Yes, Thursday’s the day.  We’re out’a Cuba…

It’s Wednesday morning here at Marina Hemingway and Brenda and I expect to leave for Florida on Thursday morning.  We were going to clear in in Ft Lauderdale but I learned today that the anchorages in Ft. Lauderdale that we have been using for years have now been cut off due to heavy lobbying by some local residents.  That’s very unfortunate as there aren’t any realistic alternatives there for cruisers unwilling or unable to pay high marina prices.  Anyway, there is a reasonably priced city mooring field in Miami that we’ll use as an alternative to Ft Lauderdale.

Today we’ll focus on getting Pandora ready for the run north and doing a bit of “hanging out” with some friends before we leave.  Tonight we will be getting together for drinks and dinner to say “adios”.  Several of them hope to make it to CT this summer to see us there.  That would be fun.

Yesterday morning I changed the oil in the engine, the second time since leaving Florida back in January and today perhaps I’ll also spend some time polishing the stainless.  And, let me tell you, there is a LOT of stainless on Pandora.   It’s not too hard to get it shiny again but the sheer volume keeps me busy for hours.  And, to keep her looking her best I have to polish everything about once a month.  However, I don’t seem to get to it that often so now she’s really in need of attention.  I spent several hours polishing the other day and only got the radar arch and stainless in the cockpit done.  There’s still plenty to do.  Of course, I’ll have to make time to visit the pool to cool off, perhaps more than one.

I had mentioned that there are some parts of the marina here that are better than others and I received a comment on that post looking for clarification.  The marina is a series of “canals” that parallel each other with concrete bulkheads on either side to tie up to in a “parallel parking” sort of way.  There are four canals with #1 being very close to the the ocean.  There is a hotel between canals #2 and #3 and that area also has some places to eat.  That’s the best part of the marina, with the nicest boats.  Yes, being close to the pool is noisy but it’s definitely the best part of the marina and also has access to WIFI, such as it is.    However, we have been having trouble with the electrical service which has very high voltage of nearly 140v AC.  That’s too high for the tolerances on my system so we have had to go without AC.  As it’s not been too hot it’s not been much of a problem.  However, that limits our ability to cut out the music from the pool and hotel that keeps pounding pretty loud until 10:00 each night.   However, being able to leave Pandora and jump easily into the pool has been fun and worth the noise.

Anyway, we also have to be sure that we have enough CUC to pay our bill.  We did get some more money exchanged yesterday but may not have quite enough and may have to find a way to change a bit more. We had expected to head back to downtown Havana today but as we now plan to leave Thursday, instead of Friday, we have decided to hang around here for the day.  We may be able to change a bit at the hotel or perhaps approach another cruiser who’s not yet planning to leave and do it that way.

One thing for sure, I don’t want to leave Cuba with any extra CUC as there is no way to change it to U.S. once we leave here.

Yesterday we headed downtown to Havana again and did some last minute touring of the city. It was fun and we still enjoyed the sights.

I have mentioned the large amount of construction/building repairs that’s going on and everywhere you turn there is evidence of investment going on.  Rumor has it that the Chinese are behind some of this and that doesn’t surprise me, if that’s the case.

You can see the stunning “after” along with some nearby “before”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, speaking of “before”, it’s doesn’t seem that long ago when the Soviet Union was such a big deal in Cuba.  This was their embassy, or at least the most visible part of the huge compound.  4-27-16a 065Of course, what’s a post about Cuba without a few more cars.  This is a really lovely convertible.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are plenty of these funny little taxis.  I don’t think that I’d like to be on a busy roadway in one of these.  The “pilot” wears a helmet but not the passengers.  I wonder if they know something that their customers don’t know?  You think?  Not the safest vehicles on the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was fun to see these women dressed in traditional holiday garb.  They pose for tourists in the most popular places.  It looks like they were taking a rest and talking to a window washer.  Or was he a mountain climber?  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have enjoyed visiting various bars in Havana.  Here are a few “shots”, pun intended.  No, we haven’t had drinks in ALL of them.  4-27-16a 003 4-27-16a 002Can you say “dos Mojitos”?One cannot live on rum alone so we visited a pastry shop.  It was jammed.  Bread here is about $.40CUC per loaf.  Very cheap.  The sweets look better than they taste but are pretty good, never the less.4-27-16a 009Brenda enjoyed buying some perfume in this place.  The shop was in an old building with some lovely stained glass and an impressive courtyard.4-27-16a 0134-27-16a 015We also happened on a funny little gun museum.  It was a single room and featured mostly shotguns from around the world.  A very eclectic mix.  They also had a rifle purportedly owned by Che, the revolutionary and one of Castro’s buds.  There are more photos of him around than of Fidel.4-27-16a 010We never tired of the views down old streets.4-27-16a 024Along the way we spied a local “artist” making things out of palm fronds.  We were very impressed with his work.  We have seen plenty of baskets in the Bahamas made from Palm fronds but nothing like this. Amazing work.4-27-16a 032It’s remarkable what he was able to do with just a few fronds.  This was his “display”.  Amazing.4-27-16a 057We loved it so much we got another after we had eaten dinner, just so we could watch him make it.4-27-16a 0434-27-16a 0594-27-16a 0514-27-16a 046Then he made  a grasshopper.  4-27-16a 059The finished piece.  He won’t get rich on this at $3.00 CUC. 4-27-16a 035Dinner was not as memorable as the location.  It was in an old printing factory or at least decorated to look the part. 4-27-16a 0394-27-16a 037All and all, a wonderful few days in Havana but we are ready to “get out of Dodge” and back to the good old U.S. of A.

So, one more night in Havana and we are Out’a here!

Flash alert:  I found out that “the place” to change money here in Havana happens to be in the beauty parlor at the marina.   The exchange rate is actually better than at the “official” places.  And the “exchange lady” was a lot better looking. And, I also got my hair cut.  Such is life in Cuba.  A remarkable place.  A remarkable place indeed.

Next post?  If it’s from Cuba, instead of Florida, there will surely be a good story to tell.  Let’s hope not…

Yes, heading home soon. 

It’s Monday morning and I just spoke with Chris Parker on the SSB about the weather for making our way to FL later this week.  Chris told me that we should be fine for a departure most any day this week,  The “flexible schedule” he described didn’t surprise me as the weather in Cuba has been pretty consistent while we have been here.  If I recall, and I’ll admit that it does blend together, we have only had one meaningful cold front to contend with in the nearly two months that we have been cruising here.

That is a tremendous contrast to the weather we have experienced in FL and the Bahamas over the last few years, where cold fronts and contrary winds come through as often as twice a week.   When we were planning our trip to Cuba, Frank Virgintino, who has written quite a few Caribbean cruising guides, had told us that we wouldn’t have to worry much about the weather here as compared to the Bahamas, and he was right.

So, getting back to what Chris told me.  In addition to the question of when to leave (most any time this week) he recommended  two possible strategies.  One option, the fastest, is to head out of Havana and stay in the middle of the Gulf Stream to take full advantage of the favorable current of 2-3kts for nearly the entire run.  And given the fact that we will be underway for nearly 250 miles the current in the stream will give us a significant boost that would put us in Ft Lauderdale perhaps as much as ten hours sooner than if we do not take advantage of the current in the GS.

There is also a meaningful diurnal wind pattern, meaning, in this case, that there is more wind in the late afternoon  when a sea breeze combined with the actual gradient winds kicks in.  And as those winds are from an easterly direction, it could make for some pretty snotty conditions in the stream.

The other option is to head directly for Key West when we leave Hemingway and let the current in the Gulf Stream carry us east.  That option would have us head on a more northerly course and we would exit the Gulf Stream east of Key West and then skirt along between the GS and the reefs off of the Keys.  That approach would make for a more comfortable trip but it would take considerably longer as we would not have the benefit of the Gulf Stream current.  It would also likely involve a lot more motoring and motor-sailing into the wind once we reached the Keys.

