Our Thoughts On Cruising Cuba

This is a difficult post to write as we have mixed feelings but it is based on our 7 weeks there in February and March 2017. Rob and I also have slightly differing opinions as he became quite fed up with being there in the end. He didn’t enjoy the way tourists were ripped off by many people, especially in Havana and Cayo Campos. The restrictions on movement and lack of food and Internet access were other issues, as was the shallow water for our deep draft.

For me, just being able to see Cuba was great. A real experience and the first communist country I’ve been to. I learned a lot about the way people live, not all good but some of the places we visited were remote and lovely. It was also 100% safe and I never worried about anything to do with security. People were friendly and helpful and many really appreciated anything you could give them, without asking for it in advance.

You are very much on your own though. No help, rarely any other vessels around and no response on the radio. You need to be self-sufficient for repairs and parts. Not being able to connect to the Internet for nearly all the time we were there, meant relying on our SSB radio for weather information and we were glad we subscribed to Chris Parker’s net. We could only let our friends and family know we had arrived and were safe via a friend, Carla, again via SSB and she posted a Facebook message for us. Cayo Largo had wifi vouchers and reasonable connectivity but we didn’t get onto the Internet anywhere else.

Arriving was fine although the Coastguard doesn’t have a radio or boat. In Los Morros, the officials came to the boat and were courteous and efficient. The difficulty was equipment usually and lack of repairs and spare parts. The credit card machine no longer worked and the local hotel couldn’t change dollars either, so we had to pay the 235 dollars entrance in cash. We then needed to go to the nearby canal due to incoming bad weather and to do that, despite it being 5 miles away, you need to be cleared out of Los Morros for the Canal and return to Los Morros to clear in and then out to the next place, Cayo Largo in our case. This all takes time but it was only a 10 minute stamping exercise once we got back there.

Going on to Cayo Largo was great. Although it was our next official port, the one in Maria Gorda being closed now, it didn’t matter how long we took. We stopped at several anchorages along the way, enjoyed 4 nights at Cayo Campos for another bad weather spell and had some good sailing. Puerto Frances on Isla De Juventud was stunning and deep! The anchorages can be very shallow, especially with our 7 foot draft and we were forced to anchor some way off the islands at times. We found the anchorage in Cayo Largo the worst, with several boats going aground there. We met lots of fishermen, especially in the Canal near Los Morros as they stopped by every day offering fish and lobster for a beer or two. Taxi drivers outside Havana were also nice, clearly touched if you gave them even a small tip and proud to tell us about the area.

Food was another issue. You do need to take absolutely everything you need with you. Some of the marina water isn’t potable either. All the food, apart from lobsters traded for next to nothing, was for the hotels. We could pay 20 dollars for a pretty basic meal but couldn’t buy anything else until we got to Cayo Largo. There the options were eggs, very poor vegetables which we didn’t buy, some fluffy white bread and not much else. In Nueva Gerona we found a farmer’s market stocking tiny onions, little peppers and 2 pineapples, which we bought. A so-called supermarket had thousands of tins of fruit, rum but not much else. I craved salad, fruit and fresh vegetables.

Havana was well worth the flights and expensive taxis but sad to see how dilapidated the buildings are. In the countryside there must be produce but no fuel to transport it. Horses and carts are everywhere instead but aren’t enough to move food around the big country. We heard that people can’t get basic things they need, sometimes waiting 6 months to obtain a hammer. Naturally the Casa Particulars where you can stay for 30 dollars a night, can be run down but you will get a reasonable breakfast. We were found a modern, clean and quiet place with hosts who became friends. Jorge Duany in Vedado was brilliant. Restaurants in Havana have OK food mostly, some are really good but prices are high. The Paladares, small restaurants in homes are better value but likely to serve rice, beans and chicken. Beef is very rare and used as a commodity to get better medical treatment and schooling instead. Communism hasn’t brought a level playing field to many people as money is still used to get a better chance in life.

Outside all the government buildings were statues of Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and paintings of Che Guevara. Almost 60 years on, the revolution is still prominent. The museums were interesting, if a little biased. We did pay out for a quick trip in a 1954 American car but haggle on prices as tourism is making Cuba very expensive and you soon get the feeling they are out to rip you off.

Nueva Gerona was in a better state of repair than Havana and we spent a nice day wandering around. The coffee shops and food stalls are good value. As it took so long to get from Los Morros to Cayo Largo we didn’t get any further east as I would have liked to have visited Cienfuegos, Trinidad and the Jardines.

Compared to Guatemala, we noticed how few children there were. One man told us he and his wife decided not to have any as they couldn’t guarantee getting milk and basics they would need. We were also shocked at the way trained Doctors give up medicine to buy taxis as they only earn 40 CUC (virtually 40 dollars) a month and can get that in a day driving a taxi.

Everywhere things need fixing and a huge amount of investment. The toilets can be utterly dire, even in good restaurants. Fresh drinking water is delivered in trucks in parts of Havana to crumbling buildings. Despite all this, people seem happy. In the evenings groups sit outside in the streets, listening to music, which is everywhere and enjoying themselves.

This year they have 4 times the number of tourists than last year and a huge increase in Americans. Havana was very busy with cruise ship passengers arriving in their droves. The habit of giving big tips is eagerly accepted by the Cubans but they wouldn’t accept one from us. Clearly the anti-American stance taught in schools runs deep and just saying you are British or Canadian will bring the prices down. The Marina Hemingway adds a 10% tip to the bill and their staff asks for a tip on top of that for just processing the credit card payment! We Brits are just not so used to this tipping thing unfortunately.

Would we go back there? Definitely ‘No’ for Rob but I’d cruise the south coast again for the solitude and stunning anchorages. The north coast is more restricted in terms of bays you can enter as the Coastguard will chase you out. We went straight from Los Morros to Hemingway overnight.

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A Week Cruising The ICW On Our ‘Canal Boat’

Having filled up with water and washed 7 weeks of laundry in the excellent front loading machines with hot water, we were all set to head north on the ICW to St Augustine for Easter. There was a strong current running through the marina but we were soon motoring towards the first of 16 opening bridges we went through that same day. Lots of radio work and timing to arrive at the bridge just before opening time. I wrote a list of their names and times and mileage between them to make it a little easier but it was busy with no time to relax and much more tiring than sailing offshore!

Small Waterside Home

Small Waterside Home

The reward was a view of the amazing palaces along the waterfront, millions of dollars worth of homes, all immaculate and huge. The depths were fine for our 7 foot draft and the ICW is well marked with green to the starboard as we go north and red to port. What we are used to in the UK at last. All the red markers are pointed, green are flat but all ICW markers have a little yellow sticker above the number so you can be sure you are on the ICW and not gone down some side shoot.

Opening Just For Us

Opening Just For Us

We anchored the first night in Lantana with a couple of feet under the keel and had a peaceful sleep. Next morning we continued to West Palm Beach and were happy to be called up by our friends on ‘Island Kea’, last seen in Trinidad in 2014 but it was a brief reunion as they headed off to the Bahamas shortly afterwards. Hopefully we will meet up later in the summer. ‘Rosa Fascia’ also decided to get to Brunswick as their deadline was looming and they went outside for a 2 night passage whilst we listened to the wind howling happily anchored in Lake Worth.

Small Beach Areas Along The ICW

Small Beach Areas Along The ICW

Monday morning at 0730 we went to the Riviera Beach marina to leave the dinghy, for free, then walked just 5 minutes to the Customs Office. They opened at 0800 and already had several cruisers needing paperwork completing. Office Morris was excellent and gave us our much needed cruising permit without any issues so from then on we just had to telephone in at each port to give our arrival time and permit number, then again when leaving. She had a long queue by 0900, at least 20 people, so it pays to get in early.

