Grand Caymans, Cuba, Turks and Caicos, January 2014


Left Wisconsin at minus 20 arrived in Grand Cayman at 80 plus and cold rum drinks.  Spent time managing the head repair (you don’t want to know the details), Fred helped install the new all stainless heavier anchor, Gordy worked on the refrig controller – we will have cold beer and Wendell brought in a Cuban cruising guide on his i pad.  Eduardo the local bartender was Cuban, family lives in Cuba helped in our strategy sessions.


Finally Curtis arrived midday Saturday to round out the crew, the Grateful Red was at sea by five and through the Grand Cayman Sound reef.  Prevailing winds are east north east and we are going east north east – mostly motored to Marea de Portillo. 


Beautiful bay, only boat.  Crew went into town via dingy for our first dinner.  Great time and no dingy altercations on the boat return.  Promptly at 0700 the next morning La Guarda is at boat side – no paperwork must stay on the boat.  We agreed to stay on the boat and La Guarda (a very nice guy) agreed to sell us diesel.  We waited, waited and waited just as we decided to beat up wind 80 miles La Guarda showed up with diesel.  Filled up and motored out at dusk …… Santiago and paperwork here we come.  Arrived at sun rise to the beautiful port of Santiago.


The Santiago La Guarda were professional.  Through boat check including a dog that sniffed for explosives and a dog that sniffed for drugs.  We passed the inspection and were granted one month visas.  It is not legal for Americans to buy or pay for items in Cuba luckily there is a large community of Swedes (a Swedish flag boat in the marina), Dutch (also in the marina), Aussies, Germans and number of friendly Canadians more than willing to buy for us if we paid them in euros that we had bought in the US.  We complied and everyone was happy.

After the La Guarda check, the owner of the boat across the dock comes to me and asks in his French accented English “did you like Pete’s Bar?” and laughs.  After he drops a few more hints I got it – the French man across the dock met the Grateful Red crew of Jack, Curtis and Ken at Pete’s bar in 2009 – the sailor bar in the Azores.  We were crossing the ocean to Europe and he was heading south to sail to the Caribbean.  Five years later he is sailing west to the Pacific and the Grateful Red is sailing north to America.  Sailors and their dreams.


Ken and Miguel (new Cuban friend)



Several Cuban beach babes (and Gordy…)


“Our car” was a red 1955 Chevy station wagon without a muffler and had to roll down a grade to start but held five.  Never understood why the driver honked all the time you could hear the car a least a mile down the road.  Crew toured downtown Santiago.  Not much happening.  We were always brought to a “private” restaurant.  Nice but never any Cubans.  On day three we decided to walk around the bay to a local spot with radio blaring.  After a discussion in Ken and Gordie Spanish we determined that the restaurant was having some type of office dinner and party but we were allowed to eat out on the veranda.  A terrific pork meal with a bottle of Havana Club seven year old anejo for six bucks …….. and half way through the meal a lady dressed in her finest asked if the Americans would participate in their after dinner dance.  None of the locals had ever seen a real live American let alone partied with them.  The “DJ” cranked up his boom box, bought another bottle of Havana Club and the crew danced salsa with the Cuban party.  Truly a fun time for all!

Street food

A bit of Street food!


On to Baracoa – passing Guantanamo Bay – went very wide maybe ten miles off shore.  US Coast Guard patrols out three miles – armed and dangerous!  Made Baracoa with no issues.  Baracoa did not have a marina so the local La Guarda made one crew member stay on the boat at all times.  First American boat on his shift.  Baracoa was another step back in time.  Found a local restaurant on the water, ordered lobster for Gordie, Wendell and Ken  …… then Gordie brought out the contraband …… a quarter pound of real butter.  Dairy products are impossible in Cuba so the Grateful Red refrigerator was prestocked with beer and butter.  The essentials.   Beer, lobster and butter for three was twenty bucks so we left a fiver as a tip.  The owner came running after us because we left money behind  …… when your monthly income is $30 a fiver tip is really appreciated plus Gordie left the remaining contraband butter behind. 


Went to a local club with music – eight piece salsa band.  Again Mr. Kopke danced with the best  …. Ken told the owner that in America we buy a round of drinks for the band when we like them.  Gave the owner eight bucks for a round of cold ones.  A couple songs later the band leader comes over and asks if the band can keep the dollars as the bandleader said “one dollar buys the family meat for week”.  No issues – use the tip anyway that you want …… three more band members came over to thank us for the generosity??  Gordie bought a couple loaves of Fidel subsidized bread for his butter supply and back to the boat.  About midnight a big storm comes though and winds change to the west …… in these parts the winds come from the east 80{e5b62957b3804ab7f47eece8c936dd4b822dafb6efd3f6ca02827a1c1cc3266f} of the time and never from the west.  We were going East, pulled anchor at 0400 and headed to Provo in the Caicos’ with the wind behind us.  I bet the La Guarda was not happy when his American boat headed out leaving all our Cuban paperwork with him.  The Grateful Red is now probably a wanted poster on the Cuban bathroom walls.


Launching 2014 Sail Season – Bocas to Grand Caymans

Hurricane season ends November first the Grateful Red leaves Boca del Toro, Panama on November 16th for Grand Cayman. Seven hundred miles or five days of sailing – day and night.  The Grateful Red crew of Gordy, Jack, Matt and Ken set sail among a few lightning bolts on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.  


