And We Are Back!

We are back to Harmonie in the City Marina in Charleston. We had a great time on the delivery, and the following days in Antigua. It is always fun introducing a new owner to the world of Amel.

Antiqua had a health protocol that was easy to comply with and seemed also to be both protective and rational. We needed a negative COVID test before we left, and needed to show a log of crew temperatures while in transit. If a local quarantine was required, they added the time at sea to your quarantine time. Other than some minor miscues on the logistics of the process, everything went very smoothly for us. They were satisfied we were low risk, and we were admitted without issue and no additional testing was required.

We did find a couple of things different from their published guidelines. On the websites they indicated that check-in could be accomplished by any member of the crew designated by the Captain. Not true. The presence of the Captain is required. It is true that having your information pre-entered into the eSeaClear online system reduces the time needed, but all they do is printout multiple copies of it in several different formats, all requiring the Captain’s signature.

According to one local source, yachting in one form or another account for about 25% of the islands GDP. We found the local chandlery to be one of the best stocked we have seen anywhere, with prices that were quite reasonable, considering the remoteness of the location. Marina berths were actually among the cheapest we have seen, significantly less then $1/ft/day. Food and miscellaneous supplies can have a limited selection, and expensive compared to stateside prices, but not insanely so.

The marina we were in was normally a hub of charter sailboat activity, but that was minimal with the travel restrictions. The slips were mostly full by the time we left with boats predominantly from Europe. Because of its location, Antigua is frequently a “first stop” on the west side of the Atlantic for boats making a west bound passage headed for either the US east coast, or the Panama Canal.

Antiqua is in a unique geographic location among the Caribbean islands. Being the furthest most NorthEast of the chain, all the other destinations are (more or less) all downwind. This makes a trip either south toward Grenada, or east toward Puerto Rico or Florida easy.

All in all, a delightful place, and one we might be headed back to on our own boat.

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And We Are Here

We arrived in St John’s Harbor last night, and dropped anchor near where the port authorities want us to wait for our health clearance. We are currently waiting for the nurse who will evaluate our COVID risk factors to come out to the boat.

We had a delightful sail yesterday down through the Leeward Islands. Perfect wind, beautiful scenery, in one of the world’s most famous cruising grounds. We topped it off with a blackfin tuna who will be gracing our table tonight as sushimi!

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The End Game

We are approaching the end of our passage. The skies over us are almost totally cloudless, but on the horizon directly ahead we can see the cumulus clouds piled up over the islands ahead. It’s a few hours yet before land while be visible, but after 10 days at sea it is good to see visual evidence of our goal. We expect to be approaching St John’s Harbour mid afternoon tomorrow. There we will clear in with the health and customs authorities, and hopefully receive clearance to proceed to the marina berth waiting for us.

We have been motoring in very light winds and a contrary 1.5 knot current for almost 24 hours. The forecasts have the wind backing a bit and strengthening to sailable levels later this afternoon.

Right now we are directly over some of the deepest waters we will likely ever sail in. The Puerto Rico Trench, with depths of 24,000 feet is some of the deepest water in the world. It’s hard to imagine that the bottom of the ocean here is almost as far below our keel as the airliner passing over head is above our heads. Our world right now is the boat, and an outside world of about 10,000 shades of blue; form the deep indigo of the ocean straight down, to the pale wash of the sunny horizon.

Wildlife’s excitement fort the day was a pod of spotted dolphin early this morning. We have had a couple of fish strikes, but nothing we managed to get landed into the boat—yet!

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And Now for Something Completely Different.

One thing about sailing far offshore, you never know what you are going to see. Most of the time, you DO know. Water. Sky. More of the same. But every once in a while, the ocean surprises.

This morning I was setting the fishing lines off the back of the boat while Karen was on watch. As the lures dropped back, in the clear water, I saw a large white shadow. “Hmmm,” I think, “How did Karen almost run over that big sheet of floating plastic and not see it?” Then I glance away, and then the shadow is gone. I see a large swirl in the water, and I am trying to process what I am seeing. Suddenly, it all resolves, when the white shadows reappear they are the flippers of a large humpback whale who is shadowing us about 100 feet astern. A few breaths, and he disappears, apparently deciding we weren’t all that interesting.

In weather news, the distant high pressure system that has been driving the trade winds we have been riding for most of the past week has been slowly approaching. It has now arrived at our location, and that means a clear sunny sky—and no wind. With a wind speed of 4 knots and a boat speed dropping below 2 knots, I finally surrender and start to burn some more dinosaur juice. If the models are correct, we’ll have about 24 so hours of motor time before our arrival in Antigua.

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Clawing Our Way East.

Last night was the most challenging time of the trip so far. Keeping the boat moving in winds that were very shifty and gusty. Over 10 minutes the wind would go from 8 knots to 25, and then back, and would shift even faster 30 degrees or more. It was slow and difficult sailing.

But today, that is all forgotten. The weather is glorious, sunny, perfect temperature, the boat is working well, and the wind is giving us a chance to scratch a few miles east. It has been hours since we have had to touch a thing on the boat, and she is sailing like on rails. If you have to beat your way to weather in the trade winds, it’s hard to pick a better platform than an Amel Super Maramu. Comfortable, dry and seakindly, she is taking good care of us.

