The Classic Yacht Regatta Antigua, and I will be there.

Today we are getting Pandora ready for leaving her in Trinidad, taking all of Brenda’s stuff home and most of her clothing. Thinking about what we should leave or take is a bit daunting as we won’t be back aboard, once I leave her in Trinidad until next winter, probably not till mid January.

We fly out in a few days, April 1st, back home from Antigua. In some ways the season has been a flash in the pan and yet there were times, with all those rolling anchorages, that it seemed like a long time.

While rolly anchorages are not uncommon in the Caribbean, this season seemed to be particularly active with winds from weird directions. For the last few days the wind has, once again, been out of the west, the opposite of the normal easterly trades. Very weird, for sure.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a “rare” west wind but here we are again, with the same thing happening again. While the winds have been variable for the last few days, they have come from a generally westerly direction, making the harbor a bit choppy and slowly filling with Sargasso weed that ultimately ends up on the beaches and slowly rots.

The “Classics” as the event is known here, brings together a remarkable number of beautiful yachts of all ages but the ones that really stand out are the vintage wooden ones, some of the most beautiful yachts ever built.

One in particular is Bolero, an iconic yacht that is one of the most successful ocean racers ever. She was designed by Sparkman and Stephens for the Brown family and launched in 1949, winning the Bermuda race multiple times and setting a course record that stood for nearly two decades.

As is the case for so many classic yachts, she eventually fell into disrepair, but ultimately rescued by owners with the means to bring her back to life. Today she is actively raced and will be participating in the Classic regatta here in Antigua.

I mention this as I have been invited to sail on her for a “practice” day before the Regatta begins. I am more than thrilled.

She is impressive.

In 2019 I was invited to be a “support boat” on the New York Yacht Club cruise and had an opportunity to meet her owner, Ed Kane. He agreed to let me aboard for a look but before I was able to go over, they had to leave.

The week was pretty amazing including an event at Harbor Court, now the Newport clubhouse for the NYYC and once home of the Brown family, who commissioned Bolero. I wrote a post about this amazing experience.

However, all was not lost as I later saw Bolero in her slip at the Newport Shipyard and the skipper was generous enough to let me tour her and take photos.

She has beautiful lines.

On deck, amazing attention to detail.

Stainless gleaming like new and it should with a full time captain and underwent a no-expense-spared restoration in Maine some years back.

Down below she looks the part of a proper yacht.

As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about being aboard her for a day of sailing. I might even be lucky enough to get an “official” shirt. Of course, the crew has to look the part, if only for a day.

Bolero is truly a one-of-a-kind yacht under the care of a thoughtful owner. See this article in Yachting Magazine from shortly after her refit.

So, another goal of mine will be to find a crew spot on one of the big classics for the Classic racing series. I have a number of feelers out including Nordwind. I had met the captain, Alex in Dominica when I invited him and his crew to join in on the fun at the Salty Dawg rendezvous. It turns out that he is also a member of the Tot club and when I saw him last night he seemed to think that he could likely take me. However, not sure about Steve, my crew, so we will have to wait and see. The captain told me that the Tot Club will be meeting aboard her during classics. I can’t wait.

Norwind was launched in Germany in 1939 as a naval training vessel and has had a long and colorful past. Read about her history in this brief piece.

So, will I sail on her for Classics? We’ll have to see.

Another boat that I may possibly sail on is Eros. I have no particular connection to this boat except that I know the person who interacts with the captains of all the boats that will participate in the regatta. She tells me that I have been recommended as a possible crew and it takes a lot of people to race her, upwards of 30 I am told.

This short video makes me want to get out my checkbook and charter her. Perhaps not, but there is a chance that I will be aboard when she is racing. We’ll see.

All and all, whatever yacht I find myself aboard, it’s going to be a wonderful experience. This video was commissioned for Eros during the 2017 Classics and gives a good feel for the scale of what this regatta is all about, one of the premier gatherings of remarkable classics anywhere.

Imagine the thrill of racing these majestic yachts. With some luck, perhaps I will be part of the action.

The, sort of, final leg of the season

Tomorrow morning at daybreak we will slip Pandora’s lines and drop the mooring that we have been on for the last few days here in Les Saintes, to make the 75 mile run north past Guadeloupe and on to Antigua.

From Antigua I will fly home with Brenda to get the house open for the summer. Mid April, tax day actually, I will fly back to participate, I hope, in the Classic Yacht Regatta and then run Pandora south to Trinidad with a friend, the last cruise of 2024.

Les Saintes are a small group of islands located just south of the main island of Guadeloupe, one of our favorite places to visit. The view of shore is very charming, with red metal roofs on all the buildings, looking oh-so-French.

The view to the north of the “big island” of Guadeloupe, is impressive, especially when the light glows near sunset. Or wait, was it sunrise? Whatever, it’s always lovely.

These islands are accessible from the main island via ferry and there is a constant parade of boats coming and going all day and into the evening, disgorging hundreds of tourists, mostly French.

“Mainstreet” is very charming, complete with a number of patisseries, so there is always a good selection of baked products to choose from.

Our run from Martinique here a few days ago was uneventful, with very nice winds. I took this short video as we approached Dominica.

We stopped for the night in Portsmouth, Dominica but didn’t clear in, “yellow flagging” it, and leaving early the next morning. Sadly, as has been the case in many places this season, it was terribly rolly so we didn’t get a good night sleep. Brenda and I have had just about enough rolling for one season. There is something unnatural about being anchored and yet having enough boat movement to make it impossible to keep anything upright on the counter.

Fortunately, Les Saintes have proven to be mostly calm and enjoyable. We’ve eaten out a bit and tonight we will be meeting a number of fellow cruisers a bar overlooking the water for cocktails. It will be a nice mix including two couples that we already know and three that we don’t.

