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!
It’s hard to image what the world was like a hundred years ago. Why do I write about this now? My dad was born on March 4th 1921 and so we flew from Antigua to Brooklyn, NY to help celebrate his birthday. Due to the pandemic, we came in a few weeks before the day. A big one-day celebration was not in the cards, so the family agreed to “spread out” the celebration in multiple ways and days. It gave us all time to appreciate the milestone, and not for just one day.
On the way to the airport from Jolly Harbor, where Kalunamoo was docked, we passed through the little towns and villages, traveled the narrow roads and saw the small corner grocery, repair and “general stores” along the way. In some ways, the outer reaches of Brooklyn may have looked like that a 100 years ago. It is much different now and what we see after landing at Kennedy International Airport – the highways, large shopping malls, and the hustle and bustle of New York City, not to mention the snow, – is certainly different.
So, I turned the clock back 100 years. Maureen and I flew from Antigua to New York in 3 ½ hours. How would we have done that in 1921 and what would we have found?
Well, Gianni Capprioni, the Italian aviation pioneer test flew a 100 passenger flying boat in February and March 1921. Unfortunately on its second flight, March 4th, the aircraft crashed just after take-off. The airplane looked as gawky as one of today’s mega cruise ship.
But there was a U.S. “airline” in operation – “Pappy” Chalk commenced scheduled service between Miami and Bimini in the Bahamas in February 1919 as Chalk’s Flying Service. Chalk’s first base was a beach umbrella on the Miami shore of Biscayne Bay. It flew until 2007. In any case, no service from Antigua. Lindbergh wouldn’t cross the Atlantic for another six years. The current airport in Antigua was built for the U.S. Army Air Force only in 1941. JFK in New York was opened in 1948 (as Idlewild Airport). The only way to get to New York back then would be to sail.
Arriving in New York in 1921, we could listen to WJZ, one the first of a few stations that just started radio broadcasting. The World Series would be first broadcast that fall. News, however, had to be read in the newspapers. My dad was born on the day Warren G. Harding was inaugurated as President of the U.S., Calvin Coolidge was VP, March 4, 1921.
WWI was over, the pandemic of 1918 was over, but it was a restless time. There seemed to be skirmishes all around the world. The War to End All Wars seemed overly optimistic. The news of the day was that the world was fundamentally changing and moving forward. Russia was expanding its reach – Georgia was being invaded by the Red Army, communist political parties formed in Italy, Vienna, China, Spain, and Portugal among other places. Those early parties wouldn’t really take hold, other than in Russia, for another 20 years. The Irish guerrilla war of independence was in its heyday. By the end of the year, however, the Anglo-Irish Treaty establishing the Irish Free State, an independent nation incorporating 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, was signed in London.
In other places the roots of future conflicts seemed to be taking hold even while the roaring twenties started roaring. The London Schedule of Payments laid out World War I reparations. They had to be paid by the German Weimar Republic and other countries considered successors to the Central Powers – 132 billion gold marks ($33 trillion), in annual installments of 2.5 billion. Who thought that it might have been a bad move?
The Emergency Quota Act was passed by the United States Congress, establishing national quotas on immigration. Because this drastically limits immigration from Eastern Europe, Jews emigrating from there begin to prefer Palestine as a destination rather than the U.S. The roots of unrest head to the Middle East.
Mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in Greenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma that year. The official death toll was 36, but later investigations suggest an actual figure between 100 and 300. 1,250 homes are destroyed and roughly 6,000 African Americans imprisoned in one of the worst incidents of mass racial violence in the United States.
Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of the Nazi Party in Germany. After a speech by Adolf Hitler in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, members of the Sturmabteilung (“brownshirts”) physically assault his opposition.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s paralytic illness strikes while he is vacationing.
The Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in United States history and the country’s largest peacetime armed uprising, began in Logan County, West Virginia as part of the Coal Wars. They continued until September.
White Castle hamburger restaurant opened in Wichita, Kansas, the foundation of the world’s first fast food chain. During this year, the luxury goods brand Gucci was founded in Florence, Italy.
