Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Grand Cayman Island to Bocas Del Toro Archipelego, Panama

We left Cienfuegos, Cuba on the 15th of February for Grand Cayman Island, 180nm to the SW.

 Until we got clear of the influence of land we had left over big seas from a previous blow and little wind. This was pretty uncomfortable for awhile then  the wind settled in and we had a good sail covering the distance faster than expected.

  The Cayman Islands have no clearance fees in working hours but overtime is paid after hours so we reduced sail doing just 1-2 knots to get there in business hours. On arrival 4 cruise ships were anchoring in the bay of Georgetown so Port control advised us to wait until the passengers were transported ashore and cleared.

We enjoyed listening to the Port pilot instructing the ships captain where to drop his anchor and giving a minute by minute account of where the anchor was in the seabed and what percentage it was buried!

 The port control vessel then came alongside with some papers to fill in, returning 15mins later to take us ashore to Customs and Immigration. They were extremely friendly and helpful.

The mooring buoys are free and you can pick up any designated buoy all along the western side of the island. Some are daytime buoys and some are long term.

The Cayman Islands are British owned and consist of 3 islands. Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The population is around 58,000 and we were told that with the cruise ships the population swells to 1/2 that again, but the cruise ships are gone by nightfall..
For us Grand Cayman Island was a great stop off point for a rest but we wouldn't consider it a great destination choice. Everything was VERY expensive so we were pleased not to have to buy much at the supermarket and we weren't prepared to pay $10 for a beer! The tours and restaurants were beyond our budget..We took a local mini bus to see the island and walked everywhere else.
The governments major source of income is indirect taxation. There is no income tax, capital gains tax or corporation tax but import duty is between 5-22%. There are more registered businesses than people and it is a tax haven for wealthy people.

We snorkeled straight off the boat and the water was very clear. The islands were formed by large coral heads which are peaks of a massive under water ridge.
Seven mile beach is home to many resorts and hotels and beach bars right on the waterfront. One can walk the entire length of the beach as the foreshore is considered Public property

Cigars being hand made from Cuban sources

We met an Australian couple, Nick and Sue at the anchorage who planned to leave for Bocas Del Toro the same day as us so we arranged a radio schedule with them and on the 6th day we all set sail.

The 700nm took us 6 1/2 days. We punched hard to the wind for the first 12 hrs hoping to get east as far as possible to get us around the shallows off Honduras but the wind switched earlier than predicted and we had to take several long tacks which were uncomfortable and we were pretty tired with little sleep. By the 3rd day conditions were better and we were able to run a little downwind.
We had birds land on the boat to have a rest. They were obviously tired too!
This little bird spent the afternoon and night resting on top of the outboard motor

On the 4 days that we towed a fishing lure Eric caught a Mahimahi (Dorado) each day so the freezer was full of fish.

We arrived at Bocas Del Toro at 2300hrs on Sunday and dropped our anchor off the township just after midnight.

So often we arrive at our destination in the dark so waking the next morning and discovering the sights is very special. It is often very different to what we imagine.

The officials came out to the boat to clear us in to Panama then later in the day we had to go in and get Visa's stamped into our passports and a cruising permit.

Our cruising permit was $193, visa's $105 each and a boarding clearance fee of $80. almost $500USD compared to no charge in Grand Cayman but the prices in the shops and prices for a meal are cheap and a beer is only $1 at the bar compared to $10 in Grand Cayman Island.

Bocas Del Toro township is quaint and quirky and a very popular holiday destination for backpackers and the adventurous.

The Kuna Indians have some spectacular dug out canoes

We hired bikes and explored the countryside taking us over the top of Isle Colon to the end of the island. It was uphill until we got to the plateau which was undulating, then a downhill ride to Draga beach. The day was 32C with humidity of 98% but most of the ride was in the shade
We did cheat and got a local taxi to take us and our bikes to the top of the ridge each way!

 There were lots of dwellings in the trees
We saw birds and monkeys along the way as we cycled along the narrow shady jungle fringed roads.

A stop for a cold coke was very much needed as our water bottles were quickly emptied. As we sat here we watched these beautiful birds (? weaver birds) flying to their nests hanging from the trees.

Eric will be staying aboard to do some boat work and Cathy is flying to Australia for a months work then on to NZ to welcome into the world our first Grandchild!
After 10 weeks we will be together again and will be heading to the Panama Canal to organise the transiting process.. Then it is the very long haul, some 8000nm across the Pacific back to NZ.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

CUBA January- February 2015

The largest island in the Caribbean and the 16th largest island in the world

When we think of Cuba we have visions of the Revolution, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the missile crisis and the US embargo.
We had always wanted to visit and have not been disappointed.
Cuba has probably been one of the most interesting places we have visited in our 9 yr circumnavigation thus far. We now have memories of family people with a purpose in life, who are friendly and vivacious with a love for dance and music, cigars and 1950's cars.
The embargo is being lifted, the US embassy is built and awaiting occupation.
Hotels are being renovated and new ones built, streets paved, homes now able to be owned are being painted and thousands of tourists are flooding in.
Communism is dying away, tips and handouts are being asked for...Capatilism has begun!
Such is the price of freedom.....

