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Log & Blog & Grog for all!

 

This page will occasionally update readers on our whereabouts, with some notes about what we've been doing. The entries are in reverse chronological order, with the most recent here at the top.

 

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Green Cove Springs, Florida, USA

My welcome back to Green Cove Springs Marina has been beyond heartwarming; the smiles, the great big hugs and hearty handshakes. I am deeply moved and grateful. This may not be the most exotic port in the world, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier one.

I’m being re-introduced to the magic of this yard, the near-supernatural way it has always provided everything I need for Silverheels. Things just seem to fall into place here, often simply appear! Seek and you find. Don’t seek and it finds you. For example, I’ve been fretting about there being a dock space for us, this being peak season here, a seemingly endless procession of sailboats lined up to be hauled and stored on the hard for the summer. Any sort of dock space is at a premium. Well, today, unasked, the yard manager, Dennis, an old friend from all the years I’ve been in & out of here, said he’s going to shuffle a couple of boats around so I can have the most coveted slip in the marina, the only one with a private ramp & floating dock, in the most convenient corner of the quay, for as long as I want it. This is THE bubba slip ‘round these parts, an implied invitation to stay for the rest of my life, if I want to.

Silverheels was a guest in that esteemed spot one summer many years ago, during the early part of her refit. At that time, it belonged to “Popcorn Jim,” a retired US Navy admiral who wintered aboard his 45’ sloop here, and spent summers driving a camper up to Alaska & back, year after year. Getting into his 90’s by then, Jim didn’t sail anywhere anymore; just lived aboard half the year. He became known as Popcorn Jim because most days at happy hour he’d bring a huge bowl of fresh, hot popcorn up to the porch. He didn’t drink and rarely stayed to eat any. He just brought it for everyone else, and came back later to collect the empty bowl. When Jim died at 92, we gave him a proper wake and shot his ashes (along with a big load of popcorn) out over the river from a cannon at the end of the pier.

I’m blown away by the slip offer. Maybe it’s time for Silverheels & me to slow down ‘n set a spell, play a little guitar up on the porch & cogitate on things. Anyway, it’s comforting to have the option, and it sure is good to be home. Truly, Green Cove Springs Marina is the living Fiddler’s Green for those whom it chooses.
 

 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Green Cove Springs, Florida, USA

Silverheels and I just arrived safely at Green Cove Springs Marina, our old US homeport. As planned, I set sail from Bocas del Toro on March 26th with an all-girl crew, bound non-stop for St. Johns River Inlet (near Jacksonville), Florida, about 1,500 n. sailing miles distant.

About this crew, who seemed so promising a few weeks ago: Picture if you will a 40-ish, heavily tattooed, alcoholic New Yorker of the female persuasion, possibly a dike (though I was never quite certain), with the manners, mouth and neatness of a Bengal pig and a chip on her shoulder bigger than her butt, trying too hard to remain 20-something by acting like it - when she wasn't acting like the middle-aged bitch she is. Now imagine this creature having her period aboard a 42’ sailboat at sea for 10 days with a male chauvinist captain telling her over and over what to do and how to do it. Add to this oil-&-water combination her chubby, pug-faced Latino girlfriend half her age, sporting equally tasteless tattoos, the spoiled brat of a wealthy German father and an obsessively religious Argentinian mother, a girl with the IQ of Forrest Gump, a soft baby-talk voice, and a slurred, unintelligible accent compounded by a slight lisp; a sad, searching little soul who chose this sea voyage as a good time to stop taking her prescription anxiety medication. She, too, is an habitual piglet used to the maid picking up after her, with no idea how to so much as wash a dish, let alone cook anything to put on it, and prone to crying jags and chronic seasickness.

Ice that calamitous cake with a 22-year-old German cutie accustomed to guys tripping over themselves to please her, a young woman to whom life has taught that a flirtatious smile absolves her from any responsibility to clean up after herself or (until the very end of the voyage) to voluntarily contribute anything beyond what is strictly required. Throw all this into a blender with a seasoned sea captain with a short temper, an uncommonly organized skipper known for his obsession with on board neatness and cleanliness, one who, as a previous initiate diplomatically put it, “runs a tight ship.”

What we had there was a ticking time bomb, a boat and crew sailing a predestined course into the eye of a human hurricane, on a cruise into... the Twilight Zone. (Music: Neh-neh-neh-neh, Neh-neh-neh-neh, Neh-neh-neh-neh, Neh-neh-neh-neh… bah-dah-ba-BAAAAAH, da-da-da-da-da-duum.)

Long story short, we all wound up hating each other. These women - the two tattooed pigs, anyway - were far and away the most unpleasant low-life's I have ever sailed with during my 40-odd years skippering boats, out of literally hundreds of crews & charters and more than 150,000 n. miles logged; The Absolute Worst Sub-Humans Ever. That's quite a record, ladies. I'm still reeling from it.
 

 

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Weather and the Universe permitting, I'll be setting sail for Green Cove Springs (near Jacksonville), Florida next Saturday, the 25th. As of now I have 2 crew signed up and a 3rd wanting to come, and all of them - Canadian, Argentinian and German - are pretty young women! (Thank you, God, for making what may be my last passage with Silverheels the sweetest ever! :)

I'll be monitoring the wind forecasts on PassageWeather.com closely from now until D-day, and have already warned the crew that if the winds aren't forecast fair for the first several days out, we're going to wait until they are. No point starting out bashing to windward when a little patience will gift us a pleasant beginning to our passage.

The route covers about 1,500 nautical miles and should take 10 or 11 days to sail non-stop, barring headwinds or unplanned delays. Once past the horn of Honduras, we can expect a gradually increasing lift from the Gulf Stream current. Here is an approximation of the route:

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Bocas del Toro, Panama


I have listed Silverheels for sale.

When I started refitting this worthy vessel in January 2007, I found myself thinking of her as a 10-year companion. This was important because it justified - at least in my mind - investing a great deal of time, money, labor and love into her complete renovation. That was a little over 10 years ago now, and she has been and done everything I'd hoped! I'm still in love with her, still thrilled to be living aboard and cruising.

Yet I've been thinking about selling her for the past year. In December 2015, Silverheels and I set sail once again from our homeport in northeast Florida, initially just bound for the Exumas in the lower Bahamas. I thought that might be our last little jaunt together, that I'd return and sell her in the spring. But I found I was still lovin' it all, and by springtime had decided to spend another summer aboard in my beloved Carriacou in the Grenadines. And so we sailed on down there. Then with autumn came the unappealing prospect of tourist season in the Lesser Antilles, so we fled west across the Caribbean Sea to Bocas del Toro, Panama, from whence I write today.

Looking back at the past year, I'm happy to report that the Bahamas are for the most part still pleasant for cruising. Outside of Nassau, those lovely islands and clear waters remain friendly and safe, albeit crowded with plastic snowbirds nowadays.

On the other hand, the Lesser Antilles harbors, from the Virgin Islands to Grenada, have become grossly overcrowded and overdeveloped for my taste, plagued with pricey marinas, pay-to-stay moorings and brain-dead West Indian hip-hop music blasted through mega sub-woofers into the nighttime anchorages at such immense volumes that you'd have to be dead to be able to sleep. Crime against tourists, including yachties (as they call us), is on the rise, verging on rampant in some islands like Grenada, where theft, armed robbery, assault, rape and murder are now almost commonplace. (What, you didn't see that in the brochure?) And the locals - many if not most - just aren't as nice as they used to be. Some are even rude.

This is particularly sad to those of us who cruised these islands in an earlier era, enchanted by the colorful, smiling West Indian culture. The natives actually welcomed us sailors then, not just our wallets. Local "scratch bands" played traditional songs; live, authentic, without electricity. There were few cars and no smart-phones. People walked and talked, and danced together - black, white and brown - under the stars on Saturday night. St. John, VI actually used to be called Love City! (The last time I was there kids threw rocks at us.)

A handful of sweet spots - out-of-the-way harbors and a few smaller islands like Carriacou where I just spent the summer - are reminiscent of that lost charm. The locals are still mostly warm and welcoming, but overall the West Indies I knew are gone. After almost half a century of part-time residence, I don’t plan to return again.

By comparison, Bocas del Toro in Panama is (thankfully!) a little behind the times. That’s not to pretend it’s an earthly nirvana. You have to guard against theft here, too - stealing outboard motors is a national pastime throughout Latin America – and other crimes, sometimes brutally violent, are an occasional fact of life. But the culture – actually cultures (plural); there are several sharing this peculiar backwater - is unique, colorful and (still) genuine. The indios remain stoically Indian, the Latinos retain their own music, the backpackers are multinational and cool, and most of the cruisers and resident expats are kindred spirits or at least friendly. There are almost no Fat Tourists, no cruise ships to spoil and alienate the locals.

Harbors are refreshingly uncrowded in the archipelago, too, and until recently, free of cursed rental moorings. Alas, there are a few off Bocas Marina now that were not when I was here 6 years ago, the beginning of the end, I fear. Away from town, anchorages are where you make them, usually empty or else shared by only 1 or 2 other boats. Sad to say, obnoxiously loud bar music has arrived with a vengeance in Bocas Town, catering to the many young backpackers that flock here, but at least it’s limited to the town waterfront. The rest of the archipelago is bordered by tropical rain forest, the panorama backed by misty mountains, and the loudest noise you'll hear is the occasional roar of howler monkeys in the treetops.

Up & down the Central American coast, some intriguing out-islands also beckon; the San Blas, the Albuquerque's, the Serana and Seranilla Banks, the Cajones (a.k.a. Hobbies) and a host of others. I've visited many of them over the years, and was planning to explore several more off Nicaragua and Honduras. However, I've been hearing too many reports of piracy up there lately, and I'm not talking about yo-ho-ho, Johnny Depp and a bottle of rum. Several yachts were attacked underway and ransacked just a few weeks ago. One skipper was shot & killed, another seriously wounded, women raped. There are almost certainly other incidents occurring that we never hear about, some bodies that are never found. It's a lawless region and the odds are not reassuring for the lone cruiser, armed or not.

And so I find I've run out of places to cruise this side of the Pacific Ocean, and I just don't feel like single-handing that vast expanse; not right now, anyway.

Altogether, there is much to like and, alas, much to dislike about Caribbean cruising these days. If you've never been, go! With a positive attitude you may yet find your paradise. I’m just Caribbeaned out. Been there, done that, and can’t turn the clock back. The only way from here is forward, and this is really the point. My bucket list is overflowing! So many more places to go and things to do, and not as much time for it all as there once was. I have in mind at least 2 or 3 very different types of boats I'd like to take cruising in other parts of the world, and a lot more land & air travel in between. I am ready!

Some friends who over-identify me as "Captain Tor the sailorman" seem to view this change as some kind of ending. To me it's just a continuation, an inevitable evolution; no sadness in it and certainly no regrets, only excitement to get on with the next phase. So I’m sellin’ out and movin’ on. Silverheels is awesome and ready for a new captain, either here and now in Panama, or else in Florida when we get back in April.

 

Saturday, January 28, 2017
Bocas del Toro, Panama

I know, I know, it's been a while. Sometimes I just don't get around to updating this logblog. Can't even claim I've been too busy, since mostly I'm just hanging out. This place seems to incite contented lethargy. Bocas del Toro, one of the last cruising sweet spots in the Caribbean. The people are friendly, the prices are, too, and the livin' is easy, even if the weather does occasionally get dreary, raining for days on end. (Duh, I guess that's why they call it rainforest.) Ah, but when it suns, it shines!


Look closely. It's a double-rainbow!

Bocas del Toro is a friendly, easygoing yet lively community sprawled across an archipelago of small islands near the Costa Rican end of Panama, the Caribbean side. The cultural hub, Bocas Town, has the weathered wood feel of a frontier town, with a broad main street used more by pedestrians and fat-tired bicycles than automobiles. Still, it’s a pretty good place to re-provision, with lots of well-stocked, mostly Chinese family-owned groceries, half-a-dozen hardware stores, several one-man vegetable stands, two excellent bakeries and countless small restaurants spanning many cultures and ranging from good to OMG. What more could a sea-weary sailor ask?

In the midst of it all a city park provides an all-day playground for kids and an informal social center for grownups, a cheerful blend of small-town Panamanians, Chinese immigrants, multi-national cruising sailors, gringo surfers, stoic Ngäbe Indians, bilingual West Indians, 20-something backpackers, aging Anglo expats and some backwater characters straight out of a Jimmy Buffet ballad. Just walking around is endlessly entertaining.

   
click to enlarge
 

I've taken Silverheels cruising around the archipelago a bit, sailing to Red Frog to hike through the forest to the ocean-side surfers' beach, ghosting through narrow, winding, mangrove-lined channels, dodging uncharted reefs and visiting backwater eateries, expat friends, and an organic chocolate farm down in the area known as The Darklands. Throughout the archipelago, scattered expat hideaway homes share the mangrove shores and rain-forested hills with small Ngäbe Indian villages. I plan to head back down that-a-way again in about a week.

Mostly, though, I'm just hangin' out at anchor just south of Bocas Town. There are always chores, small repairs and projects to do on a live-aboard cruising sailboat, and fun & profit to be had online thanks to the pretty good wifi available here.  I go kayaking, visit with friends, write, play a little music - you know, stuff. Life is good.

Still, I've just about decided to sail back to Florida in the spring. I could easily spend a few more seasons, if not years, here in Bocas, but other adventures beckon. So many places, so little time. My bucket list overfloweth.

If you think you might be interested in crewing with me from Panama to Florida, click here.

 

Thursday, November 24, 2016 – Thanksgiving Day
Bocas del Toro, Panama

I guess you could call this livin' on the edge. Category 1 (soon to become 2) Hurricane Otto has formed both uncommonly late in the season and uncommonly far south in the Caribbean. Now it's about to slam into Nicaragua with high winds, a fierce storm surge and dangerously heavy rainfall. Meanwhile, the good ketch, Silverheels, and I enjoy calm conditions (with some heavy rainfall) in Bocas del Toro, Panama, indicated in the lower left corner of this early morning water vapor satellite image.

One more thing for which to be thankful today; not battling a hurricane.

   

Evening Update: This afternoon, with highest sustained winds of 110 mph at the top of the Category 2 range, Hurricane Otto was in a three-way tie as the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded this late in the year. Otto is also the latest hurricane to make landfall anywhere in the Atlantic basin in records going back to 1851. In addition, Otto now holds the mark for the southernmost hurricane landfall on record for Central America.

The aftermath in Nicaragua was sad; lots of damage, several people killed. And as that little country's east coast braced for Otto, their Pacific coast was under a tsunami alert from an offshore earthquake that morning. A rough day for Nicaragua.

 

Thursday, November 17, 2016 ~ Grenada to Panama
Bocas del Toro, Panama

It's been quite a month since my last post. Silverheels' 3 passage crew came aboard in Grenada as planned, but instead of departing for Panama from there on the 26th, I decided to do a little 30-mile shakedown back to Carriacou first. There we cleared out with customs & immigration and topped off with duty-free diesel fuel. The next morning, October 27th, we set sail westward across the southern Caribbean.

The forecasts showed lighter winds than I'd hoped for and that's what we got, sometimes sailing, sometimes motorsailing, always reaching and running downwind, adagio. Still, with the favorable current we made decent time over the ground.

Two of my crew turned out to be a poor fit aboard Silverheels, a rare occurrence in my experience. After a few days with little improvement I decided to alter course for Curacao, where they could catch flights home. We made landfall there just 4 days out of Carriacou.


                    click to enlarge

I don't like stopping at any of the Netherlands Antilles. Their governments are disturbingly militaristic, almost Naziesque, with menacing, armed patrol boats and planes that frequently target visiting boaters. ("You VILL show me your PAPERS!") On top of that, Curacao is by far the worst island in the Caribbean for clearing in. The various offices to which arriving skippers are required to present themselves and their documents are in the island's central city, Oranjestadt, many miles from the yacht harbor, requiring long, slow public bus rides there and back, an ordeal that invariably takes up most of an entire day. To add insult to injury, when I made the required pilgrimage with my crew in tow that mid-week arrival day, the damned immigration office was closed "to attend the funeral of a colleague," the sign said! What? They shut down an entire government office for a full day in the middle of the week for someone's funeral? Whoever died couldn't have been all that important because I spotted 3 uniformed immigration officers tucked away in a back corner of their office huddled around a desk - eating, I think. They steadfastly ignored my knocking at the door.

So my crew and I hiked another half-dozen blocks to the customs office, which thankfully was open. There a nice woman who had obviously never cleared in a boat before took more than an hour and a half to fill in their form on her computer. All the while, I had to sit there politely and smile every time she asked me some really dumb questions, like what is the length of your vessel when it was clearly stated on 3 separate documents I'd just handed her. You don't ever want to aggravate these little people in big uniforms who spend their lives filling out forms and shuffling papers that no-one will ever read. They're armed, sometimes bloated with their positions of power, and can really mess with you if they want to.

Having had more than enough of Dutch bureaucracy and not wanting to waste another whole day bussing into town to fill out more pointless forms for some mourning immigration official, I asked the fledgling customs officeress to remove the two crew names from Silverheels crew list and to clear the boat "in and out" simultaneously so I could set sail the next day at dawn. This confounded her enough to require another half hour pecking at her computer keyboard. In the end she did hand-write "Inward & Outward" across the top of the form, but failed to remove the 2 departing crew names from it. (I later simply trimmed them off with a scissor before clearing in in Panama. Had I not done so they might have wondered what I'd done with the other 2 crewmen listed.) The customs lady was surprised to hear that Immigration was closed for the day, but told me I would have to present myself and my crew at their office the next morning. Sure, I said. Sure I will.

Finally finished with Curacao Customs, my two ex-crewmen headed off for a hotel and flights home in the morning. My remaining crewman, Mac, and I ran a few errands in Oranjestadt and eventually found the correct bus for the 45-minute ride back to Spanish Waters where Silverheels was anchored. Later I learned that had I managed to clear in with the immigration office that day, they would then have sent me upstairs to yet another Office of Extortion to pay for an anchoring permit. Yeah, right.

