“Never cross with a north wind!” Can you hear it? Pam Wall’s little energetic voice? She repeated this warning many times when we first saw, heard and met her at the Miami Boat Show back in February, 2015. I had no idea that amazing little enthusiastic woman would soon thereafter change my life.
Love that bubbly little lady!
After listening to her inspiring “Cruising the Abacos” seminar (and finding ourselves in dire hunger soon after for some “fresh baked Bahamian bread,” Pam always squeals when she says it) Phillip and I had originally decided back in 2015 that the first place we were going to cruise our boat to outside of the states would be the Bahamas. And that decision held firm for a long time until we heard Cuba had thankfully opened up for American cruisers. Heck yeah!
While the Bahamas were hard to pass up, we knew they would be there waiting for us the next season, and with the tumultuous state of American-Cuban relations, we weren’t sure Cuba would be. That was when we decided to set our sights first on Cuba, and it was a fantastic decision. Mine and Phillip’s cruise to Cuba in December, 2016 was a monumental, memorable voyage for us both. It was our longest offshore passage (five days) just the two of us and it was the first time we had sail our beautiful little boat from the shores of one country to another. What an incredible feeling! I still remember when we watched the sun come up over the horizon on the fifth morning.
“That’s a Havana sunrise right there,” Phillip said and he played “Havana Daydreaming” most of the morning as we made our way towards the inlet to Marina Hemingway, singing heartily along as his late Uncle Johnny would have, who had also wanted to sail to Cuba but he unfortunately was not able to do so before he passed away. I know Johnny was there with Phillip in spirit and I can still hear Phillip’s voice from that morning as he sat on the foredeck and sang. “Oh he’s just scheming … his life away.”
Thankfully, we’re not just scheming. We are going! Our voyage to Cuba was a phenomenal trip and only told Phillip and I that we are ready to travel further and longer, just the two of us, on our boat. So, in 2017 we decided we would set our sights on the Bahamas this season and enjoy the wonderful pristine patch of islands we have so close by. It’s amazing to think that jewel-toned paradise is really only a 12-hour sail from the states. How lucky we are! All we needed was just a sliver more luck to give us a nice “no north wind” window of favorable conditions to allow us to sail from the Keys and across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.
In the months before our departure date from Pensacola, Phillip and I (well, and I will admit Phillip far more than me) spent many hours studying the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas making decisions about where we planned to enter the Bahamas, where we wanted to check in and what islands (called “Cays” in the Bahamas, pronounced “keys”) we wanted to sail to and visit and in what order, although knowing every plan is and will always be weather-dependent. Having just recently completed my first Bahamas article for SAIL Magazine (thank you again, Peter Nielsen, for requesting more articles from me!) which will focus on preparing and packing for a trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I both agree an intense study of the Explorer Charts and determinations as to where you want to go in the Bahamas and what route you want to take to explore them is a great first place to start when preparing to travel to the Bahamas. Much of what you will need aboard will depend on how you are planning to traverse the Bahamas and what you are planning to do there as supplies are readily available in some places, limited and altogether unavailable in others.
After talking with fellow sailors back home who had cruised the Bahamas many times and taking into consideration what time of year Phillip and I were going (during December-January, when we knew we could expect many sudden and intense north fronts, the “Christmas winds,” and some chilly water and weather), we decided to make our way as far north as possible first and check in at West End.
We would then start dotting our way along the Sea of Abaco seeking protection from the northerly islands as needed when storms and heavy north winds were expected. (And boy did they come. I recorded 36 kts of wind on the boat one afternoon in Green Turtle Cay. Just wait.)
