Posted by: catamarantwooceans | July 13, 2008

March 2008- Puerto Rico,Dominican Republic,Cuba

March 1st – The Derman family left at 0600. I brought them and their considerable luggage ashore with the dinghy and when I got back I couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat for awhile enjoying the calm scene around me and then started the day with some jobs that needed to be accomplished.                                                                   

Pre-Dawn

Pre-Dawn

My cousin, Yossi (short for Joseph) will join me tomorrow for the Dominican Republic phase of the trip. Yossi sails on small boats and wind-surfers but does not any experience on yachts. He is an enthusiastic fisherman and I hope to satisfy him in this respect. At nine o’clock I went shopping and when I came back to the boat I decided to cancel my intended visit to the Internet Cafe and instead of going to Mayaguez, the place Yossi will come on board, go a few miles north to Puerto Real to spend the night. Puerto Real is a closed, shallow bay, 3/4 miles wide, with a 5 foot deep entrance. There is a fishermen village and a marina on the north corner and another marina on the southern side. Mainly motor boats, of course. Houses made of wood line the shore, each of them with its own dock and what man did not conquer is taken up by mangroves. Pelicans, frigate birds and other water fowl are diving for fish in the bay. After the natural “noise” of a family on board everything seems so quiet…

Puerto Real

March 2nd – Out of Puerto Real I motored on flat, windless sea to Mayaguez. I Anchored near the customs and immigration house in the harbour, between buoys 10 and 8 to wait for Yossi. Around noon the wind got up and blew from the northwest, right into the anchorage. This produced an ugly sea that made the boat seesaw and the dinghy, tied behind her, slap the water noisily. I sat there contemplating the plan for tomorrow. The distance to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is 72 miles which is about 12 hours sailing. This means that since we can enter Punta Cana marina only in daylight, we need to start very early and do the checkout procedure in the evening. But this is Sunday and the Homeland Security in Mayaguez does not work during the weekend. A security guard in the harbour says they only start at 0800 Monday morning. So here is an idea: Why don’t we split the trip to the DR in two, sail first to Isla Mona, 42 miles from Mayaguez, spend the night there and the next day go to Punta Cana. Mona island is a nature park, sometimes called “The Galapagos of Puerto Rico. The guide book shows a shallow anchorage that should be suitable for a catamaran. There is a doubt, however, about the legal situation here. You check out of the U.S and then enter U.S territory again… Shall I ask the immigration officer for permission? Shall I just go there?

March 3rd – The officers in the customs/immigration/homeland security were nice and efficient. We let them do the asking and departed wishing them a very good day. Pointed the bows in the direction of Isla Mona, the wind, very light at first and right on our stern. We motor-sailed for a while, using one engine and making about 5.5 knots, planing on getting to the island around 5 pm. Had a strike on the trolling lure, it was a real biggie, but it got away to Yossi’s chagrin. In the afternoon some clouds crept on us from behind we saw rain but it didn’t look as if there is big wind with it. I did remember that one of the guides mentioned the march of clouds from Puerto Rico through the Mona passage but everything looked calm enough and at any rate we were going down wind. Then the wind and rain hit us. We reefed the jib and then the main and for a few minutes we were surfing down the waves at high speed. Right at that time there was another fish strike but before we could do anything it released itself. The squall left us suddenly, same as it arrived and we found ourselves with little wind and motor-sailing again. Getting close to Isla Mona we could see another squall forming behind us.

Squall

Squall

This time we were ready, but were still surprised by the ferocity of it. At one time I saw 33 knots on the wind instrument and since we were very close to land and the visibility was greatly reduced, decided to take down all sail and do the remaining few miles motoring.
I estimated that the squall will pass in about 30 minutes and timed our progress so that we shall arrive at the entrance in good visibility. The anchorage is on the west coast of the island. We were sailing on its north shore and when we turned south at the north western tip the wind and seas abated, the rain stopped, we had a superb show of sea birds circling us and buzzing the surface at low altitude and high speed. Approaching the way-point of the entrance we saw the two sign posts we had to align in order to be in the middle of the channel. I motored in slowly, eyes on the depth gauge, on the water ahead, where I could see a rock on the left and breaking wavelets on the right. The entrance seemed so narrow! At one point we were in waters only 1.3 meters deep! Perhaps I strayed a bit to starboard. Past the reef we could see turquoise water and moorings. A park ranger called us on the V.H.F, told us which mooring to take and welcomed us to the island. The contrast between the squall and this place was unbelievable! White sandy shore, big boulders, caves and a palm trees composed an idyllic picture.

Mona paradiso

Mona paradiso

I really wish I could stay here at least another day, but Boaz, a friend from Israel is due in Punta Cana tomorrow…

March 4th – At 0730, we went out to go to the Dominican Republic. The anchorage in Isla Mona will always remain in my memory as a pearl hidden in a hard shell, the place was just beautiful! With good wind and seas that went from our beam to our stern we made good progress and at 1230 arrived at the Punta Cana marina. I thought about trying the new Cap Cana marina but was not sure if it was operating at all, so I went into the place I remembered from last year. We tied to the fuel dock, all other spots were made inaccessible by poles that motor boats use and are spaced too close for our beam of 6.27 M. There was no one in the office but the security man notified the officials and pretty soon they were all with us: The Navy (10$) Immigration (43$) Agriculture department (20$) and Customs (10$). While this was going on I asked the one who spoke good English about the new marina. It turned out that it was open and immediately I decided to go over there. So out we went, exited the channel and went into Cap Cana marina, which although in the development stage answered the VHF promptly, sent two marineros to guide us in and help us into the slip. This is a modern marina and to my surprise the cost was very reasonable: 1.5$ per foot plus 2$ for water. Big improvement from the Punta Cana marina!

Capcana marina

Capcana marina

Once again the marine toilet , this time the starboard one, is making trouble. Without going into unpleasant details, I can report that we took out the electrical mechanism and put back the manual one. No end to these problems! Boaz came in the afternoon and fit right in. Here he is in the kitchen – he is in the food business after all.

