Posts Tagged ‘sailing’
“flot flot flot… flot flot flot…”
I was trying to get some sleep before my watch when I heard it. Damn, another flying fish flew in the hatch, I thought. I’ll just get it when I get up. I promptly rolled over and went to sleep.
My alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. and I dressed for watch. Just before going up, I went to the head (toilet) in my room to brush my teeth.
“Oh!” I cried, as I turned on the light. A pigeon-sized dark-grey bird sat on the floor looking up at me. I went outside and brought Mori San, who was just going off watch, in to see. He must be one of the little dark birds we had seen flitting over the waves almost our entire 4,000 nautical mile passage.
I say he because everyone on the boat was convinced that any bird visiting the girl’s cabin had to be male. I pointedly ignored Zeus comments.
I had wondered how on earth these birds managed to make it so terribly far from land without rest. We were thousands of miles away from any land. Maybe that was the reason the little guy made his way into my cabin. He just needed a break. With a long curving beak and clear dark eyes I wondered what kind of bird my new friend was. I did want to make sure he was okay. It was night, but he seemed far too sedate to be entirely healthy.
I took a towel out of the bathroom cupboard and covered the bird, and scooped him into my arms. He weighed less than air as I carried him outside. He didn’t struggle or put up the least bit of resistance to my moving him. I was worried. Had he hurt himself on his way inside Umineko? Was he sick? Wild animals tended to avoid humans like the plague unless they are sick.
Setting him on a bench I filled a small bowl with fresh water and placed it in front of our visitor. He didn’t pay a bit of attention to it** nor did the flying fish I offered have any effect.
After 10 minutes he got down off of the bench and moved into the saloon. He tucked in behind the table and made his way into the darkest shadowy corner he could find, away from the red light in the saloon.
“Maybe just needs to rest,” Toshi San suggested. “He wants to go somewhere that’s quiet.”
At 5:45 the faintest hints of light brushed the Eastern horizon. Dawn was on its way. I went inside with the towel. I didn’t want dawn to come and the bird to start flying around the boat. It was vital to get him out when it was still dark.
He wasn’t in the saloon. He wasn’t on the port side, I peered down the dark steps to the starboard side. There he was, a darker pool in a darker shadow resting at the bottom of the two stairs. Directly in front of Mori San’s berth. I breathed a sigh of relief that Mori San hadn’t needed to use the head and accidently stepped on our guest.
This time when I draped the red towel over him he struggled. I smiled as he tried to stretch his wings and placed him on the back of the port side bench. After a few minutes he hopped down to the bench, and then thought better of it. My heart soared as he flapped his way back up to the ledge. A few minutes more and he disappeared into the dissipating night. He had just needed a place to rest.
Finding a bird in your cabin is fun, always provided you don’t step on it. On the flip side spent the next day cleaning up er… presents our friend had left.
I love breakfast burritos. They are healthy, tasty, and meet the requirements of sailing food: Easy and portable. Even better, they don’t require complicated ingredients. If you have leftover rice or beans from the night before they’re a fantastic way to use up ingredients.
Breakwater Breakfast Burritos
- 4 tortillas
- 4 eggs
- 4 slices of cheese (or 8 small slices)
- 2 c rice
- 2 c black eyed peas (soaked and cooked)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 T taco seasoning
- Crack egg into nonstick skillet over medium heat
- Immediately lay tortilla over egg squish around so that tortilla is coated in egg
- Allow to cook 2 minutes and flip onto plate
- Fry garlic in oil for 2 minutes
- Spoon rice and black eyed peas into pan
- Mix in taco seasoning
- Put tortilla in clean skillet over medium heat, egg-side up
- Lay cheese on top
- Spoon ¼ of mixture onto each of the tortillas
- Wrap and serve with salsa
*When handling wild animals always wrap them in a towel. This is safer for both of you.
- Wild animals don’t know what is happening to them. More often than not they are terrified of the person holding them and the towel protects you and curbs their movement.
- It is terrible to get human scent on the animal. Often others of its kind will shun it after that
- It is some protection from disease
**In retrospect he probably didn’t know what fresh water was! Sea birds have internal desalination systems so that they can just drink sea water. There have been numerous times at sea I wished I were built like that.