Brenda and I have talked about the two options and we are inclined to go for the Gulf Stream assisted option, even if it’s a more uncomfortable, given the faster passage time.  Of course, we can always adjust our run to leave the GS, once we are underway, if we decide it’s just too uncomfortable.

Anyway, it looks like we will be heading north on Wednesday for an arrival in Ft Lauderdale on Thursday or Friday.   Oh yeah, and I did I mention that we are excited about being back in the U.S. of A., the land of UNLIMITED INTERNET?   Here in Cuba, you purchase a “card” with codes, for $2CUC that allow for one hour of internet.  And that connection can either be very SLOW or SORT OF SLOW, depending on where you are.  And, that connectivity is always in the lobby of a government hotel.

Yes, we are pretty excited to be back in the “land of easy” but visiting Cuba and now Havana has been pretty amazing.

I am also looking forward to sailing north to CT with my friends Chris and Dave who will be flying to FL to join me.  Chris and I have sailed together for many years and he’s actually the guy that introduced me and Brenda to sailing way back in Highschool.    That was a LONG time ago.  And, I expect that Brenda will curse his name at some point when we are in the Gulf Stream for “giving me the bug” so many years ago when he took us for a day-sail in his Dad’s 19’ Alberg Typhoon.     When I say “thanks for that, Chris” it means something different than when Brenda utters those same words.   Hmm…

I believe I mentioned yesterday that I had accidentally deleted a number of photos of our visit to the wonderful restaurant that we ate at a few nights ago in Old Havana.  Well, we decided to walk there again yesterday and “retake” the shots.

Here’s a shot of the entrance to Paladar Los Mercaderes complete with one of the guys to “guide you in” and announce your presence to the staff upstairs with the ringing of a bell.  That’s a very nice touch and makes you feel that you have indeed “arrived”. 4-25-16a 047The foyer leads to a lovely rose petal strewn staircase with candles as you make your way upstairs. 4-25-16a 048The dining room is very intimate and appointed with some lovely antiques. 4-25-16a 050This is an amusing sign at the top of the stairs.  The ballerina sort of reinforces the point, I guess. 4-25-16a 049Brenda recounted the experience, and menu, in a recent post.  And, as she is much more of a “foodie” than I am, I’ll leave the description of the “experience” to her.

I have mentioned the wonderful work that has been done to restore many buildings in Cuba and this photo perhaps shows it best with a “before and after”.  Amazing work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithout this sort of attention to detail, lovely work like this would be lost.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, wonderful views wherever you turn.4-25-16a 058Months ago, when we were planning our trip to Cuba, Brenda happened upon a blog post from an artist that had visited Havana a few years ago about a women who teaches bobbin lace here.  Brenda’s hope/goal was to find this one woman in all of Havana when we got here and amazingly, she did.   I enjoyed the interaction between the “ladies”.  4-25-16a 020Even though there was a significant language barrier, they clearly shared the language of “fiber”.   Brenda has written about this and it’s worth reading.  BTW, it´s the same post that talked about dinner.

There is a lot of art in Cuba and yesterday we happened upon a lovely little workshop selling woodcut prints. 4-25-16a 043The printing press, in the back of the shop was donated by Unicef, we learned.  4-25-16a 039We loved this little piece and will hang it aboard Pandora as a reminder of our visit. The crescent shapes represent Cuba and the “people” figures, well they represent the people of Cuba.  Having it aboard Pandora will be a tangible reminder of our wonderful time here in Cuba and the friendly people we have met along the way.4-25-16c 002So, today we will book a flight for Brenda to get home from Ft Lauderdale next week and then head into Havana to visit the forts that line the harbor.  I look forward to reporting on what will surely be a wonderful day.

I should note that if there are any glaring mistakes, this post was excruciating to get up due to the terrible internet here.    Did I mention that I can´t wait for better connectivity.   I can not even put a question mark at the end of that sentence.  How frustrating….

That´s all for now or I´ll throw the computer.   Argggg….

That’s it, we are NEVER leaving Cuba.

We are all settled in Marina Hemingway here in Havana for a few days prior to heading back to the States and what a great spot it is. Pandora is tied up adjacent to the hotel and pool, a great place to just hang out and enjoy the moment. 4-24-16c 003However, we really don’t have time to sit around as there is just so much to do in Havana.  And yesterday, we “did” plenty.

Here’s Pandora, tied up right across the street from the pool.4-24-16c 001She has a nice looking neighbor, a lovely trawler.  I don’t think that the owners are nearby right now as she looks vacant.  4-24-16c 002Actually, there are plenty of yachts in the marina that appear to be in storage waiting for their owners to return.   Perhaps that’s because staying here is a lot less expensive at about $1/ft than the Keys or southern FL , only 100 miles away where the rates are 3-4x that.  Like so much of Cuba, the marina is “mixed” with some parts very nice and others, well not so nice.  Happily, Pandora is in a very nice section and she should be as I specifically asked to move here yesterday after scoping out the area to find the best spot,  being the “shy guy” that I am.

Yesterday we took a cab the 20 minutes from Marina Hemmingway into old Havana, the home of a remarkable number of beautifully restored buildings.  According to the guidebook, there are more than 1,000 historic buildings that have been meticulously restored to their former glory and how glorious they are.   We had been told that the buildings in Cuba were crumbling and certainly many are but an amazing number have been kept up and are as beautiful as those that you will see in any European city.   Havana, and “old Havana” in particular, has something beautiful to see on every street corner. IMG_2225 IMG_2112IMG_2219And, unlike so many so called “historic districts” people still live and work in these areas and I don’t just mean in T-shirt shops selling stuff to tourists.  These magnificent buildings are still occupied by families, as they have been for hundreds of years, as witnessed by the laundry hanging on many balconies.   And, of course, the constant parade of beautiful old “Detroit iron”. IMG_2115There are lovely public squares, green spaces, surrounded by magnificent buildings, some dating back to the 1500s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI particularly loved this coffee shop doorway.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, there are the cars, many in amazingly great condition.  We happened upon several areas that have been claimed by a group of convertibles.  This lineup looks like a car show but they are actually working taxies ready to hire.IMG_2203Everywhere you look, beautiful cars.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow about this beautiful T-bird on its’ way for a tour of the city?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey come in every color of the rainbow.  I doubt that any of these left Detroit in the colors that they sport these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou don’t see many Sunbeams these days either.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot sure the interior is original.   NOT, for sure but a show stopper. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to the cars, everywhere you turn there is something colorful to see and hear.  A group of minstrels paraded through one of the squares, complete with two on stilts.  No missing them, that’s for sure.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to dinner in a beautiful paladar, a private, family run restaurant.  Unfortunately, I mistakenly deleted those photos.   We’ll have to go back to day to take them again.  Such is the power of computers and clumsy operators, moi, made more so by a bit too much vino.

On the way home to the marina and Pandora we chose a 1952 Chevy convertible with a white interior that blasted it’s way through Havana.  IMG_2238In the balmy “summer” evening air, it was a wonderful  trip.  The driver said that he had never delivered anyone to a “yacht” before and was quite interested in having his car parked near Pandora.  Sorry, but even an i-Phone won’t take good photos in the dark.  I guess you had to be there to appreciate the moment.IMG_2243Earlier in the day we walked through this lovely square where they were setting up for some sort of tour dinner.  The tables looked beautiful in the afternoon light. IMG_2216The entertainment was “angelic” as witnessed by this group of entertainers and like everyone else we have encountered in Cuba, they were very friendly and were happy to pose for a “Kodak moment”.   4-24-16a 001After dark, the square really came alive.  What a beautiful sight.IMG_2235 IMG_2231I asked one of the “party goers” who was attending the dinner and learned that it was a group of architects, members of the American Institute of Architects.   Of all the groups that I might have encountered in Havana, I couldn’t believe it was a group of architects as my Dad was publisher of a magazine in that field for many years.  He passed away two years ago and hardly a day goes by, especially during our tour of Cuba, that I haven’t thought about how much he would have loved to “follow along” with us.