Boaz

Boaz

March 5th – We left the marina, thanking the office on the VHF. The going out of the channel was quite rough, steep waives coming from the east at “7 seconds intervals” as the forecast said. We needed to sail north  for about 6 miles to clear Cape Engano before turning northwest to our destination of the day – Punta Macao. Yossi trolled again and this time his efforts, or rather hopes, were rewarded. A nice 4KG tuna was taken. The man was so happy! “After catching 200 gram fish for so long, finally a big one!” Happiness is…

Happiness is...

Happiness is...

Meanwhile Boaz is not feeling well. Maybe the combination of fatigue and jet-leg hit him. Now as I write this, at 1720, he is much better. After taking the tuna we decided to stop fishing for a while, turned the corner at the cape, which made motion much easier and sailed, passing many sport-fishing boats for another 15 miles to Punta Macao. This is one of the anchorages that give you grey hairs because the entrance to it is between a “Rock awash close to port” as the guide book says and breakers to the starboard. You go in and hide behind the cliffs, anchoring in 3 meters depth but swell still comes in and there is a bit of a roll.

Macao

Macao

It is time for lunch, and as I put the frying pan to make some eggs, voices are heard from the outside. We have visitors! Fishermen brought two officials to see us. One is in civilian clothes and sports a pistol and the other one, who comes aboard, is in uniform. He is the local Comandante and he wants to see our “Despacho” – cruising permit. Now when we met the officials in Punta Cana, I specifically asked the Comandante for one but he just took 10$ and said the papers I have from immigration are enough. One can only imagine why he did it and to which pocket the ten bucks went. But our gentleman here is not phased by the lack of a mere document. He says “No” to a coke, points to his civilian colleague in the small boat who is happy to have it together with some cigarettes that Yossi provides. He writes our particulars on a page torn from a school copybook and when he is finished he says something about “Dinero” – money, making the universal gesture for Bakshish with thumb and forefinger. We play along and he leaves with the equivalent of nine dollars and a beer.
Meanwhile there is a lot of action on the beach. Waves of tourists are following each other to it, first on ATVs, then jeeps, later a convoy of buggies and finally a line of horseback riders. The grill on the beach is spewing smoke, loudspeakers blare out music – they will all go away to their hotels and resorts in the early evening and the bay will be ours.

Macao beach

Macao beach

March 6th – Today we had 52 miles ahead of us, so an early departure was called for. We left the anchorage at 0730 and with good wind sailed along the coast to Samana. The going was good and the high point was a whale that gave a fantastic display less that 200 meters away. It was a very large one, a humpback whale, it breeched a few times, falling one its side in a big splash. I took some pictures against the sun and only one qualifies as what we used to call in my old air force days as a “proof picture”. The whale fin and the snout are visible, giving some idea of the beast size.

Whale

Whale

We came into Samana bay at 1600 and just a few minutes after the anchor was dropped, a motor boat with some people approached us. Officialdom again. They brought a guy called Chicho to act as a translator. The Navy man took the paper I got from immigration in Punta Cana, saying that he will make a new one for me tomorrow. After taking our crew list, they demanded, through Chicho, a tip. This is becoming ugly! They also insisted that we change our location to where most of the yachts anchored, saying that it was better holding there and implying that it was safer as they had a patrol there all night. We did as we were told but I can tell you that I didn’t see any patrol at any time and that it took two tries to get a good hold probably because it was soft mud. As we dinghied ashore we were again accosted by a motor boat, the ever present Chicho standing at its bow. “This is the port authority man” says he. “Follow him ashore, you need to pay him 15$”. More paperwork and fees but gladly no tip requests this time! Chicho gave me a business card:” Bahia Charters, Luis “Chicho” Alvarez, Vice president – water sports. He can arrange anything you might want: Diesel,water, laundry etc. On shore we investigated the possibility of going to the near-by falls. Taxi drivers showed me a price list quoting 60$ each direction. One driver said he will do it for 80$ round trip, but then a slender guy, who spoke good English, introduced himself. His name was Samuel, he has an air-conditioned van and will do it for 40$. He will also show us to the falls for a tip at our discretion. He seemed trustworthy enough so we agreed to meet at 0830 and went back to the boat.

March 7th – Morning came with heavy rain and strong wind. We waited in vain for the rain to stop – it did not. I donned the oilskins to go ashore, release Samuel and go to the Comandacia to arrange a sailing permit for the coming days. The experience in that office was perhaps something to prepare me for the Cuba trip. A lady sat at a table hammering on an old typewriter, turning the ink strip deftly every few minutes while symultaneously  conversing with a bored officer and taking documents from people coming in. She had the papers that were taken from me the day before and now typed a document, using carbon paper for a second copy, authorising me to sail to Los Haitisies national park. What about the rest of the way to the west? “Come back here when you want to leave and we will give you a new “Despacho”. What a contrast to the modern office of Capcana marina! The rain stopped but the wind was still high, reaching 28 knots at on time. The anchor is holding well. I let out 55 meters of chain in 7.5 meters depth.

Rain

Rain

Come 12 o’clock the skies brightened, and although the wind was still quite strong we felt confident leaving the boat to go to the falls. As we exited the dock to go look for Samuel, the man materialized ahead. Apologising for the rain, he led us to the supposed location of his car. He left us waiting at a street corner mumbling something about a change of car to the one belonging to his brother and disappeared. We stood there waiting and then a guy pulled up with a car. “Are you Samuel’s brother?” He mutters something unintelligible and stays put. Samuel is nowhere to be seen! We smell a rat… After a while we decide to go and simply take a taxi to the falls. Passing the local restaurant we had a drink in yesterday, I speak to the owner. He can get us a taxi, but he also says that Samuel is an O.K guy and can be trusted. Right at that moment the lost man appears. It then became clear: Samuel is a sort of a tourist guide, he makes deals with taxi drivers and doesn’t really own a car. According to him he studied in university but has to work as a guide to make a living. We climb into a yellow van – taxi and go for about 30 minutes to El Limon, the village near the falls. We refused the offer of horses and started walking. The trail took us up and down, Samuel leading the way in a fast pace.

