December 28, 2014
We left Lake Sylvia when the tidal current would be slack on the river and headed up the New River to Lauderdale Marine Center to wait on parts. This time for a rebuild kit for a bilge pump; it arrived on the Tuesday and we stayed for Christmas Eve and to wait for better weather and to enjoy the company of some new friends. The boat got decorated up and presents were wrapped and set under our Christ-mast tree.
Christmas day after saying goodbye to our friends we left to head to Miami on the outside. We had a good downwind sail in 8-20 knots apparent and as we approached the Miami cut the winds built to 35 true. We passed a barge being pushed in by two tugs and then spun it around to drop the sails and followed the barge in past all the dredging equipment. We anchored off Fisher Island just about sunset.
The next day was overcast and drizzly so around 11:00 we motored around to No Name Harbor on the south side of Biscayne Key to wait for the next day that promised better weather. It only took a couple hours to motor around and by the time we arrived the weather had cleared and we spent the rest of the day relaxing before the trip south and west along the Florida Keys. All told it would be about 95 miles from No Name to Marathon along the Hawk Channel. It was a couple miles to windward to get out to the channel light where the route along the Keys on the inside started. I was passed by two sailing cats on the way out before I could set sail but once we turned off it was a beautiful tight reach doing 6.5 to over 7 knots. We soon passed both cats and left them far behind, at least until the wind lightened and went aft. Then they caught up and passed us in the last couple miles before our anchorage at Rodriguez Key. The anchorage was open to the east but the winds were light and it was a nice night.
Sunday the 28th was another nice day with winds in the 10 to 20 knot range giving us a beam to broad reach. We had a great 45 mile sail westward along the keys until about ten to fifteen miles from the destination we ran over a crab pot float that hooked onto the slowly spinning propeller. The boat went from 6.5 knots down to 2knots as we dragged the trap along. Climbing down the transom I cut the line but the float never came free. We dropped the sails and stopping the boat; putting on my mask and snorkel I dove and untangled the float line that was around one blade of the prop. There was no apparent damage so we raised sail and sailed on in a weakening wind. About an hour out and with the wind and boat speed decreasing we started the engine and motor sailed into Marathon with no issues from our crabbing experience. The moorings are full and we are now anchored in Boot Key Harbor. After reading the fine print in the mooring agreement it sounded as if the moorings are not safe or serviced and you tied to them at your own risk; the contract absolving them of any responsibility should something happen to you or your boat. To paraphrase, the city, county and state will not warrant that the moorings are safe and tie to them at your own risk. We’ll stick to our anchor that we know the condition of. We plan to stay here until Jan 5th when Graham arrives when we’ll start our journey to Cuba. Talking to Chris Parker on the SSB this morning and it appears that we could have a window for getting to Cuba next week.
Jan 8, 2015
We are now in Varadero, Cuba. Graham arrived on Monday and we met him at the airport in Key West, and had a rum punch while waiting for the bus to Marathon. Stopped in to the bar across the street for some happy hour snacks before heading to the boat to settle in and prep for the next day’s weather window to get to Cuba. After a quick shower and some last minute shopping we headed out to the fuel dock and topped up and then departed at 11:00 for the big island to the south. The winds were on the beam all the way at about 15 to 18 or so with some higher gusts. The waves were a little larger than forecast at 6 to 8 feet and choppy and forecast to settle down which didn’t happen until well after nightfall. Once settled, from about midnight on, the waves were a nice four foot rolling swell and the winds settled to around 15 knots. Boat speed averaged around five and a half knots the whole way with bursts of speed to seven and a half and down to three knots sliding down and then climbing out of a bigger wave trough.
Jan 30, 2015
We are now anchored off Shroud Cay in the Exumas, tucked in and will explore the island a little later today. Winds are forecast to go to about 345 degrees tonight but only to 8 to 12 knots and we should be a little sheltered behind the point.
The last time I wrote we were in Varadero Cuba. We spent two weeks there; the marina is brand new and still not completed, without showers up and running, but with electricity and water at the docks. We spent eight days exploring and travelling in Cuba, 4 days in Trinidad at the casa particular of Merlyn y Rolando and tried to see most of the sights of this 500 year old city. We also went for a drive up into the mountains in a 1953 Chevy to a coffee plantation and to a large reservoir where we had arranged to go fishing out on the lake. Graham got lucky and caught a nice trout and that went into the lunch we had at the taxi owners parents place. Our dining area was a shelter alongside the stream where we kept the chickens at bay as we ate our Cuban meal. Their home was very basic by our standards but we would kill for a locale like they have, along a mountain stream cascading in refreshing pools that Graham and I took a dip in to clean up and cool off. The roads are an interesting adventure in driving, switch backed and not so much washboard but more like waves in spots. Of course a dog or cow or goat or horse cart or large truck or Viazul bus could be possibly lurking around every 180 degree curve.
