Monthly Archives: May 2018

Oh no, not another tot!

Now that I have been home for nearly two weeks, Antigua seems like such a long way away.  Actually, it is when you travel home aboard Pandora, try 9+ days at sea and 1,600 miles.

Anyway, after only visiting Antigua for two seasons, I feel like the island has become a part of me.  One major contributor to this has been my involvement in the “Tot Club” short for The Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda, a group that I became a member of just before heading out to return home to CT a few weeks ago.

I first became aware of the group when Brenda and I were tied up in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbor last April. There was this mysterious group lined up in a circle.  What were they?  Druids?  I was intrigued. The group has met each day since july 31st, 1991 to carry on the tradition, ended on July 31st, 1970, of the British Navy of issuing a “tot” of rum each day and making one of seven proscribed daily toasts along with a toast to the Queen.

One thing lead to another and when I arrived in Antigua the following November, and was looking for interesting things to do with fellow participants in the Salty Dawg Rally, 55 boats worth, I thought it would be fun to have them participate in one of the evening toasts.

Mike and Ann, two of the senior members of the club, agreed and invited our group to participate in one of their meetings.   While the club meets in various different locations around the English Harbor and Falmouth areas, we thought that the most fitting would be at Copper and Lumber, a wonderful historic building located in the Dockyard.

We assembled, some 40 of us, and easily outnumbered the Tot Club members in the inner courtyard at Copper and Lumber.   It was a wonderful event and when I later did a survey of rally participants, it was one of the most popular events that we did.Of course, I was really taken by the club, the tradition and the great folks that are members and just had to join.   The problem is that in order to join you have to commit to taking seven tots over a 14 day period and, on top of that, have to memorize all sorts of facts about Lord Nelson and his battles.   Yes, I am repeating myself as I have written about all this in a number of past posts but bear with me on this.   If you feel compelled to read ALL of these posts, go to the search window and type in “Tot Club”.  It’s that easy…

So, earlier in the spring, Brenda flew out of St Lucia and I returned to Antigua to prepare for my run north.  I had nearly two weeks in Antigua to work on becoming a member.  I began “totting” on a near daily basis.  You might say “Bob, how hard can that be, taking a tot of rum each day?”  Actually, I am not a big guy and don’t have a lot of “reserve buoyancy” to absorb that much rum.

At one point, when I called Brenda before I headed back to Pandora in the evenings, following yet another tot on my journey to become a member, “Bob, I can’t wait until you call me and your voice isn’t slurred.”

I’ll admit that there was more than one morning when I woke up, shall we say,  not feeling my best. The problem is that an “aspiring member” must take a “full measure”, a solid two ounces, of rum in a “single go”, each evening.   For me, that’s a lot of rum.  Fortunately, once you are a full member you can pour your own, and don’t have to take a full two ounces, so it’s more manageable.   I should note that on your first night, and the night you become a member, you have to take two tots.   Those were not my best nights, according to Brenda.  Me, I’m not sure I recall…

The Club is well known in Antigua and has members or guests with some pretty nice boats or homes who offer to host meetings of the club.  One such event was held and sponsored by an aspiring member aboard Ashanti, a 115′ schooner.  What a boat.  I wrote about that event in this post.  She’s spectacular and after leaving Antigua has begun a round the world journey via the Panama Canal. The club was also hosted, twice, aboard an 80′ Oyster by a member, another spectacular venue.  And, another event at a home overlooking Falmouth Harbor.  What a view. So, after 8 days and more tots than I can count, or remember, I took my test and passed.  And, let me tell you, I would not have passed if it weren’t for the help of Simon, a member that took nearly a half day to tutor me on the finer points of club and British Navy history along with facts about the various battles that Lord Nelson was involved in.

But, I passed, by the skin of my teeth, I expect.  Here’s me and Simon on the night of my “induction” following my exhaustive oral testing by an official club “examiner”. As well as Ann, my sponsor, and her husband and one of the founders of the club, Mike.  If it weren’t for them I would not be a member.    I am looking forward to the arrival of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua next November and, as “Antigua Port Captain, the opportunity to introduce rally participants to The Royal British Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda.  Just try saying that three times fast after a ” full measure”.  And, believe me, that’s way easier than memorizing all that Nelson lore.

So, now I am a proud member of the club and am happy to have the “white ensign” hanging in my office here at home.  I’ll be sure to have it aboard Pandora when I return to Antigua in November.

It was a long and hazy journey but I became an official Tot Club member and I  look forward to returning to Antigua in the fall.

Oh yeah, a tradition of the club is for members returning to the island to bring something to share that is emblematic of the returning members home country.  So, what food is uniquely American?  American cheese?  Hmmm…

I’ll have to think about that for a bit.  Perhaps after another tot it will become clear.   Uniquely American, uniquely American?

Oh no, that’s going to take a lot of tots.


A dream comes true for a teenage boy.

Just about everyone dreams about the future when they are in high school and sometimes those dreams even come true.

One of my dreams, early on, at least related to sailing, was to retire at 55 and to be able to go sailing and not have to return to work after a brief two week vacation.  In the interest of total honesty, I missed my deadline by one year and retired at 56, six years ago.  Better late than never.

It seems that Brian D’Isernia, when he was in high school back in the 60s, had a dream to build a replica of a Grand Banks schooner, and a few years ago, he realized that dream.

In 2014 he launched Columbia, a replica of the famous Essex MA built schooner by the same name, believed to be the fastest of the US Grand Banks schooners at the time, perhaps fast enough to beat the reigning champion, the Lunenberg schooner Blue Nose.  Unfortunately, she foundered in a storm so was never able to test her speed against the Blue Nose.

This is a photo of the launching of the original Blue Nose.  The Bluenose II, a replica, now sails out of Lunenburg as a goodwill ambassador for Nova Scotia.  As a point of interest, when Brenda and I were newly weds back in the 70s, we took a car trip to Nova Scotia and went for a day sail on Blue Nose II.  I still remember that day and oddly, the sweater that Brenda knitted and wore aboard.  She’s been knitting nearly every day since then but that’s another story.

This short video is of old film footage of the original Bluenose racing her Gloucester rival, Gertrude L. Thibault.  It’s old footage and I expect, colorized.
Anyway, back to Brian and his dream.  Brian began his career as a fisherman aboard a long-liner.  Eventually he decided that he’d be better off building fishing boats than being a fisherman and founded Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City Florida.

