The Cuban Rules:
- If you don’t like the way something is done, wait an hour, it’ll change.
- Everything is forbidden, everything is possible.
- Any information you read is outdated. Nothing changes here, yet everything changes all the time and depending on who you talk to.
When you are 12 miles offshore you are supposed to radio in for permission to enter. We tried. They didn’t have their radio turned on. No problem. When you check in you will be issued a 6 month cruising permit ($15) and a 30 day tourist card (one per person $15 each). Whenever you leave a port you must check out with the Guardia Frontera. They are on duty 24 hours a day and if you tell them you want to leave a 4 a.m. they will be there. Whenever you arrive at a port, you cannot leave your boat until you check in with the Guardia. The Guardia were always very friendly and polite (with the exception of those at Marina Hemingway in Havana), although most of them wear huge army boots which leave nasty marks on your decks. Checking in usually took about 20 – 30 minutes and requires them writing all your information down in triplicate on a form which they painstakingly draw out 3 times with a pencil.
Renewing your tourist card: The tourist card must be renewed before it expires. There are limited places in which this can be done. You need to find an Immigration Office (not a Port of Entry). Before you go to the Immigration Office you need to go to a bank and buy “stamps” – in Spanish, “sellos (SAY-os).” Just say the word to the teller, they’ll know. The cost of renewing a tourist card is $25 per person. Now comes the tricky part. After 2 months you are officially out of luck, you have to get out of the country. We got around this in Cienfuegos, where for some reason, they will issue a third month. We were able to do this with no hassles. 5 other boats were able to do this with a lot of hassle, requiring 2 days and much hand waving. Remember, everything’s forbidden, everything is possible. As of April 2001, the only other place to renew for a third month is Varadero.
Diesel and gasoline is readily available (although not cheap). It’s the method of getting it that is unique. Make sure you have plenty of jerry cans and good strong arms. Take a reliable baja filter. At Maria La Gorda they have a hose that extends down to the end of the “dock” (theoretically a 6 foot draft). However the hose wasn’t connected to the diesel tank. Getting diesel meant going to the main tank and siphoning the diesel out with a garden hose.
Nigel Calder’s Cuba is absolutely invaluable. Another excellent book is Simon Charles, A Cruising Guide to Cuba. We found Calder to be more detailed. Take your pick. Keep in mind, these are a couple of years old, and in Cuba everything changes all the time.
We used the ICH chart kits. Although difficult to find the North America, they are readily available once you reach Cuba. You will need Nigel Calder’s Cuba to supplement these. One word of caution, due to it’s proximity to the Bay of Pigs, they eliminated the chart for Cienfuegos from Chart Kit #2 (even though Cienfuegos is the second largest port in Cuba).
You won’t need much, but what you do need, you’ll need in cash. You can get advances on major credit cards (not drawn on US banks) but you’ll have to be in a major city. Only once did we try to use a credit card – for a car rental – but they couldn’t process it. And outside of Havana you will need small bills. Take 80% of your money in $1 bills. Yes this takes up space. Yes going to a bank and getting $2000 in singles feels wierd. But a fisherman on a styrofoam float isn’t going to be able to change a $20 when you buy $3 worth of lobster. As to how much to take, see Costs of Cuba.