Monthly Archives: November 2013


I have a huge extended family scattered all over the place but four nuclear families in New Jersey — including my sister’s — have been our Thanksgiving Day group for as long as I can remember. They all live in fairly close proximity, but for Jack and me it was a 6-1/2 hour drive from our home in Pittsburgh. Still we only rarely missed it and then only for good reason, like when Jack was undergoing chemo and radiation. Thanksgiving is for being with people you love.

The other night here in Grenada a non-American asked if we sing patriotic songs on Thanksgiving and it gave me pause to think how to explain our uniquely American holiday. Thanksgiving, or at least the Thanksgiving that my family celebrates, is, as the name says, a day of giving thanks. Ok, it started with the Pilgrims and the natives sharing their harvest and all that, but in my family we do contemplate what we’re thankful for and share it at the always over-laden dinner table.

This is the second year in a row we’ve spent Thanksgiving with cruising friends instead of family, the second year without helping my sister make cornbread stuffing on Wednesday night, without my brother-in-law’s specially selected Zinfandel, chosen because it’s the only American grape; the second year without a swarm of cousins and too little time to catch up on a year’s worth of news, without my sister’s incomparable pumpkin pie and without the days of belly laughs and championship cooking and overeating and group hugs.

This year one of the marinas hosted a Thanksgiving potluck. They provided the turkey, stuffing and gravy and the cruisers brought their favorite dishes. There were potatoes, cranberries, beans, all manner of salads, appetizers, a beautiful Welsh rarebit, and a whole separate table of desserts, including four or five pumpkin pies, none of which, sad to say, held a candle to my sister’s. But our table was laden and the company was good.





My family are nearly all on Facebook now, and despite our distances most of us shared our thoughts of thanks, just as if we were together. I’m copying mine here because we still have a lot of friends and family who haven’t made the leap to Facebook.

I am thankful for my family, who surround us with love and support us always; for our friends who encourage us, help us through our challenges and celebrate our successes; for our health; for our beautiful shelter and magic carpet, Escape Velocity; for enough to eat and clean water to drink; for the freedom to undertake this journey; for the power of the sun, which runs our boat; and for my partner and best friend Jack, who apparently will follow me anywhere. Thank goodness.

I hope you all enjoyed a Thanksgiving filled with whatever makes you happy, and that you shared it with people you love.

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Tell that to the Grenadians

I’m always looking for new ways to get local weather. I’m not talking about passage weather, the detailed longer range forecast of winds, sea state and currents that determine when we can sail and where. Sometimes I just want to know if it’s going to rain today, or how hot it’s going to get by mid afternoon.

This app sounded promising until I tapped the GPS arrow to find my current location. Thanks. Thanks a lot.


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Almost a first

I’d never been kidnapped before. I don’t think you can count the occasional overzealous fan who invites you to party, as we used to say in the eighties, and you end up in some neighborhood in a town where you haven’t a clue how to get back to your motel where if memory serves you well the band is staying that night. Oh, let’s just say it’s been a while…for the party or the band.

I really can’t say how it happened. I’d taken the #2 Woburn bus, as one does, from Nimrod’s Bar in Lower Woburn to St George’s to pick up the brand new Volvo exhaust elbows to replace the ones that had rusted out and clogged up the works. The good news is that the #2 stops right at the post office in St George’s and with any luck at all I could make quick work of picking up the package and get back to Escape Velocity in time to install the buggers. I don’t like having just one engine. I’m well practiced at retrieving the packages but the #2 bus to Woburn has been getting scarce lately and today was no exception. Finally a #2 Grenville pilot stopped his bus but I said no, I’m going to Woburn. He smiled and said no worries, I’ll take you to Woburn. I had to tell him the last time this happened the whole bus got upset about the detour. Hey man, no problem. I got in.

When we passed the last turnoff to Woburn I looked over at the driver, he smiled and said no problem. Ok, no problem is no problem, I’m not an expert on Grenada roads by any means so I sat back and decided to enjoy the scenery and there was a lot to enjoy. Grenada is beautiful.

Before long I started to notice familiar landmarks. Yes, I’m definitely going to Grenville. Grenville is a good hour away from Woburn, through and around steep mountainous switchbacks. I gave the driver another questioning look and I got the classic “no problem man” look back. I had that sinking feeling that we really weren’t communicating well.

Finally rolling into Grenville as the sun was beginning to set, he pulled into a gas station and said,”Grenville.” Yes, I know it’s Grenville. You were supposed to take me to Woburn. Oh, he’d forgotten. Well, I take you back, he said. It was a terrifying dice with death through single lane mountain roads and rain-swept switchbacks. He dumped me out in St George’s where I’d started out two hours ago.

In thirty minutes I was calmly sitting in a #2 Woburn bus pulling up to Nimrod’s Bar while the sky was looking really ugly and gusty wind whipped the bay into a frothy confection. It was going to be a wet lumpy ride back to Escape Velocity but I still had our precious package under my arm and I knew Marce would be worried so I hopped into a wildly gyrating, bucking Catnip and bounced my way back home just as it got dark.

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The view from the side deck

As a storm rolls in



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Fixing the fix

Our new autopilot worked beautifully on the passage from Trinidad to Grenada but we did have some lingering wiring issues. We had trouble figuring out what was powered on which breaker and because the instruments are networked together we were confused about which GPS antenna was feeding which readout. We knew we definitely wanted the chartplotter and its own dedicated GPS antenna to power on and off independently of the rest of the instruments because sometimes we use it as an anchor watch and on long passages we want to be able to turn it off to save power and just use the iPad to confirm our position. And we definitely wanted wind data to be fed into the new autopilot so we could steer the wind.

Our friend Kris from What If peered at the wiring diagram the installer scribbled out for us. “Huh,” she said. “I wouldn't have done it that way.” And she penciled a simpler way to connect our mishmash of instruments of various vintages and protocols in a way that would eliminate any possibility of crosstalk and power looping. “Think about it and if you want me to do it I have time tomorrow afternoon.” How can you repay friends like that?

The next day Kris and Dean arrived with tools, spare parts and more energy than Jack and I normally have in a week. Kris is like a ferret. She gets single-mindedly focused on a task and never admits defeat. In fact the challenge seems to energize her. I love following her train of thought, watching her puzzle out any new conundrum. Up and down she went into the depths of Escape Velocity's wiring access points, then back up to the helm to test her new theory. Dean and Jack and I were her assistants, tugging on wires, turning on and off breakers, writing bits of tape to label cables she identified.

After nearly four hours she had fixed one of the issues but not the other and came back the next day to finish up. What If was planning to check out and head north the following day so this truly was above and beyond. Now our instruments power up and down correctly and the right data goes to each instrument, just like we planned it. Thanks, What If. All fixed.


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What’s this thing do?

Every time we do anything on Escape Velocity involving wiring we come across strange little boxes with wires going in and out. They're under the settee, behind the drawers in the bedroom, in back of the helm instruments.

“What's this thing do?” we ask each other, or friends or repairmen ask us. Our answer for the last eighteen months has been to shrug and look away. But we wanted to uninstall our old fixed-mount satellite phone and install our new portable one so we removed the transceiver from behind the bedroom drawers and unscrewed the handset mount from the base of the mast compression post in the saloon. The wire from the handset went through a piece of furniture, under the settee and disappeared under the freezer. We couldn't remove the phone from this end because the connector won't fit through the hole in the furniture. We'd have to either cut the connector off, which we didn't want to do because we want to sell the phone, or trace the wire through the boat and pull it all through the hole and out. It sounds so easy.

The phone cord was bundled up with a gazillion other wires, all neatly held together with zip ties. Some of these wires went into mysterious boxes along the inside of the settee. We cut all the ties, pulled the whole mess out onto the floor and starting tracing wires. Every once in a while we found one that wasn't connected to anything on one end so by a process of elimination and some judicious Googling we slowly identified and eliminated four mystery boxes. Turns out they were all part of a defunct security and paging system that a previous owner had installed. It explained the purpose of a lone red LED light at the base of the mast that never worked. We figured it was to indicate that the system was armed.

By the time we were done we were left with only three wires crossing under the settee and we zip-tied them safely out of the way again.

We were still at square one on the satellite phone. Working from both ends we identified various unused power and data cables and pulled them through conduits to the next access point. We had wires noodling out from behind the bedroom drawers, under the master bathroom sink, under the bottom shelf of the pantry. Our boat was beautifully wired from the factory but through the years owners added or removed equipment and rarely labeled new wires or removed unused ones. Consequently the conduits are jam-packed with wires, many of which aren't being used anymore. We managed to get some of it out but some we had to admit defeat and leave in place.

We looked everywhere for the phone cord. Knowing where it started and where it needed to end up we thought maybe we could see it behind the air conditioner return vent behind the fridge. Jack showed his Olympic form in a full layout position and peered into the cavity.

“Wow, there's a lot of unused space in here. And water.”

What?? Our boat is absolutely dry, even in the hardest rain and in big seas. Then I remembered that while Ryan in Trinidad was compounding the deck and cabin top he had the pressure on the hose turned up so hard that he forced water in around one of the windows. It must have dripped down through the vent into the very deep, empty cavity. Jack mopped up the couple of cups of water by dropping a sponge to the bottom, fishing it out with long tongs, wringing it out and dropping it in again.

So now the space is dry again, but the phone cord wasn't there. Eventually we cleared out the medicine cabinet, unscrewed an access panel and found where the phone cord and others we were tracing appeared from their journey under the freezer. From there we could work our way back through various conduits and liberate the wires from the bedroom, down the hallway, under the bathroom sink, behind the medicine cabinet, under the freezer to under the settee and out. Whew! Check “uninstall sat phone” off the list.


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Hello, goodbye

Tough choice. Stay in Trinidad and explore more and eat more doubles and roti, or sail back to Grenada where there are many boats we’ve become friends with. We took into account our medium range plans and in the end left Trinidad Friday night. By noon Saturday we were cleared in to Grenada and anchored in an uncharacteristically calm Prickly Bay. Our friends were in Hog island and Clarkes Court Bay but we took the rest of the day to veg out, wash the salt off the boat and catch up on blogging, Twitter, email, the news and Facebook. And sleep. Both Jack and I slept through the night for the first time in recent memory on water as calm as a pond.

We had a leisurely Sunday breakfast, unusual for a Formula 1 weekend. That’s because the race this week was in the US and not Europe so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and dinghy to whatever bar was showing it. In fact it wasn’t even shown live so we avoided any spoiler news until we could watch the tape delay screening at Clarkes Court Bay Marina a 6:30 pm where the usual suspects waited while Bob fired up his laptop and sent the SkySports stream to the TV over the bar.

Jack says he feels more comfortable here in Grenada, but looking around at our little band of international cruisers I can’t help but notice once again how insulated we are here from real life. These southern bays are populated by yachties and serviced by locals. I sense a great divide between the two, something I never felt in Trinidad. Granted, we didn’t get out much in Trindad, but I felt more warmth and openness and kinship from all the Trinis I had contact with. Maybe it’s just me. I like the Stones more than the Beatles. So sue me.

It’s good to see friends though, and we look forward to seeing the new friends we met in Trinidad when they make their way up here to Grenada. This is a crossroads. For some this is the end of the line and they head back up island from here, maybe back to the states for another season. Some are heading toward the western Caribbean, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica. Some will sail to the ABCs, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, then to Panama and the Canal. And some, like us, will go north to go south. After a lot of discussion we’ve made a tentative plan to spend most of December in Puerto Rico and sail for Panama after the first of the year. In this life the saying goes that plans are made in sand at low tide so everything is subject to change.

We know there are serious goodbyes in our near future and for that we’re sad. But we’re ready for the next phase of our adventure.

Start me up.


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The view from the side deck


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What the heck was that?

We dropped anchor in deserted Chacachacare Bay about an hour before sundown. Quiet, peaceful, deserted, just what the doctor ordered after the hubbub of Chaguaramas. I was starting to make dinner when Jack came up from the port hull and told me there’s a pump or a motor trying to run and he can’t find what it is. I followed him down below and listened.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

The shower sump, I thought. It always sounded to me like a fog horn. We opened up the bilge and listened.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

We weren’t sure the sound came directly from the sump but we took off the cover anyway. The switch was stuck and the whole thing needed cleaning which Jack did. That took about a minute and we screwed the lid back on.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

So that wasn’t it. What has changed? We have a new autopilot with some lingering wiring issues and a new Reverso pump on the generator, both of which are in the port hull. We checked both, sticking our heads into the engine compartment and into the forward locker where the generator lives.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

We could hear the sound but just couldn’t quite make out exactly where it was coming from. I had an idea maybe it’s an audible navigation aid. I checked the chart, looking in wider and wider circles for any buoy or marker with a sound signal. None.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

Out on deck we couldn’t hear a thing. It’s definitely in the boat.

“It’s about every minute,” Jack said. I also noticed that sometimes the sound was a little different.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm-mm.

We scratched our heads, turned off all the circuit breakers in the panel.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

“It’s going to be an annoying night,” I said. “It’s where we sleep.”

We had a beautiful dinner in the cockpit, enjoying life afloat again, watching our changing view as the tide changed. The boat swung about thirty degrees and we noticed that now the sound was coming from the starboard hull.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

Are you kidding me? We played the same game on that side, sticking our heads in the bilge, the engine room, the watermaker hatch, anywhere there are pumps and motors.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm-mm.

