Episode Log - Florida to San Diego
Via Central America and the Panama Canal
February 2 - May 1, 2008
Subject: The Adventures on Endurance - Dateline: 2/7/08
The past week has been very exciting as we begin our adventure on Endurance leaving Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, February 2nd. We got off about 11:15am with great weather as we traveled down to Miami and into Hawk's Channel just between the ocean reef and the islands leading to Key West. The great challenge of Hawk Channel at night is to keep your heading "made good" as you're heading for the marks indicating the channel. With the GPS, radar and Nobeltec Map Chart (with GPS connection) the passage was smooth and uneventful.
We arrived in Key West about 8am and had to wait a bit for the dock master at Conch Harbor Marina to open his doors on Super Bowl Sunday. Thanks Dunk and Kim Pruett for the recommendation of the marina. It was close to every thing. Once we got in our slip and washed the boat down, we had breakfast by Chef Mark Cohen. Mark has been keeping us happy with his great food preparation. His organization and storage of the provisions that our boat will need for the most part of three months was impressive.
Robin, the former William and Mary College lineman, was in charge of finding us a location to watch the Super Bowl but before that event at 18:30 EST, we had three tickets to take the trolley train historic tour around Key West. What an amazing town that sits on a two mile by four mile island. Lots of very interesting parts of Key West - some being the end of Route #1 and the location where many Cuban refugees have landed being only 90 miles from Havana. The boardwalk around the harbor is full of tourist stuff but it was great to get off the boat and enjoy the town.
Robin contacted Key West Yacht Club and we were admitted without any problem. This venue was perfect for the Super Bowl as it was not crowded and initially did not have any loud and obnoxious fans (New York). The bar was set up with a TV and another larger screen was set up in the room next to the bar. We started out in the bar and moved to a table right in front of the large screen and enjoyed a buffet dinner while watching a very good game. The only problems were the two New York fans that were also in this room, one was drunk and the other was VERY loud. But you can't blame them as the game was very exciting and the underdog won.
The next day, Monday, February 4th, we prepared to leave by getting some last minute stuff from the stores and toping off with about 150 gals of diesel. We then went out on the hook in the anchorage about 16:00 and had dinner. At 22:00 we pulled our anchor and headed to Central America.
The breeze was up around 25 knots from the SE so it was hitting us on our forward quarter. The seas were 4-6 feet so our stabilizers were getting a workout. In the middle of the night we noticed that the rudder was making some noise similar to what we experienced in the Chesapeake Bay and then in one of our inspections of the engine room, we noticed some oil leaking from the stabilizer reservoir. This was a slight leak but we decided we should pull into the nearest marina to check out the problems.
We pulled into Marina Hemingway about 9 miles east of Habana, Cuba, at 8:30am on Tuesday, February, 5th. The customs and immigration procedure for us took about four hours with a number of "Guardians" coming aboard to inspect Endurance. The final inspection was with not one but two different drug-sniffing dogs at two different times. They inspected just about every nook and cranny on Endurance. After the initial inspections and paperwork including the confiscation of all our flares until we left, we proceeded to our slip that the dock master assigned to us. I was told because we were the only boat arriving that day that the official party was full of new trainees and they were killing time by taking their time with the procedures. They were disappointed that we said we would be leaving on Thursday morning after repairs to our steering and stabilizers.
Once into our slip, I had to go as the Captain to customs again where I waited in a small room with six officials of which three were women. I soon found out why they were all hanging out. It was pay day and the "big chief" arrived with little envelopes for the group. I bet I had to sign 10-12 forms for the entire process. But everyone was very courteous and friendly. The customs office was part of the marina although it was a long walk to everything in the marina. There was an interesting bumper sticker on the wall of the customs office. It said "Impeach Bush." I kept my mouth shut!
The marina has four long channels perfect for rowing skulls, which we saw a number of Cuban men and women practicing in the evening and early morning. The marina can hold about 400 boats and there were probably about 30 boats, 20 sailboats and 10 power boats. Most of the visiting boats were from Canada, Australia and a couple from the U.S. One U.S. boat was a new power boat that the American owner told us he comes here often coming through Bimini. The American boats tend to be fishing power boats. There is a big fishing tournament called the Hemingway Cup that attracts a number of fishing boats from the U.S. in June.
