Northbound

We have turned the bow to the north. From Hog Cay, Jumentos, we sailed to Buenavista Cay, a distance of only 20 miles. Early in the morning, on Wednesday, we sailed on, making 110 nm to Little Bay, near Black Point, Exuma, arriving there just after midnight. On Thursday, we continued on sailing and motorsailing to Norman’s Cay.

And today, we are under sail currently towards Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. The weather looks good to head on up to Abaco on Sunday. That will have us making over 300 nm since Tuesday afternoon.

In Abaco, we will take time to do laundry and some re-stocking in Marsh Harbour and then head above the Whale Passage to Green Turtle Cay. Once there, we will start watching for a weather window to head back to Florida. The lock at Port Canaveral is closed until April 9th for repair ( this lock allows us access to the ICW ) and we will probably cross before then, so must come up with an alternate plan. Either check-in at Ft Pierce or head to Canaveral and plan to go back out to sea once check-in is completed.

That is the general plan for our immediate future. The radio has been giving us some trouble, so we may not be in communication as frequently as usual. Keep your fingers crossed that it works until we are in the US!

Hugs to all,
Heather & Murray

Driving in Cuba

Hello all,

Murray and Don took a taxi early Monday morning to the car rental agency to pick up the vehicle Tina had reserved for us. When the cab driver doubled over in laughter upon sight of the car, we suspected there might be an issue. Wiping tears from his eyes, he said ” Chinese cars! Many problems!” It was a brand new Geely, a small passenger car but underpowered as we discovered in the mountains. Back at the marina, we loaded up our gear and set off on another type of adventure.

As they hadn’t wanted to pay for an extra driver, Murray was the designated driver for the whole journey. The map book that we had been given was lacking the pages most pertinent to our itinerary, so we already had a disadvantage. But, our first wrong turn happened just a half hour down the road on the first round-about. Once we got straightened out and underway again, we soon found the auto-piste or highway. It was just a two lane road that wound through small towns and villages as Murray dodged horses and buggies, oxen pulling carts and bicycles galore.

ox driven cartBayamo was our first destination and had been recommended by other cruisers as a great stop. Using a guide book, supplied by Lori and Randy on Solemate 3, I had selected Villa Bayamo as our domicile for the night. The road map failed us and my guide book map seemed quite lacking as we wondered the narrow streets of the city. A young man on a bicycle took pity on us and led us across the town, up and down hill, around corners to Villa Bayamo, for just a few pesos. The accommodation was actually separate flat roofed buildings, each capable of sleeping 6 persons in two separate rooms, for which we paid $32! Taking a taxi, we ventured back into the centre of town and walked the lovely parks and plazas there. Another young man, with impeccable English, chatted with us and recommended a spot for our late lunch. At the restaurant, Bodega, we enjoyed another lovely meal while Cuban minstrels serenaded us. This was our most expensive meal of the whole trip, costing $66 but that included drinks and dessert for four. Back at the hotel, it was time to cool off in the pool and just relax.

After a good breakfast ( included in the price of the room! ) we headed off once again. From Bayamo, we headed east, passing through Guantanamo about lunch time. At a recent stop for gas, I had purchased some cold beer. Once we found some roadside stands selling a type of pizza for 5 pesos each, we had our lunch. From this point, we took the road that followed the coast and had many glimpses of the churning seas. Then the mountains started and the road became very twisty. Some turns seemed to be in excess of 270 degrees! Wherever the road widened, several locals would be standing, trying to sell small items to us as we passed. I am not sure who would stop to buy as it would be quite dangerous. Finally, we arrived in Baracoa. Unable to find a casa particular that could accommodate both couples, we ended up staying a couple of streets apart. The cost? Per night, $25, breakfast $3 each and dinner $8 each. We stayed two nights,had four breakfasts and dinners and a few beer and water bottles for a total of $100. That is a fortune to the Cubans where an engineer may make 20 CUC per month and a doctor 30. I am using CUC and $ interchangeably as they are virtually identical in value in Cuba.

A day was spent sightseeing in this remote town and early the next morning we again headed out, taking the road to Moa. This road was not in good repair, we had been warned. But the ranches were they grew cocoa were along this road and it was a more direct route back to the marina. Right…. a little rough! The holes were big enough to hold two cars and the surface beyond the holes was very rough. Murray used all of his rally skills to keep the car from being destroyed by a rock or huge hole. Somehow we missed the cocoa ranch but didn’t want to turn around. Eventually, Moa came into sight and I remarked that it reminded me of Sudbury, before the superstack. Later we found out that there is a large nickel mine here and the trees and vegetation have been devastated. The land around Moa is very red, even darker than Prince Edward Island, almost a burgundy colour. By late afternoon, we were back at the marina and glad to spend the night in our own comfortable beds.