It was a very emotional moment when I thought about how much he would have enjoyed hearing about this serendipitous moment of rubbing elbows with the AIA in Havana, of all places.   For over 7 years I kept this blog for him and my mother, who would read my posts together in the evenings over a glass of wine.

I wrote about this in “why I write this blog” shortly after his passing and I still think about him every time I write a post.   Running into the AIA last night brought back such a flood of memories.

It’s been nearly two months since we cleared into Cuba, after our run from the Bahamas and what a trip it has been.  And now, here in Havana, our last stop in Cuba, we have indeed saved the “best for last”.

Yes, I am looking forward to being home again in CT but as I sit here aboard Pandora in the “historic” marina Hemingway,  I have to say that it’s going to be hard to pry ourselves away from this beautiful city.

In a way, perhaps we’ll never really leave Cuba with so many amazing memories from our visit.

Dad, if you are reading along, and I hope you are, you would have loved this place and this post is for you, as they all are.

Enough nostalgia for now.  Time to get going as there’s just so much to see and Havana beckons.

Out of touch but moving along.

Just a note to say that we should be in Havana on Friday night and will be able to update with several posts that we have written, both here and on Brenda´s site www.argoknot.com.

We have been here at Cayo Levisa for almost a week waiting for the strong easterlies to abate which should happen tonight.

Lot´s of interesting stuff to update on.  Stay tuned for several much delayed posts.

Don´t forget to check out ¨where in the world is Pandora¨ on the home page for a map with our actual location.

We should be heading north to Ft Lauderdale around mid week after a few days in Havana.

 

Turning our thoughts to the “allure” of home.

It’s the second half of April and after nearly two months in Cuba, I have to admit that my thoughts are beginning to be focused on CT and home.

Getting back to our “land home” for the summer, after months aboard down south is always a nice change of pace and something we look forward to with anticipation.    The idea of UNLIMITED INTERNET is particularly alluring and to be able to take a long shower and not worry about how much water we are using, is seductive in a big way.  And while Pandora’s custom mattress in our cabin is really very comfortable, Brenda and I are definitely looking forward to our “cloud bed”, as Brenda calls it, at home.  Oh yeah, and it will be just wonderful to be able to plan a menu based on what you want to eat verses what’s on board or available locally (not a lot).   As someone from the U.S. once said, “I want what I want, when I want it.”  Yes, sounds like a plan, indeed!

However, getting north and making our way the 1,300 or so miles that separate us from CT is no simple feat and to cover that distance in a reasonable amount of time is yet another kettle of fish.   And finding a weather window that will last a week to head north is not common but it is certainly easier than coming south in the fall with all of the cold fronts pounding the coast.  And, to add additional complications for a long run, I always worry about the wear and tear on the boat and the need to find crew that have the time as well.  As most of my friends are still working, it’s tough for them to take what can sometimes stretch to two weeks to make the trip.  In the last three years, I have found that it goes pretty well and usually takes about a week or so.

As far as crew is concerned, I have been lucky and generally can find a few friends who are willing to make the trip with me.  Perhaps it’s my good nature. “Don’t get to full of yourself Bob, it’s your biscuits”.

As far as getting back to the U.S. , Brenda and I will spend a few days in Havana and then head out for FL.  For sure, Brenda doesn’t “love” overnight sailing but after our nearly three day run from the Bahamas to Cuba and a few overnights here, Brenda seems willing, or at least “resigned” to doing overnights occasionally.  In reality I believe that it’s the “allure” of getting back to her “cloud bed” that makes her willing to “brave the darkness”.  Yes, that’s probably it.

From either Ft Lauderdale or Miami, it’s an easy flight back to CT for Brenda and a convenient (read: cheap airfare) place for my crew to join me.  One way or the other, I will likely be home with Pandora by mid-May or so.   And getting a weather window from Havana and then from FL shouldn’t be too hard as the prevailing winds are from an easterly direction in the south and then from the southwest as we get farther north.  And, as the trip from FL to CT, winds should be generally in our favor.   Well, that’s the theory anyway.   And, from FL to Cape Hatteras, there will be the Gulf Stream giving us a boost so we should be able to make good time for much of the run.

Of course, all of this depends on the almighty weather so only time will tell.   Fortunately, my crew can book their flights at more or less the last minute to meet me in FL so they should be able to avoid a long wait in FL for a window to begin heading north.

So, for now, we are still here in Cayo Levisa, anchored in sheltered waters and waiting for the winds to settle down from the cold front that came through a few days ago.  Even though it’s only about 60 miles from here to Marina Hemingway and Havana, our last stop in Cuba, it might as well be a thousand miles from here with the strong winds that would be on the nose if we were to venture out now.   However, all has not been lost as we have been enjoying the resort, eating in the restaurant and walking on the beaches.

The view from Pandora to the south is magnificent.  If you were to draw mountains that looked like these everyone would think they were fake.  I’ll bet that mountain climbing here will become very popular down the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey have a very nice restaurant and bar on the beach.   Brenda and I had lunch and read a while yesterday.   It was very tough going, as you can see.4-20-16a 014Finding some great shells yesterday was good too.   Oh yeah, and an “occasional” mojito didn’t make it any worse.   Such is the life of the weather bound cruiser, tough as it is. “Yeah Bob, sounds horrible.  Just shut up already!”

Ok, ok.  Anyway, the good news is that I spoke with Chris Parker this morning and his report suggests that we can run to Havana on Friday where we will spend a few days prior to heading north to Miami and the good old U.S-of-A.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great being here in Cuba but the simplicity of “home” and all that it represents is beckoning.  Did I hear someone say “Amazon Prime”?   Yes indeed, it will be great to be home again.  And, when I get there, perhaps I’ll run to the store for “whatever”.

The people of Cuba, uncommonly nice.

We anchored off of a small resort island, Cayo Levisa, our last stop before we head the 60 miles to Marina Hemmingway and Havana prior to heading back to the U.S..  This lovely little island offers great protection from the coming cold front that should hit us tonight bring with it strong northerly winds for the next few days.   There aren’t too many spots along the northwest coast of Cuba that provide good protection from such winds and being safe and comfortable is key for us as we prepare for the weather.

Our first night here Brenda made a wonderful pasta dish of bacon, tomatoes and fresh bok choi.  I mention this, not because it was a particularly unique dish as Brenda’s a great cook and we east very well aboard Pandora, but because it’s been 15 days since we have been anywhere to get fresh produce and our stores are pretty low.  I should note, we still aren’t anywhere near a produce stand so that begs the question of exactly where we were able to get fresh bok choi.    Hold that thought for the moment.

I have been struggling for the last few weeks of exactly how to describe the wonderful interactions we have had with the people, especially in the rural areas, here in Cuba and perhaps our “bok choi experience” is a good example.

As we move from place to place in Cuba, our travels are strictly monitored by the Guarda Frontera, a military/police force that check us in and out again from most of the places that we visit with the exception of the most rural cayos.   When we arrived here at Cayo Levisa, I headed ashore with our papers, passports, list of Pandora’s particulars, our USCG documentation and “despacho” or cruising permit to check in.

I was met at the dock by someone from the resort who informed me that I had to return to Pandora and wait there for two hours until the Guarda Frontera officer arrived from the mainland on the 18:00 ferry to check us in.

