Sunday, December 13, 2009

Slowing down to Caribbean time

First of all an explanation of the new formatting (and delayed updates!). We have been using unsecured WiFi networks along with an amplified WiFi antenna so far and it has been an adequate system for the most part. Now two problems have developed that have reduced our ability to use the Internet and may force us to find Internet cafes and the like. The first problem is that there are fewer networks in total, both secured and unsecured. The second problem is that our WiFi antenna has stopped working for some reason. The result is that blog entries may not be as neatly arranged. It is very hard, with the software I have, to get the pictures to appear in just the right spots so they may all be together and I will just have to refer to them. We have a new WiFi antenna - thanks Oliver and Jenny for buying and bringing it to St Vincent and access so here goes....

We did make it to Montserrat after another close-hauled day where we almost made it to the island under sail. We did not quite make it so ended up motoring for an hour or so that we could get to Customs before it closed at 4 pm. If you arrive late they will wait for you and hit you with a significant overtime fee. Montserrat received a lot of attention in the late 90s (a lot for a small island with 11 000 people) when its volcano Soufriere (many islands have a Mt Soufriere here including St Vincent and Guadeloupe) erupted. Most of the population was evacuated and by 2000 about 2/3 of the island was unliveable and is treated as an ‘exclusion zone’. This included the capital city which had just completed, but not yet opened, a fancy new hospital. Some people stayed and some returned and the current population is about 3000 living in the northern third of the island.

What was news to me was that Soufriere is constantly erupting. We could see this as we approached the island (Picture 1). There was a steady stream of volcanic ash blowing off to the west. The only reason that people can live there is that the trade winds are very predictable and rarely blow from the south. Southerly winds would blow ash across the entire island. When we were there I briefly smelled a very strong sulphurous odour in the air. As well as losing its capital and most of its last, the island lost its best harbour – a condition that really, really matters hereabouts. The new, main harbour is the worst we have been in with strong winds coming down from the heights to the east and swells curling around the northern point. The harbour is quite spectacular to look at with cliffs on two sides, but there serve to only reflect the waves back into the harbour. The result is a somewhat chaotic non-pattern of waves. If the swells have any north to them – for example from a storm that could be hundreds of miles away – the harbour cannot be used at all. Picture 2 shows Ainia at anchor with the volcanic ash blowing out from the shore behind. There is another anchorage three miles south of here, at the edge of the exclusion zone, but I cannot imagine what it would be like with the ash almost overhead.

It was an interesting, if not comfortable night, that made one appreciate ultimately how feeble human beings are compared to the forces of nature. On one hand there was the volcano causing new land to be created while on the other there was the sea tearing the island apart (slowly of course but inexorably).

You have to admire the fortitude of the people here who are trying to rebuild their home and its economy (we saw virtually no tourists) but you wonder if it is all in vain since there is a high likelihood of more major eruptions. Also, one assumes that the money for the reconstruction is coming from the UK to its colony, but how much will it cost and will the money prove sufficient – for example, a new capital city is being built but so far it is only roads and utilities.

The next day we headed to Guadeloupe by heading around the northern tip of Montserrat and to windward of the island. You are allowed to pass down the western, leeward side of the island but we talked to some people who got ash caught under the ash plume (with a rare west wind) and they said it was hard to breathe and the ash on their deck was very hard to clean off. Pictures 3 and 4 show the eastern side of the exclusion zone. It is hard to see the very top of the volcano because there are always clouds (water vapour and ash). As we passed we could see the remains of the pyroclastic flows from the volcano to the sea. These flows consist of rocks of various sizes, together with ash and gases, all at a high temperature, but not hot enough to be lava (melted rock). Most volcanoes (and volcano damage) come from pyroclastic flows and not lava, as in the famous volcanoes of Hawaii. These flows happened at Pompeii, Krakatoa, Mt St Helens and apparently even the Moon. As well as the older flows near the ocean we could see new ones actually happening higher up. Also as we passed, the largest we had seen occurred from a vent quite a bit below the top of the mountain.

Guadeloupe could not have been more different from Montserrat and even the other islands we have visited. The French islands (Martinique and St Martin as well) are actually part of France – not colonies or part of a French Commonwealth, but like Normandy or Provence just part of the country. They are much wealthier and seem better organized. And they are very French, with a large dose of the Caribbean thrown in. After the crappy bread we have been having I was really looking forward to a good baguette for breakfast. The first town had a boulangerie and I was already to make a 7 am run for bread in the morning when a young man pulled up in a dinghy to inform us that the bakery was no longer in operation but that he took orders for bread that he would deliver from a nearby town between 7 and 8 in the morning. He did not want the money upfront so it seemed like a very good deal. Sharp at 730 our baguette and croissants were there and for a very good price too – and the baguette was superb (the croissants only OK).

Our next stop in Guadeloupe was at two islands just south of the main island- Les Illes des Saintes. One of the islands was good for farming and the other was not. The result was that there were plantations on the former, which meant slaves and a population today that is almost totally Black. The other island relied on fishing and the fishermen were from Normandy primarily. The result today is that most of the population is White – or mixed with quite light skins.

We did some grocery shopping here and it was fun to see what was similar to North America and what was Caribbean and what was decidedly French. Groceries were not cheap but the selection was pretty good and quality good.

One neat feature of Grand Bourg, Illes des Santes (Picture 5) is that they do not allow private cars on the island. Hence most people drive scooters – and the scooters are not even allowed in the ‘downtown’ part of town during the day. Also, in the early evening (5 pm onward) there are huge numbers of people on the streets and in little parks talking to their neighbours. All very civilized indeed. The only bad things were that the anchorage in front of the town was ‘very’ rolly – the boat faces east into the wind but swells curl around the island and come from the north. We moved to a nicer anchorage the next night (Picture 6) Also we went out for the prix fixe dinner – 23 Euros and it was not very good at all.

