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Santiago de Cuba - Cruisers' Updates

By Sue Richards last modified May 26, 2017 04:37 PM

Published: 2017-05-26 11:35:00
Countries: Cuba


CUBA, 16/05/2017

On the way here, Santiago de Cuba, we called in for a couple of nights to Inagua Island, in the Bahamas. About 2500 people and 100,000 flamingos live on it. The only industry is salt production and the island can export up to 6000 tonnes a day. All made by evaporation of the sea water pumped into man made salt pans.

Leaving Inagua we had a 2 day motor to Santiago, which included a diversion around Guantanamo Bay, and arrived into the second city of Cuba. This is where the revolution began and Fidel Castro is buried.

Please note that at Guantanamo Bay you must stay out of the security zone which extends 3 miles offshore. You will be escorted! but all in a friendly fashion.

The entrance to the port is clearly marked by a large white lighthouse on the cliff top. This is also by the airport, which is invisible from the sea but you can see the planes take off and land.

The channel is deep, around 10 to 13 metres for the commercial traffic, and is well buoyed as well. The Marlin Marina is straight in, then bear to starboard, heading for a blue and white building. The Marina is 2 concrete piers with 110 and 220 volt towers that take American plugs. There is also water on the towers, but it is not drinkable. Make sure you have good fenders for the smooth concrete.

All officials come to the boat and nobody is allowed on the pier until cleared. A stamp in the passport is optional thanks to American problems. A doctor will check everyone for fever or sickness on board. All the officials were efficient and friendly and no requests for money. Fees are paid to the Marina office and a receipt is given. At least one marina official will always have English and there is 24 hour a day personnel there.

The city is about 20 minutes by taxi or 30 minutes by bus from the Marina. There is a hotel on site with free use of 2 terminals for Internet, no need to buy anything. There is no WiFi at all. You buy cards for time. It's government owned so food and service are not great. For anything you require ask for Paquitos, he lives with his family locally and they also do local food very reasonably, ask the Marina person for details.

So far I have been in a Lada taxi, a Jawa sidecar motorbike and a converted Dodge wagon from around the 1950s era, as well as the local bus. The Dodge had a Chinese Diesel engine with a manual gearbox,  it not really a synchromeshed gearbox. It also has benches in the back instead of seats. It's common to see original Willys jeeps too. Anyway the Dodge managed to break a half shaft in the back axle out in the middle of nowhere. Having been overtaken, while stopped, by several horse and carts, along came the local bus. It's actually a truck with benches welded in and a canvas top fitted. The bus stops, the driver and conductor hop out and fit a steel tow cable to the Dodge. We all get into the bus and get to the next town, with the car on tow.

While the rest of us have a great lunch, the driver pulls out the broken shaft, gets it welded up, has lunch with us and also manages to break 2 of the retaining bolts. All aboard again and we set off for home about 80 km away. Three times we stop and tighten up all the remaining bolts in the axle, which has no rear brakes or shock absorbers, just heavy duty cart springs. Then we run out of diesel! 10 litres of fuel are swapped for a T shirt in a local farm. Then we carry on and get back to the Marina. A quick bite to eat and then off to sleep.

Today is our last day here before heading to Montego Bay in Jamaica. It will be good not to have to drive about 15 km into the city to get wifi, via a timed card.

The time spent here has been great, really friendly people, but a really rubbish political system. For example cows belong to the government. If you kill one for food you will go to jail for a long time. One man we spoke to had been in jail for 10 years. He was caught with 12 pounds, about 5 kilos, of coffee in his car, obviously for resale for a profit. There are government owned restaurants that are rubbish, but there are also many private house restaurants that are much better.

By my reckoning there are no litter laws, everything is thrown out onto the streets or the grass beside you, and about 90% of the adults smoke. A pack of 20 is about $.60 - so why not smoke?

We are looking forward to Jamaica. Higher prices I'm sure, but more advanced than here.

Hugh Pilsworth





Call the marina on CH 16 between 1800 and 0800, otherwise CH 72. On arrival you will be instructed to anchor off the pier until the various officials arrive.


At that time you will come alongside if there is room. The entire procedure will take between 3 and 5 hours. If you declare that you have come from Haiti you will be put on "Cholera Watch" - all crew temperatures to be taken every four hours and logged until the Sanitary Department say you are clear. You must be very patient with these people. And expect three sniffer dogs which will not have shoes and will play havoc with teak decks. One found a tin of Epifanes varnish and this created a problem as it was explosive. You handheld VHF and GPS will be wrapped and sealed along with flares and Very pistol. They must not come ashore.


If at anchor you may only dinghy to the marina - the naval police will be on top of you if you dinghy anywhere else.

There is no new pier but one is under (very) slow re-construction. The existing pier is rough and you will need good fenders. Holding either side of the pier is patchy and you will need to ensure your anchor is well dug in as the winds will turn through 360 degrees in the course of the day. Soot from the cement factory will stain your decks.


Showers and toilets poor - the shower is a single jet of cold water and there are no toilet seats or paper - bring your own. Frequently the water is off; sometimes for two days at a time.

There is a fuel dock and fuel is reported to be OK. Frequently the pump does not work. Do not drink the water. There is a restuarant and bar at the marina - as good as you will get in Cuba. As soon as you take one step outside the marina grounds you will be swarmed by beggars. Even the marina office staff asked me for money, electrical goods; you name it and they wanted it.

I met one boat in the Dominican Republic which had been left at the marina under their care for eight years with no reported problems.

The City

The marina will get you a taxi (probaly 30 years old) with a driver who speaks some English - mine with a distinct Russian accent. The city is 20 minutes away; the correct taxi fare 8 CUCs but often they will charge you nothing to wait for two hours to bring you back again.

Beware of street vendors especially those selling cigars and rum. If the customs officer at the marina catches you with either and you do not have an official receipt from a state owned store everything will be confiscated. The city is especially beauitful with a huge range of architecture. It is just that nothing has been painted is 30 years.

Anthony Swanston
SV Wild Fox

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