Monthly Archives: October 2021

First Day Underway to Antigua

It’s Sunday morning and we have entered the Gulf Stream, about 100 miles from Hampton.

Peter and George arrived at 3:00 yesterday, not a moment too soon, as I had barely finished my preparations for departure.   I took a few minutes to shower and we headed out by 3:30.   This gave us a few hours to get settled before it got dark.

Aside for motoring out of the harbor and into open water, we have been sailing at a brisk pace since our departure, which is great.  So far, we’ve gone nearly 150 miles, about 1/10th of the trip.  It’s good to have some miles “in the bank”.  Being able to sail early in the trip instead of burning precious fuel is good as we really have no idea of what the rest of the run will be like.

The forecast is quite good for the next few days with the wind gradually veering from the SW to NW and becoming lighter.   This suggests that we will be spending a lot of time motoring and we have been advised not to motor much in the early part of the trip to avoid running out of fuel.

Fortunately, Pandora does very well motor sailing in light wind so I can drop the RPM and conserve fuel.  If needed, I should be able to motor for about a week, 24 hours a day before I run out of fuel.

It is possible that 6 days of motoring could be required but it’s hard to say and while we have a pretty good feel for what the next few days will bring, 5 days out is just too far to have any confidence in the forecast.

The window to depart was from Saturday morning through Sunday night but getting out sooner was better for sailing so out we went.

There are a good number of boats still in Hampton, some leaving today and others that just weren’t ready to go.   In some cases, it was crew, who hadn’t arrived in time, and others, mechanical issues.

We have settled in a bit but there is still along way to go, 1,300 miles, until we arrive in Antigua.

Near or far, it’s good to be underway and I guess we can hope to arrive in Antigua by November 10th or so.

Oh yeah, this post went to Brenda via my Iridium Go, a really neat piece of electronics.  I can send messages, email and also make phone calls that sound as good a local cellular.  I can also download files that look just like the tracking page that you can view on my blog under “where in the world is Pandora”.

That link will show my current track as well as that of all the other boats in the fleet.

I’m still getting the hang of the whole thing but the technology is just amazing.

It’s that time. Leaving Saturday.

Well, it looks like we will be heading out on Saturday evening to begin our run to Antigua.

As of last evening, Chris Parker, our weather router, said that the “window” for departing Hampton will be Saturday and Sunday, a shorter window than he saw even one day before.

As I write this it’s raining and very windy with totally nasty weather offshore.  However, as that system moves out conditions will substantially improve, for at least a few days before another front exits the East Coast, bringing with it gales yet again.  Such is late fall weather in the north Atlantic.

My crew for this run, Peter and George are coming in Saturday afternoon so as soon as they step aboard, we’re off and on our way.  I had hoped to spend the night and let them settle in before we headed out but there isn’t time so we’re leaving.  Sorry guys.

The goal is to get as far south as possible by later in the week when all this nasty weather repeats itself near the coast.

In past years, we have been plagued by persistent SE winds onthis run and that made for a frustrating trip but this year is looking like it’s going to be mostly light air and wind behind the beam.  If anything, we are unlikely to have enough wind and Chris feels that we may have to motor for half the trip.

With that in mind, we will have to manage our fuel until we hit the easterly trade winds as we get closer to Antigua.  Motoring a lot on this run is nothing new as I usually put about 100 hours on the engine when I head south.

I won’t go into lots of explanation on the whole fuel management issue as there will be time for that later in the trip.

As in the past, I plan on writing posts as often as I can, every day perhaps, and I may even be able to send a small photo now and again.  The new Iridium satellite unit we have is pretty neat and makes all this stuff much easier than in the past.  I’ll send the files to Brenda and she can put them up on this blog.  I always enjoy sharing our journey with everyone so stand by.

And, as in past years, every boat in the fleet, and there are nearly 80 boats, will show up on a tracking map, complete with wind information.  It’s pretty cool, actually.

Just follow this link to see where everyone is.   This screen shot from today shows just how nasty it is out there right now.  And yes, red isn’t good.  It means really windy.   You can see the fleet clustered in Hampton. Beginning on Saturday you will see the boats move out and begin to head south.  The bulk of the fleet is heading to Antigua and some to the Bahamas.

