Key West to Cuba
2nd February 2004  
Sandollar Beach, Georgetown, Exuma. Bahamas.

Dear friends,

Our last letter was September, Hurricane Isabel. Our grand intentions to
update the letter once a month were over taken by too many events,
too many to include in one update. This letter covers October to
December 03 - our journey south down the American Intracostal
Waterway, the Florida Keys, Cuba, and Christmas at sea.

We are now in  Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas, just south east of the
USA. Last week we puttered out in our dinghy,  Moonbeam II through
the gin clear water. Enthralled with stunning coral in a cut where the
ocean rolls through two cays, (small islands) we did not see the six foot
roller crashing towards us. Capsize! Pride, a T-shirt, sunglasses, and
John’s spear were the only loses. Our two and a half horse power egg
whisk motor was not up to surfing the Atlantic waves.

October All Over
Having had Hurricane Isabel stomp all over us in September we were
relieved that, as the old West Indian rhyme goes, “October all over,”
but, Isabel’s arrival squished our three week trip to the UK into two.
Before our departure we de-hurricaned Moonshine as the
trees began dressing in their glorious fall colours.

In mid October we returned from our far too rushed visit home.  Jet
lagged, we attended VIP day at  the Annapolis Boat Show. Although my
cousin Ashley, still crewing on the luxury yacht Windancer of Chelsea,
could have arranged free entry we had more fun gaining free passes by
spinning a mixture of the truth, contacts and hurricane chaos.  In
previous boat shows we would drool at swish yachts. Annapolis was
about meeting the editors of yachting magazines, which we did. And
keeping the party crashing tradition alive, with Ashley’s assistance.

Intracoastal Waterway South
John’s chutzpah with Hertz swung a tin can price on a  V6 Ford Mustang
which spun us up to the awe inspiring Blue Ridge Mountains for a day,
before we set off south down the ICW. It was cold and we were rushing
to squeeze Cuba into our over filled itinerary. Virginia, North Carolina,
South Carolina, fifty miles a day, dawn to dusk, over 1000 miles in three
weeks. We took the time to wind through Georgia’s beautiful grasslands
again. White pelicans at dawn will be one of our most breathtaking

Although glad that we had ICW-ed and fond of our new American
friends, we dubbed the States,  "Generica". Once out of the historic
districts of Savannah, Charleston,  Beaufort, or Washington DC, urban
America is a series of indistinguishable malls -Sears, McDonalds, Arbys,
Kentucky Fried, Chinese Buffet, TK Max and Wal Mart. Cuba would be an
antidote to the rampant commercialism of the USA.

Treat or Trick  
Last year, at Halloween, we donned Tescos masks, and trick or treated
at sea between Gibraltar and Tenerife with Ashley and Emony and their
Canadian Halloween candies.  This year, half way down the ICW, in
Beaufort, South Carolina, we joined children from four boats “trick or
treating” through the historic district where The Big Chill, Forrest Gump
and Prince of Tides were filmed. An enchanting and magical evening.

Les “Des Res”
The ICW becomes a man-made canal, an “avenue” with millionaire’s
summer homes either side,  from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) to Miami. We
were astonished by the flagrant displays of vast wealth. It is one of the
most expensive pieces of real estate in the US. With one exception the
taste seemed in inverse proportion to the expenditure.  They perceive
themselves as tres exclusive, so much so, that in Lake Sylvia, a
particularly “des res“ gated community in Fort Lauderdale, yachts are
only allowed to anchor for one day per year.

John and Paula Wolstenholme on Mr John VI, (Bristol 35.5) cruised with
us into Miami from Lake Sylvia. They have already completed a
circumnavigation, now it’s the Western Caribbean. We first met them in
the Chesapeake, (September) and recently in Georgetown. This coming
and going of cruising friends is now part of our explorations. Mr John’s
encyclopaedic knowledge of routes and boat stuff helped us
immeasurably, particularly in the Chesapeake which was a time of first
year fixing and renewing.

