Passage to Key West

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Third time is the charm.  Our first two attempts at leaving the Cayman Islands was squashed due to weather.  Finally we got a long enough weather window to make the four day passage from Grand Cayman to Key West.  Based on a recommendation from the marina, we hired a pilot boat to lead us out of North Sound.  The appointed time of 6:00 am on Sunday rolled around and the pilot is a no show.  No surprise there.  Always up for a challenge and having no desire to go back to customs and immigration where we were now on a first name basis, we threw off the dock lines and headed out.  Staying exactly and I mean exactly on our track and right at high tide, we made it over the reef with no problems.  Ahhh finally out of the Caymans and heading back out on the water!

We had hoped to use the easterly trade winds to help get us to the west coast of Cuba, but as luck would have it the winds were dead calm with the exception of Sunday night when for 12 hours they were right on our nose.  The calm conditions returned Monday morning right when we needed them the most for the Yucatan Channel and heading east in the Florida Strait.   We enjoyed a good sail into Key West riding the Gulf Stream.  In fact, if Gary hadn’t realized just how much the gulf stream was pushing us east when we wanted to go north east, we would have overshot Key West and ended up in Miami instead 🙂

Not long after leaving Grand Cayman this little guy joined us in the cockpit for a much needed rest.  Look at those calm seas.

Our passenger for a while

Sereno will be staying here for a few weeks while we drive up to Pennsylvania for our nieces wedding.  Once back, we will continue our trek up the east coast of Florida to our summer stop in Brunswick, Georgia.  Later than planned, but we’ll get there.

Fair winds,

Cindy

Grand Cayman

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Beautiful water, restaurants, bars, and a jaw dropping grocery store sums up the British territory of Grand Cayman.  Most people would associate jaw dropping with the beautiful water but after grocery shopping in Central America for the last few years, the store here was something to get excited about.  Gary and I ran around like two kids in a candy shop.  People must have thought we were nuts at our excitement at finding fresh berries, greens, cheese, basically all the things we have been craving but could not get in Central America.

We rented a car for four days because there isn’t much in the way of mass transportation here.  Definitely a tourist destination with the four or five cruise ships that arrive daily, but friendly people and English speaking.  Driving on the left is always a challenge and for the first time we had the steering wheel on the right side with many roundabouts to maneuver through.  By the third day I was no longer turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker but I still hated the roundabouts.  Give me traffic lights and stop signs any day!

The beach at Rum Point on the north side of Grand Cayman

The beach at Rum Point on the north side of Grand Cayman

Seven Mile Beach Grand Cayman.  The surf was up the day we visited.

Seven Mile Beach Grand Cayman. The surf was up the day we visited.

The town of Hell on Grand Cayman

The town of Hell on Grand Cayman

Hell's post office

Hell’s post office

The US dollar is weak against the Cayman dollar so it is a bit pricey here, however, that has not stopped us from enjoying the many bars and restaurants.  So many choices but I think we are choosing well as all our meals have been great.  Our friend Ace from Red Frog has been here a few weeks and along with his crew Ryan and Eric they’ve given us some good suggestions.

We are currently waiting for a weather window for our four day passage to Key West.  Unfortunately Mother Nature is not yet cooperating.  We may have to take a detour two days away to Isla Mujeres, Mexico so we can keep moving north and find cheaper digs.  There are no protected anchorages here and while the marina is nice it is a bit pricey.

The view off our stern at Barcadere Marina

The view off our stern at Barcadere Marina

The waters off of George Town.  No color was adjusted.

The waters off of George Town. No color was adjusted.

Fair winds,

Cindy

 

San Andrés and Our Passage to Grand Cayman

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We spent a little over three weeks at anchor in San Andrés waiting for calm seas before moving further north to the Caymans.  We enjoyed the town after being in remote Dead oops Red Frog marina for seven months.  This was definitely a vacation destination for mainland Colombia as gringos made up about one percent of the population but we enjoyed it.

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Taxi drivers playing dominoes while waiting for their next fare.

Taxi drivers playing dominoes while waiting for their next fare.

Our first pizza in months!

Our first pizza in months!

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San Andrés is about 120 miles offshore and the winds certainly kick up here.  We were anchored off three wrecks, which made for some stressful times when the wind was up.

