Five Star Ghost Marina

Most sailors dream of sailing the Caribbean at least once in their lives. They dream of warm weather, clear water, secluded anchorages, endless beaches…

The reality hits them with unaffordable marinas, crowded anchorages and crazy labor rates. I am not saying there are no hidden gems left off the beaten path anymore but the beaten path has become a beaten autobahn in the recent decades, an industry aggressively aiming at the cruisers’ pockets.

So wouldn’t it be just great if there was an affordable marina with all possible amenities, spacious and safe, in the center of popular cruising grounds? At mooring fees less than $0.50 per foot per day?

All Amenities Available

With free 110V/220V shore power for each slip, free water, wifi, plenty showers and bathrooms, swimming pool, laundry, cafes and restaurants and even a shuttle bus to the next city? With a competent boat yard, 100 ton-travel lift, huge and hurricane safe hard storage, sailmaker, specialized welding and motor workshops that offer their competent services for less than $20 per hour? With a dedicated customs pier and crew, a marina traffic control tower, towing service and security guards? And the wonderful beach just a few minutes walk away?

And here I am, walking through a deserted, fairly new, 5-star marina. Yet, I am walking past empty slips and lonely mooring balls. Usually the boats are supposed to med-moor stern in but the few visitors have all gone alongside the endless finger piers.

Five years ago the marina was extended to its current size of an unbelievable 1350 transient slips and an additional 100 slips for local (mostly charter) boats, making it one of the largest marinas in the Caribbean.

Yet, today, as I keep walking through the perfectly landscaped premises, I count five visiting boats: four compatriots from Germany and one Columbian boat that only came in for a mechanical. 

When I arrived, the dockmaster and the entire immigration, customs and veterinarian crew would already be waiting for me at the conveniently laid-out customs pier. The customs building, exclusively built for international marina visitors can easily compete with that of many international airports and is designed to process 100 arrivals per day. 

On the wild and rough passage Seefalke’s boom-mast connection finally sheered off. Needs to be welded urgently. When I bring my boom to the boatyard’s workshop they immediately start working. Two mechanics are taking loving care of my boom, and two hours later it is – no shit! – better than new! When I get the bill a few days later, they charge me an equivalent of $18. 

Stunning Beach in Walking Distance

No need to show the little card they gave me when I pass the security checkpoints on my way past the main plaza to the main gate. They know me. 

15 mins later I am at a stunning beach. Very touristy, though, but also plenty of activities: wind surfing, sea kayaking, kite surfing, cat sailing, snorkeling,… you name it! Tourists are plenty, but where are all the sailors?

When I walk back to the marina, I am humming “Where have all the sailors gone?” to the tunes of that old Woodstock song. And I really do not understand. A few miles north it is hard to get a spot in a marina even though the fees are ten times higher. And a few miles east sailors easily pay $300 for just a cruising permit.

In the evening the wind is picking up to near gale force. When I am on the pier making sure my lines and my fenders are ok, I hear dockmaster Francisco’s, friendly, cigar blurred voice “¡Hola, amigo!”in the dark. As we chat a few minutes while we have coffee I learn that the marina management has ordered special night shifts for the dockmasters due to the weather. They are supposed to do hourly rounds to check on everyone’s lines and fenders. I am still flabbergasted about their customer friendly attitude when he has left.

When Politics Meets Sailing

Back on my boat my thoughts take wing and fly: With a little bit of marketing and word of mouth this place would flourish! I know sailors from all over the world would love this place! But then my thoughts turn bitter, as always when sailing meets politics: Imagine, this place was not blacklisted by the US Treasury Department. Imagine, US sailors would not be deprived of their freedom to travel here.

This place would be a place full of life! A place where sailors from all over the world meet and exchange stories and make new friends and can rest.

Welcome to Marina Gaviota, Varadero, Cuba!

You enjoyed the glimpse of life in Cuba? Read more in our series “Revolution and Reality”. This is the captain’s pick: