Monthly Archives: November 2013

Heading South in November. A great time to be at sea? It’s for you to decide.

After my “boisterous” run from Beaufort to Ft Pierce FL a few weeks ago, I have found myself wondering about the insurance company restrictions on travel south prior to November 1st due to hurricane risk.  Yes, I get the need to avoid hurricanes.  However, to head out into the North Atlantic as the gales of winter are heating up carry it’s own risk.

I would very much like to take Pandora to the Caribbean in a few years and have attended a few seminars sponsored by a new rally “The Salty Dawg Rally” in conjunction with the Annapolis Boat Show.  This rally, like the Caribbean 1500, are designed to connect sailors who wish to take their boats south with others who are doing the same thing, either for the first time or again after many years.

While participants travel in company in each rally, each boat is really on it’s own out on the ocean once the “fleet” leaves port.  One of my friends crewing with Pandora on our way south this fall remarked that when he had done the Bermuda race he had only rarely seen another boat once the fleet had spread out after the first day until they approached the finish line.  And this, in spite of there being literally hundreds of boats participating.  Other than that, they were on their own for much of the race.

In the case of a rally, you hang out with others prior to the start and again at the finish and yet, during the run you are really all by yourself with know one around for most or all of the trip.

While Pandora was never more than 25 miles from shore for the 550 miles between Beaufort and Florida, we only saw a few ships and no small boats at all, during our three day trip.   It seems that the “comfort” of traveling in company on a voyage will only get you so far.  If you think about it, the difference in boat speed of only 1/2 knot will leave the slower boat over the horizon in a half day.  That’s not a lot of time to be out of sight and matching your speed to another vessel isn’t very practical, especially if the boats are of very different design.

This November the Salty Dawg Rally left in early November from Hampton VA ahead of a cold front to make the run south to the British Virgin Islands.  In spite of careful preparations, a number of boats got into trouble.  According to the US Coast Guard, they assisted a total of five vessels, rescuing the crew of one.  The amount of CG hardware used to assist and rescue was impressive and include helicopters, 100′ cutters and airplanes.

Here is a video, taken by the US Coast Guard out of Elizabeth City NC.  It looks to me like the couple rescued were in their 60s.  Pretty frightening.  I sure hope that I never have to hitch a ride with “Coasties”,

As competitors, the Salty Dawg Rally and the Caribbean 1500 differ from one another in a number of ways.  Perhaps the biggest differences include the fact that the SDR doesn’t require participants to have their boats inspected by the rally organizers which the 1500 group does.  Instead, they take the position that participating boats re responsible for being certain that their boats are in condition for an ocean voyage and that they have to make the decision to leave on their own based on weather information provided to everyone equally.  The 1500 has an “official” start while the SDR tells skippers to leave when they feel that they are ready and that the weather is appropriate for them and their boat.  The SDR rally is also free as opposed to the 1500 which charges a pretty steep entrance fee in exchange for additional services.

This year both the SDR and 1500 left from Hampton at about the same time that I had my rough run south.  However, the boats that ran into serious trouble were all from the SDR with no major reported problems from 1500 participants.

I agree that the decision to leave port needs to be made by the skipper and that the condition of the boat is also his or her responsibility.  Having said that, my experience with the rigger in Beaufort who declared that Pandora’s rig wasn’t “offshore ready” and the conflicting advice that I received in Florida and from the rigger in Annapolis that had redone my rig a few years ago, made me realize that getting good professional advice about Pandora’s condition is critical and that knowing if she is ready for an offshore run or not, is clearly beyond my personal expertise.

So, who’s right?  Is the Salty Dawg Rally, with their “skipper is totally responsible” position or the more “hand holding” approach of the 1500?  It’s not for me to say except that getting a full review of the boat’s condition and readiness is a complex question and to get full assistance from a rally organizers may be just what is needed for many.

All I know is that in spite of the fact that the fleets in both rallies left from the same port and at about the same time, that the only boats that suffered major gear damage and needed outside assistance was from the rally that didn’t require independent seaworthiness inspections prior to departure.

I expect that there will be considerable debate about these two rallies in the coming months and it will be interesting to see how things develop.

Me, my recent experiences have made me even more aware of how much can go wrong when the “going gets rough” at sea and I am resolved to continue to be sure that Pandora is the best possible condition before we head out into the great blue.

Even more, as the winter gales begin to heat up and the threat of hurricanes is behind us, the time that insurance companies say it’s OK to be at sea, there is no question that being at sea is always serious business and any offshore voyage should’t be taken lightly.

What do you think?


Mark Ellis, yacht designer and why I sail.

Last evening Brenda and I visited Essex Yacht Club to hang out with fellow boaters and enjoy a nice dinner.   Standing at the bar, as I have been known to do from time to time, I was introduced to Mark Ellis, the well known yacht designer. Mark is also a member of EYC but I had not realized who he was.

Not being a student of yacht design, I was unaware of Mark’s work until he told me two of his designs.  In particular, Mark was the brains behind the very successful Nonsuch line of catboats built in Canada.  Yes, some in the catboat association, no make that many, view the Nonsuch as anything but a catboat. However the Nonsuch, with it’s unusual unstayed cat rigged mast, is indeed a catboat.

