Monday, 15 May 2017


Friday 5th May – Monday 15th May

Having arrived at 0500 on Friday I slept for most of the rest of the morning and then set about tidying up the boat a little above and below decks. Once things were reasonably ship-shape I blew up the dinghy in preparation for going ashore. There was already quite a strong wind from the South which was creating a significant chop in the harbour and the dinghy was bouncing up and down alongside the boat. I thought twice about going ashore but in the end decided to do so. I didn’t bother with the outboard motor being anchored only a hundred or so metres from the town quay I reckoned I would be able to row back against the wind and would probably not get as wet as I would under engine.
I left about 1630. The short trip ashore was easy – just blown in on the wind within 5 minutes and didn’t get wet. I had a look around the centre of the small attractive town with a number of historical buildings which I looked forward to investigating in more detail later. I bought a loaf of bread to take back and despite having been warned of Bermuda’s prices, I was shocked to have to pay $6 dollars for a cotton wool sliced loaf – albeit apparently wholemeal. I later found the town’s main store where bread was a dollar cheaper but still…

Next up was to find an internet connection so that I could ring Sharon via WhatsApp. My phone had no signal and so I couldn’t use the mobile network (although later I discovered I was able to manually select Digicel and get a connection). The local pub – the White Horse – had wifi and internet so I settled in there with half a pint of beer – another $6 – and got online and spoke to Sharon. I then caught up on my other email and WhatsApp messages, and filed the company’s NIL VAT return with two days to spare before the deadline.

Whilst on the phone to Sharon I moaned about the prices and said I might splash out the $16 required for a Burger and Chips but lovely lady, she encouraged me to treat myself to a steak. So I did – it was gorgeous – the first steak I had had since the British Virgin Islands many weeks ago. With a glass of red wine the meal cost $50!

As I was tucking in, the Swedes – Andreas, Mimi and Maria from the two boats next to me at anchor sat at the next table and we got chatting. One was another single hander who had been particularly friendly when he anchored next to me earlier in the day. To my great embarrassment it turned out that we had met before at Hemingway marina, Havana and had – albeit only briefly chatted about what turned out to be our common passage plan to sail to Bermuda via the Bahamas! Rolph kindly excused me offering his cleanly shaven appearance as my excuse – he had previously sported a splendid beard. In fact he had already shaved it off by the time of our conversation in Havana! The other a couple in their thirties and a friend who had recently joined them in the Bahamas were aboard a boat about the same size as Arctic Smoke. They were on their way home having explored many of the same islands as us during the season. We had probably been in the same places at the same time on occasions but had never previously met. They had spent the last few weeks in the Bahamas whilst I had spent most of that time in Cuba. They all ordered their food and we spent a very enjoyable evening together. Rolph was on his way back after some years away having spent time in the Mediterranean as well as the Caribbean with his wife and others joining him now and again. The others had taken in Morocco before crossing to the Caribbean. Like me they now had to get home to replenish their coffers! Rolph was semi-retired and ran his own cutting tools supply business in Sweden and had left his son in charge whilst he was off sailing.

Saturday - the bad weather continued - I had decided it was now too bouncy to make a trip ashore worthwhile and I spent the morning reading and cleaning up a little more. By the afternoon although still very windy it was pleasant enough to read in the cockpit. Around lunch-time Rolph came by in his super RIB and offered me a trip ashore which I gratefully accepted. We explored the town a little more found the chandlers which was well stocked and would probably have most boaty things I might need albeit it at very inflated prices. I asked about getting my gas cylinders re-filled but the balance of opinion amongst the staff there was that their supplier would only be able to re-fill cylinders with American style connectors. This was a bit of a blow because I was pretty sure that I would have to connect the last of my three cylinders any day now and that we would need more gas to get me and Tom to the Azores. At the time of writing the issue is still unresolved.

Saturday night was very windy. I found a pay for access wifi/internet connection available on the boat that evening and signed up for a week’s service for $30 and managed to upload the passage log to the Bahamas. Today however I’ve only been able to get an internet connection for a few minutes and have not been able to upload the passage log to Bermuda. If the service continues to be unavailable I’m going to want to get my money back – although quite how I have no idea. I was going to watch one of the films that Laurent had given me copies of (by the way Laurent – if you read this I have tried to email you but the email address you gave me does not work) but I got immersed in reading Webb Chiles’ latest passage log from St Helena to St Lucia. Webb’s ocean wanderings make my sailing seem like an outing on the Serpentine. For a while it looked like we might meet up (he’s now heading for Key West) but my inability to get an American Visa and my need to link up with Tom, has put paid to that. I did scoff half of the very expensive chocolate I bought earlier however!
During the night I had an unpleasant dream that the anchor was dragging!

Sunday continued wet and windy and I took the opportunity to stay in bed until 1000 having treated myself to Tea and toast and marmalade in bed. I’d bought the marmalade yesterday as well as the bar of chocolate.

I took the opportunity provided by a slight improvement in the weather to sort out the stern light. I discovered a spare navigation light fitting amongst my spares and although I didn’t have everything required to make a permanent job of it I think it should now get us back to the UK. It needs an appropriate means of properly attaching the flat back plate to the round section vertical tube section to which it is now attached using a cable tie and a piece of kitchen sponge, with hopefully enough silicone plastered around to keep the water out.

Earlier I got around to tackling the leaky galley sink pump. It was squirting a stream of water out of the back with every pump stroke and this was seeping into the fridge which was, as a consequence filling up slowly with water. To my pleasant surprise the simple addition of an O ring over the pump-hand shaft and nipped up did the trick.

I’m still left with a very annoying issue with the water system though which is that neither the galley nor the head water pumps (both manual) are pumping properly even though there is plenty of water in the tank. It’s as if there’s an air lock in the tank/pipes but I’ve repeatedly forced all the air out by filling the tank to over flowing to no avail. I think a pipe must be squashed somewhere and fear I’m going to have to empty the tank completely in order to find out what’s happened.

Tonight, I think I will watch a film once I have sorted out some food. Hopefully the weather will have improved tomorrow so that I can get ashore.

Monday – Rolph and I explored St George’s further and I bought a couple of small propane gas cylinders and a single burner to use on the boat in Harbour in the hope that there will enough gas left in the last gas cylinder – connected yesterday so virtually full – to get us to the Azores where I know I can get my Camping Gaz cylinders exchanged. We also treated ourselves to a decent lunch in one of the local restaurants – expensive again.

Tuesday – Again with Rolph we took the bus to Hamilton and then on to the Naval Dockyard at the other end of the island. We bought a card of 15 tickets from the local Post Office for $47. One ticket each took us to Hamilton then another each to a stop-over in Somerset Island and then another to Hamilton. We then used two more each to get the Ferry to Hamilton and then the bus back to St George’s at the end of the day. Our stop-over on Somerset Island was to try and track down the first owner of Rolph’s boat who at the time of purchase lived there. We found the house but he had long since moved, the current occupant having lived there since 2006 I think. That was a shame – it would have been fun to have surprised him. However, we enjoyed a walk alongside the very attractive coastline that we would not otherwise have undertaken. We also stopped off for lunch in Somerset Village and had a very goof Fish Chowder. Given we economised on the main course we both treated ourselves to a large slab of chocolate cake with coffee for desert. After lunch we continued our journey by bus to the old Naval Dockyard/Cruise ship terminal. Nearby was the base for the America’s Cup Fleet and we saw a couple of the incredible machines practice racing on the water. It would have been great to have stayed on for the racing proper in a few weeks’ time but my time-table didn’t permit. It would also no doubt be an extremely expensive way of spending the time!

We looked around the Dockyard and I decided to return later in the week when more time was available go round the museum. The Dockyard was very extensive and was originally built by the Brits in the immediate aftermath of the war of independence with the , which we of course, lost. The Empire needed a new North Atlantic base with the loss of Halifax and Bermuda was ideally situated and had the necessary protected deep, if hazardous, waters needed by the fleet.

We tried to get close to the America’s cup crews with no luck but discovered later that our Swedish friends did manage to get into the Swedish compound where they had some sort of open day underway.