With the plan to enter the Bahamas at West End, Phillip and I knew we wanted to “ride” the Gulf Stream as far as we could north before jumping out to make entry into West End. Initially, we weren’t sure we would get a window large enough to allow us to sail all the way from Key West to West End. If we did not, our plan was to dot along the Florida Keys to Marathon then perhaps Rodriguez Key while waiting for a good window to make the jump. But, when we saw a beautiful two-day window blooming on the horizon, we started to top off the provisions and ready the boat to make way. While we had a ton of fun in Key West (we always do!) meeting the new Geckos and getting to spend some time with them, seeing our old pals Brittany and Jeremiah and getting to watch their beautiful Alberg splash, as well as enjoying the many great restaurants and poolside views, we are always eager and excited to get back underway.
On Wednesday, December 20th, with expected 10-12 kt winds the first day (which would offer us a fun, comfortable sail around the Keys) and light, fluky winds of 5 kts or less the following day (which would allow us to at least motor safely across the Gulf Stream), Phillip and I decided to toss the lines and seize the window! You’ll see in the video, Annie de-docked like a boss (I tell you I’m getting much better at this), and we then had a fantastic cruise all the way from Key West to West End, just shy of a two-day run.
Man, that’s living …
So, is that. With all the work comes all the rewards.
There’s the entry to West End!
Don’t tell Pam this, but we totally broke the rule because you know what kind of winds we had throughout the entire Gulf Stream? That’s right. North! We crossed with a north wind, Pammy. I’m sorry! But, when it’s howling at 3 kts, a north wind isn’t really going to affect the boat that much, particularly when it had been blowing from the south for a short time before. Meaning, the sea state was just starting to turn around and we essentially crossed on a smooth, glassy lake. It was beautiful though. While I always prefer to have wind to sail, there is nothing that can replicate the beauty of a hull sliding through silk at sunrise. It’s just stunning.
I hope you all enjoy the video. I have had such a great time filming just for pleasure and putting these videos together for you all, just for pure fun. Not to make any money from them. Not in hopes they will get a lot of hits so I can get YouTube ad money. Just because our views were amazing, so I clicked the camera on occasionally, and because the videos are such a vivid personal scrapbook for us. I really will be excited to sit down when I’m 70 and watch my Atlantic-crossing movie. Can you imagine that? I wonder if YouTube will still be a “thing” then? Who knows. If any of you have read Dave Eggers’s The Circle (one Phillip and I both read in the Bahamas), apparently we all will soon be be filming and uploading every moment of our existence for all the world to see. Heck, with the immediacy of Instagram and Facebook these days, we’re almost there.
But you know where you can truly unplug and get away? Out there. On the big open blue. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be out there, nothing but satiny water all around you and nothing you have to do but eat, sleep, mend the boat and read. I could sail offshore forever, happily, I do believe. I hope you all love this bit. As always, I try to capture the beauty of the voyage, the work and maintenance it requires, and the reward of having your beautiful, strong boat carry you from the shores of one country to another. Next up, we’ll begin sharing the Bahamas with you, one Cay at a time. Be ready to pick your jaws up off the floor because it’s breathtaking. Stay tuned!
The wind chicken did what? Another really fun article here for you guys that was just recently published in SAIL Magazine’s July 2017 issue about our five-day voyage across the Gulf of Mexico this past December to Cuba. As I mentioned … I’m so glad we went when we did. It was a little comical, though, watching us plan for all sorts of calamities out there and then ironic to find the ones we worried about never occurred, but what did happen, we could have never guessed. “If it’s gonna happen … ” right? Full article below. Hope you guys enjoy the salty read! A big thanks to SAIL Magazine editor, Peter Nielsen for commissioning this one from me.
Wind Chicken Gone Wild
“I don’t think the rudder post is supposed to move like that,” I told the Captain.
“It turns with the wheel” he said dismissively. “Starboard to port,” eyes still closed, hands clasped on his chest.
“I didn’t say turn. I said move. Athwartship.” His head snapped up. That did the trick. Severely nautical terms usually did, although they still surprised me when they would occasionally tumble out of my mouth. As if I didn’t know the person who was talking. It wasn’t long ago I thought sailing was only for people who wore blue embossed blazers and said things like “halyard, forestay and yaaarrr.” Barely three years a sailor now and I still feel very new to it because new things seem to happen every time we go out.
Five days. Four filthy long johns. Three rudder nuts. Two sailors and one wayward wind chicken and we finally made it to Cuba. This was our longest offshore voyage, 500 nautical miles across the Gulf of Mexico, just the three of us—Phillip, myself and our champion, a 1985 Niagara 35—and while we had many expectations and preparations in place for what might go wrong, the things that actually did go wrong on that passage could have never been predicted. If this voyage taught me anything, it’s that sitting around trying to dream up predicaments that might occur out there is a foolish man’s game because it’s the things you cannot predict that will teach you the most.
“Athwartship,” Phillip repeated involuntarily as he leaned over and watched what I had been watching on the cockpit floor. The rudder post cap was moving athwartship about a half inch to port, another to starboard with each pitch of the boat. If you thought your eyes were playing tricks on you, the grey scrape of butyl it left behind each time confirmed they were not. While offshore voyaging undeniably increases your tolerance for wear and tear on your boat, a wobbly rudder post in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico is not something I think I will ever develop a stomach for. The rudder freaks me out. It’s the only thing that steers the boat and if it falls out, it leaves behind a gaping hole that sinks the boat. I hate the rudder. At least I hate when it’s moving. Athwartship.
After some investigation, we found the nuts on the three bolts that hold the rudder post cap to the cockpit floor had somehow wiggled loose. Why call them lock washers if they don’t? Our first attempt at fixing this problem was a sweaty upside-down hour, hanging head-first into the port and starboard lazarettes slipping in the only thing that would fit between the cockpit floor and the quadrant—a flat wrench in a flat hand—and tightening each nut one millimeter of a turn at a time. This held for about eighteen hours then the dreaded rudder post movement returned. Now it was time to get serious. Or crazy. Where once barely a hand and flat wrench fit, we now wanted to get a nut in there too. And some Loctite.
“Get me the doo-dads box,” Phillip said. Believe it or not, that is its official title. It’s an old fishing tackle box full of odds and ends. The land of misfit nuts.
Finding nuts, however, to double up on the bolts was a far easier task than actually threading them on, hanging upside down again, single-handed, this time with slippery Loctite fingers. It was like adding tricks to a circus performance. Now walk the tightrope while juggling knives and balancing a sword on your chin. We can totally do this! You see? Crazy. You have to be. Just a little.
“Maybe we can steer it down.” It’s hard to believe even looking back on it that the “it” I was referring to was our Windex, better known on our boat as the “wind chicken.” This was another wild card the Gulf dished out for us on our way to Cuba and definitely falls in the “I can’t make this stuff up” category. Our second night on passage was a tense one, battling steady 19+ headwinds with heavy heeling and bashing into four-foot seas. With the rails buried on starboard and waves cresting up and soaking the genny, we were heeled so far over the wind actually climbed the mast and lifted our windex arrow up to the top of the VHF antennae and began whipping it around like the bobble end of a kid’s bumblebee headband. This is the exact type of outlandish situation you can never dream up ashore.
Phillip and I … begging with the wind chicken to come down.
One stupid piece of plastic—probably made in China and probably worth about ninety-eight cents—was now thrashing around violently port to starboard, up, down, around in circles, threatening to snap off our primary portal for communication, our eyes and ears on the horizon and our solitary method for finding, tracking and contacting other vessels in the blue abyss. If the arrow snapped the antennae off, our VHF and AIS would shut down like a light switch. All because of a ridiculous piece of plastic. You see? So crazy you can’t make it up.