One of the couples are on a mooring near us, flying an Ocean Cruising Club burgee, another French couple that we anchored near in St Pierre and a third that we met today on the dock. The chance meeting on the dock was when they asked us where they could get rid of trash. We told them and then I invited them to join us. Random? Yes, but that’s a great way to meet folks.

Imagine seeing someone downtown where you live, perhaps at the post office, and inviting them for drinks? No, not a chance but in the world of cruising, not weird at all. Well, not for someone as shy and retiring as I am.

This evening should be fun with a nice mix including that couple the we “met”, sort of in St Pierre, and they don’t even speak English well at all. When I went to see them this morning and invited them to join us for “sun downers”, well, they had no idea what I was trying to say. We finally settled on “drinks” and they got that along with me putting up five fingers to designate the time.

That’s me, shy and retiring Bob. We will see how that goes. I’m sure that it will be fine.

So, tomorrow, off to Antigua for the, sort of, final chapter as we pack up all our stuff, mostly Brenda’s and decide what we can live without until Pandora goes to Trinidad and sometime later in the year, back in the water to head north again.

Trinidad is a long way from home and with all the work that has to be done to get her ready for the “possible, likely, hopefully” run to the Azores next spring, plenty to think about.

For the moment, not a lot to think about at all except perhaps which bathing suit to wear for my afternoon swim.

Two steps forward, one step back…

We have spent quite a bit of time in Martinique this season. Some weeks ago we cleared into St Pierre at the northern end of the island, moved down to Ft de France and then onto to St Lucia for nearly two weeks. After that we moved back to Martinique and spent time in St Anne, a lovely little village with a huge anchorage.

The anchorage is very well protected, open to the west but in the lee of the island. A beautiful sunrise nearly every morning.

We enjoy one restaurant in particular, right on the water. Our view.

My view and dinner date, Brenda.

We were not alone but it was a very relaxed vibe. To sip a drink with your toes in the gently lapping water…

On the way back to Pandora it was a beautiful night. Thanks to my amazing Google Pixel phone, a pretty good shot of her at anchor with a rising moon with blue LED lights bathing her mainsail with a glow.

A few days ago we headed north to St Pierre again where we expected to spend a few days before clearing out and continuing our trip north to return to Antigua.

Along the way we passed an “island” if you can call it that. It is the cone of a long extinct volcano. Over the millions of years, the soft parts had washed away, leaving only the hard rock of the interior lava cone remaining. It is huge and quite intimidating to see the waves crashing up on it

It’s hard to get a feel for the scale of this rock. It’s enormous.

Big yes until you see the dive boats at the base. It’s massive.

I took a short video about this formation as we sailed past.

When we reached the northern part of the island, we picked up a mooring in St Pierre, long a very challenging place to anchor because the shoreline drops off quickly. In this case our mooring, newly installed, not far from shore, in 100′ of water.

The Saturday market was bustling.

Hard to believe that a single vendor could have such variety.

The first day in St Pierre was lovely with calm waters and a beautiful sunset. I do love sunsets and this one is perhaps in the top ten. I plan to submit it to the “Cloud Appreciation Society”. They post a cloud photo a day and I have had a few of them selected over the years. I wrote a post about this quirky group some time back and decided to join.

The run north to Dominica is fairly long and requires an early start so our plan was to head out on Sunday morning, today, but as we returned to Pandora in the afternoon of the second day on the mooring, it had become terribly rolly. While we were on shore for only a few hours, quite a surge had developed and dishes had crashed out of the cabinets onto the counters, due to the violent rolling. So we quickly decided to up anchor and head back to Ft de France, a retreat of about ten miles in the wrong direction.

A setback to be sure but being in St Pierre is always a lesson in “what might be” and to get more than a day or two of calm conditions is not common in our experience. Happily, it was calm when we arrived but a swell came up on the second night and it got nasty. It seems to be settling down again. For sure, it was calmer than in St Pierre.

So, here we are again in Fort de France for a few days. I say “few” as that speedo that I had “fixed” wasn’t fixed after all so I had to go back to La Marin to see what can be done about it. The repair guy now says that he can “fix it” and even agreed to bring it back to Fort de France tomorrow. The $50 “fix” didn’t last long and by the second day, I will reserve judgement

While we didn’t want to head north only to head back south again but sometimes life is unpredictable, “two steps forward, one step back”. At least it is, sort of, calm now although last night was more than a bit challenging, to be sure.

The good news is that we had brunch yesterday at a restaurant that we really overlooking the harbor and that didn’t roll a bit.

We will just have to make the best of it I guess and hope to head north again in a day or so. I will admit that I am looking forward to being back in CT soon. I know Brenda is…

Exactly what do you do all day Bob?

I can still remember when I was working and a vacation was a week or two where we rushed around trying to accomplish as much as possible before our time off was up. Now that I have been retired and “hanging around” for winters aboard Pandora, going on a decade now, my perspective of time has changed.

We often quip about life aboard Pandora is that “nothing happens aboard Pandora till noon” and that is in spite of the fact that I am a very early riser, generally around 05:00. Any way you look at it, there is a lot of “nothing happening time” each day.

The arrival last winter of Starlink has even made our “pursuit for leisure” way worse, with easy access to newspapers and all matters of stuff. We think nothing of watching highlights of late night TV or how-to videos on YouTube and that doesn’t even begin to include the movies that we enjoy watching after dinner. It can really put a dent in a day. Nowadays compared to my years working, I am not all that productive when I am aboard.

I’ll admit that in spite of my recent upgrades to solar, the addition of a wind generator and lithium batteries, Pandora’s power consumption has increased in direct proportion to our available power. The good news is that lithium batteries don’t have to be fully charged each day and are quite content to be kept “sort of charged” which is good as that’s where they generally are.

Of course, there’s plenty to do that doesn’t use power including a swim off of the back of Pandora. It’s hot here and as spring approaches will be a bit hotter so spending time cooling off is a near daily ritual.

Recently we added a new twist the “evening float” complete with a glass of wine. Not a bad way to wrap up a day on the water.

