Ana, the fisherwoman
The first-day grouper haul
A perfect dinner
For a couple of days we stayed and dove and hunted and ate and drank together in this paradise. But then a Northern threatened and so we took the dinghy and scouted the area looking for a way into a protected lagoon, to sit out the high winds that were coming.
We checked depths and holding and entrances to the lagoon, and then – holding our breath and gritting our teeth – we eased through the shallow water with Songerie and NOMAD – into the lagoon where we dropped anchor in complete protection. Once there, Jaco and Cristelle brought out their smoker and we commandeered a decrepit fishing shack to smoke our fish, smoke fine cigars, and drink Cuba’s excellent rum.
Jardin De La Reyna
Fish-smoking, cigars, friends, rum
And with full freezers, full stomachs and fuzzy heads – we planned our next move down the Cuban coastline.
Trinidad is cool. It’s very touristic, which makes it slightly less of my-kind-of-place.
Trinidad, Cuba and transport
It’s quaint and beautiful and has real cobblestone streets, very narrow, that wind up and down hills. The sun roasts you, so you wear straw hats. There are tractors in the streets. Horses and mules are a big part of transportation.
Cuba’s only Harley
During the middle of the day there is very little to do, and so you either walk and roast and burn looking at the sights – or you sit in the shade and drink too many mojitos and smoke fine cigars and watch people and listen to music.
We did a little of both, but I’ll let you guess which of the two scenarios I prefer.
In Trinidad there is a plaza. It is a fine place. But just up the hill from this plaza there is a stage and a place to drink and at the top of the hill there is the Casa De Musica. On the stage they play Buena Vista Social Club and people dance and sweat and smile. You can see excellent dancing, or maybe you can dance excellently and therefore you would be dancing excellently and I would be watching you dance excellently and drinking excellent mojitos and smoking fine cigars.
And we would both be happy.
There is a man with a donkey that so personifies Cuba that he charges money to take a picture. But he is Cuba, so the picture is priceless and we love him. Here is this man.
When he’s not standing in the Plaza, he is walking ever-so-slowly to a new spot in the Plaza or he is napping in the shade of a building or his donkey with his cigar falling out of his mouth.
For rent, photos
In Cuba, you usually stay (besides hotels – which are really for the uber-tourist) in casa-particulars. These are typically a couple of rooms in a Cuban’s house that have been converted so that guests can stay there. We stay in casa-particulars. They are fine, and they have A/C (usually) and hot showers (usually). For me, those two things are very luxurious. And they let you smoke cigars there…
Cigars and our room
So we had A/C and hot showers. And during the day we were asked directions to the Cave Bar. We had no idea what it was, but quickly decided it was somewhere worth visiting. That night we found it and it was, as the name implies, a bar in a cave. Complete with bathrooms in cave rooms.
Not just any bar, though. It’s luxurious and clubby and it stands in stark contrast to virtually everything around it. Looking back, it’s a very strange thing. But it has a remarkable turnout and once inside you could just as well be in a club in Miami – which I used to frequent once in a while. We danced and sweated a lot and then ran out of money for drinks and were having trouble standing without weaving so we went back down the long hill and through the dark alleys to our room.
And on the way we met a Russian guy that was coupled up with a Cuban woman. They insisted that we eat with them. We were very drunk and not hungry but we agreed and I’m not exactly sure why. They were quite a pair. She kept telling us how in love they were, and it was in rapid-fire Spanish and I was having trouble understanding her. His English was even harder to understand so she did most of the talking as none of us spoke Russian. They had known each other two weeks and she had two children with another man and since she couldn’t leave Cuba and he wasn’t immigrating it made the whole thing seem very strange.
Then we left the restaurant with most of our meals in to-go containers and laughed and weaved our way back to our room where we slept in A/C, took hot showers woke up late still a little groggy.
Then we went back to the plaza and the stage and had mojitos.
Then it was time to get back to the boat.
Everything was how we left it and getting back to the boat was a major relief and it made me want to just sleep and read and play chess and drink Cuba Libre’s.
That wasn’t in the cards.
Instead we needed to plan and resupply and buy things and use the Internet (which is an adventure in itself). For all of this we needed to fight the money fight, which is tough for Americans and only slightly less so for Brazilians. That’s the thing about Cuba – it’s a pain in the ass to do anything.
We were desperate to leave and see the coast. I was desperate to freedive and explore the reefs and chase giant Grouper and Hogfish and Cubera Snapper. Without the diving and the sailing I was gaining weight and without eating fish I was in withdrawals. And without a beautiful coastline we both felt cheated. And without blue water under my keels I felt my time was being wasted. Why, if there is no bluewater under my keels, did I put all of my money in a rapidly depreciating maintenance headache?
So we hurried and rushed and ran and shopped and carried things too heavy. Then I worked on the boat. Then I found a variety of other problems so I did more boatwork. Then I fixed most of those problems and I found water in my starboard saildrive oil and that is a problem that I couldn’t fix and it infuriated me (it was my fault – fishing line in the prop again). But it was time to leave and time doesn’t sleep and so neither did we.
We pulled up anchor at 6PM that evening, with 15 knots of wind in our face. We knew we were going the right way, because the wind was in our face. That is, afterall, how sailing works in the Caribe. So we motored until we got out of the harbor.
The weatherman told us that the wind would die after sunset and then we’d motor down the coast. But he lied. Once we left the harbor the wind picked up. Now it was gusting 30 knots in our face and I was only able to do 4 knots into the wind with both engines. The waves were smashing us too. Things were bouncing around and knives were dropping and glass stuff was breaking. Jaco was pretty unhappy (Songerie has become our official sailing buddy) about the whole thing, but it was great to have him and Cristelle with us in the shit.
After a couple of hours I checked the engines and the saildrives and found that the starboard saildrive was worryingly low on oil. This was a major problem and when I shut off the starboard engine we were now doing 3 knots, sometimes 2.5 into the wind. I’ll save you the technical details, but some numbnut wrapped fishing line in his brand new oil seal (around the prop) which allowed water in and then experimented with a solution that made the problem worse and then that numbnut found himself in desperate need of both engines/saildrives. Of course that numbnut is the captain and that captain is me, just in case self-deprecating humor isn’t clear on the interwebs.
Anyways, now that I had heavy winds on the nose – I was trying to power NOMAD with only a single 29 horsepower engine. To make a long story short, I used some very colorful (and, I might add, creative) language and then we pushed on and then the wind let up and then we were sailing a little. Then the wind died and we were back to motoring and I was worried about everything and so we took a route that was shorter and motored all night and most of the following day.
Then we saw our destination. There was a reef line and it looked impenetrable and as if to emphasize this, there was a very recent wreck laying on top of the reef. Another yacht on the reef, another dream ruined. Another reminder to stay vigilant and not make mistakes and pay attention and think quickly and move even more quickly.
You can lose it all so quickly. That kind of heartbreak that will make you sick of love.
But we had some waypoints and we had some old charts and we had Songerie leading us in – they had beaten us quite soundly as we were down to one motor/saildrive. Coming through the reef made me nervous and then it was suddenly only two meters deep and that makes me nervous too. After an hour of tense single-motoring through coral-strewn shallow-water we dropped our anchor and looked around.
NOMAD and Songerie were the only two boats in 100 miles and it was stunningly beautiful and remarkably remote. Desert scrub turns to mangrove turns to beach turns to shimmering, crystal clear water over healthy and untouched reef.
And I remembered again why I work so hard to get to places where people haven’t screwed it up yet.
You guys can have all of the cities.
You can have all of the well-charted and well-explored and well-settled lands and waters. If there are roads there, it’s already ruined. I’m sticking to my guns: the most beautiful places on Earth are places where few humans have been and where none live.
You can argue with me if you want, but if you do – it just means you haven’t seen what I have. And that’s The Truth.
And some of those cigar boxes contain 25 cigars that are sold here for $30 per cigar. Stateside? More. You can do the math, but, basically, we have a very nice collection of cigars. And it cost us a tiny fraction of what the average person pays on the street. So if you’re a cigar type and you bump into me out there and want to smoke a genuine Cohiba Maduro… Well, you should say so. Maybe you prefer a Cohiba Esplindido (Castro’s favorite). Maybe a Romeo Y Julieta (my favorite, and Churchill’s). Cohiba Robusto? Montechristo number 2? Montechristo Master? Hemmingway liked the Montechristos.
Believe it or not, the coffee was harder to get our hands on than the cigars. The (good) coffee really isn’t available to the average Cuban. One of our new Cuban friends told me something I remember hearing in Colombia. Our Cuban friend said: “All of our best things are for export, in Cuba we’re left in prison with the rejects.” In Colombia, another friend told me all of the best cocaine and the best women were exported. Patterns, for better or for worse.
We finally found the coffee in a hotel catering to gringos.
