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Cruising Cuba Pt 1

We left the Bimini Islands and the skipper decided our first stop at Cuba was going to be Havana. There are other ports we could have entered before Havana coming from the east but we couldn’t stop everywhere. The sail was easy and with a distance of about 250 miles was only one night and a day. We left early morning meaning we could easily arrive during the following day.

Hemingway marina is situated about 10 miles west of Havana but it’s the main port of entry. We radio’d a few times and finally got in touch with somebody who would be waiting for us. The approach is very narrow marked by some channel markers but the waves were crashing in on the sea front. Go either side of the markers and you would run aground very quickly !

Hemingway Marina –

Once full of boats and people now empty due to ongoing issues with the USA.

We were met by the Port Captain and his staff, we had a few formalities to go through which was made easier by some of them speaking basic English. It took a couple of hours I guess before we were shown to our mooring.

The marina was apparently built in the 1960’s in a joint venture between the Cubans and some err………Italian organisation and money. It didn’t really look like it had been modernised since.

Talking to some local people hardly anybody had been there for a while. Obama had opened up the route again, Trump had closed it. We were a little early in the cruising season but we were the only foreign vessel transiting through. Another boat joined us a couple of days later but the place was lifeless, very strange. The staff in the cafe/bar worked 24 hours a day, 3/4 days a week. They got paid so didn’t care whether it was busy or empty – but no tips I suppose !!

Having no local cash we needed to get some fast, we found out that there were in fact two local currencies. The CUP (Cuban Peso) and the CUC (Convertible Cuban Peso), as a traveller you will use the CUC more often.

We met a guy in the parking area who was able to change money (had a feeling he had done this before), the official rate was apparently 0.87 to the dollar but he would give us 0.90. The port captain also offered to change money for us but it had to be a minimum of 500 dollars. We later found out when we went to a bank that it’s a 1 to 1 exchange rate, although I think some of the tourist resorts charge 0.87 rate.

We changed some money with our new friend George and found out he did this kind of thing and helped boating folk out where he could (for a fee obviously!). We used him over the next couple of days to take us into Havana and on one day gave us a tour in his old 59 Chevy car.

George’s 59 Chevy car in very original condition –

Traffic light Grand Prix – another old car pulled up next to us with this guy smiling !

Out on tour with George – the Jose Marti memorial a national hero of Cuba. It’s the largest memorial to him any where in the world, it consists of a star shaped tower, a statue of Marti surrounded by six columns and gardens.

Always plenty of cars to view wherever you go, saw this little Ford Prefect which was in great condition –

Ford prefect

Even had a sporty exhaust –

Ford prefect

Stopped for lunch and had to try one of the local beers, this is the Bucanero. The most popular beer seems to be Cristal, you can get this everywhere (personally I think it’s a bit better to).

Bucanero cuban beer

More car spotting, these were parked down near the sea front, think they were all for rent.

Out on tour with George in his Chevy –

This bar is apparently where the Mojito cocktail was first made ! Now obviously a famous landmark in Havana. Many famous people have frequented the bar and their pictures adorned the walls.

La bodeguita bar havana

It was certainly a tourist hot spot – too busy to even think about getting in.

La bodeguita bar havana

This is their own little White House – modelled obviously on their friendly neighbours White House. Only recently restored it was their new National Capital building – very impressive it was too ! The Congress was previously housed in the building but was abolished and disbanded following the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the building fell into disrepair.

The three amigos- Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and Che Guevarra.

Can’t remember who this fella was but he had a prominent position near the Revolution museum !

Always many American cars can be seen at every junction.

The Revolution Museum – ‘come and see what happened during the revolution brothers !’. This was once the Presidential Palace but became the Museum of the Revolution during the years following the Cuban Revolution.

A Soviet tank destroyer on display outside the museum.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum but we were starting to get hungry so left to find a restaurant. We went to the old Havana area and found a hotel that had a great terrace which was in front of the Havana Cathedral.

The Havana Cathedral – one of eleven Catholic cathedrals on the island and completed in 1777. It is located in the Plaza de la Catedral in the Old Havana area. Nice place for a spot of lunch to in the square !

