Sunday, December 27, 2015

Almost Caught Up!

I have been determined to get caught up with the blog on our recent escapades.  And I think I am almost there!  The Cuba trip was indeed a "bucket list" item that we have satisfied - not completely as planned as we would have loved to have made the trip on Midnight sun II.  Loosing a mast in the process was certainly not on our bucket list.

Writing this blog seems to serve multiple purposes for me, and I may have said this before, so forgive me if I am repeating myself.  It started off as a way for us to keep in touch with friends and family on our first cruise which lasted about 7 months in 2014.  It was a convenient way to share experiences without writing multiple emails - so efficiency was certainly a driver.  I know we have gained a small group of friends and followers - some of whom we know and others that have only vaguely identified themselves, and they have used our blog to either help with their own planning or to "cruise vicariously" through our experiences.  Either way, we are glad and honored to have you join us on our journeys.

I will also admit, that I have tended to use the blog as a bit of a journal to log our experiences.  One day, I will figure out how to print this so that it can be stored away, and perhaps be given to grandchildren to give them some insight into the antics of their crazy grandparents.  Note - at the time of writing, there are no grandchildren, so this is all speculation! But when i think back to my childhood, I only had the opportunity to meet one grandparent, so i know very little about their lives.  Whatever your reason is for reading this blog - I thank you for taking the time, and hope that it provides some benefit.  Also, if you have a spare minute, drop me an email as I would enjoy hearing about who you are and your sailing or life experiences. If you have suggestions for improvement, they are certainly welcome too.

Anyway, I have digressed and back to catching up.  It is now December 2015, in fact it is just after Christmas.  I took the opportunity of some Christmas downtime to catch up with the blog.  Midnight Sun II is now in the boatyard undergoing repairs, and time seems to be slipping away fast.  I have learned that dealing  with insurance companies and boat repairs is not a speedy process; however, credit where it is due, our insurers, BoatUS have been very professional and easy to work with.  They have basically accepted our repair estimates with only a depreciation deduction on the materials cost of the sails - so far, so good and fingers crossed.  I would prefer not to publish the settlement amount, but believe me, I got major sticker shock, when I saw all the estimates totaled up - thank goodness for insurance!

Recognizing that there would be lead time in ordering the mast and rigging, we took the opportunity to have her hauled out and get the bottom painted.  This has now been done and minor repairs to scuffs on the topsides and painting of the non-skid surfaces is next on the list.  We are hoping to hear some news on the mast delivery very soon - hopefully next week.

Zern Rigging is our General Contractor for the rigging  and project manager for all work.  Rick Zern has been a pleasure to work with, and I am looking forward to him keeping the project on track for us.  I intend to write a couple more blog posts on progress - hopefully early in the new year.  I am trying to avoid posting "damage photos" as it is just depressing to see the boat like that - she needs to be fixed and back in action!  But here are some shots of her being hauled out and getting a new "bottom job"


New Bottom-Job in process

Cuba Trip P.S.
One post script here from previous posts - I did take some time to prepare a summary video of the Cuba trip.  Unfortunately, i made the mistake of using commercial music, so YouTube will not post it.  I may go back and re-do the music, but in the meantime if any friends or followers would like to see it, send me an email and I will make arrangements for download.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Journey Back from Cuba - Part 4, Anclote to Pensacola

The final leg of our Cuba trip was leaving from Anclote Key crossing the Gulf to Pensacola.  Winds were forecast from the NE clocking east at about 20 kts, and seas 4-6 ft.  The distance was about 270 miles, and we had bailout opportunities at Carrabelle, Port St. Joe, Panama City, etc.  We have learned on this and other trips not to take 4-6 ft seas lightly - that is in the Gulf, where the frequency is short.

Beating into 4-6 ft seas can be brutal and uncomfortable.  But for this trip, the seas were generally quartering from behind us, so this was not bad at all.
Sunset at Anclote

We left Anclote Key under full sail, but after a short time, we decided we had a bit too much cloth out, so reefed both the main and jib.  This made for a more comfortable ride and the boat itself seemed far more at ease.  We were still making good speed.  We hit the high  8's and 9's at times and I believe we averaged 7.6 .kts. on this entire leg.

Leaving Anclote Key

I don't recall our exact sailing time for this leg, but it was about 35-36 hours, and other than the last piece of this leg, we pretty much sailed the rhumb line back to Pensacola.

On this leg we did see some spectacular dolphin shows!  Video does not do it justice at all! and we could not capture the scene sufficiently to describe in in photos.  but at one point in time we had over 50 dolphins chasing us, on the bow, and generally surrounding the boat.  This pod stayed with us about 30 minutes.

We had several others join us on this trip.  One amazing sight was to see a following wave above our transom with two dolphin faces looking at us.  Unfortunately. this was not caught on film!  Good thing they did not jump as they would have been in the boat with us!

