"LOG OF THE PRIM MERMAID"
(A True Cuban Adventure)
By Ron Carter
Thursday March 22, l990
We had, according to Ted, lost all but the storm sail, were out
of fuel, and so headed toward the harbor of Bahia Honda, Cuba
at 1100 hours. A water-jet powered gun boat sped out toward us.
As it approached, I waved and called out loudly, "Buenos dias".
The gun boat, with four men, three in uniform, came along side.
The three in uniform boarded the Prim Mermaid. They were
officers of the Ministry of the Interior.
The officers were very cordial while searching the boat,
displacing nothing, and then helped us moor the boat in the
harbor. I couldn't help but compare what I'd heard and seen of
the American Coast Guard searches of friends' crafts in Key West,
where the boat would be left in a shambles and sometimes even
pulled from the water and cut full of holes. This search by
Cuban authorities was orderly and polite, and when they had
finished, everything was just as it had been before the search
The young officer in charge of the boarding party returned to
the gun boat and radioed higher authority. I took this chance
to speak with him, climbed onto the gunwale of his boat and
spoke in very broken Spanish to him through the open window.
I explained to him that the captain of the Prim Mermaid was a
friend of mine and a good person, but that I was afraid to
continue traveling with him because I feared for my life. The
officer said something about a "pistola" and again I said that
the captain was a good man who had no weapons, but that I was
afraid to sail any further with him because I didn't think he
was capable. The officer conveyed my concern to his superiors
and asked that I put my request to go home by plane in writing.
The gun boat sped ashore leaving two officers on board. They
were left with a 45 automatic pistol which they both examined
very carefully as though it was the first time they had ever
seen one. Soon more officers and a woman interpreter, who spoke
a little broken English, sped out and boarded. We were
requested to show our passports and asked some routine
Ted explained that we needed to come into Bahia Honda
for repairs after being buffeted by the storm, and asked for two
days to prepare for departure.
I then requested, in Spanish, so that Ted wouldn't
understand, that I wanted to leave Cuba by plane. I didn't want
him to know what I had planned just in case the Cuban
authorities forced me to continue on with him. I needed to keep
on his good side, at least for a while.
If the authorities wouldn't let me fly home I planned to jump
overboard with my gear at the entrance to the harbor when we
were leaving, and swim ashore to hide in the jungle. I think
I'd rather take a chance in a Cuban jail than contine this
awful trip with a crazed captain.
We were told that we must stay on the boat and that we'd be
watched. A search light was trained on the boat all night.
I stuffed all my gear into my Army surplus waterproof rubber
bag in preparation to jump overboard, if the need arose.
Later I lay on the deck with the smell of fresh air and flowers
drifting over the water. The sky was so clear that you couldn't
pick out the constellations from all the other stars. A single
star fell and I slept.
Friday March 23, 1990
I awoke early to the captain's cursing and banging the wooden
slats of the deck just three feet from my head. The fuel which
he had spilled on the deck made the slats warp and,
half apologetically, told me that he was having an early morning
temper tantrum. This, even after having had a good night's sleep
for the first time since we had left Key West, only did more to
convince me that I couldn't continue with him on this trip to Costa
Later, after a breakfast of eggs and corned beef hash, we set
about repairing the damage from the storm. The sails which the
captain had told me were torn, were not, and the storm sail which
had been jammed just dropped down with no effort. So much for
the two days for repair which had been requested.
At 0900 hours, the craft prepared to sail, we waited for the
Cuban gun boat to bring the fuel oil which we had requested.
At 1100 hours the Immigration authorities came aboard with an
entourage of five men. The interpreter spoke very good English.
We were asked basically the same questions as the day before and
showed them our documents. Again, in Spanish, I requested to go
home by plane and asked also if it would be OK for me to take
notes, since I'd been keeping a running log of events. To my
amazement the authorities said this would be all right. I
continued to keep a log of everything and was never questioned
about my record keeping for the rest of the time in Cuba. No
one ever so much as asked me to show them my notes.
After all the government propaganda and American bad press I was
shocked that we were, as uninvited intruders in this communist
dictatorship, being treated as though we were VIPs.
We were invited to go ashore for a visit and a Cuban coffee, but
Ted, being very terse and rude, said he wanted to leave
for Costa Rica right away. I was elated and thanked the Cubans
for such a very generous offer.
The captain was asked if he had ever sailed the Prim Mermaid
solo and he said that he had, very easily. Once he was
convinced to go ashore, I was requested to tell him of my plan
to fly home. He was furious at me and said he couldn't
understand why I didn't want to continue on with him. I
explained how I felt about his half-crazed way of sailing, and
reminded him of his error in plotting a course, which, the night
before, had almost put us on the rocks. He denied that the
incident ever happened.
