The Beautiful Tuamotus
20 July 2016
Jane, warm and sunny
Russell and I have promised each other that one day we will return to the beautiful Tuamotus. It will not be the same without our beloved Ta-b, the atolls were very hard to leave. The French have kept pretty quiet about this stunning group of 78 islands, with all but two being coral atolls. They spread in a NW-SE direction over 1,000 miles. We have friends who have spent a year or two in the area and we can certainly understand why. We were luckier then most cruisers (having British passports allows us to spend more than three months in French Polynesia) and were able to enjoy a magical five weeks in the area before it was time to continue west.
The atolls are known as the “Low and Dangerous Archipelago” although we lovingly nicknamed them the “Tomatoes”. The motus (islets) on the reefs ring most atolls like crowns. They are clustered on the northern side with palms and grass, but the southern sides are normally awash with coral and often pounding waves. Being only a few meters high they are difficult to see until one is within 8 miles. No atoll is like another ranging in size from 4km to 75km in length. Some are completely enclosed, although luckily there are 30 that have deep cut passes that are navigatable. The currents run up to 8 knots in and out of these passes and often have large standing waves. They make for interesting sailing between the atolls. Timing becomes very important to try and enter/exit lagoons at slack tide; especially as all information available is often out by a few hours We did not always get it right, sometimes we were very slow or very fast entering/exiting a lagoon – exciting stuff and not for everyone; which is possibly why so many cruisers seem to spend very little time in the area.
The Tuamotus were found before Tahiti and the Society Islands probably because they are the largest Archipelago in the world. There is 6000km of sheltered lagoons and the whaling in days gone past was apparently excellent. Many of the atolls are uninhabited, but those that are normally have a small village. There is a supply ship that visits some of the larger islands once a week, but fresh food is hard to find and most locals live off fish, rice and coconuts. There are a few small resorts on the main islands, but otherwise there is no tourist industry apart from the cruising boats that sail through on their way to Tahiti. Until recently most boats only visited the northern atolls, nowadays with electronics, pilot books and boats assisting each other the cruising area has extended south. We visited five atolls.
Our landfall was Raroia after a great sail from Nuka Hiva having to slow ourselves down to catch slack water at first light. Another boat was leaving and we thought our friends on Tiki had just entered ahead of us. For our first pass we clocked 5 knots of current against us, but eventually we got in with both engines working hard. Later we found that in fact Tiki were behind us, not in front, another lesson learned. We went across the lagoon avoiding lots of boomies (large coral heads) to an anchorage off Kontiki island to join four other boats there. When moving around the lagoons it is important to travel when the sun is high in the sky so one can see and avoid every coral patch. We have heard of boats suffering from a lot of damage when accidentally hitting coral so we were very careful.
Raroia was a perfect spot to spend time, with BBQs ashore, snorkeling, diving the pass and boomies, reef exploring, all with great company around us. We got to watch the film with friends about Kontiki who landed on the Motu next to us so many years ago – a fascinating documentary and all the more interesting being anchored right where they arrived.
Our next Atoll to visit was Makemo. Highly recommended by sailing friends and diving/snorkeling the northern pass was an experience I will never forget. The water was crystal clear with a shallow reef and cliff face, home to hundreds of different colourful fish, then deeper down larger fish including numerous reef and black fin shark. Diving the pass is normally done only on an incoming slack tide, we luckily got to experience it three times and it was certainly a highlight of our time in the Tomatoes.
Sadly my underwater camera is no longer working and I did not get my go pro when Edwin was unable to bring it to the Marquesas, however our friends from Tiki managed to get some great footage; so we can share a few pictures.
Makemo has a small delightful village and the locals are charming and very friendly. We were given coconuts and were able to buy fresh bread and pasteries, lucking out with some vegtables and other fruit from the supply boat that had been in harbour a few days before. Sadly though we did have a bad experience. The day we left we went in to pick up some bread and a local dog decided to attack me. He was on a very long leash and totally unprovocked ran across the road. I was bitten on my lower left leg quite badly and was immediately taken to the local clinic, thankfully there was one as there are only a few amongst the islands. I was well looked after, but even with antibiotics, etc. the wound being so deep became infected; which tends to happen in the tropics. I was pretty sick for a couple of weeks, but eventually I came right and am now able to walk without a limp. I was thinking of having a tattoo while in the Pacific, but maybe I will stick with the scar I have been left with ☺
Our next atoll was Tahanea, an uninhabited marine park where one can anchor miles away from anyone else. Sadly the weather while we were there was not great and I was sick so we did not experience the island like we would have liked. Even so it was a safe and beautiful place to be and we are glad that we stopped there on our way to Fakarava.
We had a wonderful time in Fakarava, even when the weather again decided to get windy and rainy on us. Our first stop was by the pass, a worldwide must for snorkerlers and divers alike. You drift dive/snorkel up to a few knots over hundreds and hundreds of sharks with huge basse, rays and other numerous reef fish. The sharks also wait in the shallows for scraps from the restaurant, or are feed by hand, they are very tame. We took our tender numerous times to the entrance and then pulled it along behind us all the back to the anchorage and Ta-b. It was the most amazing experience, slightly frightening at times when a shark got close and curious, but one I will never forget.
