May 2013 - Cuba to San Andres

1 May 2013   Bluefields to Bluefields, Jamaica
I can't believe that it's May already.  We were planning to go to either Black River or Great Pedro Bay which are directly upwind, so we left before eight o'clock to take advantage of the light winds early in the morning.  It would appear that the winds always pick up towards midday.

By ten o'clock, sure enough the wind had picked up to 15 knots and the waves increased in size quickly.  We were just outside Black River, so we decided to have a look rather than bashing our brains out going to windward.

Bluefields Marine Park Ranger, Jamaica, Jamaica

The wind continued to pick up as we approached the anchorage just off town.  We anchored about 200 metres off shore, but it was pretty gnarly with two foot waves rolling into the anchorage.  We debated staying and putting out a stern anchor to hold our bow into the swell, but soon made the decision to run away.

We motored out past the reef and, turned south-east to head for Great Pedro Bay.  It was midday by this time and the wind had picked up to 25 knots with horrible steep waves - all coming from the direction that we wanted to go.  After five minutes of bashing into it, only managing 3 knots with the engine straining at 2,500 revs, we gave up, turned around and headed back to Bluefields.  I was gutted - this is the first time that we've had to turn around, but the prospect of 5 hours bashing into those waves was too much.

It only took us a couple of hours to get back to the anchorage at Bluefields and what a welcome sight it was.  We jumped in the dinghy and went ashore to explore.  As soon as we beached our dinghy, a guy with dreadlocks came up and said hello.  My first thought was “Here we go”, but I was polite and chatted to him.  It turns out that Bluefields is a Marine Park and this guy was the park ranger!  We had a nice chat with him and a fisherman friend of his - our first genuine Jamaicans who didn’t want anything, just being friendly.

We had a stroll around, but there’s not much to see, it’s just a small village along a main road.  Glenys bought some bread, eggs and an Ackee Loaf with Saltfish from a small store.  We immediately ate the Ackee Loaf, which is like a pastie but the outer shell is made from bread – very tasty.  We then called in at a beach side bar for a cold Red Stripe and chatted to the owner who was amazed to hear that we actually lived on our boat – they don’t get many cruising yachts here.  I like this place, everyone is friendly and not wanting to rip us off.

We're trying to get to Portland Bight which looks very interesting with a number of isolated cays for us to explore.  Unfortunately, it's 70 miles upwind and it's obvious that the wind picks up a lot during the day, so we're now planning to leave at dawn tomorrow to travel 25 miles to Great Pedro Bay.  We'll stay overnight, get up before dawn and try to get as far east as we can before the wind picks up.

2 May 2013   Bluefields to Great Pedro Bay, Jamaica
We were under way before six o'clock and motored up the coast.  It was an uneventful trip, apart from catching a nice Spanish Mackerel, and we arrived in the anchorage at Great Pedro Bay five hours later.

It's a pleasant little bay tucked around a headland, with a nice beach and rocky cliffs to the east.  We had a bit of a struggle to get the anchor to hold and I had to snorkel down to help the tip of the anchor into the fine, hard-packed sand.  Although we were tucked right into the corner of the bay, the swell was hooking around the corner and causing us to roll, but it didn't seem bad enough to put out a stern anchor.

Fishermen beaching their boat, Great Pedro Bay, Jamaica

We chilled out for the afternoon.  Playing my guitar was a challenge because the rolling of the boat was threatening to throw me off my seat all of the time. We had an early night, with the alarm clock set to five o'clock. 

3 May 2013  Great Pedro Bay to Pigeon Island, Jamaica
What a bloody awful night.  It was very hot, airless and the rolling was bad - really BAD.  I ended up lying in the “Recovery Position” (well-loved by First Aiders) and hanging on to the mattress when the bigger rolls came.  Fortunately, we had to get up early.

The sky looked ominously grey as we lifted the anchor before dawn.  We followed several unlit fishing boats out of the anchorage and around the headland.  This section of the coast has some very impressive looking cliffs with steep slopes where the mountains drop down to the sea.  We could see dark rain clouds stretching off into the distance with intermittent rain showers, especially near the coastal cliffs.  There's a lighthouse on the hill above Cutlass Point at a height of 1750 feet, which looked very eerie as it flashed in and out of the low clouds hiding the tops of the hills.

We dodged squalls for a couple of hours, but it soon brightened up.  The strength and direction of the wind was constantly changing, so we were forced to motor sail for five hours before the wind settled down to a pleasant 12 knots and we were able to sail the rest of the way.