Interestingly, among the many fishing boats that have been launched at his yard, over 350 and counting, he built the Andrea Gail, made famous buy the book The Perfect Storm.

He even built at least one of the Staten Island Ferry boats. Over the years Brian has done very well for himself, building fishing boats, ferry boats, oil rig support ships and most recently he won a contract to build a number of USCG cutters.    That’s pretty neat and apparently his first military contract. After many years Brian still had that dream to build a replica of Columbia and  finally realized his dream when she was launched in 2014.   This photo shows the original Columbia and Brian’s Columbia sailing together.  How dey do dat?Anyway, all of this is background for my chance visit aboard Columbia when I was in Antigua.   As port captain for the Salty Dawg Rally that brought 55 boats to Antigua last November, I got to know many folks on the island as I planned for the fleet’s arrival.  Along the way I got to know Franklin Braithwaite, commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club and owner of A&F sails in English Harbor.

I had commented to Franklin that I’d love to get aboard Columbia and he encouraged me to introduce myself to the captain and get a tour of the boat.  Anyway, I did get a tour and she’s beautiful.

Columbia’s owner is rightfully proud of her and the crew is enthusiastic as well.  This video is worth looking at.  It shows her launch and sea trials as well as some great clips of her down below.  She sailed this year in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and received line honors for being the first to cross the finish line.  I caught this shot as she roared toward the finish line with a “bone in her teeth”.  A while later she participated in the “parade of ships” into historic English Harbor.   My buddy Franklin sitting on the starboard side in the stern. On her way out of the harbor.   Big boat.  On the dock in English Harbor, looking regal.  Nothing quite like a schooner bow to set the heart a racing.
Lovely sweep to her deck.  All that blue tape is because she was getting her varnish freshened. Big forward deck still wet from the morning shower. Serious wheel.  True to her heritage complete with her name cast into the rim.
I was particularly struck by her no-nonsense traveler hardware on the main boom.  Huge shackles and a really neat central attachment fitting.   Note the leather covers on the shell blocks in the lower right.  Beautifully stitched.
An impressive mix of hardware at the main mast. And, of course, classic lignum vite dead-eyes and beautifully served stays.
How about the fitting for the goose neck and the wonderfully machined belaying pins.  Note the leather padding under each pin.  Nice touch.
The day that I visited they were just cleaning up from racing mode so my shot wasn’t as elegant as this.  It’s a stunning spot, a perfect place to enjoy a G&T, I’d say.   I’ll take extra lime in mine!The chef proudly showed me the freezer.  Lots of room to keep the crew well fed.  The chef proudly showed me the freezer.  Lots of room to keep the crew well fed. <img class=The salon was very comfortable, like a real home.   Catch the watertight doors.  Really impressive and the boat has a number of watertight bulkheads as she was built to a very high safety standard.   How about the tufted leather settee cushions?Lovely view forward, complete with watertight bulkheads and the forward mast beautifully varnished.   Bummer about the port list.  The photographer, not Columbia.It’s hard to get a good shot of the sleeping cabins but I was able to find one from a professional photographer .  And, yes, I got permission…   I would  sleep there!  I’d even make my own bed.  However, I expect that the Stew wouldn’t approve of my bed making skills, I know Brenda doesn’t.
"</pOf course, what’s a schooner without fishing dories?  These competed in the Gig Races in English Harbor and did well, I expect.   I understand that the were built in Nova Scotia very recently.
So, there you have it.  A boy with a dream and a man who fulfilled that dream.

Columbia, a grand lady, that’s for sure and Columbia is proof that dreams do come true with hard work and perhaps a bit of luck along the way.

What a treat to be aboard such a remarkable vessel and best of all, she sails under the American stars and stripes, unfortunately rare as most owners set up offshore companies and register their boats in other countries.

I understand that their summer plans have her in Gloucester MA, home town for her namesake.  I wonder if they need crew?  Hmm…

Perhaps I’ll close with a short video that captures the action and Columbia during this year’s Classic Yacht Regatta in Antigua.    Columbia wasn’t alone among the many beautiful yachts participating but surely was the “belle of the ball”.  I can’t wait till next year.  I’ll be there…

So Bob, how was your trip?

I am always a bit remiss when I arrive home after a winter afloat as it seems to take forever to find a moment to do that” one last post” about the trip.  Anyone who has followed our run must wonder if we made it as I go silent after near-daily posts when we are on passage.  Well, we made it and here’s yet another post that proves that I am indeed “here to tell the tale”.

On Tuesday we cleared customs in New London after several conversations with officers on the phone who were universally insistent that we show up in person for an inspection.  As a point of clarification, I didn’t object to an in-person inspection and even asked for clarification and asked what was “not allowed” so that I could dispose of everything before making landfall.

The items that had to go over the side were any fresh fruit or produce as well as any chicken products including frozen items that were not labeled from the US.  So, over the side they went as we passed Montauk.  Anyone watching would have seen a mile long slick of limes, celery, apples and even an errant turkey thigh bobbing in our wake.  Here fishy, fishy…

We tied up at the Customs Dock in New London and a short time later the officer arrived.  It’s a big dock and the step from the dock to Pandora’s deck was a pretty good drop.  After taking one look at the dock and then down to Pandora the officer said, and I quote “that’s a big step”.   And I said “yes, that’s a big step.  Would you like to come aboard?”  Hoping that he wouldn’t given the large variety of rum that I was “importing”.   After a long moment of hesitation, he said, “Hmm… please pass up your passports” and “do you have any fruits, vegetables or chicken aboard”.  To that I said, “nope, tossed everything overboard and there is a trail of the stuff looping around Montauk point.”  And, he said, “welcome home.  You’re all set.”   And, I said “that’s it?” and he said.  “Yup”.

Now, wasn’t that easy?  So, there we were, back in US waters and free to go on our way.  Bob jumped ship to catch a train home but not until we had a “Tot of rum” to celebrate our arrival.  George and I headed toward the CT River and the Essex Yacht Club, the official landfall for our journey.

The fog was really thick as we approached Montauk earlier that morning with visibility of only a few hundred feet.  After months of clear warm weather in the Caribbean it was a shock to suddenly be in damp, cold fog. Montauk light.  Almost home. Visibility was closing in by the mile.The closer to shore we got the thicker the fog.   The Orient Point ferry emerged ominously from the low hanging fog bank off of New London. Nearly there, the mouth of the CT River. The last time I passed this point was the third week of October, last year. After nearly 4,000 miles under Pandora’s keel since passing this point last fall and 9 days since leaving Antigua, we were home and none the worse for wear.

