Tuesday night we went to the Schooners Wharf Bar which is another live music venue. We had an appetizer each for dinner and settled down with a bucket of beers from the happy hour special. The band then started up – and they were absolutely fantastic turning their hand to pretty much any type of music requested. We had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed our last (chilly) night in Key West.
Wednesday morning and we did our final preparations. Richard managed to negotiate an extension to our checkout time so we didn’t have to leave until 12.30 – as the girl in the marina so loves his accent LOL – so we wouldn’t have to go on the hook prior to our departure from the USA. All ready to go so we relaxed while eating a massive brunch of burger, sausages and eggs – the final meat products from the freezer and the last of our fresh eggs. I also cooked dinner for later. So we will arrive in Cuba, very well fed, with just some milk and butter in the fridge – the rest is all processed meat and cheese which are allowed. Yay! We also took down our US flag, not sure it liked the strong winds…
We moved from Galleon marina onto the Conch Harbor Marina fuel dock to fill up our tank and spare diesel jugs. It was all done at a leisurely pace so we finally slipped away at one o’clock ready for our overnight passage to Cuba. As we motored away from Key West we were sad to see the boat still wrecked against the breakwater….
We said a goodbye to the lovely Galleon Marina and the sky was blue and the clouds were fluffy…. just shame about the temperature!!! The wind, of course, was less than forecast so we motored along for a short while…..and had another very brief dolphin encounter.
We were shadowed by a US Coastguard boat all the way out…. and then he left us and another one turned up. This time he was towing a big rib so we were anticipating a boarding – he just stayed behind us keeping the same distance – but we were very aware of his presence. Especially when we had a few fighter jets go overhead, which prompted Richard to start humming the theme tune from Top Gun LOL.
Finally 12 miles out – and now with the genoa up and motor sailing along nicely in 12 knots of breeze – the Coastguard turned for home as we entered international waters. The Gulf Stream was very close to Key West so we crossed that pretty early on but the currents pushing us east continued throughout the passage – and they were very strong most of the time – so we tried to stay high of the rhumb line. At times we were going through the water at 7-8 knots but were only seeing a speed over the ground average of 4.9.
After dinner – and no sunset because it was so cloudy – we went into our shift pattern. The currents continued to play with us and the waves were throwing us about a bit – with a reasonable sized sea running too…. But we were having fun – or at least we were until we got nine ships on the AIS all at once – with two of them ‘not being under command’… Oh well….seems like we found the shipping channel…. There wasn’t any distinct pattern to their movements so we just kept clear – although we did give ground and dropped below the rhumb line by holding our course when a big tanker was coming our way LOL.
Finally after a few hours the ships went away and we were the only ones out there…. Big waves and strong currents dominated and the wind picked up to around 23 knots – great downwind sailing under a reefed genoa. It was a pretty dark night with only a sliver of moon but the clouds gave way to a spectacular starry night…. Bliss….
Thursday morning we were welcomed by the sun rising over the sea. We had managed to climb back above the rhumb line and were heading towards our first waypoint off the coast of Cuba. Ten miles out we made the requisite radio call to announce that we were incoming – to no answer – but at least we complied.
The north coast of Cuba, which is a lee shore most of the time, is pretty inhospitable looking – and then you spot the large buildings / hotels which are a feature of this tourist area of Varadero. We spotted the first markers easily and then it was just a matter of following the well-marked channel (avoiding one dead green marker – no.3 – the buoy was still there but the top had been flat packed by a wave). Richard hoisted the flags – Cuba top with yellow Q flag underneath – and got out ropes and fenders for our entry into the marina. Suddenly it is very busy with tourist boats coming out and about and we turned into the entrance avoiding all the construction work around. The marina contacted us with instructions so we pulled alongside the dock they reserve for clearance – being met by the dock master and a doctor.