There wasn't much to look at because we were crossing a large bay far from land, so we read our books and chilled out.  Glenys made us bacon sandwiches for our second breakfast at ten o'clock and, just before lunch, I hooked a big fish that made the line scream out of the reel and took ten minutes to reel in.  Unfortunately, it was a large 3 foot Barracuda, which we didn’t want to eat, so I managed to land, de-hook and release it without the damn thing biting me.

By three o'clock, we were anchoring at Pigeon Island, which is very well sheltered from the prevailing winds and has a nice sandy beach with coconut palm trees.  As in all of the other anchorages that we've visited in Jamaica, there was nobody around - we hadn't seen another boat for days.  I went to bed to catch up on lost sleep and got up just in time to crack open a cold beer at five o'clock   By this time, a big power boat had come into the anchorage and tied up to the beach, so perhaps we’ll have more company over the weekend.

There were a few showers around, so we decided to watch a film. We’d just settled down with our TV dinner (Sweet & Sour Spanish Mackerel), when a squall hit us, reversing the wind direction and increasing to 20 knots with 30 knot gusts.  By this time we were on a lee shore and the waves were starting to build up.  We abandoned our film and sat up in the wet cockpit keeping a watch on our position by having a bearing on the nearby navigation  light …  It soon went over and we carried on watching a film.  Sometimes I wish that I lived in a little house on dry land… 

4 May 2013   Pigeon Island, Jamaica
We had a peaceful night’s sleep and it was very calm in the morning, so we chilled out aboard.  It’s Saturday today and a few more power boats arrived during the morning – this is a popular anchorage for people from Kingston which is only 20 miles away.

Around noon, a couple of ladies came over from one of the power boats and invited us over to the beach, where they were gathering for a few drinks and snacks.  We threw a few cold beers and some nibbles into our cold bag and went to join them.  There was quite a little gathering of white Jamaicans on the beach, sitting comfortably in beach chairs around a table covered with drinks.

New friends, Pigeon Island, Jamaica

We met John & Jenny from “Shalako”, Roy & Mary from “Unreal” and Ian & Sonya from “Jamaica Joe”.  They all work and live in Kingston running large businesses and regularly come to Pigeon Island.  John & Jenny have been planting the coconut and sea grape trees along the beach and generally keeping the place tidy for over twenty years, even though the island belongs to the government.  We had a very pleasant afternoon with them and ended up on “Shalako” having a dinner of Curried Conch made by their skipper, Trevor, which was delicious.

It was interesting to talk to this group of white Jamaicans about the situation in the country.  In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from Britain and, in the early 1970s, a guy called Manley, started a series of political reforms that moved the country towards socialism, building strong ties with Castro in Cuba.  There were sweeping economic reforms and a large number of wealthy (mostly white) Jamaicans left the country causing widespread financial problems and nearly plunging the country into civil war.  

Some of the group had moved to the USA, only returning recently, but most had stuck it out and built large businesses.  The social environment has changed dramatically.  In the 1960s, the majority of government and upper class people were white, but now the country is run predominantly by black Jamaicans.  It sounds like things are getting better, but there are still widespread power cuts, water shortages and huge areas of poverty - especially in Kingston where there are ghettos, which have gangs called Yardis, who are so violent that even the locals don’t move across gang borders. 

5 May 2013   Pigeon Island, Jamaica
It was a lovely morning, which was a relief after the unsettled weather of the past couple of days.  I went over to “Shalako” to get some local knowledge from John & Jenny.  John has suggested that we anchor off Port Henderson when we get to Kingston and he will help us to sort out our oil leak on the generator and run us around to buy things, which is a kind offer.

We went snorkelling - circumnavigating the small island and checking out several places.  Unfortunately, the reef is in very poor condition and there are few fish around.  It looks like hurricane damage with all of the stag-horn coral flattened.   There are signs of recovery with the encrusting corals looking healthy, but it will be many years before the reef is in good condition.  

We chilled out in the afternoon and, by four o'clock, we were once again alone in the anchorage.

6 May 2013   Pigeon Island to Kingston, Jamaica
It was a one of those days today.  I was up at six o'clock worried about where we were going to anchor in Kingston – the fact that the city has an extremely high rate of crime (and murders) is worrying me.  Added to this is the complete lack of other cruisers around, which makes us stand out like a sore thumb if we anchor anywhere.  I read our travel and cruising guides and decided that Port Royal looked to be the best bet because it’s well away from the main city.

After breakfast, I had another look at the damn fridge, which is still not coming down to temperature.  It looks like we've still got a leak on the system and the freezer box is only freezing in one corner, so I suspect that we've still got air in the system.  I dumped all of the Freon out of the system and recharged it to 15 psi – I’ll wait until tomorrow and check it again.

Shoreline of Port Royal - still occupied by Pirates?

