“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.


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


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.

24 hours in Cozumel Mexico

Why is everyone heading the other way?

Why is everyone heading the other way?

At dawn, on the 10th of March, I found myself motoring through crystal clear waters off southern Cozumel, heading toward the small town of San Miguel.

Curiously, everyone else seemed to be going the other way!

As I watched, vessel after vessel, a seemingly endless procession, sped south.

What was going on?

Apparently nothing… or should I say “business as usual”…

Tourist activities galore!

Tourist activities galore!

On closer inspection all the boats were heavily laden with tourists preparing to partake in various activities including snorkelling, para-sailing, scuba diving or whatever else is the latest in seaside resort entertainment.

Even a submarine?

Even a submarine?

There were so many water craft, it felt like the start of some huge regatta.

Where did all these people come from?

Just two of the four cruise ships visiting Cozumel

Just two of the four cruise ships that were visiting Cozumel

There were literally shiploads of them. Mostly from the US… All I could compare it with was Aruba, but an Aruba on steroids!

The town was similarly awash with visitors, shopping for all those must have tourist accoutrements. One dollar maracas, bracelets with your name woven into the design, 6 T-shirts for 20 US…

OK, not my cup of tea perhaps… and no prejudicial jumping to conclusions. This could be fun… I’ll just sit down, relax, have an ice cold corona and check the weather forecast.

Boats at anchor off San Miguel

Boats at anchor off San Miguel

Strong northerlies descend upon the Yucatan Channel at this time of year and unfortunately the anchorage off San Miguel is very exposed. While a sailor could probably find shelter to the south of the cruise ship terminals many prefer to make a run for Isla Mujeres (approximately 40NM further north).

This was not an option for me, as my next destination was Cuba and I had every intention of getting there with a complimentary current.

If I intended to escape the uncomfortable northerly and take advantage of the closing weather window to Cuba, I had just 24 hours to visit Mexico.

Unlike Honduras where check in and out are a breeze, Cozumel’s procedures can politely be called challenging.

Despite what you may have read elsewhere, here’s the latest on what is required.

  • Visit the port captains office and fill in their arrival form;
  • Catch a cab to the airport (50 pesos) to see (in this order)
  • Immigration (306 pesos),
  • Customs (free),
  • The office of Agriculture (to confiscate your fruit).

Let me diverge at this point and explain that some cruisers try to give the last two a miss by only visiting the immigration office in town. But do you really want to risk being on the wrong side of Mexican law?

A temporary stop at the ferry terminal

A temporary stop at the ferry terminal

Besides, as happened in my case, both Customs and the Office of Agriculture might be rather keen to visit your boat. Kindly giving me a lift back to the port, I brought Eileen alongside the ferry terminal so they could carry out their inspection.

Everyone was rather chuffed about the whole affair.

  • Then it was off to the hospital for my obligatory health stamp (even if nobody checked my health),
  • and finally back to the port captains office to return the forms and finalise check-in.

There is slightly less running around for checking-out.

  • Be sure to provide a crew list, a copy of your registration papers, and the stub of your immigration entry form for the office in town,
  • go to the bank and pay another 471 pesos to the Secretaria de Communicaciones y Trasportes,
  • and collect your Zarpe at the port captains office.

Why it took an hour (upon producing the requested documentation at immigration), to just have a stamp placed in my passport is a mystery I prefer not to dwell upon.

At my age you start worrying about your blood pressure.

Only results matter. I had officially checked in and out, even if it took most of the time I was in Cozumel to do it. What more could I want?

Mickey Mouse arrangements for cruisers

Mickey Mouse arrangements for cruisers

I suspect it might be a bit easier for cruise ship passengers to stopover for 24 hours than it is for cruisers… or there wouldn’t be so many of them…

Two weeks in Martinique

It’s not so sunny in Martinique.

Having friends show me around Martinique certainly made my visit here all the more enjoyable. For a change, I didn’t have to wander the streets like a homeless person or sit alone at a bar each evening looking solitarily forlorn while reminiscing over previous adventures.

