Monthly Archives: October 2023

It’s about that time. Shoving off for Antigua.

It’s October 31st and the weather for tomorrow, the first of November, our nominal departure date, bound for Antigua, is expected to be favorable for a departure. Well, if you discount the possible hurricane that may spool up in the Gulf of Mexico next week make us think twice about heading out. We will know for sure what the plans are this evening when we get a final briefing from our weather router, Chris Parker.

Pandora is ready to go and as much as I am bummed not to be in Hampton with most of the boats in the Salty Dawg Caribbean Rally, it is very nice having her near me here in CT. She is at the Essex Yacht Club dock, where I have been working on her for the last week or so, bringing stuff aboard and taking stuff off that has accumulated over the years and is probably no longer needed. The weather on Saturday was amazing, the temperature was nearly 80 and sunny. Not so much for the last few days when the temperatures plummeted into the 40s with rain.

In case you are wondering, the white stuff on the lawn isn’t snow although today, it is cold and but not cold enough to snow. Nope, those are white rose petals from a wedding held there a few days ago.

There’s not a lot going on around her and most of the moorings in the harbor are now vacant.

Much of last week was consumed by last minute items, moving stuff aboard, removing stuff that we don’t expect to need this season. I was also looking for a persistent leak and removed forward hatch and re-bedding it, with the hope of stopping an illusive dripping down the cabin side when the going gets sporty. Alas, after removing it and cleaning up all the old adhesive caulk, I could not find any evidence of moisture. Big hole in the foredeck with the hatch removed. I heard that a large catamaran sunk last week when two of her hatches failed off of Cape Hatteras. I can imagine that a boat would sink PDQ if a hole opened up on this scale.

After hours of removal, prep and reassembly, I realized that this wasn’t the source of the leak and finally found it in a nearby turning block for the jib. I am doubtful that I caught the only remaining leak but hope that I’m getting close. When I purchased the boat the seller told me of “THE leak”, the only one on the boat. HA! Seven years later, I am still identifying new leaks. I do put a lot of miles on Pandora each season so things loosen up. I expect that he wasn’t aware of some of the leaks as they only come to light when the going really gets sporty. Not sure I will ever completely conquer the leaks but I am pretty close, I hope, and probably more on top of the problem than most owners.

Another thing that I have been thinking about is Starlink and how that technology has changed the cruising game. Some years ago I was on a delivery of a large yacht from The Hamptons to Ft Lauderdale and was blown away to find that the yacht had broadband on board. I had a blast putting up posts with photos and never imagined that one day that would be possible aboard Pandora. However, that system cost upwards of $5,000 a month, certainly above my paygrade.

Well, now with Starlink, we have a “sort of” affordable option at $150/month and $2GB for data when underway at sea. Yes, it does add up but the service is AWESOME! and Pandora, along with just about every other boat in the rally, has Starlink aboard. This system, developed by Elon Musk, offers relatively low cost broadband and it is generally fast, and often faster than our cable service at home.

I first heard about the system last October when a boat in the rally joined a webinar from offshore, complete with high quality video. I didn’t think much about it until I was in Antigua a few weeks later and saw one of the antennas on a friend’s boat. I just had to have one and found myself as one of the “early adopters.” I was able to get a fellow Dawg to deliver one in their luggage from the US.

Here we are a year later and nearly every boat in the rally has the service. I still have the older style RV antenna and hope that it will work better this fall than it did on my way north last spring when I had trouble keeping a signal.

I have heard that the RV version that I have has better reception now as the software has been improved. I had the opportunity to upgrade to a maritime dish but the power consumption was twice as much and the unit is twice the size of what I have now. And, rumor has it that there will be a more efficient antenna out soon that isn’t a lot larger than the one I have.

Here’s the antenna mounted aft, adjacent to my solar panels.

Perhaps a better view of how it is situated aft to port.

So, we will have to see how well the service works on this run. Fingers crossed as I have not activated my Iridium Go, as that service costs about as much and is REALLY SLOW.

Well, hopefully, tomorrow, Wednesday morning, we will head out, bound for Antigua. It is possible that we will head for Bermuda in case we need to stop and wait for better conditions.