Guadeloupe also had something else wonderful – the Customs/Immigration checkin/out procedure. You go to a local business (in our case an Internet/gift shop) and use a terminal to complete a form (the usual info – boat name and data, crew names and data). When you are done you click on a button and the info is sent somewhere (Paris?) and two copies of the form print out in the shop. The shopkeeper signs one copy and gives it to you and you give her 3 Euros and that is it for entry and outbound clearance. In contrast in Montserrat, I went to the Customs office and filled out a similar form (four copies with carbon paper), then had to go the cashier to pay ($48Can) then go Port Authority office and give the guy there a copy of the Customs document and pay $3 and then go back to the Customs with a copy of the Port Authority document and then go Immigration (five minute walk) to get the passports stamped. And Montserrat was not the worst so far. I think that young people are graduating from the local colleges and there are not jobs for them so they end up working for the government creating paperwork and then passing the paperwork around.

From Illes des Santes we had a choice. We could do day trips to Dominica, Martininque, and St Lucia before arriving at St Vincent – or we could do an overnight trip and avoid the hassle and expense of clearing into (and often out of) Customs and Immigration. We got a good start and decided to do the overnight as at least it was not to windward. A challenge was that we would sail a distance in the open ocean with a good wind and be making 6 to 8 knots. Then you get to the edge of the next island and wind would accelerate for an hour or so. Then when you got fully behind the island most of the wind would quit for several hours (these islands are quite big and very tall). Approaching Dominica we had winds gusting above 30 knots; an hour later the winds were less than 10. Anyway, we finally got to St Vincent.

St Vincent (more properly, St Vincent and the Grenadines – SVG) is the starting point for our main cruising area in the Grenadines and Grenada. We will only be going about 60 miles south from here before starting to head north.

We had a strange experience off Martinique. It was about midnight and we passed a flashing white light to the west. The water was several thousand feet deep so it was not a navigation buoy and besides there was nothing on the chart. At midnight after 17 hours on the water one does not thing all that clearly or quickly and I finally decided that it could be either a liferaft or someone in the water with an emergency beacon on their PFD. Anyway, we turned around to check it out (would help one sleep better at least to know) and it was a very strange construction with three round orange floats in a triangle supporting a vertical stake with the light on it. It was not large enough to support any cable to the bottom so it must have been floating. What it was I really do not know.

Our plan was to get south before the ‘Christmas winds’ came in. These are stronger winds (20 to 30 knots) that last for several weeks from mid-December onward into early January. We have had these in St Vincent and then for almost a week in Bequia (say ‘Beck-way’) where we have been taking it easy and doing some chores like varnishing, and sewing – doing repairs on the Bimini and riding sail. The last two pictures show a) a little line that got loose from out awning and flogged itself into a bunch of knots and b) June hard at work sewing. We bought the sewing machine for $40 at the SSCA Gam in Annapolis and it is great. It was made in Japan, likely in the 50s or 60s and weighs something like 60 pounds (gears are all bronze). It has been converted so you can turn a hand-crank.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Leeward Islands sure felt like the Windward Islands

Before I get started here, just some things I forgot from the Virgins. We had a big achievement (at least to us). Because boats have a number of kinds of metals (stainless steel, alumimum, regular steel, bronze) in them, and because salt water creates a simple battery within which the least `noble`metal gets eaten away (not a good thing if it is your propeller shaft, for example) it is necessary to have one or more sacrificial zincs. Zinc is a metal that is more prone to be eaten than other metals and hence protects them. We only have one zinc which is a doughnut that is bolted to our propeller shaft. I suspected that we needed to put a new one on and I was right, the old one was totally gone. Before hiring a diver to do this, I thought we would have a go at it ourselves. This is a tricky business using just snorkels and masks since the zinc comes in two halves that must be attached by two bolts with Allen sockets - so you have five items to deal with including the Allen wrench and all while you are holding your breath. We worked out a system where June would dive down with half the zinc a second or so before I went down with the other half and a bolt and wrench. Anyway, it worked and we did not drop anything so we are zinced for the next few months.

I bought a prescription dive mask for snorkelling (after doing the zinc). I had looked at these in a dive shop in Canada and it was going to be something more than $300 but the dive shop at the marina had a set up for US$120 including the strongest lenses they had (which were almost strong enough for me). I know see a lot more fish and stuff than before. Too bad I didn`t have this mask when June saw the shark in St John!
Finally, June got run over by a dinghy while snorkelling and ended up with several scrapes on her arm from the boat's rough bottom. Could have been much worse since there was an outboard motor involved.

Our cruising guide books lay it out pretty clearly - we have the Virgin Islands, the Leeward Islands (from Anguilla to Dominica in the map below), and the Windward Islands. When you are in the Virgins these could be called the Windward Islands and really Windward Islands. After getting to the Virgins from the US, there is really one long sail left and that is to get to the long island chain to the east. The distance is not huge, about 80 miles but it is to windward so a difficult sail. The forecast was for winds from the ENE. On the map you can see that getting to St Martin or St Barts is a tougher sail (more to windward) than going to Saba or St Kitts. The distance is such that it requires an overnight sail. We left Virgin Gorda in the BVI around noon and it quickly became apparent that the wind was not ENE and was barely from the east so we spent the next 22 hours hard on the wind. This was followed by four hours of motoring to get to Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis (Basse-Terre is the capital of Guadeloupe and there are at least a couple of islands called Basse Terre). Getting this far means that we can go all the way south with day sails alone. From here we will go to Montserrat and then Guadeloupe (each about 35 miles apart) and on a good point of sail as long as the wind is no worse than east or even a tad south of east.

Just a few notes about St Kitts and Nevis. A few years ago they had a referendum on dividing into two countries. The vote in Nevis was 62% in favour but it was decided before hand that they needed a two thirds majority for separation (a good lesson for Canada perhaps). The result would have been the creation of the least-populated country in the western hemisphere - 12,000 Nevisians. BTW, Nevis owes its name to Columbus who saw the large mountain here with a layer of cloud over its summit and called it Nuestra Senora Dos Nieves (sorry for the spelling errors) Our Lady of Snows.
Here we are in Nevis - just wanted to include this for those in northern climes where I hear that snow has begun already.