We were anchored next to these wrecks

We were anchored next to these wrecks

We had a squall with 40 knot winds come through at night and we dragged our anchor.   With the engine running we held her steady until the squall passed.  We raised the anchor and at the time Gary noticed a bit of steel hanging from it.  He didn’t think it was any big deal so we lowered and reset the anchor and went back to bed.  The next morning we discovered we were too close to some mooring balls so we had to move.  We raised the anchor and Gary discovered we had a hunk of channel steel the length of the boat hooked to our anchor.  How the windlass pulled it up we have no idea.  Using the boat hook, Gary was able to get the steel off the anchor but now it was stuck to the boat hook.  Not able to pull it up any higher and with no way to get the boat hook off, Gary let go.  A few minutes later, the boat hook popped up to the surface but after several attempts we were not able to retrieve it.

Most boats just travel through San Andrés but we met Bill and Mary from Napa who have their 100 year old 51 foot steel hull sailboat at Nene’s marina.  Bills attraction to San Andrés is he considers this the best place for kite surfing.  Well we can’t agree more after experiencing the winds in this area for weeks!

A great weather window opened up for us to sail directly to the Caymans without needing to stop in Providencia.  We had several concerns with this passage.  The most important was incidences of piracy against sailboats along the Nicaragua coast and our second concern was the shallow banks.  With some advice from weather guru Chris Parker, we planned our route to stay 120 nm off Nicaragua and I’m happy to say all went well.  While we would have preferred a little more wind for sailing, with the exception of the first day the seas were calm and we were able to enjoy a cockpit shower somewhere in the middle of the central caribbean.

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For us the clearance into the Caymans was a breeze.  We didn’t fit the profile for a search of the boat.  After clearing in we headed around the west coast of Grand Cayman and entered the shallow North Sound to Barcadere Marina.  Even following their waypoints it took us forever to get there because we went at a snails pace to make sure we would not ground out.  I’m so glad I remembered to record our track so we can take the exact same course out of here going faster.

Sunrise on our way to Grand Cayman.

Sunrise on our way to Grand Cayman.

Enjoying a nice Italian dinner

Enjoying a nice Italian dinner

I did learn one thing on this passage.  If I spend three weeks in a windy and sometimes rolly anchorage right before departing, I will not get sea sick!

Fair winds,

Cindy

 

Passage to San Andrés, Colombia

After months of waiting we got a weather window to make the overnight passage from Bocas Del Toro, Panama to the island of San Andrés. While this island is off the mainland of Nicaragua, San Andrés as well as Providencia to the north are part of Colombia. In fact, San Andrés is to Colombia what Hawaii is to the US.

What promised to be calm seas for the entire passage were anything but. Our first day out we had washing machine conditions which had me tossing my cookies by noon. By late afternoon the seas calmed down but then we started to see fields of household debris. Lamp shades, shoes and the like. A very large gnarly tree limb about 10 inches in diameter and 40 feet long floated close by the boat. With it getting dark, Gary decided to slow the boat down thinking if a tree hit us it would do less damage if we were going slower. We had a sliver of a moon so our chances of seeing anything coming up were pretty slim.

The slow down plus going east a bit to offset the current set our arrival time back two hours after dark. With no desire to enter a shallow windy channel after dark, our plan was to go in a little ways and pick a spot to anchor off it until morning. About 10 miles from the channel Harbor Control for San Andrés spotted us on AIS. They hailed us wanting to know our intention. He was very nice even welcomed us to the country but thought we were crazy for staying outside the anchorage. He told us to stay in the middle of the channel, at the end head 020 degrees, and drop our anchor at the coordinates he gave us. Sounded easy. We were most worried about the anchorage because we knew it was littered with wrecks, shallow spots and fishing boats. But our real challenge turned out to be following the channel that zig zagged back and forth around the numerous shoals. The blinking green and red channel markers were hard to see with the town lights behind them. At approximately 2.25 nm it took us at least 30 minutes to reach the anchorage we were going so slow. This was our first encounter with channel markers showing up on our chart plotter as AIS spots. Very cool but sometimes they would disappear!

We dropped the anchor at the location provided and as we suspected drifted back way too close to another boat. So raise the anchor, move over and repeat. The next morning we woke up to find this off our stern.  We went right by it the night before and never saw it.  Luckily we are far enough away. 
Checking in was a breeze. You must higher an agent, but what a friendly guy. We have a good size town to walk around a bit touristy but a nice change from sleepy Red Frog. Now if we could just find a good pizza place……..

Fair winds,

Cindy 

Happy New Year

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New countries, jungles, beautiful cities, lightening, rain, patience, family and friends sums up our travels in 2016.  Since January, we have traveled 2,375 nautical miles adding five new stamps to our passports (El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Columbia).  In November the southwest Caribbean, where we are, experienced not only its latest but also the most southerly hurricane.  It then passed through Nicaragua over to the Pacific with the eye passing directly over our friends on Third Wish who were anchored in Costa Rica (they are okay).  Since we began cruising, Mexico experienced the biggest hurricane at a Category 5 and the earliest blowing through prior to June 1.  Hope this isn’t a trend!