At the appointed hour the officer arrived on what appeared to be a dive boat from the resort which circled Pandora as it arrived, officer waving, and continued to the dock.  I jumped in my dink and headed to shore.  As is nearly always the case, I was greeted warmly by just about everyone on the dock including the Frontera officer, dressed in his uniform.  Black shoes, slacks and white dress shirt, complete with “official” looking epaulets on each shoulder.

The captain of the dive boat also introduced himself with a hearty handshake and presented me with a perfectly ripe, enormous papaya.  Now, I can’t say that I am a huge fan of papaya but I was very touched by the gesture.  So, back to Pandora I went with the officer and my papaya to complete our paperwork.  Sometimes the officers make a brief inspection of Pandora but in this case he didn’t and just filled out his paperwork.  They almost always ask questions about us and the boat that go beyond the information that they need for their forms so it’s clear that they are just curious about the boat, us and our travels.  It’s pretty clear that they don’t see many cruisers, especially from the U.S.  and are always interested in learning more about us.  Brenda and I always enjoy these friendly exchanges.

Questions answered, we said our goodbyes and I took him back to the dock.  I was still thinking about the gift of the papaya and had decided to give the captain a bar of soap as a thank you.   The captain accepted my gift with a hearty “gracias” and motioned for me to wait a moment.  He retreated to his cabin and emerged with a bundle of fresh greens, bok choi, leafy lettuce and some green beans, delivered with a big smile.  Now it was my turn and he gently let me know that if I had a tube of silicone or perhaps a spare screwdriver aboard he’d be very pleased as it was tough for him to get such things in Cuba.
4-16-16b 010 Now, the more jaded among you might say that the whole exercise was designed to soften me up so I’d give him something, and clearly it was.  However, the process was done with such care and grace that I found it to be quite charming and a good example of our many exchanges where Pandora’s crew received something and so did they.

I told him, as best I could that I’d see what I could do and would see him “manyana”.  We parted with smiles.   The next day I presented him with a “Vicegrip” wrench that I had that was a duplicate in my tool box.  He seemed to be very pleased.

There are so many basics that we take for granted in the U.S. that Cubans just don’t have access to.  As a result, they are always looking for items to check off of their “wish list”.   Razors and lengths of line for boats are always very popular.  I wish that I had known as I have hundreds of feet of extra line at home that I’d be happy to give away.  Perhaps next time.

Another wonderful exchange occurred a few days ago when we were approached in a very remote anchorage by two fisherman that wanted to sell us some lobster.   They approached us in a small rough rowboat and showed us their catch.   They had come over to us from a “fishing station” a sort of “home base” on the water, a number of shacks and docks built on pilings out in the water where they managed their catch and lived between trips to the reef to fish.

Anyway, we bought their lobster for a few CUCs each.   4-16-16b 006After our deal was done one of the fisherman took off his cap and retrieved a single playing card, the queen of hearts.  After a bit of back and forth, it became clear that he was asking if we had any playing cards.  I didn’t know if he wanted to play cards with us or if he wanted cards but I “played” along anyway.

One thing led to another, I went below and returned with a deck of cards.  His reaction was amazing.  He and his partner both clapped their hands and let out a “whoop”.   What a great reaction and a good example of our many exchanges over the last two months here in Cuba.  In the U.S. it is so easy for us to get just about everything we need but here in Cuba they are on a constant quest for even the simplest items.  This experience was another example of the very friendly “culture” we have encountered, especially here in rural Cuba where the simplest gesture or “gift” is so appreciated.  I expect that this will be lost in the coming years as Cuba reengages with the U.S. and consumer goods are more readily available to them.

Don’t get me wrong, it is unfortunate that the fisherman had to work so hard to get something as simple as a deck of cards, but it was his approach and the gentle manner that struck me as so “Cuban”.  And I, for one, was pleased to be so appreciated by such a simple gesture of the gift of a deck of playing cards.   (Brenda wrote about this encounter too, but with her own take, and you might want to check it out at www.argoknot.com)

While I am on the subject of fisherman, how about this “boat”,  more of a raft made of a framework of boards on top of what appeared to be truck tire tubes stretched out with the cut ends tied with rope.  I can’t believe that they row miles offshore in these fragile craft.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe bought some lobster from them too (our freezer is jammed now) and as they headed away they hoisted a rough sail to help them on their way toward the mainland, still miles away.   What a sight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we made our way up the northwestern coast of Cuba over the last week we have visited some beautiful cayos with just spectacular scenery.   This shot of Pandora with the mountains in the background was particularly lovely.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe anchored in the lee of some remarkable mangrove stands, some of which had trunks that were 18” in diameter and perhaps 60-75’ tall.  I have never seen mangroves of that size and have to wonder just how old they must be.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of the spots we anchored for the night, we shared the cove with a group of fisherman on a ferocement boat.    The boat was very rough construction of iron bars with a cement coating.   I expect that they don’t last very long but this type of boat is very popular here in Cuba.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey waved to me, I visited and was invited aboard.  The captain was very nice but his English was no better than my Spanish.4-16-16b 0084-16-16b 009One of the crew was happy to show me some of their catch.4-16-16b 007The next morning Brenda and I watched as each crew member donned a wetsuit and jumped in the water.  After a while we realized that they were picking up sea cucumbers from the bottom of the bay and filling their “baskets”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI haven’t seen this on any menus here in Cuba so perhaps they export their catch.  I know that sea cucumbers are very popular in Japan.It seems that like so much of life in Cuba, these fisherman are very opportunistic and catch whatever they can.  Fish one day, lobster the next and then on to sea cucumbers.  Their fishing techniques are so low tech that they are easy on the environment as they don’t have access to the sorts of equipment that is the mark of “industrial fishing” elsewhere.   I expect that a more “open” Cuba will lead to overfishing.

Earlier this morning I spoke with Chris Parker about the coming cold front and learned that there isn’t likely to be another “window” to make the 60 mile run to Havana for perhaps a week.  That’s a long time but fortunately, this is a lovely spot and the holding is good so, wind or not, we will certainly enjoy spending time here until we can continue our run east to Havana.

The island is a resort with perhaps 50 bungalows and a nice restaurant along with a great beach so being “weathered in” won’t be so bad.  It will certainly be better than being stuck in a mangrove swamp with 500,000 of my closest “no-see-um” friends, that’s for sure.

After we visit Havana and head home to the U.S., it will be good to be back in “civilization” but we will look back fondly to the wonderful people we have met in our nearly two months of cruising Cuba.    I have never encountered a group of people who are harder working or approach life with more grace and it has been an inspiration to experience, first hand, their pluck and determination.

Cuba will certainly change in the coming years and I encourage you to visit here soon to see for yourself this very unique place and culture of uncommonly nice people.

 

 

Underway and in touch again

It’s Sunday morning and Pandora is clipping along at over 6kts on a broad reach and as we are being helped by a favorable current, our speed over the ground (SOG) is nearly 8kts.  That’s good as we have a long way to travel today as we make our way from Cayo del Rosario to an anchorage on the western tip of Isla de la Juventud, a large island on the south side of Cuba.  I should note that the “bottom” here is 13,000 feet below us and we are, amazingly, only 5 miles from shore.  Actually, even if we were less than a half mile from shore it would be over 3,000 feet to the bottom.   That’s deep.

Our destination today will put us more than ¾ of the way along the south shore of Cuba and will bring us to the point to where we will “turn the corner” and head NE toward Havana, our last stop prior to heading back to U.S. waters in early May.

Today’s run is nearly 80 miles so we had to get off to an early start, leaving by 07:30.  We plan on anchoring on the ocean side of the furthest tip of land on the largest island in Cuba, the nearly 100 square mile, Isla de la Juventud tonight.  The southern coast of the island has no harbors so we have to be sure that we can get all the way prior to nightfall or we’ll have to keep going overnight to the next anchorage which is about 100 miles further to the west.  However, as we are making good time so far, we should be able to arrive this evening with some daylight left.