After Nevis we will be going to Montserrat and Guadeloupe. The former will be interesting because the volcano there is still quite active and have of the island and adjacent waters are an exclusion zone. The Montserrat Volcano Observatory ( indicates that this week has been pretty active volcano-wise - a 3 on their five-point scale. It will be interesting to see what it is like. BTW, the website is worth a visit. Guadeloupe will be interesting because of the food and because of the intriguing combination of France and the Caribbean that we will find there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In the Virgins

Feels like we are now on Caribbean time now. The Virgin Islands are quite wonderful. There are, in fact, three sets of Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands are best known, followed by the US Virgin Islands (actually bought by the US from Denmark in 1917). The new kid on the block is the Spanish Virgins which are very old islands that have taken on the 'Virgins'moniker in recent years to take advantage of the brand recognition of the other two. So far we have been in the USVI and BVI. The SVI will wait until spring. The map below is not to scale since St Croix is actually 35 miles south of St Thomas and Anegada is 15 miles north of Virgin Gorda.The SVI start just to the west of St Thomas.

Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas, USVI was our initial destination here. It has a variety of useful features - an international airport for crew (thanks Burry and Marc) to catch flights northward, quite good shopping for groceries, marine gear and other things that we might need ... and at reasonable prices since it is a duty-free port. That latter distinction is important since many of the islands rely on duty for much of their government revenue. As a result, prices can be very high indeed. The duty-free ports, St Thomas and St Martin being foremost, are quite important overall.

We spent several days in Charlotte Amalie doing some repairs and shopping before heading off to St. John which is the most laid-back of the USVI. Most of St. John is a national park (land donated by the Rockefeller family in years gone by. The population is tiny with the largest town having something like 3000 people.

After only one night in St John we went to Jost Van Dyke (JVD) in the BVI since the BVI are regarded as the best part of the northern Caribbean. Some would regard it as the best sailing area in the world and it would certainly be in the running I feel. The winds are reliable and scenery is fantastic (pictures below are sunset in St Thomas and June getting ready to snorkel at a tiny sand island off JVD). The waters are remarkably clear and various shades of blue and turquoise depending on what is on the bottom. We anchored today in around 20 feet of water and you could see the anchor clearly.
JVD is a neat spot with a permanent population of only 175 people. It has only had electricity and roads in the last few decades. From there we went to a very popular spot called The Bight on Norman Island (one of the Little Sisters on the map) charter boats in great numbers for the first time. There were about 70 boats spending the night there and perhaps 10 were private boats. The rest were charter boats (the BVI has the largest number of charter boats in the world). There is nothing wrong with charterers but they are different from full-time cruisers. For one thing they are handling unfamiliar boats that are often larger than the boats they have at home. This can cause problems. Secondly, charterers are here for a week or two and tend be party a lot harder than those of us who are here for several months. The huge number of charter boats is also changing the nature of the experience. Some areas, The Bight being a great example, are being filled with moorings at the expense of places to anchor. The cost is generally $25 a night which is nothing for people spending several thousand for a week-long visit. Full-timers are on a tight budget and $25 a night is $900 a month - which can put a big hole in one's budget to be sure. The place we stopped in St John charged $15 but these moorings were also to help protect the natural environment in the park.
We spent a night in Roadtown which is the 'city'of the BVI - population is something like 17000 people. As is the case with St Thomas, Roadtown is a popular cruise ship destination. There were three cruise ships in port when we were there. Our last night in the BVIs is at Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda. We had to go there to 'clear out' of customs/immigrations since we are leaving for points south-east tomorrow. Not entirely sure where we will go since, to some extent, it will depend on the wind. The forecast is for ENE winds and the more north there is in the wind the easier it will be to get to the islands further to windward (St Martin or St Barts). If the wind is not far enough north then we will aim for Saba which is not quite as far east. In general our plan is to try not to repeat a visit to an island on the way down and the way back north in the spring. This will not always be possible though and there may be islands we want to return to because we find them extra special.
A highlight today was that June bought two bikinis. These are the first ones she has owned but virtually every woman of every age and shape wears one here. They are just very comfortable to wear (I understand) -- pictures to come later I am sure.
A lowlight of the last few days was our attempt to be environmentally responsible. We have been using a holding tank hooked to one of our toilets to keep nastier waste until we are several miles from shore where we can pump it out with a hand pump that is permanently attached to the tank - there are no pump-outs in the marinas as in North America and I get the impression that most people just poop and pump directly overboard wherever they are. Anywayyy, I started to pump and learned that the rubber diaphragm of the pump was shot. I will leave it to your imagination how I learned this, but it was quite a disgusting process to clean up and then remove the old pump and install a new one. Now we can pump overboard safely.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It sure is hot in the Caribbean!

(I guess I better publish this now. I have been trying to upload some video footage from the trip but it does not seem inclined to work.)

We have arrived in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands after a 12 day passage from Virginia. Things worked out really well overall and we had an enjoyable passage that was certainly not relaxing but has given us even more confidence in Ainia's strength. Most of the time we were sailing very fast and when we going slower we were still heeled hard over. Ordinary tasks became much harder because of the heel and motion as June shows in the galley. The fanny belt she is leaning against allows her to use both hands for cooking. Photos of waves just do not show up well.

Sailing from the north-eastern US to the eastern Caribbean is a complex process that involves many different considerations. First is the balancing act between the risk of hurricanes on one hand and ordinary (but powerful) fall/winter storms. Leave too early and the hurricane risk goes up. Leave too late and fall storm risk goes up. Most insurance companies do not provide coverage for 'named storms' risks south of Cape Hatteras, NC until November 1st so that provides a starting point for waiting for the 'weather window'. Next is the decision about where to leave from. The big boats (70' plus) will often go from Newport, RI or another more northern port because they have the speed and fuel capacity to take advantage of a narrower weather window. South of Cape Hatteras the coast swings dramatically westward so you have to go further even though you have travelled to somewhere like Charleston, SC. The result is that most boats leave from Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of November. This includes the 65 boats that were part of the Caribbean 1500 rally/race to the BVI (we were thinking about going with them but it is about $2000).

The trip can be divided into three sections.
1) Get across the Gulf Stream. This section is only about 150 miles but there is the potential for very nasty, and even dangerous, conditions in the Stream if the wind is from the NE (ie into the Stream).
2) Go southeast to 'I-66' - as it is called, 66 degrees west longitude near Bermuda. You want to get your 'easting' in before getting too far south. This section is about 400 miles.

