By Tony Bigras - Vancouver - British Columbia

The Conclusion...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

May 5, 2009

We head out before sunrise and use the remainder of the land breeze. Later it comes up nicely 15 to 20 from the East and we beat our way along. When we head offshore the waves get nasty but we get a 1 kt current bonus. When we tire of that, I tack inshore. We do this all day. I decide to tuck in beside the point by Honda Bay to catch a few hours kip and let the breeze drop before heading the 42 miles to Havana overnight. I hear the Port Capitan on the radio. I do not want to go into port to checkin and out. I anchor in 5' in the lee of the point just before dark.

An hour an a half later some boat is along side and wakes me up. Neither guy has a uniform but one does have a clipboard. I had heard from other yachts that if you anchor in a bay with La Guardia they will want you to anchor right in front of their barracks. The guy with the clipboard tells me I have to check in. I say I am not in the bay and do not want to check in and out. I just anchored along the shore for a small nap and want to set sail now for Havana. I have to check in. I ask him to check with his boss. His hand held radio does not work so I offer my radio. I have to check in. I object and he has an insistent ordering type voice. I say ok. He says it will be no problem. I say it is a problem for me, in two or three hours the breeze may have changed. I tow their skiff behind and follow the clipboard guys directions.

We get in front of the barracks and he wants me to anchor. I say we can anchor in closer it will take less time to travel there and back in the dinghy. He looks confused. It develops he thought I was one of those annoying yachts that argues about anchoring in front of the barracks. He did not realize I just wanted to leave. He is all apologetic about his poor English. I say it is my responsibility to be understood in Spanish, my fault for not being clear. No need to check in. Handshakes and off I go. There is no wind. We motor all night and arrive near Havana just after sunrise.

I call up the marina on VHF 16. It turns out they watch 7. Official Cuba however watches 16. I am told to pull in to the inspection pier. An hour and a half later and two drug Sniffys and their handlers have been aboard. One explosives Sniffy and it's handler and two Customs guys have rifled thru the cabin. The assistant PC has rifled thru the cabin. Another customs guy has been aboard looking around. They have taken my flares ashore in a plastic bag I have had to provide. There are two pages of paper work for that that I have signed. I always read them slowly as they repeatedly tell me to 'sign here'.

Another form is for equipment. How many GPS? - 3. They ask more detail. How many handheld GPS. 1 plus SPOT. They want to seal up my old garmin in a plastic bag I provide. After I put it in the bag and they wrap it with CUBA ADUANAS tape I demonstrate how I can operate it inside the bag. I suggest maybe we should take out the batteries. They agree. They don't care about SPOT. No display screen what could it do? Maybe in tracking mode I could walk near Cuban nuclear missle sites, oh hang on those were taken out in 62.... Guess they don't know about google earth.

During all those inspections except for the fish hooks nobody asked for anything that they saw. 'Miss Cindy' is really light and not much left aboard. Another yacht tells me when they were 'searched' at Hemmingway the PC asked if he could have the 8GB thumbdrive he found. Skip said no. ( Foreshawdowing Alert )

Already I do not like Hemmingway Marina. Also got 20 questions from Doctor. Felt like telling him to....

Marina Hemmingway

In Marina Hemmingway. I meet a Canadian boat that was in Providence Island about a week after me. They say that Agent Bush told them a 10' catamaran had come there the week before. Thats pretty hard to believe. Perhaps a 14' catamaran with two blonde Swedish girls but not a 10' catamaran, who would believe that.

Internet access in Cuba has been a problem. Woodenboat forums are blocked for example. Had not found any wireless to use my own laptop which is needed due to Java needed to update my website. I use the hotel on the next pier over. It is good for hotmail, and pricy and a hassle. I get a friendly 'where are you going?' from the same guard I walk by 4 times in 2 days. Money changing or hotel are the answers he expects and needs. He also inspects trucks and has them open up the back and the driver sign in and out. I take a Cuban taxi, one of those old cars. 10 cuban pesos 40 cents. It is a bit of a squish with all the people but nice to do once. I find the hotel with wireless and get 3 hours for $21 and pump up the web site.

It is May 6, one year to the day from the start of construction of 'Miss Cindy' and we have sailed about 4500 miles and arrived at all of our 'destinations'. Cuba is a disappointment but if you never taste sour you cannot fully appreciate the sweet.

