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Below is information from Greg Absten's many trips to Cuba in the past - although very dated since the last trip was around 2002 or so.
For MYC Members - Rich Dugan is currently (January 2016) trying to work out a joint Turn-Key trip to Cuba with the Key West Yacht Club that is "legally permitted". Stay tuned for more information and we'll post it on the MYCFleet.com website as it occurs.
CUBA CRUISING INFORMATION
Note - This page is intended as a boater's resource ONLY. Since the U.S. laws on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens are changing, we post this information to try to be helpful. HOWEVER - U.S. Laws and the Embargo have essentially NOT changed as of Jan 10, 2016. What has changed is the difference in interpretation and enforcement of the laws by U.S. Agencies. Essentially they have lightened up considerably and it IS feasible to travel to Cuba, even by private boat. You STILL must meet the conditions on which such travel is based, and currently Tourism is NOT one of the allowed reasons. Read the SSCA summary below.
MYC is currently investigating possible Cruises to Cuba, but no official cruises are planned at this time, until such time as we have done due diligence to ensure that any such trips are legal by U.S. requirements. It's not the Cuban government that really is an issue here - it's staying clean with the U.S. Government. As an individual you can do what you want of course, but an official MYC Cruise to Cuba is not yet on the books. A couple of our members are exploring this more.
I've (Greg Absten - Fleet Captain 2016) personally made more than a dozen trips to Cuba by private boat (legally under license) and have good contacts and much information to share. We'll start posting some of this here so that you can review it and better prepare for any trips you might make to Cuba. Of course you'll need your passport and ship's papers. You'll also need to prepare a ship's crew list and manifest for Cuba. If you are taking donations of needed supplies to Cuba you can't just pack it on the boat and go. You must first obtain a Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) Export license from the U.S. Bureau of Commerce for those specific donations, and then clear those with U.S. Customs (Key West) prior to loading them on your boat or departing.
(Right) Greg Absten Clearing Cuban Customs on MV Creative Touch.
Graphics of Hemingway Marina at bottom of this page, along
with waypoints and procedural information.
Follow the links below:
SSCA Summary of Boat Travel to Cuba - Fall of 2015 (Seven Seas Cruising Association). I think this is pretty accurate.
Note that you may NOT remain in Cuba for more than 14 days under these "temporary sojourner" rules, and may NOT go as a tourist.
US Treasury - Frequently Asked Questions on travel to Cuba - Dec 2015.
NY Times 6 minute Video on "36 Hrs in Havana" - Jan 10, 2016
Sample Ship information and crew list to provide to Cuban Customs when entering port. (Make 6-10 copies of this)
It helps to have the ship's information in both Spanish and English. This sample form gives you that. PLEASE REFRAIN from giving out big tips (meaning $10-$20) to port officials in Cuba when you clear customs. A personal gift is more socially acceptable like batteries, personal items like aspirin, bags of candy, etc. We also offer them sodas (or beer - their choice) when they board the boat to make the reports. You'll have several agents board just like in the U.S. for clearance of the boat and passengers, agriculture, etc.. DO NOT be impatient with them. Sometimes things go slowly - just like in the Keys.
Sample Ship's Manifest - If you are taking supplies (donations) to Cuba, then you'll need a list (manifest) of all of those supplies. If those are donations to the Cuban people then you must officially do it only under the BIS Export license. When you clear these items with U.S. customs prior to departure you'll use this list for them, and use this list for Cuban customs upon entry. HOWEVER it does get more complicated than that with U.S. Customs. You have to also use their special form and then fill in ALL of the specific customs codes for each donation you are taking. It is tedious and complicated. I won't expand here but just be aware of that. (Make 6-10 copies)
Sample Itinerary - courtesy Larry Benvenuti. Whether or not you need to have this for documentation depends on which category you're traveling to Cuba under. This trip Larry made (his 16th trip way back in 2004) was for humanitarian and photojournalism purposes, so he need's the itinerary. If U.S. Customs needs documentation on your "allowed" activities and time spent, then this is what they want to see. I think they've lightened up considerably on their strict enforcement of this, but I don't know - haven't been back since things have changed. In the "Old days" (George W days) then the U.S. Consulate in Havanna would send out their "spies" to watch what you were doing as a U.S. Citizen and try to catch you. I don't think things are probably that harsh today, but the principle is still the same. If you tell the truth about what you're doing and stick to that, then there is no issue even if they do try to "get you".
