Journal Entries from January 13 to January 19, 2017
Friday, January 13, 2017
“Go ahead Walkabout.”
“Good morning Chris, how do the wind and sea conditions look over the Monday through Wednesday time frame to go from Marina Hemingway to Key West?”
Chris Parker responded to my question this morning with a small setback to my planned departure date. It looks like unfavorable wind and sea conditions may persist until next Thursday or Friday. There have been strong easterlies blowing over the Florida Straits since the powerful norther passed last weekend and seas have built to over twelve feet. I would rather not go out into that kind of water if I can avoid it. Will agrees and is putting on a good face although I think the delay troubles him. A big catamaran sailed out of here an hour ago heading North and I watched it plow through the swells going very slowly, more up and down than forward.
I had an off day yesterday, just writing and picking up around the boat, a break after our trip to Trinidad. I cooked dinner and then we walked over to the yacht club for a drink. Three other men joined our table talking about Cuba, and we lingered until late. They were expats living in town or on a boat; one came from England, one from Canada and the last from the US. A common theme was how cheaply one could live here, and how safe Cuba is. No guns in Cuba. I didn’t agree with most of what they thought was wonderful, living from hand to mouth isn’t my cup of tea, nor is sliding under the radar just to stay here. There was more to their so-called lifestyle but it’s too unsavory for me to relate. I had not come across such things since the Viet Nam war, but Cuba is very poor and people do what they will. Needless to say, on the way back to our boat the two of us had a pretty lively discussion.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
An East wind is still blowing hard and is supposed to continue that way until Wednesday then drop off to nothing within a day. With that in mind I feel we can leave Marina Hemingway late on Tuesday sailing in whatever wind we get overnight to arrive off Key West mid-morning Wednesday. If that plan works we’ll have plenty of time to go through Customs and Will can start arranging his trip back to Vermont. Today we will go over to the city and visit El Morro.
We have had a wonderful and interesting visit. Two weeks of eye opening interaction between ourselves and the Cubans we’ve met. Granted, the language barrier is often difficult but we have not found it insurmountable . Cubans get a good education and they recognize the importance of the English language in trade and commerce. They think Spanish is best for personal communication with it’s warmth and emotive qualities; a facet not easily understood by us. Some of our fellow travelers have expressed a dislike for the Cuban penchant of seeming to be giving but actually wanting to be paid. The practice is only a ploy for selling without naming a price for, say: A taxi ride, a room, anything, and it’s bothersome when you first experience it. So learn, and be a bit more aware of what is going on, bargain and get the transaction – because everything is a transaction, nothing is free – agreed on beforehand. As I have said before, Cuba is poor. However, it is not a third world country but a developing one emerging from a stunted condition, sixty years long. In ten years you won’t be able to recognize the place, especially if the US lifts it’s trade embargo and treats Cuba as it should. The commercial potential of Cuba is immense, Cubans are ready and able to rebuild their infrastructure, they just need material and a large dose of foreign investment. Cuba is not a just a collection of old Fords and Chevys, it has spunk and many ambitious people striving for life at the next economic level. And, for their children, the one above that.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Villa Clara, The Ceramic Village
We had heard from another cruiser that we shouldn’t miss an attraction that was just a short walk from the marina, the ceramic artwork of José Fuster. Fuster has his workshop in this small village and has used his neighbor’s buildings for canvases, covering their roofs, walls and gates with his constructions. The colorful ceramic artwork is composed of wire reinforced concrete forms that are sheathed with small fragments of porcelain and glass. Fuster and his students also glaze and fire pottery tiles with his artwork and incorporate them in the displays with interesting results. Fuster’s style seems at first to be childish but on closer inspection he has given many of his constructions unique personality. A walk through his eccentric creation is quite an experience and is free of charge.
On our way back to the marina I noticed a government food distribution center and went inside for a look. The store was a bare bones affair with plain plywood counters, two well-worn scales, sparcely stocked shelves and, on the floor, pallets piled high with large bags of rice and beans. This is the way Cuba keeps it’s people fed. I didn’t find it unpleasant though it was a far cry from what Americans would think a proper store. With such low incomes Cubans are dependent on this system.
