Tuesday, 30 May 2017

#16 Terry's Beer Tour of the World

Northern Ireland

A bit nothing.  Fizzy water with a slight taste of malt.  No point in remembering the name.

Nice.  If the nice barman or bargirl says this is what they have, buy with confidence.

Clonmel 1650 OK

Harp Ice
Good.  On tap in lots of places
Harp Premium.  OK but the Ice is better, which is unusual in that the Ice products normally post-date the production of standard beers and are for the younger market.  In this case, I think it is a better drink.

Smithwicks Superior Irish ale 1716  Very Very nice.  In fact, Superior is an apt description.  Buy it wherever it is on tap.

Reigele Aechtes Dunkel.  A dark beer. A fair bit too sweet for me.  As in one's enough.  Carol's cider, the Orchard Thieves, was a class act and one is not enough.

Hapenny Bridge Inn ale.   http://hapennybridgeinn.com/

Served by the barman, Chris, a sharpish lad who’s travelled far and wide on cruise liners (Seabourne) when young.  Not a lot of taste initially but after a sip or two very nice drop.  There is, too, the romance of having a pint or more at the Hapenny Bridge in friendly surroundings with a young man of considerable breeding and deportment.  A very pleasant encounter indeed and one to be recommended to travelers to Dublin.

O’Hara’s Irish lager, Helles Style.  This is very nice indeed and probably the pick of the lagers I had in Ireland.  One day when we were in Dublin, on a Thursday, it was summer for the whole day and this was nice in the 22 degree heat.

Dublin Brewer Lager.  Sharp, crisp full.  Not sweet.  Great.  Buy with confidence.

Guinness West Indies Porter. https://www.guinness.com/en-us/our-beers/guinness-west-indies-porter/

 Sharper than Guinness. I much prefer this to Guinness, which I think is too bland.  This is very nice.  Only just released and not widely available yet.  Brought home to our B&B by the young sister of the unit owner – she works in a specialty liquor store and gets this newish stuff to try.  This, to me who dislikes Guinness, was a very rich offering and would be great on the other 364 days of the year in Ireland which aren’t summer.

Back in Spain
Alhambra 1925.  A specialty from Alhambra brewing.  Not that special.
However, Alhambra Especial, on draught, in Sevilla, was a very nice beer indeed.  Had quite a few in our 6 days there and it is one of the best of the Spanish, along with Estrella Levante. (Levante is still a family owned brewery)

St Bernardus Tripel
8%.  Dry and heady. Not the right time of the year to be drinking this. I’ll  try some other time.

A G&A Veltins offering.  Cloudy, a little darker than its advertised blonde.  Sharp, nice.

Russian.  Comes in grades i.e. 3,4,5 etc depending on alc. %  This was a 3 and was far too sweet.
The 4 is a darker lager and is not too bad at all.  Not too sharp, certainly not sweet.  Vastly different to the 3.

Tempelier by Corsendonk.  Would have imagined more  but not to be.

Monkey Amber Ale.  In Maquilla Bar, a Seville micro-brewery, rated very highly in Trip Adviser restaurant guide.  This is more of a statistical aberration, as they have some extremely high positives and only a couple of negatives.  Nevertheless, the bar food is excellent -  I had a "Hot Dog", but it was with a difference!!.  A thick hot pork sausage in a grilled Spanish crusty roll, covered with caramelised onions and mustard.  It was something special.  They brew a couple of beers under licence, and have a couple of Belgians in a tank or two but the Monkey is their own and it is really nice.  Also had a Weisstephan Pils there but it was barely OK.

George Gale and Co’s Seafarer’s English Ale.  https://www.fullers.co.uk/beer/explore-our-beers/seafarers
A Fuller's offering.  From the people who give us many great beers.

Had the first and second ever pulled in Bianca’s Bar in Gibraltar.  They had just installed the tap in the morning before I arrived after lunch.  Very nice indeed, half way between an Ale and a Lager.  Nice head that lasts all the way to the bottom.  Crisp and a little bubbly, with a nice sour aftertaste.  An English chappy had the third pint and I asked him what he thought of it – he was very complimentary about it.

No idea what gave rise to this name but available in Mercadonna in Spain.  Quite nice.  A Belgian offering.

Carrefours own Abbaye.
As with most of the large supermarket chains, Carrefours commissions beers with fancy sounding names and you have no clue from which brewery they come.  The breweries don’t want to eat into their brand premium pricing and at the same time they want the volume that people like Carrefours can get from them.  This one is a Belgian monastery brew ordered by Carrefours to compete with the brand-name Belgians at about 1/3rd of the price.  And very nice it is too if Belgian holy beer is your tipple.