Passenger U.S. Import Guidelines - This is an OLD document, and you should check the current guidelines before departing. It's useful though to know how to declare these with U.S. Customs upon re-entry and some of the things disallowed. When I get a chance I'll look up the new guidelines and post them here. Each passenger should complete these and have available when they check back in with U.S. Customs. Art has to also be cleared with Cuban customs before departure and this tells you how to get the official stamp before clearing.
USCG Permit to depart the Security Zone. You must file an application with the USCG to leave the Defense Zone between here and Cuba. I can't find the current link on the USCG pages for the new permits yet - but am still looking. I do know that some of the information on the USCG site still says that you have to have the BIS export license and OFAC permit, but the new rules as summarized in the SSCA document above shows that those are no longer required if you meet the other requirements. You are "self determined". However, you still need to file for this USCG permit and then carry it with you onboard. I was stopped once in the middle of the night during a crossing by a USCG Cutter. They accepted my valid permit over the VHF radio without boarding me (checked back with MIA I'm sure), but would have boarded me if I didn't have it. It's possible that the USCG may request photo copies of passports or other picture ID. If everyone is a US citizen, say so on the form. On the form you'll be asked for your approximate position of intended entry into Cuban waters (12 miles offshore). For departures from the mid Keys through Key West, this is approximately 23 22.7N 082 21.4W if you're going into Hemingway. They must fax back to you an approved copy of this form. We ask crew to mail in or email in scanned copies (faxed copies are sometimes rejected because of quality) to us a good copy of the face page of their passport (picture & passport # pages), plus their address, phone # and Soc. Security #. (The SSN is not required by anyone unless you come back and something has to be confiscated by US Customs. Then you need their SSN so it's easier just to ask for this in the beginning.)
The USCG NOW ALSO REQUIRES A PERMIT TO ENTER CUBAN WATERS - Go to this page to download the CG-3300 form, and related documents.
US Customs Sticker - You'll need one of these for your boat if it's 30' or over. Issued annually by US Customs and Border Protection. You can click this link and order them online. Decal/Transponder Online Procurement (DTOPS)
GRAPHIC OF THE MARIEL HEMMINGWAY MARINA IN CUBA
Some of the clubs/restaurants here might have changed since this was done, but it's still an accurate layout of the marina.
MARIEL HEMMINGWAY MARINA AND ARRIVAL INFORMATION:
Looking down one of the canals at Hemingway beside the Hotel
Acuario. Some of the contact information here is dated so it might
need to be refreshed. I'll do that here as soon as I can, but it's all
still valuable information.
GPS - Sea Buoy at entrance to Hemmingway Marina
23 05.358N 082 30.522W
Please don't confuse the "Club Nautico" Yacht Club at the Marina, with Hemingway Marina itself. They are separate. Information though on the Yacht Club is:
CLUB NAUTICO INTERNATIONAL HEMINGWAY:
Comodoro Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich
His email address: email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> (confirmed Feb 2016)
5a. Ave.y 248, Santa Fe, Ciudad de La Habana, CUBA
Tel-Fax: (537) 24 1689 y 24 6653
This is the "Yacht Club" at the Marina, not the Marina itself.
Hemingway Marina: Call on VHF 72, or try 16 or 68. - see below for arrival procedures
248 y 5ta Avenida
Santa Fe Playa, Ciudad de La Habana
Tel: (53 7) 29 7270, Fax (53 7) 24 5280, E-mail: email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
*Note: 53 is the country code for Cuba, 7 the City Code for Habana
The Public Relations person (like a concierge) at the Marina is still Isaura Perez. I just confirmed this Feb 2016.
