Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Passage to the Rio

Well with 620 miles behind us and a five day passage we have arrived safely back in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. All in all it was a pleasant and uneventful trip. Not enough wind and too much motoring but we made an average of 5kts and are well pleased with both our own performances and that of the boat.

After some final adjustments to the new course computer for the autopilot it was a great feeling to have that working again. We use the Monitor, self-steering gear whenever possible but that will not handle the boat under engine with absolutely no wind, which is what out final 3 days entailed! Sadly we caught no fish but lost a new and expensive lure when we sailed the boat through a seething bait ball of fish, I am kicking myself as I had altered course on seeing a large flock of birds diving on the ocean and we must have run across some BIG Tuna as the line, 300lbs breaking strain, was snapped with a massive bang. That was a big one that got away!

We crossed the bar at the mouth of the Rio just after dawn on Sunday morning, along with the entire shrimping fleet, it was the first day of the new season we found out later. We felt in good shape after our trip and once we had dealt with the formalities, gone ashore to pay the fees and do some shopping we headed straight up river. We came as far as Texan bay, just in the Golfete where we have put down the anchor back amongst the verdant, lush jungle and are savouring the pleasures of calm waters and quiet days. The excellent restaurant at the new marina here has sated our immediate quest for restaurant food and we are regrouping ourselves and the boat before we go back to Mario's for the hurricane season.

Cuba was a great success and one that we will certainly hope to repeat before the end of the year!

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Sunday, 8 June 2008

A busy week.

Yes we are still in Cuba! This week has passed quickly as we bade farewell to Charlotte and then set to in preparation for our next leg. TBH has re-tensioned the rigging using his new gauge(DELIVERED BY THE KIDS). He has tightened the rigging a fair bit and hopes this will help us sailing to windward. We found on the way up here that we appeared to sail far more comfortably on the port tack and as the lower and middle stays were a little slack he believes that bringing them tighter will help when we are beating in to the wind... It seemed to be a complicated procedure involving our original rig plan and a great deal of trigonometry. Still as he began life as an engineer I believe everything he says on that front! Just the word math's sends my brain in to a complete panic!

We have re-lanoguarded the rigging screws and done a few minor repairs. sadly the main one on our list, a non-functioning anemometer was irreparable. The piece of metal holding the little plastic cups that whizz around and measure the wind speed has completely corroded and it was impossible to replace the malfunctioning part. Fortunately it is something we can live without and will look at what we will do with it once we return to the Rio. It is pretty corroded up at the top of the mast but I guess after 18 years some parts are allowed to just wear out. The boat has sailed hard all her life, 9 Atlantic crossings, 2 tropical rainy seasons and much more besides. We really don't want to have to step the mast at the moment though so are also considering installing the Tak-Tic range of wire-less instruments. We need to find out more about their durability for ocean sailing though. We`are concerned at the need for solar driven batteries at the top of the mast especially as we will probably be moving to some high latitude sailing in the coming years.

One of the more unusual aspects of traveling around in Cuba is the use of horse and carts. One horse pulls a tin cart, if you are lucky it will have rubber wheels, if not prepare for a bone jolting ride around town! For the grand sum of 1 peso you climb into the back with up to seven others and clip-clop your way along the boulevards to your destination. The health of the animals varies but most are in pretty good condition, I guess the animal must constitute a major asset, and the drivers vary from delightful to downright con men. Still it's another new and interesting way to travel!

The cruising community are thinning out in the Caribbean as the hurricane season moves on and it will soon be time for us to return to the Rio. It has been a short sailing season but Cuba has proved to be a special destination. We can only stay here until 22nd June when our extended visa expires so we have to decide when to leave and exactly where we will go. So far we are oscillating between returning directly to Guatemala, some 700 miles. or whether we will break the journey in Grand Cayman, some 170 miles. We probably won't decide on that until just before we leave.

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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Hasta luego...

Charlotte has left us and returned to England. It has been lovely to have our family with us for such a long period of time but it is equally disrupting as we have become so accustomed to just the two of us on board! Although the boat copes admirable with the greater numbers I think that TBH and I are not so adaptable. Must be something with getting older...!

At 40 feet we feel that we have a vessel that is the ideal size for comfortable cruising, and with two of us aboard there is a place for everything and everything is in it's place. Add a few more bodies and that all goes to pot! From being a pretty disorganized person ashore I find that I have morphed in to an order obsessed martinet. Actually TBH would probably describe that as demanding and impatient!

So now we have our space back it is time to regain the order and prepare to return towards the Rio. As the hurricane season is upon us we watch the weather with a more than usual eagle eye. We plan to be safely tucked up back at Mario's in early to mid July which, hopefully, will leave us time to have a week in the Cayman's and then a leisurely sail down to Guatemala, maybe stopping off in Belize before we enter the river again.

