Good bye Bahamas
22 March 2018 | Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
Karen/Evening and calm
It has been a busy past few months! We left Titusville in early January and moved south, arriving in Fort Lauderdale on the 14th. We stayed just long enough to pick up mail, resupply the galley, take Ron to the dentist, and wait for that all important Weather Window. We pared up with another boat, "Our Log" (Hi, Bill and Tina!), and arranged to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas together. Tuesday the 23rd, the winds were 10-15 kts. out of the southeast, with waves 2 to 4 feet with 6 second intervals (the best opportunity we had seen). The crossing was fairly easygoing and once we made it to the shallow Bahama Bank area, we anchored out to catch a few hours of sleep before moving to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos to check in with Customs and Immigration.
The weather caught up with us there and we had to stay for a week before it was calm enough to pass through the Whale Cut. GTC is not a bad place to be "stuck"! We were anchored with other boats, "Isla" (Hi, Wayne and Brenda!), and spent the time exploring the island. Our 44th wedding anniversary was on Friday the 26th, which coincided with the weekly Sailors Pub Crawl Night so we celebrated in style! Please note that Green Turtle is a very small island with only 3 bars (and we actually skipped one) ending the evening dancing at Pineapples Bar and Grill. Our small three boat flotilla finally left on Feb 1st. Wind was 10-15 kts, 4 to 6 foot seas, with the occasional 10 ft "surprise" wave. Ron plowed our bow into a couple of 10 ft breakers. You know it's bad when he says, "Karen, you did close all the hatches? Right?" Good thing I was too busy taking photos to be nervous!
We split off from the other two boats and headed to Treasure Island to spend a few days with friends (Melissa and Carl on "Bay Breezin") we met last year while motoring through the Great Dismal Swamp in NC/VA. Treasure is a gorgeous little cay and has one of the prettiest beaches I've seen anywhere. We moved from there to Man O' War Cay for a couple of days and then on to Hopetown and Marsh Harbor.
This trip to the Bahamas might be our last for awhile so we wanted to stop at our favorite places and try to visit cays that we hadn't had the opportunity to see before. We moved to Lynyard Cay, through Little Harbor Cut with no problems - seas were up to 7 ft, but not steep. Anchored off of Egg Island - small anchorage with only room for a couple of boats, had a nice little beach but the water was very rolly so it was hard to sleep. From there we moved on to Highbourne Cay and found that we had problem with our mainsail - we have an in mast roller furling system (meaning the sail rolls into the mast instead of dropping down onto the boom). Our sail jammed about half way up the mast as it was coming out and we couldn't get it to release, so we rolled it back up and sailed on using only our jib. This wasn't much of a problem - slowed us down a bit, but that's all. Our sail plan was to go to Georgetown on Great Exuma Island to enjoy the Cruisers Festival and we figured we could get help there to fix the sail. However, we did get a little flak and trash talk on the radio from other boats along the way... "Hey Compromise! Is your sail compromised??"
By now it was the middle of February. We stopped at Normans Cay, Shroud Cay, Hawksbill Cay (took the dinghy through the mangroves, chased sea turtles and hiked up to Camp Driftwood to take photos), and finally on to Warderick Wells which is one of my very favorite places. We hiked, put our painted boat sign up on top of BooBoo Hill, snorkeled on coral heads near our anchorage, watched turtles and humongous eagle rays swim under our boat, and enjoyed a sunset happy hour on the beach.
Next stop was Compass Cay so that I could see Rachael's Bubble Bath - a local tourist spot where the water in this little lagoon foams like a bubble bath. It happens on a high tide when water breaks over the coral barrier with an east wind. You have to walk about half a mile to get there, but it was worth the visit. Afterwards, we took the dinghy over to Rocky Dundas. It is a natural cavern that is only accessible to snorkelers on a low tide. Ron tried to get in, but there was too much surge and I was worried about getting slammed around against the rocks. So instead, we decided to snorkel on a coral reef in a more protected area. Saw some gorgeous fish and Ron took photos with his go-pro camera.
The next morning we visited Compass Cay Marina - I wanted to swim with the nurse sharks that I was told gathered there. Ron decided to take photos instead of getting the water with me (feel free to draw your own conclusions). There is a guy on the dock that tells you not to put your fingers in the water because the sharks might confuse them with food and try to take a bite. Then he starts throwing bits of food in the water (basically he's throwing chum at me) and the sharks come for a visit. About 30 of them, and some were 6 to 8 feet long. It was obvious that they are only interested in the food (and not me) so I was able to touch them and feel around on them. Nurse sharks don't have sharp teeth like other species - they have molar plates for grinding their food. But still... it was pretty exciting!
