Grand Cayman Island

Our passage from Cienfuegos, Cuba to Georgetown, Grand Cayman was uneventful. We traveled for 45 hours in very light, east winds. Clearing customs was a breeze. We hailed Port Security on VHF 16 when we were approximately five miles from Georgetown. We provided information pertaining to our vessel; name, length, draft, beam, number of persons aboard, previous port, and estimated time of arrival. Grand Cayman’s hotel lined Seven Mile Beach was a stark contrast to Cuba’s untouched mountainous landscape. We hailed Port Security a second time upon approaching the Government Dock and the very helpful officer directed us to the Customs Dock. It took us longer to dock Rode Trip against the stone wall than to clear customs. Brian and I each completed a form, we provided our passports, and Brian surrendered his Hawaiian Sling. Then we left the dock and secured Rode Trip to a free mooring ball just off Georgetown’s shoreline.


Grand Cayman is the largest of three sister islands (Little Cayman and Cayman Broc) which are situated in the northwestern Carribean Sea. The islands are a British Overseas Territory and are known for their banking industry and tourism. Grand Cayman is a popular diving location; the clear and well protected waters are home to an abundance of coral and fish. When Columbus found the islands he had named them La Tortugas because at that time there was an abundance of sea turtles here. During the 1600’s and 1700’s the Cayman Islands became a provisioning stop for vessels in the Carribean because the conveniently situated islands provided turtles and also fresh water wells. Sailing vessels could stock their food stores with fresh meat, turtles which they often kept alive on board, and fresh water from limestone wells. Turtle is still eaten in the Caymans and the turtle population has been maintained through farming. Brian and I planned to reprovision at Grand Cayman prior to our passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately we won’t be catching any sea turtles to keep on board but we should find everything we need. This is quite possibly the most expensive location we could have chosen since each $1.00USD equals $ .80CID. There were so many sights to see…not to mention making all the necessary stops for provisioning.


First on our agenda was connecting with Mike at Compass Marine to arrange the replacement of a piece of our rigging. During a rigging inspection back at Jamaica, Brian found a kink on one of the inner stays. A kink is not a good sign because it means that the stay is weakened. Since the stay holds up our mast it needed to be replaced. Brian took down the stay and we were able to arrange for Mike to pick it up at the dinghy dock. Mike’s assessment was that the kink resulted from improper tightening. Fortunately Compass Marine had 9/32 stainless in stock but had to order swaged fittings in order to make our new stay. It was Wednesday and Mike thought the project would be done by Monday the following week. Brian and I were thrilled with Compass Marine; Mike was prompt and straightforward and the new stay was made right.

Rigging in progress, now we had several days to one month’s worth of food stores and replace yet another vital piece of our boat…the vent fan for the composting toilet.

Cienfuegos, Cuba

From the Marlin Nautica y Marinas we had a lovely view of Cienfuegos, Cuba and were anxious to stretch our legs and see the sights.


First stop was to the nearby hotel where we could cambiar dinero (to exchange money). Walking to the hotel we had our first encounter with Cuban art in this sculpture park.






Back past the marina, we admired a mural which became our daily backdrop starting out the 20 minute walk into the city.


Walking down the promenade alongside the lovely Bahia de Cienfuegos, it didn’t take long to notice that the clean, well maintained streets were nearly empty. We started to get that feeling that we had traveled back through time as the few cars that passed were older than our generation might appreciate. Several bicycling taxis asked if we wanted a lift and we politely replied, “No, gracias!”




Many of the homes along this stretch were adorned with intricate metalwork.


When we neared town, the center opened wide into a large pedestrian walk.


