Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Cuban Capacitor Bomb

Some weeks back I noticed that our reverse osmosis water maker pump was having some difficulty in starting up. As we're dependent on that machine for all our fresh water supply, this wasn't welcome news - a failure would limit our cruising on the Cuban coast.

After some testing and discussion with the manufacturer, we identified the starting capacitor as the likely culprit, though we weren't optimistic about finding one in Santiago De Cuba. It's an uncommonly large value capacitor - 600 micro farad, and physically quite small.

Then, after many fruitless hours searching stores and even second hand goods markets, our friend and driver Noel Sardina took us to another friend, which is of course the Cubano way of solving most problems. Everyone has many friends...

This friend repairs air conditioners and refrigeration equipment.  From him we purchased this typically Cuban problem solver - our Cuban Capacitor Bomb. A trio of well used but functional starting capacitors, all of lower values, but wired together in parallel to create the desired effect - and this assembly is now starting our pump perfectly. It ain't pretty, but it works. The Cuban way!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Cuban Cruising - Marea Del Portillo

Fisherman Row Home After A Night On The Water - Marea Del Portillo

From Santiago De Cuba we headed west along the southern coast, with the dramatic Sierra Madre mountains running down to the coast right along the shore line. It was 80 nautical miles to our next safe harbour, and we managed to motor and sail the distance in a single daylight run, arriving in beautiful Marea Del Portillo just on sunset.

The bay here is wide and deep, well protected from the ocean with mangroves and reefy cays on the ocean side. Local fisherman work the reefs and mangrove channels in small row boats, setting nets and traps.

The local Guarda Frontera officer, resplendent in green uniform, was rowed out in a tiny fishing boat to welcome us and take possession of our cruising permit - in each port they hold the permit until we depart. With heavy conditions forecast for the coming days, we decided to sit tight in this beautiful bay and catch up on some boat work.

The staysail furler needed some fine tuning, so we dropped the sail to the deck and worked on the furling mechanism for a day, including removing the drum mechanism and detaching the stay from the deck. During all this we (of course) found and rectified the mistakes made by the last riggers that worked on the system, but that's just the cruising life .... sure it is.

After sorting that one, we moved the sewing machine onto the fore deck and Ley re-stitched the sacrificial UV cloth on the staysail. A monster job, now done and dusted. So we re-rigged the staysail, furled it and turned our eyes to the shore, where the local village was waiting for us.

At the local fisherman's jetty we landed our dinghy on a black sand beach. Immediately it was clear that this was a fairly poor rural village, with little infrastructure and most of that in poor condition.

However that didn't stop the locals wanting to help us ... they made us quite welcome.  These were farmers and fisherman, the only industry being a modern bakery that produced bread for nearby beach resorts. It was a sleepy kind of place, with pigs, goats, horses and chickens roaming free in the streets.

A Sleepy Kind Of Village - Dog & Pig Siesta

Local Housing
The housing was very basic, though as we've seen elsewhere in Cuba the people were well fed and healthy, with a medical clinic in the village.

One local lady offered to provide us with bananas, and we visited her house while her husband went out to the gardens to cut the bananas for us - for these we traded clothing, a welcome delight to these folks who are miles from any stores. She proudly showed us the new metal roof on her home, replaced after the last hurricane stole the original roof. We also saw cherished photos of her children and grand children, departing having once again found friends in the Cuban countryside.

Friday, 23 March 2018

A Cuban Landfall - Santiago de Cuba

The Morro Fort Is On Starboard As We Approach The Entry

Crystal Blues arrived on the south coast of Cuba at Santiago de Cuba, last Friday afternoon. Sailing under the ramparts of the Morro Fort, dating back to the 15th century, was an incredible arrival experience. The government run marina is about 1/4 mile inside the harbor, where we received a friendly welcome. Many visiting boats were anchored out, however the marina offered us a berth and we accepted gladly - the first time we'd berthed the boat since last November.

Ley's Favourite Vegetable Stall
This is Cuba's third largest city, with around a million people, though it's position in the far east of the country gives it an individual identity and a strong sense of independence. From this region the first rebellion against Spanish rule commenced, and later it was Castro himself who started from here to evict the Batista regime.

Of course the Cuba of today is very different, with a population that are embracing change as Cuba relaxes the old rules. Economic prosperity is still some way off, however the people do have some of the highest literacy and health care standards in the world.