As Brenda and served on the “steering committee” of the Catboat Association for many years, we know many who own these boats.  It was fun to talk to the guy who was the designer of a boat that is so widely know.

The design is unique, in part, because of the unstayed mast as well as the unusual wishbone boom, which eliminates the more traditional boom used on most boats.

Aside from being a “cat” rigged boat, there is little similar in it’s design to a more traditional “cape cod catboat”, a style that Brenda and I owned for many years. Our Marshall 22, “Sappho” was a big part of our lives when we were younger, that’s for sure.  We still see her on occasion as she now lives up at Pleasant Street Wharf in Wickford RI.  Here is a shot of Brenda on the edge of her cockpit when we visited a while back.  And here, is a shot of me at the wheel of Sappho in a different lifetime.  Hmm… What’s with the mustache?  Yep, I sported that “caterpillar” to look older.  No need for that now.  Alas, time marches on.  I look a bit different now days but I am still having fun afloat.  Goofier and grayer for sure.  However, I am doing a lot more sailing these days. Yahoo…
Not sure how I got on this tangent of our old catboat.  Anyway, Mark also designed another boat, the Niagra 35.  The lines are pretty sweet with a nice sheer.  I have long admired this design and saw one in the Bahamas last winter.  The young couple we met were sailing their Niagra down to the Caribbean.  I wonder where they are now?  Perhaps we will see them this coming winter. 

Mark’s current work is much different as he is focused more on power boats, it seems.  However, his designs are still great and have a wonderful feel.  You can see his current portfolio here.  In any event, it was fun to meet and talk to such an interesting guy and one who’s work allows folks like me to spend time afloat. Another reason to hang around boating types and think about being somewhere warmer as the weather gets colder and winter sets in.

Speaking of winter setting in.  The sort of winter that I am looking forward to is decidedly warmer.  It’s only been below freezing for a few days and I am already pining for the Bahamas.  Not a bad thing.  Only nine weeks and three days till we head to Florida and sunshine!!!

For now I will have to think about what we have to look forward to this winter.

The swimming pigs in Big Major Spot.  “Feed me, feed me…”Or, enjoying the view and having a picnic with Brenda on the beach.   And water the most amazing color of blue.
And, long walks on deserted beaches.  And pot luck suppers on Rum Cay.  We bring a “hot dish” of rice or something equally pedestrian.  Others, something more interesting. And always, not wanting to go swimming at the dock during feeding time.  Hold on tight…Well, this has indeed been a somewhat random post but spending time with Mark Ellis, designer, brought back memories and reminded me why we spend time on the water.

And, of course, there’s always sundown in the Bahamas to look forward to.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Except, perhaps this.   I guess you’ll have to decide.  Me, I am counting the days.  Make that three months and six days.  Hmm…

A blast from the most recent past. Just Take Two…

As I was moving from the transient dock to Pandora’s assigned slip here at Harbor Town marina in Ft Pierce on Thursday, I was greeted by calls of “Hi Pandora” from the deck of a nearby boat.  The “shouters” assumed that I was leaving the marina but were happy when I turned the corner and entered the marina basin and into a more long term slip where Pandora will be till mid January.

As I looked over to see who was yelling, I was thrilled to see Tanya, of the catamaran Take Two, along with her’s and her husband Jay’s five (count them) children waving enthusiastically to me as I motored by.

Brenda and I had spent some time with Jay, Tanya and their brood, in the Bahamas last winter when we saw them in the Abacos.  We had seen them earlier in the winter but hadn’t been introduced.  Actually, Jay took photos of Pandora reaching across NW Providence Channel as we headed to the Abacos and presented me with the best shots of Pandora under sail that have been taken by anyone.  How about this shot?  Pretty nice.  Jay and Tanya have lived aboard Take Two with their children for the last four years.  Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, they first became liveaboards with four children and now have five, with the addition of Rachael, their youngest.  I guess that living aboard agrees with them.  If Dr. Seuss met Rachael he might have found inspiration for his character Cindy Loo Hoo in her.  She is a cutie.

I stopped over to visit after tying up Pandora in her slip to say HI to the gang and was very pleased to be invited over for dinner.  What luck!  All I had to do was to bring over some wine and was treated to a lovely dinner and evening with the “gang”.  And, what a gang it is.  Their catamaran is a riot of toys and color.   There is everything from Legos, colorful hair clips and party earrings.  Someone was even building a pyramid out of sugar cubes in the cockpit.  Now, that’s not something you see every day aboard a sailboat, is it?  Take Two has all of the accouterments you would expect for a home with parents, three sons and two girls.

Jay and Tanya, like me and Brenda were high school sweethearts, having met very young.   However there is one major difference, and don’t quote me on this, but I think that they have been married only since the 90s.  What a couple of little kids!!!  Brenda and I, just a little bit older, met in junior year high school algebra class and were married in 1977.  Seeing Jay and Tanya made me think back to those “dating years”.  It’s been a long time and yet seems like only yesterday too.

