By Ray Oliver | CubaCruising.net
As a lad growing up in Newcastle, England, I read the novels of Ernest Hemingway and imagined traveling the world, with Cuba being one of my dream destinations. After sailing the Atlantic in 2000, and landing in Barbados, I knew that one day I would have to travel north to see Havana for myself. This is the story of that misadventure.
My boat Cymar, an 11-meter Amel Kirk I bought 10 years previously in Port Carmargue, Southern France, carried me across the Atlantic. I cruised the Med with my wife, until she died six years ago. Since then, I have sailed alone most of the time. A 66-year-old yacht master, I have worked for Sunsail in the Solent and Canaries during the summer months, returning to Cymar to winter in the Caribbean.
After a bout with cancer in summer 2001 and a subsequent successful recuperation, I was fit to sail my lovely boat again. Cuba here I come!
I sailed through St. Martin, the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One of my favourite places in the Caribbean is Luperon, near Puerto Plata. I spent some time there and so didnu2;019t make it to Cuba that year. Luperon was a safe, cheap place to leave the boat, so I returned to England to build up the sailing kitty.
Cymar on the hard, North Coast of Cuba.
I set sail for Cuba on January 8, 2004. Good trade winds and currents took me northwest, but within a few days, a cold front with strong north winds and big swells was forecasted, so I didnu2;019t stop in Haiti as planned. I sailed two good days and nights along the coast of the Dominican Republic, Haiti then on to Cuba
Exhausted, I arrived in Baracoa, which, according to my pilot book, was a port of entry. As I was dropping anchor there, the Cuban Port Authority ordered me to leave and go to Puerto de Vita, the new port of entry. After explaining my need for sleep and that foul weather was expected, they allowed me to stay for a few hours. Next morning, they ordered me to leave, despite bad weather.
After an exhausting day and night in enormous swells, I was still about six miles from my way point to Puerto de Vita. The mainsail snagged as I tried to reef it in, and the boat drifted inshore without my realizing. Motor sailing was difficult, as the waves repeatedly pummeled Cymar and thrust her across a reef. With the cockpit awash, I ran aground about 50 meters from shore.
Mayday! Mayday! I grabbed bag, money and passport and had to leave my beloved Cymar at 9 am on Monday, January 12.