Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cuba sounds too hard, we’re going to Mexico. Mexico sounds too hard we’re going to Cuba....

We listen to people, read Noonsite and follow blogs and Karen (the Admiral) came to the conclusion that cruising in Cuba, particularly on the North coast is restrictive, difficult and not worth the hassle even though it was one of the destinations that we had longed to visit since arriving in the Caribbean all those years ago. So, always one to follow orders (in fact the only one on the boat that seems to understand that concept, but that is another story and not one for the internet), I set up a plan to cruise the Keys and then head across the gulf to Isla Mujeres to cruise Mexico and Belize on our way to Guatemala for the hurricane season.

Well, the Admiral then continued her research and found out 300 odd foreign vessels had been impounded by the Mexican Government for lack of correct paperwork, so now Mexico is too dangerous, so following orders I work out a plan to cruise the Keys to Key West and then across to Marina Hemmingway just west of La Habana (Havana to us Gringos) and then developed a list of ports and anchorages to visit on the north west and south coasts to take us to the Caymans, the Bay Islands in Honduras and onto the Rio. This would allow time for the Mexicans to sort themselves out and we would do Belize and Mexico next year.

So after waiting to get everything sorted in Miami, here’s what happened... The Admiral forgot that we like 15-20knots and less than that this puppy does not fair so well, and to avoid the 6ft seas an order to delay departure came down from the Admirals stateroom and we set off under motor to Rodriquez Key on the way to Marathon, hoping to gain a nice beam reach from there to go to Varadero, Cuba. On waking in Rodriquez (which was quite a nice little anchorage) however, it seems that the wind gods do not always get the Admiral’s orders and the Captain (that’s me who is supposed to be responsible for all sea going decisions) check out sea states and wind decided to turn to port (left) and head straight for Varadero under motor against all recommendations from sailors on how to cross the Gulf Stream to Cuba (the green line on the chart plotter below).

New Chartplotter Screen Capture! Very Cool!!

All in all a great decision (in fact the best decision of the cruising season so far and the only one made by me, but maybe I am biased) as we arrived in Varadero, to a Harbour master speaking English and about 20 people to take our lines in a very protected harbour and a secure marina.

Of the 20 odd people, we found 2 Cubans, the rest appeared to be displaced Canadians doing a ritual we later found out was called a boat dance. Then we were told to stay on the boat while the officials were called to clear us in. This we had heard was a long winded process involving doctors, veterinarians ????, customs, immigration, port captain, Guarda, boat searches etc and something we were sure would cause some difficulties and possibilities of expectations of “tips”. After 20 minutes, the immigration officer arrived and asked for our passports and visas. After we explained we were coming direct from Miami, he looked at us a bit suspiciously (no one comes direct from Miami in a sailboat across the Gulf Stream) and departed. 20 long minutes later he returned with our passports and gave us our tourist card and explained “no stamps” in the passport for which we were a bit disappointed. Next the Guarda officer turns up with a trainee, fills out some paper work, does a quick search of the boat (to make sure we are not smuggling Americans in I suppose) and after asking us if the boat was new (which made house proud Admiral puff up her chest and explain it was almost 7 years old) says we’re done, all good free to enjoy Cuba etc.

We sat on the boat for a while longer waiting for more officials, when the harbour master and his off-sider arrives to complete our docking contract and it appears that we were indeed cleared in! We then could choose our own berth and move from the customs dock. We chose the first dock, which apparently our friends on Quetico had only just left from days earlier tied up and started to get to know a bit about the place from our new friend Robby, a German single hander who helped us tie up and drink our “We’re Here Beer”. He then took us by the hand and lead us to the Cadeca to change some money and a tour around Santa Marta ending up at a nice little restaurant with $2 prawn cocktails and “Chicken Gordon Blue” for lunch and of course the local beer.  With that the sun went down over the harbour entrance on our first day in Cuba.
Sunset from Where II
Next day we took the $5 Hop on Hop off Bus down the Varadero strip to the one destination Karen had been hanging for since our departure from Miami. That’s right, the Plaza America shopping mall. Well it had been like 5 or 6 days since her last mall....
Karen at Plaza America - Shops at Last!
Of course, she wasn’t the only one having fun, I was like a pig in sh!t with all the classic American cars around. Unfortunately, I had a techno melt down and deleted the photos from this day, but I have managed to put together a bit of a collection since.

Convertible Alley - Varadero

Beautiful Buick
While in Miami, we took delivery of some Generator parts for Rob and Cathy (Quetico) which we were keen to get to them, but as usual, their agenda got them to Cuba 2 weeks before us and they had moved on to Marina Hemingway just outside of La Habana. So we spoke with Robby and got instructions on how to get to marina by bus and by the old American peso taxis and so we walked up to the bus station (about 45 min) and booked our tickets for the next day, hoping they would be there as neither of us had a phone or internet. Robby had also kindly given us his phone card number to ring the local taxi in the morning to get to the bus station.

So we were up and trying to ring at 7:00am for the 8:00am bus. Of course, the reason we don’t plan is it never really happens like that and this was no exception. Firstly we had got the phone card instructions wrong, so after unsuccessfully trying to get a taxi we headed off by foot at 7:15. Yes that’s right with just enough time to make the bus. Now it was just starting to warm up, but if that was not enough, God put on a little shower to lift the humidity and by the time we made it to the bus station with 3 minutes to spare, we were hot and sweaty and hoping that this would be the worst of the day.

Wishful thinking!

 We made it to La Habana with no problems (we were on a bus for god sake) and even managed to get off at Habana Vieja (Old City) even though we could not figure out what the bus driver was telling us. We walked past the Museum of the Revolution and the Edifico de Bacardi and even found the Capitol Building just as Robby had described. Yes!

Then things started to go down hill...