Phillip and I weren’t sure if there was supposed to be some little stopper ball that was intended to prevent wind chickens gone wild and perhaps we had missed it in the package or failed to install it correctly when we stepped the mast after rebuilding our rotten stringers earlier that year. Or perhaps the thought that the arrow could be lifted up and turned into a bull whip on the end of the VHF antennae is so far-fetched no wind chicken manufacturer has ever thought to design around it. It was such a wild, crazy, stupid thing to be happening—threatening to disengage some of our most important systems—yet there was nothing we could do but sit, watch and curse it. Until we had the idea to “steer it down.”
Phillip kind of shrugged his shoulders, shook his head but took to the wheel anyway seeing no better option. And, thankfully with some creative sail trim and steering we were able to reduce the heeling of the boat enough to change the angle of the wind on the mast. When the severity of the whipping lessened, the wind chicken finally started to shimmy its way down, like a grass skirt on a hula girl, to its resting place at the base of the antennae. Whew. Down. What now?
That was actually a common sentiment out there. With the boat moving twenty-four hours a day, using many systems and running them very hard every hour of every day, the likelihood that something might break, start to wiggle, or even whip around like a disoriented bat was actually pretty high. One of the best things about voyaging with a partner is the sense of accomplishment you feel after you’ve tightened the rudder post or fixed the bilge pump or rigged up a new halyard or whatever other thousand things you can tackle together out there. Because that’s exactly where you will tackle them, is out there. It takes a little crazy to get you to go and, after that, just more and more wind chickens gone wild until nothing completely freaks you out anymore. When you feel an odd thump, smell a strange burning scent or hear an alarm go off, often your first thought is: What now? But your next is usually: I can do this. Upside down. In the lazarette. With Loctite. Totally! “Get me the doo-dads box.”
Mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio, walk the historic Cathedral Square, tour Hemingway’s house, Finca Viega, dance at the Floradita and see inside the Casa Particular we rented for $40 CUCs/night. We take you all through Havana in this video with some very exciting news at the end. I’m also going to sail to Cuba again very soon in the Pensacola a la Habana race on SailLibra and you can come too! Book at www.saillibra.com/join-a-sail/! My need for more training and days on the water is all part of some very big news we have coming soon at HaveWindWillTravel. I can’t wait to see the guesses come in as to what I’m going to try to accomplish this summer. Let me have it!
Want to know exactly what it feels like to go through the customs process after sailing to Cuba? Come along. We’ll walk you through. Show you exactly who boarded and what they wanted to know. We’ve included a lot of great tips in here for you as well to make the check-in process easy if you’re planning your own trip to Cuba. I hope many of you are. You will see from our sneak peek “exploring Cuba” footage in here that it was an incredible voyage and destination for us. If you can’t go on your own boat, SailLibra will be making two trips to Cuba this spring. Check them out! www.saillibra.com/join-a-sail/
The current of the Gulf Stream is no joke, particularly when it is pushing you into head winds. Watch as we reef up and cross a pretty kicked up sea state across the Gulf Stream, sing to our first Cuban sunrise, deal with an issue with the furling gear on our headsail, navigate the entry to Marina Hemingway and make landfall in Cuba. HaveWindWillTravel is traveling this year! There’s a great Patreon update for you as well in here as we will soon be getting a video update from each of our previous Gift of Cruising winners and get ready to give our 4th gift away — a 100% free offshore voyage on SailLibra at the $500 reward level. WHOA. Become a Patron to be eligible to win and help us create cruisers out of each and every one of you! Hope you all are enjoying the journey to Cuba. We can’t wait to share that beautiful, culture-rich country with you.
“How much does it cost to stay at Marina Hemingway?”
“What are the facilities like?”
“Do you have to call before you can come in?”
