Slow Progress With A Deadline Looming

We successfully left Cayo Largo on March 17 at the second attempt, leaving Pire with a bag of items for his family and friends and he was pleased to spy some bars of soap. I can’t say I was unhappy about leaving the anchorage, as there are patches with just 2 metres of water and we saw 3 boats run aground during our stay but the beaches are beautiful. Using our previous track we edged out into the channel, out west between the navigation buoys and towards Rosario, again using the well marked channel back into the shelter of the Cay.

Three OCC Boats At Anchor In Cayo Largo

Three OCC Boats At Anchor In Cayo Largo

‘Rosa Fascia’ and ‘Malaki’ were already there and we anchored near them in 4.5 metres but did see shallow water of just 0.3m under us on the way in. After a gusty night we carried on west with just the full genoa, doing 6 knots over the ground for another 48 miles to another marked cut through the reef and into the lee of Cayo Matias. Unfortunately it was another very shallow anchorage for us and once we saw 0.1m under us we turned around and had to anchor a mile off the island in less than 3 metres. We had spoken to ‘Malaki’ during the day as they headed off towards Belize but ‘Rosa Fascia’ anchored near us with just 0.1 metres under their keel. I was finding all this shallow water manoeuvring highly stressful but ‘Rosa’ has an extra 0.1 metre spare, so can follow us!

The next morning we had the pleasure of an extra pair of hands, as Jack wanted to sail with us again, leaving Richard, Martin, Gareth and Justine in charge of ‘Rosa’ for the day. We picked him up in our dinghy and were all stowed away and off by 0745 for the 58 mile trip around the south of Isla de Juventud. It was another day just flying the genoa with the wind behind us or slightly aft of the beam. As we turned north-west towards Puerto Frances bay, the wind and seas got up and we had a choppy few hours in the confused seas. We were still sailing but having to go off course until the choice was 12 miles sailing or 5 motoring, so having had enough of the conditions, we opted to head into the bay under engine.

Sunset At Hotel Colony - A Meal Out At Last

Sunset At Hotel Colony – A Meal Out At Last

This was a wonderful place to stop with deep water right into the last stretch before the beach. We anchored with over 2 metres of crystal clear turquoise water under us with the anchor and some chain buried in white sand. No weed and no coral and you could see the long wide strip of sand from a distance. We decided to stay 2 nights so we could have a day’s rest, snorkel over the coral nearby and walk on the beaches. A restaurant in the neighbouring bay opens when a cruise ship turns up but otherwise there is nothing there other than a fisherman who sold us lobster and red snapper.

Dangerous Remains Of A Green Nav Buoy

Dangerous Remains Of A Green Nav Buoy

As Jack was running out of food and we all wanted to see the main town on the island, Nueva Gerona, we moved on to the anchorage opposite Marina Siguanea for 3 nights. The channel is marked for bigger ships but as we passed a red buoy we saw the matching green, or rather half of it. A really big danger at night. Although the marina is no longer a Port of Entry, when Rob and Jack went ashore to explore the facilities, they promptly returned with 2 Guarda officials who checked all our paperwork and boat and kept our cruising permit until we left. They were really friendly, enjoyed a cold beer on both boats and helped me practice my Spanish once again.

Once official for landing ashore, we made use of their dive school, topped up our water tanks, bought very limited provisions of a carton of pineapple and drinking water in the ‘shop’ and had 3 evening meals in the Hotel Colony to save on our food, about a mile’s walk away. They had very few guests staying there but have a reasonable buffet for 12 CUC, a nice swimming pool, bar and beach. The longest dilapidated pier stretches out into the bay.

Our Wonderful Taxi

Our Wonderful Taxi

The hotel staff were very helpful and booked us a great old taxi to take the 7 of us the 40 km to the town the following day, for 10 CUC/ 8 GBP per person return. This was half the price another taxi quoted us the day before. We left at 1000 and returned at 1700, plenty of time to see the countryside, town and prison. Fuel is clearly in short supply here, with people on bicycles and using horse drawn carts.

Town Park

Town Park

The town was lovely, in a much better state of repair than Havana overall and we enjoyed walking the tiled streets and peaceful parks. We found a café selling very cheap good coffee and pastries, bought 2 pizzas from a stall for 45 pence, ice creams for the same amount, visited the little port, the town’s history museum but found virtually no food supplies at the ‘supermarkets’. If all you need is rum and eggs you will be fine!

Many Cubans Need To Resort To Horse Power

Many Cubans Need To Resort To Horse Power

We hired a yellow taxi, an extended Lada, with an enthusiastic driver who took us to the nearby Presidio Modelo, where Fidel Castro was held at one time in solitary confinement. It was an unforgettable experience to see the tiny cells that held 2 prisoners, the huge dining room where they ate in silence and the hospital complex. It only cost a couple of CUC to get in and was very interesting, despite all the information being in Spanish.

Church In Nueva Gerona

Church In Nueva Gerona


Our driver wanted just 5 CUC for the afternoon but we gave him double and he was visibly touched and didn’t want to take it. I know we shouldn’t have set a precedent but he was so kind that we considered it a gift to a friend. The ATMs in town took our British debit cards and we got a little more cash in case we needed it to clear out.

The Incredible Prison

The Incredible Prison

There is an airport at Nueva Gerona, with daily flights to Havana but nowhere we would consider protected enough to leave the boat, so the better option is still Cayo Largo marina. The Marina Siguanea has shoaled, so all the boats other than very small catamarans anchor off the entrance channel. It got very gusty the day after our excursion; with ‘Rosa’ dragging twice, so we were lucky we had gone exploring the day before.

The Customs Boat

The Customs Boat

When we left, their boss didn’t let the Customs officials know we were going to pick them up in our dinghy to sign the papers and half an hour before we were due in, they appeared in a bright yellow pedalo, shaped like a car. They showed not a trace of embarrassment at their lack of a more traditional boat and remained friendly and patient whilst manually filling out their paper records, even willing to have a photo taken as they set off for ‘Rosa Fascia’.

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Extra Time In Havana

Pire, the Marina Manager at Cayo Largo, managed to get us on a flight to Havana on March 1st at a cost of 320 CUC so we have finally seen Cuba’s capital, a long held dream. The tiny airport wasn’t busy and the small plane left on time at 0800 and we were in the city half an hour later. He had recommended we went to see his friend, Jorge, at Casa Blanca in Vedado and what a wise move that was.

Our Wonderful Host Jorge Of Casa Blanca

Our Wonderful Host Jorge Of Casa Blanca

Jorge was amazingly helpful, giving us lots of information and phoning round to find us a great Casa with Lucy and Alberto in the same street, Calle 13. It was a very clean and modern place with a big lounge, kitchen, private bathrooms and patio to sit out on at the front. For 30 CUC a night, we had a lovely 4 days before we were due to get the taxi back to the airport for the 1710 flight. However, the taxi driver asked Jorge which terminal we were going from and it then transpired that we should have telephoned the day before to check the time. We had been led to believe the telephone number was just to book the free bus back and as we didn’t need it, we hadn’t called. Why they don’t just leave the time blank so you are forced to telephone, I’m not sure, as it would make more sense. Our so-called 1710 flight had gone at 0700 and we had to buy 2 single tickets for another 180 CUC!! Jorge helped us sort it all out and we would have been stuck without him.

One Of Many Elaborate Memorials

One Of Many Elaborate Memorials

Jorge then found us another room in a different house and we spent another day in Havana’s Old Town. Our first Casa was full, as was Jorge’s, so it pays to book ahead if you can via his website. There are 4 times as many tourists now than last year. Our second room was in an old building a few streets away but the difficulty in finding paint and basic tools was obvious. Everyone was very friendly though and interested in where we were from and we learned a lot about life in Cuba from talking to different people. The breakfasts included fresh pineapple, papaya and banana, juice, coffee or tea, fresh milk (which is expensive), bread, cheese, ham and eggs.

One Of Hundreds Of American Cars For Hire

One Of Hundreds Of American Cars For Hire

As we were unpacked in our room before lunchtime, Rob and I spent the first afternoon walking to the nearby Necropolis De Colon, a huge and famous graveyard with the most expensive memorials I have ever seen. The first class row was lined with ornate graves all in amazing condition and there is a 3-lane roundabout around the Chapel in the centre. They are still very busy, with over 40 funerals a day taking place. You have to pay 6 CUC to get in but it was one of the highlights of our trip and the Hop On/Hop Off bus stops there too, something we used another day to return to our Casa to save the taxi fare but you need to make sure you get a ticket when you get off the bus to use later on.

