Sailing to Cuba Is a Hot Topic at the Miami Boat Show

Cayo las Brujas, Cuba.EXPAND
Cayo las Brujas, Cuba.
Guillaume Baviere via Flickr Creative Commons

Sailing to Cuba — that's the hot topic in the boating world these days.

So the tent was packed full yesterday at the Strictly Sail Miami boat show at Bayside Marketplace, where Wally Moran gave a talk explaining how cruisers and sailors can best explore the Communist island. Moran is a Canadian who has been living aboard his boat for 14 years and has written a book called the Cruising Guide for Cuba. (He had to change the name from Forbidden... Forbidding Cuba after Obama announced relaxed travel restrictions in December 2014.) He has sailed to the island three times. 

Though the U.S. embargo remains, Americans may legally travel to the island provided they qualify for a license under one of 12 classifications such as religious trips and "support for the Cuban people."

"If you can't figure out how to qualify for one of these, you're not trying," Moran says. Visitors may stay for two weeks and bring back no more than $400 worth of goods. 

Boaters still need to apply for a Coast Guard "permit to enter Cuban territorial seas" using a Form 3300. The biggest administrative problem for boaters may be finding boat insurance that will cover any damages incurred in Cuba, Moran says. He recommended trying Lloyd's of London for that. 

Beyond that, Moran says that the trip across the Florida Straits is not for beginners, but it's doable for anyone with a reasonably solid boat "and reasonable skills." 

Most people head straight to the government-run Hemingway Marina, just west of Havana, where there are about 150 usable slips. There, Moran says, visitors can exchange American dollars to convertible pesos ($1 = 87 cents). 

Good navigational aids like channel markers exist wherever there is commercial and military shipping but not in other places. Thus, it's easy to hit shallow bottom or coral reefs —- Moran even went aground on his first trip. 

Approaching the marina, he says, one's boat will be boarded and inspected — by usually friendly authorities and dogs that sniff for drugs. 

There are three things boaters should be careful about packing: guns (authorities will confiscate them but return them when boaters depart the country), drugs, and pornography. ("Those will land you in jail," Moran says.) He warns that the Cuban government monitors phone calls and emails from near the marina. 

Once cleared to enter, Moran says, boaters can easily hop from harbor to harbor. He found the Cuban people accommodating and friendly to cruisers. Boaters can tie up at any marina or anchor out, but it's illegal to leave a boat without someone on it, he says, because authorities believe Cubans would jump on and flee the island. Fishing is amazing because "there's no real pressure on the fishing stock." 

"You don't need to bring rum," Moran says. "You don't need to bring beer." Both are cheap and readily available. But he recommends visitors pack plenty of toilet paper. ("It's $3.50 a roll if you can find it at the marina," he warns.) 

Here are the U.S. Treasury Department's answers to frequently asked questions about Cuba travel.

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