Monday, April 26, 2010

Nelson Makes His Play

April 26, 2010
Vero Beach, Florida (We are back in the land of bland.  But at least there is plenty of it)

Sitting on the dock in Hemingway Marina, Havana we were enjoying coffee in the sun, in the warmth and amongst the palm trees.  Not too shabby.

Our reverie was interrupted by a crass overture from Nelson, the dock "fixer".  Every dock in every planned economy has a Nelson - the go to guy for blackmarket cash, cigars, cheap (off the books) taxis, women.  Whatever you want.   Crass and these guys go together so I do not know why I wasted the adjective.

We did not like Nelson.  He was a bully.  I guess that is a positive characteristic in his line of work.  The guards, the workmen, the dockmaster, everyone on the official payroll at Hemingway knew Nelson and either took orders from him or tolerated his existence.  Nelson knew who to pay off.

The workmen and guards all walked to work or rode bicycles.  Nelson drove a car.  A rusty metal flake blue Lada with only one headlight working.  But to drive a car in Cuba denotes undreamt of status and wealth beyond imagining.  In Cuba well educated people in responsible jobs are making $15 CUC a month.  Doctors are paid $20 to $25 CUC a month.  Even wealthy Cubans cannot afford cars.

Twice a day Nelson rode his blue metal flake chariot into the mdst of "his" empire and showing his colours and ensuring that all present understood who was in charge.  Nelson ruled.  The Lada was his crown and his sceptre.

Immediately he parked the car, almost always with a beautiful woman riding shotgun, Nelson would emerge to discuss the day's affairs with the head Guarda.  The woman, not always the same one, was left sitting idly in the passenger seat for as long as Nelson chose to leave her there - an hour or two or three.  Just another demonstration of his power and wealth.

The dockmaster, on those rare occasions when he would deign to be seen on the dock, would greet Nelson warmly.  Fidgeting during the conversation, the duplicity of it all getting to the rotund major domo of a dockmaster, the man would quickly dissociate himself and return to his office to "work.  Very Busy".

The assistant dockmaster refused to recognize Nelson's existence.  It was clear the assistant resented the presence of Nelson but was powerless to do anything about it.  My  conversations with the assistant disclosed a deep well of resentment towards the rotund little dockmaster whom the assistant believed was less educated and far less experienced that he, the assistant.  I was never sure if the resentment emanated from a wellspring of Eliot Ness like purity or just the bitter realization that the better connected if obese little dockmaster was getting the juice from the association with Nelson while he, the superior man was forced to do his bidding.

Nelson had approached us almost as we docked at Hemingway.  He offered to exchange US Cash into CUCs "off the books", and to arrange taxis.  He took umbrage when we informed him we were not interested in his  illegal money changing proposition or his illegal taxis.  Our position was not based on any silly desire to adhere to the ridiculous laws of Fidel but Nelson wanted to change our cash at a rate that was far worse for us than if we used the Cadeca or Cuban Bank.  He purported not to understand anyway but of course he was merely disappointed that we knew the exchange rate game.

Similarly Nelson's informal taxis were 20% more expensive than the government taxis.

Nelson hoped to gain advantage by taking advantage.  In our case he hoped to benefit from our ignorance.  This situation is like a cup of tea.  The jerk can offer but I do not have to accept.

So there we were on day #2.  Nelson had been dismissed by us as a :"goto" person for anything and we hoped not to see him again.

Nelson had one more ploy and he pulled it out of his playbook as we sat in our cockpit innocently drinking coffee and enjoying the placidity of Havana.

Nelson introduced us to what appeared to be a tired old man.  His name was "Indio" explained Nelson and he was an expert woodworker.  Indio wanted to work on our brightwork (the outside wood on a boat).

Nelson of course had to "interpret" for Indio.  A couple of minutes was all that was necessary to sort out that Indio wanted to remove all of our Cetol on exterior wood and replace it with varnish.   We indicated we wanted to keep the wood under Cetol but would be content to have him work in that coating.  Sadly Indio had no Cetol.  Meredith had no Cetol left.

It looked like we had dodged an incoming missile from Nelson.  

Oh, but, but, but.

The Budget Committee wondered "could Indio work on our salon floor?".

"Oh, yes" offered Indio, now oddly fluent in English.  "I do very good work.  Perfecto".

Now, the Budget Committee has been fuming about the sad condition of our floors since May.  The mechanic who swapped diesels for us managed in the process to wreck havoc with our teak floors.  Apparently no one teaches respect for the customer's property in diesel mechanic school.  Our floors were a mess and I knew it.

It was her birthday, or had recently been, I reminded myself.

That sunk my battleship.  We began to discuss terms.  And that is a topic for another blog.

West Coast Trailer Park Boys, Israel the Tug Boat Captain and Lucille, the French Pauline v Swedish Vixen Queens

April 15, 2010
Hemingway Marina, Havana, Cuba

At a glance the boat beside us at Marina Vita in Cuba fell far short of ordinary. It was tired and used up. Its gelcoat was dull with oxidation and too much sun; its hardware reflected years of exposure to the elements. This vessel was the marine equivalent of a typical Florida resident.

Closer inspection revealed some equipment on the boat had been interestingly installed: workmanlike but unorthodox. And inexpensively. A solar panel, for example, had been added to the boat by hanging it on a simple wood frame on a rope sling from the boat's split backstay. While not elegant the installation was original, unique and seaworthy.

As it so often turns out in sailing so were the crew.

There was no one aboard the boat for first few days.  Without warning one day a lumpy blanket appeared in the cockpit, just showed up. It was filthy. Under the blanket could be discerned a vaguely human mass. Hygienically the mass, although human, was a perfect match for the blanket. As the sun traced its daily course through the heavens the length and general composition of the lump would change. Depending on the particular hour, the lump was comprised of one of Liam, Dan or Chris, three unique and intriguing individuals.

During the first afternoon we never actually encountered a conscious human being.

The boat's name was Aibel, its flag was Canadian and the stern announced Halifax as its port of registry. She was owned by Liam and crewed by him with friends Dan and Chris.

The guys were all under 21. The boat was not.

Liam wanted to sail the Caribbean before beginning his first year at Memorial University in Newfoundland. What he lacked was a vessel in which to do it or any crew to help. He advertised for crew and up popped Dan and Chris. Dan he knew from growing up together on Salt Spring Island, and Chris from the Halifax neighbourhood was a friend of Dan's. Neither Dan nor Chris had sailed before. A petty concern for these guys.

With Dan and Chris secured all the trio needed was a boat.

Ft. Lauderdale, they reasoned had a lot of boats. It should be easy to score a decent boat in their price range in that sailing mecca.

Arriving in Florida the guys quickly ascertained that there was a flaw in the logic. While Ft. Lauderdale certainly houses thousands of boats very few of them sell for less than a millon dollars let alone the 2 factors of magnitude smaller amount Liam had available for the job.

Perseverence, perhaps tinged with just a touch of desperation, turned up a boat with a "good diesel and new sails" by the name of Aibel. It was purchased.

The guys discovered that in the vagaries of the sailing thesaurus "New" meant old but not used much. Maybe.

Based on my inspection all I am prepared to say is that the boat had a diesel and sails. An old Catalina 30 it slept 2, ensuring one of the trio was on cockpit watch at all times. Other than that the boat boasted no amenities. None.

A small 12 volt house battery and a starting battery supplied all their electrical needs. Navigation was done on paper supplemented by a somewhat functioning hand held GPS. No autopilot (I mean who needs autopilot when someone has to be in the cockpit all the time anyway), no fans, no nothing.

They provisioned with 20 tubs of peanut butter, a case of Spam and as many eggs as they could fit into Aibel's near nonexistent galley.

The guys purchased a stereo. Youth has its priorities.

They set off alone, ie. no buddy boat or caravan , just Aibel, Liam, Dan and Chris.

Enroute they ran into Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic and Cuba and enjoyed the lot. Their girlfriends visited in the DR and this was obviously a major event.

When we first tied up at Marina Vita the guys were hiking the eastern provinces of Cuba. When they returned to their boat, as we always do with new neighbours, we quickly engaged them in conversation. It was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary ship of fools. Their remaining plans were outstanding. Their knowledge of things nautical was impressive, especially Liam's. My inspection of their boat (done under ruse of course) showed a boat well prepared for its intended use and sufficiently stocked with spares.

We invited them to join us for dinner at the marina restaurant. The reply was an instantaneous crescendo of yeas that surprised even them.  Like all 20 year old men they were hungry.

Before dinner the Budget Committee finished work on the daily bread. It was announced that my loaf of bread had been earmarked for the "Boys". I was left with a half dozen buns. The loaf still steaming I watched as my bread was delivered to the BCs new adoptees. At dinner the boys confessed to eating the entire loaf of bread along with a jar of peanut butter as soon as they got it out of sight. The BC glowed.