Still lots of little things to get done before leaving but I’m on it.

After so many months of planning I am really happy that it’s finally time…

In Hampton, bound for Antigua

I can’t believe that I am finally here in Hampton and nearly ready to head out to Antigua.   It seems like forever that I have been thinking “sometime I will go back” but here I am, with departure only a few days away.

The original plan was to depart on Monday the 1st and that date has been engrained in my head for months now, counting down the days and wondering what else I have to do to get Pandora ready to go.

When I left CT last Friday, the goal was to head directly to Hampton, a trip that was supposed to take about two nights and three days, a rum that I have done many times.   It’s not a particularly long distance, certainly a lot less than the 1,500 miles that lie between me and Antigua.

In working with Chris Parker, our weather router, he wasn’t sure when I would get a decent “window” to make the trip and for the week leading up to my departure last week, every day the weather seemed to be somewhat more uncertain than the last.  Finally, after a week of back and forth, bugging Chris on a near daily basis, he told me to head out on Friday afternoon and plan on rounding Montauk point at midnight.  No, don’t round Montauk, at 23:00 on Friday or 01:00 on Monday, but midnight as that would allow the adverse winds that had plagued the run to shift to the northwest and the seas to settle down before I was out in open waters.

As we rounded the point, indeed, the seas were still pretty choppy but after a few hours they laid down and for the next 24 hours we were able to sail along nicely less a few hours of motoring.

Unfortunately, Chris felt that we would not be able to make it much farther than the Delaware river before the wind would really pipe up, perhaps to gale force, albeit a gale from a favorable angle.  With that in mind, we opted to head up the DL river, through the Chesapeake and Delaware canal and then back down the Chesapeake to Hampton.

We were to sail more than 100 miles out of our way to avoid the last stretch of water off of the DelMarVa peninsula and that decision was going to cost us a few more days.

So, up the river we went.  It was fine and while things were snotty out on the ocean, we enjoyed an easy motor up the river, stopping in Chesapeake City for the night before continuing down the Chesapeake Bay the following day.

I enjoyed showing Steve, my crew for the run, around Chesapeake City, one of my favorite stops along the way.   We were able to snag a spot on the free town dock.  Pandora was tied up immediately adjacent to the lovely town green. We hiked up the tall bridge that looms over the tiny city.  The view of the harbor and Pandora in the foreground on the dock, was impressive. It was a nice break but when we left the following morning we ran hard aground, or should I say “soft aground” in the sticky mud near the city dock, a spot that we were able to get into at the high tide when we arrived.  We left the dock but only got 200 feet when we “smooched” to a soft landing.

Fortunately a friendly boater, Alex from Boston, heading south with his family, stopped by with his dink and offered to help.  He took a line from us and tied it to a piling on the dock.  We wrapped it around our anchor winch and between the pull of our powerful winch and the engine, we were able to ease our way along and back to the dock where the water was deep enough to float us.

However, the shallow area that we had landed on extended way farther than I had expected and we ran aground yet again.   Not to worry, as I have a hand held depth finder so I handed it to Alex who used it to “chart” a path for us to pick our way out and get us on our way.Cruisers helping Cruisers, it’s the way of the world, well at least the way of the cruising world, with folks that spend time voyaging in small boats always willing to help out.  Having Alex show up at a critical time made all the difference.  Thanks Alex, I owe you.  They are heading to the Bahamas for their first visit.  I hope that they call me for some free advice.  After 4 seasons cruising there, I have plenty of fun memories to share. Our run down the bay was uneventful with about half of the trip motorsailing hard on the wind until we reached Annapolis where we encountered a pretty impressive line of rain and squalls that stayed with us for hours.   Once that cleared out it ushered in a very nice fresh westerly wind to carry us the rest of the way to Hampton on a beam reach.

So, after heading out of our way by a full two days, we were happy to finish up the run on a very comfortable point of sail, often moving along at more than 9kts.

Oh yeah, almost forgot.  That bow thruster that didn’t work all season and was finally fixed just before leaving CT.   It turns out that a nut on one of the cables on the battery had become loose and when I used the thruster to dock in Chesapeake City, the lead lug began to arc over that loose connection.  One of the lead terminals on the battery burned, along with the plastic boot that covers it.