From his description we could not tell which old American cars were what. (Did I mention, there are a lot of old American cars here)
Immaculate Chevy
We walked around the capitol looking at cars we suspected were taxis (due to the taxi sign in their front window) and we even spoke to one of the drivers but when we heard he wanted 15CUC (about $15) each and Robby said it would cost about 45 pesos (I think about $2) we kept walking, and walking until with paper in hand, I finally asked a driver if he was indeed a peso taxi going to where Robby had written on our instructions. Well, my Spanish and his English were on par, so after a couple of minutes of frustrating non-communication, he told us to just get in.
Our First Peso Taxi Ride through La Habana
Once he had dropped everyone off on the route (these guys are more like the mini buses in Grenada and can almost fit as many people in their cars as the Grenadians do in their vans – some even have a 3rd row of seats in a sedan), the driver said for $20 each he could take us straight to the marina. But being the smart travellers we are and not wanting to be ripped off, we said we just wanted to go to the Playa which was the end of the route and should have cost 20 pesos. He tried to explain something, which kept sounding like he was trying to rip us off (but probably wasn’t) so we ended up getting off God knows where and walking, I mean how far could it be?....

“A long way” is the correct answer when you don’t know where you are in a strange country where you can’t speak the language....

We walked for about an hour when I finally succumbed to Karen’s numerous requests to ask someone for directions, I mean I know how to say “Where is..?” but to try and work out the forthcoming directions from our saviour is very difficult. Luckily for us it was just go back to the street you have just passed and turn left, “it is just down there” seemed to be the implications.

After about ½ hour more when we came to a T intersection, I got up the courage to ask an armed guard the same question. Same answer and same implication, “Down here turn left”- implication –“It’s just down  there”....

About another ½ hr of walking through the Embassy residential area and the same question. This time the answer was simpler – it’s just down there, but the implications of the tone of voice seemed to be more “My God, you could not possibly be thinking of walking that far....!!” But bugger it, after walking 2 hours we weren’t giving in now!

15 minutes later we arrived at the entrance of the marina, but wait, that’s a factory or something and the guards helpfully point us in the right direction, and no, neither one of us are stopped at the gate mistaken for a jinatera/o! Now let’s just hope Rob and Cathy are there and have a cold beer... Thankfully, they were and I think, being dehydrated as I was, I drank all Rob’s beer (using the fact that they said they were in no hurry for the part and our sweating body and sore feet to guilt them out). So it was off to the Yacht Club where I developed a passion for Mojitos and photos of Castro, Che, Hemmingway and a famous fishing rod adorn the wall. Of Course I bought a burgee to add to my collection.
Fidel and Friends
Dinner was at Don Tiburon (the Shark - as any Australian Hyundai fan would know). This is a small paledor (private restaurant run in one’s house) near to the marina that is highly recommended and after eating there is certainly recommended by us! The menu was extensive and the prices in pesos (21 to the dollar)...
Eat like a King for under $5
We ate langosta (lobster tail for about $3.50) and were entertained by Don Tiburon himself, a catcher of some renown in Cuba, telling us stories and showing us photos, including some of Castro himself.
The Don
 He then drove us back to the marina proudly in his Jeep... with the Ruskie motor!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Matt has left the Marina

Finally, after almost 6 years on the boat, I have left Where II safely tied up at Brunswick Landing Marina (henceforth The Marina) and Karen and I are slowly making our way back to the best place we have been so far...Australia! I say slowly because we are flying out of LA on the West Coast and The Marina is in Georgia on the East Coast. So we have 5000 odd miles to drive in Debbie the Dodge to make our flight.
Now this did not start so good... Having had a AAA check on her last year before heading to the Bahamas I decided to do a little bit of work on her and keep her for this trip (Debbie, not Karen what are you thinking). So on our return from Eleuthera, I set about buying the parts to replace the front brake pads and rotors and sway bar linkages and Karen and I spent a day fixing her up. Not too hard and she was ready to take us to LAX.

Or so we thought... Friday after dropping our sail off to Stitches by Ruth for a new sun strip and repairs, Debbie conks out at the intersection of L St and MLK and of course we didn't bring a phone. We wandered over to a car wash and rang the AAA and five hours and $600 later with a new fuel pump and filter she really is ready to go.

Saturday we packed up the boat and packed the car, so that with one load of washing to do, we should be able to leave by 10am. As expected, the morning did not go as expected. First, with the recent repairs to the car on my mind, I forgot to put the comb on my clippers and proceeded to now a strip through my beard (Karen was very impressed with her observation skill when she noticed it 20 minutes later! So the trip begins without beard, well when the new-fangled washing machines and dryers decide to return our clothes.

Anyway at noon we finally wave goodbye to WhereII and head north. We will not see her again until late November.

Our first day on the big road trip was pretty simple. Leave Brunswick, turn right and go fast... Sort of a simpleton's NASCAR..... Only one turn and in the wrong direction. We ended up in the Econolodge in Macon with the rain set in. Not a good start to our camping trek across the States but we were dry. Oh and the air con fan is starting to make some noise..... Just what we will need when we cross the desert.

Monday morning we woke to the sound of heavy rain outside and prepared for our first day of site seeing. We arrived at Stone Mountain and it was still bucketing so we decided to get Debbie's fluids  exchanged, something that we had not had a chance to do before we left. So we gave Jessica (our Aussie chick nav package on the new nexus) the task of finding a Jiffy Lube. They were a bit expensive but the discount lube across the road filled our needs and as a bonus had a 36 Dodge coupe in the shop- bonus!

It was for sale but they wouldn't do a swap for Debbie and despite it being purple (Karen's favourite colour) she would wouldn't let me fork out the 40 Gs for it so the road trip continues with the Grand Caravan.

With the oil change out of the way, we risked being wet tourists and headed to the Stone Mountain Park... Still raining so we parked ourselves in a shelter and made lunch.

In a break in the weather we made it bake to the car and started driving around the mountain. We got to see the covered bridge, quarry exhibition and grist mill and then finally a clear view of the monument.

Not quite the stay we had planned, it would have been good to spend a night and do some walks and see the laser show but God had other ideas so we headed to Alabama and spent the night in Pell City.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Adrian and Jenny's (Really) Soggy Adventure

Hi Matt and Karen,

we just want to write a simple blog & say thanks for the sensational sailing trip holiday in the Bahamas. As you know, we had not thought of ever going to the Bahamas and when the opportunity arose via your unsolicited November email which you ultimately admitted you were only half serious, we could not knock it back, even if we didn't know whether or not we'd be sea sick!

