11 December 2016


Most mornings commence in a similar pattern... awake with only the morning sun through the hatch as an alarm, prepare a pot of deep brown coffee with the french press (no electric coffee maker available, of course), relax in the cockpit sipping the dark brew and take in the surroundings.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Sometimes there is a cooling breeze while the sun remains low in the sky, other times the heat and humidity blanket is felt immediately having never quite lifted during the night, at other times there is a passing shower or thunderhead. Ahhhh.... exhale. Most mornings but not all... sometimes prohibitive conditions make even preparing coffee impossible (more to come on this below).

I love the mornings at anchor. Coffee, some reading, writing, a swim, bathing in the salt water.

Dominica - The Most Unspoiled of the Caribbean Islands

Although our initial landing in the Caribbean after the off shore from Bermuda was the lovely island of Antigua, this blog chapter begins with the beautiful island of Dominica (accent on third syllable), or Dominique as also called due to her French history, or Wai'tu Kubuli (which means "tall is her body"). Dominica should not be confused with the much larger country of Dominican Republic 400nm to the northwest.

Dominica is rugged and dramatic. Her mountainous composition forces a ripple in the easterly trade winds. As the warm air is forced up along the mountain sides, the higher altitudes form frequent clouds and brief but intense rainstorms. The regular rainfall and unspoiled landscape give rise to seemingly endless rain forests as well as hundreds of rivers. Dominica has many hot springs and the world's second larges boiling lake (which was unfortunately closed to visitors currently) as well as many rare bird and plant species. It is a nature lover's paradise.
Our sail to Dominica directly from Antigua consisted of 100nm initially at about 190 degrees then shifting to 160 degrees as we passed Guadeloupe off to port. We decided to tackle our first Caribbean hop rather aggressively by departing Antigua one Friday afternoon in late November, sailing overnight largely in the lee of Guadeloupe, arriving in Prince Rupert Bay Portsmouth, Dominica at daybreak Saturday. The initial leg between Antigua and Guadeloupe was choppy and we were surprised that our normally strong stomachs were not feeling so well. At about 0200 in the dark of night we were asking ourselves why we ever decided to make our first Caribbean run a long overnighter as we counted down the hours to daybreak. (Most Caribbean island sailing consists of 10-40nm hops from harbor to harbor or island to island.) This was a difficult sail for much of the passage and we welcomed the approach to Dominica at first light.

The sail from English Harbor Antigua to Prince Rupert Bay Dominica was fast - 100nm in less than 15 hours, but also difficult much of the way. The open waters between Antigua and Guadeloupe were choppy, then we experienced the variable winds created by the mountains of Guadeloupe off to our port causing swift wind shifts and, as the night progressed, frequent squalls with bursts of 30 kt winds. This sailing leg felt more like an off shore passages than a leisurely island hop. We decided after this passage that we will stick to shorter day trips and harbor jumping for a while.
Plenty of heavy weather on our 100nm sail south from Antigua to Dominica. Dominica is the southern most of the chain of Leeward Islands (some consider it the northern most Windward Islands) and will be our most southern latitude during our Caribbean journey. This may mean a return trip to explore the Windward Islands in the future

European colonization of Dominica happened later than with most of the other islands in this region of the world, perhaps initially being considered too rugged to be of interest. French eventually inhabited the island in the late 1600's hence the continued common creole cuisine and sprinkling of french language. The British eventually took over in the late 1700's and, having abolished slavery in all their territories (except India) in the 1830's, Dominica became an island of refuse for many slaves from neighboring islands in the 1800's.

Dominica is the most mountainous of all the islands in the expansive Lesser Antilles range. Much of its nearly 300 square miles is a protected natural park including extensive rain forests and mountains. Dominica has many waterfalls and hot springs and a whopping 365 rivers! There are few predator species on the island and no large mammals.

Until fairly recently, Dominica had a surly reputation with cruisers due to crime and pollution throughout the two main harbor cities (north in Portsmouth and south in Roseau). Several years ago, however, an organization was formed called PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) to provide security as well as tours, local information, and other services to visiting yachts. Working with one of the many "PAYS certified" Dominicans proved to ensure we had a fantastic stay.

One of the several PAYS boats that provide security, tours and overall great support for visiting cruisers.

It has become part of our routine upon setting anchor to snorkel to check the placement. The clear waters allow for great visibility and assurance that the anchor is holding well and there are not nearby risks to fouling.