Kalnapilis Grand Select lager.5.4%
A Lithuanian beer.  Purchased from the Russian lady in Almerimar.  Nice enough to start with but a bit too sweet on the aftertaste.  Not as bad as the “3” Baltika but just enough to put you off.  If I was in Lithuania and it was on tap I would drink it, though.

Fuller’s India Pale Ale
500ml bottle, 5.3%
As I guessed, this is far better than the American IPAs being sold today.  None of the excessive fruity taste that they have.  Good with my Vindaloo tonight when we went out to Khan’s restaurant for Johannes’ birthday.

Canaries beer.  Supposed to be a Pils but a bit sweet for that.  Ok but only just.  Well, only just if it was a mile to the next bar and it was over 100.

Oettinger Weissbeer.
From a brewery dating back to 1731.  Not usually a fan of wheat beers but occasionally I am.  Would be nicer in summer.  Good head on it, grassiness not too pronounced. 

BVI’s most available beer, but not local.  Very pleasant and not a reason not to visit Road Town, Tortola.

Cuban Beer
Light, like Corona, Dorado etc.  Easy to drink if nothing else available and not hard on the pocket at about CUC1.5 or say a buck and a half.

Buccanero Fuerte.  
Probably a touch better than Cristal, with a bit more body.  Good choice in any bar on a hot day.

Presidente Pils.
From Barbados but available all over Cuba.  My pick of available beer in Havana.

One of the many beers made in Guatemala and shipped all over the Carib.  Not much to recommend it.

Monte Carlo
Available by the truckload (somebody overordered!) and nice enough indeed.
Another from Guatemala.  Very drinkable – I have plenty on the boat.  Must go to Guatemala one day.

Dutch Windmill.
Yep, a Dutch beer in a  bar in Havana, near the Cemeterio de Colon.  They had Bavaria too but that I’ve had before.  Nice enough but only a small 330ml can and no glass available to take away the taste of tin.  Would buy again if it saw it, especially if on tap with a glass.

A Cuban from the Bucanero brewery.  Only 4%.  A bit light on for taste.

Monte Cristo
Another brewed in Guatemala.  I bought this by the dozen.  Very nice.

Back in the USA
Up there with the best of the USA is Yuengling.  One of my worldwide favourites.  Drank it a lot in Maryland, its home turf and was pleasantly surprised to find it here in SW Florida.  Knowing that Yuengling is not widely distributed in the US, I was curious as to why it was here and discovered that Yuengling has a brewery here in Tampa.
Carol and I wandered off to visit and made it just in time for the afternoon tour.  At the end, we were treated to some samples.  As it was available, without me having to make a purchase decision, I tried the Light, the Black and Tan and the IPL.  The light is like all lights – barely flavoured water with nothing to recommend it.  The IPL is just as bad as any IPA.  However, the Black and Tan was very nice indeed and I was disappointed that I couldn’t get its base, Yuengling’s Porter, to try.  As a visit, it was great.  As a taste testing, I am confirmed in my preference for Yuengling Lager.  Got the tee-shirt, too.

Had lunch in a Mexican cantina restaurant in downtown Tampa.  Nice arrangement of tacos with different fillings.  I had a Presidente, which I had a lot in Cuba, and then tried a Modelo, a Mexican beer.  Not impressed.  Fairly tasteless.

Motorworks Brewery   http://motorworksbrewing.com/

Very nice not-so-micro brewery here in Bradenton.  They have the usual sop for the effete amongst us (Lavender Lager??  Peach?? Pineapple IPA?)  Still, they do run two very nice drops, the Motorworks V-Twin Vienna Lager and a Cruiser Kolsch.  The brewery itself is in nice surrounds, with several pitches for bean bag tossing plus a couple of Bocce courts.  They have a Yappy Hour every third Sunday where they raise funds for retired greyhounds and also organise adoptions for them. 

Three Keys  www.3keysbrewing.com

Smaller than Motorworks, they sell other micro-brewery offerings as well as their own.  I had a very nice Ale called something like an Alameda Ale but it doesn’t appear on their website for some reason.  I even have a nice photo of it.  Reasonable place to visit but probably better if you’re a local and it’s your usual place of retreat.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Last Voyage

We set off from our home in south-western Australia in 2011 to buy a sailboat and go cruising. Now, six years on, the 20,000 mile journey is drawing to a close.
We set off from Marina Hemingway, Cuba, heading due north to the Dry Tortugas for a final experience of anchoring out before continuing to Tampa where Common Sense will be prepared for sale. The promising wind didn’t really develop and we motor-sailed the 90 mile passage, uneventful apart from Terry catching a nice small tuna for dinner. In the Dry Tortugas, Fort Jefferson dominates the low sand islands, which are a nature reserve and home to thousands of seabirds and several turtle colonies. Brown pelicans dive-bomb schools of fish, gulls, petrels and terns circle, and huge flocks of boobies are constantly put to flight by the menacing shapes of frigate birds and sea hawks overhead. Several ferries and two sea-planes bring tourists in shifts to walk around the fort and photograph the birds. It’s nice to be able to swim off the back of the boat again, but we decide not to go ashore - we haven’t yet checked into the US and this is not a Port of Entry, so we won’t complicate matters. The wind gets up and we end up staying for a couple of days to avoid an uncomfortable passage, but once the weather station gives a favourable report, we set sail for Tampa Bay.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