Havana Cathedral

Ripe for restoration and your next tourist taxi ?!

Our day touring around Havana had come to an end and George took us back to the marina in his trusty Chevy. We had another 3/4 days in the marina mostly trying to find supplies. Food shops were quite often empty or had aisles of the same food, one supermarket we found had shelves and shelves of Hellmans mayonnaise- I never realised that there were so many different types !!

This was the supermarket in the marina – shelves of the same types of biscuits, also sold liters of cooking oil and bags of rice if my memory serves me right. All rather depressing at times !!

We got the boat ship shape and left Hemingway marina to head further west and around to the south of Cuba.

Cuba Pt 2 to follow shortly – Adios !!

Bimini island And Cat CAYs.

Having left Ft Lauderdale it’s only a short crossing to the Bahamas. The west most point is Bimini Island which is only 55 or so nautical miles away. It is an easy day trip but we had to stop a couple of times due to some successful fishing so arrived at sunset.

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

Unfortunately there was a very shallow entrance to the harbour which became even more of a problem with an extra red channel marker ! This marker was in a different place compared to where the chart had it so confused us greatly for some time. We later found out that it had moved from further up the island and hadn’t been repositioned – great help !

Because of this we spent a further hour trying to get into the harbour, it was so shallow in places we touched the bottom a couple of times. As it was dusk we really didn’t want to spend the night run aground so took our time.

Finally, wef made our way in but it was dark by then. We called a couple of the marinas, both by VHF radio and mobile telephone but nobody was answering. We continued to call and drive past a few but no one seemed to be around. As we were running out of patience we went back to one of the first marinas that had a free mooring on the outside and pulled up. A guy then appeared and said we could stay which was a relief.

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

We were on the south of the North Island (if that makes sense !). It was very run down, partly due to a lot of it not being repaired since the last hurricane, and partly due to the fact that a huge Hilton resort had been built on the north of the island. I believe we were also slightly early in the season so the place hadn’t opened up yet.

The coastline was very rugged in places as has been proved by this broken up ship –

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas
Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

There were a few abandoned buildings on this side of the islands, no doubt battered by the weather over the years.

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

We could see this deserted island from our boat, you could probably have walked to it at low tide.

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

The local church and graveyard –

Bimini ISLANDS bahamas

There was a small ferry that would take you to the south island. There was a private resort that had been built but at the time hardly any were occupied. The resort also had it’s own sheltered marina but unfortunately not big enough to get our catamaran through the entrance ! The only problem with the place was it suffered from sand flies or nosemes (or whatever they were), they ate me alive ! They seriously fed on my legs and arms so much I couldn’t wait to get back to the north island where they didn’t seem to exist. If you gave me one of those condos for free I wouldn’t go and visit – they were that annoying to me !

Waiting for the ferry at the south island –

Bimini island bahamas

After a few days (we stayed a bit longer than anticipated due to some stormy weather) we headed out and went further south.

Not too sure I would head back to the Biminis if I were honest, not really enough there to see and not a great gateway to the Bahamas.

Leaving the marina-

Bimini island  bahamas

Saying goodbye to north Bimini –

A short hop south was the islands of Gun Cay and Cat Cay. The north island of Cat Cay is privately owned but it allows transiting vessels to stop overnight and use its facilities. This island is apparently home to the rich and famous but the staff weren’t letting on who lived or stayed there !

Approaching the entrance to Cat Cay –

Cat cay bahamas

The entrance between Gun Quay and Cat Quay can be treacherous if the conditions aren’t favourable.

Cat cay bahamas

As we arrived one of the guys that welcomed us told us that there were lots of sharks gathering because the fisherman were gutting fish. We went over to see some big nurse sharks and a bull shark. Apparently this is a daily event.

We spent the night in Cat Quay and used the bar and restaurant facilities but they didn’t seem too friendly there. Maybe it’s because we weren’t residents and ordered the cheapest thing off the menu ?! I dunno.

The next day the weather was good and we headed off for our next destination – Cuba !