Thursday, 24 January 2013

The shakedown, part 2

Diva, our home away from home
Captain Phil and I arrived at our first anchorage in the Cuban archipelago, Jardines de la Reina, on January 2, 2012. It was about 2 pm in the afternoon, and even though we had sailed through the night to get to Cayo Zaza de Fuera, it was our first mango cay so we got in the dingy and took a look at what there was to see.

We sailed from Cienfuegos down to the archipelago. Once we got behind the reef, through the Canal de Tunas, the water depths went from 600 meters to 2-30 meters. It stayed relatively shallow throughout the cays until we went back out through the reef at the Canal de Caballones where it got deep again.

The water was about a foot deep here.

"Isn't this cool?"

Capturing this starfish took several attempts - there was a fast current which kept moving the dingy as I was trying to take a picture.
What did we see?  Mangroves, mangroves, and more mangoves!  Oh, okay, there were some interesting fish, - a barracuda - some pelicans that dove in tandem to catch said fish, some cool starfish, and a catamaran full of people that moored behind us for a while.  Other than that, there was just us and the ocean. Until the sun started to set.  Then we discovered that there were midges in the mangroves. Tiny little bugs  that liked to bite me and made me itch like crazy.  Never see those in the pictures of tropical paradise!

Tropical sunset #1
The next day we set sail for Cayos Breton.  It was a good day's sail, we were sailing (or motoring, when the wind died in the afternoon) for about 6 hours. The weather was perfect while we were in the cays: nice wind, stronger in the morning and really light in the afternoon.

This is what it looked like when we were sailing.  There were actually supposed to be dolphins in this picture, but they moved!

We arrived at Cayo Breton and anchored just behind this lighthouse.  The entrance to this anchorage was very shallow, and at one point our depth gauge read 0 meters.  I was piloting, so I just gave up watching it and tried to steer to course, but Captain Phil had to remember to breath.  It was at this point that we re-named the depth gauge to the "anxiety meter," since it has an alarm that goes off when there is less than 1.5 meters under the keel, and if you're not already nervous about getting stuck, the incessant beeping is enough to make you anxious.

Sunset #2: You can't see them, but there were more bugs at this anchorage, since we were so close to the mangroves.  Little bitey ones, plus bigger ones that liked our lights. 

Funny story about this anchorage: In the middle of the night, Captain Phil got up to pee, and discovered that the boat had turned around 180 degrees, even though the wind was still blowing from the east, and was lying stern to wind, which really isn't supposed to happen (boats always swing themselves bow to wind if anchored off the front.)  The anchor line was slack, but it appeared to be wrapped around the keel.  I stuck my head up to look, because I wasn't sure I believed him given that it was the middle of the night.  We decided that we couldn't do anything in the dark, but we had a long hour or two lying awake, trying to figure out what had happened, and how on earth we were going to fix it.

At first light, Captain Phil got up again to take a look, and Diva had righted herself and was lying as she should, bow to wind, anchor still holding us in place.  If I hadn't seen it in the middle of the night myself, I would have said that Captain Phil had dreamed the whole thing!

After much debating over what had happened, we think it was this - there was a stiff tidal current in the same direction as the wind when we went to bed.  When the wind dropped, and the tidal current reversed, going out, we think the boat was pushed forward to a shallow spot, where the keel got stuck in the mud, causing the boat to turn on its keel when the wind rose again, shifting it around.  Then, when the tide came back in, the boat unstuck itself.  Either that or evil Cuban gremlins that live in the mangroves were playing tricks on us. The tide only shifts a foot or so here, usually not enough to worry about, but I guess that was enough for us!

Sandy beach at Cayos Cuervos
On our third day in the archipeligo, we arrived at Cayos Cuervos, our favourite anchorage so far.  We liked it so much, in fact, that we decided we would stay here for the whole next day, skipping out on a couple other cays we had thought we would visit.  This cay had a really wide bay, so we could anchor far off the mangroves. (Yay - no bugs!) It also had a couple of beautiful sandy beaches.  We went off in the dingy to explore.
Trusty "likkle boat"

Hanging about in the shallows

The water was crystal clear and we saw lots of starfish, sea urchins, crabs and other cool things.  We saw tracks in the sand that looked like they might be sea turtles. Phil also saw a clam that was as big as my hand.  He had fun waving his had over it, so that it closed up, then removing his hand, so it opened up again with its little clam tongues sticking out to catch things, then waving his hand again, repeating this all over again.
I am in the water on the right hand side of the picture, swimming back to the boat.  If you look closely, you can see that there is another boat behind us.  There were 4 of us in that anchorage, but all spaced out nicely so you hardly noticed anyone else was there.
Relaxing on our "day off"

Tropical sunset #3 - Phil made me stop taking sunset pictures after this.  He said we had enough - really, who can have enough sunset pictures?
After our day of rest, it was time to head home.  We sailed through the reef at Canal Caballones, and then headed south east back to Jamaica.  On the map it looks like it was in a straight line, but the reality was that when we first got into the deep water, the wind was coming from the south east, so we had to tack back and forth.  Eventually it shifted back to its normal easterly direction, and we were able to sail in more or less a straight course.

