Having previously reported on his arrival aboard Race for Water, our special envoy Eric Loizeau makes the most of the voyage to the Dominican Republic to review his first few days in Cuba and beyond.
Monday 7 August at 16:30pm local time.
We finally left Havana over 12 hours ahead of schedule having sorted out all the victualling for the boat with Bunny and Bérangère at the local market and the only two supermarkets in the city. One final clearance and a farewell to the pilots and we entered the departure channel just as a huge tropical storm hit with a series of intense flashes of lightning, some impressive thunderclaps and torrential rain. It was pretty bizarre to leave the city in such conditions after three days of glorious sunshine and scorching heat.
Together with the crew, I experienced three intense days of scientific research aboard the boat in the company of the mixed team of researchers made up of five Cubans and three Norwegians. We certainly didn’t stand idle… A 6 a.m. wake-up call, a quickly downed breakfast, the reception of local scientists (the Norwegians sleep aboard), the wait for clearance and the pilots (compulsory before each movement of the boat, hello red tape… Pascal loves it…!!), installation of the working surface on the aft platform and a trip out to sea for a mission that will go on until the evening with a minimalist-style break for lunch.
The Manta Net, which we trail behind the boat to collect sea water samples, probes for sediments, which are dropped to a depth of 20 metres at various pre-planned points and our captain accurately tracks them down again using the GPS. Everyone bustles about, the crew included, amidst the plethora of jars, test tubes and various bottles, with the 30 square metres of the aft deck (alias the Marina) transformed into a research lab, which is directly exposed to the ocean. In the afternoon, the trade wind kicks in, picking up short seas which hit us side on, upsetting certain stomachs that are unfamiliar with such treatment.
A few hours later, a fabulous sunset illuminates the florid pastel architecture of this amazing city, which we pass alongside in the silence of the electric motors as we finally take the time to enjoy an apéritif on the upper deck. The only fly in the ointment is the switch from the pure turquoise water offshore to a sort of murky jumble of petrol, fuel and urban pollution, which is shamelessly drained from the sewers, staining the white livery of our ecological vessel yellow.
We have to acknowledge that the protection of the environment is unfortunately not one of Havana’s strong points. Urban Cubans seemingly have other concerns to deal with, such as the simple fact of getting a good meal inside them each day…
Tuesday 8 August.
Here we are with a crew reduced down to just eight, which will make life a lot easier for Bunny and Bérangère, who are responsible for feeding the whole of our little group, which has thus far included a good fifteen or so people.
Once our fine second in command, Anne-Laure, has taken us to one side for a safety briefing, Bunny organises the shifts, cooking, cleaning and tidying, so life aboard takes on a degree of order…
After several discussions and analysis of the grib files, we opt for the northerly route, to windward of the islands and some 150 miles shorter than the southern route, which was initially planned due to the presence of some developing cyclones. For now though, our change of tack doesn’t seem to be the right option. The trade wind is stronger than forecast on the grib files, 18 knots rather than 10 and that changes everything because punching into short seas with an unfavourable current, we’re only able to make a little over two knots of boat speed over the ground.
The coast of Cuba stretches out endlessly to starboard. It’s a kind of eulogy to slowness, which is enabling us to read and write, and also to value our time away from telephones and screens, no longer fuelled by the internet. Such is the case now where, leaning back into a soft pouffee, fanned by the cool ventilation of the trade wind, I pen you these words whilst listening to the dulcet tones of Joan Baez.