Finally Out of The Snow!

cropped-swimmer.jpgThe ocean hammering on the beach with the tide ripping along the sand is tonic for my snow weary soul. The salt air is homogenous with my skin, my senses are soothed… finally. I love the snow, especially at the beginning of the season, but I think I am not naturally as kindred to it as I am the warm salty air. There are not too many people in Puerta Vallarta at this time of year. I am told it’s the shoulder season which to me means “peaceful”. For this cold to the bone girl, 80° with not a cloud in the sky means that all is right with the world.

DSCN1295Velas Vallarta is really a large resort, nine stories tall, every room with a balcony facing the sea. The U-shaped surrounds a long lush garden with a meandering swimming pool that drifts towards the surf through elegant palms, brilliant bougainvillaea, cactus’ and succulents, even the occasional small dinosaur iguana lingering by the stream filled with golden koi. The balconies drip with flowers from one balcony down to the one below, and the primal screech of peacocks fills the air now and then. Yup, at this moment and in this place all is right with the world.

I wander down to the beach because I can’t help it and take in how beautiful Bay Bandaras is was with the Sierra Madre mountains plunging right down to the sea on the other side of the harbor. The mountains have a cloud all along the top of them which almost look like snowcaps, a reminder of where I came from, and how lucky I am for this reprieve. But the breeze is warm and I realize I am hungry.

There is a beautiful restaurant on beach, how lucky am I. It has a raffia interior roof and no real walls on the outside. The scent from the grills along the buffet promise an interesting lunch. Better with the first of vacation margaritas. It’s hard to fathom that just a few hours ago it was cold in Vermont, and now it’s tropical, lush and green, the air filled with bird song and surf.

I do wish my daughter Lauren was with me. I miss her a lot now that she’s moved out west. I am going to find a way to bring her this sense of lightness that fills me now. I think of all the friends I would love to be sharing this wonderful moment with too. I wish this feeling for all of you.

For A Clean Ocean: Rozalia Project

Lowering the ROV into Boston Harbor so that people could see what lies on the floor of the bay.

Lowering the ROV into Boston Harbor so that people could see what lies on the floor of the bay.

I have recently joined the board of Rozalia Project, a boots on the ground group of dedicated sailors and interns running  programs along the New England coast with the mission of teaching young people the importance of our oceans. There are many different programs within Rozalia’s mission but this is the most visible. For the last 4 years there have been numerous beaches, coves and harbors cleaned and analyzed with the help of an ROV, a quad pro and numerous volunteers. Bits of trash are carefully collected, sorted and counted, sources determined and solutions discussed and published.

Morning in Boston for World Ocean Day '14

Morning in Boston for World Ocean Day ’14

We spent World Ocean Day in Boston, with Rachel and the interns driving the ROV around the harbor so that visitors could see how much trash collects right there at the dock. We also saw fish and crabs which totally captivated the imagination of the people who stopped by. Children especially got very excited as the tiny robot explored underwater, and this will be where much of the difference in how we view our oceans will take root. If we can catch their imaginations now, they will continue to be aware through all of their lives. As always happens, several small people announced that they were now going to be marine biologists after coming to understand what was under the surface. Of course there is a world of adventures that they will have between here and there so we shall see, but for the moment it is a great idea!

Hickory and Smudge aboard American Promise.

Hickory and Smudge aboard American Promise.

I will be posting more of their features on this site, along with some of my own adventures on the 62′ American Promise, now a living research lab and home to not one, but two (huge) Newffies! You haven’t lived until you have seen one of these 140lb guys climb from a tender over a fender, over the gunwales and under the safety lines with four people pulling and pushing. It is quite a scene, but an integral part of life aboard with this intrepid crew!

The link below goes to a feature video on Expedition Clean featuring Rachel Miller. There are other features which I will post shortly. There is an RSS feed that you can click to get these automatically, or you can get posts on Rozalia Project’s FB page

Edruska: A Luxury Cruise in the Caribbean for 5 (Very) Lucky Women.

The ultimate.

The ultimate.

We are a group of five women, 3 professionals on vacation and two teenagers. We are all eager to sail, snorkel and explore as much of the Caribbean as we can fit into our week trip.

I had read a short history of the Virgins as named by Columbus in 1493 after St. Ursula and her following of 11,000 virgins who were attacked by the Huns and sacrificed their lives rather than submit to a fate less tolerable. Spain laid claim to this territory at the time, as it did with the Americas. There was a frontier mentality on the archipelago, which makes an arch from Trinidad to Florida. The native Caribs, who gave us the word “cannibal” already inhabited these islands. They had already absorbed the other native group, the Arawaks, and viewed the Spanish as more fresh dinner. Even the force of the Inquisition was not enough to conquer the determined violence of the Caribes.