But the roaring twenties were born at this time also! This brought large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, films, radio, and electrical appliances. Aviation became a business. Modernity was born and the sky was the limit. Until it wasn’t.
A hundred years later, those historical events resonate in the news of today. Change some names and places and ask: has the world changed all that much?
One news item I read while doing some research (you gotta’ love Wikipedia and the internet; full credit is due to the writers of Wikipedia for much of this blog as it could not have been written on a boat while anchored, and under quarantine in Antigua without smartphones or the internet) was the following:
In 1921 U.S. President Warren G. Harding received Princess Fatima of Afghanistan who was escorted by one Stanley Clifford Weyman. I wondered if meeting the Princess could have altered the future of Afghanistan but that is another story. But who was Stanley Clifford Weyman and why was he mentioned? Here he is in uniform with the princess.
Turns out, Weyman was a first-class imposter and a world class con artist. In fact, his real name was Stephan Jacob Weinberg, born in Brooklyn NY in 1890. He liked the name Weinberg the best among his numerous nom-du plumes. According to The New Yorker magazine’s 1968 article, he “was a man who, unwilling or unable to remain an obscure citizen of Brooklyn.” In 1910, Weyman’s first imposture was as U.S. consul representative to Morocco. He dined in the finest restaurants in New York City, running up huge tabs but was eventually arrested for fraud. Next Weyman took on roles as a military attaché from Serbia and a U.S. Navy lieutenant, with each identity using the other as a reference. He was found out and arrested. He then became Lieutenant Commander Ethan Allen Weinberg, Consul General for Romania. He inspected the USS Wyoming and invited everyone to dinner at the Astor Hotel. The advance publicity alerted the Bureau of Investigation and federal agents arrested him at the party. Weyman was heard to complain that they should have waited until dessert. He got a year in jail.
In 1917, Weyman took on the mantle of Royal St. Cyr, a lieutenant in the British Army Air Corps. He was arrested when he was on an inspection tour of the Brooklyn Armory after a suspicious military tailor alerted the police. When Weyman was paroled in 1920, he forged credentials to become a company doctor in Lima, Peru. There he threw lavish parties until his credit ran out and he was arrested.
In 1921, he noticed Princess Fatima of Afghanistan, who was visiting the United States and was trying to get official recognition. He also saw the jewels that she wore. Weyman visited her as a State Department Naval Liaison Officer and promised to arrange an appointment with the President. He convinced the princess to give him 10,000 dollars for “presents” to State Department officials. He used the money for a private railway carriage to Washington, D.C., and an opulent hotel room in the Willard Hotel for the princess and her entourage. Weyman proceeded to visit the State Department, and succeeded in getting appointments for the princess, and with President Warren G. Harding. His mistake in protocol aroused some suspicion, but after the press published pictures showing him alongside dignitaries, he was indicted for impersonating a naval officer and sentenced to two years in jail.
In 1926, Weyman appeared at Rudolph Valentino’s funeral and attached himself to Valentino’s grieving lover Pola Negri as a personal physician. He issued regular press releases on her condition and established a faith-healing clinic in Valentino’s house.
During World War II, Clifford Weyman was sentenced to seven years in prison for offering advice to draft dodgers on how to feign various medical conditions. In 1948, he made up credentials to become a journalist at the United Nations. In 1954, he also tried to get a home improvement loan of 5,000 dollars for a house that did not exist. He failed to convince the judge that he was insane.
In August 1960, Weyman was fatally shot when he tried to stop a robbery at a hotel in New York City where he was working as a night porter. The investigating detective said: “I’ve known about the man’s past record for years. He did a lot of things in the course of his life, but what he did this time was brave.” He was in state or federal prisons at least 13 times. There is a difference between a con man and an impostor but not much. A con man may just be an impostor without class.
And Princess Fatima? She indeed was from Afghanistan, and a distant and unimportant relative of the ruling family but was also a bit of a con artist taken in by Weyman herself.
That was the world my dad was born into. He lived amid the blossoming of those events over the following 100 years. By the time he was 8 years old, the Great Depression following the roaring 20’s formed his formative years. The world went to war again, and he served his country in WWII, married his sweetheart, raised a family, succeeded in work and play, danced the Lindy with my mom, fished an awful lot, and populated the Greatest Generation. He now sends emails on his IPad.
We enter a world not of our making; a stage, if you will, with the scene and players already set. Do we not have many Weymans populating the world today, wishing to avoid obscurity at all cost? Dad is just the opposite of a Weyman. An obscure citizen of Brooklyn? Not to the family, friends and co-workers that know him.
So, I give thanks and a big Happy Birthday wish and love to my dad who could never be accused of being anyone other than himself. A lesson well taught and learned. The stage we are born on maybe set, but how we act today will determine how it is set tomorrow for those who follow. My dad and mom set a very good stage for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
We hear singing whales, the grunts of fish, the crashing of waves on rocky coasts and sandy beaches. The wailing sound that rigging makes when strong winds blow. The nightly slapping of wavelets on a hull of a still sailboat. The hills are not the only place filled with the sounds of music.
Ever since the first man or woman carved out a tree trunk, climbed aboard and floated down the river, rhythmic utterances, later known as songs, helped propel them to their destination. They mimicked the sounds of the waters they traveled, coordinated their work to raise sails or pull oars, lamented their separation from those ashore, and sang songs from inspirations gleaned from the sea. They appealed to the gods of the oceans for safe passages, bountiful catches, and quick return home.
It is no wonder that the grunts of early seafarers became the chanties and melodic sounds of generations of voices that followed; that instruments to accompany and argument those songs were carried aboard and protected as much as the provisions were for long passages. The advent of recorded singing and worldwide communication didn’t dim the need, or want, of such musical tradition.
With this background, we raise a flag to the spreaders. It signals that we are open for seafarers to gather aboard and, as a friend once said, “bring joyful noise to life”. No need to be proficient, learned or even melodic in temperament. Voices can be angel sent, or a devil’s growl. The idea is to use the language of musical intonations to convey something that otherwise lies dormant. It fills a void left by the inadequacies of both spoken and written word to convey full human feelings and yearnings. In short, not all things in the heart can be communicated with the spoken or written word. Nature has not given other animals the speaking and writing abilities of humans, but we are blessed that those abilities can be melded to nature’s sounds.
There is, of course, always another side of the story. In this case, the other side of the interface between air and sea: underwater sounds in the ocean. Recent news articles have pointed out how scientists, after listening to the sounds in the ocean “confirms that anthropogenic noise is becoming unbearable for undersea life” (NY Times Feb 4, 2021). “Sound travels faster and farther in water than in air. Over evolutionary time, many marine organisms have come to rely on sound production, transmission, and reception for key aspects of their lives. These important behaviors are threatened by an increasing cacophony in the marine environment as human-produced sounds have become louder and more prevalent.”
Humans, apparently, and their ships, seismic surveys, air guns, pile drivers, dynamite fishing, drilling platforms, speedboats, dinghies, and even surfing — have made the ocean an unbearably noisy place.
The articles describe how these noises interfere with many living sea creatures. Juvenile Clown Fish need to hear the surf breaking on the reef to find their way home. Dolphins are well known underwater communicators. Whales can go deaf, get extremely disoriented and beach themselves when subjected to prolonged and powerful sonar pulses. The later was aptly detailed in the book War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz. It described the U.S. Navy’s cover up of how sonar affected whales in the Bahamas and in other places worldwide. At one time the navy had one sound generator in the Indian Ocean that could be heard in virtually all oceans (it was used to track Russian submarines).
Jelly fish and zooplankton are impacted as well. “Marine life can adapt to noise pollution by swimming, crawling or oozing away from it, which means some animals are more successful than others. Whales can learn to skirt busy shipping lanes and fish can dodge the thrum of an approaching fishing vessel, but benthic creatures like slow-moving sea cucumbers have little recourse.” Which sounds an awful like how “environmental injustice” works on land when more affluent people can escape the effects of land pollution by moving to better neighborhoods. So, am I adding to the cacophony of disruptive sounds in the ocean by jamming on board our sailboat?
