Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Summer 2013. Travel Report No 65

Summer 2013
For all the photographs and captions go to Picture Gallery 65

Written by Stein on Pitcairn Island,  December 2013.

I can only apologize for being so late with this report. But it was another busy summer!

After that long sail from Panama to Florida and a brief visit to Elisabeth, Hugh and their boys in London (Report No 64, see below), we were back home in our apartment, Fjordsvingen 22, Gullaug near Drammen, on 28th April in time for the miracle of late spring. May and June are such beautiful months in south Norway - flowers popping up everywhere and birds returning to forests and shores. 
The faithful and much loved little Blåveis (is in fact our National
flower) is usually the first spring flower 

I started back at my part-time, post-retirement work doing two days of cardiology out-patient clinics weekly at Drammen sykehus, a practice I really like. Diana, however, does not want to do any more regular eye-work, although she is in fact doing some right now here at tiny Pitcairn – more about that in reports to follow. She can be excused, normal retirement age in Norway is 67 and on May 1st she rounded 69, Martin and Tonje, upstairs friends and neighbours Dagmar and Christian helped me to celebrate a most unusual and loved wife, mother, mother-in-law and friend.
May 1st and we are celebrating Diana's birthday with Tonje (now very pregnant!), Christian, Martin and Dagmar

Goodbye Veierland

With our children agreeing, Diana and I had decided to put up the cottage at Veierland for sale. Not an easy decision as I have always loved the place and have spent a lot of time there since I was 11 years old. But it was in need of repair and maintenance, is inconveniently placed on an island (for senior citizens, especially) and it was not suitable for any of our children to take over. So since early August, our old cottage at Veierland has had new owners, an energetic couple from Oslo with three younger children. They love it there already and we are sure that both the place and the relationship to our neighbours will be well looked after, and they say we are welcome to come and check this out for ourselves any time!
Clearing the beach for seaweed after winter 

So spring and summer meant a lot of work to prepare the place for new owners. But July had just about the best weather ever recorded in our part of Norway, and we were able to celebrate and say good-bye properly with a long string of family and friends visiting.

Oscar is born and other celebrations

Oscar was born on June 18th and here he is one day old with proud mummy Tonje and grandparents Diana and Stein

The first family gathering was 15th July when Diana and I could celebrate 45 years wedding anniversary. On the same day our “English” grandson Finn was 5, and in July also our daughter Elisabeth, son Robert and Norwegian grand-son Johan have their birthdays! The cake had a lot of names on it!
Johan, Robert and Elisabeth also have birthdays in July, but today is July 15th and Finn is 5 years old
on the same day as it is 45 years since Diana and Stein were married in Glasgow University Chapel!

Celebrating ourselves and the weather: Stein, Hugh, Finn, Diana, Elisabeth, Soren, Hedda, Tonje, Martin and Robert. Johan is taking the photograph and Oscar is asleep. Also we are saying goodbye to Veierland together.

 But the main guest of honour was Oscar Hoff!  He is not likely to remember much though,  because he was born on 18th June and so was not yet one month old. He is our 5th grand-child and Tonje and Martin’s first child together, a healthy little boy with big half-siblings Hedda (11)and Johan (9) who also love him dearly. So everybody was there for a proper seafood buffet, not to mention the cakes, strawberries and ice-cream! (Except Oscar, who was happy just with mummy’s milk.)

Diana did a lot of travelling!

In between getting Veierland ready, and sailing again in the autumn, Diana fitted in some trips abroad. One was for a girls-only medical reunion combined with seeing friends and family in England and Scotland, another was an old school friend trip with Sandra and Fiona to see Liz in France (becoming an annual tradition). 

Beta Club Medical girls-only 45 year reunion, Bute Hall, Glasgow. Diana in 2nd row, 5th from right.

Time to see Sandra and take at hill-walk in Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde

The annual visit to Liz in France with two other Hutchie Girls Fiona (Aberdeen) and Sandra (Glasgow).

She also took Hedda and Johan to London to see their cousins Finn and Soren for a long week-end. One highlight there was a tour on Beatrice, an amphibian vehicle driving both in the streets of London and on the river Thames. Beatrice is an old “girl” who first took part in the D-day Invasion in Normandy in World War II!

The old amphibium vehicle took them for rides both in the streets and on the river - very popular!
Lili (originally from Brazil) is Finn and Soren's Nanny and happy to also entertain cousins
 Johan and Hedda from Norway. 

In august Diana also went to Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she was joined by her cousin Tom, they plan to do a play together at the next Fringe in 2014.

Hillwalking in Varese, Italy and hillwalking in Rondane, Norway.

In September Diana came to cheer me on when I rowed in the World Veteran (Masters) championship  in Varese, north Italy. 
A win in the single sculls class G (65-70) for 3rd year running.

Breathtaking vistas hill-walking near Varese

Tough going in strong and freezing winds halfway up Storronden.
(In fact we had to turn round shortly after this picture was takendue to my frozen fingers and toes!)

Later that month back home we drove up to Gudbrandsdalen and Rondane to stay at the Rondvassbu Turishytte and do some hill-walking before  visiting my cousin Stein “Buster” and other family members in Oppdal and Trondheim.

