noticed.  Now I will, that’s for sure.  The fix we decided on, since we did not have a sewing machine, was to drill a series of nine holes in the heaviest part of the sail top and thread a series of Dynema 3/8″ rope strands through these holes and the slots in the headboard to secure the sail to the headboard.   After several hours of drilling and threading we had things in good shape with each knot fully seized with waxed sail twine and we were good to go.

It’s not all that pretty (I’ll be posting some photos of all this when I get home next week) but very strong.  Each piece of the Dynema that we used could easily support the weight of a car and has the added benefit of being very chafe and UV resistant.

So, as I write this the “new rig” is up and has been working well for 24 hours– and we continue to reel off daily runs of near 200 miles.

All and all, I think that we made the right call for me to go up the mast,  but I have to say that for much of yesterday all I could think about was what “could have happened.”    Oh yeah, you’d be amazed at the bruises that I have on the inside of each thigh and on the insides of my arms, from clutching the mast. I also have a few bruises from when I was slung around after losing my grip.   It just goes to show how much you can accomplish with enough adrenalin.

So, as Brenda says, nothing good happens after midnight. and for once I have to agree when the sail came down in a heap.   The “fix” was a harrowing experience, but the good news is that it all worked out and now I have a story to tell– and tell it I will.

Perhaps in closing I should also note what I wished I had done differently.  First, I would have used a shorter safety line to the mast and would have secured it around the safety halyard and not the mast.  That way I would not have had to leave myself vulnerable when I had to remove the line to get it past each set of spreaders.  Also, I am going to put a helmet onboard as well as a climbing break, a tool that you slide up and down the safety rope, that would have secured me more effectively when I was plucked from the mast as well as if the main lift rope had failed.  Of course, I could also say that I will NEVER again go up the mast in a seaway.  However, never say never.   Things can often look a lot different when you are hundreds of miles from land.

Hey, anybody out there want to option my story for a movie?  It would be a very short movie so perhaps I’ll leave it at that for now.
So, here we are, clipping along.  It’s a beautiful day and Pandora’s crew is into the groove.  And I am happy to report that we have less than 1,000 miles to Montauk.Editor:  I said that the waves were 7-9′, Bob said 5-6′ but, let me tell you, it felt like 10-12′.  Holy frigging yikes, I was scared but it worked out, this time.

I also expect that some readers will have something to say about all of this, but for now all I can say is “you had to be there.”

Day One: 200 Miles!

While we all hear about the high performance “sleds” that make their way through the Southern Ocean at speeds that seem more fitting for a car than sailboat, it’s a rare cruising boat that can make more than 200 miles in a 24 hour period.  Many cruisers talk about achieving this feat now and again but often qualify their statement by saying that they had a current with them, like the fast moving Gulf Stream.

It’s not uncommon for Pandora to make speeds over the bottom of 9kts and even 10 when conditions are right.   As a rule, with winds on the beam of about 20kts, Pandora will easily reel off impressive speeds near double digits and to do this in waves in the 8-10′ range on the beam is even more impressive.

Well, from when we cleared the harbor in Falmouth yesterday at around 10:00 until 10:00 today we clocked just about 200 miles on the chart.  The log on the boat showed a bit more but I am going to check that off to calibration error.  Nevertheless, we have had a pretty good ride for our first day at sea.

The cockpit enclosure, while hot in the sun, has made things a lot more comfortable, keeping most of the spray from hitting us.   In these conditions Pandora is a pretty wet boat with water running down both windward and leeward decks and lots of spray hitting the dodger.

As a result, we have to keep the boat tightly buttoned up, meaning that all hatches and ports are closed.  This is pretty standard for us but sometimes I’ll crack the small hatch over the galley a bit when I am cooking to try and keep things a bit cooler down below.  With the surrounding water and air temperatures in the low 80s it’s warm aboard, especially if you are out of the breeze.

So, in spite of my rule of keeping all hatches tightly closed while underway, I left the small 10″ hatch in the galley open last evening while preparing dinner and was stunned when a wave swept over the deck and soaked me with several gallons of water that washed down the open hatch.   It left a real mess with water sloshing around on the counter, draining into the fridge and freezer and down on the floor.

