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“I Think it’s Time to go South”
     By Blanche Herring Scharf

     It wasn’t long ago that my husband Len and I were taking our morning walk and discussing the activities of the day and what had to be done. All of a sudden those “have to’s” began to feel overwhelming. We looked at each other and laughingly said, “I think it’s time to go south.” This realization came after becoming too involved in community and organizations and finding ourselves without time for our personal goals or us. I guess we’ve never been good at pacing ourselves. Is it Type A personalities or just poor judgment? Anyway, we were burned out, exhausted, and losing patience with ourselves and everyone else.

     Sometimes, you just have to let go the lines and sail off to re-evaluate your goals and assess your progress. It also becomes necessary to take a sabbatical to get back in touch with your inner self.

     It’s been our practice as snowbirds to cruise our boat south to various destinations every other winter or so. I’ve written about some of those travels in this magazine.

     Spending the past two winters at home in Deltaville with brief trips to visit relatives in Arizona gave rise to the desire to “get away.” We’re also facing the same concerns and fears of many who want to go traveling while health and stamina allow.

     So the process began. From previous experiences, we knew we didn’t want to spend the entire winter on the boat. We learned that we need a break from the cruising and living on board. We know many live-aboards who have no problem with this but we find six or seven months too long. We decided to travel to Florida and leave the boat with friends there to come home for the holidays. We’d return after the new year.

     This decision posed another problem. Previously, we had arranged for house-sitters while we were away but breaking up the time would disallow that. We asked a good friend if she would be willing to take care of our mail and look in on the house and were pleased to find she would. One problem was solved.

     We’ve traveled to the Bahamas, Florida Keys and the west coast of Florida during our winter cruises. Through investigation, we learned that it’s possible to get a license to go to Cuba as a freelance writer. We know many cruisers who have been to Cuba and believe our government winks at this situation but we felt it necessary to have the legal documentation to make the trip. So, Len began checking all the systems on the boat and adding things that would be necessary for an open water passage in case we could go to Cuba. I wrote the necessary query letters and sent all the documentation to the Office of Foreign Asset Control to obtain the required license. We’re both optimistic about this endeavor. I would love to be able to tell you about the lifestyle we find there and how it compares to our own.

     We leave Deltaville in October and begin our adventure. I’ll be keeping you posted on our progress.
Until next time, blessings on you. 

© 2003 Blanche Herring Scharf All Rights Reserved

Adventures With Ben
     By Blanche Herring Scharf

     It’s October and time to start our voyage down the Intercostal Waterway. We are looking forward to the trip but especially the visit of our 11-year-old grandson, Benjamin Becker. Arrangements have been made for him and his family to meet us in Beaufort, North Carolina. He’ll stay with us for the trip to Florida’s west coast and return home to Fulton, New York by Thanksgiving.

     Agreeing to home school and entertain an 11 year old is a somewhat daunting responsibility. Even scarier when you know you are committed to 5 weeks of this routine.

     We thought it would be a thrilling experience to become aware of a child as a person instead of just who he is in relation to you. In 5 weeks on board a 36-foot catamaran, this can be either wonderful or devastating. 

     Luckily, we found we loved Ben and his personality more each day as we realized the joy he was bringing to this trip we had made four times before.

     Seeing each day’s activities through the eyes of a youngster, made us younger and more playful. Each event was less serious and more fun.

     Ben was dedicated to completing his required lessons as well as willing to take on certain tasks each day. Each morning began with Ben helping his grandfather to lift the anchor and stow the lines. Then, he raised the ensign and we sang a patriotic song. Sometimes, he listened to my meditations. We read together, enjoyed the blessings of nature and were awed by the vessels and machines we saw along the way.

     Ben learned about all types of boats, the dredging that’s necessary in the waterway, nautical terms and knots, chart reading, the compass and GPS and how to handle the helm and the sails. A willing student, he was fun to teach. We collected pamphlets and brochures from sights and events on shore and we clipped and assembled them in Ben’s journal. He wrote it daily, except for weekends. Students get weekends off and that was my time to do the journal entries. His playful nature, made him a joy to be around. Quick to smile and slow to anger, we learned much about our grandson and what makes him tick.

     We hope Ben learned some things about us too and this experience stays with him for many years to come. It brightened our lives.

Blessings! 

© 2003 Blanche Herring Scharf All Rights Reserved

Photo by Blanche Herring Scharf
Photo by Blanche Herring Scharf

My Very Own Cuban Crisis
     By Blanche Herring Scharf

     We thought it would be a simple matter to follow the rules. As law-abiding citizens and cautious cruisers, my husband Len and I decided to apply for a specific license to sail to Cuba.

     At this point, you might be saying to yourself, I know lots of folks who have gone to Cuba. Many sail on their own boats from the Bahamas. Some go via air from the Bahamas or Mexico or Belize. Some go with tour groups from Canada.

     Yes, and they are all going illegally. You see, the trick is our government says that anyone can go to Cuba but U.S. citizens are not allowed to spend any money there. That is, unless you are fully hosted by a non-American or you go with a group, organization or educational institution that has acquired a general license.

     However, the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the Treasury Department is allowed to give specific licenses for people like me who help support themselves by freelance writing. So, I learned what was required on the website for that Office and followed all the necessary steps to acquire a specific license. The goal is to cruise there on our catamaran and write articles about the Cuban people, their lifestyle compared to ours and about the cruising grounds around the island. I was informed that it could take 6 to 8 weeks to hear from them regarding my request.

     I mailed all the necessary documentation on September 30, 2002. On November 26, 2002, I received an e-mail from someone in that office requesting more specific information. I replied several days later by fax. 

     Since December 12, 2002, I have been calling that office regularly to ask about my license. I have a case number to refer to and most of the assistants with whom I have spoken have been polite. They’re only reading what the computer tells them. My license is still pending on January 11, 2003. On December 27, and I admit getting pretty edgy, I called the office of Senator Warner and faxed a letter requesting his assistance. One of his workers has been in touch with the State Department and they have had no response yet either.

     Do I sound frustrated? How can it take this long for no action?

     I called the office again on January 13 and was told they had not received the fax with additional information so they had closed my case and I could reapply. At that point, I lost my composure and understanding. After much discussion, I was told I could ask for an urgent reconsideration of my request and send the missing fax and information. I faxed and sent by express mail the information requested and we are waiting again.

     I have promised the editor of this magazine a series of articles on cruising to Cuba. I hope I can comply. You will definitely hear more about whatever transpires. 

     Regardless, we haven’t given up hope and I continue to study Spanish. The exercise has taught me a number of things. The wheels of bureaucracy turn even slower than I thought. I haven’t a clue about our government’s concerns regarding the ramifications of our travel plans. There must be a reason for the embargo but I certainly don’t understand it. Our politicians make laws with just enough loopholes that people of influence can do things the rest of us can’t. I will continue to obey our laws even when they seem ridiculous to me. In this case, I am afraid of the consequences for disobeying the law. I don’t believe the law is enforced routinely but if I am fined heavily, I have no recourse.

     So, if any of you readers have any pull, my case # is cu-207773. In the meantime, we’ll be cruising down the west coast of Florida and placing lots of phone calls to Washington, D.C.

     The Florida Keys might be a great place to spend this winter.

     Blessings! 

© 2003 Blanche Herring Scharf All Rights Reserved


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