Heading West & A New Body of Water

26 – 27 April 2017

Once it was established that we weren’t going to venture to the Bahamas this season, we sat in Key West for a few more weeks.  We had every intention of moving north again and heading back to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and then further north during the summer.  But as we started making initial plans it became evident that neither of us were really too excited about making the journey again, traveling along the same routes and seeing the same sites one more time.

We started looking at different options, and with recommendations and guidance from other cruising friends we decided to head west and north, to explore SW Florida.

First stop would be Marco Island.  The passage from Key West to Marco Island appeared to be a pretty straight shot.  The distance of xx miles meant we would depart Stock Island Village Marina in mid afternoon and arrive at Marco Island after sunrise so we would be able to navigate the respective channels in daylight.

We untied the dock lines and headed off.  The promised wind never did materialize and so we motored on.  As we left the channel of Key West into the Gulf of Mexico all was going well.

We will admit that we were a bit naive and didn’t really expect any crab pots in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but we were wrong.  Just as the sun began making its way over the horizon we started seeing the daunting traps and said – “oh f-ck”.  We sure hope we won’t hit one in the dark.  While we still had light we safely dodged line after line of the traps.  They seemed more gnarly than ones we are used to seeing along the coast and in the ICW.

We continued on making great time through the evening thinking we were safe in 55 feet of water until the inevitable “thunk” was heard around midnight and the speed dropped by a knot.  Uh oh!

We assumed we were dragging a pot but there was nothing we could easily or safely do to rid ourselves of the offending object and so we plodded along at the reduced speed, frustrated and hoping no damage was being done to the boat.  We also hoped like hell that we wouldn’t pick up a second one or that the dragging trap didn’t trap another.

8 hours later we found ourselves at Marco Island, being greeted by playful dolphins (a sight we haven’t had for a while) and navigated up the channel to Marco Island Marina.  As we knew we had the trap in tow, we opted for a bow in approach to the slip.  Bob did have difficulty steering in the tight quarters due to the rudder being hindered by the line, but we made it into the slip safe and sound without incident.

Later in the day we came across a couple of divers who were working at the marina, and asked if they could dive our boat and free us from whatever we dragged in.

The diver started at our boat, and unwrapped the line from around the rudder (again the trap slipped behind the propeller and was lodged between the propeller shaft and the rudder – urgh!).    Then he started pulling and pulling and pulling, but couldn’t find the trap.  He eventually got out of the water with the line walked down 4 slips away and continued to pull until he was able to retrieve that trap that was in the middle of the fairway.  This must have been over 65 feet away from the boat!  He hauled up the cage which he said had to weigh at least 50 pounds and filled with mud.  For all this trouble we were hoping to at lest find a couple of stone crabs inside. but instead he only found a pig foot which was evidently used as bait.  Having no use for the trap ourselves, the diver was happy to take it off our hands for his own use as long as he promised not to put it in the middle of a channel.

We hope there is no lasting damage to the rudder, but won’t know for sure until the next haul out and in-depth inspection, and we are hoping to not require one of those for a while still.

For now, we will enjoy the serenity and hospitality of Marco Island for the next month.

Getting back to Havana….

Sra. Tata was always available and ready to do anything to make our stay more comfortable.  We had arranged our own transportation back to Havana, or so we thought.  When the taxi did not arrive when expected, Tata made all the phone calls necessary to negotiate and arrange a taxi to take us back to Havana.

Our Casa Particular

April 2017 – In Vinales, Cuba

_DSC0392We found this fabulous casa particular on Airbnb before we left for Cuba.

