In an historic event nineteen brave Americans set sail at 2pm on May 20th from Key West to the Hemingway Marina in Havana Cuba as part of the Bone Island Regatta.   Alice Petrat of the Sarasota Yacht club was the brainchild for this competition and worked tirelessly over the last two years to make this event possible.  She was able to receive final Coast Guard approval on May 15th.  To make their stay in Cuba in compliance with the US laws TravelGuideCuba.com was honored to be their sponsoring organization.  We produced and executed an itinerary using the recently updated people-to-people laws.

Bone Island Regatta makes history

Bone Island Regatta makes history

There would be a few setbacks along the way but all four boats made it successfully to the island on May 21st in the mid afternoon.  H2O as shown in the photo was the first vessel to arrive.   They were followed by White Hawk, Shearwater and Spring Fever.   Once the vessels reached the shore they had to undergo several customs inspections which they passed and history was made.

Commodore José Miguel Díaz Escrich of the Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba was instrumental to the success of the Regatta. He was more than welcoming to the American arrivals and his hospitality during their stay was unrivaled.  The commodore has been trying to recruit US vessels to come to Cuba for the last twenty three years and this event just happened to land on the Yacht Clubs 23rd Anniversary.  This was a very special moment for him as we could see the tears fall from his eyes at the arrival night cocktail reception which he graciously hosted.  The atmosphere was energetic and jovial at this event while he gave an impassioned speech that lasted almost seven minutes that you can access here.

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Alice Petrat then gave an impressive and well received speech that thanked all of the help the Cubans provided as well as to the US boat crews.  She also made news by announcing that the Sarasota Yacht Club is planning a new regatta in early April 2016 that will be capped off at 30 to 40 vessels.

The last official part of the ceremony was when the captains of all the boats were awarded banners from Commodore Escrich for their outstanding achievement.

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It was a standing room only crowd while the international press from all over the world covered the reception including reporters from as far away as Japan.

On May 22nd the required people-to-people tour activities began with a memorable tour of Old Havana.   Our professional tour guide Andrees known as “El Teacher” who earned that nickname while being a teacher of English in Cuba led the tour.  He filled it with history, comedy, pride in his country and many Cuban anecdotes so they could better understand the island.

There were many highlights but here are just a few.  We had a wonderful stop at Fusterland and were able to meet the world renowned Jose Fuster who created this wonderful ceramic paradise.  Many guests purchased his works of art at the gift shop.  Look for a future article about Fuster and his accomplishments.

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We dined at many restaurants during our stay but Star Bien in Vedado seemed to be the group’s favorite with mouthwatering fried pork chops, ropa vieja and fresh red snapper and topped it off with flan and ice cream.

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At the end of day two we had the opportunity to visit the San Jose Arts and Crafts Market and interact with the Cuban entrepreneurs.  The group promptly purchased a treasure trove of magnificent Cuban Art, crafts and souvenirs while doing their best to haggle the prices lower.

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On Day three many admired the works of art in the Museum of fine arts Cuban collection with a private tour by Adolfo whose intimate knowledge of art and politics was very enlightening to the guests.

We ended the tour at the famous fortress known as “El Morro” which is located at the entrance of the Bay of Havana and has protected Cuba from the Spanish and pirates over the last five centuries.

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We would like to thank Domingo and Jose of the Hemingway Marina dock master’s office and Tony and Jose of our team who were extremely helpful during the sailor’s stay.

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If you would like to legally sail or yacht to Cuba we can set up similar tours for you.  You can contact us at 305-987-0442 or Info@Travelguidecuba.com.  We are proud members Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba and would be glad to assist any boaters.

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Thanks and congratulations once again to Alice Petrat and the 19 crew members who had the dream to become among the first US sailors to legally reach the Cuban shores in over 17 years.

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  1. Janis on June 2, 2015

    It has always been possible to sail “legally” to Cuba, which we did in 1988 as I talk about in this vignette, now part of my book manuscript undergoing editing before publishing: http://www.couvreuxediting.com/?s=Cuba+the+other+side+of+the+divide

  2. TInSouthMiami on June 2, 2015

    What was historic about it though? This wasnt the first race ever from the US to Cuba

  3. Doran Cushing on June 3, 2015

    It is sligtly incorrect to assert that the recent boats visiting Cuba were “among the first US sailors to legally reach the Cuban shores in over 20 years. The Sarasota Sailing Squadron/Bob Winters regatta and several others that followed from Tampa Bay and Key West in the late 1990s were legal events ending up at Marina Hemingway. Sorry I don’t have the actual dates…maybe someone else can clarify those dates/years.

    • Dave Author on June 4, 2015

      I agree with you that it has been less than 20 years since the last regatta. My research shows that 1998 was the last year folks sailed to Cuba legally which would be 17 years.

  4. Captandrew on June 4, 2015

    I don’t want to diminish this achievement but I have sailed to Cuba 5 times over the last 20years and it was legal every time.
    The legality is based on a proper and realistic understanding and compliance with the laws.

    In any case congratulations to all.

    • Dave Author on June 4, 2015

      Our discussions with OFAC indicated that in order to sail to Cuba legally before January 2015 you were required to receive a specific license from them to do so. They did not issue any licenses to travel by boat to Cuba since before the Bush administration other than for agricultural deliveries. The main obstacle is that if you spent money in Cuba without a specific license you were violating the Helms-Burton law. In January 2015 the Obama administration issued a general license to go to Cuba for all US citizens. As long as you are in one of the 12 legal travel to Cuba categories and sign an affidavit that you will comply with the rules you may now travel to Cuba legally. We have heard about many folks who have gone illegally over the years and the Cubans have welcomed them with open arms as long as they paid their marina and tourist visa fees.

  5. Suky Cannon on June 4, 2015

    This is wonderful to see. As US citizen, I’ve sailed to Cuba twice in the last 5 years, both on foreign flagged vessels. I’m thrilled to read this report. Kudos to all who made it happen, and special thanks to Commodore Escrich.

  6. Lucy on June 5, 2015

    Dave, Thank you. You and your team did a great job making that come together. Your hospitality and excursions were flawless, educational and inspiring. I hope to see you again soon. Thank you for everything.

    • Dave Author on June 5, 2015

      Thanks for your kind note Lucy. Also, thanks for engaging with our tour guide Andrees to make the trip more interesting for everyone. If you have any travel or business ideas I would gladly to look into them for you.

  7. Celeste Dorage on June 18, 2015

    No matter what people say, we did make history. Lots of people have sailed to Cuba before and since George Bush Jr. rewrote the OFAC rules 17 years ago. That stroke of his pen really pissed me off.
    I did a lot of research that year to figure out a way around it and have continued that research ever since.
    Alice Petret had been doing the same thing somewhere else in Florida, and although we did not meet until a few months before the regatta, we shared phone calls and emails in those months.

    Picking up the phone and asking questions, sharing information and finding the people who will say yes is what made this event in history possible.

    The greatest thing life is perseverance. All the people who came together to make this happen have changed the world, just a little bit. And, in doing so made this world a better place live.

    I want to say thank you to everyone who participated. And, especially thank you to David Oberting and the staff at Travel Guide Cuba for saying yes to a bunch of sailors.

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