Saturday, May 21, 2016

Decisions


North or South?



All went fairly well on our shake-out cruise. A few minor glitches but nothing I couldn't fix myself. It was good we were aboard Istaboa as one of our ACs had a clogged drain line and condensation overflowed it's pan. Mel woke me up to point out there was water dripping from the ceiling. After a semi-frantic scurry we figured it out but not before soaking one of our ceiling panels.
Luckily, a local company had some of the material and the repaired panel is already on the boat.

So it's decision time. North or South? Good reasons to head in both directions and one has yet to overcome the other — I guess we'll figure that out when we leave.

Happy problems.

Cheers,

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Beach Days

So every morning Little Mud and I take off for a good walk down Ocean Blvd then return north via Jupiter's Dog Beach.


I've said it before, Jupiter has a great beach for dogs. Unleashed, smiling, splashing, swimming, running... the canines and their humans have a blast.



Radar has reached the stage in his life where he likes the beach, but, "put me in the car and drive me to it" is what the look in his eyes seems to say.


Young Mud? Always ready for a long walk.

There's a boat trip coming up soon. Mel and I are still working out the details, but the beach walks and our times at Spearfish are just as enjoyable. So, it's all good.

Adios,

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bird's Eye View - North Palm Beach Marina

The onSpot guys have installed a new web-cam at North Palm Beach Marina. Kinda fun to watch real time video of the ICW at Parker Bridge.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An Interesting Read — Cuba's South Coast

Lengthy, but a good read.