3) Go south along I-66 (or possibly 65) until you get to St Thomas. The logic is that somewhere between 30N and 23 N you will enter the northeast trade winds and have a comfortable reach to the Caribbean. This section is about 900 miles

The weather in the last week of October and for November 1st had 15 to 20 knot NE winds in the Gulf Stream so a departure then was problematic (even if we were ready to go!). But for November 2nd a high pressure area was arriving that would turn the winds to the NW or even W. The problem was that the building high would also kill the winds for the days to follow. The trick was to ride the last of the winds from the preceding low and get southeast toward Bermuda before the wind quit. At least this was the apparent situation until the last few hours before departure when 'Waldo" appeared (more later).

We had been visiting in Canada for the last week in October and picked up our crew, Marc in Toronto and Burry in Jersey City on November 1st (17 hours drive!). Next morning we rushed off to get money from the bank, buy last minute groceries (spent something $300 in 20 minutes, but forgot a few essentials like orange juice, milk and eggs - we did manage to remember to pick up six cases of beer though, and return the rental car. All of this happened by noon and we were off across southern Chesapeake Bay. A dinner time stop for fuel at the entrance to the Bay (in a little harbour that is home to US Navy amphibious operatioins) and we gone just as dark overtook us (it does get dark so early at this time of year).

We reached the Stream much sooner than anticipated. It seemed closer than the forecast had suggested and we sailing fairly fast. We had marvellous sailing for the first few days and kept the winds - we thought we were able to outrun the advancing high, but something else was happening -- 'Waldo' was joining the dance. Waldo (my name) was a new, potentially very poweful low pressure system that was forming just to the north of our location. This low came to dominate the entire trip. Eventually the center of low pressure moved to southern Greenland with gale and storm conditions spread widely along a cold front that eventually extended almost as far south as Cuba.
Waldo did not move eastward very much over the next week. This meant that we were never short of wind. Once south of Bermuda we flew southward with winds above 25 knots for days on end. June seemed to be the wind magnet and she had gust more than 40 knots on several occasions. Squalls were very common and a bit scary as winds roared and the sky went as dark as one could ever imagine - and of course the squalls only came at night - generally shortly after sunset.
It appeared that we would get to the USVI in about 9 days until ... we crossed a ridge of high pressure. We were still 400 miles from our destination which was directly south and we had forecasts for south winds that should eventually become southeast. In reality the winds stayed south the entire time - a very rare situation in the NE Trades where winds from the northeast and east happen something like 70% of the time.

Since weather was such an important consideration it is worth mentioning the two weather sources we had. The first was by fax from stations in Boston, Halifax, and New Orleans. We got these using our SSB (shortwave) radio linked to the computer. This required us to get broadcasts at certain precise times. Each fax took about 10 minutes to arrive and there many different faxes available with different information for different time periods eg the 48 hour wind and wave forecast vs the 96 hour 500 mb chart. The picture below shows Bruce receiving a fax at the nav station. The SSB radio is at the top of the photo (yellow screen). A clock set to UTC (what used to be called Greenwich time) is in the upper left (everything works on UTC since people receiving the forecasts can be in many time zones. The only misleading thing about this picture is that it looks quite casual and relaxed. For most of the trip the boat was heeling and bouncing around and my left leg was braced against the engine compartment so that the computer and I stayed in one place.

This is one of our weather faxes. It is a 24 hour wind and wave forecast. We were in the area near the upper right with 12 to 14 foot waves and NE winds in the 20 knot range. The low in northwest Florida is Hurricane Ida. It looped back out into the Atlantic well to the north of us and had no significant impact on us. Some faxes were much easier to read than others -largely depending on the atmospheric conditions at the time of reception. Sometimes on a 'dirty' fax it was hard to tell if the forecast was for 20 knots or 30 knots of wind.

Our other source of weather information was 'Herb' who is something of a legend in the cruising community. Herb Hilgenberg lives in Burlington, ON and his hobby is providing free, personalized weather forecasts to cruisers. Each day at about 1930 UTC (330 pm where we were for most of the trip), sailors call in on their SSB radios. The first time you call you have to give your location and destination. After that he tracks you and updates your position each day. After everyone has called in Herb proceeds through the fleet (seemed to be 10 to 15 boats most days) and tells you what your winds will be for the next several days. His accuracy was surprisingly good and he is there every day and has been for more than 20 years. From the "Herb Show" (our name for the daily feature of our lives), we learned that our trip would have been very different if we had left even one day later. Boats that were about 150 to 200 miles north of us, had 48 hours of gales and most (all?) went into Bermuda to lick their wounds and get a couple of good sleeps. The problem was that unsettled weather kept them there (not a bad place to get stuck mind you) for almost a week.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a near collision with a whale. It happened on a lovely sunny day a couple hundred miles north of St Thomas. June saw him/her/it first moving slowly but surely toward our starboard side. Its closest point of approach was no more than four meters! Perhaps it was curious, but after satisfying itself it curved just astern of us, swimming lazily on the surface the whole time. We did a bit of research and our best guess is that it was a young sperm whale, perhaps 8 to 10 meters long. Very exciting experience although we were not able to get any pictures.
Less significant was that we caught one fish, a mahi-mahi that weighed perhaps 4 kilos. It provided a tasty dinner. The rest of the time it was too rough for comfortable fishing.

The trip was hard on Ainia, but perhaps that is to be expected when you are sailing such a long way in somewhat difficult conditions. It seemed that everyday there was some minor repair needed somewhere. The biggest one was that the drive motor of the electric autopilot had to be reattached to its bracket. There was no sign of the location of the four bolts that had performed this task. We assumed that they worked loose and fallen to the bottom of the bilge in the aft section of the boat. How this happened was not clear.

We had ongoing chafe problems with the control lines of Morley, our Monitor servo-pendulum self-steering (Fans of Vinyl Cafe on CBC will know who Morley is). These lines move back and forth a dozen times or more in a minute, hence thousands of times on the trip, often under considerable load. We had two breaks just above the water which meant lying down on the aft deck and leaning over to fix new lines. These breaks, of course, only happened at night (see picture of Burry and Bruce at work).

