Busy Month!

We have managed to be manically busy during the past month, getting ready for our daughter’s wedding, buying things to take back to the boat, visiting friends and family, spending time in Thatcham, Cambridge, London, Brecon and the Cotswolds. We celebrated our 21st Wedding Anniversary with a night in The Pear Tree, Purton where we had our reception in 1996 and have enjoyed being with our ‘children’ again. We do miss them more than they realise and struggle with not being there for the big events in their lives, as well as the times they need to talk or just have a hug.

Mind you, being back comes with a price and I can’t remember when we’ve done more on so little sleep but Kym and John’s Wedding was just amazing and worth every second of effort and planning. Having the reception venue in a huge park meant the 4 of us started work 3 days beforehand and we finally finished a week later when we saw the tipi packed away again. Friends and family all chipped in with help so we got to know everybody.

It was a wonderfully happy day for the new Mr and Mrs Rutterford, followed by a BBQ the next day for the families and everything went to plan, being all they had dreamed of. Even Lord and Lady Bathurst dropped by to wish the newlyweds well and toast a few marshmallows. Rob and I danced until almost 2am and I was immensely proud of him fulfilling his role as father of the bride. Kym looked so beautiful and I have to admit I’ve been shedding tears since I first saw her in her dress a few weeks ago, a few more as she walked down the aisle with Rob and many more during the day as people said the kindest things. John is the perfect match for Kym and already a big part of the family. I think he cried the most, bless him.

I promised a lot of friends, not on Facebook, that I would post some photographs and here they are.

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Long Journey To The UK

Our taxi was waiting to take us the 20 minutes to the Greyhound Bus stop and I held it up whilst I took a final photo of Beyzano, looking rather bare without her sails and canvas. We managed to put cases inside one another to cut down on the luggage. It is always on the way back we need the extra space.

All By Herself - Bare Beyzano

All By Herself – Bare Beyzano

The bus was late by half an hour but we still got into Washington DC on time as the 2 changes of buses caught up with the schedule and we still had plenty of time between buses. We wondered at first if we’d done the right thing going by bus due to a screaming child and people talking to themselves but it was actually far better than we imagined. Comfortable seats, plenty of stops to stretch the legs and people watch. Rob managed to sleep whilst I looked at the countryside in the dark as we sped through Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. There was WiFi on the bus and a toilet! For less than 160 dollars for both of us, it was pretty good value too.

Board Says On Time 25 Minutes After Departure Time Has Gone!

Board Says On Time 25 Minutes After Departure Time Has Gone!

We had 3 hours in the capital to quickly whizz around to see a few of the main sights but I want to go back for several days in order to visit the Smithsonian museums and see more of the city. We left our luggage at the Union Street train station. The hourly rate was the best option. I was surprised that no trains go from there to Dulles Airport and had investigated ways of travelling. Uber and shuttles make the trip but the cheapest option was another bus, leaving from near the metro station. We took a taxi to the bus stop rather than use the metro, due to the cases but it was only 12 dollars. The bus runs every half hour and takes about an hour if its the express one. You need the exact money of 7 dollars to feed into the machine on the bus but no special travel cards, like you do on the metro.

Capitol On A Cold, Sunny Day

Capitol On A Cold, Sunny Day

We walked to see the Capitol and government buildings nearby but didn’t get to the White House or museums. Next time.

Grecian Style In Washington

Grecian Style In Washington

British Airways proved to be a bit of a pain this trip. We tried to check in online 8 times to choose our seats but the system just said ‘go to the airport’. In addition, having dreamt of going on the A380 for years, since I worked on it at Airbus in 2006 and 2007, BA changed the plane to a Boeing 747. Not impressed! We got to the airport and had seats almost next to each other but the passenger in between us kindly offered to move as soon as we arrived.

Government Buildings

Government Buildings

A 7 hour flight is short in our book and we were soon in London being met by our friend Steve. I had a haircut booked that afternoon, a year on from the last, bought my wedding outfit and shoes the next day, had optician’s appointments the following day and a variety of meetings and socials are scheduled for the next few weeks. Kym came over this weekend to go through all her wedding plans, which was lovely to see. There is a lot to do but she is well organised and I’m sure it will be a wonderfully happy day. The weather needs to cheer up a bit first, as it is cold, wet, windy and grey at the moment. Not what we want at all.

Whyteleafe Grammar School

Whyteleafe Grammar School

On Saturday I attended the final reunion of my outstanding school, Whyteleafe Girl’s Grammar, in its 110th year. 11 girls from my year, the 1973 intake, were there, 5 from our class and it was a decade since we last met, 39 years since we left the school when the government axed the Grammar schools in most of the UK. 200 attended in all, the maximum capacity. Several teachers were there too and we had the chance to look around our old science labs and classrooms. So many happy memories, especially playing cricket, lacrosse and tennis. We sang our school hymn, recited the school prayer and reminisced about our days growing up together. It was a poignant occasion but great to see everyone again. Hopefully we will meet in the future and continue to keep in touch on the Facebook page.

The x.1 Half Of Our 1973-78 Year!

The x.1 Half Of Our 1973-78 Year!

We miss Beyzano still but keep an eye on the weather in Brunswick to make sure she isn’t in any danger. Our annual insurance has actually dropped considerably this year just as I was doing my usual muttering about it being outrageous. Guess there is less risk in the USA but our Third Party liability has been reduced from 3 Million to just half a million due to the way the US courts award payments.

Apart from feeling cold and getting a nasty cold with chesty cough, all is well with us. I’ll next post after the Wedding on June 10 as I’ve promised a lot of people to share the photos. There won’t be too much to say until then.

Celebratory Cake For The 110th Year

Celebratory Cake For The 110th Year

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Home Time – Beyzano & Us

After another uneventful passage from Fernandina to the sea buoy off St Simon’s Sound, Beyzano is tucked up in her new home for 2 months at the Brunswick Landing Marina in Georgia, whilst we head off on a long journey back to the UK.

Rough Outside The Channel

Rough Outside The Channel

The sea buoy is miles from the coast as the waters are so shallow and shift regularly further in. It took us 3 hours to motor down the well marked channel to the marina but just outside the channel you could see the water crashing onto the shallows, not a good place to get caught out. The channel is deep and wide and we didn’t see anything under 7 metres all the way to the marina.

St Simon's Lighthouse

St Simon’s Lighthouse

We decided to anchor off for a last night before topping up the tanks with diesel (to counteract condensation) at the Marina’s big and easy fuel dock. Next we moved to Dock 11, close to the hub of marina life, the Yacht Club. This marina is in a hurricane hole, surrounded by land in a very narrow strip of water. There is virtually no current and no wake, so a lovely peaceful place to berth. The staff are very helpful, guiding us into the dock and taking the lines. Their welcome pack held lots of information about the town, marina and social activities, of which there are many.

Every day there is free beer on tap and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday they hold a wine party, with nibbles and good wine. Yoga, film nights, special meal nights, jam sessions etc etc go on every week plus a new kind of dominoes game ‘chicken foot dominoes’ which we were taught on Sunday.

Peaceful Dock With The Countryside Beyond

Peaceful Dock With The Countryside Beyond

The bathrooms are spotless and include hairdryers, all in self-contained rooms. The laundry is free and they have state of the art machines. The lounge is a really nice place to hang out, as is the smaller lounge with a huge book exchange and board to pin up your boat card and spot people you know.

The town is small and sadly many of the shops are empty, so it has seen better days. The marina card gets you a 10% discount at many restaurant and cafes though and we plan to have a Thai meal on Saturday. The nearby park is a venue for outdoor music concerts, spanish lessons are available at the library and the beaches of Jeckyll and St Simon’s Islands aren’t far away. A classic car show event took place last Sunday, there is a farmer’s market three times a week and a cruiser’s net on Ch 69 at 0900, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Yacht Club With Big Insect Proofed Balcony

The Yacht Club With Big Insect Proofed Balcony

Using the free bikes, we got up early and found the West Marine chandlery and Winn-Dixie supermarket, less than 2 miles away. There are plenty of shops in the area and many people at the marina have cars and keen to show you around. We have only had a week to put Beyzano to bed, so have got the sails off, canvas will come down just before we go. Lots of cleaning and polishing to do inside, clearing out things we don’t use and we got the salt off the hull after another season of over 2000 miles sailed. This time it was just mid December to end April though, quick a lot of miles in a shortish time. Engine and generator oil has been changed and we’ve covered half the solar panels to stop them overcharging. With the cooler nights, our batteries are still at 97% in the morning, despite running the fridge and freezer.

Exploring Brunswick By Bike

Exploring Brunswick By Bike

We have to use up all the food, so the freezer and fridge can be emptied and as the marina provides a gas BBQ at the top of each dock (18 boats to a dock) with a covered area, we’ve been cooking our last Cuban red snapper and lobster on that.

City Hall

City Hall

The marina provide a guardianage service, checking on the boat as often as you specify. We have booked a Greyhound bus from here to Washington DC where we should have a few hours to wander before getting another bus to the airport. We have 2 nights sleeping ‘upright’ in a bus then plane seat, so not sure we will arrive in the best of moods at Heathrow. Steve, who is picking us up, has been warned! We are looking forward to getting back and seeing everyone again, it has been a long time.

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Fernandina Beach – Lovely Surprise

Using the strong current to aid us, I let Beyzano’s stern lines off whilst Rob waited in the bow until I called out for those lines to be let go and we were able to easily motor astern and off the Met Park docks. The current had pushed us at right angles to the dock by then.

Calm Ocean For Our 'Outside' Hop

Calm Ocean For Our ‘Outside’ Hop

We motored along St John’s River at the same rpm throughout but the changes in current gave us an initial speed of 4.9 knots, increasing to over 8 knots by the time we reached the big, well marked inlet. It was our first trip outside the ICW since April 5 but it was a very calm day, so we were once again under engine power but it meant a comfortable, fast passage. There were some shrimping trawlers out, dragging their nets along the seabed but not much else to see. We got into Cumberland Sound before 1400 and turned south towards the Fernandina Marina which is being rebuilt since it was badly damaged in Hurricane Matthew last year. Their fuel dock is closed but the inner docks are fine and we tied our dinghy there for $3 the following day.

Active Mill At Dawn

Active Mill At Dawn

From there we went west into Bells River as it was empty and suffers less current. We had good holding in 3 metres at low water. The Active Captain reviews make much of the noise and smell from the mills at Fernandina Beach but we didn’t really notice either during the few nights we anchored just west of the town. Amelia Island and the town was a lovely surprise as it doesn’t really look very inviting from seaward. Just a street back are several streets of pretty buildings housing shops, cafes and restaurants. The roads are lined with trees and everything is immaculate. I especially enjoy seeing the old houses and a free leaflet enables you to do a historical walk on your own, with information about each building, who built it, what they did and when it was built. A modern tourist centre has all the local information and there is a bus to take you around town, to the Walmart supermarket and to the beach and costs just a dollar.

