South Coast of Cuba
29 September 2017 | Trinidad Cuba
We departed Santiago de Cuba heading west and following the guide book we had downloaded. Our first stop was a very small town with a very tricky entrance called Chivirico,the entrance is marked and the guide book was spot on for directions into the anchorage, however there is only room for a couple of boats though. We didn't go ashore here as it was only a rest stop for the evening. We departed the following morning and as we were heading out the bay we got our first taste of chart errors for Cuba. The western point of the bay where Chivirico is located has a reef at the tip that extends MUCH further than the charts indicate. We shot up in depth from over 200 ft to only 9 ft. A very rapid course alteration to port was required but within 100 ft or so the depth dropped over 200 again.
We continued for the day to Marea Del Portillo. This is an excellent anchorage with 360 protection. The Guarda officer came out to check our paperwork and was very cordial. We ended up spending 3 days here. The western side of the bay has a couple of all inclusive resorts. The Guarda officer arranged for us to be picked up the next day in a horse and carriage for a ride to the resort which allows day passes. The driver took us to the resort at 11:00am and picked us up at 4:00pm. At the resort, we paid $10 CUC per person you could go to the all you can eat buffet restaurant which included beer and wine (skip the wine). After we stuffed our faces we headed to the pool where they continued to serve us drinks for the rest of the afternoon. The entire day cost us $25 CUC. We were also invited into one of the residents houses for supper, however we politely refused as there were live chickens walking around the kitchen. ,.
We left Marea Del Portillo after 2 days and headed to Cabo Cruz. This had to be one of the coolest anchorages ever. You have perfect protection from the prevailing winds while sitting wrapped up by a reef. The only land visible is to the east and that is the town of Cabo Cruz with its historic lighthouse. Coming from the east you must be mindful of that reef but it is marked and maintained thanks to the Guarda base at the lighthouse. Once we anchored we met a very nice young local man who spearfishes. We were anchored at least a mile from shore but he swam out to meet us. He had some lobster and a squid which we agreed to purchase. He left them but insisted that it was not enough yet so he swam off to get more, but first said that if the Guarda come out to our boat, do not tell them he was there. He continued fishing for about another 2 hours before returning with more lobster and some red snapper. We invited him on board but it is not permitted. He did sit on our swimdeck to rest as the wind was blowing us so that he was hidden from view of the Guarda base. We gave him a bottle of rum in payment which he promptly opened and insisted we share a drink with him. At this point I must add, the fishermen we met throughout our stay were all honest, polite and friendly people. We had a 2 hour conversation with our new friend and found out a little about him, his family and Cabo Cruz's history, all through broken english, worse spanish, and some hand signals. His spear gun was home made and he was proud to show off its construction. To charge it he used a bicycle pump and the cylinder he manufactured would hold a charge for a week. He had two small children as well. So when the time came for him to depart, he left with a ziplock bag full of candy, cookies and some money (since we drank half his rum) and we had made a new friend.
We decided to head north instead of east from Cabo Cruz and went to Niquero. This was a far sized industrial town which processed sugar, one of Cubas few exports. The Guarda were very nice and let us use their beach to leave our dinghy. We explored the town, got some wifi and had a meal before heading back to the boat. That night the wind calmed and we woke to find the boat covered in ash from the factory. Nice town but we wouldn't go back.
From Niquero we headed west again and did a 50 mile day to Cayo Granada. This was just a simple stop before continuing the next day to Cayo Chocolate. Both these Cays are uninhabited and used simply to rest. But the water is clear and the breezes are perfect. You must remember though that being too close to shore invites the mosquitos at night.
The following day we set out again for Cayo Cuervo. Despite a favourable weather forecast, things can change very quickly in Cuba. We began our 6 hour passage with 12 kts of wind from the east and a nice downwind sail in flat water. Then we had 15 kts from the southeast. Then 25, then 30 before the rain started. Then the wind went southwest (WTF!), so we altered our coures north to come around the northern tip of Cayo Cuervo. After 15 minutes of this the wind went Northwest and right on our nose with torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. Sails down we motered into 25kts of wind finally making it around the tip of Cayo Cuervo and down to the entrance to the anchorage. On arrival, the clouds parted and we had nothing but sunshine for the rest of our stay. Cayo Cuervo came highly recommended by Derick who we met in Santiago de Cuba. The entrance in is very well marked and with good reason. This is where the Cuban shrimping fleet makes their base. While they are fishing, two factory ships make Cayo Cuervo their home. Everyday the fleet arrives loaded down with shrimp and they go to anchor while they wait for their turn to pull alongside one of the factory ships. Get to one that has not offloaded yet and you can buy shrimp right of the boat. A 26oz bottle of rum will get you a 1 gallon bucket full (about 10 pounds) of fresh shrimp. Bring you own bucket! They will also trade for clothing or food. We found kraft dinner to be very popular with the fishermen as well.
