Monthly Archives: March 2016

A “cool” taste of Maine in Cienfuegos

It’s Wednesday here in Cienfuegos and we aren’t really planning to do anything in particular today.    It’s been quite hot lately and touring the city has made for some very hot and sticky afternoons spent looking for shade and a cool place to sit and relax.   However, I still needed to head to the marina to get some diesel fuel as we are running a bit low after so many miles of motoring in light winds.  Fuel is expensive here at  $1 CUC per liter so with the exchange it’s probably about three times as expensive as in the US.  Bummer about that as I had heard that it was very cheap here.  Not so…

With regards to the heat, I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise as we are at the 20th parallel, the Tropic of Cancer, the official line marking the boundary between the sub-tropics and tropics.   If the temperature is any indication, we are solidl in the tropics.

The last few nights have been particularly hot and we have resorted to running the little Honda generator to power our forward air conditioning as it was just so hot and stuffy with not a breath of wind.  It works pretty well to run the AC, cool down the forward cabin and then turn it off when we go to bed.  By the time the cabin warms up the air outside has cooled and we were able to open some hatches.  It works well.  I have to say that I am not a fan of trying to sleep when it’s oppressively hot.

We had planned to tie up to the dock so we could run the AC but after seeing how few cruisers were opting for the dock here we decided not to take any chances with poor quality electrical service that probably wouldn’t run our AC anyway.   We hesitate to run the generator much in the late evening as it’s pretty noisy but with loud music coming from shore I doubt that anyone heard the Honda over the music anyway.  Last night there was very loud music coming from shore that didn’t quit till nearly 2:00AM.  What’s with that on a Tuesday night?  I doubt that it was a tour group as they are generally pretty “mature” and that’s way past their bedtime.

The marina docks are probably not a good idea as we need to run our watermaker each day for a few hours and we wouldn’t be able to do so on the dock as the water there isn’t clean enough.  We’d prefer not to fill up our tanks with the “fresh” water at the dock is a bit suspect, at best.  As it is, the water in the harbor is only marginally clean enough, a few hundred yards off of the dock where we are anchored, to use the watermaker and I have needed to clean the filters every few days.  Silt in the water clogs up the filters every few days and the output from the unit is less than it should be.  Actually, the watermaker that came with the boat is a good one but the output is just too low at a bit under 6gph for our water usage.  As our daily consumption is in the 15 gallon range and it takes three plus hours of run time to make enough water just to break even each day.  The unit that I took off of our other boat makes twice that amount so I am going to retrofit it to this boat over the coming summer.  It is a two speed unit so I can opt to run it on the slower mode if needed, to conserve electricity or on a faster mode if we are under power or need more water faster.  With an output giving me to option of either 7 or 14 gallons per hour, it’s a nice combination and with that we never really felt that we were going to run short of water, even if we needed to rinse off the boat to remove accumulated salt.

Swapping out the units isn’t as simple as unplugging one and putting in the other but I think that the local tech guy for Spectra, the company that makes the unit, will help me make it right.

Having a watermaker is very important to us and having a unit with the appropriate capacity makes a big difference.  There are plenty of cruisers that don’t have a watermaker but we feel strongly about this and regard the flexibility that we get from having the ability to have adequate fresh water to be critical to our comfort aboard..

And speaking of hot, it’s also been plenty sunny and one thing for sure is that the solar panels love it here and are putting out plenty of power that generally covers our needs including running the watermaker.

The other day I filled the dink with a half foot of water at the dock and used it to sponge down the hull that had gotten pretty streaked and salt stained over the last month.  A dark green hull shows just about every spot and lives true to the adage, “there are only two colors for a boat, white and stupid”.   Let me tell you that dark green is very, very stupid but it does look great when it’s clean and streak-free.   And, to add insult to injury, it’s plenty hot baking in the tropical sun as well.  However, with a dark hull, I am inclined to say “you look marvelous darling” when Pandora is clean.

While I was cooling off and reading a book after washing Pandora down, two girls rowed up in a two man (women) shell and asked for a cup of water.  They had been getting a pretty good workout and clearly were thirsty.   They posed nicely for a photo.  The shells here get a good daily workout and look like they have been rowed hard for many years.  I expect that they (the shells, not the girls) predate the embargo.3-28-16a 007Interestingly, the other day, the Harvey Gamage, a schooner from Portland Maine that does educational programs, arrived here in the harbor.  We have seen her many times over the years as we cruised in Maine.   I stopped by to say HI and learned that they are visiting Cuba to check out possible options to hold educational programs in the future.  They too had taken a long time to get the appropriate approvals to come here.
Holly, one of deck hands invited me and Brenda to joint them for lunch yesterday and it was a lot of fun to spend time in the mess talking about their lives and travels.   Interestingly, Holly is a grandmother of 12 and has spent a lot of time aboard classic ships over the years.   She’s plenty salty and like any grandmother, eager to show pictures of her family to me and Brenda after lunch.   Seeing photos on her iPhone while aboard a historic schooner was an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional and modern.3-30-16a 009They do their cooking on a diesel fired stove, I think they call it “the beast”.   It takes over an hour to heat up so they have to be sure that they are really ready to be hot and NEED to have something cooked before they commit to all that heat down below.  I’ll bet that it can make the galley nearly uninhabitable on a hot day.  3-30-16a 008Did I say that it’s hot here?

There is plenty of room for eating in the mess and there has to be as the Harvey Gamage has a full time crew of ten and carries up to about 20 passengers.3-30-16a 007The Harvey Gamage was built in 1973 in South Portland Maine, the last ship to come from the yard of the same name.  She splits her time between New England and the Caribbean on her educational mission.  She’s nearly 100’ long and draws 10’.   That’s a lot of boat and just cooking for a hungry group of hard working sailors would keep things hopping and hot up in the galley.3-30-16a 001On deck she’s all business and well maintained.3-30-16a 005 3-30-16a 006 3-30-16a 002 3-30-16a 004It would be great to have her visit the CT River Museum in Essex to put on one of her educational programs.  I am sure that the community would really embrace any activity that they brought to town.  However, with a mast height of 97’ and a CT River Rt 95 Highway bridge clearance of 81’ it might take some surgery with the top mast to make it under, even at low tide.   It’s still worth exploring though so I think I’ll pay another visit to her before we leave here in a few days.

One way or the other, it was great to see her here in the harbor, a bit of “home” away from home for us here in Cuba.    Perhaps we will see her in Maine this summer as it’s looking like we may spend some time there too after quite a few years away from our old stomping grounds.  Brenda and I do miss the beautiful scenery or is it the cooler temperatures?

Besides, thinking of Maine is helping keep me cool.  Did I mention that it’s hot here these days?  It is…

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones play Havana Cuba.  And, we were there!

It’s been said that “every time someone smokes a cigarette they lose a minute of their life and that minute is given to Keith Richards”.  Having seen him in action at last night’s concert in Havana, I’d say that is surely true.  And, with all the cigarette smokers here in Cuba, I believe that he’s sharing some of those minutes with Mick Jagger.

Well, we did it… Brenda and I hopped on a bus (more to come on that in a bit) yesterday morning to Havana to attend the Rolling Stones concert.  And what a “trip” it was.

To get this all organized, we hooked up with someone that our friend (Isn’t that where all important connections are made, anyway?) Lars had met at the marina bar, a Norwegian guy that arranged a shared bus to head go to Havana and then return to Cienfuegos.  It promised to be a very long, but fun, day and did not disappoint.