Actually, I was a little worse for wear after my trip up the mast way back, 600 miles south of Bermuda when the headboard gave way and the mainsail came crashing down onto the deck.

But then you already know all about that if you follow this blog as I wrote about that experience in an earlier post.   I won’t bore you with a replay except to show some photos which I wasn’t able to send from Pandora given our limited “bandwidth” while underway.

As you recall, the headboard, the piece that holds up the top of the mainsail, broke, disconnecting from the top of the sail.   The headboard shot to the top of the mast and the sail, to the deck.  Messy.We pulled the top of the sail through the front of the dodger so we could work on it under cover. After a lot of discussion on what the best fix would be, we decided to drill holes in the sail and thread lengths of super-strong Dynema rope to support it.  Good thing I have a large tool and spare parts selection aboard. Several hours, nine holes and a bunch of knots later…All done.  Not beautiful but plenty strong. The “better side”. George and Bob put the sail back into the mast slides as I was still feeling a bit shaky from my run up the mast. And, speaking of my time “aloft”, I had a few bruises to prove that it was a rough ride.  This one was particularly tender.  Not sure what I banged into but I thought that it was pretty impressive. The inside of both thighs from clinging to the mast.   “Thanks for sharing Bob! Disgusting, really!”Ok, if you insist.  The insides of both arms.  I was really clutching the mast with all my might.   Superman I’m not, but I was clutching the mast “super hard”. As rough as it was the day I went up the mast, a few days later, not so rough.  Once you get north of Bermuda the winds are all over the place if there is any wind at all. We ended up motoring something like 100 hours and yet still managed to sail between 800 and 900 miles and sometimes at near double digit speeds for days at a time.  I wrote about one of our best days of sailing, early in our trip in this post.

However, after crossing the Gulf Stream the wind just died and didn’t come up again.

As much as I hate motoring day after day, the calm seas that come along with no wind do make for good conditions to spot sea life.  We saw a small pod of humpback whales and also many of these sharks, Basking sharks I think.    The fin, tail and “nose” of the shark are very distinctive as they slowly swim along with their enormous mouth agape.   These sharks run in the 15-25′ long, the second largest shark species.  In spite of their enormous size, their primary food is plankton, tiny invertebrates.   We saw dozens as we approached the continental shelf about 100 miles south of Montauk. One of them slowly swam toward Pandora until he/she was only about 2′ from our hull and suddenly realized how close we were.  And with a violent splash, turned away.  They really look primeval. All and all, we had a good run and in spite of 100 hours of motoring, we still made very good time, nearly 180 miles per day for 1,600 miles, over the bottom.

Now that Pandora is in a marina, I’ll have the mechanic take a look at the prop shaft bearing to see how tough it will be to put in a new one or at least fix the one that’s there.   I may also have the transmission pulled for inspection as I fear that the vibration might have caused some excess wear.   I’ll wait until fall to pull her, I hope, to take a look at the cutlass bearing on the shaft to see if that wore too.

You know, they say that cruising is “boat repair in exotic places” but being home means even more boat repairs, but in a marina.  And, it costs a lot more. funny thing.

So, how was my trip?  Well, I am already thinking about my run south in November as part of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua.

Oh yeah, the rally will be adding a second “official” departure point, from Essex Yacht Club.  Gee, I wonder how the board chose Essex Yacht Club? Hmm…

Who knew?  But I didn’t want to schlep Pandora all the way to Hampton.  A rally departure from my very own home-town club?  I’m excited.


It’s Biscuit Weather, Finally!

Well, it’s official, we are in “northern climes” having crossed the Gulf Stream last evening.

I am always stunned as to how fast the weather changes when we enter the Gulf Stream and how different the temperature is on the north side, compared to the south of the Stream.

For nearly the entire trip north, now into our 9th day since leaving Antigua, we have been moving along with all the hatches well secured.   As a result, it’s been very hot and stuffy in the cabin.  This is partly because the engine is located under the galley and when it’s running, a good deal of heat radiates from the cabinet.  Even after we shut down, the engine remains hot for many hours.

As a rule, we have been using fans with the hope of keeping cool off watch and often, that just isn’t enough to be comfortable.

The water temperature south of the GS tends to run in the low 80s, not much different than in the Caribbean, and that really doesn’t change until we pass out over the northern wall and into cooler New England waters.

We first began to feel the effects of the GS around the same latitude as the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay when we entered a “cold eddy” at 36 degrees and 55 minutes north, finally reaching the main flow of the Stream at around the same latitude as the Delaware Bay.   Once we were solidly into the flow the water temperature was a pretty constant 82 degrees.  The GS is about 50 miles wide in that area but still runs to the NE at a pretty good clip, I’d guess at about 2-3kts.

As we reached the waypoint that Chris Parker had given us for the north wall of the Stream, the temperature dropped, within less than an hour to 74 degrees and in the next hour to 68 degrees.  Within the next few hours it made a big drop to 57 degrees.

It’s amazing to me that the Stream remains so well defined a thousand miles from where it passes southern Florida.  The amount of energy that is being transferred northward is stunning.

So, after some 1,300 miles with near constant water and air temperatures, we are now into much cooler temperate conditions, and all that change within a few hours.  Amazing.

While I have been cooking each day, usually a hot dinner and sometimes a hot lunch.  I have been holding off on making biscuits, perhaps my favorite thing to eat aboard.   I am a passable cook at best but I do make really good biscuits.

And, today, after a week and a half of dinners without much comment from the crew, this morning’s biscuits were scarfed down in short order.   Well, it only took 1,300 miles but I finally found something that they really like, or at least that’s how it seemed.  Perhaps it was a relief for them, finally…

Yesterday was a good day with 13 hours of great sailing.  We covered a lot of distance, a welcomed change from all the motoring before the wind finally came up.

Remember that whole “shaft bearing” thing?  It seems to be fairly stable but clearly will need love when I get back.   However, there still remains an intermittent vibration in the shaft, from time to time.

