#92: Cuba Voyage IV: Rudder on the Loose

Last time we documented power management underway, now we’re dealing with a rudder post that won’t stay … put anyway. Follow along as we fix our boat in exotic places (i.e., on the way to Cuba). You’ll also hear extensively from Phillip in this episode about preparing for a lightning storm, navigating ships at night and getting accustomed to our new electronics. We also hope we will be able to meet some of you during our travels in Florida this February. Thanks as always for your support and following along.

We Would Love to Meet You this February: Pensacola, Miami or Key West!

Hello crew!  We hate to interrupt your regularly-scheduled Cuba Series, but we wanted to send you all a special invite for an opportunity to meet up with us this February, in Pensacola, Miami and/or Key West and make sure you all are aware of some very cool opportunities we have in store for you.  As you likely know, we are commuting cruising for a bit and will be taking  a short break while we sail on s/v Libra to the Miami Boat Show.  We will be hosting and planning several get-togethers, parties and educational opportunities during that time and wanted to extend a personal invite to each of you.  We hope you can make some of these:

Send-Off Party in Pensacola, Feb. 9th:

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This was a pic from our send-off party before our voyage to Cuba back in December at a restaurant in downtown Pensacola and we’re planning a similar get-together for our send-off to the Miami Boat Show the evening of February 9, 2017.  No set time.  ‘Round happy hour’ish. At a little delightful gin joint in Pensacola called O’Riley’s on Palafox.  We’ll have some drinks, tell some tales about our recent voyage to Cuba (feel free to ask us anything!) and have a fun night out on the town before the Miami Boat Show crew gets ready to toss the lines the following morning, February 10th, headed out Pensacola Pass to Miami for the boat show.  If anyone ends up crashing in Pensacola that evening, feel free to come out to Deluna Plaza that next morning and snap some pics of Libra on her way out into Pensacola Bay to share on Facebook!  Then follow along via our Delorme tracker posts on HaveWind’s Facebook page where we will keep you updated as far as our conditions and headway during the passage, much like we did during the Cuba voyage, as we make our way, back once again, across the Gulf.  (We must like out there or something. ; )

Sail With Us to Miami on s/v Libra, Feb. 10th – 15th:

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Okay, this is a biggie, but that’s a good thing.  An offshore sail on Libra is a phenomenal experience that we would love to share with you if you have time available and can join us on the sail.  Like our recent trip across the Gulf on Libra, this sail will include a stop at the exquisite Dry Tortugas, weather permitting, or Key West on the way to Miami.  Phillip and I here, snorkeling at Ft. Jefferson.  Such a cool place!

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I have included a fun video below for you all from our recent sail to give you a flavor of what this voyage entails.  The dates are Feb. 10th – 15th, $2,750 pp and includes tickets to the Miami Boat Show (all days) and all passage expenses.  You can also stay on the boat the evening of Feb. 9th before castoff on the 10th.  Just as the boat show is a great experience to help you learn more about boats, meet other cruisers, absorb engaging, educational seminars from some very experienced sailors, a sail on Libra is all of that, but hands-on, on the water.  We hope some of you can join us.  There are still a few bunks available; enter promo code HWWT for a $500 discount.  Book at http://www.saillibra.com/join-a-sail/.

 

Meet Us at the Miami Boat Show, Feb. 16th – 20th (particularly Feb. 17th!):

Who’s already planning to go to the Miami Boat Show?  Sweet!  We can’t wait to meet you there!

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Phillip and I went to the Miami Boat Show in 2015 for the all the reasons most folks new to (or dreaming about) cruising do: to learn more about boats, products, rigging, sail tactics, navigation, weather routing, you name it!  The Boat Show is also where I made some very rewarding and long-lasting connections with many cruisers I now call very good friends, including Pam Wall and Bob Bitchin’!  Phillip and I, as well as Captain Ryan, will be on Libra many of the days during the show talking with boat show attendees and sharing stories from our recent offshore voyages, including both of our recent trips to Cuba, as Libra plans to make that run again in April 2017 in the second annual Pensacola a la Habana race.  In particular, we will be hosting a fun meet-and-greet style get-together on Libra, Pier 2 at Miamarina at the Miami Boat Show February 17, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. where we will serve drinks, snacks, have music and my fiery friend, Hanna, and I will do some aerial silks performances.  Please come!

