I really loved Panama and would have to say that it is one of my favourite countries, which is why it was a little sad to leave. All good things must come to an end and is was great that in the last few days of my Latin American trip I met up with 3 people that I had started the trip with in Mexico and Guatemala. The plan for my last night in Panama City was to have a few drinks then get an early night as I hadn’t slept since finishing night shift the day before, hhmmm that is definitely not how it went.
The night started with a few drinks and farewells then progressed to everyone going out to a bar but sensibly I decided to stay in and go to bed as I had to leave in the morning on the 6.20am flight. After everyone left I gave a farewell card to the girls I had worked with and they got all upset, Aida started to cry, saying how much they would miss me. We sat down and had a final talk and I finished the bottle of Flor de Cana and found that it was almost 3.30am.
I really needed sleep by now so of I went to take up my usual position on the floor, I`d sold my bed again, and realised that I must have been quite drunk as the room was spinning more than usual. I was woken up by Ariza around 4.30am to help her with an arrival and just couldn’t get back to sleep after that.
Showered up and changed I headed for the airport and passed out as soon as we took off. Must have been asleep awhile as when I woke up I got a huge fright because expecting to see clouds instead I saw tops of palm trees and the roofs of Kuna huts. Initially I thought I had I slept through the emergency landing announcement but as I was about to take the crash landing position I noticed all the others were calm and relaxed, just a normal landing, no need to panic.
After being trapped on the plane for 10 mins till they could get the jammed door open I climbed out and immediately saw my boat captain Jamie waiting for me. We headed off to get our passports stamped and then to the boat. Now here is where I have to explain something about our boat, everytime I told people I was sailing to Cuba they always asked how big the boat was to which I would reply that I had no idea. When I eventually did find out and told them it was a 25 footer they would get shocked looks and just say `well you`ll have fun thats a very small boat`.
So I was a bit anxious to see the boat when I arrived, i`m not a fussy person so figured after Indian animal class trains and Latin American chicken buses I could survvie 1 week in a little boat.As we headed for the boat I looked out and saw a nice little white boat and thought `ahh it`s fine that looks great for 2 people`, and at the same time Jamie pointed our boat `Possibilites` in the complete opposite direction. It `was` a little boat but at least it was standing room inside and seating area out the back. We hopped into `little` Possibilites, our row boat to get to the big boat. Little Possibilites was like all other row boats only it seemed that it had been cut in half and patched up to be seaworthy again. It was a cosy fit for two people and a cramp for three and the time we tried four we started taking in a bit of water and had to evacuate back to the ship. It did the job and with only a 25 ft boat it was the perfect size.
I was very tired on the first day with Jamie as I had sleep only 4hrs in the last 55 so we only collected water and had an early night before starting the trip early the next morning.
AND WE`RE OFF! The plan, make a straight line for Cuba and we`ll be there in a week, sounds simple enough, but there was much more to it than that. The first three days the seas were a little rough and the waves were constantly splashing up over the bow and soaking us at the back, this is fine during the heat of the day but not when you are either eating or poking your head out at night to look for other ships, its a 10 second check then back to bed but not when you get splashed and then have to spend time drying out. Apart from me getting extremely sunburnt and blistering a bit, our first three days were uneventful. The occassional cargo ship to talk to, the sun to try and avoid, the rocking of the boat to become accustomed to and the endless splashing of waves.
On our fourth morning we headed for a small island to rest up for the day, have a good nights sleep and head out again in the morning. On the approach to there we didnt know if it was an inhabited island or not as it was so small. These thoughts quickly vanished when a jibbering spanish voice came on the radio asking questions. It ended up being a colombian military base looking out for drug runners and illegal fisherman. I guess they must have to call support if something does happen as the 15 of them were on this island with no boats at all, just kinda stranded there for a month till the relief shift arrives. They were nice guys and invited us over to have lunch and watch a film with them and of course offer to sell us drugs!!!
We continued on in the morning with me vowing I must get fit as the 50mtr swim from the boat to shore was hard and I got only 10 mtrs before running out of breath and having to back scull in, I was ashamed of myself so I had a cigarette when I got ashore and caught my breath.