Cuba’s South Coast

Americans Sailing to Cuba: Should I stay or should I go.
It would be easy to say that President Obama's move to normalize relations brought us to Cuba in our Island Packet 38. Truth is, 6 months ago we began planning to tour the western Caribbean. The original route was Key West to Isla Mujeres, and to move south from there. Thoughts of visiting Cuba were entertained during the planning, but no decision was made until a week prior to departure, when the end to a 56 year embargo was proposed.
It's difficult to say no to the President. Reports that naval patrols had been reduced or eliminated eased our reluctance, and the fact that we usually take the road less traveled meant that we never had any interest in going to Havana. Following our original plan gave a perfect opportunity to simply turn left a little early and enter Cuba at the western tip of the island, Cabo San Antonio. Marina Los Morros at Cabo San Antonio is truly a frontier outpost, and the officials there are very serious about identifying vessels in their waters. We were hailed on VHF 16 (in very good English) when we were still 7.5 miles away from the marina, with nothing but a coastline visible. (We later learned that neither the marina staff nor the guarda have binoculars or radar. They REALLY are vigilant!) After several questions (last port, persons on board, and whether anyone had been in contact with persons from Africa or with exposure to ebola), we were invited to approach within 1 mile of the marina, and stop there. The conversation was ended with a very hearty "Welcome to Cuba!" We dropped canvas at 1 mile off and the same gentleman told us to approach the entrance markers, and enter the marina (but not to tie up until the medical authorities had visited the boat). Prior to our journey we read various stories about clearing into Cuba. Tales included confiscation of alcoholic beverages and food (particularly meat from the freezer) , and boardings by up to 8 dinghies full of officials (each seeking gifts). Our check-in experience was quite different. First, the doctor, wearing latex gloves, was brought to ULLR by the marina's dinghy. He climbed aboard with a big smile, and a kiss for the admiral (which he asked permission for). This boarding was unique among our 12 Cuban boardings: it was the only time that a Cuban official boarded without first removing (or offering to remove) his shoes. Our medical “inspection” involved a visual review of food storage and sanitary facilities, which he evaluated by commenting "Looks better than mine!" The doctor then began completing his paperwork, and when offered a beverage, suggested coffee, or water, or cerveza.....it's 10:30 AM, and the local officials are quite willing to have a beer with you? I can take a hint, provided a cold Sam Adams, and joined him (it WAS an overnight passage, after all.) He REALLY wanted to exercise his English (telling stories of his family in Miami, and discussing the anticipated change in Cuban-American relations), but the marina staff called on the VHF to find out if we were fit to visit the country, and if so, what the holdup was. The doctor returned to shore on the marina's dinghy (with a new bar of Irish Spring, a gift which was NOT requested, but was offered), and we tied up to the dock. The dock here (9 foot depth) is a substantial concrete structure, with huge rusty chains covered by industrial sized rubber tubes. It looks scarier than it is; just be sure to use the west side of it; the east side is usually too exposed to waves. The marina manager, the Guarda (border patrol) captain of the port, and the dockmaster assisted our tie up, and the young Guarda officer came aboard. Other than identity of persons and boat, and whether we had guns, his paperwork was completed without asking us any of the questions on the form. There were no questions about declarations, and no reference to the 4 cases of beer visible under the chart table. Because the agricultural officer was out diving, the Captain also covered the restrictions (typical to any island) against import of vegetables by handing me an official warning form. Note: the Captain took a $35US “boat entry fee”. It is fairly certain that this went into his pocket, because no official Cuban fees are ever paid in US currency, and no receipt was issued. We were then invited to proceed to the marina offices to finish the process. Since we had brought Canadian dollars for use in Cuba (US dollars are charged a 10% tariff), we had to go to the resort office (3KM distant) to change money. The marina van (complete with NTSB approved plastic patio chairs) took us there and back, and payment of 55 CUC for Port services and 30 CUC for two 30 day visas was made. Total time for check in: 2 hours (including transit). Total cost: 120 CUC (about $135US), one bar of soap, and one pocket knife. (I purchased 100 knives for $100 on HSN for this purpose). The fact that this marina is a frontier outpost probably explains much of our treatment over the next few days...the staff is here 24/7, and simply LOVES having visitors (boredom?). (The marina and resort seem to have a perennially low occupancy rate.) We were consistently invited to join marina staff for rum at happy hour (we contributed American cerveza), offered use of the staff quarters showers (hot water in the men's shower, but not the women's), and traded war stories in the evening (which often devolved into charades: it is a rare Cubano who speaks more than a few words of English.) In the men's shower was the Irish Spring soap I had given the doctor. Happy hour rum was furnished by the Captain (from his $35 “skim”, I assume.) I mention these facts because most Cubans (including doctors) make something like 30CUC ($35US) a month. For the doctor to contribute a new bar of soap, for the captain to put one month's salary toward drinks for everyone...these acts seem alien to an American. It was our first example of the culture of sharing we saw during our entire stay on the south coast. It would be easy to resent that it came out of my pocket, but by the end of our 5 day stay we had been fed no less than 4 delicious meals by the staff (whose poor opinion of the resort restaurant was the same as ours). For our part, we gave gifts of soap, pocket