Drummer was here. We met them in San Blas, and they introduced us to Jacko and Crystelle – so when the Drummer crew returned to their boat – a party seemed inevitable. It all started when Amber rowed up to our boat. She told us about her travels inland. She told us about Cuba. She told us they were leaving soon.
And that night Amber convinced us to go out. We walked and drank and talked. The next night there was a party, a dinner, on NOMAD. Jacko and Crystelle and the Drummer crew and another young Southern gringo and his girlfriend (who was Australian). Beer and wine and good food dominated early, but later in the night high-quality sipping rum and cigars got the upper hand. Then everyone was trying to figure out how to get home before the sun rose without interrupting the flow of the party. The party-veterans began sipping water.
Then we explored Cienfuegos a bit more and took this picture. It’s so meta.
Picture of a picture of a Nomad
Then it was time to go to Trinidad, Cuba. We needed to get a cab, get a Casa Particular, and needed to get our shit together to leave the boat for a couple of days. We needed to pack clothes and cigars and rum and electronics. We needed to empty the fridge. We needed to get things off the deck. We needed to lock the boat.
But that night, there was something that took precedence. When one lands in a place where it is cheap to procure a specific thing – say cigars, or rum. One must take the time to pick the right thing, and then buy as much as one can store (or afford) to either sell, give, or use along the way. And so, the night before our trip to Trinidad, Cuba – we had a rum tasting. So that we could all be sure of what the best rum for the best price is, so that we could then buy copious amounts of it so that we could have a large supply of good and reasonably priced rum.
Understanding that we needed to be productive in preparation for our trip to Trinidad, that we needed to be up early for said trip, and that we wanted to feel good for said trip – it may not make sense to have a rum-tasting the night before said trip. But life is short and you are dead for a very long time.
Carpe that f***ing Diem.
So we had a rum-tasting.
And so began our land-travels into Socialist Cuba.
Let’s finish the story, though. When we arrived, naturally, I found the watermaker had sprung a relatively serious leak in the endcap of the membrane enclosure. And my windlass decided not to work. And one of my battens had come off of the sailcars. Another of my sailcars had lost all of its ball-bearings. On just this single passage – a bit over 700 miles in total – an immense amount of expensive stuff was no longer serviceable.
Coming into Cienfuegos
For many miles we had called for the Port Captain or Port Authority. No answer. So we just dropped anchor (in typical fashion – far away from the herd) and I cracked my anchor beer.
A semi-official boat soon came up to us and told us to get to the dock ASAP. I explained that I had just laid out 50 meters of chain and that my windlass wasn’t working, so it might be a little while before I could get to the dock. And since we were going to the dock see the doctor – that if I did managed to pull in that 50 meters of chain quickly – I would likely be in much worse shape for my doctor’s exam.
Maybe it would be better to bring the doctor to us, if it’s a priority…
The doctor came and visited us, with the custom’s agent and a too-slick looking guy at the marina. We paid some money, he asked about our health. I gave them Panamanian coffee – they left the boat smiling and they didn’t tear my boat apart, top to bottom, nor did they threaten me. The difference of 170 miles (Cayman to Cuba) seems to matter quite a bit. It’s amazing how uncivilized civilization really is, and how much more civil people can be in places like Cuba.
With the doctor’s visit out of the way, we were now allowed onshore. So onshore we went. And there we found nice officials and a nice marina bar and some nice locals and some nice sailors at this nice bar. And at this bar I ordered The Liar’s Drink: A Cuba Libre (for, as we all know – Cuba will never be free).
I ordered the Cuba Libre in Ciegnfuegos, Cuba – before the herds of gringos made it. I think that’s worth remembering.
One Cuba Libre turned into a few when Jacko and Crystelle showed up.
Then we labored back to the boat. Then Ana fell off the boat as she was climbing from the dinghy onto NOMAD. Then we collapsed and slept a well-earned sleep.
In Socialist Cuba.
Then we broke our boom topping lift. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But with a catamaran like mine – the boom topping lift serves as a partial backstay, helping to strengthen the rig. So. After I noticed this I watched and listened and debated. Climbing the mast in these kinds of seas with this kind of wind, in the open ocean – is a little bit challenging. It’s also a bit dangerous, and definitely painful. Minimally you’ll be beaten against the mast, or you’ll fall or you’ll get tangled in the rigging.
The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it won’t be fun.
Watching and listening and thinking I decided to let it go for a few hours and catch some shuteye. Afterall, the wind was no more than 15 knots.
