Where’s the best place to be if you’re super?

It’s Wednesday morning and only a few days until cruisers from all over arrive in Essex for the 5th annual Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) Summer Solstice Gam.   George and I have been running this event for five years now and we are very excited about what’s in store for the nearly 100 that will show up for two plus days of seminars and great food.  We have an excellent lineup of speakers, perhaps our best yet.

In particular, I can’t wait to hear the keynote talk by Mike Toglias, the author of Finest Hours, the story of the rescue of the SS Pendelton off of Cape Cod in 1952. A rescue by the USCG widely recognized as the most heroic in the history of the service.  Mike will share the story of the rescue and the making of the movie of the same name by Disney a few years ago.  As a rule, “sailing” movies are generally terrible, think Waterworld, Wind and perhaps the worst ever All is lost with Robert Redford, but don’t get me started.

Anyway, Finest Hours is quite a good movie.  Check out this extended 3 1/2 minute trailer. And see the movie if you haven’t.  It’s on Net Flix and other streaming services.

We’ll be holding the event at the Essex Yacht Club beginning with a BYOB cocktail party aboard Gem a “large” catamaran that will be visiting for the weekend.  The owners of Gem did a similar trip south last winter to the Caribbean as me and Brenda.

Following two days of seminars we will finish up with a pot luck pizza party at the nearby CT River Museum on their deck.  That’s a fabulous place to watch the evening light on the river.   On the off chance that you are moved to join in the fun we have a few slots left so just show up on Friday evening at the club or on Saturday morning to sign up.

While we are partying in Essex with our cruising buddies, it seems that the “big boys with their super big toys” are whooping it up in Bermuda as the finals for the America’s Cup are underway and yesterday was the first of three days of superyacht racing.

When Brenda and I were in Antigua over the winter we were surrounded by a seemingly endless number of monster sailing yachts, many of which are now racing off of Bermuda.   This video was posted today by the event’s organizers.   In spite of the scale of these magnificent yachts, I expect that attendees at our SSCA event spend many more nights aboard and sail more miles each year than the owners of these monsters.   However, it is fun to spend time at these regattas, that’s for sure.

I know that as few years ago Brenda and I were invited to race aboard Marie a 180′ Vitters built ketch in the Newport Bucket Regatta. What a thrill to be on the water aboard such a magnificent yacht. This video gives you a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be aboard a “superyacht” and sail in one of these regattas. Let me tell you, while the sailing is amazing, the food is fabulous too. “would you care for a lamb kabob or a lobster roll?”  No, I am saving myself for desert. In the evenings, at the docks, there are amazing parties and I wrote this post about the “yacht hopping” experience.

So, I guess that the question is “where is the best place to be if you’re super?” and I guess that depends.  For me, super yachts aside, I vote for Essex and our Summer Solstice Gam this weekend and for the 5th year at the Essex Yacht Club. Sure there’s lots of “super” stuff going on in Bermuda but I’ll take my cruising friends.

However, don’t get me wrong.  I we are asked to sail on Marie again…  Nope, we won’t say no.  Yes, that was super too.  Mega super for sure.

Can a ship be cute and rugged?

It’s Friday morning and the sun is out.  Brenda and I plan lunch at a nearby vineyard as a sort of post anniversary (ours) and birthday (mine) outing in our little red car.   The vineyard is Priam and they have picnic tables outside where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy a bottle of their wine.  It’s a very pretty place.  I mention this as it’s during the warm months that Pandora is put to bed and we focus on land themed activities.  And speaking of land, well sort of.  This little tree frog is visiting us as in past summers.  We have named him Vilado.  Not sure why, that’s just because he looks like a Vilado.   Right?  Whatever…Pandora’s still in Hampton and I’ll be bringing her north at he end of the month and then she will be hauled for 6-8 weeks.   I plan on splashing her again in time to go to Newport for classic J yacht racing in late August.  I understand that there will be 7 racing, the largest number ever to share a course.  Amazingly, these boats continue to be built and from original plans.  The most recent one, Svea,  launched in the Netherlands, built from plans that were drawn up back in the 30s but never built.

She’s massive.No mistaking that this is a game that can only be played by the “big boys” who can afford “big toys”.   A picture of power in every way. It will be fun to see her and the others in Newport later this summer.  Until then I am focused on more humble but perhaps no less important vessels closer to home.

I had written about a recent arrival at the CT River Museum, the lovely Onrust. She’s a reproduction of Adrien Block’s 17th century ship, the first European ship to be built in the new world.   His charts were remarkably accurate for someone who didn’t have any way to view things except from the deck of his little ship.   This chart by Block covers the area from the Delaware north through New England.   Not bad for a guy from the 1600s. Block himself looking like he’s ready for anything.  Love the PFD.  Ok, perhaps It’s a collar.  Doesn’t it look like a PFD?   Actually, I’m thinking that he didn’t wear one, a PFD that is.   However, he did get around plenty.  Now that the Onrust, the replica of Block’s ship, is in Essex, I couldn’t resist visiting her and taking some detail shots of her construction.    She’s small but tough as nails.  Probably much like Adrian in spite of that wacky collar.   However, I wore a powder blue tux with dark blue piping and a ruffled shirt to Brenda’s and my junior prom so who am I to judge?

Anyway, Block was an impressive guy and I am just loving the Onrust.  So, I took a trip down to the CT River Museum, where the ship is for this season, and took some photos of some of her details.  I wrote about her in a few prior posts so if you just scroll down below this post you will see them.  What comes next, may be, as my Dad used to say “more than you want to know about penguins” but here goes.

She takes folks out on the CT River for tours moat days but I caught her at the CT River Museum docks.  She looks great. There are a number of wonderful details that have been incorporated into her construction.  Love the lion on the stem.   And, the lacing on the bowsprit is just so. Lots of detail went into this little ship.  Her forestay with her jib.   A little different than Pandora’s rod rigging and stainless turnbuckles. And speaking of lines, you can never have enough lines.  There’s just something about coiled lines…
Nice attention to detail on the mast.  No power winches on Onrust.How about the detail at the top of the mast?  I expect that there is a story about that too. The mast has a tabernacle so it can be easily laid down on deck.   That’s a nice feature for ease of work aloft.  No crane needed.All of the hardware was forged by hand, including this really nice hook holding the running backstay.    Sort of a “olden day” soft shackle, I guess.   You know, the type made out of Spectra?The deck area is set up for lots of folks on board.  The original Onrust sailed with a crew of dozens I expect which would have been pretty crowded, open decks or not.  Consider that the original vessel was built in the dead of winter in only four months.  Those guys were really tough anyway so close quarters were just the way it was.  She’s well armed with some really nice bronze cannons and they really work.  I saw/heard one on my “voyage” aboard from Old Saybrook.They too have some nice little details.   I’m sure that there is a story here too.   A monkey and anchors?Lot’s to see down below.  Certain accommodations have been made in deference to her current use and certainly for the USCG.  Back in Block’s day, this would have been cargo only. I guess that Block’s crew would have slept on top of well, whatever was in the hold. Lots of nice detail work like this well fashioned knee holding up the deck.
Great hand forged hardware. The wood is well finished but not fussy.  Nice hinge, complete with cut nails.  Hand forged nails?   Probably. A view of the forepeak. And a view aft.  In case the crew get “soft” no cushions on the bunks.  Don’t know what this is at the base of the bulkhead aft of the mast but it’s really, really sturdy.  I’d have thought that it was for a centerboard.  However, she has lee boards. And, here’s one of them.   From a construction standpoint, it’s a lot easier to make these than a centerboard.  A boat with lee boards can also ground out easily with no damage.    I guess a logical place to finish up is of a shot of her crew.  “Aargg.  Hoist the main brace!  And be quick about it, you scallywags!” All, and all, the Onrust is a charming, dare I say cute, little ship?  However, like her “father” Adrien Block, she’s tough, that’s for sure.   I can’t wait to go out on her again.  Yes, I guess you actually can be cute and tough.

Oh yeah.  Want to go for a ride?  You can.  Contact the CT River Museum.  You’ll be glad you did.

A cruise on the Onrust. Heading “Home” to the CT River Museum.

Yesterday was an awesome day.  Not only was the sun out for the first time in what seems like FOREVER, but I was invited to cruise aboard Onrust for the “last mile” as she made her way to the “summer home away from home” at the CT River Museum in Essex.