We then went to Hirifa in the SE corner when the wind came up and hardly felt it. Great place to wind surf and kite, but totally protected with a lovely family living there. Lisa was like most Polynesians, very large. Every day she would huge me into her huge chest and I must admit I really enjoyed the wonderful warm embrace. We had a lot of fun meeting up with old and new friends. Each evening we enjoyed parties, pot lucks, cards and meals ashore which Lisa prepared for us. A very special place and well worth a visit. From there we went back for a last couple of days diving the pass, and to enjoy the best pizza we have had in a long time with friends, before we moved up north stopping at the anchorage midway to spend a night with friends Lumiel before hitting the big smoke of N Fakarava.
Fakarava is the second largest Tuamotu and is 32 miles long. Its northern part is the most direct route from Panama to Tahiti and it is one of the most visited atolls. The town however is not big, with only about 700 people, but it does have a couple of supermarkets, restaurants, etc. We found it very quaint and easy going.
Our last atoll was Toau before we grabbed a perfect weather window to sail to Tahiti. We met Vanessa, Lisa’s sister, who put on another feast for us beore we left. We were truly spoilt. Most of the time we were in the Tomatoes we travelled with our delightful friends on Tika, they are a family from Perth and we have become great cruising buddies. We have also met numerous other boats, one of the delights we have found crossing the Pacific is how close the community is. Never before have we made so many friends so quickly. With the daily Poly Mag Net on SSB about 25-35 boats are constantly in touch with each other. We always check in when we are sailing offshore and it is good to know that friends are watching out for us. We heard in the last few days of a solo sailor who went up on a reef in the Tuamotos while on his way to Tahiti. He did not arrive when due and a search party was sent out, sadly he was found dead on board, it is thought he suffered a heart attack. Unfortunately many boats are lost in the Tuamotus and there have been quite a few this year.
We are not sure how long we will be in the Society islands as there are at least six more that we would like to see. Completing our last leg to NZ from Tonga will be sometime around mid November so luckily we have plenty of time. We hope you enjoy our latest blog and pictures. A big thanks to Tika, Lumiel and Jackarander for their photo contributions.
Panama to the Galapagos Islands
18 April 2016 | Isabella, Galapagos
Jane, warm and sunny
Home alone after an incrediable five weeks. First Amy, with Kevin and Jason, joining us to go through the Panama canal to Galapagos, then Jamie and Frankie visiting us in Santa Cruz to go to Isabella. Wonderful memories and a ton of fun. The only downside was five days ago when we heard that we had lost Gypsy, Russell’s beloved Mum. Two weeks ago she was on top form, but a fall broke her pelvis and she did not recover. She will be dearly missed, she would have been 92 next month. Sadly we were unable to get Russell home in time for her funeral; which is in fact today as I write, she left behind beautiful memories for us. Bless her, she will now be happy with Eddie who she adored.
Onto a happier note. Tomorrow we leave the Galapagos for the Marquesas. There will be just the two of us on a passage of over 3,000 nm which hopefully will not take us more than 20 days. Obviously we have mixed emotions at the moment, excitement and slight apprehension. We have prepared ourselves as best as we can and we are looking forward to hopefully kind winds and seas. We can be followed on our InReach tracker https://share.delorme.com/JanePoulston
We can also post the odd message on Facebook; which we will do a couple of times on our way. Otherwise it is wonderful to get news from friends and family, especially when we are offshore as one can feel quite cut off so far away. My brother Jamie has kindly offered to forward messages to us via our Ham Radio so please email him a note or two via Jamie@pride.me.uk - thanks.
Last night we were on Tsunami watch, one was due after the large earthquake on the mainland at 6pm. In the end we hardly felt it and have still not heard the latest news, but we understand that it caused a lot of damage and death on the mainland. Thankfully Jamie and Frankie were still in Santa Cruz.
Back to Panama. After a crazy few weeks at Shelter Bay marina prepping the boat, and spending two days line handling (to get a bit of experience) for a friend’s boat, we set off. Amy with her friends on board made the trip a ton of fun and they got some great footage with their go-pros. They are going to edit all the footage they took onboard and make a film for us – we can’t wait. It was an amazing experience transiting the canal, made more special by sharing it with Amy, Jason and Kevin. Not often does one traverse between two seas and two major continents, with a huge tanker loaming down on you.
We spent four days at anchor at La Playita getting our rigging sorted (Mike the rigger was fantastic, a Kiwi of course), celebrating Kevin’s birthday, doing a final shop at Pricemart and getting some other odd jobs ticked off the list. We had two fantastic drivers one called Roger who loaded up his van and roof top with booze for us (don’t ask how much) and Carlos who spent our last morning taking us from shop to shop, $8-10 an hour was joke so they got decent tips from us.
We did manage a couple of days in Isla Taboga where we hiked up to the top of the island and had our first swim in the Pacific. However, we did not make Las Perlas as a weather window appeared and we had to grab it to cross to the Galapagos. There had not been much wind for weeks, so all the boats were ready to leave.
