Thursday, November 09, 2006

Year Three - We are finally getting into the swing of this!

Now, Nov. 6, 2006 we are in Placencia, Belize. Anchored safe and sound and enjoying the company of good friends, on Blow Me Away, Island Link, Valentina, Queen Mary, MoonSlipper, Mesqua Ukee as we all enjoy calm waters and a beautiful sunset.

Our Motto for this season is, mo sailin…mo sailin…less motorin…so the pace will be a little slower, but rest assured we will continue to bring you the stories and the views as we sail along on the good ship KaijaSong.

Season Three Begins

Oct 31, 2006 we are ready to leave Mario’s Marina and head down the Rio river to Livingston and beyond to Belize. We are guided out by Marco and Hugo and slowly pulled away from the dock. That is until their engine quit and then they had to use our dinghy to get us out the rest of the way. We anchor in Schell Bay for the night and last minute provisions. We head down river passing many of the locals in their daily routines. Livingston is a quick anchor in and even a faster check out. All our papers have been faxed in ahead of time and Raul is ready for us. We travel out with Valentina and Blow Me Away, and meet Queen Mary and Moon Slipper in Livingston.

Gary and Aaron get their last Guatemalan souvenirs hand fashioned by a local fisherman using pink conch and a hacksaw to create unique conch horns…now it is truly Blow Blow Blow us away…adios Guatemala. From there, we travel over to Bahia Graciosa and spend the next three days in major rain. During this time, Gary and Doc, on one of their shore visits, meet Antonio, a local fisherman. Antonio brings over to us a bucket full of West Indian Crown Conch. I do mean a bucket full, more then 150 of them that fed all three boats for days.

We finally get a break in the weather and off we go towards Punta Gorda, Belize to check in there. We are hit by several squalls, Blow Me Away – blows an engine hose and we are separated. During our separation, a hitchhiker, the small feather kind, joins us. We get to Punta Gorda and wait and wait, but no Blow Me Away or Valentina. We then head to the alternate place to meet, South Moho Cay. But, alas, we have missed them by about an hour or so. We stay and have a great visit with Breeze, a local Belizean contractor building a small hi-end resort on the island and Domissio one of the staff. The next day, after quick farewells and a gift of rosewood from Breeze, we are off to New Haven where the others have been anchored – safe and sound. They had a rough crossing and were happy to just sit in calm waters and visit Hard Luck Charlie’s old place. Charlie has passed away and the jungle is taking back his grand place.

Side Trip #2 - Tikal

Tikal is one of the oldest archeological sites in Guatemala. The towering pyramids poke above the jungle’s green canopy to catch the sun. What a spectacular place. We are on a three-hour bus trip, with our friends Karen and Mike of S/V Suenos, to arrive in Flores. This small city is on an island and you can walk around it in about a half hour. We will take off for Tikal the next morning – early, so that we are not there in the heat of the day. The van picks us up at 6:00 am and off we go. We are almost there when the van has a flat tire. But, out we get and soon they have another tire on the van, not much better then the flat but it is round. Our prearranged guide, Juan, met us. He has been used by many others and was highly recommended. His English is good and two girls from Colorado joined us for our four-hour tour. The walk is through covered walks, high pyramid ruins and Juan explains much of the history of Tikal during this time. There are Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys and cudamundies to be seen all around. The cudamundies are a member of the raccoon family. In fact when we were leaving the Tempo IV, they were in the trees throwing small fruit at us as we passed.

Side Trip #1 - Guatemala City & Antigua

We did a couple of short side trips inland. First, we are off to Guatemala City. On our way up, the day before Independence Day, we pass many young and old running, riding, and walking with torches. This is an annual event and is used for fund raising. It caused many traffic jams all the way from Rio Dulce to Guatemala City (over five hours by bus). It is just a big town and we were able to walk around and visited the zoo. Then the next day we were in a mini van on our way to Antigua. This is a beautiful old city surrounded by two volcanoes. Unfortunately for us, the skies were over cast and we were not able to climb up them. Gary was very happy about that. One of the highlights was the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel. This wonderful luxury hotel is set amid the remains of the Santo Domingo Monastery. President Clinton stayed here during his visit. The buildings are colourful and so are the people. Gary also got lessons from one of the young street vendors on how to play the local flute.

