By Patrick Wilson
© November 3, 2013
The Hayes family had hoped to check out Olde Towne during their week at the Ocean Marine Yacht Center, but the Canadians had too much work to do getting their sailboat ready for an ocean voyage.
They were among about 30 participants in town the past week for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers Caribbean 1500, a 1,500-mile journey that began Saturday in Portsmouth and will end at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The 24-year-old rally departed from Hampton last year; this is its first year in Portsmouth.
Despite the nerves of preparation, many of the sailors explored Olde Towne during the past week, dining at restaurants such as the Bier Garden and watching “Captain Phillips” at the Commodore Theatre. Because of the weather, they left Saturday afternoon instead of a planned departure on Sunday.
The journey to Tortola will take seven to 12 days. Prizes will be awarded in a variety of categories, and although the cruise is not a race, the first boat to arrive will be recognized.
Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson, a husband-and-wife team who run the event for the World Cruising Club, flew to Portsmouth to coordinate activities and safety inspections.
Like runners in a marathon, many sailors are simply challenging themselves, Schell said.
“Everyone here is stressed and nervous, especially the people who have never gone offshore before.”
Sailors will stay in radio contact on the voyage.
David Hayes, his wife, Isabelle Tremblay, and daughters Rebecca, 13, and Demi, 8, are sailing about half the distance – to The Bahamas – because this is the first offshore passage for the children. They will cruise the Caribbean this winter and hope to sail to Europe.
“For the next year, this boat is our house,” Tremblay said Friday as the family sat down for an interview below deck on their 41-foot boat, Morning Haze.
Hayes and his family, who live in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-des-Piles, expect to sail six to eight days. The couple are leaving behind hectic lives.
He is a professor in the chiropractic department at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres but will research offshore sailing injuries during his family’s travels. Tremblay is a financial planner who quit her job so they could sail. They will homeschool the girls.
The couple first dreamed of such a journey about 10 years ago. The family has been sailing together since 2008. They’ve spent years working on the Morning Haze.
They also hunt as a family and killed a moose, whose tender meat is packed in the freezer for family meals that are cooked on a stove that would remain secure even if the boat capsized. Water is stored below the floor, and the ship is stocked with canned food and dry goods. Each daughter has her own room. Rebecca Hayes made a YouTube video promoting the family’s journey in the style of a movie trailer.
Hayes’ father died last summer, and a close family friend died of cancer in the fall. That’s a reason why he and his wife, appreciative of their health, made the decision to sail.
“Life is today,” Hayes said. “Hopefully, what we’ll learn from our trip is to slow down a little bit more.”
Patrick Wilson, 757-222-3893, firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for Hallowe’en. Oh, Christmas has its charms – lots of family, lots of presents. Easter is a chocolate-lover’s dream. But nothing celebrates a combination of excess and rule-breaking like the 31stof October. “Wear whatever you want!” “Sure, you can go for a walk in the dark and take candy from strangers!” “Imagination is a good thing! Believe in ghosts and fairies all you like!” Hallowe’en is ironically, for all of its scary trappings, a day when members of the community agree to trust each other and take a one-day break from fear.
I am fully aware that I fly the Hallowe’en flag alone on this boat. Indy and Stylish like it, of course, but since our Hallowe’en activities change from year to year, they haven’t built up a sense of tradition-through-repetition the way I did. Erik finds the entire urban trick-or-treating formula mystifying. As best I can tell, he travelled back to the rural 1880s for his Hallowe’ens. On Hallowe’en night, he and a friend rode on horseback between a handful of farms. They clopped down lanes lit with candled sheep skulls, and were invited into dim kitchens to sip hot cider and eat home-made treats while gammers and gaffers told them terrifying stories of local murders and haunted inns. What a show-off. I’m sure I had just as much fun strolling from house to house dressed as a punk rocker and collecting tiny Mars bars in a pillowcase.
We only really woke to the fact that Hallowe’en was upon us once again when Stylish was talking to her best friend from home. Her friend asked what Stylish was going to be on the big day, offering that she herself planned to be a ghost. Stylish and Indy blinked at each other.
That was an error on my part. My free-and-easy insistence that this Hallowe’en party was going to be no big deal opened the door to Erik ‘s favourite activity: inviting people over. For coffee, for cake, for a beer, for a water – irrelevant. Come sit in our cockpit and chat. I’m sure he saw it as a chance to get the Hallowe’en he wanted, too (minus the horses, of course.)“So, who’s coming?” I asked as I mixed cupcake batter. “Oh, you know,” he said casually. “Winfried and Ute. Paul and Catherine. Maybe Esti and Mario.” “Mmmm.” I opened the cupboard and prepared to bake a second cake. Our tiny green squash was carved and the guests en route. Indy dove back into her devil-gear. In the end we had five kids and seven adults on board, and a surprise set of three trick-or-treaters who arrived in a dinghy. (Lucky for me, I had extra candy at the ready. Ka-pow! Score one for urban Hallowe’en preparedness.) Everyone laughed, and ate, and admired the costumes. The sweets were gone in a twinkling. Hours later, the kids in bed, I washed the stack of cake plates. I had to admit, this strange merger of Hallowe’en styles had worked pretty well. I popped a tiny Mars bar into my mouth. Happy Hallowe’en to us all. Cutest squash ever.
For the second time in as many years, the Caribbean 1500 fleet is bound for Tortola day ahead of schedule. Around noon local time today in Portsmouth, Virginia, skipper’s and their crews finished stowing last minute gear, rigged their jacklines and took off from the dock at Ocean Marine Yacht Center for a scheduled 1500 start time off Hampton Flats just north of Norfolk.
“It was unprecedented last year,” commented Miles Poor, “and to do it again, only the second time in 24 years of the event, is remarkable.”
At 1510 local time, after a ten-minute postponement to allow for the repositioning of the committee vessel, the starting gun sounded and the fleet was off. Ralliers crossed the line in a light northerly breeze on port tack, with the Hallberg-Rassey Starburst leading the way east, closely edging out Altria and Tara who were a close second and third over the line.
“See you in Tortola!” shouted the crew of Starburst as they ghosted past Cloud Nine the committee boat that was generously offered from local slipholders at Ocean Marine.
Andromeda got recognition for the first boat to launch their spinnaker, setting the big colorful sail just moments after crossing the starting line. The rest of the fleet quickly followed, and soon there was a bastion of colors on the sunlit horizon as the yachts headed out towards the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean beyond.
The start was moved up a day early due to a tight weather window in which to get the fleet safely across the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions. As a strong cold front passed over Portsmouth around midday today, with clearing skies and falling temperatures, a ridge of high pressure behind it is expected to bring strong northeasterly winds through the area over the next couple of days. Rally organizers and Weather Routing Inc. consulted on the starting time and decided to follow in the wake of the frontal passage to take advantage of the lighter northwesterly winds that are now taking hold and should get the fleet well offshore before the windshift. In essence, the fleet has been given a 20-hour head-start on the originally scheduled departure time to take full advantage of the excellent conditions.
For the second year the decision to depart early highlights the challenges of a fall passage from the US East Coast. The weather windows are few, and when they are right, you’ve got to be flexible enough to take advantage of them.
“We’re are all sailors,” said Caribbean 1500 event manager Andy Schell at an impromptu weather briefing on Friday afternoon, when it appeared that a Saturday start was looming. “We’re at the mercy of the weather. We’re not going to make a decision based around convenience. It’s got to be based on seamanship.”
By Saturday morning’s weather briefing with WRI, it was obvious that Saturday was the day, and the fleet rallied around the decision that became official at the 0900 Skipper’s Briefing. The Briefing itself had been moved up from noon in anticipation of the possible change in plans, and skipper’s and crew took it all in stride and seemed very supportive of the process.
Following the majority of the fleet, Topaz, Sojourner and Windquest took the starting line about 30 minutes later, crossing within meters of one another. Keep It Simple remains at Ocean Marine and will depart at 0600 Sunday morning after picking up their last crewmember. None of the late-starting yachts will be penalized due to the start having been moved up. Instead they’ll take their own times as the cross the line and their elapsed time will be adjusted accordingly.
As the fleet heads offshore, follow their progress and read their logs on www.worldcruising.com/carib1500.
A young man was invited to go cruising for a few years. His family, his father especially, thought he would be throwing his education away, not to mention risking his life. Sound familiar, cruisers? In the face of such disapproval the young man decided not to go, but a favorite uncle interceded on his behalf. The favorite uncle was Josiah Wedgewood, of the Wedgewood pottery, the young man was Charles Darwin, and his cruise on the Beagle was probably history’s most important voyage of scientific discovery.
But when he left on the Beagle he was a young sprat of twenty-two, once sending home a dispatch that said,
“Our chief amusement was riding about and admiring the Spanish Ladies. After watching one of these angels gliding down the streets, involuntarily we groaned out, ‘how foolish English women are, they can neither walk nor dress’. And then how ugly Miss sounds after Signorita; I am sorry for you all, it would do the whole tribe of you a great deal of good to come to Buenos Ayres.”
A sentiment echoed by sailors visiting Buenos Aires ever since.
The book, Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians chronicles the second voyage of the Beagle (Darwin wasn’t on the first) and is interspersed with many of Darwin’s letters home to his sister, and many letters between Darwin and FitzRoy, the captain. Darwin and FitzRoy liked each other, despite FitzRoy’s volatile temper. The blustery captain and the erudite ship’s naturalist seem to be a model for Aubrey and Maturin, the heroes of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, and the movie of the same name.
The author, Richard Darwin Keynes, was Charles Darwin’s great-grandson. The author’s other great-grandfather was John Maynard Keynes, as in Keynesian Economics. What, did the English intellectual class gather every year to marry off their daughters?
From a sailor’s perspective it’s fascinating to read about an early expedition to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. They anchored in all the same places I did (and where Captain Joshua Slocum did) in the Straits of Magellan. When the Beagle anchored in Puerto Tamar, Bahia Fortescue, and Charles III Island, they were looking for protection from there same nasty winds (video here), and worrying about dragging into the exact same places.
With advances in technology and perspectives it isn’t easy to share an experience with someone from 175 years ago, but for a sailor the Straits of Magellan haven’t changed, and having GPS and a a radio makes little difference when a 100-knot williwaw blows down on you. A diesel engine, however, makes a very big difference.
The captain of the the first Beagle expedition, Pringle Stokes, found the western entrance to the Straits so miserable that after fighting storms for a month he put a bullet in his head. Unfortunately the bullet didn’t kill him, and he died of gangrene twelve days later. It’s the curse of the Beagle: FitzRoy committed suicide later in life too.
Time has not been kind to the Fuegians either: Christina Calderon, the last full blood Yamana, died a few years before I got to Puerto Williams, Chile. In Puerto Eden, Chile, I saw the last of the Kawascar living in a few squalid huts. That was in 2007, so I’m not sure how many are left now.
One reviewer called Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians the latest addition to the Darwin industry. I didn’t know there was a Darwin industry, but apparently many books have been written on the subject. I feel like I started reading in the right place, as this book doesn’t get too bogged down in the science, and portrays a more human story of young men on a grand adventure. Half the story is told in Darwin’s own words, through his journals and correspondence; the other half by a direct descendant, who fills in the gaps.
How do you keep holiday traditions alive while cruising? I worried about this before we took off as a family. I was afraid that our kids would someday feel cheated, like they’d missed out on the cultural rituals of an American childhood.
We’ve now celebrated the last six Halloweens in six different countries (I have to admit: this stuns me). Each time has been unique, each has been memorable, and it didn’t take Herculean effort or long term planning and stowing decorations from afar to ensure the kids didn’t feel like we’d shortcut the holiday.
One of my favorite distinctions of our Halloweens since departing is that other than the first year, while we were still sailing down the US west coast, they have been entirely devoid of consumer marketing. Halloween stuff starts showing up in stores before the kids start school at home, but here, we never saw a bag of fake spider webbing floss, a PVC witches hat, or a plastic jack o’lantern- junk we didn’t need, junk that becomes garbage. We never missed it!
It’s easy enough to make what we need from what’s on ha
nd. One holiday-specific item we have, though, is something the kids now insist on every year and is well on way to being a Totem tradition. Jack-o-lantern cookies, with custom cookie cutters thanks to the crew of sv Milagro (Michael visited us when he was in Sydney for work two years ago; as a cruiser, he definitely gets it!).
This year, there was even less planning and anticipation than usual. With my parents visiting, we were busy pretty much right up until the last minute. The kids had talked about costumes for weeks, but weren’t committed to anything. Not a problem: they all came together with goods on hand over a day or two leading up to the 31st. Our boat decorations weren’t over the top, but there are ghouls around the mast, fluttery bats under main cabin ports and a few spooky wraiths in the shadows.
What made Halloween this year really special was the reunion with an American family we had not seen since our time in Mexico. The crew of Love Song includes two boys, seven and nine, and Halloween was definitely a priority! They were anchored in a bay just a short jaunt from where we’d been staying with our visitors. The barrier island they face was perfect for a beach bonfire, and a gathering of several cruising families.
We all arrived at dusk. Earlier in the day, Kathy set up a series of sheet “ghosts” along the trail that circles the small island. We walked around to light tin cans fueled with a little diesel and a rag, then led a passel of cruising kids along the dark trail in their flickering light… with parents ghouls hidden behind pandanus or palms, adding our own brand of creepiness to the journey.
Back at the bonfire, there was “trick or treating”- but it was only after grilled sausages and foil boats of veggies that we had the real treat of the evening. We had anticipated seeing Love Song for weeks, so it was the arrival that afternoon of another boat we hadn’t seen since Mexico, George and Kathleen of sv Kalalau, that was the really great surprise for me and Jamie.
In the glow of the beach fire, George recited Derelict entirely from memory. Based on the chorus lines of a sea-song in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure island, Young E. Allison drew full lyrics from his imagination in 1891. It tells the story of crew marooned by Blackbeard on the Caribbean island of Dead Man’s Chest, leaving them with nothing but a cutlass and a bottle of rum each.
George’s dramatic telling, in the warm breeze, the light of the fire, the sky full of stars and the waving palms- well, it held us all riveted, and was the perfect salty cap to a cruiser’s Halloween.
Young E. Allison
available at the Gutenberg project
Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
The mate was fixed by the bos’n's pike,
The bos’n brained with a marlin spike,
And Cookey’s throat was marked belike
It had been gripped
By fingers ten;
And there they lay,
All good dead men
Like break-o’-day in a boozing-ken—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men of the whole ship’s list—
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!—
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion’s axe his cheek had shore—
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay,
And the soggy skies
Dripped all day long
In upstaring eyes—
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men of ‘em stiff and stark—
Ten of the crew had the Murder mark—
‘Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head—
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red
And there they lay—
Aye, damn my eyes—
All lookouts clapped
All souls bound just contrariwise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.
Fifteen men of ‘em good and true—
Every man jack could ha’ sailed with Old Pew—
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there,
That had took the plum,
With sightless glare
And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
More was seen through the stern light screen—
Chartings no doubt where a woman had been!—
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot.
Oh was she wench…
Or some shuddering maid…?
That dared the knife—
And took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
We wrapped ‘em all in a mains’l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser’s bight
And we heaved ‘em over and out of sight—
With a Yo-Heave-Ho!
And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge
In the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Ever since I first talked to designer Chris White earlier this year about his new MastFoil rig I’ve been anxious to try it out. I’ve always been very interested in unconventional rigs, and this one seems particularly promising, so of course my outing aboard his new MastFoil-rigged Atlantic 47 apres-show in Annapolis last month was perhaps the one test sail I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, the wind was much lighter than I would have liked, blowing only about 5-7 knots, so I still can’t say anything terribly definitive about how the rig performs.
I can say it is easy to handle, much easier than a conventional rig, particularly when it comes to setting and striking sail. Not having a huge full-batten main to wrestle with is a major bonus if you’re into laid-back sailing. Overall, in the conditions we had, I’d say this boat didn’t sail any slower than an equivalent conventionally rigged catamaran would have, and it certainly tacked more easily.