We pulled up our anchor just before nine o'clock and motored towards Kingston.  Glenys commented on a knocking noise coming from the engine and, on investigating, I could see that we were getting the most engine vibration and the worst knocking at around 2200 rpm.  We turned back and re-anchored while I jumped in the water to snorkel down to check the stern gear.  It all seems to be OK because there’s nothing loose on the propeller.  All I can guess is that the engine is out of alignment (we fitted new engine mounts nine months ago), so I’ll need to sort that out pretty soon.

We carried on to Kingston, motoring along the coast in the calm seas until Wreck Reef, where the wind picked up and allowed us to sail to Port Royal, which is at the entrance to Kingston Harbour.  In the late 1600s, Port Royal was a major town and a famous haven for pirates, such as Henry Morgan, who brought great wealth (and debauchery) to the area.  We were hoping that it would be a quaint place with some good museums, but it looked to be very run-down and probably still inhabited by pirates.  So we turned tail and headed for the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club a few miles further into the harbour.

Kingston is the seventh largest port in the world and home to over a million people, so it’s a sprawling place.  It’s quite exciting sailing into such a large port with all the ships anchored about.  The anchorage outside the yacht club looked to be pleasant enough and, more importantly, far away from dodgy areas.  We anchored just to the west of the entrance into the marina and dinghied into see them.  Pat in the office had seen us arrive and had already called the customs to come to clear us in.  They charge $12 per person per day to anchor and use their facilities or $1.50 per foot in the marina.  The place looks pleasant enough, but it’s hot and airless and no other cruisers in sight, so we've decided to go into the marina tomorrow for one night, have a shopping day and leave for Providencia on the 8th.

We're miles from anywhere, so Pat arranged for us to have a local guy drive us around tomorrow to go to a supermarket and get some parts for the boat.   The customs lady arrived and gave a very cursory look at our coast-wise permit – no other paperwork or questions about where we've been for over a week.  

Back out at the anchorage, we moved in front of the yacht club to get better internet access, but struggled to pull up the anchor because we’d snagged a large power cable.  That took ten minutes to clear, then we dragged in front of the club house, then when we were settled, we found that we had a rubbish, intermittent internet connection…   Then I tried to move some money to a different account and our bank has blocked our debit card.  As I said, it’s been one of THOSE days.  We gave up and turned to beer.

7 May 2013   Kingston, Jamaica
I was up early again to check the engine mounts and found that one of the adjustment nuts was loose, which may account for the excessive vibration that we got on the way here.  I tightened it up and will keep my fingers crossed.

We motored into the marina onto the visitors dock - we were tied up by half past eight to make the most of our $60 per day.  We had to go to the bar to get a good enough Internet connection to Skype the bank to get the debit card unblocked and I was then able to go a bit of admin and move some money around.

Our driver, Eric, picked us up at ten o'clock.  He's a skipper for one of the flash power boats docked at the yacht club and is doing this to earn a little beer money.  We dropped Glenys off at the supermarket and went to the only chandlers in Kingston.  

Mr Durae started his business years ago and it's very well stocked even though he had a major fire a year ago that razed the place to the ground.  The store in his old house in a residential district and is a sprawling place.  After being in Cuba, Mexico and Belize for the past four months, I had quite a few things that I needed for the boat and I managed to find most of them there.  Mr Durae is a real character and he spent ages showing me where to find things.  

Chilling out at the Royal Jamaican Yacht Club, Kingston

While one of his girls was preparing the handwritten bill, we sat and chatted about life the universe and everything.  Mr Durae insisted on giving Eric and me one of his special drinks, which turned out to be a healthy rum and 7-Up which we sipped while the conversation turn to politics and the poor state of the country.  It's interesting that this black Jamaican guy had very similar views to the white Jamaicans that I met in Pigeon Island - basically, the Government need more cojones. 

Eric drove me around to a few more stores to get fan belts, engine oil, rubber bands for my speargun, etc.  We travelled through some dodgy areas - not quite the Tenements of Trench Town that Bob Marley sang of, but rough enough to keep the car doors locked.  Eric told me that in one of areas, the people on opposite sides of the road belong to different political parties and, when there's an election going on, they fight and shoot at each other across the road that we were driving along.

I'm glad that we went with a local driver rather than trying to travel around by ourselves.  The districts seem to change from nice residential to ghettos very quickly.  Eric tells us that the political parties are responsible for a lot of the polarisation and actively incite the lower classes to obtain more votes in an area.

We collected Glenys from the up-market supermarket and retreated back to the safety of the Royal Jamaican Yacht Club.  It took us a couple of hours to  store all of our purchases, during which time the customs and immigration officers came to clear us out of Jamaica.  We then retired to the swimming pool for some nice cold Red Stripes.