A social call.

Nothing to do but watch the sun set.

Nothing to do but watch the sun set.

Just one last stopover before Trinidad. Union island. Not my favourite, but a chance to catch up with Ron on his yacht Restless before I get stuck on more mundane matters. No ma, I don’t mean you ma….

Who’s Ron?

In the world of single handed yachtsmen, with 25 years+ of cruising under his belt, Ron is a legend. Well, perhaps an almost legend. Or would be legend, if anyone outside of sailing circles knew about him. Since he doesn’t write a blog, promote a rally or attempt to build a marina like some narcissistic self promoting sailor types, we may never know.

However, we are all waiting on the book!

Speaking of which, I did meet another single hander in Honduras on a gaffer with more than 45 years of cruising that did write a book.

Little Fish Big Pond” John A. Smith.

Makes my eight years with Eileen seem paltry.

Where did all the blog posts go?

Solving the puzzle of the pause!

Solving the puzzle of the pause!

My last post had me arriving in Martinique at the beginning of May. Eight months have passed! A considerable hiatus in blog writing, even for me. What gives?

Obligation…

Work and family.

The former, as you may know if self inflicted. These days I have a yacht rally to run every September, and while it may only run for a month, there is a great deal of preparation involved.

As for the later?

The prodigal son must on occasion do more than “phone home” if he is to remain in the “good books”. Need I elaborate further?

And so, after a mostly uneventful sail back to Trinidad to haul out Eileen of Avoca at Power Boats Chaguaramas, you can cross off two months as “time spent doing penance” for the care free lifestyle I’ve been enjoying.

I flew home to visit mum….

What of the other six? I’m getting to that…

Eileen of Avoca to the rescue!

The crew of Chicharra

The crew of Chicharra

On route single-handed from Marina ZarPar in Boca Chica The Dominican Republic, to Martinique, in the early hours of the 22nd of April 2014 Eileen of Avoca responded to a mayday call on VHF channel 16 from the yacht “Chicharra” 10 nautical miles south of Casa de Campo and approximately 7 miles west of Isla Saona.

Before dawn, I had noted a sailing vessel to my stern. I had also been listening to faint distress calls on VHF 16 which I monitor continuously.

At the time I was under the impression that the sailing vessel behind me was that of a friends yacht, which had left Marina ZarPar with me, and had been occasionally crossing my path the day of our departure and throughout the night.

Only after I saw what I thought to be a distress flare and heard a much clearer call for assistance, did I pay closer attention to the approaching vessel, and realise that it was sailing somewhat erratically.

I immediately responded to the mayday call and asked for a position report.

The response confirmed that the yacht I could see was the yacht in difficulty.

I turned Eileen about, reduced sail and radioed that I was on my way, pressing the Emergency button on my own VHF to relay my position and solicit further help.

As I approached two crew were abandoning ship, boarding an inflatable dinghy.

From the lack of free-board their yacht had obviously taken in a lot of water.

The crew made haste to come alongside Eileen and I helped them aboard.

My 23 foot yacht was too small to render any other kind of assistance.

I ferried the exhausted crew with their dinghy, to the Marina at Casa de Campo where I left them with the authorities. Continuing my trip to Martinique and arriving on the 1st of May.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo

By the way, I didn’t spend all my time at the beach whilst visiting the Dominican Republic. I reserved one day for touring the historic parts of Santo Domingo.

See?

On the tourist train.

On the tourist train.

Picturesque, but one day was enough for my infantile attention span.

Shoe shine?

Shoe shine?

Let’s face it… Since leaving Brazil, if it doesn’t wear a bikini…. I’m not interested… I’ve sunken that low, and have been told I’m getting worse with age.

At the restaurant....

At the restaurant….

True or not,… I’m flattered!

Marina ZarPar and Boca Chica

It's Marina ZarPar in the Dominican Republic

It’s Marina ZarPar in the Dominican Republic

Eventually I did arrive at Marina ZarPar in Boca Chica. The marina is comfortable and offers all the usual yachting services (though at a premium), from laundry to WiFi. Even free transport to the local supermarket. But it suffers one large drawback (for me anyway).

View from the marina

View from the marina

A marina that does not allow me to bring visitors onto the premises, or to my boat, will inevitably get poor reviews. To be fair, it is possible. Just pay a fee and sign the person on as temporary crew. But frankly, I find this requirement both cumbersome and borderline insulting.

My boat is my house, and I feel I have the right to invite anyone I please to it. Locals with boats at the marina have no such restriction! So what gives?

Now that I have expressed my indignation, I’ll switch to the proverbial “good stuff”… and even allude to the reasons why I find the marina rules so restrictive… ;)

Marina ZarPar is well placed, beside a popular beach that extends all the way to Boca Chica, and this beach is where “it” all happens.

