Sailing to Cuba
Palm Beach, FL, to Marina Hemingway, Cuba.
Sailing from Palm Beach to Marina Hemingway took roughly 40 hours, and rough hours they were, though we wouldn’t have known it from the outset. Our evening departure began smoothly with a motor sail along the Florida coast. As we passed the Keys, the seas started to build into giant, veiny waves. The swells heaved at us, sloshing Madame X like a single sock in an enormous washing machine. At midnight I joined “Sir” for the 12am to 4am shift and nearly pissed myself with fear. Pissing myself wasn’t an option, swaddled as I was in my sailing bibs – vanity prevents me from ever buying the proper, roomier size of any athletic gear. So I held my bladder and steered a terrifying course, dead downwind with sails wing-on-wing.
With each wave, the wheel yanked to windward, snapping the jib across the deck. Sir would blurt out a God damnit with every snap, bemoaning the beating of his poor jib sail. Then the force would swing back to leeward and the bow would dip sharply, flirting with an accidental gybe. I glued my eyes to the bow, hoping it would steady my steering. The waves were hypnotic, and occasionally I’d hallucinate whales and ships and sea monsters riding them. It reminded me of driving alone on country roads at night and seeing the trees morph into giant demonic rabbits. Very disorienting.
Excepting the insane waves, the wind was generally favorable. At one point our Garmin GPS recorded us cruising at 13.3 knots, presumably while we were surfing one of those giant rollers. I was too scared to look at them dead on. When the moon came out the waters lit up like molten silver. For a fleeting moment I forced myself to relax and commit the beauty to memory. The moon! The spray! The menacing waves! Then before I knew it my shoulders would hike back up around my ears and the fear would root itself in my chest. When Sir offered to take over the helm, I nearly collapsed from gratitude, my body visibly convulsing from stiff-arming the wheel.
When I wasn’t on watch, I lay in my bunk listening. Every wave that pummeled the hull, every line that thrashed on deck sent a ripple of noise through the cabin. It felt like the inside of a drum. When at one point a giant BOOM shuddered through the hull – followed by a flurry of expletives from on deck – I thought, Whelp, That’s it. We’ll be sleeping with the fishes any time now. Further inspection revealed that the sound came from a busted boomvang, the result of an accidental gybe. Thankfully we had a defender on the boom to protect crew from certain decapitation in such an event, so the vang was our only casualty.
The lumpy outline of Cuba finally materialized in the wee hours of Sunday morning. We unfurled our Cuban flag from the starboard stay, careful to align the single point of the star towards the sky. By afternoon we were motoring around the concrete channels of Marina Hemingway. Men in green army fatigues were already waiting for us on shore.
I scribbled in my diary, Cuba is already shaping up to be a very strange place…
Next up: Surviving Immigration/Customs