jiggity jig

 

         Journal Excerpts from May 6, 2017 to May 27, 2017

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sailing plans change as the weather changes, on a whim. On Wednesday morning the forecast was calling for strong conditions on Chesapeake Bay, small craft advisories had been posted but I thought I would try to cross the Bay anyway, it was only thirty-eight miles from the Wye River to Baltimore.

I never got out of East Bay. By ten in the morning the wind was blowing twenty five knots and up with waves kicking up to three feet. I turned north to a little pocket named Crab Alley and dropped my anchor in a protected cove. I was lucky to have found it and stayed there until the following morning. Getting tossed around must have loosened debris in the fuel tank because I was losing power coming in so I took the opportunity to change fuel filters. Thursday was much quieter and I sailed across the Chesapeake with only the jib out and the engine running smoothly at high idle to the Maryland Yacht Club in Pasadena, Maryland tying up at their fuel dock just in time for lunch. Not bad for thirty-four miles.

The MYC is the oldest yacht club on Chesapeake Bay, it’s over one hundred and has many friendly members, one of the club’s governors came out to my slip to say hello and talk about his old Tayana 37 and his new 42. Later I had a soothing hot shower and a good supper. Friday morning two club members, Nancy and Jim on Nansea Gale (clever) invited me to go along with them to a supermarket. Also, I met Tony and Lisa who were surprised that I had known Lisa’s uncle Ken Bushee, further proof that the sailing world is a lot smaller than anyone thought.

There had been a buffet dinner planned for Friday evening in the expansive MYC clubhouse which their crew had just finished painting, all ready for the weekly dinner and a wedding on Saturday. Weddings are an important source of income for the club and keeps them solvent I was told. The wedding went on today but the buffet was canceled because the cook called in sick. No matter, everyone just gathered up food from our boats and we had a cookout. The show must go on.

I was going to Baltimore today but this morning the wind piped up with a vengeance so I’ll stay in this comfortable slip another night. Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow. I would like to see the city or at least what I can of it in a day or two. The conditions for rounding New Jersey are not looking good until after May fifteenth, more than a week away so I have time to burn.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I stayed at the MYC Saturday night and probably should have hung around for one more but I was feeling impatient with my progress and still wanted to see Baltimore so I left Sunday morning, or at least tried to, when the tide was at it’s peak. The water was calm but the wind was gusty and as I backed out of my slip the boat went sideways and my poor dinghy snagged a piling. One davit block ripped right off and so did a tow ring. I thought for sure that I was out of an inflatable. Now after a few days it looks like I can repair it if I get a chance. Anyway, after stopping at the fuel dock to fix things I waited two hours until the wind changed direction just enough so I could leave without further damage and motored ten miles to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore and tied up at the so-called Public Docks.  No Docking signs reserved most of the good spaces for triple-decked tour boats and water taxis. But there were no signs between the docks so I slipped in and stayed two nights.

baltimore_pana_cr

I had never been to Baltimore and knew nothing about the city other than what Randy Newman sang… “Baltimorrre, it’s harrrd…” And maybe it was once upon a time, but thriving Baltimore is now a major player in the port business. It is, or soon will be, the major east coast port for auto imports. The city has the rail service and is a lot closer to major markets on the east coast and in the mid-west than southern ports. It looks like a hard working town.

On Sunday afternoon I walked around the harbor area getting my bearings. No other boats came along so I was the only cruiser on the docks. The docks have very little security, maybe that’s why. Groups of people who were waiting for their excursion boat ride would wander along my dock taking pictures. Walkabout is going to be in many family albums. I worried about the situation and locked up, even zipping the cockpit’s enclosure when I took a walk. I returned every hour to check but no one was so bold as to step on her deck.

baltimore_dock

Police were everywhere, in cars, riding on bicycles and golf carts. Their presence and the security cameras all over were enough of a deterrent.  Even so, the sidewalks and plazas have plenty of panhandlers who will ask you for a dollar at every turn.

Monday morning I went to the National Aquarium. The distinctive glass buildings are on two small peninsulas built out into the harbor connected to each other by an elevated bridge. I paid my thirty-four dollar admission and went to see the Australian exhibit first, it was very well done with fish displayed below and birds above with gators in between.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

As I was headed for the main displays the kids showed up, hundreds of grade schoolers. I enjoy children in small doses but this was a mob. Oh well, they were having a great field trip so I waited my turn at each fish tank until the kids had seen their fill. They certainly know how to use their smart phones to take snapshots, better than me that’s for sure! The aquarium took four hours to see then I went back to the boat to check for interlopers – all good.

The Lexington Market is an eclectic collection of food vendors and it’s only a mile away the brochure said.  I walked over, got a bit lost but found it after asking two reluctant people for directions. Eclectic? It’s mostly a collection of ordinary fried chicken, Chinese buffet and small meat and fish market stalls set up inside an old building with a floor that slopes steeply downhill. Probably so they can hose it clean. I didn’t buy anything and became less and less hungry as I have a limited appetite for chicken gizzards.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

Thursday, May 11, 2017

sassafras_river
Sassafras River anchorage

Tuesday was a pleasant day, there was little wind when I left Baltimore at seven motoring down the Patapsco River and then north toward the C&D Canal. My anchorage for the night was five miles up the Sassafras River where Jeanne and I had stayed once before in a protected spot with nice view. The anchor went down at three.  I took a needed nap and then had supper. As I have almost daily traveling up the coast I called home but to my surprise, even with many homes along the Sassafras’ shore there was no cell service, so no chat with the wife. I knew that she would worry, and she did, but there was nothing I could do.

Wednesday morning I pulled up anchor for a twenty mile motoring trip to Chesapeake City. The tide was with me and I was in the lagoon and anchored by noon. During the ride the sky slowly clouded over but the sunlight stayed strong enough to warm the enclosed cockpit. I would duck down into it to warm up because I had to stand on the after rail for most of the trip watching out for floating debris. As I approached the entrance to the canal lots of sticks and junk were in the water and occasionally a half sunken log which could break a propeller. It demanded my full attention. So, get this.  I’m standing a vigilant watch with my 7X50 binoculars looking at the river, passing boats, and small farms along the shore and what do I see? Zebras! Three of them, with their own pasture and barn.

I phoned home later and sure enough Jeanne had been pretty upset not getting her evening call. We have both agreed that the daily calls are great, but when one is missed it causes inordinate worry so, what to do? I like calling home and she wants to hear from me as well, the only solution is to have faith and not fret when it doesn’t ring.  There is usually a good reason but not a catastrophic one.  I told her don’t worry unless you get a call from someone else.

The weather has put a hold on moving for a few days. The anchorage here at Chesapeake City while not too convenient is the best in these parts to wait. There is plenty to do. The boat needs cleaning desperately and the dinghy has to be repaired. I mixed up some glue yesterday and put the tow ring back on, today I’ll flip the dink over and fix it’s handles. Dingo’s seat was lost in the fracas and I didn’t notice until I hauled it on board. When I get home I’ll have to build a new one, a better one to salve my feelings. Of all the close calls and near misses I’ve had on this trip that bumbling departure last Saturday was the worst.

It may change, as plans often do, but it looks good for the two hundred mile run down the Delaware and up the New Jersey coast to New York starting Monday. I was able to talk to Chris Parker this morning on the SSB radio – first time in a long time – and he thinks the first part of the week is good for travel with favorable but fairly light wind and good weather.

Friday, May 12, 2017

nj.01
Chesapeake City. Note the ship under the bridge.

Chesapeake City’s lagoon is as good a place as any to wait, and with less than pleasant weather predicted for tomorrow and Sunday it will suffice. Not all day Sunday, I’m going to a marina for a night before I leave for Cape May. The marina is only seven miles east on the C&D canal and that will cut an hour off the Delaware River leg of the trip. I have to top off the fuel and water tanks and a shower would be nice as I won’t get another chance for any of those things until I reach the Hudson River and maybe not even until Catskill, a week away. I’ll get to Cape May rather late Monday and get going early Tuesday with no time for fueling.

My dinghy is repaired as best as I can. As badly as it got damaged it still holds air and can be used. The seat is a minor loss, if I have to row I’ll sit on an overturned bucket. Not having a dinghy would be a major inconvenience. It’s like a cowboy’s horse, you’re stuck without one.

Oceangoing ships pass by this lagoon at all hours. They are so large they loom over the treetops, looking like steel mountains sliding by. The C&D canal is a major route to the ports of Philadelphia, Trenton and Baltimore connecting the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. Both bodies of water are navigable far inland making them essential to east coast commerce. These mid-coast ports, coupled with the New York/New Jersey port complex make up the largest in the United States. This country is ridiculously rich, we just won’t admit it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

dredge_on_delaware
Keeping the shipping lanes open.

Today was certainly a change, it was sunny and warm, the temperature rose to seventy this afternoon. I  pulled up the anchor this morning and drove East along the C&D Canal to Summit North Marina where I bought diesel fuel then tied alongside their transient dock. That’s what I am, a transient. I worked on getting Walkabout ready for the New Jersey transit, besides fuel I took on water and cleaned the speed indicator paddle wheel which had stopped. It supplies speed data without which the wind instrument can’t calculate true wind speed which is good to know particularly when sailing downwind. It also gives the distance logging instrument data to figure how far through the water you have gone, that’s handy too. Little creatures grow on the plastic spinner that sticks down under the boat and eventually their shells will clog it and have to be removed with acid. That done I took a much needed shower and cleaned more inside the boat, a job I started yesterday. Jeanne is joining me next week and I can’t have her seeing how I’ve been living. Just kidding. I can’t stand the boat when it starts to look like deer camp. The Navy taught me well.

Tomorrow I plan to be in the Delaware River when the tide is almost slack. The ebb tide may give me a boost as I run down to Cape May. The wind is also supposed to be blowing in the right direction. We shall see. I’ll anchor Monday night in the harbor next to the Coast Guard station and leave Tuesday for New York.

nj.04
Screamin’ down the Delaware

Monday, May 15, 2017

What a day for sailing! I ate a big plate of hash and eggs to hold me all day, I would be too busy later to even make a sandwich. The C&D Canal was almost deserted, only one sailboat was out in front of me and he had a good start. The current was running fast, my speed over the ground was eight knots. The clean paddle wheel was spinning off six knots of boat speed, there was two knots of tidal current going my way. I planned my departure on an ebb tide in the Delaware River and was correct, for a very short time my GPS was reading 9.8 knots SOG, faster than I’ve ever seen Walkabout travel. It’s deceiving though, you are not really moving through the water that fast, just to where you’re headed that fast – and that will do.

Walkabout passed the big nuclear generating plant on the eastern shore of the Delaware and had traveled five miles further when a call came over the VHF radio:

“Mayday, Mayday. This is Carina, we need medical help!”

A sailboat, which I had noticed less than an hour before anchored off Reedy Island, had experienced an accidental gibe. One of her crew was knocked out and was bleeding on deck unconscious. The Coast Guard responded immediately and I followed the progress of the incident for as long as I could. When eventually I lost radio reception a medivac was imminent. Good thing too, the injured man was fifty-six years old, had been unconscious for more than five minutes and when he came around couldn’t remember anything about the day.

cape_may.02
The close to shore route around Cape May, NJ

Accidental gibes are common but sailors try not to let them happen because they can hurt crew and break stuff. Let me explain. The wind is coming from behind, the boat rolls in the waves. The mainsail gets turned perpendicular to the wind for a second and is suddenly driven to the opposite side of the boat. That’s an accidental gibe. The boom swings with great force from one extreme to the other usually with a loud crash as the rigging tries to absorb the shock. If a crewman is struck by the boom it can kill, even on a small sailboat. Large boats use boom brakes to slow down the passage of the boom from one side of the boat to the other.  Another commonly used safety device called a preventer locks the boom on one side of the boat when running downwind. Also, most modern cruising boats are designed with the boom high enough and short enough that crew are not exposed to the danger.

I hope the crewman on Carina ended up alright. My choice today, since the wind was directly from behind blowing twenty knots gusting to twenty-eight, was to use the jib alone and let the motor run at half throttle just in case. I didn’t feel overpowered and had a good day.

brandywine_light

To avoid the shoals near Cape May and an extra ten miles of travel I took a route close to shore coming within a hundred yards of the beach near the lighthouse. People were waving as Walkabout sailed by but it had me nervous. The water was thirty feet deep and the waves had flattened out but I was glad to get out of there. I had the hook down by five and will head out tomorrow morning for New York as it looks to be another fine day.

Friday, May 19, 2017

ferry
Staten Island Ferry

I left Cape May into a flat calm sea. It didn’t stay calm, the wind when it came blew in the low twenties from the southwest which was directly from behind until Sea Girt where the New Jersey coast turns almost due north. Then the wind died and I motored slowly along, intentionally because I would have reached Raritan Bay before dawn on Wednesday and I don’t like arguing with big ships in the dark. Traffic was heavy with tugs and barges even though I was within the three mile line. Just before noon I grabbed a mooring in the Hudson River at 79th Street Marina and stayed there Wednesday night.

After a shower I walked around in the city for a couple hours. I found a little grocery store on Columbia Avenue and bought bagels and cheese. It was a New York thing to do. In the morning I tried to catch the tide upriver, tugboats began to push their barges then so I was hopeful. After two hours of very slow going (3 knots) the current increased and Walkabout began to make miles. I passed up many anchorages and by seven Thursday evening arrived in Highland where there was a new town dock empty and waiting just for me. Lucky thing too, I was expecting to tie up at Mariner’s Restaurant on their rickety wooden dock but apparently they are out of business, no dock and no place to anchor either. Next door I saw people fishing from a steel bulkhead and then noticed there were large cleats on top of it. I swung the boat around, carefully eased in watching the depth and asked if it was OK if I tied up. No one objected so I did. Like most free docks this one has it’s problems, mostly wakes from passing boats, we bounce a lot but with all my fenders out so far so good.

I spent today hustling in the hot sun getting the three sails down, rolled up and in their bags. I used my little wheeled cart to haul the sails back and forth to a large grass plot to do a decent job of folding them. When I lifted the heavy mainsail in it’s storage bag with my spinnaker halyard to swing it over to the boat’s deck I clipped the cart and it sank to the bottom between the boat and the dock. I was bummed and tried and tried to fish it out of the murky river and only by sheer luck snagged it with the boat hook and retrieved my sturdy cart.

Tomorrow I’ll get to Catskill for the mast disassembly and finally see my wife.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The mast is down and riding on wooden cradles for the journey north. Jeanne brought them down Saturday and is now with me as we bring Walkabout back to Lake Champlain. It was far too long for us to be apart. But Jeanne wintered well and is happy that my trip is almost over. In the days ahead we will examine what, if anything, this little saga has produced.

Since I had taken the time to remove the sails before I got to Riverview Marine in Catskill all I had left to do was to dissemble cotter pins, rigging lines and various wires. Sunday morning we were ready and removing the mast with Riverview’s big crane went quickly. Two hours later Jeanne and I had everything secured, paid for and were out on the river headed north.

Last night we anchored a mile up Schodack Creek in a marsh with no one else in sight. This morning four whitetail deer came down to the river for their morning ablutions then retreated to the woods when an Amtrak train hurtled past on the opposite bank. We left too, catching the tidal flow just right covering the fifteen miles to Troy, NY by noon. Troy’s Federal Lock, however, had problems and when Jeanne radioed to say we wanted to go through she was told it would be an hour’s wait because they were repairing a cylinder. I called after lunch and the lock operator said they would need another hour but would let me know when they could open. We settled in for a long wait. We had tied up to a towering concrete wall in downtown Troy and were not too happy about it, boat wakes and the current bounced us around and unseen vagrant people above were throwing bottles and cans into the water. I was thinking rocks could be next. But thirty minutes later the lock operator called us and we and another boat went through and into the Champlain Canal. We locked twice more before calling it a day at Mechanicville, NY tying up to the free pier they offer visiting boaters. The pier is the magnificent result of volunteers who not only upgraded the old pier but built and maintain a brand new shower facility to benefit travelers. We got the whole story from one of the guys responsible. What a concept! Two blocks away there is a good pizza place, Bucciero’s where we had supper with enough pizza left for the next day. Whitehall is next and Charlotte after that.  We could be home by Thursday!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

We didn’t get to Whitehall Tuesday we had to tie to the wall south of Lock 11 because of delays earlier in the day.  Lock 8 said we had to wait, why wasn’t clear but we think the operator was mowing the lawn. The locks close at 5:00 so we missed locking through and had to camp out. The next morning after the fog had lifted we set out and made it to Lake Champlain by noon. It was a beautiful day, one just made to come home in.