Later in the day in Chesapeake City, I had gone forward to use the forward head and smelled a nasty odor.  When I opened up the area where the batteries are held, I was horrified to see that everything was coated with a fine black soot.

Well, I won’t go into much detail except to say that it could have been worse, much worse.  The thruster draws hundreds of amps when it runs and when I used the unit, the battery with the loose lug “sparked” badly and in the process melted the lead as well as part of the plastic body of he battery.  It looked and smelled, terrible.

The fact that the entire boat did not burn was just another example of the fact that God is looking after me.  Well, someone is, and while getting the place cleaned up and new batteries purchased and in place wasn’t a picnic, it could have been a LOT worse.

And to make a bad situation way better, Steve is a strapping guy and offered to install the new batteries.   What a savior.  Thanks Steve.

So, we are back in business and I was happy to use the thruster to move Pandora into a slip yesterday after anchoring out in the harbor for the night while we installed the batteries, or should I say Steve installed the batteries, while I cleaned up all the items that had been nearby and were coated with black soot.  The entire process took several hours and we had to launch the dink so we could ferry the new batteries out to Pandora and lug the old ones back to the dock.

Fortunately, the marina was able to order the exact size we needed.  And, as they are a “full service yard”, true to form, they charged me a very “full price” for those precious batteries.

So, here we are in Hampton, none the worse for wear, mostly, after a run that took an extra two days, five instead of three, to get here.

Next steps, final provisioning, some weather briefings a few happy hours  with fellow Dawgs and hopefully, we will be on our way over the weekend.

Chris says that the best window to depart will be between Saturday morning through Monday morning, a pretty wide window by historical standards.

Of course, he had to add, “and you want to be as far away from shore as possible by Thursday evening as it will really get nasty if you aren’t”.  Oh fun…

More to come as we have a weather briefing this evening to see if that window holds.

Today off for a PCR covid test that I need to show the folks in Antigua when I arrive, some last minute provisioning and I wait.  Peter and George, my crew, arrive Saturday afternoon and hopefully we can depart first light Sunday.

Before I break, one more thing.  We all talk about how different sailors are from power boaters.  You know the “stinkpoters” verses the “blow boats”?  Well, this sportfishing boat named “Reel Tails” sort of says it all.   Subtle right?  Wonder what sort of a guy this owner is?  I’ll bet that if he fell in the water the weight of his gold chains would pull him to the bottom.  And, that would probably be a good thing…Last evening we had an impromptu gathering around the marina pool.   A nice turnout given the fact that I only gave them an hour notice.   A very nice group and it was fun to see some of the same folks I spent time with in Maine. Flags flying proudly aboard Pandora here in her slip. So, after months of preparation, I’m finally in Hampton and soon… bound for Antigua.  :}


Leaving Saturday for Hampton? All systems “GO”.

It’s Thursday morning and I am pretty much ready to head to Hampton to hook up with the other boats heading south in the Salty Dawg Caribbean Rally.   We have loads of boats in the rally, about 80 with some 50 heading to Antigua, 20 to the Bahamas and the rest to other locations along the way.

It’s been a wild ride getting ready to head south.   Nothing new there based on past experience but with all systems on Pandora “go” I think that I am about set for departure.

Provisions are stowed, fuel is topped up, bow thruster “go”, fridge “go” and dings in keel fixed.  And I have even been able to get my new Iridium Go and Predict Wind accounts up and running or should I say “GOing”.

Speaking of my new Iridium Go system, I have to say that this unit has been a bit of  head scratcher to learn how to use it.  To that point, it seems to me that this is one of the most confusing setups I have ever encountered.  The “getting started” book is way to thick and they have online video tutorials that run some 2 hours long telling you how to set up things.

The list of “must do” items to make the GO ready to go includes getting an Iridium satellite phone number, an Iridium email address, downloading the Iridium Go and Predict Wind apps on my iPad and phone along with software to my laptop.  I also had to install an external antenna on the boat and rig up a spot to mount the “GO” unit itself.

