Monday, 27 March 2017

Cienfuegos to Cayo Largo (25-26/3/17)


On Friday afternoon, I did some last minute shopping by taxi into town for some fresh fruit and veg in which I was moderately successful. I should have delayed departure another day so that I could have gone to the Saturday market which is supposedly pretty good. On my return, I managed to complete check out with Immigration and Customs. It seems they were doing me a favour by checking out the day before departure because they were insistent that I didn’t delay and must be gone by 0730 the following morning.
The forecast was for a mixture of winds over the next couple of days – moderate NE’s to variables.
In the event I got going just before 0730. The winds were fairly light and so whilst I had the mainsail up I motored out of the bay and the approach channel which I saw for the first time in daylight.
By around 0930 I was well down the approach channel and the wind freshened allowing us to sail for a few hours. The first part of the passage required a diversion around the exclusion zone west of Cienfuegos. By the time, I had got to the south western extremity the wind had died and the rest of the leg to Cayo Guano Del Estate was under power. The Cay is a very small island and the anchorage is noted for being rather rolly but I was not going to make the better one at Cayo Sal another 8 miles to the west before dark. Additionally, should the predicted NE wind arrive I would have better shelter at Cayo Guano. The wind arrived just as I anchored and would have been a perfect one for the leg! The anchorage was rather rolly and so I did not get much sleep.
I was therefore rather dozy in the morning forgetting that to make the most of the winds an early start would be required. In the event I did not get going until around 0930. After 3 hours of ever decreasing winds we were down to less than 2 knots and would clearly not make Cayo Largo before dark. After much debate with myself about the best course of action which included the possibility of anchoring off a tiny Cay for the night and the fact that fuel should be available at Cayo Largo, I decided to motor once again. The engine was required for the rest of the leg although we did get a bit of help from the wind for the last couple of hours. We tied up at the Marina at 1815. I went ashore to report to the authorities and having completed the immediate formalities I cleaned myself up a bit and went back ashore to look for food and drink. A drink first, a Mojito at the Marina bar watching the sun go down and then over the nearby hotel for a simple, OK meal, but the most expensive yet at around £20 including two glasses of wine.
This morning – 27/3, I visited the Marina office, payed my mooring fee (about £25 per night but they only charged me for one) and found out how to get fuel. I have to notify the office how much I need today, pay them for it and then go to the fuel dock at 0730 tomorrow morning to get the fuel. So, I’ll do that and then move out to the anchorage for which there is no charge. I found the showers too and apparently, they have warm water. I should also be able to fill up with water – but not drinking water quality. I don’t use the main tank for drinking water anyway so I may as well top up the tank – I’m not sure when I’ll next get the chance to get more fuel and water.
I’ve been considering the passage plan for the next leg(s) partly because I need to tell the local authorities what my next port will be. The next proper one is Nueva Gerona on the north east coast of the Isla Dela Juventuo some 70 miles west of here but it doesn’t sound very inviting and would require a significant detour northwards. I’m therefore considering going south of the island and stopping off at a good anchorage at Cayo Matias. There are a number of Anchorages en route which I can use to break the journey. The first and likely next stop will be at Cayo Del Rosario about 20 miles west of here. Probably the most challenging leg comes after that – getting around the western most Cape – Cabo San Antonio through the Yankut Channel. It looks like the choice is between getting round the Cape and then coming inshore into the sheltered waters of the  Golfo De Guanahacabibes, or to stay off-shore in the favourable current and keep going until Havana. That will require longer at sea but will be quicker. In the Gulf I would be able to stop off for at least some nights. The prevailing weather will probably be a main factor.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll post another update before leaving here. It might turn out that Havana is the next place I can get an internet connection.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Cienfuegos 5 – Thursday 23-Friday 24 March




Had a bit of a lie in yesterday after my day out in Trinidad and on rising at about 0930, noticed that my French neighbour Lauren had just returned from his outing to Havana by bus. He’s been away a few days and had asked me to keep an eye on his boat. Thankfully for both of us there were no problems.

Lauren’s a sometimes single hander too (more than me I think) and having spent a year in the Caribbean is heading for Panama at the weekend. We went out for early evening drinks and a snack before rendezvousing in town with a German he had met on the bus. I’ve forgotten his name but another interesting character who has visited Cuba multiple times and despite the challenges obviously loves the place. They both speak Spanish and so I that evening I got a bit of a free ride on the back of their ability to communicate with the locals. Nevertheless, it was a challenge to find an open restaurant. Night-life here is much less developed than in Havana apparently. We found somewhere eventually and despite being the only customers and interesting service, we enjoyed some very good food at reasonable prices – circa £10 per head with a tip. Then we found some great live music at the Theatre Bar - £2 to get in and drinks at standard prices.

Talking of the price of drinks. Early in the day I went shopping to provision for the next step of the journey. It’s a good job I’ve still got plenty of tinned food and pasta and rice on board because food stuff is not easy to find. Guess what was in plentiful supply in all the shops? Yes, rice, pasta and puréed tomatoes and cooking oil; all of which I had ample supplies of already!

I did find cans of beer and a slab of local beer – 24 cans cost about £18 – the same price one pays for a beer in the cheaper bars! It was a bit of a comedy routine buying it though because the shop used the local Peso currency and I had cash in CUC the tourist currency. I did not realise this at first and having established the cost was $18 CUC I could not fathom out why the shop keeper was unable to give me change of a $20 CUC note. Just lots of shaking of heads when I offered the note. Once the penny or should I say peso finally dropped I wondered where I would be able to get Pesos from. The shop keeper was clearly no entrepreneur and was as honest as they come (why not just charge me £20 CUC) because he was quite happy for me to walk away from probably his biggest sale of the week. Being pretty slow witted myself, I nearly did, until it occurred to me that he could surely throw in a few more cans to make the value up to $20 CUC! So four cans of fizzy orange later I struggled out of the shop with a slab of beer, some pasta bases and pack of the soft white rolls that pass for bread here. I also picked up a local cake I think that’s what it is) from a street vendor.

Back on the main road I succumbed to the offer of a bicycle taxi back to the marina. On the way, we stopped off at another supermarket where I bought some rum and a lemon mixer and the only meat products I could find in small quantities – two different types of processed chicken bits in bread crumbs. I expect they will be disgusting but…

That left me with eggs and fresh veg still to get. Both seem to be available at the marina and so I hope I can get some there a bit later.

Other than that, and the need to clear with customs and immigration which I also hope to do shortly, I am almost ready to go. I filled up with fuel and water this morning and finished off all the must do jobs on the boat.

