From Washington and beyond... (Cuba, Key West, West Palm Beach, Savannah)
Robin and Sue carter
Wed 29 May 2013 14:58
At very long last here is an update of our progress from BVI in April to the present. I blame lack of wi fi in such far flung places as Florida but there were one or two other reasons for the dearth of information.
so........ We left the British Virgin Islands with Jon and Annie along and took 9 days at sea to reach Varadero in Cuba. The reported beaurocracy of officials there did not materialise and they were efficient, polite and humourous, helping with our lines and removing their shoes without asking before coming on board. They even gave us information about the depth in the entrance channel at 6 am on VHF radio(we charted 3.8m at low water) . There is a delightful Canadian lady there called Debbie who lives on her boat and is the fount of all knowledge of things Cuban as well as interpreting Spanish if needed. Leaving the boat there we travelled by coach to Vinales in Pinar del Rio, staying in a Casa Particularies, a room rented out by local families in their homes. This is a great way to mix with the lovely Cuban people. We spent a morning travelling around the local stunningly beautiful countryside on horseback amongst the towering limestone cliffs where the farming is done without machinery. Mostly the crop is tobacco with A shaped ‘secularies’ for drying the leaves in. Horse drawn carts and bicycles are as common as cars in the town. Many of the 1950’s huge American cars are now used as taxis. The cave systems are extensive and we were lucky to have a personally guided tour by Jesus Perez Major, a very informative local speliologist.
After 3 days there we came back via impressive Havana, saying goodbye to Jon and Annie.
We then prepared for the 300 mile trip north to West Palm Beach where Halsway Grace was to be loaded on to a ship for return to UK. Just before we left we heard that the ship was refusing to load there and so we would have to go on to Brunswick where there may be a chance of another ship. Despite the uncertainty we felt it best to get to the US and set off one night, motoring through a cracking thunderstorm and then one of our shrouds broke, a useful piece of wire that helps to hold the mast up. Change of plan! After we set up a jury rig to stabilise the mast we altered course for Key West only 70 miles away. The US Coastguard were brilliant, calling us every 30 mins overnight to check we were OK. We found a marina and a rigger to repair the breakage and then dealt with the formalities. First the Customs men came onto the boat (without removing their boots) and took away anything we had purchased in Cuba. The Trade Embargo is taken very seriously, even the onions went!
We then went to Immigration who were the most obnoxious, discourteous bullies we have ever encountered. We were accused of breaking US law by arriving from Cuba, did we think we were above the law? Both we and they know this applies to US nationals only but we were unable to challenge this as they were capable of impounding our boat, fining us or imprisoning us if they so wished. So we stood there for an hour being harassed by these very large officials before they relented and allowed us in but then punished us by giving us a cruising license which required us to check in every time we moved port or anchorage, very inconvenient! We would strongly advise any boat entering the US from Cuba not to do so through KW, apparently further north they are much more reasonable.
Three days later we were on our way again with said shroud promptly replaced. We motored up the Hawke Channel alongside the Florida Keys which was tedious, anchoring overnight. In Miami we stayed in a marina in Bayside, only 2 sailboats amongst many expensive, air conditioned, daily washed and polished power boats, many with huge fishing lines. By this time there was a chance of a ship from Savannah, Georgia and so with no wind we entered the Gulf Stream and spent over 24 hours doing 9+ knots over the ground. The Gulf stream accounts for the thousands of sports fishing boats along this high rise infested coast.
The river up to Savannah is 20 miles long and this is the 5th busiest US port with massive ships negotiating the tide which can reach 8 knots in speed at spring tides. It is a beautiful city, with a street plan containing many parks and tree lined avenues. There is an Art College there and lots to see and do. Just as well as we spent 10 days there waiting for HG to be loaded onto the M/V Saimaagracht, an anxious experience, full of unknowns!
We are now spending a couple of days in Washington before we head home tomorrow. We arrived on the Memorial Day public holiday and have been struck by how proud the Americans are of their country and their service personnel. They are also so much less cynical than we are which is maybe why they don’t understand our form of humour. Apart from the immigration official at Key West we have found them all to be polite, interested and extremely helpful.
We are looking forward to seeing you all again and to having Halsway Grace back in home waters.
Sue and Robin
The photos are:
-the huge Mahi Mahi we caught en route to Cuba
-a typical farming scene in Pinar del Rio