Havana, Cuba -- 12/99 - 1/00

 

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* The Bahama Islands  
* Bimini in the Bahamas  
* Gulf of Mexico  

Our Plan

Well, here we are finally, after first waiting three months for the delivery of the motor yacht "Outrageous Conduct" and then nearly four months of re-fitting her for our purpose of long range travel, video & photography, scuba diving and water sports, we are to post the first of a new series of Trip Reports! These stories are ones reflecting on our voyages and adventures on the M/Y "Outrageous Conduct".  
   

The M/Y "Outrageous Conduct"
undergoes a major refit!

At this point our plan is to head east early next year, passing through the Bahamas to Turks & Caicos, then south to the Dominican Republic moving west along the coast of Cuba, dropping down to the Cayman Islands and perhaps Jamaica, back up to Cuba, westward to Cozumel, Mexico and then follow the coastline along Central and South America. But I am getting ahead of myself!



First Bimini

  We departed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where we had performed most of the work on the yacht to Miami to do a fast shakedown run to Bimini, a small set of islands in the Bahamas. We left with a full crew, that is Chris and myself commanding the vessel and two deck hands, Shaun and Simon. We hired these South African boys as day laborers some weeks ago as we worked on the re-fit and eventually agreed to take them on as crew for our sojourn. Also accompanying us were two quests, Connie and her cat Boo-Boo.

Simon & Shaun

   
The course was eastward to Bimini across the Gulfstream, an area in the Atlantic of strong southernly currents which frequently causes high swells and rough seas. The yacht handled well but rolled considerably from the side swells. Unfortunately, this motion of the ocean caused significant discomfort for the passengers and to a lesser extent, our somewhat inexperienced crew. I don't believe I ever seen a seasick cat before!  
   

Poor Boo-Boo!

We arrived in Bimini after a short crossing of only six hours or so, tied off to the Government dock and cleared Customs and Immigration. Our arrival was noted by the island's inhabitants, many of whom ventured to the dock to view "Outrageous Conduct" and chat with us. We passed the remaining hours of the afternoon and evening exploring the scant town and readying for departure in the morning.

We planned to move south to
Cat Cay, which I had visited several years earlier on "Sea Fever". In itself, it is not a very exciting place but is in close proximity to several dive sites where I was sure we would be able to experience dolphins and sharks, up close and personal.

Unfortunately, the weather turned a bit worse and though we arrived outside Cat Cay on schedule, the discomfort of the passengers and crew was such that Chris and I opted to return to Miami rather than anchor out for several days in the swells further subjecting them to seasickness. We headed west for Miami at faster clip than our run to Bimini and made Miami shortly after dark.

Our goal of an open ocean sea trail of "Outrageous Conduct" was successfully accomplished even though we weren't afforded the fun stuff of fishing and diving. We were safe at dock, the yacht proven and we about to depart for Havana, Cuba for the Christmas Holidays!



Back at Miami

As we provisioned for several months in Cuba, a number of packages containing clothing and household goods arrived from some readers and visitors of "Ocean Photos". These kind people had read my earlier accounts of the Cuban people and wished to send their contributions with us, which we were proud to do.

  Even a dock hand working at the Marina in Miami, upon learning we were Havana bound put together a large parcel of canned goods, cookies, batteries and other items hard to purchase in Cuba for family he has there. He presented us with their address and a plea to find a way to deliver his gifts to them.

Concered for his family in Havana

   




Havana Bound

So provisioned and bearing gifts, we departed Miami for Key West in calm seas. Arriving Key West at dusk we tied off at the fuel dock and topped off our tanks with diesel and obtained permission from the Dockmaster to spend the night there with the proviso we be off the dock at dawn. Perfect timing for us as we anticipated about an eight hour run to Havana and wished to arrive with daylight to spare allowing an easier approach to Port.


We made off early in somewhat heavier seas and seven hours later were off the coast of Cuba however the coastline did not look right. The city skyline was missing and the terrain too mountainous to be correct! An examination of our charts and navigational software showed a computer glitch had given us a waypoint some thirty miles east of our destination. We made the necessary course corrections and cruised the coastline to Havana's Marina Hemingway making our entry early in the evening.

Clearing Customs, Immigration, and the seeming less endless parade of Cuban Officials requires hours of patience and paperwork, however Chris and I have been though this before and understanding the drill as normal, approached the task without the anxiety that is present the first time through it.

As the evening wore on, we were informed the process would be completed in the morning and we were remain on the Customs dock until then and not permitted to leave the yacht. This suited us fine as we were exhausted and prepared a simple meal and went straight to our bunks to start anew in the morning.

  Once we were completely cleared in, we moved deeper into Marina Hemingway to a permanent dock space which was to be our home for the coming weeks. We were located on the most northern channel with a good view of the ocean and plenty of open space between us and the next channel.

The Northern Channel

   
Marina Hemingway is a closed compound as are all Cuban marinas meaning no nationals may enter without official business or very special permission. This provides a very safe environment for transient boats but offers no exposure to the Cuban people or culture. For this, one must venture outside the compound to the small suburb of Jaimantias or ride into Havana proper some fifteen minutes away.  
   

