Celebrating Our 4 Year Boat Anniversary

boat anniversary

I hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend. Melody and I would like to extend our gratitude and thanks to all the servicemen and women around the globe. Thank you for your service.

We celebrated a small milestone, as this past Memorial Day weekend marked our four year boat anniversary. Yep, four years ago we hauled what was left of our belongings onto our new boat, and on Memorial Day, 2012 we sailed out of Panama City and into our new life. It was scary, exhilarating, and a bit nerve-wracking.

What was going to be a one year experiment has turned into four years, and six trips up and down the east coast of America, with some additional destinations we never imagined. And, we’re nowhere close to finished.

I talked a little about that time period in my first book, You Gotta Go To Know. What it was like to quit the job and jump into the unknown. We’ve made mistakes along the way, that’s for sure. But, we’ve also had many triumphs. We’ve collected some great photos, and notes on what to do and what not to do.

The cool thing about taking good notes along the way, is that it usually finds its way into a blog, where you guys can reap the benefits, and that makes us happy.

This time, those note made it in to an entire book. My new book, What’s Up Ditch! The Ins and Outs of Cruising the Atlantic ICW: America’s Secret Highway, came out quietly on April 1, and from the looks of the reviews on Amazon, readers are getting from it exactly what I’d hoped.

I know many of you guys are bluewater or (future bluewater) sailors, and may have no desire to cruise the ICW. We, too, love the open ocean. But… sometimes, you just end up having to wait out weather, or alter the plan due to schedules. For us, that meant doing the ICW several times.

And, since I am of the opinion that if you have the information, you should share it, I wrote a book detailing what we learned.

I will say this; while Ditch may be about the ICW, there is a ton of information about navigation, radio etiquette, rules of the road, and some funny stuff about boat toilets. Useful information for any boater.

We’ve actually put together a whole page called the Anchor Locker for just this purpose. The Anchor Locker contains several free resources in a printable format, that you can print, laminate, and keep on board for quick reference.

anchor locker
These are just a few of the resources you’ll find…

There’s an opt-in form at the bottom of each blog post, and once you enter your email, you’ll get a password that lets you into the Anchor Locker, where you can print ’til your little heart desires.

We compiled lists and blocks of information that we wish we had when we first did our trips up and down the coast. I think you’ll find it useful whether on the ICW or on the high seas.

Peace.

 

What To Know About Sailing To Cuba: Part 1

From the looks of it, if you keep track of the forums and Facebook pages, almost anyone who sails, is either on their way to Cuba or planning to sail to Cuba in the near future. We, on Vacilando, are no exception. I’ve been wanting to see Cuba for at least ten years. I’ve heard from friends who’ve been, and have been living vicariously through them ever since. This past January, we were so close to leaving until one of those infamous “plan changers” came along. And now, here we sit. Waiting out hurricane season.

If there is any consolation that comes from waiting, it’s that more and more cruisers are visiting and posting about their experiences. The information is pouring in almost daily. Marinas are adapting and changing as well, trying to make the most of this mad rush. For instance, Tarara Marina, which is east of Havana (Hemingway Marina is west), is reportedly dredging the entire harbor and adding 250 new slips. Currently this harbor is too shallow for deeper draft boats. If this happens, it’s a game changer and adds another alternative to Hemingway. Right now, prices are still reported to be around .40 CUC per foot. That’s probably going to change when (if) the restoration is finished. Prices all along the north coast have increased since the restrictions were eased.

As we make our plan for next January, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish and learning all I can about exchange rates and policies regarding traveling with animals. I’m no expert, but here’s how I understand the money situation. The CUC, or tourist peso, is exchanged for US dollars. The official rate is 1:1, but there is still a 3% exchange fee. Until recently, there was an additional 10% tax on the US dollar but it’s been eliminated as of March 2016. But, don’t get too excited because while they did away with the tax, they raised entrance visa fees from $25CUC to $75CUC!

The peso nacional, or local peso or CUP, exchanges at 24:1 to the CUC and is used by locals, and by tourists for purchases out in rural areas, or local farmers’ markets. There are rumors that the CUC will be folded into the CUP in the near future, which means, if in Cuba, I would hesitate to transfer large sums of money at one time. You wouldn’t want to get caught in the shift. I’m not sure if this is true or what the time frame is for this change.

