Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Log 23 - Cuba and landfall in Miami, Florida

Log 23 covers May 12th to May 27th, 2004 as we make our way to Cuba and eventually to the capital, Havana.  After a couple weeks we finally head off and make landfall in Miami, Florida.

Our route from Belize to Cuba then to Miami

We Really Want to Visit Cuba...

By the time we are finished with Belize, we are really getting pushed for time if we want see Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, visit Cuba, get to the US mainland, and begin our Atlantic crossing before the real onset of hurricane season.  The weather is still giving us strong northerlies when it's supposed to be east and southeast by now.   On a small weather window, we pinch hard and sail for the very far west end of Cuba, skipping Mexico altogether.  Mexico's great tacos will have to wait for another visit.

08:30, Wednesday, May 12th - Clearing into Cuba

After a rough 55-hour sail, we arrive at Cabo San Antonio, Cuba's most westerly outpost.   It's close to dark as we pull near so we radio the Cuban port officials and ask if our tired and dirty crew can do the clear-in procedures in the morning rather than now.   They agree but are all there anyway in their fresh-pressed whites to help tie Tioga up to the wharf as the sun sets.  Not many visitors out here??  The next morning, we are all sleeping peacefully in bed when a 'knock, knock' is heard on the hull.   It's 6:00 am…customs and immigration already?.   We soon discover that we've come through a 2 hour time zone change - it's 8:00! We hop up slinging on our cloths as untold Cuban officials board Tioga: Customs, Immigration, Port Captain, Health Inspector, Veterinarian, marina administrator, assistants, forms and stamps... After about 2 hours of thorough inspection and form stamping we are officially cleared into Cuba!

Cuba, where everyone is guarranteed a job!

Cabo San Antonio May 13-15th - Waiting for Weather

Well, we are now on Cuba's western-most point.  Havana would be about a 2-day sail if the winds were to cooperate.
Outpost on most western point of Cuba.
Tioga is the lone boat at the end of the dock waiting for the winds to ease.   The wind is whistling straight out of the east and northeast right down the Florida Straits and against the very strong Gulf Stream Current, making it very dangerous for all craft let alone small craft.  There is no let-up forecast.  A boat tied behind us advises us that we can make it most of the way to Havana by staying inside the protective reef and with careful piloting - it's very shallow water.  They burn us a CD with all the Cuban hydro graphic charts and we scan some pages out of their guide book.  It's probably our only option.

This day Tioga is the only boat on the dock

In the mean time, we get to know the locals.  Sheila makes cookies and we all head up to the staff quarters with cookies and tea in hand along with our dominoes game, which we play with the staff who work and live here on their shift. They really enjoy the cookies!  They have a place for hanging the banners and burgees from past visitors, so we give them a burgee from the Glenmore Sailing Club, which we all sign and write Calgary, Canada on.

May 16-20th - En route to Havana

Joel busies himself with cross-stitch.

Though we didn't plan on cruising the NW shore of Cuba, we really enjoy the 5 days it takes us to reach Havana even though reef pilotage is slow and tiring.  The boys have many activities to keep them busy while we are underway and since the sails are not being used, Gerrit settles in on the mail sail.

Gerrit enjoys a comfy spot to read. 
We meet locals, provide temporary shelter for some fishermen from an almost zero-visibility rainstorm, trade for sea food, go ashore here at Cayo Levisa to stretch our legs, while the wind blows 35kts outside the reef  to the left in the picture, and see some incredible scenery.  We even go aground once, but managed to free ourselves and slow our racing hearts.

Cayo Levisa's beautiful wind-swept beach

Thursday, May 20 - the Final Push into Havana

We are temporarily anchored in Bahia Honda.  At 2:09AM we raise anchor in the dark and give a blast on the air horn to let the nearby Port Captain, asleep in his hovel, know that we are leaving as planned.  We now must travel outside the reef's protection and in the Florida Strait.  Early morning winds, though on the nose, are as light (8-12kt) as we could hope for to complete the last 38 miles into Havana's Marina Hemingway.

