Wow! Finally, Cuba again. It seems like it’s taken forever to get here.....wait, it has taken forever, with one delay after another.
The sail from Duncantown, in the Ragged Islands, was superb. The winds were as easterly as they get this time of year, about 95 - 100°. The heading for the initial 30 miles, to Cay Santo Domingo, a far out rocky outpost of the Bahamas, was 193°M, and from there to Puerto de Vita, 205°M, making the trip a beam reach. Winds were at 15, gusting a bit higher at times and the sea state was 6 - 8 feet and 5 seconds. Not leisurely, but not too bad either.
I covered the 65.7 nm in under 13 hours, coming in after dark because I’d slept in. In my defense, I was sleeping on my good ear and didn’t hear the 05:30 alarm. Aduana is no help in these situations, she likes to sleep in, so she doesn’t bother waking me.
I would have actually made better time had I left the day previous in 12 - 15 knots, as I would have sailed with main and genoa, rather than just genoa as I did.
Being a singlehander, I make very conservative decisions, and this was one of them. I could have motorsailed, but I was unable to purchase diesel in Duncantown and didn’t want to risk running out.
Entering a harbour you’ve only been in once before after dark isn’t something I suggest to my students, but it was what I was left with. The inlet at Puerto de Vita is wide and very deep, with a 10 second white light to the south side. As long as I could get in behind the headland, taking in the genoa would be simple, and then it was simply a matter of motoring in using the well marked channel.
Hmmmm - what’s THAT on the starboard side? Green marker? What the hell?
The channel may be well marked, but the chart doesn’t position you accurately on it. I actually would have gone round the wrong side of 3 of the first 5 markers following the chartplotter. Naturally, the depthsounder chooses these precious few moments to start acting up. A curse followed by a quiet prayer....it’s back, wait, it’s gone, now back again....must be a loose ground.
I proceeded slowly in the dark, watching the chartplotter and muttering at the depthsounder until I was close to where I’d gone aground here six years ago. The only difference was that I was now at low tide; last time, it was dead high tide and it took the next higher high tide 24 hours later to get free.
Anchor down, this is good till morning. I tried to raise the Guarda Frontera (Coast Guard) on the radio but had no luck. I was good with that, it meant I wouldn’t have to move before daylight, and I could honestly say, if asked, that I’d tried.
The next morning, I proceeded to the marina where I was directed to stand off by the last red marker to wait for the doctor. Dr. Roland came out to the boat, pronounced me healthy and able to proceed, and we motored in to the dock.
In the last few years, the clearance procedures have changed. It used to be you had 8 to a dozen people aboard, and often a drug sniffing dog. This time, it was only two, plus the veterinarian for Aduana, with the Agriculture guy showing up two days later. The paperwork is much simpler also, and less of it.
A valiant attempt to provide comprehensible English translations has been made - but, let me put it kindly, there is some room for improvement here. For example: “It is terminately forbidden to ships crews to dart wasted materials of vegetal origin....” That’s from the Ministery of Agriculture, Vegetal Sanity General Direction.
Still and all, it’s indicative of the changes happening in Cuba.
What hasn’t changed is their paranoia about portable electronics. My handheld GPS and VHF are now in a locker under seal. That will last until I leave here, when I can open the locker to use them and I doubt anyone will bother me about them again.
Interestingly enough, my Delorme Inreach Explorer satellite communicator didn’t bother them at all, even though it beeped with messages several times as we sat there. A sat phone however, that would also have been sealed.
Once the paperwork was finished, the usual short search of the boat was done. While I understand it’s required, it feels hugely intrusive and they focus on the most bizarre things.
In this case, the dockmaster, Alexis, was looking at my last box of nasal spray, and wondered if it would be suitable for children. Clearly, he has a child with a problem and was looking to help his child.
This is a constant problem in Cuba. They may have well trained doctors and nurses - but basics such as simple painkillers and other medicines are not available. Even splints - I’ve seen a splint made of a 2 x 4 and rags for a woman’s broken leg.
I try to help a little where I can - I had just given Dr. Roland a bottle of painkillers, acetaminophen and codeine, which I buy OTC in Canada. But the nasal spray is adult strength, not suitable for Alexis’ child, and if he administers it wrongly, which he’s likely to do, he’ll do more harm than good.
I explain that this product is adult strength, and Alexis takes it in good grace. I wish I could have helped somehow. I may try to explain how saline rinses can also help, but I’m not sure his English is going to be up to that. My non-existent Spanish certainly isn’t.
But, as in all things Cuban, we’ll figure it out together.
The search over, the two men depart. Now it’s time to go pay the piper. Entry to Cuba totals $70 CUC in all, or $79 US, and they’ll accept US dollars in payment. No es problemo.
Good news! They now have internet here. However, they are out of the cards authorizing access to the system and are not sure when they’ll get more.
No surprise there. The surprise in Cuba is when you come across efficiency in the system, a rare occurrence. Cubans know their system is screwed up, so Mary, the office manager, apologized for the inconvenience.
Interestingly enough, I’d seen the Etecsa van (Etecsa is Cuba’s internet provider) drive in that morning...(update - Mary will drive those of us wanting Internet access to the resort 15 km away tomorrow morning to use the facilities there, as Etecsa still has not come up with cards - it’s been a month apparently).
While chatting, I was impressed with Mary’s flawless English and said so. She told me the tourism agency she works for also provided her with training in French.
I spoke with her in French, and it too was excellent - probably better than mine, which is no surprise given her mother tongue is Spanish, a language with a lot of similarities.
This is typical of the marinas - other than the Guarda, those who deal closely with the boaters have very good language skills. With the Guarda, outside of a marina, you’re fortunate if they speak any English, but with good humour, we always get through.
Time for boat chores, starting with laundry. One of the staff will do my lavenderia, 10 kilos, for $12.50. Good deal, fresh clean bedding and clothes, salt free - just as I now am after a wonderfully long fresh water shower. After the paucity of water in the Bahamas, the sheer availability here inspires me to shower until I’m completely wrinkled.
The original plan this year had been to go to the south coast, but it’s now much too late in the year. The SE trades are ripping through here. The 150 nm to the eastern tip, Punta Maisi, which is east and southeast with no protection at all would be against those same winds and seas I just sailed through: 6 - 8 feet with a five second period. Gypsy Wind simply doesn’t have the kind of power to muscle through that, and I am not willing to suffer that kind of pain. Been there, done that - it wasn’t fun.
I actually did consider Bruce Van Sant’s method of using night lees and katabatic winds to sneak east, but his first dictum is not to move in a gradient wind over 15 knots. That settles that.
Also, the Cuban authorities would doubtless have issues with a foreign boat running along their coast in that manner at night. Since they must clear you when you leave an anchorage, returning your despacho so you can proceed, it would mean having the Guarda row out to the anchorage at midnight. I’m not seeing that as a viable plan.
As well, my recent bout with being ill in the Bahamas has me eager to get back to the land of instant colonoscopies and informed diagnoses. None of this waving a pH stick in a cup of piss as the nurse practitioner did in the Bahamas.
I’m feeling fine now, but I want some guy in a white coat and stethoscope, with a bunch of degrees and a pricey Mercedes, to look at me and tell me with complete assurance that I’m just fine. (See the receptionist on your way out please!)
So Aduana and I will work our way west, along the north coast, to Havana, exploring and photographing as we go. I have a much better camera with me this trip, and the results will be evident in the eventual video I’ll produce, highlighting the beauty of this amazing country and the great sailing, fabulous culture, fascinating town and cityscapes, and friendly, happy people.