To Cuba

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Fri 18 May 2012 22:17
To Hemingway Marina, Cuba
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Beds, Bernie, Bobby and Claude all settled between the pillows in bed. Plant in sink standing on sponge and held in place with the powdered juices. Computers bedded down. Toilet flushed, emptied and closed. Baby Beez stowed deflated on board. Anything with the slightest impulse to take off had its wings clipped.
Course plotted, instruments on, free standing barometer and clock in place in the cockpit, then, just as hand touched key for lift off at half past one - the heavens opened – so much so that the corner (in front of the boat parked next to us) completely disappeared. By now the captain is dripping all over the deck. He ceased letting go of the ropes holding us to the mooring ball at the front and withdrew to the outside shower at the back. Nothing for it but to withdraw below and play backgammon. Rain continued through that game and of Upwords. I lost both so I now have a very sour face and bad demeanor.
The engine finally fired up at twenty to four. By half past four we are on the fuel dock in Bight Marina, handing in our white chitties to the dock master (he will give them in to Homeland Security for us). Water topped up, bill paid, we are on our way at half past four.

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We slip past the Majesty of the Seas complete with rock climbing fun, skies very gray.


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From Key West we follow the white brick road out to sea


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Within minutes we are in deep water, the first time since we entered Palm Beach on the 16th of April last year, a very good feeling despite my scowly face. The Atlantic Ocean could not have been smoother unless Moth’s new steam iron was employed. The only small negative is the wind is blowing at around two point six knots, we put the main sail up just for show and settled to the idea of motoring all the way. However, just to add a little spice the radio chirped with Key West Coast Guard issuing a severe weather warning. Water spouts threaten near our position and as they eat boats our size we take precautions. Down comes the main and we turn sharp left to stay in brighter skies. The night continues with no further event, it felt really good to be on our four hour watch system, strange to sleep like a star fish in the slight roll.


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At twelve miles from the Cuban coast we radio in to the Guarda Frontera (as it says in the books we hear as expected no reply). With that done we do our first flag change in a year – proven by the state of our American flag. The important thing for the captain to get right is have the star facing up OR we are declaring a state of war on the Cuban people.........not really a good plan armed with only a sharp knife and my face. No comment.

Have you ever seen anyone whipped with a holey Stars and Stripes flag

Bear has

Run Bear, Run and STOP giggling.


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Our first sight of Havana


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Just as we are about to play a celebratory game of backgammon the troll started to rush off. Our first catch was a handsome little chap, – a mahi-mahi good enough for two meals. The first chance for me to use the salt water hose Bear put in for me (as not to waste our fresh water supply cleaning the cockpit when I do my impression of Sweeney Todd). Bear tested it, Oh it worked just fine and gave me a good power hose Sorrrrrrrreeeeeeeee.

Have you ever seen anyone lassoed with a new hose and beaten with a wet fish. Bear has.

Scurry Bear, Scurry.


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Just as we got tidied up and our catch was safely in the fridge, I looked up and saw a very ominous sky.
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The squall came in swift and hard taking the five knots of wind to twenty six in seconds. We turned hard right to distance ourselves from the coast until it was over. Fortunately for us it was all done in twenty minutes, so not enough time to whip up the sea.

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Looking at the coast we had to find the water tower. When we first spotted it, it was looked as if it was to the left of the hotel, we waited for this to change.


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When the angle looked correct we headed for the Marina Hemingway Sea Buoy at 23”05.44 north, 082:30.55 west. Just visible in the first picture above the near fender on the horizon. We then headed for this happy little red and white chap.


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At the sea buoy we had to turn left and line up directly in the middle of the reef channel, marked each side by posts. At this point the sea depth suddenly shallowed and it bucketed down with huge dollops of wet stuff. People have tried this entry in poor conditions and or a northerly and or at night and faced the end of their boats’ well being on the reef. Had the conditions been anything but rain we would have held off, even staying out at sea for the night. This is the major benefit of being on a time scale written in sand.


