Cruising

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Cruising Cuba: The Reality

Let’s look ahead and imagine the travel restriction has been lifted. Here’s how you’d go about cruising in Cuba.

Enter as far east as possible. The Bahamas are an excellent jumping off point. If you’re headed for Cuba’s southern coast, you should head to Great Inagua from the Exumas, sailing south and west around the tip of Cuba to Santiago de Cuba on the southern coast. Otherwise, the Old Bahamas Current and easterly winds make travel difficult and unpleasant.

For example, one father and son I met who left Florida to return to Brazil sailed straight south to the Cuban coast, then pounded west into the wind and current. By the time they reached Guillermo their sails were in tatters and they were exhausted from five days of beating into nasty seas. They’d made good a total of just 150 miles for over 500 travelled.

Meanwhile, I’d had four days of beautiful tradewind sailing from Puerto de Vita; I stopped each night, caught a lovely mahi-mahi, was gifted with fresh fish, lobster and sea cucumber by fishermen at a remote anchorage, and arrived at Guillermo ready to play in the all-inclusive resorts, where you can buy inexpensive day passes that entitle you to all the food and drink you want, plus use of the amenities.

Since much of what you come to Cuba to see is inland, tie up at the marinas and rent a car or take your bicycles on a bus to the places you want to explore. Unless it‘s a provisioning run, I suggest you take the bus, as rentals are quite pricey, especially in season. You’ll meet friendly locals and discover the true spirit of Cuba.

While you’re touring inland, stay at the casas particulares. These are inexpensive and again, you’ll meet Cubanos who can show you the real Cuba and not the tourist traps. Most casas are quite attractive, and the proprietors are very accommodating.

On returning to your boat, sail west to the next marina, stopping to anchor at various cays to explore and relax. Then break out the bikes again for touring the towns and cities of the new region.

Bring as much food as you can pack onboard, because grocery stores as we know them don’t exist and are generally far from the marinas. Guillermo, for example, is 50 miles from a grocery store. Bring any medical or personal-care supplies you’ll need and don’t forget copies of the prescriptions, should the officials ask to see them.

Bring soda and snacks, most of which simply can’t be found— you’ll be a hit at any gathering of cruisers if you can break out a bag of pretzels or Ritz crackers. You’ll find good provisioning, including produce, at Long Island in the Bahamas near the anchorage at Indian Point. It’s actually better than in Georgetown, as well as much cheaper.

Alcohol and beer in Cuba are generally cheap but wine is not— if you have a favorite drink, bring it along because it likely isn’t available. Rum is cheap, however, and quite good.

Water is available anywhere and is of good quality, but you’ll need jerry jugs to get it to your boat. Fuel is available at the marinas, but carry enough to get you through the cays, where there are no facilities nearby—another good reason for going west with the trade winds. I used less than five gallons of fuel while in Cuba.

Bring items to give to people you meet. T-shirts with your boat name, children’s clothing, personal-care items, toothbrushes, razors and such all make excellent gifts. Sunglasses and reading glasses, which you can buy cheaply at dollar stores in the U.S., are especially appreciated. So are school supplies for children: pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, rulers, backpacks.

Don’t make a production of handing these items to people, especially marina staff or officials. It’s officially prohibido for them to accept your gifts. Put them into a plastic bag and just hand it over with a simple gracias. —W.M.

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