On a regular taxi back I talk to the driver who has excellent English. He is 72 years old. His wife is a doctor and his two daughters are doctors. Between them they make $90 per month. The number one reason people become doctors in Cuba is that they get to travel to other countries like Venezuela were Cuba trades doctors for oil.

He is surprised I know all about the black market. He asks if I have been to Cuba before. I explain it is like any fully planned economy, they work poorly and need black markets to work at all. He agrees and sites the example of everyone getting a cigarette allocation even if they do not smoke. Naturally those are traded for other things they want. He does not expect change but would like a little bit. Better wages mostly. AND .... Interestingly.... he blames the big bad US embargo for Cubas woes.

Miss Cindy on a Car!

Another yacht introduces me to a Cuban they have known a while and we head out to his house to visit. He does nice custom fibreglas work and lots of other things. We have dinner and chat a bunch. He comes down to the Marina the next day to have a looksee at 'Miss Cindy'. As we approach he tells me he cannot go aboard. I know this from the nasty set of rules I was handed when I got to Hemmingway. When we are fifty feet away a security guard is moving quickly towards us. By the time we are 10 feet away and standing and talking he is on our shoulder.

A quick note about corruption in Cuba. Unlike Mexico where they extort money from the visitor, in Cuba they steal money from the state using the visitor.

For example if I wanted my pal to be able to come on the boat say to fix a whatsit, I could pay $45 for a 1 day permit. After he leaves I take my permit back and the guy I got it from tears up my copy and his copy and gives me $35. There is then no record of him coming aboard.
For example when I checked in at Cayo Largo I paid the PC $10 for country entry and $15 for navigation permit. I got stamps stuck on my nav permit but nothing on my entry permit. At the next marina the PC asked where are my stamps for my entry permit. I shrugged (a shrugg is good for a lot pretty well anywhere, by the way) He moved on. At the time I thought he was scamming me but it looks like the PC at Cayo Largo was perhaps scamming the system.

For example when I checked out of Cuba (see joyous experience below) I paid for two $5 exit stamps which were carefully papercliped to my receipt for exit and my receipt for marina fees by the ladies who wrote up the 3 copies of my despacho. They told me one was for xxx and one was for yyy forms. The PC carefully put both stamps in his shirt pocket. When I later asked for my copy of the marina fees receipt and my exit stamp receipt (both of which I had to sign ) I was told that they are kept by him. In fact I did not get one piece of paper back except for 1 copy of the despacho. Nice little fiddle. Destroy all the copies and recycle the stamps with the next yacht.

Checkout time. The assistant PC comes aboard and searches thru everything. The Customs guy comes thru and rifles thru everything. We get the last Cuban search party off the boat around 1215 and the Port Capitan gives us our despacho a few minutes later. There are a few more pleasantries. The PC asks how I liked Cuba. I say I like the Cuban people, and the flavour of Havana, but I did not like the restrictions on my liberty or all the searches and survailance. A minute later the customs guy has come back and asks the same question. Then it is the immigration guys turn. As I am about to cast off when another fellow in white with a lot of shoulder braid shows up and asks the same question. The PC sees the pained look on my face and smiles and tells the guy.
He must be a supervisor because he does not understand. He explains that in Cuba everyone has a home, is fed, free education and health care... as he is saying this is crosses my mind that we have places in Canada with all of that too. They even pay you way below what your labour is worth when you work, just like Cuba. And just like Cuba everyone who comes to visit is searched when they arrive and when they leave. And just like Cuba you cannot leave. We call them prisons. I keep that thought to myself.

Miss Cindy

He asks, ignoring my flag, my passport and the dozen references on the mound of paperwork, 'Are you an American'? I say, No I am Canadian, but like Americans I value my liberty. He asks, incredibly, would I come back to Cuba? I say, Yes when the government has changed. Puzzled look.

I cast off and motor to the sea buoy at the entrance to the marina then set the sails and strike the Cuban courtesy flag. Our course to Key West is due North but I peel off a couple of points West for the extra knot of speed on a reach. Two hours and fifteen minutes later we are in international waters and I head up and set course for the land of the free.

Later in Florida I cannot find my little thumbdrive MP3 player. Must have fallen off its ledge into someone's pocket during that last search. The only thing stolen the whole trip. 'Saudade' reports on their blog that when they left Cuba about a week later during the final inspections their digital camera containing all their Cuba photos was stolen as well.
Without the Embargo Cuba would have been a bigger basket case. All the sympathetic foreign aid and tourists would not have happened. Cuba would not have been able to use the Embargo as an excuse with it's own people. The Castros will go away, the Embargo will fade away and Cuba will not change. Cuba will not change until Cubans want it to.
While I was at Marina Cayo Largo this young lady was doing some modeling on the docks. She was attractive for sure but she had a number of behaviours that were not so pleasent.

