Monday, 25 February 2013

No 8/13 Santiago to Cienfuegos

Hi from Clare,                                   Saturday 23rd February 2013

Last week we feasted on Lobster, this week we have been feasting on succulent fish thanks to the local deep sea fishermen
We haven't done any land travel this week; we are just enjoying travelling between Cays along the south coast of Cuba. We are on a bank with an average water depth around 17 metres which provides flat sailing and very calm anchorages. The weather has been terrific with sparkling days and warm nights. This week we have sailed 80 miles from Cayo Media Luna to Cayo Grenada to Cayo Algodon Grande and we are now at Cayo Cuervo.
We finished off last week at Cayo Media Luna where we stayed for three nights while a blow came through. Angela and Tony on 'Tana Vika' left a day ahead of us and so we were solo for two days before we caught up again. We sailed into Cayo Grenada on Tuesday and immediately received our first fish dinner. A French catamaran was already anchored and the owner came over with some fish the local fisherman had given him. His freezer was already full so we became the happy recipients. We don't know what sort of fish it was but it was good eating and much appreciated as we ran out of meat long ago.

The following day we sailed to Cayo Algodon Grande which is surrounded by mangroves and is one of the loveliest anchorages we have ever seen. We could get to the beach on the other side by taking the dinghy up through the mangroves to a narrow strip of island. There is a deserted resort which is tumbling down but the trees once planted are now providing wonderful shade for the beach. The aqua water, white sand and palm trees is an impressive sight. We had rejoined Angela and Tony on 'Tana Vika' and we spent a leisurely afternoon poking around the beach, reading and having a snooze in the shade. Before we arrived Angela had traded for some snapper and so dinner was covered.

Through the mangrovves to the beach

The four of us were on Eye Candy having a sun downer when the fishermen returned. A small '20 foot long and three Cubans wide' fishing boat came over and tied up to us. The boat was laden down with a huge ice chest, fuel and water drums, various crates and an open fire for cooking. The safety rings and three bed rolls were on the roof. The fishermen produced four large fish which we exchanged for a hip flask of rum, a packet of disposable razors and some hand cream. We gave one of the fish to 'Tana Vika' and we still have enough for six meals. The three guys in the fishing boat then proceeded to pass around the rum bottle before cooking their dinner. I gave them half a dozen chocolate chip biscuits and three cans of coke for dessert and they responded with a bunch of bananas. At one stage we thought they might stay tied up for the night but around 9pm they let go and anchored out.

Our fishermen friends

Andrew had showed them his new fishing spear and between their limited English and our limited Spanish we had a very lively conversation about lobsters with lots of smiling and OK signs. However something got lost in translation as the following morning much to our surprise two of the three came over to pick Andrew up for a day's spear fishing. We think perhaps the weight of four men would have sunk the boat. We declined their very generous offer and after lots of "muchas gracias" we up anchored and bid a hasty retreat; more Spanish lessons required.

Andrew has fashioned a viewing bucket. We found the flat bottomed bucket on a beach in the Bahamas and we bought a piece of Perspex to fit the bottom. Tony on 'Tana Vika' has a jig saw and so we are now in business. It is very effective and we are having fun checking out coral reefs, sunken fishing vessels and other obstacles in our anchorage.
This is a second day in Cayo Cuevro. There are three or four trawlers and various fishing boats that come in each night. Tony and Angela went over to one of the Trawlers and with a bottle of rum a few cans of coke came away with a huge bag of fresh prawns. They spent a few hours last night cleaning, cooking and storing them in their freezer. We have plenty of fish and so we will give the prawns a miss - can't believe I said that!

Tomorrow we will go to the Cays on the outer reef where we hope to find clear water and some fishing. Then we will head for Casilda where we plan to hire a car and travel to Trinidad which is a World Heritage Site with much to see.

Love Candy xx

At 4:24 PM24/02/2013 (utc) our position was 20°48.89'N 078°56.89'W

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, 18 February 2013

No 7/13 Santiago de Cuba

Hi from Clare,                    Sunday 17th February 2013

We have experienced a very busy first week in Cuba. On Monday we took a cab into the city of Santiago de Cuba with our English friends Angela and Tony from 'Tana Vika'. We spent the day following a walking tour of the city taking in the Old City, the first Governor's residence (built 1522) and Museum of Local History, the Cathedral (built 1922) the Town Plazas, the one-time Military Barracks were the first shots of Cuba's Castro-led revolution were fired in 1953 and finally the Hotel Casa Grande where Fidel Castro appeared on the balcony in 1959 trumpeting the Revolution's triumph.