Immediately there was an issue – under full throttle the Grateful Red only motored three knots not the usual six knots …….. The Grateful Red never goes back …… Sail On!  Finally got offshore, raised the sails and the speed was only four knots not the usual six to seven knots.  Instead of a five day sail the crew was thinking seven days plus.  The land crew of Nina, Kristine, Anne and Cissy were meeting the Grateful Red in Grand Cayman in six days.  Rerouted to the Columbia Island of Providence about 200 miles from Boca.  Contacted the harbor master, obtained permission to land for few hours to re fuel and obtain drinking water.

Immediately Carman a local with knowledge of English and the local community became our “go to” guy.  He arranged for “shark” to assist in cleaning the boat bottom.  Shark was about sixty, short on teeth, no English, some Spanish and was willing to free dive to clean the Grateful Red bottom.  Shark quickly determined that the GR prop was loaded with clams and shell fish.  He also noted that the shells were not from the local area …..  Very astute.  After an hour of dives Shark declared the prop clean except now the prop kept collapsing.  Ahhh no wonder we couldn’t sail at six knots the prop was being held open by shells on the prop and acted like a brake.


Carman arranged for Gordie to ride on a motor scooter to the local diesel pump.  Gordy managed to hand carry a couple containers of diesel while balancing on the back of the scooter.  Jack and Ken went to the local grocery store for supplies.  With time to burn Gordy took the crew to lunch at a local cantina among completion of all missions.

Off again but with the clean prop motoring or sailing at six knots was easy.  Shark was the Grateful Red’s new hero.  Winds and weather was superb, full moon nights and great sailing. 


What will break next is always a point of discussion on the boat – on day four the diverter value on the head was plugged.  Water comes into the head but doesn’t leave.  Tools were out Ken and Gordy were on head repair detail – no go.  Jack outlined using the dive platform as the new and well exposed head.  No pictures needed – key is not to go overboard in the process.  No one was lost at sea – Ken decided to stop food intake and wait until arrival at Grand Cayman.  Always a couple methods to solve the problem.

Almost at Grand Cayman when master chef Jack let out a scream from the galley.  Apparently when the Boca team changed from the low pressure French gas system to the high pressure US system all fitting were not tightened accordingly.  Amazing how quickly cooking gas can fill the air and light off.  Finally six days from leaving Boca the Grateful Red snaked through the Grand Cayman reef into the sound and Scott’s marina.   Another great sail.



Portobella to Bocas del Toro, Panama with George

The reason our engine stopped working well!


Arriving at Portobello to drop off Cissy & Jack, we secured a solid anchor set.  Coming in however, our engine quit 2 separate times, but would restart so we were relieved to get it anchored.  We set up the Dinghy and got Cissy, Jack and our fish to shore.  We had hailed our bar “Capt. Jacks” and they agreed to cook our fish for us.    I took an extra trip with the dingy to the boat to get Cissy and Jacks luggage to shore.  When I got back I found George and his Taxi driver waiting.

We ate my mackerel for dinner and then after Jack and Cissy left, we headed back to the boat.   Monday, ken worked at his “Capt. Jacks” office and George and I visited the several markets to get provisions for the trip to Bocas del Toro.    We arranged for 10 Gals of Diesel and soon left anchor.  On the way out, we had black smoke coming from the tailpipe.  As I looked at our transom, I noticed we were dragging a white heavy rope.  We used a boat hook and were able to pull the white nylon rope along with other “junk” attached.  Within moments, the boat seemed to pick up speed and the black smoke quit.   It must have been something we picked up and got caught on the prop on the way in.


The chart showing all ships “waiting” to go through the Panama Canal!


George, Ken and I sailed 18 hours (a calm, easy overnight sail), past the Panama Canal, and on to Escudo de Veraguas where we anchored early in the day.  We snorkeled most of the afternoon in a little cove down the beach.  Some of the better snorkeling that we had seen.

I had caught another mackerel along the way here, and when we set anchor, we fired up the grill and had it for dinner along with some fresh cucumber, tomato and avocado salad.  A local fisherman came by and we ended up purchasing 3 lobsters from him for another meal.  On Wednesday, May 1st, we pulled anchor around 8AM, got the dingy on deck, lobster in a net to be dragged behind the boat, and headed to Bocas del Toro.

Boca del Toro

Main Street, Bocas del Toro

Boca Marina Cantina

Bocas Marina Cantina

It was a 5 hour sail to Bocas and when we entered the area where the marina was, we called the marina to get specific tips to entering the marina.  Charts and books told of very shallow and moving shoals.  Dana guided up directly to the fuel dock to fill up then we moved our boat into Berth #6 where it would stay until November 2013.

Dana provided us with names of service providers and gave up information on the town and shopping, etc.   We decided this was the place to keep our boat.  Marina and staff very friendly and it had a great little cantina run by John and Alena.

Music at Cantina

Friday entertainment, by local boaters




Mask adjustment








The remainder of the week was preparing the boat for off-season and exploring Bocas del Toro area, along with a arranged snorkel trip that would have been awesome in light winds.  We however had to deal with winds that could float you away from the boat!  Still was fun.



Season end Crew


On Sunday, after banana pancakes (bananas are everywhere here!), George left with the water taxi to catch his flight home.  It was great to have George with us, however, it was not the biggest adventure for George.  (Especially with Teri not with us).   Ken and I spent the afternoon cleaning and drying the spinnaker, folding the front sail ending with hamburgers on the grill.



Rip tide restaurant

Dinner at Rip Tides Barge

testing hammock

Testing out Ken’s Hammock (Gift from Kyle)

We spent the next 5 days doing final preparation to the boat, arranging off-season service and maintenance then headed home to Wisconsin.