Oddly, after motorsailing for hours through the Gulf Stream last night, we rolled out the jib to give us a little more speed and without making any change in RPM there was again a nasty vibration in the propeller shaft.  It persisted, somewhat, after we stowed the jib again and finally smoothed out and has been running along happily for hours now.

I have no idea of what’s causing the problem.  It might be a propeller shaft zinc that has worn and gotten loose, a loose zinc on the propeller or perhaps there’s still some sort of line or material on the prop.   Of course, it could also be a worn cutlass bearing but that looked fine when Pandora went into the water last October.

One way or the other, I sure hope that things hold up until we reach home.  I’d hate to lose the use of the engine with so little wind.
All and all, things are moving along nicely and it’s finally cool enough for biscuits.

It will also soon be time to go through the fridge and freezer to be sure that we don’t have any “contraband” food that will cause problems with Customs and the Agriculture folks if they decide to inspect the boat.   I’ll be leaving a trail of food, including all vegetables and fruit as well as any frozen meat that isn’t labeled as having been blessed by the USDA.

Wish us luck with the engine but so far, so good, mostly.  It’s always amazing to me how much can go wrong on a long passage but we are nearly there and should be back home perhaps as early as mid- afternoon Tuesday.

Wish you were aboard for a biscuit?  Finally, it’s cool enough to bake.

And yes, Brenda, I do need a sweater.

We Are Getting Close to Home

Today, Sunday, as of 09:00 marks the one week point of our voyage since leaving Antigua.  In some ways it feels like less time than that and in other ways, a lot more.   We are getting closer but are still a long way from home, about even with Cape Hatteras and a bit more than 300nm from Montauk, Long Island, where we will turn into Long Island Sound.

Perhaps, more significant is that it is Mother’s Day, and here I am, hundreds of miles from land and days from home, neglecting my own mother and the mother of my children.  Good thing that I married a girl that is understanding, and usually more than is warranted.  I’m not certain if I’d be quite as reasonable if the tables were turned.

The good news is that Brenda has been at a retreat for the weekend so I expect that she’s actually happier than if she had to stick around home with me.   After a winter afloat, I am pretty confident that a weaving conference trumps.

I’m lucky to have someone as understanding as Brenda.  And it gets even better as she’s going to go see my mother, who I am also neglecting on Mother’s day, and she will be bringing a bottle of wine to share with my mom.  Two mothers on Mother’s Day, drinking wine…

Anyway, back to reality.  Not a lot has happened over the last 24 hours, but you probably don’t know that as Brenda has probably not been able to put up my Saturday post while she’s away.  If that’s the case, I expect that this post will show up a few minutes after yesterday’s when Brenda returns home this evening.   (temporary ed’s note:  Uh, no, it didn’t work out like that!  I got Sat’s post up, but couldn’t do Sunday’s post until Monday morning!  Sorry,Bob.  It was a long day Sunday, packing up, having a nice visit with your mom, and arriving home Sunday evening, completely zonked!)

That huge high pressure zone that has sucked up all the wind continues to be a problem although after motoring much of yesterday with wind in the 2-5kt range, the wind has finally filled in a bit to about 10-15kts but still from behind us.   That means that while we are getting a bit of lift from the wind, the engine has been on for nearly 40 hours, non-stop.

That’s not a terrible problem as we have quite a bit of fuel on board.  However, the first tank “ran dry” with just 50 hours on it, which doesn’t make sense given history.   We should have gotten at least 65 hours so expect that a piece of crud in the tank might have gotten stuck in the pickup tube.  I have had that happen in the past and after switching tanks the piece generally drops out of the tube.  I don’t need to worry about the residual fuel in that tank right now so I am not inclined to switch back to test the hypothesis.  One way or the other, we have plenty of fuel in reserve, now on our second tank with a third yet to go.  I also have 25 gallons in jugs as a backup.  We’re in good shape in the fuel department.
A bigger issue may end up being the propeller shaft bearing that I mentioned a few days ago.  It had shown meaningful signs of wear after the problem with propeller vibration.  I am not sure if the wear was caused when the prop shaft vibrated due to something being tangled on the prop or if it was there before and I had just not noticed it.  After a few days of monitoring a lot of dust has collected under the fitting, suggesting that something is still wearing.  I am not familiar with the coupling and exactly how it works but expect that it has some sort of carbon sleeve that wears to keep the shaft in alignment.

Fortunately, I also have a laser thermometer so I have been using it to periodically monitor the temperature of the bearing in various sections.  After rising in temperature early on, the bearing temperatures seem to have stabilized.  I’ll keep monitoring it every hour or so with the hope that it doesn’t get hotter.  So far, it seems to be stable.  The fact that one side of the bearing is a little bit hotter than the other, suggests that it’s still not well aligned.    However, I think that the interior carbon sleeve, as it wears down from friction, will help keep things in reasonable alignment.   If the bearing fails, given the fluky wind, it could be a problem.

It had better not fail as there’s still likely to be plenty of motoring between here and home.  Fortunately, I have a good selection of tools on board so I can still tinker with the bearing.   I wish that I had not let my towing insurance lapse.   Oh well, it’s a bit late to change that.

And speaking of wind, I also just downloaded the most recent GRIB files, weather maps, and they suggest that we might get a good 24 hours of sailing in beginning later today.  That’s good as we only have about two days until we get to Montauk and enter Long Island Sound and that would give us an opportunity to rest the engine and bearing.

Another question that will need answering is how we will have to deal with Customs as we re-enter US waters.   Prior to leaving Antigua, I contacted two offices, Bayone NJ, that covers Northern New Jersey, New York and Long Island Sound, and an office in the New Haven, New London area.
I asked an officer in each office what I should expect and what the current clearance process would be.  The officer in Bayone, an office that I have cleared through in the past, said that as long as each of our passports check out, we would likely receive clearance over the phone.   The officer in the New Haven office took a much tougher position saying “you can count on us visiting you at the dock”.   Yep, I’ll try calling Bayone and see how that goes.  Wish me luck as I’d prefer not to have to make a totally separate stop after so many days at sea.

So, when will we arrive home?  Well, that depends on a lot of variables, wind, current, mechanical issues and of course, Customs.  If we are able to clear over the phone, and everything works out, or continues to work, we might be back “at the dock” by late Tuesday night.

After a week at sea, the last 300 miles seems like we are nearly home, but there’s still a lot of sea between us and the dock.

So far, so good.  Wish us continued luck.

