1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ready for the 2016 Anchoring Fight?

This coming fight season year, the gloves are off. There’s not even the slightest pretence of ‘boater safety’ or any other relevant boating issue in the latest proposed anchoring legislation, as noted in Waterway Guide by Mike Ahart. http://www.waterwayguide.com/latest-news/news/6000/new-fl-house-bill-would-eliminate-several-popular-anchorages 
The issues are clear cut - they want us gone, out of their cities, and they're going to legislate to do it, even if they have to lie to us to do it. What, politicians lie? Yep, I'll tell you at the end of this blog post.
According to Mike Ahart, the legislation proposes to create no anchoring at night zones in several areas, including Middle River in Fort Lauderdale, Sunset Lake in Miami Beach, as well as areas along the Venetian Causeway, and several other areas. 
Note folks - our good friends, those charming anti anchoring advocates Frederick Karlton (of the 22 illegally anchored dinghies fame) and Mark Gold (sued a strip club for $19k he spent because he got drunk, claims they overserved him) live in Sunset Lake and along the Venetian Causeway. How coincidental is that? 
Just for fun, google both their names and couple them with the term ‘domestic violence’ and see what comes up. Such lovely people the politicians are asskissing for donations. This is what your vote - their political donations I should say - buys them. They’re so special....and wow, did you see that, I pegged the sarcasm meter that time.
I’ve been told that this bill is expected to grow, that amendments to it will expand it beyond what we’re seeing now as other legislators try to shoehorn their constituents’ wish lists into it.
In other words, everything we gave up to get the new anchoring legislation and the rules that led to the Pilot Program - all the effort and time - was wasted. I can’t say I told you so, I wasn’t so much a part of this fight back in 2007 - 09 - but there are people I know who can, people who warned those negotiating on our behalf, that this would happen. They were right it seems.
So now, instead of setting new laws in place that have been seen to work (in a perfect world of course) from the Florida Anchoring Pilot Program conducted by the FWC, we’re getting the same old crap we got ten years ago - Florida communities attempting to ban anchoring outright, to appease wealthy waterfront homeowners. 
We’ve spent close to ten years fighting to get - nowhere. We’re back where we were then, with municipalities trying to get rid of us with restrictive anti anchoring legislation.
Frankly, I’m sick of this, so I have a couple of suggestions for those of you who’d like to do something concrete about the situation. First, I need to tell you a story...you've probably already heard part of it.
In Miami Beach, the city council last spring set up ordinances that forbade tying off your dinghy to the seawall. Of course, there’s really no place else to tie off to in most of Miami Beach, so in effect, Miami Beach has effectively banned anchoring if you want to go ashore. (http://www.waterwayguide.com/latest-news/news/5501/miami-beach-cracks-down-on-dinghy-access)
I detect our friends Karlton and Gold behind this one - very clever, very slick, a nice and apparently legal way to keep boats from anchoring. To enforce this new legislation, the City of Miami Beach has contracted with Sea Tow to tow illegally tied dinghies away. 
Does Sea Tow perhaps not realize their income comes from boaters who own dinghies just like those ones?  We can’t fight City Hall - I tried, by the way, addressing Council on the anchoring issue some years ago and got shut down by the Mayor herself - but we can let Sea Tow know that we don’t approve of what they are doing. 
Sea Tow, since they answer to customers like you and I, rather than wealthy landowners, is vulnerable to pressure from boaters who can choose to buy - or not buy - their service.
I propose that each of us contact Sea Tow corporate at the email addresses noted below. Tell them flat out that you will not be renewing your towing policy with them if this Miami Beach agreement continues, if you have a policy. 
If you don’t have a policy with them currently, tell them that you will not even consider them for your towing company as long as this Miami Beach situation exists. Tell them you will also tell other boaters and ask them not to purchase Sea Tow services.
“But I live in Idaho, and only have a jon boat and never anchor’.....Fine. That doesn’t mean you can’t support us in fighting this injustice.  And frankly, we need your help here. We need everyone to lend a hand. We're in trouble big time this time around.
Call or email your local Sea Tow franchisee, let him know the situation in Miami Beach concerns you AND it should concern him as it will be costing him money. Trust me, he'll quickly be in touch with the Sea Tow franchisors and also with the guy who runs the Miami Beach franchise. 
That's what we want to happen. I don't like to see someone else suffer or lose money, but we're at the point were being nice just isn't getting the job done. We're way too close to losing our rights to anchor in this fight. Way closer than we've been since 2009 in my opinion. We need to act now.
Next, email the Sea Tow owners and executives shown below with your remarks, and if you’d please copy me at northchannelsailing@gmail.com, that would be great. Be polite, but be very clear - you object to what the Miami Beach Sea Tow franchise is doing, and you will not purchase Sea Tow services for yourself nor recommend Sea Tow services to others.
Trust me, if enough people do this, Sea Tow in Miami Beach will very quickly drop this contract, and I don’t see TowBoat US picking it up, since they strongly represent boaters' rights. 
Plus, the bad publicity for Miami Beach will help us in our fight against the rest of the anchoring laws. 
What can you do next? I’m not sure, to be honest. It's being discussed now, and no consensus has arisen yet. I will let you know once a direction has been decided upon.
One suggestion for you however: join the Seven Seas Cruising Association, as they will be front and center in this fight and they are 100% on the side of we cruisers. You can find them at www.ssca.org. Tell them I sent you, it gets me a free month of membership!
Also, consider giving an hour or two per week of your time as this situation develops to involve yourself more actively in this fight. Two things it will take to win this - money, and time, and the more of each we have, the better we can fight back.
Finally, be watching here, and on the Sailing and Cruising group on Facebook for updates. Another excellent source for current news is Mike Ahart's Waterway Guide updates.

I promised I'd tell you how the politicians are lying to you....ok, in Middle River in Fort Lauderdale, they want to create a recreational exclusion zone for water skiing,  and eliminate anchoring at night with this new legislation. 
But it's against the law to waterski at night in Florida.  So just who do they think they're fooling, making it illegal to anchor at night to permit waterskiing during the day? If this were for real, they'd eliminate anchoring during the day....oh wait....they are trying to do that too. For more on the Middle River and Fort Lauderdale situation, read this LiveBloggin' post  and see just what kind of people we're really up against in Middle River.
Thanks to Scott Doublisky of Sailing and Cruising for pointing the rule against waterskiing at night out.


Here are the emails for Sea Tow corporate offices:





Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Very Good Year....

