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Day 268 - Marina Hemingway, Cuba (N 23° 05.3 W 82° 29.9)
09:15 hrs - February 25th, 2008
Change

I find it a little ironic that we just happen to be in Cuba when Fidel Castro, revolutionary leader and Cuban Prime Minister/President for 49 years, steps down. I find it ironic because anyone reading this, not in Cuba, will know far more then we do, and we're berthed just 9 miles from downtown Habana. While we are unable to view the two government-run television channels, I suspect that unlike the barrage of commercials, endorsements and advertising of, say, the US Presidential Candidates, there is little to promote the shift in power here. We have not seen a single poster, flyer, ad nor article announcing Raul's promotion.

We first heard about the news Friday (we received the information via email). Over the last three days we've asked many Cubans what they think about this historic shift in Cuba's leadership, each time we are answered with the same casual, disinterested shrug. You see, as Cuban citizens are not allowed to vote they seem resigned to the fact that there is very little they can do to change the situation they're in. Now, I don't wish to paint an inaccurate or incomplete picture as almost all of the people we have met appear to be happy, healthy and have shown us nothing but broad smiles and friendly handshakes (even the eleven officials that searched our boat when we arrived greeted us with genuine hospitality). We have, however, met a number of locals who have shared their struggle with us. From a single bar of soap a month for an entire family, five pounds of rice, two eggs a week and an average wage of $20/month, things do seem a little dismal here for your average citizen. There is, we've been told, a thriving underground market though that seems to provide just enough extra money to entrepreneurial citizens to help make their life just a little more comfortable.

Now, we've never taken what we have for granted, but being here gives us an even greater appreciation for the freedom of choices we have. I don't pretend to know if your average Cuban is happier than your average American, but as we explain our broad travel itinerary to interested locals, it becomes sadly apparent that until the current situation changes here, the majority of Cubans will never be able to leave, or have the ability to decide where their family lives, have the freedom to surf the internet (internet access for Cubans is restricted), to choose what they can eat, what car they drive or how much money they can save. As everything; businesses, healthcare, schools, everything is run by the government. These choices are decided by the government, not by the people. I find this ironic too, as Castro, after being released from prison due to increasing public support in 1955, drafted a Manifesto of the People of Cuba, a portion of it reads:

    "As we leave the prison...we proclaim that we shall struggle for (our) ideas even at the price of
    our existence...Our freedom shall not be feast or rest, but battle and duty for a nation without
    despotism or misery..."

One local, when hearing we were sailing around the world, quietly asked us if we knew anything about Dry Tortugas, specifically if it is American soil as he had heard that it wasn't. When we explained that it was indeed part of America and that we sailed from Dry Tortugas to Cuba he drew closer and in a whisper, asked us details about our crossing. He said, "In Habana, there are 2 million people, one million citizens, one million police."

We're not ready for a change of scenery yet, we have much more of this fascinating, controversial, colorful country we want to see and many more its wonderful people to meet. We're not ready for change yet, but I suspect they are.



       

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Day 265 - Marina Hemingway, Cuba (N 23° 05.3 W 82° 29.9)
19:07 hrs - February 22nd, 2008
Cuba

We set off from Dry Tortugas at noon ready for our 20 hour 90 mile sail south across the Florida Straits, a busy commercial shipping lane/gulf stream combo. We had good wind and some rain but the moon was full so even with clouds we had plenty of light. But now the Cuba portion of the trip was beginning to dawn on me and the reality of what we were doing set in.  Having lived in the US for the last 15 years and absorbing all the stories and myths about Castro’s Cuba, I was having doubts about our choice to go there.  I had to keep reminding myself that every other Country in the world goes to Cuba, so how bad could it be?  By dawn the next day Cuba was on the horizon.

