Saturday February 12th Confessions of a Geriatric Shipwrecker

Written by Jack van Ommen on February 13th, 2022

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It was a fine sailing day, reaching in a North Easterly. Just after a beautiful sunset I had dinner, I put the dishes away, did not lay down and apparently fell into a deep sleep. I awoke three hours later hitting a reef off the coast of Cuba, just west of Bahia de Honda, where I had anchored the night when the entrance to Hemmingway was too rough to enter on January 12th.

Last photo of “Fleetwood”

 

 

 

 

 

 

My laptop screen shattered in the impact, so, I could not retrace my inbound track. It was pitch black. The only orientation I had was the lighthouse on Punta Gobernadora. I managed to break free with the engine for a short distance but then probably ended up closer to shore and got washed further up the shallower coast. I set off the alarm on my Garmin “In Reach” and called in a May-Day on Chanel 16 bon the VHF Radio and set off the alarm on the radio. Next, I texted my oldest daughter Lisa on the Garmin In Reach, that I was in trouble. The boat started to list sharply and bounced hard on the reef. But I was on the shore side of the main reef, somehow, I had passed over it. I expected some rescue action but it was not unto daylight that a fishing boat appeared. She anchored nearby in deeper water and came to my rescue in a rowboat. The son of the fishing boat captain and another young crewmember and a uniformed man from the Guarda Fronteras. An unsuccessful attempt was made by a second fishing boat to tow “Fleetwood” to deeper water. The threesome went back to the boat and spent over two hours checking it out. I saw no other way than to abandon the boat and I told my rescuers that they could have at it. The border patrol man apparently phoned in the details for a release I signed to the Cuban government that I signed when I came ashore later in the day.  I brought up the question of liability for the environmental protection. The fishing boat captain nodded to the Guarda Fronteras man and told me not to worry about it. I signed the papers for a Customs officer. An Immigration employee came for me and brought me to their office in Bahia de Honda. A maniac driver, in an ancient Russian Land Rover kind of vehicle, who knew to skirt nearly all the 1,000 pot holes in the road. These Immigration men turned out to be of incredible help. They fed me in their cafeteria, arranged for a place to stay in a “Casa Particulares”, a B&B, in Baracoa, near the Marina Hemmingway. Whose owners, Osmany and Miralys Perez treated me like a king and helped me in trying to recover some of my personal items from the wreck.

If you ever need a place for visitors while you are in Marina Hemmingway, I highly recommend their hospitality. I have their details. $20 a day Room/Board.

My hyosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I rested up and came to my senses, I realized that I left a bunch of my valued personal items in the only home I have occupied since 2005. On Monday the 7th, we spent the day visiting the authorities in Marina Hemmingway where I had checked out on Tuesday and with the Commodore of the Club Nautico de Cuba adjacent to the marina. The Commodore is also the Port Officer for the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) of which I am a member. He got in touch with the head of the Cuban Capitanerias, who suggested we hire a seagoing boat to go to the wreck.

I figure that the Guarda Fronteras man and his fishermen buddies have another plan. And I had hoped to be able to pick through the items they will bring to shore.

Anyway, I did not bring much ashore in my first wreck in November 2013, off Ibiza and I survived that.

The Coast Guard requested permission to rescue me, they are less than a hundred mile away, but the Cubans refused to enter their territorial waters. They obviously had no way to assist other than sending the Border Patrol man with the fishing boat, 9 hours after the grounding.

The US Embassy was informed. This gave me some concern because I was on an unauthorized visit in Cuba. I had some e-mail exchanges wit the embassy and nothing was mentioned about my visiting status. I tried to find a flight from Havana to Seattle via Canada or Mexico. That did not happen. I flew from Havana on American Airlines, to Seattle with stops at Miami and Charlotte, N.C. I feared being greeted in Miami with a set of handcuffs. No mention at all. The Cubans did not stamp my passport. The previous time when I was in Cuba in 2017, I had a 14-day permit from the US Coast Guard, but when I cleared in, back in Florida, no one seemed to care how long I was in Cuba.

landing in Miami

 

 

 

 

 

 

My savings are in much better shape than after my 1st wreck in 2013 and after the repair of the June 2017 accident.

I am looking at a few options. Most likely I will end up with another boat, affordable housing and you can’t beat the waterfront view. I have started to search for an off-course alarm, so far little luck. The equivalent to my Garmin “In Reach” tracker, the “Path-Away” has an alarm. But I fear that it would be difficult to hear it when I lay down in the cabin. It needs to have the Satellite antenna outside of the cabiin.

I can’t recommend Cuba for a cruising destination. Life for the Cubans is tough and getting worse by the day. Food is scarce and limited and expensive. Long lines for bread, as an example. The bureaucracy is hard to swallow. The infrastructure is falling apart.

I can highly recommend it for a dental or other medical repair. I have seldom had such quick, pleasant and less than a quarter States side costs dental work done. Within three days, a molar filled a root canal and crown done for $395, if I had had more cash dollars on me it would have cost me even less, but I paid the bank rate with my European credit card. The bank rate is 24.50 Pesos for the Dollar and 27.50 for the Euro. On the black market the dollar is now at/near 100 Pesos….Which makes everything very cheap in Pesos. Internet is very spotty and state controlled. Moorage at Hemmingway is half the states side cost. I had to get medical insurance after I extended my visa beyond the first thirty days. I lost my receipt in the wreck but it was pricy.

The people are wonderful and resourceful. I liked their classical radio programs. But their propaganda and constant lessons on the media are nauseating. The country side is beautiful.

Their tourist business is hurting badly. Very few other cruising boats in the marinas. The situation in 2017 was much better and no black currency market.

I have posted a short You Tube video of this last week prior and after the wreck. There are a couple more since my last “where is Jack e-mail” to all on January 1st and you can find all four at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLCQ2Vs114grM1WdnlNo8WQ

 

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Thanks, John. I plan to come to town this week and will call you.

  2. Judy tillson says:

    Hi Jack. Can’t believe your current situation. So sorry to hear the news.

    It’s been a few years since I last heard from you. Guess I have a bit of reading your blogs to get caught up

  3. Sue Kellam says:

    Jack, We are so very sorry for this mishap, but eternally grateful you are okay. I hope you will come back to Cape Charles again…….I pains me to think we will not see you anymore, and hear your beautiful singing voice in St. Charles.
    All the best dear friend.
    Sue and Lloyd

  4. Hello Sue and lloyd, Thank you for your reaction. Jack will come Back. But not sure yet how and when. We are young! Love. Jack

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