When it comes to traveling with pets, specifically a dog, a certificate of health from your last port of call and a current rabies vaccination is all that is required to enter Cuba. As I understand it, the regulation states it must be within 14 days of arrival but I’ve read posts from a Canadian couple who’s dog’s certificate was over a month old and they had no difficulty. There used to be a pet fee but I’m told that’s been rolled into the entry fees. There may however, be a 25$CUC fee for a certificate of health when you leave the country. It seems like prices change every day. I’ll be researching that further.

i am dog

Be aware, if you’re entering from the Bahamas, because of a recent outbreak of dog distemper in the Bahamas, new rules have been put into place regarding the exit of pets from the Bahamas. It now takes 5 or more days for a health certificate for your dog to exit the Bahamas, as all paperwork must be sent to Nassau, and approved by the Bahamian Department of Agriculture. 

Of course when it comes to knowing the law {as an American} as it pertains to Cuba, the area is still grey. The US websites are vague at best. Some boaters report no trouble when they’ve sailed directly to Cuba from Florida, and returned back to Florida, as long as their trip fit within the 12 categories outlined in the regulations. Others, who’ve entered into Key West specifically, from Cuba have been hassled beyond belief. Of course, if you’re not returning to the US from Cuba, this is a moot point. We are not planning on returning to a US port directly from Cuba.

There is much to be found on this topic. For me it always comes down to preparation. File the Coast Guard form 3300 that allows you to enter Cuban waters. Some will tell you that you don’t need it. Just do it. It takes about 14 days. When you enter an approved check in location in Cuba, make sure you are courteous and know what to expect. I understand the authorities will board with a dog to sniff for drugs. If you’re traveling with a dog of your own, make sure to communicate this, especially if your dog (like our dog) doesn’t do well with other dogs on the boat.

I’ll be posting more about our preparations for Cuba and I’d love to hear from any of you who’ve sailed there. Did you go into Hemingway? Did you sail the south coast and enter at Cienfuegos? Did you go in at Varadero? Leave us a comment.

 

Planing the next sailing trip on our Yacht

sailing-routes-2016

What a few crazy couple of weeks we’ve had aboard V. It won’t settle down too much either, as Mel begins her book (hint, hint) and we start to discuss how to drop the bow lines and do some sailing. After much debate and most likely even more debate, We’re making a plan for next fall.

Yes, we know all too well that making a plan while on a sailboat is like inviting Murphy to dinner, but we’re doing it anyway. For the last four years, we’ve running up and down the east coast as we finished up with work commitments and did some updating on the boat.

This is our last summer to do any of that. We’ve made a pact and pinky swears that this coming fall, we are leaving. Come hell or high water, and most likely both, we’re pushing off. I’m posting our ambitious routes right here and now.

I know it’s nine months away but time is flying, and as we prepare for a busy summer of book releases, a little dreaming goes a long way in us remaining sane. Ideally, we’d love to spend next Christmas with family and then shortly after the first of the year, January 2017, get-out-of-Dodge.

The Jet-pack (our beloved K-9) is in for a rude awakening and in order to soften the blow, and get all four of those sea legs adjusted as gently as possible, the first jump would be the 200 mile run from St. Pete to the Dry Tortugas. We’ve always wanted to see Fort Jefferson and I wanna see some giant grouper!


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Dry Tortugas National Park

The next leg would be over to Havana. Cuba has been on my “must see list” for years. Yes, I have mixed feelings about supporting the current regime but my ultimate hope is that the Cuban people will benefit from the relaxed sanctions in relatively short order.

We all know what will happen once the flood gates open and Carnival Cruise Lines gets permission to blast holes in the reef to get their massive ships in, McDonalds and Starbucks appear on every corner and Walgreens “domesticates” historic buildings so they can sell sun block and condoms. That is where I’m conflicted.