 

Re-securing the radar reflector at the Curacao Yacht Club fuel dock.
click to enlarge

It took a few days for a fair breeze to arrive. As soon as it did we set out once again for Panama. Forecasts still called for lighter than normal winds fading to none at all, and then light headwinds (and currents) as we neared our destination. It was a tedious passage with just a few good sailing days. One bright spot, however, was a visit from a white heron. A shore-bound wader by nature, this poor fellow had managed to fly or get blown 100 miles out to sea, off the Colombian coast. He landed on Silverheels one dawn, thoroughly exhausted, found refuge and a warm welcome, and decided to stick around. For reasons of my own, I impulsively named him White Boy.

                 

 

White Boy stayed aboard for 2 days & nights, soon moving belowdecks and becoming so unafraid of Mac and me that we could be working a foot or two away from him and he'd stay put. He even perched on my hip once when I was lying in my bunk! I hoped he would hitch a ride all the way to Panama, but one morning he decided he'd had enough of the seafaring life and flew off southward. At that point the San Blas Islands were about 50 miles away in that direction. I like to think he arrived and took up residence among the Kuna Indians there.

 

click photos to enlarge

   

Crew Mac is not a sailor, but he's strong and I was happy to introduce him to the more physical aspects of boat handling, like sheeting in the genoa when it's full of wind. Also, because he expressed an interest I taught him to hoist, trim and reef the sails. Even so, for the most part I single-handed Silverheels from Curacao to Panama. I'd concluded that taking on crew for passages may be more trouble than it's worth and I wanted to confirm for myself that I could still do it solo anytime I choose. I can and probably will next time.

We made landfall at dawn, 7 days out of Curacao and +/- 1,300 nautical miles from Carriacou. Clearing in at Bocas del Toro, Panama is quite a circus, with no less than 5 oficiales coming aboard, clipboards loaded with forms and hands out for graft. Each wanted $20, not a big hit by itself, but then they hauled me back to their office in town to buy a 1-year Cruising Permit for $185. Altogether it's about the same $300 level of extortion as the Bahamas for a 6-month visit; more here for a year because Panama Immigration will hit me up for another hundred or so to extend my initial 6-month visa should I want to stay that long.

Anyway, we're here and Bocas del Toro is as cool as I remember it from our last visit 5 or 6 years ago. Mac has moved on and I have Silverheels all to myself again. Ah, what a blessing that is! I've been on a social whirlwind this first week, catching up with old friends here and meeting new ones. Great fun! Very happy to be back at long last.

More to come.

 

Saturday, October 15, 2016 ~ Leaving Carriacou
Underway off the east coast of Grenada, West Indies

I weighed anchor this morning and left Carriacou, probably for the last time, a sad parting. The people there are among the friendliest and most welcoming anywhere. They allowed me to feel like I belonged. I’m going to miss them and their very special island.

I’m taking Silverheels down to Grenada now to prepare for the arrival of my passage crew 9 days hence. I want ample time for provisioning in Grenada’s big stores, and to get a short list of boat chores done. If all goes according to plan and schedule, we’ll set sail for Bocas del Toro, Panama on October 26th.  It’s nearly 1,300 nautical miles across the southern Caribbean, and I plan to sail it non-stop. I have no desire to revisit either Curacao or Cartagena, although both are more or less on the way. We stopped at each the last time we sailed from Grenada to Panama in 2010, but now I just feel like getting to Bocas, one of the last sweet spots for long-time Caribbean cruisers.

 

Sunday, October 09, 2016 ~ Ketching-Up
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

On Monday, September 19th, Silverheels was hauled out and blocked up at Carriacou Marine here in Tyrell Bay. The next day I caught an early shuttle flight to Grenada and from there flew non-stop to JFK for a 2-week family & friends visit in Connecticut.

While I was away up north Tropical Storm Matthew passed quite close to Carriacou, bringing a night-full of rain but little wind. Nevertheless, the boat yard had to prepare for the worst (which included taking down Silverheels’ genoa, and this put them far behind schedule on all yard work. When I returned on Tuesday, October 4th, most of Silverheels’ bottom paint was on and the cove stripe had a fresh coat of Jade Green, but the boot stripe had only the primer, the topsides were untouched and the prop & shaft, which were supposed to be cleaned up for me paint, weren’t. We were scheduled to launch on Thursday the 6th, but had to postpone it until Saturday. Rain all day Friday only made matters worse, interfering with getting things done, especially painting. Silverheels did go in on Saturday, though. The boot stripe had 2 coats of Jade and I had painted the prop, strut & shaft, first with Primacon, then with a spray can-full of Trilux 33 outdrive anti-fouling. (We’ll see how it holds up.) I also sprayed zinc on the transducers, as usual. The topsides got scrubbed, but not waxed. (I got that done at anchor the next week.)

Carriacou Marine has a bare-bones (but at least marginally air-conditioned!) cottage available to customers and I rented it while I was at the yard, rather than staying on the boat. That cost me $55 a night, and paying the yard rates for the painting & materials (minus the paint, which I provided) was even more of an extravagance - the total bill was EC$4,367, or US$1,636. Add to that US$860 for the Sea Hawk bottom paint, which had to be shipped to Grenada and then to Carriacou, and I spent about $2,500 for this round of fresh paint. No doubt I could’ve done it at my US homeport, Green Cove Springs Marina, for a third of that, but the pricey tin-based bottom paint I used here is not available in the States and I have high hopes for its effectiveness and longevity.

When I got back to Carriacou there was an uncommonly heavy surge rolling into the harbor, cast off from Matthew when it grew into a Category 4 hurricane in the Caribbean last week and headed north. The waves destroyed both dinghy docks here – they’re totally gone! - and washed beach sand over part of the village road. However, by our Saturday launching the harbor was once again calm and welcoming. How sweet it is to be out of the yard and afloat again.

 

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

Absolutely nothing to report. I like it!

 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

I'm planning to sail from Grenada to Bocas del Toro, Panama in late October, and will take on crew for that offshore passage. Click here for details.

In other news, Scorpio has finally caught up with Mars and has positively devoured it. The Red Planet has for weeks been fleeing my birth sign's pincers, but in vain. It is now squarely within Scorpio's head acting as if it belonged there. Only a matter of time until it exits through the other end, as all meals must. Jupiter rides high in the western sky - or it that Saturn? - and Venus, the "Evening Star," hangs low and bright above the last vestige of the sunset. It ain't Netflix, but it's an entertainment of sorts for wayward mariners in far flung places.

 

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

Yesterday I visited Windward, a hamlet on the far side of Carriacou from Tyrell Bay where I'm anchored. Windward is so laid back the palm trees yawn, yet it's famous for a very noble heritage; boatbuilding. They've been hand-building traditional "island boats" there for generations with native timbers and simple hand tools, the lines and designs engrained in the very marrow of these descendents of Scottish shipwrights, Irish fishermen and abducted Africans. I'd heard there was a big vessel abuilding now and I went to check it out.

It wasn't hard to find. Boats are built there outdoors, "on the beach," and everyone knows about it. I asked the driver of the bright red minibus I took from Hillsborough, Cee Pee, and he dropped me off at the gate leading to the path leading to the building site. Clearly they weren't trying to keep it a secret.

click to enlarge

The proud builder, Nero McLawrence, was happy to show me around the 65-footer. She'll be sloop-rigged when she's done and carry a 400-horsepower Cummins diesel. "She's mainly for carrying cargo," the 67-year-old builder-owner-captain told me. Nero had one other man working with him. "We been at it a year, now. It will be about one more 'til she's ready to splash."

I asked him if he knew my friend, Captain John A. Smith, who has been sailing the traditional, Windward-built sloop, Mermaid, all over the Caribbean for decades. "Oh, sure, I know him. My cousin, Zephrin, built that boat back in 1996. I hear John is in Panama now." I told him he had been - that's where I first met that salty sailing legend, in Bocas del Toro - but last I heard he was hangin' out in the Bay Islands off Honduras.

I happened to catch the same red minibus back to Hillsborough that afternoon. "You found the boat OK," Cee Pee asked? "No problem, mon," I replied. Then I asked, "Say, do you happen to know John Smith?" "Oh, yeah, mon, he has one of Zephrin's boats for a long time, now. I heard he was in Panama."

Carriacou is a small, friendly place. After a while everybody knows everybody.

 

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

Hopefully I won't have any high adventures to relate while I'm limin' in Carriacou, but that doesn't mean my cruising life has stopped. There are all kinds of ostensibly small things that make this a neat place to hang out. One of them is Warrior.

Warrior is a bright splash of local color whose real name, he once told me, is John. Many West Indian men assume nicknames which they use almost exclusively in public. Warrior must fantasize a very different alternate reality for himself, because in this one he's one of the most gentle, easy-going, unpretentious people I've ever met. Not formally educated, he nevertheless possesses an innate, insightful intelligence and thoughtful vocabulary that shines through the more you talk with him. And he's a grassroots entrepreneur, a trait I always admire. Often seen rowing his beat-up skiff around the harbor from one anchored yacht to the next, Warrior offers two services; he sells small, local oysters, which he harvests himself, and he'll take your trash ashore. Prices are negotiable; he'll accept whatever he can get with humble gratitude and goodwill. Never mind that I can take in my own trash and dispose of it in the bins at the head of the dinghy dock. I save up what little garbage I generate so I'll have something for this good man whenever he comes by.

Warrior remembers me from my long stay here a few years ago. (I used to buy his oysters then, until one batch treated me to an all-night bout of food poisoning; I haven't eaten them since.) We usually exchange pleasantries and small talk when he visits, but yesterday he had favor to ask. It seems one of the boats he serviced had several women aboard who decided it would be fun to pose with him on his little skiff. Since they were all wearing bikini's, this was a happy variance from Warrior's usual rounds. He beamed as he told me about it. Best of all, someone on the boat took photos and gave him digital copies on a memory stick. Now he was curious to know whether I had a computer. Well, yes. And might I have a printer, too? I do. And so here I am this Sunday morning cropping and processing these snapshots for him. He said he wants to use them as posters for his enterprise, so I've taken it upon myself to make one for him featuring the best of the pics together. He'll be back tomorrow for his individual printouts. I hope he likes what I made. If so, I think I have some laminating sheets around here somewhere. He'll need a waterproof copy to carry in the skiff.

click photos to enlarge

   

 

 

Thursay, June 09, 2016
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

Seven years ago today Silverheels and I set sail from the northeast Florida boat yard in which she was reborn. I've owned her 9½ years now, and it ain't over yet, not 'til the fat lady sings, "Hi ho, Silverheels!"

 

Friday, June 03, 2016
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines

At long last Silverheels and I have made it back to Tyrell Bay on the Grenadian island of Carriacou, our eastern Caribbean home port. We've sailed about 1,250 nautical miles from the Exumas to get here - about 2,000 since leaving Florida last December. Most of those were single-handed, only adding crew for the blue water legs, 9 days altogether out of 6 months' cruising.

Silverheels and I spent a summer and fall in Carriacou a few years ago (detailed far below in this logblog, between July 21, 2013 and January 04, 2014), and I vowed to return. Hadn't been anchored 30 minutes this afternoon before first one, then another of the locals came by in their skiffs to welcome me back (and offer to sell me something, of course: one some smuggled wine; the other, local oysters). What surprised me is that they both remembered me at all, or at least recognized the boat. I'm looking forward to re-connecting with other local & sailor friends in the coming days. After a while I'll get down to Grenada, 30 miles south of here, to revisit some favorite waterfalls on that much larger island. But Carriacou will be our home base. Smaller, friendlier and much more laid-back, it suits me.

I'll let you know if anything "interesting" happens - other than jus' livin' dee life, mon - or at least I'll post some photos if I take any worth sharing.

 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Admiralty Bay, Bequia, St. Vincent Grenadines

Just a quick note to say Silverheels and I made it to the Grenadines by (well, on) June 1st, the official beginning of hurricane season. This meets a goal I set for us back in the Bahamas, 3 months and 1,200 nautical miles ago, to get here in time for the storm season. The Grenadines, in the southeastern Caribbean, are on the southern fringe of the Atlantic hurricane belt and rarely suffer a direct hit. Rarely, but not "never." Like most sailors, I'm hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. We'll always be within a day, and usually within minutes, of a hurricane hole this summer & early fall. Meanwhile, the Grenadines! Awesome!

 

Sunday, May 22, 2016
Grande Anse d’ Arlet, Martinique

Been doing some hard sailing lately - Antigua to Guadeloupe to Les Saintes to Dominica to Martinique - urged on by the approaching hurricane season, when I want to be down south, below the usual storm tracks. Silverheels has held up well considering, but a dozen little things have broken from wear and hard use and I've repaired and jury-rigged as necessary along the way. Likewise, (truth be known) the captain has felt it in sore muscles and tired arrivals. Each of these islands is separated by an open-ocean channel anywhere from 10 to 30 miles wide and when the trades are up the sailing can get pretty lively.

Ah, but now we've made it to the most windward of the Windward Islands, which means from here on we stand a fair chance of reaches instead of beats, a welcome forecast, indeed.


Our only stop in Guadeloupe was Deshaies (pronounced "Day-yay" - ah, zee French and zere vowels!). A  fishing village now "discovered" by tourists, Deshaies invented the word "charming." I've been here a few times before and yet was once again charmed into staying a while. It also turned out to be something of an old home week: I spotted my former cruising boat, Sparrow, in the harbor. She's been around the world since I sailed her to the Mediterranean and back in the late 80's and early 90's. The Brit that has her now assures me she's still sound & seaworthy. I also ran into the Canadian sloop, Silver Heels III (no relation), whom I knew from the Grenadines. Then a couple of days after I arrived my good friends, Pete & Jill Dubler, showed up aboard their extraordinary Pearson 424, Regina Oceani. We've been crossing paths repeatedly since the Exumas.

Sparrow in Deshaies
 

A few quick pics from Deshaies (as usual, click to enlarge):

     

From there to Les Saintes, where I only stopped overnight. It's a pretty place, but I've been there several times and wanted to take advantage of the favorable wind forecasts for the next few days. Same goes for Dominica, which is surely the most unspoiled of all these islands. I've promised myself I'll fly here someday and spend time in the island's incredible mountain rain forests. That's a bucket list must-do.

But for now, Martinique, and for a change I'm in no big rush to move on. As the full moon rose over quaint Grande Anse d’ Arlet last night, Ursa Major circling Polaris to port, the Southern Cross rising to starboard, happy zouk music wafting across the water from a funky beach bar while palm trees swayed gently to the rhythms, I thought, man, it just doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Deep Bay, Antigua, Lesser Antilles

I'd been fretting about sailing from the Leeward Islands to the Windwards, whose very labels foretell the likelihood of a beat into the trade winds. I HATE beating into the trade winds! But after 10 days in St. Martin the chores and provisioning were done and the forecasts were stuck on ESE winds for another week or two - or ten - who knows? It's dead on the nose for anyplace I'd want to head next. So screw the forecasts, says I. It's bloody well time to go. And so we did.

Monday we motor-sailed across to St. Barth's, 15 miles slicing close to a moderate breeze and chop and drizzle, to a pretty little cove on the NW corner of the island that I last visited with Mia on board 2+ years ago. The next morning - yesterday as I write this - I got underway at 0530 hrs, planning to sail south 60 miles to an uninhabited bay at the SW corner of St. Kits, from whence I'd then have to motor head on into the wind for nearly 60 more miles to Antigua the next day (as in today); a bitch, but doable as long as the trades remained on the light side of moderate, as forecast. Which means maybe. 

However, as we were clearing the lee of St. Barth's yesterday, verily before the sun cleared the horizon, I realized the wind and seas were (a) relatively light, and (b) a point more easterly than expected. So on the spur of the moment I decided to just go directly to Antigua, 77 n. miles ø 142°M. I don't think I'd ever done 77 miles sunrise to sunset with Silverheels before, but hey, I'm a wild and crazy guy and I'm on a mission.

I long ago accepted that Silverheels is a motorsailer to windward. I gave her a big new diesel engine as a wedding present and I maintain it religiously. So she has the power. Now it was time for the glory. I cranked up that big, beautiful 54 HP Yanmar to 2200 RPM and away we charged at 7.4 knots. The wind angle was too close to set the genoa, but the main and little staysail, sheeted in rock hard, just managed to stay full, probably adding a knot to our speed and definitely dampening the roll.

Well, the wind and seas picked up as the morning progressed and the passage soon escalated to a punchy, jerky, hard-heeled trade winds bash to windward, spray flying across the entire boat every few minutes, exactly the kind of sailing I loathe - albeit not nearly as bad as it can get.

It was a long day and the boat & skipper were salt-encrusted stem to stern by the time it was over. On the bright side, we averaged 7 knots overall despite stronger winds and white capped seas in the afternoon, covering the distance in exactly 11 hours anchor to anchor, so hoorah for motor-sailing. Best of all, today, instead of hammering dead into it all the way from St. Kits, I'm snuggled into in this peaceful little Antiguan cove, Keb Mo' jammin' on the stereo while I putz around the boat doing light chores and lovin' the cruising life again.

       Deep Bay, Antigua ~ click to enlarge

Deep Bay (as this one is named), on the NW corner of Antigua, is another good 'un - for today's generally overdeveloped, overcrowded West Indies, anyway. I'm sharing the anchorage with just one small French sloop and several sea turtles. After yesterday's noisy bash, the silence is almost deafening. A white sand beach backed by green hills scribes the head of the bay. Ruins of an old fort dominate the high peninsula to port and a plague of 1- & 2-story mod-condo-looking dwellings litter the steep slopes to starboard. (Alas, it keeps getting harder and harder to escape "progress" these days.) Still, as long as I don't look over there Deep Bay is quite lovely. All it needs now is a rainbow...

This really is too fine to hurry away from. I'm going to spend another night before sailing around to English Harbor to clear in. I'm supposed to pay homage (and some bullshit fees) to the native bureaucracy first, but as Katharine Hepburn once put it, "If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."