I’ll know more this evening when we get our weather briefing.

You can follow the fleet at this link, compliments of Salty Dawg and Predict Wind, and see the more than 90 boats that will be making their way south to either Antigua or The Bahamas, departing from Hampton VA and Newport, RI and of course, Pandora from Essex. Note that a number of boats have already left and there’s plenty to follow.

Looking forward to not doing the run south next fall.

I have been working hard to get Pandora ready for the run to Antigua as part of the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean for months now, always thinking that I would be heading to Hampton for the departure, as has been the case for years now. This year’s rally is a big one, with 96 boats heading south, mostly from Hampton, with about 15 from Newport.

As of a month ago, I realized that I was not going to be able to make it to Hampton, due to some mechanical issues with Pandora, discussed in prior posts, and decided, somewhat reluctantly I’ll admit, that I’d be heading out directly from Essex CT, on the CT River.

I say “reluctantly” as I, and many others, view a departure from the NE US as potentially more difficult than from Hampton, near the mouth of the Chesapeake, as more difficult, primarily as it takes a lot longer to get to the south side of the Gulf Stream from here than from farther south.

The Caribbean cruising legend and author Don Street, once said that leaving from Newport in November to head to the Caribbean was like “playing Russian roulette” given the uncertainty of the weather that time of year so while I have considered departing from here in the past, I have always headed south to Hampton or left earlier in the season. This years departure for Antigua will be my first from the area.

On Monday evening we had our first long range weather briefing with Chris Parker who painted a somewhat bleak picture of what the run would be like, regardless of the choice of departure point.

The problem is that the trade winds are expected to be elevated, making for a very sporty trip, south of Bermuda. Normally the departure from Hampton is easier than from New England but this year it looks like the New England run might be easier. But “easier” is only in comparison to Hampton and while I am encouraged, it is still uncertain and subject to change. Not the least of it is the continued presence of hurricane Tammy, who is churning her way northward as I write this.

However, I may have to leave a few days early to avoid what will be very strong northerly winds beginning on Tuesday and filling south the next day.

This is what the weather looks like today, 4 days from our estimated departure. You can see that hurricane Tammy is churning her way northward. The line from Essex represents the course to Bermuda, where I am likely to stop for a few days. Note that “red” in the following slides are strong winds, think 20-30kts and higher, and blue, no wind.

If you look forward to Saturday morning, when we are currently considering beginning the run, there is very little wind suggesting that we will be motoring much of 650 miles to Bermuda. However, at that time Tammy will be right over Bermuda. Not good to be heading south when she is moving north.

The current forecast suggests that we must arrive in Bermuda by late on Tuesday in order to get ahead of some very strong northerly winds. These winds are expected to fill in on Wednesday but of course that is a week out so the forecast could very well change but right now it looks like “threading the needle”.

I would very much like to leave on Sunday or later to give Tammy a chance to GO AWAY, but we will have to see how things develop over the next few days on the weather front. The reason, although not the only one, is that October 28th is the date of Brenda’s and my first date, a walk in the woods, if you are curious, way back in 1972, 50 years ago.

For the last dozen or so years, with only one exception during the pandemic, Brenda and I have NOT been together on that date, and I was so hoping that I would be this year.

However, it’s a long way to Antigua and I really want to do whatever I can to make it a safe and easy run. Fortunately Brenda understands that too.

And, speaking of 50 years ago. I took this photo when we became engaged. Who’da guessed she’d stay with me…

And while I soak myself in nostalgia, I have this photo on my phone as the background image. It was taken aboard the Bluenose II schooner in Lunenburg NS when Brenda and I vacationed there. That was right after we were married and before we even had our first boat. It’s one of my favorite photos of her. What a babe! Oh yeah, she knitted that sweater. It’s still in our “hope chest”, I believe. BTW, she still knits like a fiend…

So, will I be home for that special day? Who knows, and one can hope that I will get some good news at our next weather briefing and will be able to be home on the anniversary of our first date 50 years ago Saturday.