A common question cruisers get from folks that have no idea what this lifestyle is all about is “what do you do all day?” Sadly, in spite of feeling like I am fairly busy much of the time, the simple answer is “not a lot” as everything takes so much longer on a boat than on shore. The simple act of grocery shopping may involve stops at more than one place and even then, they may not have what we are looking for. And, stock can be spotty so it’s not uncommon for us to visit a grocery store, generally a small market, nearly every day. And, bringing a dink to a dock, putting out a stern anchor and getting ashore, only to reverse the whole process when we return is a lot more time consuming than parking a car and running into a grocery.

And there is the near constant work of keeping the boat in shape and keeping the hull clean below the waterline. In that case, I have to get out the air compressor, all the gear and then spend upwards of an hour underwater with a coarse scotchbright pad, rubbing off the slime and growth. To keep things from getting too bad, I have to do that about every two weeks and from start to finish, getting set up, the cleaning process itself and then cleaning up and putting things away can take two hours.

Simple repairs can often be a game of “cat and mouse”. Example: A few weeks ago my speedometer/distance log began to function erratically and finally just stopped working. Absent someone to come out the boat with instruments to test things, I started pulling things apart to see if there were any shorts. After a few hours I gave up and realized that the fix was bigger than me.

When I was in St Lucia last week I had a tech come out to test it and the verdict was that the instrument was bad and, no, they did not have a replacement available. So, a week later, when we arrived in La Marin, Martinique, a place with a lot more services, I made the rounds until I finally found someone who could diagnose the problem with the instrument itself. So, I pulled it out, took it to them and then waited the 4 days until they could take a look.

The good news is that they were able to fix it. That was a shock to me as I had been told in the past that repairs weren’t possible on obsolete units like mine. Over the years as individual instruments have failed, I resorted to purchasing old equipment that had been salvaged off of boats when their instruments were upgraded.

In the US, with labor rates so high, it generally doesn’t pay to repair and the answer is always, “Bob, this stuff is so old. Just buy new stuff” That’s not what I want to hear as a full electronics suite replacement is upwards of $35k. Here in the islands there is a much greater willingness to fix as it’s so hard to get new stuff delivered, labor rates are less and fixing is generally encouraged.

Had my spedo not been repairable, I found that I could purchase a new unit that could be adapted to work with my old stuff. That option has never been offered to me in the US when I have been scrounging for used stuff. The bad news is that the new one was upwards of $600 but still a lot cheaper than a full suite replacement.

The good news is that they fixed it and for about $50 it was back on the boat and as good as new.

Another example was earlier in the season when I had to have some work done on the boom and instead of making me order new fittings, the holes that were elongated were just filled with new metal, bored out and returned to me in “like new” condition. No fuss, no muss. There was no way that someone in the US would “fix” it. Just order a new one. Easy peasy and besides, it’s not their money.

The oft repeated adage that cruising is nothing more than “boat repair in exotic places” is certainly the case.

So, what do we do all day? Well, in spite of being busy much of the time, it seems not a lot gets done.

We do spend a lot of time opening and closing hatches as short 5-10 minute rain squalls roll through. But the reward is a beautiful rainbow dropping out of the clouds over a palm covered beach.

Or sitting up on deck taking in the news of the day as the sun peeks over the horizon to begin a new day.

Another favorite pastime for me is “boat spotting” and there is plenty to keep me busy here in the Caribbean. While it’s the big superyachts that generally catch my attention, Grayhound was in the marina along with us in Rodney Bay last week.

She’s a reproduction of an 18th century lugger. Here’s what their site has to say about her. As luck would have it, when we departed for Martinique, she was underway as well. A beautiful site and was moving along at a good clip.

Their site says…“Grayhound was commissioned by Marcus and Freya Pomeroy-Rowden from the boatbuilder Chris Rees at Voyager Boatyard in Cornwall. She was launched on 4th August 2012. She is a 5/6th scale replica of a three-masted UK Customs Lugger called Grayhound that was built in 1776 in Cawsand, Cornwall. Our Grayhound carries a Category 0 licence for worldwide travel and is armed with two working cannon!”

This short video is worth watching.

My impression, when I walked by her at the dock was that she wasn’t quite a neat and tidy as this “walk through” would suggest. I expect, no am certain, that Brenda would not be comfortable aboard. In spite of my best efforts, Pandora is often below her standards and that’s not for a lack of trying.

I also spend a lot of time on Salty Dawg tasks and that consumes hours a day, whether it is talking to potential rally participants about their plan, offering advice, asked for or not, to those who are new to blue water sailing and helping them to understand that “don’t know what they don’t know”. Generally this advice is welcomed, occasionally not so much.

So, what do we do all day to keep busy aboard Pandora? I’ll admit that I am a bit unclear but I am busy.

Oh yeah, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about my next blog post and writing it. I know that I could probably spend a bit more time on proof-reading but I guess I am Ok with an occasional, or not so occasional typo or awkward sentence.

All of this has been about me. Brenda, on the other hand, always has a list of projects she is focused on. Today, as has been the case twice a month this season, she was teaching a class on tapestry to some of her more advanced students. She really enjoys it and has worked out the two camera system pretty well over zoom. This is a shot of her in “full battle gear”.

And, tapestry isn’t all that she does, how about Nantucket baskets, knitting, some sort of handwork I can’t remember and well, a lot more. One thing she NEVER does is quilting so don’t ask her about that. FOr sure, she is never idle and is very focused on being able to say “I accomplished this, and this and this today. And, sadly, that’s never enough for her. Her most recent post is a bit behind her work but check it out.

Well, I guess I have beaten this just about to death so I will sign off now. It’s a beautiful day here in St Anne Martinique where I expect we will spend a few more days before heading north toward Antigua and our flight back to home.

Besides, I have to go for a swim, sadly without Brenda as she has a zoom webinar coming up. Never idle…

In a few weeks, back home for what will surely be a whirlwind two week trip for family visits in MD and NYC, along with loads of yardwork, back to Antigua again to run Pandora down to Trinidad where she will be for the summer and likely the rest of 2024.