We arrived at our mooring ball in the afternoon Wednesday ending my eight month-long odyssey on Walkabout. All that remains to do is a ton of cleaning and repair work before she can begin the summer season on Lake Champlain. The poor boat is a mess with sea growth and brown stains all the way up to her rubrails. In one lock on Tuesday she was forced so hard against the wall that a fender was dragged down and broke a lifeline which now droops sadly on the starboard side adding to her forlorn looks. But with some effort and a good washdown in a couple weeks our sturdy sailboat will be looking handsome and ready for another summer on the lake.

My brother Arnold will drive up here to pick us up later today and take us back to our home in Ira. I’m looking forward to a night’s sleep with my old wife beside her old husband in our old bed. Then it will be readjustment to life on land: No more constant motion, no more watching out for weather and other dangers, no more running low on water, fuel or food, no more (for a while anyway) anchor dragging. It will be tough. Seriously, the biggest danger in the readjustment period is falling under the spell of television and all the rest of the crap civilization throws at you, while sitting on the couch eating chips. That’s not good and is very easy to do. I tell myself that won’t happen but it could. Jeanne will see that it doesn’t, she is an expert handler.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Home at last.

Jeanne and I finished bringing Walkabout through the Champlain Canal Wednesday with a run from Lock 11 near Comstock, NY all the way to Charlotte, VT and our mooring at Point Bay Marina. We stayed on the boat that night and packed our bags the next day. It was pretty dismal Thursday, it rained off and on all day long and we were thankful that we hadn’t loitered in the canal sightseeing. My brother and his wife Janet drove up after work and delivered us to our home in Ira. Even the cat was glad to have me back. Our pickup truck was still in Catskill so Friday morning we drove there in Jeanne’s car and followed each other back on the rain soaked thruway thick with traffic. A blunt reintroduction to life on land but I had better get used to it. I’ve been without transportation for so long that having a car available is a new thing. My bike is unusable, it failed the salt spray test and all its moving parts rusted.

Jeanne spent a lot of time while she was alone here in our hillside home this winter wallpapering and painting rooms so I arrived to discover a beautified house. I’ll have to be careful not to scatter my stuff all over it, at least for a while. However, her efforts put me on a spot. There is no way I can avoid completing my finish-the-cellar project now. And, there are lots of downed trees from the windstorm last month to be cut up and hauled off. She pointed them out to me yesterday but it was pretty obvious I have a lot of work ahead. Walkabout needs plenty of attention too. She is filthy from the trip and needs a VHF radio cable replaced before the mast goes up. She needs new lifelines too, those have to be taken off and shipped to the rigging shop. All in all, I’ll be busy.


What did I gain from this long trip?

Satisfaction, in the fact that I found I was capable of navigating from Vermont to Cuba and the Bahamas, and to get back. Satisfaction, even when things became truly frightening I could still cope. Satisfaction, at seventy-two.

Realizing that it took more than just myself. I found help from friends new and old when I needed it. Jeanne, Will, Kathleen, Craig, Donna, Mike, Jim, Karen, Greg, Paul, Joe, Nancy, John, Dale, Christian and Jacine, and so many others who lent assistance to an old fool traveling alone. You have my heartfelt thanks. Readers of my blog deserve thanks too, your responses kept me at it.  I hope it wasn’t too dull and you could find a chuckle or two in it.  Don’t think of it as a travel guide whatever you do.

When I took the time to look up from my boat duties there were wondrous sights to see.

The Intracoastal Waterway is a national treasure. I hope the ICW receives the care and money it needs to stay open.

Cuba was another world, a fascinating place that deserves another visit because two weeks were hardly enough.

The Bahamas are special, I love Bahamians and their islands.

The ocean… There is nothing like sailing on the ocean.

Memories, that’s my takeaway.

The voyage continues.

aquarium.06

rpk, 2017

 

a revolutionary education

Excerpts from Journal Entries from April 16,2017 to May 2, 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I shoved off the fuel dock at Joyners Marina Friday morning at 7:30, a good time to start since the tide was going my way. joyners dock Tide and current are related but not as you might naturally think when navigating the waterway.  This morning as I passed the first inlet at Wrightsville we were going seven knots, a few miles further at the next inlet the boat speed dropped to 4 knots.  However, it does average out and arrival times can be predicted with some accuracy provided nothing else stands in your way.  And, of course, it did; three bridges are along the route to Mile Hammock and they each have to open for you to pass.  I reached the first bridge just after it closed and had to wait forty-five minutes to go through.  The second opened every thirty minutes so the wait there was only twenty.  And the last, a slow moving swing bridge that was hidden behind a foundation that will be, someday, maybe, a new high bridge forced me to wait almost a full hour fighting a fickle current in the narrow channel.  The bridges put my arrival time at the anchorage back over two hours.  Then, at the New River Inlet within sight of the Mile Hammock lagoon I ran aground at exactly low tide in a place very poorly marked.  Follow the marks, that’s good advice.  But what if the marks are not where they will help you, then what?  You go aground like me and wait until the tide lifts you off.  Three hours later a power boat came along and it’s wake bounced me free.  Now I still wouldn’t have known where the channel was unless two other sailboats had come along earlier.  The first boat felt its way through and the captain told me the water depths as he went.  I watched carefully and tried to memorize his track: It was close to the bank – where my charts showed nothing!  The second sailboat approached slowly and ran aground but quickly backed free.  I hollered for him to go closer to the sandbank and after another soft bump, he got through. Without watching those two boats I would have undoubtedly become stuck again.  As it was I got to the anchorage just in time to watch the sun set.

Such a peaceful place Mile Hammock, you would never know it is in the middle of a U.S. Marines training ground. I only saw two aircraft buzzing around, perhaps because of the Easter weekend.  There was an almost constant low level growling from the direction of the seashore, heavy equipment on the beach practicing land maneuvers maybe.  It wasn’t loud enough to be annoying, just more white noise.  I left at seven fifteen Saturday morning to get to Beaufort early in the afternoon and for once my estimation was close.  The sailboat that showed the way through the puzzle at the New River Inlet yesterday left right before me and I tagged closely behind since he obviously had better charts.  There was, on the way south last Fall, a tricky spot two miles north of the Mile Hammock anchorage and I thought by following this guy I would have less trouble.  But apparently that section has been dredged and is now shoal-free.

The trip was uneventful until I reached Morehead City, NC.  Some of the cruising people we have met over the years say they avoid traveling on the ICW on weekends.  That makes a lot of sense.  Good Friday, however, should be considered part of a weekend.  It was about one o’clock when I entered the commercial turning basin at the head of the Morehead Ship Channel which leads out to the Atlantic.  There were literally hundreds of small power boats, some anchored for fishing, most just roaring at top speed in every direction filled with people “recreating” on the water.  I bore across the mile-wide basin then down the ship channel heading to a secondary channel which I would follow to Beaufort.  Traffic picked up, now dozens of boats were charging up and down the channel, leaping over the waves, spray flying.  And there, twenty feet off my bow a boat load of people suddenly appeared, panic in their eyes.  Thank heavens I saw them and spun the wheel in time.  There was no looking back and I’ve been shaken ever since. I have a small mental box where I store all incidents like that and open it from time to time just to check. Then slam the lid.

I’ll start off again tomorrow.  Weekend will be over and it’s a short hop to the town of Oriental which is good for a night, or two if shrimp are available.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I started out from Beaufort with a short delay at the lift bridge, got there half an hour early and had to wait.  By the time the operator lifted the spans ten boats had gathered and it was a mad dash going through.  The ICW divides into two lanes a couple miles north of Beaufort.  The main route goes to Morehead City, the other, called Russell’s Slough (sluff) winds it’s way to Beaufort.  Shrimpers use that route and many of the shrimp boats were parked along its edge.  Where the slough joins the main ICW channel things became easier, the water deeper and better marked.  I cruised up to the Neuse River and passed by Oriental, NC by eleven, much too soon to stop for the day and went on to my favorite marina River Dunes and took a slip for two nights.  river_dunesIt’s a great place, not overly expensive and is like going to a fine hotel.  I borrowed their van and drove down to Oriental.  The hardware store filled my empty second propane tank, I like to keep ahead with my cooking gas supply, and after that I visited an outdoor tiki bar for a beer and small talk with the locals.  Then dinner at the Toucan Restaurant: very good shrimp bisque and a burger which prepared me for a visit to the grocery store (not hungry at all) where I bought a loaf of commercial everlasting bread and some meat.  It’s a good idea not to go food shopping on an empty stomach.  My errands done I drove back to the boat for a good night’s sleep.

Oriental, NC
Oriental, NC

Today I’ll spruce up my vessel a little, and partake of the marina’s amenities: a soak in their Jacuzzi and another steam shower!!  Then tomorrow it’ll be back to camping mode.  I think I can be as far as Portsmouth, VA by the weekend.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Walkabout is parked in the north ferry boat landing in Portsmouth, Virginia where we will stay until tomorrow or Tuesday depending on the weather.  The city will let you tie here free of charge for 48 hours but boaters often stay a lot longer and nobody minds, I think.  I came up the ICW from Coinjock, NC yesterday in wonderful conditions, warm, sunny with a moderate breeze from behind.  Not sailing, the channel was much too narrow for that, but motoring along at a peaceful pace.  Traffic was lighter yesterday than the previous two days, the motor yachts had almost all disappeared over the horizon leaving slower boats to plod on to their next stop.

While walking on the dock at Coinjock Marina yesterday I was greeted by Randy Chapman from Chesapeake City and a former Vermont resident, who had just bought our friend’s boat, Both Sides Now, and was driving it home.  Ken Bushee from Danby, VT, and a Lake Champlain sailor, wrote for a long time on his blog of the adventures he and his wife Francine were having on their voyages. Jeanne and I first met Ken in the Bahamas and continued to read about his exploits in his blog.  He had switched from a sailboat to a trawler recently and had planned to travel the Great Loop but unfortunately passed away in January. It was quite a coincidence meeting his boat’s new owner but it is in good hands.

As soon as I arrived in Portsmouth yesterday afternoon and had let the wind blow me down to the rickety pier and tied off, the rain began and then thunder, lightning and a deluge forcing me into the cabin to tighten down hatches and portlights.  It let up at dark but the wind still roared and the temperature dropped into the high fifties, not what I’m used to and this morning is drizzly and downright chilly.  I’ve got to slow down!


Maintenance
Maintenance

Knowing something about boat maintenance costs (it’s frightening) I’m looking across the river at the General Dynamics shipyard operations where US Navy ships are being refurbished around the clock and think: Unimaginable amounts of tax dollars and debt dollars are being spent on the war machine.  For all the hue and cry against social programs from the Right – giving away our/their/corporations? hard earned money, and so forth – all the welfare programs put together would not come close to what, I believe, this one shipyard spends in one month on warship maintenance.  The multi-national military industry has grown so large that it dwarfs anything else: Health, education, infrastructure, social programs, Social Security, anything. But manifest militarism does a far more insidious injury to our people, it brings us down to the level of wanton killers, an overbearing aggressor of a nation whose leaders will fabricate reasons to attack lesser peoples or acronymics and then propagandize us with fear so we will support more aggression. When have we not been at war?  When did we hand over the reins? About the time when American women began to get tattoos…

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Walkabout has been sitting here at the ferry landing in Portsmouth now since Saturday afternoon.  The rain let up today and the sun appeared for a couple hours. Now it’s right back to drizzle.  And its been cold, at least for me, when the thermometer shows sixty and its damp like this it feels frigid.  But, for the short time the sun was out today the temperature shot up fast.

I will be off to Yorktown tomorrow morning.  I have to leave before eight because if I don’t the tide will cover the dock next to the boat and I’ll have to wade to untie the lines.  That’s the one big shortcoming of this free dock, twice a day you have to wade to get ashore, or get back back on board.  One of the boats behind me has their dinghy out, maybe that’s a solution.  I called the municipal dock in Yorktown this morning and have a reservation. The American Revolution was decided there and there should be plenty to see.  If it’s not too expensive I’ll stay for a couple of days before moving further north.

Since it rained so much I haven’t gotten much done except for one grocery shopping run Sunday afternoon.  The store is quite a hike from the dock but I dragged my little cart and brought back enough food to get me to New York I think.  That’s only three weeks away.  Day by day I’m getting closer to home. bikeThis morning I visited the local bicycle shop and bought a new seat post.  The old one was snatched away one day at sea by a jib sheet.  The bike was useful in Marathon and I rode it some in Cuba and Bimini but it’s taken a beating out there on the deck. I worked on it this afternoon to break down the rust but it may have gone too far, the chain, brakes and shifters are frozen and will take lots and lots of WD40 to free up.  The bike failed the salt spray test I guess.

This evening I’ll walk down to High Street to Baron’s Pub which I like for one last mug of Sweet Baby Jesus† beer and a bite for supper.  I would go across the street to the Commodore Theater for a movie but later I would have to traverse the flooded dock to get home and with sacrilegious brew in me might step off into the abyss.

Thursday, April 27, 2017tug.2

Starting out from Portsmouth yesterday morning there was a lot of traffic, the river was churning with tugboats going out for their next tug.  I hugged the edge of the ship channel on the starboard side which put me near the string of U.S.Navy ships parked at their docks.  You are supposed to give Navy ships 1500 feet of clearance but that would have put me in the way of tug traffic so I stayed right on the line.  When I passed a watchtower whistles blew and lights flashed and I could see a watchman behind his window waving his arms.  Must have been for someone else, I just kept on going.

Zeus
Zeus

Later, as I turned the corner to head out into Chesapeake Bay a U.S.Coast Guard cutter appeared; I had been taking pictures of an unusual Navy ship that had passed me on its way to the yards so I took shots of the cutter too.  Next thing I heard was a call from the cutter asking when my last inspection was and that they were boarding boats that morning and I was next!  Great.  I scrambled below to fetch my papers and thirty seconds later the boarding party was climbing over my rails.  It sounds worse than it was, all they want is to see if you have your safety gear, extinguishers, life jackets, and your registration.  The two guardsmen made quick work of it, filling out a form which I signed and ripping off a copy for me to keep (but the form was defective, my copy was blank, they had to give me another!) and hopped back in the chase boat that was skippered by a young, capable guardette and were gone.  I watched for a minute and they immediately boarded a motor yacht nearby so I guess I wasn’t singled out.

Here's Looking At You!
Here’s Looking At You!

The wind came up when I got out into the bay and I motorsailed for three hours until my course put me directly into the wind.  But the wind died anyway and I drove up the York River in flat calm water.  The Riverwalk Marina sits in the center of Yorktown’s harbor and consists of two large floating concrete docks jutting out into the fast flowing York River.  The marina, like many I’ve visited is municipally owned and operated, but this one is a professional operation from what I’ve seen so far.  Attentive people, fair pricing and clean facilities; what more do you want?

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

Just a half mile walk away from the dock although there is a free trolley is the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.  I spent four hours there bulking up on history.  The eight year conflict is laid out in the museum’s exhibits that even extend outdoors with reconstructions of military encampments, demonstrations complete with cannon fire, and a settler’s farmstead which includes a slave quarters and a tobacco curing shed.  That part of the museum is only a month old, the buildings have a new bright look.  School kids out for a field day trooped through the place, their leaders trying to keep order which was hard because gunfire had made them excited.  Better than bored.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

 

I’m going north in the morning, only forty miles like yesterday.  This time to Reedville off the Rappahanock in a small creek that is well protected and has water deep enough for Walkabout.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On Friday I left Yorktown and motored north to an anchorage in the town of Reedville, VA that Jeanne and I had anchored in six years ago.  That time we were besieged with a sudden thunderstorm and had to fight to keep from hitting another boat.  Not a good experience.  This time I was the only one in the creek and had the pick of good spots, and the weather was not threatening so I had a good night’s sleep in a quiet place.
I left early the next morning for Solomon’s Island, another forty miles in much the same conditions.  Tried to sail but the wind was not cooperating.  I anchored in Mill Creek for the night in the same spot I was in back in December.  The next morning the air was still, the creek was also motionless at low tide, so I upped anchor at 0630 and raised my mainsail while sitting there in the calm.  By the time I had motored out into the Bay there were signs of wind, it was going to fill in and by ten it was blowing fifteen knots right from behind.  I have mixed feelings about sailing straight downwind, Walkabout rolls like mad and it’s hard to keep the sails full when she does.  But I had the engine off by eleven, the whisker pole out for the jib and a solid preventer holding the main out to starboard.  Wing on wing.  The nice thing about the wind Sunday was it did not vary at all in strength or direction for five hours, long enough to get me to the entrance of the Wye River over on the eastern shore.  There it collapsed to nothing in just a few minutes and I pulled in all the sails to motor up the river to where I was going.  That was ten miles further, in a small “creek” called the Wye East River where I called it a day and anchored close to Wye Island.dividing_creek

Last night was calm and I got a good rest.  This morning I woke to the wind picking up and blowing into my anchoring spot rocking the boat.  That wouldn’t do.  The main reason I traveled so far away from the bay was to get a secure place for the cold front that is coming tonight with high wind, maybe in the thirty knot range.  I pulled up the anchor, it was not easy but I got it up and left with it dangling in the water ready to quickly drop and drove two miles more up the creek and into a small but very protected cove on a side tributary called Dividing Creek.  Here I think we will be OK, it’s been howling all day but the water in the cove barely moves.