Life at Mario’s Marina Rio Dulce

Many cruiser are here on the Rio. Mario's is quite a centre of social acttivities as many folks are here for a number of months. Daily activies involve Mahjongg, dominos (not the pizza), contact chess (that’s a whole other story), walking groups, swimming pool & birthday parties. We made many new friends some we left behind and who will join us in Honduras, some we are cruising with now and some whom we hope to meet when we finally make Panama later this year.

The trip up the Rio Dulce

Here is the short scenic tour of traveling up the Rio Dulce River from Livingston to Fronteras (also known as Rio Dulce). The people here live a simple life on the river and all travel and commerce is on the river. The locals still use their cayucas for travel and fishing. They do not have a lot, but all waved as we went by.

Livingston Quatemala - :'Live' the Rasta – A 'Port in a Storm' – or 'Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover'

This is Levi – at first glance not someone you might pick to befriend, I can only tell you that the day we arrived in Livingston, Guatemala, aside from the easy check-in procedure…pretty much everything else that could go wrong, did go wrong…including having our new cell phone stolen. Enter Levi…who saw me standing in the middle of a busy street looking very perplexed and came to my rescue. Not only did he know what to do, he knew who to get to do it…and before I knew what was happening, I was sitting in the Police chief’s suburban between Levi and the Port Captain and the Chief of police and his sergeant accompanied by two motorcycles with two policeman each making a raid on a small shop in a part of town I would never have ventured…and before you say Rasta man or Bob Marley, I had my telephone back and shall we say…all’s well that end’s well…and we have Levi the Rasta man, ex Guatemalan paramilitary, ex Guatemalan police chief to thank…Thank you Levi…we are in your debt.

Traveling through Belize

As hurricane season was now upon us, we said our goodbyes to our new friends at Cucumber Beach Marina. We headed out to Water Cay with our friends Don & Yvonne on S/v Usquaebach. Unfortunately, they had engine problems ahd had to be toed back into Cucumber. They were able to rejoin us a day later after quick repairs. After spending a couple of days with them ata Geoff Cay, they headed out the cut on their way to build their new home in Roatan, Honduras where we hope to visit them soon. We made our way south heading for the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We made a few stops along the way, most notably Alligator Cay, Rendezvous Cay, Tobacco Cay, Placentia & Tom Owen’s Cay, all worthy stops. We met many new faces and enjoying the scenery of the new and beautiful places, many we hope to re-visit in not too distant future. Some may have to wait until we pass this way again after we complete our circumnavigation.

Cucumber Beach Marina and Resort - A real Belizian Treat!

Finally, Kaija was returning to the ship after her extended trip, arriving by way of Belize City so Gary and ‘Doc’ kept moving, arriving the next day at Cucumber Beach Marina, just south of Belize City. Kaija arrived the next day and what a reunion. We spent three wonderful weeks at this marina, in large part because of the warmth and generosity of the staff and people there.

Paul, the DockMaster was kind enough to take us for an inland tour of Belizian ruins. The local children were quite taken with Doc and we spent many fun hours with our new friends Torrey and Barb on S/v Litbe.

A port in a Storm – San Pedro, Belize – not a port to enter in a storm…but don’t tell Capt Gary that!

Gary and Doc arrived in Belize amidst quite a blow and was the last boat thru the very tricky reef opening at San Pedro for a week. Sitting just behind the reef with no protection from the wind was quite exciting as many boats dragged anchor and Gary found himself up one morning at 5am watching the wind instruments register in the high 40 knot range for sometime while keeping an eye out for boats around him that were absentee and dragging. Life in San Pedro is very relaxed and hospitable and Doc made many new friends with the local dogs and folks alike, one in particular was the young 6 year old son of the internet cafĂ© owner, who fell in love with Doc and when he learned that Pizza was Doc’s favorite food, went out on his own and came back with a pizza to share with Doc…now that’s San Pedro hospitality!

