You may recall I covered one couple’s provisioning their yacht for extended cruising in the Bahamas and Caribbean back in early 2020. It was just prior to the looming pandemic. As a result of the coronavirus, the couple were forced to change their plans dramatically.
Hugh Scarth sent me an update in April 2020. Like so many other cruisers, Hugh and Maria were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time:
We are now back in Canada. Our plan to cruise from the Bahamas down to Grenada became less and less likely as the days went by. We were in the Bahamas when the situation worsened and going forward with our plans was no longer an option. We needed to get back to Florida and return to Canada as soon as possible, and that became more problematic and challenging each day. I also needed to get the boat out of the water for the hurricane season.
We arranged to have the boat hauled at River Forest near Stuart, Florida. We had a few long days traveling from Long Island in the Bahamas to the Lake Worth inlet in Florida. The boat was hauled on April 1, and we were home in Canada on April 3.
I believe we made the right decision. As we moved along on our return to the U.S., we could feel doors closing behind us. The Bahamas made it increasingly difficult for cruisers to get supplies, travel between islands, or even get off our boats. The marinas along the East Coast were also closing right and left, and fuel and groceries was getting harder to find.
Several of our friends live on their boats full time and didn't really have many options. They would have to make the best of it. We had fully stocked the boat with provisions, food, and wine for an entire cruising season, so we gave most of it away to our liveaboard friends.
We are very happy to be home. The federal and provincial governments are doing as good a job as possible and learning every day, deferring to experts, and developing a new level of understanding from the rest of the world. —Hugh
Thankfully, life goes on and the Covid pandemic eventually ran its course. Life is coming back to normal, so I recently reconnected with Hugh and Maria to get an update on their travels aboard their 2006 Hampton 55 PHMY. We arranged a call between Annapolis and White Pearl, sitting on a mooring in St Lucia, with the famous Pitons visible out both sides of the saloon windows. Cell service is available throughout the Caribbean, but when calling from the U.S., it is very expensive.
(See below: White Pearl docked in St. Lucia)
Hugh began by telling me they returned to White Pearl in Florida last December, and left as quickly as possible for the Bahamas, where they enjoyed two or three months in the islands. Life in the Bahamas is getting back to normal—not totally, mind you—but enough to allow the couple to readjust back into the cruising mindset.
A small group of cruisers decided to make the 1,400nm trip south to the Caribbean from the Bahamas together, and they spent another three months working their way down to Grenada at 8 knots, the couple’s original destination. Along the way they stopped in the Dominican Republic, then Puerto Rico, followed by the Virgin Islands. It was a relatively quick trip south, as they chose not to stop where there were quarantines or stay very long in places with other restrictions.
When I spoke to the couple, they were slowly meandering north from their home base in Grenada up to the islands of St Lucia, Martinique, and farther up to other islands in the Lesser Antilles and Leeward Islands as far as Saint Martin. They planned to then turn around and head back to Grenada so they can haul White Pearl for the hurricane season in June. It seems like a pretty good plan and has worked out well so far.
(Seen below: White Pearl anchored at Sandy Island in the Grenadines)
A phenomenon I find somewhat bizarre, Hugh reports they only saw a rare PHMY after the Bahamas and not too many there either. They came upon two Nordhavn Yachts in the Caribbean and three or four similar powerboats in the months they have been there. Monty Miller, the Seattle Yachts Fort Lauderdale broker who sold them White Pearl, told Hugh they have cruised farther than anyone else that he has sold a boat to. Again, there is no reason why these fantastic cruising grounds are not enjoyed by more in the trawler and PHMY community. Maybe it is time for a Seattle Yachts Flotilla Cruise or at least a boat show seminar to help introduce new owners to trawler cruising in the Caribbean.
For owners new to cruising, Hugh recommends Bruce van Sant’s classic, The Gentlemen’s Guide to Passages South, a cruising guide that is helpful navigating around the Dominican Republic. Hugh does feel that most of what Bruce preaches is about using common sense when cruising.
What Works, What Does Not
Hugh thinks it is vitally important to not simply follow the advice of “experts” in cruising guides or old salts on the docks. “Make your own decisions,” he said. “Wait for the weather to be on your side.” Don’t rush off if the weather is unsettled and forget following a schedule. Don’t take chances.
Hugh and Maria find reliable cellular service in most areas of the Caribbean, which is helpful to use weather apps to understand what is ahead. Windy and Predict Wind (Pro Version) are particularly helpful. They also subscribe to Chris Parker’s excellent daily marine weather email service (mwxc.com) for the latest forecast.