Amelia Island Trolley Bus

Amelia Island Trolley Bus

We indulged in some huge ice creams for the rather princely sum of 4.50 dollars each despite having asked for a single cone. It was just that the single cone was enormous and we couldn’t face lunch after that. We saw a wedding taking place on the pavement, a rather sad affair I thought, with the bride all dressed up complete with veil and flowers but the registrar in jeans, the bride’s father on his mobile phone and both bridesmaid’s taking photographs on theirs. There was an official photographer (who was in shorts) too, so no real need for the main guests to be taking any. I just didn’t think it looked like anyone’s dream wedding, with pedestrians walking by but may be mistaken.

This House Also Serves English Afternoon Teas

This House Also Serves English Afternoon Teas

The weather was forecast to get a bit windier and more southerly so we stayed put on the boat for a couple of days, talking on Skype with Kym whose own wedding is less than 7 weeks away now. I can’t wait to get back and be a more physical part of it but she and John have done a great job in keeping us in the loop and sharing all they can via the internet. Not the same though and I have to make sure Rob can’t see any of the photos of the dress, hairdo etc. as it is all going to be a wonderful surprise on the day. Having a generous bride who doesn’t think the day is only about her is refreshing and she is certainly aware it is also about families blending together. Rob has got that speech to write yet as well.

The Main Street & Oldest Saloon In Florida

The Main Street & Oldest Saloon In Florida

Once the weather calmed down we headed into town again to see more of the historical buildings, ride the bus around to the beach and park and have a quick look in the museum. We bought plump fresh shrimp at the Atlantic Seafood shop just south of the marina and had a BBQ one evening. We need to start using up all our food in preparation for leaving the boat for 6 weeks and suddenly we seem to have loads, the opposite of our Cuba experience.

One Of Many Lovely Churches

One Of Many Lovely Churches

Via Facebook we heard that our friends, Jeff and Di on ‘Horizons’ who we have travelled with intermittently over the past few years, had had to set off their EPIRB (emergency beacon) which alerted Falmouth, Solent and Miami Coastguards. They had been crossing from Cuba to Florida and were dismasted in 25 knots of wind and 4 metre seas and had then realised they would run out of fuel before they got to their destination, so their only option was to be picked up by the US Coastguard and towed 120 miles to Key West, which took 26 hours. We are just thankful that they are safe and Horizons is still afloat but what an ordeal and it always happens at night, of course. I have sailed for as long as I can remember but never met anyone who had to set off their EPIRB before, so it is quite an adventure they had.

Charming Town To Spend The Day Just Wandering

Charming Town To Spend The Day Just Wandering

We also heard of increasing violence in waters we have recently sailed and again count ourselves very lucky that we weren’t victims. In June last year we anchored alone in Bahia Graciosa near Livingstone, Guatemala, seeking shelter after a westerly squall. Although some fishermen saw us go in, we had a calm night and no issues. Another boat did the same this month and were robbed, the skipper falling in the water during the struggle and being held down. The criminal had a gun in his belt, which he reached for but fortunately did not take out and he got away with the outboard but the sailors weren’t harmed further. Several boats have been robbed just off the coast of Honduras and also in the Bay Islands themselves. Unhappy times.

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St Augustine & Jacksonville

We enjoyed our 2 nights in St Augustine, despite the mooring buoy banging into the hull at times when the wind and current were opposed. Being so close to the City made it easy to explore and we spent many hours wandering the lovely streets and browsing the shops. The marina launch will pick you up from the mooring if you don’t want to use your dinghy but as the service stops at 1800, we didn’t use it in case we were later back.

Bridge Of Lions At St Augustine

Bridge Of Lions At St Augustine

You can’t go hungry in the US and we have finally learned to order a meal between us, even a starter will feed the both of us at lunch time. We visited the coffee shop in a little wooden hut, serving a huge choice of coffees, shakes and smoothies. Their shady garden was a nice place to stop and check the map and plan the day.

Coffee Shop

Coffee Shop

We decided on a handful of tourist attractions as we only had the day, plus an hour out to watch the Easter Parade at 1500. The Lightner Museum houses a stunning collection of glass, china, furniture and items from all over the world. Even a stuffed lion, apparently given to Sir Winston Churchill by the London Zoo, as a thank you for the WWII efforts. Doubt that would be PC these days. They had some life size cardboard cut outs of the main Downton Abbey characters which were a bit unnerving but they were advertising a display of the clothing from the time later in the year.

Lightner Museum

Lightner Museum

There are many beautiful buildings in St Augustine and we enjoyed seeing the historical information posted outside some of them, including where Martin Luther King stayed.

Another Pretty Building

Another Pretty Building

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse was another interesting place to visit, with an animated teacher and ‘graduation’ certificate but it is very small. We had a tasty lunch of beetroot and feta cheese salad for me and a huge pile of french toasts with cinnamon apple in between and cream on top, at the Ice Plant in the Distillery before heading back to the main road for the parade.

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

A marching band of over 120 people, ‘royalty’ on horseback, the local police and sheriffs, plus many town clubs all took part and it was fun to watch. The easter bunny was there of course.

Marching Band

Marching Band

After a long day of walking, we dinghied back to the boat but spotted our friends on ‘Atalanta’, from the Rio Dulce and stopped by for a catch up. Murray gave us an enthusiastic welcome before going back into ‘Murray mode’ and ignoring us the rest of the time! Kay and Richard asked us out for dinner but the lunch had already filled us completely so we promised to catch up in Charleston instead.

Murray - Not Posing

Murray – Not Posing

The following day we dropped the mooring, requested a bridge opening and headed north on the ICW towards Jacksonville. We didn’t see any shallows on the trip and anchored in a bight near Pablo Creek in 9 metres of water. As usual, we were the only boat and had a very peaceful night.

