Historic race to Havana sets sail Saturday

Monohulls take the start of the prologue of the solo Solitaire du Figaro sailing race on July 28, 2009 off Lorient harbor, western of France. Fifty-two monuhulls will take the start the race on July 30, 2009, from Lorient. AFP PHOTO MARCEL MOCHET (Photo credit should read MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Oct. 30th   After 54 years of diplomacy stalemate between the U.S. and Cuba, the channels of communication began opening earlier this year.

With the Pensacola Yacht Club’s board of directors’ approval in April and title funding through a donation to the PYC Satori Foundation, which supports sailing and educational activities, a committee of Pensacola Yacht Club members seized the opportunity to organize the Andrews Institute 2015 Pensacola a la Habana Regatta.

The first “fully permitted” major offshore regatta from the U.S. mainland to Cuba will set sail at 8 a.m. Saturday in Pensacola Bay near the entrance of Bayou Chico. Twenty-two vessels will make this international, historic 584-nautical mile passage.

“Given the enormous amount of regulatory hurdles boat owners had to contend with, and the short time frame in which to organize this race,” said regatta chair and veteran racer, PYC member Bob Kriegel, “we are extremely pleased with the turnout.”

Five PYC boats are competing in the regatta, which was structured to favor cruising vessels, although competitive boats such as PYC Mike Patterson’s Corsair 31 “Bella Fonte” — a high-tech Trimaran — is expected to cross the finish line first.

Eight other Florida homeports ranging from Destin (with a three-generation crew aboard, including a son and 14-year-old grandson from Oregon) to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area are competing. Alabama and Louisiana are also represented in the regatta.

Larry and Sue Hamilton and their cat, Endicott, sailed their Formosa Peterson 46-foot “Serengeti” up from Marathon in the Florida Keys.

“We sailed 500 miles in order to sail 500 more miles to end up at a port just 118 miles away from our home port,” said Sue. “That’s how much we wanted to sail to Cuba.”

Florida sailors have a unique connection with Cuba.

An inaugural 284 nautical mile race from St. Petersburg to Cuba was held March 11, 1930 with 11 boats participating. PYC members A.D. “Dick” Pace Jr. and Thomas M. Pace (96 and 90 years old, respectively) sailed in the 1947 and ‘48 regattas to Cuba.

The multigenerational family’s involvement with PYC is well-known; the Pace brothers’ stories of those Cuba races are legendary and the opportunity to support this new chapter in sailboat racing, while promoting Pensacola as a venue for international sailing events is wholeheartedly endorsed by the Pace family.

A generous donation by the family in support of the inaugural Pensacola a la Habana Regatta resulted in the decision to honor the family’s history by establishing a trophy in their name.

The Pace Perpetual Trophy will be presented to the first overall monohull who finishes first on corrected time. Among those congratulating and handing out trophies in Cuba will be Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba commodore Jose M. Diaz Eschrich.

Eschrich expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming regatta in a letter to Kriegel.

“It pleases me to greet you on behalf of HIYC, and all activities related to the event that will strengthen ties of friendship between the cities of Pensacola and Havana and between our two yacht clubs,” Eschrich wrote. “All participants in the Pensacola-Havana Regatta will never forget the hospitality they will enjoy during their stay in Cuba.”

Those excited about this history-making event won’t have to wait long to learn results.

Each boat will be equipped with a transponder that will broadcast its location to electronic devices from computers to smart phones. Called “Kattack,” it can be viewed online at www.kattack.com (choose watch races at top, then click on distance races, find Pensacola to Cuba).