The Bicycle Taxi Service

The Bicycle Taxi Service

The next day we got a taxi into the Old part of Havana and jumped in a bicycle-taxi to be pedalled around the main sights by Raphael, a charming young man. He also found Rob a single cigar, having taken us to a friend earlier who only sold them in big boxes. He took us to the Revolution Square, several memorials and a unique bar and dance area with some interesting sculptures. Once we were in his taxi, he was keen to keep showing us around but we told him we were only taking a quick look the first day, just to know what we wanted to do the following days. It cost 30 CUC for the 90 minute tour and we also paid 25 CUC for a half hour ride in an orange 1954 American car home, the same vintage as Rob! There are old American cars everywhere, plus yellow taxis and little yellow pod taxis, all of which we used. How the old cars are kept running is a mystery as it can take 6 months to obtain a hammer in Cuba. Jorge told us the taxi rate should not be over 5 CUC but everybody started at 10 or 12 so we had to get used to bartering each time and rarely got them under 8. Apparently saying you are British, rather than American helps.

Old Square Havana

Old Square Havana

Another day we walked for an hour and a half into town and saw the Botanical Gardens, University, lots of hospitals and plenty of very run down areas. Some of the buildings are restored but the vast majority are in need of a huge amount of money and work, which is unlikely to happen. A few decades ago Havana must have been one of the most beautiful cities in the world but many buildings are past the point of restoration and people live in what we consider very poor accommodation. Even in Guatemala, the basic thatched riverbank homes were more attractive. We didn’t see long queues for food but at banks there were lots waiting. Internet is not allowed in homes so people sit around any WiFi spot, such as in parks, in their droves.

Street With Capitolio In The Distance

Street With Capitolio In The Distance

We found the Capitolio, a very good copy of the American version and caught the tour bus for 20 CUC for the day (10 each). The commentary was also in English. We found the British Ambassador’s residence, the Avenue Of Presidents and many lovely old buildings. We also got CUC easily from ATMs and the bank in Cayo Largo. We paid to go into the Museum of the Revolution for an interesting couple of hours and some history lessons. Gory blood stained clothes and photographs of the dead revolutionaries abound plus a photograph of Che Guevara’s disguise for entering Bolivia after the Cuban revolution. There is a lot of restoration work being done inside, using gold leaf and the entry price of 8 CUC each includes the Granma exhibition, complete with the motor launch and bullet hole ridden ‘Fast Delivery’ truck used in the revolution.

The Fast Delivery Van

The Fast Delivery Van

A taxi ride through the tunnel under the harbour mouth brought us to the 2 forts and Christ Statue. Another well preserved site, still being used as offices, it cost 6 CUC each to get in but you would have to pay the same again to visit the other fort. The small museums are worth seeing and we were lucky enough to witness a bride arriving in a horse drawn carriage, complete with white uniformed soldiers. At 2100 each night a cannon ceremony takes place with the soldiers wearing historic uniform but we didn’t stay in town that late. It is a reminder of the time when the guns warned the city dwellers that the city gates were about to shut.

Morro Fort

Morro Fort

We walked many long miles up and down the streets, all on a grid so not easy to get lost. Water trucks bring potable water to the people and we saw a few small shops selling white bread, meat, fruit and vegetables. Some stalls sold pastries, coconut water icecream and popcorn. The cafes and restaurants were busy as there was a cruise ship in on most days but it got quieter around 1500, so we tended to have a big breakfast in our Casa and a late lunch/early evening meal. Nearly every bar had live music and certainly every restaurant did during the evenings. One day we sat on a balcony overlooking the Old Square just watching the world go by, a lovely afternoon. The parks and surrounding buildings are beautiful but just a few metres off the main tourist attractions are some very sad sights. Had we known we would be having extra time in Havana we would have booked a tour to the countryside west of the city but it wasn’t to be. At least we saw it as we flew in and out.

Lovely Buildings Mix With The Run Down

Lovely Buildings Mix With The Run Down

Havana isn’t cheap though and we paid 66 CUC one evening at Eclectico for a small meal of pasta with shrimp and a swordfish steak. The tiny glass of freezing cold red wine was 7 CUC (about 7 US$) but the Atelier restaurant was lovely, with a great atmosphere, delicious food and good value. You need to book though. The Paladares are good value, a few tables in someone’s home and El Helecho was one of these. For 10 CUC each we had a big meal of salad, rice, beans, vegetables and pork. Rob also had a crème caramel and a beer. Delicious icecream is also under a CUC for a cone, so we had 5 during our stay, as the shop was close to our 2 Casas.

Street Cafe Life In Havana

Street Cafe Life In Havana

Returning to Cayo Largo, we were up before 0245, left our Casa at 0315, got the free bus from the Cohiba Hotel at 0415 and arrived at the airport by 0500 but were not able to check in until 0630, so wondered why we had to get there so early. The flight left on time and we had another free bus to the marina to be reunited with Beyzano. It is very windy so we stayed in the marina another night and moved out to the anchorage after getting 80 litres of diesel in cans. It was 96 CUC , 1.20 a litre. We have also extended our tourist visas, glad to find they are 25 CUC each to extend for a month, not the 75 CUC we paid originally. The Marina office did all the admin for us very quickly and no health insurance information was required. All we did was buy the stamps at the quiet bank opposite the Marina office and hand the passports over. Clearing out was just a 10 minute exercise too, in the little orange hut near the Marina. Everything, apart from buying food and potable water for the tanks, is easy here. If you get desperate, the Marina bar does good pizza and chips, hot fried circles of potato rather than the traditional French fries type.

One Of The Better Residences

One Of The Better Residences

Although the beaches around the anchorage are pretty, there isn’t too much to do in the resort. The museum is shut and the bowling alley machine has been broken for some time. The WiFi and bar are the main attractions, together with a few souvenir stalls to browse but at least we can buy a few eggs and a loaf of bread before we leave and get the latest weather downloaded.

Rob Entertaining The Children!

Rob Entertaining The Children!

We plan to anchor here for a couple of days until the weather improves and if it allows, go east another 20 miles to Cayo Sal before turning west and returning along the south side of the reef to Los Morros to clear out, visiting a few new anchorages along the way. We hope to be in the USA as soon after March 20 as possible but will anchor in the Cayos Leña to wait for the weather window and will be out of touch again until we reach Florida. Happy Birthday to Sian for the 12th, Kym for the 15th, Steve and Joe on the 26th, also my birthday and my Auntie Olwen on the 28th!

Quick Update 13 March. Just outside the reef our engine revs died and the engine stopped. Rob changed the filter whilst I sailed offshore but the fuel pipe was blocked. We switched to the other tank but decided it was prudent to get the tank and cans topped up, hence returned to Cayo Largo. The blockage has been pushed into the tank as it would not come up the pipe, so we plan to clean it out again in the USA. We hope to go west in a couple of days but have at least had the chance to meet up with 3 other OCC boats who arrived the day after we had tried to leave.

My Facebook Page has more photos especially of Havana and the sail from Los Morros to Cayo Largo, so please feel free to search for Rhian Marshall

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On East To Cayo Largo – Another Port Of Entry

We let Grant know the weather and told him we would be continuing east before the easterly winds set in for a few days. We would be retracing our steps going west again so didn’t need to explore ashore that time. On our way out to Rose Cut, we dropped the anchor near the first red buoy to snorkel the reef for an hour before continuing out in the very wide and well-marked channel, seeing only 3.6 metres least depth of water. Then in the calm seas we had to motor east another 24 miles to Cayo Largo, a port of entry into Cuba. Too many hours on the engine lately! We passed loads of pretty cays and coral reefs to visit in settled weather.

Cayo Largo Marina

Cayo Largo Marina

The entrance into Cayo Largo is between a set of cays with the Los Ballenatos lighthouse on to the west and is marked by red and green buoys, red to starboard. Then we proceeded toward the channel into the marina, again well marked but didn’t need to go into the dock as we were already cleared into Cuba and just took the dinghy in with our papers once we had anchored. Once we left the channel, the water shallowed until we were seeing just 0.4 under us, 2.5 metres in total. We managed to find a space big enough to swing right around in the coming higher easterly winds but only had 0.7 under us.

Good Nav Aids Throughout Cuba

Good Nav Aids Throughout Cuba

It was the first time in well over 2 weeks that we had seen more than 5 people at once and more than 6 boats! Ashore was a quaint resort of hotels, souvenir shops, a museum, bank, dive shop, Guarda Frontera office for clearing in and an airport. The hotels are all-inclusive but there is one independent bar/restaurant where cruisers can purchase food and drink. The marina is small but had plenty of empty slips in 4 metres of water, a rubbish dump and non-potable water. There isn’t a laundry but it can be sent out. Diesel can be bought at the tourist/marina office and the voucher taken to the fuel dock later. The whole area is just a resort and we didn’t find a proper supermarket as all the staff are on the island to work at the hotels, presumably getting their food included. A ‘Ship’s Chandler’ had lots of rum, eggs and catering size tins of some products. The few tomatoes had seen better days but the huge loaves of white bread were tasty enough for 3 CUC/$.

