Saturday, 30 April 2011

Confusion

And then we awoke this morning puzzled at the noise the sea was making as it slapped against the float tied off alongside us - (we're working on Hannah of course) only to realise the noise was the sound of the new batch of wine starting to work..... and that's before we start drinking it.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Stateside Again......

We finally left Lake Worth on Sunday April 3rd, working our way out through the assorted maniacs in high powered sports boats who seem to populate these waters. Two instances stand out; the VHF burst into life, not with the usual inane request for a "Radio Check" from some weekend warrior but someone reporting a shooting and that the gunman was calmly paddling away from the scene in a canoe..........and then 1/2 hour later a report of a child being towed behind one of the speed boats in one of those rubber ring affairs that seem so popular over here. Seems the driver of the boat hit an incoming wave at speed and the child was thrown into the air some 10' before crashing into the water...

The winds were light but favourable and we had high hopes of a reasonable passage and of getting to Ferandina Beach before the wind switched to the north. Didn't happen of course and we found ourselves offshore as the wind switched. We hove to for 18 hours waiting for it all to go through. The wind strength wasn't that high, perhaps 25knots but the north moving current caused waves to build up rapidly and beating into it would have had green water cascading along the deck or worse so we sat there under reefed mizzen and backed stays'l waiting and dozing until things improved. As they did; with the light winds and the lumpy sea we opted to use the Genny, Mizzen stays'l and the mizzen and spent a pleasant and relatively quiet few hours working our way up to Cumberland Island, just north of Fernandina. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that combination before because few things rile me as much as a sloppy sea and the main banging about and desperate attempts to save damage to both spars and sail. A winner and no doubt it'll appear on Hannah again before long. We crept in and anchored off Cumberland around 10pm noting other boats already at anchor. .The morning showed 3 others around us and another 2 already out in the ICW and heading North - the light from the southern heat was well under way.  
                                  
(Cumberland Island is noted for being a nature reserve and home to a herd or perhaps several herds of wild horses)  

We rested a day before heading back out to sea and north to meet up with our friends George and Lillian. Well Lillian, as George was still on his way back from the Bahamas in their 40' trawler. The journey began slowly as we drifted north but the wind picked up in the afternoon and we crammed on the sail to make up for the time spent drifting. As night came on we reduced to allow the self-steerer to work without wandering too much but by daylight the wind had fallen away, as promised, and the threat of missing the tide for the last 20 miles had us under engine. We motored up to a river north of the ICW and anchored in deep water. The much trumpeted thunderstorm didn't arrive although it became very squally and we moved to a more sheltered spot opposite some VERY large houses. A quiet night with no wind resulted....but the morning brought thick fog with vis. down to 1/4 mile but we left anyway thanks to the wonders of radar and electronic charts on a laptop. By the time we'd travelled the 4 miles or so down to the next river we were in sunshine and blue skies and another few hours had us entering the spur where our friends lived. Their dock proved easy to find as it held a myriad of boats whilst all others were either empty or had the usual centre-console speed machine and here we'll stay for a few days before resuming the familiar journey north.


The bliss of a well shaded home...........!!


And finally. Sometimes we see something that just makes us wish we'd thought of that. Crocs were such an item and despite the "what the...have you got on your feet" comments we got when we arrived home wearing said items, within 6 months they were everywhere. Well we have just seen another item. Simple, functional, great to look at - well take a look at them here. We met Laurel, the inspiration behind the product and you can see how, why etc she has worked for 3 years to get this product to market on this link:
http://www.bottlesupglass.com/

and they're neat people too.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

When Butter Starts Melting You're Going The Wrong Way!!

March 7

Cruising very gently down a smooth stretch of pale green water; we're in the Golfo De Guanacabibe where the mainland swings SE then SW before rounding Cabo San Antonio. We arrived in Marina Hemingway late afternoon of Sat 26 Feb after a miserable week or so in Key West. The journey over had us beset with doubts but once in and the inevitable paper work dealt with we felt fine. Initially we had a problem as the Guarda Frontera insisted we hadn't cleared out correctly when we were last in Cuba in 2008. We insisted we had but on reflection we think they may be right although how the authorities at Cienfuego allowed us to get away with this crime escapes us. They cautioned us about following the correct procedure and then insisted we had medical insurance at a cost of CUC2.50 per person per day for the length of time you remain in Cuba (A CUC is Cuban Convertible Currency and is very roughly about $1) Luckily Bee was switched on enough to hand over our E111 cards for European Health Insurance and that seemed to satisfy the authority. The Harbourmaster came aboard later to explain the charges (.55CUC pf pd) and spoke briefly about the new rules the Guarda had introduced.

