So, you got approved for Cuba, now what ? Part II of the Cuba series…plus some pics



So, the Coast Guard sent you the approval email… exciting !!! But now what ???

Don’t forget the clock is ticking and you probably only have a week, or less, before your approved departure date arrives.


Our courtesy flag flying !!


Hopefully, by the time the email arrives you will already have a Quarantine flag, a Cuban courtesy flag, a cruising guide or two, (I had read our cruising guide once or twice before we even applied) and charts. If not, you can order them here…..


Mike taking down our courtesy flag after we cleared in.


In addition, you should have an appropriate supply of spare parts, provisions and done some sort of shakedown trip to bebug any known or unknown issues you might have. You can buy food in Cuba but it’s more fun to explore and try out the local spots than to have to shop, parts would be VERY difficult….parts from the US would be almost impossible.

First things first…..start checking the weather…..this will be the most limiting factor for your passage and may force you to adjust your departure date with the USCG, so watch it closely. Before we left for Cuba we met a nice gentleman in a local Marathon bar. We overheard him say he owned a Hunter 35 (which was the same model Mike previously owned) so a boat conversation promptly erupted. He asked where we here headed and we said “Hopefully Cuba!!” He said he planned to leave for Cuba and keep going south as his boat was his only possession and he had no family to keep him in the states. Since he didn’t plan on returning he wasn’t going to bother getting a permit from the Coast Guard. He planned to leave near the end of March and we told him we would see him there.

Once we arrived in Cuba there was an extended period of moderately heavy to heavy North wind. It was so bad that the St. Pete to Havana race was almost cancelled. They delayed the start of the race by a day and a record was set in the spinnaker class for completion of the trip. That boat shaved about seven hours off the old record if that gives you any idea what the winds were like.

Once the North winds exceed 15 knots for a certain amount of time the Hemingway Marina stops allowing boats to enter or exit as it becomes quite hazardous. The entry channel is bordered by shallow rocks on either side and between the countercurrents from the Gulfstream (which at the time was very close to the north shore of Cuba) and the wind it can be difficult to avoid broaching (being turned sideways from wind and waves on the stern) and crashing into the rocks. Plus the North shore of Cuba is mostly Reef, rocks and shoals, then add to that, the depth goes from 1000′ to about 50′ in less than half a mile and it can be very dicey.

After the St. Pete racers arrived and departed the North winds again increased. We heard a story about a sailboat that had apparently exited the Gulfstream to the east of the marina channel and had attempted to work it’s way back West along the shoreline to the channel. The winds had again become pretty heavy, the swells out of the North were still very strong, the boat was unable to sail or power away and the boat was pushed up onto the Reef. Upon returning to Marathon in the Florida Keys we learned that it was the man we had met in the bar just before we left. His boat had been trapped on the Reef for a few days and then a series of heavier swells had pushed it into a deeper pocket between the outer and the inner Reef. Unfortunately, there isn’t a channel or passage out of this area so his boat was damaged and then trapped in a pocket of deep water inside the two Reef areas. We haven’t heard anymore updates but it seems his boat will be a complete loss. Even if he had insurance, American based insurance companies offer no coverage in Cuba. Until March of 2019, two companies had offered special riders for Cuba coverage but they ceased to offer that citing “declining diplomatic relations”. Just before we departed Cuba, a second boat, a catamaran enroute to Key West from Mexico, was forced into Havana harbor by rough seas and high winds and later relocated to Marina Hemingway once the winds subsided. So, it’s weather, weather, weather….and make sure your engine and drivetrain are up to the challenge should you end up with a Lee shore and need the power to make a getaway.

You hear a lot of odd stories about what to take to Cuba if you’re interested in giving gifts away. We have heard people say that “hygiene products” were popular gifts as they are difficult to obtain in Cuba….or some sort of perfumes or other toiletries for women were in demand……..we didn’t see, or hear of, that. Some of those stories also came with sort of an underlying, unseemly motive for those types of “gifts”, so avoid that.

Cuba has changed quite a bit. Cellphones and social media are common. Personal items may be slightly more expensive but are readily available. Wifi, while usually available at parks or restaurants by the hour, isn’t overly common at residences. Even at a park or other location with wifi you have to buy a wifi card and then it’s $1.50 CUC (the tourist currency) for an hour of usage. Funny side note…most Cubans pronounce it “wee-fee” so the traditional pronunciation can lead to some confused looks.

I asked a few people we befriended if there were any items that we, as Americans, might take for granted that were difficult to obtain in Cuba today and they said no. What we did find was that American products that don’t get imported to Cuba are interesting as a novelty. We took a few extra bottles of bourbon which we gave as gifts to some people, a case of Budweiser we traded for a case of Cristal beer and we had some baseball shirts and extra hats on board that we gave away to some of the people we met who had kids involved in baseball. They were very grateful for the gifts as they love American sports teams in Cuba.

this one’s for Barb Lienhard ….Happy Birthday !!!