Customs procedures is different for every country. The cruising guidebook provides some helpful information as does noonsite.com. For Dominica, the customs office is closed on weekends thus our Saturday arrival required me to go to the home of someone who acts as a contractor for the customs official. (But I did not know this at the time.) A PAYS guide (who I had just met 2 minutes prior and was pretty sure he was legit) wisked me away quickly from Argon towards the south side of the bay and walked me through some intimidating gates, down a deserted broken concrete passage way, to a weathered concrete building with no obvious activity around. (I kept telling myself "I can trust these PAYS guys" but I admit I was a tad uncomfortable). I was brought up to the second floor of an apartment building when my PAYS friend knocked on its door several times, obviously waking up whoever was inside on this early Saturday morning, and then told me to wait a few minutes while he went off. Eventually a sleepy eyed, friendly young man gave me papers to complete outside his apartment door on a table with toys, then I was summoned inside to the one room apartment where he checked Argon's documentation, our passports, and I paid him. Whoops.... he needed cash and I did not have enough EC on hand! But by this time my PAYS friend, Daniel, had returned and he lent me the needed money! All was well and I felt ridiculous for ever feeling uneasy.

Unconventional, weekend version of the customs office for check in clearance. Although strange and initially disconcerting to be lead to a back roads concrete residential building, it was ultimately fairly easy. Dominica also does not require a separate checkout upon departure for short stays, which is very convenient.

Land Exploration

We found Dominica quite intriguing and fantastic on land (not so much on the water... see further below). Portsmouth is the town on Prince Rupert Bay and the second largest city in Dominica, next to the capital of Roseau at the southern end of the island. There is a mixture of French and English spoken (the local dialect can be challenging to understand for my naive ears, even when English is being spoken) and the currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar (about 2.7EC to 1USD). People were extremely friendly and seemed to welcome cruisers. The buildings are seemingly haphazard; amenities and commodities are very rudimentary. This is clearly third world lacking any sign of abundance except for the never ending fresh fruit.

Open local produce market along the main strip in Portsmouth. I initially was accidentally offended a couple of vendors when I tried to negotiate on the price. Whoops. I soon learned that this was not the way here and I felt a tad ashamed.

Fresh coconut milk being poured in the market.

Busy town dock.

Dozens of small, simple fishing boats bring their daily catch to the main concrete dock in Portsmouth.

Alexis, one of the PAYS guys, guided us up the enchanting Indian River. Scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean II were shot here.

Alexis from PAYS arranged for Robert (aka Bob) to take us to explore the Syndicate rain forest and waterfall. Robert was a complete joy to spend the day with sharing his knowledge and experiences. Dominica has strict requirements for their certified tour guides who must be very knowledgeable about the island's history and plant & animal species.
The Syndicate rain forest is part of Morne Diabolitin National Park and is filled with the gigantic Gommier trees (dacryodes excelsa).

Enjoying freshly picked and peeled grapefruit along the path. Robert also found and gathered cinnamon, sage, basil, lemon grass and thyme. We were able to use the spices in our cooking on the boat during the following days.

Yes, we really swung on long vines across a river!

In addition to the beauty of the rain forest, it was surprisingly serene. Only two other hikers were passed over several hours as we made our way eventually to a waterfall.
Restaurant options with good local food seemed to be scarce perhaps partially due to it being a bit prior to the real tourist season. But we experienced some eclectic places.

We joined the PAYS sponsored beach BBQ Sunday night with grilled fish and chicken and very strong rum punch along with a reggae band.

My PAYS friend, Daniel. Daniel helped me with the unconventional customs check in upon arrive our first morning.

Very funky beach bar and WiFi by Felix who also displays his beautiful art inside.

View of Argon anchored in the distance across a calm Prince Rupert Bay with a bottle of Presidente beer in the foreground from Sandy's beach bar. Unbeknownst to us, this calm water would soon be changing.

Experimenting muddling various local fresh fruits for some yummy beverages on board. Yes, there was rum in addition to the club soda!

But All Was Not Well in Paradise... 

The initially serene anchorage became very uncomfortable as some weather far off to the southwest produced some waves that rolled easily into Prince Rupert Bay. The two and a half mile wide bay opening offers no protection from seas with a westerly component.  The relatively constant trade winds had the boats pointing mostly south-east which put these rollers on our sides causing some pretty dramatic rolling side to side.