What did we learn on this journey? That the Cuban people are lovely, friendly and interested in us. That the countryside is green and lush and mountainous in parts with many farms and ranches growing fruits and vegetables with goats, cows and horses abundant. So different from the near desert of the Bahamas. That it is possible to eat cheaply in Cuba, buying from street vendors but some restaurants can be very expensive. Also most toilets are “hovers”. They don’t have toilet seats and often don’t supply toilet tissue. That the country has an interesting history and we need to do a lot more reading and investigating before our next journey.

Will we go back? Probably, although it is not cheap for foreigners in Cuba. In the two weeks, we spent $1200 Cdn, including everything – the marina for two weeks, check-in fees, food supplies, taxis and car rental, hotels etc and some small souvenirs. If we had been able to anchor, things would have been much cheaper but that isn’t an option in Vita. Well, you can anchor – for $0.30 per foot per night but it is very difficult to get ashore, with no ladders on the docks.

But, this is already too long and I will write more another day. Love and hugs to all,

Heather & Murray

PS Crossed back to Hog Cay, Jumentos yesterday March 16th.

“L’Aventura de Dias”or Daily Adventures

Ricardo arrived in a taxi and, for $15 CUC, drove us to Gardalavaca, the nearest town large enough to have a bank. Gardalavaca means “watch the cows” which was named due to the many raids by pirates along these coasts. The bank only had one teller open and the locals were allowed to jump the line. So, to change our money took at least 45 minutes. For $210 Cdn, we received $191.95 CUC. When I asked for $500 CUC from my Visa card, she charged the card in US $, thus giving me a much worse exchange rate. But, as the teller never spoke, I didn’t notice that until just now as I calculated the exchange rate to report here. The next time, we will watch more closely. You must present your passport and Cuban Visa to do any banking and do not have access to your bank accounts. Thus, to save on interest rates, we pre-loaded our Visa card with a positive balance.

From the bank, we wandered, dodging rain storms, to find somewhere for lunch. In a park square, various small vendors had set up shop, selling carvings, small trinkets, leather belts and purses etc.

Once we were fed, it was time to find the “cadeca” which was an office in one of the hotels which would change CUC’s into the national pesos. The money system here can be confusing. In previous years, only tourists had CUC’s and the locals had pesos. Some stores only accepted CUC’s and some just pesos. Now, many of the locals can earn CUC’s and the jobs where they have access to that money are prized. One CUC equals 24 pesos. A doctor in Cuba may earn 30 CUC per month and a maid in a hotel may only earn $5 CUC.

The next day we were up for another adventure and walked several km to the main road. Here we turned toward Holguin and waited at the bus stop. After about 30 minutes, a decrepit bus stopped and, along with some locals, we climbed aboard. A ride was only 1 pesos per person or about 20 cents for all of us.

At Santa Lucia, we climbed out and started to walk. Not far along, we were accosted by a man with a horse and carriage. For 1 peso per person, he agreed to take us to the market. At least that is what we understood. Down paved streets and muddy lanes, the horse led us on, driven by the man who spoke no English and with me, and my broken Spanish, trying to get him to understand. Eventually we arrived at the market square. Here were lots of people and very loud salsa music blaring over huge speakers. Don said ” great, now we will not only be unable to understand what they say but also be unable hear what they say!”. From vendors, we purchased some onions and tomatoes ( about 8 lbs for 5 pesos or 20 cents). Beer was available but you needed to supply your own bottle.

Back into the horse-drawn cart, we went and the driver took us to a local restaurant. For 20 CUC, the four of us ate, the women a chicken dinner while the men had fish. It was accompanied by fried plantain, tomato slices and brown rice. The price also included the 7 beers we drank.

With heavy bags and full tummies, it was time for a cab back to the marina. Tomorrow is Sunday and we plan to do some work around the boat ie repair the jib halyard, put the watermaker to sleep while we are here and write all of these e-mails.

The weather here has been hot and not very windy in the marina. This is a disadvantage as the marina is situated in mangroves and, when the wind dies, the no-see-ums come out. When they are done eating you then the mosquitoes attack. So, we pray for lots of wind to keep both of them at bay.

Tomorrow, Monday, we will rent a car and do some traveling in the interior for several days. We paln to stay at cassa particulares which are a type of bed-and-breakfast. The prices are reasonable and often include dinner. Reports to follow upon our return to the marina.

Hugs and adios,
Heather & Murray

Cuba Check-in Part #2

Tina, the marina manager greeted us with flowers and welcomed us ( in excellent English ) to her country. Then the officials arrived.

