Caya trip Boca Raton to Ft Myers Oct 19-28 2017
08 December 2017
Hurricane Harvey in Texas put a damper on our Sept plans to finish up our Abaco cruising on Caya but Hurricane Irma a few weeks later just flat out cancelled it. The picture is Caya prepped in Marsh Harbor for Irma that never happened there.
While the storm hit the west coast of Florida, at one time it was going right over the top of the Abacos. Having plenty of warning and having it already set up at the Marsh Harbor Boatyard where she was hauled, they already had Caya tied down and I owed Capt Bill Olson a huge favor for flying over and removing the canvas and the sails. Stuff I should have done before I left in May but we had decided so quickly to leave Caya in the Bahamas rather than move her back to Florida, I just didn’t think about it at the time.
So a week after Irma hit Florida and totally missed the Abacos, Capt Bill had a preplanned vacation/delivery to bring Caya back with his girlfriend, Elaine. We were to be on the boat two weeks before and him 7-10 days after with part of that trip moving the boat back to Ft Myers. However after our change in plans, I elected to get Capt Bill to move Caya back to Boca Raton where we had left from nearly a year before and my buddy, John, and I would take a week to get Caya back to Fort Myers.
The plan was to move the boat a day at at time and in daylight hours finding a place to anchor for the night. So we arrived in Boca on October19th. Capt Bill Olson was good enough to pick us up at the airport and loan us his car for provisioning. Fortunately also he fueled and watered up Caya. So we have very little to do but figure out do we go inside down the ICW or offshore. Right now the ICW was looking the best as the winds were 20-22kts from the N to NE.
However when we left the slip on the Slip 20th at 7am it appeared the wind had laid. Capt Bill drove out to the Boca Inlet about 5 miles to our sought and it was a NE breeze. 10-18. So we decided to go out Boca and by pass the 22 bridges we’d have to clear to get to Miami. The Boca inlet is horribly narrow and shallow and you have to get a hell of a lot closer to the jetty rocks that I felt comfortable in but we made it out. We had a great Downwind sail jib only to No name harbor off Key Biscayne and Anchored in 5-7’ water for night. Total time about 8 hours and about 50 miles which was about our longest day of the whole trip. We motorsailed some to keep speed up but when we started hitting 7 consistently the motor was shut off and we sailed.
Oct 21st we were up early and left at 730am . Now it’s Blowing NE—E at 18-20. It was a Rough exit out to Hawk channel, but an hour later we turn south and head to Rodriquez Key. We saied Down wind Jib only to RK and a hoped to anchor in lee of RK but it’s too easterly so a little bumpy but we got as far around to the west of it as we could. We literally got into about 1-2’ under the keel but was ok all evening. As the night wore on the wind did die and it was not so rolly.
Oct 22nd. Up early again and left about 7am. Still blowing hard still NE-E at 18-22. This reef that protects the Hawk Channel obviously has some breaks in and we have rollers some as big as 6-8’ but we’re still on a beam reach to downwind with a Full genoa. We had a Lots of crab traps the day before, but now we have tons and in these seas the are Hard to see. The Channel to marker5 bridge is at a really weird angle to Hawk channel and you can’t cut it due to a large shoal and in these seas and winds if you did, you’d never get off being aground. We Finally get to a point we can make the turn to the Channel 5 bridge. We get through the bridge it’s like night and day (flat). We motored south down to Jewfish hole between the KOA and the marina and anchor at about 4pm which was one of our shortest days. It’s Nice, flat, calm and just 1-2’ under the keel with tide change. This is just a few weeks after hurricane Irma and it’s eerie not seeing many other boats out on this weekend. It’s like everyone has something else to do.
Oct 23rd. We Left about 8am headed for Little Shark River and are wondering do we stay there 1-2 days to wait out a norther that is going to make its way all the way thru the key? In addition, there is a potential tropical storm developing south of Cuba that is expected by the weekend to hit the keys and SE Florida. We were scheduled to fly out of Ft Myers on Friday and as usual it’s hard to get exact dates down on moving a boat. I err on the longer side and move our flight back to Saturday, a $500 change fee but necessary to not be pushing it on a schedule. We got into Little Shark River about 4pm and had 7-8’ of water under keel and 4-5’ at the entrance. This has got to be the most remote area of Florida; no cell service and no civilization at all. If there had been a cabin on the shore and fishing rod, John would have has as well liked to stay here forever.
We’re probably going to stay here two days and wait out the norther that we are told is hitting between 10am and 2pm the next day in Marco Island which is our next destination but is a good solid 60 miles away the the Marco Island Yacht Club Marina. We are accompanied by a 40’ Cat that came in and anchored. It gets dusk and the bugs come out in swarms. We go below to fire up the generator and close up the boat but the Gen won’t start. After some diagnosing it’s obvious in the coming dark we are not going to get it started so I get the no see um screens out quickly and hit every hatch but the head. We are glad Caya has 8 cabin fans to move the air around because even in October there is a bit of humidity. It gets dark fast when there is no civilazation and we turn in early. It also cooled off inside and we slept fine.
We got up the next morning and tried to diagnose the gen and it won’t start. Looking at the weather on the Delorme satellite tracker which for a 2” screen is pretty good, By 9am we decided we think this front is going to be late and the forecast is light air from NE and temps not dropping till the next day so we know the really strong winds are well behind it 8-12 hours. We elect to leave and do at 9:30am. We have to sail nearly West to get around Cape Sable and it’s about 40 miles. We do but winds are light. We’ve left engine running to motor sail closer to the wind. We get around Cape Sable about 1pm and can see the rain and the front coming. Anticipating the rain coming, the enclosure is fully up so we roll down the curtains and wait. The Sails are furled in now as the wind is already on the nose from the NW direction we have turned to go to Marco and the entrance is at the north side of the island so we have 12 -14 miles to go from the turn. At 3 pm it rains HARD and we’re dry in the enclosure. Once again it I’m so glad I spent the money on the enclosure. We’re motoring now in nearly flat seas that are beaten down by the rain and in the fog Marco totally disappears. The storm passes the sun comes back out and the temp has dropped some but winds are only 10-12kts. By 430pm I can get a cell signal and reach Marco Island Yacht Club Marina and get Elmer the harbor master and got us a slip for two nights. The entrance into Marco has this really weird 90 degree turn to starboard that if you have never been in there before, will really throw you off. I wouldn’t do it in the dark unless I had been in here before but I have and we’re pretty sure we can make it if our speed drops any and we can’t make the entrance before dark. However, that didn’t happen we hit the entrance with an hour to spare till sunset and We literally tie up at 7pm just before dark. This has been our longest day yet at 9.5 hours but we’re certain we made the best decision leaving when we did. We we stepped on the dock it had been 4 days since we set foot on land.
We got an Uber to Snook Inn to get a good meal to celebrate that we made the right move leaving Shark, but after dinner we are beat. By the time we get back those light winds have built to 15-18kts.
Oct 24th. The temp has dropped a ton and wind is from NW to N at 20 plus and we once again celebrate that we left Shark as it would have been rough seas and an upwind slug to Marco from there. It would have been 60 miles that there is no way we could have motored it in daylight hours . We use this day to clean up the inside since it really has not been done since she was stored on the hard in Marsh Harbor for 5 months. She looks “clean” inside but is not. Everything from bilge to ceiling gets a good wipe down.
We hit an Uber to get a ride to the palisades area and Hit CJ’s for a late lunch/early dinner. Winds are supposed to lighten to the NE tomorrow which should give us some protection from the land as we motor nearly N to NE to Ft Myers. It’s only 32 miles to the entrance but about 16 miles from there up the Caloosahatchee River to Legacy Harbor Marina in downtown Ft. Myers. Whatever the weather we’re pretty determined we’re moving the boat. We have warm clothes and we have the enclosure We’ll be fine.
Oct 25th. We leave out at 7:15 am and it’s about 50 degrees out (Oh, it never gets cold in South Florida, my A--!). As soon as we clear the dock the enclosure is rolled down. We can tell it’s going to be a near upwind run but John raises the main to give us some stability and we get out to about 15’ of water and head north. The seas are from the NW and the wind is from the NE and it’s weird but that’s what it’s doing. It’s not a bad run just motoring and getting a little power from the main. A bit rolly but as soon as we clear the shallow water off Naples we can start to head closer to land and the seas flatten a bit.
We hit the outer Ft Myers channel mark about 4pm and drop the main under the causeway bridge and start the 2.5 hour motor up the river getting to Legacy about 6pm.
I had commented and subsequently jinxed us by saying it’s amazing Caya has been in the Bahamas for 11 months with 6 months of actual use and very little has broken. Well, We lost the stb bow light cover because the furling line was run incorrectly and it took the cover off.
