By Tony Bigras - Vancouver - British Columbia

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

May 29, 2009

The 16' micro cruiser catamaran 'Miss Cindy' and I have just completed the last part of our seven month 4500 mile voyage from the Sea of Cortez in the Pacific to Florida.

Cuba is my last 'destination'. What I know about Cuba I have sponged up over the years from the press and from a few people I know who have been here. Friendly place, good social care system, US embargo keeps it poor, sends doctors to some countries, sends troops to some countries, cigars and rum.

Castro is dying, the US embargo is going away and soon Americans will travel here in large numbers. I have come here to see it before it changes.

We check in bright and early to Marina Cayo Largo.

I arrived with my computer printed felt pen enhanced paper courtesy flag snapping pretty good in the wind.

The assistant Port Capitan helps me tie up. I have my Q flag flying and wait for clearance. A whole crowd shows up. There is a guy with a cute dog that everyone pets. A guy from the marina who explains the checkin process and fees. There is Immigration and Customs and the 2nd woman Port Capitan of the voyage.

The doctor arrives complete with white coat and crushing handshake. He asks me a bunch of questions including where I have been, how do I feel, have I been sick etc. He explains I should come to the clinic after clearing in and pay my bill for the medical clearance $CUC 25.

Next aboard comes the guy with Sniffy the drug dog who runs around in the cabin but does not bother to check the cockpit lockers or the foredeck lockers or the bow compartments. Sniffy seemed to enjoy himself. Nice to be doing what you have trained for I guess.

Next the assistant Port Capitan comes aboard complete with hair net and shoe covers. He goes through everything in the cabin, opening almost all the containers and moving stuff around. Like the drug dog he does not look in the cockpit lockers etc. Like the drug dog seems to enjoy himself. Nice to be doing what he has been trained for I guess.

Next the agricultural and the veterinary inspectors come aboard. The both have a look below but do not opening everything. The agricultural inspector notices the box of fish hooks for the PangaPaks and asks if I have some spare. He looks at my Florida grapefruit from Cayman Brac. He uses a loupe and has the vet guy have a look. I show him my eggs. I have options. I can keep them provided they are cooked before I leave port, and provided any trash from them is put in the special 'foreign trash' bin. I say they are a little busted up from the trip here (some lightly squished) please throw them out for me. I say I will get more here. They are reluctant. Perhaps as it turns out, because it is hard to get decent eggs here. The vet guy cannot find any parrots, snakes, lizards, cats, dogs or elephants so finishes quickly. They too seem happy to be doing what they are trained for. They give me a piece of official paper each and say they will return around 5 pm for their $CUC 10. ok.

The AGI inspector left with a half dozen stainless fish hooks. He thought they would be great for Mahi-Mahi. Immigration does not come aboard but scampers off with my passport. A Customs guy is eager to come aboard. He rifles through everything in the main cabin as well and has the same shortcomings regarding searching the rest of the boat and similar enthusiasm as Sniffy.

Next up to see the Port Capitan. Now would be a good time to mention the high level of familiarity between the men and women officals in Cuba. Hugs and cheek kisses were common place, and, while I would not swear to it, I am pretty sure the Port Capitan kissed somebody on the lips.

Anyway, we start into the paperwork. Clearance from Cayman Brac and boat registration. Yes it is tiny but a good sea boat. Now I am told to go get my $CUC . These are funny money for tourists in Cuba. Originaly intended to not be used by Cubans they are used by everyone now. However in tourist enclaves like Cayo Largo it is only CUC not Pesos Cubano. Offical exchange rate 1.08 $US to 1 CUC. However, at the bank, which by the way had surly tellers, I pay 1.15.

Back to the PC to pay my $CUC 10 entry fee, and my $CUC 15 navigation permit which comes in cute postage type stamps. Contrary to my initial concerns, I am pretty free to navigate anywhere I want. I need to report in to PCs or Guardia units where they exist but free to anchor anywhere else. I get a big fat form with lots of entry and exit stamp space they will fill in at ports as needed. I give them my estimated last port of call in Cuba, Marina Hemmingway near Havana. I get a 30 day visa to stay. They fill out big forms detailing the boat and it's equipment, motor, dingy, etc etc etc. I sign my parts of those forms and she signs her parts. She keeps it all. I will get it when I clear out of Cayo Largo.

Next over to customs, next door. A bunch more paperwork there too. Three guys in the office, happy like Sniffy. While there Immigration brings me my passport. It is not stamped for entry into Cuba. Apparently like Israel, they don't stamp as some countries take offense to you visiting Cuba or Israel. I ask for a stamp. I explain I would like a record of my trip in my passport. He goes and gets the stamp and practices on a piece of paper first, then stamps me in. He seems happy to do something he does not get to do very often. Customs fee is I think $CUC 15.

