Heading to Havana

We were getting anxious to see the big city, so after about a month of Cay hoping on the south coast, we decided to set our sights on Havana.  We still had about 350 miles ahead of us, so we wanted to get moving.  We opted not to go ashore on the Isla de la Juventud, although we have heard it is pretty.  We sailed along the south coast of the island and anchored for the night in Caleta Puerto Frances.  It is a very pretty spot with crystal clear water and tons of sand dollars on the bottom.  We timed our departure so that we would round Cabo de San Antonio (the southwestern Cape) during the very early morning hours (i.e. 3 – 4am) because we had read that it can get quite nasty rounding the cape and the best time to do it is late evening to early morning when the winds are at their lightest.  We indeed had light winds and an uneventful passage. 
On the way north to Havana, there is a reef that runs for about 120 miles along coast line with some breaks where boats can get through.  Nigel Calder writes that if your draft is 1.8m or less, you can run the entire way inside the reef.  We draw just under 7 feet, and keeping an eye on the tides, we did the majority of the run inside the reef with a few passages outside. 

After rounding the Cape, we headed inside and tried to anchor by Los Arroyos.  According to Nigel Calder’s book, it is a pretty little fishing village with a nice main street to walk up and down.  We never got to see it.  Two Aduana (Customs officials) rowed out to see us in a sinking skiff and asked to come aboard.  They didn’t speak any English but were very friendly.  They asked to see our papers and started the clearing in process.  While one of the officers was completing this process, the other borrowed our VHF to call his boss on shore.  I heard some arguing going on and based on my limited Spanish, knew we had a little problem.  Evidently, we were not allowed to go ashore.  The officer had no idea why, and that was what he was arguing with his boss about.  “No problemo”, I said.  “Was it okay to just anchor for the night and sleep and leave in the morning?”  “Of course”, they said.  Just then, Sabbaticus, our friends, sailed next to us and dropped anchor.  We told the officers who they were and we were sailing together.  The official went back to the VHF and called his boss again.  After much conversation, we were told very nicely, that actually, we were not allowed to anchor there because there was much military around.  We would have to motor to an uninhabited Cay about 2 miles away and anchor there.  And then they say something in Spanish and pointed to their eyes.  I nodded and thought to myself, of course you can watch us leave.   The sun was going down as we motored over to Punta Mosquito and dropped the hook, giving the island a wide berth just in case it lived up to its name.  We cooked some dinner and it was pretty dark outside, so Maria decided to take a quick shower on deck.  We went to sleep and got up around 7 am the next morning to get going.  Don’t you know that pretty close to us, in their sinking dingy, were the two officers from yesterday, drinking coffee and eating breakfast!  They had rowed over some time the night before, slept in their skiff and watched our boat to make sure we didn’t get off of it and leave when we said we would!  As always, they were very friendly and gave us huge smiles and waves as we hauled anchor and continued on our way!  I hope they enjoyed Maria’s shower!!

Our next run took us about 25 miles inside the reef until we got to Cayo Jutias and we had to pop out through the reef for 6 miles to get around the Cayo as there is no passage inside.  We exited at Quebrado de la Galera with no problems.  It wasn’t too bad outside, maybe 6 -7 foot swells, about 8 seconds apart.  We knew the weather was forecasted to pick up, but so far, it was very comfortable.  We motor sailed around the Cay and Sabbaticus called us up on the VHF and said it was only about 18 hours to Havana and did we want to just go for it on the outside.  Like I said, at this point is was fairly comfortable – the waves were on our forward quarter so we were bucking a little bit, but not that bad.  As we got into late afternoon, the winds picked up and so did the sea state and the wave period shortened.  We knew we were running low of fuel but had enough to get to Havana.  We weren’t making great time beating into the seas and was considering going inside to find and anchorage and try again in a little better weather the next day, so we started looking for a break in the reef to go through in case we decided to do this.  We were on a port tack which had us heading toward land when the engine quit.  Great.  Since we were motor sailing, we only had the main up, so we hurried to get some more sail area up.  The wind was at the wrong angle and the seas had built up and we were getting pushed towards the reef.  We were about half a mile away from the reef and we tried to tack (go through the wind), but we did not have enough power under sail alone to get our nose through the seas.  Bugger.  We were now about a quarter mile from the reef and could hear and see the waves breaking.  We had to gybe.  We did a controlled gybe, but the wind was pretty strong and so it was not so controlled and I ended up with a nice rope burn from the main sheet, but we got her around and started sailing as best we could away from the reef.  With that under control, Maria went down to try and get the engine started.  It seems that we had a clogged fuel filter from the all the sludge in the bottom of the tank getting sloshed around and not much fuel.  She switched over to our second racor and then had to bleed the engine – not fun when you are getting tossed around a bit.  Finally the engine started and we let our friends on Sabbaticus know that we were okay and were heading in.  They had put their engine in idle and were waiting to see if we needed help, and they said they had drifted half a mile toward the reef in 20 minutes in those conditions!  Anyway, the break in the reef was pretty wide and we decided to sail in just in case the engine failed again as we were trying to get in.  The bottom went from about 600 feet to 50 feet to 15 feet in no time as we were sailing through the cut, the waves were heaping up to about 8 – 10 feet and breaking on our beam.  Sabbaticus actually called us up to make sure we weren’t on the reef because the waves were breaking so badly by us!  We sailed in with adrenaline flowing but no incident and made our way to the calmest spot we could find and dropped the hook.  We fiddled with the engine for a while and decided that we would go as far as we could inside the reef so the seas would be smaller and hopefully our fuel filters wouldn’t get clogged again!

Our track during our engine problems!
Our friends on Sabbaticus were good enough to go along with our plan.  They are a catamaran and so in some of the shallower spots where the chart showed only 6’6” of water at MLW, they would go ahead of us and using their depth sounder, would find a path we could make it through.  Around Cayo Arenas and Cayo Paraiso the water was the skinniest.  Sabbaticus sounded a 7’2” spot and we held our breath as we skimmed over it.  We were lucky our fuel and water tanks were almost empty! 

We had pulled down a weather fax and saw that it was supposed to be pretty crappy for the next two days, so we decided to anchor by Cayo Paraiso and wait for the weather to pass before we carried onto Havana, as the next passages were all outside the reef.  Our mojitos would have to wait a few more days.  Cayo Paraiso was a nice place to be stuck, with a great beach for Niko to run on and a good reef to snorkel on.  After the weather broke, we exited the reef at Querbadode la Mulata at 2am – it is a wide open channel through the reef and we had no problems doing it in the dark.  We had a nice motor sail up to Havana and made it there later that afternoon.

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