These are all the kinds of questions we’re been getting from all kinds of curious followers after our voyage to Cuba and we LOVE to answer. While the experience of Cuba, in and of itself, was amazing, the experience of just getting in to Cuba was, itself, eye-opening and kind of exciting. Okay, very exciting. We were coming into a country that, until only recently, was closed off to Americans for over fifty years. Naturally people are curious! So, we wanted to give you all a little glimpse, and some tips, on navigating the customs in Cuba:
Fly Your Q Flag
As we were approaching shore, we hoisted our bright yellow “Q flag” (meaning, quarantine, because you have not been properly checked in yet) on the port side of the boat. [UPDATE! We learned from some folks who commented that we should have flown our Q flag on the starboard side. Don’t pull an Annie! Fly yours on the right side! You’re welcome. : ) ]. We also had a Cuba one ready to hoist the minute we got docked. We were so excited to be going to Cuba!
It was a good thing, too, that we were flying our Q flag when we came in because we didn’t get advanced permission to enter.
Calling Before You Enter
We were under the impression you needed to hail the customs officials on the radio (Channel 77) before you entered and we certainly tried! However, after seven failed attempts to make contact, Phillip could not get a response. We texted Captain Ryan via the Delorme, as he has been to Cuba several times, to see what he thought about the situation. His response? “Their radios are total crap. They probably can’t hear you. Just go in and dock at customs.” No one was answering and we had a clear window to make the entry, so that’s what we did and no one at customs seemed to mind at all that we didn’t have advanced permission to enter.
Navigating the Entrance to Marina Hemingway
The entrance to Marina Hemingway is well-marked and fairly easy to navigate when the conditions are calm. It is about 3/4 of a mile long, but very narrow (approximately 100 feet wide), with very unforgiving reefs on either side. Phillip is also always adamant that I tell people, when talking about the entrance, that the markers (three red on starboard and three green on port) are ON the reef itself, not inside of it. Meaning, if you hug the markers, there is a chance you could hit the reef, so shoot straight for the middle. Here is a map of the marina entrance:
I also made a video from footage a Libra crew member took when Captain Ryan was making his way through the entrance to Marina Hemingway this past December in some pretty harrowing conditions. The video is a good visual rendition of how short and narrow the entrance is (and how quickly you can be pushed through it when it’s blowing 28 out of the north!). Phillip and I would call this the “pucker factor.” Yipes!
Docking at Customs
After you make it past the reef and into the channel, you will turn left at the end and head toward the customs dock which is a large, bright turquoise concrete wall.
We found the staff who worked there (often two young men) were very polite and courteous in helping you secure your boat and disembark. They took each of us into the customs office to verify our passport and vessel registration.
One agent came aboard to fill out paperwork on the boat for our visas and to “check the boat.” I’m not sure what he was looking for other than a stowaway, weapons, drugs, big piles of money. I really can’t tell you. But whatever he saw seemed satisfactory to him and he was on and off in under five minutes.
The doctor then came aboard to ask us some medical questions, check our temperature and look around the boat as well.
He asked if we had had any stomach aches or fever. He took our temperature. He asked if the head was working properly and to see our first aid kit. He also asked if we had any narcotics on board. This man, too, was very polite and welcoming. We offered each of them a cold drink and snacks. Phillip said he tried to offer both the doctor and the young man a few dollars but they waved him off.
Getting Your Passport Stamped
I opted to get my passport stamped but they will ask you if you want it stamped or not.
Ka-chunk! Happy Traveler Annie. I can’t believe I got four stamps just this year: Portugal, France, Mexico and Cuba! With my Bahamas stamp from the 2015 Abacos Regatta that makes five total. The world is so big! With so many more ka-chunks in store!
The Canals at Marina Hemingway
The marina is huge! Able to accommodate some 230 boats, I believe was the number (and they said it fills during the big Hemingway billfish tournament in February). We were surprised, however, to find it was very empty when we were there, particularly as that was supposed to be Cuba’s “high season” for tourists and cruisers. Captain Ryan had told us Canal 1 (which is where they try to put all of the newcomers) is a little rough as it still gets a lot of the wind fetch from across the Gulf and it is not as close to the facilities. We later learned by “facilities” Ryan meant the fancy pool at the hotel, which is where he likes to be (the south side of Canal 2).