We moved on past Staniel Cay, Big Majors, and Little Farmer's Cay - down to Rudder Cay to anchor for a few days and wait for good weather so that we could go offshore. Rudder is owned by illusionist David Copperfield and out in the lagoon, he has added an underwater sculpture of a mermaid at the piano. She's in about 15 feet of water so it is an easy snorkel. We visited with other boats ("Tao Pao", "Caribbean Dream", "Moon Glow", and "Another Adventure") and waited for calm enough water to pass through Rudder Cay Cut and move onto Georgetown.
Finally! We went through the cut with 4 other boats. Wind was 10-15 kts., 4-6 foot seas with a slight rage to 7 feet. A little scary at first, but it was a fun sail (even if we could only use our jib). We anchored that evening in Georgetown off of Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island next to the boats we had been sailing with - and near old Kemah friends, Debbie and Moray on "Sol Purpose". Moray was kind enough to come over and help haul Ron up the mast so that he could fix the jammed main. Yay! Our sail was no longer "compromised"...
The Cruisers Regatta is an annual event that attracts hundreds of boats for a week of sporting events, activities, and fun. Think of it like adult summer camp and you won't be wrong. I signed us up for five different things - including the dinghy poker run, volleyball tournament, in the harbor racing, coconut challenge - and we lost all of them! Well, technically we did win a 3rd place flag in the harbor race. But Ron will be quick to tell you that prizes were awarded for each division (I think there were six divisions) and ours only had 3 contestants in it. So even though we won 3rd place, we were the LAST boat to cross the finish line! We might be slow, but we had a great time!
Friends, Jim and Linda, from Houston flew to Georgetown and spent the week with us. I hope they enjoyed themselves at least half as much as we did. We rented a car and drove on "The Queen's Highway" from one end of the island to the other. Stopping at the Tropic of Cancer Beach was one of the highlights of the week. It was gorgeous!
So now it's time to move again. It's taken a couple of weeks, but we have returned to Florida and at the moment we are in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. The next part of this grand adventure is for us to move over to the Western Caribbean. We will sail to Key West and with the first weather opportunity, cross the Gulf to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We have ordered charts and guides, and I've been doing some online research - current plan is to get Compromise settled into a marina in Rio Dulce, Guatemala no later than mid May. Rio Dulce is an accepted "hurricane hole" for our insurance coverage so we plan to spend the summer in that area. We will keep our satellite tracker on so that you can watch our progress if you wish. I'll send out a link later. Thanks so much for keeping up with us.
Bye for now - Karen.
To Infinity and Beyond
13 December 2017 | Titusville, FL
Karen/Morning - sunny and cold
When we left Savannah we began the next curvy and winding part of the ICW - transversing some really shallow areas with cute names like “Hell Gate” with warnings to pass through during rising tides only. We never got stuck, but there were a few nail-biting moments!
Even from the water you can tell it’s Christmas time! Lots of the private piers were decorated with lights and wreaths, and the towns we passed through were all lit up. We spent a weekend in St Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied settlement in continental United States. I wanted to do some sightseeing, tour the old fort (Castillo de San Marcos), and go Christmas shopping in the town center. We were also in time to see their beautiful holiday celebration, Nights of Lights. A few days later we were near Datona and anchored for the night - sitting on the deck of the boat, watching the sunset - and we realized we had accidentally anchored next to the staging area for Datona’s Christmas Lighted Boat Parade! There dozens of them, all playing music and having a great time. The parade was mostly power boats, so we cheered extra loud at the sailboat entries. My photos didn’t turn out well, but the boats were beautiful!
The Space Coast! Ron and I have been married for forever and a day - and while I’ve always known that he liked the space program, I did not realize what a true “space geek” he was! We grew up in the 60s and 70s during the Gemini and Apollo programs, and our kids watched the Space Shuttle launches. Walter Cronkite described the launches on our black and white TV, and Houston had it’s own “Cadet Don” on a Saturday morning TV program (well, it was HOUSTON after all!) We even talked our Mom into buying us Tang to drink so we could be like the astronauts! And we all loved to watch Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeanie”. So it was no surprise when Ron decided to delay our sailing dates so that he could watch a launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
We arrived in Titusville, FL, a few days ago intending to watch a scheduled December 4th NASA launch. However, weather has become an issue and the launch has been delayed until the 15th. So we have taken a mooring ball at the Titusville Municipal Marina - a really friendly, comfortable place with very nice facilities. I rented a car for a couple of days so that we could run errands and spend a day at the Kennedy Space Center. We arrived at the center just after it opened at 0900, and we did not leave until they started closing the gates!! For Ron, the best part of the day was spent at the Saturn launch facility, looking at the early days of the space race. The size of everything and all the equipment was amazing. For me, it was the Space Shuttle display with Atlantis as the center of the exhibit. The memorials for the Challenger and Endeavor tragedies were especially moving.
