2013 Caribbean- Cuba

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Malua is at 19:59.15N 75:52.18W on 4/4/2013 at Santiago de Cuba

After leaving Ille a Vache Hati I sailed towards Cuba - a major destination of this trip. I was off the south west coast of Hati at about 20 nm from the coast when I encountered a shallow shoal with depths of about 20 mn. I also noticed many floats attached to fish traps. A squall was approaching from the NW and I was preparing to drop the sail as I motored in a little wind. Suddenly there was a bang and the engine made a loud noise. I was at the wheel in a second and put it into neutral. Malua had come to a stop. I was attached to a fish trap round the propeller and streaming out the stern. I had prepared for such a situation so knew just what to do. Drop the sails and kill the engine. I then put on my safety harness and strop attached to the stern. On went the face mask and fins. My sharpest knife in my hand I went over the side. Attached to the propeller was a number of plastic bottles used as floats in this area. One slash of the knife Malua was free of the fish trap and the second cut freed the propeller of the floats. I was back on board in less than a minute and into a warm shower.
The storm did not eventuate and Malua was back on course with no ill effect however if the sea state had been any worse it could have been quite exciting. Visualising prior to the event what had to be done sure helped in executing the task.
As I approached Cuba I could see Guantanamo Bay on the potter. It seemed strange to me that this part of the USA is right in the middle of Cuba. It all happened when America had a great influence in Cuba and annexed via an indefinite lease of the major nine harbours of Cuba. After the Castro revolution the harbours were taken back but America kept Guantanamo Bay. It has been a bone of contention between the two nations for many years with no resolution in sight.
I arrived outside this major port founded in 1514 by Diego de Velazquez late in the afternoon. Cortes was the first governor. A large Spanish fort Castillo del Morro dominates the entrance as one motors up the inlet towards the so called Marina. A blue building on the starboard side of the waterway. I was told to come alongside for the authorities to come aboard. I had prepared for this encounter by hiding all my wine and spirits under the bed or in boxes at the back of the cupboard.
First to arrive was the doctor and the pest inspection. They asked all the usual question about pests and general health then with a help of a very ineffectual touch started to look for pests and things of value. They found nothing gave me a wad of paper and said the next set of officials would arrive, and they did. The Customs and Immigration. The former with three officials each taking a section of the boat to open and close draws and cupboards. The young fellow started in the aft cabin and unrolled all the shade covers then roll them up in any sort of mess. He looked in cupboards and all the grocery bags. He finally found my French side bag which he produced and asked me to open it. He thought he had found my stash of drugs. To his disappointment all he found was a role of toilet paper, a pencil and paper and a map of St Thomas. They soon left after their superficial search to be followed by the Port Control who wanted to know all the port I would visit. I had listed them on a sheet of paper which they took and subsequently issued me with a Cuban cruising permit. You are allowed to stop at any minor island but only the named port and only at the designated "Marinas" where you have to check in again.
After the officials left I left the dock and anchored off the jetty besides an Australian Ketch Listowel Lady. I fell into bed for a good long sleep.
The following day I was introduced to a Cuban family who assists cruisers with repairs and getting around. They are an extended family with mother who does the cruisers washing, father who helps organise anything, the son who will get a cruiser to pay for anything and everything, two delightful young daughters and the mother's elderly parents who also live in their three room house. No running water, gas to cook but free electricity. The house was provided when they decided to move out of the city. I and Listowel Lady took one of the private taxi - those individual who are licenced to transport people in their cars to the airport to draw money on my credit card. For about 1000 Aus dollars I received just over 1100 CUC ( Convertible Units of Currency) the currency used by the tourists and those who wish to purchase imported good. The local currency is the peso - there are 24/25 to the CUC. The average wage is about 300 to 400 per month, so anyone dealing in CUC scores big time. A dollar tip is a days work.