That subsequently wrapped made the furling line jump the drum and wrap below the drum and subsequently in the process it took the cage that holds the line in loosely around the drum and sent it also flying over the side. The cage must have been a bit loose also for that to happen. Nevertheless I had to order a new cage.
The back up 12” chart plotter from the time we plugged it in, the screen started going out although it was still working. It had flashing lines the whole time on it. Well it was the back up plotter.
The cockpit stb stereo speaker quit working. So two new speakers are coming. I'll keep one for a spare.
The electric furling winch started leaking some oil out of a seal on the motor. So a new seal is being shipped but it stopped leaking.
And the gen set quit working. (Which turned out to just be brushes on the starter and is already fixed)
Our next trip to Caya is for maintenance. Time to give Caya some special attention!
04 August 2017 | Havana Cuba
Just the name provokes a sense of a forbidden destination. We were finally getting to go to somewhere that I had dreamed about for over 25 years. Cuba has always seemed so close and yet so far. So, when the TMCA http://www.texasmariners.com announced they were doing a charter to Cuba in June and you could take your own boat, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Caya, our 2006 Catalina 350, had already been on the west coast of Florida since November 2015. After a trip to the Dry Tortugas and Key West, with this Cuba trip being less than a month away it made sense to just leave the boat in Key West. We would come home for two weeks and fly back to do the trip.
First there was paperwork. A CG-3300 form had to be sent in to the US Coast Guard listing our intentions of visiting; you can’t go on just a “vacation.” To visit Cuba you have to have a purpose and ours was education of the Cuban People. For that excuse a TMCA member did a seminar at the Hemingway Yacht Club for local boaters on Florida Straits crossings (like any of them can actually do that). Nevertheless, “education and interaction of the Cuban people” sufficed to fill out the form. You also had to list anyone who may go and this all had to be sent in weeks in advance, so it could be approved. Why exactly, I don’t know because no one asked for the form in Cuba or when we arrived back in the US!
However we did it along with the other 12 boats and 100 people who were on this regatta and it all got approved a week before the departure date of June 23rd.
Unfortunately, unlike our Dry Tortuga trip where we had a crew of 6, which is a lot for Caya, only my best friend, John Brown and I were able to get our schedules together to go.
The charter company TMCA was using, Harmony Yacht Vacations, http://harmonyyachtvacations.com/sailing-cuba , has been doing charters to Cuba since the opportunity opened up. They were well versed in telling us what we needed to do, what we could do and what would and wouldn’t work.
I can say after all the hoopla, including having to change my insurance to a Lloyds policy to include Cuba for an additional $1200 above and beyond the normal policy, that this was about the most painful part of the whole event. In hindsight, I would have taken my chances and not gotten it had it not been hurricane season. Our destination Marina Hemingway (MH) http://www.hemingwaycuba.com/marina-hemingway-cuba.html is about the only destination for cruising boats that has accommodations that are anywhere close to Havana and even at that proximity it’s going to cost you $20-35 USD for a cab ride ONE WAY into old Havana. From Caya’s location at Stock Island Marina http://www.stockislandmarina.com the outer buoy going into MH is 98 straight miles. Given there was a forecast for light air (AGAIN) we knew we would be motoring. Given we had just motored nearly all the way to Dry Tortugas (DT) and back we knew we’d make an easy 5 knots in flat water or a 20 hour run. So we decided to leave about 11am so that we’d have a daylight entry into MH due to the reef on either side of the entry and the current. A night entry was not advisable in any conditions.
Caya was still pretty well equipped from the DT trip but we fueled the boat when we came back to the marina. We still had about 20 gallons of fuel on deck which would have been enough to motor there and back especially if we got some sailing in.
The charter company with their catamarans have this down. They “know” there will be light air and they know they can motor at 8-9 knots, so they decide to leave at 4am and they will be in before dark the same day thus making it just a “long day” but avoiding an overnight run.
We leave at 11am and it’s dead flat calm, maybe 5 knots of air from the east and not enough to push us at the speed we need, so we proceed to lay in the course, turn on “Otto” and just get back into the rhythm and slowing down that only being offshore and away from the persistent smart phone gives us. Well at least 8 hours later we were out of cell range!
As soon as you get about 5 miles from Key West the depths start to drop rapidly. We got a photo of the depth at 500 feet before it went to crazy town and just flashed at us for the next 18 hours. The same for Cuba. It must be on the pinnacle of a mountain range because at literally 100’s of feet offshore it’s 100’s of feet deep and it’s 1000’s of feet just a half a mile.
Wanting to do some fishing on the DT trip but not having the gear, I bought a hand line kit http://www.hawaiifishinglures.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=H&Product_Code=HLFROK&Category_Code=SLHLF online and John proceeded to set it out as well as devise another homemade line we came up with using some light line, a dog leash with snap shackle and a bungee cord. You have a lot of time offshore to come up with stuff especially if it’s flat, calm and you' motoring.
FISH ON. About 4pm we had a hit and John pulled in a little 3’ Dorado. I gaffed him and we got him in the cockpit. John went below to get some alcohol to knock him out and I thought he was out already because he was just lying in the cockpit, probably wondering why he bit that lure, when suddenly he came alive and started flopping. He was determined to get out of the boat and he did. He jumped right thru the back of the walk thru transom because I didn’t have the vertical upright in place. And of course we didn’t get any pictures because we just didn’t have the time. He was a beautiful colorful fish like all the Dorados are and I was OK with him getting away, but I’m not sure that he lived very long since I had gaffed him in the side.
At least now we were optimistic about the fishing rig, but alas we were fishless the rest of the way there and the rest of the way back. Even on the way back towing my keen sandals as a “slapper” lure in the center of the lures, did not raise the fish. John says the smell of the sandals detracted the fish.
At least now we had some air and John said we could carry the chute so up it goes and our speed picked up and our ETA went down some. We fell into our usual routine of 2-3 hours on and then nap and John always goes first. I find it hard to stay up past 10 anymore so I can sleep 10-1am or so and then spell him and vice versa. The evening was uneventful except for the ever so elusive green flash we got at sunset. The first of three we saw on this trip which is a record.
A lot of people do not like to carry a spinnaker at night because yes things can happen and of course it would be during "our turn."
I was coming up from getting some coffee and about to spell John when I heard a pop and the sound of a sail crackling and I could see by what moonlight we had the blue and white spin hitting the water! At first I thought we blew it out but it was too light of air. Fortunately John was at the helm and immediately took the boat out of gear. We both got to the starboard side and immediately started hauling on the sheet to get the clew and the sail and the rest of it, and started hauling it into cockpit. The chute was in an ATN snuffer so there were other lines and more to haul in but the tack and the snuffer halyard were tied up forward so we were only able to pull in so much. Of course what seemed before to be flat calm seas now seemed to be a beam rolling one and although the mainsail was keeping us on the general heading we should be on, the lack of engine power and the power of the spin had changed our course some. So John braved the trip to the foredeck to loosen the tack and snuffer halyard. I was hanging on to the sail because some of it is still in the water wrapped in the snuffer. He unties, I pull and somehow, miraculously it does not get under the boat, on the keel, prop or rudder. So after we do a good inspection of everything and determine nothing is in the water we drop the engine back in gear and motor back to our course, pull out the genny and we're back to our 5 knot speed. Nothing else to do but bunch it up and throw it in the salon and sort it out later, but it’s apparent the halyard broke somewhere but, except for being wet, the sail is no worse for wear.
I would highly recommend radar or at least AIS (we had the latter) for offshore sailing. The Florida Straights have a lot of commercial traffic, and we did have to adjust course a few times to avoid some of the ships. Given the choice, I would have the transponder AIS whereby Caya is also putting out an AIS signal but just having the receiver, which we have, really helps to be able to see where these ships are going. Once we get within 25 miles of Cuba all the ship traffic is pretty much gone as the commercial ships are not going to get anywhere within Cuba's 12 mile territorial limit.
At 5:28 am while I was on watch, my phone comes alive with a “Welcome to Cuba” text and we are about 5 miles from the buoy. I had been watching an eerie glow on the horizon since about 3am figuring it was the lights of Havana glowing in the distance. And it was, but what was making it visible from that far out was a huge burn off torch about 200’ in the air that was east of Havana. Now I could see that really well as it was getting more light. I could also make out a row of lights on the shore all in a line that I figured out was the famous Malecon Street and our visit into town later proved it was.
I got a call on the VHF about 6am from Sterling Huff aboard Doctors Orders, a Beneteau 49 that I had not noticed was about half a mile to our west and ahead of us, wanting to know if that was us. I acknowledged it was and said see you at customs.
