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Havana Regatta 1952 By Troy Gilbert


o one was hurt, fortunately,” said George Bass of Detroit, as he pointed out the bullet holes in his yacht’s mainsail. “But it was much too close for comfort. Within 30 seconds after we crossed the finish line, we were sprayed by a burst of small arms and machine gun fire.” As part of the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, the 284-nm, St. Petersburg-to-Havana Race was one of the world’s premier sailing events, pitting massive schooners owned by wealthy industrialists and bankers against each other with large amounts of money wagered on the outcome. 1952 marked the 19th running of the regatta, and in early March, the crews could still expect the errant cold front that would wreak havoc in the Gulf of Mexico as it runs into the warm and moist air of the tropics. Well worth it, for Havana in the ’50s was exploding as a playground for America’s rich and famous with casinos, high Windjammer II sailing into Morro Bay. Havana’s Morro Castle marked the finish of end clubs and an atmosphere where if one got the 1952 St. Petersburg to Havana Race. a little too laissez faire, money and a quick flight back to the states would solve anything. Always in turmoil, Cuba at this moment was ruled by President Carlos Prio, and with an election in three months, the island’s powerful political and military forces were jockeying for control of not only the nation but of the enormous and much of it corrupt wealth that Havana was now generating. One candidate for president was Cuban army Col. Fulgencio Batista who had previously ruled Cuba for 10 troubled years. While the sailors in Florida were preparing to fight the Gulf Stream and the weather, on a military base outside of Havana, Col. Batista was plotting a coup d’etat on the island nation. Understanding that the American and international press would be on hand for this prestigious regatta, his timing was impeccable and shrewd. The Schooner Ticonderoga No less cutthroat, Hub Isaacks, from the Fort Worth Boat Club in Texas, normally chartered the big ketch and scratch boat, Ticonderoga, for this regatta and had raced her to two firsts in ‘50 and ‘51. But only months before the start, John, “The Taxi King,” Hertz, Jr., of New York, who would eventually add to his fortune by renting cars, had bought the Mighty Ti, as she was reverently known, from under him. Having to scramble, Isaacks and his Texan crew scoured the South for a fast boat to charter and avenge this affront. They found and registered the Doris III, which became the largest cutter in the fleet. Adding to the scuttlebutt at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club bar before the race was Le Hederman and his all-female crew, aged from 21-27, for his 40-foot schooner, Tropicair. At a time when women were only starting to make inroads into this male-dominated sport, Hederman and his crew of seven had made a name for themselves as a salacious event in the 42

February 2014