After Cayo Cuervo we had a very spirited sail in 25 kts of wind to Cayo Breton. A fishing boat watched us as we arrived and let us get settled before coming by. The main boat dropped off to men in a skiff who came over with a bunch of lobster. We were getting tired of shellfish at this point and asked if they had a fish. Si Si came the answer and they zipped back to the main boat. Minutes later they returned with a 5 pound red snapper that they then proceeded to filet for us on the swim deck while we all talked. They were from the village of Casilda and fish for 10 days before going home where they reprovision and head out again after 2 days. They invited us to their homes to meet their families if we wanted to but the harbour in Casilda is only 4 ft deep and we could not get in. They asked if we had children and we said yes, this was mothers day weekend, and since they could not be with their families, they wanted to do something special for Judy so we said ok and after some rum and 2 liters of coke, they headed off. We had fish for supper and it was perfect. Fresh caught and grilled on the bbq with some garlic and potatoes. We had just settled down for the evening to watch a movie when we heard an outboard coming our way, as we went into the cockpit we saw the fishermen returning but this time there was 3 of them, they waved as they approached and we waved them on board. It was the same two fishermen from earlier and the captain of their boat, they had all washed up, put on their best clothes and returned with a platter of cooked lobster tails done in garlic and tomato sauce for Judy. Happy Mothers Day was all they said. We sat in the cockpit and talked for the next two hours until a gust from an approaching squall line had them quickly return to their boat, a rapid ending for a great evening.
We left the next day for Cayo Blanca nearer the coast and another nice evening behind a reef. The following morning we departed for Cienfuegos and reprovisioning after 10 glorious days of exploration.
Cienfuegos turned out to be an hour long transit into the anchorage. You enter through a narrow gap in the coastline, take an S shaped path through the entrance and enter into in inland bay. This is a major shipping port so a nighttime entry would be easy except for locating the anchorage on the other side of the harbour. The marina here is entirely booked by charter companies. That means the only thing you can do is anchor and use your dinghy. There is a dinghy dock as well as a fuel dock. The later is usually blocked by charter boats so we filled up using jerry cans. Even if you have already cleared into Cuba, in Cienfuegos you will go through the entire process again including agriculture, customs, imigration, health, drug enforcement etc... Once cleared in we were off to explore. The marina bar is a favourite hangout of lots of locals and we met a nice couple right away. We asked if there were any good restaurants nearby as our provisions were really low and we just wanted to go out. He got on his cell phone, made a reservation for us at his uncles restaurant, then drove us there in his 57 chevy convertible and picked us up after supper and drove us back to the marina. The restaurant was excellent and priced very inexpensive. We had a three course meal with a bottle of wine for $20 cuc. The enxt day we walked around town a bit and got the lay of the land with the intention of provisioning the following day. The following day though we woke to fine our dinghy and outboard had been stolen. It was secured to the boat with a marine locking cable but the thieves cut right through it. I hailed friends on a boat next to us and they drove me to the marina so I could report the theft. They contacted the police for me and so started the process. I then asked if I could come alongside and was told No as all the slips are on an annual rental. I explained that without a dingy I would have to leave. This seemed to be a bigger problem for the marina so they made room for us for a week rather than have us leave without the police being able to complete their investigation. The authorities were all very cordial and provided us with a translator and attorney. We did not ever expect to see the dinghy and outboard again but it was still nice to see them take it seriously and over the next 3 days provided us with daily updates.
While in Cienfuegos we took a day trip to Trinidad which is a must for anyone in the area. This 300 year old city has so much history in it that we spent a complete day just walking the cobble stone streets and sampling the local ales and rum. Cienfuegos itself is completely different than Santiago de Cuba and seemed much more modern and touristy while still being a cultural center. But this is Cuba, so we lined up for eggs at one store, and lined up for bread at another. Even with our dinghy gone, we were still enjoying Cuba.
When we left Cienfuegos we headed south to the Cayos again, with our first stop being Cayo Largo. This is one of two marinas on the south shore that are not on the mainland. We had a lovely 3 day stop here being forced to stay in marinas since we had no dinghy to get to shore and back. More expensive but more relaxed too.