We left Key West, Florida on the 18th of January. With pressure to keep moving towards Panama we decided to make use of the short weather window before the next “Norther” came in. These winds blow down from as far as Canada bringing strong cold winds which stall the trade winds.
The Florida current sweeps eastward around the bottom of the Florida Keys before it joins the Gulf stream. If strong wind is against this current it can become very rough.
It took us 24hrs to make the 100nm crossing in what we would describe as being in a washing machine. The autopilot couldn't handle the state of the seas so we had to hand steer the whole way.

When we reached the entrance to the Hemingway marina, west of Habana, the seas were breaking heavily on both sides of the reef divide and it was still blowing 20-25 knots.
The officials told us later that they could hear us calling on the VHF radio but we could not hear them replying. They were advising us NOT to enter as it was in their consideration too dangerous. We were pleased we did not hear them...With experience and good judgment Eric navigated us through without incident.

Our clearance into Cuba was quick, polite and efficient. We excitedly raised the Cuban flag which Cathy had made and made our way into the marina canal

The gale we had experienced in Key West , Cuba had also had, which created huge seas . These had been breaking across the sea wall into the first canal and boats were within inches of floating onto the land. Rubbish was all that remained

The marina hotel where we exchanged our dollars had some beautiful artwork depicting Ernest Hemingway's association with Cuba

Once the weather had settled down and we were happy to leave “Erica” in the marina we joined friends in a trip into Habana to see the sights.

Hailing a taxi on the road outside the Hemingway marina

We initially went to the tourist area in Habana and walked along the wooden cobbled streets looking at the antiques and curiosities for sale and appreciating the architecture of the buildings and 1950's restored cars

A tour of the city by double deck bus was a good way to get an overview but not being able to understand Spanish made it difficult

There is alot of restoration being done

Revolution square
Hotels next to Revolution square


Our friends took us to the non tourist part of the city where we enjoyed lunch at a family run restaurant (Paladare) The food is cheap and very good. We peered through doorways where the local people lived and had a frontage where they sold wares from homemade cakes to engine parts and household ware.

There are also malls with label clothing, furnishings and household ware with prices to match those anywhere else in the world.

We found supermarkets in both Havana and the suburbs with a greater variety of goods than we had expected and good locally grown produce

We noticed a low level of police presence and when there was it was around the tourist areas.

A wedding car with bride and groom could not be a photo missed
All too soon, the 25th of January, we departed the Hemingway marina and worked our way west along the coast. The entrance going out to sea was calm. Very different conditions than when we had come in.

We wanted to get around the western cape as quickly as possible to avoid headwinds so sailed overnight and into the next day. This can be a very unpleasant part of the coast to bash around in heavy seas.

This royal tern decided to hitch a ride with us and remained perched on the solar panels for some hours. It must have been desperate for a rest as it allowed me to get quite close for a photo

We spent a couple of days sheltering behind Los Cayo de la Lenoo with 2 other yachts. Fisherman also sought protection there and we were happy to take them gifts in exchange for lobster. They felt we were too generous with what we had taken them and insisted on giving us some pork as well. These Cuban men spend a month away from home netting stingray and shark.

We met a lovely couple, Ian and Erica, whom we had talked to on the VHF radio earlier on passage and got to meet them in person. It is always lovely to share experiences and cruising info with like minded sailors/travellers. After checking in and out at Los Morros with the Guarda Fronterra (harbour master) we spent a lovely lunch aboard their catamaran before saying farewell. They were headed to the islands off Honduras and us to Cienfuegos in the south
Erica made me a lovely birthday cake as a surprise as I was to spend my 60th at sea..

Visiting yachts are allowed to stop at uninhabited islands but must check in at designated ports.
After spending a night at Cayo san Felipe we decided to go through a shallow reef passage as a shortcut to the island of Juventud. As the bottom came up on the sounder we felt nervous so decided to anchor and put the dinghy in the water to sound the reef with a portable sounder.
We found some markers as well and cautiously went over the reef with inches to spare

Eric caught a Tuna which he prepared for smoking and when we arrived at Ensenada de los Barcos to anchor overnight he smoked it...Delicious

The next day we headed over the top of Juvenud island across the shallows of the Gulf. We had noticed a law enforcement vessel at anchor for some hours showing up on our AIS (automatic ship identification system) so were not surprised by a visit of the the coastguard. We began to furl our sails as we thought they would board us but they were happy to talk on the radio and view us with their binoculars before heading off again. We were happy about that as we were sailing well and it would have been an inconvenience to stop.