Well it started with a bang after flying onto the island of Georgetown on March 30th, 2013. Matt’s wonderful project manager skills were on display right from the start with the scheduled car to meet us at the airport not arriving (always the other person at fault). (Ed Note: Adrian, it's the Bahamas, you're lucky the plane turned up to get you) We then stocked up with the necessary tailored essentials (dozen reds plus “a couple” of beers) and took off for his famous dinghy ride to the Cat that was 500m offshore. Well that went okay but the next day we almost sank the dinghy doing the same trip. Matt had this theory of Karen being in the front to balance the load but with every wave, Karen gave Matt the evil glare to which Matt slowed down & which caused us to get swamped again...and this continued until Karen & Adrian were furiously bailing out the water with the non swimmer amongst us not too comfortable about what was about to unfold. Well Matt finally remembered he had not opened the dinghies one way venturi valve & with a bit of gusto, we took off & made it, finally being able to laugh at was a slightly nerve racking moment. At one point there was at least 12 inches of water in the dinghy & the remnants of it can be seen in the attached pic once back at the boat which shows all our thongs floating around (PS Thongs as in sandals & not the lingerie type!.

The accommodation was great

although it took us a couple of nights to get used to the howling wind generator & the diesel tank swishing noises on our side of the boat but the night caps & Avomine sea sickness tablets made us soon doze off & overall we both slept well for the eleven nights. The food on board was delicious courtesy of Karen’s culinary skills (more surprising as she favours Vegetarian dishes) and much appreciated when compared to the alternative of when Matt tried to be useful in the kitchen as can be seen when cooking chicken on the BBQ!

In fact the 5.00pm happy hours & nightly dinner parties

where we chatted over quite a few drinks until the wee hours for eleven successive nights was a definite highlight. With music setting the scene (rotated each night due to our different tastes such as Neil Diamond vs Nick Cage) (Ed Note: Nick Cage is an actor, Nick Cave is the singer....)we all got on exceptionally well & testimony to this was how quickly the holiday went, at least for us two intruders.

The sailing experience was fine, a bit rocky crossing the deeper water, but nothing to fear even for a non water person such as Jenny. Thanks for all your hard work in plotting the route and checking weather reports to make sure we sailed safely.

We were both amazed at how beautiful the waters of the Bahamas are. The crystal clear waters and the different hues of blues were truly amazing and inviting.

The sailing part of the adventure was a bit delayed due to the weather forecast which had Adrian pacing up & down on Day 7 in Georgetown due to his anticipation of seeing more of the Bahamas & wanting to inch closer to the drop off zone at Staniel Cay for which flights had already been paid. We kept busy reading, swimming, playing games, visiting bars and going to different spots in the always exciting dinghy rides which Matt had almost mastered by then & in hindsight staying at Georgetown for the full week worked perfectly as there were much more varied things to do & the water in Elizabeth harbour was as good as it gets anywhere.

It was nice meeting your friends Jim & Dinah and playing bocce on the beach & the snorkelling near the St Francis resort was a good beginners run for Jenny. On departure from the harbour we sailed to Farmer's Cay achieving a healthy 15knots (Ed Note: 15 knots was the wind speed, we only go 15knots down 6m waves. We were actually doing well at 6 knots) according to Captain Matt & the small two metre (Ed Note: 2 foot not 2 meters but choppy none the less, sorry but been hanging with Americans too long and have unit dislexia) seas kept us two visitors on alert ensuring the seasick tablets were close by but we got through unscathed. We went ashore to the island and walked around and were amazed to see the stingrays so close to shore. The following day we sailed to Little Bay, the water was so calm making the sailing so incredibly smooth. We loved the sand at the beach it was like fine powder, it felt great underfoot & made for a perfect day of chilling & wondering what the rest of the world was doing.

The following day we sailed to Staniel Cay & stayed at Big Majors & rode out on the dinghy to see the pigs but they were not around so headed to Thunderball Grotto for some snorkelling which was truly fantastic. The coral was beautiful as were the fish & Adrian could have spent hours snorkelling there.

Staniel Cay is a pretty town with some beautiful houses. We loved all the pastel colours of the buildings which make the town look inviting and homely. On the way back to the boat we went by to see if the pigs were around and saw two, one of which swam towards us

The following day we had to leave & we were sad as we had had such a relaxing and entertaining time with our generous hosts, Matt and Karen. Once again they do not disappoint us in the effort to leave us with a long lasting memory. Our trip in the dinghy across to Staniel to catch the plane left us breathless and saturated. Even our luggage had a good soaking! It was really quite funny. Karen had hinted at maybe getting a water taxi but being the good tight arse Italians we are, we opted for the daredevil dash & even with Matt's friends (Jim & Dinah) carting our luggage to make our dinghy lighter, did not help! We had lunch at the yacht club and hung our clothes around the veranda to dry!

All in all, if we had to do it all again, would we?  A resounding 'yes' as we had an absolute ball and the above summary cannot do justice to all the lifelong memories the trip has provided! Thanks so much guys & we hope we weren't too much bother & you were finally able to get back to your early nights & peaceful days of reading, sleeping & not being hassled about entertaining the Melbourne tourists!!
Jenny & Adrian Castagnini
Melbourne, Australia

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Finally – a weather window to leave Eleuthera.

Finally, 3 days after we had planned (actually a long time after we first planned) we got a weather window to move to the Exumas. It wasn’t easy and it was only on the Tuesday morning when I got up that we finalised our planned destination – Waderwick Wells Cut and then as far south as we could get in the day. Now I say planned destination, as the forecast large swells were only just receding, so we were unsure what it was going to be like once we got out of the shadow of Eleuthera, so we had entrances planned as far north as Ship’s Channel. The winds however, should just be strong enough for us to sail at 10-15 knots and we may even get a beam reach...

Now to execute a first light departure, we do as much preparation the night before, but we still have to get up before the sunrise to get this to happen. Now this always makes me nervous, not because I’m scared of the dark, but because I have to wake Karen. On these occasions she never really has a problem with getting up early, but I am nervous that one day I will wake the beast and it won’t be pretty. Luckily, not this time.

