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Idiot Afloat, Book II, Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor: The Cruiser’s Divided Life

Idiot Afloat, Book II, Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor: The Cruiser’s Divided Life

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Idiot Afloat, Book II, Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor: The Cruiser’s Divided Life

298 pagine
5 ore
May 25, 2015


Sharon’s boat, “My Detour”, is the Coronation Street of the Caribbean. The odyssey continues, picking up in July 2003 where Book I left off. The events unfold daily, the point of view expanded with e-mails to and from a growing list of friends.
This time, starting from South Carolina, we sail the ICW to Miami, hang a left, then explore the Bahamas. As a single hander, Sharon explains the difficult choices to be made selecting crew. Even in paradise there are pros and cons and men complicate that choice.
In addition, Cuba is often thought of as a controversial choice, and indeed Sharon had many surprises waiting in each port. While My Detour cruises Cuba’s north shore, Sharon seeks the Cuban culture, hidden from tourists at the all-inclusive resorts. She highlights the down-to-earth friendliness and integrity of the people. After discovering other cruisers’ Cuban experiences may have been different, she includes three appendices, each by different authors, for the broader benefit of any reader contemplating exploring Cuba by yacht.
After a wild sail north, My Detour anchors in Boot Key Harbour, Marathon, in the Florida Keys, which she paints as a fascinating microcosm of floating hippies and liveaboards.
Winter ends and Sharon returns to Bothwell, Ontario, to her land-bound adventure of renovating an old house into a comfortable home, near her family. Not to fear, there is more cruising to come, although, as Sharon admits, cruisers’ plans are written in sand. Although it is difficult to determine whether Bothwell or My Detour is her real home, one thing is certain: Sharon regales us generously with exploits of sailing, friends and family.

Excerpts from - Richard Herrington,
“New Horizons”, Royal Hamilton Yacht Club Newsletter, February 2013

May 25, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

Sharon Lehnert neé Sloan was born in 1943 and grew up on a Christmas tree farm just outside the small town of Bothwell, Ontario, Canada. She married at 19, and has a son Michael. Sharon graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, with a Master in Library Science degree in 1969. She worked as a secondary school teacher/librarian, a prison librarian and a public librarian, chiefly in Hamilton, before retiring. In her retirement, Sharon turned her old house in Hamilton into Inchbury Street Bed and Breakfast and it operated for nine years until she set off on her sailing adventures. When not sailing the high-seas, Sharon calls Bothwell, Ontario home, where she pursues her keen interests in Scrabble, oil painting landscapes and politics.

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Idiot Afloat, Book II, Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor - Sharon Lehnert

Idiot Afloat


Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor:

The Cruiser’s Divided Life


Copyright © 2014

Sharon Lehnert

ebook edition Version 2 ©2016

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in the case, of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

Published by the Author at Smashwords

Contributions by Tony Trappe, Kate Purdy, Klaus and Janice Nenn, & Lisa Price

Edited and printed by William Sloan, Jr.

Formatted by Christine Thomasson

Cover from a painting by Sharon Lehnert

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Lehnert, Sharon

Idiot Afloat, book II : Cuba, Bothwell and Boot Key Harbor: the cruiser’s divided life / Sharon Lehnert.

Includes bibliographical references

ISBN 978-0-9877509-4-5

1. Sailing—Anecdotes. 2. Lehnert, Sharon—Travel—Cuba. 3. Cuba—Description and travel. I. Title.

GV777.3.L442 2014 797.124092 C2014-907635-X

Table of Contents

Title Page

Verso of the Title Page





1: A Room at my Sister’s House

2: Home again on My Detour

3: Through the Exumas with Zlatko

4: To Cuba Again

5: Exploring the North Coast of Cuba

6: The Summer of the One Dollar House

7: Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

8: My Detour Takes a Detour

9: Harbour Life – Hooked in the Clay in Marathon

10: From Marathon to Ontario

11: Moving Back into a House of my Own

12: Hurricanes in Florida, Dirt Dwelling in Ontario

13: South to Repower


Appendix I: Roxane’s Visit to Cuba: Tony & Kate’s Story

Appendix II: Bellamar’s Visit to Cuba: Klaus and Janice’s Story

Appendix III: Lisa Price, on Baramina, Gives her Impressions of Cuba


People in this Book



About the Author


This book turned out to be more than a just a story of my own travels and experiences. Many of the people I met along the way had wonderful stories to tell, and tell them they did. The book became a conversation, with lots of cruisers chiming in, their tales unfolding as we sailed our different ways.