Hemingway, a series of canals some 90 miles from KW is sheltered but subject to noise from the hotels/discos that are nearby. Music plays constantly, much of it poor 80's disco, and loudly. But the nearby town or perhaps suburb of Havana is interesting and we enjoyed a peddle through the busy streets in the heat. Until we were accosted by a very smart traffic cop on a modern Japanese Yamaha who curtly told us, and a nearby Cuban, to get off the road and walk our bikes along the pavement......
Cuban Fishing Port

The Marina had a motley collection of cruisers, including an Aussie boat we'd met in KW. They had left 2 hours after us but arrived some 7 hours before......we were left wondering at the speed of modern hull designs until one of the crew let out that they'd motored the distance.....Aaah yes its the modern way, when speeds drop below 3 or 4 knots turn the engine on.

We left after paying our bill, collecting all the paper work and heading down the west coast. With Cruising Permit, Visas and 3 overnight fees the bill came to CUC150 but once clear of a marina it is often possible to anchor undisturbed as long as you stay away from habitation. We cruised through the night and chose to enter through the back door avoiding the town of La Esperanza.... The Pilot book we use is a) 14 years old and b) the  C-Map charts we were using had very little coverage of this area. Nevertheless we slid on and with Bee stood on the end of the bowsprit looking out for shallows we worked our way in and then onto an anchorage for a couple of days. Much of the out of the way places along here consist of mangrove with good holding and though this was a wide open space we were comfortable. We opted to anchor the next day in Santa Lucia but rather than go into the town we anchored off the channel in a well sheltered mangrove area - probably a good hurricane hole with good enough depths, at least 3 metres, for us. Our arrival hadn't gone unnoticed and the Guarda duly arrived. Obviously not a lot of cruising activity here as he returned our docs the following morning unstamped so he probably wasn't sure what he should do with them anyway.

Sunday March 13

Anchored off Cayo Real, part of a series of Cays to the west of Isla Juventud after a 28 hour bash to windward. Of which there have been a few in the last week!