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Hanna was one of my first silks instructors, the first person I ever saw doing silks on a sailboat (which totally inspired me) and the person who made it possible for me to go race in the Abacos Regatta back in 2015.  I’m serious!  Story here.  She’s a huge part of my sailing/silking career and I can’t wait for you all to meet her.  Thanks again, Hanna, for agreeing to come “hang out” with us : ) during the show!

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Attend My Seminar at the Show, Feb. 20th:

It’s official!  I’m speaking at the Miami Boat Show, and I am so honored to be listed right there among my many idols–Nigel Calder, Pam Wall, Chris Parker–whose seminars I attended wide-eyed and eager just a few short years ago.  I will be speaking about my “First Time Across the Atlantic,” sharing our reflections on a first time ocean-crossing and lessons learned that are applicable to all passages.

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I hope all of you who will be at the show still on Monday can attend.  In addition, please help me make my presentation the absolute best it can be by commenting below with your own input as to what topics you think I should cover.  If you were considering an Atlantic-crossing and had the ability to ask a fellow sailor about his or her recent first-time crossing, what would you want to know?  What, specifically, would you ask?  Thank you followers!

All-Women’s Offshore Sail, Feb. 21st – 22nd:

Ladies, come sail with me!

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I put this sail together specifically to offer women who want offshore experience (but who perhaps may be reluctant, a little scared or just unable because of work and time commitments to jump off on an extensive five-day overnight sail) a quick, more cost-efficient opportunity to get some overnight experience underway.  You can stay on Libra the evening of Feb. 21st at Miamarina, downtown Miami and we will cast-off the morning of Feb. 22nd headed for Key West on a quick, 24-hour run.  There will also be a fun congratulatory get-together in Key West afterward where you can all cheers your awesome all-women’s voyage on Libra.  I will serve as your instructor providing detailed sailing instructions and will share anything with you that I know about navigation, electronics, weather routing, sail tactics, etc. (along with Captain Ryan who knows way more!).   I am no expert, but I’ve made a ton of mistakes and I’m happy to share all 138.4 of them with you!  This is where you can ask all the stupid questions (because there are none) and learn in an environment that is comfortable for you.  The cost is only $500 pp.  If you are planning to come to the Miami Boat Show Feb. 20th, let us know and we will get you tickets to the show if you want to come see my presentation on the last day.  Book at www.saillibra.com/join-a-sail/.  Also, follow along on HaveWind’s Facebook page for updates from the ladies while we are underway.  I hope some of you salty gals join me!

 

Key West Get-Together, Feb. 22nd:

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Heck, let’s do it again.  We love to get-together (obviously).  Which means we love a good party.  If you’ll be in Key West on Feb. 22nd, join us for our all-women’s post-sail celebration.  To be honest, I have no clue yet when we’ll dock, but we will likely be at one of the downtown marinas and will probably start rounds at Schooner’s Wharf Bar or somewherest (that’s an Annie term) close by.  I’ll probably be wearing that very dress, as it’s one of my three ship-to-shore numbers.  Look for the gal in stripes or stay tuned on HaveWind’s Facebook page for updates and come hang out with the salty, sultry ladies in Key West who just went offshore on Libra. Oooooh.

Okay, whew!  After all of that, Phillip and I are going to have to crawl in a cave for a while.  And by cave, we mean head out on Plaintiff’s Rest for some quiet days on the hook alone!  We love those too.  But, we also love to meet our followers, share our stories, hear theirs and enjoy spending time with like-minded people like all of you.  We hope some of you can join us at some of these get-togethers or on passage, and we are grateful for all the support you have shown us on our journey.  It’s all about sharing the passion Phillip and I have for this lifestyle and inspiring others to it.  Get inspired and what … ??

That’s right.  See you soon!

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#91: Cuba Voyage III: Power Management Underway

Follow along as we are mesmerized by a jumping pod of dolphins at the bow, monitor the power situation (and show you our cool below-decks inverter), and make our one BIG tack of the trip.  We had some great wind that allowed us to hold a pretty steady rhumb line all the way to Cuba.  Hope you guys are enjoying the vicarious Cuba voyage.  Enjoy!