After that, our next port will be Maria Cabo San Antonio and will mark our arrival at the most western point of Cuba.  To get there from Isla de la Juventud will require an overnight run as it’s over 100 miles and we can’t make that much distance during daylight hours.  Our plan will have us leave in the late afternoon so we’ll arrive the next morning.  And, with the best winds for sailing commonly occurring in the overnight hours here, we should have a good sail. Interestingly, as we round the western tip of Cuba, we will be only 100 miles from the Yucatan in Mexi co.  Amazing.

To that point, it’s been very interesting to meet fellow cruisers recently who have been to Guatemala and all over the Caribbean.   The “cruising horizon” for folks we have met here as much broader than anything we have found in the past with many having crossed the Pacific and a good number having been all the way around the world.   And, they talk about it as casually as though they had just gone “to the grocery”.  “Oh yeah, the snorkeling is great here but compared with Polynesia where we were last season…”.  It’s a very different perspective than anything Brenda and I have ever encountered.

The two couples that we had aboard for dinner the other night are good examples.  Monique and Garth, aboard Heartbeat began their travels in New Zealand, crossed the Pacific and have been all over the Caribbean.  They are making their way to Northern Europe and, after leaving Cuba may not stop until they reach Bermuda.   Another couple, Martin and Lisette aboard L’Eau-Dace came to Cuba from Honduras, where they had become friends with Garth and Monique,  They will be heading to Guatamala soon where they plan to spend the hurricane season.

The perspective of these cruisers couldn’t be more different than the folks back home “Oh yeah, we cruise a lot.  We cross The Sound most weekends to Greenport LI and go to The Vineyard for a week each summer”.  Both are fine perspectives, but WOW, these folks are HARD CORE and different in every way.

Our run yesterday, to Cayo del Rosario was not particularly long and we arrived there by mid-afternoon.   I had heard that the snorkeling was terrific there so after dropping hook, I headed off to a small reef nearby.   And as has the been the case in other areas I have gone, the fish life was remarkable, and much more substantial than anything that I ever saw in The Bahamas, even in the protected areas.

As Cuba is so lightly traveled and fished, the reefs are much like you might have seen perhaps 50 years ago in the Caribbean with abundant life of remarkable variety on the reefs.  The water isn’t as clear as it is in the Bahamas but it’s clear enough, with perhaps 50 foot visibility, to make for quite an experience.

After touring that spot, I headed off to another nearby where I saw a group of swimmers from one of two catamarans anchored nearby.  I prefer to snorkel with others but as Brenda doesn’t like to, I try to tag along, or at least be in the water near others.  As there are so few boats sailing around Cuba, it’s been tough to find others to tag along with.

The second spot that I tried was a larger reef that came within a few feet of the surface and then a 20′ abrupt drop-off to a sandy bottom.   The reef was quite dramatic, particularly so as a result of a wrecked boat that had foundered on the reef years ago.  It was a heavily built wooden boat with huge timbers and it’s “bones” were scattered over a wide area.  I have to say that I found the scene quite intimidating and decided to cut my visit short.

Perhaps the deciding moment was when I happened on a large ray, similar to one that had “stung” a Russian on charter boat a few days ago.  I understand that he had approached a ray and ended up with a “barb” that entered his upper arm and came out the other side of his arm.    It was a very painful experience and he ended up being flown back to the mainland for surgery to remove it.  We had enjoyed meeting him and the rest of the crew on that boat on the dock in Cayo Largo prior to his accident and were sorry to learn about what had happened.

Anyway, I was in no danger as I wasn’t “playing” with the ray but, never the less, that combined with the wreck, kind of freaked me out, alone in the water.  Ok, enough of that for now.  How about a walk on the beach?

And what a beach it was.  I had heard that there were many conch on the beaches there and I was stunned to see literally hundreds of fully mature conch everywhere in the shallows near the beach.   These conch had clearly not been bothered for many years as their shells were worn smooth by the surf.  In the Bahamas, most conch are harvested when they are barely mature, perhaps 6 years old, so their shells have quite sharply defined contours.  These, by contrast, looked like they had been abandoned by their owners years ago.   However, in nearly every case they were still occupied.  It was an amazing sight to see conch spread out as far as the eye could see and in such abundance.

I also found a few “helmet” conch with their dramatic brown markings and took them as the shells are amazing.  I also passed an area with snails on rocks, literally thousands of them.  However, unlike the Bahamas, where they tend to be about 1-2″ around, these black and silver shells were as large as an orange and they were everywhere, with perhaps 20 in a square meter.  It was quite a sight.

This is the “haul” and I only picked a few shells.  A remarkable discovery indeed.   The largest in this group are a foot across.   Clockwise, beginning upper left, conch and helmets.  In the middle, very large turbans.  In front, a small tulip and a lovely piece of coral.  Not sure about the names of the others.   Really nice shells and more “gems” than I normally find in a single day on the beach.

4-10-16aa
To see so many shells in a single area was a sight that probably hasn’t been seen in other areas of the Caribbean and Bahamas in over 50 years.   With improving relations between Cuba and the U.S. I fear that this won’t last long though.

The winds here in Cuba follow a pattern, as is the case in other areas of the Caribbean, where the trades tend to blow about 15-20kts and higher  from an easterly direction during the day and then shift to a more northerly direction overnight as the nearby mountains cool and the wind cascades down toward the ocean.  These “diurnal” winds occur near the larger islands so the wind direction changes at night and, in Cuba, you often have more wind at night than during the day.  It also means that finding an anchorage that is protected from both the trades and night winds can be tricky.

There are plenty of anchorages that are protected from the trades but few that are also sheltered from the diurnal winds and our anchorage last night was no different.  To make matters worse, we were anchored in turtle grass, a particularly tough bottom to get the anchor to hold well.

So as the wind piped up to over 25 knots last night, we began to drag ever so slowly with each gust which peaked at nearly 30kts.   I stayed in the cockpit until nearly midnight, with an anchor alarm set, and didn’t finally settle in until after the plotter track confirmed that we had finally stopped dragging backwards.  All and all, we probably dragged a few hundred feet and never actually broke completely free.   With several miles of shallow water behind us, we were never in any real danger of hitting anything.

There were three other boats in the very large anchorage so I was able to also watch the relative position of their anchor lights to see how we were doing.   It turns out that one of them, the one without an anchor light had some troubles of his own and this morning, when it became light, I saw that he was at least a mile from where he was when it got dark last night.  As he had dragged so far, I expect that he had no idea he was moving and was probably shocked when he woke up today.  Better him than me.

This post is the first in a month that I have been able to do when we didn’t have WIFI as my SSB e-mail modem (Pactor IV) is working again.   I have been having trouble with the unit since December and it’s been very frustrating, to say the least.  That combined with no cell services in Cuba for American phones, and we have felt very out of touch.

However, yesterday morning a fellow cruiser, Martin from L’Eau-Dace, came over to have a look at my installation.  After about a half hour he determined that the problem was likely centered on the USB plugs on my laptop along with the “old” cable that ran from there to my modem.  The good news is that I had another cable that had come with my new printer so after trying that one on the modem it worked perfectly.  I had predicted that the problem would likely turn out to have a simple fix but after fussing with it for weeks, I had run out of options.  Thanks Martin, for setting me straight.

With no form of communication available to us without the SSB e-mail when we were outside of WIFI, which has been just about all of the time, Brenda and I had been feeling like we had spent the last month in Cuba going around with a brown bag over our head.
Anyway, fingers crossed that the “fix” continues to work.  It will be great to be able to communicate more easily.

I should also mention that the easterly trades, which have eluded us for the last month, have finally filled in again.  This is good as now we have been sailing much of the time instead of motoring.  It is a very welcome change.

