Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Land Ho!

We arrived at Maria La Gorda yesterday morning and were immediately captivated by Cuba.

Everything we had read about the crystal clear waters is true! Turquoise, shimmering and the clearest I have ever seen. Even TBH, who can be a bit picky about these things, had to admit he was impressed!

The passage went well once we really got underway. It was certainly the right thing to do , to wait for decent weather, if a little tedious! Our first day out was tough going. Winds on the nose and of course our own lack of practice! Eight foot short seas are not ideal for the direction we wanted to go in but that's sailing right! But it all got a whole lot easier after 36 hours when the seas subsided and we had the perfect winds for a close-hauled ideal sail. 10-15 knots and a flat ocean, oh my. Watch making is always hard to establish but by night two we were in to our stride. We follow an informal 4 on and 4 off system. I try and take midnight to 4am as TBH finds those hours really hard and he responds by taking the dusk to midnight watch. I particularly hate the sail changes that always seem to happen at sundown or soon after. Anyway it works for us. We try and have meals together so that we have some conversation but usually if one is awake the other is asleep - some might say that could make for the perfect marriage...!

By the end of night 4 we had run out of wind and the ocean was so flat it was oily so we motored the rest of the way. We sailed as long as we could and our boat kept up 3 knots in about 3 knots of wind! She is amazing! The Monitor self steering gear did her job, Kitty to her mates, as well as ever. Just a bit of chaffing on one of the lines that we need to change. And then the first sight of Cuba!

Flat and non-descript from 20 miles out I still find the sight of land after an offshore passage a very emotional moment! I am known to blub very easily. But yesterday it was a calm self- assurance that we had sailed well especially after so long tied to the dock! We were arriving in good shape. Well fed, tidy and under control. We are usually lacking in at least one of those categories!

So more later, right now we need some sleep to recover from the onslaught of Cuban officials and to prepare for the arrival of our family... I am so excited!

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Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Not exactly a direct passage!

Okay so here we are still waiting...

But the promised weather has now materialized and I am really pleased that we have sat here to await it's passing. After a strong blow late last night and enough rainfall to fill our water tanks, we are now experiencing 25-30 knot winds with heavy rain. It has been blowing really hard for nearly 4 hours now and every time it seems that the sky is starting to lighten along comes another bunch of dark clouds!

The entrance to our well protected anchorage has billowing white water breaking on the rocks and it looks like a big swell is running. In the rare quiet patches between the gusts I can hear the surf crashing on the nearby beach. Dead glad we are tucked up here I can tell you!

One other boat came in yesterday afternoon, a neat little sloop, about 30 feet I would say and we were pleased that they anchored well away from us and had an anchor light shining throughout the night. In too many places in the Caribbean more and more boaters seem to conserve their power to make ice cubes and run their microwaves rather than display crucial lights in the hours of darkness. Boy that makes me mad. Safety should be paramount, especially when conditions are not good. Anyway all is ship-shape in this anchorage!

I suffer from terrible moments of peer pressure as I contemplate the weather, to go or not to go that is the question... Sailors are an 'ornery bunch. All of us believing that we hold, at least some, of the definitive answers on forecasting and the meaning of life! It's too easy to be 'gung-ho' where the weather is concerned and being of a cautious nature I can often be accused of great doses of prevarication! And I find that just as hard to live with as anyone else!But one of the things that I am learning is that listening to my gut feel is NEVER a bad thing! So we sit and wait, thankful that we did not decide to put to sea, believing in others statements that the front had petered out or had already passed. It hadn't!

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Friday, 11 April 2008

Gentlemen don't do it to Windward...

.. And after last night's expedition I bloody know why! It's uncomfortable, slow and downright tedious.

But no mind we got here at 11am this morning having left the anchorage at just after 9pm last night. 14 hours to cover just 60 miles, sometimes you just have to realise that you don't have to be crazy to do this... but it sure helps. So we sit in our quiet anchorage and wait for the weather system to pass through and the winds to return to the east before we can leave again.

It's when plans get altered in this fashion that i am pleased that we always have the boat stocked to the hilt with everything we need to stay out for many months at a time. Not that I am anticipating that long a wait but you never know. I remember reading one of Lynne Pardey's books eons ago when she said that the first thing they always do as soon as they arrive in an anchorage is prepare to leave it! At the time it seemed crazy but with the benefit of a little experience what a wise woman is our Lynne. You just never know when the weather is going to change, the water go off ashore, fuel become hard to source or a whole country run out of tinned tomatoes. And let me tell you all those things can really affect your way of life out here.

