Weather to Sail to Cuba

What are we looking for in a weather window to sail to Cuba?  The day we tried to sail to Cuba had a forecast of SE 10-15, seas 2-4 which seems to be the consensus of those who have gone before us.  Of course, “salty” sailors will go in any conditions, but we’re not “salty”. So… being the “wussy” sailers we are … enough wind to sail, but not enough to kick up the gulf stream steep and sharp waves.  Preferably no squalls, is settled weather too much to ask?  Maybe this year!

Crazy Mixed Up Waves - a Different Sail, Not as Crazy, Yellow Jacklines in Place, Thank Goodness!

Crazy Mixed Up Waves – a Different Sail, Yellow Jacklines in Place, Thank Goodness!

Our previous forecast called for “showers”, 4 hundredths of an inch – OK, we’ll get slightly soggy.  Overnight before we left, there had been a couple “showers” – light rain, no wind, no problem. No squalls. Unfortunately the forecast was wrong and after two squall lines 25-30 kts and 8 ft seas after only the first two hours (and 15 miles) the sail quickly got tiresome.

After this experience, we’re looking for LIGHT winds – N – ENE – E – ESE – SE, no more than 15, preferably closer to 10-12.  Waves 2-4 or less (keep in mind 2-4 means 50% higher or 3-6).  NO unstable weather, no “showers”, no squalls or thunderstorms.  Preferably warmer than 60, although that may be optional.  A full moon is a bonus.  🙂

Gulf Stream

The gulf stream off Key West is running almost due east, not north like on the east coast of Florida for a Bahamas crossing.  Ideally, it would seem a West or Northwest wind might be good; but there’s a catch.

West and Northwest winds indicate an approaching cold front in the Florida Keys with associated big wind and waves.   If part of the ride is pleasant, several hours later might not be pleasant at all .. and, in fact, rumor has it they close the channel entrance to Hemingway Marina on the Cuba north coast in strong NW winds. If we had a fast boat, it would be a more attractive option.

Nigel Calder says in his “Cuba: A Cruising Guide” (a bit outdated but Cuba hasn’t moved, so certain information still applies) … “Since the Marina Hemingway channel faces northwest, during the early stages of a norther, large breaking seas run straight up the channel – entry can be quite hazardous …. if using the advantageous winds of a norther… the passage should be timed so as to arrive after the wind has shifted toward the NE and moderated at which time the breakers tend to sweep across the channel wit less force….  Even so, to avoid the risk of broaching and being thrown onto the reef, you will need to keep to the windward side of the channel, and to come in with sufficient speed to maintain steerageway (underpowered sailboats — ed. note: THAT’S US!!!- should be wary of entering in these conditions).  When the wind is from the prevailing east the entry channel is calm.”

Calder seems to advocate sailing on the heels of a cold front – if the winds are still from a northerly component and the seas have time to settle down … which unfortunately in the winter is not a common occurrence. We’re not sure, but if it’s light, we’d go.

Now you know what we’re watching for…  and watching … and watching…   Hopefully as it gets to be spring, we’ll get the perfect window!  Watching the sparkling aqua blue water rush by, trailing a fishing line, spotting sea turtles and dolphins, enjoying a sunset dinner in the cockpit and then a night full of either a brilliant full moon or dark starry night with falling stars!  Followed by a colorful sunrise in the morning over Havana.  Sounds so easy ….

Cheers … “stuck” at the dock in Key West ….    Jan


  1. So… Are you there? Or still “here”? Guessing this was a stored post unless I missed something. We’re on pins and needles!

    • Bienvenidos de Cuba! We’re here & having a great time. No wifi, can’t send photos, so more when we return. We’ll be here for President OBama’s historic visit to Havana, but likely miss the Rolling Stones free concert. More soon … or after we run out of money and have to leave to sail back to Florida! 🙂 Cheers — Jan

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