Monday, July 19, 2010

Tentative Schedule for Ainia, late 2010-early 2012 v. 1.1

I thought that those reading the blog would like to know what our plans are for the fall and next year. I put it all into a table to make it easier to follow. The plans seem quite precise with all of these dates, but they really are not. Within the constraints of government restrictions (eg only 90 day visa in French Polynesia), if we like where we are we will stay longer. if not we will move on to the next stop.

We will be following the standard 'coconut milk run' except for the rather large detour to Ecuador and then heading to Easter Island and Pitcairn from the Galapagos. This means that we will enter French Polynesia from the southeast (Tuamotus) rather than northeast (Marquesas). It means that our longest passage will be around two weeks rather than three+ weeks if we went from Panama to the Marquesas (with a stop in Galapagos)

I will post more later about some of the research and preps we have been doing to get ready for this.



Voyage (d)

Anchor (d)


Fort Pierce, FL (Nov 1)

San Blas Islands, Panama (Dec 2)



Visits to Keys and/or Cuba; likely; AN 117B1; possible stop in Cayman Islands or we will go the other way around Cuba AN 114 and spend some time in the Bahamas and likely stop in Jamaica

San Blas

San Blas (Dec 20)


San Blas

Panama City (Pacific side of country) (Jan 3)

14 (total)

Includes Canal transit and major provisioning; problems over Christmas week?


Bahia, Ecuador (Jan 11)


May include coastwise along coast of Panama; elements of PT 11 and PT 12 2


Bahia (Feb 20)


Boat kept on mooring at Puerto Amistad; Land ‘cruise’ in Ecuador and (mainly) Peru including Machu Picchu 3; provisioning before departure


Galapagos (Feb 25)


elements of PT 11 and PT 12


Galapagos (March 12)


Likely using local excursion boat for touring4


Easter Island (March 26)


PS 12

Easter Island

Easter Island (April 2)


As anchoring conditions allow5

Easter Island

Pitcairn Island (April 10)


PS 15

Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island (April 13)


As anchoring conditions allow6

Pitcairn Island

Mangareva, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia (April 15)


PS 16


TBD (somewhere in Fiji)

~ 200 days from French Polynesia to 7; likely stops include Cook Islands and Niue; without much hassle and considerable cost, the visa in FP is only good for 90 days so we will spend the extra time further west


Northern New Zealand (Nov 10)


PS 488


  1. These plans are tentative as to specific dates at any stage.
  2. Sailing times are based on typical conditions likely in the specific area and tend to be pessimistic, ie Ainia can be expected to do better than most of these so there will be more time at anchor and for local cruising.
  3. Route to French Polynesia via South America, Galapagos, Easter Island, Pitcairn and Gambier was chosen because it breaks down the long distance from Panama to French Polynesia (Marquesas) 3790 nm into more manageable chunks and allows visits to a number of very interesting locales. It also goes to less visited parts of French Polynesia, rather than Marquesas which seem, according to some accounts, somewhat overwhelmed by cruising boats.


1 These designations refer to routes in Cornell’s book, World Cruising Routes (we have 4th ed)

2 I considered the possibility of coastwise cruising along the coast of Colombia as well but it may be too dangerous; we may stay a hundred miles or so offshore. I will be making further enquiries.

3 This is the not the ideal time to visit Ecuador and Peru since it is the rainy season but there is no alternative other than adding an extra year to the voyage. We will be traveling the Lonely Planet way using buses and staying in less costly hotels. In general, touring here is very inexpensive.

4 Galapagos are easier to visit than in recent years where you would have to plead an ‘emergency’ to get to stay for more than 48 hours. Still there are only two ports open. If you want to cruise to other places in the (surprisingly large) island group you need to hire an approved naturalist/guide and spend a lot of money (more!) on an agent. In general, everything there is quite pricey.

5 Easter Island has one small harbour which may not be available and rapidly changing weather can mean that you have to move quickly from one side of the island to another if anchoring.