There were quite a few groups of school kids going through the exhibits. When we went to the Mission to Mars exhibit, it began to make sense. NASA has a schedule to put people on Mars beginning in the 2030s. They figured out that the personnel needed for that timeframe would be today’s 5th graders - so they have active programs to get that age group involved. One NASA guide even told me that they talk to local schools and will even send out the NASA buses to pick up interested kid’s tour groups. Very cool. (I’m sure Ron wishes he was one of those 5th graders…)
We learned that the scheduled launch we are waiting to see will be a Military one so the closest we can get is around 5 miles. We figure we will have a fine view from our mooring ball. In the meantime, there is work to get done on the boat - plus laundry to do and a grocery store run to make. I have made plans to fly to California next week to visit with kids and grandkids for Christmas. I hope everyone gets to spend the holidays with people they love and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Long and Winding Road
28 November 2017 | Anchored just south of Brunswick, GA
Karen/Evening and calm
Okay - it’s been awhile and I’ve been told by my DH to get with it and start updating this journal of our trip. We have been really busy since my last entry - lots of miles travelled! Too much really to put into one journal entry so you have my apologies up front.
We left Manteo in August and moved north with plans to make it as far as New York City before turning south again for the summer. I had wanted to sail past the Statue of Liberty and take a selfie of me and Lady Liberty from the bow of the boat - but this was not to be. Compromise developed more electrical problems. We managed to make it to Deltaville, VA, early (our planned stop for the month of September) navigating across the Chesapeake with limited electronics - no depth sounder or wind meter. It took some work, but Ron figured out the cause and was able to resolve it (fingers crossed)! He even fixed the antenna issues we were having with the TV - so now I get lots of channels and great reception…
Since it was now getting too late in the season to go to New York, we decided to just park the boat and take a quick land trip to Washington, DC. I rented a small car and we drove. After spending so much time on the boat, I was a little out of practice driving a car but we made it to the city without too much drama. We stayed in Bethesda, MD, taking the metro trains around Washington. We took walking tours around the Mall to see all the monuments, spent an afternoon going through Arlington National Cemetery, saw the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Busy weekend.
In September, we watched Hurricane Harvey wreak damage in Houston, and then we watched Hurricane Irma roll over Florida and come up the east coast. It’s really hard to see this on TV and know that your friends and family are struggling, that places you love are being damaged. We stay in touch the best we can - and our hearts and thoughts were with all of you. Hope everyone was able to stay safe and come through the storms okay.
We were supposed to be in Houston then, but the airports closed briefly and travel plans had to change. The second week of September we flew directly to Fairbanks, AK, to meet our daughter and her family for our Alaskan cruise.
Alaskan cruises are great - but the only way I could talk “Captain Ron” into going was to promise him that we would be taking the train to Denali. Turns out old Salty really loves trains!! Our first night was in Fairbanks, from there we took the motor coach to the Denali Wilderness Lodge. The clouds cleared and we could actually see Mt. McKinley. During the night, we saw a little of the aurora borealis, but we were right on the edge of visibility, so I couldn’t get any good photos of the green lights… The next day, we rode the train to Talkeetna - and it was fabulous! We stayed at the Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge - toured Husky Homestead, home of Iditerod champions and played with PUPPIES!! After leaving McKinley, we were bused to Whittier and boarded our cruise ship, the Star Princess. Beautiful trip: saw Glacier Bay, Skagway, took a helicopter tour and walked on a glacier with Jenny, in Juneau we went whale watching, in Ketchikan we hiked and ate crab. It was a great trip. The cruise ended in Vancouver, Canada, where we were met by my sister, Debbie, and her family. Ron and I stayed on for a few extra days - catching up with family, seeing the city, and touring University of British Colombia campus where our nieces attend classes. It’s always hard to say goodbye since we never know when we’ll see each other again. What a lovely visit and I am so very thankful that I was able to spend time with everyone. (love my UBC sweatshirt!!)