After exploring the Dockyard area we took the Ferry back to Hamilton and had a look around. We found Goslings – the main booze suppliers on the island who also sold apparel. Rolph’s boat is named “Dark and Stormy” after the famous Bermudan Rum cocktail – Dark rum mixed with Ginger Ale or beer. Rolph took the opportunity to buy a Dark and Stormy T-Shirt and Baseball cap! We also considered ordering some duty free booze but decided we’d come back later in the week. We had good quality burger meal at one of the local eateries and then took the bus back to St George’s where we arrived just as darkness was enveloping the town. The full moon lit up a most impressive navy blue sky as we returned to the boats.

Wednesday was a boat work day. Having tried and failed to re-reeve the reefing pennant that had pulled through the boom, I finally plucked up the courage to try and remove the fitting at the end of the boom that held the three pulley blocks in place through which ran the pennants. I had avoided doing so until now because I was half expecting the four screws that held it in place to be corroded and or seized in place. They were very firmly screwed in but they did eventually unscrew and to my great surprise the whole assembly then easily came off the boom. I had expected that to be corroded in place too. With the aid of the powerful spotlight that Mick had got working some months ago I was now able to look up the inside of the boom and establish where the end of the plastic reeving got to when inserted from the mast end of the boom. With a great deal of fiddling about I could get it about three quarters of the way down the inside of the boom – too far away to reach by hand, but at least now I could see it and with the end fitting off should be able to get some sort of hook device far enough in to grab it. I still had the length of copper plumbing tube that I had bought in Gran Canaria with the intention of making a lightening conductor (which I never did) and was able to jam a small hand held hook tool into one end. After numerous attempts at inserting this up the inside of the boom and twisting it around I was finally able to pull the end of the reeving tool through. Then I attached a length of this cord to it and pulled the cord through the boom. Next I needed to attach the pennant to the cord and pull that through the boom. I whipped the cord onto the end of the pennant and hoped that the two lines would not part company once under load which they would be when being pulled through the pulleys. Everything worked fine and to my great satisfaction I was able to complete the job.

Next I rigged up an additional kicking strap for the boom. The existing kicking strap is a traditional one – a block and tackle with the fixed end secured on the boom about a quarter of its length from the mast and the other adjustable end secured to the base of the mast where one can tighten or loosen the ‘strap’. The purpose of it is to stop the boom from lifting when one is sailing down-wind (it’s not needed when sailing up-wind because the main sheet pulls the boom down). There are two problems with the existing kicking strap. One is that I’ve damaged the friction jaws on the adjustable end and so it keeps working lose. The other is that whilst the location of the adjustable end at the foot of the mast means that it work equally well on either tack and looks after itself, it doesn’t work particularly well – the angle of the strap to the boom is so acute that even when the strap is as tight as one can get it, the boom still lifts. The second strap will be secured on the lee rail at the shrouds and will therefore be more at right angles to the boom and so pull down more effectively. It will also help prevent the boom from crashing from one side of the boat to the other in the event of an accidental jibe. That’s when the wind gets around the back of the sail and pushes it over from one side to the other. In high winds that can be dangerous, with a real risk of injury and/or gear breakage. An accidental jibe can easily be induced when sailing downwind with a high swell running (the stern gets pushed from one side to the other by the swell), or simply by poor helmsmanship. Of course, most of the time Angus will be steering and there’s not much point in blaming him!

Thursday – Rolph and I went to the Dockyard and Hamilton again. We took the Ferry to the Dockyard and once there I went around the museum situated in the impressive Commissionaire’s House. The museum charted the history of Bermuda from the initial settlement by the British in 1609 (when a two ship expedition to reinforce the British colonies in New England foundered on the Bermudan reefs and the resulting enforced stopover - during which time the crews built two new ships to continue their rescue mission – resulted in the creation of the first settlement on Bermuda) through the slave trade era and the building of the Dockyard using convict labour to the second d world war and beyond. Interestingly in addition to the British colonisers there was significant immigration from the Azores and Madeira when their skills in Agriculture were much sort after. Today a quarter of the island’s population has Azorean ancestry. Bermuda suddenly became pivotal to the continued success of the British Empire after the United States gained their independence. Prior to then Halifax was the home of the North Atlantic fleet. Once lost a new base was needed and Bermuda was ideally situated. With slavery abolished the Brits thought up a great wheeze to get the new base built quickly and cheaply – convict labour!

Slavery in Bermuda was amongst the earliest development of that practice across the whole empire and was initially an insidious process of the white land-owners disenfranchising the existing population of often highly skilled black sugar cane and tobacco farmers and associate craftsmen and then enslaving them. It was of course little comfort for the slaves themselves but after the island’s tobacco farming boom collapsed in the late 17th Century and the island’s economy turned to commerce, may slaves occupied highly skilled positions in the booming maritime trades. It appears that these economic changes were therefore also indirectly responsible for the early abolition of slavery in Bermuda. On August the 1st1834, slavery was abolished on Bermuda. Full political franchise and equality before the law did of course take a great deal longer to come about. Today, Bermuda’s black population appears from casual observation to have a significant middle class element but as elsewhere, black people also seem to be over represented amongst the poorer.

In contrast to with most of the Caribbean islands we visited, Bermuda today seems an affluent and well run economy and society. I’ve seen no slums or outright poverty, indeed the island compares favourably with the more well-to-do elements of American and European society. The contrast with Cuba, couldn’t be more stark! I don’t know whether the island’s wealth is all self-made or if it gets a heavy subsidy from the UK, of which it’s an overseas territory. The closest comparison I can make is with the French Caribbean islands such as Martinique and Guadalupe which are fully French. Unlike those islands however, which seem French from top to bottom and appear to benefit from central funding just like any other part of France, Bermuda quite clearly has its own unique identity. The extraordinary high prices of everything on the island must mean there is no subsidy from the UK. I must find out more!

After the Dockyard we took the Ferry to Hamilton. First stop was the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (Bermuda is most definitely a Royal island) because Rolph had arranged to have a package shipped to him care of the Club – a service the apparently provide for free to any visiting Yachtsman requiring it. After that we returned to Goslings to order our duty-free liquor! Then on to the town’s main supermarket to (part) provision for the passages ahead – Rolph plans on leaving on Saturday and I plan on leaving on Monday after my American friend from Boston – Tom Feeney, arrives on Sunday. Then it was the bus back to St George’s heavily laden with probably the most very expensive shopping I’ve ever done.

On our return to the boats, Rolph hosted drinks on board Dark and Stormy, for his fellow Swedes, Andreas, Mimi and Maria who were leaving for the Azores on Saturday. We had yet another very enjoyable evening.

Friday – a full gale hit St Georges building from about 0730 and peaking around 1000. The anchorage was a wild scene for a couple of hours. A number of boats dragged their anchors and at least one on the other side of the harbour ran hard aground when the wind veered from the south west to the north. Some of the boats near to Arctic Smoke were pitching wildly up and down and dinghies were being tossed into the air all over the place. Fortunately Arctic Smoke’s Anchor did its job well and we stayed put. AS seemed to be much more stable than many of her neighbours, some of which were significantly bigger.

St George’s is the first Anchorage where AS has had the company of a significant number of boats of a similar or smaller size. There must be a dozen or so in the immediate neighbourhood below 35 feet. First prize goes to the Ausie boat next to me. She’s all of 27 feet and has sailed here via The Cape of Good Hope with a crew of 2. That’s pretty impressive! We’re nearly all bound for the Azores over the next few days and so hopefully we’ll meet up again then.

Saturday – Monday – sorry not finished and got to go. Quick Summary…

Saturday I spent working on the boat. Checked the rigging and discovered the radar reflector bracket had split and that a block at the top of the mast for the spare halyards was about to break up. Lashed up the radar reflector and replaces the block. Also, set up emergency rope backstays.
Sunday morning prepared the boat for Tom’s arrival and met him at the Airport. We then took a bus and ferry trip up to the Dockyard in the hope of seeing some of the America’s Cup boats but we were too late. A quick look around Hamilton then back to St George’s just in time to get a good dinner at the local restaurant then back to the boat.

