Monthly Archives: December 2023

Don’t take things that aren’t yours in Antigua.

It is New Year’s Eve and we are moored at Nelson’s Dockyard for the next week.

We arrived in Antigua on Friday night and moved all our stuff aboard Pandora, where she had been on a mooring for the last six weeks. The bottom was pretty nasty so I hired divers to clean her up. (more on why I didn’t do it myself in a moment)

The view when we woke up on Saturday morning. The weather: Mid 80s and sunny with puffy clouds. I do love clouds. A big departure from the grey weather in CT this time of year.

Pandora was on one of the Antigua Yacht Club Marina moorings. Back in October a lightning strike sparked a fire at the marina. The flames consumed every business on the marina pier but luckily, nothing on shore. Fortunately, the wind blew the cinders into the water. Had the wind been from a different direction, the loss would have been far worse. The pier was completely destroyed down to the cement slab.

When I was here in November evidence of the fire was cleared away and there was nothing but a concrete slab. Now, they have put a number of very nice tents covering seating areas and lots of potted palms. I am told that in a few days there will be food served daily. Brenda and I had a few drinks our first night after arrival. (and that is why I was not up to spending an hour under Pandora scraping away)

Of course, a bar would be the first business to open.

When the taxi left us off at the marina I took the luggage out to Pandora, leaving Brenda on the pier with a glass of wine, of course. This gave me an opportunity to air Pandora out and move all our luggage aboard.

When we arrived from the airport we also had some groceries that we had picked up along the way as our driver, Eric, was nice enough to stop at the market. Between all of our luggage and groceries, probably about 200 lbs of stuff, we stacked everything on the dock for me to take out to Pandora. Unfortunately, we left a bag of fresh food, meat, cheese, all expensive stuff, probably about $75 worth, on the dock. It wasn’t until after a few glasses of wine, of course, that I realized that the bag was missing.

I went ashore but nobody had seen the bag. Or so it seemed… Somebody was lucky and got a bag of very nice food, complements of Pandora.

I reported the loss to the marina office and checked back the next morning, just in case.

Amazingly, the bag was there and cool from a night in the fridge. It seems that the marina staff, when they heard of the loss, reviewed security camera footage, recognized the person that had picked up the bag and retrieved it. Mystery solved…

As you can imagine, we were thrilled and more than a little bit amazed to get the bag back and with everything intact.

I often get questions about safety in the islands and tell everyone that it is very safe here in Antigua. Well, it’s actually safer than I thought as I can not imagine another place where a bag of groceries left on a street corner (or marina dock) would ever be returned. I understand that this wasn’t the first time that a security camera saved the day.

I have been told by Carlo, the owner of the marina, that the pier would be fully rebuilt by next season. In the meantime, it’s looking pretty nice already.

Their fleet of Dragons was untouched.

The marina office is now in an adjacent area, spared from the fire.

We moved the Pandora the short distance to English Harbor the next day and are now in the Dockyard where there will be a huge New Year’s Eve bash beginning today at 10:00 and running through 02:00. The loud crowd will be huge as thousands show up every year. We will be hosting BYOB cocktails on Pandora and a few other Salty Dawg boats at 10:00. Midnight fireworks never disappoint. Pandora, second in, on the dock with a number of other Dawg boats that moved here to enjoy the festivities.

They do a nice job of holiday lighting in the Dockyard.

Well, it’s time to get going on preparing some food to share tonight before the fireworks.

Oh yeah, we are meeting our friends Barbara and Ted of Raven for a very fancy dinner at one of our favorite spots, Collibri, a French style spot in Falmouth. I think it’s 7 courses. Hope I can keep up.

Happy new year from Antigua where you only take home what is yours, or else…

Pandora at sunrise.

One of the best parts of being at anchor in Falmouth Antigua is the beautiful sunrises. While I’ll admit that I am partial to sunsets, a sunrise over the land in Falmouth is particularly beautiful. Over the years I have taken many photos at that special time of day, one more beautiful than the last.

With many conjuring images of, well, you decide…

I am getting excited about returning to Pandora in a week as we begin to wrap up the activities here in CT. It’s hard to believe that it’s only a few days until Christmas. Time flies as I have been away from Pandora for over a month and yet it seems like just yesterday that I arrived back at JFK. What a whirlwind…

This morning my friend Jay, who has been keeping an eye on Pandora while I have been away, sent me this photo, taken shortly after sunrise today.