On either side of the pedestrian walk the street was lined with apartments, small shops, and restaurants. Peeking into open doors or windows we saw barren, tile floored rooms in which a couch and or dining set were arranged. Many of the rooms extended into courtyards. The shops were very small and their supplies seemed limited for example; eggs and bread, soft drinks and vegetable oil, or pharmacy type products were spotted from our glancing. Some shops had lines of customers out front and most had none. Street vendors carried pineapples, mangos, bananas, fish, or baked goods on their bicycles. Some restaurants offered dining room seating, they were all empty, and some were just a cashier’s counter with a pizza oven behind. The street pizzas were on our list to try, but what we were really in search of was soft serve ice cream.



After turning onto a pedestrian only side-street, we’d nearly missed the soft serve ice cream since the narrow doorway was blocked by a line of people. We spotted the ice cream cone sign which listed fresa (strawberry) and chocolate (chocolate). Once it was our turn in line, Brian and I were ready to order one each to sample both flavors. We approached the counter, a folding table with a money box atop, and cleverly said our pre-rehearsed, “una fresa y uno chocolate.” The man behind the soft serve handle replied, “no,” and swirled his finger in the air. We deducted from his sign language and the ice cream cones in our vicinity that the two flavors were mixed. “Ok, dos!” The rumbling soft serve machine churned out two delicious cones!


Chowing down on our sweet treat, we walked ourselves into the center of Cienfuegos. We found a well manicured park in the center. Many of the buildings around the perimeter of the park were government buildings as well as some shops.





We strolled through this street market. Many beautiful, handcrafted items were for sale. The merchants weren’t pushy; they were happy to tell us about the quality of their item and negotiate a price. They made wooden cars, wooden mini-sculptures, wooden children’s toys, jewelry, leather shoes, leather belts, leather handbags, and aluminum can airplanes and ball caps.


The pedestrian street and park square were visited by us many times during our visit to Cienfuegos.




We ventured onto many side streets throughout Cienfuegos too. Some were more run-down than others. People everywhere were kind and good humored; they were very patient with our broken Spanish and pleased to chat with us. In the evenings, when the 80-degree temperatures cooled, more people would take to the streets to sit and socialize with one another. Old cars (I know Dad is drooling) became commonplace right along with horse drawn carriages.



We stumbled upon a beautiful Catholic Church.



This was “taxi row” as each of the cars had a TAXI sign neatly displayed in the windshield.


We tried not to miss the colors and the details of Cienfuegos while we were learning a new culture and practicing an unfamiliar language.



Yes, that’s a chicken. Chickens were everywhere and I supposed this boy either wanted a new pet or a tasty dinner.



As we do prior to entering any new port, Brian and I researched our destination for several weeks prior to arriving. We’d read and taken notes from two cruising guides: Cuba: A Cruising Guideby Nigel Calder and The Cruising Guide to Cuba First Edition by Simon Charles. We’d conversed with cruisers of various nationalities about their experiences visiting Cuba via the water. I’d been learning Spanish from a program called Fluenz (I’ve been thrilled with this program, it’s perfect for my hands-on learning style). Brian was reviewing his high-school learned Spanish as well by using Rosetta Stone. But with all that preparation we still felt the anticipatory jitters of the unknown as we neared the entrance to the Bahia de Cienfuegos.

Our wind died about five miles from the bay’s entrance, then very lightly reappeared right on our nose. “That’s got to be a sign,” Brian commented. “Oh, shush!” I commanded, “let’s fire up the engine and get there already!” As Communications Officer I was given the job of contacting the authorities to let them know we’d like to enter their country. I was shuffling through the appendix of our cruising guide hastily memorizing key nautical words and rehearsing various openers for the VHF conversation such as: “Capitan del puerto…barco entrada, por favor…dos personas…” The guides had warned us that we may be stopped and escorted into the harbor by the Guarda Frontera, Cuba’s equivalent to Coast Guard. We’d seen only one fishing boat thus far and no other activity on the outskirts of the bay. Finally, the Captain put his authority to use, “I’m not continuing until you hail someone.” Ok, ok time to shine. After some debate we’d decided it best to just hail a marina, who according to the guide books may also facilitate our entry. Here goes…”Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos, Marina Cienfuegos.” And we waited…

No Guarda Fontera boats came zooming around the corner, no response en Espanol came over the VHF. Here is where arriving last comes in handy. We heard the familiar voice of Matt (sv/Serendipity) on the VHF. He instructed us to continue onward into the bay and head toward the marina, that someone would direct us to a slip once we arrived. Well that’s easy!

