Saturday, July 9, 2016

Day 1: On the Way To Cuba

Day 1 On the Way To Cuba!

By Jon A. Siewers

Our first article, published in January, 2016, at Telltale Magazine, and published last week here on the blog (below), related to the requirements of going to Cuba by boat.  This article, I am passing on our adventures of sailing across the 112 nautical miles from Key West to Marina Hemingway, outside and west of Havana, Cuba.  Next month, Renne’ will be submitting her article on her adventures while presenting to primary schools in Cuba with our friends, Barbara and Doug Schindler.

It was an adventure just getting ready to cross!  Renne’ and I have been cruising on and off, based in Key West, for five years.  The issue today is the fact we haven’t really sailed much on JonNe’, our sailboat, in the past year.  The other reasons; family, other boat friends, and our continued European adventures with our friends, Doug and Barb Schindler.  Yesterday, we were finally able to get JonNe’ underway, living the dream all of those boating magazines talk about, sailing to Cuba.  Oh, and spending our children’s inheritance. 

Most of the following repairs were pretty routine.  All cruisers spend time while approaching our departure dates ensuring our boats are safe, sound, and sea-worthy.

In preparation for this crossing, we began with the boat on the hard in a local boat yard, to change a seacock (shut-off valve) that had broken while we we  While we were out of the water, we decided to paint the bottom of the boat with new copper infused paint to inhibit the growth of barnacles and vegetative growth.  It had been three years, and although it could have waited a year, we went ahead and completed the bottom job in order to avoid the expense of hauling JonNe’ out of the water in another year.  The zinc’s on the prop shaft and hull were replaced to prevent galvanic corrosion.  We spent $1,100 for that escapade!  What do they say about BOAT (Bring Out Another Thousand)!  LOL!
re underway north to Annapolis, Maryland.

Then the fuel tanks required cleaning. 
While in The Bahamas in 2014, we picked up junk in our tanks which clogged our fuel lines at least a dozen times on our way up the East Coast and back down to Key West.  We DID NOT want our engine shutting down unexpectedly enroute or returning from Cuba.  There are NO reliable boat services with any spare parts in Cuba, or the services of TowBoat US.  There went another $350.

Our goal has always been to be totally self-sufficient, except for propane and diesel fuel.  Our water-maker has been on the fritz, so thinking it was the element that converts salt water to fresh water, we purchased another on to replace the old one, which had not been used in a year.  Another $450, and that was on sale!

The generator was turned on to ensure it was working.  The impeller was destroyed, so I cleaned the torn-up rubber pieces from the heat exchanger hose, and installed a new impeller.  Not that much, maybe $30, as it is a spare part we carry aboard, and it was in stock.  That just means, before our next trip, we will have to replace the stock missing now.

The batteries appeared to be shot, as the new MasterVolt 100 amp battery charger we installed two years ago, failed last August while we were away from the boat.  So before departing for Cuba, I wanted to ensure the batteries held a charge in order to handle hours of load from the refrigerator, freezer, autopilot, radar, and chart plotter, while we were sailing.  I pulled two of our four-6volt batteries (85lbs apiece) and drove them down to our “favorite” marine hardware store on Stock Island outside of Key West.  The load meter indicated the batteries were still good, so back to the boat we went, hauling the batteries from the car back to the boat, and reinstalled them.  We had borrowed the load tester from the store, avoiding having to pull the other two batteries out of their home under our bed in the aft stateroom.  They tested good also, so we delivered the tester back to the store, thankful we were spending another $1,900 for new batteries.

Additionally, I changed the oil in the engine and generator and checked the antifreeze level.  Doug and I replaced the navigation lights from the old style to new LED’s as well as some of the main wiring.  Unfortunately, with only a day left before departure, we were able to get our bow lights working, the stern light remains today, inoperable.  Fortunately, we have a tri-color light on the top of the mast that works well, so we use the deck-mounted navigation lights as a backup.  ($375 more).

Doug and our friend in the slip next to us, Johnnie Poole, hauled me up the mast to reconnect the random wire antenna for our Single Side Band (SSB) radio that had come down. 

