Archive for: ‘April 2016’

Isla Mujeres

April 24, 2016 Posted by Deb

Isla Mujeres has been a happy place for us and it was again. Prices have gone up and our favorite marina now really knows how to charge. But Chepo, the dockmaster, remembered us and really went out of his way to get us into Marina Paraiso again. Oh … and we have internet again. What a refreshing feeling so I guess we’re addicts.

Barlito and Free WiFi

Barlito and Free WiFi

Old friends are scattered all over the Caribbean for us and Mexico is no different. Nash and his restaurant called Nash’s is still here and Wayne from Dances with Dragons just finished a circumnavigation that started and ended at the Soggy Peso here. We bought him a couple beers to celebrate. The shot below is a mini-Red Frog Marina (Panama) reunion.

Nash's With Dances With Dragons and Neytiri

Nash’s With Dances With Dragons and Neytiri

Soggy Peso One More Time

Soggy Peso One More Time

Street Walker in Mexico

Street Walker in Mexico

Cuba

April 20, 2016 Posted by Deb

Cuba

It was always our intention to get to Cuba before the U.S. hemorrhaged a sport fisherman armada, and it would be forever changed. We were about eight miles off the coast 20 years ago when Fidel decided to shoot down a couple of private planes trying to sneak in from the U.S. The Gulf filled up with U.S. destroyers and aircraft in a heartbeat and we were being buzzed by very large aircraft at about mast height with a row of grey destroyers in front of us. None of them answered our hails on any channel so we hung a left for Key West.  That was 1996.

 In the Footsteps of Grandpa Sam

Our family history had a walkabout character.

Grandpa Sam was a great-grandfather on Chuck’s Mom’s side. It was said he didn’t like anyone in the family much.  He was a bit of a recluse in his old age, and didn’t much care for everyone living with him after the great depression.

The folklore is that he didn’t really like farming, at least not the winter part of it, and would hire out as a hand on the freighters that took off across Superior and down the Erie Canal, where he continued on to Cuba.  Grandma Sarah would throw dishes and pots and pans and cutlery at him as he left.  He’d come back in the spring, but no one knows what happened in Cuba.  No doubt we have relatives there, but who they are or whether or not they go by the name of Groth, no one knows.  Probably not. Sam himself looked like an old black sharecropper with a long white beard.

The Neytiri report includes no Groths found but we’re guessing he had a hell of a good time. You’d have to work hard at not.

Great Grandpa Sam Groth on the Way to Cuba

Great Grandpa Sam Groth on the Way to Cuba

Hemingway Marina

Tucked Into Marina Hemingway

Tucked Into Marina Hemingway

We made the quick overnight passage straight to Hemingway Marina in relatively calm weather and we’re prepared for the five government department hassle. We hailed Guarda Frontera at the 12-mile mark, and there were two young uniformed guys waiting to handle our lines as we docked at around 7 a.m. They had great broken English and we were done in just over an hour. The Agriculture Department looked at all our food and took nothing, to our surprise. Oh … the Health Department took our temperatures as well. Can’t be too careful with those unhealthy Norte Americanos. The government officials state that we are not obligated to tip them but … We handed out a U.S. $20 on occasion and one guy was polite but acted like we were a little light.

They Taped Up Our Satellite Phone and Blocked Skype Calls

They Taped Up Our Satellite Phone and Blocked Skype Calls

Walk Around the Grounds Until You Feel At Home

It felt different. Kind of like a trip back to the 1950’s with Rod Serling. The architecture, the cars, the colors, the state of the infrastructure, the cars, oh … and the cars. Wow. They have two currencies and that takes a bit of practice, they now have internet in some of the hotels courtesy of Venezuela and a cable on the bottom of the ocean. Our IP’s said we were in Caracas, VZ. They block Skype, our Sat phones were taped up, and they don’t use https (secure websites) so unless you have a VPN, connecting to a site (like a financial site) that requires security is a problem. Our credit cards and debit cards were useless so it was cash, cash, and more cash. The exchange penalty was supposed to be over but we found it alive and well at 87 CUC for $100 US. You could get to $91 if you worked at it.

As we were sitting in our first restaurant and contemplating our next Cuba move, Deb brought up the cash question. She had been lobbying to get a bunch of Euro’s before we got here and I put it off for Key West (or just put it off). You kind of get that cold sweat feeling going when you start to add up the marina bill, the inland travel, diesel purchase, electricity, a buffer for a weather delay, and food. For the first time since college we were tight on cash with no good options. Oops. We started tightening our belts and looking for a solution. After all, there have to be other credit card addicted Norte Americanos that are too brain dead to total up how much they needed before they left the U.S.

