Monday, December 12, 2016

Come Join us for a Race to Cuba!

Calling all sailors! Especially for those in the Gulf Area.

 I have been really busy in recent weeks as I have taken over as the Chair for the 2017 Pensacola a la Habana Race, organized by the Pensacola Yacht Club and the Satori Foundation.

To this end,  we have recently posted an updated Notice of Race, Safety Appendix etc.  Below are some useful links for more information about the race, registration, etc.:

Race website:  Pensacola to Havana Race 2017
Race sign-up: Yachtscoring

We hope you will sign up and join us!  But wait - if you don't have a boat, you can still be included.   We understand that S/V Libra is planning to sign up and will be offering bunks for the trip:
SailLibra  So please contact SailLibra directly if you are interested.

We also have a crew sign-up board posted on the yachtscoring website, so no excuses!  Come to Cuba in 2017!

In addition to great sailing and camaraderie, I am hoping that we will be able to add some interesting and fun social activities while we are in Cuba.  These will of course include parties, and hopefully an overnight trip to the south side of Cuba, plus a raft-up for anyone interested in making an overnight stop on the way back!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Blue Angels Homecoming, November 2016

Blue Angels in formation
There's nothing quite like an airshow to get the adrenaline going and to experience the forces needed to get man airborne!.....and the Blue Angels certainly exemplify the awesome talent needed to manoeuvre at close quarters holding tight formations while puling terrific G-forces at high speeds!

November 11 and 12 was the Blue Angels homecoming and their last show of the season. This was held at NAS Pensacola , just a short distance from Ft. Mcree, one of our favorite anchorages in the Pensacola Bay area.  So this served as the perfect vantage point to watch both the Friday night show and the Saturday day show. and what better way to watch it than from the water!

Ft. McCree Anchorage
Of course, many other boaters had the same idea, and with "raft-ups" from Pensacola Yacht Club (PYC), Point Yacht Club (Pt.YC), and several other ad-hoc groups, the anchorage became quite crowded requiring an early arrival to get a good vantage point to see the show.

Friends Ron and Jule arrived on Thursday to claim our spot, and also hosted the PYC Raft-up.  We used their hook (actually a tandem anchor) and rafted with both Night Sky and Lady of Leisure.  We also had 2 power boats tied to our "raft".

North side of Spoil Island

Our combined crews pooled resources and enjoyed meals, drinks and camaraderie throughout the weekend.  The high bridge of Lady of Leisure provided an excellent vantage point to view the Friday night show, and the dunes of "Spoil Island" provided a similar vantage for the day show.

For dinner on Saturday, Ron and Julie worked hard to conjure up a great fish fry.  The show was, as always, spectacular with great feats of aeronautical acrobatics by the Blues and several other historic planes dating back to WWII.
 The turn-out of boats was amazing.  As I said, the Ft. Mcree anchorage was getting close to capacity and many day sailors and boaters anchored or drifted in the Bay area just north of the Pensacola inlet and east of the Pensacola land cut.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, with many people camping out in the mild weather, spending the night on boats or in tents on the dunes.

And if that was not enough, Pensacola was graced with a visit from the sailing yacht AMERICA - a 139 ft. schooner replica of the famous racing yacht that won the first America's Cup in 1851..Some PYC Members got the opportunity to sail on her and view part of the airshow from her decks.  We had towed the ski-boat with us so that we could catch up to her on the bay and get some photos of her under sail.  Here are a few of the shots!

Schooner AMERICA, Pensacola

Now if an airshow and a Sailing Schooner under sail is not "Making America Great Again".....well I don't know what is!

 Salty certainly approved of the weekend.  He always enjoys his time on the boat (well maybe not so much when we are heeling under sail)......but a great beach and swimming in the ocean just always seems to make it worthwhile!

