Monthly Archives: January 2016

Heading to the Bahamas, again.

It’s Thursday afternoon and I am still here in Ft Lauderdale.  Yes, I mentioned in my last post that it would be my last from FL and the next would be from the Bahamas.  However, things change.

Actually, Brenda and I were finishing up purchasing fuel on Sunday when Brenda got word that her oldest friend had lost her son to a drug overdose.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to face such a thing.

So, as you can imagine, we scrubbed our departure and Brenda flew home to be with her friend.

I thought about what to do next and decided to head over to the Bahamas so Brenda could join me there and invited my brother to spend a week with me.  We have not had much time together for many years so at least one small thing will come out of this horrible tragedy.  Having him with me is a treat.

Bill arrived on Tuesday and we are now waiting for a window to cross, which looks like it will be Friday evening or perhaps Saturday morning.  He flies out of Nassau on Wednesday next week, the same day that Brenda flies in.

The last few days have had some pretty heavy rain and today is no different.  We did get some time to walk around between showers yesterday but today has been pretty steady rain. I started thinking to volunteer at the Legacy Healing Facility.  Earlier today, as we were getting a bit stir crazy sitting around on the boat, we decided to take a tour of the commercial ship terminals in Ft Lauderdale, rain or shine.    It was pretty neat to see the big ships loading and unloading all sorts of stuff.

Interestingly, as we were waiting for one of the bridges to open, a harbor pilot boat pulled up along side and stopped.  A “pilot” is someone who works in a particular port and is called upon to meet incoming ships, climbing aboard and guiding them into port.   Anyway, the pilot pulled right next to me and rolled down his window, greeting us with “who designed your boat?”.  I answered him, Rodger Martin in Newport.  He then told me that he really liked my boat which was quite a compliment coming from someone who spends his life on the water and goes out in all conditions, regardless of how rough it is.

There were two ships with yachts on board.  One boat was launched as we passed by and immediately headed south, probably to the upcoming Miami Boat Show.   It was raining, sometimes in torrents, so this shot is a bit dark.I always enjoy tugboats.  This one is of the modern type that has rotating drives, sort of like a pair of outboard engines that poke out of the bottom of the hull.  They can rotate 360 degrees so that they can maneuver in any direction with a joy stick control.  Amazing machines. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also enjoyed the antics of the local iguana population.  There is a tree near the water that is covered with these lizards, each vying to be “king of the hill”.  It’s amusing to see the constant effort they make to prove who’s the “baddest” of all.  This guy is one of the larger ones, about 4′ long.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other day, Brenda and I saw one of the colorful crabs that climb out of the water to sun themselves at low tide.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, it’s nice to have Bill with me for the week but the opportunity to spend time with him came up for a very sad reason.   Fortunately, it was possible for Brenda to jump on a plane so she could support her dear friend.  I look forward to having Brenda with me again when she comes to Nassau next week.

I guess that’s all for now.  Hopefully Bill and I will have a good run to the Bahamas in the next day or so.  Fingers crossed for a good trip.

Bahamas bound and fingers crossed

It’s Saturday mid day and it’s blowing like stink here in Ft Lauderdale.  We have now been here for ten days waiting to cross to the Bahamas and while there was actually a weather window a few days after we arrived,  we just weren’t quite ready with provisioning the boat and were still collecting all of the items that we had shipped here in advance of our arrival.  As we flew down this year, instead of driving, we had to send things ahead as we wanted to limit the number of bags that we had to schlep on the plane.  That meant that we had a parade of stuff arriving at the local UPS store.  They sure loved us at $5 per package.

Anyway, we are ready now and all that has to happen now is for the wind and seas to settle down following the cold front that’s passing through today.  According to Chris Parker, the weather router, we expect that things will improve sometime tomorrow, Sunday afternoon..    The best departure time is a bit fuzzy as if we leave when the wind drops on Sunday afternoon we will still have to contend with some residual seas in the Gulf Stream as it takes some hours for the wind driven seas to subside once the wind drops.    A Monday morning departure would actually be a lot more settled but there is a risk that we will then have to contend with building east winds as we cross the Bahamas Banks, on Tuesday before we reach our destination about 20 hours after we leave Ft Lauderdale.

So, the choice seems to be rough seas in the Gulf Stream with a Sunday departure or building head winds in the final 6-8 hours of our crossing the Bahama banks if we leave on Monday.  It’s a tough call and I am not sure which will be the most comfortable or should I say, least uncomfortable for Brenda.  Perhaps taking our lumps in the early hours of the trip and having the rest be more settled is the best option but Brenda’s surely not going to like a “washing machine” at the beginning.  One way or the other, we have to move or we’ll be here for yet another week, something that neither of us wants.

