The Adventures of CS33 Borean
2003 - 2004


Instalment 6 - December 22nd, 2003
Marina Hemmingway, Havana, Cuba 

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(Occationally, editorial comments from Don of S/V Destiny Calls, host of this web site and southern waters frequenter, will appear in green italic)


Sixth Installment
(A reminder please do NOT send images by email. Only send TEXT!!!)


HOLA DE HABANA again!


Hola Folks
I would like to start this off with an apology as to the quality of the pictures, it seems that I hit a button on the camera that reduced the resolution, and I was only aware of this after I had downloaded them to the computer.

When we last wrote we were in Havana. We are now back in Havana. Janette and I, and a few other boaters were waiting on a weather window to move. Our destination was west from here, Bahia Honda (which means slingshot not Japanese name) and then on to Cayo Levisa, which is towards the western end of the Island. The day came when the weather was going to be right for us, in between two cold fronts, and giving us enough time to make our destinations. As required I went to make the arrangements at the Port office to ready the paper work for an early morning departure only to be told that we were not permitted to leave and head west that day.

The reason we were told was that the Cuban Coast Guard were holding some sort of naval exercise and no traffic was permitted to traverse the waters in that direction. Having had been here for a while and wanting to see other parts of the country we were disappointed to say the least. The weather window was closing and if we couldn’t leave the next morning we would have to stay and wait it out. Fortunately we were allowed to leave the next day.

The bureaucracy dealt with, we headed for Bahia Honda, which would be only an overnight stay. The sky was hazy and the wind was from the south east at about 15 knots. Once outside the channel from the marina we hoisted our sails and turned the engine off.We pointed the boat on our course , and let the auto pilot take us to Bahia Honda. It was an easy sail and Janette and I just sat back, turned up the music and watched the scenery go by.

A couple of hours out of Santa Fe and the landscape changed drastically. The low lying land cedes to some very impressive mountain ranges said to be one of the prettiest areas off all Cuba (province of Pinar del Rio). It certainly looked very rugged. Given the haze that hung over them, they did look like the Smoky Mountains in the US. We found our entrance to the harbour and made our way slowly to the Guarda Frontera dock. We were told to go out and anchor and wait till someone would come on board. They rowed out to us in a very old boat. Checking the water depth visually (as our depth sounder is not working right) we dropped our secondary anchor. Letting the boat fall back and putting the engine in reverse we immediately started to drag. We tried a second time again with poor results. With Janette at the helm I dropped our primary and it also just sat there limply on the bottom without digging in….this is how we spent the evening. Luckily there was no breeze, yet we still managed to drift from our position.

Bahia Honda could be a very pretty anchorage, with the view of the mountains to the south , and some comfortable anchorages near the entrance, but it is a graveyard for disused ships. Scattered onshore are the rusting hulks of costal traders waiting the torch to be turned into scrap metal for further use. There are some ships also at anchor waiting their turn for a space to open up for their ultimate destruction.

The following morning shortly after our appointed time the Guarda Frontera once again boarded the boat for the customary paper work and inspection of the boat. I really don’t know what they could have been looking for, as we had spent the night in front of their dock without visitors and we did not leave the boat. There is still an air of paranoia here. That day was not to be the pleasant outing we had the previous day. The edge of the front was upon us and we had the wind directly on the nose(on the bow). They were fairly strong winds, and some waves slammed in to us so hard that we literally stopped dead in the water. Thankfully it wasn’t too far to go and were out of the worst of it six hours later.

Traveling through foreign waters can be quite exhilarating, not only for the scenery but also for ourselves. A job well done still remains a job well done. There are two entrances one can use to gain access to the lee of Cayo Levisa, and both are strewn with reefs that extend far off from shore. We used the eastern entrance which is wider, but also has more sandy shoals to navigate through. Janette checked the charts and would give me lat and long coordinates for me to steer to: she also would go to the bow and look for the differences in water color, which would tell her where the shallows were. It took us an hour to navigate our way through the sand bars and drop the anchor off the dock at Cayo Levisa. Here we checked in with the local Guarda who need a dinghy (ours) to get to the boat. We were the taxi.. A well deserved beer was quaffed soon thereafter.

Other than the boats that service the small resort, we were the only boat at anchor, and it did not take them long to come over and seek any boat part or piece of hardware that I could spare. The first request I got was for a water impeller, for one of the big diesels on board their boats. I found one of the same size but with a different size hub. This did not seem to bother them as they really are geniuses when it comes to adapting, adjusting and amending. The following day one of the captains called me over to the dock (they are not allowed to board our boats) and asked me if I had any bolts for his transmission coupling.

