03 diciembre 2009
In 2004 my boyfriend Eze and I started our journey around the Caribbean on a small, twenty-six foot sailboat named La Pavloda. We departed from Miami with a notebook containing nautical charts, the boat loaded with food, and our hearts filled with desires for ultimate adventure. Our journey lasted nine months, and it was full of wonderful and dramatic moments worthy of the novels of Ernest Hemingway. However, the one I am about to share with you I will never forget.
Our journey started in Miami. We successfully crossed the Gulf Stream and sailed in the Bahamas for approximately a month and one half. Eventually we set a course to Cuba because we were running low in drinking water. Good trade winds and currents helped us to get to Cuba in only one night, but while we were crossing, our notebook broke, and we lost all of the important charts and maps we had on its hard drive. If we were sailing somewhere in the United States, it wouldn’t be a problem, but, since we were in Cuba, in the middle of nowhere, it was impossible to find a place to fix it. We tried to buy paper nautical charts in Havana and Varadero and also tried to fix the computer. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful. At that point we were left with no option but to continue our journey to Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico without nautical maps and navigate using only the GPS. We were hoping to make necessary repairs or to buy maps upon our arrival to Mexico.
After leaving Havana, we stopped in Bahia Onda for the night. There we met another young couple who were also sailing to Mexico. Fortunately, they had nautical charts, so we decided to join them and travel together. We sailed together for several days and visited the most beautiful snorkeling sites I ever saw in my life.
One morning the couple decided to stay for a few extra days at a little Cuban village. However, my boyfriend did not want to stay. He was impatient and wanted to set sail for Cabo San Antonio, our final stop in Cuba before crossing to Yucatan. We then decided to continue to the next port and meet with the couple there. Now both Eze and I knew very well that it was a very bad, crazy idea to sail without nautical charts, but at that moment it was impossible to convince him to stay in the village and wait.
We departed at sunrise. The sea was calm. Everything seemed to indicate we would have a very pleasant journey. Upon leaving the bay where we were anchored, we headed to the open sea. Although we were some miles away from the coastline, we could still see the land, and also were at a safe distance from the shallow coral patches. Without maps, we were safer in the open sea even with the bigger waves than being close to the land. After nine in the morning the wind and the waves started to become stronger, the weather was getting worse every minute, and at approximately eleven in the morning the waves became enormous swells, which were repeatedly pummeling la Pavloda. Our little boat was rising to the sky and falling down to the abyss. I was getting very scared and was hoping that everything would be all right, and that we would arrive safely to our destination.
All of a sudden an extremely strong gust of wind struck. I heard a breaking noise above me. I looked at the mast and saw that our mainsail snagged. There were several gaps that were growing very fast. Eze yelled something at me, but I didn’t even understand his words. I was in shock. He yelled at me again, and I realized that he told me to hold the tiller while he reefed the mainsail. I took the tiller from him with both my hands shaking. I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult to steer the boat. I saw him crawling to the mast despite the wind and the waves. At that moment myriads of thoughts crossed my mind. I realized that our lives were in my hands and that I had to do it right. I had to do everything possible to take the waves on correctly and maintain the sailboat under control. If I failed, my boyfriend would fall overboard, and I would never be able to find and rescue him. Alone, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, in Cuba, I wouldn’t be able to get to the shore. I would probably die shortly, and my parents would never find out what happened to me. I was thinking about all those horrors and crying loudly, while maintaining the boat under control.
Eze finally came down to the cockpit and started up the engine, but it didn’t help much. With the reefed mainsail and big swells it was very difficult to motor sail. We had two choices, to keep on going and hope for the best, or to head to the shore and try to anchor in the first calm place we could find. We chose the latter.
We changed our course and headed to the land. We were getting closer and closer, trying to avoid dark spots that usually indicate coral and light spots that indicate shallows and sandbars. At one point, when we were entering the bay, we saw a very big light brown spot, but the wind was very strong and we were using our little engine with almost no help from sail, so we couldn’t fight the current to avoid getting closer to it, and La Pavloda finally ran aground. We tried to change our course, but we couldn’t. The boat was being pushed by the waves and the wind further into the shallows. At some point she came to rest on her side. Eze jumped into the water to drop the anchor, and we realized that the water was only one and one half feet deep. We were stuck in the middle of a huge sandbar. We knew that we weren’t going to die because we were less than a mile from the land, but we could lose our boat. If that wasn’t enough, while Eze was in the water trying to set the anchor, our tiller and rudder broke and some water entered the cockpit.
There we were. Shipwrecked, somewhere near Cuba, with no charts and with practically no hope for help. I had decided to try calling somebody on the radio although Eze had told me that probably there was nobody to hear us. I started hysterically crying and screaming on the radio: “May day! Por favor ayuda! Please help! S.O.S.!” I basically screamed every cry for help in Spanish and English. For some minutes nothing happened, but I kept trying, and suddenly I heard some noise. Somebody answered me! We couldn’t believe it. I screamed again, and some man answered in Spanish on the radio, asking if we were all right. It was a local radio afficionado fisherman. Ironically, the name of the place where we had wrecked our boat was Bahia Esperanza, Bay of Hope, and some fishing boat was coming the next morning to rescue us.
That night we didn’t sleep at all. We listened to La Pavloda “hurting” herself on the sea bottom after every wave. We woke up every quarter of an hour to make sure that she didn’t fill up with water.
The next morning, some Cuban fishermen came and towed our boat to their village. They gave us lunch and fixed our tiller. We sewed the mainsail, waited for our friends to arrive and were ready to continue our journey in three days…
There are events and situations that pass you by without leaving any mark, but there are others which scar you forever. After that incident occurred, I was in shock for a month or so and very afraid of sailing. Even so our journey continued, and we ended up in Honduras. I will never forget what happened to us in Bahia Esperanza, and I will never forget the kindness of Cuban people. I will never forget that the sea is a very dangerous friend, which demands respect at all times.
3.11.2007 - A.M.