While imported goods are relatively cheap 1 litre diesel is 1 CUC = $1 in the local markets which only use peso they are dirt cheap. A pound of tomatoes is 5 peso. A family gets a ration book and draws basic food stuff on this: rice, chicken, sweat potatoes, milk, oil, bread and some other things. It is very difficult to live on these rations alone. Those in the country grow their own fruit and vegetables. They are allowed to sell 20% of this production in the many local markets at the peso price.
The way to get rich is to get involved with the tourist industry where you interface with the foreigners who deal in CUC who are more than willing to give tips for services just like they do back in their home country or to sell products or craft, painting or other goods which can be sold in the tourist markets.
Don’t think this communist/socialist state has no capitalist transactions because that is the dominate form of economy and the people are smart and clever business people. Bargaining is acceptable and in most cases they will refuse a very low price because they know they can sell it tomorrow to the next foreigner. I purchased a number of paintings, - acrylics and some very lovely paper mashe fish in a form of a mobile for less than $5 a piece - a real bargain.
More about the Cuban people and economy in a later post.
One night I went with the son into Santiago to listen to the local music. Santiago is said to be the heart and sole of the Cuban music scene. It seems to be everywhere especially the restaurants and bars. The major venues are overrun by tourist but they also have the big names and the best bands. I visited a few but soon left for the smaller places. That evening we ended up at a major Disco at a beach front hotel. I had to produce my id to get in as did everybody. Our party, two blokes and myself sat in a good table surrounded by other parties all drinking having purchased their grog in CUCs. The music was a local style plus Cuban salsa, all sung in Spanish with very sophisticated video clips. A good time was had by all. We now had to get back to the Marina so the son negotiated a price for a ride back via the city where we stopped to get some cheap food and Harry like always before paid.
The following day I was up early because the father was taking me into see the real Santiago. Again we took a local taxi and went straight on the double highway right into the centre of town. There are few cars on the rural roads but a number in the city. We went to a local market to buy me provisions from a list we had drawn up. The total cost was less than $15. Fruit, veg, cheese and pork. Then onto the down town area to collect a prescription for his wife. There was a line at the pharmacy so we had to wait. I stopped into the barbers shop. The traditional 1950's set-up with chairs, mirrors, scissors and non safety razors. It was an experience and all for less than $3. The father returned and also had a hair cut plus a shave.... Harry again paid.
We stopped at the street market for some food. Some grilled pork, chips and a beer. Again Harry paid. You will have got the theme of this. The locals like tourists because for simply showing them the sights and restaurants, the tourist pays. Not much but it all adds up over a three day period. The Cubans are very welcoming. The hand of friendship soon turns palm up and they want something. While I did not feel totally ripped off I did feel that they took advantage of my money and generosity without asking or even giving a thanks. Watch out when you meet the locals they are educated, smart, not well informed but well versed in how to make a buck and how to get it from the tourist.
It was time to move on anti clockwise round Cuba. I had to check out with the authorities and the Marina manager. They all tried the same ploy. Do you have anything that you don’t want because we cant get things and you can give it to ME. Not a bribe nor is it a threat it is just a constant upward hand waiting for a hand out.
I left Santiago in the morning to do an overnighter sailing westwards to the SW tip of the eastern cape Cabo Cruz.