At dinner we were regaled with stories of hiking Cuban style in the back of dump trucks with field workers, of being pushed off a bus 25 miles from their destination in 40 degree weather because not enough people wanted to go there that day; of hiking 2 miles up a stream that night to camp and having to set a fire and bank it with wet leaves to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Everyone over the age of 50 left the table fully invigorated by the transfer of energy and goodwill that flowed virtually without cease from these founts of competence and easy grace.

These guys set the definition of competence: knowing you have the strength of character and will to deal with whatever is dished out at you.


Israel's name is not actually Israel. It is Gal, which is not pronounced Gal at all but in some tongue twisted Hebrew way that I never quite mastered.  Gal never let on.

Gal hails from Israel, hence the moniker I hung on her at our first meeting. She would grimace each time I used it but understood it meant I was holding her out for special attention. She was worth noticing.

This woman entered the Israeli Navy at age 19. She passed the senior assessments for all three branches of the service and chose Navy. Navy won big on that deal. Before she turned 20 she had risen through the ranks, whatever they are in the Israeli Navy, and became Captain of her own tug. She tugged the big Naval vessels - expensive warships in service to a country on permanent active duty status.

Once her 2 year stint with Israeli armed forces was over she felt she needed to tour the world and reestablish the precepts of freedom after being subjected to 2 years of military discipline.

When we met her she was also looking for a ride to Mexico. Hitchhiking at a marina. Now there is a concept.

Gal was actively cultivating a protective "tough girl" persona. As if. She was plenty tough in all the ways that mattered but found herself hampered by deep sensitivity to and compassion for others.

The second time I met her she was standing at the washroom bar (no kidding but more on that later) with a cigarette in her mouth. We had exchanged pleasantries and Gal corrected some of my fractured Spanish. The faggot never left her lips.  Stereoypical Marg Delahantey. And lousy cover.

The boat at Hemingway with which she had hooked up and which was going to take her to Mexico was piloted by a Swedish loser. The guy took money from her and a girlfriend to help pay his marina fees. He claimed he was heading to Mexico but had no charts and could not afford them.

The girls tried to beg borrow or steal some for the journey. When the moron skipper of the Swedish boat wanted to take and hold their passports Gal grew defensive. When she obtained evidence the Swedish jerk was going to drydock his boat and keep her money she took action. Necessary action. In the process we made a very good and impressive young friend.

In the process of extricating herself from the Swedish doorknob Gal exhibited the qualities of a Steig Larssen heroine tempered and even hampered by her own well hidden compassion for others. She worried that the Swede would get in trouble without her paying his dock fees. It took some persuading for her to see that Sweden was not her problem and that even if he was she was never going to fix him.

Gal found a new ride aboard Zen, a Spanish boat. This boat had starter problems and we donated a spare starting motor to the efforts. The starter was not needed in the end but we hope it was helpful. When Gal sailed for Mexico I was left a bit apprehensive for her wellbeing. I missed her even before the boat Zen left the marina. Gal was very happy.


Lucille, our French Pauline (as in " the Perils of..."), was met at Hemingway. She was wandering the dock also looking for a ride to Mexico. What is it with cute young girls and Mexico? The Budget Committee, who has turned very maternal in latter years, offered her food and drink and soon we were in a conversation. The BC finds that food works to get nearly anyone under the age of 25 onto the boat and into a conversation. She then pokes around to make sure everything is ok.

From her home in France Lucille had met someone online whom she wished to meet. The person lived in Mexico.

Unsure of where exactly in Mexico this person lived and not having the money to get there anyway Lucille reasoned that first she needed to get to Mexico. Then she could work on the details like the town he lived in or his street or phone number, none of which she knew.  We are assuming she knew his name.. Not having funds for public transportation she climbed on her bicycle and rode through the Pyrenees to a port in Spain. Once there she found a ride on a catamaran being ferried to the Antilles for charter service. She had never been on a boat before.

Arriving in the Caribbean the catamaran endured a serious storm. This strained relations amongst the crew on the cat and Lucille got off in Havana before something bad happened.

When we met her she had just finished cycling around much of Cuba and was engaged in negotiating visa expiration problems. She was living day to day on various boats in the marina. We suggested she would be more likely to find a ride to Mexico in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and we offered her a berth on Meredith if she liked. We also offered to intervene with Cuban immigration to assist with the Visa.

Lucille left on Zen along with Gal.

Somewhere in Mexico, one day soon, a very lucky guy is going to answer a knock on his door. We wonder if he will be up to the challenge.

In the hands of people such as Liam, Dan and Chris, Gal and Lucille the future of the free world is secure. Grumpy old men can stop complaining. These people are a whole lot more capable than we ever were.

Swedish Vixen Queens

As the West Coast Trailer Park Boys sailed out of the Vita headed for Hemingway they had no idea they had just made one of the biggest mistakes of their lives. Inbound on the same tide was Cantares, a 31 foot swedish boat sailed across the Atlantic by 3 Swedish girls.

The boat was heavily outfitted. Cantares was the family boat of one of the queens and mommy and daddy paid a fortune to ensure the safety of their progeny: An aquagen generator, SSB, EPIRB, Liferaft and thousands of dollars of other equipment.

None of which would be found on Aibell, owned by Liam and sailed by him with Chris and Dan.

The girls were drop dead gorgeous.

All long time sailors the Swedish vixen queens crossed the Atlantic together with 210 boats in the 2010 ARC race.  Exhilerating to be sure.

When the girls arrived at dock in Vita it was very apparent they had not come to appreciate the splendour of Cuba. Rather they had come so Cuba could appreciate them. Cuba and anyone else.

Talking with the girls revealed the bottomless well of confidence and poise that comes with growing up everyday of your life knowing your daddy's rich and your momma's good looking. 

It was all just so suburban compared to the hitchiking Gal and the pie in the sky Lucille and the threadbare Trailer Park Boys.  Their connected Swedish parents knew the right people in the print media and an article on the three girls showed up in Yachting Monthly.  Big deal.  In a different time the accomplishment of these girls might have drawn praise and appreciation. This year in Cuba they weren't even in the competition.

These were good looking girls with attitude. Never a bad thing but something was lacking.

As for their adventure, I imagine the Swedish Vixen Queens will have fun, fun, fun til daddy takes Cantares away.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hustled on the Corner of Independence and the 19th of May, and the corner of 23 Hustled at the Corner of Independence and the 19th of May and the corner of 23 y 12 and the corner of Linea and the 13th of August, and every corner in Pinar del Rio and...

April 15, 2010
Hemingway Marina, Havana, Cuba

We watched a pair of  roadies unloaded the unmarked box truck onto the sound stage. Skin damaged by misuse of crystal meth or whatever roadies do these days these skinny boymen with bad skin, frames upholstered in nothing but sinew and bad skin worked in dirty black Tshirts emblazoned in white with the names of hard rock heroes or concert dates.. As they worked a fat guy in a pony tail and a dirty tee shirt two sizes too small fiddled with the mixer and amps.

Turning we almost stepped into a pair of cops. Belts and shoes shiny, hands on belts close to their holstered weapons. Somehow swaggering though they only stood on the corner, their bellies of a slightly greater circumference that the khaki shirts trying to constrain them. These guys were issuing a challenge to anyone who wanted to take them on.

Walking down the street we were approached by a young man, his hair slicked, his Tshirt clean, chin and chest extended, confidence exuding from every pore. "You need a taxi? Tickets to the Hotel?"

Am I in London, Toronto, New York, Miami, Nassau or Havana? There are constants in this world: roadies (rock band and helpers for our foreign readers), cops and scalpers/hustlers.

So what? Nothing. Just a thought.

In Cuba the "heroes of the revolucion", the war dead, are revered. Officially at least. Every elementary school, hospital, factory and public building revers some guy who died, usually in the revolution of 1959. Driving to Vinales yesterday I had to smile as we passed the "Che Guevara Chicken and Egg Farm". Would that be how I would wish to be remembered? .

Looking at the memorials it is apparently there were few if any Heroines of the Revolucion. Also there have been no heros in Cuba since 1959. Heroism stopped with Fidel's grand revolution and nothing achieved since has been deemed worthy of public appreciation.

I guess it would interfere with worship of Fidel.

Anyway there we were standing in the Plaza de la Revolucion, a plaza that exists in every Cuban village, town and city. Nearby is an enormous 200 foot statue deifying some long dead and now totally irrelevant pedagogue. We are on the corner of Independence Street and the 19th of May. It seems strange to us to name a street after a date of significance but it is far from unusual down here. We wonder what happens when the 19th of May intersects with the 29th of August.