Today is a terrible day in the Gulf Stream with seas running in the 15’ range with gale force winds.  Now that would be horrible and something that I don’t even dare contemplate, with or without Brenda aboard.   Here in the harbor, sustained westerly winds are expected to peak around mid day at nearly 30kts.   We are paying very close attention to everyone around us to be sure that we don’t end up tangling with another boat.

There is one big ketch in particular, with nobody on board, that I have already had to up anchor to get out of his way at least once.  He has a small anchor and short scope so he’s been dragging slowly around the anchorage with each wind shift.  It’s amazing how cavalier some people can be about leaving a boat unattended.   I sure hope that I don’t end up my dink pushing him away from us if he drags yet again.  I guess we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and dink ready.

Anyway, how about this?   What’s a post about Ft Lauderdale without a few shots of some of the “big boys”.   Nice “dink” aboard this one.  “Off to the market James and quick.  We are just about out of Grey Poupon.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, if you’re yacht is “mega” it just has to have it’s own garage for your toys.How about a peek inside?  Amazing display of wealth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a post recently I mentioned that I was submitting what I believe is the last item needed to complete my approvals to go to Cuba, a form required by the U.S. Coast Guard.  I filled it out with the date of my departure port in the US, my plan to visit the Bahamas, when I’d be arriving in Cuba and where I would clear in.   I also indicated when I’d be returning to the U.S. and what my arrival port would be.  The next day I received a call from a USCG officer stating that I must submit the form a minimum of two weeks prior to departing for Cuba.  Oops, I was leaving in four days.   However, with further discussion she agreed that my actual date of departure was the date that we will be leaving the Bahamas, over a month from now, to head to Cuba.  All well and good but I still had to resubmit with corrections.  Great!

The problem is that the form isn’t up to date with the current laws, which are changing quickly.  So, like a good law abiding citizen, I filled out the form again and sent it in a second time.  And, that might not be the end of it.  If any of our dates vary from those on the form by more than 5 days, I have to do it all over again, and two weeks in advance of those dates.  Yikes!  It’s nearly a “catch 22”.

Are you kidding me?  I have submitted each form at least twice and it’s taken months to sort through everything.   And, it’s not over yet…

A few folks have commented on all of this, both on this blog as well as my posts on Facebook, stating that I should “just go”.  I have asked officers in the various departments I have been dealing with what they thought of that and the answer is universally, “good luck with that”.   The fact is that Cuba is still off limits to us and the only way to be sure you won’t get in trouble is to carefully follow the ever changing rules, as annoying and tedious as the process may be.

So, as we prepare to head to the Bahamas I am hopeful that I have indeed “crossed all of the T’s and dotted all of the I’s.  Well, for now fingers crossed that I have done this right.  If not, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

I expect that the next post I do will be from the Bahamas.  Until then, I’ll close with a shot of some of the locals listening with rapt attention to my every word as I described the approval process to them in the park the other day.  Ok, ok, one more photo.  This one of of a lovely sunrise a few days ago.  Yes, this is the mood I am looking for.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor now, it’s blowing like stink but here’s to a “reasonable” crossing.  Fingers crossed.

Heading out, but when?

It’s Wednesday morning and we are still here in Ft Lauderdale. It’s been a challenging week with terrific wind and a few nasty fronts, complete with some impressive gusts over 40kts and tons of rain.  We even had the fun of re-anchoring in the wee hours, which is always good for a laugh or two.  Brenda particularly enjoys those special moments together.

Actually, yesterday might have been the first day since our arrival that I didn’t have to bail out the dink at least once.   Happily, we are getting some respite from the wind as it’s supposed to be pretty light until perhaps Friday when it’s expected to get “sporty” again and blow at near gale strength.   I guess that this is par for the course in early winter in Florida when the “fun” returns every few days.

It’s pretty cool too.  No, I won’t say cold as it will just make my brother irate as he lives in northeast PA where cold means something.  So far, the “sunny” in “sunny Florida” has alluded us as we have been here for more than two weeks and I can only count a couple of days when the sun as shown it’s face for more than a few hours at a time.  So much for “solar power” ruling the day.  However, it’s nice to see that the sun is, sort of, out in force as I write this.

I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, both yesterday and on Monday with the hope of “getting out of Dodge” and crossing to the Berry Islands today but the wind is a bit strong from the east than we’d like and with so many miles to go against adverse winds and seas, we opted to wait until the next “window”. Unfortunately, this means that we will be stuck here through the weekend.   However, he feels pretty confident that we will be able to head out perhaps as early as Sunday evening to make the 125 mile run to Great Harbor Key where we will be treating ourselves to a stay for two weeks or so in the marina, something that we have not done in the past.  We are really looking forward to it as we have heard that it’s a fun spot.

