Bahamas? Thru the Cut! Rescue at Sea!

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 anchored between Rabbit and Red Head Iisland

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.

Hells Gate, although I would call it Needle Island
Great Bird South Beach

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.

Google Photo
Red line is Kalunamoo’s track

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.

Angus on our dinghy. That is far off shore the reef is.

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.

Angus andhis lobsters.

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.

Quarantine Ends

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!

Anchored in Deep Bay

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.

Swim Call!
Sailing: the most expensive way to travel for free.

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.

In Martinique. Not
Social distance raft up.

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!  

100 Years Ago

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.

Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn around Ave S, in the 1920’s

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.

Gianni Capprioni’s 100 passenger flying boat, 1921

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.

Two views of Kings Highway, Brooklyn NY, 1923 vs 2011

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.

Stanley Clifford Weyman, 1921

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.

Sounds of the Sea

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.

Not Deep Bay

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.

Falmouth Harbor, where the big boys play

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, apart from this blog. If your interested click on the Essays botton to read them.

Hermitages & Hermits

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.

Plainshill , England

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.

The Hermitage Resort, Antigua

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.

Winds of Change

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!

Jim, Chuck and Jeff on Kalunamoo

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 at the Helm
The Crew on Allegro (I took the picture!)

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!

Row 4 Cancer two days from Antigua

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!

Arrival this morning

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.          

Time to Thaw

Well the year ended. Over the last week we video messengered family and friends and wished them all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Antigua. We do the same for those reading this blog. Most of our family, and a number of our friends, are all well north of here by thousands of miles. This means that their weather is quite a bit different than ours in the Caribbean. It is not unexpected that one topic of conversation that pops up is the temperature difference between our respective environments.

Oh, how many of them enjoy the cold wintery weather and express such glee in the falling snow that is piling up around their home. A real Christmas scene, a delight in their eyes. Come March they may not continue to sing such songs of joy (again), but this is not the time to gloat. They have in mind our misfortune of not having the pleasure of this winter wonderland descending from the heavens every year. Every year. Overcoats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, snow shovels, blankets, sweaters, and ice picks may make the season joyful, but frostbite is just plain frightful. And that brings us to common ground with our northern brethren.

First, we too must breakout the icepicks and attack solid inch thick slabs of ice. This happens more often than you may think. I know many up north do this outside their homes. Perhaps its on their walkways, vehicles or doors. Here, that icy menace is right in our home. Right where we keep the vegetables, meats and other essential food stuff of life, including beer.

The Frozen Section

Yes, I’m talking about the reefer (refrigerator) holding plates. What’s a holding plate? Well for those who remember, the Ice Man (no, not the cartoon character, the guy, usually Italian, that sold ice door to door), it’s like a miracle. In the reefer compartment and in the freezer compartment on our boat, we have 2” thick aluminum blocks that act like very cold ice blocks. No need to call the iceman to replace the ice in our “ice boxes” to keep things cold. The infrequent use of an electric compressor replaces the ice man and keeps these blocks frozen for days. This is different from your refrigerator at home which runs almost continuously. But the plates accumulate ice on their shell and must be “defrosted” monthly.

And so, with ice pick in hand we chop away the ice. Fortunately we usually do this in our bathing suite.

The second run in with ice is more welcoming: assembling sundowners. Those are the “adult beverages” consumed whenever the sun sets. Keen observers have noted that this occurs almost every day. The exception is if we oversleep a late afternoon nap. In that case they are called early evening eye-openers, but serve the same purpose: helping us translate from day to night before a restful night of sleep.

Care must be taken handling this ice as the proper amount is required for each “adult beverage”. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the alcoholic beverage used, the less ice is required. This comes in handy when visiting friends and judging their net worth.

This year end blog was going to wrap up 2020 and here I am writing about ice. In many ways, the year seemed like the onset of another Ice Age. We became frozen in place: eight months in St. Lucia and we are now in Antigua indefinitely. Our faces are covered to protect us from pandemic winds, social distancing precludes hugs and we are unable to move about in the drifts of uncertainty.

Well, hindsight is always 2020 but somethings are best forgotten. I think we all can agree that we can write off 2020 as the year the wheels fell off the wagon, common sense and decency kicked the bucket, the country bought the farm, the sky fell, the river either ran dry or overflowed, people played with half a deck, too many were not the sharpest knives in the draw, and the fat lady finally sang.

Christmas Eve and Day dinner was celebrated aboard by Maureen and I with video visits from our family. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve at midnight in English Harbor, Antigua Yacht Club and Pigeon Beach  were viewed from Kalunamoo. The little group of cruisers in our bubble have gathered together for occasional sundowners, a music jam on board, movie night, dominoes and restaurant nights. Hope springs eternal because we all believe the New Year holds the promise of better times ahead.

