Now that I had a plan, the determination and finances to actually do it, I needed a boat. Here is where our first problem starts! $165,000USD (rookie mistake, budget too low) for a blue water cruising catamaran that is ready to go is very difficult. As such, I watched the market like a hawk and did daily searches on Yatchworld for a suitable boat. I knew if one came on the market I was going to have to act fast and throw out a clean offer. This meant possibly buying a boat in a foreign location after only a few hours of viewing. Of course, we also weren’t ready to go yet, so I also had to factor storage costs.
Through all this searching, I was aware of a very nice catamaran for sale in Cuba, but it was well out of my price range. One day my search returned this Cat and the owner had dropped the price, I mean REALLY dropped the price. Although red flags were going off in my head, I was compelled to ask my broker about it. Of course his initial answer was don’t bother, the logistics of Cuba would make it very difficult. After convincing him that it wasn’t very hard for a Canadian to travel there, he did some digging. We discovered that it was a charter boat (less desirable), owned by a German charter company. It was still actively in charter and the possession date for any sale would be 6 months away. I mulled this information over for a few days and decided I would through a low offer (well under the newly adjusted asking price) out and see what happened. Imagine my surprise when it was accepted.
So now I had an offer on a boat in Cuba that would not be available for 6 months, but the contract dictated that I needed to physically view it within 30 days. We e-mailed back and forth with the charter company to get a solid date when I could view the boat and have adequate time to actually go over the systems. In the end a date was picked, and I booked a flight to Cuba with a friend who could not pass up the opportunity for adventure. It actually turned out cheaper to book a 1 week all inclusive in Varadaro, Cuba than to try and fly in and out. The problem was the boat was located in the southern city of Cienfuegos and this would require us to drive across Cuba. We booked a rental car and patiently waited for our departure date while researching driving in Cuba. My wife was heartbroken that she could not come and I would be essentially cut off from communication for a week. This led me to purchase a satellite communication device made by Delorme. It would allow me to at least send text messages and my wife to track our progress while I was there.
Departure day came and we excitedly boarded our plane. Upon arrival in Cuba, we decided a celebration was in order. As can happen with people in a tropical location with all inclusive drinks, the celebrating went a little farther and intended (ok WAY further). The next morning was only bearable because of the Ibuprofen and liters of water we washed it down with. Our adventure was off to a shaky start. Driving in a third world country with a bagged out Chinese car is an adventure. Driving in a third world country with one SOMEBITCH of a hangover is on the edge of an ordeal!
We were expected in Cienfuegos at about 2pm, but didn’t get rolling until about 10:30am. This put us at risk of being late even though the Cubans insisted the drive would take only 3 hours. This may have been true if we were Cuban and knew how to drive like a Cuban or where to go, unfortunately our drive took 4.25 hours. Although all the roads were paved, they were definitely 3rd world with most traffic being bicycles or horse drawn buggies. Combine that with a small town every 10 minutes and we were doomed to be late.
In the end, being late was no big deal as the boat had not arrived back from charter (red flag?). The Cuban maintenance person assured me the boat would arrive, but it wouldn’t be till after dark (very strange). Since they had caused us inconvenience, they had arranged a room for us at a Casa Particular (Cuban B&B) and said to come back in the morning. For the time being we were free to roam the Marina and board any Catamaran we liked as they owned them all. Red flag #2 came as we boarded our first cat to look around. It was in dismal shape, bogded repairs and lack of maintenance were everywhere. By the time we left the marina for the night, I was sure I had wasted a trip to Cuba on a run-down boat. Drinks were in order!
We had a wonderful night in our Casa Particular and a fantastic breakfast with our host. The day was a bright blue sky with a predicted temperature of +28C, a perfect day to look at a boat. We headed off to the marina wondering if the boat would be there, and what shape it was in.
My initial reaction was pleasant surprise, the boat appeared to be in better shape than any of the other boats in the marina. All the hatches were intact, the gel coat looked less powdery and I couldn’t spot any poor repairs. It was clear this boat was owned by a cruiser before it went into charter. It had many systems that charter boats lack (watermaker, generator, sailing instruments). Maybe this wouldn’t be a waste of a trip after all.
