30 Nov 2016

30/11/2016 : A change of plans, Cuba is off!

We're both feeling pretty disappointed at the moment having just taken the decision not to go to Cuba.  The recent death of Castro has the country operating an official 9 days of mourning with everything closed : No restaurants, bars or public buildings open in the lead up to his funeral on Sunday.  We finally managed to find that the marina we would have had to enter through is open, after a frustrating day making calls and talking to people, but that was about the only thing.  Our only weather window to cross the Straits of Florida was tonight.  So of our week in Cuba, it would have been closed for 4 of the 7 days.  Add to that the cost of entry and marina fees (over £650), then we decided it just wasn't worth it this time on every level.  So, despite getting Canadian dollars sorted and buying a lot of things to take as gifts for the Cubans, we'll head to the Bahamas instead, probably sailing straight there leaving tomorrow morning.  C'est la vie ...... with a little bit more time to wait for another weather window it might just have happened but not this time.  So we're sad but pragmatic ....

28 Nov 2016

28/11/2016 : Chillin' in Key West

We're having a lazy few days here enjoying the sunshine and atmosphere, and lunching out each day given we don't expect to have much opportunity to do that in Cuba, and the Bahamas come to that, although to a lesser extent.  Yesterday we visited Ernest Hemingway's home (he was here with his second wife in the 1930s), something we didn't do on our last visit.  This trip has a big Hemingway connection however given he moved from Key West to live with his third wife in Havana and the marina we will be staying in over there is named after him no less.  Hemingway was a big presence in Cuba and lived there for 20 years before returning to the US and taking his life just before his 63rd birthday.

As for his time in Key West, he wrote about 70% of his novels here in a relatively short but obviously creative period.  His property was built by a shipping magnate in the 1850s and still had an outdoor cookhouse when the Hemingways bought it in 1931.  He converted the top floor of the neighbouring coach house into a studio and ran a cast iron walkway from the verandah outside the master bedroom of the main house directly to it using the cookhouse roof as support, so he didn't have to go outside and across the garden when his creative juices were flowing.

Hemingway was a bit of a one with women and had numerous affairs.  When he was involved with the woman who was to become his third wife, his then wife decided to install a swimming pool in the garden of the family home in Key West.  Not only did she site it on Hemingway's favoured boxing ring, but she spent $20,000 on it, a lot of money back in 1937!

Hemingway's home, like many in Key West, has metal roof tiles.  Following a fire back in the late 1800s it was decreed that all new and replacement rooves had to be made from metal .... won't burn and more resistant to hurricanes. This ruling still seems to be in place today.

It's looking like Wednesday evening is our weather window for crossing the Straits of Florida to Cuba so tomorrow and Wednesday will have to be about stocking up with provisions, including gas and fuel, laundry and being officially cleared out of the US so we have the right paperwork for entry into Cuba.  We've been told to take Canadian dollars (as opposed to US dollars) with us so today we went off to the Bank of America to exchange some, only to be told they wouldn't do it for us unless we had an account.  Fortunately we'd been chatting to a chap in the queue who has an account and so he ordered the Canadian dollars for us through his account.  Very good of him .... we could have been money laundering for all he knew .... but the kindness of strangers we meet along the way adds so much to our experience.

We probably won't be able to post anything to the blog whilst we're in Cuba but we'll takes lots of photos and will update it once we arrive in the Bahamas.

27 Nov 2016

27/11/2016 : Key West, Florida

We were lucky enough to be able to sail all the way from No Name Harbor to Key West without having to resort to motor-sailing!  Two whole days of wind and from the right direction too ..... doesn't happen that often.  That said the forecasters got it wrong again: Sunday's forecast was for 15 knots and we actually had over 25 gusting 33, a good job we know what we're doing.

Key West is as colourful, vibrant and trashy as we remember it but charming to boot.  So many different nationalities strolling along Duval Street, marvelling at the bizarre and beautiful all rolled into one.  Every other building is a bar or restaurant .... no need to go thirsty here!

Because we arrived on the Thanksgiving weekend there are a number of events taking place and so we wandered along to the international sand sculpture festival. What those artists can do with sand is incredible.

The weather is beautiful, if a little windy in the exposed anchorage, but the sunsets are stunning.  We'll stay here a few more days waiting for a good weather window to cross to Havana, Cuba.  I'm excited about seeing Cuba if a little apprehensive about the officialdom we might meet .... health inspection, sniffer dogs etc etc, all part of the clearing in process and to a level we've never experienced before.  But a lot of sailors are visiting now so I'm hoping the process is not too problematic.  We'be booked a couple of private tours in a 1950s car, one around Havana and the other to Vinales.  Cuba is a big island and to see it probably would take several months, something we haven't got this time, so it will just be a taster and if we like it we might visit again in the future.

Off ashore now ......

22 Nov 2016

22/11/2016 No Name Harbour, Biscayne Bay

We can't believe how Spanish it is here in the Miami area, from conversation to music to looks.  English definitely seems to be a second language!  That said it's a fun and friendly place to be and naturally very beautiful with manatees swimming around the boat and Pelicans flying above it .... not that I trust them when they're on a bombing mission..... the bimini bears testament to the accuracy of their bombs.  Say no more.

