Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cruising Fun In The BVIs, A Sailors Paradise

The British Virgin Islands are a sailors paradise - reaching across the Sir Francis Drake Channel is a marvelous way to spend an afternoon, racing south west past Virgin Gorda, heading for a Dark & Stormy at the floating bar in The Bight on Norman Island - it's the stuff dreams are made of.

The fun continues when you enter harbour, as legendary super yachts and equally legendary classic yachts seem to be everywhere. At Jost Van Dyke we watched the (very few) entrants in the annual wooden boat regatta come back into harbour - what they lacked in numbers they sure made up for in style. That night at Foxy's Bar the prize giving was a typical yacht club style event, with perhaps more rum consumed than was wise.

Old man Foxy was even there for a little while, however I think he needed to go back of house and review his share portfolio or something - that guy has worked hard and done well  - I do remember him cooking lobster for me 30 years ago on the beach in East End Harbour, near Diamond Cay..

J-Class Classic Ranger At Virgin Gorda

If the racing or wooden boats don't get you, then the charter boats provide the most entertainment, specially at anchoring time. We invested some time helping folk pick up mooring balls in trying conditions - an afternoon in the cockpit wasn't complete without seeing at least one blooper. Heck, we've all done it, right?

Trying To Get Both Hulls Hooked Up ... Very Trying

Why Is The Dinghy Under The Boat? 'Çause Propellers Love Painters.

Overall, the British Virgin Islands are simply a great place to be on a boat.

Where Am I ? Social Change In Caribbean Cruising

Sailing west from the BVIs, a cruising sailor enters an area that is increasingly influenced by proximity to the United States. While the southern end of the Caribbean oscillates between French, Dutch and English histories, and quaint provincial social influences, the northern islands are suddenly and dramatically quite American.

Crystal Blues In Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, BVI's

The British Virgin Islands, the biggest charter boat destination in the world, is where the influence really starts to blossom. The poor British there have given up on the Pound Sterling, let alone the Euro, and have adopted the US greenback as their standard currency, along with switching their channel markers and buoyage over to the US style "red right returning" system (IALA Region B). So much for tradition. Then again, Region B was in use even in Martinique, an otherwise 100% proudly French territory.

Moving westwards, the US Virgin Islands are of course, well, US.  Then you come to the Spanish Virgin Islands, part of Puerto Rico, which is really, well, part of the US. Next we sailed over the top of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before pausing in Cuba. Here we found that even Cuba uses the IALA Region B buoyage, besides being the home of the worlds best collection of 1960's American cars.

Street Traffic In Cuba - Horses, Bicycles & 50s - 60s US Classics
It doesn't help that almost every island in the Caribbean, north and south, uses the US country code (+1) for their international telephone dialing prefix - all having nice 3 digit area codes under the US regional communications umbrella.

Of course this American influence isn't all bad, standard regional buoyage systems make sense, and we certainly enjoyed the social services and amenities provided in Puerto Rico and other places.

However I do fear for the future of Cuba - they already run two parallel currencies, a local Peso worth very little and a tourist Peso that is closely pegged to the US dollar and worth 25 times the poor local currency.  So market shopping in rural Cuba is done using the "people's money", but marina payments by visitors have to be done in the tourist Peso. When a power outage caused the local banks to shut their doors, we had no trouble changing greenbacks for tourist peso's in the local market square - the population are happy to take greenbacks. When President Obama wound back the restrictions on US travel to Cuba last year, we found that by November there were more than 30 flights a day out of Miami into Havana, and even more out of Fort Lauderdale. For those wanting to visit today's Cuba, we suggest you move fast.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A Sleigh Ride In The Gulf Stream

The Customs lady looked fearsome (why is it always the Customs folk who play tough?) but gave us our clearance and charged only US25 cents for the pleasure. The Immigration man smiled, removed the little cards from our passports and said "have a nice voyage, you're cleared". With that we sailed away from Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands the next morning, on the first day of May, bound north west for the USA.

That first day of sailing was an easy one. Leaving the anchorage at 06:30hrs we ran past the US Virgin Islands then veered south to sleepy Culebra, in the Spanish Virgin Islands, arriving at 12:45hrs with 36 miles under the keel, to anchor in a perfect lagoon. Lunch at the (delightful) Dinghy Dock Restaurant was followed by a very friendly clearance process at the local airfield. The beautiful Spanish Virgins are part of Puerto Rico, a US possession with US style border protection policies.

Old Town, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Next day we sailed another 62 nautical miles to San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, for provisioning, fueling and a little dose of tourism.

We anchored in San Juan Bay, just off the yacht club, in good holding ground.  The San Juan Bay Marina offered a dinghy dock and wi-fi service for $10.00 per day, which suited us fine. The city of San Juan was a real surprise - very American, yet Spanish enough to have a truly vibrant soul. The old city is spectacular, the people relaxed and friendly.

We traveled the city far and wide, riding the efficient metro (bus) transit system. Restaurants offered unique local and Spanish dishes, we were in foodie heaven. Each day in port we carted another 100 liters of diesel fuel out to Crystal Blues, and loaded provisions from the excellent super market to cover our next voyage.

Spanish Era Powder Magazine, San Juan

San Juan Bay Anchorage

From there it was more spirited down wind sailing, for four days (622nm), to peaceful Puerto De Vita on the north coast of Cuba - here the welcome was warm and gracious, the whole environment relaxed and friendly. We stayed just three nights - next time it will be three weeks. Yes, the country is certainly very poor, however the people are happy, healthy, well fed and well educated. Cuba has very high literacy standards and a world class health care system. We'll write more about Cuba in a later story.

1969 Dodge Coronet, Our Cuban Taxi To Town

From Cuba we set out westwards through the Old Bahama Channel, more fine down wind sailing until the wind faded south of the Great Bahama Bank. Two days of motoring carried us up into the Florida Straits, heading north at breakneck speed towards the Carolinas. The Gulf Stream came in fast, and ran at more than 4 knots for 36 hours - last night Ley saw 11 knots over the ground for most of her watch. We shot past Miami around midnight, and Cape Canaveral (which I first saw as a teenager back in 1972) was abeam of us by 14:00 hours that day.

This unstoppable current then became a problem - our destination of Charleston was approaching way too fast, and we could not enter at night time. So earlier today we ran off westwards toward the coast of Georgia, moving out of the stream into shallower water where the current was more sane. By mid afternoon we were back on course and spent an hour before sunset sitting on the bow rail watching masses of dolphins play with the boat.

We should arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, tomorrow morning, completing a quick five day passage covering around 800 nautical miles. The trade winds have been behind the beam for the entire 18 days since we departed the British Virgin Islands. We've traveled north so fast that the sunsets are noticeably later each day - temperatures are also much cooler. Our brief port stops in Puerto Rico and Cuba gave us a taste of cultures that we'll be back to explore next year - for now we're looking forward to exploring the US east coast this northern summer.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

LED Lighting Goes Beserk

Super Yacht Savannah Lights Up The Harbour, Nicely

This year in the Caribbean I've often been delighted, though more often offended, by the incredible displays of light pumped out of sailing and power vessels at night time. It seems that the energy efficiency of LED lamps has launched boat owners on a new quest to throw light into the water and the sky.

While Savannah did it in a classy way - a silky curtain of white light below the waterline, in a perfect 360 degree arc around the vessel - others were less tactful.

This catamaran owner obviously spent a lot of money installing a large number of LED lights, however the color scheme was kind of  off-putting, or as cruising friends said, "Oh Puke"! It would be cheaper and more honest to simply paint the side of the boat with "Look At Me!".

While the big boats lead the pack in this new trend, even smaller cruising vessels are starting to compete. In Trinidad we berthed next to an older Beneteau 37, a lady of a "certain age", that had applied new make-up. She had (wait for it) blue underwater LED's in an arc around the stern, plus recessed LED strip lighting along both sides of the salon, which changed color every minute or so. Yep, one minute the interior was green, next minute it was red, then blue and so on - all it needed was a shiny pole and some dancers to complete the picture. Please, spare me.

OK, enough griping - we're off to Cuba today, 570 nautical miles West North West and downwind all the way, we hope. Our next post should come from Puerto De Vita on the north coast of Cuba, if we can find some internet there.