South Beach, Miami  
Trendy. Cosmopolitan. Not surprisingly the dude who sported the Soho
Crop with such style, chose this epicentre of strutting, fashionistas as
The Place for a haircut. Julio, a barber gone to seed, had a different
take on Adonis, to us. As he minced and snipped, he had the audacity
to suggest to Senior Grande Rodriguez that all he needed to do now was
loose a little weight. Julio’s  special combined with John’s unfortunate,
impulse buy (Ralph Lauren, half price) gave us the notorious, “Tigger at
breakfast” picture.

Our extensive survey of breakfasts in America found a top contender.
The Two fountains Restaurants next to the ultra trendy and exorbitant
Tides Hotel. The Versace’s Italian mansion nestles in the row of Art
Nouveau hotels, overlooking the beach, and the ocean.

Having checked out the Tides, the in of the inns, we walked along the
beach. Via the beach entrance, we reviewed the even more exclusive
Loews with it’s amazing pineapple chandelier. It was my dodgy day for
dressing -
see the candy stripes …

Munch in the dark
The Lincoln Theatre a multiplex with multicoloured windows became
home whilst, again we waited for weather. Amongst the films we
caught were "Master and Commander" Peter Weir's  film up for all sorts
of Oscars. I recognised the emaciated, wrinkled man munching
chocolates beside me and realised many years ago he had been a poster
on my wall. "Congratulations and Jubilations". He  was in the place
where the sun shines brightly, but not on a summer holiday. He was all
alone in a cinema on a Saturday night, whilst working in Miami. He asked
if I always spoke to strangers. John unaware of  to whom I was telling
storm stories, hissed that I shouldn’t talk to loners in darkened cinemas.
As seemed appropriate before a seagoing film we had a chat about
Atlantic crossings. It was exactly a year since we set off on our crossing
from Tenerife.

When the lights went up I pointed out the identity of the muncher in
the dark. John insisted I hadn’t met Sir Cliff Richard but he had met
Nicola, internationally published yacthswoman.

World Power Boat Championships, Key West
Whilst waiting for weather on a hot, Sunday afternoon in mid
November, in Key West we watched the World Speed Boat Champions
from our aft deck. In fact the most thrilling part of the races were the
suicidal helicopters chasing the race boats for television coverage.
When a yacht owner called for help from the coastguard because the
manic choppers were flying just above his mast the radio erupted with
aspersions about his mother, and her hobbies.

Key West is one of the most brash and touristy towns in the US.  
Fortunes are made in bars and shops feeding off Hemingway’s notoriety
but, his house and garden are an elegant refuge. The writer owned
polydactyl cats, an odd gene had given them one or more extra toes.
There are now sixty felines. With one exception who rules from the
master bedroom, they live in the grounds.

The original names are passed down - Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe.
Here’s me paying my dues to Princess Six Toes. Whilst I took a second
tour of the house with a more informed and anecdotal guide than the
first, John read up on Cuba, in the peaceful gardens.

Gulf Stream  
We hope to be in Trinidad in the southern Caribbean by June, the best
time to go to Cuba. Hence we crossed the Gulf stream to Cuba in
winter, the wrong time to go. After seven months in George Bush's
America we were keen to escape to Castro's island. It was a hundred
miles across the Florida Straits from Key West to Marina Hemingway on
the North east coast of Cuba. The spin on crossing to Cuba, and the
Bahamas is the mighty Gulf stream which pounds through from the Gulf
of Mexico around and up the south east coast of the USA. At 4 knots
plus it is a potent force. If the wind is blowing against this powerful
mass of water it becomes extremely dangerous. Add to this NOAA,
“National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association” do not give a
specific forecast for  crossing to Cuba. We had to patch it together from
three forecasts: weather from Texas, the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s
coastal waters. Via email we made contact with Mr Escrich, the
Commodore of Hemingway Yacht Club, the only yacht club in Cuba, for
pilotage information through the difficult marina entrance as Havana’s
main port for us, was  a no-go, see photograph.

