21 January 2013 Marina Hemingway to Cayo Levisa, Cuba (Day 2)
The wind varied between 10 and 20 knots for most of the night - it was a lovely sail with a half moon and nice warm wind.
I had a bit of a scare on my 11-2 watch. I glanced up from my book and saw a line of white lights ahead. As I approached, I could see that it was a string of lights, spaced about 25 metres apart – obviously some sort of fishing net or line. The question was; could we pass between the lights? I turned to starboard and sailed parallel to the line of lights, but after ten minutes, I’d travelled over half a mile and the lights still stretched out ahead of me.
I could see a fishing boat in the distance on the other side of the lights and decided that this had to be long-lining, where the fishing boat puts out baited fishing hooks on floats tied together by a rope which can be over five miles long. I reckoned that the lights were on each float and guessed that the rope between would be sinking rope rather than floating rope. I slowly sailed towards a pair of lights and sailed between them at three knots. Thankfully, we didn’t snag our keel on the rope…
The wind dropped as dawn approached, so we had to run the engine for a few hours, which was a pity. We arrived off the entrance to Cayo Levisa just as the sun came up, so we hove-to for a couple of hours waiting for the sun to get higher in the sky to allow us to make the entrance through the reef. When we started to sail again, we caught a big 3-4 foot barracuda, which put up a good fight, but I let it go – with the danger of ciguatera, it was bit too big to eat.
As we approached the entrance buoy, Glenys spotted a lot of white blobs in the water ahead of us, so we slowed down worried that it might be a fishing net. It turned out to be a large group of Portuguese Man-of-war jelly fish, slowly drifting around. They’re quite small (between one and six inches long) with a translucent inflated “sail”. I’m guessing that they’ve been blown from the Gulf Stream to here by the recent north winds. We’re going to have to be careful if we go swimming because the tentacles (which can be up to 20 feet long) are highly toxic.
The entrance was simple, passing an entrance buoy and heading for a couple of marker posts about a mile away. The water was murky, so it was difficult to see the shallows and we relied on the Navionics electronic charts and directions from the Calder cruising guide which were spot on until we approached the anchorage at Cayo Levisa. There’s a shallow patch that is in a different place to the position shown on the chart – I know because we hit it… The water depth went from three metres very quickly and we found ourselves aground showing a depth of 1.7 metres – our draft is 2.0 metres. I tried to back off, but we didn’t move. I knew that we had deeper water behind and to our left, so I used the bow thruster to pivot us to port and used forward gear to push us clear – phew!
We gingerly skirted the shallow patch and anchored in 7 metres of water to the west of the dock on the island. I put the dinghy in the water, attached our 15hp outboard and miraculously it started on the third pull – not bad after three weeks on deck. Touch wood, perhaps I’ve finally sorted out my fuel problems.
After lunch, we wandered ashore and was told that the Guarda Forteras was on his way and would be arriving by the small ferry from the mainland to check our papers - bummer, we were hoping to avoid any more paperwork until we left for Mexico.
The island is mostly mangroves, but has a hotel on the windward side – the beach is lovely and the hotel consists of lots of small beach huts with a couple of restaurants. We had a swift beer in the hotel bar and then met the officer from the Ministerio del Interio on the ferry dock. He was very pleasant, inspected our documents and filled in all of his forms. The job was done within twenty minutes, but we have to go through the whole rigmarole again when we leave. We told him that we’d probably leave in a couple of days.
We collapsed back onto the boat and caught up on some sleep.
22 January 2013 Cayo Levisa, Cuba
We went to the beach, planning to stay most of the day. We picked up a couple of beach chairs, lashed on the suntan lotion and lay there catching the rays. This is the first time that we’ve been sunbathing on a beach for nearly a year. Unfortunately, there was a strong wind and clouds whizzing past, so it was cold. We persevered for a couple of hours then retired to the bar for lunch and retreated back to the boat.
I did some serious navigation planning in the afternoon. We’ve had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, but no firm plans. I was hoping that the water here would be clear and we’d be snorkelling on reefs catching lots of lobster, but the water is murky, the bottom is sea grass and we’re miles from a coral reef. In addition, the murky water makes navigation a lot more difficult especially as we can’t trust our charts.
I spent three hours reading the two cruising guides that we have on board, both are over ten years old, but it’s all that we have. Many of the anchorages appear to have very shallow water on the approaches, so it limits our options and we’ll need to be very careful. It’s just over 100 miles as the crow flies to Los Morros (where we will clear out to go to Mexico), but we want to make day sails from here. I eventually decided that six anchorages are suitable with 10 to 30 miles between each of them.
