This is part one of a chapter of my autobiographical book,
"Touring America Absolutely Free".
"LOG OF THE PRIM MERMAID"
(A True Cuban Adventure)
By Ron Carter
Monday March 19, l990
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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"
This way for
Part 2 ] -- "Log Of The Prim Mermaid"