Up to the Marina office to pay for my tourist Visa $CUC 15 and do my paperwork there. It will be around $CUC 7 per day for moorage. Total entry cost is around $CUC 90 and takes about two hours. Everybody except money changing staff was friendly and helpful. The marina manager shows me around the facilities and takes me to the store and introduces me. They have no public internet, but I may use his computer to check mail and what not. It turns out his computer is pretty heavily firewalled but works for hotmail.

Facilites are not too bad. The laundry was broken (probably for quite a while). They lock up the bogs [toilets] at night for some reason but security is never far away. Enough other yachts to garner intel and other experience. Supplies and provisions were pretty poor, but that is Cuba. The only fresh vegetable was onion, no fresh fruit, some marginal bread and poor eggs. Marina Cayo Largo had far better provisions and everything else than the next two 'marinas' I stopped at in Cuba. But that is official Cuba. There is also the omnipresent black market. Virtually all Cubans participate in it. A limited selection of fruit and veggies of medium quality was available there though we did not partake.

I saw no children in my two days in the area. The whole island is a tourist enclave. The staff work here for three weeks then a week back at their home which is on the Isle of Pines about 50 miles West. These are the Cuban residence areas.

One of the other cruisers lent me a guide for planning my Cuba trip and I wanted to photocopy it. The Marina has a nice photocopier and they were quite willing to but they could not do the 70 pages I wanted because they did not have enough paper or toner.

Since Cayman Brac the mosquitoes had been a problem and they continued to be in Cuba too. The start of the wet season. One morning when I was out the roar and cloud of a mosquitoe fogger went up and down the streets.

I had not seen one of these since the 60's on the praries when all us kids would ride in the cloud on our bikes. I practice my covert photos with this side arm shot of some police activity.

There was a bar/restaurant just off the dock. Beer decent value at $CUC 1.10, mojitas pretty bad all round. No fresh limes you see. Plus tiny in tacky plastic disposable glasses. Cuba Libres without merrit as well. He only had one kind of beer, Crystal. Food consisted of chicken legs/thighs with greasy fried potatoes or a pizza. Supposedly one of the better pizzas to be found in Cuba. On a scale of ten perhaps a four. Cheese or cheese and ham. They did not have Cuban flags for sale anywhere there. Some nice Cannucks from Kirin VI who are serious Cuban veterans gave me a spare flag they had. About 12 x 18 inches and the whip antenna took a beating till I addeded some string stays.

It is a big tour and charter base. There were scads of big cats there doing day trips, and these really spindly trimarans.

Four big charter cats came in later in the day. They all had Austrians on them. I spent my first evening enjoying the camradery of one boats crew. I gave them my last two Nicaraguan cigars and enjoyed lobster dinner and great conversations. There was a father and son, a prison guard, a semiconductor engineer, and a money guy, plus some more. I got to ask simple questions like 'what is the difference between the German and Austrian languages' and watch 10 minutes of passionate discussion. I got to tell my Arnold Schwarzenegger joke. I have told that original joke perhaps a couple of dozen times, but clearly this was the right audience. Belly laughs from six out of eight and smiles from the other two. They are proud of Arnold, they said he is Austrias second most famous export politician.

Nice guys and interesting discussions. They had been in Cuba about two weeks and they likened it to a planned economy Eastern block country in the 60's. You cannot get anything except on the blackmarket and not a whole lot there either. I asked you mean like East Germany? No no no, East Germany was never this bad.

I clear with the Port Capitan after two nights here. Next port will be Maria La Gorda (Fat Mary) about 200 miles or so West. I expect to anchor at a few places along the way. My cruise plan is to sail in the thin water of the cays and go North around the isle of pines.

It is blowing about 20kts and I let the boat point into the breeze on its bow bridals tied to the dock and hoist the sails with a pretty good reef. One of the other yachteros mentions that 'the waves will be bigger outside the bay'. The Port Capitan has come down to see me off, and Immigration, and Customs, and a couple of yacht crews and a bunch of the Austrians. Most everyone but Sniffy it seems. Per Mark Twain's advice I cast off the bowlines and sail out of the marina and romp out into the bay.

The thin water is very challenging. There are shoals where there is supposed to be six feet and sand where there is supposed to be two. Three hurricanes in the past few years have made a joke of my charts. I am a little concerned sailing downwind at four to five knots not knowing what to expect ahead. We manage to drag the rudder tips at one point where there was supposed to be six feet. I am quickly deciding that perhaps the big blue would be a little less of a problem. That decisions is helped by this tree sticking out of in six feet of water.

We stop at the Cay of Women and tie to a scruffy pine and let the tradewind hold us off the classic beach.

The iguanas don't seem to mind us.

After a bit of rest I decide to head for the next likely nice spot about 10 miles away.

To be continued...


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