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....
06/10/2011, Newport, the Vineyard, Nantucket & Maine
The Lost Year is over! We're back on the boat and looking for adventure...
Newport takes a sailor's breath away. The size, quality and shear number of sailing vessels is amazing. It's important for cruising people like us to not get caught up in the "yachting center" mentality. We don't have unlimited resources and paid crew to keep our "yacht" gleaming. We do the best we can and appreciate these other yachts for the pieces of art that they are. (I'm writing this at the end of February 2012 by which time I truly despise the financial industry and the titans of Wall Street who are the owners of most of these fine yachts. I'll try not to let that color my post).
By the Fourth of July we are joined by our wayward sailing companion from Mill Valley, Michael McGrath, who has joined us on some of our most memorable passages. Most days Debbie and I are riding our bikes as an excuse to stop at La Maison du Coco where we have a bowl of latte and some house-made chocolate. Michael is busy making sure he's not missing anything each night in Newport's famous wateringholes and Nash the Dog is getting old and bumping in to things left and right. All in all, life is good in the free anchorage and we have our car to make things even more accessible. My leg is a mess, but the bike riding seems to be really good for it.
There aren't many places with diversions available in Newport. The hot ticket for lunch off the boat is over at the Newport Boatyard, the only best deal in the place. Take your breakfast or your sandwich to the outside tables and see 99% of the finest yachts in America being tuned up. On the same day you will spot a couple of Gunboat 66's. Puma, Ranger, Hanuman, Speedboat 100, etc. We found a great guy that does the service work for Harken whose guys can fix your engine or generator...not bad for $75/hr right in Newport Boatyard. Talking with Nile one morning I indicated a beautiful blue cruising monohull in the Travelift slings. I offhandedly said how that beautiful boat looked rather small here at the Boatyard with all the really big boats around. Nile informed me that it was John Kerry's boat and it's about 75 feet long! That's how out of proportion everything seemed. It's not every boatyard where you can see a 140' cruising boat on jack stands.
01/03/2011, Squaw Valley, CA
This post will provide an overview of Escapade related events from the time I shattered my leg on June 5, 2010 and when we started cruising again in June of 2011.
The long and short of it is that it was a difficult year and a half coming after perhaps the most exciting year of our lives where we sailed from San Francisco through the canal to the San Blas Islands, Cartagena, Cuba and St. Barths.
Basically I crushed my lower left leg easing the genoa sheet as we were blasted by a micro burst approaching Annapolis on June 5, 2010. Debbie was a real hero not only getting Escapade on to Annapolis after the paramedics evacuated me, but she came within 25 yards of being run down by an enormous freighter in the process. SERIOUSLY!
After the initial operation and a second operation for an ensuing infection we got a very special ride home to Tahoe in a private jet, courtesy of a very, very thoughtful friend. Debbie tended to me all summer including injections for the infection three times a day and we took off for Arizona once the snow started to fall. My old buddy, Dan Broadhurst found us a great house at a great price and I walked every day in the pool as I was not yet weight bearing. Debbie started going to the gym with me, but soon ended up spending her time on the basketball court with the jocks.
Most of the winter was spent in the most beautiful condo right on the beach in Punta de Mita. Check out the ads for this place in Latitude 38, it's really a great location....and it has a pool that's about 83 feet long so I could walk back and forth every day. By the time we left Mexico in March I was weight bearing using a cane, off the crutches for the first time since June.
Back to Squaw Valley to get our lives sorted out and we then flew back east to rejoin Escapade which had been struck by lightning on July 30 necessitating a $225,000 insurance claim. A brilliant electrician by the name of Chuck Tretow at Zahniser's Boatyard in Solomons, MD figured out all the lightning related issues and got Escapade back together. Everything takes longer than you wish it to so we weren't able to get underway until the second week in June.
We ended up motoring the entire way to Newport via the East River and Long Island Sound because ton he second morning out as we went to raise the mainsail we saw the mainsail halyard block had been deformed and made unusable, presumably by the micro burst as I wouldn't let Debbie douse the sails until the microburst had passed. When we get too old to sail, we'll just jettison the rig and all the sails as Escapade makes one heck of a trawler.
We arrived at the Brenton Reef buoy off Newport EXACTLY as the Transatlantic Race was starting. What a welcome to the incredible yachting center of Newport, RI.