It took me a good half hour to mop it all up and remove the salt that was everywhere.  And, after all that was done I had to shower off myself as I had been standing directly under the hatch when the wave hit so my head and clothes were completely soaked.    This is particularly problematic as we really can’t waste water while on passage as I can’t run the watermaker unless the engine is running.   The electrical load overnight with all the instruments running is just too much for the solar panels to make up the following day.

The biggest problem is that the engine, while great at charging the batteries quickly with 200 amp output, is located under the galley and makes the cabin that much hotter.

In any event, I’ll have to run the engine to charge things up and make some water today.  For sure, hot or not, I’ll  keep the hatches closed.

Salty or not, the sailing is great and we are making good progress on our way to Montauk.  I hope to talk to Chris Parker today to confirm that we are good to continue on our course or if we will have to divert to Bermuda.  I hope not.

Well, 200 miles under the keel and still a long way to go.

On Our Way, Next Stop….

I wanted to begin the post with the title, Next Stop Home!, but as we head out from Antigua on our first day of what will be a passage of more than 1,500 miles, I really don’t know if we will be able to make the run without stopping in Bermuda.  I have sent in all the needed information to Bermuda customs, just in case we have to stop but I’d really like to just keep going.

The first few days should involve some pretty brisk sailing with 20kts with gusts to 25kts, on the beam.  These are just about ideal for Pandora as she clips along at better than 9kts.

Last week I cleaned the bottom for the first time in a month and it had gotten pretty messy.  Even though I had been underway for a good portion of the time, things had gotten pretty slimy.   Two days ago I decided to check it out again and while it wasn’t too bad, I decided to go over it all again. The good news is that it only took a half hour verses the hour that it normally takes me when things are a bit more advanced.

The last week was a whirlwind of activity getting ready to leave, attending events and getting ready for George and Bob, my crew, to arrive.
Last season I ran into a group, the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda.  I wrote about them a few times (just put Tot into the search bar and the posts will come up).  Forgive me but I can’t put in a link to the particular posts via SSB radio.   Anyway, I decided that I just had to join the group.

Becoming a full member of the Tot club involves learning a good deal about Lord Nelson’s most important battles along with other details of British Navy History.  It also means that over a period of 7 nights, I had to take a “full Tot” or about 2ozs of rum straight down in a single “go”.   And twice, that involves a second Tot.  That’s a lot of tots and I don’t have a lot of “reserve buoyancy” to absorb that much rum all at once and I’ll say that some evenings were not all that pretty.  At one point, Brenda said that she was looking forward to getting a late evening call from me that didn’t involve some slurred words.  Me too.  Along with all this “totting” I had to take an oral exam from one of the “totters”.

So, after a massive amount of anxiety and totting, I passed and am now a full member of the group.  The experience was great fun and along the way I was able to spend time on some magnificent yachts and visit one member’s home with a fabulous view overlooking Falmouth harbor.  When I get home, I’ll post some photos of me and some of the other members.  It’s a wonderful group of folks.

I won’t go into any additional detail for now so stay tuned.

So, back to our departure.  We left this morning, Sunday, at around 09:30 and are now about 30 miles north of Antigua, moving along at a brisk 8.5-10kts toward home.

As is so often the case when we are on passage, things break and this trip will surely prove to be no different.  I can say that with confidence as we have already had our first breakage, a batten pocket holder near the mast.  It’s broken before and I am at a loss as to how to avoid it.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that I had to drill a hole in the unit and put a bolt and washers with the hope of stabilizing it.   However, I am not optimistic that the repair will hold for very long as it’s already looking suspect.  I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, from past experience and am sure that I will be up on deck again soon for another go at stabilizing things.  Such is blue water passage making.

I have been staying close to Chris Parker, our weather router, for the last few days and he says that the weather forecast for the area north of Bermuda still is a bit unclear but we are hopeful that we will be able to avoid a stop in Bermuda and continue on to Montauk in a single leg.
We expect that the sailing over the next few days will be about like it is now and after that the wind will clock to the SE and ultimately the south which means that we will find ourselves going somewhat slower than our current clip.

