This is the age of the 28 million dollar price to ride on a used rocket that only goes 62 miles up and last 11 minutes. Spin rates decreased as Spider Tack loses its grip of MLB and more players got to first base. Half the population refused to get vaccinated and in response the virus mutates, celebrates, and goes on a country wide infection binge. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream will not be sold in Israeli occupied territory. The Olympics start today although the smart money is on covid 19 taking home the gold.
But we are in St. Lucia in our “off season”, far from the headline news. Since returning on board after our NYC visit, we have been busy with Kalunamoo’s M&R. Although we admit, it is not all work all the time. We note that many of our cruising friends up north are enjoying the summer sailing season. Others are sailing the Med or sailing the Pacific. For many, the pandemic slowed but not stopped cruising. We are somewhat jealous but this is the time we need to keep Kalunamoo in good shape so we don’t have worry about it in the winter cruising season. Some of the M&R was not done last summer as we anticipated that it would be done in Trinidad. That didn’t happen and it will not this year either. Although Trinidad did open its borders to fully vaccinated non-nationals a few days ago, things are so fluid, we decided to do the M&R here. So, we have to do some catchup work in addition to the annual work.
Workers came aboard to strip and refinish the teak cap and hand rail. Albi and Josiane did a good job as it’s been a few years since it was last stripped. I ended up putting on an extra coat of gloss after they finished because that is the easy part.
A few days after we came back on board our refrigeration kept tripping the electric breaker. This was the first serious issue with the unit since we bought the boat. I envisioned a new compressor in our future (and dealing with no refrigeration for the weeks it would take to get one) and was happily surprised that all that was needed was a new start relay. Prudent, the electrician, did a great job and we were up and running in a few hours. Unfortunately, two days ago the same problem arose. We are waiting for Prudent to return to find out what the problem is. We can go a few days before the holding plates get too warm and we lose all refrigeration. Fortunately, we are in the marina and we can get ice! Is a new compressor in our future?
A major cosmetic job that we wanted to get done in Trinidad was the repair of the teak trim and name board on the stern. It was damaged last year in Dominica by an unknown boat while we were ashore. The carpentry of Pride Edwin did the fine carpentry teak trim work while I got the name board back in place with rope braces, bolts and epoxy. All it needs now is a refinishing.
The anchor chain we bought in Guadeloupe last year was inexpensive. Yes, it was cheap. And guess what. You get what you pay for! It didn’t take long for the galvanizing to wear off and become a rusted mess. It just not the rust but the wear that results. The previous chain we had lasted 9 years. This chain, although not as bad as the previous one when we replaced it does show considerable wear. Compare a rusted part with new part and notice how it “stretches” due to wear of the links (this was the old chain). This “stretch” makes the chain jump out of the windlass chain wheel when raising the anchor. The total lenght of chain is 200 feet but we use only about the first 100 to anchor. We can end for end this chain and get another year or two of use, but we will be more careful the next time we replace it.
The list of other minor repairs and maintenance jobs kept us busy but we will have time for some “day sails” around St. Lucia once they are completed. In September or October the boat will be hauled for the annual bottom paint job.
So as billionaires blast off into space, ballplayers lose their grip, the virus dodges a quick defeat, ice cream makers make geopolitical decisions, and the Olympics lack live spectators, we carry on. We are, after all, “in retirement”. Our big adventure may be sailing 62 miles to the next port. That would take close to 10 hours. As long as the auto pilot doesn’t lose grip of the rudder, and we don’t have to make major geopolitics decision, our Olympic goal is to swim a few hundred feet and maybe see a turtle on the way. We don’t miss the spectators, although there are enough cruisers here for Sunday Dominoes and lunches. Everyone has their challenges and adventures in their own way. So maybe we should take pleasure in the fact that every time we bought from Amazon we were part of the great space exploration of the universe; or what the new meaning of sticky fingers mean; or how ice cream can change the world.
It was July 2 and Maureen’s birthday. People of a certain age don’t usually make a great deal of birthdays and so ours are low keyed. Nonetheless we do note, as a recent scientific study revealed, that people who have many birthdays live longer than those who don’t have as many. Having said that I hope that the Admiral of our Fleet has many more we can celebrate together wherever we are.
One of the ways we could have celebrated was for me to make breakfast, bring fresh flowers for the table, have a grand lunch at a restaurant with some friends and maybe a few old fashion rum punches as sundowners. Unfortunately, the only thing I could accomplish was breakfast. Elsa, a blustery visitor to our shores, arrived in the morning and hung around for most of the day.
Elsa, as you may know, was crowned Hurricane Elsa just as we were finishing our breakfast. She started to make her presence known when we woke at 5:30 AM as the winds started to pick up. The dense clouds obscured any sunrise although no rain fell for a few hours. Checking the local weather radar, the massive rain echoes were approaching Barbados. From the location and movement, it looked like the center of Elsa would pass over Barbados and head for St. Vincent. Barbados is 98 miles south-east of us, and St Vincent is 50 miles south of where we are, Rodney Bay Marina.
This storm was not a surprise visitor. For the last five days all eyes were on the mid-Tropical Atlantic. Weather forecasters and weather models were all in agreement that a significant tropical wave that came off Africa would face favorable conditions to form a strong wave or tropical storm and head west. That was exactly what happened. It sped quickly west, over 25 knots, and arrive on our doorstep as a tropical storm Elsa. It grew into Hurricane Elsa as it passed over Barbados.
By 8 AM squalls came in waves. Winds over 25 knots pushed Kalunamoo against the dock. This was expected. I removed our ramp the day before, added and adjusted dock lines to keep her farther from the dock (the south side of Kalunamoo). As the wind increased and heeled the boat the fenders protected the boat. I knew the winds would be clocking, going from North-East to East then to South East during the day so there would be less pressure against the dock as the day progressed. By 10:30 the barometer recorded its lowest pressure before starting to rise. This meant the center of Elsa was due south and would start to pull away. Sustained wind gusts to the mid 40’s (knots) made a racket as rain went horizontal. Instantaneous gusts were probably higher. The below table shows our observations during the day.