That evening when got up from my nap I could hear a creaking in the mast that didn’t inspire confidence. And the wind was increasing. And so I woke up Ana, and I climbed the mast to replace the boom topping lift. I was right – it was painful. But I didn’t fall and after a few bumps and bruises and a couple of mistakes – the boat was moving along with all of her rigging intact.
I was limping for a couple of days, though.
By day three we were all in the zone. Wake-up, make coffee, eat something quick and get into the cockpit for your 4-hour shift. Then you read or fish or do something else to pass the time. Then, when your shift is over – you relax and lay around or go below and take a real nap.
Meals are really snacks. Sleep is really naps.
And then, almost suddenly, we could see Grand Cayman. Land! We joked about how in a few hours we’d be drinking beer at an actual bar. There would be real grocery stores. People would speak English. People might even be friendly.
We were stoked.
Grand Cayman Port Security guided us into a dock. We tied up NOMAD and proceeded to do our paperwork. Then they casually told me that they would bring the canines to search my boat. I told them I had nothing to hide, but that I’d like to just be done so I could shower and have a beer and get some real sleep.
The Grand Cayman Customs guys are jerks (and there are better words for them).
They are the Customs equivalent of the guy who was picked on in highschool so he becomes your hometown police officer and now gets off on over-exercising the limited amount of authority that should have never been granted to him. Such a cliché.
Their first words to me were: “I hope you don’t have any plans today.” I told them my plan was to drink a cold beer at an actual bar. The main-guy, a clear example of someone that seeks to make other people as miserable as himself retorted with: “So you think you’re getting out of here today? Ha!”
Whether you’re a criminal or not, when you’re treated like a criminal and somebody is tearing apart your boat and bringing (not one, but two) sniffing dogs through your entire boat (including letting the mangy mutts on your beds) – it’s makes you feel like a criminal. It makes you feel like you have something to hide. It makes you nervous the way having a cop follow you on the highway makes you nervous. But worse.
Eventually these Customs agents, so clearly frustrated with their position in life and so intent on abusing the limited power they have – they left. The boat was in shambles. Ana and Damo were stressed. I was exhausted and furious. But also relieved. Knowing what I know now, though – I suspect my next encounter with these gentlemen won’t be so one-sided.
But. We made it.
Soon enough we were walking through Grand Cayman and marveling at the grocery store and the marine store and the bars. Then we were drinking a cold beer and connecting to WiFi. I downloaded weather and found that I wouldn’t be leaving Cayman for a week… Damo found out that he would be leaving from Cayman, rather than from Cuba.
Two nights of going out and drinking led me to abort any future drinking missions. Rather than drinking at the overpriced bars, I decided to spend my time fishing (and drinking – a little) on the boat. So after Damo returned home, our friends Jacko and Crystelle jumped onboard and we headed out to the Twelve Mile banks for some trolling and drifting.
Skirted BallyhooSkirted Ballyhoo
I made an early mistake and lost a nice fish, but we made up for it with a nice Bull Mahi later in the day. Then we spent an enjoyable evening drift and bottom fishing. Then there was champagne to celebrate the Caribbean circumnavigation of Jacko and Crystelle.
Jacko and his Mahi
Champagne on the water
And after all of that was done – it was suddenly time to get ready to go to Cuba.
Now we’re back to the present. And tomorrow, at 6 AM, we’re dropping our mooring here to sail to Cienfuegos on the Southern coast of Cuba. And we couldn’t be more excited. It’s about damn time.
So – I’ll update again when possible, but we’ll be back to sailing remote and beautiful islands with limited connectivity.
Which means it may be awhile before another update. Try not to hold that against me.
Saildrive seal protection
Stumped by MaxProps
That also involved pulling off, cleaning, greasing and putting back on the MaxProps. Let me just say that MaxProps are a royal PITA to get right. It took a few tries and I burned more than a couple of days getting the pitch right. I even (though I hate to admit it) had to pull the boat back out of the water AFTER we splashed to make another minor pitch adjustment. I am intimately familiar with MaxProps. And propellers have never been on my “I wish I was intimate with…” list.
Another hidden gem, when we cleaned off the saildrives: the previous owner had used the wrong bottom paint on the aluminum saildrives which was leading to corrosion. To that end I spent a day polishing all of the toxic bottom paint off of the saildrives, then had to find an epoxy primer and bottom paint compatible with aluminum. Not easy in these parts. But we did it.