Tanya made a mess of enchiladas for dinner, what seemed like enough to feed a small army, which they have.  With three boys and two girls, they really do have an army, and one that they are home schooling.  It seems that the next major chapter in their next major lesson plan will include a voyage to Panama next winter.  What fun.   I can’t imagine any more fulfilling opportunity for kids than a visit to such an exotic country.   Having said that, living aboard isn’t easy and to home school 5 children as well is worthy of a “parenting medal of honor”.  Hats’ off to Tonya and Jay for a fine work in progress.

I understand that they might not make it to the Bahamas this winter (bummer) and instead, may opt for a visit to the Florida Keys.  Sounds like fun but I do so hope that our paths will cross again soon.

After dinner I asked if perhaps I could get a “family photo” and within a literal moment, all were assembled and ready.   How great is that?  No need for 15 minutes of assembling a reluctant group for a photo, just a simple request and an equally simple answer.  And yes, the first shot was perfect.  What a great looking brood. Imagine living full time on board with five energetic children.  As an added testimony to how things are going, they moved aboard with four and now have five.  

As you can imagine, life aboard Take Two, is a bit chaotic, but in a very nice way. The boat has four cabins and one of the spots that two of the boys share is a riot of Lego Toys.  Little Rachael’s bunk is as pink as you would imagine.  Me, I think that I need a bit more tidiness but it was such fun to visit a home where expression by all is encouraged and celebrated.   Good for you, Tanya and Jay.  I wish that I had the guts to toss it all to the wind and sail off into the sunset.  How nice is that?

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when their older daughter Sarah and Rachael disappeared down below for a beauty session with Sarah returning, multiple times, with little sister in tow who did a shy pirouette to show off her lip gloss, designer earrings and hair ribbon.  She even changed into her little pink too-too at least once, perhaps twice.  Her expression was the “Aren’t I pretty” and shy at the same time.  Adorable.

It was nice to see how well the kids played together and it reminded me of our sons Rob and Chris so many years ago.

What a great way to spend an evening.   All that noise and lovely chaos also reminded me that child rearing is truly for the young.  I should note that there is a website for Take Two and it’s worth visiting.   Check it out here.  It’s well done and worth reading.

On the Pandora “technical” front, yesterday was spent meeting with the rigger to take a look at the suspect backstay as well e-mailing photos of the offending fitting to the rigger that had done the work in Annapolis.  And, I am happy to report that all is well with the rig.  It seems that the “rust” on the fitting was some sort of discoloration that bled down the wire and not any sort of corrosion.  False alarm from the rigger in Beaufort.  It’s two against one and majority rules.  Also, I cleaned up the fitting per the rigger’s instructions and it is obviously as good as new.

I also took off the boom vang and disassembled it.  Yep, as expected, an internal part was severed in one of my inadvertent crash jibes on the run from Beaufort.  I called the manufacturer and they felt that it could be re-welded.  It would be nice to avoid buying a new one.

Today, not a lot on the calendar except that I need to get a rental car for the trip to the airport tomorrow along with a visit to the canvas shop to have both dodger side panels re-stitched.  It seems that when we were being “splashed” on the run down here, the waves hit the side of the dodger solidly enough to rip out some of the stitching.  I left my sewing machine home as there isn’t really enough room for it on board.  A simple enough job but I am glad that there is a shop here that can handle it.

I have really enjoyed being here for a few days and while I would love to remain here in the warmth and sunshine, I miss Brenda and can’t wait to be home with her again.  Besides, just like the folks on Take Two, she’s my High School sweetheart and I enjoy being with her.  Pandora’s great but not complete when I am aboard alone.

I am very much looking forward to the holidays with family and can’t wait till Brenda and I return here in January to begin leg four and the beginning of our 2014 sailing season.

Bahamas, here we come…soon.

In Ft Pierce FL: End of leg three and a rough one at that.

It’s Thursday morning and I am tied up at a dock in Harbor Town Marina.   Bob and John left yesterday and here I am, all alone, for a few days prior to my return flight on Saturday.  I decided to spend a few days here getting the lay of the land and making some minor repairs to Pandora after the long run.

I am happy to say that prior to leaving, Bob and John did a great job of getting Pandora cleaned up after the mess she had gotten herself into after a few days at sea.  It was absolutely amazing how salty everything down below became in just a few days out.  However, she’s pretty much cleaned up now and ready for our return in January.

Here’s a shot of John and Bob, both who have much more offshore experience than I do.   This shot was taken the first day out before it got really interesting. Yesterday morning we entered the Ft Pierce inlet and were headed down to Nettles Island Marina, where I had made a reservation to keep Pandora until mid January when Brenda and I will head down to Miami and onto the Bahamas.

As I turned south to follow the ICW down to Nettles Island, I took a look at the height board on the bridge piling that was just ahead of us and was surprised to see that the maximum clearance was not the standard 65′ tall that is set for ICW bridges at high tide, but only 63′.  Oops, I can’t make it under the bridge at that height.   My mast is 63′ plus the gear that is on top of the mast, such as wind instruments and cell antenna.  That makes my vertical clearance more like 64 1/2′ or so, just short of the minimum ICW 65′ clearance that is standard on the ICW. Pandora was designed with a rig that is just short enough to fit under these bridges as long as the water levels are “normal”.