A flight of something thwacked into our path as we were dinghying across the Bahamian waters.
“What do you think that was?” the captain asked me.
“Flying fish,” I replied. What else could it be?
“Calamari!” the captain replied, grinning and holding up a small squid.
I had never even heard of flying squid before a sail around the Bahamas several years prior, or since. Until the passage from Panama, that is. The first day after we passed the Galapagos flying fish started appearing on our trampoline. Gifts from the sea gods, of course. The first day there were a few flying fish and one little squid.
Cook them for breakfast, Sato San urged. The flying fish were alright, but the squid was scrumptious.
“There’ll be 10 squid this morning,” I said to Toshi San on watch that night. I didn’t really believe it, but to my delight there was a flock of flying squid on the trampoline as the sun came up. Not quite 10, but enough for a tasty snack.
That morning for breakfast I served them as a side dish to our usual rice breakfast. They were delectable, perfectly done. And what a wonderful addition of fresh food to the provisions! Unlike catching monstrous tuna or mahi mahi you aren’t eating it for weeks either.
We didn’t have as many flying squid gifts on the trampoline, but they really are delicious. I highly recommend frying them up if you find them on your deck or trampoline on passage. You do have to take out the little plastic-y tube
Falling off Flying Squid
- ½ lb squid, about 10
- 2 T soy
- 1 T cooking sake
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 T butter
- Clean the squid, they always have a little plastic-y tube inside but they are usually small enough not to have a beak or anything else that needs removal. Place in small bowl
- Sprinkle cooking sake over squid (it removes any possible odor)
- In small frying pan heat butter over medium heat
- Fry garlic 1-2 minutes
- Add soy
- Cook squid 30 seconds on each side, they will plump up a little bit and translucent flesh will turn opaque
- Put over rice
If you’re going to keep the squid until lunch you might want to refrigerate it.
The sailing world is fraught with myths, legends, and tradition. That it is bad luck have a woman on a boat may have fallen by the wayside (for some at least), but others remain. In name at least. Some, like the equator crossing tradition can be a fun way to break up a long passage.
To cross the equator you need the sea god’s permission. There are different takes on it. Some legends state that newbies, the people who haven’t crossed before, must perform a ritual. Others say that the oldest member on board must make the sacrifice, but luckily (for me) Sato San decided that the newbies had to come up with the skit.
Rather than doing an actual skit we agreed that we would do a picture skit. Each scene would be a still shot and the pictures would say everything. No memorizing lines, no action. Just implied action. Apparently this kind of thing was extremely popular in Japan.
Toshi San and I thought about it for a few days. Cross dressing and nudity were common in these ceremonies. I vetoed removing any of my clothes, or wearing a coconut bra or Brazilian string bikini the guys had been suggesting. Cross dressing on the other hand… now that was a definite possibility. And who better than to dress up as a woman than Sato San, the biggest advocate of me wearing less clothes.
Here’s how our story went:
The winds had died because we needed to ask the sea god’s permission to cross the equator. The sea god needed a sacrifice.
One sailor catches a beautiful mermaid (as played by Sato San) and decides to give her to the sea god to marry.
One sailor prepares the mermaid for the marriage but gets jealous that the mermaid is marrying a god so calls in her friend in Pacific Al Quanaika (the word means “where it is” in Japanese, but Toshi San wanted it as a play on Al Qaeda) who stabs the mermaid
The sea god appears saying he doesn’t want his beautiful mermaid hurt or need a sacrifice so he brings her back to life with rum. (this is also a joke as alcohol can be used to kill fish)
The sea god brings the wind and everyone happily sings a song.
It must have worked. Not half an hour later a pod of 7 small whales, possibly pilot whales breached alongside of us. I was delighted watching the creatures surfaces so close to the hull. Sato San, on the other hand just wanted them gone. They weren’t big, only 2-3 times the size of a dolphin, with curious rounded heads and dark bodies.
When Toshi San made the joke about whale steaks I knew the gentle giants must not have seen the Japanese flag.
