Thursday, May 17, 2018

La Rochelle to Gijon - Biscay Crossing

Since we bought Askari crossing Biscay has been on our mind, the forecast was for good winds from the north on Sunday and then easing with low swell and seriously hot - so we decided we'd take that rather than wait for better winds given the chance that the swell would pick up and that was our major concern -  the water depth shelves from 4000 metres to 100 in 30 miles (Australian's think Bass Straight).

In Biscay the weather is determined by where the 'Azores High' sits in relation to low pressure over Spain, so variations are also common so having a good forecast and a shortish crossing was good. We set a course for Gijon, 260 miles, with longer and shorter options in mind.

As it happened the wind was pretty fickle and we tried to coax it into playing with us. We had many different sail configurations during the day on Sunday, but the only answer was motor sail in the end all day on Tuesday. We had a great and relaxing crossing, a warm night with few ships, lots of dolphins, a whale and even a turtle pass by. We arrived at 8.30pm on Monday evening but it being Spain still managed to get Askari checked in, have a shower and then go out for dinner.

Sailing out into Biscay past Ile D'Oleron
Ile D'Oleron

Poled out in Biscay

Yay Dolphins

Is this really Biscay??

Sunset Cruise in Biscay

Happy for a warm night watch

Sunset in Biscay

Monday - motor sailing in Biscay

Spanish Coast with the Pico's behind - there was snow but it was shrouded in mist!

Our new home for a few days - Gijon, we can't pronounce it but are going to explore the Pico's and eat alot of tapas!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Heading to Havana

We left Cayo Largo not really with any great plans beyond our first night stop at Cayo Rosario, we had a lovely slow sail on the outside of the reef and then went through a well marked reef pass to a gap in-between two islands. One of the islands has monkeys on it and we had heard the rangers may offer lobster.

Shortly after we anchored a fishing boat approached us - did we want lobster - of course we did! We asked for two and how much - no, no money! Then he came over with five live lobsters and wanted nothing... of course we gave him a bottle of rum and he didn't refuse. That's dinner sorted yum!

We got the weather that evening and saw light westerly winds coming our way which would be perfect to make a run for Havana so next morning we got up early and started the long trip around the West End of Cuba. We were sad to miss the island of Juventud which apparently has great diving but this weather window looked too good to skip and our time left in Cuba was fast passing by. Once you get around the West tip you can anchor but no go ashore and we hadn't heard great stuff about the places we could go so opted to go offshore and do it in one shot with two nights at sea.

As we passed by Maria La Gorda, we spotted the boat belonged to Addison Chan who is co-author of the guide book we are using and the guy who started the Cuba Land & Sea Facebook page which has been so helpful. We were sorry not to meet him, and we later found out he was helping out a lovely family who had quite a scare when the forestay broke - we later met them in Hemmingway and learned what an amazing community sailors can be when shit happens!

Dolphins on the West Coast of Cuba

The trip was pretty uneventful with light winds and mostly motorsailing in glorious hot conditions- although the current was a bit tricky going against us for alot of the way. We did however pole out for one day of slow sailing and had dolphins and a lovely bird come to visit.

Coming into Marina Hemingway
We arrived at Marina Hemingway, just West of Havana just before 3pm on 24th April - the entrance chanel is only about 100 feet wide and any north swell breaks on either side. The fairway buoy was vastly off position, they did tell us this on the radio however they said it was West not East of where it should be - too funny! At the end of the narrow channel you turn hard to Port into the Customs dock area, a speedboat with a water ski-er zoomed by - that's a first in a marina.

At the customs dock
We cleared in quickly, re-fueled and then made our way to the slip on canal #1 - the music from the bar played the song Havana and the dock master and his mates were all dancing - so cheesy but what a perfect arrival in this city of cities!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Cuba South Coast Cayos & Diving

So we got up at 6.30am after a big night out in Cienfuegos but I forgot to mention a Cuban thing that happened as we planned to leave - they closed the port! Well, what actually happened was we had cleared out, had our cruising permit on board and were just going ashore when the dock master appeared, in his very unseaworthy speed boat! He told us the port was about to be closed so we had to leave immediately or wait until it reopened. Why was it closing? When would it re-open? He didn't know either..... One yacht quickly upped their anchor but we had plans.... so handed over our cruising permit reluctantly and went ashore. An hour later the dock master comes over to the bar with our cruising permit - the port is open and actually it wasn't closed, it was another port that was closed and the harbour master misunderstood... hilarious!

We motored out of the harbour and at the entrance passed a swarm of local fishing boats bobbing and rolling in the swell but no wind on a glorious day. Rhapsody followed us and we both set a course for Cayo Sal. The wind finally came in about 10am at 15-17knots and we had a fantastic sail all the way past the Bay of Pigs. We came onto the bank where the depth came up from hundreds of metres to 6 within a mile. The swell was still rolling in but we managed to get pretty close to the island and get enough protection for a comfortable night in this pretty open anchorage. We jumped in the water to check the state of Askari's bottom....

The anchorage at Cayo Largo

Oh my goodness, we have never had such a dirty boat. We spent a few hours trying to clean off as much as we could but it was just so thick with worm, it needed a second and third attempt finally with dive gear later. Cienfuegos is a great town but the water must be thick with sewage! Next morning we sailed on the inside of the reef down to Cayo Largo in 15-20 knots and we were much faster. We got permission to anchor in the bay in a truly spectacular spot. Rhapsody, Hummel and Tara all arrived and we had quite a crowd at Cayo Largo. We moved into the marina as rain was due for a few days and air-conditioning was calling.....

Wow - South Coast of Cayo Largo

Swimming pool

I can't get enough of this

It really doesn't look real

We had lobster lunch

Cayo Largo is completely a tourist island and the all inclusive resorts are dotted all around the island. No Cubans live on the island permanently they just come for work 4 weeks at a time - the lovely lady in the Marina Office had done this for 29 years. She shared her office with her ex-husband, the harbour master, who had a similar term. He said they were best of friends, her face told a different story. So when I gave her a bag of beauty treats, so she could always look her best, she gave me the biggest hug and almost a tear. I guess when you have a good job in Cuba you don't give it up whatever the personal circumstances - we have heard stories of people paying to get jobs that give exposure to tourist tips especially. The good news is that the marina is overrun by tourists during the day but not in the evening when it's just the yachties and the locals, who have accommodations in the area near the marina. On a Wednesday they have a big party that starts at 10.30 - it's alot of fun!

Selfie of course

The birds are not afraid here
Tree on our long walk
We walked to the beach - a round trip of nearly 20kms and found one of the best beaches I have ever seen (yes a big call), even if you have to be subjected to the clothes optional areas. Despite the lack of Cuban culture we actually really liked Cayo Largo - it was so beautiful and the sea around the island is so special. We had a fantastic day diving on the reef just off the marina area where there are small islands. 

I loved this sign - very trusting at the airport
We finally said our goodbyes to Rhapsody - Ada gave us a stone she had painted to remember them - it's a bit heavy (ha ha) but we love it. It has the words 'We remember the moments! We do not remember the days....' We hope to meet up again in the Pacific next year - we miss you guys!

Saying goodbye to the Rhapsody crew

So much laughter with Ada and John

And finally here's a few diving shots - the water was just so clear. We even got to see mating loggerhead turtles but no pictures sadly.