We were told upon reaching Cuban waters (that would be about 10 -12 miles out) we were supposed to call the Cuban coast guard to alert them we were coming into their waters and that we were coming to MH. We were also told they all use hand held radios and they would not probably hear us until we were within a mile or two and also that while they may hear us we probably would not hear their response. So it’s 6am and figured why bother. I would have been surprised if there had even been anyone at customs since I expected to tie up and wait till 10am to see someone. Again another one of those things you were supposed to do but really didn’t matter.
The entrance into MH was super straightforward. There was an outer center channel safe water buoy and floating red and green buoys coming in. I could see how in a north breeze of a strong current this would be a really bad entrance because waves would be crashing on the reef that you can see in 15’ of water when you’re at the second buoy coming in. But not today. The air was light out of the east and little to no wave action. We dropped sail and motored in. It immediately began to look like a third world country. The buildings are old, nothing is really painted. In fact there is a huge shell of a stucco house on the eastern shore of the entrance that had incredible views and outside of Cuba would have been a multimillion dollar house, but it's totally gutted and a shell, no windows or doors just standing there in all its former glory.
We turn the corner into the marina and see the customs dock. Doctor’s Orders is already tied up and they directed us to come in behind them. I guess I was wrong about this check point opening around 10:00 a.m.; the customs dock is open 24/7! Or, they know when a regatta is coming in so they are there (we later found out, they are open 24/7.)
They direct us to tie up and stay aboard. We have our passports, boat documentation, five dollar tips ready just in case, some water and then I realize the spin is down below making a mess of the salon, so we drag it out. Nothing is worse than a wet salty sail (maybe a wet salty dog) so we begin to try to clean the salon up, but John and I can’t help but smile. We’re in Cuba. Or at least we’re at the customs dock. If they check our records and past histories they may not let us in.
So, the first guy aboard turns out to be the doctor. It’s hot down below so we decide to fire up the gen and turn on the A/C which he greatly appreciated.
He views the ships papers, our passports and asks, “Do you have any fruits, vegetables, meats or eggs?” We were expecting this and had been told they would not be allowed in and we expected to pitch what we had. So, we had about 5-10 avocados, some oranges, some pears, some lettuce and no eggs. He says, "oh are those all fresh recently bought?" and I said, "yes just yesterday in Key west." And he says, "Those are OK." I'm thinking, “What the heck” but OK.”
One thing we were told to not bring was EGGS and one of the charter boat captains had said to hide them in the oven; they never look there. WTF? I don’t think that is worth it as the guy asked me twice and I even offered to show him the inside of the ice box.
He then asks about the holding tank and I remember I had forgotten to shut it back off having dumped it offshore, so as I'm showing him where it is and opening the door to cabinet I reached in and shut off the valve and then fully opened the door and he said, "Ok it's empty?" And I said, "Yes." Thinking it is now.
Then he asks about a medical kit and I said we have one and he asks, "Any narcotics?" And I said, "No, do you want to see it?" And he said, "No I trust you." So he's writing stuff down on papers that are so thin that they look like they are from some printing machine from probably the 40s and John being a printer said they probably were. I mean there was carbon paper being used. When was the last time you saw carbon paper? He then takes our temperatures with an infrared gun and declares us fit.
So, one guy down and how many more to go? Next guy takes his shoes off and asks to come aboard. Just what he is inspecting the boat for we don't know, but he looks at the ships papers and we also offer him a drink and he accepts, and looks below and comes back out and motions to us to wait there. I think he just wanted to see the inside of the boat.
So, now it was time for the customs drug dog to come aboard. In the US, this would have been a Shepard or some big dog. In Cuba, it was a cocker spaniel, that John swears her name was Cookie. So Cookie and her handler come aboard and they sniff here and there and look around always asking can they open this door and such. Everyone was always very polite and always asked before coming aboard and never with their shoes on. So Cookie is done and I see that Sterling’s boat appears to be about done as they are getting off his boat and heading our way. I'm thinking this is going to be way shorter than I thought.
The next guy invites us one at a time to the office and we are asked to bring our passports. I figure let John go first. If I hear gunfire I could untie the lines and be gone in 5 minutes - these customs guys don't appear to have a boat. Fortunately, John comes back in about 10 mins and says, "Your next."
I casually ask, “Was there any rubber gloves involved or a 5 gallon bucket and he says, he doesn't want to talk about it. So off I go...”
I go up to the office and at least they have A/C inside. It's a tiny office, dingy, no windows and no window in the door with only the lights inside for illumination. There are 3 desks and 2 computers and 2 cameras that face seats opposite the desk. Hmmm, this looks more like an interrogation room than an office. I am welcomed in to sit down and in my mind I make sure there are no handcuffs or shackles on the chair before sitting. The guy looks at my passport and starts typing. He asks me to remove my hat, to stare at the camera and he takes a picture. He then stands. I stand, he extends his hand and says, "Welcome to Coo-Ba!” I ask am I free to go and he nods. I come out and I’m pleased to find that John has not taken Caya and ditched me.
Another guy comes up and shows us the chart of the marina on the wall which really is 4 canals with land in between. We are Canal 1. I ask what slip and he says, "Canal 1." So I nod and we un-tie and we're off to Canal 1. Before we un-tied, I noticed a big 120-130' motor yacht had just tied up to check out and that all attention is now paid to them.
We motor to Canal 1 and notice there are only boats tied up on our Starboard side, so we figure we will too and we just keep motoring till we see someone and they are pointing to come in there. We have lots of fenders out for the concrete dock and lots of folks there ready to grab lines. We tie up and start to get the shore power cord out when I notice that the boat in back of us has a cord split across our side and his side (IE he needed two 50amp breakers). I just use the two 30 amp breakers that I need on each side but now another guy shows up and says NO that won't work as they have to bill out the electric for each slip and that guy is paying for both sides of that electric. So, we get untied and move down about 3 more spots and retie and power in, and A/C is flowing, small tips for the help are given out etc., etc.
So John and I think OMG, we're in Cuba. Finally after 25 years of talking about it, we're here! Time for an arrival Bloody Mary. Just as I was about to get the ice, Knock, Knock. Two guys are there. Not as well dressed as the customs guys, but they are official looking with notebooks and they need to come aboard. Something about agriculture. So, sure come aboard. Shoes off and we all go down below. Now these guys are writing in notebooks and paper that looks like it's been done in pencil and erased about a dozen times. One guy looks fairly official. His friend looks like his brother in law that has tagged along that day. They ask us the same agriculture questions the doctor asked and we show them the same fruits and veggies and all and yes we can keep them and NO we have no eggs. So he scribbles on the paper writing some stuff out that I can't make out while "brother in law" scribbles on some other stuff none of which makes any sense to us. Finally we're at the end and the "propina" (tip) request comes. And this was the only tip request we formally got. We can't make out half of what these guys are saying but brother in law knows the word "tip" and says it and "FOR FAMILY" that is he needs a tip to help his family. I say "oh sure" when I know damn well they are drinking the tip for lunch, but it's ok. Really nothing has been a hassle at all at this point including these guys. Actually quite entertaining.
So the "for family" duo leaves and finally time for an arrival cocktail, but NO! Another knock. I pop out and there is a very official guy there with a uniform and one of those 4 stripes on the shirt shoulder things that hold stripes. At first, I thought he was an airline pilot. He introduces himself and speaks very good English. He is the harbormaster (one of 4) and he has paperwork for us to sign regarding the slip, payment etc. So we invite him in and ask him if he'd like a Coke and he says he prefers Beer! Well it is about 9:30 a.m. by now so I give him a beer and tell him we've been trying to make these Bloody Marys for about 30 mins and does he mind if we continue. He doesn't as he's filling out paperwork. We chat and he says the slip is this price, electric another, water another. There are guards 24/7 not only at the gate but 1-2 per canal as well. There is a 24/7 boaters lounge with showers, laundry (and they will do it for you for $5/bag if you want), a small bar to buy liquor etc. but bring your own toilet paper. Might as well bring your own toilet seat because you will find very few toilet seats anywhere in a public place in Cuba and absolutely none, nada toilet paper.
We sign here, there, show him our ships papers. He enjoys his beer (asking us to be quiet about that) and we enjoy our Bloody Marys and the A/C and I tell him we really appreciate being here and give him $10 before he leaves. He did mention something to one of the canal guards when he got off and I think it had to do with "pay close attention to this boat". For the rest of our stay that guard was closer down to our section of the canal than the other section.
So finally, we're thinking are we done? Yes we were done. So really that was it. We were in Cuba.
I will go over more of what we did while we were there in another story. As far as exiting, it was just as easy, if you could find the harbormaster. First you find him. Tell him you want to leave. He calls on the radio and someone reads the meter for electric and water, calls it back to him and you best be ready to leave because they also disconnect it at that point.