Carrying on through less built up countryside, we saw dolphins every day, lots of bird life and lovely white sand beaches. Manatees frolic about apparently but we’ve only seen one diving down so far. It is very friendly as people wave as we go by and the bridge tenders are polite and welcoming too. People use this great facility a lot, canoeing, sailing and camping. Everything is so clean and well organised with picnic tables, bins and places to hire equipment.

Still Managing To Sail

Still Managing To Sail

It was a nice change to be on our new ‘canal boat’, easy to move around, cook, wash up and potter around. Must be like this on a catamaran. Along the way our plotter chip ran out!! The depths and details disappeared but fortunately we still had our iPads. After a few minutes I vaguely recalled buying another chip in the UK a couple of years ago and found it in the nav desk. Success. It is for the USA and we were back in business. Having the green line, or where we will end up line, is important in the narrow confines of some of the ICW. On longer open stretches we put out a reefed genoa to add a knot to our speed and spare the engine a little. We are putting hours on the engine at the moment but is great not to have to worry about the waves and weather.

Port Marker Going North Complete With Bird's Nest

Port Marker Going North Complete With Bird’s Nest

What we do need to worry about it shoaling though. We touched bottom at the Jupiter Inlet near the Federal Highway bridge but it is mostly sand and mud on the ICW thankfully. A lot of the areas just off the ICW are very shallow, too shallow for us to anchor in, so we have to check where we can stop for the night well in advance. Hobe Sound was another lovely place to stop and we had half a metre underneath us!

We next stopped at Vero Beach Marina, on a 16 dollar mooring buoy for another peaceful night. They have a really pretty location, a marina, fuel, air-conditioned ‘Captain’s Lounge’, laundry etc. Whilst on the ICW it is easy to forget the ocean is often less than half a mile away and many places have camping sites and lots of amenities for enjoying nature. Following night was another calm anchorage just off the ICW south of Cape Canaveral at Georgiana.

Vero Beach Marina

Vero Beach Marina

Moving on again we reached New Smyrna Beach south of the Ponce Inlet and although smack bang in the middle of the channel, we ran gently aground on the sand and couldn’t get off. It was an hour plus off approaching low tide as well, so we had to ring TowboatUS, thankful we had joined them back in March before we arrived in the US. The fee is worth every penny as they have a saying here. ‘There are 2 types of boat on the ICW; those aground and those about to go aground’.

Billy duly arrived just as we started to float off but we still didn’t know how to get through the channel. We went aground again, so he had to pull us off and then through the bridge which opened for us. We decided to book into the Inlet Harbour Marina for a night as the next stretch where we might have anchored also had shoals and Billy thought it best not to go that way. He took us via the notorious inlet and sure enough, right over the charted shoals which have moved. Local knowledge is essential, so we telephone different Towboats offices to check on the current situation as we travel.

Our First Tow!

Our First Tow!

The marina was badly damaged in Hurricane Matthew but we berthed on the long dock, topped up the water and fuel and had a nice pizza in a local restaurant, 10 minutes walk away. It cost 1.75 dollars a foot, much less than the 3 dollars a foot in Fort Lauderdale. Diesel was 71 pence a litre.

As the frequency of bridges has dropped and most are now 65 foot clearance at high tide, fixed bridges, we can make good time. They still look very close but we measured our air draft carefully and know it is just under 60 foot. The markers at the bridges confirm the clearance and we even sail through them.

Looks Closer Than It Is - Hopefully!

Looks Closer Than It Is – Hopefully!

Continuing on we passed by more shoaled areas but using the Garmin iPad chart with Active Captain comments has been a godsend. These notes from other cruisers are much more up to date and point out which way to go to avoid the shallows. We managed to navigate within 7 miles of St Augustine, doing 48 miles in the day but ran slowly aground just as we approached a small anchorage at Butler Beach. Backing off, we finally anchored close to the ICW channel but had a good night, swinging with the tide but staying afloat.

So yesterday we just pottered up the river to St Augustine. The Municipal Marina has moorings and a nice marina, good showers, a launderette, launch service, alongside pump out and is right in the centre of town by the famous Bridge of Lions. You can download a photo of the mooring fields for the numbering and to avoid the shoals just east of them. They cost 25 dollars a night. Getting there early meant we could explore and get some food at the huge Publix Supermarket a long walk away over the second bridge. You can dinghy to the public dock there but we got a taxi back for 12 dollars. It is good to have such choice again!

Today we will do the tourist bit, visit a few museums, watch the Easter Parade this afternoon and enjoy the beautiful lanes. It really is a lovely city and I’m glad to have a day off motoring to explore. Happy Easter everyone!

Posted in Domestic Info, Draft 2.1 metre/7 foot, Friends & Family, ICW, Tourism, USA, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally We Make It To The USA

Once the weather looked good enough with no north in the wind over the north flowing Gulf Stream, I informed the dockmaster so the meter could be read and the bill prepared. They added a 10% tip which I had taken off the bill, as we prefer to tip people for doing a good job and all we got in the way of service in the marina was for our lines to be taken when we arrived and we expect any marina to do that as a minimum. The lady who took our credit card payment also asked for a tip but I explained we didn’t have any cash as we were leaving and you don’t need Cuban money anywhere else.

I asked if we could move to the Customs dock before sunset and wait there for clearance at about 0300 but it is not permitted and we were forced to go there in the dark. The main issue was not to run into the buoys marking off the swimming area. It didn’t take long to check the paperwork, issue the zarpe for anywhere in the USA and board the boat again to make sure we weren’t harbouring any Cubans.

Crossing The Gulf Stream In Good Weather

Crossing The Gulf Stream In Good Weather

The forecast was for S/SE winds of not more than 15 knots, a brief period with E winds and we hoped to ride the Gulf Stream for a while to increase our speed and make Fort Lauderdale by the late afternoon the following day. Jack took ‘Rosa Fascia’ to Bimini, leaving a few hours before us so he had time to clear his crew off the boat and clear out himself, making the 50 mile passage to Fort Lauderdale single-handed.

Leaving Marina Hemingway is not an issue with the lit channel markers and our inbound track on the Navionics Chart on both our iPads. These are more accurate than our helm plotter at times and easy to navigate whilst sitting snugly under the sprayhood on passages. The passage was a very good one making 100 miles in the first 12 hours and arriving in Fort Lauderdale for the 1000 bridge, our first requested opening. All the traffic had to be stopped whilst just Beyzano sauntered through the gap once the 2 sides had lifted up. The Florida bridge tenders listen to VHF 09 and open at differing times, the first one in Fort Lauderdale being at 00 and 30 past the hour. We saw a lot of traffic during our voyage, including a Coastguard plane that circled and checked us out. The radio was busy again, including our friends on ‘Freya’ who heard us asking the Coastguard about a storm weather warning given out on the radio. Not good to hear ‘all vessels should seek harbour immediately’ when you are miles offshore but it was for another area luckily.

Entering The Inlet At Fort Lauderdale

Entering The Inlet At Fort Lauderdale

I have to admit I felt relieved that we were in US waters. In Cuba you are very much on your own, unlikely to get any response to a call for help as nobody seemed to have a VHF radio. No weather forecasts were transmitted and we rarely heard any traffic. Once near the USA we knew that help would be on hand if required, quite comforting.

