Friday, March 30, 2007

Notes from Havana - by Geert

The forecast called for 15 knot easterlies; we got 25. We hoped to get a boost from the Gulf stream; we got 12 foot waves dead on the nose. It took us four days to sail the 180 miles from Cuba's western capes to Havana. We tried riding the stream, we tried sailing inshore, looking for calmer seas, we even tried to motorsail - a pathetic mistake with a 15 HP engine. We damaged two sails, the self steering vane couldn't deal with the waves, the engine quit when the fuel line got clogged. In the end we did it the hard way: tacking toward and away from the reef under stormsails and steering by hand, doing one to two hour shifts. One night David got so tired he started feeling sick. Another night a wave threw me through cabin and I busted my finger so badly that I lived on heavy duty painkillers for a while.

We were elated to reach Havana, but also exhausted, and had no appetite for officials. Still, they could not be avoided. They came on board with no fewer than three dogs. One to sniff for drugs, another for explosives, and the third for people. All our portable electronics (GPS, VHF radio) were taped and sealed. I suppose in case we wanted to use them to help Cubans escape. Cubans are not allowed on the boat, anywhere. When we leave a port, we always have an inspection, and two gueardsmen stay on the dock, in case a refugee would try to jump on at the last minute. This is a lovely country, but also a police state.

In Havana we for the first time were asked for a bribe. While his dog was snniffing around in the forward lockers, the drug enforcement guy said: Listen, between you and me, my wife's birthday is tomorrow, and I want to give her a nice present.

David left yesterday. He has been on the boat for three months, and was an invaluable member of the crew. He is flying to Panama, where he'll join British cruising friends Nathan and Maggie aboard 'Nakatcha'. They are headed for the Galapagos Islands and points beyond...

I only had a glimpse of Havana so far: a gorgeously beautiful city. More explorations tomorrow. This morning I visited Dr. Felicidad Debro in the local clinic. She cheerfully told me that I'll lose the nail of my busted finger. It will fall off by itself, she said, and if not, I'll cut it off before you leave.

Weather permitting Dancker (who is already here) and I plan to sail on early next week. Destination: Key West.