WE HAD enough worries that dark and eerie night off the coast of Cuba without the big searchlight beaming from shore.

It flashed back and forth across the water as we passed about five miles from Point Maisi, the easternmost end of Cuba, piercing the dark with a sinister white shaft that reflected off the sails of our yawl Felicity.

Theing stopped by gunboats and detained on the coast of Cubaing stopped by gunboats and detained on the coast of Cuba, and we have since met people who have had that misfortune.

We didn't want the first major kink in our around-the-world schedule to be a personal interview with Fidel Castro.

Our minds were eased later in the evening when an American aircraft carrier, escorted by two destroyers, came steaming along from Guantanamo Bay. The searchlight went out when those ships appeared.

We were then able to give our full attention to the navigational problems of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. It lived up to its name that night.

The winds piped up to a brisk 25 knots and we reefed our mainsail down to half of its normal size. We skidded along 10-foot-high seas under the main and our small mizzen sail. The wind was behind us and we made good progress on our course toward Jamaica.

Of more serious concern, the lighthouse on Point Maisi did not blink the way our chart indicated it should. Instead of flashing every 20 seconds, it blinked every five.

A franctic search through nagivational books revealed that the light on Point Maisi had indeed changed. However, the Defense Mapping Agency failed to give the correct characteristics, either in the Light List we had aboard or on the chart.

Our mental state was not helped at all by a warning in the Navy's sailing directions that the lights along the coast of Cuba are "unreliable."

Finally we decided to follow the flood of commerical shipping that converges on the Windward Passage, a major gateway to the Caribbean Sea and the Panama Canal. We considered it safer to dodge the freighters and brilliantly-lit passenger liners than to venture into shore.

With the exception of the Crooked Island Passage in the Bahama Islands, our trip from Miami to that point had been relatively free fo big ship traffic or other major concerns.

The notorious Gulf Stream was moderately calm when we crossed from Miami to Gun Cay in the Bahamas, and the overnight trip from there across the shallow Great Bahama Bank to Nassau was much like Chesapeake Bay sailing, except that in the bright moonlight we could see the bottom and occasional coral heads in the crystal clear water only five to 10 feet below our keel.

After an evening in Nassau, we departed with Washington lawyers Mac Redwine and Buck O'Leary and Alexandria advertising executive Ham Morrison on board as crew. Redwind and Morrison arrived absolutely bankrupt and rueful, having made substantial contributions to the Bahamian economy through the Paradise Island casino.

Morrison soon became affectionately known as "Mr. Stew" in honor of his accomplishment with canned goods and spices. Serious cooking is difficult at sea, but like Nick Pappas before him Morrison excelled.

We had hoped to augment our diet with fresh seafood, but the one eating-size fish we caught with our trolling line was bitten in two by a barracuda. We hauled in half a mackerel, still kicking feebly, and any notions of going for a swim and a saltwater bath were dispelled.

A later attempt at a rainwater shower also was thwarted. Two days out from Nassau we decided to take advantage of a mean rain squall that, bore down on the boat. The rain started and all five of us stripped and lathered up.

As suddenly as the rain had begun, it quit. There we stood on deck, five grown men, cursing our luck through the shampoo and soap suds.

Buckets of seawater were hauled on board to finish the job. We were left salty but clean.

About halfway down the Bahama Islands the long-awaited trade winds filled our sails, and we winged away for days of idyllic cursing. The winds were steady and reliably from the northeast, and they pushed us along at a brisk pace under blue skies flecked with white puffs of "tradewind clouds" by day and a canopy of brilliant stars at night.

This was the kind of sailing we had dreamed about during the two years planning the voyage.

After clearing the Windward Passage, we ran right through the U.S. Natvy's gunnery range near Guantanamo Bay on the south coast of Cuba. An ammunition ship was poised to begin firing at a target sled when we flashed a Morse-code signal: "Please hold your fire." It did.

Later the ship pulling the target steamed over and wanted to know if we had sent an S.O.S. It was obvious we hadn't, since we were lying on deck in the warm sun, and we surmised that the sailors wanted to see if we had women on board. We disappointed them.

After another spectacular tropical night, dawn the next mornign revealed the beautiful blue-green montains of Jamaica's north shore.

We cruised along the coast all through the day, enjoying close hand looks at sugar cane and pineapple fields and the luxury hotels as we neared Montego Bay.

After dark we pulled into the Montego Bay Yacht Club and were greeted by the commodore and club manager, both of English stock with proper "BBC" accents. They extended the full courtesies of the club.

While our greeting and the yacht club enclave had all the earmarks of Jamaica's colonial past, we soon learned of the political difficulties the wealthy are having with the new socialist government.

Any problems we might have had with the local authorities were avoided, however, when we presented the customs officials with gifts of alkaline flashlight batteries, rare and valuable commodities in many places.

We also keep on board for such purposes a large supply of stainless steel fish hooks, which are reportedly priceless in the South Pacific, and a dozen or so back issues of Playboy.

The yacht club was inconveniently located, so we moved the boat to an anchorage just off one of Montego Bay's more plush resort hotels. It was a fitting scene for a visit from Cupid, who struck Felicity with a vengeance.

Ann Arcos of Washington, a former Miss Scotland, visited us in Montego Bay, and she and Woodard are now engaged to be married at trip's end. One day was devoted to ring shopping in Montego's duty free shops.

After romance and rest for five days, we said goodbye to our crew and signed on Barry Stern and Mike Dolan of Washington for the trip from Jamaica across the Caribbean to Panama.

We stopped one night in Negril on Jamaica's western end - primarily for a disappointing check of the nude beach there - and then sailed around the south side of the island to Kingston. We topped off fuel and water tanks and headed to sea.

Dolan had been with us on our winter leg from Annapolis to Miami, and he soon assumed a familiar position - seasick on the lee cockpit seat. He was joined there by Stern, but neither missed a turn at his duties.

The Caribbean is rough this time of year, pounded constantly by the stiff winter trade winds, and its wave patterns are confused by large swells created by distant Atlantic storms.

Both Dolan and Stern recovered to enjoy the last two of our four days at sea. During one of those nights we experienced what is always a great thrill for northern hemisphere sailors - our first clear view of the Southern Cross, a brilliant constellation visible only in the southern hemisphere and the lower northern latitudes.

We made a night landfall at Manzanillo Point on the north coast of Panama. The next morning we sailed through the breakwaters at Limon Bay and anchored at the northern terminus of the Panama Canal.