One continuous party extending for miles.

Pictures describe the scene better than any words so without further ado let me present:

Life is a beach in Boca Chica

Life is a beach in Boca Chica

The beach.

See if you can spot the tourist in this photo!

As you can see, if you want crowds…, no problem,

Waiter...., bring me a beer!

Waiter…., bring me a beer!

If you are more the 5 star beach resort type…

Lay down on your deck chair and order pina coladas to your hearts content.

I think I will go and chill out over here...

I think I will go and chill out over here…

Want to idle away a few hours in rustic solitude…

Pull up a chair!

Fantastic! But what makes the Dominican Republic a must see tourist destination in my book are the people. Why?

For a start nobody here is camera shy. What a joy to have someone smile at you when you take their photo instead of looking at you as if you had just committed a crime.

Now don't be camera shy...

Now don’t be camera shy…

See what I mean?

The only place I’ve visited that displayed a similarly positive reaction to my camera was the Cape Verde Islands.

I'll buy 10!

I’ll buy 12!

For a smile like that I’ll buy a dozen bags of peanuts!

Who's up for a banana ride?

Who’s up for a banana ride?

Over Easter everyone was out to have a good time.

Music please maestro!!

Music please maestro!!

To the accompaniment of bachata music to be sure, whether on the beach

Music in the streets!

Music in the streets!

or in the streets.

Hello sailor...

Hello sailor…

I even found a bar that catered exclusively to sailors! Sort of…

Not quite the usual fish & chips

Not quite the usual fish & chips

Hungry? Take your pick. Fine dining or the Dominican Republic’s version of fish and chips.

Splendid.

Would you like to see my boat?

Would you like to see my boat?

I could have stayed a month or a lifetime…! If the marina had allowed me visitors.

Barahona not Boca Chica

One route to Barhona in the Dominican Republic

One route to Barhona in the Dominican Republic

It took almost 4 days to reach Barahona in the Dominican Republic from Ile a Vache, averaging approximately 50 nautical miles a day. Not a “Speedy Gonzales” effort, but fast enough to have my new friends (Andy and Trudy in the catamaran “Manureva”), when I met them again in Boca Chica (two days later), wondering about their boats performance.

Well my friends, I was cheating!

Without the aid of my little 10HP Beta Marine diesel, not only would I have taken much longer, but I might have found myself wrecked upon the eastern side of Cabo Beata.

After a night fighting a loosing battling for that all important “sea-room”, I voted on a “special dispensation” to start the motor. Despite the fact that my fuel reserves running worryingly low. While many sailors believe it is a cardinal sin to motor-sail, I’ve never claimed to be one of these “purists” and believe that if I have to lug an engine around in my boat, I might as well get some use from it. Especially when the alternative is running aground on a lee shore.

So you can see why I made such rapid progress and why I decided it might be prudent for me to make an unscheduled stop to stock up on more fuel.

The tiny marina in Barahona

The tiny marina in Barahona

Besides, Barahona is an interesting town and while I only stayed long enough to check-in with the authorities, I’d recommend it to other sailors as an agreeable port of call.

I had fun riding on the back of a motor scooter carrying my jerry-cans to the service station, listening to bachata music and having an informal beer with the immigration officer (out of office hours of course)!

Horrendous Haiti???

Haiti, a paradise spoilt

Haiti, a paradise spoilt

It’s not the easiest sail across the Jamaica Channel. I’ll even go so far as to admit that all the sailing since leaving Mexico hasn’t been easy. But then what was I expecting when it’s East I’m headed, against the trade winds and against the current.

Closing a deal on Ile a Vache?

Closing a deal on Ile a Vache?

But the Jamaica Channel gets a special mention because of the difficulty I had getting round Haiti’s most southern headland, Pointe a Gravois. The current had pushed Eileen some 15 nautical miles Northwest of this cape and it seemed at the time I was not getting anywhere. Imagine the frustration of having to motor sail at half a knot for hours on end to slowly work your way out of the main current. Now double it!

Who wouldn't want to drop anchor here?

Who wouldn’t want to drop anchor here?

No wonder that by the time a sailor has rounded Haiti’s southern cape and views Ile a Vache (Cow Island) just five miles away, he is inclined to drop anchor there to take a breather. Especially when it really is such a lovely little anchorage.

Hanging out with the Haiti gang.

Hanging out with the Haiti gang.

The anchorages popularity stems from the fact that, like the Salvation Islands off Kourou in French Guiana, there is (or was), no need to check in with the authorities. They knew sailors were just there to rest a while before moving on.

Not now kids... I need some sleep!

Not now kids… I need some sleep!

