A Season From The Twilight Zone Part 1

So…..we left Florida just before New Years Eve, sacrificing our partying opportunities for a weather window to get down the coast and make a run for Bimini.  Our weather forecasting service wasn’t all that optimistic about the chances but we decided to go for it and see what happened.

We left Merritt Island and made it to Ft. Pierce that afternoon and anchored near a nice trawler named Diesel Duck (who we saw in the Bahamas much later in the season as they were anchored in George Town).

The next morning we departed Ft. Pierce and headed down the coast, trying to time our arrival for either an entry to Biscayne Bay if the weather was bad, or a turn toward Bimini the following morning.  As luck would have it, we were able to make the turn to Bimini just south of Miami and arrived there before 4pm for the outgoing tide so we could dock with some current against us and make it easier.

The below image is a screenshot of our track as we entered Bimini…..it was humorous that the dock hands didn’t mention that the channel had shifted about 100 yards to the south after hurricane Dorian.  If you take a close look at the green line, which was made as I was following our old track from the last few years you’ll notice we had to turn around and try again after we hit bottom!!!! The response on the radio was “oh ya mon we forgot to mention that”


We spent about two weeks in Bimini and I was able to enjoy my first ever bout if vertigo …..woof……don’t try that at home……I spent about four hours on a beach chair unable to even stand much less walk…..and then had two lighter bouts of it before it subsided and I haven’t had any issues since.

We helped out our friend Aaron at his bar The Hy Star Lounge for a few days and somewhat of a celebrity stopped by, if you are familiar with the Bravo TV show “Miami Million Dollar Listing”

That guy is apparently a multi millionaire and made it all on real estate in Miami after moving there from Ohio…….

After a couple of weeks in Bimini, as the weather cleared, we decided to make a run for the Exumas…….We made a jump for New Providence where we spent a night in West Bay and then made the ten hour jump to Norman’s Cay.  That was an adventure once we got there …..but more about that next time…..

I must have been hungry I already have my fork……

Havana….the last of the Mojitos (aka the walking tour….)


When we last saw our intrepid explorers they were making their way through old and New Havana……it was a long day.

We stopped at a few random spots to snap some pics before we stopped for a cold Cubata…..be the first to name the ingredients of that drink in the blog comments (not on Facebook) for a chance at a prize !!!!)

here we are at the Police Station…..voluntarily….

Bad boys ….bad boys….whatcha gonna do?


Our new “friend” …who was a bit of a stiff…..Antonia Gades….a famous Spanish Flamenco dancer


A message in a bottle ……from the maritime museum inside the fort…


on to the rooftop bar for a break…

It’s time for a ”Cubata” which is a dark rum and coke as opposed to a Cuba Libre which is white rum and Coke…


Jose’ Marti…..one impressive fellow….

Jose’ Marti, “The Apostle of Cuban Independence” who has statues everywhere, seems to be the true hero of Cuba.

Marti, (January 28, 1853 to May 19, 1895) was a poet, essayist and political activist.  He was considered an important revolutionary philosopher. Through his writings and political activity he became a symbol in Cuba’s bid for independence from Spain in the 19th century.  He was killed in combat at the battle of Dos Rios.

Below is a bronze statue of a woman who is surveying the horizon to her north and is located on top of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in old Havana, Cuba. (If you’ve been paying attention, you already know what that is !!!)  The local Cuban people claim that this bronze statue is a depiction of Dona Isabel de Bobadilla and it is suggested that it was placed there to honor Inès de Bobadilla, who is said to have watched every day the return of her husband. She is also graces the label of Havana Club Rum !!

The fort….at the top of the dome you can see the statue “La Giraldilla”



Mike runs off with a new tour group ….


So you weren’t allowed to take photos inside the fort museum….oops…

A forbidden photo op from inside the fort museum….
An up close shot of La Giraldilla …..

