Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Ups and Downs of Florida ….. May 2013

01 - 1o May:  Lake Worth Inlet, Florida ~ 26 46N  80 02W


From the Land of No Stuff to the Land of Stuff

P4300021 We left Havana, Cuba with a reasonable forecast to head north, into the Gulf Stream and up the coast of Florida, we were on our way to the U.S.A!  We had an absolute mixed bag of weather, fierce currents again out in the Gulf Stream accompanied by some nasty weather cells popping up from nowhere bringing wind and rain, followed by calms.  Can’t say we are fans of this Gulf Stream, it just has a mind of its own. 

As we made our way up the Florida Coast there just seemed to be wall to wall high rise erupting up out of the ocean on the horizon.  The silhouetted skyline made for a spectacular sunset off Fort Lauderdale.  We had a 3am arrival into Lake Worth Inlet on our 2nd night at sea.  Although the channel is well lit it is always very hard arriving into somewhere unfamiliar in the dark, we really try to avoid dark arrivals but sometimes it just can’t be helped.  Just to confuse us an armada of small fishing boats were leaving port as we were making our final approaches, there were all these little green lights that shouldn’t have been there to trick us!

We pulled into Lake Worth Inlet and dropped anchor before dawn, wow - touchdown in America. P5040029

Catching up with Friends

We had rendezvoused in Lake Worth with Australian friends Andrew and Clare on Eye Candy, last seen 16 months ago in the Caribbean, also Harry on Malua who had been in Havana with us but who we first met years ago in Croatia.  More Australians (where have all the kiwis gone?) Peter and Carole off Jack Tar were also there so we had plenty of company for happy hours. 

We spent a lazy Saturday afternoon lunching ashore at the Tiki Bar with all the Aussies and special guests Steve and Karyn off Threshold, they drove up from their home in Fort Lauderdale, we originally met them in Sardinia while in the Med, Threshold  is in Turkey and they are home for winter.  P7120038

After lunch they very kindly drove Clare, Andrew and I to Costco where Clare and I spent quite some time filling our shopping trolleys with all sorts of goodies.  Then Steve and Andrew spent even longer trying to squeeze it all into the car, no mean feat.  Only other cruisers can appreciate how grateful we were to be able to fill the trolley with endless heavy items knowing you don’t have to physically carry it all back to the dinghy.

Farewell to Tony

Our good friend Tony was still with us but would be leaving us here to travel overland to San Francisco before flying back to New Zealand.  Our days passed quickly, Customs and Immigration formalities were completed, buses were caught to procure phone and wifi internet sim cards (there are definitely advantages of being back in a ”land of stuff!!), chandleries were visited, boat parts sourced and many purchases made.  

We caught the bus down to West Palm Beach and said our farewells to Tony, off on a Greyhound Bus to New Orleans.  As always it had been a pleasure to have him onboard and we will miss our daily  long political and history discussions.  We walked down to the very upmarket shopping area and spent some time wandering around and lunching, rather a lovely place.  After months in Central America it had been quite some time since we had been in such an affluent area as this.  P5090034

Back at the dinghy we were greeted by a Parking Infringement – warning only!!!  The previous day we had been asked to move the dinghy to the designated dinghy dock which is where we then parked the dinghy and got our first ever written parking warning, Welcome to America!!! 

Off to St Augustine

It seemed a good time to leave Lake Worth and with a weather window of light southerlies we exited out and pointed the bow north for an overnight passage to St Augustine.  Not surprisingly the winds weren’t as forecast and before long we had 2 reefs in the main and were being bashed about in the Gulf Stream yet again.   We managed to get into flatter water inshore and had an excellent sail overnight but next morning the wind died out and it was time to motor so we would get in before dark.
IMAG0500Seized Turbo at Sea

But sadly Olive the Volvo had other plans and developed an irregular heartbeat, jumping up and down, rather unsettling when you are all alone, miles from shore on a glassy sea with not a breath of wind.  Then she did the unthinkable and just stopped, never to go again.  Skipper spent all day in the engine room trying absolutely everything in his repertoire to coax her into starting again but she just wasn’t having any of it.  Having eliminated nearly everything else he diagnosed that maybe the turbo had seized – and he was right.  Our new turbo, fitted in Spain in 2011 was no longer spinning, therefore starving the engine of air.  Just why a vessel that travels under engine power at around 6 miles an hour needs a turbo is absolutely beyond us, but we have one and it was broken.