One of our favorite meals is somen. It’s quick, easy, and delicious on a hot day, which we get quite a few of in equatorial waters. Somen isn’t for rough seas, but it’s a great thing to eat on calm waters, at anchor, or in a marina. Healthy, delicious, and above all easy it’s a fun cool meal for crew to eat together on the deck with a breeze blowing over you.
South of the Equator Somen
- 1 500 gram package of somen noodles
- Tomato, thinly sliced
- Spring onions, finely chopped
- ½ carrot, julienned
- 1 can fish (sardines or Japanese canned fish)
- ½ cucumber, julienned
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ c katsuo dipping sauce
- Boil water
- Put somen in and cook for 2 minutes
- Drain and run cold water over noodles until cool (it stops the noodles cooking and cools them)
- Fry eggs in small, oiled pan (ideally square) over medium heat about 2 minutes on one side and flip.
- Slice egg into very thin slices
- Arrange egg and veggies on a plate with fish in the middle
- Set on table with wasabi and katsuo
- Each person has a little bowl and each person makes their own lunch:
- Pour katsuo dipping sauce into bowl
- Stir in wasabi to taste
- Sprinkle in spring onions
- Add noodles, veggies and fish
- Refill bowl and eat until full!
Okay, this was in Panama… we sailed past the Galapagos in the dead of night but hey, islands.
The Galapagos. Ever since reading the Kurt Vonnegut book I had wanted to sail there. Almost every cruiser heading through the Panama Canal to the Marquesas stops off at the Galapagos. It’s the logical stopping-point to break up the prodiigeous 4,000 nautical mile passage. Sure, it’s a lot closer to Panama, about 845 nautical miles away. But still, it’s a nice break to help you remember what land feels like.
Toshi San and I both really wanted to go. Mori San wouldn’t have minded either (provided there was a post office there, Mori San’s one requirement for visiting even the remotest of locations). Unfortunately Sato San was dead set against it. It was costly, there was a lot of paperwork, we might use up too much fuel, and he was in a bit of a hurry to reach Darwin for the start of the Sail Indonesia Rally in July. Then there were the sea lions. He’d heard horror stories from our friends in the previous WARC about sea lions climbing up on boats and making their noisy, stinky, aggressive selves at home.
Still, we were sailing within 10 nautical miles of the islands, near enough to smell them, without stopping. Sadder still our friends on Spirit of Alcides were taking the time to stop and explore the islands. But as much as Toshi San, Mori San, and I wanted to go, it wasn’t up to us. Though crew may offer suggestions, a boat is not a democracy. The captain always has the final say.
Though it can be frustrating, the captain really does have to have complete control of what goes on on a boat (this control does not extend to the galley. I am captain of my galley. It helps the boat run smoothly and keeps things together in rough seas or trying times. Not that the captain has to be a Bligh or anything. He can listen, but bottom line is that, the captain always has the final say. Alas this meant I didn’t get to visit the Galapagos this time around.
I was on watch with Toshi San at 3:30 am when we sailed by. Oh there was joking about “accidently” going off course and ending up there but no. No giant turtles or blue footed boobies for us. Not this time. I guess I have to save something for next time around.
That morning we had left-over rice from the night before. Rice is integral in Japanese cooking. From the start Sato San made it clear that at least one meal of the day should be accompanied by rice. I usually cook just the right amount. But what happens when you make too much rice?
Growing up one of my favorite left over breakfasts was rice cakes. Now “rice cake” can mean so many different things. Of course there are the Styrofoam-like “healthy” rice cakes. You know, the ones that taste like nothing unless they are flavored with some salt or seasoning? Then there are Korean rice cakes which are similar to Japanese mochi. These dense cylinders of rice flour pressed into a chewy pasta are used in one of my favorite dishes, dduk boki.
These rice cakes are completely different. They are more like rice pancakes. They make an easy and tasty breakfast not to mention being a wonderful way of using up left-over rice from the night before.