IMG_0103As Spain’s hold on this territory began to fade, other nations began to use the Virgin Islands at a trading post due to their convenient location. Piracy flourished, and the term “privateer” was created to mean a sort of loosely legitimized brand of piracy for the benefit of the English, Dutch, French and Danish nations. Eventually colonization began to stabilize the evolving agrarian society based largely on sugar cane plantations, and brought with it the slave trade. In 1717 a census reports 625 people on the island of Virgin Gorda, half of them black. By 1750 the population had grown to nearly 2,000 with the largest number of them being slaves. The sugar beet became a cash crop in Europe at that time, which severely impacted the cane plantations, leading to slave revolts on all the islands. By 1800 the slaves were freed and the white population had all but deserted these islands. In 1893 it is reported that there were only two white men in the BVI, the Deputy Governor and the doctor. The economy was practically non-existent, and in 1917 the Danish islands were sold to the US as a strategically defensive position for protecting approaches to the Panama Canal. Eventually the unspoiled environment and comfortable climate of these islands began to attract tourists, and the islands themselves began to create a stable economy for the residents.

IMG_0926What we are presented with now is friendly people, living laid back lives in an outrageously beautiful cluster of islands. Our charter began at Road Town, Tortola, where we spent the night at Village Cay Marina before departure. The open cab ride up and down the hills and out to Cane Garden Bay for dinner was an adventure timed perfectly for a dramatic tropical sunset revealing the adjacent islands. We walked along the sand to select one of the half dozen ocean front restaurants for dinner. Open porches on a wide white beach, live music, good food and the sun setting over the masts in the bay was our introduction to the Caribbean.

After dinner, we decided to drop by Bomba’s Shack, a popular hang out on Tortola. The structure is made entirely out of drift wood, beach findings and ladies’ underwear. This is a wild experience, and not to be missed. Built entirely out of driftwood with the underwear of visitors who cannot resist an evening swim stapled to the rafters, It became in my mind the world’s largest lingerie display! Every driftwood surface was covered with hand written notes which dated back only to the previous hurricane. After each major storm a brand new supply of ocean worn building materials is delivered to the beach for rebuilding the completely erased previous structure. This has been going on for nearly 40 years. The music was impossible to resist, the other visitors were laid back and friendly, and the famous Bomba Shack Full Moon Party was on!

IMG_0985The first thing I noticed walking up the pier to board S/Y Edruska the next morning was how elegant she looked. Captain Alan Reynolds and his wife Jo-Anne were as welcoming as the yacht herself. Edruska is a 63′ Richleigh Yacht designed by Rich Ford. During his nine years of chartering he meticulously recorded the details of what makes a charter boat powerful to sail and comfortable to live aboard. These notes were central to the design of the yacht, and proved to be very effective at designing a fast sailing boat that is spacious and easy to live aboard. It is not hard to understand why the Virgin Islands are world famous as a cruising destination. USVI and BVI offer short hops between islands, line of site navigation, calm waters, plenty of wind and overall great sailing. Distance between islands is such that you can easily have breakfast in one spot, have a beautiful passage followed by lunch and snorkeling in another spot, and then head out again for a sail to a different anchorage in time to catch a sunset. We left Road Town and had a one hour sail to the harbor of Maya Cove on Buck Island off the eastern end of Tortola. The water is so clear that it is impossible to tell the depth, the beach is white and pristine. We were the only boat there, alone in paradise.

IMG_0933Lunch was served on deck, comfortably under the awning. Cold tortellini salad, with salami and fresh crunchy red peppers, chilled white wine and fruit with one of Jo-Anne’s special sauces on top was the first indication that we were in for many culinary treats on board Edruska. After lunch we headed to The Bitter End, Virgin Gorda. The breeze blew at 12 knots, and proud Edruska made clean and exhilarating passage. Our two 19-year-olds Katie and Jordan had a real desire to learn to sail, and Alan proved to be an experienced and talented instructor. All afternoon the girls were at the helm with Alan quietly near. They learned to feel the hull passing through the water, watch the shape and tension of the sail, observe the wind over the water, and generally perceive the boat as an animal interacting with her environment. He encouraged them to understand the primitive and the romance, but also to read the well laid out instrumentation. We were Gods of the ocean in the buttery afternoon sun as Edruska’s fine hull cut through the water with that telltale shiver of full optimization.

Virgin Gorda is 10 miles long with some peaks rising to 1000 feet over glistening beaches. As we approached, we could see boulders standing up out of the water, which gave way to wide, white stretches of sand. The vegetation comes in a perfectly orchestrated tapestry of color and texture, culminating in a horizon peppered with more of the giant boulders which just barely cleared the trees. The turquoise water below and azure skies above seemed to wrap themselves around this uncluttered place in peaceful isolation. The sun set over the stern, while the full moon rose over the bow. Life aboard a proud ship in the company of friends both old and new created the sense that we all wanted time to stop right here. Alan delivered fresh tropical frozen cocktails, while Jo-Anne made a snack of mushroom caps filled with mixed cheeses. Dinner was sea bass with a very thin crust of potato and Jo-Anne’s wizardry with spices. Next came fresh sweet peaches and sliced almonds in créme frâiche topped with cinnamon.

laurenThe next morning we set sail for a spot at the southern end of Virgin Gorda called The Baths. At first sighting we found huge boulders littered along the shore, and then in piles sprinkled with palm trees which formed the tip of the island. Alan ran us over to the beach in the dinghy and told us to take the “lovely path.” The path is actually a trail through the piles of mammoth boulders. Water flows between them in places, forming turquoise pools large enough to swim in with streams of sunlight poking through. We played like children happily going from one beautiful space to another, over, under, around and between the rocks, swimming in sun streaked caves, and scrambling around the sandy paths. Lovely indeed.