So, what do I do all day? Well, I guess that depends on what is broken…

A new chapter dawns, with a nod to what was…

For almost two weeks we docked at Rodney Bay Marina in St Lucia, with our friends Bill and Maureen on Kalunamoo, our mentors on our first run south in 2012 and now friends and cruising companions for over a decade. Nose to nose across the dock from each other.

We first met Bill and Maureen on the ICW in 2012 on our first run south. Kalunamoo looks the same after all these years.

And, Pandora, our “new Pandora” that replaced our SAGA 43 in 2015, is about to get a major refit in Trinidad, where Bill and Maureen have stored, and lived aboard, Kalunamoo for years now. No paint needed though as she still looks terrific. Well, that’s as long as you ignore a few chips. But, that will be fixed as well.

It is hard to believe that Brenda and I have been cruising winters for more than a decade now and in addition to our runs to the Bahamas, Cuba, for the last 8 seasons we have focused our attention on the eastern Caribbean.

After visiting many of the same harbors so many times, often twice or more in a season as we make our way south and north again, Brenda has been making noise that she doesn’t want to winter in this area any longer, a definite “been there, done that”. Along with the relative roughness of living on a boat, she still suffers from motion sickness and it’s plenty sporty between islands, something that she has never gotten used to.

Facing a decision between “swallowing the anchor” or trying to come up with something new, we have been talking about “what’s next” for much of this season as I am just not ready to give up cruising.

In addition to discomfort on passage for Brenda, both of us would prefer not to be away from family for so long each winter. Going for the entire winter without seeing our growing grandchildren for months at a time is tough even though we “see” them on video calls, it just isn’t the same as being there.

So, what next?

Many years ago, when Brenda and I first headed south to the Bahamas my Dad, now gone for a decade, remarked, “Bob, wouldn’t it be great to take Pandora through Gibraltar?” and that image has stuck with me.

We have quite a friends who have cruised the Med and after speaking to many of them over the years it seems like this is the right time to give it a go. Brenda studied the classics in college and did a semester in Italy and another in Greece we both think that it would be fun to explore the cultures of the Med as a next step.

The plan will be to do an abbreviated run in the Caribbean next winter, perhaps launching Pandora in Trinidad after Brenda’s birthday in January and then working our way north to Antigua. From there, at the end of the season, I would either take Pandora to Bermuda, another place that I haven’t taken my own boat to, and from there meet up with others for a Salty Dawg Rally to The Azores.

As is my custom, when I want to do something I always feel that it is best to involve others and make it an “event”. With that in mind, I proposed to the Salty Dawg Board that we do a trans Atlantic rally, which was greeted with a good deal of enthusiasm, more than I had expected, actually.

Once I arrive in The Azores, Brenda will fly in to join me and we will spend a few weeks to a month exploring the islands before she flies home and I continue on to Portugal where Pandora will be hauled until fall. At that time I will move Pandora into the Mediterranean where Brenda will join me for two months of cruising the coast of Spain. Instead of spending the entire winter away from family, we will spend two months in the spring and again in the fall. By focusing on the “hip seasons” we will avoid the crazy, crowded and expensive summer months and keep us home in CT when the weather is the nicest. Of course, we will also be in CT during the not-so-nice winter months but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

All of this discussion has caused me to reflect on the time we have spent aboard on our first run south so long ago. That along with all the emotion swirling around the terrible tragedy of the murder of Salty Dawg Members, Kathy and Ralph of Simplicity, has given most of us pause for thought as we look to the future with the hope of getting the most out of our lives. For the crew of Pandora, the next chapter will be to head “across the Pond”. Details to come…

I have written many times of our friendship with Bill and Maureen of Kalunamoo and how they mentored us on our first run south. As we ponder this next chapter, it is fitting that we are tied up together in the same marina here in St Lucia. They too are feeling a bit wistful about the past and invited us over to their boat one evening last week for what they called billed as “nostalgia night” where Bill ran through photos that he took during that first season when we “buddy boated” together down the ICW and through Bahamas.

As Bill scrolled through hundreds of photos I couldn’t help but yell “Bill, I need a copy of that one, and that one…”

So here are some of those photos that brought back so many memories, laughter and a few tears…

Yes, I will admit that what follows looks an awful lot like “what I did on my summer vacation” but bear with me.

Brenda and I met Bill and Maureen for the first time, in St Marie’s Georgia where the townspeople welcome cruisers for Thanksgiving. A pot luck affair, supplied by cruisers and the locals supplying free turkeys, it was a wonderful experience. I wrote a post about that day in November of 2012, so if you are inspired, follow this link. I don’t know if this tradition is still going on but it was an amazing experience for us, our first thanksgiving away from family.

This is a terrible photo of the event where we met Bill and Maureen and we had no idea at the time that we would still be hanging out together more than a decade later. That’s me and Brenda to the left. Bill was the photographer behind the camera.

We left Pandora in St Mary’s for the holidays that year and when we returned in the new year, continued down the ICW to Florida where we reconnected with Bill and Maureen in Middle River, Ft Lauderdale. There we waited for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Sometimes that wait can be weeks long as the easterly trade winds are relentless.

One thing that has always bugged Brenda is being away from family for her birthday, January 15th if you want to mark your calendar, and everyone made a big deal of that special day in 2013. She was more than a little homesick but a cake and celebration improved her mood.

Another couple, Melinda and Harry of Sea Schell, were also a mentor for us that first season, showing us the ropes as we prepared to cross and got our “feet wet” in the Bahamas.

I have always loved this photo of Brenda, surprised but enjoying the attention.

A few days later we planned to leave for the Bahamas. Being anchored in the middle of downtown Ft Lauderdale was a unique experience and every morning we focused on the coming weather reports from Chris Parker, the weather router that we have used for more than a decade. Sadly, nowadays, anchoring is prohibited in most places in Florida as cruisers are lumped in with the derelict boats that cause such an eyesore in the area.

