Thursday, May 25, 2017

Cayman Islands


George Town Anchorage
Sailing to the Grand Cayman was not part of the agenda, but it was still worth to see another Caribbean Island. Caymans include of three islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. Most activity and commerce is in George Town, Grand Cayman. The land is flat on these islands, which gives them many sunshine days a year. The islands are best for snorkeling and diving. The sea wall drops 100s of feet within ½ mile from shore. Earthling is attached to a mooring and underneath are many scattered reefs, which makes it to a marine park, the sea life is spectacular, there are fish everywhere. Submarines and glass bottom boats are circling tourists around here and many are snorkeling all day long. George Town is also known as a big cruise ship destination. There are 2-3 cruise ships anchored close to Earthling every morning and they leave by the evening. The town gets packed when the cruise ships come by!
Sunset over the Caribbean Sea
Anchored Cruise Ships
These cruise ships are enormous
Cruise Ship quest are tendered to shore
Governer's Harbor and Marina
Tourist activities all day long
More Luxury cars than any other Caribbean Island
Grand Cayman is the homeport for many mega yachts in the world, but you don’t see any of them here! Grand Cayman is one of the places where super rich people keep their wealth so they skip paying taxes. There is no income tax, capital gain, or corporation tax on the Caymans. Out of 50 largest banks in the world, 40 have a branch here. Additionally there are over 500 bank and trust companies located on the Island.  This little Island is a major international financial center and majority of the resident’s income comes from the financial services. These Islands are British colony and the Queen of Britain appoints their governor!  Their currency is Cayman dollar, which is one of the strongest in the world; $1US is equal to $0.80 Cayman dollar. In other words, everything is more expensive than the U.S and much more expensive than the rest of the Caribbean. The Caymans are very proud of their strong currency. Cayman Islands has the highest standard of living in the Caribbean with a GDP per capita of $50,000 a year (world bank 2011-2015). Most Caymans are originally from Jamaica and Honduras, some have been here for several generations and some are here just to work!
The bicycle was handy on this 20 miles east to west and 9 miles north to south flat island. Not so many cruising boats are anchored here but a few cruisers were at the two marinas in the north sound! The time in George Town was mostly spent on repairing Earthling.

Love from George Town, Grand Cayman

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wonderful and Tough Times

After the departure of Florida-Havana crew, Jim and Johnny, it was time to get out of Marina Hemingway and sail the rest of Cuba. The fridge is full of food that should last one person for a couple of weeks till the next big port.
Luckily, the day Earthling left the dock, two other boats, Lōkahi and Jubilee left on the same west bound heading. Earthling is planning to go around the Western tip of Cuba (Cabo San Antonio) to Isla Juventud and further to Cienfuegos. From Havana to Cabo San Antonio is around 170nm, and it would be four day-trips! The first anchorage was Bahia Honda in a well-protected quite anchorage in the middle of Mangroves. It’s common that fishermen come by your boat and offer fresh Lobster in exchange for old clothing or cans of soda etc! Very similar to the San Blas Islands in Panama!
Local Cuban boat in Bahia Honda
Abondon Ships in Bahia Honda
These ships have been here for a long time
Watch towers through out the Cuban Coast
Most of the garbage is burned in Cuba and you might go trough their dust
The following day Earthling sailed to the next anchorage in Cayo Levisa. There were already 2 boats anchored there, Lōkahi and Coragem, and Earthing and Jubilee are approaching the anchorage. What a wonderful feeling it is that you are going somewhere you never have been to, but you already have friends there. Cayo Levisa is a small Island with a resort and a beautiful long sandy beach. For the couple of days there, all four boats were gathering together on the beach or aboard the biggest boat “Lōkahi” for sunset drinks and dinner. In Cayo Levisa, the fridge on Earthling started acting up, heating up and draining the batteries faster that usual!
Happy Cruising friends 
Coragem at anchor in Cayo Levisa
We sailed together to the next two anchorages Cayo Jutias, and Cayo Buenavista.
The morning in Cayo Buenavista, the battery controller was showing the red light, which means the batteries are below 50%. The refrigerator drained the batteries, so it had to be disconnected. Earthling's boat buddy, “Coragem” raised their anchor and were ready to leave, but I couldn’t start the engine! I had to wait for the sun and the wind to charge the batteries. After a couple of hours and several tries, it didn’t seem like there was enough juice to turn the engine around. So the anchor was raised manually, the genoa furled out and Earthling navigated under sail toward Marina Los Morros in Cabo San Antonio. You can sail this 40 miles distance inside the reef on the Gulf of Guanahacabibes or out on the sea. It’s easier and closer to be inside the reef and there are no real hazards and it can be very pleasant if the wind is north of east. However, it can be very choppy if the wind is south of east, which was on this particular day! I felt more for my Brazilian friends on "Coragem", (Courage in English) since they are new sailors and also have their 5-year old son aboard. Talk about courage, they flew to Florida from Brazil and bought a sailboat and started cruising without any previous sailing experience!
Throughout the day I was hoping that the batteries would charge to a point that the engine would start. That didn’t happen and Earthling had to anchor under sail by Marina Los Morros!  

