Leaving Los Morros: Handling Cuban officials

We arrived at the Isla Mujeres, Mexico, outer sea buoy around 0730 local time after a 25-hour 113-nm passage from Los Morros, Cuba. We planned to arrive at dawn so we had all day to find our way into the Bahia de Isla Mujeres. This meant leaving Los Morros before 0800 the day before. As always, we plan on delays when dealing with Cuban officials, so we scheduled departure for 0700 knowing that the official of the Cuban Guarda Frontera would likely be late; sure enough, he came strolling down the dock well after 0700.

Of course, the official had to fill out more paperwork and collect $10 U.S. for the exit stamps. We finally left the dock at 0745. Los Morros is located on the east side of the Cabo de San Antonio hook at the west end of Cuba. After three weeks we had had enough of Cuba and longed for the beautiful Isla Mujeres lying at the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The weatherfax had shown three days of favorable weather for the crossing of the Yucatan Channel. The channel flows north along the Yucatan Peninsula, dividing west of Cuba. A branch of the current continues north, and a branch rounds the west end of Cuba and turns eastward into the Florida Straits.

As was so often the case in Cuba, the official promises didn’t quite match the situation on the ground. The Los Morros marina that was promised to us in Havana wasn’t the one we saw; the buildings and dock were new, and diesel and water were available, but the two important services promised in Havana — immigration and protected dockage — were not.

The Cuban official was dressed as a civilian, not in the green uniform of the Guarda, supposedly to make him less intimidating to visiting sailors. As the Guarda Frontera waited at the dock to check us into Los Morros, Kathy turned to me and said, “He was at Bahia Honda four years ago. I recognized him because he looks like David.” David is our oldest son.

Kathy leaped onto the dock, gave him a big hug and explained in limited Spanish about meeting him four years ago in Bahia Honda. At that time he was standing in the bow of a leaky wooden dinghy and paddling out to our 34-foot boat using one oar. Four years ago we tried giving him simple Christmas gifts that he wouldn’t accept. Later that evening in Los Morros, he stopped by the boat and we gave him a T-shirt and a few toiletries.

Even though the official was friendly, he still demanded we sail 60 nm around the south coast of Cuba, directly into the easterly trades, to Maria La Gorda for the immigration official stationed there to check us out of Cuba. After that we would have to turn around and sail west to Mexico. Unbeknownst to the Cubans, we were determined, if necessary, simply to sail off and not bother to check out, rather than sailing 60 nm in the wrong direction. The Cubans have few patrol boats, none we could see in Los Morros. By the time we rounded Cabo San Antonio, we would be well out to sea, beyond the 12-mile limit.

Since they had no immigration official as advertised, and we rebelled at sailing in the wrong direction, the marina staff finally sent for an immigration official from Maria La Gorda to check us out; a five-hour round trip by van. He arrived early in the evening, examined our passports, stamped our visas and allowed us to sail to Mexico in the morning. Fortunately, the favorable weather was expected to hold and we had allowed an extra day at Los Morros for Cuban delays. The weather Friday morning was cloudy with a light northeast wind expected to clock to the southeast at 15 knots before nightfall. Before leaving the dock, we each took 30 mg of our seasick medicine just in case, since we had not been to sea for three weeks. We can’t afford seasickness when there are only two people onboard; someone has to sail the boat. n

Dick de Grasse is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and holds an auxiliary sail master license. He and his wife, Kathy, live on Islesboro, Maine, when not sailing.

By Ocean Navigator