The Cuban Heart

Entering through the narrows of Saint John, Newfoundland reminded me of the entrance into Santiago de Cuba, both about the same in width and with cliffs on either sides, both spectacular and to our misfortune both up wind but worth the effort.

Our time in Santiago was one of the most memorable, not because of the place but because of the friends we made there and how we learned how big the heart of a Cuban can be.

It was January 2011 when we sailed into Santiago, this was my third visit to Cuba. The first to La Habana in 2004 by myself, the second in 2010 with my father, two brothers, and my two daughters to meet mi marinero Jay who had delivered a boat there from Florida, this time visiting Jir√≥n, to the south as well as La Habana. Jay and I vowed to return one day on our own boat but we were interested in anywhere other than the capital of La Habana and Santiago caught our attention. On our first visit out of the marina upon arrival, we were approached by a young cuban Pochito¬†who offered his service for anything we might need, discovering we were latinos he toke us over to his house. There his parents received us, Rosa¬†and Pedro, they welcomed us in and from that moment on did not let us eat one day on our boat, they prepared a meal for us, a feast, every day. We spent countless hours with them. Rosa¬†washed our clothes by hand, she prepared warm pails of water for us to bathe in, braided the Chicas hair, Jay even learned how to fill a propane tank with Pedro¬†by gravity from one tank to the other via hoses. They made a living from the Cuban black market, for less than $10 they would feed 9 people. We could only stay for a week, though they wanted us to stay longer, and so did we, but we explained we were on our way back home to Costa Rica for our wedding scheduled for February 5th, just a couple of weeks away. We asked where we could go buy some clothes to wear at our wedding, the white linen garments original to Cuba is what we had in mind. Pedro¬†asked Jay what was he looking for exactly, Jay relied ‚Äúa white shirt and white pants‚ÄĚ, Pedro¬†looked him over and got up and left into another room, he came out with a black garbage bag and handed it to Jay and said ‚Äúyou do not need anything, here is what you will wear to your wedding‚ÄĚ. Pedro¬†was a thin tall black man, pretty much the same size as Jay. As he revieled the contents inside the bag Pedro¬†told us that about 5 years ago he had befriended a Mexican who would return to visit again and asked Pedro¬†what he would like from Mexico and he¬†replied ‚Äúwhite pants and a white shirt so that when I escape from Cuba one day I can arrive in a new port dressed in white‚ÄĚ, of course, the color of freedom! He told us ‚Äúnow I know I will never escape this prison so please wear it for me‚ÄĚ.

That is what Jay wore to our wedding, it fit him perfectly and the thought of it always brings tears to my eyes, what a sad realization to come to, how sad the Cuban existance, but above all, even under such circumstances, what a big heart that of the Cubano.

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Saint-Pierre to Newfoundland

We set sail on my birthday Saturday September 13th, it was a sunny beautiful day. The wind was pushing us onto the Eric Tabarly docks of the Ecole Municipale de Voile de Saint-Pierre where we had stayed for 10 blissful days. With the main up we pushed the boat back to the end of the dock and let the transom fall back as we pushed the bow into the wind. Jay was already at the helm by the time I jumped on deck, almost being left behind. We tacked out of the harbor and no sooner that we had set our port tack towards our destination 120ňô E by SE, that Jay had turned on Gma, our new autopilot. We named it after Jay‚Äôs mom, Grandma Carolyn, who kindly donated it to our cause. We did a dock-side-calibration and now it worked perfectly, our life aboard has changed. From one sail to the next we were no longer slaves to Messenger‚Äôs tiller. I had a perfect birthday sail. After some 65 nautical miles we arrived to Newfoundland where we tacked up a small fiord until the very end and anchored in a protected area with good holding to await a depression to blow over. We stayed there for 30 hrs, the girls made brownies and we feasted on a delicious pork stew that Jay had made in the crock-pot throughout the night before we left. We had a lovely private party while the wind howled outside, we read books, did art projects, listened to The Savage Sea on tape and recorded on our own voices on tape as well as listened to previous ones, even to some before Caribe was born, with Sol and Luna‚Äôs baby voices.