He showed me what he needed to replace and I told him I had no such part, but that he was welcome to go through all the nuts and bolts I had. This he did with great zeal and found some that would suit his needs. We were rewarded the next day- 2 sweet and delicious pineapples and potatoes that seems to be taro root were given to us. These people do not forget easily any kindness shown to them. They are very grateful. The following day one of the boats arranged a fishing trip with some of the guests at the resort. One of the crew came in the dark of night alongside the boat to ask me if I had a fishing rod for their expedition as they did not have any. I gladly lent them our rod as well as 2 Cuban reels I have onboard. I wonder what they would have done had I not had anything? For the loan of the gear, we were once again rewarded with some cooked lobster that was prepared by one of the crew’s grandmother, five fresh red snapper (the gills were still moving), and two papayas.

One day we explored the island to see what was there. A typical resort with cabanas, walk ways, little store, restaurant and bar. The activities advertised were snorkeling, diving and lounging on the beach. The waters were active but the beach was very long and the sand was very white. The only flotsam was loose turtle grass. So we came back another sunny day when the winds were less to walk the beach. It was a very pleasant walk. The hermit crabs were everywhere looking for new shells to move into. We sat in lounge chairs nor far from the bar and read while drinking mohitos (rum drink). It is paradise even if it is man made and we were not alone.

We went in for dinner the second night there to try out the food. Well our expectations were not high but we thought that it would be better. There is no spice, no pepper no salt and therefore little flavor. We met a couple from Montreal at the bar and joined them for dinner. They advised that the grilled fish was the best choice which I had. Dinner was very pleasant. We invited Michel and Paule to dine on our boat for dinner. It was not the fare from the resort! We had appetizers of warmed brie with garlic and chopped ham with crackers followed by pasta with a rose sauce. The wine was not great! All in all they enjoyed seeing how we lived on board. We found out later that we have mutual friends. How small this world is! Paule likes carrots and fresh fruit so I gave her some ripe papaya, grapefruit and carrots. She was very glad with these since the restaurant did not have any papaya to serve.

We wanted to go to the mainland but were told there is nothing to see and that you needed to go to Vinales to see something of interest. We inquired again and arrangements were made (permission from the guarda to leave the boat and go to the mainland) for us to go with one passenger boat at 10 a.m. and return at 1:30 p.m. We took a back pack with water and our presents (tooth paste, brushes, gum, soap, pens etc.) and we off. At the dock is a tourist reception area for the visitors for Cayo Levisa with a few new buildings. We walked out past these and made our way along a paved road. We saw the mountains, the valleys, a lake and large fields.

There was a lot to see if you are interested in farming and the people of the land. I had never seen pineapple fields and now I did. We saw rice being dried on large blankets beside the road with a farmer walking on the rice with rubber boots to remove the outer husks. The earth is the color of rust more red than the soil in Prince Edward Island. A field of beans was growing next to the pineapples. On the other side was a large area for papaya trees, after that a banana field. I also looked at the wild flowers.

By the time we were five minutes out on our walk we were asked by Mateo if we wanted to have lunch at his home. We gave him some presents. We readily agreed knowing that it would cost us US $. That is understood. But the experience would be worth it. Lunch was for noon. So we continued on our walk.

The animals we saw were many. The first ones were bulls in a field. We hoped that they were tethered to a pole in the ground and they were thank goodness! We did not see the cows but we did see the milking parlor. It was an orange grove with all the requirements for milking the 15 cows. I still did not find out how the milk was collected and shipped. All beef and cows are the property of the government. So the milk belongs to the government. All other animals are privately owned. Then we saw free roaming roosters and chickens, as well as sheep, goats, small black pigs and one white thin horse. And we saw a few dogs but no cats.

On the way we saw old tractors pulling wagons of old papaya trees as well as two oxen ready to pull carts. Animals do not require gasoline or diesel and are the choice for many. At the resort oxen pull a cart to move things around on the island.

Our walk ended at the local school for grades one, two and three. It was a building divide into two classrooms with two male teachers. We just wanted to look but we were invited in to the classrooms. We were asked to look at the written work of the children and to look at the teachers book. The students at 6 years old are cursive writing! I noticed that they sharpen the pencils with double sided razor blades! Each child had one. Here I thought of what our children waste in Canada. I gave the teachers glue sticks, pens and a few other items.