It was the year that several of us explored Cuba. Tony Trappe and Kate Purdy on Roxanne, Klaus and Janice Nenn of Bellamar and Lisa Price on Baramina all wrote down their impressions and experiences, and these accounts each have their own appendices.

The others who allowed their emails be included in this book are: Voy Dobrovolski, Marina MacDougall, Michael Lehnert, Elizabethann Wyndelt, Rebecca Lewis, Kamoaly Guenette, Beverly Mallory, Mark Packard, Edmund M. Bear Downing, Kit Hitchcock, Chris Reynolds, Divya Greene, Ofra Landman, Sharon Wilcken, and Laurel and Murray Thompson.

Three of these, Bear, Bev and Alma, had died by the time I wrote this book. I miss their wonderful contributions to the cruising conversation. Perhaps they are on a new adventure.

Bill Sloan Jr. provided many hours of thoughtful editing and advice.

The Bothwell Book Club – Sharon Boylan, Diane Sansom, Nell Evans, Marlou Meredith, Margie Bos, Jean Holmes and Dianne Wilton – once again came through with support, suggestions and proofreading.

Other proofreaders were Valerie Harris, Ann Zulkowitz, and Tammy Jackson.

Yvonne Brioux proofread, corrected factual errors based on her own cruising experiences, and was an active part of the email conversation.

Thank you to all for your help and encouragement.

Most of all, I am beholden to Richard Villmann, who shares the cruising adventures and life’s journey with me now.

Map I - My Detour’s Route: October 2003 - April 2004

Map II - My Detour’s Route: December 2004 - April 2005


In the winter of 2000, my sister Vonny and I took her (and her husband Ray’s) thirty foot Nonsuch from Savannah to Miami. From there, we crossed to the Bahamas. We lived and travelled on the boat for three months before returning to Florida. Then it was shipped north and we went home to Ontario.

We both decided this was what we wanted to do in our retirement. It took the next year for this to happen for me. I had already retired from Hamilton Public Library in 1994. Between the spring of 2000 and the summer of 2001, I sold the Bed and Breakfast that I had started in 1993, disconnected from organizations and friends, and sold, stored or gave away most of my belongings. My twenty-six foot sailboat was replaced by one big enough to live aboard.

In September 2001, I moved onto thirty-two-foot Ultramarine Blue. That winter, I sailed in the Keys and briefly to Cuba. In the spring, on April 29, 2002, my boat and I had an unfortunate encounter with a bridge just south of Fort Lauderdale. I recovered but the boat didn’t.

The next boat was My Detour, a thirty-foot Nonsuch. It was the same model that my sister Vonny and her husband Ray had. In the winter of 2003 we sailed our boats together in the Bahamas. That spring, Vonny, Ray stored their boat in George Town, Bahamas. With their son Tim, they sailed back to Fort Lauderdale with me in My Detour. Then they rented a car and drove back to Canada. I continued north to Georgetown, South Carolina and stored My Detour there.

The full story of those trips - the bridge accident, the things we learned, and the mistakes I made - is told in Idiot Afloat Book I.

This book starts in in the spring of 2003, when I arrived back in Ontario after those adventures. It covers three summers in Bothwell, and the two winters in between, when I was on My Detour in the Bahamas, Cuba and the Florida Keys. It takes the story up until the late fall of 2005.

Cruising is a fluid lifestyle, and people float into and out of a sailor’s life all the time. Sometimes paths cross again, maybe many years later, and sometimes the connection is a one-time thing. Internet access helped communication, but it was then and continues to be spotty or expensive or both in the places where I travelled. This book includes emails, or bits of them, when other peoples’ stories were a part of the narrative.

The cast of characters in this book include my very large family, many of the people I met in the first three years of cruising, and some of the new people near whom I anchored. A list of people in order of appearance and with brief introductions is included in the back of the book.

I hope you will enjoy these people as I did while we were together.


Four a.m., mid-January, 2004 – somewhere in the Old Bahama Channel, north of Cuba:

Gripping the wheel, I gasped as another wall of water swept out of the blackness and into the cockpit. The autopilot didn’t work in waves this size, and it was difficult to hand steer. Before I got the course corrected, the big wishbone boom whipped across the boat, and the sail, despite being reefed, tore again. Zlatko jumped up from below, where he had been trying to sleep between his watches. We managed to keep sailing for a while, but then the sail ripped clear across and had to be lowered.

