Ten years ago I was on my way to Mexico
with a young American from new York
State, who had never sailed before. His name was Tom and he became a real aid to me in the weeks that followed. We left Key West
in not the best of weather
and later that night I heard ominous clacking noises from the base of the rudder
. We changed course and ran for Marina Hemingway in Cuba and spent the next month exploring Havana and having the boat repaired. At first we tried to rush things but after a few days we relaxed and started to enjoy ourselves amongst the hospitable Cubans. There is much to see and experience. Tom found a young Canadian friend and off they went on bicycles to explore western Cuba for a week or so.
After retuning to the US I wrote an article for a yachting magazine and I would like to quote the last few paragraphs. Remember this is back in 2004.
Eventually the rudder
fitting returned and it appeared that a good job had been done by all involved. Once again Chino dived below the boat and an hour later we had a workable rudder. It felt good to be mobile again. But strong north east and easterly winds kept us prisoner for another week. Several other boats were also waiting for a break in the weather
and we would have little dock
meetings to try and interpret the plethora of information coming from several sources. The morning of the 10th of May saw the wind
almost still and an oily sea slapping against the breakwater. The forecast
was for more easterlies during the day going round to south east during the night. I decided to leave. But once again we were given a thourough search by the Customs
, including a drug sniffing dog, which Tom decided was totally untrained. Indeed the dog seemed far more interested in playing with us than looking for hidden drugs. Immigration and the Coast Guard had to do there bit as well and I signed more bits of paper than I care to remember. At last we were free to go, so at three in the afternoon we exited the channel and put up the main and a small blade jib
, as the forecast
predicted gusts above twenty knots or so.
Within an hour the wind
had risen considerably and we realized we were in for a very rough ride. Once into the Gulf Stream
the seas heaped up in a decidedly nasty fashion and every now and then an “anvil topped” wave would hit us, throwing the boat sideways. In the middle of the night a US Coast Guard cutter
approached us asking the usual questions. But all seemed to be in order and we passed on northwards to Key West
without hindrance. At five in the morning we dropped the anchor
where we had been three weeks earlier and collapsed into bed
for a well earned rest.
We awoke to find that the wind had backed to the east again and the harbour alive with early morning traffic. Once US Customs
and Immigration had been cleared we went to a small restaurant for a late breakfast. I idly scanned the newspaper, but was jolted by the news that the Cuban Government
had that very day made the US dollar invalid as a legal
currency in Cuba. Panic buying
had started in Havana and the “dollar shops” were being stripped of all goods.
Despite the two rough crossings and several drenchings, Tom has decided that life at sea has it’s good moments. He is currently planning to cross the Atlantic on a 36 foot sloop
and then venture on through Europe
Since getting back to the States I have been asked several times if I would ever return to Cuba, and the answer is probably no, or at least not until the Government
there lightens up on the endless petty beaurocracy that one has to deal with. Living under the constant gaze of security
guards is not my scene, and after a while even the grandeur of the colonial architecture cannot hide the fact that the bulk of the people are incredibly poor. On the other hand a three week sojourn in Marina Hemingway gives one only a small taste of this enormous island. With its population of eleven million, its four thousand miles of coastline and innumerable islands, Cuba needs months to explore properly. A German couple we met had spent five months circling the place and claimed they could have still done with more time.
While in Marina Hemingway we took part in an age old custom. Visiting yachts are prone to leaving their “mark” on the concrete dock
, and we did the same. Some of these are real works of art while others leave just the name of the boat and the dates they were there. One evening as I was wandering the docks reading these messages I came on one that summed up my thoughts on Cuba. I don’t know if the message was a play on a boat’s name or not, but it certainly encapsulated my feelings. Neatly written were the words, “Welcome to the Twilight Zone”.
The new relaxation that seems to be in the pipeline following Obama's recent announcement is probably sending shock waves through the Caribbean
and the Bahamas
. If Cuba is opened up to US tourists they will be badly affected. Being a "foreign flagged vessel" I have no problem visiting Cuba......so would I go there again? Certainly! Maybe later this year.