Wye Island is owned by the State of Maryland which is keeping it as an historical and ecological artifact.  The private island was a plantation since the seventeen century but fortunately its owners did not totally deforest it for agriculture as it still has a twenty acre stand of old growth forest that you can walk through on a trail. Presently the island is called the Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area, NMRA, and has picnic and camping areas, working fields, a bald eagle habitat and some original homesites.  But it is not, as far as I can tell, an exploitative operation because the island is being left mostly in it’s original wild state.  The woods are not groomed, the creeks and coves have fallen trees in them, and you’re on your own when visiting.  red_oakOn my walk today I did not see a single person on the trails and only one distant vehicle on the dirt road that goes down the center of the island. The old growth forest is spectacular, huge red and white oaks, sweetgum trees and loblolly pines soar a hundred feet into the canopy.  The footpath is the only thing attended to in these woods, fallen trunks lie mouldering among the new saplings reaching up to replace them. It was quiet walking through there by myself, a good place to reflect…  Who me?  Naw.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

One trail ended and another began, this one through a plantation of young market trees, farmed trees, many with plastic tubes placed around their slender young trunks, probably to keep off pests.  tree_tubesAnd that trail led me around to the highlight of the whole excursion, the 275 year old Wye Island Holly Tree, standing alone in a field of mowed grass with wooden marker poles set around it, presumably to warn off vandals.  The poor old tree however, looks it’s age.  The truncated trunk is enormous but you can see that it is hollow in places through holes in the smooth gray bark.  But the ancient tree is still producing bright red berries, which means it is still trying to make more hollies and its leaves are dark, dark green with very sharp prickers.  Respect me, she says.wye_holly.1

I’m at the mercy of the weather which is going to be ugly for another day.  Wednesday I’ll move again, this time to Rock Hall, still on the eastern shore and after that it’s a tossup, Annapolis or Baltimore.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The cold front came over the Wye River today, it blew hard last night and there were a few rumbles of thunder but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.  It was still good to be in this protected hole and I decided to stay until tomorrow, the wind was forecast to hit forty out on the bay this afternoon.  I went for another walk in Wye Island’s woods and fields today instead of battling the waves, the sun was out, the sky brilliant blue and the temperature was seventy-three.  It’s like early summer in Vermont, the hay here is ready for a first cut, tree pollen has coated Dividing Creek and I’m sneezing.

Tomorrow I’m going to sail to the Patapsco River and Stoney Creek to stay at the Maryland Yacht Club for a night: To refuel and get a pump-out.  I’ll ask if they recognize the RSYC as a reciprocal club – doubt it, but my ensign is flying just in case they do.  Thursday I’ll try to get a slip at the Baltimore Public Docks, I called today but they weren’t answering.  That would be a great base for touring Baltimore, the docks are right in downtown on the inner harbor.  It’s supposed to rain on Friday, all day, and some more on Saturday, actually it won’t be clear and warm again until the middle of next week.  My scheduling is becoming more critical too, I don’t want to be early getting to New York and by the same token the Champlain Locks are opening in just seventeen days.

Maryland Yacht Club Slip
Maryland Yacht Club Slip

 

† They were out.

rpk

inside, outside

              Journal Entries from April 1 to April 13, 2017

 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Yesterday was devoted to provisioning, I traveled in my rental car all the way to Lantana, FL just to go to Costco, my favorite temple to materialism and source of extra large portions of anything.  That’s a problem actually, for a sailor on a sailboat with limited space, so I was careful in my selections and in the end it all fit, if slightly tight.  Mostly goodies for those all-nighters to come, I have to snack instead of having a proper meal on those trips and Costco has the best stuff for that purpose.  No endorsement intended and your mileage may vary.  In Lantana the store has a liquor department with their own brands of booze that are like many other rebranded things in this world, a well-known producer makes the stuff and, at Costco at least, it sells for a nice price.  I bought two bottles.  Also two pairs of comfortable shorts and a shirt.  Had a great time.

Nina and Pinta at Vero Beach Municipal Marina
Nina and Pinta at Vero Beach Municipal Marina

Another reason for all the travel was a quest for a replacement cell phone.  While in Lantana I went to a Best Buy store, they are everywhere down here and this store had row after row of the devices.  I’m moderately comfortable with computers and their attendant technologies, office programs and such, but I came upon cell phones late in life and they present a whole new spectrum of learning.  The foppish young man at the counter quickly looked me over and handed me off to a subordinate to deal with.  But that worked out quite well, the young lady instinctively knew that I was basically a cheapskate and showed me a sample phone, on sale, that seemed to me to be as good as units selling for many times the sale price of ninety-nine dollars.  But they were out of stock.  I asked her: How about other stores?  So she looked and told me the Best Buy back in Vero Beach had three.  Easy solution, and I bought one later in the day after an hour’s drive.  It’s a clever thing for sure and does everything including phone calls.

I’m getting ready to head further north in a day or two.  I’ll stay inside on the ICW in calmer water for now.  I changed the engine’s oil this morning and mopped up the inside of the cabin. My laundry is in the dryer next door and later with some luck I’ll get a blog post sent out, if the marina get it’s Internet connection back.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Of all the good things about Vero Beach Marina that they offer, wifi isn’t one of them.  I’ve wasted hours trying to access the Internet with no luck.

Not  wanting to cook Friday night I drove my dinghy down the river to the Riverside Restaurant, a local hangout with a large bar and good food.  The place was packed with a forty minute wait for a table so I shoehorned myself into a stool near the end of the bar between a guy and a girl.  The place had eight flat screen TVs high on the wall tuned into various mostly conspicuously violent sports shows.  On one screen there were a pair of women kick boxers viciously pounding one another.  I remarked out loud, “Look a girlfight!”, to no one in particular, but the woman on my left piped up with this comment about the televised street fight.  “Oh, you know they use transvestites in those fights!”, “They get operated on just to fight with real women.”  I didn’t know what to say. Operated?  Later she stopped eating for a second and asked me if I were a local; the long hair I guess.  “No”, I warily volunteered, “I’m from New England”. “Then you’re one of those liberal people aren’t you?”  Oh yes, I sure am.  “I’ll bet you’re a Trump supporter”, I said with a laugh – she most certainly was – and that’s what I heard about until she and her party left.  This lady was no young fool either but somehow is convinced that our new leader will bring about all the wonderful, fantastic changes he promised, “…if only you people would give him the chance…”
Another visit to Middle Earth.

In the Sound
In the Sound

Monday, April 3, 2017
Tomorrow I’ll leave Vero Beach and head north toward St. Augustine on the ICW.  I’m not crazy about the waterway but in Florida it’s not too hard to navigate.  The days are at least four hours longer now than on the way down so I can make better mileage, or not push as hard.  The weather forecast is for a building south wind until Thursday when a disturbance will bring northwest conditions so maybe I’ll fly the jib and save on fuel.  Today I’ll make a final run for supplies, pay my bill and get the boat prepared to move.

Sunday I walked to the beach.  It was broiling hot, 85° on the sidewalk in the sun, but it cooled off when I got to the boardwalk.  Mobs of people were out on the sand hiding under umbrellas.  Frisbees and kites were in the air and kids were challenging the surf, running in and out of the breakers, screaming in their high pitched voices.  Me, I just looked out over the ocean for any sailboats going north.  I didn’t see a single one.

My new cellphone, the Blü Life XL, is a marvelous thing.  I can get email, it will connect to wifi spots and has all the features of a cellphone costing a lot more.  Sure glad I stumbled on that one.

Thursday, April 6, 2017
I drove Walkabout to Daytona, Florida yesterday coming up the ICW from Titusville where I had anchored out after a long day on Monday.  Yesterday had no wind to speak of, while I had used the jib for extra speed the day before it stayed furled today.  Manatees were everywhere. I spotted twelve; as the animals broke the water’s surface for a quick breath.  They swim dangerously close to the channel where boats are barreling by – not sailboats of course, but motor yachts, their drivers oblivious to everything.  yacht.1The courteous thing to do when passing another vessel from either direction, especially a smaller one, is to radio it’s captain and request a slow pass, then both vessels reduce speed and pass with minimum wake. Right! Like that happens.  With good intentions, usually, the motor yacht doesn’t call but slows down to what he thinks is a good speed but at that slower speed his boat throws up a large wake.  If he is passing in the opposite direction you can handle the waves coming at you by turning into them and it’s over in a few seconds.  But if he is overtaking your boat the wake is harder to handle and lasts a lot longer.  Crewmen below decks are often thrown about and can be injured because there is no warning.  Happens all the time, don’t let it ruin your day.

icw.2
Happy Days

Speaking about ruining a day.  Just at the entrance channel to Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona where I’m staying until Friday I made a stupid mistake.  Let me explain my stupidity.  I had just had an encounter with another boat, a sailboat this time, which had attempted to pass me without radioing first.  I looked over my right shoulder and there was a bowsprit about ten feet off my stern.  Before I could react a voice on the radio said, “Walkabout, stop cutting me off!”.  Cutting him off?  I didn’t know he was there and I was riding on the edge of the channel as it was.  I called back and, I confess, I was a little short…  The other boat fell back and then passed me on port going as fast as he could go, his bow wave was end to end.  So much for that I thought, then overheard him checking with the marina a short distance north.  I was going there myself and saw him turn left a quarter mile ahead and proceed down what I thought was the marina entrance channel.  I called the marina a few minutes later and was told to come on in and I went in the same channel as the other boat.  Halfway down it I thought, gee, this isn’t the right way, but it was too narrow there to turn around.  It was the wrong channel alright, and shallow too.  The wind had picked up and when I tried to turn to go back out I couldn’t get my boat’s bow into the wind.  Heck of a fight but I won eventually, it took ten minutes. I went back out to the ICW and turned to find the correct entrance.  It was at that point I screwed up.  Mistook the ICW’s green marker for the entrance channel’s green mark and before I realized my error we were stuck in the mud, again.

The mud in the Halifax River is really deep and gooey, according to the TowBoatUS operator who came along an hour later and pulled me out.  He had a large RIB towboat with twin turbo Yanmar diesel engines, 700 horsepower, and dragged Walkabout out into the channel in five minutes.  It was a serious towboat and the operator was used to lost captains getting themselves mired.  Mud boiled all around, my sailboat heeled over to the rail and slid over the bottom like a sled.  What a relief.  I would not travel on the waterway without towing insurance, no way.  The towboat captain followed me in to the fuel dock where we finished the transaction and then went on his way to another rescue.  I fueled up and docked my boat in a slip.  To my surprise, the sailboat captain who passed me called apologizing for, not the passing incident, but for leading me down the wrong entrance channel!  “No”, I said, “It was my own fault.”  And I meant it, because it was: I had failed to read the chart and made an assumption instead. A classic captain’s error.

I woke to thunderstorms this morning with a period of heavy rain but now it’s clearing and looks to be a good day for walking around Daytona.

"Wye-Tug"
“Wye-Tug”

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tomorrow I leave Florida to go offshore and, with any luck, end up in North Carolina on Tuesday.  That’s about as long a trip that I can do safely by myself.  After 48 hours I tend to get inattentive, dumber than a box of rocks is more like it, and that’s not what I’m out here for. But I do want to get within shouting distance of home.  The Champlain Canal doesn’t open until May 19th this year and that leaves six weeks of traveling, however, if I want to burn off time I can do it in the Chesapeake where there are plenty of gunkholes to explore and little towns to visit.

I’m parked for the night at Blount’s Island, in an oxbow of the St. Johns River where I stopped back in late November last year after visiting Green Cove Springs.  Now I know not to anchor too close to shore and should have a restful night before starting my long trip in the morning.  Redhead, the boat belonging to the couple who invented the  “Active Captain” computer program are anchored next to me.  Their app is very popular and useful, and judging from the size of their boat, profitable.

Redhead
Redhead

I’ve got some autopilot problems, I think that the wires have become corroded from the environment on the boat and the signals are not being fully transmitted from one device to another.  I spent an hour after anchoring this afternoon cleaning and soldering connections and it worked for a few minutes but then the intermittent failure started in again. It won’t affect navigation but I can’t rely on the autopilot completely.

Mosey
Mosey

Yesterday I anchored south of St. Augustine in a cove of the Halifax River.  I had planned on staying as I have before at the municipal marina on a mooring but they had none available, and wouldn’t until Monday, northbound boaters being so numerous.  The city employees answering the phone were not at all apologetic and seemed to relish the predicament of northerners headed home.  Ah, but karma will out my little rednecks.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I went offshore Sunday morning bound for Cape Fear, not because I’m in a big hurry, but mainly to avoid a lot of the shallows in the ICW.  I hate getting stuck.  I called “Redhead” as I went by but got no reply, crew’s probably still in bed, tired after taking care of that huge boat.  The weather was for mild conditions, that’s why I went offshore in the first place.  I should have heeded my own instrument, the barometer had jumped up six millibars overnight and that invariably means more wind in these parts.  anonThe seas were pretty calm in the morning but by mid-afternoon the wind was up to twenty knots and the sea was piling up, all of it right on the nose.  Pound, pound.  Water all over the boat, running down the decks and across the cockpit where I was trying to rest.  It continued that way all the way to Charleston, SC and then calmed down early Monday morning.  By Monday night the wind picked up again but this time was favorable and I actually sailed for six hours from Georgetown to north of Myrtle Beach before starting up the engine again at two in the morning Tuesday.  When I got into the Cape Fear River Entrance at three that afternoon the tide was against me and it was a slow crawl to Carolina Beach.  Just before six o’clock I ended up at  Joyner Marina and am now tied to their fuel dock for two nights, maybe more.  Miraculously, my fifty gallon fuel tank which still had ten gallons left in it took fifty-five gallons of diesel to fill.  Loaves and fishes!  Fishy something.

Tuesday morning I saw an interesting sight.  A school of small rays, variety unknown to me, were traveling in a geometrical formation about four or five feet below the surface.  The spacing between the rays was even, about a foot around each one so they presented a tessellated pattern of light brown squares moving under my boat.  It was a good day for wildlife of all kinds: A pod of dolphins burst the water on both sides and later in the morning some critter, don’t know what, surfaced a hundred feet away and gazed at me with one dark eye before slipping under the waves. And I could swear I heard loons on Monday night calling in that distinctive voice of theirs but I don’t know if they migrate this far south.  I could see two low profiled black birds with sharp beaks floating around out there by the full moon’s light… sure looked like loons.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

One of the characteristics of a fluid is that it cannot be compressed, unlike gases like air, so you would have a hard time getting more of it into a can than it is built to hold.  Right?  That’s what I thought too, and to resolve the issue will stay here on the fuel dock for an additional night.  I’ll have another day to clean out some more of the stickiness that has settled into the lockers from salt water seeping in.

Joyner Marina in Carolina Beach, NC
Joyner Marina in Carolina Beach, NC

That’s what I did most of yesterday, clean lockers, and the cabin floor with Lysol.  So much so that I needed to refill the water tanks.  Around dinner time I borrowed a bicycle from the marina, it was a cute pale green girl’s bike with balloon whitewall tires and backpedal brakes, and rode the mile and a half to Carolina Beach’s central intersection and the Gulfstream Restaurant.  There I sat at the counter and had a genuine North Carolina fried shrimp dinner.  Heaped on my plate were over twenty crusty shrimp, fat flat french fries and three golf ball sized hush-puppies.  Cole-slaw on the side with an extra large iced tea, no sugar.  Not bad. The kitchen’s service window was right in front of me and the restaurant’s three waitresses would pick up their orders as the cooks shoved them out.  Each order was scrutinized by the waitresses and if it didn’t pass muster back it would go.  No arguments either; this happened a lot and I was impressed.  We used to call that quality assurance.

In the morning, as early as I’m able, I’ll head up the ICW and try to make Camp LeJeune and the Mile Hammock anchorage by evening.  It’s only fifty miles from here so it’s possible even with the tidal changes that cause wild variations in the current.  Sometimes you’ll be going seven knots and a while later only four.  That makes it hard to determine when you’ll get to where you’re going.

rpk

george town to vero beach

                             The Bahamas Retreat Into The Distance

            Journal Entries from March 5 to March 30, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I have to re anchor Walkabout, it’s tough on her hull when she bottoms out at low tide.  The bottom here is a mix of dead coral and sand patches.  If the waves weren’t so big it might not matter.

