Ode to Cuban Mechanics

Cuban mechanics can fix anything, using nothing.

              No matter how carefully maintained, something on a cruising boat will always need fixing. So what happens when an American-made boat needs work in Cuba? The 55-year-old embargo on commerce makes it impossible to air ship replacement parts. There’s duty-free shipping to Grand Cayman, but it requires an expensive flight to pick up the package.

              The boat isn’t out of options, though. Think about all those ’58 Fords and ’56 Chevys that still cruise Havana’s streets. Who has kept them running? Cuban mechanics.

             Cuba’s state-run marinas employ skilled marine mechanics along with expert electricians, welders and machinists. Free education and a lifetime of shortages have made them masters of re-use, recycling and creative solutions.

           As one Danish cruiser put it, “Cuban mechanics can fix anything, using nothing.”

             When our alternator failed, a Cuban electrician found someone to rewind it the same day for $20, including the cost of copper. He could overhaul a couple of pumps overnight, but couldn’t do anything about a replacement solenoid or impellor. A machine shop replicated a propane-decanting device almost as quickly as a 3-D copier. When a custom piece on our seawater-cooling system disintegrated, a machinist fabricated a new one overnight and welded it back together the following morning.
             These technicians supplement their $20 per month salary with an ‘outside’ rate of $20-$30/day. Many happily accept compensation in hard-to-come-by goods, pooh-poohing an apology that the proffered phone or multi-meter or marine battery is beyond repair. They will know someone who can fix it.

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