Cuba Prep Update!

ERRNNGH.  ERRNGH.  We interrupt your regularly-scheduled program for this important announcement:

Phillip and I just filed our Permit to Enter Cuba!

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Hey crew!  I thought I would take a short break from the Atlantic-crossing saga to get you all a bit up-to-date with our current planning for the Cuba trip this winter and what’s been going on with the boat.  Patrons are already aware of this through their weekly “Patron’s Extras,” but since they’re getting the complete 2-HOUR Trans-At movie tomorrow, I figured they wouldn’t mind me sharing again with you all here ; ).  Let’s dig in.

Our New Rig:

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So, the second mast pull.  That’s coming out on the video this Friday, the reason for it and what we learned in the process.  While it was very disheartening news for Phillip and I to hear, just a few short weeks after we had splashed back from spending the winter on the hard, it ended up (as most things that initially appear to be set-backs) being a not-so-devastating hurdle and another great learning experience for the two of us.  I had a lot of fun making this week’s video on it and watching Video Annie go up the mast time and again as well as flail and kick and curse at the top.  That’s just pure fun.  I hope you all enjoy the video and learn a little in the process.

Going through all of that footage also inspired me to make another video for you all soon covering everything Phillip and I have learned both in the shipyard and with the second mast pull about how to DIY inspect, repair and even replace (if necessary) your rigging.  Wait till you see what happened with our new hi-mod mechanical fittings …

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You’ll see in the next two videos that, unbeknownst to us, our re-rig was not yet complete when we left the shipyard back in March, but after some more sweaty DIY hours were devoted, she is NOW officially done, stronger than ever and ready to take us to Cuba and anywhere else we want to go over the next ten years.

Heavy Weather Sail Planning:

Once we got all the new rigging in order, our next step was our sail plan.  We wanted to make sure we had all possible options for sailing in heavy winds in case we found ourselves in a serious storm out in the Gulf, this was primarily important as we recently decided to sail straight to Cuba when we toss the lines this December.  Cuba is the destination we want most to reach and explore this winter and while we’ve hopped along the west coast of Florida before (and love it), this time Phillip and I want to undertake and accomplish our longest offshore passage just the two of us.  We also want to get to Cuba as soon as safely possible, so it is the destination of priority.   If the Atlantic-crossing did anything for me and Phillip, it was to confirm our mere belief at the time that we would enjoy long offshore passages.  We LOVED each of the 4,600 nautical miles we covered from Florida to France, and we are excited to put those kinds of blue-water miles under our own hull, just the two of us.

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So, we’re going to do it.  Toss the lines in Pensacola and shoot straight for Cuba in (hopefully) a safe, smooth five-day run, our longest yet on the Niagara.  The best way to ensure we have a safe passage is to make sure we, the boat and our sails are ready for whatever Mother Nature sees fit to throw out us out there in the sometimes tumultuous, unpredictable Gulf.  Hence, the heavy weather sail planning:

Our main sail on the boat is rather new.  We replaced it in early 2014 in anticipation of our sail to the Florida Keys that spring.

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We had two reefs in the main, rigged with one line at the mast that pulls the tack down to both Reef 1 and Reef 2 from the cockpit, as well as two separate lines that pull the main down to Reef 1 and Reef 2 at the clew, also operated from the cockpit.  We have been very pleased with this system as we marked each of the lines the spot for Reef 1 with blue tape and Reef 2 with red tape.  That way we just drop the main to its mark then pull the reef lines to theirs, all from the cockpit, making the procedure fast and safe.

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One additional option we wanted to add, however, was a third reef point in our main sail for the Cuba trip.  It was actually John Kretschmer—in a seminar he gave at the Miami Boat Show we went to back in February, 2015—who said: “The first thing I always do when I’m prepping a boat for delivery across the Atlantic is have the owner put a third reef in the main.”  That has stuck with Phillip and I ever since—as did many things Kretschmer said (like how much fun it is to cross the Atlantic going east on the northern route, that particularly influenced Phillip’s decision to join as crew on Andanza this past June).  Once again, thank you Kretschmer for sharing your sailing knowledge and experience.

