Passage Maker - - News & Notes -

As an Amer­i­can ves­sel in Cuba we never felt the free­dom that we get in The Ba­hamas. There was al­ways a sense of cau­tion in our move­ments. Af­ter all we had been re­quired by the U.S. govern­ment to doc­u­ment our daily ac­tiv­i­ties to ful­fill our pur­pose for travel to Cuba. And we un­der­stood that we were po­ten­tially al­ways un­der ob­ser­va­tion by the Cuban govern­ment as well.

For­eign ves­sels must check in and check out with the Guarda Fron­tera at each port. You could think of the Guarda Fron­tera as a cross be­tween the U.S. Coast Guard and Home­land Se­cu­rity. But in some ports, the Guarda has no boat. One time we had to dinghy to the beach, pick up the Guarda and bring him back out to our boat to in­spect the ves­sel and check our pa­per­work. Sip­ping a cold Coke at the cock­pit ta­ble, he asked us a few ques­tions, checked our pass­ports, and looked at the cus­toms and agri­cul­tural papers from Ha­vana. And then he took our pre­cious “despa­cho” (the cruis­ing record that we needed to get stamped both com­ing in and de­part­ing from each port) to hold un­til we checked out.

The great­est dif­fi­culty with cruis­ing in Cuba might be find­ing out what ex­actly the rules and reg­u­la­tions are. We got con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion, some­times from the same of­fi­cial. When we first asked if we could get a fish­ing per­mit, we were told by the Guarda that there are no per­mits. But then he said that there would be no prob­lem if we were just fish­ing for food. An­other time we told a Guarda our next des­ti­na­tion would be Jar­dines de la Reina. He grinned and said, “You’ll love it!” Then the next morn­ing he apolo­get­i­cally told us we would not be al­lowed to go there at all.

The day we de­parted from Cuba to re­turn to the U.S., Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced his in­ten­tion to tighten re­stric­tions on U.S. travel to Cuba. To­day you would not be able to law­fully make the same trip we did. Six mari­nas around the coun­try are now off lim­its, as are quite a few ho­tels and re­sorts and even some re­tail stores that might af­fect your pro­vi­sion­ing. Search for “Cuba Re­stricted List” to find the com­plete of­fi­cial list of re­stricted en­ti­ties, or bet­ter yet, en­list a knowl­edge­able travel agent for ad­vice in plan­ning your itin­er­ary.

Dur­ing our cruise, Blue Pearl cer­tainly did stand out in a big way, and not just be­cause we flew the U.S. flag. For 50 days straight we didn’t see an­other mo­to­ry­acht. While we stayed com­fort­able on our Flem­ing, our in­ter­ac­tions with fish­er­men who work from tiny boats that suf­fer from a lack of avail­able parts for main­te­nance and re­pair and seem barely able to stay afloat—brings home the re­al­ity of life for or­di­nary Cubans.

If The Ba­hamas of­fers beau­ti­ful cruis­ing with the com­fort of the fa­mil­iar, Cuba beck­ons with the lure of an ex­u­ber­ant cul­ture and an un­pre­dictable ad­ven­ture. Vis­it­ing on a U.S.-flagged ves­sel re­quires a pre­car­i­ous bal­ance be­tween the bu­reau­cra­cies of two ad­ver­sar­ial gov­ern­ments. And yet we loved our time in Cuba as one of the most ex­cep­tional ex­pe­ri­ences of our lives. The Cubans we met were surely the warm­est peo­ple we’ve met any­where. On our last night a tipsy fel­low im­pro­vised a song for us at the top of his lungs: “Don and Denise came to La Punta to drink a cou­ple mo­ji­tos, and my heart warms with emo­tion for th­ese two Amer­i­cans, for when they come to La Punta, then we are all brothers.”


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