L O G B O O K - by John Philp



A CUBAN ARRIVAL (From the British Virgin Islands)


MON 10th APRIL - Tau is anchored in Sopers Hole on the western end of Tortola, BVI. Sopers is home to part of the one hundred and seventy yacht Sunsail company charter fleet. The charter fleet is established at a small marina, part of a pretty wooden dock, boardwalk, restaurant, and bar area painted in gay Caribbean colours. It’s an attractive bay town - and tiny - without the Sunsail company it would almost cease to exist.

Part of the gang walks over to Apple Bay on the other side of the island and visits the Bomba Surf Side Shack, famous for it’s full moon parties, though the tourist guide didn’t say anything about the collection of underwear hanging from the rafters! It would make an interesting story...

When we launched the tender we’d dropped a bolt out of it into the water so Sefo and I scuba dive under the yacht to look for it. We not only find the bolt but a fishing lure, t-shirt, towel, hair band, spray painters mask, and one of those plastic handles with suction cups on it used for lifting floorboards. If we’d had more air we would have ventured underwater towards the main anchorage to look for more stuff. I need a new pair of sunglasses...!

TUE 11th - We got up before sunrise this morning to get Kristy’s friend Tami to the airport for her flight back to Idaho.

After lunch we sail five miles to Jost Van Dyke island, which takes it’s name from a Dutch pirate. The Virgin Islands are a submerged chain of ancient volcanoes, steep and green and pristine. The islands sit on a shallow bank and the water between the islands is never more than 25 meters deep, lending a unique blue colour to the ocean. You couldn’t ask for more beautiful surroundings in all the world. We anchor in Great Harbour, a u-shaped bay protected from the tradewinds by steep hills on three sides. Ashore is a tiny settlement and three beach bar / restaurants. The most well known is Foxy’s - owned by a young man of that name who hosts a legendary yacht race annually. He also plays in the band each day and they say he sings a personalised calypso to each new customer that walks in.

That night lying in my cabin half asleep I overhear a couple of men rowing past our stern in a dinghy. They are wondering out aloud where Tau is from, and when they spot ‘Fiji Islands’ on the stern they keep repeating in amazement, “Wow, the Fiji Islands!”, “The Fiji Islands!” ... Their hushed words have a tone of reverence, as if we came from the most exotic, distant place in all the world. Or perhaps it was just the local rum talking.

WED 12th - We leave Jost Van Dyke in the morning, hoisting sails and bearing away to Cuba in a 20 knot NE tradewind. The sea is rather short, pitching us about violently. No matter how hard you try it always makes you feel like a baby learning to walk. St Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands passes by, then fades on our port side. By dinner time the loom of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan is a hazy glow off the port beam.

THUR 13th - It’s a beautiful day. The wind is still up, but it’s swinging behind us now causing the boat to roll about so we steer north towards the Bahamas to keep the wind at a comfortable angle. Our new course is taking us over towards the shallow Navidad Bank so we keep an especially keen eye on our position after dinner. The Dominican Republic passes fifty miles off our port side.

FRI 14th - We are still north of our planned course, this time straying towards the Silver Bank, a whale calving ground off the Bahamas. At daybreak we gybe to port heading once again for Cuba. The wind rises to 30 knots at dusk and we reef both the mainsail and the genoa, as we expect more wind in the night. For the moment the wind is flattened out by the strong wind and we’re barreling along, putting a generous number of miles under the keel.

SAT 15th - By daybreak the wind is beginning to ease and eventually leaves us completely bringing us to a rude stop. It’s very hot. We drop the sails and motor on. Cuba is quite clear now - a long and featureless monolith of chocolate bar dimensions baking in the relentless sun. Despite my secret speculations that Cuba would be a sinister or exotic looking island it is astonishing in it’s normalcy. As we draw closer we can make out the steep limestone cliffs formed by tectonic plates tilting the island up on it’s northern side.

Soon we are nosing through a narrow rocky entrance into Baracoa, the original capital of Cuba, where the Spanish began their planned conquest in 1512. On our left is the seawall protected town. A vintage Russian Antonov biplane sits on the airstrip on our right. The town looks deserted, with no road traffic, and the buildings are mostly grim, faded, concrete boxes. A couple of prominent billboards wring some theme from The Revolution. A primitive, dense village sits sleepily on the dark sand beach that rings the bay. A horde of people frolic in the water. We must have made quite an impression as most of the town stops to look as we sail in. There are no other yachts in the bay, just a couple of Cuban trawlers and scores of small wooden fishing boats.

Six officials come out in a rowboat they commandeer off the wharf. They have a look around the yacht, stopping for the longest time to flick through an American magazine on my desk. Finally, we’re informed that they cannot clear us into the country here and we would have to go to another port for our Cuban cruising permit. They could have told us this at the very moment they boarded us, I hazard a guess that they were fishing for a bribe, or just wanted to have a look around the yacht. With reluctance, we haul up the anchor and set off for Bahia de Vita - 110 miles away.

SUN 16th - A couple of large luxury resorts sit on gorgeous white sand beaches on the approaches to Bahia de Vita. We motor a kilometer down a narrow winding channel, which opens out into a bay and off this is a narrow mangrove inlet and the marina. What a unique sanctuary! We drop anchor in the muddy water and back up to the concrete dock. Any apprehension about visiting a communist country is for the most part remedied by the warm welcome from the agreeable marina staff.

Dinner at the marina restaurant that night was entertaining. The steaks were tough as old boot leather, but for the price who could complain? A pasta cost a mere US$1.50! Mid-way through dinner it began to bucket rain and the staff began running about vigourously with a sqeegee, shifting the water from around our table. There were no walls in the restaurant you see. We should have taken the hint from the rain as after dinner when we went to town to the La Roca nightclub we discovered it completely empty. There are few cars here and everyone catches the bus or hitches, in this heavy rain no one wanted to venture outside!

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