Monday, November 28, 2005

The Real Cuba III

The Real Cuba III

After a week at the Marina Hemmingway we obtained a “Despacho” (cruising permit) to continue sailing eastward along the Cuban north coast with stops at various anchorages. Most countries require “despachos” to keep track of foreign cruising boats along their coasts and this includes the U.S. We left for the first leg late in the afternoon to take advantage of the lighter trade winds which blow from the east during the night. The distance to Varadero was 65 nautical miles. We were constantly shadowed by a mysterious darkened motor launch and entered Marina Chapelin the next day about noon after being escorted in by a motor launch sent out by the marina. The employees of the marina were extremely helpful and friendly even to inviting us to a “night club” performance at one of the nearby tourist hotels as well as a Cuban ice cream parlor. Afterwards we decided to dine out and got in the long line at the only restaurant that was open. After several minutes the management discovering that we were foreigners escorted us past the line of waiting Cubans to a table. We were embarrassed by this treatment in the “workers paradise” but no one seemed disturbed.

We continued eastward anchoring at several beautiful coves and arrived at Puerto Padre, anchoring near the commercial dock to check in. We noticed that the local ferry was traveling more than a mile from its route in order for the passengers to view the “strange blue sail boat” flying the U.S. flag and its Canadian companion. No one had seen a U.S. flag vessel in Puerto Padre in living memory.

The bus trip to Puerto Padre was about 30 min. and gave us the opportunity to meet many friendly and curious Cubans including one old man who refused to believe that I was in fact an American. I produced my Los Angeles County Sheriff retirement badge and ID and he simply shook his head and walked away muttering “why would you want to visit Cuba?” to which I replied: "to meet charming people such as you and your grandson".

We continued eastward to the village where we intended to turn northward to sail to the Bahamas. I rowed the local commissar and a soldier out to the anchored boat to examine our paper work. Upon coming aboard he insisted that I take down the American flag which flew from the staff on the stern. I refused and indicated the Cuban courtesy flag that was flying from the ensign halyard on the starboard spreader. He examined all the papers and found them in order but again ordered me to take down the American flag. I refused and at this time the soldier interrupted stating that it was the ships flag and displaying it was indeed proper. This seemed to settle the issue and they returned ashore. The next morning at dawn we weighed anchor, waived farewell to the local guard tower and sailed the 70 miles to the Bahamas. This last out of the way village was the only occasion where the official representative was less than friendly. For the most part the officials bent over backwards to be helpful. In one anchorage the crew of one patrol boat gave us gifts of fish and fruit.

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