HAVANA – About 100 Americans in around 20 sailboats arrived in the Cuban capital this weekend from Key West, Florida, for the Havana Challenge, the first regatta between the countries sanctioned by Washington in 15 years.
The Hobie Cat-16s sailed from Key West on Saturday morning and began arriving at Havana’s Club Nautico Internacional Hemingway in the evening, an Efe reporter on the scene confirmed.
The Hobie Cats were accompanied by support vessels, including two replicas of 18th-century schooners, the club’s commodore, Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, told reporters.
Key West Mayor Craig Cates and sailors Joe Weatherby and George Bellenger, who participated in the first Havana Challenge in 2000, were the main promoters of the regatta.
Five U.S. teams are expected to take on five Cuban teams on Tuesday off Havana’s iconic Malecon seaside walk in Hobie Cats, which are small, light and fast sailboats.
A maritime parade will take place on Wednesday, featuring the two schooners from Key West, and the American sailboats will return home the following day.
The first Havana Challenge was held in 2000, but the U.S. government had refused to grant permission for another such event until now due to the economic embargo that Washington has against Cuba, Diaz Escrich said.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2004 prohibiting recreational vessels from visiting Cuba without authorization from the Commerce Department.