Friday, May 7, 2010

Goose or Gander?

May 7, 2010
Somewhere off the coast of Virginia between Norfolk VA and Cape May NJ.

So, we pull into Tidewater Marine in Portsmouth to take on fuel and water before running the Virginia coast from Norfolk to Cape May.  A front is scheduled for tomorrow, late in the day, with attendant high winds and resultant high waves so we are in a hurry.

While finishing up the fueling we are approached by a complete stranger.  The guy looks alright.  He is older, his build compact, his accent Brooklyn or maybe Buffalo.  You can tell from his bearing he is four square.

He asks if we are the Meredith from Toronto that was on the Potomac last summer.  Immediately we placed the guy.  He was sailing a Monk 36 up the Potomac and grew desirous of conversation.  We were in radio range and not averse.  Our discussion was unexceptional, just friendly banter between strangers whiling away a boring stretch on the Potomac.  The Potomac has many boring stretches.

Discussion ensues and it is disclosed that Meredith is returning from Cuba.  Unable to visit Cuba himself, our friend is ex Navy and in addition to the other hurdles faced by Americans he needs permission from the Secretary of the Navy.  However one of his friends visited last year.\

"He really hated Cuba" we are informed.  "My friend had to report his position every day to the government.  He swore he would never visit such a totalitarian state ever again.  What a mess that country is in.  No freedom."

Maturity of a level sufficient to resist such an opportunity has always eluded me.  I explained to our good natured friend that the same rules applied in the USA.  Foreign boaters had to report to the government every day, just like Cuba.

"I'm not surprised" rejoined my newly refound friend.  "With all the trouble we have had with foreigners in our country."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

IQ Test: Why Do They Call It Stumpy Point?

So, Here is Where We Set the Hook. 
You Can See the Remains of the Pongo  Alligator Canal just at the Left of the River

May 6, 2010
Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp, VA

The trip from Port Canaveral to Beaufort, NC was a nonevent.  Except for the beautiful Dorado we caught, and ate, on the way.

Leaving Canaveral at about 1 p.m. we made Beaufort by 11 a.m. two days later.  Entry to the ICW was clean and we made our way to Broad Creek on the Neuse River where we dropped hook for the night.  We decided to go inside at Beaufort NC because the weather around Hatteras was threatening.  Hatteras is a nasty piece of water and waves regularly are reported in the 50 to 70 foot range not too far offshore.

Day two in the ICW the winds were howling.  In the ICW we were protected much of the time but when exposed we found the wind, forecast to be 10 - 15 kts were in fact 22 - 25.  Funnelling I suppose as the wind found itself compressed onto the river.  In trying conditions we made our way up the Pongo River and through the Pongo Alligator canal.  It was a long passage and we were tired by the end.

In the Alligator River (into which you are dumped if you take the Pongo - Alligator Canal from the Pongo River end) there are few good anchorages and even fewer within our reach before dark.  We chose our old reliable Green 39 anchorage in the Alligator River.  That day we decided not to anchor in the bight at G39 but that we would run past and into the more Easterly bight which was enormous and offered good protection from the wind and wind driven waves.

Skipper Bob warned in his book about the high incidence of logs fowling anchors in Alligator River anchorages.

Never having had a problem we just anchored with no trip line.  We shoulda listened to Skipperbob.

Rising next morning we found ourselves firmly affixed to the bottom.  Meredith would not budge.

We took in all the anchor rode but the 15 feet from our bow to the bottom.  It did not matter.  Our anchor was set like it was in concrete.

Nothing worked to extricate ourselves.  We motored ahead.  We went nowhere.\

We bounced and jumped on the bow.  Nothing. 

Of course if we had used a trip line, like the guide books suggested, we could have tried to pull the trip line to free the anchor.  I do not think this would have worked myself but it would have been nice to have this arrow in the quiver.

After 30 minutes of trying everything we were resigned to hacking off the anchor and abandoning it.  The water was filthy brown and visibility was about 2 mm at most.  There was not much point in diving on it.

As a final ploy we turned Meredith in a series of slow circles.  We ground the anchor out of the stump.  It took something like another 30 minutes.  There seems to be no damage to the shank of the anchor.

Anchor weighed we started up the waterway, headed for Elizabeth City.  We got out our charts.  There, not 100 metres from our chosen anchorage was a point.  The name of the point?

Stumpy.  What else?

Intercepted by the US Coast Guard Enroute From Havana to West Palm Beach

Too Bad |I Did Not Get a Shot of This Baby Bearing Down
On Meredith at Flank Speed

May 6, 2010\\
Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp, NC

We were 8 hours out of Havana making for West Palm Beach, estimated to take 2 full days.  The Budget Committee had control while I napped on the cockpit bench.

The strident if controlled voice of the BC "Benner WAKE UP" roused me nearly instantly to a state of controlled stupor.  There was no room for misunderstanding the tone. A dog would have been on full alert, a cat hiding until the problem dissipated.

As motor control returned to my brain the radio crackled "Sailboat with Canadian flag at ..... This is the Coast Guard Cutter @#$#$.  Do you copy?"

Able after a few seconds to turn my head I looked over the starboard beam and saw what had caused the BC to erupt.  A BIG WHITE SHIP flying straight at us.  The bow wave was riding up the entire topsides of the big naval vessel and flying with great spray.

It was impressive.  It was a bit scary.

Fortunately my pilot training had ingrained in me the "airline pilot's voice", that controlled deep slow way of talking that allows a pilot to inform air traffic control his 747 has just lost a wing and will crash instantly into the only remaining orphanage in North America while sounding like he is ordering a steak at a fancy restaurant.

The voice is the first thing taught in flight school and until you master it you are not allowed to fly.

We responded immediately asking if the radio call wass to the "Canadian registered vessel enroute in International water to West Palm Beach, Florida".  Somehow I remembered my friend Matt Fischer back in London told me to say something vaguely like this.  Matt spent several years in the Canadian diplomatic corps in the USA.

The cutter arrived in mere seconds taking a position just off our port stern.  The BC leapt to her prescious fishing pole to reel in the line and lure before the cutter, well, cut it off.  Seeing this the Captain of the Cutter moved his vessel well aft and took up a position on the other quarter of Meredith.

Our dialogue began.  The exchange was civil, questions about port of departure, intended destination, full names of all crew, passport numbers.  The usual questions by now.  Our interceptors were very polite.  When the computer vetted our identities the Captain thanked us for our cooperation and wished us a good evening.

Before he left I complimented him on the condition of his cutter.  He told us proudly how hard his crew worked on keeping their boat in top condition and I told him it showed.  He posed his cutter for the shot that leads this article.  (Living in Lucan as we did for 30 years we always noted the pride with which the volunteer fire department maintained the town fire engine.  It was washed weekly even if it never left the station, which in Lucan was most weeks.  These guys, firemen, coast guard, whatever, all love their rigs and take great pride in them.  The cutter was well cared for.)

This was a whole different matter than being boarded by 4 armed thugs from Customs and Border Protection let me tell you.

Fats Waller on Cruising: "I Wonder What's Cookin'. MMMMMM. Smells Like Fish"

May 6, 2010
Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp, Virginia

Now, we all know Fats Waller, the master of the double  entendre was not talking  Tuna when he uttered the title line in this blog.

However, if  you got fish, I say you flaunt fish.  So here is another shot of Curmudgeon and the Dorado:

For anyone still inclined to the prurient side of Mr. Waller's utterances I offer the sailor's answer to the "Mile High Club".  Except I am not sure what you call it when you are 120 Nautical Miles from anywhere.

As Fats would say "I wonder what the poor people are doin'.  Wish I was doin' it with 'em".

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Getting into Hemingway Marina - Updated Directions

Cinco de Mayo, 2010
Elizabeth City, NC

Could You Spot This Critical Marker in a Seaway?

Nigel Calder's book on Cuba is an excellent guide to cruising this most interesting country. That it is not reliable is is one of the stupid lies told by people who know everything but have never actually been to Cuba on a boat.

The book does need some updating however and the directions for Hemingway Marina need some attention.

The directions seem simple enough: go to the sea buoy and turn to a course of 140 degrees to the entrance markers.  The entranceway is very narrow and both sides are shoal and full of sharp rocks offering near instant grief if you stray.
Sometime between 1998 when Calder's book was published and 2010 when Meredith sailed into Hemingway the sea buoy marking the beginning of the channel into Hemingway underwent a change of profile.  Basically the entire steel superstructure which would normally adorn a proper sea buoy has collapsed leaving only a round float sitting at water level. 

You have seen the sea buoy in the picture above.  This picture was taken on a perfectly still day.  Imagine trying to find the buoy with 3 or 5 foot breaking waves.

Making the whole thing worse is that the channel markers are little better than plastic pipes and are difficult to see under many conditions.