The weekend ended with the traditional sunday PYC brunch with endless Mimosas, Bloody Mary's, and breakfast provided by PYC members.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lost Bay Regatta - 2016

This past weekend (October 1) was Lost Bay Regatta on Perdido Bay.  To me, this is probably one of the best regattas in the area.  Why?  - great people, a fun race, good food, and good music.  The winds were very light (5-10 mph for most of the race), but the race still had its moments of excitement.  Moreover, this is a fun race!  as evidenced by the fact that nobody could remember any boat lodging a protest in recent years.

View from the deck of S/V TraSea
This year, we crewed on S/V TraSea owned by best friends Larry and Tracy.  TraSea is a Beneteau 473 - so its a big cruising boat that needs some wind to power it!  So in these conditions we were not fast.  But still, that just allows you to drink Mimosas while racing! can tell how serious we are about racing.

There was a good variety of boats, ranging from small racing boats such as Vipers up to a 60-ft custom ketch (S/V Libra).

With these conditions, the small fast boats were the optimum boat for the race.
I think the boat pictured to the left is one of the Vipers, aptly named "Eelsnot".  they seemed like a fun crew with a very unique looking boat!

Here are a few more photos of the event:
Freedom 40 "double master" Wing on wing

Our boy crew in racing mode!

Captain Larry and the Admiral Tracy

How to make the boat go faster in light wind

The boat always goes a half knot faster when you do your Titanic pose! - everyone knows that.

This great event was hosted by Point Yacht Club (Pt.YC), and supported by Pensacola Yacht Club (PYC).  Social events were held at Pt.YC.  The number of participants and spectators was boosted by PYC members attending a weekend raft-up that coincided with the event.  We hosted that, including a Friday night party with a food theme of "English Pies".

Saturday night was a fish fry hosted by Pt.YC.  the club served 195 meals and there was dancing to a live duo on the club deck.

Sunday morning was again hosted by PYC and included a bring-a-dish brunch, with Mimosas and Bloody Marys provided by PYC, again on the deck of Pt.YC's club.  Over 100 participants, and observers attended the brunch, making this a successful and fun weekend of events.  Several boats that left the regatta on Sunday headed for Ft. Mcree to spend the night at anchor before returning to Pensacola and Navarre.
Brunch at Pt.YC
PYC Cruisers

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Planning for 2017

Planning for 2017 takes on a new meaning to me once you put it in writing.  And it takes on yet another level of commitment once its posted on the blog - why?  I'm not sure, it just feels like a commitment, and once its made its either becomes the motivation to put a plan in place to make it happen or at least something more than just a wish or goal or idea.

So far, our cruising grounds have included:

  • East coast ICW (Brunswick to Key West
  • Bahamas (Abacos to Georgetown, Exumas)
  • Mexico Yucatan Peninsula (from Pensacola to Isla Mujeres, then down to Puerto Aventuras)
  • Cuba, (Los Moros, to Veradero)
  • Cuba (Havana)
So where next?

I wish I could write a little more detail about some of the thoughts that have gone into planning for 2017, but unfortunately some work-life considerations are a part of this that are not yet finalized and I have to respect and accept that some changes may occur as a result of those discussions.

Image - Google Earth
The world is a large place and there are so many amazing places left that I would  like to see.  I am an avid watcher of YouTube videos about sailing, and yes I like all the popular ones such as S/V Delos, S/V La Vagabonde, Drake Paragon......and several more that are either a bit more "down to earth" or perhaps I should say "closer to may age"....(eeks that makes me feel old!), such as Trio Travels.

S/V Delos on YouTube
S/V La Vagabonde on You Tube
Drake Paragon
Trio Travels
Sailing Baby Blue
Sailing  Where the Coconuts Grow
.........and this is just part of my watchlist.

