Dear Friend of CHARIAD:

Seven Friends including three of our active racing team just returned from Key West. We had chartered a 45 ft. Jeanneau Sun Odyssey and sailed to Havana, Cuba. Here is a brief overview of our adventure and my impressions.

First, spending eight days with this great crew was a wonderful experience by itself. Steve Perry, Chris Hardy, Peter Crawley, Peter Rugg, Kate Jones, and Mike Chester joined the crew of discovery and each contributed in a unique way. We had team leaders such as bursar, navigator, security officer, cook, etc. We had to get US Coast Guard approval for our mission “to aid the Cuban people.” Our crew had not been together before getting on the boat in Key West. We formed into a team that did two overnight sails, fed itself for a week, toured an island where we had limited proficiency in the local language, dealt with local government representatives who expect bribes and have absolute control over you, and saw much of Havana and other parts of Cuba. And we got back to Key West with ourselves and the boat intact.

Real Escape was our home for eight days.

CHARIAD crew sails from Key West to Havana on Real Escape, 45 ft Jeanneau Sun Odyssey

Part of the crew rented a van in Miami and bought provisions at Costco and other well known maritime outlets. Somehow we got a week’s worth of food, rum, and water on the boat Friday Feb. 22 at Ocean Edge Marina on Stock Island, Key West. We then met Paul and Ann Martin for dinner at Louis Back Yard as our shoving off dinner looking out on the night waters under a starlit ski. Our waitress insisted we take her with us.

We were off the dock Saturday morning by about 11 AM. We had not taken the boat off the dock until this moment. We eventually got the sails up and headed SW towards Marquesas Keys. The weather forecast suggested that making the passage to Cuba would be best that night. At 2:30 PM, we changed to a southerly course towards Cuba 90 miles away.

When we have warmer weather, I will do a slide show at a Friend’s gathering with more images of the sailing and Cuba. Hold on for more details and stories. What follows is just the high, high lights.

We sailed most of the night doing four hour shifts. The wind dropped early morning, and we motored the last leg arriving at Hemingway Marina at 10 AM Sunday.

Like the description of a relationship, Cuba is “complicated.” There is dancing at night and we went to a Buena Vista Social Club style cabaret performance. If there is resort style entertainment, we did not see it. The Cuban phrase books have lots of sex related translations, but we did not get to use them. At least I didn’t.

Yes, there are lots of 1950s US cars. Lots of taxis, but you see them in ordinary settings. These are 60 years old.

1950s car in Havana Cuba - by CHARIAD Skipper RIck Williams

I felt sad seeing so much of what was a grand city by Latin American standards decaying from neglect. The capitol building was modeled on the US Capitol. UNESCO is paying to restore the building for Havana’s 500 anniversary.

Havana Cuba capitol building restoration photo by CHARIAD Skipper Rick Williiams

The building had been left to deteriorate. Here are buildings directly across the street from the capital. A tree is growing out of the 2nd floor window of the abandoned building. This is the scene all over Havana.

Havana Cuba abandoned building photo by CHARIAD Skipper Rick Williams

Here is the US Embassy on the waterfront in Havana. This is the building the Cubans or Russians attached with radiation to make the employees sick.

US Embassy Havana Cuba flagpoles photo by CHARIAD Skipper RIck Williams

The tall rusty sticks are dozens of tall flag poles where the Cuban flag is flown when they organize demonstrations in front of the embassy.

Spain built strong fortifications at the mouth of the Havana Harbor when they were sending gold back to Spain, El Morro. Here is our crew on one of the cannons.

CHARIAD crew and friends on cannon at Havana Cuba fort

We watched the sunset over the city from this perch.

Fidel and the revolution are the religion of the government. We went to the Museum of the Revolution where we learned how the CIA poisoned the Cuban people.

Rick Williams CHARIAD skipper at Museo de la Revolucion Havana Cuba

Through the relative of a friend of Peter Crawley, we had a young man as a tour guide for two days. I asked him whether the Cuban people believe what their government has told them about the US. He said they do believe it. But he wants to come to the US at least to visit because he believes things are “best” in the US. I saw lots of very ordinary Cubans with hats, shirts, pants, etc. with the US flag. These are not baseball team hats, but just ordinary clothing. I did not see similar clothing with any other country symbols.

Most people we talked to do not like the Cuban government. But my impression is that they like with the Cuban people have done. Cuban’s are paid about $25/months by the government to do whatever they are doing much of which seems to be just hanging around. Our guide had three jobs.

Hemingway is a big deal in parts of Cuba. He wrote Old Man and the Sea while in Cuba. We spent part of a day at a wonderful beach east of Havana. Later in the day, we went to a small fishing village similar to the one Hemingway wrote about in the book. Boca de Joruco.

Visiting Boca de Joruco CHARIAD crew and friends

We also went to the small port from which Hemingway went fishing. Cojimar

My diplomatic mission was to present the Boston Yacht Club bergy to the Commodore of the Hemingway Yacht Club. When Fidel took over, Cuba had more than 100 yacht clubs. He shut all of them down as expressions of bourgeois culture. Jose Miguel Escrich re-opened the yacht club at the Hemingway Marina about 15 years ago for the purpose of teaching kids about the sea. He changed the name to the Hemingway Yacht Club and advocates for the YC as a channel for international cooperation and friendship. He told me about the many times Cuban government officials have tried to close the club including showing up one day to take all the furniture out of the building. Castro would tell the local officials to lay off the club because it was helping young people.

Rick Williams and Jose Miguel Escrich at Hemingway Yacht Club

Cuba is a country with no toilet seats. If there is any toilet paper, we did not see it. This is the facility at the Hemingway Marina.

Cuba bathroom toilet with no seat no paper

Under these circumstances, you learn to be very conscious of your toilet patterns. US credit cards are worthless in Cuba and they have two currencies. One for tourists and one for locals. We basically lived on the tourist economy. As a “rich tourist” visiting a country where the average monthly wage is $25, you are a big target for most people with whom you engage. Taxi drivers, bar tenders, street venders, etc. If they can con an extra CUC from you, they will. You are paying many times what a local would pay for the same thing. We ended up in a huge late night argument with a van driver demanding extra payments.

Yes, we did test Cuban rum and Cuban cigars. One of my treasured memories is the warm evening under the stars sitting in the cockpit of Real Escape smoking a Cuban cigar and sipping Cuban rum.

Another long process with local officials getting permission to leave, and we shoved off Wednesday afternoon. After some upwind work in seas too rough to cook dinner, eventually rose to a heading close to the Marquesas Keys. Before dawn, the wind died, and we turned on the iron genny. After a complex navigation track through coral reefs, we anchored off a narrow beach on the west side of the key about 10 AM.

We spent the day exploring the beach and floating in the water. The “sand” is small shell fragments. I have a sample to add to my sand collection.

CHARIAD crew swimming in ocean Florida Keys

Friday morning, we pulled anchor and header to Key West. We motored this last stretch while sharing stories about our lives and what we had experienced.

Once on the dock in KW, we had to find our stuff scattered over the boat and do a thorough clean of the boat. We had showers in a real bathroom and dinner at Hog Fish, a nearby boater’s dive.

Saturday was final clean up and getting off the boat. I went into Key West for two hours and had steamed shrimp and oysters on the half shell at Half Shell Raw Bar while watching Virginia and Syracuse play lacrosse on TV. While walking back to the shuttle to get back to the marina, I walked through a bar on the KW harbor.

Pool bar in Key West photo by CHARIAD Skipper RIck Williams

Too late for me to jump in the pool. Back in USA. Then a United flight to Newark and another to Boston.

That is my report.