To sing or not to sing, that is the question. Is it better to suffer the pains of silence or take voice and bellow out against inadequacies of just the spoken words and writings of a feeble mind? Will those creatures of the deep suffer the slings and arrows of our piecing songs, to die, to sleep? And by a sleep to say they end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that fish are heir to.
Shakespeare concluded that such a question led to no action at all as conscience makes cowards of us all. Methinks we have progressed and can face the challenge. Let us be mindful and sing in harmony with the creatures of the deep.
We are not in Deep Bay. After posting the last blog entry we decided to stay a few more days in Five Islands. The draw of free WiFi was one reason but sometimes we just get accustomed to a location and decide to stay. Keeping an ever-watchful weather eye out for changing conditions also influences our decisions.
In this case, the big winter storms up north start to have an impact on the islands, especially the northern Leeward chain of the Lesser Antilles. Antigua is pretty far north in the chain and so is subject to impact. Not that these storms that bring wind, snow, and cold temperatures to the East Coast have a direct impact but they do affect the weather patterns here. Two effects that are particularly noted concern the wind and swell.
The Trade Winds blow all year from the east and are strongest in the winter. The “Christmas Winds” at the end of the year announce the stronger trades for the rest of the season. They do, however, take a break if a strong storm comes off the East Coast. When temperatures suddenly drop in Florida due to a strong cold front pushing south, we take note. That raises havoc in the Bahamas as strong wind shifts occur that come out of the west. That’s a problem there, as most anchorages in the Bahamas are not protected from west winds.
Most times, that front is anchored in a deep low pressure system in the Atlantic Ocean. As the cold front pushes south, it reaches Puerto Rico and stalls. Eventually it dissipates. By doing so, the islands south and east of Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, experience a drop in the trade winds. This is actually quite pleasant. Temperature don’t change, they remain in the low 80’s but the strong winter trade winds calm down.
The other affect may not be so benign. That big low pressure system that anchors the cold front spins in the North Atlantic after dumping snow and cold winds on the East Coast. As it does so, large waves are generated that head south. In a few days those waves arrive in the islands as long swells. Depending on their strength and the topography of anchorages, boats anchored can expect rolly to very rolly conditions.
What is meant by rolly anchorages? There are anchorages that are so well protected from ocean swells, that no roll – the boat rolling from side to side – is noted. The amount of tolerable roll is subjective. It also depends on the individual boat’s response to various swell periods and the angle the swell is relative to the wind. This makes for some interesting discussions with other cruisers. When queried by a fellow cruiser as to how rolly an anchorage is, we may say it is fine with only a little roll. When they show up and anchor, they may complain that their dishes are flying off the bulkhead. All a matter of opinion what “fine” is. Having gone through this a few times, both as the reporter and recipient of roll reports, I think we should be more specific in description.
In that regard, I devised a simple guide:
This might not suite everyone but it is a start!
So, with an eye toward the weather, we saw a prediction of a strong cold front and deep low coming off the coast. The effect was that there would be very light winds on one day and then large swell for a few days after. This was a good time to go from Five Islands around to Falmouth Harbor. The harbor would be immune to the swells and the sail along the southern coast, due east to Falmouth, would be easy. It actually turned out that way last Friday. In fact, the winds died completely, so we just motored around and anchored deep in Falmouth Harbor. Current role: Stage 1.
The other reason why we came here is that on Thursday we are going to get a quick COVID-19 test at the Antigua Yacht Club in Falmouth. We need that to board the plane back to NYC on Saturday. Kalunamoo will be in Jolly Harbor Marina while we fly up to NYC for a few weeks for my dad’s 100th birthday. We are looking forward to being there (although his birthday is in early March). We haven’t been back to the States in over a year. Will practice social distancing, masks etc. while in NYC, including a short quarantine in our friend’s empty apartment but all should be well. We will need another PCR test to return to Antigua and a quarantine period on the boat on arrival. Well, it will all be worth it, you don’t turn 100 all that often! Hopefully we don’t get snowed in. It should also be a stage 1 roll in the apartment.
In the meantime, we continue to keep busy with other cruisers. Antigua just entered a higher social restriction period. All restaurants have take-out only for the next few weeks and evening curfew starts at 8PM. The island has a current total case load of 37 cases with 508 people in self-quarantine.
With plenty of time to read and reflect, I have been posting some of my thoughts on Kalunamoo.com, apart from this blog. If your interested click on the Essays botton to read them.
After a short afternoon sail from Jolly Harbor, we dropped the hook in Hermitage Bay. Hermitage Bay as its web site writes is a “…sensitively developed resort [that]celebrates the peace, warmth, and extraordinary natural beauty of the Caribbean”. Well, who could object to that! Not I for one.
Hermitage Bay, Antigua is just past Stony Horn and Bakers Cellar. It actually sits on the edge of York Salt Pond. The other edge of that lies Mosquito Cove. Due east, up wind, is the refuse dump where the areas waste is often disposed of and burned. There may be the haze, and definitely the aroma, in the distance. Always know your surroundings!
But we come to Hermitage Bay for the peace, warmth and extraordinary natural beauty that is endemic to the islands. The winter snows that others enjoy, and perhaps as we did in some distant past, never touch the pink and white sands of Hermitage Bay. And that is ok by me.
The waters of the bay, unfortunately, are not the typical clear Caribbean water we are accustom to. The local geology deposited a very fine clay like sand in the bays in this area. The result is rather murky, not dirty, just murky near shore waters. But other than that, the area has “extraordinary natural beauty”. Mostly.
It is also fitting in this time of pandemic that a hermitage is called to mind. Of course, Old Hickory’s plantation home in Tennessee was called The Hermitage although I’m not sure why, especially for a President. And there are many other historic hermitages around the world. I remember one we visited in the Bahamas had a door about 4’ high. Must have been a very short hermit. I think the reason why there are so many hermitages is simple. A hermitage is a place where hermits live; or a group of them living in seclusion. If the world is full of hermits, and by definition they keep to themselves, you’ll never see them. Actually, we will never know how many there are, as we just keep finding traces of them here and there.
The pandemic may have made many more hermits. Interestingly, however, a “hermitage house” in the English planned landscape park Plainshill was constructed in the park for a hermit. He was actually hired to occupy it. Seemed he only lasted a short time as he was frequently absent. I guess it is hard work being a hermit.
As I mentioned above, I assume many have become hermits given the present world-wide situation. It is too early to determine if this lifestyle will then “catch on”. Perhaps with enough bandwidth to Zoom everybody you know, it may. This is something to think about. The current idea of bringing the country “back together” maybe like fighting the last war. Can we all just get along better living in our own bubble and carrying our home on our back? Can we self-sort our lives and political, religious, and social philosophies independent of physical space? I’m thinking like Doctors Without Borders. Live in your own state of persuasion.
Many people think that living on a boat may be akin to living like a hermit. This is not necessarily true. Cruisers do like to socialize when not practicing hermitage. Think hermit crab: he/she carries his/hers home on his/hers back. A much more apt description of cruisers. Whatever.
Looking at those little boxes on the hillside (apologies to Malvina Reynolds), which may or may not be made of ticky-tacky, it is expensive to live like a hermit in this resort. Much less so on a boat. Theirs is also very exclusive. We are seriously dissuaded to land our dinghy on their beach and wander around their hermitage. I understand that they will accept a fistful of money to buy drink at their bar. We try not to carry a fist full of money when in our dinghy.
In any case we see the same setting sun from our boat, anchored free in front of their hillside boxes and can enjoy the “peace, warmth, and extraordinary natural beauty of the Caribbean” just as well as they (including their free internet!). The big difference is that their hermits go away to their own abode after a week or two. We just move our home to the next extraordinarily natural place of peace, warmth and beauty. Mostly.