So here is what it costs to go and stay in Cuba (all prices in CUCs which is roughly 1 CUC is $.87 USD.
Dock/slips .70 per foot per day. We paid $150 for 6 nights.
Water .06 per gallon. We paid $1.44.
Electricity .35 Kwh. We paid $26.60 (and we never shut off the air).
Cruising permit 55.00.
And Visa was 75.00 per person or $150.
Total was $373 CUCs which at the .87 to 1 Cuc to dollar exchange about $428.
And then there is the tip for the marina crew. Suggested at 10% and I just gave then 400 CUCs (about $460 USD) and left it there.
Once that was done, we left the slip. Went to customs (they knew we were coming as the harbormaster called them) and we showed them our passports and the entry visas. They stamped the visa papers with them open on our passports and took the visa and gave us back our passports (IE they did NOT stamp or passports on entry or departure, they stamped the visa entry paper which they kept). They inspected the boat to make sure there were no Cubans coming with us and we were gone. The longest part of the departure was me waiting 30 mins for the Harbormaster to come around.
One more thing about the marina. They are very friendly. The Harbormaster gave me a ride from his office back to the boat when we were leaving in his golf cart (the canals are long like a ¼ mile, so it's a hike). Then when I told him I wanted to spend the rest of my CUC on liquor he said, no let me take you back to the ships store by my office, it's much cheaper. So he hauled me back, went in with me and gave me a ride back.
Also at one time during our stay we needed some Ice and I figured I needed to go to the ships store to get it and figured half of it was going to melt before I got back but I asked the guard on the canal for some "HIELO" and he said "Uno Momento" and gets on the VHF and says. Wait on your boat. 5 mins later there is a guy there in golf cart that has a stainless covered bed on the back and he says, "you need ice, how much?" And he opens the back and has two shopping bags full and I said how much for that, and he says $5. So we take both. He also turned out to be our best dollar to CUC exchange at 90CUC to $1 (of course you can't tell anyone because anyone but a govt agency, bank, hotel doing it at less than 87CUC to $1 is illegal), but he was happy to exchange as much as we wanted and we also got ice from him for the trip back. We found this a lot everywhere we went that people would exchange money for you at a better rate than the banks/hotels.
So that is the gist of getting in and out of Cuba. I’ve seen other countries (ie, Mexico, Belize, Panama) that are a lot harder. So what did we do while we were there?:
Taxi cab to Old Havana to see the 4 big squares. We had a tour guide that was arranged via the charter company and we had buses to get us there most days but we stayed behind on the tour to check out the night life and we’d taxi back in one of the old cars. Our tour guide was Robert Alvarez firstname.lastname@example.org and he was very good and available for private tours. I believe he is/was a college professor, but makes more money doing this.
Other things we saw/went to.
Hemingway’s house –all original and just like he left it when he died. His boat PILLAR is there also, totally restored. It’s not to be missed and it’s also not “in town”. About 20-30 mins away.
Hemingway’s two favorite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio (also very near Cathedral Square) and El Floridita. Hemingway said, “My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita.” And we had enough of both in each to testify to it.
Hotel National de Cuba—think 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, Gambling and the Mob. This is where a lot of it happened. Roberto, told us Las Vegas loved the Revolution because before that, we (Havana) were Las Vegas.
The neatest best thing we did was went 2 hours west on a bus tour and went to the area/town called Vinales. This is Cigar country, surrounded by what look like mountains (with the tops lopped off) and it’s gorgeous. Here out of Havana you can see what tourism has really done for the country as it’s totally different than Havana. Here houses are being fixed up, every house has a room for rent and there are tons of tourists everywhere you look.
Just the bus ride out there and back was an experience. While we are so used to constant interstate gas stations, there was only 1 gas station and 1 rest stop in the over 100 miles we traveled. And the rest stop was open 24 hours.
Just like Havana there were people all over the highway with hands out looking for any kind of ride. They see a bus and they assume it’s a govt run bus that is making a route so they all get excited and start to get up only to see us pass them by because we were a private charter. Most people just sat under highway overpasses in the shade waiting for a ride. A lot of those overpasses had “roads to nowhere” as the govt had built the overpasses but no roads leading up to them. It was literally farm land on either side of the overpass. Those with money held it out and another Cuban with a car would stop and offer a ride. We also saw lots of people getting around on horse and you were just as likely to pass a horse and carriage on the highway margin as you were a car. People were even selling fruit and vegetables on the side of the highway. It’s was a surreal scene seeing so many people and those traveling by horse.
Caya Goes to Dry Tortugas and Key West with a crew of 6!
29 July 2016 | Dry Tortgugas
Kent Little/ Little wind and hot, flat seas
Six people on a 35’ boat for 10 days, what could go wrong?
If you’d rather just see pics of the trip just click here:
It was time to move Caya, our Catalina 350, to some newer cruising grounds. Liz and I loved Fort Myers, but we were two hours up the river and had already enjoyed the many sights that Fort Myers has to offer. All along, the plan had been to get the boat to the Keys in April 2016. I had a slip at Marathon Marina for April-May but after visiting Marathon for a brokerage deal in March I decided there was not enough to do there for a two month stay. It’s gorgeous; it’s beautiful, but Marathon is mainly a winter mooring retreat for Canadians and Cruisers and we weren’t looking to stay on a mooring full time and floating docks were few and far between.
A new plan was hatched. We would take a trip to Dry Tortugas and Key West and then return to Fort Myers beach or Sanibel for the summer. Then I heard about the local Texas Mariners Cruisers Association’s (TMCA) planned charter/sail to Havana at the end of June and EVERYTHING changed.
Now we had a plan. Fort Myers to Dry Tortugas with a two night stop at Marco Island then on to Key West. We’d have all the fun of Key West and leave the boat there for June and July, so that we could partake in the Cruise to Havana.
So, I asked my best friend (who also happens to be my company’s Marketing Director) John Brown and my step sister Lela if they would like to join us on this cruise. The answer was “yes!” So, a crew of four was set to go.
Then, my youngest daughter, Meg, who had just finished spring semester at college expressed a desire to go. Meg views John as her “Uncle Johnny” and Liz views John as her “brother” and Lela is family. So, now we have 5 on the boat. We could sleep 7 in a pinch if really needed. Then Meg said she’d love it if a friend could come! Her friend, Kayla from Kerrville, can get off work and make the whole trip. So, I ask everyone and no one cares, but we all know 6 on a 35’ boat could present a challenge - is that going to be tight or what!? Not to mention, there is only ONE head. So, I make 100% sure everyone is good with the idea, the accommodations and the one head, and also that everyone adheres to my friend Bob Bitchin’s motto “The difference between ordeal and adventure is ATTITUDE!” I also tell them, lots of things can change our plans and weather especially. And, I throw in my personal motto “If it’s not fun, it’s not fun!” and assure the crew that we will change our plans accordingly, and we’ll keep it fun.
After a scramble of adding new airfares, more snorkel gear, and another box of stuff shipped to the marina in Fort Myers, where they are now wondering where I am going to be putting all this stuff on a 35’ boat, the day arrives.
May 26th. Liz and I, John, Meg and Kayla, just in from Kerrville the night before, all get up at 3 a.m. to leave for Hobby by 4 a.m. for our 5:45 a.m. flight to Fort Myers via Atlanta. I hate early flights, but we are literally sitting on the boat by noon that day with plenty of time for boat prep and even a last minute parts run.
Liz and the girls go to get provisions for the boat, while John and I with arrival beers in hand (we had technically just arrived at the boat) head off to the municipal marina to top off the fuel tanks and to fill the 6 jerry jugs we have on deck. Figuring it’s going to be Memorial Day weekend, I don’t want to have to wait in line at the fuel dock when we leave on Saturday morning. Then I remember, summer is low season in Florida. If this was November, there would be a line. It’s May. The fuel dock has plenty of room. Only the locals are really boating in the summer in Florida. Everyone else has gone back north. Fueling went fine and we are back at the dock to finish other tasks like filling the water tanks as well as the two extra 6 gallon water tanks and stowing everything.
Caya is heavy. Before we left for Florida in Nov 2015, I had already raised the water line up 2” because of the extra 250’ of chain in the bow and the 10” RIB hanging on the davits. Well we’re still on our lines, but the boat feels heavy. We hold 39 gallons of fuel and have five 5 gallon jugs on deck and 1 in the stern locker. We have 80 gallons of water and an extra 12 gallons in the stern locker. We have 5 gallons of gas for the dinghy and 3 gallons in the outboard tank on the transom steps. In all, we have about 1100 pounds in just fluids. I wanted enough fuel to motor to Dry Tortugas and back to Key West if necessary and some left over to run the gen just in case it became so blasted hot that everyone was uncomfortable after all it is summer. This required extra fuel on deck strapped onto stainless rods I installed between two of the stanchions. I did have North Canvas (Kemah, TX) make me a captain navy blue cover that I patterned and they cut, and it actually somewhat fit just enough to hide the big yellow jugs so they are not so noticeable up on deck.