The teachers were proud to show us the 27” televisions and the computers, one of each in each classroom. Unfortunately I had given away most of the pencils by now, but we promised we would send packages of lined paper and pencils upon our return to the boat. In each class were distributed a piece of sugarless gum to each child and the teachers too as well as the mother who was looking in the window. Jim took a photo of me with the teachers in front of the school. What a sight to see! I really enjoyed this short visit. We have the name of the teacher to send the photo as well maybe we can follow up and send them some school suppliesl later on.

We walked back to our lunch house through the yard and were met by a young man. He showed us the large pigs in pens and the free range turkey. We were invited to sit down while they ladies finished making our lunch. We declined and told them we wanted to see the place. The roof is thatched palm leaves. The kitchen is at the back of the house with an outside covered area The floor was cement. There is no glass in the windows. The closures are wood. All is very tidy and clean. An orange tree grew in the front of the house.

A three year old child lived there and she was quite a handful. There was a refrigerator, television and sound system in the dining and living area. They had set a table for us like a restaurant. Tablecloth with simple flat bowls were on the table. We had asked for chicken. So we were served fried chicken with white rice, frijoles (black beans), sliced cabbage with tomatoes, fried banana chips and fresh papaya. The drink was fresh squeezed orange juice. There was enough to feed four persons. Jim gave the head of the house the money for the lunch ($20us). And they gave us 8 fresh grapefruit and a ripe papaya. We were escorted back by Mateo. All in all it was a very special experience to eat in their home. Worth the money!

Having been sated for a look at the countryside, we once again were waiting for a weather window to return to marina Hemingway. The radio reception here was pretty poor and towards the end of our stay was pretty nonexistent due to static. I was relying on Mario, a captain onboard one of the resort boats. He would look at how the hair on his arm would bristle to determine the weather, deciding if it would be fair or foul. Our day of departure was to be on Wednesday December 17. On Tuesday morning, Mario, on his early morning run to the mainland stopped by our boat and told us that today was the day to go, as a front was going to move in the following day. It was 07:00 and Janette was still asleep. I unceremoniously woke her up and told her to get ready as quickly as possible so that we could get underway. I hopped into the dinghy to go ashore so that we could get our clearance papers to leave.

With the Gaurda personnel onboard the engine on the dinghy refused to start. After numerous pulls on the cord I decided to row back to the boat. With paperwork dealt with we readied the boat, hoisted the now working engine, put the dinghy up on the davits and stowed away all the loose gear. We finally got under way by 08:00 and promptly hit a shifting sand bar shortly there after. We finally got ourselves off with an audience watching us from the dock. Not wanting to waste daylight hours we quickly motored out to sea, having had the experience of going through the reef opening on our way in. The winds were fairly light early in the morning and we were beating into the wind. Our objective was to make it back to marina Hemingway that day, bypassing Bahia Honda, so we motor sailed all the way. The day went by with nothing to do but make sure everything was operating well.

Around 17:00 I noticed a few dolphins playing around our boat, they stayed with us for about 5 minutes and went on their way. A half hour later I noticed on the bow of the boat 30 to 40 dolfins heading straight for us. They were all leaping out of the water sometimes jumping as high as ten feet, it was quite a sight to see. We have been lucky enough to see dolphins nearby on all of our sailings so far, but never in this number. These dolphins were with us for quite a longtime and we were both in awe as to their antics and playfulness, scooting to and fro in front of our bow, and then they suddenly disappeared.

It was now 18:00 and the sun had set 15 minutes earlier with darkness creeping up on us. I had a waypoint for the outer marker of the marina, but I had a hard time locating it through the binoculars with all the clutter of lights on shore. We were almost upon it when finally we saw it, which led us to the entrance to the harbor. Once past the first 2 sets of lights we knew we were passed the reefs and entered in total darkness……another job well done. We had to tie up to the Guarda dock once again for the formalities , but most of the faces we encountered were familiar ones . Most of the time was spent chatting about our trip; they were glad to see us back.

We will spend a few days here , probably to a day trip to the city of Trinidad and then head for Miami for New Year’s. Then we will be heading off to the Abacos in the northern Bahamas for a few months.

Till next time .Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone….this is when we miss you all the most.


to read past instalments, click here to go:

to the 2003 - 2004 Borean log list


E-Mail Jim and Janette

of S/V Borean