Beautiful Sunset From Our Bow In Cayo Largo Anchorage

Beautiful Sunset From Our Bow In Cayo Largo Anchorage

There is a dive centre, busy with holidaymakers going out to the reefs, a souvenir shop, buses between hotels and a passenger road train to tour around in. We haven’t yet visited the museum, bowling alley nor the turtle farm but are having a buffet meal tonight at the Marina Hotel, which is open to non-residents. We got our WiFi voucher there as well, an hour for 2 CUC.

Jeff and Di spent a couple of nights in the marina, then joined us in the anchorage for the view and breeze. We played dominoes, BBQ’d more of our frozen food and Rob and I had a romantic sunset walk on one of the many nearby white sand beaches, watching the conch dragging themselves along in the shallows.

So We Didn't!

So We Didn’t!

‘Epona’ arrived 4 days after us, so we got the chance to say farewell to Olaf who was flying to Havana. We too hope to get to the capital city by plane; having decided it is safer to leave the boat in the marina, rather than at anchor in Cienfuegos. I would just spend the time worrying about her. If you are not aboard, the marina price drops by over half. Pire, the very helpful marina manager, can arrange a last minute seat on the hotel charter planes if there is space, so we are currently waiting to see if we can go tomorrow or within a few days. Our time is getting increasingly constrained by needing to fly home from Washington on May 9th and we have a long way to sail before reaching the Chesapeake Bay, so it makes sense to go west again from here and only sail on to Cienfuegos if we have time and a good weather window next week.

One Of Many Stunning White Sand Beaches To Land Our Dinghy

One Of Many Stunning White Sand Beaches To Land Our Dinghy

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Moving East North Of The Reef & Isla De La Juventud

We had arrived at lunchtime, so ate and rested before watching a huge red sun going down. Within minutes of sunset the boat swung around 180 degrees but we had a calm night and plenty of sleep to make up for the night passage. The next morning we retraced our track, slowing down over the most shallow areas and motor sailed 43 miles further east to Isla de la Juventud, not seeing any other vessels until we arrived in our destination bay, Ensenada de los Barcos on the northwest tip. Water depths seem to be 0.5-1 metre more than charted in some areas and we were relieved to get into the well protected bay seeing 2.5 metres all the way in. It is a huge bay and we anchored in 5 metres, with ‘Epona’ not far away and had another calm night with a glorious sunrise.

Another Stunning Sunrise

Another Stunning Sunrise

Every morning we listen to the weather on the SSB 8137.0 and were glad we had invested in a year’s subscription so we can ask questions after the broadcast. I also talk to Carla on ‘Moody Mistress’ 3 times a week, in case our family have emailed her with issues for us. The reception from just off Honduras all the way to the US is amazingly clear. Another plus is that we haven’t spent any money in a week! I managed to get a phone signal on my Virgin UK phone to text Owen, who was 29 on the 17th, just before his birthday ended.

The following day we had a gentle, genoa only float out of the bay, then a 8 knot dash for a couple of hours, before the wind went more easterly and we had to motor into 22 knots on the nose. The wind generally picks up around lunchtime so we tended to get up at dawn to reach the next anchorage by early afternoon if possible. That day we headed 23 miles to the northeast tip of Juventud to another nice, big, open bay with protection from all but north. The thick grass and mud can be tricky to get the anchor dug into but we were secure first time at 21˚53’.81N 82˚44’.92W and spent 2 nights in Estero Simon with ‘Epona’, having a BBQ the first night on ‘Beyzano’ with Grant and Olaf, staying up until 0130 and deciding not to move on that morning. ‘Horizons’ arrived the following day.

Prison In Ens. Simon

Prison In Ens. Simon

As you enter the bay the big prison catches your eye but despite searching the shoreline for somewhere to land the dinghy, we didn’t get ashore to the museum there, although Grant and Olaf did and said it was worth the effort when they tried again the next day. They just hid their dinghy in the mangroves and got a ride on a farm trailer back from Nuevo Gerona, the main town. More than 600 tiny prison cells lined the circumference of the austere building, with a courtyard in the middle and a guard’s watchtower at the centre. It didn’t have steps on the outside, so we guessed you could only access it from the basement, to keep prisoners from attacking the guards. We watched a few very flimsy craft with men rowing out to fish for the entire day and some people on the beach at the western end of the bay. The headlands make it a more picturesque anchorage than some of the low lying mangrove cays we’ve been in and the bay was easy to leave before dawn.

We needed an early start to get through the Pasa Quitasol, a channel with more than 3 metres throughout, marked by several beacons but they all seemed pointed! The red ones had to be left to starboard going east and we stayed mid channel on a course of 80 degrees. Once we were through the water was the most beautiful turquoise, 6-7 metres deep and we had the best sail for months, speeding along at up to 8 knots very comfortably.

Pasa Quitasol

Pasa Quitasol

As squalls of up to 40 knots had been forecast for 2 days later, we were aiming to get into the big cut between 2 cays at Cayo Campos and remain there for a few nights. Again the anchorage is big and pretty, with a reef protecting the south and it was just another hop of 43 miles. You pass a fishing station on the way in where fishermen can rest, eat and get weather information. We did see just 0.3 metres under the boat, where the charts said it should have been a metre. A strong current surges through the cut, so at times we were held by both wind and current but once the wind picked up this wasn’t an issue. We laid out a second anchor for the first time on this boat, a hefty danforth of 20 kgs with about 25 metres of heavy 10mm chain followed by 50 metres of thick rope. It is usually stored under all our ropes in the cockpit locker, so we had to dig all that out, giving me a chance to brush out the sand. We manhandled it into the dinghy, attached the rope to the bow and motored astern in the dinghy paying out the line and chain, finally dropping the anchor over. Rob dived down to make sure it was in position and I then went back to the boat to tighten it up on the anchor windlass. It was about 100 degrees to the starboard of our main anchor and held us tight throughout a brief squall the following morning. The rain was a welcome fresh water wash for the boat.

Fishing Station Cayo Campos

Fishing Station Cayo Campos

The day before the cold front blew through, we went ashore, tying our dinghies to the dock by the Conservation Office where 3 men alternate month long shifts to look after the monkeys, crocodile and jutias on the island. The white sand beach is lovely but as we walked around the surrounding scrubland, Di and I jumped at every noise, imagining the crocodile was coming for us. Seeing some shoes at the side of the path didn’t help! The hut was basic but had 8 big solar panels, a TV, antenna, fridge and bunk beds. They offered to make us a meal that afternoon, so we chose lobster and fish, served with rice and black beans. We gave them Italian biscuits, crisps, beer and a bottle of rum but they still asked for 40 US$ as we were leaving, a bit much really as that is likely to be about a month’s wages but none of us felt like bargaining as we’d already eaten the meal.

Dinghy Dock At Nature Reserve

Dinghy Dock At Nature Reserve

Another 2 yachts joined us, then 2 fishing boats, seeking shelter from the coming bad weather and ‘Epona’ arrived the day after, having sailed overnight. They brought us a nice tuna but as we were leaving at dawn the next morning, we declined another past midnight session on ‘Beyzano’ and promised to see them at the next opportunity instead. The winds clocked round from E-S-NW but the 2 anchors just crossed over and didn’t give us any problems. In the evening we saw a line of rain showers but they just missed us. Finally we recovered our danforth by tying a fender to the rope on the bow and throwing it overboard, motoring gently to avoid the boat snatching back on the main anchor and pulling it out. All was well as Rob checked once again by diving on it. We then piled all the rope and chain into the poor dinghy, leaving the anchor hanging over the bow of it until we could hoist it onto the stern platform by one of the davit lines we usually use to lift the dinghy. After rinsing it in fresh water and drying it all off in the sun, it was ready to go back in the locker. Hopefully it won’t be needed again too soon.

Our next issue was going to be trying to get through to the south side of the reef and Cay system via the cut next to Cayo Rosario named Rose Cut. On the charts it shows 2.6 metres as the least depth, next to a marker beacon and we hoped it was correct. If not, our only options would have been to return north and west of Juventud again, then east outside the reef overnight; to creep 40 miles across the bay in dubious water depths or a third option was to just return to Los Morros and wait for good weather to sail to Hemingway Marina, just west of Havana and see the city from there. An added problem was that we were already 2 weeks into our month’s tourist visa and to extend would need health insurance and to visit immigration. At Los Morros we knew we could only pay in cash and having loaned 200 US$ to Jeff and Di there, we no longer had enough to cover 150 for the visa and 150 for the health insurance. We needed to get to a bank, either in Cayo Largo or Havana but it all depended on whether or not Rose Cut had shoaled. Our plans were in the hands of a few cms of water!