I have been remiss in not posting a photo of our new friend Lars, without who’s “influence”, I expect that we would not have made the trek.  3-26-16a 001 And, in the interest of full disclosure, after seeing so many vehicles loosely described as “buses”, we were very curious about what we were getting ourselves into.  It turned out fine as our “ride” turned out to be a converted Ford armored truck circa 1952 with co-drivers that weren’t even born when the truck came off of the assembly line in Detroit. 3-26-16a 010Our organizers for the trip were two hard drinking Norwegians and their “girlfriends”, Cuban girls that could have easily passed for their daughters, and that is being generous, along with additional “companionship” provided by an ample supply of beer and Russian vodka.   To further complete the picture their definition of a “Norwegan” bloody Mary consisted of ice, vodka and a whole tomato plopped into a plastic cup.  Very thrifty as the tomato could be used again and again and it was.  And, all of this was in full swing, of course, shortly after 09:00. 3-26-16a 014Even Brenda put on a good game face and had a swig of beer to wash down her Pringle “brunch”.   3-26-16a 011A perfect way to start the day.  Yum…Lars came along for the ride but would not be with us at the concert as he was meeting up with friends in Havana.  Sans Lars, here’s a shot of our travel companions for the day.3-26-16a 032The run to Havana took us about 5 hours with quite a few “potty breaks” along the way.   No need for a formal rest-stop, any bush along the highway was good enough, even for the “girls”, Brenda excluded, of course,  good little CT Girl that she is.

The view along the “highway” such as it is, was quite interesting compared to the very mountainous landscape of Eastern Cuba with miles of flat grasslands and sugar cane plantations.   Oddly, this included a 50 kilometer stone wall built a few years ago of volcanic rock found in the nearby fields.  To see this “fence” running alongside the road for mile after mile was something to see.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived in Havana around noon and went to a seaside hotel for lunch.   Our traveling companions, and the “girls” in particular, were looking a bit wilted after a morning of heavy partying.  As my dad used to say “what goes down like honey comes up like lye”.  Yes, the beer was gone pretty quick (Editor: I did have a few beers before lunch but don’t tell my mother) and then, present company excluded, a large  dent was put in the vodka supply which turned out to be the “lye” for at least one of the girls.   Not a pretty picture, let me tell you.

The area where we ate, near the pool at the hotel, was very nice and well kept. 3-26-16a 020However, when I headed out to the ocean side, I got a look “behind the curtain” at a part of the hotel that had been ravaged by a hurricane some years ago.  What a contrast and a good example of how many of the buildings in Cuba look “from the other side”.3-26-16a 022Away from the most popular tourist areas the condition of the “infrastructure” can be pretty alarming. Along the way we passed “embassy row” with some magnificent buildings.  Unfortunately, from inside our “vault” I couldn’t get many photos.  However, I did snap a shot of what I’ll call the “Che’s Inn”.  Boy, do I hope that this post isn’t seen by any “revolutionaries”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout an hour before the concert began we headed out to find a spot to watch the show.   The number of people streaming in as we arrived was just breathtaking.  I can’t even guess how many people were packed into the park by the time the show began but it could have easily been a million or more.   From where I stood, not far from the entrance to the park, I judged that several thousand streamed by every few minutes.

The air was ripe with anticipation and the stage and surrounding speakers and video screens was awe inspiring.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreat people watching including an intimate moment between mother and daughter.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was also a good amount of heated “discussion” between young couples, perhaps made more testy by the hot still evening air.

I was particularly struck by this Brit showing the “colors” of mother Cuba.  Perhaps a fitting metafore for what the future holds as they re-enter the world stage.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t even imagine what it must have cost The Stones to bring in everything to put this show on.  Keep in mind that this concert was free so all anyone had to do was to show up and show up they did.  However, the Stones are no dummies so I am sure that they have found a way to make “free” pay very well for themselves.  Brenda and I really wanted to buy some t-shirts but we never even saw a concession stand of any sort.  Perhaps we arrived too late or were just too far from the stage.

One thing I am sure of is that the Stones don’t do this “just for fun”.  Although, it sure seemed that The Stones were having a great time on the stage.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know how old these guys are but they have got to be in their 70s and look even older but with the energy of a 40 year old.  Make that the energy of a 40 year old after several cans of Red Bull.  I wonder how they look this morning?  Probably not too pretty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we were a long way from the stage, we had a great view and had no problem hearing the music and what great music it was.

It was an amazing show, I have to say.  Unfortunately, our “tour organizers” decided to leave early with the hope of getting out of town before the “rush” and we made our way back to the “rendezvous” spot only to find that the “bus” was nowhere to be found.  We finally were able to connect with the driver but it took about two hours as the cell lines were totally overwhelmed by a million others trying to make calls as well.

We finally connected with the bus around midnight and headed back to Cienfuegos.    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that armored cars are designed to carry very heavy loads so the shocks are set up, to be kind, very “firm”.   So rough, in fact, that Brenda’s pedometer was registering every bump in the road, 37,000 of them before we even arrived in Havana.  That’s a L-O-O-O-O-O-OT of bumps.

By the time we made it back to the marina it was about 03:30 and we were TOTALLY ready to hit the rack but not before I took a quick and very bracing cold shower to rinse off the grime of the day.

All and all, what a “trip” it was for a couple of “60 somethings” and, for sure, one that will be tough to beat.   When we were planning our trip to Cuba I can tell you that Brenda and I NEVER imagined that we’d be seeing the Rolling Stones LIVE along the way and just one more example of how almost nothing is as we expected here in Cuba.

Yes, Cuba is changing and we are very lucky to be here to experience it first hand, if only in a small way, as it unfolds.

Pandora, the “Rolling Stone”, gathering no moss.

It’s Thursday and Pandora is anchored in Cienfuegos Cuba about half way down the southern coast of Cuba.  Nearby is the Cienfuegos Yacht Club and a throwback to a very different time here in Cuba.  It’s now used as a high end spot to cater meals for tourists and it’s hopping most every day.    It’s nice to see the club from Pandora.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the grand view from the street.  And, there’s a nice pool and tennis courts on the property.  We arrived several days ago and have enjoyed touring this very unique city.   After a few weeks of cruising in very remote areas, it is good to be back in “civilization”, although a very different one than Brenda and I are used to.   Interestingly, we had been told that boats had to use the marinas and could only anchor out, for a modest fee, with permission.  However, we are finding that most all boats anchor as the docks are pretty rough and the electricity isn’t particularly good either.  And, as we prefer to anchor out this is good news.  Besides, as a practical matter, there are not nearly enough slips to accommodate all the visiting yachts so anchoring “permission” is granted.  I think the fee is .25/ft per day.  Happily, the holding here is very good in mud and sand unlike that in Santiago where we dragged a few times.

And now for something completely different..  On Friday Brenda and I will leave Pandora at anchor and head on a bus(or is it the back of a panel truck?)  for a 3+ hour ride to Havana with some other cruising friends, including Lars from Luna.  Lars is the free spirit from Norway that has lived aboard his sloop Luna for the last 14 years or so.  We have shared an anchorage with him several times over the last few weeks.  I guess that it’s his “free spirited” influence on Brenda that we plan to attend, believe it of now, the Rolling Stones concert in Havana.

If you were to have asked me a few months ago what we’d be doing here in Cuba I have to say that going to a Stones concert with perhaps as many as 500,000 of our closest friends and leaving Pandora unattended on the hook here in Cienfuegos, I’d have said that you were nuts.

In any event, off we go to Havana tomorrow and to really complete the picture, we don’t even know if we have a place to stay or if we will be coming back to Pandora right afterward.   Don’t blame me, it’s all Brenda’s idea.   Now, that will keep us up well past “cruiser’s midnight” AKA: 9pm.