Ron returned to VA, and I took a quick trip down to San Diego for a couple of weeks of kids and G-babies. He resupplied the boat and as soon as I returned, we took off for Washington, DC (again). We had read about a marina in the Potomac where you take a mooring ball a couple of blocks away from of the National Mall. So we went! Very nice place - and we could even see the Washington Monument in the distance. The 42nd Annual Marine Corps Marathon was happening that weekend and we had excellent viewing from the bow. For this visit, we went to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (which was excellent!), took tours of Ford’s Theater and the International Spy Museum, and had dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf. We left the next day and sailed to Mt. Vernon and anchored for a quiet evening. It was a short dinghy ride to shore, so we joined the tourists and walked around the historic site of George and Martha Washington’s home.
Continuing south on the Intercoastal Waterway, we decided to take an alternate route through the Great Dismal Swamp. George Washington had surveyed the land, had helped in it’s construction, making it the oldest man-made canal in the US. The canal has been closed for the last year and a half while the Army Corps of Engineers had worked on it and it had just reopened that weekend. Ron was a bit worried about water depth and tree canopies but I talked him into it. At the very first canal lock (the Dismal Swamp has two locks), the lock master staged three boats together in order of their speed. Locks are very interesting if you ever get the chance to go through one. When you enter, the gates at one end are closed. You tie off to one side (I act as rope handler to adjust the ropes and keep the boat in a steady position while the water goes up or down), they close the gates behind you and begin either filling the lock with water or lowering the water depending on which direction you are moving, then they open the gates in front of you and you motor on through at the new water depth. The Dismal canal is narrow so there would be no overtaking and we would be following each other for the two days it would take to pass through. We were in between Carl & Melissa “Bay Breezing”, and Dave & Sue “Believe”. We didn’t know it at the time but our three boats would continue buddy sailing together over the next couple of weeks - rafting up, sharing dinners, drinks, and dominoes! The canal was thick with duck weed, and fall colors were in the trees. Yes - we did drag our keel a few times, and we did rake some leaves from the trees with our shrouds - but it was beautiful.
That’s what had been so great about this long float. You’re always making new friends and meeting up with old ones. We had noticed on Facebook that old friends (Deb and Moray from Kemah on Sol Purpose) were in New Bern, NC, at Wayfarer’s Cove so we decided to stop for a visit. We stayed for a few days to visit, resupply, and catch up on laundry. They had hired a car and were busy working on their boat - but they took time off to take us into town for dinner, take me grocery shopping, and we all had a great night out at Dueling Pianos. Too much fun - the piano players decided that Ron looked like actor Peter Graves from the original Mission Impossible series. So, whenever Ron stood up to get drinks or whatever, the pianos would break into the Mission Impossible theme song. Ha!! We had such a nice time - and I miss you guys!
We caught back up with Bay Breezin’ and motored with them as far as Charleston, SC. Ron decided we needed to speed up a bit in order to make it to Savannah, GA, by Thanksgiving, so we went offshore for an overnight sail. It was rougher than the weather people had predicted - and I’ll admit to being nervous since we had been doing mostly ICW motoring the past couple of months - so let’s just say the trip was “sporty”. Wind gusts to 20 miles per hour and rolly seas, no moon, and commercial traffic. I heard the main sail tear while we were reefing so I knew we would have to have some repairs done. We were both pretty tired when we arrived the next morning and took a space at Isle of Hope Marina to settle in for a week.
Savannah is a beautiful city with wonderful people! Remember that part where I said you meet up with old friends along the way? The couple we had sailed to Cuba with in April (Ann & Mike) were driving through Georgia on their way to visit family. They saw on Facebook that we were in Savannah so they stopped to spend the day with us - how great was that?!
Thanksgiving is why we went to Savannah, to spend the holiday with Ron’s nephew and his family - Chris, Melissa, and Xander. We had a wonderful time - great food, games, and fun. Next, we met up with an old friend from my work days - Cathy, and her husband Rick. They took us to Jekyll Island for the Merry Shrimpmas Festival where I finally got to try shrimp and grits… and I thought they were really, really good (sorry Brian/Jenny but I like grits!). All of you were so generous with your time, hospitality, vehicles, and so much more. Thank you so much! We had a wonderful time and we will be coming back!!
The main sail was repaired in record time (thanks to Walter Suter/Sailors Nautical Services) and we left Savannah yesterday. Our next big planned stop is Cape Canaveral, FL. NASA has a launch scheduled on December 4th and we want to be anchored somewhere on the Banana River so that we can watch it take off. That’s a week from now so we are again on our way south.
We will be heading to the Bahamas after a bit. From there we hope to move on to the Virgin Islands, but who knows. I’ll try to do a better job of keeping this updated. It helps if I know people actually read it - so please leave comments!! Bye for now. Karen.
