Before we left dock at Veradero we emailed back and forth quite a few times with weather guy Chris Parker and downloaded grib files via SSB every day for a week (these are weather maps that show the land mass at any specified location plus the wind and waves and barometric pressure for that area over the next 48 hours). We specified the north coast of Cuba around Veradero all the way north to the Florida Keys and on up the east coast all the way to Cape Canaveral. We were hoping to make a good long squawk and sail all the way up to Cape Canaveral where we could make the turn into port with all the cruise ships and, most importantly, avoid any motoring up the ICW. All looked good for a nice little sail back to the land of plenty, leaving early Monday morning and arriving on Tuesday evening.
We notified the marina manager that we were leaving Monday and he arranged for all necessary officials to swing by Strathspey early Monday morning; the Guarda Frontera to verify that we didn’t have any extra passengers for the ride back, Agriculture (not sure what they were verifying but they had an awful lot of forms and opened more than a few of Strathspey’s cupboards and doors) and Immigration to retrieve the Visa that they had issued to us in Puerto de Vita (they don’t stamp your passport in Cuba, they simply issue you a Visa that you hand over to them when you leave the country).
Everyone but Immigration turned up bright and early and, annoyingly, it took three calls by increasingly more important officials at the marina to prompt our Immigration guy to get on his motor scooter and over to pick up the Visa. The final call from the Guarda Frontera (these are the guys with the guns) convinced the Immigration official that he really did need to come on over. A good two hours after the other officials had finished with us, he came strolling (slowly) down the dock, didn’t even come aboard, just asked us for our Visas and then said ‘Have a good trip back to America’. Grrrr.
At this point my wrist is still weak and throbbing if I overdo it so I take the one remaining anti-inflammatory pill that I have squirreled away for the long overnighter across the Florida Straits. I’m hoping that it will make for a more comfortable passage. I can be stoic…I am my mother’s daughter. Once the drugs kick in, I feel nary a twinge until a good 20-some hours later.
It’s an easy day and night but with far less wind than predicted. In fact, around 4 pm the wind dies completely and we turn on our engine and motor north to the Florida Straits in almost dead calm. What a treat when we finally get sucked into the fast flowing Gulf Stream and our speed increases to 10 knots. The flat calm water makes for easy sleeping for the person not on watch until we are opposite Miami. At that point the wind pipes up to 15 knots but it’s directly on our nose and Strathspey starts hobby horsing, bow buried occasionally with water sluicing our decks. What a change from the last 22 hours! Blair had been quite comfortably asleep in the forward berth but, as Strathspey’s new corkscrew action starts to toss him back and forth he’s quickly awake. We take measure of the big waves and how slow we are going now and we decide to duck into Miami until the wind is more cooperative.
Contrary to all the stories we hear about how hard it is to clear customs in southern Florida if you are arriving from Cuba, we have no issues. Then, less than 24 hours later, we are back out on the ocean with a wonderful Southeast wind pushing us further north. That wind dies just south of Lake Worth so we make a quick left into the harbour and drop anchor just before dusk. Waking up the next morning, we know we are in for some rain but we’re hoping it holds off until we can make a dash up the ICW to Vero Beach where we have some boat maintenance to do and, even better, we have a reunion planned with old sailing friends, Jim and Nancy from Solitaire. The weather deteriorates through the day and the last hour of our trip, the winds are at 37 knots and the rain is blowing sideways. I am good and dry under the dodger, peering out to locate the next marker but Blair is soaking wet and shivering, exposed to it all as he pilots Strathspey safely through the storm. We can’t drop the anchor and wait it out because the ICW is too shallow if you stray out of the channel and we need to maintain forward motion to stay in this channel. We can’t believe that, in the eight months we were sailing this season, this is the first time we’ve had bad weather on Strathspey – on the ICW of all places. The worst of the storm cell passes over us finally and the sun comes out and we are happy to pull into Vero Beach and tie up to a mooring ball. It’s a full house here at this time of year and we are sharing a mooring ball with two other boats.
We poke our way north, stopping occasionally to anchor, and when we arrive in St Augustine we’re happy to secure a slip for four or five days to complete the last required maintenance before we put Strathspey away for the summer. Our trusty boat looks a tad bedraggled right now after eight months of constant use; dull, salt rimmed decks, surface rust on our stanchions, salt-encrusted canvas and dirty decks from the smokestacks we lived under for a month in Veradero. Blair and I don’t look much better……
Now that we have good access to Internet, I’ve taken some time to add photos to all the posts from Cuba in between working to ready Strathspey to haul out next week. It seems odd to say we are readying Strathspey to haul out of the water in April as we usually do that chore in October in the north. But, we are leaving the boat in Florida this year and will find other activities to keep us busy this summer. After we leave St Augustine, we’ll head just a little further north to the St John’s River and ride that river’s strong current all the way up to Green Cove Springs where we have a date with a travel lift to place Strathspey on a secure cradle on shore. Another few days will have all interior surfaces wiped down with a bleach solution to retard any mildew seeking a home, a boat cover in place, sails off to a sail loft for cleaning and repair and anything else that long-time Florida sailors tell us is required to ensure a happy summer in the extreme Florida heat. Once that’s done, we’ll be on our way home to Ottawa. It’s a busy few weeks coming up but the last eight months have been worth it. See you all this summer!