How to Reduce Heeling

We’re not perfect sailors, we just are sailors because we have a sailboat and we get out and go.  We don’t have any piece of paper or certificates that even tell us we can sail.  We just do, which means we sometimes do it imperfectly.  And it seems we certainly did on the way to Cuba, as we received many comments on our sail trim in response to “Heavy Heeling” video, which is great.  Most were very helpful, dead-on and worth sharing.  Particular thanks goes out to our good friends, Kevin, our broker with Edward Yacht Sales who helped us find our beloved Niagara (a match made in heaven!) and Brandon, our trusted yacht repairman with Perdido Sailor, Inc., who rightfully gave us some much-deserved ribbing after watching our last video and then some very helpful sail trim tips that I felt were definitely worthy of passing on to you all.  That way when YOU set sail on your own bada$$ voyage to Cuba or elsewhere, your sail trim will be primo!

While our sail trim in the last video wasn’t terrible (as the sails were balanced enough for auto to hold and the boat was performing very well), there is always for improvement.  Here’s what we could have done better:

1.  Flattened the Headsail

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Brandon was quick to point this out.  “You have got to flatten the sail in head winds,” he said.  “The flatter the sail, the less you will heel.”  And, I’ll be the first to admit this is a little hard to do (just for me personally) because you have to really crank on the winch, until your genny sheet is as stiff as a guitar string.  The lines on the winch will scream and yelp, and you’ll think something is probably about to break, but you’ve got to make yourself do it to truly get the best sail shape.  It also helps to turn up into the wind for a short time to let some wind out of the sail while you crank her in.

2.  Moved the Genny Car Back

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This definitely would have helped us pull the headsail taut and get a much flatter shape.  This also would have helped us point upwind better, too.

3. Furled the Genny More

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We have a 135 genoa, so she is pretty big and comes back (when fully out) almost to the dodger, which means, we’ve got a lot of furling to do when we really want to reef her in.

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We had about three wraps on the forestay during the “heavy heeling” footage from our last video, with the genny out to a point about a foot or two aft of the mast.  It probably would have served us better that first rough night and morning to have reefed her just forward of the mast (probably two or three more wraps) the evening before at sunset.  We did that later, toward the end of day two of our voyage and it was more comfortable.

4. Run Our Reefing Line on the Clew of the Main Down to the Boom

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Kevin pointed this out to us and it was a definite “Aha!” moment.  If you recall, Phillip and I had dropped the main when we were preparing for this voyage to have our local sailmaker, Hunter Riddle with Schurr Sails, put a third reef in our main.  I showed footage of us in our “Heavy Weather Planning” video re-running our reefing lines when we put the main back on, and it turns out Phillip and I had done it wrong.

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When Phillip and I did it, we ran the reef lines for Reef 1 and Reef 2 of our main at the clew from the end of the boom straight to the respective Reef points in the sail and secured it with a bowline, not recalling exactly how they had been run before.

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As Kevin pointed out, we should have taken each reef line, gone through the grommet for the reef point and then run it down to the boom and secured it with a bowline to the boom.

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That would have enabled us, when pulling our Reef 2 at the clew line in the cockpit to pull the sail both aft and down at the same time, instead of just aft.  Thanks Kevin.  We will be re-running those before we go offshore next time.  That will also alleviate the need for the additional strap that we affixed from the clew to the boom during our voyage to Cuba.

5. Pulled the Reef Down to the Boom 

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“All that baggage is extra windage,” Brandon said.  And he was right.  Setting the reef in our main, because it is set with two separate reefing lines, one at the tack and one at the clew, does not always result in a perfect result.  Sometimes the tack point is lower than the clew, or vice versa, and the reef looks a little crooked.  Here, we had them level, just not down flush with the boom.  We should have continued to pull both points down until the foot of the reefed sail was sitting on the boom.  (And if you want to get real crazy you can flake and secure down the rest of the sail and lash it to the boom, if you have multiple reefing grommets in your main to really secure the sail down and prevent windage from baggage, or so goes the adage ; ).

