Jamaica Gleaner

Cuba plans boating boom as lux­ury ships head to Ha­vana

- Travel · Latin America News · Cuba · Havana · Florida · Ernest Hemingway · Hemingway, SC · Gucci Mane · United States of America · U.S. government · Barack Obama · Fidel Castro · Raul Castro · Sweden · Aroldis Chapman · Jimmy Carter · Canada · Mexico · Key West · Palm Beach · The United States of America · Varadero · Mariel

AUS$3 MIL­LION yacht left Key West this week with two bar­beque grills, 250 chan­nels of satel­lite TV, and a just-in-case plan for res­cu­ing stranded Cuban rafters en­coun­tered in the Florida Straits. Af­ter four hours smooth sail­ing, the

Still Wa­ter tied up at Ha­vana’s Hem­ing­way Ma­rina. The well-heeled pas­sen­gers break­fasted on smoked salmon and pas­tries then boarded an air-con­di­tioned Cuban gov­ern­ment bus for a day of tour­ing the city.

The Cold War made the Florida Straits into a stage for nu­clear show­down and a grave­yard for thou­sands of Cuban rafters seek­ing bet­ter lives in the United States. Now, nor­mal­i­sa­tion of the long-tor­tured US-Cuba re­la­tion­ship is trans­form­ing the 90 miles be­tween the US and Cuba back into a play­ground for hulk­ing cruise ships and sleek lux­ury yachts.

For the first time in decades, the US gov­ern­ment is au­tho­ris­ing a wide range of large-scale sea travel to Cuba. Since declar­ing de­tente in De­cem­ber, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has is­sued per­mits to dozens of sail­boats, at least five ferry com­pa­nies, four cruise lines, and the Palm Beach-based yacht bro­ker that char­tered out the Still Wa­ter. The 78foot yacht fea­tures satel­lite In­ter­net, four state­rooms, and a wet bar.

“It’s a lit­tle bub­ble. You can have the com­forts of home in Ha­vana,” said Jim Fried­lan­der, pres­i­dent of Aca­demic Ar­range­ments Abroad, which helped or­gan­ise the trip.

GO-GO DAYS

Cuban tourism of­fi­cials and US boating afi­ciona­dos and en­trepreneur­s are sali­vat­ing about a pos­si­ble re­turn to the go-go days be­fore Cuba’s com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion when thou­sands of well­heeled Amer­i­cans a year sailed to Ha­vana for long week­ends of trop­i­cal leisure.

“What’s the nat­u­ral mar­ket for nau­ti­cal tourism in Cuba? The United States of Amer­ica – the No. 1 coun­try in the in­ter­na­tional yacht­ing mar­ket,” said José Miguel Diaz Escrich, com­modore of the In­ter­na­tional Hem­ing­way Nau­ti­cal Club of Cuba. “We’re talk­ing about tens of thou­sands of yachts that might come.”

Fidel Cas­tro in 2005 called cruise ships “float­ing ho­tels” that “leave their trash, their empty cans and pa­pers for a few mis­er­able cents.” But un­der his brother and suc­ces­sor as pres­i­dent, Raúl Cas­tro, the gov­ern­ment ap­pears to have no such reser­va­tions. Cuba has been rapidly ap­prov­ing port calls by US cruise ships and plan­ning new mari­nas with thou­sands of slips for yachts in the pol­luted Bay of Ha­vana and at the white-sand re­sort of Va­radero, about a 90-minute drive away.

Even the first stir­rings of a boating boom are giv­ing rise to sur­real, star­tling con­trasts as in­creas­ing num­bers of ex­pen­sive plea­sure boats ply wa­ters where Cuban fish­er­men bob on taped­to­gether chunks of pack­ing foam and a ris­ing flood of em­i­grants head north on rick­ety rafts.

Tourism, per se, re­mains illegal un­der the em­bargo. Yacht bro­ker Paul Mad­den re­ceived Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion per­mis­sion last month to op­er­ate yacht char­ters for “peo­ple-to-peo­ple” trips, with US and Cuban gov­ern­ment guides jointly shep­herd­ing groups through day­long ac­tiv­i­ties on shore meant to foster in­ter­ac­tion be­tween US cit­i­zens and Cubans. Newly li­censed cruise ships will op­er­ate un­der the same model.

IR­RE­VERSIBLE NOR­MAL­I­SA­TION

The rise in leisure-boat trips is a sign of the two coun­tries’ ea­ger­ness to make nor­mal­i­sa­tion ir­re­versible by fu­ture US ad­min­is­tra­tions, ex­perts say.

“For a long time, the at­mo­spher­ics weren’t right. Cock­tail hour on the poop deck and cruis­ing were redo­lent of tourism. (But) the Obama ad­mi­nis- tra­tion as it goes into over­drive in its legacy build­ing on Cuba doesn’t ap­pear to me to have a lot of time to worry about that sort of thing,” said Robert Muse, a spe­cial­ist in US law on Cuba who rep­re­sents a newly li­censed US ferry com­pany.

Muse said he thinks boat travel to Cuba will re­main lim­ited be­cause of mu­tual sen­si­tiv­i­ties about the Florida Straits, the scene of high-sea dra­mas such as the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis and the Mariel boatlift.

Still, Cuban tourism ex­perts seem con­fi­dent about an im­mi­nent end to re­stric­tions on boat travel to Cuba, which have been loos­ened and tight­ened in cy­cles since Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter briefly le­galised travel to the is­land in 1977.

Many US yachters, in­clud­ing sev­eral docked at the Hem­ing­way Ma­rina on Thurs­day, have qui­etly stopped in Ha­vana for years on their way to or from other ports, the same way US air trav­ellers head to Cuba from Canada or Mexico in de­fi­ance of rarely en­forced Amer­i­can laws.

 ?? AP ?? A se­cu­rity guard walks be­side the US yacht Still Wa­ter, moored at the Hem­ing­way Ma­rina in Ha­vana, Cuba, Thurs­day, Au­gust 6, 2015. For the first time in decades, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is au­tho­risng a wide range of large-scale sea travel to Cuba.
AP A se­cu­rity guard walks be­side the US yacht Still Wa­ter, moored at the Hem­ing­way Ma­rina in Ha­vana, Cuba, Thurs­day, Au­gust 6, 2015. For the first time in decades, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is au­tho­risng a wide range of large-scale sea travel to Cuba.

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