Meanwhile, back on Edruska, Jo-Anne was fixing crab tortillas with shrimp sauce. When we were finally lured in from exploring the shore with promises of lunch, the table was all set. Snorkeling was one of our priorities, so Alan began to plan a route that would take us to the most beautiful spots at the right times of day. The BVI and USVI offer plenty of activity for those who would like to dance under the stars, but we were interested in good sailing, dramatic sunsets, quiet evenings and good camaraderie aboard. So, after another delicious meal, we set sail for Norman Island. The wind was up and we had a fine sail while we sat in the stern and talked with Jo-Anne about the islands that we were passing Ginger, Cooper, Salt and Peter.

eveningWe sailed to Soldiers Bay for the evening and there was nobody else around, just what we wanted. It had been a great day filled with coral and fish, paddling the kayak, and laced with excellent food. The moon performed again, and Alan gave us his night vision glasses. That is when we discovered that there is barely any space between the stars once you can see them all. The three cabins on Edruska are very comfortable, air conditioned and roomy, each with its own head & shower. Still, I slept on the fore deck cushions that night, because the sky was as big and bright as I had ever seen it. As I watched the stars emerge and listened to the gentle lapping at the hull, I felt like the luckiest woman in the universe. Being out in the air under the stars infuses your soul with a kind of poetry and connection to the islands.

breakfastThe next morning began at a lazy pace. I woke to the inviting smell of coffee and cooking in the galley. My friends emerged at their own comfortable times. Breakfast was served on deck, enough for twice as many as we were, and lots of variety. Over the three-course breakfast we discussed the tans that we were acquiring, and I was elected to ask the question. I told Alan that I currently did not have any tan lines, and was hoping not to get any. He had heard this from guests before and said that he would simply announce himself before coming forward on deck. From then on, the forward cushions were known as Lido Beach and total tanning was on.

Our photographer Dana is fearless, and she asked Alan if he would put her to the top of the mast in the boson’s chair. He was happy to oblige. She took of the islands from the top spreader. Watching her up there prompted me to want to see the view from 88 feet up. Before long the others wanted to go up too. My sister Audrey went only as far as the first spreader, due to her concerns with heights. Our captain was very attentive to the person in the boson’s chair and he stopped immediately at the first sign of her discomfort. It was an easy ride down whenever each of us was ready. Alan told me that no other guests had asked for this particular adventure, but from the mast you can see over the islands, from horizon to horizon and down into the coral reefs under the clear turquoise water. Alan wanted us to see The Caves on Norman Island, so we moved Edruska around the point.

Dana had her Nikonos loaded, and armed with a plastic bag full of bread we swam over. The amount and variety of marine life was amazing, and the fish emerged from every crevice when we began to feed them. We even had some time in the company of a sea turtle. The caves themselves are big enough to swim into, and contain a kind of glittery light that makes you want to stay forever. After lunch at the caves we set sail for Lameshur Bay, on St. John’s East End. The afternoon sail was so fast and beautiful that we were all hoping that it would take longer. After anchoring we took a drive into Cruise Bay to do a little necessary souvenir shopping and to clear customs, as this was now the USVI. The mountain road is treacherous with switchbacks and drop offs. The bay road offers incredible views into the turquoise bays. St John’s is 3/4s National Forest, so there are plentiful hiking trails.

anagadaWe arrived back in time for a sunset hike to the farthest eastern point, Ram’s Head. It’s an easy one-mile walk through low shrub, with a variety of cacti. From here there are dramatic views back on to Salt Pond and towards Tortola. We saw a glorious sunset enroute, and got back to Edruska just before dark. Alan’s justly famous frozen pina coladas were served with baked mussels. Dinner was Grouper with salad followed by chocolate souffl� and a dramatic celestial display.

We woke to another perfect day in paradise. Alan is a dive instructor, and Edruska has tanks aboard but the water is only 30′ or so deep and perfectly clear for snorkeling. We set out from the stern with snorkels and swam out to the point. We saw a huge barracuda along the way, and lots of different fish and corals, but the big treat was that we got to hang out with a sea turtle. Alan went right to the bottom and swam next to it looking for all the world like a dolphin. We also found two different types of rays, and some squid during our swim, but it was time to head around to the north side of St. John. Edruska did her thing at 9.5 knots with the gennaker up, and we had a fabulous passage to Leinster Bay, where we stopped for another suit expanding lunch of salmon salad completed by carrots carved into palm trees, green pepper slices for fronds, with olives standing in for cocoa nuts. There is a small island at the entrance to Leinster Bay which demanded exploring, and a wide view of the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Tortola. The kayak went into the water again, and some of us snorkeled. Again we all hoped that time would stop and leave us in this clear water, under sunny skies on a sailing yacht surrounded by good friends. We motored around the point to find anchorage for the evening in Francis Bay. By then it was that lovely time when Alan would come up the companionway with yet another variety of his now legendary island concoctions.