What a fantastic sail we had, full moon nights, perfect wind and slight seas it does not get better. Our six day sail was done in five and a half with everyone on board having a blast. We stopped a hundred miles out and had a swim off Ta-b in deepest water yet. It was crystal clear and we gave the hull a quick wipe as they send a diver down to make sure we have a clean hull when we enter the Galapagos. Jason helped us as King Neptune crossing the equator and we celebrated with Beer Bongs and Champagne, with Neptune of the sea getting a wee drop. The only blip was our …. Generator. Yes ongoing problems and the kids had to learn what it was like to be at sea with no water maker and only a camping stove. It has been a stressful problem, but as I write it is … working.
Our landfall was San Cristobal. Our agent Bolivar met us as we motored into the anchorage, we had let him know of our noon arrival, and our check in could not have been more efficient. We had about six officials on board and although we had a fumigation certificate from Panama we were asked to leave the boat for four hours as they smoked out Ta-b at a cost of $100. We were able to warn other boats behind us, as the grease left behind was horrible. We spent the extra $$ to be able to visit more than one island and stay longer, an excellent decision which we would highly recommend to other boats.
One has to check out of immigration in Santa Cruz as it is only possible get an international “clearing out Zarp” in Isabella. Sadly some boats arrived in Isabella thinking they could check in and had to leave within 24 hours. One left yesterday who had spent 12 days getting to Isabella and are now on their way to the Marquesas after only a night in the Galapagos. At least we gave them a good evening as we celebrated my birthday a few days early before Jamie and Frankie left. We had 26 on board for the evening including two musicians; it was a wonderful evening that I will always cherish.
We loved San Cristobal, even though we had to fortify the boat so that sea lions did not come into the cockpit. There have been stories of them even getting into the salon and one set of friends had them in their cockpit where they coughed, pooed and vomited all over the place. Love them, but not when they do that ☺
A wonderful week was spent there, getting to know other boats, enjoying the incredible wildlife with the highlight being a tour we managed to privately organize with Manuel of Sharksky to Kicker Rock and Punta Pitt. Hopefully the photos will tell their own story. We saw nesting and courting red footed and blue footed boobies along with hundreds of other birds, including male frigates with their red throats. Snorkeling through Kicker Rock and later off Punta Pitt we swam with more huge shoals of different fish then we have probably ever seen. These islands above and below water are exquisite.
It was time to move on and we lucked out with a fabulous days sail to Santa Cruz, the most touristy island, but a fun one nonetheless. One of the trips we did there was to a farm where the huge Tortoises roam free. There we saw one couple mating (they take up to three hours and it was obvious, with the noise and movement that the male made, that we were just in time) an amusing experience. We also went underground into some of the lave tunnels, another fascinating event. Then the kids (yes they are still kids to us) had to leave. Jamie and Frankie arrived the day before and so we were all able to spend some time together. Very special as Amy had not seen her English Aunt and Uncle for six years.
More guests, but this time sadly only for one week. More trips were enjoyed, but the highlight was certainly The Tunnels in Isabela. Sadly my “new” camera died on me and so I do not have many pictures. The surf ride over the lava reefs and into and around the tunnels was breathtaking. Snorkeling the nearby lagoon we saw tons of huge turtles, golden rays, lots of sharks especially white tipped and even a beautiful sea horse. Manta Rays were seen on the trip back – huge. It was a magic day.
Frankie said her aim was to swim and take pictures of the Sea Lions. Well two pups obliged and spent about an hour frolicking with her under our boat. She was certainly one happy camper and we got some great pictures for her. Here we have also seen the famous Galapagos penguins and have had to be careful not to upset all the sea lions and large iguanas that take over the dingy dock.
It will be difficult to leave these beautiful islands. We were hoping to stay a bit longer, who knows maybe we will return. However the Pacific is beckoning and we are dependent on the weather. We are full of fuel, water and food in the deep freeze and stores. We are ready to go. We look forward to hearing from some of you and will update our blog probably somewhere in the Marquesas. We are meeting Edwin, and his girlfriend Iva, on Nuku Hiva on the 23rd May, another event we are looking forward to.
Keep happy and healthy, with much love Jane and Russell
A special thanks for some of the photos from Amy, Jamie, Frankie, David and Russell
Cayman Islands and San Blas
11 March 2016 | Jane warm and sunny
Jane warm and sunny
Not sure where the time has gone, but it really is time that I updated our blog. As I write I am sitting between two oceans and two continents enjoying a spectacular sunrise at Gutan Lake. Russell and I are doing a dummy run through the canal on our friend Reinhard's boat Runaway's boat. It feels strange to be sitting between two oceans and two continents. The sunrise is spectacular.
We checked into Cayman Brac on the beach, a first time for us. The two officials were relaxed and friendly and it took no time at all. Soon we were anchored, and going ashore was a treat. A huge yummy English breakfast and free wifi at the local store, followed by a stock up of items we had not seen for months/years.