Old email for her is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (may still work)
CLEARANCE & PROCEDURES FOR BOATERS - Though it is very helpful to speak Spanish or bring along someone who does, it isn't really necessary. You can get by speaking only English. You call Marina Hemingway Marina on VHF CH 16 and/or 72 about 10 miles out or so (sometimes don't get a response until 5 miles out). Technically you're supposed to start making calls when you enter territorial waters 12 miles offshore - but many times they can't hear you or don't respond then. Don't worry about it - they're OK with it as long as you're going right into Hemingway marina and not trying to sightsee up and down the coast. You'll be directed toward the customs / immigration docks immediately to your left upon arrival. Be patient. The Cubanos are friendly enough but they each have a job to do and it will take some time - Maybe 2 hours. You need your passport. They will ask you whether you want them to put the Cuban stamp directly in it, or separately on a piece of paper. Fly your yellow quarantine flag until you've cleared with the doctor, then you can fly your Cuban courtesy ensign. You'll clear through the doctor (quarantine), customs, immigration, agriculture, coast guard, etc.. We suggest the offering of soft drinks, beer, snacks and small gifts - rather than "tipping" in cash. Be friendly and honest. You'll have drug and gun sniffing dogs brought aboard your boat, and a diver will sometimes go under your boat to check it out. You of course must have your passport and they'll ask you whether you want it stamped directly or on a separate insert. You'll buy your Visa from them for $15 per person (Nov 2002). Once cleared you'll be assigned a slip (they're all along sea walls - no finger piers) down one of 4 canals. The electrician will come by to plug you into electricity. They meter the electric and water. The water there has been good. You can arrange for a rental car, though it's easier to arrange for a driver at reasonable rates (ask for Alex, he speaks good English too - if he's still there - an ex Soviet MIG pilot). There are at least 3 restaurants within the marina complex. They have a ship's store in the marina office, and at the other end they have tourist dollar stores where you can buy groceries, gifts, clothes, Cuban cigars, rum, beer and other alcohol (beer is cheaper in the ship's store). Someone will come by to offer a wash down on your boat ($) or any repairs. If you want anything arranged at all just ask in the dockmasters office - they have a public relations person - like a marina concierge. Your guests can stay on the boat or at either of the on-property resort hotels. There is of course no cable TV - many boaters use satellite & it works fine there (settings are 52.7º elev. and 223º azimuth - Direct TV). Diesel and gas is available, and I've had no problems with the quality of the diesel fuel.
Clearing out is in reverse. You go to the Marina office (or call on the radio & he'll come to you) and pay the dockmaster in cash, then start clearing out with the officials. I would strongly recommend AGAINST trying to smuggle out large numbers of cigars or anything else. Also be aware, that though very friendly and obliging, the Cuban officials don't take kindly to illicit drugs of any type, nor firearms. Pornographic material is similarly frowned upon. You're boat is perfectly safe in the Marina - you are at much higher risk from the American and other tourists than the Cubans. The Cubanos will watch out after your boat. They want you to come back. If you travel from Port to Port within Cuba you'll need to complete this clearing process at every Port. You can't just clear one time.
Cubans (except marina workers and officials) will not be allowed upon your boat while in Port. Marina security is vigilant to enforce this 24 hrs per day. Also - if you're taking gifts & donations for Cuban people, you're allowed (Cuban regulations) up to about 22 lbs per person (old regulation so have to check on new ones) on your boat for such distribution. You can bring in anything else you want but you'd have to pay a duty on it which is equivalent to the original purchase price in the first place.
The Mariel Hemingway resort marina beach area (right). It has water
toys such as wave runners and sailboards. Tennis, volleyball, soccer.
Papa's nightclub is shown here toward the left. Chan Chan's
nightclub is at the other end of the marina. Two resort hotels
(affordable) are also located on the property.
(Left) Offshore, passing Havana enroute to Mariel Hemmingway marina,
which is about 10 miles West of the City.
(Above right) The Sea Buoy (RW) at the entrance to Mariel Hemmingway Marina channel. It's located at 23 05.358N, 082 30.522W. For boaters, it's VERY important to approach the channel directly from this buoy. Don't cut corners because the narrow channel passes right through a very shallow reef. It's obvious when you see it in daylight, but start from the buoy, then line straight up with the Red and Green Daymarks to come straight in to the channel. DO NOT DEVIATE.
(Left) Kids on daysailers at the entrance channel to Hemingway
(Right) The swimming pool just off the seawalls at Hotel Acuario is
very pleasant. Many local Cuban families come here. They frequently
have live music playing poolside.