I can’t stress this enough, because for some reason both the authorities, who plan to turn the island into an international marina resort, and the islanders themselves, who seem to think we are there to play Santa Claus, have got it all wrong (and as a result, risk loosing what has become a very lucrative source of income).

Here comes the supply boat...

Here comes the supply boat…

That’s not to say that Ile a Vache isn’t worth visiting, (if you happen to be passing by). But I will suggest that it’s not the irresistible charms of the locals or welcome smiles that bring us here. For better or for worse, Haiti isn’t on many a tourists list of must see international destinations.

The crew of Maureva. Look at the smiles of the locals...

The crew of Maureva. Look at the smiles of the locals…

And when you find yourself:

  • surrounded by boat boys nagging incessantly for give-aways (not trinkets mind you but your valuable items), or paid work (but it’s illegal to employ a child), not once or twice a day, but until you have nothing left to give,

  • are boarded by armed officials (from the mainland) to pay your 20 dollar per passport immigration fee,

  • or failing that (as in my case as I was on shore at the time) are **threatened with imprisonment if I do not accompany the self elected local immigration enforcers to the mainland to pay the aforementioned 20 dollars,

OK, maybe it is worth the trouble...

OK, maybe it is worth the trouble…

you begin to wonder whether it’s worth all the trouble.

If you want my opinion, it isn’t.

Food aid still pours in to Haiti

Food aid still pours in to Haiti

There are half a dozen smaller islands to the North-east that will serve admirably instead.

Some sailors don't have a choice but to stay.

Some sailors don’t have a choice but to stay.

**Two brothers (one runs a local internet café and bar) boarded Eileen the morning after a random visit by armed officials (I had been on shore at the time, in the very Internet café run by them and missed the excitement). They stated that as I was “hiding” from the officials I now had to accompany them (for a fee) to the mainland to complete formalities.

If I refused to do so, they would call the coast guard and I would likely have my boat confiscated and face imprisonment. This just as I was preparing to leave. Since they were phoning the immigration office at the time, and as I had (and continue to have), no intention of disobeying local laws with regards to my sailing habits…, I asked to speak with the official over the phone.

Fortunately I speak French so it did not take long to arrange to leave copies of my passport and boat papers with the 20 US dollar immigration fee to be collected later.

Having sorted this out, the brothers threats ceased, but now, as they saw it, they were doing me a favour, so what was I prepared to give them in return? My ice box perhaps?

To their dismay they received only my thanks as I weighed anchor and sailed away from this little paradise. A paradise spoilt.

I won’t be back.

Jamaican Surprise

Eileen of Avoca in Jamaica

Eileen of Avoca in Jamaica

From the sea, Jamaica is a wondrous sight. I might even go as far as to say that it is an island of “the lush mountainous variety, fringed with white sandy beaches, shady coconut palms and”, when I get a bit closer dare I hope “bikini clad beauties”? :)

A photo simply can not do it justice (so you are not getting one). Truly spectacular!

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Port Antonio is also picturesque and what a fine little marina it is that carries the name of Errol Flynn!

And why Errol Flynn?

Because apparently he lived here with his wife. It was their little piece of paradise right up until last week when Errol’s wife passed away.

Who knew that the 60s swashbuckling movie star from Tasmania had ended up here with his wife?

I certainly didn’t, but I can see why he did.

The town has an easygoing atmosphere. The people are courteous, good humoured and pleased to accommodate visitors.

That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of the tourist hustle in evidence, but it is delivered in a clearly non-threatening, almost friendly manner.

I liked it here, even if I didn’t find the aforementioned bikini clad beauties.

Facebook photo shoot on Eileen

Facebook photo shoot on Eileen

The non-bikini clad type did find their way aboard Eileen for a facebook photo session, but surely that doesn’t count.

The bar at Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio

The bar at Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio

Curiously, the marina does boast a posh white sandy “bikini beach”, but alas, the girls were curiously absent. Perhaps my visit was out of season, so I hung around the marina bar instead.

Or out at the mall overlooking the marina.

View from the mall.

View from the mall.

And when I’d had enough of that I made my way to Café Central bar & lounge,

View from Central Cafe

View from Cafe Central bar & Lounge

where I listened to Chopin Nocturnes (in Jamaica?), whilst taking a beating at playing dominoes. I’m too embarrassed to tell you the age of my opponent.

So, what were the rules again?

So, what were the rules again?

All in all, I had a short but unexpectedly pleasant Jamaican sojourn.

Would you eat stinking toe?

Would you eat stinking toe?

And for the real Jamaicans out there… no… I didn’t dare eat “stinking toe”… It really does smell too awful. Maybe next time.

Next stop Jamaica!

If only the weather had stayed this way.

If only the weather had stayed like this.

If I do go back to Cuba, I will take a direct flight to Havana, stay in a hotel and see the country by hire-car. Oh, and buy my cigars at the airport when I leave.