Not that everything was as delightfully entertaining as I would have liked. The weather certainly did its darnedest to put a damper on the fun, almost preventing my arrival altogether (Martinique was on yellow alert), and when I finally did settle down safely at the anchorage in Fort de France I was unexpectedly boarded by four burly customs officers while asleep. After questioning me and sifting through everything I owned with a fine toothed comb, they evidently decided I wasn’t such a bad apple after all and left me to return to my slumber.

Do you suppose I can ask them to put it all back?

Now I don’t begrudge “la douane” for doing their job, but imagine what it’s like having your bedroom invaded by strangers, and everything aboard turned upside down and inside out, especially when you’re so obviously innocent of any wrongdoing?

OK, perhaps I’m not that innocent, but I insist that I at least look it.

Are we all agreed?

Surely hoarding a tad more aged rum aboard than what’s usually fit for personal consumption isn’t a crime. What other souvenir was I expected to buy from these islands? Besides, I’ve promised to send a bottle or two of quality rum back to Europe, and it’s certainly high time I delivered…

Traditional yole racing is all the rage in Martinique

So what’s there to do in Martinique that isn’t yacht related?


Apparently Josephine wasn’t too popular back home.

Being a fan of intellectual pursuits (ahem…), of historical significance of course, I found this statue of empress Josephine rather fascinating. I didn’t know she was from these parts!

Apparently she wasn’t that popular here, or having the head removed from memorials is a Martinique tradition…

Not quite Brazil but who’s complaining….

Well then, who am I to defy tradition…

A little more information on Saint Laurent du Maroni

The secluded anchorage of Saint Laurent du Maroni

As I am now involved in this ambitious project to promote and develop Saint Laurent du Maroni as a commodious stopover for visiting yachtsmen, I might as well pass on the following supplementary information….

Despite what noonsite states, Saint Laurent is in fact situated on the Maroni river rather than the Moroni…., though I must say that the later does have a certain humorous dyslectic ring to it.

Oh, and it really doesn’t rain here 9 months of the year…. It’s more like 7… lol. OK, so I’m nit picking, but some of you might find the following useful given that the only data currently available for yachtsmen on Saint Laurent is…

Quote (without spelling errors): “This is French Guiana’s biggest and busiest river, and is is on the border with Suriname. There is reported to be a marina 20 miles up the river, at St Laurent.

If this can reach Saint Laurent, so can you...


  • The big dry, from August to November
  • The small rainy season, from December to February
  • The small summer, from February to March
  • The true rainy season, from April to July


Saint Laurent du Maroni is an official point of entry.

Visit the PAF (police aux frontières ) at the car ferry to have your passport stamped (entry and exit). Not obligatory for European citizens, but prevents issues when your next stop is Suriname.

Customs (la douane) is in the administrative center.

See image for directions (X marks anchorage, yellow highlights for offices mentioned above).

X marks the anchorage


Saint Laurent is approximately 15 miles from the mouth of the Maroni River. A buoyed channel for cargo vessels marks the route (3m minimum depth at high tide). If in doubt (buoys are widely spaced), keep as close as possible to the French side of the river.

Beware of fishing nets when approaching the Maroni river’s safe water mark. While night entry is possible, it is not recommended as buoys closer to Saint Laurent are not lit.

Yachts anchor on the upriver side of a semi-submerged (tree covered) wreck in 4 to 6m. Holding in mud and sand is good.

 Local services:

  • The anchorage is within walking distance to all amenities and the city center.
  • The tourist office is situated beside the anchorage.
  • A public swimming pool is located at the opposite end of the park from the tourist office.
  • Water by Jerry can from the old prison yard (turn left upon entering the main gate. Fuel at local service stations.
  • Several Internet hot-spots,and cybercafes in town.
  • Good provisioning.

Proposed Marina:

Development is currently underway for a marina, providing finger pontoons, mooring buoys, secure dingy dock, club house, and Wi-Fi.


I’ve been in prison!

My cell block comes with a view.

Here I am doing time with hard labor in Chaguaramas prison… Well it may not look like prison, but it certainly feels like it!

It’s  hot here… much too hot. I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve suffered the heat as much as in the yards of Chaguaramas, and that includes the deserts of Egypt and Australia.

Not the slightest hint of a breeze. The sultry air saps your strength so that just walking between the yards and the chandlers is exhausting, and here I am hoping to carry out maintenance work on Eileen of Avoca. Absurd isn’t it?

