Trip on a yacht starting 2015-03-15 in BSAMay15

Canarreos Archipelago, CubaMap. March 2015 – report by Sue Fowle.

For lack of any trip organised by a familiar skipper, I booked a 10 day organised sailing trip in the archipelago off the South coast of Cuba.

This was on a 43’ catamaran (4 heads and holding tank!!) with 5 other people none of whom had any sailing experience. The boat was skippered by an ex-submariner, one of those skippers who appears very relaxed but was constantly vigilant. He gave a fairly rudimentary safety brief in comparison to BSA briefings. The life jackets were better than those on most Caribbean charter boats. We also had a cook who provided 3 excellent meals a day and who magically transformed black bags of ‘cabbages’ into lobster. The local rum provided a good bargaining chip.

We covered about 250nm from Cienfuegos on the South coast in a round trip. The islands are about 50nm from the mainland so our first night was spent at sea. The islands are low lying white rocks covered with windswept trees and vegetation, frequented by iguanas, flamingos and rat like creatures which apparently are very tasty – if you can catch them! Thankfully our cook did not! There are also loggerhead and green turtles nesting on the islands and which swam around with us on a few occasions. A shark was reportedly seen by one snorkeler but the joke of ‘did you see the shark’ is usually followed by ‘no, because it saw you’. One of the islands is a nature reserve though unfortunately we arrived too late to walk through the island.

There is only one island with any habitation, Cayo Largo del Sur, where there is a small marina and hotel so we had to carry all our food and water for the trip. There was a water maker on board but with people not used to the limitations of a boat this was used frequently. With this and the refrigeration needed to keep food fresh we ended up motoring a lot of the time.

Apart from 1 night in the marina, crew’s night off, we anchored in deep water or close in to a silvery beach. Swimming and snorkelling were good but a strong wind affected some of the reefs.

The winds were NE and up to 35knts with a strong current running. On two occasions we were instructed very firmly to remain in the cockpit for 2-3 hours. El Capitano explaining there was no way he would get back to pick us up.

The French company running the yachts, of various sizes, operates with politically reliable Cuban crews, mostly ex-military who are unlikely to sail off to America. Our captain, whose non-electronic instruments were all marked with CCCP explained how he had to adjust to no longer viewing the Stars and Stripes as the enemy flag.

The company do bareboat charters but this would mean victualing the boat for the whole trip, no easy task in Cuba, even with convertible currency. The British company who organised the trip said one could ask to help sail the boat. Another time I may feel more confident to do this but it was my first trip on a catamaran.

Canarreos Archipelago, Cuba  21.596,-82.2869