We started January 2016 at the always fun La Cruz marina in Banderas Bay, Mexico.  After loading up on our favorite pizza, tacos, and shrimp we headed south stopping at our favorite places in Mexico (think French baker) where we had traveled in 2015.   As we moved south past the point where most cruisers turn back, we reached more remote areas including the famous (and dangerous) Acapulco and met people with many years of cruising experience from a variety of nations.  Our scariest time was crossing the bar into El Salvador.  Way more drama then we wanted.  Through Costa Rica and Panama we experienced intense and frightening lightening storms but also hiked in the jungle, caught our first glimpse of monkeys, sloths and volcanos up close and personal.  We loved the cities we visited, Oaxaca, Antigua and especially Cartagena, Columbia.  One of the highlights of the year was transiting the Panama Canal with Austin, Nicki and friends.  I had read The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough and was thinking we would have saved a lot of miles if they had put the canal in Nicaragua.

In September we spent three weeks in California visiting with family and friends all the while fulfilling our cravings for food and drink that we miss (Celestino’s pizza, craft beer and a properly made cocktail!).  Packing the thirty or so items we had shipped to Austin in our two carry-on bags was a challenge but it all fit.

We’ve been in Panama longer than planned due to Hurricane Otto followed by high winds and seas this time of year known as the Christmas winds.  But we have made many friends here, was introduced to Abuelo and club soda, and even had the birth of a baby girl on our dock.

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Thanksgiving with our cruising friends at Red Frog Marina.  If there was a crazy shirt contest, Gary would have won hands down.  The pup in the picture is an under nourished stray mama who had just given birth.  Our boat neighbors Jess and Josh started feeding her that day and will be adopting her once her pups are weened.

Craig and Gary checking out the turkey for the Thanksgiving feast.

Craig and Gary checking out the turkey for the Thanksgiving feast.

Reflecting on this year would not be complete without remembering the two dear friends we lost. I know we will beat cancer someday.

Thank you for reading our blog and following along on this adventure.  In 2016 we had visitors from 66 countries.  Gary and I wish all our family and friends good health and much laughter in 2017.

Celebrating our anniversary with Craig and Liz from Salida

Celebrating our anniversary with Craig and Liz from Salida who introduced us to Abuelo and club soda

 

Merry Christmas from Bocas del Toro

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We were hoping to send our Christmas greetings from Roatan, Honduras but Hurricane Otto had other plans. The tropical wave turned tropical storm churned off our coast for several weeks before turning into a hurricane north of us. That was to be our window for moving north at the end of hurricane season and before the Christmas winds kicked in.

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This is the weather forecast for today. The black arrow is where we are in Bocas Del Toro. Along with those 20-25 knot ‘Christmas winds’ you see in red are seas in the 10-12 foot range. So yeah we are staying put for now.

We recently found a very cool spot for lunch. If anyone finds themselves on Isla Colon in Bocas Del Toro be sure to make the trip out to Surf Break @ Paunch. Bring your surf board, stay the night but be sure to try out their tacos. Very original and the menu is always changing. I had pulled pork with a potato mash and Gary had the Frito Taco Pie. Our friends Craig and Liz had the breakfast and southern gravy tacos and we all agreed it was well worth the taxi ride out.

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http://surfbreakatpaunch.com

Gary and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Monkey Island Refuge, Bocas del Toro, Panama

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After several days of rain, eight of us headed out in a panga on a gorgeous day to the Monkey Island Refuge located on the private island of Urraca. Built by Canadian Francine, Urraca is a mangrove island containing an eco-lodge of five bungalows connected by wooden paths over the water.

The eco-lodge is self sustaining with solar power and a rain water catching system.

The eco-lodge is self sustaining with solar power and a rain water catching system.

The wooden paths and platforms are over shallow water teeming with fish.

The wooden paths and platforms are over shallow water teeming with fish.

The lodge itself is beautiful but the main attraction is the monkeys that Francine has provided a refuge for. These are monkeys that were taken in as ‘pets’ and then abandoned when the owners realized what they got themselves into. No longer able to survive in the wild, Francine has created a safe haven for them.

As soon as we stepped off the panga we were met by a group of Geoffrey’s Tamarin Monkey’s also known as the Panamanian Red-Crested Tamarin. Only found in Panama and Colombia, these tiny friendly monkey’s ran up our legs and climbed on our shoulders for attention.

