Monday, February 10, 2014

The Blue View Notes on Cruising in Cuba

The Blue View Notes on Cruising in Cuba

We arrived in Cuba on Dec 24th.  Clearance in Varadero was actually quite painless.  The official’s: customs or guardia, immigration, doctor, veterinarian and agriculture came onboard to initiate your paperwork and inspections but, the marina handles the end paper process and payment. This make it easier for cruisers.  It also stops the officials from soliciting bribes or as they call it "gifts." Part of the process with customs is that you must provide lists. Crew lists, electronics equipment and motors onboard.

Darsena Marina Varadero is in needs of repairs, but how can you complain at $17 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) or $18.80 Canadian per day.  Staff excellent. Rum cheap. Cervasa cold. Free ice

While in Varadero we met Don and Tricia Barr and their daughter Cheryl. They are from Nova Scotia and it was an honor to meet Don who was the Captain of the Bluenose for over 20 years before retiring.

Don and is family spent over 15 winters cruising Cuba on their sailing vessel “Road to the Isles” The other great thing about our encounter was meeting Captain Cheryl Barr, an experience navigator and marine biologist.  She is also the author of the Cruising Guide to Cuba. Cheryl has
created a very comprehensive guide for navigating Cuba's harbors, anchorages and inside passages. The guide also includes important details about routes, currents, winds, and weather patterns as well as up-to-date information on marinas, provisioning and points of interest.  We found the Cuban charts are very limited and lack details.  I would not cruise Cuba without a guide. We found Cheryl's guide to be the most current and useful.  We loved the information and the layout of the guide. Direct and easy to find.

During our travels I noticed that nothing and I mean nothing goes to waste. They will fix anything and everything with almost nothing.  Here is a great example.  Within a couple hours out of Marathon Florida our auto-helm failed.  For the duration of the 90 NM trip we had to manually steer DevOcean. Thank goodness for good weather. Once in Cuba, I took the auto-helm apart and noticed the six shafts of the sun gear had all sheared off. These stainless steel shafts are approximately an inch long and the diameter of a very fat sewing needle.  The chandlery in Varadero is virtually empty and as you know nothing can be ordered from the US. One of the long live aboard Canadians informed me about a machinist that maybe able to help. To be brief, he manufactured all new shafts for my auto-helm within three days. All for the cost of $15CUC or $16.50 CDN. Wow! At home I probably would have had to purchase an entire new motor or system at some ridicules extravagant amount.  By the way, so far after a few adjustment the Auto-helm works better than before.

Something else we never thought would be an issue was Propane.  Before I left Canada I change the two 10 lbs. propane tanks to two 20 lbs.  Each tank usually will last about us about a month to a month and a half.  After about two weeks in Cuba one of the tanks needed to be refilled. Believe it or not, propane is a government controlled item and not easily bought. We managed to get the tank refilled on the black market. (We found a guy)
Things such as propane (not really propane but butane),fish, lobster and believe it or not potatoes are some of the government control items.  As a tourist you would not be in trouble purchasing but the Cuban seller sure would.  

We left Varadero almost a month to the day of arriving and headed west.  The marina provided us with our cruising permit. Our plan was to visit Havana and from there go around the western tip of the island to the less cruising regulated south side of Cuba. We were cautioned of locations that were restricted (unless for emergency such as weather or breakdown)

We departed from Varadero at 2:30 am after clearing the Guardia and traveled 70 NM arriving at Hemingway Marina at 3:30 PM.  

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before but when cruising in Cuba you have to report to the Guardia at every location you stop at. Your whereabouts are monitored.  Upon arriving in Hemingway we called in on the VHF radio and was inform to dock at the Guardia pier for clearance.  We were boarded, answered a few questions, and more paperwork was filled out. They packaged and held all our flares (considered a weapon) until our departure. Here's the sad part of Hemingway.  The Guardia search DevOcean and then proceeded to ask for gifts.  Linda and I were a little intimidated. It is hard not to be intimidated when officials root through your personal belongings. We did give some razor blades and paid them each $5 CUC’s. Not allot but when you are made to feel you have too the amount is meaningless.  We had the same issue with the acting Port Captain as he insisted we had to give him a gift for his service.  We heard from other cruisers that paid up to $70.00 US in gift/bribes when
clearing in Hemingway. I guess it pays to be cheap. 

After our experience we found a few things that helped.

First, have all your papers ready: zarpe if you are entering from any country other than the US, vessel registration, ownership, copy of passports, equipment list, crew list and pets papers.  

Second, do not invited them inside your vessel to fill the paperwork.  Use your cockpit table and then follow them everywhere in your vessel when they search. Third, do not leave out in full view any electronic equipment such as laptop, cell phone, memory sticks or iPad.

Finally,  we found that a polite firm no to request for gifts/bribes will usually work. We always offered cervasa or a cold drink when they arrived. Now don't get me wrong we loved Cuba and it's not like this everywhere. I'm writing about this issue so that people are informed and know what to expect in Hemingway.  We never had any issues like this in Varadero or anywhere else in Cuba.  After our week of exploring Havana we again cleared the guardia heading to the west end of the Island.   

Our first stop was Bahia Honda a quiet overnight anchorage.  We cleared with the guardia who was a man that rowed his skiff to our vessel to fill out the paperwork.  At this point he also filled out our exit paperwork.  To save himself a return trip he managed to inform us he would change the

paperwork in the morning if we decided to stay longer.  We anchored in great locations such as Cayo Levisa, Cayo Ines de Soto, Punta Abalos and more.  

During this two week period our second propane tank emptied so I connected the tank I had filled in Varadero.  My gauge only read half full.  After a few £#€%{%]!#* we felt we had been ripped off.  We thought no big deal we will get it refilled somewhere.  Well, no such luck. Where we were was a very remote area. There was either no village to speak of or in some areas we were not allowed off the boat.  We finally arrived in Los Moros Cabo San Antonio and were told that no propane would be available anywhere south. Our only option would be to back track over 100 NM to Hemingway. At this point

we were only 112 NM from Isla Mujeres Mexico and a good weather window. So, we are now eating tacos! By the way, once we arrived in Mexico I found out that butane burns hotter than propane and has less tank pressure meaning our tank was full but the gauge was recording lower.  The tank I had filled in Cuba is almost 6 weeks old now and still running strong.  

Last but not least, although we had some issues we felt they were minor and we will for sure return to Cuba. Depending on your wants we highly recommend cruisers to visit. It's a beautiful country, amazing sights, very safe and inexpensive. Many of the cruisers we met were happy in Cuba and returned yearly.

Havana is beautiful the people, the architecture, but the CARS. The cars are amazing and are considered a national treasure.  


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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments. It's always nice to hear comments.

      Marc, the Blue View of Crusing

  3. Glad to see you your comment.

    Marc, the Blue view side.