These were my thoughts as I set off on my 350 nautical mile leg to Port Antonio, Jamaica.

On route I passed through the famous “Jardines del la Reina” or “gardens of the queen” consisting of numerous cays extending south-east from Cienfuegos for a distance of almost 80 NM. The name itself conjures up images of an idyllic paradise but the reality, (at least for this sailor), leaves much to be desired.

For some reason I’m not terribly fond of flat dry scrubby uninhabited islands strangled by muddy mangroves that swarm with mosquitoes…

I lean more towards islands of the lush mountainous variety, fringed with white sandy beaches, shady coconut palms and bikini clad beauties…

But if you are looking for isolated anchorages where weeks could pass before you see another boat, then Cuba will “suit you to a tee”.

Yacht Tata in Cuba

Yacht Tata in Cuba

I did see one yacht (off Cayo Bretón), as I sought shelter after a surprisingly turbulent start to my journey. And I am glad I did, because thanks to them I received a considerably more accurate weather forecast via HF radio than the one I had downloaded from the Internet.

Many thanks to the crew of Tata. I was so impressed that I’m considering how to squeeze in a HF transceiver on Eileen’s next refit.

The rest of my journey was happily uneventful.

“Gullibles Travels” in Cuba

Sunset in Cuba

Sunset in Cuba

I arrived in Cienfuegos on a Sunday. Taking a stylish 1950s taxi to town, my first stop was for money (how capitalist of me). To an ATM to be precise, so that I could withdraw CU (convertible dollars).

The typical Cuban car tourist photo

The typical Cuban car tourist photo

No luck… The machine kept the money and swallowed my credit card.

Let me digress a moment here to explain that tourist currency isn’t the same as local currency, and the CU purchasing power is a highly sought after commodity, even if it is not a necessity.

So much so that just about every scheme you can imagine (legal and otherwise), has evolved to obtain it. More on that later.

Feeling somewhat responsible for my evenings misadventure, my taxi driver promised to accompany me to the bank first thing in the morning.

Sorted!

Cienfuegos port, Cuba

Cienfuegos port, Cuba

Cashed up I spent the following day playing “tourist”, my taxi driver, “guide”. I offered to buy drinks, he offered to show me highlights of Cienfuegos, I bought lunch, he procured discount Cuban cigars (a must have souvenir).

All well an good.

I wandered all over town,

City centre, Cienfuegos

City centre, Cienfuegos

took some fabulous photos,

met the locals and

Cubana

A typical Cuban girl?

satisfied that I’d had a glimpse of the real Cuba, prepared to leave.

Che Guevara?

Che Guevara?

Four officials waited to board Eileen of Avoca the morning of my departure. Two made their way inside and rummaged around taking particular interest in sundry electronic devices such as mobile phones, memory sticks and cameras. I have a collection, many don’t work, but that did not deter them from suggesting they were gifts.

Fair enough, I had no real use for them.

I was amazed at how quickly and with what practised ease these items vanished into jacket pockets.

When asked if I had bought cigars, I retrieved the boxes my driver had procured and that’s when the excitement started…

Apparently they were counterfeit and must be confiscated!

Who would have thought that you can buy fake Cuban cigars in Cuba?

Is there some factory in China producing them on mass and somehow smuggling them into the country?

Well apparently they were imitation “brand name” cigars. I’d bought the Cuban equivalent of fake Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses or a made in China Prada handbag.

Maybe they need to update their welcome...

Maybe they need to update their welcome…

I was not overly concerned at this point, but unfortunately customs were not satisfied with their newly acquired electronic gifts and counterfeit cigars. For when I returned to Eileen I found that the last of my Cuban cash, a USB memory stick, and a fishing lure (of all things) had also mysteriously disappeared.

That the officials conducting the search were responsible, I have no doubt. They conveniently made me leave Eileen before they did. Presumably so I would not see what transpired. But after living aboard a 23ft boat for so many years I can’t help knowing where and what is in it…, intimately.

A poor show Mr Fidel!

In my travels, officials have occasionally hinted at gifts, but never before have they blatantly stolen items from my boat.

What time is it?

What time is it?

I would still go back to Cuba, but never again with my boat, for the following four reasons:

  1. There is little to offer a single handed yachtsman in the numerous southern cays. What fun is a deserted scrubby island (or hundreds for that matter), when you sail alone?

  2. It is illegal to invite a local aboard your yacht. There goes my social life!

  3. And horror of horrors, you are not allowed to catch the local lobster. This is by far the most difficult prohibition to live with given that their consumption could almost be used as an unofficial unit of time here. “How long will you be staying at this anchorage?”… “Oh, about three or four lobsters…”

  4. You already know the fourth reason.