Cuba Sail 2017 – Key West to Havana

April 19, 2017Sailing, Travel|0 comments

The trip started with all of us, Michael and Aaron and I at least, headed down to Key West on Tuesday to meet up at Sunset Marina on Stock Island, and board Florida Yacht Group’s Jeanneau 449 ‘Real Escape’.   After a thorough checkout and briefing with Adam, we headed into downtown Key West to eat and grab a drink while waiting for our final crew-member Oscar to arrive.

Wednesday we got up, ran to Publix to (over) provision and ran a few errands…while we continued to wait for Oscar to arrive.  Thankfully he showed up just in time and we pushed off at 2:30 for a slow careful motor up and around Key West and down through the main channel, finally raising sail at 4:20pm close to the main safe water marker there at the entrance.

The trip literally could not have been better (something we all felt like we were going to pay for on the return leg…and we were right).   Showers in close to Key West cleared out for a clear sky, full moon, 10-15knots out of the north for the broad reach towards Havana.  The winds and waves picked up some as we went on, and especially as we got into the Gulf Stream, but never uncomfortable.

Smooth 4-5ft rollers behind us and and a nice point of sail made for a great evening of music and conversations and getting to know each other.  Oscar and I have known each other for years, but the rest of us had all pretty much (if not literally) just met.

The winds and waves picked up some as we went on, and especially as we got into the Gulf Stream, but it was never uncomfortable.

I was keen to use the opportunity to practice some skills, so dove into the B&G manuals for the plotter, wind instruments and VHF/AIS and started an hourly log and DR/Fix plot on the chart.  We loved the wireless VHF/AIS handheld.  Would have been nicer if the AIS was set to display on the plotter, but getting it off the VHF (below or on the handheld) was easy and definitely came in handy later as we crossed the main shipping route through the Straights.  Obviously radar would have been good too, but we used what we had.

Skipper Michael, who has been actively sailing for many years, shook his head in disbelief several times over the route.  We just could not have asked for a nicer, easier or prettier crossing.

We passed through the shipping lanes and for a while felt like we were being stalked by the ‘Baltic Cougar’, but nothing came closer than a couple miles.  AIS is beautiful.

Around 3am, lights appeared on the horizon.  At first I thought it was another ship (or two), but as more came into view, we realized it was the coast of Cuba.

Sunrise was spectacular.  Most people say to aim straight for Havana (from Key West), let the Gulf Stream push you East as you cross, and then make your way back West past Havana and to Hemingway along the coast.  The great thing about that is that you get to cruise up the coast past Havana as the sun comes up.  Awesome.

Getting into Hemingway was uneventful for us, but I hear it can be a challenge with more northerly winds.  Quick call, instructions to the customs dock, and a party of doctors, customs and marina officials who just couldn’t be nicer are waiting to board.

After clearing customs and integration there at the dock, we motored over to our slip on canal 1, scared the bejeezus out of a nice French couple circumnavigating on their tres agreable (and apparently fairly well-known Privilege Series 5 catamaran.  It’s funny how people show up out of the wordwork to help dock when the fairly obvious newbs on the expensive rental/charter come steaming into port.  But we certainly appreciated the help.  We loved chatting when them and watching their ‘Full Time Circumnavigating Cruiser’ routine during the week.  They were clearly pros.  HERE is their blog and HERE is a link to an review of their (exact) boat.  Nice boat.  REALLY Nice Boat.

After we finally tied up, met with the last of the marina officials, converted some greenbacks to Cuban Convertibles (CUCs), Michael finally crashed.  He had taken the longest stretch by far at the helm, and as skipper had to deal with the lion’s share of getting through customs, checked into the marina, and berthed.  Well deserved, Skip.  You got an hour…maybe two.  🙂

What a great leg.  Amazing.

We’re in Cuba, fellas.  Cheers.

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