Passage to Cuba

After nearly two weeks of waiting for favourable weather, the harbour was full of sails, as boat after boat left Georgetown.   Taia and Spunky both pulled anchor that morning and headed north.  A bunch of boats headed east toward Dominican Republic and we departed in company with Drew and Kate from Molly Star.  Drew had spent the last two days helping me find and change out the batteries for the boat as both had completely fried last week.


After nearly two weeks of waiting for favourable weather, the harbour was full of sails, as boat after boat left Georgetown.  [more]  Taia and Spunky both pulled anchor that morning and headed north.  A bunch of boats headed east toward Dominican Republic and we departed in company with Drew and Kate from Molly Star.  Drew had spent the last two days helping me find and change out the batteries for the boat as both had completely fried last week.

Teresa and Bob from Spunky with Rene the dog that tried to jump into to Pup Pup and almost fell overboard.


Ernesto pulling up Taia`s anchor

Natalia steering Taia


Sails up Spunky!




Right before we left a juvenile dolphin came swimming up to the boat and I jumped in.  I swam with the dolphin for about 30 minutes before I got out of the water.  The dolphin kept chasing the fish around the pipes under the boat, seemly for fun though he did check out the inside of one pipe 5 or 6 times.  Not sure what he was looking for.  It was a little disconcerting swimming with him as he would circle me and sometimes charge towards me turning right before he hit me.  Still a really cool experience.


Swimming with a wild dolphin




The dolphin would swim right up to the boat.  The boys were just fascinated.  What a wonderful send off from Georgetown!


I could almost touch him

Our plan was to transit the Hog Cay Cut which is very shallow and must be done at high tide.  This delayed our departure time until noon.   We headed out only to find that we could not get up to our budgeted speed of 5 knots which would mean we would have to wait for the next tide a day later.  There was a lot of consternation onboard as we moved though the south exit of Georgetown Harbour at 2.5 knots.   As with most “emergencies” on-board related to navigation, waiting and continuing with the original plan usually pays off.

We were going to turn back but decided to wait and see how things would look once outside the entrance.   After clearing the cut we turned nearly directly into the wind but were able to raise sail.  In a sailboat the wind nearly always blows from where you are headed!  Soon we cooked along at over 6 knots which would help make up some time, the down side was the boat was heeled (tipped) about 20 degrees which makes moving around the boat treacherous.  Molly Star graciously waited for us on the other side of the cut and guided us through.   Usually in the Bahamas you can see what the water depth is by the color of the water, but not in the Hog Cay Cut; there you must follow the charts which have you ignoring you’re instincts and drive over the water that looks the most shallow. A little unnerving but we made it with about 6 inches of water to spare.

An hour after the cut we started to anchor but the controller for anchor windlass shorted out after engaging the motor in “down.”  Normally if there is a short on the control side the solenoid will go back to neutral but this time it stuck in the down position running.  This has happened once before but that time I hit the “up” and the motor stopped.  I frantically hit the “up” to stop the motor but it didn’t work.  Then I tried to kill the engine which can stop the motor via hardwired logic, then I opened the battery switches but it continued to run.  I was going to pull the leads off the motor but by that time it had run out 150 feet of chain and 200 feet of rope before it jammed on the knot at the bitter end of the rode.  The breaker on the anchor windlass tripped before the motor burned out.  We called Drew from Molly Star and we tracked the problem down to a faulty connector on the control circuit.  A two hour rewire and everything was good to go.

Next morning I spent an hour and a half diving under the boat with a broom scrubbing off the sea grass that had attached to the hull and was slowing us down.  Our boat is painted with ablative paint which means that it is designed to flake off easily, making hull cleaning easier.  When you run the brush over the hull you remove a thin layer of paint to which grass is attached, easy right?  NOPE (Chuck Testa, don`t worry if that makes no sense  ;)!  This job is both physically demanding and dirty because you must dive under the boat and scrub the paint off, which then coats you in paint and sea gunk.  Our paint is black and I was covered.  I could have kept cleaning but I was spent both; lungs and arms and needed a break.


I showered and then we pulled anchor and headed out.

Molly Star was heading about 20 miles to Water Cay which we heard has awesome snorkeling but we decided to get going directly to Cuba about 140 nm.  This should take between 24 and 30 hours depending on how the trip went.   Initially, we thought we were motoring into the wind but a look at the wind vane vs the control panel showed that the wind was blowing 90 degrees from our course,  perfect sailing weather.  Up went the sails and soon we had our target of 6 knots with engine running just above idle. Before the sails went up I was a little worried that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to Cuba and started to look into stopping at Duncan Town which reportedly will sometimes have diesel to sell.  The only problem was that we would hit Duncan at about midnight – getting the sails up eliminated the need for this.

Right before sunset the wind went to zero as we passed behind a large squall cloud.  We put the kids to bed which was an unhappy affair because their rooms were loud and hot from the engine which had been running all day.  Ethan cried and the big boys complained about being hot or the noise but very soon they all fell asleep.  The wind picked up enough to shut the engine down and Viatori headed south.   Leah, who was a busy mom all day and get effected by boat motion more than me, went to bed and I sailed.

Heeling… sucks


Conventional wisdom is that one person keeps watch and one sleeps.  Solo sailors will set alarms every 20-30 minutes to check the horizon for other boats and the state of the boat, I made a bed in the cockpit and went to sleep with my alarms set.

Hotel Viatori on passage.

The night is mostly a haze of waking up to check the position, state of wind and horizon except for one time when we got hit with one squall which packed over 25 knots of wind.  Before the squall we had about 15 knots of wind and the sails fully raised, 25 knots made the boat heel to 45 degrees and speed along at over 7 knots – awesome and scary at the same time.  I started to reef the sails and Leah woke up because she had been thrown from her bed by the combination of greater heel and sea motion associated with moving at 7 knots instead of 5.5 knots..  For the rest of the night the sails stayed reefed and we accepted slower speed for comfort and safety. This of course added a couple hours to the passage with a target time of 13:00 instead of 10:00.  The boys didn’t even move in their beds.


In the morning we had sandwiches for breakfast, the boys watched a few movies and soon – Land Ho!

Land Ho in Cuba.  Cuba has hills which means you see it for hours before you get there.  The Bahamas islands show up right before you get there.



A few more hours and I radioed the marina.  Puerto Vita is at the end of a long valley which makes the marina a great hurricane hole and the water was glass inside even though the water was about 15 knots outside.  They use Med Mooring (you back the boat into its spot, tie off the boat from the stern to the dock and tie the bow to a mooring ball to keep from swinging around) at Puerto Vita which we had never done but after a little assistance and a few tries we got the boat tied up – scratch free!

Viatori Med Moored.


A doctor came aboard and pronounced us healthy as he asked about fever and vomiting, then customs checked the boat in and asked questions about where we had come from, how long we are staying in Cuba, where else we might travel in Cuba with the boat, what we both did for a living in Canada, and what computers, radios, sat phones and GPS we had on board.  Someone from agriculture inspected the food on board the boat so Leah showed him everything in the floorboards and he looked at everything in the fridge.  He seemed only mildly interested in some sausage we had.   Lastly, I walked to immigration to get our visas.  While the officer was stamping the visas, some other guy was using the computer in the office, at one point playing a Lady Gaga video.  He was obviously not a officer, but what do I care.  I sat on the couch and dozed while he stamped away.  After he was done I headed to the marina office to talk to Janet who would arrange everything we would need from rental cars, hotel rooms to rat guards for the dock lines.

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