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El Weekender

No 64

960 Miles to Havana

By Gilbert Arrazalolo

Part 2

We pounded through the night in four to six foot swells.  I tacked several degrees south to smooth the ride.  Roberto had become full blown seasick.  I blamed myself because I should have asked him to take the Dramamine before we left the dock.  There is nothing more miserable than being sick at sea.  There is nowhere to go and relief is impossible.  He was laying on the bridge trying to sleep.  I told him to stay out of the cabin.  Baldo was on the first mate chair and I remained at the helm.  Erick had gone below to sleep.

The moon was barely visible through the clouds.  I checked the barometer again and noted the value on the cruise log, 29.25.  Even though we did not have satellite weather the barometer was a good indicator for weather.  You are supposed to take readings every hour and record them.  You are looking for any increase in barometric pressure in excess of one tenth for more than three hours at a time.  If the barometric pressure climbs in excess of that rate, it means high winds, big swells and bad storms are coming.  It was five in the morning and I could see the sun start to creep over the eastern horizon.  The sea seems to calm down and the duration between swells decreased.  I checked my heading and reset it dead on Dry Tortugas.

“It’s good we did not go back,” said Baldo.  The sea is starting to lay down for us.”

“Yes, it is,” I said.  “I want to sleep.  Can you take the helm a couple of hours?  I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee.”

“I can do that.  It’s about time,” he said as he slid over to the captain’s chair.  I went down below, the couch had moved to the center of the salon and the cabin was in disarray from the pounding we had taken during the night.  Erick was asleep on the couch.  I made my way to the galley and put a fresh pot of coffee.  I added a couple of extra scoops to make it extra strong. 

“I smell coffee,” said Erick from the salon in his strong Arkansas accent.  “You want me to take over on the bridge?”

“Ya buddy,”  I told him.  “Baldo is at the helm.”  I took a spill proof carafe to Baldo.  I instructed him to record the fuel consumption numbers from the flow scans when we reached 100 miles.  Even though the yacht was a 1984 model, I had installed some pretty high tech accessories.  The flow scans told you what each engine was burning in diesel per hour.  It also gave you a reading for total gallons consumed per engine.  We would be traveling 880 miles with 1000 gallons on board.  If we could maintain a one gallon per hour rate we would arrive at Key West with an extra 120 gallons.  I liked to keep 100 gallons in reserve because I never knew exactly how much of your diesel on board the Quid Pro Quo would actually burn due to the configuration of the fuel tanks so we were playing it tight.  I retreated to the aft stateroom.  I loved to sleep while underway.  It felt like sleeping in a crib.  I closed my eyes and was out like a light.

“I woke up to the gentle ocean breeze on my face.  When you open the vent from the forward stateroom and the vent at the back of the aft state rom, a steady breeze makes its way through the cabin.  I took a quick shower and headed to the bridge.  This was what ocean travel was all about.  The view that opened before the bridge was incredible.  The seas were now at 2-3 foot swells.  The water was cobalt blue and crystal clear.  There was not a cloud in the sky.  Roberto was still laying on his side. 

“How are you Roberto?” I asked.

“Not good,” he said.

“Come down, below I’m going to do some voodoo on you, see if it fixes you up,” I told him.

“Ok, si senor,” he said as he followed me.  He had traces of vomit on his shirt and he looked dehydrated.

I told him to sit Indian style on the bed and cross his legs. 

“Close your eyes,” I instructed.  He closed them and I held his head in both hands.  “Relax.”  I started to move his body to his left.  “Open your eyes,” I told him.  His eyes remained steady as I lowered him down on his left side.

“Ok,” close your eyes again.  He closed them and I lifted him back to center.  I started to lower him to his right.  “Open your eyes,” I told him.  He opened his eyes and immediately they started rolling into the back of his head as I lowered him.  “Ok.  The crystals on your right side are stuck.  I laid him on his left side and started tapping with my forefinger around his right ear.  I instructed him to go back on the bridge and lay on his left side so that the crystals could equalize.  The treatment was for Benign Paroxymal Positional Vertigo but I was a rookie so I hoped I as doing it right.

