Cuba Logs Part 3

 For Sequoia the trip to Cuba started in the Abaco's where the boat had spent the winter.  Normally, Melinda and I would have brought the boat back to Stuart, Florida ourselves; however, given the impending birth of our fourth grandchild, we hired a professional captain to handle this leg of the journey.  We were delighted to welcome Eli Reed Guerere to the family on March 3rd.

   We arrived in Stuart, Florida on March 22 the same day as our boat manager, Will Bishop, and his assistant, Joe Spino departed.  They had spent some days preparing Sequoia and doing routine maintenance.  Given Melinda and I had been up at 4:30 am, we had a light dinner on board and hit the hay early.  The next day Thursday we were up early and provisioned the boat.  Thursday evening we had dinner with our good friend of nearly fifty years, Jeff Kelly.  Unfortunately Jeff's wife Brigid was at the hospital with her mother who was about to undergo surgery after a stroke.  As we understand it, the surgery was a success.  Michael and Bobbe Brown arrived the next day, Friday and settled in on Sequoia.  During this time we were experiencing 20 to 25 knot winds  from the northwest and were happy to still be on the well protected dock at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart.

   Given that high winds were forecasted to continue, we decided to depart south a day earlier than anticipated and travel on the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) south to Lake Worth as opposed to our preferred route which was to proceed outside in the Atlantic.  In our view, Florida has few good anchorages compared to the Northeast.  While not a great anchorage compared to those in the northeast, Lake Worth is not a bad one for Florida.  As we were in route to Lake Worth, we were impressed by the quantity of boat traffic on the ICW.  The boat traffic was back at the levels we experienced prior to 2007 likely aided by both the economic recovery and low fuel prices.  In Jupiter, there were so many boats around Sequoia that it seemed like we were being buzzed by hoards of mosquitos.  They came from all angles and many were just coasting along at one and two knots.  With her immense 48 inch diameter props, Sequoia does five to six knots at an idle.  So this meant we were constantly shifting between neutral and forward so as not to run into the boats in front of us.

   After a pleasant night in Fort Worth, we were off to Fort Lauderdale and the well known Pier 66.  Pier 66 is where we docked Mystic Pearl II after she was unloaded from the ship which brought her from Palma, Spain.  In 2011 we stayed there several nights before sailing Mystic Pearl II one thousand miles up to Newport, RI.  At that time, Pier 66 looked very tired.  Since then it has been rebuilt and caters to many super yachts of which our boat is not one.  As you might guess, prices have been raised accordingly.

   After a delightful evening at Pier 66, we continued south to Key Largo and  one of the most exclusive clubs in America, The Ocean Reef Club where President Obama would visit to play Golf as well as many other past American Presidents, CEO's and famous movie stars, etc.  We had a pleasant time and at dinner ran into Marianne Florio, whose husband Steve had passed away a number of years ago.  Steve had been the CEO of Conde Nast and a member of our East Coast Club, Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club. Marianne looked well, and it was great to see her.  While Ocean Reef is very expensive, (about $8 per foot of Sequoia per night and twice the going rate in Florida) we thought it would be nice to visit for one night, and it fit well with our float plan.  Our guests, Michael and Bobbe Brown were both very kind and gracious to buy us dinner at Ocean Reef.

   From Ocean Reef we continued traveling south to Marathon, Florida.  Marathon has a reputation as a town where old hippies hang out and often drag their living room furniture out on the beach and enjoy cool drinks or other substances. This time however we could not get a reservation in Marathon harbor proper and consequently had to leave Hawk Channel, pass through Seven Mile Bridge and backtrack five miles on the ICW to Faro Blanco Marina on the other side of Marathon.  For those who have not cruised Florida south of Miami, Hawk Channel is on the Atlantic side of Florida.   It is a channel between the Florida coast and a reef lying about three miles offshore. At Marathon, Florida is a strip of land about 1/4 mile wide running south to Key West with the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.  When visiting Marathon for the first time, I felt like we were getting very close to the edge of the world.  Well if not the edge of the world, certainly the far edge of the United States.  It is very remote.  I would encourage readers to pull it up on Goggle Earth.

