Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A rural Cuban experience - 7th March 2018

Marea del Portillo was an anchorage we spotted immediately on flicking through the pilot book. It's completely encircled in mangroves on the edge of a village that reportedly had a great bakery and friendly locals - on a coast line that is mostly sheer from the mountains to the ocean this had our name on it. There is only one other spot at Chivrico and that looked a little shallow for us.

It was an overnight sail for us from Santiago de Cuba - although we had to try and go really slow as it was only about 75 miles. The forecast was for 15-20 knots from the NE so we set minimal sails as we left Santiago and turned West into a beautiful sunset. We hugged the coastline all the way and had wind that varied from 2 to 33 knots caused by the katabatic effect from the mountains, not surprisingly Cuba's highest mountain, Pico Turquino (1962 metres) sent us the 33 knots.

Shortly after we passed this monster of a mountain I sailed us into a complete lull at about 3am. We had a full moon, the most amazing stars; mountains looming up alongside us, and then a huge pod of dolphins came and swam all around us. For nearly an hour we just drifted on the current in this surreal environment with the sails trimmed tight - just magical. Andrew woke and we put the engine on for a few minutes until the wind came back and we sailed the rest of the way to Marea del Portillo.

The entrance to the anchorage was a little tricky, but exactly as charted and once inside the mangroves the anchorage was huge and just as we expected, totally protected. We had a sleep and gave Askari a good clean then spotted a fishing boat being rowed out and heading our way. It was the Guarda Frontera coming to clear us in - he was super friendly and really excited to come aboard Askari. It was a 1 mile row but no problem, shoes off before climbing aboard. He asked for a tour, you could tell he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Not many boats come this way. Anyway we all enjoyed a beer, as did his friend in the fishing boat - we have worked out that this makes the clearance process much easier. The fishing boat had a painter line made of sheeps wool twisted about two feet long so it couldn't even reach out cleat, so the fisherman just held on. The Guarda cleared us in to for two days, but we wished we'd asked for longer as there is some great walks and things to explore in this area and we felt so safe and secure after we went ashore.

Askari at Marea Del Portillo

Exploring that afternoon we found a super friendly rural village that had everything you needed including goats, pigs and horses roaming free in the streets. Unfortunately we were a bit late for fresh bread but bought fantastic bread sticks at the bakery, through a small window. A couple of ladies in the fisherman's compound, where are dinghy was parked, offered us eggs, honey and vegetables. We agreed to get these tomorrow after we had sought out wifi and had a good rest.

The next day we ventured across the bay to the south of the anchorage in the dinghy - it requires going across the ocean pass so best done before the sea-breeze sets in but there are two small all inclusive hotels over there. They welcomed us, sold us wifi cards and we finally got online. Now we have the cards we can use the few public wifi spots too. We made it back to Askari to drop off our FREDs and then go and get our provisions.

I went armed with cash and a bag of goodies for trading. In exchange an old beach dress and a t-shirt I got a beer bottle of honey plus a dozen eggs - trading in Olivia's front room, which was basic with just a table and four chairs, was quite an experience. She had a huge tray of rice spread out - it was unrefined rice and they were picking out the bad bits before cooking it. We forget how easy we have things at home. Everyone was super happy and the honey girl ran off to show her husband his new 'Nights of Pints' t-shirt from St Augustine, Fl.
A Casa Particular - local air bob

Local transport

The School

The Bakery

We went off to explore the mangroves later that afternoon and found a pass that went right out to the reef on the ocean side, it was really weird to be in the dingy with the ocean just there, but we were totally protected. The fishing boats hang out in this area at night, fishing with nets and lines - no motors only oars and basic sails here.

The next morning we were awoken by a call from a fishing boat knocking on the hull at 7am. It was Maria in her boat dropping off our cruising permit. The rules are that the Guarda Frontera or Harbourmaster must keep this document while we are in a port - I think they are supposed to inspect us before we depart to make sure everything is in order and no one new is on-board. I gave Maria a peso and a bar of soap for her trouble and she was delighted - her smile made my day.

We pulled the anchor and sailed on west towards Cabo Cruz on the corner of Cuba's southern gulf, about 100 miles west of Santiago de Cuba and exactly due South of the Abacos in the Bahamas. Not far as the crow flies but many miles under the keel since we were there in January. There's an extraordinary natural anchorage just behind the reef that we are pretty excited about.
Exploring the mangroves out to the ocean

Maria drops off our cruising permit

Leaving this great spot

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