Immediately upon our arrival in Vinales, we were greeted with the biggest and most welcoming smile by Sra Tata, owner of the casa particular.  
The location of this casa particular was perfect for us.  We were just a few short blocks off the busy main street making it an easy walk to find restaurants, but far enough off main street that offered a quiet respite where we were able to “get away” from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vinales. 
It was also convenient for any tours into the valley and tobacco farms as the tours all seemed to  to meet at the far end of the road.  And let’s not forget the welcoming mojito bar just up the road on the way to town.
Upon arriving, Sra Tata greeted us so enthusiastically we instantly felt welcomed to her Casa Particular and home. 
_DSC0440Once we were shown our rooms, we were pleasantly surprised and most appreciative of a very delightful welcome drink of chilled fresh juice.  Just what we needed after 2.5 hours spent in a 1954 Chevy without air-conditioning coming from Havana.  
We had booked two separate rooms.  Our rooms were across from each other, and shared a large table and chairs between for a comfortable place to congregate with each other.  We were pleasantly surprised to find each room had a small refrigerator which was well stocked with beer, soft drinks, and water.  We were able to refresh before and after sightseeing the town. 
The rooms were impeccably clean, showers had hot water and the the air conditioners were welcome after a hot day of exploring.   
Although Tata does not speak much English, and we speak little Spanish, communication never seemed to be a problem.  With many hand gestures, and a bit of patience we were able to have conversations.  We asked her to assist us in booking a horseback tour.  Within minutes our tour was booked for the next day, and she ensured us we would have an English speaking guide.  The guide met us outside the Casa Particular the next morning right on time.  
The next request we had was a recommendation for dinner the first night.  Again, Tata did not disappoint, and suggested what turned out to be a most lovely restaurant that was very well priced with an extensive menu.
P1030386Each morning we climbed the steps to the rooftop of the casa particular where we would find a private table for four set up for breakfast.  (Nope, no hand rail to be found.) _DSC0443
_DSC0445We were greeted with an abundant spread of food that included made to order eggs prepared however we each wanted (hand gestures came in handy when ordering), fresh fruit, breads, and hot beverages of choice.
Views from the rooftop. _DSC0447_DSC0457_DSC0451
We ordered a dinner one night and can honestly say it was one of the best dinners we had during our entire time in Cuba.  With the choice of beef, pork, chicken, fish or lobster, we all chose lobster.  Served at the private table near our rooms with multiple side dishes we were offered more food than we could possibly eat, and all of it was prepared wonderfully and quite delicious.  
The Casa Particular is well laid out and offers privacy for multiple groups.  Our breakfasts were served on the rooftop while unbeknownst to us another group of 6 or more people was being served at a table in another corner of the property.  We never felt like we were sharing our space with anyone else.  
_DSC0696Sitting in the comfortable rocking chairs on the large front porch overlooking the quiet street is a great way to relax and watch the small quaint world of Vinales pass by. _DSC0462
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Local vendors pass by, selling their fresh produce, ice cream and even shoes to the local residents giving you a small bit of insight into what real life in Vinales may be like. 

Heading to Vinales

April 2017

As we were planning our Cuban adventure we all agreed it would be great to leave the city of Havana for a couple days and explore the inland rural area of Vinales.

We had booked a Casa Particular which is Spanish for private home.  Casa Particulares are private home stays, very much like a Bed & Breakfast.  Private citizens are allowed to rent out rooms in their homes for tourists.  Casa Particulares can be found throughout Cuba and are identified by a small sign on the door, with two blue triangles (“roofs”) against a white background.

To get to Vinales we had to secure a taxi in Havana to drive us the 180 kilometers.  The other trick was to communicate that we wanted them to come pick us up 2 days later and negotiate a price.  All with broken Spanish on our part and no English on taxi drivers’ parts.  The night before we were to depart, Ron negotiated with a driver and thought it was all arranged for the old car of his choice and a rate he agreed to.  In the morning, we discovered that wasn’t necessarily the case.

After readying the boat for our 2 day absence, tying fenders at multiple heights to protect the side of the boat from the rough concrete dock and allow for rising and falling tides, asking our neighbors to check on it occasionally, we made our way to the planned taxi pickup area.

_DSC0279We waited and still no taxi.  Ron walked down to the taxi depot in the marina again, and discovered the preferred taxi was there, but the driver was not the same and this driver didn’t know anything about the prearranged deal.  So…. more negotiations occurred.

Eventually, we thought it all got sorted and this 1952 Chevy rolled up to pick up the rest of us.

P1030373The driver spoke no English, so we enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive looking at the changing scenery.


_CSC0442“Enjoyed the drive” may be too generous of a word for those of us in the back seat.  Having old 1950’s cars as taxis in Cuba is cool, but some of those backseats have not been refurbished, and have had over 60 years of butts in them.  Needless to say after 2.5 hours of sagging into the middle we were ready to get out.

_DSC0389Once arrived another negotiation ensued (in broken Spanish and no English) to be sure the driver would pick us up in two days to drive us back to Havana.  With that sorted (or so we thought) we got ready to enjoy exploring Vinales and our Casa Particular.


Boat Parade in Havana Harbor

2 April 2017 – Recreational boats are not usually allowed in Havana Harbor, but the 60 boats that came from Key West with the rally were invited to participate in the largest boat parade in the Harbor in Cuban history.


Dreamtime is dressed and ready to go.

_DSC0143We left Marina Hemingway in mid morning along with everyone else.  Cuba is very serious about customs and usually when you leave the marina by boat, you are supposed to stop and get inspected to confirm who is on the boat and you don’t have any stowaways.

_DSC0140Because 60 boats were leaving and later arriving en masse they modified the procedure and as we did a slow pass by the customs dock we had to shout out the boat name and number of people on board.  If the number you shouted out did not agree with the paperwork from you cleared in, you had to stop and sort it out.  We yelled out our boat name and “cuatro” (holding up 4 fingers – in case they couldn’t understand our attempt at Spanish), and they waved us through.



We made our way to the location where all the participating boats were to meet up.
We had been assigned position numbers based on alphabetical by boat builder, so the radio was busy as people tried to figure out what boat they were supposed to be behind or before.  Amazingly it all worked out and we were queued in our proper position for the start of the parade.