 Heading out of Key West  After a night in Marathon, we were off to our final destination in the United States, Key West.  I had not known much about Key West and expected it to be a bigger version of Marathon.  Not so. Key West is a thriving city with parts that remind one very much of Provincetown on Cape Cod but larger. Like Provincetown it is very funky, attracts unconventional people and boasts many tattoo shops as well as drag queen performances.  It is fair to say it is a place where almost anything goes but also has its serious industrial and fishing sides.  I was not aware of what a significant tourist destination it is particularly for young people on spring break.  What Key West is most famous for is that it was the southern White House for President Truman and used many times by different Presidents for a variety of reasons.  Key West was also known as an important Wreckers center.  That is a center for the wreckers who would go out and save people on ship wrecks and then unload the cargo and split it with the owners on a salvage basis.  Key West and the surrounding areas were notorious in the 1800's for many ship wrecks due to the extensive reefs in the area and the frequency of hurricanes.  Finally, Key West has long been a major naval base for the US.

   At Key West we did some last minute provisioning and connected with Harmony Charters for the skippers meeting.  Harmony had done an excellent job of organizing the event.  Ed and Linda Heller were real standouts.  Ed handled the Skippers meeting superbly with his great knowledge and succinct manner.  So many times the people who lead these meetings run on and on.  Linda had done all the spade work of putting together the individual boat packages and dealing with innumerable questions beforehand.  I must have emailed her at least a dozen times in the previous six months.  Each time she responded within two hours, succinctly and with detailed information.

   So to sum up, the trip to Cuba had gone extremely smoothly prior to our departure from Key West.  Indeed compared to many of my previous logs it was almost boring.  We had some weather the first day but after that we had an excellent weather window; the weather was fair, and we had smooth sailing. Log 4 begins with our departure from Key West and all night journey to Cuba.  What you will see beginning in Log 4 in this Cuba Series is not so much a sea story like my previous Logs but rather a political and cultural commentary on both Cuba and the United States.  Despite traveling to at least 30 countries previously,  the trip to Cuba caused me to reflect on the government of the United States and the government of the country we were visiting much more than ever before.   In the past, my business travel really caused me to focus on the business at hand and related country risk issues.  Our travel for pleasure caused me to focus largely on recreation and geography but this trip caused me to focus on big and perhaps too powerful governments and how they serve themselves and not the people they represent.

   The trip was contextualized prior to departing California by a repeat television analysis of the JFK assassination.  After viewing it, I again said to myself that there is no way the Warren Commission findings reflected the reality of what happened in Dallas.  Having been a strong competitive rifle shooter in my earlier days, I concluded that it was virtually impossible for Oswald to pull off those three shots with an old bolt action rifle at a moving and accelerating target at substantial distance.  Many experts agree.  I then looked on the web for the principal competing theories.  The leading candidate is a theory that the CIA was behind the assassination.  What a coincidence.   The CIA had more than a passing involvement with what happened in Cuba as we shall see in my coming Logs.

   On a related note, President Eisenhower sent a message to the American people as  he was leaving office in 1961.   President Eisenhower was widely supported by both Republican and Democrats. He was viewed as having extraordinarily balanced and good judgement. His words and profound warning  to our  country were: beware the military industrial complex.  For years I never thought about these words too seriously but more recently I have been giving them more thought.  Our trip and experiences in Cuba would serve to exacerbate these concerns. They gave me an opportunity to reflect on our government and its actions from a distance.  Make no mistake about it.  I came away from our experiences in Cuba with a profound concern for and recognition of the power of the Cuban Government over its people and indeed anyone visiting the country.  We were warned before going that our every move would be monitored and indeed they were. This is no joke or exaggeration.  When we wanted to exchange dollars for CUC's, the Cuban currency with a individual on our boat, he had to pay off the security guard who was monitoring our every move 7 by 24.  Then when we wanted to invite a Cuban friend ( discussed later ) on our boat to see what it looked like, there was a bit of an altercation which fortunately did not result in he and his uncle being arrested. However, they were prevented from coming aboard.  The profound conclusion we came away with was that the Cuban Government is really scary.  What is more concerning is that it is a hundred times better today than twenty years ago.

   What is perhaps more concerning is that the Cubans present a story about the United States which is very troubling.  Now don't draw the conclusion we swallowed all their propaganda hook, line and sinker.  But we did ask ourselves, might there be a bit of truth in their accusations.  The troublesome answer as you will see is yes.

(on the return passage from Cuba)