Brenda has been the driver behind seeing the Stones and I’d  say that this cruising life is really corrupting her as she throws caution to the wind, or is it the influence of that Norwegian scallywag Lars?   Hmm…

Well, I guess you will just have stay tuned to learn if we end up sleeping on a park bench or worse, in Havana.    Frankly, I am wondering if we will even be close enough see the concert using our binoculars given the fact that a similar concert in Rio Di Janeiro a few years ago drew over a million people.    Well we missed Woodstock so at least we will be able to tell our boys, Rob and Chris, that we “went to see the Stones in Havana” even if we never actually “see” them.   Details to come…

One thing that’s certain is that our trip to Havana will be good for another post so stay tuned.

As we were making our way toward Cienfuegos, Chris Parker had told us that a strong cold front would be coming through the day that we were headed here so we planned to time our arrival to happen before the front arrived with adverse winds.

We left that morning early in very light SE winds to make the last 50 mile run to Cienfuegos and Chris predicted that the wind would shift against us around sunset, about the time that we expected to arrive here.  Oops.  That’s not what happened.  A squall line came through about noon when we still had about 35 miles to go and brought with it adverse winds, nearly on the nose that gusted to 30kts.  It made for a very rough and slow ride motor-sailing into the wind.   However things got better as the day progressed with the wind shifting enough to allow us to motor-sail on a close reach so our speed over the bottom went from about 4kts to over 8kts at the end and we arrived before it got dark.  It was a very long and unpleasant day for Brenda but she was a good sport.

Cienfuegos, like Santiago de Cuba, is a very large harbor, about 50 square miles and very well protected behind an impossibly narrow deep entrance guarded by a fort. And just in case we might have forgotten that we were still in Cuba, were greeted by this inspiring message as we entered the harbor.   Images of Fidel, Raoul and Che are everywhere.  Interestingly, the images of Fidel displayed make him look like the kindly grandfather now and not the fire-breathing revolutionary of the past.

The day after our arrival we enjoyed a nice, if overpriced lunch at a government run restaurant in a magnificent “Moroccan” style mansion.  What an amazing building and in near perfect condition.The interior was totally over the top.  3-23-16a 018 3-23-16a 017 - CopyOur son Rob loves remodeling so perhaps he can take a cue from this and do some carvings in his dining room.   How about it Rob?  How would this look with Kandice’s Home Goods décor?

There is a rooftop bar with an amazing view.  Perhaps Brenda and I will go there tonight to watch the sunset.  There’s quite a view from the bar.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wonder how we’ll do coming down the spiral staircase after a few mojitos?

Even though this is a major city, clogged with cars, trucks and motorcycles spewing exhaust as they zoom by, it also boasts a healthy population of pedal cabs and horse drawn carts. The contrast of the old and (sort of) new is amazing and yet It seems to fit here.  And with everyone employed by the State, there are plenty of workers to keep the streets clean and bushes neatly trimmed.  While in many ways things are run down but they are very neat and tidy way that only “full employment” would allow.

Unlike Santiago de Cuba, with perhaps less than ten visiting boats in the harbor, Cienfuegos has dozens of boats at anchor and there are even four boats here from the U.S. the first cruisers that we have seen from The States, since clearing into Cuba in early March.

Yesterday, I decided that we needed some bread so I set off early to find a bakery.   As the only bakery nearby was in downtown Cienfuegos, a 30 minute walk, I opted to take a “Peso bus” with the locals.   As I have mentioned, there are two types of cash here, the CUC “cook” that trade at about $.85 U.S. and the “Local Peso” that trade at 25 to one CUC.  Anyway, the bus, used by Cubans, costs one Peso, about  five cents.   As you can imagine, these busses are very popular and wow, was it packed with morning commuters.   Forget about finding a seat. It was standing room only, at best.

After asking several locals, Spanish/English phrase book in hand, I found the bakery.  There was a long line outside of locals waiting to purchase bread and after about a half hour in line, the bread came out of the oven and in we all went to make our purchases.  Most shops in Cuba do not provide any sort of shopping bag so you have to bring your own.  Often, there is someone standing outside the shop selling plastic bags for one “local” Peso.  My purchase, two foot long loaves of bread, 8 local pesos each, less than a dollar total.

Any sort of “necessity” for the locals is heavily subsidized and very cheap.  However, that’s not the case with fuel that is sold for a set rate of $1 CUC/liter, about $5 a gallon.

It’s always interesting to see lines form outside of shops waiting to make their purchases when they find that something they need will soon be for sale.   There are no fully stocked stores so any shopping trip is more like a scavenger hunt to many shops, looking for what you need.  As an example, yesterday Brenda and I purchased butter and cheese.  The “deli” counter had only one type of cheese, sold in one kilo chunks, sort of salty mozzarella, and small half pound blocks of butter in a silver wrapper.  Oddly, we had to pay for the butter at the checkout and then show the receipt to the person in the deli before he would give it to us.   No so for the cheese which was weighed, priced and then given to us to pay for at the front register.  Needless to say, the process was very confusing for us and caused quite a backup at the register as we tried to understand the procedure.   I think that it had something to do with butter being rationed however everyone was good natured as we muddled our way through the process.

In the center of Cienfuegos, is a lovely square surrounded by magnificent buildings and a magnificent theater or opera house.  The buildings are in beautiful condition.3-23-16a 038 What a ceiling decorated to the max. 3-23-16a 037Some of the buildings on the square had cafes out front. We stopped and sat for a while in one while listening to a wonderful group of musicians.  They performed beautifully.  What a treat.   3-23-16a 036Love the spiral stairs in this tower.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went into the theater to take a look around.  It was built in the 1800s and is in near perfect condition.  It was a throwback to an earlier time of great wealth in Cuba.    We learned that there is a play being put on in the theater on Sunday so if we aren’t totally “concerted out” by then, perhaps we’ll give it a try.

When we return home to CT I hope to give a talk at the Essex Yacht Club and couldn’t resist getting a shot of myself holding the club colors.  I’ll bet it’s been a long time since the EYC colors have been flown in Cuba and this shot “proves it”, I guess.Of course, there was a great selection of beautifully maintained classic taxis to feast your eyes on here like everywhere in Cuba.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 3-23-16a 021How about this old Ford?  As is often the case, not all together original.  Love the roof racks.  It must take an amazing amount of dedication to keep them looking like this after decades of hard daily work.  Of course, many don’t look like this at all but many re just amazing.

In any event, with the Stones concert in Havana on Friday, our pending bus trip and who knows what else that may lie ahead as we make our way through Cuba I guess it’s safe to say that “Rolling Stones gather no moss” is a phrase that certainly applies to Pandora and her crew this winter.

Perhaps even more amazing, Brenda, the “vagabond” and risk taker?  Who knew?  I guess more contact with wayward sailors like Lars will fully corrupt her.  Before you know it, she’ll be puffing away on a cigar and having shots of Cuban rum.  Now, that’s an image…

And speaking of the “for the moment, free spirit” Brenda, you should check out her blog at www.argoknot.com to see if I speak the truth.

The no-see-ums will see you now. 

As I begin this post, it’s Monday morning and we are about 50 miles and underway toward Cienfuegos, our next big city to visit in Cuba.  It’s been quite for the last week and there has not been much wind at all.

Along the way we have been doing a bit of fishing but have only caught some barracuda which can’t be eaten as they carry the bug ciguatara.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been moving through very rural and remote areas,  totally uninhabited,  an area of many small mangrove islands called cayos in a group of islands and reefs called Archipielago de los Jardines de la Reina, a really long name as is so often the case here in Cuba.  

We did another overnight run to get some miles under the keel as we still have plenty of distance to cover over the next few weeks and frankly, we would like to tie up to a dock again with some AC as well as see another city.   It’s been very hot for the last week.