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With this advice in mind, Phillip and I got with our local sailmaker—Hunter with Schurr Sails in Pensacola—and talked to him about putting a third reef in our main.  I also got a really cool tour of his sail loft in the process.  Don’t worry, this will all be coming out in a “How to Rig Your Boat for Heavy Weather Sailing” video soon.

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We got the main back from Hunter two weeks ago and took it out to Ft. McRee where we raised her up to the third reef to get a feel for how much (or should I say how little) sail that is and re-ran the reefing lines back in ourselves (a good lesson).  It was cool to truly understand how these systems work in order to repair or re-configure them if need be while we are underway.

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Case in point, one of the things Hunter told us about the third reef he put in the main was that (in anticipation of heavy weather) we could re-run the reefing lines to be able to pull down to the 2nd and 3rd reef from the cockpit (as opposed to the 1st and 2nd as it is run now) and we can do that now that we have learned how the reefing lines are run.  Alternatively, Phillip and I have also discussed merely using sturdy nylon straps or ties around the boom to tie in the 3rd reef, a fool-proof time-tested method but also one that must be executed up on deck, potentially in heavy weather, so we may follow our sailmaker’s advice and run the 2nd and 3rd reef ahead of time.  These are all contingencies we are trying to think through and plan for ahead of time in case we do find ourselves in heavy weather in the Gulf, but it is neat to see some of the things we are learning while merely out-rigging our boat for offshore sailing that will translate to some seriously-handy skills when we’re out there cruising.

We also had Hunter make us a new storm sail.  In 2014, also in prep for the trip to the Keys, we had our local rigger make us an inner forestay—out of rugged, durable line—that we can rig up for heavy weather (enabling our sloop rig to convert into a cutter).  We merely have to hoist Annie up.  (It’s a good thing she loves to climb the mast!)

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I attach the inner forestay at the mast, then we attach it here to the foreward D-ring on the deck via an adjustable turnbuckle to really tighten her down.

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After we had the inner forestay rigged up in 2014, we raised our “storm sail” (from the previous owner) for the first time and Phillip found it was really far too big and flimsy to be considered a heavy weather sail.  We were surprised to find it stretched all the way back beyond the mast and seemed to be too thin of a material to proclaim itself capable of handling heavy winds.  When I took it to Hunter at Schurr Sails, looking at it and the bag, he thought it was a genoa for a Hunter 30, not in any way a “storm sail.”  Go figure.

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But, as cruisers we try to never waste!  So, Phillip had the ingenious idea to see if Hunter could convert this sail into a back-up genoa that could furl around our forestay by taking off the hanks at the luff and sewing in a the proper bead that would enable it to run up our foils on the forestay.  We knew from experience (when our genny halyard exploded on our way to Ft. Myers in 2014 and our genny fluttered uselessly to the deck) that it can be very frustrating to lose the ability to use such a powerful sail.

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While that incident was the result of a failure of the halyard, we know there is always the possibility our genoa might get snagged, ripped or otherwise irreparably damaged during our sail to Cuba and, if that occurs, it will be good to have a sail we can hoist in her stead, even if it’s not near as big or powerful.  It’s like having a spare in case you have a blow-out.  It will at least get you home (or to port).  Hunter said this would be no problem and he whipped it up for us, so we now have a back-up genny.

Regarding the storm sail, we had to decide how big (or I guess the real question is how small) we really wanted it.  Did we want a (as Hunter called it) “God Help Us” sail that was only 25% of the inner forestay triangle, or a 50% sail that would make us more comfortable in 20+ knot winds but still afford us enough speed to control the boat to get the heck out of a storm?

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Decisions, decisions …  It was a tough call as Phillip and I are definitely—after our incredible first ocean-crossing this past June—planning on crossing the Atlantic in our boat sometime in the next couple of years, so we do want gear for our boat that serves us well both on our voyage this winter as well as longer, more blue water voyages in the years to come.  We decided on a compromise and had Hunter make us a 35% sail (10oz Dacron cross-cut) that we hope will be just what we need for the Gulf-crossing this December as well as ocean-crossings in the coming years.  We haven’t pulled and tested that one out yet, but Hunter finished it last week and Video Annie was obviously excited to have it in the backseat of the car.

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A New Dinghy:

Phillip and I have been in need of a new dinghy for quite some time.  For those of you who have read my first salty saga, Salt of a Sailor, you know all-too-well what happened to our first dinghy—a fantastic 6-seater Caribe model WITH a 2-stroke, 15 hp outboard that we never got to use.  For those of you curious, check out the book on Amazon or email me for a free eCopy.  It’s a whale of a tale.

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All I will say is we will never do davits …   Thankfully for our first summer on the boat, our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor (he’s been there for us right from the start) loaned us a 4 person collapsible Achilles that has served us very well over the last few years for coastal cruising.

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Ain’t she a beaut?  Thanks again B!

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After our never-doing-that-again experience with davits and our experience with the loaner from Brandon, Phillip and I have found that we like a dinghy that can broken down and stowed below decks, particularly when we’re making a long offshore passage.  We like clean decks (as we spend a lot of time sitting up on the deck while underway, most often in our awesome Sport-a-Seats!).

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Remember they’ll give you a 15% discount if you use Promo Code HWWT2015!  Woot!  Woot!

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We also like the fact of not having another item we need to strap down and secure on deck in case we get into rough seas.  Having a dinghy that travels below decks is definitely preferred for us, so far.  When we start traveling and island hopping more (with the ability to tow our dinghy more often) we may change our minds, but at this juncture Phillip and I believe the stow-able dinghy suits us best.  And, the one Brandon had lent us—while it was a little small, probably would have suited us just fine for our cruising this winter—but the floor of the darn thing kept leaking.  Keep in mind, this dinghy is 15 years old, has been packed and unpacked (by Phillip and I alone) and run up on the beach more times than I can count.  So, she’s definitely paid her dues.  Trying to prolong her “borrowed time,” however, Phillip and I spent the better part of last summer patching her eighteen times at one point,

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and even trying to float the bottom with GFlex in order to stop the leaks.  (Brandon thought that was pretty funny.)

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No dice.  She was still taking on water.  So, we knew it was time to upgrade.  With everything I have mentioned previously about our needs and desires when it comes to a dinghy.  We decided on a 9-foot, 6-seater Achilles that collapses and stows below decks.  We debated for a while between the slats that remain in the boat when rolled up or separate floorboards that you insert while assembling.  To keep the various pieces lighter, enabling easier transfer from our aft berth in the cabin topside for inflation, we chose the floorboards.  Phillip was really excited the day the new dinghy came in!  So much so that we blew her up right there in the middle of the living room floor!

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Phillip cracked me up trying to row away from the couch!  Row, Phillip, row!

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The instructions also cracked me up depicting a very detailed “downward dog” move necessary to snap the floorboards in place.  Phillip and I found this was a pretty accurate portrayal, though, when we first blew the new dinghy up on deck and started fitting the floorboards in.  Don’t knock the downward dog!

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We tested our new dinghy out over the long Labor Day weekend and found she worked great.  We even towed her behind the boat for the first time and left her inflated at the dock when we got back.  I’m afraid we’re getting lazy!

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It was a fun rainy weekend but we had a great time anchoring first for a solitary night out at Red Fish Point, one of our absolute favorite places, then towing the dinghy west to anchor out behind Paradise Inn for a little bit of crazy beach night life.

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That’s also when we made the “Phillip’s Famous Mojito” video that I hope you all got to check out on Facebook!

 

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Great opportunity to check for leaks!

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Behind Paradise Inn (love that place)!

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Rain could never slow our “good times” train down.  No sir!

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Documentation:

Once we felt the boat, rig and safety items were pretty much handled it was time to file our Permit to Enter Cuba!   This is the permit (USCG 3300) you have to file with the United States Coast Guard to get permission to enter Cuba:

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There are twelve designations you can travel under as your purported reason for wanting to travel to Cuba, ranging from humanitarian aid and education to journalism, professional, etc.

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After speaking with several cruisers who have traveled to Cuba recently (thank Wally Moran, with SailingtoCuba.blogspot, for the chart above), many of whom have arguably far less writing credentials or intentions than me, I have decided to travel under “Journalistic Activity,” as I do plan to do many write-ups, articles and videos documenting our voyage to share with others who plan to make the same trip.  Phillip and I will let you all know as soon as we hear back from the USCG with (hopefully) approval to enter.  Do note the 3300 form is only needed to RETURN to the U.S. from Cuba.  I have been told by several sources that all you need to ENTER Cuba is a passport and boat registration.