Silverheels is now well positioned for continuing down-islands, to Guadeloupe, Ile des Saints and Martinique, all fabulously French, the latter also being the most windward of the Lesser Antilles (except for Barbados way out to the southeast). As long as the winds stay east of southeast, we can sail from now on, always the preference. From Martinique to the Grenadines it gets even better, the course lying a shade west of south. Yeah, mon, we're on a mission and on roll now.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Marigot, St. Martin, French West Indies

It took the good ketch Silverheels just 5 days 20 hours to get from Georgetown, Exuma to Marigot, St. Martin, FWI - a fast, uncommonly  smooth passage thanks to the fortuitous weather window described in the previous entry (below). Better still, the day after I wrote that a northeast wind arrived, gifting Silverheels with a smooth 6-to-7+ knot close reach for the last 250 n. miles of the passage. What a hushed treat that was after so many days of motoring! The big victory for me, though, is that we got here without beating into the trade winds. YES!

This evening we're anchored inside Simpson Bay Lagoon. My passage crew moves off the boat tomorrow. I have the usual post-passage work list to attend to here, plus some chores, provisioning and general catching up to do before we continue down-islands towards the Grenadines. It's likely to take a week, maybe two. We're on island time. Not to worry, mon, soon go. (Scroll down a little for a few passage photos.)

 

Sunday, April 17, 2016
Underway at 21°15' N x 69°09' W, about 115 n. miles north of
Cabo Cabron, Dominican Republic; bound for St. Martin, FWI.

Three days out of Georgetown, Exuma, halfway to St. Martin, and we haven't sailed an inch of it. Instead, Silverheels has been motoring in light airs and flat calms the whole way. What little breeze we feel on deck this afternoon is self-created by powering 6 knots through still air.

Heading ESE at this latitude usually means muscling to windward against 15- to 25-knot easterly trade winds, pounding into rock-hard, slab-faced seas and wishing you were anyplace other than here - an ordeal I've been dreading ever since I decided to sail back to St. Martin from the Exumas this spring. But last week the wind gods intervened, spinning a big, slow-moving low pressure system off the US northeast coast. The low is sucking the energy out of the trades all the way down to the Greater Antilles, leaving in their place these misplaced Horse Latitudes, a broad swath of light-&-variable zephyrs. A thousand miles north of here it's blowing a gale and kicking up 25-foot seas. Down here we're chugging across a flat, windless ocean with tuna, dolphins and crimson sunsets for company.

           
<--- click to enlarge --->

Of course, my passage crew and I would rather be sailing, but what we've got is a hell of a lot better than bashing into the the trade winds. In fact, I rushed our departure from Georgetown, setting sail 2 days ahead of schedule to take advantage of this "weather window," the rare opportunity to make 800 n. miles of easting in these latitudes without being beaten half to death in the process.

 

Sunday, April 10, 2016
Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

On the final countdown towards setting sail for St. Martin, probably this coming Thursday the 14th. I have 2 crew flying in Wednesday, so there'll be 3 of us on board to share the watches. Not sure how long it'll take to there. A week if we're incredibly lucky, 2 weeks (or more) if we're not. Depends on the winds. Like Cap'n Ron said, "If it's gonna' happen, it'll happen out there."

This may be my last entry until I can get online again in St. M.  Hasta la vista, baby.

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

Silverheels received a 6-dolphin escort into Kidd's Cove this afternoon. These bottlenose dolphins joined us as we neared the small harbor adjacent to Georgetown, several of them repeatedly surfacing alongside the cockpit to eyeball me. While I was setting the anchor they moved off a hundred yards or so and cavorted in a tight group for 20 or 30 minutes, some poking their heads up into the air like seaquarium performers, others flapping their tails aloft. No matter how many times I see them, dolphins always make my day.

  

 

Sunday, March 06, 2016
Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

Silverheels is once again anchored just across the channel from Georgetown, Great Exuma for some re-provisioning. I postponed returning until the annual Georgetown cruisers' regatta was over, but that only ended yesterday so the place is still grossly overcrowded with plastic boats and snowbird sailors. Thankfully, the flock will now begin its seasonal migration north. It can't be soon enough for me! (They're nice folks, really. I'm just not a crowd person.) Meanwhile, I'll pick up what I need and find some quieter places to hang out for the next month or so, biding my time until mid-April when I plan to leave the Bahamas and head offshore.

I've decided to sail back to the Grenadines and spend the summer in Carriacou, one of my favorite places. Getting there begins with a non-stop offshore passage from here to St. Martin in the northeast corner of the Caribbean. As the albatross flies, that's barely 800 nautical miles from here, but as sure as trade winds blow we'll likely have to sail at least a thousand to get there, possibly a good deal more. Depends on the winds we encounter. This first, blue water leg could take as little as a week and as much as two. Once I reach St. Martin, though, it's all island-hopping down to the Grenadines.

It's tempting to just single-hand the whole trip, and I may yet choose to do that. It would allow me maximum flexibility and spontaneity, making it easier to jump through a favorable weather window when I spot one. It also eliminates a lot of extra planning & preparation. I've made longer offshore passages alone and I don't mind them.

But it's undeniably safer to have others aboard to help stand watches so that someone is in the cockpit 24/7 keeping an eye out for ships and sudden weather changes. A lone sailor simply cannot do that. Company, when it's good, can also add to the pleasure of a long passage. That's usually the case, but you never know 'til you're out there. People sometimes aren't what they seem at first, and even amiable personalities can grate after a while in the tight, sometimes uncomfortable confines of a small vessel at sea. I do what I can to screen applicants, but in the end it's the luck of the draw. Anyway, for safety's sake I'll most likely take on 2 crewmembers, probably just for the offshore leg, having them fly into Georgetown next month.

 


 

Monday, February 23, 2016
North Gaulin Cay, the Exumas, Bahamas

No, I didn't "grow a beard." I just quit shaving. The beard grew itself. And no, I'm not "growing my hair" (again). I just have no reason to cut it. Amazing how scruffy I am in my natural state.

Hey, I'm cruising, not applying for a job. Ain't it grand?

 

Monday, February 22, 2016
Staniel Cay, the Exumas, Bahamas

My daughter and 3 grandchildren joined me in Georgetown last week and together we sailed back up to Staniel Cay. Along the way they got to play on Volleyball Beach and party at the Chat & Chill beach bar, explore the abandoned research facility at Lee Stocking Island, get seasick beating to weather in Exuma Sound, snorkel at Great Iguana Cay and visit ashore at Black Point Settlement, feed the swimming pigs at Big Majors Cay and snorkel into eerie Thunderball Grotto, film location for the James Bond movie. We had a wonderful, fun time together. We always do! Alas, they headed home yesterday afternoon. Now it seems way too quiet aboard Silverheels.

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas

I remember years ago overhearing a cocky Caribbean delivery captain refer to Georgetown as "Chicken Harbor" because it's as close to the Lesser Antilles as many ocean-wary cruisers ever get. It's relatively easy to bring a boat this far by playing the wind shifts and weather systems and island hopping all the way. But to continue southeast and east from here mariners must face the full brunt of the trade winds. Powerful, relentless, and (if you're heading for the Lesser Antilles) right on the nose,  they will quickly teach anyone brazen enough to oppose them the true meaning of "beating to windward." Few among the complacent Georgetown fleet ever attempt it. Even fewer are ambitious enough to take the more practical offshore route, east and northeast into the Atlantic Ocean until the Virgin Islands or St. Martin bear due south across the trades rather than into them. So Georgetown on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas is the end of their line - but it's not such a bad end.

For one thing, it's safe. There is no crime here that I've heard of - hardly anyone bothers to lock their dinghy - and the various harbors and roadsteads, if used judiciously in turn, can provide protection from any wind direction. Also, like all of the Exumas it is pristine, with white sand beaches galore, clear water and good snorkeling just a dinghy ride away. But above all, Georgetown is uniquely, alluringly, captivatingly convenient, offering a host of facilities in a region where they are otherwise almost non-existent. Here sailors enjoy well-stocked grocery stores carrying many of the foods they're used to back home. Shops, services and eateries abound. You can get gasoline, diesel, propane and parts; and wifi! The local clinic has a doctor available 3 or 4 days a week if you don't mind waiting your turn, and a well-stocked pharmacy a mile up the road fills prescriptions. There is even free, potable desalinated water at Exuma Market's well-maintained floating dinghy dock. The island of Great Exuma also boasts a busy, efficient international airport, making it easy for friends and family to visit and crew to join or leave a boat.

To me, though, the most striking and appealing thing about this place is the unfeigned friendliness of the locals. You'd be hard-pressed to find a warmer, more open, considerate and sincerely welcoming people - anywhere! That holds true for all of the Exumas, but it's especially evident here.

Georgetown is so enticing that dozens if not scores of the couple-of-hundred live-aboard cruising boats here this winter return year after year, some for the past decade or two. This is their paradise and they have fine-tuned it to suit their native suburban tastes. The daily morning Cruisers' Net on VHF channel 72 reveals the depth of their entrenchment, keeping this sprawling, floating community informed about what's going on, from new arrivals and departures to buy-sell-trade announcements and where-to-find queries to local business' specials of the day. There are volley ball and dominos tournaments on the beach, ladies' luncheons at a local church, water aerobics and yoga classes. The activities list reads like an upscale summer camp for active retirees.

These are mostly American and Canadian "snowbirds," as many call themselves, migrating this far south (and no farther) each winter, and then north again every summer, having fun and harming no-one. Georgetown may not be my personal idea of what cruising is all about, but I can appreciate that it's theirs. Chicken Harbor? Maybe, but they're happy chickens.

And I'm a happy camper. My daughter and 3 grandkids are due to arrive on Monday for a week aboard. I'm planning to sail them up to Staniel Cay by way of Lee Stocking Island. Fun!

 

Saturday, January 23, 2015
Lee Stocking Island, Exumas, Bahamas

Been hanging out around Lee Stocking Island, anchored off an abandoned oceanographic research station. A large facility for such a remote place, it must have employed dozens of people in its heyday. Pretty impressive infrastructure, too; docks, ramps, concrete fish pens, a score of assorted maintenance buildings, a dozen or so residential houses of various sizes and styles and a large airstrip. This was the Perry Institute for Marine Science, once an obviously thriving and well-funded enterprise, now a ghost town. It's fun and a little eerie to peek into the vacated structures, hike the roads across the island and imagine living in such an idyllic place when it was alive with people and purpose.


Patio deck with a view from one of the abandoned houses on Lee Stocking Island

The little cove I'm anchored in is often crowded with other sailboats, as is so much of the Bahamas these days. But weather forecasts have been warning of a blustery cold front this weekend, with strong, veering winds that would make this harbor untenable. That caused everyone - well, everyone but yours truly - to scurry down to Georgetown's more protected harbors 30 miles from here. I chose to stay, however, finding on the chart what looked like decent protection from the winds and seas and moving Silverheels there yesterday just ahead of the front. After some trial and error I found a place to shelter among the little cays to the north, although I did have to contend with strong tidal currents. Then this afternoon, as the wind continued to clock around and that spot became more exposed, I moved the boat back to this cozy cove, which is comfortable enough for now and will only get better as the wind keeps shifting from northwest to north and eventually back to east. And what a wild, pretty place to welcome this evening's full moonrise and the end of another day in the life of a cruising sailor.

 

 

Friday, January 08, 2016
Black Point Settlement, Great Iguana Cay, Bahamas
 


 

 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Staniel Cay, the Exumas, Bahamas

From the ship's log:

1730   The front hit Staniel Cay with gale-to-storm force winds for more than an hour, punctuated by and hurricane-force gusts, raining on and off, with lightning during the latter part of its passing. Pretty dramatic stuff and entirely unexpected; caught everyone by surprise including the weather forecasters. Later someone reported on VHF that they had measured 57 knots, but I’m not sure in which harbor that was. Another reportedly measured 72 knots here, and someone else said there were gusts up to 100 knots. I'd say calling this one a 60+ knot, storm-force event would not be an exaggeration. It was a LOT of wind, one of the worst blows I can recall every riding out at anchor, trumping even the vicious nighttime thunderstorms I remember ripping through the harbor in Cartagena when we were several years ago.

Despite the wind and white-capped, breaking seas - in the anchorage! - spray flying and the boats I could see  bucking like wild broncos, their entire forward sections leaping out of the water, Silverheels’ anchor held. However, the 5/8" 3-strand nylon chain snubber parted and the windlass gypsy brake failed to hold the chain, letting it rattle out, all 150’ of it! I couldn't hear it happening over shrieking wind back in the cockpit, nor could I see it in the dark, but luckily I happened to duck below for a moment just then, heard the racket forward, and so went out onto the foredeck to investigate. I caught it just as the line spliced to the anchor chain started running out. The gypsy was slipping in bursts, so I was able to get a rolling hitch onto it with a short, stout dock line and made that fast to a deck cleat. Sounds simple enough (and it was), but up there on that leaping foredeck in the howling maelstrom in the dark, knowing I could lose my boat if I screwed it up, it was a bit of a chore.

            One of the two sailboats anchored near me dragged his anchor a few hundred yards, but then it dug in and he rode out the rest of the storm in place. A large motor yacht dragged through here over and over, each time powering back to windward and attempting - in vain, obviously - to re-set his anchor. More than once that damned monster very nearly slammed into my neighbor, s/v Piper, a young cruising family aboard. One time Piper had to stream out a many fathoms of anchor rode very quickly and literally drive his boat out of the way of the oncoming motor yacht. The big vessel careened by between Piper and Silverheels, just missing both of us, whether by skill, luck or some combination one can only guess. Scary scene.

            I stood anchor watch at the helm throughout the mini-storm (it lasted little more than an hour), idling the engine in forward most of the time to ease some of the strain on the ground tackle, accelerating in the harder wind blasts, and attempting to steer to counter some of the boat’s violent yawing. I didn’t dare motor forward on the anchor - just wanted to ease the stress, so I probably under-used the throttle most of the time. It's not like I've had tons of practice in such rowdy conditions.

1900   After an hour or so, the worst of it passed. The wind finally began to ease off to a mere 25-35 kn, then gradually down to 15-20 with gradually lessening residual gusts. I’m sure there will be some dragged & damaged boats in the wake of this blow. At least it happened early in the evening. Could’ve been worse. We’re OK.

 

 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Big Majors Cay, the Exumas, Bahamas

After an insane rush to make an iron-clad departure date, Silverheels and I set sail from northeast Florida  a couple of weeks ago with the intention of spending some easy time in the Exumas this winter. A few bumpy days later we made landfall in Marsh Harbor, Abacos, my offshore crew flew home, and I began single-handing south with each weather window; first via an inside route to the southeast corner of the Abacos, and then across 50-mile-wide Tongue of the Ocean to Royal Island (near Spanish Wells) in the east central Bahamas. There we holed up in a snug harbor for a few days while a blustery norther railed outside, I busying myself with small repairs and boat chores (of which there is a perpetually self-renewing list) while Silverheels tugged impatiently at her tether.

At last the weather broke with a favorable but brief (ergo precious) wind forecast. So we lit out post haste to cross the Middle Ground banks. The vast Middle Ground and its neighbor, the Yellow Bank, span nearly a thousand square miles of swimming-pool clear water over white sand peppered with hundreds of massive coral heads, many shallow enough to ground an unwary boat and all of them tough enough to sink her. And as luck would have it, I was crossing on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.            

Looking back on it now, attempting the Middle Ground in choppy conditions with the sun at its lowest possible declination and dead ahead in my eyes at midday as we headed southeast was probably not this skipper's best call ever. As it turned out, it challenged all the skill, caution, patience and luck I possess to get through that malicious maze, though in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.

I have experience reading tropical waters and had crossed these banks before. As we neared the Middle Ground I reefed down to jib & jigger to slow our progress, to give the sun time to move at least a little west of center, marginally improving its angle on the water. Soon the first heads began appearing, amorphous brown-black splotches defined against the blue-white sand bottom. I was relieved to find I could see them far enough ahead to easily navigate around them.

 

click to enlarge


I added a reefed mainsail to the canvas aloft, mindful of having to beat the early sunset into port that evening.

Things were going well until, just as we were weaving through what had to be the thickest concentration of coral heads on the banks, a train of large, slow-moving cauliflower clouds began blotting out the sun in turns, each for minutes at a time - minutes that felt like eternities! Without sunlight the sea's surface instantly lost its transparence, instead reflecting a uniform leaden sheen. I could no longer "read the water," couldn't see the coral heads in our path and all around us to avoid them. And they were legion! I was akin to a blind man running down an L.A. freeway at rush hour in the dark.

Time and again I rounded the boat up into the wind to stop moving until the blessed sunlight returned, Silverheels suspended in limbo, her sails slatting noisily, me resolutely willing that cursed cloud to move on, expressing myself loudly. Once as I brought her up I glimpsed a huge coral head, bigger than the boat, sliding past a foot below the surface and scant yards away to starboard, right where we would've been had I not rounded up when I did. Intuition? Skill? Dumb luck? Take your pick. It was a hairy afternoon out there on the Middle Ground. 
 

click to enlarge

 

We persevered. We survived. Finally the last cloud passed, leaving the sun once again beaming in a clear sky, the thinning coral heads plain to see as we covered the remaining miles.

After a one-night layover (and a shot or two of good Barbados rum) in the lee of an iguana-laden little island near the top of the Exumas, we carried on southward. In the ebullience of the moment I took my first ever "selfie" (with a camera, not a telephone) the next morning as the good ketch Silverheels and I worked to windward in 20 knots in the lee of the upper Exumas chain, comfortably balanced under jib & jigger - and not a coral head to be seen. I do believe the captain was enjoying himself.

Now we're well into the Exumas and, well, here we are. I'm done hurrying for a while, done chasing weather windows. Think we’ll hang where we are - until we move on. And then we'll be, well, movin' on. Ahh, back in cruising mode again! Click to enlarge. 