For the first two passages, we’ll have to go outside the barrier reef which skirts the coast. There are quite a few marked channels through the reef, but the one between here and our next stop at Ensenada del Playuelas is an unmarked channel called the Quebrado Ines de Soto. Our electronic chart shows that it’s a large, one mile wide gap in the reef with depths of 5 metres, which sounds okay, but we’ll need good light to make sure that there aren’t any isolated coral heads. Once through the reef we’ll have to negotiate a very narrow shallow channel into the anchorage – if we can’t get through we’ll have to go onto the next anchorage.
We asked the hotel staff on the dock to ring the Guarda Fontera and tell them that we’ll be going tomorrow morning and he should be here at eight o’clock.
At five o’clock, I heard a voice calling out and found a guy from the dive centre in the water at the back of the boat. He lifted up his right arm and showed me a dozen small lobsters and asked if I wanted them. I asked him how much and he just replied how much do I think. Eventually, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, he said $20 for the lot. I said no, so he immediately dropped to $10. Glenys looked at them and thought that they were too small, so we said no. There’s obviously a lot of small lobster around, maybe I’ll go snorkelling tomorrow…
23 January 2013 Cayo Levisa, Cuba
It rained a little bit last night and it was very overcast when we woke up early this morning, so I downloaded at another grib file. There’s not much change – the wind is going to be from the east for the next seven days, so it must be a small ridge that is producing the cloud. We really need good sunlight to navigate the next entrance through the reef, so we decided that we would stay another day and hopefully it will be sunny tomorrow.
I went ashore at half past seven to try to stop the Guarda Fronteras from coming on the ferry, but there was no one around on the dock. I eventually managed to get the hotel reception to call, but the guy was only able to leave a message that we weren’t going to go today. We met the ferry at half past eight, hoping that the message got through, but it hadn’t…
I apologised to the officer and told him that we weren’t going because of the weather. He didn’t seem to be bothered and said, “No Hay Problema”. While he was there, I asked him at which anchorages we could stop and his immediate answer was only Los Morros. Fortunately, one of the guys from the dive centre was on the boat and helped us translate. We explained that it’s a long way and we just wanted to stop at a few places overnight. Once he understood that we didn’t want to go ashore, he said that it was okay to stop.
It was a good decision to stay here for the day, because it rained on and off all day. Glenys did some Spanish lessons and played her concertina, while I did a few jobs. I recharged the two fridges with Freon – I’ve still not looked for the leaks. I also pulled the saloon floorboards up – when I replaced the generator fuel pump a few weeks ago, I put it in a slightly different position and the damn thing has been hitting the underneath of the floorboards making an irritating clunking noise every few seconds. I only had to move the pump a quarter of an inch, but it took me a couple of hours to take the saloon to pieces and put it all back together.
24 January 2013 Cayo Levisa, Cuba
It was another miserable overcast day with showers going through every so often. Glenys made some bread, did more Spanish lessons and played her concertina. Meanwhile, I caught up with editing my photographs and then got our web site up to date ready to be published whenever we get a decent internet connection.
After that it was a session of playing the guitar and watching a film – a very quiet day.
We’ve decided to stay another day and let this front go through. If it’s sunny tomorrow, then we’ll try to do some snorkelling and tell the Guarda Fronteras to come early the following day.
25 January 2013 Cayo Levisa to Punta Alonso Rojas, Cuba
I woke up at quarter to seven and peered out of the window to find blue skies, so I jumped out of bed, put the dinghy into the water and rushed ashore to ring the Guarda Fronteras. The official arrived on the half past eight ferry and soon sorted out the papers. We were on our way just before nine.
We retraced our track from when we came in, but it was still very stressful – several times we had 2.1 metres of water and I had to go very slowly. Once we were clear of western tip of Cayo Levisa, the water depth increased to 3-4 metres, so we could relax a little. The water was too shallow for us to get to the next anchorage inside the reef, so we had to go outside and then come back in through another reef entrance.
Once past the outer sea buoy, we had 20 knot winds from the north-east and six foot waves, so the motion wasn’t very restful as we turned down-wind. I put out the fishing line and quickly hooked a very nice four foot Wahoo which put up a great fight for ten minutes. Unfortunately, I lost it just as I was trying to gaff it on board – I was gutted because I’ve still not managed to successfully land a Wahoo.