After a decade of running north and south each season, like a migrating bird, our plan is to take Pandora to Trinidad next spring to have some work done on her decks. It will be a big job but would be even more crazy expensive if we were to have the work done here in the US. I have friends that have been keeping their boats in Trinidad for years and rave about the quality of the work. The group that I hope will do some fiber glassing and paint call themselves “Perfect Finish”. From what I have heard, it’s not just a name. More to come on that.

Keeping Pandora south next summer will come as a welcome break from the seasonal anxiety about weather and of course, missing out on our “special day”.

Our next weather briefing is Thursday afternoon. Perhaps the news will be good for me and Brenda. And, of course, a good passage south to Antigua.

So Bob, what is the plan for heading south?

Every year I make plans, generally months in advance, on how the season will unfold. I spend the summer thinking about what work has to be done to Pandora to make sure that she is ready for the run. I also work hard to have the right mix of “stuff” aboard so that Brenda is comfortable and happy for the time away from “her people” and in the cruising community.

A few months ago I discovered that there was dampness in the side decks and that they need to be opened up, dried out and replaced. That’s a big job and one that I can’t even contemplate dealing with here in the US as the cost of labor, and it is a VERY labor intensive job, is so high. I have heard of horror stories about deck work costing $50,000, a number that I don’t even want to contemplate.

So, fast forward to today and we have decided that we will take Pandora to Trinidad for next summer and to have the work done there. I have been speaking with a vendor that some of my friends have spoken highly of and am getting close to “pushing the button” on the job. Ideally, I’d like to have the work done in Antigua but the labor rates there are just too high so Trinidad it is.

My original plan for the season was to make landfall in Antigua and spend the winter working our way north to the USVI, west to the Dominican Republic and north through the Bahamas before heading home to the US. All that was tossed out the window with the plan to run to Trinidad.

Additionally, a few weeks ago I discovered, more or less by accident, that a seal on our bow thruster had failed and needed to be replaced so out of the water Pandora came, for the second time this season. As of today she will be back afloat and the real effort of last minute provisioning and preparing for the run south will begin.

I hated the idea of hauling a second time this summer but at least her bottom has had a bit of last minute paint touchup and she will head south with a clean bottom. I had painted some special antifouling on the prop in June but was disappointed to see that even with minimal use this summer, some of the paint had worn off. I didn’t realize that there was a brush-on option and added it yesterday. The prop looks nice and, well, grey. It will be interesting to see how it holds up. At least I know that the paint is fairly thick to start.

I have written about the new prop before. It is a pretty nifty folding Gori that is quite streamlined when sailing. Actually, this shot doesn’t show it fully folded, so you will have to use your imagination.

I wrote extensively about the problems with the old prop and the expense of getting the new one installed. The phrase, “it’s always something” surely applied to this summer. However, it could have been worse. I saw this 70′ Pershing fast cruiser in the shed at the yard yesterday. It can go 40kts. No surprise when you see these propellers. I was told that this running gear would set you back a million or so. That makes my own prop issues seem insignificant.

Just keeping her in the shed for the winter set the owner back $21,000. Now that’s a “big boy boat”. Big? You know what they say about huge yachts that go fast with owners that wear fat gold chains? Big boat, little…

Anyway, back to Pandora, a boat that goes very slow. BTW but I am confident in saying that there is not a great correlation on engine size. Sad, but true.

So, she splashes today and back to Essex to begin final provisioning in anticipation of a departure at the end of the month. My plan was to head to Hampton and leave from there but the need to haul made that impractical.

I’ll admit that I am a bit anxious about heading south from New England into the North Atlantic in November as it is a lot farther from the Gulf Stream than Hampton. However a last minute haul made it impossible to first head to Hampton and start the run from there. Here the Gulf Stream is about 300 miles from Essex, and several days at sea, before we would be across the Stream verses Hampton where you can be across in about 24 hours. That means that a good weather window has to be about four days up here verses a bit over one day from Hampton. And, this time of year the windows are short, sometimes only 2-3 days. All this is because you DO NOT want to be in the Gulf Stream when the wind turns to the NE, which it does when every front comes off the coast.

