Oh, decisions, decisions, decisions! A big part of our logic about spending this hurricane season in Tampa Bay is that we thought our next stop might be Cuba in November. Now I am reading about Cuba and I am having serious second thoughts.
Cuba has long been an attractive cruising destination for Canadians. Most of the Canadian cruisers we meet rave about sailing Cuba. Some Americans also sailed to Cuba. For Americans, they needed to go to at least one other country before returning to the USA. You see, when you arrive and enter the USA on a private boat the officials only ask about your previous port of call. They do not ask about the entire itinerary or logbook. When exiting the USA, they do not ask where you are going. People on private vessels can just leave. Some cruisers went to Cuba before they went to the Bahamas. The Cuban officials do not stamp American passports so, as long as they returned to the USA from the Bahamas, it appeared to US government that the Bahamas was the only port of call. This happened a lot. But now Cuba is opening up legally, more boaters are traveling there. And, the Cubans have caught on that Americans have no qualms about spending money and rarely haggle over prices. Knowing this, the price of taking a boat to Cuba has recently skyrocketed.
All private boats entering Cuba are required to check in at Marina Hemingway. This is also the only place available to dock a boat near Havana. Once checked in, a vessel can move from town to town but must deal with officials since check-out and check-in procedures apply to all stops while in Cuban waters. Our thought was to take Cream Puff to Marina Hemingway using the marina as a base as we traveled by land to the inner towns and cities. We thought about perhaps staying out occasionally in a hotel when exploring some of the more distant stops. At the time we planned to do this, the dockage rate was about $1,000 per month.
While baking in the summer Florida heat we started to plan our trip to Cuba. Cindy and I are pointing fingers at each other. Who the heck came up with the not so bright idea of spending the summer in Florida? Holy cow, it is so hot here! If we are Cuba bound, we need to do things like amend our boat insurance. boat insurance for Cuba is just now available from USA companies (in the past, the US Government prohibited USA insurance companies from underwriting a policy including Cuban waters – policy riders were available from other countries). We already have nautical charts of the area and I downloaded a free sailing guide of Cuba. We were sitting here dreaming of cooler November temperatures and being out on the water again. However, our planning quickly turned into questioning if the trip to Cuba was opportune.
I have recently been reading Active Captain reviews from other sailors about their experiences at Marina Hemingway. First and foremost: nothing works! We kind of expected this so it is not a surprise to read about other people’s frustrations. Wi-Fi is still in short supply and when it is available many sailors complained about the bandwidth being slow due to the large number of people on the system. Electrical outlets are hit and miss so shore power can be very iffy. Second: The Marina is hijacking sailors for more money. A boater recently posted that they had a contract with the marina for $936 for a month of dockage. At check out, the marina said they owed $4,030. No explanation was given for the change in price, English was suddenly not spoken and government authorities would not allow the vessel to depart until the bill was fully settled, in cash.
These sorts of reviews really make me rethink our plan. I have wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. But now, I am not so sure. It seems as though we might have missed the window of a once friendly cheap destination. The internet is full of people complaining that there are two prices in Cuba; one for Cubans and one for tourist, especially Americans. I’m not sure if I want to sign up to be another victim.