Monday, May 15, 2017

At Dawn's Early Light

After checking into the US in West Palm Beach, we decided to head north as far as we could before the next LO was offshore.  Charleston, South Carolina would be a good place to stop, let the weather pass and then continue moving north to the Chesapeake where we will spend the beginning of the summer.

Our friend Dorothy on Aviva would be single-handing her boat, so Dan and Francine decided to go with her on the passage from West Palm to Charleston.  It would be about 48 hours so with Dan and Francine on the boat, Dorothy would be able to get some sleep during the night watches.  We left on the low tide out of the inlet with Hank and Seale on Flash behind us and Dorothy not far beyond that. Flash is a Catana 471 - a pretty fast catamaran - so they soon passed us and headed further north to Beaufort, NC.

Baxter and I had a night watch schedule of 2 hours on watch/2 hours off watch.  For a long passage, that would not be enough sleep, but for 48 hours, it would be ok.  The wind was light and dead downwind so we tried a variety of sail combinations that wouldn't involve poling out the jib in the middle of the night.  As usual, my watch is when all the excitement happens.  We had cargo ships and fishing vessels encompassing us, which is not a problem in itself but with the wind almost at 180 behind us, the sail trim was very sensitive and my maneuverability was delicate.  So as I'm watching the boats around us, there was a particular fishing vessel (Bonsai) with a closest point of approach <500 feet in 15 minutes, so I hailed him on the radio three times with no response at all.  Since he has the right of way, I finally had to wake up Baxter to change the sails.

Molly:  "Ugh - sorry Bax, but I think we have to gybe.  I can't get this guy Bonsai to respond."
Baxter: "Ok.  Let me try him one more time."
Baxter on vhf:  "Bonsai, Bonsai, Bonsai, Sailing vessel Terrapin"
Bonsai on vhf(Immediately):  "Go ahead Terrapin"
Molly to Baxter: "You have got to be kidding me...??"
Baxter on vhf (after switching to working channel):  "Hey Bonsai, I think we have a pretty close cpa - just want to make sure you see us"
Bonsai on vhf:  "Sure do.  Just maintain your course and speed buddy and I'll work around ya"
Baxter to Molly:  "Ok - I think I'll go back to sleep now"

Either chauvinism is alive and well in the Atlantic Ocean or the guy was on deck when I called and coincidentally was near the radio when Baxter called.  I'm hoping it was the latter, let me know what you think.

With the light winds and our route dead downwind, the sails slapped a bit until finally we caved and turned on the motor.  We continued to motor through just before dawn when we see a strange set of yellow and white lights on a tower.  We couldn't tell if it was a weird buoy (there are a lot in this area) or what??  I check the colregs guide which referenced a submarine partially submerged - nah...not off the coast of Georgia/Florida?  So, out came the binoculars and in the dawn's early light, we saw glimpses of yes, a submarine, off our port bow.  There was no AIS info so we weren't sure of their heading or speed so Baxter hailed them on the vhf by calling "Submarine in [lat/lon] position, this is sailing vessel Terrapin" in order to make sure they didn't hit us.  The response on the vhf was simply "Terrapin, this is the submarine.  We are heading 270 (due west) at 8 knots and we will avoid you".  That was it...strange and spy-like with no other information.  Usually the typical military response is "warship" or the name of the vessel...not here - just "Submarine" and then they were gone.

In the spirit that we weren't getting torpedoed, we continued to move towards the Charleston inlet as the day broke and we soon realized that apparently today was one of the race days for Charleston Race Week with the course right through the middle of the channel, cargo ships, traffic et al.  So, we delicately eased our way west the through the channel as the wind slowly increased to 30 kts.  One of the race boats crossing the channel even had the nerve to scream at us and say "We're racing!!!" - as in, get out of the way.  I wonder if they tried the same to the 700-ft cargo ship behind us.  There was even a point Baxter had to put the boat in reverse to actually avoid hitting a race boat - seriously...these people were not moving.

While the race was going on and we were trying to avoid cargo ships and race boats, there was also a slight distraction on the jetty.  A fishing boat apparently ran out of fuel and the boat was on the rocks - right next to us.  Now there is Coast Guard on the radio with fishing boats yelling over the wind, helicopters coming to rescue the boat...and all the craziness that involves.