Since we were about 75 miles north of the center of the storm the strongest wind were south of here. Everything held as no damage was sustained. Heavy rains occurred here, in St. Vincent and Grenada. Landslides here killed one person in St. Lucia. We had hired a worker and his wife to varnish our teak toe rail and today he said that there was plenty of damage inland including lowsing part of his roof. The usual leaks when heavy rain occurs were noted on board but nothing like the old “leaky teaky” of yesteryear.
This was our first encounter of a named hurricane in the Caribbean. This was an early season storm, especially for this area. In the last 31 years only one other named storm crossed any East Caribbean Island earlier than Elsa. However, our close encounters with strong tropical waves and storms, here and on the East Coast, over the last 40 years were not unusual. Hurricanes were the prime reason we would go to Trinidad in the summer as it is below the “hurricane belt”. Trinidad has been closed since last year and who knows when it will open up. Nationals will be permitted in the middle of July but no word of non-nationals. In any case we chose to stay in St. Lucia as we flew to NY for 7 weeks, knowing that the marina is a relatively safe harbor during storms.
And it was. Many boats that were anchored in the bay, including commercial boats for the resorts, came into the marina the day before the storm. There was plenty of space and all were well protected. Granted that this was not a major hurricane and the winds were not at hurricane strength here, it still provided good protection. Electricity on the dock was shut off by 11:30AM until this morning.
The video is what the marina looked like during the day.
As written before hurricanes can be very destructive to these islands but there are steps that can be taken to lesson the danger. Heavy rain is sometimes more of a factor than the wind. The season has just started and no one knows where or when the next storms will form. Historically only 2 or 3 storms affect the East Caribbean during the summer season. Last year’s number of storms, 30, was a record. Only 2 were in the Eastern Caribbean. There was also a recent explanation from the National Hurricane Center that although it was a record number, modern technologies help identity more storms than ever before. It was an active season but not as active as the number of storms would suggest.
Well by late afternoon, the winds calmed down to the typical summer trades of 15 and less. Clouds and showers were still around but it was all quiet after a stormy day. Maybe Elsa came to celebrate Maureen’s birthday in a very unconventional way. What a way to say Happy Birthday Maureen!
Our inter-voyage time was spent in New York visiting family, friends and catching up on our doctor visits. Getting fully vaccinated combined with the lower virus levels gave us the opportunity to travel by car between Annapolis MD and Plymouth M. This included visiting other cruisers we have met while sailing and seeing them in their land-based environment. It was good to see everyone out and about after a long year of restricted movements if not out-right isolation. And it did seem like everyone was out and about! The roads always seemed jammed and the stores full!
But there was something else. Living aboard a boat for ten years certainly has its effects. Not the least of which is the altered sense of required living space and stuff. This is not surprising. It seems like a natural tendency that as we enter the work force, have families, advance in careers, we want more living space. We accumulate things, “stuff”, that almost seems organically part of us (family and relatives definitely are!). Modern living, if not our economy, is based on this. But it was strange to visit our cruising friend’s land homes for the first time. Since we only knew them while they lived on a boat, and were content to do so, their added surroundings on land seemed jarring. It added a whole new dimension to the people we know. It made obvious, the reality that in many ways people’s stuff is a reflection of who they are, who we are. This is not accidental, but mostly intentional. I don’t write this derogatorily. As we know, everything we wear, touch, own or use, defines us in certain ways. That is what advertising taught us. It may be true what my mother always told me: that we are what we eat. But it may also be true that our stuff defines who we are.
This has led to a Disney World of long lines and severe degradation of the natural environment. What you end up with are places like the Grand Canyon where the view includes helicopters buzzing overhead, donkey trains hauling their load of passengers like a long train of coal cars, hikers form worker-ant lines through the underbrush, lodges, parking lots, restrooms, roads, buses, trucks, campers, cars and small kids all add to a very un-natural experience. Or has that become the “natural” experience of getting back to nature?
They may have to pave paradise to put up bigger parking lots! What is the solution? Proposals to limit visitors by issuing entry passes for specific times, duration and activity fees are not out of the question.
The population will always increase, the planets size will not. What is needed is more National Parks. A place of unmatched beauty, accessible to all, and large enough to accommodate a hoard of visitors. A place where the sky is clear and at night the stars shine bright; where sunrises and sunsets are magnificent and the non-human inhabitants remain undisturbed in their natural environment. Where getting back to nature is what it is all about. The fact that 75% of the earth is water should give us a hint.
Welcome to the Bermuda Triangle National Park! A vast expanse of nature right at your doorstep. The area enclosed between Cape Hatteras, Key West and Bermuda can be your next National Park Adventure. It has everything to all those who want to experience what nature has to offer. No artificial roads, fences, or trails encumber the intrepid visitor. Be as free to explore as you wish!
It’s the place to visit anytime of the year. The warm waters will delight you in the cold of the winter. The tranquil winds of the summer, lull you with their benevolence. Want excitement and challenges? Come during hurricane season and, if you’re lucky, you can catch the beauty and power of nature at its fiercest. For those really experienced and equipped with the latest technologies, dive deep and explore the miles deep ocean floor. But you don’t need anything more than a capable kayak or raft to paddle the unreachable horizon. Climbing Mount Everest is passe now that the Bermuda Triangle is yours to conquer. Kayaking around the park has not been conquered yet! Take the kids, they’ll love the friendly dolphins that welcome you, the migratory whales that sing and the flying fish that wiz by as you connect with nature in this unspoiled National Park. Of course, there is also history to explore. Mystery and intrigue have been linked to the Bermuda triangle for years. Come, see what all the mystery is about!
While in New York we were impressed with the concern that others had for us. It was only hours after we landed at JFK, we got the first of many phone calls reminding us that our warranty on our non-existent car expired. We also were advised, by other concerned interests that our non-existent bank account was seized, our social security payment checks were placed on hold, that we might be entitled to substantial monetary awards if I had a hernia operation in the last 20 years, that someone stole my identity and committed a serious crime and I face immediate arrest and probable execution. Well, the last one never happened but the trend seemed obvious. It seems robots have taken over the phone companies.