Sheriff's Car!

Sheriff’s Car!

Looking at the weather, we decided, reluctantly, that we wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Deltaville in the Chesapeake in time for our flight and looked at alternatives. Brunswick Landing is a renowned hurricane hole and through last year’s storms the boats there remained undamaged. We contacted them and were glad to hear they have space for us for May and June, so decided we would book in there. It will be 150 pounds a month more expensive and we have extra flights to book but it takes the pressure off as we are nearly in Georgia and enabled us to enjoy Jacksonville and move more slowly north for the remaining 10 days.

Downtown Jacksonville

Downtown Jacksonville

Jacksonville is a long way up St John’s River and we motored another 20 miles to another empty anchorage opposite Exchange Island. It is a pretty spot with a great dinghy dock, BBQs and tables on the island and marked trails. They also have recycling bins.

Exchange Island Anchorage

Exchange Island Anchorage

We stayed a night, then motored in the dinghy to the Met Park docks, a free marina where you can stay for nothing for 72 hours. There was another yacht there and a small motorboat, that was all. We decided we may as well move Beyzano to the dock as it had a good 10 metres of water and take the water taxi into town. Half an hour later we were tied up in the fast current and by 1100 on the water taxi.

Empty Marina With Free Docks

Empty Marina With Free Docks

The taxi can be hailed on Ch. 11 and runs from 1100 to 2100, going to about 5 different stops along the river. It cost $10 each for the day. We looked around Jacksonville Landing first, then walked over the bridge to San Marco which is a little bit prettier. It was a long walk but took in the fountain and on the way back we did the Science and History Museum. This was a little bit too child focussed for us, as the information and exhibits were simple but the history of the town exhibition was really good. Outside a little pond had some terrapins sunbathing. We also attended the planetarium’s lecture on Orion, again for young children but we learned a little.

Church In San Marco Area

Church In San Marco Area

We got back to the water taxi dock by the fountain in time to see the bridge lifting for a couple of yachts. It was the first we’d seen which lifted the entire middle section up rather than 2 halves opening to the sides but it worked well.

Up She Goes - Bridge Lifting For The Yacht

Up She Goes – Bridge Lifting For The Yacht

The city skyline was a big contrast to all the low level anchorages we’ve been frequenting and a beautiful sight at sunset. The following day we were off again, this time on the ‘outside’ in the ocean. Our first trip in blue water for over 2 weeks.

House In St A Decorated For Easter

House In St A Decorated For Easter

Inside The Lightner Museum

Inside The Lightner Museum

Fountain Next To Water Taxi Stop In Jacksonville

Fountain Next To Water Taxi Stop In Jacksonville

Sunbathing Time

Sunbathing Time

Celebrating Being Florida's 'Oldest City'

Celebrating Being Florida’s ‘Oldest City’

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Our Thoughts On Cruising Cuba

This is a difficult post to write as we have mixed feelings but it is based on our 7 weeks there in February and March 2017. Rob and I also have slightly differing opinions as he became quite fed up with being there in the end. He didn’t enjoy the way tourists were ripped off by many people, especially in Havana and Cayo Campos. The restrictions on movement and lack of food and Internet access were other issues, as was the shallow water for our deep draft.

For me, just being able to see Cuba was great. A real experience and the first communist country I’ve been to. I learned a lot about the way people live, not all good but some of the places we visited were remote and lovely. It was also 100% safe and I never worried about anything to do with security. People were friendly and helpful and many really appreciated anything you could give them, without asking for it in advance.

You are very much on your own though. No help, rarely any other vessels around and no response on the radio. You need to be self-sufficient for repairs and parts. Not being able to connect to the Internet for nearly all the time we were there, meant relying on our SSB radio for weather information and we were glad we subscribed to Chris Parker’s net. We could only let our friends and family know we had arrived and were safe via a friend, Carla, again via SSB and she posted a Facebook message for us. Cayo Largo had wifi vouchers and reasonable connectivity but we didn’t get onto the Internet anywhere else.

Arriving was fine although the Coastguard doesn’t have a radio or boat. In Los Morros, the officials came to the boat and were courteous and efficient. The difficulty was equipment usually and lack of repairs and spare parts. The credit card machine no longer worked and the local hotel couldn’t change dollars either, so we had to pay the 235 dollars entrance in cash. We then needed to go to the nearby canal due to incoming bad weather and to do that, despite it being 5 miles away, you need to be cleared out of Los Morros for the Canal and return to Los Morros to clear in and then out to the next place, Cayo Largo in our case. This all takes time but it was only a 10 minute stamping exercise once we got back there.

Going on to Cayo Largo was great. Although it was our next official port, the one in Maria Gorda being closed now, it didn’t matter how long we took. We stopped at several anchorages along the way, enjoyed 4 nights at Cayo Campos for another bad weather spell and had some good sailing. Puerto Frances on Isla De Juventud was stunning and deep! The anchorages can be very shallow, especially with our 7 foot draft and we were forced to anchor some way off the islands at times. We found the anchorage in Cayo Largo the worst, with several boats going aground there. We met lots of fishermen, especially in the Canal near Los Morros as they stopped by every day offering fish and lobster for a beer or two. Taxi drivers outside Havana were also nice, clearly touched if you gave them even a small tip and proud to tell us about the area.

