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Day 299 - Isla Mujeres, Mexico (N 21° 14.5 W 86° 44.4)
10:33 hrs - March 27th, 2008
Mexican Medicine

Another noteworthy Cuba moment happened in our last port of call.  I got an odd insect bite on the 2nd week in Cuba, that developed an infection and turned into an abscess that was growing in size and pain level by the day, but I was sure that if I left it to do its own thing, it would run its course and I was quite sure my body could fight it off on its own without intervention, but by the time we got to our last stop in Cuba it had become a problem.  The marina had a resident doctor, and when the marina staff saw me they recommended I go to see what he could do.  He checked me over and gave me a course of antibiotics, pain medication and bandages, and every morning till we left the marina, he came to our boat to check on how I was doing. The note worthy part – no charge at all, nothing.  The same treatment in the US would have cost me hundreds of dollars, and to have had all those ‘house calls’ on the boat? Well, lets just say,
it would never have happened in America!.  Another paradoxical Cuban story to add to our experience!

By the time we arrived in Mexico at ‘Paraiso Club de Yates’ in Isla Mujeres, I couldn’t bear any weight on
my leg at all.  Any movement was difficult as the original infection had now spread and from my knee down, was swollen hot and sore.  I have to admit, that this was partly my fault as I had elected not to take the antibiotics that I had been given in Cuba because I was sure my leg could figure it out on its own, but it was now becoming clear I had a problem. However the sea gods were in my favor and Tom from the marina came to the rescue.  Tom, a Spanish speaking, Italian American, native New Yorker and avid Yankee’s fan , set the necessary medical wheels in motion. He took me directly to the Naval hospital where he arranged for me to be seen right away by a number of Navy doctors who for reasons I have yet to fully understand drained the abscess and surrounding infected tissue without any anesthetic?  First they used needles, and when that proved unsuccessful they moved onto scalpels to help drain it better, and then moved onto some kind of forceps to remove what I can only assume was stubborn material. Throughout the whole thing, I was literally held down on a table so that I wouldn’t move, and couldn’t see, what they were doing while they did what they needed to do!  It had been explained at the beginning of the procedure that they had an anesthetic for this sort of thing, but that in my case it would be ineffective? Neville stayed, held my hand tight and dealt brilliantly with the many tears and yelps while the whole time reassuring me over and over again that it was almost over, almost over, and eventually, thank god, it was, and I was never so relieved.  Then they took x-rays to make sure that the bone wasn’t infected, luckily it was not, and they got me ready to leave with prescriptions and instructions to return the next day.  I now have two weeks of antibiotics one week of which are daily injections! and it will be a while before the drain holes they made in my leg heal, so we are going to stay in Isla Mujeres till I get the all clear.  I was stupid to have been so cavalier with my health, never again, if I had left it much longer it would have been much worse, I was lucky this time, and the week of daily antibiotic injections will be a reminder to make sure I never let this happen again! Thank you again to Tom for your wonderful NY Yankee fabulous kind help!



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Day 295 - Yucatan Channel (N 21° 41.4 W 83° 39.0)
13:01 hrs - March 23rd, 2008
CSI Cuba

Justice has been served! Unbelievably, our Panasonic Lumix® digital camera and a diving watch, that were stolen from Dream Time almost three weeks ago, were returned yesterday, personally delivered to us by the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and four very senior officials!

We first realized we'd been robbed a day after we left Bahia Honda, our first port-of-call after leaving Marina Hemingway on March 5th. Like most sailors heading west from Havana, Bahia Honda serves only as a port of refuge, a convenient place to stop for the night before continuing the next day behind the shallow reef with plenty of daylight in your favor. Like most inhabited ports-of-call in Cuba, sailors are required to clear in, and out, with the Cuban Guarda. They stamp your cruising permit and give your boat a quick search before happily waving you on your way. What we didn't realize at the time, was that the Guarda at the remote outpost in Bahia Honda, in addition to getting a fresh homemade cake from Catherine as a gift, also walked off with her Panasonic camera and my Omega diving watch.

By the time we found out they were missing, it was too late to go back. We tried reporting the incident to the Guarda at other anchorages but we speak limited Spanish and were unsuccessful. Sharing our account with other cruisers in Cayo Levisa, we were surprised to find out that they too had been robbed by the Guarda in Bahia Honda and had heard of four other sailboats that shared the same misfortune.