I’m aware that saying I wanna see Cuba before it gets ruined might equate to some people as me saying I wanna see Cuba while it’s population struggles and exists under an oppressive government. But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

What I’m truly saying is, that I wanna see Cuba before it’s population gets inundated with processed foods that don’t nourish them, instead poisons them. I wanna see Cuba before it gets scammed into allowing huge corporations to buy their way into an almost pristine eco system, and dash it to bits. I wanna see Cuba while it’s population has no clue about the Kardashians.

Baracoa-Cuba

If there is one positive that emerges from the way the Cuban government has chosen to operate for the last half a century, it’s that the country hasn’t been strip mined, clear cut and raped for its resources. Cuba has one of the last remaining pristine eco systems on the planet. That has to be worth something.

Their culture hasn’t been diluted. We don’t need more cruise ships dumping thousands of gallons of shit and plastic into the world’s oceans. We need undisturbed forests, birds, dolphins and clean beaches. We need less corruption and more consciousness. And we need that all over the world.

My tangent is finished. Back to the blog… the blog… breathe… 10, 9, 8, 7, …

After a spell in Havana (he says in his best NPR voice), we’d make (try to make) the windward slog east to Varadero for a few days before jumping into the stream and up to check in at Cat Cay. Up ’til now, both routes are the same but this is where we things start to change.

Plan A (in red) has us noodling around Eluthera and the Exumas for a while (possibly down to the Turks), then heading back over to Lauderdale, down Hawks Channel, around the Keys and back to St. Pete for Hurricane season beginning June 1. This could also change. Maybe we leave the Bahamas and sail to the Chesapeake Bay and summer there.

Take me to the Bridge!
Take me to the Bridge!

Plan B has us leaving Cat Cay for Chub Key and then bouncing down through the Elutheras and Exumas at a little faster clip. Not spending too much time but making way for the Turks and Caicos for an arrival around the end of April or first of May. That gives us February and March and some of April to do the 400 miles or so from Cat Cay to the Turks. Doable? I think so. The winter trades blow pretty heavily during this time and I know it can be a bit of a waiting game.

If we get to the Turks in that time frame, we’d like to make the run through the windward passage to Port Antonio, Jamaica, then to Negril and the Cayman Islands.

I don’t really care to see the Cayman Islands, it would basically be a stop off on the way to Roatan, Honduras. It’s about 620 miles from Negril to Roatan. It’s about 400 miles from Grand Cayman to Roatan. That would be a weather window decision.

At this point, we’d likely be towards the middle or end of April. The rest of plan B would be from Roatan to Belize and up to Isla Mujeres before doing the 400 miles or so to St. Pete. Or… down to Panama for hurricane season.

Very ambitious that plan B… we know. I do love the idea of the Bahamas, but I’m not a guy who can lay around all day at anchor for weeks on end. I gotta do stuff! A couple weeks snorkeling, swinging in hammocks and drinking beer and I’m about done. Get me some wind in the sails and a new port of arrival.

That’s why I don’t see us languishing in the Bahamas for months on end. If the weather was cooperative (laughing out loud as I even dare to type that phrase), I’d like to think we’d be moving. Of course, we don’t wanna rush either. The whole reason to get over to the Bahamas is to chill out and relax. I get that.

Melody and I will probably change this plan a dozen times before next December and that’s the way it goes on a boat. It comes down to finances and what we get done this summer. The tags on our car expired next January 31. We are not renewing those damn tags. We’re not. Gonna. Do-it.

So what do you think? Drop us a line and let us know.

 

Cumberland Island… a Step Back in Time

You know, during the process of writing my new book, which is about cruising the ICW, one of the things I really enjoyed about doing this book was looking back through our notes and log books. It gave me the opportunity to revisit and relive some of the great memories we’ve forgotten about over the last few years. One such memory was our visit to Cumberland Island.

It was during our first trip down the Intracoastal Waterway in the fall of 2012. We had our friend Tommy from Nashville with us, and we had been advised by others that Cumberland Island was one of the “not-to-miss” spots on the ICW.

Once owned by the Carnegies, it’s now a National Park, and you can visit the ruins of Dungeness, the old Carnegie estate, which was destroyed by fire in 1959, and is apparently a site to behold. I had always wanted to visit there because I’d heard that’s where Tom Waits used to go to write sometimes, and it was said to feel as though you were stepping back in time.

