En­gi­neer­ing in­ge­nu­ity

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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.

Out-of-the-way places

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

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