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke

The Savior of the Sea in Little Harbor on Jost van Dyke


Dana, Audrey and I firmed up our plans to hijack Edruska. We told Alan and Jo-Anne our plans and they described headlines reading “Crew Resists All Attempts at Rescue.” The next morning we headed for Christmas Cove on the western point of St. John. The girls snorkeled with a spotted ray that Alan told us is always there to greet his guests. In the afternoon we headed for Jost Van Dyke. This was going to be our only real land based party. As the evening came on we decided to have dinner at Foxy’s. This is a spot famous for good food, cold beer and excellent music. We danced late into the night, and slept late into the morning. All of us would tell you not to miss an evening on Jost, because it really makes you feel that life is grand and time is simply irrelevant.

We had become one family of explorers during this week in the Caribbean, and could not believe that it was coming to a close. Just to spend a bit more time together we made plans for dinner at a night spot called Latitude 18 in Red Hook, St Thomas. The girls had hand painted a T-shirt for Alan, which we brought with us and presented with great ceremony. We danced to El Gato Grande until we simply could not dance any longer. It was the perfect ending to a perfect week of roaming free in paradise.

Charter Contact:
Richleigh Yachts

S/Y Brilliant or How to Leave the Land by Schooner

ChuckBefore my eyes a New York city Lawyer turned twelve year old boy as his sky blue eyes scanned the busy Mystic River while directing our two masted schooner out to sea. Like Frank, Earl & Jen and myself, Chuck was a guest aboard the Mystic Seaport’s training schooner. No computers here, no TV or even music to distract from the sounds of rigging and hull responding to the wind and waves or the gentle chatter of getting to know our boat and fellow travelers as we sailed.

Under the guidance of Captain George Moffitt and mate/chef Keith Chmura our mission was to learn old fashioned sailing. Before setting off, Keith assigned our bunks, offered the all-important “head lesson” followed closely by all the various safety procedures finishing with a drill on boat handling. George’s twenty years of experience as captain/teacher aboard Brilliant had us eager to face what four days of wind, weather and sea might present as we learned to sail between the islands and harbors of the New England coastline.

departingThe river was mirror smooth as we passed beneath the railroad bridge. Our first lesson in raising sails on a gaff rigged schooner was done without too much tension on the lines. All four lower sails went up peacefully with our main concern being where the lobster pots were. Brilliant sliced neatly through the flat sea but when we passed Race Rock, the breezes freshened to six knots as suddenly as if someone had turned on a fan.

As we made the turn at Plum Gut towards Gardener’s Island two hours later, Keith arrived on deck with antipasto on excellent slices of bread and the scent of luscious beef stew followed him up the companionway. The disembodied voice of NOAA spoke of the front we could now see approaching with its flashes of red and gold bursting on the horizon, at once hypnotically beautiful and alarming. The air had that round rolling feel that usually precedes a heavy rain. Some people thrive on that kind of exciting turbulence. I am one of those, as long as I can see my way to a safe harbor. In this case it was Sag Harbor and it was right around the point.

SettingUpAs we put our schooner to bed that first night, the wind on deck became a gale while Keith put “Brilliant Bouillabaisse” on the table in the saloon. This original blend of mussels, scallops and fish in rich broth had spiced aoli on floating toast sprinkled shredded cheese on top. I am certain that I am not the only one who was feeling entirely well fed already, when the fork tender medallions of steak drizzled with zesty horseradish sauce arrived at the table. I noticed that we all began reclining against the back of our seats when the sliced melons and nectarines layered with Crème Fraiche arrived. It was clear that we were not going to starve.

By 9:30PM with the rain pounding on the deck overhead, we could legitimately climb into our cozy bunks declaring it a full day of exercise, salt air and great food. I never sleep better than I do on a boat, and this night was no exception. Voices drifted through the dark saying good night in the soft tones of tired bodies and it was as good as fondly remembered summer camp.

AtTheDockAs an early riser, I had the first few minutes of buttery sunlight to myself. George hosed off the deck while I chamoised hatches and rails as the smell of coffee wafted up the companionway. If NOAA predictions were correct (only a 48% probability) we were in for a long day of running before the wind to cover the 60 miles from Sag Harbor, NY to Newport, Rhode Island.

Brilliant’s name is also an adjective which only applies when all hands spend a bit of time every day polishing the beautiful brass winchs, cleats and fittings aboard. George calls this the “Brilliant Mantra”. I found this polishing a pleasant activity performed over that first cup of coffee, accompanied by quiet talk as we enjoyed the early morning. The time was short lived though, soon to be replaced by warm french toast, sliced peaches and maple syrup.

As we eased away from the breakwater at Sag Harbor we could see the chop on the waves indicating plenty of wind. Blue skies, warming sun and 18k of breeze set us up for the Gollywobbler and the asymmetrical pole-less spinnaker. We made ten knots of speed over the bottom. By late afternoon we comfortable with what the deck jobs were, and how to do them properly under the watchful eyes of Keith and George. Frank and I talked of how we were in no hurry to get ashore, it had been a wonderful day at sea and we wanted it to linger.

