Cruising Cuba Page 3

Heading west, the next marina was Guillermo. It has little for the cruiser, the entrance is not passable at low water except for shoal-draft boats, and there are no showers, washrooms or provisioning. There are several all-inclusive resorts nearby and it’s a good stop for exploring further inland by car or bicycle. But unless you want to keep sailing west, it’s the only option.

After Guillermo, there are many lovely keys and islands to explore, and you can often find a place to overnight without encountering the Guarda. You’ll frequently find yourself anchored in the company of local fishermen who will offer you fish, lobster and other delicacies, such as wonderfully tasty sea cucumbers. I reciprocated with T-shirts, school supplies, and razors and soaps—the last three items are nearly impossible to find in this socialist country.

The next marina is in Varadero, and it has everything you need besides fuel. Plus, it’s close to the town of Santa Marta and the resorts of Varadero. These were like what I had expected Cuba to be, a mix of old and new, Spanish culture and international tourism, foreign yet familiar at the same time. There are more cruisers here, as many stop here rather than sail non-stop the next 70 miles to Havana. Some take the bus to Havana, staying at a casa particular, which are similar to a bed and breakfast. For those returning to the States, Varadero is good debarkation point, as you can reach Miami in less than 24 hours with a push from the Gulf Stream.

Varadero and Santa Marta were my first taste of large urban civilization since I’d arrived in Cuba. There are good restaurants, pubs, artists’ markets, a sense of history, friendly people eager to meet you… all the things you go cruising for and more. I overstayed my allotted time and wish I could have stayed longer.

As I sailed out of Cuba, again at sunset so as to reach the Keys in daylight, I looked back and thought about the people I had met and the memories I was taking away with me: Tina, the marina manager; Papingo, one of the fishermen; Stuart and Liz, Australian cruisers; Debbie, the Canadian liveaboard at Varadero. The musicians at El Rochon, an open-air restaurant, who would sing at your table—I bought their CD. Some late night campaeros at a patio bar I was walking by who invited me to join them. The young woman in a wheelchair who sang popular English songs for me until 0500 as we drank Cuban rum and laughed together.

So many wonderful people and memories; what a great experience. I picked up my charts as the boat sailed toward Key West, and began to plan next winter’s trip to the south coast. Hasta maana!

Next: Cruising Cuba – The Reality

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