The hustler approached with the standard Cuban pickup line: "Where you From?".  I answer in spite of myself.

The dance begins.  "Canada. Canada very good country. Canada very beautiful". Alerted instantly to the approach we deploy our defensive weapons without even a look at each other. We try denial. Ignoring these little barnacles in Havana rarely works but we always try it. We turn our heads away, refuse to answer his patter, change direction abruptly without warning. We cannot shake him. There is no relief.

We step up the alert level to Defcon 3. A touch of desperation sets in. We move towards another obviously tourist couple, stop for a minute and ask for directions. The theory here was that our little friend will realize we are not fertile soil for his particular pitch and will instead prey on the hapless couple whom we have engaged in brief discussion.

It fails. The remora has attached himself to us and now will feed.

He asks if we like Cuban music. Now remember this question is coming nearly 5 long minutes after his initial introduction of himself. We glare at him and ask "How much?"

There is no subtlety left in us and the remora really doesn't give a damn. He wants to sell us "very good dvd's. very good music. cuba music".

We try a new tactic. I figure I will bargain with the twerp so long and so hard he will at least think twice before he harasses another innocent tourist. Fat chance. In this planned economy there is nothing for anyone to do. Wasting his time is just entertainment. This little twerp has all day to annoy and harass us and make our day miserable. He will too.

We begin. He opens his backpack and displays 200 or 300 dvds of the "best" Cuban music. His price is $10 a disk.

Twenty minutes later I cannot take anymore. He has won. I am played out. At this precise moment I recall the tuna I caught last week and realize I know how he felt just as I pulled him on deck.

I just did not care anymore. I buy 2 dvd's for $8.

The failure of the planned economy in Cuba has produced a nation of people with no pride, no self respect. For a US dollar many or most will do almost anything. There is a booming trade in illicit cigars if you want to trust a guy who claims he works at the cigar factory and "steals" the really good ones to sell just to you.

At the marina women will clean your boat for $15 US. From what the guys on the dock tell me, who are visiting without wives, they clean everything in the boat. For some of the guys this is why they come to Havana, year after year.

Touring Pinar del Rio with friends the Budget Committee and I were beset by beggars on every corner and down every street. The begging is different than back home.  Here begging does not officially exist and the government will not tolerate its public appearance.  Instead you are approached with the standard line "Where you from?".  With this opener the questioner will walk with you half a block. He will give you one or two Pesos National (about $.08) and then expect to be "tipped" $10 CUC.  For nothing.  If you do not give him $10 the beggar will tell you to your face it is "not enough."  "That is nothing!!" he will yell at you.

This has happened to all the cruisers we know.  It has happened to us.

Finally in Pinar del Rio the press of we returned to the van we shared with 3 other couples and just sat there for protection. Like cattle running from mosquitoes we were ready to throw ourselves off a cliff.

When the Havana music man is out of sight I break his dvds into slivers and toss them.

Havana is beginning to wear on me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meredith Returns to Civilization

April 20, 2010
Hemingway Marina, Habanna, Cuba

We are set to depart Havana tomorrow as soon as possible.  Once we enter the USA our posts can be uploaded.  Son in Law Nick Benner/Penney has done yeoman service in uploading what he can HOWEVER Meredith is parked beside a power transformer and switching station at Hemingway and getting the shortwave to punch a hole through the electrical noise is near impossible.

It will be 2 days or so before we land in the US. 

Our trip has been a great success.  Cuba was worth visiting and we did the best part first. 

However, more on all that once we return.  Make it 5 days for posts to start again.

Budget Committee and Capt Curmudgeon

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

El Viejo y El Mar: Letters to Ben and Andree (More Fish Stores)

April 12, 2010
Hemingway Marina, Havana, Cuba

Dear Ben and Andre:

We owe you breakfast. After 6 weeks of gestation the rod and reel you lent to us produced a beautiful 7 pound (maybe 10) tuna. At least we think it was a tuna. It was filleted and fried so fast it was kind of hard to tell.

Ocean to plate in 20 minutes!!


Meredith was travelling overnight trying to get to Havana a little ahead of schedule. About 3:30 a.m. the boat was struck hard by a rogue wave. Simultaneously the reel started to sing. The little clicks it usually made merged into a single soprano voice as line flew off the reel.

It was very exciting.

Our first bite after 6 weeks of Connie putting out the line day after day. We were getting a bit fatalistic about our chances until we met the crew of Magie (out of somewhere in Quebec) in Vita. There was a little 9 year old boy aboard, Phillipe, who caught a 50 pound tuna! In the victory picture the fish was bigger than the boy.

Connie grabbed the kid and marched him down to Meredith to tell us what we were doing wrong. Actually the little guy was delighted to be so important. We offered to rent him from his parents for a week so he could show us how to do it.

Magie caught one or two big fish every day.

For 4 more days we had no luck.

Then at 3:30 a.m. in the pitch black we caught a fish. A brutish black eel like thing with monstrous teeth and a sharp stickleback dorsal fin. Maybe a Barracuda I don't know. It looked evil - just like something that would be afoot at 3:30 a.m., when hell's gate is open to earth.

Once we had removed the hook from the thrashing pescadore and returned him to his watery grave the hook was once again set. We were very excited by the devil's fish we caught - it meant we were getting closer. I reasoned that now our hook smelled like a fish maybe something else fishlike would be interested.

At 10:00 a.m. it happened again. The reel began to sing. This time we played the fish in to Meredith. Hard work I must say. The fish pulled so hard I thought it must be 25 or 30 pounds. Somewhat deflating to see how small an opponent I had finally bested.

To hasten the poor thing's rush to demise we fed it a little alcohol in its gills. We read repeatedly that this would stun the fish and lessen the time it suffocated on land. We had a little blueberry vodka on hand from Annapolis that neither of us liked very much so it went to the fish. And it worked.

Once we were sure it was dead we got out our Rapalo fish knife (still in the package after 5 years) and read the instructions on the reverse on how to fillet a fish. It looked easy enough.

So we did it. We butchered the fish before we lost our nerve. By the time the fillets were ready Connie had the pan hot.

It was fish for breakfast baby.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now we want more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Trade Winds Sailing: It's Sit to Pee from Anchor Up to Anchor Down

April 9, 2010
Cayo Frances, Cuba

For three days now Meredith has enjoyed the finest sailing weather a man could find. Wind has never been less than 25 knots just off our stern quarter. The boat has blasted along with a lift in her step that we had never seen before. It was sailing Nervana.

But you know, too much Nervana is not a good thing. Apparently Sailing Nervana is not like pizza or ice cream or those devine, if large, coconut wrapped shrimp that our friend Joy used to make when she and Ian entertained. There can be too much.

We had had enough boisterous sailing for a while It was time for a break. But does Mother Nature listen to us? Think of poor Oliver requesting sufficient rations to live and you have some idea how generous old Mother is with sailors.;

I mean 25 knots is really cool if it weren't for the 6 to 8 to 10 foot waves that such winds build up after blowing for 8 to 12 hours over near limitless fetch. Such waves over the stern quarter tend to knock the boat through 15 or 20 or 25 degrees each way.

As each wave passes the stern slews first one way and then the next. The headsail flaps its protest.

As this is going on it is impossible for men to pee like men. We must sit down. You can imagine what happens. You need one hand to steady yourself in the head so you do not fall over as the boat oscillates 20 degrees port and then 20 degrees starboard. You need one hand to point the stream so it lands squarely in the bowl. You need one hand to grab the toilet seat as it slams down repeatedly as your boat heels alternately to port and then to starboard.

You can try to eliminate one hand. You can for example try to pee while holding the toilet seat up hoping to balance yourself using the toilet seat. You abandon this fix when the toilet seat slams downs and throws you and the firehose hard against the head door. It is worse if you do have not cloded the door. You fall further. Trust me.

You can try to pee reallly really fast in short bursts so you pee a short burst, hold it before the toilet seat falls down, then pick up the seat and pee a short burst again. This may work if you are very young. My pump is old and the seals are worn. Short bursts are really more like dribbles by now. So this does not work if you are over 35. It may not work anyway. I have never been under 35 trying to pee on a wildly gyrating sailboat.

Under no circumstances can you use one hand to hold yourself in balance and the other to hold the toilet seat. You do not want to hear about what happens then.

So you must sit to pee.

This keeps the Budget Committee happy.

And a happy Budget Committee is one less problem to deal with at the end of a long trying day.

EMail to Magie

April 10, 2010
Paso Boca Chica, Cuba

Dear Carole and Daniel & Vincent & Philippe:

Hello from Meredith. We last crossed wake at Baie de Nuevista. Sadly we did not get a photograph of the guys holding the two fish you caught on the way from Puerto Padre. They were BIG. In fact they were so big they made us wonder if we wanted to fish any more. We might catch one!!!! And then what would we do.

Even sadder was that you gave the fish to Joana. We think they ate it. Our fish!!! What an outrage.

Even sadder, for you, is that the bottle of wine and bar of chocolate we had to pass to Magie as you passed Meredith is no longer. We were so sad about no fish we drank the wine and ate the chocolate. It helped.

It was very nice to travel with you. You have the best idea. No contract and lots of fun when we meet. That said we hope to meet again. Just for fun. Maybe we have another bottle of wine. Do you have another fish? We think so.

As for your sons. If we are ever going to catch a fish we believe we need either Vincent or Philippe on our boat. Maybe both.

So work out a price and we will rent these fish magnets from you for a while. If they are lucky they will catch girls the way they catch fish. Somehow we think there will be no trouble.

Have a great trip. Hope to see you again.

Bob and Connie


Magie was the first boat we met in Cuba. They provided information about procedures and a place for the Budget Committee to relax while I completed paperwork with customs in Puerto de Vita. Daniel and Carole are a lively quick witted pair with a ready laugh. Their two boys aged 10 and 13 are fishermen supreme. When we first met the boat the youngest, Philippe showed us a picture of a 50 pound Tuna he and another boy caught. Fish was bigger than boy. Seeing this picture the Budget Committee grabbed Philippe and escorted him to our boat so he could advise her on what we were doing wrong.

Up til then it had been my opinion that we were doing everything right. We had not caught a fish. That was the point. What on earth would we do if something actually swallowed our hook.

Magie left Vita only minutes ahead of Meredith. We passed them a couple of hours later and traded quips about fishing. Magie had already caught dinner!

Next day we all weighed anchor from the same anchorage and again we baited Magie about fishing.

That night as Magie came into Puerto Neuvista just behind us we asked if they had had any luck. "Oh yes" said Daniel.
"We caught two. Would you like some, we cannot eat it all."

Ignoring the inherent braggadocio in the offer we quickly agreed. Magie infomed us that they preffered to anchor further up the entrance that we had but that they would drop off some fish on the way by. First they executed a victory sailpast.

As they came by our beam there stood Daniel with two of the biggest damn fish I have ever seen. He stood holding the tails at the level of his armpits. Their snouts or whatever fish have on the front of their faces barely cleared the deck of his boat. His arms shook with the effort of holding so much seaweight.

Sailpast done it was time for delivery of the fresh fish to Meredith. Not so easily accomplished. The wind was blowing and there was current. The Budget Committee put a bottle of our best red wine in a grocery bag together with our last bar of really fine chocolate. This she draped over the end of a boat hook to extend to Magie. The idea was that we would pass the wine and chocolate to Magie as they motored by and Magie would return the fish. Neither boat would have to get close to the other.

Then into the pool of ointment entered the fly. "Don't do that" came a radio call from another boat anchored close by to us. "We will drop our dinghy in the water and motor out to get the packages for you". Magie readily agreed to this and we accepted the graceful offer. The other boat was crewed by an ex Canadian army couple who had shown themselves to be very sharing and willing to assist almost anyone.

Or so we thought.

For some reason the dinghy would not launch. Instead of having Magie come up to our boat the other boat had Magie come up to them and pass them the fish. OUR fish!!

That was the whole story. Except that half an hour later the other boat radioed to tell us they were eating their fish just then but it was impossible to get our fish to us because the current was too strong and they could not dinghy over to us.

We would have believed them if the Guarda Frontera had not just rowed his dinghy 2 1/2 miles from the Guarda station to our boat so he could check our papers. The Guarda was 65 if he was a day.

Do you remember when Toronto had the big snow storm and the Canadian Army was called to help. I wonder. Did anyone in Toronto count their streetcars after the army left?

Maybe they should have. :)

We Remain,

Fishless in Neuvista.


April 8, 2010
Enroute to Cayo Frances, Cuba

It seemed the perfect day to fly the gennaker.

Go figure.

After 3 days of gloriously unrelenting 25 knot tradewinds following us along the North coast of Cuba the wind finally chose other boats to play with. It took its bat and went home.

Meredith and companion boat Joana were not exactly floundering but 10 to 15 knots off the stern is not particularly motivating.

There are three things you can in these "light air" conditions: put in to a good anchorage and wait for wind, turn on your engine or fly your light air sail, also called a gennaker. So the choices are quit, motor or sail.

We came to sail. In light air we use a gennaker, a specially designed brightly coloured wedge of nylon that not only improves a boats performance but looks very very GQ.

Real sailors sail spinnakers. Spinnakers are complicated sailing contraptions with poles and lines everywhere. They are finicky to control and take a lot of skill. The setup includes foreguys, afterguys and top guys. Frankly there are so many guys the whole thing seems a little gay. But real sailors know how to handle these light air contraptions. Gennakers look just like spinnakers - and you don't have to know anything. As we were about to prove.

Our gennaker when properly set creates a brilliant green and white banner to lead our boat. It is as if we were leading French lancers to war.

Today was the day to fly ours The Budget Committee said I could.

Now the disadvantage is that a gennaker can be bit awkward to set up. Our gennaker lives in a big sock with only the bottom corners sticking out. To set it up you connect one corner to the forestay and the other corner to a sheet (a sheet is a rope which runs from the sail to the cockpit so the sailor can control tension on the sail. Once the bottom corners were connected all you had to do was hoist the gennaker to the top of the mast and pull off the sock. Freed of its constraining hood the gennaker fills with air and leads the boat turgid and proud.

A bit time more consumingthan pulling out a furled sail the process is not difficult for ordinary sailors. Today was our day to be extraordinary.

It started with a bright idea. Usually we would furl in the headsail and then tend to setting up the gennaker. It made more sense to get the gennaker ready while the headsail was still working to move the boat. We would lose less time on the sail change that way. In minutes I had the gennaker sheet attached to one corner of the sail. The gennaker was hoisted to masthead and all we needed to do was furl in the headsail, connect the remaining corner of the gennaker to to the forestay and pull up the sock.

As we furled in the headsail we managed to tangle one headsail sheet in the gennaker sock. With the sheet caught we could not completely furl in the headsail. The Budget Committee went forward to try to untangle the mess. This did not go well. We now had a partially furled headsail which was making a lot of noise flapping away at the front of the boat. It was a mess.

It became obvious as the BC worked that I would have to drop the sock containing the gennaker so I went forward to do so. The furling line of our half furled headsail was piled in the cockpit. Most of it at least. One little loop had found its way around my foot and as I attempted to hurriedly move my avoirdupois forward to help the BC it clamped around my ankle and pulled me down. Hard.

I recall being thankful that my head missed the cockpit winch and hit only the combing beside it. This was not clear thinking. Had I been unconscious I would have missed the rest of the ensuing debacle. Undeterred I shook off the fall and went forward to help a fiercely busy Budget Committee. As we worked a gust of wind caught my favourite hat, the one that was on my head, and deposited it in the ocean as a gift I suppose to Neptune.

We cleared the sail, returned to the cockpit and started the motor so we could backtrack to my errant headgear which was retrieved but salty.

At this point we could have quit. Our intentions had been thwarted and we were tired. However we reasoned we could not allow this sail to beat us. It was necessary to "get back up on the horse". It was time for us to dig down deep and be sailors.

This time we furled in the headsail. We slowed the boat. All lines were connected and checked. I hoisted the gennaker to the top of the mast. It was time to let loose our mighty colours.

Now why my bladder chose that precise moment to issue an urgent demand to be emptied I do not know. Regardless I was filled with an overpowering impulse to take care of business right there and then. I called back to the Budget Committee that I had to pee but when I was done I would raise the sock from the gennaker and she would have to pull the gennaker sheet tight. She nodded assent.

As I fastened myself to the lifeline to ready myself to pee I could feel the pop behind me. Something big had just happened. I turned to see the gennaker in full inflation completely loosed from its condomic restraint. Rather than be gently loosed the sail had exploded into full inflation as the wind caught a corner of nylon and pulled that enormous sail right out of the bag. It pulled the sail from its sock.

As the sail unloosed the bottom of the sock rode up, up, up to the top of the mast. It was supposed to do this, just not so quickly. Unfortunately the control lines which were essential for me to pull the sock down again were also at the top of the mast connected to the foot of the sock.

The BC was madly turning the aft winch trying to pull in the gennaker sheet and stop our now madly flapping green tent from pulling itself apart. She was looking at me as if I was somehow responsible.

With the control lines ridden to the masthead we had no way to pull down the sock. This was problematic.

Meredith I might add was now flying through the water. We were hitting speeds of 7 knots. Under other circumstances we would have been exhilerated.

