Monthly Archives: November 2017

Far, Far Away….from Everything

It’s Tuesday morning and we are at, well at a point that’s about as far from land as we will get for the entire trip.   We have traveled more than 750 miles since leaving Hampton and are 250 miles from Bermuda and 500 or more from just about everywhere tera-firma. (did I spell that right?).   For those with a map and care about such things, our coordinates are 28.28N and 66.47W.

I am happy to say that after more than a day, several days actually, of winds, better described as zephyrs, in the single digits, we are now sailing along in winds of about 10-13kts on a close reach, doing 7-8kts through the water.  Oddly, we have been bucking a 1kt adverse current for several days now so our progress isn’t as good as the speedo suggests.

It’s funny how complete one’s focus becomes on the wind speed and direction and with every increase of a few knots of wind, hope that perhaps it will hold and signal that we are approaching the area where the easterly trade winds will begin to strengthen.  While we are still over 100 miles from the coordinates, 27N and 65W where Chris Parker suggests that stronger trades will set in, we are hopeful that a lighter and faster boat like Pandora will continue to find wind strong enough to continue sailing.

As  Pandora’s speed approaches 7kts, she begins to emit a gentle hum, a sure sign that she’s come alive and is happy to be moving again.
After hours and days of motoring, it’s wonderful to hear nothing but the gentle hum of Pandora moving through the water and the sound of the ocean whooshing along the hull.  As an added benefit, she is able to attain a good turn of speed  at 10 degrees or less of heel.   With some luck, our wind will hold and allow us to sail much of the remaining distance to the “Chris Parker, OFFICIAL, well at least for today, the official area where we will be solidly under the influence of the trades.   One can always hope…

After a constant parade of ships for the first few days after we departed Hampton, we have only seen one or two show up on the AIS tracker for several days now and only one small boat, another member of the Salty Dawg Rally fleet, within the VHF hailing distance of about 15 miles, the normal limit of a VHF signal.

I’m tempted to say that it’s weird to look out to the horizon and see absolutely nothing, day after day.  However, on every one of my offshore runs, after getting more than a hundred or so miles from shore, this is normal.   So, here we are in the deep blue sea,  hour after hour, day after day, and all that passes by Pandora is indigo ocean waters and puffy white clouds marching their way across the sky.

With the full moon a few days ago, the nighttime sky has been brilliantly bright, casting sharp shadows on the boat and beaming into the portholes, tricking you into believing that someone is shining a flashlight as you try to sleep.

All and all, the moon and stars have made for night watches that pass easily.  Oh yeah, and the new cockpit enclosure has been terrific, keeping out the nighttime dew and salt.   With all the motoring we have also been liberal with the use of the watermaker and I have to tell you that a warm nighttime shower in the cockpit, while not quite as wonderful as a teenage skinny dip, it’s pretty close.

I have to admit that all of this does seem even better as we now know that we are likely to sail much of the way on the second half of the trip, pushed along by the more predicable trades than the fickle winds nearer to shore that have caused so much frustration for the first half of our trip.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Just before I left I activated Sirius radio so while I do my chores each day and prepare meals aboard Pandora I have been listening to BBC World Radio.  How civilized.  Yes, indeed.

Today I spoke to Brenda again, compliments of Glenn on KPK radio.  Now, that was a treat…

Perhaps again tomorrow. .. Yes, that would be nice.

Yes, we are pretty far from just about everything but I can still (sort of) talk to Brenda.  “static, crackle, pop… Good morning Brenda…  static, crackle, pop…..Over…?

And, while it was hard to hear exactly what she was saying, it made me feel, even though I am so far from everything, just a little closer to her.

Ok,I’ll admit that I am blushing as I proof this but it’s how I feel. So there…

It’s Always a ‘Little’ Something

In keeping with the “little thing” theme of yesterday’s post, we had a “little thing” fail last night aboard Pandora.