Our Walking Tour of Havana

Spreading outward over time, Havana has become a sprawling city, but the scope of this growth can be hard to understand for those who don’t live in, or study, the area. As an effort to display this growth, a scale model of the city was created and offers an interesting and insightful view of the city and if you can get there it is something that you will not want to miss.

In 1978, the historical center of Havana and its system of military fortifications dating back from colonial days, were declared a National Monument and in 1982 were included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Old Havana, covers an area of 2.14 square kilometers.  This primarily consists of two distinct areas: the old walled city and the surrounding strip that was developed following demolition of the walls from the mid-nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth.

The Scale Model of Havana was designed to provide a clear look at how the city was originally laid out and how it expanded over time. The model is color coded according to the age of the buildings and landmarks, making it easy to understand how and when growth occurred.

Cuban artist, Orlando Martorell, his wife and a team of modelers were the creators of the Old Havana Scale Model, a work that took them 3 years to complete and it was built to at a scale of 1:1500.

Among Martorell’s work is also the scale model of the historic center of Alcalá in Spain.


The Scale Model of Old Havana also features a beautiful lighting system that simulates day and night, sunrise and sunset, the lights and shadows of the city. This system also integrates sounds like the singing of birds, the authentic sounds of the city, the murmur of the waves of the sea, the bells of the nearby colonial churches, and even the noisy genuine sound of the firing of the canon at 9pm. The canon was originally used to signal the closing of the city gates, which stayed closed until dawn, it is the only way to experience what the city looked like over the centuries.


The harbor….

In 1890 there was a serious explosion which destroyed a hardware store in Havana….this is the text from the newspaper article from the Los Angeles Herald ……


“A Barrel of Powder in a Burning Hardware Store Was the Agency of Death.

Terrible Effects of the Explosion.

Havana, May 18. —During a fire in a hardware store last night a barrel of powder exploded. The whole structure was blown to pieces, and twenty-two persons killed. Among the dead are four tire chiefs and the Venezuelan consul, Seiior Franciso j Silva, who happened to be in front of the building at the time of the explosion. In addition to the killed, over one hundred persons are injured. The explosion caused the wildest excitement throughout the city, and thousands flocked to the scene of the disaster. The municipal authorities were promptly on the ground, and did everything in their power to aid the injured.” Several houses adjacent were damaged by the explosion. Later—The number of dead up to this morning was thirty-four. A gang of men is at work on the debris. Many human limbs have been taken out. The relatives of missing persons are gathered on the spot, and as the bodies are brought out the scenes are distressing. The proprietor of the hardware store has been arrested. It is feared that several more victims are in the ruins.”

The powder had been stored there illegally and the owner, despite being at the scene, did not warn the volunteer firemen who rushed in just before the explosion.


The monument to the volunteer Firemen…..


On a lighter note, there is a mysterious brass statue in what is called Plaza Vieja (Old Plaza).  A woman sits atop her big, feathery rooster mount, completely naked except for the stilettos on her feet. A massive forks rests on her right shoulder. The rooster, stoically gazes ahead.

No one seems to know what the meaning is behind this statue. Some tour guides say it is a tribute to the history of prostitution in Havana. The sculptor, Roberto Fabelo, installed the piece at Plaza Vieja in 2012 without explanation or context. The artist, who won the country’s 2004 National Arts Award, frequently features nude women with birdlike features in his work.


Downtown is filled with amazing architecture…..


A statue of a protective monk and an indigenous Indian boy at the Church of St. Francis Assisi and Convent…..and a random woman in the bottom left corner….




The church….



Below is a statue of Carlos Manuel de CĂ©spedes del Castillo, who was a Cuban revolutionary hero. Cespedes, who was a plantation owner in Cuba, freed his slaves and made the declaration of Cuban independence in 1868 which started the Ten Years’ War, which ultimately led to Cuban independence.

Havana…… ooh nanana 🎼🎤🎹

As promised here is the start of the Havana pics…..

a couple of interesting street shots to start off….

One side of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba…originally designed as a casino in the 40’s the hotel was nationalized after 1959…..



