Friday, 30 March 2018

And So We Meet Again, Cuba!

A calm morning at sea - now we're talking!
Grand Cayman to Cuba crossing.

Checking In

After a good overnight passage from Grand Cayman, we looked forward to some sleep upon arrival in Cayo Largo but there would be no rest until the Cuba checkin procedures were completed. We grabbed a slip at the marina where the usual players were ready to come aboard.
The doctor arrived to evaluate our state of health and after taking my temperature four times (by zapping my forehead with some sort of laser gizmo) he was clearly displeased. I asked for the value and was relieved to see that it was within normal range - which I explained to him but he shook his head no. Is there a mom around? Any mom with her hand on my forehead could surely assess me more accurately than this device of his. In Spanglish, I assured him that I wasn't sick, that we'd been at sea, I was tired, hungry, it was hot, plus I didn't even have a fever so why were we discussing this? He still wasn't satisfied; could be foreign disease. Is this the part where our wallet is supposed to come out and make the problem go away? If so, he can know we don't play that game. I was about to grab our first aid kit with my reliable thermometer and our medical books to prove my case but he ended up letting the matter go and signed us in. After he left, I took my own reading for good measure (and again the following morning in case his gadget can magically detect future fevers): perfect at 36.5°C. I'd never considered us not getting into the country due a health concern - especially a non-existent fever. My temperature rises just thinking about it!

No hard feelings - he's just doing his job with the equipment that he has I guess. Having noticed that the doctor's work ID was held around his neck by a repurposed zipper and some tape, I later zipped over to the marina office to deliver the plastic cardholder that I had onboard from my workplace. I hope it gets to him though something so new and functional (small as it may seem to us) may irresistibly wind up in someone else's hands.

After the "medical examination", Guarda Frontera's K9 team arrived to have a Springer Spaniel sniff the boat for firearms or drugs. From our cockpit, the Customs' "dog handler" pointed down our companionway ladder and commanded the dog to "GO!" (but in Spanish). He looked at her as if to say "You're kidding me, right?" Can a dog really descend such a steep ladder? She kept pointing and insisting that he "GO!" until he put his front paws on the first step and basically free-fell his way into the main cabin. Once inside, the Guarda agent again ordered him to "GO!" but he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do exactly, so he walked around a bit, glancing back at her like "Am I doing it?"

Dave and I were doing our best not to burst out in laughter. We could see that the agent was trying to look professional but she got stuck with this dog, who at that moment was sliding all over our wood floors. When the dog finished sniffing (mostly a symbolic search it seemed), the agent once again pointed to the ladder. "GO!" The dog put his paws on a step to show willingness, or at least comprehension, but we all knew he was going to require assistance. So with exasperation, she picked him up. The moment the dog was in her arms he went rag-doll limp, not helping himself at all as she tried to push him up over her head. She struggled under this mass of dog until his big balls landed in her face. Brushing her cheek. I nearly lost it! I also nearly got a picture but the camera was put down 5 seconds short of the ball brushing.

The visit I anxiously awaited was that of the Agriculture Department to inspect our provisions. I have food stashed throughout this vessel in preparation for the "regime days" in Cuba when we're in areas where there is no food to purchase. I wasn't going to let our Grand Cayman groceries be confiscated - not without a (food) fight! To our surprise, however, no Agro agent came. We simply completed a form indicating that we have quantities of fruit, vegetables and dairy products on board and that was that. We learned from another Canadian boat that a few days prior, the Agro agent had threatened to confiscate all of their food unless they paid him $10, which they did. Another cruising boat experienced the same treatment and reported the Agro agent to Guarda Frontera who denounced his corruption. Perhaps his replacement had not yet been found before our arrival (which totally works for us!)

Early morning anchored in Cayo Largo (and the beach that we swim to).


Living the Dream on Island Time

Everyone knows the (mostly false) stereotypical image of 'living the dream' on a sailboat where everything is perfect and life's a beach...well we had that on the south side of the Archipelago de Los Canarreos! We spent easy days exploring remote tropical islands that we had all to ourselves. The wind was in our favour, the temperature was comfortable and the water - exquisite. I even had a repeat experience snorkeling alongside a dolphin family (I can't believe IT HAPPENED AGAIN.) Magic exists!

We got our fishing game on and were successful in catching some delicious dinners! Our mutton snapper was a highlight. Along the way however, we've lost most of our lures to toothy barracudas (which we don't eat). To tackle that problem, we're making new ones out of various doodads we find onboard. So far though, no fish has been tempted by our home-made artisanal lures.

Dreamy days spent here.

