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(A True Cuban Adventure)
By Ron Carter

Cuban flag


Thursday March 22, l990

Cuban gunboat 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 had begun.

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 questions.

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 Rica.

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.

Cuban police barracks Ashore, we drank Cuban coffee and sat on the porch of the barracks.

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 something.

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 late.

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 conversation ended.

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 Spanish ornamentation.

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.

Front cover of international passport Inside international passport

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 container.

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"

Map of Cuba

This way back to [ Part One] of the Log

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