Upon Ryan’s recommendation, Phillip asked the young man at customs, after he assigned us a spot in Canal 1, if we could dock in Canal 2. The young man tried to get the Port Captain, Jose, on the radio to ask about the switch but could not hail him. Remember what Ryan said about the radios. Ryan also told us a lot about Jose. Just wait, he’s going to be your new best friend! Apparently, what spot you will have on the dock falls distinctly under the determination of the Port Captain because the young man at customs said he could not move us without Jose’s consent.
Thankfully as we were motoring our way toward our spot in Canal 1, we saw a team of guys waving us in and Phillip urged me to ask them if we could move to Canal 2. He thought—as there is one common thread among men of all nationalities—that the request would be better received coming from a blonde at the bow than the captain at the helm. Turns out he was right. Jose cocked his head to the side for a bit, thought for a minute, then said “Okay!” and steered us over to a spot on the north wall of Canal 2. Here is where we docked, spot 227:
Phillip and I were very pleased with this location as it was within easy walking distance of the showers, bathrooms, snack bar, marina office, etc. It was also well-protected and still a short walk from the convenience store by the road and Hotel Aquario on the south side of Canal 2, where you can spend a very enjoyable day lounging by the pool, eating at their restaurant there and using the wifi when they have it.
Can you spot Plaintiff’s Rest in this picture?
That’s her mast in the center of the photo! We like to keep her close by and feeling like a part of the family.
You have probably heard others mention it as well: the dock walls in Cuba are unforgiving. Just bare concrete, no rub rail or bumpers. Bring extra fenders to make sure your boat has a nice cushion against the concrete.
The Welcome Committee (Port Captain and Agricultural Department)
We jokingly began calling them the “Welcome Committee” because after you were there for a few days and you got to watch a lot of new boats come in, you noticed each time a new one docked, this crew of 7-8 marina folks would magically appear: the Port Captain, the agricultural guys, the trash man, the marina security guard, and then often 1-2 guys who work on boats around the marina offering to do work for the new gringo that just came in! They’re happy to do anything for you to earn some cash. We had a guy offer to do our stainless, our varnish, even scrub our bottom. While we did not take any of them up on the offer (we like to do our own work on Plaintiff’s Rest), assuming they are hard and diligent workers, you can get a lot of work done on your boat on the cheap at Marina Hemingway!
We met two Port Captains at Marina Hemingway, Jose and his brother Gabriel. This is Jose:
Great guy. Now why am I handing him Bengay? Because Captain Ryan told me to bring him some. “He’ll be your new best friend,” Ryan said and boy was he right! Jose loves Bengay! It’s actually for his wife who apparently has a lot of issues with arthritis and this magic cream makes her feel much better. I love making new friends, particularly in Cuba, so I brought him two tubes and Jose was doubly happy. He was also super nice in general. Jose made sure Phillip and I were happy with the slip and facilities. He told us about the restaurants in the area, the hotel across the way where we could get wifi, the marina hours and so much more about exchanging money, how to find a driver, what things should typically cost (so we wouldn’t get have to pay the really high tourist rates). In general, you just felt like Jose was looking out for you. And, like any good professional in hospitality, he remembered our names and greeted us with a smile every time he saw us around the marina. Jose also referred us to a driver at the marina. A super nice guy named Jorge who offered to drive us any time we needed and exchanged money for us. As I have mentioned before, we felt the people in Cuba were incredibly welcoming and helpful and we had a great experience at Marina Hemingway.
Here is Jose writing out the exchange rate for us and CUCs versus pesos. He was very helpful. We did hand him a few CUCs here and there more as a tip than anything and he was very grateful, but he never asked directly for anything. The agricultural guys, however … they were the only ones to explicitly say: “Now if you haaaaave anything for us,” they said with a playful cock of their heads. And, we were happy to give it. As you all have probably seen from the Cuba voyage videos we had bought a TON of chocolates, candies, and little toiletries to give away to the Cubans and I had made little goodie bags up of them, so we were happily handing them out left and right and the Cubans were very appreciative.