 

Saturday, December 12, 2015
Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

I'm in a small marina, Mango's, for a few days' R&R and catch-up before heading south. It's inexpensive, clean and very friendly. The manager is like a brother. Then there's the young dreadlock maintenance worker, Gibson, who was cleaning up some palm tree trimmings yesterday littered with fresh green coconuts. He offered me one as I walked by, whacked it open with his machete, and then, unasked, opened another for me to take back to the boat - for nothing, just being friendly! "Put dee rum in dee coconut 'n drink it all up." A nice welcome back to the islands, mon.

 

Friday, December 11, 2015
Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

Silverheels arrived in the Abacos (northern Bahamas) yesterday at dawn after a bouncy, non-stop, 330 nm (nautical mile) sail from St. Johns River Inlet (near Jacksonville, Florida). This took 2-days 17 hours inlet to inlet, plus a full day initially getting down the St. Johns River from Green Cove Springs and another hour at the end into Marsh Harbor.

I like having extra hands on board for even a short offshore passage like this one, to help stand 'round-the-clock watches. My crew this time included a former shipmate, Captain Thomas Pinney, USN Ret. (no family relation to me), and Greg Allen, a music teacher and avid sailor from Boston who found me online and volunteered to come along.

The first half of the passage was, as I said, bouncy, with 15-20 knot northeasterly winds on or a point abaft the port beam. This gifted us with sailing speeds of 6 to 8+ knots much of the time, but also blew against the Gulf Stream current and so kicked up short, steep, irregular 3-6' seas. Moving around on a small boat in these jerky conditions is a constant challenge, a pretty good workout, and annoying as hell, so it was with some relief that we saw the wind veer and drop off our last day and night at sea. At that point we actually had to slow down anyway to avoid arriving before dawn at the unmarked pass that was our landfall entry through the reefs bordering the northeastern Abacos.

Now, 24 hours later, my crew has flown home and I'm once again single-handing. My plan, as far as it goes, is to meander down-islands through the Exumas (southern Bahamas) during the next few months. After that, we'll see.

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Silverheels is on the hard now, getting her topsides and bottom spruced up to go sailing again. Our plans are on track. Early December I'll take her outside to Spanish Wells (Bahamas), then meander slowly down the Exumas to the Jumentos & Ragged Islands, eventually thinking about what's next. Maybe back to Bocas del Toro (Panama), maybe Carriacou (the Grenadines), maybe just hang out where we are for a while, or maybe something else altogether.

Hey, I have a feature article in Cruising World magazine in the current (October 2015) issue, describing the hardtop bimini I built for Silverheels recently. They'll also be publishing a fun "Swimming with Dolphins" story of mine in March and another "how-to" boat project article in April.

click to enlarge

 

Monday, July 20, 2015
Green Cove Springs, Florida

I've written several new articles for Cruising World magazine lately. The rest of the time I'm up to my ears in boat upgrade projects, as usual. Currently replacing all the chainplates, the sturdy, thru-bolted stainless steel flat bars that secure the rigging wires that hold the masts up. I do enjoy fussing with my boat, but after such a long layover in port this time I'm itching to go cruising again. Figure to start out with an offshore hop to the lower Bahamas right after hurricane season. Once I get down to the Exumas I'll decide what's next.

Just posted a Crew Wanted web page for anyone interested in making a short offshore passage this fall.

 

Saturday, May 9, 2015
Green Cove Springs, Florida

The local beauty isn't flashy, but it runs deep. The St. Johns River, broad and tree-lined, carries its brown waters from wetlands two hundred miles inland to the sea 50-odd miles downstream from where Silverheels and I are berthed. Stunning sunrises and sunsets, clean air, serene surroundings and a parade of wildlife make this a riparian Eden for the appreciative naturalist.

The river hosts a great variety of fish, of course, including one fat catfish that lives beneath Silverheels. I catch glimpses of him when he momentarily emerges from the sepia depths to snatch food scraps I toss overboard - if the seagulls don't get them first. Turtles, manatees, rare river otters and seasonal shrimp likewise make appearances. Great herons share the skies with gulls, swallows, osprey, bald eagles, pelicans, hawks, doves and others. American alligators, water moccasins, geckos and other reptiles add to the entourage along with small mammals and countless insects and arachnids ashore and afloat. It's a rare day that I don't see at least some of these residents from Silverheels' cockpit.

Two alligators live around the marina; a youngster 3- or 4-feet long, called Junior by the yard crew, who hangs out in the creek by the road entrance, and an 8- or 9-footer I call Senior (though he's still growing), whom I often see cruising the harbor. Today I spotted him close off our starboard bow and he seemed preoccupied. Suddenly, he jerked his head up and chomped a few times and I realized he had a bird carcass the size of a large chicken in his mouth. It looked to be well beyond fresh, probably an earlier kill he had stashed on the river bottom to "ripen," as alligators are wont to do, and had just now retrieved for lunch. It took him a while to maneuver it around in his maw to his satisfaction, but before I thought to fetch my camera he dispatched it in a single gulp. To the right is a shot of him sunning himself on a finger pier a few months ago.

More local wildlife...

click photos to enlarge

 

water moccasin casey duh

 

Saturday night, January 3, 2015
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Green Cove Springs, my home port and sometimes home town these past 8 years, is geographically (just barely) inside Florida, but it's a south Georgia country town at heart. Last weekend, three local bubbas - an accordionist/guitarist, a fiddler and a banjo picker - showed up for what is becoming our regular Saturday night Green Cove Springs Marina porch jam session, which is usually just me and a handful of other transient, waterborne musicians. The bubbas turned out to be semi-professionals who have played together for decades. Well let me tell y'all, those good ol' boys regaled us for hours on end with foot-stompin' country standards and yahooin' bluegrass music dating back to the Civil War era, a specialty of theirs. I chimed in with harmonicas, vocal harmonies and some guitar, and I wasn't the only one. Three or four more guitars contributed on & off along with a spirited second fiddle, spoons, bongos, a washboard, one of those scratchy ball-bearing things, a mandolin and at least one ukulele. (Oh, where was my Jew's harp when I needed it?!) Then there was the Irish sailor who used to perform on stage in his home country and has a riotous repertoire of pub tunes. He and I relieved the trio from time to time with our songs, which included plenty of sing-alongs, everyone participating. The weather was about perfect; balmy, clear, the moon nearly full. Several dozen of my fellow sailboat liveaboards turned out for the impromptu celebration.

Then just when we thought it was winding down, a guy off an old cutter in the yard produced a friggin' bagpipe! He was incredible, blew everyone away. After him, one of the 20-something cruisers here entertained us with some homey minor-key folk songs. I followed with "Zombie Jamboree" to wake everyone back up, and the party went on, and on. What a blast we had! Rumor has it I even got up at some point & danced a jig with a lovely Danish gal.

Hey, next Saturday night all y'all come, y'hear?

 

Sunday, December 21, 2014
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Silverheels and I are still moored to the old Navy pier at Green Cove Springs Marina. I've been busy with boat projects, including an awesome hard bimini top of my own design and construction, and with non-boat stuff. Between that and the simple fact that I like it here, we're not planning to set sail before spring. Then maybe back to Bocas del Toro (Panama) or else Carriacou (the Grenadines). Rumors that we're going through the Panama Canal and out to the South Pacific are highly exaggerated.

 

Saturday, April 26, 2014
Green Cove Springs, Florida

From the Exumas to the Berry Islands, then a straight shot to Fort Pierce, Florida followed by a bumpy ride up the Gulf Stream to Jacksonville. Finally, today Silverheels and I arrived back at our US home port, Green Cove Springs Marina (St. Johns River, northeast Florida), 4 months and 1,800 nautical miles out of Carriacou, Grenada. It's once again time for the other side of cruising, some months of refreshing, renewing, refitting and re-provisioning this good old ketch so we can get on back to the Caribbean again after hurricane season, maybe this time to the western side again.

My final log entry for the season was, "Great potluck party at the porch this evening, followed by a grand music jam. Lots of old friends and some new ones. It's really good to be back. I am blessed to have such a home port."

 

Friday, April 4, 2014
Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

I had originally planned to get back to Green Cove Springs by mid-April, but the Bahamas have a way of slowing a body down - way down. I'm on island time again, my natural state. Each island I visit welcomes me; the locals in the Exumas are uncommonly friendly, the harbors are clean and safe, and hurricane season is still months away. What, me hurry?

Besides, I'm just around the corner from the swimming pigs...
 



Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lee Stocking Island, Exumas, Bahamas

Much of the Bahamas is crowded with sailboats, mostly American, a different demographic than the Lesser Antilles cruisers I just left. Here they tend to be better-dressed, fatter, and decidedly suburban, especially in Georgetown. Nice people, to be sure; always friendly, always ready to help. They're good folks. Still, I don't relate well to some of them, their cloying political correctness and penchant for organizing. They remove the last vestiges of adventure from cruising here. Nearly all snowbirds - boaters who commute seasonally between homes in the northern US and sailboats in the south - many have been making the annual pilgrimage to Georgetown for a decade and more, year after mimeographed year. It is all they do, migrate back & forth spring and fall, up & down the Intra-Coastal Waterway, their greatest challenge the overnight crossing of the Gulf Stream en route, which many do in groups. Suburbanites. What I ran away from when I was 17. Of course, there are exceptions, a smattering of real cruising sailors passing through, of whom and with whom (I hope) I am one.

I departed Georgetown yesterday among a small flotilla of regulars, all of us now working our way back to the US. I'm in no particular hurry, however, and will do a bit of gunkholing along the way, beginning today. This morning I'm anchored in a pretty, uninhabited cove about 25 miles northwest of Georgetown, up the Exumas chain , in 10' over a white sand bottom, the water so clear that at 5 AM, still under the nighttime sky, I can see the boat's shadow cast by the quarter moon as if it were painted on the seabed. Later, when the sun is high enough that I can read the water to see shoals and coral heads ahead to dodge them, I will move Silverheels to another anchorage by some coral reefs, don mask & fins, grab my sling spear, and go find some me a lobster for dinner - Bahamian grocery shopping!

 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

Silverheels arrived at Elizabeth Harbor, Elizabeth Island, Exumas, Bahamas mid-day Sunday, 700-odd nautical miles out of Leinster Bay, St. John, USVI. We didn't make any stops in the out-islands as planned due to timing, ours and the arrival of a blustery cold front. Instead, we pushed on and completed the passage non-stop in 5 days 6 hours. Now, officially cleared in and street-legal, I'm catching up on boat chores while Ivana and Diana, who have been a joy to have on board, are scouting out opportunities ashore to continue their youthful adventures.

 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014
19°17’N x 66°14’W

0000 hrs.   Waxing Poetic over the Puerto Rico Trench


Midnight and I’ve got the watch for the next 3 hours. One of my crew is sleeping belowdecks and the other, just relieved, will be in a minute or two. The good ketch, Silverheels, sails free under genoa and single-reefed main, heeling and rolling, creaking gently, the ENE trade winds a steady 15 knots on her starboard quarter. The GPS puts her squarely over the Puerto Rico Trench, an inconceivable five miles of ocean beneath her keel. Above, ten thousand stars blaze unopposed now that the crescent moon has set, their constellations like so many old friends. A favorite, the Southern Cross, rises off the port quarter, canted low over the alien loom of San Juan, Puerto Rico where millions of people live under their millions of electric lights barely 50 miles away, the glow strangely isolated out here, another world. Out here. We share our bit of ocean with a lone tanker 25 miles off, visible only to the AIS, bound for Rotterdam (it tells me) at 12 knots while we ghost at half that speed towards the Turks & Caicos and southern Bahamas, still hundreds of nautical miles ahead, our heading marked precisely by stout Jupiter slung beneath Orion's Belt. For the next 3 hours all this is all mine. Aye, it's a fine night to be at sea.

 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

I lucked into two companionable young European women back in Sint Maarten; Ivana, a Brit,  and Diana, a Swede, both with some offshore sailing experience. They crewed with me to Tortola, BVI and then found accommodations ashore while my daughter and grandchildren visited here. What a wonderful, fun week with my family, touring these islands that were my stomping grounds back in the day when I was a full time charter & delivery captain. (Lord, was that really 30-35 years ago?)

We hit most of the main sailing attractions - the caves at Norman Island, White Bay in Jost Van Dyke, Trellis Bay (Beef Island), the Baths, the Bitter End in Gorda Sound and the wreck of the Rhone at Salt Island. So much fun together! Sad to see the visit end so soon.

 

Tomorrow (Thursday), Ivana and Diana will return to Silverheels and in a few days we'll set sail for the southern Bahamas, probably making our first landfall at Mayaguana about 530 n. mi. downwind from here. Beyond that, who knows? Ain't life grand?

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten

Mia and I sailed from Antigua to Barbuda, a somewhat remote island avoided by many skippers because of the surrounding reefs and coral heads. You have to know how to "read" that kind of water, a skill I picked up decades ago in the Bahamas. For a few days we hung out at the south end of the island, which we had almost entirely to ourselves. Next it was up Barbuda's west side to anchor in the broad roadstead near the island's one town, Codrington. A knowledgeable and personable local guide, George Jeffrey, took us to the huge, inner-lagoon frigate bird rookery and taught us a good deal about these tropical air sailors and their mating habits.

Barbuda also boasts "the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean," 11 miles of perfect pink-white sand with virtually no people on it at all and only one small, exclusive hotel near each end. This island has thus far deliberately avoided the development that has so drastically changed most of the Lesser Antilles, a real treat to see and experience.

From Barbuda we ran westward 60 n. miles to a pretty little cove on the northwest corner of St. Barts, where we picked up a free park mooring a stone's throw from a small beach just before sunset. Anse du Colombier is part of St. Bart's protected natural reserve, a pristine zone with no development at all other than the yacht moorings placed to keep anchors from disturbing the harbor bottom. Mia and I hiked the hills, snorkeled a bit and liked it so much we stayed a second night (even though we weren't cleared in). The next morning, Monday, we sailed the last 15 miles to Sint Maarten and entered the broad inner lagoon via the Dutch-side swing bridge.

Silverheels is now anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon, bordered on 2 sides by rows of billionairs' mega-yachts backed up to their pricey marinas. Mia moved off Silverheels late yesterday to find a sailboat headed back down-islands. I'm tending to various boat chores, preparing to cross to Tortola, BVI, in a few days to meet up with my daughter and grandkids for their week-long vacation there. Fun! After that I will probably sail non-stop to Georgetown in the Exumas (southern Bahamas) and then gradually island-hop back to my U.S. homeport on the St. Johns River in northeast Florida. Am presently looking for crew for the 700 n. mile passage from Tortola to Georgetown.

 

Saturday, February 01, 2014
English Harbor, Antigua

Just a quick catch-up. Silverheels gained a crew member in Martinique, Mia from California. Together we've sailed up-islands to Antigua by way of Dominica, Ile des Saintes and Guadeloupe. Now, after a week of small repairs, re-provisioning and day-hiking in and around English Harbor, we're continuing on. Tomorrow morning we'll move to the leeward side of Antigua to check out a couple of (hopefully) quiet harbors there, then hop north to the island of Barbuda, and finally make the long reach down to St. Martin. From there the plan gets... variable. More soon come, mon.

 

 

Friday, January 10, 2014
Le Marin, Martinique

There are several broad channels, 20-30 nautical miles across, where the open Atlantic Ocean funnels into the Caribbean Sea in between the Windward Islands through which I've just sailed. Those crossings can get downright boisterous when the east-northeast winter trade winds are blowing 25-30 knots and gusting higher in squalls, as they were much of this past week. Little wonder, then, that I'm mighty glad to have arrived in Martinique, the windward-most of the Lesser Antilles. From here on up the island chain we're likely to find a kinder, which is to say broader, angle of sail to the prevailing winds. And as any sailor will tell you 'tis better to close reach than to beat hard to windward, especially in strong winds and 6-12' seas that break over the decks every so often.

Silverheels tolerated this lumpy sailing without complaint, including several hard falls off big waves. She did surprise me with a couple of new, minor leaks, though; one at the forward hatch in spite of the new gasket I put in this past year, and another through a forward portlight that I now know is due for re-bedding. As is usual during this kind of passage-making, a few other parts made it known that they also want attention; a solar panel bracket U-bolt snapped and needs replacing, the VHF radio stopped receiving, which usually means the masthead antenna connection requires cleaning, the engine's tachometer shuts off intermittently - a lose wire somewhere, no doubt - and a couple of other chores to do now that we're in port for a week or so. This is the norm on any cruising sailboat, always a to-do list, ever renewing itself.

 

Saturday, January 04, 2014
Admiralty Bay, Bequia

So sad to leave Carriacou, but new adventures beckon. More to come.

 

Sunday, November 15, 2013
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

Yep, the good ketch, Silverheels, and I are still anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou. Long time, mon, long time.

Jimmy Buffet once crooned, "There's this one particular harbor..." It seems I have found mine, at least for the time being. I feel no urge to move on or be somewhere else, which for me is rare. I suppose I will eventually, but for now life is just about perfect right here; simple, friendly, laid-back, safe, beautiful... Easy. Life is easy here.

I've gotten to know some of the locals and expats by name. Folks say hello along the village road, fellow sailors wave from passing dinghies. I have befriended anchorage neighbor Paul Johnson, a legendary sailor and a source of endless, hugely-entertaining stories. Paul is one of the more colorful and fun characters I've encountered in my travels and we always laugh a lot when we get together. Of course, the rum may play some small part in that.

I keep busy. Been studying economics in general and trading in particular several hours a day, learning a lot and enjoying the bull market while it lasts. Then there are always boat chores & repairs to occupy and challenge me. In between, I dive overboard several times a day, buck naked just for the fun of it, into clear, warm Caribbean water over a sand and grass bottom. How sweet it is! I nearly always laugh out loud when I surface from that entry dive, for the sheer joy of being where I am and doing what I'm doing, surrounded by yellow sun, blue sky, green hills, white beach, brown-skinned locals and a rainbow fleet of multinational sailboats to critique and admire.

click to enlarge
   

Shore errands are a simple pleasure. Beach the dinghy in front of the village grocery, which provides basic necessities like Stag & Carib beer by the case and fresh-baked, oven-warm bread daily. "Big Mama" Denise's produce shack on the beach stocks various fresh foods and spices, depending on whatever the local growers bring around and what arrives on the twice-weekly supply boat from Grenada. A few days ago a local fellow butchered a free-range lamb so there was fresh, organic meat for sale. Otherwise, my carnivorous habit mostly relies on fresh-frozen chicken from the grocer and still-flopping fresh fish from Simon the fisherman, who comes alongside in his skiff every few days. For a shot of rum he'll clean them, too.