Nice cocos, now make us a drink!
The reef off Playa del Este, Isla de la Juventud.
Good lobster in there!

That's one fine Mutton Snapper.

Best Snapper cakes ever!
We caught 7 barracuda one day and 4 the next morning. 
That's enough of that - we shut down our fishing ops for awhile. 

Watch your fingers!
Some beaches can really make you hate plastic - especially single-use cups.
Laundry day.

When was the Last Time you Hung on for Dear Life?

On our passage from the South of Isla de la Juvnetud to Cuba's Western tip Cabo de San Antonio, we sailed beautifully wing & wing throughout the day right until midnight when a wind shift required us to furl in the jib. Someway, somehow, in the blink of an eye, when the sail was halfway furled the wind caught it and blew it around the wrong way. Instead of rolling up nicely like it does 99.99% of the time, our sail ended up like an enormous sheet with a knot in the middle. It was very inconveniently stuck and flapping like mad up top; we were worried the sail would tear or the furler could be damaged under the strain.

We worked at unraveling this issue for over an hour in a sea state that wasn't helping the matter. Dave manned the wheel while I stood on the bowsprit rails trying to reach and pull at 'the knot'. When bigger waves bounced our boat, I found myself clutching the furler tightly, legs swinging out from under me, just trying to remain on board. It was no use (and getting dangerous) so we switched to plan B which was to motor to the nearest point of land, wait for daylight in calmer water and try plan A again from a new angle. For the interim, we rigged a noose up the forestay and cinched the sail as best we could to stop the unfurled part from slapping so much. Maria La Gorda (once again our saving bay in a time of need) was 6 hours away. 

Our jib got itself in a knot right around the middle of nowhere.

The Problem: Top arrow = the flappy part.  Second arrow = where we cinched it with a line.
Third arrow = the knot.  Fourth arrow = where the lines are twisted and messed up tight.

By 6am, we were moored to a diving ball we found near Maria La Gorda and having tea as we waited for sunrise. I can't remember why but it was decided that I would be the one to go up the mast. Once there, I would transfer myself to the forestay and Dave would lower and raise me as required (which the winch) while I worked at untwisting the sail. That was the plan.

And it worked! In under 30 minutes we were able to sort out the tangle, release the sail, inspect it for war wounds and then furl it up as it should be. It was only when my feet were safely back on deck did I realize I'd had a colossal workout! My arms and legs were shaking with fatigue. Who knew dangling from a rope 50 feet above the water while pulling at canvas could be so strenuous. Kids - don't try this at home.

Is it a bad sign to see Death from my galley window as I prepared to go up the mast?
(This poor flying fish went a little too high.  We later used him as fishing bait, so not a total loss. )

Workin' it out!
Abracadabra!  The jib, she is free!
And the water at Maria La Gorda is just plain wow!

The water at Maria La Gorda is incredible - no wonder it's a world renowned diving site. Before continuing our passage to Cabo de San Antonio with a properly furled jib, Dave jumped in for a quick snorkel session and told me I'd regret it if I didn't do the same. Wow - he was right! The water was so deep and the clarity so outstanding it was like hovering above a beautiful underwater city. Really breathtaking - and almost worth the troubles of the night just to get that early morning snorkeling experience.

We're at the marina in Cabo de San Antonio; a quick pit stop for fuel - and a bike ride in the jungle since it's right there. The weather looks good for us to make some miles back up Cuba's North coast this week (as I point insistingly at the charts and tell Dave to "GO!")

Rigged us a seat!
Biking through the forest of Cabo de San Antonio were saw lots of wild animals-
including this piglet who came to smell Dave's toes.

A Cuban acopio (fishing depot) where men are stationed for weeks at a time.

More of this please and thank you!

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

-Into the Wild

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Too Much of a Good Thing is Juuust Right!

A beautiful day at sea - leaving Grand Cayman for Cuba Grand Cayman.

The time came to leave Grand Cayman for Cuba when a perfect weather window presented itself and we had completely run out of money (just kidding on the latter, though Grand Cayman is by no means a cheap place to visit). We left Grand Cayman heavyhearted to be honest, waving goodbye to new friends and feeling that the time to go came too soon. Even the boat felt a little sluggish on departure. I said "Kianda is heavyhearted too" but the weight of $2,500 in groceries might have had something to do with it (we're ready for you, Cuba). As we sailed out to sea, Grand Cayman Port Control's final transmission on the VHF was: "Come back soon Kianda! And tell your friends about us!" Just then a police helicopter buzzed our mast, dipped the chopper to the side and the pilot waved. Quite a friendly sendoff. Little did we know we'd be back in about 18 hours...