We had 2 reefs in our mainsail and 2 in the genoa overnight and still saw 10 knots speed over the ground. There were a few choppy areas but no squalls and it was enjoyable and fast. If you time it right weather wise, crossing the mighty Gulf Stream shouldn’t pose any issues. Miami was passed at night, a huge orange glow over the city, followed by a coastline of high-rise buildings until we saw the sea buoy off Fort Launderdale and the red and green markers of the channel. We headed in, called up the bridge and then a couple of marinas. That weekend the beach hosted a huge event and it was busy in town. Bahia Mar Marina could give us 2 nights so we opted for there at an astronomical cost of 3 dollars a foot per night, the most we have ever paid. A dockhand took our lines and we were in amongst the superyachts in a slip much bigger than we needed, for once but there was still only 0.4 metres under us at low water. The ICW had good depths and we hope that continues so we can motor north when the weather isn’t good outside.

Our First Bridge Opening On Request Just For Us!

Our First Bridge Opening On Request Just For Us!

Next we tried to call the Customs and Border Protection office to report our arrival to no avail. The automated message said to wait for an operator but nothing happened so after 5 attempts the marina office told me just to go to the Customs office instead. So we got a taxi there for 16 dollars only to find that they wouldn’t process us without an arrival number from the telephone only officer. So I continued to try on their phone and eventually got through. Then it was a quick process for both Immigration and Customs with the latter costing 56 dollars. As we were leaving the county within 48 hours, I didn’t need to leave our registration papers with them to collect when we left and that saved another taxi fare. We do need to clear in at every port though, paying loads of money each time, which makes it even worse than Cuba. If we can get a ‘decal’ for the year it will be cheaper and easier but they only post those and we are on the move. If we can, we will stay somewhere a few days to enable FedEx to get the paperwork to us as it will be cheaper in the long run.

Plenty Of Space On The Dock This Time

Plenty Of Space On The Dock This Time

The following day we got a new SIM for our phone and a data chip for the iPad, although the marina WiFi is really good and it is great to be in touch again, skyping the kids with video for the first time in months. We also did a big supermarket shop after 8 week and 2 days without being able to buy anything more than eggs, dodgy bread, a few tiny onions, crisps, rum, biscuits and a jar of little pickled onions. It was amazing! We saw a superyacht crew stocking up with 12 trolleys, 1 only containing fresh flowers. They told us they would have to do another similar shop in the afternoon. Finally we used 4 washing machines and 3 dryers at the marina to do the laundry, at a cost of 2 dollars per machine.

We walked to the beach over the pedestrian bridge direct from the hotel and saw the event being set up. Countless food and drink stalls, another selling Stetsons and boots, plus a few on the theme, marine conservation. The music is Country and Western on one stage with other styles on another. Should be a good weekend and a shame we don’t have time to stay for it.

Stage All Set For The Big Party On The Beach

Stage All Set For The Big Party On The Beach

We found out on Facebook that our friends on ‘Moondancer’, Steve and Linda, were anchored not far away and they came over for coffee this morning. Great to see them again after almost a year and catch up on their sailing season. Jack is ‘buddy’ boating with us again on ‘Rosa Fascia’, happily admitting that he has been glad to follow us the last 3 weeks so he doesn’t have to make any decisions! Today we head north again as we want to make progress towards the Chesapeake and visit a couple of towns along the way. In any case, our cruising permit states we need to be out of the county by 1441, so we need to leave.

Posted in Costs, Cuba, Domestic Info, Draft 2.1 metre/7 foot, Friends & Family, USA, Weather | Leave a comment

Three Nights In Marina Hemingway, Havana

So that helping with the decision on destination we continued to check weather for Havana. Finally, with the very latest forecast we opted to leave Los Morros on Thursday 30th March, with south of east winds allowing us to travel north and east to Hemingway but once anchored off the marina the winds blew up to 35 knots with nasty waves and Rob and I decided to wait for the following day. Customs were more than happy for us to clear out on the Thursday and return to the peace of the Canal De Los Barcos to leave first light on the Friday. a wise move as we had nothing over 20 knots, southerly winds and a great 25 hour trip throughout the 165 miles. To avoid a counter current we kept within 2 miles of the reef, the land keeping the waves right down. Starting with 2 reefs in the main, we shook them out as the wind dropped and had a lovely sail until the wind died completely and we motored through the night. We passed a few bays that would have been ideal to anchor in but for the fact that the Guarda don’t allow it. Not sure why but the only bay they are remotely happy for cruising boats to enter unless an emergency, is Bahia Honda.

One Of Four Canals At Marina Hemingway

One Of Four Canals At Marina Hemingway

We arrived in flat calm water at the sea buoy just outside Marina Hemingway, got our lines and fenders ready and motored in through the red and green markers. After turning to port there is a long dock onto which the gentle southerly breeze pushed us. Clearance was rapid but several officials boarded the boat to check it out and asked about food. Having been in Cuba for over 6 weeks we could certainly say we didn’t have any left!

They allocated us a berth in Canal 1 (of 4), which is the most northerly section. The canals are long and about 80 feet wide, so we were able to turn ‘Beyzano’ around so we could dock port side to and not have to move the fenders again. Several dockhands helped with our lines and there is 220v electricity and water, all charged. Our marina costs will be 1CUC per foot per night, so roughly 38 pounds a night and we were there just 3 nights, leaving for Florida before dawn on Tuesday.

An American Rally Heading For Havana On PR Duties

An American Rally Heading For Havana On PR Duties

We explored the marina, found several small shops and restaurants, buses running around the area, Wi-Fi cards for 2 CUC an hour in the bowling alley near the run down old hotel and a nice shower block. There is a swimming pool and roped off area for swimming but the canal water isn’t the cleanest, being enclosed at the end. Rubbish bins are dotted along the docks and it is all well lit.

The Club Nautico is rather swanky but members only unless you belong to the Cruising Association or Ocean Cruising Club and can be invited in. We looked for the OCC Port Officer, Jose, the first day but he was busy with PR duties as a big rally from the USA were in town, over 50 boats all decked out with flags and excited Americans, most of whom had done their first offshore trip and hated it, it seemed from the conversations about the bad journey. They all left the Canals one morning and motored to Havana Harbour to parade around before returning. People are very interested to see all the new visitors and their beautiful boats.

We saw many boats we know in the marina, recognising the boat names rather than the crew. ‘Rosa Fascia’ and ‘Carati’ are both here and I also met Addison Chan who set up the ‘Cuba, Land & Sea’ Facebook page and has written a new cruising guide. The current free online one is not as badly out of date as the Calder book we own (1999) but there are errors in the online one, importantly getting east and west mixed up.

We washed the boat off as she has done some long, salty passages lately, topped up the diesel, petrol and water tanks and bought a little food, mainly rum, biscuits and crisps. I have never been in a country with such a lack of shops and fresh food before and it is quite astonishing and I am craving salad and fruit. If they are serious about encouraging cruisers here, they have to allow us to buy food or we cannot stay long. It is hard to get Internet despite it being important for us to let family know we are still alive and obtain weather. It is laborious to move from port to port and the restrictions on movement mean you cannot explore any inhabited areas freely from the boat. Rob has become increasingly disaffected with Cuba, especially as many people are keen to take as much money from everyone as they can, providing very little for it. I have enjoyed it more, especially some of the wonderful people we’ve met but agree that it could be made far easier to travel by boat here.

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Los Morros Once Again

Both boats are on a deadline, with Jack needing to be in Brunswick by the middle of April and us a further 500 miles north by May but the weather was not being kind to us, raising the stress levels. We both have a daughter getting married on June 10th, another co-incidence. One option we considered was returning to Mexico and flying to Washington from there but we waited patiently and kept checking the weather using the onboard Internet connection on ‘Rosa Fascia’. The days slipped by towards my birthday and we sailed the 130 miles back to Los Morros overnight in great conditions, checked in there and got secure in the Canal de los Barcos whilst we waited to get weather for either Florida or hopping up the Cuban coast to Havana to shorten the journey across the gulf stream.