There are two currencies in Cuba - the National Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible (CUC). Tourists are not ‘meant’ to have the National Pesos, although you can get them, along with CUC, at the Casa De Cambio - abbreviated Cadeca (Money Exchange). The nearest Cadeca is halfway down Canal 3. (At Hotel Acuario)
Note - rates have changed. You'll have to get current rates ----- The rate was about 25 national pesos to a CUC. It’s not worth getting a lot of them - there are hardly any places to spend them. Tourists can usually only pay for things in CUC, which is supposed to be a 1:1 parity with the US Dollar but often isn’t due to exchange fees.
Places you CAN spend the national Peso (thus making things cost 25 times less!) are panaderias (local bakeries), fruit and veg stands, and some cafes outside of Havana (for example, we paid for our coffees at a roadside Café with them). Locals often want to be paid in CUC instead - the Cuban people have to pay for luxury goods with CUCs, making things like clothes and toiletries horribly expensive for them (they make good gifts, therefore, for local people).
Nobody seems to know the official status of why some charges are made with some currencies or cards - not even the banks! Basically, bring as much IN CASH as you think you will need for your stay, in EUR, GBP or Canadian or U.S. Dollars. Euros can be spent in some stores in Havana (and later, we discovered, in Varadero) at a poor rate of about 0.85. Credit cards or USD in any form - you will lose almost 12% in charges. Rules are changing and we don't know what the acceptance of US Credit cards is there yet.
Convert your cash Euros (or Pounds, etc) into CUC as you go. All Cuban currency is worthless outside the island, so change any unused CUC or CUP before you go home. Note that there’s a 25 CUC per person departure tax (Old rate - check for updates) that has to be paid to leave Cuba, so put some CUC aside.
We could get one (sometimes two) of the NOAA channels on our VHF, reception seemed better at night. Weather is stuck on the Marina notice board outside the dock master’s office every day. The Cuban weather on TV follows the 8pm news - if you ask nicely, you can watch this on the TV in the lounge outside the dock master’s office. If you have satellite TV you can get Miami weather.
Getting into Havana
There are special tourist buses (red with “HavanaTour” written on the side, not the Transtur ones, which seem to be for reserved excursions). They leave from outside the Marina shower/café block approximately on the hour. We say approximately, because some days, they left and appeared randomly. The only consistency seemed to be the time of the last returning bus to the Marina, which was about 5:30-6pm.
The best thing to do is to wait until you see the bus arrive and park, then the staff get out to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom… the bus sits there for anywhere between 10-30 minutes, so get on it then. You need two buses to get into Old Havana. The first one (from the Marina) terminates at Plaza De La Revolution (Revolutionary Square). The second goes from the Square (same place you got off, so best not to wander far) into Old Havana. The timetables are meant to be linked but sometimes you will wait a long time for the second bus to roll around.
Ticket prices (old prices - check for updates) are 1 CUC (return) on the first bus, and either 3 or 5 CUC on the second. One day, we were sold the 5 CUC (all inclusive) ticket on the first bus. We were told this was due to us being there low season (Jan), then February, but we’re still not entirely sure. Expect to pay 1 CUC followed by 5 CUC as a rule. The “guided tour” element is also completely random… sometimes the ticket lady at the front of the bus will point out landmarks in either English, Spanish or both, most times this is omitted entirely. The buses also go slightly different routes sometimes (always ending up at the same destination, so don’t panic too much). Presumably this is to pick up or drop off at some hotels, but again, we’re not entirely sure. Just go with the flow!
Official taxis are far more expensive than ‘private ones’, which are illegal but omnipresent throughout Havana. The best thing to do is to go outside the Marina gates and cross the road. Flag down some cars (with ’taxi’ written on them or not) - within minutes, someone will pull up. Negotiate the price beforehand (the least we paid (old rates - check for updates) for a ride into Old Havana was 8 CUC, the most was 12 CUC with 4 of us in the car). This is only recommended for short trips - outside Havana, there are lots of Guarda posts who routinely check cars for Cubans taking tourists in their cars. You can also hire a private driver on a daily basis (all day) at very reasonable rates. Ask at the Marina office.
Car rentals are available (plan to pay cash unless they've started accepting the US Credit cards yet), but are generally more trouble than they're worth unless you're going cross country through Cuba. If you're staying around Havana just use the private taxis or buses.
UPDATE 3/15/2016: Latest Information on the Havana Cat Challenge May 10-16, 2016.
Sign Up Deadline April 10, 2016. CLICK HERE for more details and links.