Thursday, March 22, 2018

Beautiful and remote – Los Jardines de la Reina

We just arrived yesterday in Cienfuegos, the “Paris” of Cuba, after a wonderful part of our Cuba experience, mostly under the water at Los Jardines de la Reina. It really is some of the most beautiful coral gardens I have ever seen. Apparently Christopher Columbus thought it was so beautiful that it deserved to be named after the Queen of Spain. The water is so incredibly clear and the reef so pristine and healthy it was a joy to spend hours just drifting through the gardens.
 



After leaving Cayo Cuervo we headed south and enjoyed a slow sail in about 10 knots of wind out into the ocean through a gap in the reef back into the rolling ocean swell. From this pass it was only about 5 miles to where there is a section of the reef that is submerged so we could sneak inside and get some protection from the south easterly swell and anchor near Cayo Alcatricito. There is nothing useful on our chart so we had to do it all by eye and it’s pretty scary as you pass over reef in such clear water it looks like it can’t possibly be deep enough. For once we used our headphones so we can easily communicate and we navigated through what looked like the deepest water and then made it to the sand and weed where the bottom flattened out and gently shallowed to the shore, so we edged our way in as close as we could with just half a metre under the keel. It was still a pretty long way out but the winds were expected to be light and the swell was our major issue. When we arrived we were totally on our own but by the time we launched the dinghy two French yachts arrived.



We went straight off to explore a narrow pass on the eastern end of the reef near Cayo Alcatraz Grande and couldn’t believe the water clarity and beauty of the reef when we hopped in the water. We spent several hours up there and then went to the end near to where we came in. The French were also here; I don’t think any of the yachties got out of the water before 6pm. We saw sharks and big snapper and very curious barracudas. The sharks were nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks and more interested in us than we are used to – hmmm glad to have a big stick  (spear) with us……

The next morning we took the dinghy to explore the mangroves and went right around the Cayo – we had read that there may be some crocodiles, but we didn’t find them just a lot of damaged mangroves – I suspect hurricane damaged. We walked for miles along the beach on Cayo Alcatraz then headed back to the reef for the calm afternoon at the reef. I don’t think I can remember such perfect snorkelling conditions. Then to end the day Andrew spotted a slipper lobster just strolling along – I quickly grabbed a pair of gloves and he made a great meal.







That night a fishing boat came into the anchorage at sunset and quickly rowed over looking to trade lobster or fish for rum. Fantastic – two lovely snappers in exchange for a bottle of rum that cost us 2CUC in Santiago. I through in a couple of limes and our last orange that actually came from Bob and Nan’s tree in Alabama – I think they’d approve! The fishermen were really happy too.

The next morning we decided to go and check out the western end of Los Jardines and had a gentle motor sail down to Cayo Breton. This was a little easier to get into with deeper water over the reef but a much more open bay. There is a a pass through the mangroves which we went to explore and found water deep enough to take Askari right inside if we felt the need but the bugs would most definitely be full on – lucky for us we had light conditions so were able to stay outside and took the dingy out about 2 miles across to explore the reef. We found the loveliest spot with huge boulders and such incredible fans with plenty of fish and a rather large shark that was sufficiently interested in us that it actually sent us back to the boat.

The reef was lovely but we had a problem – the beer had nearly run out! So we opted to make a longish trip to Cayo Blanco de Casilda for a quick overnight pit stop before heading on the further 40 miles to Cienfuegos and the bit city. Cayo Blanco is a tourist resort island (it looked pretty deserted though) and we arrived in pretty bad light.  The pilot book and our chart differed significantly so we went slow and then anchored in 3m of water where the chart said we had 0.1m. All good until I went to swim on the anchor and we were right next to a wreck – so we had to start all over again in a new spot.




An early start the next morning and a leisurely motor sail in a straight line directly to Cienfuegos. You enter the harbour through a narrow winding channel and then a huge lake opens out – city on one side and cliffs on the other. We passed the huge Guarda Frontera station and made our way to the Marina, where we went alongside for a couple of hours while we did our clearance and then anchored off with about 12 other yachts –mostly French. Ashore that evening we ran into John and Ada from Rhapsody and went for a celebratory Mojito together at the marina bar. We’ll now catch our breath and then go and explore – I find the transition coming back to a town anchorage after being out ‘in the wild’ a little bit challenging, but it feels good to be here and Cienfuegos is supposed to be really in

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