Another dawn in sultry Trinidad

The smart people leave their boat with a to-do list for the yard and fly back home until the end of the hurricane season.

The not so smart (smart here being a synonym for wealthy), live aboard, hire an air conditioner, and deal with their own to-do list before the end of the hurricane season.

Then there’s me….

Eileen of Avoca entering the stocks in Trinidad

I don’t even have a fan on board, I think someone’s dog ate my to-do list, and I’ve apparently confused hurricane season with leopard hunting season… 🙂

Unfortunately Trinidad is under a declared state of emergency.

What does this mean for wandering yachtsmen? It means that after you’ve labored all day in the stifling heat you get to stay in your boat all night to enjoy more of that stifling heat, plus a swarm of mosquitoes and cockroaches as a bonus. Did I mention the stifling heat?

It’s lock down by 11pm or a 5000 US dollar fine and possible imprisonment if you’re caught wandering about at night.

To top it off, sailors are falling ill with dengue fever by the dozen, and there is at least one death a month through yard accidents…. Will I survive the hazards of boat maintenance in Trinidad?

Well, here is what I’ve been busy with during the day…

I've removed the propeller shaft and rudder


Replaced the old stuffing box with this...


Machined a new rudder pin and cutlass bearing...


Bolted it all back together...


Now I just need to give Eileen a new coat of anti-fouling

And this is what I’ve been doing at night.

Nightlife in Trinidad

If anyone is reading this, please post bail and get me out of here….

Perhaps I should have done a little more research, because Chaguaramas is:

  • Uncomfortable…. NOTE: Understatement of the century…
  • Expensive! Watch out for poor quality work…
  • Bureaucratic to say the least. BTW, should customs officers really be hinting at extra storage fees, overtime, and travel expenses when clearing goods?
  • No longer tax free, unless you are willing to wait months for your ordered “yacht in transit” goods. Items stocked by chandlers incur VAT.

Moreover, Trinidad in general:

  • Is rather dangerous and currently under curfew to curb crime… (may it only briefly remain so). But if the street gangs don’t get you, perhaps the dengue will…
  • Is not in the least bit tourist friendly… I’ve been accosted in the street just for taking mundane holiday snapshots. The only other place this has ever happened to me was in Suriname.
  • Is almost clueless when it comes to “customer service”. Fortunately there are occasional exceptions (so perhaps there is still some hope)…
  • Doesn’t have any leopards… (so much for that glimmer of hope)…

Does Trinidad have at least one saving grace?

Might things be looking better after all?

Or perhaps two?

I appear to have my hands full....

Nah, they never did call me back after my phone was stolen… 🙁

Final verdict on Trinidad and Tobago?

Get me back in the water a.s.a.p.

I liked it so much that I’ve decided to give up on the Caribbean and sail back to South America for Christmas. I suspect that the lure of the leopards and continued PBBS are to blame.

Avoiding the ARC rally club in Agadir

Marina at Agadir, Morocco

I arrived at the marina in Agadir at 9:15 on the 8th of November to find another of those “build it and they will come” developments typical of southern Spain, with the difference that locals enjoy frequenting the waterfront cafe’s and restaurants. Must be a “hey look at me, I can afford to pay silly European prices for my coffee” thing.

Not to be confused with the main industrial and fishing port which is truly “another world”, the marina is clean and pleasant, the officials politely efficient and the comradely openness among cruisers delightful.

Upon arrival there are a few hoops to jump through, the most odorous being a search of the boat by customs, but Eileen passed despite the officials dismay at finding every available crevice jam-packed with provisions.

Biological fly and mosquito control

There were comments about needing to bring in a sniffer dog, but in then end, my enthusiasm to dig out whatever they requested was apparently enough to allay their concerns. Mind you, the white powder surrounding my store of salami and the vacuum sealed pre-cooked potatoes did raise a few questions.

Now I wouldn’t mind smuggling one of these extraordinary biological pest control devices (purchased locally), like some (obviously they must remain anonymous) others do.

It's another party on the Blue Boat!

With the red tape accounted for, it was time to get a feel for the place. First impressions, undeniably touristic. With a restaurant to cater for every nationality and taste lining the beach front, and a seaside promenade to rival any in mainland Europe, you could see town planners were working hard to attract the tourist dollar, and all in all it seems to be working.