With this last task successfully accomplished, that left a trip to the grocery store for provisions for two to three weeks.  Few Americans have sailed to Cuba in the whole scope of things, and we weren’t sure what foods and supplies might be available there.  We certainly were aware that if there were favorite foods we liked to eat, we needed to take those with us, so off we went to the store.  Doug and I do well shopping together, and we have much experience doing so from our trips to Europe to sail with Doug and Barb.  I have been on a diet lately, and wanted to ensure we had plenty of apples and bananas in supply, despite the old mariner’s warning of NEVER carrying bananas aboard a boat!!

I felt pretty accomplished when we departed the slip with Barb and Doug on our adventure. 

We had previously filed and received our Coast Guard Application CG-3300 (Application For Permit To Enter Cuban Territorial Seas) to go to Cuba. I had re-filed just days before our departure when we discovered we weren’t going to leave on the day we had applied for initially.  We are only allowed 14 days from our date of departure from South Florida to our date of return to South Florida.  What we found out later was, applicants have a 72-hour window from the approved date of departure for weather purposes without re-filing.  If you submit your application (CG-3300), but change your crew, then you are required to re-file your application regardless.  A friend inquired, if you delay your departure, does the Coast Guard allow you to modify your stay on the back end of your trip so you can enjoy the full 14 days.  I asked, and the answer was, “Yes”.  The changes were all down to the wire, but we left Key West with our paperwork intact by email, and printed in hard copy to share with our destination Customs Officials.

Things you might want to look into before departing:

     1)   Contact the Cuban marina, by email, to reserve your slip.  They probably won’t answer, but that does not mean they did not receive it, nor that they aren’t expecting you.
      2)   Create a crew-list of who is on your crew, passport #’s, birth dates, and crew position.
     3)   Notify the Coast Guard on Channel 16 upon your departure with your authorization number and your intended destination.
     4)   File a Float Plan with a relative, as well as signing up for the Local Boater’s Option card through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service.

Our Departure

At 1000 Monday morning, we departed the slip at our marina in Key West, headed south for the northern coast of Cuba.  We hadn’t even left our departure channel, a mile from the marina, when the engine shut down.  I couldn’t believe it!  I opened the engine compartment, knowing it was the center fuel tank that kept clogging that was causing the problem.  I know I was going to have to quickly change the tank we were drawing from quickly to avoid being blown into the shallows adjacent to the channel.  With Renne’ at the helm, Barb and Doug set the jib and staysail to keep us moving in a positive direction.  I had my own job to contend with.  I immediately noticed the lack of sound coming from the external fuel pump.  Thinking it was an electrical problem, I began troubleshooting with a voltage meter to find the problem.  45 minutes later, I found a simple solution to a simple problem.  The lead wire for the pump had become disconnected, and I was able to resolve that issue.  The pump came on and the engine started with no effort.  We were sailing, and pulling into the wind, we raised the main, fell off to a port broad reach with 16 knots of wind off our aft quarter. 

We secured the engine and anticipated 20 hours of pure sailing.  We weren’t even over the reef on our way to deep water, when Renne’ informed me the autopilot had shut down unexpectedly.  She was now sailing the boat manually.  Hmmm!  I immediately dropped down below, expecting the battery charge to be well over 12.5 volts.  Instead, they registered less than 12 volts.   5 minutes later, the chart-plotter shut down with all of the support instruments.  The batteries were not holding up their end of the bargain. I started the engine, and two minutes later, we were back on line with the autopilot and chart-plotter.  As we were making 7.2 knots over the water, with winds that had risen to 22 knots, I felt the winds were overpowering the boat, so we reefed the main sail down by a third, and furled in a third of the high-footed Yankee jib (forward sail).  Within minutes, we made the decision to completely furl the jib in, so we were making way under staysail, reefed main, and the engine running just enough to keep the batteries charged.  We were motor-sailing, once again, rather than sailing just under the power of sails.  That however, is the plight of cruising on a sailboat:  50% motoring, 15% sailing, 15% motor-sailing, and 20% sailing when you should be motoring.  That old 85%-15% rule crops up repeatedly with us on short sail legs!

