Monthly Archives: February 2024

Thar she blows! And we were there…

One of the things that most sailors long for is a photo of their boat under sail. However, unless you are willing to launch a dink with someone carrying a camera that is willing to sit there while you sail back and forth, you have to be satisfied with a photo from on board of the bow crashing through the waves.

However, once in a while someone that you know happens to be nearby and snaps a shot of your boat blasting along with a “bone in her teeth”.

So, imagine what might be the most unlikely shot and I doubt that you would ever imagine a photo of a whale AND your boat in the same frame. Well, I suppose that nowadays that’s possible with AI but the photo below is real and taken by a fellow cruiser the other day as we moved along the lee of Dominica.

It is hard to imagine what it would be like to snorkel with an animal like this. And now that I think about it, I doubt that it is a good idea for boats to approach the whales at all. However, it does bring important recognition to these amazing creatures and hard currency to an island that badly needs it. Interestingly, the harbor that they leave from is Portsmouth, the very same harbor that we visit when we go to the island.

This video shows some remarkable footage of such an encounter. Seeing them from afar was amazing, but up close, I can only imagine.

When 60 minutes decides to do a segment on something, it’s a big deal. A very interesting piece on what is called the “Dominica Sperm Whale Project.”

Brenda and I were in awe being even close to such a remarkable animal, what is probably the largest animal ever to roam the earth.  

And we were there…

And we have a photo to prove it!  Thanks to our friends Francis and Laura aboard WNBAB (Why not buy another boat).  Ok, why not?

Happy 51st Valentine’s day, Brenda.

It’s valentines day here in Les Saintes, where Brenda and I have been on a mooring for more than a week. We have had all sorts of variety in the weather since arriving, from near calm and sunny to windy, rainy and more than a bit of swell to keep things “interesting”. However, in honor of this special day, it’s sunny and calm with a light wind.

While we are often apart on the anniversary of our very first date, October 28th, 1972, not to put too a fine point on it, as I am generally running Pandora somewhere, we have never been apart, as best as we can remember anyway, on Valentine’s day, as long as we have been together. Not to torture dates too much, while this is our 51st V day, we are into our 52nd year together. Who’d have guessed?

We also learned that our high school class will be having a 50th anniversary reunion in October. I think we will go. Besides, we believe that we are the only couple from our class that is still together.

Fortunately, on this V Day, after what seems like a particularly rolly season so far, the weather is nearly perfect. The humidity is reasonable, the harbor calm and the sun is out. Tonight we head out to dinner together to toast the beginning of our second half century together. Holly S#*% that makes me feel old…

Brenda likes to remind her friends who are jealous of our time in the tropics, away from the snowy Northeast, that we are “not floating around with umbrella drinks”. Well not all the time, I’ll admit but perhaps tonight’s dinner date will be sort of an “umbrella moment”. We did enjoy lounging floating around in the water behind Pandora last evening before heading out for sundowners with friends.

And, speaking of those sundowners, we enjoyed our time ashore with Muna and Fred at one of our favorite spots overlooking the water. The view was pretty amazing. And no, this photo was not touched up in any way. It just looked like that. And tonight, dinner for two in the same place.

It is amazing how different the sunset can look. This was yesterday’s from aboard Pandora. Different but beautiful.

While not a sunset, this photo, taken the same day by Melody in Central Park of our grand-dog Mila is a bit different. It’s hard to imagine a place where a snow covering is quite as beautiful as The Park.

Brenda has been working hard on her tapestry most days and yesterday was all set up for her twice monthly weaving class. She is doing this as a volunteer with a number of her students from prior classes. Between Starlink, Zoom and two cameras, one for her and the other to show her work, it’s seems to be going well.

To overhear her as the more than two hour class progressed, there seems to be a good amount of “girl talk” too, whatever that means. For sure, they are enjoying their time together.

Note that her phone is on a flexible holder which allows her to share a feed of what she is weaving. It took a few hours of practice for us to figure out how to toggle, sort of smoothly, between the phone and laptop cameras as she shares techniques. Alas, we did finally figure it out and, the result, being able to teach from aboard Pandora is quite amazing, actually.

While Brenda was teaching, I headed out for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, high up on a hill overlooking the harbor. This photo from Pandora doesn’t do justice to the height of the walk. There is a huge French flag on the peak, at the fort. It’s hard to see.