Malua is at 19:50.49N 77:44.20W at Cabo Cruz on 8/4/2013

I left Santiago pleased to get away from the drain on the funds having seen many sides of Cuban life, tourist, local and cruisers. The family who looked after me certainly do well during the cruising season but must find it hard when the cruisers don't arrive and they have to go back to normal everyday Cuban life.
My sail down the coast was uneventful except for one incident which highlighted the isolation Cubans and especially the locals feel. I saw in the distance a small, about 20 ft fishing boat, adrift almost 15 nm from land. The fellow in the bow was waving franticly. I had the main up and a poled out genoa so not an easy rig to change course. I tried just to ignore the fellow but my seamanship got the better of me so I took all the sails down turned on the motor and turned up wind to come alongside. One of the three fishermen was holding up a engine part asking if I had one on board which I did not. They had a sea anchor out and head to wind. I continued up wind went below and put together a few packets of cigarettes, two small bottles of rum and some sweets. I wrapped then in a plastic bag and returned down wind dropping it into their boat as I passed. A great cry of thank you went up as they looked inside the bag. That would give them sustenance till they fixed the engine. I have heard of yachts towing these boats some distance towards land but thankfully the sea was too rough for me to do that today.
Cabo Crux extends far off the actual end of the dry land so I took a wide berth past two red buoys and came into the anchorage just after lunch. No sooner had I dropped the anchor that a young lad appeared off the stern with a large crayfish and a bag of tomatoes wanting to barter these for things or CUCs. I traded the crayfish for a small bottle of rum and a razor. He was not interested in a selection of fish hooks. He tried to come aboard but I refused. This was where Cadiz was boarded during the night and some shoes and fins stolen. I secured everything that night.
Fried crayfish on the menu that evening.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 20:28.54N 77:57.98W at Cabo Blanco on 9/4/2013

The southern coast of Cuba is shallow and dotted with coral and sand cays or islands. The coral reef runs some miles off the coast in a east west direction. There are only a few channels through this reef but once inside the bottom is flat but shallow less than 20 meters. There are shoals and isolated reefs scattered all over this in reef sea area so one has to keep to the designated channel if you don't wish to spend the time on the bow dodging these coral heads and shallow spots which are easy to see in the clear water with a bright sun but difficult if the sun in ahead or behind a cloud.
I chose the outside route then in at the Canel de Cuatro Reales. The journey was easy but became more challenging as I turned north towards the channel between the coral. The sun had gone behind the clouds and Calders cruising guide was not much help but the Cuban charts where a great help. I had purchased two before I left Santiago. I found the red starboard stake and turned into the lagoon just south of Cabezo Mosquitero and north of Cayo Blanco. It is a deep lagoon - 15 m but well protected from the wind waves. The entrance is well buoyed but stay off the port sand bank. The wind had come up to slightly more than 14 knots as I dropped the anchor and let out almost 60 meters of chain in the deep water.
Into the RIB for a chance to explore the cay and the two wrecks on the coral. Not very exciting as they were well up on the beach and had been picked over by many a fisherman before I arrived. A quiet night.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 20:37.57N 79:14.9W at Cayo Grenada on 10/4/2013

The wind continued all night and I was up with the dawn to follow my track out of this cay and back into the marked channel. I turned west with Fondeadero Media Luna in sight. Eye Candy had spent a few days at this cay and enjoyed it.
Up went the sail and I was reaching down the channel towards the Pasa Mate de Afuera and the open area but shallow 14m and north west. I had selected Cayo Granada as the overnight stop. It is a crescent cay with good protection from the NW wind and sea. As I approached the western entrance there was a ferro cement fishing boat about 45 ft long attending to their nets. I dropped the sails and steamed over having prepared my usual bag of tradeable goods. I came along side and threw the bag onto their deck. They looked inside and asked in Spanish if I wanted a fish. Yes, so I passed them going into wind. I came close enough for a crew member to place a large fish on the deck of Malua. What a great trade. Many thanks fellows. No crayfish this time but more fish than I could eat.
The tripod mentioned in Calder's book has fallen over and only a single stick mark the entrance which is easy to follow if you line up the back island with the mast of the wreck. I dropped the anchor in 7 m of water and dinghyed over to Listowel Lady with half the fish I had been given.
I set off in the dinghy to snorkel for my own crayfish. Over the reef the bottom is flat with a few smallish rocks. My first dive produced a medium size crayfish. It was like taking candy from a baby. I grabbed a second but he went into a hole in the rock and something stung my hand so I let go. No second chance with this fellow so off for the next one. I can see how the fishermen get the crayfish when they know a place which has not been picked over by previous cruisers.
A great fish dinner with some extra crayfish as a started, washed down with French white wine.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 20:37.57N 78:14.93W at Cayo Algodon Grande on 11/4/2013

