May 29, 2009
The 16' micro cruiser catamaran 'Miss Cindy' and
I have just completed the last part of our seven month 4500 mile
voyage from the Sea of Cortez in the Pacific to Florida.
||Cuba is my last 'destination'. What I know about
Cuba I have sponged up over the years from the press and from
a few people I know who have been here. Friendly place, good
social care system, US embargo keeps it poor, sends doctors
to some countries, sends troops to some countries, cigars
Castro is dying, the US embargo is going away and
soon Americans will travel here in large numbers. I have come
here to see it before it changes.
We check in bright and early to Marina Cayo Largo.
I arrived with my computer printed felt pen enhanced
paper courtesy flag snapping pretty good in the wind.
||The assistant Port Capitan helps me tie up.
I have my Q flag flying and wait for clearance. A whole crowd
shows up. There is a guy with a cute dog that everyone pets.
A guy from the marina who explains the checkin process and
fees. There is Immigration and Customs and the 2nd woman Port
Capitan of the voyage.
The doctor arrives complete with white coat and
crushing handshake. He asks me a bunch of questions including
where I have been, how do I feel, have I been sick etc. He explains
I should come to the clinic after clearing in and pay my bill
for the medical clearance $CUC 25.
Next aboard comes the guy with Sniffy the drug dog
who runs around in the cabin but does not bother to check the
cockpit lockers or the foredeck lockers or the bow compartments.
Sniffy seemed to enjoy himself. Nice to be doing what you have
trained for I guess.
Next the assistant Port Capitan comes aboard complete
with hair net and shoe covers. He goes through everything in the
cabin, opening almost all the containers and moving stuff around.
Like the drug dog he does not look in the cockpit lockers etc.
Like the drug dog seems to enjoy himself. Nice to be doing what
he has been trained for I guess.
Next the agricultural and the veterinary inspectors
come aboard. The both have a look below but do not opening everything.
The agricultural inspector notices the box of fish hooks for the
PangaPaks and asks if I have some spare. He looks at my Florida
grapefruit from Cayman Brac. He uses a loupe and has the vet guy
have a look. I show him my eggs. I have options. I can keep them
provided they are cooked before I leave port, and provided any
trash from them is put in the special 'foreign trash' bin. I say
they are a little busted up from the trip here (some lightly squished)
please throw them out for me. I say I will get more here. They
are reluctant. Perhaps as it turns out, because it is hard to
get decent eggs here. The vet guy cannot find any parrots, snakes,
lizards, cats, dogs or elephants so finishes quickly. They too
seem happy to be doing what they are trained for. They give me
a piece of official paper each and say they will return around
5 pm for their $CUC 10. ok.
The AGI inspector left with a half dozen stainless
fish hooks. He thought they would be great for Mahi-Mahi. Immigration
does not come aboard but scampers off with my passport. A Customs
guy is eager to come aboard. He rifles through everything in the
main cabin as well and has the same shortcomings regarding searching
the rest of the boat and similar enthusiasm as Sniffy.
Next up to see the Port Capitan. Now would be a
good time to mention the high level of familiarity between the
men and women officals in Cuba. Hugs and cheek kisses were common
place, and, while I would not swear to it, I am pretty sure the
Port Capitan kissed somebody on the lips.
Anyway, we start into the paperwork. Clearance
from Cayman Brac and boat registration. Yes it is tiny but a good
sea boat. Now I am told to go get my $CUC . These are funny money
for tourists in Cuba. Originaly intended to not be used by Cubans
they are used by everyone now. However in tourist enclaves like
Cayo Largo it is only CUC not Pesos Cubano. Offical exchange rate
1.08 $US to 1 CUC. However, at the bank, which by the way had
surly tellers, I pay 1.15.
Back to the PC to pay my $CUC 10 entry fee, and
my $CUC 15 navigation permit which comes in cute postage type
stamps. Contrary to my initial concerns, I am pretty free to navigate
anywhere I want. I need to report in to PCs or Guardia units where
they exist but free to anchor anywhere else. I get a big fat form
with lots of entry and exit stamp space they will fill in at ports
as needed. I give them my estimated last port of call in Cuba,
Marina Hemmingway near Havana. I get a 30 day visa to stay. They
fill out big forms detailing the boat and it's equipment, motor,
dingy, etc etc etc. I sign my parts of those forms and she signs
her parts. She keeps it all. I will get it when I clear out of
Next over to customs, next door. A bunch more paperwork
there too. Three guys in the office, happy like Sniffy. While
there Immigration brings me my passport. It is not stamped for
entry into Cuba. Apparently like Israel, they don't stamp as some
countries take offense to you visiting Cuba or Israel. I ask for
a stamp. I explain I would like a record of my trip in my passport.
He goes and gets the stamp and practices on a piece of paper first,
then stamps me in. He seems happy to do something he does not
get to do very often. Customs fee is I think $CUC 15.