We had enough meals for about a further 10 days, our second month’s visas were due to expire on April 10th so we just hoped a 3 day southerly wind would appear so we could leave Cuba and make the USA. Happily we had friends to travel with, completely unexpectedly, lobsters from the fishermen passing through the Canal and a calm anchorage, so life was still good. I spent the dawn of my 55th birthday, also UK Mother’s Day, at sea and checking into Los Morros but Rob baked me a delicious chocolate cake with buttercream filling and Richard, Jack and Martin joined us to taste it and drink champagne at sunset. They also found some candles for a fruit loaf they had. Birthdays tend to be memorable in very different ways from those at home and I’m looking forward to getting good Internet so I can read the ecards in our mailbox, which I can see but not download.

55th Birthday In Cuba

55th Birthday In Cuba

So we waited and enjoyed the restful surroundings, cleaned the boat with fresh water, did lots of washing and socialised with our neighbouring sailors. Local fishermen brought red snapper and lobsters, swopping them for a few beers and helping Jack win a bet. He was going to win a dinner out if he could trade a pair of racy knickers for lobsters and now has the photo to prove he won. The fishermen reported great success with the lingerie, so everyone was happy although I did wonder how they were going to explain the acquisition to their wives!

Sailing In Company With Rosa Fascia

Sailing In Company With Rosa Fascia

The question for us all in the end was whether to go to Marina Hemingway, just west of Havana first to cut the trip down by 165 miles or go straight to Florida and save a couple of days. Both Jack’s crew only had ESTA visas for the USA and recalling the rules we were told in 2012, I mentioned to him that I understood that to enter the USA on a private vessel, you need the 10 year B1/B2 visa. Jack thought that because his crew had flown into the US before joining the boat in Puerto Rico and the Caymans that it would be OK but I was dubious and suggested he phoned Miami or Key West to check. A friend also confirmed that they needed the full visa when they entered the US very recently. So, the upshot was, neither Richard nor Martin could sail to the USA with Jack. They had to fly in from Havana or get a ferry from Bimini and Jack had to do the final passage alone or find American crew.

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Slow Progress With A Deadline Looming

We successfully left Cayo Largo on March 17 at the second attempt, leaving Pire with a bag of items for his family and friends and he was pleased to spy some bars of soap. I can’t say I was unhappy about leaving the anchorage, as there are patches with just 2 metres of water and we saw 3 boats run aground during our stay but the beaches are beautiful. Using our previous track we edged out into the channel, out west between the navigation buoys and towards Rosario, again using the well marked channel back into the shelter of the Cay.

Three OCC Boats At Anchor In Cayo Largo

Three OCC Boats At Anchor In Cayo Largo

‘Rosa Fascia’ and ‘Malaki’ were already there and we anchored near them in 4.5 metres but did see shallow water of just 0.3m under us on the way in. After a gusty night we carried on west with just the full genoa, doing 6 knots over the ground for another 48 miles to another marked cut through the reef and into the lee of Cayo Matias. Unfortunately it was another very shallow anchorage for us and once we saw 0.1m under us we turned around and had to anchor a mile off the island in less than 3 metres. We had spoken to ‘Malaki’ during the day as they headed off towards Belize but ‘Rosa Fascia’ anchored near us with just 0.1 metres under their keel. I was finding all this shallow water manoeuvring highly stressful but ‘Rosa’ has an extra 0.1 metre spare, so can follow us!

The next morning we had the pleasure of an extra pair of hands, as Jack wanted to sail with us again, leaving Richard, Martin, Gareth and Justine in charge of ‘Rosa’ for the day. We picked him up in our dinghy and were all stowed away and off by 0745 for the 58 mile trip around the south of Isla de Juventud. It was another day just flying the genoa with the wind behind us or slightly aft of the beam. As we turned north-west towards Puerto Frances bay, the wind and seas got up and we had a choppy few hours in the confused seas. We were still sailing but having to go off course until the choice was 12 miles sailing or 5 motoring, so having had enough of the conditions, we opted to head into the bay under engine.

Sunset At Hotel Colony - A Meal Out At Last

Sunset At Hotel Colony – A Meal Out At Last

This was a wonderful place to stop with deep water right into the last stretch before the beach. We anchored with over 2 metres of crystal clear turquoise water under us with the anchor and some chain buried in white sand. No weed and no coral and you could see the long wide strip of sand from a distance. We decided to stay 2 nights so we could have a day’s rest, snorkel over the coral nearby and walk on the beaches. A restaurant in the neighbouring bay opens when a cruise ship turns up but otherwise there is nothing there other than a fisherman who sold us lobster and red snapper.

Dangerous Remains Of A Green Nav Buoy

Dangerous Remains Of A Green Nav Buoy

As Jack was running out of food and we all wanted to see the main town on the island, Nueva Gerona, we moved on to the anchorage opposite Marina Siguanea for 3 nights. The channel is marked for bigger ships but as we passed a red buoy we saw the matching green, or rather half of it. A really big danger at night. Although the marina is no longer a Port of Entry, when Rob and Jack went ashore to explore the facilities, they promptly returned with 2 Guarda officials who checked all our paperwork and boat and kept our cruising permit until we left. They were really friendly, enjoyed a cold beer on both boats and helped me practice my Spanish once again.

Once official for landing ashore, we made use of their dive school, topped up our water tanks, bought very limited provisions of a carton of pineapple and drinking water in the ‘shop’ and had 3 evening meals in the Hotel Colony to save on our food, about a mile’s walk away. They had very few guests staying there but have a reasonable buffet for 12 CUC, a nice swimming pool, bar and beach. The longest dilapidated pier stretches out into the bay.

Our Wonderful Taxi

Our Wonderful Taxi

The hotel staff were very helpful and booked us a great old taxi to take the 7 of us the 40 km to the town the following day, for 10 CUC/ 8 GBP per person return. This was half the price another taxi quoted us the day before. We left at 1000 and returned at 1700, plenty of time to see the countryside, town and prison. Fuel is clearly in short supply here, with people on bicycles and using horse drawn carts.

Town Park

Town Park

The town was lovely, in a much better state of repair than Havana overall and we enjoyed walking the tiled streets and peaceful parks. We found a café selling very cheap good coffee and pastries, bought 2 pizzas from a stall for 45 pence, ice creams for the same amount, visited the little port, the town’s history museum but found virtually no food supplies at the ‘supermarkets’. If all you need is rum and eggs you will be fine!

Many Cubans Need To Resort To Horse Power

Many Cubans Need To Resort To Horse Power

We hired a yellow taxi, an extended Lada, with an enthusiastic driver who took us to the nearby Presidio Modelo, where Fidel Castro was held at one time in solitary confinement. It was an unforgettable experience to see the tiny cells that held 2 prisoners, the huge dining room where they ate in silence and the hospital complex. It only cost a couple of CUC to get in and was very interesting, despite all the information being in Spanish.

Church In Nueva Gerona

Church In Nueva Gerona


Our driver wanted just 5 CUC for the afternoon but we gave him double and he was visibly touched and didn’t want to take it. I know we shouldn’t have set a precedent but he was so kind that we considered it a gift to a friend. The ATMs in town took our British debit cards and we got a little more cash in case we needed it to clear out.

The Incredible Prison

The Incredible Prison

There is an airport at Nueva Gerona, with daily flights to Havana but nowhere we would consider protected enough to leave the boat, so the better option is still Cayo Largo marina. The Marina Siguanea has shoaled, so all the boats other than very small catamarans anchor off the entrance channel. It got very gusty the day after our excursion; with ‘Rosa’ dragging twice, so we were lucky we had gone exploring the day before.