The doctor came on board and asked us some health questions – all fine thanks – and then the dock master took our passports off. We asked him not to stamp them and he said fine, no worries. The doctor spoke pretty good English and then the dock master was back with our passports and visa forms so we had all the documents to fill in. I had prepared a boat / crew list information sheet in Spanish already for them so they were pleased about that…..using my information to complete their numerous forms. Then we had the question and answer session…..and we had all the right answers in the right places….and they left us with a handshake and a “welcome back” as they had asked whether we had been to Cuba before. Only about an hour in all and was less intimidating than many of the previous Caribbean nations we had entered. Interestingly no agriculture guy came on board to check out our supplies and no sniffer dog for drugs – both of which we had been warned about – perhaps they had a day off??? No poking around in cupboards either….nor sealing up our flares / GPS so that they couldn’t be used…..all very civilised. Guess it depends on the guys on the day – we were lucky I think – although we had nothing to worry about because we were compliant with their rules. Maybe our confidence about that was why it was such a pleasant experience?!?
We then went to the Marina Manager’s office for more paperwork – all done – and then went for a wander to find a Cadeca to change up some money. We used sterling (GBP) cash rather than use our debit /credit cards – and avoided using US dollars as apparently they charge a surcharge for that. We received an exchange rate of 1.36 CUCs to the pound. We then purchased an hour’s internet for 1 CUC so that we could let everyone know we were safe and sound and returned to Morphie.
Here in Gaviota Marina – which is absolutely vast with more than 1,000 places when the new bit opens (which is the construction going on) – it is designed predominantly for Mediterranean mooring with lazy lines to mooring balls. There is an option of going alongside for three times the price so we decided to go for the stern-to option. We got dink down off his davits and tied him alongside and then got ropes and fenders ready at the stern. The Marina Manager turned up in his rib – they untied our lines – and then led us to our new berth which is quite close to one of the condominium complexes / the laundry (which is actually closed right now) / showers / the small store and the all-inclusive hotel. There are numerous restaurants, bars and small shops along the boardwalk here – but, as marina guests, you are only allowed to use those in the ‘cash area’ – the rest are exclusively for the all-inclusive guests of the hotel and two apartment complexes.
We motored inside the mooring balls – as the lazy lines are not tied to the dock. They handed me the bow line and I tied us in tight while Richard manoeuvred us around – lots of windage pushing us on – so I kept him off the dock, they tied up the stern lines and I released it a bit until we were set into the correct position. Job done – very pleased with our performance!
As we were adding spring lines from mid ships to the dock just in case there were any wind changes the large catamaran (that had arrived from Key West about an hour behind us) was coming inside the balls to the position near us. Then the wind caught him and the guy hit the dock – hard – and the hull scraped along the metal barrier which protects the pilings – and he continued to run the boat down the side and gouged out a chunk about a quarter of an inch deep for a length of two feet…. And numerous other scratches too – ouch!!! The owner was not a happy lady. We all ran to help minimise the damage by pushing him off but it was pretty bad.
After all the excitement we decided to plug in to shore power but had been warned to check the voltage first – good job we did as it was running at 150 volts and we are a 110 volt boat – so not suitable for us to use. We have a step-down transformer on board but the plug didn’t match. So the electrician has gone away to scratch his head and see if he can resolve it somehow. At the time of writing this he hasn’t so we have resorted to running the generator for an hour a day to top up the batteries.
Jobs done – and we couldn’t be bothered to do anything else – so we sat in the cockpit for a while having a few celebratory and restorative beers before heading for a hot shower and a very early night! We slept very well.
Friday morning Richard washed the salt off Morphie while I went exploring. I had a look in the little store near us and bought some pork liver pate… Strange concoction of things in the store but at least you can buy frozen chicken. I am amazed at the size of this place – it is absolutely vast. And empty!!!
The hotel seems pretty busy from wandering through their lobby and I worked my way through to the condo swimming pool and asked the young lady whether we were allowed to use it as marina guests. Yes she said, no worries. Fab….looking forward to that later.
