Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cienfuegos to Trinidad - "No es Posible"...."pero"...

“No es posible” (that is not possible) is one of those generic phrases that everybody who spends any amount of time in Cuba learns to take in stride. In fact the answer to many questions often begins with “no es posible” but the experienced Cuba hand quickly learns that the objective is to maintain the dialog long enough to arrive at the word “Pero…” (but…). If you are dealing with familiar persons, then “pero…” arrives quickly, often in the same sentence as in “no es posible” to take the local bus, pero most drivers will not say anything if you just walk on and drop your money in the box.

When dealing with strangers however, there is a ritual verbal dance which must be performed that in some cases can last quite a long time. For example if one inquires where they can buy some of the excellent local bulk rum (bring your own jug), you might hear  “no es posible” because you must have a ration book which is only for the Cuban people. If an overpowering desire to buy a 1.5 liter pop bottle of silky smooth rum for $1, causes you challenge the response by saying something like, we have friends who bought it last week and it was very good, the conversation will likely come to an abrupt end. If however you say something like, ”yes it is difficult for everybody these days” accompanied by an appropriate sigh, you might get to “pero” or you might get another reason why it’s “no es posible” requiring another tangential non sequitur with the requisite sighs to keep the conversation flowing. Only when you demonstrate that you are sympathetic and more importantly safe to talk to will you get to “pero” I have a cousin who doesn’t drink but would be willing to part with his rum ration.

If a cruiser were to accept “no es posible” as gospel every time they heard it, they will never leave their boat and eventually they will leave the country completely frustrated, having missed much of what the country has to offer. And so it was armed with this deep knowledge of Cuban culture that Pat and I became acquainted with the harbourmaster in Casilda, a small fishing village next to the UNESCO heritage site of Trinidad in Sancti Spiritus Province.

It was shortly after 7:00PM and I was feeling pretty mellow after having downed a very large rum on the rocks in the cockpit of Threepenny Opera as she swung gently at anchor in Casilda harbour. Pat and I had arrived about 2 hours earlier after an extremely rough passage running down the coast from Cienfuegos in 6+ seas ahead of a tropical system. On several occasions I had considered turning around, but since we had already spent 10 days in Cienfuegos, we were itching to see something new. Furthermore the swells at the entrance to Cienfuegos would have been in the 10 foot range and bashing into them didn’t seem like a lot of fun, even though the worst would have only lasted about 15 minutes.

The warmth of the rum and the gentle rocking of the boat was lulling me to sleep when a deep voice reminiscent of Lorne Greene came over the VHF calling for the “moto valero” (motor sailer) in Casilda Harbour. Since Pat and I usually travel alone, and we run our engine often while traveling, we have come to recognize that a call to a “moto valero” usually meant it was for us. Dutifully I grabbed the cockpit mike and responded with my best “Buenos Tardes El Capitan eso es La Valero Threepenny Opera” and as I said it, I could hear the Homer Simpson voice in my head say ”Doh!!” as I realized the purpose of the call.

There is loose rule in Cuba that when there is a marina in the area a cruising boat is expected to use the marina rather than anchor in the open. Our 1999 cruising guide did not have many good things to say about the local Marina Cayo Blanco so we had made a conscious decision to avoid it and drop the hook near where the local fishermen anchored. As it turned out that was a bad decision on two counts, firstly the local authorities are sticklers for the rules (mentioned in the guide) and secondly we were too close to an unguarded shore where anybody could have swum out and climbed aboard. I was just about to smack my forehead with the palm of my hand when I heard the dreaded “no es posible” through the speaker informing me that anchoring was forbidden.

We were not in a good situation. It was about 20 minutes before sundown, we were in an unfamiliar and very shallow harbour with charts that did not show the channel to the marina and the captain was half asleep in a rum induced fog. We’ve all heard the expression “it was the alcohol talking”, but in this case the alcohol was not talking but rather yelling a belligerent “no es posible ir” (it is not possible to go) There were no non sequiturs uttered, no sympathetic sighs, just a ham fisted and likely grammatically incorrect invitation to face off!