knives and some batteries....but always as gifts among friends, not barter. And hugs all around at final departure....what a phenomenal first taste of Cuba. 30 miles east lies Maria la Gorda, named for a woman stranded there by pirates (who then turned to prostitution). The full name of the area is Las Tetas de Maria la Gorda, or "the bosom of fat Maria". Maria la Gorda lies on the southeastern shore of the Bay of Currents. Protection is good for prevailing easterlies. Check in here was a 15 minute process (the coastal despachio must be completed by Guarda officials on arrival and departure at every “official” stop). This was the only “official” stop where the boat was not boarded and inspected by Guarda. The requirement to check in and check out at every port sounds like a pain in the neck (and I fully expected it to be so). It's not bad, and is not blindly applied. Although the Guarda takes their job seriously, and only wants you going ashore at marinas, we were NEVER questioned about why it took 5 days to cover 100 miles, or whether we stopped at any cays along the way. All the Guarda cares about is knowing that you are willing to play (mostly) by the rules, and that you are not here to smuggle any drugs in, or people out. So, yes, you have to check into (and out of) each marina, and get an entry on your "despachio" every time, but they make it easy. You want to leave at 4 AM on Tuesday? Let them know ahead of time, they will do what it takes (either do the paperwork Monday night, or show up Tuesday at 4 AM WITH A SMILE ON THEIR FACE). If the weather makes an anchorage untenable, the Guarda are first to suggest a nearby spot that is calmer. Maria la Gorda is a resort dive center. Even snorkeling in the anchorage (8-30 feet in coral and sand) was nominally interesting, but.....well, it's a resort. Frankly, ULLR did not come to Cuba to hang out with Europeans on vacation (and this resort had a higher occupancy rate; no way to achieve the previous level of friendship with staff). Besides, after the meals we got from a guy working on a hibachi and a hot plate, we know there is better food and company to be found than is offered by the government resorts. While in Maria la Gorda we saw another example of Cuban hospitality. A fellow cruiser, in desperate need motor oil, found an employee who was headed for the nearby (25 miles) town. Two gallons of motor oil were delivered back the next day, WITH receipt and refusal to accept any compensation for time, gasoline....nada. Not what one expects to find in a resort. Moving east into easterly trade winds, even on days when they moderate, the passage is tough. The National Park of Cayos San Felipe is halfway to Islas Juventud (our next “official” stop, 100 miles away and too far to reach before the next blow). Although Nigel Calder specifies Cayos Juan Garcia (site of Park headquarters) "is no place to be in a Norther", any port in a storm, right? Instructions for the entrance to the anchorage proved to be spot on, and we dropped hook in 8 feet with a sandy bottom and excellent holding. Protection was quite good for the 30k NNE that arrived later. The Park Superintendent (not Guarda) speaks no English (none), but we managed to answer his questions when he rowed out to welcome us: how long will you stay, how deep is your draft, you are welcome to come ashore, please show an anchor light (for the fishermen who sometimes anchor here overnight). In the morning we took our dinghy to shore and were welcomed like royalty...a package of four disposable razors offered as a gift, and countered with a gift of 3 very good Cuban cigars (after they saw me light one of my own.) Their research is counting sea turtle eggs, and shepherding the turtles to sea after they hatch. They also stand guard against poachers (both of the eggs and the hatchlings), as these are highly prized delicacies. We were invited (and promised) to return in the evening for coffee, but strong wind prevented us. Hopefully they understood our wish to avoid capsizing a dinghy on a 1 foot deep coral bed. Next morning was an excellent opportunity to sail, so we were not able to convey our regrets. I hope that our behavior will not sour the park staff's treatment of the next cruising vessel to visit this beautiful island. A slight change in our rhumbline, and a shift in wind from east to northeast gave us a wonderful sailing leg from Cayos San Felipe to Islas Juventud. The port is Siguanea, the entrance is shallow, and the bugs are ferocious for an hour every evening. Thankfully, a brisk 7+ knot reach put us at anchor early enough to dinghy the Guarda out to ULLR and back to the dock before the clouds of mosquitos rose out of the swamp that covers the southern half of "La Isla". We studiously made plans for our visit to Nuevo Gerona, our first real city in Cuba, the next morning. The marina at Siguanea is fully 40 KM by road from Gerona, and the harbor can be entered by vessels drawing less than 1.7 meters. The entrance is formed by 2 sets of very visible outer markers, followed by a line of PVC pipes marking the south (red) side of the channel. Keep CLOSE to those pipes for the best water; depths inside are 8 feet throughout. La Isla was first a pirate hideout and inspired Stevenson's Treasure Island. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries this was a place of exile for political undesirables (including Fidel Castro). Following la revolucion, tens of thousands of young people volunteered to study here in specially built rural "live-work" schools, creating vast citrus plantations, and prompting the island to be renamed from the Isle of Pines to the Isle of Youth. Parts of Nuevo Gerona (like the pedestrian market through the center of town) are notably well kept and clean, but once one strays from those areas, it's pretty rustic...but it was our first chance to provision since arriving. A dozen eggs cost about 60 cents, with a loaf of cuban bread going for a dime. Add GOOD rum for $8 a liter, and beer for $1 a bottle (I'll take 24!), and we were ready to catch a taxi back to the marina. We moved to the northern coast of Las Isla (Ensenada de los Barqos, where we saw only fishermen) and waited a day for wind. A leisurely afternoon cruise brought ULLR to the northwest tip of