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Next we had to keep a white board with a red dot dead ahead. As I turned sharp left at the end on the 175 foot wall, there was a man snorkeling just a few feet from us, did he have a death wish ??? in the pouring rain ??? and I thought I was mad. No comment. Just as well I’m too busy at this moment in time but Just You Wait.


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We looked for the sign Dispachos that wasn’t there and the red bollards – they have either run out of red paint or someone clearly prefers blue. We tied up at twenty past three, dripping wet after 100.7 interesting nautical miles.


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The guide book was correct about the dock side being a potential top side eater, so we were well fendered for it. The swarms begin to gather as the rain stopped.


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First aboard was the doctor who pronounced we had a very clean boat. He asked if we could dig in our medical supplies and see if we could spare any anti-biotic cream and off he went telling us his duties for the following week. Next came Chica, the four year old drug sniffer, who was much more interested in settling his wet, stinking self on our bedroom mat and licking his bits. Chica’s handler reminded me of our leaving guard in Agadir, he didn’t want to check anything, just touch all our toys and gadgets, choosing Bear’s crocs as his target to get from us. Think again buddy. Six weeks in Morocco taught us well. They left Beez.

Next it was two very nice Agriculture people who duly noted our radishes, onions, eggs, pineapple, melon and took a look in the freezer. Technically illegal to bring anything in – it is permitted for own use and so long as it all has a bar code - all is well. These directly asked for a tip. I had come prepared (advice from others – thank you Dorothy), I had six zip lock bags each with a small note book, three pencils, a couple of pens and two single dollar notes. These two accepted gratefully and gracefully. Chica’s man just took the notes as “my chief won’t like me to take the rest”. Yes we know, notes don’t rattle.

I kept reminding myself that I was entering his country and he had the power to make me strip EVERYTHING off Beez and lift the floorboards, but as it was POETS day, hopefully he wouldn’t demand that. Put up with it Pepe and smile.


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To keep my hands from round this chaps throat I busied myself with some pictures and got three mozzie bites in the bargain. The water beside us was very clear with good marine growth.

Next on board was Immigration, Customs, a student with gold finger nails that really should be classed as weapons of intent, and a chap in overalls who hovered in the cockpit as a sort of translator. I guessed just a nosy whatever. That took ages as Bear had to bring out hand held GPS and radio to be taped up. The flares tub had to be labeled for removal until we leave, and our Passports were on and off the girl like headless chickens. The very handsome Customs man did his best with his English and conducted himself very well, in the now very humid lounge. We have to present ourselves at his office (a small box along the way) on Monday with 20 Cuc’s for his services. Then handsome took Bear to the front of Beez and I ended up with Chica’s handler at the back. Bad call there. I tolerated his fingering of torches, fish hooks, Crocs, toys and left him to it before I belted him, but was called back “lady” to explain the wash bag hanging in the office cupboard. Maybe he liked the colour of our emergency sail repair bag. Too hard for me to swing past the door to get it down, so he said not to bother. Again I scolded myself, I want to enter his country, deep breaths Pepe, deep breaths.

Finally after much hand shaking and welcoming to Cuba - we had endured / smiled through two hours - we were given Channel 2 Slip 233 in the marina.

No, not over yet. Bear had to go to the office ashore and sort the young Immigration chap who had a bee in his bonnet about medical insurance. We have never shown anything like that before and had no idea what to do next. He suggested we buy a week at the marina and show him the paperwork on Monday, but with the help of handsome doing his best pigeon, the chap accepted my out of date prescription waiver. “What about him?” pointing to Bear, Oh I gaily answered he has the same number as me, we share it. “Oh OK.” 