In this case, it was the fitting that holds the luff tack cringle of the mainsail to the goose neck on the bow end of the boom.   This fitting was a loop with a pin that went through the bottom front “corner” of the mainsail luff.  In spite of the fact that this fitting was, and I say “was” deliberately, designed to take the load of the luff for the entire mainsail, it broke off.  The boom outhaul, with as much as 2,000 lbs of pressure on it as well as the head of the sail both pull against this fitting with great tension.  It’s a very critical fitting.

About 00:00 hours (midnight), Jim came down below to wake me as the fitting had failed.

Fortunately, it was very light wind and we were motoring, more or less, directly into the wind.   When this fitting failed, the bottom of the sail became slack and suddenly much of the tension of the rest of the mainsail was focused on the first sail slide about 4′ up the luff of the sail. This slide and that part of the sail are not designed to take any major loads so had we been sailing in a strong breeze, I expect that the sail would have ripped its’ entire length beginning at that point.

Fortunately, due to Jim’s attention and quick action, a major failure was averted.    With nearly 1,000 miles to go until we reach Antigua, losing the main would have ruined our day and many more after, that’s for sure.

While we expect to reach an area where we can sail in a few days, for now we are motoring and that would have put us at risk of running out of fuel before reaching Antigua without a working mainsail to move us along.

So, what was the solution?  Fortunately, I keep a good supply of Dyneema line for just this sort of problem and was able to put together a bridle to hold the tack of the sail to the boom and mast.  This line is super strong.   I doubled each piece with several wraps through the mainsail cringle, just in case the line chafes.  However, Dyneema is really tough stuff and quite chafe resistant, so I doubt that we will have any major chafe issues.

I guess it took about an hour for me and Jim, with Chris at the wheel, just in case, to get everything tied securely into place.  Thanks to Jim for his quick action as it likely saved the main.

So, today we are motorsailing ESE, close hauled, with the expectation that the wind will shift north of east at some point in the next day or so.  While it is expected to remain light, around 10-12kts, we may be able to sail with the big Code O headsail once the wind shifts north, as its’ forecast to do.  Eventually, perhaps late Tuesday or Wednesday we should find the easterly trade winds and then be able to sail the rest of the way to Antigua.

I still expect t to arrive in Antigua around the 12th, perhaps one of the first boats in the fleet to do so.   With Brenda flying in on the 15th, that will give me time to see Jim and Chris off and get Pandora into cruising mode.  Of course, that also will involve getting that broken tack fitting repaired.   More to come on that, with photos, when I get to Antigua.

Fortunately, so far, this has been the only, potentially major, failure.   In the “minor failure” category, my masthead tricolor running light stopped working so now I only have the deck level running lights which I usually reserve for when I am running under power.   No biggie but I’ll want to get that fixed as well.  It’s probably corrosion in the fixture at the top of the mast as it’s an LED bulb and those rarely fail.

In the “I don’t want to run out of fuel” department, I made a decision to continue on my middle fuel tank until it ran dry and the engine stopped to confirm exactly how much usable fuel it contained.   Well, this morning, after 61 hours of running time, the engine abruptly died.  At an assumed average consumption of about .65/hr fuel burn at low RPM, this suggests that I actually have 40 usable gallons in what is reported to be a 50 gallon tank.  That’s few gallons less than I had expected and it will be interesting to see how much fuel that tank takes when I fill up in Antigua.  Based on that I will be better able to estimate my maximum run time going forward.  That will be good to know when I am calculating fuel consumption for especially long periods of motoring, like on this trip.

So, here we are, motoring along in very light winds with the hope that the wind will fill in a bit and back more to the NE so we can sail sooner rather than later.

I guess that’s all for now and in the meantime, let’s hope that nothing else “little” comes up and if it does, I sure hope that it, like last nights’ breakage indeed stays a “little something”.

Oh yeah, I sautéed the last of the Mahi Mahi for dinner last evening along with some yellow squash.  Both were great and flavored with Old Bay seasoning, the fish got rave reviews from Pandora’s entire crew.

