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Escape to Cuba - A Sailing Adventure

Starring:

Frank Stone..Escape 1
Scott Endicott..Escape 2

 Map of Cuba showing the route travelled - 12k

I guess you can say our adventure began 2 years ago on Charlotte Harbour in beautiful Punta Gorda, Fl. Before that Scott or myself had never sailed a boat. Charlotte Sailing, Inc located next to the motel that I manage had just gotten a new type of sailboat called the Escape. After watching a few people sail them I asked if I could try one out. After one hour I was sailing. I told my friend, Scott Endicott about the boats and so he tried one out. Before long we were sailing every other day. We loved the boats and decided to get involved with the racing program at Charlotte Sailing. Within 6 months Scott and myself had bought our own boats. We dominated the racing and started sailing on short trips around the Harbour. We sailed to Boca Grande which is 26 miles from the sailing centre and on the way back we thought it might be a great adventure to sail the Escapes on a long trip. Well, where else would you Escape to? Cuba!! We wrote to the Escape Sailboat Company and told them of our quest, to Escape to Cuba on a 11.5 foot Escape. The response we got was "you must be crazy" But if you insist on going we would like to send you 2 new boats for the trip. We were on our way to the planning stage. We talked to sailors from our local sailing club to find out what we should bring for this estimated 40-50 hour trip. If we carried all that was needed we would have to have a support boat along. We talked Gary Trimmer, owner of the Sailing Centre, into coming along in his Beneteau 305. Its a good thing we started planning 9 months ago. We never dreamed what is necessary for such a short trip from Key West to Hemingway Marina in Cuba. First of all the paper work was needed to leave the Country to enter a foreign port. Passports were also needed. The food stuffs were purchased at the local Sam' Club. Area business donated other items like bottled water, safety equipment, and money. Garmin Electronics loaned us 2 Garmin 170s. GPS/VHF handheld units. Now for the route and weather window. Our local weather man, Tom Rector of NBC2 plotted the weather for us. Gary Trimmer plotted the course across the Florida Straights which has currents running at 2-3 kts to the East.

Passing a cruise ship leaving Key West - 24k

On April the 18th at 10:00 P.M. I got the call from Tom Rector. Leave now. Its a good thing we were packed and ready to go. Within 2 hours we were sailing out of Charlotte Harbour on the Beneteau lacking 1 crew member that couldn't be found. Scott was to trailer the 2 Escapes to Key West the next day and we would leave ASAP. We arrived in Key West on the Beneteau at 8:00 A.M. the morning of the 20th. Scott pulled in around 10:30 A.M. and we proceeded to provision the 2 Escapes and set sail for our destination, Cuba. It was noon and the winds were 8-10 kts from the SE when we sailed pass the large cruise ships in Key West, Scott and I looking toward the South with great hopes of reaching our destination. As we sailed across the Reef we were amazed at all the debris you could see on the bottom. There were old military shells, sunken boats and other unrecognizable objects. But knowing we had a long trip ahead of us we focused on sailing the Escapes as fast as they would go. We each had our Garmin 170 to navigate and keep in contact with each other, so we listened to the weather channel off and on for wind and sea conditions. At 12 miles out the wind died to 0-2 kts and the sea was like a sheet of glass. At least we were out of the grip of the incoming tide, but we were not making any headway. We decided to board the support boat "Something Special" and head West. Our thought was that when we were on the support boat and travelled West we would not sail toward Cuba unless we were on the Escapes. At 5:00 A.M. the 21st we climbed back on the Escapes and headed SW. in 13-15 kts of SE winds. This was great sailing. The 3-4 ft seas didn't bother the performance of the boats at all. So we prayed for 15-20 kts and that afternoon we got it.