It does make things a little difficult, however, as you have to “declare” your departure and entry dates on Form 3300 so far in advance.  We’re cruisers.  All plans are written in sand at low tide.  Apparently, the USCG doesn’t think this saying is so cute.  They want dates and final answers, and they want them now!  We’re planning to pick a date in mid-December and hope all works out.  I had a great Skype chat with Wally Moran about our plans to sail to Cuba.  Wally has co-authored a cruising guide on sailing to Cuba, Cuba Bound, and manages a VERY helpful Facebook Page (Sailing and Cruising: Cuba) devoted specifically to helping cruisers navigate their way to Cuba, and he gave me some great tips on documentation, registration and getting through Customs.  I hope I can piece together enough from that conversation and other resources to make a video on “How to Get Your Permit to Enter Cuba.”  Thank you again for taking the time to chat with me Wally!

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Life Raft:

One of the last big items on our list is the life raft.  Phillip and I are actually having Captain Yannick help us with that from France as, if you recall, he had to really scramble to buy a new one and have it shipped to Pensacola in time for our shove-off date of May 28th and, in doing so, he came across a very good deal overseas.  We’re still working out the details on that and have not yet ordered, but we are grateful to Yannick for the help and the money we will likely save due to his savvy online shopping skills.  It never ceases to amaze me the many diversely-talented people you meet while cruising and their willingness to help you along the way, and vice versa.

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Otherwise, this is our last “short list”:

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There is not too much left to do now that the boat is ready.  It’s mainly ordering and testing out some navigational aids and new communication devices.  After seeing the convenience (and pleasure) of having a Delorme on the boat for the Atlantic-crossing, with unlimited texting, enabling us to chat with friends, family, even professionals if needed, along the way, Phillip and I have decided to purchase a Delorme with likely the same or similar package as Yannick did as well as an iPad for this same purpose during our cruising this winter.  We will be sharing the tracker link as well as messaging capabilities with Patrons.  If you have enjoyed this update and would like to stay current with us as we prepare to cast off in December as well as see our movements in real time and chat with us along the way, please Become a Patron.

That pretty much brings you all up to date.  As you can see, Phillip and I are incredibly excited to be embarking on this next voyage now on our newly re-built and re-rigged boat, just the two of us.  The Atlantic crossing has only fueled our desire to travel sooner and further on our boat.  I hope the movie I made from our first ocean voyage does the same for you.  I will put it out for rent on YouTube soon for those who want to see it but would prefer not to go the Patreon route.  Watch for the announcement here.
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Oh, oh, one more exciting thing that happened this week!  Annie got her wisdom tooth pulled out!  This time NOT by pliers.  Phillip and I had to see it as fortuitous that she decided to only start painfully piercing her way through the fragile tissue of my gums once we were back onshore, although we got some good laughs imagining how the wily and resourceful Captain Yannick might have handled that at sea.  “Get me some epinephrine, some Novocain and the vice grips.”  I can assure you, he would have done it.  Thankfully, it was only four days of irritating turned intense pain then one hour of wide-eyed, wide-mouthed Annie watching needles, rods and forceps being passed before her eyes before this puppy came out.  Good times.

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This entry was posted in Boat Stuff, Countdown to Cuba, Provisioning, Videos and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cuba Prep Update!

  1. hbwsurf says:

    If I could fist bump you I would..
    Mike L Hawaii.

  2. All the things you learn when you actually go to sea! Have fun… Don’t forget to have fun. You are getting some good advice.

    We just launched and found the diesel needs to be “hauled and rebuilt.” OK. Break out another thousand. Wasted if we don’t go sailing. Short money if we go. Motivation????

    Keep well. Norm on Cape Cod

    • anniedike says:

      Oh noooo! Boats seems like scorned mistresses some times, thwarting your plans at the worst possible time. That’s kind of how we felt about our rotten stringer discover the same weekend we decided (officially) to sail to Cuba in 2016. It’s like boats can hear you making plans. I’m sorry Norman. I know that’s tough news. You’re going sailing, right? Why would you not? If the answer to that is “Of course” then what are you waiting for. Break it out! : (

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