Wonderfully Calm & Clear At Cayo Rosario

Wonderfully Calm & Clear At Cayo Rosario

We duly upped anchor at dawn and had to motor northeast towards the Toblones Cay before turning east, then south to the beacon marking the middle of the channel. It shallowed by 0.3 metres north of Toblones where it should have been deeper according to the charts, again a bad sign for the coming 2.6 metre patches we needed to get over. In the event we kept just to the east of the buoy and only read 0.4 metres under us at the least, which is 2.5 metres of water but at 3.1 metres just south of the buoy we grazed over something hard. At least it is only 0.9 metres high now, for the next boat!

We were relieved when it got deeper and congratulated ‘Beyzy’ for getting through. Perhaps she held her breath. We then had a choice of anchorages, either off the west side of Cayo Rosario or the east of Cayo Cantiles as the forecast was for very calm conditions. We chose the anchorage off the warden’s house at the monkey sanctuary dropping the hook in stunningly clear water, so calm and clear that we could see the anchor itself way off the bow. ‘Epona’ joined us later and as the fishermen had brought us 4 lobsters, traded for a bottle of rum, we shared them with Grant and Olaf and chatted until gone midnight. The anchorage is another perfect place to visit, empty, protected, deep and with excellent holding.

Our Chain At Cayo Cantiles

Our Chain At Cayo Cantiles

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Los Morros & Sheltering From Weather In The Cayos De La Leña

As you get towards Los Morros there is a buoy just as you enter the shallower water but all the others, save the 2 for the marina entrance, are missing. The water dramatically shallows from off the scale to 6 metres but it stayed that depth all the way to the marina. The dock is concrete, with big rusty chains hanging down, presumably where black tyres used to be and a few remaining tyres further in. We had lots of fenders out but didn’t bother with the fender board. Abel had all 3 boats on the western side, where it is calmer but we saw 0.1m under us on approach and I knew the tide was going out further later.

Anchored Off Los Morros Marina

Anchored Off Los Morros Marina

Abel took our lines and welcomed us to Cuba, explaining that we needed to wait on the boat for the Doctor and officials. Everyone is based at the marina and arrived immediately, complete with sniffer dog ‘Diablo’. The Doctor checked us out first but could see we were both in good health and didn’t test our temperatures nor use his stethoscope. He was smartly attired in white, took off his shoes before boarding and donned latex gloves before looking in our freezer. Next came Customs, sanitation & immigration to check the paperwork and do their own forms. All I needed to do was sign and answer the few questions. Nobody asked for any ‘gifts’ but I gave some toy cars to a father for his 2 year old. It was a very pleasant process and they were all very friendly and efficient. They kept saying how beautiful and clean ‘Beyzano’ was and didn’t inspect our heads or any lockers. Diablo behaved very well, not leaving a single paw print. What was a surprise was that they didn’t confiscate any food whatsoever. After the horror stories of all the meat, eggs and fruit being taken, or rice and flour being sealed up, it was a real relief to keep every item of food we had. Even the limes sitting in the fruit bowl and beetroot that turned out to be infested with ants. I put them straight into a sealed bag for them to incinerate but they just said, you can wash and use them. At least we still had enough food for 2 months!

Diablo After Checking Us Out

Diablo After Checking Us Out

Next we welcomed ‘Horizons’ in and then went to the marina office to pay and get our passports. These are not stamped in case of difficulties getting into the USA but we had plenty of documents, including a form with boxes for each port of call to stamp us in and out. The tourist cards are valid for 30 days and cost 75 CUCs each (about 75 dollars I think), which is triple what it was a year ago and our total cost was 235 $US which we had to pay in cash, as their card machine is not working. The hotel, if it is still open, doesn’t change money anymore either and there is currently no Internet at Los Morros. On the plus side, Abel was proud to tell us about the services they do have; diesel, electricity, free water, showers, a restaurant and small shop. The latter was mostly full of rum and cigarettes but you could pay in dollars. I told him we wouldn’t be staying on the dock due to high northerly winds expected over the weekend. The bay is wide open to the north, north-northwest and northeast and the dock gets rough. Our other neighbour needed to stay there to greet a guest, so he laid out an anchor to the west of his boat to pull it off the dock.

We listened to Chris Parker’s weather broadcast on the SSB and heard it loud and clear thankfully. It was our only source of weather information for weeks. I also spoke to Carla on ‘Moody Mistress’ who is in Roatan and she put a message on Facebook for us to say we had arrived safely. The wonders of modern communication!

Sunset In The Tranquil Canal

Sunset In The Tranquil Canal

So, once we were all legal, we backed out of our slip seeing ‘Last Echo’ on the depth sounder, i.e. we stirred up the mud as it was so shallow, missed ‘Horizons’ astern of us and headed round to the north-east and the Canal De Los Barcos, a cut between 2 mangrove cays with great protection from the north, to sit out the couple of days with windier weather. It took us more than 2 hours to motor the 9 miles to the eastern end of the canal but ‘Horizons’ are much shallower than us and a fisherman showed them a short cut through to the western end. The depths didn’t drop under a metre through the middle of the canal and the entrance is wide and easy on a course of 245 degrees. We had to anchor 3 times though, as the southern edges of the canal were too shallow for us once we had let out enough chain but finally we got settled, checked the depths at both sides with a lead line from the dinghy and got the anchor secure in the sticky mud. During our few days there we did swing through 180 degrees, so it is essential to check the depths in all directions.

The sound of nothing was deafening. So peaceful, with just the single fishing boat going through morning and evening with everyone aboard waving. Fishermen offered us huge lobsters daily, coming alongside in their rowing boat whilst the mothership anchored nearby. We traded rum, beer and some rope they needed for 5 lobsters, having to stop them giving us more. They dispatched them for us, twisting out the tails but I pulled out the tube inside later. We had a couple of BBQs, visited ‘Horizons’ who were anchored nearby, baked cakes and explored the mangroves all around us. There is an indent with deep water for hundreds of metres, a great hurricane hole that ‘Beyzano’ could fit into. The cloudless days, golden sunsets and lunar eclipse were a beautiful welcome to Cuba and we slept very soundly after 36 hours on duty with just a few catnaps. Great to be at anchor again.

Rounding Cabo San Antonio, Punta Perpetua, Punta Del Holandes, Cabo Corrientes & Cabo Frances
The weather calmed significantly and we planned our departure for rounding the notorious capes on the SW tip of Cuba. Jeff and Di went to the dock for diesel and asked if we needed to come in to clear out, as I had seen we were already stamped out from Los Morros and wondered if we could just head off. It is expensive to dock there and in many places we heard that you pay the same to anchor nearby too, so we were keen to avoid having to use up all our remaining cash. Not having a card machine or cash machine had seriously depleted our reserves and we also needed to sub ‘Horizons’ 200 US$ for the same reason.

We were just settling into another peaceful afternoon when Di called to say we had to go to the marina to clear out, as they wouldn’t be there in the morning. Reluctantly we upped anchor and arrived off their dock by 1400, calling again on the VHF resulted in no answer. We later learned that the marina and Guarda do not have a radio so they had been using those belonging to docked boats once a boat came in sight. Neither do they have a dinghy, so once you are off their dock, they can’t really control you at all. Anchoring outside the 2 marina buoys again, we dinghied in, only to be told that we were clearing back in, not out and would have to return in the morning to be stamped out of Los Morros. Even if you go around the corner, you are seen to be ‘leaving’, hence the exit stamp we already had but this only got us to the Cayos de la Lena. To move on elsewhere, we had to be stamped in and out once more.

It was a quick process, just 10 minutes and we spoke to Grant on ‘Epona’ who had returned to the marina after a nasty night trying to go east at the weekend, before getting back to the boat, bouncing a bit in the bay. We had a St Valentine’s meal and box of Bailey’s chocolates whilst the wind calmed significantly allowing us a peaceful night’s sleep. It was fortunate the wind was south of east; otherwise it would have been very rough. We could see the red and green lights flashing on the channel markers and there were red and green lights on the end of the marina dock, which was also lit along the sides. The following morning I had a 1000 appointment to do the next 10 minute stamp and be allowed to leave after lunch. I only saw the same official, none of the others we met on arrival and I gave him a couple of beers and bars of nice soap as a farewell present, not asked for. The Guarda like to see the boat and know when you are leaving but they didn’t search ‘Beyzano’ nor force us to use the dock again, as I explained stirring up the sand in the shallows would destroy our engine pump and was dangerous.

After securing the dinghy, having a big lunch and getting the sails ready, we set off after 1500, a couple of hours after we had said we would be leaving, once the winds died down from the 20 knot gusts during the early afternoon, to the 10 they were forecast to drop to and from a more southerly, even south-southwesterly direction. ‘Epona’ had left 3 hours earlier and we promised to keep in touch on the VHF during the night. We had to bash into the wind and waves for 8 miles before being able to turn south east to round the first of the capes and begin sailing but it was comfortable. As you are no longer allowed to stop at Maria Gorda, it is necessary to do them all in a single passage.

