Bienvenido!

As we do prior to entering any new port, Brian and I researched our destination for several weeks prior to arriving. We’d read and taken notes from two cruising guides: Cuba: A Cruising Guideby Nigel Calder and The Cruising Guide to Cuba First Edition by Simon Charles. We’d conversed with cruisers of various nationalities about their experiences visiting Cuba via the water. I’d been learning Spanish from a program called Fluenz (I’ve been thrilled with this program, it’s perfect for my hands-on learning style). Brian was reviewing his high-school learned Spanish as well by using Rosetta Stone. But with all that preparation we still felt the anticipatory jitters of the unknown as we neared the entrance to the Bahia de Cienfuegos.

Our wind died about five miles from the bay’s entrance, then very lightly reappeared right on our nose. “That’s got to be a sign,” Brian commented. “Oh, shush!” I commanded, “let’s fire up the engine and get there already!” As Communications Officer I was given the job of contacting the authorities to let them know we’d like to enter their country. I was shuffling through the appendix of our cruising guide hastily memorizing key nautical words and rehearsing various openers for the VHF conversation such as: “Capitan del puerto…barco entrada, por favor…dos personas…” The guides had warned us that we may be stopped and escorted into the harbor by the Guarda Frontera, Cuba’s equivalent to Coast Guard. We’d seen only one fishing boat thus far and no other activity on the outskirts of the bay. Finally, the Captain put his authority to use, “I’m not continuing until you hail someone.” Ok, ok time to shine. After some debate we’d decided it best to just hail a marina, who according to the guide books may also facilitate our entry. Here goes…”Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos.” And we waited…

No Guarda Fontera boats came zooming around the corner, no response en Espanol came over the VHF. Here is where arriving last comes in handy. We heard the familiar voice of Matt (sv/Serendipity) on the VHF. He instructed us to continue onward into the bay and head toward the marina, that someone would direct us to a slip once we arrived. Well that’s easy!

You’ve seen our beautiful Bahia de Cienfuegos entrance photos, a nice ending to our five day sail. So I’ll skip ahead to the juicy stuff…clearing customs! Sure enough as we approached the Marlin Nautica y Marinas a gentleman was on the docks waving for our attention and directing us to a particular slip. That gentleman was the harbormaster and he gave us a smiling, “Hola!” as he grabbed our bow line. Matt and Jessica were also on the dock as was Luki (sv/Skebenga). Quite the welcoming party! We settled in next to our new neighbor (yes, that pirate ship is actually sitting on the bottom and there are real fish swimming on deck), and awaited the parade of officials that per our research would soon be entering and searching out boat.

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The clearance process wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the guide books had informed. It actually went quite smoothly and lasted about two hours at most. Had we known more Spanish it would have been even simpler. Most of the officials spoke broken English and between that and our combined, limited Spanish vocabulary we did understand what was happening every step of the way. An Immigration officer came to the dock first and requested our passports. Then he walked away with them (SCARY!). Ok, still under our quarantine flag we couldn’t get off the boat in pursuit so…we waited to see what would happen next.

A physician on behalf of the International Sanitary Control was our first guest. He completed a questionnaire with us to ensure that we were in good heath and that no crew members had died en route. Then a woman on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture entered the boat. She inspected the expiration dates on our canned foods and eyeballed our produce. She was quite chatty and gave us some good tips regarding changing money, shopping, and traveling via land in Cuba. Then we had a bit of a wait prior to Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera coming aboard.

It is important to note that it was extremely hot in Cienfuegos. Of course Rode Trip has no air conditioning, poor ventilation, and little space. When five officials piled aboard representing Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera the heat encouraged them to move through their paperwork as quickly as possible. They brought with them two dogs; each took a turn sniffing through the interior of our boat. It was quite entertaining to have the dogs aboard. They leapt inside with one jump from the hatch and scampered up the ladder with ease to exit. Two men sat at our small table and each completed a pile of paperwork. I had prepared two copies of our boat’s documentation, two copies of our crew list, and two copies of our passports – the documentation and crew lists were appreciated and I didn’t need any more than two. The officials and Brian signed and stamped several documents and left us with a neat stack of papers and two visas.

There were fees associated with clearance, of course, but we couldn’t change money prior. This was another moment when arriving last came in handy because we were able to borrow CUCs rather than utilize the marina’s exchange at 20% (at the nearby hotel where we did exchange money the exchange rate was 14%). So here’s the breakdown for fees: Immigration for Visas
$25/person, Customs $20, Ministry of Agriculture $5, and there was another $10 that quite honestly we don’t remember where it went. We also gave out three glasses of water, one beer, one tube of toothpaste, two toothbrushes, and two sets of Wiki Sticks (children’s toy).

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Finally, we went to the marina office to complete a contract to stay at the marina. We splurged and stayed at the dock for connivence at $ .53/foot. Docking included water and electricity; we used as much water as we wanted and did not hook up to the electric. The facilities weren’t great; we actually used the shower only once during our week long stay. We preferred to use our own bathroom and solar shower on the boat which were clean. There were no laundry services and there were trash and recycling on site.