Hopefully I will be able to get internet access at Cayo Largo (ETA Monday/Tuesday) and post a further update.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Trinidad (Wednesday 22nd March)


I got up at 0700, got the dinghy launched (it’s a requirement here to have the dinghy on deck by nightfall – not sure exactly why that is – perhaps to deter theft – but Cubans seem to be the most law abiding of people – or perhaps to do with the concern that yachties may wish to smuggle Cubans out of the country), the outboard motor on, had a quick breakfast of muesli and got ashore by 0840.
The promised taxi in the shape of a classic American car complete with driver, Nelson, turned up a few minutes later. Nelson could speak as much English as I could Spanish and so communications were fairly limited. However, it was evident he was waiting for another couple of passengers. They soon arrived a charming German couple who had been passengers on one of the Charter Catamarans. Their English was much better than my non-existent German and so we chatted pleasantly on and off during the trip whenever one of us could summon up the strength to speak above the roar of what I am sure must have been a tractor engine under the huge bonnet (or should I say ‘hood’). Then we picked up another couple from one of the local guest houses and the 6 of us including Nelson we were off to Trinidad, 50 miles away.
The roads were pretty good – all two-way carriageways, but the surfaces were in general nothing worse than one encounters on A and B roads in the UK. However, I’m sure the car had no suspension at all and the only thing preventing serious injury to my back-side were the springs in the bench seats. The interior of the car was sparse to say the least with a complete absence of the bells and whistles one associates with classic American cars. The steering wheel was bare metal and apart from the seat coverings all the other surfaces inside were painted metal and judging by the way Nelson negotiated corners, if there had ever been any power steering it no longer existed. I’ve no idea what make of car it was, but it was huge and probably accounted for Nelson’s very thick arms! After a while I noticed he was using hand signals to indicate and that when on-coming vehicles flashed him (either because they knew him or to warn him of the next speed trap up the road) he would respond with a wave. It then dawned on me that the car had no functioning lights! Needless to say, there were no seat belts.
As we moved out of the town centre the (curious) colonial architecture gave way to more basic functional buildings, most but not all in a fairly shabby state. We passed schools, hospitals and blocks of flats and simple slab sided dwellings. Some were VERY run down.
Then we were in open country. Immediately after the town we drove past a vast mango orchard. Then the countryside was a mixture of rough grassland and sparse forest comprising the sort of scrawny deciduous trees we’ve seen on the other islands. Here though there were very few ‘jungle’ type trees, for want of a more informed description, except when we crossed rivers. Hazy mountains were evident in the distant spine of the island although I later realised that it was not mist but smoke. A lot of the land was being burned I assume deliberately either to clear it or prepare it for the next crops (not that I saw much sign of crops being grown – it was nearly all wooded grassland with cows and goats grazing. Now here’s a thing, pork, chicken and fish are seemingly plentiful in the restaurants, but I have not seen any beef or goat and on our trip and out and back I didn’t see a single pig or chicken!
The most enduring images of the drive out and back were the horses and their riders. The riders ranged from the very young to the very old. All boys and men (no women that I noticed) who looked like they had been born in the saddle. The rode with consummate ease. Many of them were clearly working on maintaining fences – I saw groups of them along the road working on fences with their horses nearby. Horses also ranged across the landscape in significant numbers. Others were being used to pull carts and carriages. I had noticed lots of horse pulled taxis in town but assumed they were just a response to the growing tourism industry. Clearly that’s not the case rather the horse is a major feature of Cuban life.
We didn’t pass any villages as such, just small collections of usually very featureless bungalows. Most very shabby but every now and again some were better kept and some included roadside restaurants with trees, shrubs and flowers.
The outskirts of Trinidad were little more than a shanty town, albeit it one heaving with people going about their lives. In truth, the colonial architecture for which Trinidad is so famous is restricted to a pretty small area around the pretty main square – the Plaza Mayor. What a feast for the eyes and other senses though. I felt like a tourist in an Agatha Christie novel in some exotic setting. Yes, there were lots of other tourists but the town was still essentially Cuban it hadn’t morphed into a Disney caricature of itself. It seemed every other building was either a restaurant or an Art Gallery if it wasn’t a museum and of course the museums had Art Galleries in them. The museums were a cut above those in Cienfuegos and despite very limited English signage, and probably because they were still very simple, they succeeded in conjuring up Cuba’s turbulent history and revolutionary roots.
The Art Galleries ganged up to assault one’s vision with one vivid display after another. I’m no expert but was enchanted by the vibrancy of the art to an extent I do not recall before. I shopped for a few gifts in the craft market – a cut above others I have seen and reasonable prices too. Then lunch in a charming little restaurant/bar on the square. A simple dish of rice, chicken and vegetables, followed by a gorgeous baked custard dish and a very good cup of coffee – around £15, including a cocktail and beer! Over lunch I chatted with a Haitian/American couple. She was the American and it turned out had an Uncle in Croydon! I was interested in Haiti, having sailed by without stopping partly due to concerns about its violent reputation. He didn’t think there was any reason not to visit there however.

After lunch, I drifted across the square, tried to get in the Cathedral but it was closed and then found myself sitting in another Café with another beer, listening to a street band play traditional Cuban music. Then a short walk up the hill past VERY dilapidated houses to the ruined church overlooking the town. Then more wandering until the sound of more live music drew me into another bar. This time in return for giving the band a generous tip and buying their CD, I got my picture taken with them and for a moment was a trumpet player! Shortly afterwards I met Nelson around 1700 and took the long ride back to Cienfuegos. This time I was the only passenger and sat up front. It was however, no more comfortable than the back seat! 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Cienfuegos 3