Outer Banks of North Carolina
08 August 2017 | Portsmouth, VA
Karen - Rainy/Afternoon
The Outer Banks of North Carolina were gorgeous! We left Oriental three weeks ago and sailed across Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island, which is the southern end of the Outer Banks and part of the Hatteras National Seashore. It was a 40 mile trip and took us most of the day. There is a lot of shoaling so the approach to harbour entrance is a bit tricky. Very narrow with lots of twists and turns, and busy ferry traffic. Inside the small harbour is the National Park Service Dock with room for half a dozen boats. Ron purchased a park pass for $10.00 which gave us a discounted dock fee, $0.60 per foot plus $5.00 for electricity. Beautiful spot with the lighthouse in the distance and the docks are only a short walk to town.
Ocracoke inlet is the only one that leads directly into Pamlico Sound - making it very popular with early travelers. Which is why Edward Teach, otherwise known as Black Beard the pirate, made it his home base. Teach’s Hole is a deep water area just outside of the harbour where he would bring his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. We pulled out our bikes and rode all over town - to the beach, lighthouse, Pirate Museum, grocery store. We got to know our dock neighbors (Richard and Lil) who took us to Springer’s Point and showed us how to hunt for clams.
We had to make a quick overnight trip back to Oriental to pick up a boat part Ron had ordered. When we returned to Ocracoke, we were notified that due to an electrical outage a mandatory evacuation had been issued for all tourists on the island. The power lines leading to the banks had been accidentally cut during bridge construction near Hatteras Island. Emergency generators where working but electricity was limited and some of the businesses had to close. Additionally, a small craft advisory had been issued due to high winds in the sound so we couldn’t leave. Oh, darn!! Stuck on a beautiful island, with no tourists, empty beaches, and open restaurants…
After a couple of days, the winds calmed down and we were able to move further north. We sailed past the Hatteras Light House and anchored off of Manteo and Roanoke Island - where Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists landed in 1587. Lots of local history. Ron and I toured the Festival Park and Museum. Our boat was anchored off of the lighthouse, within sight of their restored historic sailing vessel. Pretty busy spot - local tour boats ran right past us, re-enacting pirate battles using water cannons!
We hired an Uber driver to take us to Kitty Hawk for the day. We walked all over Kill Devil Hills and around the Wright Brothers Monument. Park rangers gave an excellent talk and you could see just how remarkable the Wright brothers’ achievement was. The whole sight was very impressive and well worth the visit.
After leaving Manteo, we continued on through the Albemarle Sound and moved back into the ICW. We are now in Portsmouth, VA, and are staying at a free city dock while we plan our next leg. Rainy weather has kept us here for a couple of days so we’ve been walking around town and taking advantage of riding the local ferry which is docked right next to us. If there is a downside, it’s that the ferry must sound his horn (one long and three shorts) every time he leaves his dock - which is every hour all day long!!
We did a little math and added up the mileage from our combined trips since we started this “adventure” and saw that we’ve travelled over 5,000 nautical miles. And we’re still not done…
The adventure continues
19 July 2017 | Oriental, NC
Karen - Calm/evening
Summer has just been rushing by. We returned to the Bahamas for a few months beginning in May, this time clearing in through Great Harbour Cay. Great Harbour is part of the Berry Islands and is in the middle area of the Bahamas. This time we wanted to spend all of our trip further north - in the Abacos. Our grandson, Connor, was joining us for a visit and we wanted to be in an area that would offer a 6 year old as many distractions as possible!
Our son, Brian, would be bringing Connor and then returning to California after a couple of days. And I would fly with Connor back to San Diego at the end of his visit. They landed in Marsh Harbour and as soon as everyone was settled on the boat, we sailed over to Hope Town for the evening. We spent the next couple of days exploring the beaches, touring the old light house, and learning how to body surf. We went to Marsh Harbour to stock up on groceries (and juice boxes!), sailed to Green Turtle Cay, fed the pigs on No Name Cay, and petted the sting rays on Monjack Cay. We kayaked, snorkeled, swam, collected sea shells, motored around in the dinghy, and watched movies at night on the boat. When I left to take Connor back to San Diego at the end of his visit - I’m pretty sure Ron went back to the boat and collapsed from exhaustion! It was a great visit and I hope we get to do it all again soon.
We returned to Florida the last week of June, clearing customs in Riviera Beach. After fuel/groceries resupply we headed back offshore to Cape Canaveral. Very cool to see the NASA launch pad - imagining what it must have been like to see the rocket launches for the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo programs. I remember watching them all on TV, listening to Walter Cronkite.
