Friday, 30 May 2014

Chicken curry and lots of leftovers

Would anyone like to come for dinner?  We're having... You guessed it. Again.  The Captain sometimes is taken over by wild fantasies that 20 people are coming for dinner and it is important that no one goes hungry. And then we eat chicken curry until, well, until it ain't pretty no more.

We're back in Montego Bay, Jamaica, after a lovely sail from the Queen's Garden Archipelago in Cuba.  Our sail back was uneventful, and we had a beautiful sunset as we passed through the channel cutting through the reef and taking us out to deep water.

Some other leftovers for you to take note of: I've updated the posts I made along the journey with photographs, so you can click here for our trip over to Cuba, here for the first days in Cienfuegos, here for our trip to Havana, here for the second part in Cienfuegos, and here for the archipelago.  Or just scroll down.

As I was reviewing the photos we took during the trip, I came across a not-so-surprising trend.

Here's the Crew's beverage picture of choice:

And here is the Captain's:

The look on his face is because he was very tired after passage, not because of anything the beer did.
We only drank one of these fabulous fountains, the bar kept running out of beer on tap!

The only beer around when the main brands had "problems at the factory."
Another leftover to share was our visit to the castle in Havana.  There were plenty to choose from, but this one was at the northernmost point and now had a working lighthouse built into its main structure.

The Port Authority man gave us a tour in his office and took our picture looking "official."
What I didn't take a picture of was a giant crane on a barge that we watched remove the remains of the diving platform for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which happened a week before we arrived.  Watching the crane work was really cool (although the guy who attached the hoists to the structure wasn't wearing any safety hareness, despite being 2 stories above the ground with a steep drop down to the rocks and ocean only meters to the side, which freaked the Captain out) but we were dissapointed to have missed the cliff divers themselves.  You can see a brief video here of the competition, the diving platform at the castle and some of the dives.

And the last little bit left over is one more tropical sunset for your viewing pleasure.  This was taken as we crossed the reef, leaving the archipelago and heading out to deep water, back to Jamaica.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The sounds of silence

Here in the archipelago, far from land, the main sound is water lapping and the breeze whistling through the mangroves. There are rarely any other boats (although last night there were fishermen anchored downwind from us so we could hear their voices faintly) and no traffic or habitations of any sort, so it's pretty quiet.

One lonely mark standing on the sandbank near the entrance of the cay.

This freaked me out the first day we arrived, but I'm getting used to it now. Sometimes it is so quiet I can hear my watch ticking. Fortunately, we motored for 8 hours yesterday and the engine caused so much noise that my need for sound was satiated.

I am pretty sure that it all sounds louder underwater and yesterday we were graced with two visits from my favourite sailing friends - dolphins! Amazingly enough, they managed to hold still long enough for me to capture them digitally.

Dolphin blobs!  You may have to click on the photo to enlarge it to get a better view.  I think they are bottle nose dolphins, they have the right shaped face and they were bigger than the common porpoises we saw earlier.
Which, by the way, is expected to be sometime on Wednesday evening/night. We have a good weather window and so will leave early tomorrow morning on our passage south, back to Montego Bay. Cross your fingers for the "just right" amount of breeze and for more dolphins!

Mangroves and white sand beaches, all there is to see around here.
P.S. FYI, our spot trackersubscription expires on May 28th. I will post once we arrive in Montego Bay, but I wanted to let you know just in case our trip takes longer than planned and you wonder why we no longer show up on the map.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The intimate details

Those of you following the Spot tracker might have seen that we are still in Cienfuegos Bay. We arrived back from Havana with the intention of using the weekend to prepare and then head for the archipelago on the south coast of Cuba where we had much fun mangrove hopping in January 2013.

Our neighbour, the Stahlratte, whom we also saw anchored in the San Blas, Panama, last summer.  Its claim to fame is that it carries tourists and their motorcycles.
You should know by now never to trust the plans of sailors. Weather changes and boat hiccups are the normal reasons for fits, starts and delays, but this time - this time it was the gut of the Crew who has wrecked havoc and changed plans.

Only the Crew has been affected, so the culprit was most likely the ice cubes in two lovely mojitos that were served in the bar on Saturday evening when the Captain wisely chose to drink beer. That or questionable deep fried meat (described by the waiter as chicken, but by a patron at a table nearby as 'Cuban dog') caused the Crew to closely examine the inside of Diva for the last four days, particularly the inside of the head.

So, more information than you really wanted, but until everything is 'solid' again, we aren't going anywhere.

We could hear his feet tapping on the deck as he darted back and forth looking for fish.
On a more cheery note, we've been watching a long necked bird use our boat as a fishing platform. A couple of evenings ago, he caught a small fish - small to us, but almost twice the size of his head. The fish wiggled wildly in his beak and was able to escape. Then the fish flopped around on the deck, the long neck bird chased after it on skimpy little legs, and finally stabbed it through the eye and killed it, the fish stuck awkwardly on the end of its beak the way a troublesome bit of meat ends up on a chopstick when you get too annoyed to hold them properly. The bird, however, was more skilled with his tool then some people I know, and with a few well timed jerks of his head swallowed the fish, to our cheers from the cockpit. We were a bit afraid that he'd be too fat to fly, but with a few unsteady hops he took off, probably in search of dessert.