SettingUpEntering Newport harbor Endeavour greeted us with that uncanny ability she has of appearing to make 20k while still on the mooring. We were early for our dock space so we took a leisurely wander through the mooring field. Graceful Gleam slid by on her way to collect guests for an evening sail, followed closely by the elegant dark hull of Northern Light. Both captains hailed George and exchanged welcomes. This is an early summer ritual born of each captain’s understanding of how many parts must come together to ready a classic yacht for the season. The sense of reunion is clear. This atmosphere carried into the evening as we were loosed on Banisters wharf where captains, crew and visitors created a festive scene that would only accelerate as the season progressed.

The next day we were heading for Block Island roughly 35 miles away. There was absolutely no wind as we left Newport but NOAA’s bleating voice had promised light wind from the south-west turning mid-day to 10-12 out of the North. Jokes about the accuracy of weather prediction aside, we turned on the engine and hoped they were right. Arabella, a classic famous for having 50’ inserted between bow and stern, had just picked up a mooring when we passed her. More new season greetings were exchanged between captains over the rails.

ragingWe motored out for a while, but collectively decided that a slow day under sail was still better than speed plus engine noise. We put up the #1 jib along with the staysail and the main. There is truly no louder silence that the first instant after the engine is shut off on a sailboat, especially when the sea is quiet. Brilliant slid quietly towards Block Island. I dozed in the warm sun with the soft voices of George, Chuck and Keith drifting forward from the cockpit, lulled by the even motion of the boat gliding through the soft swells and the soothing sounds of the hull in the water. I eased awake when the angle of heel increased and noticed then that Sarah, Paula and Doug were beginning to stir from the same relaxed state as the breeze freshened.

But George was visibly alert, listening with his head turning slowly as he watched the wind over the water. He asked us to get the #2 up on deck and be ready to bring in the #1. As we were doing that it seemed like all hell broke loose. We had just gotten the #2 on deck for a sail change when a wall of wind marched through and we were slammed with 35ks. In truth it took about ten minutes to build but that is practically no time at all aboard a schooner doing a sail change.

jibdownThere is a complicated dance associated with doing a sail change in high winds, but George and Keith calmly directed us through it. Earl and Frank were out on the bowsprit while the rest of us hauled in the huge #1 before it could be shredded or filled with water. Our rails were fully submerged with water running freely inches deep along the deck. We moved about carefully and consciously as Brilliant sliced along through the white caps blowing off the chop. It was an exhilarating 15 minutes after which the wind settled into about 20k as we raged towards Block Island.

We did discuss doing the “harbor burn”, basically shooting through the channel under sail, but considering Brilliant’s 47 tons of momentum nobody would even find the pieces of a small craft that chose not to observe a sailboat’s right of way. We dutifully brought down the sails outside the channel and motored peacefully through the interior chop to the dock.

BeforeAfterA small crowd of locals warmly greeted our arrival at the Block Island Boat Basin. George was again waving and greeting old friends as he directed the fairly complex docking arrangement required in such winds. Brilliant seems to draw appreciators at every dock, we observed this phenomenon often. Whether or not you understand the true nature of such a yacht, you can’t miss the seaworthy resonance such an honest boat.

We used our residual adrenaline to clean the boat before heading up to The Oar for a wee dram. On the deck of the local pub overlooking Brilliant at rest, we talked about another aspect of this boat’s history, racing. George is justifiably proud of Brilliant’s performance, he calls it “successfully racing an elephant against gray hounds”. George limits the schedule because the stresses on gear and the risk to the boat are high but he believes that it does help with training for a crew to focus on an objective.

ChartReadingAboard Brilliant the world becomes smaller and perceivable, populated only by the friendly and adventurous group aboard and united by teamwork and being in tune with the elements. Days are filled with the rythm of raising, lowering or trimming sails, punctuated by Keith’s creative and irresistible cuisine. Evening brings exploration of some new or familiar harbor followed by the summer camp atmosphere of bunking in an open saloon.

And at the end of four days, what had I gained? I learned that the kind of life at sea that Brilliant represents is a larger subject than only the sailing. George and Keith instruct visitors in the total adventure of being “boat people” and that there is something very restorative about that. I learned that beautiful Brilliant, and by extension probably all schooners, are in constant need of caretaking, understanding and guidance. Without such programs as the Mystic Maritime Museum offers, schooners would surely remain tied up at the dock. I learned that George’s 20 years of accumulated experience has evolved into instincts that should always be respected. I learned that Frank, Chuck, Earl & Jen and the more than nine thousand others who have had the experience of pulling strings aboard Brilliant will return because they can’t help it. Certainly I will.

medrivingTo attend a schooner training program aboard Brilliant:
There are 6 Teen programs scheduled from Sunday through Friday in July/Aug
There are 6 Adult programs from Friday to Monday beginning in September


Schooner  Program
Mystic Seaport Museum
75 Greenmanville Avenue
P.O. Box 6000
Mystic, Ct 06355-0990
Ph: 860.572.5344

Cruising Under Four Masts; Luxury, Elegance and the Poetry of Sail

A half dozen huge white sails drove the 320’ four masted schooner north up the pacific coast of Panama towards Costa Rica through Tiffany box blue water. As an early riser, I arrived on deck just as the sun broke over the coastal cliffs. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a croissant in the main salon lounge before heading up to a higher deck to enjoy the poetry of a morning under sail. Alone on deck, I could fully appreciate this lovely craft for what it was, a real sailing vessel. Although positioned as a “cruise” you will find no gambling casino here, no mall or arcade, just the beauty of a seaworthy ship as it does what it does best, under sail.