Our arrival was timed to coincide with a fundraiser event at the Museum so there would be plenty of folks on hand, 350 or so, to welcome her.   At the appointed time Brenda dropped me at the marina in Old Saybrook that had hosted Onrust for the previous night.  She looked splendid on the dock with blue sky and puffy clouds in the background. Her stern is impressive, perhaps I might call it “cute”.   Love the “colors”.    How about that braiding on the flag staff?I wonder if Adriaen carved the stem as intricately as this?She has a nice deck layout.  Oddly, photos down below are not allowed.  Not sure why as she’s wonderfully finished below decks.  As is my custom, I made sure that I was one of the first to arrive when the boat was nearly empty.   However, by the time we left, following speeches by various dignitaries, she had a full compliment of “crew”.   The guy with the blue cap and pink pants is Tom Wilcox, president of the CT River Museum BOD, welcoming everyone.  Tom used to be the director of the Maritime Museum in Bath Maine and is a wealth of knowledge on marine history.   That’s a great museum too, BTW.I particularly enjoyed the remarks by the “official” CT State Historian, Walter Woodward.  I asked him to share his remarks with me and I’ll put them up in a future post.   I also asked if he gives talks and he does.  Sounds like someone that I could tap for future Seven Seas Cruising Association events.  There’s just no end to interesting people that you can meet with a little effort. Of course, no cruise is complete without refreshments.   Fortunately, we didn’t heel enough to upset the vittles. They did put up the sail for a bit but the wind was light.  However, it was a lovely sight. As we worked our way up the river, we were passed by this lovely traditional power yacht Deliverance.  She was built in Maine and launched in 2011.  What a looker.   It looks like her designer, drew inspiration from classic sardine carriers.  Check her out at this link.  Since launching in 2011 she has worked her way down and back on the Intra Coastal Waterway spent time in the Bahamas.    She’s a boat that would make a nice home away from home.  Charming wheelhouse. I mention the sardine carrier connection as the yard where she was built, D.N. Hylan Boatbuilders in Brooklin Maine, also did a restoration on Greyling, herself a sardine carrier converted to a pleasure boat.  I have seen her a number of times over the years.  You can see the resemblance.  Well, I can.Anyway, back to Onrust.  I was thrilled to be able to take the helm for much of the run to the CRM the captain was with crew getting ready to dock and only looked to me a “few” times to be sure that I was paying attention.   My attire wasn’t particularly traditional though.   Perhaps if I hang around enough I’ll be able to get one of the “official” caps.  We approached the landing at the museum and were greeted by cheers from the guests.
And we were serenaded by a fife and drum corp, the Sailing Masters of Essex.  I just loved their uniforms which are fashioned after those worn by the United States Navy during the period of 1810-1815.  Very natty.Later they posed for photos aboard the Onrust.  What a sight.  “Land ho!”  No, make that “Essex ho!”  “All hands to battle stations.  Run out the cannons!”So, there she is, on the docks at the CT River Museum where she will be stationed for the summer, giving tours of the local waterfront.   I think she’s found a good home and am really impressed with Chris Dobbs, the director of CRM for making the connections that brought such a wonderful vessel to Essex.
The Onrust, Essex and The CT River museum will all benefit from this wonderful new partnership and I was thrilled to be a tiny part of her arrival to her new “home away from home”.

I can’t wait to get to know her better.

A boy and his boat. JFK and Victura

Remember that wonderful book, The Wind in the Willows and that famous quote uttered by Rat as he and Mole were rowing up the canal?   “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

I am sure that there are many among you that feel the same way so I expect that you will enjoy this short piece about JFK and is 30 year love affair with his Wiano Senior, “Victura” , a gift from his father on his 15th birthday.  This video was released recently in recognition of what would have been JFK’s 100th birthday.  Shortly after Brenda and I were first married we purchased our first “boat to mess around in” and while our current Pandora, nearly 40 years later, can be quite a hand full and has taken us far and wide, I do have many fond memories of our early years of “messing about in boats”.  There is certainly a simplicity of purpose when boats, and life, are not so complicated.

My good friend and now famous marine artist, Christopher Blossom gave me this lovely portrait of Brenda and me aboard our first boat, TAO, a 20′ Cape Cod Catboat sailing off of Fairfield CT as a birthday present many years ago. Of course, even if our boats and lives have become more complicated, there’s always Pandora’s mascot Louis to remind us of simpler times as he gazes out at the world as it rushes by aboard Pandora.   I’m sure, that mice, rats, moles and even Presidents alike will agree that indeed, “there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

A happy 100th Birthday to JFK.   A boy that loved messing around in boats.