Slow Boat to…

t’s Saturday morning, the sun is just up over the eastern horizon and we are, well, we are a long way from just about anything, especially home.  While we are about two thirds of the way home, we are still a little more than 500 miles from our destination.

But, to put a positive spin on things, we are only about a day away from feeling the first effects of the Gulf Stream.   Somehow, reaching The Stream will be a milestone of sorts.   By the same token, we are barely past Bermuda and have still not reached the latitude of Cape Hatteras so there is still a long way to go.

To say that the last 24 hours has been uneventful is an understatement as there has been VERY LITTLE WIND but with that has also come very calm seas, which I suppose, is a nice change.    Yesterday we crossed a small ridge of low pressure which brought clouds and a bit of rain but it also put us into a windless area north of the ridge.

Actually, when I listened to the SSCA trans-Atlantic net last evening Chris Parker, who was acting as net control for the evening, said that the windless area, uncharacteristically, extended just about all the way across the Atlantic to Europe, bringing with it light winds nearly everywhere, an unusual occurrence this early in the season.   While it’s a bummer to be motoring along at a snail’s pace, at least we have plenty of fuel to continue on wind or not.

As I write this, one of our three tanks of fuel just ran out so I had to switch the tank and re-prime the engine so it would start again.  All better now.

Back to the trans-Atlantic folks.   Some of the other boats that checked into the net were headed to the Azores, making their way to the Mediterranean for the summer season. Given the distance, they don’t have much of an option except to slowly sail along in light air, waiting for the wind to fill in sometime next week.  As you can imagine, most cruising boats don’t have enough fuel to motor all the way “across the pond.”

With true wind speed at about 5kts, we obviously can’t sail but as long as it’s not right on our nose, we can get some lift in boat speed between motor and sails.   Unfortunately, with motoring speed well below sailing speed, try under 6kts, as we have to run at a low RPM to conserve fuel.  This combined with a modest adverse current of half to a full knot against us makes for low over-the-bottom speed.  It’s doubly frustrating after sailing for so many miles at near double digit speeds earlier I the trip.  However, all and all, it’s a beautiful morning as we make our leisurely way north.

On the one hand, I wish that there was more to report but I am happy to have a few unexciting days.   If I could send photos, I’d surely include shots of some impressive bruises, compliments of my trip up the mast.  They are still plenty big turning an impressive deep purple with some lovely lighter highlights.   It’s safe to say that the cumulative effect of all the bruises, perhaps more than a square foot in the aggregate is impressive.   Perhaps more impressive, is that I am still “with you” at all.

Yesterday we were talking about my “quick up and down the mast” trip and Bob commented that he’d wished he had a camera to record the moments that I was flying around the mast, arms and legs extended wildly, somehow trying to get a grip on a shroud, sail, anything to get myself under control.   He said he was shocked by the violence of my movements.  (I’m paraphrasing here but you get the drift).

Anyway, both the memory and bruises are slowly fading along with the waves.

And, speaking of sail repair, we decided to pull down the main yesterday to inspect our handiwork and were happy to see that the lashings are in perfect condition, with no signs of chafe or loosening.    As soon as I am home I am going to pull all the sails off of the boat and take them for servicing, probably in Annapolis at the Quantum loft where they were made.  It’s not that far from Rob’s home in Baltimore and we will be heading that way soon enough.

When will we arrive home?  Hard to say but it’s looking like sometime Wednesday and that depends, in part, on the Customs guys and whether or not they will clear us over the phone or if we will have to go to them.

So, here we are, poking our way north at a pace that feels more like drifting than a happy romp in the trades.  Clearly, for the moment and perhaps for much of the rest of the trip, we are really on a slow boat to…home.

Halfway Home

Even though we are still more than half a week of sailing from home, I feel like I am almost there.   That’s interesting as we are just abreast of Bermuda, about 150 miles to the east, which is still a long way from home, by any measure.   Not to put too fine a point on it but, we are at just about the same latitude as the Florida/Georgia border.

It wasn’t that many years ago when that distance remaining in our trip was the entire distance that I’d be sailing to get Pandora home from a winter of sailing in the Bahamas.  How perspectives can change.   Somehow 700 miles to go doesn’t seem all that long.  Heck, I can still remember when a single overnight to Maine from the Cape Cod Canal seemed like a really long way.  Hmm…

Yesterday was a day of motoring, nearly 24 hours as we approached a front, causing the wind to clock from the east, the south and ultimately to the southwest, where it has settled for now.   It’s not possible to sail at a decent clip when the wind is that light and from directly behind.  Happily, shortly after midnight it had moved to the SW and freshened to the mid-teens, making it possible to sail again.  Now, with the wind solidly in the mid-teens, we are making good time again.

As a point of interest, we have now covered, according to the plotter, nearly 900 miles and have only put 33 hours on the engine after five days at sea.  Unless they are involved in long passages it’s unlikely that most will ever have that much time under sail, and certainly not in a single trip.

I have had difficulty in reaching Chris Parker on the SSB radio during his morning broadcasts but at 18:00, when he broadcasts on a higher frequency of 12MH, he has come in as clear as if he was on board with us.  It’s during this time of the day that a group of cruisers and Ham operators operate what is called the “SSCA trans-Atlantic cruisers net”.   It’s a terrific service for those of us making passage in the North Atlantic.   It’s during this net that cruisers, mostly those crossing to the Azores on this trip, check in, give their position and share how things are going.  Hearing their voices lets me know that we are not out here alone.  Well, we are actually quite alone, but it’s nice to know that there are others making passages too.   To at least hear a voice counts for something.

So, here we are, sailing along on a nice broad reach with fairly solid wind and smooth seas.   However, that’s not going to last for long as the wind will go away as we cross the front over the next day or so.  After that, things get complicated as we will be approaching a “cold eddy” and then the Gulf Stream.

As the Gulf Stream passes Cape Hatteras, it is deflected from it’s more or less northerly path and veers sharply out on a east-north-easterly direction. That sharp change in direction, as a result of the shallow waters of Hatteras, causes the Stream to become more confused, with less defined boarders or “walls.”   Along with the spreading out of the current, eddies form where the waters of the GS mix with the adjacent stationary colder ocean waters,  causing offshoots, or eddies, often running at 3-5kts.   This is particularly pronounced on the south side of the Stream.
As a result, it is critical to hit the “right side of these offshoots as it can mean the difference between a “lift” in speed of a few knots or a current against you at the same speeds.  For a boat moving along at say, 7kts, this can mean an over-the-bottom speed of 9-10kts with a favorable current or 3-5kts OTB against the current of the eddy.