And of course, the wind turns against us. We end up motor-sailing the two day passage, which is pretty tedious. Finally the vast expanse of Tampa Bay opens up ahead of us and we find a spot to anchor overnight near the Skyways Bridge. Next day we make the long trip up the Bay to Apollo Beach, where we are guests of the Tampa Sailing Squadron, thanks to Nick and the friendly sailors whom we met in Marina Hemingway when they were on the Cuba Rally. It’s an excellent club – everything is done by volunteer members rather than paid staff, and they all go out of their way to help us and make us welcome with shopping trips, repairs and social gatherings. A particular highlight is a dinner out at the Alpha Restaurant featuring star attraction, Elvis...

But we need to get Common Sense fixed up, clean and on the market. I am struggling with some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, particularly stiffness and immobility in my right arm, hand and leg, slowness of movement, and balance issues. These problems in combination make life aboard a sailboat especially challenging. It’s time to move on to life ashore, grateful for the amazing things we’ve had the opportunity to see and do, and the wonderful people we’ve been privileged to meet along the way. Several people recommend Whiteakers Yacht Brokers to handle the sale, so we meet with Gary the broker and take his advice to move the boat to the dock near their offices at Regatta Pointe in Palmetto.
Common Sense at Tampa Sailing Squadron

This was a day trip through the Bay – you could spend weeks sailing around Tampa Bay, it’s enormous! We finally arrived almost at sunset, and manoeuvred with some difficulty through the narrow channels and into our slip. A few days later, we had a visit from Dave and Barbara Zeuli, Common Sense’s original owners who are now living in nearby Punta Gorda. We had a very enjoyable catch up with them, sharing stories of our travels and their reminiscences of life aboard.

Former owners of Common Sense, Dave and Barbara

The last couple of weeks have been mainly occupied with serious cleaning, and with fixing up all those irritating little things that you just put up with – until you want to sell your boat! We replaced the head pumps, plugged the holes left by broken soap dispensers, resealed the fridge, fixed a couple of switches, mended the spinnaker and the bimini. Importantly, in hot, humid Florida, we got the air-conditioning working after its five year holiday in the Med. We replaced the annoying taps on the water tank system and repaired the waste tank monitor. We threw out or gave away a load of stuff, and advertised things of value (wetsuits, BCDs, wet weather gear) on Craigslist. New batteries and a rigging check. Phew, no wonder I’m exhausted.

In between jobs, we’ve got to know our dock neighbours, especially Ingrid and Fred who are preparing their Beneteau 42 Solaris, for cruising. It’s lovely to think of them setting out on their travel adventures, just as ours are winding down - a bit like passing the baton. Being the USA, it’s been difficult to get around without a car (no kidding, the two of us, and the homeless, are the only walkers in town!) but we now have the loan of a vehicle for a couple of weeks, thanks to another neighbour – so we will have a chance to get around and see some of the sights. But now our first prospective buyers are coming for a look – fingers crossed!

This is what happens when you plant a tree next to your house in Florida...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Converging in Cuba