We went offshore and dodged thunderstorms, arriving in Savannah, GA on July 1st. What a great place! We stayed for a few days visiting with family and catching up with friends. Watched the July 4th fireworks display at Hunter Army Airbase. Beautiful city - really enjoyed our visit there, especially visiting with Chris/Melissa/Zander and Cathy/Rick.
After leaving Savannah, we headed north on the ICW, arriving in Charleston on the 7th. We anchored for a few hours in the harbor next to Fort Sumter and took the tour. Our cruiser’s guidebooks cautioned that anchoring in the harbor could be difficult and to watch for strong tidal currents. As we were looking around for a place to stay for the evening, Ron saw a fast moving thunderstorm coming and decided to quickly drop an anchor to ride it out. Good call. I got the anchor down with no time to put on a bridle. Closed all the hatches and put away loose gear - and then we got slammed by the winds. We had been towing our dinghy/motor - the wind flipped it, putting the motor upside down in the water. The anchor held (still love that Mantus anchor) and we had our engine on to help take some of the strain off of the chain. It passed quickly. Ron flipped the dinghy back over and that little 15 year old Tohatsu motor fired right up! The bench seat from the dinghy was gone, and we lost one flotation cushion. No other damage. We found out afterwards that the wind speed hit 60 MPH! So instead of trying to save a few dollars and anchor out for the night, we decided instead to splurge and pull into the marina for an evening with air conditioning and adult beverages… In spite of the rough start, Charleston was beautiful. We stayed two nights and took advantage of the marina's free shuttle and roamed all over the city. From there we headed back offshore to Cape Fear, NC. All the bad weather had all passed us by and we had a really nice evening sail with a full moon. I still don’t sleep well on three hour watches, but I’ve learned to “bank” a few hours of sleep in the afternoon ahead of time to make it more comfortable. Ron can sleep anywhere at any time! Once we reached Cape Fear, we decided to stay in the ICW for this part of the trip - and just take our time.
On Monday the 17th, we passed through the USMC training area of Camp Lejeune. We left our anchorage early that morning in order to pass through a swing bridge that had a timed schedule. When we radioed the bridge, we were advised that they were having live firing exercises and that the bridge would open later in the day on odd hours. It was interesting - we could hear the concussion sounds of the explosives in the distance, and then the bridge master calls us and says to come on through. So there’s a couple of small military patrol boats and they give us the thumbs up. The explosions stop and we motor on for an hour to the next bridge and wave at a couple more patrol boats. And then the explosions start again. Just another day in the ICW.
Oriental, NC, is our current spot. The city marina has a free transient dock (up to 48 hrs). Right across the street from a nice coffee shop with free wifi! AND the Piggly Wiggly has a shuttle van that will come and take you to the grocery store! How cool is that!!!
I’ve been sending post cards to the grand babies from every country and/or state that we pass through - they are getting quite a collection!
I have a Cuba stamp in my passport
05 May 2017
Hola! I now have a Cuban stamp in my passport!
We had a beautiful sail from Key West to Cuba. We moved the boat from Marathon to Key West, left Key West on Monday afternoon, sailed all night, and arrived in Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba at about 11:00 am on April 24th. It was an all night sail and it couldn't have gone better. The winds were from the NW 10-20 kts, and seas were 3 to 4 feet. We had our fishing line out and Ron even caught a nice sized 15 lb. black fin tuna.
Within the past year, the government approved tourist travel to resume between Cuba and US. Despite this, travel is not automatic and a little prep work is required for potential visitors. The US Coast Guard has to grant a sailing permit, but only for those that qualify under one of the 12 established reasons to travel (ex. sporting event, family visits, education, etc.). Ron and I asked for a permit under the reason labeled as "people to people" saying that we would write about and share our experiences from the trip. We were given a permit for two weeks with specific dates of travel and instructed that we had to return directly to the US after the trip.
In preparation of the trip, we discovered a few notable pieces of information. First, no US credit cards are currently accepted in Cuba. All transactions have to be done in cash. US dollars can be exchanged at the marina for Cuban "Convertible Units of Currency" i.e. CUCs. The exchange rate for US dollars is 1 to 1, but there is a 3 pct exchange fee and 10 pct exchange tax, making $1.00 USD = $0.87 CUC. So plan ahead!! On the island, Wifi is very limited. Our phones were pretty much useless. Our solution was to buy wifi cards at the hotel on the marina property, $1.50 CUC per hour and we could log onto our laptops at any hotel or shop that offered wifi.