We now need to get going after some last-minute provisioning, fuel and water and clearing out. ETD 1400 local on Monday 15th.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Passage Log – Old Bahama Bay, West End, Grand Bahama Island to St George's Bermuda

Having spent only a very short time at only one of many of the Bahama islands I can see why they are such a popular cruising ground. Lovely beaches, crystal clear waters and friendly locals. One could easily spend months cruising the chain provided one had time and deep pockets. However, I had neither and needed to move on for my rendezvous with Tom in Bermuda (another expensive location I had been warned). He arrives in Bermuda on the 14th May and has a flight booked from the Azores on 3rd June so that he can make his daughter’s High School Graduation. We will therefore need to leave Bermuda as soon as possible after the 14th May and I want to have as much time there as possible to rest up and undertake the inevitable jobs on the boat before we depart. It’s going to be a bit tough on him though, he’s going to have the long ocean passage without the holiday stuff at either end.
After a great deal of consideration/faffing, I finally decided the route I would take from West End would be across the Little Bahama Bank to Great Sale Cay and then though Strangers Channel into the Atlantic Ocean. The alternatives I considered were either to go North and leave the entire island chain to the West, or to cross the bank and finish crossing the bank North West of Grand Cay. I perhaps should have also considered other alternatives further to the South East in order to get a better angle on to the forecast South East/East wind for the crossing. I didn’t because at the time they seemed too much of a detour. I was nervous about crossing the bank at all due to the risks of running aground in the shallow waters, but having talked to Scott and Laurie who very kindly invited me to dinner on the Tuesday evening, and who had crossed the bank a few days ago from Grand Cay, I was persuaded that crossing the bank was doable provided I was careful. The route involved a short leg of a mile or so up the Western edge of the Bank from West End and then North Westwards through a narrow channel for 3 miles or so with about 1.5 metres under the keel before arriving in slightly deeper water (about 2.5 metres under the keel) for the 40 mile North Westwards leg to Great Sale Cay via Mangrove Cay.
The passage coming up would be new territory for me; approximately 800 miles and if I was lucky, perhaps 8 days of Atlantic Ocean on my own. To date the longest solo passage I had completed on was the previous one from Havana to West End, Bahamas, that was 3 days and 2 nights. That was of course in the coastal (and therefore fairly crowded waters of the Florida Straights); the passage to Bermuda would be in the open ocean. Yes, I felt rather apprehensive at the prospect but it was also a challenge I had (sort of) hoped I would face sooner or later. Prior to that I’d completed a number of day & night passages around the coast of Cuba and of course the crossing from Jamaica. During these previous passages I had experienced most conditions I was likely to encounter short of a full blown gale, including calms, thunder and lightening and strong winds requiring three reefs.
The forecast for the week/route ahead was for strong winds from the East/South East easing to probable light airs nearer to Bermuda with high pressure sitting over the island. My main concern on leaving - apart from the need to complete our crossing of the Little Bahama Bank without incident – was therefore the prospect of having to get through those calms. In theory, Arctic Smoke carries enough fuel for about 36 hours of motoring (that includes use of 15 Litres of fuel in spare cans). That’s at 4 knots in calm conditions. Any significant chop and her 10 hp Bukh can’t push her along at much more than 2k! However, I’ve never pushed the little Bukh for that long and would be reluctant  to motor for more than 12 hours at a stretch without undertaking an oil check (requiring the engine to cool down). I’d probably need to re-fill the stern gland greaser with grease around then too. That all adds up to getting within 100 miles before resorting to the engine. Unless that is I get hold of good weather data indicating a that a few hours motoring in a specific direction will get me into winds. I’ll be therefore be quite content if we make the passage within 8 days which is about a hundred miles a day. Short of really bad weather, no/little wind with sloppy seas are the conditions I most dislike. The sails bang and crash all over the place placing an extra strain on the rigging and little if any progress can be made under power.
Fingers crossed…
Thursday 27th April
I left the berth at 0700 on Thursday morning and went over to the fuel dock to top up (2.5 gallons) with fuel and settle my account - $350 for three nights (plus the previous $150 for the compulsory 6 month Cruising Permit) made Old Bahama Bay the most expensive marina yet!
Things went more or less to plan except that a lapse in concentration saw us wander outside the narrow channel early on and the depth went down to 0.5 metres. I had chosen a rising tide to get through the channel but the last thing I wanted was to ground in unfamiliar waters. The wind was light to moderate from the SE byE for most of the leg to Great Sale Cay and so we were able to lay our course on a close reach/close hauled but there were a couple of periods when the wind died and where I used the engine for an hour or so in order to keep our average speed up and therefore ensure arrival at Great Sale Cay in daylight. For some reason, I expected a deserted anchorage but there were quite a few boats there including a number I recognised from the marina. Most had left before us but one overhauled us about half way there. I dropped the hook at about 1830 outside most of the others in about 3 metres of water an went for a quick swim. In doing so I noticed a pretty thick growth of weed along the water line and decided I would have to scrub the bottom in the morning before leaving. I had worked out that I would need to leave at about 1400 the next day in order to catch the latter part of the ebb to the mouth of Strangers Cay Channel and therefore pass through the cut in the reef at around low water.
Friday 28th April
In the morning before leaving I oiled the very neglected tiller and Angus and spent a couple of hours scrubbing the bottom of the boat which thankfully was not as bad as I had feared following my initial inspection the previous day.
Anchor up at 1400.
My charts showed a minimum of 9 metres in the cut and my guide warned of the risk of lumpy seas in the cuts when wind was over tide. My timing was bang on – we arrived at the cut just before low water but the depths outside the cut were a good few metres lower than charted and once outside the swell built considerably and I had an anxious 20 minutes or so in the large swell with the echo sounder registering only 4 metres whereas I was expecting 7 or 8. However we got through safely and I trimmed Angus and the sails to set us close hauled on the Starboard tack. We couldn’t lay Bermuda at about 065ᵒM, 045ᵒwas as good as we could make. As a precaution,
I had earlier rigged the emergency forestay which would make tacking rather a faff (I would either have to remove it before tacking each time or completely furl the genoa before unfurling it on the other tack) and so I hoped the wind would eventually veer further south to enable us to lay our preferred course. I had also set two reefs in the main on the basis of the forecasted 15-20 knots of wind from the E/SE. I was glad I did because once out of the sheltered waters of the bank the wind increased significantly in strength.
We carried on for the rest of the day and night on roughly the same course. Our speed over the ground was down to 4 knots and because it felt like we were sailing rather faster I concluded we must be in an eddy of the North Atlantic Current, which I was pretty sure should be giving us a slight lift.
I ‘settled’ down into my night time routine with the Alarm set every hour when I would poke my head up top to check for shipping before returning to bed with the Alarm reset. I figured that in this empty patch of ocean, and with the AIS CPA (Closest Point of Approach) alarm set for 2 nautical miles that should be sufficient. I did manage to get a reasonable amount of sleep. No shipping appeared.
Saturday 29th April
The wind did indeed veer southwards during the early hours of the morning and we were able to lay  Bermuda for quite a few hours. Around 0730 our speed went up a couple of knots so that we were now making around 6 knots with 722 miles to go to our Way Point off SE Bermuda. During the afternoon the wind backed for a few hours to push us off course further North once again but then veered again and at the time of writing this section – 1800 local we are heading slightly East of Bermuda. It’s tempting to ease the sheets but we are still West of our rum line and with High Pressure over Bermuda the winds seem likely to remain in the East for the foreseeable future.
The rest of the afternoon and night passed without incident. The wind stayed fresh but backed further Eastwards preventing us from laying Burmuda. I wasn’t in the best of spirits. Not sea-sick – I’m lucky not to suffer that; just not enjoying the conditions and feeling a bit anxious. We were taking regular splashes into the cockpit which kept me down below most of the time and required both hatches to be tightly closed making conditions rather muggy below and we were being thrown around a fair bit. As we came off the bigger waves I could hear the Anchor banging about in the roller and knew that additional lashings were really required. The thought of going right up to the bow and getting a good soaking on the bouncing foredeck was not an attractive one and I figured that no damage was likely to occur and so left it until conditions moderated.