The Onrust, coming to the CT River Museum

One of the best aspects of Essex is that it’s the home of the CT River Museum.  Under the remarkably enthusiastic leadership of the Director Chris Dobbs, the museum has become an even more vital part of the Essex CT community.  Most recently, Chris enticed the Onrust, a wonderful reproduction of Adriaen Block’s ship, the first ship built by Europeans in the New World to make Essex her home for the summer.

As I write this the Onrust is on her way from near Albany, on the Hudson River, and will arrive in Old Saybrook today.  On Thursday she will make her way the river and tie up at the CT River Museum where she will be giving river tours for the summer before returning home to the Hudson River in the fall.

I am lucky enough to be invited to join her for the “last mile” as she comes up up the river tomorrow, Thursday, as she arrives for the first time at the CT River Museum.   RiverFare, a special event at the museum, will be in full swing when she arrives so I am sure Onrust will cause quite a stir.  I am really excited to be a part of her arrival and applaud Chris for bringing her to the museum.   Totally cool.

The original Onrust was built by the Adriaen Block and his crew over the winter of 1613/1614 following a catastrophic fire that destroyed their ship.  The Onrust site has an interesting short history of the original vessel.

In 2006, in Upstate NY construction began on a replica of this historic ship, using traditional construction techniques.    This short video tells the story of the construction of this unique vessel. This video shows her on her maiden voyage down to Sandy Hook NJ. I am sure that there will be plenty more to tell so stay tuned for more updates on this lovely little gem.

Who knows, perhaps the sun will even come out after what seems like weeks of rain.  Now that would really be an event.

To divert or not to divert? Waterspouts in Pandora’s future?

Yes, I know.  I’ve been home for a few days now and haven’t put up a post.  Some of you who follow my blog (Yes, both of my loyal readers.  Mom, are you there?) have been calling and sending emails wondering “what happened Bob.  Are you home?  I see that Pandora is in Hampton?  What’s going on?”.  Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been bad but the grass was really long and needed cutting and I did have to visit Mom too.

To set the record straight.  I arrived home in Hampton VA and tied up at the dock at the Blue Water Sailing Center at 05:00 on Tuesday.  I have to say that it was awesome, no make that AWESOME, when I shut of the engine and Pandora was totally silent.  No sound of wind or water rushing by the hull.   We didn’t move an inch.  So quiet.  We made it!  After we celebrated with a “wee tot” of fine rum from Martinique, time for a nap.  Less than two hours later, up again to begin getting cleaned up for the arrival of Customs and to get Pandora ready to leave in her slip for a month.

Yes, it’s been too long since my last post on Sunday, “penned” while we were bounding along hundreds of miles from shore.  As you know, our original plan was to head directly home but in my often twice daily discussions with Chris Parker, it became clear that if we were to continue on that “getting there would NOT be half the fun”.  And, based on Wednesday’s, summary forecast , we made the right call.  This is what he wrote about where we were heading, a few days out.

“Cold FRONT trailing S from LO (moving NE thru the OhioValley) will pass the region thru early evening. Strong winds will remain from a S-SW direction even after passing. Squalls ahead of FRONT will be severe with potential for damaging winds, torrential rainfall, and waterspouts”

WATERSPOUTS!  What the F%@#?   Sailing in the ocean is tough enough on body and boat and to add really nasty weather with gale force winds to the mix was not great.

Besides, remember the water in the fuel tank?   Well, that was only the most recent problem to report.  During our day spent crossing the Gulf Stream with 6-9′ “square” waves and opposing wind and current, the boom-vang hydraulics failed so I was no longer able to flatten the mainsail.  That mean that there was no way to sail close to the wind.    To have continued north and into really nasty weather, with that problem would have really complicated things.   As far as the vang is concerned, it’s being fixed in Hampton by a rigger and the fuel tanks will also be cleaned.   Remember the “water in the fuel thing”? Perhaps while the tanks are open the guy can figure out why my fuel gauges don’t work.

So, we made it, to Hampton anyway, and I’ll be returning in late June to bring Pandora the rest of the way home.

I thought that it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip before I break.

We departed from Nanny Cay marina, a really nice spot in Tortola with a great beach bar, of course. And a pool.  I forced myself, against my better judgement, to sit there for an afternoon.  Tough duty? Indeed!Once underway, the trip included just about every weather option you could expect on an ocean passage.  Days of motoring in nearly flat calm…And plenty of fast sailing with a fresh breeze on the beam.  For hours blasting along at 10kts sustained with bursts to 11kts with phosphorescent glowing waves breaking all around us on a moonless night.