But why is he called the "long-necked" bird, you ask? His neck looks so stubby.

But if there is a fish, then the neck stretches out, further and ...
...further, beyond the angle of the camera - but I promise you, there is a long neck AND he got a fish.
We're keeping ourselves entertained, drinking lots of water and one of us is eating bland food, reading lots of books and just generally enjoying watching the life on the water around us. Once again, there are worse places to be stuck...

(Awesome bird photo credits to the Captain.)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

And then we took the wawa

Havana was exactly as we were told it would be, and then some. There was music everywhere - we saw live music four days out of four and we didn't stay out past 9:30 pm, the food wasn't that great - we were warned, but the people and city were vibrant.

Our room was on the third floor at an intersection in Habana Vieja, the restored old part of town. We spent considerable time hanging out on the balcony, watching the old american cars go past, hearing the bells jingling from the horse-drawn carriages, pointing out the tourists with their silly hats and over-sized cameras, and mainly watching the many shades of florescent clothing that the locals wear, men and women alike. Sometimes we watched our neighbours in the building across the way, sometimes they watched us, I'm sure.

The view from our room.

The Captain, looking the other way from one of two balconies off our room.
We spent our time doing a lot of walking, to and from all of the free tourist sights we could reasonably cram in. We missed the museums (although there were many) but we did cover off several of the castles and old churches. As usual, the quest was for cheap beer (also mojitos since this was Cuba after all,) and the Captain was never happier as when he cracked the local food puzzle and we had $1 pizzas for lunch.

The seawall, which went 12 miles around the city.

Life size statues are a big thing in Cuba.  I even got fooled by one in Cienfuegos.

Mailbox for internal mail - seriously!

There were a few mishaps - we too looked like gullible tourists and paid WAY too much at a bar when we bought some friendly "locals" a drink on our first day. Food turned out to be a challenge, not only was it difficult to find good reasonably priced restaurants, but it was as hard to find grocery stores that had basics like milk and sugar for morning tea! We did have excellent breakfasts at our "casa particular" (bed and breakfast) each morning, and I had a lovely piece of chocolate cake and cup of coffee at a sweet little cafe around the corner from the Cathedral square.

It is a big city, Havana.

And well defended for hundreds of years.
One of the highlights of the city was on an afternoon when it rained and we were on our way back to our room to relax until it cleared up in the evening and we would go out for dinner. The showers were intermittent, but as we were walking down a cobblestone street near our room it started to come down pretty hard and I dashed for a doorway on one side of the street and the Captain went the other direction. We stood there, in our respective doorways waving to each other, but it was raining too hard to make a move. I stood waiting for 10 minutes or so, took some pictures of the pretty park across the street, and looked around at the store in whose entrance I was standing.

When I finally looked back at the Captain, I noticed he was watching something on the street. Two girls had come out into the rain and started to dance. But not just dance like jump in the puddles dance, but actually dance - improvising some kind of modern dance with moves that looked inspired by ballet. We found out after that they were Scandinavians in Cuba as part of a modern dance festival - and we got to see the free performance of "in the warm Cuban rain." There was no music, they just played with each other and the water gushing through the streets. Eventually their friend joined them, and near the end, they managed to lure in a good-looking Cuban man who had been watching with his workmates from another doorway, attracted by the pretty young women wearing wet summer dresses, but when he finally joined them he couldn't figure out how to dance with them, since this was not your usual Cuban salsa. It was a pretty magical half an hour, and the people in doorways all along the street clapped when the rain let up and the girls decided they were finished.

We are now back on Diva, getting ready to head out to the "Queen's Garden" archipelago that we visited a year and a half ago, and from there work our way back to Montego Bay. Most of the boats that were here in the marina in Cienfuegos before we left for Havana have gone, moving north or south to get out of the hot zone before the hurricane season starts in June.

The view from our restaurant the last night in Havana.  Soldiers in historical dress set off the canon at the fort every evening at 9 pm.

P.S. We also found the statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench. It was a bit of a challenge since it was not on the map and when we asked for directions, a) locals weren't exactly sure where it was either, or b) we only understood enough Spanish to understand one part of the direction, and then when we got a little closer we had to ask again. But, did you know that there really is a custodian of John Lennon's glasses? The Captain had heard about this a long time ago, and sure enough, when we approached the statue, a woman came over from where she'd been standing nearby and pulled the round glasses out of her purse and perched them on Lennon's nose. After we took our pictures and walked away, we looked back and she had taken them off and sat down on a bench in the shade to wait for the next set of curious tourists!

Why just settle for glasses, Mr. Lennon, when you could have a cool hat?

Flames on the tree and on the ground.

P.P.S. The lovely lady who cooked our breakfasts told me that "wawa" is the Cuban colloquial for bus. It was 250 kilometers from Cienfuegos to Havana, not quite as much as the 250 nautical miles from Jamaica to Cienfuegos, but the 5 hour bus ride did feel long when we went through windy, back country roads. But it was worth it.