Well when we got out, the 6 foot seas were still there but receding and not on the nose and the wind was more than expected, running 18 – 20 gusting to 23 but unfortunately they were at about 45 degrees and were supposed to go further south (on the nose) as we headed down. Nevertheless, we managed to keep pointed towards Waderwick, making speeds up to 8knots.

A couple of hours into it, we started to see lots-a-yachts on the horizon. Given the poor weather in the Exuma Sound, it seemed like today was the day that everyone was moving and we must have passed at least 25 sailboats heading to Eleuthera on their way north. You would think that would put a hole in the yacht population in Georgetown where we were headed to pick up our friends from Melbourne, but we had heard that there were close to 400 or more boats there, so we weren’t that enthusiastic.

We struck up a conversation with Blue Planet on the way and they had a later tide prediction for the Cut at Waderwick Wells, so we chucked in a reef and tried to slow Where II down. In the meantime, the wind came round on the nose and we then had to start an engine and motor sail the last hour or so to the cut. We hit the cut as close to slack as we have got and glided through, but decided to spend the night at Emerald Rock and followed Blue Planet in. We took the first mooring in for an early start the next morning. Unfortunately our method for picking up the mooring needed a bit of polishing and Karen got her hand caught in the mooring line and skinned her finger so it was not a comfortable carefree night as planned. It did however mean she had to take the helm and for me to do the heavy work up front, which I was hoping would become our new modus operandi. 

Next morning up early again, but with no wind, it was a 4 hour motor down to Little Bay, Great Guana Cay to hide for the next front. We were planning on trying Black Point and most of the blow was coming from the North with very little west, but it was a bit crowded where Little Bay just to the south had better protection and only 4 boats in there when we got there. However by the end of the day, 14 more boats had arrived but decided to stay clear of our fat cat. Yeah!

Little Bay – Where II on the right 

Little Bay is a pretty little bay with two houses on it and once the blow had subsided a bit, a lot of the boats departed. We took the opportunity to walking into Black Point (about an hour away) for some shopping and lunch (I was hanging for a beer out of glass) and we were glad we chose Little Bay as Black Point was still very choppy and uncomfortable and more crowded. After a second unsuccessful shopping trip into town at about lunchtime Sunday (of course everyone was at church) we organised to catch up with John and Jeri (Ahyoka) at Little Farmers Cay.
The sail down on Monday was pretty good, the seas were flat and the wind light (about 13 true) but on the nose (30Deg apparent) but ended up getting about 7knots over the ground, sails up from anchor to the entrance to the anchorage at Little Farmers. A quick motor over the sand bar (that was on the charts but not on the bank) and we dropped anchor a couple of minutes ahead of Ahyoka. Our friends from Brunswick Landing Marina, John and Jeri, are one season veterans, and unlike us are not adverse to inches under the keel, had anchored a bit closer to the point which looked a bit more protected, so we thought we would be more “go hung” and head in next to them, but after an exploratory trip paste their boat we turned Where II around and headed back to where we were, not that they were in dangerously shallow water, it was just shallower water.

We re-anchored, had our (my) “We’re here beer” and made up a batch of my world famous rum punch with a twist of coconut rum and headed into town, unsuccessfully shopped again but did pick up a couple of nice conch shells from the scrap heap to add to the collection.

It was then off to the Yacht Club for their rum punch (for later comparative purposes only) then it was back to Where II to introduce our friends to my rum punch. Tuesday was bocce day - a game new to John and Jeri, so we were pretty sure we had that won. The first game we won convincingly, but Jeri (apparently always the most improved) picked it up quickly and we only narrowly grabbed victory. Our planned victory barbeque had to be cancelled unfortunately as the swell was pretty bad as we were heading back to the boat, so next time we get to see our friends will be back in Brunswick where they will be preparing to sell their Lagoon 37 Ahyoka and buy a land yacht to continue their adventure. (anyone interested in a good example of these fast cruising cats, I can put you in touch).

We took off early (again and no beast yet) and headed down towards Cave Cut, but as we got to Galliot, the tide seemed right so we ducked out and started motor sailing south to Georgetown. As we passed each cut, the flotilla got larger – it reminded me a bit of the start to the Texas Ranger series on TV when I was a kid. Now Karen had bought me a new fishing rod for my birthday last year and I thought this would be a good time to start fishing (particularly since I had finally put a lure on it) so out she went, bottle of scotch at the ready (to kill the fish or sedate Karen, which ever was more necessary).

Unfortunately, after almost 21years of marriage, Karen is really rubbing off on me and all I could think of as the lure skipped through the water was killing the fish, so I reeled it in without a strike. Man does this hunter need a good bloody dose of testosterone!

The seas were calm and with only one donk on we averaged about 6.5knots and made it into Georgetown on slack high tide at the northwest cut. Thankfully none of our cut entries were like our entry here last year at the southeastern cut where we rolled through with breakers on either side and the admiral downstairs “doing admin tasks”.

Georgetown is Georgetown, so we have picked up the real estate brochure again, gone shopping at the market, dropped off rubbish and recycling etc etc. More importantly, we caught up with Jim and Dinah on Evergreen and they were on our boat the first night for an impromptu barbeque and yesterday it was bocce day on the beaches of Stocking Island. Unfortunately despite our practice, they had the home ball advantage and beat us 2 nothing.
We also celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary at St Francis Resort on Thursday night with the best calamari we have had in ages a nice bottle of South African Wine.

The long romantic dinner (we had to order over the radio, show up at 6pm and were back on the boat by sundown) was completed with a couple of episodes of Dexter!

Georgetown will be home for the next week or so as we wait for Adrian and Jenny from Melbourne who will be joining us for a sail back up to Staniel Cay over a couple of weeks in April – the start of our trek back to Georgia. Of course, there will be more bocce, Mexican train dominos, sundowners and wet trips to town before then.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Eleuthera – Stay for a day, maybe a week, maybe a month...

Eleuthera, the large island south of the Abacos and east of the Exumas seemed like an easy stop over on our way south to the Exumas. But if the Sahara is the land of shifting sands, Eleuthera is the isle of shifting wind or so it seems. Don’t get me wrong, we have enjoyed our mostly tranquil times here, alone in tranquil bays surrounded by nothing but beautiful turquoise water and until the other day in Rock Sound, we hardly have seen another boat, having at most only two other boats in our bay. And of note, we have only seen 2 motor yachts which is very unusual in our experience in the Bahamas and the States.