Of course that all depends on how hard and from which direction the wind blows...

We have both indulged in an orgy of book reading since the family arrived with a bag full of new books for us. A couple that we have found outstanding are 'Blood River' by Tim Butcher a travel book set in the Congo, Africa. TBH said it was a real and accurate portrayal of the hopelessness of Africa. It bought back clear memories of his childhood in Malawi and the years that he spent in South Africa. I am about to begin on that one.

I have just finished another travel book about Kazakstan, 'In search of Kazakstan' by Christopher Robbins. A rather more accurate portrayal of that ex Russian province so cruelly satirized by Sacha Baron Cohen in his alter ego of Borat!

The interesting thing has been a description of the long term effects of Communism on that country. Makes me think more deeply about what we have been experiencing here in Cuba. Our first impressions here were very positive and it is interesting that as we have spent longer and become more familiar with the country the problems become far more apparent. the constant surveillance is wearing and the stifling of initiative a sad thing to observe. Individuals are eager to be helpful but the rigid system of bureaucracy simply does not allow them, often, to accommodate out of the norm situations. There is certainly still a strong feeling here that everyone is looking over their shoulder. I will be interested to see how the country changes over the coming decade. Will they be able to take the positive attributes of a communist system and adapt it to the realities of the technologically changing world? Do they need to?

The more we travel the less I know that I know. In many ways its disturbing as I try to come to grips with my changing points of reference and in others it a magnificent mind stretching challenge. It has altered my relationships with other's, some of whom find my observations and opinions too strong for their liking whilst, on the other hand, it has opened some fascinating cultural discussions that I relish!

TBH was so right when he said that I would never see my home country through the same eyes again, damn him!

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Sunday, 1 June 2008

Havana, Hotels, Hurricanes.

We stayed at the Hotel Valencia in the old part of Havana. The kids had already been there so we knew it was a good place, well that is apart from three things... breakfast,lunch and dinner! That's pretty much true of all the food in Cuba. Although fresh ingredients are of a high quality, albeit a limited selection, the cooking leaves a great deal to be desired!Its certainly not food as we know it! Still that's not the main reason for being here.

Our room was Massive, at least 40 feet by 25! Two fans, two air con units and a balcony that wrapped around the entire corner room giving marvelous views down to the oldest street in Havana. Cuba may have been a closed country for some years but they are certainly trying hard to catch up on the tourism front. There are a number of very smart international style hotels in the city and any number of the state run types that we stayed at. Older, restored properties, many, like the Valencia with superb inner courtyards full of plants and birds.

One of the reasons for going to the city was to try and get an American Visa. We cannot take the boat into the USA without a 10 year multiple entry visa in our passports. I had read that an Australian boat had done this a year ago and decided I rather fancied having a go! I also understood that it was a whole lot easier than the protracted wait in many countries that issue visa's. Well it worked like a dream! That is when you realise that the USA, having no 'official' embassy in Cuba hide in the so-called grounds of the Swiss Embassy... Give me a break! It's a massive, fortified complex. Surrounded by guards with the title, American Special Interests Unit...

We filled in the forms, submitted to finger printing and a short interview and were told to return in 48 hours when our visa's would be ready to collect... and they were!So a whole new world of cruising destinations opens it's door to us.

There were huge queues of Cuban's trying to get visa's to go. Their experience vastly different to ours. Massive queues, sheaves of paperwork and a high chance of being turned down at the final hurdle, dashing their dreams and emptying their pockets as the $120 fee is non-returnable. The taxi driver told us that only 3000 visas are granted a year, that's 10 a day. The queue on both the days we were there was in vast excess to that number.

And here we are on the 1st June, official start to the 2008 Hurricane season and we have Tropical Storm Arthur raging along the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. High winds and seas making life a misery for the boats, like us, who thought they could extend the cruising season just that little bit more. The NW Cruiser's Net is full of tales of high seas and difficult passages as a few boats are caught out. One, Orchid Lady, seems to be copping the whole lot. He doesn't know what his position is, I guess his instruments have failed, his engine has stopped and yesterday he reported that his sails have shredded. The guy sounds exhausted and despairing as he reports in to the net morning and evening. But without a position it is difficult to help. The US Coast guard and authorities have been informed but he hasn't sent a Mayday yet. Finger's crossed for the poor guy, he is taking one hell of a beating.

You are on your own out here, the ocean is a dangerous place and we play as safe as we can. Although the various weather forecasts tell me a passage to the Cayman Islands, some 170 miles to the south of here, looks ok it's a risk I will not take until this weather system settles down. Fortunately we have all the time in the world...and there are worse places to be than where we are!

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