Tuesday, March 25, 2014


It seems a lot of time has passed since we left Guatemala; quite a few miles too.  After a relaxing couple of weeks retracing some of our steps back up the Belize coast with Rachel, we sadly left her in Belize city to find her way back to Cancun.  The enthusiastically anticipated big blue hole at Lighthouse reef remained 'Mission Impossible' for us, due to it being upwind no matter which way we seemed to approach it.  In the end we gave up and set sail for Cuba.

We always expected the leg to be a hard uphill slog.  The prevailing easterly trades set you back towards the Mexican coast as the gulf stream tugs or shunts you Northwards.  Many give up trying to get East and simply drift up North, wait for a calm day and boulder their boat with engine across the Yucatan Straits.  As it happened, we had predominantly South Easterlies and so managed to sail to Cuba in just about one very long and somewhat wriggly tack.

Not that it wasn't an arduous leg.  Duncan; a windsurfer of old, groups wind strength into three main categories: Not enough, Just right, or Too much.  For the first three days there was too much wind.  Impetuous pounded along under tripple reefed main and staysail as we cowered below in the relative dryness of the cabin, composing lists of jobs that we must address before finding ourselves in similar weather again.  Ruth lost weight and our ensign blew itself merrily to tatters in the howling wind.

It was a trip of two halves though; if the first three days were a good explanation of why not everyone wants to do what we are doing, then the next three days were lovely examples of why we do choose this.  It was sunny, breezy and calm and nights were illuminated by the full moon; just beautiful.  We got into the groove; read, cooked, dried out and cleaned up, listening to music and noticing as we saw more wildlife as we approached land; first dolphins, then a song bird rested with us a while, butterflies, a beetle then myriad bugs and birds.

Cuba felt a bit of a gamble as a destination, I'm sure everyone will come up with a different reason as to why that might be; such is the diversity of opinion on the place.  We had heard mixed messages from friends and other sailors and so kept asking anyone who had been, trying to get a balanced view of what to expect.  Duncan's primary concern was the tales of beaurocracy.  We wondered if this would mean that to travel from one place to the next could become more hastle than it's worth.  We'd heard from several people just how restrictive the authorities could be, and this had spoiled a few peoples experiences of Cuba.  Ruth visited around ten years ago and had the most amazing time.  It stands as one of her favourite ever trips; too short at three weeks, though she managed to see a little of the whole length of the island in that time using the Cuban transport of choice; hitchhiking.  The principle concern was that if visiting by boat were to be such a headache her romantic memories might be ruined.    Several reports from other sailors included that it was one of their favourite places they'd visited, despite the restrictions and so we decided there was only one way to find out.

So here we are.  It's early days yet; we've been in Cienfuegos since Friday evening.  Clearing in was a delight, though of course 6 officials had to inspect our boat together with two exciteable spaniels.  They were polite, efficient and friendly, the only charges so far were for a visa each ($25 for 1 month) and the boat registration ($50).  Of course we have yet to attempt to submit our cruising plan to the authorities we'll see what kind of reception we get then.  However, first impressions count for a lot and they are unanimous;


The people are friendly, kind and beautiful.  The streets are clean and cared for, the roads are quiet with many cyclists, then along trundles a classic American car or just as likely a horse and cart.  The food is plentiful, fresh and cheap beyond belief (of course we shop in the local markets).   

The city has a rich mixture of old colonial buildings juxtaposed with art deco and more modern concrete structures, but brightly painted with well ordered gardens; surprisingly they seem to complement each other.  The fast food of choice is a simple pizza which will set one back as little as 5 Peso Nacional; about 13 pence, served from the front room of a family home, with an ice cream for desert from another open door; another 3 Peso Nacional (8p or 12 US cents).  Of course we haven't yet told you about the Rum... or the cigars... or the fishing... or the music....

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nesting Dinghy Days

Well it might have been nice to have written this as a daily blog, but a few things plotted against us. Not least inactive days and inactive Internet. It also would be very boring to read. So here are all the dinghy days rolled in to one, though its not finished yet, so expect another; steps towards a sailing dinghy...