The men from the agricultural department were also very friendly and polite. They boarded the boat, asked us if we had any perishable foods or produce aboard, any pets or living plants.
Because we had been told by friends and fellow cruisers not to bring any produce into the country, Phillip and I had tried heartily (and did a pretty darn good job) of eating all of our fresh produce during the voyage.
We did have a few things we couldn’t get to that we tossed overboard before coming into Cuba. Once the agricultural guys peeked in our cabinets, lockers and fridge and saw that all of our provisions were dried goods, non-perishable, they were content. Mostly they just asked questions and took your answers as truth. We gave them some goodie bags a few CUCs and they were on their way.
The marina is very large and easy to maneuver. There is a big fuel dock at the end of the pier between Canals 2 and 3:
We had barely put a dent in our jerry cans on the deck during our voyage so we did not need to fuel up in Cuba; however, Captain Ryan advised he has fueled up at Marina Hemingway before without any issues.
We were told the water in Cuba can be a little sketch. If your immune system is not ready for it, you’re going to have a bad couple of days. The good news? The clinics are free and it’s probably not going to kill you. But, on that recommendation, we decided not to chance it, so we did not drink the tap water in Cuba, nor did we fill our tanks or wash our dishes with it. We bought a few large (2 gallon) bottles of water at the convenience store at the marina and drank on those during the time we were there (9 days) and that worked just fine for us. And, when wine only costs about $4/bottle, you really don’t acquire much thirst for water.
The marina is really well run. There is a trash can by each boat that is emptied each day. We even got to know the garbage man who came by every day to take it out as he always said hello. There is also a security guard that walks the docks often and checks on the boats.
It’s a good thing Captain Ryan told me, because I was so naiive, thinking I would have plenty of wifi in Cuba. I’ll only be off the grid for 4-5 days while we’re sailing I told him. “You’ll be off the grid until you get back to Key West,” he told me. And he was right and thankfully I did enough work ahead of time before we left Pensacola that it did not end up being too much of a problem and it was really nice to truly disconnect, no Facebook, no Instagram, no nothing. Trying to get a steady, consistent wifi stream in Cuba is not easy. You buy wifi cards at Hotel Acuario, 2 CUCs for one hour, and it is still a little spotty, particularly if other people are there trying to get on too. Phillip and I had to split the hour because we found we were kicking one another off even when using two different cards at the same time. Also, there were several days when I walked over to buy a card and they told me they simply didn’t have any. “Manana,” they said … two days in a row. What can I say? It’s Cuba. They just don’t have all the luxuries we do all the time. Wifi is definitely one.
You’ll love this too. I didn’t snap a pic of the wifi card but it has a little grey strip that you scratch off like a lotto ticket to get the password for the Hotel Aquario wifi. I didn’t realize it was a scratch strip (or what the heck it said in Spanish) so I kept typing in “rasguno aqui para contrasena” AS the password. That says “scratch here for password.” The lady at the hotel desk got a huge laugh at me when I went to her for help because my “password” wasn’t working. Don’t pull an Annie in Cuba folks! Be smarter than the scratch-off card.
The Marina Facilities (Showers and Bathrooms)
Okay, so you do have to bring your own toilet paper everywhere you go. Seriously. Do. I was surprised the first time I went to the facilities and found no paper in my stall. I went to the next and the next and the next and there was no paper in any of them! Then I saw it. On the way into the restrooms, by the door, there was a little table with a single roll of toilet paper (almost gone) sitting on a platter. I soon learned this was the group roll for everyone’s use in the restroom. We found this was common in many other restrooms around Cuba as they really have to ration certain commodities because they just don’t get much of them. It did become habit soon, though, and as you walked into a restroom the first thing you would do would be to look around for the “group roll” and tear yourself off a small section before you headed to the stall. If there was no roll (this happened often as well), you pulled the one out of your bag that you had brought (because you bring toilet paper everywhere you go!) and you used that. Not a big deal, but definitely something you would want a friend to tell you before you found yourself in a paperless dilemma. Now you know!