Our flight takes us to Antigua next Friday and we will turn the page from the fun but hectic holidays. I do enjoy seeing family over Thanksgiving and Christmas but keeping up with all the details of managing a boat along with a home can be overwhelming at times. Just deciding what we need to bring with us to Antigua is complicated enough but getting the house ready, blowing out all of the water pipes, putting antifreeze in the toilets, washing machine, dishwasher, icemaker, is a real head spinner that takes nearly a half day.

We take great care to make sure that everything at home is immune to freezing as a power failure for even a few hours during a cold snap can reek havoc. One of our neighbors had a broken pipe last winter and their entire kitchen and den were destroyed. The ceiling came down, cabinets and floor destroyed. The only thing out of their den and kitchen that was salvaged was the granite top to their kitchen island. Half of the house was stripped down to the bare studs and a year later the repairs are not yet completed.

Fingers crossed that I won’t forget anything. I have been doing the winterizing for a decade now and even with long outages, we have never had any damage.

Our plan, upon arriving in Antigua, will be to move aboard for the night and than heading to nearby English Harbor for the New Year’s celebration the next morning after I clean the bottom. It is probably a mess after sitting for more than a month.

New Year’s eve in the Dockyard is an amazing experience. To sit on the bow of Pandora watching the midnight fireworks as we ring in the new year is an experience not to be missed.

While we are in the Dockyard we are hoping to organize a group to hang out on the docks after dinner but before the midnight display. It’s amazing to see how many locals show up to view the spectacle.

And, on New Year’s Day, another party in the dockyard. And we will be participating in a progressive cocktail party with other Salty Dawg boats.

They really decorate the dockyard for the holidays.

And, of course, lots of beautiful sunrises to look forward to this winter that will surely rival the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

No, nothing quite like a sunrise in Antigua from aboard Pandora.

Soon, very soon…

So, where will Pandora go next? It depends…

In about two weeks Brenda and I will head back to Antigua and Pandora. Plans are mostly in place for getting some work done on Pandora in Trinidad next summer. After spending many years cruising the waters of the eastern Caribbean, Brenda has begun asking the question of why we have to do this for yet another season.

I’ll admit that I am not all that excited about heading to the same places yet again and frankly was looking forward to heading to the northern islands this season, and perhaps spending some time in the Bahamas again. However, the work that needs to be done, painting the decks etc, is just too expensive to do elsewhere so Trinidad it is. Of course, this whole exercise will be made even more complex due to the fact that I will need to change insurance carriers to one that will cover Trinidad for the summer.

Sure, it does seem a bit bratty to suggest that spending time on white sandy beaches and eating French food while others are up north braving sub freezing temperatures is something to tire of but these are our “golden years” and we want to make the best of them.

In my last post, I talked about the importance of having goals and while this is very common for folks during their working years, I believe that many retire, or perhaps put off retirement, as they just don’t know what they will do with themselves without a job to keep them occupied.

I have always been goal oriented and having goals in retirement is no exception.

So, Eastern Caribbean, been there done that… What’s next?

My dad, who was inspiration for this blog for many years, once said “Bob, wouldn’t it be great to see Gibraltar from the deck of Pandora?”. It’s been a decade since he left us but I have not been able to get that image out of my head and just about every year I turn my thoughts to “what about cruising the Med?”, always pushing it to the background.

Let’s face it, Brenda isn’t all that crazy about living for months aboard Pandora and yet she does, year after year. I am grateful for that and constantly feel compelled to do what I can to make the experience more rewarding for her. However, it does get harder each year. So, where does the Med fit into all this?

I have mentioned many times that Brenda and I met in high school back in the 70s and I should add that during that time she studied Latin. In college she majored in the classics, both Latin and Greek and as part of her studies, spent semesters in both Italy and Greece. She loved being there and yet we have not visited those places together.