It took us 42 hours to get home.  For the most part, it was great sailing, but the last 6 hours getting into Montego Bay, we had strong winds and 8-10 foot seas, which was really uncomfortable.  It was especially frustrating because we could see the lights of Montego Bay, but we just couldn't get there fast enough!

Overall, the trip was a great adventure.  We learned lots about the boat, about navigating through cays, about what we should have brought and what we didn't need, and other useful bits and pieces.

So far, the question I've been most frequently asked since we got back is, "Would you do it again?" and the answer is, "Yes!"

In fact, we're going to Panama in May and are looking for crew for that trip - you interested?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The shakedown, part 1

From December 27th to January 8th, Captain Phil and I took his boat, Diva, to Cuba.  The goal was to sail, testing our skills and tools in preparation for more sailing later this year.  The trip was a grand success and we learned lots and lots about what it takes to go "cruising"!

I have too many pictures and stories, so I thought I would break the trip up into two posts, Cienfuegos (this one) and the islands (coming soon). On December 27th, we left Montego Bay Harbour at 3:30 in the afternoon and set sail for Cienfuegos.  We sailed straight through 3 days and 2 nights, taking turns for night watches.  On the morning of the first day at sea, I finished my lunch, said to Phil, "I guess I'm not going to get seasick on this trip," and promptly threw up.  Other then a couple other nauseous moments (directly related to the size of the swells around us,) I was fine. On a cheerier note, the evening before we arrived in Cienfuegos, we had a pod of dolphins swim at the bow of the boat, playing in the wake, for a fantastic twenty minutes.

You can see the Cayman Trench in the sea between Jamaica and Cuba.  It has depths of over 7000 meters.

We arrived in Cienfuegos early in the morning of December 30th.  Cienfuegos is in a large inland lake that has a narrow, winding channel to enter, so we waited in the bay outside until the sun rose and there was enough light to safety see our way. The first day in Cienfuegos was spent doing the requisite paperwork with friendly Cuban officials - after the sniffer dog had done his official tour around the boat, he snuck into the master cabin and curled up on the bed for a nap - a quick tour of the town to find an ATM and have a beer, and a desperately-needed nap, when we could no longer form coherent sentences.

The channel to Cienfuegos.  Notice the old fortified castle in the back left of the picture.

Stubble from 3 days at sea.
The Cienfuegos marina

View of boats on anchor from our spot on the dock.
The town of Cienfuegos is nice, laid out in a European style.  It had some interesting architecture, and was more modern than Santiago de Cuba, where we sailed last year.  We wondered around on New Year's Eve to find somewhere 'happening,' but we ended up drinking Mojitos from a little bar on the edge of the road, and just people and car watching. There were a few fireworks at the end of the night, but it was windy and so over in a flash.  We were proud of ourselves for staying up that late, given our recent sleeping habits.

My mojito at the marina bar.

Beer dispensers - they had a core for ice cubes in the middle and then a spout at the bottom so you always had cold beer!

One of the "classic rides" in Cuba.

We found a little park full of sculptures.  Cuba may not have a lot of shopping, but there is an enormous amount of art - paintings, sculptures and music are everywhere.

Captain Phil, "in hand" with a typical Cuban house behind him.

Living room seating, anyone?
On New Year's Day, we set sail for the Jardines de la Reina, or Gardins of the Queen, an archipelago on the south coast of Cuba where we would island hop from cay to cay.  But first we had to sail overnight down the Cuban coast to get to a safe place to anchor.

Leaving Cienfuegos

Me piloting the boat through the marks out of the channel.

Cuban mountains in the distance.  We would follow this range along the coast.

Sunset at sea.
Next post on mangrove cays and sandy beaches!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Some assembly required

Okay, this isn't the post you are waiting for, but I had such a lovely Christmas Eve that I had to share these pictures first.

When I was growing up, we opened presents on Christmas Eve as the Germans/Scandinavians do.  Present opening was always done sitting by the Christmas tree, and was preceded by a yummy meal of finger-food.  There was no pickled herring this year, but we did splurge on some smoked salmon at the grocery store.

First step: put up the Christmas tree.

Splot, the boat mascot, who found the Father Christmas key chain and the Christmas tree deep in a cupboard in the boat.

Let the assembly begin. (I love lego!) Discovered early on that a bowl was necessary to hold all the little tiny bits, keeping the boat from swallowing any should I (gasp) drop one.

Progress - followed the directions of course.

Lego Christmas success - note it even has presents under the tree!
Our Christmas Eve family - check out Splot's party hat.  If this picture was scratch and sniff, you'd smell Balsam Pine - no, not from the tree silly, it's from the candle!
Second Step: assemble the feast. 

The delicacies included avocado, brie with sorrel chutney, tomatoes with olive oil and fresh basil, liver pate, and smoked salmon with a sprinkle of lime juice.  Not bad, eh?

Oh, it WAS fun.  Dessert was cookies (ginger snap and peanut butter, made by yours truly), lots of chocolate and custard (don't ask, it's a British thing).

Post Christmas bliss
We did open presents, and we had stockings in the morning like the Brits do.  Along with some cool jewelery and more chocolate, my stocking had a Gin and Tonic - yeah!

There were more presents and food on Christmas Day, with brunch with friends from the Yacht Club and then Christmas dinner with more friends. We went to bed fat and happy -

- which was very good, because the next two days were spent working hard to get ready for our trip to Cuba, details to come...