Havana

1950's Revisited

1950’s Revisited

The cars. Everyone talks about the old Spanish buildings but the first thing we noticed were the cars. The old Spanish buildings are cool but we wanted to see the haunts of the rich and famous before the revolution. That past is everywhere and the atmosphere is one large party. Live music in every restaurant and on every street with a parade of some kind every few blocks, sometimes running into each other. We watched a parade of tall people (stilts) detour around a street classic dancing show. The musicians take a break from time to time and pass the hat around and one CUC is enough to make them happy.

12-Feet Tall on the Streets of Havana

12-Feet Tall on the Streets of Havana

Spontaneous Parades

Spontaneous Parades

Salsa Dancing

Salsa Dancing

Colors on the Balcony

Colors on the Balcony

Do You Think the Street Artist Captured Chuck?

The Cuban Street Artist Thinks I Look Like a Doonesbury Character

We felt welcomed and safe everywhere, even in the off streets. When they found out we were from the U.S., most of them gave a thumbs up and yelled (I mean yelled) “Obama”! He had just been there. We were told by the cab driver of a mint condition 56 Chevy that they have been taught since they were little that the U.S. is evil and the people are bad but that they never bought into it. It feels like they are in the calm before the U.S. invasion and everyone wants that invasion to happen. The cabbies of vintage cars were all asking for estimates on what their vehicles would be worth in the U.S. (our Spanish was barely up to the challenge but we did okay).

Forts and Cannons and Chuck

Forts and Cannons and Chuck

Taking a Break to Listen to Some Musica

Taking a Break to Listen to Some Musica

Food Was So-So But Drinks Were Amazing (Cucumber Limonada)

Food Was So-So But Drinks Were Amazing (Cucumber Limonada)

Rasta Cuban Cigar Smoker

Rasta Cuban Cigar Smoker

Peeking at the Real Havana Just Over a Crumbled Wall

Peeking at the Real Havana Just Over a Crumbled Wall

One Block In, A Little Cleanup Needed

One Block In, A Little Cleanup Needed

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

 Hotel Nacional de Cuba - A Lot of History

Hotel Nacional de Cuba – A Lot of History

Trip two into Havana (about 25 kilometers from Hemingway) had more focus.  We wanted to see the famous hotel/casino from the old Mafia days with all the big boss names, Frank Sinatra, and Hollywood stars. Nice place but then we stumbled into the History room and there are portraits of the famous people that have visited all the way up through Kerry a few months ago. Vladimir Putin is up there with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. There’s a room dedicated to Winston Churchill. The bar serves a Mafia Mojito and the phone on the wall is an ancient wood beast that was used to connect to the rest of the world. We wondered how many hits were called in from that phone. At one time or another, they all sat in the lawn chairs looking out over the Gulf. So … we did too.

Mafia Mohito

Mafia Mojito

HotelNationalChuck

Cienfuegos and Trinidad

Road trip. This is where Deb does her best. She’s like the Duracell bunny when it comes to difficult travel arrangements. The one day we finally solved our money problems, the Cubanacan travel agent at the Hotel Aquarios at Hemmingway failed to show . Not to be deterred, Deb dragged my complaining b…t down to the next town by bike and we found another agent in a grocery store. Off we went to Cienfuegos at 8:00 the next morning.

Cienfuegos Plaza Marti

Cienfuegos Plaza Marti

What to take on a Cuban road trip. Well, of course, all the money you will need for everything and also, of course, all the toilet paper you’ll need. Even nice hotels are usually out. We appreciated old building after old building and church after church but were getting a little tourist fatigue. We hit a many famous places as possible and did well on restaurants but this road trip was not quite normal for us. We started at our number one choice for accommodations, La Gorta Villa casa particular out on the point and, of course, it’s Friday so they are full. As we knocked on doors down the point, it was obvious they were all booked for the weekend. Oops. The folks at Casa Amarillo finally helped us and walked us down the road to Casa Cuca, an elderly lady that has a room set up for tourists. It was great. Her whole family showed up in the mornings to do breakfast and we had A/C even though she had none. She gave us keys to her front door and the room and we became like family.

Cuca's Garden

Cuca’s Garden

The local transportation options include horse and carriage, motor cab, and hundreds of bicitaxis which are human bicycle powered carts that will take you miles for 2 to 3 bucks. We did all of them at one time or another.

Bike Taxi

Bike Taxi

Horse Taxi

Horse Taxi

More Taxi Options

More Taxi Options

Trinidad was a one day, walking tour, one bar and one restaurant stop and we did not do it justice but there are only so many old buildings you can assimilate. It had a great feel to it and we will return by boat but we got a weather window from Chris Parker (our weather guru) and we had to get back to the boat. Less than five hours later, we were in Marina Hemingway and home.

