Tales of the Itinerant Sailor

Cruising 2009

Political Peril and the Itinerant Sailor


Steven Jones  

The Encounter

Sometime during the afternoon while I am in the cockpit and Ricky is on the foredeck , she gets my attention and points out that a power boat is approaching.  “I think they want water,” she hollers.  Sure enough.  I see an open runabout, about 18 feet in length, usually associated with fishing.  But not like the one-man fishing boat I had seen back in Casilda.  One of the three crew  is holding up an empty water bottle.  We don’t have an over abundance of drinking water, but we have enough to share.  I slow the boat down and wave them closer while unlashing the drinking water container. 

The spokesman is talking as they draw closer. “Donde esta Cuba?”  (where is Cuba?)  I thought that a strange question, but point to the east. 

“Cinco kilometers,” I respond.  Five kilometers.  During the heat of the day, the convection of the water vapor is so heavy that it obscures one’s vision.  Even thought they could not see the land, it really is not that far away.  But these local fisherman should know this.  Right?

Now the boat is close enough that I can see its cargo.  Instead of fishing nets, buckets, fish, I see three or four 5-gallon gasoline cans.  Now, let’s be honest.  No fisherman in Cuba would be allowed this much fuel.  This is enough to take the boat, why, to Jamaica, the closest foreign country from this point.  In fact, I hear the spokesman mention Jamaica.

I'm getting the heebie-jeebies; I’m thinking pirates.  Rickey is preparing to hand over some water.  I wave her off and tell the men “no agua, no agua,” while reving the engine up close to full speed.  Fortunately, they choose not to follow so I reduce the engine to half throttle again before it overheats. I try to regain my cool. I explain to Rickey what had just transpired, but I am not sure she understood.

During the day we round Cabo Cruz and set an easterly course for Santiago de Cuba.  Sometime after dark a vessel approaches.  It comes very close and illuminates us up with a bright light.  I stay my course, watching and waiting.  Somehow I determine that it is a Cuban Coast Guard vessel.  The captain must have satisfied his curiosity as the vessel soon veers off.  Wow!  Two boats in one day.

By sunup I share with Rickey my concerns about our slow progress and dwindling fuel supply.  I know that she has a hotel reservation waiting and a bus to catch back to Havana.  I begin to study the charts and read Calder Nigel’s book about cruising Cuba, looking for possible fuel stops. I see two possibilities.  The first one, Ensenada Marea del Portillo, has a wide open entrance.  I enter.  No fuel docks, no piers of any kind and no evidence of a town.  On to the next harbor, about 45 nm distance.

American Car in Chivirico

Pre-Revolution American-made Car in Chivirico

By mid afternoon we arrive at Chivirico.  The entrance is a narrow, very narrow, unmarked channel.  I approach very slowly.  But once inside, what a beautiful location with a very secure anchorage.

I float the dinghy and with both empty fuel cans we motor over to where a young man has been motioning us.  He points us in a direction and we set about, wandering through this quiet, secluded town, asking questions as we go.  I am asking questions about diesel fuel; Rickey is asking questions about a bus to Santiago.  We both get our answers. A bus departs for Santiago within the hour.  I am a little wary of her leaving the boat like this.  She is listed on the boat’s crew list and the officials in Santiago will be expecting to see her. Nevertheless, feeling a little guilty about taking so long on this trek, I take her back to the Sirius II to get her belongings. 

The man who beckoned us to shore helps me carry the 40 liters of diesel back to the dinghy, for the price of a pack of cigarettes—three $US.  I sleep very peacefully in this quiet, calm harbor.  The rising sun the next morning makes negotiating the narrow channel even more difficult, now with only one set of eyes.  By early afternoon I am Santiago, docked along side two other cruisers, one flying the French flag, the other with a BVI flag.

The Second Mate The Interrogations

Cruising 2009: Political Peril and the Itinerant Sailor
Copyright © 2010 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.

Contact: siriusii@hotmail.com