Over the next 5 hours, we went through as much as we could. We took over 450 pictures and shot an hour worth of video. I wanted to document every component and have the images to refer to as questions came up in the coming months (over a year later I still use these photos to spec and order things). The highlight of the day was the quick sail offered by the maintenance personal. Although I had never sailed on a large cruising cat, I was very familiar with the average performance of one. It was very clear that this boat was an above average performer. The sails were raised in 15-18 knots of wind (gusts to 22) and the knotmeter quickly climbed over 9 knots with a peaks to 11 knots. Stunning performance, especially considering she was fully provisioned for a week long charter trip, including both water tanks full with 1200 liters of water.
In spite of the great sail, all the pictures and digging about were drawing a clear picture. This boat would need substantial work and money if I wanted to make it ready and safe for my family. 100s of texts were exchanged between me, my wife and our boat broker. I just didn’t know enough to adequately gage the scope of work and money. I needed an experienced opinion (my boat broker), but there was no way to get the pics and video to him from Cienfuegos. My friend and I talked it over and decided to try and race back to Varadaro where we could get some limited Internet access.
I will take this moment to expand on driving in Cuba. With the exception of the Auto Pista, the highways in Cuba are more like range roads in Canada. They are paved, but very narrow with a horse path running along one side. Pedestrians, animals and carts outnumber automotive traffic by a fairly large margin. It is also universally accepted that if you have room in your car, you should pick up people that request it. So it’s very common for a pedestrian to step out with some fingers held up showing the number of people that need a ride. All of these factors combine to make it very dangerous to drive around Cuba at night. As such we were doing our best to beat the sun. My partner was in charge of the GPS (which only works 1/2 time in Cuba) and text communication, while I tried to drive as fast as safely possible. Despite getting lost twice, and seeing some of the most shocking poverty I have ever witnessed, we made it to the edge of Varadaro just after sundown. I will say that this drive was one of the highlights of my trip and will be something I remember for the rest of my life. It was so foreign and different from anything in Canada and impressed me in a way I cannot put to words. A true adventure.
Oh WAIT, did I forget to mention that there was a reason an all inclusive was less money that just flying. Not only was our hotel abysmal they did not have any Internet connectivity. Of course it was too late in the evening to try and switch hotels, so with nothing better to do, we drank. It made ignoring the cockroaches much easier.
When the morning arrived, we promptly called Sunwing’s customer service line and requested a new hotel. To their credit, they offered us a much better hotel for just a little more money. So by 9:00am we were off to a new hotel. We didn’t even have to confront the couple who drug us into their domestic argument the night before (isn’t drinking great)!
After getting settled at the new hotel, priority #1 was to get on the Internet. We talked with the hotel staff and were quickly informed that the hotel was out of “Internet Cards” and it wasn’t possible. You see, in Cuba, you require an “Internet Card” with a special password to actually connect to the internet. These cards are issued by the government to the resorts so that foreigners can use the internet (Cubans have a different internet connection). Unfortunately the government had not issued new cards yet and ALL the hotels were out of them. They expected new cards to be delivered Menyana (tomorrow). Again with nothing to do, we decided to hit the beach and drink (my liver hurt after this trip).
The next day arrived and I headed to the front desk early as I was told that cards sell out fast. Indeed the cards had arrived and I promptly bought 2 hours worth of internet (about $10USD). I zipped up a huge bunch of pictures and some video and got connected so I could upload it. I was able to upload about 500mb of data in 1 hour. Not even close to everything I had, but a good number of pictures and quick boat walk around video. I saved the last hour of internet access for video chatting with the wife and kids via VSee.
With all my work done and days left in our all inclusive, we decided to spend the rest of the time laying on the beach, swimming….. and you guessed it, drinking! There was nothing else I could do till I got home and had serious conversations with my wife and boat broker.
Stay tuned for offers, counter offers and deals afoot!