Finally Safely into St AugustineIMAG0513

Early evening a light breeze came up off the land and we spent the night tacking backwards and forwards towards St Augustine, at 3am we dropped anchor under sail (that was a first) just 50 metres from the outer channel marker of St Augustine Inlet.  All we had to do now was get in through the channel! 

Before arriving in the U.S. friends had suggested we join TowBoat US (the AA for boats around these parts), the waterways here have many shallow patches and boats regularly run aground.  We were certainly hoping we wouldn’t be one of those unlucky ones but played it safe, got out the credit card, made the phone call and joined up.  It was the last thing we did before leaving Lake Worth, and the wisest decision made for a while.
Our 2nd Tow in 9 yearsIMAG0514

At 7am we called TowBoat US and explained our circumstances.  We have nothing but praise for the way the local operator dealt with us.  He came out to us around 8.30am as agreed as it was slack high tide, towed us in through the channel ~ must add it recommends in the guide book that you seek local knowledge before entering as the sands shift and the channel can move, well we sure got our local knowledge!! ~ he safely got us through the shallows, stood us off the bridge until it opened, moved us across to the river bank out of the current so he could tie alongside to push us into the marina berth, then carefully slotted us into our designated dock.  He was very professional and knowledgeable and an absolute pleasure to deal with during this stressful time. 
Our 9th Anniversary Since Leaving NZ – One We Will Remember!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Last Word On Cuba From Skipper!!! ….. May 2013

P4240043 I have always had this picture in my mind of what life is like on struggle street in a communist country …. miserable people, looking old way before their time, queuing for 2 hours in a snow storm  - if you’re lucky you take home a stale loaf of bread.

So my question before arriving in Cuba was …  If Cuba is an oppressed, communist dictatorship and daily life is an ongoing miserable hopeless struggle, how come the image of its people is one of non stop music and salsa dancing?  The place rocks every night, the people have a vibrant free spirit about them and one can’t help but be intoxicated by it all. And I don’t buy the fact that notwithstanding the odd hurricane it’s because they get nice weather all the time. So what’s the deal ?P4230023

My modern history education took place in the UK, but that doesn’t really matter, it could have been Australia, Canada, US or New Zealand. The point is - we are allies, we are brothers in arms.  I was taught, and therefore believed, that right was always on our side, it was us against the bad guys, we were always the good guys …. right?  Well guess what?  If truth be known, often this is not quite correct, and after all the countries and cultures we have experienced, Cuba is the most vivid example of how the mind is broadened by travelling and checking things out for oneself. 

P4180035 Fidel Castro and Che Guevara seized control of Cuba in the late 50s and since then the Castros have run a pretty tight ship, there’s no denying that.  I grew up with the perception that these guys were crazed power hungry rebel revolutionaries in funny green uniforms, cut from the same cloth as all the other Central and South American dictators.  A bunch of bandits the lot of them.  However, after a month in Cuba I learnt, not for the first time in my life, that the knowledge gathered throughout my education and later through the media, lacked a degree of accuracy.  For a start, somewhere along the line I missed the fact or was never taught that Che Guevara was a doctor … maybe the more learned among you knew that, but I didn’t and it came as a surprise.  Both he and Fidel Castro were very smart, well educated young men.

Cuba’s history followed much the same path as the rest of the region with the Spanish, French, British and Americans squabbling over the territory.  Nothing new there.  So lets cut to Cuba in the early 1950s.  A previous president ~ Fulgencio Batista cut a deal with the American mafia giving them carte blanche access to Havana in return for a percentage of their gambling profits. P4230002

Shortly thereafter he stages a successful military coup and immediately cancels the upcoming elections in which a popular young lawyer named Fidel Castro, who was unhappy about the path Cuba was going down, was due to stand. Castro doesn’t take this lying down.  He sees no alternative but to use force to rid Cuba of this detestable dictator and rounds up a few rebels before setting off in a Bedford van to attack a Batista army barracks.  Apparently the truck driver misses the sign post, takes a wrong turn and the sortie fails miserably.  Batista locks him up and throws away the key. Fidel wrote at the time ‘note to self … shoot driver if I ever get out of here ‘.   I made that up!!