We ended our last evening in Cuba with a spectacular sunset.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
A few thoughts before sailing back to the United States of America this Tuesday afternoon.
Did I learn any profound lessons about Cuba on this visit? Probably not. It is about what I expected it to be, a developing country with a problematic political system, little money and a population insulated from the outside world. Cubans are some of the nicest people you could ever hope to encounter. They love their country and each other and will welcome visitors into their homes enthusiastically. Outside the artificial world of a marina or a tourist resort you’ll often be hit up for money, but I did not see panhandlers and people living without shelter. Cuban’s basic needs are met but without frills. Work is encouraged and most people are employed, perhaps not for profit but employed nonetheless. As one might expect, politeness and efficiency are best found in private businesses, government run shops have some distance to go in that department. Would I live here? Not likely, my desire for warm weather goes only so far. Cuba is a great place and as more Americans visit it may modernize considerably but that will take years. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything even though a plane ticket from Miami to Havana can be had for as little as $59. Sailing Walkabout here was one of those bucket list things and I’m fortunate to have been able to go.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
After paying Marina Hemingway for our stay and clearing Cuban Customs we got underway at 4:10PM Tuesday, a day over our visitation limit. I immediately began to worry about my timing because the wind and waves were right against my course and the boat was making slow progress. At five miles off the coast things began to improve, the wind was still on a close reach but the wave height had dropped a bit and the big swells became a little more comfortable. Cuba faded with the sun until only the lights of Havana were visible, then just the wind swept ocean. The wind never let up until early Wednesday morning off Key West. Since the boat was following the trough between swells it was a rough ride made worse by the fact that I had left a couple portlights open and sea water poured into the cabin soaking the bunk on the low side that was to be for off-watch rest. My crew was seasick and I was feeling pretty green myself so we alternated looking out for traffic and trying to sleep in the cockpit. A half-moon rose around midnight illuminating the waves and, ill or not, we both admired the beauty of the ocean.
We passed the Key West sea buoy at seven in the morning and were safely anchored off Fleming Island half an hour later. You are supposed to call US Customs in Miami on their 800 number upon arrival but we were too exhausted for that and hit our bunks for needed sleep. Good thing too because you have to be alert to deal with Customs. I made the call just before noon and it resulted in a thirty minute exercise of repeated questions and answers before I was given my contact number. You have 24 hours to go to the Customs office in Key West after being given that fifteen digit number, or so they say… I called the Key West office and was told I had to come over before three that afternoon or I would be in violation. Why? Because the office closed at four o’clock and the next day was taken up with cruise ship inspections. So we hurried and got the dinghy inflated, back in the water, and it’s motor back on. Gathering up our passports and my packet of documents we set off to shore. Naturally, I had forgotten to bring the contact number in my haste. But, anyway, we hiked over to the federal office building on Simonton Street, only four blocks, were greeted by two guards who made us empty our pockets, patted us down and then told Will he had to wait outside on the steps with our cellphones while I went into the Customs Office.
Customs Officer Orcutt said to me after looking me up and down, “Having a bad day are you?”, a bit startled by that I answered in my best humbled voice, “No, just a very long one”. Then I told him I had forgotten to bring the contact number. Apparently, and a lucky thing that, it’s happened more than once and within ten minutes I was approved and repatriated. Will and I then exchanged places and after five more minutes we were back on the street headed to the nearest restaurant to celebrate.
This morning I drove Will over to town where he took a taxi to the Key West airport to fly back home. He was instrumental in our Cuban adventure and I will miss his company. Maybe he’ll be back on board later in the year for another stint. Having crew is what makes a captain a Captain and is only fun if there is cooperation. We had fun.
I’ll stay tonight in Key West. I walked the streets this morning after Will left, down to Knight Pier to see the sea and then the old West Martello Tower and its garden exhibit. The streets soon became packed with tourists from the two cruise ships. I walked to the Southernmost Point in the USA monument, people were lined up to take pictures of themselves in front of it. Walking up Duval Street working my way back to the docks I found a really good fried chicken place, Joe’s Chicken, and ate a big lunch. And that was the extent of it, tomorrow I’ll go back to Marathon where they have internet service and post to the blog.