When approaching Havana, we raised our yellow "quarantine" flag and advised the harbor master of our arrival. The channel into Marina Hemingway was well marked so we had no problem finding the customs dock. The medical doctor, immigration officers, and health inspector were waiting for us. Most of them spoke English very well and the process went smoothly. Once we were cleared, we lowered our Q flag and raised a Cuban flag on the starboard halyard. Of course my Texas flag was on the port halyard (only slightly lower!). There were lots of boats from other countries, and even some from the US. HOWEVER, Compromise was the only boat we saw from Texas. Yee Haw!
The harbor master led us to our boat slip. The slip was right next to the shoreline break water so we had terrific sunset views! The cost to dock our boat was $0.70 CUCs per foot, with extra charges for water and electricity. The marina is old but seemed to be well maintained. It was built in 1957 and has room for about 400 boats.
From the marina, it is approximately 9 to 10 miles to Havana. To get around there are buses, government taxis, and Maquinas (antique US automobiles). I loved those old cars and took waaaay to many photos of them! They are a little more expensive than the government taxis, but much more fun! Ron was obsessed with them and would miss out on seeing the sights because he was too busy looking at the cars! The drivers are all proud of their cars, even though most do not have their original engines!
For our trip to Cuba we arranged to buddy sail with another boat "Island Time" with Mike Wirsing and Ann Kirkmyer. This turned out to be a great idea and we had the best time together - sharing taxis and planning outings. Our first day was spent getting settled in, exploring the marina, and enjoying a celebratory adult beverage. By the way, Cuban beer is pretty good! Favorites were Cristal and Bucanero.
We spoke to other sailors who had already made this trip. One of the things they advised us was to bring along little "gifts" for locals. The Cuban people make very little money. The government provides for their food, education, and medical needs. Basic needs are met, but no "luxury items or extras" are provided. One man (elementary school teacher) I spoke to said he only brings home $250 pesos a month - and he has two little girls! It was not unusual to be approached by someone with a smile and asked, "do you have something for me?" I took small boxes of crayons, bars of soap, tooth brushes, little toys - and I gave them away whenever I saw the opportunity.
Day two - Walking tour of Old Havana. We hired a Maquina and took off for Old Havana (cost $20.00 CUCs one way). The government has been working to restore the lovely old buildings in this area - and it shows! There is still a lot of work to do, but you can see the progress being made. We stopped at the Capitolo (the capital building) and walked to the Revolucion Museo (Revolution Museum). We did the tour and then migrated to the original Sloppy Joe's restaurant afterwards for Mojitos and Cuban Sandwiches - gotta love this cultural exchange! Spent the rest of the day just wandering the streets of old Havana and taking photos. I especially enjoyed strolling the Malecon, which is the seawall boulevard that has views of the Castillo Morro, a famous fort that guards the entry to Havana harbor.
Day three - All things Ernest Hemingway!!! We started off by hiring another Maquina to take us to Finca Vigia, Hemingway's home in Cuba, where he wrote "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and The Sea". Beautiful place and well worth the visit. His fishing boat, Pilar, is also on display there. Afterwards we visited Cojimar, a nearby fishing village Hemingway liked to use for fishing tournaments. We had lunch at El Terrazo, his favorite restaurant in the area. In a fishing village you must order seafood! Ron ordered octopus and I had the grouper and they were both delicious! Just so you know - almost every dish offered in any restaurant is served with black beans and rice. Vegetables are limited - and you don't readily see beef on any menu. It's mostly seafood, pork, and poultry.
Did I not say this day was all about Hemingway? From Cojimar we went to the Bodeguita del Medio for mojitos! Did you know that Hemingway is also credited for creating the Daquiri? We were headed for the El Floridita, another of his favorite watering holes (and our last planned stop for the day) when we were side tracked by people we met along the way. We ended up at the Buena Vista Social Club and were entertained by the original band who wrote the song "Guantanamera". It was the maestros's 90th birthday. Well, one thing led to another and we bought the band a round of drinks and a good time was had by all!
Day four - Hershey Train Adventure. Hershey Chocolate company built an electric train in Cuba in the early 1900's to ferry workers and supplies from the city out to their sugar cane fields and mills in the country - and it still kinda sorta works! We hired another classic car for the trip to the ferry and crossed over to the train station at Casa Blanca (no joke) only to find out that the train doesn't run on an exact schedule (approximo) and that we had missed it. Not wanting to waste the day, we decided to hike up the hill to see the statue of el Cristo de la Havana (Christ the Redeemer) to get a better view of the harbor, and Castillo Morro.
