Cuba Coastal Cruising

Published 15 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Sent by Capt. P. D. Brown, Sept. 2009

See first report Cuba and Marina Hemingway

The cruising arena (in Cuba) presented by the naturalness of the coasts, is purely unbeatable.

We had sailed slowly into this, yet another huge Bay, typical of so many others with short distances between them providing “day-trip” cruising. As before, the panorama of lush greenery with a background of high hills rising, in this case, over the village with its’ houses erratically scattered among dusty streets, was always breath-taking. And we suspected from previous discoveries, the tall mangroves bordering the shore would be hiding entrances connecting the bay to more and more lagoons, all big and deep enough to conceal entire fleets.

And so it proved; later we motored through a quarter-mile-long channel through the brush, in width not much more than a couple of boat-lengths, with water plenty deep enough for the big boat and leading into a three-mile-wide completely “uninhabited” anchorage with an exit out the other end.

The day before this, our dinghy-exploration of a similar bay had revealed hidden channels leading to so many deep, inter-connected, mangrove-enclosed lagoons we had to turn back or run out of outboard-motor fuel.

Wreck Diving

Again, several days previously, we had anchored in company with an Australian-flag sloop off a small Cay, and we all together went in a dinghy making for a waypoint noticed in a cruising-guide, which located a wreck. Found in fifteen feet of the usual, brilliant-green clear water, we snorkelled slowly over an iron barque, possibly a late nineteenth century, lying broken beneath us, it’s iron masts lying across an open hull, chain coiled around her anchors, wire-rope standing to rig twisted everywhere.

After our “wreck-dive”, both boats carried on a few miles to shelter in the lee of a Cay with a beach on its’ opposite Northside, having a bar-restaurant and a small shop; this was a “tourist” stop accessible to visitors by a ferry, so, as, at all the villages, we waited for the Guarda to come out to us and check our cruising-permit.

This they did, coming alongside in a bright-red, high-speed, twin-outboard-engine sport-boat which was, to say the least, an unexpected sight!

Fresh Fish

We could recount experiences “ad infinitum” – but there are a few pointers to consider: – on coastal cruises, far out at sea are tiny boats involved in fishing. One or two men in each will wave frantically to trade seafood for whatever a passing cruiser might be able to part with, so a supply of shirts, caps, bottled water – anything will suffice – if you heave-to and wait for them to reach you. Even anchored-up in a bay one evening, we watched some men on a distant farm-field hitch-up some oxen and drag a boat down to the beach to row out to trade some produce for whatever we could spare in return.


Dealing with “officialdom”- having to go through the process of waiting for the Guarda to come aboard and check the cruising-permit, (and note: to go through that every time when arriving as well as leaving), is bothersome but a necessary evil. Simply be prepared to go through with it and allow for some time consumed by the process when planning a departure-time. They’re usually hesitant and somewhat sombre when they first come aboard on arrival, so a repeated “Hola!” or “Buenos Dias!” more than helps to break the ice – and nothing beats a smile and a handshake to foster good relations!

Also, at various places, the yacht’s skipper has to go in alone after an arrival, pick up the Guarda in one’s own dinghy, and later return them to the dock! At another location – Bahia Honda – you have to anchor off the Guarda-station, wait for them to slowly row their old boat out to you, then later weigh anchor and proceed into an anchorage – and go through all that again when departing. (At this place, one can just “hover” off their station, weather permitting).

Approaching Cabo San Antonio

Westbound cruisers hopefully will have enjoyed the many isolated Cays on the northwest coast on the way to the western extremity of the Island; in case there is a question about locating places to stop before crossing the geographical “Bahia Guanahacabibes” area and rounding Cabo San Antonio, here are three suggestions.

First – on reaching Bahia Guadiana, is a large, protected Bay tucked in the east side, Ensenada San Francisco, typically mangrove-bordered, opens after the peninsula “Punta Abalos”, (entry at Lat 22 11.687, Long 84 25.402). The location is some 15 n. m. west of the village of Los Arroyos. The anchorage is well-protected and one can go in behind the headland for good protection from northerlies. Some shallow areas on either side exist near the entry but proceed slowly in through the centre of the ¾-mile wide entrance, in a fish-hook pattern almost reversing your previous westerly course, to deeper water inside. As an aside, a dinghy exploration of this place will reveal small streams you can motor “up”, into more lagoons which are always amazing in their size and depth. A good stop for a rest before the 28 n. m. the straight trip across Bahia Guadiana to the second suggested a stop.

This “second” stop is a secluded waterway, “La Lena Canal”, (Cayos de la Lena). This anchorage is a “final” weather-refuge before “Los Morros Marina”, (a.k.a. Marina Cabo San Antonio), only 7.5 n. m. away. The entrance is well hidden until one is almost in it – the entry faces east and looks like a river with perfectly straight shores and a width of some 200 or more feet; depths are good right to the high mangroves. La Lena is very secure in any wind direction including a northern. The approach-waypoint to the entrance is at Lat 21 55.500, Long 84 48.500. One can proceed directly in for several hundred yards – some little creeks enter obliquely along the way, providing additional swinging-room in the main “Canal”.

On leaving La Lena Canal on the brief run around the (Cayos de la Lena) peninsula, give the land to port a wide berth – the reef here runs quite a distance out; a waypoint to keep well clear is- Lat 21 57.000, Long 84 51.000.

The approach to the third suggested stop – at Los Morros Marina – is the last stop before heading north to round the off-lying reef and making the turn round Cabo San Antonio. The approach to Los Morros is straight-forward through a pair of red/green marks, (an approach-waypoint is Lat 21 54.362, Long. 84 54.015). The so-called “marina” is simply a long concrete dock roughly on a north-south line with large tires strung along both sides: arrange fenders to avoid the old tires from severely discolouring, even damaging, the topsides. Caution: any easterly wind will develop seas impacting against the east side – the west side is more sheltered but there can be fishing boats berthed alongside. In any event, take note that the place is untenable in a northern; leave before conditions deteriorate and retreat east to La Lena Canal. Diesel and water are available here and there are a restaurant and small shop, (Club Nautico) at the head of the wharf. Max. tidal range is 0.71 m.

Capt. P.D. Brown

Sept. 2009

Author of the soon to be published Routes & Waypoints guide to Cuba.

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