By this time, the boat speed had settled in at 5.8-6.2 knots. 
With that speed, we would be arriving in Cuba before sunrise on Tuesday.  Jeez, then we would have to heave-to once we arrived and wait for sunrise before entering the very narrow channel into Marina Hemingway.  My theory; go fast, get there first, then worry about what to do!

Nice ride, out over the reef under Hawk Channel, and now into deep blue water.  Nice rolling swells, knowing full well, when we hit the Gulf Stream, with easterly winds against an east flowing current of 2-2.5 knots, we were in for some 3-4 foot waves, after sunset, against our beam.  We checked out with the Coast Guard, on Channel 16, said goodbye to other friends who called to wish us well, and wondered about how soon we would hit the current.

Our initial route took us out on a heading of 214 degrees southwest, so we were expecting waves on our port all the way to Cuba. 
We only saw 5 ships the entire trip.  AIS (Automatic Information System) was working initially.  It reports our position and name to other ships, and reports them to us.  We know who is around us, where they are, and at what speed and time they might be in conflict with our route.  It routinely works out to 15 nautical miles in diameter around us. It definitely lets you relax a bit more when you know whom the players are when you are on the open water.  The first ship we saw was a cruise ship entering Key West Channel.  Our route took us right across their stern as we passed behind them.  The AIS hadn’t picked them up right away.  I began wondering about that, A LOT!  As it turned out, the other ships we saw weren’t being picked up well either.  Our only conclusion on that was the antenna connections may need to be cleaned.  All worked flawlessly previously.

Renne’ complained of a diesel smell emanating from the engine room.  I checked the fuel connections and couldn’t immediately find the source of the smell.  We opened the windows and hatches and had no problem after that, or so we thought.  The engine ran smoothly the entire way across.  Night fell at about 1845 (6:45pm). Sundown was beautiful.  Light patch clouds, with winds still spritely blowing 18-21 knots.  Renne’ and I have always put the following axiom into practice:  Reef EARLY, reef ALOT before nightfall.  It is a practice that has never failed us.  We might loose some time with slower speeds, but if you aren’t racing, we believe sailors should sail safely when possible.  Getting out on the deck after dark to shorten your sails doesn’t make sense very often.  As the sails had previously been reefed, by loosening the main sheet a bit, we stabilized the boat, creating a smoother ride.  No additional modifications were required.  The moon rose full and bright. The waves had built from 3-4 foot to 4-5 foot, which had been forecast and expected.  The timing between each wave (or period) was 5-6 seconds, so even the tallest wave swept us up and over with little difficulty or discomfort.  We had been rocking and rolling all day, and any loose items in the boat, which had not been securely tied down or stowed, had long been taken care of.  As this was just an overnight sail, we didn’t have a formal watch schedule set.  Renne’ had prepared a roast chicken soup with mixed vegetables prior to departing the marina for a hot meal, without having to spend too much time in the galley.  It was a bumpy ride, and we were permanently healed to starboard, so without her efforts prior to leaving, we would have been relegated so something cold to eat instead.