Sam leading

Sam leading

The trail was slippery with the recent rain and dotted with horse manure, not an easy trek, but reaching the fall, after crossing the stream balancing on a fallen tree made it all worthwhile.

Fall

Fall

The area is limited so even with wide angle I couldn’t capture its full size. We went back to town, Samuel accompanied us to the supermarket and the fruit and vegetable market and then departed, well earned money in his pocket.

                                               

Yossi & Sam

Yossi & Sam

March 8th – Now that we had the paper to go to the national park we sailed the 11 miles, enjoying the flat seas and the following light wind. We entered Bahia de San Lorenzo, followed the information in Bruce Van Sants chatlet to a point opposite the “Dock and Ranger station”. The place was open to the east and a 20 knots easterly sprang up just as we were anchoring. Although the anchor held well I was attracted to the little bay a wee bit to the west and went to investigate. We found ourselves sheltered by a headland connected to a small islet by what seemed to be a man made causeway. We anchored at 2.6 meters and just sat and marveled at the scene.

Islet

Islet

You can see the remains of a dock on the left, now a perch for sea-birds and the stone causeway on the right. The spot was just perfect, beautiful scenery, calm water and much less wind than the outside.
As we were getting ready to go ashore, we saw a motor boat with a load of tourists go into the right corner of the bay.
“Why don’t we go there too? There must be something of interest over there” I said. We took the dinghy there and as we reached the corner a narrow channel opened before us, with tall mangrove trees standing on roots that looked like stilts.
Channel to cave

Channel to cave

The channel led to a dock on which two park employees sat. One of them led us to the “Cueva de Linea” the cave of the line, probably call that because of the ancient wall drawing in there.

Cave drawing

Cave drawing

We then went to see the cave near the ranger station, this one had a petroglyph of an owl on one of the walls. All this was very impressive.

Petrogliph

Petrogliph

March 9th – We passed a restful night in the bay and rose early anticipating a long day ahead. First we had to go back to Samana to get the “Despacho” for the continuation of our trip. The same lady typist sat there going through the same motions, while I stood there impatiently. Once we had the paper, we filled two jerry-cans with water and motored out against the wind to exit Samana bay. Before turning west you have to round Cabo Samana, about 9 miles to the north east, passing a shallow bank that made for big waves and rough going, turn northwest to Cabo Cabron and then southwest to our anchorage for the night – Puerto del Valle, better known as Escondido.  As we passed Cabo Samana, released sails for a reach, the reel buzzed – a fish! We slowed the boat by furling the jib, the rod bent alarmingly and Yossi had to put in a lot of effort to bring the fish in. “Let it be a Mahi Mahi!” but it was another Tuna…
While all this was going on I had my worries about our destination. Last year when I sailed east and tried to use it we had to abort due to exessive northerly swell and sail 35 miles more to Samana. This time, going west, if the anchorage will not be tenable – we’ll have to go through the night, possibly to Sosua, the only place I felt I could enter at night safely and almost 80 miles away. Luckily, although it was not really calm, it was possible to anchor. As soon as we settled in, a small fishing boat was sighted rowing in our direction. Guess what… The local navy representative came on board, in uniform and barefoot, to check our papers and ask for some money. As I wrote somewhere in the past I know my task in the local economy and try to fulfil it to the best of my ability.                                                

Escondido shore

Escondido shore

March 10th – The night was not a restful one, not a northerly swell but wind waves entered the bay and repeatedly hit the boat as we tried to sleep. After waking up almost every hour, I rose at 0430 with the decision to leave immediately. The reason was that if we leave early we will not be committed to the Rio San Juan anchorage 55 miles to the west, which is a difficult one to go into and not that interesting and if necessary have time enough to go on to Sosua, another 25 miles to the west, for the night. And this is exactly how things turned. Went all the way to Sosua, making the 80 miles or so in less than twelve hours. We anchored there at 1630, the anchor drag at first but then held. I decided to dive and check it. I was surprised to see the bottom, coral reef, the anchor barely holding some small crevice. I pulled it into a hole in the rocky bottom so we will be safe in all wind directions. In the rest of the Caribbean a reef like that would have been protected, moorings put in for yachts – but not here. What a pity.

Sosua

Sosua

In the evening we went out for dinner, Boaz was a generous host but we insisted on paying for the wine. “La Finca” restaurant was found to be a place of slow service but good food. Tuna was on the menu but for some reason we all ordered meat. I neglected to mention that in the morning a fish was caught and Yossi was heard muttering:”Not a Tuna again”. The fish was so insulted it decided not to show itself and disappeared in the deep. No more fish were sighted after that.

March 11th – Having made a lot of mileage yesterday, today was a bit funny with barely 12 miles to Ocean world marina just west of Puerto Plata. No wind to speak of, so we motored and entered this strange, quite empty marina with a Casino and Water World arena in it. Kitsch reins! Again a visit of four officials, this time with the marina representative as an interpreter. I climbed the mast for the first time to fix the Windex, that’s a sort of contraption showing the wind direction, which the electrician in virgin Gorda broke. Did not succeed so there will be another try tomorrow. By the way, this mast is HIGH… By the way, in the marina they give you a yellow strip, not unlike they put on newborn babies, to put on your wrist so as to be recognised as a marina guest…
 
                                                        

Baby ident

Baby ident

Kitsch

Kitsch

Boaz was walking from the boat to the office when to his surprise he heard Hebrew spoken. On a big (82 foot) charter catamaran he found two Israeli young men who work there and invited them to come over. It was interesting to meet Assaf and Oded, both of them graduates of a marine college, trying to gain experience and sailing adventures in the wide world.

