|Farewell Cuba - Cayo Largo|
Thursday 9th March was our last morning in Cayo Largo Cuba. We had to move SHAMAL from our anchorage and take her into the marina to complete checkout procedures. I go to raise the anchor with the foot control button, but nothing happens, it has stopped working !! Thank goodness Alec is able to do it from the helm. Another job to add to the work sheet !!! First we had to go ashore and hand in paperwork to the Guarda Frontera. Then it was back to SHAMAL to wait for the visit from more officials along with an over exuberant sniffer dog. On our hike back down the dock we run into a New Zealand couple, from the Marlborough Sounds, who are crew on an American boat. They have just arrived back in Cuba after a visit to Grand Cayman Island. Their intention was to continue on down to Panama, but having not visited as much of Cuba as they would have liked to, they have returned. We still have a little of the local currency left so head to the restaurant for a coffee to be told sorry, the machine does not work. We settle for a cold lemon drink.
By 09.30 we are all checked out and motoring down the channel to cross the lagoon, through the reef and into open waters. A bit different out here away from the shelter of the lagoon. We have 2-3mts seas with the waves hitting us side on from the S.E. Winds are gusting 22kts. but it is warm and sunny. We are heading in a southerly direction to Grand Cayman Island some 140nm away, so it will just be an overnight sail. Yes we were able to sail the whole way there under a nearly full moon. By midnight the winds had dropped to 14kts and the temperature was a barmy 26 deg. C.
On arriving at George Town Harbour the following morning, which sits on the S.W. end of the Island in a big open bay, we are directed to pick up a mooring buoy – no change of plan – they now want us to move SHAMAL onto a concrete peer which we are not at all happy about. Plastic boats and concrete peers are NOT compatible, especially when there is a swell surging you along the peer!!!! Well that only lasts about 15 minutes when we tell them we are going back to the mooring buoy before we are damaged. Thank goodness the guy who is helping us agrees as he can see the predicament we are in. By mid-day we are all checked in having taken the tender ashore to complete the paper work. Everyone has been very polite and helpful. Later that day after a sleep, we head ashore to find the supermarket which is only a few hundred metres from the public dock. It is full of goodies which we have not seen since we left the States, and has a wonderful selection on Gluten Free products – yummy, but oh it is expensive here.
In the early days of our arrival we find out that our daughter is able to bring the twin boys down for a holiday with us at the beginning of April. This will be wonderful as we have not seen them for six months. Unfortunately her husband cannot join us due work. This will give us time to find nice beaches and good swimming areas for the boys to play in.
Here we are sitting out in the Caribbean Sea on the top of a seamount pinnacle coming up from the depths of the Cayman Trench – one of the deepest sections of the ocean in the world at around 25,000 feet. Each of the three islands that make up the Cayman group are encircled by a reef system. (We are only visiting Grand Cayman) Depths go from beautiful sandy beaches quickly to 18ft – 25ft which one can see so clearly as the waters are so pristine. Then it drops off from a vertical cliff into waters over 6000ft. This place is a mecca for divers. Also it has become a huge tourist attraction with cruise liners stopping off here nearly every day of the week. We have seen up to six anchored out off George Town at one time sitting just behind us. The guests are brought ashore in light tenders. You can just imagen the number of people in town on those days.
OK back to your History Lesson again. Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered the Cayman Islands in 1503, but there is some doubt over this as the islands have appeared on the 1502 Cantino map when Queen Isabella of Spain authorised four voyages to the New World in 1499. Also with the Taino and Arawak Indians living in adjacent regions and being proficient mariners, they most likely made visits to the islands. Columbus named the islands ‘Las Tortudas’ as they were home to thousands of sea turtles at the time. In 1586 Sir Frances Drake stopped in Grand Cayman which was still only inhabited by turtles, alligators and crocodiles, and iguanas. The seize of Jamaica by the British in 1654 saw the Cayman Islands also became a possession of Great Britain in 1670. The 1600’s saw the islands as an ideal hide-out for pirates who were attacking the treasure galleons returning to Spain laden with gold and silver from the New World. In the early 1700’s the first permanent settlement was established. A shipbuilding industry was started up for interisland trade and turtling.
