L O G B O O K - by John Philp


MON 1st MAY - Tau is en route to Maria la Gorda bay on the west coast of Cuba. At daybreak we pass the very western point of the island - Cabo San Antonio and angle south east beating into the wind for a while before motoring the rest of the way across the bay to anchor in front of the most isolated hotel in all of Cuba - the Maria la Gorda Beach Hotel. There are two small yachts and a large dive boat already here. The water is startlingly clear, we’re looking forward to going scuba diving tomorrow.

Maria la Gorda (Spanish for fat woman) is named for a Venezuelan woman who was marooned here by pirates and turned to prostitution to survive. They still remember her fondly in these parts it seems!

There’s not much to the hotel : a dozen spartan cottages, a small restaurant, a bar. The beach is nice though, and the hotel atmosphere - restrained and tranquil, fits the mood of the peninsula, which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is a two hour drive to the next major town.

In the evening the owners of a Mexican live aboard dive boat Oceanus invite us aboard for drinks. One of them had been to Fiji before on a dive trip. The Mexicans are very hospitable. It looks like we won’t be making it to Mexico on this trip but at least we get to drink Tequila with some Mexicans! Oceanus is the first live aboard dive charter operator in Cuba. They will be making the 12 hour trip to this bay on a weekly basis from Mexico with fourteen divers aboard.

TUE 2nd - The greatest wonder of the peninsula reserve awaits us today under the ocean when we take the first of our dives. The visibility is breathtaking! Both dive sites are only ten minutes away in the dive boat. There’s no swell to speak of and the wind is offshore, you couldn’t ask for more favourable diving conditions.

To begin our afternoon dive we drop thirty five feet to the top of the reef then go vertically down into a hole, deflating our rigs and descending smoothly, letting gravity take us down. We exit the hole at ninety feet and come out on the ocean side of the reef mass. Here the bottom drops away into the infinite blue yonder, descending rapidly to over a thousand feet. We reinflate our rigs and glide along the reef face. From out of the blue a large barracuda appears to peer at us. Further on a couple of fair sized mackerel swim along lazily.

There’s a tame pelican here called Pancho that hangs out on the end of the hotel dock where the dive boats are moored. They’ve painted his beak in the colours of the Cuban national flag - red, white and blue. He likes being around people evidently. In the evening after the workers had all gone home he flew out to Tau and remained perched on top of the wheel house all night.

WED 3rd - Another beautiful day in Cuba. We’re leaving for Panama today. When the officials guys come out to clear us out of Cuba, we expect a full scale search assault on the yacht. Instead the search is rather painless, and as with most other officials in Cuba they have a request, this time for magazines. Then under way in a 12 knot easterly.

THUR 4th - Beating on a sunny port tack towards Panama in a moderate easterly breeze. Fishing is a waste of time again today as there are masses of weed floating in the water that keep fouling up the lure.

In the night, the Cayman Islands pass a hundred miles off our port side.

FRI 5th - It’s bright and sunny again today. The wind is steady and the weed has finally disappeared, maybe we’ll finally catch some fish today. Honduras passes unseen 150 miles off our starboard side. We pass over a shallow bank during the night, a long patch of water off Nicaragua 30 meters deep. Soon after we clear this last obstacle we take a more southerly bearing, heading directly for the canal.

SAT 6th - The wind has increased and moved into the north east. We’re making more speed now that we are off the wind on a close reach. We notice increasing boat traffic now, tankers passing in both directions. It’s getting warmer as we head south towards the equator.

SUN 7th - The wind is up to 18 knots, and has shifted all the way around since the beginning of this passage from the SE to the NE. There is still more traffic on the sea today - all large tankers. The distance to Panama is now roughly three hundred miles.

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