While I was at Marina Cayo Largo this young lady was doing some modeling on the docks.

The Canadian band 'The Northern Pikes' has a song called 'She ain't pretty she just looks that way'. Cuba ain't pretty.

The Gulf Stream awaits. Forecast is for F3 in the day and F1 at night, all East. I have a nice chat with 'Miss Cindy' about our strategy for the Gulf Stream. Plan is to head North and let the stream do the 30 miles we need to the East. We will pick up the stream in another 10 miles or so. If the wind stays around 10 kts it should be fairly pleasant. We get F2-3 in the day and F3-4 at night, all Easterly.

Our good fortune holds. Red is able to steer for the next 80 miles except for 1 hour when I reef us to a single sail to windward. We get 15-18kts during the night but it stays Easterly. Lots of motion but spray on the cabin top only a couple of times. The Moon is a stand up guy, high beams on all night long. Shipping is light too. I get plenty of snooze time in 20 minute chunks. I speak to a carnival cruise ship when we are 2 miles off her port bow. She can see us nicely on her RADAR and says she will be sure to keep clear! As the sun comes up we make our way toward the entrance to the ship canal off Key West. By 0830 we are in the area and have crossed the 95 miles from Havana in 20 hours. We skip the canal and head thru the fishing boats and shoals to the West.
The Southern Gulf of Mexico reminds me of the Northern Sea of Cortez. Thin water , milty green colour, lots of wildlife, little wind, land and sea breezes with calms.

A couple of days later we are off Naples with about 30 miles to Bimini Basin where we are headed. We motor for 10 miles in the morning calm. We have enough fuel for 10 more so a little sailing will be required. A light sea breeze fills in from the West and we skip the channel to save a couple of miles. We sail between shoals in 6 feet of water towards the big bridge. We continue sailing right between the piers and start going from green marker to green marker.

Miss Cindy

There is lots of power boat traffic. We now are close enough to motor in but the breeze is favourable so we sail on up the narrow channels between the manatee refuges. As we approach the final turn we furl up the sails and motor slowly in. There are expensive waterfront homes all around. Pretty well all of them have electric boat lifts with yachts on them. The houses that don't have one have two or three. We chat with the only cruising boat in the basin and head in to the dinghy pier by Four Freedoms park. We tie up and I stow the motor and lockup. I chat with Eddy the fisherman. Nice accent. He is looking for a mango snapper.

The park has a big modern playground and moms and kids abound. I head to the restrooms. Wow, back in the USA - air conditioned, clean, spacious, toilet seats, toilet paper, soap, running water, mirrors, towels and a hot air drier. Haven't seen most of this for 7 months. Within 3 blocks I can find all kinds of stuff. I get some chain at the hardware store to lockup the dinghy, food including fruit ( haven't seen that since the Cayman Islands ), cold bee and ice cream etc..

I call up customs. The clear me on the phone and set and appointment for a face to face for paperwork and fees. Next day ask directions for the bus terminal - friendly town. Off to the airport for customs and immigration. I get my $19 money order upstairs for clearance fees and trade in my $201,000 Columbian for a little less in US $.

Customs guy has that US customs gruffness. Paperwork is all in order. My passport is not stamped. I ask for a stamp. No. I ask again saying I would like it as a record of my trip. No! I say please. No!!!. He has the pouty/angry look of the 7 year old ferry boat capitan in Saballos Nicaragua. I have a half hour before the next bus so I chat with a Canadian couple who have just brought their boat here from Mexico and are doing paperwork too. About 10 minutes later the customs guy waves me over, he has got permission to stamp my passport and does so right beside my Cuba exit stamp. Cool.

Back to the boat and start work on fishing up the swallowed mast wedges. Go ashore to get some tools. You can get tools here! Ask for recommendations for a local watering hole. Head over to 'Bikini Joes'. Small U shaped bar. It's a bit dark and the only food is the daily special in the chafing dishes - beef tacos today. They have a pretty good cross section of clients. Barkeep asks me what I want. A dark beer I think. She is wearing a bikini, a tan and a smile. Welcome to Florida.

The End...'ll be reading for hours

Here's another of my favs:



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