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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Short Delay…

Today we got buried in details with things taking longer than expected in the morning, and lost enough time that we ended up missing tide, and daylight for our departure.

We did manage to finish everything we need to get done, (eventually!) and are now ready for dropping lines first thing tomorrow morning and getting our delivery on its way to warm and sunny Antigua. We are really looking forward to sailing south. While it will be cold sailing at first, within a few days, we’ll be back into warm weather.

How cold is it here?

This was taken well after noon. Yesterday’s rain had accumulated in the Bimini, and through some mysterious process, turned solid!

Now I know many of our readers are giving us very little sympathy right now… but hey, we are tropical birds! Used to migrating!

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Thoughts on Packing

Merry Christmas everybody! For those of you who live where it is cold, stay warm! For those of you who live where it is warm, enjoy! And everybody stay safe.

We are finalizing the last details of what we need to take with us on our delivery trip that starts tomorrow. It is actually a different kind of packing than either of us have done in a long time. The boat we are moving came with almost nothing. One set of linens for the large bed, and some serving ware in the galley. Certainly no food or other perishables, although it does have a good stock of spare parts.

The boat’s new owner did a great job thinking ahead, and remotely ordered things like tools, cookware, and other things much more easily and cheaply obtained in the US. This made a huge difference in the amount of things (like tools!) that we needed to haul along.

But for everything else, we have to take it along, and unless we eat it or drink it, we then need to bring it back home. Normally when we travel, we are onboard our boat, Harmonie. So packing really isn’t an issue, we have everything we own onboard. There is no opportunity for forgetting anything. Any time we travel by airplane to a land based destination, forgetting something isn’t a big deal. Leave your toothbrush at home? Buy another.

This is quite different. From the moment we untie the dock lines, until we are released from quarantine in Antigua will likely be at least 14 days. During that time whatever we forgot, didn’t think of or break in route, we just have to live without. It is not that we will need a LOT of stuff, but what we need we can’t just hop off to the corner store and get–at any price. Especially difficult are the things you do not EXPECT to need, but might…

We will have to take an unusual (for us!) assortment of clothing. Tomorrow morning here in Charleston it is forecast to be 26F. That’s about as cold as we have experienced in years. Within 2 days we’ll be sailing in water of 75F, and hopefully be back to our comfort zone. We do have a watermaker and laundry machine on board, so we don’t need to take a LOT of clothes, but will need a variety!

Then there is photo gear, a small selection of fishing tackle, our satphone, prescription meds, in addition to the normal toiletries and grooming supplies. All this… and all the stuff we need to do to leave our boat at the dock for a month!

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Neither Rain nor Snow…

We have spent the last couple of days getting everything we need in shape for our delivery. Just to recap, we have a sister ship to our boat here in Charleston that we have been hired to deliver to her new owner Antigua in the eastern Caribbean. The boat is in good shape, and pretty much ready to go.

It seems everywhere we go, other Super Maramus show up. That’s Harmonie on the left, and Delos on the right.

The trip itself will be about 1400 miles and 9 to 11 days of sailing. The health authorities in Antigua can potentially require a 14 day quarantine before releasing us from the boat. Quite reasonably, they do count the time you spend at sea toward the quarantine period. If we add a bit of buffer that means we are provisioning for 3 weeks. Everthing has now been bought, and stowed on the boat. We are waiting for a rather nasty cold front to pass by, and we will be off on the 26th. The morning we leave the temperature is expected to be in the high 20’s Fahrenheit here. Seems a good time to head for the tropics!

Based on what we have seen, Antigua and Barbuda (that’s the official country name) has had some of the most reasonable COVID regulations around. Rational, careful, and not responding to the international “whim of the day.” They have had excellent success in keeping local spread in the population to a bare minimum, and still allowing commerce. Hopefully that attitude will still be present when we arrive!

One of the requirements for arrival by yacht into Antigua is that you present results from a rt-PCR Covid test taken within 7 days of departure from your last port. We found a local drive-in testing site offering same day results, and went and had our noses swabbed this morning.

Sure enough, we got the results by 2PM. Negative, so all is good. OH NO! Wait… the test report says they ran the less sensitive antigen test NOT the PCR test that Antigua health authorities require. It’s afternoon on Christmas Eve, and we need the results in two days so we can leave, and they close within the hour! We ran back to the test site. They were completely helpful, and re-ran the test we actually needed without extra cost, even let us jump the line of cars waiting, and again had the results by the end of the day. NOW we really are ready to go!

We expect to arrive in Antigua on or about January 5, endure whatever quarantine the locals request, and then spend several days introducing the new owner to his boat before flying back to Charleston and rejoining Harmonie for our own adventures.

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And we are here!

We had a very fast and (mostly) uneventful passage from Fort Lauderdale to Charleston over the last 2 1/2 days. With a north-ish wind blowing against the Gulf Stream the sea conditions were (to quote Karen), “Barfy.” Lumpy, and bouncy, but not anywhere near scary.

The biggest excitement was the second night, when the lashings that hold the head of our genoa to the top swivel broke. I quickly rolled up the sail before it fell down on deck. With our most powerful sail out of commission, we turned to the “Iron Genoa” (aka Mr Volvo) to keep us moving along. A quick trip up the mast will fix this, but I am not going to even consider doing that at sea short of a serious emergency.

Just to add to the fun, when we fired up the engine, it promptly overheated. A quick impeller change and that problem was solved. Frustratingly enough, the engine impeller was on the maintenance list for inspection/replacement here in Charleston.

We arrived here at the Charleston City Marina last night, and a few hours later, the most famous Amel Super Maramu around (S/V Delos of YouTube celebrity) docked right in front of us. It’s quite funny to watch a steady stream of groupies come down the dock posing for selfies with the famous boat as a backdrop.