Food was another issue. You do need to take absolutely everything you need with you. Some of the marina water isn’t potable either. All the food, apart from lobsters traded for next to nothing, was for the hotels. We could pay 20 dollars for a pretty basic meal but couldn’t buy anything else until we got to Cayo Largo. There the options were eggs, very poor vegetables which we didn’t buy, some fluffy white bread and not much else. In Nueva Gerona we found a farmer’s market stocking tiny onions, little peppers and 2 pineapples, which we bought. A so-called supermarket had thousands of tins of fruit, rum but not much else. I craved salad, fruit and fresh vegetables.

Havana was well worth the flights and expensive taxis but sad to see how dilapidated the buildings are. In the countryside there must be produce but no fuel to transport it. Horses and carts are everywhere instead but aren’t enough to move food around the big country. We heard that people can’t get basic things they need, sometimes waiting 6 months to obtain a hammer. Naturally the Casa Particulars where you can stay for 30 dollars a night, can be run down but you will get a reasonable breakfast. We were found a modern, clean and quiet place with hosts who became friends. Jorge Duany in Vedado was brilliant. Restaurants in Havana have OK food mostly, some are really good but prices are high. The Paladares, small restaurants in homes are better value but likely to serve rice, beans and chicken. Beef is very rare and used as a commodity to get better medical treatment and schooling instead. Communism hasn’t brought a level playing field to many people as money is still used to get a better chance in life.

Outside all the government buildings were statues of Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and paintings of Che Guevara. Almost 60 years on, the revolution is still prominent. The museums were interesting, if a little biased. We did pay out for a quick trip in a 1954 American car but haggle on prices as tourism is making Cuba very expensive and you soon get the feeling they are out to rip you off.

Nueva Gerona was in a better state of repair than Havana and we spent a nice day wandering around. The coffee shops and food stalls are good value. As it took so long to get from Los Morros to Cayo Largo we didn’t get any further east as I would have liked to have visited Cienfuegos, Trinidad and the Jardines.

Compared to Guatemala, we noticed how few children there were. One man told us he and his wife decided not to have any as they couldn’t guarantee getting milk and basics they would need. We were also shocked at the way trained Doctors give up medicine to buy taxis as they only earn 40 CUC (virtually 40 dollars) a month and can get that in a day driving a taxi.

Everywhere things need fixing and a huge amount of investment. The toilets can be utterly dire, even in good restaurants. Fresh drinking water is delivered in trucks in parts of Havana to crumbling buildings. Despite all this, people seem happy. In the evenings groups sit outside in the streets, listening to music, which is everywhere and enjoying themselves.

This year they have 4 times the number of tourists than last year and a huge increase in Americans. Havana was very busy with cruise ship passengers arriving in their droves. The habit of giving big tips is eagerly accepted by the Cubans but they wouldn’t accept one from us. Clearly the anti-American stance taught in schools runs deep and just saying you are British or Canadian will bring the prices down. The Marina Hemingway adds a 10% tip to the bill and their staff asks for a tip on top of that for just processing the credit card payment! We Brits are just not so used to this tipping thing unfortunately.

Would we go back there? Definitely ‘No’ for Rob but I’d cruise the south coast again for the solitude and stunning anchorages. The north coast is more restricted in terms of bays you can enter as the Coastguard will chase you out. We went straight from Los Morros to Hemingway overnight.

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A Week Cruising The ICW On Our ‘Canal Boat’

Having filled up with water and washed 7 weeks of laundry in the excellent front loading machines with hot water, we were all set to head north on the ICW to St Augustine for Easter. There was a strong current running through the marina but we were soon motoring towards the first of 16 opening bridges we went through that same day. Lots of radio work and timing to arrive at the bridge just before opening time. I wrote a list of their names and times and mileage between them to make it a little easier but it was busy with no time to relax and much more tiring than sailing offshore!

Small Waterside Home

Small Waterside Home

The reward was a view of the amazing palaces along the waterfront, millions of dollars worth of homes, all immaculate and huge. The depths were fine for our 7 foot draft and the ICW is well marked with green to the starboard as we go north and red to port. What we are used to in the UK at last. All the red markers are pointed, green are flat but all ICW markers have a little yellow sticker above the number so you can be sure you are on the ICW and not gone down some side shoot.

Opening Just For Us

Opening Just For Us

We anchored the first night in Lantana with a couple of feet under the keel and had a peaceful sleep. Next morning we continued to West Palm Beach and were happy to be called up by our friends on ‘Island Kea’, last seen in Trinidad in 2014 but it was a brief reunion as they headed off to the Bahamas shortly afterwards. Hopefully we will meet up later in the summer. ‘Rosa Fascia’ also decided to get to Brunswick as their deadline was looming and they went outside for a 2 night passage whilst we listened to the wind howling happily anchored in Lake Worth.

Small Beach Areas Along The ICW

Small Beach Areas Along The ICW

Monday morning at 0730 we went to the Riviera Beach marina to leave the dinghy, for free, then walked just 5 minutes to the Customs Office. They opened at 0800 and already had several cruisers needing paperwork completing. Office Morris was excellent and gave us our much needed cruising permit without any issues so from then on we just had to telephone in at each port to give our arrival time and permit number, then again when leaving. She had a long queue by 0900, at least 20 people, so it pays to get in early.

Carrying on through less built up countryside, we saw dolphins every day, lots of bird life and lovely white sand beaches. Manatees frolic about apparently but we’ve only seen one diving down so far. It is very friendly as people wave as we go by and the bridge tenders are polite and welcoming too. People use this great facility a lot, canoeing, sailing and camping. Everything is so clean and well organised with picnic tables, bins and places to hire equipment.