On Monday morning after breakfast we lifted our 2 anchors and began our ascent to Saint John. As soon as we reached the mouth of the fiord, the calm flat water we had been cruising down on turned into a washing machine, we had not given the seas enough time to calm down and pretty quickly we started to ‚Äúfall‚ÄĚ in order Sol, Caribe, Mami and Luna. Either the North Atlantic is very different than the Caribbean or our 2 year stop has made us start all over, either way the second leg wasn‚Äôt as fun as the first but thanks to Jay and Gma we arrived in Saint John in close to 30 hrs. The entrance, referred to here as the narrows, was spectacular, it reminded us of other narrow entrances we have had to sail into: Saint George in Bermuda, the narrowest and Santiago de Cuba, the most beautiful. As usual, we had to tack up into it, but the maneuver makes it the most exciting and interesting. We then put the main down and drifted/sculled right into the public dock. A very strange and industrial port, with no facilities for mariners but very interesting shops and eccentric locals.

This is the most North Eastern point of the continent, the furthest we can go on short passages before heading into the unknown deep blue. We will spend less than a week here, there seams to be a good window we are studying and we might make the jump next week.

Next stop ICELAND! Just the sound of it is grand.

The importance of following your instinct and sticking to your plan

We met a lovely couple running a Bed & Breakfast in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. An¬†Australia and a Canadian. We invited them over for dinner, to the exotic cooking of Jay’s arroz con coco and local haddock fish. When given the tour of Messenger and upon finding out we had no motor, they¬†told us of a sad true story that remind us of the importance of sticking to your wits and not changing what you believe in.

Messenger’s crew believes that having a motor can at times be more dangerous and risky than not having one because as a sailor, on a sailboat, one can get too comfortable and rely too heavily on a motor, putting your boat and yourself in danger. The story we were told was of a friend of theirs¬†who had been sailing for years without a motor, there came the day he decided to put a motor on his vessel and left from Lunenberg to Bermuda, a trip he had made many times before. Weather predictions¬†turned on him and he had 2 options, either turn around and head back downwind away from a bad¬†storm running up the east coast or push on to windward against it. Without a motor under such circumstances there is only one sane option for a sailor, go with the flow of the environment but with an engine you can go anywhere anytime, you are able¬†to go against nature. The man pushed onward relying on the motor to get him past the storm. The storm toke the boat and the man. All was lost.

This is one of many stories we have heard of sailboats relying on their motor and when it has failed they find themselves in a situation they cannot get themselves out of because they cannot sail out of it. If we can’t sail in or out of a place,¬†we just don’t go there, always making us air on the side of caution. Yes, it takes patience because¬†if we can’t sail, we also don’t move. But if my options are wait or die, I will choose to wait, no matter how long that takes.

Why do people want an engine on a sailboat? I mean, isn’t the whole point about owning a sailboat that you use it for sailing? For actually making the boat go from point A to point B using the natural power of the wind? Isn’t that why it’s called “sail-ing”, not “engine-ing”?

So my nomination for Worst Sailing Innovation Ever is the engine. Or more¬†specifically the crazy idea of putting an engine in a sailing boat. I don’t care if it’s an inboard engine or an outboard motor. It’s just plain wrong.

Here are 23 reasons why putting an engine in a sailing boat is the worst sailing innovation ever….

You don’t need an engine. We have sailed all in the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic, in and out of all sorts of exotic stopovers, for gazillions of miles, on two boats different boats one a snail and one a vomit-commit… both boats without engines.

An engine costs money to buy and install in the boat.
It costs money for spare parts.
It costs money for repairs.
It costs money for fuel.

An engine takes up space you could use for other things.
An engine adds weight to the boat.
The propeller increases drag.

Maintaining an engine takes time away from sailing.
Repairing an engine takes time away from sailing.

An engine breaks down.
An engine is noisy.
It is dirty.
It vibrates.
It is smelly.
It pollutes the air.
If you spill the fuel it pollutes the water.

If you have an engine you need several extra holes in your hull for the cooling pipes, exhaust, prop shaft, etc.

An engine does not provide extra safety. Murphy’s Law says that it will fail just when you most need it. If you don’t have an engine you will be more prudent about getting yourself into bad situations and you will develop the skills to get yourself out of difficulty using natural methods.

Without an engine you will feel closer to nature.
Without an engine you will have to learn to sail well.
Without an engine you will have the joy of entering the same anchorages in the same way that Columbus, Drake, Cook, Nelson – and the Coconuts – did… under sail alone.

You don’t need an engine.