Cayman Brac is small and delightful. We really enjoyed the two anchorages and getting to know the wonderful people who live there. Then it was onto Little Cayman for diving in famous "Bloody Bay" before heading into the big smog of Grand Cayman. We had a rolly, but fast overnight sail entering the North sound mid morning while trying not to hit any reefs. Not for the faint hearted as the whole of the area is very badly marked, we were very surprised as we tip toed through.
Our plan was not to stay long in Grand Cayman as we had friends we were trying to meet in San Blas. Well weather and boat issues certainly changed that idea. Within a couple of days we were hauled out of the water to have our starboard engine worked on and our bearings replaced. With a copper bottom that also means that we have to reliven the copper before going in the water. Our friends Fiona and Carlos who live close to the marina were wonderful to us and insisted on us staying with them, even though our three days turned into seven. At night when we were not working we had a great time together and on Fiona's day off we explored the island. They were wonderful hosts. We can't thank them enough as I don't know what we would have done without their help.
The British Cayman islands consist of the three islands we visited. Not many cruising boats visit the islands as their anchorages are rolly and marinas in Grand Cayman are expensive. After the last three countries we had visited it was also a shock to experience the high prices, not many cruisers visit these islands and if they do it is only for a short stop off on their way south or west.
For myself it was fun to hear numerous English accents and shop for English goodies. The weather sadly was not great and so we were unable to dive some of the excellent sites of Grand Cayman for which it has become famous. Maybe another time we will revisit by air.
It was time to grab the marginal weather window to head south as soon as we were put back in the water. After one day of heading in slightly the wrong direction we were soon averaging 7 knots and on route to San Blas. The only hiccup was the 2 knot current against us, making our four day trip into five days.
We had been told we might have issues checking into the San Blas, but we had no problem at all and soon picked up our friends Doug and Suzanne in the Carti Islands. From there on we were on holiday while they were on board. We certainly partied hard and enjoyed being able to share the unique and gorgeous islands of San Blas with them. Vanencio the master mola came to see us and I am now the owner of another beautiful mola and Suzanne bought two. They really are fantastic.
After our friends left we went back to the Lemmons and with help from Mike and Laura of Gilana learnt how to kite board. We have a board on board and my brother Jamie is now bringing a kite and harness from England, when he visits us in the Galapagos. It was a ton of fun. Then we had to hide out behind Mayriadup in the Naguargandup Cays, a very protected area in the San Blas, when it is windy.
Our friends on Van Kedisi soon joined us having sailed the same route we did last year from Cartegena. It was great to see them and they joined us sailing to our favourite anchorages. Our friends April and Cain of Spirit of Argo arrived a few days before we left, it was too short a time together as we do not know when we will see them again, but wonderful nontheless. They very kindly helped us repair our genoa, one job ticked off the list.
We had no problem provisioning for fresh fruit and vegetables in the Carti islands and the Kuna are often visiting with fresh fish, crabs, lobster, vegetables and the like. They are delightful people and the cruising grounds are just perfect. Our time there again was too short, we could have stayed for months, but it was time to head for Panama.
On the way it made sense to stop off at Portabello. A magnificient harbour discovered by Columbus in 1502 with ruins of the solid fortifications than can be explored. We enjoyed a wonderful Sunday lunch at Captain Jack's overlooking the harbour with Van Kedisi. S/v Villomee with New Zealand friends Trev and Jan were also at anchor there, so lots of socializing time together.
Getting to Shelter Bay marina in Panama it was back to work, big time. Our generator is still causing us problems, our spare control board that was given to us by the Kohler guys in Union Island looks like it is a dude and a new one even though we have had problems for a while is not being covered by the company warrantey. We now have run out of time to get a new one and so may have to ask my brother to bring another from England (cost approx. $2000 - yikes). Our new generator has caused and cost us untold amounts. On a happy note our new main sail arrived and is fantastic.
Shelter Bay marina is a long way out of Colon and the bus that goes into town only takes twelve people. Unless you sign up at noon when the list goes up it costs $25 each way by taxi, so not the best situation. However the Supermarket Rey will bring you and your groceries back (only space for a backback on the marina bus) if you spend over $300. I did a huge shop on our arrival and spent a day storing items away after ☺ Once we hit the Pacific shopping is going to be expensive and difficult. We will be doing another couple of big shops once we get to Panama, here rum is $8 a bottle in French Poly it can be $80 - yes we will have full bilges and will be like a slug once we leave.
Amy and her two friends Kevin and Jason arrive on Friday. We have a transit date for Sunday and should arrive in Balboa anchorage by Monday afternoon. We are getting excited to be on the move again and to have them on board until we get to the Galapagos. They leave on 10 April and my brother Jamie and his wife Frankie arrive on 9 April. There is no wind at the moment for sailing to Galapagos, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will be different in a weeks time.
There is a webcam at Miraflores lock http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html?cam=Miraflores
We should be there Monday afternoon if you are online - we will wave to you. If you do see us, please take a screen shot as it would be fantastic to have a picture of us during this epic journey.
Next stop Pacific, hope you enjoy all the photos, thanks to Russell, Doug and Suzanne for their contributions. Pictures say so much more than my meager words.