Friday nights there is almost always some live music ashore, an enthusiastic local steel-drum band or a more diverse soca-reggae group from the village of Windward on the other side of the island. Yachties & locals dance freestyle merengue barefoot together on the pub's outdoor porch, spilling into the beachfront road, or just sit along the low seawall chatting and laughing under the moon and stars and swaying palms. This is the old Caribbean I knew and loved in the 70's & 80's, one of the very last bits of it that remain. I'm relishing it while I can.

I still write a fair amount for the sailing magazines - SAIL, Cruising World, and now Caribbean Compass - but I will not write about Carriacou (outside of this logblog, which nobody actually reads as far as I know). There are already more boats arriving as the winter season gets underway. Fortunately, most are just passing through. Best to keep this place under wraps a little longer. It's already popular enough by word of mouth.

I have learned over the years that I am often most rewarded in my cruising when I slow it down. Getting to know local people and culture and becoming accepted as a quasi-local in return yields a depth of experience missed by transients. This may well be the best of cruising, just being still for a while.

Click here for a song/video about Carriacou!


 

 

Sunday, September 15, 2013
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

Just before happy hour this afternoon the anchorage here enjoyed a prodigious downpour from some passing clouds. My rain-catcher awning caught enough to top off Silverheels' water tanks while I stood naked on deck with a bar of soap enjoying an invigorating shower, whooping out loud every once in a while from the sheer living pleasure of it. A little later, while I was preparing the evening meal, I popped my head up through a hatch and saw those blessed rain clouds drifting away westward across the Caribbean Sea just as the sun dipped below the horizon. I don't usually take sunset photos - I've seen so many and it's awfully hard to capture them on "film" - but I just had to give this one a shot .

The sky!

 

Friday, September 13, 2013
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

I've finally met a sailor I've been hearing about since forever. Paul Johnson and I are presently neighbors here, our boats sometimes anchored within hailing distance. (I move Silverheels around whenever the notion strikes me.) We'd chatted briefly a couple of times already, but then late yesterday he rowed over - I forget why -  and we wound up quaffing rum in Silverheels' cockpit and swapping sea stories for hours. Well, swapping isn't quite accurate. I barely managed 1 for every 10 of his, but only because he's got so many more to tell and they're all much more interesting and entertaining than any of mine. Paul Johnson is the only person I know who makes me feel like a couch potato. I don’t mind. The man is a legend... and great fun to party with, too. I'm looking forward to helping him celebrate his 75th birthday next week. Now, that's going to be a party.

Click here for a great little write-up about him by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander


click to enlarge

 

Monday, September 2, 2013 - Labor Day in the USA
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

We're back in this happy harbor after a couple of weeks in Grenada. Carriacou's Regatta last month was a lively, colorful event - native-built sailboats racing off the beach in Hillsborough, food stands, music and bright smiles in the streets. No sooner did that party wind down than it was time to sail to Grenada for Carnival, a very big deal in the West Indies. Major partying for days on end, sometimes around the clock. I joined in for parts of it. Great fun! By the time it ended I was ready for some peace & quiet, so I made a couple of day hikes to my favorite Grenadian waterfalls. Hidden away in the island's mountain rain forests, these pristine cascades and natural pools are my ultimate earthly paradise. I've visited them many times over the years, yet they're always fresh and magical, a balm for the spirit.

click to enlarge each photo

Grenada is a welcoming island, but for now I'm enjoying the gentler pace and friendlier people in Carriacou. Since it's only about a 6-hour sail from one to the other, I'll likely continue moving back & forth between them until hurricane season ends in November/December and it's time to move on.

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

A couple of days ago we sailed back up to the island of Carriacou, Grenada's little sister to the north. Carriacou is not only smaller, but also less developed, less tourist-driven, and much more laid back than Grenada. Here you'll still find some of the old West Indian culture that I knew and loved in the Lesser Antilles a few decades ago.

Silverheels is now tucked into Tyrell Bay, a snug horseshoe harbor of clear turquoise water, along with a flotilla of other cruising sailboats. The quiet hamlet of Harvey Vale stretches along the white sand & palm tree beach flanked by green hills. A scattering of native eateries, a small grocery store, a laundry and a couple of fruit & veggie stands represent local enterprise. A handful of expat-owned business compliment the lineup - a waterfront cafe, a marine canvas shop, a couple of dive shops - and there's a small but serviceable boat yard here with a travel lift. Friday nights one of the bar/restaurants usually brings in a three-piece steel band and sailors and natives alike eat fish and drink rum and dance barefoot beneath the stars to pulsing calypso rhythms. Dis definitely be dee islands, mon.

 


click to enlarge

For more varied shopping needs, you catch one of the minivan busses that run constantly between here and Carriacou's main town, Hillsborough, for EC$3.50, about $1.30 US. (EC is the colorful Eastern Caribbean dollar used throughout the Grenadines, equal to about 37¢ US.) It might be a stretch to call Hillsborough a city, but it's certainly a lively, colorful, bustling town offering pretty much anything you'd need here.

As far as Silverheels and I are concerned, we have arrived. The anchor's well set, the deck awning is up, and there ain't no place we need to be going anytime soon. Besides, the annual Carriacou Regatta is coming up in another week or so, an island-wide party from what I've heard, featuring native boat races, music in the streets and whatever else it takes to have a good time. We'll be jammin', mon.

 

Monday, July 08, 2013
Prickly Bay, Grenada

Fifty-two days and about 2,300 nautical miles ago, I set sail aboard the good ketch Silverheels from Green Cove Springs, Florida, bound for Grenada, West Indies. This afternoon we arrived. We could have gotten here sooner, but I've slowed down since reaching the Windward Islands at Martinique, taking time to reacquaint myself with this favorite stretch of the Caribbean. Most recently I re-discovered Union Island, a place I'd stopped before but never really knew, and found its residents exceptionally friendly. Made me want to hang around longer. But from there I could plainly see Carriacou, not 7 miles away, so I rolled out the genoa, crossed over on an easy reach, and cleared into the country (if not the island) of Grenada. Carriacou has long been one of my very favorite islands and I spent a few days savoring the laid-back pace and the colorful congregation of cruising sailboats gathered in Tyrell Bay, my home harbor there. I look forward to sailing back up to Carriacou soon and spending a good deal more time there this season. A big bonus is that it boasts one of the best hurricane holes in the Lesser Antilles.

So we're back in Grenada after a 3-year absence, another modest milestone for Silverheels and me and none too soon. The first serious storm of the season for the Lesser Antilles, Tropical Storm Chantal, is scheduled to roll across Martinique tomorrow. Yikes, I just left there 2 weeks ago. Seems our timing was good. We're now at the far southern extremity of the hurricane belt. Most years the big storms pass north of here. Once in a great while they don't. Here's hoping this is one of the "most years."

 

Sunday, June 30, 2013
Bequia, St. Vincent Grenadines

It poured rain yesterday and it's still raining on & off this morning. How quickly cabin fever sets in! On the bright side, I've topped off my water tanks.

The sail from St. Lucia had a notable highlight, which I've recounted here. Since then I've enjoyed revisiting Bequia, a relatively small island that's big on charm, the kind of place an artist might take up residence. I went for a long hike to the windward side the other day, where I met Orton “Brother” King, a retired white native spear-fisherman who now dedicates his life to saving the hawksbill turtle from extinction. His Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary is a simple but effective facility that has to date returned 936 rescued turtles to their natural habitat. Brother is an interesting man to talk to, and as I arrived on foot and alone and no other tourists were there at the time, he and I chatted for most of an hour. What a cool old guy! I learned not only about his turtles, but his life and culture, the different "English" dialects these West Indian natives speak among themselves and the old Creole language that some know and some don't, and how that can differ from island to island.

The long walk there and back to town was a treat. Rural Bequia is quiet and pastoral, and I stopped at a couple of beautiful, empty beaches on the windward side. Sadly (to me), an awful lot of large, upscale homes are sprouting up here as American and European expats with too much money discover this little island paradise. Invariably these outsiders destroy the quaint culture that attracted them in the first place, bringing in their way of life rather than adopting the natives' way. So it is all over the Caribbean and around the world, and the cultural loss is incalculable and permanent.

Along the road to the hamlet of Industry I encountered an old black native woman collecting small branches full of leaves. I stopped and inquired what they were. "It cinnamon bush," she told me and promptly gave me a big handful to take home, explaining that you make a tea from it. Later, I showed them to Brother at the turtle sanctuary and he said they're bay leaves (also called cinnamon bush by the locals, but not related to the bark we know as cinnamon). The tea, he said, is good for hypertension and for diabetes. Of course, bay leaves are great for cooking, too. When I got home I brewed a cup of tea using a leaf and it was excellent! I'm drying some of the other leaves for Silverheels' spice rack.

As I was writing this I heard someone calling outside. Turned out to be the bread man, a friendly old native guy in a colorful wood skiff. He comes around to the yachts in the harbor bearing bakery-fresh bread and croissants. I bought a baguette still warm from the oven and am now eating it with breakfast. God, I love this life!

Tomorrow I'll sail to Union Island, about 30 n miles south of here..

 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Le Marin, Martinique

The Windward Islands, at last!

We enjoyed some brisk trade winds sailing this past week, beginning with a day sail from Guadeloupe to Iles des Saintes. "The Saints" are a quaint French island cluster populated by the descendents of Brittany fishermen. These days, however, they share the waterfront and narrow, winding roads with herds of day-tripper tourists who arrive each morning and depart each evening in high-speed ferry boats. Can't say I blame them for coming. This is a clean, charming place with some great hiking and plenty of sweet spots to be discovered. Unfortunately, my visit this time was necessarily brief. A favorable weather window convinced me to continue down islands after only 2 nights. Setting sail at the crack of dawn Tuesday, we covered the 70 nautical miles to Martinique in one long day. En route we sailed by the entire island of Dominica.

The backpacker couple I picked up for crew in St. Martin left Silverheels today. What a treat it is to have my boat to myself again! With the exception of a scant 2-day interval in St. Martin, I've had crew on board my floating home constantly for more than a month now. Of course, they've served a useful purpose helping get Silverheels down to the Windward Islands and I actually enjoyed knowing one of them, but it has been way too much company for this solitary man. Unless someone really intriguing turns up in the next day or two begging to crew, I'll be happy to sail the rest of the way to Grenada by myself.

I figure to spend a few days here in Le Marin provisioning, catching up on chores (and sleep), and just reclaiming my living space. Then I'll sail down to Bequia, stopping overnight in St. Lucia along the way.

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Silverheels' Florida-Bermuda-St. Martin crew signed off in Simpson Bay. I was prepared to single-hand onward, but met a 20-something backpacker couple with credible offshore sailing experience who were looking for a ride to Martinique. Poor kids. Our first passage together, from Sint Maarten to Guadeloupe, turned out to be a brutal 30-hour bash to windward, bucking 15-25 knot trade winds and the full brunt of hard, blunt seas that had enjoyed free reign since Africa. All of us, Silverheels included, groaned through it, but we persevered and are now taking our ease in one of my favorite West Indian harbors.

The most incredible surprise greeted me when I entered this harbor. My former cruising sailboat, Sparrow, a Pacific Seacraft Crealock 37, is anchored here! I haven't seen her since I sold her in Miami to a Dutch couple in 1993. They sailed her out to the South Pacific. A year or two ago I received an email from a Brit who said Sparrow was for sale in the Mediterranean, that he was thinking of buying her, and would I mind answering a few questions about the boat. That's the last I heard of her until I anchored Silverheels' alongside her in this Caribbean harbor. Of course, I soon introduced myself to the current owner, that same fellow who had emailed me, and enjoyed a nostalgic tour of the boat that was my home and my magic carpet for 6 years and 30,000 nautical miles between 1987 and 1993. Small ocean!

Deshaies (pronounced "day-ay"), on the northwest corner of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, is a picture-pretty tropical French village nestled between rain forest-clad hills and a snug little anchorage. Other than sailboat cruisers like us, few tourists find their way here. So the locals have remained friendly and welcoming. I'm always glad to arrive and slow to leave.

 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Simpson Bay Lagoon, St. Martin, West Indies

Silverheels & company arrived in Saint Martin, French West Indies (a.k.a. Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles), after an unexpectedly long, mostly bumpy 2-part passage from Green Cove Springs, Florida. This French & Dutch island in the northeast corner of the Caribbean is only 1200 n. miles from Jacksonville as the proverbial crow flies, but we had to sail 1,800 sea miles to get here.

From the outset, southeasterly winds forced us north of the rhumb line. They persisted that whole first week, keeping us between 31°N and 32°N latitudes as we made our easting. Eventually we found ourselves so close to Bermuda that it just made sense to stop until the winds shifted. It had taken a tedious windward week to get there, 900 n. miles close-hauled on one long starboard tack. We’d earned a few cold beers at the Whitehorse Tavern in St. George’s.

In addition to a safe, inviting rest stop, Bermuda also provided a welcomed opportunity to jettison one of my crewmembers, a disagreeable woman who had proven to be a deadweight and a bad vibe aboard Silverheels.

After just three days in port the winds clocked around to a more favorable direction. So my remaining 2 crew and I put to sea, pointed Silverheels south by a point east, and once again sailed 900 nautical miles in 1 week flat, this time on a single port tack.

This was a long, undistinguished passage that I’m glad to have behind me, especially since the hurricane season has now officially begun. With that in mind, Silverheels and I will soon be continuing towards Grenada, calling at a few favorite Leeward and Windward islands en route. More soon come, mon.

 

Sunday, May 26, 2013
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda

We cleared St. Johns River Inlet (Jacksonville, FL) on Saturday morning, May 18th, and sailed to Bermuda, 900 n. miles on a single starboard tack. I had not originally planned or wanted to come this far northeast - St. Maarten is our destination - but southeasterly winds pretty much forced us here. Now, after an evening partying ashore with my crew, I'm getting boat chores done and aiming to set off again in a few days for the final 900-mile hop to St. Maarten in the Leeward Islands.

 

Monday, March 25, 2013
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

Looks like it'll be the Windward Islands next. I've now got crew lined up for the passage, planning a mid-May departure, offshore to St. Maarten, then down-islands to Grenada by early July.

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

OK, I've been giving our Summer 2013 sailing destination some thought and I've whittled it down to either Nova Scotia, Grenada (West Indies) or the Azores. More to follow.

 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

I'm pleased to report that I have thus far stuck to my non-plan and so have nothing interesting to say here. After these couple of laid-back months, I am beginning to get those old, familiar tingles of the sole again, as in itchy feet. Silverheels seems a bit restless on her mooring, too. I've just ordered a complete set of new sails for her, so she'll be even more ready to go anywhere... and we probably will before too much longer. Stay tuned.

 

Thursday, November 08, 2012
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

Silverheels is scheduled to be re-launched next Tuesday, the 13th. It need not have taken a whole month to accomplish this, but I was often sidetracked by non-boat obligations. Anyway, it'll be good to be afloat again.

I arrived back on the boat last month with an ambitious Caribbean float plan and crew lined up for it. But then it occurred to me that I have been traveling non-stop, by sea or by land, for the past 9 years (minus the 2½-year boat refit here). I suddenly felt that it would be an exquisite luxury to just stop for a while, to be home, to fuss with non-essential boat projects, focus on some extracurricular studies, do a bit of writing, and just see what happens next. So, my plan at this point is to have no plan. Silverheels and I may or may not set sail, soon or not so soon, for... wherever. When I know, I'll let you know. Meanwhile it is enough just to be here now.

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

I got back to Silverheels mid-day today, having driven my VW campervan nearly 5,000 miles from Missoula, Montana via stops in CO, CT, VA and NC. I found the boat in good shape, with her cabin sole recently refinished by a pro I hired to do that long-overdue job before I returned. Now begins the process of moving back aboard and out of the campervan in which I've been living these past months and which I'm now going to sell. I'll be preparing the boat to be launched ASAP.

 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Ashore

Silverheels got lots of TLC (and I earned some sore muscles) during our 7 weeks at Green Cove Springs Marina, the last 3 of which were spent on the hard. The lists of what I accomplished are on the "work done" page in the Refit section of this web site, towards the bottom of the Exterior and Interior columns. Suffice it to say it was a lot, but all went well and today I boarded a flight north, leaving my boat in the care of that excellent boat yard for the summer while I go play in the woods. This logblog will resume when I return in the fall.

 

Thursday, April 5, 2012
Green Cove Springs, FL USA

Since my last entry here Silverheels and I cruised up through the Bahamas islands, poked around the Abacos a bit, sailed west across the Little Bahama Bank and finally northwest across the Gulf Stream to the St. Johns River Inlet (near Jacksonville, FL), arriving last Saturday morning. By day's end we were back at my favorite boat yard, Green Cove Springs Marina (www.GCSmarina.com). Now Silverheels is on a mooring here and I'm picking away at the usual endless to-do list of small repairs, upgrades and boat maintenance chores, plus another list to prepare the boat for long-term storage. Silverheels is going to hibernate again this summer while I rejoin my campervan in western Montana for some more mountain forest time in the Great American Northwest.

Yep, I get the best of both worlds - tropical seas and mountain forests. How cool is that!

 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Warderick Wells Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

According to this morning's SSB (single sideband) weather forecast, a frontal trough is approaching these islands with blustery winds & squalls. I'm not worried, though. We're anchored in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, an area designated to protect native flora, fauna and marine life. I figure Silverheels and I come under the latter category so it'll protect us, too, until the unsettled weather passes. Some rain would be welcomed, though. Silverheels' salty decks haven't had a freshwater rinse since Haiti.

