Havana Daydreaming

We all met at Captain Tony’s, “touristy” enough to not draw attention, but private enough to converse. Anyone who wished was given a chance to back out now.  After they left, there would be no turning back. Just like every trip they had made, except he knew this one was different for him.

The crew all had drinks and Jack gave the final instructions, meet at the dock at three. He closed his speech as he always did, but looked to me and said in a low whisper “Remember Kevin, with great risk, comes great rewards.” Jack failed to mention the consequences should the risk
turn in to complete failure, but I knew we would have no crew if they had any inkling of the price to be paid.

On the surface it was always a humanitarian effort. Captain Jack the humanitarian, spreading good deeds throughout the Caribbean. Somehow Jack was even licensed by the Treasury department, granted registration for the ship and passengers from the Coast Guard.
He was one of the few who could legally move between the US and Cuba
since 1962. There was major money involved, and god only knows what the cargo, actually were. And that was good, because Captain Jack Sellers was never talking. But his occasional cargo of exported medical devices and supplies to Cuba must have paled in comparison value wise to the return cargo.

I didn’t know, and by god I didn’t want to know. Must have been why Jack and I had been friends for 25 years. And after 25 years with the
modern pirate Captain Jack Sellers, I had made a ton of money and lived the lifestyle I wanted to live. So I’m not trying to paint a picture of an angel on my part. Hell I had been kept in Fine Cuban Rum and Cigars shared many a good time and witnessed things that others only dream of. No complaints from me. Except one, Jack made my skin crawl. I felt like I could no longer trust him. The last year he had become more careless, and more calculating and cruel. And I was appalled about the two mystery passengers, who walked the plank on our last cruise. In my eyes, it was the final straw. I just knew it was time for us to part company. Jack had gone from money thirsty entrepreneur, to true blood
thirsty modern pirate.  I wanted no part of killing, and had enough squirreled away in various places throughout the Caribbean I didn’t need the money anymore. I had a simple lifestyle in mind, and would devote my time to writing about the things I had witnessed.

At the appointed time, we left the harbor at Key West, slow and steady through the no wake zone of the channel. We were under the watchful
eye of the Harbor master & the Customs service, and a manatee who mistook the Old Boston Trawler for “Momma. “

We made the channel and set a heading for the Marquesas. Jack had the “Miss Mercy” Running at 17 knots under calm seas. We saw the sunrise as we passed the Marquesas’ two hours out of Key West. I was reminded why I loved this job, as I sipped my coffee on the bridge with Jack. We set course for the Dry Tortuga’s where we were to rendezvous with another boat. This is where it always got dicey.

We found the predetermined cove and entered at a slow crawl of 2 knots. Jack then pulled alongside another older trawler flying the flag of
Trinidad/Tobago. I instructed the deck hand to drop the ladder. We sat idling in the cove, but Jack was wise enough to not drop anchor in case of trouble.

The deckhands from the old trawler quickly swung the hoist to
our starboard deck. Several large crates were offloaded and taken below deck by our crew. None of which would show up on our cargo manifest. It simply meant the cost of bribing our US customs contact was prohibitive, or this could have been done in Key West. This was just the kind of money hungry maneuver that Captain Jack was putting us at risk for, on a regular basis. I didn’t like it, granted the Trinidadian’s were quick and efficient; it took no more than 5 minutes.
Included was a gift of a cage or pot full of Florida spiny lobsters. Which Jack instructed Cookie to begin boiling for our lunch. They were good the Trinidad Pirates, I had to admit. They hoisted anchor and left the cove right behind us.
They were a working Trawler and lobster was their main money maker.

We made open water and set course for Havana. The Miss Mercy had 100 ft. of waterline, calm seas and we were nicely making way. Cookie went to work boiling the lobster; Lunch would be lobster and ice cold Banks beer a Barbados favorite that we insisted he stocked onboard. The water glistened an aqua blue, only friendly marshmallow like clouds dotted the sky. It was a good day to be a pirate. Something that Jack said the Miami moneymen would never understand. At 17 knots we would be in Havana in time for dinner. I had just the place in mind.

I had the pleasure of discovering and falling in love with Havana twenty years ago. Back when Jack and I were still a legitimate business.
We had taken a load of German medical equipment there via Curaco an island near Aruba. It was at the height of the Fidel Castro era. It was a socialist country with all the flaws, crumbling as the Soviet Union had undergone great changes, leaving their allies to fend for themselves.