The Customs Boat

The Customs Boat

When we left, their boss didn’t let the Customs officials know we were going to pick them up in our dinghy to sign the papers and half an hour before we were due in, they appeared in a bright yellow pedalo, shaped like a car. They showed not a trace of embarrassment at their lack of a more traditional boat and remained friendly and patient whilst manually filling out their paper records, even willing to have a photo taken as they set off for ‘Rosa Fascia’.

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Extra Time In Havana

Pire, the Marina Manager at Cayo Largo, managed to get us on a flight to Havana on March 1st at a cost of 320 CUC so we have finally seen Cuba’s capital, a long held dream. The tiny airport wasn’t busy and the small plane left on time at 0800 and we were in the city half an hour later. He had recommended we went to see his friend, Jorge, at Casa Blanca in Vedado and what a wise move that was.

Our Wonderful Host Jorge Of Casa Blanca

Our Wonderful Host Jorge Of Casa Blanca

Jorge was amazingly helpful, giving us lots of information and phoning round to find us a great Casa with Lucy and Alberto in the same street, Calle 13. It was a very clean and modern place with a big lounge, kitchen, private bathrooms and patio to sit out on at the front. For 30 CUC a night, we had a lovely 4 days before we were due to get the taxi back to the airport for the 1710 flight. However, the taxi driver asked Jorge which terminal we were going from and it then transpired that we should have telephoned the day before to check the time. We had been led to believe the telephone number was just to book the free bus back and as we didn’t need it, we hadn’t called. Why they don’t just leave the time blank so you are forced to telephone, I’m not sure, as it would make more sense. Our so-called 1710 flight had gone at 0700 and we had to buy 2 single tickets for another 180 CUC!! Jorge helped us sort it all out and we would have been stuck without him.

One Of Many Elaborate Memorials

One Of Many Elaborate Memorials

Jorge then found us another room in a different house and we spent another day in Havana’s Old Town. Our first Casa was full, as was Jorge’s, so it pays to book ahead if you can via his website. There are 4 times as many tourists now than last year. Our second room was in an old building a few streets away but the difficulty in finding paint and basic tools was obvious. Everyone was very friendly though and interested in where we were from and we learned a lot about life in Cuba from talking to different people. The breakfasts included fresh pineapple, papaya and banana, juice, coffee or tea, fresh milk (which is expensive), bread, cheese, ham and eggs.

One Of Hundreds Of American Cars For Hire

One Of Hundreds Of American Cars For Hire

As we were unpacked in our room before lunchtime, Rob and I spent the first afternoon walking to the nearby Necropolis De Colon, a huge and famous graveyard with the most expensive memorials I have ever seen. The first class row was lined with ornate graves all in amazing condition and there is a 3-lane roundabout around the Chapel in the centre. They are still very busy, with over 40 funerals a day taking place. You have to pay 6 CUC to get in but it was one of the highlights of our trip and the Hop On/Hop Off bus stops there too, something we used another day to return to our Casa to save the taxi fare but you need to make sure you get a ticket when you get off the bus to use later on.

The Bicycle Taxi Service

The Bicycle Taxi Service

The next day we got a taxi into the Old part of Havana and jumped in a bicycle-taxi to be pedalled around the main sights by Raphael, a charming young man. He also found Rob a single cigar, having taken us to a friend earlier who only sold them in big boxes. He took us to the Revolution Square, several memorials and a unique bar and dance area with some interesting sculptures. Once we were in his taxi, he was keen to keep showing us around but we told him we were only taking a quick look the first day, just to know what we wanted to do the following days. It cost 30 CUC for the 90 minute tour and we also paid 25 CUC for a half hour ride in an orange 1954 American car home, the same vintage as Rob! There are old American cars everywhere, plus yellow taxis and little yellow pod taxis, all of which we used. How the old cars are kept running is a mystery as it can take 6 months to obtain a hammer in Cuba. Jorge told us the taxi rate should not be over 5 CUC but everybody started at 10 or 12 so we had to get used to bartering each time and rarely got them under 8. Apparently saying you are British, rather than American helps.

Old Square Havana

Old Square Havana

Another day we walked for an hour and a half into town and saw the Botanical Gardens, University, lots of hospitals and plenty of very run down areas. Some of the buildings are restored but the vast majority are in need of a huge amount of money and work, which is unlikely to happen. A few decades ago Havana must have been one of the most beautiful cities in the world but many buildings are past the point of restoration and people live in what we consider very poor accommodation. Even in Guatemala, the basic thatched riverbank homes were more attractive. We didn’t see long queues for food but at banks there were lots waiting. Internet is not allowed in homes so people sit around any WiFi spot, such as in parks, in their droves.

Street With Capitolio In The Distance

Street With Capitolio In The Distance

We found the Capitolio, a very good copy of the American version and caught the tour bus for 20 CUC for the day (10 each). The commentary was also in English. We found the British Ambassador’s residence, the Avenue Of Presidents and many lovely old buildings. We also got CUC easily from ATMs and the bank in Cayo Largo. We paid to go into the Museum of the Revolution for an interesting couple of hours and some history lessons. Gory blood stained clothes and photographs of the dead revolutionaries abound plus a photograph of Che Guevara’s disguise for entering Bolivia after the Cuban revolution. There is a lot of restoration work being done inside, using gold leaf and the entry price of 8 CUC each includes the Granma exhibition, complete with the motor launch and bullet hole ridden ‘Fast Delivery’ truck used in the revolution.

The Fast Delivery Van

The Fast Delivery Van

A taxi ride through the tunnel under the harbour mouth brought us to the 2 forts and Christ Statue. Another well preserved site, still being used as offices, it cost 6 CUC each to get in but you would have to pay the same again to visit the other fort. The small museums are worth seeing and we were lucky enough to witness a bride arriving in a horse drawn carriage, complete with white uniformed soldiers. At 2100 each night a cannon ceremony takes place with the soldiers wearing historic uniform but we didn’t stay in town that late. It is a reminder of the time when the guns warned the city dwellers that the city gates were about to shut.

Morro Fort

Morro Fort

We walked many long miles up and down the streets, all on a grid so not easy to get lost. Water trucks bring potable water to the people and we saw a few small shops selling white bread, meat, fruit and vegetables. Some stalls sold pastries, coconut water icecream and popcorn. The cafes and restaurants were busy as there was a cruise ship in on most days but it got quieter around 1500, so we tended to have a big breakfast in our Casa and a late lunch/early evening meal. Nearly every bar had live music and certainly every restaurant did during the evenings. One day we sat on a balcony overlooking the Old Square just watching the world go by, a lovely afternoon. The parks and surrounding buildings are beautiful but just a few metres off the main tourist attractions are some very sad sights. Had we known we would be having extra time in Havana we would have booked a tour to the countryside west of the city but it wasn’t to be. At least we saw it as we flew in and out.

Lovely Buildings Mix With The Run Down

Lovely Buildings Mix With The Run Down

Havana isn’t cheap though and we paid 66 CUC one evening at Eclectico for a small meal of pasta with shrimp and a swordfish steak. The tiny glass of freezing cold red wine was 7 CUC (about 7 US$) but the Atelier restaurant was lovely, with a great atmosphere, delicious food and good value. You need to book though. The Paladares are good value, a few tables in someone’s home and El Helecho was one of these. For 10 CUC each we had a big meal of salad, rice, beans, vegetables and pork. Rob also had a crème caramel and a beer. Delicious icecream is also under a CUC for a cone, so we had 5 during our stay, as the shop was close to our 2 Casas.