A few hearty folks walk up the road but most take golf carts or scooters for the climb. The view of the harbor is pretty amazing.

And a close up of Pandora on her mooring. As great as a smart phone is for taking photos, nothing matches an SLR.

Sadly, the museum in the fort was closed so I had to satisfy myself with a walk on the perimeter. I can only imagine how tough it was to build this place when the only heavy equipment was the stones…

As the French characters taunted the English in the Monty Python movie, “Quest for the Holy Grail”, “your mother smells like elderberries.” After a day lugging stones to build this place, I expect that the French smelled a whole lot worse.

So, I will be clearing out today at the customs office/laundry, Tomorrow we head south to Saint Pierre in Martinique, one of favorite places, when it’s not rolly. We hope to stay a few days and then head down to Fort de France, to enjoy the post-carnival city, after the craziness is over, mostly.

With some luck the anchorage will be settled. For sure, the view will be spectacular. It always is.

Perhaps I can pick some flowers for Brenda too. Sadly, here not to much to pick.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Definitely an “umbrella in a drink sort of day.”

Climate or weather? A rare west wind.

We are here in Les Saintes where we headed to prepare for challenging weather and while it is a bit choppy, the conditions are so much nicer than we had experienced in Dominica where we rolled terribly for days.

Having said that, between winds that were out of the north, followed by southerly winds, both strong, followed by no wind, the weather has been a bit crazy this season. However, after a week of rolly conditions in Dominca we decided that we’d backtrack to Les Saintes with the hope of calmer conditions.

We were not disapointed.

Shortly after our arrival, we enjoyed a lovely dinner out with friends at a wonderful French restaurant. What an idyllic spot with the water gently lapping up on the beach.

I really do not understand the fascination with posting photos of meals. However, of wine? What’s not to like?

For several days Chris Parker had been warning boats that an unusual weather event was in the forecast. A front moving through the area with winds expected to come out of the west. A forecast like that was an unusual occurrence in an area where winds are generally very predictable and almost always out of the east. Perhaps a bit north or south of east, but from the east. His advice was that boats should prepare to find shelter from what were likely to be strong west winds. This sort of issue is common in the Bahamas where cold fronts come crashing down from the north, often more than once a week. These fronts bring strong winds that clock from east to south, through the west and back to the east, all within a 24 hour period.

During the four seasons that Brenda and I spent in the Bahamas we tired of the weekly need to run for cover in an area with precious few options for safety. This is one of the reasons we decided to spend our winters in the Caribbean.

The issue in the Bahamas, as well as the Caribbean, is that many popular anchorages are not protected from the west and what is normally a secure place to anchor can become a dangerous lee shore, pummeled by big waves bringing a risk that you will be pushed onto the beach and pounded in the surf.

Chris is always careful to provide a “worse case” scenario in his forecasts so that his clients can be fairly confident that conditions will not be worse than he is forecasting. Better to overstate it as opposed to having clients later remarking “Chris, it was a lot worse than you said it would be!”. It is certainly better for his business for them to say “Thank goodness that you warned us. It wasn’t all that bad and we were prepared.”

Because of his abundant caution, some feel that Chris overplays risk and feel that he can be an alarmist. As a result, they don’t always take his warnings seriously and the other night was a good example.

The problem was that the GRIBS seemed to show that while winds would be clocking from the south through the west, but it would be very rapid, giving the impression that seas would not have an opportunity to build much as the wind shifted. Chris did not see things the same way and urged caution.

His forecast was that overnight there would be west component winds as strong as 25kts with gusts to 40 in squalls. And, along with that there was a risk of 10′ waves driven by those strong squalls, something that the GRIBS really did not capture. He strong recommendation was to find shelter from west winds and that anyone with exposure to the west could find themselves on a nasty lee shore.

Oddly, in spite of that forecast a lot of our boats did not move into an area offering good protection and found themselves in difficult conditions, fighting to stay off of a lee shore.

Fortunately, none of the Salty Dawg boats were lost but in a number of harbors boats broke loose and ended up on the beach or rocks. Here are a few photos of boats that met their fates as posted by Salty Dawg members.

In Dominica, we had faced some really nasty swells the prior week, and even when there was no wind, conditions were very rough. This boat is about the same size as Pandora was driven up on the beach. I have no idea how they are going to find someone to pull her off as there aren’t a lot of commercial boats in the area.