There is a cold front coming off of the US East coast later this week and the exact timing remains somewhat unclear.  However, as we get closer we’ll have a much better feel for what sort of conditions we will encounter.   As our Gulf Stream crossing will be at one of its widest points, hitting adverse currents at some point is probably inevitable.

I know it’s only the first day and we are nearly 1,500 miles from home but I can’t help but speculate on when we will arrive.   If we keep going at this rate for at least a few days and don’t have to stop in Bermuda, we should round Montauk sometime on Monday or Tuesday of next week.  That’s pretty fast sailing.

Brenda’s been hard at work getting the house and garden in shape for the summer and I can’t wait to see all that.  She told me this morning that we have at least four bird nests around the house and that’s surely a sign that spring is really here, or should I say there.

For now I guess it’s time to start thinking about what I am going to make for dinner.

Oh yeah it’s pretty hot down below as we have to button things up tightly to keep the spray outside where it belongs.

I expect that before we know it I’ll be grousing about how cold we are. Ne

Leaving Antigua on Sunday morning.

Well, it’s about time to leave Antigua and head home to New England waters.  I am pretty excited about being home and, in particular, about seeing Brenda again.  It’s been nearly three weeks as of today since she flew out of St Lucia.   I miss her.

My crew, George and Bob arrived yesterday and are enjoying a few days ashore before we leave.  This is their first visit to Antigua.

The good news is that the weather is pointing to a Sunday departure and some pretty good conditions for some fast sailing as we make our way to Bermuda.  I say Bermuda as the weather north of there is very uncertain so it will likely be best to make a stop there and regroup before heading out for the Gulf Stream and Montauk where we will enter Long Island Sound.

Speaking of Bermuda, I have never been there but my crew have.   As a British port, they are fairly detail oriented and have some pretty complicated processes for clearing in.  Even before I leave here I have to send them quite a bit of information about Pandora and our plans.  I also understand that the cost of even a short visit is pretty steep.  Isn’t that just so British?

So, the forecast, which hasn’t changed for a few days calls for 20-25 out of the east, perhaps ten degrees south of east, for several days.  They seas should be in the 8′ range.   While it will be a wet ride, Pandora does pretty well in these conditions so I am hopeful that we will be able to reel off between 180 and 200 miles per day on a beam or close reach.

As we get closer to Bermuda the wind is forecast to clock to the SE and South, dropping to 10-15 kts which will slow us down.  After a few days of fast sailing and lots of water on the deck, I expect we will be ready to have some more relaxing conditions as we approach Bermuda.

Today will be busy with last minute provisioning and a quick re-cleaning of the bottom.  I cleaned the bottom last week but there has been a bit of return growth that needs to be addressed.   Even the smallest amount of slime can make a big difference over 1,600 miles.

As is my custom, I will be doing posts most days while we are underway and will send them to Brenda via email to put up.  I  can’t send photos as the SSB email system is pretty slow.

And, don’t forget, you can track us, complete with speed and position updates every two hours while we are underway.   Just go click on the “where in the world is Pandora” link and follow the instructions.  If you are interested, you can also sign up to receive an email note when I put up a new post.

I guess that’s all for now.  Before I break, I should mention that I had a tour of the 150′ schooner Columbia yesterday.  She’s a reproduction of a Grand Banks fishing schooner of the same name.  Launched just a few years ago and built from plans that the owner had from way back in the 70s, waiting until he had the resources to have her built.  She’s really beautiful.    I don’t have time to write a proper post about her before I depart for Bermuda but I’ll tempt you with a photo of her.   What a boat. I guess that’s all for now.  Stay tuned.   Need to get provisions.

Bad things sometimes come in threes

As I write this I am getting Pandora ready for her run north to CT and I am hopeful that a few days after my crew arrives we will be able to head out for the run north.

They say say that bad things sometimes come in threes and that was my experience in St Pierre, Martinique when my friend Craig and I visited a few weeks ago with Pandora.

For those of us that have become addicted to e-mail and our phones, being aboard has it’s own set of challenges.   I love the cruising lifestyle but being “off the grid” is a non-starter for me unless you are talking about solar panels and such.  Wherever I am, I really need to feel connected and when I am not…

Well, hold that thought for a moment…

Mt Pelee dominates the skyline from the anchorage of St Pierre and is usually shrouded in clouds. When Craig and I were hiking up the side of Mt Pelee, the extinct volcano in Martinique that erupted violently in 1902, we got a first hand feel for what they mean when they say “the islands that kiss the clouds” and in this case, those clouds opened up an dumped on us in a violent thunderstorm, compete with simultaneous thunder, lightning and a massive downpour.