Captain’s Call Rice Cakes
- 3 c cooked rice
- ¼ c spring onions, finely chopped
- ½ c canned corn
- ½ c fake crab meat, chopped (optional)
- 2 T Vegeta seasoning
- 4 eggs
- Oil for frying
- Okonomayaki sauce (optional)
- Put rice in large bowl
- Mix in eggs, corn, fake crab meat, and vegeta
- Scoop onto oiled skillet with ladle
- Cook in oiled skillet over medium heat until golden, 2-3 minutes on each side
- Serve hot
The barter system is still thriving in the sailing community. One of my favorite trades was on Elephant Island in San Blas. I traded some banana bread for a winch handle. I was delighted with my side, but the Australian couple seemed equally pleased with their banana bread. The woman even threw in some clothes she liked the bread so much! That isn’t quite the norm though.
At Shelter Bay marina by Colon, Panama was a party every night. Not only were the fabulous people from WARC 2014 there, but as with most marinas there were interesting people living on many of the boats. We befriended one megayacht’s crew, a young South African surfer and a wry Brit. They had caught an enormous tuna a few days earlier and asked me if I wanted any of the meat.
I jumped on the offer and told them that I would cook them dinner with it. This kind of barter on boats is a lot more common. Very few yachts have a ton of freezer space and even fewer have a flash freezer. When a crew of four catches a 20-lb tuna you’re a) going to be eating a lot of tuna for a while and b) will have to give away at least some of it if you don’t want to throw it away.
This leads to quite a few presents and exchanges of fish between yachties. And if you’re given fish it only makes sense to cook it for your patron.
What could we do with delicious fresh tuna though? Sashimi was an option, of course, but that was more of a starter. We needed something for a lovely dinner party.
I first tried chirashi sushi, or chirashizushi in Argentina when my lovely friend Machiko invited me over for dinner. I fell in love with it from the first bite. Chirashizushi means “scattered” sushi and it is also a favorite in Japanese home cooking. Since then I have tried chirashi sushi in a restaurant, rice with decadent slabs of sashimi, but I really prefer the homemade variety.
It isn’t hard to make, and like so many Japanese dishes it looks beautiful. If you bring chirashi sushi you will be sure to be the hit of the dinner party.
Charter Chirashi Sushi
- 4 cups short grained or sushi rice
- 1 packet Tamanoi Sushinoko sushi rice seasoning powder
- 3 lbs fresh tuna (3-days old is ideal)
- Pickled daikon, thinly sliced or shredded
- Nori, cut into thin strips
- Kazimi ginger (pink pickled ginger in thin strips)
- 2 eggs
- Cook rice
- Spread in large bowl, and fan to cool
- Gently fold in sushi rice seasoning powder using flat rice spoon
- You shouldn’t make the sushi rice so far in advance that you need to refrigerate it. In fact, it should never be refrigerated. The ideal sushi rice is served at body temperature.
- Spread on a flat platter
- Beat the eggs and cook 2 minutes over medium heat in small square skillet if you have one. A small skillet will do.
- Flip and cook the other side about 1 minute
- Turn onto cutting board and cut into thin strips (it’s called tamagoyaki)
- Cut fish into bite-sized chunks
- Arrange fish, kazami ginger, tamagoyaki, nori strips, and pickled daikon strips over rice
- Serve and enjoy!
The worst single word you can hear at a cash register. It worse still when you have spent 4 hours provisioning and the cashier has rung up a month’s worth of groceries. When the store in question is over an hour taxi ride away from the marina it is like something out of a nightmare.
Umineko had gotten to Balboa marina the day before and it was lovely. It had a swimming pool, hot showers, fast internet, not to mention it was filled with WARC yachts resplendent in their flags. This was a new WARC so I didn’t know most of the yachts, but I had met a few of them in San Blas.
The large crew of Boingo Alive, delightful men (and 2 women) from a Swiss yacht whom I had met in San Blas, Panama were drinking at the bar. It is always fantastic to see familiar faces in new ports and this was no exception. We spent a late first night drinking, catching up, and getting to know one another.
The next morning we all went provisioning; their entire crew and me as Umineko’s representative. I couldn’t believe how far it was to Cologne from Balboa. What made it worse was that the taxi had to stop for nearly an hour waiting for ships the size of city to transit the Panama Canal locks and the bridge to go down. There was actually a roadside stand selling banana bread, sandwiches, and drinks for people who had to wait while the canal bridge was up!