The “window” that we were going to use this week was a narrow one, lasting less than 24 hours.  We could have made it over to Bimini but once there, we would have been stuck through the weekend anyway and would have had to check into a marina at about $100 per day.  The rates for a marina are much higher if you only stay a few days than if you plan a longer stay.  Once you have stayed ten days or so, the rate for a whole month isn’t much different.

So, the plan now is to hope for the best and plan on leaving Sunday or Monday.  That’s fine I guess, as we have been struggling to get everything done prior to leaving the States.  I just found out that there are two more forms that I have to deal with in order to complete our plans to visit Cuba.  It seems that we need to submit a form to the U.S. Coast Guard to let them know of our plans and itinerary.  They also need the particulars of the approvals from State and Commerce.   Oddly, these forms have to be faxed verses e-mailed and must be printed out and signed.  I can’t say that the “nautical fax” machine is active on Pandora. However, we do have a printer.  There is also some sort waiver form from OFAC, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, that I have to submit to avoid a 180 day waiting period before we can re-import Pandora.   Not sure about that one.  I’ll need to do some work on that today.

We also will be getting some Canadian currency as it has a better exchange rate in Cuba as the Cuban government imposes a 20% tax on Greenbacks.   There’s Fidel sticking it to the Yanks.  I guess fair is fair.   However, he did start it with the whole “revolution thing”, right?

Anyway, Ft Lauderdale is nice but I am so looking forward to the Bahamas with warm clear water.  Besides, our daily runs to the store for “one more thing”, have to end at some point or I’ll have to haul Pandora again and raise the waterline.  Just how many y0gurts do we really need?  Bottles of wine?  Well, that’s another question entirely.  Besides, a boat does need ballast, right?

Through all of this I have ordered plenty of last minute items including a hand held depth finder, that arrived yesterday.  It will come in handy as we pick our way through unfamiliar waters in Cuba.  There are times when we want to enter a spot and aren’t sure if it’s deep enough so having a portable depth finder that I can take ahead in the dink will be very useful.  It’s pretty neat and even has a thermometer in it.   “No Bob, we can’t go in there, the water is not warm enough.  Check over there.  It looks warmer over there, yes to the right.”

We have also purchased courtesy flags for the countries that we plan to visit and just for fun, I laid them out in the cockpit the other evening.  Of course, the middle one is our own Essex Yacht Club burgee.   In clockwise order, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and The Caiman Islands, all spots that we may/will stop along the way.  Last night over an “adult beverage”, I remarked to Brenda that, when we were sailing Long Island Sound way back when in our 20’ Cape Cod Catboat, that I never imagined that we’d ever visit these places by boat.   Her reaction wasn’t completely clear.   Was it a smile or grimace.  Hmm…  You know, she was the one who came up with Pandora’s name.   Anyway, cool photo.

As  I reminisce, I should mention that we had a lovely visit with our long-time, notice that I didn’t say “old”, friends Linda and Richard.  Linda worked with me for perhaps a decade back in one of my “previous lives” and we try to visit her when we are passing through West Palm Beach, where they live.  Linda is the keeper of the last remaining stand of “Bob the banana”, offspring of a plant that Brenda and I grew from a shoot that we purchased back in the 70s while we were dating in high school.  We kept it alive for many years, in our home and later in a greenhouse that we kept for over 20 years.  When we moved away from NJ, four years ago, we tossed the last of our “Bob”.  However, he lives on with Linda and Richard as they planted a shoot that I gave to Linda when they moved to Florida almost ten years ago.  Here’s a shot of me, Linda and “Bob”.  He’s doing well, I would say and pays his way by producing hundreds of bananas a year.  Don’t we all look so cute together?  “Bob loves it there!”  Me too.So, for the next few days Brenda and I will finish up last minute details and I’ll try to figure out exactly what else Uncle Sam wants to be sure all is in order for our visit to Cuba and perhaps more importantly, our return to the U.S.  I guess I had better sign off or we won’t be ready by the weekend “window”, if it arrives after all.

Signing off from Sunny Florida for now and enjoying a day that actually is as advertised.


Cuba bound. Who knew?

It’s Saturday morning here in Ft Lauderdale and it is shaping up to be a really nice day.  That’s particularly good news as the weather has there hasn’t been much sun here since we arrived in FL in late December.  It’s been very cloudy and rainy with temperatures lower than you’d expect for “sunny Florida”.   And no, I don’t expect any sympathy from my “buds” up north who are experiencing a “real” winter.   However, you can take some solace in knowing that while you were snoozing all warm and snug in your bed the other night, I was out in the cockpit for hours on anchor watch lest we drag in the squalls and strong winds that roared through the anchorage at “0-dark-30”.

