We left Ragged Island the morning of the 17th. Wind out of the north was expected to fill in and then build to about 23 knots by Friday. My plan was to ride the northernly across the Columbus Bank and then scoot around the eastern tip of Cuba before the wind got up to the mid-twenties. This was mostly successful as the wind finally intensified on the southern side of the shipping lanes, south of Punta Masi (the eastern tip of Cuba). It did blow near thirty the night of the 18th. I think the localized wind coming off the mountains of Cuba combined with the forecasted wind is what was responsible for the higher than expected wind. Anyway, we reached at 6 knots under staysail toward Guantanamo Bay and by morning we were adjacent to the infamous base. I wondered what the political sentiments were of the people that wrote the Navionics chart we were using as it said “ Illegally occupied Cuban territory” in the notes over the Guantanamo Naval Station.
We stayed about 6 miles offshore while passing the navel base. Honestly I was more worried about running in with my own country’s patrol boats than the Cuban “Guarda Frontera”. I left the AIS on and transmitting the entire time, partly to keep us visible to all the shipping traffic and partly to remove any ambiguity over who we were in this much contested stretch of coast.
However in what will be a recurring theme in this post, my worrying was for nothing. We neither heard or saw a patrol boat from either country on the entire passage over. (I’ve heard wild-eyed stories from other cruisers to the contrary) We were just going to make it into Santiago Harbor that evening and we motored the last few hours as the local afternoon wind was shifty and frustrating. As we approached the entrance it was framed by an old fort on one side and a mountain range on the other. It was an impressive, intimidating site. We rounded the first red marker, (Cuba conforms to the three R system, red right returning) and as we took up a course toward the harbor the scene was surreal. We were really headed into a place where few cruising boats and even fewer American boats have ventured. I tired to call the Harbor Master and the marina as we approached, but I was not able to solicit a reply. Instead we dropped the hook right off the marina in about 25 feet of murky water. The sounds of Spanish dance music and the smell of tobacco smoke drifted through the cockpit. We had been anchored for 15 minutes when the marina called us in broken english and instructed me to put my dingy in the water and come to the marina dock. I hastily assembled Sadie and set off toward the concrete pier. I was greeted by a solider, the marina manager and the health inspector. They eyed the small hard dingy uneasily and the health inspector climbed in. She spoke little english so I smiled and tried to use what little Spanish I knew to convince her that the dingy would remain watertight during our trip. When we arrived on the boat she took our temperatures, looked through our food lockers and freezer and had us fill out 4 or 5 forms.
After everything was signed she requested we all have a beer, then pointed at the marina and then to the boat, she wanted us to up anchor and go to the dock. At this time the sun had set and I had 130ft of chain out. In the last rays of daylight I racketed up the anchor rode and we motored toward the pier. After coming along side we tied the boat up and were ushered toward the customs office. The man that handled our papers asked us if we wanted a stamp in our passports “Your president is coming here next month” he told us. We responded, “when Obama has a stamp in his passport, so will we”. After all the stories I heard about the Cuba check in process being laborious, our experience was more enjoyable than most european countries I’ve been to. Our passports were returned to us and we headed back to the boat to toast to finally arriving in Cuba.
This article was syndicated from Cruising – Beautiful Crazy Happiness