Yesterday, Sunday, was part frustration part enjoyment. I spent most of the day on the boat tackling the endless list of jobs. First up was to try and patch the dinghy which had developed a slow leak in the front chamber and more recently in the bottom. I tracked down the possible sources and spend a couple of hours patching and taping up seams. I stopped the water leak in the bottom but not I discovered later the slow puncture. Frustration number 1.
Next up to replace the temporary repair to Angus’ vane attachment. I needed a wing nut of the right size and suddenly remembered that Mick had bought a few Angus type spares in Gran Canaria. Wonder of wonders, there were two wing nuts in the Angus spares box. Thanks Mick. A job quickly completed. That doesn’t happen very often.
Next up replace the reefing pennants. I needed a longer one for the second reef so that I could also use it for the 3rd reef without having to tie an extension to it. The pennants run inside the boom and go through pulleys at each end. I had previously bought the rope necessary and had already replaced the mainsail clue line with the same stuff. To do this without dismantling the boom which I suspected would not be possible given the age of all the nuts and bolts involved (they would probably be seized/corroded) I needed to attach a thin line to the existing rope, pull it through then attach the line to the new rope and pull that through. Sound simple enough except that first I simply tried to attach the new rope to the old. Of course, I could not make a good enough join so that would not go through. Then I did it properly but it was still a devil of a job pulling the new rope through and I was very concerned about the join parting in the boom and then I would be well and truly buggered. Anyway, I eventually did get it through but the dam new rope would not run freely through the pulley on the end of the boom. I could not understand it, it was the same rope as that which I had already used for the clue line. It was no good though it would have to come out, I could not risk being unable to reef the sail in a blow. So out it came. By this time, it was 1600 and I was well and truly pissed off. My plan had always been to go ashore for the evening to a Cuban music venue I had found in town so I packed up work for the day and went ashore after a very wet dinghy ride.
I was very short of cash – just about $20 Cuban dollars (CUC) about the same in pounds and (thought) I could get no more until the banks opened tomorrow. My guide book warned about the ques too so I was pleasantly surprised to notice the bank in town had cash machines outside it and they worked too, so I could get money. Mind you I needn’t have worried; the music – lovely traditional Cuban Folk music was free and the drinks were cheap. $CUC 1.50 for a beer and $2.50 for a rum. Earlier I bought a fast food Pizza and a beer for $CUC 2.50. The other evening I had a basic Cuban meal near the marina and beer for $CUC 5.50. The meal was plain but ample, two pieces of Pork, Rice and Salad and fried (to a crispy finish) bananas.
I arrived at the small music venue just as a coach was disgorging tourists and my heart sank but it was fine. There were plenty of locals and room enough for everyone. The locals were mostly elderly folk who were soon up on their feet waltzing and doing the Salsa. There were a few youngsters too. One very slim attractive young man who had the most fluid body movement I have every witnessed. He danced with several the elderly women – to their great obvious pleasure. Again, I noticed a mixture of ethnicity and again it seemed to me at least that it mattered not a jot to the locals. Some of the tourists joined in the dancing too. It was a most delightful scene.
At the break, I moved to the back to get a drink and soon an attractive young lady tried to engage me in conversation. Not very successfully given my non-existent Spanish – her English was better – and my hearing is none too good in noisy places anyway. For a moment, I was flattered but then suspected that she and her friend were perhaps ladies of the night! I bought them both a drink and politely moved on!
Back at the boat I had to get the outboard off the dinghy and it hoisted up on the deck to comply with the local regulations. A bit of faff on my own. I need to construct a hoist of some sort. Of course, this morning I had to do it all again in reverse.
Into town again stopping off at the Barbers on the way for a $CUC 5 haircut – very consciously done. Then the State Telephone shop to try and get an Internet card. The previous evening I was told come back today. After queuing today – the same response! Yesterday I did by a couple of 1 hour cards from a black-market street vendor for $3CUC each. I think the state price is $1! I must look out for him again at this rate. I could send some WhatsApp messages home from the one and only state Wi-Fi hotspot in the town square last night as a result. I have one card left and hope that I am able to post this and my previous posts with it shortly. You will know if I succeed if the date of this post is the 20th. Which I have just remembered is my Brother Richard’s Birthday and other brother Andy’s is tomorrow. Happy Birthday both!
The town square is where it seems everyone goes to use the internet. In the evening especially it’s thronged with youngsters using their phones to get on-line.
I’ll be heading back to the boat to continue my chores later. I hope to take a bus to Trinidad later in the week. It’s 50 miles away and so will probably stay over-night given there are only two buses a day!
Well I wasn’t able to connect my lap top in the town square so I started the walk back to the marina. I stopped off for a so, so meal but very cheap, about £5 including a glass of wine and a desert. The main course was a sort of chicken stir-fry with vegetables. No complaints given the price. Then back to the boat to continue with the jobs. A reasonably productive afternoon. I succeeded in replacing the reefing pennants. To do so I had to use a spare halyard for reef 3-4, it was the only way I could find a long enough piece of rope of the right diameter. I finished up by 1730 and resolved to have a further go at getting on line to post the blogs. So, I went ashore and back to the Hotel I had called at earlier where I asked about Wi-Fi but got the response that they had no cards. It occurred to be that I might be able to use one of the ones I had acquired earlier. Sure, enough despite dire warnings about being hacked I was able to get on line and post these blog articles.
Next, I’m going to get dinner across the road. Tomorrow more jobs on the boat and then on Wednesday, perhaps a day trip to the town of Trinidad.

Apologies for the continued lack of photos.

Cienfuegos 2


What a day! I awoke after 3-4 hours of sleep at around 0600 local time – not realising that the clocks had gone forward one hour. After dozing for an hour I got up at 0700 according to my phone but at 0800 according to the ship’s clock. After consulting the sailing guide it seemed the phone was wrong but I later discovered that it was not and despite only occasionally registering a mobile network signal it had correctly advanced the time by one hour.
I was in the process of getting the dinghy ready for the trip ashore (a bit of a chore on one’s own) when Lauren the Frenchman I met on the custom’s dock anchored nearby and asked if I could take him ashore later. He was off to visit Havana by bus for a week and understandably wanted to leave his dinghy on the boat. We agreed 1100 which was later than I had planned on going ashore but it gave my time to read up on the city and plan my excursion a little. However, as noted above I had incorrectly concluded that the clocks had not yet gone forward and therefore he turned up at around 1130 having got a lift from another Frenchman nearby. I had agreed to keep an eye on his boat whilst he was away and so chatted briefly before he went off. A bonus too. His lift had rescued my (actually left behind by Bernie a few years ago) British Rail Orange worker’s jacket that was ideal for wet weather in these climes but which had got blown overboard yesterday afternoon.
I had just finished breakfast and so cleared up as quickly as possible and went ashore, had a shower and headed into town on foot. It would be about a 30 minute walk.
What a remarkable place. The marina and approach to town was set in the posh suburbs very much like I imagine 1960’s Florida would have looked complete with 1960’s American cars on the streets. The local area and the main city was laid out in a formal grid but included some wonderful colonial architecture. As I walked into town the streets gradually got busier. I noticed that the Cubans were ethnically, a very mixed people and as far as I could tell their ethnicity made no difference to one another.
I went in search of the Bus and Rail station first, both situated next to eachother in a rather run down suburb on the south west of town. I wanted to take a bus for a day trip to Trinidad while here and thought that would be the best place to check out the options. I did find a timetable but there was a long que at what I took to be the ticket office and after consulting my Rough Guide to Cuba, I reckoned I would be better off getting on line to find further details. So I left and checked out the rail station next door. Both were very run down affairs. Little did I know how difficult it would turn out to be to get an internet connection. Through talking to a few random people in cafes later I eventually established that I needed buy a state internet card in order to use any local wifi spot. These it seemed were few and far between providing unreliable connections. When I did find the state run telephone service at about 2pm I was told they had stopped selling internet cards for the day and I would have to come back tomorrow! Some of the tourists I spoke to said they had bought theirs from their Hotels and so I will try one on my way back to the Marina. I really wanted to get on-line to share photos with the family and post my blog updates.
I visited the famous Tomas Terry Theatre which was indeed a colonial gem albeit fairly modest my European standards. Next I visited the city museum. Cuba it seems cannot do Museums. It was charming but VERY primitive. However, what a Jewel I stumbled across. It just so happened that a private (in Cuba!) concert had just started and whilst I could not join the audience I was able to see many of the singers – mainly beautiful young women dressed in light blue dresses reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman styles. There were men too – mainly out of my view, but those I could see were rather more conservatively attired. There were no musical instruments just the ‘choir’ and whilst I could not understand a word their singing was quite sublime.
Next door was an Art Gallery. I think it was a commercial operation rather than a state one. It was full of vibrant paintings and carvings and other knick knacks. I didn’t buy anything – partly because I had very little cash and being a weekend the banks were closed and partly because I was trying to economise, but I did take photos which I hope to post at some stage.
In between times I had a rum cocktail (disappointing) at a bar in the main square – the ‘Pargue Jose Marti’ and later found one of the live music venues recommended in the Rough Guide. No performance today but the charming waitress at the bar said there would be a performance of local music tomorrow night at 8pm. I’ll be back for that.
Just realised that I have missed the Cathederal so I’m going to have a look at that before heading back towards the Marina where hopefully I’ll be able to get an internet connection. I hope so because I’ve lugged my laptop around all day! Mind you I’ve just realised it’s almost 1800 local time so I may not get into the Cathedral.
I didn’t.
I walked back to the Marina via a residential neighbourhood unlike any I had ever seen before but which was probably very similar to all the others in Cienfuegos. The same rigid grid of streets with what I can best describe as two story apartments lining the streets. Some in very poor states of repair others less so. The streets were dotted with fruit and veg carts, some horse drawn others just pushed along. Kids played in the streets and old people sat outside their houses on the pavement. Despite the uniformity of the streets there was a very homely atmosphere. I passed a group of young men playing dominos on a table set up on the road. I stopped and asked for a photograph which they were very happy to oblige and then tried to get me to join their game. They were playing for money so I politely declined which they took good naturedly. Then back to the boat via the town waterfront where there was a bar and music and which looked like it would get quite lively later.