Still Managing To Sail

Still Managing To Sail

It was a nice change to be on our new ‘canal boat’, easy to move around, cook, wash up and potter around. Must be like this on a catamaran. Along the way our plotter chip ran out!! The depths and details disappeared but fortunately we still had our iPads. After a few minutes I vaguely recalled buying another chip in the UK a couple of years ago and found it in the nav desk. Success. It is for the USA and we were back in business. Having the green line, or where we will end up line, is important in the narrow confines of some of the ICW. On longer open stretches we put out a reefed genoa to add a knot to our speed and spare the engine a little. We are putting hours on the engine at the moment but is great not to have to worry about the waves and weather.

Port Marker Going North Complete With Bird's Nest

Port Marker Going North Complete With Bird’s Nest

What we do need to worry about it shoaling though. We touched bottom at the Jupiter Inlet near the Federal Highway bridge but it is mostly sand and mud on the ICW thankfully. A lot of the areas just off the ICW are very shallow, too shallow for us to anchor in, so we have to check where we can stop for the night well in advance. Hobe Sound was another lovely place to stop and we had half a metre underneath us!

We next stopped at Vero Beach Marina, on a 16 dollar mooring buoy for another peaceful night. They have a really pretty location, a marina, fuel, air-conditioned ‘Captain’s Lounge’, laundry etc. Whilst on the ICW it is easy to forget the ocean is often less than half a mile away and many places have camping sites and lots of amenities for enjoying nature. Following night was another calm anchorage just off the ICW south of Cape Canaveral at Georgiana.

Vero Beach Marina

Vero Beach Marina

Moving on again we reached New Smyrna Beach south of the Ponce Inlet and although smack bang in the middle of the channel, we ran hard aground on the sand and couldn’t get off. It was an hour plus off approaching low tide as well, so we had to ring TowboatUS, thankful we had joined them back in March before we arrived in the US. The fee is worth every penny as they have a saying here. ‘There are 2 types of boat on the ICW; those aground and those about to go aground’.

Billy duly arrived just as we started to float off but we still didn’t know how to get through the channel. We went aground again, so he had to pull us off and then through the bridge which opened for us. We decided to book into the Inlet Harbour Marina for a night as the next stretch where we might have anchored also had shoals and Billy thought it best not to go that way. He took us via the notorious inlet and sure enough, right over the charted shoals which have moved. Local knowledge is essential, so we telephone different Towboats offices to check on the current situation as we travel.

Our First Tow!

Our First Tow!

The marina was badly damaged in Hurricane Matthew but we berthed on the long dock, topped up the water and fuel and had a nice pizza in a local restaurant, 10 minutes walk away. It cost 1.75 dollars a foot, much less than the 3 dollars a foot in Fort Lauderdale. Diesel was 71 pence a litre.

As the frequency of bridges has dropped and most are now 65 foot clearance at high tide, fixed bridges, we can make good time. They still look very close but we measured our air draft carefully and know it is just under 60 foot. The markers at the bridges confirm the clearance and we even sail through them.

Looks Closer Than It Is - Hopefully!

Looks Closer Than It Is – Hopefully!

Continuing on we passed by more shoaled areas but using the Garmin iPad chart with Active Captain comments has been a godsend. These notes from other cruisers are much more up to date and point out which way to go to avoid the shallows. We managed to navigate within 7 miles of St Augustine, doing 48 miles in the day but ran aground just as we approached a small anchorage at Butler Beach. Backing off, we finally anchored close to the ICW channel but had a good night, swinging with the tide but staying afloat.

So yesterday we just pottered up the river to St Augustine. The Municipal Marina has moorings and a nice marina, good showers, a launderette, launch service, alongside pump out and is right in the centre of town by the famous Bridge of Lions. You can download a photo of the mooring fields for the numbering and to avoid the shoals just east of them. They cost 25 dollars a night. Getting there early meant we could explore and get some food at the huge Publix Supermarket a long walk away over the second bridge. You can dinghy to the public dock there but we got a taxi back for 12 dollars. It is good to have such choice again!

Today we will do the tourist bit, visit a few museums, watch the Easter Parade this afternoon and enjoy the beautiful lanes. It really is a lovely city and I’m glad to have a day off motoring to explore. Happy Easter everyone!

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Finally We Make It To The USA

Once the weather looked good enough with no north in the wind over the north flowing Gulf Stream, I informed the dockmaster so the meter could be read and the bill prepared. They added a 10% tip which I had taken off the bill, as we prefer to tip people for doing a good job and all we got in the way of service in the marina was for our lines to be taken when we arrived and we expect any marina to do that as a minimum. The lady who took our credit card payment also asked for a tip but I explained we didn’t have any cash as we were leaving and you don’t need Cuban money anywhere else.

I asked if we could move to the Customs dock before sunset and wait there for clearance at about 0300 but it is not permitted and we were forced to go there in the dark. The main issue was not to run into the buoys marking off the swimming area. It didn’t take long to check the paperwork, issue the zarpe for anywhere in the USA and board the boat again to make sure we weren’t harbouring any Cubans.

Crossing The Gulf Stream In Good Weather

Crossing The Gulf Stream In Good Weather

The forecast was for S/SE winds of not more than 15 knots, a brief period with E winds and we hoped to ride the Gulf Stream for a while to increase our speed and make Fort Lauderdale by the late afternoon the following day. Jack took ‘Rosa Fascia’ to Bimini, leaving a few hours before us so he had time to clear his crew off the boat and clear out himself, making the 50 mile passage to Fort Lauderdale single-handed.