An hour of chaos behind us, we were pretty happy to slide into our slip at Cooper River Marina with Dorothy, Dan and Francine on the dock to grab our lines.
Looks so peaceful as the sun rises over the Atlantic - as long as you don't get torpedoed by a submarine
This section of the Atlantic is actually called The Sargasso Sea.  This is sargasso seaweed...see? 
That ribbon of highway
Kala on watch day and night, warm weather... 
...and cold weather.  (Yes this is her sleeping bag)
A view of our chart plotter at sunset the night before we arrived.  We are the black triangle with boats (blue blobs) on top of us.  The circles that look like footballs are wrecks and the yellow box on the right is a lighted buoy (explaining our curiosity about the submarine's yellow lights).  You can see in the bottom left the wind (AWS) was less than 5 kts and the yellow line indicates the direction - right behind us.  We were about 40 miles out (1.6ish rings) from Charleston inlet.
This was just posted today on Facebook - Ocearch tagged a 1300 lb Great White who pinged off the coast of Charleston.  You should compare this to the picture above...
This guy....whoa - don't want to meet him in a dark alley or ocean
This cargo ship is not changing course for a little sailboat race
You can see a small sailboat in front of the USS Yorktown - five minutes later there was about 50 of those crossing our bow, screaming at us and that's when Baxter had to stop the boat and put it in reverse.  I didn't have time to take a pic as it was happening.
As long as you don't hit them, it's pretty watching the boats race
Happy to see the Cooper River Bridge - Charleston, SC icon

Friday, May 12, 2017

Adios Cuba, Hola Estadas Unidas

Our time in Cuba had run out, so says the US Coast Guard, so it was time to wrap things up.  The Salty Dawg Rally had a farewell dinner on Saturday night sponsored by Marina Hemingway so Baxter and I got dressed up one last time.  Chris Parker, our weather router, advised the best weather if a boat had to leave, would be Monday morning.  We readied Terrapin with jacklines for offshore, water in the tanks, paid the marina bill, paid the customs fees and had a last Sunday night out with friends at Santy's paladar.

On Monday, Hank George (our rally director) played "air traffic controller" on the vhf radio from his slip on canal #4 - out of sight of the boats - and smoothly coordinated 16 boats tying up and clearing out at the customs dock which only held 4 boats at a time.  All 16 boats were through customs and on their way north before 9am!  In addition to our rally, there were also other boats leaving the marina at the same time trying to leave in the same weather window - including megayachts, catamarans, etc...and Hank was able to coordinate it all with the greatest of ease.  Oh and by the way, we should mention Hank was halfway up his mast and finishing a sail repair, using his handheld vhf while he was coordinating it all.

Though the weather window was the best it would be, it wasn't great.  The Gulf Stream (think Mississippi River) at its closest point to Havana was running almost due west to east and the wind was from the east, never a good combination.  Also, there were thunderstorms forecasted Monday night after sunset in the Gulfstream - with opposing wind and waves, this could get ugly.  We decided to motor sail and get through the stream as fast as possible and eliminate any concern with lightning and storms.  It was a brisk day of sailing, but all remained manageable.  After I came up for my night watch at 10pm, it looked as if we were going to go into Marathon, or continue to motor throughout the night.  Just then, we were hailed by Dorothy on Aviva who said she was 1.5 miles away and had just listened to the most recent weather forecast and the wind should be clocking southeast which would allow us to sail vs motor.  About every 10 min, we could add a couple more degrees off the wind and it was great.  I was off watch at 1am and we were still falling off the wind and were able to point towards The Elbow of the Keys.  By time I came back up at 6am, the wind was back from the east and we needed to gybe into the Gulf Stream in order to get some easting so we could continue sailing past Miami.  We continued to sail - gybing east and then gybing north again three more times until we finally were pointed due north with an east wind and had the gulf stream behind us.  We were able to time our entry into West Palm Beach for sunrise on Wednesday morning, just as the tide was switching.  Dorothy on Aviva and Norm and Claudia on Tawhaus were also going into the inlet as we arrived.  

We checked into customs in Riviera Beach, which was a cluster, but regardless, we had a celebratory lunch ashore.  We were back in the convenience of the US where most everyone speaks the same language, uses the same currency, where wifi is available just about everywhere, cell phone towers radiate coverage from every crevice and crack and life is just too easy.  We were also in a place where we tied up our dinghy to go to customs and shortly found it locked up by the marina - waiting for their $16/day payment before they would unlock it...that never happened to us in any other country.  I guess convenience has a price.  
All dressed up for the SDR Farewell Dinner - we even took showers!
The wind is a-blowin'  - notice the palm trees.  You can see Terrapin between the 2nd and 3rd palm trees from the left.
Last Cuban dinner at Santy's Paladar - Baxter, Kurt (Myananda), Peter (Onapua), Dan, Francine & Molly

Our route from Havana (bottom left) to West Palm Beach (the big red arrowhead halfway up the Florida coast).  Key West is the light house with the pink circle above Fort Jefferson.  It is approximately 90 miles from Havana to Key West.  The red houses represent the strongest point of the Gulf Stream, the blue pins are the east wall of the Gulf Stream and the anchors and green fish are the west wall.  The course we took is the yellow line.  The zigzags near Key Largo are where we gybed INTO the Gulf Stream (3x) to gain easting - the first one was at about sunrise on Tuesday morning.
With all the pounding into the gulf stream, there are bound to be a couple leaks.  I told Baxter about this leak as I went off watch and went to sleep.  I woke up to screwdrivers and dismantling...we had to get this under control because of it's proximity to our electronics (on the right side of the picture)
Leak under control, Baxter needed to get some sleep.



On the phone with Customs - while I sit in the customs office - No I can't explain that...but I had to call customs, get a number, and then wait in line and give customs the number they gave me.  All four of us were calling to see who could get through first - reminded me of trying to win tickets from radio stations in the 80s.
Terrapin anchored in US waters, check, US Customs cleared-in, check, $25 lunch, check, iPads and iPhones updated, check, Francine safe in her pfd on land, check.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Vinales

Our "permit" from the US to visit Cuba restricted us to Marina Hemingway - by water.  So when we had the opportunity to travel to northwestern Cuba, we were definitely interested.  

Vinales is a three-hour drive from Havana and it would be rough in a 1954 Ford Fairline so we were pretty excited to see the newer-model Sprinter van pull up that morning.  The drive was along a proper 4-lane highway, albeit with illegal goat cheese and guava vendors on the side of the road, as well as horse-drawn buggies also called "aranhas" (spanish word for spider).  The highway even had rest stops along the way complete with coffee, juice and a full bar in case you would like a mojito, cuba libra or daiquiri for the rest of the drive.  

Arriving in Vinales is a stark contrast to Havana.  It is a valley among "mogotes" or granite hillsides.  The mogotes have eroded over time, leaving caves.  The views are lush and the farmland is plentiful.  Vinales is where most of the tobacco in Cuba is grown as well as the citrus, rice, and sugar cane.  We were able to talk to 4th generation farmers whose life has been growing tobacco and farming other crops.  They are required to provide the government with 90% of their crops but the remaining 10% is kept for the family.  As the farmer rolled the cigar in front of us, he asked if anyone would like to try - it would be rude to say no so we all gave it a puff.  Cigars are not my thing but it was a cool experience and these cigars were pretty mild so no need to worry about getting sick on the spot in front of everyone.  

We also were treated to fresh sugar cane - pressed and made into a delicious rum drink on the spot.  To go with our rum, we picked a few guavas right off the trees and ate them just like an apple...so fun and who knew guava could be eaten like that.  At first when I hesitated, not knowing how to eat the guava, our driver Tony looked at me and said "C'mon, is not going to kill you..."

The farm was just the beginning of the day - from there we had lunch at Balcones de Valle (Balcony of the Valley) with amazing views and tables on the edge of a patio that would not have passed regulations in the US - if you leaned too far back in your chair - you would fall over a 30 ft edge.  We also visited the El Palenque de Cimarrones...the caves where runaway slaves would hideout.  

Vinales was such a cool place that a few boats even stayed for 2-3 days.  We, unfortunately, had plans in Havana so we took the long nap, I mean, ride back to Marina Hemingway, arriving just in time for a Salty Dawg happy hour.  
Fourth generation tobacco farmer rolling custom cigar
When in Cuba....it would be rude to say No
Tobacco seeds that are germinated into plants and then replanted in the fields and eventually become large tobacco leaves that are rolled into cigars.
Pictures of the Cuban revolutionary heroes- just about every house and farm has them.  When we asked about Raul Castro's (Current president) photo, they said "He's not dead yet"
Pressing the sugar cane - the cane is laying on the table and you can see the juice being pressed into the bucket.  This was poured straight into the glass with rum and lime juice.

Russian tractor on Cuban farm

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mas de Cuba

More from Cuba -

There was so much to do and see in Cuba but because Americans are still restricted by the US Government on how much time you are allowed to spend in country - we had a short time to do it.  It is also hard to describe in words all of the things we did, people we met and experiences - it would take years to document so I've stuck to the highlights.

After the first few days of arriving, we settled into a groove and decided to make our way back to Havana Viejo to visit the Castille del Morro .  This castle has a long history in protecting the harbor of Havana.  The views of the city as well as the passages and weaponry in the castle were unique and spectacular.

We also went back to the Hotel Nacional and while we were on the lawn checking out the canons pointed into the harbor, we found our way to a small, discrete exhibit of the bunkers used during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  What we found was a guide who invited us in and locked the doors behind us.  He took us into passages and tunnels used by Fidel Castro to secure the harbor if the Americans invaded.