Checking In and the rest of Day 1 in Cienfuegos


I was woken at 0830 by a shout from somewhere and thinking it might be the authorities I got up and looked around. It was however just a passing yacht on their way in.
Nevertheless, I thought I had better get up and try and make contact with the locals. I called the marina on channels 19 and 16 as suggested by the sailing guide but as far as I could work out got no response. There was traffic on 16 in Spanish but I don’t think it was in response to my own. Just as I was wondering whether I would have to pump up the dinghy and go ashore a small motor boat approached with ‘Dockmaster’ written on its hull. The occupant pulled alongside and explained in broken English, that was nevertheless far superior to my Spanish, that I should take the boat into the marina to go through the clearance procedures.
I therefore got fenders and warps out, stowed Angus out of harm’s way and went alongside one of the outer docks as directed. I almost chucked my remaining 1 dozen eggs before doing so because of warnings in the pilot but didn’t, reckoning that I was unlikely to be locked up for importing 12 eggs even if I was to be given a good ticking and have the eggs confiscated. Thankfully, I hadn’t anticipated the one subject about which I would have worried. More on that shortly.
First aboard was a Health official who asked various standard questions about my health and took my temperature. He did this with an instrument he shone at my forehead for a few seconds and pronounced it normal.
Next was a couple of the Frontier Police who took various particulars about me and the boat and filled out various forms that I signed. They also took my passport explaining that it would be returned later in the process.
Next was a more official looking person who at first greeting seemed a little formal but was soon as friendly as all the others. He was the Immigration Officer AND Harbour Master. More forms and more questions about me and the contents of the boat. I thought he must have responsibility for Customs too but turned out he was merely prepping for the arrival of the Customs Officer later. One of the forms had the questions I was anticipating about food stuffs including eggs which I declared and waited for their summary confiscation. However, he barley looked at the completed form. Another form concerned money and valuables. The money was easy, I had only about $60 US and could truthfully declare that I was under the limit required. The subject of valuables was trickier.  I queried this with him and he gave me the impression that their concern was more about very high value items not those that cost a few hundred pounds like my Yellowbrick and he encouraged me to answer in the negative across a range of other questions which I duly did.
Then I had to go and check in at the Marina Office. I was greeted by a woman who spoke excellent English and the chap in the Dockmaster launch. The woman explained that he was a trainee and she was the trainer. More forms where therefore completed with a great deal of animated conversation going on between them. I had to pay for a Visa, local taxes and 3% interest for using my Debit card. A total of US $130. I’ll also have to pay anchor fees on departure – can’t interpret the price list at present but the guide book describes it as nominal.
I think I was quite lucky to turn up when there was no one else there because while It would probably have been half that it were it not for the training. I was there a number of other people arrived and were asked to return later. The procedure took a about 45 minutes.
At the end of the process the Immigration guy came in with my passport and asked me to go with him. I think he had his Harbour Master hat on this time. It soon became clear that we were going back to the boat and that there were three or 4 others in tow. Two of them had dogs – spaniels. Ah I thought – they’ll be checking for drugs. Then I thought, hmm I think a certain person may have smoked a couple of spliffs on the boat in Jamaica. How long does the scent last I thought?
Anyway, I got on the boat followed by the Harbour Master. Then one of the chaps with a dog came aboard. They seemed to spend an age down below but it was probably only 5 minutes. Then the exercise was repeated by the second dog and handler. There was some conversation between the two and the Harbour Master and I was asked if I smoked Cannabis. Whether this was because the dogs had picked up some scent or just because I had come from Jamaica, I’m not sure! Anyway, I replied in the negative and to my great relief no hand cuffs appeared. Nor were my eggs or citrus fruits confiscated which the guide book warned might happen.
Then the Customs man came on board, a few questions were asked. He had the forms I had completed earlier. Another form was produced and stamped and I was asked to sign a form declaring that no forbidden items were found.
Finally, back to the Harbour Master who completed the 30-day Visa form and handed it over along with my passport and the Despatch document giving me the freedom to cruise the Cuban coast.
Welcome to Cuba, I was finally legal and free to come and go.
Next I had to get the boat back to anchor to make room for the next customer.
That I did and spent the rest of the day tidying up, airing lots of damp clothes, catching up on sleep and writing up the blog content. Tomorrow I’ll go ashore and into town and hopefully find an internet connection to allow me to communicate with home and post the two blog articles.

I have quite a few running repairs to make over the coming days but more on those later. It’s now nearly 0200 – the problem of sleeping during the day – and I really should get to bed if I’m going to get a full day ashore tomorrow.  

