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.