17th - 24th March 2012 - Return to Cuba & leaving for USA

Sat 24 Mar 2012 03:35
With Michael’s prolapsed disc sorted, we returned to Cuba.  Our plans were to return to the USA via the Bahamas, however, within of day of us arriving back, Michael announced his left hip had given way?  He knew all the symptoms, as his Father had just had his hip replaced, whilst we were back in the UK!  I think my face said it all, but this was the sad reality and it didn’t take us long to realise that the only option was for Michael to get back to the UK to have it fixed.  With Nimue in hurricane territory, we weren’t too keen on leaving her in Cuba or Florida and the only safe option was to move her north of Cape Hatteras and out of the hurricane zone.  Michael felt he was capable of achieving this and obviously would rely on me to do a lot of the heavy work and moving around the boat!
Whilst we were away, we noticed that an expensive shackle had been taken from Nimue (it was used on the hoist to pull the outboard engine from the dinghy).  Despite having 24x7 security at the marina, no one seemed to know anything about it apart from one, who believed it was taken not long after we left!  We suspected it was another ‘yachtie’, as the Cuban’s would have no use for it!  Despite much  complaining, no one had any authority to do anything about it- c’est la vie!
Anyway during this time we got to know a lovely young local worker; Chici, who could speak good English.  He offered his services and was willing to do anything, so we paid him to polish the topsides and stainless steel.  He was only charging CUC50 per day and we had to pay another CUC20 to the marina for his services.  Although this is really cheap labour, one has to remember that Cubans are paid in local Peso’s, around CUC 30 per month, so he was earning over a month’s wages in one day!  We also had to provide all the materials (as again the Cubans don’t have any), but Chici worked really hard and he was able tell a tale or two about Cuban life.  Although Chici was in his early twenties, he had a young child and his main aspiration in life was to buy a car!   A great guy and I was especially grateful to him as he brought me fruit and vegetables each day on his cycle.
The lovely ‘Chici’ and working hard on Nimue
With a prolonged stay in the UK, due to Michael’s father needing a hip replacement, we arranged a transfer of funds to pay our marina berthing fee (and to avoid the excess charges applied if they were not paid by 15th of the month). We returned only to find out that the money hadn’t arrived and to give the marina office their due, they looked in every account and even apologised for the inconvenience! We even showed them the confirmation from our bank that the money had been sent, but after a couple of days they admitted that they still hadn’t received it. Michael then announced our intended departure within the week, but several more days went by and still no money, so we were now thinking that something serious has happened. Michael was fit enough to catch the bus, so we went to our usual haunt; the 5*Hotel Melia Habana (this was the only place in Havana which had good wifi and internet connections, although we had to pay CUC8 per hour for the privilege!). We e-mailed the Bank to advise there was no sign of the money and returned to the marina. On returning to the hotel the following day, we had received an e-mail from the Bank advising the money had been returned due to money laundering regulations! Now that’s what I thought in the first place! On returning to the marina, a number of officials were standing around Nimue and when confronted they said we couldn’t leave until we had paid our fees! Rather than admitting our Bank had ‘cocked up’, we advised we would pay again and that if they found the money, would they kindly credit our account. They were more than happy with this, so we paid up (without any additional fees or tips) and the next day headed to the Customs Dock.
Waiting at the hotel bus stop, which faces one of the Marina Hemmingway canals
A member of hotel staff, picking fresh flowers!
Michael walking towards the very upmarket Hotel Melia Habana
Setting up the PC for wi-fi/internet connections and a colourful flower arrangement in the lobby.
The commercial centre opposite the hotel
...... where we came across one or two ‘metallic’ elephants
Stunning sunsets seen from Nimue
We had no problems clearing out, after which we carefully motored out of the channel and in no time we were feeling the effects of a positive Gulf Stream towards the Florida coast.  We had decided to head to Fort Lauderdale, rather than Miami as we had heard reports US Customs do not particularly welcome boats coming from Cuba.
Checking out of the Customs dock and even a smile and wave by the nice officials
The remains of the Canadian boat; 3 months after it first sank and no signs of it being moved!
The last official building and finally the first channel marker
You can just see yachts moored in the canal parallel to the coast.  Looking back at the calm waters in the channel entrance.
...and finally the Sea buoy, which one so carefully has to identify before entering the channel.  Bye bye Cuba!
We really enjoyed the Cuban experience and pleased we visited before too much change occurs.  The people are very friendly and laid back, although they all appear to be hoping that change will take place sometime soon.