Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cuba : First Impressions

8th - 10th March 2014 


Leaving the Ragged Islands at the bottom of the Bahamas, 280 miles and two nights at sea lay before us. The route to our first Cuban destination, the city of Santiago de Cuba, would take us down the Windward Passage that separates Haiti from the eastern tip of Cuba, followed by a right hand turn along the south coast passing  the infamous Guantanamo Bay, and then a straight line of 100 miles to the entrance of Santiago harbour.

IMG_0014 IMG_0030

In the 48 hours it took to get there the wind gods threw us a real mixed bag of sailing conditions. We had just about every sail configuration possible. Main with 1 reef and a jib, main only, back to main with 1 reef and the jib, main and motor, full main and screecher, jib only and finally the motor and jib once again.
By mid arvo on day 2 on the distant horizon, the lush green mountains of Cuba came into view. It was a welcome change from the low lying cays and islands of the Bahamas. Steadily they grew larger as we approached the north east coast.

IMG_0019 About half way down the Windward Passage strong katabatic wind gusts of 20 knots + swept down from the lofty heights. Not wanting to risk any damage, all sails were dropped and we continued under motor until well into the wee small hours.

Usually when you approach the coastline of most big islands, lights from towns, villages, homes and streetlights are visible from out at sea. From what we could see, or rather not see,  it seemed that Cuba was to be the exception. It was dark, very dark, like someone had forgotten to pay the electricity bill. That was until we neared the US base at Guantanamo Bay. Even from outside the 12 nautical mile exclusion zone it glittered like a Christmas tree. Honestly, you would have thought you were approaching a small city it was so bright. I was able to pick up their very good FM radio station, the US Armed Forces Network, and that kept me company for a few hours along with the odd shooting star and the beautiful sight of our old friend and guiding star, the Southern Cross.

       IMG_0039                                                                                                                                                                 By 10am we were just outside the harbour of Santiago de Cuba. Standing guard on the western headland, as it had done for centuries, was the imposing fort Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca Del Morro. Our guide book said that it was protocol to announce your arrival before entering the harbour so we  tried calling the Guada Fronteras on the VHF radio a few times. On the 4th try a broken Spanish voice replied “ no ingleise lady”, oh well one can only try. The marina staff must have heard us and they  too replied by welcoming us to Cuba, and inviting us to come alongside once we reached the marina.


The harbour looked to be extremely well protected  with hills all around, though the marina docks left a little to be desired. With fenders at the ready we took a deep breath and eased GWTW alongside the rough concrete jetty. The staff were very friendly, polite and professional and had us tied up in no time at all. Norbet, the duty manager, was standing dockside to meet us. He spoke excellent English. shook our hands enthusiastically and once again welcomed us to Cuba. So far so good.

Two other yachts had arrived a little earlier than us so we were now in the queue waiting for our clearance into the country. Norbet had explained that we were not allowed to step ashore until the medical doctor had paid us a visit which really didn’t bother us as we were pretty tired. He also repeated several times that we should relax and be patient. The officials will come, just be patient he said. So until someone knocked on the hull, sleep was going to be a definite option.

             IMG_0044 IMG_0046

After a couple of hours the incredibly friendly doctor and the immigration officer arrived and did their part of the paperwork. The immigration lady wore a very short black skirt, red witches britches and the thickest black fishnet stockings we’d seen for a long, long time. Clearly we were not up to speed with Cuban fashion so it seemed. With  both the health and immigration boxes ticked we could now get off the boat but were not allowed to leave the marina.  Another two hours passed before customs and the drug / explosives sniffer dog boarded us and did their bit but we still couldn’t go anywhere outside the marina until our tourist cards, which were our visas, arrived from the airport. The cards were  eventually delivered about 4 pm. It had been a long day of waiting and unknowingly we had just completed our first lesson of “Nothing happens fast in Cuba”.

By now we couldn’t be bothered venturing into town, so for a change of scenery we adjourned to the marina balcony which overlooked the bay and sipped a chilled glass of Italian Prosecco as what remained of the day slipped away.

IMG_0050 IMG_0048





     Ahh, Cuba at last !





Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reaching along in The Ragged's. Bahamas 2014

2nd - 6th March 2014

It was a boisterous start to our trip from Georgetown to the Ragged Islands. The wind had kicked in from the north east at 15 -20 knots and the seas were very lumpy. Hog Cay Cut, a small and shallow gap between two islands is the shortcut to get out onto the banks and the remote Ragged Islands that lie to the south of Great Exuma Island. And that's where we're headed.

Once through the cut the jib was unfurled and off we went at a good clip. A vast sea of pale blue water and emptiness stretched ahead of us. We could have been out in the middle of the Atlantic except for the fact that the depths were only 8 feet. Our first stop was Water Island. Totally uninhabited, we were the only boat there. Liam, assisted by our friend Pete wasted no time donning their wet suits and hitting the water in search of lobsters. It was a frustrating and fruitless search. They returned home empty handed.

The following day we set of mid morning for the short 20 mile hop down to Flamingo Cay. Later that afternoon Tactical Directions and Out of the Bag, both Aussie cats as well, joined us in the anchorage. The three boats hadn't been together for several years and it was great to see Tony and Bill again and to finally meet Tony's new companion Michelle.