6. Moved our Jerry Cans Aft

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This one is not really a sail trim tip, but it will affect how your boat rides in the water so it is relevant.  All that effort we went to in our “Provisions and Preparations” video to move as much weight aft as we could to enable our boat to ride better in heavy seas, and then we tied two five-gallon jerry cans of fuel right at the bow.  Brandon thought this was really funny.  Our best answer?  To keep the walkway on the deck clear when we had to go to the bow to handle the sails, which I guess is a plausible answer, but probably not the best one.  It’s not very common that you have to go up to the foredeck to mess with the sails or even if it is, it’s not too much more trouble to step over some jerry cans while you’re already bobbing and bouncing and tethering in.  We should have moved them back further.  Although they definitely would have gotten in the way of this awesome photo.  I mean, if you’re going to head to the bow in some rough seas, you better be sure to get the money shot!

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Hope you all have found some of these lessons helpful.  Phillip and I are both learning as we go and we definitely find a new or better way to do something each time we take our boat offshore.  We also definitely make plenty of mistakes and always try to share them.  Wait until you see our next video.  Can anyone tell me why it might not be a good idea to pour some of your jerry can fuel into the tank on starboard in seas like this?

Anyone?  Anyone?

#90: Cuba Voyage II: Heavy Heeling

Get ready for it to blow!  These weren’t super heavy winds but they were on the nose and had Plaintiff’s Rest really heeled over during the second night and day of our voyage to Cuba.  Our Niagara 35 proved she was up for the task though, practically sailing herself across the Gulf.  Follow along as we share some storm sail tactics in here as well: rigging up of the inner forestay, setting the second reef in the main and checking for chafe on the furling lines.  Hope you all are enjoying the Cuba Voyage series!

When to Wake the Captain

At the first moment you think you should.  That’s probably what any captain will tell you.  As much as he likely abhors that first jolt—when the shout of his name or a shake of his shoulder rouses him out of a deep slumber—the second moment, when his mind clears and he realizes your intent in waking him is because you sense danger—real or merely perceived—he is grateful.  A well-intentioned, albeit false alarm wake of the captain is welcomed one hundred times over a skittish hesitation that makes it too late for him to salvage the situation.  I can only hope I speak earnestly on behalf of most captains, as I have not served as one myself, merely as a relief captain here and there.  I have never been the person, the only one fully responsible—at all times—for the safety of the boat and crew.  That’s quite a responsibility.  I can speak, however, as the first mate who has woke the captain both too early (i.e., unnecessarily) and too late.  All lessons are free today.

“If the CPA is less than five nautical miles, wake me up.”

This was the “too early” incident.  Phillip and I were sailing across the Gulf to Cuba, sharing helm duty during the day and each taking two-hour shifts at night.  Aside from the monstrous dredging vessel we squeezed by in the Pensacola Pass, we hadn’t seen many ships the first couple of days and nights on passage.  This was night number three, however, and we were crossing the large shipping channel where many carrier ships make their way into the Gulf and across to Texas.  We had already had to watch, call and maneuver around several big vessels during the dark evening hours before our night shifts began, so I asked Phillip before he went below to lay down around 10:00 p.m. when he wanted me to wake him if we began approaching another vessel while he was sleeping.

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Could I have monitored our CPA alone, haled the ship and/or deviated course if necessary to avoid a collision?  Very likely.  So, why did I ask for specific instructions?  I’ll admit I like my role as first mate under Phillip.  I would rather be the one following instructions, than making them myself.  That may sound lazy or meek and that’s fine.  I will be the first to admit I do not enjoy the stress of being solely responsible for the vessel or our navigational decisions.  I like sharing those duties with Phillip as captain.  While I will hold the helm as long as necessary for Phillip to sleep, I do so with the comfort of set parameters to follow in case a situation arises, the decision for which exceeds my pay grade.  The decision in this case was what to do if our closest point of approach with an oncoming vessel dropped below five nautical miles.  That was when I was told to wake the captain.

I had been watching him for about a half hour.  He was a bright beacon, a blazing battleship on the horizon, easily visible and definitely far enough away from us to not cause any danger—at the time.  I had learned from Captain Ryan with SailLibra during my voyage to Isla Mujeres that you can use the CPA (closest point of approach) on the AIS to determine whether you are going to cross the ship’s bow or stern by turning your heading toward the vessel’s approach (meaning, turning your vector line toward the oncoming ship) to see if the CPA increases or decreases.  If you turn toward the ship and your CPA decreases, you’re going to cross the ship’s bow and that’s when you need to worry.  If it increases, you are going to sail behind the ship’s stern and you are likely safe.  You can turn back to your heading and you should be able to watch the CPA continually increase and take comfort in your approach.  If you cannot turn enough due to the wind angle (or the CPA is too erratic) to allow you to make a clear determination that you will cross behind the ship’s stern … better pick up the VHF and give him a call.