We arrived at the dilapidated shopping center a little before 10, and made plans with the grocery store’s drivers to take us back at 14:00. After a quick neunies (a Swiss traditional snack between breakfast and lunch they had drunkenly told me about the day before) we got down to provisioning.
Provisioning is far from my favorite thing to do. Buying enough food for months (or at least one) at sea is overwhelming to say the least. Just imagine if you had to do all of your shopping for a month+ in one go and you can’t buy or get anything else. Well, possibly some fresh fish but that’s it.
Still, I was going through the aisles, crossing things off the list and getting things done. I filled up the first cart. By 13:30 the second cart was overflowing. Myself and half of the marina. The queues of WARC members provisioning, each one with several carts piled high with groceries, was comical. By the time I finally got to the register I was more than ready to be back at the marina.
It took 20 minutes for the plump Panamanian cashier to scan all of the items. When I handed her my debit card I was already helping the bag person arrange items in heavy boxes.
“Your card was not accepted,” she told me in Spanish handing it back.
“Try it again,” I said, the panic building.
The world went grey. I’d left my credit card on the boat for safe keeping. After all, we were in Cologne, reputedly dangerous. I looked through my wallet just to see if money had miraculously appeared. No luck: I didn’t have even close to enough money on me.
“Could you run it again?”
The woman obliged, but shook her head. Declined.
My eyes went big. We were well over an hour away from Balboa yacht club not to mention the fact we’d taken an expensive taxi to get here.
I did the only thing I could. Harry, one of my new friends on Boingo Alive, was in line several carts back.
“They declined my card!” I told him in a wail, my face ghost white.
“How much do you need?” The shaggy-haired Swiss artist asked, not missing a beat. He pulled out his wallet and counted out twenties.
I almost fainted with the strength of the wave of relief and gratitude that washed over me. When Harry met Sally? Yeah, he saved her life. Cruisers are amazing. The welcoming nature of the sailing community seems to draw the best people to it. Or maybe sailing simply brings out the best in people. I’m not sure if it is because sailors are more in tune with nature, realize their own mortality on the high seas, are just doing something they love, or any number of other reasons, bit sailors are some of the friendliest, most helpful people in the world. To other sailors at least.
Harry had known me for less than a week and without hesitating he lent me the money to pay for the groceries. No, he wasn’t a Swiss banker.
Earlier Harry had asked if we had any wasabi we could trade Boingo Alive (they weren’t sure for what but that’s how things work in sailing). Later that day I paid Harry back and brought over a tube of wasabi. Boingo Alive went through the canal the day before Umineko so sadly we didn’t have time for a dinner party but hopefully I will get a chance to cook for them in some port in the future.
Boingo Alive wanted the wasabi for all the fresh fish they were going to catch, but I love to use wasabi in all sorts of dishes. I was delighted when I found a vegetable truck in Portobello, Panama selling watercress and all sorts of delicious treasures. I’ve loved watercress sandwiches since childhood and wanted to put a Japanese spin on them.
Winch Watercress Wasabi Salmon Sandwiches
- 1 8 oz package cream cheese
- 1 c watercress leaves (and thinner stems), chopped
- 2 T wasabi paste
- 2 T lemon juice
- ½ t pepper
- 1 t salt
- 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
- 8 oz smoked salmon
- Mix cream cheese, wasabi, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in small bowl
- Stir in watercress leaves
- Spread on slice of bread
- Arrange cucumber slices on top
- Lay smoked salmon over cucumber
- Top with second slice of bread and cut in half
Sailing is fantastic. More than just the exhilarating, relaxing, challenging time on the water, I adore nature, snorkeling, and exploring new places. But what makes places is the people and the unique traditions.
From the start of our stay Kuna Indians rowed dugout canoes out to Umineko hawking bracelets, and the traditional mola weavings they were famed for. Several plump Kuna women made their rounds to the yachts, delighted to have so many potential customers.
molas were expensive, but the craftsmanship and time that went into making them was impressive. The figures stitched onto the colorful weavings looked similar to aboriginal art from Australia. Each one was unique, the fabric layers painstakingly hand-stitched as they had been for hundreds of years. When one mola-master demonstrated the intricacy, each stich so fine it was almost invisible to the naked eye I realized how exceptional these traditional weavings truly were.