Being loaded has meant we have had the opportunity to spend months on an isolated Iberian river, stay at anchor in some of the most beautiful islands you can imagine without wondering where the next meal or roll of toilet paper is coming from.

So all those trips to Puerto Barrios and Guatemala city are paying off, so long as the wind keeps blowing to turn the wind generator we may even have enough power to watch a movie tonight!

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Cruisers plans.

..are said to be set in jelly or we have no plans and are sticking to them!

Well that sums us up pretty well right now. Losing time to our engine problem has left us tight to get to Cuba before a forecast Northerly comes through the area sometime Sunday. Well that's what I glean from the various forecasts that we have access to.

So looking at our options, and me being a VERY conservative sailor, we will go east along the Honduran coast tomorrow night to arrive early Friday morning in a well sheltered and isolated bay. There we will wait until the 'Norther' decides how strong it wants to be. A couple of days after it passes the winds should turn back to the East and we will be well placed to head almost due North towards our destination on the Western tip of Cuba. Well that's the plan.....

It may work out well for us as the kids arrive in Havana on the 23rd and we won't have to wait long to see them!

It is also nice to have this time to make the transition from marina sailors back to 'real' sailors! Eight months tied up is the longest we have spent anywhere and you forget sooo much. Well I do, it must be aging! All those CRAFT moments, Can't Remember A Fucking Thing! So looking on the bright side I have my sealegs back, and a rather lovely pair they are, little equipment issues are addressed. Like where the hell did we put the spare GPS, who had the whistle(for night watches) last and not least remembering how to operate all the bits we haven't twiddled with for months!

So we`are relaxing, eating and watching, literally, the world sail past...

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Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Twinkling in the ocean.

During the night the wind blew up from the north west, yup you've got it the one direction that gave us a nasty chop and had the boat hobby horsing around. then at 4am we heard a terrific bang, its amazing how fast we can move when we have to!

It was the chainhook coming away. Too late and too dark to worry and as we were well dug in we went back to bed. Imagine our stunned amazement this morning when TBH said look, isn't that our hook? And there it was lying twinkling on the sandy bottom looking up at us. Now those of you who sail will realise the huge odds against this happening. usually the last glimpse of anything is at it twinkles down through the blue ocean to the floor, never to be seen again.

Out with the flippers over the side and voila! One extremely expensive stainless steel chain hook in hand TBH had a smile like the Cheshire cat. It turns out that the shackle pin had rusted through, only a couple of years old and not heavily used, mmn didn't have a test mark on it though. A lesson in vetting all the bits of metal on the boat time and time again.

The engine ran well this morning and we are using our time to catch up on all the little niggles that only appear once you are out on the water again. The wind looks like being against us for a couple of days so we'll wait. No hurry and I really want a good sail up to Cuba.

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Monday, 7 April 2008

Not my favourite things!

Three things I really don't enjoy are;
1. sailing into an anchorage.
2. sailing into an unknown anchorage.
3. sailing into an unknown anchorage in the dark!

Well last night we did all three... Just before sunset as we were motoring in to a fairly lumpy sea with a headwind the engine decided to overheat, again. earlier in the day, just after crossing the bar at Livingstone we shredded an impeller and TBH did major surgery. Sadly it turns out he didn't go far enough and we had lots of nasty bits of impeller lodged in the arteries of the engine.
the consequences being that we made the decision to sail back and anchor safely for the night. Of course the wind promptly proceeded to die and we had a slow rolly sail back here, almost where we started from!

However all is now well and we have enjoyed an unexpectedly lovely anchorage, no other boats, clear calm waters and a bit of a chance to gather ourselves again! just waiting for the latest weather forecast and we will leave again tomorrow or the following day.

Enjoyed an excellent Spaghetti Bolognaise for supper and a Patrick O'Brian book that I haven't read yet! Bed calls, after all the sun set thirty minutes`ago!

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Saturday, 5 April 2008

Bad temper and bounciness!

It really becomes obvious that we have not been out to sea for some time as the afternoon on-shore breeze kicks up and with the wind over tide plus the current from the river we are jumping about... Hmn, I remember all this now oh well it's a good job really as we need to get our sea legs back before we head off tomorrow morning.

The day began early as we left Gringo Bay and enjoyed the trip down the river. I had forgotten what a magical place it is. The steep green canyon walls and the surreal bird life poised along the banks. Shame to leave it I cried! But the children arrive in Cuba on 23rd April and we must be there for then.

We used an agent to check out, Raoul, it was painless if a little expensive. Well worth it though as we sat and ate lunch whilst he chased from office to office doing the paperwork. And finally an exit stamp in our new passports! A Zarpe to travel to Cuba and we are set to go.