March 12th – The work up the mast was the first thing we did after having our morning coffee. This time, with better planning and execution I was up and down in 20 minutes and the new Windex was in place. Next job was laundry and while I was at it I saw a mast come in the entrance. When the hulls appeared I saw it was a Flica, like my old boat, but the 37 foot version. At 0930 Yossi left for the airport. I was sad that he had to leave so soon but also glad for the opportunity to sail with and connect to this close relative of mine. Yossi is a great guy and it was super fun being with him on the boat. Hey, man – I know you had a good time too!
During the dryer cycle I went to see the Flica. Willy and wife (didn’t catch the name, sorry) bought the boat in Fort Lauderdale in January, sailed to the DR from Rum Cay in the Bahamas which took them three days. They are having problems with the jib furling gear and also with the starboard engine drive – they cannot put it into gear and it loses oil. Brought up memories from my first trip on “Roughsoda”! I wished them luck and went on to the next task: provisioning for the Cuba trip. In the marina area there is a sort of branch of one of the big supermarkets in town. They will take you to town, help you with your shopping and bring you back. On the way to town the driver, Hans, asked where we came from and when he heard it was Israel he told us that he is from Sosua, which was founded in 1940 by German Jews escaping Nazism and that he is of Jewish ancestry.
After we came back we had another dose of local bureaucracy with the “bonus” of having to pay 20$ U.S, a “Leaving Fee”, probably an invention of the local Comandante. The young Navy guy who came with the Despacho did not forget to ask for a tip.
Having finished this annoying business we started the engines and went out to sea to sail the 13 miles to Luperon. Good wind and following seas brought us to the entrance to this mangrove clad forked bay at 1630. Coming in we saw a stranded boat on the bay forking left. It looked like a catamaran and was quite high out of the water.

Careening or Aground?

Careening or Aground?

I later found out in B. Van Sant book that this is a careening beach! We continued into the right side of the bay in 5 meters depth, looking for a suitable position to anchor. I turned into the wind and dropped it but in two seconds the chain stopped going down. I went forward to investigate and found myself looking at the muddy bottom just a few centimeters under the surface! Rushed back to the wheel to see the depth meters blinking at 1.1 meters. We where aground in the mud! A bit of reverse thrust took us out of there with the skipper’s face red with shame. No officials came to the boat and since I had enough for today I’ll look them up in the morning. Boaz is leaving tomorrow and the replacement crew – Shosh (short for Shoshana – rose in Hebrew)and Meir Riba will join me on Friday with Cuba as our destination.

March 13th – Before he leaves Boaz gets to see one more example of DR bureaucracy. Two officials paid us a visit, accompanied by a boat driver and a burly guy, Rafael, who gives services to yachts and came as an interpreter. A good natured meeting ensues, cokes are drunk, money asked for and they are gone. It seems this last item is the only reason for the whole charade.
                                                      

Boaz and friends

Boaz and friends

March 14th – Waiting for Meir and Shosh Riba, I spent the day doing odd jobs on the boat, the most important and rewarding was disconnecting the NMEA plug from the autopilot, thus enabling the connection of the GPS to my laptop and the use of the Maxsea navigation software.
They came to the dinghy dock just as I stepped on it. We went to the boat to arrange their stuff and then back ashore to participate in the grand opening of the local marine store (wine and cheese complimentary) and then the special “Paella de Mariscos” the restaurant did that evening. The Paella was really good!

Meir

Meir

Shosh

Shosh

March 15th – The morning was dedicated to checking out of the DR. First immigration, who discovered out that the Riba’s passports were not stamped at the airport on arrival. After nodding and moaning a few times the officer found a solution: 500 pesos for each passport (34 dollars and we got a receipt). Then the Comandancia: 20 $ U.S and last but not least the port captain – 10$. We Are ready to go!
Cuba is a bit of an unknown, our sailing guide is from 1999 and we have 2006 “Lonely Planet”. We may not be able to update the site for a while, so bear with us! ADIOS! At 1145 we went out of Luperon. The wind was light from the stern so we sailed slowly and leisurely on a course that will take us at least 15 miles from the coast of Haiti. Too many reports of violence and robberies against yachties dictated the move. We had close to 280 miles to our Cuban landfall – Santiago de Cuba, so this will be a two nights affair. At a certain point we got bored with sailing at 4 knots and put the spinnaker up. You may remember that I have two of these sails on board and this time I wanted to test the one that was never flown before, but I could not tell them apart and ended up hoisting the same blue one I used in St. Martin. Maybe tomorrow!
I tried fishing and got a hit on the line with a pull so strong  as I never felt before. While trying to pull the fish in it jumped out of the water a few times and I could recognise the narrow body of a Mahi Mahi. Alas, close to the boat the fish dived down and left me with a slack line in my hand. Spinnaker went down as the wind got stronger, we were running good! After dinner we started doing shifts, our main problem was that the wind was straight from behind and we had to sail a course that was sometimes 30 degrees off the desired one.

March 16th – The night passed with no difficulties, we saw some ships and I even jibed when one was a bit close. We continued an uneventful passage, saw a sailboat with a gaff rig far to the south, the wind and sea were good and we played with sailing wing and wing for a while, putting a reef in then out. At 1515 a U.S coast guard helicopter buzzed us a few times and continued towards Haiti.

Helicopter

Helicopter

If we thought this was the end of it, we had a surprise coming. At 1730 a female voice called us on the VHF, identifying herself as U.S Coast Guard vessel 66, she transferred us to another channel and started an interrogation. We could see the Coast Guard ship astern, coming closer. After getting all the boat and crew information another voice came on the radio, instructing us to douse all sail because they are sending a boarding party to check our yacht and documents. I agreed “under protest” and in a short time we saw a boat being launched and motoring towards us. Four uniformed and pistol armed men came aboard, three stayed on their boat in formation with us.

boarding party

boarding party

The boarders were very polite, one of them sat at the cockpit table, took out a form and started filling in all the information we already gave. Another one asked to check the safety equipment on board.

Coastguard man

Coastguard man

“We are doing this for your safety since you are an American registered yacht” they said. All this was done in good spirits but frankly I was a bit pissed off and that feeling grew as it became obvious that they are dragging their feet on purpose (or so I thought). At a certain moment their leader said that the check was good, they finished but they still have to wait for orders to leave us and go back to their ship. I, not known to be a man with a lot of patience, busied myself in the kitchen, making Tehini for dinner but as that was concluded I went out to the cockpit and informed the leader I was going to communicate with the ship. I called and told them I thought this went too far. That as Israeli citizens we were free to go wherever we pleased and that I want to start sailing right then and there. The answer was that I could start moving (up to that time we were motoring very slowly in the right direction) but that it will take them some more time to get the authorisation to disembark from my boat. I immediately opened the engines up and a few seconds after Two Oceans started speeding west, the party leader informed me that they just got the order to leave us. The time was 2030, they stayed on our boat for at least one and a half hours!

