February 3rd – February 5th, 2015 (-5 on UTC)
Dear Friends and Family, (Written from Isla Mujeres, Mexico – February 23rd, 2015)
So right up front I’ll tell you that TITSNBN stands for, “That Island That Shall Not Be Named”….Hint: It starts with a C has a U, B and ends in A….more on that as the blog progresses!
We decided to go “The Adventure Route” toward Mexico as to do otherwise from the Bahamas left us in a sort of a, “You can’t get there from here” situation. The reefs of the Southern Bahamas are very wide and shallow with lots of obstructions that make traversing them at night – not such a good idea.
As such, we decided to go down the West side of Andros Island. It is far and away the largest of the Bahamas and one of the least populated. It has no really good anchorages and is essentially a 100 mile long mangrove swamp with shallows extending out for several miles to the West. It does have appeal to bone fisherman, serious nature observers, biologists and in a few places – adventure diving.
We departed Chubb Cay and had to take a circuitous route to the West before finally heading back south and East to what would be our first anchorage at the bigger of the two Cross Cays near the Northwest end of Andros Island. The charts showed very shallow depths over the Great Bahama Bank and once or twice, we saw water as shallow as 5 feet! Nikki has on her IPad, the same navigation charts we use on our main system and hers have the “bathyspheric contours” at high zoom levels. I can download these for the main system and will do so IF we ever get good enough internet.
The contours were very helpful in seeing where we could access a good anchorage site with good wind protection, but not in TOO shallow an anchorage. We anchored in the southern lee of Big Cross Cay and had a very pleasant night. The next day, we looked at going to Billie Island, about 1/2 way down the West side of Andros, As we looked ahead at the weather, it was go now, or sit for 3-4 days. So off we went on the 110 mile trip toward Anguilla Cay on the Cay Sal Bank which is part of the Bahamas.
The weather issue this season has been the US Cold Fronts. They have been stronger and more frequent than usual. If you’re wondering….this does not have anything to do with “climate change”. The good news was that our plan of crossing the Gulf Stream right up front when we went to the Bahamas would now pay off. We had light winds first from the North, then the East and as we broke free of the Great Bahama Bank at 8pm had very good sailing weather from the East which found us on a port tack beam reach. Going to Anguilla Cay was always a case of, “if the weather allows” plan as well as Cay Sal. There is a triangular bank south of Florida, north of Cuba and West of Andros with lots of very small islands. In good weather it would have been lots of fun, but the weather wasn’t with us. As such, we were abeam of Anguilla Cay at mid night and then were able to head due west with the winds constantly shifting toward the South. We got around “the corner, just in time.
We now had a choice. Press on 3-4 days to Isla Mujeres in Mexico or go into Cuba at Varadero. Given that the weather was not favorable to sit on the Cay Sal Bank anywhere and that we had some nagging boat issues, we decided to head into Varadaro, Cuba, one of Cuba’s 7 International Ports of Entry.
We had a fuel leak in our generator which caused a noxious smell and was a potential fire hazard. We had an engine “kill” switch that wouldn’t work requiring me to manually shut the port engine down every time we wanted it to stop and finally, the port engine’s oil pressure gauge was a bit on the fritz. It often read dangerously low, too low, despite my finding no leaks and checking the oil level. The oil however does drop about a 1/2 a quart every 24 hours which is a bit of a mystery. It may be what is called “blow by” where the cooling oil get around the rings of the cylinders and is burned up with the fuel. We use a very low viscosity synthetic oil and this could be why this is happening?
Anyway, discretion is the better part of valor as my Mother used to say, so we decided to see if we could get some help with the issues in Varadaro. As such, we decided to announce and declare a \”Pan Pan\” situation. \”Pan Pan\” is a French term used in the maritime world to give notification that certain issues may be developing that need to be dealt with. It is advisory in nature and not a call for help as \”Mayday\” would be. We certainly had no immediate danger.
We arrived about 2 miles from Varadaro (north coast of Cuba – 85 miles East of Havana) when finally I was able to hail a port authority. He told me that I could not enter as Varadaro was now closed to International Boats. Why? We would learn soon! We had to turn around and bash back through the building Northerly wind and swell for 15 miles. Two hours prior, we were just off Marina Gaviota which is at the end of the Varadaro Peninsula. We were being “observed” and given some directions to the outer buoy at the bay. We could easily see on the charts where we were supposed to go and followed a big tug into the bay. Of note, we saw at least 8 miles of what seemed to be big hotels with lots of tourists on the beaches – kite boarders, Windsurfers and Hobie cats. Just like any other tourist island in the Caribbean.
After our big bumpy ride back to Marina Gaviota, a big rain storm hit and visibility inside the bay went to zero. We had plenty of sea room, so I just stopped and waited for it to go away. This was the front, we came in here to duck. When we got to Customs Dock, it was blowing 20+knots and keeping us from easily docking as the wind blew at us directly from the beam. The young guy helping us turned out to be the Customs Officer and finally he and Nikki were able to handle the lines and we could pull ourselves in. A Canadian boat in front of us came to assist with the lines, but our Customs Officer did not want them to help. We assumed due to liability should any of them get hurt?
Once tied up, Sr. Fromida came aboard as well as Tomas, the Dock Master. They were very formal, very professional and very official. Both spoke quite good English. When were were about 1/2 way from Marina Darsena (Varadaro) back to Marina Gaviota, we were hailed in pretty good English to assist us in getting in ahead of the frontal weather. It turns out, that was Sr. Fromida. He turned out to be great guy and was very helpful.
Customs in Cuba for boats is open 24hrs/day. Sr. Fromida did indeed do a thorough inspection of \”Beach House\” and helped us dutifully fill out all the proper forms. Tomas came aboard and was also very nice and a great professional. He gave us the Harbor fees, etc. Shortly thereafter, the Health Inspector came aboard. They’re big concern (or so they said), was people carrying Ebola! It turns out the stated reason for not being able to enter at Marina Darsena in Varadaro was that, “their incinerator for international garbage” doesn’t get hot enough. More on this in our next blog! We think that that was not the real reason….:-) After taking our temperatures and asking if we had any recent fevers, etc., the Dr. said he would return every day for four days to observe our health. We never saw him again…….
Next is our stay in Cuba (AKA: TITSNBN)…..
Stand by, Scott and Nikki