From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Cuba, part 3

Ahhh… the sail itself!

Just to reflect, the Wolf is a gaff-rigged Schooner, with very traditional rigging.  That is, there are no winches or mechanical devices to aid in the line handling.  Every line is hand-pulled and either cleated or wrapped to a pin.  There are pulleys, but there are no devices on the vessel (other than required for safety) that wouldn’t be recognized by a sailor from the early 1800’s.

Our first intention was to leave Stock Island on Thursday, Jan 28, around mid-day.  Wolf was the flagship of a 64-vessel race, so coordination was no small undertaking.  Unfortunately, a nasty blow came into the Florida straights during the morning, and by the time we left Stock Island, we were having to beat up-wind against both wind and waves.  Our first task was to head around the north-side of Key West, a run of about 10 miles, to take on fuel.  This short run exposed us to winds with the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico as a fetch, so we could already tell that a night passage across the straight was going to be a mess.  The passage around the island and to the fuel docks took the better part of three hours.

By mid-afternoon, it was apparent to all concerned that a race that evening would be dangerous and fool-hardy.  We took Wolf back to Stock Island, and slept warmly in our beds that night.  We took off again Friday afternoon, aiming for an evening passage.  Weather was cool, and in fact I was in foul weather gear during my night watch at the helm.  Readers who have never been out on the open water on a clear night simply can’t imagine how many stars there are once the light pollution is gone.  As an example, we spotted Jupiter over the horizon, and for a bit thought it was an airplane headed toward us!

Capt. Fin’s navigation was spot-on, and at daybreak, we could see the Varadero spit on the south horizon.  Navigating across the Florida straights is pretty easy — the water is deep and once you cross the reef that runs a few miles south of the keys, there are no obstructions.  Indeed, the biggest concern is staying out of the way of cargo carriers, although there are surprisingly few servicing Cuba.  Navigation changes once you approach Varadero, which is a long, narrow spit of land stretching out from the northern border of Cuba and running more-or-less parallel to Cuba itself for a distance of about 30 miles or so.  Our harbor was on the south-east corner of this spit, but we had to run around the east side of the spit and then approach the harbor from the west.  Navigation charts — the sort we take for granted in the US — are an unknown commodity in Cuba, so we had to rely on a set of steering instructions and bouys (which fortunately are consistent with red/green international standards).  We could see that the waters shoaled quickly on either side of the channel.

Once we approached Varadero harbor, we were directed to wait for a guide boat, which took our vessels into the harbor, thru the breakwater, one at a time.  The harbor was both empty and over-staffed.  We had, at one point, about 8 people helping us with lines, including two in a zodiac boat to take our bow line to a float (we “stern-tied” to the dock, in a manner commonly called “Mediterranean tying”).  At that point, we were boarded by a physician to check our medical records and a border security agent to check our passports against our actual appearances (everyone had to remove hats, glasses, etc., and be personally examined by the officer).  This process took about an hour.  Then our passports were taken to a central office — for about another hour — and returned to us with a visa. In addition to transit fees, we were required to each pay a $3 medical insurance fee.  (Stores don’t sell bandaids — you have to go to a medical clinic.  I cut my hand, so went to the clinic.  It was closed…. there ya go.)

We spent one night in Varadero — About half of us spent it in the Blau Marina Hotel, which I’ll discuss in a later missive along with other economic observations.  We had originally planned to spend 3 nights in Varadero, but we’d already lost one, and given the weather, it was decided to hasten our departure to Havana.  We left Varadero near sundown the second day, and made another night passage (about 90 miles) to Havana.

Winds were “uncomfortable” and out of the northeast that night.  I was on the helm off and on for about 6 hours  (really only on the helm itself about two of those hours), slept for about 4, and was back up at daybreak to help with the helm again.  By daybreak, water and winds had calmed and we came in sight of Havana.  The city is arrayed along the north coast, so stretches quite a few miles.  Passing the city itself took a couple of hours.  We then had to pass a narrow channel into Hemmingway Marina, and duplicate the boarding process we’d already experienced in Varadero.

We spent three full nights in Havana.  We’d planned to leave the 4th day and sail back, but weather turned nasty for several days.  About half the crew had work-related engagements back in the U.S. (me included, unfortunately), so had to make arrangements on a charter flight back to Miami.  Our crew-mates spent several more days, then managed a 30-hour sail back to KW.

In the next episode, I’ll share some observations and insights into the Cuban economy.

Written by johnkilpatrick

May 13, 2016 at 9:33 am

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