Living Off the Sea
May 13, 2004
I've got potato flakes and canned mixed vegetables,
(E. Quinn, Something Delicious)
Yesterday was galley duty for David. He turned to Eileen and asked tentatively, "Would you like rice with your fish tonight?"
"We had rice last night," Eileen grumbled, "in fact, we've had rice for five nights in a row."
David looked at the single wrinkled potato in the string hammock. "How about mashed potatoes?" he suggested. "We can supplement this spud with some of the dried potato flakes we've been carrying around forever."
Eileen dropped the book she was reading. "Dried potato flakes? You must be joking. We bought them to survive emergencies, like when we're shipwrecked on a deserted isle somewhere. You don't eat dried potato flakes unless you're starving. And don't we have any meat left in the freezer? All we've been eating lately is fish." Eileen wasn't happy.
David hesitated. "Well, we have some nice canned corned beef in the starboard locker."
"Canned corned beef?" Eileen's eyes widened in horror. "No, no! Anything but the canned corned beef!"
Last night's forlorn feast ended up being rice and fish accompanied by canned green beans. Dessert was canned peaches. True, we're not starving, so the potato flakes remain untested and the dreaded canned corned beef is still in the locker. But crew morale is down. While washing up, Eileen was heard muttering something about trading "Little Gidding" for a head of lettuce if a better provisioned boat happened to come over the horizon ....
We're literally living off the sea in Cuba. Anywhere else we would have died of starvation if we had been relying on David's fishing prowess for sustenance. Since entering Cuban waters over a month ago, however, we've had no shortage of seafood. We caught a big mahi mahi on our way to Puerto Maniti a couple of weeks ago; some of it is still in the freezer. David has speared at least a couple of lobsters every time he's gone snorkelling. A few days ago, Eileen picked up a dozen conch in ten minutes while wading in the shallows off Cayo Santa Maria. And then there are always the local fishermen if you'd rather not get yourself wet or mess up your cockpit with slimy fish scales personally procuring your own seafood. Our Montreal friends Bob and Viviane on the ketch "Varuna 1" picked up ten lobsters for six bucks from a guy snorkelling past their boat in Puerto Maniti. Workers at the fishing station at Cayos Falcones gave us two nice mutton snappers after we dropped in for a chat.
No, a lack of protein from the sea isn't the problem; in fact, David figures his cholesterol levels are somewhere up in the stratosphere from all the crustaceans he's been consuming. The problem is that we're not eating much of anything else. Provisioning is seldom easy when you're cruising in remote areas; you're OFF the beaten track and well-stocked supermarkets tend to be located ON the beaten track. But cruising Cuba involves a couple of other logistical challenges. First, you can't always get back on the beaten track once you've left it; and, second, even if you do reach civilization, you might not find much waiting for you there.
Bob and Viv risked becoming a permanent feature of the Canal El Seron when they transited its shallow waters to reach the town of Isabela and a rumoured agromercado (farmers market). After they finally nosed their way into port (the bottom of their keel well scrubbed), the Guarda Frontera informed them they couldn't leave their boat unattended at anchor. At Puerto Maniti we managed to go ashore, but our shopping trip was a bust except for a few hands of bananas (see our April 29th entry, "The Box").
Much of this is our own fault. We've cruised Cuba before so we should have known to stock up better before leaving the Bahamas. Our judgement got clouded by the relatively high cost of food in George Town; we should have ignored the price stickers and bought more. What fresh produce we did buy in George Town we ended up eating in the Jumentos when we were pinned down for several days by strong winds. By the time we crossed the Old Bahama Channel, the fridge and freezer were mostly empty.
In Puerto Vita, our Cuban landfall, we could have bought more provisions through the marina, but, again, our parsimonious natures got the better of us. The marina charged premium prices (in US dollars). We knew we could get much better deals paying pesos in the local farmers' markets so we only picked up a few items. Big mistake. Unlike the Cuban south coast, where, four years ago, we had reasonable success grocery shopping in centres like Santiago, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos, there are very few accessible towns on the north coast between Vita and Varadero (a 320 mile stretch, as the seagull flies).
Even our stores of canned goods, which have to be considered marginal nourishment at best, are depleted. We purposely allowed our supply of cans to get low because we plan to empty all the food lockers later this summer when we leave the boat for a few months. Besides the much-feared corned beef, there's a lonely can of creamed corn rolling around in one locker. We bought it by mistake months ago. Today Eileen moaned, "My mother tried to make me eat that stuff when I was a kid; I'm not THAT desperate yet!" But in another week or two .... ?