We are back in St. Lucia for the summer season of swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, restaurant hopping, biking, walking, shopping and hanging out with cruisers who pass through. The tropical waves that bring increased squalls pass by almost on a weekly basis now. Their progeny may develop into storms or hurricanes as they travel west. A few day sails between boat maintenance, swimming and general island living awaits. It is the “off season” but the islands are eager to see the return of the tourists to fulfill their treasury. Tourist arrivals are above “average” for this time of year as the pandemic seems under control in the U.S. Hopefully that will continue. Trinidad is actually contemplating opening their borders after being closed for over a year. Hopefully a more normal fall season will develop.
So the summer season starts. We will miss family and friends up north but not the traffic and the concerned telephone calls! And we could visit the Bermuda Triangle National Park for some adventure.
Voyage 11 of Kalunamoo concluded in St. Lucia this year, as it did last years, due to the constrictions on cruising during a pandemic. We did spend about a half a year in St. Lucia and half in Antigua. Sailing was very limited, but the cruising lifestyle carried on albeit in a lower key. Social distancing, masks, on again-off again curfew’s and beaches, restaurant and business closures were the rule but didn’t stop all social activities. We managed to take 5 covid tests each to facilitate our limited movements and expect at least 2 more to fly to and from NYC in the next week. Vaccines are to be included, so at the end of the day, nasal swabs, masks, shots in the arms have become routine.
But enough about that. As I wrote above, this season’s voyage was a bit short of actual sailing. Two 30 hours sails: St. Lucia to Antigua and Antigua to St. Lucia was just about it. We did sail to Barbuda from Antigua and did sail around, literally, Antigua and dropped anchor in a number of harbors. But it was good to stretch our and Kalunamoo’s sailing legs and leave Antigua. And nothing broke! Although Maureen does have a sore back that may have been aggravated from the natural “motion of the ocean” and its effects on Kalunamoo.
Video of sailing “between islands” when the winds were up to about 20 knots.
The sail down from Antigua is on the western side of three intermediate islands: Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique. This means that the actual sailing is a relay of ocean sailing between islands with strong trade winds interspaced with calm or variable winds on the lee side of the islands. Every four or five hours conditions change drastically. The arrival and departure on the ends of the islands also has changing wind and sea conditions that add to the mix. This makes the non-stop passage rather interesting. A video of the interisland part is here. . The conditions on this passage were almost ideal for us. Wind was slightly north of east in the 16-20 knot range with some gusts to 22. This made for a beam reach and allowed us to carry full sail. In the lee of the islands, westerly wind was not unusual, and motor sailing and sail changes were the way to go. But many ask, what do you do for 30 straight hours?
This is also asked of our longer passages, up to 13 days from the U.S. to the Caribbean (we are not a fast boat!). The answer is, of course, sail. That in-itself, despite an auto pilot, will keep one busy. This last passage was a busy “sail” as alluded to above. But one thing I thought about was the Sargasso seaweed that is ubiquitous here. A few years ago, it was at its most prevalent but even now is substantial. One effect of this weed is to keep our trolling for fish to a very minimum. Trolling a fishing lure takes constant attention to remove the weed off the lure. Too much work! The origin, life cycle, and movements of the Sargasso weed are still not settled science, but I was struck by the brown seaweed streaks that litter the ocean. Some people look at clouds. I have looked at streaks. Do they look like rows and flows of angel’s hair? (Didn’t Joni Mitchel sing about this?). In any case, it is one thing that can be done sailing.
The brown seaweed is a visible mar of the iridescent blue of the Caribbean water. When winds blow, and they do 99% of the time and from one direction only, the weed forms streaks many hundreds of feet long flowing in the direction of the wind. It’s a good indication of true wind direction. The weed itself grows in mats and float on the surface of the ocean. The mats can become quite large, we have seen them around 3000 square feet or more in the open ocean. They extend only an inch or so above the water and less than a foot below the surface. So the question is, how do these streaks form from mats?
It seems like a simple answer. The wind breaks up the mats and push the small pieces down wind. But why do they form streaks, like a line of soldiers off to war. Are they connected with invisible thread? No. My first thought was that the edges of the mat must break free first and would then normally float down wind one after the other. It certainly looks like that is what happens. Then when we last flew into Antigua I saw from the plane mats of weed in the ocean. It was clear that the streaks were a trail left from the mats movement and not the other way around. But in either case, that doesn’t explain why mats and the trail would travel at different speeds. If the wind breaks up the mats, all the pieces should travel together. Maybe the waves do it. But the streaks conform to the wind direction and are perpendicular to the wave train.
It turns out that Irving Langmuir, saw the seaweed lined up in the Sargasso Sea in 1927 and asked the same question. He happened to be an American physicist and formulated why. The result is now known as the Langmuir Circulation. Fluid dynamics is not my specialty, but it is interesting to learn the solution to what appears to be a simple problem. In short, the weed is pushed into these streaks by rotating tubes of water. The axis of the tubes lie together horizontally for lengths of considerable distance. The diameter of the rotating tubes can be tens of feet from the surface. Adjacent tubes rotate in opposite directions so that anything floating on the surface is pushed to the side where it meets the adjacent tube. The other tube pushes anything floating in the opposite direction. The end result is a line of floatables between the tubes, hence the streaks. This works the same for anything floating, including bubbles or garbage.
How the tubes are formed are really complicated and not fully understood but is powered by wind, wind driven waves and currents. These tubes not only result in streaks but in vertical mixing of surface water. Oddly, the tubes are generally parallel to wind flow and develop quickly. They can also intersect other tubes.
So the streaks are not really blown by the wind but by the invisible circulating water made visible by the weed. Thanks Irving. I’ll never look at streaks the same way again. And yet, there is some beauty in the abstract forms that defy interpretation of fluid dynamics.