So if you are going to Hemingway set the location of the sea buoy in one or two gps's.  Run your boat to within 50 yards and then start looking.  The buoy seems to be filled with cement and you do not want to run into it.  A bow watch might be a darn good idea.

When Meredith entered Hemingway we were in 3 foot breakers and we did not see the buoy.  We thought it had been removed.  Imagine our surprise when we sailed right past her. 

Damn close call.

Havana Sandpaper Wars: You Should Put a Screw in That

Cinco de Mayo, 2010
Elizabeth City, NC

Due to "the Cuban Way" I was unable to change the oil in Meredith today.  It all started with the salon floor in \Meredith.  I will explain.

The Budget Committee had been in a funk over her damaged cabin sole ever since a wayward mechanic in Beaufort bounced our old Westerbeke diesel off it several times while removing said old diesel. (the quart of dirty engine lube oil he somehow spilled in our refrigerator was an unnecessary additional insult).

At Hemingway Marina the BC found her saviour: Indio, a man of self described expertise in the refinishing of cabin soles. Indio's discovered his talent on salon floors just seconds after I refused his offer to work on our toe rail. Lucky for him, eh?
Nelson was not well liked by me.  That Indio was Nelson's man and so bathed in the same dim light of disapproval with which I held the loathesome slug Nelson was of little consequence to the Budget Committee. When it came to the cabin sole I had, by a year's failure to take action, lost the right of comment.

Indio examined the cabin sole with the BC. He oohed, and he aaaahed and he tsk, tsk'd. He assured the Budget Committee she had a beautiful floor and when he was done it would be "perfecto".

The BC was hooked. I was sunk.

The price for the job was set at $30 CUC a day for 8 days of total job time. I made that $240 CUC.

Of course I was using standard Arabic decimal arithmetic.

In Cuba the job price would be $240 CUC plus $100 CUC for the marina plus $20 CUC for Nelson.  For Nelson?

Oh, yes explained Indio, the payment was necessary to make things work. "It is the juice" I said. "The jugo". My spanish skills had soared in only 2 weeks.

"Yes" responded Indio. "It is the juice because it starts the meal". No, I thought to myself. It is what he squeezes out of you.

As he prepared himself to leave Indio made his final financial demand of the day. Holding his varnish can aloft he tapped it and announced the can was empty. He needed $25CUC to buy a new can.

With the BC watching I paid Indio his $25 CUC. It was the BC's birthday. What could I do?

Next morning Indio was on site at 8 a.m. ready for work. It developed that overnight Indio had discovered he was not only out of varnish but also out of paint thinner.

Paint thinner is priced like gold in Cuba and Indio needed $12 CUC for 1 litre. I pointed out that paint thinner cost $3 a litre. Woe overtook poor suffering Indio's face.

Voyager C, a Canadian boat moored just ahead of us hada been watching the proceedings. Enjoying himself immensely at my expense Bill on Voyager C. produced nearly a whole quart of mineral spirits.  It had a big price sticker on it. "$3.50" it read.

I returned to Indio with the thinner. Oddly Indio was not happy to get the paint thinner. Not hearly as happy I suppose as he would have been to get $12 CUC.

Before we left Indio also borrowed my sander and sandpaper. And my extension cord.  It would be too much work to do by hand, you see, and Indio had no sander.

The sandpaper was very nice stuff coated in aluminum oxide distinguishable by its bright white surface. It worked very well.

Indio agreed he would have the cabin sole totally sanded by the time we returned from Havana that day. On the bus into town the BC and I made a joke out of our shakedown. We were getting a full length show for our investment.

When we returned to the marina the first day we found Indio finishing up a coat of varnish on a few small access covers from the cabin sole. The work appeared to be of good quality.

Two of the access covers were broken Indio informed us.  He had taken them to the "carpenter" for repair. $5 CUC was the price and the carpenter must be paid immediately.

No work had been done on the cabin sole. None. We expressed our concern to Indio. He assured us he would have the entire floor sanded the next day.

Next day we left for Havana before Indio arrived hoping to avoid any further opportunities for Indio to vaccuum money from our wallets.  That night, the second night of work, we returned to find the cabin sole had still not been touched. We were forthright in expressing our displeasure.

Day 3 saw Indio ask for money to pay the carpenter to remove our table top so he could reach the cabin sole under the table more easily. I removed it in front of him. It did not take my expert Spanish skills for Indio to determine the total disgust with which I viewed his antics. We left Indio with firm instructions to have the floor sanded by evening.

