We explained the situation to a friendly engineer on one of the tourist boats. He took one look at the coupling and shook his head. “The last time I saw one of these was on an old Soviet water pump in a 1960s apartment block. It failed and we couldn’t get another one.” My heart sank.
“But I did fix it with some rubber strips, and it’s still working. I’ll try to get some of that special rubber for you.”
“We’re planning to leave tomorrow morning…” I said. “Oh, I don’t think I can get it in time, not by tomorrow,” he said apologetically.
Reluctantly we decided to move on – the new crew were keen to escape the city heat and explore the islands. Besides, there was no guarantee we’d fix the coupling if we stayed. So we limited fresh water use to drinking and set off on the second leg of our trip: westwards to Havana. Knowing the scarcity of supplies in Cuba, Neal offered the marina manager some of our old alternator belts and asked if they’d like them for their boats. “For the boats?” she exclaimed. “No, no, no, I’ll take them home, my husband might finally be able to fix our washing machine!”
After checking in to Cayo Largo again we continued to Cayo Rosario, an uninhabited island with fine white sand and a sheltered anchorage through a gap in the reef. It was quite windy and although the echosounder gave some indication of the isolated coral heads below we couldn’t see them clearly due to the disturbed water. We dropped the anchor in what looked like a clear patch, but when the chain abruptly pulled tight we knew we’d hooked one. Yorkshireman Ian jumped in with a snorkel: “You’ve got to unwind the chain by circling around it clockwise,” he said pointing to its position. To our relief it worked first time and he scouted out a clear patch of sand for take two.
While the crew explored ashore I thought about our predicament. We had a perfectly functioning watermaker and a perfectly functioning generator. Cubans wouldn’t wait for a supply ship; there probably wouldn’t be one. They’d find a way around the problem with what they had to hand. I ransacked the repair box, eventually bolting some webbing to the flanges, realising that the webbing needed to be taut in the direction the shaft turns in order to minimise the shock-load as it started spinning. On the third attempt it worked! The webbing withstood an hour of running and looked like it would take more. With any luck we’d have enough webbing left to replace it every few days and make it to Havana without water rationing.
We continued westwards, exploring some of the coastline we’d bypassed on the way from Mexico. We had some fantastic downwind sailing in flat water in the lee of the islands underway to the Isla de la Juventud. Despite being Cuba’s biggest island it is also one of the least explored. The ‘marina’ is really just a shallow harbour which acts as a base for a dive centre. It is 40 miles from the main town of Nuevo Gerona, but well worth the trip. We arrived on a Sunday when the town was in full party mode, with every variety of rum you could think of, a hog roast on every corner and families socialising in the streets. It was a very happy affair.
On leaving Juventud we’d hoped to visit the Cayos to the west before rounding Cabo de San Antonio and heading up to Havana. Unfortunately it was too windy and with no all-weather anchorages we pulled in to Maria La Gorda instead. The bottom was irregular and we were relieved to