The pod escort us out of Cuba……..
Do you have any coconuts?…..are you mad???
Having delivered the goodies to ‘Noa’ (the Cuban artist which the whole episode revolved around) and leaving Marina Hemingway, we head out for the Dry Tortugas (or if we can make it – Key West). Dolphins are playing catch up and dive all around the boat – a huge pod of about 12, they stay with us for many miles almost escorting us out to safety, I am elated, the boat is on auto-pilot and hang over the bow rail whistling and photographing these fabulous animals.
It’s a long sail to Florida and even longer and much more dangerous for the escapees of Cuba, they have my total respect when they make their bid for freedom running a roulette of sharks, tankers and patrol boats.
It is just going dark, the waypoint for Key West is on the screen, we have made excellent time but I don’t think I can make it to the anchorage, I call the US coastguard and log my intentions, asking for permission to drop the hook outside Fort Taylor, they ask me politely where I have come from and when I say “Cuba” there is silence…..then a few more questions ensue but they are happy I am British with an American on board….”just drop the hook where you wish Captain and in the morning anchor and come in to ‘phone us”…..I was surprised it would be so easy? They can’t see me (unless they have night vision CCTV) and I could have had Cuban stowaways ready to slip over the side into the shallow sea and walk ashore……very weird.
The morning comes, we sail around to the anchorage and I make my way ashore to check-in by telephone…..”Captain? Do you have crew?” “yes but she is on-board” – “well go back and bring her in!!!! – I question their logic – as it is usual to bring a crew’s passport ashore with mine – No, they want her to come back with me first?? “but if she is an illegal alien, she’ll just leg-it when the boat touches shore????” – “Just do it Captain……Oh by the way? Do you have any souvenirs of Cuba or coconuts?”…..”COCONUTS?? – are you mad, there’s coconuts floating in your bay and around the docks!! Why ask me that???? to which he suggests that if I have!! to put them in a bag and hang them on his door handle if he’s not in……”You are joking aren’t you?” I enquire!!! – he blows his rag and demands my attendance immediately???.
When we get to the building, I suggest that their immigration procedure is rubbish because no-one has been to check if I had Cubans on board – “you are more concerned about coconuts”!! …….this didn’t go down well, Rita was told she could go, but I was told to lift the hook and sail out of US waters, I explained I couldn’t do that without crew, to which he seized my passport, my ships papers and he charged me $180 for me to sign-away (waiver) all my legal rights then I could stay for just 8 days…….they are like Nazis to me – me a Brit’……….
I made for the agreed meeting place with Rita, but the water taxi man asked “Are you Mike? – only the girl you were sailing with made me go to your boat – she’s taken everything she could get in my taxi and done a runner!!! – she also left you this note” which read… Mike, I go, I call, Rita …suddenly she was Spanish???????????????