6 Pitcairn has extremely marginal anchorage conditions (at best). Some cruisers who visit are not able to get ashore at all.

7 The possibilities in this nearly seven months are huge and will require much more research.

8 Some people keep their boats in Fiji for the cyclone season but New Zealand is much safer and sounds like a lovely place to visit. Also it is a great place to get any work done that is needed on the boat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Weather Sources

Like most sailors, having some advance knowledge of the weather is, at least, nice and, at most, vital to one's safety. The latter was best shown by our experience with a soon to be huge low-pressure area that developed off the Maryland coast when we were going from the Chesapeake to St. Thomas. Before we left I monitored the weather carefully for almost a week looking for the right conditions for our departure. We needed winds other than from the north to northeast for at least 36 hours so that we could get across the Gulf Stream (even fairly moderate winds blowing into the current can be dangerous) and we, of course, wanted to avoid gale conditions. Ainia is a heavy, powerful vessel so I did not mind a good blow though (up to 25 knots+ sustained is fine).

As it turned out there was a very narrow window that suited our departure. The previous days had had NE winds so were a no go; boats that left the day after we did ended up with gale conditions for 48 hours and ended up going into Bermuda to lick their wounds. One of these boats was still in Bermuda more than a week later waiting for suitable conditions to keep going. Once we were gone the weather forecast further informed what we did. The low was forecast to move northward and only a little eastward and deepen greatly. In fact, within four days it was centered at the southern tip of Greenland with a central pressure of 982 mb (similar to that of a minor hurricane). A cold front built from Greenland to Cuba. Since I knew that nastiness was building to the north, I made the tactical decision that we should push southeasterly as hard as we good - for example, by not taking in a precautionary reef before nightfall. It all worked well and we got south in a hurry and quite safely.

Weather resources we used
There are many resources available depending on whether you are offshore or just moving around in the Caribbean. For most you need as SSB radio or at least a good shortwave receiver (ie a receiver with a good antenna setup) Those we used were:
  • "Herb" - Herb Hilgenberg is a legend in cruising circles. A former cruiser himself, his hobby is to provide detailed, personal forecasts to cruisers across much of the North Atlantic. He works out of his house in Burlington, Ontario and uses shortwave (SSB) to communicate with boats at 2000 hrs Zulu (GMT) each day. The first day you contact him he wants to know your location and destination. Sometimes he wants to know the met conditions where you are (eg wind speed and direction, sea state, etc). After that he tracks you. After he knows which boats are calling in he will go through the 'fleet' from north to south and give you your weather and often suggestions on routing to avoid bad stuff and take best advantage of good stuff. I found it helpful to listen to reports and forecasts for other boats to get a better sense of the big picture.
  • Weather fax - A wide range of North Atlantic weather products are broadcast by the US government from stations in Boston (areas further north) and New Orleans (areas further south). These include current conditions, wind and sea state predictions, and 5oo mB charts for a variety of times eg 24 hours, 48 hours, up to 96 hours in some cases. There are not very detailed and you have to listen at the right time to get the right chart (one chart typically takes about five minutes or so to be received. To get these you need to have a SSB or other shortwave radio, a computer and appropriate software (like JVComm that I have mentioned), along with the schedule and frequencies. A couple of years ago the government was going to end this service, thinking it was obsolete, but relented in the face of huge opposition. Similar weather fax services can be found throughout much of the world.
  • Chris Parker - Parker offers the main weather service used throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. He broadcasts from his home in Florida on various frequencies at various times in the morning (you have to experiment a bit to see which one is best where you are). You can subscribe to his service (something like $150/yr I think) and this allows you call him and ask for advice on the best day to go from A to B. Many people just listen in though. He starts with an overview and then listens in for subscribers. We did not subscribe and usually found that someone wanted to make a similar trip to where we were going. His reports are very detailed and tend to be quite conservative - which is good for a marine weather guy I think! He also reports on wave conditions. This is important because large northerly swells are common in the Caribbean in the winter. These are created by storms that could be 1000 miles away. You could be sitting in a protected anchorage wanting to sail 50 miles to the next island. There might have been no strong winds for a week where you are - so you might think the conditions ideal for your passage until you find 10' swells from some distant storm. I think if I was spending another winter in the Caribbean I might subscribe to Parker's service because it is a good one.
  • - If you have internet access this is a very handy site. It gives wind and wave forecasts several days ahead in much of the world. The information is in GRIB form and you have to do your own interpretation of where the frontal systems are though. Forecast periods in the near-term are quite short and you almost animate the maps to see what will happen to wind strengths and wave heights. Note that all of the weather fax charts are also available online.
  • Miscellaneous weather sources - Depending on where you are there might also be weather available from local cruiser webs on VHF, SSB webs (for example in the Bahamas where Parker's reception was a bit iffy), or even from island broadcast stations on AM or FM. The quality of these forecasts varied widely
We did not use a custom weather routing service. These tend to be very good and very costly too. The Caribbean 1500 boats that left Norfolk about six hours before we did got forecasts from one of these services and they were told to ignore the customary wisdom that you head pretty much east to 65*W before turning south. Many of these boats went straight down the rhumb line to their destination and had exceptionally rapid trips. This routing worked because the massive depression we had destroyed the normal trade wind pattern below about 25*N.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some More on Sailing 'Software'