You’ve seen our beautiful Bahia de Cienfuegos entrance photos, a nice ending to our five day sail. So I’ll skip ahead to the juicy stuff…clearing customs! Sure enough as we approached the Marlin Nautica y Marinas a gentleman was on the docks waving for our attention and directing us to a particular slip. That gentleman was the harbormaster and he gave us a smiling, “Hola!” as he grabbed our bow line. Matt and Jessica were also on the dock as was Luki (sv/Skebenga). Quite the welcoming party! We settled in next to our new neighbor (yes, that pirate ship is actually sitting on the bottom and there are real fish swimming on deck), and awaited the parade of officials that per our research would soon be entering and searching out boat.


The clearance process wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the guide books had informed. It actually went quite smoothly and lasted about two hours at most. Had we known more Spanish it would have been even simpler. Most of the officials spoke broken English and between that and our combined, limited Spanish vocabulary we did understand what was happening every step of the way. An Immigration officer came to the dock first and requested our passports. Then he walked away with them (SCARY!). Ok, still under our quarantine flag we couldn’t get off the boat in pursuit so…we waited to see what would happen next.

A physician on behalf of the International Sanitary Control was our first guest. He completed a questionnaire with us to ensure that we were in good heath and that no crew members had died en route. Then a woman on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture entered the boat. She inspected the expiration dates on our canned foods and eyeballed our produce. She was quite chatty and gave us some good tips regarding changing money, shopping, and traveling via land in Cuba. Then we had a bit of a wait prior to Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera coming aboard.

It is important to note that it was extremely hot in Cienfuegos. Of course Rode Trip has no air conditioning, poor ventilation, and little space. When five officials piled aboard representing Customs, Immigration, and Guarda Frontera the heat encouraged them to move through their paperwork as quickly as possible. They brought with them two dogs; each took a turn sniffing through the interior of our boat. It was quite entertaining to have the dogs aboard. They leapt inside with one jump from the hatch and scampered up the ladder with ease to exit. Two men sat at our small table and each completed a pile of paperwork. I had prepared two copies of our boat’s documentation, two copies of our crew list, and two copies of our passports – the documentation and crew lists were appreciated and I didn’t need any more than two. The officials and Brian signed and stamped several documents and left us with a neat stack of papers and two visas.

There were fees associated with clearance, of course, but we couldn’t change money prior. This was another moment when arriving last came in handy because we were able to borrow CUCs rather than utilize the marina’s exchange at 20% (at the nearby hotel where we did exchange money the exchange rate was 14%). So here’s the breakdown for fees: Immigration for Visas
$25/person, Customs $20, Ministry of Agriculture $5, and there was another $10 that quite honestly we don’t remember where it went. We also gave out three glasses of water, one beer, one tube of toothpaste, two toothbrushes, and two sets of Wiki Sticks (children’s toy).


Finally, we went to the marina office to complete a contract to stay at the marina. We splurged and stayed at the dock for connivence at $ .53/foot. Docking included water and electricity; we used as much water as we wanted and did not hook up to the electric. The facilities weren’t great; we actually used the shower only once during our week long stay. We preferred to use our own bathroom and solar shower on the boat which were clean. There were no laundry services and there were trash and recycling on site.

At the marina we were encouraged to purchase health insurance; $3/day/person. This is twice as expensive as our current health plan. It seemed that only the USA boats were approached regarding this plan. We were given the night to think it over. We forgot to return the next morning to purchase the plan and we were never asked about it again.

All cleared in!