15 January 2016 | Cuba
Jane warm and sunny
As I write this we are having a kind and gentle sail between Cuba and Cayman Brac, one of the three Cayman Islands. The sun has just risen, always a wonderful sight at sea with it’s deep red sphere promising another beautiful day.
Cuba is a truly fascinating country. It is one of the first islands in the Caribbean to be settled by Europeans and bigger than we realised, in fact not much smaller than England. It is rarely explored by the cruising community and we are really pleased that we managed to visit it before we leave the Caribbean. We saw very few boats of any kind while we explored the southern coast. We think the waters may be busier in the spring, but by then we will be in Panama and so had no choice in timing our visit. The weather is always unsettled around Christmas, but although some anchorages were a tad rolly, even in our Catamaran, we felt we lucked out with the weather.
We arrived in the Cayos de San Felipe, and over four days made our way east around the north part of the reef system to Cayo Largo to check in. Not the best of routes as the wind on the whole was on our nose, but luckily there was not much and the iron donkey (engine, normally only use one) did her job. We hardly saw a soul, although on our second night we enjoyed an anchorage with a lobster boat. They came alongside to give us 12 huge lobsters and seemed very happy when we offered a bottle of rum as a gift.
Our wine cellar (or should I call it booze cellar) is under our bed. Well sadly three in the bed does not work. Birdie Num Num had not left us, but without our knowledge had snuggled into a gap in our pillows. We were so upset when we found him under the mattress, both of us had become quite attached to the wee little thing, but it was certainly lucky we found him when we did. We like to think that we gave him a few extra days, for if we had not appeared he probably would not have survived. We still wonder how long he might have stayed on board with us.
Our next night in Cayo Rosario another boat came up to us and gave us a huge grouper (enough for four meals); which they had just caught. They did not want a gift, just lots of smiles and odd words from our Spanish dictionary seemed to make them happy. We were quickly finding out how friendly and generous the Cubans are. Checking into Cayo Largo was easy and everyone was so helpful, however there was no fresh fruit and vegtables anywhere. We only found one shop; which was at the marina, so not sure where the locals get food as they were not allowed access. Every item I bought was written down in a book, not that there was much to buy except for some eggs, bread and cheap rum. The Cuban diet is very basic and it was lucky I had food in our freezer and stores to help add to meals.
We used Nigel Calder’s pilot book while we were in Cuba, but since the latest hurricane and with silting, a lot has changed. Going into Cayo Largo we found there were now two channels not one, most confusing. Even our charts were way off and we were constantly on our toes with reefs, steel piles for fish pens just above the water and depths/reefs not as marked. Like Belize, Cuba is not for the faint hearted, as in ski-ing we would call the sailing triple black diamond, and in a monohull it would have been even harder. We saw a brand new Catana Catamaran on the reef in the Cayos de Dios, a reminder how careful one has to be.
Our plan was to go back west and around Isla de la Juventud before heading back to Cayo Largo for Christmas. For once our itinerary worked and we had a fantastic time. We had anchorages all to ourselves, sunshine and beautiful unspoilt scenery with not a hotel or house to be seen. Well there was one hotel on Juventud, but it was pretty rundown being built before the revolution and having only about six guests when we were there.
We visited Cayo Hijo de Las Belleatos, a favourite spot for locals close to Cayo Largo. At Cayo Rosario we had a tense night with thunder and lightening very close to the boat, but it was a beautiful spot. In Cayo Largo we had met a French 57 foot lagoon at the marina who had been hit by lightening. They lost all their electrics and were wandering around the boat at night with their head flash lights (torches) on. Always a fear with boating and bad weather. We put our phone, ipads, laptops and hand held radio in our microwave to keep them safe.
At Cayo Campos we were led into the anchorage off the island by the two wardens; it looked impossible on the charts/pilot. They look after the monkeys and iguanas on the island, ten days on, ten days off – what a job. We gave them a bottle of rum as a thank you, total cost $4 and they brought us 20 lobsters the next morning and insisted we come ashore to visit. Next was Cayo Matais and then onto Caleta Puerto Frances at the bottom of Isla Juventud.
Puerto Frances was a stunning spot where we went ashore to see the wardens who look after the area and to explore. A dive boat came into the bay every day and the snorkelling was great. Our last night there a charter boat with four Swiss guys arrived and invited us over for sundowners. The captain charters a Cat every year over Christmas and knew the area well, however although they had been very successful fishing they had not had any lobster. I gave them eight of ours and in return they gave us a new fishing lure that they said caught them fish every day. Well we have just caught a three foot baracuda with it, so it is now our favourite.
Our pilot book said that it was worth taking a land trip to Nueva Gerona and our Swiss friends said that there was a large market on Sundays. The timing was right and so we decided to go into Marina Siguanea for a couple of nights. We have never touched bottom, but I suppose there is a first time for everything. The narrow entrance to the marina is now mainly silted over and we hit sand on our way in. We do not draw much (have 4.6 feet below us) so hopefully they will dredge the canal soon. Security is tight in Cuba and we were immediately boarded by the Guardia (police) who needed to check our papers. Must admit it was a change to not see firearms on government personnel and they always take off their shoes when boarding ☺ They came out at 5am in the morning to check us out of the country in Cienfuegos and to make sure there was only the two of us on board.