Perhaps it’s time to fish again.  Hmm…

Sometimes, It’s the Little Things…

It’s Sunday morning and we are sailing along about 500nm and a third of the way to Antigua.   As a point of reference, we are at the same latitude as Jacksonville FL and 500 miles off shore.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s too far for a chopper to get to us.  However, as conditions are expected to be very calm, it’s not likely that we will need their help. Having said that, I probably shouldn’t even bring it up as I don’t want to jinx our luck.

We are currently sailing and have been for the last few hours after motorsailing for much of the overnight hours .    I will say that we have been sailing a lot more than Chris Parker suggested would be the case, so we are pretty happy about that.

Yesterday proved to be a bit challenging, in spite of sailing a good deal, because we were hit by squall after squall for much of the day.  These squalls are not nearly as strong as those we see in New England where the thunderheads can reach up into the atmosphere for 15,000 feet and bring with them gusty winds in excess of 50kts.

In the tropics squalls bring some rain but rarely more than 15-20kts of additional wind.  In spite of the being relatively mild, it was a tiring day as we were constantly having to adjust the sails as each squall came over us and caused the wind direction to change dramatically, often going away completely before returning from a yet another direction.

Adding complexity to the day, we also decided to trail a line and managed to catch a Mahi Mahi, in the 7lb range, a nice fish.  I say “complexity” as we caught it just as a squall hit once again, so after we brought it aboard, I had the fun of “bleeding” it and then taking off the filets while being buffeted by wind and rain.  It took quite a while to finish the job, all the while trying not to cut myself as the boat made it’s way through the waves, confused buy the constant changing wind direction.

I have to say that by the time I finished cleaning the fish, tossing the “refuse” overboard and rinsing off the deck, I wasn’t in the mood to eat it at all.  However, a few hours later I baked one of the filets seasoned with Old Bay seasoning and made fish sandwiches.  It was quite good.  Tonight, perhaps  baked fish again but served in a soft or hard taco.

Here I am, with Jim peeking into the frame with our “catch”.

So, back to the title of this post.  “Sometimes, it’s the little things…”

Anyone who keeps up with my blog knows that I am inclined pretty much spill my guts (fishing pun not intended) and write things that would make me blush if I thought that someone actually was reading it.

It’s also no secret that the thing that I hate the most about being at sea is that I am away from Brenda, sometimes for weeks as I move Pandora south and north again each season.  And, now that we are spending our winters in the eastern Caribbean, those times away are longer than ever.

While it’s tough to be away, the part that I hate the most is not to be able to talk to her for a week or more.  Yes, I know that’s sappy and sounds a lot like that annoying stuff that people post on Facebook for their anniversary.   However, that’s how I feel, so there.

Well, today, 500 miles from shore I was able to talk to Brenda briefly compliments of Glen , a HAM, call sign KPK, that’s Kilo Pappa, Kilo, out of Florida.  Glen maintains the SSCA Safety and Security Net and is on the air at 08:15 each day on SSB 8.104, USB.  I have known that Glen is willing to do a phone patch for a while, but didn’t have the nerve to try it.  Well, I have gotten to know Glen through my work with SSCA so today I decided to give it a try.

It worked like this… I called Glen and gave him Brenda’s cell number, he dials the number on his phone and then patches the call through the radio.  As both Brenda and I are used to using the radio, we are fairly comfortable with speaking and when we are done using the phrase “over” to let the other party know that it’s their time to talk.

However, knowing that any radio call isn’t private and can be heard by anyone on that frequency, does make it a bit awkward.  Never the less, as I contacted Glen this morning to see if he’d do a patch, I have to say that it was a bit, well, more than a bit, emotional for me when he said “sure”.   Of course, when he placed the call, wouldn’t you know it, he got her voice mail. However, she called him right back and as I was standing by “ever hopeful”, I was able to speak with her.

While our call was, more or less, “so, how’s the weather” , it was a very special moment for both of us.

After hanging around Brenda for over 45 years, I still miss her desperately when I am away.   Ok, ok, call me a “Facebook sort of sap” but that’s how I feel.

Sure, making passage and being offshore in a small boat is a big deal, however, something as simple as hearing Brenda’s voice today was a very big deal.   Yes indeed, it’s the small things that matter and, sometimes it’s those little things that are the biggest of all.