Passage Log – Montego Bay Jamaica to Cienfuegos, Cuba


Day 1, Monday 13th March
The forecast for the next few days is for light easterly winds turning to headwinds before returning to the east and getting stronger in places. If it were not for the fact that I’m spending $20 per day on the mooring and $10 a day for the use of the Yacht Club I would wait until Wednesday but I’ve had enough of that and have therefore decided to sail for Cabo Cruz and anchor off until the winds return on Wednesday morning. I’m taking a slight risk with the Cuban authorities because Cabo Cruz is not a port of entry and I cannot therefore enter the country there. However, I plan to anchor some way off behind the reef which should provide a comfortable anchorage whilst at the same time being sufficiently far out to lend credence to my ‘story’ that I do not intend to anchor in the event of being visited by officials.
Checking out was a lengthy process mainly because I had to wait almost 2 hours for Immigration to turn up. Customs were there on time. Anyway, I finally got through the formalities around 1130 and said goodbye to Renice, one of Sharon’s cousins who had kindly come to the Yacht Club to see me off. His account of his life in Jamaica reminded me how tough it is out here for normal folk.
It took me a couple more hours to get ready to leave; buy fuel (I forgot ice) then get back to the boat and stow the fuel, the outboard motor, the dinghy, check the engine oil, fill up the stern gland greaser and generally get ready for sea. It was around 1330 by the time I was ready and it started to rain quite heavily. I therefore took time to have some lunch – a bowl of muesli and some fresh fruit and to ring Sharon. I dropped the mooring at 1400. It was almost a flat calm in the anchorage off the yacht club which made it easy to get out from amongst the crowded moorings. Once out in Montego Bay proper a fairly fresh breeze east of north blew up and we were soon close hauled for our way point at Cabo Cruz some 80 odd miles a away. The first few hours were good sailing and we bowled along at around 6 knots under a gloomy sky. Jamaica receded into the cloud bank fairly quickly. Just after dark the wind died and I commenced what would be an engine on/engine off routine for the rest of the night as the wind came and went. Given we only had 80 miles to go I knew I would have enough fuel to motor the whole distance if necessary and have enough left for getting into Cienfuegos. I would though need to sail the 180 miles from Cabo Cruz to there. At the back of my mind was the possibility of anchoring off one of the Cays we would pass on the way on Wednesday night.
At 1930 it started to rain and lightning was in evidence fairly close by. Over the next couple of hours the rain became torrential, the wind came and went but was never very strong and the lightning got nearer until thunder was also close by. I was rather nervous about the lightning and the prospect of being struck. I have met others who have suffered severe damage from a lightning strike and I did not want that. I deployed my lightening conductor (a length of heavy duty electrical cable clamped to the shrouds) in the somewhat forlorn hope that it would offer some protection. Fortunately we were not struck and we passed through the worst of the rain by about midnight. It was absolutely pitch black, the full moon being blanketed by the cloud cover (it later penetrated the cloud cover providing a very bright night despite being unseen for a few hours). I was also worried about whether the tiller pilot which I use to steer the boat when under engine would survive the incredible rain. In 2015 when with Tony crossing Biscay before Angus was operational, the then tiller pilot gave up and was pronounced beyond repair by the engineer in A’Curuna. Then however we were in rough weather with a great deal of sea water splashing over it too. However, I covered it with the plastic cover that Tony made in 2015 and we got through the night.
I got so wet that I soon adopted the strategy of going on deck naked. It was not cold and it was a dam sight easier to dry off rather than strip out of soaking wet gear that also made me sweat. I found the absence of clothes so pleasant that I remained stripped off for the rest of the leg to Cabo Cruz, only donning some when I thought there was a risk of coming across locals. The rest of the leg to Cabo Cruz was uneventful marked only by engine on/engine off activity.
Day 2, 14th March
The morning dawned bright and sunny for the most part and Cuba was evident from first light. I dropped anchor behind the reef far enough out from shore to I hope deter the local authorities from investigating. I didn’t give enough credit to their can do attitude however. After tidying up a bit I took a nap and was roused by the noise of a diesel engine. A very ancient looking fishing boat was off Arctic Smoke towing a dinghy with two uniformed figures in it. My heart sank but I put on a cheerful front, greeted them, invited them aboard and set about explaining that I was not entering the country but had just stopped to anchor to wait for the wind. I cannot speak Spanish and they could not speak English but with the aid of drawings and gestures I managed to get the message across. They looked at eachother and discussed the matter and said it was OK BUT I must not go ashore. They clearly thought I was OK because they left their drug dog in the dinghy. To show my gratitude I provided beer and we ‘chatted’ for a while about family and dogs – I showed them my Birthday card from Sharon featuring our two dogs and it turned out that one of the guys had a chocolate Lab too. Then it was time for them to go and I gave them another couple of beers to take with them. They were amongst the friendliest most pleasant people I have ever met. Their attitude was even more extraordinary when I realised that the fishing boat was nowhere to be seen and that they would have to row the 3 to 4 miles back to shore. I’m pretty sure I would more than a little grumpy, faced with that but they simply beamed said their goodbyes and started the long arduous row back. Thank goodness it was calm weather!
I’m going to chill out here for the rest of the day. Perhaps I’ll take a swim off the boat to cool down – it is very hot and then have a spot of lunch. I’m down to 11 cans of beer however!
Well I did go swimming and most enjoyable it was too. The water is crystal clear hear, the clearest I have come across so far. I would have liked to have gone to the reef but it’s about 800 metres away and I noticed that there’s a bit of a current around the boat and so I thought I’d better not risk it. I made do with snorkelling around the boat and inspected the bottom. The water was very murky in Montego Bay and so I could not be sure how god a job I had made of it when I cleaned it off on Saturday. Not great but not too bad, mainly just patches of slime and bits of more serious growth here and there. One yellow fish about 6 inches long had taken up station behind the rudder and seemed intent on staying there. Apart from that I saw a couple more but not much else. I swam over to the anchor where I had deliberately dropped it onto a sandy patch and could see a few objects down there. It was 5 metres down though and I didn’t fancy testing out my ears again so I stayed on the surface.
Lunch was boiled eggs and tomatoes from the market. My sailing guide to Cuba says that the authorities enforce the ban on fresh eggs very strictly so I’m going to be eating a lot of them over the next few days. There are numerous other food stuffs that are banned too but it seems as long as one has them for personal consumption on the boat that’s OK.
Just as was starting my lunch the little ancient fishing boat came over and one of the guys waved with two fish in his hand clearly asking if I wanted them. With no fresh meat (and dam still no clear fishing line) I signled yes. They anchored nearby and one of them swam over with the fish). They were rather bigger than I first appreciated but …. I had some America dollars and assumed they would be OK but they weren’t – the locals clearly can’t use them and I got the  impression they would be in trouble if they had any. It took a while for me to explain that I had no Cuban currency because I had not checked in. Then we were down to exchanging. The poor chap wanted Cola but I had none. In the end he seemed happy with a bottle of wine and two cans of beer (now my stocks are running very low). Again he was a lovely chap and the whole conversation took place with him hanging on the ladder.
