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A Q&A with Karen Angle about the 2017 Conch Republic Cup race to Cuba

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 23 Jan 2017
2016 Conch Republic Cup Overall Winner Naut-On Call Priscilla Parker
One of the coolest aspects of distance racing is the ability to start a race in one nation and finish in another. Not surprisingly, international races of this kind often foster good nature between different countries while helping to facilitate racecourse camaraderie between sailors. For racers, it’s especially cool to receive an “arrived by sea” passport stamp, which is something not many international travelers can tout in the year 2017. It’s cooler still if the country in question was once considered forbidden fruit (at least for U.S.-based sailors).

If you’re like me and have arrived at saturation with winter’s cold rain and snow, take a moment to imagine yourself and your friends racing to Cuba as part of a 13-day cross-cultural sailing event that’s designed to lower barriers of entry at a time when some Americans see a need for taller walls.



Sound good? If so, say hello to the Conch Republic Cup, which takes place from January 22 to February 3, 2017, and offers sailors an opportunity to race across the Gulf Stream from Key West, Florida to Varadero, Cuba. This offshore leg is followed by an inshore race from Varadero to Havana. Once in Havana, sailors participate in the Castillo Del Morro Triangle Race and Parade along the Malecon, which is a wide esplanade that fronts the water in Cuba’s most famous city and stretches for five seaside miles. Then, sailors face the Gulf Stream once more as they race from Havana back to Key West.

The 2016 Conch Republic Cup saw 435 lucky sailors, racing aboard 54 boats, travel from the USA to Cuba, making it the largest crossing between these two countries since relations started normalizing. This year’s scratch sheet shows that 25 boats have entered, ranging from Seth Salzmann’s 68-foot schooner Irony to Vahn Lewis’ Corsair F28R Orion’s Belt.



I caught up with Karen Angle, executive director of the Conch Republic Cup, to learn more about this exciting event and the adventures and cultural opportunities it affords.

From a sailing perspective, what do you anticipate being the events’ highlights?
The challenge of crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving in a previously forbidden location.



What about from a cultural perspective? What should first-timers be looking forward to?
[Cuban] culture is very rich and the people are friendly. There is live music everywhere. The sights that we all know are incredible to see such as the Morro Castle, waking in Old Havana, and tasting real Cuban cuisine. The architecture is incredible and [is] far [grander] than expected. I am sure the first-timers are looking forward to cigars, rum, and riding in old cars but there is so much more than that which they will soon realize.

Do you see this event more as an offshore race, an inshore regatta, a cultural experience or a blend of all three?
We are the only event at this time that blends all three.

Entry numbers are off this year compared to last year—any idea what might be driving this?
Everyone is doing a race or rally to Cuba now. It also seems that the many racers only want to go one way, then be at their leisure to make their way back to the U.S. We are the only race the does a return leg and a Cuban coastal race, which may not appeal to the racer that merely wants to arrive and move on the next race. Ours is truly more challenging to compete in, as well as [to] organize.



Given U.S.-Cuban history and the arrival of a new administration in Washington D.C., are you and the other event organizers concerned for the event’s long-term viability and legality?
Not at all.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
Interesting factoid-Miami and Havana’s economies were equal in 1950. Draw your own conclusion about which city you would like to visit today and where you might find the most culture.

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