So we left the Berry Islands at 0815 on Wednesday 13th February and had a ripping close hauled sail east to North Beach on Eleuthera dropping anchor at about 1615. Seas were a bit rough but not uncomfortable and we had no engine noise – a free trip - a bit unusual of late but much more enjoyable and not as boring. As the winds were blowing from the south this seemed like a nice place to wait for the winds to shift to head through Current Cut and find somewhere to hide for the next front.

We had a day to wait for the wind to change so we hopped in Muriel (the new dinghy) and headed to shore trying to find a spot on the beach with no rocks so we didn’t scratch her virgin bottom and about 20 minutes later we landed and looked for somewhere to lock her up – no such luck. Now my Caribbean experience left me nervous about wandering off and leaving Muriel to fend for herself but here in the Bahamas, no one seems to lock their dinghy.
We wandered through the settlement and the southern beach hoping to find a bar where we could quench my thirst for Kalik, but to no avail.

So to get a bit of exercise and see what we were up for the next day we headed out to Current Cut. This is an interesting waterway, with people reporting up to 10 knots of current when the tide is running, which is about 2 knots faster than I can motor at full throttle, so it is important to time your passage for slack tide. We arrived about an hour before slack and you can still see the tide rips as the water exits the cut (the darker rougher water).

Now most reports say that slack tide is 2 ½ hours after Nassau at the cut, although in one of our guides it says 1 – 1 ½ hours but strength of numbers we were looking at the 2 1/2hrs. We had just got back on the boat by then and sure enough 2 boats arrive and start heading through the cut. You could see them slow down sharply as they entered and I didn’t know if that was deliberate or if it was the current. Next day we hang around until 13:30 (slack high tide supposedly at 13:45) and we head in. As we approach you could still see the current ripples as we entered but we were committed so off we went. Well I think the 1 ½ hour prediction was correct as the tide had definitely turned and we had 3.2knot against us. It made the passage a bit slow but controlled and after a tense half hour we had made the turn and were clear to head to what Active Captain calls the Cove anchorage (which we later found out was Gaulding Bay) which we felt would provide us with some NW protection for the upcoming blow.

We anchored in about 3meters of water, which meant at low tide we had about 0.9m under the keels. Karen wanted deeper water, and I wanted protection so this was our compromise.

As it turns out, the compromise was not so good, as it would have been nice to have more water under us as we bucked in the swell and more protection would have stopped the bucking, but not through the worst of it – the western fetch was just too big and the westerly winds lasted too long. But we were safe, didn’t hit bottom and didn’t spill a drink so in the end we were just a bit uncomfortable.

While hanging in the bay, we heard our friends, Terry and Julie and their son Owen from Melvin (Lagoon 37) on the radio hailing another boat in Hatchet. They were waiting out the blow and in search of the elusive Bahaman surf and after watching the weather a bit they decided to head up to Gaulding for a visit and my famous rum punch was to be broken out for the first time. In the meantime we started our hitch hiking adventures in Eleuthera by striking out for Gregory Town – about 3 miles away by sea and about 4 by road. An hour and a bit later we finally walked into town – not one ride! But just then someone pulls up and asks us if we needed a lift and I stifled my “bit late now buddy!” comment and instead responded with a “Thanks but we are just heading into town”. After a look around and the coldest beer I have had in a long time at Rachel’s Place, we decided to have lunch at the Laughing Lizard – a bit back out of town. Just as we were just about there, a lady pulls up and asks if we needed a lift and again we politely turned it down, mumbling to ourselves as she drives off. Now the lunch here was fantastic and gave us the energy for the rest of the walk back – again with no offers of a lift!

After and enjoyable night catching up with the “Melvinites” we all decided to try our luck with the hitch hiking again and headed into Harbour Island. This time, although there were 5 of us we were much more successful, being picked up twice by pickups (utes to us Aussies)– ladies in the front and blokes in the back. We caught the ferry (really a water taxi) that takes everything across from the main island and wandered all over town and down to the long pink beach before enjoying lunch back at the dock.

We caught a lift back with one of the girls on the ferry and finished the day up with a game of Mexican train dominos.

Melvin took off the next morning for current cut and Spanish Wells and we decided to spend the day sightseeing around Gaulding Bay. We jumped in the dinghy and headed to the Glass Window Bridge which has the raging Atlantic on one side and the serene banks on the other. An interesting view but hard to photograph the effect unless you are in a plane.

Then it was past the local houses (one with a fantastic pool house and an array of water toys although why you need a pool here unless it is heated I don’t know)...

...and off to the beach to play boules.

I was playing pretty well but Karen was on fire and we lamented it was a shame Jim & Dinah or Jim & Wendy weren’t here as we would have whipped their butts.

With the weather starting to build towards the next front which we did not want to ride out here after the last one we decided to defy common wisdom and go to Hatchet Bay and instead hop down to Alabaster Bay where we were planning a night out at the Italian Restaurant at Coco Di Mamas which is reportedly very good.  We started off anchoring just of Coco Di Mamas giving us good protection from the upcoming southerlies and relaxed after the 5 hour motor.

Next day we were up and into the resort to check out the restaurant menu and then head into Governor’s Harbour for shopping. Unfortunately everything was locked, so we thought maybe, possibly they opened later. As soon as we got down the steps of the resort a car pulled up and offered us a lift towards Governor’s Harbour. The couple were German and had owned their property on Eleuthera for 33 years. They said that it took their German sensibility a very long time to get use to Bahaman “Island Time”. I wonder how they would cope in the Caribbean as I think the Bahamans are punctual compared to some islands down south.

Despite not having to go to town, our kind friends went the extra miles and dropped us at the supermarket. We wandered around town taking in the sights and sounds and were amazed to see the raft that we saw come into St Marteen after following the course of the “Contiki” (I think) across the Atlantic.