I will never know if a more diplomatic approach could have changed the outcome but after 5 minutes of partisan “no es posibling” in increasingly louder tones, a hazy memory of uniformed soldiers holding billy clubs swam into my consciousness. I don’t know if Lorne Greene could have called in the cavalry but suddenly the rum fog lifted and instead of continuing to yell, I acquiesced with OK OK OK we’re [expletive deleted] moving. I’m not sure how much English the harbour master spoke, but it was either the OK or the VHF license revoking words that brought silence to the airwaves. Pat could tell that I was more than a little perturbed as she handed me my PFD in preparation for engine start.

By the time the engine was started and our anchor had been pulled it was about 10 minutes before sunset and the marina was at least 20 minutes away. As I pulled back into the main shipping channel, I ran the throttle as high as I dared to cover as much distance as possible in the failing light to get to the approach into the marina before it became too dark to see. As the sun dipped below the horizon I edged Threepenny Opera out of the main channel and pointed towards a marker about a mile away on the other side of a now invisible shoal of mud and sand. Earlier I had seen a catamaran exit the marina on approximately the same track so in the absence of any other information I attempted to create a reciprocal path.

Pat was maintaining a bow watch as the twilight deepened around us. By now the marker was only about ¼ mile ahead of us and we were gliding slowly with about 1 foot of water under our keel. Suddenly Pat pointed to port of the bow, and then she pointed to starboard and started yelling Stop! Stop! Stop! Instead of stopping, I found myself stepping away from the wheel to see what she was pointing at when Threepenny Opera, like an obedient pet stopped all by herself as the engine rattled and stalled. By the faint glow of sunset in the west and the light of a rising full moon, I saw the line of floats streaming away on either side of the boat. I had run into fish net and we were caught like a fly in a spider’s web.

It was too dark to go into the water and after several attempts at using our Spurrs line cutters to free ourselves it became obvious that we were not going anywhere. My greatest concern was that our transom pointed towards the prevailing wind which meant that a squall during the night could easily flood our cockpit and possibly drive water down the companionway into the salon below. Fortunately sinking was not a concern as we were almost sitting on the bottom anyway.

I was growing agitated as I contemplated going into the dark, and possibly crocodile infested water with a flashlight and a knife. Pat and I were discussing our options when I heard a small knocking on our hull. I looked up to see an old man and a teenaged boy, possibly his grandson standing in a small wooden rowboat. The old man was pushing down on the top of the net with his oar while the young boy reached into the water and used a rusty knife to saw away at the net. I stood and watched in stunned silence as I shone my flashlight into the water so the young man could see where he was cutting. After about 10 minutes of cutting, the old man retrieved his oar and made a shooing motion with his hands as Threepenny Opera began to swing into the breeze.

The next morning in dead calm conditions I went over the side and in short order I managed to cut about 20 pounds of fishing net free from our prop. With the remnants of the net piled on our swim step we pulled the hook and motored the short distance into the marina anchorage where we were to remain for the next 7 days as torrential rain from Tropical Storm Alberto drenched the area and caused widespread flooding.

In a country where “no es possible” is the order of the day it is the simple things that stand out. Two strangers who came out of the night to offer assistance without exchanging a single word and then gliding into the night when their efforts were successful is just not something that happens in more “civilized” parts of the world. I have never figured out who they were, but their act of kindness will always be remembered. And it is because of  this and other simple acts of kindness in the face of “no es possible” that Cuba will always have a special place in our hearts.

After our week of drenching in Trinidad, we headed off for the Jardin de la Reina. The adventure contines.

Have a great week, I know I will


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Monday, May 21, 2012

The South Coast Part 1 - Broke but not poor

You like to see Monkeys? came the question in halting English. Pat and I were in our dinghy returning from a wonderful snorkeling trip on the ocean side reefs south of Cayo Campos in the Archipelago de los Canerros when we spied a small battered wooden runabout with two men aboard. At first we dismissed them as local fishermen, but as we drew closer together I noticed that the runabout was equipped with an outboard motor.