Adding to the weight, we have six people and all the rest of the parts and crap that I have aboard and I have A LOT of stuff. John comments that we could probably rebuild another boat with what we have on this boat. Well that’s true, but I’m also of the Boy Scout’s motto “Be Prepared!” I’ve seen what a broken water pressure pump or A/C cooling pump, or water pump impellor on the auxiliary can do to a trip. Your two week trip and that of your 5 guests is ruined because a $150 water pressure pump went out. So, YES I have a lot of spares. The amazing thing is how well this 35’ boat can swallow up all the gear so that the interior is not junked up inside and heavy or not the boat handles the extra fluids and crew weight just fine.
May 27th Liz and I make one last morning run to Walmart for provisions and Home Depot to replace a defective CO/Smoke detector (I keep one in each cabin). Lela flies into Ft Myers at noon and John takes the rent car back to the airport to get her, and they catch a cab back. The girls slept in, but have found the Tiki Hut and Swimming Pool area of the marina and have decided it’s a great place to hang out. This is a just a free day to take it easy and we’ll all meet up for dinner later.
Weather wise - I have been looking at the weather as far out as I can for over a month. That and one of our dock neighbors in Ft Myers, Marv and Carol, have a great buoy report they send out daily http://www.marvsweather.com/ and all indications are light air and pretty flat seas with rain every day. In fact Marv told me the night before we left, “you’ll be motoring but it’ll be nice.” Then again there is rain predicated every day in Florida in the summer.
Looking at the chart it’s about 65 miles from where we are up the river in Ft Myers, Legacy Harbor, http://legacyharbourmarina.com/ to where we are going in Marco Island. So, I want to get a nice early start. Everyone can sleep in if they want and have A/C, the beauty of having a gen-set, and John and I will get the boat going about 7 a.m.
May 28th And we’re off at 7 a.m. Light air from the east (downwind) but too light to sail. So, we motor. The ladies are up and only the 20 year olds, which are good at staying up late and sleeping in, are asleep. So we are on our way. We pretty much have the river to ourselves till about 10:30 a.m. when it starts to get a little more active. Still less than what I thought for Saturday of a holiday weekend.
We clear out of the last Fort Myers bridge into open water about 11 a.m. and the winds are still light. We’re still motoring and it appears, as I thought, we’ll be motor sailing most of the way to Marco.
I realize once again the difference between the Texas and Florida coasts. In Texas you clear the jetties and you’re in pretty deep water as long as you stay off the shore. In Florida, there are safe water marks on some gulf exits and I am quickly reminded that they are there for a reason when I realize that I am cutting our course a little too soon and find us in 6’ of water! A quick course correction and we’re back in the deep water again. Lesson learned - pay better attention and don’t cut corners.
We have a nice 4 hour motor and hit the Marco Island entrance. Again there are just a set of markers reaching out into the gulf and some crazy instructions on the active captain remarks sections (www.activecaptain.com) about how this channel takes a hairpin turn at the land to go around a submerged sand bar so you must steer clear of it. We watch a boat about half a mile ahead of us, and sure enough he makes a hard 90 degree turn to starboard and then one back to port. If you had not seen him do it, you would swear he was in the same channel as us.
Marco is gorgeous, full of high end homes, no hotels and only 2-3 high end resorts. It’s literally the last civilized area short of a few small towns down in the Everglades till you get to the keys. As remote as it is, it’s crazy how many homes and condos are there. We pulled into Marco Island Marina http://www.marcoislandyachtclub.net about 4:30 p.m. and were promptly met by the harbormaster. In Florida if you let them know of your arrival they will help catch dock lines and set up your shore power etc. We were going to just stay one night here and leave out for Dry Tortugas in the morning, but we decided to spend two nights and leave out about noon on Monday, so that we would hit Dry Tortugas early the next morning.
After tying up at Marco, we have the customary arrival cocktails, pay our transient fees and hit the pool. We caught a cab that night to a recommended restaurant in town and John and I both had lionfish for dinner. Which I have had heard was good and we both thought it was. This evasive species is now being hunted and eaten all over Florida. Back to the boat, we’re all pretty beat and hit the sack, except for the 20 somethings who are night owls and hit the pool again.
May 29th. As usual, I was first up. I got my coffee and go to stretch my legs and I see a dock cart with a phone charger in it. One of the 20 somethings must have gotten a cart ride home last night. Everyone wanted to go to the beach, so we finally get our act together about 2:30 p.m. and get a cab to South Beach and the place is PACKED. Low season or not, everyone from Miami it seems has come to Marco for the Holiday weekend. Luckily, there is an air conditioned beach bar and we hang out there.
May 30th. I’m in a hurry to go, but there is no need to hurry. In order to hit Dry Tortugas in the daylight, we don’t want to leave before noon. I set a time to leave the dock at 11 a.m. so that we can top off the fuel at Rose’s Marina on the way out. There are NO facilities of any kind in Dry Tortugas. No fuel, water or ice and no trash disposal. You bring in what you need and you take out what you brought.
Since my first offshore trip in my 20’s from Grand Cayman to Corpus Christi, TX in a 31 Dufour with no A/C, no refrigeration and no bimini, I have been very averse to NOT having those things. I can live with no A/C and even lived in a house for 2 years in South Texas with no A/C. But that was 25 years ago. So in Caya, comfort comes first. I have a huge bimini with 3 sided sun shades. I hate the sun. And I do like things cold and I LIKE ICE. I have a regular 12vt refrigerator on Caya and it has a freezer side that we crammed full of food and still found room for two 10lb bags of ice. In addition, I have a 35 qt Yeti cooler we use as a helm seat and I have a 50 qt Canyon cooler (Yeti competitor) that I bought and use as a seat in the 10’ Caribe. It’s a way better seat and storage than those wood planks you get. Between the freezer, the Yeti and the Canyon we had 80 lbs of Ice! Yes, I LIKE ICE! Who doesn’t want a cold drink? As a last resort, I have 4 ice cube trays in the freezer that if doled out will make a round or two of cocktails and if reinstalled will be frozen again by morning and again by that evening.
Time to leave Marco Island and we top off fuel at Roses Marina. By noon we do the hairpin turn out and head offshore and there is NO wind and NO seas. Like mill pond in the morning flat. It’s crazy. What little wind we have seems to be off the starboard bow (typical). Hours later at about 18 miles out, the high rises of Marco start to fade on the horizon and it’s still flat. We have the main up for some stability and the wind has finally started to clock around to the east as was predicted. John says let’s fly the chute!
Caya has the typical cruising chute with the ATN snuffer. It was on the boat when I bought it and it’s obviously never been out of the bag. We get it up and it really does help the boat take off. We’re able to finally kill the engine and sail under Main and Spin.
We toss a lasagna into the oven about four and it’s ready just in time for dinner. We’re still sailing under main and spin as the sun sets. No green flash, but it’s still a great offshore sunset.
As usual at sunset or sunrise, the winds tend to get fluky and can get stronger or go light. By 9 p.m. we’re back to the main and motor sailing. One thing about heading to the Dry Tortugas, there are these HUGE white towers that run all the way down to the perimeter of the park. And I mean there are 7 mile lights on them, so they are really tall and easy to see. One guy told me to get to Dry Tortugas from Fort Myers, “just follow the towers.” I did a google search for info on the towers and nothing came up, but I have heard they were for radio transmissions possibly during the cold war.
It’s comfortable enough to sleep down below with the hatches open and John and I split up the watches with 20 somethings crashing out in the aft cabin and salon and the ladies in the cockpit. That left the starboard settee and it was perfect for off watch for me or John while one or the other was at the helm.
John and I have sailed a lot of miles offshore together and for just an overnight sail we don’t worry much with setting times. One guy crashes about 9-10 p.m., relieves a guy at 12:30-1 a.m. and then again at 3:30-4 a.m. It works out fine. If we were going more than a night offshore, we would have set up a more rigid schedule.
The entry from the north to Dry Tortugas says go to the “I” floating marker that is one of the perimeters of the park and then head south past a reef called “middle ground” to the east and then head for the outer marks entry into Garden Key. At day break we’re an hour from the “I” marker and by the time we get there we can see Fort Jefferson on Garden Key 6 miles away. The water goes from 100’ deep to 30’ just passed the “I” marker and the water turns instantly that super blue that you want to see.
