By PETER SWANSON
Cuba Cruising Net
Published Dec. 16, 2011
Something happened back in 1992 which surely had the late revolutionary Che Guavera spinning in his unmarked grave.
Ninety-two was the year Cuban leader Fidel Castro gave permission for establishment of a new yacht club in the suburbs of Havana. The
Hemingway International Yacht Club of Havana was founded as Cuba entered the crisis known as “The Special Period” following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the end annual Soviet subsidies of more than $2 billion.
The club’s first and so far only commodore, Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, was a naval officer without a sea berth, and he was casting about for something to do. He suggested a yacht club in Havana. Nowadays as Cuba announces a series of free-market reforms, that might not seem so radical, but two decades ago the notion of an “elitist” institution at the heart of the Cuban revolution must have seemed downright heretical to some in Fidel Castro’s circle.
The avuncular Escrich must have been convincing. A yacht club would encourage “nautical tourism” and bring in desperately needed revenue. Capitalist connotations aside, surely a fisherman such as Castro could appreciate the benefits of hosting annual gamefish tournaments, as well as sailing regattas. Castro’s favorite writer was the late author Ernest Hemingway, himself a sportfishing legend, who had lived and worked in Cuba for his last 20 years of his life. Why not name the club after him? Whatever Escrich said, it succeeded.
To date, the Hemingway International Yacht Club has formed alliances with 57 yacht clubs around the world. Escrich says the club receives no government money and has supported itself with donations and dues ($150 a year) paid by more than 2,000 members from 60 nations, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
Escrich says he had hoped that the U.S. travel ban that keeps American boaters from freely crossing the Florida Straits to Havana would have been lifted in time for the club’s 20th anniversary, but he vowed the celebrations would happen regardless. With the U.S. presidential campaign in full swing, ending the travel ban is a non-starter, but some of us may be able to attend anyway.
Among the fishing tournaments, races and social events are three educational conferences, beginning on April 26 and 27 with “80 Years of USA-Cuba Nautical Relations: Present and Perspectives.” Another academic event, which happens to coincide with the 62nd Hemingway International Billfish Tournament,” is entitled “Climate Changes and the Migration of Billfish Species.” A third on Cuban hydrography has not been scheduled.
CLUB 20th CONTINUED