Another 2013 challenge was to reduce the amount of stuff we have collected, partly gathered ourselves over the years, and partly inherited from Stein’s parents in Sandefjord and Veierland. As our apartment is not very big, we have had to rent two City Storage rooms in Drammen. Diana has done a lot of sorting and organizing mostly by herself, but all our children have also visited the stores and chosen items. Books and many other items we have had to throw or give away and some we finally brought in the car filled to the brim inside and on the roof-rack across the North Sea to Robert in Cambridge and Elisabeth in London. This was early in October.  Finally, we only needed to hire one room. While in England with our own car we took the opportunity to visit Diana’s family in Leicester and Lincoln as well as other friends we had not seen for a long time.

Arriving at Robert's with the car full of stuff inside and on top.
Taking the opportunity to follow Finn to school. Hugh and Diana.

Oscar's Christening.
20th October was another big family celebration in Stabekk in connection with Oscar’s christening in Haslum kirke. Elisabeth and Hugh and their boys and Robert came across once more, and we met many new members of Tonje’s family.
The Christening, Haslum Kirke. Elisabeth is Godmother.

The Minister presenting the now christened Oscar to the congregation.

Close-up of a wee charmer!
A final burst of activity was cleaning and preparing our apartment for renting out for 8 months.  We will in fact be away for nearly ¾ year as we are both sailing White Admiral all the way from Florida to Norway and visiting Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific for 3 months in the middle, when the yacht will be waiting for us in Bahamas. But 26th October all was done, and we were off again, first staying overnight with Tonje, Martin and Oscar, then next morning got an SAS -plane from Gardermoen to Heathrow and Elisabeth, Hugh and the boys in London. 

Off again.

Very nice to be with our London family again, even though it was just for one day.  
Morning 28th we were off to Heathrow and the flight to Jacksonville via Miami, a flight we nearly missed due to a violent storm that hit London the same morning. Fallen trees suddenly blocked the rails and stopped the Heathrow Express as we were standing at the Acton station, where Elisabeth has dropped us 10 minutes earlier.
Ignorant bliss at Acton Town station. Another passenger took the picture.

 But Elisabeth was fortunately able to come back and picked us up once more, and drove us out the M4 motorway to Terminal 5 just in time. 
And off we flew, west with the sun, for more adventures on White Admiral in Florida and Bahamas.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

FLORIDA Travel Report No 64

FLORIDA           Travel Report No 64 

For photographs and captions go to Picture Gallery 64

Written by Diana, 16th June 2013

The overnight sail to Key West was in a moderate NE breeze which gave us comfortable sailing, but took us a bit west of our destination, and we had to motor the last 20 miles along the shallow coast through a maze of navigational markers and fish traps. As we approached the town on April 4th, I called the port authorities who didn’t reply, but we got information over the VHF radio from a marina that we had to first find a place to have the boat, then call the customs by ordinary phone.  The only marina of the four I spoke to that had room for us was Westin’s Marina, which was right in the most attractive area of town, but gave us a bit of a price shock! At 3 dollars per foot per day, it was the most expensive marina we had visited so far.  One could anchor, but no nearer town than a long dinghy-ride. However, it was so pleasant and practical to be there, with use of facilities at the Westin Hotel next door and in walking distance of lots of local attractions,  that we decided just to stay there for our few days in Key West.  Frode and Andreas had only two more days before their flight home from Miami, and were happy to relax in this pleasant town and enjoy some beers together in the numerous drinking establishments.  

Welcome to Key West!

Having phoned the customs, we were soon visited by the first officials, who on hearing that we came from Cuba, confiscated some of the dairy products in our fridge.  I knew they would also take all fresh fruit and vegetables, and had gathered the little we had left of these to give to them. Then we had to visit the immigration officials at the airport, a 15 minute taxi ride to the other side of the island. Here they were correct, but a bit gruff about us coming from Cuba, checked us in, but wouldn’t give us a cruising permit immediately, so we would have to come back to formally check out when we were going to sail on up the coast.  Anyway it was good to be officially checked into the great USA!           

A manatee in Key West

Curious tourists:'They are huge!'

Key West is a charming old town with historical buildings, an interesting harbour with all types of craft and a waterfront lined with pubs and restaurants and other tourist traps. Quite a change from Cuba!  As we walked along admiring the old boats, we saw a group of people looking down into the water, and to our surprise there was a huge manatee under the jetty! Its back had scars from old propeller-wounds, and it is amazing that these big and slow mammals can survive in such a busy place. Americans are fond of these gentle giants who actually are a bit useful in keeping the water-ways open as they eat huge amounts of sea-grass every day, and up and down the coast there are numerous signs in areas where they live, asking boaters to keep a sharp look-out and slow down.
Again our good crewmen were generous and treated us to great meals at two of the town’s better restaurants.  They were due to leave from Miami on 6th April, the same day that two other good friends, Finn Hall Torgersen and his wife Sissel Levang, were coming to join us. We found out that the simplest way to get Frode and Andreas to Miami and bring the others back was to hire a car, which would also give them and us a drive through the Florida Keys.  The chain of islands were not so exciting from the road as from the sea, but it was a taste of suburban America, and when we stopped on the way for a morning snack, we discovered  that one American portion of pancakes and maple syrup is enough for four Europeans!
It was a bit sad to say goodbye to Frode and Andreas. It would have been difficult to find a better crew than these two good and patient friends. This year, March had been an unusually bad month weather-wise due to strong trade-winds and several cold fronts from north, and the sail from Panama was much tougher than any of us had expected.  But they were both uncomplaining, willing to help in any way, and always ready with a joke or a good story.  Thanks for making this such a memorable trip, Frode and Andreas!

