29-Jun-2002 -- After having loaded our frozen chicken in Pascagoula MS we commenced our
16 days lasting voyage to Russia.
The first country to pass is Cuba, a so far unvisited country. The point we
decided to go for, is 23N/84W.
Cuba is 1,250 km long and 191 km wide across at its widest point and is the
largest island in the Caribbean. The North coast lies only a 155 km South of
the Florida Keys. The island is separated in the West from Mexico by the
Yucatán Channel, in the East from Hispaniola by the Windward Passage, and in
the NE from the Bahamas by the Old Bahama Channel.
Much of Cuba is a low, gently rolling limestone plain, but mountains and
hills occupy more than a quarter of its total area. The highest mountains
are the Sierra Maestra, in Eastern Cuba, which rise abruptly from the sea to
Pico Turquino, about 2000 metres high.
Two other ranges of hills, whith heights of nearly 800 and
1,000 metres, respectively, extend SW from La Habana towards the West end of
The confluence itself is quite far from the
coast, the closest larger town is Mariel.
Cuba is a paradise for seamen, as there are so many beautiful girls around.
It is the only country in the world - so far as we know - where the birth of
a male child is a catastrophe for the family. Certain professions can be
carried out better by females ...
But instead of talking about the girls, which anyway no visitor in Cuba can
avoid, we should first have a look to Cuba's history:
Cuba was discovered during his first voyage in 1492 by Columbus, but was not
conquered and settled until 1511, when several towns, including La Habana
Except for a brief period of British occupation in 1762-63, Cuba remained a
spanish colony for nearly 400 years. In the nineteenth century, following by
gaining of independence by Spain's other colonies in the New World, there
were a series of unsuccessful rebellions culminating in the Ten Years War
(1668-78) by both the negro population and Cuban born Spaniards against the
rule of Spain.
In 1898 the United States, which had major economic interests in Cuba and
was increasingly sympathetic to the cause of the rebels, declared war on
Spain following the sinking of the USS "Maine" by an unexplained explosion
in Havanna harbor. In the Spanish-American War, that followed, the Spanish
Navy was destroyed and US forces occupied the island. A United States
military government ruled Cuba from 1899 to 1902, when Cuba became an
independent nation. The United States retained a naval base at Guantánamo
Bay, which it possesses still today.
For the next 50 years Cuba was governed by generally corrupt and ineffective
governments, and until 1934, when the United States gave up its right to
intervene these governments were often replaced by direct United States
In 1952 Fulgencio Batista, having been President already between 1940 to
1944, returns to Cuba from his exile in the USA and, with the help of the
USA, he overthrows the government in a military coup.
In 1953, a young lawyer called Dr Fidel Castro Ruiz tries an unsuccessful
rebellion. He leaves the country, but in 1956 Castro, coming from Mexico,
landed again with his companions and starts a guerilla war. He is strongly
supported by the Cuban people. In 1959 Castro wins against Batista and
carries out an agrarian reform. 1960 all foreign property, worth about 1
billion $, most of it American, is nationalized. The US impose a commercial
1961 diplomtic relations between Cuba and the USA were cut. In 1961, in a
dilettantely planned invasion by the CIA, 1300 exile Cubans land in the Bay
of the Pigs. The invasion fails, as the Cuban people fight against these
intruders instead of supporting them, as it was expected by the CIA. Cuba
now moved more and more towards a close alliance with the Soviets.
And then happened that what the elderly among us still do remember as the
On October 16th, 1962, after the recognaissance flight of two American U-2
aircrafts, President Kennedy learns about a Soviet missile base in Cuba.
Already before statements of Cuban refugees have been received about
recently moving trucks throughout the island, carrying long pipe-shaped
objects. Further it seemed strange that so many Russian ships had called
Cuban ports in the last months. Soviet diplomats, however, reassured and
calmed down the Americans about their activities on the island wherever
Soviet Leader, Nikita S. Chrushtshev, intended to reach a strategical
advantage in the area. These medium range missiles had a reach of 3,500 km
and more, i.e. they could easily threaten New York or Chicago. Further
Chrushtshev wanted to avoid another American invasion in Cuba. And finally
just the Berlin-Crisis, the building of the wall, was in full swing in these
days. Had the USA attacked Cuba, the Soviets had occupied West-Berlin as a
When Kennedy learned about the missiles, he had immediately a crisis
management group formed. Some suggested an immediate air attack with
subsequent invasion, other pleaded for a sea blockade.
