Deep Cuba

Deep Cuba: The Inside Story of an American Oceanographic Expedition

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Deep Cuba
    Book Description:

    Geography, politics, and other factors have allowed Cuba to preserve the region's most pristine coast and offshore marine environment. Deep Cuba recounts Bill Belleville's month-long journey around the island in the company of American and Cuban marine biologists and a Discovery Channel film crew. It was the first, and so far only, United States submersible research expedition in Cuban waters. From coral reefs to mangrove swamps to a submerged volcanic mountain, the voyagers encountered sublimely wild places unseen before by anyone from the United States--or even by many Cubans. Belleville conveys the tempo of the scientists' workday, during which the routine gathering of data and specimens could be punctuated by trips in a state-of-the-art submersible, the discovery of new species, or a tropical storm. Throughout the trip, as well, all on board had to work through differences that arose from the expedition's contrary goals: to produce a commercially viable seagoing adventure film and to conduct controlled, methodical scientific investigations. Belleville paces his coverage of the expedition with absorbing stories about the history and culture of the island's peoples, from the indigenous Taino to its current inhabitants of African and European heritage. Deep Cuba even includes a candid portrait of Castro himself. An avid diver, sport fisherman, and naturalist, El Comandante paid a visit aboard the research vessel. Deep Cuba is an engaging mix of nature and travel writing, along with scientific reportage that is keenly attuned to current crises in research funding. Revealed here is a magnificent marine world with crucial ecological links to the Caribbean Basin and the southeastern United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-2712-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Dramatic sea voyages of discovery aren’t special to the hyper-reality of the Information Age. After all, what was perhaps the prototypical maritime adventure had its first run somewhere in the eighth century B.C., when Odysseus took an especially slow boat home from the Trojan War in Homer’s Odyssey. Along the way, he dodged Cyclops, sea monsters, and the near-irresistible call of Sirens. Homer was a gifted storyteller, and the sea was the stage set for his larger-than-life sagas. The world was flat, the ocean vast and uncharted, and sailors got lost a lot then, even in real life. Any long...

  7. 1 Fort Pierce, Florida
    (pp. 13-30)

    The “campus” of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI) sprawls at the edge of the Indian River Lagoon at Fort Pierce, on Florida’s east coast. To reach it, I turn at a modest HBOI sign on U.S. 1 and drive up to a checkpoint, where a uniformed guard deliberates before letting me through. “Extra security today,” he says, half in apology. “The Seward’s going to Cuba.”

    He directs me to the dock, through a well-landscaped series of roads, bermed at the edges with neatly manicured tropical foliage. It seems as if I am entering some sort of affluent neighborhood, the walled...

  8. 2 The Windward Passage and Santiago de Cuba
    (pp. 31-46)

    The key players cram into Giddings’s stateroom this evening for a briefing on what we might expect after we arrive in Santiago de Cuba. We are still somewhere off the windward coast of the island, not yet around the eastern horn, and the weather is brisk. Giddings, with his hair slicked back, is wearing hiking boots, jeans, and a black T-shirt; McCosker, rail thin and barefooted, is in a parrot shirt and shorts; Gilmore, in sweatshirt and khakis, looks like a grown-up Boy Scout; Lipscomb, sitting on the floor, hands on his angular legs, reading glasses hanging from a noose...

  9. 3 Bahía de Baitiquirí and El Uvero
    (pp. 47-64)

    Overnight, we have backtracked, steaming ninety miles east of Santiago, circling wide to avoid the restricted boundaries of Guantánamo, until we finally anchor off the remote Bahía de Baitiqurí. The mouth of the bay that U.S. servicemen and women word-squeeze as “Gitmo” is back on the other side of the cape we have just rounded. Gitmo has never been on our list of sites; its assumed familiarity via American occupation breeches the notion of unexamined mystery. Too, since we are now flying under both U.S. and Cuban flags, we are not solely an American vessel; we simply would not be...

  10. 4 Chivirico and Cabo Cruz
    (pp. 65-82)

    This morning, we get a good dose of the special Orwellian spin the Cuban government sometimes applies to reality. Thanks to Claro and Alcolado, who alert us to its existence, we plan to dive on a seamount a mile and a half offshore, one that ambitiously rises up three thousand feet from the bottom as a steep volcanic summit, to just forty feet beneath the surface. Alcolado tells me there is a fishing village ashore here called Chivirico, distinctive because it is nestled inside a well-protected cove. But my otherwise detailed map shows no Chivirico.

    Brit writer Simon Charles has...

  11. 5 Laberinto de las Doce Leguas and Tortuga Hotel
    (pp. 83-99)

    By night, the Seward has traveled across the open mouth of the Gulf of Guacanayabo, beyond the cayos of Manzanillo and Balandras and the mainland fishing harbors of Santa Cruz del Sur and Manzanillo. In a strategy meeting up on the bridge last night, the captain told us a winter front is preparing to move through. Winter cold fronts in Cuba usually scour the waters clean, leaving better visibility in their wake, but they can be troublesome, even dangerous, when it comes to driving small boats about for scuba ops. “We’ll get a blast out of the south, maybe twenty-five...