Government ration lines and stipends provided the staples, the black market made up the balance of the daily needs of the Habanero’s.
Somehow through it all, their spirit and the city continued to shine. As I
think about it, much like the modern day America with its deficit and political infighting. The people make the living worthwhile.

Twenty years later, Havana was still a beautiful city. Not a conventionally beautiful city, but in an abstract way. It had an earthy
authenticity, or as Fico Fallove said in the Lost City, “it was like a rose, it
had both petals and it had its thorns.” One could point to the neighborhoods of crumbling tenements of Centro Habana, or Valdado, or one could focus on the beautiful stroll along the Malecon, where the ocean wave’s crash over the sidewalk.  The city was alive and
vibrant. Kind of a 1960 I love Lucy episode with Ricky Ricardo atmosphere.  Buildings painted in the vibrant yellows, aqua blues & rich reds. Murals depicted the best and the worst of the Latin American culture. You could stroll through the city and hear street drummers
pound out a Rumba beat. Another street you were likely to hear the sounds of a Salsa or mambo band. One could also catch the sound of a Sanitaria ritual.  The next block reveals kids playing ball with
a stick, and balls made of rolled up plastic and duct tape. The streets were also filled with Cabarets where the life of the people drowned out government run rhetoric spewed from television and radio.

Then there was the girl. Well a girl when they met 20 years ago. She was absolutely now a woman. And the only one who awaited his arrival. They kept the villa along the malecon. Two big bedrooms and a large common are which served as a living room with a kitchen. He kept the villa year round for the girl. And in all honesty it had felt more like home than anywhere he had been in the last 20 years. As he closed up his place in Big Pine Key before they left, he knew then, the Villa would now become just that, home. Funny it cost less than $100.00 per month to live a fabulous life in Havana. Especially for the expatriates who came from abroad. He calculated from dollars in to peso convertibles. He could live in Havana for 300 years quite comfortably before
his money ran out.  Now was the time to get out of the partnership with Jack.

The late afternoon sky burned hot as the skyline of Havana appeared on the horizon. Jack navigated the boat through the channel and waited
in the line to approach the customs dock at Marina Hemmingway. We watched as ships flying the flags of the world lined the berths.

There to greet us was Luis, one of the many familiar faces in Cuban customs. He smiled widely as he saw us approach. “Papers and cargo
manifest please.” He said in Spanish.  I handed him our papers along with 5 folded hundred dollar bills. He smiled widely as he boarded to inspect the cargo. I shook his hand and gave him the usual gift for his employees. There were 10 pair of Levis, and cartons of American
cigarettes. Plus a three month supply of the medicines for his daughter.
Amazingly our cargo matched the manifest and Luis found our papers in order. Just as stunning was my full realization that even in a socialist society, with money everything was possible.

We went slowly through the no wake zone to the pier for our ship to be unloaded.

As per usual the money had already been wired from the Caymans, Jack confirmed receipt before we reached the harbor in Havana. He made
wire transfers to each of our accounts. “Time to enjoy Havana Boys.” He said as we all separated for 4 days. It would take that long for his contacts to arrange the next cargo and identify the port. The crew left to drink away their first paychecks on the journey, and Jack and I walked to a bar near the docks.

We sat at a table sipping Havana club Rum, & smoking Cohiba cigars. I waded carefully in to the conversation.

“Jack, I won’t be making the rest of the trip.” I said as I sipped my drink. “I am done effective today.”

“What the hell kind of joke is this Kevin?”  Jack said seriously as he blew a puff of cigar smoke clouding the view between us.

I laid out my plans to stay in Havana and write, at least
for the rest of the foreseeable future. “ No hard feelings I hope Jack?”  I assured him I would keep our business between us and we should simply part ways. “

It was both a relief and a sad moment; we had spent the majority of our adult lives together. But we drank a toast to our future successes. And we left the bar.

I began the walk to the Villa and to see the girl. I knew she would have a nice dinner of pork, rice and beans prepared. I felt free for the first time in years.

I heard Jack call out for all hands on deck. I realized I had been lost in thought  for who knows how long, and nearly missed the call to assemble the crew.  It dawned on me that there was nothing quite like Havana Daydreaming.


~ by onthedarkside on July 12, 2011.

3 Responses to “Havana Daydreaming”

  1. Awesome Kevin!

  2. Let’s all go there. Now. Great fantasy, Kevin!

  3. […] Havana Daydreaming « Onthedarkside's Blog […]

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