Friday, March 30, 2007

Notes from Havana - by Geert

The forecast called for 15 knot easterlies; we got 25. We hoped to get a boost from the Gulf stream; we got 12 foot waves dead on the nose. It took us four days to sail the 180 miles from Cuba's western capes to Havana. We tried riding the stream, we tried sailing inshore, looking for calmer seas, we even tried to motorsail - a pathetic mistake with a 15 HP engine. We damaged two sails, the self steering vane couldn't deal with the waves, the engine quit when the fuel line got clogged. In the end we did it the hard way: tacking toward and away from the reef under stormsails and steering by hand, doing one to two hour shifts. One night David got so tired he started feeling sick. Another night a wave threw me through cabin and I busted my finger so badly that I lived on heavy duty painkillers for a while.

We were elated to reach Havana, but also exhausted, and had no appetite for officials. Still, they could not be avoided. They came on board with no fewer than three dogs. One to sniff for drugs, another for explosives, and the third for people. All our portable electronics (GPS, VHF radio) were taped and sealed. I suppose in case we wanted to use them to help Cubans escape. Cubans are not allowed on the boat, anywhere. When we leave a port, we always have an inspection, and two gueardsmen stay on the dock, in case a refugee would try to jump on at the last minute. This is a lovely country, but also a police state.

In Havana we for the first time were asked for a bribe. While his dog was snniffing around in the forward lockers, the drug enforcement guy said: Listen, between you and me, my wife's birthday is tomorrow, and I want to give her a nice present.

David left yesterday. He has been on the boat for three months, and was an invaluable member of the crew. He is flying to Panama, where he'll join British cruising friends Nathan and Maggie aboard 'Nakatcha'. They are headed for the Galapagos Islands and points beyond...

I only had a glimpse of Havana so far: a gorgeously beautiful city. More explorations tomorrow. This morning I visited Dr. Felicidad Debro in the local clinic. She cheerfully told me that I'll lose the nail of my busted finger. It will fall off by itself, she said, and if not, I'll cut it off before you leave.

Weather permitting Dancker (who is already here) and I plan to sail on early next week. Destination: Key West.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sea Scout in Havana

Arrived there this morning. All is well.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Bermuda to the Virgin Islands – a very delayed report by Astrid

Since I’ve left Sea Scout, the boat and it’s crew have experienced many new adventures, have seen many new things, got to know many new people, they went through good and hard times.

It’s quite a while ago since I came back to Austria. I had to leave St. John on Wed. Dec. 6th. After quite a long journey from St. John to St. Thomas (Ferry), from there to Puerto Rico, then to Washington, Paris and Munich I finally arrived back home in Silz/Tirol (Austria) on Dec. 7th. The change couldn’t be bigger – I had to start working the days after, at ski school. From sea level to 2020 m altitude, from tropical temperatures to the alpine winter. It somehow went well and I enjoyed skiing again, but my heart, my thoughts were still in the Caribbean, still thinking about the great time we had there – thanks again to Geert, Olina, Jennifer and Leo … and of course all the other great people I met … and sorry, that it took so long to write the story.

The time on Bermuda was great, but getting a bit too long and expensive after a while, so we checking were the weather forecast every day after we (mainly Geert) had done the repairs, went sight seeing, swimming, diving, …. Southerly winds, again and again and again – no way to sail south! Finally, on Nov. 25th the wind went N, later NE, first only 5 knots, later with 10-15 knots, perfect conditions to say good bye to the island and get used to sailing again.

As Herb gave the advice to do some easting to all boats asking him via the short wave radio, we did it as well – and it was a good idea! Additionally we tried to become friends with Neptun, the god of the sea, by giving him some Whiskey.

In the following days the wind became stronger, the waves became higher, but still perfect sailing with wind between 25-30 knots – taking us south with a speed of 4-7 knots.

Loads of flying fish were joining us on our journey, we even caught a Mahi Mahi! While I was steering Geert and Jennifer were fighting with the very strong fish – after a while it was on board. It was my job to gut it … and clean the boat afterwards (-: Jennifer then prepared a wonderful meal for us!

Most days we hardly met any boats, somtimes sailing boats hiding behind the waves ...

... but whenever Jennifer was on watch there were either huge monsters (container boats etc.) – for example the ship “Sonja” on starboard port (wherever this is!) or very wet showers with unpredictable windshifts. I somehow seemed to be the lucky one with fair winds and no frightening meetings, but I promise, this was not on purpose!

Jennifer had a satellite phone with her, to stay in contact with the family, to give interviews ... and maybe also to report about the great meal she prepared for us ;-)

After 8 days of wonderful sailing: “Land in sight!” (and this time I didn’t think it was a cruise ship like I did when we first saw Bermuda) – beautiful green islands on the horizon.

We decided to take a salt water shower on the foredeck before arrival, we even used some of the spare freshwater to rince, what a feeling! When we reached the shallow turquoise waters of the reefs the waves became smaller, still great sailing. We decided to clear in at customs at Jost van Dyke ...

