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Notes on Cruising Cuba: Santiago de Cuba to Havana

By Andrew Smyth — last modified Jul 17, 2015 05:11 PM
These notes result from a cruise around Cuba from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in February and March 2015 in a Lagoon 470 catamaran, Calliope.

Published: 2015-07-06 23:00:00
Countries: Cuba

Notes on Cruising Cuba: Santiago de Cuba to Havana

Trinidad

Charts and pilot

Nigel Calder’s book is an absolute must – very detailed and informative we also found it accurate. Cheryl Barr’s book, on the other hand, although apparently recently updated, has numerous errors and is simply not worth it since it repeats most of what Calder says.

The Cuban Hydrographic charts can be downloaded in raster format (for PCs) from www.jarogers.com . The entire folio of Cuban charts costs just £10.00! We found them to be very accurate.

Formalities

As can be read from other recent reports, things are much more relaxed. The search of our boat was cursory and they ignored everything in our fridge and freezer and were no longer interested in electronic items. They take their health check seriously though and even take your temperature. Their visas are issued for 30 days.

It is still necessary to hand over your despachio wherever you anchor and if staying more than overnight, they will take it away and stamp it and bring it back before you leave. Occasionally we were asked for gifts, but I don’t think they would have minded much if we didn’t give anything. I don’t think it’s a habit to be encouraged.

As noted elsewhere, Key Largo is a good place to get your visa extended. We spoke to some people who did it in Cienfuegos and they said it was a nightmare. In Key Largo, the marina manager sorted it all out for us and even added the unexpired days onto the following 30 days.

Internet

Virtually all internet access is through ETEKSA cards. These can be bought from hotel lobbies or ETEKSA offices (where they are much cheaper). There is an office opposite the Union hotel in Cienfuegos – buy cards here and go across the road into the hotel to use their terminal while enjoying a drink. It beats waiting in the queue. Buy several cards for use later since they were cheaper here and are accepted virtually everywhere.

The best and fastest reception we found was while anchored off the hotels in Portillo, using a wi-fi booster. We also got a strong signal in the grounds of one of the hotels in Key Largo. Hotels in Cuba are run on an all-inclusive basis, so you buy a ticket for breakfast/lunch/dinner or for the day/evening and then everything is free. So, for example, we paid at the hotel on Key Largo (which we got to using the bus service from the marina – which we had to pay for) and sat there very comfortably drinking cocktails while emailing.

None of the hotels in Casilda had working internet.

Chandlers

There aren’t any. We found someone to repair our sails in Marina Hemingway, but apart from that there was nothing. Various people promised things, but didn’t come up with the goods – this applied particularly to refilling gas bottles (as someone else has mentioned). In Santiago there is a family who live just outside the marina who promise all sorts of things, but when they tried to overcharge us for a trip into town, we realised they were not to be trusted.

Shorepower

All marinas had functioning shorepower at 240volts. They had standard US fittings so these should be sourced in advance. Matchsticks weren’t really a viable alternative. We didn’t try to use any of the water.

Weather

It seems from other reports that we were relatively lucky. A boat a month ahead of us experienced sustained strong winds, while we had problems with northers only twice. Once was in Los Jardines de la Reina where we anchored for three days in the shelter of Cayo Cuervo, along with a dozen fishing boats. The other was just having turned east towards Havana after rounding Cabo de San Antonio, which only delayed us twenty-four hours.

We received Navtex forecasts from Puerto Rico and the US Virgins, but downloading Grib files through our Iridium phone proved the most accurate.

Food & Provisioning

The food in restaurants wasn’t as bad as some people make out, while provisioning was also generally better than we expected. In Santiago and Cienfuegos the taxi driver took us to the local market, arranged to get CUC and haggled with the stallholders. The choice of fruit and vegetables in the markets was good while the marinas at Santiago and Cienfuegos both had on-site shops for drinks.

Passage onwards to US

We left Marina Hemingway and went to West Palm Beach as recommended by a number of others. This worked out well, because we were able to ride the Gulf Stream until just outside Palm Beach and we completed the 300 miles in a little over 30 hours. The Immigration office was close to the marina which we had to visit the following morning, but be warned even though we had obtained our visa in advance, the staff there were the rudest we have come across anywhere in the world. There was no particular problem in having come direct from Cuba, although for some reason they didn’t believe that we hadn’t stopped someone en route.

If you can’t use the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) because you’re too tall, then there are no pilot books to help. You will have to check Active Captain’s website in advance to find out about the “passes” not all of which are navigable, either because of silting or because of low bridges.

Other random notes

As another boat has reported, when we left Santiago our deck was covered with rust stains. We were only able to get rid of these when we arrived in the US and were able to buy West Rust Remover which acted like magic.

Also as another boat has reported, the water in the south isn’t very clear so snorkelling was a problem. This might have been because of the winds stirring up the bottom.

Keep small bottles of rum on board to barter for lobsters – although I never thought I could have too much lobster!

Andrew Smyth
SY Calliope

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