Friday, May 20, 2016

¡Viva! la Habana

Sailing to Cuba. We find a legal way to sail our boat to Cuba. 

For about a year and a half we had been searching for a legal way to get our boat to Cuba.  We had found Travel Agencies that sponsored People-to-People trips, but they required flying on a charter flight with more people than we chose to travel with.  None of them had any experience with taking a private yacht to Cuba.  Within the year of 2015, however requirements were becoming more lenient. We thought seriously about sailing the Pensacola-to-Cuba race sponsored by the Pensacola Yacht Club in October 2015, but I was just coming off a surgery and wasn't ready to commit to the physical part of the journey.  At that time, boats and aircraft heading to cuba had to have a form 3300 approved by the Coast Guard, and they also had to have an Export License issued by the Department of Trade.  These seemed to be hurdles to make it more difficult to get approval.  By early 2016, the requirements had laxed by no longer requiring the Export License, and all we had to have was the approved form 3300.  We signed up for a Rally sponsored by AIM Group, which is a holding company that owns numerous marine oriented magazines, specifically SAIL magazine and Passage Maker magazine.  We ended up with 6 boats and about 20 people in the rally.  There were 4 power yachts and two sailboats.  The instructions were, "get your boat to Cuba, and we will help you navigate the Island and Culture once you get there." 

Depart Gulf Shores, Alabama March 13, 2016 for Marathon Key, 500 miles SE across the Gulf of Mexico. 

Quinn Stewart, Bob McKay and Charlie Stewart depart Gulf Shores Alabama on a bucket list adventure that will take us over 1300 miles to Havana Cuba and back. Bob would only sail to Marathon, and the rest of the trip would be by Charlie and Quinn.  Of the 6 boats in the Rally, we had the furthest to travel.   Before departing we have spent nearly a year preparing the logistics for this trip.  Since the US Government still has an embargo against the Cuban Castro regime, it is still somewhat difficult to get the proper approval to take a private yacht into Cuban waters, and most importantly, to legally return to the United States.  Since President Obama visited last month, things have gotten easier, but it is still illegal for a US citizen to vacation to Cuba. This presents a problem for a sailor who wants to go and feels that the authorities will now look the other way, however if they get the wrong officer, on the wrong day, they could face federal charges and chance having the boat boarded and confiscated.  Our decision was to join a group sponsored by Sail Magazine and Passage Maker Magazine.  This allowed us to participate in a government approved "People-to-People" program, yet still have the autonomy to sail our own private vessels into Cuban waters and visit Cuban Ports.
3/13/2016 We sailed out of Pensacola ship channel at 1730hrs headed SW towards Marathon.  Our objective was to go straight across without stopping at any of the Florida ports.  This would put us at sea for about 100 hours, and if the weather gave us that much time, then we were going to take it.  If things started getting stinky, or if we had some mechanical failure, or medical problem, then we had a backup plan to cut in at Clearwater Florida and seek safe harbor there.
2000 hrs.  for the first five hours the wind was perfect and we were able to sail with no engine at hull speed.  This front end sailing gave us some confidence that we would have enough fuel to make the entire trip without stopping.
3/15/16 0414hrs.  Charlie on watch replacing Quinn. Engine on but we got some good sailing before 0200.  Fog setting in around Tampa Bay and we are getting reports from the Coast Guard on VHF.  We are 82 miles off Tampa, 202 miles from Pensacola on a course of 142 degrees towards Fort Meyers.  We can go in there if we have to for any reason.
0900 hrs.  Fog is set in and visibility is 1/4 mile.  Watching boat on radar on our starboard side 4 miles away and closing. 1015hrs. We pick up the vessel on AIS and call him to discuss him crossing our bow with us cutting in behind him.  He says he is a tug with a 1000 foot tow behind him.  We cut power and stand off until he crosses our bow.  We watch him on AIS and radar.  1030hrs. He has passed our track ahead of us and he is going 7.5 knots.  We are going 6.  All is clear.  Thank heavens for AIS and radar.
2200 hrs.  Fog is setting in very heavy now.  We see a boat on Radar but sight visibility is only 200 feet.  We are flying in the dark on instruments only.  If we were in close to land it would be wise to pull over and drop anchor and wait for the fog to lift.  Since we are about 50 miles off shore that is not an option, and there is less traffic out here than we would have inland.  We truck on under instrument only staring at the radar screen looking for any blips. If we see one, we go the other direction.  Any boat out here is likely bigger than us, and probably made of steel instead of fiberglass.
3/17/15 Arrive at Burdines Marina in Marathon Key.  Tie the boat up and make plans to drive back to Birmingham for a while until we come back down for the next leg of the trip.

