What are the chances you’ll ever see the picture above, in person? It’s the entrance to Marina Hemingway, the largest marina in Cuba, lying about eight miles west of Havana and about 100 nm from Key West.
Until the past few weeks, I’d say the chances were pretty good, if you had wanted to go there. Indeed, last year President Obama himself went to Cuba in an effort to normalize relations, the U.S. opened an embassy in Havana, and the Administration eased regulations restricting travel, banking and even recreational boating. It seemed that Cuba, with 3,000 miles of coastline, scores of undeveloped harbors and virtually untapped fishing grounds, would soon open up to U.S. cruising boat owners.
I actually cruised there back in the summer of 1998 with Scott Porter, the president of Formula Boats, on one of his new 40-footers. Our trip was all legal and approved by the U.S. government, since I then was the editor and publisher of Motor Boating & Sailing, and journalists were in a permitted class. We also were under the wing of José Miguel Diaz Escrich, the Commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club at Marina Hemingway, who could not have been more helpful (even setting up a photo shoot for us in the middle of Havana harbor.) The Castro government was hoping to attract more cruisers from the U.S., once our government made such trips legal for everyone. Today, Americans can go to Cuba by recreational boat if they’re in an organized regatta, tournament or people-to-people group.
When Fidel Castro died last week, I thought his death might signal a further thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, with the possibility of normalizing our ability to cruise there. But now President-Elect Trump is indicating he may be taking a hard line, tweeting about the Obama Administration’s “weak deal” with Raúl Castro and, with a Republican Congress, threatening to renew sanctions. So where does that leave us? Stay tuned.