After leaving Maria de Portillo we made our 40 mile run to Cabo Cruz, a fairly remote area only recently opened up to cruisers.  The Guarda  Frontera visited us almost immediately, drug sniffing cocker spaniel in tow right after we dropped the hook, asked their usual questions and checked our papers.   We are finding that the procedures in each port are a bit different.  In this case they took our cruising permit with them so there was no leaving until they had checked us out the morning of our departure.  You can’t check into the next port without the permit, under any circumstances.

We had originally thought that we’d stay for two days but after a windy night behind the reef, we decided to leave the next morning and make our way further west.   But wait, they had taken our cruising permit with them.  Oh, terrific!  So, I jumped into the dink and headed the mile or so into town to visit them in their offices.

It was a fairly typical rural fishing village with the added benefit of a really nice lighthouse.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also saw a newborn goat with mother nearby.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had hoped that they would be willing to just sign us out and that we could be on my way.   No, no, no, that wasn’t going to happen.   They must visit our boat personally to sign us out.

Actually, if the truth were to be told, I expect that the officer wanted a ride in my dink (that would be neat) as they always have to row the mile out and back with one of the local fisherman.  Besides, how could he get his “tip” from us if he didn’t come back to Pandora.  And, of course, he’d have to check out the boat to be sure that we didn’t have any contraband aboard.  I did make it clear that the ride was one way and that to get back he’d have to row in his own boat.   Ok, we agreed and set off, his “return trip” in tow, complete with his “rower”.

He checked things out “no problem”  and sent us on our way.  I sure hope that the row back was worth the bar of soap that I gave him.  No wait, he didn’t have to row.  The fisherman who’s boat he’d commandeered did the rowing.   In any event, he seemed fairly pleased with my gift of soap, I guess.

However, it’s become fairly clear to us that the Frontera will row a lot further than say, the Harbor Master in Sag Harbor will for a bar of hand soap.   Welcome to Cuba where, as the saying goes, “everyone pretends to work while the government pretends to pay them”.   I guess the good stuff comes from cruisers, not uncle Fidel.

By the time we got everything worked out there wasn’t enough time to make it to our planned anchorage so we only had two choices.  Postpone our departure and risk having to have the Frontera back aboard for yet another inspection or to just leave and extend our run to an overnight, which is what we opted for.  At the very least, we could get some miles under us and cover some distance as we had only gone a few hundred miles since entering Cuba.

Besides, the next few hundred miles would be primarily small low lying islands covered with mangroves and not much else.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many beaches in this area of Cuba.   Yes, it proved to be VERY remote and over the next few days we only saw one or two boats, in each case fisherman that tried to sell us lobster and fish.   And as we had already bought lobster twice in Cabo Cruz, sorry, not interested.

We had read that all lobster captured was property of the government so imagine our surprise when one of the officers checking us into Cabo Cruz asked us if we wanted lobster.  So much for the fox watching the hen house.

So, as promised, a short time later a fisherman in a small row boat came by and asked if we’d like lobster.  Yes, that would be great!   He motioned for us to wait, rowed off, put on mask and fins, jumped into the water and a few minutes later swam up to Pandora, two lobsters in hand.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a bit of haggling we put some money in a zip lock bag and off he went.

A little later, after our great lobster dinner,  three young fisherman came by asking if we’d like lobster.  Answer:  “well it depends on how much they are”.  They gave a price that was probably reasonable but we weren’t hungry, so our answer:   “no, too much”.  Besides, we wondered what price they would take if we weren’t that interested.  Nope, not enough.   Off they went, looking a bit dejected, to the only other visiting boat in the harbor.   I guess that they weren’t buying either so back to Pandora they came a short time later.

After a bit of back and forth, we agreed on a price for three lobsters and money changed hands, $10 CUC.   But wait, ”do you have Coke?”   “How about another lobster for Coke?”, they asked.    I could only spare one can so off they went happy with the deal we had struck.  Three guys sharing a single can of Coke between them, all for a single lobster.   Amazing.  Only in Cuba.

We left the following morning for a long run to an uninhabited island, about half of the way to Cienfuegos, in a large area of reefs and shoals, dotted with small mangrove studded islands.

After visiting several of these Cayos, I can’t say that we have been particularly crazy about the area as there is not a lot to see unless you are diving.  However, I am not particularly a fan of snorkeling alone so that doesn’t work too well for us.  While there’s not a lot to see, there is one thing there in particular abundance, no-see-ums and we were unhappy to discover that there are literally millions of them just waiting for the unsuspecting visitor.

The plot thickens… The other night we were anchored in a very pretty deep channel in the middle of a mangrove island, you know the sort of recommended anchoring spot spot on the chart with an anchor symbol?  A spot that’s VERY protected?    You know the spot?  I suspect that the “’Cuban no-see-um convention and visitors bureau” got together and lobbied to get that symbol on the chart.  If you’ve been cruising for a while you have probably visited one of their other “official” locations yourself.    Anyway, unsuspecting, down went the hook and we enjoyed the day in total solitude in well protected waters.

However, after dark…   Yikes!  We woke up around midnight and in spite of having closed the screens on all hatches, enduring the muggy conditions with almost no breath of air down below, and discovered that the mesh on the main hatch was not no-see-um proof and only effective in keeping out mosquitos.

I turned on a light and was horrified to see thousands, no make that many thousands of little tiny hungry bugs on the ceiling and EVERYWHERE, just waiting for to sample a meal aboard Pandora.   To be truthful, they were well into their main course by the time we discovered them.

As you can imagine, it was not a great night and we didn’t get much sleep.   It was horrible and I spent a good portion of the next day vacuuming them up from the headliner with my little shop vac.  While I was able to get most of them, given the massive number that had found their way below, there were still quite a few that showed up the next evening.   Three days later I think I have finally gotten all of them.

We didn’t make the same mistake twice so the next night we anchored quite far from shore at yet another little cay.

This one, Cayo Iguana, is home to a guy who runs a small snack bar and lives full time on the island.  He is all set up with solar panels and I suspect a watermaker.   This is his home and kitchen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe shares the island with a multitude of critters including a health population of iguanas as well as thousands of hermit crabs that I guess he feeds as they all gather around his kitchen window to nibble on scraps he sends their way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, of course, Iguanas. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA nice view from the beach of Pandora well beyond “no-see-um-zone”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe seemed like a nice guy although his chain smoking and, shall we say, “lack of dental hygiene” made us decide not to order any food.    Good call.

So, as I write this we are headed west to Cienfuego, one of the largest cities in Cuba and we hope to be there by late afternoon and are really hopeful that we will be able to find a slip in the marina where we can run our AC.  Did I say that it’s been hot?

Well, it has been hot indeed and with very light winds we have had to motor just about everywhere for the last week and I am ready to stay put for a few days.

Unlike Santiago de Cuba, where a trip downtown involved a 20 minute cab ride, Cienfuegos “down town” is a short walk so that will be nice too.   We have read about this city and are excited about visiting and seeing all the beautiful architecture that fill this historic city.

I expect that Brenda isn’t particularly looking forward to a visit by the Guarda  Frontera as she fears that we will soon run out of T shirts, bars of soap, beer and Coke that has gotten us through our check in and out procedures so far.    Besides, we have found that they tend to travel in packs and sometimes even with a dog, perhaps to sniff for drugs and firearms.

Oh yeah, I should mention that I have been unable, in spite of days of work, to identify why my SSB won’t send or receive email so the only time I can do a post and check for messages is when I am at a terminal in one of the government run hotels.   So, if you see a post, it’s from a hotel.