From there, Gary and Doc headed south, overnighting in Cay Caulker. This place is so relaxed they should have a sign upon entry saying “No Shirt, No Shoes” cause nobody where’s either.

Kaija’s side trip in 2006

Kaija took the usual trip back to visit family and friends. Her trip this year, 2006, took back to Finland, Estonia, Campbell River, Vancouver and Victoria. She then flew back to meet Gary in Belize City, Belize. During the absence of the Admiral Capt Gary and 1st mate ‘Doc’ continued on. They made a quick sail back up from the beautiful El Cid marina and resort complex in Porto Morales back up to Isla Mujeres where Gary finally picked up #2 inverter after trying unsuccessfully to get it flown into Mexico it was brought down by a fellow cruiser from Florida. After that, it was straight south for Gary and Doc with more than one exciting entrance and exit thru the unmarked reef openings along the way. One of the highlights was sailing into one of only three atolls in the Northern hemisphere, being Banco Chinchorro to be met by Commandant Caesar and his merry band of ‘bandits’. This the first time we had been boarded in Mexico and it was quite the sight having Caesar and his 8 compatriots all crowded into the cockpit with rifles loaded and Doc walking amongst and over them…they weren’t sure where to shoot or Sh#$!…. and Commandant Caesar began every statement with….”Captain, Problem”…to which I responded….”Commandant No Problem”…and after an hour or so of spanglish on both our parts…we ended up being commandeered into the Mexican Navy with ‘Doc’ being officially Caesar’s Newly enlisted Drug Dog. Caesar was kind enough to have his personal chef go fishing for Lobster and Conch and prepare a meal fit for a king. We spent three fun filled days with Caesar and his merry troop before saying Adios and heading into Xchalak.

Xchalack's Jorge – a real prince!

Xchalak is the southern most checkout point in Mexico and the facility is run by Jorge (pronounced Warrhey) I can only describe him as a cross between a Swiss watch maker and Yoda (of Star Wars fame)…he was terrific, not only guiding me in thru a very tricky reef opening, but keeping his office open late to receive me and once there, handling all the paper work while I had only to sit back and relax…truly the best checkout procedure to date.

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Isla Mujers, Mexico - where the livin is easy!!!

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Well we finally catch up with Don and Yvonne S/V Usquaebach. Isla Mujeres is a short ferry ride from Cancun and a great place to anchor. Here are some of the sites there. We also met a couple from Australia, Phil and Liz on S/V Fine Tolerance, they came to Mexico via the Northwest Passage and did they have stories to tell.

Our passage from Cuba to Isla Mujeres took exactly 24 hours.... even tho when we left the western tip of Cuba our GPS said we'd be there in 8 hours...then we hit the northbound current and altho our boat speed was 8 knots we were making between 1 and 2 knots over the ground.... for hours and hours and hours and hours.... also it is a very busy shipping lane and we came close to a 'header' with a mega ship...thankfully he was right on the radio when I called and he altered course...'thank-you Capt'

Kaija finally got to see her first Flamingos (she has been dying to see Flamingos since our voyage began) and when we sailed into Isle of Contoy we were met by the local Guarda who Flamingos here.... they left, I hopped in the dingy with Doc heading for shore and all of sudden, I could hear Kaija screaming...."FLAMINGOS, FLAMINGOS” and for the next two hours we watched in wonder as flock after flock of the beautiful creatures landed just in front of our boat...what a spectacle of nature!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cuba !!!! You got to see it to believe it!

Here are some shots taken during our journey along the Northwest coast of Cuba. The friends we made in Marina Hemmingway, Gary, from Ottawa Canada and Dania, Cuban born (who got her Canadian Visa during our Cuban visit) and S/V Agape from Norway. The group of men with Gary are the officials that helped get us checked out of Cuba at Las Morros. Hector, the tall fellow fell in love with Doc and wanted to keep him there, even after Doc ate two chicken dinners that were left on the counter.