Views of Old City & first Govenor´s residence in Santiago de Cuba

Cathedral & Military Barracks

The people are well dressed; there is no litter or beggars on the streets. The housing is very basic and the city's pollutions is choking. The narrow streets originally designed for pedestrians are now swarming with motor cycles and a lot of old (mostly Russian) cars belching black smoke. However we have also seen a number of very nice modern cars such as Peugeot, Toyota and Mercedes. The local busses are trucks and look very much like a cattle truck with bench seats along the sides and a canvas canopy; they are always crammed packed with people hanging out the back. Cuba is a country undergoing rapid change and so therefore everything we have read or been told by other cruisers is out of date. The people are very aware that the tourists present opportunity. Some are eager to provide a service to earn some money while others just ask for pens, soap, shampoo, t-shirts, caps, rum and cigarettes.

Local bus
There are two currencies used in Cuba, the convertible pesos CUC$ which is worth around $US 1.10 and the Cuban Peso which is selling at 25 to one CUC$. To be able to get around we need both and the trouble is that they look very similar. If we have your glasses on we can read 'convertible peso' written on the CUC$ but it would be very easy to hand over CUC$ for pesos. We decided that I would keep the pesos and Andrew would handle the CUC$. So far we haven't made a mistake. We found a fresh fruit and veg market in one of the narrow streets and I paid the 5 pesos (20 cents) for three small lettuces and 10 pesos (40 cents) for a lb of beans. Our friends Angela and Tony paid 5 pesos for a small pizza for lunch. I had made sandwiches and the four of us sat in the Plaza to eat lunch and have a much needed rest. We hoped to do some people watching but we were harassed by a guitarist serenading us. He was standing so close that his guitar was right in my face. If I crossed my knees I would have kneed him in the groin - man was I tempted. In the end I got up and walked away.

Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and English is spoken in the tourist areas. The four marina managers speak perfect English so to do the girls in the marina's gift shop and bar. The marina suffered damage with hurricane Sandy in October. Some wharves were destroyed along with buildings and water supply pipes. The bathrooms are clean but there are no toilets seats, no hot water, no shower roses (just a pipe sticking out of the wall) and taps without handles. Andrew said the missing handles match the office door that is also without a handle. But we soon discovered that in fact the office door did have a handle but it was in the desk drawer and had to be handed out the window if you wanted to come in. Due to hurricane Sandy and broken water pipes the water supply to the marina is via a tank on top of the hill which is filled by a water truck. So I was happily washing my hair in cold water standing under a dribble from the shower pipe and the water ran out. I was totally soaped up so all I could do was wrap myself in the towel and return to the boat covered in bubbles.

Marina at Santiago de Cuba

There is a cement works not far from the marina that discharged muck from the chimneys leaving brown spots all over the deck. One of the marina staff recommended a toilet cleaner which apparently everybody uses on the spots and can be purchased from the marina office (after they had passed the door handle out through the window etc). The marina man then proceeded to scrub the deck for us. Andrew reimbursed him for his effort but he was reluctant to take the money as he just wanted to help us.
On Tuesday we went across to Granma Island which is located half a mile across from the marina. We could have taken the dinghy across but the cruisers are not allowed to drive around in their dinghies. We took the ferry which is free to guests of the marina. The community consists of some 800 people and has a couple of restaurants a church and no shops. We walked to the top of the hill to see the church. A few people asked us for biros and were delighted when I had some. Another young girl asked for soap which I also had in my handbag. She disappeared and returned later to give me two small shells. It truly was a humbling experience, these people have very little but she found a reciprocal gift for the soap. I still have the shells; I somehow just can't throw them away.
At the top of the hill we meet up with Elan a local guy we had spoken to a few times at the marina. He came running out of his house and introduced us to his wife and produced a photo of his two sons aged 12 and 9. He proudly told us that they had been in the house for two months but before that Elan and family had lived with this father and mother. We think the timber used for the house came from houses destroyed by hurricane Sandy. (I will publish a photo of the house when we get internet access). Elan walked us down the hill and we stopped off to meet his father and buy a beer at his small restaurant.