the island, anchoring in sight of Presidio Modelo (where Castro was imprisoned) behind Punta Bibi Jagua. Next morning was a reach to the scientific station at Cayos Cantilles, one of two islands in Archipelago de los Cannareos that are given over to monkeys. The 3 staff members on Cayos Cantilles are stationed there for a month at a time, and LOVE visitors. This was another opportunity to see the kindness that is so evident among the Cubans. They are truly the most generous people I have ever met; in general, they have nothing, but anything they have is quickly shared. The staff there is given 15-20 lobsters daily by the local fishermen (completely under the table). We dinghied ashore, and I brought a 6 pack of beer to enjoy with the staff. Shortly after that, the lobster boat stopped by....and the staff passed their unfinished beers to the fishermen, who were thrilled to get cold Americano beer. When I pulled the last two beers out of my pack, the island staff IMMEDIATELY threw them to the boat. Out here in the boonies (away from the cities), it was always "I have some, you don't, so here you go." We left that island with 17 lobster tails....we would have had more, but I finally said “enough”. (Each TAIL was around 1.5 lbs, which the island staff not only separated from the rest of the beast, but also used a barbed antenna to extract the vein). I think we gave them soap, fish hooks, a little rum, and toothbrushes. And beer. (Hint for other visitors: out in the cays, they go gaga over fish hooks, rum, and cigarettes. And Cuban cigarettes are cheap!) And once again, it NEVER felt like barter...it's just gifts from/to new friends. We departed in the afternoon, bound 80 miles for Cienfuegos overnight, and had a glorious sail for the first 30 miles. The katabatic winds came up on the nose just after dark and began punishing us. At the half way point of this passage sits Cayos Guano de l'Este, described by guide books as a terrible anchorage, subject to wrap around swell in any wind. And it's true...but the hook set easily in 20 feet, and sleep was welcome by that time (2300 arrival). Next morning we finished our run in rapidly moderating conditions, and arrived at the well protected Cienfuegos harbor in time to check in with La Guarda. Cienfuegos is a city of over 100,000, and an industrial center. It's an easy entrance to the port in ANY conditions, and an easy 15 foot anchorage off the marina. Anchor set after one bounce and held through 20 knots of wind. The more frenetic pace of a real city was a little overwelming at first (especially with our masterful command of 100 Spanish words), but it became easier with each passing day. One thing does not change from the boonies to the cities: when the Cubans see that you are making an effort to speak Spanish, they will return the favor. Not knowing Spanish is no excuse for not visiting Cuba...and ALWAYS carry a pen, to agree on prices in writing. It took us two days to find the farmers' market, but well worth it. Armed with pesos (worth about 4 cents US each), any fruit or vegetable (in season) can be acquired for next to nothing. The real prize was on our second visit, when a large Cuban greeted us with loud announcements of "papas, papas!" After being propositioned on the street multiple times for "good cigars at a great price" (which means that you can buy banana peels that look like cigars), I ignored him. The admiral had the presence of mind to realize “papas” are potatoes (we ran out a week ago), and acquired 3 pounds of VERY tasty potatoes for 70 pesos, or just under $3 US (too expensive for most Cubans). Tomatoes, onions, plantains, pineapple, breadfruit, even lettuce...all for minimal cost. As well as good provisioning, Cienfuego is a great base for shore excursions to other cities in Cuba. We took a 1.5 hour bus trip to Santa Clara, a much older city. (Cuban buses are very comfortable and very cheap, but make sure to get the right bus. We damned near went to Havana ride back to Cienfuegos.) Among other things, this was the site of the battle which ended Batista's rule, and signaled the success of the revolucion, led by Che Guevarra. Once Santa Clara fell, Batista left Cuba, and the outcome was certain. To this day, Che's image is everywhere, and while US history vilifies him, it's difficult to fault his wish to end the extreme poverty he saw in Central and South America. Fidel Castro may have been the face of Cuba for decades in the US, but Che was and (continues to be) the heart of Cuba. Santa Clara has several monuments to this battle that are well worth visiting. The Cubans we have met sincerely appreciate the three things that the revolucion provided: Universal education, universal healthcare, and virtually no crime. They also are very sincere about wanting something more than a subsistence standard of living, with the end to the US embargo. (There is a saying that the three triumphs of the revolucion are education, healthcare, and lack of crime, and the three tragedies are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) We met several Cubans who were old enough to remember Batista, and no matter what else they would like to change, they universally despise him. As we worked to reprovision in Cienfuegos, layers of the Cuban onion kept peeling back. Cubans smoke cigars, but with monthly incomes of 30 CUC, I knew they were not paying 1CUC for cheap ones, let alone the 15 CUC that Cohibas cost. Hmmm.....enter a new friend, a marina employee that I will call Mac, who gave us the scoop. Cubans pay 1 peso per cigar. Finding them is another matter; Mac found a pack of 25 for me, so I didn't have to leave Cuba without getting cigars (and they are everything Cuban cigars are famous for, except the price). Next comes beer: I know the Cubans are not paying 1CUC per beer, but that was the price for me. Mac explained that Cubans purchase a case of beer for 10 pesos a bottle, but they must return a case of empties to get this price, and it is not the beer a tourist gets. Cubans drink beer that is almost like a home brew.....except that the 3 varieties of "home brews" we tried were remarkably similar to the best Belgian White Ale produced by microbreweries in the US. Mac was kind enough to furnish two cases of empties and purchase full ones