P4240045 Meanwhile, Havana has become a playground for the American mobsters and gangsters with its casinos and dens of iniquity.  Batista and a few of his mates busy themselves amassing extreme personal wealth.  The rest of the population were destitute and scratching a living off the land … many starving to death.  If you were in ~ you drove a new Chevy and drank champagne in some nice but very dodgy company.  If you were out ~ well there was little or no hope.

Fast forward two years.  Batista realizes that Fidel is quite a popular chap and releases him to try to gain some favour with his people. Castro flees to Mexico because he thinks Batista has only released him to kill him.  Best not to pop him while in jail …. too much paperwork.  In Mexico he meets Che Guevara a young doctor from Argentina who has spent his professional life helping victims of violence and corruption in this part of the world and shares Castro’s determination to force change.P4130167

Fidel and Che hatch a plan to land back on Cuban soil with a motley crew of rebels.  In 1956 they arrive on the shores in a rickety old steamer and are decimated by Batista’s army.  81 men landed ~ only 12 survived fleeing into the mountains.  Now, think pied piper as this band of rebels move from one village to the next gradually gaining support.  Batista sends 10,000 troops to flush out a group of 300 men, but the momentum is with Fidel and Che. They are riding a wave of hope ‘Viva la Revolucion’ !!  Power to the People!!  I hear you shout.  By early 1959 Batista knows the game is up and flees the country with a few extra suitcases full of booty.  The rebels march triumphantly on Havana and are welcomed by an ecstatic crowd.P4190072

Now …. what normally happens next is that these guys end up doing exactly what their predecessors did.  Power corrupts etc ….. but here’s the thing !!.

Almost immediately Castro re-employs thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses and reopens hundreds of schools and hospitals.  He nationalizes all the industry and sets about centrally controlling and redistributing the countries wealth with the aim of providing every Cuban with a roof over their head, free education to University level and free health care as well as ration books to provide enough food for everyone.  Now there’s no denying many Cubans got screwed, many fled, particularly the business owners who had been doing very nicely under Batista’s reign.  But the objective was to create a safety net for all society, sadly lacking to this day in other parts of the region, and the vast majority of the population were dragged out of the gutter and given a minimum standard of living and maybe a little bit of hope.    P4110063

This was a time of communist paranoia and Castro was considered a loose cannon. America immediately turned their back on Cuba.  Batista had been their man - they could do business with him, for obvious murky reasons.  Overnight the US crippled the Cuban economy with a trade embargo (still in place today).  Castro extended an open hand and was offered a clenched fist.  America pulled the rug from under him and the Soviet Union seized their moment with carrots aplenty,  and so …well … the rest is history!!  Maybe if some smart person in Washington at the time had asked the question ~ so, where is he going to go if we turn our back on him now? …. maybe history may have been different.  No Bay of Pigs fiasco, no Cuban missile crisis which took the world to the brink of nuclear war …. maybe !!

P4190057 Today the people seem to live in an orderly environment. There is a very low key police presence.  The streets feel safe, there is a reasonable infrastructure, people in the main are well dressed and go about there day with a purpose.  There seems to be very little theft and violence, in stark contrast to their neighbours throughout Central America and we saw none of the squalor in Cuba that we witnessed in parts of Colombia and Panama.  But there is a price to pay.  The regime has kept an iron grip on things for decades although there are signs that the Castros maybe softening in their old age as once again the younger generations push for change.  Clearly daily life has many boundaries, the people are denied many things, it’s hard to get ahead and there is not much money about, but there is an impression of ~ once upon a time things were a whole lot worse.  For the older generation the hopelessness of life pre Castro is still a raw memory, they experienced the alternative and recognize that for now they are sort of doing ok. P4180041

So when the heat of the day is done and you can’t watch CNN, you might as well pour a couple of rums, pass round the cigars, clear the dance floor and play some music….

Fidel Castro once said … ”One day history will absolve me”.  I’m not sure about that, the west still considers him a bit of a nutter , however there is one historical fact I do know to be true and that is how history judges people differently once they are gone, so maybe he still stands a bit of a chance.