Caribbean adventures aboard Sailing Vessel Namaste — Part I, preparations

This is part I of a multipart series about our adventures aboard S.V. Namaste, our 46 foot (length on deck) cutter rigged sloop. My wife Jeanie, her brother Fiester, our friend Fitz and I left Annapolis, Maryland in October of 1996 aboard Namaste bound for the Caribbean. The others returned home soon after we arrived. Jeanie’s and my adventures in the Caribbean continued until mid 2001, when we arrived in the Republic of Panamá. We now live there in a very rural area up in the mountains.

Preparations

In 1995, Jeanie and I agreed that in June of 1996 I would retire from the practice of law on my fifty-fifth birthday. We had a Gulfstar 36 sloop and had sailed extensively on the Chesapeake Bay, had done some coastal Atlantic Ocean sailing — to and from Martha’s Vineyard, for example — but little ocean sailing well out of sight of land. We decided that a stronger and bigger boat would be safer and more comfortable for offshore sailing as well as for living aboard for several years. After searching in various sailing magazines and other sources, we found a Whitby 42 for sale in St. Croix, U.S. Virgins. I hired a marine surveyor from Annapolis and the two of us went to examine her. She was in bad shape with substantial hull delamination port and starboard; not worth the money and effort.

At the same dock the surveyor and I found a Heritage West Indies sloop, grungy inside and out but with a very thick solid fiberglass hull. Priced within our limited budget, she appeared to be a good candidate for restoration. The surveyor, the owner and I went for a test sail which the sloop passed, barely, despite deteriorated rigging. Having nevertheless decided to buy her, I entrusted her to a boat yard in St. Croix for some immediately necessary rigging and other repairs and installation of electronic goodies — GPS, autopilot, etc. Several months later, my wife, a friend and I plus a hired captain flew to St. Croix to bring Namaste home. That was Jeanie’s first time to see Namaste, which was full of debris inside and in other ways a mess. She foresaw how much work and money would be necessary and was less than enthusiastic. However, she participated actively and with good humor throughout the restoration process and later.

During our trip to Annapolis aboard Namaste, we had several non-disastrous equipment malfunctions and encountered a nor’easter in the Gulf Stream. Usually, the Gulf Stream is good for passages North along the U.S. East Coast because there is a favorable current running to the north combined with favorable winds. However, when there is a nor’easter the wind opposes the current. If it is strong, the seas are big, choppy, close together and uncomfortable.

The nor’easter we hit was relatively strong. Eventually, in my capacity as the Idiot Who Owns the Boat (IWOB), I decreed that we should heave to — reduce the mainsail and back the jib so that they oppose each other, making the boat reasonably stable. Among other concerns, our large Danforth anchor got loose from the anchor bin at the bow during the storm and was banging against the hull. Our hired captain didn’t want to go forward to do what was necessary as I steered Namaste into and then off the wind so that he could do his job. Finally, he went forward reluctantly. We hove to successfully, got the anchor secured in the anchor bin and waited in safety and relative comfort for the nor’easter to pass.

The trip back to Annapolis took about two weeks and our friend, Dick, an accomplished motor boat owner-driver and former naval engineering officer, caught several tuna and dorado. Cooked on our grill in the cockpit or eaten as sushi, they were delicious.

We had rented a slip at a marina within easy walking distance of our home near Annapolis. Upon docking there our refurbishing work began. We decided to gut Namaste’s interior down to the fiberglass hull and to replace everything with new built-in furniture. Jeanie designed it, she and I constructed it of teak and we installed it. We also discarded the worn plywood teak-faced flooring and replaced it with solid teak boards. Our friend Fritz, who later accompanied us on our sail to the Caribbean, replaced the tired old diesel engine.

Here are a couple of photos showing a work in progress:

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Midway through these projects, we sailed Namaste down the Chesapeake Bay to a sailboat rigger and had the mast  removed, inspected and renewed. Since it would take several days to fabricate new rigging, and since the mast had to be available for that, we motored back to Annapolis sans mast to continue renovating the interior and arrange to have new sails cut. Without the stabilizing effect of the mast, we rocked and rolled.

The initial repairs and restorations occupied us for about a year. Until I retired from the practice of law in June of 1996, we worked on Namaste on weekends and evenings. We also made a few trial runs on the Chesapeake aboard Namaste and flew to Bali on the day after I retired because Jeanie thought I needed to recuperate and get work related stresses out of my system.

In late October, Jeanie, Fiester, Fritz and I departed Annapolis aboard Namaste for Norfolk, Virginia to assemble there with other sailors to prepare for the Caribbean 1500, a cruising race to Road Town on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The trip to Road Town was pleasant and we encountered no adverse weather or other problems. During night watches, our greatest concern was for Cappy, our Siamese cat, who had never been aboard a boat. During the night, watching out for him on the aft deck was about all the watch stander needed to do. We docked at a marina in Road Town at about 1:00 a.m., roughly ten days after we had left Norfolk in early November. Cappy leaped onto the dock and rolled around with great happiness.