Street Cafe Life In Havana

Street Cafe Life In Havana

Returning to Cayo Largo, we were up before 0245, left our Casa at 0315, got the free bus from the Cohiba Hotel at 0415 and arrived at the airport by 0500 but were not able to check in until 0630, so wondered why we had to get there so early. The flight left on time and we had another free bus to the marina to be reunited with Beyzano. It is very windy so we stayed in the marina another night and moved out to the anchorage after getting 80 litres of diesel in cans. It was 96 CUC , 1.20 a litre. We have also extended our tourist visas, glad to find they are 25 CUC each to extend for a month, not the 75 CUC we paid originally. The Marina office did all the admin for us very quickly and no health insurance information was required. All we did was buy the stamps at the quiet bank opposite the Marina office and hand the passports over. Clearing out was just a 10 minute exercise too, in the little orange hut near the Marina. Everything, apart from buying food and potable water for the tanks, is easy here. If you get desperate, the Marina bar does good pizza and chips, hot fried circles of potato rather than the traditional French fries type.

One Of The Better Residences

One Of The Better Residences

Although the beaches around the anchorage are pretty, there isn’t too much to do in the resort. The museum is shut and the bowling alley machine has been broken for some time. The WiFi and bar are the main attractions, together with a few souvenir stalls to browse but at least we can buy a few eggs and a loaf of bread before we leave and get the latest weather downloaded.

Rob Entertaining The Children!

Rob Entertaining The Children!

We plan to anchor here for a couple of days until the weather improves and if it allows, go east another 20 miles to Cayo Sal before turning west and returning along the south side of the reef to Los Morros to clear out, visiting a few new anchorages along the way. We hope to be in the USA as soon after March 20 as possible but will anchor in the Cayos Leña to wait for the weather window and will be out of touch again until we reach Florida. Happy Birthday to Sian for the 12th, Kym for the 15th, Steve and Joe on the 26th, also my birthday and my Auntie Olwen on the 28th!

Quick Update 13 March. Just outside the reef our engine revs died and the engine stopped. Rob changed the filter whilst I sailed offshore but the fuel pipe was blocked. We switched to the other tank but decided it was prudent to get the tank and cans topped up, hence returned to Cayo Largo. The blockage has been pushed into the tank as it would not come up the pipe, so we plan to clean it out again in the USA. We hope to go west in a couple of days but have at least had the chance to meet up with 3 other OCC boats who arrived the day after we had tried to leave.

My Facebook Page has more photos especially of Havana and the sail from Los Morros to Cayo Largo, so please feel free to search for Rhian Marshall

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On East To Cayo Largo – Another Port Of Entry

We let Grant know the weather and told him we would be continuing east before the easterly winds set in for a few days. We would be retracing our steps going west again so didn’t need to explore ashore that time. On our way out to Rose Cut, we dropped the anchor near the first red buoy to snorkel the reef for an hour before continuing out in the very wide and well-marked channel, seeing only 3.6 metres least depth of water. Then in the calm seas we had to motor east another 24 miles to Cayo Largo, a port of entry into Cuba. Too many hours on the engine lately! We passed loads of pretty cays and coral reefs to visit in settled weather.

Cayo Largo Marina

Cayo Largo Marina

The entrance into Cayo Largo is between a set of cays with the Los Ballenatos lighthouse on to the west and is marked by red and green buoys, red to starboard. Then we proceeded toward the channel into the marina, again well marked but didn’t need to go into the dock as we were already cleared into Cuba and just took the dinghy in with our papers once we had anchored. Once we left the channel, the water shallowed until we were seeing just 0.4 under us, 2.5 metres in total. We managed to find a space big enough to swing right around in the coming higher easterly winds but only had 0.7 under us.

Good Nav Aids Throughout Cuba

Good Nav Aids Throughout Cuba

It was the first time in well over 2 weeks that we had seen more than 5 people at once and more than 6 boats! Ashore was a quaint resort of hotels, souvenir shops, a museum, bank, dive shop, Guarda Frontera office for clearing in and an airport. The hotels are all-inclusive but there is one independent bar/restaurant where cruisers can purchase food and drink. The marina is small but had plenty of empty slips in 4 metres of water, a rubbish dump and non-potable water. There isn’t a laundry but it can be sent out. Diesel can be bought at the tourist/marina office and the voucher taken to the fuel dock later. The whole area is just a resort and we didn’t find a proper supermarket as all the staff are on the island to work at the hotels, presumably getting their food included. A ‘Ship’s Chandler’ had lots of rum, eggs and catering size tins of some products. The few tomatoes had seen better days but the huge loaves of white bread were tasty enough for 3 CUC/$.

Beautiful Sunset From Our Bow In Cayo Largo Anchorage

Beautiful Sunset From Our Bow In Cayo Largo Anchorage

There is a dive centre, busy with holidaymakers going out to the reefs, a souvenir shop, buses between hotels and a passenger road train to tour around in. We haven’t yet visited the museum, bowling alley nor the turtle farm but are having a buffet meal tonight at the Marina Hotel, which is open to non-residents. We got our WiFi voucher there as well, an hour for 2 CUC.

Jeff and Di spent a couple of nights in the marina, then joined us in the anchorage for the view and breeze. We played dominoes, BBQ’d more of our frozen food and Rob and I had a romantic sunset walk on one of the many nearby white sand beaches, watching the conch dragging themselves along in the shallows.

So We Didn't!

So We Didn’t!

‘Epona’ arrived 4 days after us, so we got the chance to say farewell to Olaf who was flying to Havana. We too hope to get to the capital city by plane; having decided it is safer to leave the boat in the marina, rather than at anchor in Cienfuegos. I would just spend the time worrying about her. If you are not aboard, the marina price drops by over half. Pire, the very helpful marina manager, can arrange a last minute seat on the hotel charter planes if there is space, so we are currently waiting to see if we can go tomorrow or within a few days. Our time is getting increasingly constrained by needing to fly home from Washington on May 9th and we have a long way to sail before reaching the Chesapeake Bay, so it makes sense to go west again from here and only sail on to Cienfuegos if we have time and a good weather window next week.

One Of Many Stunning White Sand Beaches To Land Our Dinghy

One Of Many Stunning White Sand Beaches To Land Our Dinghy

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Moving East North Of The Reef & Isla De La Juventud

We had arrived at lunchtime, so ate and rested before watching a huge red sun going down. Within minutes of sunset the boat swung around 180 degrees but we had a calm night and plenty of sleep to make up for the night passage. The next morning we retraced our track, slowing down over the most shallow areas and motor sailed 43 miles further east to Isla de la Juventud, not seeing any other vessels until we arrived in our destination bay, Ensenada de los Barcos on the northwest tip. Water depths seem to be 0.5-1 metre more than charted in some areas and we were relieved to get into the well protected bay seeing 2.5 metres all the way in. It is a huge bay and we anchored in 5 metres, with ‘Epona’ not far away and had another calm night with a glorious sunrise.

Another Stunning Sunrise

Another Stunning Sunrise

Every morning we listen to the weather on the SSB 8137.0 and were glad we had invested in a year’s subscription so we can ask questions after the broadcast. I also talk to Carla on ‘Moody Mistress’ 3 times a week, in case our family have emailed her with issues for us. The reception from just off Honduras all the way to the US is amazingly clear. Another plus is that we haven’t spent any money in a week! I managed to get a phone signal on my Virgin UK phone to text Owen, who was 29 on the 17th, just before his birthday ended.

The following day we had a gentle, genoa only float out of the bay, then a 8 knot dash for a couple of hours, before the wind went more easterly and we had to motor into 22 knots on the nose. The wind generally picks up around lunchtime so we tended to get up at dawn to reach the next anchorage by early afternoon if possible. That day we headed 23 miles to the northeast tip of Juventud to another nice, big, open bay with protection from all but north. The thick grass and mud can be tricky to get the anchor dug into but we were secure first time at 21˚53’.81N 82˚44’.92W and spent 2 nights in Estero Simon with ‘Epona’, having a BBQ the first night on ‘Beyzano’ with Grant and Olaf, staying up until 0130 and deciding not to move on that morning. ‘Horizons’ arrived the following day.