Leaving Marina Hemingway is not an issue with the lit channel markers and our inbound track on the Navionics Chart on both our iPads. These are more accurate than our helm plotter at times and easy to navigate whilst sitting snugly under the sprayhood on passages. The passage was a very good one making 100 miles in the first 12 hours and arriving in Fort Lauderdale for the 1000 bridge, our first requested opening. All the traffic had to be stopped whilst just Beyzano sauntered through the gap once the 2 sides had lifted up. The Florida bridge tenders listen to VHF 09 and open at differing times, the first one in Fort Lauderdale being at 00 and 30 past the hour. We saw a lot of traffic during our voyage, including a Coastguard plane that circled and checked us out. The radio was busy again, including our friends on ‘Freya’ who heard us asking the Coastguard about a storm weather warning given out on the radio. Not good to hear ‘all vessels should seek harbour immediately’ when you are miles offshore but it was for another area luckily.

Entering The Inlet At Fort Lauderdale

Entering The Inlet At Fort Lauderdale

I have to admit I felt relieved that we were in US waters. In Cuba you are very much on your own, unlikely to get any response to a call for help as nobody seemed to have a VHF radio. No weather forecasts were transmitted and we rarely heard any traffic. Once near the USA we knew that help would be on hand if required, quite comforting.

We had 2 reefs in our mainsail and 2 in the genoa overnight and still saw 10 knots speed over the ground. There were a few choppy areas but no squalls and it was enjoyable and fast. If you time it right weather wise, crossing the mighty Gulf Stream shouldn’t pose any issues. Miami was passed at night, a huge orange glow over the city, followed by a coastline of high-rise buildings until we saw the sea buoy off Fort Launderdale and the red and green markers of the channel. We headed in, called up the bridge and then a couple of marinas. That weekend the beach hosted a huge event and it was busy in town. Bahia Mar Marina could give us 2 nights so we opted for there at an astronomical cost of 3 dollars a foot per night, the most we have ever paid. A dockhand took our lines and we were in amongst the superyachts in a slip much bigger than we needed, for once but there was still only 0.4 metres under us at low water. The ICW had good depths and we hope that continues so we can motor north when the weather isn’t good outside.

Our First Bridge Opening On Request Just For Us!

Our First Bridge Opening On Request Just For Us!

Next we tried to call the Customs and Border Protection office to report our arrival to no avail. The automated message said to wait for an operator but nothing happened so after 5 attempts the marina office told me just to go to the Customs office instead. So we got a taxi there for 16 dollars only to find that they wouldn’t process us without an arrival number from the telephone only officer. So I continued to try on their phone and eventually got through. Then it was a quick process for both Immigration and Customs with the latter costing 56 dollars. As we were leaving the county within 48 hours, I didn’t need to leave our registration papers with them to collect when we left and that saved another taxi fare. We do need to clear in at every port though, paying loads of money each time, which makes it even worse than Cuba. If we can get a ‘decal’ for the year it will be cheaper and easier but they only post those and we are on the move. If we can, we will stay somewhere a few days to enable FedEx to get the paperwork to us as it will be cheaper in the long run.

Plenty Of Space On The Dock This Time

Plenty Of Space On The Dock This Time

The following day we got a new SIM for our phone and a data chip for the iPad, although the marina WiFi is really good and it is great to be in touch again, skyping the kids with video for the first time in months. We also did a big supermarket shop after 8 week and 2 days without being able to buy anything more than eggs, dodgy bread, a few tiny onions, crisps, rum, biscuits and a jar of little pickled onions. It was amazing! We saw a superyacht crew stocking up with 12 trolleys, 1 only containing fresh flowers. They told us they would have to do another similar shop in the afternoon. Finally we used 4 washing machines and 3 dryers at the marina to do the laundry, at a cost of 2 dollars per machine.

We walked to the beach over the pedestrian bridge direct from the hotel and saw the event being set up. Countless food and drink stalls, another selling Stetsons and boots, plus a few on the theme, marine conservation. The music is Country and Western on one stage with other styles on another. Should be a good weekend and a shame we don’t have time to stay for it.

Stage All Set For The Big Party On The Beach

Stage All Set For The Big Party On The Beach

We found out on Facebook that our friends on ‘Moondancer’, Steve and Linda, were anchored not far away and they came over for coffee this morning. Great to see them again after almost a year and catch up on their sailing season. Jack is ‘buddy’ boating with us again on ‘Rosa Fascia’, happily admitting that he has been glad to follow us the last 3 weeks so he doesn’t have to make any decisions! Today we head north again as we want to make progress towards the Chesapeake and visit a couple of towns along the way. In any case, our cruising permit states we need to be out of the county by 1441, so we need to leave.

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Three Nights In Marina Hemingway, Havana

So that helping with the decision on destination we continued to check weather for Havana. Finally, with the very latest forecast we opted to leave Los Morros on Thursday 30th March, with south of east winds allowing us to travel north and east to Hemingway but once anchored off the marina the winds blew up to 35 knots with nasty waves and Rob and I decided to wait for the following day. Customs were more than happy for us to clear out on the Thursday and return to the peace of the Canal De Los Barcos to leave first light on the Friday. a wise move as we had nothing over 20 knots, southerly winds and a great 25 hour trip throughout the 165 miles. To avoid a counter current we kept within 2 miles of the reef, the land keeping the waves right down. Starting with 2 reefs in the main, we shook them out as the wind dropped and had a lovely sail until the wind died completely and we motored through the night. We passed a few bays that would have been ideal to anchor in but for the fact that the Guarda don’t allow it. Not sure why but the only bay they are remotely happy for cruising boats to enter unless an emergency, is Bahia Honda.