We will spend the Hurricane Season in St. Lucia keeping an eye out for threatening weather. Hope is high for a more “normal” cruising season next November but, like the Langmuir Circulations, we may be pushed and ordered by forces we know little of or simple assumptions that we don’t know at all.
In 1949, the movie White Heat was released. It featured James Cagney as a criminal psychopath with the famous last scene atop a flaming refinery tower. “Made it Ma! Top of the world”. A huge explosion engulfed Cagney that ended his criminal career. Credits roll. I saw that movie on the Million Dollar Movie TV broadcast sometime in the 50’s. It was the only scene I remember and somehow it just stuck in my head.
A few days ago, Ingenuity, a helicopter on Mars, made the first flight on another planet. The Wright Brothers were invoked to mark a major milestone. Well, as far as we humans know. Maybe the Martians already accomplished it and subsequently left the planet in search of a better planet. In any case it was a great achievement. I do, however, wonder why they used the old school term “helicopter” in lieu of the now in vogue “drone”. I suspect that “drone”, when used by the government, may not have the favorable, non-threatening vision that “helicopter” does. Words matter.
The point here is our quest to get on top of things. We strive to get our heads above the crowd. To see the bigger picture, to envision our place in the wider world beyond our immediate reach. Nothing new here. In this regard the line drawings in Peru are intriguing. As far as it can be determined, the people who constructed these graphics never actually saw them the way we do now, from hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. I can only assume that they traveled in their minds to see what they constructed. Many think they were actually drawn by aliens (People from Mars on helicopters?). Others think they were like big HELP sand furrow signs on a remote island written by a shipwrecked sailor. How drawings of cats and birds relayed a need for help alludes me. Aliens looking for pets may have been intrigued enough to stop by and check the earth out. Did the line drawers know that the human female figure does not have the universal appeal as we assume?
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to make it up to the top the world, also in the 50’s, was asked why he climbed the tallest mountain (29,031 feet) in the world. He reportedly said, “Because it’s there”. Well sure, it was there but the real reason must have been because of the view. No one on earth could look down on him for that.
It is true that people like to get to the bottom of things also. Victor Vescovo was the first person to dive to the deepest point in any ocean by submarine, the Mariana Trench (35,853 feet) in 2019. “Going to the extremes, I believe is a natural inclination of man” said Vesvcovo. Perhaps, but the problem, however, is that there is no great view there. Beyond about 1000’ feet, perpetual darkness envelops everything. The glory goes to those who rise above the crowd and not to those who dive to get to the bottom.
Here in Eastern Caribbean, one of the activities enjoyed by cruisers is the hike up the volcanic mountains that form the islands. We have done some of these when the body was more willing and capable. At this point we are more like those ancient Peruvians. We can imagine what the view from the top could be even if we never hike there.
Which brings me back to the idea of reaching the top. Yes, we all want to reach the top. After all, isn’t that where Heaven is? There are dangers in such ambitions that can not be ignored. Certainly, Cagney was satisfied for the brief time he was on the top of the world. The helicopter on Mars enjoys the well-deserved accolades it is receiving but will (probably) never hang from the ceiling of the Smithsonian.
The recent eruption of Mount Soufriere on St. Vincent here in the Caribbean and evacuation of thousands of residents around the volcano reminds us of the danger of inhabiting “the top” for any duration. This may be the main lesson in such endeavors. The journey in the direction to the top is the important part of the journey. Reaching the summit, we risk the danger of its exploding beneath us. The view may be great. The perspective may be enlightening. The sense of accomplishment satisfying. It may, however, leave us with our head in the clouds, or worse, the start of our journey to get to the bottom of it all.
The last blog reported on the metrics of living on a sailboat for the last 10 years. This one covers a very small sample of the photos captured during those years. Metrics don’t capture the lifestyle while pictures are worth a thousand words. So here are some words and a few pictures that we hope gives some indication of what we were doing over the last ten years.
Its about Sailing. Yes, the only way to get from point A to point B when separated by sea water is by boat or by airplane. We have nothing against airplanes, we use them frequently. But what better way than to harness the Earth’s wind to propel you to places that you can’t walk to? It’s also about the journey and the experiences along the way.
Sailing is a simple concept. Ever since man saw a log floating down a river, the idea stuck. He also noticed that wind can push the log as well as the river, and he then can direct the log to go where he wanted it to go. The rest is history. But sailing is fraught with the mechanics of doing so, especially if it entails transporting your full-time living quarters around in a saltwater mixture that is not kindly to metal or wood. The end result is the well-known lament of all sailors: Fixing Boats in Exotic Places.
Its about Adventure. Adventure is a very personal experience. One can find adventure turning a corner on a block you haven’t walked down before. It could be a book that had a surprised ending. It could entail talking to a stranger. It could be traveling to a far-off land in both space and time. It can be unanticipated or it could be planned in detail. In the end, it’s only in your own your heart and mind that you concede to having an adventure. Others may label if for you, but you know it in your heart no matter where it occurred.
It is about Challenges. The essence of any challenge is crossing the boundary between expectation and reality. Drinking a much too hot cup of coffee may be challenging. Skiing off a cliff in white out conditions may be another. Sailing in dense fog, in lightening storms than never seem to end, having to go to windward for a thousand miles, sailing hundreds of miles with a broken boom, sailing engineless into harbors, breaching the hull after hitting a rock outcropping, are some of the challenges we faced. Well as someone once said, “It took a Licking and kept on Ticking”. Challenges are related to Fixing Boats in Exotic Places!
It is about traveling. The world is a big place and even though you can “see” the world on the internet, being there still has an edge. Mostly because it is the little things that catch your eye but remain with you for years.
Its about living close to nature. This cannot be avoided while living afloat. The inside cabin may be warm and secure, much like a cork on a champaign bottle. Both are not far from the stirrings below and can equally be affected by circumstances and surroundings they can’t control. But the beauty can not be denied.
It is Lyrical. Sometimes in a most litteral sense. At other times its just wind in the rigging.
Its about People. Yes, they are called Locals. Maybe because we cruisers are the Express – the ones who don’t stop at every station, and wiz by on our journey to elsewhere.