While there are times that cruisers use SSB shortwave communications, it is not necessary in this part of the world, nor are expensive satellite services needed. They have Iridium GO on the boat, but Hugh did not turn it on for this trip as it is expensive and unnecessary. Cellular works just fine.
While there may the occasional overnight passage between islands, especially if one chooses to sail past one or two island for whatever reason, it is not typical. Day trips from one island to the next are much more common…and easy. The distance between St Lucia and Martinique, for example, is only 44nm. That is an easy five hours or so at 8 knots.
If the couple needs to cover more distance, they prefer to ease out of a harbor early at 0300. Traveling for the day at 8 knots for 15 hours or so provides a respectable distance of 120nm. It is 205nm between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, but as one can see from the chart, most travel distances are much shorter.
I was most interested in the success of their preparations of the boat and systems, which one can read about in my first article.
(Seen below: White Pearl behind a larger motoryacht in the Tobago Cays)
I assumed the boat’s watermaker continued to be of great value once they left the Bahamas. It is. The couple’s preferred style of cruising is to spend time on a mooring or at anchor, rather than plugged in at a dock in a marina. That is how they set their boat up, by installing a larger anchor and having the ability to make water. They can remain self-sufficient away from the dock.
“Bring plenty of watermaker filters, as they are at least twice the price of filters purchased in Florida.” Their watermaker is from FCI Watermakers of West Valley, Utah. The unit was already installed in the boat when they purchased her, and it only had 50 hours on its meter. The local Florida FCI tech came to inspect and service the system before they left, and it has worked flawlessly. Having clean, fresh water is essential for healthy and happy cruising, but when it is purchased in many islands, it is expensive if it is even available. A watermaker allows them to make their own water to fill their tanks. Once considered a luxury for only wealthy yacht owners, a watermaker is a cruising necessity for a trawler yacht in the islands.
Hugh also mentioned how much they value having a washing machine. By doing smaller loads aboard White Pearl on a regular basis, they avoid taking a large load of laundry ashore and having to deal with that. Their washing machine uses 10 gallons of water per cycle.
The normal routine aboard White Pearl is to run the generator for three hours a day, three days a week. During those three hours, they do laundry, make water, bake bread, and make cookies. And charge batteries.
Most readers will ask the obvious question. How can a fully equipped motoryacht, such as this Hampton 55 PHMY, normally set up to have unlimited shorepower and water in a marina, get by running the generator only three days a week?
The secret is solar.
Hugh installed four, 320-watt panels for 1,280 watts of power generated by the tropical sun. And he also installed lithium-ion batteries for house service. As Hugh states, every amp from the solar panels goes right into the battery banks, as they can accept full rate of charge right up to 100 percent. That makes all the difference in the world.
One of his friends owns a Nordhavn, another complex yacht with many systems. This owner must run his generator eight hours each day, every day. After spending time with Hugh aboard White Pearl, this Nordie owner went ahead and installed solar panels of his boat, and reduced his generator run time to just three hours a day. The owner said it was a game changer for his new-found ability to remain quietly on a mooring or at anchor.
In general, Hugh stresses the need to be prepared for all service issues, as they are nonstop. He said he stopped putting his tool bag away, as there is always a latch to be tightened, a filter to be changed, or something to troubleshoot. That is partly because the boat is 16 years old, and things have begun to wear out.
The adage that cruising is all about fixing boats in exotic places certainly applies to their cruising experience.
“There is no end to spare parts,” Hugh said. “For the Cummins engines, we carry starter motors, raw water pumps, alternators, props, engine-specific parts, pulleys, belts, filters. And we carry the same parts for the generator, which tends to get less maintenance attention as it sits invisibly in its soundbox.” But he had to pull the heat exchanger out recently as the impeller broke up and pieces got stuck in the exchanger.
Thankfully, the Hampton Yachts 55 has enormous storage spaces that keep both parts and spares dry and safe. A lot of powerboats may have some storage space for spares, but they are often in vulnerable locations where moisture and nearby equipment can damage or compromise them. (After one long offshore passage, I remember our disappointment finding hundreds of dollars’ worth of spare parts and filters now worthless as seawater found its way into what seemed a proper storage locker. It was a soggy mess.)