We accepted defeat and went to bed. Sometime during the night the sound stopped, and sometime during the night my subconscious logged a notion. Morse code. It sounds like Morse code. It’s been twelve years since I learned Morse for my ham license test and I couldn’t remember what da dit-dit was. It can wait until morning.

When I got up I dug out a Morse reference card.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm.

D. Delta. Keep clear.

Mmmmmm. Mm-mm-mm.

B. Bravo. Dangerous cargo.

Is it possible the ship we saw anchored way off in the distance the night before was emitting the required sound signals that we couldn’t hear with our ears but that were transmitted through our hull? Has anyone else had this experience?

And if that’s what it was, what was the dangerous cargo on the ship??


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Perishable skills

I was up in the cockpit riding Escape Velocity’s backwards launch into Chaguaramas Bay when I remembered that Catnip, our long suffering dingy, wasn’t tied to the boat any longer but was left tied to the dingy dock a short swim away. One of the launch crew jumped in, swam over and towed her back to EV. 20131117-093909.jpg20131117-093958.jpg

In my defense I’d like to point out that starting the engines on land was on my mind, problematic because without a small specialized tool called ear muffs which in our case we have not got, caused this step to be skipped. I’d added fuel line cut-off valves to aid in changing fuel filters, changed oil, filters, and impellers all of which you’d want to check before launch. Any one of these half dozen or so projects could cause havoc while launching but with fingers crossed, remaining calm and carrying on, we trundle backwards into the bay. But for the want of a nail, etc. etc. Once we were partially in the water we found out that the port engine was sucking air and wouldn’t start properly leaving some impressive white clouds of smoke. The launch crew looked askance. After a quick trip down to the engine room I could at least get it started. We serenely slipped into the bay and gave the new autopilot a short test drive. I don’t know why they all work fine in the harbor, but the engine wasn’t smoking at least. The holding in Chaguaramas anchorage is notoriously poor and it’s crowded, busy, and deep. It’s a bad combination. We’d had good luck up till now but after three attempts we finally found something to hook onto down there. 20131117-094019.jpg20131117-094920.jpg

Another trip down to the inner sanctum revealed shoddy workmanship and the reuse of bad hose clamps on my fancy new fuel line cutoff system. Heads will roll. We decided to give EV a short shakedown cruise over to uninhabited Chacachacare Island which used to be a Leper colony until 1984, formerly a sugar and cotton plantation and military base. It’s unoccupied now. It’s crazy to think of World War II being fought down here but Chaguaramas has only recovered a few hundred of the thousands of water mines that were deployed to try to stop German U-boats from gaining access to the shipping in the harbor. Many sunken wrecks litter the bottom of the harbor.

I was feeling a little nervous because the white smoking engine was now emitting black smoke and overheating. Pulling into Chacachacare Bay on one engine was really spooky. No other boats, no people, just the second highest lighthouse in the world, water so clear that I could lean over and see the anchor thirty feet down, trees, ruins, and thousands of soaring birds that looked a lot like vultures. If you’d ever played that computer game Myst you know the feeling. 20131117-101639.jpg20131117-094106.jpg

We’d heard that there was a path from a beach somewhere that led to the lighthouse somewhere, that is so high that you can clearly see Venezuela from its heights. That’s as close as we’re getting to Venezuela because the couple on the boat anchored in front of us in Chaguaramas was boarded, pistol whipped and robbed by five thugs five miles off the Venezuelan coast the day before. 20131117-101710.jpg

Now, dear Escapees, I’d like to report here that after Marce sussed out where she thought the path up the mountain might be, which was a mile across the bay we immediately scampered right up, but in all good conscience I have to say that it was a near thing. The thing looked like Alpe d’Huez with switchbacks, false summits and disturbing swishing sounds emanating right above our heads like those crazy guys with those flying suits that go whizzing past you so fast that all you’re left with is, “what the hell was that?” The island is said to be haunted, what with leprosey and all, and Marce read that a nun committed suicide in the chapel which we didn’t even know about at the time.


It took about an hour what with all the stopping under any patch of shade on the path and there wasn’t much of it, believe me. It was a hot one and we had a rather full dance card that day so after chasing the vultures guarding the lighthouse we took in that magnificent view of Venezuela and gave the place back to the buzzing buzzards and started down. 20131117-100047.jpg


I never saw any wildlife so what are all those hundreds of vultures living on? Beats me but we sure were relieved to see Escape Velocity after rounding the last bight of land. Beautiful but creepy place. 20131117-094049.jpg

One month on the hard definitely diluted some of our perishable skills and remembering the passagemaking skills before making the passage seems to be the way to go. But why start now?

That’s life, finally back on the water.

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