Next stop Jamaica!

If only the weather had stayed this way.

If only the weather had stayed like this.

If I do go back to Cuba, I will take a direct flight to Havana, stay in a hotel and see the country by hire-car. Oh, and buy my cigars at the airport when I leave.

These were my thoughts as I set off on my 350 nautical mile leg to Port Antonio, Jamaica.

On route I passed through the famous “Jardines del la Reina” or “gardens of the queen” consisting of numerous cays extending south-east from Cienfuegos for a distance of almost 80 NM. The name itself conjures up images of an idyllic paradise but the reality, (at least for this sailor), leaves much to be desired.

For some reason I’m not terribly fond of flat dry scrubby uninhabited islands strangled by muddy mangroves that swarm with mosquitoes…

I lean more towards islands of the lush mountainous variety, fringed with white sandy beaches, shady coconut palms and bikini clad beauties…

But if you are looking for isolated anchorages where weeks could pass before you see another boat, then Cuba will “suit you to a tee”.

Yacht Tata in Cuba

Yacht Tata in Cuba

I did see one yacht (off Cayo Bretón), as I sought shelter after a surprisingly turbulent start to my journey. And I am glad I did, because thanks to them I received a considerably more accurate weather forecast via HF radio than the one I had downloaded from the Internet.

Many thanks to the crew of Tata. I was so impressed that I’m considering how to squeeze in a HF transceiver on Eileen’s next refit.

The rest of my journey was happily uneventful.

“Gullibles Travels” in Cuba

Sunset in Cuba

Sunset in Cuba

I arrived in Cienfuegos on a Sunday. Taking a stylish 1950s taxi to town, my first stop was for money (how capitalist of me). To an ATM to be precise, so that I could withdraw CU (convertible dollars).

The typical Cuban car tourist photo

The typical Cuban car tourist photo

No luck… The machine kept the money and swallowed my credit card.

Let me digress a moment here to explain that tourist currency isn’t the same as local currency, and the CU purchasing power is a highly sought after commodity, even if it is not a necessity.

So much so that just about every scheme you can imagine (legal and otherwise), has evolved to obtain it. More on that later.

Feeling somewhat responsible for my evenings misadventure, my taxi driver promised to accompany me to the bank first thing in the morning.


Cienfuegos port, Cuba

Cienfuegos port, Cuba

Cashed up I spent the following day playing “tourist”, my taxi driver, “guide”. I offered to buy drinks, he offered to show me highlights of Cienfuegos, I bought lunch, he procured discount Cuban cigars (a must have souvenir).

All well an good.

I wandered all over town,

City centre, Cienfuegos

City centre, Cienfuegos

took some fabulous photos,

met the locals and


A typical Cuban girl?

satisfied that I’d had a glimpse of the real Cuba, prepared to leave.

Che Guevara?

Che Guevara?

Four officials waited to board Eileen of Avoca the morning of my departure. Two made their way inside and rummaged around taking particular interest in sundry electronic devices such as mobile phones, memory sticks and cameras. I have a collection, many don’t work, but that did not deter them from suggesting they were gifts.

Fair enough, I had no real use for them.

I was amazed at how quickly and with what practised ease these items vanished into jacket pockets.

When asked if I had bought cigars, I retrieved the boxes my driver had procured and that’s when the excitement started…

Apparently they were counterfeit and must be confiscated!

Who would have thought that you can buy fake Cuban cigars in Cuba?

Is there some factory in China producing them on mass and somehow smuggling them into the country?

Well apparently they were imitation “brand name” cigars. I’d bought the Cuban equivalent of fake Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses or a made in China Prada handbag.

Maybe they need to update their welcome...

Maybe they need to update their welcome…

I was not overly concerned at this point, but unfortunately customs were not satisfied with their newly acquired electronic gifts and counterfeit cigars. For when I returned to Eileen I found that the last of my Cuban cash, a USB memory stick, and a fishing lure (of all things) had also mysteriously disappeared.