With this in mind, Chris Parker has given us coordinates that are supposed to put us on the “right” side of the eddy. After that, I have two coordinates, one to enter and the other to exit, the Gulf Stream.   All of this will unfold over the next two days or so as the eddy is about 250nm north of us, and the exit out of  the GS about 200nm beyond that.  Interestingly, the core of the GS is only about 50 miles wide in that area with the rest of the area, literally hundreds, dare I say thousands, of square miles of ocean affected by this “river” of water marching north from the Gulf of Mexico.

The relentless trade winds blowing from Africa toward the Caribbean literally push water into the Gulf of Mexico and as that water piles up toward Central America, it has nowhere to go but around the western end of Cuba, through the Florida Straits, up the east coast of the US and into the north Atlantic.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that this is the largest movement of water, or “river”, on the planet.

So, after a winter of sailing south on a port tack and a return trip nearly all the way to Bermuda on a starboard tack, the rest of our trip will require contending with constantly shifting wind speeds and directions.    With perhaps four days remaining for our voyage, we will likely be faced with conditions that range from nearly windless to near gale force.

As my Dad used to say, “Bob, that comes with the territory” so I guess we will just have to see what happens next and deal with it.

And, speaking of “dealing” we plan on pulling down the main when the wind lightens up to see how our repair is holding up.

Right now, great sailing on a broad reach.   We will see what the next 12 hours brings.

Until tomorrow

Stay tuned, I hope.

Now for the Boring Part

It’s Thursday morning and the wind has nearly gone away.  It has been a great run since leaving Antigua, under sail nearly the entire way.  Actually, had the main not been damaged, we would not have had to turn on the motor at all.

Not now.  The wind that was so consistently pushing us along on a wonderful beam reach has gone aft and dropped to about 10kts.  It seems that this will be the case as we make our way across a high pressure area for the next 24 hours at least.

As is the case north of Bermuda, the winds are driven by a series of high and low pressure areas that exit the US East Coast year round.  In the winter the lows are stronger, rushing down from Canada but the constant battle of weather and wind is the rule.

That’s so unlike the Caribbean where the wind is nearly always from and easterly direction except when a tropical low makes it’s way west from Africa.

We are a little more than 200 miles from Bermuda and roughly half of the way home.   As consistent as the winds were for the first half of the trip, we will have the opposite for the second half, when the wind direction and speed will change on a near daily basis.

The forecast for the coming days, and it will surely change as the we make our way north, calls for 10kts on our stern for at least the next 24 hours and that will be followed by a virtual collapse of the wind on Friday.  After a small low comes through the area we should again be able to sail, perhaps for a day with strong SW winds, perhaps in the 25-35kt range.  That’s a lot of wind but at least we will be on a broad reach so the apparent wind will be less daunting.

So, as we cross the front, perhaps on Saturday, we will face, well we don’t know what for sure as it could be a brief period of NE winds before the wind clocks back to the SW.  However, there is enough uncertainty in the forecast that it will be a few days until that becomes clearer.

One thing for certain though, is that the second half of the trip will involve wind from just about every direction and periods of no wind at all.  Welcome to the North Atlantic.

So, for now we continue to motor along and the weather is getting somewhat cooler by the day and the seawater temperature has dropped about 5 degrees as well, however, I can’t give you a number as my thermometer isn’t properly calibrated.  The cooler temperatures are very welcomed as it’s been hot and stuffy down below with everything buttoned up.

After days of “sporty” sailing I suppose that it’s a welcome break to be motoring in increasingly flat seas and I took advantage of the relative calm rinse down the cockpit with fresh water and to wipe the cabin which had gotten pretty nasty with salt tracked down below.  It’s at times like these that the watermaker really shines.

So there you have it.  We are about half way home and things are good onboard Pandora.   Half way or not, I am anxious to have this delivery behind me and to be back home with Brenda.

The title of this post says that this is the boring part of the trip.  Perhaps that’s not completely accurate as the weather and constantly shifting conditions will be anything but boring.  However, I expect that the motor will be on for a good amount of that time so it surely won’t be nearly as much fun as blasting along at near double digit speeds is aboard Pandora.

I understand that Brenda got the Spring Cleaning Bug a few days ago and cleaned and dusted the house from top to bottom.   That’s good and she knows how happy clean makes me too.

Sunday is Mother’s day and I am bummed that I won’t be with her.   She’s going to see my mother who I have neglected nearly all winter.   It will be a good day with two terrific mother’s spending time together.

Thanks Brenda, for taking care of Mom.

See you soon.

Nothing Good Ever Happens after Midnight

Brenda used to say this phrase often when the boys were young, and especially when they first got their driver’s licenses! I can’t say that I always agreed with her, but aboard Pandora when I am on passage, that often seems to be the case.

Before I get into all that, I should note that we have made, according to the chart, an average of 190 miles each day over the bottom since clearing Falmouth Harbor.  That’s pretty good and takes into account a slow start as we dealt with the bad batten pocket in the first few hours of our trip, as well as the mess that we ran into yesterday that I’ll recount shortly.  That’s pretty good time and has taken us 1/3 of the way home in only three days.  I expect that our speed will be a lot less than that beginning tomorrow when the wind is expected to go light for a few days as we sail a lot faster than we motor.

All and all, we are making good time.  At this point, the big question is if we can time our arrival at the Gulf Stream to avoid the NE winds that are forecast to be there late Sunday.  For those who have crossed the Stream, you don’t want to be there when the wind direction has an “N” in it.  However, as Chris Parker says, “that’s a long way off and things may change.”

Those of you who follow this blog will note that I did not post yesterday and if you didn’t notice, well, I didn’t post yesterday.  I was licking my wounds, both figuratively and literally, and thought that it would be best to “sleep on it” before putting my thoughts down.

For clarity, it’s early on Wednesday morning and the sun is just peaking up over the eastern horizon as I sit down to do this post.  Conditions are just about perfect with us broad reaching in 20kts of wind with a single reef in the main and the small jib.  Our course is due north and the wind is from the southwest.  As today progresses, we expect that the wind will continue to clock toward the south and lighten so I expect that by this time tomorrow we will be motoring.

