09 May 2015

The Havana Sailing Challenge, May 15-21, 90 Miles to Victory

"Flag of Key West, Florida" by Jmckean - Own work
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The Havana Challenge is scheduled to begin May 16 and will involve five to seven 16-foot Hobie Cat catamarans that will travel the 90 miles across the Florida Straits.

Havana Challenge -- The event is the brainchild of Key West-based Capt. George Bellenger and is 
organized by him, his wife Capt. Carla Bellenger and Capt. Joe Weatherby. The three captains started making the trek via Hobie catamarans in the late 1990s as part of their personal adventure sailing trips. The last trip made by any of the crew was in 2001, after which the annual event was put on hold. The event is being sponsored by the nonprofit Key West Community Sailing Center. A portion of the proceeds from the event will go to youth sailing scholarships at the sailing center, organizers said. The Bellengers, who run kayak, sail and ecotours in Key West, decided to resurrect the trip last year, and along with Weatherby, have been working with the U.S. State Department, Coast Guard, Department of Commerce and other federal agencies to obtain the proper licenses and permits.  The commerce permit was the last major hurdle they had to clear.


Marina Hemingway Cuba: "Marina Hemingway, run by the governmental Cubanacán, is Cuba's largest marina with an official capacity of up to 400 vessels..."

The Havana Challenge | 90 Miles to Victory: ... Imagine a dozen, 2-man, 16-foot Hobie catamarans sailing across 90 miles of treacherous seas to the land of the forbidden, Cuba. There the adventurous but experienced sailors from the eclectic island of Key West challenge the Cuban Olympic Sailing team, explore the Caribbean island from a local’s perspective, exchange cultural peculiarities, and return home on the final leg of the Havana Challenge...

Pre-Castro yacht race put St. Pete in yachtsmen’s sights | TBO.com and The Tampa Tribune: "... Gerald Hamill was 14 years old when he first made the 284-mile trip from his home in St. Petersburg to Havana, Cuba. If his high school – or parents – had any real notion of what the teen would find in the Cuban capital with a crew of adult sailors, there’s not much chance Hamill would have gotten permission to join one of the most famous yacht races in Florida’s history. “They had a party for the fleet at the Bacardi rum factory. If you want to see a bunch of hungry dogs in a meat market, think of a bunch of sailors in a rum factory. They had every kind of cocktail you could drink, all these hors d’oeuvres,” said Hamill, now 77, “I’ll never forget it. It was totally surreal.” That’s one of Hamill’s tamer recollections from the 1953 St. Petersburg-Havana Yacht Race. The race that ran from 1930 to 1959 recalls a lost era in the Cuban capital, a time when Ernest Hemingway could be found arm wrestling men twice his size in a waterfront bar and dictators would show off new resorts to groups of American yachtsmen. “I saw Hemingway a number of times sitting at the bar, normally half-smashed with an entourage of people. He was friendly guy,” Hamill said. St. Petersburg yacht designer Charley Morgan also encountered the great expatriate writer, whose name still graces Havana’s marina...."

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