Common Sense crew, on the morning of their arrival in Havana

While Terry and the crew were battling their way through the Atlantic swells, I was having a nice land-based visit with my mum in as different an environment as it is possible to be in -the Arizona desert. At least it used to be a desert. During the ten weeks I was there we had so much rain that the whole place had turned green and the dams were filling up. Spring should see cactus and other wildflowers in full bloom and critters everywhere. Already on our daily walks we spotted coyotes, jackrabbits, eagles, roadrunners, quail, ground-squirrels and dozens of songbird species. Mum and I enjoyed ourselves walking, watching movies, cleaning out the house with a huge garage sale and indulging in occasional lunches at the local casino.  Each day I had a call from Common Sense on the satellite phone. I would receive their coordinates, relay them the weather report from Predictwind, then send out emails about their progress to family and friends. Captain Dave Renoll, our old friend from back at Mears Point Marina, very kindly helped me out with interpreting the weather charts and helpful suggestions for the passage – how’s that for quality after-sales service?
Finally the end of the voyage was drawing near. Common Sense had made landfall in the BVIs and was only a few days from her destination, Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba. Again I worked through my complex journey plan: catch a bus from nearby Laughlin to Las Vegas, fly Vegas to Fort Lauderdale; fly Lauderdale to Havana; taxi to an AirBnB  I booked as near as possible to the marina. I was concerned about communication in Cuba as internet access is difficult and my US phone sim would not be usable, but solutions were at hand. A WorldSim card worked fine in Cuba, and the lovely family I rented the apartment from turned out to have a taxi as well, and David was there to meet me at the airport. Another hugely valuable resource was Addison Chan’s “Cuba Land and Sea” Facebook page and his excellent new edition of the Waterway Guide to Cuba. His advice to have a letter from the skipper explaining that I would be joining the crew, plus a copy of the ship’s papers, meant that I could take a one-way flight without any hassles or holdups. I also gleaned valuable tips about the currency, protocols of queueing, eating out, gifts, markets and a useful plan of the marina.
Streets of Old Havana
With all the anxieties about getting lost, stranded or arrested settled, I could finally relax a bit and look around. First impressions: third world airport but friendly and helpful staff. The 1950s cars everywhere – rustbuckets held together with wire and gaffer tape belched smoke alongside lovingly maintained and restored American classics. Fine old Spanish buildings, some in decay, some looking like organic growths with added-on bits constructed from whatever was available, some well-tended and surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Contrast these with grey Stalinist concrete boxes and towers, generally crumbling and neglected. Fortunately my apartment was in a small block next to a school in the Playa district. It was simple and comfortable, within easy walking distance of a market and some good cheap restaurants.
My first task was to make my way to Marina Hemingway. On the flight over we had experienced strong easterly crosswinds and I had looked down uneasily at the whitecaps on the seas below. Now at the marina it was blowing a gale. Waves were crashing over the breakwater and the entrance channel looked like a cauldron – and Common Sense was somewhere out in that! I made my way out to the Dockmaster’s Office and explained that the boat was about 100 nautical miles to the east (my best estimate) and that I was worried about them in the current conditions. He wasn’t all that reassuring. “Now I am worried too!” he said. They had closed the marina entrance that afternoon, diverting any vessels to  Havana, 8 miles back. He promised to look at for CS on radar and AIS, and to call me with any news.
I returned to my apartment after buying some fruit at the market and taking a diversionary walk around the neighbourhood. Dinner was a pizza and a glass of acceptable wine for about $3 from a  paladar, small family-run restaurants that are a thriving business in Cuba today. The people I met were very friendly and welcoming, but there was no escaping the sound of the wind howling and the waves crashing on the nearby beach, and the thought of our little boat and her four brave crew out there. I kept reassuring myself that the winds were with them, and that they had the skills and experience to handle it. I finally managed a couple of hours of sleep, then was wakened by a very welcome call from the Dockmaster: Common Sense had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and, after a harrowing entry, was safely tied up in Canal 4 near the coffee shop.
A quick trip in David’s taxi and there she was – what a wonderful sight! A big smile and a hug from Theo who was washing stuff on the deck, then Terry emerged, looking leaner, hairier and utterly exhausted. Johannes and Marie followed, then after a quick coffee and some calls home we set off in search of internet and an early cold beer or two. The chaos and mess aboard could wait.


After a basic clean-up, we headed out to see a bit of the local colour. An evening walk through the nearby town of Haimanitas took us to a cheap bar and (!) a Japanese restaurant on the river. The housing was very basic, but everyone seemed to have a front porch and a few rocking chairs for socialising of an evening, and people greeted us warmly as we passed. Terry decided my apartment was a more attractive option than the boat and he thoroughly enjoyed a few nights sleeping for eight hours straight in a comfortable, stationary bed.

Next day we caught David's taxi into Old Havana, where we took a long walk through all the major tourist sites, most of them featuring Fidel or Che, as well as the curious and quirky shops and markets that seem to occupy every available room, corridor or doorway. It's easy to spot the difference between the Government-run outlets (no service, random goods you don't want) and the small private businesses that are conducted with great enthusiasm. It still isn't easy to overcome the restrictions and bureaucracy surrounding any enterprise, but the Cuban people are hardworking and resourceful. The realities of day-to-day life really hit you when you go to a store for provisions. For a start, the shelves are quite bare, and there is typically only one brand of anything, spread out to occupy as much space as possible. You go in to get milk, butter, eggs, bread and potato chips and come out with none of them. Later you discover that the district's entire supply of milk has gone to a supermarket five miles away, and that bread is only available from the bakery and it sells out early (but the marina coffee shop may have some). You can get cheap eggs from a local restaurant, or expensive ones from the chandler. A large consignment of butter arrives at the butcher's shop the next day and disappears just as quickly. Basic shopping is a constant quest - an adventure for us, and a clear lesson in what happens when the State decides to break the laws of supply and demand - but I imagine it would wear pretty thin after a while.
Threepenny Opera in Marina Hemingway