Our next anchorage will be Deep Bay. That, of course, brings to mind Deep Thought, the super-computer from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. Until then keep the peace, stay warm, and enjoy the extraordinary natural beauty of wherever you are.
The winds of change have arrived! Or have they? The Christmas Winds here came on strong for about a week, just after Christmas. The strong trade winds blow above 25 knots, with rain squalls in the 30’s. That limits sailing around. They generate 10+ foot seas and swells that can penetrate otherwise calm anchorages. Combined with swells from typical winter North Atlantic storms, it can make inter-island sailing “sporty”.
But this year they died down and haven’t peaked again. That’s good for now, but the winter is as young as the year. The pandemic is still raging but hope, in the form of vaccines, is also in the air. There’s not much talk about the vaccines coming soon to the islands except the U.S. Virgins which have begun to distribute it in phases. Our best hope to get the shots is to get back to U.S. territory but we also want to get back to New York for my dad’s 100 birthday. We are also running out of time on our Antigua visa that allows us to stay here. Air flights are limited, travel bureaucracy is endemic, and testing fees begin to add up.
This is all to say that living on a boat is not as “care-free” as one might suppose. Not that I am complaining. The pandemic has spared no one, at best, inconvenience and at worse, death. But it is the hope that in the new year, we would head toward a new “normal”. News from the States is shocking as reality seems to be rooted in the quick sands of personal myopia.
Life aboard in Antigua goes on. Definitely more “live-aboard” than “cruising”. Our neighbors are only a dinghy ride away. Here in Falmouth Harbor, we have get-togethers with other cruisers, swim, repair our boats and watch boats come and go.
The sailboat boat “La Vagabonde” came in the other day. This is the popular video blogging catamaran with the Australian’s Riley, Elena and their young son Lenny aboard. We met them here a few years ago when Elena was pregnant with Lenny. Well, they are here again (after sailing the Bahamas, and Europe), and they are now expecting their second child. We wish them luck as they are planning for a new electric boat. Winds of change indeed!
Meryl and Jim on the trawler Kokomo (we met them is St. Lucia) are anchored next to us. Jim played profession jazz piano for many years and when we had a jam session aboard Kalunamoo a few weeks ago, gave a great performance. Yes, I’m jealous!
Lee on his 52’ sailboat, Allegro, invited some cruisers, myself included, on the Nelson’s Pursuit race. We have known Lee and Sharon for years here in the islands. They are long time cruisers but raced extensively when they were in the states. It was great afternoon race with winds in the 16-20 knot range and typical ocean seas. Lee definitely knows how to race and to drive his “crew”. Us cruisers, not accustomed to being “driven” may have had thoughts of mutiny but we came in first place! Yes, again I’m jealous!
The first boat to finish the Talisker Whiskey Ocean Challenge, Row for Cancer, came into English Harbor around 4:30 AM today (Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021). Mark and Kai, from the Netherlands, rowed 3000 miles from the Canaries in 32 days, 18 hours, a new world record, non-stop. Two hours on, two hours off 24/7! I didn’t see any fishing poles so I don’t think they did any trolling on their way across. The second boat, On the Shoulders of Giants, from the UK is a 4 man boat and is about 2 days back. The remaining 19 row boats behind them will arrive over the next weeks. Single handed, pairs, three and four men and women rowers comprise the fleet. No, I’m not jealous!
I had to install a new water heater just after the New Year as M&R in exotic places never changes. We rented a car one day to do some serious provisioning in the very large Epicurian supermarket in St. John. Jim and Meryl from Kokomo came along and we filled the trunk to capacity. Upon backing up to unload the trunk at the dinghy dock I came too close to a post and broke the tail-light. Why cars don’t have big fenders like boats I’ll never know. The car rental agency looked and found a replacement from a junk auto yard so the repair only cost $200, half of what the water heater cost. M&R ashore in exotic places!
We will fly to NYC in February for a couple of weeks and will put Kalunamoo in Jolly Harbor Marina when we do. The pandemic makes flying a concern but we all must adjust our sails to the conditions that we face. Hopefully the winds of change will land us all in a more “normal” place. We’ll just have to wait and see.