Friday, April 9, 2010

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.

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