Haiti To Cuba
28 October 2016 | Santiago De Cuba
The day had finally come for us to depart Isle La Veche Haiti. We had only planned on a one or two day stay but ended up their for a week. The only problem with Haiti was a lack of digital communication (ie internet) but sometimes its nice to be completely unplugged for a while. However, when the internet is the way you get your weather forecasts, it becomes more than just a convenience.
As we prepared to depart, the weather forecast we had was 5 days old. We had checked with one of the other boats in the anchorage who confirmed our forecast was still pretty accurate. The day we scheduled to leave was supposed to be 12 kts of wind, no seas to speak of and sunny. Just an ideal day on the water. The only weather we expected was a two hour chance of winds gusting to 25 kts half way between the north tip of Haiti and Cuba. Other than that, nothing over 20 kts for the entire trip. Perfect!
Well not so fast. We did have a beautiful daytime sail up the coast waving at fishermen as we worked our way west. It was exactly what the forecast had told us. At 6:00pm, that all changed. As we approached the western tip of Haiti in the vicinity of Cap Dame Marie, the wind and seas picked up quickly. Wind went from 12 kts at 90 degrees to 26 kts at 50 degrees. Seas went from flat calm to 12 feet in a matter of minutes. We reefed our sails and set our course for Santiago de Cuba. Winds continued to increase over the next hour until we had 37 kts. With 10 turns on the jib furler and the main with two reefs, we balanced out a bit and pounded into the big waves. Every second wave broke into the cockpit and with the first mate hunkered down below taking as much gravol as she could, I strapped into the cockpit with the lifeline and made sure we didn't hit anything. Over the next 12 hours we covered 97 nautical miles, maintaining just over 8 kts. At 8 am the wind died completely and the seas calmed as we approached the lea of Cuba. We motor sailed for the next 4 hours until arriving in Santiago de Cuba.
The entrance into the harbour is very well marked. The guidebooks all say to contact the Guarda Fronterra (Coast Guard) at the 12 mile mark and then again when you enter the harbour. We soon discovered that the Guarda Fronterra only have handheld radios so their transmit range is only 1 or 2 miles. We did broadcast what we were supposed to at the 12 mile mark but did so in the blind. No idea if anyone received it or not. Once in the harbour we were contacted by the yacht club. We were instructed by the harbour master to anchor and they would send our officials. We anchored and the first official came out to the boat. This was the lady from the department of health. She checked our food, boat cleanliness, head, and then took our temperatures and asked a few general health questions. Once she was satisfied, she told us we could now proceed alongside to finish with customs. We had planned on remaining at anchor, however it was $15 CUC to anchor or $22 CUC for a dock so we opted to just stay alongside.
Shortly after our arrival Norbert (the harbour master) told us another boat was coming in from the west. They ended up beinng towed in after breaking down due to bad fuel (we knew what that was like) so we assisted in getting them alongside. The couple on board were from Belgium (Marialyn and Derek). We also ran into our friends on Snickers again and the three couples become good friends while we were there.
After completing the clearing in process, which is really quite easy, we wanted to explore. The marina is quite a long distance from town to you must take a taxi. Locals are not allowed in the marina at all, so people tended to wait at the top of the stairs by the entrance. This is where we met Rosa. Rosa lives in a small green house across the road from the marina, with her husband and 3 children. Rosa offered to do our laundry and so all three boats brought their laundry to her. That was a lot at once but we told her to take her time, there was no rush and tomorrow or the next day would be fine for pickup. As she finished she would come over to the railing at the top of the stairs and whistle to who-evers laundry was done. We asked her what we owed and she said "whatever you think is fair". We offered her $12 and she said that was fine (we had two big bags of laundry). Everyone else paid her either $10 or $12 as well depending on how much laundry they had. It was all hand-washed, dried on the line and folded when we got it. Rosa then wanted to thank us for giving her the opportunity to do our laundry and invited all of us back to her house the following day for supper with the family. The next night we were treated like special guests when we showed up for Rosa's chicken dinner. She is a great cook and the food was simple but very flavourful. We had chicken legs in a tomato/onion/garlic sauce with rice and beans and a salad consisting of tomatoes and cucumber (don't look for lettuce in Cuba). We also got to meet her family. Rosa's husband works in the city but him and the oldest son are into everything. Pachito (the son) arranged all of our taxis for us, got us black-market cigars and rum. But he also helped us provision. The first thing you have to know about Cuba is there two currency system. Tourist use Cuban Convertible Pesos or CUC. Locals use the standard Cuban Peso or CUP. The exchange rate between the two is 25 to 1. One CUC is approximately $1 US. $1 US is also $26.5 CUP. Tourists are not supposed to have CUP. So Pachito would take some CUC from me, get them exchanged to CUP, and then buy our groceries for us. He took us to the best markets, best bakeries and best places to get beer and rum. I couldn't believe how much he could buy for $10 CUC! Pachito's friend was our taxi driver. He is not an official taxi and if pulled over we had to claim he was a friend and we were not paying him. For that, we paid $10 CUC, round trip and he drove us for the entire day to every market that we wanted to go to. His car on the other hand left a lot to be desired. It was a 80's era Lada with most of the parts missing. Nothing on the dash worked, one windshield wiper worked but the blade was shot, you could see the road under your feet and if you needed to open the windows he had to pass around the one handle to roll them down. If was kind of comical until we asked how much a car like that cost in Cuba. He said if he was to sell it as is, he could get $12,000 CUC for it! Just because the engine worked.
After a week in Santiago de Cuba, it was time to move on. Snickers had already left to meet their son in Cienfuegos, Derek and Marialyn were heading east for Turks and Caicos before doing a transatlantic back to home, and we were anxious to start our journey on the south coast of Cuba.