The strong north and east winds that helped us down the coast had also piled up water in the inlets and has caused what is normally a very small tide of less than two feet to be a somewhat above normal.  In any event, I wasn’t going to get a 64 1/2′ rig under a bridge that was showing 63′ clearance.  And the marina that I was supposed to go to wasn’t likely to want to pay to fix the gear on the top of my mast.  Anyway, I called the nice guy at Nettles Island and explained the situation to him and he understood.  However, he did call back to say that I should call someone local from Tow Boat US, who knows about the bridge clearances in the area and talk to him about that.  The Tow Boat guy’s feeling was that I could get under at low tide as the bridges are built with just a bit more clearance than the boards show.  Hmm…

Could be an expensive fix and one that I am not ready to risk.  In any event, nix the Nettles Island deal.  I guess it’s time to spend a bit more and find somewhere else to go while I figure out what to do next.

Enter Harbor Town Marina, right off of the ICW and within a very short distance of the inlet.  That’s where I am now and it’s really very nice and there’s even a pool and a great waterfront restaurant.   And, the showers and laundry are terrific. Actually, while it’s a bit more expensive than Nettles, I am inclined to just leave Pandora here and tough it up on a little more expense in exchange for a simpler option than moving Pandora again today and risking the mast gear.

I also have some repairs that need attention and I’d like to focus on them while I am here instead of spending time moving Pandora again.  For now, I had enough “moving Pandora” for a while.  Time to stay tied up for a while.

Speaking of repairs, when we were in the heavy stuff the other night I damaged my boom vang, a bracket under the boom that keeps it from riding up when the winds are too high.  It probably broke in one of those violent jibes I spoke of.  The cable that is inside of the boom snapped, at least, that’s what I think happened.  I called a rigger and hope to see him today so he can take a look at things, including the back stay that was causing trouble.   Boy, am I ever glad that I put that temporary fix in place.  I have to wonder if the rig would have gone over with the winds we experienced on the run down here.  That’s a scary thought.  Alas, the “repair” worked just fine.

I’d also like to arrange to have my Espar diesel heater repaired so I need to contact the dealer in West Palm Beach, right near the airport where I will fly out on Saturday.   However, I doubt that we will need it in Florida as it’s plenty warm here now.

Well, enough about what’s next.  Perhaps a bit more about the run down from Beaufort NC.  First, the run was a total of about 542 nautical miles and it took us three days and three hours, an average of about 7.2 knots.  That could have been higher except that we slowed down quite a bit for about 12 hours.   It was just so rough  and we needed to have a period of relative calm to rest and didn’t want to push the boat that hard.   This is also the longest run that I have made without having to us the engine due to not enough wind, although I ran the engine a few hours a day in neutral to keep the batteries charged.  The solar, as large as they are, just aren’t enough this time of year, with the short days, to keep things charged up.  Besides, with the boat running 24 hours a day, the autopilot used a lot of power.

Yes, there was plenty of wind and, as result, the waves, according to Chris Parker, the weather router, and our observations topped off at about 15′ with some breaking as they rolled by.  Those were the biggest waves I have sailed in with Pandora and the biggest since taking a run from Bermuda on a friends boat years ago.   The biggest issue for us was that the winds topped out, and did so, off and on, for a full day, at about 40kts.  That’s the sort of wind that gets the Weather Channel folks all excited as it’s classified as “GALE”, and I believe it.  It was really windy.

For these conditions we used Pandora’s main only and that sail was reefed down to it’s third reef that is less than 1/4 of it’s full size.  I had not used that reef previously but knew how to set it up.  As I mentioned, we did that in Beaufort in preparation for the run, just in case.  

This is a shot of Pandora with her normal sails in place.  In this example, I wasn’t using the larger head sail, just the much smaller jib.  This was a pretty windy but manageable conditions, say around 20kts of wind, last winter in the Bahamas. This is what her main sail looks like with a third reef in place.  That’s a lot smaller sail although you can’t really get a feel for just how small it is as you can’t see the top of the mast which is a long way from the top of the sail when it’s got it’s third reef tied in.  And, with the strong winds we were experiencing, this felt like plenty of sail and too much wind for my taste.  With just this sail running off the wind and the jib rolled up,  we were still cooking along at up to 9kts.  The fastest that we recorded was 11.6kts for a brief period and we were in the 10kt range many times.  That’s really fast and plenty noisy.  For much of the time, as we were off the wind, which tends to be rolly, we were slewing from side to side something like 45 to 60 degrees.  It was hard to stay upright down below.  And, the noise!  Everything was thumping around down below.  During a particularly rough moment, a spice jar of ground cloves went flying and broke open.  Wet salty clove dust all over the cabin sole.  Not an altogether pleasant smell. 