The other reason we went into the marina was because a cold front was forecast to come through. A good call as we hardly felt the strong winds, being very protected from the hills all around. Our day in Nueva Gerona was interesting. We like to take public transport and experience the locals, being Sunday everyone was dressed up and in party mode, such fun. The town was certainly different and not what we were expecting. After walking everywhere we never found the market, but did see one person selling pork on a street corner. However we did meet Tony and he made our day. No one speaks English and our Spanish is next to nothing, but we were able to explain that we were looking for fresh fruit and vegetables. “Come to my casa/house” he says, so off we go expecting oranges to be picked from his back yard. However, over wonderful fresh brewed coffee, he raids his family’s kitchen and finds us eggs, onions,
peppers, tomatoes and lemons. Not only that he wants nothing for them (not sure what his wife thought later). Tony brought out a beautiful box of cigars; which we bought for next to nothing for Russell’s Christmas present. Such a charming man telling us that we were now family and if we needed anything ‘anything” we were to let him know.
There was only one restaurant in town and on the menu there was pork, pork, or pork cooked six different ways. Small perfect sized servings and joy of joys it came with a little salad. There we met Dennis a local entrepreneur who spoke a bit of English and found us eggs and a friend to take us back to the marina. All in all a fascinating day out.
Then it was back to Cayo Largo with more lobster being traded on the way, this time for cooking oil and rum. When we got to Cayo Rosario Russ was not feeling well, a runny tummy we put down to too much lobster. I managed to get us back to Cayo Largo in crazy seas and wind, but it was a very quiet Christmas day with Russ sick in bed for three days before I managed to get him off the boat to a doctor. The medical system in Cuba is excellent and he was immediately looked at, injected and put on two drips for a couple of hours. Feeling much better we set off for Cienfuegos on the mainland two days away.
Russ was as well as we thought and it was a long trip, but we made it and as soon as we arrived at the marina the doctor there knew exactly what the problem was. A new virus is being carried by mosquitoes and the new anti biotics and strict diet that we were given did the trick. It is probably the longest I have ever seen Russ go without a beer and both of us lost a lot of weight as I also had some kind of bug that I was fighting. Thankfully we are both back on form and made up for lost time when we explored Trinidad and Havana after enjoying a quiet New Year on a friends boat as Russ was still on the mend.
Trinidad is one of the oldest cities in the New World, first settled in 1514 and is a wonderful colonial city. It is now on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites with some of the buildings having been tastefully restored. We found it charming. In contrast Havana looks like it has just come through a war. Many of the oldest buildings are in a state of imminent collapse, held together by planks of wood, luckily we saw lot of restoration happening in the city. We stayed in the old town which has many grand old buildings and a lot of the larger homes all lovingly restored. It is a fascinating place to explore and on top of that there is the buzz. Everywhere we went there was music. We went to a concert where everyone was dancing, the moves were some of the best I have seen. The bands where we heard the flute played with amazing energy, the sax with such style, the best live music we have heard in years. For any music lover Cuba is a must. In Havana our best dinner was at Ernest Hemmingway’s Florentina, a circular dining room with huge stunning paintings and yummy food. Best band had to be in a restaurant in the Plaza Vieja. Artwork and crafts in Plaza San Francisco and old books Plaza de Armas.
I did not mention money. Luckily times have changed and ATM machines can be found in most cities. The bank at Cayo Largo also cashed money for me with my passport and English Visa card. Our Canadian Mastercards cards did not work. Apparently American cards are not accepted, maybe there was some link. Cubans love Canadians, so much that we are the only country that can stay longer than a month without having to get an extension; which was lucky as we ended up spending more than a month in the country. No one takes credit cards, it is a cash society with two currencies, one for locals (used in markets, stalls, bakery) and one for everything else. We stayed in people’s homes at $30 a night, there are a lot of them and costs vary. Breakfast was an extra $4-$5 and huge. Hotels seemed very expensive in the cities, although the all inclusive ones in Cayo Largo were cheaper. We could have eaten and drunk for free when we went to get some wifi, as they have no wrist bands for guests. Wifi is very, very limited. You have to buy a card, valid for one hour and they are not often available. It can be used (if there is wifi available) in a large hotel lobby or city square. We lost touch with the world for a month.
We could easily have stayed longer in Cuba, we loved the rich culture and traditions dating back hundreds of years. The people are some of the most spontaneously generous and friendly we have come across. Visiting Cuba is a an educational experience and one for the self sufficient cruiser as provisioning is difficult. However a meal of chicken only costs $3.50 with a cocktail for $2 at the marina, so we went out and socialised as much as possible whilst adding to the local economy. It was like going back 50 years, a time warp and the old cars were like being in a museum. Fuel is expensive and scarce, so a lot of people use oxen for farming, horses, horse and cart, or bicycle and cart for getting around.