And it’s also a treat to be able to write this post underway and send it off to our son Christopher so he can put it up for me.   Of course, as the SSB is a VERY SLOW way to send messages so I am unable to include more than one picture.

I guess you will just have to forgive me and just read along.

The “other” Largo, Cayo Largo, Cuba

Of course, every cruiser has heard of Key Largo, in FL but how many American cruisers have visited the “other” Largo, Cayo Largo, on the southern coast of Cuba?  Well, that’s where we are and it’s a remarkable place indeed.

I have to say that it is a treat to be here as we don’t usually tie up at marinas and it’s the nicest of the marinas that Brenda and I have seen during the month we have spent in Cuba.  Cayo Largo is an interesting island, some distance from mainland Cuba as is totally devoted to tourists.   The only Cubans that are here work in the hotels and marina and all of them only live here while they are “on duty” for their 21 day (I think) cycle.  While they are here they live in housing provided for them on the island.  After their “tour” is over, they move home to the mainland for a week and then begin the process all over again.

There are many buildings that make up the marina complex but clearly the bar is the center of activity.  It’s a nice spot. 4-6-16a 030And, there is a great view of Pandora right out in front.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly, a cerveza (beer) is $1CUC if you buy a single can or a case in a grocery and the price doesn’t change if you purchase a full case.  And a beer in the bar is also $1CUC, the same price as in the grocery.  Go figure.  To that point, we have found that most consumer goods seem to be sold at set prices regardless of where you purchase them.   For diesel, it’s always a pretty high $1 CUC/liter as the price is set by the government.

It’s also interesting to see how prices compare to the U.S. as some things are much more expensive here than in the U.S. and other things are less.  Beer in a bar wins the prize as the low cost item.  The last time I paid the equivalent of $1 for beer in a bar was many, many years ago.

On another topic, a “cold” front came through the area the other night bringing with it, a temporary break in the humidity, a welcome change for us.  We have been in the marina for a few days now and to be able to run our AC, well at least one of our two zones, has been great.  Unfortunately, the electricity on the docks isn’t quite strong enough to handle both zones, but cooling the main salon during the day and our cabin at night has been a real treat.  Another benefit is that the prices at marinas here in Cuba are considerably less than in the U.S. at less than $40CUC per day and that includes electricity, such as it is.  One consideration though is that the water on the dock is brackish, at best, so you don’t want to put it in your tanks.  However, because the harbor is so clean, with about 20’ of visibility, even at the dock, we have been able to run our watermaker each day.  When was the last time you were in a marina with that kind of water clarity?

How about 5’ long tarpon swimming near the bar?  Not something that you see every day.4-4-16b 018This area of Cuba is known for spectacular diving and I have to say that the amount of sea life, even close to the marina is remarkable, especially compared to The Bahamas, where we have spent a lot of time.

When you get about a mile from the marina the water is even more amazing and I was surprised to find literally dozens of conch, both mature adults and smaller juveniles nearly everywhere.    In the Bahamas, where they are heavily fished, you would never see such a sight.  These are the little ones, about 3-4” long.  Brenda and I were fortunate to find a few shells that had no occupants.   What a find.  Believe it or not, this shot was taken trough the water.   Gin clear.4-6-16a 007If you didn’t see the ripple on the water you’d never know that this starfish was even in the water.   This one measures a foot across. 4-6-16a 005And, just above the surf line there is a very healthy population of iguanas.  This big guy was looking for a handout and was pretty intimidating at over 4’ long.  There are some like this in the Bahamas too but they only populate a very few islands.  Here in Cuba they are on many islands.   A few years ago one of the Bahamas colonies was wiped out in a hurricane and some “stock” from here was used to repopulate.   They are pretty fearsome looking creatures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI expect that once Cuba is “discovered” by folks from the U.S., there will be much more pressure on the environment.  Yes, there are a lot of tourists from all over the world here but I expect that an “American Invasion” is going to have a big impact.

Make no mistake about it, there are plenty of tourists here now as witnessed by this beach scene on the other side of the island but somehow things are still pretty pristine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis huge catamaran makes the rounds between here and Cienfuegos as we have seen her several times including blasting by us on her way back toward Cienfuegos as we made our way here the other day.  Catamarans are clearly the popular choice verses monohulls here in Cuba and there is a busy charter community, both bareboat and crewed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery day dozens head out for snorkel trips here at the marina and to head to some of the nice reefs nearby.  The crowds aboard those boats are a bit different than what Brenda and I experience aboard Pandora where the mantra is “six for cocktails, four for dinner and two (that’s us) sleep on board”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile there only a handful of boats here it’s a very international group including France, Luxembourg, England, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and even Russia.  And then there was little old Pandora with us Yanks.  Here’s some highlights from just the last two days.

Our friend Lars and two of his buds from Norway relaxing on the bow of Luna.4-6-16a 001A group of guys chartering a boat here on holiday from Russia.  Did you know that there is a branch of the “Rotary” in Russia and one that’s focused on sailing?  It never occurred to me.  it’s the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians.  No kidding and Oleg Karpeev, is the president.  They posed with me and Brenda near Pandora.  One of them was even named Igor (the first real live Igor we have ever met) and their English was WAY better than our Russian.   Everyone had to get into the shot.  They were a lively group.4-6-16c 003We also enjoyed cocktails with a young couple Monique and Garth, barely 30 years old, who have been sailing for three years, beginning in New Zealand aboard their boat Heartbeat.  They have made it all the way across the Pacific, “up hill” against the trades and if that’s not amazing enough, they both suffer from “mal-de-mer” for the first few days of every passage.  Tough “kids”.   After Cuba they will be sailing to Europe or “wherever”.  Monique keeps a blog, which I have not yet checked out, at svheartbeat.blogspot.com.   I understand that they post about weekly.   I look forward to following their travels.  We tried to convince them to visit us in CT but were unsuccessful.  Oh well, perhaps we’ll visit them in New Zealand someday.  That would be great fun.4-6-16c 006Firmly secured in the “It’s a very small world” department, this SAGA 43, sistership to our last Pandora, Discovery, was recently purchased by a Swiss couple was on the dock next to us.  They had looked at our old Pandora last winter while we were in the Keys and then decided to purchase my friend Carl’s Discovery instead.  Bumping into them here is further proof that it is indeed important to be on your best behavior wherever you go as you just never know who you are going to run into.   The folks in the sailing group SSCA call this “leaving a clean wake” and we are sure glad that we have.  Well, as well as we know, anyway.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba is on this island and each year thousands of sea turtles agree and visit here to lay their eggs.   In order to ensure the future of these magnificent creatures, the island has established a turtle “nursery”.  They dig up the eggs and transplant them to a protected area and then raise the hatchlings in pens so that they can later release them into the wild.   This way the survival rate is much higher. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis little guy was about 15’ long.  A beautiful creature.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral pools were full of little 6’ long juveniles.   The patterning on their shells is remarkable.  I was amused by how the placed their front flippers while resting.  “look MA, no hands”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis area is also the first we have seen since entering Cuba that has nice beaches.  Much of the coastline is very rugged east of here and there is a healthy collection of lighthouses.  The designs are all over the lot.  For sure, most of them are quite utilitarian and seem to shout, “stay away”. Oddly, this one on the NW corner of the island is on a craggy point perhaps a mile from deep water.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have seen quite a few marks that are placed a good distance inside the shallows so you have to pay very careful attention to the charts lest you get into shallow water where you don’t expect it.  We have heard a number of cruisers who know of friends who have lost their boats.Pix

Good charts for Cuba are a fairly recent development.  Don’t plan on coming to Cuba expecting to use Raymarine Navionics charts as you will find that what you see on the plotter has little relationship with what’s here.