I managed to gut the fish and get them in the fridge and will have a go at cooking one tonight.
I’m cooking one of the fish now. Trying to copy the way we had it cooked for us in St Kitts at the village barbecue that Mike took us too. They cooked it in foil with oil and water and then on the barbeque. My version has gone in the oven complete with chilli peppers. Finger crossed.
It’s a very dark calm night at 1930 before the mon comes out and I’m writing this sitting in the cockpit while the food cooks with the noise of the surf on the reef in the background and Muddy Waters playing on the Flip speaker system, and I’m getting hungry so I hope I don’t mess up the fish!
Cuba is already living up to expectations and I haven’t even got off the boat yet. The guys from the border control were great and so was the fisherman who swam over to batter his fish. It already feels very different  from everywhere else I’ve been in the Caribbean.
[At this point the timers for the fish and veg go off].
Well the fish was bloody marvellous albeit with perhaps a touch to much chilli. I cooked it with the chilli, green peppers, spring onions and rosemary from the market in Mobay for 30 minutes in the oven. Also from the market “Irish Potatoes” and carrot cooked in the pressure cooker. Absolutely wonderful. The only problem is I’ve now got a full cooked meal left over. I hope I can keep it for tomorrow.
Back to Cabo Cruz. The lighthouse is flashing to port, once every five seconds and earlier the boat was surrounded by what I think were squid giving off intense floresenece as they moved about and seemingly some of them were fighting with each other. I’m really glad I put in here and the border patrol guys were good enough to let me stay. My only regret is that I can’t go ashore to have a look around. Through the binoculars it looks to be a small fishing village clustered around the base of the very substantial lighthouse. My guess is that it was built in pre-revolutionary days. More recently though they have invested in a number of navigation beacons to guide boats in and they are lit too which surprised me given that the poor border patrol guys had to row themselves around in a rather battered and leaky dinghy and no, they didn’t have life jackets or radios! This afternoon there was a couple more fishing boats out, both under oars and one of them was underway for hours trawling – they went out at least a mile beyond the reef too. Life here is clearly a pretty tough enterprise but if the few people I have met so far are representative of the population generally they get on with it with great cheer and not a hint of resentment. Perhaps Castro got something right after all!
Now I’ve got to clear up after my cooking spree so that I’m ready to leave at 0700 in the morning which is when I told the border patrol guys I would be off. Not sure why I gave them such an early time but at least that will maximise my daylight hours underway. I may have to motor to start with because the winds are not due to arrive for a couple more hours after that. The passage to Cienfuegos will include some pretty fresh winds from the north. Hopefully, the seas won’t be too high given the relatively short fetch from Cuba. I’ll probably go outside the string of Cays that we’ll pass on route to avoid a lee shore. Anyway, updates to follow.
After doing the washing up I brewed some coffee in the perculator, hunted out the last of the chocolate bought in the BVI (something else I neglected to stock up on in Jamaica) – a jumbo pack of Twix and listened to Howard’s Party mix of tunes in the cockpit under the full moon in the gentle breeze. Absolutely perfect! I’ve been on my own a few days now and whilst it was a particularly big wrench to say good bye to all the family at the Airport and I while I do miss them all greatly, there is something particularly satisfying and fulfilling to sail to such a different country on my own and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of a deserted anchorage under the full moon. Of course, I’ve only sailed one day and a night so far not exactly a marathon but I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip with of course a degree of apprehension.
I’m also conscious of the worry I’m putting the family through, especially when as yesterday, I forgot to switch on the tracking function on the Yellowbrick. I had set it to transmit every four hours but then forgot to turn on the tracker. I did post a short message to the blog which would have generated a position but didn’t realise my error until I posted my arrival message. Sorry everyone, it won’t happen again. Thankfully Sharon understands my compulsion and is strong advocate of living in the now – as she says, “you can’t take it with you”. I’m increasingly aware that I’ve lived more years than I’ve got left and Dylan Thomas’ line “…do not go gently into that good night…” sums up my attitude at 60. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 56 and I want to make the most of the years he didn’t have. The idea of vegetating in front of the telly and living through my kids and grandchildren is an anathma to me. I don’t go in for celebrity or hero worship as a rule but I do actually have a hero – I’ve never met Webb Chiles, 70 years young, currently on his probably 6th circumnavigation in the super yacht Gannet – all 24 feet of her - and now heading for the Caribbean from St Helena in the South Atlantic. There’s an outside chance we may bump into each other which would make my day. Webb’s deeds and writings have provided a great deal of the encouragement and inspiration for my own much, much, more modest ocean wanderings. I can’t remember his exact words (I have no internet connection here) which I am sure will be his epitaph, but they go something like “take the risk do it, don’t worry if it’s going to kill you because something’s going to kill you anyway”. I don’t have Webb’s absolute commitment to that credo but it’s something to think about when doubt worms its way in. Perhaps I should say for the benefit of family and friends that the above doesn’t mean I’m not very concerned about staying alive. Is that a “cop out” Webb? Probably, but life is of course full of contradictions ain’t it. Anyone interested in finding out more about an extraordinary man should google “in the present sea”.
Anyway, enough introspection for now. Howard’s party tape has just finished and I’m off to bed.
Day 3 – 15th March
The wind backed into the North around 0400 and woke me up, blowing at a good F5 for 20 minutes or so. This made me a little anxious because the reef was now a lee shore rather than protecting us from the previous light easterly wind. The anchor held however and the wind soon died down to a more gentle F3. I had miscalculated a little because the wind was not, as I had assumed it would be, blowing from Cabo Cruz but from the main body of Cuba creating a longer fetch than I had anticipated. The boat rolled a fair bit as a consequence but apart from that there were no issues. I cat-napped for a couple of hours and then got up at 0600 as dawn was breaking (and the sun rise over Cabo Cruz was quite spectacular) to make final preperations for sea. I was expecting fairly moderate winds during the day but 20-25 knots over night and so I moved the reefing pennants from the reef cringles 1 and 2, to 2 and 3. That meant I had to extend the reefing pennants in order to hoist the sail right up. I must replace them with longer lines so that there is no need to do that. They are wearing out anyway. All of that took nearly an hour and then I switched on the engine at 0645 so that should anything go amiss with getting the anchor up I could hopefully get out of trouble. My concern was about the possibility of being blown onto the reef between getting the anchor off the bottom and before getting full control of the boat. I had the mainsail up which complicated matters but I thought that getting it up whilst at anchor would be easier than once under way. I would have to stow the anchor properly then anyway so one less job to do underway seemed a good idea. I put the engine in slow ahead and went up to haul the anchor in. We rode over it after a while and so I had to get into neutral in order to drop back. I messed up a bit causing an accidental gybe but nothing broke and I managed to break the anchor out without hitting the reef. Then we headed out under main and slow engine with the tiller pilot steering whilst I stowed the anchor. Then I unfurled the genoa and we were off in the direction of Cienfuegos, 180 miles away.