The Geoffrey's Tamarin Monkey.

The Geoffrey’s Tamarin Monkey.

Also known as the Panamanian Red-Crested Tamarin, they are very social.  Here Gary is getting a little help trying to figure out the camera on his new phone.

Also known as the Panamanian Red-Crested Tamarin, they are very social. Here Gary is getting a little help trying to figure out the camera on his new phone.

In addition to the Tamarin monkey, Francine takes in two other breeds. The White Faced Capuchin monkey has a high intellect and as with many wild animals they are too dangerous to let out of their enclosure. We were able to interact with them up close and watch their antics. The momma of the group was the most social and she liked to dance for us.

The beautiful Squirrel Monkey was the last group we played with. Gentle and playful they bounced from person to person chasing each other all around.

One of the few times any of the Squirrel Monkey's looked directly at me long enough to get a picture.

One of the few times any of the Squirrel Monkey’s looked directly at me long enough to get a picture.

They would take food out of our hands then run off to eat in the mangroves.

They would take food out of our hands then run off to eat in the mangroves.

This little guy was very intent on getting the coke out of that bottle.

This little guy was very intent on getting the coke out of that bottle.

A picture within a picture!

A picture within a picture!

A nice place to sit and watch the sea life as well as the local families paddling by in their canoes.

A nice place to sit and watch the sea life as well as the local families paddling by in their canoes.

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Thanks to Karen on s/v Amokura for organizing such a great adventure. For more information on the wonderful things Francine has planned go to: https://monkeyislandtours.wordpress.com

Fair winds,
Cindy

Vacation Time in California

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We just got back to the boat in Bocas Del Toro after a three week trip to San Diego and northern California to visit family. As I sit here in 90 degree heat and humidity I long for the near perfect weather in San Diego with a nice cold locally brewed IPA sitting in front of me.

While we spent most of our time in San Diego, we made the nine hour drive up to the Sacramento area to see family. We noticed a big change in Gary’s mom from last year but she continues to hold her own. Gary’s brother Steve and his wife Bonnie were gracious hosts allowing us to stay in their home for a few days even though they were in the middle of unpacking from a move. Very grateful for their hospitality as it gave the four of us a chance to catch up. Lucky for me their golden retriever, Brinkley, has a cast iron stomach. He ate a razor I left on the bathtub. Apparently he considers razors a delicacy because he has eaten five others. He passed the razor along with a balloon, no problemo! We also had dinner with our niece Crissi and her kids McKenna and Peyton as well as nephew Ryan and his girlfriend Natalie. Thankful they all made the time from their busy lives to visit with us.

We hadn’t seen Oakley in almost a year. She loves living with her bro in a house with other fur friends to play with but she remembers her mom and dad each time we visit her.

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We savored every hour we had with Austin and Nicki from hiking Torrey Pines (oh that hill!) to hitting up restaurants and breweries. Here is the paella he made our last night there.

Austin's Paella

Austin’s Paella

Hiking Torrey Pines

Hiking Torrey Pines

Eggs Benedict at Harbor Town Pub

Eggs Benedict at Harbor Town Pub

Cooking in a 'Hot Pot'.  One side was mild and the other spicy.  Great fun and healthy!

Cooking in a ‘Hot Pot’. One side was mild and the other spicy. Great fun and healthy!

Great day spent with Austin.  Good conversation, good coffee and we hit up a few pubs before meeting Nicki for a good Italian dinner.

Great day spent with Austin. Good conversation, good coffee and we hit up a few pubs before meeting Nicki for a nice Italian dinner.

Sausage board at Tiger Tiger.  A meal unto itself.

Sausage board at Tiger Tiger. A meal unto itself.

Needed a break on our drive back to San Diego so we stopped in San Clemente for the night.  If you've ever driven I5 through the heart of California then through LA, you can relate.

Needed a break on our drive back to San Diego so we stopped in San Clemente for the night. If you’ve ever driven I5 through the heart of California then through LA, you can relate.

Fair winds,
Cindy

Bocas Del Toro, Panama

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Bocas Del Toro (Mouths of the Bull) is an archipelago in Panama. There are nine main islands and we are at the Red Frog Marina on the island of Bastimento. The main town of Bocas Del Toro (Bocas Town) is on Isla Colon a 15 minute water taxi ride. Luckily the marina provides a free water shuttle 4 days a week so we can get our grocery shopping done. If we want to do dinner in town, we have to hire a water taxi at $7.00 per person one way. A bit pricey but we convince ourselves it is the same cost for dinner and a movie in California. With that thought, ten of us rented a water taxi and hit up the BBQ at the Calypso Cantina. Complete with a steel drummer and good company it was a fun night. Getting home in the dark was a bit sketchy but we seemed to dodge the unlit canoes.