And, as Rosanne Rosanadanna used to say, with a finespray of spittle coming from her mouth, “and that’s the truth”.

Perhaps I’ll just leave it at that for now as it’s almost time to make lunch.  Besides, while lunch is one of those little things, when you are hundreds of miles from shore, your next meal looms large.

However, as I learned today, not nearly as important as speaking, if only for a few minutes, to Brenda.

Sailing Again, for a while

As I sit down to write this post, we are into our third day on passage to Antigua from Hampton VA.    Since leaving we have had to run the motor a good deal, racking up a total of 36 hours of motoring and 12 of sailing alone.  Of course, we kept the sails up for the motoring times as there was a little wind that helped us move along with reduced engine RPM.

That’s important to keep the RPMs down as it’s a long way to Antigua and we were told when we left that we’d be motoring much of the way.  In spite of my concern that we’d not be able to make the entire run without running out of fuel, I decided to leave anyway with the belief that the extremely light conditions would not materialize as predicted.

That was a good decision as here we are sailing along at between 8-9 kts, SSE in moderate winds on a close reach and we expect that these conditions will persist for at least the next 24 hours.  After that, the wind should shift more to the SE which will make it impossible to continue to sail in the direction we wish to go.

Based on that, Chris Parker recommends that once the wind shifts to the SE that we tack and sail to the NE to gain some easting.  The farther east we are, the better our chances of picking up the trade winds, later in the trip, which should give us easy sailing the rest of the way to Antigua.
Of course, “trades” are named that because they represent regular winds, both speed and direction  are very consistent so they were widely used by sailing ships to make long passages on fairly predicable schedules.

As we make our way south and east we hope to eventually hook up with the easterly trades to the Caribbean, which is good as it will make our trip more predictable, at least for the final third of the trip and eliminate any risk of running out of fuel.

As I mentioned, if I motor-sail and keep my engine RPM low, I can stretch my available fuel supply quite a bit and should be able to average about 6-.7gal/hr of motoring time.  As I hold (well the building plans say so, but I have never tested it) 150 gallons combined in my three tanks and I also have an additional 25 gallons in jugs.  That would give me something like 250 hours of slow motoring, perhaps a total of 1,500 miles.

However, I wouldn’t want to test this as I am assuming that I can use 95% of my fuel before the pickup no longer can reach the remaining fuel in the tanks and I don’t know if that’s correct.

In any event, I want to be sure I conserve fuel so I don’t find myself a few hundred miles short of Antigua drifting around with no more fuel.
As I will continue to monitor fuel use very closely, and Chris’s forecast now suggests that there will be enough wind to sail half of the distance, I doubt that there is any real risk that I’ll find myself running out before we get to Antigua.

The good news for now is that we should be able to put as many as 36 “carbon free” hours of sailing, perhaps  270 miles, in the bank over the next two days and then it looks like we will have a few days of motoring to endure before we hit the easterly trades and make our way the final distance to Antigua.

I guess that’s about it for now but all is well on Pandora and just about everything aboard is functioning as it should.  I say “just about” as my wind speed indicator was acting up a while ago but now seems to have settled down and the AIS was having problems but it too “healed itself” overnight.

Well, I guess that’s about all I can think of for now, so I’ll sign off so I can get a line in the water.  Perhaps we can catch a tuna or Mahi Mahi for dinner.  No luck yesterday though.

It’s good to be sailing, for a while at least.

Only 1,100 miles to go.

Crossing the Gulf Stream

It’s Friday morning and the beginning of day two of our expected (fingers crossed that there’s some wind and we don’t end up out of fuel and drifting along waiting for wind) ten day run to Antigua from Hampton, VA.

We departed the marina yesterday morning expecting that we’d be hard put to find wind that was more than 10 kts for much of the way to Antigua and the first 24 hours has proven to be true to that forecast so the engine has gotten a good workout.

