By Sue Mitchell
After leaving Ft. Lauderdale in June, we stopped at Santiago de Cuba and thought we would share our experience with other captains. We had to go alongside the marina, which only accommodates small yachts or tenders as it was wrecked in a hurricane a few years ago and not repaired.
The city is a long way inland from the marina and only accessible by local cars used as a taxi service, a bus if it comes along or a long, hot walk into town. The taxi guy we had was reliable, friendly and, as always in Cuba, very helpful.
We noticed a lot more begging and hustling for business on the streets. There also was more selling of items for higher costs than you could obtain them in the shops. The big one is Internet access, which is only available in the main town square. (Nowhere else has any access; I mean nowhere, not even at the marina.) There were so many guys trying to sell Internet scratch cards.
Then we were bombarded by locals wanting to be our personal tour guides. Normally, there’s nothing wrong with that, except there were heaps of them. We never noticed this on any previous visits to the island. We asked ourselves what had changed, and the obvious answer is the new influx of business from the United States, especially flights and cruise ships. Santiago is one of the three ports the cruise ships frequent on a regular itinerary.
The feel of the place has changed already in a few short months, which is understandable, but a pity just the same.
The other big issue we experienced was pollution, mass amounts, in fact. No one could tell us where is was coming from, exactly, as the area is a commercial port with loads of industry on the shores, particularly where the freighters dock. Our gel coating got badly stained with a rust-like substance that was evident over the entire yacht. The fallout even etched our alloys and stainless onboard.
The locals in Port Antonio, Jamaica, call it Santiago chicken pox. They were standing by with a remedy to clean up our paint work upon our arrival into Jamaica. Port Antonio is a rundown port, but the marina is nice with a little bar and restaurant, nice pool and secure.
But put your head out the gate and what a shock. We had to stay for a week and could not wait to leave, to be honest.
We left Jamaica, dropped down to Providencia Island, an island in this group off Nicaragua, where we stayed for a week as we wanted to move on down toward Panama. Our main sail broke at the top of the mast and the only sailmaker within many miles is on this island, so we came here to repair the sail. Small job, and we got it back within 24 hours.
Then Brian decided to get the sailmaker to make us a nice big aft deck awning as our aft cabin is way too hot to even walk into let alone sleep in. A week turned into three as the guy disappeared off the island. We had paid him a deposit, then nothing heard. We had to hunt him down physically. It took another week for him to finish the job.
Most of the anchorages we’ve traveled to so far are polluted. Santiago de Cuba was badly polluted with fuel oil. Port Antonio was almost as bad. The trash in the ocean between Cuba and Jamaica (windward passage) was the worst we have seen in all the years we have been at sea.
Providencia Island was quite nice, the water was at least clear and we could get out and about without any issues.
Once we depart from here, we hope the real adventures begin; that’s what we’ve been told, anyway. We’ve met some nice people with good advice and good tips. The networking side of yachting is always great, no matter what size or style of yacht. It’s still a nice community to be involved with.
Veteran yachting captains Brian and Sue Mitchell are off sailing their 53-foot ketch S/Y Lola, eventually winding up home in Australia. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.