I also like to talk to sailors and cruisers that have gone much farther afield than I have gone so far.  And here are a couple of common  and perhaps surprising threads that I hear:

  • after talking to several cruisers that have done multi-year circumnavigations, several have told me that you have to go a really long way to get close to or beat the Bahamas - and that's pretty much in our own backyard;
  • a good number of this group i am referring to have settled in the Florida/Alabama panhandle area - OK, maybe there are  some ties to this area, but when you consider that these folks have literally traveled the world and chosen to call the northern Gulf "home".....well to me that speaks volumes!
So, all that said, as of the time of writing, the cruising plan for 2017 for Midnight Sun II (and/or her crew) is as follows:

  1. Christmas/New Year 2016/17 - will be a catamaran charter in the BVI
  2. April 30 1017 - Pensacola a la Habana Race
  3. November 2017 - Thorny Path to BVI
The Thorny Path (yellow) - upwind passage.
Most cruisers will be familiar with each of those, but to put in perspective, the charter will be a couple of weeks; the Cuba race will also be a couple of weeks; and the Thorny Path will be "no schedule".  This is the one I am most apprehensive about putting into writing - not because of the difficulty, more in terms of the time commitment!....So stay tuned, let's see if it all happens!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Summer Break and the Tropics Heat Up!

After the Mexico/Cuba trip we did take a bit of a break at least from our longer trips.  We did continue to participate in weekend raft-ups with both PYC and Pt.YC but these were local events at Ft. McCree, Redfish Point, and Ingrham's Bayou.  Don't get me wrong - these locations are every bit as great as the places we spent days getting to.....and are right in our backyard - literally!  The dunes, beaches and anchorage at McCre just can't be beaten and I just never get tired of going there.  And "Sand Island" (actually a dredge spoil island) is one of the few places where Salty can go without fear of a fine from Florida DNR patrols.
Raft-up at Ft. McCree

Salty Enjoying the Water
We did take a couple of weekends "off the boat" where we enjoyed just being at home and taking in the local sights and sounds.  It's good to do that once in a while I guess.  

Work has also started on a re-modeling of Midnight Sun II's slip - so the house is currently looking like a building site.  While the slip was perfectly fine, I decided that it was time to do some preventative maintenance and have the timber sea wall laggings replaced with vinyl PVC sheet pile panels.  At the time of writing, I am wondering why I did that and hoping it will all turn out well.  You know how sometimes the finished result is great, but the process is really ugly?.....well that's where we are at I think, the really ugly stage that is!.   As an engineer that has done a lot of heavy duty sheet piling projects (sea defenses, Blackpool, England), I know I would not do this project the way its being done.  But I have hired an experienced Contractor and know all too well that if I dictate the process, the problems will go exponential and I will pay the price - literally  So, I have given my suggestions, but left the Contractor in charge.  Anyway, enough about that - I seem to be ranting to myself and I am sure that it will turn out fine in the end.  Meanwhile, Midnight Sun II is vacationing in my neighbor's slip.

Cape San Blas - 12 hours prior to Hermine's Landfall
And of course, immediately as we started this work, the tropics heated up and Cat 1 Hurricane Hermine took aim at Cape San Blas.  Although that is a couple hundred miles to our east, that gave rise to two concerns, namely (i) our beach rental located right on the projected path; and (ii) tidal surge which was at least evident at the house in the form of higher than typical tides.  Anyway, since I am posting this in short bursts, I am pleased to report that neither became a significant issue.  I drove over and closed up the beach house, and Hermine kindly veered a few degrees east of the projected path.....and the dock  work continues! - very slowly.

I guess my timing on the dock work was just not the best since this location is the key to my hurricane plan for Midnight Sun II in the event we do have a significant storm.  But the truth is, it has been so difficult to find a dock Contractor that would actually show up and even give an estimate, that when I found one that was qualified and recommended, I just had to commit and get things started.

Hmm  maybe I am in the wrong business.  There is certainly an opportunity here.  I must keep this in mind in the event the current plan needs a supplement.  