More to report soon from Cienfuegos and I for one am looking forward to seeing something that doesn’t want to make a meal out of me.

A world so different from our own.

It’s Wednesday morning and sunrise has yet to appear in the eastern sky as I begin this post. I was awake a few hours ago and was drawn by the night sky, ablaze with stars and the sweep of the milky way sweeping gracefully from horizon to horizon.

Even in the larger cities here on the south coast of Cuba there is very little artificial light at night to hamper night vision. Here in the most rural areas the night is very dark with almost no artificial light anywhere, save a handful of dim specsfrom modest homes dotting the shore line. As a result, the sky is literally ablaze with billions of stars.

This display wasn’t that obvious last evening as a half moon was high in the sky and so bright that it cast shadows down below on Pandora. However, once the moon set and my eyes had several hours to adjust to the darkness (read: I was asleep), I was astounded by the night sky, so full of stars that the number seemed limitless.

At home in CT we often marvel at the night sky, so clear compared to when we lived near New York City but that is nothing compared to the utter darkness of rural Cuba where dark is REALLY dark.

Yesterday we raised anchor in Chivirico and headed the 50 miles west to Maria del Portillo, a rural fishing village. There is a small settlement on shore near this perfectly protected half mile round harbor along with several government operated hotels about a mile away. The bottom is soft mud and sand with good holding and there is easily room for dozens of boats. However, today we share the anchorage with a single other boat, a small 30’ double ended sloop, Luna from Norway that is the home of Lars who has sailed her solo around the world for the last dozen years.

Lars is also working his way west and as there are only a hand full of anchorages on this coast, we have found ourselves sharing harbors with him for the last few weeks, first in Santiago then Chivirico and now here in Maria del Portillo.

The winds have been very light lately making for some hot temperatures and the water is in the high 80s, almost too hot for swimming.   In the evenings when we anchor it has been uncomfortably hot and sticky and made worse as we have had to rig mosquito netting in the cockpit and screens down below making things more uncomfortable.   Lars has told us that these days of very light winds are unusual and that the trades, blowing from the east will likely reappear soon and cool things down a bit. I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router today, and he agreed and offered hope that perhaps we may see some wind for sailing west in a few days.

We had Lars over for dinner last night and enjoyed hearing about his life, so very different from our own. He’s an interesting guy and the simplicity of his life and boat has a certain allure compared to the complexity of managing Pandora with her many systems, where something always seems to be in need of repair and I won’t even talk about the complexities of our land home.   As we compared notes, it was interesting to learn that what we pay for health insurance is equal to his total monthly budget.   And, let me tell you, our health insurance premium, as ridiculous as that is, is a modest fraction of our total monthly outlay.

Lars was quick to point out that being a citizen of a socialist country makes his vagabond lifestyle possible as he doesn’t have to worry about funding his “retirement” when he is older. Interesting.

I guess it is the utter simplicity of the life that Lars lives as well as the lives of the villagers we have seen along the way that is the most startling contrast to our own. I can’t say that I’d particularly like to trade the luxuries of Pandora and our land home there is a certain appeal to” simple”, a word that in no way has a place in the life we live.

And simple, is certainly a word that seems to describe how people live in rural Cuba.   Outside of the cities the primary mode of local transportation is horse drawn.However their is beauty in simplicity as this local swimming hole and park with specatular mountains in the distance illustrates.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are livestock everywhere including goats, turkeys (I guess this is a turkey) and a constant background sounds of cocks crowing, day and night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVillage homes are simple and neatly kept and usually have a garden nearby. This family is growing bananas, sugarcane and simple green vegetables.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd, there is perhaps no greater contrast to Pandora than this simple “boat”, an inner tube employed by a local fisherman. He paddled around the lagoon all day casting a net to catch fish less than two inches long and carefully picked his catch from the net and put in the “live well” milk crate floating next to him. I don’t know if that was his ultimate catch or if he used them as bait for larger quarry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Cuba there are two worlds. That of the locals and the other occupied by tourists who stay at government run resorts that are simple by our standards. These cater to foreigners, mainly from Canada and Europe who visit Cuba, often for the entire winter season. The government even has a separate currency, the CUC, pronounced “cook”, for tourists, valued at about $.85 to the US dollar. The locals trade in Pesos valued at 25 to the CUC.   The Peso is used at the markets and for goods sold to locals at government shops.

Brenda and I visited one of the local hotels for lunch the other day. To get there we had to walk up a very steep road leading from the village to the top of the mountain where the hotel is. The view of the harbor and nearby mountains was spectacular. That’s Pandora in the upper right.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rooms, and there were only about 20, were located around a center courtyard with a pool. It was a lovely spot. We paid a flat rate of $12 CUC each for lunch and for that flat fee we were able to order anything and in any quantity from the menu. Brenda had grilled chicken with a sweet relish and I had grilled fish along with a number of other side dishes.Lunch was actually an add-on for us as our primary reason for visiting the hotel was to access the Internet at their single public terminal. At most all government facilities you can purchase time on their computers for $2 CUC per hour and the speeds are pretty good. I understand that this service runs through an under-sea cable that was strung from Venezuela a few years ago.

We will spend a few days here before continuing west and we are hopeful that better wind will fill in as we leave the shelter of the high mountains of western Cuba.

As I have mentioned, when we move from harbor to harbor, the Guarda Frontera wants to keep track of your movements and about an hour after we anchored yesterday we were visited by a nice young man, delivered to our boat by a local fisherman, who wanted to check our papers and passports. His visit took about 45 minutes, mostly because we had trouble communicating given our utter lack of Spanish and his lack of English. Thank goodness that we had an English/Spanish phrase book to fall back on although it only got so far.It was interesting to hear what sort of information he was looking for, beyond the obvious about our last port of call and where we were going next. Along with checking our passports, he needed to know the height of our mast, depth of our keel, beam and such esoteric information such as what the fuel capacity of our dink was and how much water we had on board.   And, all of this information was carefully recorded in a well-thumbed notebook while the fisherman patiently waited behind Pandora.

You can’t imagine how hot he looked in his uniform and heavy boots but he was good natured, never the less.   As we parted Brenda and I were left with a complete lack of clarity about what happens next and if he had to return to Pandora before we head for our next port.

However, we decided that when we are ready to leave we will just go and hope for the best and marveled, once again, about just how different this world is from the one we inhabit. And, if it turns out that we have done the wrong thing, we can say, with complete honesty, that we didn’t understand.

This is indeed a very different world and I expect that when we return to our lives in CT that we will look at things a bit differently now that we have been at least on the outskirts of a world so foreign to our own.

We came to Cuba expecting to see a world that will soon change as sanctions are lifted by the U.S. but as we experience this country first hand I am beginning to believe that change will come slowly to the rural areas, a world so different from our own and truly a sight to behold.

Cuba is a remarkable country, so different from anything that we have even known and we are blessed to be able to experience it aboard Pandora.

Chivirico Cuba and boat repair in exotic places.

Yesterday we cleared out of the port of Santiago and headed west along the coast.  It’s now Sunday morning and we are anchored in Chivirico, a teeny, tiny little harbor, about 30 miles west of Santiago de Cuba.

