L O G B O O K - by John Philp


MON 17th APRIL - At the Marina Bahia de Vita the port office is built on a hill overlooking the yachts. You get the feeling the communist officials like this arrangement as they can keep an eye on everyone from here.

I went to the marina shop today. What an experience! The selection is very basic and you have to bring your own bag to pack your purchases in. There’s no cash register, the shop attendant keeps all the money in his pockets. Most times he has no change and will try to give you some extra product (in my case more mango’s) in lieu of change! In the city they give you lollies for change!

The English crew off the yacht Cappercallie took me along for a drive in their rental car today. Driving here is wonderful, the roads superb and traffic almost non existent. There are more horse driven carts than cars. The cars are big gas guzzling American automobiles, with ample chrome and lots of curves. At US$0.90 per litre it’s unquestionably a luxury to drive a motor vehicle here.

TUE 18th - We leave today after lunch headed west for Varadero. It is a calm sea, with a gentle 10 knot breeze. At dusk we can see a thunderstorm developing on the mainland five miles off our port side. It seems to be sucking the wind away and sure enough after nightfall the winds drops away to nothing. The ocean is sheet glass flat and we’re only making two knots. On the night watch it is extremely difficult to stay awake because the world is so silent. Time for another coffee; play that Walkman LOUD!

WED 19th - The wind is still light and the sea flat. Just north of us is the narrow Bahama Channel and beyond, the first of the low lying Bahama islands sitting on vast shallow banks that are mostly unnavigable for a yacht of our draught. Below us the northern coast of Cuba stretches in both directions until it disappears in a faint haze.

During the night on more than one occasion when we passed a lighthouse we would be radioed by the border guards and asked what our details were and what we were doing. They operate elaborate radars at each of these out posts, keeping an eye on their large neighbour to the north no doubt. And, making sure the locals don’t leave as well I suppose.

THUR 20th - It’s slow going again today. We’re passing low nondescript islands, lighthouses, and more border posts. Through the day the wind rises until it is 18 knots and we are barreling along once again.

We caught another barracuda today. We’d been worried about the risk of fish poisoning, so Monifa who is a marina science graduate examined it, pronouncing it okay. I was skeptical and announced that I was eating baked beans for dinner. Everyone else laughed. But, by 8.30pm only one of us had eaten the fish curry. Everyone else was, “Not hungry”.... even the cook, Lydia, found some excuse not to eat! But by breakfast the next day just about everyone had eaten the fish. And we’re all still alive.

FRI 21st - More low lying islands on the north coast of Cuba of no special interest. Just a blue sky, and a blue ocean... and the heat. At midday we’re sixteen miles from the resort town of Varadero - the largest such in the Caribbean, into which we motor to our marina berth at the Marina Puerto Sol.

SUN 23rd - Leisurely cruising today, on rented bicycles and a moped. Immersing ourselves in the ‘scene’. There’s a unique air about the pre-1960 American cars and their owners - a mixture of Latin pride and Al Capone machismo. They love cruising the streets in these huge wagons. You catch snippets of salsa music as they cruise by. There’s also a refined cafe culture here, good value for money if you can find a local one. On busy corners local touts whisper that they have cheap cigars for sale. You follow them down a side alley, furtive glances shooting in all directions.They are priced at a mere fraction of the price in the stores, but all of them are fakes and practically unsmokable.

The beach, twenty kilometers of it, is an attraction all to itself. The water is a stunning aquamarine, so unique in colour it’s the closest thing to swimming in champagne (without the hangover). Perhaps Castro himself would crack a smile if he went for a swim here! All along the beach are elaborate houses, some converted into bars and restaurants, and just as many empty and run down. To this day many Americans hold titles to these properties. The titles are just pieces of paper for the moment, useless while Cuba remains communist. The Dupont Mansion for instance, which was built by the wealthy American dynasty in 1930, has been converted into a golf clubhouse complex.

We set sail in the evening for Havana. A short overnight trip.

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