Monday, May 09, 2011

La Vita to Varadero - Downhill sailing at its very best!

I could feel the sides of my reel getting almost too hot to touch as I struggled to slow the furious peeling of the braided line off of my heavy duty salt water fishing gear. About 75 yards off the transom of Threepenny Opera was a man sized mahi mahi, or dorado as they are known in Cuba. It was the biggest fish I had ever seen that was not mounted on a wall over a bar.

Normally when one hooks a fish there is some give and take in the amount of line played out as the fish begins to tire with the fisherman gaining a few yards by cranking hard as the fish regains its breath. In this case however there was only take, as the very angry fish on the other end of my line conducted an aerial dance of cirque de soleil proportions. The best I could mange was to momentarily stop the screaming outflow of line by pinching the line between my gloved hand and the rubber of the fishing rods grip.  I was alternately fascinated and horrified as I watched the show before me, all the while wondering if I was going to lose my grip on the rod and have the whole works disappear into the sea.

As suddenly as the fight began, it stopped. The giant fish gave one more flip of its tail and disappeared beneath the rolling waves. My hands were trembling as I began to breath again alternately feeling relieved and disappointed at my loss. The warm light of the setting sun highlighted the column of the Cayo Confites light house about a mile astern of Threepenny Opera as I slowly reeled in my line to see if the giant had left me any of my lure and leader.  Our one sided fight had only lasted 20 minutes but echoes from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea  resonated in my head as my surprisingly intact tackle came back over the side.

Pat and I had left the mouth of Bahia Neuvitas earlier that morning, with the intention of making a 250 nm nonstop run to Varadero. Originally we had planned to day hop along the Cayos of Northern Cuba, but the tedium of checking in and checking out at every stop gave us the impetus to stretch our sea legs and make the downwind run without any further interim stops. The clearing process was not complicated, and the authorities attempted to accommodate our schedules as best they could, but it required us to be much more organized than we preferred. Perhaps our next trip we will make the coastal cruise our objective, and spend more time exploring the cays.

The Cuban military maintain a very watchful eye on the sea traffic along the north shore so while stopping is permitted, one needs to inform the Garda Frontera very specifically about ones intentions. There was no doubt in my mind that they would know we had deviated from our intentions because on several occasions we had been contacted via VHF the moment we deviated from our course. It seems that they were monitoring our AIS transponder so we made it easy to track our movements, although off the coast of Cayo Coco in the middle of the night we were hailed by Maritime Traffic Control as the vessel at a specific set of coordinates.

It was comforting to know that our progress was being monitored although the unidentified radar blips patrolling parallel and just outside the 12 mile limit, were a little eerie. For Pat and me this trip was our longest sail to date. Previously our longest trip was the 30 hour motor sailing run across the Gulf of Maine on our journey south, so the approximately 60 hour journey to Varadero represented a pretty significant increase in trip length. As an initiation to blue water passage making the sail down the coast was perfect. We experienced winds up into the mid 20’s and seas of 6 feet, but Threepenny Opera rose to the challenge and gave us an exhilarating ride of over 9 knots as we surfed down the face of some waves. Apart from some minor course changes to accommodate oncoming traffic and a flotilla of oil seeking hydrologic survey vessels, the trip was uneventful. 

The arrival in Varadero seemed that it would never come because we sighted the tip of the Hicacos Peninsula, which forms the west side of Cardenas Bay just after daybreak on our third day out. Likely we were still 15 miles out as our land fall was more precisely the sighting of the upper floors of one of the larger hotels in the area and the entrance to the marina was another 13 miles beyond the tip of the peninsula. It was closer to 2:30 in the afternoon before we finally slipped in between the breakwaters of the channel leading up to the Marina Darsena which was to be our home base for the next 2 weeks or so. After a very perfunctory visit from the local Garda Frontera and Customs officers to stamp our cruising permit, we moved into a slip and went on to the docks to join our fellow cruisers for what was to become the nightly ritual of sun downers and conversation. We have been in Cuba for almost 2 weeks at this point and the vibes are great. We can’t wait to explore this part of Cuba and compare it to our travels in the eastern portion of the country.

There are tons of pics that have no captions, particularly those of the caves near Matanzas. I apologies for not being able to remember all of the details of the scenes, but Cuba is visually so exciting that I was on over load most of the time!

Have a great week. I know that I will.


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1 comment:

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

What great pictures! They really give us a feel of what Cuba is like. As Americans who plan on cruising the end of 2012, we hope that soon we can legally go there. However, we'd love to visit Cuba before some of its magic is lost to hotels and such for the millions of new visitors from America.