As mentioned in the previous blog it is ALL a very social experience. Groups of cruisers gather as often as possible. Local restaurants, cafes and bars offer natural venues when individual boats are usually too space limited for the many cruisers that you meet while in port. Group walks, hikes and tours draw us together to explore new, to us, territory. Beaches offer a very informal setting for ad-hoc dinners and BBQ’s. The setting sun invites these gatherings to share “sundowners”. Blow that conch horn, watch for the Green Flash.
There is always a reason to gather and celebrate another day.
Ten years ago we moved permanently and full time aboard Kalunamoo when we gave up our shoreside apartment. “You’ll regret it”, said one of our friends but here we are, ten years later, still living on our boat with no shore-based abode. No regrets, but what follows are some observations, facts, data and opinions that may be of interest to those contemplating a similar move aboard and specifically to the Caribbean.
First, some background to fill in how we got here. Maureen and I bought our first sailboat in 1982, a 22’ Catalina, that carried us and our three daughters around the waters of New York City. It was docked not far from our single-family home in Brooklyn, NY. At the time we both had jobs (Careers – Maureen an RN in a hospital; Bill former Merchant Marine officer in cargo ship management). Two sailboats and 23 years later we bought our fourth boat, Kalunamoo, a 47’ Vagabond ketch. By then our kids were married and we had had grandkids. In July 2011 we were both retired and started sailing the East Coast, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Eastern Caribbean, avoiding the cold winter months of New York.
Those previous 23 years were filled with day sails, weekend getaways, overnight sails, two-week vacation cruises and eventually full time liveaboard and cruising. Yes, sailing is a gateway activity! I kept a log of all the places we sailed to. Since 2011, when we sailed to Bermuda, I kept a detailed “voyage log” of each voyage we undertook, wrote over 250 blog posts, took tons of photographs and consumed unknown gallons of rum. The metrics herein cover that time period.
From June 2011 to April 2021 we have traveled over 24,600 nautical miles on 11 “voyages” as follows: NY/Bermuda/NY; NY/Bahamas/NY; NY/Bahamas/NY; NY/BVI/NY; NY/Trinidad; Trinidad/Lesser Antilles/Trinidad; Trinidad/Lesser Antilles/NY; NY/Lesser Antilles/Trinidad; Trinidad/Lesser Antilles/Trinidad; Trinidad/St Lucia. Currently on voyage 11: St. Lucia/Antigua/? Between voyages, mostly July-September, we were still living aboard in New York or Trinidad but mostly stationary while visiting family, friends, dealing with medical issues, boat repairs, maintenance and land touring.
By the numbers
Excluding the time between voyages the following expenses were incurred:
Fuel: total diesel (main engine and generator) and gasoline (dinghy) the fuel used in ten years: 4322 gallons which cost $15,400 which averages $3.56/gallon or $1,540/year. Fuel in Trinidad was the least expensive, Bermuda the most expensive. We tend to use more fuel than others as we do a fair amount of motor sailing and we run the generator to charge batteries and run refrigeration about 3 hours/day at anchor. Overall, we used 0.18 gallons per total miles traveled. Certainly, fuel costs could be less if we strictly sailed all the time. We are not Sailing Purests! Obviously, it also depends on where your traveling (ICW is 100% motor and ocean passages could be close to 0%). In any case, you need to know the boats fuel consumption/hour and estimate the potential use.
Water: total freshwater water used on board since 2014: 8264 gallons, cost est. $1600 or $160/year. Clean freshwater is available in all our cruising areas and is in the range of $0.10-$0.35 per gallon. We do not have a water maker and use shore side laundry services which is about $500/year. We hold 230 gallons of FW and capture rainwater for external showers and rinse off. We average about 5 gallons a day with two people aboard. This is just the opposite of our fuel use as you can easily get accustomed to infinite freshwater supply from water makers. No doubt we are very fresh water frugal which many would not care to duplicate (Maureen is not so sanguine on this point).
Boat Maintenance and Repair: “Cruising is doing boat repairs in exotic places”. Very true. All things break eventually! We separate maintenance and repair as written below. In general, both take more time and resources than maintaining a house! This is mainly due to the higher cost of marine equipment (which is due mostly to a limited retail market), the restricted availability of local suppliers, and finding people with the specialized knowledge and skill of boat systems. In most situations, you can’t run out to Home Depot to get parts and Amazon doesn’t deliver easilc.
Maintenance: Things that must be maintained – engines, sails, rigging, bottom paint, ground tackle, safety equipment, batteries, electronics, paints and cleaners – are only discretionary in the sense of how well you want to maintain a boat. That could be from “museum” quality to barely seaworthy! I would say we are in the middle of the road. Materials for most of these items are usually available somewhere but always more expensive than in the states (Engine oil 15-40W, could be $25/gal). Bottom paint: expect to pay near list price down here. I do all the routine maintenance myself, avoiding labor costs (except bottom paint – I’m getting too old for that!). We averaged a little under $5,000 per year (ranged from $2,000-$7,000 in any particular year) in boat maintenance. This includes boat hauling but not yard storage which we account for under marinas.
Boat Repair: We account for all non-discretionary repair, including repair from damages, refit and upgrades, as boat repair. This may be looked at as capital improvements vs. operating expenses (boat maintenance). Good repair yards and services exist in: St Martin, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada and Trinidad. Prices/quality varies (Trinidad, historically has the best and least expensive workers). Always ask for prices and ask other cruisers for recommendations. There is no BBB here!
Kalunamoo was built in Taiwan in 1988 and was in very good condition when we purchased it in 2004. Since then we have had some major work done, (complete removal of the teak deck and recoring the deck) in Trinidad at about 20% of the cost in the States. Other major items included a new generator, electronics, main engine parts, outboard motors, dinghy, and grounding damage repair. Boat maintenance and repair must be on anyone’s cruising budget, but the actual amount depends on boat type, condition, age, use, etc. No “average” guide is useful. We have spent between $5,000 and $34,000 in boat repairs in any particular year.
Getting things shipped down to the Caribbean: anything is possible. So is the cost. Besides shipping costs some islands charge import duty or you need a broker to arrange customs. Generally speaking, St. Martin is the cheapest place for this as it is (like Trinidad) a hub for distribution. You need to check each islands procedure. Flying in with boats parts for “yachts in transit” may or may not be free, depending on the island (St. Martin, Antigua, Trinidad are free). Of course, you may not have the option of sailing to another island for repairs so you may not have a choice.
Marinas: We spent $41,296 for marinas and mooring fees while on all voyages (about 20% of the voyage time) and another $44,131 for marinas and boatyards for haul outs between voyages (100% of the time). We liveaboard in the boatyard if hauled. Combined, this averages to $8,500/year. On the other end of the scale, anchoring is free! Moorings, which are not, are sometimes used in places where the water is too deep to anchor (St Lucia, excluding Rodney Bay). Generally speaking, in the eastern Caribbean rely on anchoring in 15- 30 feet with varying holding conditions. Bahamas, 10-15 feet in less-than ideal holding. Anchorages can be tight at time as these are popular places, but room can always be found! (BVI’s are another story). Marinas are on all major islands and daily transient cost is around $1.00/ft/night, except USVI which are much more expensive. Discounts apply for longer stays. We spend all our time on the hook except when we fly off island. I don’t like to keep the boat on a mooring when off island, although others do. The bottom line: expenses can be anywhere from $0 to 365 x length of boat for a year depending on where you prefer to sleep at night. If you like air-conditioning and be plugged in, you will have to pay! Electricity is expensive in all islands. A/C when hauled in Trinidad is a must!
General living experiences aboard
Time tables: Do not cruise with a time table! Time here in the Caribbean is Atlantic Standard Time and locals and longtime cruisers operate on Island Time. An hour of Island Time on your watch may be anywhere between 60 minutes to 2 days. It depends on many unknown and unknowable factors yet to be discovered. Also remember that the weather does not have a time schedule and your movements, for safety or comfort, are highly influenced by weather conditions.
Food: all foods are available and edible in the Caribbean but cost slightly higher than in the states. Large supermarkets carry all staples but other items (candy, cookies, snacks, beer, soda) are higher priced. Local market for fresh local vegetables, fish etc. are usually the best deals. You can economize on food depending on your budget but expect your normal weekly food bill to be slightly above what you would spend in the States. (Ice cream is very expensive!). Cruisers learn to buy local, eat local!
Restaurants: Cheap to expensive, and all very good! It depends on how you want to spend your money. Just like ashore! “Street food” and local cafes offer the best value. But remember, cruising is a social activity, you will have much more opportunities to socialize at restaurants than you can imagine! Happy Hour and rum drinks may or may not be in your budget but this is all discretionary. Is rum cheap? Yes and no. Rum for mixed drinks can be had for $4-5/bottle. Good sipping rum can cost hundreds! Beer is around $1.25-3 per bottle, the same price in a bar as in a supermarket. Trinidad has the least expensive food, Antigua, St Lucia, BVI’s probably the most expensive.
Air Travel: we fly back and forth to NYC a few times a year (excluding the covid years!). NYC is a hub for us and flights are frequent. You can check your airlines for flights and connections to see what the costs are. They do vary by season!
Communications: Every year it has become easier to maintain communications with anyone in the world. Cell phones and the internet are ubiquitous and combined with data plans, video messages etc. there is no excuse to be uncontactable! Off-shore (over 10 miles off the coast) we don’t have a satellite phone (or the soon to be SpaceX system) but use VHF radio and signal sideband radio (that can send and receive email via Sailmail). Your unlocked cell phone can use local SIM cards or international plans from the States. We use T-Mobil and local cards. Note the U.S. plans (T-Mobil, Google Fi etc.) all have time limits of how long you can be out of the U.S. (3-6 months). Local data only plans are the least expensive and we use Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and Zoom for voice and video. These plans and rates change and evolve monthly but are the main means to communicate (even with your spouse!). We have a WiFi booster antenna but there is less and less “free” WiFi signals around anchorages. An internal router and a cell phone as a hot spot works very well. Our yearly cost for communications averages about under $2,000 per year.
Caribbean Weather: Living on a boat brings you closer to being one with the weather. Air temperatures are never below 75 at night nor higher than 85 in the day (we love warm weather). Except in the sun and out of a breeze when it can feel really hot. Expect daily rain showers at any time, usually for 6-7 minutes each unless the they are on Island Time (see above), then they can roll in all day and night. Opening and closing hatches keeps everyone fit. We have learned to enjoy the humidity, lack of snow and constant winds of the Caribbean. Storms at sea should be avoided (Duh!). But that is a topic for itself, but it doesn’t figure into the metrics of cruising. Weather forecasts and information is easily obtainable (local radio, internet, and paid services).
It is all Social
It was all about sailing. It was all about adventure. It was all about challenges. It was all about traveling, It was all about new experiences and people. It was all about living with nature.
It was all the above and the initial impetus to live the live-aboard cruising lifestyle. For the most part, we did experience and enjoy all of that. We certainly can’t say there is no more to do. The world is a big place that can be reached by boat. The Caribbean is a good place to start. But we have come to realize, for us, a good part of the life style is social.
It is impossible to count how many other cruisers we met nor how many “locals” we came to know. Cruising, especially how we cruise, is a very social experience. One number I do have is how many “boat cards” we accumulated. Almost all cruisers have “boat cards” which are a great way to easily exchange contact information.
Remember, everyone is mobile. The neighborhood is constantly changing, and you remember boat names easier than people’s names. Carrying a pen and paper around in your bathing suite is not easily done. We accumulated over 230 boat cards (listing at least 460 individuals) from cruisers we became friendly enough to have sundowners with if we cross paths again. Others we have kept in touch with for years. Double or triple that for those we met briefly, and you realize that this is a very social endeavor.
Books can, and have been, written about the many cruisers and locals you will meet. The cohort of cruisers encompasses all ages and from many walks of life each with their own story of why they do what they do. But this blog entry only covers the metrics of our experience. The richness of the lifestyle aboard is the intent of all the blog entries that are written here. They will continue.
Finally, on a personal level, this lifestyle is not for everyone. Nor is there any “right way” to live it. Relationships with your spouse, partner, family, and friends will be altered and only you can decide if those alterations are acceptable. Difficulties and problems don’t evaporate in Paradise! There are no metrics to determine happiness, nor should there be (read the last blog Easy Peasy!). As Bob Bitchen proclaimed: the difference between ordeal and adventure is attitude. Let life be your adventure, whether you sail or not.
I guess you saw the internet ad for the shoes you put on without bending down. No more struggling to reach for that footwear or trying to tie complicated knots. Who do you think you are? A gymnast or contortionist trying to touch your feet? And then you need to be a salty sailor, with extensive knowledge of seamanship knot tying. Enough of that. Humans did not evolve over millions of years to end up in ridiculous postures just to protect their toes. Shoes for the unbending, that is what we all can stand behind, or on!
Of course, this is just the start. I’m sure a startup company, backed by people who definitely have too much cash, have designed an innovated table. Eat without lifting your arms! Why go through the pain and agony of raising you arms to eat and drink? Not only is it wasted motion, it’s a waste of time. The innovative solution is right in front of you! Just sit down in front of the smartly designed food delivery system (FDS) and enjoy all your favorite meals without lifting a finger, or arm or hand. Add the optional BDS, beverage delivery system, and enjoy all your favorite beverages at the same time. Save time, save energy and be an environmentally sensitive person. Use your smartphone to preorder your dinner today.
The long tradition of eliminating obstacles to an easier life takes another step forward. This tradition started long ago. Many cite the invention of the printing press. It allowed people to know what others thought without actually talking to them. That evolved into many other forms of non-physical communications. Why walk a mile to communicate with someone when you can just text them? Life became easy.
Of course, easy seems to be the ultimate goal of life. We judge others on how easy their lives are. Beauty, intelligence, wealth, and health are all means for making and measuring life on the easy scale. Indoor plumbing makes it just as easy to dispose of our bodily excrements, as wealth makes it easy to dispose of inconvenient laws. Being attractive, helped by all the cosmetic methods available, makes it easier to meet new friends. Education makes it easier to withstand the uncertainty of the future. Even religion makes it easier to accept the inevitable.
If there is an underlying thread that stitches us all together, making life easier seems to be it. Advances in technology – driverless cars, remote intimacy, intelligence that is artificial, shoes that attach themselves without effort, food ingestion without the mess – is the means to weave the tapestry of life in the easiest way possible. Those who scoff at the thought of being entwined or entrapped in this tapestry and seek alternate paths through the labyrinth of life are frequently viewed with suspicion. Why aren’t they taking the easy way forward? There is no rational reason why shoes shouldn’t be self-attaching.
I write this as we approach our tenth year living aboard our sailboat. Many ask what the rational of this way of living is if easy is the goal of life. The fact is, technology has made this lifestyle easier. Not necessarily easier than living ashore, but definitely easier than in Columbus’s time. The next blog will detail some metrics of those ten years for those contemplating a similar move. But the question that must be asked is, has easier made us more satisfied, happier or better people. That is something to ponder as our shoes attach themselves to our feet.
After a week in Deep Bay and out of quarantine we decided to move up to North Sound, Antigua going around the west side, inside the reefs. We haven’t been up there in a few years and the weather forecast was for very mild trade winds for 3 days.
That is something that happens now and again in the winter. A strong cold front penetrating down to the Bahamas and a big low pressure storm forming in the Atlantic both kill the strong Trades here. It also portends that a few days later, large northerly swells from the storm will sweep thru the islands. All this was good news for a visit to North Sound and the Great Bird Island area. We would then sail south to Falmouth to ride out the swells when they arrive.
We haven’t been up to Great Bird in a number of years, the last time being when my daughter and son-in-law were aboard for a visit. It’s the most remote end of Antigua, mostly a nature park, with no developments, no beach bars and no services. A good place to “get away from it all”. The only problem is that it is on the north east corner of the island and not protected from the strong trades. Like Nonsuch Bay, it is protected by reefs from ocean swells and has a few small islands for wind protection. In calm winds the area reminds me of the Bahamas and that means shallow banks, reefs, and coral heads. Eyeball navigation is the name of the game but in good sunlight and clear water it is not that difficult. The pictures below look like the Bahamas. The other areas that look similar in the eastern Caribbean would be in the Grenadines. They have more coral reefs, but are like here, offer little protection from strong trade winds.
Kalunamoo first anchored off Guiana Island. It is ringed by mangroves and there are many walking trails on the island. The next morning, we moved Kalunamoo and anchored between Rabbit Island and Red Head. These small islands are just south of Great Bird.
We enjoyed dingy explorations around the mangrove and rock islands, snorkeling, swimming and even a kayak paddle. The nights were dark and star studded.
Ashore on Great Bird Is., where most of the birds are not (due to imported rats), the walk-way and stairs were being repaired so we couldn’t get up to the top. But it does have a great view. Maybe next time we are here. The sign said they have eliminated the rats so hopefully the birds will come back to their island.
In the meantime, we enjoyed the calm winds which allowed us to eat on our “Lido Deck”.
There are two ways out of North Sound and Great Bird. One is to back track west around Antigua through Boom Channel to Jolly Harbor. Since we didn’t want to go back to Deep Bay or Jolly Harbor, we chose to sail around the east coast down toward Nonsuch, English Harbor and Falmouth. We could hang out there when the winds pick up again and the northern swell comes down. All those areas are well protected from both. In addition, we could hit the restaurants in Falmouth, even though they are still only serving take-out.
So, the second way out of North Sound is via Great Bird Channel. I would never attempt that exit in anything but flat calm conditions. Since, we had flat calm conditions, why not?