Prison In Ens. Simon

Prison In Ens. Simon

As you enter the bay the big prison catches your eye but despite searching the shoreline for somewhere to land the dinghy, we didn’t get ashore to the museum there, although Grant and Olaf did and said it was worth the effort when they tried again the next day. They just hid their dinghy in the mangroves and got a ride on a farm trailer back from Nuevo Gerona, the main town. More than 600 tiny prison cells lined the circumference of the austere building, with a courtyard in the middle and a guard’s watchtower at the centre. It didn’t have steps on the outside, so we guessed you could only access it from the basement, to keep prisoners from attacking the guards. We watched a few very flimsy craft with men rowing out to fish for the entire day and some people on the beach at the western end of the bay. The headlands make it a more picturesque anchorage than some of the low lying mangrove cays we’ve been in and the bay was easy to leave before dawn.

We needed an early start to get through the Pasa Quitasol, a channel with more than 3 metres throughout, marked by several beacons but they all seemed pointed! The red ones had to be left to starboard going east and we stayed mid channel on a course of 80 degrees. Once we were through the water was the most beautiful turquoise, 6-7 metres deep and we had the best sail for months, speeding along at up to 8 knots very comfortably.

Pasa Quitasol

Pasa Quitasol

As squalls of up to 40 knots had been forecast for 2 days later, we were aiming to get into the big cut between 2 cays at Cayo Campos and remain there for a few nights. Again the anchorage is big and pretty, with a reef protecting the south and it was just another hop of 43 miles. You pass a fishing station on the way in where fishermen can rest, eat and get weather information. We did see just 0.3 metres under the boat, where the charts said it should have been a metre. A strong current surges through the cut, so at times we were held by both wind and current but once the wind picked up this wasn’t an issue. We laid out a second anchor for the first time on this boat, a hefty danforth of 20 kgs with about 25 metres of heavy 10mm chain followed by 50 metres of thick rope. It is usually stored under all our ropes in the cockpit locker, so we had to dig all that out, giving me a chance to brush out the sand. We manhandled it into the dinghy, attached the rope to the bow and motored astern in the dinghy paying out the line and chain, finally dropping the anchor over. Rob dived down to make sure it was in position and I then went back to the boat to tighten it up on the anchor windlass. It was about 100 degrees to the starboard of our main anchor and held us tight throughout a brief squall the following morning. The rain was a welcome fresh water wash for the boat.

Fishing Station Cayo Campos

Fishing Station Cayo Campos

The day before the cold front blew through, we went ashore, tying our dinghies to the dock by the Conservation Office where 3 men alternate month long shifts to look after the monkeys, crocodile and jutias on the island. The white sand beach is lovely but as we walked around the surrounding scrubland, Di and I jumped at every noise, imagining the crocodile was coming for us. Seeing some shoes at the side of the path didn’t help! The hut was basic but had 8 big solar panels, a TV, antenna, fridge and bunk beds. They offered to make us a meal that afternoon, so we chose lobster and fish, served with rice and black beans. We gave them Italian biscuits, crisps, beer and a bottle of rum but they still asked for 40 US$ as we were leaving, a bit much really as that is likely to be about a month’s wages but none of us felt like bargaining as we’d already eaten the meal.

Dinghy Dock At Nature Reserve

Dinghy Dock At Nature Reserve

Another 2 yachts joined us, then 2 fishing boats, seeking shelter from the coming bad weather and ‘Epona’ arrived the day after, having sailed overnight. They brought us a nice tuna but as we were leaving at dawn the next morning, we declined another past midnight session on ‘Beyzano’ and promised to see them at the next opportunity instead. The winds clocked round from E-S-NW but the 2 anchors just crossed over and didn’t give us any problems. In the evening we saw a line of rain showers but they just missed us. Finally we recovered our danforth by tying a fender to the rope on the bow and throwing it overboard, motoring gently to avoid the boat snatching back on the main anchor and pulling it out. All was well as Rob checked once again by diving on it. We then piled all the rope and chain into the poor dinghy, leaving the anchor hanging over the bow of it until we could hoist it onto the stern platform by one of the davit lines we usually use to lift the dinghy. After rinsing it in fresh water and drying it all off in the sun, it was ready to go back in the locker. Hopefully it won’t be needed again too soon.

Our next issue was going to be trying to get through to the south side of the reef and Cay system via the cut next to Cayo Rosario named Rose Cut. On the charts it shows 2.6 metres as the least depth, next to a marker beacon and we hoped it was correct. If not, our only options would have been to return north and west of Juventud again, then east outside the reef overnight; to creep 40 miles across the bay in dubious water depths or a third option was to just return to Los Morros and wait for good weather to sail to Hemingway Marina, just west of Havana and see the city from there. An added problem was that we were already 2 weeks into our month’s tourist visa and to extend would need health insurance and to visit immigration. At Los Morros we knew we could only pay in cash and having loaned 200 US$ to Jeff and Di there, we no longer had enough to cover 150 for the visa and 150 for the health insurance. We needed to get to a bank, either in Cayo Largo or Havana but it all depended on whether or not Rose Cut had shoaled. Our plans were in the hands of a few cms of water!

Wonderfully Calm & Clear At Cayo Rosario

Wonderfully Calm & Clear At Cayo Rosario

We duly upped anchor at dawn and had to motor northeast towards the Toblones Cay before turning east, then south to the beacon marking the middle of the channel. It shallowed by 0.3 metres north of Toblones where it should have been deeper according to the charts, again a bad sign for the coming 2.6 metre patches we needed to get over. In the event we kept just to the east of the buoy and only read 0.4 metres under us at the least, which is 2.5 metres of water but at 3.1 metres just south of the buoy we grazed over something.

We were relieved when it got deeper and congratulated ‘Beyzy’ for getting through. Perhaps she held her breath. We then had a choice of anchorages, either off the west side of Cayo Rosario or the east of Cayo Cantiles as the forecast was for very calm conditions. We chose the anchorage off the warden’s house at the monkey sanctuary dropping the hook in stunningly clear water, so calm and clear that we could see the anchor itself way off the bow. ‘Epona’ joined us later and as the fishermen had brought us 4 lobsters, traded for a bottle of rum, we shared them with Grant and Olaf and chatted until gone midnight. The anchorage is another perfect place to visit, empty, protected, deep and with excellent holding.

Our Chain At Cayo Cantiles

Our Chain At Cayo Cantiles

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Los Morros & Sheltering From Weather In The Cayos De La Leña

As you get towards Los Morros there is a buoy just as you enter the shallower water but all the others, save the 2 for the marina entrance, are missing. The water dramatically shallows from off the scale to 6 metres but it stayed that depth all the way to the marina. The dock is concrete, with big rusty chains hanging down, presumably where black tyres used to be and a few remaining tyres further in. We had lots of fenders out but didn’t bother with the fender board. Abel had all 3 boats on the western side, where it is calmer but we saw 0.1m under us on approach and I knew the tide was going out further later.