When we were 12 miles off the coast we called the Cuban coast guard on VHF to get permission to enter, and again at 5 miles out so by the time we reached Cuba they would be ready for us.  We sailed into Marina Hemingway under a perfect a blue sky and watched as a group of uniformed officials started to gather on the customs dock.  I thought we would have time to tidy up a little, but before I knew what was happening we were being introduced to the first of 11 government officials that would ask to come aboard.  The first was the Doctor/Agriculture official who wanted to inspect us and the boat. He asked lots of questions and filled in lots of forms and after a friendly chat and a cold drink he went on his way declaring us fit for entry into Cuba.  Then two dogs that I thought had been dashing around on the dock just being friendly and sweet to everyone, turned out to be sniffer dogs!! They were brought aboard and dashed around the boat looking for whatever sniffer dogs look for and then, after reporting their findings to their handlers, were allowed to resume dashing around on the dock again. Next two Coast Guard gentlemen came aboard to do their part. They wanted to know every detail about the boat including all the equipment we had onboard, they took our flares and flare guns away and assured us that they would be returned when we leave, and after another friendly chat and another cold drink they handed us off to the two customs people.  Customs wanted to know about all our technology and communications equipment and they also systematically inspected every single closet, cupboard and food storage area, and like everyone else before them they were entirely polite and friendly.  Next,  two ladies from immigration came aboard and spent the next 45 minutes asking questions about us, our professions and our travel plans.  This was all recorded in hand written notes by the senior of the two ladies while she drank diet Pepsi and ate handfuls of M&M’s and chocolate toffees that turned out to be a surprise hit with everyone who came aboard.   When they completed their paperwork and seemed satisfied that we could be trusted to visit Cuba without misbehaving they handed us back our passports and with a big smile said welcome to Cuba!

 The whole process took almost 2 hours, a heap of paperwork, 11 government officials and 2 dogs and it was completely fascinating. As we were answering the final immigration questions about where we came from and where our cruising plans would take us, just knowing that as Cuban citizens, they are forbidden to leave their own country, made my head spin and just filled the experience with questions that I could not ask, and they could not answer. 

By the time we were handed over to Gabriel one of the Marina’s Dock masters for our slip assignment, all my earlier doubts and fears had vanished, but they have been replaced by a million questions.  Tomorrow we are going into Havana, where I hope I can begin to answer them.


       

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Day 260 - Dry Tortugas, Florida (N 24° 37.5, W 82° 52.2)
19:54 hrs - February 17th, 2008
Our Last US Port of Call

For the first time since we left New York over eight months ago we're out of broadband and cell phone range, it feels a little like we're cut-off from civilization. Dream Time is anchored in Dry Tortugas, a remote outpost 70 nautical miles from Key West Florida, this is our last port-of-call in the US before we head south to Cuba, then into the western Caribbean. There's an 18th century fort here, abandoned and crumbling into the sea which makes this anchorage feel even more isolated and forgotten. This illusion, however, was quickly shattered when we woke the next morning to the roar of an amphibious airplane landing just a few hundred feet off Dream Time's starboard side. Then, an hour later, a high-speed Jet Cat ferry from Key West pulled into the harbor and unloaded a crowd of tourists in Jimmy Buffet shirts, here to sunbath and snorkel for the day.

Our post-frontal cruise from Upper Captiva Island to Dry Tortugas was everything we had hoped for - safe and comfortable, well worth the wait. Under sunny skies and a 15 knot easterly breeze we sighted the low laying sandy islands of Dry Tortugas Friday morning. Determined to catch a fish for supper we sailed close to the reef around the southeastern approach with two lines trawling behind us. Almost immediately we had fish-on! The reel starting spooling with a high-pitch whizzing noise and the hand line jerked wildly on the stern rail. With a flurry of inexperienced activity, we managed to land one fish but lost the other - tackle and all... we have a lot to learn. We spent our first night in Dry Tortugas barbecuing our fresh catch under a bright moonlit night sky packed with stars and in the shadow of Fort Jefferson.