Holding my breath, I tried the motor. It started, but our speed dropped from the seven knots we had been doing under sail to just four knots. Then, an hour later, the motor fell silent.

We were sixty miles from a port. Very large waves were tossing the boat around, it was pitch-black, and we had no means of locomotion.

How did otherwise sane people get into a spot like that? And how would we get out?

Chapter One

A Room at My Sister’s House

My sister Sandy had been waiting patiently in Chatham, Ontario, for a couple of hours when my bus finally pulled up in the Zeller’s plaza. I had put my thirty-foot sailboat My Detour in storage up the Sampit River in Georgetown, South Carolina, after a winter in the Bahamas. The bus trip from Georgetown took twenty-seven hours, with seven bus changes and many stops. My luggage travelled on a different bus between two stops and arrived an hour late, and I had a small meltdown. Sandy had kept a room for me at her place near Thamesville, Ontario, and I was grateful for it. It had been a long two days.

It took a while to leave the winter cruising behind me and settle into life in the little town of Bothwell. Except for family visits, I had been gone since I was twenty-one, forty years ago.

The single-handed sailor Voy, with whom Vonny, Ray and I sailed through the Bahamas, continued to keep in touch, even though he was now in Annapolis and we were back home. In early July, he wrote to me.

July 3, 2003 – from Voy on Fairwind:

since I started a job with a local diesel dealer I have no time left. well, I do manage two nice weekends

to add to disarray my phone lines get broken and/ or my computer acts out. yesterday night in the rain. pissed off ripped off and fixed tel lines, switched power supply to inverter and vuala, everything works. Well, almost. But it’s not electrical.

work is hard and lots of sweat. hanging upside down in the bilges. no time for nothing.

no time to write u more either. Working 50 hr a week plus lately. Envy u your winter trip to cuba but I will have only xmas break. maybe will take my dink on the trailer to everglades park stay afloat. voy

It was time for me to get back to all those bits of life on land that clamoured for attention: the undone income taxes and unpaid bills, some regular exercise, computer access so I could write, and visits to the many people in my large family. My sister Virginia and I picked strawberries and went to ball games in which two nephews played. Sandy was married to a tobacco farmer, and I painted a picture of the old kilns before they were torn down.

To Marina, who had sailed with me in the Bahamas. In late July 2003, I wrote:

How’s your life this summer? Are you with Brian?

I met two men on boats after everyone left and I was single-handing up the coast. They're not Voy, but they can both fix things. And they like the back-rubs and foot-rubs Voy taught me to do.

These really were, for the most part, actual massages. I was trying to follow the advice in Beverly Engel’s book, Loving Him without Losing You: How to Stop Disappearing and Start Being Yourself. She recommended a certain initial reticence in relationships with men. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I was trying it out.

For a few years, my mother and I had been taking art courses together in the summer, sometimes with one or two of Mom’s friends, at the Dundas Valley School of Art. They would stay with me in my Inchbury Street house in Hamilton. This year, my house gone, Mom and I housesat for a friend in Dundas, and signed up for a portrait painting class.

From my journal, July 22, 2003:

"Mom tells me the same things over and over. She always tells me to lock the car, each time we get out. She tells me about Dad’s sexual problems and why she doesn’t have any money in her purse this week, over and over again. She’s driving me crazy."

This wasn’t the mother I knew. That summer was the beginning of Mom’s dementia.

Before the class started, she became very ill, and went home with my brother and his wife, who had come to Hamilton to visit. I stayed for the portrait class. On Saturday, I was back at home with my portraits, getting ready to enter paintings in the Ridgetown Fair, along with Mom. Monday she was still having alarming symptoms of something really wrong inside her. But she was participating in the town-wide yard sale and I was helping.

Marina wrote to me in early August:

It's nice to hear from you. I was away in Nova Scotia (Cape Breton), visiting family and friends, having fun and eating lobster and too many potatoes!

Brian and I have been back together since April (since I returned from our adventure together) 4 months! Relationship # 2 is much better! Solid. That book has really helped...I am different with him....i.e. not obsessed/take care of myself first...I think he likes that. It seems to take the pressure off him. Being in love again is great!

And these new men in your life...that sounds interesting...give them a chance. Are you missing My Detour? What's it like to be on 'the hard' after being on your boat for so long?