The crossing started off wonderfully with perfect conditions. We had great sailing all day until 6pm when the wind died down a bit (perfection never lasts at sea), so we started the motor to maintain our speed. That's when Dave noticed a leak in the engine.

A diesel engine can still run with a leak; it depends on what's leaking. As a British friend we met in Havana said about the oil leak on his boat: "That's what diesel engines do! I'd be concerned if my engine wasn't leaking!" Haha! But Dave has spent more hours in our boat's engine room than he cares to tally - he knows her engine doesn't normally leak and that this was likely the fresh water pump calling it quits. We shut down the iron jenny right away ('iron jenny' is old salt talk for 'engine', and 'old salt' is old salt talk for 'sailor').

Nice thing about sailboats: they have sails! We could still navigate despite a disabled engine. We were only a quarter of the way into our passage to Cuba so we made the easy decision to turn back to Grand Cayman to tend to the repairs. There was just enough wind to get us there - slowly, but surely.

Since we had officially left Grand Cayman territorial waters, we needed permission to re-enter North Sound (normally requiring 48 hours notice). We were still out of VHF range so with our trusty satellite system, Dave called his mother in New Brunswick to do an internet search for Port Security contact phone numbers, one of which paned out. We were able to call the authorities who were totally understanding about our sudden change in plan. They said an agent would meet us at the dock in the morning and asked if we were okay managing the reef at night, to which we responded yes as the weather was cooperating. We pulled in at 5am.

We've never before been happy about engine troubles but in this case it came with more Grand Cayman time! Woohoo! 

Our 18 hour loop de loop.
We're back!
Putting up our Q flag before morning light.

Our boat hasn't seen a professional mechanic in over five years (because Dave gives her a lot of preventative maintenance to ensure she stays happy). In the last six months alone we've traveled over 5000 miles without a hitch. So we aren't complaining! That old water pump was due to fail at some point. The part did its part. We're so lucky it failed when it did and not a day later in Cuba. Cuba is not a good place to be when in need of engine parts (or when in need of anything for that matter!) Once back in Grand Cayman, we ordered a replacement pump and had a mechanic lined up to install it when it arrived. In the meantime, we got him to change some hoses and install the new alternator and fuel pump that we had brought along as spares, why not. Luck favours the well prepared.

Our mechanic Alan is from the Philippines. He's small and can easily morph himself into the tight spots of our engine room. Dave, assisting as helper, is picking up little tricks of the trade here and there. Alan has been living in Grand Cayman for 5 years. Before that he had moved to Montreal but it was "too cold!" He said he had to wear a jacket every day and he didn't like that.  He went to great lengths to avoid any great lengths (in clothing - like long sleeves and pants).

New pump arrives.
(Old pump feels drop in self-esteem.)

We weren't the only ones "stuck" at the marina due to repairs; two of our cruising friends' boats were having work done as well. Even the fancy charter yacht's engine wouldn't start one morning. Dave joked: "It's spreading!"

Don't tell me it's March already! Leaving Grand Cayman isn't getting any easier with time. In fact it's getting harder because of the little community we've formed and the pleasant routine of life on the island. We've been here nearly a month - and to think we only came to do a quick provisioning run! But alas, our repairs are complete and the weather forecast shows promising sea conditions for an upcoming departure. Saying goodbye is one of the less pleasant parts of the cruising lifestyle. We meet people we connect with and want to spend more time with, but we're all in transit to somewhere else. Our adventures only merge for a short time but we're happy for the new friends found and the memories made with them. We promise to keep in touch!

It's time to return to Cuba and we're ready for Round Two. We've got everything we need to make a great go of it: food/water/propane of course and as bonus munition we have: experience, adjusted expectations and a new machete. Coconuts beware. 

Where we have important discussions about important things.

Waiting for the green flash at sunset.

Bobbi said she once saw a "big green flash!"
Craig countered: "Maybe that was the green bottle you were looking through."
Pretty drinks! 

(PS nice idea: dehydrate pineapple slices to make edible 'flowers' for your drinks
- for when feeling fancy-pantsy.)
Bobbi and Dave at the Red Sky At Night event.
Another new friend, the Caybrew Pirate.
He said he'd write. 
Message in a bottle, most likely.
Having a coco at my happy place.

He begged me to get him one.
Watching contenders of the Swordfish Challenge weight their catch
at our marina.  This one came in at 70lbs.  It took them 2 hours to reel him in.
Look at that sword! 
They caught a strange red fish while they were out there as well, not contest related.

S/V Mara (from Seattle) and little old us.

