Monthly Archives: June 2023

Sunrise at sea. What it’s all about.

I have to say that I am not particularly a fan of passage making.   Perhaps if Brenda was with me, I’d be happier to be offshore for days at a time and after more than a decade of long north and south runs, I can’t say that I look forward to yet another 1,500 run south to Antigua in November.

However, I do like the “being there” part of things and so look forward to reconnecting with friends, both in the Salty Dawg Rally and in Antigua, our destination.

When on passage, we keep watch 24/7, with someone always on deck.  With three of us and the autopilot humming away, I have found that to be a good number of crew.  However, if we were to have a failure of the electric autopilot, that would surely put a strain on everyone.

With that in mind, I also have a mechanical wind vane, which I will admit that I have not used much as the Raymarine steering unit is just so easy to set and manage.

I always let the crew decide how they want to handle the watch schedule and the plan generally means that during the day it’s loose but there is always someone on deck.  Beginning at 20:00 hrs, the first formal watch begins and runs for 3-4 hours depending on crew preferences.  Once we settle on the length of the watches, that is the plan for the duration of the run.

Personally, I prefer a 4 hour watch and always choose the 04:00 to 08:00.  I think that this watch is sometimes referred to as the “dog watch”.  Most hate it but as I am generally up off and on earlier in the night and yet can sleep pretty well for a few hours after midnight, getting up at 03:00 or 04:00 to begin watch works well for me.

I particularly enjoy watching the stars and then the eastern sky as it begins to brighten for sunrise.   It is quite common for me to race below to get my camera to record the changing sky as the sun begins to peak over the horizon.

Getting that perfect shot is the goal but even more important is that I am a member of a very unique group, the Cloud Appreciation Society, out of the UK, a group that celebrates clouds.  The society sends out a “cloud-a-day” every day to all it’s members, and there are tens of thousands of members.

Any member can submit a cloud image and hope that theirs will be chosen to be shared.  I have been “all about that” and have submitted many photos over the several years that I have been a member.  I don’t keep an exact count of those chosen by them from my submissions but it’s something like 5 or 6 with the most recent published last week.

While being chosen is exciting enough, it’s even better to see what they have to say about my photo.

So, on passage, I sometimes get a particularly memorable shot like this one when I was on passage in May as we made our way from St Thomas to Essex CT and home and submitted it for consideration.

I was thrilled when I heard that they had chosen it to be one of their “cloud a day”.    The message that came into my mailbox simply stated “Your Cloud-a-Day has been scheduled!” YAHOO!

Here it is…And, here is what the Cloud Appreciation Society had to say about “my cloud”.

“While sailing in his sloop, Pandora, from Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands to his home in Connecticut, Bob Osborn (Member 54,749) admired an Altocumulus at sunrise near the island of Bermuda. This was the stratiformis species of Altocumulus, which is when the cloud layer extends across the majority of the sky. Bob said it was a beautiful day at sea, homeward bound after a winter aboard in the Caribbean.”

So, there you have it, seeing a perfect sunrise at sea is where it’s at.  And, getting one of my photos published by those who share my love of clouds makes those long passages worth it.

Now all I have to do is to find another great shot.  I can do that, but it’s up to the editors of the Cloud Appreciation Society to decide.

As Brenda likes to say, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful!”

Yup, that’s me.  I’m on it…

Coming full circle. The second decade…

Pandora was hauled a few days ago to repair a damaged prop shaft.  It pains me to be in this position as it’s one of those “invisible” upgrades that are essential, cost a lot, but don’t show to the casual eye.   And, to make matters worse, as is always the case, it now appears that the project is bigger than expected.

I’ll need a new shaft, cutlass bearing, prop and repairs to the linkage that failed to hold the shaft as well.  Oh yeah, after 16 years, my Autoprop is also in need of some serious love.   Sadly, after a careful evaluation, in spite of years of happy service, I have decided to go with another brand, a new prop.  More about that in a later post.