We have now been in St Thomas for several days, doing shopping, getting the laundry done ($6.75 a load to wash), doing some repairs and figuring out what is next. We need to be in St Vincent to pick up someone on December 12th and we are figuring out which sequence of islands to visit on the way south and which to go to on the return trip north. At this point we have decided to skip the British Virgin Islands and go to St Martin for a few days.
In the going south is not a casual undertaking, I was talking to a boat captain (Oyster 53) in the laundromat and he said they left Chesapeake Bay with three Swan 53s (expensive, rugged Swedish boats). Only one of the Swans has appeared in St Thomas so far and the Coast Guard are keeping a close eye out for the other two. They had a very fast passage in much more challenging conditions than ours.

other boats

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ready to Leave to go 'Really South'

Gees, Louise! Still not good at keeping this blog up regularly, but I should be getting better at it now since work on the boat is pretty much done. Guess I will start with an overview of our trip south to-date from Connecticut. Nothing too exciting really. The good thing was that we were able to keep to a fairly tight schedule to get to Annapolis without having to push too hard at any point. We spent a couple of nights at Brewer's marinas (parts of a chain of quite fancy marinas in New England). The folks at the marina in Plymouth, MA where the paint job was done gave us a 'Gold Card' that included 6 nights free docking at any of their marinas. Not too shabby since it would have cost us something like $180 a night to stay at these spots. We would have been fine without the card and anchored but it was a nice change.

We spent one night at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, our home for almost a year and half. In fact, we tied up in the dock that would have been ours if we had stayed there - just one spot in from the T-dock at the end. Much (much!) easier to get in and out there. It was great to spend some time there with our friends.

The next day we left to do the Jersey coast. There are only a couple of safe inlets that sailboats can use along this 100+ mile section and the only one placed about halfway (Manasquan) is not really that nice so most people do an overnight. We had to motor until about 6 pm because the wind was on the nose but the coast slips away to the west a bit further south and we had a marvelous sail all night. Our original plan was to stop at Cape May, NJ which is at the opening to the broad and shallow Delaware Bay that leads to a sea level canal that connects to the north end of Chesapeake Bay, but when we got there the conditions were fine to keep going - the beginning of a favourable tide (essential for this 50 mile stretch) with a light following wind. We had to motor, but at least we got this generally unpleasant stage of the trip out of the way. The other problem with going up Delaware Bay is that you are going north rather than being able to watch the latitude numbers on the GPS creep constantly south.

Our next stop, not altogether uneventful, was at a small town called Chesapeake City on the canal. This is a pretty little town that dates from the building of the canal in the 1840s and we ended up there for two nights. When we tried to leave after one night there we had the smell of rubber smoke and no charging from the engine alternator. The mechanic we were able to get was an electrical specialist and he took the alternator back to his shop and showed up next morning with everything fixed. The biggest problem was that the ground wire going to the voltage regulator was defective. It looked fine on the outside but there was a short inside the insulation.

Fixed alternator installed we tried to leave shortly after only to find that there wasn't really 6 to 7 feet of water at the entrance to the basin as we had been told. With our 4'10" draft we were stuck and had to wait for an hour or so until the tide provided the extra foot or so of water we needed. The delay meant that we did not get to the outer anchorage in Annapolis until it was almost dark.

A short day from there brought us to the Rhode River (small bays there seem to be all called 'rivers' - and the smaller side bays are called 'creeks' even though there is no flow through either). We anchored, with about 70 other boats, off a very large YMCA camp that was the location of the SSCA Gam. This was a terrific meeting with numerous speakers on topics like diesel maintenance, safety, marine weather and so on. The speakers were really good and hit the right tone for audiences that were really quite knowledgeable to start with - for example, the speaker on safety focussed on attitudes toward safety rather than what equipment you might need. This was my first time at such a meeting and it was most interesting as you learned about other people, their travels and boats and exchanged 'boat cards' (picture business cards for boaters).

After the Gam we had planned to cruise around the area before going to Annapolis to get a spot before the boat show but several people said you had to be there very early to get a decent place to anchor and that some prime areas were almost full. Soooo, we went back to Annapolis to anchor in Back Creek - a long narrow bay lined with docks on both sides. It was a bit crowded already but we found a place to anchor. The problems were two-fold. One was the every day more and more boats arrived and tried to anchor in places where there really were not places big enough to anchor. The other is that the holding ground was very bad; about as bad as any that I have ever seen. It has a soft, silty bottom that is used for anchoring so much that it has no particular ability to hold an anchor. This was only made worse by the fact that people were not using enough scope (anchor line length) because of the restricted space.

I made a command decision that the admiral (and budget secretary) was not pleased with at first, to take a permanent mooring while one was still available. This got us off to a corner of Back Creek with anchored boats only on one side of us (about 120 degrees of arc). This proved a good move a couple of days later when the winds came up and anchored boats started dragging in every direction. We helped several other people tie up one boat to some pilings after it dragged (the owner was away doing boat show preps). I think there were about 6 dinghies there with people pushing like mini-tug boats and running lines here and there. One boat near us spent the entire day reanchoring and then dragging and then reanchoring again (at least 6 times in total). It seemed like almost every anchored boat dragged at some point. Fortunately this happened during the day.

Finally the boat show came and we spent two days there looking at boats and buying stuff. We have friends from Jersey City who are considering a new boat in the 50 to 55' range and they asked for a second opinion on several. It was really fun to look at boats that cost in the $1.2 to $1.4 million range seriously and consider which might be best for an actual purchase. BTW, if anyone is making up their Christmas lists after winning a large lottery a Discovery 55 under my tree would be much appreciated The two boats pictured are (left) a Friendship 40 - one of the new breed of 'daysailors' that are designed to sleep two and party a whole bunch of people. They do not clutter up the deck with things like lifelines that would destroy the appearance of the boat. It really was a gorgeous boat with an amazing standard of finish. It is about $1.5 million. On the right is an Oyster 70 with June added for size comparison. Don't know how much it might cost, but if you have to ask you obviously can't afford it. I did ask for the Friendship and I obviously can't afford it either.

We continued our own, personal economic stimulus package at the show buying some (more) charts, an AIS unit, a pressure cooker, and inflatable PFD/harness. We also bought a used sewing machine at the Gam - a very old, small, heavy-duty unit that can be plugged in or powered manually. These old machines are quite prized since they are so rugged and simple compared to the modern ones that make fancy stitches but are quite flimsy.