To start with the wind was light as expected but it soon blew up to F5 and the seas were steep if short. I thought perhaps the shallow water contributed to that. By 0800 it was clear that AS was over canvassed with waves breaking over her constantly and so I set about reefing the main – two reefs and then the genoa – again two at first but AS felt under-powered and so I let one back out and we got back to 5.5/6 knots at which speed she felt more comfortable. As time went on the short seas gave way to longer ones as the depth increased and we were able to come off the wind a little, all of which made for a more comfortable ride. By then however I had already lost two full cups of tea as boat matters grabbed my attention at just the wrong moment. Finally, I managed to get a cup of coffee from the cup into me without mishap. By 1115 we had covered 20 miles – an average of 5k thus far, which is pretty good going close hauled.
The wind eased around 1300 and I shook out the reefs and we remained fairly close hauled on the starboard tack more or less on course for Cienfuegos. By 1600 the wind was up again and so the reefs went in again – 2 in the main and one in the genoa. The seas got up a fair bit too and it was pretty wet outside so I spent most of my time below whereas up to this point I had been able to sit comfortably in the cockpit on the lee side and read. We were making very good progress however averaging 5-6 knots.
Day 3 – Thursday 16th March
The first few hours of the night before the moon rose, were as the others had been, very dark. The wind increased more too requiring a further reef in the genoa. It was a little alarming careering along at 6 + knots without being able to see a thing. I have seen only one other vessel since leaving Cabo Cruz and I think it was a local fishing boat – one of the few with an engine. Nothing at all has appeared on the AIS and I have heard one short burst of VHF traffic. I made myself as comfortable as possible in the lee berth in the Saloon and got up every hour to check the course and to look out for other vessels. I adopted the tactic of stripping off completely down below and just donning my soaking swimming trunks and life-jacket/Harness for the forays out into the cockpit. On my return I would be soaking wet and so I’d have a quick sponge down to remove the salt and then dry off with a towel. That way at least I didn’t have to fight with wet clothes and wet wet weather gear.
Down below in the saloon it was reasonably dry. Thanks to Chris’s stirling work with the Windows in Gran Canaria they did not leak at all. The saloon hatch leaked a little as did the mast partners (where the mast goes through the deck) but these were only minor leaks resulting in the odd drip. [Correction on arrival at Cienfuegos I discovered my bunk was actually quite soaked AND many of my clothes in the stowage behind it were too. I think the source of the leak is as above but much more water was coming in than I realised. It was I think running down the bulkhead at the head of my bunk and then seeping into the stowage behind the bunk and down onto the bunk surface, so soaking the mattress from below. A cursory inspection of the food lockers above the bunk indicate they are dry and therefore I hope the cause is the above and not the hull/deck join which would be a much more difficult job to fix. I will have to inspect the lockers properly to be sure.]
It was a different story in the focastle however, the hatch there leaked significantly and I discovered my newly laundered clothes on the lee shelf were completely soaked. It’s a good job no one was trying to sleep there. [Again on inspection on arrival at Cienfuegos, I realised the leak was even more severe. The rear mattresses on both sides of the boat under the hatch way were very wet. I’m particularly disappointed with that as I replaced the hatch seal in Gran Canaria before we left. I obviously did not do a very good job and will have to try again.]
I didn’t get much sleep during the night the boat’s motion was quite significant and there were some very load bangs and crashes as we came off the top of some of the bigger waves. Sometimes I thought some gear had worked loose. Indeed on two occassions that was the case. The first was the lashings securing the anchor. I managed to lose the dedicatedlashing I had made in Gran Canaria, at Cabo Cruz somehow and therefore had to make another up in a hurry. It consisted as did the original of a piece of line through some rubber tube to prevent chaffing. The new one was a little short and worked lose so I had to re-lash the anchor down just before dusk. At one point I was air-born! The second incident was in the early hours of the morning when an additional banging noise from the stern got me up. It was the spare gas bottle lashed on the stern flapping about! I dashed out quickly to secure it before it broke away completely. The only other significant night time incident was being woken from a brief period of sleep by a change in the boat’s motion followed by a crash. We had just gybed which was rather odd given that we had been sailing almost close hauled. I noticed that Angus’s wind vane was pointing directly behind us which was the cause of the gybe, but how on earth had that happened? Fortunately nothing broke and I managed to get back on course pretty quickly. Later I concluded that a wave must have hit the vane causing it to turn.
The wind continued strong up until now – 0915 – when it seems to be easing. I may have to shake those reefs out again. We have 62 miles to go to a new Way Point just outside the bay in which Cienfuegos is situated and we are currently making just over 5 knots with an ETA of 2100 tonight. It will be dark of course but the pilot says the approach is well lit and the moon should be up by 2230. Anyway, I’ll decide nearer the time about what to do.
Well the wind did continue to ease and I did shake the reefs out around midday the wind also backed quite a bit resulting in us not being able to lay our Way Point off Cienfuegos. The forecast I got before leaving did however predict the winds fall to around 5 knots and rise to around 25 knots mainly from the NNE/NE during the course of the passage depending on time and location and so I was reasonably confident that it would veer east of north at some point so we just continued sailing reasonably close hauled on a westerly heading for a few hours. By 1630 the wind died to almost nothing. By this time we were some 40 miles from the entrance channel to Cienfuegos Bay and despite the short passage I was getting impatient to get in and therefore on went the engine again. Within an hour the wind was back and a pretty brisk one it was too (F5/6) from the NNE and so the engine went off and two reefs went in the main and one in the genoa. At this point I noticed it was once again a bit of struggle to reef the Genoa. I had to juggle with the reefing line repeatedly letting it out a bit and then in to overcome it jamming. Looking up at the bow it appeared that the reefing drum may have slipped again. Something to investigate once in Cienfuegos.