Residents lined up along the Malecon to wave and cheer to the boats as we passed by.

_DSC0225 _DSC0224 _DSC0220

The coolest experience we had was when a trumpet player played the United States National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, in celebration of our visit.  (Sorry the photo and video did not turn out)

P1030360P1030339This was our first boat parade, and while the 3 crew members enjoyed sitting on the foredeck waving back to the crowds, Captain Bob had a less relaxing experience as he had to maintain safe distance from the boat in front as the pace of boats slowed and sped up in fits and starts.



The famous landmark of Havana Harbor is Morro Castle, built in the 1700’s when Cuba was a Spanish colony.  This fortress was used to protect the harbor for centuries. _DSC0212


Havana Harbor can be a busy harbor with large ships coming and going.  There seemed to always be a cruise ship docked and today was no different.




And then it was time to turn around and head back out of the harbor and the friendly race back to Marina Hemingway commenced.





And some additional photos of the skyline from the water:


First Day in Havana, Cuba

1 April 2017 – The organizers of the boat rally had arranged for a bus and walking tour of Old Havana for all of the participants.

Ron and Bob took this opportunity to sip their first Cuban rums on the bus before we departed.    _CSC1206

On the tours we learned much of the fascinating Cuban history which we all admitted we didn’t know much about.  As walked the streets we got to see and hear the many sights and sounds that are found in Havana. _DSC0080

We were intrigued by the many different styles of architecture that we saw.  You could identify which buildings were truly historic, others built in the United States heyday of the 40’s and 50’s when the United States had very active business and trade relations with Cuba and it was a holiday destination for the USA.  Other buildings  were in stark contrast with the block style built during the Soviet era after the USA discontinued all relations with Cuba.  The mix of architecture, makes for an interesting skyline.

While many buildings were beautiful and intact, there were many that were under restoration, some damaged by hurricanes from years past.

The city is full of street vendors of all kinds and if you are lucky you will see some street performers as well.

Cuba is known for its old US cars from the 1950’s and we looked forward to riding in one or two as our taxi.  Our first night we found ourselves squeezed into this little 1951 Henry to get back to Marina Hemingway. _DSC0138

Heading to Cuba

The sailing charter company, Harmony Yacht Vacations, we shared the dock with at Stock Island Marina organized a rally to Cuba in conjunction with Cruising World.  We aren’t usually joiners but this time decided we didn’t want to miss the the fun and joined the other 59 boats participating.

Ron and Sandy couldn’t resist the opportunity of a lifetime and flew back to Florida to join us on this week long adventure.

_CSC1124Part of the rally would include the opportunity to participate in a boat parade into Havana Harbor, where private vessels are not usually allowed.  We were told this was a big deal, and were asked to dress our boats for the occasion.  A couple of days before we left, we did a rehearsal dressing with decorative flags, just to be sure of how we wanted to do it.

The organizers arranged to stagger the departure times depending on expected speed of sailing.  As we usually calculate our sailing speed at about 5.5 knots per hour we are considered one of the slowest boats, and are scheduled to leave at 3 pm with the first group. In a best case scenario we could expect to arrive in Havana by mid morning.  The weather forecast was for “salty sailing”, meaning windy and choppy conditions that were supposed to calm down through the night.

We left Stock Island in mid-afternoon, planning for an overnight passage. The winds had calmed a bit by then and we were hoping for a pleasant passage.

_CSC1129With Bob at the helm we navigated out of the channel, raised the sails and took advantage of the early wind.

P1030325Unfortunately the wind was more fickle than forecast and died in the middle of the night, the seas got sloppy which made for a less than comfortable ride, and our arrival was many hours later than planned.  But we got there safe and in good spirits which is what matters most.

P1030327As we approached Cuban waters, Bob raised the yellow quarantine flag, signifying that we were entering from a foreign country and have not yet gone through customs.

_DSC0196The officials at the customs dock were forewarned and prepared for the 60 boats arriving to Marina Hemingway, a very usual experience for them.  They tried to keep things moving as smoothly as possible, but still the number of boats arriving at around the same time meant we all had to wait yet another hour for our turn to enter the harbor.

P1030333Once we were boarded and inspected by customs, Bob lowered the quarantine flat, raised the Cuban courtesy flag and we were welcomed into Cuba!

More Sightseeing Up the Keys

26 February – 4 March

thumb_DSCN0001_1024 59After our fun at the Dolphin Research Center on Marathon we continued north to Key Largo.  We found a hotel for the night to start the next day at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Here, we explored the on-sight aquarium, sat through what ended being a fascinating video presentation and enjoyed a 2.5 hour glass bottom boat excursion over a portion of the only living coral reef in the United States.  This reef in the Florida Keys is the 3rd largest coral reef in the world, surpassed by The Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Belize Barrier Reef.  Unfortunately no good photos were captured of the varied coral and sea life we saw through glass bottom boat.  For those that don’t snorkel or dive, this is a great option to see things you can’t see many other places.