115 Miles in 48 Hours, Baby

In case you were wondering, no, that’s not fast. Not even for a sailboat.

So as noted below, we reached St Barts–formally known as St Barthelemy–which is the third island from the top in the Leewards, after Anguilla and St Martin/Sint Maarten. It is 115 nautical miles ENE from St John in the USVI. In the Caribbean, anything east kinda sucks, because the wind is more or less always coming from there, and so is the ocean current, which can run at about a knot.

Given all that, we had a near perfect passage, almost. We motorsailed as far as the end of Virgin Gorda to escape the cape effect around the islands, then cut the engine and sailed close hauled for nearly 80 miles at a very nice steady 5 knotsish. Then the wind dropped and veered until it was right on our nose and weak, so we motored again, being not that far out.

At some point in the early morning, Otto decided to quit, flouncing off yelling something about “Drivestop!” in unintelligible Euroglish. OK, we can deal with hand steering for a few more miles.

At 0830, as we passed St Martin with only 15 miles to go to St Barts, the engine suddenly lost power and wouldn’t rev above 1000rpm. Great. So we started to beat upwind, making very slow progress and concerned at making landfall in an unfamiliar port in coral country under sail. I will gloss over the dramatics; suffice to say that I was manly and rugged and probably dashingly handsome in a Hemingwayesque way. Yeah.

With the current, waves, crappy winds, lack of practice and so on, we were not making a lot of progress, so after making only 8 miles towards St Barty in 6 hours, we decided to heave to for the night and make entry the following day.

Night was boring. They tend to be.

The following morning–this morning, as it happens–was when the awesomeness occurred. We beat up to the entry to Gustavia harbour, which is full of super-, mega-, and probably even giga-yachts. We short-tacked our way between the gajillian dollar manhood extensions like freaking pros, despite winds that backed and veered and gusted from 10 to 35 knots at random, dropped the hook and finally let out our breaths. Paddy from Rita T drove alongside in their RIB like the chase boats at the America’s Cup. Oh, yeah, totally like that.

The problem with the engine was immediately apparent in the clear waters of Gustavia–a large nylon fishing net had caught around the prop (I had guessed the previous day that the prop was fouled at first, but it didn’t stop me from changing the fuel filters, etc, all at 15° of heel). Because I am so studly and the water would probably boil away on contact with my suaveness, HB “volunteered” to jump in and clear the prop. Props to her for that. Heheh, geddit? Props to . . . eh, n’mind.

Now we are chilling out in Paddy’s brother Larry’s pool overlooking, well, pretty much everything (seriously, I think one of those islands is Corfu).

Good times.

Interwebs, How We Missed Thee

THE past couple of days on Marc’s mooring have been a whirlwind of . . . internet usage.  We have a SWEET wifi connection courtesy of the kind folks at the hotel on the beach (for the reasonable exchange of a drink at their bar – not too bad…) and all three of us have been catching up like crazy.  I got my computer to work briefly the evening we came in here and managed to snag all the files I needed from it, so I’ve been uploading my entire life and all the boat manuals to Google Docs.  Becca has been focusing on figuring out the next steps in her life — she’s planning to fly home and take the next leap into the unknown at the end of the month.  Right now the silent meditation retreat and isolated writer’s cottage near Sedona are battling it out (nonviolently, of course).  Philip spent most of our first day here running around Cruz Bay, getting photos, filling out forms and mailing his passport back to DC so the British government can mail it to the UK for renewal, then mail it back here.  That’s efficiency for you!  Luckily, they say it won’t take more than a month, and this certainly isn’t a bad place to be stuck for a month.

It wasn’t all surfing the ‘net, as we used to say back in the ’90s – yesterday Philip and I got several hours of work in.  He tinkered with the watermaker (again), and it may actually be working now.  We’ll see.  I’m not holding my breath.  I fixed (again) the sea water pump and removed two wonky bolts from one of the stanchions that had gotten a bit wobbly, filled the holes with epoxy, and will put new screws in before we head out today. (And, before anyone says, “Screws??  You should use bolts on those suckers!”  I KNOW.  The damn thing is not accessible.  I could go into a long explanation about why I can’t get to the underside of the deck there, but it would be pointless and boring.  So shut it.)

It’s been odd to be in the U.S. Virgin Islands, because we’re actually in the United States, and there are some real benefits, even apart from access to NPR, which still gives me the happys on a daily basis.  For example, Becca’s prepaid phone works here.  There’s a surcharge, but she can use it.  Likewise, if you want to mail something,  just pop a letter with a forever stamp in the mailbox.  Need something shipped from the states?  It’s a U.S. mailing address.  Awesome! Also, you forget when out of the U.S., even in the relatively Americanized Caribbean, how open and very friendly Americans are to strangers.  It’s one of our better, if sometimes annoying to Continentials, traits.  Case in point: when we came into the bay and grabbed the wrong mooring, people from two separate boats noticed our mistake and jumped right in to join the search for Marc’s, going out of their way to help us get on the right mooring.  Not that this couldn’t happen somewhere else, but they were so damn nice about it.  Philip always comments that this is one of the things he really loves about Americans: their genuine openness and friendliness.  My European friends often criticize us as shallow, too easy to make and lose friends, but in my travels I’ve definitely come to appreciate this trait a lot more.