I replaced the shaft in our last Pandora, a SAGA 43.  That was a pretty big deal and more than a few boat dollars.  In that particular case, some fishing line, wrapped around the shaft and migrated into the cutlass bearing and created some grooves in the SS shaft.  Hard to believe that nylon line could wear stainless but it did.

The good news is that all the plans for the shaft, prop and the rest of the gear in that general neighborhood is in place so I expect that Pandora will be back in the water in about 10 days.  To keep myself sane when facing thousands of dollars in repairs, I like to think “happy thoughts”, like what we will do next season.

And, speaking of  “next season”, setting aside that we are technically in season  for most here in the North East, this year our “off season” will be more “on” than in the last few years as I am hosting an event here in Essex for the Salty Dawgs and Ocean Cruising Club.  And, I am also planning a “mini cruise” with some of these folks in early July.  More trips out I expect during the summer before I get serious about getting ready to head to Antigua.

Sure, we are now “post” Memorial Day and there are a lot more boats in the harbor.  I am always amazed to see how many boats are not in the water by Memorial Day, the “sacred weekend” a deadline that always loomed large when I was part of the working world.  In all of my “pre-retired” years of sailing I believe that I only missed two memorial day weekends, rain or shine, on the water and those were not for a lack of trying.

So, back to the title of this post and the question of what we are planning for next season.  It’s particularly timely as we are now into our second decade as “snowbirds” and as much as Brenda would like to think otherwise, there is no obvious end in sight.  So far, so good.

After our arrival in Antigua in November, I expect that we will head north, perhaps south first to Guadeloupe for some rum, but then begin our run north, heading to St Martin and onto the Virgins.

I am in discussions with the Nanny Cay resort in the British Virgins about doing a rendezvous there in early March.  The BVI got a bad rep after treating cruisers badly during the pandemic, impounding boats for the most trivial of transgressions and most cruisers have abandoned them for the much more friendly USVI which are only a few miles away.

Hoping to put things right, the manager of Nanny Cay Marina contacted me and wants to see what he can do to bring the cruising community back.   I do think that it would be great if we could put a rendezvous together.  The last time I was there was in the spring of 2017 when I participated in my first Homeward Bound Rally with the Salty Dawg Sailing Association.

The facility was trashed in a hurricane a number of years ago and has been completely restored.  It will be interesting to see what it’s like.  It was pretty nice years ago.  This is a post I did after that visit.

From there perhaps we will spend some time in the USVI, the Spanish Virgins, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic and then up through the Bahamas.  At the end of the season I expect we will make a run to the US, perhaps for a time in Charleston before I run Pandora back to CT.

All of that would bring us full circle.

Back in 2012, and our first run south, we visited the Bahamas and continued to do so each season until 2016 when we headed to Cuba and then, in recent years, to the Caribbean.

We really enjoyed the Bahamas which are blessed with some of the clearest waters in the world.

The Bahamas are very shallow with an average depth of about 6′ and with a tidal range of 18″, and with all that water flowing in and out twice a day nearly half of the water in the entire country is replenished every day.  And, as the waters adjacent to all that shallow water is thousands of feet deep, the water coming into the shallows is very clear.

I was blown away when I first encountered water that clear.   After sailing in Long Island Sound, where two to three foot visibility is the norm, I didn’t quite know what to make of seeing upwards of 100′ underwater.

Imagine hanging off of the back of your boat and seeing the anchor in the sand…We sailed over 1,000 miles in the Bahamas that first year.  That was partly because every few days a cold front would come crashing down from the north bringing unfavorable winds so we had to move somewhere else and scramble for cover as there is very little in the way of 360 degree shelter in the Bahamas.