Cabo San Antonio is the most Western tip of Cuba, only 130 miles by water to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It is far away from anything in Cuba.
Within just a few hours at Los Morros, I found myself having dinner and drinks aboard Kisma with new friends! Eventhough, I have problems with the fridge and the engine but I’m happy to be surrounded by kind people! I’m grateful to have a boat that takes me to so many places! There are five boats here, American, Colombian, Dutch, Brazilian, Austrian, and the Persian-Swedish-American Earthling! The whole world has come together at this end of it!
Everybody helped and towed Earthling to the dock to jump the engine with Jeff's boat
During the few days at Los Morros, we came to the conclusion that Earthling definitely needs new batteries and finding deep cycle batteries in this part of Cuba is almost impossible! The closest town is 80km away and there are more horses and carriages than cars. The local Cubans in Los Morros were very kind and helpful without any expectation, Norelvys drove me to the closest town to get help.
Norelvys is going house to house to find a mechanic 
 Unique home made horse carriages 
In Cuba, you must check in and out with the Guarda Frontera every anchorage/port you go to, and it is very strict and important to do that! In Los Morros, you are not even allowed to leave the marina without a special permission! And I almost got in trouble with that!   
Decision was made to jump start the engine and keep it on & motor sail straight to Cienfuegos (2nd largest city in Cuba) 300 miles away and find batteries there. The Engine was jump-started on Sunday morning and the five and only boats at Los Morros set sail, 4 of the boats towards Isla Mujeres and Earthling around West End of Cuba towards Cienfuegos. Once again it was hard to say goodbye to everyone and go a sea alone.
Jeff and I before leaving Los Morros
You might think I'm courageous, but I think Jeff is brave. He is from Netherland, he flew to the U.S and bought a sailboat without knowing anything about sailing. Jeff started cruising a couple months ago solo! And he has made his way all the way to Mexico now! He has stories to tell already!    
Marina Los Morros, yes those are wild pigs
The Coragem Crew
Fair Winds
Ciao Kisma
Till next time Coragem
See you in Hawaii Lōkahi
Solo sailor at sea
The first day was wonderful with calm seas and moderate wind. I was able to get some sleep at night, the autopilot was steering, the AIS giving alarms when big ships around, and so forth. Exactly the way we prefer cruising!
The following morning, the wind started picking up and the seas become bigger. The boat is heeling over with the engine running, which is not a favorite approach. Out of sudden, the engine's heat alarm goes on, the motor is over-heating, no water is coming out of the exhaust. After a few quick check ups, the engine had to be shut down. Now, I’m in trouble again, but that’s fine, there are sails, you can sail, that’s how Columbus found this world! However, navigating strictly by sails in this area, close to shore, is a bit challenging. At night the wind dies and it’s a good time to make way east by motor! Well there is no motor. The weather predictions show there will be wind 10-15 miles off shore at night. So it’s better to stay off shore at night.

With these dead batteries, you can’t run the electronics either. The GPS froze at one point and it was better to keep it off! The autopilot would hold sometimes during the day when the sun was up, but it would start beeping indicating low battery level.
Sailing upwind with large waves can be fun when you surf up and down but you will get washed over, which happened many times. The bilge was eventually filled up with water. The bilge pump started acting up and its breaker kept switching off! Now there is no automatic bilge pump either. Good thing there is a manual bilge pump and a small spare emergency electric pump that I got from Coragem, which worked when connected directly to the batteries. And thank god for Navionics chartplotter app on the phone, which was more or less the only navigation.
Plan A was to keep motor on and sail to Cienfuegos, which is out of the picture. Plan B is to sail to Isla Juventud or Cienfuegos and anchor under sail and get help and plan C is to sail to Cayman Islands! During the second day, attempts were made to sail to Isla Juventud, but the weather wasn’t in my favor! One sailboat was in sight and contacted on VHF radio without any response.
The 3rd morning, the distance to Grand Cayman’s is the same as the distance to Cienfuegos. It’s possible to go to Grand Cayman on one tack close haul and there will be wind and it’s possible to anchor under sail. To Cienfuegos, Cuba, you must tack back and forth and still go through a channel to get to the town. Also it’s not only a battery issue, her engine is overheating, and bilge pump problems. Even in the second biggest city in Cuba, things are not widely available especially when you are not fluent in Spanish! As much as I would like to stay & cruise Cuba but it seemed wiser to keep course and alter next port for safe harbor in Grand Caymans.
For most of the part I had to be behind whelm and steer. It was possible to lock the wheel when the seas were calm, but then it was a good time to get some power naps and eat! And a couple of times I had to “heave to” in order to eat and sleep!  
There were also beautiful moments, such as the full moon, which was rising as the sun was setting and it kept the sea lit up throughout the night. Or the little bird that came aboard to keep me company for a night!

