Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

This will be our last opportunity to make a posting for awhile. We arrived on Tortola on the 21st of December, as scheduled. The marina was surprised we got out of Europe, but Z├╝rich airport is usually able to cope very well with winter weather.

Esther joined us on Wednesday morning and announced that she had work to do, so not to expect her to emerge from her computer until late yesterday. This was a "good thing", as she has been waiting for her "pro bono" assignments to kick in.

We have spent the last few days sorting out the boat (we left her in rather a hurry in November), fresh food provisioning, and of course, cleaning. We also installed our new outboard on the tender, and are waiting for a part so we can stow the motor on board while not in use. We hope to leave today for Norman Island and then will meander east to get to Virgin Gorda for New Year's Eve.

The weather promises to be fantastic, temperatures in the low-mid 80's (30C) in the day, mid-70's at night. Winds promise to be fair as well.

We'll try and get some pictures to put in the next post. Until then, happy holidays. posted by Gretchen

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Heading Back to the Caribbean

We are enjoying our few weeks in Switzerland, with lots of wintry weather and beautiful views of snow-capped mountains. But we'll be heading back to the tropics in a few days, and really looking forward to an extended period of cruising.

Esther, our daughter, will be joining us for three weeks, including the holidays. Her flight home is booked from St. Croix, so that will be a new sailing destination for us. We are starting off on the wrong foot financially, by staying in an expensive marina for several days. But there are very limited anchoring possibilities on St. Croix. Gretchen has visited the island with her mother, and has several ideas for off-the-boat activities.

We mapped out a very general itinerary for our winter in the Caribbean, and hope that this will let us meet up with friends once or twice. Basically, our schedule will be something like:

January: St. Martin, St. Barts, Saba
February: St. Kitts, Antigua, Guadeloupe
March: Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia
April: St. Vincent, Grenadines, Grenada

All subject to change based on weather and whim. The only things that are fixed are at the beginning (Jan 10 on St. Croix) and the end (in Grenada by mid-April).

With this timeline, we can afford to spend something like a week on each island, which should give us time to get to know the island, maybe do a little volunteer work, and just relax in the sun.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Passage from Virginia to Tortola, British Virgin Islands

We completed our passage from Virginia to the British Virgin Islands some days ago. After resting up, and enjoying time with our families in Michigan and New York, it is time to record some of the highlights of the trip.

At the start, we were worried about the traffic jam that would occur when 70 boats all tried to leave the marina at the same time. After some discussion, we decided to leave our slip on Sunday night, fill our fuel tanks, and then anchor in the river near the marina. That way, we could raise our anchor and be off the next morning, without playing bumper-boats.

We weighed anchor shortly after 8:00 am, and this got us to the area of the rally starting-line around 10:00, an hour before the official start time. This was OK because we were in the cruising class, and no records of our passage time were being kept. We saw several cargo and Navy vessels on our way out of Chesapeake Bay, but we stayed outside the official channel and had no difficulty avoiding them.

Once the passage starts, you are really independent and have to be self-reliant. We got a direct lesson in self-reliance the afternoon of the first day out. We had been sailing with our mainsail reefed (part of the sail gathered up on the boom), because the winds were fairly strong. During the afternoon, the winds became lighter and we decided to shake out the reef, and return to our full sail area. This involves loosening lines that gather up the extra sail, and then tightening the halyard, the line that raises the sail to the top of the mast.

When tightening the halyard, the motor on the electric winch began to work really hard. I thought that this was just caused by friction between the sail and the mast. But no, it was something else – a fold of the sail had caught on a fitting on the mast. It was on the far side of the sail, and completely hidden by the boom. So, RIPPPPPP, and we suddenly had a large tear along the front of the sail.

Our expert crew was quickly able to make a temporary repair. Fortunately, I had purchased some basic sail repair materials before the trip. Andy (our professional skipper) and Christian (a neighbor from Switzerland) used temporary lines to keep the luff rope tight, and sewed on a patch. This repair held through the rest of our voyage.

The wind built up again, and we soon had the sail reefed again, which took all of the strain off the patch. Wind and waves continued to be strong for the next several days, and we sailed with the first and often the second reef in the mainsail for much of the trip.

During the passage, it is important for someone to be on watch 24 hours a day. There are cargo ships and cruise ships to be avoided, and changes in wind speed and direction require adjustments to the sails.