We met many characters along the way like this guy who was cruising with friends.  He was a nice young man but would have been my worse nightmare if I had a daughter.   “Daddy, this is my new friend Jason.  He has a sailboat and has invited me to cruise with him.  You like boats, right?”ShBrenda is still creative aboard and completes projects afloat every season.  </p

And I can still fit into this wetsuit, a decade later."<br

On our first run south in 2012 we met Bill and Maureen aboard Kalunamoo and still hang out with them every season more than a decade later.]</pNot sure about this shot but it seemed like a good idea at the time.We also got to know the owners of Ariel, now our Pandora.  After years of arriving in port hours after them we now own her and beat most other boats to anchor.   She’s now a lovely grey color but still the same great boat.The biggest problem with cruising the Bahamas is that when a cold front exits the US it comes crashing to the south, bringing with it clocking winds that force everyone to run for cover lest they find themselves on a lee shore.  There are very few places in the Bahamas that have protection from the west winds that follow a cold front.

It’s also a very rural area with minimal infrastructure so there aren’t many places to eat out.  And, if you can’t take a lot of sun, like Brenda post melanoma, there’s not a lot to do.  There are beautiful beaches and the water is great but not so great for the sun adverse.

However, it’s a beautiful place and there will be a certain symmetry in heading back to the islands that began our winter cruising more than a decade ago when we headed south to begin our first big voyage.

A lot of water has gone under the keel since we first ran down the coast of New Jersey to begin or lives as snowbirds and what a ride it’s been.

And as we posed for this picture on our first stop in 2012 at the Fayerweather Yacht Club in Bridgeport CT.  In it’s own way, that was a full circle too as that’s where we kept our very first boat, our 20′ Cape Cod Catboat back in the early 80s. I only regret is that I am now 68 which seems pretty old to me.  Or, at least a lot older than when we used to go sailing on Tao, our 20′ catboat.

Or, as one of our boys said to Brenda on her birthday so long ago, “Happy Birthday Mom, you are really old now”.  He meant that as a compliment from at the time as from his perspective older was better, the way the very young look at the process of aging.

Out of the mouths of babes, no truer words were ever spoken.

I may be old but grass isn’t growing under our feet any time soon.

Poor Brenda, being dragged all over Hell’s half acre and a plan to head back to the Bahamas one more time, bringing things full circle after all these years.

At least she is smiling.  That’s my girl…


My very own guardian Angel.

Pandora’s been back in CT for about a week following an unceremonial tow for the last mile of our 1,750 nm run from St Thomas.

I’ll say that it is a bit strange to have her here in Essex and yet not be able to move her at all given the fact that her prop shaft is not attached to the transmission.  When we were heading up the river, waiting at the railroad bridge, the prop shaft pulled out from the transmission coupling so we had to take a tow for the “last mile” on our trip.

Remarkably, the shaft did not pull out over the 11 days that we were underway, it happened when we were nearly all the way to our destination.   Some might say that the timing was perfect.  Accident?  I doubt it.

For much of my life I have felt blessed with my very own guardian Angel sitting on my shoulder, helping me out of trouble when things get rough.

I can think of many instances when things could have gone terribly wrong and yet somehow I got a “nudge” that kept me from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, helping me step aside from the proverbial “speeding train”.

It’s hard to imagine that there is enough luck to go around to favor me with a mechanical breakdown just a mile from my destination in Essex after an 11 day run.   A simple “wow, that was lucky” doesn’t seem to explain how that sort of thing has happened so many times over the years.

After getting Pandora towed to the mooring my next thought was to try and see if I could fix the problem so a few days later I spent hours taking the coupling apart and putting it back together.

I contacted the Yanmar distributor in NJ for advice and the tech sent me a parts diagram for the coupler.  Taking it apart took hours and I spilt more than a little blood and sweat.   But, I got it back together.

Not a lot of parts. The back end of the transmission.  It seems that the end of the prop shaft, that inserts into the coupling, had slipped a lot and was quite chewed up.  I took a few more hours to put everything back together, satisfied that I had done the best job that I could,  I put the engine in reverse and revved it up to see if my work held…

It didn’t and the prop pulled the shaft right out of the coupling again.  Ugh…

I called the tech back and he told me that the scoring on the shaft meant that there was a lot less surface area left for the coupling to compress and it just wouldn’t hold.

Ok, ok, got it.  Time to haul Pandora and have the whole shebang replaced, shaft and all.  Ouch…

I’ll bet this is going to cost a few boat dollars.   Such is life, I guess.