We were anxious and also excited about the crossing to the Bahamas that had been so long in coming.

I can’t even begin to count how many times we have enjoyed sundowners in each other’s boats over the years.

Finally, after an overnight from Florida, Brenda’s first and a bit harrowing with strong winds, squalls and uncertain navigation, we arrived in Nassau and tied up at customs, a rickety dock at best. Of course, our “Pandora” at the time was a SAGA 43.

After that we anchored together to collect ourselves and make plans.

Harry and Melinda lost no time in giving us our first taste of life in the Bahamas. I will say that they, along with Bill and Maureen, are a bit saltier than Brenda and decided to have us anchor on the ocean side of a nearby island. We launched the dink and headed ashore only to be immediately swamped by a wave that broke over the dink, filling it with water and sand and soaking us. Brenda was not amused and uttered something like “I WANT TO GO HOME!” I will admit that we both felt that we were roughing it a bit more than we had anticipated.

Perhaps not the best way to begin our journey of discovery, but everybody was smiling. Getting the wet and sandy dink off of the boat and back to Pandora was a bit damp. Sadly, Harry died suddenly a few years later. He is still missed.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of that first winter but if you are curious, the navigation bar to the right sorts posts by month and we were in the Bahamas from mid January through April when Brenda flew home and I ran the boat back to CT. Since that year I have run Pandora north and south most every year and this year marks the first when she will be left south. This year’s plan to have Pandora in Trinidad breaks that tradition and I am looking forward to NOT doing the run to CT for once.

For the next four seasons we headed to the Bahamas and, as always, hung out with Bill, Maureen.

I learned to love rum punch that season at Scorpios. Wow! Really strong.

That first season our sons, Chris and Rob along with Rob’s now wife, Kandice, visited. Chris has been back aboard since then but Rob and Kandice have too busy raising three children.

This is me snorkeling that first season and speaking of our boys, the shorty wetsuit was Rob’s when he was a teenager, and it still fits. Just sayin…

That first season was a blur of first time experiences and adjusting to living aboard in a space about the size of a bathroom. So far, so good although, our “new Pandora” is a bit larger.

For sure, no more landings on beaches where there are waves. Except when it can’t be avoided, of course. And, when that happens, Brenda is still not amused.

The future is looking bight as we contemplate what’s next, and it’s been a lot of fun to think back to that very first run south and meeting

And as we prepared to depart a few days ago. Old friends posed to celebrate our second decade and a nod to what was…

Sure we are all a little worse for wear but it is exciting to ponder what the new chapter may bring.

When the unimaginable happens.

The last week or so has been a blur with the tragic news of the murder of two members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, Kathy and Ralph of SV Simplicity.

Before they hijacked Simplicity, three young men escaped from jail in Grenada where they were being held for other serious crimes. It seems that their escape was a relatively simple effort, reported as them just opening a door with a faulty lock scrambling over a roof and jumping to the ground. In their desire to escape the island, they boarded Simplicity, anchored near shore at a popular spot in Grenada. About 13 hours later the couple had vanished, the boat abandoned, and anchored in a very exposed area off of the shore of St Vincent.

The three made repeated trips to shore, offloading most anything of value all, of which was recovered after their arrest soon after making landfall.

St Vincent is an island with few harbors that offer protection and with a reputation for lawlessness, causing most cruisers avoid the island entirely. For this reason, the discovery of Simplicity on these shores was particularly surprising.

A good Samaritan, a professional captain on a catamaran owned by someone from the US, who happened to be paddle boarding in the area thought that the boat, with shredded genoa and anchored in an exposed spot seemed out of place and took a look inside.

What he saw was evidence of extreme violence, and fortunately, he was able to find contact information for Salty Dawg and sent an email to our office. His note was forwarded to me and I called his WhatsApp number. He described the state of that boat and and agreed to go back aboard, take some photos and call the St Vincent Coast Guard. That exchange began what has become a quickly unfolding description of violence and murder.

Kathy, Ralph and their crew, aboard Simplicity, had participated in our 2023 fall rally to Antigua from Hampton VA, and as with all participating boats, provided an emergency contact. And it was at this number that I left a cryptic message. Some hours later I received a call back and shared the tragic news. To tell one of their sons of the death of his parents was a moment that I will not soon forget. As hard as it was for me to deliver the news, I can only imagine what their children felt. I would expect that they will struggle forever to attempt to process the details of the brutal killing of their parents.

The good Samaritan sent me this drone shot of him on his paddleboard with Simplicity in the distance. The peacefulness of the image belies the reality of the story behind it.

As peaceful as it appeared, the setting was anything but that, with Simplicity anchored and abandoned in a place that most cruisers would not go, in an exposed area, and with a tattered genoa.

After I spoke with the good Samaritan, he contacted the St Vincent Coast Guard and from there things quickly escalated to a point that news organizations from around the world were clamoring for information. I have never been involved in anything that has captured the attention of so many and it was breathtaking to see how fast news travels.

As I worked through reaching out to family, speaking with contacts at the US Embassy in Barbados, the only US consulate in the Caribbean, along with members of the coast Guard and police in St Vincent, I learned the brutal details, and was struck by just how difficult it was to satisfy reporters trying to cover the story as well as respect the wishes of a grieving family.

The story unfolded at breakneck speed, and the sons of Kathy and Ralph asked Salty Dawg to send out a number of news releases so suddenly Salty Dawg became a “source” and I quickly learned just how awkward that position would prove to be.

Early on I spoke with People magazine and was ultimately impressed with how balanced the reporting was in spite of their reputation of being a bit sensational. The result of that discussion can be seen at this link.

I also spoke with Fox news and once I was on zoom with the reporter I realized that I was way out of my depth. The interview was incredibly uncomfortable but fortunately, the portions of that interview that they aired were reasonable. While we all see interviews daily, it’s hard to conceive how complex speaking with the press is, with their own goals of capturing “eyeballs” and increasing their ratings.