End of day 3 brought a very small amount of work accomplished on our cabin sole. The floor of the Vberth and of the head had been sanded and first coat of varnish applied. The salon anbd galley were untouched. The BC was happy and I held my piece. For about 20 minutes.

Before Indio left for the day I had occasion to walk past the Amel Mango tied up behind Meredith. The Amel is a very expensive boat. This one was owned by a german couple who, since our arrival at Hemingway had done nothing but look at us with their noses wrinkled as if they were in the presence of a bad odour.

They were having work done on their Amel. The cockpit seats were being sanded furiously by a young Cuban workman. In his hands was a bright yellow sander. My sander. On that sander was a sheet of my sandpaper, easily distinguished by its white colour.

My boat was not being worked on because Nelson needed my equipment to finish a job on the Amel.

I sought out Nelson.

The upshot of it all was that Indio and the guy working on the Amel ran over to apologize to the Budget Committee and me. They were very sorry. It would not happen again. Indio would do our floors next day.

This thing was sour.

That night the boys on Aibel chastised me for inappropriate behaviour. Chris, the Marxist Leninist son of a well to do Nova Scotia lawyer, informed me I was trying to exert power over the working class by denying them access to the means of production. Liam and Dan, on finding out it had been my intention to give the sander to Indio at the end of the job, wondered why, if I was giving the sander to Indio anyway it mattered at all what he did with it today.

It almost worked. For the rest of that evening and overnight I wrestled with the idea that I had behaved inappropriately. I tried really really hard to see it their way.

By morning I realized that all that had happened was that the rotten bastards had stolen my sander, delayed the work on my boat so they could make a quicker buck from unlikeable German twits who almost certainly had their own damn sander.

The Cubans were wrong.

Next morning Indio was very apologetic. I took him to the boat, picked up the sander and extension cord and handed them to him. "A gift" I informed him. 

However, I informed Indio, our boat would leave in 5 days and if he did not show he could get the job done then he could go home right now. The floor would be sanded by our return or he could take his new sander and bugger off right then.

The pace of work on Meredith picked up.  (Indio did indeed get the floor sanded and all 8 coats of varnish applied in the time allotted. The floor looks good).

Next day I again walked past the Amel. The Cuban worker was hard at it sanding the German cockpit seats. When he set his sander down I could not help but notice it was wearing a sheet of my Aluminum Oxide sandpaper.  Not that I had donated any sandpaper to anyone.

The Budget Committee thought I had overreacted on the whole sander thing.  Her tone changed on the last day when, as Indio was leaving, he ran back to the Guarda station and got a knife. He jogged the knife over to the BC and handed her back her bread knife. "It's the Cuban way" said Indio "they needed one and you had one so I lent it to them".

It dawned on the Budget Committee that Indio had gone through every drawer on the boat. Everything we owned had been catalogued and plundered by the Cubans, parcelled out  by Indio to anyone on the dock who needed anything. 

I thought this turnabout was sort of funny until minutes after the return of the bread knife another Cuban worker approached me. "I am installing a through hull" said the Cuban. "I need some 3M 5200 and I noticed you had some. Could I borrow it?"

My one tube of 5200 was hidden in the bottom of our "job bucket", a big container with parts needed to finish numerous jobs. It had been there for 6 years.  No one coujld have "noticed" it without ransacking my boat.

I lent the tube of 5200 to the guy. I just did not care anymore.

He returned it two hours later. The top had been split in two.

"I broke the top" I was informed by the Cuban. "You should put a screw in it to stop it from drying up on you".

The story would have ended there except that today, in Elizabeth City, I went to change the oil on Meredith. For this job I use a drill pump and my deWalt rechargeable drill to pump the used oil out of the engine. When I connected the rig and pulled the trigger on the drill I discovered the battery was dead. I installed the other battery which I knew was fully charged.  It too was dead.

Let me be perfectly blunt. These Cubans were thieves. Their conduct is not the product of their economic system.  Each of them has their own personal property and it is not shared with the community at large.  No "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" in this workers' paradise.  They will ransack your possessions. They will take and use everything you own.  Worse they will hand it out to anyone.

You do not get it all back. I continue to find small tools missing - tools not likely to be noticed right away:  the second smaller pliers, the nut driver I use for hose clamps, my special ultra sharp knife.
I will never allow another Cuban worker on my boat.\\

My experience with Cuban officials has been so very positive: Roland the doctor, Jose Vila Danger the customs man.  These officials are proud competent people and represent their country well in difficult conditions.  The average man we have met on the street is not of this calibre.  Not even close.