Our boys have commented our time on the water “is a lifetime of Dad trying to make Mom like sailing”. That’s true and as someone who is self-described as “ever hopeful”, perhaps time in the Mediterranean could fill the bill as a next step. And, back to the Classics, I’d say that if Homer thought that the best way to tour the Med was by boat, who are we to say that he was wrong. Right? Yeah… I’m goin with that…

When you think about the nearly 50 years that Brenda and I have cruised together and the reality that I am still trying to find that elusive “sweet spot” for time on the boat with her, some might say that I am just about out of ideas. We have cruised the US East Coast from Maine to south Florida, all through the Bahamas, much of Cuba and most recently the Eastern Caribbean from the Virgins to Grenada.

So far, nothing has quite filled the bill for Brenda once the novelty has worn off. So, what’s left? Beyond the Med, I am just about out of ideas…

Additionally, we haven’t had a lot of success in getting our kids to join us in the Caribbean. Hey guys? Want to visit us in the French Riviera? Na… Oh, well.

I’d say that revisiting our youth and Brenda’s love of the classics. So, I’m thinking, follow in the footsteps of Homer.

It’s worth a try.

The plan, for 2025 although admittedly still in it’s infancy, is to launch Pandora after getting work done i Trinidad next summer, perhaps early winter and work our way north through the Eastern Caribbean. In the spring of 2025 I would run to Bermuda, onto The Azores and finally to Portugal where Pandora would be hauled for the season and relaunched in the fall for a run to Spain.

The run from the Caribbean to Portugal totals about 3,700 miles. Leg one, about 900 miles to Bermuda where perhaps I’d do a crew change. Then across to The Azores, another 2,000 miles and from there to Portugal.

Along the way I would stop in The Azores, a place that I never imagined going and yet have always been fascinated by. There are plenty of YouTube videos about the area but this piece is pretty good and is short, less than 5 minutes. It gives a pretty good feel I think.

The real gateway to the Med is Gibraltar. Brenda and I almost visited there when we spent a month in Portugal a while back. I think that this would be a great place to meet up with her. This is a short piece by Rick Steves, the travel writer.

Looks awesome. Dad was right.

Oh yeah, any video about Gibraltar shows the famous monkeys. When we were in St Kitts a few years ago Brenda had her “monkey encounter”. An omen?

In the Azores video there is a reference to the Pillars of Hercules. There is a rock formation at the entrance of English Harbor by the same name.

Pillars of Hercules in Antigua and Gibraltar? Coincidence? I don’t think so.

One big issue will be insurance and that may prove to be quite a challenge. Even insurance to run to the Caribbean during the “hurricane off-season” has become very expensive. I have been working on coverage for Pandora this coming summer in Trinidad and that’s proving to be a bit of challenge. My current policy only allows me to go as far south as Grenada, about 85 miles north of Trinidad. And, most applications require a survey within two years and my last full survey is only a few months more than that. I guess I should have moved forward on these plans a few months ago.

I know that spring of 2025 is still a long way off but without a plan, you don’t have much.

In spite of all this, who really knows what will happen next but thinking and planning is fun. Right?

As of now though, I do know that we will be heading back to Pandora in about two weeks and the answer to where Pandora is headed next is simple. The Caribbean, a nice place to spend the winter and that’s a pretty sure thing.

Where will she go after that? Well, it depends…

Doing what I must.

It’s hard to believe that Brenda and I are entering our second decade of winter cruising. We have visited so many places along the US east coast, Bahamas, Cuba and most of the islands between the US Virgins and Grenada and I have to say that we feel the most at home in Antigua. For anyone who follows our exploits and this blog, that statement will not come as a surprise.

Antigua has a lot going for it as a cruising destination beginning with its’ physical location, the eastern most island in the Windward and Leeward Caribbean chain of islands where just about any other destination is a reach or down wind.

Aside for those who cruise the area, the appeal of Antigua, and of the other islands south of the Virgins is not widely known. This is because most of the material out there is focused on the Virgin Islands. The simple fact is that advertising is critical to any publishing business and with advertisers heavily weighted toward the charter industry and the vast bulk of Caribbean charters focused on the British Virgin Islands, that’s what they write about. So, as the advertising goes, writers follow. Result: “go sailing in the BVI!”

If you pick up just about any consumer marine magazine you will see many articles about chartering, and often they only focus on the BVI and USVI area. As a result, in the popular press there is just not a lot of information about cruising the many islands to the south.