The cruise down from Santa Lucia was uneventful, creeping inside the reef that protects much of that area from the deep water. The fishermen we spoke to assured us the water was deep and by keeping close to the reef we should be fine...we were and made it to Caya Buanavista for the night and on the next day toward the marina that sits close to Cabo San Antonio. Arriving in the dark we opted to move over to another cay and anchor before heading in and straight back out from the marina....by the time we had arrived the wind had picked up and the shallow area to l'ward of the marina seemed to have an unhealthy pull on us making manoeuvring difficult in a tight space. Back to where we'd come from but closer to shelter as the wind had picked up to 20+knots. A call on the vhf that evening from another boat told us a fishing boat had left and there was space available for us but with dark approaching and a stiff gin already downed we opted for the morning. We left early and arrived to find the fishing boat had returned and had a dinghy alongside making the only available space a sports fishing boat with a shiny hull, lot of curve and slightly put out owners who were somewhat miffed to be asked for permission to tie up to them..or mebbe it was Bee asking would they mind our cat wandering across their decks. As it happened the fishermen were aboard and once they'd moved the dinghy we tied up to them. Officials welcomed us, the fishermen were friendly but not allowed to come aboard us for a drink and the marina, 
Los Morros Marina
Los Morros....In reality it is nothing more than a concrete jetty running north-south. Although it might be a couple of hundred metres long only the outer length of about 50 metres is usable. And because most of the winds come from the east, the only section that anyone uses is the west side. So 3 boats then plus any rafting. We stayed overnight entertaining a French couple on holiday  after informing the Port Authorities we had guests coming.... It had to be cleared first of all! What a bloody nonsense and a real black mark against the state as far as I'm concerned. But with a front coming in and strong northerlies forecast everyone left the following morning to seek better shelter. The local boat went inside the cay we had sheltered off the previous day (offering to guide us in whilst expressing vague doubts about the amount of water inside...) but we chose to head on round to the Bay of Currents. The first part went well but rounding the corner we were met with torrential rain and squalls. By then we'd reefed well down so were wet but not to concerned and although our destination lay across the bay we hugged the coast reducing the size of the waves. Visibility had become poor (but the aroma from the freshly wet earth more than made up for it) as we plugged on and so it was we came across 3 other boats and a collection of dive boats seeking shelter. Conditions had worsened so we joined them rather than push on another 5 miles. One of the boats was our sports fisher from Los Morros plus another Brit and a Swiss and the dive boats were from Maria La Gorda and they had warned the Swiss and Brit that the wind would back to the NW before moving off and as luck would have it we'd stumbled on them. The night was uneventful and, apart from the Swiss, heading north, we all scattered to our destinations. We had hoped to get to our current location but the wind head us and we chose to push on to Juventud. But as the night passed and we'd been pushed further south than had wanted we knew wherever we went was going to be a beat. And so it was, Big, lumpy seas with squally conditions made for a crap night saved only by faithful "Stan" the wind-vane. In the end we headed for our original destination and gradually closed the coast. By now the wind had a more easterly element to it making our intended anchorage a bear-pit of rollers and we followed the coast around until we found shelter from both wind and seas, crept across weed in 14' and settled into a pristine patch of sand topped with crystal clear waters. An hour later a cat came screaming in and anchored. But there is space, the holding is good, at least with a Rocna, as Bee in a fit of curiosity, had confirmed by swimming over it and viewing with satisfaction the anchor buried. This morning she canoed out checking to see how much further we might be able to creep in and perhaps reduce the rolling  we suffered last night.
Cuban Ferro-Cement Fishing Boat

We also spoke briefly to the Sports Fishing boat who had been anchored at a nearby Cape when the Guarda approached and told then they couldn't anchor there because of problems with Mexican drug smugglers and they should move to a nearby cove, La Caloma This cove has a tricky bar across the entrance and faces the east where the wind was coming from and despite the escort from the GF they hit the bar and spent 4 hours getting their boat off without any assistance from the GF other than to VHF call for a small boat with a tiny engine to come out and help them. Despite the GF having the more powerful craft no help was given despite repeated requests. This nonsense the Guarda comes out with can be extremely dangerous. On our first visit to Cuba we were anchored, happily in a, from memory, land-locked lagoon outside Casilda and stupidly rang them to let them know were there. "No we couldn't stay there as it wasn't safe" Safe from what!! We were in 5 metres with a thick mud bottom surrounded by mangrove. We pointed out that the entrance to where they wanted us to go was only 2 metres deep and we drew more...they sent a boat out and dragged us through the mud to safety.....where they charged us $10 a night to stay on a buoy. It is not your safety they are concerned with.

We moved on from there (Cayo Real) on a long motor-sail slog across the bay to get shelter off the coast of Juventud

Wed 16 March

Finally anchored in Ensanada De Barcos on the second attempt. Disappointing as it is much bigger than we anticipated and consequently the shelter is reduced but we're in and likely to stay a few days as the weather turns to stronger easterlies. We came in with a minimum of about 40 cm under the keel but several days of strong E/NE winds reduced depths by some 30 cm so a tight time coming         
Fidel's old prison and smoke from the sugar-cane burning
 Thurs 17 March 
Anchored off Neuva Gerona in the dark - disconcertingly fishermen up to their knees only about 4 boat lengths away!!  so we moved to the next bay round. A bay that boast the remains of a prison that once held Fidel. Despite a blowy night we were comfortable.