Not wanting other cruisers to experience similar treatment, and, yes I must admit, not wanting the Guarda in Bahia Honda to think they got the better of me, I reported the theft, again, in Cabo San Antonio, our very last port-of-call in Cuba. With a detailed handwritten statement and a color printout of the "perps" - photos that I just happened to take with my Panasonic camera, I presented our case and the evidence one last time. After a two-hour interview detailing the events to Joel, Cabo San Antonio's Guarda, his boss, his bosses boss and a secretary who transcribed the meeting, there was a glimmer of hope that justice may actually be served. Although we never expected, not in a million years, that our items would be recovered.

So, I was dumbfounded that in less than 36 hours my watch and Catherine's camera were recovered over 150 miles away and presented to me, personally, by the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. Joel translated for the Senior Official who apologized on behalf of the Guarda and Cuba for this "disgusting" act. Intrigued and apprehensively, I asked what was to become of the men responsible. I was informed that the two Guarda will be brought to swift justice which I was led to believe meant prison for 5+ years.

I find it amazing that with the seemingly limited resources Cuban's have, that they were able to accomplish something that would have be considered a lost cause in many other, more developed, areas in the world. It speaks volumes about the honor and pride Cuban's have in their country, something that is more valuable to them then anything else.



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Day 291 - Cayos de la Lena, Cuba (N 21° 55.2 W 84° 49.1)
11:26 hrs - March 19th, 2008
A New Chart

Our Cuban cruising guide and charts, once so unfamiliar, intimidating and pristine are now dog eared, covered in notations, bearings, waypoints and coffee stains. The shoals, coral heads, reefs and uncharted islands, enough to make any navigator wince, are now safely behind us. We're anchored in Cayos de la Lena, a remote group of uninhabited, mangrove covered islands just a few miles from the most western tip of Cuba. Our two CQR anchors are buried deep in the muddy bottom as Dream Time slides, bucks and jiggles inside the narrow channel with each 35 knot gust from yet another 'norther' that's blowing through. If the forecast is accurate, we'll raise the anchors Saturday and will skip across the Yucatan Channel, a 108 nautical mile crossing (20 hrs) to our next port-of-call, Isla Mujeres, Mexico!

Catherine and I are excited to begin the next leg of our world cruise. The crossing will take us off our last familiar Cuban chart and onto a brand new chart that's crisp, clean and full of potential. Chart 28004, at a scale of 1:1,300,000 covers a huge area from Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and a little of the northern coast of Honduras - our cruising ground, home, for the next 3-4 months. We're starting all over again. We have no idea what to expect when we get there, but we're looking forward to finding out.

So we say goodbye and thank you to Cuba. We wish our new friends here a happy and promising future. We'll hang-on to the old charts, I have a feeling we'll need them again someday.

 



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Day 285 - Cayo Rapado Grande, Cuba (N 22° 29.4 W 84° 19.7)
13:26 hrs - March 13th, 2008
Trade Negotiations

Last night we traded $3 rum, soap and m&m’s for huge lobster tails, and red snapper that had just been pulled out of the sea!  It was late in the afternoon and we had just been anchored inside the reef for a few hours when a small wooden fishing boat with 4 fishermen who must have seen us sail in, came over to trade.  As they came along side they threw back an oily canvas to reveal the result of their days work and they had a very impressive collection of fish, large and small, and more lobster tails than I have ever seen in one place before.  As we were figuring out what we were going to trade we struck up a halting conversation in our limited Spanish, and our trade negotiation turned into a funny mixture of sign language, rum and questions about our boat and their lives.  They were all young, curious and had families to support and were very happy to have an opportunity to trade and talk with outsiders, and we were very happy to have had the opportunity to see another piece of Cuba.



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Day 279 - Cayo Levisa, Cuba (N 22° 52.8 W 83° 31.4)
18:44 hrs - March 7th, 2008
The Invisible Island

Yesterday we anchored off an island that doesn't even exist! Well, at least according to our Garmin GPS chartplotter. Yep, we're definitely on the coast less traveled now. In fact, much of the 100+ miles we've sailed since we left Marina Hemingway last Wednesday has been, well, to put it mildly, exhilarating. You see there are very few channel markers here, no buoys to mark the numerous shoals or coral heads that lurk just a few feet under the water, no fancy marinas to offer respite and no SeaTow or BoatUS standing-by on channel 16 to happily assist sailors in distress. There is the occasion stick (yes an actual branch) in the water supposedly marking danger, but most of the time you have to navigate by line-of-sight, dead reckoning, the water color and with, well, balls!

