Maria la Gorda

This might a little too much detail but it can provide a little insight into the conditions in Cuba. We are at the Marina Hemingway which is the largest pleasure boat marina in Cuba. It is located close to the Miramar section of Havana which is very upscale with many foreign embassies and corporate headquarters. It was built in the 1950’s so all the mega yacht owners from Miami could cruise to Havana. The men’s bathroom has four urinals all of which are broken. There are six toilets. Only two have toilet seats and only one flushes. Be sure to bring your own toilet paper. The sinks have cold water and no soap or paper towels. There are no pump facilities in Cuba and we cannot empty our holding tank in the Marina. We will survive.

On Saturday we drove to 2.5 hours to the Bay of Pigs which is the site of the ill fated US invasion to overthrow the Castro regime. The battle plan was developed by the Nixon administration using Cubans sympathetic to the deposed Cuban president Baptista and implemented by the Kennedy administration soon after Kennedy entered the Whitehouse. The battle was over in less than 72 hours with total victory by Fidel Castro’s forces. US / Cuban relations became a little more strained at that point.

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Along the highway we saw many hitchhikers. Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation. The individual stands by the side of the road with the equivalent of $1.50 in their hand and wave the money at passing cars and trucks. Dump truck drivers can make small fortune filling the back of their truck with hitchhikers when they have an empty back haul. The long straight sections of the six lane highways have giant steel spikes along the side of the road. In case of a potential invasion they can block the highway with the metal spikes to keep enemy planes from landing.

Our US Government approval to enter Cuba was based on Person to Person contact to engage the Cuban people. We brought soccer balls and baseballs to give to the Cuban children. We saw some boys playing baseball and gave them a baseball and soccer ball. We saw some children playing in their front yard and gave them a soccer ball and we pulled up to a young man in a horse drawn cart and handed him a baseball. It is fun to see the confused looks on their faces. We also handed out some candy.

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One of Gabe’s favorite restaurants in the Bay of Pigs is the Brig. The Brig is a small outdoor seafood restaurant. We waitstaff wears bright white starched uniforms and the chef/owner wears his chef uniform with a chef’s hat. We had the lobster and fresh fish platter with rice and yucca. The meal was outstanding as was the pina colada.

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They have great coffee too.

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Along the road we saw numerous piles of small logs. Miguel advised the wood is mangrove and it makes the best carbon (charcoal) for grilling. The mangrove wood is burns slowly for 11-12 hours and then broken into small briquettes.

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On Saturday night Gabe and I paid the bill for our slip at Marina Hemingway. There is a $75 per person visa charge, boat slip $1.00 per foot per day plus electric and water. Water is 6 cents per gallon. Don’t forget the 10% service fee and an extra $20 “mandatory tip” for the harbormaster. The harbor master is not shy to say he expects to get a tip. The total cost for four days was $666. The visa fee is a one time charge so our expenses should be less at the next marina.

On Sunday we were up before the crack of dawn and picked our way over to the customs dock. In true rookie fashion, the customs agent took the bow line and immediately tied it off bringing the bow in and the stern out. A little fast action from the crew to fend off and avoid any drama saved the gelcoat. After clearing customs we waited at the customs dock for the sun to rise. Once we were out of the entrance channel Captain Gabe turned Pilar west. Navigation will be fairly simple, keep the land on the left for the next 700 miles or so as we circumnavigate around the west end of Cuba and head east. The forecast is good for motor sailing. Light winds from the east becoming northeast as we round the west end. Our destination is Maria La Gorda. The estimated travel time is 31 hours to cruise 221 miles at 7 mph.

We decided to put up the code zero sail. It is a cross between an asymmetrical spinnaker and a jib. It is a great light air sail when sailing off (sideways) to the wind. In other words you cannot go close hauled or dead downwind with a code zero. We were making 8 – 11 mph. Nicely making way.

Our course from Havana to the Gulfo de Batabano

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Gabe put out a deep sea fishing rod. While he was setting the lure to troll behind the boat he had a hit that spooled the reel. This was the first time I have seen a fishing reel almost catch on fire. It was red hot when the line snapped. Perhaps it was a marlin. We will never know. During the late afternoon Priscilla was on the helm and called out “fish on!” I ran on deck put the engine in neutral and reeled in a nice black eye tuna. That fish will be grilled for dinner tomorrow.

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We rolled up the code zero sail at 9:30 pm and motor sailed with the mainsail with a preventer. We are under control for our nighttime sailing and still moving at 8 – 9 mph. We should arrive at Maria la Gorda (Fat Mary) around 9:00 am. Maria La Gorda is known to have crystal clear water, white sandy beaches and excellent snorkeling and diving. There is a small marina and a hotel/restaurant there.

Bonus photo – Miguel our driver and tour guide.

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