Cruising Cuba: Learning the Rules

In Cuba, officials never arrive alone. Ordinary citizens aren’t allowed on foreign boats without the Port Captain’s permission, and then they use the buddy system.

The first to board is the doctor. He leaves his shoes on the dock, covers his stocking feet with cloth booties and asks permission, then swings a leg over the rail. After checking on the general wellbeing of the entire crew — nothing more serious than seasickness and a slight cold — he scans each forehead and records temperatures.

His buddy today is the Port Captain, a member of the Coast Guard. She wants our documentation and port clearance.

Next up are two Immigration officials who use carbon paper. The doctor is explaining the mandatory $3/day health insurance when Customs arrives, hungry and tired. We are their seventh boat today. They account for our electronics and, after I sign a consent form, invite crew members to witness their search.

Two more agents in coveralls join them, along with a contraband-sniffing pair of spaniels. They’re followed by the agricultural inspector — who uses a magnifying glass to point out insect activity at the stem of a cantaloupe — in company with the veterinarian, who doubles as a meat inspector. Dried or canned meat is okay; fresh is confiscated, depending on the country of purchase. They are understanding about wasted provisions. “Eat your eggs and produce,” they counsel. “Dispose of refuse in the special bins.”

The Dockmaster  presents our cruising permit and returns our passports and 30-day tourist visas.

Welcome to Cuba.

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