Surprisingly, we really didn’t feel any effect of the Gulf Stream until we were 49 nautical miles north of the Cuba shoreline.  We had been able to mostly stay on a decent line directly toward our goal without too much of a heading change.  However, by this point, we were heading 30-35 degrees farther west of our desired heading and not keeping on course.  We were slipping east more than we wanted.  We knew we could correct for that change as we were approaching the shoreline, but still, we knew the strength of the current was playing a significant part in our travels.  The route I had planned was to a waypoint some 12 nautical miles west of the entrance to Marina Hemingway.  A mountain of clouds covered the moon.  By 0100 on Tuesday, the rain squalls began with Barb and I in the cockpit. 
Although it was only 15 or so minutes long until it had blown over, everything in the cockpit got wet.  I had re-sprayed both of our foul-weather coats with 3M’s Scotch Guard.  Mine did well, but Barb, in Renne’s coat, complained she was still getting wet inside.  When the squall passed, the wind shifted some 30 degrees to south, and our boat speed slowed with the drop in wind speed.  Remember the axiom of reefing sails?  When the winds dropped and shifted, I was sorely tempted to get our and shake out the sails and restore them to full power.  I have gotten into trouble previously for doing just that, and it took all I could muster not to fall into that trap!  Sure enough, within the next hour, we were back up to 21 knots of wind, well controlled, and banging away with confused 3-foot waves.  They weren’t all coming from the aft, port quarter.  Sleep, when we were off shift, was welcome, but because of the confused seas, it was hard to come by.  The night watches weren’t more than 2 hours long, and are always hard to do on the first night of any cruise cycle.  As a matter of fact, it might take several days to get into a well-run watch schedule, so this was not unexpected, nor was the tiredness we felt when we finally arrived.

Sunrise came with clear skies again. 
We were 12 miles out from Cuba, but progressing at only 3.8-4.4 knots.  We weren’t making much way, but we had 2-1/2 hours still once daylight came to reach our next mark.  Conditions change.  In reality, I knew we needn’t concern ourselves about our speed or arrival time when we first began.  Things rarely materialize as they are imagined early in the trip.

The wind clocked around to the forecast 170 degrees, and was now 60 degrees off our port bow.  It was a nice easy close reach.  A call down to Doug and Renne’ turned into the wind.  We struck the mainsail.  Oh, I forgot, while raising the main initially, I had loosened the leeward lazy jack to allow the main to rise without obstruction.  Not thinking, I released the line rather than re-securing it to its cleat. That whole system came down, fortunately, I had a stopper knot in the end of it, and all we have to do tomorrow, or sometime, is run Renne’ up the mast to retrieve it. Can you say STUPID?!?!?

We tied down the sails and left the staysail for stability.  Headed directly to the entrance channel for Marina Hemingway we motored directly into the wind.

The entrance buoy for the channel to the marina is difficult to see until you are almost on top of it. 
There is a specific warning about large waves from the north or northeast across this channel.  This could seriously be a challenge for both boat and crew. 
The channel markers, although well placed just outside of the channel, are easy to see, but appear a bit less robust than those we see in the States.  One of our two cruising guides is Nigel Calder’s “Cuba, A Cruising Ground” we consulted for entrance instructions.  His book and the new Waterway Guide, “Cuba Bound”, both warn of hazardous conditions in bad waves.  You could easily find your boat up on the entry reef.  Check your weather carefully prior to making the crossing, only to find entry to Marina Hemingway a difficult and hazardous task.

As it was, our waves were 1 foot and winds were out of the south.  A very manageable transit.  We were able to enter the channel easily.  Calder’s book, published in 1999, shows the Customs Office prior to making the 90-degree turn toward the marina.  Today, you make the left turn at the marker at the end of the channel and tie up at the very BLUE official looking building.    You won’t miss the place.
There are cleats on the bulkhead and plenty of depth.

Check in was pretty painless.  The Customs folks speak little or NO English.  The Customs Officer and a female physician arrived shortly after our arrival.  Prior to boarding, Customs asked for our visas.   The Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC does not issue visas for US citizens entering Cuba.  It took a few minutes to realize what he was asking for, however, when he understood we had none, he came back with appropriate paperwork and boarded the boat.  Be prepared with your boats papers and up to date passports for each individual, and as Captain of the boat, I handled that end of the business.  As he filled out his paperwork, we filled out the visa and customs declaration forms, and the doctor took our temperatures (with digital, infra-red thermometers) and asked about our current health issues.  The doctor asked to see our heads, refrigerator, and any filters.  We visited each of our two heads, and I was required to show and demonstrate the fact the heads were pumping to a holding tank rather than overboard.  I showed her our filtering system (three 4” x 10” household filters) for our drinking water and that our refrigeration/freezer were working properly.  I am not sure what her intentions were had we not had a filter system aboard, nor could I ask with my limited Spanish vocabulary.  With the completion of both inspections, I, as Captain, signed my life away as I signed both officers paperwork.  A new Customs Officer boarded asking for firearms and flare guns.  There were no firearms, but we do keep three flare guns aboard, which were secured in the bag they are stored in with special tape identifying them as secured by Customs.

