Our cruise along the northern part of the uninhabited cays making up the ’Jardines de la Reina’ has been memorable and very different from the cays inside the reef. The protection from wind and swell has been limited so we were lucky to have very settled weather. At Cayo Zaza we crossed the submerged reef for a mile or two picking our way across the shallow waters for over an hour to reach the deeper water off the cay. In the evening we had a welcome visit from a fishing boat who we had watched most of the afternoon far out on the reef with several smaller boats, they all came alongside just before dark wanting to trade their lobster. This was the first time we had been asked for money, so we agreed on 5 lobsters for 15 CUC before we realised we didn’t have any change for a twenty. So they wanted to give us all the lobster they had, about a dozen of differing sizes, as they didn’t have change either. One guy spoke a little English and told me he had bad toothache, so I gave him a strip of paracetamol and he was so appreciative. So was the Captain of the fishing boat when we handed over a small bottle of rum too. Lots of waves and smiles from some very hard working fisherman as they anchored next to us for the night.
The last two anchorages were stunning but also lacked protection and were very shallow in the approach. Cayo Machos de Fuera is a tiny island and with such a beautiful sandy beach it is used by local tourist boats bringing 50-70 people for a few hours on the sun beds. The west coast has a small reef which doesn’t stop the swell wrapping around, there was a small boat rolling at anchor there when we arrived and as we approached in about 3 metres depth we also started to roll badly and decided we couldn’t stay the night there. Attempting the small ‘channel’ marked by only one remaining stick in between shoals to get into the more protected northern anchorage, our depth meter actually stopped recording on several occasions and when it came back to life we only had 10cm under the keel so we tracked back into deeper water and anchored way out in 3 metres. At least we were far enough away not to be affected by the swell. After making lunch we came up into the cockpit to eat and discovered we had a visitor.
He had rather taken a liking to our solar panels although they must have been so hot under his feet, and after watching us eat lunch he thought he would get a closer look at our bacon and eggs. Hopping onto the deck he waddled around narrowly missing the open hatches and came alongside the cockpit to beg for morsels, however he turned his beak up at some bacon fat.
Once the crowds had left the island on a huge catamaran we ventured ashore, being met by the resident restaurant manager who welcomed us to the now deserted island and showed us a few of the 700 wild but tame iguanas whom he feeds daily along with thousands of hermit crabs and some strange rat-like creature called a Jutia. That explained the over friendly pelican earlier that day. The beach restaurant apparently serves fish and lobster but no cold drinks, his one room house has two beds, a TV, radio and kitchenette with no fridge that we could see. There was a small canary-like bird making the most of his sugar pot and the leaky water pipe around the back was attracting hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes. How he manages to serve up to 75 people a day, all on his own, with such limited basic facilities is a mystery. He made us a Coco-Loco which is coconut water with rum, not very refreshing but different. He told us he spends 15 days working there and then has 15 days off with his family in Trinidad.
It was such a beautiful place we spent two nights here, reluctantly heading off on a very short sail to Cayo Blanco which is the last place to stop before Cienfuegos some 45 miles away. Cayo Blanco has a much easier approach to its anchorage on the north west coast and after a local tourist boat came out to check our boat name for some reason, we dropped anchor in 3.5 metres of crystal clear water with a sandy bottom. Wonderful to have a swim and snorkel although not much to see with just turtle grass and sand. We again waited for the tourists to depart before going ashore to meet the solo restaurant manager, the set-up here is on a bigger scale. With several solar panels and a huge bank of batteries he has a bar with a fridge and a well equipped kitchen, he was very proud to show us his house next to the bar, he too had just a basic bed and TV in one room and bar stock in the other. He served us a few cold beers in between preparing a seafood paella for his charter boat guests arriving that evening. The island is beautiful and well maintained, we walked over to the south side where previous hurricanes have piled up dead coral in huge mountains.
We left late that evening following our track back out to deeper water, making use of the gentle offshore wind that sets in about 10pm to sail along the coast overnight to Cienfuegos, arriving early morning when the wind died in readiness for its onshore breeze starting an hour or so later. The channel into the natural harbour is long but well-marked, once inside the bay opens up with a few islands dotted here and there.
The marina and anchorage area are on the other side of the bay and there were 40 or so other cruisers already there, and as we approached we were instructed to go alongside the concrete dock for check in. After a long wait for the harbour master to arrive and then an even longer wait to see the dock master, we finally got out to anchor and settle in. It really is not a good anchorage, with such a long fetch across the bay the daytime onshore breeze causes a really unpleasant chop and getting in and out the dinghy is a dodgy and wet affair. A squall came through on our first night here and the boat behind us dragged onto the boat behind him, as the wind turns 360 degrees it takes some time for anchors to re-set. We also heard that one man had to be rescued close to us whilst we were on shore when his dinghy was flipped over by the wind and waves, landing on top of him.
The city is half an hours walk from the marina and is a great improvement on Santiago. Horse drawn carts provide transport for locals and bicycle taxis for the tourists so there are fewer cars and lorries on the streets and a much more relaxed atmosphere.