Perhaps one of the most balanced pieces that I saw was published a few days ago in the Times of London, a paper that I have subscribed to for a number of years. I thought that the reporter was thorough and thoughtful about this terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, I don’t think that you can read that piece unless you are a subscriber. Try the link anyway.

So, here we are in the aftermath of an unspeakable tragedy, the “news cycle” has run itself out and reporters have moved on, chasing the next “nightmare” only to quickly abandon that and focus on whatever comes next.

The cruising community that Brenda and are a part of is very close knit and it will be a long time until the implications of this tragedy fades from our collective memory. For the family, I doubt that they will ever be able to get the images of the unspeakable violence that befell Kathy and Ralph and blatant disrespect for human life that ended their lives, out of their heads.

As tragic as this event has been, the outpouring of support from all corners of the cruising community has been heartening and we can take solace in the fact that the senseless violence that took the lives of two of our own was a random, if tragic, act in an area that is generally safe, the Eastern Caribbean, where so many of us spend months each season enjoying the beautiful beaches, clear waters and varied cultures.

For so many, making our way to the Caribbean is the culmination of a lifelong dream.  And for Kathy and Ralph, that dream was cut short.  Our community of cruisers, who live a lifestyle little understood by the general public, has been thrust into the public consciousness with this senseless tragedy with reporting my most major news outlets.   

Whatever each of us might be feeling, the family of Kathy and Ralph are facing a gaping void in their lives.

As tragic as this is, perhaps the one bright part, small as it may be, has been the outpouring of love and support from those who knew Kathy and Ralph and whether you knew them or not, these words from Nick, son of Kathy, and Bryan, son of Ralph, will surely illustrate the close-knit nature of our community. 

“We would like to say a few words about Kathy and Ralph that we wish all to know. We live in a world that at times can be cruel, but it is also a world of profound beauty, wonder, adventure, love, compassion, caring, and faith. Our parents encompassed all those values and so much more. If we have learned anything from this tragic event, it is that we know they left this world in a better place than it was before they were born. Ralph and Kathy lived a life that most of us can only dream of, sailing the eastern coast of the United States, living on their home Simplicity, making friends with everyone they encountered, singing, dancing, and laughing with friends and family – that’s who Ralph and Kathy were and that’s how they will be remembered in our hearts.”

Over the years I have been struck by how our community supports one another, always eager to help, whether it is to tow someone with engine problems into an anchorage, bring a needed package from the states or to share tools and expertise.

Cruising carries risk, and it is up to each of us to stay diligent and do what we can to stay safe.   At the same time, we need to remember that this event, as heinous as it was, is extremely unusual and that there is risk in whatever you choose to do in life.  What we’ve all chosen to do, sailing to faraway places, visiting tropical islands, is something that most only dream about.  For all of us to be a part of the cruising community is a gift to be cherished.

Sadly, for Kathy and Ralph, that dream was cut short as a result of unimaginable violence, but their memory lives on through those whom they touched in so many ways. 

Thar she blows! And we were there…

One of the things that most sailors long for is a photo of their boat under sail. However, unless you are willing to launch a dink with someone carrying a camera that is willing to sit there while you sail back and forth, you have to be satisfied with a photo from on board of the bow crashing through the waves.

However, once in a while someone that you know happens to be nearby and snaps a shot of your boat blasting along with a “bone in her teeth”.

So, imagine what might be the most unlikely shot and I doubt that you would ever imagine a photo of a whale AND your boat in the same frame. Well, I suppose that nowadays that’s possible with AI but the photo below is real and taken by a fellow cruiser the other day as we moved along the lee of Dominica.

It is hard to imagine what it would be like to snorkel with an animal like this. And now that I think about it, I doubt that it is a good idea for boats to approach the whales at all. However, it does bring important recognition to these amazing creatures and hard currency to an island that badly needs it. Interestingly, the harbor that they leave from is Portsmouth, the very same harbor that we visit when we go to the island.

This video shows some remarkable footage of such an encounter. Seeing them from afar was amazing, but up close, I can only imagine.

When 60 minutes decides to do a segment on something, it’s a big deal. A very interesting piece on what is called the “Dominica Sperm Whale Project.”

Brenda and I were in awe being even close to such a remarkable animal, what is probably the largest animal ever to roam the earth.  

And we were there…

And we have a photo to prove it!  Thanks to our friends Francis and Laura aboard WNBAB (Why not buy another boat).  Ok, why not?

Happy 51st Valentine’s day, Brenda.

It’s valentines day here in Les Saintes, where Brenda and I have been on a mooring for more than a week. We have had all sorts of variety in the weather since arriving, from near calm and sunny to windy, rainy and more than a bit of swell to keep things “interesting”. However, in honor of this special day, it’s sunny and calm with a light wind.

While we are often apart on the anniversary of our very first date, October 28th, 1972, not to put too a fine point on it, as I am generally running Pandora somewhere, we have never been apart, as best as we can remember anyway, on Valentine’s day, as long as we have been together. Not to torture dates too much, while this is our 51st V day, we are into our 52nd year together. Who’d have guessed?

We also learned that our high school class will be having a 50th anniversary reunion in October. I think we will go. Besides, we believe that we are the only couple from our class that is still together.

Fortunately, on this V Day, after what seems like a particularly rolly season so far, the weather is nearly perfect. The humidity is reasonable, the harbor calm and the sun is out. Tonight we head out to dinner together to toast the beginning of our second half century together. Holly S#*% that makes me feel old…

Brenda likes to remind her friends who are jealous of our time in the tropics, away from the snowy Northeast, that we are “not floating around with umbrella drinks”. Well not all the time, I’ll admit but perhaps tonight’s dinner date will be sort of an “umbrella moment”. We did enjoy lounging floating around in the water behind Pandora last evening before heading out for sundowners with friends.