However, a few hours ago the wind picked up into the high teens so we are now sailing on a broad reach at close to 7kts.  With the effect of the Gulf Stream as we crab our way across, we are losing a knot as we compensate for the current that is pushing us north at about 3-4kts.   The strategy for crossing the GS is to make an assumption about the average current that you expect to encounter and how far north you will be set as you cross.  The strategy is to take into account the speed of the boat, time to cross and then adjust the course to an imaginary point that you will be set down from to exit at the desired location.  Does that make sense?  Not sure I am being clear.  If not, you’ll just have to trust me on that.

My assumption was an average current in the 3+ range and ten hours to cross so I picked a point that was about 20mn south of where I hope to emerge from The Stream.

Chris Parker gave us an entry as well as an exit point as well as a course to hold after that to navigate a large eddy along the south side of the GS.  If we hit it right, the eddy will give us a 3-4kt boost for up to 100mn after we exit.   Stray too far from that exit point and course to the third waypoint and we’d find ourselves bucking the wrong side of the eddy and see our speed over the bottom fall to 3kts or less.  That’s compared to perhaps 10kts over the bottom if we hit the eddy just right.   That’s makes for a huge difference on how long it will take to cover the distance until we are in clear, current free water.   Hit the eddy wrong and it might take us over 30 hours to cover the same 100 miles that we might cover in about 14 hours if we hit it right.  That “mistake” alone could cost us an additional ¾ of a day on the passage.

Of course, the coordinates for the eddy are imaginary and derived from a satellite map so getting it exactly right is more art than science.  However, this particular eddy is really large so I am hopeful that there is enough room for error to allow me to navigate the distance effectively.

Also, as I can’t send photos over my SSB high frequency radio, you’ll just have to imagine what it was like last night to see a nearly full moon rise in the east as a fiery sunset lit up the western sky, with the brilliant moon transiting the entire sky and finally setting just before daybreak.  It was beautiful.

Pandora’s crew seems to be settling into the rhythm of life at sea, eating, standing watch and resting as we make our way south.

Let’s hope that the wind holds out but, more than likely, as we leave the warmer water of the Stream, the wind will fall away as forecast.   For now, we will have to just enjoy what’s been thrown our way and appreciate the opportunity to put some “fuel free” miles into the bank.   For sure, I’ll need  to accumulate about 500 of these “free miles” in order to be certain that I will have adequate fuel to make it to Antigua.

If not, I’ll just have to take what the wind offers, sit around waiting for more wind which will add several days to our trip.

Well, it’s time to cast out a lure and see if we can catch something for dinner.  I’m excited as I have a new type of lure that is “guaranteed” to catch everything but seaweed.

Wish me luck.

Antigua or bust! On our way.

At 09:00 today Pandora slipped her lines to head for Antigua.  The weather forecast suggests that we will be motoring much of the way and I am cautiously optimistic that we will have enough fuel to make landfall in Antigua as planned, perhaps about ten days from now.

Here’s her able crew, Chris, Jim and me just before departure, all smiles. The big question is if we will have enough wind to sail at least part of the way as the winds are forecast to be quite light, in the 10kt range for much of the run.  I expect that as long as we have a little wind from a good angle, not on the nose, we should be able to squeeze as much as 1,400 of the 1,500 miles with the engine running.  However, as what little wind that is forecast is likely to be from a favorable sailing angle for close reaching, we should be able to make it.

Here’s what Chris said about boats like Pandora regarding the wind in his message to the fleet last evening…

When to depart?

The following vessels could depart Thu2:
–vessels able and willing to motor 80% of trip
–vessels desiring to go to Bermuda
vessels easily driven in light air, especially those with “Code-0” sail for extremely light upwind work (these vessels may be able to sail up to 50% of trip)
–vessels on a tight schedule which meet sufficient above criteria to reach intended destination (i.e. sufficient fuel and/or refuel in BDA and/or sail well upwind in extremely light air).

Vessels which do not meet the above may wish to consider delaying departure until there’s more wind for sailing.

Next opportunity with high probability of more wind for sailing would be departure at whatever time appropriate to reach GulfStream EXIT near 34N/74W (200mi from mouth of ChesapeakeBay / about 230mi from Hampton) sometime btwn Sunset and Midnight Mon6 night.”