Yesterday...Brian let me be the Skipper...and wouldn't tell me anything to do. I had to figure it all out and I enjoyed it. I really learned a lot ... he makes it all seem so easy when we go out that sometimes I don't pay close attention... i loved it and can't wait to go sailing again.

By August, I missed My Detour, all alone in that steamy river in South Carolina. There was no reason to be worried, but I thought a little run down to Georgetown might be a good idea. Besides, my sister Virginia was up for a trip and eager to keep me company.

Virginia, who was my youngest sister, was very unhappy at this time in her life. She had always been what used to be referred to as a slow learner. But she never stopped learning. Her siblings weren’t aware of how restrictive living at home with our parents was for her. She was always waiting at the end of the driveway when I came back home each spring. I didn’t realize then how isolated her life was, how she chafed at being so overprotected, and how competent she really was.

Journal entry for August 8, 2003:

Virginia and I are housesitting for friends on Picton Street in Hamilton. It’s lovely, but would be even nicer if we could figure out how to turn on the air conditioning.

We spent this hot afternoon in and lying around the pool at the yacht club, then had supper there. The evening was lovely and cool.

After my parents said Virginia couldn’t go to South Carolina with me because she’d be on the road too long and we might have an accident or the car would break down, I checked on plane tickets. That would get us off those dangerous roads. Then both parents were really angry. Mom said she needed Virginia to help her. Dad said he would call the police if I tried to take her across the border. I felt Virginia’s best interests weren’t considered.

So, after much arguing, here we are, taking a week off from family, in Hamilton, Ontario.

That was the year that a very large power failure blacked out much of the eastern United States and Canada. We walked back from the yacht club to Picton Street, in unfamiliar real darkness through the North End. We talked to strangers who had suddenly become friends, although we couldn’t even see them sitting on their tiny front porches close to the sidewalk.

There was computer access at this house, and Marina and I kept emailing back and forth about our relationships with men.

August 11, 2003 – to Marina:

Wonderful to hear from you, and, yes, I'll put you on a list for updates in the fall.

Am I over Voy? I think so. Time, distance, and other men eventually cure such things, I guess. I'm not really into unrequited love. There are other men out there, who will cruise or travel with me, and help me keep My Detour’s old motor running. And they are friends, which is quite enough for now. You are right; they are all nice guys. I am reading the Engel book.

I'm glad to hear about you and Brian. It is good that you are learning to handle the boat. Does he let you dock it yet? That's a true test of his faith in you. I never ever let anyone dock my boat.

Yes, I miss My Detour - so much that I am going to hop in my old car on Sunday and drive to South Carolina to visit it for a few days. It's so humid and hot there that there will likely be green fuzz growing all over the inside.

August 20, 2003 – to Voy:

Are you still hanging upside down in bilges with sweat running in your eyes while you fix Yanmar motors?

I am in Georgetown, on my way to check out my boat. It's seven pm Wednesday and I want to get to it before dark.

Voy wrote to tell me he was still working on Yanmar motors for a living. His computers, mostly rescued from dumps, were giving him problems again. He asked about my boat.

September 12, 2003 – to Voy:

Sorry about your computers. I just bought one, but don't have Internet yet. I'm in the Bothwell library right now - two computers and no one here but me. It’s great.

My boat was in pretty good condition. The batteries were not flat, but the Freon has all leaked out of the fridge. I fixed a couple of leaks and spent way too much time at the Big Tuna Raw Bar with single-handed sailors and other suspicious-looking types. One night I came back to My Detour with a University of South Carolina sticky tattoo just above my left breast. A man dressed as a giant ice cream cone had put it there. I decided it was time to come back to Ontario, where I couldn’t get into trouble of this sort.

I expect to head south again after Jesse and Trish's wedding, but am not sure when. My Mom is waiting to have some surgery, and I should stay until that is over.

In mid-September, Isabel, a level five hurricane, came whirling across the Atlantic. First she threatened the Bahamas, where Vonny and Ray had stored Wishbone in May, before sailing back to Florida with me on My Detour. Then Isabel set her sights on South Carolina, where My Detour rested in the Sampit River. I was on the verge of driving down there again.

I finally reached Conrad, the skipper of the Jolly Rover. It’s a tall ship that takes tourists on cruises around Winyah Bay, off Georgetown. He said he would move my boat farther up the Sampit River if necessary, but he thought the hurricane would miss Georgetown. It was a relief to know that Conrad was watching my boat, and I didn’t have to miss Trish and Jesse’s wedding.