Sorry this post has not included a whole lot about sailing and cruising.  But I am already working on the next one and that will be about 2017 Cruising Planning.  Check back soon for that one!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Making it Home - June 28, 2016

Making it home (after 2 months in Mexico and Cuba)

This post captures the last legs of our current (June 2016) journey which has taken us from Pensacola to Isla Mujeres (Yucatan, Mexico); then south down the Yucatan; back to Isla; across to Cuba; then returning home along the Florida west coast.  Since we have now done these final legs a couple of times and written about them in previous posts, I will try to keep this short and sweet.

Apalachicola to Port St. Joe

We had a great time spending a couple of nights in Apalachicola with friends from PYC on the "PAC III" (Pensacola to Apalachicola Cruise III).  We hung out with great friends Chuck and Peg from S/V Point of Sail and many others - Special thanks to Scott for again pulling this trip together.  It was great to catch up with fellow members of PYC on our way home!  We docked at the marina at Water Street and visited some favorite haunts, including Tamara's and Papa Joe's.
Shrimper in the Apalachicola River
Apalach is just a special place for me for many reasons - I just love it there: the food, people and tranquility of this little town is just very special.

Since daughter Helen was tagging us by car, we had a vehicle, so we took the opportunity to ferry the crew and friends to the Indian Pass Raw Bar for the best seafood and oysters.  Although I must admit that on this occasion, the oysters at Papa Joe's were just as good!

Cape San Blas Lighthouse, now at PSJ

As stated, one of the many reasons why I love the area around Apalach and Port St. Joe is the locals.  Many of the locals in our favorite bar (the Haughty Heron) remembered us from our extended stay in 2015.  This is of course always nice to catch up with good friends from previous trips - this time, including Karen and Tom who now have opened a fresh seafood and coffee business in PSJ.

And did I mention we ate at Provisions Restaurant - Helen's favorite?  Yes, it is now easy to remember why we got stuck here (locally known as Florida's Forgotten Coast) in 2015.  And it would be so easy to get stuck here again - probably the reason why we just had to move on after 2 nights!

Osprey  nest on the Apalachicola River 
We love to make the motor-cruise up the Apalachicola River from Apalach to PSJ.  I  know that comment is a bit out of sequence, but I need to mention it in the event that anyone reading this is thinking of heading in that direction.  I highly recommend not going on the outside of Cape San Blas for two reasons: (i) the San Blas Shoals make it a long trip to get out of the shoaling shallow water; and (ii) the trip up the Apalach River is a mini-amazon adventure that is just beautiful.  Trip time at about 6.5 kts is around 4 hours from Apalach to PSJ (via river and Gulf Canal).  The depth is a clear 8 ft min, and air draft is 64.5 ft (lowest bridge being the Apalach Bridge).  You just never know what you will see en-route: alligators, manatee, hawks, eagles, and if you miss those, then there's the refreshingly natural scenery and typically low traffic on this Cyprus-lined trip.

Port St. Joe to St. Andrew's (Panama City)

Sunset over Port St. Joe Marina
A wind-free motor boat trip unfortunately - but hey, it beats storms!  After filling up with diesel in PSJ Marina (which by the way is an excellent gem of a marina), we motored the 6 hours to St. Andrews, dropping anchor in Massalina Bayou - actually rafting up and using Chuck's anchor to be precise.  Entering the bayou requires a draw-bridge opening.  This has to be one of the least-used draw-bridges in Florida.   The bayou is nestled back in an older residential area and is protected on all sides. I am sure it is a very popular spot in a storm, but during our stay it was very quiet and peaceful.

We ate on the boat as nobody had the motivation to drop the dinghy........and there was food that needed eating up.

The following morning we set out for home - the last leg.