Every day new canoes rowed up to us. One man came with his son in a dugout canoe. The short We invited the two on board to chat. Each canoe was made from a single “cedar amargo” tree. Everything was still made traditionally with machetes and axes. One canoe could last decades, but today not everyone made their own. Special canoe-makers made canoes.
With no markets on Chichime, or any of the surrounding islands we were running low on vegetables. The isolation was as bad as being on a long passage. We were starting to wonder if we would have to sail somewhere that had a grocery store. That morning we were delighted to have a canoe pull up beside us selling that day’s catch of fish and lobster.
We were a little disappointed that they didn’t have veggies but how could we pass on a fish delivery service? For $10 we bought the whole lot. We didn’t have a lot of fresh veggies, but with the delicious variety of seafood I just had to make paella. Isn’t half of cooking in a galley about making delicious things with what you have?
- 2 ½ c water
- 2 T vegeta
- 1 ½ c long-grain rice
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- ½ c white wine
- 3 T olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 generous pinch saffron (alas our saffron was too old so the paella wasn’t yellow)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ½ c shrimp
- 1 c squid
- 4 small lobster tails
- 2 T lemon juice (juice from 1 lemon)
- In large skillet sauté garlic and onion in olive oil about 2 minutes on medium heat
- Add rice, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and vegeta and stir until rice is fully coated
- Add water, white wine, and saffron, cover pan with lid and simmer 20 minutes
- Add lobster and simmer another 5 minutes
- Add shrimp and squid and cook 2 minutes more
- Sprinkle lemon juice over paella
Sailing into Chichime Island, skirting shipwrecks and coral heads, was stunning. A lush palm forest ringed in transparent turquoise. I understood why backpackers paid upwards of $500 for a week squeezed into tourist boats like so many sardines to visit the famed San Blas Islands. A glimpse of this paradise was almost worth it.
Dozens of masts reached up to the sky greeting us as we sailed up to Chichime Island, San Blas. We were with the World ARC round-the-world rally, at least through the Panama canal. It wouldn’t be anything like sailing with the previous year’s WARC rally since we would just be with them for a few weeks. Still, both Sato San and I were more than a little nostalgic.
When the Rally Control, or WARC organizers, boat motored up to us in a little dinghy, we were delighted to see some of our old friends. To make it even better, we were in San Blas, Islands which I had been curious about ever since I heard about them years before when traveling through Colombia.
For a first breakfast in San Blas I had made one of my favorite omelets. Fish sausages are one of my favorite cruising foods. In reality they are really less of sausages and more like plastic-wrapped fish hot dogs. Actually that’s not quite fair as they are really tasty. The most exciting thing about them, and what makes them a wonderful cruising food is that they don’t need refrigeration. I’m really not sure how many preservatives are used in them, but they last for ages.
The fish sausages can be used in a lot of things, but one of my favorites is to make an omelet out of them.
Furling Fish Sausage Omelet
Serves 2-3 people
- Vegetable oil, to grease the pan
- 5 eggs
- ½ c milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Japanese fish sausage, sliced
- 2 slices cheese, halved
- ½ green pepper, chopped
- ½ onion, chopped
- Whisk together milk, eggs, salt, and pepper
- Heat oiled large nonstick skillet over medium heat
- Sauté onion and pepper in small skillet, about 5 minutes
- Pour egg mixture into pan and cook until starting to solidify, 2-3 minutes
- Sprinkle onion mixture over half of the omelet (the less-cooked half if there is one)
- Arrange fish sausage over mixture
- Lay cheese slices on top
- Fold omelet over the filled side and cook another 2 minutes
- Serve and enjoy!
I cried when we left Cuba. I had to! Well, if I wanted to leave, that is.