Fortunately, according to Chris Parker, our weather router, the patterns of fronts exiting the coast right now seem to be about a week long, so that would give us enough time to get across the GS between North Easters, which is a good thing. We will know more in about a week so stay tuned for updates. I surely will.

Provisioning and deciding what will be aboard Pandora this season will be a lot more complex as we will have to assume that most of what is aboard when we head out will have to be aboard Pandora until we bring her back here in two years. In the past we always knew that we’d be back in the spring. Not so this year.

As a result, Brenda and I will be going through the boat and carefully considering what needs to be taken home now and what stays. I guess that much of what we transfer on and off Pandora each season will have to stay, meaning that we will now have a lot more duplicates than in the past.

Trinidad has always been a mystery to us even though we have heard a lot about visiting there over the years. Last weekend, our very good cruising friends, Stephanie and Jim, from Hero, visited us and told us how much they enjoyed their time in Trinidad last year and have offered to join us as crew for the run there in the spring. We will likely take them aboard in Grenada or somewhere in the vicinity, for the run south.

Brenda and Stephanie. Adorable.

I guess that’s about all for now. Lots to do and in spite of well laid plans, who knows? It does seem clear that Pandora will not be heading home next summer but beyond that…

Time will tell, as it always does. Best laid plans…

Who owns who?

So, here I go again and Pandora is out of the water, for the second time this season. This time because of a leak in a rubber gasket on the bow thruster that keeps the sea out of the thruster locker. It is a flexible boot that allows the unit to pivot up and down, as it’s retractable. It’s acutally a pretty neat thruster as it isn’t like most small boat thrusters that are a hole in the hull crosswise at the bow. It pulls up flush to the hull so there is no effect on the speed of the boat.

Sometimes I wonder if I really own Pandora or if she owns me. Over the last few months I have worked hard to get her ready for the run to Hampton and then on to Antigua along with the rest of the fleet in the Salty Dawg Caribbean Rally and as hard as I try, she always has the last word.

I wrote earlier in the season about a problem with the shaft coupling failing as I headed up the CT River and home, haul #1, and how lucky I was that it had not happened any earlier in the 1,500 mile run home. I am sure that I do have a guardian angel watching out for me, that’s for sure.

In this case, a leak in the bow, discovered here in the comfort of the CT River, suggests that my Angel is still with me. I shudder to think about a leak 500 miles from land. Yes, good but, as always, a good amount of “boat dollars” to set things right.

Well, Pandora is now on the hard. The good news is that she now has a clean bottom and the problem has been solved with the installation of a new boot.

The bow thruster is a particularly finiky piece of equipment that has cost me thousands over the years. When it works, it’s worth it’s weight in gold as loosing control of the boat in close quarters can lead to expensive scratch repairs. And, it’s a very heavy piece of kit jammed into a very cramped place up in the bow, let me tell you. This is the third time that I have had problems with the unit, the first time when she was new to us. In that case, I discovered that the unit had been damaged by water before we purchased her back in 2015. That was a painful “upgrade” if you could call it that.

It is pretty neat. See this video of how she operates.

So, here we are on a similar repair path years later when a humble rubber part, lovingly called a “bellows” has developed a leak.  Fortunately, when I had the unit serviced in 2015, I also made a point of purchasing what might be the last bellows avaiable anywhere in the US, knowing that it would eventually fail.  

Well, it failed, started leaking, and now Pandora is back on the hard.


However, this time I was able to do the repairs myself.  Unlike the last time, when parts were frozen with corrosion, getting the unit apart this time was a fairly simple, if day long job. 

I should note that while getting her hauled in the past, in the summer or early fall, was a simple affair, it has become a lot more difficult, and expensive as Safe Harbor has been buying up so many of the marinas around the area so they know that they don’t have to be accomodating.   What used to be a fairly informal and competitive marina environment, the care and feeding of boats is now a lot more difficult. 

In my case, I have been hauling Pandora for seasonal maintenance every summer for a decade at a nearby yard.  Now that Safe Harbor has purchased the yard, they are a lot less flexible for anyone that does not store with them year round.  This yard, now with a new manager, said that they are too busy with winter storage to haul Pandora for a two week stay.  Sure, they will haul her for a few days but two weeks?  No way.  Sorry, go somewhere else!