St Andrews (Massalina Bayou) to Perdido Bay

The last leg of this trip....hard to believe!  Was it a relief to be getting back or sad to be at the end of a trip?  I thought I would try to capture this thought before it fades.  Actually it seemed neither - perhaps some mixed emotions fueled largely by the positive emotion that it was a return to being able to catch up with great friends, family, "Salty", and being fortunate to have such a wonderful place to call "home"; but there is also a certain sadness that a great journey is coming to an end and a return to some degree of work/corporate life.  Maybe it is a successful trip when the two balance?  I don't know - but for those of you that can relate to what I am trying to express, well I now think I know, and have at least slightly experienced the feeling that Bernard Moitessier must have had back in 1968. If you are not familiar with Moitessier's story, its worth a moment to look it up.  Moitessier's was a famous sailor who became notorious after the Golden Globe Race of 1968.  He completed a circumnavigation in record time, but abandoned the race without crossing the finish line.  He sailed on for another three months.  Now please don't think that I am in any way comparing this trip to his accomplishment - I am certainly not, but when we crossed Big Lagoon at around 8 pm, I remembered his story and  commented that I understood how he must have felt.  It would have been very easy to simply continue onward

Back to reality - the wind was light and was annoyingly 20-30 degrees off our nose, meaning it would be a long slow sail.or a motor-sailing plod.  We elected for the latter as storms were forecast for the following several days and there was a one-day window to make it home.  S/V Point of Sail was following us and we maintained visual and radio contact throughout the day.  Brian was sailing with Chuck and Peg, so we knew we would have to do a crew transfer once we were in Pensacola Pass.

We made that transfer underway right at sunset.  Point of Sail headed east into Pensacola Bay and Bayou Chico, and we continued west to Perdido Bay.  We fumbled our way in the dark into the narrow canal entrance and were greeted by neighbors who helped tie us up.  We were off the boat by 10 pm.  The trip was complete.  Below is a summary of our route.  According to our DeLorme (one of the best inventions since sliced bread), our total trip distance was 2,057.46 miles.
Our Route
S/V Midnight Sun II
Mexico/Cuba 2016

S/V Midnight Sun II
Copyright - Hannah Graham Photography

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Starting The Return Home

It was time for us to start the return trip home.  We are now into Hurricane season and have already seen a couple of named storms, including Colin that formed essentially over us, disrupting our planned crossing to Cuba.  Not only that, but there is that four letter word starting with "W" - but it does pay the bills!

Our return trip took us from Veradero to Key West, with a night in the party town - then on to Marco Island, Tarpon Springs, cross the Big Bend to Apalachicola (which is where I am while starting to write this).  So I will cover those legs pretty briefly in this post.  PS note - finished this blog in Apalachicola, (June 26).

Veradero to Key West

Approaching a Storm
Leaving Veradero we encountered our worst storm so far on this trip.  We always try to sail conservatively and avoid bad weather, but this one caught us.  Leaving the marina, we saw the storm, but it appeared as though it would pass ahead of us quickly.  We considered holding off on exiting the channel/bay just outside of the marina, but pressed on.  Interesting side comment/thought - I have learned that when you have such "gut thoughts", it is often good to listen to them.  This was certainly the case when we abandoned out first attempt at crossing to Cuba.  But this time we pressed on.  We motored (good decision), waiting for the storm to pass before putting up the sails.  As you may have guessed by now, the storm turned, chasing us and quickly we found ourselves in the middle of it all.  Using the radar to check on its extent - yes, we were well into the middle and it seemed to be traveling with us.  It was black behind, in front, and to the sides.  Lightening was increasingly frequent. 1-2-3-flash; 1-2, flash; 1-flash.  It was intense and nowhere to go.  The winds started to build - 20, 25, 30, 35 then gusts to 38.  We were motoring with bare poles, suddenly with a following sea we were doing 8.5 kts.  After about 2 hours, things subsided and a "notch" appeared ahead of us - this was visible on radar and as a clearer area of sky..  It was in our direction of travel, so we stayed with it.  The storm started to dissipate and veer off our course.  Another 30-45 minutes and we were back to clear skies. All was well.  Of course the cameras don't really come out that much in a storm, but we did get a couple of shots taken just before things really hit..