Lovely Sailing

Lovely Sailing

The San Antonio lighthouse was clearly visible as we passed and several others flashed brightly during the night. I also saw lightning over the land but it didn’t get out to sea fortunately. Whilst we were on a fast, comfortable tack we thought about continuing past the Cayos de San Felipe to Juventud but during the night the wind died and we had to motor, so abandoned Plan B and started to turn northeast once we had rounded Cabo Corrientes and further north around Cabo Frances. We could smell pine trees as we approached land, probably enhanced by the rain in the distance and entered to the west of the reef before turning south well east of Cayo La Vigia and into the anchorage behind the Cays for protection from north west winds due overnight. We crept into the shallow water, seeing 2.5 metres at the least. We anchored in good holding mud in 3 metres of water at 21˚59’.10 N, 83˚35’.66W and although there was nothing there other than mangrove cays, we were protected from all but NE-E winds. Our 125 mile passage was over.

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Passage From Isla Mujeres, Mexico To San Antonio, Cuba

I knew I was tempting fate writing that everything was working on the boat! The few hours before we left Mexico for the SW tip of Cuba, were spent trying to work out why we didn’t have any shore power, whilst everyone else did. The first step was to try the generator and this wasn’t producing any power either. As that feeds power through the battery charger we assumed this was the problem but it turned out, after much searching by our friends Paul and his son Lincoln from ‘Gone Walkabout’, to actually be the water heater element that had blown, causing one of the breakers on the power circuit to switch. Paul patiently rebuilt the end of our power plug too. So we only had to depart without the hot water heater operating but as we have the engine and generator to heat water, this certainly wasn’t an issue to stop us leaving.

Dealing With The Power Of The Gulf Stream

Dealing With The Power Of The Gulf Stream

With a farewell party waving us off, we untied all but 3 of the lines. Some were hard to untie, given all the tightening during our 2 ‘northers’ but a screwdriver helped undo some of the knots. The pasarelle was brought aboard and the marina staff threw the 2 stern lines into the cockpit as I gingerly motored out avoiding scraping the boat along the wooden posts. We were off at last but had a wonderfully happy stay in El Milagro Marina with great memories of everyone there. We would go back anytime.

Our dinghy was tied to the bow as we can’t lift it whilst stern to the dock, so after stowing the lines and tying the water cans onto the pasarelle, we drifted in the anchorage whilst we hoisted the dinghy and got it strapped securely for the passage of 120 miles. Then the mainsail needed to be hauled up and we were set to go. The weather was forecast to be south of east and nothing more than 15 knots with no squalls. For the following morning, it was due to be really calm, less than 10 knots as we approached the Cabo San Antonio and landfall. Pretty perfect conditions really and that is what we got.

We finally left the anchorage at noon and followed the channel and 2 red buoys out of Isla Mujeres. We saw just 0.4m under the keel at one point. We got to the southern tip of the island by 1330 and headed out into the calm blue water. Good to be at sea again. Our friends on ‘Horizons’ had left a few hours ahead of us and we spoke on the radio before sailing very close to them around midnight, just by chance. We all waved!

A strong current runs north through the Yucatan to become the Gulf Stream and we crossed it during the passage. The photo shows how much we were being pushed north (green line) from the course (red line) we were steering, especially at 5 knots. The triangle is a big ship heading our way. Cuba is on the top right and we were missing our destination! We knew we would need to head as far south of east as we could comfortably sail but also knew the current weakens further east. As it did and we sailed faster, we were able to head further north and still be well south of Cabo San Antonio.

We had full sail and made between 6-8 knots for several hours but during the night the wind died a little and we had to motor instead until we belatedly noticed the wind had increased again and we could continue sailing. By 0230 we were bowling along at over 8 knots and had to reef the genoa so we didn’t arrive before dawn. Beyzano was clearly happy to be romping through the ocean again!

The Cabo San Antonio lighthouse was visible from 15 miles out and we crossed the shipping lanes at right angles according to best COLREGS tradition but there was only 1 ship in the lanes anyway. We saw several other big vessels during the night on our AIS but nothing came within 2 miles of us. The most exciting thing we saw was a huge turtle, absolutely enormous.

Beyzano Docked For Clearance At Los Morros

Beyzano Docked For Clearance At Los Morros

I tried calling up the Guarda Frontera and Los Morros marina on the VHF but didn’t get any response. The marina at Los Morros is where you check in and they actually called us up once we were within sight. We later found out that they had to use ‘Epona’s radio. Abel speaks excellent English and told us to come into the dock once a big powerboat had moved. We said we would anchor off in the bay and get our lines ready. By 1000 we had arrived in Cuba.

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Another Weather Window Approaching

A nice calm spell is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday with the winds picking up again on Friday, so we are very much hoping that we can clear out tomorrow and head out towards Cabo San Antonio around lunchtime Wednesday. The seas are supposed to drop down to under 3 feet later on Wednesday and the wind may allow us to sail for a while before it drops to motoring speed.

Museum Entrance Ramp Around The Garden

Museum Entrance Ramp Around The Garden

I am getting excited about the prospect of arriving in Cuba on Thursday morning but although it is only 2 days before we leave, things may yet change and I should remain patient! We use Weather 4D and Passage Weather, plus Windguru and Chris Parker’s broadcasts for our information. Once we download the Weather 4D it remains on the iPad without Internet connection so we at least have a reference as we move east. We listen and speak to Chris on the SSB.

Our last week has flown by once more; we paid for another week in the marina on Saturday at a cost of 212.50 US$, played dominoes all afternoon yesterday and caught up with James and Patty from ‘La Adventura’ for drinks a couple of times. Rob and I were playing table tennis when they found us and we had a nice reunion after 2 and a half years. The last time we saw them was in Trinidad.

Modern Museum

Modern Museum

Mike and Jean from ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ came with us to the Museo Maya de Cancun, spending all morning in the modern building. They started off towards Cuba a couple of weeks ago but had to return due to boat equipment issues. It is a long taxi ride from the ferry port on the mainland, costing us 400 pesos or 8 pounds but we caught a bus on the return for just over 2 pounds for the 4 of us. Much better value although it didn’t go to exactly where we wanted, the shopping mall. Another taxi trip to the modern complex only cost 2 pounds though, so it was still far better to catch the bus.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 0900-1800 and you enter on the second floor, with a choice of lifts or a winding spiral ramp around a pretty garden. Inside it was cool and light with a great view over the sea. The exhibits are amazingly well preserved, the sabre toothed tiger skeleton included and although some of the information was in Spanish, much was in English. The pieces reflect the development and decline of the cities, the beliefs and lives of the Maya over 2000 years. There are 3 exhibition halls, 1 temporary and currently they have objects in celebration of fertility on display.

Mayan Mother & Baby

Mayan Mother & Baby

The beautiful buildings we saw at Tikal and Chichen Itza had ornate carvings and a very special style and many exhibits showed aspects of their architecture. It was certainly worth visiting. The tickets cost less than 3 pounds each and included entrance to the archaeological site next door. You wander along a pathway to view several buildings they have excavated, with all the information in English. All that was lacking at the Museo was a coffee shop but Rob did buy a book about the History Of Mexico at the gift shop.

Animals Featured Frequently In Mayan Carvings

Animals Featured Frequently In Mayan Carvings

In the mall we had a great lunch at the Waffle House, then went our separate ways to find new flip flops for Rob and get another taxi to the Home Depot (US equivalent of B&Q) for exciting items such as drill bits and plastic tubing to replace the split one which protects our SSB cable on the backstay. I hoisted Rob up the few feet in the bosun’s chair to complete that task yesterday. Today we need to clean the dinghy on the beach, do a quick food shop and start alerting people (again) to the fact we will be offline for a month or so in Cuba. Then we want to take a last walk into Centro to pick up a proper Mexican flag with the emblem in the middle of the white stripe, have a meal out and perhaps buy a souvenir.

Tomorrow I will go to Port Authority and Immigration to clear out at a cost of 20 US$ whilst Rob does the final fresh food shopping. The value here is quite astonishing, even after Guatemalan prices. For less than 10 pounds we bought the following: salad dressing, big bag of gourmet crisps, a whole 2.25kg fresh chicken, .5kg of sirloin steak, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, spring onions, a beetroot, 2 courgettes, 4 tomatoes and 2 avocados. As Belize is more expensive and Guatemala lacks a lot of goods other than fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables, this is the place to stock up before heading south.

The boat is ready for passage and tempting fate, all her systems and equipment are working. Rob re-assembled the watermaker pump, having fitted expensive new seals and tried to run it expecting it not to work but it did. Not sure of the water quality but we won’t drink it, just use it for showering and cleaning the boat. We still intend getting a new membrane for it in the USA.