Time now to enjoy treats not had for a while in the Cayman Islands. We have so many pictures to share that we have broken them down into three parts. Hope that they do not bore you too much, but pictures are better than words and we hope that you enjoy. As Piglet said to Pooh “what day is it today?” “My favourite Day” Pooh replied.
27 December 2015 | Jane
Cuba warm and sunny
Belize and on to Cuba
We had a great sail up to Belize and after arriving in Placencia checked in on Friday, 13 November, not a good day for departures, but it worked well for our arrival. As soon as we hit shore the harbour master, in his little hut on the dock, wanted our $$ for a cruising permit. We paid for two weeks $195 and should have paid for another day, as he had no change. We would have been saved a lot of pain a few weeks later ☺
We had two options as to check in, but as we had paid our cruising permit we decided to take the water taxi across the lagoon. It proved to be a fascinating day. The ride across was fun and then we met "Russell" our delightful Rasta taxi driver who stayed with us for the two hours it took us to go to Customs, Immigration and a couple of other places for paperwork. He only charged us $25 Belize, which is $12.50 US - the buy of the week. He drives during the day and runs his own restaurant at night we would highly recommend him. He dropped us off at a local restaurant so we could have some lunch before our return trip, yet again $20/$10 US for two fresh juices and tons of yummy food and we had been told Belize was expensive.
While we were having lunch the heavens opened, really opened, but thankfully there was a lull during our walk back to the water taxi although the puddles were huge. Crossing the lagoon was a laugh; there was a tarp that everyone huddled under as the heavens opened again. Luckily in this climate even if one gets wet, one does not get cold and we soon dried off.
Onto the next challenge - money. Well thankfully there are three banks in Placencia, although only one had a working ATM. We went into the bank and joined the long line up, as we needed US dollars for Cuba, having been told that we had to have CASH for Cuba. Remember it was a Friday and our plan was to leave on Sunday. After quite a wait we were told they had no dollars, so off to the next bank - only ten minutes away. They were happy to give us dollars, but they needed cash. So a quick walk back to the previous bank's ATM and a rush back to the dollar bank before it closed. That being said in Belize you are only allowed to cash $250 US per person per year. It sounded like we were going to have to be very careful during our month in Cuba.
We ended up staying in Placencia longer than planned as for two days it did not stop raining and the weather was not good for moving. However we really enjoyed our time there, it is a lovely town with a lot of character even when totally flooded. It was early in the season, so not many tourists and we had only two other boats out at the anchorage with us. We loved "Friends on the Pier" a great couple from Canada had just taken it over. They are the perfect place for cruisers, right off the dock with great coffee, food, wifi and laundry. We mentioned that we were going to the market to stock up and they kindly lent us their golf cart for a couple of hours, we love meeting such friendly people with big open hearts like that.
Our plans changed somewhat as we started to have problems with our ... generator. Yes again. So we headed up to Cucumber Marina just south of Belize via Wippari, Blue Ground and Long Cay. It was then the weekend so we headed to Cay Caulker having managed to book in a Kohler dealer for Tuesday (our two-year warranty ran out on the Wednesday). All the way we hardly saw another boat, although when we got to Cay Caulker (a popular spot) there were four other boats in the anchorage. We can understand why people like Cay Caulker with its funky, hippie charm and we met some fun locals and tourists who we spent an evening partying with.
The staff at Cucumber Marina could not have been more helpful, but it is not a place to spend time as the bugs half killed us. I have never suffered from bites like it and we covered ourselves with spray. They call it "Old Belize" and have a little museum, gift shop, restaurant and false beach/swimming area. Apparently there are people who come off the cruise ships who have never seen a beach before and love the place. There were four cruise ships out in the Bay and tourism is a big part of their economy.
The two Kohler guys were with us for over two hours before they found out that the problem with the generator was a loose wire at the very back of the machine - we are talking about a very cramped area, so we are lucky they found it and that we were up and running again. Our generator is very important to us as otherwise we have no water maker or cooking facilities. However, the cost of two nights at the marina (not cheap) was not in our budget.
There are not many places to check out of Belize and so we took the opportunity while we could. The three offices we had to visit were all over the city and we were advised to hire a driver for a couple of hours. Good idea as our Rasta friend was the best. Our driver for the morning sadly was a lot more expensive and it took four hours (we kept loosing her), it also did not help that we owed an extra $5 ($2.5 for an extra day on our permit) and they took over half an hour to find us in the system ☹ Belize City is not big, in fact the total population of Belize is very small with a lot of snowbirds who find the living easy; especially as English is the common language.
The highlight of our time in Belize were the Atolls, outside of the long reef that protects the coastline. At Turneffe we went ashore to the Lodge in the hopes of getting wifi. At $3000 per person per week it is very exclusive, it was lucky we arrived between guests and they let us use their office computer to send a quick update to family and get weather. Then there was Lighthouse, where we anchored off Half Moon Cay and went ashore to visit the bird sanctuary. What a treat as the Frigate birds were mating, the males puffing out their red chests and making an amazing noise, and where we saw red footed Boobies for the first time. This is where the famous blue hole is, a perfect round lake rimmed by living coral which is over 450 feet deep. The water depths around it average about 6 feet, and the hole shows that at one time the water level was at least 400 feet lower than it is today! Amazing.