Fireworks over English Harbor, Antigua YC and Pigeon Beach

The strong Christmas winds have been blowing for two days and they should be able to bring in the New Year without difficulty. So as the New Year dawns, let the thawing begin! Lets all have some fun, in 20-21! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Will They Pave Paradise?

We sailed to Barbuda the other day despite the very light wind. Actually, we ended up motor sailing the 30 miles from Jolly Harbor and dropped anchor in the clear waters at Coco Point. Since there are no “harbors” here, just open roadsteads, you choose the right weather window, including the predicted swell conditions, to anchor comfortably and safely. We, along with a number of other cruisers that we know, decided to come here before the “Christmas Winds” kick in. Those winter Trade Winds make sailing “sporty” when sailing between islands. We’ll be back in Falmouth for the holidays.

Barbuda, all 62 square miles, is a flat, Bahamas like island, quite different than all the other Lesser Antilles except Anegada which is similar. What sets Barbuda apart (it is officially part of the country of Antigua and Barbuda) is not only its topography.

The island is like a Bahama’s family island: think Eleuthera not Nassau. Only about 1800 people live on the island which has no real industry; just fishing, farming, hunting and limited tourism. When hurricane Irma came by in 2017, it wiped out 90% of the buildings and everyone was evacuated to Antigua. But what is really different is that the land is owned “in common with the people of Barbuda”, documented in the Barbuda Land Act 2007. That law specified that land cannot be bought or sold (Barbudian’s have a right to live on the land) and major developments on government leased land, valued over $5.4 million, must be agreed to by all the residents.

A few years ago, before Irma, we were here and took a short tour on the island and saw the largest frigate bird nesting area in the Caribbean. It really is a pristine place of natural beauty even though it does not have the volcanic mountains of the other islands. It has wet-lands and caves and beautiful beaches. The beaches are at the top of our list of great beaches. The sand at Coco Point ranks the whitest on my island sand collection! The snorkeling is good although the hurricane did do some damage, but the water is clear. Our current visit here will only be for a few days as we are restricting our travel to only the anchorage area. Some of our cruising friends, Roxy, Allegro, Merlin and Kokomo, took a long dinghy ride to a small local beach bar for a great lunch. There is not much else around! We also snorkeled, had sundowners and a dinghy drift – all the usual cruisers activities!

Dinghy Drift in Barbuda

But all is not peaceful on Barbuda as change is in the air (or on the sand). After the hurricane of 2017, the law was changed to define “major developments” from $5.4 to $40 million. Since the island was devoid of major developments, that has attracted developers like honey attracts flies. Understandably, when money is waved many people, including governments, salute. So it is here.

One third of the island is designated a natural resource protected area by Ramsar (an international treaty for wetlands) and a National Park area (Antigua and Barbuda). The local Barbuda Council working  under the Antigua government authority, is fighting that change in the law. There are now interested parties (Robert DiNiro, Steve Anderson, and Jean Paul Dijoria – the later formed a corporation named “Peace, Love and Happiness” for their Barbuda developments) fighting for development. Others, including international environmental organizations are fighting to keep development out or ensure development is environmentally sound. Others are calling for selling land to the highest bidder. All claim that this is in the best interest of Barbuda. The developments that are already underway, amid the legal fights, are the usual: luxury housing, golf courses, and mega yacht marinas. Politics comes to play along with the usual money flows to grease the wheels of progress. The locals need jobs but don’t want to change. Foreign investors see gold in the sand. Environmentalists see catastrophes but the turtles in the bay just dive for sea grass while the Frigate birds roost with their colorful plumage.

The following photos show where we are anchored and the developments that are starting to spring up here.

Coco Point Beach is like most of the beaches ob Barbuda

So the question is, do you pave paradise for a parking lot? The developers are selling the idea to the very wealthy as a place of great beauty and unspoiled land. You can easily land your charter plane in front of your estate, take water taxi to shore which conveniently rolls up the beach to your waiting personal staff. Of course, all the investors are foreigners and whatever profits are mined here rarely stay here, much like in colonial times. Yes, jobs are created, and it looks like progress. The streets will be paved with asphalt. But the key word is “spoiled”. And that, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. Although the turtles, birds and fish may have a different viewpoint.

If its Going to Happen…

To introduce the cruising lifestyle to landlubbers, we often recommend the film documentary that best describes the experiences, challenges and joys of such a life. The film accurately delves into the peculiarities of living aboard a sailboat that is capable of self-sufficient life and travel around the world. It touches on the many characters that you meet and the problems that arise. The basic personal requirements that are needed to survive in such a sea environment for a family are clearly demonstrated.

The film documents a family of four with an experienced captain sailing in the Caribbean. It is filmed aboard a Formosa 51 sailboat. The boat is in the familiar William Garden full keel clipper bow “pirate stern” design, much like Kalunamoo. We first saw a Formosa 51 a number of years ago in the Bahamas in Green Turtle Cay and had an afternoon aboard with its owner (the founder of Filter Boss, the marine fuel filter company).