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We leave the dock relieved, turn in to channel two and pass something that was once carefully owned to see Jose the dock master waving us in like long lost friends. Raoul the electrician shook our hands, connected us and got Bear to sign for the number on the meter. (Later we found out that the building above was the old yacht club and it’s dock)

Jose was aboard like a slavering greyhound bounding after the rabbit at the White City Racetrack. Before his touche had touched the settee he was asking for an English beer, you’ll have to make do with American matey. He settled the paperwork and we checked my boat length conversion from metres to feet. 337.90 Cuc’s for the week he jovially offered (about 256 pounds) sounds pricey. Electricity at half a Cuc per kilowatt. Business done, he clearly needed something else to drink. I suggested chocolate vodka, big grin. After three severe shots I asked if he had to drive anywhere, “Just a golf buggy to my office.” Small mercy.

We listened happily to his medical history, gall stones you know, and his birthday is at the end of the month when he will reach the age of 59.

When we were here ten years ago on a family holiday with all seven children in Varadero, everyone told us the going tip was a dollar as even the doctor only earned twenty per month, the same as waiters, dentists and policemen.
Jose told us his monthly take home pay is 425 peso’s (about $25).
His wife highly qualified, civil engineer wife is paid 475 peso’s
Jose proved to be a chancer, we asked if $2 was a reasonable tip, he said five was better, but the Americans are happy to hand over $50’s. Yes, but they are covering their port name and flying red Ensigns, we would be happy to hand over a fifties in that case. The chap from the American Embassy walks round every so often and photographs American registered vessels, it’s not that they cannot be here, it is illegal to spend money here. Many get caught in the States when an innocent receipt or credit card chitty is found in the kitchen bin. $10,000 is a standard fine but worse could be meted out. Boat confiscation or imprisonment.
Now we have been to Soweto and seen a single room decorated with thousands of tinned peach labels as wallpaper and parents bringing up nine children in that one room with the dusty mud floor. Fresh water shared by many families from a stand pipe some distance away (average life expectancy in South Africa is 49.3)
In the Annapurna foothills, girls doing farm work at the age of twelve, before walking five miles to school with their baby under one arm, school books under the other. Returning to their 8x16 upper floor house shared between two families, no water, no electricity and the animals downstairs.
We watched as a woman pinched her baby to make it wail in Jerusalem but had the the good sense to flash a look of shame when we shook our heads pointing at her brand new Nike trainers.
The Cape Verde Islands.
We have seen true poverty. I accept there are poorer parts of Cuba, but no one starves as everyone is given a food parcel each week and the health service is free, with the biggest ratio of doctors – so much so – as a goodwill many hundreds have been sent to needy countries.
All the officials we have seen here today have had good, clean uniforms and look very well fed.
So if I earned a thousand dollars a month and someone gave me an eighty buck tip, I’d call it a good deal.........and many boats come in and out of here. So get on with it.
We didn’t give Jose anything but the beer and voddy. He will put ten per cent on our bill and give three per cent to the cancer suffering children at the local hospital and share out the rest between his staff – Oh I was so born yesterday – NOT.
If I sound harsh maybe I am – with good reason. Cuba comes in with an average life expectancy of 78.3, joint 36th with Denmark in fact, on the UN List of Nations out of 194, one above the USA. There are 18 nations with a life expectancy of 50 or less on that list.
N.B. When we left Cuba our marina bill was 177 Cuc’s, lucky for us the smiling Jose was a day off !!!!!   We feel sure that other marinas are not like this one, sad we have no time to go all the way round and spend more time, but to visit Havana is why we are here – this visit......
We were finally alone at half past seven. My threatened mahi-mahi, mash and salad gave me three points for a refusal, Bear was too fatigued to argue so we sat in the cockpit, mozzy coil burning, played a game of backgammon over spinach dip, tortillas, a lump of cheese each, accompanied by a stiff drink. I withdrew as more biters came to play. We fell asleep half way through a moderate comedy.
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We feel the slim pickings on the ‘One Careful Owner’ front in the US will be soon forgotten – this is the lady in front of us 
                     AN EXCITING STEP FORWARD