Just about every Cuban that we have spent time with has expressed excitement about the improving relations with the U.S. government (Brenda and me too, BTW) including the manager of the marina here.  Pier (Peter) has been very friendly and agreed to pose with Brenda and me behind Pandora.  Notice that he’s holding our Essex Yacht Club Burgee. 4-6-16a 034Later I visited with him in his office and he showed me that he has both American and Cuban flags on his desk. 4-6-16a 038With things changing in many ways, perhaps there will be an opportunity for Pier to visit us in the U.S. to talk about visiting his homeland.  That would be terrific.  I am sure that there would be lots of interest on our end for sure.

He also showed me a photo of him, a bit younger I’d say, when he met Fidel Castro.  I expect that Castro looks more “mature” now too.4-6-16a 043All and all, being in the “other” Largo has been a treat and it’s going to be tough to pry ourselves loose from here as we continue our journey west.

Today looks to be a beautiful day and I hope to spend some more time with Brenda doing a bit of beach combing and snorkeling so that’s it for now.

Stay tuned…

The rules (in Cuba), they are a changing.

It’s now early April and we have been in Cuba for nearly a month and our visa was due to expire in a few days.  Until recently, Americans were only allowed a single month in Cuban waters until they had to leave the country, clear in at another, and then return to Cuba to begin the process all over again.

However, like everything else we thought we knew about Cuba, the rules seem to have changed, but in this case, in a good way.  Now there’s no reason to leave and come back.  We can simply renew!  Yahoo!!!   Brenda is particularly pleased about this change as it avoids the need to sail overnight to the Caiman Islands and back again.  Saving two overnight sails is something that Brenda is always happy to give up andwe still have at least one overnight to do before we get to Havana do so avoiding two additional nights underway is a good thing.

Interestingly, it seems that here in Cuba, renewing a visa can either be very easy or very hard, depending on where you do it.  I guess that’s true of just about everything in Cuba and we are finding that each port seems to march to its’ own drummer.   As an example, our friend Lars, had to renew his visa while he was in Cienfuegos and it took him the better part of a day spent running between government offices down town and at the marina to get it done.  And, to make matters worse, he had to delay his planned departure from Cienfuegos by a day to get it all done.

And, speaking of hard, now about these guys cutting the grass with machetes and sythes? It gives new meaning to the term “weed wacker”.   No shortage of worker and workers to do it here in the “worker’s paradise”. 4-4-16b 015Here in Cayo Largo, an island far from the coast and a major tourist spot, the process is much simpler and here at the marina it has proven to be very simple indeed..  The official responsible handling such things actually came out to Pandora, took our $50CUC renew fee along with our passports and said that she’d take care of everything.    And, as promised, she did and delivered our “new” visas back to the boat this morning.  How great (and simple) is that?

We have seen, first hand, that Cuban officials just love “process” and as long as there are plenty of bureaucrats nearby to handle things, everyone wants a piece of the action and with that many folks involved, the “action” can get pretty intense.  I guess that makes sense as if they simplified things someone’s job might be eliminated by “Uncle Fidel”.  I actually heard someone refer to him by that name yesterday.  I guess if we have an “Uncle Sam”, Cubans should have an “Uncle Fidel”.  It’s only fair.

We had heard that here in Cayo Largo things were simpler and happily they are.  As this is an island and one that caters exclusively to “touristas”, they do everything that they can to make it simple to be here.  Interestingly,  I have been told that no Cubans live here full time.  They work here on the island for, I think, 21 days, while staying in government managed “dorms” and then head back home for a week before returning to the island again.

We have experienced a lot of “how about a tip/present” from just about everyone we came in contact with east of Cienfuegos but there an here the “requests” are much more subtle, thank goodness.  We were prepared for this and stocked up with plenty of bars of soap and some t-shirt but it got a bit old as it happened nearly every day as we cleared in and out of any given port or anchorage.  That got a bit old so it’s been nice to have a respite from all that for a bit.  I expect that we have not seen the last of this but for the moment…

Anyway, enough of that for now.  How about some photos of our lovely visit to Trinidad?  “Of course Bob, forge ahead.”  “Ok, ok, if you insist.

We left Pandora in Cienfuegos for a day and headed the 1.5 hour ride to the historic city Trinidad a few days ago.   Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for architecture and that a lot of work had been done to bring the buildings back in recent years.  The plan was to catch a 8:30 bus in Cienfuegos so we hailed a cab and headed to the bus terminal. Oops, there wasn’t an 8:30 bus, the first one wasn’t until noon.  Oops.  Bad information.

The minute we left the terminal, such as it was, we were immediately offered a ride in a taxi for about $35CUC, more than we wanted to spend.   Not a problem, we could do it for $20CUC if we shared with someone else.  Our “handler” the person who finds patrons for the cabs parked around the corner, then rounded up some others to fill the cab and off we went.  It was a nicely maintained vintage 1952 Ford.4-4-16b 002 - CopyThe ride took us through some beautiful country with miles of sugarcane fields and mango trees.  Along the way we also happened upon an amazing site, thousands of land crabs, pretty big at about 8-12” wide, making their way across the road, some with limited make that VERY LIMTED success, in making the crossing,  Ie: crushed by passing cars.

Each spring literally millions of these brightly colored purple and red crabs march from the woodland areas where they live the six or so miles to the ocean where the females lay their eggs.  As these crabs can’t live in water, the females go to the surf line and lay their eggs all the while trying not to be swept away. The eggs hatch soon after and the newly hatched crabs have to crawl out of the water while they are still fairly small to begin their “land life”.  It sounds like a lot of effort, the whole ocean, crossing roads and woods thing, for a “land crab” to go through.  However, we are in Cuba and it fits that it would be complicated.  Right?

It’s a tough journey and nothing, short of being crushed on the road, which happens to a lot of them, will stop the migration. We have heard that these crabs will even crawl over a house or any other obstruction that gets in their way to complete their journey.  It’s quite spectacle.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos.  However, you can check out this link for more information.   I could almost imagine David Attenborough, the guy who narrates nature films, telling us all about this spectacle as our cab dodged among the thousands of crabs as best as he could.

Anyway, the ride was quite a trip in itself.  So,now Trinidad.

The city has a real rural European feel.  There is a lovely town center with beautiful buildings surrounding it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the balcony of one of the buildings on the square there was a young girl posing for a photo shoot.  She looked lovely in her ball gown. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a contrast, how about this donkey and cigar smoking old guy?  I sure hope that nobody ever refers to me with that phrase.  “Yeah, that’s Bob, you know, the old cigar smoking guy.”   So far, so good.4-4-16b 013There were many craft stalls on the side streets.   Brenda purchased a lovely hand finished table cloth.  Those who know here are aware of her “linen problem”.  Good place for Brenda to visit to “scratch her itch”and scratch she did.4-4-16b 006For me, we purchased a “guayaberia”, a traditional Cuban cotton wedding shirt.  Sorry, no picture but you’d recognize it if you saw one.

We would have loved to bring flowers back to Pandora but alas, they wouldn’t have lasted the day. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs always, cages with exotic birds most everywhere.  It’s not uncommon to see cages hung in windows along the street with little colorful finches.4-4-16b 009As just about everyone is in Cuba, Trinidad is very focused on “touristas”. However, there are plenty of Cubans going about their daily lives here and it was nice to see a group of students on an outing.  In Cuba all students wear uniforms. It’s a nice touch.  The color of the fabric tells you what grade level they are. We were “invited” to climb up to a rooftop to view the city.  Only $1CUC each.  Such a deal!  Such a view!!!How about a panorama?  Click the photo to make it larger if you wish.4-4-16b 014The highlight of the day was lunch on the balcony of this quaint restaurant.  And, the food was good too.4-4-16b 012It’s been a few days since we left Cienfuegos to make our way here to Cayo Largo.  As we left the harbor we saw this lovely fort.  It was certainly a very different world way back when such a fort was needed to protect the city from invaders.   I expect that those entering the harbor at that time probably weren’t “touristas”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped at an uninhabited cayo for two nights.  It was a bit rolly with a wrap-around swell from the ocean.  Brenda didn’t like that, even a little bit.  Pretty rugged coastline with some nice reefs for snorkeling.

