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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Journal Entries from January 13 to January 19, 2017
Friday, January 13, 2017
“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.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
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.
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
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.
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.
We ended our last evening in Cuba with a spectacular 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.
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.