We then entered the Customs Office, two at a time.  We didn’t realize we were going to have our pictures taken.  I hadn’t shaved in three days and Renne’ hadn’t combed her hair.  In general, we were looking pretty tired and unkempt.  Not necessarily the image I wanted to give as Americans entering their country.  But, then who cares!  Doug and Barb came in next, and we laughed when they were caught in the same way!  We eventually received our Despacho Certificate, indicating we were free to go.  Doug had only run the yellow Quarantine Flag up the starboard messenger line once we arrived at the dock.  Once we had the Despacho, we took down the “Q” and raised the Cuban flag, with the point of the white star facing UPWARD! 

We were assigned a slip in the nearest slipway next to the ocean.  We tried to object, however, the Customs Officer was adamant we were to go there.  Renne’ piloted the boat over to the slipway.  I took over to turn the boat around so we would be facing outbound in the even we needed to leave unexpectedly for weather.  We didn’t want to have to turn around while others were doing the same.  I found the steering difficult to control.  Murphy’s Law hit us one more time before landing.  The steering cable came off the rudder quadrant just as we were making the final turns to bring the boat along side the quay.

Fortunately, several harbor dock-hands were available to help us tie up to the quay.  An electrician made the final connection to the power post with our 110 volt/50-amp shore power cables.  It worked well.  We were tied up and hooked up quickly.

Two Agricultural Inspectors boarded after securing the boat.  I, as Captain, once again showed them below decks.  No other crewmembers were allowed below while doing this.  They counted all of our fruits and vegetables and recorded it all.  They were ensuring now fresh produce was being brought into the country to grow.  I was also informed no vegetation was to be thrown out that might contaminate their country.  I was immediately told, from the other side of the coin, garbage was collected every morning outside of the boat.  With all of the paperwork completed for them, I was asked to bring my passport and ships papers to the Harbor Master’s office.  I found the Agricultural Officer and the Harbor Master both fluent in English and very friendly.  I was asked for a tip for both Agricultural Officers prior to leaving the boat.  One of the Cuba guidebook says DON’T, but four US dollars ended up in each of their hands before leaving the boat.

All in all, it was an adventurous trip across!!  Fortunately all of the issues that occurred were easily handled while enroute or upon arrival in Cuba.  I had brought all of the spares required to fix the issues as they came up.  It would have been nice if Renne’ and I had had some time or taken the time to do a dry run thru at an anchorage somewhere before Doug and Barb arrived, but projects had to be completed.  Several paradoxes came to mind:  1) We had to pump to the holding tank, but there are NO pump-out facilities for your holding tank.  So we opened the thru-hull as sailors have done all over the Caribbean and Europe.  We were bad stewards of the environment, however the marina circulates seawater well with daily tidal changes, so I was less worried about that.  2) If I can’t dispose of fresh vegetable and fruit garbage to prevent contamination of the environment, what were we supposed to do?  How do you peel carrots, apples, potatoes, cucumbers, or seed jalapeno and green/red/yellow/orange peppers? So any fresh scraps went into the garbage anyway.  3) What if we hadn’t had refrigeration, but relied on ice?  There were no ice options available.  And, 4) What if we had filled the holding tank?  With no pump out station, would we have been turned around and sent home?  Questions, questions, questions!  All to be answered at another time!

We are looking forward to our trips around Cuba and our trips to the schools!  We want to learn all we can!  Then looking forward to our return trip to Key West!  On the way back, though, NO BANANAS!!  For now, here we are, ready to expand our minds!

Friday, July 1, 2016


So, you want to go where few have gone before (legally) in the past 50 years . . . .