From the helm in the forward cockpit you have a good view of the forward mast and both sails. You have to move around a bit to get a useful view of the aft mast
Both masts act as sails themselves and rotate through a full 360 degrees. There’s a small Gurney flap on the back of each mast to help increase the lift it creates. The flaps are easy to control and have just three settings–right, left, and center
The top speed we saw during our brief afternoon jaunt was 5 knots at an apparent wind angle of 65 degrees. At 45 degrees we made 3.8 knots and sometimes touched 4. We weren’t really able to point much higher than that. This boat is equipped with fixed keels, which also have flaps on their trailing edges to help increase lift. We didn’t play with these, however, and Chris conceded they’ll only get you an extra two or three degrees closer to the wind. It’s also possible to fly big light-wind sails, a screecher or an A-sail, but unfortunately we didn’t play with these either.
It is, I think, an attractive rig. To get an idea of how much power the masts actually generate, we stalled one out while sailing and saw our speed drop by about one knot
I shared my test sail with Cruising World‘s Boat Of The Year crew. That’s Herb “Racer X” McCormick settling into a groove at the helm while Chris White looks on
What’s the best term for a rig like this? This boat’s owner likes to call his new baby a staysail schooner or a “schoonermaran”
Thom Dozier, the owner of our boat, Pounce, was aboard for the test, and he’s had quite a bit of experience with it, as he sailed it all the way up from Chile, where it was built. As a licensed pilot he was intrigued by the rig and told me was willing to take a chance on it because its aerodynamics made sense to him. So far he is quite pleased with it. He and his delivery crew had several 200-mile days during their long voyage north and averaged 180 miles a day overall.
As for me, I’d like more experience with the rig and would love to have a chance to try it out in a stronger breeze. A gale maybe, so I can see if it really sails to windward under bare naked foils.
Be sure to look for a more detailed review of the boat in general in a future issue of SAIL.
…and you don’t even need a boat:
Joe Elder and his wife Alison own and run Skipjack Nautical in Portsmouth, VA. it’s one of the few places like it in the USA – a treasure trove of nautical artifacts and artwork stretched throughout a beautiful gallery overlookin the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth. Joe and I talked about how he got involved starting the business, his career as a professional diver and underwater archaeologist, how he and Alison lost it all at the original Skipjack due to a catastrophic fire and Joe’s passion for history and all things nautical. We chatted in the back of Skipjack at a table where Joe was just working on valuing a series of swords from a local collector, some dating as far back as the War of 1812. The place is awesome! Thanks Joe!
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 31, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
So, it turns out that when I saw the new NSO evo2 blackbox system at IBEX Simrad was low key about it because they were planning a big splash here at the Fort Lauderdale show. And now evo2′s unique ability to drive two independent multi-touch displays can be applied to Simrad’s new MO Series of handsome multi-touch monitors. They’ll purportedly be available very soon in 16, 19 and 24-inch sizes, and judging from the prototypes I saw on the water at the NMEA Conference, they are notably sharp and bright. And, yes, that on-glass button on center at the bottom of the monitor pulls up the NSO home menu just like your phone or tablet.
The photo above shows the NSO evo2 glass bridge possibilities, except that there will also be non-touch (and probably lower maximum brightness) Pilot House MO models and the blackbox can drive other manufacturers’ screens if you’d like.
Here’s what the back of the new MO 16 looks like. Note the HDMI port, which the new NSO can use for HD quality input, as well as one DVI and two analog video inputs that can be switched with other on-glass buttons. I’m not positive yet, but I think that the NMEA 2000 port is there so that these monitors can be dimmed and turned on/off by other Simrad devices on the network. Touch commands are transmitted from screen to black box via USB or serial cable, depending on how long the run is.
NSO evo2 details and prices aren’t online yet — please post in comments if you see them — but the U.S. press release says that the “evo2 black box has a suggested retail price of US $5,695 with MO-Series Multi-Touch and Pilot House displays ranging from $4449 to $10,000.” Also, noted is a package of ”black box and two MO-16T high-bright, multi-touch monitors for US $12,999 — providing the benefits of dual independent displays for the price of one.” I guess they’re referring to a Garmin 8000 black box and 15-inch monitor, because I think that a pair of 15-inch Garmin 8000 or Raymarine gS MFDs or 14-inch Furuno NavNet TZT’s are competitive. In fact, the Big Four are now all battling over multi-touch glass bridge systems.
I’ll be out on the water with Simrad later today (and also seeing some new Lowrance gear), but here’s a (poor) photo of the new MO Series prototypes I saw in San Diego. I’m told that the severe screen glare will be gone on the finished units, but I got a kick out of how an iPod video running on a (Fusion-built) SonicHub could be shown on one of the screens, and I believe we could have also watched it in a PiP window. The multifunction display ain’t what it used to be!Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
The current (November 2013) issue of Yachting World contains a nice feature story I wrote about all the sailing I did on Lunacy last winter in the Spanish Virgin Islands. The theory, of course, is that this will inspire people to sail there this winter. When preparing the story, I therefore made a point of including an accurate map showing which parts of Vieques (a former U.S. Navy gunnery range) are still closed to the public due to the danger of unexploded ordinance. Believe it or not, I did have some trouble coming by this information when I was in the Spanish Virgins, and I impressed upon David Glenn, editor-in-chief at YW, that anyone visiting the area should find it very useful.
Of course, the comic didn’t have space to print my map, so I thought I better post it here (see image up top), seeing as how I went to all the trouble of drawing it. If you do visit Vieques this year and somehow manage to blow yourself up, now you can’t blame me. But on the other hand, if you want your visit to the island to be as interesting as mine was, you might want to forget to bring the map.
Lunacy, meanwhile, won’t be going anywhere this winter. I’m just back from spending a couple of days aboard in Casco Bay, where I enjoyed the dregs of the season in fine style. Yesterday morning I delivered her to Maine Yacht Center, and they pulled the mast out with the quickness as soon as I unbent the sails. Word has it they’re hauling her today.
I’m still in a state of denial, so to remind myself why I shouldn’t sail the boat south again this winter, I’ve drawn up a preliminary punch list of work that needs doing:
-Reweld and reinforce rudder skeg before it falls off hull
-Check bottom rudder bearing
-Install proper cap for bilge drain before boat sinks
-Remove propane hot-water heater before it explodes or something
-Rebed coachroof chimney fitting for propane cabin heater
-Replace rotted floorboard under propane cabin heater
-Replace window leak on forward house
-Reglaze aft port deck hatch
-Replace wind turbine blades
-Replace cockpit dodger
-Replace mainsail reefing lines
-Replace spinnaker tack line
-Repair edge damage to sails
-Repair mainsail cover
-Clean topsides for first time in years
Plus I’m sure there’s a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten to include. All of which goes to illustrate what I’ve always said about a properly maintained boat: it is not an object; it is a process.
All sailing this winter will be on a strictly OPB (Other People’s Boats) basis, which is often more relaxing, but not quite as much fun.
Since the World Cruising Club took over management of the Caribbean 1500, one of the main goals was to get more involved in the local communities that the rally calls home, both here in the USA and in the Caribbean. 2013 marks the first time the event is being held in Portsmouth, Virginia on the USA end, and thus far it’s been both challenging and very rewarding working with the City and the people and businesses that call it home.
I first discovered Portsmouth in 2005 when I sailed aboard the schooner Woodwind in the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. After racing 130 miles down the Bay against 50 other tall ships (in one of the coolest events around, by the way), we called into the City basin in Portsmouth up by the Renaissance Hotel for the final weekend of parties and activities. I immediately fell in love with the quaint historic seaport town and it’s eclectic shops, restaurants and amenities. I became a regular (at least that weekend) at the Bier Garden bar, and got my coffee in town at the aptly named Coffee Shop. Long story short, when it came time to look at moving the 1500, Portsmouth was the obvious first choice.
Though the rally fleet has only been here four nights, we’ve already gotten a great taste of what the town has to offer. After the opening weekend of Happy Hour’s at Skipjack Nautical, we kicked off the rally in earnest on Monday night at the Commodore Theatre on High Street. The place is one of the only like it in the entire country – a classic single-screen theatre, originally built in wartime 1945 and restored over the course of nearly three years in the early 1990s to it’s original glory. Fred, the owner, and a real character (he had himself and his wife painted into one of the floor-to-ceiling murals inside the theatre, next to Abe Lincoln), takes great pride in his dream, and was thrilled to share it.
“Thanks everyone for coming tonight,” he announced in front of some 50 crewmembers who’d turned up for dinner and a screening of Captain Phillips. “Movies are magical, and I hope you’ll see the magic I’ve tried to recreate in the Commodore here tonight.”
Participants were seated at round tables of 2-6, each with an old-timey telephone in the middle from which you could order food, drinks and popcorn, “the real deal,” Fred added, “popped in old-fashioned coconut oil and drizzled with REAL butter.” At that, he got a warm applause.
The movie was intense, but it was universally enjoyed by the participants, many of whom left with tears in their eyes at the dramatic ending.
Last evening was spent in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere at the Bier Garden restaurant in town, just across the street from the Commodore (one of the best parts of Portsmouth is that everything is within a few blocks of Ocean Marine. The city is very walkable). Laurie and her staff served up a buffet of bratwurst and knockwurst and German potato salad, while the wait staff kept the hefeweizen and lager flowing from the bar. Oom-pah music played over the loudspeaker.
“This is great!” exclaimed Paul and Monica from Moonshadow, who’d retired to the bar once the buffet ran out to sample some of the Bier Garden’s literally hundreds of beer offerings (hence the name, right?).
The program continues tonight again at Skipjack’s for a third night of cocktails and snacks in the nautical gallery, and a chance for crews to relax after a long day of boat work. The time pressure is starting to mount as skippers finish up last minute projects and groceries are shopped for and stowed. Tonight’s happy hour will be a needed respite.
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 30, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
It’s quite unusual to illustrate a Panbo entry with an advertisement, but I think this one has editorial content. Isn’t it great to see three separate companies state in print that their electronics will work together to accomplish a complex task? Won’t that make it harder for any one of the three customer service departments to point the blame for operational problems elsewhere? Plus, the task in this case — to put the control and output of yacht cameras onto the Internet so owners or crew can access it anywhere — is pretty impressive.
The product/service at the center of this partnership is GOST Watch HD, which the company characterizes as an Internet Video Recorder or IVR, though it also supports live viewing. All sorts of cameras are supported, but probably the hardest is a FLIR M-Series pan/tilt/zoom thermal/daylight model like the one I’ve been testing on Gizmo. As seen in the boat show demo above, GOST Watch even includes a software mimic of the FLIR joystick control, so a user can control the camera from their PC just as they do at their helm. Of course, there are also GOST Watch apps.
But a system like this is fairly useless if the Internet connection isn’t fast and smooth. While GOST solves some of that problem with video compression and Internet tunneling protocols, the workhorse broadband communications platform, that GOST is pleased to be in print partnership with, is the KVH TracPhone mini-VSAT system. Now I realize that most boaters aren’t in this league — hey, I’m having trouble getting text messages off my yacht — but all the technologies involved are getting smaller and/or less expensive and complicated.
I’m headed to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) today, and I look forward to seeing some big yacht electronics like these. It’s interesting, though, that the average person walking the show owns a boat less than 30 feet long, and they, too, will find lots of relevant gear to see. I’ll have a new product announcement first thing tommorrow and more after that.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
The last ten days have been a lush departure from normal life on Totem. There may not be a great deal of predictability in our lives, but there is a rhythm. That rhythm was happily interrupted when my parents came to visit.
This was a big event, because it’s the first time they’ve come to Totem since we left Bainbridge Island more than five years ago. The kids last saw their grandparents when we drove up from Mexico to their summer home in Michigan, a retreat from the fiery hurricane season in 2009 and a chance for a grand road trip to visit friends and family before sailing away from North America.
The children have changed quite a lot since then. Well, we’ve all changed!
Skype is really great for helping to bridge the gap, but it’s not quite the same. You can’t watch as grandmother and grandson measure the new differential in their height, you can’t give a hug through a computer screen.
Long stretches away from loved ones are one of the hard realities of our cruising life. for cruisers doing more than a sabbatical stint, many make it a priority to take annual trips home. In a perfect world, we’d do that too! We just can’t afford it, and given the choice, we’d rather be cruising – even if it means those trips home aren’t in our budget. That doesn’t make it easy.
We anticipated their visit for months and had been on the lookout for the perfect spot: an accessible dock for Totem, and comfortable shore side lodgings for my parents. The Rebak resort near Langkawi was made to order! A five star resort managed by Taj, with a well protected cruiser-friendly marina.
Welcome to the equatorial zone. Apparently, the transition between two different monsoon seasons can be even rainier than the actual monsoon season! Whoops. It’s OK: snuggles with grandparents are good in all weather.
Thankfully, my parents aren’t really big on hitting the beach, so turning our activities indoors really wasn’t much of a problem. Besides, we love games.
If we weren’t playing in the airy lobby, we were eating. After ten days, my parents are on a first name basis with a good portion of the servers, and had a long table to seat our crowd of seven permanently established on the covered patio.
Ten days went in a blink. Goodbyes are difficult, and we all try not to think about when the next time will come around.
October was Visitor Month aboard the good ship Papillon. And it was really fun. But I am really tired. Having friends and family around is always a treat, but it also carries a responsibility. Not only are we trying to entertain the people we care about in our piece of floating aluminum, we are also trying to reassure them that a) we aren’t crazy for living on a boat, and b) see point a. This isn’t inherently difficult – anyone willing to visit us has either already wrapped their head around the peculiarities of onboard life, or they like us (read: the kids) enough to overlook the less comfortable bits. But still – we make the effort.
You never know how things are going to play out. Sometimes you get lucky. My parents visited us in the San Blas islands in Panama, and enjoyed two weeks of blue skies, warm days, and easy sailing from island to island. Sometimes your luck runs out. Erik’s parents spent last Christmas with us in New Zealand, and we had a gale for five solid days. We rolled in the fetch, drinking tea and wishing we could escape to shore. Soon the dodger saturated, so it was full-on raining in the cockpit. There we were, huddled belowdecks beside the diesel heater, with two wild-eyed kids high on pre-Christmas-excitement and gummy bears. Unsurprisingly, this year my in-laws have elected to give us a miss and visit Mexico instead. Lesson: don’t invite people to stay aboard anywhere with a good chance of bad weather.
New Caledonia is a pretty safe bet on the weather front. It is normally a perfect 25 C here (that’s about 80 F for you metric-haters), and while we often get strong winds, that just means more sailing, right? Perfect visitor conditions.
As we sat in the airport, waiting for our friend to arrive, Erik turned to me. “So,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “We’ll give Michael an hour to settle in, then we’ll sail north to Island X, do some snorkelling, head over to Island Y, and see if we can find a nice beach to make a campfire.”
I squinted at him. “Isn’t that exactly what we did with our friends last week?”
He looked shocked. “No, we went south!”
Erik finds it hard to understand that anyone might want a quiet vacation. He is one of those people who can’t sit still. At all. Ever. (This is why we own a boat – so he is never at a loss for projects). And when I gently try to explain that not everyone wants to swim over every reef in the Pacific, he looks at me like I am completely out of my head. For Erik, there are three things to do at the beach: 1. Depart on/return from a snorkel, 2. Light a fire and cook something over it, 3. Drink a beer and discuss the boats in the anchorage. Repeat steps 1-3 as needed. The idea of flying thousands of miles to read a book on the beach is well outside his solution set.
As planned, we sailed to Ilot M’be Kouen, and hung out on the tiny island as the girls romped around. Michael took this opportunity to burn the tops of his feet a fiery red. Back on Papillon, we clucked and scolded, and pressed bottles of aloe vera on him. I was not surprised when, after breakfast on Day Two, he turned down Erik’s snorkelling plans and announced he would stay on board.
Erik’s face fell. “You don’t want to go with us?”
“No, I have my book, I’ll be fine,” said Michael.
“Oh, come on. You’ll be so bored here.”
“No, thanks.” He turned on his Kindle, ignoring Erik’s hangdog look.
To my eyes, Michael looked perfectly happy. He had something to read and a galley full of food on a warm day in the tropics. Dugongs and sea turtles swam past at regular intervals. It’s all upside.
But I was alone in that opinion. As we motored away, Erik shook his head sadly. “I feel terrible for Michael. Stuck reading in the cockpit all day. Why did he have to burn his feet yesterday? He is missing out on everything, now.”
I didn’t answer, because I was now pondering the subtle significance of the the foot burn. Michael knows Erik well, and has been aboard before. Was the burn a planned event? His Get Out of Jail Free card? As we bounced over the waves, I mentally tipped my hat to him. We introverts have to make these small sacrifices to earn our quiet time. Well played, sir. Well played.
The visit passed quickly; yesterday, we had to accept the inevitable and return to Noumea. It is an ironclad rule that Papillon only sails to places that are either directly upwind or downwind; obligingly, the wind shifted so we had it on the nose the entire sail home. A quick meal and a long drive later, and Michael was back at the airport.
“I hope he had fun,” said Erik as we drove away. He shook his head. “Burnt feet.”
The cruising life isn’t for everyone, and it is hard to give a complete picture of what we do in such a short space of time. But I do hope that, when they visit, our friends and family can understand a little of why we love living out on the water.
But they all need to bring better sunscreen next time.
A few notes from my journal:
10/16 N 36°13.89′ W 73°44.29 - Day two of our offshore passage dawns bright, with clearing skies. From Long Island Sound till yesterday we had a single day with sunshine, a week of overcast skies and drizzle. There were a couple good days of sailing in the Chesapeake but they were blustery fall days: chilly, a bit rough. Yesterday was absolutely perfect. We set out from Norfolk, past hulking Navy warships and submarines and as we pushed out the channel the sun broke through the clouds and remained there, at last. By afternoon we were running six knots on a broad reach. Out of sight of land with sun warming our bodies in tattered patches like a favorite blanket I feel that the trip has finally begun in earnest. The tropics can’t be far now.
Blue waters of the Gulfstream
10/17 Today the winds left something to be desired. We put more hours on the engine than I would have liked, but we had mahi-mahi sushi for lunch, the sun shone bright, and the swells were easy and long in period. Alaria is overburdened with food and we are reaching a point where we need to eat things before they go bad. We grilled chicken and I made a massaged kale salad (Ansley on massaged kale: “When I get home, I’m going to tell my wife ‘Look out the window- you see all those bushes? We can eat all that shit!’”), which leaves the rest of the mahi-mahi for lunch tomorrow. Tough life. Dinty-Moore stew languishes in the locker.
Night: A short nap and Bob calls me up thinking I’ve caught a fish. It’s a false alarm but I pull up a chunk of Sargassum which is sparkling with bioluminescence. It’s no less brilliant under the full moon, but more unearthly. This is a type I haven’t seen before, streaks and whorls of light which flash rapidly on and off, like a strobe.
10/18 We met a lost sparrow a few hours back, winging in from the Northwest, victim of some unexpected draught which overpowered its tiny wings and blew it out to sea. It was afraid of us and tried in vain to land on my fishing line where the monofilament stretched out behind the boat. Finally it landed on the lifeline just long enough to catch its breath before taking off again. The birders tell me its prospects are grim but it didn’t appear tired. Alone, 250 miles from land and life-sustaining water, what tenacity from a creature which would fit in the palm of my hand!
Ah, another pen. Amazing how easy it is to lose things even on a tiny boat. (In different ink)
10/19 Another perfect day. Fifteen knots of wind just forward of the beam and Alaria cuts through diminutive ocean rollers at hull speed. If I had grown up with ocean passages like this it might not have taken me a decade to come back into the fold.
As I hoped, discipline aboard has faded, gently worn down by the comfortable monotony of fine-weather offshore sailing. It’s been days since I was last chided for not wearing shoes on deck and even Bob no longer spends his watches standing behind the wheel. We are content to loll about, half-naked in the sunshine, fat with good provisions and good company, taking in the grandeur of the sea.
This was the trip, distilled. There were a couple lumpy days and we caught a lot more sargassum than fish but I’ve never had such an easy, pleasant passage. And then, Bermuda!
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 28, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
The test scene is admittedly messy, but having the Wilson AG Pro Quint cell booster out at the helm made it easier to read and photograph. I could also monitor the screen on the Medusa Power Analyzer that the 12v feed is running through (the Quint pulled about 11 watts with two of its amps turned up to about 70db and the other two at about 50 and 55). The best part, though, is how real the testing was. Gizmo is anchored in a wicked cell hole that also happens to be beautiful (mapped here via the test DeLorme InReach SE mounted to the windshield) and only about 11 miles from Camden. Heck, a Verizon call with my wife failed abruptedly about two miles from the anchorage and I couldn’t even get a text out!
Let me tell you more about the test install. In the top photo you can see the thick (and relatively inexpensive) Wilson LMR 400 coax cable that connects the booster to the outside omnidirectional Wilson Marine Antenna that I bench tested last winter. The antenna is now mounted on Gizmo’s spreader (as described here in March) and the super low-loss cable was a lot easier to run than I anticipated; while it bends smoothly, it also goes where you push it. I’ve tried all three of the interior antennas I mentioned in the bench test entry, and the one I’ve settled on is Wilson’s Panel model, which is facing down on the floor of the flybridge electronics cabinet that’s directly above the lower helm area. That way its directional radiation path is aimed at all of Gizmo’s current cell devices — the Maretron SMS100 just visible behind the Garmin 741, the Siren Marine Sprite mounted behind the cable column, and my Nexus Galaxy phone, whether it’s in the cradle or anywhere in the vicinity.
So, how did the Quint do? Well, expectations should be high for a booster that costs over $800 and is designed to help mulitiple cell devices in a large building, and the Quint is a monster booster indeed. I’ve now tested it in many difficult cell locations along the Maine coast and elsewhere, and I don’t think it’s ever failed to increase my phone’s perceived signal strength noticably, if not significantly. At this Barred Island anchorage — where I could only see a bar or two of Verizon coverage and only get voice calls and texts through sporadically — the Quint made those normal phone operations work just fine.
But what’s especially impressive is how well the Quint handles the twin bugaboos of cell tower overload and inside/outside antenna oscillation. In either case the device instantly stops amplifying the specific problem frequency, shows the red trouble LED, and sets up the little screen to both explain the issue and fix it. In the photo above (click on it for larger), the Quint has seen OSCillation (feedback) between Gizmo’s two antennas on the (Verizon flavor) 700 MHz band, and now all I have to do is push the Gain Down button to fix it. The same thing happens if the Quint senses that it’s overloading a cell tower, and that’s fixed just as easily. I’ve found that setting each gain two or three dB below the warning will usually avoid further shutdowns, and of course, you can turn unused frequencies to the minimum, but expect to tweak your desired frequencies every time you move the boat. The four maximum dB settings that worked fine in this anchorage all had to be reduced considerably when I got back to Camden. (Incidentally, the Quint gets its name because it can amplify both the 700 B12 (AT&T LTE) and 700 B13 (Verizon LTE) bands, though you have to choose which).
However, what’s unfortunately less predictable about the AG Pro Quint–and maybe any of the many new boosters aimed at data users in general and 4G lovers specifically– is actual data improvements. For instance, in the Barred Islands just a few miles from Verizon LTE 4G fast data heaven, even the mighty Quint couldn’t bridge the gap. And though it improved the available 1xRTT data signal substantially — and sometimes even got the connection up to HSPAP (3G) — I spent the night without my phone able to serve as a decent WiFi hotspot, which for me is primary goal of this whole boosting excercise. I’ve also seen a number of 3G situations where the Quint would definitely improve the signal, but the phone would also start shutting down the data connection frequently. (Perhaps because noise on the connection was also amplified, which displeased the tower?)
But let me emphasize the phrase “less predictable”; I have gotten some great data connections with a Wilson boost, and they’ve helped me do what I like to do on the boat, be it taking care of Panbo, surfing the news, or streaming NetFlix. But while I suspect that the AG Pro Quint is very current in a fast moving technology, I also suspect that boosting fast cell data is tricky business and would caution all to keep their expectations in check.
There are also certain places where cellular is downright mysterious and Camden Harbor happens to be one of them in terms of normally pervasive SMS messaging. I first saw this with a Cobra C Pod alarming and tracking system, which may be a great product, but which I couldn’t test because its AT&T GSM Sim card wouldn’t work here at all, even though AT&T phones do. I saw the same weird phenomenon with the first Siren Marine product I tested, but Siren came up, analyzed the situation, and eventually switched to a T-Mobile card that’s been working well here and elsewhere ever since. That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when an AT&T card wouldn’t work in the Maretron SMS100, and why I purchased a T-Mobile prepaid card, too. Well, get this–at the Barred Island anchorage both cards worked fine in both directions with Wilson Quint assistance (two bars went to four or five), but here in Camden the SMS100 with T-Mobile card can only send test messages and receive Status commands; it won’t reply or send alarms. This may be an odd Maretron DSM issue (they’re investigating), but very local SMS anomalies may be at work, too.
Meanwhile, at last month’s NMEA Conference, Shakespeare debuted a new line of Anywhere Voice and Data Cellular booster kits. So far, the only one listed online is the basic CA-VAT kit seen below, but it looks pretty good if you’re willing to go without 4G boosting. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Shakespeare has partnered with SureCall so the kit includes the former’s marine cell antennas and the latter’s Cellphone-Mate booster technology. Add in Shakespeare’s wide distribution in the boating world plus its relationships with many electronics installers, and I’d say that Wilson is going to have a harder time entering this market than it might have a year ago. But it’s going to be a good competition for us cell-hungry cruisers. At NMEA Shakespeare was handing out data sheets for several booster kits with 4G abilities, and I’ll guess that Wilson will be out with a model that is as easy to maximize as the AG Pro Quint, but without the high price (and perhaps the extreme 75 dB power gain that’s not very useful on a medium size boat). Gizmo probably won’t get out to the Barred Islands cell hole and beyond until April or May, but I’ll bet there will be more testing to do.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
This is a fantastic feature from our friends Eric and Pat Fulmer from s/v Cutter Loose, participants in the 2012 edition of the Caribbean 1500 last year. We just received this email this morning from Eric, offering to share their experiences in the 1500 and cruising down-island last winter. This is the story of their 195-day cruise. See their full blog – and lots more photos – at cutterloose.com.
Aboard American Airlines Boeing 737 flight 2154 bound from Grenada to Miami on May 8, 2013, the Caribbean Sea is a beautiful sight to behold. In the morning sun, the view from 36,000 feet captures the eloquent contrast between the aquamarine-colored reefs and the darker blue hues of deeper water. During the past 195 days, these Caribbean waters have been our playground, sailing Cutter Loose a total of 2,837 nautical miles from Rock Hall, MD to Grenada, the southernmost island in the Windward Island chain.
On October 23, 2012, the day of our departure from Osprey Point Marina in Rock Hall, MD, the ominous long range weather forecast casts a pall over our journey south on the Chesapeake Bay. Departing the east coast for the Caribbean in autumn is tricky business. At this time of year, cold fronts pass every few days and there is always the chance of a late season tropical storm. As if on cue, Hurricane Sandy was turning to the north towards the Atlantic coast just as we were beginning our journey south.
We had signed on for the Caribbean 1500 rally, an annual mecca for cruising boats sailing from the east coast to the Caribbean. This year, the rally was scheduled to depart from Hampton, VA on November 5th. Prudence dictated an early arrival in Hampton to prepare for the storm and participate in pre-rally events. For three days, heavy rains and high winds pelted Hampton Roads, resulting in widespread flooding. Thankfully, our floating dock adjacent to a five story downtown hotel and parking garage at Hampton Public Piers was well protected and despite soggy conditions, we survived Sandy unscathed.
But now there is another villain on the horizon. A low pressure center exiting the east coast near the Georgia/Florida border is expected to turn north and follow the coast, creating classic Nor’easter conditions. The decision was reached by rally control to depart Hampton ahead of schedule, gambling that the 30 some Caribbean 1500 vessels would complete their crossing of the Gulf Stream well ahead of the storm.
Our Island Packet 460, Cutter Loose, makes rapid progress during the first few days of the voyage, exiting the Stream about 200 miles due east of Wilmington, NC. Later that day, we gradually begin to feel the effects of the approaching Nor’easter. By midnight, successive bands of squalls begin moving through our little space in the Atlantic, creating 40 knot gusts of swirling winds, downdrafts, confused seas, pelting rain and abundant thunder and lightning. With deeply reefed sails, we endeavor to sail on a broad reach to smooth out what has become a bumpy ride. The wind and swells, however, have a mind of their own, seemingly coming from every direction all at once. The autopilot cannot cope with these conditions, disengaging with every change in wind direction. In the darkness, we detect that the UV panel on the headsail is torn and flogging in the wind.
In the early hours of the morning with radar showing no apparent end in sight to the squalls, we decide to quit sailing and heave-to for several hours until the squalls abate. By daybreak, weather conditions improve considerably, but the sea state is still confused. Feeling somewhat rested, we are underway once again, sailing east in southerly winds, patiently waiting for the predictable easterly trade winds to send Cutter Loose on a thrilling beam reach to our destination. But on this voyage, the trades never materialize. During the final two days of the passage, we become resigned to motorsailing south towards the British Virgin Islands, directly into the wind.
Nine days after departing Hampton, we make landfall on the island of Tortola at 4 o’clock in the morning. Despite some uncomfortable weather and bumpy sea conditions, Cutter Loose performed admirably on this passage. We are elated to have arrived safe and sound at our intended destination. But for the first few days in Tortola, it is disconcerting and confusing to be walking on land. Being forced to devote immediate attention to intricate clearance procedures seems overwhelming at first. Gradually, we succumb to the rhythm and warmth of the tropics. With the post-rally activities completed and 1500 miles accumulated thus far on this journey under the keel of Cutter Loose, we are now on our own to explore the islands of the Eastern Caribbean.
The British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands become home to us during the months of November, December and January. Between stints of resolving nagging problems with the navigation instruments on Cutter Loose, we are free to savor the intricate nooks and crannies of these islands at a relaxed pace. The simplicity of remaining put or moving to another equally gorgeous anchorage, beach or snorkeling spot is the ultimate in personal freedom. Francis Bay, Leinster Bay, Salt Pond Bay and Lameshure Bay on St. Johns as well as Little Jost Van Dyke, White Bay on Guana Island, North Sound on Virgin Gorda and Deadman Bay on Peter Island are amongst our favorite cruising destinations in the Virgins.
Locals inquire why one would ever want to leave the Virgin Islands. They correctly assert that the Virgins are the quintessential cruising grounds and that it doesn’t get any better than this when headed down-island. However, on February 3rd (Super Bowl Sunday), the urge to see what’s around the next bend compels us to depart Virgin Gorda, sailing 85 miles east across the Anegada Passage to the shores of St. Martin.
Once the anchor is down in Marigot Bay, the first instinct after clearing Customs is to gorge oneself on croissants at the French patisseries and boulangeries. When the weather is calm, dropping the hook at Grand Case and Ile Tintamarre are very enjoyable experiences. But when the wind and/or the swell are up, refuge can be found within a massive, shallow inland bay called Simpson Bay Lagoon. Although the water inside the Lagoon is murky, every conceivable type of marina, marine service and dining establishment is within an easy dinghy ride. Not every neighborhood on the French side of St. Martin is safe at night. The morning cruiser’s net on the VHF radio hosted by Mike at Shrimpy’s Laundry keeps us alert to trouble spots, and we quickly learn that there are many alternative dining and entertainment destinations on the Dutch side of the Lagoon.
Similar to the Virgins, it is difficult to escape the delights of St. Martin. Hundreds of cruisers call Simpson Bay Lagoon home for the entire season. However, Anguilla with its white beaches and fancy resorts is clearly visible just seven miles north of Marigot Bay. In the easterly trade winds, the easy sail to Road Bay is delightful. To diversify the daily routine, we spend the day with cruising friends at the upscale Mediterranean-style Cuisinart Resort on the south coast, followed by jazz Sunday at the more informal setting of Johnno’s beach bar in Road Bay.
From Anguilla, it is on to Gustavia Harbor on the island of St. Barth’s, just 25 miles to the southeast. St. Barth’s caters to the rich and famous, which is reflected in the size of the yachts in the inner harbor and the prices on the menus at local restaurants and at the high end clothing shops. Aesthetically, Gustavia is very tidy. The buildings surrounding the attractive horseshoe-shaped harbor are constructed with tile roofs, brilliant orange in color. Not a spec of litter can be found on the sidewalks or in other public spaces. The anchorage fee includes access to wifi Internet service throughout the harbor.
When one’s appetite for luxury has been fulfilled, it is just a few miles from Gustavia to Anse du Columbier, a protected anchorage on the northwest corner of St. Barth’s. Here, one can relax and enjoy the delights of the beach or hike to the lovely hamlet of Anse des Flamands on the north coast.
With a calm weather window, the 100 mile journey from St. Barth’s to English Harbour, Antigua is easily accomplished in an overnight sail. Along the way, the lights of Saint Kitts and Nevis to starboard twinkle in the clear night sky. Now at anchor adjacent to historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, we order a new masthead wind instrument from the local electronics dealer. While waiting for the part to arrive from the U.S., we set out on a clockwise circumnavigation of Antigua. Our overnight stops included Jolly Harbor on the west coast, Long Island on the northeast coast and our personal favorite, a dramatic anchorage just inside the reef near Green Island on the east side of Antigua. The circumnavigation is completed upon our return to English Harbor to install the fresh masthead wind instrument.
It is now March 5th and for the first time, we are on a schedule. We must remain on track for an early May arrival in Grenada. From Antigua, it is roughly 200 miles due south to the island of Grenada, where our sailing season will come to an end. This is trade-wind sailing at its finest. With 20+ knots of easterly winds on the beam, inter-island travel in a southerly direction from Antigua is a sailor’s dream. Covering 200 miles in six weeks may seem like a simple task, but there is much to see and do in this stretch of paradise. Besides, the one aspect that we enjoy most about cruising is moving at a leisurely pace.
Our next stop is the mountainous French island of Guadeloupe, known as the butterfly island due to its shape. We used the town of Deshaies as our base for inland exploration. Much of the interior of Guadeloupe makes us feel as if we are on the set of Jurrasic Park. Near Basse Terre, we hiked to within 100 meters of the rim of Soufriere, an active volcano. From Deshaies, it is a series of half-day sails to Iles des Saintes and Marie Galante, smaller French islands that are politically part of Guadeloupe.
Then it is south to the island of Dominica, which, unlike most other islands in the Caribbean, offers no magnificent harbors or beaches due to its volcanic core. The primary attraction here is the beauty of the island’s interior rain forests and the warmth of the Dominican people. Our guided tour of the Indian River and our vigorous hikes to Victoria Falls and Sari Sari Falls are amongst our best memories of cruising the Eastern Caribbean.
From Dominica, we leave behind the Leeward Islands and enter the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. Martinique, with its metropolis of Fort de France, is the most highly developed French enclave in the Windwards. Sailing further south, the town of Marin is the Annapolis of Martinique. There are literally thousands of boats moored here, including a considerable charter fleet. Each day, Air France delivers dozens of pale charterers from Paris to Marin for their winter holiday. Several quaint coastal villages such as St. Pierre, Anse Mitan and Sainte Anne make Martinique a unique destination and one of our favorite cruising destinations in the Windward Islands.
In April, the winds of winter give way to the squalls of spring. The island of St. Lucia is the next link in the Windward chain. With plentiful provisioning opportunities, abundant restaurants and a protected marina, Rodney Bay is a required stopover for all cruisers transiting the area. We paused here to meet Pittsburgh friends who requested that their renewal of marriage vow ceremony be performed on board Cutter Loose. While this was the first such assignment for us, we proved up to the task. Based on this success, we are considering the expansion of this cottage industry as a means of replenishing the cruising kitty. In an effort to induce business, we now offer a written ten year guarantee on all marriage and renewal ceremonies performed aboard Cutter Loose.
Between the magnificent Pitons of St. Lucia and Grenada lies the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The cruising community is unified in its avoidance of the island of St. Vincent, due primarily to the near certainty of harassment from aggressive boat boys who charge fees to protect one’s yacht. Following suit, we choose to skip St. Vincent, opting instead to clear Customs at Port Elizabeth on the island of Bequia. From here, it is a short daysail south to Tobago Cays, perhaps the premier anchorage in the entire Eastern Caribbean. Located within a National Marine Park, Tobago Cays is a pristine spot in the lee of Horseshoe Reef where the wind blows briskly but the water remains flat. Here, we spend several days combing the white beaches and swimming with the sea turtles. This is truly an outstanding place.
After a brief stop at Clifton Harbor on Union Island to clear Customs, we sail ten miles further south for an overnight stay on a free mooring ball at Sandy Island, near Hillsborough on the island of Carriacou. The next morning, we clear Customs in Hillsborough for the 37th and final time of the season. From here, it is an interesting 30 mile sail past Diamond Island and Ronde Island to St. Georges, the capital city, a university town and major port of Grenada. Following a tour of old town, the public market and the fort, we move on to the south coast of Grenada. Grenada is quite cruiser-friendly, as evidenced by the semi-permanent accumulation of cruising boats anchored in Prickly Bay and Mount Hartman Bay. For 75 cents USD, one can ride the public van service from these anchorages to Grande Anse beach and the nearby shopping and entertainment district. It is little wonder that so many cruisers spend the entire season on the south coast of Grenada.
Further east in Calvigny Bay is the lovely La Phare Bleu Marina and Resort where we take advantage of the reasonable weekly dockage rate to de-commission Cutter Loose for hurricane season. At 12 degrees north latitude, the south coast of Grenada lies below the traditional path of Cape Verde tropical storms. However, layup in Grenada during hurricane season is not without risk. Hurricane Ivan visited Grenada in 2004 as a Cat 3 storm, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Four miles further east is Grenada Marine, a popular storage boatyard located in St. David’s Harbor. May 6, 2013 marks the end of a memorable sailing season, as Cutter Loose is hauled, power washed and moved to a steel storage cradle in the yard. As a further precaution, her deck cleats are strapped and ratcheted to underground concrete blocks, each measuring 10 cubic feet. Once each month during the off season, she is inspected for mold, mildew and battery charge level.
Nearby is the small beach resort of La Sagesse Nature Center. After a long day of de-commissioning in the yard, guests look forward with great anticipation to the soothing powers of La Sagesse, including a swim on the beach, comfortable accommodations and an appetizing meal in the open-air dining room. From La Sagesse, it is a 30 minute taxi ride to the airport, courtesy of the resort’s driver, Mr. Boney.
Without a doubt, spending the winter on board one’s cruising boat in the Caribbean is literally a dream come true. We follow in the wake of those who have come before us. While the crew of Cutter Loose has meerly scratched the surface of Caribbean cruising, we consider it a duty to share our thoughts and advice for those who are considering travel to this most interesting place, especially for those who expect to sail beyond the Virgin Islands.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of cruising is sharing a cocktail in the cockpit of one’s boat with cruisers whom you have never met. The technique is to dinghy over to the neighbors, rap on the hull and invite them for a visit. One learns more than they ever imagined from these encounters…sometimes more than one actually needs or wants to know! The most memorable experiences involve meeting folks from non-U.S. flagged vessels, exploring cultural and lifestyle differences between our country and theirs. Friendships and camaraderie built on the water are precious byproducts of the cruising experience.
Notwithstanding the constant breeze, the blue sky, the white beaches and aquamarine water, not everything or everyone in the Caribbean is perfect. Anyone who has visited here by commercial cruise boat can attest to the deteriorated conditions in some of the older port cities. Always remember that sailors come here to experience a different way of life. Don’t expect the local grocery stores to resemble the Whole Foods environment that we have come to expect in the U.S. The islands are third world countries, packed with unique opportunities for exploration than cannot be found at home.
Similar to the coral reefs, the tourist economies of these islands are fragile. They need our help. Take a taxi tour of the island. Buy some fruits and vegetables from the sidewalk vendors. Utilize the services of the laundry ladies or engage local workers to clean and polish your boat. If you feel that produce in the grocery stores lacks freshness or that food prices are expensive in certain areas, consider the fact that almost everything is shipped here from another place. Importation adds considerably to the cost of living. Always remember that locals pay these same prices, often with very limited resources.
Learn to appreciate the fact that despite challenging circumstances, the vast majority of locals are warm, polite and friendly with a ready smile, just waiting for you to interact. There are times when you will be approached by panhandlers. Occasionally, you will fall victim to a come-on or an insistent taxi driver or vendor. And, yes, you may come in contact with an unsavory character that relies on deception or intimidation to attract business. Consider this part of the territory. Learn from other cruisers how to avoid unsafe areas. Try to understand that the tourist season lasts only a few months. Locals must work diligently to accumulate sufficient income to survive until the next tourist season.
During our 195 day cruise, Cutter Loose called at 20 major islands covering nine independent nations plus five domiciles of the French West Indies. This journey represents the fulfillment of decades of planning and reading and dreaming. By far, it has been the most satisfying and rewarding travel experience of our lives. We strongly encourage other like-minded sailors to relentlessly pursue their dream of cruising these idyllic waters.
A common boatyard misdeed is to install a thru-hull like this,
All images courtesy of Groco
then screw on a ball valve like this,
with an appropriate tailpiece connected to some item of plumbing below the waterline. This is done all the time, but it’s bad practice for several reasons:
1. The threads don’t match. I’m not the first to write about this: If you go here, on Compass Marine’s excellent technical blog, he has even cut a fitting in half to show the difference in the threads.
The thru-hull has straight threads (NPS, National Pipe Straight) and the ball valve has pipe threads (NPT, National Pipe Taper). They’re not meant to go together, but if you force them you can get 2-3 turns and a watertight seal. Two or three turns isn’t enough overlap for a strong joint.
2. The threaded part of the thru-hull isn’t meant to be exposed, at least not when it’s below the waterline. It’s meant to have a seacock surrounding it. Left naked, the grooves where the threads are cut make for thin spots, lots of them.
3. If you use this method you’re not spreading potential loads on the the thru-hull to enough of your hull. Even if you’ve got a good backing plate, the thru-hull should still attach to a flange of some sort, which is then thru-bolted to the hull. By the cheesy method, the only thing spreading the load of the thru-hull, and holding it to the hull, is the bronze nut that came with it.
The ABYC standard is for the assembly to withstand a 500-pound lateral load for thirty seconds.
The proper solution is something like this, a seacock:
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? That big, heavy slab of bronze, with its wide base. So seamanlike. It also retails for nearly $300 for a 1-1/2″ version, which is why so many people cram ball valves onto straight-threaded thru-hulls.
Condesa had two lingering ball-valve-on-thru-hull seacocks that I got rid of during my last stint in the boatyard. Mind you, both of these stood up to at least 12 years and a circumnavigation, but the longer I live and the longer I own my boat, the more serious I get about eliminating weaknesses that could sink her.
I’d been eyeing Groco’s flanged adapters for some time, and they ended up working as advertised:
The idea is to give you the same solid, strong base as a proper seacock, but with pipe threads, which will accept a standard ball valve:
The combined cost of the flanged adapter and a quality ball valve is about half the cost of a bronze seacock of the same size. (A 1″ seacock retails for $180. A 1″ flanged adapter is $40; a good 1″ ball valve $40-$50.)
When the valve wears out, you can just swap out the the ball valve without replacing the whole seacock. The flanged adapter doesn’t look like something that’s going to wear out. For price and swap-ability, the flanged adapter arrangement seems superior to a bronze seacock.
Bronze NPT ball valves are available everywhere in the world. Bronze seacocks are not.
Andy giving the C1500 0900 morning broadcast at Ocean Marine.
Good morning from the Carib 1500 office at Ocean Marine Yacht Center! 2013 marks the first year the event’s 24-year history that it has started in Portsmouth, VA – the city, marina and local businesses in town have thus far given us a remarkable welcome.
The office opened yesterday at 0900. Ocean Marine cleared out an office for us upstairs in their main building, and kept weekday staff on hand all day Saturday to help with the first day. Ten yachts checked in and received their welcome packs, and safety inspections began.
There is a lot new with this year’s 1500, and the move to Portsmouth highlights that fact. For the first time in several years, all the yachts will be berthed in the same location, making for a much more festive and friendly atmosphere around the marina. And for a change, much of the Rally Program for the week before the start will take place in town in conjunction with local businesses that have shown great interest in the event moving to town. Every storefront along High Street has a Caribbean 1500 poster in their window, and everywhere you go it seems people are welcoming us.
“So far, this has been a great move,” said Miles Poor of Karina. Miles has been around since the beginning, so it’s great to hear his continued support. “Folks are going to burn a little more fuel coming up the river from the Bay,” he continued, “but it’s immediately apparent that it’s totally worth it. Great start!”
The program proper kicked off last night at Skipjack Nautical Wares. It was a short walk north along the manicured waterfront to the Skipjack storefront. There’s an old lens from a forgotten lighthouse marking the entrance to Skipjack, and just a part of the pieces of history you can find scattered all around the small city (further along the waterfront you’ll find the lightship Portsmouth, now in her permanent concrete berth next to the Renaissance Hotel).
Joe and Alison Elder provided the space inside Skipjack for the first happy hour of the week. The place is truly incredible – room after room of nautical knick-knacks and artwork and authentic bits and pieces off of sailing ships new and old. It’s like a museum inside, but everything is for sale.
“We had a local artist make these mugs up for you guys,” Joe said as he showed me a beautiful ceramic mug with ‘Carib 1500’ and a colorful sailboat painted on the side. They were a big hit, and several participants walked out last night having bought one.
He then showed me around back to a display in the next room showing ship-in-a-bottle models.
“These were made a 20-something girl from onboard her boat,” he said, showing me the first few. “It’s incredible how detailed these are for someone so young,” Joe continued. “We have a lot of this type of thing,” he continued, “and just sold one last week to a guy who drove down from New England just to buy it – he paid $7500 for it!”
There was an incredible model of the Pride of Baltimore and schooner Virginia racing head-to-head past Thimble Shoal lighthouse on an ocean of clay. The scene was remarkably authentic, with seagulls suspended at the top of the bottle and the fully-rigged ships heeling to leeward against the breeze. That particular model was made to celebrate the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, which calls in Portsmouth every year in October after racing 130 miles down the Bay from Annapolis.
So participants last night were treated to beer and wine and snacks provided by the local Bier Garden restaurant (the beer, in fact, was a German ‘Hacker-Pschorr’, straight from Munich and served from a proper keg from Joe’s old-timey ‘kegerator’ near the front of his shop), while they browsed the halls of Skipjack, admiring all the ‘stuff.’ The evening was sponsored by Colligo Marine.
Tonight, we’ll be doing it all over again at Skipjack, welcoming the new folks that will be arriving in Portsmouth throughout the day.
The LEGENDARY Donald Street in person! I first met Don at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in 2010 when Mia and I had Arcturus on display with Colligo Marine. Don gave me some pointers on the yawl rig, and we hit it off right from the start. He’s been the biggest influence on my sailing life since I started reading his books as a kid. Don and I sat down in the small apartment above the Weems & Plath shop in Eastport last week and chatted for almost an hour and a half about his sailing history, his chartwork, his philosophies and everything else he wanted to talk about. And the man can talk! He’s in his mid-eighties, but still has the energy of a 20-year-old and is still out there speaking, writing guidebooks and sailing his Dragon in Ireland. Check him out online at www.street-iolaire.com.