Deciding she could not leave me to make more plans the Budget Committee joined me on the foredeck. Discussion of how to lower the gennaker produced a brilliant plan indeed. We would drop the whole sail to the deck. I would motor ahead as fast as possible to reduce the apparent wind giving us a more docile sail to pull down. As the sail was lowered the BC would catch it and bring it aboard. Simple.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

As the mighty sail was dropped the sail material blew far outboard of the boat. The halyard tension had been holding the sail tight against the boat and as it was loosened the sail could billow out. Which it did with gay abandon. Try as she might the BC could not hold the material and the sail, now deprived of its vertical tension went where whim dictated.

Whim apparently dictated the gennaker move into the water.

The water (we were travelling at 7 knots remember) grabbed the nylon like the parachute it was and filled it. The sail formerly filled with air and pulling our boat forward now bore water and was one big sea anchor. Water pulls a lot harder than air let me tell you. The gennaker which only minutes ago pulled itself up the mast was now pulling itself down. It was all I could do to stop the gennaker/sea anchor from pulling itself and its halyard right off the mast.

By the time we arrested the self lowering of the sail the Budget Committee could reach the bottom of the sock. As she held that sock with the strength and purpose God gave only to Dutch women I muscled the gennaker back up to the top of the mast.

It was not pretty. But it worked.

Back in its sock the gennaker was as innocent and docile as a newborn. Newborn spawn of hell.

It was decided that given our track record to date we should just motor to the anchorage. Sometimes the iron sail is best.

Tomorrow the winds promise to be light. Maybe....

Cuba: The Log from Puerto de Vita to Paso Boca Chica

April 10, 2010
Paso Boca Chica, Cuba

Clearing out of a port in Cuba is a different process than North Americans are used to. For one thing you must ask permission and pay a fee to do so. Also your boat must be inspected before you can go.

Leaving Vita we gave the harbourmaster 24 hours notice. The morning of our departure we were visited by the harbourmaster, who was the Guarda Frontera agent for Vita, a customs officer and the dog which had sniffed us out on our entry.

Fifteen minutes of paperwork and we had our Cruising Licence which authorized us to sail direct from Vita to Hemingway Marina in Havana. We were free to go.

Now this is awkward because it is about 350 nm from Vita to Hemingway. We did not intend to sail nonstop to Havana but wanted to stop for sleep when required. Here is how that works:

Our first day out of Vita we had great wind off the stern quarter. Meredith flew through the water. We easily made the 35 nm to Puerto Padre. There is a Guarda station at Puerto Padre. As we approached the entrance our radio lit up with pointed spanish. It was clear the Guarda wanted to talk to us. We muddled through the exchange and the Guarda seemed to understand we needed to anchor to sleep.

In Cuba it is our practice to always answer a radio call as soon as it becomes clear it is directed at us. Even if it is unclear we answer to ensure the authorities know we are monitoring their station and taking them seriously. This has produced good results for us and we leave the authorities happy.

In Puerto Padre the Guarda refused us permission to anchor in the anchorage shown in Nigel Calder's book. Later they explained to us that this was because it was unsafe with the prevailing wind and waves. They directed us to a nice protected spot.

At Puerto Plata the Guarda took our Cruisling License and told us they would return it next morning which they did. The customs official in Vita had told us never to give the Cruising Permit to any Guarda along the way but when faced with the demand by polite officials we exercised discretion.

Next day we set off early for Puerto Neuvitas. Another rousing day with 25 knot winds and big waves. Meredith is averaging 6 to 7 knots under sail.

Arriving Neuvitas there is another Guarda Station and more muddled Spanish on the radio - on our part of course. It amazes us that the Guarda are so willing to converse in English, even if broken. This would not happen in our country or, God forbid, the USA.

The Guarda do not carry weapons. The Guarda are polite. Before boarding your boat they ask permission. On receiving permission they ask if they should remove their footwear.

In Neuvitas the Guarda rowed out to us to check our papers. We had everything photocopied and this made the job easier for the Guarda.

Next day it was off to Cayo Paredon Grande, home of a fascinating lighthouse painted yellow and black checkerboard. Protection was achieved by hiding behind a tiny cay. It worked for us.

The Guarda at Paredon had a lot of questions for us and both Guarda and Meredith struggled to communicate. After 20 minutes of good natured banter we had things squared away. Again it really helps if you reply to the Guarda promptly when they call you. It also denotes the respect you have for these men who guard their countries border.

Next day winds were ameliorating. The sailing was more demanding and the Budget Committee and I ended the day very tired and very frustrated. We put into Cayo Frances.

No Guarda at Cayo Frances. A nice respite.

Today we set off in very light winds. The gennaker decided to cooperate today and Meredith found herself making 4.5 knots in 6 knots of apparent wind. Not too shabby.

Enroute two Guarda posts saw us pass and issued requests for information. Again, the coincidence of our passing the Guarda station and the beginning of a stream of Spanish was too startling. We responded in english with what has become our mantra. "This is the buque Meredith. We fly a Canadian flag. There are two, dos, persons on board. Both Canadian. We have a Cruising Permit to sail from Vita, V, I, T, A to Hemingway. We intend to anchor to sleep. We will leave manana.'

It works but often some details must be repeated. For some reason my Spanish inflection is lacking and absolutely no one in this country knows what I mean when I say "Vita".

Tonight we are anchored near Paso Boca Chica, in a beautiful unguarded cay. Deserted beaches. No humans in sight.

The Guarda in Cuba are not a problem.

Let me remind you of our bording in the USA by armed thugs from CPB. And the need to phone the CBP every damn day. We have not received that kind of imperious armed assault or inferference since we have been in Cuba. Not anywhere. More police but fewer cameras, computer reports, eyes in the sky than other countries we have visited.

We prefer the Cuban approach and we are determined to improve our Spanish for our return to this fabulous country.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Advice from People Who Have Never Been to Cuba in a Boat