After a sleepless night and no sign of the conditions easing up, we decided to deploy a stern anchor using our Fortress 23 (which is perhaps one size too big for this purpose but manageable with the dinghy) to keep us somewhat pointing into these waves. The stern anchor helped a bit, however, when a squall would come through with an associated burst of high winds from a different direction, our stern anchor either held us parallel to the rollers not allowing us to swing with the changing winds, or other boats would swing too close to us and we needed to redeploy.

This two and a half minute video shows a bit of the conditions leading us to deploy the stern anchor in an attempt to keep Argon perpendicular to the rollers. Needless to say, no relaxing morning coffee in the cockpit! Conditions "improved?" when we moved to the southern part of the harbor but not enough for us to stick around.

Along with a handful of other boats, we decided to move to the southern part of the large harbor which seemed like it might offer some protection from the rollers, however, we would be outside the protection zone of our PAYS friends. At first, we got some relief from the rolling but we continued to experience squalls. In addition, we were unsure if it was safe to leave the boat unattended in this part of the harbor which is out of range of PAYS oversight. Later, the rollers started coming in from slightly more north and this part of the harbor no longer provided any protection from them.  After two days of these rolling conditions, we reluctantly cut our time in Dominica short, hauled anchor, and set sail for the french islands of Les Saintes 24nm north which would offer more protection.

Good bye Dominica!

Although we were disappointed to limit our time in Dominica to less than four days, we were to soon be anchoring in an unexpectedly gorgeous and relaxing harbor off Terre-de-Haut, part of the french islands of Les Saintes. Dominica was our southern most stop on this journey; we now begin leisurely exploration and island hoping northward for the next few months.

23 November 2016

Ocean Passage: Bermuda to Antigua

Let's get this out in the open right off the bat.  I'm a chicken. There, I said it.  Having made it successfully from Hampton, Virginia in the USofA to St. George's Bermuda, I felt a great sense of relief. I also felt a great sense of gratitude to our friend Lance Ryley for being our third crew.  Lance has more experience than both Linda and I combined and so it was a great peace of mind factor having him along.  I tend to have more than a little trouble sleeping the nights leading up to one of these passages.

Bob Damiano

The trip south from Bermuda to the Caribbean (Antigua) is much longer... 40% longer. Many people will say that it's usually easier and safer too. There is no gulf stream to deal with and once you get down into the trades, things are usually pretty stable. Still, it's 950 freakin' nautical miles! (that's 1092 statute miles in dog years).  I come from New England (motto: don't like the weather?  wait five minutes), and I was supposed to trust a weather window that would last for six days??

What's the worst that could happen? Don't get me started

Stopping off in Bermuda is tricky.  Often times, you will be changing crew at this stop which can get complicated.  Our original planned third crew had to bow out and we did not know this until we were in Bermuda. We immediately started looking for alternatives, asking people back in Boston, sending out queries on various crew finder websites and ultimately having Linda go out and network along the docks in Bermuda.  It was the dockside networking that ultimately landed our third crew person.  The tricky part is that if you have to fly someone in, you will likely, eat up some of your weather window (or fly him in too early and have your window fizzle out).  Either way, this can lead to going when you shouldn't go. It actually worked out very well for us to hire someone locally since he only need to drive to the boat and hop on! And so it was that Captain Andrew "Smitty" Smith joined Argon for our leg south.

With Smitty on Argon's bow shortly before departure from Bermuda.

On both of these long open ocean legs (and some previous shorter stints offshore), we had a fourth virtual crew person. Like I do for my own job, this one worked remotely (from his office in Camden, Maine).  Ken McKinley from Locus Weather was our weather router for all of these passages. He did an amazing job at helping us decide when to jump and what to expect. He never over or under-sold the weather to us. We got pretty much what we expected every time.

Once we had Smitty lined up and what looked like a good window, my sleep improved a bit. The plan was to depart on the afternoon of Friday Nov 11 just after a front (and some lingering squalls) passed.  We expected to have a bumpy night the first night but then a pretty nice ride after that. As it turned out, this prediction really did hold for the six days (and beyond).

Lending a Helping Hand

A few days before we departed, a 47' Beneteau came in to the customs dock during some particularly high winds.  They wanted to tie up on the wall behind us but the woman from the Yachting Center came running out and shooed them away saying that spot was reserved.  Winds were forecast to get near gale force later and their only option was to go out in the anchorage. After hearing some about their very rough passage (especially the previous night where they suffered two knockdowns!), we let them raft up to us.