We've spent the last few days exploring the fort and snorkeling the surrounding reef. Two 400-500 lb Groupers have been living under Dream Time's keel since yesterday, according to the Park Rangers that live in the fort, they're waiting to be fed. As there are no provisions on the island, and our next port-of-call is Marina Hemingway in Cuba, we're not giving anything away - who knows when we'll be able to stock-up on cheesy sausages or cheese doodles again?

A little history: The US began building Fort Jefferson in 1846, construction lasted for 30 years - they never finished. The site was chosen to protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade. The fort was also served as a Union military prison for captured deserters and held four men convicted of complicity in President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Named in 1513 Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Spaniard Ponce de Leon, the islands were renamed Dry Tortugas on mariners' charts to indicate the lack of fresh water.


 
       

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Day 254 - Useppa Island, Florida
10:42 hrs - February 11th, 2008
The Weather Gods

Alright, alright! I know what you're thinking, shouldn't we be in Dry Tortugas by now and planning our next leg across to Marina Hemingway in Cuba. I mean, as gorgeous as Upper Captiva and the surrounding Islands are, you're probably ready to see some photographs of the abandoned Fort Jefferson, or a 1950's mint-condition Cadillac painted neon orange cruising through downtown Havana. Believe me, we're eager to see these things too.

Ironically, now that the boat is ready - we're making our very own fresh water, tuning into the weather net
on our new SSB radio, charging our batteries with our new solar panels, downloading weather charts and receiving emails on our new satellite phone, and more importantly we're ready - our departure has been delayed due to the Weather Gods. You see with the promise of two frontal systems with "surface dynamics and instability capable of producing tornadoes" charging across the Gulf of Mexico today and tomorrow, lined with "thunderstorms, 35+ knot gusts and lightening strikes" as much as we want to move on, common sense suggests we stay. So we sailed over to Useppa Island, a whopping 3 mile journey, and have anchored off its protected lee shore to wait out the fronts in relative security and comfort. Don't feel bad for us, really, we'll get by. I mean it's not like our flight was cancelled and we're sleeping on plastic seats in a crowded airport, we're cruisers, so we're right at home here, literally. Yesterday Catherine spent the morning sunbathing, I did a little i&D work (yes I am still actually working) then I slapped on a coat of Cetol (it's like varnish) on the teak around our cockpit and our bow sprit (the pointy piece of wood at the front of the boat). In the afternoon I explored some of the mangrove-covered islands surrounding Dream Time in my kayak. So it's not all bad.

The two frontal systems have been forecast to clear the area by Thursday leaving 15 knot NE - SE winds and 2-4' seas for the rest of the week. So we decided rather than surfing down 9' waves in 25 knots winds, exhilarating yes, and anchoring off an exposed isolated reef island during strong winds, comfortable no, that we would wait it out here. After-all we are cruisers, we're not in a hurry, this is a lifestyle not a race.

BTW: If there's anyone out there who would like to request a photo of something, perhaps in an area we'll be visiting, something you're curious about; Havana, Mayan ruins, the tribal attire of San Blas Island natives, our anchor, anything, click here and send your request via email we'll see if we can capture it for you with our Panasonic Lumix ® cameras. Keep it short, just your name and what you'd like us to photograph. Send a text request, no images or attachments please otherwise we won't receive it. You'll email will remain confidential but if we capture your request, we may post the photo and your first name.


     
       

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Day 252 - Upper North Captiva Island, Florida
20:16 hrs - February 9th, 2008
Friendly Natives

What is fast becoming a Dream Time tradition, we have once again delayed our departure from a lovely anchorage.  We had initially planned to set off for Dry Tortugas a few days ago, but when we realized we still had some systems checking to do so we had penciled in yesterday as a possible anchors aweigh day, but then with what has become a regular and determined feature in our cruising life, the weather showed up, with the promise of a lumpy ride offshore down to our destination.  In days gone by, with tight work schedules and deadlines we would have had to push through unpleasant weather, but we are jolly cruisers now and with the luxury of not having a schedule we can pick the ideal weather window, so we are going to wait till this front goes by, and then sail in a sunny warm breeze down to the next lovely anchorage in Dry Tortugas. 

Staying here turned out to be a splendid intermission to our journey full of fun interesting people.  We were invited by our ‘neighbor’ Kent who lives in one of the beautiful multi-million dollar beach front homes here, to a dinner with some of the islands illustrious residents where we met a diverse and eclectic group of people who have found this little private island paradise and made it home. Everyone we’ve met here has shown enormous generosity, like Hart, a pilot and his wife, who offered hot showers and a ride to the mainland for supplies.  He even took some aerial photographs of us at anchor as he did a fly by in his private plane which he keeps in a huge garage under his house which of course, is beside the private runway….. what a lovely place and what lovely people.

Now everything has been thoroughly tested and we are completely comfortable with all our new systems we are both eager and ready to set sail. Cuba here we come!!










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Day 249 - Captiva Island, Florida
19:20 hrs - February 4th, 2008
A Good Omen?

In 1895, an unknown and rather unsuccessful, middle-aged shipmaster set off from Boston in an antique wooden sloop that he rebuilt plank by plank. Three years later, this mariner returned to America and was instantly hailed a national hero, joining the ranks of the world's greatest circumnavigators - Magellan, Drake, Cook. You see, Captain Joshua Slocum was the first man ever to circumnavigate the world single-handedly.

For over a century, Slocum's courage, determination and adventures in his sloop Spray have inspired countless sailors, including yours truly, to follow their dreams. So it came as quite a shock when during one of our covert shore visits to the luxury South Seas Resort on Captiva Island, whilst sitting in a complimentary trolley that runs VIP guests back and forth across the island, we met "Uncle Bob". Perched on a rather ornate cast-iron bench at the front of the trolley, Uncle Bob is the Resorts Trolley Manager - that's not the interesting part, although Uncle Bob is famous for his charismatic personality and story-telling abilities, what we discovered on our 15 minute trolley ride, a fact that Uncle Bob shares with very few people, is that he is the Great Grandson of Joshua Slocum!

Robert Winston Slocum is also from New York and was kind enough to share with us some of his own travel stories around Morocco and the Mediterranean. After retiring he moved down to Sanibel Island to manage the Resorts trolleys and to "keep his mind clear" - although Robert Slocum has more energy than most men half his age and seems happiest when sharing his families adventures, something that he is rightfully very proud of. He signed my copy of "Sailing Alone Around The World" that I keep on Dream Time, and inscribed it for us; "To Neville & Catherine, safe travels on your world voyage - Joshua's Great Grandson, Robert Winston Slocum."

Now, if meeting the Great Grandson of the worlds first solo-circumnavigator a few days before we leave the US for our grand adventure isn't considered good omen, then I don't know what is!

To learn more about Joshua Slocum, visit: www.joshuaslocumsocietyintl.org





     

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Day 247 - North Captiva Island, Florida
14:48 hrs - February 2nd, 2008
Return to the Wild

This whole trip has been one surprise after another and North Captiva has been no exception. So far our foray into the wild has turned out to be more luxurious and surprising than back to nature! We set off from Fort Myers with visions of desolate but pretty islands that can only be accessed by boat, but as we anchored we noticed that the clearing we saw ashore was actually the end of a small grass runway, so only access by boat OR small private plane? Hmmm, this is getting more interesting!  A little plane obligingly took off, circled and flew away, so suitably intrigued we dinghyed ashore and went to explore.  Turns out it’s a little private paradise complete with a mini resort with a great restaurant!  We walked most of the island which had been rebuilt after being decimated by hurricane Charley in 2004. We stopped for ice cream and to check out a café where the interior walls were completely covered with brightly decorated one dollar bills, apparently for fishermen down on their luck, then having built up an appetite we looked for somewhere to eat. We found a tiny but perfect restaurant where we dined like kings overlooking a little marina where we noticed a small slip for sale…. for $1,975,000 !!! I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I know this isn’t it!! I wonder what’s next??