There had been a missunderstaning when I scheduled the haul a few weeks ago so when I showed up and said that I’d need her out for about two weeks, they declined and told me to just go away.  No credit for being a customer for a decade.  Nice to have so much business…

This experience is not unique among yards owned by Safe Harbor, as a friend of mine that has rented a mooring in Wickford RI for a decade, from what is now a Safe Harbor yard, was told that he could no longer keep his boat there unless he was a year round customer.   No seasonal mooring rentals any longer.   

Sure, if they can enforce these new rules, good for them, but once business goes through a down cycle I expect that they will find that they may regret their arrogance. 

Anyway, I am now hauled out at a “non-Safe Harbor” yard and it was delightfull to be treated like a customer and not like one of the “unwashed” masses or in this case, “un-hauled”. 

Access to the thruster through the anchor locker and, under that, through yet another hatch. 

It is a very tight squeeze.


I fit, barely.  Not a great place to spend two full days, one taking the unit out and the other, back in. 

I had fully expected to spend days or weeks getting frozen parts out but this time it was, much to my surprise, a breeze with no parts frozen in place.

 That was a huge departure from my experience when I purchased Pandora.  Shortly after the purchase I discovered that thruster wasn’t working properly due to neglect by the prior owner.  I learned that the compartment had flooded a number of times, causing a good deal of corrosion.   That fix was very painful and more than a few “boat dollars”. 

What clued me recently that there was a problem was that when the unit was deployed, I heard some sort of “water” sound.  This happened earlier in the season but didn’t think much about it until a few weeks ago when I noticed that the compartment bilge pump was running.  Oops, that gave me a clue that something was amis.  It was this part, a rubber bellows that the shaft for the thruster goes through and allows it to retract and remain, until now, watertight.   It had developed a small crack.

The bellows is the proverbial “weak link” in the system and it’s a little scary that this fragile piece is all that is keeping water out of the thruster compartment.  

This shows the little crack.  Yes, little but big in effect at letting the sea enter where it doesn’t belong.   

The folks from New England Bow Thruster, did a wonderful job of getting things back years ago but at great expense.  This time, I did it, and it went pretty well, if I may say so.  Sure, it took much of the day to get it apart, but nothing was stuck.  

The biggest problem was finding the spare bellows that I had purchased a few years ago, in anticipation of a required replacement at some point.  I searched the entire boat, becoming more frantic as my options for finding it became more and remote. 

Finally, I decided to go home for lunch.  As I drove home it suddenly dawned on me where it might be.  Alas, there it was in a box in the attic.  Hurrah!

So, here’s the unit, all finished and checked out.

For the entire summer I have been fully focused on getting Pandora ready for the run to Antigua, with a stop in Hampton VA along the way to participate in the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean. 

Alas, Pandora had her own ideas, and with a little help from my guardian angel, I had to rethink my plans and will now be departing from Essex, for a direct shot to Antigua.  Leaving from this far north brings with it a whole different set of issues that I will address soon in a subsequent post. 

For now, all I can say is that Pandora seems to be calling the shots and as much as I hated to change my plans at the last minute, leaving from here does make the preparation for the run a lot simpler.

Whatever happens next remains to be seen.  But, one thing that is certain, is that Pandora is in charge and she has been pretty clear in pointing out “who owns who”. 

As I write this I am heading to Annapolis for the Sailboat Show and the Salty Dawg rendezous dinner.  It will be fun.  For now, Pandora will be waiting for me.  Amazing how big she looks, especially when compared to Brenda’s Mini.

A last note, it’s been a very long time since my last post and that’s, in large part, because WordPress, the program that I write this blog on, has gone through a big upgrade so I had to re-learn all the steps to posting as if I was starting from scratch.  It was pretty intimidating, to be sure. 

And, last, last…  If you have subscribed to get notices when I post, you’ll have to do it again as all that was lost in a related software program.  So, go to the upper right of this page and put in your email address.  I hope that works.  I guess we will see how that goes. 

Signing off for now.