But then on the 3rd night around 2:30, dark clouds covered the moon and the ocean became dark, you could feel a cool breeze, and seamen know that squall is coming! When a squall is approaching your way, the things to do is to reduce sails, put your foul weather gear and life jacket on, and close the companion way! Within a short time, the wind picked up and changed direction, and the sea became a washing machine, and it started pouring rain! On the main sail, one of the batten slide screws that fits into rail on the mast came loose and soon there was a small tear in the sail that was getting bigger! Mainsail had to come down fast. I don’t remember how I took the mainsail down in those weather conditions, just did it! The tether was kept on the whole time! Now I’m relying only on the head-sail and remaining distance to Cayman is 60nm. Moreover, when the mainsail came down, the boom dropped and ripped off the old canvas on the dodger.    

Sunrise after the squall
In order to deal with challenges in chaotic times, you should not be fearful or scared, but that's easier said than done. As a solo sailor you must always think a few steps ahead, plan A, B, C and so forth. But when you already find yourself in plan C, then it gets scary when you start thinking about plan D and E! You were hoping to not find yourself in this situation at all, so it’s possible that it could get worse! And then you think about all the true stories of people a drift a sea for a long time! But most of those stories are in the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean! Where would I drift from here if I lost my other and only sail? Probably Mexico, or Cuba or drift with the Gulf Stream back to the US. How long would that take? And you want to stop thinking these thoughts because your thoughts will create your reality! Ok, I just have to do what I have to do now, and that’s all I can do and I am safe! 

Later on during the same day as I’m pumping the bilge manually, the pump makes a breaking sound, gets loose and stop pumping the water overboard! Everything is in breaking mode! Now there is no manual bilge pump either!

In times like this, you'll find and get connected to the great energy in the universe. If you are a non-believer then it would be more difficult to cope in hard times. God is like the ocean and each of us is a drop of that ocean! When you are alone for a longer time with no other soul around, then you start missing everybody, your family, friends, significant ones, and the loved ones that are no longer alive!
One of the purposes in life is to grow, hard times happened in our lives to make us grow! The harder of a situation, the greater growth!

On Wednesday evening, I called in the Port Authority in George Town, Grand Cayman and reported the arrival to the safe harbor. Earthling made it under one sail to the port of George Town at 2100. A tow boat from the port security assisted and attach her to a mooring ball.
I am very grateful to be safe and healthy, thrilled to have these kind of experiences, and pleased for this life! And thankful that I am capable of repairing all the damages myself!

Now the batteries are replaced, the overheating issue is resolved, new bilge pump is installed, the mainsail is sewed, leaks are sealed, etc! And refrigerator is just a luxury that we take for granted, and we can live without it! The new crew Tadas is arriving soon and on the first weather window Jamaica will be the next port of call!

Thanks for reading

Love from George Town, Grand Cayman

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sailing Cuba


Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
After more then two years in the Island Yacht Club Marina in Clearwater Beach, Florida, Earthling casted off the dock lines and sailed away to the Caribbean again. Aboard are the crew, Jim, Johnny, and the captain, George. The 190nm passage from Clearwater to the Dry Tortugas was smooth, with calm seas, and moderate winds. Tortugas is such a unique island, there is a hexagon shape fort build in the 1800’s on this little land. If you ever find yourself in Key West, then it’s worth a visit to take the ferry or the seaplane to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas.
The Sea plane landing next to Earthling
Fort Jefferson
From Dry Tortugas to Havana is around 100nm, but you have to cross the Gulf Stream and it’s important to watch the weather. Large confused waves were encountered but for most of the part, that passage went fine as well. One over-night and in the morning we saw the buildings in Havana. It feels good to see Havana after so many years that Earthling have been wanting to sail here. Marina Hemingway is the first port of call. It is located 9km west of Havana. The Marina is fairly large and most of it seems like it’s not being used.  It’s a good place to land for sailors, since you get to meet many other cruisers from around the world. Earthling became good boat buddies with the Brazilian family aboard “Coragem” and the Hawaiian family aboard “Lōkahi”, among others!   