Merry Christmas to all, and happy cruising in the New Year to everyone. Here’s hoping that your stockings are filled with spiffy new electronics and you find a new Mantus anchor and shiny G4 chain under the tree on Christmas morning.
It’s been an exciting year for this sailor, very exciting. As you know, I’ve just completed the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, leading 15 boats south from Deltaville VA to Miami. That journey, which ran from October 21 to December 15, was simply amazing. 
Those of you who followed my reports in Waterway Guide’s regular Thursday broadcasts are well aware of what a fabulous time we had. From the first party in Deltaville to our closing bash at Grove Bay, formerly Scotty’s, in Coconut Grove, it was one great floating party.
Many of the marinas and cities we stopped at held receptions and dinners for us. At Albermarle Plantation, the entire community came out to play, and we had a great time there. In Belhaven, the new owners of River Forest Marina, and the town, feted us with a wine and cheese reception. River Dunes Marina outside of Oriental, one of America’s top 25 marinas provided a great meal and entertainment from Bob Laverty, and we discovered that our very own Stan (the Man!) Eure could rock out Mustang Sally like no one else! 
In Beaufort NC, manager Claudia Black and the staff at the Boathouse Marina treated us like kings and queens, and then sent us off with a celebratory breakfast. 
Swansboro, that little town that everyone passes by, they put us up on their new town docks, and five restaurants provided hors d’oeuvres and music. If you haven’t stopped at Swansboro, you need to check it out - friendly people and an attractive small town, it sure beats out the Mile Hammock anchorage at Camp Lejeune.
And so it went - town after town, marina after marina - a tour de force! The highlight however, was Cocoa, Florida. There - be still my trembling heart - our local sponsor was a pub and pizza restaurant. It just doesn’t get better. We had a reception with the Mayor, and we were given beautiful commemoratives etched with our boat names, and a great new pennant to fly from our halyards. Brad, thank you for all you and your people did - it was great!
A special thank you must go to the folks at Waterway Guide, who as the Rally sponsor, helped set up and organize many of these events. They certainly made my life as Rally Captain much easier, no question about that.
Lastly, my heartfelt thanks to the Ralliers themselves, who made this adventure their own, and made it so easy for me to lead them. At our closing party, they gifted me with a t-shirt they'd all personally signed - I took some quick snaps with my phone of a few of the comments, and I'm very proud to show them here:

 
 

I am now preparing for the 2016 Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, and I assure you, it will be even better - although this year’s participants might want to ask how that could be. Stay tuned for an announcement coming soon. In the meantime, if you want details on the Rally, check the website, www.ICWally.com, and feel free to email me with any questions you might have. Also, if you missed the blog posts on Waterway Guide, they are here: Rally Posts
As most of you are aware, I’ve made several trips to Cuba in the past few years, written in SAIL about those travels and lectured at various boat shows about cruising in Cuba - even done a webinar live from Cuba last summer which you can watch here.
All of this effort is about to culminate in the launch of Cuba Bound, the newest and most accurate cruising guide available for Cuba. As you know, regulations surrounding travel to Cuba by Americans are rapidly changing, so Cuba Bound will be a print on demand book. As things change in Cuba, we will be able to quickly update the book, ensuring that it remains accurate over time. 
Cuba Bound will be published by Waterway Guide and be available in early January, including at the Toronto Boat Show. Stay tuned for the announcement, here in LiveBlogging and also on my Facebook group, Sailing and Cruising and it’s sister site, Sailing and Cruising: Cuba.
What, you aren’t a member of Sailing and Cruising? It’s only the best online cruising group out there. And S&C: Cuba has the most up to date information on Cuba you can find. 
That’s because members comprise Cuban liveaboards, expat Cubans now living in the US and Canada, and cruisers who regularly cruise there. If you want to keep up to date on Cuba, or have specific questions, S&C: Cuba is the group to belong to.
I mentioned boat shows. I will be speaking at the Toronto Boat Show in January, and at the Miami Boat Show. At both shows I will be giving my two signature seminars: the ICW, and Cuba. If you have plans to explore the ICW, or cruise to Cuba, be sure to join me and get your questions answered.
And that’s it for the moment. Now that Sail to the Sun is over for this year, I’ll have a chance to catch my breath, tidy up the boat and catch up on some deferred maintenance on Gypsy Wind, and blog more regularly.
Have a very Merry Christmas, and remember the reason for the Season. See you in the New Year.

If you would like to see how this year's Sail to the Sun Rally was, the following posts, courtesy of Waterway Guide, will give you the details.
Previous Sail to the Sun ICW Rally updates: 



Friday, November 13, 2015

Sail to the Sun ICW Rally Moving South, Having Fun!

When I left you last, the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally was in Belhaven, North Carolina, heading for Beaufort. On our way there, we stopped at River Dunes Marina, a lovely facility outside of Oriental NC.
While there, the marina put on a great party for us, complete with entertainment from Bob Laverty. A few of the group couldn't resist getting onstage with Bob, and the result was a rousing chorus of Mustang Sally - as you can see in this video. Honestly, looking at the smile on Bob's face and the fun he was having, he should have been paying us!
This night was the genesis of the latest cruiser band sensation, the Island Junkies, featuring Soulman Stan...they've since played again at Osprey Marina in Myrtle Beach, and their first formal gig will be in Cocoa, FL in December. I'll have more details for you later on this exciting development, once I get the t-shirts made and the media all primed up. We're hoping that they'll expand their repertoire to more than just Mustang Sally however...

Good times at River Dunes

Chuck from Trinity at River Dunes
Seriously, we do hope the guys will play at Cocoa FL, where that city is in the midst of preparing a great reception for us. Details later, don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone.
Moving on from River Dunes, we stopped in Beaufort NC to explore that city. The Boathouse on Front Street Village really rolled out the red carpet for us, providing us with golf carts to get around, and their trolley for our group's excursion to the Beaufort Maritime Museum. And to say farewell, they hosted us to an excellent buffet breakfast in their lovely facility. Even the owner was on hand to say a few words to the group. I want again to say thanks to Claudia, who was the most gracious of hosts to our group.
Most cruisers heading south stop at Mile Hammock, the anchorage inside Camp Lejeune, as I often have. For the Rally however, we had other plans.
I had met Mike Dunleavy a few weeks previous to the rally leaving Deltaville VA, and he suggested that he could 'rally' the town to do a reception for us - and so they did!
The reception at Swansboro
Five restaurants provided munchies as we partied in the Bake Bottle Brew Restaurant, again with entertainment, and a welcome from the town. Swansboro has these lovely new town docks you see, and they wanted other cruisers to know about them, so they made Sail to the Sun ICW Rally their first 'guests', hoping we'll tell the world what a great place Swansboro is to stop.
And we shall, especially when one of the locals says this on the restaurant's Facebook page: Tricia Stone Was so cool to see 13 sailboats in my town...5 anchored off my house, at least 8 at the docks. Lets bring the sailing community to Swansboro!
From Swansboro, we had a long day to Wrightsville Beach, where we anchored out, moving on to the lovely town of Southport the following day. There, we headed for Mr. P's Bistro for a great supper and still more laughter.
Onboard Pegasus
Naturally, there has been a continual round of sundowners and potlucks aboard the various boats....and some spectacular sunsets to go with those parties, such as this one...
If you want to keep up to date with the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally activities, like and follow us on Facebook, at Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, and if you want to find the location of the fleet, you can check that out at the Where's Wally page right here on LiveBloggin' the ICW.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Now, back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming...

