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.

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