I am waiting to download the latest weatherfax at 7.30pm local time, its 7.10 as I write this then we can make the decision on where we head after crossing the bar at around 7.30am in the morning. It's the cruisers bugbear here as the bar is wide and shallow, many a good man has come to grief here! Hopefully not us though as we are only 1.5 metres deep and its a high tide manana...

So farewell Rio Dulce, and hasta luega Guatemala!

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Freedom calls

Well we finally got away from the dock yesterday before 9am! As we motored gently downstream towards the ocean I was delighted to feel the movement of the boat under me. Finally after 8 months here we are on the way to a new adventure in Cuba!

The Rio was quiet and calm, hardly any lanchas moving and a flat glass like surface, what bliss.

By 11.30am we were anchored in 'Gringo Bay'. Jennifer who is usually resident here is currently in the city having a hip replacement operation. We are sorry to have missed her but hope to catch up when we return for the next hurricane season. It's peaceful and the birds are busy flying and calling around the boat. Bliss!

Later in the evening we heard a call over the radio that a lady who lives here in Gringo Bay, Sandy, was reported missing. Throughout the night the radio was busy with the search party that was covering the shoreline of the Golfete. This morning we heard that her lancha has been found upside down by one of the markers near the exit from the Golfete in to the river as it approaches Fronteras.

The rumour mill is rife and listening to the radio there is a certain amount of confusion reigning. It makes you remember that any large body of water is a potentially life threatening area. certainly by the time we were anchored yesterday afternoon the wind had picked up considerably and there was a strong chop blowing across the Golfete. Enough to overturn a lancha possibly?

So we`are off shortly to head to Livingstone and check out to begin our passage, yahoo!
No video or photos from here on as we are posting over our SSB radio link which is slow and basic, but it certainly allows us to keep in touch.

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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Final moments.

Yesterday was a busy day. We went in to Fronteras to complete the provisioning. I always dither like crazy over just how much I really need!
The final decision is made when I just can't cram another thing on board and we reached that moment at around 3pm local time yesterday!

TBH has the final fitting of the clamp to hold our outboards on the pushpit. Then a final wash down, fill the water tanks, clean the dinghy and we will have run out of excuses to leave the dock...Oh er...

I am watching the weather like a hawk, and have set up our email on board to bring in the daily forecasts from NOAA, it's a good service which we combine with weatherfax as well as listening to Chris parker who gives a forecast on the SSB every morning(except Sundays).

April and October, the time of seasonal changes here in the Caribbean are purported to be the best times for moving around the Caribbean. We shall see. There is the odd emergent Norther still on the move but generally the weather is looking better and better. It looks like we will head for Livingstone, at the mouth of the Rio, to check out on Thursday/Friday and then depending on what the weekend forecasts bring head off Monday/Tuesday next week.

Planning a passage is a bit of an inexact science as far as I am concerned. It boils down not only to the projected forecast but also to how we are feeling on the day. Symptom of aging I guess as we seem to rely far more on our instinct as the years roll by!

It will be a mixed feeling leaving Mario's. We have been well served here and can thoroughly recommend the place. Good facilities, a nice atmosphere and a pleasant workforce and clientèle (well on the most part!). However it has been a long time to spend in one place and we are both eager for some new sights and experiences. This will be the shortest sailing season that we have had since setting out to cruise full time and with just 3 months until the arrival of the 2008 hurricane season we have a lot to cram in..

So fingers crossed for fair winds and I must go to make my sacrifice to Neptune and the wind Goddess....

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

They're under starter's orders!

We have passports, we have provisions and we are leaving!

I can't believe that we are finally, well almost, ready to set off!

TBH is currently draining the bottom of the diesel tank and changing the fuel filters. As soon as he has finished we have to go into town and collect a piece of welding. We had taken it to 'Carlos' here on the Rio. Never again...

He let us down having promised a date then with obvious glee made it evident that he never intended to do the repair anyway. On top of that he couldn't/wouldn't find the part that TBH had asked him to weld. What a wanker... Still lesson learned we won't be asking or recommending him to anyone....

Anyway TBH has overcome that one and with some final stowage we are ready.

Wow! Sailing again after 7 months here in Guatemala. It's very exciting and a little scary- hope I can remember how to do it!

The weather is looking good but we have a few days grace as we head down river and enough time in hand to make sure we get the best possible conditions for a sail. So fingers crossed for a great 500 mile jaunt up the coast of Belize and Mexico toward our destination of Cuba.

I am so excited at both the coming journey and also seeing our kids again..haven't seen James for two years and the girls for over a year. It will be the first time we have been together again for 4 years!!