Posted by: August Sandberg | 07/04/2013

Cuba libre

22Cuba has been on our bucket list for many years, and we’re glad we made it there while the Castros and their extreme socialism still rules the country. A very interesting place, where nobody seemingly have more or less than what they need.  But people were happy, friendly, and very welcoming.

1Enjoying a loud night of illegal cockfighting in the rurals of Santiago

By luck, chance and/or fate, Anita & Maria, two very good friends from Bergen happened to be traveling to Cuba while we were there, and after a hearty reunion, they teamed up with Værbitt’s crew for a united Cuban adventure. We’d seen our beloved sailboat every day for the last 7 months, and it was with a certain uneasiness that we left her behind and staggered inland on our stiff sea-legs.

42Anna, Vegard, Anita & Maria cracking up in front of the Sierra del Escambray mountains

By boat, bus, horse and classic car, we traveled to every corner of the country. From Baracoa in the East to Havana in the west. Cuba is the largest island in all of the Caribbean, and we spent lots of time on the road, which was scattered with vendors, potholes, amazing scenery and government propaganda. True Adventure Time from day one. Every place we visited was different, but the fascinating weirdness of communism was ever-present.

32José Martí and a local bus in the city of Santiago

26The streets of Havana

13The local buses did not encourage the use of seat belts

12Guantanamo is not only a place of illegal POWs and navy seals, but also of charming, abandoned train stations

But all good things come to an end, and after a month of awesomeness, we found ourselves at Habana Airport, hugging all our dear friends goodbye. For the first time in more than 5 months, Værbitt’s Captains were all alone. We got on the first bus back to Santiago, and set of across the Caribbean sea towards Panama; our last sail on the Atlantic side of the Americas.

38Castillo del Morro, sacked by Henry Morgan in the 17th century

Posted by: Vegard Bleikli | 31/03/2013

Revolución!

 4 Guantanamo Bay

As Haiti and Hispaniola disappeared over the horizon to the east, Cuba took shape to the west. After a little while along Cuba’s coast we passed by the infamous american military base  Guantanamo Bay. We were immediately hailed on the radio and two speedboats were sent out to escort us past the bay entrance, making sure we stayed well clear. We were not shot nor arrested and considered the day quite successful.

3
August Castro

As we arrived in Santiago we were a bit worried about immigration and visas and other boring but important pieces of paper. But the internet said that it was just to sail there and notify them on the radio just before mooring, and the internet was right. We were also warned that there would be a lot of government officials inspecting things aboard, and again the internet proved itself. In total 12 inspectors and 3 dogs searched the boat 7 times for anything from mosquitoes to bombs to vegetables to mobile phones. Most of the searching, however, was not after illegal or rationed things, but after things they could beg us for. Being law-abiding sailors, and offering proper amounts of beer and coke, we were cleared and could indulge in the unique and slowly fading culture of Cuba.

Posted by: August Sandberg | 23/03/2013

Dominican Republic

7 (7)Double rainbow all the way

After a pleasurable stay in the modern civilization of Puerto Rico, Værbitt’s considerably heavier crew set of once again. We drifted out from the yacht club, and turned our helm to port, towards the west, Cuba and new adventures.

But the boat turned to starboard. In the process of mending the rudder chain, the eminent mechanic had also inverted the steering. We aimed carefully for a bouy in the bay of the marina, made fast, and delayed our departure to the next day.

Funfact: In my defence, an inverted steering makes a lot of sense. In order to make a boat turn to starboard with a clockwise turn of the wheel, the wire connecting the wheel to the rudder needs to be crossed in most systems ( What I failed to remember). In fact, all ships used to have inverted steering, all up til the 1920’s, when the car became popular. Constructing a steering system for wheels on shafts were easier the other way around, and to rid the world of this potential lethal source of confusion, boats we’re soon given”normal” steering as well.

This great story saved some of my pride, and when the rudder was mended again, my fellow crew was barely making fun of me any more. Once again we turned west, and this time the boat followed. We had two days of brilliant sailing and lots of effective tanning before the forecast turned sour. We we’re not in any kind off rush, so we decided to snuggle up somewhere along the coast of the Dominican Republic and wait for the storm to pass. The beautiful country of the Dominican Republic is located between Puerto Rico and Cuba as Haiti’s windward Siamese twin. And that’s all we knew about the place.

