Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goodland, FL To Bermuda

is ca 1200 miles by sea. In the trade winds I would expect that to take me ca 10 days, but this passage will take me out of the trades for the third time (the previous two being the passages to New Zealand and South Africa), so the direction and speed of the wind is less certain. Don't worry if you don't hear from me in 15 days. Leaving the comforting consistency of the trades for the more fickle weather of higher latitudes continues to make me a bit nervous. It's a trade-off:  the chance of hurricanes grows but the chance of gales in higher latitudes is smaller the later one waits and vice-versa. Anyway, I'm looking forward to hundreds of miles of deep, open water (once I pass through The Straits Of Florida). The first hundred miles from Goodland (Marco Island) to The Florida Keys are littered with shoals and shipwrecks. I have decided to follow the same route (via Boca Grande Channel by Marquesas Keys) from The Gulf Of Mexico to The Atlantic Ocean.
     I'm aiming for a early afternoon departure (today Mary 28) to time the passage up The Marco River with high tide and slack water.
     Some photos from Goodland.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bridget's Take On Cuba

Bridget was kind enough to write another guest post:

Havana from Bridget
The Twister picked up some Californian crew in Havana on May 3.  Elena and I flew via Mexico City and then hopped a cab to Marina Hemingway just west 15km from Havana.  Lars greeted us at the Twister with hugs, smiles, and some cockpit cocktails.  We headed into Havana that night in an early 1980s Russian delight of an automobile.  Lars had made friends with a local, Joel, who offered us a ride to Havana and around for a reasonable fee.  The Cubans that give us rides don't own their cars. Instead they pay a daily rental fee to the government to be a taxi driver and get a car we asked a few times and it seems about $30 USA is what the drivers pay per day to have a car.  In route to Havana we stop at house to buy some fuel and we notice some basketball happening in the park.  Lars gets him and me into a 3-on-3 basketball game.  Our team is a Cuban, Lars and myself versus 3 Cubans who were on the court when we approached.  We (Lars and I) play barefoot, because flip-flops were the only other options.  Elena was team photographer. Fun times.
Post-game we head to Havana to have a wander about the old city. There are lovely streets to meander, plenty of mojitos, and music filling the air.  The architecture is beautiful, but often crumbling after years of neglect. The city is a fabulous place for a stroll for around every corner and down every street there is a scene that is unique and engaging with bright colors, wonderful people, countless things unexpected and often a Cuban soundtrack.
We spend 3 days wandering about Havana.  Cuba has fine museums for art, music, history, etc, and those things likewise fill the streets.  Our days are simply walking and seeing some sights shared by many tourists such as the Hotel National, Plaza de la Revolución ("Revolution Square"), Havana University and natural history museum, a walk along the Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) a broad esplanade and seawall which stretches for 8 km (4 miles) along the coast with waves breaking across the sidewalk, and we Remember the Maine (a monument).  We learn to purchase some meals not from tourist restaurants, but to focus on little windows on the side of buildings that offer random cheap sandwiches and after a few days Lars can typically get all three of us a meal for about $1 US total.  While a meal at a restaurant cost typically $5-$8 per person.  We learn that Cuba Libre is the proper term for a rum and coke in Cuba too.  Classic cars are a common sight and one night we catch a ride back to the marina in a 1941 Plymouth. It felt like a scene out of an old gangster movie.
We are invited to Joel's (our driver/friend) family's home for dinner.  Elena, Lars, and I are picked up by Joel and taken to what I imagine is a typical Cuban home.  It was a wonderful evening. The house is small and simple and full of aunts, cousins, and a few friends stop by.  We are given a nice meal of pork, rice/beans, taro, and some veggies lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  We end up in the small yard with Lars playing guitar, good conversations, and appreciating the good, cheap, and plentiful rum of Cuba until 3am.  We did a few sing alongs with Mahna Mahna (Do doo be-do-do) from Muppet Show.  It was a wonderful to spend an evening as part of a family.

One day we stay near the Twister at the marina. We chat with a couple other cruisers and get a sense of Cuba from a sailor’s point of view.  One boat has sailor that has sailed between Cuba and the USA numerous times.  He gives us some pointers and also suggests we walk a few miles to a local mosaic artists home.  So after a swim and a few jumps off the giant (8 meter/25 ft) inflatable iceberg at the marina.  Lars, Elena, and I walk to the neighborhood of local artist
  Jose Fuster.  It is an incredible display of public art.  Much of the neighborhood has been transformed into a colorful mosaic that makes one smile.  We wander slowly the streets, toss a frisbee, pet a few dogs, and share an ice cream.