April 3, 2010
Vita, Cuba
Our experience in Cuba has overwhelmed my meager skills at the keyboard. .It began and continues as a journey of constant discovery.
It is recognized that as much as we are enthused, Cuba would not be for everyone. You need patience and flexibility preferably enhanced with some understanding of the other guy's needs. The irrestable appeal of Cuba is very much tied to its uniqueness.
Come to Cuba as a traveller not as a tourist and you will have a fantastic time.
Travel Restrictions - Sailing
Sailing Cuba is more about visiting Cuba than sailing. Travel restrictions on coastal waters require a planned approach to your sailing. We wish to leave Vita tomorrow. We must inform the harbour master today and arrange for a departure inspection. We are not sure how many people will attend for the inspection.
None of this is difficult and in Marina Vita our concierge, Tina, takes care of the details for us.
It does require a bit more planning than "maybe we should go to Conception today. What do you think?"
The rules are applied with flexibility and common sense. Our dockmate, Peter, who single hands the Dutch vessel, Jan Van Gent, out of Groningen keeps his boat at Marina Vita but makes frequent overnight trips to nearby locations. He does not require permission for these as they are short duration, he is not going to another port and he will return in a day or two.
Travel Restrictions - Land Travel
There are none.
Rent a car or hire a taxi and go whereever you want. Everyone is free to go where they want in Cuba. Anywhere.
Except for military installations.
Fuel is plentiful and reasonably priced. It is jerry canned here at Vita but all you need do is ask. Price for diesel is about $1.05 CUC per litre, ie $1.20 CDN per litre.
Food is plentiful in Cuba and very inexpensive. You will have difficulty finding packaged food or imported food. You must learn to cook using rice, dry beans and flour.
At Marina Vita the restaurant manager maintains a warehouse of basic foodstuffs which you may buy at reasonable prices. Eggs are available in good quantity at decent prices as are vegetables and basic foodstuffs such as flour, rice and beans.
The highways are peppered with roadside vendors that sell all manner of fresh produce: tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), cucumbers, pineapples, papaya and some interesting other things never before seen by us. Quality exceeds anything you have eaten in Canada. Trust me on this.
Tonight's dinner was one steak from our freezer divided between us. We began with a gazpacho I whipped up this morning and set in the fridge to cool properly and a Romaine lettuce salad with onion and tomato with a really good blue cheese dressing the Budget Committee concocted out of bits of stuff from the fridge and cupboard. Total cost of the meal, not including the steak, was under $1.
We topped it off with a bottle of red wine, a bit sweet for our taste, for another 60 Pesos Nationale or $2.
We have not found potatoes anywhere so we figure Cuba does not grow potatoes.
Meat is somewhat more restricted in availability but can be obtained with a bit of looking. For meat you go to the "free market" found in any larger city. Our first freemarket, in Holguin, offered lamb and pork sausage. Today in Bayamo we found pork and chicken.
Cheese of a sort is available as is good yoghourt. Milk does not seem to be available anywhere.
When you see something you want you buy it.
Cubans buy in quantity. When we asked the butcher at the Holguin freemarket for some pork sausage he started with about 20 lbs in his weigh scale. We provided the comedy for all the market women as we tried repeatedly to persuade the butcher, who was hamming it up to be sure, to remove sausage from his scale to an amount we were comfortable buying (like 2 pounds).
Bags are not generally made available even at the government stores so you must be prepared with sturdy carrying bags to hold your purchases. Once you are exposed to the munificence of Cuban produce you will find yourself buying large quantities of every kind of food you want.
Most of the food is picked the day it is sold or at most a day or two before. Even at the govenment markets or mercados it is common to see one or two farmers in line with the customers bringing sacks of produce to sell to the market. Produce is weighed on the spot and the producer paid then and there.
Outside tourist areas there are no restaurants in the sense of anything North American. There is food available so do not panic but you need a variable carburettor.
The restaurant at the marina is very good. Well above competent in our opinion. Two nights ago the Budget Committee and I along with Wade and Diane from Joana, hosted dinner for 9 at the marina restaurant. Total cost for a three course meal including predinner drinks and wine for 9 people was $150 CUC, make it $175 CDN, tip included. We will tell you about the dinner in another post.
At Club Atlantico, where we went on day 1 to convert some currency, we had lunch on the beach for 4 people with drinks for $12 CUC or $15 CDN.
Outside tourist areas you will not find restaurants. You will find little cantinas where local food is sold for currency denominated in Pesos Nationale. Yesterday for lunch we tried a busy roadside stand in Banes. For $20 Pesos Nationale we got two pieces of the hardest substance I have ever tried to sink a tooth into, two pieces of breaded something the fear of eating which was only overcome by intense hunger, 5 croquetas that weren't bad, and two glasses of grape freshie. $20 Pesos Nationale is about 80 cents.
We have been in two provincial capitals: Holguin and Bayamo. Both had restaurants although I do not recommend the restaurants on the square in Holguin. In Bayamo our experience was very different and we readily found restaurants of decent quality.
Today the four of us: BC, Wade, Diane and myself, took an eating tour of the North East end of Cuba. We started in Causto when we stopped at an outdoor market. We entered a Cremaria which, surprise surprise, sold ice cream.
Good ice cream. Four ice creams with strawberry shortcake cost $4 Pesos Nationale: 20 cents Canadian total.
We proceeded to the waterfront park in Bayamo where we observed the weekly ration distribution and then strolled through the free market. At the market we had cane juice squeezed from a 6 foot stalk of cane before our eyes for $1 Pesos Nationale per glass (4 cents CDN).
Then it was on to the Pizzaria for single serving pizza for $5 Pesos Nationales (20 cents each) and spaghetti for another $20 PN each.
At the obligatory "Plaza de Revolucion" found in Bayamo and every other town in this country we stopped for an orange soda pop for $5 Pesos Nationale each (20 cents CDN).
Average salaries in Cuba are in the 10 to 15 CUC per month range. This will guide you in tipping. Our $15 CUC tip for the marina dinner was a month's wage for the server.
Currency & Banking
This is where it gets interesting.
Cuba has two currencies in play in its economy: CUCs and Pesos Nationale.
Cuba has two types of bank in its economy: Banks and Cadecas.
You convert your foreign currency, be it Canadian or US dollars, Pounds, Euros etc, to CUCs at either a bank or Cadeca.
You can only get Pesos Nationale at a Cadeca.
CUCs called Cukes are "convertible pesos". These are the pesos you get when you go to the bank or Cadeca and exchange Canadian or US dollars, British pounds or Euros into Cuban money.
The exchange rate is about $1.145 Canadian Dollar for 1 CUC.
All tourist transactions are conducted in CUCs: the marina is payed for in CUCs, hotel bills, restaurant meals in tourist areas, car rental and all fuel purchases are priced and paid in CUCs.
Pesos Nationales
The local people in Cuba use a different currency called a Peso Nationale. I am not sure if there is an "e" on the end of it but somehow this seems suitably spanish so I put one there.
CUCs can be exchanged for Pesos Nationale at the rate of $1 CUC = $24 Pesos Nationale.
All transactions with the local people are conducted in Pesos Nationales: buying food at the roadside stands, paying for local purchases, paying for local busses, buying from local people.
There are no currency restrictions in Cuba and any person, national or foreign, can own any currency in any amount.
There is no black market in currency.
How to Exchange Currency:
To get CUCs or Pesos Nationale it is easiest to use a Cadeca. It is convenient.
Cadecas are like little bank branch offices. Each Cadeca is run by a bank. Every hotel and resort has a Cadeca in the lobby were you can buy CUCs for your national currency. We have found that Cadecas are commonly located close to banks in any city.
You must use a Cadeca to buy Pesos Nationale. Banks will not issue Pesos Nationale.
The Cadecas in resort hotels do not seem to carry Pesos Nationale. We have tried twice to buy Pesos Nationale in the Cadecas in hotels and have been told they do not have any available. We have no idea why except we guess Cuba does not want foreign tourists to hold Pesos Nationale. It is not illegal to own either currency in Cuba.
What you do is this: go to the centre of any city and find the Cadeca. There will be one close by. Join the line. Wait your turn. When you enter you are free to use CUCs to buy Pesos Nationale.
Then you can spend your brains out in the local market.
You will probably only convert $20 CUC per person into Pesos Nationale. For that you get $980 Pesos Nationale. Remember a Romaine lettuce head cost $1 Peso Nationale and the ice cream cost $1 Peso Nationale. The exchange rate posted at the bank is the same as the exchange rate posted at the Cadeca. There is no financial benefit to using one or the other for foreign currency transactions.
Here you are in for a bit of culture shock. There are no stores. Not like you know them. Not like you could imagine them. The government runs a chain of TRD stores which sell imported goods to both tourists and locals. Here you can buy a washing machine or an air conditioner if you can afford it. Everything is priced in CUCs and is very expensive (a simple refrigerator cost $663 CUC). If you want such a device you can only get it at TRD.A healthy trade is maintained by local entrepreneurs. Most city centres have shopping for local citizens. Most common we have found are small open stores where 20 or 30 vendors each maintain a stall. Clothing, shoes, jewellery and such are offered here. Prices are mainly in Pesos Nationale.
You will not find boat parts in eastern Cuba.
Other than the resorts hotels are few and far between. If you want to travel in Cuba you arrange it at with a private home owner who is authorized to rent rooms to foreigners. Transactions are conducted in CUCs and the homeowner must pay taxes in CUCs.
Houses that offer rooms are identified by a small blue inverted anchor on the front of the house. Each city has a tourist bureau that will help you find accommodation. Rooms are very reasonably priced. The Quebecois family of four two boats down from us were paying $25 CUC per night for accommodation for their family (total not each). We want to score an all inclusive hotel for a few days but will wait till Veradero.
Cuba is full of cars. Yes there are a lot of 1950s US cars. But the roads mainly carry Puegots, Mitsubishis, Kias, a few Audis and today a brand new BMW.Cuba does not buy new American cars. No one else does either, right? This does not mean they do not buy cars.l We are driving a Puegot 206. Nice little car.
Cuban Nationals do not own cars. The government does not import cars for sale to local citizens. Cars are used for taxis and car rental only. Local citizens use bus and truck for transit. Busses run up and down the highway on a regular basis stopping at numerous bus stops to pick whomever is waiting. Prices are in the area of $5 to $10 Pesos National for a trip taking an hour or so, say from our marina to Holguin. Foreigners are not allowed to use this bus system. Some drivers will pick you up even if you are obviously foreign. Many will not.
The 3 young guys on the boat next to us took a 4 day hitchhiking and bus tour of the east end of Cuba. It worked but I would want to be 40 years younger to attempt what they did.
That is enough for now.