I am willing to bet that readers of LiveBloggin' the ICW were beginning to think this blog was actually 'All Anchoring Fight, All the Time'. I'm pleased to say that isn't the case at all. Right now, there is nothing happening (publicly), but be prepared. It's coming, and I'll be sure to keep you up to date on developments in this fight.
As many of you know, I'm leading the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally from Deltavile VA to Miami FL, sponsored by Waterway Guides. It has been a fantastic trip already, with our first week behind us.
Currently, all but one of our 16 boats in the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally are in Belhaven NC, and the trip thus far has been just amazing. The weather has co-operated, although to avoid some nastiness on the Albermarle Sound, we left a day early from Albermarle Plantation and had a very calm run to the anchorage at the north end of the Alligator Pungo Canal.
We missed out on Sundays' oyster roast, but the spread they put out for us the night before was amazing.....we're talking three HUGE tables of food, and ANOTHER one just for desserts, PLUS wine and beer. These guys know how to show a sailor a good time, and I thank them again on behalf of all of us.
fyi, the Albermarle Plantation is part of the Albermarle Loop program, and you can get two nights free dockage there. Believe me, this place is worth the detour! Beautiful homes, beautiful grounds, clubhouse....
Lucky thing we chose to leave early however. The Waterway Guide boat, which left the following day, described conditions as 'sporty'....as in 3.5 - 4 foot square waves kind of sporty with 20 - 25 knot winds. Not a fun time at all, as Jim and Mary, our trawler couple on Pegasus, told us. They also left the following day due to some minor mechanical issues that required a mechanic.
In Belhaven, we were greeted at the River Forest Marina and given a true southern welcome last night. For those unaware, the River Forest Marina has been sold and the new owners are very rapidly bringing it back to what it was for many years - THE place to stop on the ICW. Big changes, upgraded docks, clean fuel and gorgeous facility.
River Forest Marina...
We were feted with a fabulous wine and cheese table, courtesy of Spoon River Restaurant
Pigeon Toes leaving Elizabeth City
- and is my waterline sinking after all this great food? - and some prize drawings, courtesy of the Belhaven Chamber of Commerce.
After this, we went on to the Tavern at Jack's Neck, which opened especially to host us. We had their fabulous pizza in the gorgeous surroundings...again, a place to check out.
From here, we move on to Beaufort, where we will be exploring the Maritime Museum, home of the Queen Anne's Revenge - Blackbeard's ride! This is a great museum, and we'll be delivered there via the trolley from the Boathouse on Front Street - talk about a class act and great fun.
You can follow the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally's adventures on our public Facebook page, and please feel free to comment, ask questions, or just enjoy the fun with us.
You can also follow us via the Where's Wally link on this blog - and see the exact location of the fleet as we chase the sun southward. Hopefully, next year you'll be with us on our journey!
Jim, from Pegasus, relaxing

Tavern at Jack's Neck - GREAT pizza

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We're SCREWED - Florida Anchoring Meeting

Illegal dinghies behind Karlton's house in Miami Beach
Mike Ahart, Waterway Guide’s news editor, watched the entire anchoring hearing in Tallahassee today, and here's the link to his article - Waterway Guides. For those wanting the real deal, here's the link to the meeting video itself.
Let me summarize this for you - we are in serious trouble in Florida, very serious trouble. First off, let me tell you what boaters’ enemy number one, the infamous Frederick Karlton of Sunset Lake, Miami Beach infamy had to say about boats coming south in the winter:
It becomes very dangerous" with too many boats, blocking access to docks, anchored too close and banging into the homeowners' docks and boats. "Our waterways literally become a shantytown," Karlton said. "There's a fishbowl effect at night...these people don't leave, they're dumping their solid waste in our waters”. Karlton also states that women on the waterfront are “living behind their curtains” because of boaters peering in windows at them. 
I’m not going to call Karlton a liar because I don’t care to be sued by him, but I do believe that if we asked him to prove any of this, he’d find it impossible to do so. 
Karlton has been caught telling tales about anchored boaters that didn’t hold up (such as waste discharge), since no charges regarding his complaints were laid by the police. And Karlton was cautioned by the police about harassing boaters near his house.
I will note here that the only boat accident I’m aware of near Karlton’s house was when Karlton himself drove his boat into an anchored boat less than 20 yards from where I sat watching it happen, in 2014. There was no one at the wheel of Karlton’s boat when he ran into the anchored boat - he had moved away from the wheel and wasn’t keeping any watch at all. The police, and I find this SO hard to believe, were not interested in what I had to tell them about what happened. When I tried to inform the Coast Guard boat that attended the incident - they chose to inspect my boat rather than investigate what happened.
Now you need to know, Karlton donates large amounts of money to politicians, so he gets listened to. He gets the best democracy he can buy.
Mark Gold is another individual (again, not the word I’d choose but this guy’s a lawyer and likes to sue people, as you’ll see) from Miami Beach who hates anchored out boats near his property. He claimed at an FWC hearing in Vero Beach last year that 10, 15, 20 boats anchored behind his property all winter long, stating they were in "his backyard". There’s only one problem with this - it isn’t true. He made similar claims today in Tallahassee.
There is room for perhaps a half dozen, at most, boats in that area. Mike Ahart estimated that four could anchor. I go past Gold's house several times every year and I’ve not ever seen one boat anchored there. Not once. I guess I need my eyes checked.
Interestingly enough, in the scurrilous rumors department, both of these men have been either accused of or charged with domestic violence issues in the past, and Gold once got so drunk at a Fort Lauderdale strip club that he spent some $19,000 in one night - and then sued the bar for the money, claiming they got him drunk. For details, see http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/beach-commission-candidate-fredric-karlton-had-some-lady-troubles-6552324, and also http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/mark-gold-ticket-lawyer-who-sued-strip-club-over-18k-bill-arrested-for-domestic-violence-6534306 and http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1956640.html
What relevance does this have to the anchoring issue? None really, but the public needs to know what sort of individuals - not the word I choose to use, but again, I don’t want to be sued - that politicians are supporting in this fight. And perhaps those women in Karlton's neighbourhood have reason to be hiding....but not from we boaters.
Note that Gold states that he was behind the city of Miami Beach’s most recent ordinance, which wasn’t nearly as draconian as what he wanted: “We had asked for a 300' setback and a 2-day limit” Gold said. Miami Beach eventually went with a seven day limit on anchoring, which was rescinded when the pilot program came into effect.
Gold also claims that boaters are dumping raw sewage - apparently a favorite claim of these clowns - but I’d like to know how they can tell, since nearly every boat I’ve ever seen empties below the waterline. How do they know? 
The FWC's Richard Moore noted that they have no witnesses to this sort of behaviour - maybe he should go talk to Karlton and Gold - and see if their 'testimony' would pass muster. Somehow, I don't think it would.
The Florida League of Cities noted that a great many jurisdictions would want the right to create their own ordinances, and Rep. George Moraitus Jr. of Fort Lauderdale indicated that he intends to introduce (another) bill that allows local governance of anchoring for Broward County. The bill would also declare Middle River in Lauderdale a no anchoring zone.
Mike’s report makes for dismal reading. I meant it when I said that we, as boaters, are in serious trouble in Florida.
The vice chair of the meeting, referring to a Fort Lauderdale liveaboard in Lake Sylvia, actually asked a police officer, a friend of mine, if the police: “could just wake them out of there...”
If that’s what the committee vice chair is thinking out loud, suggesting an illegal act that in effect comprises harassment, to a police officer, just what is he not saying?
At this point, I have no idea if Rep. Caldwell took note of the many emails sent in by readers of this blog, and from the many Facebook pages my original blog post was copied to. I have asked him about it, but have had no response to my question. I’ll report back as soon as I hear anything.
So what can we do? I’m not entirely certain at this point - at the moment, there is little if anything to do, not at least until we hear what this workshop is thinking. 
However, if we do nothing, we are absolutely going to lose our rights to anchor in Florida. Only you can stop this from happening.
That you can count on. If you haven’t been involved in this fight yet, it’s time you got angry and did something, starting with joining the Seven Seas Cruising Association (www.ssca.org), who are the only organization fighting for the rights of we cruising boaters. After that, be prepared to write, email and make your views known.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me on this issue. We boaters are not a small group, it’s about time we roared our displeasure at what is going on, and made the politicians sit up and take notice. It's long past time we called out the Karltons and the Golds and made them back up their bogus claims publicly - which they cannot. 
It's time to drop the gloves here, and fight.
And it’s time that you, personally, got involved. We have very little time left if we are to win this fight, if indeed we can win it at all.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Florida is doing it AGAIN!

It’s no surprise that the majority of people affected by the Florida House of Representatives’ proposed workshop on the topic: “whether to restrict anchoring in public waters adjacent to waterfront residences”, will be unable to attend and make their views known.
Given the fact that the state of Florida has been attempting to restrict anchoring for years now, and continue to do so, these attempts to disenfranchise those most affected is now expected by those same people.
I don’t know about you, but I’m completely fed up with these ongoing attempts to eliminate the rights of the general public in favor of a few wealthy homeowners. To be very frank: it is long past time that politicians need to grow a spine - or perhaps some other appropriate appendages I won't name here - and tell these wealthy folk that the rights of the majority trump the wealthy homeowner's presumed right to an unimpeded view out their backyard.
In other words - tell them bluntly, no mincing of words - you bought the land to your property line, and not one inch beyond that. The rest of it belongs to the public and we, the State’s representatives, are mandated by the Public Trust Doctrine to preserve it for the public, not to grant you special rights to preserve your view.
What does the Public Trust Doctrine say? In part: 
…lands beneath navigable water bodies are not held for the purpose of sale or conversion into private ownership, strict limitations are imposed on the state’s ability to transfer the water bodies, or parts thereof, into private hands.”
To quote from a well known court decision, Broward v Mabry:


Anchoring is a lawful use of the water, and that's according to the Supreme Court.
To limit the rights of the general public with any sort of anchoring legislation would be in essence a conveyance of those rights to the hands of those benefiting from said conveyance - the waterfront landowners. After all, it is they who are driving this process of endless fighting over this issue, not the boaters, not the guy living inland or the casual tourist visiting the state. It’s a few wealthy homeowners who are the force behind this fight. They are our enemy.
None of this is to deny that there are legitimate concerns, but those concerns can easily be handled by ordinances, not overreaching state law. Examples abound - an anchored boat is too noisy? Local noise bylaws come into play. Give them a ticket. Pumping waste overboard? There must be dozens if not hundreds of local, state and federal laws that can be resorted to.
Derelict? The FWC has regulations that, if enforced, would end this problem within a few months. Of course, it would require that the state fund these efforts, and they aren’t doing that. It’s simply easier and less costly to look like you’re doing something by passing a new law.
Also - if they enforced these regulations, a certain individual's 20 some rotomolded dinghies, anchored behind his house in Miami Beach, would be Public Enemy #1. Not only are they illegally anchored, they are, by the FWC’s own definition, derelicts.
But nothing happens there because, as one police officer told me, the word has come down from Tallahassee: leave this guy alone.
I guess that’s what happens when you donate large amounts of money to politicians...or when, as one well connected local news guy told me, you allegedly give a big screen TV to the local marine unit, who respond within minutes to his every complaint. 
Funny, but when my dad was a cop, he’d have called that TV a bribe. 
I’m serious about the response time though - anchor behind this guy's house and you will have a police boat there within ten minutes asking you to move on - even though asking that of you is completely illegal on the part of the police. This has happened twice to me, and on different boats too. 
For the record, I’m told that when a police supervisor found out about the TV, it was removed and returned to Karlton. Funny, because the last time I was in that station, there was a big screen TV on the wall. And the man's dinghies are still anchored, illegally, behind his house and not the FWC, the USCG or the MB Police Marine Unit will do a thing about it.
Here is what Jay Campbell, a retired lawyer and Florida resident, said about the most recent attempts last year to limit anchoring in Florida:  “The proposals [of the FWC] seem to be unlawful, poorly thought out, against the interest of Florida citizens who are boaters, against the interests of Florida businesses which cater to boaters, and in support of ONLY a few wealthy landowners, represented by legislators who control the FWC funding. This is not how laws and regulations should be developed and implemented to support the public interest.”

So when is the workshop? Thursday, October 8, 2015, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Morris Hall (17 House Office Bldg.), Florida Capitol, Tallahassee, FL. If you can be there, I suggest that you go, and bring all your boating friends. I cannot be there, I’m at the Annapolis Boat Show, where I will be speaking to every boater I see about this issue and asking for their support. 
So - I’m asking you to be there for me. Speak up. Speak loudly. Make sure the legislators and their people get the message: we will NOT put up with this any longer. It is time that the politicians started representing everybody, not just the rich.
Do not let the meeting organizers suggest or insist that one person speaks for your group. They are obligated to listen to you, and if it takes more than the allotted three hours they have set out - too bad. Most of you will have to travel to be there, taking precious time out of your day - don’t let these weasels take that from you. Insist on being heard.
Why? The rich landowners may have money but we have one thing they do not - we have many more votes - and when politicians see that they are going to lose votes, they pay attention. It’s time to show them where the votes are - they already know where the money is, as we can see by their actions. 