Anchored Off Los Morros Marina

Anchored Off Los Morros Marina

Abel took our lines and welcomed us to Cuba, explaining that we needed to wait on the boat for the Doctor and officials. Everyone is based at the marina and arrived immediately, complete with sniffer dog ‘Diablo’. The Doctor checked us out first but could see we were both in good health and didn’t test our temperatures nor use his stethoscope. He was smartly attired in white, took off his shoes before boarding and donned latex gloves before looking in our freezer. Next came Customs, sanitation & immigration to check the paperwork and do their own forms. All I needed to do was sign and answer the few questions. Nobody asked for any ‘gifts’ but I gave some toy cars to a father for his 2 year old. It was a very pleasant process and they were all very friendly and efficient. They kept saying how beautiful and clean ‘Beyzano’ was and didn’t inspect our heads or any lockers. Diablo behaved very well, not leaving a single paw print. What was a surprise was that they didn’t confiscate any food whatsoever. After the horror stories of all the meat, eggs and fruit being taken, or rice and flour being sealed up, it was a real relief to keep every item of food we had. Even the limes sitting in the fruit bowl and beetroot that turned out to be infested with ants. I put them straight into a sealed bag for them to incinerate but they just said, you can wash and use them. At least we still had enough food for 2 months!

Diablo After Checking Us Out

Diablo After Checking Us Out

Next we welcomed ‘Horizons’ in and then went to the marina office to pay and get our passports. These are not stamped in case of difficulties getting into the USA but we had plenty of documents, including a form with boxes for each port of call to stamp us in and out. The tourist cards are valid for 30 days and cost 75 CUCs each (about 75 dollars I think), which is triple what it was a year ago and our total cost was 235 $US which we had to pay in cash, as their card machine is not working. The hotel, if it is still open, doesn’t change money anymore either and there is currently no Internet at Los Morros. On the plus side, Abel was proud to tell us about the services they do have; diesel, electricity, free water, showers, a restaurant and small shop. The latter was mostly full of rum and cigarettes but you could pay in dollars. I told him we wouldn’t be staying on the dock due to high northerly winds expected over the weekend. The bay is wide open to the north, north-northwest and northeast and the dock gets rough. Our other neighbour needed to stay there to greet a guest, so he laid out an anchor to the west of his boat to pull it off the dock.

We listened to Chris Parker’s weather broadcast on the SSB and heard it loud and clear thankfully. It was our only source of weather information for weeks. I also spoke to Carla on ‘Moody Mistress’ who is in Roatan and she put a message on Facebook for us to say we had arrived safely. The wonders of modern communication!

Sunset In The Tranquil Canal

Sunset In The Tranquil Canal

So, once we were all legal, we backed out of our slip seeing ‘Last Echo’ on the depth sounder, i.e. we stirred up the mud as it was so shallow, missed ‘Horizons’ astern of us and headed round to the north-east and the Canal De Los Barcos, a cut between 2 mangrove cays with great protection from the north, to sit out the couple of days with windier weather. It took us more than 2 hours to motor the 9 miles to the eastern end of the canal but ‘Horizons’ are much shallower than us and a fisherman showed them a short cut through to the western end. The depths didn’t drop under a metre through the middle of the canal and the entrance is wide and easy on a course of 245 degrees. We had to anchor 3 times though, as the southern edges of the canal were too shallow for us once we had let out enough chain but finally we got settled, checked the depths at both sides with a lead line from the dinghy and got the anchor secure in the sticky mud. During our few days there we did swing through 180 degrees, so it is essential to check the depths in all directions.

The sound of nothing was deafening. So peaceful, with just the single fishing boat going through morning and evening with everyone aboard waving. Fishermen offered us huge lobsters daily, coming alongside in their rowing boat whilst the mothership anchored nearby. We traded rum, beer and some rope they needed for 5 lobsters, having to stop them giving us more. They dispatched them for us, twisting out the tails but I pulled out the tube inside later. We had a couple of BBQs, visited ‘Horizons’ who were anchored nearby, baked cakes and explored the mangroves all around us. There is an indent with deep water for hundreds of metres, a great hurricane hole that ‘Beyzano’ could fit into. The cloudless days, golden sunsets and lunar eclipse were a beautiful welcome to Cuba and we slept very soundly after 36 hours on duty with just a few catnaps. Great to be at anchor again.

Rounding Cabo San Antonio, Punta Perpetua, Punta Del Holandes, Cabo Corrientes & Cabo Frances
The weather calmed significantly and we planned our departure for rounding the notorious capes on the SW tip of Cuba. Jeff and Di went to the dock for diesel and asked if we needed to come in to clear out, as I had seen we were already stamped out from Los Morros and wondered if we could just head off. It is expensive to dock there and in many places we heard that you pay the same to anchor nearby too, so we were keen to avoid having to use up all our remaining cash. Not having a card machine or cash machine had seriously depleted our reserves and we also needed to sub ‘Horizons’ 200 US$ for the same reason.

We were just settling into another peaceful afternoon when Di called to say we had to go to the marina to clear out, as they wouldn’t be there in the morning. Reluctantly we upped anchor and arrived off their dock by 1400, calling again on the VHF resulted in no answer. We later learned that the marina and Guarda do not have a radio so they had been using those belonging to docked boats once a boat came in sight. Neither do they have a dinghy, so once you are off their dock, they can’t really control you at all. Anchoring outside the 2 marina buoys again, we dinghied in, only to be told that we were clearing back in, not out and would have to return in the morning to be stamped out of Los Morros. Even if you go around the corner, you are seen to be ‘leaving’, hence the exit stamp we already had but this only got us to the Cayos de la Lena. To move on elsewhere, we had to be stamped in and out once more.

It was a quick process, just 10 minutes and we spoke to Grant on ‘Epona’ who had returned to the marina after a nasty night trying to go east at the weekend, before getting back to the boat, bouncing a bit in the bay. We had a St Valentine’s meal and box of Bailey’s chocolates whilst the wind calmed significantly allowing us a peaceful night’s sleep. It was fortunate the wind was south of east; otherwise it would have been very rough. We could see the red and green lights flashing on the channel markers and there were red and green lights on the end of the marina dock, which was also lit along the sides. The following morning I had a 1000 appointment to do the next 10 minute stamp and be allowed to leave after lunch. I only saw the same official, none of the others we met on arrival and I gave him a couple of beers and bars of nice soap as a farewell present, not asked for. The Guarda like to see the boat and know when you are leaving but they didn’t search ‘Beyzano’ nor force us to use the dock again, as I explained stirring up the sand in the shallows would destroy our engine pump and was dangerous.

After securing the dinghy, having a big lunch and getting the sails ready, we set off after 1500, a couple of hours after we had said we would be leaving, once the winds died down from the 20 knot gusts during the early afternoon, to the 10 they were forecast to drop to and from a more southerly, even south-southwesterly direction. ‘Epona’ had left 3 hours earlier and we promised to keep in touch on the VHF during the night. We had to bash into the wind and waves for 8 miles before being able to turn south east to round the first of the capes and begin sailing but it was comfortable. As you are no longer allowed to stop at Maria Gorda, it is necessary to do them all in a single passage.

Lovely Sailing

Lovely Sailing

The San Antonio lighthouse was clearly visible as we passed and several others flashed brightly during the night. I also saw lightning over the land but it didn’t get out to sea fortunately. Whilst we were on a fast, comfortable tack we thought about continuing past the Cayos de San Felipe to Juventud but during the night the wind died and we had to motor, so abandoned Plan B and started to turn northeast once we had rounded Cabo Corrientes and further north around Cabo Frances. We could smell pine trees as we approached land, probably enhanced by the rain in the distance and entered to the west of the reef before turning south well east of Cayo La Vigia and into the anchorage behind the Cays for protection from north west winds due overnight. We crept into the shallow water, seeing 2.5 metres at the least. We anchored in good holding mud in 3 metres of water at 21˚59’.10 N, 83˚35’.66W and although there was nothing there other than mangrove cays, we were protected from all but NE-E winds. Our 125 mile passage was over.

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