                                                 

Searcher

Searcher

What an experience! Why do they do it? Is it to discourage people from coming to Cuba? I guess we’ll never know!We sat down to have our late dinner, but this was also interrupted time and again by big ships going through the ship’s lane that passes near Punta Maisi, the easternmost tip of Cuba. After this confusion was finished we started our shift system. Mine was to be from 2130 to 0030. During those hours the winds played games with us – I had to reef through all the positions and when I was ready to take down the main sail completely – the wind abated so that when Meir came out he had to start the engine…

March 17th – Another thing that plagued us was an unexpected current flowing against us. Even when the wind was strong, the boat speed through the water good – we still did not go much over 4.5 knots SOG. But still, morning came, I relieved Shosh at the wheel, ETA was calculated to be about 1600 and after having my morning coffee I put the fishing lure astern. 3 minutes later we had another tuna. Where have all the other species gone? At that time we were approaching the Guantanamo bay entrance, about 1.5 miles from shore. As I was busy cleaning the fish we spotted a motor boat, machine gun on the bow, intercepting us. Cubans? No! It’s the Coast Guard again!

Guantanamo escort

Guantanamo escort

Another conversation on the VHF ensued, but thankfully no boarding. They were with us until we passed the U.S base and not a long time after that a voice speaking Spanish came on the VHF. Having learnt a bit of the language for the trip, I understood that they were calling us and responded successfully to the inquiry. Let’s see how the Cuban authorities will treat us.
At 1615 we entered the Santiago de Cuba harbour and made our way to the marina passing the impressive El Morro castle.

El Moro castle

El Moro castle

We tried calling on VHF before entering but there was no answer. Now that we were in a voice came on channel 16 and in perfect English directed us to anchor near the marina to await the authorities. After about half an hour he came back and radioed the most astonishing message. “You cannot enter Cuba in Santiago de Cuba since the marina is closed. You have to do it  in Casilda, near the town of Trinidad”. That is a few hundred miles away! We planned to reach it in a week!
“Of course you can stop on the way for weather or to rest, only you are not allowed to go ashore” he continues. And what about taking water? And buying the local charts? “You can come to the dock to take water”. “What about buying charts?” “The man who sells them is not in Santiago at the moment”… We motored to the dock and were greeted by a man who presented himself as George, he is the one who spoke to us on the radio and a uniformed officer who seemed to be the one in charge.

George

George

George came up with a cock and bull story stating that the reason they could not do the entry procedures was due to the failure of the local garbage incinerator that made the destroying of the incoming garbage on yachts and ships impossible. “Can we stay at the dock for the night?” The uniformed man goes to phone his superiors, comes back with an affirmative answer. At least that! We fill water from a faucet that has no real pressure and before we finish, the uniform is back with the “good news” that we have to go and anchor some 50 meters off the dock. So what are we to do? We cannot go straight to Casilda, it’s too far away and it will ruin our itinerary. We are simply going to go by the plan and take our chances with the authorities along the way. Of course the “uniform” cannot give us any document to the effect that we tried to check in Santiago but promises to call the Casilda office with our details. I expected surprises in Cuba but this was beyond anything I could imagine!

March 18th – After the long trip from the DR all of us slept well and woke up relatively late. As we were starting to move in the direction of preparing to leave, George came on the radio to remind us. “You have to leave right now!” He said and when he saw us glide out of the anchorage he added a farewell message full of hopes for possible future meetings. We went ut the same way we came in, marvelling at the scene surrounding us.

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba

Houses right at the water edge, some – as you can see – in a bad state of repair.

Santiago exit

Santiago exit

According to our plan we wanted to go to a place called Chivirico, 30 miles away, the entrance to which is between shoals and corals, with uncertain lead-in poles. For some reason I thought it will be an easy entrance but when we got there around 1300, the wind was already blowing at 23-25 knots, swell was running right into the pass between the reefs and all I could see ahead was the sickly brown yellowish color of submerged coral at an undefinable depth.
This did not look good at all! I opened up power, nose into the wind, called for raising of the mainsail again and off we went to the west, to Marea Del Portillo, another 45 miles away. The time was 1330 and the question was:”Will we make it before dark?”. Fortunately the bay there is wide, supposed to have lighted beacons inside and the moon was two thirds full. The wind was still blowing and we were sailing at high speed, 7-8 knots. To go in the right direction I had to sail wing and wing, a very demanding point of sail for the helmsman. The smallest lack of concentration can result in an unintentional jibe, with the boom swinging to the other side of the boat in a mighty bang. At one moment, when we were with first reef, we surfed down a wave, the speed over water sowed 13.7 and the GPS displayed 10.8 knots.This was clearly time to reef once more. The sun went down at 1915 while we were still 7.5 miles from the entrance to the bay. I put the radar on, followed the GPS accurately and with moonlight shinning we glided into the lagoon and anchored in it’s middle. Wow! What a day!
As we finished dinner Meir thought he heard a boat being rowed in our direction. Sure enough, a woman brought two Guarda guys to us. This was expected and during the day I planned my response in Spanish for such an occurrence. The Guarda people seemed to understand and after coming back again to ask a few questions, rowed away and left us in peace.