... a paradise on earth – it’s capital: a sandy road, some buildings (one office building hosting municipality, police, customs, …, one church, a shop, a few private houses and loads of bars) on one side, a sandy beach with palm trees and hammocks on the other – all a sailor needs after a passage from Bermuda!

Unfortunately Jennifer left us the same day ...

Geert and me went to discover the island the day after – great, but very hot walking conditions: lunch at Diamond Cay in Foxy’s Taboo, a great swim at Bubble Pool in the north and hitchhiking back with one of the local Pick Ups. X-mas preparations in the capital. Sunset at White Bay. The perfect place to relax, a paradise on earth!

On Dec. 4th we decided to sail to St. John ...

... and cleared in at Cruz Bay, quite a lot of paperwork to do, a less relaxed atmosphere than on Jost van Dyke. Customs told us to leave the dock as soon as possible as a “big” ferry was expected. We tried to do this, but the engine didn’t start – and the panel first showed no light, then two lights. Two men from the shipyard finally towed us to a very beautiful anchorage near their garage, just across the bay.

There we read the manual and realised that there were always mend to be two lights (as usually) but we were so used to only one light that we were concerned … - and the “big” ferry worried us as well. Anyway, some wires were loose and corroded and had to be fixed anyway.

St. John is a lively colourful Caribbean town, the “1 $ Bus” from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay is the best opportunity to get an overview of the green island with its loads of natural treasures and many protected areas.

Reef Bay Sugar Mill

The Reef Bay Trail took me through fascinating tropical vegetation to the lonesome Reef Bay. After a short swim I walked back and looked out for the bus, which never passed, fortunately I could hitchhike back and avoided a long walk.

In the evening Geert and me went for dinner to a wonderful bar on the beach, unfortunately our last one as I had to leave the day after.

Bye Geert ...

Hi mum ...... and dad!

It was a great time, thanks to everyone who made it so special!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Update (by Geert)

I had my first experience with the famous Cuban health care sysem. In Haiti I acquired a few mysterious swollen lesions. Leprosy? Bubonic plague? Dr. Sandy Gonzalez checked me out and did a blood test, at no cost and without any paperwork. He gave me a perscription for a 10 day supply of the antibiotic Cipro. In the US it would cost $100. Here I paid 15 cents.

We are in Nueva Gerona on the Isla de la Juventud, after a beautiful cruise throughh the Canarreos archipelago. Mary left the boat today. Dick will go home tomorrow. David and I will try to sail offshore to Havana, takng advantage of the favorable Gulf Stream current.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two David

This exchange lasted several minutes between Cito and Leonardo. The two boys were bitter friends. Cito, 8 and Leonardo, 9 lived in the small fishing village of Casilda, 6 Km south of Trinidad, Cuba. Their fathers worked as fishermen for the state and they lived a decent and quiet life.

I found myself in the middle of this arguement outside Cito's home. Cito had asked if I wanted to play baseball and naturally I jumped at the oppurtunity. I soon found out that my acceptance included much more than just a baseball game. Cito had a tennis ball that he brought with him outside where we met Leonardo. This is when the arguement began between Cito and Leonardo.
From my high school spanish I gathered that Leonardo had slapped a woman across the face, thus reducing him to the title of 'Poopie'. Leonardo, to his credit remained cool and simply called Cito a liar whereas if I had been falsely accused of such a grievance at the age of 9 I would have started a fight. Regardless, Leonardo was to be known as poopie throughout the entire game.

Cuban baseball, at least for 8 year olds in Casilda consists of one tennis ball and three rocks. The batter holds the tennis ball in his hand at home plate and uses his fist as a bat. The fielder then attempts to field the ball and race to either first or second or home (there are only three bases in Cuban baseball) to get the batter out. Three outs for Poopie, six outs for Cito.

As I was hesitant to get in the middle of such a divisive game I could not resist the temptation to run the bases and see Cito and Poopie chase after the ball. I got up to bat and with all my power (and a little deviousness) hit the ball as far as I could. Cito and Poopie just watched as the ball soared over their heads and own the dirt road. They looked at me as I rounded second and headed for home, a look that showed they were obviously not happy with my flagrant display of seniority. I got home laughing and smiling and looked at the two boys. Simply, I had cheated according to them. My record breaking home run was illegal and the run did not count since it was too far away. While I tried to reason with Cito and Poopie I could tell that at the ripe age of 22 that I was no match for Cito and Poopie, two experienced Cuban baseball players.

I dropped my head further when I was informed that not only did the run not count, but that since I cheated I had lost my turn at bat and had to return to the field. This is how the afternoon went as the sun wanned and set over the horizon to the west. We went back inside Cito's home to the cool concrete floors and the sounds of Bucanero beer popping open. The world of Cuban baseball in this quiet town is a mural of passion, absurdity and laughter. Much like that of the Cuban people.