In the Bahamas or in the US, it would have been perfectly normal to encounter a small boat equipped with an outboard motor, but this was Cuba and outboards are as rare as hen’s teeth. I became concerned as the runabout turned and the two men aboard began frantically waving their arms at us. For a brief moment a flash of fear spread across my chest as I played through scenarios of being mugged by pirates in a deserted anchorage, and then by equally disturbing images of being interrogated under white hot lights by over zealous Cuban Guarda Frontera officers protecting their shores from Imperialist invaders.

Meekly Pat and I waved back and I slowly headed our dinghy towards the approaching runabout. As they drew closer we saw that the two men aboard looked more like the Tom Hanks character in the movie Castaway then they did pirates or Guarda officers. Sporting ragged shorts that might have at one time been swimming trunks and bare chested, both were deeply tanned from the relentless sun. I let out a silent sigh of relief when I realized that they were smiling and the arm waving was merely a friendly gesture in the enthusiastic Cuban style.

After the Monkey question, we were asked if we spoke Spanish and when I replied “un poco” (a little), I was rewarded with a machine gun burst of Cuban Spanish that rapidly overloaded my fledgling linguistic neurons. Slowly with a lot of gesturing and requests to repeat from both sides, we established that the two men were the custodians of the monkeys on Cayo Campos and they had seen us enter the reef and anchor in the shallows inside the reef apron. Since they did not get a lot of visitors they came out to invite us to visit their compound and to see the monkeys. When they saw that no one was aboard, they decided to make the best use of their gas and check the fish traps that they had set on the reef apron, which was why I originally thought they were out hunting for us. From this awkward first meeting Pat and I were about have one of the most memorable experiences of our 6 month visit to Cuba.

Cayo Campos is a 4 mile by 1 mile lump of coral surrounded by reefs in the Archipelago de los Carnerros.  Located about 25 miles east of the southern tip of Isla de la Juventud or in English, The Isle of Youth, the Archipelago is a string of islands which extends for 75 miles to the east. Forming a boundary between the relatively shallow waters of the Golfo de Batabano and 1000+ fathoms of the Caribbean Sea, the archipelago is one of the best cruising grounds in all of Cuba. The water is crystal clear and the beaches and reefs are clean and unblemished by the garbage and floating detritus that seems to accompany civilization. Cruisers who are both adventurous and hardy come from all over the world to sample the pristine beauty of the region, and for those who are really in the know, they also come to visit the Cangrejero monkeys.

Originating in Asia, the monkeys of Cayo Campos are one of two troops found in the Archipelogo de los Carnneros. The other troop is a different species and is found on Cayo Cantillies a further 30 miles to the east. On Cayo Campos the troop is mostly wild and members are left to roam freely about the 4 square miles of scrub brush and mangroves. How the monkeys came to be on the island is a bit of a mystery. The official line is that they were cargo on a freighter that was shipwrecked in a storm and the original monkeys were survivors that made it to shore and settled. The survivors bred and subsequently there have been two generations of new additions and the population today is in the hundreds. As part of a nature preserve program in the Archipelago, the Cuban government has established a feeding station and placed a permanent staff of four on the island to attend to the well being of the troop.

The less official and highly speculative explanation is that the monkeys of Cayo Campos and the genetically different group on Cayo Cantillies, are there as part of a secret Cuban research program to create agents for biological warfare. We were offered little evidence to support either story, although we did find it surprising that in a country where the basic necessities for human life can be elusive, that the government would appoint custodians who were charged with a twice daily feeding the monkeys with specially formulated high nutrition pellets laced with anti-biotic and anti-parasitic drugs. In the end the how and why the monkeys are there, is far less important to the cruiser then the fact that they and especially their keepers are simply there.

