After 50 years, Cuba is quickly moving toward a more promising future for adventurous boaters who want to explore this vast cruising ground, which has been off-limits due to political and legal restrictions. The Florida-Havana Powerboat Rally is the Florida Powerboat Club’s first step to opening the doors to new destinations and immersion to the Cuban culture and the unique lifestyle of this island Republic.
It must be emphasized that the gates are not wide open, nor will the Cuban economy ever adapt to the system of free enterprise that we are so accustomed to in North America. Strict rules and entry requirements still exist, and tight controls by the Cuban government of all economic activity—particularly international visitation—place uncommon guidelines on all matters of entry, commerce, and daily activities of visiting groups. Even the acquisition of high-octane fuel and adequate marine services remain a large void in our boating agenda. Thus, all participants must be prepared, and come prepared, to deal with any mechanical issues or fuel octane needs, so that they can return to Florida safely.
For these reasons, our group had to adopt a new event model entirely, with a registration cap of fewer than 20 boats, a limited agenda of just two nights, and a fixed room inventory of only 50 hotel rooms. Additionally, all activities of our attendees, from arrival at Marina Hemingway, to dining plans, tours and activities, and hotel accommodations, were under the close scrutiny of the Cuban government, and the designated tour company that is managing our agenda.
This journey was historic not just for our club, but historic for U.S./Cuba relations and for speedboating in general.
Preparing for this trip was fairly extensive. It involved getting the necessary documentation—each boat had to have its own personal set of papers and its own individual application, which was filed with the U.S. Coast Guard for permission to go into U.S./Cuba territorial waters. Each traveler had to acquire some type of an insurance binder to get an inclusion to go to Cuba; we also had to get qualification through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and qualify under various conditions that would permit us to travel under what they call the general license. In other words, U.S. Government had to accept the terms of our trips, saying they were not necessarily commercial, and did not affect the still-existing embargo. So there was no shortage of hoops to jump through.
To further prepare for the journey, I made a “recon” trip about a month before the event to get the lay of the land, meet some of the people we’d be working with and to get things squared away for the run. I also wanted to take a look at the hotel and marine facilities.
Check out the full feature, below, in the latest issue of Speedboat Magazine, on page 36!