Guarda

Guarda

March 19th – We had a perfect night in our lagoon, woke up in the morning to look around and appreciate what a good shelter it was. Had a coffee, started the engines, raised the main to the first reef even though the wind was light (experience!) and went out of the bay. Soon enough the wind picked up, allowing us to gobble the miles towards Cabo Cruz, 30 miles away, where we planned to spend the night. The anchorage there is near a picturesque fishermen village, to use the words of the guide book. A two miles barrier reef protects it from the ocean and the strong breeze “keeps the bugs away”… As usual we were trolling and caught what turned to be a large, ugly barracuda, with leech like creatures clinging near his fearsome mouth. We let it go unharmed, for fear of Ciguaterra.
Reaching the GPS way-point that marked the beginning of the entrance, we turned into the wind, now 25-27 knots, to lower sails. The 3rd reef line got stuck in one of the diamond stays and left us with a good size sail still up. With the strong wind we could not leave it this way, so I simply climbed into the lazy bag and using my bamboo walking stick freed the rope and let the sail go down. The lack of proper charts, the ones we wanted to but could not buy in Santiago, left us using the C-map on the computer, which had a scale too small for that corner of the island and the chartlet in the Nigel Calder Cuba guide that was limited in the area it covered. We did identify the red and green beacons and started going in. The spot designated for anchoring did not seem inviting at all! The strong wind churning the surface of the water and with the long fetch of the bay small, choppy waves developed. It is also right in the channel leading into the village dock with all sort of traffic passing at all hours. On the north of that channel, protected by the mangrove clad beach, the water seemed much calmer. So there we went, dug the anchor into the grass covered bottom at the second try and the moment we were secured made lunch/dinner: spaghetti  with some Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. An well deserved afternoon nap followed.
                                                   

Cabo Cruz fishermen

Cabo Cruz fishermen

Evening did not bring respite from the wind, which kept blowing around the 20 knots mark. I was not worried about the anchor holding as I swam, checked it and saw that it was firmly embedded in the grass covered sand. We sat down to go over the electronic chart and plan our route for tomorrow. Took out way-points skirting the reefs and put them in the plotter. We saw that we had about 50 miles to destination – Cayo Media Luna (Half moon cay) so decided to start at 0700.
March 20th – During the night the wind became lighter. We started with 10 knots, good enough for sailing in water that was only 4 meters deep. Later, with more depth came less wind and we had to use the engine. The sea became oily flat – what a change from yesterday!Trolling line out, we wished for a change of diet but after the third (!) barracuda was caught and released we gave it up. I’ll try my luck in the evening, when we are at anchor. During the morning Meir, with me helping a bit tried to revive the USB connected GPS that I have on board. We did get it to work for some time but it’s operation was erratic so we tried the hand-held Garmin GPS I have as back up and it WORKED!This was a big help with navigation. A few miles before the first way-point the wind came back and we glided on the flat sea at pleasant speed. We approached a group of cays through which a marked channel leads to our island and conveniently the wind backed allowing us to sail all the way to Media Luna. “What a perfect day!” I said to myself, not uttering the words for fear of bad luck. We entered the crescent that the bay is, turned to face the wind and started the port engine and then the starboard – did not start. Same symptom as I had in Virgin Gorda. After we anchored I went into the starboard engine room, checked all the electrical connections, sprayed them with the special spray I have and asked Meir to try and start it up. The engine started all right but when the switch was put into the shutdown position it did not stop. I shut it down with the depressurizing switches not really understanding what was going on. At that moment Meir noticed a burning smell and I immediately switched the engine battery off. I thought that perhaps I shorted something spraying the connections and decided to wait for them to dry before trying again. Into the water to cool off and check the anchor and then back to the engine room. We started the engine again and soon we saw smoke coming from the side of the motor. Battery switch off, I bent down, stupidly touched the part I thought was emitting the smoke and burning my finger in the process. I then realised what the problem was and breathed with relief. In most engines there is a lever you pull to shut the engine down. On Two Oceans the “Glow” switch is connected to a solenoid which operates this very same lever. I disconnected the solenoid from the electrical wires and tied a rope to the shut-down lever. I will have both engines working just fine but will have to shut down the starboard one pulling a rope in the rear cabin. That’s not too bad! Meanwhile the sun was descending towards the horizon, three fishing boats came into the bay and one, that looked like a Shrimper and had a big flock of Frigate bird in tow, drew close to investigate the strange craft that Two Oceans presented to the Cuban fishermen.

Shrimper

Shrimper

While the sun was going down in the west the full moon rose over the mangroves in the east. It was, after all, a beautiful day with the highs and lows that make up the sailing life.

Full moon

Full moon

March 21st – The day before we called Danny (who sailed with me twice before) and asked him to look up the forecast for us on the web. He sent an SMS stating that the next 6 days or so will have light winds. Maybe that was the reason we encountered more than 25 knots on the passage through the channel from Media Luna, the waves got larger as the bottom shoaled from 22 meters to 12 and Two Oceans, again with third reef and no jib, because the wind was straight from astern surfing at high speed. I was worried about the bank in front of us, with depth between 6 and 10 meters on which we had to sail 16 miles until reaching deep  water but when we got there the sea condition was not too bad. Still from time to time we had big waves and on one occasion surfed down one with the speed in the water of 14.1 knots. When we finally got to the deep area the wind abated and we slowly gave the boat more canvas. As we got to the way-point of the entrance my stress level reach new heights. In my mind I compare it to a difficult parking in a dark garage – there you can hit the wall or another car and the demage will be minimal – here you can get stuck on a reef and lose your boat! Our guide book is from 1999, the chart we have is 1:100000, not showing enough details. I tried to follow the book’s instructions, saw the place it was leading us to but the depth came down to 1.4 meters and when I looked ahead it seemed as if the whole entrance was blocked by brown, impassable sand bar. The other option was the fishermen anchorage on the other side. I started crawling towards it, eyes darting between the depth gauge and the water ahead of me. Meir noticed a line of stakes stuck in the water seemingly leading to a safe lagoon. We could also see the fishing station, although no fishing boats were visible.