We’re apparently also social butterflies these days – we have spent several delightful evenings with Marc on the boat, paying him back for the loaner of the mooring with copious amounts of food and wine. (I’ll have to post the pressure cooker recipe for chicken with figs I made the other day – NOM!)  This morning, we’re off to moor or anchor on the north shore to join up with Ryan from Liberty, whom we met in Bermuda, and his family for a day of snorkelling before heading to Christmas Cove tomorrow to meet up again with Hannah and Paddy.  Whew!

Actually, I’m delighted.  I hadn’t always thought the cruising lifestyle would work for me.  Even though, as a child, I read my dad’s Cruising World stories about kids on boats with a good deal of envy, later on I thought that the life would be very lonely, just you and your crew on a boat.  Hahahaha!  I learned otherwise when I visited my parents on this boat in Mexico ten years ago and discovered that my mild-mannered suburban ‘rents were party animals.  Ok, maybe not, but DAMN was there a lot of social life going on.  Everyone would get on the cruisers net every morning and plan beach parties, sailing “races” and other events, and we spent all our time hanging out with fun, cool people (Hi, Dave!) and having crazy experiences, like watching New Year’s Eve fireworks in the middle of Bandaras Bay from a Boston Whaler crammed with 7 people, drinking rum from the bottle and laughing hysterically at the stupid motorboats trying to swamp us.  Yeah.  So, anyway, the Virgins haven’t had quite that level of cruiser community — in fact, nobody’s knocked on our hull so far (of course, we haven’t knocked on anyone else’s, either!) — but it’s fantastic to have our friends from the trip down here around for playing and libations.

I’m pretty sure that the length of this missive indicates that I’m totally avoiding working on the stanchion.  Sigh.  Back to work!

Cone of Shame Up the Delaware Bay

WE made excellent progress from Cape May today, in most part due to flying the cone of shame, otherwise known as motor-sailing.

Note for non-sailors: What I call the cone of shame is the inverted cone you are required to hang from the mast when steaming and sailing at the same time.

Note for sailors: It takes about thirty seconds to raise a day shape, and you can buy one for about $30. Hint.

So yes, we motor-sailed. Offsetting the shame was the fact that we did about 8 knots the whole way and overtook everyone else. Oh,and we made it all the way up to Chesapeake City (not a city. not even a town) on the C&D Canal.

Annapolis tomorrow?


Back in Cape May

YESTERDAY’S 35-knot winds (another freaking gale!) prevented us from going to West Marine for charts and whipped up the seas to an uncomfortable 5-8 feet today, so we scrapped our plan to leave this morning and are planning to head up the Delaware Bay first thing tomorrow.  In the meantime, we’re back in Cape May, which is a lot different in September than July.  Most importantly, the Jersey Shore skanks wearing no clothes have been replaced by elderly folks shuffling around with walkers.  Or maybe it’s the same people but with massive sun damage?

The plan now is to head up the Delaware River tomorrow, anchor near the Chesapeake and Delaware canal entrance tomorrow night, and head out at first light Wednesday through the canal and perhaps all the way to Annapolis if winds are good.  Otherwise, we’ll be back on Thursday, right in time for the wedding.  Let’s just hope we don’t have any more damn gales!

Back in Cape May

We made it to Cape May this afternoon after a speedy 23 hour passage. The night beforewe had a gale at anchor with steady 40knot winds in Atlantic Highlands, so didnt get a heck of a lot of sleep. Nonetheless, the passage was relarively easy,until the last two hours as seas built dramatically and the extreme roly polys started. Then it began to piss it down,just in time for the dicey entranceto the inlet. But now we are safe and sound,planning to stay til Monday as winds will be high and seas also high tomorrow.

Oh, and Happy Anniversary to Us

FORGOT to mention earlier that it is my and Philip’s 11th anniversary!  Go us!

We just arrived after an uneventful 9 hour motor through NYC.  We would have sailed a bit , despite the 25 knot winds right on the bow, but Pika decided to hide under the dinghy before we could get her much-abhorred harness on her,so no sailing for the Picaroons today.  We will be here for a couple of days waiting for a cold front to pass, and sadly our faithful crew member Becca will take her leave of us before we do the offshore down to Cape May.  Silly thing is going back to DC to cycle 100 miles with her 83-year-old dad.  Go them!!!


In the Category of If It Seems Too Good to Be True . . .