A little history about Havana ……

Founded in 1519 (this year is the 500th anniversary of Havana) as a city of the pirate age, and the even more frequent naval attacks by other countries, the area known as Old Havana was at one point a walled city.  The city and bay were stopover points for the treasure laden Spanish galleons returning to Spain from South and Central America.  In 1555 the pirate Jacques de Sores burned Havana while sacking the city in search of treasure.  He destroyed the existing fort in the process but he didn’t find much. After that incident, the Spanish sent soldiers, built a wall and a new fortress (the Castillo de la Real Fuerza) which still stands and is now a museum.

Castillo Real de la Fuerza


Let me just move this cannon out of the way ….ouch…those cannon shells are pointy

As the pirate and a military naval warfare age faded the wall became obsolete  and was slowly removed as the city expanded.


This is one of the remaining corners….


Mike reaches back in time …..and breaks a rule by touching the wall….


A different type of warfare in 1961…..remnants of the weapons supplied by the USSR ….the small SAU-100 tank which was used by Castro to fire shells at a US Naval vessel during the Bay of Pigs invasion.


And now….Hemingway’s former haunts in Havana ……Sloppy Joe’s and the Floridita (home of the original daiquiri)…….

Sloppy Joe’s was originally opened by Jose Garcia as the Rio Havana in the 1930’s and was allegedly nicknamed Sloppy Joe’s because of the constantly wet floors from the melting ice in the seafood cases.  The house sandwich also adopted the name and was made of Ropa Vieja, a slow cooked wet beef.

Garcia came to Cuba from Spain in 1904, moved to New Orleans, and returned to Havana in 1919. Garcia was a career barman.  As a barman it was obviously difficult to make a living in the US during prohibition.  The building was a grocery store and warehouse before Garcia opened his bar. Hemingway recommended the name Sloppy Joe’s for a bar owned by his friend Joe Russell of Key West in honor of Garcia. Russell, a bootlegger and speakeasy operator, ran the Key West bar under a few names before he took Hemingway’s suggestion.   Hemingway had an apartment on one of the upper floors of the Rio Havana prior to 1959 when the bar was closed by the government until 2008.

Hemingway’s favorite spot for a daiquiri…..


An interesting angle of the original Bacardi building…..the Bacardi family left Cuba in 1959 and relocated to Puerto Rico.

I once read an article in Sail magazine by someone who took a sailboat to  Cuba, but elected to stay in a rented apartment in Havana for the duration of their visit???? The author whined throughout the article about the air quality in Havana due to the poorly maintained old cars throughout the city. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Finding Fusterlandia

I know I promised Havana photos but I forgot about Fusterlandia.  No, it’s not an amusement park.  Something you don’t expect to find when you visit Cuba is a small neighborhood that has been slowly converted over a decade, or so, into a giant mosaic abstract art exhibit.  You feel like you’re in the Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine” as you walk down the streets.  I’ll admit….this style really isn’t my thing.  It was an interesting novelty though.

Jose Rodriguez Fuster was born in 1946 and attended the National School of Art in Cuba.  His work has been primarily in oils and ceramics.  He allegedly still lives in this neighborhood in Jaimanitas, though we never saw him.  Jaimanitas is a small fishing/surfing village just east of the Hemingway Marina.  When you ask the locals what he’s like you usually get the comment “well….he’s a bit of a Communist” ….I wasn’t certain how to interpret that so, I didn’t ask any follow up questions.

Jose’ Fuster


Don’t visit this place under the influence…..of anything…..


“The best friend”……..

There might be a small prize for the first person who comments on the blog page (not Facebook) with the movie reference on which the title of this blog post is based.

And I promise next time will be Havana pics…..


First Round of Cuba Pics !!!

GRRRRRRRRR !!!!This is Mike your growling tour guide…..