Appropriated from Tillerman on ProperCourse

Caribe’s Birth Story

Being here in Saint Pierre, a French island in North America, has reminded us of our time in Martinique, another French island but this one in the Caribbean. Walking the aisles of the grocery store and recognizing all the products we became used to, waking up early (not something natural for us) in order to snag a fresh baguette at the local boulangerie, speaking Spanish with a French accent which seams to work just fine and people seam to understand me perfectly, are all things that have made me think of our lovely 4 months in Martinique. Which we picked as a birthing place because¬†Sol and Luna wanted to learn French and because we wanted to have a boat birth. Most of the children that the girls had met while cruising were French and for the most part the children weren’t yet bilingual so the girls were eager to learn the language to be able to communicate with them and knowing the laissez-faire nature of the French we knew we would be able to have the birth we wanted without quarrels. So it was either Guadeloupe or Martinique and the later was the sailing mecca which meant work for Jay.

So without further ado here is Caribe’s birth story as I have written it to her:

The Day You Were Born

It was summer in the island of Martinique, French Antilles in the Caribbean. We had been waiting for you for about a week after your due date. Baba had been there for over a week and she was only staying for a week or two more, which stressed me out because I needed more help after the birth than prior, and you were in no hurry. Your Papi Jay and sisters Sol and Luna were eager for you to come out as well. I had been having a few false starts during which your father and I would walk the long docks of the marina of Le Marin to try and get things going but you weren’t ready. Your fathers birthday was coming up and sure enough you came the day before.

On the night of February 23rd around dinner time I felt labor start. We all had a lovely dinner together around 8 o’clock. Your father started preparing the pool which we placed in the middle of the saloon floor, bellow the water line, and getting everything else ready. We also set up a placenta birthing chair in the V-birth, naturally. Labor quickly escalated and by the time the contractions were strong Baba, Sol and Luna had all fallen asleep, perfect, now I could go into¬†laborland. We had closed up the hatches and windows,¬†placed small candles all around (a touch of las¬†Chicas), had some incense burning and soft music playing. Your father was at the galley with 2 big pots heating up water for the pool in his speedo, he looked very sexy. I stood at the mast, which is keel stepped and a strong structure inside the boat on which¬†I could lean on while I rocked back and forth during contractions. The idea of laboring at the base of this tree like phallic symbol just made perfect sense. Around 2 o’clock in the morning I had the urge to push so I got into the pool hoping to enjoy it for a while but no, you were coming out fast. I was, as always, afraid of tearing so I tried holding you in but my body was pushing hard on it’s own. My moans and screams woke everyone up. Las Chicas were sleeping on the settee on which I was leaning my back on and their heads popped out on both sides of mine and Baba who had been sleeping in the cockpit pocked her head down the companionway. I told Jay you were coming so he got into the pool with me just in time to ketch¬†you. By the time I opened my eyes after pushing you out Jay had already placed you on my chest, you came out so fast.

You slowly started breathing, I was surprised at how wide you opened your eyes and started looking around, it was pretty dark just with candle light which I guess made it possible for you to do so. It was close to 90ňôF/32ňôC inside the boat which made it very comfortable for both of us. A little time passed, you were now breathing well and had started making little sounds, we were all in a baby mesmerizing state when finally Baba asked “Well, what is it?” The surprise of your sex had been forgotten and didn’t seam to be so important during our state of awe of just your existence. So I lifted you up¬†but I could hardly see it was so dark, we all thought you were a boy but I couldn’t make out a penis, you started screaming as if telling us “I’m a girl! Now put me down!” We were all so surprised, you were perfect and very long. I then got up holding you in my arms and walked to the V-birth where I sat on a V shaped chair with a bucket between my legs to birth the placenta. You started sucking¬†on the breast trying to figure it out.¬†About 20 minutes later I birthed the placenta which came out in one big beautiful chunk. Jay felt the umbilical cord until there was no more heart beat felt through it, then it was safe and time to cut it. Las Chicas were Jay’s little helpers getting him all the tools to cut and clamp the cord. Your father gave a little speech right before cutting your cord, he told you you no longer needed the placenta which had been your life¬†source up until then and that now we would take care of you and that¬†you could breath on your own. He clamped and cut the cord, he gave you that perfect belly button you now have.

I laid down with you while everyone was busy doing things, breaking down the pool, picking up the placenta room, making me food, but once everything was done it was time to rest. You and your father fell deep asleep in the same fetal position side by side on the settee, you looked just alike. Las Chicas toke turns holding you while whispering, they were so gentle and happy. Your birth was a family event, it was personal and perfect in every way.