Less fortunate vessel sits on entrance canal

At around 9:30AM, we tie up at the custom's dock and once again are kept entertained for about an hour as officials go through our boat with a fine tooth comb, fill out all their forms, and seal off our portable VHF and GPS. After our dock assignment, we scout out the marina. There's a nice swimming pool and a handful of stores with a few supplies.  We'll manage just fine.

Friday, May 25th - A Quick Tour and Some History (for you, that is)

Today, we go for a tour with a horse and buggy around Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) to get a feel for the place.  Yet, before we can even get going our driver has an accident with a parked car!  He fires off some rapid Spanish at the parked car's nearby owner, shrugs and  grins, and off we go.

Horse-drawn buggy in Old Havana
Historically, it was never intended to be capital of Cuba because its location was too far from the island's centre to effectively administrate.  But as Spain's heavily-laden treasure ships began returning from their conquests in Mexico and Peru, using the fast moving Gulf Stream to propel them along, sea-side Havana soon became the "key" to Spain's vast empire.
Sea-side Havanna

As we plod and rumble through the streets, there's an air of faded glory about the city; American automobiles from the 50s line the streets while the paint peels from the walls of almost everywhere. The city is lined with glorious Spanish colonial architecture, much of which is under restoration.  Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, kicking along a restoration process that had begun two decades earlier in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. Many of Havana's finest buildings have been converted into museums and there are enough churches, palaces, castles, revolutionary monuments and markets here to drive you (or at least your kids) crazy.   But, the renovations haven't extended to residential areas.   Apparently, nearly half the housing in the city is in bad repair - about 300 buildings collapse each year - and thousands of city residents have had to be evacuated.

The monumental Capitolio Nacional dominates central Havana.  Our guide book says it is similar to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC, but richer in detail.  It was the seat of the Cuban Congress until 1959 and now houses the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology.   After a look around the stunning inside, we take a break on the huge steps out front.  Suddenly out on the street, there is a yell, a man running very fast, then a gun shot.   Policemen materialize from every nook and cranny to take the purse snatcher down - he doesn't stand a chance.  He'll get 20 years, we are told by a local.  Fidel does not want crimes against tourists. Tourism is way too important to an economy that is already way too fragile.  $20 represents a month's wages to most Cubans.

Capitolio Nacional - Cuba's White House

A polished chrome-and-steel Chevy
When alcohol was made illegal in the United States by Prohibition in 1919, Havana (a mere 145km/90mi jaunt from the now booze-free Florida) blossomed quickly into a haven for the rich,  jet-set partiers, gamblers, and the Mafia. They all melded together in the cabarets with good rum, fine cigars and the throb of  sensuous salsa music. Luxury hotels sprang up against the tropical sunset and Havana's wide streets flowed with polished chrome-and-steel automotive beauties.  By then, US companies owned two-thirds of Cuba's farmland and most of its mines and the US had a well established history of economic and political interference in Cuban affairs. The party ended on New Year's Eve 1959, when rebels led by Fidel Castro marched into town and announced that the days of prostitution, gambling and other tourist services were over.

The 'Granma' - Castro's Revolutionary Yacht

Castros infamous 'Granma' - revolutionary transport!
In 1956 Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, a political activist and former lawyer, and about 80 armed followers returned from exile in Mexico and landed on the southern shore of Cuba in the yacht Granma, shown to the left. Government troops killed most of the rebels during the landing, but Castro and a handful of men escaped to the mountains of eastern Cuba, where they continued a guerrilla campaign to oust the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista, who's  government was well known for its widespread corruption,   finally fled the island on January 1, 1959 eventually ending up in Spain with over $300 million amassed through bribery and embezzlement.  Castro soon after emerged as the leader of the new government in Cuba.

Within a year of Castro's presidency, a purge of the presumably corrupt judicial system saw many judges and lawyers leave Cuba for Miami, setting off the beginning of a 10-year mass exodus of professionals, managers and technicians who didn't share Castro's vision of a new Cuba.