However, none of this really interests me. I prefer socializing with other sailors and discovering what the locals do, to eating in restaurants with my invisible friends.

Fishing for cats?

So what are those marina officials in fancy uniforms doing when they are not searching through your boat? Well, this one evidently passes the time keeping the local population of strays well supplied with fresh fish! He told me that this ginger one was his particular favourite.

I met the very simpatico Greek and French crews of Troll, (seen here removing rust spots from their fine vessel), and Bajada (see link below). The odds are that I will see them again in the near future as they are considering taking the same route as Eileen of Avoca to Brazil. I hope so!

The enthusiastic crew of Troll

What I found especially interesting in Agadir was that I’d stumbled across this gathering of younger and more adventurous cruisers. Crews without a set plan or timetable, that were determined to avoid the formalized Caribbean “milk run” itinerary. Just have a look at this web site (in French but the photos tell the tale), to see what I mean:


I also discovered an unofficial underground sailors club than can only be described as the “avoid the ARC rally” crowd.

Up until now I’d only met a couple of entrants to this years ARC rally, but apparently most of the popular Canary Island anchorages (such as the one on Isla Graciosa), are so packed with ARC entrants that when the wind shifts and the yachts swing into their new position, everyone is in a panic.

Marinas are overflowing with “party crazed” (marina employee quote) ARC crews until the 21st when the 250 or so official participants and who knows how many unofficial “let’s tag along-ers”, leave Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

My agoraphobic tendencies make me a shoe-in for  “avoid the ARC” club membership, so I’ve decided to time my arrival in Gran Canaria with the moment everyone else leaves!

Chipiona to Mazagon

Boarded by customs

I left Chipiona in mild weather, so it came as quite a surprise to find myself thoroughly tossed about in the muddy tidal ebb of the Guadalquivir river. As I crossed the line drawn by a sea colour change, the conditions settled and I enjoyed a trouble free ride all the way to Mazagaon, (a little less that 40NM to the northwest).

On route, my lucky blue lure caught me another free meal. Five miles from my destination, when I had just finished cleaning this latest windfall, I was taken aback when intercepted and boarded by Spanish customs.

My concern was that they might impose some sort of penalty as I belatedly wondered whether there might be size limits on tuna catches for these waters. I had heard horror stories of cruisers being fined several thousand Euro for catching octopus (apparently protected in some areas), and perhaps I’d fall victim to some obscure regulation of which I was totally unaware.

Friendly customs officers

As the customs vessel approached they indicated that they would come alongside, so I took out several fenders from the push-pit lockers and simultaneously stowed my questionable catch.

I needn’t have worried, while one officer sat (on the locker hiding my catch) reviewing my boat documentation, the other helped me decide which ports I should visit on my future travels along the Portuguese coast. They were very pleasant company and even posed for a couple of snapshots.

Snug at my assigned berth in Mazagon I set about the serious business of preparing my hidden treasure. Seared in very hot olive oil with a few bay leaves and served with sliced avocado, mayonnaise and a dash of pepper. A true delight.

Tuna steaks with avocado

It’s days like this that make me truly appreciate the cruising lifestyle. As I enjoyed an accompanying glass of white wine my only regret was that I had nobody with which to share the moment. My consolation however, was that there was a second helping of fried tuna to be had. 🙂

Sailing to Gibraltar?

Gibraltar from La Linea anchorage

An 8am start on yet another misty day. Apart from checking the almanac for high tide (in order to catch a complimentary tidal stream), there was not much preparation required (from a navigational standpoint ), to reach Gibraltar. I aimed for the big rock to the south and tried not to get hit by, or run into (as vessels are mostly anchored), any shipping.

Taking the compulsory snapshot of ‘the captain’ with Gibraltar in the background, I then headed for the anchorage at La Linea, bypassing Gibraltar to forgo clearing customs.

I don’t like the smell here… What with the Spanish refinery to the west, the airport jet-fuel vapors to the east and an armada of tankers surrounding Gibraltar, it’s no wonder the air and water is thick with the scent of odoriferous chemicals.

The view of “the rock”, is, by contrast, superb.