After all this, I was still completely flummoxed by the whole deal and ended up contacting the Iridium folks.   Well, that didn’t work so I contacted the folks at Predict Wind.   A very nice person,  Keryn, in Auckland, NZ,where the company is located, agreed to walk me through the setup.  We had a bit of a tough time connecting due to the 12 hour time difference, but we ultimately we worked it out and last night she patiently walked me through the process of setting things up.

Keryn, the same person in the videos, really knows her stuff .  She took quite a long time to walk through the steps in setting up the apps.  For some reason, my laptop wasn’t able to run the app properly but the iPad worked fine so that’s what I will use.

There are literally hours of video tutorials to teach you how to use the system.  Have an hour?  Check out this one, the first of many and I do mean MANY. Watch them all and you’ll know the program inside-out but you might not have any time to go sailing.

Any  email you want to send over the system will have to be done via smart phone or tablet, not on the PC.  As a side note, I enjoy writing blog posts most days on passage and I do so in email, send them to Brenda who puts them on my blog, this blog.  The GO does not support email on the laptop app so I will have to type them on my iPad.   I HATE pecking away on my iPad for email so I ordered a keyboard, one that was recommended by the NY Times.

I have to say that the keyboard really works well and was very easy to set up, literally a few clicks of a button and it worked.

I wish that setting up the GO and Predict Wind was that easy but at least they have great customer service through Keryn.   As an added bonus, she has a very nice “Aussie” accent so all is better now.

The GO unit and Predict Wind will set you back more than a boat dollar but it’s way cool and if you love tech, you will love this system.

Perhaps the neatest part is the routing.  You put in some rudimentary polars, including your speed hard on the wind, on a reach and when heading down-wind and the computer does the rest.  Then you put in your departure and arrival points, download the gribs from multiple models, and the system calculates the likely route, one each for the various models you have chosen.

First put in the departure and arrival points.  The system has “land avoidance” so it will route you around any “hard stuff”. Then you choose which grib models you want to view.  In this case, I did all of them.  Then it calculates your assumed route and as you move the slider the boat moves down the course.  However, the route assumption in this case, doesn’t wait for a good “window” and assumed tthat I was planning to leave immediately, regardless of the weather that is forecast to be in my path.

As you can see from this, the wind is pretty stiff by day two of the trip.  Hard on the wind with apparent winds in the high 20s.  Not pleasant at all.

If I were to wait another day or two, say Saturday, the winds are a lot more pleasant.  But I haven’t figured out how to delay the start given the GRIBS that I downloaded.  I expect that can be done.  Details to come on that point. 

There is a blizzard of data available in the app, and I won’t even begin to try an explain all that you get but it’s overwhelming in a sort of cool way.   Highest wind speeds to be expected, time sailing verses motoring, percent of time hard on the wind, reaching and down wind sailing.  Me?  I’d nix the “hard on the wind” stuff. 

And, that’s where a weather routing guy like Chris Parker comes in.  The cold calculations of a computer and GRIB files does not take into account what might happen in the days following the 5 days that you have on file at any given time .  And anyone who has been offshore knows that things change.

Working with Chris will allow him to work with you to “put something in the bank” in case things change, which they surely will.

As they say “gentlemen do not go to weather” and while Predict Wind doesn’t know about that, Chris does.  Chris might have a different take on that saying, perhaps “if you want your crew to be happy, don’t go to weather”, except when you have no other choice.

And speaking of Chris, I plan to talk to him today to see if he still thinks that Saturday will be a good day to head out.

One more thing.  You can track me at this link as I make my way to Hampton at this link.   And, once the rally heads out, on November 1st or thereabouts, there will be a group tracking page with everyone listed so you can follow along.

Wish me luck.  At least I can say that with Pandora, all systems are “Go”, Predict Wind too and all the stuff that always seems to need attention on a boat.

At least I have a new toy to play with.  Hope I can remember all the buttons to push.

Almost ready to head south?

Yikes, what a month.  I’ll admit, and Brenda will willingly say, that every fall it is a whirlwind, and not in a good way.  Getting Pandora, and us, ready to go away for the winter is complicated.

