What To Know About Sailing To Cuba: Part 1

From the looks of it, if you keep track of the forums and Facebook pages, almost anyone who sails, is either on their way to Cuba or planning to sail to Cuba in the near future. We, on Vacilando, are no exception. I’ve been wanting to see Cuba for at least ten years. I’ve heard from friends who’ve been, and have been living vicariously through them ever since. This past January, we were so close to leaving until one of those infamous “plan changers” came along. And now, here we sit. Waiting out hurricane season.

If there is any consolation that comes from waiting, it’s that more and more cruisers are visiting and posting about their experiences. The information is pouring in almost daily. Marinas are adapting and changing as well, trying to make the most of this mad rush. For instance, Tarara Marina, which is east of Havana (Hemingway Marina is west), is reportedly dredging the entire harbor and adding 250 new slips. Currently this harbor is too shallow for deeper draft boats. If this happens, it’s a game changer and adds another alternative to Hemingway. Right now, prices are still reported to be around .40 CUC per foot. That’s probably going to change when (if) the restoration is finished. Prices all along the north coast have increased since the restrictions were eased.

As we make our plan for next January, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish and learning all I can about exchange rates and policies regarding traveling with animals. I’m no expert, but here’s how I understand the money situation. The CUC, or tourist peso, is exchanged for US dollars. The official rate is 1:1, but there is still a 3% exchange fee. Until recently, there was an additional 10% tax on the US dollar but it’s been eliminated as of March 2016. But, don’t get too excited because while they did away with the tax, they raised entrance visa fees from $25CUC to $75CUC!

The peso nacional, or local peso or CUP, exchanges at 24:1 to the CUC and is used by locals, and by tourists for purchases out in rural areas, or local farmers’ markets. There are rumors that the CUC will be folded into the CUP in the near future, which means, if in Cuba, I would hesitate to transfer large sums of money at one time. You wouldn’t want to get caught in the shift. I’m not sure if this is true or what the time frame is for this change.

When it comes to traveling with pets, specifically a dog, a certificate of health from your last port of call and a current rabies vaccination is all that is required to enter Cuba. As I understand it, the regulation states it must be within 14 days of arrival but I’ve read posts from a Canadian couple who’s dog’s certificate was over a month old and they had no difficulty. There used to be a pet fee but I’m told that’s been rolled into the entry fees. There may however, be a 25$CUC fee for a certificate of health when you leave the country. It seems like prices change every day. I’ll be researching that further.

i am dog

Be aware, if you’re entering from the Bahamas, because of a recent outbreak of dog distemper in the Bahamas, new rules have been put into place regarding the exit of pets from the Bahamas. It now takes 5 or more days for a health certificate for your dog to exit the Bahamas, as all paperwork must be sent to Nassau, and approved by the Bahamian Department of Agriculture. 

Of course when it comes to knowing the law {as an American} as it pertains to Cuba, the area is still grey. The US websites are vague at best. Some boaters report no trouble when they’ve sailed directly to Cuba from Florida, and returned back to Florida, as long as their trip fit within the 12 categories outlined in the regulations. Others, who’ve entered into Key West specifically, from Cuba have been hassled beyond belief. Of course, if you’re not returning to the US from Cuba, this is a moot point. We are not planning on returning to a US port directly from Cuba.

There is much to be found on this topic. For me it always comes down to preparation. File the Coast Guard form 3300 that allows you to enter Cuban waters. Some will tell you that you don’t need it. Just do it. It takes about 14 days. When you enter an approved check in location in Cuba, make sure you are courteous and know what to expect. I understand the authorities will board with a dog to sniff for drugs. If you’re traveling with a dog of your own, make sure to communicate this, especially if your dog (like our dog) doesn’t do well with other dogs on the boat.

I’ll be posting more about our preparations for Cuba and I’d love to hear from any of you who’ve sailed there. Did you go into Hemingway? Did you sail the south coast and enter at Cienfuegos? Did you go in at Varadero? Leave us a comment.


Planing the next sailing trip on our Yacht


What a few crazy couple of weeks we’ve had aboard V. It won’t settle down too much either, as Mel begins her book (hint, hint) and we start to discuss how to drop the bow lines and do some sailing. After much debate and most likely even more debate, We’re making a plan for next fall.

Yes, we know all too well that making a plan while on a sailboat is like inviting Murphy to dinner, but we’re doing it anyway. For the last four years, we’ve running up and down the east coast as we finished up with work commitments and did some updating on the boat.

This is our last summer to do any of that. We’ve made a pact and pinky swears that this coming fall, we are leaving. Come hell or high water, and most likely both, we’re pushing off. I’m posting our ambitious routes right here and now.