The goal has been on our minds for years, and this past February/March, 2016 we were able to realize our dream.  My wife, Renne’, and I are cruising live-aboards on our sailboat, “JonNe”, based at a Key West marina. The Southernmost Point of the United States is marked by a multi-colored concrete-encased buoy indicating the distance from Key West to Cuba of only 90 miles.  When you consider the closeness, you immediately know why activity there, for the United States Navy, was hot and heavy during the Kennedy Years and the famed Bay of Pigs!

On the other hand, without a single WalMart in all of the Florida Keys, it is more surprising that it is farther from our marina to the nearest WalMart , at 112 miles, than it is to Havana.  It really drives home the fact that we are very close at hand to our nearest neighbors.

In October, 2015, with the relaxation of restrictions by the Obama Administration we became serious about traveling to Cuba in 2016. We want to get south as soon as possible, before hordes of boats from the United States destroy the charm and uniqueness of this Caribbean jewel.

I spent hours researching how to get there, what requirements to meet, what permissions to acquire, and where to go.  We have heard  Cuba is not anywhere near ready to handle the volume of boats expected to descend upon it in the next few years.  With that, we filed for our license through the Department of Commerce (DOC) for permission to go.

While preparing to leave Key West and driving back to Kemah, Texas, a seminar was scheduled on Saturday, November 6th, sponsored by the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, located in the Swimming Hall of Fame, on the topic of travel to Cuba by boat, put on by the maritime law firm, Moore & Company[i], and presented by the Principal Owner, Michael Moore.

Upon arrival, we met Lisa Greenberg-Ferrero, Principal Owner of Pacific Bound Yachts, specializing in managing the bureaucratic and regulatory issues involved in international luxury yacht travel.  Discussing our DOC filing , she informed us the need to file had been discontinued.  Needless to say, we were surprised and a bit suspicious of the comment.   She informed us about her business, and  her extensive knowledge of regulatory affairs.   We entered the seminar with a focus on  finding out the MAJOR stumbling blocks in going to Cuba.

So this is what we found out!  She was correct! 

On December 3, 2015, we received the following confirmation from the Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control:

“To the extent that the proposed travel transactions described in your request fall within the scope of one of the above-referenced general license provisions, you may proceed without further authorization from OFAC.”

Therefore,  travel to Cuba by boat (recreational or commercial) is approved without premise as long as boaters fall within the twelve categories.   However, general tourism is STILL restricted!

Below are the twelve categories stipulated by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), Cuba; Section 515.560[ii]:

      1)     Family Visits
      2)     Official Business of the US Government
      3)     Journalistic Activity
      4)     Professional Research and Professional Meetings 
      5)     Educational Activities
      6)     Religious Activities
      7)     Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and Other Competitions and Exhibitions
      8)     Support of the Cuban People
      9)     Humanitarian Projects
      10)  Activities of Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutes
      11)  Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information or Informational Materials
      12)  Certain Export Transactions

Failure of falling into one of these categories may result in a fine. It is important to document your travels.  One of the recommendations is to keep a log for five years of the 5 W’s:

1     1)   Who you see
2     2)   What your purpose was
3     3)   Where you traveled to
4     4)   When you traveled there
5     5)   Why you traveled there

The only paper requirements for entry into Cuba as of this publication are:
1)   A valid passport with at least 6 months remaining in validity
      2)   Two blank pages available for the entry visa
     3)   Coast Guard form CG-3300 Application For Permit To Enter Cuban Territorial Seas[iii]


Finding a company to get boat and/or heath insurance though has not easy.  While we found it difficult to locate a company that would insure us, however, we have found Kevin Severence Insurance, (281)-333-3100.  There are no amendments to your normal coverage, so it might be best to coordinate your new coverage with the expiration date of your existing coverage.

Living Expenses

All living expenses related to your specific category are permitted.  As an American, however, domestic credit cards cannot be processed, as there is no bank in the U.S. that has a current fiduciary arrangement with Cuba.  Therefore, all transactions have to be carried out in cash.  However, no U.S. currency is permitted to be traded for products or services in Cuba.  In fact, there is an 18% tax by the Cuban Government in addition to the cost of the transaction – and that goes for both the sell and the buy in exchanging currency.