Another night at sea with wind on the nose and nasty short seas made it necessary to tack every few miles so we sought shelter the next day behind a cay until the wind changed direction
Here we were visited by fishermen who needed diesel engine oil..With no spanish understood by us and no english on their part we had an amusing time communicating. But with gestures and a picture book we finally understood each other. It was fun with lots of laughing!!
We were able to give them a container of engine oil we had bought in America and as it had spanish dialect on the label as well as english they were extremely happy that it was the correct oil. They insisted we took lobster tails as payment .
We gave them a few treats, handshakes were had and they were keen to get going. It is illegal to have a Cuban person aboard without prior authority from officials so we exchanged gifts across the deck.

With light wind we were finally able to sail in very pleasant conditions, the autopilot doing the steering, us reading books and enjoying lobster grilled in garlic butter. The wind increased in the night and switched direction coming from just where we needed to go so we anchored behind Cayo Guano del Este at 3 o'clock in the morning under the lighthouse strobe light After a few hours sleep and a wind change again there was no shelter where we were. 3 other boats left so we decided to leave as well..

Another unexpected night sail.... It was a hard and lively motorsail with seas breaking across the deck frequently. Eric got an unexpected bath as a wave hit the side of the boat and came over the top of the cockpit dumping on him as he sat in the stern.. I couldn't stop laughing!
We made good progress in 20-25knots and arrived in the very protected harbour of Cienfuegos. A tanker was coming out the entrance and as it is very narrow in parts we pulled over to let it pass. The charting with the GPS on our electronic charts has been spot on in Cuba.

We anchored before midnight, officials visited us quickly and efficiently and after a meal we were very pleased to climb into bed.
It is always a pleasure to wake in the morning when one has anchored at night and see the surroundings in daylight. Often very different to what you imagine!

Finally in Cienfuegos, the 5th of February...
Cienfuegos...Known as the Paris of Cuba with it's historical French influence
The marina is full of charter yachts so we anchored off with lots of other overseas yachts

The marina bar was frequented by other sailors and locals involved in tourism. Cuban crystal beer is popular in these kegs

We spent several days sightseeing in the city of Cienfuegos. It was a lovely walk along the esplanade passing little restaurants and clubs

We got around riding in bic taxis, horse drawn wagons and taxis.

There are tour buses running trips to all the major centres and tourist spots

Photos taken around the town centre and Boulevard. There is a lot of restoration happening in the buildings at the Jose Marti square. The Museum, Tomos Terry theatre, city hall, cathedrals and the founders house are here

We visited the cigar factory but were not allowed to take photos inside the processing area. There are 155 workers, mostly women. The tobacco leaf is stripped, wrapped, pressed, vacuumed then cooled for 5 days before the cigar is ready for boxing and dispatching. Each person in the final exterior wrapping process on average processes around 135 cigars/day

Inside the foyer while waiting for a tour there were photos of Fidel Castro and his brother Raoul and Che Guevara. We couldn't resist having our photos taken beside them

There was always a queue outside the Copella ice cream parlour so we joined the line and enjoyed 3 scoops of coconut flavour for 1 CUC ( equivalent of $1 USD)

Tourist areas with tourist prices are much more expensive than local prices. We kept away from the tourist restaurants and ate and shopped where the Cuban folk ate and shopped.
Government run and family operated restaurants (Paladares) are very cheap. A nice meal was 3-5CUC each and we had haircuts for 1CUC each, but we always gave extra.

This parrot was enjoying it's lunch as well

A day tour to Santa Clara and Trinidad with friends Debbie and Luc whom we had met in 2014 in the West Indies was most enjoyable. Our driver could not speak English so Debbie with good Spanish was able to translate for us

We visited the Mausoleum and museum at Santa Clara where Che Guevara is tombed. No photographs inside were permitted

The next stop was where Che and his guerrillas derailed and captured an armoured train carrying arms and soldiers. This was a turning point in Fidel's campaign to overthrow Batista”s government

We stopped for refreshments , freshly squeezed sugar cane where there was a market selling hand made items
Bullock cart loaded with sugar cane

Trinidad is very much a tourist attraction with stone cobbled streets, old pretty buildings whose facades have been resurrected by the Cuban government and many stores selling souvenirs. We spent a couple of hours sightseeing and listening to music and watching dancing.

 We will depart for The Cayman Islands on Monday the 15th of February. It is around 180nm to the west where will will spend a few days before heading to Bocas Del Toro in Panama

SV Erica

SV Erica

About Me

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We met in 1971 and it was Eric's dream to build his own yacht and sail the world. This became a joint dream but it was not until 1994 that we were able to start building. "Erica" was launched in 2001 after 7yrs building her. It then took us 5 yrs to prepare her and ourselves before leaving NZ to see the world