Here is a sample screen shot of AIS.  You will see the vessel receiving AIS on the left and the oncoming vessels on the right, showing their approach (i.e., their heading) and CPA.  This looks a little different than the AIS screen on our Niagara but it will give you an idea.  I apologize I don’t have a good image of ours.  Turns out, when a ship is coming, thinking about filming the AIS screen is the last thing on your mind:

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Ryan’s rule is a great theory and it does work, but some vessels are not charging ahead on a constant heading.  Some bob and bounce around in the waves.  Some stop to drop fishing lines in the water or check on their nets.  This means the CPA can sometimes bounce around erratically and not give you sufficient confirmation as to whether you’re going to collide with the vessel or not.  I hate when it does that!  And that is exactly what it was doing with this stupid bright beacon on the horizon, night three during our voyage to Cuba.

I had done what Captain Ryan told me by turning our Niagara toward Mr. Battleship and the CPA seemed to increase (although it was somewhat erratic, not constant), so I fell off again and continued watching as he crept toward my bow about eight nautical miles out (or so I believed as we do not have radar on Plaintiff’s Rest).  I believed he would cross safely in front of our bow and we would pass behind his stern, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  I tried to hale him on the radio for my own comfort just to make sure he could see me and let him know that I was under sail (which in theory means the ship under engine power will divert if necessary to avoid collision).  But what happened?  He didn’t answer.  Three times he did not answer.  Ryan did tell me this can happen often because many commercial ships have to log a radio call and make a report of it and sometimes they’re just lazy and don’t want to do that. In that case, if they see you and know they’re not going to hit you, they will just ignore your weary cries.  Of course that doesn’t give YOU—the poor little bobbing sailboat out there—any comfort, but it just happens sometimes.  And, of course it was happening to me on my shift!  I was cursing the ship channel Gods!

As I mentioned, I was fairly confident this Kiratzatsoo (or something like that I swear, a very hard name to say three times in a row on the radio) was going to cross our bow and we would sail safely behind his stern but the CPA was very finicky and dipped a couple of times below five nautical miles.  What did that mean for me?  You got it.  Wake the captain.  Even though I felt I knew we were safe (I knew!)—and when I did wake Phillip because I had been instructed to do so and we both watched as the ship moved safely across our bow and we sailed safely behind its stern, I did not apologize for waking him.  Why?  Because I knew I’d been given orders to follow and I should never trust my own judgment over the captain’s as to when is the right time to wake him.  How did I know this?  Because I had breached this sacred command before.  I’m not proud of this, but I share it because it is a valuable lesson to learn.  Your knowledge, pride or even fear and embarrassment about waking the captain should never come before a very clear order you were given on when to wake the captain.

It was on the Naples delivery, my spur-of-the-moment invitation to crew on the delivery of a Leopard 48 from Pensacola to Naples, FL under a very good friend of mine, Captain Jack.

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It was an awesome adventure, an honor to be included and an opportunity I will forever be grateful I was able to seize.  And while I believe (and hope) I served as a valuable contribution to the crew, I do know I made one could-have-been-very-bad mistake.  That was not waking the captain soon enough.

We were holding two man watches during the delivery.  Two hours, two crew at the helm, with the captain floating.  It was around 5:00 a.m., our first night on shifts.  I was supposed to be on with my buddy Bill.  Bill was sleeping and I felt energetic so I propped myself up at the helm with the plan to let him sleep another hour before waking him.  Looking back on it, that was probably an unwise deviation from the captain’s orders as well.  If he wants two men on shift, don’t try to be the hero and hold watch alone.  Wake your partner.  While two-man shifts was an indirect order, Captain Jack had also given a very specific order:

“If a ship comes within 6 nautical miles on the radar, wake me.”

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That’s a pretty clear instruction, right?  You’re right.  It is, and it should have been followed.  I was holding alone around 5:00 a.m. and I saw a ship coming toward us on the radar.  The Leopard did not have AIS, but having used radar extensively to “acquire targets” via radar during the Atlantic-crossing with Captain Yannick, I felt pretty comfortable using the radar to watch oncoming vessels.  However, Yannick typically kept the radar set at 12 nm miles out and (my first mistake) I assumed this one, on the Leopard, was on the same setting as I was watching the ship approach.  Lesson #1: I should have looked more closely at the nautical mile ruler and I would have noticed it was set on 8 nm.  So, ships were actually closer than they appeared.

