10 April 2011 | Varadero
Beth - 90's
By Wednesday, April 6, both winds and timing were right for us to drop our lines in Puerto de Vita and sail westward. Camelot and Amazing Grace had left for the Bahamas the day before, and Polar Pacer and Madcap were headed for Varadero (and Havana).
We had a wonderful stay in Puerto de Vita (usually slurred together like PuertoBita - all V's are pronounced like B's.) Tina in the office, and Ali, on the dock were wonderfully helpful. The guards were watchful but not intrusive and were so appreciative of the sodas and little gifts we gave them. While we were away, Tina even went on board Madcap daily to empty the bilge. We have had a slow, small leak and Jim showed her what to do if the high water alarm went off. She decided she wasn't taking any chances and kept it empty!
Checkout was simple. With assistance from Tina, we sorted out the procedure. We got the official stamps from the bar (15 CUC's) for our cruising permit, and she arranged for the officials to come at 8:30 Wednesday morning (the earliest time). We thought we might have to wait a while, but they were there right on time. Customs, Immigration officers and Marina Manager all visited us once more, filled out more paperwork, gave their approval for us to anchor along the way, wished us well, and by 9 o'clock we were on our way.
Our first stop was planned for Paradon Grande, an overnight trip. Duncan and Joan (Talisa) along with Bill and Barb (Suncast) had made this trip a couple of weeks earlier and were immensely helpful in sending back information. They had stopped here too, figuring it was the first well protected anchorage along the way, and it was nice to get some miles under our keel - it is a long way to Varadero.
We had a beautiful wind for sailing - and by the time we pulled in there, 30 hours later, we had had the engine on for only 45 minutes. Along the way we passed two sets of windmills busily churning out power and skirted the beautiful beaches of the north shore. The Cubans are skittish about letting pleasure craft land along this shore - too close to the USA - so we were pretty sure we wouldn't be allowed ashore despite reports form several years ago about the beautiful anchoring opportunities.
We pulled in under the impressive lighthouse and Guarda station, identifying ourselves, and expecting to be questioned. But it was all very easy. We didn't ask to go ashore, and we didn't put our dinghy in the water. Next day we were off again, under sail again - ahhh. As we approached Caiman Grande - another lighthouse and a very impressive Guarda station - we had our identification lines all rehearsed in Spanish. (fractured perhaps but understandable!) Este es el velero, Madcap. Nacionalidad, Canada. Hay dos personas a bordo. Canadian. ... Procedente de Puerta de Vita. Con destino al puerto de Varadero. Queremos anclado uno noche. (We want to anchor for one night) Esta bien? and if all else failed, No comprendo, hable Ingles?
The officer who called us spoke passable English, and he liked our English better than our Spanish, and this time we asked, in Spanish, if it was possible to come ashore. He answered us - "no problem" and our jaws dropped. Within a few minutes however, he was taking Polar Pacer's information and said "No coming ashore! You understand for both boats?" Yes, we understood. Too bad.
We decided to make our next stop one where there was no Guarda station and chose Boca Chica. Talisa and Suncast had stopped there and I had read in some information from Eileen Quinn and David Allester (Little Gidding) from several years ago that they liked this place very much. We left at 0700 hours and had to motor most of the day - darn! Along the way we saw a huge ship, the Eagle Venice (a tanker) about 10 miles off, and looked it up on AIS. It was 0.180 nautical miles long! How is that possible? It had a 188 ft beam and draft of 36.7 ft. What a huge ship. After a whole darn day of motoring, we pulled into Boca Chica at 1615 hours and dropped the anchor in a beautiful little bay - around a sandy spit and with no sight of a Guarda station. Within minutes, we had the dinghies in the water and we were on the beach. I was delighted to discover, almost immediately, a well worn but still beautiful large helmet shell. These are gorgeous creamy coloured shells with whirls and swirls and toothlike brown markings along the mouth. It was empty too, although something had been in there because it was foul smelling.
Tom and Chris came over for dinner - BBQ'd pork tenderloin that had been in the freezer since we left Florida - and was still tender and tasty. There were a few little fishing boats around, no bugs, a beautiful sunset, and it was a perfect place to be. We planned to leave there at 4 the next afternoon for another overnight to Varadero so we fell into our berths knowing that we had time to explore the next day.
We were up and ashore in good time on Saturday - having our first swim in Cuban waters - and oh it was so lovely and warm - about 30 degrees! Jim and I dinghied around the corner past a permanent fishing station, where we waved to the fishermen, and to another beach. I found some prehistoric looking shells inhabited by hermit crabs. I gathered a few, not feeling any particular worry about stealing the homes from the crabs since they had already stolen them, and there were dozens and dozens of them.
After lunch we dinghied back to another beach and discovered a little trail through to the other side where we swam some more in clear warm water. As we returned to Madcap, we saw that a fishing boat had pulled up to Polar Pacer. They were looking for engine oil and Tom graciously offered a couple of bottles from his store. In return, the fishermen were handing over fish. We hurried home to Madcap, gathered some soap and razors, added a few pesos, and got a couple of snappers too. Dinner solved!
We hoisted the anchor reluctantly - we could have happily stayed here for several days - and set sail for Varadero. It was another idyllic sailing night - to top off an idyllic day. We both felt that this is what our cruising life is all about - discovering new places and travelling with the wind. It doesn't get any better.
We started seeing the hotel strip of Varadero about 4 hours before we reached the entrance to the canal where Marina Darcenas is located. (There are other marinas but they are not presently accepting transients - and besides, this one is ideally situated for facilities and another taste of real Cuba.)
One more fabulous experience was yet to happen. We followed the well marked canal in. Duncan (Talisa) called on the VHF to tell us they were waiting for us. Debbie (La Vida Dulce) called with precise details of where to go. As we turned into the marina, I spotted Lorbas - a Canadian boat we had met 3 years ago. And so it was a wonderful arrival. All these familiar faces stood on the dock waiting to take our lines. Jim did a flawless job of docking and we were soon talking excitedly with Debbie - a Canadian woman who lives on La Vida Dulce 10 months of the year, Donna and Rick (Lorbas), Duncan and Joan (Talisa), and we learned that Gail and Peter (Jabiru) were here too. What joy! What excitement! I had heard from Gail several months ago that they were thinking of coming over here from the keys, but then I forgot about it. And now here we all were! We met Jabiru in 2007 when we were both having engine troubles in Green Turtle Cay and have only briefly glimpsed them since. Christian and Christin (Ella) a Norwegian couple we met in Puerto de Vita were here too - just returning from a land trip. We knew we were set for one more wonderful Cuba experience. It was astounding to discover that of the 15 or so boats on the dock, we knew so many of them.
The officials came on board almost immediately - Customs, Immigration, Health, and one other one. The dock master came along later with our contract (only 40 cents per foot here - electricity and water are extra but minimal) The health lady took our garbage away immediately. The others filled out their forms (they all have carbon paper :-) checked our permits and passports, did a very cursory search (a look into the forward berth and a look in the head and that was it) and we were soon cleared in. No fees needed to be paid - that would happen later - no doctor and no dogs this time.
We settled in for naps and then joined the others for the nightly Happy Hour at the picnic table on the dock - happy to be in Varadero and ready for the next week or so.
(the pic is the Paradon Grande lighthouse)