It isn't a stretch to suggest that current Cuba-US relations are twisting in a gyroscopic tizzy. Despite the vague and ambiguous nature of US policies, some 65 American skippers said, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and raced and cruisedto Florida's southern neighbor in late May as part of the unofficial Havana Cup Regatta. The US Treasury Department had issued a cease-and-desist order against the event organizers, Ocean Racing Ventures, Inc., and the threat that individual sailors might face government action upon their return hung in the air. Despite all of that, more than 300 US sailors joined the flotilla to Cuba, which included more than a dozen boats that raced from Tampa Bay on the morning of May 26.
Sailing out of Sarasota, Charlie Clifton's Schock 35 Morning Glory was the first and possibly only official finisher on the race from the mouth of Tampa Bay to Marina Hemingway. A lack of wind forced most of the racers to fire up their iron genoas for what became more of a powerboat ride across Florida Bay and the Straits of Florida.
First to finish the 18-mile course was Lyman White's Englewood, FL-based all-carbon F-25 trimaran Silverheels. Covering the distance in less than two hours, he and his crew beat the committee boat to the finish line. An entry from Argentina, Thumper, won the honors among those boats flying spinnakers, with the Tampa Bay-based Noelani II, racing double-handed, taking the top non-spinnaker award.
The entire contingent of visiting boaters at Marina Hemingway—some 150 powerboats and sailboats—was treated to a stunning floor show under the stars at the Acuario Hotel's poolside stage following the awards ceremony for the Morro Castle Race. The show included the Cuban version of carnival with more than 30 costumed performers eventually drawing the sailors into the act while dancing through the crowd. There is no doubt the Cuban people know how to party!
There were other signs that modernization has hit Havana. A new sailing center has been established just outside of Marina Hemingway where a fleet of Lasers and other small boats sit on racks waiting to be used by Cuba's top sailors. And unlike the past, when visitors to Marina Hemingway have endured four- and five-hour waits getting cleared into the country after arriving by boat, the process was much quicker this year. Most crews were headed to their berths along the quays of the Marina after about two hours—not bad considering there are five government agencies to deal with.
Of course the bureaucratic machinations don't end when you leave Cuba. Most of the US-based boats returned to ports along the east and west coasts of Florida in early June hoping not to experience too many problems with agents from U.S. immigration, agriculture, and customs services. According to scattered reports, most voyagers fared just fine in this regard. But if you consider joining the fray next year, you should know that US regulations prohibit boaters from bringing any Cuban goods back to the US, and current laws prevent Americans from spending any money in Cuba, so like most of the Havana Cup fleet, plan on being self-sufficient while in Cuba. Ocean Racing Ventures' president Jim Duncan said he is continuing to work with Treasury Department officials with hopes of resuming official race status for the Havana Cup. And given the positive experience that the unofficial Havana Cup participants had, this event could easily draw more than 100 boats next year, even without official sanctioning from the government.
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