This leg was a long slog through the reefs and cays of the Golgo de Ana Maria and through the Canal del Rancho Veijo and the Canal del Pingue.  The channel marks are good in the form of floating buoys painted either red or green and with a light on the top not that one would take this course at night. It is 12 to 16 m deep and easy to follow.
One comes quite close to the Cuban mainland here and the major fishing port on this side of the coast.  I could see the many large fishing vessels tied up at an outlying cay waiting to put so sea. Along the way I also saw smaller concrete fishing vessels hauling their nets.  These have large mesh nets to catch skates, the size of a dining room table.  There was no trade with these fishermen.
There was no wind and a very hot day 34 C and flat seas so Malua just motored along changing course when required. I dropped anchor at Cayo Alogodon Grande just after 3:00pm and tried for some mare crayfish but they where nowhere to be found.
Tomorrow I am going outside the reef to gain some miles going west.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 21:07.40N 79:26.98W at Cayo Breton in the channel on 12/4/2013

I was travelling in company with Lithcowel Lady who soon put some distance between us as we sailed towards the Canal Boca Grande opening in the reef.  If it is calm one can come inside the reef to get to Cayo Breton but on this day the swell was running and I took the long way round well towards the red channel mark.  Be careful of the corral heads and shallow spots as one approaches the shallow entrance at Estero Brenton.  The tide was running out as I entered, the sand bar is quite clear and I had been assured it would take Malua's draft.  I must say when the depth under the keel dropped to less than half a meter I though I was back in the French canals but anyway I got through and steamed up between the mangroves towards the radio mast.  Lithcowel Lady had already anchored.
Just as I anchored and was taking a shower a 40 ft fishing boat steamed passed me showing some crayfish to trade.  I was out the shower and into the dinghy almost before they had time to anchor.  I stepped aboard to find a box of very large crayfish and a further box of female crayfish in berry.  When I pointed out the berry one crew member took one and threw it overboard saying it should have been done before. Lithcowel Lady appeared and before we knew it we where each presented with two grilled crayfish tails on a plate with a bowl of hot cray legs in tomato. It was well presented and prepared well before they arrived at the anchorage.  We where the targets for the evenings trade.  I had brought my usual bag of gifts plus a reel of fishing line.  The wanted batteries and razors.  The rum was consumed but the cigarettes returned as they indicated they were divers and did not smoke.  LL returned to their boat to get some tradeable goods and before you knew it the crew where on LL looking around.  I received 8 crayfish most in berry for my offerings while LL got the box of large ones - a better trade.
The captain was getting anxious at the time the crew was spending on board LL so started the engine and moved towards LL.  They had to go some distance before it got dark.
When they had gone I read the section in Letter from the Caribbean about their experience with fisherman in the same spot and I realized that this was a well rehearsed routine.  Was it a good trade - yes but had I experienced a meeting with the simple fisher folk of Cuba - well no I had entered into a commercial exchange by some very smart people who played on my generosity and good will. Good luck to them but next time I will negotiate far better and will be equally demanding.
I left the next day at the top of the tide and had no difficulty with the depth.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 22:07.68N 80:22.19W at Cienfuegos on 15/4/2013