We've weaved and dodged our way inside the reef which runs along the north-west coast of Cuba all the way to its most western tip - Cabo San Antonio, our final port-of-call in Cuba before we skip across the Yucatan Straights to Isla Mujeres. Catherine and I are honing our navigational skills along the way and forging an even stronger partnership. Catherine stands at the bow, pointing out smaller coral heads while I steer Dream Time and plot our course on the charts developed in the 1970s by Russia's hydrographic office, and getting used to reading only 5.5 feet on our depth sounder (we draw 5). But so far so good. Cayo Paraiso, the invisible island we anchored off Thursday night, was reportedly used by Ernest Hemingway as a hideout during the Second World War, and I can see why. Surrounded by shoals and reef, the island is covered in palm trees, pine trees and framed by powdery white sand, it's a little uninhabited paradise. I spent most of the afternoon snorkeling and spear fishing around its shore. Catherine was delighted when I brought back a giant lobster and insisted I went back out to get another. That night we feasted on our fresh catch and enjoyed the silence, anchored behind the invisible island with not another living soul around. (Yes I did catch another lobster, Catherine wouldn't let me back on the boat empty handed).

 

Today we're anchored off Cayo Levisa, a larger island that I'm happy to report does actually appear on our GPS chartplotter, not that we use it to navigate here. Even though we're anchored in fifteen feet of water our chartplotter shows us firmly aground, practically in the middle of the island. Approaching Cayo Levisa was a hair-raising, nail-biting adrenaline rush. Our Cruising Guide instructs the reader to line up a darker colored mangrove island, Cayo Dios, just a little to the east of the edge of an abrupt mountainside on the distant horizon, a bearing of 210°. This course puts the reader over the "deeper" portion of the shoal, a scant 5.8 feet. And of course the shoal immediately shoals either side of this "channel" to under 3 feet. As I watched our depth reader countdown from 8 feet, 7 feet, 6 feet, 5.5 feet, while aligning an island with a mountain and maintaining a true heading of exactly 210° I was a little surprised when our depth gauge continued to drop to under 5 feet. Dream Time bumped and thumped along the shoal for a few feet before it was clear this wasn't exactly the right way after-all. I spun the wheel around and used the building southerly breeze (you would never want to do this in strong northerly wind) to push us off. Safe, in deeper water (6 feet), we gathered ourselves for a second attempt. Our approach was right but as sandy shoals have a tendency to shift, we adjusted our course by just 20 feet and with a full inch to spare, motored over the shoal to a safe anchorage on a lee shore.

The winds are building now to over 30 knots as a norther blows through The reef to the north of Cayo Levisa is a caldron of breaking seas and white water so we're waiting before continuing our journey west. Next stop, Ensenada las Playuelas, where our Cruising Guide instructs us to "steer until you appear to be running straight into the mangroves..."



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Day 273 - Marina Hemingway, Cuba (N 23° 05.3 W 82° 29.9)
21:52 hrs - March 1st, 2008
Fidel's Cuba

Well we have been at Marina Hemingway in Cuba for just over a week and I am beginning to become accustomed to this strange country. The 24 hour marina security and the constant surveillance no longer feels intimidating even though I know its to keep an eye on us more that it is to keep the boats secure.  We are getting used to the sporadic nature of the water availability on the dock and in the showers and when our power cut out due to a short in the power source on the dock, when it rained the other day, we just switched back to solar and wind power to keep our equipment running so all in all,we are adapting and overcoming!

It’s strange how you don’t notice the absence of some things until you are looking for them, things you would normally see every day, but some things are just not here in Cuba, like there’s no advertising here, of any kind! there are no magazines and only 2 govt. run newspapers and 5 govt. run TV channels, there are virtually no street lights, and the roads outside Havana are almost entirely empty. There is almost no crime here mostly due to lengthy jail sentences for even minor offences, food and supply stores are few and far between and only have very basic supplies, and the prices are too high for the majority of Cubans to afford.  Most Cubans are not allowed into hotels and are strongly discouraged from interacting with tourists.  A Cuban friend who we met at the marina, and who asked not to be named, is a mechanical engineer, but he finds work at the marina offering his strong command of English and an air conditioned car to visiting sailors who want to see and understand more of Cuba while they are here. He drove us clear across Cuba through small towns and dusty villages up to the mountains in the west, where we visited ancient caves and beautiful valleys and an old family run tobacco plantation where they grow and dry tobacco for the fragrant cigars this country produces, the whole time graciously tolerating a thousand questions about him, his family and his perspective on life in Cuba today.  I so badly wanted to understand how it could be that an entire country of vibrant educated people could allow their lives to be so manipulated and controlled by a system of government that clearly doesn’t work?  It seems that a combination of fear and misinformation has created an atmosphere of resigned acceptance that keeps people from speaking up and trying to change things.  The revolution that was supposed to give every Cuban a voice and equal power seems to have achieved the opposite. Sadly for the Cuban people it seems as if Fidels revolution was simply a well timed and calculated ruse to gain power over a desperate people and a country that trusted him to do the right thing.