4/12/16 Getting the boat ready to leave Marathon to Key West.

Tied up at Burdines, slip #1
We are tied up at Burdines Marina on the entrance to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon.  We are in Slip #1, right next to the Gas Dock and the restaurant.  Here we can top off all our fuel tanks, and fill all our water tanks with good clean US water.  We know that when we get to Cuba, we will be advised not to drink their water.  We carry 125 gallons in our regular water tanks, and then another 25 gallons in 5gallon and smaller containers hidden all over the boat.  This is our best drinking water.  We make trips to Publix and buy food stuff to make sure we have enough for several weeks.  Mostly we get canned goods, along with pastas and anything else that can make a good meal by boiling water.  We can't take Chicken, fresh meats or any vegetables into Cuba.

We get Coast Guard approval to enter Cuban waters (USCG form 3300) and decide to leave a day early because of weather. 

Key West to Havana. 

There is one thing that every sailor, every boater watches out for.  Never cross the Gulf Stream with strong opposing winds.  This causes a "rage effect" and can create steep and eradic waves up to 12 feet on the beam.  Not a good position to be in for any sized vessel.  We are watching GRIB files and satellite weather that  we get on the boat, and also getting reports from Chris Parker who is a professional weather router.  Chris has advised that the 14th through the 16th are decent travel days, but getting worse every day.  By Sunday the 17th, things could become more serious, and even dangerous.  We have decided to leave on the 15th with plans to cross the Gulf Stream before midnight of the 16th.
4/15/16 0800hrs.  We depart Burdine's Marina and are headed South and West to Key West, right down Hawks Channel.  It is a beautiful sail with 12k winds out of the SE, which puts us on a port beam reach.  131 nm to Hemingway Marina, Cuba.
Weather looks good today, but front is coming through later.  Winds are light at 6kts from SE and we are sailing at 3-4 kts.
1518hrs.  On course 245 degrees C to enter the Gulf Stream at N24 10.00; W082 32.00, then we turn to 180 degrees South to cross the Gulf Stream which is a 50 mile wide East flowing river in the middle of the ocean, flowing at a rate of 2 to 4 knots. (Note: in maritime nomenclature East Wind refers to the direction the wind is coming from.  East Current refers to the direction the current is going toward, therefore East wind on an East current are opposing each other.) 
We sail all night with East Winds at about 12-15 knots and seas at 4-6 feet on the beam.  Since we are a sailboat we will be more stable than power boats because we have the wind in our sails holding us on the water, and we have 7,500 pounds of lead 5.3 feet under the boat in the keel. Planning boats will tend to rock and roll more with the beam seas. More modern high-end power boats can have trim-tabs and gyros to help compensate that roll. 
We have a wonderful all night sail with the boat cruising at 6-7 knots steady all night long.  Good ride.
4/16/16 0700.  We have arrived across the Gulf Stream and have hove-to in calm waters off the Cuban shore waiting for daylight.  Got here at 0530 and having coffee looking at sunrise over Havana.
Hove-to watching Sunrise over Cuba waiting for daylight

0830 I attempted to call Marina Hemingway harbormaster on channel 16.  No response.  We proceed to the Sea Buoy outside the entrance to Marina Hemingway.  Again attempted to call Harbormaster and no response.
0900  Finally changed to Channel 77 and finally got his response.  He advised us NOT to enter and to head offshore 3 miles and wait for him to call back.  We don't know what's going on, but we do what he says since we are in Cuban waters by now.  There are two other yachts out there doing the same thing so that puts us a little more at ease.  We call one of the boats to see what he knew and he only spoke French with a little broken English, just enough to know that he didn't know what was up either.  Finally, at about 1400 they called us and said to proceed in to the harbor.  They were too busy to see us so they just had us wait until they were ready.  When we got to Customs, I could see why they were behind.

