Cuba: Cruising the Remote South Coast

This remote coast of Cuba requires self-sufficienty with relatively long distances between secure anchorages, but in return you may not see another boat for days at a time. Canadian cruiser Mary Buchanan of s/v Strathspey, reports on cruising here.

Published 9 years ago, updated 3 years ago

Cienfuegos marina docks

Friends ask what sailing the south coast of Cuba is like. In a word….Windy. We arrived in Puerta Vita on December 20, sailed 1500 miles around the coast to Havana and in the entire three months, we might have had 10 days when the wind was under 20 knots. We sailed in 20 knots, 25 knots and once even in 31 knots.

Another thing I’d tell people about is the fishing – the excellent fishing and lobstering. We ate fresh-caught fish or lobster four or five times a week. We either caught it ourselves or traded for it with rum or soap, once or twice even paying a small amount of cash for it. Every time we anchored, no matter how remote the area, we’d get a visit from either an outpost Guarda Fronteras official or a fisherman wanting to trade or sell fish and lobster.

Another adjective that comes to mind is Remote. We sailed relatively long distances to get between secure anchorages and we often were the only boat out on the sea for days at a time. We always felt safe but we did take precautions to lock our dinghy and motor up each evening before we retired down below.


However, we spent three weeks anchored in the harbour at Cienfuegos in January and it was here that we ran into some problems. The only marina in Cienfuegos has very few slips available for transients, as it is full of charter boats. While we were in Cienfuegos there were no available slips and us, plus about 20 other boats, were anchored in the harbour off the marina docks. The marina charges for this anchoring and, as well, provides a bit of security for the anchored boats in the form of a patrol through the anchoring field twice a night (the fee also allows you to use the marina bathroom facilities).

The marina officials warned us to take our dinghy and dinghy motor out of the water each night because they said that sometimes fishermen swim out to the boats with the intent of stealing dinghies and motors. Every night, we hauled the outboard motor off the dinghy and onto its stern mount, locking it on with an expensive stainless steel Stazo lock. At the same time, we lifted the dinghy out of the water. As time went on we saw that other boats were not lifting their dinghies up so we got lazy and began leaving the dinghy in the water, but snuggled up to the boat’s stern and locked to one of our stanchions with a thick braided steel cable.

On the last morning in Cienfuegos, we noticed that the Honda outboard bridle was missing, and one of the outboard toggles was unfastened. The Stazo lock on the other toggle was intact and this is what prevented the loss of the motor. We also saw obvious signs of a hacksaw blade on the plastic casing of our dinghy’s steel cable. There were other boats with their dinghies in the water but perhaps we were an easier target as we were one of the closest boats to shore. I did wake up around 1:45 am to use the bathroom so perhaps I scared them off. We didn’t hear any noise to alert us to the fact that someone was trying to steal the dinghy and motor because, in this harbour, most nights there is extremely loud music playing from the local discotheque until 3 am.

The happy ending to this story is that the thieves were thwarted because we had our dinghy locked to our boat via a braided steel cable and the outboard was aboard our motor mount and locked to our pushpit with a Stazo stainless steel super lock (an expensive item but well worth the money because it saved us the annoyance of being without a dinghy motor for the rest of our trip).

Other than this incident, our trip around the south coast of Cuba was well worth it and it was an adventure we’re glad we took. It stretched our capacity for self-reliance and increased our confidence when sailing in big winds and high seas. Yet, like most adventures, it wasn’t terribly relaxing. We were on our toes all the time except when we took inland trips.

Mary Buchanan

s/v Strathspey (Canada)

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  1. February 7, 2016 at 2:01 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Is there an alternative (on the South coast) to Cienfuegos for leaving your boat and travelling inland? Even now they are telling me they have no slips for June! I would also love to hear your favourite stops between Cienfuegos and Isla de la Juventud.