It’s anyone’s guess if or when we might see an end to the 53-year-old U.S. embargo barring Americans from cruising in Cuba, but that hasn’t prevented cruising uide authors and publishers from betting on the out- come. The idea of cruising in Cuba seems ever more
alluring to American yachties, and two new Cuba cruising
guides provide more inspiration.
In mid-2013 Capt. Cheryl Barr, a serious mariner and successful author with two well-regarded cruising guides to her
credit, released the first volume of her new Cruising Guide to
Cuba. It’s a top-quality guide of more than 200 pages, including original color charts and photography, and it offers comprehensive coverage of routes, anchorages, currents, weather
and more for the western half of Cuba.
Frank Virgintino, a longtime Caribbean cruiser and prolific author of free online cruising guides, joined forces with
Amaia Agirre to produce the encyclopedic 524-page A Cruising Guide to Cuba, an e-book you can download from the
Internet for free. The first edition of this guide was released
While it was no doubt unplanned, these two guides with
almost identical names complement one another nicely.
There’s a decided difference of style, and while you may prefer one to the other, both have much to offer. In fact, any serious skipper planning to cruise Cuba will want to have both
on board—those plus the groundbreaking Cuba: A Cruising
Guide by Nigel Calder, published in 1999. While the Calder
guide is dated and caution is advised, it’s likely still useful as a
backup or supplement to other, more up-to-date information.
by Capt. Cheryl Barr
H H H H H
The more conventional of the
new guides—and my personal
favorite—is volume one of the
Cruising Guide to Cuba by
Capt. Cheryl Barr. Published
by her home-based Yacht Pilot Publishing company, this
is the first of two volumes
she’s writing to cover all Cuban waters. This one focuses on the western half of the island, from Varadero on the north coast, around Cabo San
Antonio at the western end, to the town of Trinidad on the
southern coast. She says she hopes to complete research for
the second volume this year.
The best cruising guides are the ones you feel you can
trust implicitly, and this one passes that test for me. Barr is a
Canadian who holds a 200-ton yachtmaster certificate from
the British government, and this guide springs from her re-
search over the past 10 winters of cruising Cuba with her
father aboard his 62-foot Herreshoff schooner. Her dad is
Capt. Don Barr, captain of Nova Scotia’s renowned Bluenose
II schooner for 20 years, and he taught her well. She’s been
messing about in boats since age 7, and it’s clear from her
writing that she sees the world through the eyes of an expe-
rienced captain and practical navigator.
Cheryl Barr knows what it takes to create a proper and useful cruising guide. She zeroes in on just what a captain needs
to know, putting herself squarely on deck and offering solid
captain-to-captain advice. Without being preachy, she shares
her considerable insight into cruising the waters of this diverse
island, and that’s where I find real value here. Like her other
guides, this one isn’t chatty—it’s short on fluff but long on pertinent information. It packs a lot into its 224 pages, including
76 original color charts and maps and dozens of color photos.
Barr opens with an overview of planning a cruise to and
within Cuba, a voyage she likens to sailing back into the 1950s.
Early chapters breeze through all the need-to-know information for first-timers heading there: preparing the boat (hint:
take everything you’ll need other than food, fuel and water!),
gateway departure ports, approved ports of entry, arriving and
dealing with officialdom, currency, electricity, water, fishing,
health and medicine, security and navigation.
She flags one big problem with official Cuban charts:
“Since the original surveys, shoaling and hurricane damage
have affected reefs, created new islands, as well as altered harbor entrances and anchorages,” she writes, “the chart illustrations in this guide are, therefore, some of the most up-to-date
information available.” I take that as good advice rather than
self-promotion, and I salute Barr for the quality of charts in
With terrain equaling the total combined landmass of all
the islands of the West Indies, Cuba has more than 2,000
miles of coastline, over 200 sheltered bays and long stretches
of fringing reefs. With Google Earth you can count almost
4,000 islands and cays, a nearly inexhaustible supply of sheltered anchorages. While there are no doubt hundreds of
anchorages you can find on your own, Barr’s guide does a
yeoman’s job of providing what you need to cruise the coast,
navigate into principal waterways, proceed safely into popular anchorages and cruise through the cays all around the
western half of Cuba.
Her coverage of each significant body of water and every
port of consequence starts with the name (or names) and
coordinates, followed by detailed piloting information for the
approach and the entry, and a brief look at what you’ll find
ashore. The guide includes recommended harbors of refuge,
PassageMaker Book review ratings
H H H H H Highly recommended H H H H Excellent H H H Worth reading H H Just OK H Don’t waste your time
Captain’s Bookshelf BY MILT BAKER
Cuba Cruising Guides: Betting on the Come