Thursday, 12 April 2012

Viva Cuba Libre

So another adventure to report! Over the last week, I was lucky enough to sail aboard Diva with Captain Phil to Santiago de Cuba. It was my first experience with long distance sailing - cruising, as they say - and it was part road trip (long stretches of nothing to do but watch the world go by), part riding in a motor home (bringing your house on your back, so to speak), and part camping (sailing can have that same "everything is wet" problem that you get when tenting in the rain). I learned a lot more about sailing, plus got to visit Cuba, which is very different from Jamaica.  Need to work on my Spanish, however!

Day One (Tuesday):
Left Montego Bay in the evening as the plan was to take advantage of the calm at night and travel upwind towards Port Antonio in Jamaica.  At the last minute, we decided to travel straight to Santiago de Cuba, as the winds were favourable.  I experienced seasickness for the first time, which involved lots of retching and dry heaving over the side of the boat.  Saw an incredible amount of stars when we got out to sea.

Day Two (Wednesday):
Spent the whole day sailing out at sea.  The self steering gear worked very well, so we didn't have to do much once the sails were set.  We spotted the south coast of Cuba at about 4 pm, around the same time I realized that my seasickness had passed.  We needed to go upwind and there wasn't much breeze, so we turned on the motor and drove through the night, taking 1 hour turns driving or sleeping.  At about 3 am, when I started my shift, I saw dolphins by moonlight swimming alongside the boat.  They kept pace with us for about 15 minutes or so, as far as I could tell.

Day Three (Thursday):
Arrived outside Santiago just after daybreak.  This was also when I remembered I had a camera...

First light over the fortress on the cliffs outside Santiago de Cuba

We were tired but happy!

The sleeping spot in the cockpit - the person on watch sat on the other side (the high side) and had to work to keep from falling out of their seat, which kept them awake!
 We sailed up past the fort into the channel.  The architecture in Cuba is very different than Jamaica - they have lots more wood construction as opposed to concrete.  Everything in Cuba looks quite worn down but is still quite colourful.

Castillo del morro, a UNESCO World Heritage site

The view as we sailed up the channel.

The rest of the day was spent greeting various Cuban officials on the boat: a doctor, several agricultural inspectors, and customs and immigration officials.  This involved lots of paperwork and muddling through spanish/english communication frustrations. Everyone was exceedingly friendly in spite of it all and we were warmly welcomed to Cuba.

Day Four (Friday):

We ventured off the boat and went into town, Santiago de Cuba.

Beautiful architecture, but rundown.
A lane full of vendors selling crafts.
We snuck in to the cathedral to see the inside, but left before the Good Friday service started.

The view over Santiago from the roof of the Grand Hotel (Casa Grande) where we had a cup of coffee.

Looking down the other side

Our taxi back to the marina - the cars were fascinating, and I'm not even usually into looking at cars!
A bit of our taxi ride - note the Cuban music playing on the radio.  Music was pretty much everywhere...

Trusty Diva, behind the dock at the Marina at Punto Gorda

We ate well, although the provisions came from Jamaica: chocolate banana crepes, mango and star apple fruit.

Full moon in the harbour
Day Five (Saturday)

We were invited by a couple from Holland staying on their boat in the marina to visit the castle on the hill.  So off we went, getting a ride from one of the tour boats to the ferry dock and then walking up the road and around the hill to the castle.

The dress  is called the "purple party dress" and it was the result of an attack of "dress buying syndrome" that I had over the last month... Thanks to Kate for the hat that completed the outfit.

We decided that anyone who wanted to attack the castle had to be really fit!

The view looking down over the wall

There were 1 inch gaps between the floor boards so you could see into the rooms below.  This made me nervous...

This lovely lady was about 2 feet long.  The castle staff feed the iguanas who live in the castle walls.
Day Six (Sunday)

Happy Easter!  We left the Santiago marina at 9 am, heading back to Jamaica with a beautiful breeze.  The sail on that day was gorgeous, with a nice wind and very flat seas.  We put the music on and sat up on the front deck with a beer, enjoying the view.  We got through Paul Simon's Shining Like a National Guitar and had moved on to Moody Blues Greatest Hits when we saw some blows on the port side of the boat and then we saw a fluke.  About 10 minutes later we saw the blows on the starboard side and even more fluke.  At one point the whale had his fluke up for several seconds, as if he was waving to us.  It was really hard to tell what kind of whale it was, since size perspective is really difficult on the ocean, but after some internet research, we decided maybe it was a sei whale. Either way, it was a very cool experience!

The weather clouded over and the seas picked up in the evening.  We spent a long night pitching about in 2-3 metre swells, complete with some rainstorms.  It was not my favourite part of the trip and we didn't get much sleep.  But the boat held steady and eventually morning came.

Day Seven (Monday)

After the long night, we decided to head for Discovery Bay in Jamaica which was only about 4 hours sail instead of going all the way to Montego Bay. (Discovery Bay is one of the places where Christopher Columbus supposedly landed in the New World.) We arrived early afternoon, had something to eat and a quick swim, and then went to bed at 4 pm in the afternoon.  We slept straight through until 5 am the next morning - 13 solid hours, in spite of the noisy beach parties going on just outside our cabin!

Our safe haven after a long night.

Dependable Diva - built for the North Sea in Europe, the Caribbean Ocean is easy-peasy for her.

Day Eight (Tuesday)
We sailed back to Montego Bay, which took 7 hours.  Well, we had a nice sail for about half of that, then the wind died and there was some suspicious looking weather on the horizon so we turned on the motor and headed for home. We made it back on the mooring just before the rain really started to come down.

The Jamaican coast

Ready to be going home!

Some weather which we saw from a distance only, thank goodness.  If you look closely, you can see the twister coming down from the cloud along with a lot of rain.

Back to Montego Bay harbour at sunset - home sweet home!

Next week I'm back to sailing little boats and racing - a totally different experience from cruising, as I've learned. Lots more work, but you get to go home to a hot shower and clean bed a lot quicker!

Some photo credits to Phil as well - whoever had the camera close at hand took the picture.


  1. So cool Julia!! What a neat trip! Look forward to hearing more when I SEE YOU in a couple weeks!! :D

  2. Very neat. The photos are so beautiful, lots of intense blue both in the sky and sea. The dolphin and whale experiences are fabulous. Cuba looks very interesting. Planning a return trip sometime?