Our overnight crossing to Key West went pretty well from this point onwards.
Screen shot of AIS Display
 The most notable things were the strong current of the gulf stream at times, and the very heavy traffic in the Florida Straights.  Once again, thank goodness for AIS.  A screen shot of one of our heavier areas gives an idea of what we were up against.  At one point, I counted a stream of 7 freighters that we had to cross.  One-by-one, I pointed at their sterns to ensure they would cross ahead of us.  It took us several hours and took us about 5 miles off our course to ensure a safe transit across this busy shipping lane.

One freighter called us on the VHF to tell us he was stopping his engines and drifting as he had to wait for his port entry time.  He was slap bang in the middle of the shipping lane and right ahead of us.

Approaching Key West at Sunrise
We arrived in Key West the next morning to a beautiful sunrise.  We were in the slip at Conch Harbor Marina by around 9 am.  At nearly $200 per night - this was a one-night stay!  We relaxed by the pool and toured the town - except that me and the Admiral were suffering from a stomach upset.  We puzzled over what we had eaten different to the rest of the crew - the only thing we could put it down to was a frozen lemonade just before leaving Veradero.......maybe they used unfiltered ice? who knows, but we did miss out on the Key West nightlife in favor of Peptobizmol, ginger ale, and an early night!

Checking in to Key West - three of us had registered with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SRVS).  So we called the 800 number to check in.  I had also filed the voluntary float plan......but, two of us had renewed our passports since registering.  The Department of Homeland Security requires an in-person visit as there is no way to update your passport online, so we had to make the taxi-treck to the Key West airport.  I got a grilling over trash disposal..."what trash did you bring back, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products?"...."we ate it all, our only trash is plastic drinking water bottles"...."what did you do with that?"........"disposed of it at the marina".....wrong answer - apparently ALL trash has to be disposed of in 3 mil black plastic bags and then disposed at an APHIS-approved facility (Key West Airport in this case).  Oh well, too late - the agent told me she would make a record of it in my SRVS registration, and gave me a copy of the regulations.  I also called the USCG as the instructions with the USCG permit to Enter Territorial Seas (CG330) said they "recommend we report in to inform them of our safe arrival".  The USCG seemed surprised at our call, and didn't even ask the name of the boat.  Oh well, we informed them!  Interesting that coming home was much more of a hassle than checking in to Mexico or Cuba - in both cases, the officials came to see us, were polite, friendly and courteous taking shoes off to board the boat.  In the US, we had to take taxis to see them, and got our wrists slapped!
While in Key West, we saw our name-sake,  "Midnight Sun".  We had heard them on the VHF, but unfortunately the owners were not on board.  We left them a boat card and a note, but have not heard from them.  What a nice looking classic boat!

Key West to Marco

Midnight Sun II at Marco Yacht Club
The next morning, we set sail for Marco Island.  on previous trips we had encountered constant crab traps, so although this was a long leg, I wanted to make the trip in daylight.  Having been in to Marco in the dark before, I was not too concerned about a nightfall arrival.  As it turned out, there were very few crab traps on the route - I am not sure why, but maybe there is a season.  Those that we did see could have been ones that were lost or not retrieved for some reason.  This leg was about 92 miles, and with some motor-sailing, we managed to make the inlet by 8 pm, just ahead of sunset.  Being members of Pensacola Yacht Club gives us privileges to use other GYA Yacht Clubs, including a free night of dockage.  We took advantage of this benefit, making use of the pool and laundry facilities before heading out on our next long leg of the voyage home.  This would be from Marco to Tarpon Springs, FL.

Marco to Tarpon Springs and other sources showed good conditions for a crossing - light winds, but not in the best direction.  So we decided to leave after spending the one night in Marco Island.  We swam in the morning and left in the afternoon, planning an overnight crossing for this 170 mile leg.  

Conditions were good overnight, although we did have to motor.  Throughout the night we heard messages from the USCG about a swimmer lost in the water off Charlotte Harbor entrance.  As we passed that area, we noticed helicopters searching the area.  We kept an eye open, but saw nothing of any help.  Apparently two young men had been out swimming and a jet ski had rescued one, throwing a lifejacket to the other.  But when he returned for the other, he could not be found.  I am not sure of the outcome to this story, but suspect it was not good.

We saw little traffic and conditions were pretty much as expected.  In the early morning hours, the wind became more favorable and we put out full sail and turned off the engine,  We spent several hours sailing making good progress.  As we approached Clearwater, conditions were deteriorating - counter to the forecast for decreasing winds. It was gusting to 25 kts (forecast 7), so we elected to take the Clearwater entrance and continue on up the Intracoastal Waterway.  The wind persisted all the way to the Anclote River entrance.  We called ahead to several mariinas, but didn't get much response.  Finally, the City Dock at Tarpon Sprigs called us back and had space.  We went up river several miles to the city centre and found our spot in the small city marina.  The dockmaster, Mike was very friendly and helpful.  The location was excellent being right on the riverfront area of the town.  It was time for the crew to take a breath from long legs, so we decided to stay 2 nights and savor the Greek food and culture of Tarpon Springs.

 If you have not visited Tarpon Springs, it is well worth a visit.  Although it is certainly "touristy", the Greek food is pretty  authentic, and the bakeries are a sight for a sweet tooth!

We celebrated Tanner's birthday at Dimitri's, and sampled a couple of the local bars.  The next night we ate at Hella's Restaurant and Bakery.  Both served excellent food and we really enjoyed our time here.  My daughter Helen came to visit us here with her dog Belle - so we had a boat full!

The next day, the boys departed for Apalachicola while the girls took the car.  This is perhaps our last real long leg of this trip before we get home.  It was another overnight crossing of about 170 miles.  We left in the early afternoon.

Tarpon to Apalachicola

After celebrating Tanner's birthday in Tarpon Springs, it was time to head off on our next long leg to cross the Big Bend.  Our planned route was from Tarpon Springs (exiting the Anclote River), to Dog Island, then up the inside of St. George island to Apalachicola.  This was an overnight crossing with a total distance of about 170 miles.

We left downtown Tarpon Springs in the early afternoon, filling up with diesel on our way out.  After exiting the river and getting into the gulf, winds were light and on our nose.  Typical!  motoring again.  Seas were at least very small (1-2 ft), so it was comfortable ride.  As the sun set we settled in for the night crossing.  This leg was just myself, Brian and Tanner, so we elected to have 2 in the cockpit and one sleeping with a 2 hour rotation. This worked pretty well, giving everyone time at the helm, relxing in the cockpit and some sleep.

We had two notable events during the night.  I had been watching another vessel ahead of us on the AIS.  It was about 10 miles ahead, but we were slowly closing in on it.  Hmm....perhaps another sailboat? 4.5 kts., pretty much the same course as us.  Then, I spotted a bright orange light in the sky - dead ahead of us.  I jumped forward to investigate, as did Tanner.  We saw it for about 5 seconds, then it rose upward quickly and disappeared.  Strange!

After a couple of moments, I decided to call the vessel ahead of us - maybe it was a flare?  I called them, but they had not set anything off, nor had they seen anything.  I asked if they were a sailing vessel.  "No, we are a tug boat with two barges on a one mile tow"....Crap - we were gaining on them and a one mile tow line at night is something to keep well clear of.  The wind clocked adn we could sail, but this barge was leeward and we didn't want to slide towards it or loose speed.  We elected to continue motoring and get past it.  Of course, with a 1-2 kt speed difference and several miles between us, this was a slow process - actually about 8 hours.  While I was sleeping, Tanner and Brian heard another vessel call in "3 flares spotted" at about the same position we had seen the orange glow.  After some grilling about what the other vessel had seen from the USCG, they offered up a possible explanation of "military activity".  Based on past research of charts, its my understanding that the Big Bend is often used as a "fall-out" area for NASA launches from Cape Canaveral.  I have not seen anything published for a launch at the time we saw this - but who knows....UFO?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Touring Havana, Cuba - 1957 Chevy Bel Air

Our Tour Driver Alex and his 1958 Chevy Bel Air

What's the best way to tour Havana - in Alex's 1958 Chevy Bel Air of course!  So why not give our driver/tour guide and entrepreneur a plug.  He's one of Cuba's new generation of private business owners.  Alex is a former English teacher who decided to start his own business using the Chevy that has been in his family for three generations now.  He told us that under Raul's new regime, he is now allowed to open his own business as a taxi/tour operator but is subject to very high taxes - but still, this beats his incredibly low salary as an English teacher in the Cuban school system.

Here's a shameless plug - if you visit Havana or Veradero and want a great tour, contact our new friend!
Sr. Alex Rodriguez. Cell +53 5281-3523  email:

Alex took us on a great tour of old Havana, leaving the marina at Veradero at 8:30am, it was about a 2-hour drive to Havana in his 1957 Chevy.  Alex told us he was very fortunate as the car has been in his family for 3 generations.  There is no open market for cars in Cuba - no car dealerships.  The only way new cars get in to Cuba is if the government buys them (for government use or for rental cars), or if foreign diplomat bring them.  Private sales of cars is allowed (or if not, happens under the table).  This explains why there are so many old cars in Cuba.  "So is the car original Alex?".....well not exactly, yes - the body is original, its powered by a 4 cyl. toyota diesel engine, has Toyota brakes and even an aftermarket air conditioner (that works except when the car is climbing a steep hill).  The inside was immaculate, but clearly has been re-upholstered.  Alex told us that he can pretty much buy anything for the car with sufficient cash.  He could sell the car in Cuba for $45-50k - so when Cuba opens up more, don't think there's a market for going over and buying a cheap old Chevy, as the Cubans will probably be in the USA buying ours!

Our first stop was to a roadside restaurant overlooking a river.  I don't remember the name of this other than it is locally knows as "mother-in-law bridge".  The bridge was apparently American and UK designed.

 Here we had the best Pina Colada, while enjoying the view of the river gorge - then onward to Havana.

In Havana, we had the opportunity to visit old Havana, Revolutionary Square, and of course the Floridita - one of Hemingway's favorite  bars.  Here we enjoyed a daiquari, while listening to the local band, Los Hermanos.  I bought a CD, with permission to use it on my video of the trip.  Maybe I will be able to upload this to YouTube....usually they kick me out because of my use of copyrighted music.....Ok, that's just a pet peeve of mine.

We ate at a very good restaurant  - food better than my definition of "Cuban-good!".  The name was La Guarida.  Located upstairs in an old ornate building, and they had definately adopted the Hooter's hiring policy!  I have photos somewhere.....but not immediately at hand!  Maybe I will come back and add them at a later date.

Daiquari at Floridita
Below are a few photos of our tour.  During the day, we had plenty of time to chat to our driver/tour guide Alex.  This gave us a great insight into Cuban life, tradition, politics etc.  Alex seemed to have had a pretty unique life experience.  He had spent some time living and working in Finland doing construction work.  During this time he had saved his money, then returned to Cuba, using his savings to buy land, build a nice home, and start his taxi/tour business.  He seems to represent the "new Cuba", but hopes that change will be slow.  He still values some of the Cuban benefits, including free healthcare, very low crime rate, no guns, near zero drugs.
Carriage Rides

A Car Show every day - just visit the square!

Home of the Cuban Ballet

Plaza de la Revolucion - Revolution Square
Our Motley Crew - return to Veradero 
Ok, the next post will be about sailing again.  Our next leg is from Veradero to Key West.  Coming Soon!