This article has little to do with politics and more to do with some of the wonderful experiences of yachting in Cuba. The Republic of Cuba has had a love – hate relationship with the United States for hundreds of years and we’re currently going through one of the latter although thankfully, some thawing of relationships can be seen on the horizon.
The natural beauty of the island and the warmth of it’s people make it an ideal yachting destination. Recent marina developments both on the island and Key West, are provoking numerous requests for more information about the possibilities of normalizing recreational boating traffic to and around this amazing island.
First a geographical overview: Cuba is in the tropics so it is definitely hot and humid in summer and warm and temperate in Winter. The North coast from Havana to Baracoa can best be described at the Windward side of Cuba and should be avoided, if possible, in Winter.
The South Coast from Santiago de Cuba to Cortes in Pinar del Rio is more protected and can be accessed by yacht from the Jamaican ports of Montego Bay or Port Antonio. It’s only 90 miles from Jamaica. If you are SAILING, always try to take an anti-clockwise cruising route around the Island.
For example, if you are starting your cruise in Havana go West and then South and take an anti clockwise route around Cabo San Antonio and then East along the Southern coast.
The South Coast of Cuba is warm and pretty calm, barring tropical storms. The favorite cruising grounds are in the shallow waters around Isla de la Juventud and further East around Cienfuegos and La Trinidad. There are several excellent bareboat operating companies, mostly European, that have bases in this protected area.
In today’s thawing political climate, Cuba has become a very possible and definitely plausible cruising destination for Caribbean charter yachts. The US Coast Guard, used to hover around the 12 mile territorial water limit and stop and board recreational boats and yachts to prevent and discourage visitors. This no longer happening and has not happened since 2011.
Many yachts cruise in to Cuba from the Bahamas and even from Florida where there are new marinas being built in Key West that will pretty much cater to the yachting community that will be visiting Cuba. If you are chartering in the Bahamas and wish to visit Cuba, make sure that the yacht you are chartering has an owner and a captain who are OK with the detour. Check with us before you charter the yacht and we’ll do the vetting process for you.
Let me mention here that there are plenty of marina slips for smaller yachts but not many for mega or super-yachts. If you’re on a big yacht, make sure to check where they are located. In practice, however, your charter captain will know where the marinas with the right sized slips are.
Foreign-owned recreational craft must enter and leave through an international marina, where they can clear customs and immigration and obtain a cruising permit from the harbormaster. The Hemingway marina, close to Havana is a good example of an international marina that has a customs and immigration office.
A float plan with the expected itinerary, dates and times must be filed at this time. Vessels must clear in at each port of call. Some variation is permitted from the original float plan – the Cuban authorities basically love tourists and love the money they bring to the hard-currency starved economy. So you can expect bureaucratic delays but not major obstacles or hassle.
The Cuban authorities do not distinguish between American or Foreign flagged vessels or the nationality of crews or guests. Everyone must have a valid passport which is true of all countries these days. No, your birth certificate doesn’t count. No visa requirements are necessary for Cuba. Just bring money.
Technically as of the current state of affairs, American citizens are not allowed to actually spend any money in Cuba since this is contrary to the rules of the official economic embargo. In practice, however, very few yachts of any consequence are actually US flagged and crewed so this doesn’t really become an issue since your passport will not be stamped.
The Barr family, who are Canadians, have sailed to Cuba every winter for the past seventeen years and have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about cruising and touring this fascinating Caribbean island. Cheryl Barr has written a two volume series that is good reading for anyone thinking about chartering in Cuba.
Call us at 877-759-8263 or use our contact form for more information.