Fishermen and onlookers on the seawall in Havana.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Down the yellow brick road

Today we are off to see the wizard - I mean, off to the big city, Havana. We've had a relaxed weekend in Cienfuegos, although the Captain did get quite distressed when we discovered there is a local beer shortage. Apparently there are problems with the manufacturing of the main brands of beer, so we couldn't find any in the stores and we've seen people walk out of restaurants with dozens, because they can't get it anywhere else. Fortunately, there's always mojitos...

Remember the mountains in the last post?  Well, these are the same ones, but seen from the north side.
Lots of Spanish style architecture with pretty little courtyards inside buildings, like this one.
This weekend's touring included visiting a graveyard, (where one grave was broken open and had a chicken's nest complete with egg down inside - haunted egg?) walking past the "train garden," which had old coal locomotives parked on tiny bits of railway track, and finding the naval museum which had missiles and other curiosities, but was closed, so our tour was limited to peeking over the wall.

Apparently the cemetery is not always open to the public, but it was Mother's Day when we visited, so we could go inside.
Should you ever happen to visit Cuba, might I recommend a bicycle taxi? They are way fun, for 2 dollars we can have 15 minutes of transportation in style, riding along in the back seat to sounds of Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams. We've even contemplated paying the driver to sit in the back, while one of us pedals just for fun.

Cienfuegos has an oil refinery, and apparently back in the pre-socialist days, a bunch of oil barons had nothing to spend their money on except fancy houses like this one - Palacio Azul

And this one, once a Palacio, now a restaurant. 

Today's method of transportation will be a bus for 5 hours to Havana, although we've been promised toilets and air conditioning. We will take the Spot Tracker, but not Diva, so you can watch for us on the map. Hasta luegos!

P.S. Did I tell you that Cuban customs officials have regulation green socks? How do I know this? Well, the officer and the dog handler came on board to inspect with the sniffer dog, and politely took off their shoes to go down into the main cabin, revealing the snazzy socks. After the sniffer dog (who we've met before) completed his job, he was assigned a corner in the cockpit to wait. He is a very enthusiastic springer spaniel, and he cuddled up to me, either for company, or to not-so-gently shove me over on the cushion, so he could have some too!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Meet Otto, my new best friend

Making passage is very similar to a long road trip, except you don't get to stop driving until you arrive at your destination. Up until this trip, we were very motivated to sail, because Sticky, our wind vane self-steering, will hold the course automatically allowing the person on watch to go down below and make a cup of tea, go to the head, or do whatever else needs to be done as long as every 10 minutes or so they take a good look around for other ships and at the direction we're moving. But Sticky only works when we're sailing.

Meet Otto, our new autopilot. He is a refit to the existing system integrated on the boat. New computers, old mechanics. Otto, I love you. We can turn on the engine in light winds and head in the right direction and, with a push of a button, Otto keeps us going forward. Now I can get up and go pee, find my chewing gum, and we can keep our 3 hour watch schedule. (Not that the Captain can sleep for 3 hours straight anyways.)

This was Otto's maiden voyage and he has proved his worth. The first day was very light winds but flat seas, so Otto held us for 20 out of 24 hours. Not to be out done, Sticky was put in place when the winds picked up, Wednesday evening, and did a great job all through the night which was a bit of a doozy with 25 knot wind and seas of 2-3 meters, but got us moving.

Thanks Otto & Sticky! Without you, I couldn't have mindlessly stared out at the waves and sky for hours on end.

On another note, we had 16 common porpoises swim alongside the bow of the boat! Plus a few more came back in the middle of the night to say hello, their blows and a slightly different sounding splash in the water being our clues that they were there.

We arrived in Cienfuegos, Cuba late last night. We've done the checking in paperwork this morning and now we're off to have a nap and then go exploring.

Cuban mountains to the south of Cienfuegos

Friday, 2 May 2014

Not too much, not too little

This lovely fellow was either drying his wings, or getting ready to make a move as the Captain edged closer in the dingy to get a good shot.  Isn't he a handsome fellow?  He may look good, but you should know that in close proximity, he smells like his dinner, verrrry fishy.

We are also getting ready to take off.  Our bags are packed, and we're ready to go. All we need now is the right weather window - not too much, not too little.  As of this posting, the plan is to leave on Wednesday of next week, but we're watching every day to see how the weather unfolds.

Our first destination is Cienfuegos, Cuba, where we've been before. Once there, we plan to leave the boat in the marina and travel over land to spend a few days in Havana.  Then we will return to the boat and do a little more cruising in the archepelagos to the west and east of Cienfuegos, before returning back to Jamaica for the beginning of June.

I will do my best to post more frequently during this trip, so stay tuned.  We will also be using our Spot Tracker, so be sure to click on "location via satellite" tab above for our current location.

We want our sail to include as much friendly wildlife as this fisherman has on his boat.

Living life under the rainbow, that's been the last 5 months here in Jamaica.