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If megayachts gearing up to visit Cuba want to travel in luxury, they should plan to bring it with them, said Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club.
“The trip is possible, but when the megayachts go to Cuba, they must be prepared with everything: diesel, water, electricity, everything. They want to enjoy all the beauty of Cuba, but if you don’t have all that, maybe the trip would be uncomfortable.”
Escrich, 69, is an ambassador of recreational yachting in his country. He was 16 years old when he joined Cuba’s Revolutionary Navy as a midshipman. He studied at the Naval Academy and graduated in 1969 as a Corvette Lieutenant. He went on to serve in the Cuban Navy for 25 years, retiring as a Commander.
Now, Escrich and the nonprofit Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba, which he founded in 1992, are often the first contact for captains and potential visitors who want to cruise around Cuba.
“Many, many people, many, many captains write to me saying they want to go to Cuba,” Escrich said. “Cuba as a destiny for megayachts may be very interesting for the culture, for the people,” he said. “For example, scuba diving, snorkeling fishing, beach, wonderful environmental protection. You may say ‘I want to go to Cuba on a megayacht to learn about Havana, architecture, culture, Cuban ballet, the tropical cabaret’ but you won’t find the infrastructure for megayachts.
Escrich’s club offers support to anyone coming to Cuba on a boat, including entry information and boating rules. The goal, he said, is to position the club as the liaison between boating and the Cuban government.
“As a club, we are trying to become the most prestigious nautical institute of Cuba,” Escrich said. “We want the government to listen to us as an adviser when they develop the rules and regulations. We won’t be the creators of those rules; we will just help adapt those rules to the world of yachting. We will pass [along] all of the experience we have with international boating. We don’t pretend to substitute the government; we will be the advisers in new times.”
And although the Caribbean nation is not yet ready for an influx of boating tourists, Escrich said he expects that to change.
“We hope with increase in megayachts visiting Cuba, the Cuban government and all of the members of the government [will] decide about the marinas, they will start developing the infrastructure for megayachts,” he said. “That way, revenues would be increasing. Maybe they start trying to sell the diesel, the power and the reparations.”
Since the U.S. government eased travel restrictions on America last year, Escrich has watched his calendar fill up with events and requests to speak about what those changes will mean to recreational yachting in Cuba. He was expected to lead a session called “The Cuba-U.S. Thaw: What Opportunities Could Lie Ahead” scheduled for the Jan. 28 during the International Marina and Boatyard Conference in Ft. Lauderdale.
Click to hear Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich on The Triton on YouTube.
One of the things he said he plans to discuss is a plan to convert Havana Harbor from a commercial harbor to a recreational harbor.
“They are planning no more commercial there,” he said. “Just megayachts and cruising ships, and also a boatyard for repairing and maintenance of the megayachts.”
This project would be a collaborative effort with funding afforded by the Cuban government along with investment capital from private and foreign investors.
“Now, it is still a dream,” Escrich said.
Cuba remains a communist country, and every marina in Cuba belongs to the government.
“But the club is the principle promoter of those marinas in Cuba,” Escrich said. “The yacht club is the only one keeping contact with the international boating community.”
Escrich spread out a map of his country and detailed the marinas and ports capable of hosting megayachts as well as the amenities offered at each.
“Havana Harbor, Santiago Harbor, Casilda Harbor and Cienfuego Harbor,” Escrich began. “These are the four places where they have cruising terminals. To go to those ports, megayachts must have coordination with the government. These harbors belong to the transportation minister. The government will give a megayacht the same treatment as a cruise ship at those ports.
Instead, he recommends that yachts visit marinas in smaller ports, even if the amenities aren’t up to megayacht standards.
“For example, you will see that you won’t have electricity for the megayachts, you won’t always find the diesel installation, and probably you will find some difficulty getting water,” he said.
The largest marina in Cuba right now is the Marina Gavioto in Varadero. It has 1,200 slips, about 1,000 of which are functional, Escrich said.
“It is first class/world class, the largest in Cuba, but right now, they have low capacity for megayachts,” he said. “That marina wasn’t designed for megayachts. Maybe for 10, no more than that.”
Marina Hemingway might take about seven yachts at the same time, he said. Yachts of no more than 70m with a draft no more than 4.3m.
Marina Darsena Varadero can take “no more than four megayachts” of about 40m and draft of 4.3 m. Yachts much larger than that must head to Havana Harbor, he said.
Marina Gaviota in north-central Cuba can take “no more than 10 megayachts, draft 4.3m, less than 80m.”
“There is the small Marina Vita Gaviota that has big commercial boats,” he said. “Ships anchor, no slips, megayachts can anchor and take tenders to port.”
Cayo Largo Yacht Club Marina has room for two megayachts 30-40m (in slips), although more than that can anchor outside.
Marina Santiago de Cuba has capacity for three or four yachts from 60-70m long between slips and in deep-water anchorage.
Marina Cienfuegos, Punta Gorda (Cienfuegos Province) is on a large, natural anchorage that can handle several large yachts, although not in slips.
Suzette Cook is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Commodore Escrich by sending your email to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org