Before I get started with this post, perhaps a few more photos from our visit to Santiago de Cuba.  First, a photo of Pandora in the marina there with the mountains in the distance.   What a view.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust before we left Santiago a number of rowing shells from the local boat club rowed by.  I have to say that I wasn´t epecting to see such a sight in a comunist country.   Fedel, row harder.  You are out of sync…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sunset to the west each evening was spectacular.  In the afternoons it blows like stink but the wind dies at sunset making for a beautiful, if hot, evening.  We were able to run the AC in the front cabin but the electrical connection wasn´t strong enough to support the AC in the main salon or the battery charger.  Glad we have the solar panels. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few days ago I took the ferry from the marina to downtown Santiago.   You want third world, this was third world.  Show me the life preservers.  Ha!What a view from the boat as we approached the city from the water.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we came into the harbor at Santiago to anchor in the quarantine area a week ago Brenda was at the helm as is customary for us as I handled the anchor. The woman that checked us in decided that Brenda, being at the helm, was the ¨Capitan¨ and put her as such on the paperwork.   This means that each time we clear in or out of a port Brenda is “El Capitan” from now on and has to sign any papers. We both got quite a kick out of that.  Well, mostly me and the lady that checked us in, of course.

Most cruising couples divide the work by putting the husband at the helm and wife on the bow. Not us and I guess that’s unusual enough here in Cuba to raise eyebrows at customs.   Andas a result, Capitan Brenda she is, and will remain, Capitan for the duration of our visit to Cuba.

It’s an important distinction as you must clear in and out of each port every time you move. That’s unless, of course, if the port is so small that it doesn’t have a GuardaFrontera office.  Such is the case at Chivirico, a village that is so small that it only fits about 4 boats.

You can’t see the harbor from the ocean as it’s behind a hill that is several hundred feet tall with a small hotel perched on the top.   It was quite intimidating to make the approach as there aren’t any markers save a white range marker on the beach just before you turn to go into the lagoon.

The entrance is impossibly narrow, more of a cut in the coral marked by some metal stakes than a channel.  I have to admit that I was holding my breath, for more than a few minutes,  as we came closer to shore and entrance but the water was clear enough to easily see the shallows.

After entering the channel, we promptly ran aground. However, the mud was so soft and deep that we were able to power our way through with little difficulty. At the most shallow point we were reading about 5’ so that meant that we were plowing through about 12-18” of soft mud with our 6’5” keel. It was a bit unnerving as I really didn’t want to find myself stranded just feet from coral and breakers.   Once inside, we weren’t alone as there were three other boats anchored in the tiny harbor, two from Norway.

One of the boats had three young people aboard who left Norway back in August and were headed to Panama and across the Pacific with a plan of being aboard together for about three years. Interestingly, they didn’t have any sort of bimini to shade them in the cockpit so the three fair haired kids from the north were all nut brown. I expect that they will regret that later in life. Can you say sebharea karatossa or spell it?   Pretty sure I can´t.

The wind became very light in the evening so Brenda and I sat up on deck to watch the local children jump into the water from a tree. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A bit later they swam out to us, I expect with the hope of some sort of handout.   I was tempted but didn’t want them with us for the duration of our visit.  Chivirico is a tiny rural fishing village, much different than Santiago with all its noise and activity.   The locals make their living fishing out of little boats and in inner tubes that they float around with while casting lines.   The boats that they take out into the ocean are impossibly small with tiny inboard engines.

They also set up fine nets hundreds of feet long across the inlet to the harbor in the evening to catch fish that tangle in the net as they move into the harbor to feed at dusk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was interesting to see the smaller fish jumping out of the water as larger ones below cornered them against the net. They sparkled as they jumped out of the water in the late afternoon light.   It was quite a sight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are some very quaint buildings along the mangrove shoreline and even two thatched huts at a sort of park were the children were swimming.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunset, and I love sunsets in blog posts as you know, and this one was beautiful. I´d like to see Brenda weave this as a tapestry.  It was a magical moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There isn’t going to be much wind to speak of until Tuesday so we’ll wait here and enjoy this little village.

Oh yeah, remember the “flood” last fall where salt water got on some of the electronic components in the back of the boat?  That little mishap was what caused me abandon my trip to the Eastern Caribbean as various sensitive electronic components failed. Well, I thought that I had resolved all of the “issues” that resulted from that problem but it seems that experience has turned out to be “the gift that keeps on giving” as a critical isolator on the SSB tuner was damaged too and I have not been able to reliably receive e-mail since arriving in Cuba.

That’s very frustrating and means that I am unable to send posts to our son Christopher when we are in more out-of-the-way areas, LIKE CUBA.  I have tried to find a work-around but the problem persists. Perhaps I’ll find a solution but for now I will only be able to reliably receive messages when I am able to visit one of the state run internet cafes.

If you see this post, you will know that I was able to find a place with internet, the little state run hotel on the hill nearby.

It’s very distressing that we are unable to reliably communicate with folks in spite of our very careful preparation. And, one thing for sure is that we won’t be finding a replacement part here in Cuba.

I’ll continue to fiddle with things and, who knows, perhaps I’ll get lucky and fix it.

Before I sign off, one more thing. Yesterday when I was closing up the sail cover on the main, I noticed that some of the stitching had come apart which meant that I needed to re-stitch the entire zipper, all 30-40’+ of it. It took about three hours to take off the cover, sew it and put it all back together again.  You should try managing a foot pedel while sitting on a boat cushion.   Not the most ideal sewing position.  However, the veiw was unparalled.   Brenda was a huge help feeding the 17´cover as I sewed. It was a good example of the cruising life of “boat repair in exotic places”.  Did I mention that I had a sewing machine on board? Good thing as it’s the second time I have used it since leaving CT last October.

 

 

 

Santiago de Cuba, a feast for the senses.

Where do I begin? There is so much to say about this place that I am overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Should I begin with the remarkable architecture, some lovingly restored and others gently held together with the hope that someday it too can be brought back to their original wonder?  Is it the wonderful people, out on the town celebrating “The National Day of Women” on a day set aside much like our mother’s day, many carrying a rose?  Is it the street food vendors selling pastry, ice cream, fried foods and ham sandwiches out of a window or doorway?  Or perhaps with the dozens of tiny shops meticulously displaying their limited wares or the pet stores with amazing colorful birds and tropical fish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps I should begin with the vehicles.    Coming from the “disposable” culture of the U.S. it’s amazing to see how Cubans recycle and reuse in a way that puts us to shame.   Some vehicles look like they are about to travel their very last mile and others, like this 1950s vintage Opel that our driver from yesterday, clearly have many miles left under the hood.Even the interior was perfect, if a bit off of the original specs. There are thousands of old cars, trucks and motorcycles spewing choking exhaust on impossibly narrow colonial streets so clogged with traffic that crossing is a life threatening experience.3-10-16b 014 Not all of the cars were in as nice shape as this vintage VW.  For sure, plenty will be changing in Cuba as they open up to the world.   Perhaps there is no better illustration of the challenges that this country faces than the long lines of young people waiting outside of the cell phone store waiting to enter for service.  And,as in the U.S. , it seems like nearly everyone is busy huddling over their phones, perhaps, like us, trying to use the horrible wifi in public squares.   For sure, wifi is not great as it took me an hour yesterday and all of the time on my prepaid wificard to get just a simple post with one photo to publish.  Today I am in a cafe using their computers so it´s going much better, so far…

As we spoke with Cubans, at the marina, in taxis and some that we met on the street, there is an air of excitement that Obama is visiting later this month.   However, tempering their enthusiasm, is a fear that the influx of American’s and their money will take away the “good” of Cuba.  However, it seems that most feel that there will be more good than bad as Cuba “joins the world” again after so many years of isolation.