It was particularly interesting that for much of the trip, especially during the roughest parts, we were in nearly constant company of dolphins.   These creatures really never left us for two days and constantly swam up along side and in front of Pandora, launched themselves out of the water and landed back in the water with a splash.  Their antics reminded me of the old TV show “Flipper”.   It was pretty clear to me that they were having a jolly time of it.   They must be pretty efficient predators as they stay well fed and yet have plenty of time to “play”.   It looked to me like they were having a lot of fun.  There were juveniles as well as adults.

For much of the time just holding on as I moved around the boat and there was plenty to keep me occupied but I did take this video before things got really interesting.  The video doesn’t really give a good feel at all for the size of the waves, and this was before it got really rough.  However, if you look carefully, you can see a few shots of dolphins in the water and one that launches himself briefly out of the water as he raced by.  It was endlessly entertaining.  I used my i-phone as my GoPro video camera wasn’t charged up properly.  Oh well, my son Rob wouldn’t have been so unprepared.All and all, the trip was fun if a bit exhausting.  I have to say that there are times in all of the offshore runs that I have done when I say to myself, “Why are you doing this Bob?  Never again.”  On this trip, that moment was when the autopilot was showing an error message on the controller and I had to slither down into the aft locker on my stomach with a flash light to inspect the unit.  That’s back under the stern and tough to get to under the best of conditions.  As the boat slew around every which way, I found that all was in order, happily. It seems that the problem was that we just had too much sail up for the conditions and the pilot had gone into some sort of overload mode.  Go figure…  After that spelunking moment, I felt a bit ill and had quite a headache.  Unfortunately, it was time for dinner and I had to saute some sausage and potatoes for dinner.   Not good, not good at all.

I managed to get dinner prepared and served but there was no way that I could eat it.  I plopped down for a nap and when I woke up I was in fine form again.  Fortunately, there was some dinner left and I scarfed that down in record time.  As I have often said to the boys, “if it doesn’t taste good, you aren’t hungry enough”.  Ain’t that the truth.   And, greasy spicy food when you are ill… Yuck.

However, in spite of my moments of self doubt, I never felt threatened or in any sort of real danger and when I arrive I do feel a sense of accomplishment.  And, perhaps best of all, I can tell stories about the last three days FOR EVER.  Yes, that’s the best.

Well the day is getting away from me and there’s lots to do.  Besides, I’m hungry and there’s lots of food to eat, or toss, before I head home.

Yes, telling folks about it is great.


Florida: The sunshine, windy, wavy place

It’s early afternoon on Tuesday and we are about  130 natuical miles from Ft Pierce inlet.  I say it’sTuesday but to be truthful, I had to get out a calendar and take a look to  be sure.  While we are only into our third day at sea, calendars and the rest of the world for that matter, seem very far away.   If I wasn’t keeping a log of our progress each hour, I would have a great deal of difficulty in keeping track of exactly how long we have been out.   It all sort of a blur, a warm, sticky, salty blur.

With water views in all directions, we might as well be a month from port, or a few hours.

The last 24 hours were challenging with winds peaking at over 40kts, something that I have not seen outside of brief thunderstorms.  It’s pretty impressive how much the waves build after just a few hours of strong winds.  Fortunately, we were heading with the wind so the waves, some over 15′ tall, were passing under us, even if they often broke nearby.  Sometimes,  they broke off fo the transom and washed somewhat under the transom door and wet the feet of anyone standing at the helm.   Going with the waves was dramatic, to go against them, terrifying.

While it’s good to have wind behind us, Pandora can only go just so fast, around 9.5 to 10kts, so any additional wind and seas just pile up on her and make her work hard to stay heading in a straight line.

When we left Beaufort on Sunday we were running off the wind with our full main and genoa unfurled.  As of last night we were down to just a third reef in the main and no head sail at all.  We had doused the genoa, put out the smaller jib. Then we put a reef into the main, then a second and finally a third.  And, even with only a main with three reefs about 10% of our sail area presented to the wind we were still pushing along as much as 10kts and sometimes even in the low 11s.

I had a third reef put into the main when the sail was built but had never used it.  I am very glad that we rigged it in Beaufort as without it, we would have been in a tough spot.  Much more wind than the 40s we saw and we would have had to run along with the sails furled and just the mast and rigging to propel her.   With anything more than the triple reefed main and we would have had just too much sail to be safe given the sea state.  It was really more about the seas, more than the wind that made conditions difficult.   When I was up on the deck putting in the 3rd reef last evening, it took over 30 minutes to put it in place and crank down the sail because we were bucking around so much.

And, with all that wind and big seas, the autopilot had to work very hard to keep us on track.  As a result, we used up a lot of battery power which has made it necessary to run the engine to charge things back up several times.   At this time of year the sun just isn’t high enough in the sky for the solar panels to do much good.

While there are no meaningful leaks in Pandora, the level of humidity is stifling down below now that the weather has warmed up and with all the salt water being flung every which way, the salt spray has gotten into everything.  Earlier this morning, while I was on watch,  a wave hit the side of the boat and flung a huge amount of spray, no, make that hundreds of gallons of water at the boat, with a good amount washing under the dodger and into the cockpit.  At times there was water running all over the deck and you could see it flush over the deck hatches like a river.   The cockpit is quite salty and while I’d love to give it a rinse, I expect that the effect would be very short lived.