We reached the half way point at 440 miles at 43 hours.  We brought the quid pro quo to a stop and shut the engines off.  Its always risky to shut the engines off out at sea.  We checked all the fluids.  I checked the fish finder to be sure we didn’t have company in 3000 feet deep water.  We took turns diving off the hard top.  It was a 20 foot dive from the hard top to the water.  It was awesome.  Surprisingly, Baldo reported that we did not need any oil in either engine.  I had changed to oil to Royal Purple full synthetic and it had paid off.  The engines purred at 170 degrees and had not burned a drop of oil.

We kept making way east.  I had been on about 10 cruises, but I had never seen the sea lay down so flat.  I could see the reflection of the clouds on the sea.  It was like a beautiful gift that kept changing into new vistas.

Eventually, the GPS told us we were 30 miles from dry tortugas.  Dry Tortugas was 80 miles West from Key West.  We would stop there for the night to tour Ft. Jefferson.  We gathered on the bridge and I told Erick to get the bottle of Dom Perignon.  I liked to pop the top when we first saw land.  I had also saved some of my old Cohiba cigars for this occasion. Roberto was on the bow pulpit gazing ahead with the binoculars.  The voodoo had worked and he had thoroughly enjoyed the last 300 miles.  I saw a sailfish break the surface at 3 oclock from the bow. 

“Wow,” said Baldo.  We had never seen that before.  It jumped and seemed to shake the water from its fins.  It was incredible.

“Tierra!  Tierra!” yelled Roberto. 

“Woohooo!!!!” yelled Erick.  I saw the structures on Dry Torugas.  I popped the top off the bottle and we made a toast.  We made our way into the port and found a place to anchor down in about 20 feet of crystal clear water.  There was still daylight so we lowered the dinghy and went to land.  There were about 30 campers on land and about eight yahts anchored down.  The island, although a national park, had no services.  There were no phones or a camp store.  I approached a 70 foot yacht to see if they had a satellite phone but they only spoke in Russian.  I thought it was odd that Russians would be cruising out here.  I had not brought a satellite phone so I wanted to alert my sister that we had made it safely.  I had told her to call the Coast Guard if she did not hear from me in 5 days.

We toured the Ft. in the morning.  It was incredible that the Spaniards had expended the resources to build this fort out at this remote location. It took 16 million bricks. There were about 420 huge cannons at the fort but supposedly the Ft. had never been involved in a battle.  We came across three tiny boats that had been used by Cuban refugees to reach Dry Tortugas.  The ingenuity in building these boats was incredible.  I did not recognize any of the awkward power plants.  Tiny lawnmower engines or Russian motors.  The truly incredible part was the courage it took for someone to venture into open water to battle the gulf stream and any other ocean conditions.  I wondered how many of these tiny crafts sat on the ocean floor.  I thought about the oppression that motivated somebody into this magnitude of risk.  It was ironic that we were going on vacation to the same place they had escaped.

We left the fort at 11 am and made our way towards the Marquesas Islands.  It was a chain of islands from Dry Tortugas to Key West.  We passed the Marquesas and kept making way towards Stock Island Marina.  I was not sure if I still wanted to go to Cuba.  We had burned 845 gallons so far.  We pulled into the fuel dock at 6:35 pm.  We tied down and made our way to a restaurant.  I was ready for a good meal.  My mind was scattered.  The Quid Pro Quo had got us here safely and I was grateful for that.  I had some thinking to do.  I had not brought any alcohol on the boat.  I always thought that you should not bring alcohol on the way to a destination.  I feared the sight if the boat ever sank and they found floating bottles of alcohol in the debris.  We took a seat at a small outdoor restaurant and ordered a beer.  We raised the bottles and made a toast to the Cubanos of the tiny Dry Tortugas boats. I was happy to be on firm soil.



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