Once I had the sails set the next thing was to replace the tiller pilot which I use when motoring with Angus. The operation is a fairly simple one; re-attach the wind vane to Angus, disengage the tiller pilot from the tiller and replace it with the chain joining the two lines that are attached to Angus and set the wind vane to the required angle. Disaster struck immediately. I placed the large vane on the top of Angus, did up the big custom-made bronze wing nut that Chris made (to make it easier to release and tighten) and let go of the vane. It immediately fell over-board into the sea! Lots of swearing as I turned the engine on and frantically furled the Genoa whilst trying to keep the vane in sight which thankfully was floating. It’s made of a frame of plastic tubes covered with that stuff that car window sun screens are made from and is silvery grey. With the sun on it from the bow it was reasonably easy to spot but once the sun went behind me it merged into the background colour of the sea and disappeared from sight. If it had been one of the smaller plywood vanes which I also have I would have let it go but I only have the one big one and it’s essential for light winds so I really needed to recover it. After about 4 passes involving a number of barely controlled gybes I finally managed to grab it from the cockpit as we slid past. I was of course painfully aware that falling overboard in the process would be rather worse than losing the vane and therefore I hung on grimly with one hand as I leant over the toe rail sandwiched by it and the life lines and grabbed it with th e other. Phew that was close! But why did it fall off? The threads had stripped from the bronze wing nut, that was why. By now it was near dusk and I needed to get Angus operational. The batteries would not sustain the Tiller Pilot throughout the night and in any case I doubted that it would cope in the rising winds. I thought I might have some ordinary wing nuts of the right size but could not find them from amongst the contents of my nuts and bolts box that were quickly strewn across the cabin sole. Fortunately, I did have some nylock knuts of the right size and so used one of those. Not ideal because a spanner is required every time one needs to attach or remove the vane. I’ll have to make a more thorough search later but in the mean-time the nylock sufficed. This time I attached one of the smaller plywood vanes.
There followed a few hours of very fast (for Arctic Smoke) fairly close hauled sailing at around 6-7 knots in the pitch black once again. Hard on the wind AS will only pull around 4.5 knots in these conditions but just a couple of degrees off the wind she goes like a train. I had put a second reef in the Genoa shortly after sorting Angus out but we still had water regularly breaking over the foredeck. Despite that and the occasional crashing as she fell into a trough after a big wave, AS felt ‘comfortable’. [That’s as in for a little boat in boisterous weather rather than with one’s feet up in front of the fire!] I suspect that a lot of the water that found it’s way though the fore-hatch and the mast partners did so during this period.
By 2100, it was all change again and the wind had died to nothing and the sea was almost flat. As mentioned before with the wind coming off the land only a few miles to the north, there was a fairly short fetch that both prevented the seas getting really big and allowed them to subside quickly when the wind died. We had 17 miles to go and I thought that perhaps that was it as far as the wind was concerned and so being on my own I decided to take advantage of the calm conditions and stow the mainsail as well as furl the genoa. I was slightly worried about the latter jamming up completely again and thought I might as well furl it now in the benign conditions. In the event it furled easily. We continued under power for the next 2.5 hours even though after one hour the breeze had returned from the NNE. It was partly laziness and partly my concerns about the Genoa furling mechanism that led me to power on for so long. Eventually however the increased wind from in front of the beam and the bigger swell slowed us down to 3.5 knots. Still laziness prevailed and rather than hoist the main and the genoa, I left the main stowed and unfurled the Genoa. We were immediately making 5 knots in the right direction and I just hoped I could furl the bloody thing when needed.
By 0100 on Friday morning we were immediately of the entrance to the channel leading up to Cienfuegos Bay. I had seen one ship come out heading for Jamaica as we approached (the only AIS contact of the entire passage) but otherwise ‘the coast was clear’. [Ever wondered where that phrase came from?] We proceeded up the starboard side of the well lit channel. The moon had been up for a few hours by now and it was just about high water locally and so I figured there should be little ebb tide to worry about. Apparently it can flow at up to 4 knots which would be too much for Arctic Smoke to make way against in anything but the flattest of water. As it turned out everything was fine. It did feel a little surreal entering a very foreign territory like Cuba in the dead of night. I had as directed by Sailing Guide to Cuba, tried to raise the authorities on the VHF but had not got a response. I was not that surprised given the time but nevertheless did feel slightly nervous that I might suddenly be spotted, taken for a suspicious vessel, and be boarded by rifle sporting Cuban Frontier Guards intent on stopping a second ‘Bay of Pigs’ incident. The USA’s ridiculous and notorious attempt to over-throw Castro in the 1960s took place just around the corner in what remains a prohibited area. Just why the Cubans feel it necessary to prohibit access after all these years is a mystery to me.
Of course nothing of the sort transpired and the only incident was being hooted at by an incoming tug behind me that I had failed to spot. She also bathed us in the glare of her search light for a minute to make sure I got the message. I moved AS over into the shallows on the starboard side of the channel as quickly as possible and the tug and the tow passed without further ado. Just before I had noticed a neon light bobbing up and down on the edge of the channel close to our intended track. I altered course to avoid it (which is what put us in the path of the tug) and as we got closer we appeared to be passing a couple of old women wrapped in shawls against the cold (more on that shortly) sitting on a battered settee). It was quite surreal. Eventually I figured out that I was looking at the stern of a fairly small open boat (say 7 metres) with a canopy and seat athwartships on which sat two fishermen/women(?) facing the stern and fishing as their boat either drifted or lay to an anchor!
On the subject of the temperature, it was for the second night in a row, decidedly chilly. The previous night I had had to dig out extra layers and don wet weather gear for the first time since the Atlantic crossing. I also experienced the bizarre sensation of being swept by a breeze that felt both warm and cold at the same time, although the cold was the more prominent. It was a bit like in the swimming through warm then cold patches in the sea. The wind was from the north east and I figured was in part connected with one of the notorious cold fronts that sweep down from the USA land mass at this time of year is why sailing the south coast of Cuba is less demanding than the north. I was certainly very grateful that there was no lee shore to worry about. I was indeed very fortunate to have such favourable conditions in which to make my landfall and enter port. Despite the sailing guide emphasising that a night time entry was entirely straightforward (qualified by warnings about the possible strength of the ebb, the shoals on the west bank across which the ebb flows and unlit docks half way up the channel), in anything other than such conditions, I would have had to stood off and waited for daylight. Even so, as mentioned the experience of the passage up the channel in the dark was quite strange. For the first time since leaving the UK, I was experiencing what I can best describe as ‘a rite of passage’. The phrase is not usually applied in such a literal context, but I can’t think of a better way of describing how it felt. In reality, our arrival at Mindelo, in the Cape Verde back in December was an arrival at an equally foreign Port, but I was not on my own then. The mind plays more tricks on its owner when he’s on his own in the dark approaching a foreign land through a narrow sea-way after spending a fairly demanding 36 hours at sea in quite a small sailing boat. In my mind, the shadowy shapes of shanty town shacks, distant chimney stacks belching sooty smoke and murky docks on either side of the channel, had more in keeping with a bygone Graeme Green novel when Castro and Kennedy played poker with the highest possible stakes, than with the post Castro era and (hopefully) Obama’s Perestroika.
Objectively, however the transit up the channel and across the bay to the anchorage off the marina was entirely straightforward – almost plain sailing one might say. I dropped the anchor at 0240 on Friday morning. My passage from Montego Bay Jamaica to, Cienfuegos, Cuba was over and I wondered what the daylight would bring.