There is a constant parade of “buses” adapted from old Ford trucks with large rear areas,complete with benches, packed to the gills with customers racing through the narrow old streets.  Yes, the grey section with the tarp is the ¨bus¨ and passengers are packed in cheek to cheek. Surrounding the public squares are fabulous buildings, hundreds of years old and in perfect condition, at least from the outside and yet only a few blocks away homes in a terrible state of disrepair. Yesterday we had lunch at a Paladar, a family run restaurant on a rooftop overlooking the harbor and countless homes on the hillside.  Wonderful food and reasonbly priced.   Great Mojito too.The nearby market had some interesting items for sale.  I sure hope our lunch didn´t come from this stall. Perhaps this fruit stand is more our speed. On a nearby rooftop,  a dog that looked much like or Son Rob´s Bobi.  There are many busy and beautiful public spaces.  I still do a double take when I see the Cuban flag flying high.

There is street music most everywhere. We stopped at a local hotel in the heat of the afternoon to cool off with fresh lemonaid.  What a spot. I could go on for hours and surely,  with all the ¨fun¨ of finding a good spot to download all of this, perhaps I should quit while I am ahead.

One way or the other, Cuba is surely a feast for the senses.  What a place.

Welcome to Santiago de Cuba.

It’s Tuesday morning and we are getting ready to head out later this morning to explore the city of Santiago de Cuba.  We have hired Noel, a local taxi driver that was recommended to us a couple, Brian and Nancy from Canada sailing aboard “Afreeka”.  Love that name for a boat.  After buying the boat in June, they got ready in record time to head out and have spent the last six months heading south, beginning with the Erie Canal, down the U.S. coast all the way to Marathon FL in the Keys.  They have spent the last month cruising the south coast of Cuba on their way to their ultimate destination, Trinidad.  They are quite the adventurers, although new to boating, having spent a lot of time in Tanzania Africa by land over the last few years.  Can you find Tanzania on a map?  I surely can’t.

We spent some time with them yesterday to get a lay of the (Cuba) land.  As they are heading east toward Haiti, against the prevailing winds, they do their sailing at night and headed out from the marina  at dusk last night to take advantage of the katabatic winds coming down from the mountains overnight.

Katabatic winds are the cooling air from the mountains rushes downhill towards the coast at night and shift the easterly trade winds from east to the north.  That makes for a nice close reach sail toward the east as opposed to having winds on the nose as is the case during the daylight hours.

It was nice to get their perspective, albeit a bit negative as they were plenty frustrated from waiting for fuel and water for the last few days.  The marina’s fuel pumps have been out of commission for years and water has to be brought in by tanker truck and that had been promised for days and not yet delivered.  I checked again this morning and they said “today, we hope”.  Sounds familiar, I guess.  It’s a good thing that we have a watermaker as Brenda isn’t happy when she has to skip her shower.  Me too.  Can you say sticky?

Water is a problem in this area and all homes have large water tanks on their roof so that they can store water when the municipal supply is working and still have some to use when it’s not.  I was told by Noel that sometimes they can’t get water for ten days at a time so they have to keep plenty on hand, just in case.

After all the months of preparation for getting to Cuba, I can’t believe that we are finally here.  In spite of all the reading about what the experience is like, it’s quite different than what we had heard.  We had read that the clearing in process took hours and that we’d have to give up most or all of our fresh food and that any chicken would have to go too.   We were prepared for “whatever”and had all of our documents in place, ready to go.  We even prepared a detailed “crew list” document with all the particulars of the boat and crew which I printed out in duplicate.

As we made our way west along the coast, we were entranced by the views of the mountains.As we approached the entrance of the harbor, and a dramatic one it is, we began hailing the Guarda Frontera on the VHF radio.  We had been told to begin calling when we were about 15 miles out with the understanding that they probably wouldn’t respond until we were within a few miles as they only have hand held VHF radios.

After spending time in the Bahamas, with its low lying islands, over the last few years, I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic landscape and tall mountains of Cuba’s south coast.   What a dramatic view of the coast with mountains everywhere.

As we approached the harbor, we were greeted by a fabulous fort, Castillo de Morro, built in the 1500s.  What a sight. We continued past the fort and into the harbor, all the while hailing the authorities, again with no response.   The channel near the fort is literally hundreds of feet deep with cliffs looming up dramatically on either side.   I was busily snapping photos of the fort and was startled, no make that shocked to hear a booming voice shouting in Spanish so close that I thought someone was in the cockpit with us.  It turns out that I was almost correct as a moment later I saw a head bobbing in our wake, complete with snorkel and wet suit.  There was someone in the water and I had nearly run him down.   What the %$#@ was someone swimming in a major shipping channel with ships like this heading in and out all day long.

As we came within sight of Marina Santiago, we were finally hailed on the radio by Guarda Frontera and instructed to anchor on the other side of the harbor in the “quarantine” area, about a mile from the marina.    Moments later a launch pulled up and dropped off the health inspector, a young Cuban woman with really, really red hair.    We offered her a cold Coke which she accepted with thanks and quietly slipped it into her purse.  She took our temperature with a laser thermometer pointed at our foreheads smiled and declared Brenda to be “hot”.  Yes, she can be that, I agreed.

She knew only a very little English and patiently waited while we thumbed through the phrase book to find answers to her questions. The whole process lasted about an hour and was very pleasant. When she was finished she started talking about “toasting” our arrival.  After a LOT of back and forth and puzzled looks from us, we finally realized that she was looking for a beer.  Of course!  Brenda and I split one and she finished her’s off in short order.  We exchanged information about family, showed photos of children all around and posed for a “selfie”.  What a hoot.  “Welcome to Cuba!”1-2-16 016After that, we raised the anchor and headed back across the harbor and anchored as there was no room at the dock for us.  We dropped the dink and took her ashore and us to meet with Immigration.  That process took another hour and was followed by that official coming out to Pandora where he searched every nook and cranny for who knows what.   After that, a beer together.

The whole process indeed took several hours and was very interesting.  Brenda posted her impressions on her blog about all of this and it’s really worth reading.  Check it out here.

There is a small cove adjacent to the marina where we anchored for the night but the holding wasn’t good at all in soft lumpy mud and in nearly 50’ of water.  I am not used to anchoring in water that deep and it took nearly all of our chain.  The next morning we moved to a shallower area nearby to try our hand at another spot, this time in about 15’ of water.  The hook went down and we backed down to be sure that it was well set and settled down below for lunch.

About 45 minutes later we were rousted by voices on deck, poked our heads up and were shocked to learn that while we were having lunch we had dragged our anchor somehow and were now nearly a mile across the harbor and less than 100’ from a very nasty concrete dock.  WHAT!

We never heard or felt anything as the boat slowly dragged into deep water.  And it wasn’t particularly windy.  We could not believe our luck that someone had seen us drifting slowly across a busy harbor and was nice enough to warn us as we were literally moments from hitting a really nasty concrete dock.    Our rescuers advised us that it was “very dangerous”.  No S#*T Sherlock.

Like the well-oiled machine that we are, we picked up the anchor, which was hanging straight down and moved back to the first place we had anchored to try our luck again.  We still wanted to be on the dock but now the wind was blowing too hard and directly onto the dock.  As the docks are concrete and massive, we didn’t want to risk it.   Enough excitement for one day.

Anyway, I set an anchor alarm and we still had a nervous night.  No more anchoring for us so this morning, in light winds, we tied up to the dock all by ourselves as there wasn’t anyone from the marina responding to help.  No loss of life.

Interestingly, you pay in Cuba for both anchoring and for tying up at a dock.  The fee to anchor is about .25 per foot/day and .45 foot/day on the dock, water and electricity included.    That’s $21.15 per day on the dock or only about $9 a day more than anchoring.   Such a deal, Cuban style.

So, what about money?  We had been told that the Cuban tourist peso or CUC had an exchange rate of about $.85 Canadian and about the same for American and that the “Greenback”, on top of the exchange rate, was also “taxed” at a rate of about 20%.   For that reason, we were advised to bring Canadian, which we did.  Keep in mind that if we run out of funds while we are here there is absolutely no way to get more money from our account.