Farewell Sunset Behind The Memorial Obelisk In Isla Mujeres

Farewell Sunset Behind The Memorial Obelisk In Isla Mujeres

So, we hope to be in Cuba by Thursday midday to clear in at Los Morros before moving the 5 miles to the Canal de los Barcos that apparently has excellent shelter from any winds. It is a cut between 2 mangrove islands but is deep and wide to enter in any conditions and we can wait there until the weather is calm enough for us to motor around the 3 capes to the south. We may get internet access along the way east but plan to visit some Cays before checking in again at Cayo Largo, then again at Cienfuegos before heading to Grand Cayman if no northers are imminent. From there we will jump on the Gulf Stream to Florida when the weather allows.

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Not Cuba Bound Quite Yet

A short weather window has arrived after a nasty front passed through the area on Monday. The wind suddenly clocked around to the northwest and we had a bouncy night with the waves coming directly into the anchorage and through the marina. All the boats were like bucking broncos and the sound of the creaking ropes straining to keep us in place was unsettling.

It finally subsided after midnight and the water was calm again. Yesterday was windless and we have been watching the forecasts as the seas die down from over 7 feet to under 3. This is a short window and we initially thought it would enable us to leave the dock and motorsail the 120 miles to Cuba’s southwest tip to clear in at Cabo San Antonio. From there it is a 5 mile hop to the northeast into a long canal between 2 mangrove islands where the shelter is said to be good. We planned to wait in there for the next calm spell to head around 3 notorious capes and along the south coast.

The Anchorage Suffering Another NW Blow

The Anchorage Suffering Another NW Blow

We also contemplated Plan B, carrying on past the headlands to a small island for the night, some 180 miles but we would be forced to find a sheltered bay the next day to sit out a few days of stronger easterly winds and we couldn’t guarantee that the bay on the NW of Isla De La Juventad would be deep enough for us to enter. In addition, we might arrive at the islet in the dark as fighting the current could slow us down by hours. We couldn’t clear in there either so we decided we would rather get through customs and just chill out. We should be able to hear Chris Parker’s weather broadcast on the SSB radio each morning at 1330 UTC/GMT but the small marina at Los Morros has weather information, we understand.

In the event Rob and I had a long discussion and looked at the weather forecast going ahead to 3 February. It looked like we would need to bunker down for a week in a mangrove bay with nothing to do, as the conditions wouldn’t allow us to move south and east. So, faced with staying in this marina on Isla Mujeres, with all the attractions of our easy life here or sitting it out in the middle of nowhere, we opted for waiting another week or so. Today there is a cruiser’s ‘swop meet’ where you can sell or buy boat related items from one another. Tonight El Milagro are putting on a BBQ with ribs and fish plus salads for 15 US$ a head. Tomorrow is the weekly pizza evening at Oscar’s and I’m still keen to go to the Mayan Museum over in Cancun, cycle around the island and spend a rare day on the beach like the tourists do 🙂

La Pelegrina's Bow Pitched Several Feet For Hours

La Pelegrina’s Bow Pitched Several Feet For Hours

Whilst waiting we have filled the freezer with meals frozen in the marina kitchen’s big freezer. Using freezer bags works really well as you can squeeze all the air out and end up with flat bags that take very little space. They obviously defrost really quickly too. I also made another Christmas cake (rich fruit cake with nuts, glace cherries & spices), only a week after finishing last year’s one, as it will keep for months steeped in Brandy. We really don’t know what food we can take in as stories vary but the food here is such good value that we decided to take everything and if some gets confiscated then so be it. Preparing the boat for possibly 2 months without a lot of food has been like getting ready to cross the Atlantic and we are pretty much full of storable and frozen items.

Our friends, Mike and Jean, on ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ left today, as they want a calm passage and have a shallow drafted boat which can get into all the bays. Hopefully we will catch up with them in Cuba somewhere, as they will be there a while. Our farewell meal in Greenverde with Jeff and Di was a little premature! We might go to the Cayman Islands after Cuba and then pick up the current to ride up to Florida on but we will need to be sure of the weather before heading to the anchorage on Grand Cayman. It is open to the west and we doubt we can get into the shallow anchorage on the north coast, so have to consider our lack of options if the wind goes west. Occasionally we wish Beyzano had a 5 foot rather than 7 foot draft but not very often.

Yet Another 'Christmas Cake' Ready For Soaking In Brandy

Yet Another ‘Christmas Cake’ Ready For Soaking In Brandy

We were told that on the Cuban islands where officials and park rangers have to spend long periods on duty, they really appreciate a cold beer, as they don’t have a fridge. Also soap, fishing lures and any food other than rice and beans, which is what they are given as rations. I read on the Facebook page ‘Cuba, Land & Sea’, that Cubans are very kind, welcoming people who will share what they have. We will also need to share what we have and it is not seen as bribery, just basic friendship. We will hopefully find out for ourselves in the not too distant future but for now we can relax again, knowing the boat is ready to go. Just hope we didn’t miss the only good window in months. Mind you, nothing goes to windward like an Airbus A380!

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Chilling Out Waiting To Sail To Cuba

Whilst Steve was with us he rented a golf cart for 24 hours for less than 40 pounds and we made the most of it whizzing around the small island, several times. Our first circuit took less than an hour, giving us a view of where we wanted to return. Golf carts are fun to drive and there are hundreds on Isla. Ours wouldn’t do more than a slow pace and was perfectly safe. It even had lights so we could go further afield for that evening’s meal.

Southern Point Of Isla Mujeres

Southern Point Of Isla Mujeres

There wasn’t too much to see to be honest. The southern tip of the island has nice scenery with waves crashing ashore but the ruins aren’t very big and the sculpture park has a handful of exhibits rusting away, not worth the 3 US$ they charge. Paying in pesos was far cheaper, so we did that.

Along the lagoon road is an Ice Bar, a turtle sanctuary, sadly a dolphin park and plenty of hotels where you can rent a sun lounger for the day and swim or sometimes just buy a drink for the privilege of a few hours at the hotel. The Mia resort on the north end of Isla is all-inclusive and for 30 US$ you get meals and drinks too. The beach is a beautiful expanse of white sand backed by bars and stalls but it is a bit busy for us. Having had the luxury of deserted islands in the San Blas, we are a bit spoilt now, preferring to have our own beaches accessed only by dinghy.

Church With A View

Church With A View

We also stopped by a couple of graveyards as the history the stones provide is one of my interests and I tend to visit cemeteries in most islands if I can. Here the graves are similar to those of the wealthier in Guatemala, being painted concrete and above ground but the shockingly young age of most of the deceased was painful to see. All but 2 I saw in 1 graveyard were younger than me.

The view from the church on the eastern coast road was stunning, overlooking the sea. The chapel at the cemetery on the same road also had a backdrop of the sea for the congregation to look at during funerals. In town, the graveyard contains the grave of a real life pirate who retired to Isla Mujeres in the 19th Century and fell in love with a young woman, Prisca Gomez, who unfortunately preferred a younger man whom she married. Heartbroken, Fermin Mundaca died a few years later in Merida but was buried in the graveyard on the island to be near his lost love. The grave has a skull and crossbones on the northern end and is to the right as you enter the cemetery. His old estate is another attraction to visit.

Pirate's Grave

Pirate’s Grave

Naturally we have been enjoying eating out, especially whilst Steve was with us. Next door we have the Soggy Peso with excellent nachos and tonight we are trying their lobster tacos. We bought a big bag of ground coffee at the Mango Café, one of the best on the island and we have had 3 excellent meals there now. Superb French toast for breakfast served with fruit, toasted almonds and maple syrup! Greenverde is another great place to eat and do bright green nachos with guacamole, stuffed peppers and beautifully presented rice and beans, both in little nacho baskets. The latter 2 restaurants are both small but serve wonderful food in a cosy atmosphere. You can walk Greenverde from El Milagro marina. In town we liked Mogagua coffee shop, Sardinian Smile and El Patio but prices rise as you get towards the tourist end of town where so many of the holidaymakers spend their time. It has quietened noticeably since the 6 January though, after everyone’s Christmas and New Year fortnight ended. We were told we couldn’t have a golf cart for 24 hours as they made more money renting them for 3 hours but things changed after the holidays.

Catching Up With Jo & Liz

Catching Up With Jo & Liz

Liz and Jo, our neighbours in Haslar Marina visited us twice last week whilst they were on holiday in Cancun. They came to see us off in Las Palmas way back in 2011 so it was great to see them again. Rob did a BBQ under the palapa in the marina and we introduced them to the wonderful Kraken Rum, a bottle of which they kindly brought us after we mentioned how good it is. Hopefully they took some home. We swopped stories of life in the Caribbean compared to the Med, where their boat is and wondered where all the years have gone to.

