Friday, May 06, 2011

Nova Scotia, Trepassey and St. John’s Newfoundland

We sailed straight up from P-town to Nova Scotia and made a quick overnight stop in Chester with Chrick and Beth before heading back up to Newfoundland.  Our confidence level about sailing in these waters was higher but it remains an area where planning around weather is key.

When we arrived in Trepassey we tied up again to the rickety dock.  We were surprised to meet a group of Spaniards on the dock.  They were taping an episode for a well-known series in Spain focusing on fog.  Trepassey has on average 200 days of fog a year, making it the foggiest place on earth.  An interesting claim to fame.  They were terribly disappointed as for their entire stay the fog levels were at an all-time historical low and the sun shone ironically the entire time.

In Trepassey we were met again with the same incredible openness and friendliness that had charmed us about the island on our first visit.  We were invited to a Newfie kitchen party, complete with crazily clad mummers banging on ugly sticks and singing and dancing.  The local priest dressed up as Elvis and sang a rousing version of School House Rock.  Two local girls offered to babysit the monkies while were were out.  One of them was absolutely terrified of getting onto the boat that we almost had to carry her on and off.   

And the fish. There was a fishing crew in the harbor from St. John’s and as they were unloading their fish they offered us a taste of the local delicacy in the form of 5kg of haddock cheeks.  A delicious, solid white fish that we cooked up in every creative way that we could think of.  5kg of fish is a lot for two people to consume in 2 days. 

A short overnight trip around the coast brought us back to St John’s where we waited for a weather window for our planned trip to Iceland.  We celebrated Emma’s birthday on the way to St John’s with hotdogs and Chocomel.  It seemed meager to us but she was quite happy.  We were sailing upwind and the monkies developed a hilarious game of sliding from one side of the cabin to the other on their bottoms.  This kept them busy for hours.

We stayed in the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in Long Pond for almost 2 weeks getting the boat, and ourselves, ready for the big crossing to Iceland.  The sailors at the club were enormously helpful, offering the use of a car, treats to eat on the way, moral support and advice.  Several people shared experience and advice on sailing North of Newfoundland to Labrador, Greenland and beyond.  We were even put in touch with a meteorologist who spent a great deal of time helping us to select the right timing and weather window to make our departure.  We were incredibly nervous about this trip, more worried than we had been to date and these people really helped to calm us.  Preparing the boat was an intensive chore, testing the storm sail, water, diesel, food etc. and ensuring that everything was even more secure that usual and that we were truly running a tight ship. 

In the Bosom of the Family

We arrived in Newport in incredibly thick fog, unable to see the Newport bridge and had an enormous difficulty finding a mooring.  Booh suggested that we take the boat out at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth so we headed up there to get some work done.  The list included anti-fouling, installation of a new propeller, fixing the rudder, changing the anodes, among other things.
We left the boat in Portsmout for a trip up to St. Andrews.  This was a wonderful and relaxing visit with lovely weather.  Emma and Macsen helped with planting in the garden and Seb learned to drive the tractor and the rototiller.   We visited HonGu’s new house for the first time and had the first round of celebrations of Emma and Macsen’s birthdays with a pile of presents and a fairy castle and schoolbus cake respectively.   
At the end of the week we headed back to Rhode Island with Mom and Dad where we had the second round of celebrations of all of the kid’s birthdays with a bouncy house and Booh and Jen’s.  Seb, Dad and Booh spent an incredibly productive evening adjusting the pitch in the propeller and installing a new engine mount.  The nasty vibration we always experienced when motoring now appears to be gone.
Mom  and Dad left on Thursday morning and we headed back to the boat on Thursday evening.  It was a rough day for the monkeys who were torn not only from their beloved grandparents but also from Seren and Rhys.  
On Booh and Jen’s recommendation we headed over to Provincetown for a little distraction.  P-town is fun and lively and helped cheer us a little. In P-town we rented bikes and biked for miles through the dune.  Macsen rode in a pull-along seat and Emma on a tag-along with her own peddles.

Beaufort and a Fast Trip up the Coast

The trip from Miami up the coast to Beaufort was a bumpy one.  We left the front hatch to the monkies room open as the weather was calm at the beginning of the trip.  A rather large wave splashed through a soaked them as the weather picked up.  A small yellow bird landed on board, clearly exhausted and froze.  We took it inside and offered it water and food hoping to revive it but unfortunately it did not live through the night. 

Beaufort is a pretty town and a large crowd assembled there for music festival close to the dock.  The monkies had fun dancing around and we enjoyed the simplicity or the place versus the largeness of Miami.  We met a group of locals on the dock and shared out story.  They left toys and treats for us on the boat the next day.  It really is wonderful how supportive and interested people can be. 
Leaving Beufort on May 16, we took a 4 day sail up to Newport to see Booh and Jenn and their monkies. This was another choppy trip with lots of motoring.  One night Seb and I spent watching a huge lighting storm chasing us.  A exhilarating sight to see forked lightening continuously filling the sky across the whole horizon but very chilling when you are not sure how close it will come.  And it came too close for comfort. And as we headed North the weather became colder again…brrr.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Whammie, We are in Miami!

We left the intriguing simplicity, mystery and complexity of Cuba behind and set sail for the coast of the USA. The gulf stream picked us up about halfway and had us galloping along at 8-9 knots while friends of ours just a few miles away, just outside the current were still hobbling along at 3 knots. 

s we neared Miami is was clear that we were in for an extreme culture shock after the rugged pureness of Cuba. Within 5 miles of the coast we were suddenly assaulted by roaring jet-ski motors, deeply growling super yachts and thudding cruise ships.  We had decided to overnight in a marina in order to get fresh water and hook up to wifi.  We picked a marina at random that assured us that they had a strong wifi connection and offered a swimming pool for guests.  Unfortunately, upon arrival we realized how important it is to read the small print.  The pool was not actually on the marina location, turned out not to be accessible at the moment, the wifi wasn’t working and to top it all off the toilets had overflowed in the clubhouse leaving a lingering and repulsive smell.  And all for a truly shockingly high price per foot! The sensory overload that is Miami coupled with poor service and high costs drove us quickly away and we headed up the coast.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Impressions of Cuba

After our encounter with the Cuba coast guard we arrived in Havana on April 28. The customs check in process was one of the most intensive that we have experienced to date (and that is saying a lot).  Every department needed to send a crew to check us out, a doctor came on board to check our health and finally a rather cute drug dog snuffled about before we were finally allowed to leave the check in dock and move into the Hemingway Marina.  The rather out of date pilot described the marina as faded but rather elegant, well equipped.  What we found was not more that some cleats to tie up along the cement wall of the canal, some broken down buildings and a grass field.  Kees and Martha were of course there are we quickly became friends with Joop and Albertine from the Zeezot, great people, also Dutch.  Of the 10 odd boats present, 4 of them were Dutch. 
Marina Hemmingway

Seb and I have both long wanted to visit Cuba.  Whether to follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and the ‘Old Mand and the Sea’  or to see first hand the impact of the legendary Fidel Castro. Cuba has such a rich history and the weight of this history can be felt with intensity. So many impressions.  The faded glory of the mansions in Havana with their crumbling concrete and ornate wrought iron balconies, the iconic 1950s American cars, the equally iconic images of Che Guevara, messages along the highway confirming the ongoing commitment to the communist regime, deep conversations with incredibly educated and  politically engaged locals, huge turnout and cheers at the labour day celebrations which happened to be on my birthday, May 1st, red cliffs, caves, donkey riding, cigars, oxen tilling the fields next to a tractor out of use as there is no fuel available…so many memorable impressions that it is difficult to process and come to a conclusion about how I feel about this place.  Fascinating.

In our short time in Cuba we spent two days with Kees and Martha in Havana.  It was great to share this experience and the impact with such good friends. The 5 of them pampered me with a great birthday dinner and we explored the streets of Havana, walking for hours and hours. 

While planning a trip inland, we tried to rent a car but quickly found out that we could not use our credit cards or our banks cards, meaning we were essentially cashless. Our bank in the Netherlands apparently routes its overseas transactions via the USA and therefore these were blocked. Luckily we had a little cash and we could borrow the rest from friends. 

Once able to rent a car we traveled inland to Vinales where we stayed in various casa particulares, the officially sanctioned accommodations that are essentially the extra bedrooms in people homes. The next few days we spent exploring the area taking long walks with our guide visiting caves, smoking cigars and drinking really good coffee. Again many wonderful impressions of a fascinating country.  We hope to come back someday and we hope that it does not change too much in the meantime.

Things that go Bump in the Night

Departing Providencia was a sad task as we had fallen in love with the island and were loath to leave it behind.  But onward we must go, so we pulled up the anchor and, along with the big Pjotter, headed northwards for a 700 nautical mile sail to Havana, Cuba.   

The sail was fast and pleasant, although winds were high from time to time, and we found ourselves just off the North coast of Cuba on the evening of the April 28th.  It was pitch dark, I was well settled into bed and Seb was on watch when we heard the familiar “Pjotter, Pjotter, here the Pjotter.”  We spoke frequently on the VHF with each other so this in itself was nothing unusual.  The unusual part was the panicked tone of voice.  The next message was much more alarming. “There is a small fishing boat next to our boat, they just appeared out of the dark” “They are shining their search light on us and they refuse to identify themselves.”  Seb called immediately to me and together we motored as quickly as possible towards them in the dark.  Seb called his father on the sat phone and he notified the coast guard while I readied the EPIRB and our flares…on the off chance that we would require assistance.  We were both shaking a little.   The reports on the VHF from Kees and Marta became more unsettling as we heard that the men on the boat were armed, had pulled up alongside their boat and were holding onto their railing, still refusing to identify themselves.  The two boats came into view in the dark and we made out 4 men, one carrying an incredibly scary looking machine gun (I guess they aren’t any other kinds).   They were all wearing t-shirts and jeans and were shouting questions in Spanish and generally looking very intimidating and it was all quite terrifying.   After several very, very, very long minutes it finally became clear that they were Cuban customs officials, checking if we were up to anything untowards.   When they were finished with the big Pjotter, they came alongside our boat and fired a number of questions at us, offered no information themselves, and finally rather grudgingly let us proceed.  As soon as our heart rates were back to normal (this took some time) and after several reassuring chats over the VHF with Kees and Marta, we settled back into our watch.