You were born on February 24th at 2:30am weighing 7.5 Lbs/3.4 kilos

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Lunenberg to Saint Pierre Passage

August 31, 2014 – 11:00 ~ Lunenberg to Saint Pierre

It was time to leave the beloved small town of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, the weather was right. We greatly enjoyed our 13 day stay in this quaint and extremely friendly place. The contrast of culture was surprising, we were in Newport for 2 years and found it difficult to connect with people, aside from a few exceptions. People we met in Lunenberg were so giving it was astounding.

After a 3 days battle installing our new autopilot, which does not come with amateur instructions, I suppose they assume a professional will be doing the work, Jay was close to loosing his mind, he thought it was too¬†similar to a motor and nearly gave up. He, as usual, persisted and we were finally ready too leave, actually a day late according to the navigators good weather window predictions. We woke up at 8:30, early¬†for us Coconuts, on Sunday, and headed out the harbor. We did a few tacks to check the rigging and make¬†a couple of adjustments. We tried calibrating the auto pilot but the boat¬†wasn’t flat enough, I suppose you have to have a motor so that the boat can be flat when calibrating it, all too high tech for us. I made breakfast burritos, toast, oatmeal, coffee and tea as we headed out to sea. All 3 chicas feel fast asleep right after, we don’t see much of them the first 6 to 12 hrs of sailing.

Winds were SW at 20 knots, we beam reached until the entrance to Halifax and then turned running down, straight towards our destination, a lovely sunny sail. Well, it¬†didn’t last long and our beautiful sail turned into a hell of a sail. The toughest passage on our,¬†las¬†chicas,¬†log book. The winds picked up to 30 knots sustained, gusting up to vomiting speeds, seas got rough and stormy weather rolled in for the next couple of days. It was unbearable to be on deck, the wet and rocky conditions made it a torturous work out to be out there. Bellow deck was damp and not very pleasant to the stomach. There was a lot of upwind sailing during those couple of¬†days and thankfully Messenger can sail well alone with the tiller¬†tied up which speared me having to drive and gave Jay plenty of time down bellow to rest and dry up. Everyone, except for Caribe and Jay, got sick on this one but they were both also¬†on the verge. At one point Jay laid down on the windward deck and he nearly drowned when¬†a wave engulfed him and filled his napping wide open mouth with water. Tactfully the Captain did great and got us to our destination¬†in a little under 3 days.

It was rainy when we arrived early on a Wednesday morning, no one answered on the radio when we called and had no idea where to go but we saw a couple of¬†douane¬†gentlemen waiving us down from a pier so¬†we sailed up to¬†it and tied up. After a worshiped shower and a nap came the immigration agents and then down went the¬†yellow flag and up the French flag, “o√Ļ pouvons-nous trouver une baguette?

After a fancy dinner out we had all forgotten about our kick in the butt passage and it all seamed so worth it!

Jay’s encounter with a great white shark

After this story you will understand why Jay could only think of sharks when he jumped into the ocean to save our dinghy, rather than the million other things that I was thinking of,¬†what if he can’t get back on to the boat, will I be able to pull him up, what if he becomes untied and floats away, could I be able to sail this boat alone…

It was early January 2011, 3 years ago, we arrived to an uninhabited island, one on the very south end of the long strip of the Bahamas Islands. The sea bottom close to the island went from 200 ft to 40 ft and in-between lots of coral reefs we anchored in a patch of white sand. Jay jumped in with his mask to make sure the anchor had¬†a good hold since there was reef all around us it was important we did not drag. I was tidding up things onboard, the girls were playing on deck. I heard Jay yell something back to us from the water but being upwind from him I did¬†not ketch what he said, Luna who was closer to the stern of the boat repeated “He said let go of the dinghy”, I replied¬†“No he didn’t”, I watched him and his head was¬†in the water with¬†his back floating on the surface when¬†he began¬†to launch forward, arms open, splashing the water¬†violently as if doing¬†an awkward butterfly stroke. He then slowly began swimming backwards without lifting his face out of the water, he reached the dinghy which was tied up behind us and jumped in, he was as white as the sandy bottom we just anchored in.

He came¬†aboard and told¬†us his story. He was swimming around checking out the reefs when out of the corner of his eye he sees something big move, he turns and about 20 ft away is a great white shark, 4 times his size, it has turned towards him and is slowly coming at him as if sniffling him out like a dog. This is when he yelled to let go of the dinghy which was about 10ft upwind from him, good quick thinking but his wife¬†estaba en otras. So then he¬†quickly thought¬†“I need to convince this thing that I am going to eat him otherwise he’s going to eat me”, so he immediately started to launch towards it, as if he were a wild cave man, growling, kicking and splashing like a wild animal, it worked! The shark turned around and swam away from him, Jay kept his eyes on it as he swam backwards, the shark did loop around about 30 ft from him and started coming slowly towards him again but by then Jay had reached the dinghy and managed to jump to safety.

