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When Havana beckoned

A U.S.-registered steamer heads out of Havana, Cuba, passing the famous El Morro castle, known formally as Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro. The massive fortress has loomed over the entrance to Havana harbor since 1589, when the Spanish built it to defend the city. Originally a chain was strung across the water from El Morro to the fort at La Punta. In later years, El Morro was used as a navigational aid; a lighthouse was added in the 19th century, as well as a school for light keepers.

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During the 20th century, Havana grew into an international maritime center. Ernest Hemingway, through his stories and exploits, made it a center for big-game sportfishing. The novelist fished the local waters in his 35-foot Wheeler Playmate, Pilar, which is housed on land at Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s hilltop home in San Francisco de Paula, overlooking Havana.

Havana also attracted yachtsmen, who flocked to such luxurious establishments as the Miramar Yacht Club and the elegant Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club for competition and camaraderie. The 1928 Habana Yacht Club Regatta, held March 24-25, was typical of such events. These annual powerboat races drew an international field of competitors for racing in five classes. Gar Wood’s Miss America V (driven by Phil Wood) was the fastest boat at the regatta. Wood won the two 10.5-mile heats in his class, beating well-known female racer W.J. Conners and her Miss Okeechobee. The course was set up so the racing could be seen from the shore, which was reportedly “lined with spectators intensely interested in the action.”

In his regatta wrap-up, boating writer Earle Grimm noted: “Havana offers so many attractions to the powerboat racing skippers, both afloat and ashore. … The annual spring regatta … is always a popular affair.

“Not the least pleasant part of the regatta was the hospitality of the Cubans [and] the beautiful Habana Yacht Club, facing the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.