And, after speaking to so many first time seasonal cruisers in my role as rally director for Salty Dawg, I can tell you that there is often “asymmetry” with couples that are planning to cruise, with one, often the women, who is more reluctant to head out, especially to the Caribbean, which is so far from home. An obvious compromise when negotiating about plans, is to say “honey, we had fun chartering in the BVI, how about we go there?”. On the face of it, this makes sense but for practical purposes, for cruising, it doesn’t make a lot of sense as a landfall.

I faced this quandary, or information vacuum, when Brenda and I first began cruising the Caribbean and when we made landfall in Antigua that first time, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

So, fast forward to now and a lot has happened. Historically the Salty Dawg Rally made landfall in the BVI and now is fully focused on Antigua. I have covered the reasons why in past posts but the simple fact is that Antigua has a lot going for it with the cruising set, beginning with the geographic location as the most eastern island in the chain.

Antigua’s location east of other islands means that whether you are heading south to Grenada, to the islands to the north or west of Central America, a reach to most anywhere, which makes for much better sailing. By contrast, if someone chooses to make landfall in, say the BVI on their way south, getting to other islands down-island means heading directly into the wind for hundreds of miles, a decidedly unpleasant business. The better option for visiting the BVI is to do so on the way home in the spring as it will be a down wind sail.

Nearly half of the boats that make the run to Antigua each season with the Salty Dawg Rally are heading to Antigua for the very first time and they have no idea what to expect, any more than I did the first time I headed there. This means that our group, SDSA and me as port officer for Antigua, find ourselves in the role of “concierge”, guiding skippers on what to expect and what sorts of services are available to them when they get there. I focus a lot of my efforts to this end, trying to cover everything I can think of to help them better understand what’s in store.

This post from 2019 outlines a number of reasons why Antigua makes so much sense as a place to begin the cruising season.

To this point, I have become a sort of self styled “Antigua evangelist”, constantly looking for ways to bring boats to Antigua.

Beyond the physical location of Antigua, the next most important aspect is the protected harbors, mainly Falmouth and English Harbors. These are arguably the two most protected harbors in the Caribbean and Nelson’s Dockyard perhaps among the most iconic places to make landfall anywhere. This is English Harbor off-season, a fully renovated British Royal Navy yard from the age of sail.

Make landfall here and you will see for yourself why the Royal Navy make this wonderful harbor it’s base of operations in the Caribbean for hundreds of years. I was smitten by my very first visit.

As Salty Dawg brings so many boats to Antigua, and do so early in the season, our presence has an outside effect on the local economy. We have loads of special events and hundreds of skippers and crew bring money to spend.

The third reason to choose Antigua is the availability to get stuff fixed. A long ocean passage puts a lot of wear and tear on a boat and when we arrive in Antigua, there are businesses that can come aboard to fix just about anything that needs to be addressed. Take 80 boats onto the ocean for up to two weeks and that’s a lot of broken stuff. While I am always careful to be sure that Pandora is in top shape before heading out, there are some things that can be put off until Antigua where labor rates are less than the US by about 30% or more. It is still more costly than Trinidad where may boats stay for the summer.

As president of Salty Dawg I have often been called upon to talk about why our rally comes to Antigua and on three occasions now I have been interviewed by the local TV station to talk about Salty Dawg and our relationship with the island.

Last spring before heading home to the US I was interviewed live on the morning news to talk about Antigua and why we have come to think of the island as our home in the Caribbean.

When I retired my goal, and nobody should retire without one, was to focus my energy on something that I was passionate about.

Surely, sailing is a passion and has been for decades but Antigua and my desire to spread the word about this island and it’s people has also become a focus. 

While many cruisers desire to head to warmer climes when they can, very few know much about the islands in the South East Caribbean and getting that word out has become a passion of mine. 

And, to that end, one of my friends told me a few years ago that from his perspective, “the real Caribbean, begins in St Martin and the islands to the south”.  I have to agree. 

I feel blessed to be able to say into the second decade as “retired guy” I am blessed with a passion and the time to spread the word about Antigua and the islands of the eastern Caribbean.  

Everyone should be so lucky.