Next day Pat and Addison turned up, and we got to spend some time with them and benefitted directly from their extensive knowledge of Cuba. The highlight was a three day trip to Vinales, a famous beauty spot about 80 miles from Havana, where steep limestone outcrops rise above a fertile plain largely used for tobacco farming. Of course we got to watch how Cuba's famous cigars are made, and to sample the product. It seems as though most of the private homes in Vinales have become B and Bs and ours was a delight. Marta and Chino provide a comfortable place and a first class breakfast for their guests. The town was full for the weekend as a festival was underway, and we enjoyed walking down the main street watching people celebrate  - something. We never managed to find out exactly what it was, but it involved eating, drinking and music. And speaking of music, our dinner out at a local restaurant, with a brilliant Cuban band called Fantasma, was a really memorable night.
Vinales landscape

A lot of the work is done by oxen

Pat relaxing at our B and B

Of course no trip to Cuba is complete without a pilgrimage to Hemingway's house. We had no great expectations of this when we heard that you couldn't go inside, but it is actually well worth a visit. It's a lovely classic old Cuban house set in extensive gardens, and everything is set up so you can see all the interiors from the doorways and windows. All the original furniture, books, paintings and hunting trophies are there, and he had the best study - a three storey tower with views to Havana. His desk, typewriter and telescope are all as he left them. Hemingway's famous fishing boat Pilar has been fully restored and is on display in the grounds.

By now, Marie had departed for Panama, Theo was back in the UK, and Johannes was helping out at a hostel in Havana. We were enjoying Cuba, the friendly people, cheap restaurants and good music, but it was time to think about returning to the USA. We had decided to head for Tampa, and fortuitously had met up with Nick, one of the sailors on the Cuba Rally, who had very kindly invited us to stay at the Tampa Sailing Squadron. Our weather window was approaching, Johannes came back to see us off and we were ready for a bit of serious American consumerism again. So it was back out through a much calmer channel and a course due north. The weather was fine and we decided on a stop at the Dry Tortugas for a rest on the way.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

There and Back Again - Atlantic Crossing

There are two inescapable facts of a cruiser’s life.  You are either waiting for weather or waiting for parts but waiting you are.

We spent 6 weeks in Gibraltar waiting for parts, with several false arrivals raising hopes but not delivering the goods.  Finally, the skill of Yanmar’s official service establishment in Gib showed through and Kevin machined up the piece Yanmar could not supply.  We were heartily sick of Tariq’s Rock by the time we put it at our backs.  I left with some damage to my left hand after nearly losing the finger pad of my middle finger, and breaking it as well, to a running dockline.  An ambulance run to St Bart’s and £214 later I was deemed seaworthy again.


Common Sense left Gibraltar in late December for the run to the Canaries, some 600+ miles.  Before leaving, I sought out a 3-day weather forecast from the local Gibraltar forecasting service. 
I expected, from the report, a following wind and that we would be out of the end of the straits before it turned against us.

No such luck.  We made good progress across to Morocco initially, as I wanted to be out of the current and hugging the coast, but then we got hammered unmercifully.  We were making 1 ½ knots even before the tide changed, and clearly, when this happened, we would be going backwards.  I turned to Ceuta for relief and we sailed in about 2 hours later.  We tied up in the slip we were in 5 years ago and settled in to wait out the weather front.  Johannes and Marie took the opportunity to go into Morocco and headed off to Chefchouen for a look.  I wandered about Ceuta amusing myself for 3 days before the weather was again in our favour and we headed out once more.  Despite being bumpy and bouncy, we made good progress and rounded the cape past Tangier before sundown.
We stayed well off shore, wary of the Moroccan fishing nets and traps, and made good time down to El Jededah, when we were again concerned about an approaching front.  We opted for a layover to see it out and motored with a great deal of apprehension along through the surf line that surrounds El Jededah.  We tied up in the dirtiest harbour I have ever seen in my life and checked in to Morocco.

El Jededah

We spent two days there, including Xmas Day, and left on the third.  We were definitely the only people who had Xmas lunch in the whole city as there were no other westerners whatsoever.  For $30 a day you don’t get a lot of facilities – no electric, no water, no showers, zilch.

Off again to Lanzarote, with reasonable weather for the first few days and then high winds from the east, on our port beam, for the last. Very unpleasant and very hard to manage. Approaching the tip of the south of Lanzarote, we motored until the corner and the engine cut out.  I doubted that we were out of fuel but evidence was no fuel.  We sailed to the entrance of Marina Rubicon and again tried the engine.  It fired up, but at the entrance cut out again.  I had already called the marina and told them we were in trouble and the marina’s dinghy came out and towed us in to the fuel dock.  We refilled our jerry cans and the main tank and only took ½ tank.  Definitely not out of fuel, so it must have been a blockage.  Off to a very nice slip in a very well appointed marina, with great bars and restaurants and good berthing.

