outside the reefs into open sea. The Gulf Stream was too far out to help speed us along, so our progress to Havana took another four days, although we were still able to head inshore each night to anchor.
The Marina Hemingway, about seven miles from the centre of Havana, is made up of long curving jetties like a stem of bananas. The concrete walls, though crumbling, were not in as bad condition as I expected and despite covering a large area it was well kept with a new fuel dock.
Havana city itself was a revelation. It’s much larger than I thought, while the range of architectural styles, from Baroque to Modernist, is amazing. The city is also benefiting from a major programme of restoration using funds from UNESCO and tourist taxes. New hotels were being opened and old ones refurbished, enabling us to enjoy ridiculously cheap rum cocktails in some of the most glamorous surroundings. Our visit was shortly after President Obama announced the end of Cuba’s embargo and we found Cubans excited by the potential benefits of the new policy – although I suspected their optimism was a bit premature.
We spent a week touring Havana until it was time for Corinne to fly back to London. Pieter and I set sail early the following morning and headed out to hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream to Florida. Later in the afternoon a voice suddenly came over the VHF radio, calling us by name. We searched the sea but could see nothing, yet clearly whoever was calling us could see our AIS signal and we finally realised there was a US Coastguard aeroplane circling above us. What they really wanted to know was whether we were smuggling any Cubans on board. They were able to find out for themselves the following morning when a bright Andrew, 66, started sailing dinghies at the age of 11. Later, with his wife Corinne and their two children, he cruised extensively around the Channel and Atlantic Europe in a succession of Moody yachts. Following the sale of his manufacturing company, they sailed in the Mediterranean for 10 years before buying Calliope, a Lagoon 470 catamaran, and taking her down the Red Sea to East Africa and then Asia, before moving her to Grenada three years ago. orange Coastguard RIB came speeding up alongside. Two officers, laden with heavy gun belts and huge boots, clambered on board and searched the boat. We reached West Palm Beach in record time – the 300 miles had taken us just over 30 hours.
After clearing in, we headed towards Savannah, where we had arranged to leave Calliope until the summer. In passing, we circled a couple of right whales, a gargantuan mother accompanied by an infant the size of a small house. Neither of them showed any interest in us, though we stayed for half an hour taking photographs. We finally approached the grey, muddy shoal waters off Savannah in a thick fog – such a contrast with the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. We’d managed it. We had sailed nearly 3,000 miles in just over two months but we had spent only two nights at sea. That’s my ideal cruise.
Nigel Calder’s book: Cuba: A Cruising Guide, is published by Imray/ RCCPF (£30) and was updated in 2010.
The Russian-made charts can be downloaded from www.jarogers.com
‘ The following morning a bright orange Coastguard RIB came speeding up alongside’
Boarded by the US Coastguard looking for illegal Cubans
No visit to Havana is complete without a ride in one of these famous American cabriolets