In another sign of rapidly thawing relations between the United States and Cuba, five two-person teams of American Hobie Cat sailboat racers left Key West's South Beach May 16 on a Key West-to-Havana race that is believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing race between the two cities in more than 50 years.
The Havana Challenge featured 16-foot Hobie Cat catamarans, most skippered by Florida Keys-based sailors, navigating more than 90 miles across the Florida Straits to Cuba.
"Key West is unique in its location to Havana. We're closer to Havana than Miami, and living and growing up in Key West, you just look that direction," race co-organizer and participating sailor George Bellenger said. "It was a challenge I couldn't resist — so [let ’s] put the sails up and sail down to Havana.”
Bellenger and co-organizer Joe Weatherby worked closely with regulatory agencies that include the Commerce Department, which issued licenses for the teams to participate.
"The special part of our event today is that we have all the permits that make it legal for us to go, so we're going to be setting a precedent today for others to follow," Bellenger told the Florida Keys News Bureau. "We've gotten the Treasury Department permits, the Commerce Department permits, the Coast Guard permits — and permission from my mom."