Marina Hemingway

When you step foot in Cuba, it feels like the country was frozen 50 years ago, from the cars to the buildings. I’ve never seen so many beautiful worn down buildings in one place. These houses have well architecture but most have not been restored since long time ago. The houses that are renovated are usually with the financial support of family members in the U.S. Most fascinating which put you back in time are the cars, all these American cars from the 50's and a the Russian Ladas. Cars are very expensive. Even the old beaten down cars are worth thousands. Majority of newer cars are company owned and most companies are controlled by the government! People take public transportation, walk, or bike. Biking is the way to go here and this foldable bicycle aboard Earthling took the Captain all the way to Havana and back with some sighting around the city in one day!    


A house in Havana
Every old car works as taxi
Cubans like many other Latinas are happy, friendly, and upbeat. They like their music, they like to dance, and party. In general, they are all educated, but less people speak English and adventures travelers to Cuba should know at least some basic Spanish. It is very strict here and you are being watched even if you think you are alone in the middle of nowhere! Along the coasts, there are watchtowers that monitors who is navigating the Cuban Waters. Most Cubans fear their government and follow the law and talk very quietly about politics! Still to this day, Internet and phone services are very underdeveloped. You will be able to find Internet hotspots in hotels and parks, but talking over Internet is almost impossible, a VPN service might be a good solution! Morover, you have to purchase "etesca" one hour internet cards in order to access the WWW. It happened several times where we asked for wifi, and yes there is wifi, but it’s not connected to Internet, or it's the weekend and the internet is off! It’s also possible to get a local mobile sim card, but be aware that it cost $2-3 a min to call that number from outside Cuba. 
Johnny is mingling with the locals
When in Cuba, you must more or less negotiate everything. Salaries are very low and Cubans look at tourist as a way of making money. A doctor in Cuba makes around US$40 a month, which is a high salary. Although, education and medical are free for everyone, but a dollar a day is not much! A can of soda or beer is $1. One CUC is equal to $1 but if you are exchanging the U.S dollar bills in Cuba, you get only 90CUC for $100. You get more value for your money if you carry other currency such as Euro! There is also a second currency, the Pesos ($1=25pesos), which is used mostly for basic food, public bus, etc. Visitors usually don't deal with the second currency! Remember that many things cost more for tourist than for Cuban’s. The first taxi ride in the old Plymouth from the Marina to Havana cost us $15 and the last taxi ride cost $8. For example if you want to buy 30 eggs in the Marina, it might cost you as much as $30, but if you go to the market with a local person, it will be around $3. We were fortunate to be introduced to a local person here; Armando was kind to help the crew with groceries and other chores that would have been very difficult otherwise. You can always taste and feel the country and the culture much better, whenever you are with locals. We were invited to a few Cuban homes and experienced a wonderful time. Unfortunately, Armando was not allowed to come aboard Earthling. It’s strictly forbidden for Cubans to come aboard foreign vessels, since that’s a common way of escaping the country.

Armando and George
Furthermore, keep calm when almost everyone you are confronting in the Havana area is expecting and asking you for something, a drink, food, your hat, etc! One day the security guys asked for something to eat with their rice, so they got some ham from Earthling. They walked by “Lōkahi” and asked if they could have something to eat with the ham, so they got some bread. The best approach is to respectfully refuse, otherwise you might give your boat away!
Moreover, it’s very safe in Cuba and crime is low, the punishment for stealing could result years in the prison! And apparently it’s very easy to go to Jail!

It’s wise to be well provisioned when you are cruising these waters because not everything is available in Cuba. There are more empty shelves than full ones in most convenience stores or the pharmacy! Cuba is the biggest Island in the Caribbean and by distance very close to the U.S. But it seems too far away since it's so different. This country has great potential for more tourism and finance. It is changing, but very slowly!  

Where can you find an old classic convertible as a Taxi
Flower Cart in the streets of Havana
Houses in Old Town Havana
A military funeral in Vedado
Square in Old Town Havana

Streets in Havana
1956 Chevy at the Marina
The Contrast of Mega yachts and old cars
Gold is a big show here (Local Pool Party)

Little hotel and restaurant in Havana
Got Taxi
Old cars broken down on the side of the road is a common scene!

Biking by different neighborhoods around Havana

There are not much traffic in Havana
Jim is leaving in the taxi to the airport


To see more pictures, visit the full album on the facebook page, Click here!

Thanks for reading
Love and peace from Havana, Cuba