There’s also a lot of talk about what kind of currency to take with you. People often exchange US dollars for Euros in the states to avoid some of the penalties charged at official outlets when exchanging US currency. Save your time and just take US dollars. You can tip in USD until you get your exchange finished. Take plenty of $5’s for the tips. Customs and Immigration won’t ask for a tip, or expect one, but the dockmaster, the electrician (who has to connect your shorepower), the agriculture officer and the health inspector will all say “the fee is $X and if you’d like to include a gift we would appreciate it”. Plenty of people laugh at them and give nothing but the goodwill was well worth the small price. We got plenty of visits from people asking if we wanted or needed anything and we saved about $300 on the stuff we bought to bring back (rum and cigars). In the next post we will tell you where to go to get the best exchange rates, pay 0 penalty AND get a better rate. Plus if you go to the right spots to eat you’ll be paying the lesser amount for food in pesos which is $1USD to $25CUP (the locals currency) as opposed to $.90 USD to $1CUC. Three of us had lunch and beers one day at a local place for $8USD.

What about the language barrier? English is taught in Cuban schools, but like any second language taught anywhere, if it goes unused it is lost.  A lot of Cubans in the marina area speak English very well.  Download an English to Spanish dictionary to your phone, buy a copy of Spanish for Cruisers and learn some key phrases.  Almost every menu is in Spanish….it helps to know what Cerdo, a chuleta and a pescadore are and how to get directions helps……We made some cheat sheets to review and assist the crew.  I had a few years of Spanish in high school and fortunately a lot of it stuck with me…comprehension is easier and after a few days I can carry out  a decent conversation.

Last, but not least, is route planning. Hopefully, you’ll have moderate east or west winds, we had light south winds, in between bouts of heavy north winds, so we ended up motoring the whole way. If you have the time, or the inclination, I would go as far West as you can before leaving the Keys. If your weather window is big enough, go to Dry Tortugas for a day or two. There’s a blog post for Dry Tortugas for any newbies.  That way you will already have made some distance to the west and then join the flow of the Gulfstream, rather than fighting it, and make your final part of the ride smoother and faster. When we left, we left from Key West and we planned to turn at N24.95.840/W082.34.186 to a course of 177 degrees T and then end up about 6 miles east of the Marina entrance, turning back along the coast outside of the Gulfstream. Once we got out there the Gulfstream was further south so we got an extra ten miles West before turning south and were able to head straight for the marina entrance avoiding the risks of the north shore arrival and subsequent westerly backtrack. The Gulfstream was VERY close to the north coast of Cuba at that time. It was about a 25 hour crossing.

Next time… to get the “hook up” in Cuba for currency exchange, tours, rum, cigars and more…….

Want to go to Cuba on your Boat? Like saving money ? Read on ……

Want to go to Cuba on your boat? Don’t want to spend $800 on a race or regatta ? How about $200 ? Here’s how….






When I initially began to research a trip to Cuba it seemed the easiest way to go was as a part of an $800 race or rally….which doesn’t include dockage or customs fees / cruising permit….so make that bill more like $1500……and I didn’t want to pay for a bunch of trophies I wouldn’t win and part of a banquet, so the “system working” part of my brain kicked in and I began to research it……

Then when I announced we were going to Cuba and a lot of people sent me messages asking “how are you doing that?” …or….”we sent paperwork in months ago and never heard anything back?” …..or…..”Did you know someone?” I began to think I discovered something……

A lot of people roll the dice and just go, but I’ve heard the horror stories if you get caught….heavy fines or vessel forfeiture, so here’s how we did it……

This information is obviously subject to revision by the USCG and is based on what I was told by representatives of the USCG…and contacts are current as of March 2019…….Your experience may vary slightly……also, it is predicated on a willingness to join the Hemingway International Yacht Club, a cost of $200 for the initial membership and about $25 a year thereafter to renew if you choose to do so. But we HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS METHOD.

Joining the Yacht Club is cool for a host of reasons…’s a few……
A) it’s the one and ONLY Yacht Club in Cuba……with a one of a kind shirt and burgee you can’t buy elsewhere.
B) you can eat and drink your fill at the club for about $20 a night for three people……
C) if you want to save the $600-$800 on US based races or regattas you have to become a member to participate in the local regatta anyway, so why not ?
D) the people at the Yacht Club are the friendliest and most pro America / sailing / yachting folks you’ll meet anywhere.
E) you get 15% off your dockage but be sure and ask for it when you pay out…that alone saved us $70
F) You will be supporting a great cause and a grassroots effort by the Cuban people to improve US and international relations and facilitate improvements to the Cuban government’s view regarding private business enterprises.

So…..Here’s the scoop on Cuba made easy……for the purposes of this post I won’t muddy the waters with ALL the ways to go to Cuba…..there are between 9-12 “license programs” at any given time that you can go under, but you only need ONE…….I’m just going to give you the easiest and fastest way to get the approval…….
If you’re a U.S. flagged boat and/or U.S. Citizen and you want to be able to return to the United States without facing massive fines you have to get permission from the U.S. Coast Guard. You and the boat can only stay two weeks. You can go on to Mexico or the Caymans without returning to the US, but overstay Cuba at your own peril.

