To Cuba and Back!

We’re back!  We sailed to Marina Hemingway on March 1, and returned yesterday, Saturday, March 26 – almost a month and a lifetime of experiences!

Hello Cuba!

Hello Cuba!  Note:  The Cuba flag flies with one point up and two down, not the other way around!

Where to start … at the beginning?  Second time sailing across was a charm!  We turned off our trusty, but rumbly, diesel at the sea buoy just outside Stock Island Marina and didn’t turn it on again until we were 10 miles from the Marina Hemingway sea buoy on the other side!  We sailed almost the entire way – what a pleasant surprise because that rarely happens.  🙂

These dolphins are actually in International Waters (outside the 12 mile Cuba territorial water limit)

These dolphins are actually in International Waters (outside the 12 mile Cuba territorial water limit)

The sail took almost exactly 24 hours with light winds varying between 080 – 120 degrees at 10-12 knots.  The heading we used to compensate for the gulf stream current was around 220 degrees.  Our direct course would have been closer to 205 degrees.  We averaged around 4 knots most of the trip and unfortunately were still swept about 11 miles east of our destination.  We could have gone faster motorsailing, but why?

Winterlude swimming with the dolphins

Winterlude swimming with the dolphins

We enjoyed a spinner dolphin show – at least I’m guessing that’s what they were – smaller and more agile than “regular” dolphins – jumping and spinning.  Unfortunately it was twilight and they were too far away for photos.   But the bottlenose dolphins cooperated, a pod playing with our bow wake for a half hour or so before tiring of our slow speed and swimming off in search of more interesting playthings.

We had a few uninvited overnight guests!

We had a few uninvited overnight guests!  Flying fish on the deck.

We also spotted what we think were whales spouting … two of them off our starboard bow.  Dolphins don’t usually spout that high in the air or that distinct a spout, so we’re pretty sure it was whales but we didn’t see them up close and personal.  At the time we were busy trying to duck yet another ship.

What? Doesn't everyone eat dinner at sea in a flat bottomed white plastic serving bowl?

What? Doesn’t everyone eat dinner at sea in a flat bottomed white plastic serving bowl?

Since we don’t have AIS (yes, it is possible to sail places without AIS, although it would be convenient at times),we always turn on the radar when we spot a ship and their angle doesn’t change with the binoculars compass.  After putting the “X” on the ship, it was on a pretty close course to intersect with ours … technically since we’re under sail, we have the right away, but we don’t like to argue with tankers or container ships!

We called on the VHF and to our surprise, they actually answered.  I always use the same format – “Container Ship headed west at approximately 24N 84.5W, this is the sailing vessel Winterlude off your port bow, sailing vessel Winterlude”.  I give as much descriptive information as possible – it’s hard for the ship to identify who you’re calling when you don’t have a name.  When they answered, I said “we’re the sailing vessel off your port bow, trying to stay out of your way.  Can you give me your speed and heading?”  His response:  070 at 14.7 knots.  OK,  so we altered course and passed their stern about a mile away.

Sunset sailing to Cuba

Sunset sailing to Cuba

Overnight we had several more ships and the gulf stream, which we reached right after sunset.  All was calm (or as calm as the gulf stream gets) and other than dodging ships, we enjoyed the phosphorescence in the water – this trip it seemed like it was only in the gulf stream.  The ship’s wake glowed with phosphorescent flashes, sometimes making it difficult to discern ships on the horizon from the flashing lights in the water!

Sunrise 12 miles off the coast of Cuba!

Sunrise 12 miles off the coast of Cuba!

Sunrise found us about 12 miles off the Cuban coast – in Cuban territorial waters … and about 11 miles east of our destination of the Hemingway sea buoy.  So despite the fact that we compensated for the gulf stream, we still were swept past where we wanted to end up.  But it turned out OK because we got to sail along the coastline and watch the skyline of Havana gradually light up in the morning rays.

First glimpse of the Havana skyline through the early morning haze.

First glimpse of the Havana skyline through the early morning haze.

A couple hours later, we found the sea buoy for Marina Hemingway – and there were divers/freedivers all around us fishing for their dinner, I guess.  We were a bit startled when we realized there were people in the water in the channel and around the buoys, but we didn’t hit anyone, so all is well.

The sea buoy at Marina Hemingway! Look carefully, you can see the head of a freediver out gathering dinner.

The sea buoy at Marina Hemingway! Look carefully, you can see the head of a freediver out gathering dinner.

The channel is narrow, but clearly marked.  Seeing it here, we can understand why they close the entrance to the port with a strong northwest wind.  Waves break all the way across the narrow reef pass entrance.  Here it is the day we entered – look straight down past a couple of markers and you can barely see a hard “L” shaped turn to port where you find the Customs/Immigration/GuardaFrontera offices on the port side and tie up to the crumbling concrete sea wall.

The channel just past the sea buoy - not far, but narrow with the reef jutting out on both sides.

The channel just past the sea buoy – not far, but narrow with the reef jutting out on both sides.

Here's the channel on a rougher day - and the channel wasn't closed this day. Look closely - you can see a sailboat coming in.

Here’s the channel on a rougher day – and the channel wasn’t closed this day. Look closely – you can see a sailboat coming in.

Finally we tied to the Customs/Immigration/GuardaFrontera concrete dock and began the next phase of our adventure!  Stay tuned!

After a great sail, tied to the Customs dock just before Marina Hemingway.

After a great sail, tied to the Customs dock just before Marina Hemingway.

Bienvenidos a CUBA!!!

Cheers!  Jan & David

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Fantastic! Can’t wait to hear more of the story. Welcome back!

    • Thanks – hope you’re both feeling better! I think I had exactly what you describe while we were in Cuba – put a damper on activities for a bit. Happy Easter!

  2. Gary and Judy Coppola says:

    Glad you finally made it. Can’t wait for more.
    Gary and Judy “Cool Runnings”

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