HAVANA, August 4 A Palm Beach County yacht broker’s charter, carrying a documentary filmmaker and a reporter, is set to be the first ship to sail into Cuba on Tuesday since the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba.
Paul Madden, a longtime luxury yacht broker with Paul Madden Associates LLC, on July 1 received the first license issued by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to operate ferries to Cuba.
Several other companies have received licenses, including Carnival Cruise Line. But Madden said his 78-foot yacht will be the first to sail between the United States and Cuba in decades.
The four-cabin ship received a professional research license from OFAC and the U.S. Commerce Department, according to Madden. The trip is being arranged by a New York educational tour guide, Academic Arrangements Abroad.
Fifteen people are booked to sail from Key West to Marina Hemingway nine miles west of Havana on the historic 4½-hour excursion.
Passengers will stay on the yacht called the Still Water, which plans to proceed afterward to Havana Harbor, Cuba’s main port. The plan is for the tour to head back to Key West on Friday.
“If they say it’s alright, we will sail into the Port of Havana,” Madden said. “We want to tread very carefully. We adhere closely to the 12 visa requirements.”
An advantage to traveling by yacht rather than plane is the provisions for lodging and food. Additionally, he can offer secure Internet access, which is severely limited in Cuba, Madden said.
Three crew members and 12 paying passengers, including a documentary filmmaker and a Wall Street Journal reporter, are booked on the trip. Madden declined to say the cost but said the average charter price for a yacht that size and the length of the trip is about $45,000 for the boat.
Cruise and ferry companies have been clamoring for government licenses to sail to Cuba since the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba and loosened rules for U.S. travel to the island. Carnival is the first cruise line to obtain a license, which plans to start service in May.
A major reason for the extended delay in starting service is Cuban infrastructure challenges and the shallow depths of most Cuban ports, said Miami lawyer James Meyer with Harper Meyer.
“It’s a big coup for anyone who becomes the first to do anything in Cuba—whether it’s the first bank or the first yacht,” Meyer said. “The publicity associated with it is priceless.”
Madden and his maritime lawyer, Michael T. Moore of Moore & Co. in Coral Gables, said the biggest challenge by far was getting insurance for the travel. Madden said he ultimately found insurance with a foreign company he declined to name.
“Some of the major hitches were with the insurance,” Moore said. “The insurance market is still behind the curve as far as these kinds of things are concerned. It’s the unknown.”
Madden’s OFAC license is good for two years. He has no other trips booked as of this time.