And, speaking of those sundowners, we enjoyed our time ashore with Muna and Fred at one of our favorite spots overlooking the water. The view was pretty amazing. And no, this photo was not touched up in any way. It just looked like that. And tonight, dinner for two in the same place.

It is amazing how different the sunset can look. This was yesterday’s from aboard Pandora. Different but beautiful.

While not a sunset, this photo, taken the same day by Melody in Central Park of our grand-dog Mila is a bit different. It’s hard to imagine a place where a snow covering is quite as beautiful as The Park.

Brenda has been working hard on her tapestry most days and yesterday was all set up for her twice monthly weaving class. She is doing this as a volunteer with a number of her students from prior classes. Between Starlink, Zoom and two cameras, one for her and the other to show her work, it’s seems to be going well.

To overhear her as the more than two hour class progressed, there seems to be a good amount of “girl talk” too, whatever that means. For sure, they are enjoying their time together.

Note that her phone is on a flexible holder which allows her to share a feed of what she is weaving. It took a few hours of practice for us to figure out how to toggle, sort of smoothly, between the phone and laptop cameras as she shares techniques. Alas, we did finally figure it out and, the result, being able to teach from aboard Pandora is quite amazing, actually.

While Brenda was teaching, I headed out for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, high up on a hill overlooking the harbor. This photo from Pandora doesn’t do justice to the height of the walk. There is a huge French flag on the peak, at the fort. It’s hard to see.

A few hearty folks walk up the road but most take golf carts or scooters for the climb. The view of the harbor is pretty amazing.

And a close up of Pandora on her mooring. As great as a smart phone is for taking photos, nothing matches an SLR.

Sadly, the museum in the fort was closed so I had to satisfy myself with a walk on the perimeter. I can only imagine how tough it was to build this place when the only heavy equipment was the stones…

As the French characters taunted the English in the Monty Python movie, “Quest for the Holy Grail”, “your mother smells like elderberries.” After a day lugging stones to build this place, I expect that the French smelled a whole lot worse.

So, I will be clearing out today at the customs office/laundry, Tomorrow we head south to Saint Pierre in Martinique, one of favorite places, when it’s not rolly. We hope to stay a few days and then head down to Fort de France, to enjoy the post-carnival city, after the craziness is over, mostly.

With some luck the anchorage will be settled. For sure, the view will be spectacular. It always is.

Perhaps I can pick some flowers for Brenda too. Sadly, here not to much to pick.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Definitely an “umbrella in a drink sort of day.”

Climate or weather? A rare west wind.

We are here in Les Saintes where we headed to prepare for challenging weather and while it is a bit choppy, the conditions are so much nicer than we had experienced in Dominica where we rolled terribly for days.

Having said that, between winds that were out of the north, followed by southerly winds, both strong, followed by no wind, the weather has been a bit crazy this season. However, after a week of rolly conditions in Dominca we decided that we’d backtrack to Les Saintes with the hope of calmer conditions.

We were not disapointed.

Shortly after our arrival, we enjoyed a lovely dinner out with friends at a wonderful French restaurant. What an idyllic spot with the water gently lapping up on the beach.

I really do not understand the fascination with posting photos of meals. However, of wine? What’s not to like?

For several days Chris Parker had been warning boats that an unusual weather event was in the forecast. A front moving through the area with winds expected to come out of the west. A forecast like that was an unusual occurrence in an area where winds are generally very predictable and almost always out of the east. Perhaps a bit north or south of east, but from the east. His advice was that boats should prepare to find shelter from what were likely to be strong west winds. This sort of issue is common in the Bahamas where cold fronts come crashing down from the north, often more than once a week. These fronts bring strong winds that clock from east to south, through the west and back to the east, all within a 24 hour period.

During the four seasons that Brenda and I spent in the Bahamas we tired of the weekly need to run for cover in an area with precious few options for safety. This is one of the reasons we decided to spend our winters in the Caribbean.

The issue in the Bahamas, as well as the Caribbean, is that many popular anchorages are not protected from the west and what is normally a secure place to anchor can become a dangerous lee shore, pummeled by big waves bringing a risk that you will be pushed onto the beach and pounded in the surf.

Chris is always careful to provide a “worse case” scenario in his forecasts so that his clients can be fairly confident that conditions will not be worse than he is forecasting. Better to overstate it as opposed to having clients later remarking “Chris, it was a lot worse than you said it would be!”. It is certainly better for his business for them to say “Thank goodness that you warned us. It wasn’t all that bad and we were prepared.”

Because of his abundant caution, some feel that Chris overplays risk and feel that he can be an alarmist. As a result, they don’t always take his warnings seriously and the other night was a good example.

The problem was that the GRIBS seemed to show that while winds would be clocking from the south through the west, but it would be very rapid, giving the impression that seas would not have an opportunity to build much as the wind shifted. Chris did not see things the same way and urged caution.

His forecast was that overnight there would be west component winds as strong as 25kts with gusts to 40 in squalls. And, along with that there was a risk of 10′ waves driven by those strong squalls, something that the GRIBS really did not capture. He strong recommendation was to find shelter from west winds and that anyone with exposure to the west could find themselves on a nasty lee shore.

Oddly, in spite of that forecast a lot of our boats did not move into an area offering good protection and found themselves in difficult conditions, fighting to stay off of a lee shore.

Fortunately, none of the Salty Dawg boats were lost but in a number of harbors boats broke loose and ended up on the beach or rocks. Here are a few photos of boats that met their fates as posted by Salty Dawg members.

In Dominica, we had faced some really nasty swells the prior week, and even when there was no wind, conditions were very rough. This boat is about the same size as Pandora was driven up on the beach. I have no idea how they are going to find someone to pull her off as there aren’t a lot of commercial boats in the area.