And in the Small World department, we knew one of the crew from stateside - Linda Allen - from Blue Water Sailing Club. 

Linda and Linda rafted up in Bermuda,
Blue Water Sailing Club sailboats rafted up, waiting for the winds to build later.

Final Departure Prep

On Thursday, Smitty took Linda to a grocery store for a final provisioning run. I stayed around and did final prep stuff and inspection on the boat. On Friday morning, we got our final detailed forecast including this recommendation:

Recommendation is to depart as planned this afternoon.
Conditions are likely to be a bit better than was anticipated yesterday, and favorable wind direction is likely throughout the passage.
Lighter wind speeds during the second half of the passage may lead to slower boat speed, and this may lead to winds veering to ESE prior to arrival at Antigua, but it no longer appears that a more dramatic veering will occur later in the week. This means that conditions along the southern portion of the route will remain generally favorable into Thursday and even Friday, so slower speed is not a concern.

And a final note to the folks at home...

Hello everyone,

Just a note to let you know that we are departing Bermuda today in a few hours around 2pm local time. The forecast is looking even better than yesterday (see below).

We will try to update our position (visible on the blog http://www.argonsailing.com) periodically. We will also send status updates along the way when possible.

We are joined on this leg by Captain Andrew "Smitty" Smith from Bermuda. As of now, we expect to land in English Harbor, Antigua Thursday during daylight.

The latest from our weather router follows:
Winds will not be quite as strong for departure today, and seas not quite as high. The wind direction will be WNW, and this will continue  through this evening with winds backing to W later tonight. Wind speeds and seas will drop off significantly through this evening and tonight.

The cold front will pass the yacht by tomorrow afternoon with winds shifting to NW and then N, but the front will not be that active with only a few showers, and wind speeds not that strong. Tomorrow night the yacht may actually re-cross the weakening front with winds becoming lighter and backing a bit. Later Sundayand Sunday night the building ridge to the north will lead to winds veering more toward NE and increasing, and swells will begin to build from the north.

A gradual veering of winds toward E will occur through the first half of next week with wind speeds becoming lighter farther south. Swells will gradually subside as well.

If the yacht arrives at Antigua Wednesday evening, winds will still be generally E, but if arrival occurs later, winds will tend to veer a bit toward ESE through Wednesday night and into Thursday.

 The forecast is presented for a departure from Bermuda this afternoon, and assumes a rhumb line route to Antigua. 

And We're Off!!...

At 1400, we were cleared out of customs (and got our flare gun back) and were pushing off from the dock. This involved un-rafting from our new neighbor who was very happy to get our spot on the wall after we left.

As expected, our first night was a little bit bumpy.  The seas were not especially high but they were a bit confused. This motion surprisingly had us all not feeling so great. We were all medicated enough to get through it fine however.
Smitty on watch.  Bob on deck.

My first watch. Determined or terrified?
Linda sporting her new "Trade Winds" hair style.

And my first nap after my first watch.

First Sunrise.

12-Nov 0900AST
Good morning. 

All is well at position 30:27.2N/63:53.3W

First night very fast sailing and just a little bumpy.  Wind much lighter today and sailing with full sails.

Water temp is 78.8F (sorry)

Everyone is getting rest and we still like each other. just uploaded latest track points.

Argon out

The forecast updates for the next few days were practically copy-pastes of each other.  Moderate winds veering toward the east later in the week with pretty tame seastate.  The second day, winds got slightly lighter than forecast.  They were also dead astern, so we really couldn't keep our sails full.  We ended up burning quite a bit of diesel for the next 20 hours (and making a lot of electrons)

Relaxing on the chute while we're motorsailing for a spell.

As the wind began to build, we finally deployed the spinnaker and were able to sail again.  Overnight the wind continued to build but still remained very moderate and in-control.  We switched from the spinnaker back to the full reacher and had a great fast night.

Smitty had a fishing line out for quite a while with no luck.  About as soon as we put the spinnaker up however, we had a fish on!

Deploying the Lure.

Prepping the chute.

Feeling very proud of our well-deployed chute.


Chez Smitty working his magic.  We ended up getting 4 meals (12 servings) out of this fish!

13-Nov 0900 AST:

Good morning. 

Pos 27:45.6/63:04.7

All is well. Very light wind and flat seas.  Motoring for most of last 20 hours.  Expecting some breeze later. 

Smitty caught a wahoo yesterday which we enjoyed for dinner

so ends another day

Each sunset was even more beautiful than the sun rises.

14-Nov 0900 AST
Good morning,

Winds finally filled in a little yesterday afternoon and we started sailing again around 3pm.

We had very moderate winds and flat seas overnight which made for a nice sail.  Winds are predicted to only build a little for the rest of the passage.  Some very long period swells are starting from the north as predicted.

No more fish caught yet.

Today is Smitty's birthday.  Linda is baking cookies.

Pos. 25:20.4N/62:18.0W
Wind 10-15 NNE
seas: 1-3' swells

Smitty's lucky navigation carrot (aka Nav Co). Normally we turn him around so he can see the compass heading, of course.

Renaissance Man - sailor, fisherman, chef, and musician. And all around cool guy.

And another beautiful sunset


Super Moon

One great thing about this passage vs the Virginia-Bermuda one is that we actually had moonlit nights.  Not only moonlit, but in this case SUPER MOON-lit!  This made the overnights much more pleasant (as did the moderate conditions). The cockpit and deck of the boat was nicely illuminated but the best part is that you could actually see the seas we were rushing into at 9ks. The added bonus were the spectacular moon rises and sets.

Supermoon just an hour or so after moonrise.
15-Nov 0900 AST:

Hi everyone.

Winds 10-15ENE
Sea 1-3'

Another easy and pretty fast night.  Winds were lighter but on a great angle for this boat.  This morning wind was up a bit more but seems to be easing now. Boat speed still very good.

We put a little more east in the bank but are now heading due south.

No more fish but Smitty provided musical entertainment.  We have decided he can stay onboard for the rest of the passage.

Everyone is rested and in good spirits. 

-argon crew


More Sea Candy

Smitty is many things - including a determined fisherman.  As we sailed along at 7-8kts, we were trolling a lure several boat lengths behind. And things started to heat up.
Fish on!

A nice Mahi Mahi.

The Veering

We knew winds would veer (turn clockwise toward the east) as the week progressed, but we had hoped to be closer to our destination when they did.  Well, wind doesn't always cooperate like that so we ended up doing a fair amount of upwind sailing the last couple of days. This was beginning to get a bit tiresome and I don't think any of us were resting as well anymore. The boat was heeled over pretty far and we had a very noisy bumpy ride. It just becomes hard to do anything on the boat when it's like that and after 40 hours or so, it gets a bit exhausting. As it came time for my watch at 0300 on our last overnight, it was clear that we were not going to make it east of Antigua anymore. So, the plan was to motorsail due south for the duration of my watch (until 0600) and see if we could have a good enough angle to sail from there. The wind, only continued to veer more during my watch and in fact was nearly due south a few times.  At 0600 when Linda came on watch, we decided to just motorsail most of the rest of the way.

16-Nov 0900 AST:
Good morning. 

All is well with less than 200nm to go!

Winds 10-15E starting to veer south a bit.

Boat speed has been mostly mid-6s to mid-7s.

Been sailing much higher since yesterday afternoon and that is interfering a bit with getting rest. We have a heeled over, bouncy, noisy ride. We're a bit tired but excited for arrival tomorrow afternoon.

Had a fish on but he shook the hook.  We still have plenty of pasta.  No one has mentioned cannibalism yet.

And the seawater is 84 degrees Fahrenheit 


Land Ho!! 

I pretty much passed out after my watch and so I never got to do my "Land Ho" joke. Instead, Linda just nudged me awake and whispered "by the way... land ho". I went back to sleep and didn't even look.

Tracking our progress on paper along with all our fancy gadgets. Note the three arrival time guesses. Linda won this bet.

As we got around the south east corner of Antigua, we finally had a good enough angle to sail again.  The main was already up so we rolled out the genoa and killed the engine. Quiet at last as we sailed into the spectacular entrance to English Harbour, Antigua.

Sailing the last 12nm approaching Antigua.

Anchored in beautiful English Harbour, Antigua.
17-Nov 0900 AST:
Good morning.

Directly in front of us is antigua.  Winds veered more on our nose overnight so we have been motorsailing since 3am to maintain direction.  Engine is off now and we are under sail to final approach.

I am sending this using Mobile data instead of $10/mb satellite data.

I think we made it!

Argon Crew

Toasting a successful passage and enjoying Mike's Sloe Gin under the Caribbean sky.
We've come so far!