The entire day at sea, we continued on our painfully slow march towards Cuba. I kept watch for US coastguard boats appearing out of nowhere and asking us what we were up to, but nobody came. Let’s RUN this blockade, baby!! The wind was so weak we were truckin’ along at a rather underwhelming three miles per hour, so Captain Johnny got out a ‘spinnaker’ sail, which is like the ones you see on proper racing yachts. It worked a bit like a kite and it looked really cool blowing out at the front of the boat. It managed to get us up to a more respectable eight miles per hour, but by now it was obvious I wouldn’t be getting to Cuba until Sunday at the earliest.
Captain Johnny is the same age as me. He’s on his way to Fiji, so this is just the beginning of a much longer trip for him. Although, if it all works out, I might be seeing him in The Pacific stage of The Odyssey. The yacht itself (wish I could tell you its name) is just brilliant – a proper piratey affair, lashed together with bits and bobs purloined and plundered from less worthy vessels. Inside is more like a student flat than a celebrity lifestyle choice – plenty of beer and biscuits strewn about the place, but Johnny knows where everything is. I’d call it homely, only because I’m such a messy sod myself.
All was going swimmingly until around 2am when Captain Johnny decided to take down the Spinnaker in the dark, which resulted in comedy gold as the sail made its way under the boat and it was up to us two hapless buccaneers to try and rescue the damn thing from the vile clutches of the Gulf Stream while the good ol’ [yacht name removed on legal advice] swayed to and fro like a drunkard on a revolving bouncy castle.
After helming the nightwatch, I got a few hours kip before Johnny called me up on deck – he’d been chatting on the CB with a passing yacht that had just left Maria del Gorda. A yacht called The Mariposa…
The very Mariposa that rescued me from Antigua!!
Kerri and Andrew! Woo!!!
They were on their way to Cancun in Mexico. I told Kerri that I’d try to meet up with them after we hop into Cuba.
Johnny and I swung into the sleepy little bay of Maria del Gorda just before noon. It was a gloriously sunny morning, but now the storm clouds were approaching. There was no port to speak of, just some mooring buoys off the shore. Just two other boats beside ours. Johnny put up the US flag and the yellow Quarantine flag and we spoke to the port attendant on the radio.
Can we come in?
Yeah sure, why not?
And so within half an hour, we were being boarded by Immigration, Customs and a (cute female) doctor. The guy from immigration wasn’t too impressed with my Cuban visa (the only one I thought I needed for the entire Western Hemisphere) and said I needed to buy a new one. The thought of FINALLY making it all the way to Cuba only to be knocked back 100m from dry land flashed through my head.
The word ‘bugger’ came to mind.
But no fear, I just had to slip him twenty bucks and I got my stamp (on a piece of paper so I don’t upset the yanks), and Johnny and I jumped in the dingy and headed for the jetty.
Country Number 34!! ACE!
The clouds were about to break, so I exchanged some dollars for pesos and we headed to the bar for a well-deserved beer.
We got chatting to some of the locals, a lively bunch who spoke English much better than I spoke Spanish. I asked them what they thought of all the rules concerning travel and travellers here in Cuba – such as the fact that Cubans are not allowed to leave the country without permission off the government and the fact that it’s illegal to have a foreigner stay in your home or to even give them a lift in your car.
One of the guys said that he loved his country and never wanted to live anywhere else, but he would like to be free to go visit Mexico, just 100 miles away, some time in his life.
Another guy said that he feels like he lives in a prison – a very big and an exceedingly beautiful prison, but a prison nonetheless. Again, not that he wanted to ‘escape’, but he too thought it unfair that he wasn’t allowed to go on holiday someplace else now and again.
They did really appreciate Johnny being there, though – they understand that the American government make it very difficult (and dangerous) for US citizens to visit Cuba, so when they make the effort (and to come on a yacht from Florida) it is not without gratitude and admiration.
Funny though, that the reason that US citizens are not allowed to visit Cuba is that the treasury department doesn’t want them ‘trading with the enemy’. The joke is that the first thing I saw as I stepped off the jetty was a big sign for Coca-Cola.
The rain lashed down as we planned what to do next. With no weather charts available, if we left now, we could end up ploughing straight into a storm. We had a few more drinks while we made up our minds. I bought a load of supplies – mainly fresh fruit – off the nice chaps on the beachfront and as evening approached, Johnny and I headed back to his boat.
While I was only there for a few hours, I did get a wonderful vibe from Cuba, and it’s high on my list of places to return to on holiday. All the people we met were awesome friendly, and that goes a long way. It really does.
And the coast was just sublime – not overdeveloped, miles of deserted beaches, a wonderful tropical forest interior. Made me want to go exploring.
I guess Castro (and his bro) have still got the affection of the people, but I’m wary of anybody who stays in power for 50 years and then hands over the reigns to his kin. All a little to Absolute Monarchy for my liking. But the US blockade and the denial of US citizen’s rights to travel to Cuba (out of all the countries in the world? Gimme a break) seem just as anachronistic.
Johnny decided (possibly after a few too many) that we should leave tonight.
The madness of leaving at night, drunk and without a weather window slowly dawned on us – looking to port and looking to starboard, electrical storms cackled like mischievous witches in the heavens. I mean, sitting in the middle of the ocean inside what is effectively a large lightning conductor has got to test the judgment of even the most illogical earthlings.
So we dropped the sails and threw out the sea anchor – but this is the Gulf Stream – it’s like the bit in Finding Nemo with the surf dude turtles – you can’t fight the flow baby. Even with no sail, no engine and a sea anchor deployed, we were still doing four knots toward Mexico – four knots towards instant fried crackly doom.
Captain Johnny laughed at me for hurriedly putting my gloves on. You think that a tiny bit of leather is going to save you if we get struck by 100,000 volts, sailor?
Er…. won’t it?
The laugher followed the Captain as he made his way downstairs to eat a banana.
Luckily (and because Zeus and Pallas Athena are looking out for me, obviously) the storms passed harmlessly to the sides of us. So now there was nothing stopping us heading FULL PELT to Mexico. Except for the fact that Captain Johnny wouldn’t let me turn the engine on, so we slowly meandered our way over the wibbly-wobbly water towards the land of the cactus standing, snake chomping eagle and ludicrously big hats.
I set out a fishing line (really nothing much more than a lure on the end of a string) and caught a BIG FISH. Well, it was the biggest I’ve ever caught – a Maui Maui I think it’s called – lots of lovely bright colours. Tasty too.
When we got to Isla Mujertas, the little spit of an island a few miles off the coast of Cancun, it was dark and Captain Johnny, being the wonderfully impractical piratey buccaneer that he is, decided we would try a night entrance to the marina.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…
Only, aren’t we’re a bit close to the bea… THUD!
We were more grounded than a naughty teenager. I mean, I was happy to hit Mexican soil, but this wasn’t quite what I had in mind…
So for the next panicked half-hour we went a little crazy trying to rescue the yacht from the slow shifting sands. We put the sails up and Johnny damn near blew the engine, but eventually we managed to shift ourselves free. Panic over. Poseidon’s last laugh, our last trial by sea. Johnny thought it best just to anchor up in the middle of the channel(!) until daybreak, so that’s what we did, taking shifts to make sure nothing went bump in the dark.