Half-sunken ship in Cien Fuegos marina
Immigration always makes me nervous, no matter how many times I cross a border I invariably tense when dealing with the shifty border officials. You never know what hoops they will make the foreigner jump through or what taxes, bribes, or fines they will expect you to pay. Or if they are just in a bad mood or are bored what power trip they will try and pull. Crossing the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa the South African border guards made us wait 24-hours and then threatened to make our bus wait another 24-hours before they would let us in the country. Border guards have absolute power and you know what they say about absolute power.
Now I understand entry formalities, countries don’t want bugs coming in on foreign food. They need to make sure no one is bringing drugs, weapons, or anything from a long list of banned items that a country might quarantine. But exiting is usually a breeze. Especially in a yacht. The United States, the Bahamas, and many other countries don’t even need you to get an exit stamp! Cuba on the other hand is quite different.
It was raining our departure day. A miserable drizzle that soaked everything. It had been interesting to visit Cuba but I was more than ready to get on to Panama. The longer we were there the more I realized it: Cuba is decidedly not a country for cruisers. At least not cruisers who don’t like getting stuck in red tape.
We finished a last-minute provisioning before heading out and waited for the dock master to check us out.
He showed up right on time, he brought a massive entourage with him. I gaped as a formidable gentleman, clearly in charge, two women, and a man with a large German shepherd in tow, all filed onto Umineko. Suddenly the spacious saloon seemed cramped.
The dock master explained to us in his limited English, that the gentleman with an air of authority was the customs officer. He needed to check our boat to see if we were taking anything out of the country that we shouldn’t.
head of immigration in Varadero
What not to take leaving the country? I was confused. I was more baffled when the dog was led on a once-over of the boat. Looking for drugs, the dock master explained. Apparently Cuba wants to keep their drugs within the borders.
The customs stepped up next. Peering at me over his bushy grey moustache. When he asked if we had anyone on board who hadn’t been on board when we had arrived I understood. He was checking for stow-aways or people trying to escape.
No, I told him, just us.
Had we bought any Tobacco during our stay? He asked next.
No, I told him… my heart raced. I didn’t have a receipt for the expensive cigars I had gotten.
Had we bought any art?
Art? Well, I couldn’t really lie about that given one of my fellow crew members had the numerous paintings he had bought hanging all over his room to prevent the fresh paint from sticking.
I led him around the boat him looking in every cabinet, nook and cranny for anything we shouldn’t be taking out of the country. Then he got to Mori San’s berth, practically wallpapered with paintings he had bought on the streets of Havana.
The officer told me he needed to see the receipt. A game of telephone-translation between Mori San who only spoke Japanese and the officer who was limited to Spanish ensued. We didn’t have receipts because the paintings had been bought on the street.
Hanging paintings covered in garbage bags
The officer was not pleased with that answer. We couldn’t take the paintings out of the country without the receipts, he insisted. At once it made sense. Cuba was a communist country: the artwork the painter produces doesn’t belong to the painter. It belongs to the government. Buying a painting directly from the painter was essentially stealing from the government. But how could I explain that?
The officer was getting annoyed with me, the crew and captain were frustrated with me. I continued showing the officer the Port hull, apologizing and allowing myself get increasingly upset. By the time we reached my berth, tears were welling up in my eyes.
He sat me down on my bed and explained to me that he knew it wasn’t my fault. He would let it go. This once. But he could get in a lot of trouble for what he was doing.
I don’t know if he wanted a bribe. After he told me that we could go I did my best not to look at him. I never found out why the women were there, nor did I want to ask anything. I just wanted to leave before they found an excuse to keep us.
After the unexpected exit stress I was all for cooking a simple dinner. One of my favorite cruising vegetables is kale. It lasts weeks and weeks without showing its age, and doesn’t bruise or squish easily either. Better yet it’s packed full of vitamins and minerals. Some people like to eat it raw but I’m not quite so hardcore. I prefer to steam it.
But steamed kale can be a little boring. Just little splash of kombu soup stock can transform it into one of the most delicious things imaginable.
Kombu dashi is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is a soup stock made out of seaweed. Though it is generally sold as powder, you can also buy it in little bottles. Powdered dashi is great to throw in miso soup, or other recipes. However, I really do like bottled kombu soup stock better especially when using as the main flavor in a dish.