That the officials conducting the search were responsible, I have no doubt. They conveniently made me leave Eileen before they did. Presumably so I would not see what transpired. But after living aboard a 23ft boat for so many years I can’t help knowing where and what is in it…, intimately.

A poor show Mr Fidel!

In my travels, officials have occasionally hinted at gifts, but never before have they blatantly stolen items from my boat.

What time is it?

What time is it?

I would still go back to Cuba, but never again with my boat, for the following four reasons:

  1. There is little to offer a single handed yachtsman in the numerous southern cays. What fun is a deserted scrubby island (or hundreds for that matter), when you sail alone?

  2. It is illegal to invite a local aboard your yacht. There goes my social life!

  3. And horror of horrors, you are not allowed to catch the local lobster. This is by far the most difficult prohibition to live with given that their consumption could almost be used as an unofficial unit of time here. “How long will you be staying at this anchorage?”… “Oh, about three or four lobsters…”

  4. You already know the fourth reason.

The sanitised version of Cuba

Cayo Largo, Cuba

Cayo Largo, Cuba

I arrived in Cayo Largo (my first official stop) a week after my departure from Mexico. Threading my way trough the various islets (against wind and current), was not easy and on more than one occasion I came within centimetres of running aground.

Lessons learnt?

Don’t try any of the passes at night… Even if apparently well lit.

It was quite a relief to moor at a real marina for a few days because I was utterly exhausted (there is no sleeping when sailing within a mile of the coast) and my provisions, fuel and water were running low.

Marina Cayo Largo

Marina Cayo Largo

It must have shown, because by the time I had put the boat in some semblance of order (and gone through the check-in process), a local sailor and his wife came by to provide me with a hot meal, cold bear, basic provisions and a promise of fresh fish in the morning. Their generosity was overwhelming, and I have difficulty remembering an occasion when I enjoyed a meal as much as I did at that moment. Thank you again Liviana!

Cayo Largo is a pleasant stopover, but it is not the real Cuba, at least as far as I’m concerned. It is a resort island filled with tourists on all-inclusive holiday packages from Italy and Canada. There is nothing here other than resorts and their associated infrastructure. Not even the workers live here (most are from Isla de la Juventud). There is no doubt that the staff are good at their jobs… Everyone, everywhere, is so nice.

But my more cynical side suggests the catalyst for such efficacy is access to hard currency. But I’ll ignore that detail for the moment…

If you have a week or two to spare from your hectic work schedule and want a place to relax and recharge the proverbial batteries, then this is the place!

Service second to none. Well done!

If you want to see a more authentic and less sanitised version of Cuba, then you will probably want to sail on… which isn’t necessarily the best thing to do, but it is what I did.. regardless.

From Mexico to Cuba

My first stop in Cuba, Cayos de San Fielipe

My first stop in Cuba, Cayos de San Fielipe

It took 48 hours to cross the Yucatan Channel and arrive at the anchorage of Cayos de San Fielipe, and I only just made it before a dreaded northerly!

Paddling ashore I met with the three station guardians and asked whether it was OK to anchor here a while to shelter from the weather.

Not only was it fine, but I was immediately invited to share a meal, watch baseball on TV and converse. Quite a welcome and despite my rather elementary Spanish by late afternoon we were all fast friends.

The new group of island custodians arrive

The new group of island custodians arrive

The workers here are on ten day shifts and I happened to arrive on their last day. By morning the supply boat had arrived with the new crew and I went through the introductions a second time.

Only this time it seems my commodities and cash were the ones being openly welcomed to Cuba.

After the sincere generosity of the former station custodians, I was more than happy to hand over the few small items that the new crew requested: a lighter, some rope, cigarettes and coffee.

The next morning they visited Eileen by row-boat loaded with their catch of the day, offering what I thought would be a fair exchange for my previous handouts.

The good and the bad

The good and the bad

How naive… 10 US dollars later I was again on my way to Cayo Largo. My first contact with the locals having produced decidedly contrary feelings.

A Cuban Yin and Yang?