We next arranged for a minibus taxi to take us to Habana. We shared it with a total of 7 passengers for the long drive to Habana. They must have had Cuba in mind when they came up with the slogan “adventures in motoring”. Along the road when we stopped for a break one of our passengers disappeared at the road stop but somehow he was replaced with another person. We all arrived without any problems at our assorted destinations and spent the night at a Casa. It was a nice location at the very tip of Habana Viejo but a little too basic for our tastes. The next day we walked over to another place I knew about but it was booked; the owner made a few calls and found us a place at the casa of Alejandra Hernandez a short walk away, also within walking distance of everything we wanted to see. We wandered the streets of old Havana trying to see as much as we could. Much of the area looks run down but also very much of that is in marvelous condition inside. The whole city is a buzz of activity with everyone trying to make the best of life even though they are being strangled by outside foreign policies beyond their control.
The resiliency of the Cuban people is amazing. What they do with what they have has to been seen to be believed. I watched from out balcony as one man shoveled sand for mortar and concrete into 50 kilogram bags as another man held the sack open for him. Then others helped load the 50 kilo bags onto a bici-taxi made for trucking. They loaded 12 sacks, that made 600 kilos or over 1320 pounds to be delivered by bicycle somewhere, I hope close by, in Habana. Elsewhere in old Havana as we sat and relaxed with a Crystal beer and a pastry and a good Cuban cigar while we watched other workers carry similar 50 kilo sacks up a narrow flight of marble stairs to a third floor where they were working on a restoration project. Remember the ceilings are ten or twelve feet tall in the buildings so that is like four stories to us. With little money and a lot of desire, things like this are happening all over Cuba. Eventually we had to leave Cuba but plan to fly back and spend more time there in other parts of this amazing island getting to know what the real Cuba is like outside of the pampered confines of an all-inclusive resort.
Back at the marina we discovered that a weather window was opening for the next day for us to sail to Bimini. We had talked about crossing the bottom of Andros Island but that was just as far as Bimini at about 180 nautical miles just to get there and it would have been up current most of the way with another hundred miles to go after that to Staniel's Cay. We arrived at Bimini two hours after the wind went north and motored the last twelve miles in. There was a group of boats coming and we hustled to clear in before they arrived. We spent three days there waiting out another frontal passage before heading to Nassau and getting into Nassau just in time at four am on a building and following wind. The winds were up to twenty four with gusts to thirty in the last few hours with building seas as we arrived in Nassau. Again we stayed three days letting the front blow by before heading out for the Exumas. We had a nice tight reach across once we had made the turn at Porgee Rock for the forty mile sail from Nassau to Shroud Cay. And if it warms up today we’ll explore Shroud before tomorrow’s forecast twenty five knot winds that we’ll use to sail south on to Black Point or Big Majors Spot.
We spent one somewhat bouncy night at Shroud Cay, the winds being a little more west of north and stronger than forecast and then headed out south and east in the morning across the banks. We decided to stop at Warderick Wells Cay. It was decidedly calm at the Emerald Rock field and seeing as the only advantage to a mooring was a bit of ice for drinks at the happy hour for the twenty dollar charge we anchored instead. Great holding and still well protected though a little farther out. Our next decision is where to weather the next blow coming in on Friday, the first day of the Farmer’s 5-F festival.
The winds are forecast to settle down tomorrow and we will use that to get farther south.
Saturday Feb. 7, 2015
We left Black Point and had a great sail down to Galliot Cay arriving about 11:00 where we anchored for the rest of the day and overnight. We had the island to ourselves for most of the day until late afternoon when other boats started to arrive. Imagine our own Private Island and sandy beach. The next day we were planning to stop at Adderley cut, Leaf Cay which had decent protection from winds and waves and friendly iguanas. But the weather forecast indicated we should keep going or we may be spending a few days to a week there until the front passed. We arrived in George Town about three pm and were anchored with a safe arrival beverage by four pm off of Monument Beach. The next morning with a wind shift to the north we were too close to another boat so we pulled up and headed to Red Shanks to get more protection from the coming serious front. There are several boats already in Red Shanks. The entrance is shallow but easy to get into at high tide but for us the tide is falling and we need to get in before the squall hits. We motored in carefully and picked our way through the deeper areas. The clouds were getting darker and there was a squall coming rapidly but it would not be wise to hurry and run aground. As it turned out the rain started just as were preparing to set the anchor and then the winds hit as we paid out the chain. Getting the chain onto the gypsy without losing a few fingers was not easy with the boat starting to accelerate in the wind but as soon as the chain came taught the anchor set almost immediately. We paid out seventy five feet of chain in water only seven feet deep; a ten to one ratio for the expected winds. A few minutes later the wind gusts were over thirty-five knots. We sat in the cockpit and watched the GPS and the other boats, we weren’t moving. Success and time for a drink after the squall passed. Later that night the winds built, we kept track of our position and by morning we hadn’t moved. The next day the winds went to a steady southwest at thirty knots with gusts to forty knots and we saw one gust to forty-seven knots. We had set out ninety-five feet of chain in the six and a half to seven and a half feet of water and we stayed put all through the windy day and night.
A few days later we would head for Long Island