These were the main industries until the mid-20th century. First it become a popular divers destination, then the Caymanians fashioned a tax free structure that has made Grand Cayman a “economic powerhouse” around the world. According to the local newspaper, the population is now 57,000 people. There are 300 plus banks represented here, one hundred thousand companies registered , and ten thousand hedge funds registered. So all of that along with tourism make this tiny dot in the Caribbean Sea a millionaires playground. Then what are the likes of us doing here. Well thank goodness it still does cater for the lower end of the tourist market. As I said earlier, we do find it expensive here. The Cayman dollar is worth 20% more than the US. But if one is sensible and you don’t eat out every night, one can find this a really lovely destination to add to the list of sailing destinations around the Caribbean. Many come and don’t realise that there are other anchorages one can get into beside the mooring field off George Town. Many of the other yachties we have met here are heading for Panama to transit the canal, or to Guatemala which has a well-known marina out of the hurricane belt. People leave their boats here for the summer and return after hurricane season to continue sailing.
|Boys off with Poppa for a tender ride|
We then moved to Starfish Point and again set off in the tender to check out the beaches, playground, coffee shop etc. This area later became our “Treasure Island” for the boys where we buried a big box of beach toys for the boys to dig up and play with. I made a treasure map and marked big X’s along a trail till they reached a flag with a big X on it marking the spot. Lots of fun.
Then we moved SHAMAL through Governors Creek and into Mitchells Creek. Actually they are lagoons which have waterway sections going off them. These areas are totally landlocked and very sheltered. One could easily be mistaken thinking they were on the waterways in Florida – a incredible similarity. Here we were also just in very short walking distance from a supermarket, and Seven Mile Beach (which is actually only five miles long). It is lovely clean white sands and pristine clean clear waters on the eastern side of the island. This was a perfect place for the boys to play. We unpacked our bikes and rode around much of the area getting supplies, spare parts, and generally looking around. It truly is a beautiful place to relax, swim snorkel or dive, and just enjoy some time out.
|Matthew on winch|
From the boat we have seen the turtles swimming around. Also the Island is known for its blue iguanas. They can grow up to a one meter in length. We have seen a couple of small ones basking on rock walls, but numbers have been dropping, so a program has been set up at the Botanic Park for breeding.
|Boys at Governors Beach|
Our week with Brigitte and the boys went all too quickly, but we did manage to cram in a lot of activities for them. We spent a couple of nights in the marina when they first arrived in North Sound, then moved around the island. We also sailed back to George Town so they could see the huge cruise liners. We picked up a mooring buoy off Seven Mile beach and took the tender ashore to swim there. Alec Brigitte and I snorkelled over a wreck off the beach there as well. We also went back into Mitchells Creek when the winds changed, and were able to walk back to Seven Mile Beach.
It is now Easter. It is quite strange to see, but on this tiny island the locals have a tradition of going camping at Easter. The beaches fill up with tents, kitchen equipment, outdoor furniture, BBQ’s and boxes of food and drinks. They settle in for a fun filled long weekend. We find then on Seven Mile Beach. We move SHAMAL back to Starfish Point, and again the beach is packed. Music blares well into the night, but everyone is well behaved. We have extended our visas stay here so we can choose a good weather window to sail back to Cuba. Yes we have decided that Mexico and Belize would have been great to visit. The run there would have been no problem, BUT, the return trip to the Leeward Islands would be a hard slog!!!! So our plan now is to return to Cayo Largo and continue sailing along the southern coast, then head out towards the Virgin Islands.
So with our time on Grand Cayman nearly at an end, we will sign out.
|Poppa & William watching planes|
The Admiral and The Commander