I left Cayo Brenon at the top of the tide to do an overnighter to the major port and city of Cienfuegos.  It is further to the west than the usual stopping off point of Casilda which is shallow and not very attractive.  There was no wind for 12 hours as I motored north west towards my destination.  A long slog however the sea was flat and the moon came up soon after the sun set.  LL had put the throttling down and was way ahead. I was not worried because I wanted to cover the 86 nm and arrive at dawn.
The colour in the east was just showing as I sighted the Punta de los Colorados lighthouse on the eastern shore of the entrance.  Be careful of the tide that sweeps along the coast eastwards for you will not make the entrance.  I arrived at the half dawn to find a well marked channel filled with rowing boats - fishermen setting of out to sea.  They carried only one light and in the darkness I was just able to see them.  They row out with the tide and return with the incoming tide.  The entrance is straightforward, a turn to the left then an turn to the right, northwards to the Cayo Carenas and a hard turn to port past the red flashing light No 14 and then a course of 008T into the large bay and the Marina Jagua.
I arrives as the sun came up and dropped the anchor some way off shore in only 2.9m of water under the keel.  I showered, put the entry uniform  on and went ashore to be met by the Customs fellow, same routine here. they do the paper work then the refrain.... what can you give me?.  The immigration was straight forward plus the harbour master and port control.  All done and dusted within half and hour.  Back to the boat to clean up and a lie down.  No sleep, so I went ashore and walked into the town - a long walk down a wide Malecon Boulevard with trees and two lanes.  It must have been a sight in its hayday but now it is just run down.
It was Sunday morning so the locals where out in force. The central Plaza Parce Jose Martin.  It is an amazing large square with a large Government building on one side, a Cathedral de la Purisima in another corner, a teatro Tomas Terry and in the final corner a watch tower which did have a complete view of the bay.  I walked round the square and found an open air performance of musicians and poets performing for the locals.  It was under some vines so I took a chair and spent two hour enjoying the music and poetry reading. Great experience.  On my way back I stopped into a small art gallery where a young man was displaying his picture.  Not my style but he told me that an agent had organised a showing of a few of his pictures in Sydney.  On my way out I asked if he knew of a good local restaurant.  He tried to explain then said I will take you.  I followed a few blocks and then through a narrow door into a small room with about ten tables set up with the full range of cutlery and wind glasses.  He introduced me to the proprietress who gave me a menu, at which point I asked the young man if he would join me for lunch - I would pay.  Yes.
We had a very simple prawn based meal with salad and a beer all for less than 15 CUC.
I walked home along the paved walkway flanked by all types of shops back to the Marina.
That evening I went ashore to try and contact the local people who had helped Eye Candy have such a good time in Trinidad and Havana. Unfortunately one of the fellows was in Havana while the other did not answer the phone used by a young man who offer to call them for me.  It turned out he was prepared to organise a private taxi to take me to Trinidad the next day.
At 8:30 the next morning Alex arrived in a car driven by a friend to take me the 75 km.  Trinidad was founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514.  It has been declared a world heritage city.  From 1600 to 1800 it was the centre of the sugar trade and the money flowed into the city as the sugar flowed out. The buildings reflect the wealth of the people however when the sugar stopped so did time and development so the city is well preserved.  The old centre has been restored with the original cobblestones streets and the pastel coloured buildings housing local people, restaurants, hotels and casa - a home stay room in a persons house at a controlled rate but paid for in CUC.
I was taken to the house in the poorer down town area and given a large high ceiling room with on suite bathroom all for 25 CUC.  The owner a woman who did not speak very much English offered to show me around the town.  We walked to the main square then returned to a small restaurant where I had chicken and she had pork.  A very simple meal for a few CUC.  That evening I had dinner cooked by the owner's husband who is a chef in an up market hotel in the town. Not a bad meal but nothing to write home about.
As it got dark I walked to the Plaza Major and on the right of the church on the stair leading up to the Casa de la Musica local music is performed.  On Monday and Wednesday it cost one CUC to attend which dissuades the locals but the committed attend to dance to the music.  I sat at a table next to a party and got talking to a German girl who was spending a month in the town learning Spanish at some school.  Her hobby was dancing and could she dance.  She was known by the local hot shots so she was on the dance floor all the time. She was as good as any of the local girls and enjoyed the different steps executed by the young dancers as compared to the more traditional steps used by the older blokes who can really move to the beat.  It all closed up at 1:00 am.  I found my way back to the house and slept well.
The next day I walking the city streets.  There are many fine restaurants, houses and hotels in the down town area - all with their windows open to let you see in side. A few houses have been turned into museums with an entrance fee of 5 CUC.
After lunch my private taxi arrived and we took the drive back to Cienfuegos along the coast.  At one point the road was covered with squashed red crabs who had been caught by the passing cars.  My driver slowed down to a crawl as he did not want to puncture his tyres.  Some where not so lucky and four or five cars where parked by the roadside with one missing wheel. We arrived back and I gave the driver 25 CUC for the return trip and 20 CUC to my guide - Alex.
That evening I met LL and we sat around the marina bar swapping stories while drinking beers at one CUC a can.  One of the best beer I have tasted in the Caribbean.
Tomorrow I set off to make some long hops to Cabo San Antonio and round that cape to Havana and Marina Hemingway.
A magical moment on Malua.

