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Sarasota Yacht Club cancels Sarasota to Havana Event for 2011

by Nancy Knudsen on 18 Feb 2011
Destination our of reach - American members of the Sarasota Yacht Club won’t be visiting the Hemingway Yacht Club in 2011 SW
February 15 came and went with no positive word from USA authorities, and the Sarasota Yacht Club had established that as the deadline for getting permission for almost 200 sailors who wanted to sail to Havana in Cuba.

As of that date the Sarasota Yacht Club Charitable Foundation (SYCCF) had not received permission to sail from the Department of the Treasury, Office of Asset Control which is the governing body. The Yacht Club Committee had the mid-February date as the 'commit or quit' deadline with plans to move forward with plans to sail to Havana this May.


'Due to the logistical requirements of properly organizing the regatta scheduled to start on May 14, 2011, the event has been postponed until 2012,' said Vincent Di Pano, Committee Chairman. 'The new date will be set and applications filed with OFAC in the next 30 days,' he added, showing determination to eventually re-run the traditional regatta.

Cuba, a mere 260 miles from the mainland, has been off-limits to American citizens for over 50 years, but this only seems to make it more attractive. Sailing to Havana in the Sarasota to Havana Regatta used to be a fine tradition, until it was stopped in the late 50's because Fidel Castro's takeover of Cuba and then the frozen relations between the USA and island.

The Club, which had been lobbying, and failing, for years to revive the regatta, had high hopes of being able to run the event this year as a result of President Barack Obama loosening restrictions on US citizens travelling to the island in January.

The club had applied for permission to dock at the Port of Havana, where the commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club has for the second year invited its members to compete in the Regatta Castillo del Morro, an international boating race.

In 1994 a regatta was allowed, and 86 sailing boats made the voyage to a thunderous welcome from the Cubans, in the form of the Hemingway International Yacht Club.

The 1994 regatta — the only official attempt to revive the historic race born in the 1930s — was orchestrated by the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, the yacht club's non-profit counterpart, which received much criticism for its attempt to revive the traditional festival. In that year, the attempted rebirth of the annual regatta was branded a humanitarian effort, and boaters loaded food, medical supplies and toys for Cuban youth. However, they weren't allowed to shop in Cuba, and had to take all their own food and water. Even so, the criticism the organisation received left such a bad taste that the event was not tried again the next year.

In the following years, though, some sailors still ventured to the island despite the embargo, at least until 2004, when two organizers of a race from Key West to Cuba were indicted for violating the Trading With the Enemy Act. This effectively ensured that most Americans would give the island a wide berth in their Caribbean wanderings.

The organisers from both the SYC and the Hemingway International Yacht Club see their sailing exploits as the first steps in open cultural exchange between the two nations and are hopeful new directives from the White House can clear the way.

But we'll have to wait until at least 2012 for that to happen now.

Alternative Plans:

Vincent Di Pano has offered some hope that there will be an alternative for disappointed skippers and their crews. He stated that while there is significant interest in conducting the alternate SYC Sarasota-Miami Regatta on May 14th, options are being considered to partner with the Bone Island Regatta from Sarasota to Key West on May 18th . In tandem with this, the SYCCF Race Committee will be meeting with the Sara Bay Yachting Association this week and further information on any details from these meetings will be forthcoming from the club.

For more information go to the Sarasota Yacht Club www.sarasotayachtclub.org!website.
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