In a few spots, there were holes in the limestone where the waves spurted up quite dramatically.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, I guess that’s about it for now as I sit here in Pandora’s salon enjoying the cool AC.  However, it’s not that great as we can’t run it very cold or we blow a fuse.  The electrical power at marinas in Cuba is suspect at best but “sort of cool” is better than hot. It’s a nice change of pace and I am not complaining.

Relentless heat aside, Cuba is a very unique place to visit and each area we come to has It’s own personality.  And while Cuba is still Cuba, it’s definitely changing and we are glad to be here to see it first hand while it’s still Cuba.

Perhaps I’ll close with a lovey sunset shot from the other day.  Love those sunsets.  But, then you knew that, didn’t you?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

A “cool” taste of Maine in Cienfuegos

It’s Wednesday here in Cienfuegos and we aren’t really planning to do anything in particular today.    It’s been quite hot lately and touring the city has made for some very hot and sticky afternoons spent looking for shade and a cool place to sit and relax.   However, I still needed to head to the marina to get some diesel fuel as we are running a bit low after so many miles of motoring in light winds.  Fuel is expensive here at  $1 CUC per liter so with the exchange it’s probably about three times as expensive as in the US.  Bummer about that as I had heard that it was very cheap here.  Not so…

With regards to the heat, I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise as we are at the 20th parallel, the Tropic of Cancer, the official line marking the boundary between the sub-tropics and tropics.   If the temperature is any indication, we are solidl in the tropics.

The last few nights have been particularly hot and we have resorted to running the little Honda generator to power our forward air conditioning as it was just so hot and stuffy with not a breath of wind.  It works pretty well to run the AC, cool down the forward cabin and then turn it off when we go to bed.  By the time the cabin warms up the air outside has cooled and we were able to open some hatches.  It works well.  I have to say that I am not a fan of trying to sleep when it’s oppressively hot.

We had planned to tie up to the dock so we could run the AC but after seeing how few cruisers were opting for the dock here we decided not to take any chances with poor quality electrical service that probably wouldn’t run our AC anyway.   We hesitate to run the generator much in the late evening as it’s pretty noisy but with loud music coming from shore I doubt that anyone heard the Honda over the music anyway.  Last night there was very loud music coming from shore that didn’t quit till nearly 2:00AM.  What’s with that on a Tuesday night?  I doubt that it was a tour group as they are generally pretty “mature” and that’s way past their bedtime.

The marina docks are probably not a good idea as we need to run our watermaker each day for a few hours and we wouldn’t be able to do so on the dock as the water there isn’t clean enough.  We’d prefer not to fill up our tanks with the “fresh” water at the dock is a bit suspect, at best.  As it is, the water in the harbor is only marginally clean enough, a few hundred yards off of the dock where we are anchored, to use the watermaker and I have needed to clean the filters every few days.  Silt in the water clogs up the filters every few days and the output from the unit is less than it should be.  Actually, the watermaker that came with the boat is a good one but the output is just too low at a bit under 6gph for our water usage.  As our daily consumption is in the 15 gallon range and it takes three plus hours of run time to make enough water just to break even each day.  The unit that I took off of our other boat makes twice that amount so I am going to retrofit it to this boat over the coming summer.  It is a two speed unit so I can opt to run it on the slower mode if needed, to conserve electricity or on a faster mode if we are under power or need more water faster.  With an output giving me to option of either 7 or 14 gallons per hour, it’s a nice combination and with that we never really felt that we were going to run short of water, even if we needed to rinse off the boat to remove accumulated salt.

Swapping out the units isn’t as simple as unplugging one and putting in the other but I think that the local tech guy for Spectra, the company that makes the unit, will help me make it right.

Having a watermaker is very important to us and having a unit with the appropriate capacity makes a big difference.  There are plenty of cruisers that don’t have a watermaker but we feel strongly about this and regard the flexibility that we get from having the ability to have adequate fresh water to be critical to our comfort aboard..

And speaking of hot, it’s also been plenty sunny and one thing for sure is that the solar panels love it here and are putting out plenty of power that generally covers our needs including running the watermaker.

The other day I filled the dink with a half foot of water at the dock and used it to sponge down the hull that had gotten pretty streaked and salt stained over the last month.  A dark green hull shows just about every spot and lives true to the adage, “there are only two colors for a boat, white and stupid”.   Let me tell you that dark green is very, very stupid but it does look great when it’s clean and streak-free.   And, to add insult to injury, it’s plenty hot baking in the tropical sun as well.  However, with a dark hull, I am inclined to say “you look marvelous darling” when Pandora is clean.

While I was cooling off and reading a book after washing Pandora down, two girls rowed up in a two man (women) shell and asked for a cup of water.  They had been getting a pretty good workout and clearly were thirsty.   They posed nicely for a photo.  The shells here get a good daily workout and look like they have been rowed hard for many years.  I expect that they (the shells, not the girls) predate the embargo.3-28-16a 007Interestingly, the other day, the Harvey Gamage, a schooner from Portland Maine that does educational programs, arrived here in the harbor.  We have seen her many times over the years as we cruised in Maine.   I stopped by to say HI and learned that they are visiting Cuba to check out possible options to hold educational programs in the future.  They too had taken a long time to get the appropriate approvals to come here.
Holly, one of deck hands invited me and Brenda to joint them for lunch yesterday and it was a lot of fun to spend time in the mess talking about their lives and travels.   Interestingly, Holly is a grandmother of 12 and has spent a lot of time aboard classic ships over the years.   She’s plenty salty and like any grandmother, eager to show pictures of her family to me and Brenda after lunch.   Seeing photos on her iPhone while aboard a historic schooner was an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional and modern.3-30-16a 009They do their cooking on a diesel fired stove, I think they call it “the beast”.   It takes over an hour to heat up so they have to be sure that they are really ready to be hot and NEED to have something cooked before they commit to all that heat down below.  I’ll bet that it can make the galley nearly uninhabitable on a hot day.  3-30-16a 008Did I say that it’s hot here?

There is plenty of room for eating in the mess and there has to be as the Harvey Gamage has a full time crew of ten and carries up to about 20 passengers.3-30-16a 007The Harvey Gamage was built in 1973 in South Portland Maine, the last ship to come from the yard of the same name.  She splits her time between New England and the Caribbean on her educational mission.  She’s nearly 100’ long and draws 10’.   That’s a lot of boat and just cooking for a hungry group of hard working sailors would keep things hopping and hot up in the galley.3-30-16a 001On deck she’s all business and well maintained.3-30-16a 005 3-30-16a 006 3-30-16a 002 3-30-16a 004It would be great to have her visit the CT River Museum in Essex to put on one of her educational programs.  I am sure that the community would really embrace any activity that they brought to town.  However, with a mast height of 97’ and a CT River Rt 95 Highway bridge clearance of 81’ it might take some surgery with the top mast to make it under, even at low tide.   It’s still worth exploring though so I think I’ll pay another visit to her before we leave here in a few days.

One way or the other, it was great to see her here in the harbor, a bit of “home” away from home for us here in Cuba.    Perhaps we will see her in Maine this summer as it’s looking like we may spend some time there too after quite a few years away from our old stomping grounds.  Brenda and I do miss the beautiful scenery or is it the cooler temperatures?

Besides, thinking of Maine is helping keep me cool.  Did I mention that it’s hot here these days?  It is…