On November 26th we made an overnight crossing. Just after dark a US
surveillance aircraft buzzed us. At two am a US Coastguard cutter which
had been shadowing us at a distance, for over two hours ,radio-ed  
asking us our destination. As a British flagged boat we were given
clearance. We were amazed that any Americans tried to sneak out of
the Keys on clandestine sorties.We arrived thoroughly bashed at 6am,
dawn over Havana.

Hola Cuba  
We were greeted by Jose radio-ing us, guiding us through the narrow
channel into Marina Hemingway. We soon discovered his friendship was
based on dollars. A doctor boarded, followed by a young immigration
officer who made hints about our DVDs. All the officials were shown the
email anticipating our arrival from Commodore Escrich. Although polite
we were determined to make them squirm for their anticipated
"souvenirs". However, the officer from the Ministry of Interior was not
for squirming, he had his "sittin" pants on and was not going to budge.
The embarrassed young official muttered that his colleague's children
were ill. We offered the man from the Ministry of Interior another diet
coke, he tipped all the remaining ten tins into his brief case. We were
aware that Commodore Escrich's name was being repeated. Our check in
lasted two hours, others who were more gushing in their welcome to
the officers endured a four hour search. It became clear that those on
the “take” sized up their quarry with honed accuracy. When another
Customs official demanded $40 John pointed out we had already paid.
He settled at $5. The official monthly wage for Cubans is $15. Since our
stay was to be brief we decided to stay in Marina Hemingway. If we had
gone elsewhere we would have had hours of checking out and checking
in, again, at every port we visited.

Our marina neighbours were an intriguing bunch. Memo, a Mexican was
in negotiations with the Cuban  coast guard who were charging $17,000  
for the “rescue” (salvage) of his Hunter 27 from the furies of the Gulf
stream. He edged it down to $4,000 saying that Mexicans and Cubans
had a  brotherhood against a common enemy. Memo was my height and  
seemingly a pure bred Aztec. He is in love with a Japanese girl and was
in Cuba to sell the boat to fund his next trip to Japan. He was not
typical of the single men on yachts who drank gallons of beer and got up

Cuba and Cuba
From the marina and hotel complex, a gated, tourist, community
guarded twenty four hours a day, we caught the tourist bus the nine
miles in to Havana. Cubans are not allowed on foreign yachts, and risk
jail. Travelling in on our air conditioned bus we felt guilty seeing the
long lines at the bus stops waiting to squeeze into a half truck-half-bus.
The meagre offerings in the Cuban shops were a sad indictment
compared to the fully stocked shelves in the marina shop. Restaurants
where we enjoyed comparatively cheap meals were prohibitive for
locals. We bought a tasteless bread roll with unappetising ham and
cheese, from one of the canteens where the Cubans can buy their
lunch.  Again I saw a long line, this time women hoping for a chunk of
ordinary looking cheese. Menus in restaurants boast a wide selection
however it is best to ask what is available. John described our bland and
beige lunch in the café of the upmarket Habana Libre hotel, as an
“excursion in textures”. But, he did like Buccaneer the local beer,
brewed by the Canadian company Labatts. After Spain, and Venezuela
Canada is the third higher exporter to Cuba, followed by the UK.
Cubans are allowed to open their dinning rooms at home to tourists.
Only twelve people can be seated at one time. Along the Prada which is
a dilapidated version of Las Ramblas, Barcelona, we had a fine lunch in a
high ceilinged temple to pink chintz. In another home with an open
dinning room we were given a menu with prices three times over the
going rate confirming that they have three or four menus and try it on.
It's understandable but irritating. Our favourite lunch was in Meson Flota
a Spanish-Cuban joint venture restaurant .

There are three currencies in Cuba, the US dollar, the  convertible peso
and the Cuban peso. Cambios change dollars to convertible pesos.
Usually tourists paid in dollars. Officially there are two television
channels which start at 4pm with cartoons for children. It is possible to
acquire a satellite receiver which opens the world however, the
penalties are steep if caught. Tourist hotels have satellite which Cubans
can watch if they are maids.

If it was working, we could email from hotels and the central library, for
$10 an hour, way out of most Cuban’s budget. We could not get into our
website from any Cuban machines.