The weather was good for us to move on, and as we were already checked out it was time to sail to Cuba. We ended up having to take two long tacks as the wind came from the NE and not the east, but on the whole it was a good trip; which took us four days. We had a bit of everything weather wise, but the highlight had to be Birdie Num Num (named after the film "The Party" with Peter Sellers).
We have had some interesting characters on board, but this little swallow was probably the smallest to date and he made up for his size in character. He was delightful. He hitched a ride a couple of days out of Cuba and within a few hours had made himself at home not only outside, but also inside of Ta-b where he checked out everything and often enjoyed talking to his friend in front of one of the mirrors. He also preferred to sleep inside, finding a little shelf for his bed and soon became quite tame.
When we arrived in Cuba we expected him to fly away, but he stayed with us and we were soon wondering whether we had a new pet on board. On that note I will end and update you in our next blog (probably from the Cayman Islands sometime in January) as to what happened.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
The Salty Sailors
15 November 2015 | Placencia, Belize
Jane wet and windy
Leaving Guatemala we had mixed feelings. We were truly ready to leave, but at the same time we came to love the beautiful people we met and their stunning country. The whole time we felt safe, cared for, and welcome. We saw a lot of poverty, but everyone appeared incrediably happy. We enjoyed much laughter and banter, friendship and help, from these mainly shy people. Another thing I noticed was that I was not short, in fact most people, even men, were around my height. As my mum always told me, some of the best things come in small packages and for the Guatemalans that seemed to be the case.
We were not expecting the weather to be great, but it was probably one of the most uncomfortable places we have been to. Apparently last year it rained for the two months of September and October, so I suppose we should have been grateful as that would have seriously delayed work. However it was very difficult to get much work done, it was exhausting, even though we perservered. Once we were in NanaJuana we often found ourselves in the pool, even though the water was …. very warm. Sadly the water now in the Rio is very contaminated and dead fish are a common site. People however still swim in the water.
We had to take Ta-b out of the water (called going onto the hard) to have our engine seals redone. As Russ said …. “A quick job”. Once out of the water we have to sand down our coppercoat to reactivate it. Well that started up a hornet’s nest. Bubbles were found all down the middle of the port hull – yikes, need to recopper coat area, but …. It has to be dry. Guess what, yup it decided to start raining. Not only that, but the sanding had ruined our beautiful polish/wax job.
To make it short we ended up being on the hard for two weeks. I hate being out of the water. Not much fun if one wants to go pee in the middle of the night and the facilities are a dark walk away, just one of the challenges. We did however manage to take a couple of days off. Would have liked to have taken off longer, but at least we got to Tikal which was MAGIC. Tikal is in the heart of the Mayan world, located in Northern Guatemala in the middle of the jungle. It is a huge being 576 sq km with temples, pyramids and palaces and was declared a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1979. The archaeological area covers 26 sq km where more than 3,000 structures have been mapped . There is a ton of wildlife there too. We hired a driver and guide for the day and were lucky to have the place more or less to ourselves ….. and it did not rain. We felt blessed. Our photos tell it all, words do not do it justice.
We were lucky to have a fantastic group of cruisers at NanaJuana. During the world rugby games the banter between the Ozzies and Kiwis during the matches made for great entertainment. The final match between the “brothers” was a ripper – I was on the edge of my seat and certainly proud to be a token Kiwi when we won. Celebrations went on all day and into the evening as it was Halloween and we had also been put into the water before the match. One of the cruisers put on an incrediable party for us, including a gravesite that we were lead through – very scary and a great laugh. Always fun to dress up and party.
In fact we partied (or should we say socialised) every night for the last ten days we were at NanaJuana. We felt we had become locals and had our favourite bars/restaurants, there were movie nights, jam nights, bbq nights and just …. Happy hour nights. We made some great friends and as always it was hard to say goodbye to those we know we will probably never see again. The cruising community is very special.
We at last left dock ten days later than planned and are now in Placencia, Belize. It was a bumpy old ride up and we were glad to be on Ta-b and not suffer from mal de mar. The weather has changed dramatically. 27 degrees and 79% humidity feels …. Cool; especially as it has been windy and wet. Another adventure checking in. Got grabbed as soon as we hit land and visited … four departments, total cost $295 Belize for two weeks. Took water taxis and taxis, but had an interesting (wet) day. Then 35 knot winds that night with crazy rain, gotta love the sailing life.
Our thoughts are to move on to Cuba at the end of the month. The hurricane season does not officially end until the 30 November. We have been told that getting money is very difficult in Cuba and to arrive with cash. No problem, we will just get some US$ here before we go. Not so easy we find out today, we are allowed only $250 each, per year in cash, in Belize. Anyone want to come and visit with $$$s?
Keep happy and healthy, thanks for all your emails, so lovely to hear when we are so far away. Hugs