Rest Stop on the Way to Trinidad

Rest Stop on the Way to Trinidad

Really Old Yellow Church

Really Old Yellow Church

Resting in the Shade of an Ancient Church

Resting in the Shade of an Old Yellow Church

Lunch Break With A Band

Lunch Break With A Band

Cuba Wrap

One of the more unique stops in our travels and not easy to explain. The average Cuban citizen has born the brunt of the U.S. embargo, not the higher ups, and yet they love all their foreign visitors. When you ask for help or directions, they go over and above and if you don’t cut it off, you’ll eventually be invited to dinner. And talk about a blast from the past … we can’t get over those cars.

Cars Lining the Seawall

Cars Lining the Seawall

We left in the early morning hours as the katabatics flattened the seas over the entrance. We sailed all day and all night and the following morning we were still off Cuba. That is one large island, sixteenth in the world. Then we hung a right for Mexico across the freighter lanes and the famous Gulf Steam current. There are so many freighters, they now have lanes in the ocean called transshipment zones. We had to cross them and had over five bogies on radar at one time but only had to alter course once. We were luckier than the young Russian couple just in front of us at Marina Hemingway. They hit a freighter in the middle of the night and lost the nose of their boat. The picture below is after weeks of work putting her back together. They had just re-mounted the roller furling when we left. That is close to “worst nightmare” hearing a crash and seeing a giant wall of steel on top of you going 20 knots. They were still kissing each other when they took work breaks, so no psychological issues and just happy to be alive.

Russians in

Russians in Cuba

Ft. Lauderdale Finals

April 7, 2016 Posted by Deb

The Ft Lauderdale chapter came to an end when we cast off our lines from Seafarer’s Church and headed out the New River. After seven weeks of hard work and hard spending, we finally worked through an eight-page project list and declared ourselves ready for the ocean again. We broke up the boat work with entertaining neighbors, a very entertaining landlord/pastor and wife, two rounds of company, a couple rounds of old friends in the area, and a brief reunion race with my old pylon racing partner at a pylon race in Mulberry, FL.

Home at Sonny's Dock on the New River

Home at Sonny’s Dock on the New River

After the Dania Flea Market with Old Sailing Friends

After the Dania Flea Market with Old Sailing Friends

3-Hour Dinghy Tour Around Ft. Lauderdale with Tom & Kelly

3-Hour Dinghy Tour Around Ft. Lauderdale with Tom & Kelly

New River Floating Tiki Bar

New River Floating Tiki Bar

Barb & Michael's Visit to the Pirate Republic

Barb & Michael’s Visit to the Pirate Republic

Randy & Chuck Pylon Racing Since the Dawn of Time

Randy & Chuck Pylon Racing Since the Dawn of Time

And  the Boring Stuff

The highlights of our Ft. Lauderdale were a seven-week rewiring job on the starboard hull, new life raft, new A/C, new VHF, new RayMarine wind instrument, new port head, new starboard alternator, underwater hull cleaning, a starting battery/house battery paralleling system, a galvanic isolator, a new battery combiner, a new salon table, and much more that we’ve forgotten already. We did much of the work ourselves (except electrical) with the help of three contractors. Two of the contractors were semi-retired geniuses that helped because of their relationship with our landlord/pastor, S0nny.

Genius at Work

Genius at Work

Getting Rid of French Stuff on a French Boat

Getting Rid of French Stuff on a French Boat

New Wind Instrument

New Wind Instrument

Most People iHre Young Guys for This

Most People Hire Young Guys for This

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale at Sunrise - On to Key West

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale at Sunrise – On to Key West

Key West

Our shakedown cruise was an overnight run to Key West starting before rush hour at O’Dark Thirty so we wouldn’t get trapped by the bridges. The boat hadn’t moved since May, 2015; and it’s always a weird feeling getting underway after that much time … and in the dark as well. We had cell phone coverage and made calls and browsed all the way down the coast. Somewhere off Key Largo, we got our official permission to visit Cuba in an e-mail from the good old U.S. Coast Guard, compliments of Petty Officer Wilson. We applied a month earlier and it was getting thin on timing.

There wasn’t much wind until the very end of the run to Key West. Deb started making frequent trips to the head for seasickness. She didn’t take her Stugeron because this was supposed to be a milk run. Late in the trip, the gennaker failed to completely furl because of the tightness of the wrap in high winds. That was not a big deal until we tried to turn into Key West in 23 knots of wind. It started unwinding and flapping badly. Our attempts to dump it on the deck failed and we had to run off downwind (out of the channel) and pull the mess in. About then the trampoline cords started failing so we had added issues of humans falling into the ocean. We recovered the sail and turned back into the channel without hitting the reef but it was close.

We dropped anchor, slept, and set up for what was to be a wait for weather period of R&R while we prepped for Cuba. We were going to get cash, brush up on Spanish, read the guide books, and supply the boat. It turned out the weather window was at noon the next day so none of the above happened except a quick cash run. That early window had consequences that generated another chapter later in Cuba.

Sunsets Pier in Key West

Sunset Pier in Key West