Cuba: Look but Don't Touch
23 May 2013 | 19 43'N:82 58'W, south of Cuba, NW of Cayman
Nick and I left Key West early on Monday morning, directly southbound to make a swift, perpendicular crossing of the east-flowing Florida Current (which becomes the Gulf Stream). My intention now is to make our way to Jamaica by the Yucatan Passage, west of Cuba, instead of the Windward Passage on the east side, because it seems like this western route will be more comfortable given the long range weather forecast. Our southerly course had us pointed more or less at Havana. About 30 miles north of Cuba, a US Coast Guard RIB roared up and asked permission to board. Could I say no? Ha! Two men and a woman managed to step between the two lurching craft without falling in. One asked permission to inspect our bilges to ascertain that our craft was safe for them to be aboard. The woman stood armed watch outside, while the second guy explained that we were being inspected for safety reasons, and to describe the regulations regarding the Cuban security zone and consequences f or violating them, and that these regulations were being enforced to restrict "trading with the enemy."
So now what do I do? I want to burst out laughing! The enemy?? Cuba is run by two old geezers about to kick the bucket, and Cuba's combined economic and military power is equivalent to a trailer park in Arkansas. Can we fix this law please? These laws were strengthened during the Bush era, and we know quite well that GWB had a hard time knowing who was the actual enemy. So I am staring at this guy in disbelief of what he just said, and I see a bit of an eye roll, despite his very good effort at playing a poker face. Yeah, right, I am thinking, we all know this is stupid, but you are courteous, professional, and doing your job as assigned. And my taxes are paying for 5 CG cadets to run me down 60 miles off of US territory, because it would compromise US security if I bought a Cuban cigar? Yes, folks, that's right. Security at all costs, we must be afraid, very afraid, fear tactics work so well in some play books. So I heard all about the up to $25,000 per day fine, up to 10 years in the slam, was handed copies of the regulations to read (I had to copy them myself if I wanted a copy) and was photographed holding the warnings, just to be sure. Some lines from Arlo Guthrie's Alices Restaurant were running through my mind. My personal information, boat information, etc., was carefully recorded and radioed to the mothership, even the personal information of my first-born natural child! We are in the system!!
We continued our south bound course but made sure to turn west before we crossed the 12-mile international boundary (aka "security zone") outside of Cuba, we were clearly being monitored electronically and I don't want any more swords to start quivering. We did see the Havana skyline. How cool would it be, to be able to sail there, wander the streets of old Havana, see the ship that carried the revolutionaries, see the old Chevys puffing around, have a mojito, smoke a cuban rolled right there. But for American sailors, it is a no-touch zone.
Now, we have rounded Cabo San Antonio, the westernmost point of Cuba, and are making our way upwind to Grand Cayman. This 250 mile upwind slog is rather slow, wind right on the nose and with a strong contrary current. We will probably be there around midnight, can check in in the morning, explore a bit and arrange some diving at this modern British Caribbean island. We have been invited to visit the Caymans by two residents from there whom I met in Placencia, Belize. Thereafter we will continue the upwind slog to Jamaica.