Finally, the ropes that had bound us for so long in marathon let us go and we made our way down the channel and out to sea. Such a great feeling to be out sailing again, this was only the second time I have sailed with Kuhela. Marathon had been a good place to get the tings done that needed doing and I met some great people there, but the time to move on had come, and I was ready to get going.
Headed down to big pine key to anchor up for the night and to rest up for the trip. This was actually the same place I had been in and out of before when going spearing with AJ and Shareef, and AJ was able to come out that afternoon and have a look at Kuhela and hang out for a bit. Really glad I got to catch up with him before I left. That night I went to bed with all the nervousness and excitement that my overactive mind could muster and didn’t help that I woke in the night to a squall blowing thirty knots that had actually lifted the dingy out of its chocks and stood it upright as I had left it untied to get some breeze through the boat. After listening to the weather in the morning I made the decision to go, and soon after the anchor was up and we were under way. Even got a visit from AJ’s dad who came out in his boat early in the morning to wave us off as we headed out of the channel, such good crew.
With a nice breeze and a downwind run to key west ticked off the miles quickly and made great time and before I knew it we were making our turn south of the marquesas to head for Cuba. The big unknown for me was the Gulf Stream, I have heard so many stories about that bit of water and the potential for substantial waves when the wind blows opposite to the current, as It did on the passage. Darkness came and we settled into shifts of two hours keeping an eye out for shipping and on our course as with the current comes the potential to be pushed back to the west. The weather was not that bad actually, and though it did get a bit lumpy at times, it was never really what I would call rough. I did have one incident though, and I know this will worry some of the people who read this, but it is a lesson learnt and also part of the journey.
It was about four in the morning (as it always is when things happen) I had been watching a large ship pass off our starboard side about a mile away, he was just abeam of us and I could see his green starboard light so knew he was heading the other way. I went down below to wake up Katy for her watch and to put a position on the chart when the boat rolled slightly and there the was the ship right out side my window. There was a second of total calm where I thought, that’s funny, he shouldn’t be there, and then my brain kicked in and I rushed to the wheel and threw the helm to starboard, he passed within one hundred meters of us, close enough to see the wake from his bow look up and what appeared to be a large ferry towering above us, and all I could think was No, not like this, I couldn’t let Kuhela, myself and everyone else down like this, It was a very close call. He must have altered course ninety degrees right after I went downstairs and didn’t even see us. One of the scariest things I have ever had happen to me at sea.
On we sailed though, and at the expected time of 1000, there on the horizon was Cuba, and not long after we the call from the dock master guiding us in. I tried t be as prepared as possible for the officials and the mountains of paperwork I’d been told to expect, and even bought some coke and M&M’s just to help the process. First up was the doctor, then quarantine, then customs, then immigration, each with their mountain of paperwork and carbon paper to copy things in triplicate. The snacks worked and after three or so hours of answering questions and signing forms we were free to enter the marina. My first international passage as skipper complete, and a new country for Kuhela and myself. The rest of the afternoon was spent getting Kuhela sorted out after the trip and chilling out after the passage.
The next morning I called Eduardo, of Havana surf, to say hi and to see if we could catch up, it worked out really well. He said he’d be over in an hour or so and would show us around. The guys at the surf shop in St. Pete had given a bunch of stuff to pass on to the crew in Cuba and I had brought some Leashes and deck grips as well, its pretty hard to get hold of gear here and was glad to be able to help out with getting crew in the water and surfing. As usual with anywhere you go with surf, we should have been here last week, the same weather we got in Marathon had given the boys here in Havana some good fun waves, but now there was nothing. We spent the day hanging out with Ed and he took us out and showed us around, He’s a pretty cool dude and he does a lot of work with the community and helping people to get in the water and experience surfing. His girlfriend works at the local aquarium so we passed by there and got to hang out with some sea lions and dolphins, which was pretty cool. His girlfriend does work with kids with disabilities, getting them to interact and spend time with the animals, seems like really rewarding work.
Havana is an awesome place. The old buildings are amazingly beautiful, old cars of American and Russian makes barrel through the streets, there are magnificent old churches and large forts that overlook Havana bay. There are buildings that have so much history, signatures on the walls of people from years ago, streets that are paved with wooden blocks, people on the street selling old books and badges, terraces to sit and sip coffee or enjoy a rum, or puff away on a cigar. It gives the feeling of stepping back in time. But all is not fully as it seems. Although this could be close to my idea of paradise, everyone here wants out. From talking to Ed and trying to understand a bit of the culture and the people and how they relate to the system that has been in power for fifty years, it began to almost feel like a charade. Like the amazing colors on show hid a darker shade or gray, or maybe military green, below. As far as I can understand things are not as bad as they once were, but the impression I get is of a people that want to be free to express themselves and work towards goals that they desire. There is of course only my opinion and with only really one day in Cuba to check things out I cant claim to have gotten a chance to get a good feel for the place.
There is so much here, so many stories, so many amazing places, people and history. One of the reasons I chose Florida as a spot to buy the yacht was to check out Cuba. Unfortunately due to weather, which in the end is what dictates what you do, I had to make the decision to head for isla mujeras the next day and before I knew it we had Kuhela packed up and ready to head to sea again. We would have one more stop in Cuba, at los morros, a small outpost on the south western tip of the island where we would officially check out of the country. The sail there was pretty calm and peaceful, want much wind unfortunately so we were forced to motor sail most of the way. We spent a day there and after checking having a look around at what reef there was I decided to head back about fifteen miles in the way we had just come to find a spot to get some spearing done. There was no way I was leaving Cuba without getting a dive in. Found a pretty good spot and shot a couple nice hog snapper for dinner. So good to get a dose of salt water medicine.
At four the next morning we pulled anchor and left for isla mujeras. I do regret that I didn’t have time to explore Cuba more, but that is all part of the trip and I was looking forward to checking out Mexico. The original plan was to head straight to Belize as it was late in the season, but with a big weather system brewing down that way and with katy deciding to head off to go find some surf I made the decision to head to Mexico. Its funny, when I made the decision it felt right and since then things have played out quite well. I am now in here and will let you know will the happenings in the next post in a few days time.
I am slowly getting to know Kuhela and what she is like, I talk to her often and have had the chance to sail her and to see how she reacts to different little changes in sail and trim as we go along. It’s a funny thing the relationship with your yacht. Not sure how to describe it, but it is something I am enjoying very much, even though it is a lot of work (but I guess all god relationships are)