We got the genoa down and folded up, but there still seem to be issues with the swivel that is stuck at the top of the forestay. Understanding what’s wrong and sorting it out will have to wait until I get up the mast.

We have the critical items on our boat taken care of, and now we’ll turn to the customer’s boat that we are delivering to Antigua. Hopefully just a few days of prep and we’ll be ready to go.

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First Review of our New Sail

Just before we left Annapolis, we retired our old genoa and installed a new one from Island Planet Sails. It is a truism in the sailing world that installing a new sail on a cruising boat can be like buying a new boat. Racers change sails a LOT. Cruisers change sails when they have to. Over the course of the five to ten years of a typical cruising sail’s life it stretches out of shape, and it no longer presents a proper airfoil shape. Because this happens so slowly, the drop in the boat’s performance is not noticed by the crew.

It is easy to forget that a sail is not a flat piece of canvas, but has a carefully designed 3-dimensional shape. When that shape is compromised, the sails performance drops dramatically. When a new sail is installed, suddenly the boat’s performance takes a quantum jump. “Wow!” is the usual reaction.

The old sail was a cross cut sail. It has relatively few seams (about a dozen), so the labor costs are low. It also can use lower cost cloth. On the downside, it is more prone to stretching and shape changing over time. The loads in the sail are also not well oriented to the strongest directions in the cloth, so even when new it tends to distort more.

Our new sail has a radial cut. instead of large horizontal panels of cloth, it has triangular pieces that all radiate out from the center of the sail in a star-like pattern. Our sail was assembled from about 80 individual pieces of sailcloth. That’s a LOT of sewing.

The benefit of all this extra work is that the loads on the sail are all oriented to the strongest direction of the weave of the sailcloth. As a result the sail stretches very little, and keeps the shape the designer built into it. The downside of a radial cut sail is pretty much all cost. The sewing and the need for more specialized and expensive sailcloth add a lot of dollars to the final bill.

Speaking of sailcloth, our sailmaker gave us three choices for a radial cut sail. In order of decreasing relative cost: HydraNet Radial (125), or ProRadial (100) both from Dimension-Polyant, or Challenge ProRadial (80) from Newport.

The choices as presented to us were that the Challenge Newport fabric was more stretch prone, and would have a shorter life span than the Dimension Polyant. That seemed a good reason to pay the 20% premium for the Polyant product. The Hydranet was presented as a premium fabric with even less stretch, but we were told that we should not expect a longer lifespan. The advice from the sailmaker was for a cruising boat, the significant extra expense was not worth it. We agreed.

Were we happy? Based on the performance of the sail on the way down to Florida, it would be fair to say we were overjoyed. When the autopilot was told to pick the course that resulted in the best VMG upwind, it settled on an AWA of 34 degrees, a good 3 degrees better than we ever saw with the old sail. That might not sould like much, but it is a HUGE improvement in upwind performance. At all reaching angles we saw a significant increase in lift/drag ratio. The result of this is we go faster, and we can carry more sail, at higher wind speeds without heeling excessively, or having helm balance issues. It really was (almost!) like having a new boat.

The new sail is a bit bigger than the old which was branded by one of the major companies. When you are shopping for a genoa for an Amel, you want to talk with a sailmaker who KNOWS the boat. If they ask you if you want a “150% or a 130%, or what?” go talk to somebody else. You want a sail that is the size Amel designed. Same luff length, same foot length. Same tack height. This is important for general performance, and also for fitting properly when using the downwind poles. Yes, it is a big sail, but with a proper foam luff, it will roll up and keep a respectable shape even in a blow.

When you are shopping for sails, also be 100% sure that the sailmaker is supplying cloth that is the appropriate weight for the size of sail. Going one size lighter in weight is one way to reduce the quoted price in a way that the sailor is unlikely to notice–until the sail stretches out of shape long before it should. Ask to see the panel layout, (like the diagram above) and be sure all quotes are a similar design. If they are different, be sure to ask why each designer thinks his is better.

There are only one or two computer programs that all sailmakers use to design the shape of their sails. So that is a given–if they are using the same input data. Most sails these days are assembled at contract lofts in Siri Lanka or to a lesser extent, China. So construction quality has little to do with the name brand on the label. When comparing quotes be sure that you see all the details, and be a pest with questions about the construction and details. Things like how the details of the head, tack and clew attachments are made can make a huge difference in the life of the sail, and how well it fits and works on your boat, and is a way that a sailmaker can cut costs.

There is nothing wrong with saving money, just be sure that you are saving the money in those places YOU decide give the best performance/cost balance.

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And We Are Off, Again…

We are finishing up here in Fort Lauderdale, we have a fresh clean bottom, and most of our projects are completed. After a period of time drying out on the hard, Harmonie will be back in the water in a day or two. Very shortly after that, we will be off on another adventure. This time we will be delivering another Amel Super Maramu, from Charleston, South Carolina to the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean, specifically to the island of Antigua.

We don’t often discuss the “business” side of our cruising life here, but it has recently taken on a life of its own. It certainly isn’t a way to get rich, but it does put money into the cruising kitty, and after a very expensive year of boat projects, that is a good thing. If you are interested: our commercial website

The plan right now is to sail Harmonie north to Charleston, and there we will pick up our delivery and take 8 to 12 days to sail her to Antigua where she will meet her new owner. After some time giving him training on the Amel hardware, systems, and procedures we’ll be flying back to Harmonie and back off to our own adventures.

Right now, if things stay more or less the same, we are hoping to sail to the Bahamas and revisit some of the more remote islands. Assuming that’s possible..

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