Malua is at 21:54.18N 84:57.50W at Cayos de la Lena near Cabo San Antonio on 22/4/2013

I left Cienfuegos in the late afternoon after checking out with the officials and waiting for the ebb to take me out through the bay entrance. I then set off southwards past the restricted area around the Bay of Pigs.  I was still in the shallow southern Cuban bays inside the reef. I passed a shallow spot at dawn and went out into the real sea with the wind behind me and a good set of waves crashing onto the reef.  I deceived that it was prudent not to take what looked like a narrow entrance into the reef just south of Cayo Largo but to go further west and take the safer wider entrance which is well buoyed.  A long slog to windward in 4 meters of water followed before I entered the channel and the designated anchoring spot.  I dropped the anchor in 3 meters of water but the rochla would not grab on the weedy bottom.  After four attempts I brought out the SQR and set two anchors.  That kept me from drifting into the channel.
The next day I took the dinghy to the Marina Puerasol which is near the airport and a long way from the five major hotels.  I hitched a ride with one of the tour trains bringing people to the marina. While the driver was collecting people at a hotel I ran through the grounds to look at the beach and sea.  The hotel could have been at any shore any where in the world however the beach was white, long and inviting but the surf was up so no one was swimming.  Back on the train and I was back at the marina.  The drive came from Havana on a 20 day turn around.  He lived in a hostel block, rather run down with all the other workers.  It was their change over day so they were waiting at the assembly point to return to Havana having I suspect received more in tips than their basic wage!
Off at sun up to find my way out the shallow area and into the real sea however there was no wind so for two days I motored towards Cabo San Antonio.  It is a very dangerous cape with strong winds and strong currents as they funnel through the Yucatan Strait between Cuba and Mexico however on the day I rounded the cape there was no wind and just a northerly flowing current. A good arrival.
I rounded the cape and set a course for a secure anchorage behind Cayos de la Lenha to find Matador with Stu and Steph on board.  I had heard them on the net for some while so it was good to put a face to the name.  They were waiting for a weather window to sail to Belize while I was waiting for more wind to go north west to Havana.  I put in 150 CUC of diesel at the Marina Los Morros just to be sure I could reach my destination if there was no wind but I wanted some wind to sail.  Be careful what you wish for.
I set off at dawn with no wind to make to 170 nm trip round the western tip of Cuba and along the NW coast towards Havana knowing that there would be only light wind and hopefully not on the nose. All was going well for the first 8 hours then the wind increased with wind into the strong gulf stream funnelling through the Yucatan Strait.  The seas were short, confused and came over the bow of Malua every minute or so.  I was hard on the wind beating into the wind which had now reached more than 20 knots.  While Malua was going well through the water I was making little headway towards my destination.  Back and forth I tacked.  On the second night I set a course on the starboard tack at mid night I tacked back towards the land and to my dismay was following the same course I had taken eight hour earlier.  The current was sending me back where I had come from.  I decided to make short tacks along the coast hoping to stay out of the adverse counter current along the coast.
It worked as I started to see the miles reduce to my destination. At one point the wind increased and I decided I needed to further furl the genoa.  I took a turn around the power winch and pushed the button.  Bang the furling line broke with a loud bang and the genoa unwound itself.  Out came the magic rope and I soon had the genoa re furled and under control however there were a few moments when I thought I would have to drop the sail to get it under control.
I finally arrived outside the entrance of Hemingway Marina at 1800 on the afternoon of the second day, to get very precise instructions on how to enter and secure Malua along side for the authorities to boards.  The entrance has a sea buoy a little off the reef.  The sea which is a good cross sea as one enters soon dies down to just a swell as you go pass between the channel marks and between the reef only a few meters off your quarter.  Turn sharp to port and come alongside a high rough wall.  I was met by the Customs fellow and his sniffer dog.  He was like all Customs fellow, efficient but always asking for something.  Next follow Immigration and Port Control.  All efficient with lots of paperwork.  All done, I was instructed to go up one of the wide channels which is the Marina.  I passed Balvenie and pulled along side just ahead of them.
It was great to see them again. Amanda put on a splendid dinner of her famous roast chicken.  A great evening was had by all and I returned to Malua to a well deserved sleep.
Were those magical moments on Malua?

