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Sailors in Cuba By Gretchen F. Coyle Young sailors on a variety of craft in Bahia de Matanzas in Cuba. In this shot, there are several Optimists, a couple of Windsurfers and some unidentified bootleg-rigged boats. Dave Ellis identified the red-hulled blunt-nosed boat in the background as a Cadet, “a mostly UK junior trainer of times past.”

Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for American sailors to sail to Cuba. Certainly less for Cuban sailors to sail or race to America. During a March 2011 visit to Cuba for research on the 1934 cruise ship Morro Castle Fire (sailed weekly between New York and Habana), I found there could be and should be… Imagine my surprise while traveling in a 1953 bright blue Chevrolet on the road to Matanzas, Cuba, when I suddenly looked off to my left and there were young Optimist dinghy sailors. If only this young generation could do what stubborn U.S. politicians and stubborn Fidel Castro and his brother Raul have not done: reconcile differences between our countries. Races like the St. Petersburg to Habana race should be annual occurrences. Imagine old friendships being renewed, new ones blossoming. This past winter, a group of

Travel to Cuba Opening Up for Americans This Year The U.S. government is expected to open up travel to Cuba in the near future for any American (and it could have happened by the time you read this). Trips will have to be educational, and the U.S. Treasury Department is requiring that these “people-to-people” tours must guarantee a “full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction” with Cubans. This policy is basically the same as that enacted by the Clinton administration in 1999—a policy that was rescinded by the Bush administration in 2004. One previous requirement that is no longer in place is the necessity to file an itinerary previous to the trip. With these educational requirements, trips made purely for relaxing on the beach, drinking mojitos and listening to music will not be acceptable, but you never know. Sailing with Cubans can definitely be “peopleto-people” education, in this editor’s opinion. After all, the purpose of allowing these trips is to bring regular Americans and Cubans together—but they must be “educational.” Many American organizations are already offering trips to the island in anticipation of the new rules being established any day. Steve Morrell Editor 32

July 2011


sailors from the Sarasota Yacht Club wanted to sail to Cuba. Several reasons were given for the sail being postponed. One I heard was that the U.S. OFAC did not answer applications sent by members in an appropriate amount of time. In the Miramar section of Habana, once home of luxurious yacht clubs and numerous boating events, Marina Hemingway sits almost abandoned, in decrepit shape, four lagoons with concrete bulkheads just waiting for visitors. We saw only a handful of sailboats—two from Canada, one from Venezuela and two that looked abandoned flying no flags at all. Maybe a dozen powerboats were tied up along the docks. Many of the old buildings around Marina Hemingway have been vandalized or not worked on in half a century. They are “under restoration” according to official sources. Some apartments on the water are rented to European and South American visitors, though people and cars were scarce. Swimming pools were empty, cluttered with palm fronds and debris. A ship’s store was padlocked. When was it last open? A small food store with European goodies had many empty shelves. What once had been a large cooler stocked with fresh produce was turned off with its doors open. After a week of chicken, pork, and rice and beans, my co-author and I were anxious for a junk food fix. We purchased $14 (in CUC) worth of chocolate and sugar, only to guiltily remember minutes later that many Cubans are not paid that much monthly in government pesos (one peso is worth only 1/25 of a CUC, the currency used for all visitors. Roughly, one CUC = $1.00). Across the street, a restaurant and nightclub advertised a band playing that afternoon. Wandering over to see what was happening, we discovered it was filthy. A few tourists were sitting nursing a Cuba Libre or a beer. Three hours away, at the entrance of the Bahia de Matanzas, young sailors in Optis yelled to each other, hiked, and wore the universal uniform of life jacket and hat. The Federacion Nautica de Cuba is a member of the International Optimist Dinghy Association, International Sailing Federation and the Pan American Sailing Federation. Cubans are wonderful people—proud, friendly and helpful. They love Americans, and we love them. Not being facetious, maybe the key to American-Cuban friendships is through sailing. After all, for over five decades, politicians on both sides have not accomplished a thing. Nor do they seem to want to.


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