Anyway, today is a beautiful day and makes up for all the rain that kept us cooped up on Pandora yesterday.  This is the view that greeted me today as the sun rose over Ft Lauderdale.  Beautiful.  What a difference a day makes.Rain or not, yesterday was a big day as it was Brenda’s “real” birthday and the culmination of the “celebratory period” that began back in November when I threw a party dubbed as “Brenda’s not even close to 60 years old, birthday party”.   We had to begin celebrating early as I wanted to be sure that she’d enjoy her special day with old friends, well not really that old, while we were still in CT, knowing that we’d be aboard Pandora on her “real” birthday.   It is worth mentioning that she shares that day each year with Martin Luther King, as well as the national holiday that is held in their honor.

As we watched the weather forecast for the week we also saw that her “real birthday, day”, yesterday, was likely to be rainy, and it sure was, so we celebrated ashore for “happy hour” a few days ago.    This photo is supposed to document that we are more “hip” than old with the stage lighting pulsing in the background.  Not sure that the photo offers definitive proof of “hipness”.  I guess you will have to be the judge.  Never the less, it was a lot of fun and there were plenty in the bar that were even less hip than we.  Well, I cling to that belief.  I won’t mention that it wasn’t even dark out when we arrived.  Pretty pathetic.    Question: What did we do before we had “selfies”.  Hmm…So, yesterday was the “it” and Brenda enjoyed a quiet day aboard while the wind whipped us and everyone else around the anchorage.  However, due to my excellent advance planning, I was ready.  Well, almost ready, as I didn’t have any ribbon to tie up her present.  Not to be deterred, I found some “designer cording” and a “natural fiber decoration” plucked fresh from a local shrub.    How many cruising boats have a supply of wrapping paper and tape on hand?  Like most everything aboard a cruising boat, one needs to improvise.Another big event yesterday was receiving the “final final” approval from the Commerce Department that included the definitive “you go Bob” notice that givs us approval to visit Cuba aboard Pandora.   It was a long time coming as I began exploring the process of visiting Cuba back in early summer with a call to my congressman’s office to learn what the process for visiting Cuba looked like.   Well, here we are in mid-January and it finally came.   I won’t bore you with all the details but it was a long and involved process.   I have to say that, as I downloaded the approval document today, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t accompanied by a “trill of brass horns” as I opened it on my screen.  However, everything is now in place.  Amazing, actually.

I say that everything is “in-place” but we still have plenty of provisioning to finish up with and one of Brenda’s prescriptions was wrong from Express-Scripps and getting that corrected will take a few more days, at least.  Getting three months’ extra supply of medications is no simple feat and getting it right, and sent to the correct address, well that’s nearly impossible.  Did you know that when you use a UPS store as a drop point, it costs $5 per day per package once it has arrived.  Yikes.  When I visited them yesterday I was presented with a bill for $185 as some packages had been there for a while.   Fortunately, they took pity on me and I ended up paying somewhat less.  I won’t make that mistake again.

This morning I listened to Chris Parker, the weather router, and there may be a window to cross over to the Bahamas on Wednesday and if that doesn’t happen, we might be another week till the forecasted strong cold fronts have passed and another window presents itself.   The prevailing winds are from the east, as are the Bahamas, so getting there can be tough.  For every day that’s good for “easting”, there are many more that are unfavorable.  I won’t go into details on that except to say that making the run across the Gulf Stream can be tough and “tough” doesn’t play well with Brenda, self-described “creampuff” that she is.   Actually, she’s a lot tougher than she lets on but I had better not push it as there’s a lot of water to be crossed until we get to Cuba.

For now, I’ll focus on getting ready to go so if we get the go-ahead from Chris in a few days, we’ll be ready.

It’s hard to believe that we finally have our approvals in order to visit Cuba, a country that has been off-limits to U.S. citizens for as long as I have been alive.   It’s safe to say that when we first thought about making this trip, I never thought it would actually happen and now it is.  I guess that there’s nothing as consistent as change and changing it is.

So, that’s my report.

Palm Beach, home of the big kids

It’s Monday morning and we are in West Palm Beach where we will spend a few days seeing the sights and decompressing from what seemed like an endless number of “to do’s” aboard Pandora.  With most of the packages we have ordered waiting for us here with my friend Linda, who we hope to see later today, or in Ft Lauderdale at our favorite UPS store, we finally feel like things are settling down a bit.   There’s plenty more to do to prepare for our run to the Bahamas and on to Cuba but the “heavy lifting” is about done so we can relax a bit.