That’s what we were told…  So, here’s what actually happens.  Canadian trades at about $.55 per CUC and U.S. at $.85 CUC.  That doesn’t sound too bad but we traded U.S. for Canadian in FL at $.85.   Anyway, the math confounds me but all I know is that will have to be very careful not to run out of $$ before we leave the country in about 6 weeks as we have less than we thought to spend.  Fingers crossed.

The marina and area is beautiful if quite run down.  It’s clear that the Cubans take good care of what they have and try to make the most of their circumstances.  Everything is old but tidy.

There are ferry boats constantly moving about, jammed to the gills with “commuters”.  So, how many life jackets are there on board?  I don’t expect that the Cuban Coast Guard is charged with policing that particular detail.

It’s illegal for a Cubans to own a boat that’s more than about 20’ long and there are plenty of fisherman out working the waters, some floating around on nothing but an inner tube.    Most of the boats are inboards, probably repurposed land based engines putting along noisily.

I guess that’s about all for now as we have to get ready to head into town, a 15 minute cab ride.  Our driver Noel, will take us there and come back later today, with many stops along the way for $20 total for much of the day.  How much is that after the exchange rate?  Hmm…

Oh yeah, we have seen a few great cars.  How about this Karman Giha?   What a paint job.  Love the rear view mirrors.  I’ll bet that this would get lots of second looks at a car show in the U.S.

Welcome to Cuba, indeed.  It’s good to be here.

Today’s the day. Clearing into Cuba.

It’s early on Sunday morning and we are just about abreast of Guantanamo Bay on the southeastern end of Cuba and still about 50 miles from Santiago de Cuba, our destination where we plan on clearing in later today.

As I mentioned in my last post, we opted to skip stopping along the way and decided to continue on directly to Cuba, finishing the entire 350 mile run in a single leg. That turned out to be a good decision but has made for a long trip of nearly three days. Seas were mostly calm and wind light much of the way but that meant that we ran the engine a good deal of the time.

However, as I write this we are romping along at 7+ kts in less than 15kts of apparent wind. It’s a very nice sail and all at about 12 degrees of heel.

As we approached the Windward Passage yesterday afternoon it was impressive to see just how many ships converged on this area from everywhere. We saw a tanker headed to Houston, a cruise ship heading to Aruba as well as a number of medium sized, 500-600′ cargo ships that were on their way to deliver cargo in the Caribbean all converging on the same area simultaneously.

Chris Parker had warned us about confused seas in the passage when the wind pipes up out of the North East and based on last night, I’d bet that it gets plenty nasty indeed. There was a fairly strong current heading north and with about 15kts of wind opposing it, we definitely experienced some pretty confused seas. It was tough to get a good feel for it as it was pitch dark, but I’d say that it felt like waves were coming from every which way and the boat was lurching around quite a bit. And with the wind from behind and the boat slamming from side to side, Brenda wasn’t a happy camper.

By rounding eastern tip of Cuba after dark, we didn’t get an opportunity to see the mountains that dominate that part of the island, rising some 2,000′ above sea level. The water drops off very quickly to thousands of feet deep less than a mile from shore so you don’t have to be very far from land to be sure of enough water. I stayed offshore by about 2 miles and the coastline was positively dark with almost no lights on shore with exception of the occasional lighthouse, so I had no visual reference to see just how close I was.

As I write this we are passing Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Naval base in Cuba. I can only imagine how much having us there must piss off the Castros. I’d guess that they frown on the base hooking into the local electrical grid which would explain why there are a number of huge wind generators on the adjacent hills near the base. From the time we approached the exclusion zone, a small Navy boat shadowed us to be sure that we didn’t do anything out of order. They abruptly stopped when the reached the western end of their “zone”.

I expect that there was someone from the Cuban military watching them watch us. “I see you!”, no make that “I see you watching the gringos”.

After spending time in the Bahamas that boasts it’s highest “mountain” at about 200′, It’s really impressive to see the mountains of Cuba rising several thousand feet right up from the shoreline. The landscape is quite stunning and in spite of being on the dry side of the island, it’s quite green.

Brenda did very well with the motion of the boat over the last few days however, as we approached the passage last evening and it’s very confused following seas, not so great. I don’t think that she will be begging for more time there any time soon.

Well, today should be an interesting day as we go through the hours long clearing in process. I expect that it will be a very different experience than what we have experienced in the Bahamas where everything is finalized in about 15-20 minutes. I have been told that it takes forever here (they love process) with a parade of officials coming and going as they go through the boat and our paperwork leaving plenty of time for chat too.

I also understand that there is a whole host of foods, such as chicken, eggs and citrus that aren’t allowed. However I read that someone was able to avoid tossing everything by wrapping each item in plastic wrap.
I’ll report back on that one.

Well, perhaps clearing in will be a topic for tomorrow’s post. Until then…

Half our way to Cuba!

It’s Saturday morning and we have begun the second day of our passage to Cuba.  At the point when we had been underway for 24 hours, we found ourselves about 50 miles from Great Inagua and about 75 miles from the eastern most point of Cuba.

Earlier today I spoke with Chris Parker, the weather router, and asked if he would recommend that we skip Great Inagua and just keep going to Cuba for a total nonstop run of about 350 miles.  His recommendation was to continue on and head directly for the Windward Passage as he feels that we will enjoy moderate winds behind the beam that will carry us all the way to our destination on Sunday afternoon.

For the first 24 hours we motor-sailed as the wind was just too light and clocked in direction from SE to SW and ultimately settling in to the 10kt NE wind we are enjoying now.  Pandora sails well with apparent wind near 10kts with the larger forward sail, the Code Zero.  It’s a huge light sail and can’t be flown in more than about 14kts apparent.  As I write this we are sailing along on a beam reach with about 8-10kts and are doing between 5-7kts through the water.  Fortunately, there isn’t much current to speak of so we are making good time and staying near our target speed of 6.5kts SOG much of the time.

Last evening was uneventful and Brenda stood watch for about half of the night, by herself so I could get some rest although it was pretty warm down below with the engine running.  This is the first time that Brenda has been underway for more than 24 hours and I have to say that she is doing great.  The fact that it was a clear evening with no moon made for some fabulous star gazing, one of her favorite pastimes.  At one point I came up on deck to check on everything and found her tipped back in her chair listening to music while watching the stars set on the western horizon.  That passed the time nicely for her and although she’s a bit queasy now and then, she has a great attitude.

After a hot 24 hours of being underway we both felt pretty grubby so we took showers in the cockpit this morning.  With Brenda reclining in one of the adjustable deck cushions, I washed her hair and then she showered out in the breeze.  Me too…  We both feel very refreshed. It’s very private out here as there is absolutely nothing within 40 miles of us in every direction except an occasional ship heading north from the Caribbean.

I have to say that I am still a bit surprised that we expect to arrive in Cuba on Sunday after so many months of preparation and to be one of the few American’s doing so by boat legally after more than 50 years is a big deal.

Brenda appreciates this and has been very supportive all along the way.   She wrote a funny post yesterday afternoon while we were underway (that’s a big deal in itself) that’s worth reading.  You can see it here. (put in www.argoknot.com link here)

Yes, this is a big deal and I am so pleased to be sharing it with Brenda.  Who knew, way back in Highschool, when we first met, that we’d be doing this together now.   And, speaking of Highschool, we both wish that we’d taken Spanish as it sure would have come in handy on this trip.

Indeed, we are very close to arriving in Cuba and after all the planning and setbacks, I’d argue that we are WAY closer than half way there.