Marina Rubicon at night

Next day, Johannes and I began looking for the blockage.  It took 5 hours to find and if it wasn’t for Johannes’ persistence, I may have given up earlier.  We eventually tracked it to the long main stem draw pipe in the fuel tank, were the blockage had risen to the elbow where it leaves the tank.  What was it?  It was a piece of welder’s flux.  I was beside myself with rage – we had had the fuel tank repaired for a leak in Almerimar, where they also cleaned the tank.  Some slack dickhead of a welder let some flux go inside the tank and it almost caused the loss of the boat.  Not impressed one bit.
Anyway, that over, we enjoyed Marina Rubicon for a few days and I caught up with Micky and Bridgeen Mallon and son Martin and his wife for a nice dinner and sleepover.  Johannes and Marie went off to the north of the island for surf for a day or two.

I went into Playa Blanca a few times, shopping and also to have my stitches removed from my damaged finger that I’d injured in Gibraltar.  Playa Blanca is not all that appealing, being very new and very much constructed as a holiday resort.  Comfortable but there is little to see.

Playa Blanca

We headed out to Las Palmas, 100 miles further away, and arrived to a logjam of boats headed out over the Atlantic.  As with all new arrivals, we had to spend days in the anchorage before a marina spot became available.  The anchorage is not all that pleasant but tolerable, and the marina is much more agreeable.  Theo arrived from Lanzarote to join us.

 Las Palmas itself is a very liveable island and it is easy to see why people flock there for holidays.  Great restaurants, particularly the restaurant El Palillo, run by  two guys in the old town, lots of history, good provisioning and a cheap marina.  I had to wait a week for the Garmin SD card with the charts of the n.e. Caribbean, Cuba and the entire USA.  I had ordered one on eBay and when it didn’t arrive, queried it with the supplier.  They said that PayPal had put a hold on the funds.  This was 3 weeks before, and PayPal had not bothered to let me know.  They seemed to be bothered with an Australian card ordering an item in the USA.  I’ve been using them for years doing this with no problem but all of a sudden it is?  With zero warning?  PayPal used to be a favourite of mine but no longer – they still will not acknowledge that they even blocked the funds so every time they send me a survey now (end of month) about recommending to a friend I put them way down.

Bearkat was in a slip opposite us but Kat and Jim were home in the UK.  Dave and Melinda Gunn on Sassoon were very close by in the same pontoon section, also preparing to cross over.  Laurent was on his replacement Caracal in the anchorage but was helping out a guy on the boat immediately in front of us so we saw him often.

We provisioned at the HyperDino and also at Carrefours, with free delivery to the boat.
Loaded up, we headed for the fuel dock and a top-up and headed for Cuba.
The trip was boring in the extreme.  Rocky, rolly, pitching and dropping.  The forward cabin was completely unusable so it became a store room and I slept in the cockpit wedged between the table and the seats.

Las Palmas markets

3 Vegetarians and me.  So, all mine.

Theo’s skill with sail balance proved to be the most valuable asset we had on board, and Johannes soaked up all Theo could show him.  Both of them being young, their greatest wish was to go fast and we were regularly in the 7s and 8s range.  I, on the other hand, was aware that our insurers had declined to cover the mast and rigging (at the last minute, with no chance of fixing the problem), and anxious to preserve the integrity of the bits that go upwards. 

Generally, we had reasonable Trades in the 19ᵒ area, but did find ourselves with next to no wind for 6 days, which was very hard to tolerate.

Finally, with decent winds again, we arrived in Tortola, BVI and motored into Road Harbour at around 10 p.m.  We took a mooring buoy belonging to Conch Charters, which is permissible provided you go in the next day and make a donation to the BVIs Sea Rescue boat of US$20.
Plug for Conch Charters: -  The people in the office were extremely helpful with information on where to go and what to do re propane, checking in, provisions, weather etc.  They run a fairly large operation and seem to have completely taken over the marina they are in and have boats coming and going constantly.  We weren’t clients of theirs so if they are this helpful to us, I’m sure their client base is even better looked after.  They’ve been in business for something like 30 years now.
We ran into the owner of the marina alongside, HR Penny’s, now run by the son of the founder who has recently retired from the BVI Government.  He is in the process of restoring the marina to full services and only charged us $30 a night.