If you cannot be there, you can send an email to John Love, Administrative Assistant
State Affairs Committee, John.Love@myfloridahouse.gov, (850) 717-4890. Tell him you can’t be at the workshop but you want your views aired so that these politicians get the message.
One last thing - if you agree with this blog post, share it with all of your boating friends and ask them to do the same. Post it to your Facebook page, and share it into all your groups. 
Get the word out, and get the gloves off. Let's end this damn fight once and for all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Viva Cuba! On to Annapolis...

It’s been a long while since my last blog post, for which I apologize - I try to get something online a couple of times a week, but between enjoying Havana during my last few days in Cuba, getting back to the US, fixing broken motor mounts (and fuel problems, and other assorted gremlins onboard), preparing for the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally and my regular writing, plus heading north to the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve fallen a bit behind. Let me fill you in....
Havana was, as it always is, amazing. Carlos, a friend from Spain, who cruised along the coast with me from Puerto de Vita, and I hired a classic old car to bring us from Gaviota Marina to Havana. First though we we visited a new friend whom I’d met in Gaviota - Paul, from Britain, who had married a Cuban woman and lived in San Antonio de los Banos, 35 km southwest of Cuba.
Paul and his wife lived in a lovely home they had purchased and that he had fixed up beautifully. This was most certainly a cut above - all right, several cuts above - your typical Cuban home. Along with a beautifully laid out garden and patio with tiki hut and wet bar, the interior of the house had been greatly improved. A second floor was added, it was fully air conditioned, and had a two car garage, although only a tiny Russian Lada lived in it. If you've never seen a Lada...
Like most expats living in Cuba, Paul and his wife had a maid and a groundsman, as well as a chauffeur. While that makes them sound amazingly wealthy, their staff probably did not cost them as much as $500 a month. In fact, it likely costs them considerably less, as official wages are very low in Cuba - $25 - $45 per month.
This town is not one that is visited by many tourists, which is a shame, as it’s a wonderful exposure to how many Cubans actually live. The downtown is busy, with many small shops and street merchants. Homes are small by our standards, but clean and neat inside, and generally well kept outside, even if not freshly painted, since paint is one of those products hard to come by in Cuba.
I was greatly entertained by one scene in the square by the church. Someone had a small business offering children rides on everything from small electric cars, to carts pulled by a goat, and was doing a big business. The kids were loving it, the parents had their phone cameras out, and if you let yourself forget about where you were, the scene was that of any small town in America. Cuba is not so different from the US as we imagine.
Street Mimes
the ultimate government employee!
Seriously, they are paid
by the government


Back to the classic car: this 53 Plymouth (not the beauty shown in the picture above), powered by a nearly new diesel engine, was not one of those beautifully restored classics you read about, but it got us there and that’s what mattered. The cost of the 115 mile trip was $120 one way, but had we been willing to look around further, we probably could have done better in both price and style.
Leaving Paul’s home after several days there, Paul’s chauffeur drove us to Havana, where we found a lovely casa particulara, which is analogous to our B&Bs, two bedrooms right downtown and up one floor, for $40.
From this convenient location, we explored Havana Viejo (Old Havana), wandering around the tourist district. We of course stopped by Hemingway’s haunts, wandered past the Museum of Chocolate, watched street mimes - basically did the tourist thing.
That evening we took in a music festival downtown on the Malecon, or waterfront. I was reminded vividly that I wasn’t in North America as police officers stopped and searched people at the gates as they entered. No one objected to this, or even seemed to think much of it. Of course, objecting would mean a trip to jail, and I’m told that a Cuban jail cell is something to be avoided.
As the festival ended, we chose to get a bici-taxi - a bike taxi - to bring us back downtown. While inexpensive in our terms, the $5 we paid the man was one quarter of what his official wages are monthly. He entertained us marvelously with stories of the places we passed. It was money well spent, the same as the earlier bici-taxi we’d hired earlier in the day.
Paul had explained to us that most Cubans, to survive comfortably, have to earn about $100 to $125 extra monthly over their government stipend. This explained the hustle that almost everyone was engaged in, with people selling everything you could imagine, from fruits and vegetables, to, in some cases, themselves. 
We saw several prostitutes and, obviously being tourists, were quite boldly propositioned several times during that evening.  A quick ‘no’, or simply ignoring the woman or pimp, usually settled the issue. I did chase away one woman who, in the stereotypical bright red dress, tried settling in at the table beside us at an otherwise nearly empty restaurant patio.
Our hosts at the casa particulara arranged transportation back to Varadero for us in a Peugeot, at a cost of $80. Frankly, and despite the dubious charms of the ancient Plymouth, the air conditioning and better ride of the smaller but newer car was quite welcome.
The day after arriving back at Gaviota Marina, I settled my bill for dockage (60¢ per foot per night) and prepared to leave. As always, I left with mixed feelings. 
I enjoy Cuba, but the endless bureaucracy one has to deal with as a cruising boater, and the struggle to make myself understood with my very poor Spanish, were a challenge that I needed a break from. Against that, the friendliness and charm of the Cubans you meet, the joys of this amazing culture, keeps you coming back for more.
That evening, I anchored well after dark, with no moon, at the Cay Sal Banks, a group of uninhabited cays belonging to the Bahamas. The cay was nowhere near where the chartplotter said it should be, which, when you can’t see a thing, is a bit unnerving. 
After sailing ‘through’ the island on the chartplotter and over a mile from my intended anchorage on the west side, I decided I would just drop the hook in 18 feet of water and worry about where the cay was in the morning. Turns out it was a quarter mile further still from where I was, and on the opposite side. 
It was worth the stop however, as it’s just gorgeous, crystal clear waters in which you can see the small tropical reef fish swimming about from your boat. The beach is lovely and wide, and the only concern I had was that the holding was marginal, with sand over coral rock. It would not be anyplace to be in bad weather, as there is no protection.
Leaving the Cay Sal Banks to head for Miami, I dragged a line from the back of the boat, thinking I might catch some supper. I had five big hits within fifteen minutes before a sizable tuna kept the hook, only to break the line right beside the boat. Damn!
As I got north of the Banks and turned to the east, I felt the Gulf Stream tug at Gypsy Wind as the GPS registered over 6 knots...we were finally heading home.
Cuba had been an adventure, but then, it always is.


p.s. For those who missed it, I hosted a Cruisers’ Hangout in Havana, an online webinar which you can view at https://youtu.be/4i79DoVQ74U
If you’re in Annapolis, I will be speaking on Cuba at the Annapolis Boat Show for Cruising World, and also in Fort Lauderdale and Miami at their respective shows, in November and February. Hope to see you at one of the shows, and please, if you do attend, come up and introduce yourself.