Yes, it looks like there will be more wind for sailing if boats wait until next Monday to depart but that would likely strain my crew and would certainly not be appealing to Brenda who will be arriving in Antigua on the 15th.    However, Pandora fits into the “easily driven with big sails” category so perhaps we will get lucky and be able to sail a good amount of the way.  50%?  That would be awesome.

All and all, I’d like to make the trip with more wind but just don’t want to hang around Hampton for another 4-5 days so off we go.  And, I have to say that a light wind passage would be a treat after our 4.5 days of gales last January on our way to the BVIs.  That’s something that’s fun to talk about but I’d prefer to avoid a repeat this year.

I agree that the most dangerous thing to have on a boat is a schedule and I agree.  However, there is no particular danger in leaving today with the obvious  risk of running out of fuel.  However, I’d rather drift around for a day or so if we just find ourselves feeling stressed about fuel than to delay a few more days.

Besides, as Chris Parker has said so many times in the past, “well, that’s a long way out and the forecast could change”.  Me, I hope it does change so that the trades fill in sooner than expected.

Yup, that’s me, ever hopeful.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Brenda misses her gardens while we are away so she sent some plants down with Jim.  I planted them in a “window box” and am hopeful that they will survive the trip.  After this post, done within cell range, I’ll be sending my posts to Brenda who will put them up.  Alas, it’s tough to send photos so let’s hope that my prose will make up for a lack of pictures.

Of course, don’t forget to follow us on this site as well as on the rally site.  So refer to my last posts for details on how to do that if it’s not already clear.

So, for now all I can say is “Antigua or bust” or should I say until Pandora’s outof fuel.

Until tomorrow…


You can’t get there from here…

Well, the title might be an exaggeration but I have to admit that I have been wondering if perhaps “you can’t get there from here” might be true for our run to Antigua.

The last few days of weather briefings by Chris Parker here in Hampton with the other 70+ boats in the Salty Dawg Rally have made me wonder if the 180 gallons or fuel will be enough to get us the 1,500 miles to Antigua given that the short and long term forecast suggests that we will be in for a very light wind trip.

Chris suggests that for boats that can sail well in very light wind, like Pandora, we may perhaps be able to sail, or at least motorsail, much of the way.  However, his overall assessment is that we will be in conditions in the 5-10kt range for much of the trip which is a LOT of motoring.

Pandora, when motorsailing in light wind, burns less than .7 gph so that gives us a range of nearly 10 days of full time motoring, perhaps 1,300 to as much as 1,500 miles.  However, that assumes that we have access to nearly all of the fuel in the tanks, which is not likely as there is surely going to be a little left below the fuel pickup tube when the engine finally dies.  I have never run the engine on a tank until it died so I don’t really know how much of her three 50 gallon tanks I can actually use.  I also carry 30 gallons of reserve jugs and I know I can use all of that.

If we wanted more wind, Chris did say that it might be better if we delay our departure until Sunday, four days from now, but I am not prepared to stick around and hope that the long range forecast is as predicted so off we go.

I guess that’s all that I can say for now so if you’re curious, follow along at “where in the world is Pandora” or on the shared rally page.   Be sure that you put in SDR as the group on the shared page to see where everyone is.  Of course, on my own page you can get an update every two hours and only twice a day on the shared page.

So, if more is better, check out my own page.  However it’s alot fun to see how we are doing relative to the others in the rally.

Do note that some, perhaps a lot, of the boats are likely to stick in Hampton for a few days with the hope that conditions will improve or stop in Bermuda to wait for stronger winds.  One way or the other, there will be plenty of tracks to follow so enjoy.

I plan on putting up posts most days to let you know how things are going so visit regularly.

Well, wish us luck and hope that indeed, you can get there from here with 180 gallons of fuel.  Fingers, or perhaps fuel lines crossed.

It least I know that it’s views like this that await when we make landfall in Antigua.   If that’s not enough, there’s a full moon in a few days.   And let me tell you, there is nothing like a full moon at sea.

Here’s to a great trip.