The Escapes in action on their way to Cuba - 19k

We got wet, even though we had our gear in water proof containers somehow water found its way to spare batteries instantly turning them to rust. We decided we had to much gear aboard and we came along side the support boat and unloaded keeping only the Garmin and safety equipment and bottled water. With the thought of losing our gear gone now, we tied ourselves to the boat and headed on a close reach toward Cuba. The evening of the 21st brought light winds as we were entering the currents, so we again took advantage of it and headed for "Something Special" for some long needed food and a quick rest. The winds came up again so we climbed back aboard the Escapes and headed SW. in 15-20 kts. Wonderful, we thought, as night fell we turned on our improvised lights to keep visual contact with each other as well as the support boat. With the seas running 5-6 ft now we lost each other in the swells. Now in the darkest of night I have ever seen before the Gulf was letting us know why this trip is not to be done in a small boat, unless you are "Escaping From Cuba, not to Cuba" To make matters worst the lights began to fail and my heavier weight {180 lbs} allowed me to sail faster than Scott {110 lbs}, even when I reefed the sail I was still faster. We were broad reaching now and one mistake at that high speed on the Escape could mean a "pitch pole". Before we started the venture we agreed that if conditions threatened our lives beyond our control we would abort and head West on the support boat until the conditions changed in our favour. The only communication between us was the Garmin 170, thank God it was both GPS and VHF. I radioed Scott and ask him what he thought about aborting the last leg of the trip, before I got his answer back the support boat came over the radio and said "its not your decision anymore" and gave us the order to come along side to board. Now with the seas at 6-7 ft and winds gusting to 32 kts this wouldn't be an easy task. As it turned out it was the hardest part of the trip both physical and emotionally. It took over an hour to get in tow and board "Something Special". Our hats are off to the Captain and Crew of "Something Special" for there Seamanship and knowledge of the open seas. They through us hot food in baggies when we were hungry and bottled water when we were thirsty. The work had just began on the support boat as the 2 Escapes began passing us from the huge swells pushing them as we dived into the next swell on the 305 Beneteau. Scott and I spent the rest of the night keeping slack out of the tow lines and guiding the Escapes towards Cuba. When daybreak came we were 3 miles from the Sea Buoy at Hemingway Marina. No celebration was to be had yet because the channel going in has reefs on both sides. It is said not to make an approach at night if the winds are coming from the West. Our winds were coming at our backs from the North. I think that should be the warning Other sailing vessels are dry docked with crushed hauls and gaping holes in the sides from trying to make an approach with North winds. But we made it in the channel and the fun began with the guards, customs, immigration, etc. Those of you that have been to Cuba know that this is only a formality and takes about an hour. From there we were assigned a slip number.

The Escapes sailing at dusk - 6k

As we motored through Hemingway cheers came from the shoreline from all directions. I had completely forgotten that weeks earlier I had E- mailed the Commodore at Club Nautico and explained our venture. It was easy to tell who we were with 2 bright yellow sailboats with the word ESCAPE on the sides. A word most Cubans know. The Reception we got was as one would only dream of upon entering a foreign port. We received "fully hosted" status from Club Nautico. The people were amazed at the Escapes. One sailing instructor ask if he could try one out. And then another and another. Scott and I looked around at what the youth program had for sailboats. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking" as we looked at each other. We decided right then to donate the 2 famous 11.5 Escapes to the Youth Sailing Program of Club Nautico on behalf of the Escape Sailboat Company. At that the Commodore's interpreter asked if we would return to the Club around 6:00 P.M. We would love to and with that we headed back to the support boat for some rest.

Frank, Scott and the Commodore of Club Nautico Yacht Club - 24k

When we returned at 6:00 that evening the Club Nautico had changed from a sailing centre into a reception area fit for a President. Tents were set up and the 2 Escapes were set on pedestals with the sails full and cleaned as if they were new. The interpreter said "please come with me" We went to centre court with the crew of Something Special and received cheers and applauds from all who had gathered including sailors from around the World that were docked at Hemingway Marina. They brought out the paper work for us to sign which was read aloud in both English and Spanish. Again applauds and handshakes were plentiful. From there we were introduced to "Cuba Libre". I can't quite remember how long the celebration lasted, 1 or 2 days, I think.

The next day the sea conditions weren't favourable for us to leave Hemingway for the sail back to Key West, so we had a stand down and did some laundry and rested for the next days trip. On Friday the 24th we decided to head back to Key West. As we motor sailed out of Hemingway Marina we got waves from everybody on shore. There ahead of us was the 2 Escapes with 2 kids on each boat. As we passed them one of the kids yelled in broken English "these Escapes, they are very fast". I'll never forget the smiles on those kids faces. As we sailed out of sight I couldn't help thinking that someday those 2 Escapes will turn up in the US with 4 Cubans on each boat. I only hope they will get the same kind of reception as we got. After all they will have set a new record on the 11.5 Escape. So please keep your eye out for "The Sailboat That Could."


We would like to thank the crew of "Something Special"..Captain..Gary Trimmer, 1st mate..Mate Colona, 2nd mate..Matt Desoto..

We would also like to thank our sponsors that made this venture happen. Escape Sailboat Company,...Garmin Electronic,...Charlotte Sailing, Inc....Captain Bills,.... Punta Gorda Sailing Club...

[copyright[1998]frankstone]
Reproduced with the kind permission of Frank Stone: President Escape Class Association

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