Our entry into Garden Key is easy and there are about 8 boats at anchor. We find a good slot in the 3 sandy fingers that are best for anchoring and we drop the anchor in about 15’ of water in a 1-2 knot current. Anchors are not something to take lightly. As big as possible and as much chain as possible is always the best option. Fortunately the Catalina has huge rollers and I can carry a 45lb Rocna and 250’ of 5/16 chain (not to mention the other 33lb Bruce with 50’ chain and 200 of rode that is also on the bow). John sets the anchor nicely, and because of the opposing wind and the current we are anchored with the cockpit into the wind, actually nice, and the anchor being set nearly under our stern. We throw out 100’ and don’t worry about it.
Wow WE ARE HERE!
We want to check out the fort, but we all want to get in the blue water, so we drop the dingy, put on the outboard and jump off the back. It feels great. The visibility is not that great here but you can still see the bottom really well and it’s blue all over with some spots that are just that super deep blue.
We must smell or something because within an hour of anchoring 4 boats have left. Actually, it was Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend so I figured a lot of people have to get back.
We cool off and we’re supposed to check in at the fort with the park rangers, so we decide to motor in. Caya has a huge dinghy for this size boat but we can carry it. A 10’ Caribe with 8hp Honda (that I call the 8hp POS, it runs great but has let me down a few times so it’s gonna get replaced!) but even with this big of a dinghy, we can’t put 6 in it so we do two trips to shore.
Fort Jefferson is unreal. Its walls are 8’ thick but was never really finished. In the process of being built, rifled cannons were invented that made even the 8’ thickness obsolete. It of course was also a prison, and I cannot imagine being left out here as a prisoner. There would be no need to post any guards. No one could possibly escape.
You can tell that the structure must have been a huge undertaking by the size of it. It takes up almost the entire island except for some area where people can camp. There is a snorkeling spot for boaters and people who come off the once a day ferry boat that comes in on the north side. Meg and Kayla want to go there after the fort tour, so we dropped them back off later and showed them how to call us on the hand held VHF. They like the radio idea and everyone is enjoying no cell phones or internet. We truly are “out there” and it’s really nice!
After an exploration of the fort, the nearly all night sail and lack of sleep is taking its toll and we decide to head back to the boat to swim some more, take it easy, get dinner going and just do nothing.
John and I do a quick fuel burn calculation and know we have plenty of fuel to motor all the way back to Key West, and we don’t see any reason why not to sleep comfortably, so we fire up the gen-set. From down below, you wouldn’t know you were floating 100 miles from civilization.
There was a storm that had been developing and we knew there was a possibility that this storm, which eventually became Tropical Storm Colin, was going to form off Yucatan (less than 300 miles from us) and was going to come north and east and come right over Key West towards where we were. The forecast for this to happen was four days away, and everyone was wanting to see Key West and have an extra day there. So, we elected to spend one more day at Dry Tortugas and snorkel at the reef called “Little Africa” on the backside of Loggerhead Key then plan for a 5 p.m. departure that would put us in Key West early the next day. While I would recommend a much longer stay at the Dry Tortugas, with 6 people on board keeping things moving worked best for us.
June 1 It’s my sister’s birthday, so I use the Delorme http://www.delorme.com to send her a text from Dry Tortugas to say Happy Birthday. I thought it was pretty neat.
There is one mooring ball at Loggerhead Key and while we can see the island and the light house from here, it’s 5 miles away as the crow flies, it’s a much longer trip by boat as there are huge reefs to go around. We are leaving early enough that we think we can get to the mooring ball before anyone else and save us a 5 mile dinghy ride (again two trips will be necessary because of 6 people). We weigh anchor and head out. We clear Garden Key. Hauling ass with a following current, we hear another boat calling the Garden Key rangers to tell them they are at the mooring ball at Loggerhead. Damn. Normally, if this were anywhere else you could just get close and anchor but not in the Dry Tortugas because there is limited anchoring to about a square mile around Garden Key due to the fact that most of the area is reef not to mention it’s a sanctuary. So, we turn around and now have the 3 knot current against us and its slow going. Well we’re not in any hurry but 7 knots coming and 2 knots back makes for a long trip back.
Just inside the Garden key channel this is another anchorage that is marked at Bird Key Harbor and it’s just sandy 15’ bottom surrounded by reefs and its’ at least a mile closer to Loggerhead than where we were. So we pull in there, anchor in 15’ of water and we’re the only ones there except for sea plane that buzzed us on the way in.
John, Lela, Meg and Kayla elect to do the first dink ride to Loggerhead. They will come back and Liz and I will go. So I tell John remember the handheld VHF in case the POS Honda 8hp gives you trouble and there is an anchor in the dingy. The direct path takes them over a reef but its deep enough for the dink and it’s a LONG ride there. 15 mins later with the Steiner Binocs I can still see them going. But they called and said they made it, and would call back when they are leaving so we can know when to expect them.
As it turns out, a month before, I had just sold a Beneteau 44CC to a nice couple from Fort Myers and they were coincidentally going to be in DT the same time we were. We heard the VHF come on and it was them that beat us to the Loggerhead mooring ball and they were calling the park rangers for some assistance as their engine would not start. The rangers were sending someone out. I got on the radio and called them and we walked through what it was doing and I figured it was the solenoid on the starter and if they could jump it to get it started they could get home as they were leaving for Fort Myers that day anyway. That did turn out to be what it was they called and thanked us and said they were on their way and I did check in with them when we got to Key West by email and they made it home fine, they just didn’t shut off the motor.
So Liz and I had a nice 2+ hours on the boat, alone and in this serene deep blue anchorage. It was nice just sitting there. John forgets to call when they are heading back but suddenly I hear the outboard as the sound on the water travels well and they are headed back. Liz and I had just about decided not to go but they all said it was so neat and worth it so we unload them, we load up and off we go.
Wide open on the 8hp this is still a 20-25 min ride and literally if this outboard quit and it has before, you’d hope the painter tow line on the dingy, which is 30’ long and the rode on the anchor, another 20’ will be enough to snag something on the bottom till help arrives. I decide right then and there, the next thing I am buying is a 15hp Yamaha. We need the extra power and the reliability. The dink really is your car when you’re out cruising.
We make it to Loggerhead and it’s a steep incline to the beach. Liz and I pull the dink up as best we can but it’s still a little in the water. I set the anchor out also 20’ up on shore and bury the anchor. I turn on the vhf to tell John we’ve landed and the low battery alarm comes on so it’s a quick message and I said we’re signing off. That thing was fully charged 2 hours ago and it’s a nearly new radio so if must have gotten left on or something. So we walk to the lighthouse, around the back to the reef that is called “Little Africa”. It’s marked with some buoys but everyone said just swim out to where the Pelicans are. So we did and wow what a reef. I’ve never seen so many small fish in a school with large tarpon swimming between them and a pelican just reaching in for a bite once in a while. It was a very, very cool reef and you could tell it was so unspoiled because it’s hard to get to.
We finished our swim and start to head back and look at the lighthouse and lighthouse keepers house some. There is another house that appears to be falling into the water with big keep away signs on it. We get back to the pier near where we landed the dink on the beach and there is a memorial to some poor young guy who lost his life while the dock there was being built. There is another fishing boat on the mooring and I look out and I can see Caya WAY out there. I mean I can see the fort better than I can see Caya but I can see it. This is at least 4 miles and going back it’s going to be into the wind and little seas we had. Fun!
So we get to the dink and OH S--T, it’s full of water in the back. The tide must have come up some moved the dink a little more sideways and waves slapped on the tubes enough to start filling it. GREAT, Just great! I panicked a little (after all the VHF is nearly dead and I look up just in time to see the center console at the mooring pull away at 25 kts) but I did have a thirsty mate hand pump and we try to pump it out me with the hand pump, (that also has a hole in the hose!) and Liz (who was way calmer than I was) using a yeti koozie but the waves keep bringing more water in. Now it’s heavier too but we manage to try and pull it up a bit more on the beach to line the transom up to the waves and we pump and bail like mad men. As the old saying goes the best bilge pump is a scared man with a bucket and wish I had one now. I make a mental note to get a collapsible bucket for the dink as this would have taken 2 mins to clear! We get it low enough but every few minutes a wave spills a bit more in then I tell liz, we just need to float it out of here, see if the engine will start (the fuel tank was floating also) and just get out of here. We can pump the rest out if we can get moving.