As we near the islands, detailed decisions about course depend a lot on exactly what the weather will do, and as that gets more difficult as we start to narrow down the area we are looking at. The models agree in broad strokes, but the fine local details are quite different. All we can do is play the averages. Make our way as far east as we can, while we can. If it turns out that we need to tack our way upwind for a bit, so be it.

In normal times, we might plan on pulling into Puerto Rico for a fuel top off. We did burn a lot getting through the windless patches at the start of this trip. Now, however, that would be very problematic since it would reset our “quarantine clock” with the Antiguan health authorities, and need an additional COVID test before we could leave port in PR… all in all a huge hassle. Better to struggle with some light and contrary winds if need be.

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Almost Halfway

585 miles out from Charleston, 795 miles from St John’s Harbour in Antigua. Tomorrow will see us cross the halfway point. Based on this morning’s forecast, it looks like our arrival day might slip to at least the 7th.

The plan to make further east early has paid off, as the wind for last night and most of today dropped down to almost straight out of the east, putting us hard on the wind to keep going in the direction we need to go. It is complicated by the North Equatorial Current running about 1 knot to the west, a bit stronger than average.

It was a bit of a struggle, dealing with a different boat, different sails, and a different autopilot, getting the performance we needed to make progress on an upwind heading, but with enough tweaking, we got her almost all the way there.

The wind has laid down a bit, now true wind speeds are running from 12 to 15 instead of 18 to 25 which makes for a more gentle ride, albeit one that is a fair bit slower. The forecast has the lighter winds continuing, and shifting back a bit more toward the north.

Happy New Year!

And Happy 21st Birthday to Megan.

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Upwind in the Trades

Since they started yesterday, the trade winds have been living up to their reputation for being steady, reliable sailboat pushers. Fifteen to twenty-five knots all the time. Those steady winds build big waves, and we are driving fast into them at a steady 6.5 to 7 knots. Lots of bouncing, and lots of spray. It looks like we will have another 4 or 5 days of exactly the same ahead of us.

Right now we are about 500 miles due east of Daytona, FL making our way east-south-east on a close reach. In flat water with these winds we could go quite a bit faster, but we are reefed down to make the ride comfortable for the boat—and for us!

The boat is running well, no major issues. Sometime on the 6th of January still looks like a likely landing date in Antigua.

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Going Properly

After most of three days motoring along under an atmospheric high pressure ridge, finally the ridge has broken down, and the wind has picked up. We are now moving faster, and quieter than before, and not using fuel sailing with all plain sail up, on a beam reach in 14 knots of wind. Just about perfect. The current conditions are supposed to be stable for the next several days. Model forecasts have us arriving sometime on January 6.

The excitement of the day, besides a beautiful sunrise, was a pod of eight whales.

We are now sailing through the Sargasso Sea, that large gyre in the middle of the currents of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is not exactly paved with seaweed, but there is enough that it discourages us from putting fishing lines out. We did miss a small tuna that struck the hand line yesterday. Hopefully we’ll get another chance for fresh sushi!

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Day 2 to Antigua

Within 12 hours of leaving the coast we were in warm weather. Still no wind, but warmer! Over night we did have a couple spots of wind, and even some real sailing. Right now we are in between the southwesterly flow along the coast, and the Northeast Trade Winds. We expect to pick up the trades this evening, and have a fast, fuel free ride most of the rest of the way.

A bit over 150 miles from the coast as we were motoring along on a calm and glassy sea, we come up on a chunk of floating debris. No idea what it actually was, but a square about 4 feet on a side in water about 3000 feet deep. Like any such feature out here in the open ocean, such a thing rapidly becomes a fish attractor. For at least 100 yards around it there were swirling jacks and trigger fish, and a few mahi-mahi, yellow tail snapper, rainbow runners, a shark or two, amberjacks, and deeper down, wahoo.

We do have a minimal fishing kit onboard, so we stopped and tried our luck. We quickly hooked a small jack, and then another. The jacks are fun to catch, but not our idea of a great meal, and even though I could see the mahi-mahi following the lure, I couldn’t figure out how to get them to bite before the aggressive jacks latched on.

Sending the lure down a lot deeper, 100 feet or so, resulted in an instant hookup, and an almost equally fast cut off. A sharp toothed critter, almost surely a wahoo, sliced through the line. Another try resulted in a hook-up with a very small wahoo, about 5 lbs or so. I managed to get him boats side before even he managed to bite through the line attaching the hook to the lure, and that attainment is 300 lb test Kevlar cord!

On a beautiful day like this, would could have spent all day there if our time was our own, but with the limited fishing gear we have, and being on someone else’s clock, we fired up the diesel and set off again.

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Out of the Gate

We left Charleston City Marina with the morning tide. Next stop: St. John’s Harbour, Antigua.

Under a sparkling clear, cloudless sky, we have been motoring without the benefit of wind for all afternoon, and expects the same overnight. The ocean is a flat as we ever see it, and the engine is driving us at an economical 6 knots.

For the rest of our trip our weather is forecast to be driven by a very large, and slow moving, high pressure system that will be passing west to east over Bermuda. As it tracks, we will see strong and steady trade winds pick up from the NE or ENE. Right now we are aiming a bit north of our rhumb line course so we can finish the last leg to Antigua without having to work too hard to windward.

We are beginning to cross the Gulf Stream, and the water temperature is already 25F warmer than it was in Charleston Harbor this morning. For now, we have the full cockpit enclosure up. Hopefully, by tomorrow evening, it will be warm enough we can stow the extra canvas and better enjoy the world around us!

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