Fabulous sunsets.That changed by the minute as the sun winked out below the horizon.   Pandora’s mascot Louis enjoyed standing watch as we made our way north.   Recall that Louis joined us in St Martin with the hope of “seeing the world, Pandora style”.  Someday Louis will go to live with our granddaughter Tori when she’s old enough to hear about his adventures with YaYa and Grandpy.Pandora’s crew, Cliff and Jim during a particularly tense part of the trip.  Jim “striking a pose” with his morning coffee  Amazingly, these guys were the FIRST ever to be aboard Pandora to choose decaf.  Imagine, three sailors, including me, who don’t want high test and all aboard Pandora?  There’s probably 4 or 5 more out there but I haven’t met them.
Plenty of time was spent at the helm on the chance that the autopilot would pull yet another “crazy Ivan” and head violently off on a new course which it did sometimes more than once an hour and sometimes not for days.  All this became routine when the plotter at the helm failed.  While the plotter is dead, it was still flickering, now and again, and seemingly sending confusing signals to the autopilot.
And, speaking of failed plotters.  I called Raymarine today, spoke with a tech guy, and received some really bad news that my plotter could not be fixed.  He said that the only option was to replace the other one as well as the radar. Such bad news and I don’t even want to think about what all that would cost.

However, not to be deterred and as Brenda says, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful”, I called my “friend” at one of the local marine electronics installers on the off chance that he might have an “old” plotter from a boat that he worked on that was still functional.  Remarkably, he told me that he’s pulling one off of a boat next week that’s probably never even been turned on.  That owner had replaced the plotter two years ago and never launched the boat.  Now, he’s doing a full electronics suite replacement and is tossing all of his “old” equipment.  Go ahead, toss one my way!  Perfect!  I can get a “new” plotter for a fraction of the price.   Come to think of it, I think I’ll purchase some of the other instruments to keep as spares.  Am I lucky or what?  A new “obsolete” plotter for a discounted price and I don’t even have to pay postage to get it.

It’s remarkable just how isolated you are when sailing offshore.  We were hundreds of miles from “anything” and went for 4-5 days without seeing more than one or two ships and for several days, nothing at all.   You are really on your own.

We were visited by pods of dolphins (notoriously difficult to photograph) on a few occasions.  ‘They departed as quickly as they appeared. Of course, each morning we found flying fish on deck and in the cockpit.   I used some of the larger ones as bait but we didn’t catch anything.  However, something caught the bait.  And once, the lure was taken too with the wire leader broken.  I wonder how “big the one that got away” was?  Perhaps I don’t want to know.  I have been cautioned never to use “really large” lures as there is a relationship between the size of the lure and the size of the fish.  In fishing, it seems, that indeed, “size matters”.

Of course, If you’ve been following on “where in the world is Pandora“, you’ve seen the course we took as we headed north.  For me, it’s endlessly entertaining to see the actual track from our 8 day voyage from Tortola to Hampton VA, a distance of about 1,200 miles.   It’s a pretty straight shot and you can even see where we were set north-east by the strong current of the gulf stream, 100 miles wide running to the NE at about 4kts.   That’s a lot of moving water. So, there you have it, Pandora’s safe and sound and her crew, none the worse for wear.  I’ll be back aboard to finish the trip north in late June.

When I head back south to rejoin Pandaor, I’ll be able to visit our new granddaughter Tori.  Tori was very excited, as you can see, when she learned of our pending visit and jumped up on her father’s shoulders.  Grandpy’s coming to visit.  Who’s Grandpy?So, there you have it.  That’s my report and I’m sticking to it.  Perhaps I’ll close with a sunset photo which is fitting as our arrival in Hampton signals, sort of, the end (sunset?) of our 2016/2017 season afloat as I’ll be hauling Pandora for a few months of maintenance and repairs in July.   Besides, I have another bathroom to remodel. Yes, leaving Tortola when we did and diverting to Hampton were good calls as if we’d left later or kept heading north.  Who knows?  Waterspouts, gale force winds.  I don’t want to think about that.

I guess that’s it for now.  Time to put down some more grass seed.  It just wouldn’t do to have bear spots on the lawn, would it?


Nearly Home and Change of Plans

It’s Sunday night and we are approaching Cape Hatteras and the Gulf Stream.  The wind is on the beam and we are barreling along at nearly 9kts, and that’s through the water as there isn’t any current yet.  Our original plan was to enter the GS, head north with the current and exit after about 150 miles to head either to Montauk or NYC for the final run home.