We had a 55 mile passage ahead of us and, because we’d not been able to leave until nine o’clock, I was worried that we’d not be able to get into the anchorage in daylight. In addition, we appeared to have a ½ - 1 knot current against us for most of the day, so we had to motor sail all day, which was a shame in these great sailing conditions. (We actually anchored at five o’clock, with one hour to spare, after averaging 6.8 knots for the day.)
We entered the reef again at Quebrado De La Galera, which is a couple of miles south west of Cayo Jutias - we didn’t go there because we were trying to get further south to clearer waters where we would be able to go snorkelling rather than staring at another island of mangroves.
Our Navionics charts show the green entrance buoy and reefs to be 0.4 miles further to the west-south-west, so it was a little disconcerting as we made our approach. We had 8 metres of water up to buoy and then the water depth varied between 10 and 4 metres when we passed over submerged coral patches. I stood on the bow keeping a sharp look out for coral heads, while Glenys steered us in.
After entering the reef, we turned south-west and motored in 5 metres depth until the approach to Punta Alonso de Rojas, where the water gradually shoaled and we anchored in 2.5 metres on grass and mud. The anchorage is not very interesting being surrounded by mangroves and we had to anchor a long way from the shore because of the shallow water.
We were exhausted after a long and stressful day – it’s not easy navigating around here because the water is so murky and we can’t rely on the charts.
26 January 2013 Punta Alonso de Rojas to Cayo Rapado Grande, Cuba
We had a late start and left at nine o’clock in the morning, heading out to investigate Cayo Restinga de Carruyo. It’s a pleasant cay with lovely water colours, but we decided not to stay because there didn’t seem to be any coral and, after seven months lay-off, we’re desperate to go snorkelling…
We headed towards the Punta Tabaco light, but again didn’t stop because no coral. Carrying on towards the Cabezo Seco light, we encountered shoals, which we had to skirt around. The water depth dropped to 2.6 metres at one point, but it was easy to skirt around the obviously light coloured shallow areas.
We finally found a shallow coral reef just south of the Cabezo Seco light and tried to anchor in 3 metres of water, but the wind had picked up to over twenty knots and we dragged on the first attempt, so we ran away.
The approach to Cayo Rapado Grande was fairly straight forward, but we had to navigate around the sand spit that sticks out about a mile on the south side the cay – it’s a long way around. I was impatient and cut the corner, so we ended up in water that was only 2.3 metres deep, but by following the darker water, I found a 2.8 metre channel very close to the spit that got us out of trouble.
We anchored in 3.0 metres of water next to a small, isolated cay in weed and mud. The anchorage is very peaceful, surrounded by mangroves and we were able to anchor close to the shore for a change. We couldn’t swim because there were hundreds of jelly fish around the boat.
27 January 2013 Cayo Rapado Grande to Cayos De Buenavista
It was a lovely morning, so we took a dinghy ride into the large lagoon, but there wasn’t very much of interest unless you like staring at mangroves – at least it got us off the boat.
We went out to the “reef” to try to find some elusive coral and anchored next to a charted shallow area. Disappointingly, this turned out to be a patch of weed and sand, consequently the snorkelling was uninteresting, but at least we got to swim for the first time since we were in the Bahamas in May! We stayed for lunch, gazing at the spectacular water colours.
We had settled conditions with a 15 knot north-easterly wind, so we anchored off Cayos de Buenavista. We had no luck in getting the anchor to set at the western end of the island – we think that it was thin sand over rock. However, we managed to find weed and mud at the entrance to the lagoon on the island, but we had to anchor a fair way off shore in 2.6 metres of water. Another uninteresting island covered with mangroves.
It’s been over a week since we’ve been ashore, so we’re slowly running out of things. There’s only six beers left in the fridge and the fresh vegetables are running out, so Glenys is growing some bean sprouts to go with a stir fry tomorrow. I’ve not managed to catch any fish or lobster and to make matters worse, the handle on the fishing reel on my small casting rod has broken off, so I can’t fish at anchor anymore. Maybe it’s time to get back to civilisation.
28 January 2013 Cayos De Buenavista to Ensenada de Anita
My laptop computer decided to crash this morning and wouldn’t reboot, so I had to go through the laborious process of repairing the operating system. This needed most of the three hours that it took us to sail to the approach to Ensenada de Anita, so Glenys was “Anjin-san” while I cursed and muttered below.