Steve got back to the snow of the UK after what we hope was a restful fortnight in the sunshine. He did some stand up paddle boarding before he left and got a couple of souvenirs but we couldn’t persuade him to buy a huge sombrero for some reason. It was good to see him again, shame the time went so fast but we will be back in his ‘hotel’ in May, so not that long now.

Los Tres Amigos

Los Tres Amigos

In the meantime we have a lot of miles to cover and were watching a weather window appearing for this Thursday. Suddenly, after being pretty lazy for 3 weeks, we had a list of tasks to complete before we could leave, including replacing the engine and fresh water pumps (brought out by both friends), changing the masthead anchor light bulb, getting diesel, shopping, cooking and freezing food for 2 months in Cuba where there is very little to buy and generally getting everything ship-shape.

I considered getting new curtains whilst in the Rio as the humidity had left mildew spots on the cream stripes but a brushing of neat ‘magic bleach’ has completely cleaned it off without damaging the navy blue stripes, so I’ve washed all of them. I have been trawling through the Cuba Cruising Guides, some of which are a bit out of date now, such as Calder’s but the free Frank Virgintino guide is good, with lots of waypoints now entered in my iPad’s Navionics charts.

Memorial To Lost Fishermen

Memorial To Lost Fishermen

We are not sure whether Cuba will be a good stop or not as stories vary wildly and things keep changing. We hear that you can’t take in eggs, citrus and meats or that rice and flour will be sealed up but other people said everything was OK. All we can do is take what we will need and see what happens. We also stocked up on beers, soap bars and toilet paper for ‘oiling the wheels’ of officialdom as it is intense in Cuba. Apparently we will need to clear in and out of every port at a ‘marina’, sometimes with 5 or more officials and all may want a ‘gift’. We have to anchor where they say and can only go ashore in a specified place, the dinghy needing to be lifted out of the water by 1800. This mostly applies to inhabited areas, as the fear is that a Cuban will try to stow away or take our dinghy to leave Cuba. You can go ashore in the deserted areas. I’m fine with abiding by each host’s rules and being mega patient with officials, so watch this space. Actually, don’t watch this space, as we may not have Internet access in Cuba for the entire visit unless we are lucky. So I’ll have to update from Florida when we get there instead.

Marina's Resident Pen Dismantler

Marina’s Resident Pen Dismantler

Our first weather window has now been discarded in favour of another hopefully arriving next week, as the waves were predicted to be over 5 foot and a short chop for last Thursday/Friday. The issue going from Isla Mujeres to the south western tip of Cuba is that you have to cross the emerging Gulf Stream which flows north and west at over 3 knots but when you get closer inshore near the treacherous capes off Cuba, there is a counter-current going south and east. The wind we need is as little as possible and south of east so we can steer east to counteract the big current taking us north. Our plan is to leave here around lunch time or early afternoon to arrive in Los Morros to clear in the following morning. Near the marina, 5 miles east, is a very sheltered canal between the cays with deep enough water for Beyzano. We can wait out any nasty weather there before getting around to the south coast and east along the islands to Cienfuegos. From there we want to explore inland before heading south to Grand Cayman, then west again and on to Florida. Plan A, that is!

Having gone through our first ‘norther’, albeit on the dock, we now understand why you need to seek good shelter as all but 4 boats in the bay here had to move to the lagoon when it blew through. Many dragged their anchors. It was well predicted but arrived suddenly with a dark sky followed by lots of rain, thunder and lightning. The winds got up well over 30 knots and continue to blow from NW through N to NE for nearly 2 days. They can sometimes blow for a lot longer before calming down and the northers can also crop up every few days, meaning you have little time between them. Last winter wasn’t good but we’ve only seen the one small norther in a month, so counting ourselves lucky.

Our Plank Access System

Our Plank Access System

We continue to enjoy Isla Mujeres with our friends, none of whom have left yet either. ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and ‘Horizons’ will probably go to Cuba with us once we get the right conditions. Yesterday Di and I caught the ferry for a day out shopping in Cancun on the promise of bringing back Krispy Kreme donuts for Rob. I got new flip-flops, lingerie, iPad cover and coffee mugs plus some food in Walmart, which we don’t see in the local supermarket. Prices are amazing value and only 6 items in my basket were over 2 pounds, only 1 was over 4 pounds and that was swimming trunks for Rob. The huge mall has everything we needed, included an optician who put 2 new plastic nose supports on Di’s glasses and cleaned them for 2 pounds.

I need to buy all the storable food I can find here over the next few days and start freezing meals, just in case we can’t get much in Cuba, although I’m hoping we will find some fresh fish and vegetables at least. We also need to get US dollars to exchange for Cuban CUCs, the tourist currency. It isn’t cheap and I wish we had thought ahead and asked Steve to bring pounds as there is a 10% tax on US dollar exchanges as well as 10% on the ATM here. You can exchange Euros and pounds in Cuba without the 10% tax added. They don’t allow American credit cards either but we can use ours I’ve heard, so long as the bank’s parent company isn’t American.

Green Food At Greenverde!

Green Food At Greenverde!

Apart from putting the 80 litres of diesel Rob bought yesterday into the tanks, our boat jobs are complete. Rob went up the mast to sort out the anchoring light and the new water pumps are running fine. The generator ran the other day when all the island’s electricity went down, the main engine had a quick run and we are up to date with the cleaning and even did the annual ironing! The only equipment not working is the watermaker but we need to get a new membrane from the US in April.

We are waiting happily here, about to pay for another week in the marina and not too worried if we are here another 6 weeks. I have just paid Chris Parker 195 US$ for a year’s weather advice via our SSB radio, so we can get weather whilst offline in Cuba. I will write a final blog from Mexico just before we leave for what promises to be quite an experience in Cuba.

I have also compiled a page on our 2016 spending, if you have the nerve to read it! It is under Cruising Information.

Posted in Caribbean, Cuba, Friends & Family, Maintenance, Mexico, UK, Weather | Leave a comment

Happy End Of 2016 In Isla Mujeres

Feliz Año Nuevo everyone! All the best for 2017 from sunny Mexico where we have had a great Christmas with friends in El Milagro marina and celebrated New Year with our friend Steve who flew in from the UK.

Lovely Social Area At El Milagro

Lovely Social Area At El Milagro

It has been all too easy to relax at the marina hotel, thanks to the great staff and numerous hotel guests and cruisers. Many evenings have been spent just chilling out over a few beers whilst Felix lights the BBQs either for us to use or for him to cook us local fish and lobster. The patio area is really pretty, with tiled tables, candles and lights under the palapa. We have wifi, open air hot showers which cascade like waterfalls, a movie theatre we can run films in, an area to play table tennis, stand up paddle boards and kayaks on the beach and a small swimming pool.

Communal Kitchen

Communal Kitchen

It is a great place for cruisers as we can use the huge, well-equipped kitchen to prepare our meals and keep food in the big fridges and freezers. Over Christmas this was a godsend and the staff often do our washing up, clearing our plates without being asked. Hammocks are hung between the palms but a coconut did fall down near me once, so I’m cautious when the wind gets up, especially when I’m in the shower under a swaying palm tree.

There are bikes you can borrow to cycle to the huge supermarket just south of the marina or explore the mainly flat island, only half a mile wide and 5 miles long. Many places in town rent out golf carts and scooters but the red taxis only cost a few pesos anyway. For our first week we didn’t do too much, preferring to get Beyzano cleaned up and ready for Christmas. Our usual decorations were supplemented by glittery stars I bought in Guatemala and a beautiful glass heart Jeff and Di gave me. Rob used his bleached driftwood draped in blue lights as a centrepiece for the cockpit but some of our older decorations have started to deteriorate in the humidity. The boat always looks lovely and cosy at this time of year but sadly it is already time to pack them away under our berth and I hope we are able to put them up before the 20th of December this year.

Driftwood For A Caribbean Christmas

Driftwood For A Caribbean Christmas

It was fitting that we had to use our passarelle again, after 5 years of being stowed on deck, as Steve obtained it for us before we set sail from the UK. It was a bit wobbly so Rob fixed a couple of lines to our dinghy davits to lift it off the dock and I added 2 handrails to make it feel safer. The water is clear and clean here but even so I prefer not to fall in. Being such a tiny marina makes it friendly and sociable, one of the reasons we chose to be dock bound for the holiday season.

A Snowman Of Course!

A Snowman Of Course!

On Christmas Eve we went into town, as I was keen to go to the service at 2130 at the church in the main square. The church is Catholic and we arrived in time to see several baby Jesus dolls being blessed before they were placed in the empty mangers around town. We had seen several when wandering around and the town had a lot of decorations and 2 huge trees. The naval building had green lighting up the decorative mast outside, making a tree shape. Naturally the modern ferry terminal had a number of big decorations to welcome all the tourists, including the typical Mexican snowman! The music and atmosphere in the church was really upbeat and helped get us into the Christmas spirit, sadly hard to invoke in the warm climate and so far from our family but our friends are very dear to us and we support one another.