What a storm! At two o’clock Saturday the first blast from the north whipped up Elizabeth Harbor with near gale force wind.  Boaters next to me radioed and said my anchor was dragging!  I started the engine, and could see that it was serious.  The anchor was just sliding over the bottom, Walkabout was careening sideways. I gave her some reverse power while the wind pushed us between the nearby boats and across the ship channel and into shallower water out in the harbor.

When the depth sounder showed I had only two feet remaining under the boat I turned Walkabout into the wind and started to get her under control, but the dragging anchor chain was holding her back.  I increased power, set the autopilot to steer into the wind and began to haul in the anchor chain. The waves hitting the bow were four feet high and it wasn’t long before the autopilot lost it’s way and I had to take the wheel.  Back and forth across the pitching, rolling deck to crank in chain.  Stop and hurry back to the helm. Repeat.  At least it was in daylight, usually these things take place under cover of darkness.  But, there was the rain.

The anchor chain won, with about fifty feet of it still paid out I revved up the engine and forced the boat back toward the ship channel.  While still in shallow water, the anchor grabbed sharply and I let Walkabout idle in the wind to see if it would be a solid set.  The anchor held, all night and today.

I made a string of waypoints marking the boat’s semi-circular path on the chartplotter over the next few hours. Zoomed in to the 30 foot scale the chart is filled with colorful dots and lines.  I do this every time I put down the anchor.  It shows if your boat is sailing away on you.  If you happen to be looking.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I hauled up the anchor this morning, after a night of repeatedly bottoming out in the shallow water.  That wasn’t easy, the wind was still blowing in the mid twenties and waves were slamming the boat but not as bad as on Saturday in the squall.  Using the autopilot to stay straight into the wind I winched in the anchor chain, the anchor raised and I left it hanging off the bowsprit ready to release.  Then I moved over to Monument Beach and dropped it just a bit north from where I was before all this began.  So far the anchor is holding, a minute ago I put the boat in reverse and pulled hard so maybe this time we will be alright.  The winds are going to be strong today but by Wednesday will die down.

The decision when to leave George Town has to made this week. I would like to see Cat Island before heading north to the Abacos, and Eleuthera before that.  It all involves a lot of planning.  Looking back in the logbook, Jeanne and I left here on April 9, 2015 and got home in early June that year.  The trip from George Town to Vero Beach, Florida with all the stops we made took ten days. If I want to be in Vermont by May I have to start formulating my route.

Talked with Jeanne last night for a few minutes, she is well but getting very lonely and would like this journey of mine to be over.  Can’t disagree with her, I’d like to be home as well but I still think the trip was good for me and will be one to remember.  When I do get home, God willing, I hope to go in a different direction to satisfy my need for life experiences, a path that will include both of us. Travel?  Possibly, or raise chickens, or write a book. Most likely we’ll just sit on the boat in Lake Champlain and drink all the rum I’m bringing back.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I attended my first SSCA Gam today, it was held on the beach over at Chat and Chill, where everything else goes on around here.  The Seven Seas Cruising Association is an active group which has a worldwide membership supporting cruising boaters offering seminars, information of all kinds and members who will lend a hand.  We belonged when Jeanne and I went to the Caribbean but let our membership lapse.  But the Gam was open to all. A couple who had sailed around the world gave a talk about their twelve year experience.  I wanted to find out what I could about Cat Island, forty miles northeast of here. A woman who had recently been there gave me some good information and another lady expanded on it so attending was worthwhile.

It was still early afternoon, I motored Dingo II over to town and walked to the BTC office to see if they could figure out why I didn’t have cell phone data service.  The young technician at the service desk fiddled with my phone for a few minutes and, bingo!, there was the Internet.  I haven’t had email since Bimini.  I showed him a page from my blog, pictures of Warderick Wells, and he asked, “Where’s that?” So I told him, “About sixty miles north, in Exuma Park.”  That he knew and beamed: “Good pictures. You advertise Bahamas.”

Anchored back by Monument Beach I’ve had two pretty good nights of sleep.  The wind is still blowing in the low twenties and high teens but by tomorrow that will be over for a while.  Since Saturday it’s been a fairly unpleasant wind event and I’m grateful it is nearly over, and my boat is OK.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The wind has come down a lot since last night and now is blowing from the southeast at ten knots, much more comfortable than being thrown around inside the cabin the past four days.

I fear my cellphone is approaching it’s end, the salt in the air has caused (my diagnosis) the battery charging circuitry to fail and now I have to jump start the thing with a jury-rigged setup involving tiny wires with gobs of solder on the ends, clothespins and a small carpenter’s clamp.  My work-around only charges the battery and doesn’t update the battery data – bet you didn’t know it had data – so the phone now thinks the battery holds a charge for a week.

A bunch of boats left at sunrise this morning headed for Long Island as part of a rally.  It was organized a couple weeks ago and everyone who paid for the side trips and dinner party has been worried about the wind spoiling the event.  But now it looks good for them and the weather should hold long enough for most of them to return.  Most, because a few are continuing south to the Jumento and Ragged Islands and one I know of is off to the Virgin Islands.

Next week I hope to start north myself, first to Cat Island because I haven’t been there and, secondly, I got some good information yesterday about anchorages and sightseeing on the island.  The Bahama’s patron priest Father Jerome settled on Cat Island in his retirement building a chapel on a hill called the Hermitage, and I hope to visit that for one, and Fernandez Bay Resort which is said to welcome boaters anchored off their beach.
After Cat Island I want to continue north to Eleuthera and work my way up the western side of that island for a few days ending up in Royal Island to jump off to the Abacos.  From the Abacos it’ll be a long trip to Florida.  I’m planning to be stateside by April first.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Email is now passing back and forth bringing me up to date with the world.  Having it on my phone is a real advantage, I don’t have to lug my laptop to get it.  With the phone’s battery problem I don’t look at anything more than email ⼀ that’s better for my blood pressure.

Speaking of physicality, my energy level has been going down lately; I don’t know if it’s my diet or that a high stress level is the cause but I haven’t felt the need to get going.  This morning I’m committed to buying diesel fuel so that will mean at least two trips over to George Town.  Maybe that will liven me up, and, there’s a music festival of sorts going on in the village this weekend which could be interesting.  But yesterday I just sat around reading a novel, the most strenuous thing I did was to top off the batteries with water and that job only took an hour.  Lazing in the sun.

The weather reports for next week look promising for the trip to Cat Island.  Except for a short period of north component wind on Wednesday afternoon I would have southeast wind on Monday or Tuesday to sail over there and find a good anchoring spot.  If I have everything ready on Walkabout I’d get going on Monday morning. So now it’s off to get some fuel.

ketch
Saturday, March 11, 2017

I have the boat all fueled up and provisioned, now I’m pumping in fresh water to top off the tanks.  It’s surprising how much water one person uses in the course of a week.  Fifty gallons is my average.  I’d use that in one day at home.

I called Chris Parker this morning hoping to get his opinion on my plan to go to Cat Island on Monday.  The trip over should be no problem, it’s what happens afterward that is questionable, a westerly wind of unknown velocity (Chris thinks under ten knots) will appear late Tuesday and persist for another day and night.  That could be uncomfortable but not dangerous as long as it doesn’t pipe up stronger than that.  There is little protection from west or south winds along the Cat Island shore but Parker seems to think it may be alright.  By Thursday the wind swings back to the northeast which is fine and also good for sailing around to Eleuthera where I want to anchor in Rock Sound for a day or two.  So it looks like I’ll move on Monday – hope it’s a good decision.

The local music festival turned out to be a bust, for me at least.  It’s just too loud and hurts my ears.  If I want to listen to the bands I can sit on the boat a mile away and hear it without pain.  My age is in the way I suppose but Bahamian ska music sounds chaotic to me with overpowering bass that doesn’t keep rhythm in any coherent way.  Well, I’m sure it’s just me, Bahamians love it.

On Honeymoon Beach just before sunset Friday another ARC meeting convened. At least once a season the Alcohol Research Committee attempts to delve into the phenomenon of what happens when cruisers are assembled in large groups with food and drink liberally applied.  Scientific research went on until well after dark, but as of this morning data collected are insufficient and continuing studies must follow as grants allow.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The weather forecast changed just enough to make it unwise to go to Cat Island this week, the anchorage there is not very protected in westerly wind and it’s supposed to blow near twenty knots tomorrow.  Cats come, and cats go.

Even in Elizabeth Harbor that direction calls for a move so this morning I took Walkabout over to the opposite shore and anchored off little Goat Island near the Peace and Plenty Resort beach.  When the wind switches tonight I should be covered.  I already have one neighbor and most likely there will other boats moving here.

I ran into a boater I know from year’s past, Mike, who lives on his boat year-round and winters here in the Exumas.  I stopped at his boat yesterday and we had a long chat mostly about, since we are the same age, how long can we keep cruising?  Long enough, I hope… at least long enough to get home.  Mike’s boat is a Tayana 37 also and he has it fitted out with some inventive accessories that make a lot of sense, weight handling tackle and things like that.  He came by this morning to ask if I wanted to follow him into a protected anchorage that he knows, but since I carry more load in the way of water and fuel than his boat does I thought my draft might be a problem.  That’s how I ended up here at Goat Island.

The wind will only last until Wednesday then I’ll go back to Monument Beach.  Meanwhile there is a lovely beach just on the other side of the spit of land behind me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The anchorage off Goat Island that I thought would be comfortable wasn’t.  With a fetch of about four miles in twenty knots of wind, yesterday and most of last night I was riding three foot choppy waves coming up the harbor.  The boat was in no danger, the anchor was set in soft sand and we were not moving. It was only another bouncy night. This morning the wind continues to shift more to the West and that should make this spot more to my liking.

The weather here remains excellent, yes the wind is blowing briskly but the sun is out and the temperature is in the seventies and low eighties, so much better than shivering in the cold.  Today I’ll take the dinghy to shore and take a walk out on the little rocky peninsula jutting out from the beach.

A dinghy came up to me while I was reading my novel in the cockpit yesterday afternoon and a woman called out, “Hello Ira, VT!”, and, coming closer, she added “How many people know where that is?”  Gwen and Don are on the catamaran Tackless Too anchored a few hundred feet behind me and Gwen has a friend in Middletown Springs and knew where Ira is having driven through it.  It was a pleasant surprise, and she named a couple of my neighbors too, just to prove her knowledge.  I’ve only had that happen once before away from the States, while we were in Bequia, from a vacationer paddling her kayak.

The northeast is under the gun again, another storm of the century, according to an email from Jeanne who is holed up at home waiting for the snow.  Doesn’t bother her much, she’s hauled in plenty of firewood and, I hope, will not lose power.  That rarely happens in Ira and when it does gets repaired very quickly. I think she gets a kick out of bad weather anyway, just not enough of one to come along with me.

heeling

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

After two days off Goat Island, I moved Walkabout back to Monument Beach.  It’s less than comfortable, waves are still about two feet.  The wind will switch but not until later today or tonight.  That means no off-boat activities for me because if she were to drag even a little it would not be pretty, the beach and rocks are close.

I did get off the boat yesterday with a dinghy ride into George Town for groceries and then a leisurely tour close to shore on the way back.  Later in the afternoon I went over to the Goat Island beach and waded in the shallow water.  For a rather highly populated island the bay side beach is quite nice, with clear water and little garbage.  And I was the only person there.

Reading in the cockpit in the late afternoon sun, I heard a girl shouting, “Michael! Michael!”  She was a ways off, on a paddle board, and had another SUP in tow.  The wind was blowing her off-shore out toward the assembly of anchored cruising boats and her calls grew louder and more insistent.  I put down my book, stood up and scanned around with my binoculars but failed to spot Michael or whomever she was crying out for.  But, my neighbor Don rushed to her aid in his dinghy and towed her and her boards back to the resort beach.  I’m sure she was grateful, her next stop would have been Stocking Island, a mile and a half downwind.  I would hate to be Michael.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Played volleyball yesterday, five games, and as usual I couldn’t serve the ball worth a damn.  Had some fun, didn’t overdo it and this morning my knees are only a little creaky.  If the sun comes out I may go back this afternoon.  Right now a stiff wind is blowing and it’s relatively cool, only 71°F, and overcast — a gloomy day.

In the harbor the apposite boats swinging on their anchors paint a symmetrical scene.  Each one finding its own way, separating only to regroup elsewhere in the archipelago. This flux continues throughout each cruising season, individual vessels come and go but the entirety remains. The metrics are rather easy to understand; as a group the cruising community is relatively small, fewer than ten thousand vessels can be expected to visit these islands in a season, so interaction and familiarity between them is a given.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I left George Town on Sunday after three enjoyable weeks of “Cruiser Camp”.  It was time to go, even the best places become tiresome.  Just when people were starting to call me Bob I decide to leave.  I wasn’t alone though, Mike on Pagan Chant asked me if I were taking the weather opportunity to go north as he had a good route in mind, north in Exuma Sound then tuck in through Galliot Cut to the Banks and then on to Big Majors to anchor.  He was going to Nassau where he had a dentist appointment, but from Big Majors I had a good shot at Highbourne Cay and then on to Great Abaco Island.  So we traveled together for a day, two Tayana 37’s in a row.  As it turned out, after an exciting entry at Galliot Cut and rough water on the Bank we both were tired of being beat up and tucked in at Great Guana Cay; Mike in the Black Point anchorage and I in a protected spot near the “Sand Castle” for the night.  That was it for Mike, I haven’t seen or heard from him since.  Hope he gets his tooth fixed.

sand_castle.1
The “Sand Castle” at Great Guana Cay

The next day, Monday, I had a particularly nice sail to Highbourne Cay, almost forty-five miles in a close reaching wind.  The seas started off flat and increased all day up to three feet by the time the ride was over.  Don’t see that every day.  I anchored close in to shore Monday evening with fifteen other cruising boats and some Bahamian fishermen on their gnarly trawler.  There was bar music coming over the bluff, I couldn’t see from where but it ended early so I had a good night’s sleep.

Mid-morning Tuesday I left Highbourne Cay and motored north into a light wind.  The wind and seas built quickly as I passed the ocean cuts at Ship Channel Cay and the Dog Rocks: North Dog, South Dog and, hold on, Middle Dog. It was becoming rather rough when I changed course toward the Fleeming Channel twenty-six miles across the shallow coral-head riddled Bank.  For reference, New Providence Island (Nassau) lies almost thirty miles West of this route.  After hours of dodging black patches of coral and weeds I went through the Fleeming Channel passing Six Shilling Cay at five-thirty and began my night run over the North East Providence Channel.

Coral Heads
Coral Heads

At about the time of a spectacular “green flash” sunset a favorable breeze picked up and I sailed with the motor off for a few hours but by midnight had to turn it back on or I would still be there.  If my wife had been along she’d have gone wild  ̶  that I had turned it off in the first place!  But I made useful time of it, saved a little fuel and enjoyed the star-filled night as Walkabout glided over the rolling phosphorescent sea.  At daybreak this morning I made landfall off Great Abaco Island and at nine was through Lynyard Cay Cut traveling up the lake-like Sea of Abaco.  The night had been so calm and ship traffic so light I had managed to get enough sleep, in ten minute spurts, that I didn’t feel the need to stop to rest and instead just drove on, refueling (22.2 gallons for 200 miles) at Abaco Beach Marina then continuing to Marsh Harbor where I did nap after anchoring.  A long drive.

Tomorrow morning a cold front is supposed to hit the Abacos with gale force winds, that’s where my intentions to make it in without a break came from.  Marsh Harbor is a major port and is a bit like Florida with lots of services, stores and shops where I can get what I need for the next leg.  It is not confirmed as yet, just speculation on the forecaster’s part, but there may be a long multi-day weather window where boats can travel from the islands to the U.S. east coast all the way up to the Carolinas.  That would be something.  It doesn’t happen, if at all, until Monday.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

This morning at eight Marsh Harbor was flat calm, by eleven a descending cold front had brought winds in the high twenties and threatens even stronger conditions by this evening.  I’m monitoring the anchor closely and will remain on board just in case it drags.  I don’t want a repeat performance of the George Town incident.  Here there is no room for error with boats on all sides and shallows where boats aren’t.

I don’t think there is anything to rumors of long voyage possibilities in the near future after all, it looks like there will be an opportunity to cross back to Florida on Monday and Tuesday but no more than that.  I hope to go to Fort Pierce where I’m familiar with all the places to stay and the customs office as well because I have to check in to the country again.  I’ll go to Vero Beach, moor there as before and rent a car to visit the authorities at the airport if they want me to.  It’s a pain but in the interest of national security I’ll obey.  You don’t check out of the US when you leave for the Bahamas and you don’t check out of the Bahamas when you head home so how do they know if you’ve been there?  That kind of speculation will get you in trouble.  They know.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The wind blew 34.7 knots yesterday as recorded on my instruments.  This morning it has dropped to a point where I’m not worried about dragging anymore.  The anchor is buried in mud and is solidly fixed.  Marsh Harbor was, after all, a swamp before it became a shipping port.  Thousands of anchors have since tilled the bottom into a gooey mix of sand and millions of years of organic debris so it holds well, as attested to the fact that Walkabout is still in the same place.