You will see the same 5 or 6 photos of Hemingway with Castro….they get a lot of mileage out of those…..this  was  their  first,  and  last, 30 second meeting.  Hemingway left Cuba, his home for 20+ years and never returned.  Check out that white  knuckle  grip  !!!!


One of the first things  we did was join the “ClĂąb Nautico InternacĂ­onal Hemingway de Cuba” aka the Hemingway Yacht Club.  It is the one and ONLY Yacht Club in Cuba.  Yacht clubs were deemed to be “elitist” and banned in 1959 after the revolution. Since the Club was allowed to reopen it has been an uphill battle for the Commodore (Juan Escrich, pictured below with some motley crew) to keep the club operating free of interference or complete forced closure.  Membership dues from foreign members help them keep the Cuban nautical tradition alive. The Yacht Club, founded in 1992 after the USSR pulled out of Cuba, (and ending their annual subsidies) gave former Cuban naval officer Escrich a way to keep the nautical dream alive for Cubans. They also host the second oldest fishing tournament in the world!!!


The proud new members…..

American made cars (models prior to the 1959 revolution) are everywhere and generally very well maintained.


Next time ……Havana highlights….




What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Arrive in Cuba…Part 3 of the Cuba Series


So, there’s been a few changes to the U.S. administrative aspects for visiting Cuba. That doesn’t mean the visits are completely over. People from the US have been visiting Cuba for decades before some restrictions were eased in 2010. The important thing to remember is that nothing lasts forever. You could, and still can in some instances, visit Cuba without supporting the Cuban government. There has been a blanket policy instituted prohibiting private vessels and aircraft from visiting but this has yet to be tested. It seems a bit discriminatory, to me, to allow guided tours by companies and yet prevent private citizens from visiting for the same licensed purposes.






Based on my conversations with the citizenry, the Cuban people are weary of their government running every aspect of their lives but live in fear of being jailed for speaking their minds.  Visits to Cuba and the expenditure of foreign dollars at places controlled by the government (i.e. Cruise ship areas and many of the tourist traps in downtown Havana) only perpetuate the system that oppresses its own people and supports similar systems elsewhere.  Cruise ship fees go directly to the government and military.  Almost all the shops and attractions around the cruise ship ports are government controlled.  We were very cautious to only visit private businesses, which are only the very small family run style and the individual owners keeps the proceeds. Marina Hemingway is controlled by a private group and is the only marina where you can currently clear in when coming from the US.

Cuba is the only country I have ever visited, where, despite the constant touting of their healthcare system by some, you continually meet adults with completely treatable conditions which they are not “permitted” to have surgery or other remedies to correct.  The most notable was an otherwise perfectly health young bartender who had suffered from frequent infections of his tonsils since he was a small child.  He was frequently unable to speak for a week or more.  The only treatment he could obtain was a constant supply of antibiotics which will eventually lead to bacterial resistance and a host of other side effects. He was also not allowed to leave the country for surgery.

I’ve read a lot of complaints about the tightening of the visitation regulations.  Most seem rather selfish and short sighted. Imagine if the employees at any business were denigrated, oppressed, threatened, denied healthcare, and generally mistreated by the management ? Would you still patronize them and line the pockets of their oppressors? If Europeans and Canadians were allowed to go, and went, at times supporting such a system, would you use that as an excuse to visit through that form of tourism anyway ?

US Travelers can still visit Cuba, subject to specific conditions:

Family visits
Official U.S. government business
Journalistic activity–you must be employed full time by a recognized media outlet….unfortunately bloggers don’t qualify
Professional research and meetings
Educational activities (like those from U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools)
Religious activities
Support for the Cuban people—this will hopefully be the license that allows private vessels to visit again.
Humanitarian projects

If this program doesn’t work out we will have to wait till the tide turns and we can more easily visit Cuba again (without supporting this current Cuban government) let’s still be ready……

You’ve done all your research, you have the USCG permit email in your hot little hands, the boat is ready to go and there is a weather window approaching right on cue.  Why are you so nervous then?