We completed our shopping and Karen was surprised to find a small cafe offering spinach and fetta quiche but as her salivations dripped onto the counter she was informed that they had sold out and it was back to the boat for cheese sandwiches. We were lucky enough to get 2 rides back to Alabaster Bay – both by the same driver in a little Daihatsu van. The passenger next to us was eating chicken wings – boy did they smell good particularly when we had missed out on lunch in town!

The next couple of days we played bocce and sanded and re-varnished the cockpit table enjoying being – for the most part anyway – the only boat in the bay. It is hard to believe that only 60 odd miles away is Georgetown with over 300 boats in it and we are alone for almost 2 weeks!

We also ventured out hitch-hiking again to see the south of the island – we had read that Tarpun Bay was a quaint little settlement with an artistic community and a couple of restaurants. Four rides later (Gov Harbour, Palmetto Point, somewhere past Savannah Sound and then on to Tarpun) we arrived in town and quickly looked around to find .... well not much. So we decided we would try to get to Rock Sound for lunch but the rides seemed to have vaporised and with the threat of rain we decided to head back to Governors Harbour and see about that spinach quiche. Two informative rides later we hit the cafe and Karen got her wish while I had the Lasagna.

With the winds starting to clock to the west we moved up to the north of the Bay behind Pelican Cay and rode out the front. All in all, we spent about 5 days on the boat due to the weather and despite the pretty sunsets and the green flashes (yes I have finally seen the Green Flash!), we were keen to move on to Rock Sound and get off the boat.

Rock Sound is a big settlement with a large supermarket, a couple of hardware stores, bank, couple of gas stations and restaurants, the day after an uneventful motor south we headed across the harbour to visit town and check out the food. Karen took over navigating and displayed her unparalleled ability to read arrows back to front and took us out of town away from Sammy’s Place! After realising there was no more to be had to the south we turned around and eventually asked a local, John, sitting on the side of the road where it was and he guided us to the spot and he joined us for a drink before we decided to head back to the boat for lunch.

Next day it was shopping at the market which is pretty impressive, although fresh was a bit wanting in variety and the wettest dinghy ride back to the boat since Mayaguana last year – yes the winds had shifted west as predicted and the chop was testing Muriel out. With the strong winds and sunshine accompanying the passage of the front, we have abundant energy on board, so the bar fridge is on and the polisher is out as we work through the time where getting into the dinghy and going ashore is not that appealing.

The weather however is not being cooperative and we now think that we would have to wait over a week for the seas to abate in the passage to Cat Island which, with guests arriving at the end of the month is too long to stay here. So this afternoon we are heading into 4 Points Bar  and having a late lunch then tomorrow it is off to the Exumas and do some exploring there – maybe even the Jumentos Islands before heading to Georgetown... but then again none of our plans to date have really worked out.


As we go to press, the plans have changed (this is tomorrow morning from above) – we did wander around Rock Sound yesterday and checked out the Ocean Hole – a 600 odd meter deep hole with connections to the ocean. Interesting but still to cool for a Queenslander to swim here.

We did also go to 4 points and have a late lunch – very pleasant surrounds with a good view over the harbour.

We did not however head off to the Exumas – the weather forecast has the 1-2m waves curling around the bottom of Eleuthera and may make it to the cut we were planning on using so we have decided to wait it out here for a while and see how it shakes out.

Here’s one to see if you were paying attention. Look at the photo below showing the sign to the restroom and leave a comment on which way Karen went to the restroom – Left or Right?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Berry Islands – Berry Nice

The Berry Islands is a convenient start to a Bahaman cruise, particularly from Lake Worth. It is around 24 hours  and you are greeted by a large, easy entry anchorage in Bullock Harbour on Great Harbour Cay. The trip was an uneventful one thank god as I am not sure we could have handled anymore surprises.

We started off motor sailing across the Gulf Stream in light winds and light seas gradually moving to a more direct path to our destination. By midnight, out of the stream, both motors were off and we were sailing like we are supposed to and sailed right up to the bank. Given it was our first shallow water passage in 12 months we decided to drop the sails and motor the last 2 hours on the wavy line recommended route. Sorta glad we did, because at one point we had the depth alarm going off with less than 3 ft under the keels. This is something that apparently you get use to – we’ll see. We dropped the hook in a big sandy bottomed bay with no other boats and decided to rest for the afternoon before checking in with customs on Saturday morning.

Bright and early on Saturday morning (we are talking Karen time bright and early so it was about 9am when we left the boat) we jump into Muriel and head into Great Harbour Marina to clear only to find that we have to bring the big boat (that’s Where II - even though there are bigger boats, she is our big boat) into the marina to clear customs. They don’t mind you tying up to clear and leaving and they didn’t mention a marina fee, but I have had enough of docks for one year so was disappointed to find out we had to do this, particularly as there was a very narrow cut in the cliff we had to use to get in. We hauled anchor after considering heading off to clear in somewhere else and headed for the cut. At this stage, my fearless crew decided that it was too narrow to get through and headed below to hide leaving me to get through it alone, only to re-emerge once we were through!

Once tied up, the dock master rang customs and was told they would be right down in a few minutes, so we tidied up the boat and waited a few island minutes. About an hour later, the customs officer boarded the boat (something that hasn’t happened since Morocco) and set about clearing us in after accepting our offer of a cold beverage only after enquiring what type they were. Well, here we think our hospitality got us stung as the officer not only charged us the $300 cruising permit fee but also a $50 transport fee for which he was unable to give us a receipt as head office had yet to issue a receipt book... But how do you argue? So Karen has sent an email to the head office telling them the officer’s number and to please issue him with a receipt book...

After we were cleared we decided not to waste a docking experience and wait out the next blow on the dock and explore the island particularly when the dock master said that the town dock wasn’t really secure enough to leave a dinghy (which we later found out wasn’t strictly true).

You can just make out the nice new grey boot stripe on Where II here-  going grey gracefully just like the rest of us.

So over the next two days we walked around the island, into town, down to the beach and of course to the beach bar. It was nice to be in shorts, a t-shirt and thongs (flip flops) again with the sand between the toes.

We also had our first Pot Luck of the season and met a fellow cruiser, Adrian on SV Dolphin from Brunswick. But the highlight of the marina stay was a visit by manatee and its calf.