Starting last Saturday we've traveled a little in the city and out into the mountains to the north west. This included an overnight trip to Bayamo, one of the oldest Spanish cities in the world, where we stayed in a "Casa Particulare", basically a homestay with meals available if we wanted. This cost around $25.00 per night. Ley figures the Cuban people invented the AirBnB concept, without the internet....

Overflight On Our Arrival

Over the years the Cuban people have learned to live with less, and the place is famous for keeping old cars running well beyond there regular use-by date.

Noel & Neil At The Morro Fort
We've enlisted the services of a local taxi driver "Noel", who has enriched our visit with his quiet pride and strong sense of humor. Noel's taxi is a fairly battered but reliable Moskovich (Russian) car - I asked how old it was one day, and he quickly replied "It's New! Just 30 years!" Compared to some of the vehicles we've seen, it is indeed quite new.

Cuba has been in our cruising sights for many years, and whilst we had a little taste of the land  last year, we had high hopes for our visit this year, keen to experience more of the people, food and music. We haven't been disappointed!

The annual music festival in Santiago de Cuba was in full swing when we arrived, a festival that is produced for the locals, not just for tourists. The national history includes waves of immigration from Spain, Britain, France and Africa. These influences have been distilled into a national musical palet that includes strong African segments, more traditional Cuban works plus Spanish influenced classical styles. Here in Santiago the African tribal roots are celebrated with community performances in a local coffee shop twice a week, where we were able to dance to a beat from 8 drums and a variety of percussion instruments accompanied by many voices.

Santiago Concert Hall

 At the local concert hall, we were fortnate to view a performance by the orchestra from the local conservatory, with guest vocalists from around Cuba and a guitar trio from Mexico. That same evening we danced in the streets to more classic Cuban sounds when the festival stage went live for the evening.

Learning To Busk, Latin Style
In the town square local troubadors entertain each evening, earning coins for their performance. I was able to spend an hour accompanying one guitarist with my newly purchased percussian instrment, the local Guayo.

Music is everywhere in this country. In the towns we often see people carrying guitars, brass instruments and drums, all a common sight. Culture is different here - some how more inter-personal, rich and educated than we expected. In Bayamo we came across a fencing school right on the street, while in Santiago we've visited two different chess clubs that occupy beautiful historic buildings.

We plan to sail onwards across the south coast of Cuba for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Departing George Town, Bound For Cuba

Exumas Racing Sloop
After almost a week in George Town Harbor we are ready to move on, with fuel and provisions loaded and our hearts looking forward to the next destination - the south coast of Cuba.

We arrived here in the middle of the George Town Cruising Regatta and learned to live with the constant VHF radio chatter generated by more than 250 cruising sailboats in the one harbor. The harbor could probably cater for many more - it's long, generally shallow and provides great holding and protection for anchored yachts.

The annual regatta here has a little something for everyone, from big boat racing to Bocce tournaments, beach volleyball, poker and even cruiser golf played on the local salt flats.  And yes, the local rum was a major attraction.

The local sailors also get involved, competing in traditional 16 foot sloops that feature heavy sliding boards to carry the windward crew and impossibly large main sails and booms.

To the north of us, the Atlantic Ocean is whipping up a major storm that is expected to send large swells down here later this week, so we're heading south before we're boxed in again. A series of cold fronts moving down off the US coast have complicated the local weather forecasting, and no one is relying on anything more than two or three days out. Subject to weather, we expect to arrive in Santiago De Cuba on Friday morning, March 16, truly ready for the local music, food and yet more rum.

Monday, 12 March 2018

A Soft Shackle Starter

Soft Shackle Main Sheet Block Attachment
Soft shackles can and do replace conventional stainless D shackles in many places aboard sailboats today. We like using them because they can articulate readily, they don't rattle, won't scratch other fittings and don't bleed rust (as all the stainless shackles will do in the long run).

On Crystal Blues we've been using them for some years, originally purchasing shackles made by our friend David at Precision Shipwright Services in Phuket, Thailand.

Eventually I was shamed into learning how to make my own, settling on a process that is clearly described here at, a great source of boating and rigging info. We do like the "better" soft shackle described there.