Finn and Sissel’s plane was a couple of hours late arriving, rather a shame because it meant that most of the drive back to White Admiral was in the dark. However they were very happy just to get to the boat and get settled inn after their long journey.  The plan was to sail with them back up through the Florida Keys to somewhere near Miami.  But first we enjoyed nearly two more days in charming Key West, with morning swims in the hotel pool and more sightseeing, including the Butterfly Conservatory, and the house where Ernest Hemingway had lived for about 10 years. He loved cats and had a succession of 6-toed cats, the descendants of which inhabit the big house and garden. There is even e cat cemetery in the garden behind Hemingway’s Key West house!

Finn in front of Hemingway's Key West house

Before leaving, Stein and I had to go back to the immigration office at the air-port to check out. First we met a young, rather officious immigration officer, who told us that it was illegal to come by yacht from Cuba to USA, and that we would have to check in and out of every port we visited. Fortunately as we were filling out the forms, and were about to pay 38 dollars to check out, an older colleague of his came in, saw what was happening, took the younger man out for a chat, and end of story was that since our boat and we were not American and we had obtained  US visas back in Oslo, a one year cruising permit was provided, no charge taken, and no need to check in or out anywhere! The Americans need to study their own rules, or better still; get rid of their daft Cuban embargo!   

FLORIDA KEYS                                                                                                                                                        

On 8th April we decided it was time to leave our expensive marina and get on our way to free anchorages. This area was quite unknown to us, but we had bought a sailing guide and had got good information from two solo sailors who were also in the marina, Patrick from USA and Diny from Holland, one of the rare breed of woman solo sailors. It was after 2 p.m. when we were ready to leave, and when we got round to the south of the island, there was (of course…) a fresh NE wind blowing, so we just motored a few miles until we found a place to anchor. After a few days in a marina, it was good to have a swim and feel White Admiral swinging on the anchor again. We thought we had found a very quiet place between two mangrove islands, until we discovered that there was a military airfield on one of them, and many jet planes returned one by one with a loud roaring before sun-set!  We got up early the next day in the hope that the wind would be less here in the early morning, but there was still a fresh NE breeze, and we had another bumpy drive right into it along the Hawke’s Channel. This was not what we had ordered for our guests, so we only used half the day, then anchored at the south end of Big Pine Key.  

Our anchorage near Big Pine Key - this part is a nature reserve

Christian Genest let us use his jetty and even gave us coconuts, lettuce and Key limes when we left. Here with one of his daughters, Finn, Sissel and Diana

We wanted to go for a walk to get some exercise, so off we went in the dinghy. But it was not so easy to find a place to leave it. This had never been a problem in the Latin American countries where people never bothered where we left the dinghy, but here there is much more feeling of privacy, or perhaps more fear of crime, as there are signs everywhere with ‘private’ or ‘beware of the dog’ or ‘no trespassing’.  After a long row, and a couple of refusals, we finally met a friendly Canadian called Christian who took pity on us and let us use his jetty. We went for a good walk in the surrounding suburban area, and when we came back he and his wife gave us a present of home-grown coconuts, lettuce and Key limes. Maybe he was a bit embarrassed by his neighbours’ unfriendliness?!  The weather improved during the next days, and at last we were able to take Finn and Sissel sailing! We continued along the chain of islands, stopping first at Bahia Honda, which is a national park with an anchorage between two bridges. One of these is the motorway which goes all the way along the chain of islands over many bridges, an amazing feat of engineering, and the other is a remnant of a railway bridge, a failed project from the 1930s which was destroyed in a hurricane and known as Flagler’s Folly. Here we had no trouble leaving the dinghy on a public beach while we enjoyed walking along the beach and the old railway bridge. Our next stop was in Marathon, the biggest town between Key West and Miami. Here we found a diesel jetty to fill our tanks, then got ourselves quickly into in the nearest marina as the heavens opened and soaked us to the skin as we tied up.  Fortunately downpours don’t usually last long in this part of the world, so we could soon have a walk in town and use the marina  facilities, including Wi-Fi and a pleasant swimming pool. This was one of the touristy marinas, even slightly more expensive than the one in Key West!  We ate in their restaurant ‘Lazy Days’ that evening,  sponsored by our guests, another excellent meal with huge portions of sea-food and Finn made a hit with the American ladies at the next table.

Huge helpings and great quality at 'Lazy Days'.

He is an extrovert who likes to chat and joke with other people, and the ladies enjoyed ‘the funny man from Norway’! From here the weather was on our side, and we had more good sailing up the coast, first to Indian Key, which is a historical site. This is a public island, a National Park where we could go ashore and wander around in the warm April evening.  It was the home of an early settlement in the 19th century. They had a good and steady income as pilots and wreckers ; a dangerous profession of rescuing ships,  passengers and cargo. The  island was attacked by Indians in 1840 and 13 of the 60 or so inhabitants were killed, and the community never recovered from this massacre . Only the foundations of the houses are left, with signs telling who lived where, and what happened in the tragedy. 
The next day’s pleasant sail took us to Largo Sound. This is a big area of water almost surrounded by mangrove islands, only a few long and shallow channels joining it to the sea, so that it feels like a lake.  Thanks to a very comprehensive buoying system, we were able to meander our way through one of the main channels, and picked up a mooring buoy in the shallow water of the lagoon, only one and a half meters deep; a magical calm spot among the mangroves.   Finn and Sissel had a plane booked from Miami on the 16th April. This was Sissel’s  first trip to USA, so they wanted to spend some time together in the big city.  We were now only about 50 miles from Miami, and we booked a taxi to take them to a hotel near the airport the next day to give them time for some sightseeing before flying home.  They seemed very happy with their week aboard White Admiral, were relaxed and appreciative guests , good company and first-class dish-washers!