Soap and Circumstance     
A French Canadian couple came with brimming rucksacks full of gifts for
the “poor” Cubans. The question of gifts and tips was a thorny one.
Perhaps I'm too cynical but I wondered  at the motivation of our
Quebecois acquaintances who constantly kept us up to date at every
opportunity about every gift. We found that they encouraged pestering
from the guards who patrolled the beat along the dock side.

Generous visitors who handed out gum to children in the street would
be swarmed by little hands outstretched for "money".  We were careful
with our gifts. We took the line that it was better to give to friends
(albeit superficial ones) such as Isoura, the Public Relations rep for the
Marina who had two children and cousins with babies, and Edo, one of
the Yacht Club barman, who had an eleven and one year old.  Whilst in
the States we’d liberated soaps and shampoos from a Holiday Inn. Other
basics such as school exercise books, writing paper, pens, asprin,
toothpaste and chewing gum which we take for granted are in short
supply. The French-Canadians gave a pair of reading glasses to one new
"friend", he was thrilled, he could read again. Maybe, somewhere
between the two philosophies works.

Escrich Against the Odds     
After the revolution, 1959 all the yacht clubs were closed. They were
too exclusive. Twelve years ago Commodore Escrich opened a yacht club
in Marina Heminway. He has struggled to keep it open. He spoke
passionately and movingly about his determination to open his love of
the sea and sailing to all Cubans and to encourage foreign yachts to visit
In a recent email  to us Mr Escrich wrote.


We hugely admired his efforts against the odds. Escrich and the
organisation are non-political in a country rife with politics, and a
political regime which officially does not condone elitist ventures.

Paintings of their boats by cruisers along the dock testify to the scores
of yachts which filled Marina Hemingway ten years ago. Since 9/11 the
US has severely clamped down on its citizens spending any money in
Cuba, they are faced with a $20,000 fine and imprisonment. The
Russians pulled out of Cuba in the late 80s taking their resources,
experts and oil with them. Tourism is a growth industry particularly for
east coast Canadians who see it as a cheap and sunny destination in the
midst of their bitter winters.

It is the new frontier for salesmen who work between the cracks and/or
are such creeps that they find it easier to live in exile. We met Steve, a
profane Canadian from Nova Scotia who worked with the Cuba
Government. Between curses he claimed this was a great country to
live, he could get whatever he wanted, and could leave anytime,
abandoning his Cuban girlfriend of five years. He also maintained there
were at least ten underground, anti-Castro organisations within Havana.

When we arrived Castro had not been seen for six weeks. He suddenly
re-appeared and gave a five hour speech to University students from
Pennsylvania aboard their ship. The next day the police were out in
force checking Cubans, mostly young men’s, documentation. We
watched from the cafeteria of the Havana Libre, opposite the Yama,
one of the three big cinemas used for the film festival. Across the road
the cinema emptied. A young man was in a rush with his friends, and
objected to being stopped. One policeman pocketed his ID card,
another talked into the radio. Soon afterwards he was driven away in
their Lada.

With an eye on the weather we touristed hard. All around the Old Town
which is slowly being renovated with a grant from Unesco, the Museum
of the Revolution which minutely details the rise of Castro and Che.
Other high lights, were the massive Revolution Square, a cigar factory,  
and the Seville and Ingleterre Hotels, scenes of the 1930s escape from
Prohibition high jinks by American movie stars and gangsters.

Members of the Communist party in Cuba can not travel for pleasure,
but, "business" trips are allowed.... Cocooned Kuoni style tourists got
on the bus, got off the bus, and had no idea of the relentless hassle
from  people selling cigars, girls or pesos for dollars. It was a wearisome
problem however sympathetic one is to their cause. We soon took to
telling them we were poor sailors. Some Cubans exploit the tourist
dollar, a restaurant added an extra 30% onto the bill and when
challenged grudgingly reduced it.

One of the most repelling memories was the sight of middle aged men
pawing (maybe just) sixteen year old girls, who like the pros they had
become played up to rancid fellows who travel to Cuba for their two
weeks in the "sun". We were told by men unaccompanied by their
partners that the marina staff brought girls to the yacht club for them,
and were offended when they turned them down.

The ultimate in tourist activity was a visit to the fabulous, outrageously
camp, “Tropicana“. We blew our budget, and arrived early to secure the
best seats in the house - so close to the stage that we were swept up
with various floating and flouncy costumes - it was a riot.

Tropicana has been an open air cabaret since 1939. Dancers, mostly
girls, wearing very little, sing and strut up and down the stairways and
aisles to the stage. John muttered that the promises of  bosomy women
were inflated. I pointed out that long, thin legs come at a price.

Latin American Film Festival
The Hotel Nacional is the hub of the Festival, 2nd - 12th December. I
read the delegates list, no one I knew. "Modern Havana", the Verado
district, a mixture of hotels, restaurants and residential hosts the
festival in three cinemas which included films by Mike Leigh. It was
strange to be surrounded by keen film goers and yet feel very much a

In a nearby market I realised the strong smell of vinegar and red wine
came from the plastic bags in which they were sold. They had no
bottles.  Men played chess and dominos in the street.

Trinidad, South East Cuba.    With no time to spare we made a dash to
the south of the island to colonial Trinidad, a world heritage site, and
tourist trap. $50 each for a five hours return coach trip. The Viazul bus
was for independent tourists not being herded by escorted tours. On
the 300 mile journey to the south east we passed scrawny cattle in the
field, sugar cane, and rusting farm machinery which looked as if the first
gust would blow it away. Oxen ploughed the fields - pre-Industrial
Revolution. Apart from political dictates and ideology there is no
advertising. At all the road junctions hitch hikers of all ages stood,
hopeful. Cubans require special permission and passes to travel within
their country particularly if they are travelling from the country in to

Tourism is the lifeblood of Trinidad. As we explored the colonial
treasure, an enchanting little girl tried to punt us a cigarette. Although
aged six she claimed she would not smoke, it was obvious that her
"sales" career was heading in the seedy but dollar lucrative direction of
so many Cuban girls. As with their dinning rooms, Cubans are allowed to
sell accommodation in their homes. However, before they set up a
Cuban B&B they are obliged to pay for a license, a tax which almost
cripples their enterprise. It was ironic that the free market was alive,
and determined to survive in the streets of this Unesco heritage site.
As soon as the coach parked, a rope was put across the entrance to the
Viazul bus station and the women crowded along it waving their cards.
To escape the constant offers of "hotels" and "dinner" we found a bar.
We supped our Sugar cane juice, (which had been squeezed by mangle),
and coconut (chopped open) and rum accompanied by an excellent six
man band who played just for us, Trinidad‘s answer to Buena Vista
Social Club. We bought a CD, not bad.

Our two star hotel in Trinidad provided a wide and varied buffet which
was with two exceptions, tasteless.  At breakfast there were pancakes
made from water and flour, and last nights leftover chips and pasta. We
found bananas, quince sauce and a milky-yoghurt the best choice for
breakfast. It was a relief to have food on Moonshine.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles?        
No. Steam train, and a horse and cart. Whilst in tourist mode we caught
a  steam train out to the sugar fields and old colonial residences.
Despite fervent guarantees, predictably the steam train returned late.
With time to catch the bus against us I hailed a passing horse and cart.
The farmer did not know where the Viazul bus station was but having
asked a couple of people galloped us through the streets of Trinidad.
John, advertising-smooth-talker was now a marinero bouncing in a
peasant’s horse and cart. My attempts to photograph our gallop through
the cobbled streets were thwarted by the perilous turns, and wild
rocking of the cart. Nevertheless, we clattered to a stop, clambered
down, paid our farmer $3, approximately one weeks wage and, directed
by the bemsued locals,  ran to our awaiting bus.

Later as we passed through Cienfuegos, a large city, a nurse in a
starched uniform and cap elegantly climbed up to a horse and cart. Not
the scramble we had made of it. Near Havana, just after sunset, I saw
ten people running to a truck which had stopped for them. I wondered
how many hours they had been waiting. Most of them would be "sitting"
in the back of the truck.