The exit cut is very narrow with reefs on both sides. It’s not a straight path and with any seas, breakers are all around you. But the winds were calm, the seas were down, we decided it was doable. The only thing that was not perfect was that, although the sun was out, there was a bit of cloudiness. We left at 10AM. The sun was high but it was not a noon day sun. Well, ok, it was still calm. Off we went and here is a google photo and a screen shot of our GPS plotter. The red line is our actual course (the GPS antenna is on the stern). The width of the narrowest part of the channel could not be more than two boat lengths.
As can be seen on our plotter, we did a short S jog from one side of the channel to the other going north (bottom to top) . It was only a boat length wide but where the cross hair is, we bumped the reef on our starboard side. A little hair raising and heart pounding which brought thoughts of our adventure in St. Thomas a few years ago. This was much less and in less than a minute we were out in clear waters. The channel itself is about 25’ deep but the reefs are less than 5’ under. We draw 6”.
Well, when we were clear, I ran down to see if we were taking any water in the bilge. None! That was a relief. We may have a scratch but no hole! As I was checking the bilge, Maureen called down to me that someone was yelling at us? Really? Maybe to warn us of the reefs?
I came up and Maureen pointed to a guy in the water waving a spear gun and calling for help. Startled but, ok, let’s go to him. By this time, we were not far off the reef and so I was a little concerned as to how close we could get to him. Fortunately, we were able to come alongside. He said he lost his diving buoy and could he come aboard and be brought back inside the reef. He was being swept away.
The problem was that there was no way, I was going to go back thru that channel. Apparently he, Angus, was lobster diving and how he got out there I don’t know. He said his wife Julia was on their boat in the bay somewhere with engine trouble but could not say exactly say where she was. She didn’t know how to use the VHF either. There was not a single boat around us.
We lowered our boarding ladder and Angus hung on and gave us the telephone number of Julia. We called and he explained the situation. Apparently, she could see our boat but she could not tell us where she was. He climbed into our dinghy, which we were towing behind us. We took the outboard off when we left Great Bird as we don’t sail in the ocean with engine on the dinghy. If we had the engine, I could have dinghied him back behind the reefs. He decided that he could swim back (with the bag of lobsters he caught) and go over the reef. He assured us he would be fine.
We brought the boat back toward the reef as close as I dared and off he went. We circled around (see the red circles in the chart plotter) until he was out of sight (he had scuba gear on). Maureen decided we should call the coast guard and see if they can assist or at least be aware of the situation. I did, thru another boat relay and gave all the information including the wife’s telephone number. With nothing more we could do, we sailed south to Nonsuch Bay.
When we anchored, I dove on the hull and only saw one small scratch on the bottom of the keel, so all was good. We also called Julia and Angus answered and apparently got over the reef and back to Julia safely. As you can see in the photo, he caught a massive lobster and I wonder if that dragged him out. In any case, all turned out fine for everyone. Adventure comes when you least expect it, and fortuitous circumstances seems to save many days. A good shot of rum ended our day safely at anchor in Nonsuch Bay. I think I need a lobster dinner.
After visiting family and friends for my dad’s 100 birthday, we flew back to Antigua to rejoin Kalunamoo (see last blog). So far, we have had 4 covid tests to travel. A PCR in St. Lucia to allow sailing to Antigua; a quick test in Antigua to fly to NY; a quick test in NY after 4 days of self-quarantine; and finally, another PCR test to fly back to Antigua and then self-quarantine here for 14 days on board. We are glad that the original intent of “quarantine” meaning 40 days separated from others is now more flexible. Modern usage has shrunk that time period considerably. While all tests were negative, we still had to take daily temperature checks for the last 2 weeks here in Antigua (2x day) and to text them to the Health Department. But as of today, the Q flag is lowered as we are officially out of quarantine!
There is a general curfew here from 6PM to 5AM. Restaurants only have take-out although most businesses are open. Vaccines are just coming into the islands as they are getting donations from developed countries. It will be awhile before all locals will get the shots but with island populations around 100,000 it is not an insurmountable problem. Trinidad remains closed. Their population is over 1 million and still refuse international entry. Rumor has it that they may open in the summer based on how well the U.S. does with lowering their case load. All the other islands, relying on the tourist trade, are open but with strict requirements and protocols as the virus continues to circulate.
We are facing a similar situation as we did last spring of planning for the summer. Trinidad, again, does not appear too hopeful, as of right now, as our summer location. It looks like St. Lucia will again be our base and hopefully air flights in and out will continue. We will need a PCR test to get in but no quarantine. Our plan is to be vaccinated in the States in May when we can fly from St. Lucia (after a quick test to enter the U.S. again). That will probably be a requirement for all travelers by the end of the summer. Needless to say, all this testing renders island hopping difficult!
Fourteen days quarantined on the boat! But wait. Weren’t we on board for 15 days when we sailed from Virginia to the BVI’s? Yes, so, it was not so bad. Considering we could see Netflix and sleep all night and not stand watches while sailing, it was a piece of cake. Actually, we could have had cake but settled for brownies, doughnuts and cookies. We carry enough food to survive! We also have some cruisers that delivered some essentials while quarantined at anchor.
We could also get off the boat and into the water, just don’t swim to shore. The water temperature is around 80, as is the air, so swimming was encouraged. When we flew back to Kalunamoo we then sailed from Jolly Harbor Marina to Deep Bay to wait out the quarantine. It’s a good anchorage and a few other cruisers we knew were here. We could not leave the boat, but they came over, staying alongside – social distance – in their dinghy to share sundowners. My birthday was the other day and so we celebrated “dinghy style” with them. Among other things, sunset conch horn blowing became competitive.
Good cellphone internet, DVD movies and zoom calls made the quarantine more than bearable. A few small boat projects and compiling 10 years of blogs and pictures on the laptop has taken up the time. Next month will mark our tenth year of full-time cruising and liveaboard. The pandemic has certainly put a crimp in cruising but after this summer things should become more “normal”. We’ll see how that turns out. In the meantime, we sailed back to Jolly Harbor to do some food shopping. The freezer was almost empty, and it was time to restock!