I may start for Florida on Sunday if the sea conditions will allow me to cross the ocean cut north of Marsh Harbor.  The Whale Cut as it’s known can be be quite dangerous in large swells.  If it doesn’t calm down enough by Sunday I’ll go on Monday though by then it won’t be as good for sailing.  I should be in Vero Beach by Tuesday at any rate and will stay there for a few days before starting north again.  I will not be traveling alone, the great northerly migration has begun.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The winds have died down at last, the sun is out and it’s getting warm again.  Time to leave?  Not today, only a short trip this afternoon to Guana Cay which is just this side of the Whale Cut that today is impassable because of the ocean swell.  With some luck I may be able to get through the cut tomorrow and start for Ft. Pierce getting there on Tuesday.  The trip from here in Marsh Harbor is one hundred and eighty miles, thirty hours more or less.  I’m ready, the boat is stocked up and all that has to be done is get the dinghy on the davits butfirst I want to use it this morning for a short trip to shore.

I went out last night for dinner at Grabbers Restaurant and had barbecued grouper.  It Was Delicious.  I sat at the bar and talked to a Canadian, Sylvain, from Montreal who is traveling with his wife and will be down here through April.  That seems to be the rule with a lot of people cruising in the Abacos, the weather improves after March so, I think, if they get through that then they feel obligated to linger for the better conditions of April and May.  They could have gone to the Exumas for the early months and avoided most of the cold front uglies.  But it is a long a way between the two.  Anyway we had a good chat and Sylvain will be a happier man when his wife gets back to their boat after a short but urgent flight home to file their taxes…  Oh, Canada!

I managed to buy some Internet access yesterday from the Bahama Telephone Company and read my email which has been piling up.  BTC just this morning has fixed the connection problem that has kept everyone in Abaco from using the Internet and joy has returned.   Jeanne checks our email at home, we share the same Gmail account, and knows what’s going on but I haven’t been able to log on for weeks let alone update the blog.  My apologies to whomever might be reading it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I pulled up the anchor this morning at eight, believe me was it buried, I had to work for ten minutes to pull it up.  I let it dangle in the water to wash off the goop, then forgot about it while I was raising the mainsail so the next thing I heard was someone on the radio telling me, and everyone else, that my anchor was hanging in the water.  Well, I thanked him after I got it secure and was out of the harbor.  It’s good that people watch out for others, even if it’s a little embarrassing.

Boy, what a great day in the Sea of Abaco.  Wind on the beam at fifteen knots all day, the temperature at 77 degrees, bright sun and few clouds.  I sailed until four-thirty then pulled over after thirty-five miles to anchor off Spanish Cay for the night.  Tomorrow I’ll start early and plan to be at the Fort Pierce inlet by Wednesday morning, it’s one hundred fifty miles from here.  The wind is predicted to drop and by the time I get in be almost nothing so it’s going to be a motoring trip.

Whale Cay
Whale Cay

My main concern this morning was getting around the ocean cut north of Marsh Harbor called the Whale.  As I’ve said, the wind had been howling for the past four days and the seas had become very large, ten feet or more, and the cut can be impassable when waves start to break in it.  The cut had been just that way until this morning when a boat captain reported that it was calmer and he was going through it at that moment.  Great, I thought and followed four other boats, two catamarans and two motor yachts into the channel and out into the space between the outer reef and Whale Cay, a slender half-mile long rock that looks sort of like a whale.  So far so good.  It wasn’t really calm at all, the waves that were getting over the reef were six feet at the least but weren’t breaking.  It looked OK ahead too and I proceeded to make the turn back in to the inner sea with the end of the island well to port.  Then I found out why the cut is so dangerous.  Hidden from my view were rollers bending around the Cay’s north point and suddenly I was in the middle of them surfing down their crests.  That was an experience.  If I had been able to let go of the wheel for a second I would have taken a picture. As I said, we were sailing but going fast enough to maintain control and Walkabout is one sweet sailboat.  She just settled into a groove and sat back as we floated down those waves.  Don’t want to do it again right away but it’s nice to know how.

Spanish Cay is a private island with a marina and resort, I can see it from where I’m anchored.  There is good cell phone reception and I got some emails out.  An hour ago I took a swim to check out the anchor, it was lying on its side and I had to jam it’s point into the sea grass.  There was a live conch crawling on the bottom, I left it alone but did pick up two really large sand dollar shells.  I haven’t been in the water since I got to the islands, unusual for me, it was pleasantly warm with no sharks or barracuda around.  Tonight it will be left-over rice and pork chops and an early bed, I’ve got thirty hours of motoring ahead.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

As of ten o’clock this morning I’m again officially back in the USA.  It was the most frustrating re-entry I’ve experienced but only because of my inadequate means: First, my cell phone is in transition, that means it’s almost dead from salt air exposure, and the second reason is I was dead tired and my patience had thinned out.  I called Florida’s 800 number in Miami to obtain my clearing-in number after arriving in Vero Beach yesterday but after repeated attempts, where the system cut me off and my cellphone battery died, I gave up.  This morning I rented a car and drove twenty miles out to Fort Pierce International Airport where the US Customs office is and was told I must have a clearance number before they could accept me back.  Furthermore, I couldn’t call from their phone, “Because you can’t!”, and suggested that I go next door to the airport’s restaurant and beg use of their desk phone.  I started to give my opinion of their operation and that triggered the usual aggressive cop response complete with, “If you want to argue we’ll just confiscate your boat!”, so I quickly reverted to my usual cowering dealing-with-officials voice and that seemed to calm him down.  Muttering all the way, I went over to the airport’s “Tiki” restaurant and borrowed a ‘real’ telephone from the gracious and helpful attendant; she could see my dilemma written all over my face.  Naturally, I got through on the first try and within a few minutes of answering questions had my clearance number.  Prayers answered once again.  When I walked back into Customs five minutes later one of the officers met me at the door and told me I had been cleared.  “I’m all set?”, I asked.  This officer was friendly and very polite, “That’s it sir, we saw you coming and now you can go.”  Genuinely relieved I walked back to the Tiki and had a big breakfast and left a big tip.

Rock_at_the_center_of_the_world
The Rock At The Center Of The World

                                                                         ****

Tuesday morning when I left Spanish Cay, the wind had died to zero, the Sea of Abaco was flat calm and remained that way all day and most of the night.  The only rowdy water I ran into was in the Gulf Stream in the early hours Wednesday from the ocean swells, eight or nine feet but with a very long interval so even with their size it was not uncomfortable.  I could see the tall buildings along the Florida shore rising in the morning mist at sunrise and was in Fort Pierce Inlet by nine going like fury on the flowing tide. My GPS speed was 9.4 knots – like riding in a car!

Vero Beach is fourteen miles north on the ICW from Ft. Pierce so I didn’t stop and got to the marina’s fuel dock at noon.  After filling the tank I was assigned mooring #19, but I had to raft to another boat already on it.  It’s crew was not on board.  It was fortunate that there was no wind, so, with a gingerly approach I managed to tie Walkabout off to Sea Escape, a beautiful Passport 40 sailboat with impeccably varnished brightwork.   The owners of Sea Escape, Randy and Sharon, came back and later we got acquainted.  They’ve owned their boat for twenty years and just love her.  They do their sailing on the Chesapeake in the summer and Florida in the winter and occasionally Randy will take her out on trips by himself up and down the coast.  His wife is just fine with that.

I hope to do some needed maintenance on the boat while I’m in this protected spot and, by Monday or Tuesday move north along the waterway resting at some of the places I’ve been before.  The ICW in Florida is not difficult to navigate, like some stretches in the Carolinas, or Georgia, which is out of the question because of the terrific tides, so I’ll take the easier route and not go outside until Fernandina.

rpk

warderick wells

 

Journal Entries from 2/19/2017 to 2/22/2017

Monday, ‎February ‎20, ‎2017

helm
North Rock

I left Bimini Sunday morning on a rising tide and a moderate wind headed for New Providence island.  I motored north a few miles to North Rock then sailed off and on sixty miles across the Great Bahama Bank to the Northwest Channel.  A frontal system hit just before dark with a bit of wind and a lot of rain.  It looked a lot worse than it turned out.  I reached the NW Channel at ten then sailed under a star filled sky forty miles over the deep dark waters of the Tongue of The Ocean.  Luminescence in the sea water sparkled in Walkabout’s wake.
I thought that by passing New Providence on it’s south side I could stop for a rest Monday morning in West Bay. As it turned out my progress was so good I just kept going another forty miles to Norman’s Cay in the Exumas reaching it late in the afternoon.  I spent the night anchored about three hundred yards off the shore, next to the airstrip.  At sunset a small plane landed and then took off.  The island was notorious for drug trafficking back in the seventies but has been abandoned for years.  New development activity can be seen:  The airplane for one, and a large dredging operation nearby.  So maybe things are looking up for Norman’s Cay.
The weather report for Wednesday night and Thursday is not so good, a depression will bring high winds and storms into the Exumas and I have to find a secure place to stay until it blows over.  My first choice is the mooring field at Warderick Wells where my wife and I stayed twice before, once in a forty knot blow that lasted three days.  The moorings are put out by the government, are very strong and can be counted on.  So that’s the plan.
The Exuma island chain is about one hundred miles long top to bottom and consists of small islands formed from coral reefs that were lifted above sea level millennia ago.  The little islands have very poor soil, if any, and are generally destitute of water except for the largest ones like Great Exuma.

A larger than average pot hole.
A larger than average pot hole.

Most agriculture is performed as “pot-hole” farming, named after the odd characteristic of the ancient coral rock to have various sized perforations, called pot holes, in it that can be filled with compost mixed with sand and then planted with crops like tomatoes or cabbage.  A time honored way that Bahamians provide for themselves.

Curly Tail
Curly Tail

Warderick Wells, an island near the middle of the chain is the center for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a national park which protects the natural marine environment and allows visitors to experience an undeveloped, wild island group.  No anchoring, fishing, or camping is allowed in the park, just boats on moorings.  You can land your dinghy on a beach, hike on the trails, snorkel and swim to your heart’s content; just don’t take anything, alive or not, with you when you leave.  The water around the islands is the most beautiful blue you’ve ever seen, crystal clear over white coral sand.  Sea turtles including the Loggerhead can be seen and sometimes bigger things show up, like sharks and barracuda.  I intend to get some underwater time.
Tuesday, ‎February ‎21, ‎2017
On the way out of the Norman’s Cay anchorage this morning I passed another Vermont boat, the crew waved but I don’t know who they are.  Their sailboat had a turtle painted on the bow.  Know them?
I got lucky, again.  Sailing down here this morning in a stiff easterly breeze I was about ten miles out from the ranger station on Warderick Wells listening to VHF channel nine and heard boats calling for mooring reservations.  This time of the year and with a weather front moving in I had my doubts of getting a mooring but gave it a try and called the attendant.  The distance was too far so I waited a while and when I was seven miles away called again.  She put me on hold and then returned saying that I should call back in an hour.  At eleven I did and got assigned a ball in the channel, the most protected spot.  I’ll stay until Friday.

warderick.5
“Sunshine Causeway”, across the tidal flats.
Memento Pile on Boo-Boo Hill
Memento Pile on Boo-Boo Hill

Wednesday, ‎February ‎22, ‎2017
I think Warderick Wells is one of the more spectacular places I’ve traveled to, on a boat or otherwise.  Actually, this island is only part of a much larger park, The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a marine sanctuary encompassing over a hundred and seventy square miles of the middle Exumas, covering fifteen islands and seabed out to four miles on either side.  No fishing is allowed and visitors are exhorted to refrain from taking souvenirs like shells or stones, just pictures.  But you can swim, snorkel or dive to your hearts content in the turquoise water and see live coral and plenty of large and small fish.  Me, I like to hike around the island on the trails that wind through the palm forest up and down the prehistoric sand dunes that make up the hills.  The view from those hilltops is fantastic and worth whatever it took to get here.

An Island Trail.
An Island Trail.

The expected blow is beginning as I type with gusts in the high twenties so far, later tonight stronger wind and some squalls are predicted.  Should be interesting.  I’m incredibly fortunate to have gotten a mooring, especially in this protected channel. The wind is supposed to go southwest tomorrow and that is the direction which builds short steep waves in the main mooring field.  But not in here, there is a shallow sand bar just a few feet away and the waves can’t get over it.  An hour ago a confused sailor went aground on it and a quickly assembled group of dinghies, mine too, pushed the boat off.  Poor fellow, instead of looking at the water he was staring into his handheld device and couldn’t seem to understand the difference.  Anyway, he gave up on the channel and went off somewhere to anchor.  (Note. This morning he is OK but got sand in the engine)

 

rpk

on to bimini

 

Journal entries from 1/21/2017 to 2/18/2017

Saturday, ‎January ‎21, ‎2017
I traveled full circle ending up where I started almost three weeks ago in Sister’s Creek in Boot Key.  Motorsailing yesterday from Key West, which I was only too glad to leave, over a sunny sea, light wavelets and jet fighters swooping overhead, took only six hours to reach Marathon inlet.  I stopped at Burdine’s Dock for fuel and gasoline, very easy with no wind or current.  I was surprised to find for the entire trip to Cuba and back, including today’s trip the boat only consumed a paltry nine and a half gallons of diesel fuel.  Top that!
I did have some difficulty getting the anchor down and backing into the mangroves this time.  There are fifteen boats parked along the river bank, I was lucky to have found room and a fellow came out with his dinghy and acted as a tugboat pushing Walkabout into a slot between boats and then running a line to the trees for me.  The gnats are just as bad, I’m hoping the wind tomorrow will drive them off.  After an abbreviated supper and a call home I was in bed by nine.
This afternoon, the morning has been nothing but editing the blog, I want to check in at the marina, buy some cereal and salad makings and get a shower.  Craig and Donna Lewis stopped by to say hi on their way to the beach, we’ll get together soon.  I guess that means the big trip is over and now I should get back to regular cruising.
pelican
Wednesday, ‎January ‎25, ‎2017
I survived the cold blast over the weekend and being dragged into the mangrove trees.  Monday night was the worst of it the boat’s stern got carried with a high tide so we were grounded when the tide went out.  I got up at three in the morning and pulled the anchor in a few feet, and again each hour until morning when we finally floated off.  Since that incident we have been OK.
Today the pump out boat is supposed to show up, last week it was late in the morning.  I hope that’s true today because I’d like to do other things.  Yesterday I went to a Tai Chi class for an hour.  It was fun, only four people showed up but the instructor tried her best with us.

Knowing I was traveling too fast I cruised into the harbor yesterday behind a fishing boat, at his speed but still leaving a wake.  When I got to the marina people came out waving at me and I got chewed out for my infraction.  The motor will run slower but I have to pinch off the gas hose while it uses up the fuel in the float bowl until it begins to falter and then let a small amount flow.  It will run fine wide open which is what I was doing.  Can’t do that.  I will order a carb rebuild kit today and have it sent to Jeanne so she can mail it to me later.  The website has a 7 – 10 day shipping notice on the item and that might mean a longer wait, she can mail it when she gets it to wherever I might be at the time.  So it looks like I’ll be pinching the hose for a while.  I will try another thing, if I can find an inline valve of some sort that will limit flow that might work.
‎‎

Thursday, ‎January ‎26, ‎2017
I have to renew my weekly contract with the marina today, hard to believe a week has passed already.  It’s a case of island time, the winter just slips by unnoticed.
There is Tai Chi again this afternoon at the municipal amphitheater.  The floor is concrete though and a bit hard to do the moves on but I’ll go again.
To keep my outboard motor running slow enough to be legal in the harbor I have had to pinch the fuel hose so it doesn’t flood.  Yesterday I rode my bike to the eastern end of the island to Advance Auto and bought a small shut-off valve that I installed this morning.  If that functions like I hope, the permanent fix for the problem can be forestalled.  I ordered a carburetor rebuild kit from an on-line company and had it shipped home where Jeanne can forward it later.  The reason for that tactic was they have a two week lead time and who knows when it will be delivered.

Life has slowed down to a crawl these last couple days since the wind died, and it won’t liven up soon, not here anyway.  I don’t know if I can get into the lifestyle of the stationary cruiser without going stir-crazy.  Already I’m listening to Parker with renewed interest.  I only have three months left on this trip and have to start to seriously plan my moves north to coincide with the opening of the Champlain Canal on May first.  The strategy is to not hit cold and stormy conditions but still gain as much ground as I can working my way home.