This was the first time Stein and I were alone on board for about six weeks. We enjoy having friends with us, but get on fine with each other too! Now we had to go north up the coast of Florida to find a safe place to leave the boat for the hurricane season.  First we had a gentle sail to Miami, where it was interesting to drive right  through the busy port. From here we could travel up the ICW - Inter-Coastal Waterway, a channel which stretches from Miami all the way north to Chesapeake Bay,  mostly only one or two miles inland from the coast. It is well buoyed, so it is easy to follow, and there are numerous bridges which open for larger motor boats and sailing yachts. Some do this at certain times, usually every half hour, but most open on demand. We would call up the bridge ahead on VHF radio Channel 9, and soon we would see the traffic stopping and the bridge open for us. 
Heading for the opening bridge

Amazingly there is not even a fee for this service! The area around Fort Lauderdale just north of Miami is called the Miracle Mile, where the rich and famous live. The standard of housing is breathtaking with palaces lined up along the waterway, usually with a mega-yacht at the jetty.  Most of them seemed deserted, just a servant or two watering the garden while their rich owners were at home attending to their businesses and other properties.  Stein had been in contact with Woody Fisher, who is a rowing friend of Stein’s as they both row in the annual FISA World Masters for Occoquan International.  He had invited us to stop at his holiday apartment in Delray Beach, a bit farther up the waterway.  He and his wife live in New York State, but spend some months each winter in this apartment in Florida. 
With all the help we had from Woody, it was great to
at least ham aboard for dinner

Woody was very welcoming, had everything to make us cruisers happy –jetty to tie up White Admiral, lovely flat with a shower, Wi-Fi, washing machine, and a car to take us shopping!  As a bonus for Stein, he took him to his rowing club on a lake (actually a drinking water reservoir), the Palm Beach Rowing Club, where Stein was able to borrow a scull for two magic early morning outings.   Woody’s wife was already back in new York, so he was happy to spend some time looking after us and I was happy to cook for him. We got on great as long as we kept off certain political topics!

We motored off from Woody’s slip on the morning of 18th April, with clean clothes and fruit and vegetable nets and fresh water tanks filled up. We decided that we would have to go back out to sea to get north quickly, the waterway is too slow, and has to be motored. So we left by the next passage out, and with a good weather forecast and a nice southerly breeze we made good headway, and hoped to sail right to St. Augustine, where we had made a reservation to leave the boat. The following night was great and the next day also began with the same comfortable breeze, and the morning weather forecast was good for one more day, but there was an approaching cold front from the north expected the next morning.  By late afternoon it was a bit cloudier, and when I listened to the evening forecast, I realized that the bad weather was nearer than expected, and we quickly changed course to get us to the nearest passage, Ponce de Leon, 12 n. miles straight west and hopefully back into the sheltered waterway.  

Still sailing in a warm, southerly breeze, in a few minutes
we  are being hit by a gale from  north!

No sooner had we done this than a black wall of clouds began to build up ominously to the north, and we were soon in one of the worst squalls we have ever experienced with sudden change of wind and torrential rain, the wind increasing  up to 52,8 knots, the highest we have ever recorded on White Admiral. This was of course impossible to sail in; we had taken down the sails and had to drift for about half an hour until the worst was over. Now it was too late to get to the passage in daylight, but we decided to go in anyway, thanks to the excellent American navigational markers. We motor-sailed with a small genoa to the leading buoy, when suddenly one of the engines stopped!  The sea was very rough with tides and wind at opposite angles, and we deliberated if we could motor in on one engine, but took the chance and followed the lights through the channel only doing about two knots.  It was still raining, and Stein sat and steered while I followed the course on the GPS, shouting instructions from the doorway.                                    
It was wonderful to eventually come round into shelter and find a place to drop anchor!  We always reflect on what we can learn from an unpleasant experience. This was not all our fault as the weather forecast was wrong, but I could have listened to one more in the middle of the day, and realized sooner that we had to get to shelter. It was certainly an example of the advantage of having a catamaran with two engines, otherwise we would have had to stay out  at sea in the bad weather.  The next morning was cold with a northerly wind, the cold front was certainly over us, and we would have to motor the last 53 nautical miles to St Augustine in the sheltered waterway. Stein found the engine problem caused by a dirty fuel filter – probably due to Cuban diesel (although we had filtered it carefully), and managed to get it going again. With only 12 degrees centigrade and a cold wind in our faces, it felt more like a Norwegian than a Florida spring day.  Our last anchorage for this trip was a deep spot at the side of the channel in Matanzas river.  Just 16 miles to go on the last day, but we were not finished with problems.  After a few miles the starboard engine made an awful noise and had to be stopped. Stein had a look and found that the ball bearing for the fresh water pump was worn out, not something that could be fixed on the spot.  So on we went with one engine. But one hour later, to our amazement, the port engine alarm went off due to over-heating and it had also to be stopped!  We had to quickly drop anchor at the side of the channel, and this time Stein found a broken V-belt, which could fortunately be replaced quickly. Only six and a half miles to go, but even this was not without a problem, as on the last curve in the river before coming to the marina, the boat got stuck in the mud near the side of the channel! By this time I was at the end of my tether, and could barely conceal my anger at Stein who was driving. But it was actually not his fault as he was in the buoyed channel! This is something which happens often here due to the shifting mud-banks.  Anyway, he rowed out an anchor and we pulled off quite easily (kedging).  It was a relief shortly after to tie up to the jetty outside St. Augustine Marine Center!    
This is the oldest city in USA, as the Spanish first settled here in 1565. It has a long history of warfare, especially between the Spanish and the British as well as skirmishes with the local Indians. 

From Castillo da San Marcos, St. Augustine
 We spent one day sightseeing in the old city and visiting the huge fort, Castillo da San Marcos, but most of our time was spent on the usual jobs which have to be done before the boat is lifted. This was done on 23rd April, no problem with a big travel-lift. After the expensive marinas in South Florida, we wondered how expensive it would be to leave the boat here, but this boatyard is a working yard, and the prices are reasonable, in fact cheaper than the marinas in Panama. Among the jobs, we had time for a little socializing with other yachties, first Keith and Jennifer on ‘Jack’s back’, a chatty couple from Australia, then Ric, an American on ‘Synchronicity’.  We felt a bit sorry for Ric, he had a lovely catamaran, which he had bought so that his wife might learn to enjoy the cruising life, but she had not only left the boat, but left him too. This is the old story that boating seems to appeal more to men than women.  He is a really nice guy, and good-looking, so we expect he will meet a new partner who likes the sea.                                                                                                                                                       Since the prices here seemed reasonable, we thought we might get White Admiral smartened up with a new paint job. This is a big job, involving removing the rigging and covering every fixture on deck before spraying several coats of two-component polyurethane paint. We asked for an assessment, and decided that we would be willing to pay up to 20.000 dollars for the job.  We could hardly believe the offer we got of 65.000 dollars – so we will certainly not be doing this here!                             

ICW - Intra-Coastal Waterways- is seen clearly parallel to the coast as we approach Miami irport
 We left as planned on 25th April on the morning plane from Jacksonville to Miami, then to London where we had a couple of days with Elisabeth and family, before getting back home.
Hugh, Finn, mormor Diana, Elisabeth and Soren in Chiswick, London. And some bubbly wine to celebrate a cruise completed and  a most enjoyable reunion!
The snow had gone, and we look forward to Spring in Norway, the most beautiful time of the year.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Panama to Florida. Report No 63

Panama to Florida  Report no 63
For pictures and captions: Go to Picture Gallery 63
By Diana in Norway, May 2013

After a couple of grey days, the sun was just breaking through as we motored out of Bocas Marina heading for Isla de Providencia, 246 nautical miles away, the first stop on the way to Florida. With our new crew, Frode and Andreas aboard, the boat loaded with diesel, water, food, beer and wine, we looked forward to some good sailing in the trade winds. 
Leaving Panama. Diana, Andreas and Frode

The first day was promising with a light following breeze, but by the middle of the first night this had changed to a fresh NNE  breeze, coming straight from Providencia!  Catamarans do not sail well to windward, and progress was painfully slow as we tacked back and forth trying to get north.  A bright spot on the second day was a freshly caught tuna fish for lunch.  The second night was tough with periods of winds over 30 knots, and the third night was even worse with torrential squalls and a contrary current. This pushed us near a shallow area east of the island of Saint Andres, and both Frode and Stein had to hand-steer on their watches to avoid getting too close to these treacherous reefs. On the morning of 9th March, with only 30 nautical miles left, we were longing to get to land before dark, but with a strong contrary wind there was no way we could do this under sail. We decided to have a go at motoring, so down with sails and on with engines.  After a bumpy ride straight into the waves, a large school of playful dolphins cheering us on, we reached Catalina Bay on the west side of Providencia in late afternoon. 

Stein had not tightened the ventilators to the sail-locker properly,
and in Providencia had to empty out several buckets of salt water 

The anchor held at the third attempt, and the anchor dram was toasted with relief and enthusiasm!   What we had hoped would be a pleasant two day sail had turned into a very bumpy, uncomfortable  four day experience...                                                                                                                                                Stein and I wondered what our new crew would think about this ‘sunshine cruise’, but they both took the challenges with good humour, and even seemed to enjoy the rather rough experience! For us it is luxury to have four people instead of two to divide the night watches, so they were a great help.


We have been to this island in the west Caribbean once before, and looked forward to visiting again, as it one of the most peasant, friendly, laid-back islands we have come across.  We took the dinghy ashore, where we met our old friend Mr. Bernardo Bush; the maritime agent.  All checking in and out is done through him, he is very friendly and helpful, but takes a good fee from each yacht (200 dollars in our case) with no receipt, so we suspect he might be a bit of a charming scoundrel. Anyway, he looks after the yachties very well and even arranged a party one evening for us all, with local dancers, free snacks and drink and a present of a guide-book with charts of Colombia. This island belongs to Colombia, dating back to when Panama was also part of that country. When Panama became independent with the help of USA in 1903, Providencia and its sister island San Andres which lie near Nicaragua were left with Colombia.  The odd thing is that the local people speak Caribbean English, a throw-back to even earlier days.  The island is just the size that it can be walked round in a day, which we did the last time we were here, however this time we rented a golf-car for the day, as Frode has a foot injury which limits his walking. 