September 16, 2003 – from Voy:

hurricane expected Thursday night, and high tide too.

still living dangerously? is your book a fiction or autobiography?

September 22, 2003 – to Voy:

I have been wondering how you were doing during the hurricane. It looks like you got the worst of it, although it did come up to Toronto, and on to Bracebridge. Jesse and Trish got married there, on the patio in the wind and the rain. The wedding was a treat, with lots of visiting and dancing.

So how are you, Fafik and Fairwind, and did you have any damage?

The book is autobiographical. My only problem is deciding how much of the truth to tell and still remain friends with everyone in it. Sailing and technical information alone isn’t very interesting.

I'm going south again in two or three weeks, possibly by bus, if my Mom's okay.

September 26, 2003 – from Voy:

the good news, i got my computers in order again.

isabel was uneventful but if water rose higher (it was7 ft at the dock) and winds stronger, it would be a close call. should go on the anchor. two sunken sailboats downtown, a couple thrown at the docks, lots of docks floated away, power losses for a few days. my shop filled with dirty water - two days of cleaning...

good luck to newlyweds-they have statistically 50/50 chance....

September 27, 2003 – to Voy:

It sounds like Hurricane Isabel gave you quite a bit of drama. I'm glad that you, Fafik and Fairwind weren't hurt.

Most of the last four days, I’ve been at the hospital with my mother, who is seventy-six. She had fibroid tissue in her uterus and had to have a hysterectomy. She’s getting a little bit better, and they may send her home in a couple of days. I rubbed her feet and legs a lot, the way I was taught by you, and she really appreciated it. Such a useful skill to have!

I will likely go south after Canadian Thanksgiving - Oct. 13 - if Mom is fine. I really miss living in my own place.

The hurricane over, my focus switched to whom I might be able to get to sail with me. Lining up people to meet you when you are cruising is tricky. You may not be able to make it to where they are, or vice versa. When this happens, there are usually hard feelings on both sides.

On September 30, 2003, I sent this note to possible crew:

Hi. I'm sending this letter to those who are planning to come and visit, or told me that they were. Some of you have confirmed specific times and others are a little vague.

I have attached an itinerary, although dates and locations will change from day to day, so don't buy plane tickets until you check with me.

As you know, any itinerary composed by a sailor is mostly fantasy. Think of it like a hurricane prediction, fairly accurate at the beginning, but broadening into a larger span of possibilities, with ever increasing variables in speed and direction.

This isn't a charter, and I'm not trying to make money. The costs are shared. We will operate out of a kitty. I am hoping to get a slingshot spear gun in the Bahamas, so better swimmers than I can catch the lobster, fish, and conch.

I look forward to hearing from you, and sailing with you.

I haven’t included that itinerary here, because it did turn out to be mostly fiction. Only three people on the list turned up, and Vonny, who wasn’t on the list, helped me finish the trip. And the route turned out to be different too. In trips after that, I never laid out the course and crew in that specific way again.

All summer, I worked on my book, a much more pleasant task than last summer’s hounding of insurance agents.

A neighbouring farmer, John Pynaert, only fifty-five, died suddenly while Sandy and Gerry were rushing him to hospital, despite their CPR efforts, and a prompt response by the ambulance to their 911 call. He had no history of heart problems. His last words were, There it goes again. Several days of community support made sure visitors and the men taking off John’s beans were fed, kids were baby-sat, and all the funeral duties were done. It reminded me how close and supportive little communities in rural areas are, and it was probably a factor in a later decision to establish a permanent home in Bothwell.

It was time for me to say good-bye and drive down to the boat. But it was difficult. My first grand-nephew Julian was born in August to my niece Sarah, my sister Sandy’s daughter. I had become very attached to him, and he would be a different little person when I got back. At the other end of life, my parents were getting to the point where they needed help.

Just before heading down to my boat, on Thanksgiving Sunday, I bicycled over to the home of neighbours Lou and Curly Malic. I talked to Zlatko, a relative of Lou’s. I had met him in the spring and he said he would sail with me in the fall. He was still keen. But I didn’t know him well, and doubted that he would stay all winter, as he said he would.

Among all the goodbyes, I thought of a line in one of Eileen Quinn’s songs, You choose your regrets. She was singing about the decision to go cruising - all that you gain, and all that you must leave behind.

At the end of October, I eagerly drove my old car south, back to the boat again.


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