For those in Aus, this is a manatee calf – head to the right and tail to the left. One thing you find out quickly with these mammals around your boat if you have a watermaker running – they like fresh water. Adrian turn on the dock tap and directed it to the calf. After a quick drink it was nudged out of the way by its mum who had a long cool drink.

Monday with the blow over we headed out to anchor trying to decide where to go next. Based on what a few of the guys leaving the marina had said Hoffman’s Cay provided a good anchorage on the way to Nassau or Eleuthera so we decided to be one of the gang. But as we got closer and still had time to go in daylight we decided to go a bit further and be solo and we made for High Cay, a private island on the south east of the Berries. Being private we could not go ashore so it was a pleasant evening before heading off to North Beach Eleuthera and put off the decision of where we are really going a bit more.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Leaving America

Sounds like an easy thing to do... unless you own a boat, particularly one with a mast greater than 65 feet, which by the way ours is. So anyway, after watching almost all our new friends depart via the inter-coastal waterway and day hop down the coast. It was our turn to go. Lines slipped at mid-day by Bob and Cindy - Eventyr (one of the few boats left in Brunswick) we left a day ahead of plan as the weather window looked like it was closing ahead of forecast. 

All morning we were getting snatches of a Securite announcement from the coast guard about a hazard to navigation in St Simon’s Sound but could not hear the details. So we motored out of the harbour and under the Lanier Bridge (at 165ft we still think this is a bit tight) calling both marinas, Coast Guard and Seatow to see if we could find out what was going on. With no answer we started to question whether the VHF was working when Golden Isles Marina answered but could shed no light on what was happening. We then switched on the AIS and found out that the channel into St Simon’s was being dredged so I call up the Captain to ask if we could pass and if so, did he have any special instructions for us in passing. He politely explained his dredging course and then in special instructions told me just to “stay well away from him”.  Thankfully our departure plans were not thwarted and we were away!

Two days later after a long and expensive motor we were coming up to entrance to Port Canaveral with a chart plotter that had given up the ghost at the helm and a “US War Ship” on the AIS! True that is the description given. So out come the new binoculars (another purchase at a reduced price under warranty in Brunswick) and Karen spots it – it is either sinking, the smallest War Ship in the world or we are being tailed into Canaveral by a submarine. Now I know there are rules about sailing around the US Navy so I get my rules of the road book (yes that is what they call it) and find out we cannot go within 500 yards of it, so we decide to stand off the entrance to the channel and wait for it to enter.

Now this is not a fast process apparently. Firstly 2 Florida State Police boats come and standby the entrance of the channel, a tender is launched from Papa 2(the sub) and it dances around with the State Police Boats and they all go to channel 12 for a pow wow. Papa 2 then makes its way to the channel entrance and I think we will be able to
start moving soon. Wrong. It stops for some reason so I decide we will try and go ahead of it. Just as we are getting close to the channel I notice it start up again (AIS is wonderful) and start heading in so we stop turn around to let it go again. According to the chat on Channel 12, the State Police alerted Papa 2 of our presence and that they were monitoring us to ensure we weren’t going to be any trouble.... “Just hurry up will you guys” I think to myself, what threat is a Lagoon 420 to a nuclear powered (my guess) submarine??? Really???

Anyway, Papa 2 gets met by Mike and Elizabeth (two tug boats) at the turn of the channel and the manoeuvring begins all of it broadcast on Ch 12 and viewed on the AIS. Gradually it moves into the sub basin and we eventually tie up at Scorpion Marine at 9:25am and await the haul to work on the thru hulls and more. Did I mention at this is the third time we have hauled in 14 months in three different countries about 1400nm apart– St Lucia for a bottom job, Freeport Bahamas for the sail drive and now only 5 sailing days later Cape Canaveral for the thru hulls. Cruising – fixing your boat in exotic places.

Just before lunch we are on the hard and blocked so we decide to treat ourselves to lunch out (although we probably should have has a shower after 2 days at sea before heading to the pub but what the heck). We ended up down the road at Millikan’s reef and enjoyed a nice meal and a welcome cold beverage or two.
Then it was a call to Duy’s Electronic Services to see getting the faulty Chart Plotter looked at. He said he was very busy at the moment but would call back the next day.

I had asked the Yard Manager, Eric, to come and see me about the thru hull repairs but he seemed to be avoiding me, so I started dismantling the current thru hull fittings. I had decided to replace both port and starboard fittings with bronze as I could see the original set up had a design flaw in that each time you open and close the sea cock you are torquing the thru hull bedding and ultimately this will fail as the port one had (original set up below with the water weeping in).

Yeah I know you want to see pictures of sandy beaches, bikini clad girls, guys in budgie smugglers but if I have to spend days looking at toilet valves, I can at least share the experience. By the way the cable tie is to try and meet US regulations that the holding tank seacock be locked.

Anyway, it took a while to figure out how to get this out as it appeared that the valve had be glued (not with a mastic but with something hard like an epoxy) so I ended up cutting the valve off and then knocking the thru hull fitting out of the hull. Still no work from Eric so I chased him up when I saw him walking past, he said he would be over at the boat soon.

Day 3 and I’d dropped the chart plotter off with Duys because he hadn't rang back or made it to the boat and still no Eric at the boat. So I corner him. He had been under the impression from an email I sent asking if owners could work on the boat that I was doing all the work myself and was just looking for free advice, because if it leaks on splashing the boat I’m up for another $500 to rehaul. By this stage, I had just about decided to do it myself, but after talking to him about his approach to the job which was different from my plan and I thought a little less permanent, I decided that I would do it myself anyway.

So I set about shaping the backing plates and epoxying them into the hull. This was a little difficult as the nuts were already embedded in them, I had to align them with the hull to minimise the gaps between the hull and the fitting, but after two days (we are up to day 5) in the bilge I was pretty happy with it as a dry run – it even fitted together with the existing metric pipe so it was time to assemble with 4200 sealant. This is a messy process with Karen on the outside and me on the inside yelling at each other to co-ordinate the twisting, moving and tightening of the fittings. Fortunately after 5years of anchoring, we are now very proficient in the skill of “yelling at the spouse”.