We arrived (again at night) in familiar surroundings at PYC.  Our trip was complete.  We had an amazing time with an amazing crew.  This was a trip off the bucket list!

TraSea Crew - safe back at PYC

Crew and Ground Support Team - Celebrating at PYC!
And also, a special thanks to Kenny and Paula for tracking us, and providing regular updates from home! 

The trip in summary!

Journey Back from Cuba - Part 3, Tarpon Springs

Leaving Marco Island, the wind was directly on our nose blowing from the north.  We discussed striking out for Pensacola directly, or continuing north.  Looking at the weather and wind forecasts, we elected coastal cruising north.  In a day or so, the wind direction was forecast to be more favorable for a gulf crossing to Pensacola.

Realizing we were dangerously low on beer - oh no!, we made a quick trip in to Naples to re-stock

We found a nearby 7-11, and had a quick lunch before getting back underway.  Back on the outside, the wind was building and we were motoring not too comfortably.  We elected to take the ICW from Pass-A-Grille north.  We went via ICW making good time until we abruptly ran aground just north of Dunedin -  again on the ICW....or actually, slightly off the ICW. We tried to maneuver off, but were unsuccessful and the tide was falling.  We called Boat US and they were quickly on the scene.  After a good half hour of tugging, pulling motor running, sail up etc., we eventually got off and back underway.  We discovered just how shallow the ICW is in this area just north of Tampa, and also how narrow it is in places!

Our delay had us entering the Anclote  River at dark.  Again, fortunately, I had done this before in daylight.  While the river itself is deep, everything off the river isn't.  We had reserved a slip at Turtle Cove Marina, but after again running aground (again), we decided not to risk it.  we backed off successfully and turned around making for the City dock.  Now at dark and approaching low tide (or so we thought), we found a spot on the seawall downtown - very convenient for the seafood festival that was in progress.

Tarpon Springs - by Day

The next morning, I woke up first and sensed the boat listing slightly.  From the cockpit, it looked like the tide had fallen further and a stern line was holding us tight against the sea wall.  I quickly got on the quay, and loosened the stern line - at which point the boat listed further and Larry  - well I think he fell off the pot!.  We were sitting on the bottom and I just released the line holding us up!  Quickly tying us off again, and well by now everyone was awake.

So we decided to explore the town until the tide came in - what else was there to do!
Tarpon Springs Bakery

I now realize I just don't understand the tides in the Gulf.  First off, there's only one a day (everywhere else I have lived has two per day) seemed about a 3 ft tide in Tarpon Springs, whereas 18 in is a large one in Pensacola.  One day, I will study up on this!  And to top that off, in Pensacola the wind has much more influence on water level than the tide itself.

Anyway, that night we decided to anchor at Anclote Key so that we could make an early start to Pensacola the next day.  We stopped for a late lunch - or was it an early dinner?  at Miss Vicki's on the River on the way out to Anclote Cay.

Miss Vicki's - Anclote River


Journey Back from Cuba - Part 2, Marco Island

From Key West, we headed  almost directly due north to Marco Island - now we were re-tracing our steps from our 2014 Cruise and this was one of our favorite stopping points.  In fact, the SW portion of Florida is just a great place to cruise if you like "quiet" and uncrowded parts of the gulf.

We set off at first light intending to get in at around nightfall.

With calm seas and light winds, this was a relaxing day and at one point, the guys kicked back and left TraSea in the capable hands of its admiral and the guest admiral!

We made it to Marco Island right at nightfall.  Fortunately, I have been in there before.  The entrance is pretty skinny and a couple of channels come together just inside the entrance - so its a bit tricky to navigate.  But we did just fine with everyone keeping a close lookout for the channel markers.  We made our way up river to the Marco Island Yacht Club.  This is a great little yacht club that has reciprocal agreement with PYC through GYA - in other words, a free night at a slip!  So you head up river, until you find the power lines.  Slip under the power lines gritting your teeth and hoping that the clearance is correct, then make a hard right into the yacht club. Unfortunately we didn't pass dress code to eat in the club......yeah, it was a bit snooty - but the marina was well worth the trip.

The next morning, we made use of the pool and then set out on our next leg.  A big thanks to the Dockmaster for  his help and local knowledge.  Maybe next time we will "dress" so we can sample the club!

Journey Back from Cuba - Part 1, Key West

After spending a few days in Cuba, we set off on the trip back to the US.  Having raced non-stop from Pensacola to Cuba, and dealt with the adversity of being dismasted, changing boats, then beating into the weather most of the way, we were ready for a more relaxing trip home.

We decided to break up the trip with a couple of stops, the first of which was in Key West.  We then planned to stop somewhere in the Tampa Bay area - location to be decided en-route.  We left Cuba (Marina Hemingway) on Sunday and headed out for the 90 mile or so crossing to Key West.  Winds were "fresh" at 25 or so, and the seas a healthy 4-6 ft.  The boat liked it and we had to reef down a couple of times.  TraSea has in-mast furling and also has a very large (140% I think) jib.  We made amazing time to Key West averaging over 8.5.kts.  In fact, we figured we would arrive at daylight and actually got into the Bight in the very early hours of the morning.  We decided to anchor between Tank Island and Wisteria Island until daylight and then see if we could get a slip at one of the very expensive marinas.

Wasted away in Margaritaville? ....or just a long sail?
We spend 2 nights in Key West with a slip at Conch Harbor Marina.  This is a great little marina, if you can stand the price - but its Key West, and what the hell.  it is a stone's throw from West Marine, they have free bikes, and its an easy walk to everywhere.  The bar at the end of the dock also has a pool - which was very welcoming!

The obligatory Key West Galleons
While in Key West, our best friends talked us into doing something we had never done before.  Well - as they say, what goes on in Key West stays in Key West right?  And just in case you are wondering what this "first" might be, it was singing Karaoke, which we did in a delightful little gay bar called Bobby's monkey Bar.  I am not sure that was something on my bucket list, but if it is, it is certainly crossed off now!

As you can see, we visited all the usual "haunts" and had a real good time.

We even had time to visit and art gallery and see my favorite painting.  Yes, if I ever have a spare $6k, I will treat myself to this.  I go visit it every trip to Key West - the photo really does not do it justice.  But since I own a boat, chances of me ever having a "spare $6k" are pretty slim!

Two of our crew members, Ron and Julie left us in Key West and headed home.  We were sorry to see them leave, but that four letter word was know W@RK.  Erghh....I should really have been thinking about it too.....But onward north!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Racing With Cubans - Castello di Morro Havana

Castello di Morro is located right at the entrance to Havana harbor.  One of the highlights of our trip was to race with the Cubans from Marina Hemingway to the castle and back.

We had good wind and an enjoyable friendly race.  Here's a view of the Castle from the bay.

A few more scenes from Havana - the old part of the city is beautiful, but on the way there, we passed through areas that were more like scenes from Beirut! Buildings in dis-repair but still lived in.  Our tour guide got us through these areas quickly an efficiently.

The Cuban culture is still very heavily influenced by art and art is definitely something they are very proud of.  We saw a few examples of modern Cuban art.

And without doubt, on of the other things the Cuban's are proud of is their collection of old american cars.  We found several great examples, but almost none are original in that they may have a Russian diesel engine running them.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Visiting Cuba, Marina Hemingway, and Havana

The great benefit in participating in the inaugural  Pensacola a La Habana Race was the ability to visit Cuba - legally!

First off, it was very apparent to me that many Americans ARE visiting Cuba without permission from the US.  The Cuban authorities were extremely polite, courteous, and professional, and will issue you a Cuban Visa upon entry at Marina Hemingway.  All you need is a passport.  and the visa is a separate document (not stamped into your passport).  So obviously, they are used to accommodating US boaters who do not want a permanent record of their visit stamped into their passport.  I am writing this blog on December 4, 2015.  I will state the date because I know that the US Law regarding visits to Cuba is changing significantly - literally by the day.  In fact, the permits that we needed for the race changed in September as we were applying for them (now considerably relaxed).

The Cuban people were very friendly and our hosts at Marina Hemingway and the Hemingway Yacht Club were just great.  Europeans have been visiting Cuba for some time now and we saw plenty of other tourists.  Also, the Cuban's have figured out that tourists can be a good source of revenue - so just be aware!  They will arrange for a cab, be your tour guide, sit and talk and drink and eat with you.  We had heard that the locals are generally very appreciative of small gifts - toiletries, small toys for their kids, ballpoint pens, a Coca-cola etc. While this is still true to a degree, there are others that just want cash tips, and have figured out that American's are more used to tipping generously when compared to Europeans.  On the topic of money, there are a few things to remember (again, current at the time of writing).  There are two currencies in Cuba - the CUC and the Cuban Peso.  CUCs are the main currency for tourists and at the time of writing a $1 was about 0.85 CUC.  My understanding on the Peso is that this is the currency Cubans are paid by their government, and can generally only be used in the State stores known as Bodega.  We visited one Bodega - it was very sparse and had only very basic foods - rice, beans, cooking oil etc
Bodega in old Havana
our guide told us that food from the Bodega is rationed using a ration book, The prices are very cheap, but most families run out of "Bodega food" by the middle of the month and have to rely on food bought on the open market (using the CUC).

Visiting Havana was a strange and unique experience.  The city was much larger than I imagined and ranged from just derelict to beautiful - and all shades in between.  If you asked about any of the building in very poor state of repair, they were "under renovation" and people were still living in them.  The Cubans are very proud of the fact that nobody is homeless, and the Arts are huge.

Well - I am going to post this for now, and continue the thread in a few days!

Famous mural in Havana