We started with a three-hour watch schedule. Gretchen was uncomfortable being on watch by herself, so she shared a watch with Aaron, our son. The rest of us were on watch by ourselves. That meant a total of four watch crews, or a 3-hour on/9-hour off watch schedule. We modified this by planning two 1.5 hour watches during the middle of the day. The crew members who had the shorter watches were responsible for cooking and cleaning up our main meal of the day. Because of these “dog watches,” the watch schedule rotated from day to day, so no one got stuck having the 3:00 am watch all the time.

We had been advised by the weather forecasters to sail more south than east for the first part of the trip. There was a strong low pressure system stalled near Bermuda, and taking this course would help us avoid the worst of the winds and waves from this storm.

This strategy meant that we passed quite close to Cape Hatteras during the first night of the voyage. With strong winds and relatively shallow water near the Cape, the wave action was very chaotic and unpleasant for a few hours. In these conditions, the boat bounces around unpredictably, which makes it hard work just to sit or lie down in one place, let alone move about the boat. Once we got further offshore, the deeper water helped things smooth out a bit.

After passing by Cape Hatteras, it was time to cross the Gulf Stream. This is a “river” of water that flows mostly northeast through the Atlantic, with strong currents. If the wind is from the wrong direction, you can encounter very steep and dangerous waves. Part of the delay in starting the rally was to ensure that the wind was from a favorable direction for the Gulf Stream crossing.

We entered the Gulf Stream sometime after midnight, and had a very uneventful crossing. The air temperature rose several degrees immediately after entering the stream, and our overall speed dropped because of the adverse current. There is a pretty distinct boundary on the North/West edge of the Gulf Stream, but it is much less distinct on the South/East edge. I would estimate that we were completely out of the Gulf Stream by mid-morning on Tuesday.

The next several days were simply great sailing. The wind was strong, and from behind the boat. We sailed very fast (for a sailboat of our size), maintaining consistent speeds of 8.5 knots and often faster when sailing down the front of waves. It was very common to see speeds above 9 knots, and not unusual to see speeds above 10 knots. There were a few very exciting (and somewhat scary) moments when we saw 14 or 15 knots on the speedometer. Usually when this happened, we made a sail change to slow down the boat a bit (much to Christian’s dismay). At such high speeds, there is a risk of losing control of the boat.

We saw slowly rising temperatures over the first 4-5 days of the trip.
This was welcome, since we all had felt chilled at the beginning of the trip. By the middle of the voyage, we were all in t-shirts and shorts, and even less clothes by the end of the trip.

During this period, we found the wind was almost directly behind us when we sailed toward our destination. This is not ideal, because it puts the boat at risk of a “crash gybe,” where the boom moves suddenly and violently across the boat. We experimented with a variety of approaches to deal with this, sometimes sailing at an angle from our direct course, sometimes sailing with just a headsail and no mainsail. Probably our best sail combination was with the mainsail furled, the genoa held out to one side using the boom, and the solent sail rigged to the other side on the whisker pole. This was a bit complicated to set up, but gave us a very balanced rig that was easy to steer.

About midday on the fourth day of our passage, we got another lesson in self-reliance. Until that time, we had relied almost completely on our autopilot to steer the boat. That meant that the person on watch could be out of the weather, could read or listen to music, could take a few minutes to use the toilet, etc. Suddenly, however, our autopilot quit working. Everything looked normal on the control panel, but it wouldn’t steer the boat. At all.

This meant that we needed to have someone steering 24/7 for the rest of the trip. Especially when the waves are high, this is hard work and three-hour watches were no longer feasible. So Andy worked out a new watch schedule, with two-hour watches. By this point, Gretchen was much more confident of her skills, and she immediately agreed to do solo watches. With five of us steering, we had a 2-hour on/8-hour off schedule, which was very manageable. We kept the dog watches at mid-day for cooking and cleaning.

Watchkeeping when hand steering is a very different experience. At the wheel, you are more exposed to wind and spray. You can’t read. You can’t go to the toilet unless someone helps you.

But what was the option? I was impressed because everyone just took the change in stride, no grumbling or complaining at all.

On Sunday, the wind and waves had decreased significantly, and the temperature was quite warm. It was time for a swim! We turned into the wind, so that the sails worked against each other (this is called “heaving to”), and the boat nearly came to a stop. Then splash! into the water. According to the chart, we were in water about 5000 meters (16,500 feet) deep. But I guess anything more than 2 meters deep is too deep to stand up in. The boat was still moving slowly ahead at about 1 knot, so nobody went too far away. The water was warm and very refreshing. We all took the opportunity to wash bodies and hair.