This method involves submitting a form 3300 and a letter for each crew member describing your crew and what is called your “OFAC license”( which stands for the Office of Foreign Asset Control”) aka the reason you want to, and are allowed to, go to Cuba.

The easiest and fastest way is to go under the “Cultural exchange through sport” commonly referred to as the “participation in an amateur athletic event” which, in this instance, is a local regatta.

So, step #1 is to contact the offices the Hemingway Yacht Club at Marina Hemingway.

Here is the Commodore’s email…..his name is Juan Miguel Diaz Escrich (please don’t overuse it) and remember all email in Cuba is routed through government servers so don’t be political.



Inquire briefly what local events might be occurring during your proposed window of travel or ask for a calendar of scheduled events. Make it clear your want to join the Yacht Club upon arrival….feel free to mention us……There are usually two in April, one in May and one in June which is the annual fishing tournament not a regatta but still an athletic event. This year it was the Castillo del Morro regatta March 16 and the Torreon de Chorrera regatta March 23. Both are essentially boat parades that go from the Yacht Club and into Havana Harbor (which private vessels are strictly forbidden to enter, so that’s a treat) and a friendly race back to the Yacht Club……you will get a very cool, unique, locally made participation prize for this regatta, and you’ll probably be invited to the race banquet as a guest of the Commodore anyway, so don’t skip it. In November of 2019, the official 500th anniversary of the foundation of Havana is occurring so that would be an amazing regatta in which to participate. Pick a date and the The Commodore will send you a letterhead, stamped invitation to the regatta…..attach that to your form 3300 you print in Step #2 below.

Step #2 is to get the USCG form 3300…..

Here’s a link to the form ……

Print the form and simply fill it out by hand…..the USCG prefers fax for some reason (because it’s 1998) …..use the dates you get from the Commodore and his staff……..the form is pretty self explanatory……address …DOB…..boat description……
Use these coordinates in block #2 for where you’ll enter Cuban waters….23.18N 82.04W

Block #4 is important …..
My purpose for the voyage is “To participate in the XXXXXX regatta and subsequent boat parade, a cultural exchange through sport”

My OFAC license is “general and see attached”

My Commerce export license for this voyage is “see attached”

Step #3 is to add an OFAC letter (which stands for Office of Foreign Asset Control) for each member of the crew and describe their position aboard and the reason for going to Cuba. The rest of the language is boilerplate, so just copy and paste, changing the name, passport number etc…….. Our total application was 6 pages.

Here’s a sample of the letter……just adjust the language slightly based on whether you are the Captain or crew

John Q. Sailor
Passport #
Deckhand/Tactician/Navigator/Captain (pick one for each crew)
SV Boat
Documentation # 1111111
Home address
Phone number
Email address

TO : United States Coast Guard

My OFAC license for this voyage is provided by general license in 31 CFR 515.567(b), allowing travel to Cuba (and travel related transactions) for participation in amateur athletic competitions.
My associate and Captain of the SV NAME HERE, CAPTAIN NAME HERE is in receipt of an invitation for me from the Commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club (also known as the Club Nautico Internacional Hemingway de Cuba) located at the Marina Hemingway, Cuba. This invitation is for myself, him and his vessel and crew’s participation in an amateur sporting event (a sailing regatta and boat parade) being hosted by the Hemingway Yacht Club beginning REGATTA DATE HERE. I have attached a signed and stamped copy of the invitation.
Our arrival is planned for PICK A DAY THREE TO FIVE DAYS BEFIRE THE REGATTA. That will provide time to prepare for the regatta “INSERT REGATTA NAME HERE” organized by the Hemingway Yacht Club and the subsequent boat parade both of which Cuban citizens are welcome to participate and observe.
I agree to maintain records of each and every transaction related to this voyage for five years, pursuant to 31 CFR 501.601, and to furnish them upon request by the Director, Office of Foreign Asset Control, pursuant to 31 CFR 501.602.

My Commerce export license number for this voyage is provided by a rule exception, listed in 15 CFR 740.15(d)(6)(i)(c). The temporary sojourn is in connection with travel authorized by the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control (see above), and under no circumstances will the vessel remain in Cuban waters for more than 14 consecutive days.


Name of crew member


You can remove crew but can’t add any after approval so put as many as you think will go and do an OFAC letter for each one.

Next..after about ten days follow up your fax with a respectful email inquiring about the status of your request to
ME1 Rodriguez is a Maritime Enforcement Officer (Petty Officer) with the USCG and is a very nice gentleman. He can give you a rough estimate if your approval date. Or call the questions number at the bottom of the form.

Once you get your approval via email all you need is a weather window……if you have to change dates, don’t do it more than once and only if absolutely necessary……

Next time……we share our hook ups for cheap CUC exchange (the tourist currency), where to go and with whom, Rum, Cigars, Tours and more……