We found a perfect, protected bay on the map, and reached the inlet of “Luperion” in the dead of night. It was completely dark, and there were no navigational lights or sign of life anywhere. The map also seemed to have missed some of its coordinates, as we brushed past shorelines that the gps promised were hundreds of meters away. Our computer-based backup chart told us that we were  sailing on dry land. A searchlight in the bow could easily see the shallow bottom through the muddy water, but as it was sandy, we kept going. And after a 30 minute long heart attack trough mangroves and reefs, we were safely anchored.

43Luperion Bay by night

We did not stay long, but the Dominican Republic did not make a good first impression. Everyone was speeding on motorcycles everywhere, the food was bad and never enough, and the streets were filled with garbage, where we could clearly recognise our handwriting on one of the empty tins that the Department of Agriculture had collected from the boat for “safe disposal”.

But the anchorage was safe and comfortable, and after the heavy winds had passed, Værbitt continued westward.

Posted by: August Sandberg | 12/02/2013

Puerto muy Rico

2 The Camuy Cavernas

We limped in to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to a new world. After months in the third world, we were walking amongst skyscrapers and malls in an american metropol. Our first trip was, as always, to customs and immigration. They received us quite coldly, and fined us 2340 dollars for arriving without visas. Apparently, the online Visa Waiver program does not work if you arrive the US in a private boat, and it seemed like we would have to live of oatmeal and salt water for the next months. When we suggested to leave the country instead, they were quite ready to arrest us.

Luckily, we had called the office the day before, wich had assured us that we would not get in trouble. Armed with this argument, we took on the US Department of Homeland Security, and after a day of arguing, begging and praying, they stamped our passports for free and sent us on our way. We celebrated with a night out where everything seemed very cheap.

1We had to clean out the entire cockpit locker in order to make the chubby mechanic reach the rudder quadrant

The next day we said goodbye to Morten. The four weeks he shared with us was far to short, but thanks to his bottomless enthusiasm and positive energy, they were filled with adventure from the first day to the last.  To ease the pain of his departure, we set of to mend our broken steering. We feared that the wire connecting the rudder to the wheel had snapped, but luckily, it was not that bad. The strands in the end of the wire had parted, and thus slipping trough the wire clamp connecting the wire to the rudder chain. After a few hours, the steering system was mended, and the very next day FedEx brough us some brand new, original parts for it, replacing some of our less successful improvisations.

But soon, we were ready for more adventure. We rented a car, and set of to see some of Puerto Rico’s attractions. First on the list was the Camuy Caverns, the third-largest cave system in the world. Sixteen entranced have been found and 11 kilometers of passages explored so far. The caves were huge, beautiful and filled with amazing rock formations that made Vegard, the ship’s geologist, drool in sheer delight.

4The original caribbean fountain of youth

3Underground awesomeness

After we reemerged from the underworld, we went on to see the Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest single-aperture telescope. The radar disc is 300 meters across, and 150 meters over it hangs 900 ton reciever-unit, supported by three massive concrete towers.  It has been part of countless important scientific discoveries, and was also the location for the climax of the James bond movie Golden Eye. 

7The Arecibo Observatory

6900 tons of spacetech

5Two tall Vikings, dwarfed by the worlds largest radio telescope

Being in America, we also decided to find a gun range where we could blow some steam. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico has some very sensible laws regarding the use of guns. We did not get to do any shooting at the gun range, but something a lot better; we made some very good friends. Alberto, and the one and only Andrew Alvarez, a major TV and radio celebrity in Puerto Rico. We spent the next days with them, and they took us around the entire island, showing us some wonderful places and teached us lots about their country.

8A merry gathering. From the left; Vegard, August, Alberto, Anna, Anette, (Alberto’s wife) Denise (Andrew’s wife) and Andrew himself 

Posted by: Vegard Bleikli | 07/02/2013

No wheel, no worries

1Brimstone Hill Fortress

Still in awe from our Plymouth visit we set off from Montserrat towards the neighbouring islands St. Kitts and Nevis. We left the rough and exposed anchorage of Montserrat at midnight and arrived in Basseterre, St. Kitts, the next morning.

4August and his massive gun

In St. Kitts’ cruise ship infested capitol the US dollar was king, and too many it’s wanting slaves. Still we found a relatively quiet beach and had ourselves an ever so little vacation. A short ride away the huge Brimstone Hill Fortress could be found, and of course it lured us closer. Located on a hilltop, it had an amazing view over the surrounding land and ocean. It was built by british forces to reclaim territory from the french, and in 1782 it was put to the test. 1000 british defenders managed to fend off 8000 french soldiers for a month, before they (after running out of gunpowder and tea) surrendered. But political events in Europe made France return the island to the UK just a year later.