Convective thunderstorms are not common in the Caribbean and even hearing thunder was a first for me in two seasons of cruising the islands.  To be high up in the mountains and experience thunder and the crackle of electricity so incredibly close was quite alarming, let me tell you.

In the hours we hiked up the mountain, we only had an occasional glimpse of anything in the distance.  This is where we parked the rental car and after a short time even that was shrouded in clouds and mist.  We never saw the distant ocean at all. Pelee loomed above us.  We were told that the hike to the summit would take about two hours.  Ha!
In the beginning there were steps.   That didn’t last long and most of the run was a scramble over slippery rocks and often rough footholds chiseled into the bedrock. Much of the vegetation was tortured and low. But lush with the near constant mist and rain, year round.These fleshy flowers were everywhere. No trees, and the winds whipped up the slope with every plant hugging the ground. In every direction verdant green on the mountainside.  Not a lot of photos after this as heavens opened and with driving rain.  We had only gone about 1/3 of the way and kept going as we assumed the rain would not last long, as is so often the case.  Not.   The trail was so steep that we could hardly climb without using our hands to help pull ourselves along.  After the rain became heavy the path started looking more like a raging brook.

The rain kept coming and got harder and harder.  Incredibly loud thunder and lightning flashes were simultaneous.   And loud? I have never really understood what was meant by the “crackle of thunder”.  I do now.   It was like the air itself was charged with electricity.

At that point “Craig, time to head back!  Let’s get out of here!”.  By that point the path had become torrent with muddy water pushing sand and small stones down the trail if you could call it that.    Someone we passed along the way was limping badly as he’d stepped into a hole that was obscured by the muddy water.

Let me just say that the trail was steep, full of raging water and we were in a hurry.   The good news is that I only fell once, on a slippery rock.   Nasty bump on my butt and arm.  Good thing I am fairly well padded.

So, back to the cell phone.  As I was focusing on my footing I didn’t notice that my camera bag was slowly filling with water.   As my camera is inside a padded section, the water pooled under it and while it was damp, it wasn’t flooded.  Oops, my cell phone was in the bottom and floating.   Mort…

Well, we made it back down the mountain and back to the car.

The day before, when we arrived in St Pierre we anchored in 50′ of water as the bottom falls quickly to over 100′ not far from shore.  I had never anchored in such deep water.   I wasn’t sure what was under us so I just put out all of my chain, some 200′.   The problem was that if we dragged even a short distance we’d be in 100′ of water with scope of only 2/1.  That wouldn’t do at all.   And, compliments of the eruption of Pelee in 1902, there are plenty of shipwrecks not far from shore and I didn’t want to tangle with them.

Anyway, the anchor held and speaking of the the volcano, the city was completely leveled by the volcano and now you can tour the ruins which remain.

As St Pierre was a prosperous city, fueled by the profits of the sugar industry, there was a lively arts scene with an opulent opera house.  Only ruins remain today. The grand staircase has been restored.  Impressive. The view of the harbor with it’s black volcanic sand. Many of the buildings are pretty scruffy.  I don’t think that the city ever really recovered from the devastating eruption.   There are some gems though like this
Here’s the schooner Heron, from Maine, passing behind Pandora.  She anchored nearby.   Her owner charters her for day trips in Maine in the summer and spends his winters in the Caribbean. Heron was also in Bequia when we were there.  I was quite taken with her.  Her owner built her himself. The sunset did not disappoint. That evening, as I pulled the dink up into the davits, a line knocked my glasses off of my face.   Down they went in 50′ of water.   Such a bummer and what a way to cap off the day that I also “lost”, ie flooded, my cellphone.   Oh yeah, I also noticed that my ensign was missing.  I think it was swiped, pole and all, in St Lucia.

They say that bad things sometimes come in threes and the loss of a cell phone, prescription glasses, expensive ones at that, plus a missing ensign certainly qualify.

