So far our time in Cuba has been an exercise in patience, first waiting almost three weeks in Cayo Levisa for the “augmented trades” to settle down a little, then cautiously making our way in short hops to Cabo de San Antonio at the westernmost tip of the island, looking forward to cruising east along the sheltered south coast for the rest of the season.
We enjoyed some nice sailing once we finally left Cayo Levisa, encountered our first lobster fishermen—actually, we thought the tiny open boat a good mile offshore was in some kind of trouble. There was a man in the water, and two men on the boat were waving their arms at us. We dutifully dropped our sails and motored over to them only to discover that all they wanted was to “give” us some lobster. The man in the water was a diver. He was tethered to the boat with a length of rope and pulled the boat behind him as he worked his way along the coral heads. I can’t imagine it was easy going—the two men in the boat were quite substantial and there was a heavy-looking one-cylinder diesel engine sitting in the bottom of the boat. But whatever they were doing, it worked: they had plenty of lobster.
They offered us two, which we gladly accepted, offering them a bottle of rum in return. Big smiles. Then they asked if we had any spare rope. Chris, who is very attached to his rope collection, wistfully parted with a length of old halyard. So it was lobster dinner that night, in a completely secluded anchorage. Until a rowboat entered the bay, two men from the local fish station with five lobsters. These “cost” us two shirts, a bottle of rum, and a can of Pringles. Cheap at twice the price.
The next morning, I made lobster-salad sandwiches before we pulled anchor—we were expecting a lively sail across a 25-mile bay between the reef and the mainland and I knew it would be too rough to go below and make lunch. I congratulated myself on my forethought as we unwrapped our sandwiches while rollicking along at seven knots—an amazing speed for us.
I soon wished I had gone with the usual crackers and cheese. Not long after lunch, Chris’s lips started to tingle. Then swell. Then he started having trouble breathing. Then he began having difficulty swallowing. We managed to get a Reactine tablet in him before his throat closed up, but his lips and face—and we have to assume his airway—continued to swell. He had to lie flat in order to breathe.
In all the years we’ve been sailing, this is the most frightening situation we’ve ever encountered. I was trying to decide whether I would have the courage to do an emergency tracheotomy if things got worse, never mind have the strength to reduce sail—we were now galloping along wildly with way too much sail up—when slowly his breathing started to improve. Before long, he was able to sit up again.
“What are you doing woman?” he slurred with a lopsided grin. “You’ve got way too much thail up.”
It took until evening for the swelling in his face to go down. It took me a lot longer to get over what might have happened. I will admit that once we were safely anchored and knew he was out of danger, I turned into a sniveling mess. It was definitely a Kijiji moment. I think if we had had internet access, this boat would have been for sale.
So friends and family take note: Chis seems to have suddenly developed a serious shellfish allergy. No lobster, no shrimp, no scallops, no mussels, no clams—nothing like that, okay? At least until we can figure out what else he might be allergic to besides lobster. In the meantime, we’ve acquired an Epipen and we don’t go anywhere without it.
I felt better the next morning—and so did Chris—so that evening we set off as planned to sail around Cabo de San Antonio. You want to make this passage at dusk, when the wind is light, because once you’re around the point, you’ll be heading straight into… wait for it… the augmented trades.
We made it around without incident, except for some confused seas right at the point where several strong currents meet. Then before long we were sailing steadily into the wind, tacking back and forth all night—but under an incredibly beautiful star-filled sky.
The south coast is as pristine and remote as we had hoped, clear blue water, white sand beaches, never another boat in sight except our friends Jacqui and David. We’ve made our way along this coast slowly, in easy day hops, when the wind allows, no overnight passages. Because we’ve learned a new term here: diurnal trades. Not instead of augmented trades—as well as them. What this means is that in the winter months, the “normal” trades pick up in the middle of the night, reaching 20- to 25-knots before settling down sometime the following morning.
As I write this, last night’s 20-knot winds have just begun to ease a little. The seas outside the reef here will be huge—we know that because we’ve tried twice to set out mid-morning to make the run east to Cienfuegos. The first time we turned back when, in addition to having the wind on the nose, we found ourselves pounding into six-foot seas. The second time, we persisted a little longer, hoping the seas would drop as the wind abated. But if anything, the seas continued to build. When they reached nine feet, we turned back again.
The winds will be back tonight. And the night after. And every night in the foreseeable future. But we don’t care now. We’ve given up on the idea of moving east and are heading to the Cayman Islands in the morning. They are due south of us, so we’ll have the wind on the beam—and the waves too, unfortunately. It’s going to be a rolly ride.
But enough already. It’s time to go.