Great lunch at  El Divino Niño
We took turns of driving and walking, enjoying the beautiful coastline with its varying hues of blue sea, and stopped for lunch at El Divino Niño, a shack on a beautiful white beach on the south-west coast where we previously had been served wonderful food. We were not disappointed this time either, and we enjoyed the huge helpings of lobster, conch, crab and fish with rice in coconut milk.  After lunch, Frode, Andreas and I decided to take a path across the south of the island while Stein drove the car round. This proved to be a mistake; we couldn’t follow the path, and ended up totally lost in thick, prickly bushes, with biting ants constantly attacking us. When we finally got to the beach where we were supposed to meet Stein, we were desperate and very thirsty, Stein was not there and we had no money, but the bar-owner John took pity on us, and gave us a longed-for beer until Stein came back from looking for us for the third time.
The next day Andreas, Stein and I decided to hike up to the highest point of the island. We were a little skeptical of finding the path after our previous experience in terrestrial navigation, but this time we did manage to follow the signs correctly, saw several of the famous local blue lizards, and were rewarded at the top with great views over the whole island.                

                                                                                                    We were all set to leave for our next port-of-call, Grand Cayman, on 12th March. The weather forecast the previous evening was not great, but not too bad weather, so we thought it best to get going.  However shortly before we were due to leave, a new forecast gave a much worse picture, with 35 knots wind still from the wrong direction, so there was no choice but to wait. This gave Stein a chance to do a repair which had been pending for some time, a leak through one of the side windows. With good help from our crewmen, the double port side window and its large frame  was removed, scraped and put back on with new filler, and lo and behold – no more leaks!                                                                                                                     By the 15th March the weather had settled, the forecast was for a moderate NNE wind until the next day, when it would go more easterly. We made a plan to go off in an easterly direction to give us a good sailing direction when the wind veered. This worked perfectly,  we motored to the north of the island, getting a barracuda on the way, then had a bumpy sail straight east,  including one horrible squall, not getting any nearer Grand Cayman which was 354 nautical miles to the north.  Early the next morning, as forecast, the wind turned easterly, and for the first time we could sail fast towards our destination, a lovely feeling. We were now a little further from the island than when we started, but for two days we averaged 7 knots, and on the morning of the 18th, with the lights of Georgetown ahead, we had to put a reef in the mainsail to slow us down so we arrived in daylight!


Visiting yachts in Grand Cayman do not drop anchor, there are mooring buoys in the bay in front of Georgetown. We picked up one of these, and after talking to the immigration authorities on the radio, waited to be called in to the jetty for check-in. This proved to be quick, easy and free, but getting water was more stressful, lying alongside a high jetty with the swell pushing us around. We only needed about 300 liters to fill up our tanks and cans, but had to pay 30 dollars for the minimum amount of 2000 liters! Whereas Providencia  is a society with a simple life-style, Grand Cayman is quite the opposite, with beautiful holiday homes for rich Americans and Europeans, big hotels, banks on every corner and huge supermarkets, and around us on the water were yachts, fishing boats and cruise ships.

 We spent two days here, on one of which we drove round the island in a rented car. It is rather flat and not scenically very exciting, but we enjoyed the botanical garden and the varied coastal scenery.  Otherwise there was a lot of washing to be done at the launderette, and a big food shopping to last the two weeks we would be in Cuba, as we knew there are not many supplies to be found there.  Frode and Andreas treated us to a good meal served by a pretty Hungarian girl in a restaurant overlooking the sea. They were a bit generous with the rum punches, so that when we were back on the dinghy jetty, I lost my balance as I was taking off my sandals and plunged into the sea. They were polite enough not to laugh until they saw my head coming up out of the water!
We were ready to leave on the 20th March for the 139 mile sail to Cuba. Now there was a very light easterly breeze, which gradually disappeared, so we had to motor or motor-sail most of the way, but in very pleasant conditions. It was so peaceful that we stopped the boat about 50 miles south of Cuba and all had a swim in mid-ocean.  We had two visits from dolphins, which is always a pleasure, it is easier to spot them when the sea is calm. We drove into an anchorage on Cayo Largo, a tourist island on the south coast of Cuba, just before sun-set, and would wait until morning to check in. Exciting to be back in Cuba!
A wee Linje-Akevitt as anchor dram outside Cayo Largo, Cuba


Early next morning, we got up the anchor and drove into Puertosol  Marina, which is a port of entry for the island of Cayo Largo. We knew from our previous visit that checking in would take some time, and it did take about three hours with various officials and boat search.  However everybody was friendly and it just takes a little patience.  We did not want to spend time in a tourist area, so immediately departed for the next island, Cayo Rosario, and after  a lovely 3 hour sail in good  weather with another barracuda catch, anchored in a big empty bay.                                                                                                                       It is very easy to find quiet anchorages here; no Cubans are allowed to own a boat, so sailing is a rather strange and lonely activity. This also means that the coral reefs are more unspoiled than on other islands, and Stein came back from his swim amazed at the amount of fish on the reef.  The morning after, he harpooned a good sized lobster before breakfast, which gave us a great lunch at another nearby anchorage in a blue lagoon. Here we had a walk on the long, white beach, devoid of people, but with cormorants and pelicans and the occasional large, brown iguana. 
Alone inside the reef in Cayo Rosario with miles of beach to ourselves

 Although it was a beautiful place, it was a little spoiled by a strong wind, which eased a little as we left for an overnight sail to Isla de la Juventud, the largest island on the south Cuban coast.  Here we tied up to a quay after a very fresh sail into Marina Siguenea on the west coast, where we just managed to get in through the shallow channel, guided by an American on the VHF radio who explained the meaning of a lot of  seemingly random poles sticking up along the deepest entrance. Even so, we only just cleared the bottom. Cuban marinas are mostly for boats owned by the government for tourists, and the occasional foreign yacht like ourselves.  The American catamaran along the pier behind us was the only one we saw on this visit to Cuba. The owner took a little risk in visiting Cuba while USA still has their Cuban embargo. If he returns to The States and they find out that he visited Cuba he could be fined.              