Day five - Hershey Train Adventure Reboot. This time we were able to catch the train. It's supposed to be a 3.5 hr train ride into the country from Casa Blanca to Matanzas. It was a rickety old train with hard seats and no bathroom facilities. The windows don't all work and every seat was full (there was even a guy who brought cages of small birds along with him). After about an hour and a half we arrived in Hershey, now renamed Camilo Cienfuegos - and were told by the engineer to get off. There was something wrong with the electric lines further down the track - and that the train would not continue. The next train going in either direction would leave the next day! We were able to arrange for a taxi to come and pick us up - and while we waited, we visited with people in the station. One man was asking where we were from. Cuba gets lots of tourists, but only recently has there been a large number of Americans. When we said we were from Texas, he got all excited and did his imitation of a wild west gun slinger! It was pretty funny with our travel partner squaring off with his imaginary guns and the two of them dueling in the rail station. Another man sat next to me and told me he was a teacher and asked if it would be okay for him to practice his English with me. He also wanted to ask me a few questions regarding America, specifically the television and movie business. Seems Cuba was able to pick up television broadcasting over the airwaves from Florida in the 80's and 90's so they could see CBS broadcasts. His question: Was the show "Dallas" based on a true story? Were any of the characters real? And on the movies that are about college or university life, it seems that all the students do is drink and party. Is that typical of American schools? (did he see "Animal House"??) For the life of me, I could not convince him that this was considered entertainment and that these shows were fiction. Dear Lord, I wonder what he thought about "The Dukes of Hazard"?!
Our taxi finally arrived at the Hershey station and took us on to Veradero, a seaside town in the Matanzas province, about 60 miles away. With no hotel reservations, we started trying to find a room at a casa particular. Casa particulars are like a bed and breakfast. They will have a little sign on the gate or doorway with a blue anchor and the house name on it. It was a busy weekend so we had to ask at a dozen different places before we finally found vacancies. Ours, Villa Buganvilia, charged us $40 CUCs for one night, with an extra $5 CUCs each for breakfast. Nothing fancy, but the room was clean, had cold air conditioning, and a good shower! And OMG the coffee was wonderful!
Day six - Veradero. After breakfast, we met up with Mike and Ann and found an "on-off" sightseeing bus to take us around town. We got off at Marina Gaviota to have a look around. It's in a huge 5-star resort area. The marina has over 1,000 slips (which looked mostly empty) and is the largest in Cuba. All very beautiful, but it was not what I was expecting to see when we planned this trip. We finished our sightseeing in time to get to the bus station to catch a bus that would take us back to Havana. Or so we thought...
After about the first 10 miles or so, the bus started over heating. The driver kept pulling over and putting water into the engine, but he was unable to keep the bus moving. We were able to flag down a government taxi - negotiated a fare of $66 CUCs to get us back to Havana, and to Hemingway Marina. It was late in the afternoon when we got back to the boat - and we didn't want to go far for dinner, so we all decided to ride in the dinghy over to a local restaurant, Paladar Laurel, for a meal and an early evening.
Day seven - Getting ready to leave. The whole time we were in Cuba we watched the weather, knowing that we had to plan our return trip to Florida. Our son, Brian, had been sending daily weather updates to our Delorme satellite tracker. Between his updates, and what we could find using wifi at the local hotel, we decided that there would be a good crossing window in 48 hours, Tuesday - May 2nd. So we had one more day of sightseeing left.
I talked Ron into riding our bicycles to Fusterlandia, a nearby area where a Cuban artist, Jose Fuster, covered his house, and the surrounding village with bright ceramic tiles. It looks like a combination of Picaso and Disney and must have taken him years to complete. My poor photos don't do it justice.
Our last item was to stock up on souvenirs (cigars, rum, coffee) and pack up the boat. We gave the required 24 hour notice of departure to the marina authorities. Our sailing buddies met us for one last meal and we planned our return trip. We wanted to cross the straits in daylight hours this time, so that meant leaving before dawn. We pulled out of our slips at 4 am, checked out at the customs dock and headed north to Florida. Another wonderful sail, and we arrived back in Marathon at around 10 pm.
A Coast Guard aircraft started circling our boat when we were only about 30 miles out of Havana. He saw our boat on AIS and began hailing us by name. They asked for the skipper so I was happy to hand the radio off to Ron. They wanted to know if we had been in Cuba, what our planned port of US entry was, and asked for our documentation numbers. This just shows that the USCG is not taking this lightly. We called the Customs Border Patrol number once we anchored in FL, and were advised that Marathon does not allow for check in. We had to take the bus to Key West to get our passports stamped.
We are back in Marathon Harbor - resting a bit, resupplying the pantry, getting some work done on our water maker, and making plans to leave again. In two weeks we will head east to the Bahamas. This retirement living is hard work and not for the timid!!!