After the show we went to what are probably the most famous cruising destinations in the area, under the (correct) assumption that they would not be too busy this late in the season. These included St. Michael's and Solomons in Maryland and Deltaville in Virginia. In St. Michaels we had to replace the raw water pump on the engine. One night at dinner when it was very quiet I could hear water trickling somewhere. A short search found that the shaft in this pump was loose in its bushings and there was a steady drip of water coming in. We had two spare pumps on board from a previous owner (does this indicate that this is a common problem?) and were able to fix this ourselves. When we had everything apart we also replaced the rubber impeller inside the pump that was starting to fail. The pictures show part of the historic district in St. Michaels and June 'tonging' for oysters at the excellent marine museum also in St. Michaels.

We ended up in Solomons for five nights in a very snug anchorage with nasty weather as the frontal systems just sat there for days. It was cool (yea! for the Espar heater) with frost warnings away from the water, windy (a couple of days with gale warnings) and very rainy. We had a lot of condensation to deal with since it was cool outside and the humidity was close to 100% for days. After about three days when the rain let up briefly we dinghied into the town and found lots of other sailors in their foul weather gear wandering around.

At Solomons we had our first significant exposure to the US military since it is adjacent to the Patuxent Naval Air Station which, I think, was the setting for the movie Top Gun (no sign of Tom Cruise though, although apparently he has bought a summer home in the area). There were a number of interesting planes coming and going including F18s (I think) and lumbering ones with huge disc-like radar antennae on top. As we were heading south from here we heard two sonic booms directly over us. Seems like some of the pilots could not resist the temptation - they were very loud indeed and we were a bit forewarned as someone had heard an earlier one and was talking about it on the radio.

Next we went to Norfolk, VA to get our watermaker fixed. We spent the first night in the area in an anchorage called Willoughby Bay that was right next to the Norfolk Naval Base, largest naval base in the world. We are adjacent to the air section and there were numerous helicopters doing a variety of training exercises. Some were doing practice landings and takeoffs and swinging just over heads in between each. Not very quiet but an interesting change from the idyllic settings of most of our anchorages. The sun also set over the nearby aircraft carriers (lower left in picture). The nearest carrier was the USS Harry S. Truman. It is more than 100,000 tons and carries a crew of almost 6000. You really notice the naval presence on the VHF radio. There was a Securite call asking all boats to stay 9 nautical miles from a particular location since 'Warship 94' was conducting live fire exercises. Also when a naval ship is moving in the port there are reminders from the Coast Guard that any vessels with 500 yards of the ship are subject to the use of force, "including deadly force". On the way out of the port we were closer to one ship than that, but the channel was just not that wide and there was a tug and barge even closer.

The next day we moved to Portsmouth, VA (across the river from Norfolk) where the watermaker company is located. The watermaker uses reverse osmosis to remove the salt from sea water. This requires sophiscated filters and a high pressure pump. Our unit had not been used for quite a few years and I was afraid that the RO filters might have degraded in storage (they are quite costly). At the boat show, the company rep said I should give the unit a go and that the worst that could happen is that it would not work. We tried a couple of times without success. The technician came to the boat and worked for an hour or so and got it working -- and did not charge for the service call. We only paid for the spare parts that we bought for the unit (basically a variety of filters). The watermaker is not an essential item but it is nice to have since water in the Caribbean can be quite costly (as much as $1 a gallon), may be of dubious quality since it is mainly just trapped rain water, and may not be available if there has not bee much rain. We should be able to produce about 10 gallons an hour but have to run the generator to power it (the pump is 110V AC) so the water is not free. In this photo the watermaker is everything in the left 3/4 of the image (there are some filters and valves in another location. The two white cylinders (about 20" long) are the actual RO elements. The motor is the large grey item in the center of the picture. The high pressure pump is the black box to the left of the motor (above one of the white cylinders).

Our final move was to a very small marina in Mobjack. VA. This marina is owned by someone who also owns a Bristol 45.5, although his has been extended to about 47' so it is really more like a Bristol 47.7 which is just a 45.5 with an extended transom and a bigger aft cabin. We motored almost all of the way there because there was no wind at all. In the last hour or so the wind came up and was blowing 25+ knots by the time it was dark. When we tried to turn around in the harbour we ran gently aground and could not get off under our own power. We had two choices, wait for the high tide to return - this would not have been until after midnight or use our Boat US membership to get a tow. For those who do not know this organization it is like AAA/CAA roadside assitance for boats. The first boat they sent, from a nearby location just was not big enough to do much, but a second boat from an hour or so away did the trick. The operator was very skillful and knew exactly what to do. It was fascinating to see that the secret was not so much to use his 300 hp to pull us out of the mud. Rather it was to use the propwash from his engine to push mud away from our keel and essentially deepen the water. He tied a tow rope to our bow (quite close actually) and used about 2/3 throttle to great an enormous wash that he directed down either side of our keep by having his boat swing across our bow. It was nice to get a shower and get to bed early rather than being up for much of the night getting off - especially since we had to drive to Toronto the next day.

I am writing this in Canada on Friday, the 30th of October. We are going to Virginia on Sunday. Yesterday the long-range forecasts looked really good for us to depart for the US Virgin Islands on Monday, the 2nd. The forecasts today have changed quite dramatically as a new low pressure area seems to be forming on Monday/Tuesday in and off the Carolinas. The result would be strong north and northeast winds into the Gulf Stream. At best this would be very uncomfortable; at worst, quite dangerous. Once we get there we just have to wait.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Heading south in two days

The time is just about upon us. June arrives back from China tomorrow and I have a car rented to pick her up at JFK. On the way back we will do a major shopping expedition since it is not clear when the next opportunity might be. We could borrow a car in Jersey City but would prefer to spend the time visiting with friends. Besides, the supermarket here is much nicer.