When a boat ends up on the rocks, there are often holes in the hull and the boat fills with water and sand stirred up by the surf. Not good for this boat in St Pierre. This area is one where we have anchored many times. It’s an open roadstead and even under perfect conditions, it can be rolly.

You can imagine, even if the hull isn’t breached, the force of the waves breaking over the boat can down-flood into the interior quickly. The power of water an not be overestimated. More than once we have pulled our dink up on a beach only to have her swamped by a single wave filling her quickly with water and a load of sand. Imagine the mess after hours of crashing waves. It doesn’t take long until the boat is trashed beyond repair.

There really can’t be much hope in removing a boat intact under those conditions, especially in a location where sophisticated salvage services are not available.

Here is a shot of Deshaies that I took recently, when things were settled. A lovely spot. It’s worth noting that the town dock is designed in a way that allows them to pull off the entire deck so that the waves can break over and through it and not do any damage as all that is exposed is a metal framework.

It doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse as witnessed by this short video from a fellow Salty Dawg of the waterfront in Deshaies taken the “morning after”.

I had written about the work that Mark and I did on a dock in Dominica last week. We were pretty proud of our work.

The same dock less than a week later. It must be depressing to work hard to keep things in shape only to have them trashed a short time later.

There is no doubt that many cruisers were surprised by how quickly things went south and fortunately nobody in our fleet lost their boat. There was some damage including overturned dinks and I am sure other issues given how bad conditions quickly became.

The following morning I called Chris back to get his thoughts on why conditions had deteriorated so much and so quickly. His answer was that this had been the worse cold front that he had seen in this part of the Caribbean in 20 years.

After more than a few seasons here in the Caribbean the weather seems to be weirder than ever and it makes me wonder. What about easterlies? Southerlies, Northerlies, wind from the west? What gives?

You do have to ask yourself if this is weather or climate? Strong winds from the north, south and west, all in a week. All I can say is that it’s wierd…

Well, at least there are croissants, and baguettes, and cheese, wine… Well, you get the idea.

From gale to calm to rolling and for now, really calm.

They often say that if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours. In the case of the Caribbean, one thing you can sadly count on is that most of the anchorages can not be counted on to be calm. Sure, there are places that are predictably calm, but they are not the norm. More often than not, it’s uncertain as to whether you will be sitting pretty or perhaps holding on to your wine, hoping for the best.

After a week of really strong winds in Deshaies, we were pleased to head to Dominica for the Salty Dawg Rendezvous, a harbor, more of a roadstead, that is generally pretty calm.

However, not this time and while it was very calm when we arrived, within a few days there was a long swell coming into the harbor, something that we have not seen there very often. And, to complicate things, there was almost no wind so we rocked back and forth in a very unpleasant way, hour after hour. Our friend Bill on Kalunamoo has a “roll-scale” that rates the severity of rolling at anchor on a scale of 1-7 with 1 being the most benign and 7, well not so great. At the worse, we definitely had a 7, making it difficult to sleep or move around the cabin. And, with no wind, uncommon for the Caribbean, it was hot and sticky too.

And for our week long visit there was nearly always a swell, tossing Pandora back and forth uncomfortably and on a few days, right up there with the worse we have ever encountered. Dishes were crashing back and forth in cabinets and anything that was not tied down and well secured, was tossed to the floor. It was exhausting and as you can imagine, Brenda was not amused.

On Monday, following the big final dinner in Dominica, we headed, no escaped, to Les Saintes, about 25 miles north, and one of our favorite places.

As a rule, this place can be rolly as well because it is somewhat exposed to the north so any sort of northerly swell, wraps right around into the harbor. When we were experiencing the very strong winds in Guadeloupe, this place was apparently totally untenable, with swells coming into the anchorage that were terrible.

When we headed up here yesterday we really didn’t know what to expect and to our happy surprise, we were able to get a mooring close in and it is as calm as we have ever seen it. What a relief.

It is a really beautiful bit of France in the Caribbean.

Les Saintes are a small archipelago of islands just south of Guadeloupe. Just to put this in context, here’s a chart that shows the islands from Antigua, upper right, do Dominica, to the south. Pandora is the red mark.

For a closer look… Again, Pandora is where the red mark is. That is the primary island and while there are a few cars, most of the island transport is via golf cart and scooter. The streets are buzzing, literally, with every form of small transport. Every day hundreds of tourists stream in via ferry to the island.

The island is very French and there is a good variety of food in the shops and a bakery that sells all matter of baked goods. Nothing like a warm baguette or croissant in the morning.

We have been here many times over the years, but this earlier post gives a good feel for what the French islands have to offer and Les Saintes in particular.

This shot is of a local fishing boat coming back. There was a good crowd working to put the nets out to dry.

I didn’t see any evidence of the catch as I expect it had been hauled away by the time I was on the scene. However, that didn’t stop the locals from hanging out with the hope of snagging castoffs.

As we sat in Dominica and were tossed aside in the swell, we were anxious to get underway to Le Saintes with the hope of finding a more settled spot to spend a few days before heading south again, this time to Martinique, one of our favorite islands.

After a week in Deshaies, with crazy winds, down to Dominica for a nice visit that began with calm conditions but ended up crazy rolly and now back here in Les Saintes, with some of the calmest conditions we’ve seen here, ever, we are reminded once again that things change. But for now, it’s beautiful and we are enjoying the peace and quiet.

It seems that more than a few Salty Dawg boats had the same idea of escaping to Les Saintes and the swell of Dominica. Now, with a number of Dawgs in the harbor, I thought it would be fun to organize a cocktail visit at one of the local eateries on shore for tonight.

Brenda has a zoom fiber event but will be done around 6:00 so that’s when we will head ashore.

Yes, I’m glad to be back in France again. I’ll take another baguette, croissant, some wine and… Well, the lists just goes on and on. But first cocktails with the Dawgs

But, best of all, it’s great to be in the calm again. Well, at least for now. Fingers crossed…

Heck, being in France makes me want to head to the Med, but that’s another story so stay tuned for more on that score.