Another Deposit in the Bank of Life

April 4, 2010
Puerto de Vita, Cuba
Tomorrow we leave Vita headed for Hemingway Marina in Havana. We go there because we love big cities.
Well we love big cities that are not Toronto. Toronto, we hate. As do all right thinking people.
Today we visited Santiago de Cuba. It is located some 193 km from Holguin which would normally be less than a 3 hour drive. It took us well over 4 hours.
Now part of the time it took is inherent in the Cuban road system. To travel east from Vita you must first travel west to
Holguin. There are no traversible roads going directly east.
All went well until our driver, a fellow cruiser and friend, decided to ignore the sage advice of his navigator, me, and turn
left instead of right. Instead of a nice two lane highway we traversed an 11 km. pothole. This road was in such a state of
disrepair that the government was using it to store piles of rock. Piled right in the middle of it. Piled in the middle to avoid
the 4 foot potholes on either side. The road was so hazardous that mountain goats were walking around the entire 11 km.
stretch in lieu of crossing the road. The 11 km. roadtrip took a long, long time.
To compare the ride home, avoiding the Bataan death march section, took 2.5 hours. So, we spent 1.5 hours making 11 km.
You do the math.
None the less we got there. Turning to the trusty city street map we learned our first disappointing fact about Cuban cities.
They do not erect street signs. Almost none. You can imagine that this complicates the life of a navigator. You must get
around by counting intersections. Or sacrificing goats to your Santeria god of choice or something. You cannot find your
way by referencing a map with street names even after you have decyphered the Spanish.
We are getting pretty competent at Spanish. I have perfected a phrase that asks "where the hell am I and how do I get to
where I want to be instead". I have also perfected the look of comprehension to which the willing answerer of the question
is entitled as he hand gestures your car all the way to Havana for all I can bloody tell. A flood of useful Spanish is as much
benefit to me as a city street map without street names.
So somehow we got into the city on the wrong highway (Wade's fault). We immediately presented ourselves broadside to a
fully loaded dump truck in the middle of a 4 lane thoroughfare. Wade insists we would have been past the truck if Diane
had not yelled at him to stop. Diane maintains that as correct as this may be, had we not stopped the pedestrian
immediately in front of us, in the bright RED dress, would have been dead. Fortunately I had my head in the map book the
entire time trying to figure out just what bloody street we were committing our highway offences on and I missed the whole
thing. The Budget Committee invoked her right against self incrimination. Now if I can only get her to stop shaking
everything will be all right.
Thereafter everything was fine. Just fine. Until I discovered I had counted wrong and the street we on took us, not to the
harbour and the park but to the top of the hill beside the harbour and the park. Let's just say that we were in the wrong
This was obvious to any blind man. We were so out of place and so obviously lost that passersby were walking up to us as
we tried to negotiate potholes in our rental car and offering to help with directions.
Believe me, where we were in that town no one could mistake that we were lost. Two enterprising young guys on a
motorbike stopped and asked if we were lost. They said they liked Canada. We were to learn that that was one of only two
phrases in English they had learned. They asked if we were hungry. This was the other phrase. They led us to a private
home for a dinner you would not believe. Fresh fish, a piece as big as my dinner plate, fresh ensalada, arrozzo, fried
bananas, cafe cubano. Sorry, I sort of drifted there for a moment. It is a stirring memory.
Not the best part to be sure but important enough was that the private home the boys took us to was on a street which
terminated in a very important 3 story flight of stone stairs. I know this because the Budget Committee and Princess Diane
both yelled their recognition of this "famous" landmark of Santiago de Cuba. The best part of discovering this "lost"
treasure was that the women did not force Wade or I to climb them, something which would have challenged Lance
Armstrong after the meal we had finished.
Lunch complete we realized the two guys who showed us the way to our delightful resto private were still waiting. I guessed
that after taking an hour out of their Sunday of leisure these guys decided the 50 Pesos Nationale I had slipped them was
insufficient. They wanted to negotiate their gratuity. We laughed without reserve as we tried to buy our way into the good
graces of our friendly hustlers, them looking so sad and sorrowful as the pile of notes in front of them piled up. We had a
blast. It cost us $10.
These two hustlers then tried to sell me some cigars. Seems this is the street game in any big city in Cuba. Every two bit
hustler here wants to sell you cheap cigars. Each hustler has the same line: "If you buy right now I give you a very special
price". Every two bit hustler will tell you not to buy from the other hustlers because they will sell you banana leaves.
Apparently you can disguise banana leaves as cigars. Go figure. Each of the two guys today, who were putative friends and
partners, warned me about the other guy being dishonest. I chose to believe them both.
But only in the best possible way.
All this done we drove home on the good roads. Just another deposit...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Does It Cost to Clear Into Cuba and What are Some of the Other Costs

March 31, 2010
Marina Vita, Vita, Cuba
Here are the exact current costs to clear into Cuba:
Doctor Inspection: $25 CUC
Customs Inspection: $20 CUC
Veterinary Inspection: $5 CUC
VISA: $15 CUC per person
Boat Stamp: $10 CUC.
Total Cost to Meredith with 2 crew: $90 CUC.
There is also a cruising permit fee of $15.
A CUC trades at about $1.14 CDN dollar per CUC.
When we wish to leave harbour for another Cuban port we must give the harbourmaster 24 hours notice and buy 2 stamps for $5 CUC each. Each port we enter we must buy 2 stamps for $5 CUC each.
To clear out of Cuba we must buy one stamp for $10 CUC.
At Marina Vita, with hydro and water included we pay $.60 CUC per foot of boat length. In our case this is 38 x .60 or about $22.80 CUC. At $1.15 CDN per CUC we are talking under $28 a day. The marina has nice facilities and good showers. No hot water though. We have not missed it.
We paid $20 to go from Vita to Guadalavaca, about 15 kilometres and back. The driver was occupied with us all day. Today we went to Holguin, about 45 minutes away. Total cost was $100.
Car Rental:
About $40 a day. Not much of a car however.

