Farewell to Cuba with a Surprise Stowaway

Our final day in Cuba – Pandora on the dock at Marina Hemingway. Isn’t it a lovely spot? Most days were a bit too hot, but our last day was picture perfect.


We made plans to meet with a number of our new cruising friends for a goodbye drink—Anne and Christian aboard Tidom (France), Lars aboard Luna (Norwway), and the Trudel family (Silvain, Natali, Romane, Elisa, and Victor) aboard Masqueret (Quebec), and Addison and Pat aboard Three Penny Opera (Ontario). Some of us made plans to walk into Jaimanitas for dinner at a paladar that has a great reputation.

Jaimanitas has a section that is done in Gaudi-style mosaics, and it is a wonderfully colorful place. The mosaicist lives in the neighborhood and continues his homage to Gaudi with ongoing projects.

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The paladar was also wonderful. I did not get the name, shame on me! Beautiful ambience, room after room of open air seating and terrific food. Our two best meals of the trip took place here and at the paladar in Old Havana—Paladar los Mercederes.

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Early the next morning (April 29), we rose at 5.30 to head to the Guarda Frontera office to check out of Cuba. Bob took this photo of my exit interview with the Guarda Frontera before they warned him that photos are not permitted.

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What a sight to see the sunrise over Havana as we headed north for Florida in the early morning.  The odd shaped tower that gets a bit wider at the top on the right side of the photo is part of the sprawling Russian Embassy.


It was a rough crossing, and I did not fare well. I had about 30 hours of mal de mer on the journey to Ft. Lauderdale, and that meant that poor Bob had to stay awake and do all the navigating during the trip. He was really tired when we finally arrived.

A couple of hours after leaving we noticed a snowy egret flying very close to us. He was very far from shore and was clearly getting tired. He made quite a few attempts to land, but he was having a lot of trouble landing onboard, both because he feet are not made for perching and the wind was quite strong.



He tried several times to land on the lifelines near the stern of our boat, and he attempted to land on the dinghy up in davits a few times.



Finally he made a successful landing up on the traveler, on the windward side. He stayed with us for the entire day, and luckily we stayed on the same starboard tack for most of the day. Whenever Bob adjusted the traveler or the sails the egret got very nervous, but he did not fly away. I felt terrible for him.


Later, just a short time before sunset, we needed to tack to head up the coast of Florida. We knew it would startle our Cuban stowaway into taking flight, but we hoped he would return once the boat settled into its new course. The egret took flight and appeared to head right back for Cuba. He never even looked back. It was getting dark, and now Cuba was more than 60 miles away. As a wading bird, egrets cannot land on water. We had already watched him try to land and flounder a bit as he struggled to ascend again.

I had imagined that this bird, like all birds, must have some inborn navigation sense, and I thought there’d be a good chance that this bird knew we were sailing northeast. He might not know that there would be land to the northeast, but I was hoping he’d want to stick with us to find out. Certainly it would have been an easy trip for him if he could make peace with confined so close to us. But he headed right back to Cuba once we frightened him by changing tack. I was heartbroken by this. He had almost no chance of making it all the way back.

And speaking of stowaways…. as we left Marina Hemingway and entered the Straits of Florida, we heard the power yacht that had cleared out of Cuba just before we did, call Marina Hemingway to report what they thought were two boats in trouble:  a small fishing boat far offshore, and a small sailboat.  The sailor immediately answered the call to say that he was not in trouble.  No info on the fishing boat–most likely because they didn’t have a radio.  We saw a large Guarda Frontera cutter (possibly an ex-US Coast Guard cutter?) come out from the harbor to check things out.  Look at the gun on the bow!


Moments later a bright red Donzi-type speed boat joined the cutter and both boats circled the small sailboat for quite some time.  The sailboat lowered its sails and drifted as the two Guarda Frontera vessels checked things out.  In the end, both Guarda Frontera boats went back to the harbor, which means they never did check out the report of a fishing boat in trouble.  Hmmm….

Clearing in with Customs and Immigration in Ft. Lauderdale was quite an experience. With the quickly changing rules about US citizens visiting Cuba, no one really knows what the procedure should be right now. We expected to be visited by the health department and immigration to check for stowaways and rum and cigars, and any forbidden food items in our fridge/freezer. When Bob called to find out where we should go, he was given numerous phone numbers and no one at the other end of the line at any of these numbers knew what to do with us! In fact one phone number gave us nothing but a recorded message saying that this office is now officially closed and no one would be checking messages henceforth! 24 hours after arriving we got a phone call from one of our previously called contacts asking us to present ourselves at the immigration office at the ship terminal. We only needed to present ourselves, not Pandora, so we rented a car to get there, which allowed us the ability to do some shopping and dining afterward. When we arrived they did not look at all the papers we brought with us— such as our Commerce Dept. form that allowed us to sail Pandora to Cuba. They only looked at our passports, and asked us if we had a good time in Cuba.

You bet! It has been an unbelievable experience!

2 responses to “Farewell to Cuba with a Surprise Stowaway

  1. Pingback: We’re back from Cuba.  What a trip! | Sail Pandora

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