Yes, every year is a challenge and this year, even worse, when you toss in all the responsibility that goes along with my role as rally director for The Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.

With nearly 80 boats heading to warmer climes, and me at the center of all the “fun”, it is turning out to be quite a ride.

You may recall that I took on this job as “interim rally director” last May when the “then current” director resigned abruptly and as I probably contributed to his departure, (don’t ask) I felt obligated to help keep things moving along.

So, here we are, months later and I am no longer able to hide behind “interim”.  I’ll admit that the job is a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, this role is turning out to be very rewarding, if in a “head snapping” sort of way as I lurch from one thing to another.  Trying to keep everyone involved in the rally happy and yet still keep up with our home here in CT and Pandora is a handful.

Pandora is now mostly ready with all mechanical systems working and ready to go.  But there are always last minute issues that crop up.  Fingers crossed…

In getting Pandora ready over the last few month, the big issues that needed addressing were the bow thruster that crapped out somehow over the winter and a refrigeration system that stopped working properly following our time in Maine.

First the refrigeration.  When I got back from Maine I noticed that things in the fridge were freezing and that the temperature was going down as low, sometimes lower than the freezer.  After a lot of back and forth with the manufacturer we determined that one of the zone valves that directs where the coolant is to go, fridge or freezer, had frozen in the open position so whenever the freezer called for cooling, the fridge got colder too.   Can you say, “popped sodas?”

As everyone knows, it’s nearly impossible to get someone to work on a boat these days and it took about a month to get someone out to fix things.  In order to be sure that the repairs could happen quickly, I ordered exactly what we needed and had it on hand when the tech arrived.

Not so fast it seems… the guy, and he was well recommended, wasted hours “diagnosing” the problem on his own, spending the better part of a day making some adjustments to the existing valves. declaring that the problem was fixed.  All the while his assistant sat by ready to hand him a tool but mostly just fiddling with his phone.

Well, it wasn’t fixed and again he came back to Pandora only to learn that he needed to do some fabrication in his shop.   Did he take the new valves with him when he left?  No, so I had to make a trip to his shop to drop the parts.

Ok, so back he came for a THIRD visit and finally fixed what I had told him was the problem from the beginning.   I won’t say how many hours went into what should have been a simple “fix” but it is finally done and the fridge is cooling happily.  The bill?  He adjusted it but it was still nearly a boat dollar.   Amazingly, the replacement of a single valve costs more than the installation of the entire new unit in St Lucia two years ago.  Painful…

Doesn’t look like much does it?  The little black square blocks are the two zone valves.   Messy but it works.  To make matters worse in replacing them, they are located under and behind the oven.  In order to get to them I had to invert the gimbled oven and open up an access panel, a really tight spot. Actually, the install looked a lot better before it was “fixed”, but one of the reasons that the valve failed is that it as oriented in the wrong direction.  The “correct” setup was to have the stem oriented vertically so that gravity could assist when the valve closed.  In the original install, when Pandora was built, the valves were not set up this way which caused them to fail over time.   I will say that it looked a lot less messy back then.  However it doesn’t show and now it works just fine, messy or not. Cold beer anyone?  Pandora’s got em.

The other issue, the malfunctioning bow thruster, took all summer to fix.  When I put Pandora up for last winter, the thruster worked fine but come spring it no longer “thrusted”.   The bad news is that there is only ONE company in the northeast that can even service the unit and they were booked solid and generally didn’t even return my calls.

Finally, after months of calls and emails, I was able to get them aboard.  There was a lot of back and forth about why it wasn’t working but finally the motor was removed just to be sure that it was ok, and it was but needed a bit of cleaning.  Back in place still no “thrust”.  At that point, we feared that it was the electronic controller that was at fault and replacements are unavailable.

One thing lead to another and the tech Andrew, who really knows these systems, narrowed the problem down to a corroded wire.  Isn’t that always the way?  A sort of “is it plugged in” answer that is so hard to figure out.

So simple and yet it took months to get it resolved, mostly because they were so swamped that they could not visit.