Clearing Into Cuba, Clearing Away Some Myth

March 31, 2010
Puerto de Vita, Holguin, Cuba
Meredith's arrival in Cuba was divine both aesthetically and procedurally.
Visually Cuba is stunning. We came upon the island just as the sun rose at our backs. Cuba is green. Very green. It has hills - lots of hills. In the early morning light the layesrs of mist shrouded hills rival the best scenary our Canadian maritimes has to offer.
Cuba smells terrific. After even 24 hours at sea you can smell an approaching island. The soil and flora unique to each island and outpost in the ocean exude an equally unique olfactory personality to that island. Cuba has the right smell.
We shared some trepidation at the process of clearing in. I mean Cuba is Spanish speaking and from all reports excessively bureaucratic and even perhaps a police state.
All reports are wrong. Totally dead ass wrong.
If you ever again hear a boater decrying the inefficient clearing in process or the corruption of the officials just ask the moron when and where he last actually put into Cuba. You will quickly find the idiot mumbling about having good friends who were there just last year or some other cop out.
The process is very precise and well executed. Each step makes sense when you consider it from the Cuban point of view (whose country is it after all?). The officials are knowledgeable and efficient and the crew of Meredith will not sit by again when someone. There is a lot of paperwork. However this country does not yet have much of an internet capability. How much information do you suppose is transferred to how many agencies when you clear into Canada or the USA? In Canada passports are checked by computer and the appropriate govenment departments are informed by computer transfer. In Cuba it is still done on paper.
Choosing a Port of Entry
Not every port in Cuba is a Port of Entry. You must enter the country at such a port. On the North shore of Cuba we are aware that you may clear in in Havana (Marina Hemingway), Veradero or Puerto de Vita. Nigel Calder's book is no longer correct that Baracoa is a port of entry. It was when his book was published in 1998.
We chose Puerto de Vita on the North East shore of Cuba as our Port of Entry. Our selection was made after listening to a presentation at Annapolis by Canadian sailor Wally Moran. We later met Wally in Vero Beach and spent an evening at the Riveside Cafe with him and his charming wife.
Wally's theory is that the wind and current move from east to west along the North shore of Cuba and that it makes sense to sail the coast this way. It is silly to go first to Havana and then beat your way down the North coast. The day before we left for Cuba we overheard a call from British sailboat Foxglove on the SSB. We contacted them and grilled them on air so to speak for information. The well informed and erudite captain of Foxglove cleared into Puerto de Vita and was unstinting in his recommendation. Meredith has joined the fan club.
Of course, if all you want to do is visit Havana then go to Marina Hemingway. The clearing in process will be different in degrees, eg. more officials will board your boat, but essentially the same.
If, however, you want to sail Cuba, even if it is the South coast we suggest you consider Puerto de Vita as your Port of Entry.
Why Choose Puerto de Vita?
- The officials are knowledgeable.
- There are fewer officials who will board your boat. Being a smaller community there is less need to create jobs so there are fewer officials than there are at many other ports.
- Marina Vita which services the port is a clean well serviced marina, reasonably priced and well staffed. Cost of the Marina is $.60 CUC per foot per day including electrical and water. At current exchange rate the marina costs about $25 CDN per day. When you arrive at the marina (more on this later) you will meet Tina. Tina takes a personal interest in all her guests and has a nice presentation at the ready to clarify life in Cuba. Tina is good enough you should choose Puerto de Vita as your Port of Entry just for the introductory talk.
You can use Puerto de Vita as a terminus to drive all over eastern Cuba, north and south. Car rental is readily available and taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. Today we are taking a taxi to Holguin, a provincial capital. The trip is 45 minutes each way and the cost will be $40 for each of two couples. Yesterday we took a cab for the entire day to Guardalavaca, a neighbouring resort town leaving at 0900 and returning at 1530. Cost was $20 for each of two couples.
Entry to Puerto de Vita
The harbour is an easy entry. Water is deep, respectably wide and the channel is well marked. You must stay in the channel as the 35 foot depths shallow to 6 feet in a very short distance outside. Markers are large, steel and well marked. This is not the Bahamas where you can see the bottom at all times and so steer yourself. Cuban water is as opaque as Canadian water. Cuba takes its buoys seriously.
Hoist your Cuban courtesy flag and your yellow Q flag. The proper order in Cuba is Cuban flag above Q.
Make sure you have your Cuban flag correctly aligned - the flag must be flown with the single point on its 5 point star pointed to the top. If you have the twin points of the star to the top you are flying the flag upside down. This is a declaration of war on Cuba as it is on any country whose flag you choose to fly upside down. It would be silly to find yourself shot because you do not know which way is up.
A lighthouse marks the entrance to the harbour. It was not lighted as we approached but it is very tall, very white and unmistakable. If it is dark you will not be entering the harbour anyway. Will you?
Approach the harbour from well offshore - a mile or more - to get your bearings and avoid the shoals to both sides of the mouth of the entrance. Look for the first green marker (if you have your binos focussed it is conveniently numbered #1). Green #1 is very large. A safe course into Vita will have you set up on 134 degrees magnetic on Green #1 buoy. When you reach Green #1 steer for the middle of the channel, ie. midway between the greens and reds. Easy Peasy.
A couple of miles into the harbour you come upon a very large bifurcation marker - Red, Green, Red. As you pass this marker you turn 90 degrees to Starboard and continue along the side channel which is marked as well but with large plastic buoys. At this point call the Guarda Frontier or the Harbourmaster to announce our presence and request practique. (for any non sailors practique is when the doctor of the country you sail into boards your boat and inspects for infectious disease or health concerns. The "Q" flag is called the Q flag because it literally marks your boat as under quarantine). The call is made on channel 16 and we made it to the "Guarda Frontier". They will already have seen you and will have been tracking you for several miles. It is likely they will not respond to your call. Do not be concerned.
When you reach marker Green #7 you will see the Marina Vita on your left, down a little creek. Do not go there!!!!! Not yet.
Instead anchor your boat in the bay just past and to starboard of Green #7. The chart shows the depths to be 5 to 8 feet but we found nothing less than 16.5 feet.
Then tidy up your boat, get your current paperback and a cold drink. Sit down and relax. Soon you will clear in. Just be patient.
Clearing into Cuba
The clearing process has 3 stages:
1. medical clearance,
2. inspection of your boat, its systems and contents,
3. customs and immigration.
The process takes or at least it took us about 3 hours. Before you erupt in indignation ask yourself how long you waited to clear US customs at Pearson Airport last time. Relax and be patient. Life is good. You have just sailed into a Caribbean paradise. What is the hurry?
1. Medical Clearance
No one may leave your boat until the doctor has boarded your boat, inspected crew and boat and given a health clearance.
The doctor comes when he can schedule it not when you want him to. He is a doctor and has many important tasks to attend.
The doctor who inspected our boat was teaching a course in epidemiology to 34 Bolivian doctors at a school in Holguin until 1000 on the day we pulled in. After this he had to drive 45 minutes from Holguin to Vita, board a launch and get to Meredith. We were pleased when he could attend to us.
The doctor, a specialist in epidemiology, was very personable. He asked a number of questions that may seem odd.
They are not odd if you live a country bordered by Haiti, the DR, Mexico and Honduras where Dengue fever, Yellow Fever and Plague are not uncommon.
Besides, the questionnaire is merely a device to get hiim on your boat so he, an epidemiologist after all, can have a look around. He knows that if one of your crew has died from Dengue fever while you were underway that you will lie about it. His job is to protect Cuba. It was my sense that the doctor was very good at his job while being pleasant and personable.
We passed inspection. The doctor instructed me to take down the yellow flag and waited until I did so. This was so he could chat with my wife alone and out of my control.
We were told by the doctor that the fee for his services would be 25 CUC which we could pay after we had been to the bank. More on this later.
A common thread in the clearing in process, beginning with the doctor, is the repetition of questions and the asking of the same question in several different ways. I was not surprised, 2 hours after the doctor's visit, to find the customs agent verifying my answers against a sheet of information in the doctor's handwriting.
2. Inspection of Boat and Contents
Having cleared the medical inspection we were permitted, and in fact required, to proceed to Marina Vita where we would be boarded by a number of government inspectors.
Marina Vita uses a modified Med Mooring system. You approach a mooring ball set off a dock. You tie a bow line to the mooring ball and back into the dock where you tie stern to the wall. Easy. The marina staff are there with launches to help you. You might, as a precaution, put down your dinghy before approaching the marina. This way if you run into trouble one crew can use the dinghy to carry lines or tug a recalcitrant bow or stern into proper line. We had lots of help from the marina.
Once tied to the dock you find your book, pick up your paperback and cold drink and wait. Just like you do at home when you go to a government office.
The officials arrive in very short order, no more than 15 minutes after we had docked. They request permission to board and ask before boarding if we want them to remove their shoes. We never do. Four officials boarded. The customs dog had to wait until these four were done.
Much of our discussion with the officials was in English. This being their country it is not necessary that they speak English but that we speak Spanish. We are sadly deficient in this and were grateful for the courtesy shown us by the Cuban officials. Communication was not a problem if one paid attention.
The officials on our boat were competent, thorough and professional. The Guarda Frontier completed a large number of forms in short order and in the process conducted an investigation. The usual questions: what were your last 3 ports, when did you leave each. What was the last port in the USA? WHen did you leave? What equipment is on your boat. What are the details of your boat. How much fuel. How much fuel for the outboard?
Then the Veterinarian discussed pets and addressed a number of questions to the Budget Committee on food products that we might be importing. She examined several packages and cans to ensure they originated in countries with adequate public health procedures. Since all of our food sourced from Canada, USA and Bahamas we were cleared.
There was a moment's hesitation over the Budget Committee's large store of Basmati rice which originated in India but because it was purchased in the USA it was deemed fit. The same situation arose over the BC's store of chorizo sausage sourced from Mexico but because it was purchased in the USA and therefore had been subjected to public health inspection the veterinarian passed it.
Cupboards were opened, storage bins were examined and the fridge was inspected - not only for its contents but to ensure it was in good working order.
The Guarda Frontier took full details of the boat and crew. We had prepared copies of passports, ships Registry Document, list of electronic equipment, printed details of the boat, dinghy and all crew for the convenience of the officials. These copies were appreciated. We had prepared them in Spanish when we had access to Google translation and Babelfish.
We were questioned often about our prior ports - they wanted dates and place names. It seemed a comfort to the officials when I pulled out the boat's log for reference. That our log was complete and offered up freely seemed to improve our status with the Guarda.
Most questions were posed by the Guarda Frontier officer and the Veterinarian but this may have had more to do with their facility with English than anything else.
Once the inspections were finished the officials left the boat taking our passports with them.
It was time for the dog inspection. The dog ran unrestricted through the entire boat. It's job is to sniff out drugs and firearms. It found none and did not linger in any location except it did spend more time on our heads than the BC would have liked to see. Dogs. What can you do?.
When the dog was done I was escorted to the Customs office.
3. Customs anb Immigration
Once your boat and contents have passed inspection you attend with the Customs official.
Our customs agent was a classic. He was also very efficient and quite thorough. A dossier had been created for each of our boats and copies of passports, Certificates of Ownership and handwriting from each of the BC and me were to be found therein.
We discussed the length of our intended stay in Cuba, our intended sailing plan and other related matters. The customs agent took special note of the fact we had 3 hand held GPSs and 2 handheld VHF radios.
While we were talking the Immigration official presented himself with our passport and a visa for me. I examined the Visa and passport. Concerned the official assured me that he had not stamped the passport with evidence of our entry into Cuba. That way he said "there will be no problem in USA". I asked him if he would please stamp my passport and he did.
Eventually the Customs agent finished with our file and presented the documents I would need to proceed. The rules for our travel were explained:
1. we were cleared for 30 days from Puerto de Vita to Veradero and then Marina Hemingway.
2. Enroute we could stop to sleep and swim.
3. We should not go ashore.
4. No Cuban citizen, except Guarda may be permitted to board our boat. Ever. For any reason.
The Customs agent then attended at our boat to seal our handheld GPSs and our VHF radios in a locker so we could not access them during our stay in Cuba.
We were done.
It took 3 hours. No one was officious, angry or petulant. No one was unreasonable.
Nothing was taken from our boat nor did we ever perceive the need to "watch our stuff" while the officials conducted their searches.
We were in Cuba. Hasta La Vista, baby.