Our schedule is to make haste to Annapolis for the "Gam" of the Seven Seas Cruising Association. If you picture a convention for cruisers you will get the right idea. They are expecting about 300 people and there will be seminars on useful topic (haven't had a PD Day in a long time!) along with a variety of social events. Chances are good that we will meet people that we will encounter in the Caribbean in the winter. After the Gam we will cruise the Chesapeake (apparently lovely in the fall) and visit the Annapolis boat show (apparently the largest sailboat show in the world). We also will visit Washington DC. This is quite doable by boat by all accounts. The last week in October we will head up to Toronto to meet friends and family, visit a couple of doctors (yea, for the Canadian health care system). Also I have a preliminary meeting about a revision of our Canadian geography textbook.

We have enjoyed our time in Noank; it is very nice place and the staff at Spicer's Marina have been terrific. It has been expensive though. Our generator (a 3 cylinder diesel producing 110V AC) needed to rebuilt and this proved to be quite expensive as the cylinders had to be replaced the valves and head redone. The problem was two-fold - lack of use (it had less than 300 hours in something like 10 years, along with fuel that was not clean enough. Both fuel tanks are clean now and do not any water (another bad no-no) and we have strict instructions to use the genset every week and to put a heavy load on it - diesels gum up at low speeds.

We also replaced the headstay and furler. This was the only requirement from the rigging survey we had to get for the insurance company. There was some damage to the top of the stay (would have been ok for coastal sailing) and the furler was very old - the bearings needed very frequent lubrication and even then were not too free. We decided to get a Schaeffer 3100 over a Harken, even though it was about $1000 more. Both have fine reputations although the the Schaeffer might be a bit better. The big advantage was that the Schaeffer is spec'd for boats from 41 to 55 so it is of ample size for our boat which is quite heavy hence has large sails and will be sailed in conditions not of our choosing. The Harken was for boats only to 46' and the next size unit did not fit (and probably would have cost something like the Schaeffer). The picture shows the new unit with the drum of the old one next to it. It is easy to see that it is much bigger and should be much easier to furl when the wind is blowing.
And as they say, time for something different. I really like Americans. They seem to be much friendlier (less reserved) than Canadians. This is one reason why I am very concerned by what I am seeing happening in this country. Not sure how attention is being paid in Canada to things like Tea Party group, the 'birthers', Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck, Joe Wilson ("You lie!"). The US is so profoundly polarized that it is quite scary. After Wilson's outburst in Congress, he received $1 million in campaign contributions in 48 hours. His Democratic opponent next year received almost as much. The head of the Tea Party group was on CNN defending his statement that Obama was an "Indonesian Muslim" - and many of the people in his group are much more extreme than he is. A black kid beat up a white kid on school bus somewhere and within hours security video was all over the internet along with much opinion that this was racial (all the black kids on the bus cheered - having been around a number of teen fights I can assure you that all of the kids will all yell!) rather than what happens with teenagers, in this case the black kid did not like the white sitting in 'his' seat and lacked the maturity and social skills to figure out a better way to handle the situation. Rush Limbaugh said that this is what will increasingly happen in Obama's America.
I think that the President has done his best to find a middle ground on health care reform but without success. The Dems have watered down their plans greatly (eg no public option) to try to get bi-partisan support but there is no suggestion that any Republican senators will vote for it. What makes this situation worse is that each side is so absolutely sure that it is right (perhaps I should say 'correct') and that the other side is/are ______________ [put the derogatory term of choice in the space provided] that no one seems interested in finding an accomodation. And this is all happening at a time when the US is facing enormous problems, an economy that is not responding very quickly, climate change policy to make, and the huge problem of health care reform.
OK, next time back to sailing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A new boat? Almost looks like it on the outside.

Here is Ainia after the "accident". You can see where the hole is just below the dock line. The teak rail just below the deck was also crushed.

The 'new' Ainia:

Repairs to the collision damage are now complete (except for varnishing that we are doing
Here is the boat after painting. The insurance (other guy's not surprisingly) paid for the repair including painting one side of the boat so that the colour would match. We paid the extra to get the entire boat painted since the finish was getting pretty tired and banged up when you got close to it. This meant that we were on the hook for about US$2600 rather than almost US$12000 for a separate paint job. The total cost was more than US$16000. Top level yards in New England are famous for being expensive and this one was no exception. The work seems first rate but the cost is nasty indeed.

We thought about going with same colour as before (Aristo Blue) but it is not the most practical choice even though it looks wonderful and is the most common colour on larger Bristols. The gray colour has some particular advantages though. Scratches do not show up nearly as much as on a darker hull. There was a Bristol 41.1 next to us out of the water that was in impeccable shape except for a lateral scratch about 8 feet along at about dock height. You could see it from over a 100 feet away even though it was not a wide scratch. Also the gray keeps the interior of the hull much cooler on sunny days. This makes it more liveable and reduces the load on the freezer and fridge units. At first I was prepared to give up some measure of beauty for practicality but the boat looks terrific - more streamlined than before and a bit more modern. BTW, the colour is not as blue as it appears on my monitor - more of a light, neutral gray.

Big Bill
Hurricane Bill gave us some anxious moments but turned out to be a non-event for southern coastal New England. Early projections were not good but the closest approach was about 150 nm and Noank is behind Fisher's Island which is a very substantial, 4 mile long breakwater. The VHF marine forecasts include both the coastal weather and the offshore weather (from 20 to 200 miles offshore). The offshore forecast for eastern George's Bank (east of Cape Cod) had winds to 90 knots and waves to 44 feet. The wave forecasts acknowledge that the biggest, individual waves can exceed the average by 1/3. This means that there could have been waves of 66 feet - not a happy prospect.

What Now?
June is now back in Beijing for three weeks or so to visit her ill father and spend time with the rest of her family. I drove her to JFK airport before continuing on to Toronto for a week or so. (Time for a brief rant - is there any excuse for flights to Beijing from New York being half the cost of those from Toronto? To add insult to injury - the flights from New York fly directly over Toronto on their way to China. End of rant.)

After dropping June off I went to visit our friends at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City. It was most pleasant and almost felt like coming home. It was a bit bittersweet because we left there because of someone else's decision (essentially the world economic system) rather than our own.

Next week I will be heading back to CT to work on varnishing the replacement of the plastic (polycarbonate) in the hatches and ports. Also I will be checking out the installation of our now rebuilt generator.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Due to popular demand ...