Clearing Customs in Marina Hemingway, Cuba.

Before we could proceed to a dock, we must stop at the Customs Dock and go through the procedures of them inspecting us and our boat.  We had 5 sets of officers come on board over about a two hour period and they filled out paperwork and checked everything from lockers, cabinets, to refrigerator and freezer.  They laughed when they saw what we had in our freezer.....virtually nothing.  Then they brought on two different dogs sniffing for drugs, or people I guess.  Finally we were approved and got our visas. We were assigned a slip and headed to Canal 1, slip 116. 

4/17/16  We are checked into Marina Hemingway and have power and water.  Power is .35 per kwh, water is .06 per gallon, and slip rental is .70 per foot/day, or $29 day. Prior to Obama's visit it was .35 per foot, but they changed it last week. They took Obama's advice about being like US. 
Sunset and we are finally tied up at our dock

Getting the lay of the land and seeing a first glimpse of what the hidden Cuba is really like.

My bike anchored at Hemingway Yacht Club
4/18/16.  0900  It is Monday morning and we are headed over to the Club Nautico Internacional Hemingway de Cuba, which is the Hemingway Yacht club.  We have joined the yacht club for $150 and now will be able to use their facilities and attend the Spanish Class that they have set up for us at the club.  The club is a great advocate for sailors and fishermen from all over the world coming to Cuba, and the Commodore, Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich,  has political clout with the Cuban Government if someone were to need some help.

Charlie at Hemingway Yacht Club

Each morning we would ride our bikes over to the yacht club and attend our Spanish Class which was led by Isabella, who is an interpreter for the club, and did a great job trying to teach us old dogs a new trick.  The Spanish class was part of the requirement of the People-to-People special visa that we had to adhere to in order to legally visit Cuba in accordance with a government approved program.
Although many of the current regulations are more relaxed than they were even 6 months ago, it is still illegal for a US citizen to visit or vacation in Cuba without one of these special permissions. 
Bar at Hemingway Yacht Club
Isabella teaching Spanish class

Burgees from YC's  all over the world

Earnest Hemingway and Fidel

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Each day after class (from 9-12) we would usually grab a cab and go into Havana to visit some venue or part of the city.  Havana is one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, and has buildings dating from the 1600's, 1700's and 1800's.  Hardly anything was built or maintained after 1959.  That is why you see so many old buildings, and old cars.  They have literally kept the old cars running by whatever means possible, therefore creating a museum of old American classics still driving the streets of Havana.
Quinn riding by a classic '59 MG-A like his

Charlie checks out the old Chevy

Charlie in front of the Hotel beside the Canal #3
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   We spent several days traveling to old Havana and some of the small villages surrounding Havana.  There was lots of traffic, and lots of people.

Charlie at Mosaic village

Is Quinn really driving that taxi?

Traffic in downtown Havana

Our taxi driver waiting for us
Old Blue

Kids building a new rod with a Russian truck suspension

Sights and People of Old Havana

Tile mosaics throughout a village
Catholic Church in Old Havana

Inside Catholic Church

Massive doors of Catholic Church

Old building in downtown Havana
Cuba Capital Building under repair, Like ours.

Refurbished Cuba Arts Center

Taxi Stand

On the street in downtown Havana
Typical narrow street in old Havana

Hole-in-the-wall bar Old Havana

Housing in Havana

Favorite Watering Hole of Hemingway

Inside one of the old buildings, used today

Though some things never change, the Rumba is not like it was yesterday!

Crowded side street Old Hvana

Artistic security

Morrow Castle, Icon of Cuba

Top of Russian embassy

Morro castle and Havana Harbor Entrance. We were not allowed in this harbor.
We then took a trip to Cojimar, a fishing village 18 miles east of Havana.  

This village has a small inlet and bay from the Ocean, and is where Hemingway often kept his fishing boat, Pilar.  There is a waterfront restaurant/bar that was a frequent home of Earnest Hemingway.  We had lunch at the La Terraza De Cojimar and had dinner and drinks at the same bar with Hemingway, at different times. 
One of many "favorite" bars of Hemingway. Notice the tour buses.

Cojimar fishing village and boat harbor.  Pilar stayed here.

Fortress guarding Cojimar harbor

They loved Hemingway

la Terraza De Cojimar

(Another) One of Hemingway's favorite bars

Hemingway's house is now a museum.  You can see why he liked to sit there on the veranda and drink rum and read and write as he looked out over the Cuba vista.

Hemingway's house

Reading room

Charlie and Quinn on Hemingway's porch

Road going down to the garden and chicken pens
News that his wife had died

Pilar, the fishing chair
Pilar, the boat of Hemingway's life
Charlie has arrived at Hemingway's house

 These are the 6 boats in our flotilla:

Moxi, Nordhaven 55

Turangalilia, Neptunis 72

October Princess, Viking 72
Loose Change, Roughwataer 42

RIO, Out Island 41

OneEighty, Pearson 424.  That's us.

April 20, 2016.  My birthday.  Birthday party aboard the Turangalilia.

One of the couples in our group was gracious enough to have a dinner party aboard their boat, and so I took the opportunity to label it as my Birthday Party.  Bob and Meredith  Bush had invited our group over to their boat, Turangalilia, a Neptunis 72, from Sunset Harbor YC in Miami Beach.  We had also invited Isabella, our Spanish Teacher to join us but since she was Cuban, she was restricted by the Castro Regime government to even get close to a boat.  She was not able to attend.
The good ship Turangalilia

We take a two day trip into the interior of the Island to see how the average Cuban lives.

  4/23/16 0800.   Saturday.  It is the weekend and we are up and getting ready to leave on a inter-island trip for two days.  We have two cars rented with local drivers and we have a small group that is heading out about 250 miles inland to see some of the interior of Cuba, and more importantly experience the culture and scenery of the remote villages of Cuba.
Heading South following our guide in his 1952 Ford

Beware of slower traffic on the Interstate

Tobacco farmers get it done the old fashioned way
  We are on our way to the town of Venales in the center of the Tobacco Country.  On the way we stop at a roadside park to see the interesting mountain formations and the fertile soil that the Tobacco loves so much.   
Charlie overlooking the valley floor

They say this was the ocean bottom long ago, and the floor dropped

In the tobacco shed rolling cigars

Chuck is testing the very local  Cuban cigar
           We finally rolled in to Venales and drove up to the hostel, or private home that we are going to stay in for the night.  At first we were not impressed.  Block house, dirt street, and the poorest of the poor.  However, these people had Character and Love.  Once we got to meet them, we fell in love with them.  We stayed in the home of Marita, a young lady of about 34 who had opened up her home and expanded it with two rental rooms.  She got some help from the Government, (who by the way owns everything) and has an agreement to pay 200 CUC's to the government every month for the privilege of running a B&B.  She charges 30 CUC's per night and has two rooms.  At the end of the year if she makes a profit, she pays a special amount to be determined on top of that.  Most impressive is that she would love to be a entrepreneur and business woman, but unfortunately will never have the chance to really work for herself. She is well educated and speaks good English, which many her age and younger have learned in school.  The Cuban government regulates her every move. 

Marita keeping the books

view of the street from Marita's roof

Marita's outside kitchen

Two beds and a bath..Nice enough and clean
Next door to Marita's house

We tour a cave in one of the Mountains

We take a river ride through another cave

A local Cuban Senorita keeping her cool
Quinn in the cave entrnce

   4/24/16  We return to Marina Hemingway for our Spanish class on Monday and spend some time back in Havana at the Art Museum, Market and Old Cemetery, which is 9 miles away.     

Riding my bike at Marina Hemingway

Most of our Spanish Class at the YC

Residence in urban Havana

Old buildings withstanding time

Bright colors at the Market streets

Jorge is the chef at the Yacht Club. This  is his only stove

Parking in front of the Yacht Club. In the Pink

Working on the marina Bulkhead




On the streets of Havana

Reminds me of my uncle Howard's old Plymouth he had in 1959

Personal guide at the Cuba National Cemetery. Quinn and Bob Warshawer with Julio




4/28/16.  It is time for us to leave.  Only a 14 day US visa. 