The last few days since leaving Ft Pierce have been fairly routine as we motored down the ICW on our way south to Ft Lauderdale where we will stage Pandora and prepare for our crossing to the Bahamas.   We did have a “fun” moment though in the middle of the night on Friday when we dragged our anchor during a thunderstorm.  When we anchored earlier that evening I did feel that the bottom seemed very soft and that the anchor didn’t set quite as well as I had hoped. Perhaps I should have anchored once more, but we backed down and I assumed that it was “good enough”.  Not…

Anyway, we both enjoyed a late night “BVD Shuffle” as we dragged around the harbor and re-anchored two times till I sort of “got it right”.    Even then I didn’t feel that the holding was all that good.  However, with shallow water all around us there wasn’t much risk in damage to anything beyond my ego and our “marital bliss”.  No, Brenda didn’t enjoy it at all.

Happily, the holding here in Palm Beach is great so we are all snug.  And, that’s a good thing as the current whips through on the ebb and flood with the tides so the anchor has to reset ever 7 or so hours with the current switches.

West Palm is a beautiful city with a dramatic skyline and wonderful restaurants.  It’s also a short walk to the grocery.  And, perhaps best of all, they seem to like cruisers as there are two huge and very nice public docks to land a dink on.  Given how unfriendly the cities in South Florida are, it’s refreshing to be well treated here.   And, as an added benefit, there aren’t any derelict boats so clearly the city is enforcing the laws to keep the waters uncluttered and leave room, and the welcome mat out, for visiting boaters.

When we arrived yesterday there was a car show in full swing with literally hundreds of fabulous cars, mostly on the exotic side.     Of course, who doesn’t like a “fleet” of Vets?  I know that my son Rob would love this show. And, of course, what about your “inner Bond”?  You can look, but don’t touch. Most of the cars were exotic sports cars but this “Big Healy” was one of my favorite.  The owner spent six years restoring it himself.  He rescued it when he found that it was being towed to the dump as a total wreck.  Pretty impressive car and in perfect shape.  I’d love to have one of these, and it’s the PERFECT color.  Wow!If I could have whatever I wanted, this Jaguar would be perfect.   Elegant and in mint condition.
Of course, there were plenty of “super cars” for those who want to make a statement, perhaps, “mine is bigger than yours, much bigger”.   Brenda would say that cars like this make up for something else?  Hmm…  Glad that I don’t want one. Well, I don’t want one really badly.  Yeah, that’s it. One way or the other, there was certainly something for everyone at this show.  Well, at least everyone with at least $100k to spend on a toy.  But hey, we are in Florida and that’s where the money goes to be spent in the winter.

There are plenty of massive homes and boats along the way and it’s clear that to live here you have to have plenty of “green” and be very willing to spend it.

Oh yeah, a cold front came through last night and it was in the 40s when we got up. It’l go up to the low 70s later today so don’t feel so bad for us.  Not that you do…

Stay tuned, more to come and I promise that it will include boats next post.   Honest!

Under way sort of, finally. Getting excited.

It’s Saturday morning and Pandora is secure at the Ft Pierce City Marina in, you guessed it, Ft Pierce FL.  We decided to splurge and tie up in a marina for a night because there is a farmer’s market and craft show each Saturday adjacent to the marina.  The city has invested heavily in the waterfront and it’s very nice.

Another, no make that the main, reason that we decided to visit though was because Brenda had learned about another weaver that lives aboard a boat here in Ft Pierce.  And, let me tell you, Brenda has happened upon VERY FEW weavers aboard boats over the years and this one wasn’t to be missed.   The couple, Laura and Bill, live aboard a powerboat for a few months in the winter and in Beaufort SC in the summer.   And, as an added benefit, they aren’t ever OLD.  Well, they aren’t as old as me and Brenda.   However, they live on a powerboat but hey, she’s a weaver, so we won’t hold it against them.

Laura and Bill visited us aboard Pandora last evening.   Here’s Brenda and her  new kindred sole, Laura.  These girls have a remarkable number of things in common, including a fetish for purses.  Hmm…Speaking of fetishes, not that one you sicko, Brenda is also very fond of jewelry and she found, in Ft Pierce, perhaps the Holy Grail of jewelry stores, one named after her.  How perfect. Even more perfect, it was closed.  Yipee!Speaking of spending boat dollars.   Somehow Pandora’s bow pulpit was bent to the side by about 4-6″ and I don’t know how it happened.  One way or the other I had to have it fixed so Brenda and I headed back to Riverside Marina and the gang pulled and pushed to get the pulpit back in shape.  They used very heavy straps, a fork lift and plenty of elbow grease to make it right.  Here’s George hard at work setting the straps in place. George was one of the guys that put on Pandora’s davits earlier this year.  Nice guy.  He knows how to apply a proper amount of “English” to the job and pull everything into alignment.  They used quite a mix of straps, wood blocks and chains to secure everything and keep it moving in the right direction.   They did a remarkable job and the bill was only a fraction of a “boat dollar”.    Well done.  I was in and out within a few hours. I hope that it’s our last visit to a yard for an “adjustment” on this trip.  Today we plan on visiting the market and will leave after lunch to either head down the ICW toward Ft Lauderdale or anchor near the Ft Pierce inlet and wait to sail on the outside down to Lake Worth.  I’ll have to check the weather files later to see which makes sense.  I don’t want Brenda’s first run of the season to be a “non-starter”.