There’s a front that is supposed to exit the east coast later this week that will bring adverse winds to the area where we will cross the Gulf Stream over the weekend so we are watching this carefully.  I have had pretty good luck hearing Chris Parker in the evenings but not early in the day as I am used to.  The propagation hasn’t been good for the SSB and even getting my simple emails has been a chore.   If today is any different, I expect that this post won’t be sent to Brenda until sometime this evening.  If not, that will be an improvement as I have not had any luck during the normal daylight hours.  This has primarily been because the favored stations that I link to with the SSB email from this area are in Panama and Trinidad have been very busy with other traffic, a problem that I have found to be the case in past years.   Later in the day and evening I find that the Lunenburg, and Rock Hill ,North Carolina, stations seem to work well and they are generally not that busy.

Anyway, I didn’t feel like writing yesterday but I am better now so here goes.  Better late than never.

At midnight on Monday morning I was down below filling in the log of our location, speed etc. that I keep on all our voyages and suddenly Bob, who was on watch, shouted “the main is down, the main is down, put on your gear and get up here”.   Bob is not prone to overstatement so I knew that something bad had happened.

I came up to see that the entire mainsail was draped over the cabin top and Bob and George were working feverishly to secure it before it was damaged.   Not to put too fine a point on it but the damage had already been done as the fitting that attaches the sail to the main halyard had failed and shot up to the top of the mast so there was nothing at all keeping the sail up, so down it came in a heap.

So, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, some 600 miles south of Bermuda and hundreds of miles from anywhere — with no mainsail.  The sailing conditions were perfect and we had been blasting along at sometimes double digit speeds with about 20kts on the beam and a single reef in the main.   Of course, all of this had to happen the day after I wrote about our 200 mile day.   Actually, we have had a number of them so far and to loose the main under perfect conditions was doubly upsetting.

I started the engine and was disappointed to hear massive vibration in the propeller. Isn’t that priceless?  I expected that it had caught something like kelp or perhaps a piece of floating line on the prop.  Whatever it was, there was no motoring and it wouldn’t clear.   I searched in the engine compartment to see if perhaps there was another cause for the vibration and discovered that a shaft bearing, universal coupling was very loose because the bushings had deteriorated.  In spite of keeping a careful eye on the engine, somehow I had missed that.   So, I tinkered with the bushing for several hours and finally had it adjusted and while the bushings were still bad, I was able to get it into alignment and back in reasonable condition.   I had never paid attention to this piece of gear, so when I noticed that it was getting pretty hot a while later, I didn’t know if that was normal or a problem.   Fortunately, I have a laser thermometer and with that I was able to monitor various parts of the bearing to see if the temperature readings were changing.  They continued to go up as the engine ran but finally stabilized and it didn’t seem to be too hot to me.   Problem solved, well, sort of as the vibration in the shaft was still more than I would like.

After a few stops and starts with the engine in both forward and reverse, I was finally able to clear whatever was on the prop and the vibration smoothed out.   We were back in business, if you don’t take into account that our primary sail was out of service and that we had with 600 miles to go to Bermuda.  I really didn’t want to head there under power alone with no backup sail.  Additionally, the sailing conditions were perfect and I didn’t want to give up on that.

Since it was the middle of the night, I went to bed with the hope that things would seem clearer by morning.

We all arose early the next morning and talked about what to do.   I had awakened with a strong sense that we needed to repair the main, as aside from the head board separating from the sail, the sail was in good shape.  The problem, and it wasn’t a small one, was that the headboard was now over 61′ in the air at the top of the mast, the wind was blowing at 20kts and the seas were in the 7-9′ range.

So, the decision… Go up the mast in the bosun’s chair and bring it down.  Bob said it simply: “It’s just a go and grab job”.  Go up the mast, grab the slide and bring it down again.   Easy for him to say and he was right– well, sort of.

The problem is that it’s tough enough to walk around on deck or down below in a seaway but the higher up the mast you go when it’s rough, the more violent the movement becomes the higher up the mast you go.  A few feet of movement near deck becomes a wild whipsaw at the top of the mast.

After the decision was made to run up the mast, we stopped to work out the details.  Bob would work the main winch (fortunately electric) from the cockpit and use the spare spinnaker halyard to hoist me.  George would work an additional spare halyard to pull up by hand to act as a safety line in the event that the main hoist line broke.

I got in the bosun’s chair, which I have used many times in calm conditions, with good results.  It’s pretty secure, but I also put a sail tie around my chest, just in case I might get forced backward in the chair.  I also put on my inflatable vest and foul weather jacket with the hope that the extra padding would provide some modest protection from getting banged up.  Additionally, I used the long lanyard to my harness to run around the mast as I went up, in case I might lose my hold on the mast, a decision that turned out to be a very good one.

The boat was pitching pretty hard in the 7-9′ seas and the 20 kt winds and without the main to stabilize the boat, the small jib was all that I had to rely on and it only somewhat moderated the role and pitching of the boat.

I’ll say that I was very nervous about all that, but up I went.  As Bob pulled me up the mast, with George taking up the slack with the safety line, I clung onto the mast like a koala bear hugging a tree.  In spite of this, I still felt like I was going to be plucked off at any moment.

I had made the decision to wrap my safety strap around the mast as I went up but that proved to be much more difficult than I expected since I was forced to unhook it at each set of spreaders.  For the few moments that I was unhooked, I was very vulnerable to loosing my grip on the mast.  I also found that Bob could not hear me at all over the noise of wind and waves, so I had no option but to use hand signals, again taking one hand off of the mast.

The higher I went, the more the mast whipped around, threatening to break my grip.  Twice I lost hold on the mast and swung out, jerking back on the tether, and banging back against the mast.   George said that I looked like a fish on a lure, thrashing about as the mast whipped from side to side. I was terrified and could only think about the scene in the movie “The Martian,” when Matt Damon was being retrieved by another astronaut and was violently whipped around, enduring tremendous centrifugal forces, powerless to control his movement or save himself.

I finally worked my way up to the top of the mast and a few times I froze, unable to move my hands and legs, clinging to the mast.   Finally however, I was there, at the mast peak, as was the headboard.

I worked it down the track, pulling a few feet of halyard with each movement trying to get it back down so George could secure it to the boom.   Finally, it was down.