With the wind clocking more to the east the three boats were out on the race track early next morning. It was most definitely a race down to Hog Cay and we all new it. Tactical and Out of the Bag had the jump on us at first but by the halfway mark we had pulled them in and past them. And that was how it stayed for the rest of the trip.
Today is now our third day at Hog Cay and we will possibly linger a while longer. Yesterday more Aussie friends from "Gem", who had just sailed in from Cuba, arrived in the anchorage. And as some of the Americans in the anchorage put it, it looked like an Aussie invasion. So last night we all got together on Out of the Bag. Bill cooked up a yummy Lamb roast and we swapped stories and caught up on who is going where and when.

Strong winds and 40 knot squalls are forecast for later tonight and if the predictions come to fruition we may well have a sleepless night. Here's hoping that the forecast is wrong. Liam and Pete are back from their lobster run this morning and I'm pleased to report that they were successful in their venture. Lobster is on the menu for tonight.

You may by now be wondering why there are no photos with this posting. Well this post has bounced it's way to your computer screen via our HF radio. The next few posts will as well as there is little or no internet facilities where we are going. But rest assured that as soon as I can I'll be adding the photos to each photoless post.

Bahamas 2014


radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Exploring the Exumas

16th Feb – 1st March 2014

ipic 032

Shroud Cay is part of the Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park  which covers 22 miles from  Wax Cay Cut  just south of Norman’s Island to Conch Cut just north of Compass Cay. The park became a “no take” marine reserve in 1986 and was the first marine fishery reserve established  in the greater Caribbean. There are no commercial developments in the park, though there are a few privately owned islands. The Park is one of the most beautiful areas in the Exumas, with pristine cays, long sandy beaches and gin clear waters.


ipic 033

We spent two days here exploring the place. There are a couple of great inland mangrove creeks which we took the dinghy up, and came out on the Atlantic side of the Island. The beaches on this side were a little rough due to the wind but on a calm day would be magic. Even still this is where I had my first swim of the season and it was fabulous.


P2170106 P2170103

Also on this side  perched above the beach is a small clearing called Camp Driftwood. It was built in the 1960’s by a fellow sailor, a hermit as legend has it. He cut steps in the rock face and carried sand in his sail bags to build a trail to the top of the 50 ft hill. Picnic tables and chairs  were built from bits of driftwood that he found along the beaches, hence the name. Today the place is deserted but the magnificent views are still there.

P2170088 P2170087


In the 1980’s Drug Enforcement Agents  from the USA used the site to spy on the drug cartel of Carlos Lehder who ran a cocaine operation from a small airstrip on Norman Island a mile or so to the north. They photographed every plane that landed and took off which eventually led to the demise of the drug operation in the area.

Moving on from Shroud Cay we had a brisk sail on flat water with just our jib down to Obrien’s Cay. A small  island named The Sea Aquarium is the main attraction here. It has a brightly coloured coral wall  with abundant fish life. Although we’d dived here a few years ago we just had to do it one more time and it was still as lovely as ever.

P2190124 P2190137

Our next anchorage was Big Majors Spot at Staniel Cay. Home to the famous swimming pigs, we spent several days here catching up with the little and not so little porkers. There had to be a least 15 little squealers running around on the beach this year and they hadn’t yet learnt the art of swimming from their parents.

P2240064 P2240074

P2240056 P2240062

P2240049 P2240015

P2240066 P2240026

P2240010 P2240021


Liam spent a lot of time hunting  and catching lobsters with some new found cruising buddies from “Windflower”.  We ventured into the Staniel Cay Yacht club one day for a spot of lunch which was just ok and after spending $10 to purchase access to the Exuma Wi –Fi decided that it was a complete waste of money. We never could connect even sitting in the restaurant. Won’t be doing that again .

Next stop was 10 miles to the south at Black Point Settlement. A true Bahamian community, everyone greets each other no matter who you are or where you come from. Most refreshing. It’s a great place to stop when travelling south and has everything for the needs of those of us on boats. A well protected  anchorage, great laundry, a few places to eat,  free wi fi and a cafe owner whose mum Connie bakes fresh bread every day and sells it right from her kitchen bench. We strolled through town and chatted with a couple of women who were weaving  long strips of flax grass which they send to Nassau to be made into baskets for the tourists. They may have been old but there sure were dexterous with their hands.

P2250099 P2250086

P2250107 P2250095


Musha Cay was a must for us this season . The island is owned by illusionist David Copperfield, and is the most perfect little cay we’ve seen. Surrounded by water just about every hue of aqua you can imagine, it certainly is a place to chill out

We’d heard rumors of an underwater statue that he’d commissioned but had not met anyone who had ever found it. After a little delving on the net Annie found the blog of a cruiser who had actually written down the Lat / Long of the spot. Armed with this knowledge, we anchored over near Rudder Cay and within minutes had found what we were looking for. There in 12 ft of water was a bronze mermaid resting on a  piano stool next to a full size grand piano. It was stunning and we were so glad we’d stopped there. It was a shame that the current was strong and we couldn’t get right down to it. We’ll stop here again next time we are passing through and maybe get a few better pics.

P2270129-001 P2270128 


Time was getting the better of us and Pete our friend from Sydney was flying in to George Town in two days time, so we needed to get a move on. We had a great sail with main and jib sitting on speeds of 8- 10 knots all the way covering the 30 miles in just a few hours.

After a day of stocking up the larder, fuel, and collecting Pete are about to head down through the Ragged Islands and on to destinations south, Cuba and beyond. Were ready for some new adventures.