For those interested in cruising south with me in the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, we still have one place available. You can get details on the Rally at www.ICWally.com, or contact me directly for information. This is going to be a great trip, with seminars, parties, and lots of fun, along with solid navigational guidance to make your ICW voyage a safe and comfortable one.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Join me for a Webinar on Cuba, FROM Cuba!

Hola! I’m back to civilization from the beautiful anchorages of the Jardin del Rei, the cays of the north central coast of Cuba. It’s been quite the trip, a lot has changed for cruisers traveling in Cuba - while a great deal has not changed at all. If I had to sum it all up, I’d say things are better, and in some ways easier, than in the past.
I met some fascinating folks on this trip, had some interesting adventures, and learned a great deal more about what makes Cuba tick.
I’m currently at the new marina in Varadero. It’s quite the place all on its own. Currently at 600 slips, it’s huge, and by the end of 2015, so marina manager Tonia tells me, it will be at 1000 slips, making it the largest marina in the Caribbean. And with perhaps a half dozen transient boats, the least occupied by far. In fact, my Spanish cruising buddy, Carlos, and I have the only two occupied boats in the marina.
My next stop will be Marina Hemingway, to see what’s new there, and to spend some time once again in Havana.
This is where it gets exciting - I’m going to conduct the world’s FIRST Cruisers’ “Hangout in Havana”, live from here in Cuba. This will be an hour long webinar conducted via Google Hangout.
During the Cruisers’ Hangout, I’ll be discussing what it’s like to cruise in Cuba, describe what’s changed, and talk about the changes in the status of American cruisers, and what we might expect in the future.
If the state of the local internet here in Cuba permits it, I’ll be showing video and photos of Cuba to give viewers a taste of what to expect, and at the end of the webinar, I’ll answer as many questions as I possibly can from viewers.
This webinar will be a preview to my seminar on Cuba at the Annapolis Boat Show later this fall, where I’ll be presenting on this topic for Cruising World. If you’re in Annapolis, you won’t want to miss this.
The Cruisers’ “Hangout in Havana” will be Monday night, August 3, at 7:30 eastern time, and will be an hour long, longer if the internet signal permits it. To sign up, click over to ...https://plus.google.com/events/c78b009eikt594h63jgsnsmkhe8
Hasta mañana.....see you in Havana!


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Entering Puerto de Vita, Cuba

Wow! Finally, Cuba again. It seems like it’s taken forever to get here.....wait, it has taken forever, with one delay after another. 
The sail from Duncantown, in the Ragged Islands, was superb. The winds were as easterly as they get this time of year, about 95 - 100°. The heading for the initial 30 miles, to Cay Santo Domingo, a far out rocky outpost of the Bahamas, was 193°M, and from there to Puerto de Vita, 205°M, making the trip a beam reach. Winds were at 15, gusting a bit higher at times and the sea state was 6 - 8 feet and 5 seconds. Not  leisurely, but not too bad either.
I covered the 65.7 nm in under 13 hours, coming in after dark because I’d slept in. In my defense, I was sleeping on my good ear and didn’t hear the 05:30 alarm. Aduana is no help in these situations, she likes to sleep in, so she doesn’t bother waking me. 
I would have actually made better time had I left the day previous in 12 - 15 knots, as I would have sailed with main and genoa, rather than just genoa as I did. 
Being a singlehander, I make very conservative decisions, and this was one of them. I could have motorsailed, but I was unable to purchase diesel in Duncantown and didn’t want to risk running out.
Entering a harbour you’ve only been in once before after dark isn’t something I suggest to my students, but it was what I was left with. The inlet at Puerto de Vita is wide and very deep, with a 10 second white light to the south side. As long as I could get in behind the headland, taking in the genoa would be simple, and then it was simply a matter of motoring in using the well marked channel.
Hmmmm - what’s THAT on the starboard side? Green marker? What the hell?
The channel may be well marked, but the chart doesn’t position you accurately on it. I actually would have gone round the wrong side of 3 of the first 5 markers following the chartplotter. Naturally, the depthsounder chooses these precious few moments to start acting up. A curse followed by a quiet prayer....it’s back, wait, it’s gone, now back again....must be a loose ground.
I proceeded slowly in the dark, watching the chartplotter and muttering at the depthsounder until I was close to where I’d gone aground here six years ago. The only difference was that I was now at low tide; last time, it was dead high tide and it took the next higher high tide 24 hours later to get free.
Anchor down, this is good till morning. I tried to raise the Guarda Frontera (Coast Guard) on the radio but had no luck. I was good with that, it meant I wouldn’t have to move before daylight, and I could honestly say, if asked, that I’d tried.
The next morning, I proceeded to the marina where I was directed to stand off by the last red marker to wait for the doctor. Dr. Roland came out to the boat, pronounced me healthy and able to proceed, and we motored in to the dock.
In the last few years, the clearance procedures have changed. It used to be you had 8 to a dozen people aboard, and often a drug sniffing dog. This time, it was only two, plus the veterinarian for Aduana, with the Agriculture guy showing up two days later. The paperwork is much simpler also, and less of it. 
A valiant attempt to provide comprehensible English translations has been made - but, let me put it kindly, there is some room for improvement here. For example: “It is terminately forbidden to ships crews to dart wasted materials of vegetal origin....” That’s from the Ministery of Agriculture, Vegetal Sanity General Direction.
Still and all, it’s indicative of the changes happening in Cuba.
What hasn’t changed is their paranoia about portable electronics. My handheld GPS and VHF are now in a locker under seal. That will last until I leave here, when I can open the locker to use them and I doubt anyone will bother me about them again.
Interestingly enough, my Delorme Inreach Explorer satellite communicator didn’t bother them at all, even though it beeped with messages several times as we sat there. A sat phone however, that would also have been sealed.
Once the paperwork was finished, the usual short search of the boat was done. While I understand it’s required, it feels hugely intrusive and they focus on the most bizarre things. 
In this case, the dockmaster, Alexis, was looking at my last box of nasal spray, and wondered if it would be suitable for children. Clearly, he has a child with a problem and was looking to help his child. 
This is a constant problem in Cuba. They may have well trained doctors and nurses - but basics such as simple painkillers and other medicines are not available. Even splints - I’ve seen a splint made of a 2 x 4 and rags for a woman’s broken leg. 
I try to help a little where I can - I had just given Dr. Roland a bottle of painkillers, acetaminophen and codeine, which I buy OTC in Canada. But the nasal spray is adult strength, not suitable for Alexis’ child, and if he administers it wrongly, which he’s likely to do, he’ll do more harm than good.
I explain that this product is adult strength, and Alexis takes it in good grace. I wish I could have helped somehow. I may try to explain how saline rinses can also help, but I’m not sure his English is going to be up to that. My non-existent Spanish certainly isn’t. 
But, as in all things Cuban, we’ll figure it out together.
The search over, the two men depart. Now it’s time to go pay the piper. Entry to Cuba totals $70 CUC in all, or $79 US, and they’ll accept US dollars in payment. No es problemo.
Good news! They now have internet here. However, they are out of the cards authorizing access to the system and are not sure when they’ll get more. 
No surprise there. The surprise in Cuba is when you come across efficiency in the system, a rare occurrence. Cubans know their system is screwed up, so Mary, the office manager, apologized for the inconvenience.
Interestingly enough, I’d seen the Etecsa van (Etecsa is Cuba’s internet provider) drive in that morning...(update - Mary will drive those of us wanting Internet access to the resort 15 km away tomorrow morning to use the facilities there, as Etecsa still has not come up with cards - it’s been a month apparently).
While chatting, I was impressed with Mary’s flawless English and said so. She told me the tourism agency she works for also provided her with training in French. 
I spoke with her in French, and it too was excellent - probably better than mine, which is no surprise given her mother tongue is Spanish, a language with a lot of similarities.
This is typical of the marinas - other than the Guarda, those who deal closely with the boaters have very good language skills. With the Guarda, outside of a marina, you’re fortunate if they speak any English, but with good humour, we always get through.
Time for boat chores, starting with laundry. One of the staff will do my lavenderia, 10 kilos, for $12.50. Good deal, fresh clean bedding and clothes, salt free - just as I now am after a wonderfully long fresh water shower. After the paucity of water in the Bahamas, the sheer availability here inspires me to shower until I’m completely wrinkled.
The original plan this year had been to go to the south coast, but it’s now much too late in the year. The SE trades are ripping through here. The 150 nm to the eastern tip, Punta Maisi, which is east and southeast with no protection at all would be against those same winds and seas I just sailed through: 6 - 8 feet with a five second period. Gypsy Wind simply doesn’t have the kind of power to muscle through that, and I am not willing to suffer that kind of pain. Been there, done that - it wasn’t fun. 
I actually did consider Bruce Van Sant’s method of using night lees and katabatic winds to sneak east, but his first dictum is not to move in a gradient wind over 15 knots. That settles that. 
Also, the Cuban authorities would doubtless have issues with a foreign boat running along their coast in that manner at night. Since they must clear you when you leave an anchorage, returning your despacho so you can proceed, it would mean having the Guarda row out to the anchorage at midnight. I’m not seeing that as a viable plan.
As well, my recent bout with being ill in the Bahamas has me eager to get back to the land of instant colonoscopies and informed diagnoses. None of this waving a pH stick in a cup of piss as the nurse practitioner did in the Bahamas. 
I’m feeling fine now, but I want some guy in a white coat and stethoscope, with a bunch of degrees and a pricey Mercedes, to look at me and tell me with complete assurance that I’m just fine. (See the receptionist on your way out please!)
So Aduana and I will work our way west, along the north coast, to Havana, exploring and photographing as we go. I have a much better camera with me this trip, and the results will be evident in the eventual video I’ll produce, highlighting the beauty of this amazing country and the great sailing, fabulous culture, fascinating town and cityscapes, and friendly, happy people.