Malua is at 23:05.50N 82;29.70W at Hemingway Marina Havana Cuba on 29/4/2013

I had finally arrived at Hemingway Marina a few miles west of Havana city after sailing clockwise round the south of Cuba.  It had been a great 25 days in a fascinating country with great towns, wonderful wild cays and challenging sailing.  I now wanted to see the city that brings together the old, the new, the culture, music and economy of Cuba. It is certainly an old city which in certain aspects stopped when the sugar and tobacco riches stopped flowing into the country.  It stopped when Castro started the revolution and the USA put an embargo on trade with the enemy and it went backwards when the oil crises hit the western world but despite all of this it is a city where people work and live and certainly have lots of fun based around their type of music and dance.
I took the local communal taxi into the centre of Havana for 20 pesos.  It passed the huge hotels with names familiar to any resort junky, the down a boulevard as wide as any in Paris or Rome lined with the Embassies of many of the worlds countries - South Africa but not Australia nor America.  The largest was the Russian which seemed to occupy six blocks with its own tower holding antenna and satellite dishes.  It had fallen into disrepair but must have been great in its day.
I was dropped off at the El Capitolio building which is a Neo Classical imitation of the Washington DC Capital building but with more intricate designs.  It was built in 1929 but is now undergoing restoration so I was not able to go inside.
I headed off to the Museum of the Revolution housed in the former presidential palace built in 1920.  It has a grand staircase at the entrance the many more as one tours through the rooms filled with picture and objects of the various local and overseas revolutions including the Angolan war where Cuba sent 30,000 troops to fight against the MPLA and the South African Forces.
Fidel Castro, Che, Roule and Cienfuegos and the other faces of the Cuban revolution are every where plus shots of them in the front line of the various battles.  It was a great experience to read their history written by the Cubans.
I walked all over the city and took a hop on hop off bus tour with commentary in three languages.  The best street is the retail street called Obispo.  It is a narrow cobbled street with building dating from the 16 to the 19th C.  Along the way are shops, houses and a few hotels, one was used by Earnest Hemingway himself.  It had many pictures of the man unfortunately only a few when his was young but still it was exciting to walk the halls where the great man drank.
I spent two days walking the streets of Havana.  It was full of people going about their daily lives, plus hundred of tourist from all parts of the world either walking the streets on tours or being bussed around in air conditioned coaches.  I found some great paintings and some paper mashe fish which I purchase at  CUC market for a song.  They are now on the bulkhead of Malua along with the painting of sea scenes from the Caribbean.
Here are my observations of Cuba in no particular order of importance:
The Cubans are very friendly but be careful the hand of friendship soon turns up when they ask for gifts or handouts.
The people are very well educated but not worldly.  Schools are free and 9.3 % of GDP is spend on all types of education. I dont know how they select who goes to what university.
They are healthy by any standard.  There is 1 GP per 150 households.  Medical and dental treatment is free,  the standard of practice is high by world standards but basic medication is just that basic.  Drugs from the west are not available.
Infant mortality is very low 4.3 per 1,000 births and mothers survival is very high.
The centrally controlled economy has adjusted to world events particularly the US embargo and the oil crisis - they returned to the ox and horse.  The GFC just passed Cuba by without any effect.
There is a two tier financial system implemented to take the money from the tourists.  The CUC at one to 25 local peso.  This has forces people into trying to get CUC from tourists either by offering services or selling their handy crafts in the CUC markets. It has also created a middle class from those who can deal with the outside world.
There is no petty crime and nothing is stolen but be careful if you are caught dealing in the black market or with tourist when you are not allowed. Don’t be caught with drugs or be a prostitute, the jail terms are long and hard.
I would go again if I could or had the time and would recommend that cruisers spend at least a month in the country giving equal time to the cities as to cruising the souther shores.
Many magical moments on Malua.

