Trinidad, Cuba. This year's destination?

8th to 26th March 2009
Havana to Naples - the first part of the Voyage home

Swallows resting on the ship 400 miles from land

Voyage Home Day 1 Sunday 8th March Cojimar to Havana and the Melfi Iberia

Chico 2, number 1 being the cook on the Melfi Iberia, brought up our breakfast at 8.30am. After the usual pleasantries he made it known to us that Cuba went onto summer time today and it was therefore 9.30am.

We were supposed to be at the agentís office in Havana at noon. In Europe this loss of an hour might have thrown us. Here it is of little importance. Manana is part, if not all, of most Cubansí working life. An hour is neither here nor there. Furthermore this was further countered by the stoker building in lots of slack and we didnít even change our watches.

Fully packed we cycled to the bicycle bus stop. Cojimar being across the harbour from Havana, we either needed to get the ferry or a bus as bikes are not allowed through the tunnel. Cubans fancy themselves as the worldís security experts at least in quantity if not quality. They search our bags each time we use the ferry. The bus is therefore favourite as it does no searches.

It is easy to question much of the communist thinking in Cuba. Security on the harbour ferry is a fine example of the absurd. There are no checks on the lorries, buses and horse carriages which are crammed full to overflowing with people. The harbour ferry is a dangerous looking ancient diesel craft based on what looks like a broad canal boat hull. Worries about it sinking do seem justified. It being intentionally blown up seems extremely unlikely. In fact blowing up a bus in the tunnel would be a much more effective terror tactic. Perhaps the CIA are looking into it.

Bus times in Cuba are firmly based on need to know and the manana concept. No one seems to qualify for the first and everyone seems wedded to the second. Consequently even if we were fluent in Spanish, no one in the queue could tell us when or even if the bus would come. Much to our amazement after waiting only ten minutes the bike bus turned up at 9.40am. We assumed it was the 9am running late but we will never know.

The bike bus goes back to the 1990ís when Cuba was short of everything thanks to the USA and Russia. Millions of bikes were imported from China and provision had to be made for them. Hopefully in those days the bus ran more frequently.

The bike bus is a rudimentary vehicle with all the seats taken out and a side door fitted. At the bus stop is a ramp rather like that at some train halts in the UK. When the bus arrives a steel bridge is hinged out from the bus to the top of the ramp. Bikes and even electric scooters are wheeled aboard.

It was not easy wheeling the tandem aboard the bus with all its luggage on. As always the ordinary Cubans were very helpful, they helped lift the bike round and on. Such basic transport would just not be permitted in Europe. The bus and ramp height meant crouching to get through the door. Even the management had to remember to lower his head. Once inside there was no way to secure the bike and of course no seats. But it worked. We arrived on the other side of the tunnel in Havana before 10am, along with a prospective Tour de France winner and a bike carrying four goats.

The stoker now had jobs to do. We needed provisions for the voyage, mainly rum which at 45% proof and extremely cheap is too good to miss. We then shopped around to find a hotel with a cambio to exchange our remaining Cuban dollars to euros. She then needed to spend all her pesos in peso shops. She took considerable pride in being left with only a few cents, too little to spend.

All of this business depended on the Melfi coming in and our boarding at noon, having been transformed from being fabulously wealthy to having no spending money at all. As we came onto the harbour front we saw her with tugs making for the container dock. She was a minimum of two hours late.

The management, who is normally favourably disposed to the frugality of the stoker, was now less happy. It was getting on towards lunch time and there was a smell of street pizza in the air. A good sized pizza only costs the equivalent of 15p. With no local currency we broke out the emergency rations, Cuban biscuits. These are only nearly as bad as they sound and bridged the gap.

By mid afternoon we were able, with great persistence, to pin the agent down. We were allowed to go to customs and then catch the ferry to the ship. On the bad side all our luggage was security scanned, unlike every other port where we have boarded a cargo ship. On the good side they did not charge us the 25 dollars each exit tax or the 45 dollar ferry fare. We had no qualms about not paying either of these amounts. The exit tax is just foolish extortion which is not forgotten by tourists or travellers. As for the ferry we would have been delighted to cycle to the ship had the authorities allowed it. However we now have the dubious pleasure of having non exchangeable Cuban dollars.

Once aboard the ship we received a very warm welcome from the crew members with whom we sailed out. The new captain made a special effort to welcome us despite the many other calls on him when the ship is unloading cargo. We were delighted that all had worked out so well and that tomorrow we would be at sea.

 Advancing the clock every two or three days avoids jet lag

Voyage Home Day 2 Monday 9th March leaving Havana

The Cuban dockers worked all night to unload the ship. It was almost impossible to comprehend that they could work hard with modern equipment. They seemed to be supervised by women. Perhaps that is what inspired it.

The ship left the container port just before 7am bringing a draft of welcome cool air through our cabin. The air conditioning had broken down, predictably at the warmest part of the voyage and it had been a steamy and noisy night. We were disappointed only to go for about a mile before dropping anchor in the harbour near the main town.

The ship needed to have sludge pumped out of the engine room bilge and deal with immigration formalities. Both jobs would be accomplished in a couple of hours in most ports. In Havana the sludge boat finally came alongside at dusk and the immigration officials after that. The general feeling onboard was that they had come for their cigarettes.

The third officer who is in charge of passengers came to collect our passports and visas. Immigration wanted to see them. We felt uneasy and had visions of it all going wrong. Perhaps they had decided that we could not leave by ship after all. We were relieved when late in the evening we got underway and when the pilot left the ship just after she passed the harbour entrance. Our ferry bill caught up with us but not the exit tax.

Voyage Home Days 3 to 12 Tuesday 10th to Thursday 19th March Bahamas and Western Atlantic

When we awoke on Tuesday we found it hard to believe our luck. The sea was calm, calmer than we had ever seen it from the decks of the Melfi Iberia. The sky was blue and we could just make out the tower blocks on the Florida coast of the USA. A lazy day ensued and we made 20 knots over the ground as were swept by the Bahamas in the Gulf Stream.

In between watching the active rich cross our bows in their super yachts and the moribund rich in two huge cruise liners we sent and received texts. It would be our last phone signal till we reached the Med. Much twittering went on. We had news of our grandsonís minor op and a sonís business trip to sunny Cannes with its nearby winter skiing. We heard how Hannah was with her baby on the way and from Stuart and Phil at work. Our Weymouth friends were also busy with their key pads wishing us bon voyage. The management was even half way to getting another Pedersen. It is not surprising that twittering is taking over the world of news and communications.

As we rounded the southern headland of the Bahamas and headed east into the Atlantic the ship started to roll. As we settled down for the night the management reassured the stoker that it was always rougher near headlands. He hoped normal calm weather would resume before long.

As it turned out he could not have been more wrong. For the next four days we had strong north easterly winds and a huge swell. The ship was in ballast having only a few empty containers onboard and rolled alarmingly. The captain varied the course taking us more northwards when the swell was largest and back to a direct line for the Med when it relented a little. He also reduced speed.

Unlike the voyage out the sea was bright blue and even in the wind it was T shirt weather. The ship now riding high was not swept with spray as she had been in the North Atlantic. It was possible by hanging on to go from bow to stern.

This all sounds very nice but in common with most of the crew we were not enjoying it very much. We were fortunate in not feeling sea sick but we did feel very jaded. On one night the motion was so bad that we hardly slept at all and were being thrown around in our beds. It was often quite difficult to move around the ship. We tended to stay put but the crew had to work despite the conditions.

Most afternoons we go up to the bridge when the second officer has his watch. Each officer has designated responsibilities and among his is the navigation of the ship. We can therefore compare our position and estimated times of arrival with the real thing. He is also a very pleasant person and always ready to talk about his home in the Philippines.

In conversation we mentioned the Italian passenger taken off the ship in handcuffs in Halifax on the outward passage. Number 2 (Julius) showed us a wanted poster left on board by the Canadian officers after the arrest. He was an Albanian with a false Italian passport wanted by Interpol for complicity in manslaughter and/or murder. It was not a nice thought that he had been in the next cabin and we had been fellow passengers for ten days.

Our relationship with all the crew is good and we often have conversations and pass the time of day dependant only on how much English they have. The stoker is much respected as being the only woman in this friendly but male orientated environment. She sometimes cannot restrain herself from comment and is no respecter of rank as the management is well aware. The chief engineer, the second most senior officer, turned up in the mess wearing Bermuda shorts but with oily knees. Comments were made of the type with which no doubt Graham and Stuart are familiar, and he went off for a shower, poor man. He turned up next day in longer shorts which hide his knees. So far she has not asked to inspect his knees, but the management senses she would like to.

Message in a rum bottle launched from mid Atlantic

Voyage Home Days 13 to 19 Friday 20th to Thursday 26th March Gibraltar to Naples

Ship board life went on with reading, computing and navigating. In mid Atlantic we finished the bottle of rum we had brought with us from Havana. We wrote a note of our circumstances, date and position, sealed it and launched it into the sea from the stern of the ship. It disappeared almost immediately in the wake. We will see if it is ever found and we are contacted.

During this Atlantic crossing we have suffered the constant force of the North East trade wind. The ship rolled and pitched, alarmingly sometimes, for most of the way. The night sky from the ship is wonderful. It has been a very long time since we have been able to see it clearly from home. It is a great shame that the wonder of the stars and the heavens is denied to us at home because of the unnecessary and wasteful lighting.

As we neared Gibraltar it was signalled at over 600nm out by a gull gliding along with the ship. Soon after this a small colony of swallows landed on the superstructure of the accommodation block. It seemed a very long way from land for such a small bird. They seemed to have no fear of us, rested for a couple of hours and then were gone.

We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar during the very early hours of the morning. We sat up to send and receive messages on the phone but did not see the Rock this time. When we awoke the ship was in company with several others going east. This felt strange after having only seen a couple of vessels since the Bahamas. The motion of the ship was also completely altered. It felt to us completely smooth after the constant rolling in the Atlantic, even though it was blowing hard.

On the two day journey across the Mediterranean we were delighted to see dolphins playing in the bow wave. We have been watching for whales and dolphins on both this voyage and that to Havana without any luck until now. About 200 miles from Naples, while the management was exercising on the foredeck, he saw an English looking robin. It is amazing where these tiny birds get to.

Soon after 4pm on Monday 23rd March we were anchored in the bay of Naples. According to our GPS we have travelled 5125 nautical miles since leaving Havana. The management is absolutely delighted. Before we left Havana he did a detailed passage plan. His estimated time of arrival was 8pm on Monday 23rd March. We were four hours early after 13 days at sea. He admits that there was a lot of luck involved but it was a great and probably unrepeatable result.

Having been at sea for 14 days the smell of the land is enhanced. Perhaps it is opposite to the smell of the sea when those living inland first arrive at the coast. To us it smelt petrolly, rather like being down wind of an oil refinery but not so strong. We donít believe Naples to be any more polluted than any other large Western European town. We are also anchored upwind of the commercial areas. We can only suppose this is the smell of the cause of global warming. Sadly we have become so accustomed to it we do not usually notice it.

We were kept waiting on a rather bumpy anchorage for two days before we were allowed into port. It has to be said that we are fed up with the total disregard that this shipping company has for its passengers. Naples Bay is a beautiful place but we are the only and by far the most valuable cargo onboard. We feel that this is beyond what cargo ship passengers should be expected to accept particularly when we are already a month late.

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