As far as the glasses are concerned, I have a few pairs of “drugstore” reading glasses and also purchased a new pair but it’s not the same.  Just try reading #3 reading glasses and trying to look into the distance.  Not good.  It’s going to be fun on passage, at night, trying to see what’s on the horizon.   Good thing I have a good set of binoculars.

Anyway, I’ll live but having to deal with crappy glasses and no cell phone for a month before I get home which reminds me that the cruising life can sometimes be difficult when things go “bump in the night”.

Ok, that’s about it for now.  My crew arrives in a few days and Pandora’s about ready to go.  In the meantime I am making plans here in Antigua for the arrival of the Salty Dawg Rally fleet next November and the two day event that I am putting on for the Seven Seas Cruising Association.

Yes, there’s plenty going on but at least I have a brand new pair of cheapo reading glasses to help me along.   Yea, that’s just so fun but at least I have those three bad things out of the way.

“Bob, Bob, don’t say that, you’ll jinx it.”

Ok, fingers crossed.

Editor:  Ok, don’t say it but yes I know that this post just didn’t come together.  Clearly not one of my best but I am just sick of working on it so there…

Just sayin…


Atalante and the spirit of tradition.

It’s been a real treat being here in Antigua during the Classic Yacht Regatta as there are so many magnificent yachts.  In my last post I mentioned that the Tot Club met aboard a classic schooner, the beautiful Ashanti.

That evening I also met the owner of a much more modern yacht, the recently launched Atalante.   The next day I was fortunate to get a personal tour of the boat by here owner.   Atalante was built in the Netherlands at the Classen shipyard.  This yard is known for a remarkable level of craftsmanship and even though the local waters are very shallow, they still find a way to turn out really massive superyachts.

Atalante, draws her name from Greek mythology. Legend has it that she was abandoned and left to die by her mother, who wanted a son, and was raised by a she-bear.   I am always interested in how an owner chooses a name for their boat and am particularly interested in names with a mythological origin as my wife and sailing partner was a classics major so we tend to be drawn to such things.  Our own boat Pandora’s name, and her dink Hope, are steeped in mythology.    Aboard Atalante is a lovely stylized sculpture of her namesake and her “mother”. She has a graceful and classic sheer to her deck. A fore-deck that goes on and on. Her aft deck house is immaculate varnished teak.   Notice the fitting that controls the main sheet on the house.  I should have taken a close up of that.  It’s a remarkable piece of stainless work. Extraordinary attention to detail in the deck hardware.  Need to check your lipstick?  “Mirrors” everywhere.  We should all have a nav station like this.   As an interesting note, the crew quarters are as opulently appointed as the owner’s areas, not that common on many yachts where most crew live in fairly spartan cabins.
The binnacle is a work of art.  I understand that the compass base, engraved with her name was formed from flat stock with the name and logo carved into the surface and then formed into a cylinder to fabricate the helm framework.  It’s a spectacular bespoke piece of work.  This bar makes me want a nice gin and tonic.
And, speaking of food and drink.  A beautiful galley.   I’ll bet that some great meals come out of here.   Interestingly, the chef and captain are a husband and wife team.  That’s nice. A soothing traditional lounge.  No salty swim trunks here.
Love the linens in the owner’s suite.  Brenda and I are going to order new bed linens this summer.  Stripes like this would be lovely.
I mentioned earlier that she was built in the Neatherlands, not a spot known for deep water.   This video is a great look at what’s involved in constructing a yacht like Atalante.  It goes into some detail to show the level of detail that goes into building up an aluminum hull as well as getting the finished hull to an area with deep enough water to float her when the keel is in place.  The short video is worth looking at. Atalante is a beautiful piece of modern engineering, steeped in tradition.   What a treat it would be to feel the power of her under sail.   Want to learn more about her.  Follow this link to her site.

Day sail anyone?   Yes, and a G&T would go down nicely as well.  Perhaps Pandora will get some striped sheets too.

You never know where things will lead. To Ashanti…

One of the best parts of being here in Antigua during the Classic Yacht Regatta is seeing the remarkable boats that congregate from all over.

About a year ago, I wrote about a group, the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda, a group that meets every evening to carry on the discontinued tradition of issuing rum to members of the British Navy, sadly stopped in 1970.    I wrote about this group in a post last spring when I first became familiar with them.

Anyway, fast forward a year and I am in the process of trying to become a member.  This involves drinking “tots” for a number of nights, 7 actually, and passing a rigorous oral exam on British maritime history.    This is tougher than it sounds, both the drinking and remembering, and I have to admit that I am stressing over the test which I have to take in the next few days.  Just how many ships went at it in the Battle of the Nile?  What’s important about the Battle of Copenhagen?   Inquiring minds have to know to be a member and that’s just the beginning.  

One of the most fascinating aspects of cruising and visiting islands like Antigua is that I am able to meet some really interesting people.   Case and point.  One of the most magnificent yachts that competed in the Classic Yacht Regatta last week was Aschanti, a wonderful schooner that was built in 1954, one year before I was “launched”.   Not that old, right?  However, I have to say that she’s in somewhat better shape.   Funny but I can’t recall being described as a “classic”. The connection is that her owner, a very nice guy, was also working on membership to the Tot club.   It seems that he decided to host one of the evening meetings of the Club aboard Ashanti.  It was a wonderful event and very well attended, as you might imagine.    The club organizers set up shop in the cockpit.  She’s a big boat so there was plenty of room to hang out.   Love the kiddy pool bar. She’s a real stunner down below.   Forgive me for trespassing.  I also heard that she has an awesome bathtub.  Oh well, I didn’t see that as even I am not that bold.   “can I peek into your bathroom”?  Yeah, right Bob…
Acres of varnish and it’s all perfect.  I wonder how often they have to pull the spars and varnish them?  I wonder if they varnish them in place?  What a job that must be.
I had to ask what this device near the helm was for.  It turns out it was used to display the course that the helmsman is to hold.   the pegs are removed and set in place to display the course.  Pretty neat.  In the day of autopilot I guess it’s not as vital, perhaps.   A lovely artifact of a different time.
And speaking of holding a course, they are headed toward the Panama Canal across the Pacific and expect to complete a circumnavigation.  And, that’s in addition to a fascinating “figure eight run” that they made.   That’s a cruise rounding both north and South America as well as passing through the Panama Canal, twice.  Sounds awesome.   I wonder if they ever need relief crew?  I would be TOTALLY available.

I’ll bet that Ashanti spends much of her time at sea under sail.  So many megayachts motor from place to place, only putting up the sails when they are on charter or when the owner is aboard.  It seems that Ashanti isn’t like that.  She’s a boat that sails well and sail she does.

The owner told me that “Ashanti picked me, I didn’t pick her.”  When you are talking about a boat with this sort of pedigree that’s probably the way it happens.  It seems that she picked well as this chapter of her life seems to be working out very well for her.

As an interesting note, I had forgotten that I had seen Ashanti when I spied her in Le Marin, Martinique earlier in the season and discovered a video of her recent Atlantic crossing.  It’s really well done and worth a look.Yes, it is indeed a small world and you never know where things will lead.  I never imagined, when I gazed longingly at her in Le Marin that I’d soon be aboard and meet her owner here in Antigua thanks to the Royal Navy Tot Club.

Ashanti is headed to the Panama Canal soon so I guess our paths won’t cross again for some time.   However, if history is any guide, the answer might surprise…

Antigua, it’s just classic

Yes, yes, I know, it’s been a long time since my last post.   Nine days actually but I have been busy getting from point A to point B.    But now I am here, Antigua that is.

Brenda flew out of St Lucia and Craig joined me for a 200 mile run with lots of stops over nearly 10 days and flew out on Sunday.  The sailing was fabulous and true to form, we were on a starboard tack for the entire time.   Have I mentioned that the wind is ALWAYS, well nearly always, out of the east?

A few of the days were pretty “sporty” and some of the anchorages were, shall we say, a bit rolly, but that goes with the territory.   Yes, Brenda, I know that that fits under the “not your favorite” category.   But hey, we visited some neat places this season, Pandora goes plenty fast and we get there fairly quickly.  Right?