It was difficult to tell which way the ship was going as I did not have an AIS vector or heading to confirm its direction.  I was looking intently at the ship itself for a red or green nav light to tell me which way the ship was heading.  It was off my starboard bow, so I knew if I saw a red light (on its port), that would mean it was coming toward my bow.  A green light would mean it was headed away from me.  I repeat these things to you now as these are the things I ran through my head three times over to make sure I had them right (“port is red, starboard is green, port is red, starboard is green”) thinking this entire time I’m being very careful and doing all the right things.  Poor Annie.  Because what have I yet to do?  During all of these critical tactical moments?  I’m sure you know the answer, but humor me a little longer.

A few moments later, Bill wakes up.  I ask him to come quickly to the helm to get a second look at what I’m seeing and gather his thoughts.  While this is good practice, when there is plenty of time to react, I’m sure (and I hate to admit this, but it’s just likely true) I likely did this as well because I was the only female sailor aboard, one of the least experienced, and I wanted a second opinion before I … you know what.  This is precisely the reason I’m sharing this story.  Do not let your pride or nerves cloud your decisions out there.  Bill squinted and looked and clicked and few things and then we both saw it: a red light on the oncoming ship, which was now well within 6 nautical miles of us, likely closing in on five at that point and aiming to cross our bow.  “Go wake Jack,” I told Bill.

While it did afford Jack *just enough* time to quickly jump to the helm, assess the situation and fall off so we could clip behind the ship’s stern, it shocked me how long it took for that maneuvering and a safe passing to occur.  In my indecisiveness and attempts to assess the situation myself, I ended up giving Jack just enough time to react quickly and correctly.  That’s not the kind of margin any captain wants!  They want plenty of time, which is why you should wake the captain when?

I hope you all said it out loud.  At the first moment you think you should.  Trust me, he would prefer too early as opposed to too late to take the helm and save the ship.  Stay alert, follow orders and sail safe out there crew.  More Cuba footage, stories and lessons to come.

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#89: Cuba Voyage I: Cast-off!

And they’re off! Plaintiff’s Rest is finally headed south for Cuba. Follow along as we cast-off the lines (finally!), make good way our first night under sail, get used to the new hydraulic auto-pilot, hand-steer just for fun (that wouldn’t last) and pass our first ship in the channel using the new AIS. Any questions about the new systems (Navionics, the auto-pilot and/or AIS), feel free to leave them in a comment and we will respond as soon as we get back ashore. The winds will find us next time on this voyage, but our first leg of the trip was a nice downwind run. Stay tuned for a wild, windy romp part two of our Cuba Voyage at www.HaveWindWillTravel.com and follow on HaveWind’s Facebook page for Delorme posts while we are underway. We shove off from the Keys for Pensacola this afternoon!

Are the Cubans Poor?

If that’s your question, I have to ask you:

How Do You Define Poverty?

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I think that will tell you a lot about whether you will enjoy Cuba.  I will admit, I did not know much about this intriguing country before I came.  Not near as much as I should have, at least.  I am notorious for wondering wide-eyed (and naive) into a new place, city, even country, without knowing very much about its history, geography, or customs, particularly when I know I will have Phillip alongside me every step of the way.  I hate to call it lazy but it is a divine way to travel as he likes to research, read up, plan and book our lodgings, outing and reservations and me?  I like to go!  Anywhere and everywhere and eat, see and experience it all.  Other than the very general parameters of staying moderately active and healthy in the process and partaking in the most ‘local’ experience possible, Phillip knows I am “up for” just about anything so, in this regard, we travel very well together.  This partnership, however, does occasionally leave me in a stupefied surprise when I stumble into an environment I did not expect.  Cuba did this to me.  In the best way possible.