I saw our first ship of the passage around 1000; initially heading directly for us but he took avoiding action before I needed to call him up to make sure he knew we were here!
As at 1815 we have 665 miles to run to our Approach Waypoint. The GPS is predicting arrival on the morning of May 5th but that’s pretty meaningless at this stage especially with High Pressure sitting over Bermuda. Our speed may slow considerably over the second half of the passage if not before.
Sunday 30th April
The wind gradually eased over night but by the morning although going slower we were still making around 4.5k and still had water occasionally breaking over the boat and into the cockpit and I therefore left the reefs in the main and stayed down below as much as possible, still rather fed-up!
At midday we 581 miles to go to our waypoint. By 1530 – 48 hours after exiting Strangers Cay Channel it was down to 565, 207 miles nearer to our destination.
At 1400 I noticed that the Starboard tiller line to Angus had worn through its outer covering at the block and so I replaced both lines. By 1600 the wind had eased further and our speed was down to 3.5k. It was now time to shake out the reefs. The seas were down too and therefore it was a reasonably easy operation. I took the opportunity offered by the calmer conditions to replace the sail batten that had gone missing. Mind you I had to hunt high and low for the spare battens. I had forgotten that I had stowed them in the bottom of one of the cockpit lockers when previously they were stowed on the quarter berth. I also put an extra lashing on the Anchor which had been bouncing around in the earlier more lively conditions. A little later I also noticed one of the struts supporting the solar panels had worked loose. A nut had come undone and so I replaced that too.
The calmer conditions made for very pleasant sailing and we were still making 5 knots and I was at last able to open the skylight in the Saloon without getting drenched. I felt much perkier. The enforced activity after a long period of slouching about probably helped too.
On average we appear to be tracking at 060ᵒrather than the 070ᵒneeded to lay our Waypoint off SE Bermuda. It’s too early to consider tacking however. If high pressure is sitting over Bermuda for the next few days, which was forecasted when we left, the wind is likely to ease further as we get nearer and we will probably have to use the engine to get us through calms.
Unlike last night when I had no appetite and made do with just a couple of slices of Jamaican spiced bun, tonight I was quite peckish and therefore after enjoying a rum cocktail in the cockpit watching the sun set, I cooked a basic supper of fried eggs, fried yam left over from Thursday night and Baked Beans. Nothing fancy but it did the job.
The night hours passed without incident and we continued more or less on track for our Waypoint under full sail.
Monday 1st May
A new month but apart from being a little closer to Bermuda everything else was thankfully much the same. The wind veered somewhat during the early hours – so much so that we were actually tracking South of East until I decided to adjust Angus and ease the sheets. When I looked around at 0400, the Ocean was a little crowded. One ship a few miles off our Port bow was crossing us happily at a safe distance – the AIS confirmed it would not get closer than 2.5 miles. The other on the Starboard bow seemed nearer and also appeared to be crossing in front of us, but we were getting no AIS signal at all. It was also extremely long, so long in fact that it had me checking the charts to make sure there wasn’t an island out there that I had overlooked. I think it must have been a giant tanker – the deck lights weren’t the sort of thing you see on cruise liners. Perhaps it was one vessel towing another, that would have accounted for the extreme length of lights but it would be most unusual for such a combination not to broadcasting on AIS. Mind you it was odd that anything of that size especially in these waters was not so doing. Thankfully it crossed us some miles ahead and disappeared over the horizon.
By midday we had 469 nautical miles left to go to our Waypoint and were 112 nautical miles closer than the same time the previous day. I was quite pleased with that given that much of the previous night we seemed to be pushing a foul current once again. The boat felt like she was sailing at least at 5.5 knots but only 4.5 was registering on the GPS. Our speed now was back up to 6+ knots and the wind had moderated. I continued to feel in good spirits, so much so that I decided to have another go at making bread. Just in the frying pan – I didn’t want to use too much gas having discovered a couple of days ago that I had left the gas on low for a while without realising it. I had one round of bread fresh from the pan with lunch of fried egg, fried plantin and the baked beans left over from last night. It was OK and certainly made a pleasant change from the white fluffy Cuban rolls that I had finished off yesterday. They did keep very well it has to be said. Indeed, rather better than the much more recent bread I bought in West  End that had already turned moldy. I’ll be trying some of the rest of it a little later for tea!
At 1700 we had another odd encounter with largish vessel not transmitting an AIS signal. It crossed us from East to West but it’s course and speed was very erratic and occasionally it was omitting large amounts of black smoke. At its closest it was probably about a mile off and it looked like it might have been a large deep sea trawler but I couldn’t make out sufficient details to be sure. It occurred to me that it might have been in some difficulty but I received no hail on the VHF and just in case they were up to no good I decided not to hail them. It was very unlikely that I could have provided any assistance in any case. At 2000 I saw another ship with no AIS signal a few miles of the starboard bow. I began wondering if there was something amiss with the AIS transceiver but there’s a separate receiver in the VHF set and that wasn’t picking up any signal either.
The night hours passed without anything of note occurring. I managed to get a few hours sleep with my routine of an Alarm every hour. The wind remained more or less constant from South of South East and we continued broadly on course for our Waypoint on about 070ᵒM.
Tuesday 2nd May
The wind gradually increased during the second half of the night and by dawn I was considering reefing but laziness got the better of me for a few of hours. By 0930 it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the right balance of the various Angus adjustments and the sheet tensions to steer a steady course and I finally put two reefs in the main. That made matters much easier. At noon we were 142 nautical nearer our Bermuda Waypoint which inevitably meant we’d sailed an even greater distance. Not bad at all.
The wind gradually eased after midday day and at 1530 after an afternoon nap I shook out the reefs from the main. The wind continued to rise and fall somewhat in strength such that a couple of times we wandered off course a couple of times when Angus got confused (he needs adjusting when the amount of weather helm changes a lot – and that happens with significant changes in wind strength) and I was fearful of it dying to inconsequential levels. Happily, however, as at the time of writing -1940 - that did not happen and we continued to sail more or less on course at around 5 knots give or take.
Dinner comprised frankfurters from West End,fried with onions and garlic (from Havana) and green pepper (from West End) and sweet potatoes from Havana and the last of the Yellow Yam from Jamaica – that certainly keeps well – cooked in the pressure cooker. It was all quite tastey!
The night passed without note or shipping.
Wednesday 3rd May
 At 0730 I noticed we had exactly 200 NM to go to our Way Point. A little later I also noticed that the new tiller line to Angus on the Starboard side was already fraying where it went through the cockpit block. I’d used a slightly thicker line than the previous one and it was clearly rubbing on the frame of the block. I therefore replaced both the Starboard and the Port the blocks (which had been showing signs of wear for some time) with the two new ones which were slightly larger and which I’d bought at great expense in Fort De France, Martinique.
For some time I’d been puzzled that our bearing to the next Way Point on the main GPS did not match with our projected track on the tablet with the Navionics software. I had set the Way Point on the Tablet and entered the co-ordinates into the GPS. After doubling checking everything I noticed one of the co-ordinates was a degree out but even after correcting that they did not match up. Suddenly it dawned on me – I was entering ‘True’ co-ordinates from Navionics into the GPS which was set to Magnetic – a difference of some 12ᵒ at our current location increasing to 14ᵒaround Bermuda. I decided the simplest thing to do was to set the GPS unit to ‘True’ and take the difference into account when steering my compass – which is not often.
By midday we were 152 NMs closer to our Waypoint since midday yesterday. Another record for Arctic Smoke (albeit I am sure, current assisted). The previous best I recall was during the Atlantic crossing which we equalled yesterday.
Good news too with respect to both an antique piece of boat equipment and the weather. When I bought Arctic Smoke, built in 1974, she came complete with a 1970/80s NAVTEX unit. The system is still operational today and allows one to receive weather and other information in text format over VHF frequencies. Most of the world’s coastlines are covered and some ocean areas within 300 or so miles of a transmitter. Today’s units however are all solid state. Arctic Smoke’s unit is very similar to the first Word-processor screens and displays green text. I had in the past had it working intermittently but had more or less given up on it prior to the Atlantic crossing. Prior to the crossing I had to either remove or re-site the Antenna because it fouled Angus’s wind vane on certain points of sailing. I decided to re-site it “just in case” and unsurprisingly given it’s age discovered that the cable to the antenna was severely corroded along a significant length. By removing as much as possible from the antenna end of the cable I uncovered cable that looked like it might just be capable of carrying a signal. Mick was very dubious at the time but I re-assembled it all and hoped for the best. Well we never received anything! After Mick had left Jamaica, I had another ferret around and noticed that the connection between the receiver and the other end of the cable was loose. Without any great confidence I tightened it up. Much to my surprise that did the trick and I started to receive transmissions. They were patchy until I got to Cuba’s north coast but then pretty regular. Geography probably being the main reason. From Havana into and leaving the Bahamas I recieved regular transmissions from the USA’s Miami transmitter. This covered the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and 200 miles off Florida’s East Coast. I was still receiving these yesterday despite being more than 300 miles off shore and outside the area covered. Then to my surprise, today I started receiving transmissions from a new transmitter – St George’s which up to now I had assumed was a USA station somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard - covering the offshore area I was in. Close study of the content revealed it was from Bermuda Radio. Then the penny dropped – St George’s is the principle Port in Bermuda to which I was headed! The even better news was the weather ahead was forecast to be more of the same – South Easterly winds of 10-15 knots for the next few days (turning South West nearer the island). It seemed that the dreaded calms forecast earlier had moved off to the East and less settled weather was due to arrive at the weekend. By that time, I should be safely tucked up in St George’s Harbour.
I spent a couple of hours this afternoon examining the route options from Bermuda to the Azores. I had three sources of information on board. The first and the oldest I consulted, recommended heading North East to avoid the calms caused by the Azores High to pick up the prevailing Westerlies and the East flowing Atlantic current. The down side was that it’s longer with a significant chance of encountering shitty weather (and possibly even ice)! The second discussed two further options, the direct Great Circle route with an increased likelihood of calms due to the proximity of the Azores High, and an intermediate route. The last and most recent source, referencing 2014 data showed that ‘in fact’ there was little chance of calms along the direct Great Circle route in May in a typical year. I finished my research feeling slightly re-assured but of course what really counts is the weather prevailing at the time. We’ll just have to wait and see!
The temperatures have certainly dropped as we’ve progressed North East. I’m now wearing a T-Shirt during the day and using a light sleeping bag to cover myself during at least the early hours of the mornings.
I’m finishing up for now at around 2115 and will shortly start my 1 hour Alarm regime for the night.
I might as well not have bothered because shortly after writing the above the wind started playing silly buggers and continued to do so all night. The effects of the high pressure to the North East of Bermuda were clearly now being felt despite the earlier forecast I had received over the NAVTEX. I was up and down all night trying to get the boat to sail in little wind and sloppy seas with the sails crashing and banging as the swell from starboard continuously rolled the wind out of the sails. We crawled along roughly in the right direction at around 2 knots, my hopes of getting into St George’s tomorrow evening in the daylight completely dashed.
Thursday 4th May
The breeze steadied around dawn however and we were once again sailing smoothly in the right direction at around 5 knots – I suspect we were still being helped on our way by a knot of current.  I noted that once at Bermuda we will be 1100 miles North of our Christmas Eve landfall in Martinique. I’m not sure how many nautical miles we will have travelled since then, but perhaps another 500 or so. I will have to check it out.
By noon and despite the slow night we were nearer by another 120 nautical miles.
Shortly after noon I began considering the logistics of our approach. It was beginning to look like a speed of around 4-5k would mean arriving in the dark which was not ideal although my Pilot book stated the narrow approach channel was well lit and that entry in the dark in good weather was entirely feasible. The other factors to take into account were the state of the tide and approaching bad weather. From the information available on the Navionics navigation App, it looked as if HW would be about 0500. Ideally, I would like to enter in daylight and on the flood – I wasn’t sure how fast the ebb would run and it looked as if it would be against the wind which was forecast to strengthen. That could create a nasty chop and I didn’t fancy a repeat of the experience getting into Hemingway. I therefore decided that catching the tide and good weather were more important than daylight. At that time, no further action was required, we just needed to carry on at around the same speed. My early afternoon however we were completely becalmed once again. After waiting for a couple of hours I got the engine on and under half revs we carried on with the current at about 4 knots.
During the afternoon, with a night entrance all but assured, I tackled a job I should have done in Havana, which was to try and get the stern light working again. The light fitting was on it’s last legs and once again salt water had corroded the connections. I fought with it for a couple of hours and then gave up. Later I realised I had blown a fuse in the process and may well have repaired the connection but by that time I had taken it all apart again! We would just have to make do with the mast-head tricolour (white pointing backwards, green to starboard and red to port) which is only supposed to be used whilst sailing. Under power, a yacht is supposed to display separate navigation lights below a steaming light and with a stern light. With the stern light not working the other lights were redundant.
At 1730 local time (which it turned out was an hour ahead of thought I thought because of the use of summer daylight saving time which was not mentioned in the Pilot Book) we had about 30 miles and so as required I called up Bermuda Radio to inform them of our coming arrival and warned them that we would only be displaying our tricolour light.
The wind returned in fits and starts from about 2030 with us sailing for a short spells and then motoring. Finally, around 2300 it filled in properly and we had a very pleasant night sail up the South East coast of Bermuda.
Friday 5th May
The wind died again at around 0230. I would have been turning it on for our final approach at about 0330 anyway and therefore it was no great frustration to do so an hour earlier. The approach was well lit and so coupled with being able to ‘see’ the boat on the Navionics chart plotter, the entrance was reasonably straight forward. It did seem very narrow however! I cleared with Customs and Immigration around 0500 and got the Anchor down at 0530 and headed for my bunk.

Passage completed.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Hemingway Marina, Havana, Cuba to Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End Grand Bahama Island
22nd April

With Dave’s help I left the berth at 0700 and motored to get fuel and then on to clear customs. I was done by 0800 and motored out of the channel through the reef which was a lot calmer than it had been on my way in. The plan was to head for either Bimini or direct to West End depending on whether it was daylight or not by the time I was off Bimini.

We sailed well North Eastwards under full sail until about 1700 when the wind died and thunder storms starting erupting all around. None were directly overhead but the lightening was sufficiently close for me to deploy the lightening conductor. I sincerely hoped it would not be tested. It was also pissing with rain and the sea was still very sloppy, we therefore rolled around making about 3 knots under power. There was also a lot of shipping about and being under power I sometimes had to take avoiding action. It was a thoroughly miserable couple of hours.

By 1900 the wind had returned and quite fresh too and so two reefs went in the main. There were still numerous thunder storms around and it was still pissing with rain but we were sailing once again and on course for Bimini. As dusk fell a large Eagle like bird kept on trying to land on top of the mast and I was fearful that it might damage the VHF antenna which was already slightly bent due to an argument with a tree in Amsterdam in 2012! Eventually after numerous aborted landings and about 30 minutes it gave up and went elsewhere.

23rd April

The  wind increased in force such that I was forced to put in a third reef at 0100. I was glad I had rigged the pennants to by-pass the first reefing point in Jamaica so that now the first reef was actually two reefs and I could put the third reef in without having to mess around with re-running the pennants – not something you really want to have to do when the wind is getting up. I had a bit of a problem with Angus during this period. I still had the large vane on – which in these conditions was too big – but I did not fancy hanging off the back of the boat to change it. Angus kept slipping so that I constantly had to adjust him to bring us back closer to the wind. I think the wind resistance provided by the bigger vane was the problem. It still occurred even after I had tightened the friction wing nuts using pliers.

The wind eased during the course of the night such that by 0830 we needed full sail once again. I messed up big time – or rather messed up at some earlier point without noticing. To my horror as I shook the reefs out the mast end of the first reefing pennant disappeared into the boom. The stop knot had clearly not been tied properly and had untied itself. Now I had no means of using the first reefing point and it was going to be a devil of a job to re-reeve the pennant through the boom. Indeed it may require dismantling the boom itself, obviously not something that could be done at sea. Clearly that was not a tenable situation. Fortunately, I had some spare blocks (pulleys) and was therefore able to use 2 of these to rig the pennant on the outside of the boom. That sorted things for now.