I should mention that one of the reasons that I have been “internet deprived” is because my cell phone got wet.  Not very wet but wet enough and now it’s not much more than a paperweight.  How did it happen, you might wonder?  To find out, you’ll just have to stay tuned as I can’t get into that just now.   Oh yeah, in keeping with the “bad things come in threes” along with my cell phone turning into a paperweight, I also lost my prescription reading, computer screen viewing and seeing-things-far-away glasses and someone swiped my American ensign and flag staff.

So, the point of all this is that I have been pretty distracted and, “technologically challenged” and thus way behind on posts.   Not to worry as so much has happened that I have plenty of material to work with so keep that browser pointed toward Sailpandora.

While plenty has happened between then and now, I’ll jump right into the Classic Yacht Regatta here in Antigua that just wrapped up last evening with lots of awards and fun.   Perhaps a shot of the stage with all the “silver” isn’t that exciting a way to begin but here goes. It was a beautiful evening with classic yachts providing the perfect backdrop.  Every April, as the season winds down, beautiful yachts from all over the world converge on Antigua to spend a week racing together.  It’s a remarkable sight, with some of the most iconic yachts afloat today battling it out, although in the most civilized way, of course.    To see the big girls blasting toward the finish line was quite a sight.  This is Columbia a replica of a cod fishing schooner by the same name.  She’s beautiful, and powerful. Right behind her Aschanti.  She’s almost as old as I am, but not quite.  Although I did not sail in the races aboard one of these beauties, I spent lots of time hanging around the docks, parties and enjoyed watching them as they made their way home after the races.   And, there were lots of parties.   Mount Gay Rum provided free Dark and Stormy drinks for all.  Later in the evening some of the crews competed in a sea shanty sing-off.Each act was terrific and in the end everyone got a prize, a jumbo bottle of Mount Gay.  Of particular note was this little girl who played with her parents on her fiddle.  They are getting her off to a good start.  No stage fright for her.   I wonder if her parents shared their rum with her.  Perhaps not.  However, for those of us that were unable to find our way aboard one of these beauties, perhaps the highlight was the parade of sail into English Harbor.  To watch these magnificent machines make their way to the finish line was a spectacular sight to behold.

After finishing off of Falmouth, each boat came around the point and paraded into the Dockyard.  One by one they entered, careful to avoid collisions in the narrow cut.  The first to finish, Columbia led the way.   She’s a spectacular yacht and only a few years old. She’s quite a boat.  If two shots of her are good, three are even better. The other evening I was lucky enough to be invited to join a party aboard this beauty, Aschanti.  She was built in 1954 and is still in perfect shape.   Her current owner purchased her a few years ago.  He told me that she’s headed to the Panama Canal as she makes her way on an around the world cruise.   I’ll share more about her soon.  She’s beautiful. The crew lined up on the rail.  Quite a sight. The mighty TI, Ticonderoga, is always a standout.  She flanked three Carricou sloops on her way into the harbor. Built in Bristol RI in 1936 she is in better than new condition after all these years.  I  was lucky enough to sail aboard her many years ago when she was in Stamford and I just happened to be “at the right place, at the right time”.  Carricou sloops are widely raced in the Windward islands and the fleet was well represented for the series.   They impressed the crowd with their enthusiastic crews.  One after another, fabulous yachts entered the harbor after a hard day or racing.  Mah Jong, which I wrote about when we saw her in Bequia is quite a boat. Perhaps this one displayed the spirit and enthusiasm of the day best with three huge Antigua flags flying in the fresh breeze. There were plenty of impressive moments but Mah Jong and this “dancer” doing her routine in the rigging was something to see.
I wonder about the wisdom of hanging from a “scarf” over a hard deck.    I’ll bet she was pretty daring in her youth.  Wait, she still is.  While I am sorry that Brenda isn’t here with me and am totally bummed that my cell phone is mort, it’s been great to be here in Antigua for such a spectacular event.

In a few days the “go fast” modern racers arrive for a week of racing so it will be interesting to see what that’s like.  After that, my crew arrives for the run to Bermuda.

One thing for sure is that I have a lot of catching up to do to get Pandora ready and provisioned for the trip north and there’s lots of posts just waiting to be written.

I can say with certainty that it’s been truly classic to be here for all the fun.

Stay tuned as there’s lots more to come.