When a boat ends up on the rocks, there are often holes in the hull and the boat fills with water and sand stirred up by the surf. Not good for this boat in St Pierre. This area is one where we have anchored many times. It’s an open roadstead and even under perfect conditions, it can be rolly.

You can imagine, even if the hull isn’t breached, the force of the waves breaking over the boat can down-flood into the interior quickly. The power of water an not be overestimated. More than once we have pulled our dink up on a beach only to have her swamped by a single wave filling her quickly with water and a load of sand. Imagine the mess after hours of crashing waves. It doesn’t take long until the boat is trashed beyond repair.

There really can’t be much hope in removing a boat intact under those conditions, especially in a location where sophisticated salvage services are not available.

Here is a shot of Deshaies that I took recently, when things were settled. A lovely spot. It’s worth noting that the town dock is designed in a way that allows them to pull off the entire deck so that the waves can break over and through it and not do any damage as all that is exposed is a metal framework.

It doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse as witnessed by this short video from a fellow Salty Dawg of the waterfront in Deshaies taken the “morning after”.

I had written about the work that Mark and I did on a dock in Dominica last week. We were pretty proud of our work.

The same dock less than a week later. It must be depressing to work hard to keep things in shape only to have them trashed a short time later.

There is no doubt that many cruisers were surprised by how quickly things went south and fortunately nobody in our fleet lost their boat. There was some damage including overturned dinks and I am sure other issues given how bad conditions quickly became.

The following morning I called Chris back to get his thoughts on why conditions had deteriorated so much and so quickly. His answer was that this had been the worse cold front that he had seen in this part of the Caribbean in 20 years.

After more than a few seasons here in the Caribbean the weather seems to be weirder than ever and it makes me wonder. What about easterlies? Southerlies, Northerlies, wind from the west? What gives?

You do have to ask yourself if this is weather or climate? Strong winds from the north, south and west, all in a week. All I can say is that it’s wierd…

Well, at least there are croissants, and baguettes, and cheese, wine… Well, you get the idea.

From gale to calm to rolling and for now, really calm.

They often say that if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours. In the case of the Caribbean, one thing you can sadly count on is that most of the anchorages can not be counted on to be calm. Sure, there are places that are predictably calm, but they are not the norm. More often than not, it’s uncertain as to whether you will be sitting pretty or perhaps holding on to your wine, hoping for the best.

After a week of really strong winds in Deshaies, we were pleased to head to Dominica for the Salty Dawg Rendezvous, a harbor, more of a roadstead, that is generally pretty calm.

However, not this time and while it was very calm when we arrived, within a few days there was a long swell coming into the harbor, something that we have not seen there very often. And, to complicate things, there was almost no wind so we rocked back and forth in a very unpleasant way, hour after hour. Our friend Bill on Kalunamoo has a “roll-scale” that rates the severity of rolling at anchor on a scale of 1-7 with 1 being the most benign and 7, well not so great. At the worse, we definitely had a 7, making it difficult to sleep or move around the cabin. And, with no wind, uncommon for the Caribbean, it was hot and sticky too.

And for our week long visit there was nearly always a swell, tossing Pandora back and forth uncomfortably and on a few days, right up there with the worse we have ever encountered. Dishes were crashing back and forth in cabinets and anything that was not tied down and well secured, was tossed to the floor. It was exhausting and as you can imagine, Brenda was not amused.

On Monday, following the big final dinner in Dominica, we headed, no escaped, to Les Saintes, about 25 miles north, and one of our favorite places.

As a rule, this place can be rolly as well because it is somewhat exposed to the north so any sort of northerly swell, wraps right around into the harbor. When we were experiencing the very strong winds in Guadeloupe, this place was apparently totally untenable, with swells coming into the anchorage that were terrible.

When we headed up here yesterday we really didn’t know what to expect and to our happy surprise, we were able to get a mooring close in and it is as calm as we have ever seen it. What a relief.

It is a really beautiful bit of France in the Caribbean.

Les Saintes are a small archipelago of islands just south of Guadeloupe. Just to put this in context, here’s a chart that shows the islands from Antigua, upper right, do Dominica, to the south. Pandora is the red mark.

For a closer look… Again, Pandora is where the red mark is. That is the primary island and while there are a few cars, most of the island transport is via golf cart and scooter. The streets are buzzing, literally, with every form of small transport. Every day hundreds of tourists stream in via ferry to the island.