Oh all right, so the demand was from two people. Anyway, a couple asked if we had a blog and we had to say only in Chinese (June's blog has been well-received by those who have read it). The result is that I will do my best to keep up this blog. This should prove a bit easier since the amount of work to do on the boat is declining substantially, if only because of all the work that has been done in the past 20 months.

Rather than trying to summarize what has been happening in the past year since the last blog entry I think I will pick up in the past month or so. If anyone has questions about earlier events, please let me know. Our recent time on board started in Noank, CT (a lovely village to visit, go to Abbott's for lobster - if you are old enough to appreciate it, there is a Costello's nearby that specializes in crabs) where we had the boat out of the water for planned maintenance. The biggest jobs were doing the bottom and installing both wind power and two solar panels. The bottom job included a lot of fairing (filling in low spots to make the bottom more streamlined) and raising the waterline about 3" in the bow - something about the 100 gallon water tank and 400+ pounds of ground tackle up there I guess. Raising the waterline meant painting a nifty red stripe after some careful measuring - every metre of length meant that the waterline changed by 3 to 4 mm. The solar and wind power were not too difficult - just running a lot of wires through very constricted spaces.

After leaving Noank we wandered east and north with the general goal being to go to Maine for several weeks. We certainly did not hurry (very used to this retired business now and June seems to be a fast learner too). Some highlights (or not) of the journey):

Fisher's Island, NY - FI is only about 3 mi from Noank but I just wanted to somewhere different from where we had been for about a month; we anchored in the West Bay of this island that is about 2/3 private and has summer houses on it that would be bigger than the biggest houses in the Post Rd area in Toronto.

Point Judith Pond, RI - I thought this would be a bit more pastoral than it turned out to be. It is long, shallow bay inland from the coast. We barely managed in a channel that the cruising guide said should have been a bit deeper than it turned out to be. We found a good place to anchor that got nicer as the weekend crowds disappeared.

Between one rich area and another - we were passed by this boat as we were heading toward Cuttyhunk. They were going from Newport to either Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket -- rich places all. Our boat seems big at 45 feet. This one apparently was 45 m long (judging from the emblem on this sail). Registration was in Bermuda

Cuttyhunk, MA - This is a remote island (by the standards of the region) that has a few hundred summer residents and less than 100 during the winter. You feel that you are in a different kind of place here, more like Maine or Nova Scotia.

The harbor is wonderfully protected but it is almost full with moorings - a common theme in New England south of Boston (and even parts north of it). We did anchor in close company (us on the left of the photo) and spent a couple of nice nights although the weather was cool and gray.

I had anchored at Cuttyhunk in the early '80s. It seemed much more crowded now and there were even moorings in the outer bay that were open to winds from the north and northeast. Cuttyhunk was also overrun by bunnies as well as tourists (actually more bunnies than tourists I think). They had little fear of people and I had to stop June from adopting one (or more).

Marion, MA - we anchored in a crowded harbor here as well. They have left a little marked anchorage that has room for two boats at most. We ended up here for two nights as there was a gale warning for the area including nearby Buzzards Bay which is not very large and pretty well-protected and I am sure not an area prone to gales in July. This storm caused considerable damage to boats in the area including a couple ending on the beach at Block Island.

From Marion you have to time your arrival at the Cape Cod Canal. Currents in the Canal can be up to 5 knots. We avoided the full ebb tide but still did more than 11 knots over the bottom for a time. The canal allows you to avoid a very long trip around all of Cape Cod. There are three bridges over the canal - the nearest one is a railroad bridge which is rarely lowered. The others are high level highway bridges.

Plymouth - as in Rock.

Not one of our favourite places for a variety of reasons as you shall see. There are not many places to stop between the Canal and Boston and this was positioned well although you have to go in for almost an hour from the sea to the harbour. Not sure what the Pilgrims saw in this place that made them want to stay, although there is a very good stream available. The very large harbour is mainly sandbanks (green on the chart), many of which appear at low tide (the tide range is 9'+ rather than the 3' or south of the Canal.

Problem #1 - In the narrow channel next to Plymouth Beach (A on chart), June went forward to pull some chain on deck so we could anchor efficiently when we got to the deeper area parallel to the channel after it turns westward (B). Next thing we knew, the anchor ( a lovely and effective 60 lb Manson Supreme) had slipped off the windlass and was heading to the bottom taking our anchor chain with it (almost $4 a foot x 200 feet). It was tied to a rope that was pulled on deck after all the chain was gone and just pulled out the knot. I assume that the knot had loosened as it was under the chain that was constantly moving as the boat rolled and pitched.

When we got to the supposed anchorage area we found that it was pretty much full of moorings. We ended up taking one of the town moorings. These were $45 a night and that did not include launch service or showers ashore. We hired a work boat and guy with a grapnel to try to snag the anchor chain since we knew where it was. After about 3 hours we had pulled up four old lobster pots, assorted rope and wire cables and an anchor - but the wrong one a small Danforth-style. We gave up on this and chalk it up to a (pricey) learning experience. The new anchor and rode are now eye-sliced to a couple of hundred feet of 3/4 rope which has a large shackle at the other end that it too large to come through the hawse hole. The shackle is then tied securely inside the boat as well.

Problem #2
- While we sitting at our mooring with no other boats witin a quarter mile a sailboat ran into us! There was no reason for this at all. Winds were about 10 knots and the tide was high so they could go where they wanted to. The owner and his wife were below apparently and their adult daughter was at the helm. I think the closer she got to us the more she just froze up. She could easily have turned right or left a bit and missed us, but ... The damage consisted of a hole about the size of a walnut near the bow and about 6" below the deck. The lovely teak rubrail was also crushed and there were assorted scrapes and scratches.

The culprit (below) was only 22' long but weighed around 6000 pounds. It also had a bronze forestay fitting that was quite sharp. This fitting was torn off his boat in the collision but it took all of the damage.

After this we were able to move to a Plymouth YC mooring (C on chart)that was the same price but included launch service and the use of the club's facilities. PYC is a 19th century club and very friendly but still a bit traditional. They have an 8 am and sundown cannon for example. In contrast to most clubs on Lake Ontario their membership seemed quite young with many young families. Our mooring was quite close to Plymouth Rock (D on chart