TRINIDAD from Bridge.  May 7-9
On May 7 (Bridget’s Birthday) after a morning of coffee and mango on the Twister we head to Trinidad, an old colonial city on Cuba’s south Caribbean coast. We hired a car and a driver although Lars also had some time behind the wheel.  We passed fields of sugar cane, corn, taro, and groves of huge mango trees galore.  We took the long way to Trinidad, which allowed us to drive along the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) and stop for some snorkeling among Cuban corals.  The water was gorgeous and warm. The reef was lovely and the highlight were the bright and colorful Christmas Tree Worms that are quite numerous on the coral heads. We continued to travel across the countryside and past numerous Cuban billboards that celebrate the achievements of the revolution, their successful defeat of Yankee imperialism and occasionally condemns the USA blockade.  The number of cars decreases significantly as one travels away from Havana and are replaced by horse with carts and bicycles.  Cuba is a fascinating place for a drive.   The evening drive corresponded with a crab migration across the road.  The crabs are quite brave and instead of running unfortunately try to fight the car with their claws to no avail.
We arrive late evening to Trinidad. We have a room in a Cuban home that is an official homestay.  The government regulates everything, so you are only allowed to stay at particular houses.  We shower and have a bit of down time in the house courtyard.  Lars finds a guitar to add music to the evening as Elena paints and I write.  We head out around 10pm and find live music and dancing in the town square among the cobblestone streets.  We dance the night away with mojitos and Cubanitos as fuel :-)   Cubanitos are a Cuban version of a Bloody Mary.
The next two days are spent exploring Trinidad an incredibly well preserved old city dominated by Spanish colonial architecture and is a UNESCOs World Heritage site.  The days are simply spent wandering about aimlessly along the cobblestone streets, tossing the Frisbee, and sitting in parks listening to music.  There are few cars here, but plenty of horses.  We meet a fantastic artist name Francisco by walking into his studio/home.  He discovers that I share his birthday, so he insists on sharing a spot of rum and a cheers!  After the first pour of rum he fills our glasses with rum and red wine, which is a Cuban sangria. We play his piano and admire his art including a large Saint Lázaro painting, which was the name Lars often used when introducing himself in Cuba. We share a plate of Cuban sausage and veggies.  We swapped tales and Francisco listened with all his heart and seemed memorized by Lars’ story of sailing the oceans.  Francisco is fellow dreamer and kindred spirit who longs to sail the seas, but he born in a land that will never give him the freedom to sail away.  We depart with smiles, hugs, parting words of wisdom, a photo of Francisco with his address on the back, and all three of us with a seed bracelet as a gift.   That late afternoon we head to a nearby beach, Playa Ancón.  We snorkel the eel-grass beds and find a sea snake and few lobsters, but not much else.  Most of the time is spent tossing the Frisbee and enjoying a beautiful sunset.  That evening more music and dancing!  

The next afternoon after a city walkabout we head back to Havana on the same route so we snorkel the Bay of Pigs with the Christmas Tree Worms.  We stop for dinner a seafood restaurant and are offered crocodile as an option, but choose not to eat the endangered species.  The sun sets while we eat, so the final hours of the drive are under a star filled sky with fireflies lighting up the trees.

Havana to Florida from Bridget
We spend one more day (May 10) in the marina, scrub the Twister’s hull, and depart late the night of May 10 sailing towards Florida.  We motor through most of the first night with a little sail assist.  We rotate through 2-3 hour watches.  The night sky at sea was beautiful with shooting stars and a little sliver moon starts the evening with us before it sets a few hours after sunset.  The days are sunny and warm as we cruise merrily (more or less) along wearing our new Cuban straw hats. We stay cool by dropping a bucket overboard and hulling it in to be dumped on us in the cockpit.  Lars has the ability to hang on to the rail of the boat and drag along with one hand as we are underway for more of a real swim, but Elena and I stick with the bucket in the cockpit.  Later in the day when we are finished with salt water buckets we each get a freshwater rinse from our 6 gallon water container on deck.  We play scrabble, have sing alongs, take naps, spot a turtle, a shark or two, and lots of flying fish. On Day 2 of the sail we fly the colourful asymmetrical spinnaker.  We eat beans and rice, rice with Thai curry, oatmeal, and Lars cooks up tapioca pancakes that he learned to do in Brazil.  
We are sailing towards Goodland, Florida that is situated among the 10,000 islands of Florida mangroves and sandbars, which is an area well known for boats running aground.  There is sailor saying that has many renditions, but basically is summed up with this quote
"Only two sailors, in my experience, never ran aground. One never left port and the other was an atrocious liar."    Don Bamford
At midnight 5 miles from Coon Key and 7 miles from our final destination still seemingly the “middle” of the ocean we run aground.  The navigational charts don’t show any water that shallow, but we managed to find it.  Captain Lars handles it well and gets us off the sandbar and he kindly doesn’t mention the sharks that were circling the boat until we are safely underway. We change routes and sail north to the Marco River.  And after a few more shallow water encounters we safely arrive at the dock in Goodland, Florida early afternoon about 60 hours after we untied the dock lines in Havana.  Lars stepped on to USA soil for the first time in 25 months. We successfully completed another amazing adventure in a unique land and exploring new seas with Lars and the Twister!

