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.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
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! :)
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 1,600 nautical miles and should take 10 to 12 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
February 19, 2017
Bocas del Toro, Panama
I have listed Silverheels
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
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.
& 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!
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.
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
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
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.
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
If you think you
might be interested in crewing with me from Panama to Florida,
November 24, 2016 – Thanksgiving Day
Bocas del Toro, Panama
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
thing for which to be thankful today; not battling a
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
click to enlarge
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
click photos to enlarge
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
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.
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.
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.
October 09, 2016 ~ Ketching-Up
Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines
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.)
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.
Bay, Carriacou, the Grenada Grenadines
to report. I like it!
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.
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..
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,
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.
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
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
click photos to enlarge
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!"
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.
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,
Grande Anse d’ Arlet, Martinique
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
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
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
palm trees swayed gently to the rhythms, I
thought, man, it just doesn't get a whole lot better than this.
May 04, 2016
Deep Bay, Antigua, Lesser
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
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
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
(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
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.
April 20, 2016
Marigot, St. Martin, French West Indies
took the good ketch Silverheels just 5 days 20 hours to get from
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.)
April 17, 2016
Underway at 21°15' N x 69°09' W,
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
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
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.
April 10, 2016
Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
Lee Stocking Island, Exumas, Bahamas
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
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,
Black Point Settlement, Great Iguana Cay, Bahamas
Wednesday, January 06,
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
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
Wednesday, December 23,
Big Majors Cay, the Exumas, Bahamas
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
tough enough to sink her. And as luck would have it, I was
crossing on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, December 12,
Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 -
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
More local wildlife...
click photos to enlarge
Saturday night, January
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
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.
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?
I'm just around the corner from the
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.
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
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,
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
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.
(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
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten
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
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
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
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.
is now anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon, bordered on 2 sides by rows
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
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.
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,
Admiralty Bay, Bequia
So sad to leave Carriacou,
but new adventures beckon. More to come.
November 15, 2013
Tyrell Bay, Carriacou
Yep, the good ketch, Silverheels,
and I are still anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou. Long time, mon,
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.
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,
Friday nights there is almost always some live music ashore, an
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.
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.
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
for a song/video about
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 .
Friday, September 13,
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
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
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
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.
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
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."
June 30, 2013
Bequia, St. Vincent Grenadines
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.
from St. Lucia had a notable highlight, which I've recounted
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
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
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!
I'll sail to Union Island, about 30 n miles south of here..
June 19, 2013
Le Marin, Martinique
Islands, at last!
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,
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.
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.
June 12, 2013
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.
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!
(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
June 04, 2013
Simpson Bay Lagoon, St. Martin, West Indies
& 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.
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
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
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.
May 26, 2013
St. Georges Harbour, Bermuda
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
March 25, 2013
Green Cove Springs, FL USA
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
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
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.
November 08, 2012
Green Cove Springs, FL USA
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
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
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
May 22, 2012
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.
April 5, 2012
Green Cove Springs, FL USA
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!
March 14, 2012
Warderick Wells Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
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.
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.
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.
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.
February 19, 2012
Underway near Long Island, Bahamas
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.
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.
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
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.
January 29, 2012
Las Salinas, Dominican Republic
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.
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
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,
January 07, 2012
Boca Chica/Andres, Dominican Republic
swept through the Mona Passage, around Isla Saona at the SE corner
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.
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
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.
December 26, 2011
Latitude 27° 12' N x Longitude 72° 27' W
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.
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
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.
September 30, 2011
Green Cove Springs, Florida
to the boat late this afternoon after an awesome summer
van-camping out west. At my request, the boat yard had already moved
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
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
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
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...
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.
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
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
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.
February 27, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
December 04, 2010
Toro Archipelago, Panama
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
August 18, 2010
Bocas del Toro,
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
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
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!
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.
August 1, 2010
Cays, San Blas Islands
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 14, 2010
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.
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
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.
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.
May 28, 2010
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.
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?
March 29, 2010
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.
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
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.
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.
March 02. 2010
arrived. More later.
February 28, 2010
Carriacou, Grenada Grenadines
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
February 22, 2010
Mayreau, St. Vincent Grenadines
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!
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.
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?
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
I’m just venting. The world will surely look brighter tomorrow.
February 17, 2010
, 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
January 23, 2010
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
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.
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.
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?
January 12, 2010
Oualie Beach, Nevis
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.
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.
December 17, 2009
Bay, St. Maarten
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
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.
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
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
December 15, 2009
22° 52’ N x 063° 17’ W
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
Anyway, all's well
that ends well and this little passage seems to be headed for a
November 27, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina
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."
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.
more soon from the sunny Caribbean!
November 2, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina
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'
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!
July 27, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina
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.
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).
feel a whole lot better now having my hurricane Plan A in place.
Here's hoping I don't need it.
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.
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.
June 19, 2009
Beaufort, North Carolina
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.
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.
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
content. Our cruising life has begun in earnest. May it be long
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.
Green Cove Springs, Florida
launched with fresh bottom paint and a long list of material
improvements after more than 2 months in dry-dock.
Green Cove Springs, Florida
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.
What's in a Name?
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:
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
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,
sailing down a summer wind
I got whiskers on my chin
And I like the mood I'm in...
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.
I discovered there is also the Colorado "Legend of
Silverheels," which you can read at
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.
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
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
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;
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.