In addition to the major yards, a few smaller ports build and repair fishing boats. These facilities could do yacht work if the demand warranted it. Two of the most likely yards on the North Coast are in La Esperanza and Los Arroyos. Both are small ports but maintain a fairly large fishing fleet. Hauling facilities in these ports have a capability of approximately 50 tons. Their current activities involve boats made of wood, steel, fiberglass and ferro cement, so they have well-rounded capabilities.
Cuba has a long history of building ships, yachts and boats, with generally good workmanship. All Cubans are educated; most shipyard workers have engineering degrees. However, they have very little experience in what we call yacht finish. Most jobs currently being undertaken are for the fishing and tour boat industries. This work is in steel, fiberglass and wood, with some new construction, but mostly just repairs. Occasionally, though, highly skilled craftsman from Cuban furniture factories are involved in yacht finish.
Demex, a Dutch company that manages the two main shipyards in Cuba, Havana and Santiago, has recently trained Cuban workers for its own operations, in aluminum welding and spraying epoxies and topcoats such as Interlux. Demex is also building ferries in Batabano and Nueva Gerona for Cuban services. Other training comes from International Paints (to boost sales), which is the only paint currently being imported into Cuba. Also, the Cuban government has brought in people to provide training in aluminum welding.
Yacht Pilot Marine Service, owned and operated by the author and his daughter, has been involved in a few projects (50 to 135 feet) in Cuba during the past ten years. They have provided project management, deliveries, and survey logistic services for yachts cruising the Canadian Maritimes. Overall, the owners were well satisfied with the price and workmanship. While Cuban workers are skilled and fast learners, the pace of work was quite slow, and getting materials always presented a problem.
The main reason for slow work pace is that there is no incentive to motivate the workers. Cuban workers typically earn about $10 dollars per month. Since they cannot make more, there is no incentive and no hope for any kind of advancement. (Though when Cubans receive pay “under the table,” things do seem to work better.) This condition would improve if the system in Cuba changes to where people have an incentive to work hard, as evident in U.S. Cubans.
Cubans have changed a lot in the past 10 to 12 years. With increasing arrival of tourists and yachts, Cubans are now realizing what the rest of the world is like. Until 1992, information exchange there was tightly controlled, but that is no longer possible. Younger Cubans, those under 50 years old, are anxious for that change.
With so many well-sheltered bays around the coast of Cuba, the possibilities exist for many yacht facilities to be established. In time, given the right political climate, Cuba could well become the largest yachting center in the entire Caribbean.