At this time it is all about preparing for our Atlantic crossing. Any thoughts of taking a lackadaisical approach to the voyage were suddenly brought back to earth when on May 7 an early season tropical storm (or a late season winter storm?) suddenly appeared 500 miles south of Azores causing four sailing vessels to abandon ship and one 6 year old French girl to die of hypothermia after spending seven hours in the sea along with her father. We may be traveling at the very best time of year to make this passage, but as this storm goes to show, the weather can turn on you at any time. Many ocean voyagers are saying that the weather "events" (as the news readers like to call them) appear to be more random and of greater intensity as the world's oceans warm.
The wind patterns have definitely lightened and the air is more still and humid now that May is half gone. Days are spent removing and inspecting halyards and sails and checking over sailing gear as well as cleaning, cleaning and more boat maintenance. I think some of it is due to the heat, but we are dead beat by dinnertime and haven't even had the energy to get out on the paddleboards. It's easier just to jump in the turquoise blue water and swim to the beach for a nice walk before sundown. With the wind sometimes light to non-existent you can literally see every grain of sand on the bottom while anchored in 15 feet of water here in Grand Case. Our favorite sailing mag, Latitude 38, runs an article every year comparing the benefits of cruising Mexico vs. the Caribbean. As much as we enjoy the advantages of Mexico, it's the water that makes the Caribbean the big favorite for us.
Good thing we like the water so much, it's just about time to dive in and clean the bottom and scrub the scales off the props. Just like racing, a clean bottom allows you to make quicker passages (.25kt x 24 hrs. x 12 days = 72 miles) and burn less fuel for the distance.
The only real bummer at the moment is no sundowners and no wine with big wonderful dinners as we are in training for the delights of the Mediterranean! Debbie's meals are still excellent but the lack of French cheeses, pate and bottles of rose makes life a little less interesting. However we are going to celebrate our last night as "honeymooners" tomorrow night with a meal out at Spiga our favorite Italian restaurant at the north end of restaurant row in Grand Case. Lance Poulsen of Squaw Valley flies in from his home in Chile tomorrow night and our youngest member of the crew, Pablo del Rio from Valencia, Spain arrives tomorrow from Venezuela. Our long time friend and sailing buddy, Robbie Walters arrives Sunday afternoon so we will soon have a full boat ready to go.
After taking time out for 2 lightning strikes and 3 broken legs, it is time to return to our blog. Enjoying some of the other very fine blogs out there, many written by professional writers and photographers, it is sometimes difficult to face the blank page. But measuring up, I have decided, is not the object of this exercise, rather it is enough to share our voyage with friends, family and any other readers who run across it and to use the blog as a chance to improve my own skills and to re-live the fine experiences we are living.
Often it is repeated, that it is the people you meet who make the voyage special. I agree with that but for me it is the beauty of the places, especially those less-traveled places that linger in my memory. Perhaps this is balanced according to the individual. I spent a lot of hours of my youth banging about the woods by myself in Lake Tahoe hiking and building lean-tos and whatever else ten year old boys do.
Arriving back in Gustavia on the evening ferry from St. Martin everything looked different since before Christmas. We left Escapade on a mooring in the outer anchorage to go to Squaw Valley for two weeks on the 13th. Prior to Christmas it was pretty quiet with a few large motor yachts guarding their places on the quai. Returning on the evening ferry on the 28th, you could barely make out Gustavia from the outer channel markers there were so many boats in the anchorage. Conspicuous by size and by the fact that it was nearly blocking the entrance channel was Eclipse at 525 feet long, the latest and largest in the stable of Roman Abramovitch, the Russian oil oligarch. (How much is he making for you, Prime Minister / President Putin?)
I've spent a significant amount of time in St. Barths dating back to my first landfall aboard Art Lohrey's 73 foot wooden Escapade in the mid '80's, but never anywhere; St. Tropez, Cannes, Porto Cervo nor Newport have there been so many very large motor yachts and sailing vessels at one time. The scene was breathtaking, especially as darkness fell and all the boats lit up. By the following morning the glow had worn off a bit with the legendary swell running through the anchorage and the dinghy dock three deep as we were trying to schlepp groceries back to the boat. The $28 cheeseburger (fair, not particularly good) at Le Boucanier that night didn't help my assessment of the scene. Also, way too many 1/10 of 1 per centers from the states decked out in their yachting finery and oogaling the offerings in the ghetto of global luxury stores.
Fortunately, Le Select had not radically changed since the change of ownership last year so the characters and voyagers that make St. Barths special still have a place to go amid the craziness. Beware of L'Oublier across the street where an ice tea w/o refills will set you back $8.
Hailing from a resort town and my wife having owned the Christy Hill Restaurant for 30 years (and 30 New Year's Eve parties )we knew enough to cage our bets for the obligatory night out. Therefore we had a totally self contained plan for the big night: lobster dinner aboard Escapade with our friend Constance Sebastiani just in from Paris the day before, and a magnum of Tattinger left over booty from the 2009 Voiles de St. Barths. We ate well, laughed alot and enjoyed the wonderful French fireworks directly in front of the boat at Fort Oscar. Did we have a good time? Certainly. Is St. Barths a bit over the top on NYE? Certainly. You have to try it to see how it suits you.