We had acquired some fishing tackle before we departed, and by the middle of the voyage we were ambitious enough to try it out. Ocean fishing is not sporting at all. No rod or reel. The fishing line is very strong (200 lb test), and tied directly to the boat. The lures and fish hooks are huge.

The first few days of fishing, using a couple of different lures, we had no luck at all. Then I heard on the SSB radio that some people were having success with pink lures. One of the lures we had purchased was a combination of bright blue and pink. We had only two days before the end of our passage. Why not give it a shot?

After a few hours of trolling, finally success! We caught a nice Mahi-Mahi (also known as Dorado). We pulled the fishing line in hand over hand, and pulled the fish onto the platform at the stern of the boat. Aaron put on his sea boots, and stood on the fish to keep it from flopping off the boat. The recommended way to kill a big fish like this is to pour vodka into its gills. We had purchased some cheap vodka for this very purpose (it was the only alcohol on board), and found that it worked well, but that it took more than we had expected. Andy gave Aaron a lesson in filleting a fish, and we soon had VERY fresh Mahi in our freezer. Gretchen and Andy made a ceviche for an appetizer to eat the next day.

The last full day of the trip, we had more luck. A very nice Wahoo took the bait only minutes after setting up the fishing gear. This time Gretchen was the designated fish executioner, and she chose to cut the fish into steaks. We had some of these for dinner soon thereafter – delicious!

With about two days to go, we started to calculate potential arrival times. We didn’t want to arrive at Tortola in the middle of the night. The wind had pretty much died, and we had started to use our engine. This gave us complete control over our speed, and we decided to slow down enough that we could arrive shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, November 16. By this time the waves were much reduced, and steering was a lot easier.

On the final night of the journey, Aaron was on watch when the lights of the Virgin Islands appeared over the horizon. My watch was next, and I watched the lights slowly rise higher, and as the sky began to lighten with the sunrise, got the first glimpse of land. Watching the mountains rise above the horizon, and the details of the landscape become clear was an experience I will always treasure.

For the last few miles, we had one of the other rally boats, Patriche
, sailing near us. We noted that they had their sails up, and decided we would come into port in style, sailing instead of motoring.
That slowed us down enough that Patriche II beat us into the harbor, but it was still the right decision. Finally, almost exactly 8 days after our departure, we arrived in the harbor at Soper’s Hole, Tortola, picked up a mooring, and were attached to the Earth once more.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Satellite Tracking

Our satellite transponder is now installed, and you can see our location updated every four hours or so.

The link is

Find our boat name (Callisto) in the list on the left. You can click the little arrow to the right of the boat name to get details.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oh No!!!!

The rally organizers are delaying the trip again! Latest estimate is Monday, Nov 8.

This is starting to cause serious problems with flight schedules, etc. It is the longest delay in the history of the rally. This is the first time in 21 years that there has been an active hurricane at the scheduled start.

We DO NOT want to sail into a hurricane! Or a Northeaster, for that matter.

But sitting here on pins and needles for so long is very irksome.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Waiting to Start

We are sitting in a Marina in Hampton, VA, with the boat nearly ready to go, but just found that the start of the rally will be delayed. There is weather offshore that the organizers think is not suitable. We do not know if the delay will be 1 day, 2 days, or more.

Once the event starts, we will have a satellite transponder on board. To watch our progress, follow these instructions:

Go to You will see a blue box in the middle of the page that says "Follow the Fleet of the 21st Caribbean 1500." In the box you will see "Positions" Click on that link.

This brings you to a page that has the boats divided into groups. Look for "Cruising Class 7" and click on the link.

You will then see a map, and a list of boats down the left. Click on the yellow box to the left of "Callisto" to see us highlighted on the map (not much to see yet). You can click on the little arrow to the right of "Callisto" to get some more details, and even more if you click on "details."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It starts now

We're leaving early tomorrow on the adventure of our lives. We travel by plane to Washington, spend a few days of preparation in Virginia, and then head offshore about Nov. 1. The weather forecasts are unreliable this far in advance, but still positive. VERY excited.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Event Tracker

Hi Everyone,

We will be leaving about November 1 on a 1400 mile passage from Virginia to the British Virgin Islands. We will be one of about 80 boats all traveling at the same time, as part of an event called the Caribbean 1500 Rally. Some of the boats will be racing, but many (including us) are not being timed.

