Thursday, January 30, 2014

Arriving in Santiago de Cuba

Posted by Sara.  Written January 19, 2014.

Castillo del Morro sits over the entrance to the bay at Santiago de Cuba.
The marina in Santiago de Cuba is awesome.  It suits us perfectly.  Visually, it is the decaying ruin of an obviously opulent marina from pre-revolution times.  Despite the decay, it’s managed like a tightly run ship.  The rotating managers work 24 hour shifts.  The ones we have met so far are friendly, helpful, know their jobs well and speak excellent English.  In addition to the concrete docks, there is a restaurant and small store, a games room with a bowling alley and air hockey, a kids park and 4 great water toys for the kids – two huge water trampolines, one huge blow-up iceberg with climbing handles on it, and a huge spinny globe with climbing handles. 

Scot and I are a little suspect of the water here for swimming given the amount of industry in the bay. But we’re keeping quiet and just encouraging the kids to ‘not swallow the water’ and to shower as soon as they get out.  All the locals are swimming.  The kids have already spent a great many hours on the water toys.

Inflatable water toys at the Marina Marlin.
The kids had a blast climbing the "iceberg".
It was fun trying to get these spinning and try to knock each other off.
There are six other boats here; our Icelandic friends ‘Ja’, a boat from the US, two from France, one from Sweden and one from Holland.  Still not a kid in sight. 

When we pulled in after our night from Baitiquiri, Scot did a beautiful job of docking with our one working engine.  We spent the next hour getting checked in with the marina and then we crashed for a few hours to catch up on some sleep while the kids did school on their own. 

After that we decided to work on our main priority which was seeing if we could get someone to look at our engine.  The marina manager told us they had a mechanic on staff, but he wasn’t a “diesel specialist.”  We mentioned that we had read about DAMEX, a Dutch managed Cuban shipyard not far from here.  He said we would probably be able to find a diesel specialist there, so we walked over to ask.  They told us to come back after lunch, so we went all the way back to the boat, then back to the shipyard.  Eventually they let us in, and ushered us in to the modern looking industrial offices, where we finally met someone who seemed to be a manager.  Unfortunately, he told us, their diesel mechanic was out with an injury, but he suggested another shipyard further up the road.

On the way back to the marina, we ran into the marina mechanic.  Apparently the manager had mentioned our issue to him.  We weren’t sure how qualified he was with boat diesels but he was keen to come and look at it, and he asked all the right questions, following the same line of reasoning we had.  It seemed a lot easier to get him to come look at the boat as opposed to tracking down someone else at another shipyard, so we asked him to stop by when he got the chance.

We also started asking about filling our empty propane bottle which has been an issue since we arrive in Cuba.  Propane is rationed to all the Cubans for cooking so apparently it is difficult to just purchase.  There is also the worry that our fittings won’t match here.  Being down to our last 10lb. bottle and unsure where we can get more, I have been as lean as I could with the cooking for the last week.  We left our empty tank with the marina office but they weren’t confident they could help us.  We spent the rest of the day trying to relax and get away from boat issues, taking the kids bowling and on the water toys.

The mechanic, Carlos, showed up the next morning.  Within 10 minutes of testing, he had ruled out the injectors or fuel pump as the issue and narrowed it down to air getting into our fuel system. He tested by disconnecting our fuel hose, and sucking diesel fuel with a tube directly from a bucket into the pump & injectors, effectively by-passing the fuel lines.  When he did that, the engine ran perfectly.  So air was getting into the fuel system somewhere between our tank and the fuel pump.  It took him another 2 minutes to figure out where the air was getting in.  He found a slow drip of diesel coming from the bottom of our pre-fuel filter assembly, in the bowl that separates any water from the diesel. 

It did take another couple of hours to actually fix the problem by taking apart the filter and seeing that the plug in the bottom needed a new o-ring.  We even got to witness some of the famous Cuban creative problem solving.  The problem o-ring was very wide and they didn’t have a replacement but piled up 4 smaller o-rings instead – looked good to me & the price of 4 o-rings is quite a bit cheaper than having new fuel injectors couriered to us from the States.  So the Cuban mechanic rumours hold true – Carlos was fantastic.  He also loved teaching us and patiently explained everything he did (in Spanish, which I did my best to translate for Scot) and why.  Also, officially they weren’t going to charge us anything so we just slipped a ‘huge tip’ of $50 to him.  Since his salary is $15/month he will hopefully be pleased, but we still felt guilty as you couldn’t even get someone to look at your engine in the States for less than $150 as a call-out fee.  And truthfully, we would have been prepared to pay a lot more to have our engine running again.

Carlos Caballero.  He was happy to work on our engine with our tools.  He told us it is very hard to come by any reasonable tools in Cuba.
While he was working on the engine, Carlos told us about his daughter who is also a doctor.  Doctors make $20.00 per month in Cuba, so she had gone to work in Venezuela, under Chavez, where she made closer to $70.00 per month.  Apparently Venezuela has a huge need for doctors, and they recognize the excellent training the Cubans get.  He told us no other professions are allowed to go, though. 

Also Carlos is a civil engineer.  One of the waitresses who served us in Gibara was also educated as a teacher and had a masters in English but made more waitressing with tips in a tourist restaurant than the $15/month for teaching.

After our relief that our engine was working again, we treated ourselves to a fabulous lunch at the marina restaurant – grilled fish or chicken with rice, salad and french fries for $4 each.  The kids spent the afternoon on the water toys again.  After dinner, we had a movie night, with a screening of “E.T.” on the boat.

We also got a nice surprise during the movie.  We heard someone calling for us from the dock.  When we went out to check there was a man with our filled propane tank!   And only $12 CUC!  I am so excited. 

Any of you who know me well, know that I am only happy when there is good food around.  I wasn’t too pleased with our propane getting low.  The conversation of ‘well we can always eat cold ramen noodles, cold hot dogs and crackers’ did not impress me.  We haven’t had fresh bread or cheese for a week. 

Cheese seems really hard to come by here. So with no cheese or sandwich meat our lunches have been canned soup and crackers every day already – I’m not ready to eat cold soup out of a can.
Tomorrow, we are planning to head into Santiago de Cuba to check out the sights & get some groceries (hopefully cheese!)  It will be great to have a day without thinking about boat issues.

Monashee at the concrete dock in Santiago de Cuba.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!! Nice images!! I hope you had great time in Cuba. Can you please share some more images and videos of your Cuba tour?

    traveling to cuba