One more thing before I break.  You may recall a post that I did a while back about my “encounter” with the USS New Mexico off of New London CT.   Well, I have continued to be in touch with Damon, in New Mexico, that manages the boat’s site and he sent me a very nice note the other day.  I just have to share it here.    Damon was referring to the day this summer when I helped my friend Ken and his family spread the ashes of their parents on the waters of Long Island Sound.

Damon wrote:  You blog is wonderful and full of joy and friends.  Congrats to your son and new daughter-in-law.  One amazing story you might find interesting is that the USS NEW MEXICO did the exact same favor for us as you did for your friend Ken.  One of our long-time Committee members, Leo Davis, a Navy torpedoman that completed seven combat patrols during World War II, died in August 2013 at age 91.  With eager permission from the Navy, I accompanied his two sons, who carried his cremains, to Groton in September 2013, where Leo was piped aboard the submarine with full honors, and his ashes remained onboard until March of 2014.  It was at that time, during a scheduled Arctic deployment, known as ICEX-14, that the Commanding Officer and several crewmen piped Leo ashore for the final time, launching a container with his cremains out Torpedo Tube #1 at the North Pole.  Leo in on eternal patrol at the Top of the World.  His last wish was to be buried at sea, and we were able to fulfill that wish in a manner that may be a once in a lifetime event.

I was very touched to read Damon’s comment.  I also take comfort in knowing that I have friends that have friends that own cruise missiles if Fidel gives me any crap when we are visiting Cuba.  HaHa!  Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t read my blog. Not likely.

Well, it is sure great to be underway again and there will surely be plenty more to come so stay tuned.    I am excited!

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Don’t forget to check out “Where is the world is Pandora” tab on the home page to see where we are each day of our journey.   We hope you follow along.   And, sign up too so you’ll get a note when I post.

That’s all for now.


Do your laundry. Learn about Cuba from Kiwis

It’s Thursday morning and today looks like the day, after a week here, that we will be peeling ourselves  away from “Velcro Beach”, that’s Vero Beach to landlubbers and even “CLODS”, Cruisers Living on Dirt, to head further south.  Along the way  we will have to make a quick stop to have few more things done to Pandora however, just about everything is shipshape now, which is good.   I am particularly excited about exercising my now-up-to-good-RPM engine which is working so much better now that it’s been properly tuned.

Yesterday, dancing between the raindrops, I decided to do laundry and headed with a massive load into the marina.  Yes, it’s been raining nearly every day since we got here a week ago and I have to say that it’s getting a bit old.  At least we can take comfort in the fact that its not snow.  When I check the weather each day there is always at least a 20% chance of rain in the forecast  and that often seems to morph into a 100% as the heavens open up in the afternoon.

I can just see the weather guy sitting in his office pouring over weather data and proclaiming “20%” only to glance out the window to see that it’s now raining cats and dogs and then scrambling for his computer to change the forecast.  Yup, 100%.  What a great job when you almost never have to be right and don’t get fired.

Of course, that means my 600 watts of solar panels don’t do a whole lot  on rainy days and I am sure glad to have my little portable Honda generator to top things up and heat hot water for showers.   Key point:  Brenda doesn’t like cold showers but then you probably already knew that.

Anyway, as I stood around watching the washing machine rattle and spin, I overheard a “doing her own laundry lady” talking about the “wonderful cruising on Cuba’s south coast”.   In spite of my pathological shyness, I jumped right in to ask questions.  It turns out that Jules is here in the US from New Zealand with her husband Gary and live aboard their 38′ Ingrid Ketch.  They cruised extensively throughout Cuba’s south coast this past summer.  Perfect, just what I was looking for!

Of course, I immediately asked her if she and Gary could come to Pandora for a drink so that we could talk about their visits to Cuba.  We have so many questions.  I also had it in the back of my mind (actually right in front) that perhaps they could speak about their experiences at the SSCA Gam that I am planning for June in Essex if perhaps they found themselves in the area.    Good news… They might very well be there as their travel plans probably include New England this summer. Fingers crossed.