Two nights later we arrived at another military island and meet some fisherman, they enjoyed drinking our rum and eating our popcorn but never did drop of the tuna they promised. After resting on this island, which was our last stop before Cuba, Jamie was still a bit worried about the wind not changing direction. We were sailing into the wind from the start and he had heard that by now it should have changed to more easterly, this all meant little to me as so long as we were going forward I figured that was a good thing.
Halfway to cuba the seas calmed and the sunburn healed and it was quite pleasant cruising, we had both got into our set routines for the turns at watches and Cuba just seemed to get closer and closer, then it happened. 100 miles from the coast of Cuba the wind just stopped, really, nothing at all so we had to start up the outboard and motor for a few days on and off. During this time I managed to catch my first fish, a 1.2mtr Dorado, which was delicious.
As we made our final approach to Cuba the wind picked up and the thunderstorms over Jamaica were an amazing sight. We were only 2hrs from land and I was so excited, what will i do first, jump off the boat and run around like a crazy person, get off and kiss the ground or maybe even the customs guy, i just couldnt wait to stand still.
Once arriving in Cuba we didnt know what to expect. We read that in 1975 they were not friendly to boats, then in 1996 they were very strict on searches, hmm what will 2006 hold we wondered.
Well, it held very little `cause after pulling up in the harbour and calling on the radio to no reply then eating, getting changed and tidying up ready to go ashore still nothing had happened. The fishermen ignored us, the radio ingored us and the police ignored us. WOW in `75 you get turned away, in `96 you get strip searched and in `06 you just get nothing. Yeah of course it was too good to be true, we headed ashore and they turned us back, we headed to the marina and again got turned back. We were inches from land and I was ready to jump and they sent us away, the only place to check in was another 40 miles up the coast at Cienfuegos. I told jamie that it is for a reason, it always is. Cienfuegos was our original destination and we only changed `cause of the wind so there was a reason we had to go there.
20 miles up the coast at sunset I found out what that reason was, Luke had been at sea for 12 days and was yet to experience a storm. We watched the lightning and big grey clouds passing in front of us thinking how amazing it looked, then it got a little windy and the clouds decided to head our way. We took precautions then jumped inside to sit it out, well Jamie actually layed it out while I stood inside, on a 45 degree angle, and hoped it would finish soon. We had 60 knot winds blowing us around in all directions, hail stones hitting us and a coulple of times the boat went over so far the windows of the cabin were under water, bit`s and pieces were falling around all over. Its an old joke that the worst thing you can hear from your tattooist is the word `oops`, well I found what the worst thing you can hear from your boat caotain is, after he lays there with not a care in the world as we are rockin and rollin, it is very concerning when he suddenly jumps up to the window frowns, chews his lip a bit and pronounces `hmm now thats not good` `WHAT` oh man i didnt want to hear that. I still dont know what wasnt good cause he just went and layed down again and the storm had passed after around 30 minutes, i`ve since heard that any storm under 24 hrs is a good one, 24 hrs of that, No thanks.
Sailing again I was now even more anxious to reach land, so I was very glad when we entered Marina Jaguar at around 2am that night. We slept like babies and then the fun began.
A fishing boat motored past and told us we had to take the boat to the dock immediately or else, then mimmicked us being handcuffed. We pulled up to the Quarantine dock jumped of and tied the boat, then security ran up and told us not to get off the boat till the doctor checks us. I needed to re-tie one of the lines and put one foot ashore to do it, which I got told off for.
So now actually touching land with the boat and I still couldn’t get off, not until three hours later after the following had happened, The 4 customs and immigration guys had asked loads of questions, After the sniffer dog had come aboard, After the health inspectors had come aboard and of course after the 4 men in overalls had come aboard and checked….everything. `hmm what is this white stuff` `why sir that is baking powder` `are you sure I think it is cocaine` to which I responded to myself `oh hell I hope its not I dont know the boat captain so well`. It was’t and neither was the bag of icing sugar they got so excited about, even making me try some and then asking 15 mins later why I was drinking so much water `casue its hot here and I`m not a Cuban`. We survived our check to which the doctor never did attend, yet 4 days later they gave us a doctors bill to pay.I refused and replied that if I`m going to pay $30 for a doctor I at least want to be told to get my pants down and bend over not have a customs guy say are you sick `No` then radio the doctor and say `its OK they are fine`. Damn Fidel, we still had to pay.
See photos for Cuba and Panama: