Its an ill wind that blows no-one any good - Cuba to Panama via Breaker Reef

Curious grammar, and I can't really think of anyone that this perpetual
east wind is blowing good for -except I suppose people upwind coming west
towards us - but we dont meet them. It has  blown at 25 knots for the last 4
weeks - its nothing more than a High pressure (1028 mb) over Florida that
the winds blow clockwise round so we get the 4-8 part of the clock, ie east
winds - and we are trying to go east along the south coast of Cuba.

Sunny, warm everything else is fine but the luxury beach hotels in Key Largo
have large waves crashing onto the beaches, and we hold our breath going
into and out of narrow reef entrances with 6-8 feet waves breaking on coral
just beneath the surface sometimes only 30 metres from us.

We waved good bye to the Guarda at Isla Juventud (they gave us lots of good
navigation advice - we offered a (genuine) 'gratuity' (a few dollars) which
they refused. Then north of Juventud, anchored for the night in the lee of
Nueva Gerona in 30 knots surrounded by forbidding Mangroves,then inched very
cautiously towards the Pasa de Quitasol which is sandy rather than coral but
is only 50 metres wide at its narrowest as the depth came up to 6 feet and
we touched bottom, and we were uncomfortably aware that we were not covered
by the Cuban equivalent of  Tow Boat US or RNLI (and anyway there were NO
other boats around at all) but just as we were about to turn round we found
the channel and just got through. A bit too close for comfort. Then motor
behind the coral reef to Cayo Rosario which was so beautiful we stayed 2
nights rather than 1. The snorkelling is out of this world, thousands of
fish just a few feet beneath the surface on isolated coral reeflets. I
regret
to say that this time we could not resist the sight of huge lobsters peering
out from under rocks, (sorry Ric and Jill) so James Ben and I spent a day
being hunter gatherers
and as the sun set we stuffed ourselves with lobster Thermidor cooked on the
BBQ we have on the stern (literally -
James and Ben could not finish even half of one lobster each -  weaklings).
We also
collected a few conch - those pink spiral shells that are eaten in this part
of the Caribbean.

Then VERY gingerly out of the reef exit that the Guarda
had specially warned us about, and onto Key Largo on 31st Dec which is
Cuba's luxury island with 3 major hotel complexes. The dockmaster at the
marina (Pire) is very friendly and we were invited with a few other boaties
to a great New Years Party by big catamaran to the Beach Bar for a pig roast
. James and Ben found 2
rather nice Canadian girls, we talked to Brits and Dutch and Cubans of grand
ambitions and coping with failure to achieve them and drank beer and watched
fireworks at the nearest hotel and became firm friends. Proper New Years Eve
stuff (why isnt it New Years Adam?).

New Years Day we relaxed at a hotel, played boules, ate cracked conch that I
beat into delirious tenderness (delicious - a bit like thin lobster) and
next day set off into a totally unforecast 20 knot wind that became 35 knots
gusting 45 knots. We anchored for the afternoon behind Nombre de Dios but by
9pm the wind was a steady 40 knots gusting 45 and we had waves coming over
the spray hood while still at anchor. Pitch black, we had to get James to
Cienfuegos by the next day to get his flight, but was it safe to go out into
45 knots? Good case study. We decided to delay - and by midnight the wind
was down to 30
knots, the pressure up a little and we went and had quite a good sail (well
motor actually) arriving Cienfuegos in the morning.

Cienfuegos is in a bay reached from the sea by a 2 mile long channel, and
the marina is well protected and not in a bad condition for Cuba. We
arranged a taxi for James at 08.15 but it didn't come so I hailed a passing
horse and cart and the first stage of his journey to Heathrow was in a 1
horse cart to the bus station. Quite fast actually and he caught the viazul
coach easily.

Then Janet Ben Nicky and I taxied 80 miles ($25-30) to
Trinidad de Cuba which prospered mightily from sugar as French colonists
fleeing Haiti's slave rebellion brought their skills,then got caught in a
time warp of genteel decay as the sugar price dropped and Trinidad's
prosperous houses mouldered. But they weren't 'redeveloped so now they are
more or less in their original state - 2 storey comfortable houses with a
few grand mansions including Museo Historical/Casa Cantero acquired by a
German Justo Cantero who
apparently poisoned a wealthy plantation owner to marry his widow then
poisoned her too... Nice house though...We stayed in 2 particulares (private
houses - $25/room plus $3 breakfast). Trinidad is actually a bit of a
tourist trap and when we went to Steps to hear the live music the place was
packed - but with tourists. Back to Cienfuegos and we had 2 farewell dinners
(!) at
another restored palace now the elegant Cienfuegos Yacht Club and met Eric,
Caroline
and Christian who are coming with us to Panama. Quick horse cart to the
central market for provisioning - 12 kgs of veg, including some exotic
vegetables and a HUGE calabash we had to ask how to cook, 5 kg chicken and
pork (trying to ignore the flies on the pork hanging in the open air)  then
next day 4 hours of documentation
before we could leave. The officials are nice enough but they have
involved procedures designed to get more dollars from tourists and to stop
Cubans leaving so no loopholes, and they search Intrepid each time.

Cuba to Panama is 750 miles due south, passing west of Trinidad, and through
some VERY nasty shoals that are not even accurately shown on the charts.
After about 12 hours the east wind appeared and it does give us a good sail.
However it
concentrates the mind to be sailing in 30 knot winds 12 feet waves pitch
dark, 6 knots, no moon trying to follow a track between West Breaker coral
reef with
exposed rocks 5 miles to west, and Alice Shoal 3 miles to east and know that
the charts are up to 10 miles wrong, (confirmed by the bible of pilots Jimmy
Cornell) , and one chart doesn't even show them. In fact we managed to slow
down enough to do this bit at daylight; and 2 days ago we caught a designer
Dorado - about 2 feet long 10 lbs weight, brilliant condition, we ate one
huge fillet barbecued 1 hour after we caught it, and next day the other
fillet roast with mayo and garlic sauce. Eric was enthusiastic enough to
compare it with the best fish he has ever eaten (Mac fish maybe lest I get
too keen). We met Eric last year on the ARC, and since he has just sold his
oil services company he jumped at the chance to do Cuba and through Panama
Canal; Caroline is a specialist nurse and speaks fluent S American Spanish
which she uses to keep me from getting arrested when the Cuban authorities
get too slow, and Christian is a 3rd officer on Holland America cruise ships
so we make a well balanced highly competent crew.

We are almost exactly half way, 383 miles to go and the confused waves over
the shoals are making everyone a bit pale (so why am I writing this at a
jiggling chart table?) but its sunny, warm we are doing 6 knots and I am
about to try to catch another fish, country music is blaring through the
boat, Christian has just won the prize for estimating distance travelled to
Panama. We should be in Panama on Wednesday 12th Jan then more documentation
to get through the canal.

The crew of Intrepid send their best wishes to you all and hope you are
appreciating the floor under your feet that does not pretend its a bucking
bronco.

Andy and Nicky Gibb, Christian, Caroline and Eric.

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