Silverheels, her English crewmember and I officially cleared into the Bahamas soon after arriving last month and worked our way north & west to Georgetown, Great Exuma. To my surprise and chagrin, we arrived there at the height of the annual Georgetown Cruising Regatta, an event that attracted nearly 300 yachts! Most of them anchored in the lee of Stocking Island just across the channel from Georgetown, right where I needed to be. Oh, well, I had promised my crew I'd help him find a boat heading directly to Florida from there and now at least he had plenty of opportunities. While he looked for his next ride, I picked up some fresh provisions in town and topped off with diesel fuel. Still, there was plenty of time to socialize with some cruising acquaintances in the anchorage, and to make a couple of new friends. The daily regatta activities, however, held little appeal for me; a lot of silly activities organized by and for a bunch of overweight retirees with too much time on their hands.

I left Georgetown single-handing once again. That afternoon as I neared my first anchorage 25 miles up the Exuma island chain, Silverheels' transmission suddenly stopped engaging the gears - no forward, no reverse, just neutral. Yikes! The next hour was a scramble with some tense moments sailing this 42' sailboat into a tight harbor against light, fickle headwinds and a strong ebb tide, short-tacking between a coral shoreline and multiple shoals. It took every trick I knew to pull it off. Once anchored, I discovered that the transmission oil cooler had failed and flushed out the transmission with seawater. Silverheels was engineless and 500 miles from a replacement part.

The situation provided me with a good refresher course in purist sailing. I had to really pay attention now to the wind, seas and tides as I continued my voyage, sailing on & off anchor, threading through narrow channels, reefs & shoals, and navigating around sandbars on the Exuma Bank. I am happy to report I still remember how to do all that salty stuff. I sailed Silverheels smartly into the crowded harbor at Black Point, Exuma just ahead of a 3-day gale. In the settlement there I was able to get online and arrange to have a new transmission oil cooler sent out from the States. A week later the new part was installed, the weather had settled down, and Silverheels & I continued up the Exuma chain.

 

Sunday, February 19, 2012
Underway near Long Island, Bahamas

I single-handed from Las Salinas, DR, bound for Ile à Vache, Haiti 200 nautical miles west along the south coast of Hispañola. The first leg was just a long day sail, albeit a rough one in strong winds and high, breaking seas; my destination a mere waypoint, a place to anchor for the night en route to Haiti, or so I thought. But sometimes the happiest cruising discoveries are those you least expect.

Isla Beata, off the southernmost cape of Hispañola, turned out to be a paradigmatic tropic isle. Transparent turquoise water, white sand beach flanked by palm trees and a long string of fishermen’s huts, their painted skiffs bobbing on moorings along the shoreline or hauled up onto the beach. I wound up spending several days there visiting ashore, exploring the island and chatting with the local fishermen. It was the most pleasant, most interesting place I'd been so far this season.

From Isla Beata I sailed 27 hours straight to Ile à Vache, where I spent a week anchored off a small fishing village. Got friendly with several locals there and had some remarkable experiences, which I may write about soon (but not here) accompanied by lots of photos. A new crewmember joined Silverheels in Ile à Vache, a young English backpacker hitching rides aboard sailboats to get around. He'd recently crossed the Atlantic, so I figured he'd be handy on board for my next passage, 400 n. miles from the southwestern corner of Haiti to the southern Bahamas.

We set sail in balmy weather, but got nailed by a gale - high winds and big, breaking seas, from dead ahead (of course!) - in the Windward Passage in between Haiti and Cuba. That was a long, miserable 24 hours, I can tell you. We became so exhausted dealing with the rough conditions around the clock that I very nearly pulled into Santiago de Cuba for a rest and some boat repairs (OK, and maybe a Cuban cigar, too). As it turned out, the weather moderated dramatically late the second night and I decided to carry on to the Bahamas, into which we sailed around 2:00 AM this morning. Now we're making for snug Little Harbor on Long Island, SSE of the Exumas, where we'll ride out a cold front that's due here tomorrow. All is well. Life is good.

 

Sunday, January 29, 2012
Las Salinas, Dominican Republic

Silverheels is the only cruising sailboat anchored here in Las Salinas. I've been getting lots of boat chores done, and a little writing. For the past week the winter trade winds have blown hard, all day every day, 25-35 knots, building a chop, often white-capped, across this broad lagoon. It's a lot rougher outside, 6-15' seas. Fortunately, it usually quiets down in the evening and overnight. The village of Las Salinas is laid-back, friendly and safe. I've met an American ex-pat, a sun-bleached beachcomber who has settled into the easy-going life here. He tells me you can buy a house for $20,000 US and retire very cheaply.

For some time I've been planning to visit Cuba this winter and write a feature article about it for Cruising World magazine. I believed that as an established freelance journalist and author I was automatically exempt from the US embargo that otherwise effectively prohibits Americans from going to Cuba. However, I now find that my exemption is not automatic. I have to apply to the US Treasury Department for a "Specific License." Those tedious bureaucrats won't answer their phone or return calls, so this will have to be done by snail mail. From what I understand the process then takes them a couple of months. All this is to say I can't visit Cuba legally this season, and our government threatens to impound boats and levy six-figure fines if they catch American cruisers going illegally. Hail, land of the free.

As a legitimate freelance journalist I qualify for the Specific License to visit Cuba. I'll plod through the process this coming summer, sail to Cuba next winter, and write my article. Meanwhile, I've decided to spend the rest of this season (once I leave Hispañola) cruising the length of the Bahamas, south to north, ultimately winding up back at Silverheels' home-base boat yard in Green Cove Springs, Florida by some time in April.

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Boca Chica/Andres, Dominican Republic

Evening. I'm ready to move on at last! Most of the things that broke or leaked or otherwise malfunctioned on the way down here are fixed. The computer's nav program is working again, albeit marginally. I've printed out the harbor charts between here and Santiago de Cuba, just in case. The outboard's on the rail and the dinghy's in the davits, the cabin is stowed, the sail covers are off and the weather forecast is good. All I have to do is wake up in the morning and slip the mooring. I couldn't get the Marina de Guerra, the DR navy, to give me my despacho - Silverheels' clearance to sail - ahead of time, so with a couple of well-placed propinas (tips) I arranged to have it delivered to the boat on her mooring by the marina launch at 6 AM tomorrow. If they don't screw it up I'll be heading out by the dawn's early light.

I'm only sailing 30 nm down the coast tomorrow, to anchor overnight behind a reef off a small Dominican Republican town. Then another day sail to Las Salinas, where I might spend a few days or a week or whatever, depending. After that it's an 80-mile overnighter to uninhabited Isla Beata, and from there a 24-hour sail to Ile à Vache, Haiti.

 

Sunday, January 07, 2012
Boca Chica/Andres, Dominican Republic

Silverheels swept through the Mona Passage, around Isla Saona at the SE corner of Hispañola, and made landfall in La Romana, Dominican Republic around 10 AM on Monday, January 2nd, 12 days and about 1,350 nautical miles from Jacksonville Inlet, Florida.  La Romana, just inside the small (river) Rio Dulce, turned out to be too tight & crowded with commercial vessels for anchoring and there was no dockage available, so we sailed another 35 n miles down the coast, westward to the next port of entry. That turned out to be an upscale marina between the towns of Andres and Boca Chica, DR, where we picked up a mooring just as the sun set and merrily toasted our successful voyage.

The next morning, after topping off diesel at the fuel dock, we took a slip in the marina. My first duty was to clear into the DR with Customs, Immigration and all the king's men, a tedious process made easier by friendly officials and the marina's facilities & staff. While I was dealing with that stuff, my crew pitched in cleaning up the boat, inflating the dinghy, doing laundry and so on, the usual chores after a long offshore passage. The day after, Wednesday the 4th, they left the boat to commence their own travels on land. I began working my way through the fix-it list that inevitably evolves during long passages. First the anchor windlass, which turned out simply to have some corroded connections (and I was thankful it was no worse than that!). Then the Shaft Lok; its internal locking pins need to be replaced, which means getting them sent down from the States. There were also some small mainsail repairs, a leak in the spray dodger top, and so on. Meanwhile I'm also straightening out my home a bit at a time in the wake of all that crew living aboard for the past 2½ weeks.

Silverheels and I remain in this harbor still, but moved back onto a mooring again yesterday. (The slip was an unnecessary and expensive luxury, fine for a few days but no more.)  I must now wait for the Shaft Lok parts to arrive via Fed Ex. Also (maybe) a friend might fly down to join me here. Not sure about her yet. Then Silverheels will be heading west to explore the south coasts of Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.

 

Monday, December 26, 2011
Latitude 27° 12' N x Longitude 72° 27' W

Well, I finally have something to write about. 0540 hrs: Just a quick note from the Atlantic Ocean, about 500 nautical miles east of Florida and 800 nm yet to go to our destination in the Dominican Republic.  Silverheels is motoring through Horse Latitude calms, her crew asleep, the captain on watch, a million stars yielding to the first hints of dawn ahead. We left Jacksonville, Florida last Wednesday. So far we've beaten into fresh breezes, up to 25 knots and more, enjoyed some sweet reaches in milder conditions, and then motored & motor-sailed for the past couple of days, taking our time to conserve precious fuel. - a typical weather mix for an offshore passage above the trade winds.

We're a happy ship, my 20-something crew enthusiastic and helpful. Christmas at sea yesterday was fun, with a big brunch in the cockpit, some trinket gifts exchanged, and no Christmas carols whatsoever. Life is good.

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Silverheels gets re-launched (at long last!) tomorrow, after 2 months of hard labor, sprucing up and some cool upgrades in the boat yard. Another couple of weeks on a mooring here to finish up a few things and provision the boat. Then we're off for the Caribbean again; the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba... After that, who knows? Updates when I've got something worth writing about.

 

Friday, September 30, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida

I returned to the boat late this afternoon after an awesome summer van-camping out west. At my request, the boat yard had already moved Silverheels a few days ago, from the long-term storage area into the work yard.  She appears to be in good shape overall (if somewhat forlorn) after my long absence, although rainwater found a way onto the port salon cushions, leaving a moldy mess to clean up. Oh, well, just one more thing to do to get the old girl ready for cruising again. Along those lines, I probably won't bother keeping up this log during the next month or two. Suffice it to say I'm busy with boat yard chores & projects, which I'll eventually post on the Projects Completed page.

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida

The boat yard travelift carried Silverheels to the long-term dry-dock storage area this afternoon, where we bedded her down for the summer. I've moved into my campervan and will soon head west to the National Forests of north-central Idaho and western Montana for a little mountain forest time. This logblog will resume when I return in the fall. Hasta luego!

 

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida

The boat has been on the hard (hauled out and dry-docked in the boat yard) for a couple of weeks now. I've done lots of work on her, much of it just prepping her for storage. Plenty of other projects going on simultaneously. Right now a local guy known as "Bottom Dave" is grinding Silverheels' bottom down to the gelcoat, an onerous task that I was happy to delegate. I'll let the boat's bottom dry out over the summer, then in the fall seal it with epoxy and new antifouling paint. Always something...

Hey, I bought a Volkswagen Westfalia pop-top campervan! Time to be a hippy again. Will be heading out west soon for the summer - from Silverheels to Silverwheels!

 

Saturday, April 09, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Silverheels arrived at Jacksonville, Florida last Sunday, April 3rd, 17 days (with 2 stops) and 1,500 nautical miles (nm) out of Bocas del Toro, Panama; 1 week and about 1,100 nm out of Cayos Cajones. Overall it was one of the most pleasant passages I’ve ever made, thanks to mostly fair winds & weather and a good, compatible crew.

Now the crew’s gone and Silverheels and I have come full cycle, returning to Green Cove Springs Marina where I did the original 3-year refit on this good old ketch. We have sailed more than 5,000 nautical miles since we left here less than 2 years ago, and we intend to sail a good bit more before long. For now, though, it's time for a haul-out, some sprucing up, a few months break from the ocean (for Silverheels on the hard; for me in the Western mountain forests). I'll re-provision the boat in the fall for our next round of adventures together. 

We picked up a mooring here late Wednesday and received a warm welcome back from many old friends. Scheduled to haul out into the work yard on the 20th.

 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
20° 00’ N x 084° 34’ W

Much has happened since my last entry here. It’s now 0200 hrs (2:00 AM) and we’re under sail - genoa, staysail and reefed main - just 112 n. miles south of Cabo San Antonio, Cuba; 700 n. miles and many adventures NNW of Bocas del Toro, Panama  Silverheels is still on this sweet broad reach heading 340°M at 7+ kn. Wind ESE at 18 knots. Moderate seas, smooth sailing, a starry sky with a light haze. The North Star lies close off the starboard bow; the Southern Cross straight up astern. My crew is asleep belowdecks and all is well.

Silverheels’ crew for this passage includes Thomas Pinney (no relation to me), a retired US Navy captain and brilliant novelist, and Zack Donaldson, a 25-year-old commercial fisherman from Alaska. Together we set sail from Bocas del Toro at 2 AM on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. Since then we’ve stopped twice at remote, reef-bound islands far off the Honduras coast; 3 days each at Cayos de Albuquerque and Cayos Cajones (a.k.a. The Hobbies). These islands see few visitors and feel more like the South Seas than the Caribbean. We befriended some of the native fishermen that camp there, enjoying their fine camaraderie and the world’s freshest seafood.

 

Sunday, February 27, 2011
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Silverheels and I are still in the Bocas del Toro archipelago - 6 months since August! That's got to be a cruising record for me, but this is an easy place to stay. I've seen a lot, sailed a little, and made some new friends. Life is good. However, I don't want to spend the summer here. I got a taste of that oppressive heat and humidity when I first arrived and it was enough.

I've decided to sail back to my favorite boat yard, Green Cove Springs, on the St. John's River in Florida, there to dry-dock the boat. The plan is to buy another campervan or small RV, strap on a mountain bike and maybe a kayak, and spend the summer in the Northwest mountains, in those vast National Forests that are a second home to me. Next fall I have it in mind to re-launch Silverheels and sail her down through the Bahamas to Cuba, whose south coast looks like some of the last unspoiled cruising grounds in the Caribbean. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I've been writing a lot of sailing articles for magazines like Blue Water Sailing, SAIL, Cruising World and Cruising Helmsman (Australia). It's fun to do and gratifying to be paid for it.

At this writing, I'm still looking for one more crewmember for the sail from Panama to Jacksonville, Florida, an offshore passage of about 1500 n. miles. It should take 11 or 12 (around the clock) sailing days - we'll have a 3-knot push from the Gulf Stream soon after rounding western Cuba - but still, figure 3 weeks total with pre-departure stuff, stops, weather, etc. Aiming to set sail on Thursday, the 17th, weather and the Universe permitting. I expect to be unreachable from then until we arrive in Jacksonville.

Offshore, 2 crew and myself will stand watches around the clock. I'm planning to break up the trip with 2 or 3 overnight stops during the first part of the voyage, at isolated, seldom-visited little reef islands along the way. Each promises reasonably protected anchorages and crystal clear Caribbean waters, perfect for a good night's sleep, great snorkeling and maybe some fresh fish for dinner. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we won't clear in to any countries before reaching the US.

Lots to do now to get ready. Boat chores, provisioning and so on.

 

Saturday, December 04, 2010
Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama

I weighed anchor and sailed from the anchorage off Bocas Marina eight days ago in company with my buddy, Ray Jason, aboard his sloop Aventura. Ray has cruised these waters quite a bit during the past 5 years and knows them well. On the other hand, this was my first sail in the archipelago since arriving here in August. In fact, it was my first sail of any kind in more than 3 months! And a fine one it was, too, with 12-18 knots on the starboard quarter, Silverheels scooting along happily under full sail. It felt great to be underway, even if only for a day sail. We headed more or less south for a couple of hours, running down the coast of Isla Cristobal to a zigzag pass opening into Palos Lagoon. Along the way we passed widely scattered native huts and expat homes and one Ngobe Indian village. Finally, Ray led me through a tricky channel into an anchorage off the popular back-country restaurant, Rana Azul ("Blue Frog") where our boats have remained this entire week.

While the boats have stayed put, we have not. A friend who lives nearby has been taking us out in his fast panga every other day or so, giving us a grand tour of this area locally known as "The Darklands." We've visited a few natives and numerous expats, and waved to dozens of Indios in their dugout cayucos. I have learned a lot about homesteading here, been to the big mainland town of Almirante for supplies, dined at Ron's house and (this evening) at another Gringo home, and partied a few times at Rana Azul where I've met many more of the Darkland's expats.

Thanks to an open wifi signal from Rana Azul I have functional Internet on board. So, as remote as this place is, I'm in touch with the outside world. I sold several articles to Blue Water Sailing magazine this week, which are slated to appear in issues beginning in February. Cruising World magazine will also publish one of my pieces in their upcoming January issue, and SAIL is considering one or two. Meanwhile, there are the daily boat chores and other things going on. I've not had much quiet time, but I'm sure not complaining. 

I've already seen numerous exotic birds in the thick foliage along the shore and heard raucous howler monkeys more than once. Tomorrow morning I'm going for a hike in the hilly rain forest that half-surrounds this anchorage. I anticipate seeing some of the brightly colored little frogs along the trail to the high ridge, including the Rana Azul for which my friends' restaurant is named. I hope not to see any of the seriously venomous snakes common to this region. Pit vipers are responsible for most of Panama's snakebites. These include the fer-de-lance, the smaller but more aggressive patoca, and Panama's largest venomous snake, the bushmaster.

I see on the US weather map it's freezing up in the northern States and even snowing in some of them. Yikes! We had some torrential rainfall here a few days ago, but the sun's out now and I'm shirtless in a pair of shorts. I do prefer this version of winter weather.