So, Jules and Gary came to Pandora last night and patiently spent 2  1/2 hours telling us all sorts of great info about their visit.  I’d love to give you a detailed blow by blow of what they had to say but I don’t think that you could wade through that much “Cuba stuff” so let’s just agree that it was fascinating.

Ok, ok…. Just a few things that they mentioned…

I had recently learned that, as Americans, we would only be granted a 30 day Visa when we checked into Cuba and would have to leave the country for at least 24 hours prior to clearing back in.   The option that they suggested was to go to either Jamaica or the Caiman Islands, each an overnight sail from Cuba.   We would check in there, stay for a few days, and then return to Cuba, get a new visa and continue our trip.   Makes sense.

They went on and on about how wonderful and welcoming the Cuban people are and how great it is to visit the more rural towns and cities along the way.  They did not spend much time in Havana because the other areas were just to wonderful and worth exploring to cut things short.  They did suggest that we leave Pandora for several days and travel inland to stay in some of the many small inns that dot the countryside.

Another question I had been fretting over is about staying in marinas  as when traveling through Cuba by boat, you are required to go from marina to marina. At each port, departures and arrivals must be cleared with the Guarda Frontera, the Cuban Coast Guard.  It is illegal to just stop along the way and go ashore.

Brenda and I much prefer to be anchored out away from bugs, both flying and crawling and the idea of tying up at marinas that are often described as rough and in great need of repair is a total non-starter for us.  I had read that, with the permission of the Guarda Frontera, you could anchor in many harbors for a small fee, usually about $.25/ft per night but only if the marina was full.  Not so, it seems, as Gary and Jules cruised the coast for many months and almost never tied up in a marina.  Brenda and I were relieved to hear that.

They patiently went through our three chart books and marked them up with points of interest and even included the names of people who could help us along the way.

We wish that Gary and Jules could have stayed longer and we are hopeful that they will come see us this spring when we return to CT as Gary has some work planned in New England this summer so being at our Gam might work out for them.  That would be terrific and as an added bonus, their NZ accents will add an exotic touch to the event.

They maintain a blog and posted when they visited Cuba last summer.   Check it out,it’s worth reading.   Our visit was just terrific and helped fill in a lot of blanks about Cuba for us.  And, if that’s not enough, perhaps I have found another important piece of the puzzle as I look for speakers for our  SSCA Summer Solstice Gam in Essex next June.  Heck, that would make them a “toofer” and that’s even better.
We were so focused on Cuba that we didn’t have much time to get to know more about the two of them but we did learn that Gary is a professional sailor with some America’s Cup campaigns under his belt.  Perhaps he will enjoy meeting Tom Whidden,  a member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, at the Essex Yacht Club.  Tom is our Commodore and will be speaking at our gam about the current Cup races.

It is an amazingly small world, isn’t it?    Yes, and I LOVE doing laundry.



Aboard Pandora and it’s a new year

It’s Saturday evening and we are finally, sort of, settled aboard Pandora.  The holidays were great fun although I’ll admit that it’s a bit tough for me and Brenda to keep up with Rob, Chris and the rest of the 30 something crowd.   Can you say “want a beer dad?”.   I really need to dry out but being with other cruisers isn’t the greatest way to do that, we have found.   Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Besides, it’s almost “opening time”.  Oops, that will have to wait just a bit longer.

Anyway, on Monday we flew down to Florida from Baltimore and enjoyed a day of waiting, waiting and waiting a bit longer for flight to leave, no make that for the pilot to arrive.  What was that all about?  Did he forget to set his alarm? Somehow we dragged ourselves out of bed at 03:15 to rush off to our flight only to find that we were delayed for nearly 4 1/2 hours.   Ugg…

It was so late by the time we arrived in Ft Pierce where Pandora was stored there wasn’t time to launch her and move aboard till Tuesday, so we booked a hotel and crashed for the evening.  After a long day of sitting, and sitting some more, we weren’t quite up to going out to dinner so we assembled a lovely “in room” dinner.  Not exactly a balanced diet.  However, if you are hungry, and tired enough, everything tastes great.   The highlight of dinner was that we used th knife that our son Rob made for me (lower left) and the wine opener that he added lovely walnut inserts (on top of the wind bottle) to.   Pretty neat. The delay in launching worked out better as the extra time allowed me to spend time on Tuesday morning to clean her up (Pandora, not Brenda) and wipe down the hull to get 6 weeks of grime off of her.    The yard, Riverside Marina in Ft Pierce is a bit rough around the edges but they do a nice job and have an excellent travel lift with clean, non scratching slings (important when you have a dark green hull).  Here’s Pandora heading to the water for our first extended season aboard.   That’s the lift operator walking behind with his remote control as he steers her forward. I moved Pandora to Vero, AKA “Velcro Beach” (so named because cruisers can’t leave once they arrive) while Brenda did some grocery shopping.  It’s a nice place to spend time and there is a wonderful shuttle bus program that’s free.  Can’t beat that and with moorings costing about $19/day, it’s quite reasonable.