On Oct. 20th Kennedy decided against an invasion but for the sea blockade,
and two days later he informed the people in a TV speech about the
situation. He requested the Soviets to withdrw their missiles.
On Oct. 24th, at 10.00 a.m., the sea blockade had began. A belt was laid
around the Cuban coast in a distance of 800 km. All ships were requested to
The first peak of the crisis followed: Two Soviet ships, the "Gagarin" and
the "Komiles", had arrived at the blockade belt, when an American submarine
emerged in front of them. Another 20 Soviet ships were already close by. The
Americans were prepared to not letting pass the ships, if necessary, even by
force. This in all likelihood had caused a nuclear war.
Shortly before the confrontation a message from the Marine Intelligence
Service arrived, informing the all Soviet ships had stopped and some of them
have already began to turn around.
But the danger was not over, yet. The problem was, that already all missiles
and the necessary facilities to launch them were available in Cuba, and
against that a sea blockade was useless. The General Staff again requested
an air attack, but Kennedy had begun a correspondence with Chrushtshev. In
their first letter the Soviets accused the Americans for "open piracy".
Shortly after a far more reconciliant letter was received, with which
Chrushtshev promised to dismantle all bases in Cuba, if the USA were
prepared to declare solemnly to never attack Cuba. This letter served to
calm down the Americans and to avoid them to carry out their attack. A day
later, on Oct. 27th, another far formal letter followed, requesting the
withdrawal of all US medium range missiles from Turkey and again the promise
to never attack Cuba.
The second peak of the crisis had arrived whan the FBI reported that the
Soviet Embassy in Washington started to destroy its secret files - the usual
practice on the eve of a war, in order to avoid the enemey getting hold on
them. Additionally, at the same time an American U-2 recognaissance craft
was shot down over Cuba. For such a case the plan provided an immediate air
attack on Cuba and to destroy all missile bases there.
We owe it to President Kennedy to having avoided a nuclear war. He made
another attempt to negotiate with the Sovets. Chrushtshev agreed.
On Oct. 28th the crisis was over and Chrushshev announced this fact via
The US declared to never attack Cuba and to withdraw their missiles from
Turkey, the Soviets withdrew their missiles and air wings from Cuba. The
last Soviet/Russian soldiers, however, left Cuba only in1993.
Later both parties tried to save their faces, and it was announced that both
parties had won something.
Chrushtshev, however, did not succeed, he could not establish missiles in
Cuba, but the Americans had to yield as well.
Today it is believed that the Soviets had never expected such a decisive
attitude from the USA, on the contrary, they believed the US to limit itself
on diplomatic negotiations. This proves Chrushtshev's second letter to
Kennedy, with which he tried to calm down the Americans and to avoid them to
Although this crisis was the most dangerous conflict between the USA and the
USSR, and likely to bring mankind a nuclear war, it has its positive
consequences, too. For the first time in history men realized the dangers of
the international nuclear war race. The USA and the USSR developed a mutual
plan for crisis management and the "red phone", a direct line between
Washingtn and Moscow had been established. It was agreed on a arms control.
A few more data from Cuba's history:
60ies to 1975: increasing political insulation of Cuba
1965-73: waves of refugees to the USA (about 260,000)
1975: slight imporovement of the relations with the USA
1989/90: collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba impoverishes considerably, as
more than 80% of its exports go to the Eastern countries.
1993/94: again waves of refugees to the USA. The result is a tightening up
of the commercial sanctions, to obtain Castro's resignation.
1996 shooting down of two American small aircrafts over Cuba.
An interesting detail on Cuba's history:
Fidel Castro was a nephew of dictator Batista. He loved beautiful women and
gambling. One day he asked his uncle for a little money. Batista refused.
Castro decided to make his revolution and overthrew him.
Had Batista or his American friends given him just a small pocket money, a
million $ or so, all that Cuba trouble could have been easily avoided from
the very beginning.
The Day "X":
So the Cubans do call the day when Castro will no longer be. It will be the
day, too, when thousands of American tourists, equipped with GPS-machines,
will enter Cuba and visit all remaining confluences in no time.
(Information about obtained partly from Nautical Publication Nr. 70, West
Indies Pilot, Vol I, 2nd ed. 1993 and Supplement Nr. 2 ed. 1998, British
Admiralty, Hydrographer of the Navy, Ministry of Defense, Taunton, England)