So we float it out and it gets deep fast and I tell Liz you’re going to have to hold us off from getting pushed on the beach so the motor stays in deep enough water. So I get in, she’s holding it off really well but it’s hard. A quick prayer and 5 pulls and it starts. I will never cuss those new fully sealed no vent cap outboard gas tanks again I hate them because they swell up and don’t sit flat but if this had been the old kind with the vent it most likely it would have filled up with water. So Liz is in nearly knee deep water and has to jump up another 18” or so to clear the tubes and somehow she does it. I hit reverse and we back out and I spin it around to face the waves and we start moving. I tried the old pull the transom plug and the speed of the dingy will drain the water out. Nope, it was filling us up as we were not going fast enough. So I set the tiller towards Caya and keep the hand pump going and get it down to about 2” at the back side.
It's a slow motor even at WOT and I’m dreaming of a new 15hp whilst glad I have a wife who doesn’t get scared too easily and together we got it done. Just like when the damn motor quit on us at Cabbage Key and I had to row that thing about a mile back to the boat. If that is the biggest issue we have on this trip, no big deal. We were not in any mortal danger and if John had not seen us coming within an hour of darkness, he would have pulled anchor and motored over to find out what the issue was.
So we cut back over the little reefs a bit slower because it’s hard to tell the depth but I figured they were at 3-4’ and we make it back to Caya, tell our tale and I’m ready for a beer. We had drinks in the cooler in the dingy but I was so concentrated on getting the dink back I had forgot. Looking now back at Loggerhead from Caya that 4 miles looked like 8. I got to get that 15hp!
So we raise the outboard, raise the dink, get stuff ready and John has put 15 gallons of fuel that was on deck into the tank and it’s nearly full again so we don’t have to do that offshore and we’re out of there by about 5pm and we head back out of the Garden Key. We go between Hospital Key and Iowa Rock and head south and east to the outer mark that is the perimeter of the park. The wind is going to be on the nose all the way and maybe even some current. We raised the main for some stability and just start motoring setting the course above the Marquesas Keys to the outer buoy on the Northwest Channel into Key West.
Before dark we got a great dolphin show by one lone dolphin who rode our bow wave for about 30 mins and gave everyone a show while we watched him from the deck. He finally bid us goodbye and swam off but we got some great video of him.
We had a nice but hazy sunset, an easy dinner and settled in for the overnight motor to Key West. It was about 75 miles and I knew already we were going to hit before daylight so when I came on the watch at 330 to relieve John I started slowing the motoring down so that we’d at least hit the channel at day break and we did. The outer sea buoy is about 8 miles out so it’s close to another two hours to motor in.
We were staying at the Conch Harbor Inn for Thursday-Sunday night and it’s within walking distance to Duval Street and all the activities. We left DT at 5pm and we pulled into CHI at 830am. Celebration arrival Bloody Marys were in order and I think we had more than 2!
We got checked in, found out the pool there is NOT owned by CHI but Dantes Restaurant and the marina guests have use of the pool but the restaurant and pool opens at 11am and closes at 5pm and marina guests get to use the pool till 7pm whereby they promptly throw you out. Weird pool hours till I saw the crowd that uses the restaurant and pool. It was wall to wall people. Well Meg and Kayla enjoyed it and CHI also has decent bathrooms and a free laundry so Liz promptly started washing stuff. CHI also had this weird little fenced in with a locked gate boaters section of a yard that had hammocks, grills and chairs. It was next to the pool. It was sort of neat and the 20 somethings liked to hang out there off the boat into the wee hours of the morning.
Lela was flying out at noon on Sunday and the soon to be named Tropical Storm Colin was going to form later on Monday night, so we elected to call our time at CHI a day short (when boating always have alternate plans when making the first plan) and we checked out and motored the 8 miles around to the south of Key West to Stock Island Marina Village http://www.stockislandmarina.com where Caya would be living for the next few months. It’s a more remote marina compared to being in Key West but’s its fairly new, all floating, has good security and is close to the airport.
It was also decided with the potential 6” of rain coming the now 5 of us didn’t really want to sit on the boat for 3 more days while it poured so we elected to clean up the boat, do all the laundry and we got a rent car to head out to Lauderdale by about 5pm. Meg had some friends in Lauderdale and her and Kayla were going to visit them for a few days and their plan was to leave on Sunday anyway, so we all just left together and killed a few days in Lauderdale (looking for slips for the fall for Caya) till our late Wednesday flight out. As it turns out TS Colin got Key West pretty wet for a day or so but went way further north and hit closer to Tampa. We could have stayed on Caya, but it was getting tight with that many people for over a week so it was nice to get off the boat, BUT the bottom line is we did have six people on a boat for over a week and 4 of those days with very little shore side time. We had no issues and no conflicts and everyone enjoyed each other’s company.
John and I are returning late in June for a double handed run to Marina Hemingway in Cuba going with the TMCA group. We had Liz and Meg going but Meg now has to finish summer school and Liz decided she needed to be at home for a while.
The Pics of the trip are here:
Some notes or answer to questions I have been asked:
For a 35’ Caya (a 2006 Catalina 350) has great water and fuel capacities.
80 gallons of water and I have a water meter to read actual gallons used.
We also had two 6 gallon jugs for emergency reserves in the transom lazerette.
We carry 39 gallons of fuel and burn roughly 1.2 GPH at 5 knots at 2200 RPM. We brought along 6 jerry jugs (another 30 gallons) although we overfilled a few because we had 31-31 gallons when we filled them all.
We figured motoring from Marco to DT (and we sailed about 5 -6 hours) we burned about 20-22 gallons.
Caya’s dink is a 10’ Caribe RIB. I replaced the worthless seat with a 40 qt Canyon Cooler http://www.canyoncoolers.com (IE YETI style). I bought the canyon because it was a scratch and dent model and cheaper and it fit the width of the dink perfectly. It’s also strapped down to two pad eyes in the hull with a Yeti tie down kit. The only downside is you need to move the cooler to put air in the dingy but the cooler is way more stable and solid to sit on AND it’s a cooler you can put drinks in it. Or if you’re going ashore to get groceries you can put them in there and they will stay cold till you get back to the boat. Besides the cooler, I keep a tiller extender to get the driver closer to bow to help plane the boat (you can actually sit on the cooler), a Mantus collapsible dingy anchor and rode, life jackets and dingy ladder. I also I added a RIB thwart seat cushion storage bag I found online and modified it some and screwed it into the cooler lid. So now I have storage for the anchor, VHF etc. When on the davits the cooler gives me room to put in the ladder, life jackets etc. As mentioned the cooler will hold nearly 30 pounds of ice and we filled it on Monday morning and when we raised the dingy up on Thursday at 4pm there was a lot of water in there but there was till ice. We also got in and out of it throughout the trip.
Ice management wise we use the 35 qt Yeti in the cockpit with drinks in it and usually about 15# of ice. We have 30-35#s in the dingy cooler and depending upon frozen food 10-20#’s in the freezer in the galley. As I said I like Ice. When we left Marco we had 75#s.
I installed a Seagull Water purifier filter https://generalecology.com/category/marine-rv at the galley and it saves a ton of buying bottled water. This thing will filter out Mexican tap water so it will make your tank water taste just fine. 10 days on the boat and no one ever complained about drinking tank water. Expensive, $600, (and LYS is a dealer for them) but worth it. Try carrying two cases of water a mile from the store to your boat and you’ll buy one.
We use yeti thermos and such for ice and drinking water and everyone aboard has one. Your water stays colder just way longer than a glass of ice and water. It also doesn’t get spilled.
We bought a variety of these collapsible cookware items http://www.nauticalscout.com/collapsible/ at the Annapolis boat show last year and they work really well. The kettle heats water faster than the old stainless one I had and the collapsible bucket is going in the dingy from now on.
What spares do I carry? These are the main ones:
March 110vt A/C cooling pump and complete new filter housing and enough hose to re plumb thru hull to pump.
Pressure water pump.
Bilge pump and float switch.
Shower sump pump and float switch.
Electric head discharge and intake pump.
Two complete spares kit for head, joker valves gaskets etc (if you have one head and its electric, you better have spares. We also have a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet seat lid that fits on it just in case)
Rebuild kit manual bilge pump
Rebuild kit for ice box pump out pump.
Complete Universal diesel water pump, 3 water pump impellers, 3 belts.
Assorted oils and transmission fluids
3 max prop zincs and bow thruster zincs.
Panda 4kw gen-set 3 impellers, 2 belts, complete spares kit Panda recommends.
This doesn’t include all the spare hose clamps, wire connectors, wire, s/s screws, bolts, nuts, tapes, paints, lubes etc etc and it ALL FITS ON THIS BOAT!
A work Week on Caya
30 April 2016 | Fort Myers Florida
Mid April I had a chance to take two clients to the Catalina Factory in Largo to look over the new Catalina 425 and since Caya is just 2 hours south in Fort Myers, it seemed like a good week to do some maintenance on the boat in anticipation of our late may -early June Dry Tortugas to Key West run.