3Where 8000 french failed for a month, 3 Norwegians succeeded in an hour

2Morten scouting for enemy activity

Having quenched our thirst for forts and beaches for a while, we again found our stations and lost contact with the world. This time the plotter was set towards US territory;  San Juan, Puerto Rico.

10 hours in to fast and bumpy sailing the steering wheel suddenly and violently did absolutely nothing. With no steering the boat shot up against the wind and the sails flogged dangerously. We furled in the head-sail and the boat stabilized. The sea was rough, but with a reefed main sail and help from the motor we just managed to make our way against the wind and waves, towards the closest island, using our weak auto-pilot. We anchored leeward of the dutch Saba to assess the situation, and could confirm that the wire connecting the wheel to the rudder had snapped. After 30 minutes of digging through our biggest stowage space we found (of course at the very bottom) the emergency steering tiller. An emergency steering tiller sounds like a piece of fancy safety equipment, but is no more than a short metal tube with a bolt at the end. It’s heavy and inconvenient to use even if just going by motor in calm waters. Fast sailing was no longer an option, we had 150 miles to go and one of our crew had a plane to catch in Puerto Rico. With no time to stop for a potentially lengthy repair, we set off with just a small headsail, the windvane and a prayer of good weather. And good weather we got! Light winds and gentle waves saw us slowly but safely on our way, and it turned out to be one of the most comfortable crossings we ever did. It took us 3 days to cover the 200 miles, which is about double of what we expected. But arriving in one piece in San Juan made up for all the extra tanning we had to endure during the extra time spent at sea.

8Arriving San Juan at sunrise

Posted by: August Sandberg | 05/02/2013

Live GPS tracking from the High Seas!

Spot

Sailing the ARC across the Atlantic, we were outfitted with a GPS tracker that could be followed online. We, and especially our mothers, despaired when we had to turn in the tracker, and we finally decided to invest in a tracker of our own! It’s a SPOT-tracker, wich will send out our position every day when we’re at sea. It will be presented live on the “Where are we now?” – page of this blog. The old, manual tracker page is now named “Where have we been?“, and will work just as before.

Though this is meant to comfort our friends and family back home, we realize that it might work the other way around… Please don’t panic if the SPOT fails to update our position. It might break, run out of batteries, or we might even decide to go in stealth mode in pirate waters.

Posted by: August Sandberg | 30/01/2013

Montserrat

 5Little boat in Little Bay

After a comfortable 6 hours of beautiful downwind sailing from Antigua, we anchored in Little Bay on the Island of Montserrat. This island has been on Vegard’s bucket list for a long time because of the massive, active volcano that makes up the center of the island. The island used to be described as “the way the Caribbean used to be”, until an ironical incident in 1997, when The Soufrière Hills volcano woke from it’s long slumber and blasted Montserrat back into the stone age. A huge pyroclastic flow toasted the capital of Plymouth, and made 2/3 of the island uninhabitable for decades. Most of the population managed to evacuate in time, and have now started to build a new capital in Little Bay.

7

The Soufrière Hills volcano

We hired a taxi for the day, and set of to see the sights. We stopped at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, where a team of scientists keeps a weathered eye on the unstable volcano a couple of miles yonder. They provided lots of information, and showed us some very interesting footage from the 1997-eruption. But our thirst for adventure was not yet quenched. intrigued by the ghost capital, we gave our taxi driver an extra handful of dollars, and  set of south, across the border, through the Exclusion Zone,  and straight into the banned town of Plymouth.

4The entire population of Plymouth, happily posing with the volcano in the background

2Most of the town was buried in ash and lava, wich had also extended the coastline with several hundred meters

3The first floor of an abandoned house, filled with ash

The town lays by the foot of the rumbling, steaming volcano, and is buried in several meters of ash and badly scorched.  Amazed, we walked around through the empty houses and alleys, living out great films like “The Road”, “The Day of the Triffids” and bad ones, like “I am Legend”

1The late Montserrat Springs Hotel

6Ongoing eruptions are still working hard to bring down the remains of the city

Posted by: Vegard Bleikli | 28/01/2013

Dominica and Antigua

After weighing anchor in Martinique the course was set towards Dominica. There Værbitt stayed in a place with an all to familiar name, the island’s capital Portsmouth. Luckily, the stay was more pleasurable, and better yet; we were able to leave at our own convenience.

  8On our way through the rainforest towards a hidden hot pool

After enjoying a hot spring bath in the jungle, we set off towards a locally recommended river pool. The hike took us through people’s backyards, along riverbeds and across banana-plantantions. Suddenly, however, the whole trip was abandoned. As we reached the end of a banana-plantation deep in the forest, we stumbled upon a sizable weed plantation. With self-preservation strongly in mind we did a 180 and walked stealthily back.