Now I'm a hunter in all the chandleries we visit, looking for short lengths of Dyneema high strength line that I can buy cheap - off cuts, roll ends etc. On occasion I've been given short lengths for free, which are quickly converted into valuable shackles. Most of our shackles are made on passage, whiling away the hours on watch at sea, so it's not an onerous task. The calculator on the L-36 web page will guide you as to the critical dimensions and line lengths required.

Out Latest Production Batch - We've Been Busy

Thursday, 8 March 2018

George Town Arrival

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in George Town, Exuma Islands, after a seven hour passage from Black Point Harbour.  Atlantic ocean storms to the north of us, while delivering snow and heavy weather in the UK and USA, are sending large long period swells down to this part of the world.  Moving on or off the shallow Bahamas banks requires a little care and planning, selecting a reef pass that is preferably wide and deep. The Admiral snapped this swell as we moved through the Conch Cay Cut into Exuma Harbour yesterday.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Beautiful Bahamas Cruising

The locals call these Nurse Sharks, but to us they look a little like the Australian Wobbegongs, or maybe Lemon Sharks.... either way, they are an unusual welcoming committee. Coming ashore in the Exumas Islands these guys are a common sight, along with giant rays, turtles and numerous reef fishes. The further south we travel, the more interesting this area becomes...

Warderick Wells Mooring Field

Of course it's also beautiful, when the weather is cooperating. We're still working with weather systems that are occasionally dominated by the lows and cold fronts that come down off the US east coast, but at least the average temperatures are now above 25degC. in the daytime. Warderick Wells, inside the Exumas Land & Sea Park, is a popular cruising hangout, and the walks ashore reveal a distinct (if limited) range of wildlife. Lizards and birds dominate, though if you stay on the beach after dark you'll be sure to see the native rodent, the Bahamian Hutia, once considered extinct but now resurgent in the park.This is the first place we've been where native palms dominate - sure enough, we found the park service had worked very hard to eliminate the invasive Australian Casuarina, or the She Oak as we call it back home in Australia. The locals here really don't like these Aussie invaders.

VonYachtSki Moored At Warderick Wells

Our friends Harry & Liz aboard the Canadian yacht VonYachtSki enjoyed the park with us, and we eventually sailed further south to Staniel Cay in company. Next we're heading for the big smoke - Georgetown on Great Exuma Island. We should be there before the end of the week. For our favourite images of Warderick Wells and the Bahamian wildlife click the link below.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Friday Night Fish Fry, Eleuthera

Admiral Ley Doing The Limbo Rock

Here on peaceful Eleuthera Island the folks come out to play for the Friday Night Fish Fry in Governors Harbor. By 8:00pm there were a couple of hundred people eating, drinking and generally making merry. They close off the street near the beach, and the party builds until its time for the Limbo Dance competition, where tourists and locals (all lubricated with Rum Babas) compete. Admiral Ley volunteered as the official Australian representative, and she'd only had two drinks .....

Hatchet Bay Entrance Cut

Eleuthera is a beautiful and friendly place, the locals exceptionally courteous. Starting at The Glass Window Bridge in the north, we've worked our way southward, staying on the sheltered western shore. At Hatchet Bay we passed through the (very) narrow cut into the man-made harbor, to anchor in the pond there. Next stop was Alabaster Bay, anchoring off the golden beach in 3 meter water that is crystal clear. Here we relaxed for a few days with our friends Bill & Jean on Pelican Express, plus other new friends Harry & Liz on VonYachtSki. 

On a beautiful calm evening we gathered driftwood and a few rocks, then built a cooking fire, proving that Australians just love to play with fire. Beach chairs, beers and our BBQ grill plate completed the preparations, and at sunset the boat crews gathered for an evening grill on the beach.

Needless to say, with the warm weather and sheltered anchorages here we're in no hurry to move on. Our path will eventually take us across to the Exumas Islands and further south, before we make a break for Cuba. The boat is running well and the beer is cold - so right now we're chilling.

Arriving For The Beach BBQ

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Skinny, Deep, Then Skinny Again - Passage To Eleuthera

Rosinante Enjoying The Conditions
Six days ago we worked our way through the skinny water of the southern Abaco Islands in Bahama, heading to sea and southward, destination Eleuthera. While only 50 nautical miles distant, this was an Atlantic Ocean passage and required the right weather window - so we grabbed the first available opportunity and headed out across the bar in the early morning, with a gaggle of yachts all homing on the same destination. After a somewhat tense exit (we crossed the bar at low tide) it was a joy to have several hundred meters of water under the keel.

