Leaving Cienfuegos on Cuba’s south coast to reach Cabo Cruz 200nm farther south was never going to be an easy sail. It had crossed our mind to do it overnight in anticipation of eased winds. Whether the mountains caused stronger winds or merely stirred up the water we’re not sure. What we do know is that we did not have the wind nor the 1m seas we expected; rather than a beam on wind we bashed into 25+kn winds and unbelievably steep, short seas. Blue Heeler rose up then dropped into the trough scooping up a million gallons of water which would then wash down the deck and splash over our spray hood. The procession of waves smashing into us were much bigger than we thought they should be. They pushed us further west than we wanted, but no way could we point any higher. How did we get this so wrong? At one point Wayne frustratingly said “We’re going to Jamaica!” I cried “I’m going to Melbourne!”; we both said “We’re heading back to Cienfuegos!”, but in the end a glimmer of optimism kept us going, thinking the worst would pass around lunchtime. By 2pm we were still bashing south, but had enough angle to tack and head east towards an opening in the reef and possibly smoother water. At this stage we were 15nm offshore with four hours till sunset.
To escape the tumultuous seas, we headed for the Canal de las Mulatas; a narrow west/east passage south of Casilda (near to Trinidad which we visited the day before). This canal took us from rough water into the Golfo de Ana Maria and the safety of the reefs within. Our heading was directly to the entrance and Calder’s cruising guide indicated depths of 6m, despite the charted depth of 3.5m. His guide was spot on. There is a red marker to the south and green to the north and we sailed midway between the two from rough seas to smooth waters. Yay! Once in the calm waters we continued sailing east until we reached the unmarked Paso Jobabo – once again charted at 3m but actually no less than 6m – then headed northeast until we dropped anchor in the flat waters at Ensenada Caballones. It was 6.15pm and the sun had just gone down. What a day!
January 26th is also Australia Day, but we didn’t do anything to celebrate. We haven’t seen another Aussie for a long time. But a funny thing – a boat named Alba from Sydney was anchored at Casilda. We knew he was Australian by his MMSI number on the AIS. Using the direct dial on the VHF he ‘called’ us directly. “G’day mate” is always a welcome greeting! After five minutes swapping travel stories sounding like a couple of old friends, Wayne wished him well for his ongoing voyage with a “Cheers mate”. It’s also exactly five years since we left our home port of Melbourne and I started to think about my planned trip home in April.
After the bone-rattling day before, we all agreed that we would wait a day to allow the easterly winds to turn more southerly before we continued east. It was a beautifully sunny day, warm too, indicating another cold front was on its way. In the evening we watched pink flamingoes flying over the mangroves in the late afternoon light then ducked below so we weren’t eaten alive by mozzies.
Overnight we were expecting squalls, lightening and lots of rain. We had some rain but little else. There was little wind from the north then east, not south as we expected. Despite this, both boats hoisted anchor and by 6.30am in darkness we left the anchorage and began our trip. Our destination was Cayos de Ana Maria 68nm to the east.
As it turned out the land must have caused the wind to shift more easterly so we motor sailed with a light wind on the nose. Well, at least until it started to go southerly but by that time we kept the engine on as the wind was too light to sail. Once again it was right on dark when we dropped the anchor and pulled back onto a lee shore. A large fishing vessel was near to us and had three Cuban men aboard. Within half an hour out of the darkness a small row-boat came to us with two men aboard bearing gifts; prawns and a couple of lobster tails. We chatted to them in Spanish and discovered one was the Captain, the other the electrician and another on board was the mechanic. It seems that the fishermen use this larger vessel as their base. They told us that strong northerly winds were forecast for the following day. A fact we knew of from the grib file we’d downloaded that morning. For their generosity we gave them a few beers and a packet of smokes and bade them farewell.
The trip south to Cayo Granada was uneventful, and despite forecast strong winds, we were lucky to have 10knots, more like 5knots for the trip through the Pingue Channel. We reached Cayo Granada, again on dusk, and dropped the anchor in 5m behind Sweet Sensation. They came aboard for a couple of drinks and to share in the spoils of our prawns. We also agreed we’d leave earlier again the following day to reach Cabo Cruz in daylight – 58nm away.
Saturday and anchor raised at 6.20am and again we are away in the morning twilight. At first the winds were from the northeast at around 13-15kn allowing us to sail straight away. At times the wind went up to 25kn but on the whole the winds were around 15-20kn giving us the best sail we’ve had for some time.
By 2.30pm we’d entered the channel markers at Cabo Cruz and anchored by 3pm. A good run for a change! It wasn’t long before a small row boat came out to us to clear us in. He had his son with him and filled out our paperwork, but didn’t retain it. A pleasant fragrance of frangipani or such scent wafted through the bay filling my nose.
The anchorage is about a mile from the small village but we didn’t go ashore that day as it was late in the day. I jumped in for a quick swim in the 28deg water while Wayne swam out and checked the anchor. We had to move later because we’d anchored in the way of the incoming fishing boats, made aware to us by the hoots and roars from a boatload of passing pescadores!
The next day the wind was around 15kn from the east and a little choppy in the anchorage so we stayed aboard and did a few jobs. Kevin’s sail needed repair so I fixed that on my sewing machine and did a few small sewing jobs while the heavy machine was available.
The village has a magnificent limestone lighthouse, but situated in a military zone so we couldn’t access. There is a farmacia, a school, a play park for small children with extremely rusty see-saws and a swing, plus the El Cabo restaurant with lovely views from the balcony. It was Sunday so the few places were closed, except the restaurant. We had a drink or two then Chris and I wandered up the one and only street. Basic cement homes with slats over the window openings; families playing by the water and a few people waiting around to grab fish from the pescadores’ catch of the day. We said “hola” to the locals as we walked by their humble homes. There was a plaque to the east of the village stating that Christopher Columbus arrived there in 1494.
As the wind was still blowing too strong to leave, we all agreed we’d depart when the wind died down. At 8pm though the Guarda Frontera guy was back to clear us out! He and two mates appeared from the darkness and boarded Blue Heeler. He signed our paperwork and then asked for some whisky. Wayne said we didn’t have whisky but offered beer. He was happy with that, and I’m sure they bring their mates along so they can get a beer too!
Back to bed and I set the alarm for 3am. As it turned out I fell straight asleep only to wake at 11pm to the sound of silence. Calm. Time to go. As the prevailing winds are easterly we had no choice but to motor sail on light wind. SS crew were up and hoisting their patched jib in the stillness. A quick radio call from Chris and it was all systems go.
Anchor up, back-tracking our entrance to avoid the coral shoals and by 11.30pm we were on our way to Santiago de Cuba, 110nm to the east. Here we would spend our final days in Cuba.