We arrived near dusk and dropped our anchor in  about 16 feet of water, accompanied by only a couple of other boats in the nice, quiet, protected anchorage near the dinghy dock at the nature center. By the time we were set and settled, it was dark, and I hopped in the dinghy to take Jet for his nightly bathroom break and walk. We didn’t venture far, and there wasn’t much to see in the dark, so the experience wasn’t unlike other similar trips ashore. That is, until the next morning.

We headed back to the island at first light, before the ferry boat that carries tourists and bicycles from St. Mary’s. The air was crisp and scented with dirt and history. We deposited some dollars into the park service donation box and set out to explore.

Chris - Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island is a magical place. Stepping foot on the island was like being transported back to a time long forgotten. The plant life is otherworldly. From the moment we stepped off the dinghy, I felt like I was stepping into a scene from Jurassic Park. The live oaks are simply massive and spread like mythical giants. Their limbs are adorned with Spanish moss, dripping like draped silk, providing shade and almost coddling one within their reach.

cumberland-island-trail

Just a few minutes in, we spotted a few deer, who didn’t seem to be terribly frightened of our presence. The island is also home to wild turkey, feral hogs, and one of the world’s largest populations of loggerhead turtles on the island, in addition to the feral horses that roam freely.

Deer on the trail ahead

Once we arrived at the mansion ruins, we were again awed by the immense scale of the place. Even though it was mostly destroyed by fire, the remaining facade was still spectacular. The last known use of the property was in 1929 and it was abandoned during the Great Depression and sat for 30 years until it burned down.

Chris and Melody at Dungeness, the old Carnegie estate on Cumberland Island
Dungeness… looks almost like a castle

dungeness-back

dungeness-ruins-2

We imagined what it would have been like back when the Carnegies lived on the island… the parties, and the guests that frequented the island at that time. Old cars still sit right where they were parked, now rusted out, but otherwise untouched.

rusted-car-dungeness

We watched as rafter of  enormous wild turkey scattered into the brush, and after absorbing what we could, we hiked south towards the beach at the end of the island.

Wild turkey...they don't look that big, but they were huge
Wild turkey…they don’t look that big, but they were huge

The scenery changes almost instantaneously as you cross over the dunes on the path towards the beach. Rather than the prehistoric palms and spanish moss, it turns into sand and old driftwood trees — not nearly as large and magnificent as the ones on nearby Jekyll Island where we got married, but still just as picturesque.

cumberland-island-beaches

Our trip to the beach was cut short because Jet kept getting sand spurs in his paws, so we decided to head back, as we knew the ferry would be arriving shortly anyway, bringing crowds of tourists.

As we slowly walked back, we stopped suddenly when we saw two wild horses heading our way, seemingly a mare and her foal. We didn’t want to frighten them, but we were definitely glad for the opportunity to have a closer look. Jet, like us, sat completely still and mesmerized, ears up and on full alert, but as quiet as a church mouse. Melody, never wanting to miss a good photo opportunity, but not wanting to make any sudden moves, slowly took the lens cap off the camera that was hanging around her neck, and without lifting the camera from where it hung, started quietly snapping photos.

wild-horses-cumberland-island

The horses continued towards us — they were thin and lean, with ribs showing, but not so much that they looked as though they were starving. They looked as what I imagine wild horses would look like. Their heads were down as they walked, indicating their shyness, but they didn’t seem fearful. This was proven when they came within inches of Melody’s sleeve for a quick sniff before continuing on their way.

wild-horses-3

Today, Cumberland Island is home to over thirty homesteads that were built by decedents of the original island settlers. They clustered the homes in small compounds that tend to face the marsh areas so as not to disturb the rest of the island.

Wanna Visit Cumberland Island?

If you want to visit Cumberland Island, I highly recommend doing so by your own boat, and exploring before the 10am ferry. The anchorage is protected and gorgeous. There is a dinghy dock for landing and the ranger station has a donation box for your contributions. The suggested donation is $4. Chuck some dollars in there and help preserve the place. If you don’t sail in, you can arrive via the National Park Service ferry. There are numerous camp sites on the island as well as the historic Greyfield Inn. For more visitor information, check out: cumberlandisland.com.