Ashore, we drank Cuban coffee and sat on the porch of the
After speaking with Ted through the interpreter, the
officer from Immigration spoke with me alone and explained that
we had a "Catch 22" situation on our hands. They could not force
me to leave on the Prim Mermaid, and they could not force Ted to
sail out of Cuba, solo.
After much negotiating and belly aching, the captain finally
gave in to reason. The Cuban authorities brought him a
navigational map of Cuban waters, since the American made maps
didn't show any detail and were actually incorrect in some
respects. They helped plot a course to Mexico, which included
two Cuban ports where he could moor overnight, making his solo trip
easier. They explained to me that they wouldn't allow him to
leave until the weather was fit. Then they would escort him out
of the harbor.
I left Bahia Honda in a compact European car with an
Immigration officer, the interpreter, and the officer who had been
in charge of the first boarding of the Prim Mermaid. This man
got out at the first small town, but not before questioning me
at length about America. He was very curious and asked lots of
questions. I thanked him for being so understanding.
The interpreter and I had quite a conversation on our way to
Havana, a trip which took about five hours. He explained to me
that although Cuba had problems, and was poor, it was easy to
see, there were no homeless. Everyone I saw along the road and
in the towns looked well dressed and healthy.
Most of the small towns along the way were crowded. I noticed
that the stores had many people in them, obviously waiting for
We drove mostly through farmland along the north coast. At one
point we stopped for a train loaded with sugar cane. This
antique steam locomotive belched fire below the wheels and
wobbled to and fro as though the tracks were too far apart.
We stopped to eat lunch in a rather shabby restaurant in Marial.
I had fried fish, potatoes, black beans and rice, water, white
wine and coffee. We wanted to order Cuban beer, which came in
bottles with no label, but were told, for some reason, we were too
I explained that I wished to pay my expenses but was told, "This
is on Fidel".
As we drove out of Marial I could see lots of small fishing
boats. In the main harbor were large ships with Russian names,
and on the outskirts of town were many small factories.
I was surprised to see an enormous new high-rise building of
about 30 stories, with a twin next to it under construction. There
was road work and construction of new homes everywhere.
The interpreter and I continued our conversation as the very well
decorated officer drove quietly.
I commented how beautiful Cuba looked and how friendly the
people were. When I explained that many Americans felt that, as
in Eastern Europe, Cuba would soon become free, the interpreter
got a bit defensive and said that if America tried to invade
Cuba, they were organized and well armed and would fight
furiously. I noticed small bunkers of concrete covered over
with earth along the coast we were traveling, but they appeared
to be remnants of the past. I explained that any future
changes in Cuba would probably come from within. With that, our
When we arrived in Havana I was surprised to see how green it
was and how wide the streets were. Many divided streets had
lush trees, shrubs, and grassy parks between them. Most of the
buildings were reinforced concrete of simple design, some with
I was taken to a large building of Spanish architecture where
another officer of the Interior asked me about my International
Passport. He said he had never seen such a document and very
carefully looked over the United Nations Declaration of Human
Rights, which I carry with it.
In this building, I was given a comfortable room in what seemed
to be a waiting area for temporary detention. I was allowed to
take with me anything I wanted. I kept my notes and pen, a
towel, and toiletries. They told me that dinner was served in
the cafeteria at 5:00 and I'd be on a plane for Miami at 9:00 PM.
I took a shower and went to the recreation room to watch an
American horror film, in English with Spanish sub-titles, on TV.
The other detainees were black men, and appeared to be students
from Mozambique, Ethiopia and other various African countries.
It seemed they were placed here after wandering away from Cuban
universities, and were being extradited home. In addition to
their native language, they each spoke Spanish, and a little
English. I saw only one black woman in detention.
One man told me that I looked like an artist. Others spoke of
Michael Jackson, Cool and the Gang, and American movies.
I had a few TicTac candies left and passed them around. Two of
the men had a argument over who would get to keep the empty
A well decorated officer asked me if he could have my United
Nations Declaration of Human Rights as a gift. I was reluctant
to part with it but gave it to him gladly since he showed such
great interest in this important document.
A woman in uniform came to ask me if I had an American Passport.
When I said that I did not, she told me that the American
authorities had insisted that I had to have an American Passport
in order to leave Cuba.
This way to
Part Three] -- "Log of the Prim Mermaid"
This way back to
Part One] of the Log
Key West Title Page]