CUBA REVISITED AND OUR CABO SAN ANTONIO-ISLA MUJERES ADVENTURE
10 April 2013
On Sunday, February 24 we left Key West and set sail for Cuba. We motor-sailed most of the night but in the morning the winds were up to 20 knots and we were able to sail to the entrance of Marina Hemingway. It took us 18 hours to get to Cuba.
The highlight of the trip was a visit from the US Coast Guard at about 2 AM. They asked who we were, and what our destination was. Hmmmmm. Should we lie and tell them Mexico or should we be truthful and tell them Cuba? Opting for truthful, we told them we were going to Cuba. They asked a few more questions and then we heard their radio contact advising them �"not to board a Canadian vessel.�" Good-lucks and farewells were exchanged and we were on our way again.
At Marina Hemingway we docked at the customs dock. We were visited by many officials and most of them desired some form of gift or other. They were all polite and it only took about 2 hours to finish clearing in. Entry fees amounted to about $100 plus $20 in �"gifts�". Leaving that dock, we headed to the marina dock, tied up and had a nice long nap.
Our time in Cuba was wonderful. We met lots of cruisers from all around the world. Ernst and Yoke, aboard Free Will, were from Holland. Together we rented a car and visited Vinalles- this is one of the most beautiful parts of Cuba. Mountains appear to be growing out of the red soil. It is famous for its tobacco and we visited one of the tobacco drying houses where we learned about the drying process of tobacco leaves and how they would spray some leaves with rum or vanilla for enhanced flavour. New, wider highways are being built to this area to better serve the tourist industry.
We took the local bus to Havana and spent a day exploring the city, enjoying the sights and the people. We noticed a lot of changes since our visit to Havana in 2011- more buildings being restored and old sewer and water systems were being replaced in the main part of Havana.
Back at Marina Hemingway we enjoyed walking to the small village of Jaimanitas when we needed fresh fruits and vegetables. Most evenings we had dinner at a small restaurant located near the marina. For $2.25 we enjoyed the best grilled chicken ever served with rice, beans and vegetables. Beer was almost free!
It was time to get moving again- we had a small weather window which would allow us to hop down the coast of Cuba to Bahia Honda. The trip was very pleasant and Bahia Honda was a combination of mangroves, old, rusty wrecks and what appeared to be a new shipping facility. The customs office that was supposed to be there was in ruins. The only people we saw were fishermen and a family enjoying the sand spit located near where we anchored.
After a pleasant night at anchor, we got up early the next day and motorsailed for 8 hours to Ensenada las Playuelas. To get into this protected group of mangrove islands we had to take the Pasa de la Legua- this passage was very narrow and very shallow and marked by a few sticks. At first we aimed for the wrong sticks and nearly ended up aground. A quick correction and we were aimed for the right sticks.Once through the pass, the water depth increased to about 10 feet. We anchored in 20 knot winds behind a mangrove island. A great place to wait out the coming norther plus it gave Jim an opportunity to enjoy his man cold.
Once the weather and Jim improved, we headed further down the coast and made our way to the Quebrado de la Galera. This area is protected by a reef system that stretches most of the way towards Cabo San Antonio. It can still be rough, depending on the wind direction and speed but there are many protected places to anchor. The places we visited were beautiful and visiting fishermen sold us lobster and fish for dinner.
We needed to rush our trip as my stepson, Sandy and his wife, Renei were going to visit us in Mexico. Moving on to Cabo San Antonio in very brisk winds, we backtracked a bit and anchored at Cayo Lenos for the night. The next morning we sailed to Cabo San Antonio and tied up at the cement pier. Things had not changed much since 2011. The customs people were still friendly and everyone was helpful. There is not much here, but you can go diving on their dive boat and take walks along the beach. It�'s a great place to wait for weather for crossing to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
Two days later we were on our way to Mexico!
Our plan: Sail SW from Cabo San Antonio to a point near 21-15N/85-40W...then due-W along 21-15N (the Latitude of Isla Mujeres). Reason: there's only a slight N-flowing current of under 1k in area E of 85-40W...but this increases W of 85-40W, and especially W of 86W...so you don't want to be clawing your way S in the area W of 85-40W.
The weather window was not a perfect one but it looked like nothing better was coming our way for a long time. The wind direction was good and we were told to expect 6-8 foot confused seas. As we headed past the western tip of Cuba, the seas got larger and larger and more and more confused. Good God, look at those waves!
It was awful! While Jim was on deck, playing with the jib sheets, I heard intermittent ringing. Sounded like an alarm going off�.....no, I can�'t hear it anymore�.....and then it goes off again�...�...sounds exactly like our HIGH WATER ALARM! What to do? What to do? Watch Jim in case he gets swept off the decks (he was using a safety harness) and slammed against the hull? See if we are sinking? I decide to risk Jim and made a dash for the bilge. Thankfully the bilge was dry. The alarm was being set off by the large seas slamming us. I solved the problem quickly by ripping the wires apart and hurried back to my station.
It took 22 hours to get to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Although the seas were horrid the entire way, we managed to have one of the fastest sails ever! Main was fully reefed, our staysail was up, and we had a touch of jib just to help balance the boat. Our average speed was 6.5 knots. Emerald Seas was magnificent despite the conditions and we were reasonably comfortable for the passage.
We passed lots of freighters and Jim chatted with a Canadian warship. Our AIS (automatic identifying system) provides us with the name of the ships in our vicinity and gives their closest point of approach and time to closest point of approach. One of the perks of having AIS is the ability to call ships directly if you think that they might run you over. One large tanker was coming within ½ mile of us. We radioed and they altered course away from us.
As we approached Isla Mujeres, the seas were alive with dolphins. Below decks, we could hear dolphins singing for over 15 minutes, followed by a different type of dolphin, making clicking sounds. There were about 1000 frigate birds in the sky and the ocean was full of fish. What a morning! Jim was ecstatic. I took a peek and then went down below to my nest on the floor, where I did not have to look at the 12 foot monster waves all around!
What a culture shock arriving at the Isla Mujeres anchorage as compared to the secluded northwest coast of Cuba. There are party boats,fishing boats, sailboats and luxury yachts everywhere. Time for a siesta and then later we are going out for a margarita!
By the way, we were very happy with our plan for getting to Isla Mujeres from Cuba-other cruisers we talked with took 10 hours or more longer and had much worse conditions than we did. We only found about 1 knot of current against us and that was just before we arrived in Mexico.