I returned to Morphie and we spoke to the South Africans on the catamaran – they are going to haul out here now for about a week as the hull was flexing around the deep gouge and they were worried about it, as well as an engine problem. We wandered up to the pool just to admire the views and have a beer and were royally welcomed by the young lady I spoke to earlier. We ordered a couple of Cristals – we also tried Bucanero, another local brew, but found it a bit strong!
We had a couple of beers each and then went to pay – and she told us ‘no, you can’t pay here, this is all-inclusive area only’. We said, but you knew we were not all-inclusive guests – and no bracelets to show for it either – and she said no worries. So we embarrassingly tipped her royally and hope that she did not get into trouble – she told us to come back anytime we liked!!!
Moving on we came across a couple of nice classic cars in the car park – and were stopped by security wanting to know who we were – showed them our marina passes and all is well. Lesson learnt – do not leave the boat without them!
We went into the luxury hotel and found out the prices for either an evening pass or a day pass and are thinking about whether to do this for a day whilst here – think we can push the boat out for one day!!! Oh yes and I booked into the Spa for a massage on Monday….looking forward to that.
Wandering down to the cash area of the boardwalk we popped into the Tapas Bar for a couple of plates and had a couple of cocktail beers and were very pleased to find that they were only 2 CUCs each…. A bit of a change from Florida pricing!
Saturday morning and we went off in search of a bus – we crossed the road and picked up the Hop-on / Hop-off tourist bus that runs right around Varadero, which is pretty reasonable at 5 CUC per person valid all day. We enjoyed the views of the hotel complexes – two of which we had actually stayed at in the past – and got off at the Plaza America.
We had heard there might be a market here but, not really, just little stalls selling the same usual tourist stuff along with a bank and a pharmacy. But it did have access to the beach so we wandered down there for a little while…..
Back in the mall we had a soft drink before rejoining the tourists. We found out that the fruit and veg market was in Santa Marta – not possible by bus from here – but a taxi driver quoted us 16 CUCs to take us there and we thought that was a lot of money just to get some fresh provisions – so we declined. As we walked away he said 14, then 12, then 10!!! Looked a bit shocked that we just carried on walking despite his best price LOL
Back on the bus….we enjoyed the sights as we came into downtown Varadero….and got off again for a wander. This is a bit more like Cuba – the hotel district is the Disney version – and at least downtown you meet locals who are selling their wares from small kiosks / tented markets.
Back on the bus and we got off at the end of the line before it turns around – the road itself carries on towards Havana. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the local restaurant there on the river – which is one that we had visited by tourist boat before when we went to a ranch….
We reminisced about our trips to Cuba in the past and remembered meeting a couple from Scotland who were sailors – and we talked about our dreams of owning a boat and going cruising someday. Can’t believe it – we sailed here!!! Woo hoo….
Back on the bus – sitting on the top deck you have to duck to avoid getting hit by trees as you go along the road – and we enjoyed the sight of pelicans being fed by the local fisherman and then we headed back towards the hotel district. We went past a restaurant called The Beatles – check it out – it’s definitely a long way from Liverpool LOL.
Back to the marina – another classic car – and then we had a couple of beers sitting on the boardwalk watching the tourist day boats return from their booze cruise / snorkelling / fishing trips – and then wandered back to Morphie via both the little fruit market store and the grocery store. It had been a long hot day so we had a quiet evening on board.
This morning – Sunday – we got up a bit later. I’m blogging in the cockpit while Richard is rubbing down some teak in the heads which has got water damaged. It is Valentine’s Day so we will probably go out for dinner this evening – quite fancy the cash restaurant that sits over the water.
We’re quite enjoying being tourists here in Varadero – especially now that it is actually sunny and quite warm during the day – while we wait for a weather window to make the next overnight passage to Havana. Bye for now.