Friday, January 27, 2017  Sisters Creek, Marathon
Another warm morning, eighty degrees by 8AM with no wind or clouds at all.  Returning in the dinghy just before sunset yesterday the gnats came out in force.  I used spray, citronella candles, mosquito coils and what was left of an old cigar to drive them off.  The smoke worked well enough that I could cook a couple pork chops and a yam on the gas grill for supper.  After eating one of the pork chops, half the yam and a small salad I thought, well, this is not so bad!  Called home a while later to talk with Jeanne, she is fine and keeping busy redecorating.  I’ll not recognize the place.  She cut her hand ten days ago, badly enough to go to the clinic but they only bandaged it and it’s healing.  She had to leave her car half-way up the driveway last night because of the slushy snow that fell.  I’m surprised it took so long for that to happen.  We have to walk at least once each winter, sometimes for weeks, hiking on snowshoes when the snow gets deep.  Sitting here on the boat in the Florida Keys it is hard to picture tramping up the hill through the frozen woods dragging a sled full of groceries.  It’s a lot easier with my dinghy.
I went to Tai Chi class again yesterday, this time more people attended – but only women – who would rather talk than practice.  I was outgunned so I didn’t comment.  The style of Tai Chi that my wife and I learned fifteen years ago is quite different from the form our leader Linda demonstrated; it’s less exacting and without the emphasis on balance.  She had learned another form which taught balance and wondered why this style ignored such a basic element but maybe there’s more to it.  We had a good hour though and I’m considering visiting the local school.

Weather is coming tonight and Sunday with wind and rain, the forecast says 20mph NE wind with a 50% chance of rain.  I can tell this by watching the barometer, when it rises we usually see wind and then some sort of precipitation.  Heavy weather on the other hand comes after a rapid fall in pressure.  So today it’s raining and the pressure stands at 1017mb as it has for two days.

I got a post published yesterday on the blog.  Somehow I misplaced the copy I had worked on for days reverting to a version that was prepared some days before.  There actually was little difference and I made some on the fly changes and stuck up a lot of pictures so I hope it’s readable.  Jeanne says people have a hard time finding it but every time I look the server gives me what I expect it to.  For a while in the Fall there was an issue, the server wouldn’t turn on at times, but the company looked into it and fixed the problem.  I’m using Digital Ocean because it does not limit me to the number of pictures I can use and only limits the size of each to 2 megabits, which is pretty large; it costs me $12 a month, and, has an appropriate name –  wouldn’t you agree?  On Sailblogs there are serious limitations and I couldn’t revive the blog anyway.  If readers are having difficulty bringing up the site I would like to know.

 ‎Wednesday, ‎February ‎1, ‎2017
Time sails on by and here it is February, I’ve been out on this trip for five months with three more to go.  A major goal was reached.  I got to see Cuba.  Now comes a tour of the Bahamas and the remaining miles and miles home to Vermont.  As far as the Bahamas go, I would like to go back there even if it’s a tricky place when weather fronts press down from the north.  Then you have to change anchorages to get protection.  It requires close attention to the forecasters not to get caught in the wrong place.  I’ll travel up the Florida coast to either Fort Lauderdale or Ft. Pierce before going across to the islands.
Manatees are appearing often in Boot Key Harbor seeking warmer water, for comfort and for their young.  I saw one from my dinghy as I was driving down Sisters Creek just before sunset yesterday.  It’s head came out of the water thirty feet in front of me and I could see why manatees are called sea cows, from the rear it did look cow-like.  Boaters around here and perhaps in Florida in general have taken the oppressed manatee to their hearts, almost to the point of reverence.  Woe to you if you hit one with your boat and it becomes general knowledge.  You have to sympathize with manatees, if you’ve seen propeller scars on the back of one.  “They were here first”, is the common phrase, and they certainly were.  Big, slow grass eaters that, apparently, just don’t learn that motorboats can do them harm.  They remain peaceful, graceful animals in their shallow water world.  Counterpoint to the noise and confusion above.

Thursday, ‎February ‎2, ‎2017
There is a good chance that I may be able to fix the outboard motor.  Jeanne is sending a repair kit to me today, I should see it early next week.  That is the primary reason I have stuck around Marathon so long, I can’t go to the Bahamas with a balky dinghy motor.  I’ve jury rigged the little engine so it gets me‎ around.

Later…
Jeanne has sent the carburetor repair kit, it went out on UPS yesterday and should arrive at the marina on Tuesday.  If it solves the outboard motor’s problem I may be able to leave Marathon the next day to head to Bimini, or just South Florida depending on how the weather and my supply situation looks.  I don’t want to go to the Bahamas lacking provisions, or anything else.

Donna Lewis invited me to Craig’s birthday party tonight at a bar up by Publix at 5:30.  I’ll get cleaned up and walk over.  Craig’s birthday is on the same date as my Dad’s was, on Groundhog Day.  Dad was born 103 years ago and died in 2009 at 95.  His mother lived to be 98, my Mom is going to be 96 this July and my Aunt Katie, Gramma’s sister, lived to be 99.  Kirbachs go on and on – for the most part.

Sunday, ‎February ‎5, ‎2017
I spent most of Saturday doing boat chores, filling the water tanks, replenishing the propane and replacing a propeller shaft zinc.  Getting water just took two trips over to the marina bringing back fifty gallons in my handy water bladder each time and pumping it into the tanks with an electric pump.  That system has saved my back many times.  I put the empty propane cylinder in my cart and had it filled a couple blocks down the street at the American Gas station for $26.50.  It’s worth it because George, the attendant, takes the trouble to vent the relief valve so you get a full tank, not like at the exchange places where you get less.  George is a fixture around here.  And last, when I dove down to check the shaft zinc there wasn’t one.  Gone.  It looked like it had recently departed because the shaft was shiny.  I put on a spare, that operation took about twenty dives to get it on and tightened.  Meanwhile, I had left some water in the bladder sitting in the sun on the dinghy floor and it had gotten nice and hot so I finished my work with a pleasant cockpit shower.
This morning I took a walk up to the American Legion to join the Lewis’ for Sunday morning breakfast.  The Legion Auxiliary ladies serve the breakfast through the winter months and must raise a considerable amount because the place was packed.  Craig and I had the $8 steak and egg plate. You can get grits, coffee and juice if you want just for the taking.  Craig and Donna are putting on a Super Bowl party this afternoon and evening, so I will go to that.  After breakfast I stopped at the City Park to visit the Pidgeon Key Art Show and stayed there for a few hours looking over the exhibits.  Some of the artists had really fine offerings, a lot were mundane but popular.  I couldn’t find anything that caught my interest but saw some cool deck furniture that I may follow up on later.  To find art that is truly unique takes a lot of searching I think.‎

Tuesday, ‎February ‎7, ‎2017
The repair kit for the Nissan carburetor should get here by this afternoon.  If it works that will be a great relief and will make my trip to the Bahamas possible.  It looks like I’ll miss the latest window to sail to Bimini and will have to wait until next Monday.  The island weather has settled into the pattern of a cold front descending from the northern US with strong wind, followed by a string of days with milder wind that repeats each week.  That pattern has been disrupted until recently but now is back in the groove. The next cold front arrives on Thursday.
Right now I’m gathering provisions for the trip.  It is a good idea to stock up on certain things as the Bahamas offer little in the way of cereal, wine, or milk.  I put in quarts of UHT long-life milk, peanut butter, dry cereals and good frozen meat, all of which is hard to find or is very expensive in the islands.  Eggs keep, so I bought two boxes.  Also beer, which keeps but not very long and costs up to fifty dollars a case in the Bahamas.  That’s what I’ll do this morning, trudge off to Publix with my little cart.

Sister Creek
Sister Creek

Sister Creek is still packed, fifteen boats are anchored along this short stretch.  The waiting list for moorings hasn’t shortened very much, I’m twenty-ninth as of two days ago, but should be closer to the front of the line after today with this weather window.  It won’t matter anyway as I’ll be leaving soon.  Not today or tomorrow though, I don’t want to start out without being completely ready.
I imagine I will be out of touch for most of the next two months, or at least as long as I’m in the Bahamas.  The internet service was pretty scarce the last time I was there.  Telephone service is alright but expensive so my daily calls home won’t last quite so long.  If I can, I will post to the blog.

‎Sunday, ‎February ‎12, ‎2017
This morning I’m out of here.  My walkabout continues.  The plan is to go to the Bahamas by way of the tiny islands of Bimini fifty miles East of Miami, a distance of about one hundred twenty miles from Marathon.  If all goes well I’ll be there Monday morning.  Whether I’ll stay there for more than one day after clearing Customs remains to be seen.  Bimini has it all figured out, to check in you can stay at a marina, or, if you anchor off the island you can pay one hundred dollars to use the dock!  I will stay at the resort marina Bimini Sands on South Bimini because it was recommended to me by my friends the Lewises.  If there is room.  I tried to call for a slip but couldn’t with my cell phone.  Jeanne is going to try for me when they open at nine and let me know before I get out of range offshore.
Marathon was good, not great but a good place to hang out.  Since it is the winter refuge of so many people either living on boats or in their vacation homes, prices are high for everything. And, due to the fact of having such little space makes business property expensive to rent further jacking up prices.  You can’t go out to a restaurant without spending what I consider a lot for a simple meal.  Just a hamburger lunch can cost twenty bucks.  But if you stay here long enough or come back year after year you can find the less expensive places.  I went to the  American Legion for Sunday breakfast, that was one.
As far as the anchorage goes, it may be nice out in the lagoon where the wind blows, if you can find a spot, but down on Sister Creek surrounded by mangrove trees the gnats eat you alive, not just at sundown either but all day if the air doesn’t move.  I only had a few days when the bugs didn’t come out, that was when a norther blew in with cool temperatures and strong wind.  Otherwise, the devils were just about unbearable.  I burned citronella candles sometimes all night and sprayed the boat with bug killer way too many times.  It was like living in the jungle.  That part I won’t miss.
I did accomplish a few things while staying here, the outboard is running like it used to thanks to Will who found the parts and Jeanne who sent them to me.  The dinghy is like my car, I can’t get around without it.  Walkabout’s systems are working, with the exception of one bilge pump that needs a filter cleaned.  The battery banks charged up last week with the solar panels pumping out power.  I dove on the propeller and changed a zinc anode that had disappeared.  The hull was fairly clean and that was a pleasant surprise.  Just a small layer of growth and no barnacles.  I will give it a better look and a cleaning if required in the clear water of the Bahamas.
The weather for the crossing is a bit mixed, some wind today and that on the nose, less tonight and tomorrow so it will be a mostly engine driven ride.  I should get a boost from the Gulf Stream, that is twenty miles off Marathon and curves in the direction I’m headed.  The trip should take about twenty hours give or take, I’ll have to watch carefully tonight for ship traffic.

Tuesday, ‎February ‎14, ‎2017
Valentine’s Day.   Feeling as blue as the water under the boat.yacht.2
I left Marathon at noon on Sunday motorsailing overnight and arriving outside the entrance channel between North and South Bimini islands at quarter to seven Tuesday morning.  The passage was straightforward except for the strong current from the Gulf Stream.  It required a heading twenty degrees more eastward than the course, crabbing to starboard.  That actually helped fill the mainsail a little since the wind was right on the nose.  Even so I made the 120 mile stretch in 18 hours and at the end the motor was running just above idle.  After taking down the sail and the sun had come up enough to see I made for the channel.  I was going to the Bimini Sands Resort Marina and called them on VHF Channel 68, the all purpose channel in the Bahamas.  The dockmaster said to head straight up the marked channel.  I looked, with and without binoculars but could not for the life of me see their channel and continued following the main entrance markers into Alice Town.  I traveled past all the small marinas along the town’s waterfront and noticed a sailboat anchored just beyond the last set of docks.  OK, here goes I thought and slowly eased into the pond.  Bump!  Nope, not here… I powered over the shallow spot back out into deep water breathing hard.  Tidal current was flowing into the harbor fast and without much effort I could keep my boat stationary off the first marina’s docks.  Waving to a dockhand he directed me to a slip just inside and I crept toward it sideways to make an approach.  Walkabout is one of those sailboats that does not like to back up.  I was hoping the current would let me slide back into the slip and it was looking good for a minute or so but my bow fell off to one side and the current pushed me back until I was stuck across the opening like a stick.  Oh well.  The dock hand shrugged his shoulders and said the tide would turn in an hour or so and he would come back to help me then.  He never did.  Not to worry, nothing damaging was happening.  I rigged a few lines and as the tide slackened pee-widdled my vessel into the slip an inch at a time and moored her fast.IMG_20170214_075247
I found that I had taken a slip at the famous Bimini Big Game Fish Club, a resort populated by  fishermen of course, and newlyweds, who may or may not be interested in fishing.  The really good thing about my stumbling onto the place was they have a Customs office on-site and Immigration is only a three minute walk down the street.

Conch Shells
Conch Shells

I checked in, it took a little over an hour, and then hitched a ride on a passing golf cart to the BaTelCo store to buy a SIM card for my phone.  The people there were very helpful and I now can call home, and did, for 60 cents per minute at night and 30 during the day.  They have data plans too which I’ll have to look into ’cause I can’t always get wifi.  That done I hoisted the Bahamian courtesy flag and took a nap.
The resort was expensive, $118 for one night.  They have a large crystal clear pool so I took a swim and then lay on a chaise in the tropical sun feeling like a rich tourist.  A little later came a needed shower and a stroll to the resort’s balcony restaurant for a very overpriced but delicious hamburger.  Every once in a while all the diners would leave their tables and look down from the balcony and throw bits of food to the bull sharks circling in the underwater lights.  What fun.  Two mini-mega yachts that arrived that afternoon were out at the end of the docks lit up like Christmas trees finishing the opulent scene.
This morning at high tide I pulled out of Park Place and went down to the lower rent district, just as comfortable and safe I hope.  Bimini Blue Water Marina has a trickier approach, good charts help.  They charge only a dollar a foot and I’ll be here until Thursday.  I bought fuel here too, fifteen gallons at $4.39 a gallon, thank heavens I sail.  The swimming pool is much smaller but there are heated showers and the place must have something going for it because it filled up with new arrivals since I tied up.  Two matching trawlers stopped for fuel this afternoon and I took some pictures.  Real seagoing boats, not your plastic fantastic types, headed back to Florida.yacht.1

‎Thursday, ‎February ‎16, ‎2017
North Bimini, Bahamas

I’m going to be here at the Blue Water Marina until Sunday I guess, the seas this morning are very rough and getting out of the channel looks too dangerous.  Too bad because the wind is favorable for a Great Bahama Banks crossing to the East.  I heard some bad things about Andros Island yesterday, crime and violence to visitors that I was not aware were happening so my plan has changed.  Now I will go to New Providence island and south from there, either via the Decca route or the northern Exumas path.  After the next cold front passes on Saturday night I should have passable conditions for either route.
At ten last night the skies opened up with a heavy rain squall that lasted an hour and washed the salt off Walkabout.  This morning is cooler and gloomy with clouds and some sun trying to peek through.  After my walk over the bluff to check out the ocean I went to the bakery and bought a loaf of bread and toasted a couple slices for breakfast.  The marina isn’t the Ritz but it isn’t a flophouse either.  There is good wifi, a small pool, showers with hot water and a outdoor charcoal grill you can use.  What more do you want?  A couple more days here will be acceptable, more acceptable than being in a rock and roll anchorage in a blow.

Friday, ‎February ‎18, ‎2017
Parker’s forecast for Sunday is South 17-20 in the morning followed by a mild cold front with North wind 12-18 g 22 in the afternoon and diminishing wind that remains all day Monday.  So I’ll leave Sunday morning headed for Providence Island.  If I feel good about it Monday I will most likely go on to the Exumas, down toward the middle islands if I can.  Doubtful I’ll get close to Black Point before stopping, maybe Warderick Wells would be good.

Credit When Credit Due!
Credit When Credit Due!

I rode my bike from one end of the island to the other yesterday.  There are three towns, Alice Town, Porgy Bay and Bailey Town.  No separation between them, just signs beside the road. porgy_bay A quarter mile further the big resort begins with an arch over the now concrete and brick paved road.  Past the guard it’s all condo houses until you reach the Hilton hotel and casino in the middle, and then more condos until the road ends at a beach.  The road did continue but I was turned back because it is private and a construction area.  To ride to the island’s north tip I had to pick my way along an oceanside path riding and pushing over the sand for another mile.  They are building monster houses almost to the island’s end.  I wonder how many land owners were forced to sell out, and how they were persuaded. beach cottage

 

rpk

wrapping up

Journal Entries from January 13 to January 19, 2017



Friday, January 13, 2017

“Walkabout.”

“Go ahead Walkabout.”

“Good morning Chris, how do the wind and sea conditions look over the Monday through Wednesday time frame to go from Marina Hemingway to Key West?”