We were led down the cobblestone streets, past the tourists, across from the museums, and onto a dirt road that resembled so many I saw in Haiti. The dirt road was uneven and jagged rocks marked the detours you had to make along the way. We had come to dance and we were being led to the end of civilization. A fitting place in all honesty for one to learn the provocative dance of the salsa.
We came to a door that opened into a cool, spacious living room filled with family pictures and a few small chairs. The woman, rather large but in a way that said she lived a good life, called herself Danielle. She led us to the back of her home and down some steps into an empty room with a concrete floor. The two of us novices smiled at each other nervously. What had we done? How had we ended up in this godforsaken place, with our pale skin, gringo accents and classic tourist look?
Danielle returned with a fan and a CD player. As she plugged the music into the socket she shooed her chicken out of our dance hall. Clearly we would not be alone during our dance lesson.

As our lesson began I vacated my nervousness with a false sense of confidence. "Nostros aprendemos rapido" We learn fast. This phrase would be Danielles favorite for the next two hours as I stepped on toes, spun the wrong way, tripped, fell, and generally learned very slowly. Despite this however, we spun, shook our hips, stepped "adelante y detras", and by the end of the two hours had gotten through a whole salsa song with as much as a single noticable slip.

We were experts. Or so we thought. What Danielle neglected to tell us as we headed out her door and to the Cuban salsa club that night was that we had no experience and the two hour lesson included no instruction on the thousand of other intricate dance steps of the salsa. Not to mention the style we so dearly lacked. In other words, we learned the notes, not the music.

While our evening was filled with large spins, subtle trips and lots of expletives from this perfectionist it was remarkable how we were accepted by the other dancers. We were two gringos who braved the beast and stepped "adelante y detras". Danielle would have corrected us and laughed at our mistakes but we were happy. The salsa is not about the notes, its about the music. Cuba is not about the notes, its about the music. We left the club and walked out onto the Plaza Mayor into the cool, breezy night content and happy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spending time in Cuba

If we learned anything in Cuba it is that the bureaucracy is very effective in creating work for everyone and in preventing unwanted ´mixing of interests´. In Santiago de Cuba about 16 officials from different departments came on Sea Scout to check the vessel, the crew, the luggage, the food, our medicine box, our papers and so on for contraband, bugs, insects, whatever. They even fumigated the boat. So the boat is bugs free now. And lucky we were declared healthy and nothing illegal was found. It was an experience to find out that the officials checking asked us to see what they did, so they could not be accused of taking away anything.
Before leaving Geert had to buy special ´stamps´(sellos) before the ´immigracion´ could let us leave the harbour.
This morning we learned that for every new crew member we must have an extra ´sello´. So I went, as instructed by the official in the marina, to the post office in Trinidad to buy three of them. One for Marissa, one for Mary and one for Dancker. That´s good planning.
At the Correos (post office): ´Sellos d´enrollo? Never heard of. May be you can come back on Monday when the Correos Internacional is open.´
The two ladies in the post office were very kind but they could not help me.
So I decided to go to the office of Cubanacan, the official tourist organisation. ´Never heard of. May be you can try at the bank.´
At the bank, another few blocks away: ´Never heard of. I am very sorry we can´t help you.´
Cubanacan has a ´competitor´ called Cubatur. A few blocks further. After a discussion between five employees that took about fifteen minutes it was clear. I had to go to the Policia de Inmigracion. Outside town. Well, a taxi took me there within ten minutes. ´Sellos d´enrollo? Ah, no we don´t sell them here. We are not allowed to. You have to go to the bank.´
'At the bank they just ...'.
´But the only bank that sells them is the Banco de Credito y Comercio.´
OK, then. I arrived at the BCC at 11.05. On Saturday the bank closes at 11.00. ´But we have to leave tomorrow.' (little bit of exaggeration may help).
´Yes, I understand but I really can´t help you. You may try to go to Cienfuegos.´(That is only 80 kilometers northwest of here.) .
I will take a taxi Monday morning at 7.30 to be certain that I am the first client at the BCC. Or?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Passage notes - by Geert

We reached Casilda after a week long cruise through Jardines de la Reina, an extensive achipelago of mangrove and coral islands. All are uninhabited. We only met a few fishermen, and a Dutch sailor returning from an Antarctic adventure.

The sailing was excellent, but we also for the first time in months felt the influence of cold fronts over the north american continent. North winds of 30 knots forced us to hide for two nights in a tight mangrove anchorage at Cayo Breton.

We have a full crew of three, and use the self steering vane less and less. Steering by hand is much more accurate, especially downwind and in a swell. It is also much faster. Day before yesterday we averaged almost 6 knots, with a double reef in the main and a reefed genoa.

Casilda is the harbour of Trinidad, one of the oldest cities in Cuba. Some of the colonial buildings have been restored with Unesco money, but fortunately, there are still many beautiful ruins left. It's a very quiet town. There are some taxi's and air conditioned buses for western tourists, but the Cubans use horse carts and bicycle taxi's. The communist government and the US embargo have almost brought this place to a standstill.

I'll quickly post, without spell check, before internet time runs out.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Casilda

Earlier tonight, Sea Scout arrived in Casilda (Sancti Spiritus province), where there are resorts exclusively for visitors from capitalist countries. All is well. David plans to take off for Havana tomorrow, and Sea Scout will sail on in a couple of days.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Dad

i think the title of this post conveys my messege well. sorry im a little late, you aren't easily reached.

love, nico