We always expected the leg to be a hard uphill slog. The prevailing easterly trades set you back towards the Mexican coast as the gulf stream tugs or shunts you Northwards. Many give up trying to get East and simply drift up North, wait for a calm day and boulder their boat with engine across the Yucatan Straits. As it happened, we had predominantly South Easterlies and so managed to sail to Cuba in just about one very long and somewhat wriggly tack.
Not that it wasn't an arduous leg. Duncan; a windsurfer of old, groups wind strength into three main categories: Not enough, Just right, or Too much. For the first three days there was too much wind. Impetuous pounded along under tripple reefed main and staysail as we cowered below in the relative dryness of the cabin, composing lists of jobs that we must address before finding ourselves in similar weather again. Ruth lost weight and our ensign blew itself merrily to tatters in the howling wind.
It was a trip of two halves though; if the first three days were a good explanation of why not everyone wants to do what we are doing, then the next three days were lovely examples of why we do choose this. It was sunny, breezy and calm and nights were illuminated by the full moon; just beautiful. We got into the groove; read, cooked, dried out and cleaned up, listening to music and noticing as we saw more wildlife as we approached land; first dolphins, then a song bird rested with us a while, butterflies, a beetle then myriad bugs and birds.
Cuba felt a bit of a gamble as a destination, I'm sure everyone will come up with a different reason as to why that might be; such is the diversity of opinion on the place. We had heard mixed messages from friends and other sailors and so kept asking anyone who had been, trying to get a balanced view of what to expect. Duncan's primary concern was the tales of beaurocracy. We wondered if this would mean that to travel from one place to the next could become more hastle than it's worth. We'd heard from several people just how restrictive the authorities could be, and this had spoiled a few peoples experiences of Cuba. Ruth visited around ten years ago and had the most amazing time. It stands as one of her favourite ever trips; too short at three weeks, though she managed to see a little of the whole length of the island in that time using the Cuban transport of choice; hitchhiking. The principle concern was that if visiting by boat were to be such a headache her romantic memories might be ruined. Several reports from other sailors included that it was one of their favourite places they'd visited, despite the restrictions and so we decided there was only one way to find out.
So here we are. It's early days yet; we've been in Cienfuegos since Friday evening. Clearing in was a delight, though of course 6 officials had to inspect our boat together with two exciteable spaniels. They were polite, efficient and friendly, the only charges so far were for a visa each ($25 for 1 month) and the boat registration ($50). Of course we have yet to attempt to submit our cruising plan to the authorities we'll see what kind of reception we get then. However, first impressions count for a lot and they are unanimous;
CUBA IS FANTASTIC!
The people are friendly, kind and beautiful. The streets are clean and cared for, the roads are quiet with many cyclists, then along trundles a classic American car or just as likely a horse and cart. The food is plentiful, fresh and cheap beyond belief (of course we shop in the local markets).
The city has a rich mixture of old colonial buildings juxtaposed with art deco and more modern concrete structures, but brightly painted with well ordered gardens; surprisingly they seem to complement each other. The fast food of choice is a simple pizza which will set one back as little as 5 Peso Nacional; about 13 pence, served from the front room of a family home, with an ice cream for desert from another open door; another 3 Peso Nacional (8p or 12 US cents). Of course we haven't yet told you about the Rum... or the cigars... or the fishing... or the music....