Captain’s Kombu Kale
- 4 c chopped kale leaves, stems removed
- ¼ c kombu soup stock
- Chop leaves into bite-sized portions.
- Cook large pot with ½” of water at the bottom
- Drain and toss with kombu soup stock
Varadero isn’t Cuba,” countless people told us. It’s just for tourists. You can’t see the real Cuba there. When we got to Havana I had to agree. Havana seemed like a different world from the famous beaches, performances, and posh hotels catering to foreigners of the lauded beach town.
But when we left Havana it was the same. Everyone told us Havana wasn’t the real Cuba. So what is the real Cuba? Cuba isn’t one country. Every city and place I visited was completely different from every other place. Havana: the post-apocalyptic Cartagena and most photogenic city I have ever visited. But less than an hour away, the sleepy little town of Jaimanitas, is ideologically a world apart.
Cien Fuegos: a charming well-ordered town with a Peruvian feel to its downtown. On the Southern coast, it was never built up for the visiting American jetsetters in the 40s and 50s so it doesn’t have the feel of an abandoned once-great city. No, everything is clean and seems like it runs quite well. Well, most things. Internet access and the marina not having a shower were the two things that really hurt. Internet access may be painfully slow and expensive in Havana and Varadero but it is possible. It wasn’t even possible at the posh hotels in Cien Fuegos when I visited. Like stepping back in time.
Speaking of stepping back in time, about an hour’s drive from Cien Fuegos lies Trinidad, Cuba’s oldest city and a UNESCO world heritage site. Weavers, artists, and other artisans with purses made out of coke can tops and every other recycled product set up their stalls along the narrow cobblestone streets. Trinidad is a tourist trap, but the history, culture and the feel of the place make it delightful anyway.
Trinidad was charming, but I was almost more surprised by the countryside. It is something entirely different entirely. Truly like stepping back in time. People ride horses, use oxen to pull carts. More often than not the buses are wagons drawn by horses. Men cut down high grass with sickles on the roadside. This wasn’t going back to the 50s. This was going back several centuries.
The Cuban government doesn’t want tourists visiting the countryside. Well, to be fair it isn’t really geared towards tourism. Buses don’t go there, there aren’t tourist accommodations in the smaller towns. My visit to a home in the country was a trip to a yachtie’s boxing instructor’s house. I visited a yachtie’s boxing instructor’s home. unfinished cinderblock home reminded me of some of the country homes I had seen in Zambia. Nothing that I had seen in my travels in South America, but the house was according to the yachtie, far and away nicer than what it had been just a few months before. He had built it himself and was inexorably proud of the place. Surrounded by banana trees, it was nice that he had fresh fruit so close.
The country life, according to an expat yachtie, who had lived at Marina Hemmingway on and off for 7 years, was the real Cuba. The Cuba that tourists didn’t see. But I am not sure that I could define any one part of Cuba I saw as the real Cuba. Everywhere is so incredibly different from everywhere else. I would love to see more of the countryside, to visit the tobacco plantations, and explore the mountains. Maybe even discover the “real” Cuba. There is always next time.
Not that salmon has much to do with Cuba, other than that I made this delicious dish while Umineko was in a marina in Cuba with frozen fillets we had bought in the United States. To be perfectly honest I didn’t even see salmon on a menu while I was there, but this dish is too tasty not to put up.
Sloop Soba Salmon
- 1 T ginger paste
- 2 Cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ c mirin
- ⅓ soy
- 2 T sake
- 2 T sugar
- 1 T sesame oil
- 4 salmon fillets
- 400 g soba
- Boil soba about 5 minutes
- Drain and run cold water to stop cooking, set aside
- Mix sake, soy, sugar, and ginger paste in small bowl stirring until sugar is dissolved, set aside
- Fry garlic in sesame oil in large skillet about 3 min over med heat
- Cook salmon fillets in oil, 2 minutes per side, just enough to brown
- Place salmon on plate
- Pour sauce into skillet and cook until mixture comes to a boil and starts to thicken
- Return salmon to pan and cook 2 minutes more on each side, sauce will reduce to glaze
- Serve over soba noodles