After exploring the interior of the Cuba at the east end we decided to head to Varadero to put ourselves in striking distance of Havana and eventually the US. In addition, we found out that Mom and Dad may come for a visit at a hotel with a marina. Leah and I decided not to tell the boys that they are coming, just that Ethan is getting a awesome birthday present that we can all enjoy.
Our plan initially was to spend a day getting the boat ready and leave early the next morning but we took longer than we thought doing our errands and getting prepared. This was partially because we met two great guys on a boat called Procoyon (I think).
Andrew, the captain, and Slaw, his green crew man, had been hired by the new owner of the boat to sail it from Florida to Venezuela where it was going to be put into charter. The plan had been to sail down the north coast of Cuba and then south across the Caribbean but the boat is actually in horrible state of repair. The first issue they discovered was the boat leaked when they tried to sail to windward so they started to motor but had to make an emergency fuel stop. The fuel was dirty and clogged the filters on the engine very quickly. By the time we met them all the filters had been used with no possibility of getting new ones in Cuba.
The emergency fuel stop meant that they would have to go to Puerto Vita to check into Cuba but on the way into the marina the steering failed and they grounded. The Cubans got them into the marina under tow and the owner had to leave to go Italy. They have been there for ten days finding and jury-rigging stuff that is broken. Then they find something else which is broken.
Delivery crews get paid by the day but the owner has stopped paying them after 10 days at the marina. They tried to leave the country but now they have been told they can’t leave because the boat is still there. Andrew thinks the Cubans are afraid they will be stuck with the boat if the crew leaves. Not a good story…
When you leave one port to go to another in Cuba you need a “despatcho” which states what port you are leaving and where you intend to head to. It is a way for the Cubans to know that you have already cleared into the country and don’t need to do it again. We got ours and pulled out of the marina at noon, fours hours later than planned due to paperwork, reworking the mooring lines and paying off marina.
We motored off the dock uneventfully and headed out to sea. As we cleared the channel the swell from the Atlantic started to roll the boat a bit. I raised the sails to moderate the motion and hopefully sail but the wind wasn’t really strong enough to shut the engine down. This was to be the story for the whole trip – little or no wind and the motor running. The silver lining of this was that for at least half the trip there was little swell.
The distance to Varadero is 320 nautical miles from Puerto Vita with one marina about half way between them at Cayo Coco to make a stop if needed. We weren’t sure whether we would stop or not, planning to play it by ear. With a speed over ground of 6 knots we would be able to reach both Cayo Coco and Varadero in the afternoon. Usually we budget for 5 knots but there is supposed to be a current that runs towards Florida on the north coast of Cuba. This current is supposed to run between 2 and 3 knots for a third of the distance we were going to travel. In addition, there is supposed to be a one knot current running about another third of the way. With 10-12 knots of wind behind us it seemed like this would be an easy down hill sail.
Well as per usual the wind was lower and the current slower so we ended up motoring about 60 out of the 62 hours. Viatori usually motors at 6 but to conserve fuel we had to run the engine slower than we would normally making our actual speed about 5 knots on average. We had a bunch of Jerry cans full of diesel but you never really know if you going to have enough when you head out. Worse than the extra time was now a landfall at Cayo Coco would be at night which is impossible to do because the channel isn’t well marked and requires you to read the water to get in.
When we were planning this passage we wanted to stop at Puerto Padre which is not far from Puerto Vita and see the Fort they have there. However, that was one of the few places we were not allowed to land in the dinghy on the north shore of Cuba because they “had some problems a few years ago”. The harbormaster wouldn’t tell us what problems only that we weren’t allowed to land there. Shoot!
Not far from Puerto Padre is the Bahia de Bariay which has a unique shaped hill which according to locals looks like a part of female anatomy.
The channel at Puerto Vita has a light house which we sailed directly away from for nearly a day. We could watch as the land around it faded away, then slowly the lighthouse slipped below the horizon. Not long after the lighthouse disappeared the sunset and our first night started. We put the boys to bed and I settled down in the cockpit with a blanket. Leah went to sleep and I set my alarms to wake me up to check the boat and the horizon through the night.
Both nights we were at sea I saw thunderstorms all around the boat which is little unnerving when you are sitting under a 50 foot lightning rod and the potential for very strong winds that come on without much warning. Despite the number of storms we only got hit by one squal the first night but the sails were already reefed so it was not a big problem. The saying goes that if you are thinking you should reef you probably should have already done it. We reef every night even though it does add time to the passage it allows you to sleep easier at night without worrying about being over canvassed if a squal hits between horizon check alarms.
The first night we sailed towards the Old Bahamas Channel and there was zero wind. The water was perfectly smooth with small waves running past us that barely moved the boat. The motor droned all night and the crew slept well. After 20 hours of motoring I topped up the fuel tanks with 10 gallons of diesel and decided to run a little harder for a while.
Viatori holds 35 gallons of diesel but the gauge doesn’t show any consumption until there is about half of the tank empty. I am told that is par for the course for boats but in my opinion that is crap. Actually it is normalization of deviation but whatever, gas gauges are new technology, boo Beneteau 😉 We motored the next 20 hours at 6 knots until the gauge started to show some consumption then we slowed back to 5 knots. This “speed run” probably saved us 4 hours on the total journey and used over a quarter of the fuel on board. We passed up the Bahamas channel and the half way point at lunch time on the second day.
While underway we try to avoid having the kids watch movies all day, so when it is calm they play. Leah will read to the boys, right now we are all enjoying Judy Blume, and for the first time while on passage we played a card game called Dominion which has become a favorite on board.
About midway up the Old Bahama Channel we set course for the marker only 20 miles from the Varadero channel entrance and for the next 24 hours slowly crawled toward it. I spent the night in the cockpit again but didn’t see a single boat that evening. The motion of the boat was less comfortable and the sleep not nearly as good as the first night. Everyone onboard is tired and we all are making an effort to be patient with each other, the boys watched more movies on the third day than the other two, mainly due to parental fatigue and an inability to play nice.
All day we sailed directly toward a large cloud system and at about supper time we hit it. Very quickly the boat was up to 8.5 kts and heeled 45 degrees. The boys were exhilarated and bouncing around the cockpit – not safe. We sent them below and I reefed the sails. We didn’t get much rain with the wind and the wind didn’t last very long either. Back to a 5kt plod.
Leah decided to stay up for the landfall which later she said was a mistake because we didn’t make our turn into the channel until about midnight. The channel took about 1 hour to follow before we stopped at the marina. It was a little unnerving because only about half the buoys had working lights and the first buoy which marks a reef was missing. Thankfully we had a full moon and the binoculars we we got from Leah’s parents were awesome for night use.
In the channel there was also a bunch of small fishing vessels that seemed to be moving around a lot which. When one would pass you could smell their food, cigars and sometimes fish. None of these vessels had offical running lights and we could see them by the wash of there working lights shinning on the decks. A customs official met us at the dock with paper work in hand. 30 minutes later it was done and we went to sleep.