We had boarded the afternoon before, leaving Balboa Panama before dark. Luggage arrived at our handsome cabin and we changed out of travel weary clothing to explore our home for the next week. Our cabin had a very nice “head” (bathroom), many closets and storage spaces, a dresser and two comfortable beds. It was compact, as most sailing ships are, but very functional and comfortable.

On deck hors d’oeurvres and cocktails were served at the Tropical Bar where Charly played music on his electronic keyboard while we met many of our companions for the week. The ship carries up to 100 guests, which is a great size as there are plenty of people to meet, but not so many that you get lost among them. We decided to dine with the people we met at the bar that evening, and as suspected, they were a bit more adventurous, interesting and frankly, humorous  than you would have found on a “celebrity cruise”.

Dinner that first night was a delicious surprise. The dining room is a throwback to old fashioned European luxury with brocade curtains, gold velour fabric seats, starched white table cloths and heavy silverware. The dinner menu offered several options for a wide variety of pallets, accompanied by wonderful wines that came in cobalt blue bottles with the ship’s logo on them. All guests enjoyed this elegance in casual evening attire. The cumulative effect is quiet dining, interesting multi course offerings, perfect service and a charming experience. Just when you thought you couldn’t touch another bite, your waiter hands you an irresistible dessert menu! It confirmed for me that this was not any kind of weight loss excursion.

Days began with breakfasts being an enormous buffet of hot and cold choices along with an omelet bar where a chef makes custom egg dishes for each guest. Lunches always had a large salad bar including all of the elements to make up any kind of sandwich you could think of, and then of course there was the luscious lunch menu offered by your waiter. At 5 PM everyone gathered on the main salon deck for cocktails and hors d’oeurvres. Dinner started at 7:30 or so followed by live music in the lounge courtesy of the irrepressible Charly, and if there was any possibility that you might still be hungry at midnight, there was a large buffet presented. Honestly the food never ends aboard Star Flyer!

Each day was filled excursions which were mostly about exploring coastal nature. There were whale watching trips, picnics on islands, a zip line through the Costa Rican canopy opportunity, swimming and snorkeling and a bit of shopping ashore. Each day ended with the dramatic ceremony of raising the sails and setting back out to sea. One evening our captain brought his bagpipes on deck and piped the sun down as the enormous sails unfurled and began to catch the wind. Made my heart sing.

IMG_8020Captain Klaus Mueller spoke elegantly on the subject of the rare opportunity presented by sailing for living with the cycle nature. The world beyond the rails slowly drifts from your mind as the salt air, and rithmic waves fill days and nights. During the week we saw dolphins alongside the ship on several occasions as we all slowed down, giving time to watching the sea roll by and the sky migrate from cool morning colors to mid day fierceness into warm glorious sunsets. After dinner guests would frequently gather on deck to watch the stars and enjoy an aperitif.

I am an experienced cruise guest, and an avid sailor, with thoroughly salty blood. My first thought about the other guests on board was that they would also be sailors but I was surprised. While many were sailors, this luxury yacht provided a wonderful travel platform for people who just want to enjoy a different kind of travel luxury, something slower and more organic. It appears that they were surprised as well by how gentle and slow their thoughts became under sail.

With slightly more than a hundred people on board, I met two people who had never even been off the land before, a few people who had cruised before but never under sail, and several who used to sail often but due to age, injury or arthritis just could not continue sailing. The compliment was large enough for a nice mix and small enough that we made real friends, the kind we will see again.

There are three Star Clipper Sailing Yachts and they move around the planet all the time. You can join a leg of the trip, or just stay aboard. When we boarded in Panama about half of the people we met had come from the other side of the Panama Canal. Some had come all the way from the Med! When we left the boat, many were staying on for the next leg of the journey north.

It was a charming (if fattening) week and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing passage at sea. The boat schedule is posted on their web site so you can pick a leg to join on any of the ships. Flyer is the smallest of the fleet, but I am sure the quality of life, the extraordinary culinary delivery, and the attention to detail around every guest’s enjoyment is the same on any of the ships. Perhaps our paths will cross out there under four masts as certainly this particular “lemming” will head for the sea again!

Information about Star Clipper Cruising

Feature will be published in the April Issue of Upscale Living Magazine

Superyachts – The Ultimate Luxury Travel

Hatairos, unfortunately sails no longer, but beautiful private yacht in her day.