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.   - William A. Ward

Cuba To Goodland, Florida

Bridget and Elena arrived Marina Hemingway the afternoon of May 3. We spent a couple of days exploring Havana (Architecture is not exactly my thing, but Havana is really something to see). We then hired a car to drive us to the city of Trinidad (just 20-30 miles east of Cienfuegos) on the south coast. It's a UNESCO world heritage site (as is Cienfuegos. Cuba has 9 in total). Trinidad really exceeded my expectations with its lovely old buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and lively atmosphere. We liked it so much that we stayed a day more than originally planned. One the way there and on the way back we stopped at The Bay Of Pigs for snorkeling. The coral was in pretty good shape, but the underwater wildlife was less interesting. Our final day in Cuba was spent lounging around Marina Hemingway and getting Twister ready for the passage to Florida.

     Cuba--Loved it and hated it. Visually mesmerizing, people as friendly as you'll find anywhere, but (especially if you're on a boat) endless bureaucracy, and for every truly generous and nice person you meet, there is another trying to rip you off. Cuban people are outgoing and amiable, so it's easy to get caught off guard. I should correct something I wrote in the previous post:  It seems there is no problem for foreigners entering Cubans' homes for short visit (we had dinner with one family). Staying overnight, however, is not allowed unless the house has a license as a hostel/bed-and-breakfast (as determined from the anchor-like symbol on outside walls of these homes).
     The basic necessities (ie rum and cigars) can be had very cheaply in Cuba using Moneda Nacional (the regular currency. 24 = 1 dollar). Imported and luxury goods have to be purchased with the convertible peso and can be expensive.  Photos from Cuba here.

We departed Cuba the evening of Friday May 10 and motored for 5 hours before we picked up the tradewinds.  We had planned to sail past Dry Tortugas but the Gulf Stream carried us so far east that it made more sense to pass through Boca Grande Channel between Boca Grande and Marquesas Keys, which we did the night of May 11-12. At the shallowest point we had maybe 5 feet of water under the keel. The winds eased on the 12th and we raised the asymmetrical spinnaker on the final leg from The Florida Keys to Marco Island. The evening of May 12th we approached Cape Romano having decided to attempt Coon Key Pass into Goodland. As both approaches (the other being Marco River) to Goodland are very shallow, an entry near high tide would be preferable. As darkness descended, we were sailing along at 5 knots (with some help from tidal stream) in charted depths of 10 feet, when, just as I was saying that we should reduce sail to slow the boat down to time our approach correctly,  the boat shuddered to a stop on a sandbank. Elena and Bridget went to the bow (where the keel is shallower) to no avail (only later did I mention seeing some commotion in the water which I thought looked like sharks). After trying to free the boat using the engine, the rising tide eventually lifted us off and we quickly retreated and headed for Capri Pass and The Marco River. We reached Capri Pass at dawn (May 13th) and were met by Jim and Noreen in their little Whaler motorboat. They jumped aboard and we towed the whaler as we motored down the river. We ran aground only twice more before reaching Jim and Noreen's house in Goodland on the southern end of Marco Island. Twister has been tied to their dock since.

     My time in Goodland has been very enjoyable. Jim and Noreen have been very hospitable. It was great to see many friends (who were gathered there for a wedding celebration) I hadn't seen in over two years. Now that the wedding party has gone home, I have been staying busy doing some of the inevitable boat projects that have piled up.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tobago To Cuba And More

Tobago to Cuba

Saturday 13/04-2013

Departed Store Bay, Tobago yesterday afternoon. In Tobago, it was, as always, nice to encounter boats I had met along the way--Mare Liberum (Tonga) and Arctracer (St. Helena). The first night I was passed by a cargo vessel whose destination (as determined by AIS) was, coincidentally, Cienfuegos, Cuba. Sailing 15-20 miles west of Grenada I enjoyed the last few hours of FM radio for a few days as I sailed into the middle of The Caribbean Sea (the part with no islands).

Sunday 14/04-2013

Even when the seas are not big, one in every few hundred hits just right and goes straight into the cockpit, through the companionway (door), and hits me lying in my bunk.