You may recall from some particularly whiny past posts, that I was having trouble with the engine, which was not working well, and was only able to get up to 1,700 RPM, well below engine specs, so I had AJ at the yard look into it and see what he could find.  I was certain that the problem was an overpitched prop, because that’s what the last owner told me.   And, a number of “boat dollars” later, we had the answer.

“So Bob, what did AJ find?”   Well, let me tell you.   Surprise, the prop is fine!  The problem, and there was more than one, is that the engine was WAY out of tune and AJ was surprised that I was even able to get the engine started, much less run.   The timing was retarded by 4 degrees, and I am told that’s a lot. The valve setting were all wrong which he felt contributed to the low compression readings and best of all, the injectors were really a mess with one in particular looking like it had been serviced with a hand held electric drill.   Setting aside the issue of messed up injectors, he speculates that the specs for the timing and valves were pulled for the wrong series of the engine.   It seems that just about everything a mechanic could do to improperly tune an engine had been done.

So, when I headed out of the marina and ran the boat up to speed, the engine spooled up to nearly 3,100 RPM.  No more lugging along at 1,700 rpm any more for Pandora.  And, Brenda’s happy as we now have extra power to get off of those pesky sandbanks that seem to jump up to grab us from time to time and to battle adverse currents.  Yahoo…

As far as engine life is concerned, all of this suggests that there’s plenty of life left in the old girl and that’s really, really good news.   So much for the yearly tuneups from the “old mechanic”.  I guess that makes AJ my new most favorite mechanic.  What a relief.

I also had the yard install intake scoops to help the fridge and watermaker get adequate water pressure when going at speed and that seems to have worked well also.  Check and check.  Two more to-dos off of the list.

Unfortunately, the programming for the fridge control computer is a bit out of wack and while I tried to adjust the “computer”, well, let’s say that I got it mostly right.  I ask you, who decided to put computers in refrigerators anyway?   Well, at least I can call the service guy at the manufacturer on Monday and get some help in setting things the last bit right.  So much for a “do it myselfer, doing it myself”. To say that there are many steps for setting up the computer with set-points, differentials and other settings and that doesn’t begin to tell the story.  Anyway, when it works, it works. Not so much right now.  But, it does keep the ice frozen really, really well.

Vero Beach City Marina has a large mooring field but it’s not nearly large enough to accommodate all of the boats that “stick” here for months at a time so rafting up to three boats per mooring is the norm.  That’s good as there is just about always “room for one more”.    A nice view from Pandora.
The walk to the ocean is very pretty with quiet streets lined with huge live oaks.  For you Northerners, “live” is a type of oak tree, not a state of being.   Very beautiful draped with Spanish Moss.These magnificent trees are host to a species of epiphytic fern, the “resurrection fern”, so named because the dry up and wither when there is no rain and come back to full health in a matter of hours with the next rain.   They spread with abandon on every branch of these trees.  Interestingly, they don’t seem to grow on any other species.  How do they know?  Smart ferns.
With the 2015 holiday season just a memory, there’s  still plenty of “holiday evidence” around town which, to us Northerners, looks very much out of place. What’s with the bows on palms?  Can’t the folks in south come up with “fitting” decorations that make sense in 80 degrees and humid?
With global warming and all, perhaps that’s something we will all have to think about.  Santa and his eight tiny reindeer on roller skates?   Something to look forward to.   I hope not.

All and all, I love the holidays but after that I long for spring to arrive.  In the old days (when I was getting paid) I would always remind myself that “it will get better in May” when the snow was swirling around.  Now, I can  just look out of the cockpit and enjoy a “summer” sunrise in “winter” like the one that greeted me yesterday.  No snow here.   Happy me…Well, that’s about it for now.  In a few days we will begin our run south to Ft Lauderdale and plan to cross to the Bahamas.   For now, all I can think about is brunch at the Vero Beach Yacht Club.  I am told that it’s the best value in town and it is based on last year’s visit.

Editor:  If the truth was told, I didn’t finish the post till Sunday morning as it was indeed “opening time” and I decided to set this post aside till morning.   Oh well, such is self control.   With apologies to a famous vintner, “we will publish no post till it’s time”.