The next morning Pat and I awoke after a restless sleep to gray skies and light rain showers. The anchorage was very rolly, which accounted for our less than perfect sleep and for a brief time we considered staying aboard and skipping the shore visit. In the end however I was not motivated to exit the reef in the surging conditions so we were stuck until the weather improved; consequently we decided to brave the short but likely very wet trip to shore. At the appointed hour of 8:30 we approached the rickety dock in front of the monkey keepers house in our dinghy and were greeted by our hosts for the day, Felix and Dariel.

The two of them were part of a normally four man team assigned to look after the monkeys, but one of their members was away on a course and the other was back home on Isla de la Juventud because of an abscessed tooth. There are two teams and each team is posted to the island for a period of 4 weeks and during their stay they are completely isolated except for visits from fishermen and a few passing cruisers. All supplies must be brought in when they begin their rotation which means a fairly simple and limited diet as there is no electricity except for a single 75 watt solar panel used to recharge a battery that powers a single 12 volt fluorescent light and a small AM radio. Given the very limited power supply, refrigeration on the island was out of the question. Dried foods such as beans and rice, supplemented by whatever could be coaxed out of the sea was the diet for the month.

After touring the facilities on the island, which consisted of a single 4 room building that housed the sleeping quarters, kitchen, common room and privy, Pat and I headed out for a walk on some of the trails that criss-crossed the island, with the hopes of observing the monkeys in the wild. As luck would have it however the gray skies unloaded and we turned back to the keepers house in a driving rain with no monkey sightings to report. Felix met us and invited us to stay for lunch and wait for the afternoon Monkey feeding where we would be certain to see at least a few members of the troop.

As we discussed the possibilities of lunch and monkey sightings several small fishing boats tied up to the dock. The fishermen, one of whom was Felix’s neighbour back on Isla de la Juventud, often used the monkey keeper’s dock as a place to tie up and rest when they were not tending to business. In a matter of minutes the invitation to lunch turned into an impromptu pot luck with Pat volunteering to make rice and beans and the fishing crews pitching in fish and lobster. To provide their contribution, the fishermen started to dig out a pair of battered wooden oars and prepare their dinghy for a trip out to the reef. Thinking that they were heading out to the reef to pull a trap and fetch a few lobsters I offered the use of our outboard equipped dinghy as it was easily ¾ of a mile each way.

In a flash, three burly guys in wet suits jumped into my dinghy and headed exactly in the opposite direction from the reef and disappeared around the corner. Hoping that I hadn’t committed some linguistic faux pas and inadvertently given my dinghy away, I looked at Felix who began to laugh when he saw the expression on my face. Apparently lobsters prefer shallow, calmer water and are found closer to shore rather than out on the more turbulent reef apron. The big males hide on the reef, but the smaller more tasty ones are nicely herded up in “apartamentos” (lobster shelters made up of scrap metal, old pallets and bits of plastic tarp) that the fishermen have thoughtfully built in the turtle grass beds on the sheltered side of the cayo. Felix said the three guys were just going to get the lobsters the easy way and that I needn’t worry about my dinghy.

About 20 minutes later the dinghy rounded the end of the cayo and I immediately noticed that it was riding very low in the water and the three amigos in wet suits were kneeling on the tubes with one leg dragging in the water. I had been having a problem with one of the inflation valves and I started to feel guilty that I had sent them off without providing a foot pump to keep the boat inflated. As they approached the dock however, I could see that the problem was not with the tubes but rather the fact that my dinghy was absolutely full to overflowing with lobster. I figured that in about 10 minutes the three guys had loaded about 300 lbs of lobsters into my little Walker Bay. When combined with their weight and the 100 lbs of outboard motor, my 500 lb capacity dinghy was loaded with over 1000lbs. It was a miracle that it still floated!