Island life is expensive and shopping is not for the faint of heart.  US$10 for a single T-bone steak in the supermarket?  $7 for a box of cereal.  Everything comes in by boat so up goes the price.  For itself, the BVIs are pleasant enough but there isn’t a lot to draw me back.  Great place to charter and cruise perhaps but after provisioning and resting, we were off on the next 1,000 miles to Havana.
Two days out from the end, we were hit with 50 knotwinds which made life a little uncomfortable.  They didn’t let up for the whole time, and the day before we arrived, Marina Hemingway closed for entries.  Carol was already in Havana in an apartment and when she visited the marina she told the dockmaster that her husband was out there and she was worried.  The dockmaster said that he would be worried too.

Nevertheless, we arrived off the sea buoy at around 4 a.m. the next day and very carefully picked our way along the narrow channel between the reefs.  Johannes and Theo were set one on each side with torches keeping me straight – helps to have extra eyes as the marks change in the US system to red on the right going in.  Marina Hemingway has a diamond white light at the end of the channel and if you keep this straight-on, you are in the middle.  Staying exactly in the middle is the trick.  With the two young eagle-eyes on the lookout, it was far easier than I imagined it was going to be and we were soon in slack water and turning left to our first taste of Cuban officialdom.

The Immigration, Harbourmaster, Medical dude and customs drug checkers were most efficient and extremely polite (contrast with our departure where I was hit for a “present” but didn’t supply).  It was a great welcome to Cuba.  We eventually found our berth way out on Canal 4 – the marina was full as the Tampa Rally with about 80 boats was in town.

Marina Hemingway

Common Sense survived the voyage with only minor damage – a couple of tears in the spinnaker, a lost boathook, cups, buckets etc.  The fuel gauge stopped working and the batteries couldn’t keep up with the draw but mostly things of inconvenience rather than concern.
Of most concern to me was that some @#$# shark now has my favourite lure, a Rapala Redhead.  We caught a large tuna – 49lbs – with it, and then a week later, the same lure disappeared completely from the line, bitten clean off with not even a murmur from the drag.  I put on a soft plastic with a single hook and within a day, that was bitten in half by something that missed the hook.

All up, it was about 3,560 nautical miles, plus 600 from Gib to Lanzarote and another 100 from Lanzarote to Las Palmas, say 4,300 nautical miles. 

I’m glad it’s done with.
Approaching Tortola

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Christmas at Sea, and in the Desert

Common Sense is finally on her way to the Canaries, and as of last contact, all is going well. The reconditioned gearbox is working fine and Terry's injured finger is slowly healing. They pulled in to El Jadida in Morocco for a day to shelter from adverse winds, but are now just a couple of days out of Lanzarote.

Meanwhile I've done a marathon journey from Gibraltar to London, London to Las Vegas, and fianlly a Greyhound bus from Vegas to Laughlin, Nevada which is close to my mum's place just over the border in Arizona.
Golden Valley AZ
I flew from Gibraltar to London, then direct to Las Vegas via Norwegian Airlines. It's a low cost airline, but that is more than compensated for by the plane - a new 787 that is faster and much more comfortable than the old models. After an overnight in Vegas I took an early Greyhound bus to Laughlin. We've done a Greyhound trip before, and it really is an insight into a kind of hidden underclass of American life that you don't encounter as a tourist. I'd suggest a cross-country Greyhound trip as an education for the political classes of both parties before the next election.

I enjoyed a quiet Christmas with my mum at the Tropicana casino - free due to her accumulated comp points. We're now working our way through the house, sorting and selling off possessions so mum can easily move back to Australia if and when she chooses.

Winter in the desert this year is surprisingly cold and wet, but that bodes well for a desert in bloom in Spring. Already we see rabbits, coyotes and quail, hawks, ground squirrels and hummingbirds during our morning walks. This desert is full of life.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Day Trip to Ronda

The sad saga of the gearbox continues, with the latest news that it is now being held hostage by Customs in Madrid. No, wait – in news just to hand, half of the gearbox has made its way here with the other bit missing in transit somewhere. Is that good news or not? I think I’m past caring.

Anyway, we planned a welcome day of escape from Gibraltar, where the big Rock continues to cast its little cloud of miserable weather over the town and the marina. You start by taking a stroll across the runway of Gib airport into Spain, where the general atmosphere instantly lightens. You catch the bus over to Algeciras on the other side of the bay, then board the train to Madrid. We have our Gold passes, so we get a nice discount on the trains in Spain. This time we are heading to the pretty and historic town of Ronda, a couple of hours away up in the mountains. This bit of line is Henderson’s Railway, constructed back in the 19th century for soldiers to enjoy a bit of R&R from the garrison of Gibraltar, especially during the heat of summer. The line runs through fertile farming country and forest. The towers of the powerlines are all topped with stork nests, fully occupied at this time of the year with the vivid black and white birds guarding their eggs. The land gradually rises and vertical outcrops appear suddenly. Villages of white villas and stone farmhouses flash by. Clouds still nestle in some of the gorges and around the peaks of the hills.