Vaminos!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Whooops! Well.....

anchored out in the Jumentos....
When last we left our intrepid sailor - oh, wait, that’s another blog!
My last post here a week ago, the plan was to leave the following day and then post to you - from Cuba.Things didn’t turn out that way, and I’m still in George Town, Bahamas. I’d tell you I’m now leaving tomorrow, but a) who would believe me now, and b) I don’t want to jinx myself.
The morning following that post, about 4 am, I woke up with what we can considerately call an unpleasant gastro-intestinal feeling. I’m going to avoid details for the squeamish and faint of heart, and myself, because it isn’t much fun to recall.
A word to the wise here unless you’re into scaring yourself silly: never google pain symptoms at 4:30 am. First of all, my symptoms could have been for any one of over 50 ailments, including appendicitis or kidney stones. All fatal.
By 5, I had convinced myself that seeing a doctor was the smart thing to do, since those two - appendicitis and kidney stones - are illnesses you don’t want to get in a place like the Jumentos, well south of the Exumas, or crossing over to Cuba. Heck, I wasn’t going anywhere feeling like I was, much less away from civilization - and medical care, such as it is here in George Town.
Seeing the doc on a small island doesn’t always mean you get to see the doctor. Typically, you get to see the nurse practitioner.
Nurse practitioners, in my experience, don’t leave me with a lot of confidence. I’m the sort of person who likes answers because then I can work on solutions. Give me a ‘fuzzy’ response and I’ll try to nail it down with questions. Great if you’re a journalist working on a story, but if you’re a patient trying to determine your life expectancy...
Naturally, if all the nurse has to work with is a few ounces of urine and your description of how you feel, you don’t get a lot of answers. The decision to sit tight for a few days while this sorted itself out was now final. No way was I going out and taking any chances.
I thought that this might offer an opportunity to catch up on some writing, but that wasn’t happening. The prescription I had against infections was knocking me out - I was napping mornings and afternoons for hours at a time. Thankfully, I had turned down the painkillers (prescription, not recreational) or I’d still be asleep.
On the serious side, when you’re cruising in areas off the beaten path, medical considerations have to be thought out in advance. To that end, I carry a fairly comprehensive first aid kit, the Marine Series 400 by Adventure Medical Kits. It’s good for wounds and breaks, has some basic meds, and is intended to support a victim while you transport to proper care.
However, there’s a lot more that can happen to you out there than just stepping on a spiny urchin - or sitting on one. Let me digress a moment with a story - a close friend who is a dive instructor told me one of his most pleasurable work days occurred when a 19 or 20-something hottie in a much too small bikini sat on a spiny urchin (how???) and required removal of the spines, said job falling to him as the senior instructor, there being no other trained medical staff on the island. Apparently it was slow, but very pleasant, work. End of digression.
A proper first aid kit should carry a variety of easily purchased medications, against some of the ailments we suffer. For the various GI problems and even simple upsets, you should have Tums or similar, an anti-diarreahal (yes it’s spelled correctly!), and a laxative on board. Basic stuff, yes, but they can turn the tide, if you’ll forgive the horrific pun, in a bad situation.
Some basic painkillers are also mandatory. I have both ASA and Acetaminophen with 15 mg Codeine, a product I can purchase OTC in Canada. They’ve stemmed some severe toothache pain over the years and I don’t travel without them.
In this instance, they were both a bad choice against the headache the antibiotic was giving me, because Codeine plugs you up, same as morphine. Fortunately, I had some straight Tylenol with me, and purchased some ASA for stores.
Along with these, you should carry some sort of easily purchased topical painkiller. These are usually sold as part of an antibiotic creme - which of course you should also have available.
I could go on for quite a while - and quite possibly should, because not everyone pays adequate attention to this topic. I feel an article in the works here...
Let me finish on this note: if you’re going cruising - and even if you aren’t - take a good first aid course, and CPR along with it. Any sailing school will be glad to set up the appropriate courses for you. CPR is not hard to learn, and can be a lifesaver. First aid can be used anywhere, at anytime, not just on your boat.
The instructors will be teaching from the foundation of injuries derived during water based activities, which is what you want. Bottom line is, there’s no point in having lots of bandages if you don’t know how to keep the victim alive long enough to use them.

