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
Deckhand/Tactician/Navigator/Captain (pick one for each crew)
Documentation # 1111111
TO : United States Coast Guard
Re: Travel to Cuba INSERT DATE OF TRAVEL HERE
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
BE SURE TO SEND THIS FAX IN AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE…..MORE THAN TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO THE EVENT WILL MAKE YOUR ODDS OF APPROVAL MUCH BETTER.
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……