Cuba is off limit to our American friends and what a pity...the hosptality could not have been warmer, the scenery is beautiful and the sailing terrific. We have way to many good memories not to want to go back and re-visit the many friends we made during our time there.

Of all the sailing we have done to date, we did find our idealic island...about 5 acres of white sand surrounded by gin clear water, thousands of shells, about 50 swaying palm trees, and not a soul for miles and miles and miles......mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm good!

Dry Tortugas - a Gem not to be missed!

Dry Tortugas – a short history
1513 Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon discovers and names the Tortugas (Spanish for Turtle)
1832 Naturalist John James Audubon observes bird and marine life in the Dry Tortugas
1846 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins construction of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key
16 million bricks were used in its construction
1861 Start of the Civil War; Union soldiers stationed at Fort Jefferson for first time
1865 Nearly 2,000 people (soldiers, prisoners and some civilians) are at Fort Jefferson
Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the man who set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was the most famous prisoner. Mudd arrived in 1865 but was later exonerated and released in 1869
1898 USS Maine anchors before sailing to Cuba; Spanish-American War1935 Fort Jefferson National Monument established to protect the nesting colonies, marine life, and historic resources

We had two of the best sails ever! - going and coming back - it is a wonderful place - the history is incredible - seeing the Cuban Chugs and meeting the park rangers who volunteer and keep the place spotless...

....the anchorage is not the best for holding but then makes for interesting times when you meet your new neighbours in the middle of the nite when you swear 'they' are moving forward and it is really you moving backward....and don't try rafting up....we witnessed a complete horsedance as our friends Ace and Suzy got dragged along with their buddyboatin friends rafted to each other and trying to minimize damage and keep out of the shallows. interesting anecdote...because they are on constant watch for Cubans coming ashore (the dry land theory of immigration in the US) they are quite vigilent about keeping their eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. Kaija, Doc & the Capt decided to take a little dinghy ride out to a wee island some ways away and while the Admiral was hunted for shells and Doc was fishing, the Capt decided to get a wee bit of colour on his 'buns' after a couple of hours of relaxing we dinghied back to the anchorage only to be met by one of the park rangers who was fond of Doc and she exclaimed..."well you folks gave us quite a start today" I asked what she meant and she explained that when they saw us out on the small island they figured it was more Cubans coming ashore, but after checking us out 'thorougly' with their high powered cameras and binnoculars the head park ranger said "they ain't no cubans...not with big ol white buns like that".... ;o)

The Spanish Virgin Islands - The Road Less Travelled

These wonderful islands have not been visited by many and are still beautiful and the waters are clear. The snorkeling here is great, turtles and many other creatures were seen. We spent a month in the Spanish Virgins along with our friends Alan and Anne on Freya and our good friends Trip and Kathryn. Some stops of note were Dewey Culebra where they will cut porterhouse steaks as thick as your arm and are they good...Culebrita with it's lighthouse and spectacular views...Viques Island with a wonderful bay that is a gunkholers dream and we found our first buried treasure along with a whole lot of bombed out tanks and unexploded shells stuck in the side of the hills...Green Beach where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean and the current runs fast but the sunsets and beautiful waters are the thing of dreams...Coffin Island (need i say more) and Gilligans Island where the locals row out in whatever floats just to say 'welcome' and flash mirrors on your departure signalling that you will always be welcome back....oh the Spanish Virgins...we sailed many miles without seeing another sure can't say that about the US or British Virgins Islands anymore!

San Salvador - Where the Dream began

We revisited San Salvador, where it is said that Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. We were here in 1992 celebrating the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. It was the completion of our first Atlantic crossing. It also was when Capt Gary decided that Kaija had the makings of being a fine Admiral as she had proved her mettle and earned her stripes...having never been out of sight of land before and after 18 days at sea with an iron stomach and a will that matched he knew she was the perfect mate for his life long dream of sailing around the world. Thus the dream began and despite all the ups and downs along the way, one or the other always kept the dream alive. It was also after this trip that Gary decided to make it official and asked Kaija to be his wife and mate for life!