 p.s. yes, I’m now feeling much better, thanks. Good to go, even! And, the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally is very close to being full. If you're considering joining us, don't hesitate too long, you'll miss out. For more details on this exciting event, running Oct. 20 to Dec. 15 from Deltaville VA to Miama FL, check our website, ICWally.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cuba - you got questions? We've got answers...

I received an email today from a friend about what's needed to cruise in Cuba, and it inspired the following blog post...which will be the last blog post here until I reach Cuba in a few days. You can follow my progress along the Cuban coast at Where's Wally?
I'll be posting regular short updates via my Delorme Inreach satellite tracker to my Facebook page about Cuba until I reach someplace where I can get back on the internet.
Here's what my friend Carlos had to ask about cruising in Cuba...

Hi Wally,
 My imagination has been “running” at high speed with this discussion of ours on Cuba.  I saw your video (sailing to Havana) last night on You Tube.  I hear that there are less than 100 usable slips in Hemingway Marina.   Most of the slips are in dis-repair..no water..no power per the websites I saw.  100 Slips isn’t that many for the Miami Crowd.  Over 60,000 boats in Florida….any decent 20 footer could make the trip on a nice day….Aside from Havana where should one go?   Varadero?

1)      Does my Raymarine GPS/Chartplotter need more charts?  Where can I buy charts for Cuba here in FTL?  How about a Cuban FLAG?
2)      Do I need a SSB Radio to do this trip? Or VHF sufficient.  In some countries only SSB is permissible.
3)      I don’t have a Mariner’s or Captain’s license…like most American boaters..is this an issue?
4)      Insurance—not sure if US Boat will cover me there.  Will need to check.  If not,  I hear that a Canadian and a German company sell insurance for Cuban waters.
5)      Medical Insurance for me and my crew.
6)      Harmony is in top condition—all maintenance has been done.  I did remove the Staysail—but we should be ok with the furling genoa and the main.   I don’t have any spare sails.    I wonder what spare parts for the engine I should bring?  Water pumps, belts, starter…..I wonder what would be a prudent “spare set.”  I can’t predict everything…what should I have on board?    I’ll top off with fuel and bring plenty of gas for the dinghy before going.  50 gallons of diesel should be more than enough…and 5 gallons for the dinghy.
7)      Are their pump outs at the marinas in Cuba…probably not but should not dump except way offshore…
8)      I read a lot about provisioning—How long will we be in Cuban waters?   A week?  10 days?  I hear fish, chicken, pork and veggies are easy to get….I would bring “other stuff”…canned stuff, booze, things for “trading” everyone suggests.   If the trip is for 10 days—I’ll provision for 20+ days. Just in case of bad weather..or the winds keep us from departing on time, etc.   Its not a long passage---the water supply on board 60 gallons is ample.   Good suggestion to bring some clean  “Jerry Cans” to bring water back in the dinghy if water isn’t available dockside.     
9)      Security—I hear that you really can’t leave your boat unattended. Security at the Marinas is a “joke”….what has been your experience?   Can we leave the boat locked up—and go into Town?  Taxi’s available?
10)   US Credit Cards are now usable in Cuba….but how much cash should we bring?
 My sister was just in Cuba and really enjoyed the music and food….She said that there are many “inconveniences” but nothing major.  If we’re staying aboard Harmony, we’ll be very comfortable…especially if we have power and water at the dock.  

All of these topics seem obvious to someone with your vast experience—but would be useful information for a novice like me to have before leaving. 

Here are my answers to Carlos...

For charts and a flag, contact Bluewater charts and books in Lauderdale. 
VHF is sufficient, especially along the north coast. SSB is always nice, but not needed.
No license, Captain or otherwise required, to cruise in Cuba
No US firm will cover your boat at this point. Lloyds of London is one option. This may change if you are traveling legally with a license for your boat - and since the situation is changing so rapidly, you need to check with your insurer on this before leaving.
You purchase medical insurance in Cuba, approximately $3.25/day/person US. Mandatory for all but Canadians, whose health insurance covers them while in Cuba.
Spares - the usual. Fan belt, impeller, filters. Fuel and water are easily had in Cuba, and are of good quality. 
No pumpouts. Best to void the tank at sea, yes. 
You have the right idea about provisioning. Also, bring adequate toilet paper, it's $3.50 a roll IF you can find it.
Security is good at the marinas, but I would lock up in Hemingway all the same, it's more open than most other marinas. Be more worried about other boaters, not the Cubans. It's against the law for a Cuban to board your boat, other than the officials, and they don't. Taxis, no problem.

Despite what some so called 'knowledgeable' people are telling you, US credit cards do NOT work in Cuba, not yet anyhow. Bring cash. Bring cash anyway, because ATMs are not that easy to find and often do not work. Mini-rant to follow...
(I really hate watching someone at a boat show give wrong information, especially when those in attendance paid $100 per head to listen, and I give the correct information for free. If you put on the show, at least have the courtesy to hire someone who knows what they are talking about - and yes, that means you, Trawlerfest and Passagemaker. We had this discussion last spring and you didn't like it, especially when the next day, the Wall Street Journal backed me up on this. Then your speaker got her information on bringing a dog into Cuba wrong also. Not impressed at all). End of mini-rant.

No, there are not a lot of usable slips at Hemingway, but the marina is slated for improvements, or so the rumour on the Malecon goes - but those in use do have water and power. However, power may only be 30 amps. Not sure about 50 or 100. The dockmaster will have an electrician set things up for you on arrival. The electrical setup is not as scary as it looks - or perhaps it is, I'm no electrician.
Varadero is nice, although I've not yet seen the new marina there, which is way outside of town. The old marina, Darsena, is nice but dated. It's also close to town, making it very convenient. 

That's it for this blog post folks. I have to get the boat ready for sea, and pick up some last minute items - not TP, got lots! Mas tardes, amigos y amigas!