Monday, January 2, 2017
We left our secure anchorage in Sisters Creek Saturday afternoon, fueling up at Burdine’s dock and re-anchoring just outside the Boot Key entrance channel. Marathon was a nice place to hang out. It’s a lot like Vero Beach and many live-aboard sailors stay here for years soaking up the sun without the expense of a house or apartment. Florida is cracking down on some of those who outstay their welcome, letting the boats they live on become derelicts. Homeless on the water is one way to put it. Marathon has partially solved that problem by making it almost impossible to anchor in the harbor by installing 226 mooring balls in all the previously good spots to anchor. That’s why I had to anchor in Sisters Creek, because there were no mooring balls available. No room at the inn.
We spent a bouncy night anchored with our stern to the sea, and left at 0800 Sunday morning on a direct course to Marina Hemingway on Cuba’s north coast, nine miles west of Havana. The forecast was for winds in the low twenties and seas up to seven feet, not what I would normally choose but it was viable window.
At times the crossing was fun, sometimes it was terrible. The wind twice hit thirty knots and the waves crested eight feet more than once, even higher in the Gulf Stream, but what really got to us was the opposing current of up to three knots that didn’t let up until we saw land early Monday morning. Our sails were set for beam reaching on a port tack, mainsail on its second reef, yankee jib and staysail up as well. Our boat speed through the water read between six and seven knots but the GPS told us we were moving at less than five knots toward our destination. In the Florida Straits the Gulf Stream is forty miles wide, we were crossing it at almost a forty five degree angle so we had opposing current almost the whole way. The 123 mile passage took us twenty-six hours.
At sunrise we could see the coast of Cuba and the highrise buildings of Havana. Soon we were being hailed by the Cuban Coast Guard asking us who we were and where were we headed. For a minute it looked like they were going to challenge us but then the cutter turned away apparently convinced we weren’t a threat. We didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand us. No entiendo.
Someone was paying attention. In perfect English the radio operator at Marina Hemingway hailed us as we were looking for the channel entrance buoys and gave us explicit instructions on how to enter. Waves were breaking on the reef on either side of the channel, in a strong North wind it would be impassable for sure, as we had been told. The radioman said to go to the sea buoy, which we now could see, and then turn to a course of 140 degrees and continue down the channel to the Customs Dock.
The marina did have a straight forward entrance, well marked with lighted posts. We got Walkabout’s sails down then motored into the harbor without any problem. Then we rounded the corner and tied up at the blue painted government Customs dock for their praxis which took an hour. A white coated medical doctor took our body temperatures looking for fevers. Our passports were stamped by uniformed Guarda Frontera officers who took ID photos and gave us tourist visas. You must carry the visa with you all the time you are in Cuba, it’s fine to leave your passport locked away on your boat.
Gabriel, the marina’s dockmaster assigned Walkabout a spot in one of the four long concrete lined canals that make up the facility. We slowly motored over to Canal #1, the first canal parallel to the sea wall, our place was about halfway down the 3/4 mile-long canal. Marina staff helped us tie up, two pleasant agricultural department officers rooted through our refrigerator and that was that. Tips amounting to twenty dollars were handed out to the dockmaster and ag officers but that we expected.
We were all done checking in by noon. The two ag officers stuck around for a beer, both were named Raól, so we asked the one Raól who could speak English as many questions that he had time to answer before they went back to work and that way got an early education of sorts. Most important was where to change money and how to get Wifi, both require a trip to Havana where the big hotels are located.
Let the adventure begin!