Later the same day part of the crew went on a safari up the Indian River. Not only is it beautiful scenery, but also the location of some scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean. It is not the first time we have been to areas used in the Pirates-movies, but so far this was definitely the best.

9At the “Pirates” location where the group meets the witch doctor Tia/Calypso

Our stay in Antigua happened to be at the exact same time as the Antigua Superyacht Challenge. Huge, luxurious and, more importantly, expensive yachts would race against each other close to shore in beautiful conditions. During the race the we noticed the german Visione as one of the really fast and good-looking yachts. It turned out that our positive attitude towards it was not misplaced. The 147 fot sailing machine, along with Værbitt, make up the extremities of Baltic’s line-up. The 50m tall sloop is kept upright by a massive 50 ton keel, making up half the yachts weight. The Baltic 147 can sail downwind at autobahn speeds, and could, if the conditions were right, complete our circumnavigation in a month.

6Find the only boat with black mast in English Harbour

7102 fot Marama ready to take off

2The 181 feet long Adela with a norwegian captain

4 (15)Going hard upwind – Sojana (115′), P2 (125′) and Visione (147′)

1Anna found herself little buddy

Posted by: Vegard Bleikli | 26/01/2013

Pitons

2The goal for the day to the left, the Gros Piton

During Værbitt’s time in Marigot Bay the crew set off for yet another expedition. This time to get as vertically far away from the sea as our feet could carry us. The boat was left at anchor while the crew set their aim for the mountain displayed on the label of every beer drunk in St. Lucia; the Gros Piton.

13Halfway up, looking towards the smaller Petit Piton

When planning the trip we decided it would be crucial to avoid the smoldering heat and sun around noon. But sailors will be sailors and the concept of time will never seize to baffle and confuse us. Consequently we started the hike at exactly mid-day and made ourselves a moist sauna-workout-tanning sandwich.

DCIM100GOPROSkål!

Considering that we seldom climb any higher than the top of a wave, the trip was quite the challenge. But when some say challenge, we say accepted, and with determination, frequent breaks and the equivalent of an olympic swimming pool of drinking water we made it to the top. Being well prepared, we whipped out the beer who was named after the very mountain we just climbed and enjoyed the great view.

9Chilling out at the summit

Leaving St. Lucia we arrived at the french island Martinique where we anchored off St. Pierre. The town lies at the foot of a volcano which in 1902, during a huge eruption, lay everything waste. Of the 30 000 people living there only two survived, and the town never fully recovered. Today it holds some four thousand people and ruins from the eruption can be found everywhere.

18The crew in the ruins of the old theater in St. Pierre

Posted by: August Sandberg | 24/01/2013

Adventure Time

16Værbitt’s crew practicing their boarding skills after having watched “Pirates of the Caribbean”

After a crazy New Years Party, We put Trinidad to our rudder and headed north for Grenada, the smallest independent state in the western hemisphere. Once there, the crew were hit by an aggressive flu, and spent some slow days there, drifting easily at anchor outside the town of St George. As soon as the plague had left the ship, we set sail back to St Lucia, our first Caribbean landfall, where our good old friend Morten met us for a four-week Caribbean adventure.

1No blog could ever have to many of Vegard’s sunset pictures

We moored in Marigot Bay, a most amazing, protected inlet. Unfortunately, several hotels had found this place before us, and the place was crowded with boats, restaurants, and charter tourists. After a few days we got tired of civilization, and set of on an epic expedition to a desolate beach some miles away.  Our trusted dinghy was the flagship of the excursion wich, contrary to popular belief,  still floats.

20519Morten wisely abandoned ship and was able to immortalize the Interceptors beaching

After a violent landing on the lonely beach, we  started exploring. Survival artist August soon found a coconut for lunch, wich after a 30 minute fight turned out to be rotten. Anna explored the beach and showed of her eminent body surfing skills. Vegard and Simon went treasure hunting with Værbitt’s metal detector.  They found a dozen bottle caps, and an unidentifiable coin believed to be piece of eight from a 17th century pirate ship. Morten undressed and explored the equatorial sun’s tanning potential.

A bit further down the beach, we found an intriguing river outlet. The river was muddy and full of sharp, exposed roots, but the untouched waterway was reeking of adventure. We carried the Interceptor, still intact, to the mouth of the river and set of under the overhanging palm trees. The expedition was most successful, and led us up the river and straight trough some beautiful rainforest mangroves .

6Adventure – Simon exploring the mangroves

21Another beautiful anchorage

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