11/14/2011, St. Barths
Arriving in St. Barths on November 13th, the day before Debbie's big birthday, was a real bonus as the weather had not been cooperating for our departure from the Chesapeake. We didn't think we would make it so Kellan's trip to join her mom for this very special day was postponed and Ryan already had such a difficult schedule that he had cancelled. She was understandably sad not to have her kids with her for this big birthday, but we were estatic to have made it back to the Caribbean considering all that had happened last year.
11/13/2011, Hampton, VA - Gustavia. St. Barths
Rainy, dreary, stormy and grey, military bases everywhere...that's my take on Norfolk, VA and the surrounding areas the first part of November 2011. The really bright side is all we need is a suitable weather window and we're on our way to St. Barths and the Caribbean!
After one half-hearted attempt at leaving, we turned back within a few hours when the updated weather report failed to improve. As we headed back to Hampton we passed the fifty foot all carbon speedster "Defiance" heading out. I asked them if they were leaving and they said yes. This did not make me second guess my decision to wait for a better weather window for two reasons. One, they were a delivery crew and delivery crews are subject to timetables that we avoid like the plague. Two, Defiance is so fast I though they might just get out to the east far enough before the approaching low came up the coast. (Turns out they didn't make it and spent two presumably miserable days hove-to waiting for the low to pass by).
Bill and Patty Meanly from San Diego (owners of Dolfin, a Crealock 37) were good sports and waited out the bad weather with us. Just before they had to cancel to get back to running their business Hammer and Nails, we caught a beak in the weather. Bill and Patty had cruised Dolfin to the South Pacific thirty years ago and as the experienced skipper of his own boat, Bill had definite opinions about most things nautical, but fortunately he was coming to the same conclusions as I was regarding the route selection in relation to the low. Our weather routers, Commanders Weather, had gotten the timing wrong and the low we had to skirt turned into Tropical Storm Sean practically right in front of us. I think Sean was actually classified as a weak hurricane for about four hours.
It was very cool to have Sirius real time weather on our chart plotter (see photo). We were able to keep an eye on Sean as we jibed back to the southwest and then jibed again back to the east. We never had more than 35-40 knots and never forward of the beam. This may sound pretty breezy to many of you, but on Escapade it's another day at the office (as long as it's aft of the beam!). This nearly 50,000 lb, 52 foot catamaran where you never have to go out into the weather is a different animal than my previous 42 foot monohull....just no comparison, apples and oranges.
Once we got to the south of Sean it was pretty much assumed by all the reports that the storm would track north toward Bermuda. We cut the corner a little bit as we headed east trying to stay in the favorable stronger northwesterly winds. In the back of my mind I was determined to arrive in St. Barths by Debbie's birthday. We ended up motoring east for about a day as Sean had sucked all the wind out from behind him. Once it filled in, we were conveniently east so we could alter course to the south and enjoy some trade wind sailing to St. Baths.
Bill, Patty, Debbie and I each took two hour watches and seldom varied from our schedule. Patty gave Debbie a spell in the galley and life was good. I actually really like these passages (as long as the wind is aft of the beam).
Arriving St. Barths about dusk on November 13 we got the anchor down, showered up and had a nice little French meal at one of our old haunts, Le Boucannier. The next night was Debbie's birthday celebrated in a modest little restaurant L'Entrecote, with music after at the Baz Bar. Modest because you have to be careful which restaurant you walk into in St. Barths as you may have to mortgage the boat to get out!
We got here in time for Bill and Patty to tour the island and to sail over to Anguilla, Dog Island and St. Martin before they had to hop a flight back to reality.
09/19/2011, Squaw Valley, CA
It's sudden and it's over...Nash is no longer with us after fifteen and a half years and too many adventures and misadventures to count :-(
We don't know whether to cry or to be happy for the little rascal; he lived such a great long life. None of my other three heelers made it past seven, yet Nash spent over 15 years tormenting me. With his outsize personality Nash has been a big part of our lives. He's left a huge hole.
Nash traveled like very few other canines....we always knew he would rather be uncomfortable in the back of the hot car or bouncing through the Pacific Ocean than staying home alone. He sailed to Mexico, Panama and later in the Caribbean and the Northeast. He's been up the East River, sailed to Newport, the Vineyard and Maine filling innumerable plastic doggie bags on every beach he went to.
Credit goes to Debbie for being his ears and seeing-eye person for the last couple of years. He knew the gig was up and we couldn't see him dazed and struggling any longer. RIP
The love and companionship that Nash brought into our lives is sorely missed. He remains close to our hearts and we know when the time comes to look for another heeler that it will never be a replacement for the very special dog who was NASH....