By 1230 despite no increase in the wind our speed was up from 6 knots to over 8. We were clearly getting a very considerable lift from the Gulf Stream. Shortly afterwards the nearby eastern sky was ominously black and we were skirting a very large thunderstorm. By 1430 the wind had died completely and I the engine on. We were still making 6 knots over the ground despite using only mid revs on the engine which would normally produce about 3 knots. By 1630 the wind was back and we were making 8 knots once again.  It was now clear that we would be off Bimini in the dark and I therefore decided to carry on direct to West End. At 1730 the wind freshened and backed requiring two reefs and preventing us from laying West End! At 2000 I tacked to head north. By 2200 we were becalmed again and so the engine went back on and we headed directly for West End. By 2330 the breeze was back and we were able to lay West End. 

We were only about 30 miles East of Miami around this time and I could see the loom of the city lights to the West. It seemed strange that I was so near the USA but that I would not after-all set foot on it's territory during this trip. 

24th April

Around 0630 we had a too close for comfort encounter with a ship that was heading directly for us only a mile off. For some reason he did not show on the AIS until then. This encounter heralded a plethora of shipping and I was kept on my toes making sure we had no further incidents. By mid afternoon the breeze was on the wane once more and by 1530 it was clear we would need to motor if we were to make West End before dark. I’m glad we did because of course by the time we were approaching the harbour the wind was back and there was quite a swell running in the very narrow entrance channel that did not open up until we were right on top of it. I would not have liked to have tried that in the dark. Thankfully, we were moored up safe and sound by 1930.

Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End

A pretty marina/resort with a beautiful beach. Very expensive however. $66 a night plus $15 a day for water whether or not one used any.

For me, only making a short stopover in the Bahamas the additional $150 for the required cruising permit made it a very expensive stop. They did though have wifi and an internet connection that worked enabling me to catch up on communications with family and friends. I ate ashore once - $14 for a decent Cheeseburger and Chips at the Beach Bar. On day two, Scott and Laurie from the USA, on board Whiskey’s Whisper (one of the few boats I have come across that is smaller than Arctic Smoke) invited me for dinner which I gratefully accepted. Scott advised me on the best route to take across the little Bahama Bank and we had a most enjoyable evening. On day three I took a bike ride (bikes and use of the pool were included in the price of the Marina) into the West End settlement to do some shopping. It had been devastated by Hurricane Matthew in October and the locals were still very much in the recovery phase.

The Marina/Resort had been hit too but by comparison got off lightly. In West End, numerous buildings, people’s homes had been completely destroyed and many others were very badly damaged.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Visas bloody Visas, Havana, Friends, on-board Technology and Next Steps (Wednesday 19th April)

I started writing this on Saturday 14th April but it may not get posted until much later due to the sudden unavailability of the internet cards one needs to buy to get access to the internet.

Today has been one of the less enjoyable days here. It’s been the second successive day I have spent trying to extend my Cuban Visa. On arrival one is issued with a Visa which is valid for 30 days and which can be renewed for a further 30 days. My initial Visa expires on Monday and so I had set out early on Friday morning to renew it. As far as I could tell having read several tourist web sites the process is rather cumbersome requiring the purchase of special stamps from a bank which one then has to take to the Immigration Office along with Passport, travel insurance and details of one’s itinerary. They all warned it would take a long time. I had found what I thought was the address of the Immigration office but suddenly remembered it was Good Friday and then established that Friday and Monday were National holidays here in Cuba like many other places – the likelihood of the office being open seemed remote. I therefore changed decided to visit the Port Customs/Immigration office at the entrance to the Marina in the hope they could shed some light on the process. Fortunately another Yachty, Peter, was good enough to lend me his bike because it was quite a trek to the Port Office.

It turned out that the address I had was no longer valid and I got some rather vague directions from the local chap who was not sure whether the office would be open or not. I decided to go in search of it because it would at least be one step forward to locate the office whether closed or open. The local chap also told me there was no need to buy a stamp from the bank because the Immigration Office would undertake the whole process. Encouraging, or so I thought at the time.

Back at Peter’s boat, he offered me the loan of his bike once more which turned out to be an absolute blessing. On arriving in the area to which I had been directed there was no sign of the Office. Fortunately I stumbled across a government official of some sort who knew where it was and gave my directions (in Spanish of course which I did not understand but I got the general drift). After another half an hour of peddling, 2 Policemen and various locals later I finally found the Office. It was closed but I was told it would be open in the morning.

I headed back to the Marina and returned Peter’s bike did a few small jobs on the boat and went out with Dave and Kimberly for a meal in the nearby town. It was our second visit to the simple restaurant there. The food was very simple but extremely cheap. The three of us ate for less than £10. After that we watched one of the films that Laurent had given me in Cayo Largo – Babel. Good but heavy going.

Today  (Saturday 16th) I was up early at 0700 and got a taxi to the Immigration Office and arrived at 0830. Despite the early hour there was a long que already, I took a seat and settled down for the wait. After a while I noticed that the other people already had stamps with their documents. After a period of indecision I decided I best go and get one. It turned out that there was a bank only five minutes’ walk away so I should be back fairly soon.

Ha, ha. I was in the que in the Bank for nearly two and a half hours. There were only two counters staffed (it was a Saturday) and the first to Customers appeared to be conducting business transactions because they both took more than 30 minutes to conduct their business with stacks of paper going back and forth interspersed with resounding stamps. At last one of them finished and the lengthy que of ordinary customers gradually began to move. Finally, it was my turn. I explained I needed to buy a stamp to renew my Visa. The young man spoke some English and asked how many I wanted. I had not the faintest idea. After talking to a colleague, he asked me if I was sure I needed a stamp! Oh heck! I remember reading somewhere that the cost of the stamp was 25 CUC PESO and eventually I left having purchased 25 CUC’s worth of stamps. The only way I would know for sure whether I needed the stamps would be once back at the Immigration Office. By now it was 1100. I was back at the Office by 1110 only to be told that it was now closed but would be open again on Monday. By now I was thoroughly fed up. I walked back to the Marina and spent an equally fruitless afternoon trying to make up mosquito nets for the hatches and companion way. After two hours with the netting, elastic and needle and thread I manage to construct a completely useless net and gave up on the whole project.

Dave had come round to ask if I would like to go into Havana again with him and Kimberly but I was too knackered and hacked off and so declined.

It seems that rather too much of my stay here has been given over to battling with bureaucracy. Over previous days I had spent numerous hours trying to apply for a VISA for the USA. I only found out some weeks ago that because I was travelling on a private boat I was not covered by the ESTA which I had got before leaving Spain. Stopping off in Florida would be useful both from a passage planning perspective and in order to provision the boat fully. It was not to be however. The combination of the very unreliable internet connections and the painful VISA application form meant I had spent many hours on the process. Having at last completed the form I could request an appointment. And guess what – the earliest appointment available was August 17th! No stopover in Florida for me.

The above aside the stay here has been most enjoyable.

Dave and Kimberly have more or less adopted me and the three of us have spent a lot of time together. So far we have been into Havana twice and on both occasions we did a mixture of the classic tourist locations and also the ‘real’ Havana where the locals live and go about their business. Old Havana has been restored to its former glory but the restoration process elsewhere is proceeding at a far slower pace. Outside Old Havana one is in a third world city with crumbling buildings and streets strewn with rubble. In some streets nearly every other doorway seems to house a little enterprise of some sort – some just selling bric a brac, others more established shops and services including nail salons. Some of them are squeezed into doorways of only a few square feet, others are in stairwells disappearing into the crumbling building above. The people are for the most part cheerful despite the very considerable hardships of day to day life. Rationing is still a fact of live in Cuba and therefore most ordinary people have to make do with very spartan supplies of basic goods at subsidised prices which, if they can afford it, they can top up at market prices at the numerous independent retailers that have sprung up in recent years.