As part of the event, we will be loaned a satellite device that sends a message with our location every four hours or so. You will be able to see a map of our path and current location on the internet, and I wanted to give some instructions on how to get to the map. This is a little bit generic, since the internet site isn’t available until the rally starts.

First, go to the Rally main site at Once the voyage starts, there will be a prominent box at the top of the page that says "All about the Caribbean 1500" with three buttons under it that say “News,” ”Photos,” and “Positions”. If you click on “Positions,” you will able to input the name of our boat, Callisto, to see our latest location.

We don’t have any way to share photos during the trip, but we will be in daily radio contact with the rally organizers, so we could get mentioned in the news.

We are getting really excited about the trip. I have been watching the weather closely for a while. We are hoping for highs in the 60s when we leave, and steadily warmer as we head south. The rally will start the morning of November 1, unless the weather is bad. In past years, the rally has started 1-5 days later than the planned dates in about half the years.

If all goes well, we’ll be lounging in the islands 8-10 days after we depart.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gretchen´s post from the Chesapeake Bay trip day 18

We are settling into good routines on the boat, and have been practicing many sailing maneuvers to get them set into our muscle memory as well as our heads.   We confirmed the reefing points on the mainsail and reefed/unreefed, then reefed again on our journey from the Corsica River back under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the way to our second overnight on Weems Creek in Annapolis.  Reefing is the term used to describe shortening the sails, so there is less sail area available for the wind to push.  Reefing helps keep the boat “on an even keel”.   Callisto is rigged to allow us to manipulate the reefing lines from inside the cockpit (safety first!) and we are feeling confident after our practice and “live fire” sessions.
Our meal planning seems to have worked out pretty well.  We have been able to stock up on fresh veggies about every five days.  The refrigerator is working hard, but managing to keep cold things cold and vegetables fresh, not frozen…We have been cooking “double” helpings of main courses so that on every other day we don´t need to have the oven or stove on too long in the heat.  We have also had our fair share of cold entrees, main course salads, etc, something we haven´t had as part of our usual meal rotation at home.  We have only eaten three meals off the boat, in the 18 days since we departed Deltaville.   This is a bit of surprise to us, but has to do mainly with our desire to be in very quiet locations at night, far from towns or marinas.  More on that later…

Monday, July 26, 2010

Finally back on Callisto

We have finally found our way back to the boat, after a grueling time sorting through 35 years worth of "stuff" that was in storage in NJ.  It was more than 100 F for many of the days we were working, and the only fun part was when it was over.  Much better to be back on the water (though still very HOT).

In Deltaville, we had the unexpected treat of sharing the marina with the Optimist Dinghy National Regatta.  Around 300 kids participated, from novices to budding America's Cup sailors, and ranging in age from pre-teens to early teens.  Here are a couple of photos:

We left Deltaville on Callisto on Friday, July 23, and then the adventures began.  Our first job was to get out of the marina.  We were in a very tight slip, with very little room to turn, and a stiff cross-wind.  We got out OK, but managed to knock a brand-new piece of safety gear off the stern rail and into the creek -- gone forever.

The next step was to get out of Jackson Creek and into Chesapeake Bay.  There is a winding channel, indicated by green and red daymarks.  We made this transit many times last year without difficulty, but this time we got a few feet off the correct course, and felt the boat slide to a stop in the mud (more encounters with the bottom coming below).  Luckily, we were able to put the boat into reverse and slide ourselves back into the channel.

We sailed when we could, and motored when the wind was too light, towards Mill Creek off the Great Wicomoco river.  This was also our first stop last year, and it's a great place located a convenient distance from Deltaville.  There is also quite a lengthy approach through the channel into the creek, and while we were very seriously concentrating on this, we were distracted by a pod of dolphins.  Sorry, no photos, but there was quite a number of them, leaping out of the water parallel to Callisto and playing in our bow wave.  Babies, too.  Several times they smacked their tails into the surface of the water, to make a big sound.  Too bad we had to pay attention to our route!  Unfortunately, not quite enough attention.  We bumped the bottom again, swinging a bit too wide in the channel.  We were again able to use reverse to back off the shoal, but it took 2-3 tries before we were in clear water.