Fishing station

Fishing station

March 22nd – Going out of the anchorage was, of course, much easier than coming in. Once we were in deep water (10 meters…) we put all sails up and took a course that will lead us to Cayo Breton, 60 miles away. At the beginning the going was not very fast so we trolled and immediately caught a barracuda. “Shosh, shall I fillet the fish and ask the locals if it is good and safe to eat?””No, let’s not take any chances”. Back into the water goes the Cuda and we go on trolling. 20 minutes later – another one! This time it is only 50 cm long, should be good! The fishing guide for cruisers says that if you have an “expendable mammal” or a mouse you can give it some barracuda and see if it falls ill. We gave a piece of raw fish to Meir who showed no Ciguatera symptoms. Granted, he ate a small portion. 15 minutes later, with wind picking up,we get another fish. This one gives a great fight and when it is brought aboard we have a nice size tuna, who – when fighting for survival at the end of my line – got a vicious bite from some other predator that almost severed her tail. After that we stopped fishing and concentrated on getting to destination. At one point we had visitors – a few dolphins joined us for the first time in Cuba. The wind slowly backed until it was right from behind and only 10 knots. We motor-sailed some when we saw a yacht ahead. I called her on the VHF. It was “Tata” the person talking sounded like a German, said he was cruising these waters for 20 years and offered information about anything we wanted to know. Difficult to understand but he did give us some anchorage data. When he heard we were going to Casilda for entry procedures he stated that Casilda was not a port of entry and that we should go to Cienfuegos.
That’s another 40 miles away! Let’s see what happens when we get there Sunday. He was, by the way, on a Catana catamaran. After I thanked him and said goodbye the idea occurred to me: why don’t we try flying a spinnaker? The number 2 spinnaker went up for two hours until the wind went even lighter and we took it down for the last 7 miles of the trip. The entrance to our anchorage for the night was not as stressful as the one the day before but still required a lot of concentration. We had to go in a break in the reef, follow a channel that passed a fishing station that was a hanger perched on columns in the middle of nowhere, then turn right through a very narrow channel, whose banks were so shallow you could see the bottom rising to about 10 cm below the surface.

Another fishing station

Another fishing station

Shallow

Shallow

The chart in the guide suggested two anchorages: one close to the lighthouse in the main channel and one that forks to the right and leads to a vast lagoon. Of course we opted for the latter, but when I tried to go in the bottom rose to 1.2 meters and I had to back up. We dropped anchor, lowered the dinghy and went to investigate that inaccessible channel. It soon transpired that since Nigel Calder surveyed the place the mangroves had their say, they conquered the channel, narrowing it , silting it so that at a certain point even the dinghy could not pass without hinging the motor up. We turned back to Two Oceans and dinner.

Two Oceans

Two Oceans

March 23rd – We didn’t need an early start today as the distance to Casilda, where we hoped to finally, formally enter Cuba was about 40 miles. We went out of the anchorage in a flat calm, navigating “electronically” with no possibility of reading the bottom through the glassy surface of the water. We droned for hours on single engine until we reached the main ship channel leading to Casilda. On the way we discussed the possibility that we will be sent round again to Cienfuegos, which is surely a port of entry, just as the skipper of “Tata” said. Meir gave it two to one that we will not be accepted. Shosh and myself were optimistic. Close to the Casilda lagoon I tried my luck on the VHF and called the marina. The man who answered did not speak a word of English. In my broken Spanish I asked him two questions: Can we enter Cuba in the marina? Is there a direct channel from the lagoon entrance to the marina? To both questions the answer was:”Correcto”. Now I got wise! Right then a motor boat with local tourists overtook us and it’s
skipper signaled us to stop. Broken English mingled with broken Spanish, with him telling me I could not clear in here and me telling him we are going into the marina. He then told me to follow him in a shortcut into the marina.

Into Casilda

Into Casilda

Once again, I almost had a heart attack when the bottom showed 1.0 meters! At one point I just pushed the throttles forward hoping that we will slice through the mud and cross the bar into the marina. Once inside the marina people came and helped us tie to the dock. One of them, a man called Miguel, spoke good English. He brought a man from the Capitania, or whatever it was called. They all went to consult some higher authority and when they came back the verdict was:”You cannot stay here, you have to go to Cienfuegos and for the night you cannot stay in the marina or the lagoon but have to anchor outside”. “We have to follow the rules” said Miguel. “What about water? Can we have some?” The man from the Capinania said they had a problem with water, Miguel told us to wait 5 minutes while he will try to arrange it. After 15 minutes the other marina employees told me that Miguel was taking care of a group of tourists and obviously forgot all about us, I lost patience, started the engines and motored, this time in the established channel, no shortcuts, out of the lagoon to a place off the main shipping channel, near some mangrove islet where fishermen were sailing their small boats in pursuit of livelihood.

Fisherman

Fisherman

The whole episode was rather distressing. We are already a week in Cuba and saw nothing of it at all, never setting our feet on solid ground! We saw Trinidad in the distance and the biblical words uttered to Moses, as he looked upon the land of Israel from the outside, echoed in our minds:”Thou will see the country in front of thee but to it thou will not enter”…(free translation from memory).
As we sat down relaxing with some Pernod (our stock is quickly being reduced to the last bottle of Coconut Rum) we went over the plans for the days ahead. We decided to get up very early so as to reach Cienfuegos at midday, finish the formalities as fast as we can and go by land to visit Trinidad, probably staying the night over there. Trinidad boasts 300 “Casa Particulares” that’s private homes renting rooms to tourists and a way to see some of the Cuban real life.

March 24th – The sound of rain drops woke me up at 0400. Good time to get going. But things started on the left foot this morning. First of all the moon hid behind the clouds and there was not enough light. Secondly – Meir turned off the plotter by mistake and all the way-points I put in were lost. When I tried to insert them again the plotter agreed to take two only and did not permit me to make additional ones. The computer shut itself down because it’s battery was depleted, I thought I had it connected to the charger but obviously this was not the case. Slowly we found solutions to each of the problems and at 0515 set out through the partly lighted ship channel, into the open sea, heading towards Cienfuegos and hopefully – the real start of the Cuba trip. At 0730 I got an SMS on the Iridium from our “Meteorologist – Router”. Danny sent the forecast for the 25 -27 of March: E, NE 20 – 25 knots with 30 possible for the 26th. That’s a lot of wind! Immediately we started investigating the possibility of doing he trip to Habana (that’s the way it is written here) during that period instead of the original plan. All this time we were motoring to Cienfuegos with less than 10 knots behind us. At 1130 we passed the lighthouse in the entrance to the narrow channel leading to the Cienfuegos lagoon, where the marina is located.

lighthouse

lighthouse

Once inside the spirit of the country became apparent by the welcome message on the Guarda building.

Welcome

Welcome

Another aspects became apparent just a bit later, the ancient castle and a building falling apart near it.