on our behalf, and refused to accept anything but gifts, saving me $50US on cigars and beer! Mac also arranged a cheap taxi to Trinidad for us, as the bus schedule did not allow a day trip. And Trinidad is beautiful! Cobblestone streets, several town squares, a 400 year old church.....we easily could have spent several days here, and many cruisers do. Trinidad's scenic qualities make it a strong destination for tourists. Unfortunately, our visas were running short, and a very attractive weather window was developing for us to cross to Jamaica, so we had to be content with one afternoon in Trinidad. The distance between Cienfuegos and the next "Port of Entry" forced us to check out of Cuba at Cienfuegos. The original plan was a noon departure and an all night run to Cuervo Cay, about 100 miles distant. In addition to being mosquito free, Cuervo Cay is a good spot to find shrimp fishermen...so I settled up with the Marina ($.2 CUC a foot for the privilege of landing the dinghy, and access to their showers, which rarely had hot water. This was the only marina where we were charged for anchoring.) The Guarda captain said "10 minutes". Unfortunately, a boat with a case of dengue fever arrived, and 4 hours later he got back to us. In the meantime, the afternoon sea breeze had blown up (a strong daily event here), and we now faced 20 knots on the nose to get out of Cienfuegos harbor. After departing the marina, and getting to the harbor entrance, we clearly would not proceed until the wind died out. I decided to drop anchor just inside the entrance to wait. We have freely anchored several times on passage since arriving in Cuba, so I didn't think anything of it, but....an hour later, we were approached and boarded by a Guarda patrol boat, and (very politely) informed that we either had to return to the marina, or continue onto our next destination. Make note: in a Cuban location with a marina, the only place to anchor, and to go ashore, is at the marina. Returning to the marina with our tail between our legs ("Honest, officer, I didn't know!"), we re-anchored. Marina staff was very understanding (no need to go through the paperwork again), and at 0100 the next morning we proceeded to Cuervo, arriving just after sunset....to find that the single navigation aid to the entrance was extinguished. Finding it was critical, because north of the mark is a sand spit 1 foot deep (and the light is slightly south of the charted position). Radar picked up the light, and after a few tense moments we were in the safety of this very protected anchorage, populated by 3 fishing boats and 3 sailboats. We dined on grilled salmon and slept like babies. During the night, 4 additional shrimp/fishing boats arrived and in the morning I could see a parade of 7 more shrimp boats arriving....??? Then it occurred to me: it was Sunday. For time immemorio, men of the sea have observed this tradition: Sunday is a day of rest. As we watched, all these shrimp boats (each is about 100 feet long) rafted into groups of 3, and the music started playing....and what else did they need? Well... RUM! Which we provided, in exchange for the biggest prawns I've ever seen. Much as we would have liked to stay, we had a weather window coming for the crossing to Jamaica, and couldn't afford to burn another day playing charades. We and our cache of seafood ran another 50 miles to Cayos Grenada (which is shown on some charts as Cayos Grande), arriving just before sunset....which was lucky, because SOME light is absolutely necessary for making this anchorage. There is a coral head (accurately reported by Nigel Calder) just to the north of the entrance with no water over it...and some seagulls perched there proved its existence. Making Cuervo is possible in the dark, but I would not want to try Grenada in the dark. Another good night's sleep and we were underway for our final staging point for Jamaica: Cabo Cruz. Entrance here is easy, and the anchorage is SUBSTANTIALLY more sheltered than it appears to be on the chart. Anchor set well on the first try, and we started looking around for the Guarda boat that we had been told to expect a visit from. A large patrol boat came past us almost immediately, but showed no interest in us (except to wave happily). We left the radio on for an hour to be contacted, but....nada. A wonderful meal of grilled prawns was consumed, and just as the sunset was fading and I was shutting down lights, I noticed a rowboat approaching the other sailboat anchored here. After another 20 minutes, we heard some voices so I lit up the deck light and looked outside. (In other parts of the Caribbean, the first concern would be for pirates, but not in Cuba. No matter how poor a neighborhood we found ourselves in, we never, ever had a concern for our safety in Cuba. Cuba's low level of crime is no exaggeration, probably a result of the disincentive provided by Cuba's jails.) Four men in a boat were close by, and they immediately identified themselves as Guarda. We invited them aboard and explained that we were already checked out of the country and bound for Jamaica in the morning. They reviewed our international despachio, performed the usual walk through, and then we all shared some... rum. Next morning we checked to confirm a favorable weather forecast and departed for Jamaica, sailing downwind most of the way (until it died completely at 0400). A great stay in a great country...and the best times, as has been our experience, are had in the smallest places.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cold Day In Nantucket

Never been to Nantucket but business gave me an opportunity so ... here we are.

A fairly easy flight to Boston and a beautiful hop over to Nantucket. Looking down I could see it's a great area to cruise.

hhmm.....

Cape Cod Canal







This may be in our near future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gotta Have One!

Triton. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/triton-world-s-first-artificial-gills-re-breather#/
A state-of-the-art oxygen respirator, that allows you to breathe underwater by utilizing our ‘artificial gills’ technology. Swim among tropical fish, marvel at exotic coral and experience the serene beauty of marine life − without having to come up for air.