Cars can be shared amongst families but what petrol can be found is
Fearful of invasion, or just too broke, "the bearded one" banned road
signs. We came across two young professional Brits on their two week
holidays who had hired a car, and picked up hitch hikers, solely to give
them directions, or even diverted. At least on arrival they would know
where they were starting again from.

As we walked out of the bus station in Havana we were swarmed by taxi
drivers. I chose a kind faced man on the edge of the scrum. We rode in
his Ford Zephyer 62 ,with a Russian Lada engine, “home” to Moonshine.
Our driver had been a physical education teacher. He is now a mechanic
for 72 hours a week, and in his time off an unofficial taxi. We met
several English teachers and highly qualified people who were now
working in tourism just to get access to US dollars. His daughter is in a
class of 48 pupils. If she is to achieve the necessary grades in Maths and
English to study at university and win a prized job in ... tourism, he
must pay a tutor. If you have access to dollars you can buy a better job.

As we checked out ,the "ten cokes" Minister of the Interior arrived with
a sinister colleague, obviously a true believer in Cuba's form of souvenir-
ism. She wore a flowered top under her jacket - think “Jubba the Hut”
in khaki. She took my chin and smiled, “Bonita”, I wanted to push her
overboard, but kept it together. Her mud coloured eyes swept the boat
for her “perks”. She fingered our Cuban post cards. Squirm for it tactics
bounced off her. One by one I put the diet cokes down. After, much
rustling in a cupboard  I proffered a sheet of Strepsils, even more
rustling produced a package of cheap razors. On seeing his Bics
sacrificed John's unprompted and voluble outburst convinced the
authorities that that was it from Moonshine. “Jabba the Hut” and “Ten
Cokes” joked that he could grow a beard … Funny, funny. We had our
despacho clearance papers, our smiles remained fixed until we sailed
over the twelve mile limit.

The country is crumbling, riddled with corruption, a strange mixture of
fascinating and depressing. The lack of everything breeds invention and
ingenuity be it a boy making his sling shot out of a forked stick and
knotted condoms, or transplanting Russian engines into American and
British classic cars. True they can all read but they can only read what
they are allowed to read, and what they write is restricted.
A land of such potential held back by one man. Even if our memories are
bitter sweet, it was definitely worth the effort to visit Cuba,  
particularly now.

The day after we returned to the US six Cubans were found guilty of
hijacking a plane from Cuba to southern Florida. Before they appealed
the verdict their lawyer announced, "they'd rather spend twenty years
in an American jail than walk around and have so-called liberty within
the Cuban territory."

Waiting for Weather
10, 000 miles ago, as we pounded into the wind down the west coast of
Europe, we began to understand that, ‘Just because it’s not going to
our plan, doesn’t mean it’s not going to The Plan’. After our crossings
to and from Cuba which put the stretch into nerve wracked I've learnt,
finally, that we can not cheat seasons and weather, and if we do, we
get thumped. It is not always possible to cover every inch particularly if
the weather or particularly the Gulf stream and wind dictate otherwise,
however, as a Sagittarian I find it difficult.... .

Stern Again
The new stern gland (remember it was replaced in July?) had been
leaking badly. As Moonshine  hung in Key Boat Works slings, watching Al
and Tommy at work  replacing the stern gland and its fittings we
realised that our fears were correct. River Forest Shipyard had botched
the job, and let us sail off with a fault which could sink the boat. If half
an inch of fibre glass had given way, water would have gushed in
through a six inch hole. I listened to Al as he worked, doubled over in
the cramped engine bay, diligently coaxing the job, “I love it when a
plan comes together .. Oh that’s sweet. Come on darlin’ you’re mine.”
Tommy who had worked at Key Boat Works for thirty years checked the
new stern gland after the heart stopping moment when Moonshine was
lowered into the water again. All was well. Relieved, we repaired to the
Stuffed Pig for (another) excellent breakfast.