Over the decades there has been a lot of misinformation floating around about Cuba, some even correct information attributed to the incorrect source or cause.  Some people believe it is crime ridden, dirty and unsafe. I have always judged places I visit by the character of the people and not the spit and polish state of their buildings and streets.  By this metric, Cuba could not be a better place to visit.  It certainly has infrastructure problems. Sidewalks are broken and usually poorly maintained, if still usable.  Roads are potholed, some are dirt, some (most) have horse drawn wagons on them, even the interstate.  The people are kind, honest and humble.  Cuba is more than Havana, as the US is more than NYC.  Some think Cuba must be like any American Cuban neighborhood they may have visited.  It seems that Cuban/American culture has become so commingled and diluted by American culture that it has become unique. The lack of similarities were surprising.

Back to arrival preparations…..be sure and take a stack of $5 bills for tips, I took about $100 in fives.  You will meet Marina attendants and other employees who will expect small gratuities.  Don’t change any money until after you are fully checked in and don’t go to the hotel or the bank when you are ready to change it.

If you like to trade things, take some MLB hats or shirts, some American beer, some bourbon or other American products that aren’t imported to Cuba.  They make great gifts when someone really helps you out or just to trade and save a few bucks.  We traded a case of Budweiser we bought for $15 stateside for a case of Cristal Cuban beer which was $24 a case. We gave away hats and MLB shirts to people we made friends with around the marina. That didn’t hurt when it came time to stock up on rum, coffee and cigars as we were pointed to the best sources.

As I previously mentioned, the entrance to Hemingway Marina is tricky and exposed to North winds, so you’ll have to time your arrival appropriately.  The channel is a bit narrow and there was a sunken boat on the east side of the channel in about 15′ of water when we were there.  If it’s your first time it will look a little confusing as you come into the inlet.  The markers are on poles rather than the more traditional buoy.  That makes them hard to see from a distance to be sure you are lined up. The last green mark before the turn to the customs dock (the dock, actually just a wall, is painted blue and I marked it with a blue line in the image below.) the last green mark is actually on shore and obstructed by some large growth.  The seawall on your port side is the edge of the channel, but I still wouldn’t cut it too close. The channel appears to drastically narrow and in truth the last red mark does narrow it slightly but it’s not as bad as it looks. It would have greatly reduced the stress had I known the last green was on the corner of the land by the Customs dock, rather than just being confused about where it might be lurking.


Once you round the corner and tie up on your port side, the Customs officials, who were all much younger (early 20’s) and friendlier than we anticipated, come aboard.  A Nurse comes aboard with Customs for a few minutes to take temperatures and generally check the crew for communicable diseases.  The process was quick and the search was very, very minimal.  The customs officers won’t accept or expect a tip, although some might accept the offer of some coffee or a soda.

Keep in mind these canals were dug out and poured in the 40’s or 50’s the concrete must have escaped from the forms during pouring and there are some large extensions that extend into the canals by 5-6′ in places at depths of 3-5′. Stay as close to the center of the canal as you can until you’re ready to tie up.

If you can, it’s a good idea when you make your reservations to request the first canal and the berths along that wall are numbered in the 100 range.  We were in slip 124.  The restrooms and a small snack bar are located where you make the turn into that canal, so wifi and restrooms will be convenient.

Speaking of wifi….you have to purchase wifi cards, similar to the old prepaid phone cards in the US.  You can get the cards at the snack bar, the Chinese restaurant, the Yacht Club or the Mexican restaurant.  Then you go to a place with wifi access, the snack bar, the Chinese restaurant, which is very good, or the Yacht Club and log in.  You get an hour for $1.50CUC.

As you approach the wall in the canal, the dockmaster will probably be there to meet you.   The dockmaster will hint around for a tip. I found that giving out a few $5 tips when appropriate makes later interactions much easier and the people you might need help or guidance from are obviously much more willing to help.   The marina electrician has to plug your boat in and it’s a good idea to give him a small tip because you will have power outages and he will be the one fixing the power pedestal.