When Andrew visited for the second time and finally “fixed” the thruster, I could have hugged him.  Awkward as that might have been, nobody was more shocked that the unit was working again than me.  I expect that he was too.   The big issue looming over the job was that if the control box was damaged, I was screwed as the unit is no longer manufactured.   But it turned out to be OK and Pandora’s thruster is back in business.  Whew…

There have been myriad items to fix and add to get her ready to head south and I am very pleased that it’s all come together.   One upgrade, small though it may be, was the addition of a “storm window” on the front of the dodger, a hard plastic cover that I can clip over the opening window when things get snotty.

While the zipper window is mostly waterproof, sometimes a big wave can hit it and there is an annoying spray that comes through the zipper.  This addition will strengthen things a lot.  Chad, the canvas guy, did a nice job on this along with lots of other little “tweaks”.

And speaking of “tweaks”, my wind vane steering system, only really used on long passages, works pretty well but in order to keep the boat balanced, I have to lock the wheel with a bit of rudder to make it easier for the vane to steer the boat.  The problem is that the steering lock on the wheel hub isn’t strong enough to hold the wheel steady in big seas so I had to fabricate something to hold the wheel firmly against any movement and yet still be easy to release when needed.

I have tried a number of approaches over the years and none have worked particularly well.  However, after lots of “chin stroking” while sitting in the cockpit, I came up with a solution and fabricated it out of starboard, but not until I had made a number of trial designs out of plywood and pine.

Here’s the unit attached to the steering pedestal.  I think it’s pretty nifty, if I do say so myself. Each “jam cleat” is set up with a line that goes up from the bottom of the steering pedestal to one of the wheel spokes to hold things steady.  It’s easy to pull the line out of the cleat and to secure things for minute adjustments.  It will be interesting to see how it works.  I’m optimistic.

Perhaps the most concerning issue I faced in getting Pandora ready for the trip to Antigua was to have her hauled out yet one more time, to access the damage from a “grounding” in Maine over the summer.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that I misread a mark and hit a rock.

“You ran aground Bob?”  Yes, I did.   Of course, you know what they say about running aground don’t you?  “There are those who admit to running aground and those who lie about itveryone.”

Yes, I admit it, I ran aground and it was very upsetting.  I did dive on the boat right after it happened and I was pretty sure that the damage was cosmetic.  Fortunately, I was right.

Pandora, it seems, is a pretty tough boat and her keel is different than most boats.  The actual keel is composite and the only lead is the “torpedo” that is cross-bolted onto the bottom of the skeg.   And it’s a long keel so any “loads” put on it are distributed over a long area.  Especially helpful when you bump into something hard, like a granite bolder.

Fortunately, when we hit, we rode up on the rock as opposed to hitting the keel dead on, so the damage was cosmetic and on the bottom of the bulb.  It looked very nasty.  I won’t go into much detail except to say that I was able to clean things up beginning with a 5lb sledge hammer to bang down the high spots before filling things in with and apply some thickened West System epoxy.  It was cold outside that day and I needed to get three coats applied, faired and then coated with bottom paint, all within 24 hours.

In order to get things to set up faster, I tented the keel and put a heater and 500w flood light below. Happily, the damage was only cosmetic so now the keel is fair again and actually looks better than it did before the grounding.   Go me…The marina manager, Brian, was very accommodating and even took the time to launch me on a Sunday following a “short haul” that ended up not being quite as short as it should have been , 24 hours or not.  I appreciated his help.  He was actually pretty amazed that I was able to get her fixed and ready to launch so quickly.   Me too.

So, there you have it and I am hoping to be heading to Hampton to join up with the rest of the fleet, all vaccinated, before heading to Antigua, hopefully on November 1st.

There are still so many details like provisioning and getting clothing aboard for me and Brenda that it makes both of our heads spin.

Somehow all that’s going to get done by next week.  Oh yeah, we leave today to spend the next four days with our grandchildren in MD.  Now, that’s going to be fun.

I keep having to remind myself, and Brenda, that being in the tropics this winter will be a lot better than digging out from heavy snows.

Soon we will be aboard in Antigua again…Hanging out with all the Dawgs, and there will be plenty of them. Ok, so I’m almost ready to head south.  Now, if I can just get a weather window to head down to Hampton.  One step at a time…