Marathon Celebration
Marathon put on a Christmas boat parade the night before my Birthday.  
The Boats paraded right in front of Moonshine.  As the decorated fleet
set off to the Dockside, a boater’s drinking hole, where the judging
took place, we leapt into Moonbeam II and followed. There we met up
with Joyce and Jim, fellow  Brits who introduced us to Dee who worked
at the Dolphin Research Centre, two Keys along. Dee was delighted to
give me a Birthday gift of entry to the Dolphin Research Centre.
It was marvellous experience to see the creatures we see off our bow,
really close up.

Despite a morning of spoiling with champagne, strawberries and smoked
salmon, we had dinner at a restaurant serving Rick Stein quality seafood
on plastic plates with plastic K&F. Coconut shrimps, and crabmeat
fritter, followed by lobster tails with lemon and garlic sauce, or cracked
pepper, whisky and mustard snapper, plus luscious vino. At "home" we
indulged in particularly gorgeous Key Lime Pie to which I had become far
too partial. I prefer the gingery biscuit base with cream topping
whereas Senior Postre* Rodriguez prefers a more traditional pastry base
with a zingy-er Key lime filling with a meringue topping…
*Postre = Spanish for pudding.

She's a tippy tippy dighy...........
First prize in the Boat Parade went to a stinkpot full of Elvis’s and a
fizzy replay of “Hound Dog“. In this letter’s inelegant segue this takes
us to Moonbeam II and her song which starts, ‘She’s a tippy tippy
dinghy, Tender to Moonshine”. The cynics can relax, the lyrics are still
in the works. After a morning of strapping large fenders around
Moonbeam II, Senior Splash Rodriguez thought he had perfected the un-
tip dinghy. He was impressed with his endeavours in equilibrium. A few
days later … confident in his ingenuity, he bounced into the dinghy
which flipped taking him, the Christmas shopping, the groceries, my bag
and me overboard. Thankfully only the eggs drowned. The rest, us
included were soaked. No one saw this ignominious performance so it’s
our secret.

Ocean Cruising Club      
In October we were voted in as members of the Ocean Cruising Club. As
John proudly said,   “Not river, not coastal……….. Ocean.“


                           Hark the weather forecasts rain
                             Second cold front in a week.

Our crossing window from the Florida Keys to the Bahamas had been
squeezed by the side trip to Cuba, and the “new” stern gland repair.
We chaffed at being weather-bound. Two months before, south bound  
in Georgia we thought it absurd that we would not make it to
Georgetown, Great Exuma, Bahamas, in time for Christmas to meet John
‘s friend “G” on the 27th December.

As the serried cold fronts passed through we figured Georgetown, half
way down the Bahamian chain, for Christmas was too ambitious.
Realistically,  it was Nassau at best.

As with Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, a guardian angel  came to
our rescue. Well ours had wings and breathed fire, WYVERN, Welsh for
dragon, (an  Irvin ketch 42) was skippered by Charlie and Phyliss Atha,
Bahamas veterans. We were dismayed when it became apparent that
we would be spending Christmas at sea. Little did we anticipate what a
special celebration it would be.

At 3pm on 23rd December stuffed with our final Chinese Buffet, one of
John’s favourite American experiences, we dinghied back as the
heavens opened. The laundry was soaked, again. It would take three
days for it to dry. Moonshine sailed out of Marathon in WYVERN’s wake.
As the sun went down we slapped into the  Gulf stream. This crossing
was not as “awe-full” as to and from Cuba, but, it was pretty ugly.
Numerous tankers did not help the night watch.

The next morning, Christmas Eve, Wyvern guided us from the Gulf
stream to the Bahama Banks, through Gun Cay  Tired after a night sail,
negotiating between coral heads and rocks in choppy conditions is
taxing. We motor sailed across the Bahama Banks, ten feet of water for
hundreds of square miles, finding ourselves in an informal fleet of eight
boats On arrival in Nassau, we anticipated a days turn around before
meeting “G”. Another British boat was chasing to meet a mother and
daughter who had been  pounding the Nassau dock for five days. My
mother had “sponsored” Christmas decorations. (A raid on designer
labels at a discount shop - “T J Max” produced lots of ultra gorgeous
decorations.)  As a precaution I had taken them down as we crashed
and rolled  across to the Bahamas. I re-decorated the boat. In one of our
radio chats during the day I mentioned to Wyvern that this would make
an amusing story. “One hundred miles to Christmas.”