  12. 6 Cayos de las Doce Leguas and Banco Jagua
    (pp. 100-121)

    After a quick breakfast of plantains and rice, Cuban bread, and espresso, we load into the boats and make a run for it before the wind picks up again. Skies are overcast, and the seas are still rough, but the waves are half the size they were yesterday afternoon. By the time we reach the stern of the Seward, several of the crew—most notably the women biologists, who were hoping to be retrieved for some shore leave yesterday—are leaning over the railing, hooting at us. “Yea, some science you guys did,” says Frank. And from Widder: “Hope you...

  13. 7 Archipiélago de los Canarreos
    (pp. 122-146)

    In the last day, John McCosker has performed brain surgery on a jaw fish, Richard Fagen has ridden the sub back into time, and our cook has made an emergency medical trip ashore. As for me, I have explored a lonely, undefiled island that glistened with pink sand—and in doing so, inadvertently helped divine the mystery that made it so.

    We have skirted the open sea from the submerged mesa of Banco Jagua, moving onto the edge of the sprawling underwater platform that stretches out from the southwestern coast of Cuba, the Golfo de Batabanó. This gulf is shallow,...

  14. 8 Cayos Aguardientes and Sambo Head
    (pp. 147-169)

    We are over deep water, somewhere south of the Canarreos chain. What are mapped as the desolate islands of Cayos Aguardientes are due north, shimmering like a mirage under the warm tropical sun. I’ve been given the opportunity to ride in the JSL this morning, and I take it as an early Christmas present, the only one I’m likely to get. Except for the miniature tree in the corner of the conference room and a feeble string of lights strung along the wall, the holiday that consumes everyone’s lives back in the United States is seldom mentioned out here on...

  15. 9 Isla de la Juventud, Ensenada de la Siguanea, and Punta Francés
    (pp. 170-193)

    Today we are riding the southeasterly trades to Isla de la Juventud, out here at the lip of the Golfo de Batabanó. Last night, the misty grouper was baked for dinner, and the fillets of the big fish were much tougher than I’d imagined, almost like pork. McCosker noted that no one was showing any signs of ciguatera—a food poisoning common to larger reef predators—and I took that as a good omen. Afterward, fishing from the stern with a sturdy fishing rod, using the head of the misty as bait, the cook caught a small, four-foot-long silky shark....

  16. 10 Cabo Francés and María la Gorda
    (pp. 194-213)

    By 9 P.M., Cuba has vanished, consumed in the black night—all gone except for a distant flicker of a lighthouse marking the exact place where the mainland has been squeezed into a point of treachery at Cabo Francés. Off the stern of the Seward, large red squid—perhaps two-pounders—have been darting about at the surface, invertebrate bodies constantly reforming themselves, as if free-associating not with thought but with form. I put on my wet suit and join McCosker, Giddings, and a few of the underwater crew in the Whaler for a night dive here.

    In the heavily loaded...

  17. 11 La Habana and Anticipation
    (pp. 214-231)

    New Year’s Eve was spent rounding the horn of Cabo San Antonio in the dead of night, sneaking out of the lee where we have spent most of the last month and, with our 204-foot-long oceanographic ship, breaching the wide open sea. Since we were navigating the narrowest point between the mainland of Cuba and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, we were also smack in middle of a channel where much of the water flowing north from the vast Caribbean gets squeezed into a narrow conduit. Factor in some converging countercurrents and a dose of southeast wind, and waves were piling up...

  18. 12 Fidel, Retrospective, and Back across the Florida Straits
    (pp. 232-247)

    I have been seeing a triumvirate of symbols over and over again since I have been in Cuba: José Martí, Che, and Fidel. We have been expecting to meet the only living member of this trio sometime after our arrival in Havana, and now Ricardo passes the word to everyone that El Comandante will visit the ship around 6 P.M. this evening. We change into the cleanest clothes we still have remaining and, by 6, assemble on the stern. Lipscomb has given us all blue T-shirts with “Discovery Channel Cuba Expedition” on them for Christmas, and many of us are...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 248-252)

    An Associated Press article appeared worldwide after we docked, with a photo—which I had snapped and posted to the Web site—of Giddings and Castro next to the JSL. Radio Havana later used portions of the dispatch in its own report. High-ranking Discovery programming officials were oddly nervous over the release of information about Castro’s presence on the Seward.

    When the Seward docked in Fort Pierce, Gilmore gave a statement to a small contingent of reporters there, a sort of executive summary of our trip over the past six weeks. He stressed, as he often does when speaking publicly,...

    (pp. 253-262)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)