Three men were first with forms to fill out. One was the veterinarian who examines the meat, flour and rice etc. He is looking for meats from countries with mad cow disease and bugs in the flour or rice. Another official was the Harbourmaster who, with his minimal English and my dictionary, assisted the others in completing the forms. Once those forms were done, the drug dogs arrived. Two different ones and they both had trouble with our steep stairs.. We must have looked like bad “hombres”. Two customs men followed and searched the the vessel, looking in cupboards, bilges and lockers. Once this process was completed, Murray needed to go to the custom’s office to see yet another official and fill out forms there listing GPS’s, VHF’s, TV, cameras, radar and computers etc. Our passports were taken away by the Immigration official and returned with a separate page inserted which was our Cuban Visa. They do not put any stamps inside your passport so, once you have departed Cuba, the loose page can be removed and there then is no indication that you have visited this country.

The costs for this process:

  • Custom Inspection 20 CUC ( Cuban convertible peso approx $1 Cdn )
  • Doctor 25 CUC ( not always collected as the Doctor himself cannot handle the money )
  • Veterinarian 5 CUC
  • Immigration Visa 15 CUC per person
  • Cruising Permit 15 CUC
  • Entry Stamp 10 CUC
  • Departure Stamp 10 CUC

The marina charges 0.60 CUC per foot on the dock with power and water but also 0.30 CUC per foot to anchor in the bay. So far, we have stayed on the dock. The water is questionable in its delivery and its purity. We have gotten mixed reports but some of the cruisers do drink it. Mostly, we are using it for washing ourselves and the boat.

Finally after a couple of drinks and a light dinner, we crashed for the night. By morning, my bruises were blooming. I forgot to mention being dumped off of the cockpit seat ( while napping on a cushion ) by a large wave. On the way down, I managed to rip the cockpit table off of the binnacle. Oops, another job for Murray’s list.

In the morning, after a long visit with Tina, talking about the marina and life in general, it was time to visit a bank, change some money and begin our adventures ashore.

More to follow,
Heather & Murray

Cuba Check-in Part #1

Hello everyone

On March the 2nd, a beach party was held on Hog Cay to celebrate Dave’s ( on m/v Dyad ) birthday. After roasted hot dogs ( I made buns! ) side dishes supplied by the cruisers and Cathy’s famous double chocolate cherry dump cake, fireworks blasted into the night sky. By the light of the bonfire and Dave’s L.E.D. lit cap, Dave played guitar as we all tried to sing along.

All too soon, Murray was tapping me on the shoulder to say ” It’s time to go.” Go back to the boat, haul the engine and then haul the dinghy and stow it on the foredeck. Then time for a couple of hours of shut-eye before the alarm wakes us once again for our planned midnight departure. A quick radio call confirmed that Next Exit, with Don and Ann aboard, were also up and ready to head out. The anchor broke loose from the sands of Hog Cay just as the hour changed to midnight.

The distance from Hog Cay to Puerto de Vita, Cuba is 73 nm and we arrived at Vita by 1100 March 3rd. The wind was on our beam and the waves built behind us until we cleared Cayo Santa Domingo and then, with only 30 miles to go, the seas became very confused. About 0830, the genoa halyard broke and the genoa fell onto the deck and into the sea. I quickly put the engine into neutral to avoid getting the prop tangled in any cables or lines that might be trailing into the water. Murray hurried out on the deck and hauled the sail in as fast as he could. But, some had made contact with the hull. Blue bottom paint smears all over the sail! But at least it was aboard. Murray secured it with lines to keep it in place while we continued.

There were two quite busy shipping lanes ( one west-bound, one east-bound ) and we had to stop to avoid one ship but otherwise the traffic outside of the lanes was minimal.

From twelve miles out, I made contact with the authorities at Marina Vita. The visibility was obscured by sometimes heavy downpours but, still, we spotted the lighthouse about 5 miles out. The water is very deep, right up to the coast so our depth sounder was just flashing it’s “deep” signs. And that continued right into the harbour where it finally registered 150 ft! Channel markers were shown on the chart but they were very difficult to spot until we were quite a ways past the lighthouse. The markers reflect the “red right returning” system so that the red buoys are to be kept to the right or starboard. The markers also have cardinal markings on top, which point the way to safe water. A small boat, driven by Alex, came out to guide us in to the marina and he indicated the spot to anchor and wait for the “medico” or doctor who determines of you are healthy enough to be allowed ashore.

Once the doctor’s interview was completed, Alec again guided us to the the marina and assisted our tie-up at the dock. There are mooring balls in front of the dock, a line is passed through a ring on the top and then you back to the dock and affix two stern lines. This system is common in the Med. Backing up is not easy for sailboats!!! But we managed to accomplish this with minimal screaming and damage to the hull. Actually, I am kidding – no damage, no screaming.

More to follow
Heather & Murray