Lunch was magnificent, everything was hot, fresh and tasty, and despite the simple one dish, one utensil table settings, the company and camaraderie made it one of the best meals we have had in Cuba. We learned that Felix was a trained surgical nurse who had decided that working out doors was more to his liking. Dariel had a daughter who was in medical school and Duarte, the leader of the three amigos who caught lunch, owned his own boat and kept his 30 year old single cylinder Yanmar diesel running with “Cuban ingenuity” and a little prayer. We gained more insight into the lives of the average Cuban over lunch than we had in the previous 3 months.

After lunch, Felix suggested that I move Threepenny Opera closer to their dock so that we would have a more comfortable anchorage. When I replied that I would love to, but that I didn’t have any charts to maneuver across the sand bars, Felix flashed another of his dazzling smiles and offered to show us the way before the arrival of the monkeys for the afternoon feeding. Perhaps it was the contentedness of lunch or perhaps it was peering into the drizzle across to the rolling and pitching mast of Threepenny Opera, but either way I decided to take the plunge and move the boat rather than risk another sleepless night on the reef.

From the moment I said OK lets do it, Felix took charge. He deputized Duarte and in minutes Pat and I along with our new crew boarded our now freshly washed dinghy (somebody had rinsed out the lobster bits and weeds while we were having lunch) and motored back out to the Threepenny Opera. The closer we got to the boat, the more obvious it became that moving was the right decision, as a freshening breeze was now generating a pretty healthy 2-3 foot breaking chop on top of the swell over the reef. Once aboard I started the engine when Felix motioned to the wheel and suggested that he drive while he sent Duarte up to the bow to act as a lookout.

Looking across at the choppy water passing over the featureless white sand I agreed to let Felix drive indicating to Pat that she should stay very close by while I went forward to help Duarte with the anchor. It hadn’t occurred to me up to that point, but most Cuban’s haul their anchors by hand, so when I pressed the foot pedal to begin hauling our chain with the windlass Duarte pressed his thumb and first two fingers together and started to kiss his finger tips as he looked up to the sky. Once the anchor was up, Duarte with a big grin on his face pointed toward the direction we needed and Felix who had an even bigger grin on his face slipped the engine in gear and we began to move.

Threepenny Opera is equipped with a full suite of modern marine electronics. There is radar, chart plotter, AIS-B, redundant GPS, redundant electronic compasses, auto-pilot and multiple computer back-ups, but here were two guys, who only hours earlier were ready to row out to catch lunch, driving my boat with only their eyes and experience to guide them. Despite the chop and the drizzle, Duarte pointed and Felix steered us unerringly across the sand bars into a deep but protected anchorage about 100 meters from their dock. When it came time to drop the hook, Duarte genuflected, looked to the sky and pressed the down foot pedal for the windlass and Felix backed on the chain as if they had been on the boat for years. It was a humbling experience.

After the boat was secured we all piled back into the dinghy and headed for shore as we could hear Dariel  banging on a gong to call the monkeys to dinner. As we approached the dock we could see that what looked to me like small bushes from a distance were actually small groups of monkeys huddled close to the ground, stuffing their faces with the food pellets that were being distributed by Dariel. There were hundreds of monkeys, some old and solitary, others younger and many were females carrying their babies. It was an incredible sight for someone who had only ever seen monkeys in pens and cages at various zoos. After about 30 minutes of almost frenzied feeding, the monkeys sated with their evening meal, dispersed and headed back towards the trees.

With only a few tails still visible in the scrub bush, Pat and I prepared to leave and as we walked back towards the dinghy, Felix came running up with a gift for us. To fill his time during his month of the island, he would gather small shells and glue bits together to form sculptures and collages that he would then take back to Isla to sell to the few tourists that came to the area. The pieces that he had were not very large, but each would have been sold for about $2 a very large sum relative to the $15 per month he was paid by the government for his month of monkey keeping. We were touched, and as we rode back to Threepenny Opera in silence, I reflected on the amazing generosity of the people we had met. They had very little to give, yet they were perfectly willing to go out of their way to share what little they had with total strangers. Those who look at Cuba from afar or from behind the gates of a 5 star resort will often comment on how poor the country is, but from this cruisers perspective they may not have a lot of money, but in other ways they are richer than many of us in developed nations have been for a very long time.