I also had the factory build for me teak grates for the head and shower. An option that we have been ordering on new boats that I really like so I asked them about a set for Caya and they still had the patterns so they made them and I picked them up while there. Not cheap but they look great.
It'd been over 6 weeks since I was back since March is a busy boat selling month with a boat show and other events. So I had a long 6 weeks to get my list together and what needed to be done, ship stuff directly there to the marina so I didn't have to pack it etc.
So first on the list was installing a General Ecology Seagull Water Filter. I've sold a ton of these and they used to be an option on our new Pacific Seacraft boats. This is by far THE best water filter on the market. Not cheap at $650 but they will literally filter Mexican Tap water and they remove ALL the boat tank taste!
We had been hauling a lot of drinking water on trips to Caya and with the upcoming trip, it would be a lot easier to drink the water out of the tanks and not use so many plastic bottles.
This should have been a simple cut the 1/2" flexible hose to the galley sink and install a T to a 3/8" compression fitting. Well after two Rube Goldberg designs that the guys at Home Depot told me would work (and that I kept breaking the compression fittings), a third trip to HD and thinking about it over night for the second night I figured it out and got it installed. Even drilling the hole to the side of the galley sink was an issue. I wanted it on stb side but there is a dry storage bin on that side and after looking at it, there was not enough clearance. Port side would have to work but there was a drop bin trash can that also fit in that area and it had to clear that. In all what I thought would take me 3 hours, I had 10-12 in or as one of my Captain buddies told me, "that's just one boat hour (or all day!).
Other projects were getting some more fuel on board and I don't like the look of a 1 by 6 between the stanchions so I elected to do stainless tubing and the split jaw connectors for installing on the life line. Of course I measured all this the last time I was there, measured port side stanchions and realized the deck mounted adjustable pole is there after I got back home. Surely the stb stanchion distances are the same? Well they were not, they were a little longer. So the s/s poles I sent over in the mail were slightly short but long enough for the set screws to take.
Also not liking the look of big yellow jugs on deck, I'm opting to get a sunbrella cover made so I took over some plastic to make some sort of pattern and having North Canvas here in Kemah fabricate it. I'm sure it'll be the wrong size but it'll work. At least we will have an extra 36 gallons of fuel to add to our 39 gal tank.
The other projects list:
Change the joker valve in toilet-not done. I have the parts and it was "preventive maintenance" and do I really want to do that when it's not broke-No!
Change oil in genset- not done. Checked and I only have 47 hours since last oil change last Oct and it's not been a year yet. Besides I'd need to lose an instant 35 pounds to fit in that stern locker to do it. So at least I better check the oil and make sure nothing is leaking etc etc. So in thru the port aft deck locker I go and I'm all the way in, like my hand is against my face on top fo the gen set box so that I can reach the bottom rubber clips that hold the sound sheild on. And of course there is one on each side. I barely made it out.
The sound shield will come out that locker opening in the two halves. But the oil dipstick is at the stern and there is no way to do it from where I am. This is the last year Catalina made the stern step lockers open in the back. Someone thought later on they could let water in in a big stern wave- but it's never happened and Catalina took the locker lids on the transom out which is a shame because there is a ton of storage in there. For example on the stb side lockers I can put three 5 gallon jugs in there. But to get to this locker the outboard is hanging over it and the bigger issue is the dingy is hanging across the transom on the davits. So I have to lower the dingy in the water and in reality its easier to get in the dingy to reach in the locker to check the oil. All this to check the oil!?!? Yes because the dang gen is a Panda 4kw and it only takes one quart of oil. A thinner stronger guy could probably do this from the overhead cockpit locker but that thinner stronger guy is not me. Also cleaning the dingy was on the list so I had to lower it anyway.
So oil is fine and I start and run it for 30-40 mins under load sound sheild off and it runs fine (or course). So now to clean up the area some and reverse the process. I can get the sound sheild back on all all the rubber connectors except for one that I just can not pull hard enough at the absolute worse possible angle considering that I'm standing on my head, but I finally get it but only from doing it from the dingy. I should probably lose some weight.
It's happy hour which happens on my dock just about behind my boat every night so it looks like a good time to stop.
I didn't get every project done but the major ones I did and a lot smaller items as well.
An even shorter trip to Caya
29 January 2016 | lauderdale, marathon, fort myers
One thing about being a yacht broker, I'm in Florida a lot and after driving in Texas for so many years, driving 4 hours (like where we live to Austin and an hour of that is getting out of Houston!), is nothing. So while I tend to fly in and out of Fort Lauderdale, a side trip (2.5 hours) to Fort Myers is not that hard to spend the weekend on Caya. John, who is also my companies Marketing Director, was with me to look over a few listings in Lauderdale and a beautiful Beneteau 44 CC that I sold the owners previously that they were living aboard in the mooring field in Marathon. And while in Marathon we also were looking over some marinas to put Caya in later this spring.
So we stayed 2 extra days and headed over to the boat just to do a little maintenance and also check out some of the marinas down on Fort Myers Beach in case we wanted to move the boat there this summer to be closer to open water.
The boat really needed nothing so we did just about nothing as well but did get a small seam in the mainsail repaired by probably the only local sail maker
www.sailrepairfortmyers.com , Kurt, who did a great and fast 3 hour turnaround job.
That and we got the max prop and bow thruster zincs checked by www.adamscommercialdivinginc.com. Note to others. Alwyas have your own zincs and make sure they are the right ones. The divers appreciate that. I keep 3 sets on Caya. Or as John says I have more on Caya than he does on his Morgan 41, but then again I don't have to go to West Marine for many things part wise.
Overall it was a productive few days.
A Short Trip to Caya
15 December 2015 | North Captiva, Fort Myers, Cabbage Key
My best friend, John Brown, and I traveled to Caya to have a "work week". We did manage to get 1/2 the list done and the oil changed but we also had planned to take a few days and use the boat. Our mutual friend, TD, (who is internet phobic and won't let me use his name) who has his much larger boat on the same dock was there for a work week also but the parts he was waiting for got delayed and before we knew it Saturday morning we were leaving the dock. Getting fuel and headed for Cabbage Key.
We anchored in the same area as in November and we had an early dinner and enough drinks at the Cabbage Key Restaurant and fortunately John figured out what happened to the Honda outboard or cleaned the carb or ?? and got it running, although I still have less faith in it than I did before.
Sunday morning post bloody marys brought us back to Cabbage for breakfast, TD's suggestion after I recalled we already had breakfast on the boat. We weighed anchor and had North Captiva as an idea for a day anchorage option.
Motoring to N. Captiva was a bit more daunting because you're really looking more at the plotter and depths and unlike Texas where everything in Galveston bay is 8-10' deep all over, there are places in Florida where it's 8' then 3'.
North Captiva is a gem to go checkout. The entrance is well marked but It didn't appear deep enough for our draft but all power boats didn't seem to have an issue. I wasn't about to try it as the entrance is narrow, winds around the tip of land and it appeared shallow and we were on a lee shore.
Now some people would say, never anchor on a lee shore but there we found a spot in 10-12' of water and a sandy bottom and I was dying to try out the 45# Rocna and the 247' of chain I have (not all of it at once but enough to find out). So we picked this spot outside the channel entrance and it also lined us up with a cleared grass runway that is cut across the island. Nothing like flying yourself to your own house!
We set the anchor with 100' of chain and the Mantus Snubber, had a drink, and it while it was a bit choppy it was not that bad. (note if you are on active capt, I have marked the spot). We jumped it the dingy and headed in. I was 100% convinced that the depth was not what we needed (4-6) while we were headed in. So we get in and it opens into this delightful little bay lagoon surrounded by mangroves and all. TD says see that cut in the mangroves, head for it and it appears to be about 15' wide and not going anywhere but as we get there a 38' offshore center console with 3 motors comes idling out. So once past the mangroves it's a canal with some houses, boat lifts and the North Captiva Island Club Resort, which is private, the but they don't mind you tying up to the dingy dock and hitting the pool bar. However the drinks were resort prices ($8) and doubles were $16! So we left there and went straight across the lagoon to Barnacles where it's all outside under tiki huts and picnic tables and they had an local acoustic guitar guy doing his thing. The food and atmosphere was great.
By the time we got back to the boat, the wind had died down some and the Rocna was doing it's job so we decided to just spend the night. I checked the anchor some during the night and although the wind did pick back up, we never moved.
Monday morning was not as cheery as even Saturday was and I guess two of the island residents had to go to work because two planes took off on the grass strip and went right over the top of us!
We weighed anchor and headed the 4-5 hours back to Legacy Harbor. All in all a great short trip especially for a "work week".