So, an alternative might be to convert American currency to one that can easily be used in Cuba.  As Americans are the only citizens that are currently restricted, world currencies such as the Euro or Canadian Dollars, easily converted at most American banks, would be appropriate.  Check the conversion rates available and make your decision based on the exchange rate that makes the most sense.

Two currencies exist in Cuba:  One local and one for foreign travelers.  The Cuban National Peson (CUP) is what local workers are paid.  The CUP is the currency used to buy basic staples (food, clothes, and other products used in local households).  We chose to purchase some CUPs so we could shop in local stores predominately frequented by Cuban residents.  We ended the two weeks with the same amount we began with (see next paragraph), so we used the CUPs as tips for people around the marina.

The second currency, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), is the luxury currency reserved for use with foreigners to Cuba.  All transactions by for tourists were in this currency.  We found it didn't matter what the purchase (food, entertainment, etc.) was.  Expenses like marina costs, higher end restaurants, repair goods and services, imported products, as well as medical care are examples where the CUC is the preferred currency. As the exchange rate is far better than that of the CUP, NOONE wanted currency other than CUCs.

One suggestion – Take sufficient cash for purchases, services, goods, AND contingencies!  There is NO place to get cash if you run out!  No ATM’s, no bank advances, or check cashing privileges. 

In consideration that Americans are new visitors to Cuba, courtesy should be the norm when dealing with Cuban citizens.  You have all heard stories of what we call “Ugly Americans”.  These citizens tend to believe that Americans know all there is, and if language barriers, customs, or traditions cause frustration, they tend to become obnoxious and less than positive representatives of who Americans really are.  Recommendations for courteous behavior begin with:

1) Don’t expect everyone to speak English.  In Havana, you are likely to find a few individuals who speak some semblance of English.  Outside of the city expect few people to speak it.
2) Learn some basic Spanish phrases prior to arriving.  Good morning, afternoon, evening, or night; Thank you, please, You’re welcome; Where is the bathroom, hotel, marina, etc.; all are appropriate.
3)  1)   Carry a Spanish/English dictionary.  Most residents want to see us trying to communicate in their native language.  We found a book called "Spanish for Cruisers" an exceptional aid in communicating.
4)  TRY!
5)  Remember certain portions of the Boy Scout Oath – Be Helpful, Courteous, Kind, Cheerful, and Considerate.  These will take you a long way in any country you are visiting!
6)  Maintain a LOW profile!  Try NOT to stand out for any reason.
7)  Don't raise suspicions.  No Photographing harbors, military or military facilities, police, or government buildings.
8)  Remember, the Cuban people want you there!  The Cuban government is much less excited than you would think to have you there.  They want your cash, that is it!  It is the American government that is a bit on guard as these privileges are expanded.
9)  Know something about the country before you arrive. The Cuba Cruising Guide is available at no charge from Free Cruising Guides (iv)
10) Their current drive rates are LOW!  However, as Americans really begin finding reasons to visit Cuba, that will CHANGE!  One lady commented that the reason Cuba has a low crime rate is because they have no guns.  My thought is because NOONE wants to go to prison!  The prisons are horrible, the food is horrible, your treatment is horrible, and you won't be going home ANYTIME SOON!


Taxi’s are available in tourist and commercial areas.  The  licensed taxi’s are usually clean and reliable.  The American Antique Cars usually all are for hire, usually by an independent driver.  We made significant use of these.  They were fun to ride in, albeit, there was little suspension, all engines for the most part are diesels, and gas tanks may be under your seat, behind you, or in the engine compartment!  It is recommended to beware of sharing any information with the driver and strangers, and know where you want to go.  A little preplanning of your activities goes a long way.  Be prepared to negotiate your fare before you get in to the taxi.  We found a fare of 1 CUC per kilometer to be reasonable, however prices may have gone up since March, 2016 when we were there.  