Lesson learned, always trust your husband, no matter how crazy his request might sound.

Newport to Lunenberg Passage

July 14, 2014 – 12:00 ~ Newport to Lunenberg

Finally we set sail again, after the longest stop we’ve ever made¬†since we started sailing, Jay 9 years ago and myself (Natasha) 5 years ago. We cast off under fair winds from Newport, Rhode Island, headed for Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. Within the hour into our passage all 3 girls were sleeping. Later on that afternoon Caribe throw up for the first time in her sailing career. I ducked and she got me on the shoulder, otherwise she would have got me head on. But that was it, she never got sea sick again on this passage and we had some rough patches where she was jumping up and down as happy as could be. Luna is a natural just like Jay, Sol on the other hand, lays horizontally the entire time, she even eats and plays laying down and does get sea sick when it gets rough. Even though we had purchased a brand new auto pilot (a kind donation from G-Ma) we still hadn’t had time to connect it so Jay was a slave to the tiller, I drove for a couple of hours that first afternoon. At night we had fair winds and the sea got considerably calm as we reached the Gulf stream, that madrugada I relieved the Captain for a few hours again.

Day 2 РDolphins visited us twice, they were dark gray with a bright white underside, we also saw a portuguese-man-of-war, a jelly fish with an inflated sail like bladder which floats on the surface. The jib came out of it’s track, this was another thing we bought new but hadn’t installed it, the old aluminum track was bent so it was difficult to get the jib to slide up in it. Jay had tried twice y la tercera es la vencida, so he was on his last try when he got it up. We also left without cutting the dinghy in half so we had been towing it with 2 lines, one broke off so Jay had to replace it while underway.

Day 3 РTides from the Bay of Fundy were affecting the seas where we were, 200 nautical miles away. Currents were strong and seas disorganized. We had to gybe constantly with the incoming and outgoing tides. The wind picked up to 20 knots, so we put down the jib knowing we probably wouldn’t be able to get it back up and just sailed with the main. I toke a turn at the helm at noon with the radio headphones, picking up some Canadian talk shows and classical music. The dinghy had been doing well for the most part while being towed, surfing and gliding behind us. Some unconscious thought made me look behind us and I saw the dinghy was upside down! I screamed for Jay and he jumped into the cockpit in a flash. The next few hours turned into a physical torment as we tacked and gybed back and forth in 8ft seas trying to rescue our dinghy, our live raft, our car! I laid stomach down on the leeward deck as Jay sailed by the dinghy trying to snag the floating line that was attached to it but after more than a handful of tries and being doused with a cold wave we decided to change tactics. We sailed directly upwind from the dinghy and put down the main, as we drifted down to it Jay put on a harness and secured a rope to it. That part was planned out and we had spoken about it but what followed was a total surprise. When we were about 10ft from the dinghy Jay stripped his clothes off and jumped into the cold North Atlantic butt naked and swam to the dinghy. He quickly secured a rope to the dinghy and swam back to Messenger climbed back onboard at the transom pulling himself up with the back stay, a feat probably nearly impossible to do on a regular day. But pumped with adrenaline he climbed up with no problem. Later, in retrospect, he told me all he could think about was of the shark infested waters he had jumped into. But voilá, we had it back and although we were exhausted, cold, bruised and bleeding, we had not given up, we had managed to save our dinghy. The hard part of the rescue was done but we still had some work cut out for us. We pulled the dinghy along side Messenger and flipped it over, it was full of water so then Jay had to jump into it and bail it out and secure new lines to it. Down bellow, where the girls had fallen asleep with the rocking and rolling, the boat was a disaster, everything had fallen about.

Finally that evening the wind and seas had calmed and we began our slow approach towards Lunenberg. That night I drove for a good long stretch letting Jay finally get some needed rest.

Day 4 – Winds at 10 knots and we are finally parallel to land, seas have been calm and wind consistant making the boat flatter and our passage more comfortable. We saw a moon fish, 2 small sharks and a small whale in the distance. We arrived into Lunenberg before noon and too tired to sail onto a dock to check in so we anchored and rested until the next morning.