Next the agriculture officer will come around to inspect your food stores and make sure you don’t have any risky vegetables or meat.  A Doctor from the health ministry will come aboard to verify your holding tank is closed off from discharge (they just ask but don’t inspect).  After the paperwork is done both of these agents will say “we would appreciate a small tip if you’d like to give one but it isn’t necessary”, we tipped them both and they checked in on us three times during our visit to make sure we didn’t need anything.

After that you are all checked in and ready to see Cuba !!!

The store, marked as the “Ship’s Chandlery” on the satellite image is the best place to change money.  You can get .9 CUC for each dollar rather than .87 and paying any other penalties and if you have Cuban CUC’s left at the end, Jose the store manager, will buy them back. Jose is also a great resource for meeting other people who sell rum, cigars, coffee, souvenirs and conduct tours at much cheaper prices than the stores and other organizations.  Plus you’ll know your money is going to the person and not the government.

There are two currencies in Cuba.  The CUP, the peso, is for Cubans.  The CUC is the tourist currency.  One CUC is equal to 24CUP.  Tourists are not legally allowed to have or exchange in pesos.  All businesses accept both.  Some, that charge in pesos will charge tourists in CUC one for one.  Most will adjust the exchange rate and you can eat and drink very inexpensively.  One afternoon three of us had lunch and beers for about $8.

Next time we get around Cuba and buy some goodies……


A schedule of events for the Hemingway Yacht Club, Cuba

I know I said this time would be the rum and cigars post, but I thought this might be important for anyone trying to plan a trip soon.  I received a list of events for the Hemingway Yacht Club…Some have passed but it can give you a good idea of what will be happening again in early 2020 if you plan to go next year…..




ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
DATE: November 18th, 2018

ORGANIZED BY: St. Petersburg Yacht Club
DATE: March 16th – 23rd

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
BOATS: 40 (vessels participating in the in the St. Petersburg-Habana Regatta and
vessels of HIYC of Cuba)
DATE: March 23rd

ORGANIZED BY: Key West Community Sailing Center and the Key West Yacht Club
DATE: From April 28th to May 5th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
BOATS: 30 (Participants in the Conch Republic Cup Regatta and HIYC of Cuba)
DATE: May 4th

ORGANIZED BY: Florida Yachts Charters and Stock Island Marina Village
DATE: May 5th -8th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
BOATS: 30 (Participating in the Rally Key West-Havana and Hemingway
International Yacht Club of Cuba)
DATE: May 6th

ORGANIZED BY: The Cuban Sailing Federation and Hemingway International Yacht Club
of Cuba
BOATS: 100
DATE: May 11th

ORGANIZED BY: Key West Yacht Club
VESSELS: 10-15
DATE: June 6th -8th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
DATE: June 7th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
DATE: July 6th (forming part of the start of the summer season in Havana)

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba with the support
of the office of the Historian of Havana
PARTICIPANTS: 100 Cuban Modelists
DATE: August 9th -12th

ORGANIZED BY: National Aquarium of Cuba and Hemingway International
Yacht Club of Cuba.
PARTICIPANTS: Children and youngsters
DATE: (July and August one or two weeks each month)

ORGANIZED BY: Cuban Sport Fishing Federation and Hemingway International Yacht
Club of Cuba
PARTICIPANTS: 500 anglers
DATE: August 31st (Forming part of the closing season for summer in Havana)

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba, History of Cuba
Institute and History of Cuba Academy
DATE: September 5th – 7th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba and the National
Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Regla, Archbishopric of Havana, Yoruba Cuban
BOATS: 100

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
PARTICIPANTS: 100 – 150 (Delegations of 15 – 20 countries)
DATE: October 27th to November 2nd.
ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
DATE: November 15th

ORGANIZED BY: Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba
DATE: Night of November 15th.

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…..how 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 “Q” 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…..how 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…..here’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…..name…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……