Cayo Granma & Elan´s house

We went back into the city Tuesday night to see the night life, experience some Cuban music at Casa de la Trova and drink some Mojitos and Pina Coladas on the balcony of Hotel Casa Grande overlooking the Plaza.
We had ordered a taxi but our usual taxi and driver could not come due to a medical emergency in the family. He sent a substitute taxi, a forty year old Russian Lada which looks a bit like a Fiat and can only be described as a Russian rust bucket. A taxis driver earn CUC$ and it costs around 10 CUC ($11) to travel from the marina into the city. It seems that any guy who has a car and can speak English is in the Taxi business as this is an opportunity to earn good money. We have been told that the average wage is 30 CUC a month.
Andrew was squashed in the front seat with the driver and the interrupter and I was in the back seat with Angela and Tony. There were no door or window handles and no internal door panels. The driver switched the engine off and coasted down all the hills after pumping the breaks. When traveling through the city on a one way street and with right of way he crossed a number of intersections at top speed. Bad luck if a distracted tourist stepped off the pavement. I couldn't watch it, I just closed my eyes.
Coming home was another matter. When driving up a steep hill the car started to kangaroo hop. Angela and I (after a few Mojitos) were silently shaking with laughter. The car couldn't make it up the hill and so we rolled to the bottom and then the driver jumped out and lifted the bonnet. Andrew was in the front seat and watching with interest, he thinks the driver put water in the clutch. He said also that the driver drove with his right foot on the brake and his left foot on the accelerator to rev the engine up. Angela and I had just about got the giggles under control when we stopped off at a fuel station to put 2 litres of fuel in the car; we were off again. Fortunately, we did get home and Angela said she hadn't laughed so much in years, but it could have been a miserable story had the car failed and we were stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

Cassa Granda Hotel

We left Santiago de Cuba around midday Wednesday and sailed 100 miles to Cabo Cruz arriving Thursday morning. We caught a huge Mahi Mahi, we got it up on the back step but the line snapped and we lost the fish and the lure. We had no sooner dropped the anchor when a local fisherman swam out to our boat with a bag of lobsters. We bought 4 large lobsters for 10 CUC and a second hand T-shirt. We went into town which didn't look much from the boat but turned out to be quite a nice little community. There wasn't much English spoken but between the four of us we knew enough Spanish to get by. I bought 9 bananas for 25 cents and when walking around the back streets a fellow tried to sell me eggs and lemons but I didn't need them. Later when considering his limited opportunities to earn some extra money, I regretted not buying them. The houses in this country town were humble but in good condition; some were even painted. Most homes had flowers, shrubs and some land out the back for chickens, goats and a pig.

Cabo Cruz township
The next morning we sailed 45 miles to the Canal de Cuatro Reales and caught 5 Barracuda along the way. We threw them all back but once again as soon as we dropped anchor the local fishermen came around with more lobster. They wanted to trade lobsters for Rum and so we got 7 lobsters for a small bottle of Rum and a packet of cigarettes. They couldn't speak any English but gesticulated that they were going to drink the Rum and then go to sleep. We did some snorkeling but the visibility was poor and the coral very disappointing. However it was nice to be in the water.
Yesterday morning we sailed 7 miles to Cayo Media Luna (Half Moon Cay). As the name suggests the bay is a crescent shape giving good protection from the current north easterly blow. By now we are sick of lobster and we are hoping not to see any more fishermen for a while. We have had a quiet time here reading and catching up on a few chores. Angela and Tony are anchored close by and we are enjoying their company.

We will travel west exploring more anchorages. We are not in any particular hurry - life's good.
Love Candy xx

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, 11 February 2013

No 6/13 Acklin Is and Cuba

Hi from Clare,                                               Sunday 10th February 2013

We are now in Santiago de Cuba having arrived here yesterday afternoon. We had a very pleasant beam reach sail taking 32 hours to complete the 180 mile trip from Grand Inagua.
We have now parted company with Carol and Steve on 'Innamorata' and Pam and Dennis on 'Glide' who are heading for the Dominican Republic and we probably won't see them again this season. We all enjoyed a farewell BBQ on the beach at Datum Bay in the Acklins. Dennis caught a 40 pound Wahoo and so we thought it only right we should help him eat it. We had spent the day snorkeling and trying our hand at spear fishing. We speared one Lion fish and frightened the daylights out of two others. Not bad for our first attempt but more practice required.

Since arriving we have spent most of our time getting checked in to the country. There has been a procession of officials coming to the boat. First the Doctor, then Customs and Immigration followed by the Health Dept to check our fruit, veg and raw meat. However the crowning glory was two sniffer dogs checking for drugs and explosives. Firstly the big black slobbering beasts scratched Andrew newly varnished stairs and then proceeded to shake their heads splattering slobber all over the boat. The explosives dog found our flares - woo hoo! Anyhow we are now checked in and free to explore.
We have made friends with an English couple Tony and Angela on 'Tana Vika'. Today we shared a taxi to the Castillo del Morro built in 1639. The fort stands on the hilltop overlooking the harbor entrance and is in very good condition. This is only the second fort we have seen since leaving the Med. We enjoyed a few hours exploring and taking the stairs down to sea level and climbing back up. The rugged coastline and mountains are terrific to see especially after the low lying Bahamas.

