Sailing to Cuba

With the Obama administration relaxing travel restrictions to Cuba, a group of hopeful sailors from Sarasota, Florida are trying to organize a regatta on the island nation this coming June. Jay Meyer, a member of the Sarasota Yacht Club (SYC), is applying for permission with the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Meyer hopes to take as many as 100 U.S.-flagged boats to the course, which will run from Cuba’s Marina Hemingway to the Port of Havana and back.

Meyer began pushing for permission to race after Cuba’s sailing team and the Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba invited the Sarasota Yacht Club to participate. Should the event take place, it will restore a 70-year-old international-sailing tradition. Meyers and other SYC members hope that this race could help reopen Cuba for regularly scheduled regattas. Before Fidel Castro’s 1959 coup, U.S. boats often raced there from the U.S. and participated in regattas that were hosted by Cuban clubs. After Castro’s rise to power, competitive sailing events between the two nations sharply declined. In 2004, the Bush administration signed a proclamation allowing all Cuban-bound U.S. boats to be seized.

The Obama administration recently allowed Cuban immigrants to return to Cuba once per year to visit their family, up from the previous once-per-three-years rule, and extended the definition of “family” to include more than just immediate relatives. However, gaining travel permission is still difficult. The application explains that sailors will be staying on their own boats, bringing their own provisions, and are not allowed to spend any money in Cuba. Sports have historically been used to thaw international relationships (e.g., China’s ping-pong diplomacy), which could give the race — and better relations with Cuba — a fighting chance.

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