. . . WE had a perfect sail from zombieland Oyster Bay this morning,only to hear a loud pop from the engine box just as we pulled into Port Washington Harbor. We cut the engine immediately and dropped a hook,fortunately able to do so right next to the mooring field. Turns out that the altertnator fan broke rather dramatically,cing up the alternator amd water pump belts. Or visa versa; who knows? In any case,we are waiting for the engine to cool so we can spend this gorgeous, sunny afternoon fixing it. Sigh. At what point will things stop breaking every time we move?

Let’s Rock

WHEN the chart says the inlet isn’t navigable, the helmsman and crew both say they don’t think the inlet looks navigable, there’s a big sign that reads, “Danger: Inlet Not Navigable!”, and the only person aboard who thinks the inlet is navigable has a concussion, it’s possible that the inlet is not, in fact, navigable.

Fortunately, the rock didn’t penetrate the hull and we made it into Oyster Bay safely.

We are pretty sure Oyster Bay is a zombie town,but I don’t thinks zombies can swim so w should be aiight.


Heading South for the Winter

AFTER over two weeks on the hook at Hamburg Cove, we finally left our snug little hurricane hole yesterday.  Contrary to plans, we did not head north.  Turns out that the flooding in PA has stranded my parents in their road schooner in Harrisburg, PA, so Cape Cod was off.  We’re terribly disappointed to miss seeing my aunt, uncle and cousin, but with only a few weeks until Alex and Rob’s wedding in DC, we decided to skeedadle back south.

The Connecticut River was uber-swollen (that’s German for very swollen), a bit post-apocalyptic and evocative of the Yangtze, not that I’ve ever seen the Yangtze, but you get the idea.  The muddy, current-swirled waters were full of debris, and we were on constant watch for the many tree-sized logs.  The swift flow brought us down to the railroad bascule bridge in record time.  Then, because we are genuises, we waited 20 minutes for the bridge to open motoring in place up the river, before we thought of calling the bridge tender and asking him to open it.  Hey, it’s supposed to be open all the time, except when a train is actually using it, so it wasn’t that stupid.  (OK, it was…)  That extra 20 minutes woulda been really helpful later in the day.


Just outside the Saybrook breakwater, there was a clearly-described line where the muddy river waters met the clear blue water of the sound, demarcated by a scuzzy foam of twigs, logs and trash.

Because we had to hit the breakwater at slack or on the ebb, we ended up trying to sail into an ebb tide all day. Pretty soon we were making only 2.5 knots in a good 18 knots of wind, which was progressively turning to blow from exactly where we were headed.  So we fired up the engine and motor-sailed for a while, at least until we noticed that it was belching ugly, white smoke out the back.  Yikes!  We continued on for a small bit, thinking it was working out some water in the system or something, but it became clear that we were facing an injector problem when it didn’t work itself out.  The injector oil had been a bit low when Pip checked it before we left, but we didn’t know what kind of oil to put in it.  So I did what any thinking nearly-40-year-old adult would do: I called Dad.  Who only gave me a minimum amount of lecturing, and informed us that it took regular motor oil.  Yay!

So we added the oil and got under way again, hoping that the smoke would diminish as the oil worked its way into the injectors.  No such luck.  It was a stressful afternoon, making shitty time against the current and hoping to God that we made Port Jefferson before dark.  Becca valiantly fought a migraine (stoopid coffee) while Philip and I tried to keep our sniping at each other at a volume that wouldn’t hurt her brain.

The approach to Port Jefferson was therefore particularly sweet, the nearly-full moon rising behind us as the sun set brilliantly behind the clouds, with just enough light to slip in between the breakwaters and anchor before the stars came out.

It was a chilly, clear night, thankfully almost windless.  It’s clearly fall now — the air is crisp, trees are turning and the Sound was deserted.  We actually wore jeans and fleeces for most of the sail yesterday.  Clearly time to head south!

We’re in town now, enjoying Starbucks’ free interwebs and mediocre coffee before exploring this quaint little village.  This afternoon, we plan to grab a mooring in the sand pit, a big cove just inside the harbor with high sand walls, created in the early 20th century when the sand was mined to supply NYC with its miles and miles of concrete.

Speaking of centuries, I was reminded that we’re in the 21st this morning when I logged on to Facebook for the first time in a couple of weeks and discovered that my baby brother got MARRIED.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I learned my brother got married on FACEBOOK.  Seriously.  Did this not merit a phone call, for chrissake??  What, should we Facebook them gifts?  Mafia Wars or Farmville credits?  Or one of those cheesy little $1 roses you can “send” someone?  I wonder what Emily Post would make of THAT?

Oh, and Becca promises to write a blog post soon.  She’d better. It’s part of the crewing duties.

Hamburg Cove

Hamburg Cove, on the Connecticut River, is an idyllic spot. It is very well protected by small hills on all sides. We think it will make an excellent place to weather any hurricanes that may pass our way.