At precisely 7pm Bahamian time, midnight GMT, Greenwich Meantime,
John put out a VHF radio call to all wishing them “A very happy Christmas
“. Several yachts returned the greeting, amongst them a Scottish voice
who appreciated GMT. The BBC World Service Carol Service
accompanied our present wrapping. As the sun set we switched on our
flashing white lights which were draped around the spray hood. Not to
be outdone Wyvern lit up in multicoloured lights from her mast. Our
attempts to anchor in the pitch dark, at 11pm hit rock hard sand. We
rafted against Wyvern in the middle of seemingly no where.

Christmas Day. At 6am dressed in our kitsch Christmas outfits, which
were over the top, but were part of compensating for not being at
“home“, we exchanged gifts with Wyvern. We were immensely touched
that Phyllis had made us oven pads with Moonshine embroidered on
them, and, the icing on the cake, she had made a card with a
photograph of Moonshine entitled “One hundred miles to Christmas”. It
was typical of cruising life that such a short friendship should come to
mean so much.

As dawn broke we sailed in to the Christmas morn. By 7.30am we had
opened our Christmas gifts. We called home on the iridium satellite
phone. Motor sailing together in fine weather, surrounded by our
presents and Christmas treats, listening to my “Love Actually” Noeltide
CD, it was an unexpectedly enchanting day. Even the laundry finally
dried. I banished John to twang on the bow. I began to question
whether the guitar was such an inspired present.  (He now professes
the title, “the lip”, no doubt U2s The Edge is looking to his frets.) At
lunchtime as I peeled Brussel sprouts, and potatoes for that evening,
Atlantis, the huge hotel in Nassau appeared on the horizon. The Queen
gave her Christmas message as we entered the harbour. We again
expressed our gratitude to Wyvern which it seemed was mutual, we
gave them company on a challenging leg. Customs and Immigration were
sorted by four, in time for preparations for Christmas dinner. Turkey and
all the trimmings with push-our-boat-out bottles of bubbly and vino plus
Christmas pudding and brandy butter. Exhausted, thankful we’d made it
to Nassau, we collapsed ready to snooze in front of a movie. And the
film? “It’s A Wonderful Life“.

What next?    
In early January when we in arrived Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas,
there were a hundred yachts here. Now there are over two hundred,
primarily American and Canadians. It is time to head south. Conception
Island and Rum Cay in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, then down to
Puerto Rico, Domincan Republic and the east Caribbean.

The next time we update the website will be, telecommunications
willing, around the  28th February, just after John’s Birthday. It will
cover January and February, including  great pictures of “Junkanoo”, a
crazy all night Carnival held on New Years Eve.

My mother
MRS WATKINS, regularly forwards mail to us. If you can not
come to visit us, then send us a post card from where you are to:

                                  With love to you
                             Keep us in touch with you.
                                  Nicola and John
The stinkpots wake us heading south
Waccamaw River South Carolina in the Fall
Mustang Sally
Trick or treat USA style
Mr John
Moonshine at anchor in Miami
Tigger at breakfast
Big pineapples and dodgy shorts
Miami beach..............very cool. We loved it
Princess six toes (The cat)
Planning Cuba trip- check out the lucky black cat
Havana port in a storm, the spray was over fifty feet high
Cuban supermarket
Cuban family dinning room
Cuban street band, they were great
Nicola and Commodore Escrich
The other side of Cuba. Everyone is watched.............closely
John and Che. His image is everwhere. (Che's)
Tropicana- as camp as Seaside Special
Not as bosomy as advertised
Head light
Nicola at Film festival
Street dominos
Follow that bus
Crumbling Cuba
Having a smoke in Cuba
Birthday Dolphin
Birthday morning, gifts galore
Our Christmas flamingoes
Christmas Day dawn
Exchanging gifts with Wyvern
Delicious with all the trimmings....the dinner was good too
Wonder what this is
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