The Island of Cuba has always had a special attraction for mariners, starting with Christopher Columbus, who called it “the most beautiful land that human eyes have seen.” Indeed, Cuba is a beautiful subtropical island with almost 2,000 miles of coastline and a fascinating history, and it is by far the largest island in the Caribbean. Cuba has a land area of more than 110,000 square kilometres and a population of more than 11 million. The island has numerous bays and protected coves and more than 4,000 cays and islets. It also has some of the best fishing and diving in the world. Cuba has a well-developed tourism industry that receives more than two million tourists annually. However, compared to the rest of the Caribbean, its nautical tourism is almost non-existent. The Bahamas has more than 70 marinas and more than 3,500 slips and Cuba has only 15 marinas with approximately 800 slips. Cuba is much larger than the Bahamas, which has a land area of only 14,000 square kilometres and about 350,000 inhabitants.
In Cuba, recreational nautical activities have been, for the most part, ignored for the last 50 years. There are some exceptions, such as the Hemingway International Yacht Club, which was founded 20 years ago and has more than 2,000 foreign members. The Club is located in Marina Hemingway, Cuba's largest marina, with about 200 full service slips and space for about 400 more. Most foreign yachts that cruise to Cuba use Marina Hemingway as their “port of entry.” There are more marinas in the planning stage. One that is already under construction is Marina Gaviota, located on the tip of the Varadero peninsula. When completed, this marina will have hotels, apartments, a boatyard and more than 1,000 slips.
It is clear that Cuba's recreational nautical sector could benefit greatly from its close proximity to Florida. With more than 19 million residents, Florida is the fourth most-populated U.S. state. Florida receives about 80 million visitors annually, including Americans and foreigners. South Florida is arguably the most important nautical center of the world. Florida has more than 100,000 recreational boats over 26 ft in length, the largest concentration of cruise ships on earth, and a nautical industry that generates more than $20 billion dollars annually in marinas, boatyards, yacht building, yacht sales, charters and related services. In addition, South Florida has two boat shows —in Miami in February and Ft. Lauderdale in October— which consistently rank among the top five boat shows in the world.
In 1994, the University of Florida conducted a study on how the recreational boating industry of both Florida and Cuba would benefit from unrestricted boating traffic between the two. The study estimated that more than 50,000 yachts from Florida would visit Cuba each year if there were no restrictions on such travel. Most restrictions on nautical travel to Cuba are based on the economic and travel embargo that the United States imposed on Cuba in the early 1960's.
Under President Barack Obama's administration, the United States has liberalized travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and certain categories of Americans. President Obama has been re-elected and it is widely expected that the present categories of travel will be expanded in the near future. Some of these categories include nautical travel, to participate in sports events, environmental and biological research, ferry boats, cruise ships and mega yachts not registered in the United States. All indications are that in the next few years the nautical relationships between Florida and Cuba will be greatly expanded.