At the marina we were encouraged to purchase health insurance; $3/day/person. This is twice as expensive as our current health plan. It seemed that only the USA boats were approached regarding this plan. We were given the night to think it over. We forgot to return the next morning to purchase the plan and we were never asked about it again.

All cleared in!

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The Stowaway

The wind was ready for us and we said, “good riddens, Jamaica!” We felt safe in Port Antonio; we enjoyed the scenic mountain backdrop and fresh, exotic fruits and vegetables to sample. It was the people (sorry Jamaica) of Port Antonio that made us uncomfortable; when we weren’t speed-walking through the city to find an off the beaten path, we were hunkering in the marina hoping not to be approached while we minded our own business. The people (except our friends; Rochelle and Damon, a lovely lady we met in the hills behind the hospital, and Norma at the market) all wanted something, namely cash. When they weren’t outright asking for it, they were following behind us offering taxis and overpriced excursions. Constant! And forget about asking a local for directions because anyone who seemed kind enough to show us around always asked for us to literally repay their kindness with a tip. Jamaica was good practice for Brian and I to say “NO!” which we are terrible at doing and will undoubtedly need to do to survive world travel.

And so, we were happy to be on the Rode again and among friends. Skebenga took the lead and Serendipity followed behind (certain to pass us in no time). We departed in the evening and set a northwest course with what would become very variable east winds. We were fully stocked with green bananas among our other Jamaican treats; cabbage, potatoes, mangos, ginger beer, and rum. Even though we’d rinsed them I wouldn’t allow the bananas inside for fear we’d get some bug infestation. Brian reluctantly secured them in the cockpit and told me they’d be yellow and rotted in a day out in the sun, but I was willing to chance it.

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The entire second day we bobbled around with just the jib in 0-5 knots of wind. The main came down because we could not keep it full and the flogging back and forth made a miserable sound. Brian had made some adjustments to the Cape Horn windvane prior to our leaving Jamaica. Remember it was on the fritz en route from the Bahamas and so he consulted Yves, the Cape Horn mastermind via email. Brian completed step one of troubleshooting per the very helpful and prompt directions received from Yves. Unfortunately step one wasn’t quite the fix our problem needed and the windvane continued to get stuck, although not quite as often. This left us babysitting the steering and keeping 3-hour watch schedules through the night.

The second evening the wind kicked up to a roaring 10-15 knots. Yippee! With the main back up we made some tracks until the wind died again the next morning. We were not used to such a calm trip! I was able to do all my usual boat chores, Brian cooked breakfasts and suppers, and all the while we’d read like we’d never read before!

On our third day out we finally got some excitement. No, not the weather, it stayed remarkably dull. At 4:00pm just as I knelt to settle into my afternoon reading position between the mast and the solar panel frame, I was startled by two frightened eyes and a very sharp beak! A cattle egret had landed for a rest on the lifeline.

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What an excellent zoom lens opportunity! Brian scooted below to get the camera before the egret took off. We needn’t have worried though, in the next half hour he’d moved onto the dinghy and was adjusting his balance to the motion of the boat.

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I named the stowaway Greg and proceeded to document his movements in our log. I also tried to think of what Greg might like to eat, he looked exhausted and famished! Brian suggested bananas, as we were now eating them as main entrees and snacks. I thought a flying fish would entice Greg (we had a total of 5 flying fish land on deck during this trip).

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I managed to set out a bowl of water near Greg atop the dinghy. I willed him to take a drink, but he paid no mind to the water. At 6:06pm, despite the flogging of our main as we attempted to heave to in the incredibly light wind, Greg laid down for a snooze.

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While hove to Brian and I enjoyed dinner together. At 8:35pm we took down the main, prompting a startled Greg to flutter onto the bowsprit. During the very early morning hours of our fourth day out, we were happy to have had only the jib flying when the wind actually presented itself. I took my shift at 5:00am. The rigging was whistling, that’s 20-25 knots of wind on Rode Trips carefully calibrated ananometer, and Brian informed me that he hadn’t seen Greg for several hours. The light of dawn was just peeking through the clouds at 5:19am when I stood out of the hatch to take a good look around for Greg. I startled him from wherever he was. He took flight and flew a lap around the boat, but returned just in time to assist me with sail trim.

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Greg stayed in the cockpit during my morning shift while I came out twice to adjust the windvane. At 8:00am when Brian awoke, Greg took a turn at the tiller before finally flying away.

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We had another full day of sailing before reaching our destination on day five. We’d arrived last, as usual, our friends aboard Skebenga and Serendipity were docked when we hailed the marina indicating our arrival. We entered the channel leading into the Bahia de Cienfuegos and were breath taken by the sheer beauty that we found. Beautiful mountains, sprawling green fields, a massive bay alive with sea birds, fishermen, and ferry boats.

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We followed the channel markers toward our marina.

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A new place to explore! And friends to share banana bread…loaves all around!

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