Crossing into restored Old Havana, one crosses from the third world into what could be a Rome or a Paris or any other historic city centre in Europe. Of course the specific architecture is unique but the general feeling of the place the same. There are posh shops numerous bars and restaurants and the historic sites to admire. One of the landmarks on the edge of old Havana is El Floridita Cocktail Bar made famous by Hemingway who frequented it during his Cuban period. They do make very good cocktails, especially the ‘Daiquiri’ and on the two occasions we were there they had excellent life music too. As well as drinking in famous bars we visited the equally famous Ice Cream parlour, Cappolia and the Chocolate factory XXXX. Of course we had to sample the goods at both.

Havana is packed with of all sorts of classic America cars from Chevy’s to Buicks and everything in between. Some are in almost mint condition but most are unsurprisingly showing their age. There must be a lot of ingenuous mechanics in Havana. Nearly all seem to operate as Taxis of one sort or another and sometimes it feels like almost every Cuban is associated with a Taxi when one is repeatedly asked, “Taxi Sir?”

Tomorrow we’re off to the world-famous Tropicana Club to see a show.

Last week I got to know my immediate neighbour, a fascinating Frenchman, Phillipe. He too was sailing single-handed on a similar sized but modern boat. He’s an ex computer programmer turned Personal Development teacher. The night before he left we all (me, Phillipe, Dave and Kimberly) went out for a meal in the cheap restaurant in the local town – Jaimanitas and then back to his boat where we yarned and drank rum for a few hours. It was a most enjoyable evening – one of those special ones which encapsulate the comradeship of the cruising life. Phillipe is heading up the Eastern Seaboard of the US as far as Boston and will then cross back to France via the Azores in June so there is a chance we may meet up again there.
Oh and I finally got my Visa extended on Monday after hours of yet more queing!

On Saturday I met Daniel and Anna a Brazilian/Scottish couple from their boat Noomi. They have been cruising for the last couple of years and will be heading up the Eastern seaboard too when the weather allows. We shared a bottle of wine and stories on Arctic Smoke and had a very pleasant evening.

I’m planning on leaving round about the 20th if the weather co-operates. Agustin, Port Officer for the Ocean Cruising Club in Gran Canaria, is by complete coincidence flying in to Havana on the 17th for work (he’s an Aeroplane Engineer) and we’re meeting up on the 19th. It’s proved to be most fortuitous that he’s coming because the main Tablet I use for detailed coastal navigation with Navionics software, failed in Cayo Levisa. That itself was a replacement that my son Vincent brought over to Jamaica. Agustin is therefore bringing two replacements with him which with my existing fall back tablet will mean I’ll have three which should be enough to get me home.

Yesterday (Tuesday 18th) I had another day out in Havana with Daniel and Anna from Noomi. We took local buses into town which though crowded were extremely good value – just a few pence each to cover the 10 or so miles into town. We visited the Art Museum – a bit too modern for my taste – had a good lunch and just explored the city on foot.

The winds have been blowing from the East/North East pretty hard for most of the time since arriving here and I could really do with them going South East before I leave. Headwinds against the North East flowing Gulf stream would make for a very uncomfortable and slow passage. The talk on the grapevine amongst the yachties is that the winds are forecast to go South East towards the end of week which would be good for me. My likely route now that Florida is out will be to Bimini about 250 miles which with fair winds would be a 2-day passage. From there to West End on Grand Bahama, about 60 miles, a 1 day trip and then on to Bermuda, about 800 miles which should take between 5 to 10 days depending on the winds. Weather permitting, I’ll only be making short stops in the Bahamas because I’m due to pick up Tom in Bermuda for the onward passage to the Azores.

Reflections on Cuba (from Old Bahama Bay Marina, Grand Bahama Island)

The Man!
And so, on the morning of Saturday 22nd April it was time to leave the strangest and most complicated country I have ever visited. I had coveted Cuba as my ultimate destination for so long and at times it had seemed so unlikely that I would actually make it, that to be leaving after experiencing only a small fraction of the landscape, beauty, desolation, colour, squalor, bureaucracy, music, history and people, left me feeling a little flat and a little disappointed. I had experienced crystal clear waters and a couple of enchanting anchorages and the beautiful beaches at Cayo Largo and Cayo Levisa, and I had snorkelled below the waves a few times and it was delightful, but the slow cruise around the south and north west coasts that I had imagined where I would snorkel on pristine reefs and swim every day for days on end, vanished under the demands of time and weather. Cuba has a huge coastline replete with numerous islands and reefs – a cruiser’s paradise, but I now realise a month is just nowhere near long enough to explore all that, AND do Havana AND do the interior - which I never did.

As always when sailing anywhere especially rocky reef strewn coastlines, the weather is the primary factor. In order to make my rendezvous with Tom in Bermuda in mid-May, I had decided it would be prudent to leave Havana in mid-April – that should give me enough time to visit a couple of the Bahamas on route. I planned to spend a week in Havana before leaving and therefore in theory I had three weeks to explore the coast between Cabo Cruz in the South East and Havana in the North West. That’s roughly 500 miles of coastline ignoring all the squiggly bits. The first 225 from the Anchorage at Cabo Cruz (where I had headed from Jamaica to wait for a change in the winds and where I had to stay on the boat) to Cienfuegos, I had to do in one hop because that is where I had opted to ‘check-in’ to Cuba. There are only a limited number of Ports where one can do that and only after checking-in can one go ashore. Indeed, strictly speaking I should not even have anchored there, but I got away with that.

Fish for Rum at Cabo Cruz
Cienfuegos is a sizeable town (but nowhere near the size of Havana) and I spent eight days there including a day trip to Trinidad which was a delight) exploring the place, listening to live music and simply experiencing Cuba. 

Town Square

Dancers Posing

Street Games

I also made friends with Laurent the Frenchman and went out a number of times with him and another friend he had made. Eight days was longer than I had planned on staying but I needed to wait for fair winds. From there it was a day hop to the tiny island of Cayo Guana de Estate for an overnight stop and then another day hop to Cayo Largo with its gorgeous beach, and rather scrappy holiday resort.

The Beach at Tropical Island, Cayo Largo

Laurent arrived there the day after I did and we spent a very enjoyable 5 days exploring the beach and resort together and just generally hanging out.

Laurent the Action Man
Then a day hop to Cayo Rosario followed immediately by another to Cayo Matias and another to the beautiful, Ensada Puerto Frances where I indulged in nude snorkelling in crystal clear waters. The next leg was to be a much longer and challenging one south of Isle De La Juventud (Isle of Youth) and round Cuba’s most Western cape, Cabo San Antonio. The seas off the cape can be very nasty in Westerly to Northerly Winds and even in the prevailing Easterlies my sailing guide book urged caution. With time marching on and the wind in the East I therefore decided to by-pass the enticing island chain of the Cayos De San Felipe to the North West of the Isle Dela Juvented and round the cape. A day and a half later I was anchored at Cayos De Lena. Not a pretty place but with lovely local fishermen who traded fish and lobster for rum.

The enchanting Golfo De Guanahacabibies lay ahead with the possibility of days of island hopping but the weather forecast warned of north easterlies arriving within the next few days and so I opted to make ground while I could and sailed outside the reef up to Cayo Levisa. Ironically, I was sheltered from the swell by being outside the reef in fresh south easterly winds and made great progress. Cayo Levisa was a jewel and where I met Dave and Kimberly who adopted me and we had great times together there and in Havana, but once again the weather forced me to make ground while I could. 

The north easterlies were delayed by 48 hours but the forecast showed them then entrenched for at least another week, so we spent one night there only and headed eastwards again. I made the passage to Havana in one hop whilst Dave and Kimberly did it in two. 

Arctic Smoke in Hemingway Marina, Havana
My two weeks in Havana are summarised in an earlier post, suffice to say it is one of the most intriguing cities I have visited. 

