Sailing South to Cuba

…aaand we’re back! The last three weeks we’ve had a bit of culture shock as the Bueller crew departed Georgetown, Exumas and sailed straight south to the forbidden land of Cuba. With Obama’s  announcement in December last year that we made significant improvements in relations between the US and Cuba (LINK), we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit this beautiful country before making our way further east towards the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. We’re a little behind on posts as there was little to no internet there so let the storytelling begin.

Sailing to Cuba from Georgetown, Exumas

Although we ended up spending two more weeks in Georgetown than we planned because of our heat exchanger fiasco, we made good use of this time and by knocking out other boat projects while also gathering recommendations from fellow sailors on future destinations such as Cuba. With Cuba being only 150 miles south of Georgetown, there were a number of cruisers who had not only been here recently but who sail down every year.  They had plenty of useful nuggets to share that we’ll pass along so expect a future blog post with these as well as a few tips of our own added to the mix.

The closest Cuban Port of Entry to us in Georgetown was Puerto de Vita which is a very small town just 60 miles south of Hog Cay in the Ragged Islands, Bahamas. Even though it was crazy calm and we had to motor much of the way, it felt crazy good to be using the boat for its true purpose rather than just a floating motorhome. Our three day trip down to Hog was fairly uneventful minus a very shallow cut where we had to wait for a daylight high tide as the charts showed the max depth as 4.5ft which means that we should juuust be able to squeeze through with the tide. While waiting for the moon to approve our passage, we did a little spearfishing and snagged a lobster, two conch, and a large crab. The conchs and lobster made for a tasty meal but we felt bad about the crab and our matey Logan gifted him back to the sea as seen below

After a brief stop in Buena Vista Cay to create a very important treasure map, we sailed hard for Cuba and the morning of Thursday Feb 25th we finally spotted hazy green mountains just on our horizon. We had arrived!

Checking in at Puerto de Vita

Unlike cruising in the Bahamas, many other countries such as Cuba, the DR, and others are more restrictive and require you to check in and check out with the local customs authorities at each port. They typically don’t charge you extra money for each port you visit within their country but it does cost you extra time, paperwork, and allows for less flexibility (aka no “hey what’s that? let’s go there!”). Thus a combination of this extra hassle and the fact that the prevailing winds here were blowing strong out of the East made us decide to leave our trusty steed Bueller at a marina and explore the island (gasp!) by land.

After giving three separate welcome parties of officials a lovely tour of our vessel (complete with snacks and refreshments), we were finally given permission to set foot on Cuban soil and begin our adventure. In order to make sure we made it to the DR in time to pick up our incoming crew, we decided that we had two weeks to explore before we needed to start moseying. While we initially wanted to check out Havana on this visit, a quick glance at a map made us realize how enormous Cuba really is and we decided to pass on this 400+ mile trek each way. Armed with the advice of some sailors, a few locals, and some meager internets, we instead decided to focus our travels on the smaller cities of Holguin, Bayamo, Santiago, and Baracoa on the southeast end of the island over 10 days.

Santa Lucia

While figuring out our transportation situation we ended up hiring a local taxi driver named Omar who drove us to the neighboring town called Santa Lucia so we could get some of the local currencies (yes they have two) and swing by the Saturday farmers market to get some fresh produce to munch on while we schemed our next step.

Check out the photos of the action below and look for another post soon with more of our antics: