Going it Alone
12 January 2018
After a wonderful Christmas with Mike, Laura, and Charlotte in Boston, we borrowed their car for a quick (24-hr) trip back to Camden. We raced from place to place, getting Jane’s hearing aids fixed, getting a 7/8” deep socket so I could rebuild the aft head (toilet) on Bravo. We made a quick stop at our local grocery store, which turned into a 30-minute stop as we met five friends who were very surprised to see us! A fine dinner with good friends and former shipmates, Galen and Sue Todd, was followed by a wonderful night’s rest in our own bed, the furnace having warmed the second floor to a comfortable temperature during dinner.
The cold, however, did penetrate Mike and Laura’s car, which would not start the next morning. A call to AAA and my simultaneous attachment of a battery charger got it started 30 seconds before AAA showed up!
We raced to Boston and made it to Jane’s appointment at MGH—with minutes to spare—for some investigation of her chronic headaches. The doctor was very nice but couldn’t commence any treatment plan with our departure scheduled for 6 am the next day...so we made a quick decision that I would return to Antigua and Jane would stay on in Boston to follow the treatment regimen. It also gave her two extra weeks with granddaughter Charlotte...methinks that’s icing on the cake!
I made it back to Bravo after an 0345 hr start to my day and found everything in good shape. I took an extra day to reprovision, retrieve the outboard from the service shop (recommendation: buy a new one), pay the diver who cleaned the bottom, and generally make the boat ready to go to sea again. The next morning, early, I contacted the dockmaster to get the meters read for water and electrical consumption. While he was there and the wind was still minimal, he helped me handline Bravo from her complex five-dockline slip mooring to an adjacent side-to berth from which I could depart singlehanded.
I had planned to go to nearby Five Islands to anchor for a few days. The swimming is good and there’s slow WiFi from the nearby Hermitage Resort, but I changed my mind as there can be a north swell there that can make the anchorage uncomfortable if not untenable. So I turned left instead of right and went to Falmouth, thinking I’d pick up a mooring and have good access to provisions and all other services...and not be exposed to swells.
Upon arrival it was quickly evident that all the moorings were taken, so I would have to anchor—singlehanded. The anchorage was very crowded, so finding a good spot was not easy. My first set held nicely, but I wasn’t happy with my proximity to another boat, so I raised anchor successfully and motored to a different spot that the chart plotter showed as 7 feet deep. Bravo needs 6’ 2” of depth to float, so I gingerly circled VERY slowly in the area that I thought might work. Well sir, the depth was actually 10 to 12 feet—good enough. The anchor again set first time and I was safe and secure.
An added bonus was a usable WiFi signal from the nearby marina!
I stayed at anchor in this spot for 11 nights, most of which were very windy, with 30 knot gusts in the squalls, but the anchor never budged, though the snubber line made plenty of noise most nights.
I kept busy with email correspondence, presentation planning (May 27 we’re participating in a day-long seminar on Safe Cruising for Couples), a never-ending string of boat maintenance victories, swimming, reading news and books, plus regular jaunts ashore for provisions and other necessities.
You might assume that it would be lonely all alone and I did miss Jane—but there is a real community of sailors everywhere we go. Some of the associations are club related, some are geographical and others were new introductions. I lost count of the number of social events that I attended in the evening, but there was one stretch of six consecutive evening engagements with very interesting and fun people. A pretty intense social experience for a shy hermit-like fellow.
Today, Jan. 10, I woke up to the sound of a gentle breeze after a week of very windy weather. I knew I wanted to move to Jolly Harbor, which is much closer to the airport for Jane’s arrival this afternoon, and it would also give me a chance to run the engine at full cruising rpms after minimal use for over a week. I was able to raise the anchor alone, not hit anyone in the process, and make my way here, where I was able to pick up a mooring.
I will be sitting in a waterfront restaurant at five pm tonight waiting for my lovely bride to walk in and give me a well-deserved hug!
Life on a boat
15 December 2017
We spent six nights in Falmouth Harbour, and are now (December 15) on a mooring in Jolly Harbour. Still in Antigua (BTW, it’s pronounced an-TEEG-a and bar-BYOO-da), and will be through early January. We’re arranging to have a wind generator installed on the transom, as we rely on the battery power to run the refrigeration system, and our solar panels aren’t as effective here as they are in Maine. That sounds backwards, but we’re in Maine in the summer, when the days are much longer and the water and air are much colder. Down here the refrigerator and freezer are working in 90° air and 85° water, and with only 11 hours of daylight to shine on the solar panels. In order to keep the temperatures down in the reefer and freezer we’re running the engine twice a day for about 45-60 minutes, and that’s annoying. Junior Malone’s brother Shawn is overseeing the project for us (as mentioned previously, Junior works at Wayfarer/Lyman Morse in Camden). So our time in Falmouth was largely spent planning, measuring, meeting, emailing suppliers, etc. Nights were restless because of intermittent rain—close the hatches, swelter; open the hatches and the rain would start again.
While in Falmouth we found Tom Kiley and Ry Hills on Snow Star, docked in English Harbour after a 25-day passage from The Canaries, and we also met some young people from Maine. Steve Swartz and Jenny Baxter stopped by to introduce themselves as fellow Camdenites. They’re captain and crew/chef on a Swan 77, having taken the positions recently and sailed/motored the boat down from Oxford, MD. They’ve got a major engine issue to address, as the boat burned 900 gallons of fuel coming down…so something isn’t working as it should! They worked schooners out of Camden the last few years—the Maddy and the Mercantile—and have bought a house on Thomas Street in Camden. We met another young couple from Brooksville, Maine, on the dinghy Dock. They’ve been cruising for about eight years, and have been trying to decide whether to go to Panama or the UK…so while they try to decide they’re hanging out in the Caribbean. They spent last summer in Grenada, which was unbearably hot and miserable. Duh!
Now it’s Friday morning and we’ve made a major change in our plans. After a discussion about the financial aspect of buying and installing a wind generator for just, perhaps, the next four months or so if we don’t return here next year (and life is so uncertain), we’ve decided not to. The installation was becoming a huge problem, as it would mean rearranging pretty much everything on the stern pulpit—the barbecue grill, two lifesaver devices—and installing a new post with supporting struts. We can’t mount it on the same post as the radar, which is what we’d envisioned, because of clearance needs of the blades. So we’ll pay Shawn for the time he’s spent on this, and continue to run the engine to keep the batteries up and the reefer temp down.
When Tom returns to the boat after getting a few groceries and a new gas container for the outboard (old one developed a leak), we’ll probably move to that nice anchorage at Five Islands. In one week we’ll fly to Boston to spend Christmas with Laura, Mike, and Charlotte (now 14 months old).
Limin’ in Antigua
08 December 2017
In spite of our good intentions to explore Deep Bay, we stayed put at Five Islands for several days, doing odd jobs, reading, working on a craft project (me, obviously). Several rain showers passed through on Saturday, December 2, and the boats in the anchorage increased from four to 15 The wind clocked around the compass, proving that we'd set the anchor securely. Sunday was a lazy day with a few more showers, and we enjoyed Christmas music with dinner. We might have been the only boat with colored lights strung in the cockpit, but more boats will be decorated as Christmas approaches.
Monday the 4th we ate breakfast down below, as it was too hot to be in the cockpit! We motored the short distance around to Deep Bay, which is a nice harbor ending in a big sandy beach. The draw is a shipwreck mid-harbor that used to be obvious with some of its mast protruding, but now has a green marker attached, as the stub of the mast barely breaks water. We weren't sure we could anchor the dinghy near the wreck, so we swam...and swam...and swam. We had our snorkeling gear on, so usually swim looking down, with an occasional head lift to check our progress. Finally, I looked up and almost leaped out of the water--the prow of the ship was a few feet from my head, and coming upon a submerged ship like that is startling and unnerving. Ships shouldn't be below the water's surface! We swam the length of the vessel, noticing lots of fish and some coral making it their home. Towards the stern end we came upon a man who was spearfishing; he had a string of captured fish floating behind him. Spearfishing is legal only for locals, and we didn't know whether he qualified, or we might be seeing an illegal activity. We edged away from him, swam up the port side of the ship, and began the long swim back to Bravo.
Shortly after we returned to the boat a catamaran came into the bay and anchored directly upwind from us, without letting out any appreciable scope or backing down on the anchor to test the set. We stared at them for about half an hour, but they didn't get the hint that we weren't happy with their position. Not wanting to have them drift down on us at two a.m., we decided we'd have to move. They were so close to us that I thought we'd hit them before getting our anchor up, but we ended up about 10 feet from their stern. Tom asked them why, in such a big harbor, they chose to anchor so close. The guy was clueless. Having already snorkeled the ship we decided we'd had enough of Deep Bay, and headed back to our preferred anchorage at Five Islands, and its WiFi.
December 5 was cool enough in the morning for me to make pancakes, and after a relaxing morning we motored back to Jolly Harbour and picked up a mooring. We had errands to do--checking at Budget Marine on the price and availability of a wind generator and, of course, food shopping. We'd been invited to join friends for dinner at Al Porto--two-for-one pizza night. Tom doesn't believe pizza is proper food, so he had a chicken dish and I had mahi-mahi. It was a good meal, and we met more OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) people. Rough sleeping that night--no breeze, some rain, and mosquitos. The Jolly Harbour development was created from a mangrove swamp, and I guess there are enough mangroves left for the mosquitos to flourish. I don't know how those two things are related, but they seem to be.
Our friend Scott Miller was due to arrive in Falmouth Harbour Wednesday night/Thursday morning, so after refilling our water tanks (at 10¢ per gallon), we set sail for Falmouth, to be on hand in case we could help. Scott left Blue Hill, Maine, on November 26, to single-hand his J-122 to Antigua. A few days out he lost the ability to engage the engine in forward or reverse, and posted the problem on his blog. Sailing friends came up with possible reasons--shift cable broken, transmission broken, prop fell off. He was able to investigate enough to determine that the shift cable seemed ok, and it was a few more days before conditions were appropriate for him to go overboard to look below the boat. No propeller. So he no longer had the option to motor through windless hours, and arriving in Antigua had to be choreographed just right for him to enter Falmouth Harbour and maneuver to a marina. We stood by, although our trip from Jolly to Falmouth was pretty rough, and we knew our ability to help get him into the Harbor was minimal, given the sea conditions. Fortunately, Scott was able to contact a local man, Shawn Malone (whose brother Junior works at Wayfarer/Lyman Morse in Camden), to enlist his help in getting into the harbor. He arrived early this morning, Tom dinghied out to greet him, and we had him for dinner this evening. Lots of comparing notes on his passage versus Bravo's and discussion of what he might enjoy doing as a Caribbean cruiser once his wife, Ruth, arrives in January. A nice evening.
Falmouth Harbour is crowded right now, with all the dock space--and then some--filled with huge superyachts available for charter, on display for the annual charter boat show. Charter brokers come to compare yachts so they know what to recommend to their clients. I'll post some pictures in the photo gallery. A fascinating display of over-the-top wealth.
Some final thoughts on Friday morning. We're really enjoying Antigua. It's a beautiful country with hundreds of beaches, green hills, friendly people, fairly easy provisioning, and lots of places to anchor or pick up a mooring (many with free WiFi from nearby hotels). The tallest mountain (hill?) used to be called Boggy Peak, but on Barack Obama's birthday in 2009 it was renamed Mount Obama--a much classier name.
With the hurricanes making the islands north of here (primarily the British and U.S. Virgin Islands) virtually closed for business, we were concerned that Antigua and the islands south of here would be overrun with displaced cruisers and charterers, but we're pleased to find that isn't the case so far. We've heard reports that cruising the Virgins is not easy now, due to lack of infrastructure for getting fuel and water, but that they're delightfully free of charter boats, and it's like it was "in the old days," i.e., not crowded! We'll continue to monitor progress in that area, and may return to the Virgins after we've worked our way to Grenada and back.
Circumnavigation of Antigua
01 December 2017
There appeared to be a few choices for leaving Great Bird and getting out into the ocean again. We’d watched several boats take a route marked by stakes just north of Great Bird, although according to the chart there was no way through the reef. Then there was a small opening in the reef north of us, with a meandering route between a 5’ area and a 6’ area. We draw 6’2”. There were no stakes or other guideposts on that route, so we’d have to trust that the chart plotter is 100% accurate within a few feet—and we’re not that naïve. Our other option was to backtrack a few miles, past Jumby Bay, and take a safer route out and around all the reefs. We all voted for longer and safer, and although it meant pounding into some big seas for a while, we were able to bear off and have a nice sail down the eastern side of Antigua to Nonsuch Bay.
Nonsuch is a huge bay that appears to be completely open to the ocean swells rolling in from Africa, but it’s in fact sheltered by a reef that provides a quiet, calm anchorage. Lots of free moorings keep boats from trying to anchor around the reefs. We decided to stay a couple nights, and dinghied in to one of the beautiful white sand beaches. Too shallow for active swimming, so Galen and Sue decided to swim back while we explored snorkeling possibilities. Namhara was here from Camden, having arrived in St. Thomas by ship a few days previously, so we stopped by to talk to Rosie and Peter, who gave us tips on where to snorkel. The next day, Monday Nov. 27, we all piled in the dinghy to explore places we read about in the guide book. I was looking forward to seeing the art gallery and shop at Harmony Hall for authentic local work, but they’re closed and the place is for sale. We moved on to Nonsuch Bay Resort, because the guide said they were building a marina and market, but there was no sign of any such development. We were welcomed into the resort, however, by an extremely friendly dock helper, who took our line and helped us climb out of the dinghy. We went up to their lovely open-air lounge and had some refreshments (Sue and I had lime squashes—as delicious as the name sounds) and enjoyed their free WiFi. We were going to stay for lunch until we realized it was $45 US per person for a buffet that didn’t offer much for a non-meat, dairy free, gluten free diet. To be honest, even if I had no dietary restrictions we didn’t want to spend $180 on lunch. Long dinghy ride back to Bravo, lunch and we snorkeled the reefs for a while.
The 28th was hot with enough breeze to allow us to sail from Nonsuch, around past English and Falmouth Harbours to Carlisle Bay, where we’d tried anchoring before. Although the weather pattern was different this time, there was still a big roll in the anchorage, so we kept going to Five Islands. Showers overtook us, giving us a good freshwater rinse, and we anchored in a lovely spot near enough the Hermitage Bay Resort to pick up their wifi. More showers kept rolling through, and we ate dinner down below for the first time.
Wednesday we returned to Jolly Harbour, just around a spit of land from Five Islands. We picked up the mooring closest to the marina and Galen and Sue treated us to dinner at Melini’s—their farewell gift to us. Delicious but bittersweet. Thursday morning the Todds, their duffles, and Tom squeezed into the dinghy and putted ashore for a taxi to the airport. You know they’re wonderful cruising guests when you’re sorry to see them go after so much time together (Galen and Tom had been together from October 31 to November 30; Sue and I since Nov. 7).
Tom and I kept busy by defrosting the refrigerator and freezer, cleaning both, inventorying our food, and making a run to Epicurean to resupply. We picked up laundry we’d left the day before (it was ready on time), and headed out of Jolly Harbour, probably about the time the Todds were boarding their flight. We motored back around to the same anchorage at Five Islands, and have just stayed put for a day. Maybe tomorrow we’ll move on to Deep Bay, which comes highly recommended.
Antigua, Guadeloupe, and back
27 November 2017
I realize that those of you in colder climates won't care to hear this, but last night was the first time I pulled even a sheet over myself, and that wasn't until early morning. The oppressive humidity and heat have finally broken, it seems, and it was wonderful sleeping.
We're on a mooring tucked in the lee of Great Bird Island, on the north coast of Antigua. This area is surrounded by reefs and scattered with small islands, so it's protected from the ocean swells. In the last few days that Sue and Galen Todd are with us we're exploring the parts of Antigua we haven't seen before. Great Bird is a wildlife sanctuary, and boasts the only home in the wild of what Chris Doyle's cruising guide says may be the "rarest and most endangered snake"--the Antiguan Racer, or Alsophis antiguae. The Todd's met it on the path to the island's summit while reconnoitering the island, and were impressed. They also got to see into the 100-foot deep blowholes that go straight down to the water from the summit.
Working up to our current location, I'll go back to our anniversary dinner in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. We first tried a restaurant that the locals seemed to like; they didn't open for dinner until 7:00 pm, but suggested we could come in for a drink and "fried fish," which turned out to be a light, slightly spicy fritter. We were seated right at the edge of the deck, over the water, and it was lovely...until we started getting dive-bombed by little flies. We finished off our wine, paid the bill, and moved on to L'Amer, where we were again seated by the water, but with no bugs. The people at the adjacent tables were talking to each other in English, and we joined the conversation to get recommendations on the food. One couple was from Arizona, having bought a house in Guadeloupe so their daughter could attend a French school. We inquired if they knew the filming locations for Death in Paradise, a quirky murder mystery show we enjoy, and it turns out their house will be in an episode of season 7. They pointed out the building used as the police station and the bar where many scenes are filmed. We hope to stop in again in April, when filming will resume. Dinner was very good, they had free WiFi, and it was a great anniversary. On to the next 44 years.
On the 18th we motored to Pigeon Island in flat calm, and snorkeled the Cousteau Underwater Park, which Cousteau deemed one of the world's 10 best reef areas many years ago. Now there are still gorgeous fish, but, as everywhere, the coral is bleaching out and dying. After snorkeling we returned to Bravo, finding that the wind had picked up considerably, and surged the dinghy against the transom. Offloading and getting back aboard the boat were treacherous undertakings, but no limbs were severed in the process. We continued on to Iles des Saintes, motoring into the headwind. We picked up a mooring at Bourg des Saintes and paid for two nights.
Sunday morning Sue and Galen went to town to explore and acquire more croissants and baguettes. They walked up to Fort Napoléon for a great view of the area. Club Med 2, a big "wind ship," joined the anchorage. We again splurged on dinner out at La Fringale, which was a lovely courtyard garden with a little waterfall and a combination of painted and live scenery. Great food and WiFi, too!
November 20 we went ashore for fresh pastries, and then to the pharmacy hoping I could get something for my deep, lingering cough. The pharmacist said I must first go to the doctor (she didn't like the sound of it), so Tom and I sat at the doctor's office for a couple hours, waiting our turn (no receptionist--everyone just knows when it's their turn). The doctor, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, didn't speak much English. He asked how long I'd had the cough (three weeks--that raised his eyebrows), listened to my breathing, asked if I had allergies, and prescribed an antibiotic, an inhaler, Pneumorel sirop (chlorhydrate de fenspiride--"2 big spoons 3 times a day"), and bétaméthasone, to be dissolved in water and drunk for five mornings. The cost of the visit was 30€, and the prescriptions were $70 US. A week later, we all think maybe the cough is better. Maybe.
We moved to an anchorage around the point of Pain à Sucre, where the snorkeling wasn't very good, but it was a beautiful setting.
Tuesday, November 21, we sailed back to Deshaies, with the wind shifting constantly, making for a challenging sail. We picked up the last available mooring and went ashore to check out of customs and get some WiFi time at L'Amer. At the customs computer I had to reenter every bit of information on the form--tedious, but only a 4€ charge. The next morning we got a fairly early start back to Antigua, sailing nicely at 7-8 knots for the first few hours, but motoring for the last 18 miles when the wind got too light. Initially we were heading back to Jolly Harbour, but when we discovered that a pin was missing on an Antal car (used for raising the main), we diverted to Falmouth, where there are several rigging shops. Tom went ashore, walked over to English Harbour to check in at customs, but found he couldn't without the password for eseaclear, Antigua's online check-in system that I'd registered us for while they were offshore on the passage south.
Wednesday morning, armed with the password, Tom checked us in and found the needed part at North Sails in Falmouth. Then on to Jolly Harbour to fuel up, get provisions at the wonderful Epicurean market, and drop off a ton of laundry, to be picked up at 3:30-washed, dried and folded. We picked up a mooring just off our villa, and waited for the laundry pick-up time. Galen, Tom, and Sue roared off to get it, and came back thumbs down--not ready until 5:00. 5:00, still not ready. We spent the night on the mooring, got the laundry in the morning, and took off to begin our circumnavigation of Antigua. We rounded the north side of the island, past St. John's, and anchored at the Jumby Bay Resort, where we got a little WiFi signal. The next day on to Great Bird Island, where Galen and Sue saw the snake...
The adventure has begun
24 November 2017 | Antigua
I’ve been too busy enjoying myself to write about it! Bravo—with Tom, Galen Todd and Paul Rogers—departed Camden on October 31, and endured big sloppy seas, 25-30 knots of wind on the nose, and as Tom wrote in the log, “free showers in the cockpit.” No dinner was attempted. The next day they had lumpy seas and light winds, so motorsailed for eight hours. On November 3 they entered the Gulf Stream, encountering very lumpy confused seas and winds 20-30 and higher. Two jib sheets blew out (see the picture in the photo gallery of the remnants), and the wind was “variable in direction and velocity—especially in squalls (20-30 with gusts to 40).” Again, no dinner. They motored all day on the 4th, and decided they’d better stop in Bermuda to refuel. Arriving St. George’s the next morning at 1000 hours, they had “a long but friendly (even funny) interview with Bermuda Radio,” then cleared customs, then to the fuel dock for 31 gallons of $7 diesel and water at 25¢ per gallon. Then back to customs to check out, but there were 2 or 3 boats ahead of them in line, and the office closed for lunch hour. While circling in waiting, Bermuda Radio called them and asked that they tow a disabled sailboat into customs. Bravo came up alongside the Jeanneau 41 and rafted, then motored the two boats to the customs dock, without a scratch.
The next few days, November 6-9, were mostly motoring and making fuel calculations, as the wind remained very light. Some days there were ripples; other days the sea was like glass. On the 9th the wind picked up, allowing them to sail, and on the 10th the wind was 20-25 with some periods of 30+, with rough seas. Double-reefed main and number 3 jib. November 11 was great nighttime sailing, with Tom on the 0400 to 0600 watch, “cracking along at 8+ knots, ETA is 0600, sunrise 0610. Perfect. Coming in Jane and Sue are waving wildly from the dock at the villa—nice!”
Sue Todd and I had a good trip to Antigua on November 8. We’d rented it through Totally Tropical Villas in Jolly Harbour, and Melissa of ttvillas was waiting there to greet us and give us a complete orientation. The friends who’d recommended ttvillas, Maggie Salter and Al Hickey, had arrived on the 7th, and had us for dinner, which was a huge help as we hadn’t yet provisioned. Nice evening catching up with them. Our golf cart was delivered the next morning, and we were off and running—to the excellent grocery store and then the beach. Our villa neighbors were delightful people and very helpful, and once Bravo arrived and tied up right in front, it was a perfect arrangement. Easy to switch the boat from offshore mode to cruising mode, with showers, comfortable beds, and good WiFi making it rather luxurious. We treated everyone to dinner out Saturday evening—a great crew deserved it—and had Maggie and Al for cocktails Sunday; we said farewell to Paul on Monday. He was a terrific crew member.
A few more days spent in Jolly Harbour, buying new jib sheets, swimming at the magnificent long white beach, and taking a bus to St. John’s one day and to English Harbour the next day, which requires taking a bus into St. John’s then transferring to another bus to English Harbour. We explored Nelson’s Dockyard, which has been turned into a national park (complete with entry fee) since we were here with our girls in 1989–very spruced up. We had a nice lunch overlooking the dock where boats were cleaning up from their offshore passages. Deciding that taking the two-bus route back wasn’t satisfactory, we set off in search of a taxi, and found one a short walk away in Falmouth Harbour. He drove us a circuitous route, first going to someone’s home to pick up a gas jug, then to a gas station to fill the jug, then to someone else’s house to drop off the gas jug…which, incidentally, had no cap and made the trip on the floor next to Tom, who had to hold it steady. Up and over the mountains, through a bit of rain forest, stopping at a roadside stand selling Antigua’s little black pineapples, billed as the sweetest in the world. They’re not black, and we failed to discern any significant difference in taste from regular pineapples at 1/8th the price.
On November 16 we left Jolly Harbour—finally cruising!—and proceeded to drop anchor in Carlisle Bay…and then raise it and move on to Falmouth Harbour, because Carlisle was too rolly. The next day we motored into a stiff headwind to Deshaies, Guadeloupe. Customs checking was done at a shop called La Pelican, on a dedicated computer terminal. A bit tedious, but for 4€ we were official. Dinner ashore that night to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary.
More to follow.