Up to the Marina office to pay for my tourist Visa
$CUC 15 and do my paperwork there. It will be around $CUC 7 per
day for moorage. Total entry cost is around $CUC 90 and takes about two hours.
Everybody except money changing staff was friendly and helpful.
The marina manager shows me around the facilities and takes me
to the store and introduces me. They have no public internet,
but I may use his computer to check mail and what not. It turns
out his computer is pretty heavily firewalled but works for hotmail.
Facilites are not too bad. The laundry was broken
(probably for quite a while). They lock up the bogs [toilets]
at night for some reason but security is never far away. Enough
other yachts to garner intel and other experience. Supplies and
provisions were pretty poor, but that is Cuba. The only fresh
vegetable was onion, no fresh fruit, some marginal bread and poor
eggs. Marina Cayo Largo had far better provisions and everything
else than the next two 'marinas' I stopped at in Cuba. But that
is official Cuba. There is also the omnipresent black market.
Virtually all Cubans participate in it. A limited selection of
fruit and veggies of medium quality was available there though
we did not partake.
I saw no children in my two days in the area. The
whole island is a tourist enclave. The staff work here for three
weeks then a week back at their home which is on the Isle of Pines
about 50 miles West. These are the Cuban residence areas.
One of the other cruisers lent me a guide for planning
my Cuba trip and I wanted to photocopy it. The Marina has a nice
photocopier and they were quite willing to but they could not
do the 70 pages I wanted because they did not have enough paper
Since Cayman Brac the mosquitoes had been a problem and they continued
to be in Cuba too. The start of the wet season. One morning when
I was out the roar and cloud of a mosquitoe fogger went up and
down the streets.
||I had not seen one of these since the 60's on
the praries when all us kids would ride in the cloud on our
bikes. I practice my covert photos with this side arm shot
of some police activity.
There was a bar/restaurant just off the dock. Beer
decent value at $CUC 1.10, mojitas pretty bad all round. No fresh
limes you see. Plus tiny in tacky plastic disposable glasses.
Cuba Libres without merrit as well. He only had one kind of beer,
Crystal. Food consisted of chicken legs/thighs with greasy fried
potatoes or a pizza. Supposedly one of the better pizzas to be
found in Cuba. On a scale of ten perhaps a four. Cheese or cheese
and ham. They did not have Cuban flags for sale anywhere there.
Some nice Cannucks from Kirin VI who are serious Cuban veterans
gave me a spare flag they had. About 12 x 18 inches and the whip
antenna took a beating till I addeded some string stays.
It is a big tour and charter base. There were scads
of big cats there doing day trips, and these really spindly trimarans.
Four big charter cats came in later in the day. They all had
Austrians on them. I spent my first evening enjoying the camradery
of one boats crew. I gave them my last two Nicaraguan cigars and
enjoyed lobster dinner and great conversations. There was a father
and son, a prison guard, a semiconductor engineer, and a money
guy, plus some more. I got to ask simple questions like 'what
is the difference between the German and Austrian languages' and
watch 10 minutes of passionate discussion. I got to tell my Arnold
Schwarzenegger joke. I have told that original joke perhaps a
couple of dozen times, but clearly this was the right audience.
Belly laughs from six out of eight and smiles from the other two.
They are proud of Arnold, they said he is Austrias second most
famous export politician.
||Nice guys and interesting discussions. They
had been in Cuba about two weeks and they likened it to a
planned economy Eastern block country in the 60's. You cannot
get anything except on the blackmarket and not a whole lot
there either. I asked you mean like East Germany? No no no,
East Germany was never this bad.
I clear with the Port Capitan after two nights here. Next port
will be Maria La Gorda (Fat Mary) about 200 miles or so West.
I expect to anchor at a few places along the way. My cruise plan
is to sail in the thin water of the cays and go North around the
isle of pines.
It is blowing about 20kts and I let the boat point into the
breeze on its bow bridals tied to the dock and hoist the sails
with a pretty good reef. One of the other yachteros mentions that
'the waves will be bigger outside the bay'. The Port Capitan has
come down to see me off, and Immigration, and Customs, and a couple
of yacht crews and a bunch of the Austrians. Most everyone but
Sniffy it seems. Per Mark Twain's advice I cast off the bowlines
and sail out of the marina and romp out into the bay.
The thin water is very challenging. There are shoals where there
is supposed to be six feet and sand where there is supposed to
be two. Three hurricanes in the past few years have made a joke
of my charts. I am a little concerned sailing downwind at four
to five knots not knowing what to expect ahead. We manage to drag
the rudder tips at one point where there was supposed to be six
feet. I am quickly deciding that perhaps the big blue would be
a little less of a problem. That decisions is helped by this tree
sticking out of in six feet of water.
We stop at the Cay of Women and tie to a scruffy pine and let
the tradewind hold us off the classic beach.
||The iguanas don't seem to mind us.
After a bit of rest I decide to head for the next likely nice
spot about 10 miles away.
To be continued...