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Getting boating in Cuba back to the past

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Foretelling the future of recreational yachting in Cuba through its past, the commodore of Marina Hemingway in Havana, José Miguel Diaz Escrich, spoke to about 100 people at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach last night.

Talking with an interpreter, Escrich presented images beginning with sepia-toned shots of Club Nautico in 1884 through to aerial shots of marinas today, and explained how Cuba is making progress n its effort to get recreational boating back to how it used to be in his country.

“The sea that caresses the coast of Cuba is the same sea that separates us now,” Escrich said. But in his current role as president of one of Cuba’s two tourist groups and Cuba’s “goodwill ambassador,” he said that division is going to shrink.

“We are nearing a turning point,” he said.

Cuba had a vibrant and international recreational yachting and fishing industry until all the clubs were closed in 1960.

After a career in the cuban Navy, Escrich served as advisor to Cuba’s nautical tourism group and suggested the creation of a yacht club. In 1992, Marina Hemingway opened. On the first day, the club had 28 members from 10 countries; a year later, it had 150 members from 23 countries.

Currently, there are more than 1,600 members from 45 countries. Marina Hemingway has relationships with 600 yacht clubs as far away as Monaco.

“After 18 years, we have had problems and misunderstandings, but we have persisted,” he said. “Seven months ago I was asked to lead nautical activities in Cuban clubs to help with regattas, tournaments, diving and activities.”

Through images of regattas and fishing tournaments before the 1960s, Escrich reminded the crowd how Cuba was host to such events as the Tampa-to-Havana Regatta and several major billfish tournaments.

A 1950s black-and-white photograph showed Club Nautico as a new type of club, built long and thin, “just enough for a pier and a bar to welcome the entire world,” he said. American author and international adventurer Ernest Hemingway is included among the founders of the club, he said.

Today there are 15 marinas with 814 slips available in Cuba and Escrich said discussions are in the works for substantial slip additions at the major marinas.

“Although we are not designed and we’re not completely prepared, boats are showing interest.” Of the lack of marinas for megayachts, he said, “We are not ready now, but this is our major challenge ahead.”

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