We will leave here in the morning to continue our journey down the archipelago before heading north east across open ocean to the city of Cienfuegos. From there we will re supply and start on the last quarter of our circumnavigation of Cuba.

Have a great week, I know I will.
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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cabo San Antonio to Isla de la Juventud - Hurry up and wait!

Cuban Fuel Dock

Pan pan, Pan pan, Pan pan…. I thought I was hearing things at first so I continued to listen to my VHF when the call was repeated. Now, having heard it clearly, I waited for approximately 30 seconds to see if anybody responded. When it became apparent that nobody was answering, I called the vessel sending the Pan Pan and received an immediate response from a man who advised that he had just struck a reef and that he was taking on water. For somebody whose vessel was in danger of sinking the fellow was remarkably calm, certainly he was much calmer than me as I fumbled to find a pencil to copy down his position.

The Hinayana was a 15 meter aluminum hulled, French flagged sailing vessel with a family of 6 persons aboard. They had been sailing along just off the reef line after an overnight sail from Isla de la Juventud enroute to Havana when they struck something hard enough to puncture a hole in their hull. Once I plotted their position on my computer, I realized that although they were still out of sight from our present position in the Marina Los Morros at Cabo San Antonio, they were only about 3 miles away. Since the authorities were not answering his call I told him that I would leave the radio and go ashore to alert the local authorities in case a rescue effort needed to be mounted.

A frontal system was moving into the area and outside the wind was blowing a steady 25 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s and spray was breaking over the dock covering everything with a slippery layer of salt.  I walked sideways with my back to the wind over to the security guard on duty and tried to explain to him that there was a vessel in distress and that the coast guard needed to be informed. I was greeted with a huge smile and a cheery “no problem” in English but it didn’t take very long to figure out that he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Fortunately I knew that our dock mates were a French couple who spoke multiple languages so I banged on their coach roof and enlisted their help.

Lysiane who had been a UN NGO prior to her cruising life, and could glide effortlessly between a handful of languages, explained the situation to the security guy. As he began to comprehend what was happening his big “no problem” grin changed to an “I have no idea what to do” frown. His job normally is to sit on the dock and watch the boats so his total marine skill set revolved around being able to stay awake, endure the weather on the dock and not fall off his chair as he leaned it on the back legs. Anything outside of noting who came and went was outside of his job description. In Cuba when the limit of authority is reached, the rule is punt!

Security guy scampered off to get his superior who was the dock master. The dock master arrived a few minutes later and Lysiane repeated her explanation of the situation and the dock master’s expression changed from one of appropriate official concern to a deer in the headlights helplessness when she told him that the boat was in danger of sinking and they might have to mount a rescue. Rescue requires a boat and apparently the local authorities did not have one. Hinayana was on her own.

When I returned to the radio, the French skipper, although still calm was clearly getting very concerned about his predicament as he asked me what the shoreline was like if he had to beach his craft to prevent it from sinking. I provided my 2 cents worth about shoreline conditions based on the information I had on my electronic charts and added that he was very close so I gave him a heading and the coordinates to use to find his way to the marina entrance. I also told him that I had notified the authorities the best I could, but that there was very little that they could do. If they were truly in danger of sinking, I was ready to untie Threepenny Opera and go after them, so it was a huge sigh of relief when he told me that they were still taking on water but that they were managing to keep up with the flooding, so unless things changed they would be able to make it into the marina.

Relieved that I didn’t have to leave my cozy spot alongside to mount a one boat rescue mission, I went topside to inform the now growing crowd on the dock that the vessel was not going to sink, but was inbound to the marina. Los Morros Marina is actually a single stone jetty with about 50 yards of useable length. The north east side is totally exposed to the prevailing winds and waves and is useable only in flat clam conditions. In the current conditions it was awash with 2 meter waves and everybody standing on the dock was getting soaked.