One of the Salty Dawg Rally Boats that came down this year from Virginia, Moondance, is here in Falmouth and so we got a chance to see another Formosa 51 up close. A pleasant sundowner evening was spent with Carl and Shanna on Moondance which they have owned for about 15 years.

Here are some pictures from the documentary to get an idea what these boats look like. The first picture shows the condition of that boat, Wanderer, when the family first purchased it. Obviously, it need some  sprucing up. The second picture is the hired professional captain they hired to help them sail the boat to Florida. The third is the vessel underway after being spruced up and taking on some friends for a sail.

The second set of pictures shows the beautiful local and empty anchorages one finds in the Islands, a shot of the engine room and finally, a picture showing how to use the confined spaces on these boats to best advantage.

  Here are some pictures of Moondance:

Moondance at anchor
Maureen and Carl

All this came to mind, yesterday when we were ashore and Diane from the sailboat Tiki Tour ran to us, bare foot, and reported that Kalunamoo went walkabout! In other words, it apparently dragged its anchor and was on its way to sea. What came to mind was “If its going to happen, its going to happen out there”, the sage advice of the professional captain of that documentary! It did happen “out there” but not with us aboard! Diane and her husband Dave quickly dinghied ashore to look for us, saw our dinghy at the dinghy dock and took a guess at where we were”: down the road at a market for their free WiFi.

Diane said not to worry but a pan-pan call on the VHF radio alerted other cruisers in the anchorage of the wayward Kalunamoo. A number of them went out and lassoed Kalunamoo and pulled it a mooring ball to secure it to end its wayward wanderings. We quickly went to our dinghy, put the key into the lock that chained us to the dock, broke the key in the lock and couldn’t use the dinghy. We jumped into Tiki Tour’s dingy and went out to Kalunamoo which still had a few of the dinghies around her that had helped her.

The first thing I noted is that there was no anchor chain hanging off the bow. Usually if a boat drags it just means the anchor lost holding and the boat just drags it along the bottom. Kalunamoo didn’t have the chain or the anchor!

The first thing I needed to do was go back to the dinghy dock and hacksaw the expensive stainless steel lock to release our dinghy. After that we needed to retrieve the 200 feet of anchor chain and an anchor that was somewhere in the harbor. Since I was sure the anchor didn’t drag it must be where Kalunamoo was when it lost the ground tackle. A call on the VHF to other cruisers was made as the more divers and snorkelers involved the more chance of locating the anchor.

Unfortunately, we anchored in a “hole” over 20 feet deep in the harbor where the water is not clear. This made “free diving” very difficult to search for the anchor or chain. I made a few attempts and barely made it to the bottom. Visibility was only about 3 feet. I quickly lost hold of a gaff, I was going to use to snag the chain, if I located it, so now that was lost to the bay. Fortunately, Dave on Tiki Tour had a small hooker so he could dive and Matt on Amajen had a scuba tank that he used to search the bottom. It didn’t take too long for Dave to locate the anchor after I estimated where it should be. He attached a marker buoy as Matt tracked the chain to its bitter end. I then went back to Kalunamoo and brought the boat back to the “scene of the crime”. A line from the end of the chain was brought to the anchor windlass to haul the chain back on board. All was squared away and Kalunamoo was again safely anchored.

Many thanks to the cruisers that answered the call for “all hands” to help in this situation. It is comforting to know that when help is needed fellow cruises come running! This included the cruisers from Tiki Tour, Numada, Roxy, Moondance, Amajen and other cruisers I never met.

How did this happen? Well, the anchor chain hook that the snubber line is attached to fell off the chain. This occasionally happens when the wind dies and there is no strain on the anchor chain. It has happened in the past. The snubber takes the strain of the chain to cleats, relieving the anchor windlass, which is not designed to take that much strain. The problem was that I did not tighten the brake on the windlass or have another chain stopper to stop the chain from running out if the hook failed. My error!

After a very still period a squall came thru while we were ashore. Without a chain stopper the 200’ anchor chain ran out. The bitter end of the chain was married to 100 feet of 3 strand rope. Unfortunately, the splice to connect the two was done quickly when we replaced the chain in Guadeloupe last January. It was on the list to be redone in Trinidad when the boat was on the hard. Of course, we never made Trinidad this year and so I never thought about it. So human errors (me) have to take the blame.

It all turned out OK despite the fact that Kalunamoo was surround by shoals. It was heading toward the reefs at the harbor entrance. The quick action of fellow cruisers saved the day. We will go to BB’s today and invied all who helped to drinks on Kalunamoo’s tab.

At the end of the documentary, it was learned that these experiences add to the learning curve of cruising. And yes, it always happens “out there”. Oh, the name of the documentary? Capt’n Ron.