One Of Four Canals At Marina Hemingway

One Of Four Canals At Marina Hemingway

We arrived in flat calm water at the sea buoy just outside Marina Hemingway, got our lines and fenders ready and motored in through the red and green markers. After turning to port there is a long dock onto which the gentle southerly breeze pushed us. Clearance was rapid but several officials boarded the boat to check it out and asked about food. Having been in Cuba for over 6 weeks we could certainly say we didn’t have any left!

They allocated us a berth in Canal 1 (of 4), which is the most northerly section. The canals are long and about 80 feet wide, so we were able to turn ‘Beyzano’ around so we could dock port side to and not have to move the fenders again. Several dockhands helped with our lines and there is 220v electricity and water, all charged. Our marina costs will be 1CUC per foot per night, so roughly 38 pounds a night and we were there just 3 nights, leaving for Florida before dawn on Tuesday.

An American Rally Heading For Havana On PR Duties

An American Rally Heading For Havana On PR Duties

We explored the marina, found several small shops and restaurants, buses running around the area, Wi-Fi cards for 2 CUC an hour in the bowling alley near the run down old hotel and a nice shower block. There is a swimming pool and roped off area for swimming but the canal water isn’t the cleanest, being enclosed at the end. Rubbish bins are dotted along the docks and it is all well lit.

The Club Nautico is rather swanky but members only unless you belong to the Cruising Association or Ocean Cruising Club and can be invited in. We looked for the OCC Port Officer, Jose, the first day but he was busy with PR duties as a big rally from the USA were in town, over 50 boats all decked out with flags and excited Americans, most of whom had done their first offshore trip and hated it, it seemed from the conversations about the bad journey. They all left the Canals one morning and motored to Havana Harbour to parade around before returning. People are very interested to see all the new visitors and their beautiful boats.

We saw many boats we know in the marina, recognising the boat names rather than the crew. ‘Rosa Fascia’ and ‘Carati’ are both here and I also met Addison Chan who set up the ‘Cuba, Land & Sea’ Facebook page and has written a new cruising guide. The current free online one is not as badly out of date as the Calder book we own (1999) but there are errors in the online one, importantly getting east and west mixed up.

We washed the boat off as she has done some long, salty passages lately, topped up the diesel, petrol and water tanks and bought a little food, mainly rum, biscuits and crisps. I have never been in a country with such a lack of shops and fresh food before and it is quite astonishing and I am craving salad and fruit. If they are serious about encouraging cruisers here, they have to allow us to buy food or we cannot stay long. It is hard to get Internet despite it being important for us to let family know we are still alive and obtain weather. It is laborious to move from port to port and the restrictions on movement mean you cannot explore any inhabited areas freely from the boat. Rob has become increasingly disaffected with Cuba, especially as many people are keen to take as much money from everyone as they can, providing very little for it. I have enjoyed it more, especially some of the wonderful people we’ve met but agree that it could be made far easier to travel by boat here.

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Los Morros Once Again

Both boats are on a deadline, with Jack needing to be in Brunswick by the middle of April and us a further 500 miles north by May but the weather was not being kind to us, raising the stress levels. We both have a daughter getting married on June 10th, another co-incidence. One option we considered was returning to Mexico and flying to Washington from there but we waited patiently and kept checking the weather using the onboard Internet connection on ‘Rosa Fascia’. The days slipped by towards my birthday and we sailed the 130 miles back to Los Morros overnight in great conditions, checked in there and got secure in the Canal de los Barcos whilst we waited to get weather for either Florida or hopping up the Cuban coast to Havana to shorten the journey across the gulf stream.

We had enough meals for about a further 10 days, our second month’s visas were due to expire on April 10th so we just hoped a 3 day southerly wind would appear so we could leave Cuba and make the USA. Happily we had friends to travel with, completely unexpectedly, lobsters from the fishermen passing through the Canal and a calm anchorage, so life was still good. I spent the dawn of my 55th birthday, also UK Mother’s Day, at sea and checking into Los Morros but Rob baked me a delicious chocolate cake with buttercream filling and Richard, Jack and Martin joined us to taste it and drink champagne at sunset. They also found some candles for a fruit loaf they had. Birthdays tend to be memorable in very different ways from those at home and I’m looking forward to getting good Internet so I can read the ecards in our mailbox, which I can see but not download.

55th Birthday In Cuba

55th Birthday In Cuba

So we waited and enjoyed the restful surroundings, cleaned the boat with fresh water, did lots of washing and socialised with our neighbouring sailors. Local fishermen brought red snapper and lobsters, swopping them for a few beers and helping Jack win a bet. He was going to win a dinner out if he could trade a pair of racy knickers for lobsters and now has the photo to prove he won. The fishermen reported great success with the lingerie, so everyone was happy although I did wonder how they were going to explain the acquisition to their wives!

Sailing In Company With Rosa Fascia

Sailing In Company With Rosa Fascia

The question for us all in the end was whether to go to Marina Hemingway, just west of Havana first to cut the trip down by 165 miles or go straight to Florida and save a couple of days. Both Jack’s crew only had ESTA visas for the USA and recalling the rules we were told in 2012, I mentioned to him that I understood that to enter the USA on a private vessel, you need the 10 year B1/B2 visa. Jack thought that because his crew had flown into the US before joining the boat in Puerto Rico and the Caymans that it would be OK but I was dubious and suggested he phoned Miami or Key West to check. A friend also confirmed that they needed the full visa when they entered the US very recently. So, the upshot was, neither Richard nor Martin could sail to the USA with Jack. They had to fly in from Havana or get a ferry from Bimini and Jack had to do the final passage alone or find American crew.

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