In an earlier posting I mentioned how useful an AIS system was to us, along with our happiness with JVComm, the software we used to get weather faxes. Here I would like to mention a few other navigational and related items that we had with us.

Navionics Gold electronic charts - These were fine as long as you used them intelligently - electronic charts of any sort do have their limitations. On the plus side, we only needed two chart cartridges to go from the Canada/US border into the Pacific through Panama. This is enormously better from 2000 when I considered getting a chart plotter for my Niagara 35 and would have needed almost $2000 in cartridges just to go from Nova Scotia to Lake Ontario.

I am a paper chart kind of guy and often found myself using both at the same time (and not just using paper for backup). The electronic charts show varying amounts of detail depending on how much you have zoomed in or out. With paper you can mentally choose to look at the big picture or the small one. Also the amount and accuracy of data in the Caribbean was often a bit less than you might want to have - this may reflect the data they have to work with. In some cases they rely on Admiralty or US charts but they also use Imray (see below) or other paper charts designed for yachting.

The charts and Raymarine C8O chartplotter were terrific for planning purposes and for setting up an anchor watch - we did the latter every time we anchored. It was great to see our track at anchor to see if we might be dragging - built our confidence and helped us sleep. They were also handy, but not essential, for plotting our location on passages and for determining VMG when we had currents. Overall grade - B+

Paper Charts and Cruising Guides - Other than for long offshore passages (eg Norfolk-St Thomas, to/from Bermuda) we did not use standard government charts since there are a number of chart products produced for the many yachtsmen that go to the Caribbean and Bahamas. These are virtual necessities since the government charts do not focus on the things that cruisers want to see - eg depths in anchorages that are not commercial ports. In some areas one needs to buy charts and guides separately; in other cases, the functions are combined in one publication. I will mention the charts/guides we used in each region. In some areas more than one type of chart and more often guide are available. In addition there is quite a bit of good stuff available online. For example, I made copies of all of the entries for the countries we were visiting. Also, the Seven Seas Cruising Association has a wealth of information for members. (Membership is something like $55 a year and well worth it).

Bahamas - Because of their proximity to the US there are quite a few choices here. Standing out are the Explorer charts (3 volumes for the entire chain). These combine both detailed charts and guide information and I think it is fair to say that I have never seen a better cruising guide/chart book. This is all you really need for the Bahamas. We also bought the Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob for the Bahamas (sold as a package at the Annapolis Boat Show). The Guide is really aimed for those who stay in marinas while SB is aimed at those coming from Florida and going as far as Georgetown. Overall Grades - Explorer - A+; Waterway Guide - C; Skipper Bob - C

Spanish Virgin Islands to Grenada - Here we used separate charts and guides. I was able to buy a used set of Imray-Iolaire charts both small and large-scale. These were quite good and had a bit of 'guide' info on the back from Don Street. If you had to buy these retail it could get very costly and you might want the chartbooks mentioned in the Puerto Rico section below.

We used three guide books written by Stephen Pavlidis. These seemed dated (even beyond their copyright date) and are probably the worst edited publications I have ever seen. On the positive side, Pavilidis has done a lot of useful sounding in the areas where you want to go and this data seemed very accurate. He also writes in a folksy, engaging style. Most people seemed to use guides written by Chris Doyle. Those who used them seemed to like them but felt there was still room for improvement. Overall Grades - Imray-Iolaire charts - A; Pavlidis guides (Virgins, Leeward Islands, Windward Islands) - C+

Puerto Rico - My stash of Imray charts did not extend beyond the Spanish Virgins so we bought the NV chartbook (Region 10) which also includes the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. These are published in Germany (in English!) and I found them to be very clear and high quality. They include blowups of many, but not all anchorages and harbours of interest. They include no 'guidebook' info, just charts. Other chartbooks are available for other parts of the Caribbean. There does not seem to be a guide book for PR so we relied on internet sources. Overall Grade - NV Chart book - A

Active Captain - This is a website,, that has maps and satellite images of much (all?) of the world along with descriptions of anchorages, marinas, and hazards provided by sailors. It is very useful in the US and Canada where coverage is extensive. The Caribbean and Bahamas are less well-covered and I found myself adding more reviews here than what I used but I am sure this situation will improve in the next few years and people discover this site. Overall Grade - US East Coast - B+; Bahamas and Caribbean - C+ - This site is kept up by Jimmy Cornell and his people and is a clearing house for current information about world cruising destinations featuring things like clearance procedures and availability of marine services. Overall Grade - A

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Through The Bahamas

The water in the Bahamas was startlingly clear in most places. Even when it was more than 25' deep you could see every feature on the bottom. Here it is only about 8' and you get a lovely shadow of the boat on the bottom.

The Bahama island chain has a remarkable variety of places. The southern most islands (e.g. Mayguana and Great Inagua) are quite large with very small populations and little tourism. Further north you get into chains of smaller islands, we visited the Exumas and Abacos, that are more what one thinks about when the name 'Bahamas' comes up. There have more people (still not crowded though) and economies pretty much dependant on the tourist dollar. Finally there is Nassau which is unique - it is very urban and not really very nice.

Georgetown is on Great Exuma which, in comparison to its neighbours. is pretty large - although "Great" seems a bit of an exaggeration. Northward from Great Exuma is a string of small islands, some of which have small populations, some not do not. In total they are interesting. The surrounding waters are impossibly beautiful. If you have ever seen a picture of them you probably thought it was just a trick of the photography to get colours like that - not true. The variety of shades of blue beggars the imagination. The Exumas divide the deeper waters of Exuma Sound on the east from the much shallower banks to the west. In places the banks are very shallow (2-3 feet at low tide); in most places they are 6-8'. There are a number of cuts that allow you to get from one side of the islands to the other.

My son and his girlfriend flew into Georgetown and we had a week to deliver them to Nassau for their return trip to Toronto. We could have used more time to explore this lovely area. We stopped at the most popular places but they were not too crowded and worth the time. Staniel Cay had two great attractions only a mile or so apart. One is 'Thunderball Cave'. To hear the locals tell it, most of early James Bond movie, Thunderball, was filmed here - in reality, only the underwater scenes. (BTW, we later watched the movie - it has not stood up to the test of time very well.) The cave exists under a small rocky island and has an entrance on either side that you can swim through at low tide - perhaps 75' apart. What really sets it off is that there are a couple of holes through from the top of the island so it is lit as if with spotlights. There is a remarkable collection of tropical fish here who are very used to getting fed by visitors. If you do not have anything for them to eat they will try to nibble on you. Very much like snorkeling inside a huge fish tank.

Not far away are the locally-famous swimming pigs. A local farmer keeps a number of pigs on an island who have been used to being fed by visitors - do you sense a trend here? There were four of them there; two that were light brown with darker spots and two quite pink. The former would swim out to your dinghy to get their handouts. The pink porkers would only wade out to get theirs. Turns out pigs can swim very well - no problems with sinking for sure although they would go faster if they had little swim fins I think. Their little feet do not propel them very quickly. What a great deal for the farmer - free feeding for his pigs. These guys looked pretty much ready for market, they were quite large, although I should confess that as a city boy my exposure to pigs (rather than pork) has been limited.

Here he comes for yet another snack! Getting full does not seem to be a problem for these guys.

A short sail north we came to Exuma Park which is only accessible by boat and is truly gorgeous. Near the park headquarters there are a number of moorings in a long curving cut that is quite deep with very shallow water on either side (see picture). At low tide sand appears on both sides of the boat. In the channel there is a considerable current, as you might expect, and even largish sharks swimming by.

Exuma Park is beautiful and even has WiFi if you pay for it
. Moorings only here since space is limited and demand high - you have to reserve the day before and they call you VHF to tell you which mooring is yours. This photo was taken at about mid-tide. At low tide the sand banks on either side get much shallower.

We went for a long hike on the island and this was well worth it as we got to see great views and interesting features like salt pans that get a bit damp at high tides and blowholes. Blowholes are created where the sea has eroded away the soft limestone to create a sort of cave. Add a hole through the roof of the cave and the right sea conditions and you are all set. June was standing next to the first of these we encountered (we didn't really know what a bh was at this point) when a moderate wave crashed into cave below. The wave rapidly compressed the air in the cave which 'blew' out of the hole with considerable power. Her hat ended up some distance away and so did she when she returned to earth after her surprise.

In a park which asks that nothing be left behind, you are encouraged to leave a piece of wood with your boat name. Only after we made ours on a little bit of 1" x 4" we had, we learned that you are only supposed to use driftwood. Nice if they mentioned this in the cruising guides!

The next day illustrated the fickleness of the weather here. Heading north we started with several hours running in gorgeous conditions with the asymmetric spinnaker up (something we did often in the Bahamas) . Since the forecast was for squally conditions later in the day and because the sky was looking a bit iffy ahead (not really nasty, just iffy) I thought we should get the spinn away. Turned out to be a good call since about 20 minutes later we go hit by one of the nastiest squalls I have experience in 40 years of sailing and lots of squalls. Winds switched to almost due north (about 160* wind shift) and rapidly reached a steady 30 knots. Rain was torrential and really cold - I was pleased to have my very heavy-duty rain gear on. It was not like the usual 30 minute squall. This one lasted more than 2 1/2 hours which was long enough to built waves from the north that were about 4' high and very short. These were added to the 4 to 5' waves from the south that had built up over the last couple of days and the result was a chaotic sea. We had to go north and I was not impressed with the idea of beating into this mess so we motored - only problem was that if we went north the prop would almost come out of the water and cavitate (suck in air and allow the engine to over-rev). So we ended up tacking with engine so we could take the waves at a bit of angle. This was a first for me.

We finally got into the anchorage at Allan's Cay about 1730. I had chosen this particular spot since it seemed to have the best protection of any of the nearby spots and the forecast for the night was crummy with more squalls predicted. Of course, just about everyone else in the area had come to the same conclusion so it was crowded. We finally got a spot where we were not too close to others (and the reverse) which was fine, except that more boats kept coming and in the middle of the night a front went through and we swung to face in the opposite direction. Now there was not enough room as boats had differing amounts of scope out and had swung differently. After trying to find a spot to re-anchor (always fun in the rain and the dark) for a half hour or so we gave up and decided to start heading for Nassau around 0330. This worked out fine and meant we got to Nassau in good time.