The new Cuba has tanks in the streets.
Their economy went into a tailspin, the US government became increasingly aggressive, and the Soviets (United Soviets Socialist Republics or USSR) became increasingly friendly.   By 1961, the new government had seized an estimated $1 billion in land and assets owned by US companies, much of it related to Cuba’s sugarcane industry.  This move, along with Castro’s support for socialist economic programs, led US president Dwight Eisenhower to break off formal relations with Cuba. On April 17, 1961, after President John F. Kennedy took office, exiles trained and supported by the United States unsuccessfully tried to oust the Castro government in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Fidel & Che - Revolutionary Art

This banner of a younger Fidel and right-hand man 'Che' Guevara (later killed by the CIA in Bolivia) adorns the wall of a building in Havana’s Plaza de la RevoluciĆ³n. Banners and murals that promote the political ideals of the Cuban government decorate a number of Havana’s buildings.

Military hardware

In October 1962, a  major confrontation between world superpowers, the United States and the now very Cuban-friendly Soviets, over the issue of Soviet-supplied missile installations in Cuba.  Regarded by many as the world's closest approach to nuclear war, the crisis began when the United States discovered that Cuba had secretly installed Soviet missiles able to carry nuclear weapons. The missiles were capable of hitting targets across most of the United States. The discovery led to a tense stand-off of several days as the United States imposed a naval blockade of Cuba and demanded that  Cuba-bound Soviet ships return to the USSR and to further remove their missiles.  After receiving secret assurances that the US would not invade Cuba, the Soviets ordered the missiles dismantled.  Castro was not informed of the deal and did not find out about it until after the deal was done.

As the years rolled on, the Soviets heavily supported Cuba giving them about  US $3 billion per year, half of the their 3rd-world foreign aid budget, which Cuba used to fund its social programs.  With the collapse of the Soviet and Eastern bloc in 1990,  84% of Cuba's trade went with it - this hurt the Cuban economy terribly.  With the Soviets out of the picture, Cuba was really left holding the bag. (Quiz - what are the origins of both the idioms used in my last sentence?)

Regular Cuban people

Today, with the US embargo tightening further and the rhetoric between G.W. Bush and Castro turning yet more venomous, the difficult times continue with the Cuban people caught in the middle.

In the Cuba we are visiting, we are overwhelmed by friendly and good-natured people .  Everyone has a comment to share about the current state of affairs, whether good or bad, and hope shines through that things will indeed get better.

Friendly Cubans, everywhere

Tuesday, May 25th - Kids have fun while the winches get serviced. 

Well, back in our own life, the weather picture shows upcoming improvement with a long awaited break forecast for the wind and seas.  It's been great for the boys to spend time and build boats with these 3 other Canadian boys also on the dock.

Boat building team.
While the kids all have fun, it is time for some quick boat chores, as our stop in Miami will be brief and busy...we have an ocean yet to cross!  Within days we and probably a dozen other boats will leave for various points in Florida.  The talk around the dock has us a little nervous about having to clear in with US immigration.  Looking for the Florida-Cuban vote G.W. Bush had just passed further legislation, among other things, prohibiting any vessel, foreign or domestic from visiting Cuba.

Getting the winches greased

Thursday May 27th - Passage to Miami

Today, we get underway shortly after 9am, destination Miami. The seas are so much calmer than when we came in and the wind a nice 12 knots. Over the course of the day, the wind rises to about 18 knots maximum so we cruise along quite comfortably. We hit the Gulf Stream and the GPS picks up to show about 7.5 knots speed over the ground. The night passage is calm, just lots of traffic to watch out for…mainly cruise ships. On Sheila's first shift, the GPS shows 8.5 knots and then later Chris reports 10 kts., so the Gulf Stream is really pushing us along.  Friday morning brings our first glimpses of the US as we pass the Florida Keys and with great help from the current, we make it to the Miami shipping channel by about 5:30pm!

Miami in our sights. 
What a different life a few short miles away.
As we enter the narrow channel, we are overwhelmed by the amount of power boats zipping past us and airplanes flying low overhead with advertisement banners streaming out the back.  By the time we get to the anchorage, it is far too late to go to shore so we scrounge up yet one more meal aboard our boat that has not seen much for provisions since Panama!  But, we made it!

Join us in Log 24 as we prepare and cross the Atlantic ocean!  Though we have endured a ton of bad weather and tough situations we have decided to go for it...we can't quit with Europe in our sights.