Chris Parker responded to my question this morning with a small setback to my planned departure date. It looks like unfavorable wind and sea conditions may persist until next Thursday or Friday.  There have been strong easterlies blowing over the Florida Straits since the powerful norther passed last weekend and seas have built to over twelve feet. I would rather not go out into that kind of water if I can avoid it. Will agrees and is putting on a good face although I think the delay troubles him. A big catamaran sailed out of here an hour ago heading North and I watched it plow through the swells going very slowly, more up and down than forward.

I had an off day yesterday, just writing and picking up around the boat, a break after our trip to Trinidad. I cooked dinner and then we walked over to the yacht club for a drink. Three other men joined our table talking about Cuba, and we lingered until late. They were expats living in town or on a boat; one came from England, one from Canada and the last from the US. A common theme was how cheaply one could live here, and how safe Cuba is. No guns in Cuba. I didn’t agree with most of what they thought was wonderful, living from hand to mouth isn’t my cup of tea, nor is sliding under the radar just to stay here. There was more to their so-called lifestyle but it’s too unsavory for me to relate. I had not come across such things since the Viet Nam war, but Cuba is very poor and people do what they will. Needless to say, on the way back to our boat the two of us had a pretty lively discussion.

Marina Hemingway
Marina Hemingway

Sunday, January 15, 2017

marti
Monument to Jose Marti, Cuba’s Philosopher Hero

An East wind is still blowing hard and is supposed to continue that way until Wednesday then drop off to nothing within a day. With that in mind I feel we can leave Marina Hemingway late on Tuesday sailing in whatever wind we get overnight to arrive off Key West mid-morning Wednesday. If that plan works we’ll have plenty of time to go through Customs and Will can start arranging his trip back to Vermont. Today we will go over to the city and visit El Morro.

El Morro
El Morro

We have had a wonderful and interesting visit. Two weeks of eye opening interaction between ourselves and the Cubans we’ve met. Granted, the language barrier is often difficult but we have not found it insurmountable . Cubans get a good education and they recognize the importance of the English language in trade and commerce. They think Spanish is best for personal communication with it’s warmth and emotive qualities; a facet not easily understood by us. Some of our fellow travelers have expressed a dislike for the Cuban penchant of seeming to be giving but actually wanting to be paid. The practice is only a ploy for selling without naming a price for, say: A taxi ride, a room, anything, and it’s bothersome when you first experience it. So learn, and be a bit more aware of what is going on, bargain and get the transaction – because everything is a transaction, nothing is free – agreed on beforehand. As I have said before, Cuba is poor. However, it is not a third world country but a developing one emerging from a stunted condition, sixty years long. In ten years you won’t be able to recognize the place, especially if the US lifts it’s trade embargo and treats Cuba as it should. The commercial potential of Cuba is immense, Cubans are ready and able to rebuild their infrastructure, they just need material and a large dose of foreign investment. Cuba is not a just a collection of old Fords and Chevys, it has spunk and many ambitious people striving for life at the next economic level. And, for their children, the one above that.

Monday, January 16, 2017

el mejor amigo

Villa Clara, The Ceramic Village

We had heard from another cruiser that we shouldn’t miss an attraction that was just a short walk from the marina, the ceramic artwork of José Fuster. Fuster has his workshop in this small village and has used his neighbor’s buildings for canvases, covering their roofs, walls and gates with his constructions. The colorful ceramic artwork is composed of wire reinforced concrete forms that are sheathed with small fragments of porcelain and glass. Fuster and his students also glaze and fire pottery tiles with his artwork and incorporate them in the displays with interesting results. Fuster’s style seems at first to be childish but on closer inspection he has given many of his constructions unique personality. A walk through his eccentric creation is quite an experience and is free of charge.


Arrow
Arrow
Slider

On our way back to the marina I noticed a government food distribution center and went inside for a look. The store was a bare bones affair with plain plywood counters, two well-worn scales, sparcely stocked shelves and, on the floor, pallets piled high with large bags of rice and beans. This is the way Cuba keeps it’s people fed. I didn’t find it unpleasant though it was a far cry from what Americans would think a proper store. With such low incomes Cubans are dependent on this system.

Government Store
Government Store

We ended our last evening in Cuba with a spectacular sunset.

cuban sunset

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A few thoughts before sailing back to the United States of America this Tuesday afternoon.

Did I learn any profound lessons about Cuba on this visit? Probably not. It is about what I expected it to be, a developing country with a problematic political system, little money and a population insulated from the outside world. Cubans are some of the nicest people you could ever hope to encounter. They love their country and each other and will welcome visitors into their homes enthusiastically. Outside the artificial world of a marina or a tourist resort you’ll often be hit up for money, but I did not see panhandlers and people living without shelter. Cuban’s basic needs are met but without frills. Work is encouraged and most people are employed, perhaps not for profit but employed nonetheless. As one might expect, politeness and efficiency are best found in private businesses, government run shops have some distance to go in that department. Would I live here? Not likely, my desire for warm weather goes only so far. Cuba is a great place and as more Americans visit it may modernize considerably but that will take years. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything even though a plane ticket from Miami to Havana can be had for as little as $59. Sailing Walkabout here was one of those bucket list things and I’m fortunate to have been able to go.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

After paying Marina Hemingway for our stay and clearing Cuban Customs we got underway at 4:10PM Tuesday, a day over our visitation limit. I immediately began to worry about my timing because the wind and waves were right against my course and the boat was making slow progress. At five miles off the coast things began to improve, the wind was still on a close reach but the wave height had dropped a bit and the big swells became a little more comfortable. Cuba faded with the sun until only the lights of Havana were visible, then just the wind swept ocean. The wind never let up until early Wednesday morning off Key West. Since the boat was following the trough between swells it was a rough ride made worse by the fact that I had left a couple portlights open and sea water poured into the cabin soaking the bunk on the low side that was to be for off-watch rest. My crew was seasick and I was feeling pretty green myself so we alternated looking out for traffic and trying to sleep in the cockpit. A half-moon rose around midnight illuminating the waves and, ill or not, we both admired the beauty of the ocean.

Fidel_on_Hotel_2

We passed the Key West sea buoy at seven in the morning and were safely anchored off Fleming Island half an hour later. You are supposed to call US Customs in Miami on their 800 number upon arrival but we were too exhausted for that and hit our bunks for needed sleep. Good thing too because you have to be alert to deal with Customs. I made the call just before noon and it resulted in a thirty minute exercise of repeated questions and answers before I was given my contact number. You have 24 hours to go to the Customs office in Key West after being given that fifteen digit number, or so they say… I called the Key West office and was told I had to come over before three that afternoon or I would be in violation. Why? Because the office closed at four o’clock and the next day was taken up with cruise ship inspections. So we hurried and got the dinghy inflated, back in the water, and it’s motor back on. Gathering up our passports and my packet of documents we set off to shore. Naturally, I had forgotten to bring the contact number in my haste. But, anyway, we hiked over to the federal office building on Simonton Street, only four blocks, were greeted by two guards who made us empty our pockets, patted us down and then told Will he had to wait outside on the steps with our cellphones while I went into the Customs Office.

Customs Officer Orcutt said to me after looking me up and down, “Having a bad day are you?”, a bit startled by that I answered in my best humbled voice, “No, just a very long one”. Then I told him I had forgotten to bring the contact number. Apparently, and a lucky thing that, it’s happened more than once and within ten minutes I was approved and repatriated. Will and I then exchanged places and after five more minutes we were back on the street headed to the nearest restaurant to celebrate.

This morning I drove Will over to town where he took a taxi to the Key West airport to fly back home. He was instrumental in our Cuban adventure and I will miss his company. Maybe he’ll be back on board later in the year for another stint. Having crew is what makes a captain a Captain and is only fun if there is cooperation. We had fun.

I’ll stay tonight in Key West. I walked the streets this morning after Will left, down to Knight Pier to see the sea and then the old West Martello Tower and its garden exhibit. The streets soon became packed with tourists from the two cruise ships. I walked to the Southernmost Point in the USA monument, people were lined up to take pictures of themselves in front of it. Walking up Duval Street working my way back to the docks I found a really good fried chicken place, Joe’s Chicken, and ate a big lunch. And that was the extent of it, tomorrow I’ll go back to Marathon where they have internet service and post to the blog.

Sunset_Cuba

rpk

 

trinidad, cuba

 

Journal entries from January 8, 2017 to January 11, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The cold front that was predicted to arrive tomorrow came early.  What I thought was just an afternoon rain squall rebuilt with increasing wind overnight that is now a steady thirty knots.  Waves are crashing over the sea wall next to us and everyone is anxiously watching their boats.  Will and I hope the winds die down by tomorrow morning so we can leave on our bus tour to Trinidad without worrying too much about Walkabout.  Fenders and spring lines are in place and doing a good job but in high winds ropes chafe and fenders pop out.

Last night we visited the local yacht club and were welcomed in to sit and talk drinking Cuban rum into the night.  We found out the sailboat Surprise that left Canal #1 to re-position in a calmer spot is owned by Pat, a ship captain who commands very large oil tankers.  That would explain her expertise , also she knew what weather was coming and made a good move.  Because she has been here many times before, she gets what she wants.  The bar conversation went on and on.  The only other thing useful that we gleaned from it was the location of a better than average little restaurant just around the corner that we visited this morning, both of us eating a breakfast of fried eggs with ham and cheese for only 3CUCs apiece.  There will be no outside adventures today, reading, writing and watching Walkabout will be it.

7:55 PM  The wind is backing down some but is far from gentle.  It does, however, look like it may be alright to leave the boat unattended for the next three days while we “journey into the interior”.  The fenders are staying in place even with a higher tide due to this passing cold front.  We had one pop out on us this morning and passersby pointed it out.  Grinding Walkabout down into a fine powder is not what I want.

I went for another bike ride late this afternoon, not far, and only to get some exercise.  Traffic on Sunday is very light.  I went east toward Havana on Avenida de Americas about three miles and turned around when the slow lane became so rutted it was hard to stay out of the way.  For dinner Will and I went back to our haunt the Chinese place and tried a couple more of their dishes. They do not disappoint.  We have packed for our excursion and will catch a cab into Havana tomorrow morning to be at the bus terminal to travel to Trinidad city.  It should be quite the trip.

Monday, January 9, 2017

???
???

After a quick ride in a four door 1956 Chevrolet to the Viazul bus station in south Havana, across the road from the Cuban National Zoo, we boarded for our ride to the City of Trinidad 270 miles away.  We traveled light, carrying just enough for two days and nights.  Even then our small bags would not fit in the narrow overhead bins but had to be stuffed under the seat.  All the seats on the bus were occupied, Viazul is a government run company, as are most other tourist bus companies in Cuba.  With no competition demand is high.

There has been a substantial loosening of the total control that communist Cuba exerted over it’s people since the revolution.  Half a million government jobs were eliminated in 2011 and many of those workers now hold private sector positions.  Basic needs are still met by Cuba’s socialist structure, nobody is left to be hungry, homeless or without medical care and opportunities to earn money to buy into a more modern lifestyle are springing up.  A new commercialism is on the horizon.  First though, other primary changes have to happen.  The double monetary system has to go.  Tourists have the CUC, the Cuban people use the CUP and it brings on trouble for both. Visitors often feel cheated and Cubans feel, when foreigners use CUPs, that they are being encroached upon.  There has to be only one currency.  The government also has to become less autocratic and allow visitors traveling around Cuba greater freedom.  We were asked for our visas wherever we stayed, changed money, or got on a bus and it got to be a bit tiring.  The procedures reminded Will and I that we were in a communist country. propaganda.2

propaganda.3
Cuban Interstate

The Viazul bus made it’s way out of Havana onto the Autopiste traveling at 100kph, not very fast for a six lane highway that was not crowded.  The bus stopped for lunch at a restaurant where we bought Cuban sandwiches for 4CUCs, while other passengers sampled the buffet.  Efficient and well run, the restaurant was a good example of a private firm working with a public company.

pio cua
Bus Stop
cienfuegos.2
In Cienfuegos

After the break our route took us down to Cienfuégoes, an historic city with a large seaport.  The most relevant thing to us was the city’s proximity to Playa Gitón, known to most Americans as the Bay of Pigs.  Billboards along the road remind Cubans that they won that slipshod affair and should never forget it, nor let down their guard.  Propaganda posters, billboards and handpainted slogans are everywhere but very little commercial advertising can be seen except for signs on stores and shops.

cienfuegos.1
The Boulevarde in Cienfuegos

trinidad.1With only an hour of daylight left we pulled into Trinidad and our first order of business was to find a room for the two nights we planned to stay.  Held at bay outside the bus yard were at least a hundred shouting “touts” holding up cardboard signs for “casa particulars” or guest rooms in and around Trinidad.  Since they get a cut of the room fee we sidestepped the mob and after aimlessly wandering for twenty minutes asked a lady if she might know of one close by.  Naturally she did but I don’t believe she got as big a cut because we were warmly welcomed by Julia and her husband Ramón, who runs a gas station, into their comfortable home.  But the room was only available for one night and the procurer would have to find us another for Tuesday.  No problemo.

Simple but clean. $30CUC.
Simple but clean. $30CUC.

Comfortable now that accomodations had been found we hunted down beers and, later, a rooftop restaurant for dinner.  A band was playing Cuban tunes, the meal was served and we settled in to watch the sun sink into the Caribbean Sea.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017  Trinidad, Cuba

trinidad_morning.9
We woke this morning to crowing roosters and a schoolboy shouting “Alejándro!” to his friend.  Catabatic wind blowing down from the nearby mountains wafted smoke past the wooden shutters on our iron barred bedroom window.  Horses hooves on the cobblestone street, people greeting each other, “Holá“, “Buenas dias“, more children being packed off to school, all this began our day.

trinidad.2
Trinidad’s Old Town

Trinidad has two parts, one is the old district, gated off from the slightly more modern and far more crowded surrounding city.  The old town retains its cobblestone streets and Spanish era buildings and churches.  Residents who live there have made an investment in the burgeoning tourist economy, many run popular establishments there.  Traffic is limited to pedestrians, horses and carts, and vehicles with a special permit.  So one can wander freely without worry of being run over.

casa2.3
The second casa particular and the lady who arranged our stay.

After an excellent breakfast at Julia’s and moving our stuff to our second casa particular we walked down to the bus terminal to buy return tickets to Havana.  I thought it odd that we couldn’t buy round trip tickets in the first place – but we couldn’t. No hay.  And, there would be no seats available until Sunday, a dour ticket agent pronounced.  But, surprise, surprise, as soon as we turned away from the counter our problem was solved: A Lone Arranger appeared promising us a taxi ride back to Havana for only ten CUCs more than the bus would have cost. He said we would be sharing a car with another couple and took down the address of our casa and said to be out front at 8:30AM Wednesday.  We took him at his word and set out to see the city.

trinidad_morning.4
Radio Cuba
trinidad_morning.6
Underground Disco

First, we struck out for a climb up the mountain north of town for a better view before the sun got hot.  trinidad_morning.5Following a narrow rocky road past the last buildings we climbed past a disco in a cave then a couple kilometers more past cactus and brush to the Radio Cuba tower on the hilltop.  From that vantage you could see all of Trinidad, it’s small airport, jagged mountains to the east; all spreading down to the vast, and empty, Caribbean Sea.  No boats on the water, no planes in the air.  If you didn’t know there were a thousand tourists down below the place would feel positively bucolic.

Caribbean Sea
Caribbean Sea

trinidad_morning.8

Back in town we walked up and down the streets sidestepping horse manure and the streams of dish water tossed out of doorways and windows above.  The sun was getting hotter, street smells stronger and by lunchtime we were searching for a resting spot.  A menu sign offered, “hamburgueso” and “spiggeti“, and cervesa we assumed, so we cooled our heels inside for an hour before venturing out again.

A street with endless rows of stalls all selling more or less the same variety of trinkets was a thing to go through, instantly assaulted by pleas from peddlars to buy their hats or shawls or shirts that were swinging in the breeze.  I got the “Che” Guevara shirt I’ve always wanted and both Will and I now wear authentic straw Cuban hats.

che
The iconic Che.

Will wanted to buy some more wifi time, I wanted to exchange money for taxi fare so we walked to the hotel district downtown.  There we sat on benches in the municipal park with a thousand other visitors, and locals too, staring into our “devices”.  I was glad to have done that – all was well back home.