Crumbling

Crumbling

As we came closer I raised the marina on VHF and was answered in good English. A guy signaled the space to tie up to, we dropped the anchor and came stern to the dock. Santiago, the dock master, the one we spoke to on the radio, greeted us warmly. The whole atmosphere was so much nicer than what we had experienced before. In short order the various officials came to the boat. First the doctor and sanitation officer. Then immigrations, who surprisingly asked for “a present”. After them came two customs officers, one smiling and the other keeping a stern face. They made a long list of the yacht’s equipment, went through all the rooms looking under the mattresses and between clothes, were very interested in the medicines and first aid kits but did not look at any of the outside lockers. Finally, both smiling now, they gave us the O.K paper and could step ashore, now legally in Cuba! In the evening we started walking into town, 2 Km away, then hopped on a wagon pulled by a horse, which is a regular taxi in this place. We ate at a restaurant recommended by the “Lonely Planet” guide, were the only guests and had the first taste of the Cuban cuisine. It was clear we needed to get used to the idea that our former standards cannot be applied to this country, everything is so different!
After dinner we went to the central bus terminal to investigate the bus schedule to Habana and Trinidad. The girl in the information booth was very nice and took care of us while simultaneously juggling two phones. “The bus to Habana leaves at 0910 and gets there at 1325, you have to be at the station one hour before departure”.
Out of the station and back to the city center where most of the nightlife is supposed to happen. It is 2030 and the streets are EMPTY! The only place with some signs of life is Copelia, An ice-cream parlour. There is a line of people in front of it and every few minutes, as places inside become available, an employee ushers a certain number of them in. Inside people are sitting around tables, waiters take orders and bring the sweet stuff to the tables. A man opposite us was having a four scoops vanilla ice cream and as desert ordered and ate a chocolate shake. The ice cream was GOOD!

March 25th – Wanting to take the 0910 bus we went out early to get a taxi. The hotel near by had none available, so we started walking and caught a ride on a horse driven taxi. As we got to the central station a guy approached us and asked if we wanted a taxi to Habana “at the price of the bus”. It so happened that the immigration officer who received us in the marina was there, going on a trip to his family. “Is it safe?” I asked him and when he answered in the affirmative, we wanted to see the car. It was a fairly new (Cuban standards) Peaugeot so we jumped in. The driver, an eighteen year old named Jesus did a good job, so Shoshi suggested that we ask him if he wanted to take us back the next day and he did. We went to a “Casa Particular” in the old city that the Lonely Planet recommended. Those are private homes in which the government allow the family to rent rooms to tourists, presumably while maintaining a certain standard. The one we tried to get a room in was furnished in a sort of extravagant taste.

Cuban salon

Cuban salon

The people were very friendly and helpful. Although they were full they called somebody on the phone and in a few minutes a woman, who called herself Milady (memories of the “Three Musketeers” sprang into my mind) and led us to a house not far away. The rooms were reasonable so we took them, one with a toilet/shower enclosed, while I – the single man – had to share the household facilities with the family. In Cuba they have special tourist money called “Convertible Pesos” or CUC, that have an unreal rate to the world currencies. Tourists are to use this money only. In a country where the wages are in the order of 20-30 $ a month, the 30 CUC we paid for a room were probably a big addition to the family’s budget. We left our stuff with Miriam, the lady of the house and Milady and went out to see the old city. First we looked for a place to have lunch. A place called Lleva de Oro (rain of gold?) had a live band, sandwiches and a lot of colourful locals. This could have been Paris or Madrid – the music was modern Latin and LOUD but big fun.

cubans in bar

cubans in bar

Bar character

Bar character

We next walked the streets, looking at the old buildings, many of them renovated, mainly in the center of old Habana. As you go to the side streets they are not so well taken care of. Habana is famous for the old cars on its roads, mostly American monsters from the fifties and even forties of the last century. It seems the most popular is the Chevrolet 57 (or is it 56?) and it was really funny seeing a Wyllis van, like we used to have in the Israeli air force 45 years ago.

Chevy 57

Chevy 57

willys

willys

In the evening we went to a restaurant billed in the guide as the best one in the old town. Only later it occurred to me that logically it did not necessarily mean that it was good at all. We then entered a place that had Cuban music, which was nice, even though it was for tourist (our) ears.

March 26th – Today we planned to tour the modern part of the city but first went to the Plaza de Armas where a book fair was to take place. I wanted to buy Hemingway’s El Viejo Y El Mar, The Old Man and the Sea and Meir, who turned out to be a book lover too also wanted to go there. The books displayed on the stands told a lot  about Cuba as it is today.

Books

Books

A popular book

A popular book

I didn’t see any Harry Potter books there… We then visited the Capitol that used to the parliament before the revolution and later the Partagas cigar factory.

Cigar factory

Cigar factory

Although being a non smoker, this tour was very interesting to me. Watching the workers make each and every cigar manually, or was it that way? Some tasks, like gluing the bands, are done in a way reminiscent of Charley Chaplin’s “Modern Times” with automatic, mindless movements. Did you know that every worker may smoke as many cigars as he or she wishes during work? Or that they may take home three cigars each working day? Now one can understand how people approach you in side streets and offer Cohibas and Monte Christos. During all our visit there was a woman’s voice on loud speakers. Our guide explained that a meeting between the management and the workers was going on and was broadcast for the benefit of the workforce. To me it sounded like one voice for the half an hour we were there and I wonder whether the Trabajadores would have preferred a different kind of music.
Next was the Museum of Fine Arts, nothing to write home about.We arranged with our hosts to have dinner at 1700, before going back to Cienfuegos. But before that we went to a local market to get some vegetables, something that was not available elsewhere. The day before, when we went to see where the market was, one of the lady vendors tried hard to sell us the tomatoes she had. I promised her I’ll come today and when she saw us she jumped with joy. After buying the stuff from her she left her stall in the care of some colleagues and helped us do the rest of our shopping. When I mentioned that I wanted to have my hair cut she took us to a barber, on the way stopping at her home to show us to her mother (or was she her aunt?).

Teresa

Teresa

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