Havana is also full of artistic culture.  We were able to visit Hammel's Alley where we attended a rhumba street party celebrating african culture and religion and its evolution and Spanish influence.  Of course, they served a unique drink called The Negron - basically a lemony version of the mojito.  When in Cuba, you can be sure you will find a mojito or variation thereof just about everywhere.
Another artistic display was in a neighborhood near Jaminitgs called Fusterlandia, where Jose Fuster has created a mosaic village along city blocks and down streets in the middle of his third world neighborhood.

Who can think of Cubano music without visions of Tito Fuentes playing drums and a cuban horn section? So we spent a night at La Guajirito listening to the Bueno Vista Social Club and its living legends.  The music was invigorating and definitely entertaining.  Five or more singers ranging in age from early thirties to eighties would sing and dance different selective pieces - I was even embarrassingly picked out of the audience on more than one occasion to dance with more than one singer - it would have been rude to decline.  It was a great time and highlighted a piece of Havana nightlife.

Being able to experience Havana's art and historical monuments gave us more insight to the island and helped rid us of any preconceived notions of the Cubans and their culture.
Castille del Morro with Havana Harbor in background
A bridge between fortresses - there is nothing below the wooden fenced section - I'm not sure the US would allow people to walk across it.
Cannons, cannons, everywhere...
More cannons...and their embrasure
A really old cannon
Reading about the history of the fort
The chapel
On the flag tower
Steep steps...how cool
The jail in the Castle - the picture on the looker's right shows Fidel Castro and Che Guevara having a press conference here in the 1960s.
The lawn of the Hotel Nacional - aka above the secret trenches and bunkers
Going underground
Checking out the phone tied straight to the Kremlin - I usually don't post blurry pics but this shows how dark it was in the tunnel
A street corner in Havana - they love Che...and the 1950s American cars
Bartenders in Hammel's Alley making "The Negron"
This parrot talked to me about his day - he was a happy guy
La Guajirito and members of the grammy award winning Bueno Vista Social Club
Hammel's Alley before the rhumba party with our taxi driver, Frank
Learning about santeria and african culture expressed through artistic murals and dance

Corner of 5th Avenue in Jaminitas
Jose Fuster's house
Terrapin on canal #1 at Marina Hemingway


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Friday, April 28, 2017

You Say You Want A Revolution - Well, Ya Know...


One of the most exciting things we did in Havana was the Museo Revolucion (Revolutionary Museum).  It has three stories of displays and information about how Fidel Castro helped save the Cubans from Bautista and how the Castro government has provided education and better lives to all Cubans through reforms and programs, which they didn’t have under Bautista.  The information also explains how the US was working in conjunction with Bautista and has continually tried to take over the island.  There was information that I’m not sure was accurate such as the Americans stealing 14,000 Cuban children (Operation Peter Pan), or that Americans brought dengue fever to the island with the intention of killing the Cubans – something we read even said that Americans sprayed mold on their crops.  It is very interesting how perception can be very different than reality. 

Cubans (at least the ones we met) don’t hate Americans and they are proud to be Cuban.  The people who remained on the island have suffered hard times – after the Revolution in 1959, the US and its allies placed an embargo on Cuba – which in itself was not devastating since Cuba could still trade with USSR and other smaller countries.  However, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, they had nothing – and it was one of the worst times in the islands history.  Now that the relationship with the US has started to change, it could help the Cubans and their posterity,  However, there is a new administration in the US, so who knows how that will play out and the Cubans still have Raul Castro in power, but there will be an election next year when it is rumored he will step down. 


I have always thought that money and greed can ruin people and cultures so I hope that Cuba can reduce it’s poverty as well as maintain its strong culture and pride and not be corrupted by the money and materialistic society of the US and it’s allies.  The island is the largest in the Caribbean and could be a major force in the world as it once was under the Spanish and the British.  (Incidentally, after the British defeated the Spanish and gained control of Cuba,  they soon enough traded Cuba back to Spain in return for England to have Florida as a colony – which the British then lost in the American Revolution).

On the 2nd floor of the Museo Revolucion - In front of me under the banister are bullet holes where students unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Bautista before the revolution.
Che Guevara - Many Cubans treat him as a hero
Hmmm....
The Revolution Museum used to be the residence of Bautista - it had beautiful architecture and was once decorated by Tiffany's of New York

The three main leaders of the Cuban Revolution - Fidel Castro, Camile Cienfuegos and Che Guevara
Taking a ride with Ray...Cubans who are taxi drivers have to have a license from the government...sometimes you can get a cheaper ride if you find someone who may or may not have a license.
Bunkers under the Hotel Nacional - these were used by the Cuban military during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Canons were pointed into the Havana Harbor (over my left shoulder) and then a tunnel system was used as protective cover.  There was also a phone that was connected directly to the Kremlin and periscope tunnels so the army would not have to come out from below ground.