Across the Florida Straits – Legally - to Cuba
by Jeffrey Boutwell
History was made when, over three days, from May 21-23, participants in the 65th Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament, left Key West bound for the Hemingway International Yacht Club in Havana, Cuba.
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Kurt Winters and the crew of the Therapy[/caption]
On board were two Hemingway grandsons, John and Patrick, who sailed with M/V Tormenta Ramera, a Viking 64 sport fisher owned and captained by Tim Gipe of North Miami, FL. Departing the Safe Harbour Marina on Stock Island in Key West at about 6:30 AM on Friday, May 22, Tormenta Ramera crossed the Florida Straits in about 7 hours, with John and Patrick catching several dolphin fish (dorado) along the way.
The boat arrived at Hemingway Marina at about 1:30 in the afternoon, greeted by Hemingway Yacht Club Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, members of the international press, and a sizeable crowd of tournament enthusiasts.
Other U.S. sport fishing boats that, with the help of Jeffrey Boutwell of Washington DC, obtained the necessary U.S. Commerce and Treasury licenses and US Coast Guard permits to enter Cuban territorial seas, arrived Friday afternoon and through the weekend.
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Mark and Sheila Knowles and the crew of the Blue Heron[/caption]
Boutwell is a board member of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, and had been working since the fall of 2014 to assemble a group of U.S. boats to apply for and receive the necessary U.S. government permissions to travel to Cuba. By the early spring of 2015, the application process was well underway, and in consultation with the U.S. State Department and key members of Congress (most especially Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa), Boutwell was able to secure the necessary approvals to allow a total of eight U.S. owned sport fishing boats to sail from Key West, Florida to the Marina Hemingway in Havana to participate in the tournament.
One of these, M/V Therapy, a Hatteras 50C owned by Kurt Winters and Bob Zimmerman and captained by Kurt Winters, was the boat from which John and Patrick fished on the first official day of the tournament, Tuesday, May 26, accompanied by CBS news correspondent Dean Reynolds and a camera crew. The CBS story on the Hemingway tournament and how the presence of U.S. boats marks a new phase in US-Cuba relations aired on the CBS Evening News on Thursday, May 28. The crew of Therapy also included Kim Fisher of Mel Fisher Enterprises, Joe Sweeney, Steve Strasinger, and George Thornewell.
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Commodore Escrich & Jeffrey Boutwell at the Hemingway Yacht Club[/caption]
A key element of U.S. participation in the tournament is to promote the conservation of important shared ocean resources in the Florida Straits between the two countries. As is well known, highly migratory species such as marlin, swordfish and Atlantic tuna depend upon healthy eco-systems along the coasts of both Cuba and the United States for adequate spawning grounds and marine environments in which they can mature. Yet, because of strained political relations between the U.S. and Cuba for more than half a century, our knowledge of the populations of marlin and other billfish is woefully inadequate, to say nothing of their breeding and migration patterns and overall health.
As a well-established international sporting event, the Hemingway Tournament can have positive environmental implications for Florida and the entire Gulf coast of the United States in fostering closer collaboration between the sport fishing and ocean resource communities in both countries. This is especially true as the Hemingway International Billfish Tournament is a ‘catch and release’ competition (and as such is sanctioned by the International Game Fish Association, headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, FL), and U.S. participants will be advocating for the use of ‘circle hooks’ by all participants so as to improve the survival rate of sport fish that are caught and released.
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US sportfishing vessels off the coast of Havana, Cuba[/caption]
As many as 25 international sport fishing teams competed in the Hemingway tournament through the remainder of the week, concluding on Saturday, May 30 with the final day of fishing and awards ceremony that evening at the Marina’s Hotel Acuario. Over four days of fishing, participants caught (and released) 40 blue marlin, 12 white marlin, and assorted sailfish and dolphin fish (dorado).
On their return trip to Key West on Sunday, May 31, John and Patrick Hemingway traveled on Therapy and were joined by Washington Post reporter Nick Miroff for a story that appeared on the front page of the Post on Saturday, June 6.
Other U.S. boats participating in the tournament included Blue Heron (Mark and Sheila Knowles, captained by Shannon Fountain), Ranger (Jack Spottswood), The Good Life (Brad Goodchild), Imagine (David Herndon, captained by Marc Wren), Key Player (C.D. Norberg) and SuzSea (Jack Apple).
Jeffrey Boutwell is a science and public policy specialist based in Washington, DC; this was his 8th trip to Cuba.
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