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“Havana Challenge”, Regattas are back in Cuba

“Havana Challenge”, Regattas are back in Cuba

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on May 20, 2015

After December 17th, the shift in the Cuba – US relations have had several expressions, and the most recent one is nautical with the holding, second time in the history, of the “Havana Challenge”, a singular yacht race that brought over 100 US yachters to the Cuban capital city.

Sailing on five Hobie Cat 16 —fast, but light and unstable boats— the intrepid participants of the “Havana Challenge” began the journey in Key West. The 90-mile voyage wasn’t an easy task as they had to endure the burning sun and big waves at the Strait of Florida. These peculiar catamarans were accompanied by two replicas of schooners from the 18th century and 14 support ships, prepared to help the sailors if necessary.

Finally, ten hours after the departure, Hobie Cat “Wolbem” was the first one triumphantly entered Hemingway Marina, at the Cuban capital city. The “Havana Challenge” was organized by three Key West-based captains: George Bellenger, Carla Bellenger (his wife) and Joe Weatherby; and it was supported by Hemingway Marina. The idea of retaking the regatta was put on the table a year ago, but it only came true after the resumption of the dialogues between Cuba and the United States.

“We’re establishing cultural links by means of the sea traditional heritage. We only want to sail and have a nice voyage”, Bellenger said. On the other hand, Weatherby pointed out: “there are cultural and personal relations between Key West and Havana, which date back to the past century. We’re only trying to reestablish that relation”.

Two days after their arrival to Cuban soil, both North American and Cuban sailors fought a duel with their Hobie Cat, with symbolic character beyond the competition, in front of the eyes of over a hundred people from different countries, who were standing on the seawall. In spite of the intense heat at midday in Havana, the power of curiosity made the people follow the maneuvers that were skillfully performed by the sailors.

Five Cuban boats and four US participated in this competition, which did three laps of the circuit (less than a mile), between National and Deuville Hotels. The locals prevailed, but the result wasn’t important.

Cuban Juan Almodovar, who was the couple of Julia Santana on the Hobie Cat, said that the friendly event was very positive for the country. “It brings both countries closer”, he underlined.

The “Havana Challenge” is only the beginning of a series of meetings that will have the art of navigation playing the leading role. The crews of the Hobie Cat are going to sail back to Key West on Thursday, confident of a possible return.

More US boats will soon arrive in, coming from Sarasota Club, also based in Florida, so as to participate in “Bone Island” regatta and, afterwards, it’ll be the moment of the 65th edition of “Ernest Hemingway” International Marlin Fishing Tournament, with a significant presence of North American competitors.

Some days later, New York’s Cosmos Club, from Major League Soccer, will visit Havana with Spanish Raul Gonzalez Blanco as the main star. These are small— but at the same time huge— steps towards the reunion of two people that share similar sports passions.

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