Going coastal on a Cuban sailing trip

A sailing trip around Cuba’s Canarreos Archipelago introduces adventurous travellers to coral-formed beaches, serious snorkelling and some hefty-sized iguanas.

CUBA-Sitting on the deck of the Neptune surrounded by the azul waters of the Caribbean Sea, hypnotized by the afternoon sun, my moment of zen is suddenly interrupted when a large wave crests over the side of the ship, leaving me completely drenched.

I slip onto the deck floor sputtering, surrounded by sea water. My fellow travellers, safely perched above me on a bench near the captain’s seat, burst out laughing, as do I.

At this point we’ve been sailing around the Canarreos Archipelago for just over six days, and a little water — although a surprise — is nothing new. It’s all just part of the ride.

At times exciting, relaxing, and always a little unpredictable, G Adventures’ sailing trip takes up to 14 guests south of the Cuba mainland aboard a 25-metre catamaran.

Specializing in small group tours all over the world, G Adventures chose this area for its Cuba sailing expedition because of the natural and unspoiled condition.
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Exploring remote islands once used by pirates to hide stolen treasure and now frequented by only a smattering of chartered boats, it’s a unique opportunity to see a wilder side of Cuba.

Since launching two years ago, it’s quickly become the company’s most popular sailing trip. This is all-inclusive for the adventurous at heart.

Arriving from Havana at our departure point of Cienfuegos, our group takes a tour of the lovely beachside town before boarding our home for the next six nights.

As we sail throughout the evening, the choppy waters initially feel foreign and shaky. But the Neptune is a sturdy-feeling craft and although the cabins aren’t exactly roomy, the beds are comfortable and there is space for your stuff. All the action happens up on deck anyway.

With so few passengers and three crew, everyone gets to know each other quickly. Ranging in age from late 20s to mid 60s and hailing from South Korea to Belgium, guests spend time swapping travel stories around the meal table or hanging out on the big, comfy mats below the boom.

Some level of routine sets in. A big brass bell is rung every morning at 8 a.m. to coax still-sleepy guests from their bunks for breakfast, complete with the infamously rich taste of Cuban coffee.

After that, Philippa Stephenson — our cheery guide who will help us navigate everything from snorkelling to speaking Spanish — outlines the day’s activities.

There’s a loose itinerary for the week, but it’s all weather dependent and group-oriented. Our group is a pretty active bunch and does a lot of snorkelling.

one excursion to check out an underwater shipwreck, Lance Taylor, a spry retiree from North Vancouver, rescues my snorkel from the ocean floor after I lose it while readjusting my mask. The water is so clear here that even metres below the ship we can see my snorkel lying in the sand.

Meal times quickly become a big event for our group. Our cook, Carlitos Manazillo, is an outgoing Cuban from Cienfuegos with a major love of reggaeton, which plays out of the galley most of the day. He is also an incredible cook. From barracuda to pork ribs, fried bananas to mashed yucca, the food one board is a combination of Cuban fare and familiar comfort food.

Some of our entrées come straight from the sea. As we sail, Manazillo and captain Ernesto Basco, a gentle man of fewer words than the cook, fish from the back of the boat. At one point I watch the captain reel in a horse-eye jack nearly as long as my arm.

All the sun and snorkelling leaves most of us exhausted after dinner, and most guests like to call it a night around 11 p.m.

When everyone heads to bed on our last night out at sea, I lay down on the deck at the front of the boat, gazing up at the stars.

I start thinking about how hundreds of years ago, pirates like Henry Morgan came upon these pristine islands on clear nights such as this. Waves rock the boat back and forth and I drift off to sleep. Luckily for my dreams, this time I don’t get drenched.

Grace Lisa Scott’s trip was sponsored by G Adventures, which didn’t review or approve the story.

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