However, Chris Parker, weather router, has been unsure about a series of small lows that will roll off of the East Coast over the next few days and how they will affect the coastal waters from VA to NY.  The problem is that if the first low, due to hit the area around Tuesday shifts about 60 miles east of the coast, it will bring gale force winds of about 40kts from the SW.  This isn’t terrible as the wind would be behind us but there will also spawn strong convective squalls that may bring winds to near hurricane force and that would not be fun at all.

On the other hand, if the front happens to head up the coast, perhaps 60 miles to the west, then sailing north could end up being quite a nice ride.  But the uncertainty of the forecast will make it tough to predict until perhaps one day before the low will arrive and once we have begun running up the coast there aren’t many places to stop before Cape May and that’s not sounding to good to me.

So, what’s a voyager to do?  Bail and head to Hampton VA.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

The good news is that the Blue Water Marina there gives Salty Dawg Sailing Association members a very good price on dock space.  Pay full price for a week and get to stay for a month at the same rate.  And leaving Pandora there for a month works for me as I didn’t plan to do anything with her until after my SSCA event in Essex the weekend of June 17th anyway.   Besides, while she’s there, the yard can clean my fuel tanks and get out the water that has caused such problems on this trip.  BTW, today I was able to clean the filters out well and was alarmed by the amount of water that had accumulated.  And, I can send out the plotter for repair.  It’s always something.

Of course, it’s going to take some time to get Pandora ready to be on her own for a month but Cliff and Jim will be a big help and as they have never been to Hampton we’ll make some time to see the sights and have an “arrival dinner” together.

But wait, there’s more and it gets even better…

Brenda and I planned to visit Rob, Kandice and Tori the following weekend in Baltimore so it will be a cinch to take a train from Baltimore to Hampton to rejoin Pandora after our visit.

I wanted to be sure to post this so that anyone, and there must be at least a few of you, who have been tracking our progress won’t wonder “wait, what are they doing.  Is something wrong?” when we continue west from the GS and head to Hampton.

So, that’s the plan, arrive late Monday in Hampton, I hope, clean up Pandora, rent a car and be home on Wednesday.  That’s the plan.

First we have to get through the Gulf Stream.  Did I mention that wind of 15 to 20 kts will kick up seas of about 6-9 feet?  That’s just a detail…

Water in the Fuel Tank? It’s Always Something.

It’s Sunday morning and we are happily sailing along on a close reach at about 7kts after motoring much of the last few days through a high pressure ridge with no wind.   If the wind holds out, we should enter the Gulf Stream around midnight tonight and I expect that it will be a pretty “salty” 12 to 18 hours of sailing before we make our way to the north side and into calmer waters.

They say that you don’t want to be in the Gulf Stream when the wind has a “N” in it, North West, North or North East.  The problem is that when wind blows over water it makes waves and when the current opposes the waves, and the GS flows north, the waves get big and steep.  Think of the rapids in a river and how steep the waves get.  Well, think about trillions of gallons of water moving along like a massive river, add an opposing wind and you get “salty” conditions, really quickly.

On my trip north last spring I was traveling in the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions and a large thunderstorm came up.  All of a sudden the wind was strong, around 20+ knots from the NE and in less than an hour the seas had built and it got really rough.  After bashing around for an hour I decided to tack west to get out of the stream and as soon as we passed the western wall, things calmed right down.  It’s pretty remarkable how quickly it went from nasty to fine and all that changed is that I left the north flowing current of the Gulf Stream.

Earlier in the trip the forecast called for near gale winds in the GS so we have been very focused on getting across it before the really strong, near gale force, SW winds hit.  And, based on that forecast, many of the boats in the Rally decided to bail to Bermuda and wait for better weather.  After thinking about our options I was pretty confident that we could get north of the GS before the nasty weather hit so we pressed on.

However, that was a week ago and what looks like a sure thing weather-wise from that far out, can change a lot in a week.  Fortunately, that’s been the case here and the conditions don’t look that bad now.  However, the near gale force SW winds which would have been behind us are now expected to be from the north so even if they aren’t strong, conditions will be rough and we will be heading into the wind and waves.  Not a great combination.  However, we can always tack to the west and get across the stream.  If we do that, we won’t be in nasty conditions for more than about 100 miles, say 10 to 12 hours, verses the 150 miles that we had hoped to cover if the weather forecast was more positive.

