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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer
Pulling Back the Curtain
19° 48’N x 075° 43’W at 0700
Winds ENE, BF 4
Sailing under the four lowers and JT on a gorgeous sunny morning before reaching Santiago, Cuba
Our arrival in Cuba is marked with the salute of a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins passing freely beneath the Cramer between the port and starboard quarters. Our furling of the mainsail in preparation for our next port call is briefly interrupted by this informal welcome. As we motor into the Santiago canal, we are met by a mandatory coastal pilot who, upon arriving, graciously accepted our hospitality and a few gifts. We are happy to demonstrate our gratitude for the opportunity to be guests in this city so infrequently visited by Americans.
This southeastern corner of Cuba comes with the natural fortification of a rocky plateau abruptly jutting out of the sea (El Morro). This relic of Spanish colonialism stands high atop the canal’s entrance, as tourists wave to us. I hear we will visit this fort in the coming days. From the open ocean and into the shallow inlet, all hands are called onto deck to experience the mix of seaside homes followed by oil refineries followed by container ships and power lines stretching above us.
This place is unlike those tropical islands that we visited previously. Cuba is arid like southern California is arid and the closer that you get to shore, the more you can see the similarities. The oil refining area mimics Huntington Beach and the coast is littered with low desert shrubs upon hills that recall the San Gabriel Mountains. We pass cargo ships with Russian lettering upon their hulls and pull into the harbor surrounded by jellyfish in turbid water. As we moor the Cramer to the pier, a group of men and women approach us ready to lead us through the process of Cuban customs. Oreos, juice, coffee, or cold water and napkins are laid out on deck to signify further diplomacy. Our temperatures are taken and our visas are approved and eventually, we are allowed free exploration of Cuba for two hours until dinner back onboard the Cramer.
Our desire to explore this forbidden country overpower our desire to stay out of the 33°C heat and we venture off. Much like the homes of Old San Juan, the Spanish architecture of Santiago de Cuba reflects impeccable taste in color coordination even as paint layers chip away. It is true that the Fords and Plymouths of the 1950s remain active on these streets, but they are not alone. The street is riddled with bikes and horse drawn carriages as well as new cars and motorcycles of unknown (possibly Cuban) makes.
Music echoes through the streets all around and as we move further into the city, we observe countless musical instruments carried along the streets. A bright cathedral over an impeccably groomed plaza signals our arrival in the town center where we spend much of our time engaged in the universal past-time of people watching, slowly taking in the new customs and a captivating culture and people. After a quick dinner onboard we venture out again once again to experience the nightlife until 2100 when we must finally turn in for the night. This first day in Cuba has just cracked the surface.