Yesterday, when the wind and seas were building we were treated to show by a school of dolphins, perhaps  a dozen, that played around Pandora for hours.   Every few moments, for hours on end, one or more of these amazing creatures would shoot up along side Pandora and leap completely free of the water, sometimes corkscrewing in the air on their way back down.   It was fun to see them in the waves as they piled up behind us which made the dolphins higher than we were in the face of the wave, for a time, as the waves rolled along.
We have traveled over 400nm since leaving Beaufort and are now almost 80% there.   If we keep up our current boat speed of a bit more than 7kts, we should arrive in Ft Pierce tomorrow morning.   My flight doesn’t leave until Saturday so that will give me a few days to clean her up so she will be ready for me and Brenda to rejoin her in mid January.

Speaking of “cleaning”.  It’s just amazing how much salt has gotten below on the boat, tracked in on boots and foul weather gear.  The cabin sole is completely salty and I will need to wipe down every interior surface to remove the spray.   Besides, some mildew had been appearing here and there so a good wiping with vinegar will straighten things up.

I am so glad that we didn’t do laundry prior to leaving Beaufort as everything is now salty, blankets and all, and will need a good washing prior to be ready for proper habitation.

Being a bit of a clean freak, all of this grime is a bit tough for me to take and I will be happy when things are back in order.
You’d think that with nothing to do but drive the boat 24 hours a day, that there would be nothing to do.  In fact, with all of the tasks of keeping her moving along with cleaning up spills, cooking and trying to get some sleep, there is little time for anything else.

So, here I am at 1:30 in the afternoon just finding time to pen this post.

As much as I enjoy sailing, I can’t wait to get to a dock so I can clean things up, especially me.  Can you say sticky, no make that “megasticky”?  Did I say that it’s hot and sticky?

Yes, as predicted, “salty” conditions heading south

When I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, about our plans to head offshore from Beaufort NC to Ft Pierce this week, he said that we would run into what he likes to say are “salty” conditions.

Well, it’s Monday morning, we’ve been out a nearly 30 hours and he wasn’t lying…

The seas are in the 10′ range with some much larger and Pandora has been speeding along, often at 8+ kts since yesterday afternoon.  With winds solidly in the 20s and gusting into the low 30s at times, it has been keeping us on our toes.    The autopilot keeps us on track pretty well but when we get a 30+kt gust, sometimes we have to take over and hand steer.  This means that whoever is on watch has to keep a very careful eye on the wind speed and direction.

The wind has been from the north which means we are on a run or broad reach with the wind coming from behind us.  That does make the wind seem less strong but makes steering somewhat tricky.  Last night, as things really piped up, we found ourselves being pushed off course enough several times to suffer unexpected jibes.  That wasn’t good as it put major stress on the rig.  Fortunately, nothing major broke and we are still moving along nicely.  We are now steering a more conservative course and things are much more controlled.

I spoke with Chris Parker earlier today on the SSB radio and he reported that the forecast isn’t going to change in the next few days so it seems that we will continue to move right along with brisk northeries and significant seas.  He does expect that the wind will shft to a more easterly direction as we head down the Florida Coast on late Tuesdayand early Wednesday and he doesn’t expect that the wind strength will diminish.  Me, I could do with a little less wind. Right now we are running nearly 8kts with only a double reefed main.   That’s not a lot of sail. Along with the brisk winds we should expect that the seas will continue to build so we are in for a  bit of an “exciting” and yes, “salty” run as we continue down the coast.

All and all, however, it’s good to be sailing and it sure beats motoring into the wind.  Yes, a silver lining.  And, no major broken gear.  Fingers crossed that it will stay that way.

We did break the line on our preventer last night when we jibed but it was probably too light a line anyway.   At one point I had to go up on deck last night and underestimated how wet it was.  Oops… I got completely soaked and had to shower before I got into bed.  Not good.  One set, of only a very few, clean and dry clothes are now in a damp heap.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Yesterday, as when I was coming down the Jersey coast earlier in October, we had a feathered visitor.  A sparrow size bird landed on Pandora and hung out for a while.  I had to wonder what the little guy would have done if we hadn’t happened by at the right time.  It’s likely that some, perhaps a lot, of birds perish in the ocean when they get lost on their migration south and north again.
It’s also been fun watching the dolphins jump and play around Pandora as we race along heading south.  With regularity the come up on our stern and you can see them in the water as the waves pile up behind us, and sometimes they seem to be higher than I am standing in the cockpit.  After zooming toward us,  they race along side and cross our bow.  This activity is repeated over and over again.  It looks like they are having a great time.  And, as if to give us a show, they sometimes jump clear out of the water, just feet from Pandora.  The rough conditions don’t seem to bother them at all.

In the first 24 hours we covered just over 180 miles, a very respectable distance indeed.  There aren’t many cruising boats in our size range that can boast 24 hour speeds like this.  There was a time when very few boats of any size could boast anywhere near 200 mile per day but now, with the extreme racers, distances more than twice ours, and sometimes a lot more, in a 24 hour period are possible.  However, for cruising boats, not many can make this sort of time.

I stood the 04:00 to 08:00 watch this morning and a number of times I saw speeds on the knot meter in excess of 10kts.  That’s moving.    Our average speed since leaving the dock yesterday morning is 7.6kts.  To be honest, I’d be happy with a little less speed and a little less “salty” conditions.   Fast is good but not particularly comfortable.  Oh well.

I do hope that conditions hold and that the wind doesn’t move too far toward an easterly or southeasterly direction so that we can continue to sail the whole way.  If things do get nasty we can always pull in and run down the ICW for the last bit once we are in FL waters.

I guess that’s about all I have to say today.   Here’s hoping that we continue to make time.  More to come.

Leg three, Beaufort NC to Ft Pierce FL for Pandora under sail

It’s Sunday late morning and we are romping along nicely under sail with a brisk NW wind on our starboard quarter.   Pandora performs particularly well under these conditions and she has already proven herself by running past a somewhat larger sailboat on the same track, leaving it on the horizon behind us after just a few hours.   It is so satisfying to be faster than most other boats on a long ocean passage where the difference in speed of only a few knots can make a trip days shorter on a long run.   On a run of say, 1,000 miles, the difference in that the run will time if we can make 7.5kts, verses 5.5kts, is 5 ― days verses 7 ―, days.  That’s a big difference.    Me, I’ll take the 5 ― day passage.

With about 20kts of wind on our stern, we are under full sail and moving along at between eight and nine knots through the water, a very respectable speed, for sure.   I am hopeful that we can keep our average speed in the mid 7s or low 8s for this run.  Fingers crossed.

Last night, the wind shifted from the south after the front that left us with several days of rain passed by.   Our plan was to leave Beaufort after the wind shifted to the north, a favorable direction for sailing south and one where it’s forecasted to stayfor the next few days.  If things continue as expected, we should be able to continue to make good time all the way to Florida.   I expect that we will have to motor for the last day on our way down the FL coast as the wind is expected to veer toward the east/south east, and drop to about 5kts by the time we get there.

Yesterday afternoon, after the rain finally stopped, we moved Pandora from a mooring to a dock in town so we could take on water and fuel.  Brenda left that morning to drive home so it’s me and my two crew members, Bob and John, who are with me taking Pandora south.
Bob is skipper of The Abby, a much larger sailboat that I helped deliver from Nassau to Norwalk CT two years ago, my first trip north under sail.  That was good experience for me and to have him aboard for our run south is great.  John, who lives near us in CT is a very experienced sailor too and has done this run many times.

Yesterday, after moving onto the dock, we spent several hours getting everything in shape for the offshore run.  This included deflating the dink and lashing it onto the deck between the mast and dodger along with ensuring that all gear was properly stowed and secured for the run.  It’s not a good idea to have the dink in the davits when we are offshore as if things get nasty the dink can work itself loose and cause all sorts of mischief.  Besides, in the event that we run into trouble, the easiest way to launch the life raft is through the transom door and that can’t be opened easily when the dink is in the davits off the stern of Pandora.

In keeping with the ongoing saga of technical issues that we have faced on this trip, I have been concerned with a turnbuckle on the aft wire stay (one of the wires that hold up the mast) that had become corroded.  Given the fact that the standing rigging is only a few years old, to see the corrosion was particular cause for concern.  After speaking with some folks that I know on another boat visiting Beaufort, I decided that something had to be done to ensure that we would not find ourself in rough conditions and loose the rig from a gear failure.

With this in mind, I contacted a local rigger who came out to the boat yesterday to review things.   As expected, he agreed that there was a real risk in leaving port with the backstay in it’s current condition.  After much discussion, we decided to set up a supplemental backup stay of high tech rope (Spectra), a soft grey rope/line that is actually stronger than steel and easy to put in place.  We rigged up a double strand of ž” line running from the starboard stern turnbuckle, up through the roller on the main stay and  back to the turnbuckle on the port quarter, in essence, setting up a “sister” stay to double the current suspect stay.  In the event that the suspect stay breaks, the Spectra “sister” stay will hold up the rig.  It’s really tough to imagine that a piece of line that is so soft to the touch is actually as strong, or stronger, than steel.   I’d like to think that the stay in question won’t break, but I am not inclined to take any chances.   Besides, I am pretty confident that loosing the mast in heavy winds and seas would not be fun, make that “double not fun”.  Happily, I haven’t had first hand experince on that score.  Let’s hope I can keep up my lucky streak.

The source of my concern with the back stay was a rusty spot called “crevice corrosion” where the wire was attached to the turnbuckle, a problem that can easily lead to the loss of the rig, or worse.   When a boat is being run offshore, you can’t be too careful  so anything suspect needs to be addressed immediately.   I am certainly glad that I was able to find a rigger that would come to the boat on short notice.

