Previous Title Home Next
This is part one of a chapter of my autobiographical book,
"Touring America Absolutely Free".

(A True Cuban Adventure)
By Ron Carter

Monday March 19, l990

Looking toward Mallory The Prim Mermaid is a 42', wooden hulled, ketch designed by John Alden. My friend for a year now, Ted, is the owner and captain. I am the only passenger and first mate.

We motored out of Key West harbor at 1500 hours with me at the helm.

The enormous cruise ship "Bermuda Queen" completely hid Mallory Dock from view as we passed.

Once we got out of the channel into open sea we headed south-west with jib and mainsail on our way to Costa Rica.

Bermuda Queen The Bermuda Queen, coming out of Key West, passed so closely that when I waved, several people on board waved back.

When we were out of sight of land I experienced a 360 degree, landless horizon, for the first time in my life.

The captain couldn't sleep, so I went below for a nap before sunset.

I had just gotten to sleep when I was called to take the helm. The sea had gotten very rough and the wind had shifted, so the captain hastily pulled down the mainsail which he told me had torn. He put up the storm main. It was dark and he was working so frantically that he somehow got the halyard tangled at the top of the mast.

The captain still couldn't sleep so he took the helm and I slept 'till dawn.

Tuesday March 20, l990

The seas are rough (15') and the north-west wind is high (45 knots). I take the helm and the captain tried to sleep.

As the day progressed and the sea got rougher the captain tried to take down the storm sail, but it was jammed. He checked our bearings with the Satellite Navigation System and found we had gone only 25 miles west of the longitude of Key West.

For the latter part of the day we ran the diesel trying to avoid drifting toward Cuba.

The captain still couldn't sleep so I took a nap for a couple of hours.

When I came back topside the captain told me he had changed course for Cuba.

- Personal feelings and observations -

As soon as we had left Key West the captain told me that a piece of the navigational equipment didn't work. Before leaving he had gotten a new fuse for it, but it had blown the new fuse.

We had to stop the motor several times on the way out of Key West channel to clean out the fuel filter. The captain told me we couldn't use the fuel in one tank because it was contaminated.

The captain's an alcoholic, has brought nothing to drink, and is going "cold turkey" on this trip! He also told me that all his trips had been trouble and that everything he had done for the past 20 years had gone wrong. I wonder why he never told me these things during the year I had known him.

I guess I did have a eerie premonition when, in preparing to leave Key West, he had trouble tying knots that would hold.

That second night at sea, trying to stay awake and alert while at the wheel, was a nightmarish experience. Since the captain hadn't been able to sleep, I tried to stay at the helm, even when it seemed impossible. I ate a couple of fig newtons. They tasted more wonderful than they had ever tasted to me before. I guess because I felt so horrible otherwise. I felt lonely, wet, cold, tired, and frightened.

I stared at the compass, not daring to look at the sea. Through the corner of my eye, I could see huge waves approaching. I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth, and hung on. Some of the waves crested, broke onto the boat, and rushed over the deck to pour out over the port side. Occasonally it was as though the boat was floating on an enormous cloud of bubbles. Only after I had tied myself, around the waist, to a secured line did I feel at all comfortable. The captain said that some of the waves were now 20' high.

Wednesday March 21, l990

At 0300 hours I saw lights in the distance from Havana. The captain still hasn't been able to sleep and was pacing the deck, waving his arms in the air and yelling over the wind, "God must be punishing me!" He flicked a cigarette butt into the wind and it flew back onto the boat in a shower of sparks. Since he had just spilled fuel oil onto the deck I feared fire. Trying to sleep below decks is now very difficult because of the terrible smell of the spilled fuel.

This afternoon I pulled the captain up the main mast on the bosun's chair. He tried to loosen the tangled halyard of the storm main from the top of the mast, but could not. When he was about a third of the way back down, he lost his grip on the mast and started swinging to and fro on the end of the line. Since the boat was swaying from side to side on the enormous waves, I feared he was going to fly off into the sea or get knocked silly by smashing into the mast. He did finally grab hold of the rat lines, saving himself from harm.

Tonight we tried to keep on a course that kept us above Cuba, in international waters.

Last night was bad; windy, cold, big waves, but I seemed to handle it alright. But tonight was a living hell. Again, I was wet, cold, tired, and sore. Staring at the red light of the compass seemed the only warm thing I could experience.

At one time during the height of the storm, while I was at the helm, following a course which the captain had given me, I heard what sounded like surf in the distance. I looked up from the compass to see a fixed horizon high in front of us. I yelled for Ted to come topside and showed him that we were on a collision course with the shore. I now could see the breakers about 200 yards off the port bow. The captain insisted that I hold my course. I prepared myself to crash. It took him a few moments to realize what was happening before he yelled, "Hard to starboard!" Even after we had come about he wouldn't admit that his course setting had almost put the Prim Mermaid on the rocks. He insisted that he had given me a setting which would only take us close to shore.

I must admit, it was on my mind, that beaching the Prim Mermaid then, would have ended this awful trip for me.

We set a new course which took us away from shore.

Several times last night there were search lights scanning the seas from many different directions and we thought that Cuban gun boats were looking for us.

For a period of time, I steered, alone on deck, not knowing or caring what direction we were going. At times I just let go of the wheel and let the boat go where ever she wanted. This was when I realized that the Prim Mermaid could do anything. I'd lost all confidence in Ted's ability as captain, but still had faith in the Prim Mermaid. I feared that Ted would fall overboard or have an accident and I'd have to handle her alone.

Just as my only friend, "Orion" began dipping into the turbulent horizon I saw the light of a town in the distance, like a light at the end of the tunnel.

I feel I can no longer travel with Ted since he doesn't seem to be in control. He is having many temper tantrums, and I feel he's lost his mind, possibly due to quiting drinking and not getting any sleep for many days. I also think he doesn't know enough about sailing to be taking such a long journey. He told me we'd put in at the Cuban port of Bahia Honda in the morning. When we arrive, I plan to ask the Cuban authorities if I can take a plane back home.

First sighting of Cuba

"First sighting of Cuba"

This way for [ Part 2 ] -- "Log Of The Prim Mermaid"

[ Key West Title Page]
[ Home]

Back to the Top of the Page