So now, to get back down to the deck.  The trip back down was even worse than the trip up, since I was exhausted and my adrenalin was just about used up.  And, to make matters worse, I had to stop at each spreader, unclip my harness lanyard and reattach it below for the run to the next spreader.   While the movement of the mast was less the closer I got to deck level, I was really beginning to loose my nerve.   By this time I was also pretty banged up from the two times that I lost hold of the mast on the way up and was jerked around by the whipping mast.

As far as holding on, I generally did pretty well except when a particularly large wave hit the side of the boat.  As a rule, whatever the sea state, there will be the occasional wave that will be half again larger than the average and when one of these hit, I felt like a fly being flicked off of a branch.

The only thing that I did wrong in with my planning, with the possible exception of deciding to go up in the first place, was that I had opted to clip around the mast as opposed to the safety line that had a clear run down the front of the mast.  Once I was up there, I realized that if I had been badly hurt, Bob and George would have had no way to get me past the next set of spreaders.  And even now, the thought of that makes me shake.

When I finally got back to the deck I was just exhausted and could barely make my way back to the cockpit, even with George holding my arm for support.After a short time for regaining my composure, we sat down to consider how to fix the problem and get the sail ready to be re-hoisted.    The damage to the top of the main was fairly straightforward.

The top of the main was strongly reinforced and was attached to the headboard with three web straps.  Over time these straps had chafed through and ultimately failed. This is something that I never noticed.  Now I will, that’s for sure.  The fix we decided on, since we did not have a sewing machine, was to drill a series of nine holes in the heaviest part of the sail top and thread a series of Dynema 3/8″ rope strands through these holes and the slots in the headboard to secure the sail to the headboard.   After several hours of drilling and threading we had things in good shape with each knot fully seized with waxed sail twine and we were good to go.

It’s not all that pretty (I’ll be posting some photos of all this when I get home next week) but very strong.  Each piece of the Dynema that we used could easily support the weight of a car and has the added benefit of being very chafe and UV resistant.

So, as I write this the “new rig” is up and has been working well for 24 hours– and we continue to reel off daily runs of near 200 miles.

All and all, I think that we made the right call for me to go up the mast,  but I have to say that for much of yesterday all I could think about was what “could have happened.”    Oh yeah, you’d be amazed at the bruises that I have on the inside of each thigh and on the insides of my arms, from clutching the mast. I also have a few bruises from when I was slung around after losing my grip.   It just goes to show how much you can accomplish with enough adrenalin.

So, as Brenda says, nothing good happens after midnight. and for once I have to agree when the sail came down in a heap.   The “fix” was a harrowing experience, but the good news is that it all worked out and now I have a story to tell– and tell it I will.

Perhaps in closing I should also note what I wished I had done differently.  First, I would have used a shorter safety line to the mast and would have secured it around the safety halyard and not the mast.  That way I would not have had to leave myself vulnerable when I had to remove the line to get it past each set of spreaders.  Also, I am going to put a helmet onboard as well as a climbing break, a tool that you slide up and down the safety rope, that would have secured me more effectively when I was plucked from the mast as well as if the main lift rope had failed.  Of course, I could also say that I will NEVER again go up the mast in a seaway.  However, never say never.   Things can often look a lot different when you are hundreds of miles from land.

Hey, anybody out there want to option my story for a movie?  It would be a very short movie so perhaps I’ll leave it at that for now.
So, here we are, clipping along.  It’s a beautiful day and Pandora’s crew is into the groove.  And I am happy to report that we have less than 1,000 miles to Montauk.Editor:  I said that the waves were 7-9′, Bob said 5-6′ but, let me tell you, it felt like 10-12′.  Holy frigging yikes, I was scared but it worked out, this time.

I also expect that some readers will have something to say about all of this, but for now all I can say is “you had to be there.”

Day One: 200 Miles!

While we all hear about the high performance “sleds” that make their way through the Southern Ocean at speeds that seem more fitting for a car than sailboat, it’s a rare cruising boat that can make more than 200 miles in a 24 hour period.  Many cruisers talk about achieving this feat now and again but often qualify their statement by saying that they had a current with them, like the fast moving Gulf Stream.

It’s not uncommon for Pandora to make speeds over the bottom of 9kts and even 10 when conditions are right.   As a rule, with winds on the beam of about 20kts, Pandora will easily reel off impressive speeds near double digits and to do this in waves in the 8-10′ range on the beam is even more impressive.

Well, from when we cleared the harbor in Falmouth yesterday at around 10:00 until 10:00 today we clocked just about 200 miles on the chart.  The log on the boat showed a bit more but I am going to check that off to calibration error.  Nevertheless, we have had a pretty good ride for our first day at sea.

The cockpit enclosure, while hot in the sun, has made things a lot more comfortable, keeping most of the spray from hitting us.   In these conditions Pandora is a pretty wet boat with water running down both windward and leeward decks and lots of spray hitting the dodger.

As a result, we have to keep the boat tightly buttoned up, meaning that all hatches and ports are closed.  This is pretty standard for us but sometimes I’ll crack the small hatch over the galley a bit when I am cooking to try and keep things a bit cooler down below.  With the surrounding water and air temperatures in the low 80s it’s warm aboard, especially if you are out of the breeze.

So, in spite of my rule of keeping all hatches tightly closed while underway, I left the small 10″ hatch in the galley open last evening while preparing dinner and was stunned when a wave swept over the deck and soaked me with several gallons of water that washed down the open hatch.   It left a real mess with water sloshing around on the counter, draining into the fridge and freezer and down on the floor.

It took me a good half hour to mop it all up and remove the salt that was everywhere.  And, after all that was done I had to shower off myself as I had been standing directly under the hatch when the wave hit so my head and clothes were completely soaked.    This is particularly problematic as we really can’t waste water while on passage as I can’t run the watermaker unless the engine is running.   The electrical load overnight with all the instruments running is just too much for the solar panels to make up the following day.

The biggest problem is that the engine, while great at charging the batteries quickly with 200 amp output, is located under the galley and makes the cabin that much hotter.

In any event, I’ll have to run the engine to charge things up and make some water today.  For sure, hot or not, I’ll  keep the hatches closed.

Salty or not, the sailing is great and we are making good progress on our way to Montauk.  I hope to talk to Chris Parker today to confirm that we are good to continue on our course or if we will have to divert to Bermuda.  I hope not.

Well, 200 miles under the keel and still a long way to go.