The facilities themselves are not the cleanest but they work. The water was either warm but did not spray well in one shower stall, or not warm but sprayed well in another. It was not a spa experience, but if that’s what you’re after, Cuba may not be the place for you. What we liked about being on the north wall of Canal 2 was that it was a very short walk to the bathrooms and showers (all contained inside a little snack bar hut on the end of the pier between Canals 1 and 2).
They also sold wine, cokes and a few little snacks there and we found it was a fun place to relax at the end of the day (to smoke our Cuban cigars!) and watch the sunset on the north side of the hut. That is where I’m sitting here, just outside of the snack bar.
And this is our Marina Hemingway sunset view:
We met several other cruisers while sitting there and shared some great “coming into Cuba” stories. The snack bar is definitely good cruisers gathering ground.
While there are some things about Marina Hemingway that are not as nice as marinas in the states, in other areas, Marina Hemingway has them beat hands down. One of those was the laundry department. There is a really nice gal who works in the snack bar who does the laundry for cruisers. We brought her four incredibly stinky bags of our sweaty, grimy passage clothes and towels, and she washed them all in one day, while we were out enjoying the town, for a total of $12 CUCs. They smelled amazing when we got them back and they were all still warm and folded. She even folded my underwear. What does that tell you?
We had heard the going rate for money exchange in Cuba USD for CUCs is 85%. Meaning, you take them $100 USD and they will give you 85 CUCs in return. Your dollar doesn’t stretch quite as far in Cuba. There are places in town where they will exchange your money. We met a very nice Canadian man who stays in Jaimanitas (the neighborhood just outside of Marina Hemingway) three months out of every year and he took us to the small bank where we made our initial exchange of USD for CUCs at a rate of 87%. Jose later put us in contact with a very nice driver at the marina, Jorge, who offered to exchange our money for us. Jorge is trying to save to send his wife to Panama and it helps him to exchange money for you and stockpile more USD. He made the exchange for us at the best rate possible: 90%. One note, though, do only try to exchange exactly what you think you will spend as you cannot use or exchange the CUCs anywhere else once you get back to the states. Here are a few so you can see what they look like:
CUCs versus Pesos
Pesos are the national denomination. 1 CUC is equivalent to 24 pesos. These are what the Cubans spend and they pay a lot less for their commodities (because they have much, much less to spend). Consider the “CUC” rate that you will pay the tourist rate. Where a Cuban might buy a loaf of bread for 10 pesos, the same vendor will probably charge you 1 CUC for it. Why? Because that’s still a very affordable rate for you (about $1.25 for a loaf of bread) that you are happy to pay, so why shouldn’t he? The tourism that is coming into the country definitely benefits the Cubans and they are seizing the opportunity to earn more than they probably have in decades. Now, you are more than welcome to negotiate (and you probably should on some things, such as room rates, taxi fares, etc.). We were told often by folks who had been there a while that they were paying better rates on some things, so feel free to try and talk vendors down if you would like. It is likely they will compromise.
Cost to Stay at the Marina
This is our actual receipt from Marina Hemingway:
You’ll see they charge a $75.00 visa per person and a rate of $0.70/foot for our vessel. The power and special use permit costs were also nominal. This was for a 9-day stay at Marina Hemingway. While it is not as inexpensive as, say, Mexico, in all, we found Cuba very affordable. And we loved every minute of our stay there!
I have plenty more stories, photos and footage from Cuba to come, but we had received so many specific questions about these types of logistics, we wanted to put out an informative post first. We hope you have found some of this information helpful if you are planning to sail to Cuba as well. Any other questions, feel free to leave them in a comment below and we will do our best to answer.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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!
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?
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!
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!