Our fellow cruisers from Red Frog Marina enjoying BBQ night at the Calypso Cantina in Bocas Town. Karen, Liz, Gary, Rich, Rex, Dave, Craig, and Cindy (l to r).

Our fellow cruisers from Red Frog Marina enjoying BBQ night at the Calypso Cantina in Bocas Town. Karen, Liz, Gary, Rich, Rex, Dave, Craig, and Cindy (l to r).

Love to hear a steel pan

Love to hear a steel pan

The following day a group of us headed out in a panga to some ‘boat races’ on another island 30 minutes away. The boat race ‘committee’ was a group of islanders who declared the following Saturday race day and that each participate would throw $50.00 in a pot. Whoever won got the pot. The boats were all handmade from wood, about 18 inches wide and maybe 14-16 feet long. We were told there were different classes depending on the size of the outboard. We docked at the local restaurant and from the stares we sure startled the locals. They served up a good lobster plate pre-race but the wood platform we were all standing on was getting so crowded and hot we climbed back in our panga after eating and headed out to the center of the race track to better see the race.

We headed to one of the outer islands to watch some boat races.  The kitchen at this restaurant is the little building to the left.  Liz brought her own bottle of rum.  Add some coke and ice and we had ourselves a party.

Liz brought her own bottle of rum to the races. Add some coke and ice and we had ourselves a party. I promise we did have food before the boat race. The kitchen at this restaurant is the little building to the left.

With 75 locals all crammed on a tiny platform watching the boats race, we headed out in our panga to the middle of the course and hung out with these guys.

We hung out with these guys to watch the races. One is an expat who owns an island here and the other is a local.

The outboard is probably 60 hp.

The outboard is probably 60 hp.

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We watched a few boats racing, but as is typical either no one else showed up or island time was in full swing. Getting restless we decided to head out and do some snorkeling.

The race was held at a small village with a footbridge to get from one island to the other.

The race was held at a small village with a footbridge to get from one island to the other.

Boating is the way of life on the islands.  No cars here.  Each house had several panga's tied up.

Boating is the way of life on the islands. No cars here. Each house had several panga’s tied up.

We stopped to swim and snorkel off the panga and Dave found a conch.  Tasty to eat but we threw it back.

We stopped to swim and snorkel off the panga and Dave found a conch. Tasty to eat but we threw it back.

Sereno had been in her slip for two months and she was not happy. So early on a Sunday morning we threw off the dock lines and along with Craig and Liz on board Salida, we headed to Rana Azuls restaurant on the mainland three hours away. It was a hot windless day and we wanted nothing more than to jump in the water after we anchored. Gary was up on the bow dropping the anchor and what does he see but water filled with jellyfish. UGH!! So down goes the dinghy and we head in to Rana Azuls for some cold drinks, good food and fans. The nice thing about a moving house is the next day you can pull up the anchor and move to an island that has no jellyfish and that is just what we did.

Gary in his typical sailing attire.  But is he Au Naturel?

Gary in his typical sailing attire. But is he Au Naturel?

Fair winds,
Cindy

Doing More With Less

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We moved on board Sereno 26 months ago and according to recent articles on the internet we might be millennial’s. Ha okay maybe the age is way off but consider this. We sold everything we owned so we could experience other countries and learn to sail. We don’t buy anything except for what we need for the boat and to survive. We simply cannot fit much in our ‘tiny house’ that is smaller than most hotel rooms. That may be where the comparison ends but we are happy to see the 20 somethings spending less of their money on things and more on enjoying life.

Of course we’ve had to adapt to not having some things we like in order to have the experiences. Fruits and vegetables arrives on a nearby island on Tuesdays and Fridays. To get there we have to take a water taxi which can be fun except the days it is raining cats and dogs with lightening striking all around us. We tend to skip the veggie run those days. Canned corn anyone? We long for a good pizza and an IPA or some french cheese with a nice glass of cabernet. To satisfy some of those cravings our self reliance kicks in. We have perfected making our own pizza that is pretty darn good. I recently learned to make my own greek yogurt and sangria is becoming our signature drink on Sereno. Next up, pie crust so we can make our favorite greek pizza; I always bought a pre-made one. And perhaps ricotta cheese if I can find the right ingredients so we can make some calzones. If we can find some good ground pork to make our own sausage, the captain would be really happy.

Sangria, our signature drink on Sereno

Sangria, our signature drink on Sereno

Fair winds,
Cindy