Town Sqaure & Church

Town Sqaure & Church

We started the day with champagne and found 7 bottles of wine and 1 extra champagne whilst getting the glasses out. Merry Christmas indeed! El Milagro bought 7 turkeys and provided potato cakes and cranberry salad for Christmas dinner and we all brought side dishes and desserts. The 15 US$ charge went to the staff, a kind gesture from Eric, the owner. Around 100 people attended, including the staff and their families, so it was a good evening. We find the Americans like to eat early, starting at 1700 and then getting home before 2000, whereas the rest of us like to start at 2000! So the British contingent carried on a bit later …

I have been baking and enjoying letting Rob BBQ most nights and grateful for the huge selection of food available in the Chedraui supermarket which seems to be open round the clock, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The restaurants in town cater for the large number of tourists, with many different nationalities represented so we have been spoilt for choice. El Patio has been a favourite and we decided to go there on New Year’s Eve, quite late as we had heard the fireworks and party didn’t start in the town square until midnight and went on until dawn. The set menu was a bit pricey in US dollars but if you pay in pesos it is much cheaper. They have live music and a pretty upstairs area with lighting in the trees.

Old Year's Eve

Old Year’s Eve

Cocktails are based on the Mexican drink, tequila but the strengths vary considerably. In the Soggy Peso, almost next door to the marina, you should only have a single margarita or suffer the consequences! Their nachos are great though and each evening they offer a different meal, lobster tacos is one we intend trying. There are Cuban bars with salsa dancing classes during the day, several Italian restaurants and a few Mexican establishments but mainly they sell burritos, tacos and quesadillas, food most of us know already. We haven’t yet found anything local that is unusual but we’ll go south, away from the tourist area and hope to eat something more typical.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Just 3 days after Christmas, Steve arrived but had a trying few hours in the busy airport before he arrived in Isla Mujeres. A pre-booked taxi helped but the traffic in Cancun was manic too and he was glad to arrive on the boat and get a drink in hand. We had delayed exploring too much until he arrived so after a couple of days to recover we planned his stay. New Year’s Eve was a big event and sure enough the town was packed with people wanting to welcome 2017 in style. The fireworks were spectacular and the band got everyone in the party mood. I believe it is televised.

War Games For Real - Playing Court With Hoop On The Wall Below Viewing Area

War Games For Real – Playing Court With Hoop On The Wall Below Viewing Area

Steve was keen to see Chichen Itza, the Mayan site about 2 hours away and also do some fishing with a professional crew, i.e. not us. We have caught tuna and Dorado before but only by pure luck, so a lesson and a few tips was also on our agenda and we booked a boat for 6 of us for 5 hours and asked Felix to ready the BBQ.

We visited Chichen Itza with a tour operator booked on Isla but it was a long day, starting on the 0630 ferry to Cancun to be met by minibus for a transfer to the bigger bus. Both were air-conditioned and we happily waited at a Starbucks for the entire group to assemble. There is good coffee in Mexico and good chocolate to go with it. The day’s tour was great value, for less than 40 pounds each we had a buffet lunch, visited a craft market, swam in a sinkhole (Sevla Maya), had 2.5 hours at Chichen Itza and a quick stop at the colonial city of Valladolid, complete with chocolate shop. All we needed to buy was drinks and pay the tips.

Stone Statue Waiting For Human Sacrifices

Stone Statue Waiting For Human Sacrifices

Having visited Tikal in Guatemala, we have to compare the 2 Mayan sites and Tikal is really on a different level. If you can get to Tikal, please do, it would be the experience of a lifetime. There you can feel the history as you climb amongst the buildings, marvel at the temple tops peeping through the forest canopy as you literally sit on top of the Mayan world on Temple IV and you can climb them at sunrise or sunset. We walked along the roads they did and apart from a vendor or two at the entrance, it was peaceful inside the huge park, full of birds and animals we had never seen. With fewer visitors it was a personal and magical experience, one I will never forget. Chichen Itza on the other hand was mobbed with tourists; chock full of vendors and everything is roped off. Our guide was brilliant though, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I did ask him why Chicken Itza is one of the modern 7 wonders of the world rather than Tikal and his answer was sad in a way. Money and power: Mexico is big and was able to push harder.

Pillars All Beautifully Lined Up

Pillars All Beautifully Lined Up

We did learn a few more facts about the ancient civilization though, some contradictory to Tikal. At Chichen Itza there is a huge playing court where ball games such as lacrosse (which I incidentally played at school) were played in front of the nobility who were seated above the court. Often these games replaced ‘war’, with opposing teams taking on the responsibility of their nation. One was played with an 11 lb ball, not touched by the feet nor hands but which needed to be thrown through a high hoop, seen in my photo. The losers would beg for their lives to be taken, as they could not go home in disgrace but apparently warriors were treated well, not sacrificed wantonly in Mexico. They did sometimes sacrifice an individual, cutting his heart out in 5-8 seconds whilst he was laid facing up across the statue shown in another of my photos. The best warriors were the superstars of their day, given expensive headdresses and jewels to wear, even the King’s own belongings.

Somewhere Cool To Swim But With Mandatory Lifejackets!

Somewhere Cool To Swim But With Mandatory Lifejackets!

Due to having many serpent statues decorating the Mayan buildings, the catholic Spanish invaders thought this signified devil worship and conflict ensued. The Mayan calendar is very accurate and they were great intellectuals. Chichen Itza consists of one temple inside another; the smaller has 65 steps on 4 sides denoting the ‘woman’ calendar whilst the other has 91 steps plus one on the top denoting the ‘man’ calendar of 365 days. The pillars we saw held up a 2-storey building and they had beautiful plazas, markets and administrative buildings, all brightly painted. The first ruler of Chichen Itza was a woman but only men were warriors.

Colourful Stalls

Colourful Stalls

The craft market was naturally full of local items such as statues the priest would bless, silver jewellery spelling your name in Mayan letters, textiles and carvings. It wasn’t over pushy but try to pay half the initial asking price if you are OK with bartering, as this seems the norm here. If you start to walk away, the price drops again to a reasonable rate. Usually reserved about this kind of thing, we have become adept lately, getting prices down from a ridiculous 800 pesos to 200 for some items. Lunch was good, a buffet of salads, tender pork tortillas, chicken, pasta and potato. Dancers put on a display of balancing trays of drink on their heads for tips. Everyone wanted a tip wherever we went but as our immigration officer also asked us for one when we arrived, guess it’s the usual practice.

Jeff and Di swam in the cold waters of the cenote or sinkhole but it was getting late by then and we didn’t bother. 2 of our group didn’t get back to our bus at the temple so we lost half an hour waiting for them before we left them behind to get another bus run by the same company who delivered them to the sinkhole. This meant we only had 15 minutes in the city, Valladolid, a great shame as we didn’t get time to see inside the beautiful church.

Dancers In Traditional Mayan Dress

Dancers In Traditional Mayan Dress

The minibus picked the Isla Mujeres passengers up from the big bus and we caught the 2130 ferry back. Hungry, we stopped at Sardinian Smile in town, for a meal, one of the best we’ve had here with great service and delicious food. Steve’s shrimp ravioli in asparagus sauce looked amazing, pity I didn’t order it. We finally got to the boat around midnight, a very long day but an interesting one, especially for Steve.

Some Of Our Catch!

Some Of Our Catch!

Despite being tired, we were off again the following morning for our fishing trip, along with Jeff and Di from Horizons and Mike from Tomorrow’s Dawn. The boat had a cabin, shower and 2 decks but it wasn’t the most modern boat in the harbour. It cost us 640 US$ to hire and could take 8 in theory, although that would have been a squeeze. Julio worked hard all day, rigging the lines and helping us catch 2 big red snapper, a huge barracuda, 3 trigger fish, bonito and mackerel. It was fascinating to see how they spread out the 5 lines and used a 10 lb weight to do the deep fishing at around 200 feet. We used some of our catch as live bait and the 5 hours went by very quickly. They dropped us back to the marina dock, along with our catch that Felix left in marinade and cooked for us in the evening. Delicious. The rest of the fish is now in the big freezer for our next BBQ night.

Di & I Battling For Our Catch

Di & I Battling For Our Catch

Tomorrow we are hiring a golf cart to see the rest of this little island and plan Steve’s final week. Our friends Jo and Liz arrive the following week, bringing in a new engine water pump and Steve brought a domestic water system pump last week. Plenty for Rob to do once our friends return home, including replacing our masthead anchoring light. In the meantime we’ll make the best of relaxing on this lovely holiday island.

Julio Setting Up The Rods

Julio Setting Up The Rods

Posted in Caribbean, Costs, Cuba, Friends & Family, Mexico, Tourism, UK | Leave a comment