I knew it was a socialist country and, while being educated, I will admit I did not quite understand the depth to which that singular political decision made these peoples’ lives so very different, as an American, from my own.  I saw socialism in my mind as ‘sameness.’  It reminds me of one of the very first books I remember actually reading, The Giver. Everyone in the society has virtually the same things.  They are provided with the same amenities, similar homes, cars, food and provisions so that their basic needs are theoretically taken care of and they do not covet their neighbor’s salary, home or social position.  In theory, it has its benefits.  There is no “competing with the Jones’,” there is no jealousy or vast discrepancy in land ownership or wealth.  In hope, there is no imbalanced wealth nor unfair poverty.

When you walk the dirty, crumbling streets of Jaminitas—the small neighborhood near the marina, where Phillip and I walked often for lunch or dinner and which quickly became our favorite venue while in Cuba—one word would likely immediately come to mind: poverty.  The age of their clothing (likely handed down and down and down and on its fifth year of daily wear), the holes in the curtains, the dinghy dogs roaming the streets, the threadbare sheets you can see on the cots in their living rooms which you can see from the street, you would probably immediately think they are poor.  And they are, compared to our standards.  Phillip and I learned a typical wage for Cubans who work as, say, auto mechanics, janitors, or construction workers is about 20 cucs a month.  That equates to about $24 a month.  Twenty-four.

But, you have to remember they do get rations every month—a generous portion of beans, rice, bread and meat every day.  They have free health care, free education, free housing and much more.  Are these the same houses that we can see all the way into from the street because they are only about three hundred square feet in size?  Yes.  But they don’t pay rent.  After factoring that in, and learning that a very filling, enjoyable meal for Phillip and I both including a bottle of wine at a nice family’s back patio cost us only 11 cuc, you start to think maybe they have what they truly need, at least as far as amenities, food and shelter goes and they don’t “want” as much as a typical American family does.  They don’t crave “things” as much.  At least I don’t believe they do.  What I did see as I walked what any typical American would call very poor streets, dodging dog shit, wafting away black clouds of car fumes and saying “pardon” left and right for the dozens of people that constantly passed by, was enjoyment.  The children were playing ball, pushing scooters and laughing.  The teenagers were incessantly flirting and cuddling in corners.  The adults were often arguing in jest but often laughing as much as the children and constantly talking and checking in on one another.  It seemed everyone’s lives were accessible to one another.  There was no shutting of yourself in a room with an iDevice and ignoring the outside world.  The “it takes a village” philosophy would definitely apply here as they all live their lives in the open and among one another.

What I did not feel was scared.  We walked some very dark seemingly seedy streets at night trying to find some of the little “back patio” restaurants new friends we had met had told us about.  We were often lost, wandering and passing by strangers in the night.  In many cities in the states, walking streets like that after dark, I would have been a little frightened, particularly in a neighborhood where Phillip and I would be such obvious standouts.  One of the things I hate about being in an area like that where my clothing or accent or skin color makes me an immediately recognizable ‘tourist’ there is the stare you often get from the locals.  They watch you walk by, following every step, daring you to make eye contact to start something.  Their glare makes you feel like you have something they want and they might just take it from you.  I never felt that in Cuba.

Phillip and I were often easily the whitest people on the street, with the cleanest clothes and pockets full of more cucs than many of the Cubans make in a year and they could care less.  Many didn’t even look at you.  They were too busy in conversation, laughter or buying some fruit to worry about a tourist walking by.  Those that did meet your eye would often say “Hola,” or “Buenas.”  The chance Canadian friend we made our first day in Cuba who lives in Jaimanitas three months out of the year and who served as an excellent tour guide for the area, told us “Cuba is the safest country to visit” because the very harsh punishments for crimes serves as an excellent deterrent.  While I haven’t visited enough countries to say whether that is true, I can easily say on the dark streets of Cuba, which easily look quite sinister, I felt safe.  It is a feeling you have as you walk by the locals that they are not sizing you up.  They are often not interested in you at all.  

By American standards, they likely easily qualify as “poor” but they don’t give you the feeling that they want for much, in the way of things that is.  This speaks nothing for the liberties they desire, the freedoms we Americans are so easily afforded and take for granted (such as the ability to travel, write, earn, etc.).  These liberties, however, are not something they can take from you or that you can provide, so it is not something they look to you for.  Rather, as you walk among them along what appears to be poverty-ridden streets, wearing, carrying or holding many things one would assume they do not have and would likely want, they simply smile or greet you as they pass by.  “Adios!  Buenos noches,” the children shout as you leave.

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