Pelican Express, A Sundeer 60, Doing What She Does Best

The winds and currents gave us a boisterous crossing, with 18 to 20 knots of wind for most of the day, sloppy seas and plenty of movement on board. A true romp of a sail with the apparent wind exactly on the beam. We were the last to cross the bar at Little Harbor heading out, but our waterline length let us haul in those that crossed ahead of us, and we were second into Eleuthera behind our friends on Pelican Express.

Through the Egg Island cut we marched, anchoring at Meek's Patch near Spanish Wells, in just 3 meters of water again, for a spectacular sunset. That really was a fine Bahamas cruising day.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Low Flying In Skinny Water

Crystal Blues At Tilloo Cay Anchorage - Unusually Deep At 3.5 Meters
Welcome to the beauty of the Bahamas, where we are (finally) enjoying some warm weather and quiet days.  For blue water sailors, relaxing here requires some serious attitude adjustment - everywhere is just so damn shallow!

Skimming across the flats in 3 to 4 meters of water is exciting, feeling just like low flying. However it is stressful to someone who for years has had the shallow depth alarm set at 5 meters - heck the alarm would be sounding continuously here! Many harbors we simply cannot approach, our 2.1 meter depth being way over the available water depth.

At Grand Cay, where we cleared customs and immigration, we eased our way through the entrance channel with 10cm under the keel, to find an anchorage that was just over 3 meters deep. So we often anchor outside the harbors and the dinghy gets a real workout - we traveled 5 miles each way in the dink to visit beautiful Hope Town on Elbow Cay, which is surrounded by 1.0 to 1.5 meter sand banks.

Hope Town Harbor, Elbow Cay, Bahamas

Hope Town Light House

In Hope Town we toured the magnificent lighthouse, the last in the world still operating with an oil burning lamp and a clockwork rotational mechanism. With strong community support it is maintained in working condition, and is open to tourists six days a week.

One great positive - turtles are making a come back here, now protected by government legislation. We see them every day, and two days back saw nine in one small lagoon.

Over the past two weeks we've used the periods of nice weather (very few) to catch up on maintenance - cleaning the hull being the big job. Whilst the images may look sunny, it really isn't warm here in winter, most days between 20 and 25 degrees C. And the sea is cold - wet suits are essential.

Cold fronts regularly move off the US east coast, wind directions clock 360 degrees in as little as 36 hours. Frequent moves are called for to stay sheltered as the winds change direction.

Hope Town was our last "town" visit in the Abaco Islands - tomorrow we're heading south 50 nautical miles to the northern end of Eleuthera Island. A growing group of boats is swinging at anchor here at Lydyard Cay, ready to make the ocean jump to Eleuthera tomorrow.

Hull Cleaning At Tilloo Cay

20 Knots For 20 Hours, With 20 Tons

Crystal Blues displaces just under 20 metric tons, and I always wondered how our new Rocna 33kg anchor behaved - in soft mud I know it buries deep, but in hard sand with grass just how deep does it bury? The shallow waters here in the Bahamas let me see the answer a few days ago - after 20 hours with 20 knots of wind blowing here at Tilloo Cay.

The answer it seems is not very deep, but we've never dragged, even in sustained winds over 30 knots, gusting to 40 knots. The bottom here is really tough, and once you get the point buried it seems to hold well. In this image the load on the flukes is asymmetric, evidence (I think) of the anchor rotating in the sand as the wind veered through 45 degrees, though I'd welcome comments from others on this.

Monday, 29 January 2018

A Garden At Sea Again

So Much Growth, We Brought Out The Big Guns For Harvesting

Admiral Ley has a well trained green thumb. As I described here last year, at every opportunity she grows a range of herbs and salad greens that add flavour and zest to our diet onboard.

A couple of months back she re-started our garden, again using the Greensmart self-watering pot that has been so productive for us. Once again, it's taken off, growing like crazy. We're often able to give away fresh herbs to cruising friends.

Right now she's growing Basil, Cilantro (Corriander), Italian Parsley, mixed Lettuce, Arugula and Rosemary. All this in a tub that measures just 570x400mm.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Great Guana Key, Bahamas

Community Fish Cleaning Action At Great Guana Cay
Sunshine, clear waters, fresh fish, friendly people - it doesn't get much better. Unless of course you also like messing around in boats, in which case all your dreams can come true here at Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas. I guess it must be a little frantic at peak tourist season, but right now its extra laid back and friendly. We arrived here yesterday after a quick 3 hour passage from Green Turtle Cay, and have settled into the anchorage to sit out the front that is expected later today.  We're in 3 meters of water with 27 meters of chain out, so we're not planning on going anywhere soon.

This morning we took the (fast) ferry 16nm to Marsh Harbor, where the Admiral found a hair dresser and we both searched the hardware and marine stores for parts we needed. That search turned up nothing of value, so we headed back to Great Guana in the early afternoon. This afternoon, before the weather deteriorated, we spent a few minutes testing our new aerial camera system, with great results. Click the play button below to view.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

So, Which Ball Valves Are You Using ?

Philmac Ball Valves On Our Seawater Manifold
My story on ball valve replacement at sea (read it here) lead predictably to the question of ball valve construction. Are you a traditional bronze kind of sailor? Or maybe you like stainless steel? Or just maybe you've converted to the newer industrial plastics, made with glass reinforced PVC or Nylon?

On Crystal Blues we love the industrial plastic valves, and have used Philmac ball valves for almost 20 years. These are built for the industrial process and agriculture industries, are tough as nails and (the best part) are cheaper than all those products that have the word marine included in the product description.... still, I understand the Philmac valves are approved for use on commercial vessels in commercial survey in Australia and New Zealand.

Engineered plastic valves are light, strong, do not corrode and won't conduct electricity, all properties that I love. Nowadays there is a new and I believe even higher quality product available - made from glass reinforced PVC. New Zealand company TruDesign make a superb range of tough, precision plastic skin fittings, valves and plumbing components specifically for the marine market. These are sold all over the world, and have certifications from Bureaux Veritas, ABYC, CE and ISO. These are the valves and fittings that will be used on Crystal Blues in the future.

Or Are You Using "Marelon" ?

Glass reinforced plastic valves and fittings are also made using Marelon, principally marketed in the USA by Forespar. Unfortunately these valves have experienced well publicized failures over many years. Marelon is a version of Dupont Zytel, a glass reinforced form of Nylon, a fine structural material, but perhaps not best suited to making marine ball valves, as the base material is weakened by immersion over long periods.  Read The Discussions Here and buyer beware.
TruDesign Diverter Valve

We won't use the Forespar Marelon valves. I should also say that the Forespar Marelon toilet waste diverter valves we purchased never worked properly - the closed outlet always leaked slightly, meaning the holding tank had to be emptied periodically even when not being used.

They were not fit for purpose in my experience. That was an expensive mistake, rectified by refitting with TruDesign diverter valves.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

At Last, Bahamas Sunshine ...

New Plymouth Town, Green Turtle Cay
Crystal Blues finally escaped the freezing conditions and weather bombs of the US East Coast, clearing from Palm Beach and heading east across the Gulf Stream to the shallow banks that make up most of the Bahamas Island group. In 8 hours we were across the stream and moved on to the banks, and 8 hours later we were at Great Sale Cay, anchored in 3 meters of water for a peaceful evening.

The Admiral In The Loyalist Sculpture Garden
We cleared customs and immigration at Grand Cay, and sheltered there for a few days, before heading East and South around the top of the Abacos island chain.

Three days ago we anchored at Green Turtle Cay and settled for a while, enjoying the (finally) calm weather and the friendly village atmosphere in New Plymouth town.

This is a community that dates back to the 1780's, when British loyalists departed the United States after the war of independence and resettled here. The English language is different here, and the folks are proud of their heritage.

The waters are clear, and there is a decent tourism industry based around visiting boats and resorts. The famous Green Turtle Club provides marina, restaurant and bar services, competing with the nearby Bluff House to woo visiting boats and crews.

Perfectly positioned on the sea of Abaco, between the outer reef and Great Abaco Island, this is one of a string of barrier islands that really make you think about staying forever.

Of course this is winter, the low season, and the marinas are generally fairly empty, though there are plenty of cruising boats around, principally from the USA with a few from Canada. Winter weather brings a series of northerly and north easterly blows to this region, each of which seems to last four or five days. This morning, with another 35 knot blow on the way, we departed Green Turtle and moved further south to Great Guana Cay, where we will shelter for the next five days.

Yes, You Can Lock The Dinghy To The Canon On The Public Wharf