"Outrageous Conduct" in
Marina Hemingway

Havana is an interesting mix of Cuban lifestyle and traditions but is somewhat influenced by the large number of tourists passing through to visit places of historical interest such as the Forts or Old Havana. I find it lacking somewhat of the Cuban lifestyle I embrace of small towns, familiar faces and friendly openness.

None the less, while in Marina Hemingway Chris and I ventured into the city several times a week to pass the afternoon and evenings enjoying the street life, cafes, bars and music and often just sitting the local parks, smoking cigars and chatting with the locals. Our crew members, Shaun and Simon lack basic Spanish skills so we treated them to a guided tour organized by the Marina for tourists which they thoroughly enjoyed.

We made contact with the Miami Dockhand's family and delivered his package for which they were eternally grateful offered us their hospitality. We passed a pleasant time sipping good Cuban coffee and chatting with then about their lives in Cuba and the feelings they had about the US and their relatives there.

We decided after several days, since the boat was well set in the Marina, the crew now familiar with the surroundings and weather good, it was an excellent time to venture south to Cienfuegos where Chris and I have many friendsand adopted families. We've been there many times in the past (see the other Trip Reports) and it is our favorite of Cuban cities. It was here we wished to distribute the donations we had carried from the United States.  
   

Me & My Adopted Family!

 

Distributing the Donated Gifts

 

We hired a taxi for the four hour drive south and upon our arrival commenced a fiesta that lasted for days. The gifts were distributed, friendships renewed and all too soon it was time to return to Marina Hemingway to ensure the safety of "Outrageous Conduct".

  We made the trip back with two good friends of some years, Alex and Yasmell. Before departure from Havana we had spent some time with the Harbor Master and Marina Chief and secured provisional permission for them to join us on the yacht for a week as "day laborers".

Alexis & Yasmell

   

This was a very special treat for them and we all enjoyed fine times of music, good food (to which they were not accustomed), games and sightseeing. Alas, before the week was over we were told they had to leave and no matter what protests were made, the decision was final. Such are the ways of Cuba.



Return to the US

Following the holiday season it was time to return to Ft. Lauderdale. We had an appointment with a ship yard to haul "Outrageous Conduct" out of the water to paint the hull and perform some last minute changes before our long term departure from the US. During the time we were dry docked we were to travel to Las Vegas for the Dive Equipment & Manufacturers Association trade show (DEMA). This is the largest trade show of the year and we needed to make some contacts and purchases to complete our preparations to leave.

We prepared to depart however the weather turned most harsh and heavy winds blew 20 - 30 knots everyday for two weeks. We grew increasingly anxious we would not be able to keep the schedule for the shipyard or the trade show in Las Vegas.

Finally, the winds let up a bit and we fueled the yacht, moved to the government dock and arranged for clearance first thing in the morning. We departed at dawn into the still rough seas from the many days of high winds and made about 25 uncomfortable miles before encountering the Gulfstream.

  Almost immediately, the ocean wells increased from six feet to ten causing "Outrageous Conduct" to roll 45 degrees side to side. The pitch placed an extreme strain on our 14 foot inflatable tender, "Outrageous Too" which was mounted high on the fly bridge in a cradle of two supports.

The tethers holding her in place began breaking free and she slid back and forth threatening to go over the side. Still attached to the davit's boom, she would have launched over the side and then swung back like a pendulum to our side, placing the yacht at extreme risk.

The Tender; High and at Risk

   

Walking was almost impossible, repairs out of the question. Chris and I consulted quickly and reluctantly agreed our only option was to return to Havana and make repairs and once again wait out the weather.

We arrived late evening and though cold and exhausted, spent the night repairing the cradle and trying to rig a strap system to hold the tender in place. Lacking parts on board and none available in Cuba, we made do the best we could by securing it with as many ropes as we could get on her.

Once again, we departed at dawn and made our way to Key West in moderate seas without too much more difficulty. We cleared into US Customs and Immigration without trouble, prepared an evening meal and now much behind schedule left Key West at nightfall to move up the coast to Ft. Lauderdale in a desperate attempt to be in the shipyard for our 8:00am haul out commitment.

We did not anticipate the series of squalls we encountered as we bucked the Gulfstream northward. Coming down the eastern seaboard, they delivered freezing rain, driven directly at us, interupted only by the waves breaking over the bow and drenching the fly bridge every five seconds. Visibility was zero and our radar, though hampered by the weather showed us a number of vessels in close proximity to us and also in the same dire situation we were experiencing.

We continued on, all eyes peering into the rain, trying to part the night enough to identify and avoid collision with other vessels. By 3:00 am we were approaching the waypoint to enter the Inter-coastal Waterway and though upon it, were still unable to see even 100 feet. Without sightings of the channel buoys to lead us to safe harbor we motored slowly back and forth offshore until finally a buoy was sighted and we entered the calmer waters of the Inter-coastal to make our way up the river to the shipyard.

We arrived at dawn and set to work to ready "Outrageous Conduct" for the Travel Lift to haul us and after another full day without sleep were finally able to rest in a nearby motel; us secure in a warm bed, "Outrageous Conduct" secure in dry dock and we were content in the knowledge we would actually make DEMA, several days late but before it closed.  

 

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2001 John Petrak