 

Friday, November 12, 2010
Bocas del Toro,
Panama

It’s been 2 months since my 3-week visit Stateside. Silverheels and I continue to occupy a slip in a marina, a rare treat since we usually live at anchor. Bocas Yacht Club and Marina would be considered a clean, modern, upscale facility even in the United States. Down here in Bananaland it’s downright elegant. Still, all my neighbors, the marina owner and managers, even the couple that owns & operates the Calypso Cantina here are all liveaboard cruising sailors, and the anchorage just off the marina is home to another dozen sea gypsies. So I have plenty of kindred spirits for company. I've made quite a few happy acquaintances and a few new friends.

Bocas Town remains as I described it in my previous logblog entry below. Going there for the weekly grocery run is always a treat. It’s only a 5-minute dingy ride across the channel and around the bend to the dinghy dock at The Pirate restaurant, which faces onto the main street. 

I've made several excursions to other parts of the Bocas del Toro archipelago in pangas. Pangas are large skiffs powered by outboard motors, the primary mode of public transportation here. One outing with a group of friends included some snorkeling and lunch at a back-country restaurant/pub some miles from here. “La Rana Azul (the Blue Frog),” a funky mom & pop establishment locally famous for its mojitos and earthen oven pizzas, is accessible only by boat. There are no roads in what some expats jokingly call “the Darklands.”

On two other excursions with a local expat house builder friend, I got to inspect some homes he’s constructing on a nearby island. He builds entirely with local hardwoods naturally impervious to insects and rot. Each of the 2,000-to-6,000 sq. ft. residences is unique; all are raised on pilings and at least partially open-sided to let in the cooling breeze and the beauty of the surrounding rain forest. It’s elegant, affordable jungle living. There are quite a few gringo expats scattered around the archipelago enjoying that lifestyle.

The rest of my time I share between various boat maintenance & improvement projects, which I still mostly enjoy doing, and writing. I’ve recently sold articles to Cruising World, SAIL and Blue Water Sailing magazines, and have even resumed work on my pulp fiction book.  

I'm planning to leave this lovely marina next week to once again live at anchor. It's not only good for the cruising budget, but also good for the soul to be "outside," surrounded by clear water and views of distant, forest-clad mountains. It'll also encourage me to actually do some sailing, which I have not done since arriving here 3 months ago. Sure hope I remember how.

 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Bocas del Toro, Panama

My arrival in Bocas del Toro two days ago marked the end of a piecemeal 1,500-mile passage from Grenada, West Indies, across the southern Caribbean by way of Curacao, Colombia, the San Blas Islands, and the Rio Chagres, a jungle river that winds into the coastal rain forest near the Panama Canal. Once the haunt of pirates and Spanish galleons, Rio Chagres today is dominated by boisterous howler monkeys and exotic birds in the forest canopy, venomous snakes in the undergrowth, bright green parrots fluttering across the open water and crocodiles lurking along the shadowy banks. I loved it there and look forward to a longer visit in the not-too-distant future.

Bocas del Toro on the northwest coast of Panama is another world altogether, a lively community sprawled across an archipelago of small islands. The cultural hub, Bocas Town, has the weathered wood feel of a frontier town, with a broad main street used more by pedestrians than automobiles, lined with small, well-stocked grocery and hardware stores, colorful, inexpensive inns and hostels, handicraft stalls, vegetable stands, hippie eateries, an excellent bakery, funky waterfront bars, ‘tipico’ restaurants, assorted houses & shacks, a pharmacy and a bank, the whole peopled by a cheerful blend of Creoles, cruising sailors, Chinese immigrants, small-town Panamanians, gringo surfers, Ngobe Indians, European backpackers, West Indians, Anglo expats and other assorted backwater characters straight out of a Jimmy Buffet ballad. Life here is never dull, but always relaxed and affordable.

My first afternoon ashore I wandered into a back porch jam session, a couple of old men playing guitars and singing traditional songs from as far north as Mexico. The guitars passed around to other musicians. Soon they had me playing along, and then performing my calypso repertoire for them, encouraging me with cold Balboa beers and occasional harmonies and Latino guitar riffs. The water taxi guys on the adjacent dock tapped their feet to the rhythms and smiled a lot. What a sweet welcome to a new landfall!

I moved Silverheels into a beautiful marina across the channel from Bocas Town, where she will feel safe and secure while I fly north to visit family in the States a week from now. I really look forward to that visit, but already I can hardly wait to get back.

 

Sunday, August 1, 2010
Holandes Cays, San Blas Islands

It’s less than 200 nautical miles from Cholon Bay, Colombia to the San Blas Islands in Panama. The route lies offshore, but so briefly that it feels more like a coastal passage, which is more demanding. In part that’s because it normally takes a few days for my body & soul to find their seagoing rhythm, to settle into that solitary world of waves and weather, routine chores and sudden crisis, and (especially for a single-hander) abnormal sleep patterns. On a short crossing like this there isn’t time to make the full adjustment. So in less than 24 hours I was fatigued, and by the time I made my landfall I was genuinely sleep-deprived. 

Some of that lack of sleep was due to traffic. The first hours leaving a coast and the final hours arriving at one often produce small fishing boats, sometimes whole fleets of them, plus maybe a few local yachts. If you’re anywhere near a shipping port, figure on adding some ships to the mix. It’s a recipe for busy, attentive watches with precious little rest time in between.

On this trip Silverheels and I transited shipping lanes serving several commercial Colombian ports: Barraquilla and Cartagena astern, and Turbo far off to port in the Uraba Gulf. In addition, we were headed for the San Blas Islands, which are just east of the Panama Canal, one of the busiest shipping convergence zones in the world. So we encountered numerous freighters, nearly a dozen the first night alone, several of which clearly wanted to occupy the same space at the same time as my diminutive ketch. Those I had to dodge to keep from being run down.

Silverheels and I made this passage in company with another sailboat skippered by another single-hander, my friend Ray Jason aboard his 30’ sloop, Aventura. The great advantage of buddy-boating with another experienced sea captain is that we were able to alternate watches, each keeping an eye out for both boats while the other skipper slept. This did permit some hours of sound sleep, but not many. When ships weren’t threatening us, rainsqualls kept us both awake and on our toes. 

I don't mean to make this sound like a rough trip. It wasn’t, really. Just tiring. If you've been reading this travel log you know I sometimes use it to vent my frustrations at the little glitches here in paradise.

We emerged from a particularly heavy downpour just as dawn was breaking. Ray turned in aboard Aventura. Red-eyed but content, I stood alone on Silverheels’ foredeck to greet a new day and a new continent. The mountains of Panama appeared above the horizon ahead, misty silhouettes in the dawn’s early light. Just then about a dozen small, joyful dolphins found us and romped in our bow wave for a long time, the largest of the group occasionally leaping into the air and landing with a loud belly-flop. (Oh, Lord, please let me come back as a dolphin for my next incarnation!)

We arrived at the East Holandes Cays, outermost of the San Blas Islands, by mid-morning and picked our way through coral reefs and past palm clad islets into the protected lagoon. Sails and anchors were lowered and soon I was down, too, napping in my blissfully motionless boat. But not before diving into the crystal clear water for a long, cool, well-earned swim.  

Friday, July 23, 2010
Cholon Bay, Colombia

Silverheels and I spent a little over a month in Cartagena. Not too bad a place ashore as cities go, but the harbor water is filthy brown, often bouncy with boat wakes, over-lit, noisy and at times downright scary in the violent thunder storms that charge through every other day during the rainy season. Patrolling police boats and a huge navy base keep the coastal pirates at bay, but dinghy theft remains an ever present threat. 

Needless to say, I was delighted to finally see all that slip astern yesterday morning. We only sailed 20 miles down the coast, but the contrast could hardly be more dramatic. Cholon is an idyllic little bay entirely surrounded by green shoreline and overlapping mangrove islands. Tropical birds make cameo appearances and a couple of peacocks on shore squawk every once in a while, sometimes answered by a braying donkey. While there are a score of private homes scattered around, mostly belonging to wealthy Colombians, they tend to be elegantly unobtrusive; of modest size and tastefully designed to blend in with the terrain. The seawater is clean, though green-tinted from the mangroves. 

There are about a dozen other cruising sailboats anchored here, widely spaced in the eastern end of the bay. Cholon could accommodate many times that number, but a dozen seems like just enough. At the core of our little anchorage is a big old shrimp trawler brought here by an ex-LA cop who built a house up on the ridge years ago. The trawler, named "Manatee," serves as the cruisers' social center and features a laid-back, friendly happy hour a few evenings a week. 

I've found the cruising boats and sailors who make it to Colombia much more to my liking than the yuppified yachties that favor the Lesser Antilles - with a few notable of exceptions on both sides. Those that get this far tend to be more adventurous, individualistic, easy-going and down-to-earth; more sun bleached and sociable. For a while back in the eastern Caribbean I was worried that what I call cruising sailors was a nearly extinct breed. Instead I'm finding that I just had to go farther to catch up with them than used to be the case. 

As alluring as Cholon is, I don't expect to stay here long. The San Blas Islands  beckon and I may have to hurry on to Bocas del Toro (Panama). There I can safely leave Silverheels and fly to the States in about a month for a family event. 

 

Monday, June 14, 2010
Cartagena, Colombia

Silverheels and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia (South America) last Friday late afternoon after a blessedly eventless 1,000-mile passage from Grenada. Along the way we stopped over for 5 days at the island of Curacao (Netherlands Antilles). Sadly, I felt compelled to avoid Venezuela altogether due to the frequent pirate attacks on sailboats in those waters of late. I spent many happy months there aboard my last cruising boat, Sparrow, back in the late '80's and would have gladly returned with Silverheels for a long visit now but for the very real danger of being boarded, robbed and possibly shot. What a shame! The vast majority of Venezuelans are friendly, warm and welcoming. Unfortunately, because of their screwed up government leadership (or lack thereof) and a handful of armed desperados on fast motorboats, cruising sailors like me are staying away.  

This little voyage was comprised of two 3-day hops, with the Curacao layover roughly mid-way. It being a near-offshore route across the southern Caribbean, I anticipated lots of freighter traffic. To help stand around-the-clock watches (because ships sometimes don't) I took along a young French couple I found in Grenada. These two 20-something backpackers are hitchhiking their way around the world. They turned out to be bland, self-absorbed, sloppy (by my standards) and of little use as crew. They had no interest in, let alone knowledge of, sailing, being only interested in a "cheap" ride to their next destination. To their credit, they would perform specific tasks when asked, and they stood their watches and woke me when freighters came too close. So their presence served some useful purpose. Our parting was not unfriendly, but I was glad to be rid of them as soon as we arrived and I'd be loathe to take on young backpackers again as crew lest they really knew how to help sail a boat... and liked it.

The passage itself was often dream-like. Sailing downwind is so much more pleasant than most other points of sail, especially offshore. Even so, when the trade winds piped up to 25+ knots and the following seas grew to maybe 10' it did get rolly on board, Silverheels rocking dramatically side to side as she scooted along at 6-8 knots. The wind finally died out on the home stretch and I was forced to motor across a flat sea the last night & day. 

So, here I am in Latino Land, a different culture altogether from the West Indians I just left. From what I've seen of Cartagena so far it is a booming, affluent, relatively safe city. It boasts a quaint, attractive 'old town' area that is the main attraction here for foreign tourists. Otherwise, it seems like a miniature Miami with its many modern high-rise apartment buildings and trendy middle class locals. Not really my kind of place, but I'm committed to staying for a couple of weeks at least. An old friend, now sailing his sloop down from Florida, is due here within the week for a planned rendezvous. We'll do a little hell-raising together here before carrying on to Panama. 

 

Friday, May 28, 2010
Grenada

After 3+ happy months in Grenada I plan to set sail again this coming Monday. Silverheels and I are heading west towards Panama by way of Curacao and Cartagena (Colombia). A young French couple will crew with me as far as Colombia, where I expect to rendezvous with a pal of mine. He just cast off from Key West yesterday aboard his 30' sloop, bound for the Windward Passage and then south. We'll have some fun in Cartagena, by all reports an attractive, friendly city used to cruising sailors. Whenever that gets old I'll continue on to Panama - the San Blas islands and Bocas del Toro - for the rest of the hurricane season. My entire route lies south of the hurricane belt. It'll be nice not having to worry about those nasty mothers this year.

I hiked up to a favorite waterfall the other day, to say my farewell to Grenada. No sign of another human being, not even a cigarette butt. It might've been the day after Creation. Ate some mangoes I'd picked up along the trail, smoked a bit of nature's herb, went skinny-dipping under the cascade...  Ain't life a bitch?

 

Monday, March 29, 2010
Grenada

I wrote an article about Grenada last time I was here, which appeared in Cruising World magazine. Now, 17 years later, I find that while this island has shared in the development and tourist boom that has so effected the Lesser Antilles, Grenada has not lost its essential friendliness and charm. It and Martinique/Guadeloupe are still my easy favorites of all the West Indies. 

Silverheels and I have based ourselves in the Hog Island anchorage, a pretty, sheltered harbor about half way along Grenada's south coast. To date there is no development at all around this cove, a rare find for an eastern Caribbean cruiser these days. Sadly, though, and I suppose inevitably, that's all going to change soon. Some mega hotel conglomerate - Four Ambassadors, I think - has plans in place to bury beautiful Hog Island under ten thousand tons of concrete, steel and glass to create yet another grotesque tropical tourist Mecca. I'll bet the assholes even change the name to something more marketable, like Brandywine Isle. (Oy!) Fortunately for us humans, their development plans are on hold pending who knows what and Hog Island survives a little longer in its natural state. No one expects this blessed hiatus to last, though. It's only a matter of time until the monsters descend, armed to the teeth with heavy machinery, big bank loans and their trademark insatiable greed, to destroy one more piece of paradise - perhaps the last piece - in the name of Progress and Profit. 

Geez, here I am ranting again. Sorry, but I still get pissed off every time I see it happen. You'd think I'd have learned to accept it by now. Not!

For the time being, anyway, uninhabited Hog Island, with it's perfect little white sand beaches and green, rolling hills, is a lovely playground for anyone with a boat to get there. It's also a gathering place for cruisers every Sunday afternoon when a local entrepreneur, Roger, puts on his weekly barbecue beach party, complete with $2 beers and a live reggae band. It's a lot of fun and a chance for us liveaboards to meet each other and socialize. I remember Roger's "bar", a Gilligan's Island kind of driftwood and palm thatch shelter, from my last visit here in 1993. It's a little bigger now, but still looks like it belongs. Rough wood benches & some tables, a couple of hammocks and a rope swing complete the decor. 

Roger's is also a hangout for locals from the village of Woburn, less than a mile away by boat. These young and not so young natives, many of them sporting dreadlocks, come over in brightly painted wood skiffs with outboard motors and pass spliffs among themselves while us white cruisers drink our cold beers. Still, everyone sings and dances together when the band gets going. Peace, mon. Love, mon. Every'ting cool, mon. 

 

Tuesday, March 02. 2010
Grenada

We've arrived. More later.

Sunday, February 28, 2010
Carriacou, Grenada Grenadines

Regarding my rant below, things did perk up once I got to Carriacou. This happy little island still exudes much of the old West Indian charm I've been seeking (and missing). I attribute this largely to a scarcity of tourists, very few charter boats, and no cruise ships at all. As a result the residents remain casual, friendly and welcoming. No hustle, no hassle, no problem, mon. What a treat! 

 

Monday, February 22, 2010
Mayreau, St. Vincent Grenadines

This evening I'm nursing a bottle of rum and a case of the blues, anchored in beautiful Salt Whistle Bay on the island of Mayreau in the Tobago Cays. I remember anchoring my last cruising boat, Sparrow, in this idyllic cove 20-odd years ago in complete solitude. Tonight Silverheels is boxed in by two-dozen charter boats, mostly big, obnoxious, plastic catamarans full of noisy tourists, and I am disgusted. It's time to face the sad truth, that the Lesser Antilles I remember are no more, replaced now by an overcrowded, over-regulated, avaricious, homogenized playground for charter boats and seasonal cruisers, and they are legion!

So here I sit half drunk and totally bummed. Grenada, my last West Indian hope of refuge, is just 30 miles from here and I can no longer reasonably expect it to be much different from what I've seen so far on this voyage of rediscovery. I'll know soon enough.

This will never do. I need someplace to go with this boat of mine. Yo hablo Español, gracias al Diós, and so America Latina seems like the only possibility remaining in this hemisphere. So, where to go? Venezuela can be downright dangerous for gringos now. Brazilians speak Portuguese, which I do not, and anyway the current runs north from Brazil. Except for the Galapagos, which I visited just a few years ago, the Pacific coast of South America isn't very interesting until you get to Chile. That leaves Columbia and Central America, from Panama to Belize inclusive, to reconsider. That can't be as spoiled as the Lesser Antilles. The "language barrier" alone must surely keep most of these fat, pink gringo charterers away, don't you think?

It's either that or the South Pacific, and I'm not sure I'm ready to sail that far, not single-handed. I could, and Silverheels could, too. I just don't think I want to. I've visited Hawaii, Tahiti, Moorea, New Zealand and Bali by air and land and while there's much to be said for all of them, I don't feel like they're worth all those offshore miles to see again. And yet, the rest of the Pacific may well be the last refuge for sea gypsies like me simply because there's so much of it. The damned Moorings charter company can't be everywhere, can they? Where can a sailor go in this age of charter mania and f__king ARC rallies and yuppie yachts trans-shipped seasonally by carrier barge? Where's the adventure in paradise?

Well, I’m just venting. The world will surely look brighter tomorrow. Somewhere.

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010  
Bequia
, St. Vincent Grenadines

Silverheels really kicked up her heels on the 20-mile hop from Martinique to St. Lucia, beam-reaching across 15-20-25 knot trade winds under full sail: 135% genoa, yankee staysail, main & mizzen. It’s the first time we’ve had such ideal conditions since I started cruising last June, and friends, I'm here to tell you this boat can fly! At first I was tickled to be maintaining 7+ knots for the crossing, the boat standing upright like solid oak, the decks nearly dry in spite of 4-6' cross seas. She remained stiff as the breeze freshened and - are you ready for this? - kissed 8.3 knots half-a-dozen times and held 8 for credible stretches. This is an old ketch fully loaded & provisioned for long-term liveaboard cruising, water and fuel tanks topped off, the dinghy in the davits, dragging a fixed, locked 3-blade prop, with the windvane steering. Speeds were GPS SOG readings, but any current was, like the wind, on the beam and not behind us. 8.3 knots! I didn’t know Silverheels could do that. What a ride! What a boat!