The island is very French and there is a good variety of food in the shops and a bakery that sells all matter of baked goods. Nothing like a warm baguette or croissant in the morning.

We have been here many times over the years, but this earlier post gives a good feel for what the French islands have to offer and Les Saintes in particular.

This shot is of a local fishing boat coming back. There was a good crowd working to put the nets out to dry.

I didn’t see any evidence of the catch as I expect it had been hauled away by the time I was on the scene. However, that didn’t stop the locals from hanging out with the hope of snagging castoffs.

As we sat in Dominica and were tossed aside in the swell, we were anxious to get underway to Le Saintes with the hope of finding a more settled spot to spend a few days before heading south again, this time to Martinique, one of our favorite islands.

After a week in Deshaies, with crazy winds, down to Dominica for a nice visit that began with calm conditions but ended up crazy rolly and now back here in Les Saintes, with some of the calmest conditions we’ve seen here, ever, we are reminded once again that things change. But for now, it’s beautiful and we are enjoying the peace and quiet.

It seems that more than a few Salty Dawg boats had the same idea of escaping to Les Saintes and the swell of Dominica. Now, with a number of Dawgs in the harbor, I thought it would be fun to organize a cocktail visit at one of the local eateries on shore for tonight.

Brenda has a zoom fiber event but will be done around 6:00 so that’s when we will head ashore.

Yes, I’m glad to be back in France again. I’ll take another baguette, croissant, some wine and… Well, the lists just goes on and on. But first cocktails with the Dawgs

But, best of all, it’s great to be in the calm again. Well, at least for now. Fingers crossed…

Heck, being in France makes me want to head to the Med, but that’s another story so stay tuned for more on that score.

From gales to calm. Calm is good…

We have been in Dominica for a few days participating in the Dominica Salty Dawg rendezvous, hosted by a local Dominican group PAYS, Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security. This group does a lot to organize tours, dive trips and parties to keep the cruisers coming back. It’s a great group and makes visiting what was once a fairly dangerous island, a lot of fun and very safe. With upwards of 20-25 Salty Dawg boats here for at least a week, it’s nice to see the group come together again and to make new friends. We arrived a few days early as the winds were forecast to drop to near nothing for nearly a week after blowing upwards of 30kts, with gusts to 40kts, while we were in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

Dominica, often referred to as the “nature island” is very different than Guadeloupe with it’s shabby European vibe. It’s very rural, poor and has very few hotels. For those who enjoy the rainforests, it’s just about a perfect place to visit.

We’ve been here for a few days and it’s been a mix of rain and sun, with a generous dash of rolling swell which for the first few days made things a bit unpleasant. But, even with a nasty swell the beauty of a post-shower rainbow is amazing.

The weather has changed a lot from day to day since we arrived. That sunny day was followed by a full day of rain, unusual for the Caribbean where short squalls followed by rainbows is more typical.

During the rainy day, it was beautiful but very humid as we had to keep Pandora all buttoned up. This schooner, one of a number that spend time here with paying guests, anchored nearby. It was hard to even see the horizon. It looked like a vision that might have been seen here 200 years ago.

Prior to heading to Dominica we visited Deshaies Guadeloupe, our first stop heading south from Antigua, is impossibly quaint village that is best described as shabby chic. There are some very nice restaurants to choose from, French, of course. The 50 mile run from Antigua was particularly sporty with strong winds and big seas. I was sorry that it had to be that way as it was the first run of the season for Brenda.

While we were in Deshaies we met a very nice German couple on Grey Hound, an aluminum boat about the same size as Pandora. They came aboard to talk about cruising the Med and Brenda was intrigued. Well, intrigued with visiting Spain at least. I’d like that. Fingers crossed. Perhaps we can head to the Azores in the spring of 25. Something to look forward to. (note: Brenda hasn’t agreed yet… Ever hopeful)

There is a small river running down to the harbor through a cut in the mountains. It was a short walk into the woods, complete with a wonderful swimming hole. Nothing like a fresh water swim after a short hike. And into water that is considerably colder than the harbor.

Another place we always make time to visit is the local botanical garden, Jardin Botanique de Deshaies, a short drive from the harbor via their own van.

It’s hard to decide what the best things to highlight from our visit to the gardens but here goes.

