Cuba Travel

Shipwreck in Cuba - Cuban military hospitality

Posted August 27, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Travel.

By Ray Oliver |

As a lad growing up in Newcastle, England, I read the novels of Ernest Hemingway and imagined traveling the world, with Cuba being one of my dream destinations. After sailing the Atlantic in 2000, and landing in Barbados, I knew that one day I would have to travel north to see Havana for myself. This is the story of that misadventure.

My boat Cymar, an 11-meter Amel Kirk I bought 10 years previously in Port Carmargue, Southern France, carried me across the Atlantic. I cruised the Med with my wife, until she died six years ago. Since then, I have sailed alone most of the time.  A 66-year-old yacht master, I have worked for Sunsail in the Solent and Canaries during the summer months, returning to Cymar to winter in the Caribbean.
After a bout with cancer in summer 2001 and a subsequent successful recuperation, I was fit to sail my lovely boat again. Cuba here I come!

I sailed through St. Martin, the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One of my favourite places in the Caribbean is Luperon, near Puerto Plata. I spent some time there and so didn&#xu2;019t make it to Cuba that year. Luperon was a safe, cheap place to leave the boat, so I returned to England to build up the sailing kitty.

Cymar on the hard, North Coast of Cuba.

I set sail for Cuba on January 8, 2004. Good trade winds and currents took me northwest, but within a few days, a cold front with strong north winds and big swells was forecasted, so I didn&#xu2;019t stop in Haiti as planned. I sailed two good days and nights along the coast of the Dominican Republic, Haiti then on to Cuba

Exhausted, I arrived in Baracoa, which, according to my pilot book, was a port of entry. As I was dropping anchor there, the Cuban Port Authority ordered me to leave and go to Puerto de Vita, the new port of entry. After explaining my need for sleep and that foul weather was expected, they allowed me to stay for a few hours. Next morning, they ordered me to leave, despite bad weather.

After an exhausting day and night in enormous swells, I was still about six miles from my way point to Puerto de Vita. The mainsail snagged as I tried to reef it in, and the boat drifted inshore without my realizing. Motor sailing was difficult, as the waves repeatedly pummeled Cymar and thrust her across a reef. With the cockpit awash, I ran aground about 50 meters from shore.

Mayday! Mayday! I grabbed bag, money and passport and had to leave my beloved Cymar at 9 am on Monday, January 12.


Member Comments

On August 28, 2007, cubanpete wrote:

It seems that the age-old Caribbean tradition of piracy is alive and well.  Government-sanctioned, at that.  Mariners beware; here there be dragons.

On August 29, 2007, MiamiCuban wrote:

I wonder what would happen if an Iraqi or Iranian citizen arrived in a boat along England’s coast.  How would they be treated?  Would they be released, or detained?  What might be the sailor’s fate?

On August 29, 2007, cubanpete wrote:

Don’t believe Her Majesty’s officials would loot the mariner’s goods.

On August 29, 2007, MiamiCuban wrote:

Maybe not, but he could find himself being shipped to Guantanamo.  I think I’d rather have my ship looted.

On February 04, 2008, publisher wrote:

According to, this story enjoyed a great deal of comment and note in the cruising community. Reactions were expressed on various website forums and magazine blogs. Notably, the one voice that was absent was that of the Cuban government, which did not respond to our request for comment.

Meanwhile, a well placed source reported that a Gulfstar 50 with a family of five aboard—a U.S. vessel—put into Bahia Manati with serious rudder damage and immediately got into trouble. Initially, the Cubans demanded that the vessel put to sea despite the danger the vessel would have faced without rudder control. The Cubans had either towed or escorted the vessel to Manati and then tried to bully the crew. The family used their single-sideband radio to call a stateside station and the details of their dilemma were relayed to the State Department and Coast Guard. A Coast Guard liaison officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana successfully convinced the Cubans to tow the Gulfstar to a repair yard rather than force it to put to sea.

As these stories clearly illustrate, Cuba needs to be a little friendlier to cruisers if it wants to enjoy the benefits of this type of tourism. Having said that, many European and Canadian cruisers transit the Cuban coast and manage to enjoy themselves, despite an overly intrusive bureaucracy.

One of them is Gert van der Kolk, who has contributed a wonderful piece Ten tips for cruising Cuba. Van der Kolk, a Dutch novelist living in Washington, D.C., based his observations on a recently completed a clockwise semi-circumnavigation from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. His boat is a 30-foot Dufour Arpège, built in 1968. Geert is a Dutch novelist who lives in Washington, DC.

1. If you find water, grab it.

2. Bring Euros or Canadian Dollars, and in cash.

3. Anchor out.

4. Make sure you have your “sellos”.

5. Make sure your bilge is accessible.

6. Keep a few five convertible peso notes handy.

7. Check your charts.

8. If you can, stay away from the North Coast in winter.

9. Bring fishing hooks.

10. Love the people.

Read all the details here Ten tips for cruising Cuba