The best way to travel (when your boat won't go)

Ronda itself sits high on the rocks overlooking a massive gorge – you would not have to worry about defending the old town from the north, east or west. Three bridges connect the old town to the newer settlements across the river. All three bridges offer breathtaking views of the gorges, the town and the lovely farmlands in the valleys beyond. The ‘new’ town is a huddle of typical white Spanish villas, while the ‘old’ is mostly golden stone, much of it Moorish in origin. The sky is winter blue and swathes of golden poplars cut across the countryside. It is one of the most beautiful towns we have seen in all our travels.

We begin with a walk from the station to the old bridge, with a brief diversion into a little gourmet shop for a baguette with jamon y queso made on the spot – yum! It’s a steep walk up the hill but every few steps offers an amazing view so there is always an excuse to stop for a photo. We divert into a Moorish palace and garden, built right into the side of the gorge. It features an old ‘mine’ which doubled as a secret passageway for the women of the house to travel unseen down to bathe in the river. I believe ‘palace miner’ was a popular profession back in the day. The old town is full of interesting old buildings from the different stages of its history – its earliest records are of a Celtic settlement, “Arunda’, conquered by the Romans and the Moors in turn before the Reconquista saw it back in Spanish possession. You would need more than our single day visit to explore all these layers properly.

We make our way to the ‘new bridge’, an engineering marvel constructed between 1751 and 1793. This iconic bridge gives head-spinning views of the gorges and the river as well as both parts of the town and miles of countryside beyond. We are so lucky to be there on a perfect clear winter’s day.

Ronda has several other claims to fame, including a residence of the ubiquitous Ernest Hemingway and the burial place of Orson Welles. His ashes lie in a well somewhere in town, but we don’t have time to search them out this time around. Bullfighting is very big here, and the new town has one of Spain’s oldest bullrings. It is famous for helping to develop the flamboyant ‘Goyaesque’ style of fighting, featuring swordplay, capes and the ‘suit of lights’. If bullfighting is not your thing, a good substitute is a steaming hot plate of oxtail stew with spicy patatas bravas, from the Toro Tapas   Restaurant.

A pleasant downhill stroll back to the station for the afternoon train (which is unaccountably much cheaper than the morning train) and a restful journey back to Algeciras. Spanish transport works very well, though it is sometimes difficult to get a straight answer on times and destinations. In the end, it is pretty easy to get from anywhere to anywhere else at a reasonable cost. Our day out on four buses and two trains cost us about 40 Euros.

 Ronda is a must see in Spain. I think we’ll be heading back there in the camper van for a closer look at this lovely historic town.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

2016 to Gibraltar

Early morning approach - Gibraltar's famous cloud

Since we returned to Common Sense in Cartagena following Terry’s heart surgery, this couldn’t have been described as our most active sailing season. First, we had quite a few leisurely weeks exploring this fascinating old city as well as enjoying the company of the small but congenial liveaboard community in the marina. We also took the opportunity to go back for a better look at Barcelona and a catch-up with cruising buddies Laura and Olivier (and of course the charming Mae!) and I had the amazing experience of being in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia at sunset to take in his sculpture in light, an experience I will never forget. We had side trips to Murcia and then to London and Ireland as well, as described in previous blogs.

Triana Markets in Sevilla

Terry told the story of our ill-fated first foray out to sea, which resulted in a stay in Garrucha for repairs. Unfortunately, this story has been repeated a couple of times and we now find ourselves not much further down the track in Gibraltar, engaged in the time-honoured cruisers’ pastime of ‘waiting for parts’, to be followed by ‘waiting for a bloke’ to assemble said parts.

But it hasn’t been all bad by any means. Spain has been warm, friendly, interesting and full of good things to eat and drink. We had a wonderful month at home to celebrate our son’s wedding  to the lovely Claire and to catch up with friends. Bridgeen and Patricia joined us for the trip from Almerimar to Gibraltar and it was such a shame that the boat problem and their schedules prevented them from sailing through to the Canaries with us. We did get to share some good times with them, however, including a busy day in the beautiful city of Seville. We really hope they both get to fulfil their sailing dreams in the near future! 

Patricia and Bridgeen lunch on board Common Sense

While waiting for our repairs, we met Johannes and Merle-Marie, two young German backpackers who are keen to crew on Common Sense for the passage to Lanzarote, and, if all goes well, the Atlantic crossing to Cuba.

So, despite our very few nautical miles, we have seen some amazing places and met some really wonderful people, and that’s what it’s all about in the end.