As is always the case, there are a lot of items that need to be addressed aboard Pandora, some interior cabinetry modifications, re-bedding some fittings and a couple of hatches as well as myriad other projects to numerous to outline here.

Ok, enough of that for now.

Another thing that’s been on my mind since returning home is Starlink.  It’s been a bit of a head spinner over the last few months with the “rules” changing on a weekly and monthly basis.

When I first became aware of this service, I ordered a dish and had someone bring it to Antigua.  I was blown away by how easy it was to use and how FAST.   After a few “golden” months things have become a lot more complicated and confusing.   See my post about that wonderous moment when we first signed on to the service.

For the first few glorious months, we were able to use Starlink to access unlimited amounts of high speed data for a low price, about $130/month.  Then rumors flew that we would not be able to use it outside of North America and would have to go on a maritime plan for about double that amount.

Finally, a few months ago, I received a nastygram from Starlink explaining that according to the “fine print” in my terms-of-service, I could no longer use Starlink on the low cost plan except on land, lakes and rivers and perhaps not even outside of North America.   Lakes and Rivers?  Closer to home in the US? When does the Hudson River become the Atlantic Ocean and what about Raritan Bay.  Ocean, river?  Something else.  It’s unclear.

I contacted Starlink customer service several times and never got a complete answer.

Meanwhile I knew plenty of cruisers who ignored that email and stayed on the lower priced plan.  And yes, the service still worked in harbors even if they were not technically “lakes and rivers”.   One couple, also on the lower cost “land” plan, told me that the unit continued to work fine in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico until they went offshore to the Bahamas when it stopped working only to immediately resume when they were in the Bahamas.  And, in that case, it worked everywhere, even between islands.  They are now in the US, traversing the ICW and again, it’s working fine on the lower cost plan.

Being the good little rule follower that I (sometimes, every now and again, well at least occasionally) am, when I was told to switch to a maritime plan, I did so.  That plan, at $250/month only allows for 50GB/ month, which I used up in a little  more than a week, then I had to pay $2gb for data over that amount.   By the end of the month an additional $100, running my first bill to $350 for a single month, an unsustainable level.

To complicate matters further, Starlink offered me an opportunity to upgrade to the high performance dish for $1,900, albeit at a $600 discount off of the normal price.  And they said that I could keep the old dish and sell it if I wished.  That’s a pretty good deal.

However, once again, a number of details remain unclear.   I had heard that they would be coming out with an updated dish that is about the same size as the current dish but that it was going to be much more powerful, and I expect, more energy efficient.

The small dish that I have now is pretty power hungry and the offered upgrade uses twice the power, probably an unstainable amount aboard Pandora as we don’t have a house generator and rely on solar and wind to charge the batteries.   I have put in a support ticket on this subject and have not heard back anything except that my new dish will ship in a week or two.

Should I cancel the order?  Wait for the new one?   Who knows.

That’s a problem as I really don’t want the new dish if an upgrade will be out shortly that should use about the same amount of power as my current system.   One thing for sure is that my current dish, the RV, did not work well on passage when the going got rough.  Perhaps that was unique to service where I was at the time, within a few hundred miles of Bermuda.  Alas, yet another ticket looking for answers.  So far, radio silence…

So, the existential question is if I should cancel my order for the upgraded dish and risk having to pay an additional $600 to get one down the road.  Will the new dish be smaller and if so, cheaper?  Who knows.

One thing for sure is that Starlink is an awesome product and like everything else that Musk is involved in, fraught with challenges.  But, Elon does deserve to be rich as his products are truly groundbreaking.

When I ordered the new unit it was with a simple click of a button and I sure wish that getting good actionable answers to simple questions was as easy.

I guess I’ll just hold my breath for a few more days, with the hope of hearing from them.  If not, and I receive the new dish, that it will be easier to return it than it’s been to get answers from their support folks.

Well at least Pandora didn’t break down in the middle of the ocean, thanks to my personal Guardian Angel.