A typical Havana street

Cuba's Capitoli with Dave in foreground

Street art in Havana

The Cradle of the Daiquiri - inside Floridita - one of the haunt's made famous by Hemingway

Yet again though I left feeling I had not done it justice. I never got to the Museum of the Revolution. The day I was there with newly made friends Daniel and Anna who had sold up and sailed, the que was so long we bypassed it and went to the Art Museum instead. Nor did I get to Hemingway’s House Museum, although I did manage to get to Floridita a few times - the Daiquiri's were great!

Daniel and Anna outside the Museum of the Revolution, Havana
However, with Dave and Kimberly we did see a lot of Havana on foot and took in two Iconic shows – the Tropicana and the Buna Vista Social Club. The first an amazing extravaganza of dance and scantily clad – mostly female flesh, the second, simply wonderful Cuban music that got even this stick in the mud off his bum to dance.

Buna Vista Social Club
Cuban bureaucracy is second to none in its complexity, slowness and inefficiency and Cuban internet access is simply awful. The combination of the two equals hell on earth. My painful experience of trying and failing to get a US visa and only just succeeding in renewing my Cuban visa are also related in my Havana posting.

The most special experience of my time in Havana however, was the evening spent with Dave, Kimberly and new friend, Phillipe the night before he left Havana. We all went for a simple meal at a local restaurant in the village next to the Marina (which is about 10 miles East of the city) and then returned to Phillipe's boat for rum and yarning. I took my bottle of St Kitts rum - which went down very well.

Me, Phillipe, Kimberly, Dave and two of the locals
A fellow sailor has asked me whether I would recommend Cuba as a cruising destination. My answer is “Yes most definitely but……”

Sunset at Cayo Largo

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Arrived Hemingway Marina, Havana

It's Saturday morning the 8th April and I've just had my first hot shower for goodness knows how long having spent a couple of hours checking in with the various authorities and getting the boat moored up here at Hemmingway Marina, Havana.

My previous stop was at the idyllic little island of Cayo Levisa about 60 miles west of here. [I still can't get used to the fact that after months of going west I'm now going East, the sunrises and sunsets seem back to front!]

I arrived there on Thursday morning after a day and night at sea from Cayos De la Lena just inside be Cuba's South West Cape, Cabo Santanio. The highlight of that stop was not the scenery but the delightful local fishermen with whom I exchanged a bottle of rum, two baseball caps and two razors in exchange for 3 fish and a  lagustine. Despite our inability to speak eachother's language we spent a couple of hours "chatting".

The sail from there to Cayo Levisa took about 24 hours and included two hours of record breaking sailing for Arctic Smoke during which her speed did not drop below 7 knots and some anxious moments in some very shallow water in the approach to the Anchorage. It was however very sheltered flat water.

On the way in I was passed by a Catarmaran that turned out to be named Island Girl captained by Dave with his crew Kimberly. Dave very kindly ferried me ashore having spotted I apparently had no dinghy to do the paperwork and the three of us spent the rest of the afternoon and evening together and indeed the following morning.

Ideally, I would have spent a few days at Cayo Levisa. A beautiful little island with a small resort complex by far the best kept facility any of us had come across in Cuba. A couple of lazy days on the beach and snorkeling in the crystal      seemed in order. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. The updates from Mick via my Yellow Brick confirmed we had two days of NNE/NE winds on Friday and Saturday before the wind settled in the East and fresh for at least another week. We would either have to move immediately or risk being wind bound for a week or more. We decided to move. First we had to clear out with the authorities which involved tracking the local guys down and then going through the paperwork again. I wasn't ready either and had to rush around getting the boat ready. We had agreed a
1200 noon departure and I wanted to go out together because the passage involved some pretty shallow water and a reef pass and if anything went amiss it would be good to  have company. All went fine until we got to the reef pass where we had to head north into a north easterly wind. It got very, very lumpy and poor old Arctic Smoke could only just make 2k over the ground. After about an hour we got out into deep water and I decide to head off NW on the starboard tack to get away from the coast before tacking east. After about three hours and nearly fifteen miles I decided we had made enough ground to windward to enable us to tack and it was with some relief that I found we were indeed able to lay our desired course.

I settled down on a close reach under two reefs until dusk when the wind eased considerably and with Mick’s forecast information predicting 10 knots I decided to shake out the reefs. For most of the rest of the night we went along pretty comfortably at between 4 and 5 knots albeit in some fairly big seas. The wind increased again around 0300 and we were off again at 6+ knots. The GPS was predicting we’d be off the fairway buoy around 0700 which was pretty good timing because entry to Hemingway in the dark was not advised.

By 0500 the wind was up a further notch and we were on the edge of needing a reef but laziness won out, thankfully without any adverse con whichsequences other than the boat steering a rather erratic course as we approached the Fairway buoy. The buoy is located about half a mile off the cut through the reef which is marked by starboard and port hand stakes. It’s the only way in so if you miss the buoy and get any closer inshore you’re on the reef. Fortunately I located the buoy about a mile out in what were already rather big seas. The next challenge was getting the boat ready to dock. The Pilot book says you need to be ready to dock with Customs immediately on entry and I took that literally which on reflection was pretty dim. Getting the fenders and warps out and in place, Angus off and stowed and the sails down with the boat dancing all over the place was not very pleasant. After getting the fenders out whilst still underway my brain kicked in and we hove too to complete the rest of the chores. That made life manageable if still bouncy. The last job was getting the sails furled because whilst I could have done with some extra propulsion to get into port I was not sure how much room there would be and the thought of careering into a strange port at 6k with possibly no stopping room, was slightly more worrying than the prospect of not being able to make enough way with AS’s 10HP Buhk. The possibility of it conking out was also something I worried about. If it did I would have to get some Genoa out bloody quickly or we’d be on the reef in no time.

So we were hove to a mile down wind of the reef/pass – which at least meant we would not get blown on to the reef whilst sorting out the sails but it did mean that we’d get blown off even further whilst sorting out the sails. I got the engine on and furled the Genoa and then tackled the main. Thankfully even with no sail up, with the tiller lashed to leeward AS continued to lie (relatively) comfortably hove to whilst I got the mainsail down and roughly stowed. However by the time I had sorted all that out we were a mile and half away from the fairway buoy and even flat out AS was barely making 2 k. So nearly an hour later we were close to the buoy and I could see the channel markers leading into the marina. The pilot warned of cross currents between the buoy and the first channel markers. Another yacht was coming out as we were going in it was probably 45 feet longer and very likely packed a far bigger punch that AS’s 10 HP Buhk but I could see it was being tossed all over the place as it came out of the channel, by this time we were passing through the reef and the cross currents were playing merry hell with AS, twisting her one way and then the other. The channel was about x metres wide but felt considerably narrower. As I struggled to keep AS in the centre of the channel and out of the way of the approaching yacht the cross currents continued to play with AS. Thankfully the wind was now abaft the beam and so we were making better progress and within 15 minutes or so we were in the quieter waters of what turns out to be a huge marina and very shortly after that moored up on the Customs dock to go through all the formalities yet again. Despite the office being well equipped with computers everything was done on paper and yet again, the officials diligently asked me the same questions and completed the same forms as at the other ports of entry. The whole process took about an hour which apparently is fast track compared with a few years ago. On completion I was told where to head for in the marina where I also had to check in to and then finally I was visited by the Health Officials – they had slightly different roles and different forms but eventually I was done with them too.

Whilst I was tidying up the boat (a bit) the security guard came over for a chat. Once he had established I was on my own he appeared even more interested and hung around after our pleasantries were over. It turned out he had an ulterior

First he asked me if I wanted a ‘cheek’ for tomorrow. When I made it clear I didn’t understand he used his phone to translate. The translation of ‘cheek’ was ‘small’! I was even more confused until the penny dropped – he was saying ‘Chick’. After I turned him down he came back a few minutes later with an even more confusing translation on his phone. It seemed to include a word that looked very much like “anus”! I got the drift and refused again at which point he laughed and finally walked off.

After that encounter I had my shower and a light lunch and started writing this up whilst keeping a lookout for Dave and Kimberly on Island Girl. They arrived at around 1500 and we were both very glad to see we had all come through the passage safely, particularly the bumpy entrance into Hemmingway.

May go into town with Dave and Kimberly tomorrow.