Have you ever been sitting at a charming dockside tavern, enjoying the sunset over a balmy harbor when a boat turns into the harbor and dwarfs all the others? You count the windows you realize that the thing has got to be over 100 feet long, in fact maybe 130 feet or so. And the thing is three stories tall, with a helicopter on one deck and a 20 foot sailboat on davits on another. As it takes anchorage people appear on deck and shortly the yacht is bobbing gently on the blue waters of paradise and all is quiet and calm. As if by magic a hole appears in the stern, yet another boat slides out and is lowered slowly to the water as you try not to think that you have just witnessed the live birth of a large hard bottom center console zodiac.

As uniformed crewmen leave the yacht heading for shore to provision, you can’t help but wonder who is on that boat? From your perch you can see the rest of the crew in casual uniform getting ready to serve cocktails for the guests on the lower deck. Half an hour later there are sequined dresses and blazers as if the glorious sunset was arranged just for them. While these guests are occupied with relaxing on deck, overhead on the deck above more crewmen are setting the stage for dinner. It is theater, no mistaking it. Tomorrow night the same scene might occur but with palm trees on the lower deck, guests in shorts and pareos, and Polynesian music flowing over and around a dinner table of fruit, flowers and Poisson Cru on the upper deck. Practically anything is possible on a luxury cruise. And who are these guys? And where do these yachts come from? Well the answers have changed in the last decade.

It used to be that luxury yachts were built only for people with bottomless checkbooks. Ok, that is not the part that has changed. But what has changed is that the technologies for design and construction of Superyachts and Megayachts has advanced to the point where there are several hundred of them afloat now and if you want to spend your vacation moving through paradise on a yacht surrounded by crewmen who live by the phrase “your wish is my command” you can.

WindRose under sail in Antigua Classic Regatta

This burgeoning new industry of crewed yacht charter has made it feasible to charter yachts in length from 80’ to over 300’ practically anywhere on the planet. They come with engines, sails or jet power. They often wear other boats and water toys like jewelry. They come with one hull, two hulls and even with three. And they can be tall! One new sailing yacht can not be chartered from Sydney because is can’t get under the bridge over the harbor. It can, in theory, be sailed by computer from Florida though. Some have three staterooms and a crew of three while others carry up to 45 people with over half of them being crew.

Let’s say a group of six wants to charter a yacht for a week in the Caribbean. You request three state rooms with heads and you want it to be very nice. You have three flavors of yachts to choose from, and the rates for them vary by kind of boat as well as location. In the US & Caribbean aboard a motor yacht it is estimated that the-add on service charge will be 35% of the charter, to cover fuel, dockage, the bar (which can expand enormously when you invite guests aboard “your” yacht) and crew tips. You can expect this average to be 55% in the Med. Sailing vessels don’t have the huge fuel consumption, so generally fuel is included in the charter price, and the service charges will be only for extra dockage, bar use and tips which come in closer to 15%. And now for the boats.

If you are a real adventurer, and you love the life force of the wind in the sails, you are quite likely to enjoy a monohull sail boat. Athena is an 295′ three masted schooner. Athena is an old world experience with luxury of a bygone era. Until you have experienced rich craftsmanship and flawless extravagance of one of these queens of the sea, there are no words adequate to describe how it makes you feel to travel this way.  If the captain has an itinerary of dockage, it is often included in the charter price, so unless you request extra overnights at a dock additional to the itinerary, you generally aren’t charged. Fuel charges are negligible on a sailing vessel, so it is included in the price, and guests are expected to pay for the use of the bar plus a 20% tip.

If you like to sail, but some of your group are a bit unnerved by that, you  might think about a catamaran which has lots of living space, is a very comfortable vacation platform, and stays flat under sail. Douce France is a 138’ cat, The worlds largest ketch catamaran with six state rooms and seeming endless grace. You will have to contact them about rates as it depends on the region that they are sailing in. Captain Eric Saint Placat is a most elegant host, his crew charming, and sailing on this yacht was one of the highlights of my entire charter sailing experiences.

For the guest who wants ultimate luxury and mobility without any involvement with sails we have motoryachts. Askari is an 108’ motor yacht with five large guest suites that roams the Society Islands during the winter season. The charter price for this beautiful yacht is $75,000 per week with ten guests and the fuel, dockage, bar and tips generally come in at 35% of the charter fee. They burn a lot of fuel, but they stay flat and can cover huge distances. Sailing with Askari makes travel a pleasure in any weather. Lon and his crew gracefully deliver a fabulous tours of the islands.

Before you go out on any charter, a reputable charter broker will ask you to fill out what is called a preference sheet. This is where you get to tell the captain and crew your favorite foods, your beloved cocktails and any fantasies that you might have relative to theme or activity. The crew really want to know how to make each day you are aboard into the best experience that you have ever had. I have seen guests become so enchanted with the amazing food delivered any time or place, the extreme courtesy of a good crew and the ultimate comfort of life on such a yacht that they run off and buy one.