Next stop was the Coan River, a tributary of the Potomac.  We had a nice relaxing sail, a broad reach in winds from 5-10 knots.  Only one gybe (turning the back of the boat through the wind) the whole day.  At 5:30 we still had several miles to go, and motored the rest of the way.  Like most of these creeks and rivers, there is a winding channel on the way in.  This one is well marked -- maybe too well marked.

After winding around several marks and buoys, we came to a place with three markers in a line.  The first and third of these markers were green navigation marks.  In the US, green means you must stay to the right to stay in the channel.  The center marker simply said "Danger."  It seemed logical to us that we should steer clear of that mark!  Big mistake.

The correct route through the channel was to stay very close to all three marks.  We saw several large powerboats do just that as we waited, stuck fast in the mud that our keel found by swinging too wide of the marks.

One of the powerboats asked if we needed help, told us that there was a volunteer rescue service in the area, and asked if we wanted them to call the service.  "Yes!" we thankfully replied.  In about a half hour, a boat with three men showed up. We tied line to act as a bridle to the back of the boat, they tied that line to their boat, and tried to pull us off.  No joy.  Another fast powerboat tried making a big wake, but still no good.  Finally, a third powerboat took a line from the top of our mast out to the side, and heeled (tipped) our boat to the side, thus putting the keel on an angle and with less effective draft.  With yet another big wake, we were finally off.  The 7 or 8 spectator boats that had showed up all cheered. (so did we).

The Smith Point Rescue Service is a great organization.  They and the two other powerboaters who helped got a big "Thank You" from us.  We also made a voluntary donation to the SPRS, and were happy to do so.

The adventures continue.  We left the Coan River on July 25, and sailed to Solomons Island in Maryland.  This is a big yachting center, with many marinas and an unbelievable number of boats of all types and sizes.  We had a lovely sail, winds 10-15 knots on a broad reach for much of the day (this being the Chesapeake, there were a couple of hours of obligatory motoring).  Just as we approached the harbor, a thunderstorm started through the area.  Not much lightning or rain, but strong gusty winds above 30 knots (Beaufort 7).  We had the sails down well before the storm hit, and were very happy with the Outbound's ability to stay on track even at slow speeds in such conditions.  We had arranged to pick up a mooring ball in the harbor.  Picking up the pendant from the mooring ball in strong gusty winds was not easy, to say the least.  It took us about 10 tries to get the boat stopped close enough to the mooring for Gretchen to safely pick up the pendant line and get it attached to the boat.  When I finally got the boat close enough for her to do this, she got a spa treatment from the mud on the pendant.

This was great practice for our upcoming time in the Caribbean, where mooring balls are common and the winds are often strong.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Its been a busy (and expensive) spring and early summer.  The boatyard at Deltaville, VA, finally got into high gear and made terrific progress on our three main projects for this year:

1.  Installing solar panels, so that we can avoid running the engine to charge our batteries

2.  Installing a second chart plotter at the helm.  We learned last summer that weaving into twisty channels on the Chesapeake required way too many trips down to the navigation station to be safe.

3. The big luxury, a watermaker.  This takes seawater, with all of its salt, and turns it into fresh, drinkable water.  In the places we plan to sail, we should always be able to buy water at reasonable prices, so economically this doesn't really make sense.  But the convenience factor, not having to plan a stop for water every few days, makes it worth while.

Here are a few pictures of the results of the projects:

Friday, March 26, 2010

We're heading offshore!

We're headed for the Caribbean!  Not until November, after the hurricane season, but we are already working on plans and schedules for the trip.

Skip Pond, the agent for Outbound Yachts that helped us through the purchase process, is an experienced delivery captain.  He has agreed to join us for the trip, which is important because neither Gretchen or I have enough experience to make this a safe trip.  He has a colleague, also with extensive offshore experience, who will also join us.

The trip will take around eight days.  We have decided to join the Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally for the trip.  This is an organized group of boats, all leaving at the same time from Norfolk, VA.  Most years they have 75 or more boats participating, and they've been doing this for more than 20 years.  We get a lot of assistance with preparation, weather forecasts before and during the trip, etc.  In addition, they provide a satellite device that will automatically upload our position to the Internet every four hours.  That way our family and friends can watch our progress.

The Rally requires an extensive list of safety equipment, most of which we would want to have anyway, so we're busy doing research on brands, models, and prices.  We probably won't buy much until we're in the US in July.

Very exciting, and just a bit scary.