It all started with the model that we made whilst still in Texas and a bevel gauge. We copied out the angles from the model on to the transom and on to the central frame. All we had to do then was join them, with a strip of holly used to give a pleasing curve we marked on the shape of the dinghy. Took a step back, when not happy we scribbled out the line and re-drew. We used a very simple design method throughout the dinghy construction. If it looks right; it is. 

Of course one absolute necessity for the nesting dinghy is for it to nest. For this, though you mightn't need the whole dinghy, you do need both the joining frames. Knowing that we would run out of wood we cobbled these together from offcuts. Obviously they need to be the same. Ruth used the router to perfectly copy the first frame when making the second frame. A lot of effort then went in to not gluing the second frame to the rest of the dinghy when gluing up. Look carefully for the tape.

Cable ties worked well as a quick and efficient tie. Though we needed extra strength for the bow when we resorted to wire and rope due to the tight angles. The bow itself required a bit of recutting as we thought it might. Though we had the model to copy, the limitations that bringing five separate sheets of ply together present along with the usual, 'oh just a little bit more curve don't you think,' resulted in needing final adjustment.

Our biggest mistake was not bolting the bow section to the aft section when we glued up the bow section, which is why it didn't fit! Still its amazing what fury can be vented with a hand saw, by the lunch of the day we realised our mistake, we were ready to glue it back up again. The rain clouds being the only dampener of our further progress.

Any excess wood was trimmed off with a plane. The outside edges were rounded so fibreglass could be draped over them easily. The inside corners were filleted and then glassed. Before long the only thing preventing us from having a celebratory paddle, before painting, was the addition of a daggerboard housing, to stop up the gaping hole in the sole. Once complete, who could resist having a little paddle? We were both delighted with the result. Certainly a lot more sprightly than our usual mode of transport the Avon Redcrest.

With a lick of paint still drying we loaded her on top of the boat as we went to provision Impetuous before leaving Guatemala. We went wood shopping again, this time in Rio Dulce, to ensure we would have enough ply to add the buoyancy tanks and bought some softwood chunks for the all important mast, gaff and boom. Perhaps not first quality, but the wood was incredibly cheap and we were able to route through their piles in order to find the lightest and straightest. We'll let you know how we get on in time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Aventuras Sin Impetuous; Tikal

It was with a sigh and a pained look that Ruth said, 'We're never going to see any Mayan ruins.' Months ago when we returned to England we thought it would be nice to spend some time in Flores and Visit Tikal, on our way back to the boat in the spring. In reality, when the time came, all we both wanted to do was get back to Impetuous. So a plan was hatched that when our friend Rachel came in late Feburary; around Ruth's birthday, we would head up to Flores to meet her and all go to Tikal.

Rachel, who we had expected to take a more leisurely trip down from Cancun arrived like a shot from a gun. 'Oh shit!' I expectorated, she gets in to Flores in a few hours; the internet was working again and we had just picked up her most recent email. Time to go.

The bus ride to Flores was not without event, as we have posted. A protest had blockaded the road so, as five hours passed; amongst them the hottest of the day; we were stuck in a dusty town with thousands of others going nowhere. People pottered around selling their wares, we bought a bottle of honey in an old wine bottle. Generally all was peaceful and relaxed, no one seemed to care too much. Even the protesters just stood behind their banners and mutely protested. Inside the tin can of the bus we sweated. Finally around 6 o'clock the banners came down and the cool of moving air seemed all the sweeter for its hours of absence.
Tikal is different from many of the other Mayan ruins as the areas surrounding have not been cleared. You often are walking from one ruin to the next draped in a shadowey cloak of cacophony; the jungle alive above. We saw, and of course heard the roar of the howler monkeys as well as the constant chatter of birds of many species. Then suddenly the paths open out, presenting you with the spectacular sights of the ruins, towering with mythical splendour.

It lay undiscovered until 1863, despite being one the most significant sites of the most powerful kingdom of the ancient Maya. It is now being uncovered and, in places is still under renovation. Much more lies within the park boundary as yet hidden by the jungle.

Some of the imposing architecture dates back to the 4th century BC, yet amazingly it did not see its demise as a strong hold of the culture until as late as 900 AD. After looking at our photo's its worth a google.