As you enter the gardens there is a wonderful reflecting pool…

Complete with a large family of koi. Each between 12″ and 18.”

And now, a wonderful mix of textures among the many amazing tropical plants.

It must be a big pump that powers this 6′ high water tower.

These charming little parrots are fun. They live in a large aviary that you can enter and interact with them. They eat nectar out of a cup that you can purchase.

Of course, there is also a number of wise old McCaws happy to check you out.

This little guy scampered away when I got too close.

I loved the way that the light shown through these fronds.

Looks delicate and soft but is large and spiny.

These grasses are actually is as soft as they look.

This succulent looks delicate and velvety but is anything but at about 5′ from side to side.

Everything is supersized. Each of these leaves is more than 2′ long.

The giant papyrus, with the fluffy tops, is one of my favorite water plants. We grow a clump in a caldron each summer at home.

Not so fluffy, the trunk of a massive tree. Looks like the folds of elephant skin.

These flowers grow just about everywhere. I understand that the locals here in Dominica make their intricate baskets with fibers in the stems. Brenda purchased some baskets yesterday as gifts when we rented a car yesterday but that will have to wait until the next post.

And, closely related to the one above another “wild flower” that is every where. The frond is about 18″ long.

Of course, many of us in the freezing north grow these as house plants. Here the leaves get more than 2′ long and carpet the ground in huge areas.

Flowers like this make me wish that I could grow topicals at home.

The gardens are high on a hill overlooking the harbor where we had moored Pandora. Brenda and Maureen surveying the harbor.

After days of near gale force winds in Deshaies, making Pandora strain on her mooring, the wind dropped to near dead calm once we arrived here in Dominica. When the wind is very light, and it rarely is, it is quite hot down below.

Fortunately, there is a breeze today but still with calm conditions. With that in mind, I took time to scrub the slime off of the bottom of Pandora. I use a small compressor with a long hose. An abrasive pad with a handle and air from the compressor, I am able to stay below for the 45 minutes that it takes for me to completely scrub the bottom. I try to do it every two weeks during the season so it doesn’t get too nasty.

Oh yeah, almost forgot. When the surge was at it’s worse, we visited our friends on Kalunamoo for cocktails and while their boat rolled from side to side, our dink was caught under their boarding ladder, puncturing a hole. Flat dink.

I actually found two holes, by spraying Windex all over the pontoons, after pulling it out on the beach. It took two days with careful prep and a day for the bond to cure. I used a special two part rubber adhesive that I borrowed from my friend Mark. The dink looked pretty sad deflated and covered with sand.

She’s back in the water, holding air… I hope.

I also took some time with a friend to fix up the local town dock where the cruisers go to get ashore. The dock has been in very rough condition for years and after I suggested an upgrade, with free labor, the PAYS guys agreed to supply materials, boards, screws etc. Fortunately Mark had some power tools aboard to speed the job along. We both worked for a half day, with a few of the PAYS guys, to add some refinements to the dock.

First, an extra 4′ of dock on one end. That’s Mark. Notice the step to make it easier for those of us that are older, get up on the big dock.

We also added a wood strip on the edge to tie dinks to. It doesn’t look like much but to those of us trying to get ashore when there is a surge running up on the nearby beach, having an easy way to tie up is important. That board, mid dock, is a handy way to grasp and climb ashore. There is also a board below the dock to keep dinks from being stuck under the dock at low tide. We’ve seen plenty of dinks get damaged when they grind against concrete. It is always advisable to put out a stern anchor to keep the boat away from harm.

Mark and I were assisted by three of the local PAYS guys. An enthusiastic group. Notice the guy on the right with a “joint” in his mouth. A number of them are half stoned much of the time. It was a fun project.

Later that night there was a barbecue with all the rum punch you could drink. And there were a lot on hand to have that punch. The next morning it was clear that I had a bit too much.

So, here we are for a few more days of fun before we head on to another island. As the wind is expected to be from the south for much of the week, which almost never happens, we may backtrack north a bit to Le Saintes, just below Guadeloupe, one of our favorite destinations to wait for the wind to shift back to a normal easterly direction.

After that, on to Martinique. We were going to attend Carnival but I don’t think that we will this time as we won’t be able to get there soon enough to secure a spot to anchor in what will surely be a very crowded harbor.

After weeks of strong winds it’s nice to be enjoying calm conditions after a very windy week in Deshaies,

Calm is good…