Malua is at 24:37.18N 80:20.95W in the Gulf Stream at noon on 30/4/2013

The trip from Cuba to Florida was forecast to be an easy run with the wind from aft of the beam.  I cleared customs and immigration and took on 150 CUC of diesel - the last of my money.  Then set off out the marina entrance after Balvenie who had left an hour before.
The wind was quite north as I moved into the strong northern flowing Gulf Stream.  With the wind against the current the swell banks up into a close chop difficult to sail into however Malua had one reef and a full genoa to help power through the waves.  After about 8 hour of sailing I found myself up-wind of Balvenie and well ahead however the storm clouds and squalls where gathering in the south west.  Before I knew it Balvenie had lost their wind and were forced to tack west.  I kept going north wards towards the Florida coast. At about midnight I came close to a freighter so I tacked to the west.  I could see a red mast-head light but could not tell how far off it was, so I switched on the radar.  It was well inside one mile.  Just then Amanda came on the radio asking if I would go below them or should they change course.  I was on port so I dipped below them passing astern within  200 m.  Not bad sailing that two boat should be that close after 14 hours.
From that point on our paths diverged.  I went west towards the Gulf stream while they kept close to the coast.  While I did not see any ships I had to slow down to take some cat naps and to tack more north.  By daybreak Balvenie was well ahead with Eye Candy leading the pack.  I missed the squalls and lightening which drenched their boats but fell into a no wind hole that continues right to my destination.
I had not purchased the C-Map charts for the USA so my charts ran out just 3 miles off the coast.  My backup helped me as I motored into an easy entrance early in the morning - 4:30 am.  I dropped the anchor near Eye Candy and Balvenie.
We now had to call the Customs and Boarder protection to get an arrival number.  I did that using my travelsimm.  $45 later I got the entry number.  The three Aussie (NZ is part of Oz) boats went ashore to face the friendly face of our first bureaucrat.  As we walked in I knew that this was not going to be easy.  The fellow behind the bullet proof partition must have thought his office space had been invaded by aliens which of course we are in the American's eyes.  He gave the three vessels a hard time always stopping to deal with a locals as soon as they entered the office.  Each vessel has their own story which I will leave them to tell but a sorry story about the difficulties of getting a cruising permit.
I was sent directly back to Malua to get some additional original documentation.  When I presented it to the Customs officer who then scrutinised it as if it was a forgery.  Not a word passed between us as he held it up to the light, turned it over, round and back again.  He was too stupid to put one on top of the other to see the difference.  I was then put through the 3 rd degree as to my movements in the last 3 months.  After a further half hour I was presented with my cruising permit ( the first I received in Puerto Rico so this was just a second with different dates).  I also requested a new stamp in my passport to reflect that I had just arrived.  A note to the authorities: That officer needs training on how to deal with the public and Customs needs to limit the discretion that these officers have in granting cruising permits.
Welcome to America, the land of the free and coalition partners in the fight against terrorists who are not Australians on cruising boats.
Not a magical moment for Malua.
Follow Malua's cruise north up the East coast of the USA
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