Now he is not a guest, he is an owner. There are hundreds of these on the planet, gods in their world. The decision about utilization of the yacht as well as the culture aboard comes directly from him. Is this yacht for his private pleasure alone? Is this yacht a perk that he uses for business associates and employees? Is this yacht a business investment targeted towards the charter industry? At the end of the day the yachts being built are some combination of the three. Of course none of this is possible without excellent crew.

It can take a while to form a group of four to twelve people who work and live in harmony for long periods of time within the confines of a yacht. It doesn’t always happen the first time out. Crewmen join a boat for some period of time to test those waters. If the first boat isn’t a good fit, they network in pubs and on docks until they find people that they like working with, and a boat that they like that is owned by a kind and beneficent owner in a location they enjoy exploring. Once they have found this situation, they are hooked. Making good money with no living expenses while working among friends on a beautiful boat in beautiful places is a pretty sweet life and well worth the search. As the charter industry grows, more boats are being built and the need for good crew grows annually.

I know of one captain who became an honorary member of the owner’s family, and has the ability to develop really good crews. They were all having such a good time together that they decided to go for a bigger boat and longer trips. With this in mind they bought a 105’ tired old thing and brought to it beauty it had never before known under the banner of a refit. To help with expenses the now luxurious expedition trawler m/y yacht Askari went to Nicholson’s Yacht Charter Show in Antigua. The crew did such a good job with the refit and the show that the owner has not been getting much use from his boat. Askari was chartered for a nine month Caribbean to New Zealand cruise by a family that wanted to live aboard and explore the world. So that can happen too!

The world of the charter yachts is a relatively new industry and growing fast. With more boats, crews and participants exploring islands while living aboard it is no longer only available to the ultra rich. It is premature to say that under most conditions it is a good investment to buy a yacht and expect it to be a revenue stream for you unless you are the owner/captain and living aboard. People are leaving the land to become charter captains though, and the life is very nice for them too. That this is out there. You could be an owner, a guest, you could be crew, or you could be an owner/captain. These are all means of seeing the world from the water, and as a serious devotee I highly recommend spending some time at it!

As Sandy Approaches Vermont

It is strangely quiet in the valley this morning. As I came through the covered bridge in Waitsfield I noticed that the sand bag job at the newly restored buildings was tidied up. At least Irene left us with some idea of how to prepare for flooding in our towns in Vermont. The birds are quiet, my dog is nervous and the air feels ominous.

Some of you know me to be a sailor, and we lost a treasure this morning. At around 9:15 last night the HMS Bounty sent a distress call that they were taking in 2′ water/min off the Outer Banks. We can get into a discussion later about what idiot let them be in that spot now after the weather has been predicting accurately Sandy’s path for a week. Through the night the heroic Coasties rescued 14 of the 17 souls aboard from life rafts. At around 8AM Bounty went under, 3 crewmen still missing, and the Coasties still risking their lives in these horrific conditions to find them.

Please say the sailors prayer for all. Fair Winds Bounty.

Sailors Prayer: O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreads out the heavens and rules the raging of the seas,receive into your protection all those who go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business on the great waters. Preserve them both in body and soul, prosper their labors with good success, in all times of danger, be their defense, and bring them to the haven where they would be, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Care Free Tea, Roses and English Sweeties

We had walked off the hot dusty streets of Care Free, Arizona and into a magical world created by our film star gorgeous host, Jo Gemmil, born of her real life experience growing up in English Tea Rooms. The environment that she created has not a spare inch of space that hasn’t been filled with Roses, bits of iron fence, small photos of English gardens, hundreds of unmatched floral tea pots, cups, creamers and sugar bowls which blossom into a wonderful collage of festivity.

We were seated at a small table with iron cottage style garden chairs, and offered a tea list the likes of which I had never encountered. As we visually explored the small room, crowded with people doing the same thing we discovered the crowning achievement of this tiny jewel. In the corner we discovered a white arch covered with roses that lead into a side room filled with garden hats of every description, and dresses with frills and lace. The urge to play dress up was beyond us. We instantly became ten year olds in granny’s closet. Uplifted spirits guaranteed.

Over a flowered bone china tea cup my eyes picked up my friend in her red wide brim hat with red and white roses, sprinkled with diamonds around the brim no less. It was impossible not to smile. Here we were, old friends having tea and biscuits with Devonshire cream, strawberries, cucumber tea sandwiches along with every kind of diet violation on tiered plates.

Before long everyone in the room had made a selection from the joyous collection of hats and was happily probing the tiered plates for treats. The teas were wonderful, the goodies delicious and the atmosphere something that is good for your soul.

Easy Street, Care Free, Arizona

From The Americas Cup World Series; Newport, for adrenaline junkies!

Oracle Spithill

Always close quarters

The rigid wing sail here is longer than a 747 wing with a 120 variable positions. There is a genicker sail as well. The combination of the two allows these 46′ long cats to go at least twice as fast as the prevailing.

Artemis Plowing


Team New Zealand pushed the envelope a bit too hard launching the gennie before fully rounding the yellow mark boat. Painful to watch, but they were back up and running after the shore crew worked through the night to repair the damage.

TNZ down