Nassau (how do I put this nicely?) is the armpit of the islands. The anchorage is in a long channel that lies between city and Paradise Island. There is lots of current here and lots of traffic so it is not the best place to anchor for sure but at least has a secure dinghy dock. Paradise Island (see pic) is a huge resort development that looks like a cross between Disney World, Miami Beach and Las Vegas and it entirely an artificial environment. Nassau itself is expensive, unattractive, and most of it is unsafe in the evening and barely better during the day. We went to a bakery and door was locked and you had to be buzzed in. We had lunch at the local version of a fish market/farmers' market were we accosted by a drunk and had the female owner of the little outdoor restaurant scare off the guy with her machete. By the time we left (to go back behind the razor wire where the dinghy dock was), an older woman (also very drunk) had been pushed over and fallen on her beer bottle so her face was cutup, and an ambulance and the police were on the way. We were happy to leave Nassau to head toward the Abacos.

This is largest hotel on Paradise Island which is connected to Nassau itself by two large bridges. We walked over to have a look but could not find Mickey or Donald anywhere.

The Abacos are another lovely group of islands that are lightly populated but still focused on tourists. There are some pretty towns here that seem like very nice places to live. Hope Town is famous for it light house (see pictures), but also has lovely frame houses. The main part of the town does not allow any cars on its narrow streets. We anchored just outside the town's harbour in our shallowest anchorage yet - only about 6 feet of water at low tide. The entire area around Hope Town is about 8 feet at most.

Hope Town, with its famous lighthouse, is a lovely spot in many ways. The little picture shows a bronze door handle on the door that lets you get go out onto the balcony of the lighthouse (just above the top red stripe). The lighthouse is a wonderful example of the fruits of the latter part of the Industrial Revolution. It is made of iron, has a beautiful Fresnel lens, and uses a kerosene burner (like a giant Coleman lantern) to generate light - yes even today.

As you go north from Hope Town the population density drops off until you are into an area of uninhabited cays. This area still gets a lot of boat traffic as vessels either are coming or going to Florida from here. We did an overnight to Fort Pierce from a nice little harbour on one of these islands. It was an interesting trip for two reasons. The first was that we ended up doing more motoring than we had since leaving the United States. There was virtually no wind at all, even when we were crossing the Gulf Stream. We certainly look for any opportunity to sail and it never occurred to either of us to even try to sail. At most we might have had 5 knots and then almost on the news. The second interesting feature was crossing 50 miles or so of relatively shallow bank before reaching the open ocean between the islands and Florida. We were out of sight of land for many hours and yet the water was less than 25 feet deep the entire time (at times less than 10 feet).

We arrived at Fort Pierce just at dawn which was pretty much our plan, but our adventure was not over. As we moved toward and into the fairly narrow inlet there were hundreds of sport fishing boats, of every size, heading out. We just hoped they were paying attention and they seemed to be. Once we got into the ICW we were too early for the marina where we were hauling to be open. We decided to anchor for a couple of hours before calling them and heading in. Low and behold the mighty Westerbeke would not start. This had happened a couple of times before but I was always able to get it started by jumping the solenoid on the starter with a large screwdriver - not this time though. We ended up needing a tow into the marina - quite an ignominious ending to six months of a great sailing adventure.

After two days the mechanic finally came and it did not take him too long to discover that the culprit was a well-hidden circuit breaker on top of the engine that is part of starting circuitry. I did not even know that I had such a beast and it was hard to spot (it was under some wires and had been painted with the engine). Finally we got hauled and prepped the boat for long term storage until our return in October. The yard has many (300?) boats in long-term storage including many Canadians - we are between boats from Ottawa and Toronto. They do a good job of securing the boats since the ground is concrete and they have two ton concrete anchors (4 per boat) that each boat is tied to.

Future postings - coming soon I promise - will include more reviews and a look at our plans for the fall.