The side we were on was relatively calm, but with our 42 footer and two other vessels already alongside, it was full. There were excited discussions in French, English and really fast Spanish on what could be done. Several options were shouted over the howling wind but quickly the decision was made to raft the in coming vessel to the marina’s charter catamaran. By now the distressed boat was coming around the point and was only about a mile away.

The wind had risen into the 30’s and was gusting over 40 knots so silent prayers were being said as the distressed boat approached the side of the catamaran. The mast was about 10 degrees off of vertical and it was difficult to tell if the angle was due to listing from the flooding, or heeling from the wind.  On deck two teenaged girls scampered about rigging dock lines and cast them over to the many hands that were lining the outboard hull of the catamaran, and with the gentlest of taps the skipper brought the boat to a stop alongside as if it were an everyday event.

A woman stuck her head out of the companionway to see what was happening and then quickly disappeared below for a few seconds before returning to throw a bucket of water overboard. Once we realized that she was bailing, some of us jumped aboard and formed and impromptu bucket brigade. Others remained on the catamaran and with the help of the two teenagers secured the boat against the now steady 40 knot winds.  In the meantime the skipper had jumped over the side with a mallet and with his t-shirt and a wooden plug sealed the hole from the outside.  Within 20 minutes of entering Marina Los Morros, the emergency was over and everything was secure.

It turned out that Jean-Yves, his wife Laurence and their 4 children were heading back to France to end a 4 year circumnavigation. Some of the calmness during the emergency was explained by Jean-Yves’ training as both a fighter pilot in the French Air Force and as an airline pilot with many thousands of hours in heavy transports, but much of the favorable outcome was due to the seamanship of the entire crew and the closeness with which they coordinated their efforts. They had survived two roll overs and a dismasting in the southern ocean, so a relatively small 2 inch hole in the hull was a pretty simple challenge.

It was only afterwards that I realized that the only yelling came from the shore side. Within a few hours they had dried the boat, restored the salon to normal and were hosting an impromptu cocktail reception aboard, complete with freshly cooked plantain chips. It was during the reception that we learned from one of the Cubans that likely what they had hit was the engine block from an uncharted wreck. Certainly the damage to their hull, which was a near perfectly round 2”hole punched through 8mm aluminum, was consistent with striking a pipe or other metallic protrusion from a wreck. If anybody is interested you can put an X at 21°56.215'N  084°56.527'W, the charts show a shoal at those coordinates but with otherwise sufficient water to permit a 6 foot draft to pass safely.

And so began our week of sitting in Los Morros Marina waiting out the weather. Because the marina is at the extreme western end of Cuba and the prevailing winds are mostly easterlies, almost every boat that passes through Cuban waters heading west ends up here. If the winds are very high then everybody who is trying to remain in Cuban waters gets stuck as it becomes an almost impossible to travel towards the east.. During the 6 days we were stuck here, the anchorage as well as the docks were filled to capacity as vessels came in and found that they couldn’t leave.  Ironically the beach on the leeward side of the cape was flat calm so Pat and I would walk the beach thinking that we could leave, only to return to the boat a find unacceptably high winds. For the first couple of days it was a novelty to go ashore after being chased away from land by the Guarda, but one can only take so many nature walks, or drink so many Mojitos in the marina bar.

The gray skies, high winds, spray on the docks took their toll on crew moral so when the weather broke there was a mass exodus into less than ideal conditions. Ordinarily Pat and I would have waited for a longer window, but it did not appear that there would be anything longer than 48 hours of acceptable conditions in the foreseeable future so on the morning of the 6th day, we cast off our lines and headed around the Cabo San Antonio bound for Isla de la Juventud.  The wind had dropped from the mid 20’s into the high teens and was forecast to drop even more as the day wore on. By 1:00PM the wind had dropped to below 10 knots and I started the engine for what was to become a 600 mile motor trip across the south coast of Cuba.

Have a great week, I know I will.

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