Finding a money exchange was a bit harder and, after I did, the transaction was not so simple.  I wanted to exchange one hundred US dollars to CUCs. My two fifty dollar notes had a little dab of pink on one edge and the clerk shook her head, “No!”, she couldn’t take them.  So I handed her five tens instead, I didn’t need that much anyway.  She needed to see my visa.  She then recorded the serial number of each US note on a form and made me sign it before slowly counting out my 43.50 CUCs.  Since Cuban currency is worthless outside Cuba I felt exchanging US currency necessary only when I ran low on CUCs but it is likely I’m too conservative because money changing is a real hassle.

trinidad.3
Trinidad’s Central Plaza

To end the day and our visit to Trinidad we ate on the rooftop “terrazza” of a little place on the same street as Julia’s casa.  Big plates of roasted pork with beans and rice washed down with Bucannero beers and a view over the “cuidado viejo”.  There was music in the town square that evening and it really got going about ten with very talented bands.  We sat near the stage drinking rum from plastic cups as the crowd filled in around us, everyone watching the samba dancers and listening to Cuban rhythms far into the night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our second casa particular was comfortable but lacked Julia’s friendliness, we didn’t even learn the lady’s name who owned it.  We think she lives alone although she had people calling on her when we were there.  casa2.1She served us coffee in the morning as we couldn’t linger over breakfast, quickly retreating to her TV in another room.

taverna de bojita

The taxi driver showed up on time and had us loaded in his Jetta diesel car with his “procurer” along to gather up the other two passengers at their lodgings.  We were joined by two young people each traveling alone.  A guy from Poland, Jacque,  and a girl from China whose name I can not even guess at, but she is studying in Cleveland and speaks great English.

Our driver, Ramón, was worth everything we paid for the ride. It took almost an hour for the taxi pimp to find the two other passengers because he got a wrong street address.  During the wait we talked with Ramón and learned much about life in Cuba. Ramón is a gregarious, retired Cuban army officer who piloted MIGs in Angola.  He is fluent in English and knows some of at least three other languages. His retirement taxi driving job takes him all over the country and he knows Cuba inside and out.  What surprised us the most about Ramón was his forthright optimism for Cuba’s future.  He has definite opinions of what will work and what would not.  The old system is not working.  He hopes the US will lift the embargo, the sooner the better, and he, like us, thinks the double monetary system has to be eliminated.

On to Habana!
On to Habana!

Driving much faster than the bus, Ramón took us back to Havana in four hours, with a relief stop halfway.  He gave a running commentary on the places we passed – far more entertaining than staring out a bus window.  Pointing down the straight lanes of the Autopiste he told me that it was an alternative runway for the air force. “Like your interstate”.  I asked him what the odd looking metal things occasionally lying beside the highway were for, big pipes spiraled with long spikes.  “We drag them onto the highway to keep planes from landing”, he explained. A defense mechanism.

cane
Sugar Cane operation.

I learned that Cuba grows almost all of it’s own food and is a major exporter of sugar. Sugarcane fields we passed stretch on for miles. Tamarind groves line the highway, as do rice paddies in various stages of production, flooded and dry, being harvested by hand. Another major crop is mango.  They grow a variety of mango that weighs up to three kilograms, as big as a football and full of juice.  Ramón was quite proud of Cuba even though we found him to be just as critical of it’s faults – as he saw them.
While we rode along Ramón was on his cell phone trying to get rooms for the two other people in the car as they had no place to stay in Havana. Call after call with no luck. Havana was full.  Just like Trinidad.  Jacque did get a place to stay, at a higher price than he liked.

Havana Street

The Chinese girl, however, really didn’t like the price and, since Ramón hadn’t found her a casa yet, she just took her backpack, and her chances, and we left her on the sidewalk.  She seemed to know what she was doing.

Havana Street
Havana Street

Ramón was not impressed, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” he remarked.  I think he was referring to both of them for not having arranged rooms earlier…  We refrained from comment.

For a little extra, even though Ramón didn’t ask for it, Will and I were driven right down to Walkabout and found her just as we had left her.  Showers and a beer later we were back to feeling normal and ready to go.  Dos viejos y le mar.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

rpk

habana

 

Journal entries from January 4, 2017 to January 7.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Havana, Cuba is huge. Will and I took the TransTur bus into the city yesterday, it cost one CUC each to ride and we used transfer slips for the return trip. The buses are new Chinese YuTong double-decker sightseeing affairs, very popular and packed with tourists like us. On the way to the central district we had to remain on the inside as the top was full, later we got to ride upstairs. We stopped at Revolución Square but the exhibits and monument were closed so we used transfer tickets to continue on downtown.

Fidel_on_Hotel
Revolution Square, Havana
Jose_Marti
Monument to Jose Marti.

Red_Buick

It’s tiring, riding buses so the first order of business was refreshment and we bought beers in a little dive before heading out into the crowds.

havana.6
Rest Stop

Havana once was the pride of the Caribbean and it could be again but will take a great investment in capital, training and attitude to turn it around. So many pre-Castro buildings are crumbling and many 1960’s Soviet era structures are beyond the point of rehabilitation. It will take a mighty effort that I cannot see happening in the near future even with the new detente between the Cuban government and the USA.

havana.13
Along the Malecon

Time interrupted, that’s my impression of Cuba so far. Everywhere you look 1950’s vintage cars are churning up the highway billowing smoke. Don’t visit Havana if you suffer from asthma. The cars owners use them as taxis and you can ride almost anywhere for about the same money as on a bus.

havana.11

We took a ride this morning on our second sojourn into the city in a 1956 Pontiac that it’s driver had to down shift at every light to go slow enough for the brakes to work. He was pretty skilled at getting it to stop. He charged us ten CUCs, half of the bus fare and got us there in half the time. We hailed another for the ride back tonight but for the life of me I could not identify the make of the car, it had been pieced together from so many different cars it didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen. But it roared down the highway just fine.

Muses on the Revolución

Will and I waited in line to see the Museo de Revolución this morning. The museum occupies the former governor’s palace in central Havana. The building must have been a grand affair back in the day, it is four stories tall with a central courtyard, dozens of rooms and a magnificent ballroom decorated with columns trimmed in gold and a vast frescoed ceiling. That room is being restored and no visitors may enter but you can get a good view from porticoes on higher floors.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

An exhibit of the history of the Cuban Revolution beginning in 1953 when Fidel Castro Ruz and a dozen compatriots first attempted to overthrow the dictatorship of US puppet Fulgencio Batista, failing and ending up imprisoned.  If only a part of Batista’s brutality were true Castro would be exonerated by the world for his actions.  He said so himself.

History is written by the victorious and the museum relates that version of the chronology of the buildup to and the subsequent guerrilla war for control of the island.  Castro, Che Guevarra, Raul Castro and many other heroes of the Cuban Revolution are depicted in the most glorious fashion. Who would expect otherwise?

museo.6
The Granma.

Behind the palace in a guarded glass envelope stands the Granma, a 60 foot motor yacht that carried the exiled revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba to start their second, successful assault on the dictator’s forces. Scattered around this building are two propeller driven aircraft, a bullet riddled bread truck, a small Russian tank, jeeps and armored bulldozers.

Che's radio.
Che’s radio.
Fidel in ironwork.
Fidel in ironwork.
Punctured delivery truck.
Punctured delivery truck.
Armored assault vehicle.
Armored assault vehicle.
Eternal Flame for the Heroes of the Revolution
Eternal Flame for the Heroes of the Revolution
diorama
Diorama of Guevarra and Ernesto Cienfuegos

Also, the engine from a US U-2 spy plane the Cubans shot down just prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion and an example of the Soviet rocket that did it. Our CIA is featured in quite a few documents, nothing admirable there. Lots of bloodied uniforms and gory pictures in the display cases, and Che’s radio transmitter. There also was an embarrassing caricature display of Batista, and US Presidents Reagan, Bush One and Two on a wall declaiming them as “cretins”.  The revolution was not won without heavy sacrifice (20,000 killed, mostly civilians) and if Cuba has anything to say it will not be soon forgotten.  Whether stable relations between our country and Cuba can be formed remains to be seen.

Thursday, January 5, 2017 Marina Hemingway

These two intrepid travelers spent this morning searching for a rental car – without success – the CubaCar agency had nothing for us and, after walking a few blocks from the marina and a subsequent taxi ride struck out again with a local rental agency. So it looks like if we want to travel to another city for a day we’ll have to take a bus. Will wants to see the town of Trinidad, southeast of Havana by sixty miles, an historic town that, the guidebooks say, has plenty of early Spanish architecture and a lively bar scene. We tried to join a tour bus trip and that too was not possible since we were not part of the all inclusive tourist apparatchik. A local taxi might be possible, the cost is high and comes with no assurances. Not to worry, we’ll work it out. The rest of today we’ll spend on board catching up with our writing and getting some rest.

On our search this morning for rental cars we wandered into a small restaurant (the CubaCar sign was just outside) where we met a local entrepreneur, Jesus, who immediately sized us up and offered his services in our quest. “I know rental car company”, he announced, “just a few blocks up the street”, and summoned one of his minions to fetch a taxi. Not that we are incredible, or incredibly stupid, but we went along with him. But, of course, he couldn’t produce. There just aren’t any rental cars available, anywhere, any more than there was electricity in Jesus’ house this morning. But Jesus was full of life, entertaining us as we plowed along in his hijacked taxi through the exhaust filled streets. He diverted the taxi ride near its end to his own house, which he insisted we had to see, a little cement thing he shared with his mother and two dogs. Will bought some of his counterfeit cigars and I laughed at his jokes, if they were jokes, about chicas and Viagra. A side trip to the lower end it was. You cannot blame the hustlers for trying to squeeze money from rich European or American tourists, the average wage in communist Cuba is forty dollars a month. A taxi driver getting a dollar a mile is making big money if he works off the meter. A cigar hustler can make a month’s salary with one sale of a bag of mislabeled cigars. But, the tobacco in a cigar with a fake label is still Cuban tobacco and better than anywhere else. Even though we came away with no rental car the adventure was worth it.

Waiting_for_Bus
Tourista

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Even though you might think I had learned my lesson I went out on my rusted bicycle this morning pedaling down the highway to Santa Fe, the little burg just west of Marina Hemingway. The right lane of the four lane road is for slow moving vehicles, like bikes and horses, pedal cars and pedestrians, of which there are plenty. So I didn’t feel at all threatened like I did back in Marathon. Car drivers stick to the left lane and don’t crowd out people who have to travel on foot, or horse or pedal power. A refreshing situation I thought as I rode through the town and into the countryside. After six miles I had had enough and headed back, the noontime sun was beating down on my Yankee body and I was cooked. I stopped to read a menu in a local eating establishment, the prices were in Cuban Pesos. A decent breakfast, desayuna, was about a dollar and a half. I didn’t have any pesos, just convertible Cuban currency so I didn’t buy but will go back if I can. It is becoming apparent to me that many things in Cuba are only available after much study and acclimation. Two weeks is not going to do it. So far, I can recommend that one get CUPs as well as CUCs and frequent as many local places as you feel comfortable with – in as short a time as you can. Some advice, but that’s what it looks like to me at this point.

CUP_CUC
Cuban Convertible Currency vs Cuban Peso

Later in the day, after I washed my laundry in a bucket on the pier next to Walkabout, a rather large, 22 tonne, sailboat named Surprise tied up close behind us captained by a woman with two younger girls as crew. Surprise is no ordinary sailboat, it is fifty-five feet long, made of wood and gleams with that special look constant care imparts. I had biked to the store for beer and was going back to the boat when a rain squall came along blowing thirty or so. I’m riding sideways down the dock with my backpack loaded with beer cans passing sailboats hard against their squished fenders and noticed the boat just ahead of Walkabout was grinding its hull against the concrete pier. We had two spare fenders so Will and I pushed the neighbor’s boat out, dropped in the fenders and got it off the pier. Surprise behind us had that happen a few minutes earlier and Will had put another one of our fenders on that boat too. We got a bag of cookies from the women for Will’s good deed – the other boater hasn’t returned yet.

surprise
Surprise

The wind squall was too much for the captain of Surprise and she arranged for a different dock space in a canal further inland. Now, the wind was still blowing hard pressing all the boats in our canal up against its concrete sides, but this captain was intent on moving her boat. She sent her two girl crew out in a dinghy to tie two ropes to a post on the other side of the canal and slowly winched her boat out into the middle before backing out. Will and I were dumfounded watching this action but it went just as she had planned. My big concern was that the post might pull out of the ground and let her boat careen into mine but it didn’t happen.

Since all this occurred the wind has died down a bit, Surprise successfully moved and we are now without close neighbors but a bag of cookies richer. A good thing, because tomorrow a cold front is supposed to reach us with strong and prolonged winds from the North and good cookies are hard to find.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The cold front that was supposed to materialize later today arrived early, what we thought was just a rain squall built with increasing wind overnight and now is in the thirty knot range. Seas are crashing over the sea wall next to us and everyone is anxiously watching their boats. Our hope is that the winds die down by tomorrow morning so we can leave on our bus tour to Trinidad without worrying too much about the boat. Fenders and spring lines are in place and doing a good job but in high winds ropes chafe and fenders pop out. We shall see.

yacht club

Last night Will and I visited the local yacht club and were welcomed in to sit and talk drinking Cuban rum into the night. We found out Surprise is owned by Dot, a ship captain who commands very large oil tankers. That would explain her expert seamanship, also she knew what weather was coming and made a wise move. Captain Dot has been here many times before so she gets what she wants too. The bar conversation went on and on. The only other thing useful that we gleaned from it was the location of a better than average little restaurant just around the corner that we visited this morning, both of us eating breakfasts of fried eggs with ham and cheese for only 3CUCs apiece. There will be no outside adventures today, reading, writing and watching Walkabout will be it.

rpk

marina hemingway

Monday, January 2, 2017

We left our secure anchorage in Sisters Creek Saturday afternoon, fueling up at Burdine’s dock and re-anchoring just outside the Boot Key entrance channel.  Marathon was a nice place to hang out.  It’s a lot like Vero Beach and many live-aboard sailors stay here for years soaking up the sun without the expense of a house or apartment.  Florida is cracking down on some of those who outstay their welcome, letting the boats they live on become derelicts.  Homeless on the water is one way to put it.  Marathon has partially solved that problem by making it almost impossible to anchor in the harbor by installing 226 mooring balls in all the previously good spots to anchor.  That’s why I had to anchor in Sisters Creek, because there were no mooring balls available.  No room at the inn.

mangrove_moor
Down on Sisters Creek

We spent a bouncy night anchored with our stern to the sea, and left at 0800 Sunday morning  on a direct course to Marina Hemingway on Cuba’s north coast, nine miles west of Havana.  The forecast was for winds in the low twenties and seas up to seven feet, not what I would normally choose but it was viable window.

At times the crossing was fun, sometimes it was terrible.  The wind twice hit thirty knots and the waves crested eight feet more than once, even higher in the Gulf Stream, but what really got to us was the opposing current of up to three knots that didn’t let up until we saw land early Monday morning.  Our sails were set for beam reaching on a port tack, mainsail on its second reef, yankee jib and staysail up as well.  Our boat speed through the water read between six and seven knots but the GPS told us we were moving at less than five knots toward our destination.  In the Florida Straits the Gulf Stream is forty miles wide, we were crossing it at almost a forty five degree angle so we had opposing current almost the whole way.  The 123 mile passage took us twenty-six hours.

At sunrise we could see the coast of Cuba and the highrise buildings of Havana. Soon we were being hailed by the Cuban Coast Guard asking us who we were and where were we headed.  For a minute it looked like they were going to challenge us but then the cutter turned away apparently convinced we weren’t a threat.  We didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand us.  No entiendo.

Someone was paying attention. In perfect English the radio operator at Marina Hemingway hailed us as we were looking for the channel entrance buoys and gave us explicit instructions on how to enter.  Waves were breaking on the reef on either side of the channel, in a strong North wind it would be impassable for sure, as we had been told.  The radioman said to go to the sea buoy, which we now could see, and then turn to a course of 140 degrees and continue down the channel to the Customs Dock.

Customs_Dock
First Boat in Cuba This Year

The marina did have a straight forward entrance, well marked with lighted posts. We got Walkabout’s sails down then motored into the harbor without any problem.  Then we rounded the corner and tied up at the blue painted government Customs dock for their praxis which took an hour.  A white coated medical doctor took our body temperatures looking for fevers.  Our passports were stamped by uniformed Guarda Frontera officers who took ID photos and gave  us tourist visas.  You must carry the visa with you all the time you are in Cuba, it’s fine to leave your passport locked away on your boat.

visa

Gabriel, the marina’s dockmaster assigned Walkabout a spot in one of the four long concrete lined canals that make up the facility.   We slowly motored over to Canal #1, the first canal parallel to the sea wall, our place was about halfway down the 3/4 mile-long canal.  Marina staff helped us tie up, two pleasant agricultural department officers rooted through our refrigerator and that was that.  Tips amounting to twenty dollars were handed out to the dockmaster and ag officers but that we expected.

Parked in Canal #1
Parked in Canal #1

We were all done checking in by noon. The two ag officers stuck around for a beer, both were named Raól, so we asked the one Raól who could speak English as many questions that he had time to answer before they went back to work and that way got an early education of sorts.  Most important was where to change money and how to get Wifi, both require a trip to Havana where the big hotels are located.

Let the adventure begin!