Great ideas just flow freely around here lately.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Going with the Flow!

One of our favourite things about Grand Cayman is the snorkeling. We snorkel most days; sometimes all day, biking from site to site along the shoreline. After renting a car for three days we reached each of the areas that were on our snorkeling list. Some places are good for the fish sightings, others for the turtles, the rays, or the coral - and some are renown for all of the above. It's really breathtaking!

Swimming the reefs is such a regular part of everyday life on the island, we heard even the Burger King rents snorkeling gear! It's completely normal to walk through a restaurant patio in our bathing suit, carrying a mask and fins, weaving among the tables toward a ladder fixed to the restaurant's edge which leads to the underworld. In Grand Cayman, if something stands between you and the water, it's just accepted that you will pass through - encouraged even, with signs saying "enjoy our lunch specials after your dive". Beaches here are, rightfully, all public territory up to the high water mark.

The underwater world is amazingly beautiful; we can't get enough! Some of the coral patches are enormous and form stunning gardens with very little coral bleaching. Most of the time, the visibility is...whatever perfect is in snorkeling terms. Snorkerific, snorktacular...just snorkiful. (Not my best writing here, I know.)

As newbies, before we started toting a small underwater bag to carry our valuables with us, we paused on what to do with the rental car key while snorkeling (in hindsight, obviously you leave it under your sandal). Dave had the idea of tucking the car key into his wetsuit. After we swam about 100 feet, he popped his head out of the water and said: "I can't be in here with this!" I said: "Because you could puncture something?" "No! It's electronic!" He swam back in a hurry and luckily, the salt water hadn't impacted the key's functionality in the short time it was submerged. A car key replacement would have set us back an inappropriately hefty sum.

We saw a moray eel laying in a bed of kelp. He let himself be seen as a courtesy, or rather a warning for us to keep our distance. One big barracuda tailgated us for longer and more closely than I cared for but Dave assured me it was curiosity and not mean spiritedness that kept him onto us. I was glad when he finally lost interest and moved along. Other than that, no meanies around. The waters are safe for snorkeling (though you sometimes have to watch for boat traffic and current). There were, sadly, three separate drowning incidents during the first week of our time here at snorkeling areas we visited (each was an American male tourist, ages 60, 70 and 72 I believe). I suspect, however, that this had less to do with the dangers of snorkeling than the dangers of other physical conditions.

The wreck of the Cali is pretty neat. The Cali was a four-mast schooner built in 1900. In the 1920s an engine was installed which weakened the hull that was never designed to sustain the shaking motion produced by a diesel engine. In 1944, while carrying a load of 30,000 bags of rice, the hull sprang a leak. The water entering the boat caused the rice to expand to the point of fracturing the hull! The Cali sank near George Town creating a navigational hazard and so she was subsequently blown in half. Her remains, now scattered, include the ship’s exposed ribs, the steel hull plates, boilers and winches. Note to self when provisioning: don't over do it with the rice.

In the Cali's ribs we spotted the only lion fish we've seen. A local resident just obtained his 10,000th catch of this invasive species, which earned him a feature article we read in the Cayman Compass. Lion fish have no natural predators. They are delicious, however, and some restaurants are catching on - serving lion fish cakes, tacos and sandwiches.

I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of renting an underwater camera from a dive shop for a day. We had a blast with it! As complete novices to underwater photography, the task of trying to get good shots brought a fun challenge to our swims, as well as a new admiration for those who do it well! A slight disappointment was later finding out the shop had mis-adjusted the settings and many of our pictures turned out discoloured. To make up for it, they gave us the camera for a second day of usage, and again, we had a great time on our exploration mission.
Some of our pictures have background 'noise', some are under exposed, some are out of focus, but all of them are cherished memories for us.
We are having such a great time in Grand Cayman! We fall in bed at night happily exhausted from all the fun.
Here are some more pictures from our time in the waters of Grand Cayman:

Most chilled out turtle ever! 

Magic moment for Dave.
School of 'yellas' (my fish naming abilities are limited).


I think the three on the left are talking about me...

The wreck of the Cali.
Dave swimming under the rudder of the Cali.

This one I know: French Angel Fish.
Lion fish. (I wanna make a sandwich outta you!)

That's 'Mister Barracuda' to you.

That time all the grey guys followed the barracuda like he was their God.
A stingray.
Squid!  We saw over 30 of them; family reunion I guess.
That time the grey guys followed me like I was their God.
Life is good!
Sometimes we wear our shorties so we last longer in the water before getting chilly.
Another great moment!  A turtle and I.
Spott's beach.