I know it’s nine months away but time is flying, and as we prepare for a busy summer of book releases, a little dreaming goes a long way in us remaining sane. Ideally, we’d love to spend next Christmas with family and then shortly after the first of the year, January 2017, get-out-of-Dodge.

The Jet-pack (our beloved K-9) is in for a rude awakening and in order to soften the blow, and get all four of those sea legs adjusted as gently as possible, the first jump would be the 200 mile run from St. Pete to the Dry Tortugas. We’ve always wanted to see Fort Jefferson and I wanna see some giant grouper!

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Dry Tortugas National Park

The next leg would be over to Havana. Cuba has been on my “must see list” for years. Yes, I have mixed feelings about supporting the current regime but my ultimate hope is that the Cuban people will benefit from the relaxed sanctions in relatively short order.

We all know what will happen once the flood gates open and Carnival Cruise Lines gets permission to blast holes in the reef to get their massive ships in, McDonalds and Starbucks appear on every corner and Walgreens “domesticates” historic buildings so they can sell sun block and condoms. That is where I’m conflicted.

I’m aware that saying I wanna see Cuba before it gets ruined might equate to some people as me saying I wanna see Cuba while it’s population struggles and exists under an oppressive government. But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

What I’m truly saying is, that I wanna see Cuba before it’s population gets inundated with processed foods that don’t nourish them, instead poisons them. I wanna see Cuba before it gets scammed into allowing huge corporations to buy their way into an almost pristine eco system, and dash it to bits. I wanna see Cuba while it’s population has no clue about the Kardashians.


If there is one positive that emerges from the way the Cuban government has chosen to operate for the last half a century, it’s that the country hasn’t been strip mined, clear cut and raped for its resources. Cuba has one of the last remaining pristine eco systems on the planet. That has to be worth something.

Their culture hasn’t been diluted. We don’t need more cruise ships dumping thousands of gallons of shit and plastic into the world’s oceans. We need undisturbed forests, birds, dolphins and clean beaches. We need less corruption and more consciousness. And we need that all over the world.

My tangent is finished. Back to the blog… the blog… breathe… 10, 9, 8, 7, …

After a spell in Havana (he says in his best NPR voice), we’d make (try to make) the windward slog east to Varadero for a few days before jumping into the stream and up to check in at Cat Cay. Up ’til now, both routes are the same but this is where we things start to change.

Plan A (in red) has us noodling around Eluthera and the Exumas for a while (possibly down to the Turks), then heading back over to Lauderdale, down Hawks Channel, around the Keys and back to St. Pete for Hurricane season beginning June 1. This could also change. Maybe we leave the Bahamas and sail to the Chesapeake Bay and summer there.

Take me to the Bridge!
Take me to the Bridge!

Plan B has us leaving Cat Cay for Chub Key and then bouncing down through the Elutheras and Exumas at a little faster clip. Not spending too much time but making way for the Turks and Caicos for an arrival around the end of April or first of May. That gives us February and March and some of April to do the 400 miles or so from Cat Cay to the Turks. Doable? I think so. The winter trades blow pretty heavily during this time and I know it can be a bit of a waiting game.

If we get to the Turks in that time frame, we’d like to make the run through the windward passage to Port Antonio, Jamaica, then to Negril and the Cayman Islands.

I don’t really care to see the Cayman Islands, it would basically be a stop off on the way to Roatan, Honduras. It’s about 620 miles from Negril to Roatan. It’s about 400 miles from Grand Cayman to Roatan. That would be a weather window decision.

At this point, we’d likely be towards the middle or end of April. The rest of plan B would be from Roatan to Belize and up to Isla Mujeres before doing the 400 miles or so to St. Pete. Or… down to Panama for hurricane season.

Very ambitious that plan B… we know. I do love the idea of the Bahamas, but I’m not a guy who can lay around all day at anchor for weeks on end. I gotta do stuff! A couple weeks snorkeling, swinging in hammocks and drinking beer and I’m about done. Get me some wind in the sails and a new port of arrival.

That’s why I don’t see us languishing in the Bahamas for months on end. If the weather was cooperative (laughing out loud as I even dare to type that phrase), I’d like to think we’d be moving. Of course, we don’t wanna rush either. The whole reason to get over to the Bahamas is to chill out and relax. I get that.

Melody and I will probably change this plan a dozen times before next December and that’s the way it goes on a boat. It comes down to finances and what we get done this summer. The tags on our car expired next January 31. We are not renewing those damn tags. We’re not. Gonna. Do-it.

So what do you think? Drop us a line and let us know.