Caution:  You WILL run into men called "Hinjeros".  These are the hucksters.  If you look like you are confused or a bit timid, you can be guaranteed they will come up beside you and promise to find what you want (for a price!!).  Most often, find the taxi, cigars, food, or alcohol YOURSELVES.  It could cost you a great deal to bargain through them.  We found a taxi offered at 75 CUCs to transport four of us into Havana through a Hinjero, but only cost us 10 CUC by bargaining for the price ourselves.

Buses come in two categories.  The buses designated for travel within or between cities appear appropriate.  The buses are plush, comfortable, and clean.  These buses are brand new, imported from China, and are top of the line.  The public buses should be avoided.  They are called Guaguas and you will know the difference immediately.

Medical Care

Medical care in Cuba does not meet American Standards.  Don’t expect it.  If you can wait, realize, medical care is available in Key West approximately 100 miles north of Havana.  If the patient can wait, depart the marina and proceed directly to Lower Keys Medical Center[v].  Alert the Coast Guard on Channel 16 if you feel it is necessary.

If the patient can’t wait for treatment, foreigners are directed to Circa Central Hospital.  Doctors and nurses are considered to be competent, but don’t expect U.S. quality.  Another consideration is an Air Ambulance service that will fly a patient out of Havana to Miami. 
Located in Fort Lauderdale, AirMed Air Ambulance Services already have privileges to fly in and out of the country.  Membership is currently $385.00 per year, per person[vi].  Reasonable even for only two weeks, as it covers anywhere, anytime for the year.

Remember, all transactions for medical care are in CUC and paid in CASH!

Medications/Health Hazards

As with all international travel, bring any prescriptions in the original container with YOUR name on it, the name of the prescription, and the prescribing physicians name and number.  For added protection, bring a letter from the prescribing physician(s) with an explanation for the need for the prescription .  Do NOT rely on pillboxes or sealed plastic bags.  Do NOT expect to find your medications available in pharmacies in Cuba.  Bring sufficient medications to last through possible unexpected delays.

Currently, there are no health hazards that are causing epidemics in Cuba.  However, some diseases may still affect you, and care should be taken to avoid certain maladies.

    1)   Diarrhea is common among travelers.  Scrupulous hand washing and use of hand sanitizers are strongly recommended.  The highest risk is through contaminated food and water.  Choose foods and beverages carefully.  Eat only foods that are cooked completely and served hot.  Avoid foods sitting out on buffet tables and raw vegetables and fruits unless YOU have washed them in fresh, clean water.  Also, drink only beverages in factory sealed containers to ensure cleanliness.
    2)   Dengue Fever is a mosquito borne illness with NO known treatment.  Symptoms include fever; rash; severe headache and joint, muscle, and bone pain.  Avoidance and prevention is the key to avoiding this debilitating disease.  Prevent mosquito bites by using a good mosquito repellent containing 20-30% DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon.
    3)   Zika Virus is showing up in all areas of the Caribbean and Southern states of the United States.  If you are pregnant, check with authorities to determine if there is an issue in Cuba
    4)  Cholera is transmitted through food and water contaminated by fecal matter.  Avoid ice and drinks from street vendors and water from the municipal water supplies, raw vegetables and fruit grown in water containing human waste, and raw or undercooked fish and seafood from contaminated water. Dehydration is the biggest concern.  Get medical treatment if symptoms persist.
    5)   Rabies is a virus transmitted from bites and scratches from dogs, cats, rats, and bats.  Other mammals may also be carriers, but all contact with suspicious animals MUST be taken seriously! Treatment should ONLY be sought in the U.S.

The last issues involve THE LAW


5)   Recreational equipment must be in keeping with the original category of intent.  i.e., why do you have SCUBA equipment if you are here to teach.
6)   Expect dog sniffing of your boat on entrance and exit from the country
7)   NO PHOTOGRAPHY of military or police installations or personnel, harbor, rail, or airport facilities.
8)   If you are a Cuban National – DON’T GO!
9)   You are allowed to take back $400 in merchandise, of which, only $100 may be alcohol or tobacco.

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