I checked with the Harbor Master, Miguel, this morning to get departure procedures and to establish departure costs.  We wanted to be sure we had enough money to pay our fees, yet not come home with very much in Cuba CUC's, since they could not be converted back in the US. Our departure fee was just under 700 CUC's and we were able to exchange our American dollars for just the right amount of CUCs.  We paid our bill and would be able to depart first thing the next morning.
4/29/2016 We leave the dock at 0730 and proceed to the customs office.  They again boarded our boat and had us checked out.  Mostly they wanted to make sure that we had on board the things that we came with, ie: life raft and bicycle etc., and that we didn't have anything on board that we didn't come with, ie: stowaways.  We had no problems, and after about 30 minutes were on our way out of the harbor for our 100 mile return trip across the Gulf Stream back to the good ole USA.  We are leaving on the 29th because of the weather window that says Thursday and Friday are good sailing days, but Saturday and Sunday start getting bad with strong winds and bucking seas. We don't want any of that in the Stream.
Quinn making sea-ready as we depart Cuba

We are sailing in the GulfStream at 8 knots

Beautiful blue water of the Gulf Stream


We arrive in the US at Midnight, but home is not so "sweet".

We had perhaps one of the best sailing days I can remember.  We were on a beam reach for 16 hours with the boat performing perfectly at hull speed, 7.5 knots.  Perhaps we should not have bragged about how great things were going.  When we arrived at the Key West Ship channel at Midnight, I made the decision not to enter an unknown harbor in the dark, so we chose to hove-to in calm wind and waters until daylight, and then proceed in to Key West Bight.  While we were hove-to, we got one of our sheets loose in the water and when we put the engine in gear, it wrapped the line very tight around the prop.  So much so, that we bent the entire shaft and strut.  We had no engine to assist us in navigating the ship channel and Key West Harbor.  At daylight , I dove the prop and was able to clear the rope, and to confirm the damage.  We sailed back to the area of the Ship Channel sea-buoy, then called the Coast Guard to report our re-entry into US waters, as we are required to do, and also get them to call Tow-Boat US for us.  Tow-Boat US sent a cruiser out to us within 45 minutes and arranged to tow us into Robbie's Boat Yard on Stock Island.  There we were met with accommodating people, and arranged to pull the boat on Monday morning to start the repair process.  We were hauled and blocked on Monday morning, and spent the rest of the week on the hard waiting on parts and labor.  We got it all put back together and were back in the water the following Friday.  One week on the hard. 
Removing Max-Prop

Bent shaft and strut

Bubba unbolting the shaft

No easy access to shaft and v-drive

Sitting on the hard

Max-Prop pieces apart in a bucket

On Saturday May 7, 2016.  We spend the day and night in Key West Harbor at the KW  Bight, a marina right next to the Schooner Wharf in KW.  We rest, we prepare the boat for departure tomorrow, we change Oil and Filter, we fill with water, we have a good dinner at a fine Key West restaurant, and go to bed early.  This has to be a good omen day, it is my Mom's birthday that she shares with her twin sister Sara.

Finally, headed home.

Sunday May 8, 2016  Happy Mother's Day.  We are up at out of the harbor by 0810.  Sailing now at 7knots with beam wind and headed north to Florida.  We plan to stay within 20 miles of the West coast of Florida for a while until we make sure all of the work on the bottom that we had done last week stays on the boat.  Good sailing and we are able to save enough fuel to make a decision to cut across the Gulf straight for Pensacola.
When we get off the coast of Venice Florida we set our compass for NW and head for Pensacola.

5/11/2016.  Mostly an uneventful sail across the Gulf of Mexico, and that is just the way we like it.  We saw the Coast Guard hove-to about 50 miles off Tampa, and found out later they were probably looking for another Sailboat, the 46 foot Eikia, which has been reported lost at sea en-route from Fort Myers to Dauphin Island, roughly the same route and time we are out here.  Weather has been good, so I don't know what could have happened.  Anyway, we haven't seen them.

5/11/16 at 1400hrs.  We enter Pensacola Ship Channel and were pleased to see that the US Navy had sent a FLY OVER for us and gave us an airshow as we entered our home waters.
Our Cuba adventure was something to remember, and a big check off the bucket list, but it is still great to be home and GREAT TO BE AN AMERICAN!!
The Blue Angles giving us a fly-by

Then an air show
They made an "O" for OneEighty,
or is it an E" for the End.