Che Guevara's portrait is the most used portrait of anybody! And in Cuba he is everywhere: here at the Guardia's tower overlooking the American yacht
We had to check in and out at every populated stop with the local Guardia. But in Marina Siguenea they just took a quick look of approval.  Shortly after arrival we saw an air-conditioned tourist bus in the marina, and found that the driver was going to pick up a group of Mexican SCUBA-diving tourists, who were land-locked due to the strong wind at the Hotel Colony nearby. He had plenty of free seats and said we could join them for the ride north to the main town, Nuevo Gerona, and back later in the day.  The bus trip took us through pleasant rural scenery, with large, state-owned farms north to the main town, which has little to recommend it… The Cubans here live their lives in relative poverty, mostly in ugly, concrete apartment-blocks, and  most shops are just stalls on the side of the road. But this day they celebrated Independence Day, were dressed in their best  and  out to have a good time.
One of the locals in Nuevo Gerona celebrating Independance Day

The main street was actually quite cheerful with patterned paving, statues and nice benches. The few restaurants are also state-owned. We had a mediocre meal for next to nothing, but still too expensive for ordinary Cubans, so it was almost empty, and the toilet facilities were, as usual, appalling (water taps and water toilets in public Cuba seem to be in a perpetual state of disrepair.) 
Back on the boat the next morning we walked to the tourist hotel near the marina, Hotel Colony, originally a luxury American-owned resort in pre-revolutionary days, and still a good place for a cheap SCUBA-diving holiday. (The coast nearby is littered with wrecks at good diving depths.) Here we all had a Mojito, Ernest Hemingway’s  favourite drink with white rum, lemonade and mint.


We didn’t have much time to waste, after losing time waiting back in Providencia, as we had to get Frode and Andreas to Florida for their plane home on 6th April, so we were off again the same afternoon, hoping to get round to the north coast of Cuba as soon as possible.  The sail began well, sailing at 7-8 knots in a nice, southerly breeze, but just before sun-set, I heard the boys sounding a bit worried in the cockpit. When I looked out I realized why, there was a black wall of cloud just north of us, gradually getting closer. Not long after the wind quickly veered to the north, the temperature dropped and there was a torrential downpour which lasted for about an hour with occasional flashes of lightening.  After this squall, the wind stayed cool and northerly, but we were still able to sail fast, close-hauled with reefed sails along towards Cabo San Antonio, the west point of Cuba, getting there at first light. As we tried to round the cape, there was a 30 knot wind against us and the current was making the seas huge with rows of white breakers. We had a go at motoring and slamming into a couple of these seas before we gave up and turned back to relative shelter of the shore. We knew it would be foolish to sail away from the coast into the main Yucatán Channel, as here a near gale causes much more dangerous conditions as it hits the north-going Gulf Current. A couple of miles further east and we were outside a bleak, uninhabited and inhospitable coast, with swells breaking on the stony shore, not a place to anchor according to our Cuba Guide. But motoring around at about 5 m depth the water was clear enough for us to pick out one little patch of sand among the stony coral, and fortunately the anchor held. The wind was coming straight from the land so the sea was fairly flat where we lay about 75 m from the shore, and it felt  good to be at rest after that scary experience! It was now 9 a.m and we had a good, long day to relax aboard, apart from Stein unsuccessfully trying to do some spear-fishing near the anchorage. The sea floor was just one large, flattish shelf of dead coral apart from our sandy patch of about 2 x 6 m. No more lobsters.
At 2 a.m. we got up to reassess the conditions.  The wind had died down considerably and we decided to make another attempt at the infamous cape … We motored slowly up to the cape, fairly near land in a growing swell, but the breakers were now only  inside us. We followed roughly the 20 m line on the echo-sounder, and with hardly any wind, it was in fact much improved from the previous attempt. We were very glad to get well north of Capo San Antonio, were we could gradually edge sideways north-east across a large, shallow (4-5 m depth), but according to the guide safe area. Finally, after about four hours, we had safely beaten the cape and could head due east along the north-west coast of Cuba.

 After this somewhat scary passage, we had four days sailing and motoring along the north-west coast of Cuba to get to Havana, mostly in contrary winds.  The first couple of days we motored inside the many small mangrove islands and reefs along the coast, stopping where we found sheltered anchorages. On the first day we stopped outside the small fishing village of Los Arroyes, where we had not been given permission to visit on our previous visit. We decided to go ashore as quickly as possible to see a little of the town before the Guardia were aware of us. But no luck, as we were boarding the dinghy with the small outboard engine in place, we had already been spotted and a uniformed official was being rowed out. We motored towards the town jetty, but were soon waved back to the boat, and we were given the explanation  that this was an industrial town, not a place for tourists. As usual, all was done in a friendly tone, but there was no choice but to sail on…

We later found a quiet anchorage among the mangroves with lots of birds, including white ibis and a fishing eagle (osprey), but the highlight was a large caiman (crocodile) racing into the water as we rowed up to a small beach. At the second anchorage the following day, we didn't see much at all as we anchored after dark and left before dawn the next day (GPS and electronic charts are great!),and on the third day we arrived at Caya Jutias, where we have been before. This is a beautiful island with white sands, and a background of mountains on the mainland. Here we had found many fine shells, and I thought it would be nice for Frode and Andreas to find some to take home, but to my surprise they were totally gone! I think the local fishermen must have found out that they could be sold to tourists in Havana. From here to Havana there are no more islands, and we had to go out to sea again hoping to get there the day after. However, same old story, strong contrary wind and long tacks along the coast. We realized the next afternoon that we couldn't reach Havana before dark, and with the wind at 30-35 knots, we were keen to get into shelter.  We saw a beautifully sheltered bay on the map, but our guide-book said it was an industrial and naval port, not really a place for yachts.  That still sounded better than the weather we were experiencing, so we headed for Mariel bay, and raced in under reefed sail just before dusk.

