Pays Off for Cuban Yacht Sector
In the first half of this year alone, Cuba has welcomed nine different offshore boat races and rallies involving many foreign travelers, most of them from the United States.
Despite the fact that some travel and economic restrictions on US citizens still remain, the recreational boating sector in Cuba has made great advances this year with an extensive program of US-to-Cuba races and regattas that has come about mainly thanks to the efforts of Commodore José Miguel Díaz Escrich of Club Náutico Internacional Hemingway (Hemingway International Yacht Club).
This year’s packed calendar of US-to-Cuba boating events began on January 28th with the Conch Republic Cup (also known as Key West Cuba Race Week), followed by the Miami to Havana Race in February, organized by the Coral Reef Yacht Club; the Big Sails Challenge in March, organized by the Key West Yacht Club; the Sarasota-Havana Regatta in April, organized by the Sarasota Yacht Club; and the Rallies to Cuba in April and June, organized by AIM Marine Group. May was a busy month, with the Florida-Havana Powerboat Rally, organized by the Florida Powerboat Club, and the Key West–Havana Challenge for Hobie Cats, organized by Key West Yacht Club. June also saw two events: the TMCA Rally to Cuba, organized by the Texas Mariners Cruising Association; and the last event for the six-month period, the Key West-Havana Rally Challenge on June 26th.
Between January and June, 211 boats and 1.450 yachtsmen from 43 nautical clubs in the United States participated in nautical-related activities in Cuba.
A former naval officer, José Miguel Díaz Escrich, better known in the international nautical community as Commodore Escrich, founded Hemingway Yacht Club on May 21st, 1992, intending the club to be a bastion for restoring and defending the maritime and nautical traditions of the island. He says that in addition to a warm welcome at the clubhouse located in Marina Hemingway, visitors can find historic artifacts including the fishing rod used by Fidel Castro in the billfish tournament of 1960.
In 1996, Commodore Escrich delivered a nautical-recreation seminar to more than 30 Americans who travelled to Havana for that purpose. In 1998, he organized, within the framework of Cuba’s annual Tourism Conference, a seminar entitled Nautical Recreation in the Caribbean with the participation of representatives from the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Holland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and numerous representatives from the Caribbean. An in-depth workshop on the subject was held in Havana in 2012 (see “Thinking Big in Cuba” at www.caribbeancompass.com/online/july12compass_online.pdf, page 14). Also, the Commodore taught courses and organized conferences for Cuban stakeholders regarding the development of the recreational boating sector and the marina industry.
Díaz Escrich has traveled to the US in order to promote friendship links with American sailors and to promote Cuban marine tourism. While in Florida from December 19th, 2015 until the end of January this year, he visited the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, the Key West Yacht Club, the Coral Reef Yacht Club, the Pensacola Yacht Club, the Isles Yacht Club, the Tampa Bay & Yacht Club, the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, the Stuart Sailfish Club, the Lauderdale Yacht Club, and the Captiva Island Yacht Club, and met with representatives of Florida Council of Yacht Clubs, the Southern Ocean Racing Conference and the international SeaKeepers Society. He also delivered a talk about Cuban nautical recreation at the International Marina & Boatyard Conference in Ft. Lauderdale.
The indefatigable Commodore then made another US visit in February to attend the Miami Boat Show, where he accompanied President Thomas J. Dammrich and other executives of the US National Marine Manufacturers Association on a tour of the stands, and to be present for the start of the Miami–Havana Race — a revival of the first regatta in the history of nautical recreation between Miami and Cuba, dating back to 1922 — with the participation of 46 vessels and 342 yachtsmen representing more than 30 American clubs and nautical institutions.
There is still a long list of events for the remainder of this year and next. Notably, the Montego Bay Yacht Club of Jamaica, the Storm Trysail Club of the US, and the Hemingway Yacht Club of Cuba have come together to organize the Western Caribbean Series, which will include the Cuba Cup, a new race from Montego Bay to Havana that will take place following the conclusion of the 33rd edition of the Pineapple Cup–Montego Bay Race in February 2017. As a result of the expansion and strengthening of friendly relations and cooperation with the US sailing community during the past year, as this issue of Compass goes to press, the Hemingway International Yacht Club has received proposals for eight more regattas and rallies from US-based entities including the Key West Yacht Club, the Coral Reef Yacht Club, the Key West Community Sailing Center, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, the Pensacola Yacht Club, the Tampa Yacht & Country Club and Cruising World magazine.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s de facto ambassador for yachting has expressed his satisfaction with the increase recorded in nautical activities and in the growth of Cuba’s “home away from home” for visiting boaters. Since its founding in 1992, 2,774 people from 65 countries have joined the Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba. And so far this year, 195 new members — including 164 from the United States — joined the Club.
Thanks to Roberto F. Campos for information in this report
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