Tuesday 16/04-2013

Around 1120 this AM, I was sitting inside, contemplating the last of my morning coffee, when I was hailed on the VHF radio by a “warship” (I think they said US warship, but no doubt where they were from). They wanted to know who I was, where I had come from, and where I was going. I contemplated lying, but decided against it and told them I was heading for Cienfuegos, Cuba. Thereafter followed a long pause, and I thought maybe I should’ve lied. In the end, I don’t think they care where I was going as long as I wasn’t smuggling a certain sub-set of mind-altering substances which have been deemed immoral.
I was partly glad as well as partly disappointed that they didn’t sent a zodiac (inflatable power boat) to board me (recalling Miles Hordern’s, Sailing The Pacific, where he describes being boarded just west of Panama and young navy personnel becoming seasick shorty after entering the cockpit of his small rolly boat, which is a Twister by the way. I would recommend this book even to non-Twister owners. It’s in the San Diego public library), as there was potential to cause some damage to my boat but also potential for amusement if they tried to enter my cockpit and cabin.

Thurs 18/04-2013

The first time you see a Boobie, the reason for the name becomes obvious. They are graceful when gliding over the water, but as soon as they see a boat they start acting silly. Just now, one was up to their usual antics, trying to land on my wildly swinging mast (approaching a boat is when they look their silliest--they cock their heads to one side and have this ridiculous expression somewhat reminiscent of a dog on hearing a strange sound). When he/she finally gave up, he flew about 50 meters downwind, landed directly in Twister’s path, and had to take flight about 20 seconds later to avoid being run down.

Today it is two years since Twister departed San Diego.

Friday 19/04-2013

Middle of The Jamaica Channel—45 miles to Haiti, 55 miles to Jamaica, 115 miles to Guantanamo Bay.

Sunday 21/04-2013

Land Ho! Spotted Cabo Cruz (Granma Province--interesting story on where that name comes from, by the way) this morning. Still 220 miles to Cienfuegos. Can now hear both Cuban and Jamaican FM radio.

Tuesday 23/04-2013

Arrived Cienfuegos, Cuba after an 11-day passage. Entering the narrow channel into the large Bay of Cienfuegos, one is greeted by a sign saying, “Welcome To Socialist Cuba.”

The check-in with officials was more or less as expected from my reading. I lost track of all the different officials I had to pay, but it cost me around $60 in total and another $15 for three days of anchoring.

These days, foreign boats have to tie up to Marinas or anchor next to them if they want to go ashore. Cuban people are not allowed aboard, and if I understood correctly, foreigners are not allowed in Cuban’s homes (It is permitted to anchor in remote places where no people live), so that does put a damper on things.

Friday 26/04-2013
After two and one half days in Cienfugeos, the forecast looked good for the passage to Havana (or more precisely, Marina Hemingway about 9 miles west of the city).

Wednesday 01/05-2013

The ca 500 miles passage from Cienfuegos to Marina Hemingway took 5 and one half days. Only one day with more than 100 miles sailed. The last couple of days after rounding Cabo San Antonio were spent chasing land and sea breezes, fighting the west-flowing current near the coast, and finally enjoying a little boost from the Gulf Stream as I tacked offshore (north) to get out of the counter current.
I arrived Marina Hemingway the evening of the 1st of May, the International Workers’ Day, which I guess is a big deal around here. I had hoped to be in Havana for the festivities. Unfortunately I arrived in the evening, I was a bit tired from the passage, and finally I had no usable money, so a trip to town was not in the cards.

A strange thing happened last night as I was sailing northeast (not making much progress towards Havana, but approaching the Gulf Stream which would help)—A ship called “America Feeder” (thanks again, AIS) was overtaking me from the southwest. One of the data one can sometimes see with AIS is the ship’s destination. This one was apparently bound for Miami, Florida which was consistent with its heading. But then as the ship was perhaps a mile to my northwest, it made a U-turn and started heading southwest. Before the maneuver was complete, I was afraid I would be run down as at one point I could see the ship’s red and green navigation lights, which means I’m looking at the bow. Anyway, the ship sailed off into to the southwest. Sometime the next morning, I saw the same ship, this time ~8 miles to my north, repeat the same maneuver. US spy ship?

Friday 03/05-2013

My friends Bridget and Elena arrived today. After enjoying a celebratory cocktail in the cockpit (that just sounds obscene, doesn't it?) we walked over to the immigration office to let them know that two new crewmembers would be sailing on SV Twister from Havana. 

Monday 13/05-2013
 we arrived Goodland (Marco Island), Florida Monday the 13th of May (if my memory is reliable). More to come about Cuba and the passage to Florida.