All seems to be in good order now so let’s hope that nothing breaks.  Given the fact that we are going to be moving in conditions that Chris Parker, the weather router, calls “salty” for this trip, we want to be sure that everything is in perfect working order.
Along with dealing with the suspect back stay, we also rigged the third reef in the main.   This is a very deep reef that cuts the amount of sail area dramatically in the main.  If we should find ourselves in winds in the 35 knot range, something that could happen on this trip, I had a third reef sewn into the sail when it was constructed but have never used it.  So, yesterday we rigged lines and shackles in place so that we can easily pull the sail down to the third reef if needed.   The third reef cuts down the rig by more than 2/3s.  In this condition the main sail is quite small and that, combined with my storm jib would put Pandora in good shape to handle really “salty” conditions.   Storm sails, like a life raft, are the sorts of gear you want to have on board and hope you will never use.

So far, so good and our current course will take us to our first turning point off of Frying Pan Shoals, an aptly named point with very shallow waters off of the coast about 90 NM (nautical miles) from the entrance of Beaufort.  At that point we will head toward another waypoint just west of the western wall of the Gulf Stream which will keep us inshore of the strong northerly running current of The Stream.    The Gulf Stream is a great “conveyor belt” of water that makes for a fast run north but you want to stay out of it when going south.

If you are inclined to plot our plans on a chart, the first coordinates we will point toward after rounding Frying Pan are 32.00.00N Latitude and 79.20.00W Longitude, approximately.   After that we will have another imaginary point to go to, 31.20.00N, 80.00.00W and then 30.00.00N, 80.30.00W that should allow us to continue south without messing with the adverse currents of The Stream.   Any further east of these waypoints, and we would find ourselves fighting a nasty current that runs several knots against us.  And, with north winds opposing these currents, big and sharp waves.   Those conditions would be totally “unfun”.

It will be interesting to see if Chris’s coordinates are right.  Only time will tell.

Sorry, no pictures in this post as I sent this to my son Christoper via e-mail on the SSB long range radio.    This technology is very slow and not suited to big files.   Perhaps in Monday’s post I will include one small photo.

So far, so good, as Pandora romps along on the third leg of our trip south to Florida in preparation for Brenda’s and my run to The Bahamas in late January.

Ready to head south, but is the weather?

It’s late Friday night, nearly midnight and I am waiting for my crew to arrive.  Bob and John have driven nearly all day from Norwalk CT to Beaufort NC.  I can’t believe that they are still on the road and the day is nearly over.

I feel badly that they have had such a long day and even worse that I will be picking them up in the dink at the dock and schlepping them out into the night where Pandora is moored.

We had planned to bring Pandora into the dock today so that it would be easier to get them on board but decided against it at the last minute as the wind was really honking and blowing right onto the dock.  Yes, we could have done it but I wasn’t into excitement first thing this AM and the easier decision was to just stay put.  Now that Bob and John are about to arrive, I do wish that I had taken a slip. I expect that I will get some teasing.  Oh well.

As the day wore on today I was able to go shopping for provisions, specifically for fresh food and meals that will be easy to prepare underway.   Brenda helped me to make a list of meals for the trip and I am hopeful that the guys will be happy with what I have in store for them.

The weather forecast for the next few days is a bit uncertain, as is so often the case.  There is a front coming through tonight and tomorrow which will shift the winds from the south to the north, a favorable direction for our run south.  The bad news is that the winds will be quite strong, in the high 20s with gusts that are even higher.   Worse is that as we get further south, toward Florida, we will see stronger winds that will begin to shift to the east.  That means that the winds will become less favorable and will be stronger than I would like.

When I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, earlier today, he suggested that our best option would probably be to stop in St Mary’s on the Fl/GA border to wait a few days for more favorable winds to make it down the FL coast.  He feels that we will be able to carry fair winds to the FL boarder but after that, not so good.  The problem is that we will be heading on a more S/SE course once we are in FL than we will have for the NC/SC/GA leg that will have more favorable winds.  A complicating factor in all of this is that we have to stay fairly close to shore to avoid the contrary northerly flow of the Gulf Stream.  On the way north, the Stream is our friend, not so on the way south.  This means that we can not carry a straight course for FL but will have to head SW with the coastline and then begin to shift to a more southerly and then SE course as we get closer to Florida.

In any event, time will tell as to what the winds will do.  For now, it looks like we may be able to leave later on Saturday afternoon or perhaps on Sunday morning.

One rub that has gotten into the mix is that I have a fitting on the back stay that looks somewhat questionable and I have asked a rigger to come down to the boat on Saturday morning to take a look at it and probably replace it.  I had all of the standing rigging replaced just a few years ago but one particular fitting on the end of the back stay looks corroded and might not be safe for offshore work.   With this in mind, I am having it addressed in the morning, as soon as the rain begins to moderate.

I normally don’t have much in the way of technical issues with Pandora and it seems like this trip has been full of fun (not) details that have had to be addressed,  I sure hope that the worst of these is behind me for now.  Unlike the issues related to the engine work, I can’t blame this on them.  I guess that there must have been a bad fitting used by the rigger a few years ago.  Who knows.

I will know more in the AM.  Fingers crossed that we won’t be totally dumped on with rain and that the rigger can get to me early.   I sure hope that this won’t delay our departure.  Fingers crossed.

For now, I am getting a bit pooped and can’t wait to hit the rack.  Sleepy…