Here is a montage of the final results of our improvements as augmented along the way in St. Lucia, Venezuela and Colombia.

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Here is a photo of the navigation station which Jeanie designed. A carpenter, whom we had hired in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, built and installed it for us. He was very proud of his work and we suggested that he autograh the navstation. Embarrassed, he told us that he had already done so.

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The remaining posts in this series will deal with the highlights of our Caribbean adventures aboard Namaste and ashore.

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About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
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7 Responses to Caribbean adventures aboard Sailing Vessel Namaste — Part I, preparations

  1. wildbill2u says:

    I spent many fine times sailing in the Caribbean on charters and finally as a certified captain up to 45′ catamarans, looking forward to moving to the USVI permanently one day. However, it turned out I’m still the caretaker for my 94 y.o. mother in Texas and am probably never going to realize that dream at my age 74.

    I’d be interested in how you chose Panama for your final retirement..

    • Seventy-four is not necessarily too old to go cruising — if you feel up to it, watch the weather carefully and avoid stressful situations. Generally, we discovered that problems we had anticipated did not happen while others, unanticipated, did. I also made morning sacrifices to Neptune by sharing tots of rum with Him at dawn and dusk. There are quite a few “old farts” out there and enjoying it.

      We had several reasons for settling in Panama. First, arthritis in my right knee made it increasingly uncomfortable to move about in the engine room, particularly when necessary in adverse weather. Second, heading back east would have been difficult since the winds are almost always out of the east. The alternative was to head north, where there were lots of boardings, robberies and worse. Third, we wanted to explore Panama. Leaving Namaste at anchor in a bay off Isla Linton was safe and there were many other cruisers anchored there who were quite happy there to feed our cats and generally keep an eye on Namaste while we were away.

      On one of our trips, we visited a part of Panama close to the border with Costa Rica, up in the mountains at about 3,000 feet above sea level. Boquete had not yet been “gringoized” and was quite pleasant. We looked for land within a 25 mile or so radius of Boquete and eventually found some, about 13 acres. It seemed ideal, with views to the South of Pacific bays and — on a very clear day the ocean — and to the north of Volcan Baru, an extinct volcano reaching up to 11,000 feet above sea level. The photo at the top of my blog is of Volcan Baru, taken from the window of my office.

      As a youth, I had done a lot of horseback riding and wanted to get back to it. Good horses were (and may still be) plentiful and inexpensive here — $300.00 for an excellent small quarter horse, for example. We also bought two paso finos, beautiful animals with a very comfortable lateral gait. We paid $600 each for them. I got back to “horsing around” big time and we eventually had nine, most of whom I trained to suit my needs. Teka was my favorite, and eventually he seemed almost to read my mind and do what I wanted him to do. Unfortunately, he died about two and a half years ago of tick fever and four others followed suit. As I became increasingly decrepit, we sold or gave away all but two, one of whom our worker likes to ride and another of whom my wife likes to ride.

      Although I don’t much care for cities or even large towns, Jeanie enjoys Boquete, has lots of friends there and sings with a choral group. Here is a link to a video of their Christmas Eve performance. Jeanie is the blond with short hair sitting (or standing) in the front row to the left of the video. She sings two solos. Her first solo is preceded by a woman doing a dance routine, which I neither understood nor enjoyed.

      If I can provide any additional information, please let me know.

  2. Tom Carter says:

    Great post! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live on a boat, sailing around in complete freedom among storms, huge waves, pirates, no cable TV, and an occasional rainbow.

    The farthest I’ve been on the open ocean was about 15 or 20 miles due west of Dakar, Senegal on my first (and last) deep-sea fishing experience. The waves weren’t huge, but I remember being impressed by the ocean swells – very weird. We ended up catching a 230 pound tuna, supposedly the largest ever caught in those waters. It took a very long time to get it to the boat, with four of us alternating in the chair. Then, the first mate beat him to death with a club. I felt terrible and vowed that I would never do anything like that again.

    Anyway. I guess it would be a cool life, assuming you don’t have to beat beautiful fish to death.

    • I felt the same way about a dorado we caught. It’s a beautiful, colorful fish. However, when out of the water it loses its coloration and looks rather sad as it suffocates.

      • Tom Carter says:

        That’s a beautiful fish! It’s always amazed me that some people take such pleasure in killing other creatures not because it’s necessary to survive, but simply for the joy of stalking and killing them. I’ll consider hunting a sport when a man with a Bowie knife goes against a grizzly, or perhaps a shark. Or maybe the experience of hunting and trying to kill other armed men would leave an impression.

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