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CUBA: Part III of III

Traveling Cuba’s Northwest Coast By Bradd Wilson

Last month, in Part II, we left Puerto la Esperanza after a visit to the inland town of Vinales. We leave picking our way through the Ensenada de los Playuelas, a beautiful, totally protected bay of pristine cays, mangrove islets and amazing sailing. It is 15 square miles with depths from 5 to 15 feet and enough anchorages to gunk hole for a week—including a great “hurricane hole” (22 º47.17 083 º45.94), but we press on to our next stop, Santa Lucia (22º41.23N 083 º58.21W).

T

he channel is deep and well-marked for shipping to the snug harbor tucked behind a half-mile of mangroves. This tumble-down little port was once home to an American—then Russian—sulphur refinery, but the huge buildings have long since collapsed and the 8,000 inhabitants struggle to survive. You can tie up to a massive concrete dock for clearance by the Guarda and leave the boat there to explore the town. Its former grandeur can be detected by the wide streets, large theater and common areas, but 40 years of decay and high unemployment have taken their toll. There are a few stores and markets for basic provisions, but beyond that, there is very little to see here. We did meet a pair of Danes who were stranded here after buying a Baltic 42 in America to sail back to Denmark. Shortly after departing St. Pete, their dreamboat started falling apart. The transmission failed off Key West, but they were able to sail into Marina Hemingway. It couldn’t be fixed, but they did buy fuel. Unfortunately, rather than pay the marina’s high price, they bought diesel from some guy on the street. After leaving Havana for Mexico, the engine stopped from the fuel, which had turned black in their tank. This also meant no refrigeration or electronic charts, so they sought refuge in the first well-marked channel to Santa Lucia. Here they sat with no engine, no transmission, no Cuban cruising visa, no money, no Spanish and very little food. They had not been able to contact their families since leaving the United States., so we brought them aboard to use our SkyMate to e-mail home. After a day together, we

News & Views for Southern Sailors

left them with a fuel filter to “polish” their bad diesel, some food, some of each Cuban currency, a copy of Kathy Parson’s Spanish for Cruisers, hooked them up with a local who spoke good English (but no Danish) and wished them well. Although their distress was largely beyond their control, there are a few lessons to be learned here about cruising the coast: 1) Don’t scrimp on the things you count on like fuel. There is no TowboatUS here. 2) Change adequate funds in Havana. You may not find another source of Cuban pesos.

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SOUTHWINDS June 2009

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