Now we're the proud owner of the new and improved dinghy and outboard, we're using them to explore our surroundings so today saw us flying across Biscayne Bay at around 12 knots to visit Coconut Grove, a suburb of Miami.  $400 on clothes later we beat a retreat.  The return trip was a bit more bouncy as the wind had built up, the swell also, but we made it back with no problem.

We spent yesterday evening in the company of a nice British couple, also anchored in No Name Harbor, and enjoyed several G&Ts before they fell back into their dinghy and made their way home.  A fun night all round.  This morning it was down to earth with a bump for Paul changing the impeller on the generator .... never a dull moment!

One more day here and we'll start the 200 mile sail to Key West.  We'll break it twice (too many lobster pots around to sail after dark) and then Cuba beckons.

20 Nov 2016

20/11/16 : No Name Harbour, Key Biscayne

After our maintenance day in West Palm Beach, we enjoyed a fun couple of days dining on the waterfront, exploring Peanut Island, visiting a farmer's market and even going to the movies.  The payback was getting up at 1am this morning to sail down to Key Biscayne, just south of Miami, so we would arrive at high water .... objective achieved and we're now at anchor on a wonderfully warm and sunny day, relaxing in the cockpit surrounded by other boats, many of which we're hoping are day trippers from Miami and that things will quieten down a bit this evening.  We must be getting old!

The sail down wasn't too bad at all but we lost the wind after Fort Lauderdale and had to resort to motor-sailing.  And we had a 1.5knot current against us most of the way which slowed us down considerably.  The forecast front that we hoped would generate some winds never materialised .... another triumph for weather forecasting! We're beginning to question why we bother checking!

So now we'll have a few days here exploring the Key and Biscayne Bay, something open to us now we've got the "new improved dinghy and outboard".  Let's hope there are no speed cops around!

18 Nov 2016

18 Nov 2016 Temporary Repairs done and pulled up for speeding

This morning we rubbed down the first application of gel coat and applied another two coats, rubbed it down and waxed/sealed it to weather proof the damage.

It's not a professional job but good enough to last the season until we can get a proper gel coat repair man on the case. It is weatherproof and though I say so myself, not a bad first attempt!

We had a nice lunch ashore to celebrate the fix, but on the way to a walk at Peanut Island we were exercising the 9.9hp engine when we were pulled over by the sheriff. It seems that we were in a no wake zone making more than a little wake so he put the blues and twos on and we were caught. A brief bit of grovelling and apologising seemed to do the trick, and we were let off with a warning, Phew! However, the same officer in the launch obviously needed a quota today and we saw him pull three more boats in quick succession. We have learned our lesson and will be taking things a little slower from now on.

17 Nov 2016

17 Nov 2016 West Palm Beach and a lucky escape!

Our trip down from St Augustine to West Palm Beach was a journey of two definite halves. Despite the weather forecast saying that we would have northerly winds of between 15 and 20 knots, there was next to nothing, and we spent all of Tuesday motor sailing down the coast. On Wednesday morning at 1pm, the winds picked up (even though they were actually supposed to decrease according to the same forecast) and we were able to switch off the engine and actually sail. From that point, we averaged about 8 knots for the rest of the journey and really enjoyed the sail. We have come to the conclusion that the weather forecasts are rubbish everywhere. We arrived in WPB at around 4pm and we're able to pick up our normal anchoring spot in Lake Worth, just next to some really large gin palaces that are British registered. It's a bit like home from home seeing the red ensigns.

It's been a maintenance and shopping day today (and not just food shopping).

A few days ago when we were in St Augustine we had the heating system running in the evening and morning when the weather was a bit chilly. Unbeknown to us, a fender had draped itself over the heater exhaust outlet and it got VERY hot to say the least.

 The fender was actually burnt through which is frightening on its own, how it never caught fire, we will never know, but we consider ourselves very lucky to have got away with it. Not just the fender was damaged, the hull obviously got hot too, and the gel coat cracked under the heat. The frightening thing is that if the fire had taken hold, our gas cylinders were right next to where it would have been ablaze. That would certainly have been the end of Tumi, and probably us as well.

The area around the exhaust has been charred as you can see from the photo, and we decided to patch it up for the moment and get it repaired professionally at the end of the season as it will need greater expertise than I possess.

 We started repairing the burnt and cracked part of the hull this morning, removing all the flaky bits of gel coat and sanding down the rough edges ready for the new gel coat application. The gel coat repair kit I already had was minus the hardener which had evaporated over the past year or so and that meant a trop to the chandlers ashore to get some new supplies. While we were in the chandlers, we stocked up on a few other bits and spares and then headed for the Publix supermarket to get some bananas. As usual, when you don't expect to see special offers, some buy one get one free (especially the mixed nuts) and bargains such as UHT milk at half the normal (exorbitant) price. Anyway, 157 dollars later, we had the most expensive bananas ever and had to get a cab back to carry them to the dinghy dock.

Speaking of cabs, we are really impressed with Uber - I downloaded the app onto my phone a few days ago and we have used it twice to carry groceries from the supermarket. Both times, the cars have been good, the drivers very polite and helpful and the tracking capability of the system let's you know exactly where your driver is. We will definitely be regular users going forwards.

Anyway, I have applied the first layer of gel coat this afternoon, will let it harden tonight, rub it down and put another layer on tomorrow morning. It won't be pretty, but it will do the job for now as we will need to haul out to get the work done and as our fridge and freezer use keel cooling, we would most likely lose our foodstuffs and we don't want to do that.

13 Nov 2016

13 Nov 2016 St Augustine

We have been here for a few days now, enjoying the town and we have been made very welcome by Kendra, the cousin of a friend, who has taken us out and about socialising and introduced us to her friends. We like St Augustine, we have been wandering around the town, exploring the lesser trodden parts and have found some wonderful shopping in the 'local' streets away from the tourist trail.

The dinghy and outboard have been tested out, and are working well, once the boat is on the plane, we scoot along much quicker than we ever did in our last boat, and longer distances will not be any problem now. We are looking at going to lunch at a waterside restaurant 5 miles away and the thought doesn't put us off at all.

We were visited in the mooring field by a couple who noticed our Ocean Cruising Club flag yesterday and exchanged experiences with them, they have circumnavigated twice and were able to tell us of their experiences in the Pacific. something for us to look forward to.

We will sail south to West Palm Beach on Tuesday when the winds are favourable (at least according to today's forecast, but the change daily) and we expect the trip to take about 30 hours to complete, but in the mea time, we will still relax on our mooring ball being woken up early in the morning by the klaxon horn of the nearby Bridge of Lions as it announces its opening to the world ... good job we go to bed early!

7 Nov 2016

7/11/16 ... Ready for the Off

After a relatively relaxed weekend overall, we've spent the morning readying everything to depart just before high tide this afternoon - it started raining yesterday afternoon so we decided to spend another night in the marina.  This involved taking the new dinghy and outboard out for a spin up Egan's Creek ... quite a turn of speed, and that's whilst we're running the engine in at under half throttle.  I was also pleased to see how easy it was to hoist the outboard onto the deck using the new gantry and "four to one pulley system" ... no effort at all to lift 90lbs of engine.  I'm glad Paul no longer has to manhandle a heavy motor, often in less than calm conditions.

So today we start the journey south. After seven months on dry land I'm feeling a little apprehensive but know I'll be fine as soon as we're underway.  We'll have to spend a few hours at anchor at Cumberland Island so we can time our arrival in St Augustine to coincide with high water tomorrow afternoon, but Cumberland Island is beautiful with long sandy beaches, wild horses and the homes of the Carnegie family.  We've been before but are looking forward to a quick revisit.  So at around 2am Tuesday morning we'll be upping anchor to experience our first night-sail of the 2016/17 season.  I'd forgotten how tide-constrained we are in Florida, hence the middle of the night departure.  Oh well, at least it's warm at night!

6 Nov 2016

6/11/2016 Back on board in Fernandina Beach

The clocks were set back last night so we had a second extra hour in bed (the first one was last week when we left the UK). The last few days have been busy for us, getting Tumi ready for sailing again. The coppercoat has been sanded back a bit to expose the copper again, the engine and generator have been serviced, the sails are back on and furled, the sprayhood is in place and the interior no longer looks like a scene from a disaster movie. We are getting a state of order back into the boat. Today we will put the bimini back on, and then test out the new dinghy and outboard. We sold the old outboard yesterday too - a bit of a bonus as we could have been left carting it around for quite a while waiting for someone to buy it, and space is always at a premium! The initial provisioning has been done, America is SO expensive for foodstuffs and supplies, I wouldn't want to have to shop here all the time, especially with the pound being so weak, but we have to eat so what choice do we have?

Amelia Island where the boatyard is was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Matthew and there was a tidal surge that wrecked the municipal marina in the heart of Fernandina town. The boatyard office was two feet underwater but Tumi was high and dry in her cradle. Having looked over the boat, we are both very relieved to see that there was no storm damage from Matthew, a couple of pins were shaken loose from the safety rails but we replaced those with some new ones and we are in good shape. The sails went on much easier than last time, which probably means we know what we are doing now (phew!) and we hadn't forgotten how to do it. The dinghy arrived shrink wrapped and was soon inflated, the outboard wasn't as heavy as expected and we had that on the transom sharpish, added the oil as required and all we needed then was some fuel. It gave me a chance to read the manual to see how the thing works, all very different from the last one.

One thing has struck us very quickly, how friendly the sailing community is, we have been offered rides to supermarkets and gas stations and have been made to feel very welcome. That's why we keep coming back to sailing, that and the lovely warm temperatures!

We are heading out from the marina today up the inlet to Cumberland Island, home of the Carnegie family where we will anchor overnight, then sail down to St Augustine where we will stay for three nights or more.