This is something to keep in mind when shopping for a trawler or motoryacht. A West Marine bag of Racor fuel filter elements placed in a lazarette or locker with wet dock lines and other gear won’t cut it, and many older engine rooms simply don’t provide suitable spares storage in the engine space.
(Seen below: The view looking down on a rainbow near Petit Piton, St. Lucia)
Know How to Turn a Wrench
“The handier you are the better. Being able to change an alternator is something I have learned to do, and I can also change a water pump, and I have done it several times.”
White Pearl carries a complete set of metric and SAE tools, which Hugh uses almost every day. He might have to fix the galley faucet, or redo the latch on the garbage can door, or unstick the sliding pilothouse door that somehow got jammed. It is everyday stuff and part of the cruising experience.
Hugh is also keen to share that anyone cruising these Caribbean islands must realize they may be in for very expensive repairs if one simply gives the service technician carte blanche. Martinique is a French territory, and it is standard practice to order parts directly from France. In case after case, Hugh was able to find the same parts in the U.S. and shipped for a great deal less. Instead of 11,000 Euros for an assortment of replacement parts, he found the same parts in Florida for $2,200. Or 5,900 Euros for air filter parts for both engines, which he found and purchased in Texas for $800. It pays to do one’s own research.
Interestingly, the Canadian couple speak French to some degree, which is obviously helpful in these French territorial islands. But when it comes to engine and system issues, neither of them has a proper command of technical words and mechanical terminology when dealing with French-speaking mechanics.
The territorial European connection of these islands also means the electricity is based on European standards, not what we are familiar with in North America. That is important to know before you show up at a marina and find your shorepower cord and electrical system are incompatible with what is offered by the marina.
Does all this take away from the fun of cruising? Yes, of course. Sourcing parts for a leaking water pump in some exotic destination takes one away from the daily routine of the carefree cruising life. But it is part of the experience.
White Pearl’s two Cummins diesels only have 2,100 hours on each engine, the generator 2,200 hours. That is not much for a boat built in 2006. But Hugh is quick to point out it is not the hours that causes the issues, it is time. Sixteen years takes its toll; time rots hose, corrodes wiring, and electrical parts begin to fail.
He also finds that as a boat gets older, especially if it has had a couple of owners, one will find wires in the boat that lead nowhere, perhaps from gear removed long ago. The flip side of this, he added, is that a new boat has not been tested, so who knows what gremlins are aboard from improper installation or faulty parts.
Both Hugh and Maria are immensely enjoying their cruising life on White Pearl, and it has been every bit as satisfying as they hoped, perhaps more so. Hugh also now understands that any boat he will own in the future will have a much higher priority for accessibility to systems over lavish interiors, fancy woodwork, and beautiful appointments. Ensuring that everything is working properly is a great deal more important to him now than how pretty the boat is.
As I have seen so many times, and found myself, the priorities become much clearer with experience. These now-veteran cruisers are up to speed with what is important.
A retired surgeon, Hugh again reiterated the need to have all medications, antibiotics, and painkillers on the boat, just in case. Much like engine parts one has no idea how to install, having them aboard means some mechanic or doctor can use these to resolve issues that come up. In a sense, injectors and sutures are in the same category.
And many of the things they carefully considered when initially stocking the boat proved to be dead on, from spices to snacks and wine.
Thinking back to that first article, I asked Maria if she still had 16 pounds of butter in the freezer.
She laughed. She was down to eight pounds.
“It might be time to restock.”
Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles:
- Extend Your Sailing Life
- Bringing Your New Trawler Home
- Moving From A Sailboat To A Trawler
- Yearly Engine Service And Beyond
- Sometimes It's All About Simplicity
- The Bucket: A True Story
- Essential Supplies For Extended Cruising
- The Exhausting Need To Keep Up With New Technology
- Have A Backup Plan!
- Northern Marine Exhaust Systems Are Better
- Cruising Boats Come Of Age
- Changing Rituals
- Did Wisdom Come To The Ancient Mariner?
- Going World Cruising? Not So Fast
- What Engines Are In Your Boat?
- Letting Go But Still In Control
- Learning To Handle A New Boat
- Improving The User Experience
- A Paradigm Shift In Cruising
- Consider Buddy Boating
- A Matter Of Staying Safe While Boating
- Should I Carry A Gun While Cruising?
- A Boater's 3-to-5 Year Plan
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising - Alaska
- The Evolution Of The Trawler Yacht
- Getting Ready For The Great Loop
- A Winning Great Loop Strategy
- Tips For Cruising South