 31 March

We moved from the bay to the Cays ready, we hoped, for a sail across the open bay and down to Cayo Rosario. Not to be. With weather forecasts of continuing E/NE and the prospect of more and more beating we opted to return up the coast. Had an easy few days, met up with a Polish/American boat with a damaged forestay and helped them through the reefs - we had a chart they didn't or not in detail. 
Cuban diver offering a monster lobster for trade

We opted to anchor they went on, then called us to say the wind had backed allowing them to almost make Hemingway in one hit. We were lulled and decided to follow. Of course the wind didn't stay backed but headed us and we settled in to another night of beating or nearly so as the wind dropped and we hove to and drifted with the current toward our destination.At first light we were on our way and soon into Hemingway. Now we had arrived in Cuba on Feb 26 and been given a 30 day visa which, by our reckoning took us to March 28.The Guarda had other ideas and as it was Mar 26 assured us we would have to leave or purchase at CUC25 each, an extension. I tried to point out the missing days in Feb meant etc but he wandered off to consult with his boss. He came back and, grudgingly said as we were intending to leave the following day it would be allowed but if for any reason we didn't we would have to have an extension.. A delay whilst the harbourmaster tried to find us a space which became instantly available when we declined power and water supply. Bingo we were in. Tied up and ready to sleep....finally met up with the Polish crew from Jolanta with the damaged forestay, bought a few bottles of rum and left the following morning after a night of impressive percussion music from a nearby bar. Of course we had been inspected on our arrival yesterday, the officials examining carefully the same documents that they personally had written up some 28 days previously. They'd sealed our bag of decrepit flares and then when we booked out of Cuba 23 hours later the docs were checked, fresh ones written up, carbon paper everywhere - is this the last known user of the stuff? - and the flares unsealed. And as ever on our visits they never have any glue to attach the all important stamps they issue to make your(their) docs official. If you want to make a big hit with Cuban officials bring a supply of Pritt Sticks! We gave them a small pot of wood glue -the type that expands on contact with air!
So we were on our way and made good progress during the day eventually picking up the Gulf Stream and though the winds were rarely above 15 knots our speeds were easily 6.5 knots and later up to 8.5 knots. By late afternoon the wind had backed and we were soon pointing toward Key West rather than our desired direction and it was in this state that a USCG plane, about 15 mile from the Cuban coast, buzzed us twice no doubt radioing back to base of a yacht heading for KW. Soon after this we were joined by 2 birds; one a tiny red breasted thing and the other a racing pigeon complete with leg ring.....By some stroke of luck Toots didn't molest or destroy either of them and both survived the night. We fed them, the pigeon repaid us by shitting everywhere and in the morning the red bird left. Percy the pidg knew it was onto a good thing and resisted all attempts to move it along. It swallowed copious amounts of bread/milk/grain mush depositing equally amounts as payment. During the night the wind veered and we picked up our course making rapid progress toward the end of the Keys. 
Percy, at home

The heat was oppressive and we weren't surprised when we picked up the NOAA weather warning of a severe thunderstorm for the area. Perhaps it'll pass ahead we wondered but as we dumped sail and got ready for the 40 knot gusts they were warning of the thing was on us and, with the wind backing to the north, we hove to for the night and sheltered below. Including Percy who sat in Toots day cabin out of the wind and spray. Well, we don't think the gusts were anything like 40knots and certainly a northerly wind in the GS would quickly let you know so although it was a tad lumpy and Bee on one of her forays up top announced the wind was strong enough to hinder breathing but it was ok and the following morning we resumed our progress north. Sure enough the USCG buzzed us again as we made slow progress in the light winds. I say slow but the current kept speeds above 4 or 5 even though our sailing speed rarely came above 2 or so.. By nightfall we were off Lake Worth inlet and slid in against the last of the ebb and anchored south of Peanut Island. As luck would have it we were able to pick up an internet signal and able to book in via the 1-800 number. "Did we have any Cuban goods or meat on board" and we answered NO in good faith.....Finishing with the CBP we logged on to discover where Percy had arrived from 'cos he was still with us and showed no sign of leaving.  Seems the letters FCC on the leg-band were the clue and we'd brought a Cuban bird with us......but as luck would have it when we got up the following day he'd legged it.

'course you still need to present yer docs to the CBP and we declined the offer of a $15 dock whilst we did so (we didn't have that much money on us) and motored up to Lake Worth anchorage, took the dinghy and bikes ashore and rode 4 miles in the heat of the day. An hour later we had our 6 month visa and we're good to go.