We expect to be in the stream as of around midnight tonight (Sunday)and there will be a new forecast this evening so I’ll have the most current information to work with.

What’s going to happen with the wind as we work our way up toward NJ and NY is uncertain as there are a number of small lows coming from the midwest and it’s hard to say what sort of conditions they will bring.  Usually, lows bring NE winds which would make going toward NY a chore however, Chris feels that the winds won’t be that strong so it might not turn out to be too bad.  We will know more on Mondaymorning when he gives his next morning forecast.  I guess all we can do at this point is to keep moving and be prepared for whatever we run into.

A complication in all of this is that yesterday, when I switched fuel tanks, Pandora has three, the engine started running rough and died.  After messing around with filters and such for over an hour, I realized that there was water in the system suggesting that one of the tanks is contaminated.  I don’t know if I got some water when I filled that tank earlier in the winter or if seawater got in at the deck fill when we were in heavy conditions over the winter.  One way or the other, it caused a lot of anxiety when the engine died as we were more than 100 miles from an area with any wind and to sit for days, 350 miles from land, waiting for wind was quite upsetting.

However, as with everything else aboard Pandora, I carry plenty of spare parts so I was able to put in new filters and get rid of most of the water in the system and isolate the tank with bad fuel.  Good yes, but the bad tank has left us with about 30% less fuel and perhaps not enough to get home without stopping along the way.  And, there is the added anxiety of worrying that we might have some water in one or more of the two remaining tanks that might cause problems down the road.  Fortunately, I have an extra 25 gallons in jugs to use if needed and I put most of that supply in the nearly empty tank that I had been running on from when we left Tortola.

Happily, we are now sailing but that may come to an end in a day or so when we encounter winds from the north and with some 500+ miles to go a lot can happen.  Assuming that we have burned a good amount of our remaining fuel by the time we are near NJ, we may opt to stop in Atlantic City to fill the two clean (I hope) tanks to make the rest of the trip.

So there you have it, and as Gilda Radner used to say “it’s always something”.  And that’s particularly true when it comes to boats going long distances.

Well, wish us luck as we continue to work our way north.  Hopefully we will be home by Wednesday or Thursday, even if we have to stop for fuel.

We are really, really far from land. No “land ho”

It’s Saturday morning and we are motoring in an oily flat calm, about 250 miles from the south wall of the Gulf Stream.  I say “wall” as that’s exactly what it’s like when you enter as within a very short distance you cross from the waters outside to inside of the stream.  You can tell because the temperature goes up about ten degrees, the water is more unsettled and the color changes to a more dramatic blue.  And, if conditions are settled, you can actually see the “wall” as you approach.  It’s pretty wild to see a break in the otherwise uniform waters, miles in every direction.   It’s remarkable that the transition is so sharp after the waters have traveled so far north from where it passes the southern tip of Florida, a thousand miles south.

To be so far from land and have absolutely flat water to the horizon in every direction when we are so far from land, 500 miles from Jacksonville FL and about 350 miles from Cape Hatteras and the Bahamas.  This is the point of our trip that has us furthest from land.  As the horizon is only 15 miles in any direction, I guess it really doesn’t matter how far out we are as we won’t see land until we approach either Sandy Hook or Montauk.  I don’t know yet which will be the best spot to head for until I better understand what the wind will be like after we leave the Gulf Stream on Monday evening.  As of now, it looks like the wind will be out of the south-west, which is a good direction for sailing but perhaps it will be a better wind angle to approach Sandy Hook and make our way through New York.

Jim has not been through NYC by water and I thought that it would be fun too as it’s been a few years for me.   Also, with very strong currents we will have to time our transit based on a flood tide.  I also like the idea of going through NYC as that will put us within cell range sooner, which is good.   Clearing customs should be easier too as the other times I have gone that way a simple phone call was all it took to clear us in.  I’d prefer to avoid having Customs and Immigration come to the boat, or worse, make us come to them, as that will just lengthen our trip.  Unfortunately, we would have to stay aboard once in port until we officials arrive and inspect the boat and crew.  Clearing by phone is clearly better.

We haven’t seen much in the way of ship traffic in several days with only one sighted in the early hours of today, a freighter that crossed our bow, probably less than a mile off.  It’s very hard to gauge distances at night and without radar or AIS, I have no idea as to how close it was except that it felt TOO CLOSE for comfort.