We spent only one night each in St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The harbors all seemed too crowded and/or rolly and/or mooring-infested and/or boat boy infested and/or (in one or two cases) life-threatening. Finally came to rest in Bequia for a few days. Admiralty bay is a spacious, clean anchorage without threat of attack by disgruntled Rastas. Still an easygoing vibe ashore, too, despite the considerable growth of tourism since I last visited there. Bequia is a nice place to visit even though the harbor is thick with unregulated, sometimes unreliable moorings set out by native entrepreneurs, making anchoring very difficult. Crowded, too. Easily a hundred boats here today; probably more. Also, as in a few other harbors I've stopped in these past couple of months, some goddam nightclub on shore here broadcasts jungle boom-boom music through mega-ton speakers most nights well past midnight, the bass so penetrating even silicone ear plugs can't entirely shut it out. 

 

Sunday, February 14, 2010  
Sainte Anne, Martinique

Silverheels and I have been in Martinique for 3 weeks now. It feels like longer, probably because I’ve finally been able to slow down. No weather fronts to beat or deadlines to meet or dates to keep, no crew to accommodate, no pressing boat repairs or projects. It's nice for a change. I be on island time, mon. I'm even writing a bit. Sold an article to Blue Water Sailing magazine a while back, and just sent a new piece in to Cruising World the other day. And I've resumed work on a book I'm writing that's been sitting on a back burner way too long.

I spent some time in Martinique years ago and loved it. Have wondered what it would be like now. Well, it's still beautiful, the people are still very friendly, and I can still get by on my little bit of French (which gets a little better every day). But it's also much more developed along the leeward coast now, crowded in some places that used to be nearly empty, with way too many boats clogging the harbors. Expensive, too, for those of us living on US dollars. (This is a French island; they use the Euro.) The main thing urging me onward, though, is that I have not found that one particular harbor here, a place where I can tie up in a small, laid back marina near a pretty, out of the way village. That's what I'm looking for, a cozy corner of the Caribbean to settle into for a while, use the boat as a waterfront cottage, and focus on writing, hiking, little boat improvement projects, short cruises, and just being. I have not found that place in Martinique - the few marinas here are not to my liking - nor in any of the other islands I've passed through recently.

So I'm moving on, towards Grenada. I've heard there are now a couple of small marinas in the pretty harbor where I anchored Sparrow for some months in the early '90's. I'm going to check them out. It should be less expensive in Grenada - the currency is EC, the Eastern Caribbean dollar - and it’ll certainly be easier to communicate since they speak English. Grenada is a particularly beautiful, friendly island that I visited several times in years past and always liked. No doubt it has developed during my long absence as have all these islands, but I don't expect it'll be on the scale of Martinique. We shall see. I'll begin slowly island-hopping that way tomorrow, when I cross to St. Lucia.  

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Sainte Pierre, Martinique  

Silverheels lies at anchor in 30' of clear Caribbean water off the very French town of St. Pierre in the northwest corner of Martinique. This is the top of the Windward Islands. In the past 10 days since leaving Nevis we've stopped at Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, and Dominica. A pity we had to rush like that, but my niece/nephew crew have flights booked from here back to the States in a few days. 

La Martinique, as the French call this island, has always been one of my favorites of all the West Indies. Seeing it again now reconfirms that preference. The inhabitants are almost invariably friendly and helpful, sometimes even stopping to offer a ride in their car if they see you walking in their direction. This happened yesterday when we hiked up to a big rum distillery on the slopes of Mount Pelée. 

Mount Pelée, an immense, green clad volcano, dominates this end of the island. It last erupted in 1902, wiping out the entire population of St. Pierre, some 30,000 people at the time, and destroying a dozen ships in the roadstead. Today things seem quieter and we're heading into the high mountain rain forests east of here in search waterfalls. Life is good.

Returning to Martinique is something I've privately been looking forward to these past few years, and it marks a waypoint in my cruising life. I plan to hang around a while, maybe do some writing and work on my French. Pourquoi pas?

 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Oualie Beach, Nevis

This evening we’re anchored in an idyllic cove on the north end Nevis, one of the eastern Caribbean's Leeward Islands. Silverheels lies off a white sand beach graced with a low-key inn, a tropical bar and a great wifi signal. Stars glitter by the millions overhead, unfettered by man-made lights. It's about 80-degrees, the gentle island breeze perfumed by green foliage and wild spices. The good people of Nevis haven’t suffered the overdose of tourism that plagues some others in the Lesser Antilles and so they remain kind and friendly to visitors. The livin' is easy here.

My 28-year-old nephew is crewing with me for a couple of weeks, escaping the frigid New York winter. He and I get along well and it's fun having him aboard. Eric flew in to St. Maarten on the 6th of January. After some fast preparations and provisioning, we set sail at dawn on the 9th, fighting our way sixty miles southeast that first day against a strong ESE’ly wind and a rough chop. Silverheels weathered Statia’s (St. Eustatius’) windward side and then plowed along the west coast of St. Kits (St. Christopher) to a remote, blessedly smooth anchorage on that island’s southwest corner. In the morning we chugged another hour or so southeast to Charlestown, island of Nevis, and cleared in. Here we’re hanging out, waiting for Eric’s sister (my niece), Britt, to join us for the remainder of the sail to Martinique, still 150 nautical miles SSE. Along the way we may stop overnight in Montserrat, and then spend some days visiting Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, and Dominica. 

 

Thursday, December 17, 2009
Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

We cast off Beaufort Docks at 9:30 AM on Sunday, December 6th, and dropped anchor in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles at 2130 hrs. (9:30 PM) this evening, thus ending my first offshore passage with Silverheels, and in fact my first long offshore passage since I sailed Sparrow back from Europe in 1993! My all-girl crew for this trip, Davina and Jennifer, were very good shipmates. Both stood their watches without complaint, voluntarily - even eagerly - braved the foredeck in rough weather, and provided pleasant company to boot. I could hardly have asked for more.

Silverheels did well, too. Some equipment broke, most notably a blade of the wind generator and the Shaft-Lok, both of which caused some inconvenience. The boat's 32-year-old interior joinery groaned and creaked in heavy seas like the timbers of a mine on the verse of collapse, but she seems to have come through it in tact, with no visible signs of the stresses she endured from 10-15' seas - short, steep seas! - pounding her relentlessly for days on end in 20-35 knot winds.

As for the captain, I confess it took me a few days to thoroughly get my sea legs in those conditions. Never got sick, but didn't feel all that great, either. But once we all settled in for the long haul, things were not too bad. We were never in great danger. The passageweather.com forecasts I used to time our departure from Beaufort were pretty good, except the wind generally turned out to be 10 knots stronger than predicted and slower to shift. Worse, the seas were disproportionately short & steep so that 10-12 footers packed a real punch and the motion onboard was damned uncomfortable. We all grew thoroughly sick of it and were very glad to reach the Horse Latitudes where the wind eased off (but never died) and the seas smoothed out. Finally found the true trade winds, albeit a bit further south than expected, and finished up on a fast broad reach for the final leg. Altogether, the last 4 days - in the Horse Lats & then the trades - were idyllic sailing with warm, sunny days and awe-inspiring, star & meteor filled nights, plus the requisite flying fishes on deck most mornings and one fair size dolphin fish (mahi-mahi, not Flipper) that was unwise enough to bite the lure I was trailing.

Anyway, it's all history now. My delivery crew has departed. St. Martin is way too touristy and developed for my taste, but a welcome rest stop nonetheless. I'll probably stay here until around New Years before heading down islands.

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
22° 52’ N x 063° 17’ W

I’m writing this aboard the good ketch Silverheels, presently under sail at 22° 52’ N x 063° 17’ W, or about 290 nautical miles north of St. Martin, Leeward Islands. Like a horse smelling the barn, Silverheels is now reaching happily at 5 to 7 knots across a fair easterly breeze and a long, gentle swell, perhaps the beginning of the true trade winds. We're on the home stretch of what has been, until a couple of days ago, a regrettably rough passage from Beaufort, NC. Maybe I’ll describe some of that in this logblog when I get around to it, but not now and not when I first arrive in St. Martin. Then my lovely all-girl crew and I will be busy for a few days cleaning up, partying and just getting our land legs back after 11½ days and about 1,400 nautical miles of rocking and reeling. (Our typical day's run has been around 125 to 135 n. mi., about what you'd expect from a buxom old ketch like Silverheels, but 2 days of strong headwinds & steep seas and one night hove-to reduced our overall average to a slightly less credible number.)

Anyway, all's well that ends well and this little passage seems to be headed for a happy ending.

 

Friday, November 27, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina

Busy now with final preparations to sail from Beaufort, North Carolina to St. Maarten (St. Martin) in the eastern Caribbean. That's about 1,400 nautical miles of non-stop, offshore sailing. Lots of final projects getting done - just installed 2 new autopilot systems - and final provisioning is yet to come. I have a lovely all-girl crew joining me for this passage. Davina and Jennifer are due to arrive this weekend. Our scheduled departure date is next Tuesday, December 1st, just 4 days from now. However, the long-range weather forecast (www.passageweather.com) suggests that we may have to delay that for a couple of days to depart in reasonable conditions. This is, after all, a bit late in the season and the autumn gales are raising Cain out there. Sailing dates are always "weather permitting." 

In my mind, this departure marks the end of Silverheels' "refit," which has lasted just one month shy of 3 years! - and the beginning of "boat improvement projects" and general maintenance without end. The main difference is that now we're cruising.

So, more soon from the sunny Caribbean!

 

Monday, November 2, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina

Little has changed these past months. Silverheels remains on a mooring in Beaufort, North Carolina. She has benefited from the completion of several more refit projects, including a beautifully (if I do say so myself) re-insulated refrigerator compartment. I was away most of October, first working the Annapolis sailboat show, then visiting family in NYC & Connecticut. Now I'm into the final push to get a bunch of new equipment installed on the boat before our circa December 1st departure for St. Maarten in the northeastern Caribbean. Two enthusiastic young women have signed on to crew for that offshore passage. Hey, somebody's gotta' do it.

My local music group, Neo Trio, has gotten noticeably better. We've played a number of successful gigs, repeatedly packing the chic (for Beaufort) venue called Cru Wine Bar, most recently this past Halloween night. Way fun! 

 

Monday, July 27, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina

Aside from one day sail, Silverheels has been tied to a rented mooring for the past month, directly across Taylor Creek channel from downtown Beaufort. Today, however, I took her on a scouting mission to a creek 8 or 10 miles away, where we are now anchored for the night. According to some of the old salts 'round these parts, the ones who really know, this creek I'm in is the best hurricane hole for many miles. The next comparable spots are twice the distance away. 

North Carolina gets more than its share of hurricanes most years, and since I'm spending the season here aboard my boat I have to be prepared in advance to deal with them. That means knowing exactly where I'm going to take Silverheels when a storm is tracking this way, including  being familiar with the entrance (this one is tricky and, for Silverheels, tide-dependent), the holding ground (soft mud), and the terrain (low, but high enough that the neck between my anchorage and the open bay has not been submerged by storms in the remembered past). 

I feel a whole lot better now having my hurricane Plan A in place. Here's hoping I don't need it.

Otherwise, I've been hanging out in Beaufort. I'm playing music with my friend John Nelson's band. We've already had two paying gigs and we're booked for several more in August. I've always been a guitar player, but in this trio I'm making my debut on electric bass, which is to say this old dog is learning a new trick. It's both challenging and extra fun. 

I spend most days picking away at Silverheels' never-ending list of boat renovation projects. Currently re-insulating the icebox. All is well and life is good. 

 

Friday, June 19, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina

We're lying to two anchors in Taylor Creek, Beaufort, North Carolina, having sailed (and motored) up the East Coast from Green Cove Springs, Florida over a 9-day period. This included a few days layover en route to catch up on sleep and make a few repairs. 

The trip was eventful, particularly a few days and nights offshore riding the inner edge of the Gulf Stream northeastward from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. That brief passage was a microcosm of what offshore sailing can often be, a mixed bag:  slipping along before light southerlies, battling some downright scary late-night thunder storms, eating flying fish for breakfast, fixing the things that broke, reading paperbacks, navigating, dodging freighters, getting hardly any sleep, and applauding the antics of spotted dolphins cavorting at Silverheels' bow wave.

The first and last days of the trip we motored up the Intra Coastal Waterway, an inside route that links canals, rivers and bays along much of the US East Coast. That part of the trip was another variety pack of experiences: biting bugs, graceful waterfowl, muggy heat, silent marshlands, reluctant drawbridges, friendly boaters, tedious hours of motoring, some brisk motorsailing. It can be grueling for a single-hander, having to pay attention every moment to the channel markers threading a narrow passage through dark, shallow and often shoaling waters. 

Anyway, we're here. I have good friends to hang out with ashore. We'll be playing music and getting a little crazy. I plan to stay a while - some weeks, at least. Also looking forward to some visits from family soon. 

Silverheels seems content. Our cruising life has begun in earnest. May it be long and joyful!

 

Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Green Cove Springs, Florida

On a hot, sunny, nearly windless summer day Silverheels and I cast off from our longtime home at Green Cove Springs Marina and set sail on what I hope will be a long and happy cruise together. I am single-handing the boat, this being a time for us to become better acquainted underway at our own pace. 

 

Thursday, June 05, 2009
Green Cove Springs, Florida

Silverheels was launched with fresh bottom paint and a long list of material improvements after more than 2 months in dry-dock. 

 

Monday, April 27, 2009 
Green Cove Springs, Florida

The good ketch Silverheels and I are presently in dry-dock at Green Cove Springs Marina, a mile or two outside the little northeast Florida town of the same name. We hope to be re-launched in a month or so with new bottom paint and a list of other jobs done, then to set sail on a cruise with no fixed route and no timetable worthy of the term. 

 

2006 to the present

What's in a Name?

Gordon Lightfoot named my boat for me. He's the Canadian folk singer most famous for his ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," but he also wrote & recorded a lesser-known song titled "Christian Island," a tune that has been with me since my early sailing days. In it he sings:

Tall and strong she dips and reels
I call her Silverheels
And she tells me how she feels
She’s a good old boat and she’ll stay afloat
Through the toughest gale and keep smilin’
But for one more day she would like to stay
In the lee of Christian Island

I imagine "Silverheels" refers to the sparkling trail left by a boat moving through bioluminescent water at night, or maybe to the play of moonlight on a ship's wake at sea. I just always liked the feel of that song. It begins,

I'm sailing down a summer wind
I got whiskers on my chin
And I like the mood I'm in...

Even though I hadn't heard the tune for many years, the first time I saw this boat I just knew she was my Silverheels. Later I learned that the native American actor who played The Lone Ranger's Indian sidekick, Tonto, in the old television series was named Jay Silverheels. He was a pretty cool character in the show, and a rugged, self-made man in real life. I named my boat yard workbench "Fort Tonto" in his honor. The fact that tonto means "fool" in Spanish probably makes it all the more appropriate - for me, not for Jay. A little humility never hurts, especially during a major refit of an old sailboat.

Later I discovered there is also the Colorado "Legend of Silverheels," which you can read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Silverheels .

It wasn't until mid-2012, after I'd owned this boat for 5½ years, that I learned her original name, given her by the original owner's daughter. It was "Manido," which I'm told means "spirit" in the language of the Ojibiwe (a.k.a. Chippewa) Indians. It's a fine name for a sailboat, but I didn't know about it when I was deciding what to call this beautiful ketch. Besides, there's an old sailors' superstition that 6-letter boat names are bad luck.

There's also an old superstition that it's bad luck to change the name of a boat, and an even older nautical tradition of doing just that, renaming boats, which dates back to the earliest mariners. They didn't all suffer negative consequences. When I found Silverheels for sale in Indiantown, Florida, she bore the name "Malu Lani," which means something like "beneath the sky," or "under the watchful eye of heaven" in Polynesian. It's a nice sentiment, but Malu Lani was a mouthful to say, always required repeating and explaining, and wasn't even the boat's original name, merely the last owner's idea of cool.

Since I was planning (and have since completed) an extreme makeover for the boat - since she would soon be metamorphosing into a virtually new entity - it seemed right that her name should evolve along with her. There was a transition period in the very beginning when Malu Lani was still on the transom and Silverheels was merely on the paperwork and in my heart. (Actually, it was "Silver Heels," 2 words, later merged into one, legally and officially on her documentation.) During those first weeks, though, I called her "Malu Lani Silverheels." You know, to sort of get her used to the idea. 

Shortly after I bought the boat, I single-handed her 300-odd miles to a boat yard on the Saint John's River in northeast Florida. The 6-day trip north went smoothly, most of it following the Intra-Coastal Waterway, the "ICW", an inland route protected from the open Atlantic. As tempted as I was to take my new charge offshore into the Gulf Stream, I am happy to say I did not. She was an old and (up 'til then) sadly neglected vessel, entirely new to me. It would have been reckless indeed to expose her to the rigors of even a brief open water passage. I'd gone through her thoroughly before setting sail, but I could only prepare so much in that short time. Her ancient standing rigging alone was reason enough to play it safe on this, our maiden voyage. Things were very different by the next time we set sail; veeery different.

Still, that first little passage afforded me an opportunity to get to know the boat at a relaxed pace. On January 23, 2007, I arrived at Green Cove Springs Marina with a reinforced admiration for this modern classic ketch, and a substantial and growing work list of things I needed to do to bring her up to snuff. It was time to get going on the renovation of Silverheels, which lasted 2½ years. You, however, can skip directly to the cruising. Just scroll UP to tag along on The Adventures of Cap'n Tor & Silverheels.

Hi ho!

 
 

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