The water depth gradually dropped to 4 metres as we approached a shoal patch that guards the entrance to the anchorage. The water was murky, so we couldn’t see any changes in water colour, so we tentatively inched our way in using our small chart plotter. For once the Navionics charts were accurate and we didn’t see anything less than 3.5 metres. We then headed north and anchored in 2.6 metres to the west of Cayo Montano.
Ensenada de Anita is another anchorage surrounded by mangroves with a grassy sea bed. It’s pleasant enough and good protection from the prevailing easterly winds. We arrived at lunch time and spent the rest of the day chilling out in this isolated anchorage - it was so calm and quiet this evening that my ears were ringing in the silence.
29 January 2013 Ensenada de Anita to Cayos de la Lena, Cuba
I downloaded a weather forecast and there’s a cold front coming through in the next couple of days. These fronts come from the north and have a very predictable pattern. The prevailing east winds start to come around to the south and then, as the front passes, the wind will suddenly switch to the north and increase in strength. This front looks to be quite a strong one, so we decided to head down to Cayos De La Lena where we can get better protection.
The wind was 20-25 from the south east, so we just put out the genoa and tromped along on a reach at 5 knots in beautiful sunshine. The approach into the Canal de Barcos was is very straight forward with the shallowest depth being 3.5 metres. The Canal is a long waterway that goes through the middle of Cayos de la Lena into a lagoon. It’s about 100 metres wide and the water stays over four metres deep until close to the mangroves. We anchored ½ mile along the waterway in five metres depth in soft mud – it took us a couple of goes to get the anchor to hold.
In a fit of madness, I decided to put out a second anchor in a Bahamian mooring. This configuration has two anchors 180 degrees to each other with rode from both leading from the bow rollers. The idea is that it reduces area in which the boat swings. We simply let out twice the normal amount of chain on the primary anchor, tossed the secondary anchor overboard and then pulled in the chain on the primary anchor, so that we’re left with 25 metres on both anchors.
It took us a couple of goes to get it right – the first time, I put the second anchor over the port side and the rope rode was caught under the keel, rubbing off some of my precious anti-foul paint. We did the procedure again and dumped the anchor over the starboard side and all seems to be okay. We’re a bit close to the mangroves behind us because the anchors are not in the middle of the waterway, but I think that we’ll be fine. At least we’ll be in a better position when the wind switches around 180 degrees when the front comes through.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling out, reading, playing musical instruments and staring at even more mangroves – we’re surrounded by them now. Glenys rustled up a pizza for dinner and we ate it watching a film.
30 January 2013 Cayos de la Lena, Cuba
Another yacht arrived late last night and is anchored at the entrance to the waterway. This is the first cruising boat that we’ve seen since we left Marina Hemingway ten days ago, so we went over to say hello to Greg & Bev on “Liberty VI”. They have four of their family over for a long holiday.
We chilled out for the afternoon – I’m trying to work out how to play “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash on the guitar, but don’t have any written music, so I’m trying to work it out from the mp3 track that I’ve got – it’s going very, very slowly…
“Yindee Plus” arrived in the late afternoon, so we ended up having a few drinks on their boat with “Liberty VI” until rain stopped play. Three boats in an anchorage, I’m in shock.
31 January 2013 Cayos de la Lena, Cuba
It was a very calm night and when we woke the anchorage looked like a mill pond. One disadvantage of having no wind is that we’ve been invaded by no-see-ums. There was a huge swarm of the little buggers in the cockpit and quite a lot have managed to squeeze through our mosquito netting and were biting us, so I “Bopped” the whole boat and the cockpit – there were hundreds of the little bodies everywhere.
The front came through mid-morning. The wind picked up to 20 knots from the north and we had a little bit of rain. “Liberty VI” decided to make a run for Maria La Gorda, left just before the front came through and had a good trip.
A small rowing boat with three lobster fishermen came alongside us and offered us some of their catch. After a bit of negotiation, we gave them a pack of playing cards and a tot of rum each for four nice sized lobster – yummy. As they went over to “Yindee Plus”, a couple of big fishing boats came in to anchor behind us – it’s all go in this anchorage.
I went over to “Yindee Plus” to have a guitar session – Chris showed me how he plays “Folsom Prison Blues” which was very helpful. I’m still useless, but I picked up a few hints. Meanwhile, Sue and her twins came over to Alba to watch a Harry Potter film on our big screen and then we all ended up on Alba having a few cocktails …
We've produced some Cruising Notes for Northwest Cuba with navigational information:
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