The dock master, Gabriel, met us and was very helpful. He introduced us to Nelson, a 45-year-old young man who was very familiar with boats. After talking to Nelson, I determined he could serve to help us review our steering and stabilizer issues. He also washed the boat and then drove us around Habana showing us the side of Cuba that probably many tourists don't see. We spent the good part of two days with Nelson as we walked the old parts of Habana, enjoyed drinks in Hemingway's favorite bar. This was after he inspected our issues with the boat and we determined that we could proceed with some minor adjustments.
The late afternoon of Tuesday, February 5th, we completed our car tour and walking tour of Habana with a great dinner in a "private" restaurant where Nelson had some friends. We turned in early as we were all pretty tired from our crossing to Cuba and our long day getting the boat fixed and touring Habana. Wednesday morning Nelson arrived to totally wash down the boat and then we took another tour around the outskirts of Habana ending up at Hemingway's home about 30 miles from the marina to the south of Habana. The estate was in need of much repair and there were about 20 Cuban folks in various parts of the estate to be sure tourists didn't go where they shouldn't. The home was open from the outside so you could take pictures peering through windows and doors. Hemingway's study, bedroom, living room, studio, etc. were very "Hemingwayish." About 100 yards from the main house was a project that was just getting underway. This was the refurbishing of Hemingway's old boat, "Pilar." The workers were building a framework around the boat prior to beginning the project. I suspect this will be a two year project but the old boat is sitting on stands and seems to be quite happy there.
Some observations that we made included Nelson telling us that about 75 percent of the people were not happy with the Cuban communist government but that he already has seen some small changes happening. Raul, Castro's brother, has allowed some neighborhoods to decide how they would like to do certain things. Formerly, this was never allowed. Of course the kids all get schooling and English is required. We found Gabrielle's (Dock Master) and Nelson's English quite good but for the most part the Cubans don't get to practice English so most are not very proficient. As Nelson told us, there are two types of people in Cuba: the government people and the Cuban people. The license plates on the cars tell you who are the owners: green for army, blue for government citizen, red with a cross for emergency vehicles, brown for car rentals, yellow for foreign businessman, and black for foreign diplomats.
We drove past the major hospital where Castro is in a clinic behind it apparently. Obviously no one knows exactly where he is but Nelson said the story is he is in this hospital clinic. Nelson has a wife and a six year old daughter in elementary school plus a son from a former marriage. He is optimistic about the future of Cuba. We visited among a number of places like the Hotel National where there are drawings of the famous and infamous folks that used to come to Cuba in the hay day of the 40's and 50's. You could tell from the architecture of the buildings including plazas, churches, hotels and restaurant/bars that Cuba was a really fun place before Castro.
Nelson showed us some beautiful homes that were confiscated from the "rich" Cubans that eventually fled to the U.S. and now reside mostly in Miami. These are now occupied by senior officials in the Castro government. There are two TV stations controlled by the government. The interesting thing is that there is no internet allowed by the government but you can have a cell phone and can call the U.S. with your phone. The officials that we came in contact with used computers but they only were used to fill out forms and I saw no lap tops.
Wednesday, February 6th, we went to lunch at a private (as opposed to government) restaurant. If you are allowed to have a "business," it has to be approved such as a restaurant in your home or in a commercial area. You will pay the government 51% and you get to keep 49% of your gross income to pay your bills. The restaurant we went to lunch at on Wednesday was on the coast just south of Habana. We drove into a small driveway with three guards with parking only available for about four cars. We went upstairs in the house to an area with about 15 tables. We took a table on the deck outside overlooking the ocean facing north. The food was great with an expanded menu. The waiter told us we could also have lobster and shrimp which the government doesn't allow private restaurants to sell so they can't compete with the government restaurants. Apparently these private restaurants occasionally have lobster and shrimp but they don't put it on the menu. If they were caught selling these items, they would loose their license.
We were not able to find 10W-40 oil for the stabilizers but we had enough aboard to refill the amount we lost on the trip from Key West.
These experiences were enlightening in light of the political situation between the U.S. and Cuba. So the future looks somewhat bright for Cuba. The people seem anxious to rejoin the world in the future.
We are heading now for Isla Mujeres, Mexico, which is about 260 nm from Marina Hemingway, Cuba, and we should arrive Friday, February 8th, in the morning. The weather is wonderful with winds out of the SE at 10 knots true, seas calm and the temperature about 77 degrees.
Robin, Mark and I send our love to our families and best to all! All our boat systems are working well including water maker, engines, generators, stabilizers, etc.
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