There’s so much more. We replaced all of our anchor chain. It was horribly rusted 3/8” chain, replaced with G4 5/16” which is both lighter and slightly cheaper than the 3/8” BBB – while retaining a higher breaking strength. This involved replacing the windlass gypsy, which involved cutting out several welded screws… That job was supposed to be couple of hours. It took two days.
Then I added 300W of solar to the hard-top and tied them into another MPPT controller. We now have 560 W of solar on the arch, 150 W on the lifelines, and 300 W on the hardtop. This makes for a grand total of (wait for it……) 1010 W of solar, tied to two different (see: redundant overkill) MPPT controllers. Even on cloudy days, we make energy. Lots of energy.
Next up was the watermaker. I sent the Clark Pump into Spectra for their $450 rebuild. Upon receiving it, they told me it was not serviceable. I needed an entirely new Clark Pump – to the tune of $2200. I received this during our haulout and wired it all in. It works!!!!!! Finally, after nearly two years of having the boat – I have a working watermaker. In fact, it’s producing over 14 gallons per hour of freshwater. Amazing for a 12V system. No generators, no motors. Just a couple little pumps and we make saltwater into freshwater.
Out here – that’s valuable.
Then there was the sails and sailcars. I had to replace two sailcars (specially manufactured from US Spars) – not cheap, but necessary. Then I needed to get my Genoa restitched. Not cheap either.
Then we pulled every single thing out of the boat, organized it, wrote down where it was, cleaned it, and put it back. Backbreaking and filthy work, but it’s done.
Then the bottom paint. We raised the waterline just a bit, which required priming the bottom, and then adding several layers of bottom paint. For bottom paint, we chose Islands 44 and used the harder ablative on the leading edges and then covered it all with three coats of the soft ablative.
We had to re-engineer the swim ladder. It wasn’t standing up to the abuse (we dive a lot), so I had a welder build in another anchor point for it – and now, it doesn’t budge. Since we had access to a decent welder – I welded some fishing pole holders and a piece of stainless that covers the saildrive seals – so that fishing line can no longer get into the seals and destroy them.
Ana was back onboard helping me, and I can honestly say there was no chance I’d have this done without her. An amazing person. We accomplished all of this in 10 days. TEN DAYS, in a third-world country, without a car. Where you have to travel (literally) across the country to get parts. It may not sound important to you, but it was nothing short of a miracle for us.
Back to The Swimming Pool
Then Damo showed up. He’s been onboard before, he’s a friend, a good cook, and a fisherman (mostly a spearfisherman). So, now, most of the major systems are working and we’re sitting in the Swimming Pool – waiting on a weather window to sail to Cuba.
And with all of our solar energy – we’re full of water and are powering a second freezer which is keeping all of the Tuna we’ve been catching fresh. So much sushi. You should be jealous.
Mahi Mahi on Sterling Tackle
Tuna on Sterling Tackle
More Tuna on Sterling Tackle
More Tuna on Sterling Tackle (and Damo’s butt)
More Mahi on Sterling Tackle
The boatyard work was mindnumbing, painful, frustrating, dirty and it didn’t make for happy people. But it’s (for the most part) done. And NOMAD is in better shape than she’s ever been before, with a good crew, in a beautiful place – waiting to sail to Cuba. In case you didn’t catch this – we’re SAILING TO CUBA. We’re all excited about the passage (plenty of time to pull lures behind us and catch tasty fish) and about the destination. Cuba. Soon.
Hogfish and Mackerel
Smoked fish (thanks Jacko!!)
Damo and Permit
Ana and Tuna
Fish Cleaning Crew
In the meantime we’ve been eating Hogfish, Snapper, Permit, Triggerfish, Tuna, and Mackerel – just about every way you can imagine it. And fresh. You can’t afford to eat this way anywhere else in the world. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be this fresh.
We have plenty of things that aren’t working as they should and I know we’re going to keep breaking things. There will be bad days and rough days. Weather with batter us and make us wait and make us angry. We will get hangovers and feel pressure and have crazy situations. There will be risks to our lives and health and everything in between. People won’t always get along.
This is all given.
But for now all is well.
So we wait on weather with our friends from Sondre (Jacko, forgive me dude, for not knowing how to spell your boat name).
Just a couple more days and we’ll be on passage and our larger concerns will be based around what lures to troll and how to bring in large fish at 6-10 knots.
Then it’s a couple of months in the largely untouched paradise of Cuba. Where I’ve heard the Black Grouper and Hogfish swim up to you and beg you to put them on your boat.
If you’re not at least a little bit jealous, you’re wrong.
Nothing further. Until we’re 600 miles away, in Grand Cayman.