Close-hauled and heading for Mariel in 35 knot winds

 Having lowered sail we motored upwind to an old jetty in great need of repair. There were a few locals on the jetty fishing and chatting, but they seemingly became paralyzed and looked at us as if we came from the moon, and did not seem to know anything about taking ropes from an approaching vessel. However we did finally manage to get tied up, and after a while the Port Captain and an immigration officer came along to find out who we were.  As I was the only one to speak a little Spanish they asked me to come with them, and we walked through a dreadfully shabby part of the town to the Port Captain’s office, a bare room with two small tables, a chair at each, a TV and a mattress on the floor. They wanted to know every detail about us and the boat, although they had no forms or books to write in, just pieces of paper. I asked them if many yachts came here, at which they shook their heads as if they had never seen such a thing before! Anyway they understood we needed shelter from the bad weather, and we were given permission to anchor at the other side of the bay until morning. This we did in the dark and had some worrying moments when Stein thought we were dragging anchor, but finally we all settled for the night. The wind is often much less on this coast early in the morning, so we got up about 5 a.m. to find to our relief that there was only a light breeze, and we motored  along the coast the last 15 miles to Havana. It was wonderful to finally sail down the narrow, man-made channel through the reef and into Hemingway Marina!

It was now 31st March, so we had time to relax in Havana and let our crew get a taste of this fascinating country, before heading straight north to USA. First was the usual form-filling and search of boat, also with a drugs dog. Then we tied up in the marina itself, and were met by cheerful José , the marina chief whom we remembered as being very fond of his drink, he of course came aboard for a beer.  Cubans are generally not allowed to go aboard foreign yachts, and there are security guards who make sure this does not happen, only government and marina officials are exempt. Once we were officially cleared in, we decided to go at once to see the sights of central Havana, and very quickly got an offer of a taxi.  Havana has not changed in the last couple of years, still as broken down as ever, yet with a certain faded graciousness, particularly the area with grand old houses renovated for embassies, and the wide, tree-lined avenues. The fact that most people cannot afford a car means that there is not the traffic chaos of most big cities. Andreas and Frode treated us to an evening meal in one of the private restaurants called NAO, where the food and service was excellent (and the toilets clean and in working order!). The government seems to have loosened up slightly and allowed the private restaurants a bit more freedom, they could only have a couple of tables earlier, but NAO was much bigger. They are no doubt still regulated and have to pay large fees to the state.

In Oscar's Chevrolet 1950beside typical poster in rural Cuba
We had arranged a car trip the next day around the area west of Havana, the first guy who had a modern car was hindered, but he arranged that Oscar would do the job for us in his 1950 Chevrolet. This was an excellent alternative; Oscar is a mechanic who can fix all types of old American cars that the Cubans are so fond of. He drove us to the mountainous area called Vinales, with some of the most picturesque scenery in Cuba, and then back along the north coast, stopping at different places wherever we wanted.  When we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant, in spite of the sign posted, they had no food available, but we were asked if we wanted to go to a private restaurant, which we of course agreed to. This was a small house out in the country, where the family makes a living by cooking for tourists. They were very friendly and obviously glad that we came, couldn’t do enough for us, and made us a lovely meal with banana chips, salad, fish, rice, etc.

As we drove, we often met old American cars coming the other way, and Oscar could immediately give us the name and the year of each one!  He could only speak Spanish, so I had a job to translate, but he was very interesting and could tell us a lot about Cuba. According to him, most of the population are very frustrated and want a change of government, the problem is that there is such a strong military force of about a million, who have many privileges and support the regime. Most people are paid by the state, and after getting a place to live and some basic rations, which are about enough for half what one person needs, the usual wages are equivalent to 30 US dollars per month.  Oscar is one of the lucky ones, he has his own workshop with three employees, and there is plenty of work with the old American cars.  After paying his fees to the state, he is left with 4-500 dollars/ month, and his employees each earn about 300/month.  His brother who is a doctor earns the usual 30 dollars/month, and needs help from Oscar and their sister in USA to feed his family!  Oscar took us to his work-shop the next morning. By western standards it is pretty shabby and has very old equipment, but he is proud of it, and it seemed a happy place where they did good work. They were in the middle of replacing the original petrol engine of a Plymouth with a modern Mitsubishi diesel! We also met his wife who showed us around their house, one of the better ones in Cuba. He then found someone who lived nearby who gave Andreas and Stein a hair-cut, the asking price was 3 dollars! 

Even with a tip it was a very cheap haircut, especially as they don’t need another one for a long time!   
It is only about 90 nautical miles from Havana to Key West in Florida, an overnight sail if the wind is right. We checked out early afternoon on 2nd April, after the bunch of friendly officials and a dog had looked for drugs and Cuban stowaways and filled in their numerous forms. 

It was interesting to visit Cuba again, but good to leave it and to realize how lucky we are to live in a western democracy.