I had hoped to catch a fish but alas, no luck in spite of trolling a line for two days already.   And, while we have seen an occasional bird, no sightings of dolphins or anything else, for that matter.  That’s unless you count a few Portuguese Man-of-War jelly fish with their air filled “sail” floating along with the wind and current.

Because of the anticipated bad weather in the Gulf Stream, most of the Salty Dawg fleet decided to divert to Bermuda to participate in the upcoming America’s Cup festivities.  I would have loved to do that myself but I have so much to do at home and would have really complicated things with regards to crew.  I expect that a week long delay would have cost me both Cliff and Jim and then I would have had to scramble to find replacements for the trip home.  Finding crew who’d like to visit Bermuda for a few days prior to heading out would have been pretty easy but that would have necessitated my staying in Bermuda for perhaps two weeks between crew leaving and new ones arriving, a non-starter as I really don’t want to be away from Brenda for that long.

Interestingly, all of the participants in the rally check into both a morning and evening SSB radio net and it’s fun to hear who’s caught a fish, has gear problems (not so fun) and their location relative to Pandora.  It’s fun to connect and hear what’s up with the others making this trip and after so many miles and days at sea, the fleet is very spread out with none within sight of Pandora.

Well, that’s about it for now.  No wind for the next few days so I’ll be putting a pretty good dent in our diesel supply until we enter an area with some decent winds north of the Stream.  You can also be sure that I am watching my fuel consumption very carefully as we are totally dependant on our engine and that’s especially important as we just SO FAR from land, the furthest point of the trip.

Half Way Home and Making Good Time

It’s Friday morning and we are half way home to CT as we enter our 5th day underway.  We have traveled about 750 miles at an average speed of nearly 8kts.  That’s a pretty remarkable speed over such a long distance.  Actually, a good part of that speed was tweaked up last night when we were blasting along at around 10kts for about 10 hours, sometimes we even cracked 11kts for short periods, and it wasn’t all that windy with wind on the beam of about 20-23kts.  At those speeds you can put a lot of miles in the bank.  It was a wild ride with the crests of waves glowing with phosphorescence.

Jim had not sailed at night prior to this trip so it’s a very new experience for him.  He was blown away by what it feels like to sail at those speeds.  For one thing, it’s pretty noisy.  After a while I put in a reef which slowed us down less than a knot but it seemed a lot less hairy.  Given the issues that we have had with the autopilot going “rogue” I was concerned about how fast things would go wrong at 10+kts.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have been anxious about getting through the Gulf Stream by mid day Monday because winds were forecast to go to near gale force after that and while the wind will be from the SW, a favorable angle, it would still be very rough with steep waves of about 10′ and with a very short period between waves.  The good news is that last night Chris Parker reported that the expected strength of the wind is being downgraded to the mid to high 20s from near 40 and that will make for a lot less excitement.  He also pushed back the arrival of those winds until Monday evening from an original noon estimate.  With the extra time and lighter winds, we should not have a problem getting past the Stream before it get’s “sporty” or, as Chris Parker likes to say “salty”.  That’s good as once those strong winds arrive, it will be as much as a week until we were able to cross the Stream again.   And to make matters worse, winds south of the stream will be considerably stronger than what we will experience north of that area, where we expect to be.

Of course, Monday is still a few days away and things can change but I am feeling more confident that we will be able to get home without having to bail out somewhere and wait for better weather.

The winds for today are supposed to be in the 15kt range from the east, although it’s a bit lighter than that right now, with tomorrow expected to be lighter and then on Sunday we expect very light wind in advance of the expected stronger winds late Monday.  I guess that we will be doing plenty of motoring to keep our speed up.  Such is passage making with a timeline.  The anticipated foul weather caused a good number of the Salty Dawg rally fleet to bail for Bermuda.  I’d have loved to visit there but loosing crew there and having to start all over again with new crew doesn’t appeal to me at all.

So, here we are, hundreds of miles from land and not a ship or another boat in sight for more than two days now.  I expect that we will see some activity as we get closer to the gulf stream and much more traffic as we pass the major shipping lanes along the MD, DL and NJ coasts.  Without AIS and Radar, that will surely keep us on our toes.

Well, that’s today’s report.  More to come Saturday.

Yes, it’s going well and I am happy to be able to report that we are half the way home.  Still, it’s a long time at sea, no matter how you slice it but we are making great time and things are going well.

I guess I’d better break as I have to make breakfast.  Perhaps it’s cooled down enough to make some biscuits.