So this might sound like a long time to take to do this, but you have to let the epoxy dry, the 4200 dry etc etc. So in the meantime Karen got to polishing the hulls and preparing for the new grey boot stripe and I started pulling the props off to replace the anodes with split units I could replace in the water. Unfortunately the port prop was not cooperating and after trying all my tricks I relented and asked the service manager to send over a mechanic to get the prop off for me. Well when he turned up, he finally resorted to the butane torch, burning off half the coating from the prop, breaking the conical nut and butchering the retaining thread. When I saw what he had done I couldn’t believe that I would have to pay for something that I could easily have stuffed up myself. The service manager tried to convince me the nut was an anode (not even close buddy) and I should replace it annually (not even maybe buddy), so $100 in service fee and $200 in new parts that he broke, I had the new anodes on. Yeah!

The next couple of days we polished, applied the boot stripe and got ready to go. Then Sunday, 10 days after we arrived we stood nervously as the travel lift operator told us stories of new thru hulls leaking on splashing. Karen was very confident that I had done a very good job and they weren’t going leak (or at least that’s what she said to me). The boat went in and I madly raced from port to starboard to make sure all was good and it was. So here is another picture of a toilet valve for y’all!

We fuelled up to make up for all the fuel we used on our way down and headed out of Canaveral, a few days short of the next rocket launch but we were on a mission to Leave America. On exiting the channel, I made the mistake of saying “It’s a pond” to Karen as there was no wind and no sea.
A mistake I say because it certainly picked up by night fall and we were motor sailing in 6ft 6 second chop. Although it was light, we knew it was going to pick up so we already had a reef in the main at night fall as is our standard practice. Then at midnight we decided to put in a second and we started to see 28 knots. Not scary but bloody uncomfortable with the short period waves.

Then at 0200 we heard a bang and looked around to see our new second hand dinghy that we had spent close to a week in Brunswick repairing hanging by only 2 of the 3 new harness straps and dragging (and banging) in the water! Now Karen will be the first to tell you that she told me not to use the steel lifeline wire for the harness but I did it anyway.  So just as we had started to sail we now had to drop the speed to about 3 knots, and we could only do that by dropping the sails and motoring – even more uncomfortable!

I spent hours looking at the dinghy and the emergency ropes I had put around her before we left Brunswick, trying to figure out how to get her up and out of the water, and just before dawn I had finally got her out of the water so we picked up a bit of speed. We arrived in Fort Worth at about 11:00am but by then it became obvious that Debbie 2 was severely damaged and on inspection, I felt she was beyond salvage. This was when we questioned what the hell we were doing this for – almost $20,000 spent in the last 6 months and still things keep going wrong and the sailing wasn’t even enjoyable.

After we calmed down, out came the computer and internet research was on – find a new dinghy cheaply, quickly and cheaply (did I say that twice?). After having the Caribe for only one 5 minute run we were keen to try and replace it with new, but with a couple of calls, it appeared the local agent was not keen on selling them and offered me different brands. Then we kept coming back to the Mercury 10ft Hyperlon dinghy which at 100lb seemed attractively light (just the way I like my girls). We found a local dealer and set off Tuesday morning to see them, dropping our floppy Debbie off at the marina we stayed in on our way up to Brunswick. We found the dealer, and with absolutely no haggling on our part, he offered to sell it to us at cost just to get their sales numbers up (and they were a Beneteau dealer so the mark up on a dinghy probably would not hit the P&L. In the end, after a call to Mercury, we ended up with a 2012 Hyperlon 310 at just under $2000. To put that in perspective that is about what we paid for our 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan that we did over 6000 miles in over the summer – does that sound right?

So, with a 2 day delivery time, we thought it was about the best deal we would get, so we took it and then decided to relax a bit and wait. Unfortunately, where we had anchored was subject to some eddy currents from the inlet, so it was a bit hard to relax with nearby boats swinging in strange directions, so being the last to anchor, we did the right thing and moved further down the anchorage. Here we hooked well and relaxed... until during a tide change, the wind shifted and just about every boat in the anchorage dragged, so we moved.

This time we headed down towards the golf club and went past the Rybinov marina where we were neighbours to the Megayacht “Venus” that Steve Jobs had commissioned prior to depart to the next cyber life. Unfortunately he never got to take delivery and now this interesting piece of naval architecture is caught up in an estate battle from what I hear. Luckily, I retired early and was able to take delivery of my yacht before I kicked it. Ok so it is a little bit smaller, not as flash, but I own it and it has got me 1/3 way around the world so far!

From here the relaxing got a bit easier, but we were a bit limited as to how far we could go from the boat as Debbie 2’s port pontoon was gradually filling with water. We did manage to get down to the Town Docks in West Palm Beach and wander through the markets, explore the town on the trolley and watch the belly dancers – yes belly dancers.

There girls in bikinis!

We also visited Peanut Island. This is a manmade island just near the entrance of Lake Worth from the dredging that made the entrance and cleared the intercoastal waterway and the port of Palm Beach. Sounds nice huh, but believe it or not it was very nice. The Park has been done really well with nice beaches and facilities and we were even able to observe a manatee lumbering through the channels under the bridges.

There you go – a beach

Sorry – no budgie smugglers on me....

On Monday we got a message that our new dinghy – the Mercurial Muriel – was stuck on a truck in Atlanta Georgia and we saw our next weather window closing to move to the Bahamas and get out of the States before our cruising permit expired. Matthew, the sales guy said he would keep on the freight company and the next morning he called back and said it was in the local warehouse and if we wanted he would get a truck and take us out to pick it up. Which he did and then delivered it to the dinghy dock at the marina. He and colleague helped us dispose of Debby 2 (who hopefully with some solid repairs will have another life) which was no mean feat as by this stage she was half full of water and nowhere near her svelte 156lb which she started out life at.

So by Wednesday lunchtime we had our new dinghy on the davits with a new ROPE harness and no real plan except to leave America on the next window. We had been in touch with friends in the Abocos, on Grand Bahamas and in the Exumas to let them know we were coming to somewhere.... Then it struck me that we had not been to the Berry Islands so Thursday lunchtime we haul anchor and head out into the Gulf Stream and to a place where none of the friends we notified of our pending arrival were...