Castillo del Morro, Clare and Angela

Tomorrow we will go into Santiago de Cuba and explore more.
Love Candy xx

At 11:11 PM10/02/2013 (utc) our position was 19°58.98'N 075°52.37'W

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, 4 February 2013

No 5/13 Conception Is & Rum Cay

Hi from Clare,                                         Sunday 3rd February 2013

Tasmanians on Australia Day & Rum Cay Marina

Before leaving George Town we reprovisioned with gas and fresh produce to last us for our time in Cuba. We have washed and individually wrapped the fruits and vegies in aluminium foil and after endless planning and shopping we think we have it covered. One of our Aussie friends heading for the Panama has purchased 365 rolls of toilet paper, needless to say we are not that well prepared.
Thankfully we sold our old 5ph Mercury outboard before leaving Georgetown. We repeatedly advertised on the morning radio net and managed a sale two days before our departure. Andrew was glad of the sale and I was glad to reclaim the space in the cockpit locker and get the buckets out of the bathroom.
We had a thank you dinner with George and Mo on 'Passages'. Andrew had spent considerable time nutting out a problem and then installing a 'work around' to get George's HF Radio working. Mo produced a great meal and created a restaurant atmosphere with subtle lighting and a beautifully laid out table with linen cloth, napkins, china and glassware. They said it was their treat and indeed for us it was a treat. George was glad to have his radio problems solved and Mo said she feels a lot safer now; Andrew just enjoys the challenge and mental stimulation.

The free docks at Rum Cay Marina & the Anglican Church at Rum Cay

We left George Town on Thursday ahead of a cold front and sailed 43 miles to beautiful Conception Island. We enjoyed sunshine, blue skies, fair winds and we caught a good size Mahi Mahi a few hours out; this is more like it. Conception Island is uninhabited and the beach is picture perfect with brilliant white sand and shallow aqua water. We walked the beach, swam and enjoyed perfect peace and quiet.
At Conception we caught up to Steve and Carol on 'Innamorata'. We had drinks on 'Eye Candy' that evening to celebrate getting back into cruising mode. The following morning we sailed 21 miles to Rum Cay. This is new territory for us and the island has a small community. Hurricane Sandy came through here in October ripping rooves off houses, disrupting power supply, sinking small vessels and damaging the marina. The people are very friendly and the visiting cruisers were invited into town the following morning (yesterday) for breakfast or lunch as a big cook up was happening. Lunch was due at midday and we were pretty hungry after walking around town all morning. However at midday the locals were sitting around the fire drinking beer and no sign of food. There were quite a few cruisers hovering in readiness to support the local economy but due to their lay-back Bahamian Time the opportunity was lost.
The local food store advertises as "Last Change" shopping. But we decided it should be renamed "No Chance" shopping as the place has been shut since we arrived. We went back into town late yesterday with 'Innamorata' and met an Aussie family from the yacht 'Dulcinea' which is anchored near-by. The nine of us called into a local restaurant (if you would call it that) for a drink. We sat on plastic chairs in the outdoor eating area surrounded by junk, litters if kittens and empty beer bottles. Our umbrella was an upside down satellite dish partly covered with palm fronds. The rest had been blown away by Sandy (in October) and the "umbrella" was at a forty five degree angle. However it was safe enough as someone ('Fireman', the local 'jack of all trades') had tied a rope around it anchoring it to a near by tree. The Aussie family Scott, Nicky and children Sam, Kelly and friend Beth ordered fish for dinner, as there was no other choice. Although they were the only customers, the rather large Bahamian woman smiled and said it would take an hour to prepare. We decided that perhaps she had to catch the fish first. We sat and chatted with them for an hour and then returned to the boat to eat the rest of our Mahi Mahi.

The Last Chance shop & a house with hurricane damaged roof

So today is Sunday and the locals are ensconced in the church. We could hear the church bells ringing early this morning. As is often the case in small communities the church is lovingly maintained. It is well constructed, freshly painted and has the only garden in town. I looked through the window yesterday to see polished wood, crisp linen, lit candles and arranged flowers. It is a lovely church and by far the most substantial building we saw in Rum Cay. It is also the local Hurricane shelter.

The cold front is passing over bringing rain and grey skies. We expect the wind to pick up this afternoon turn to the N/E. We will head out tomorrow morning and sail to the Acklins group as the front dies. This will bring us ever closer to Cuba. The weather for the next few days is pretty settled with winds from the N/E around 15knots; it should be a good trip.

Love Candy xx

At 12:40 PM3/02/2013 (utc) our position was 23°38.71'N 074°50.81'W

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: