Thursday, May 25, 2017
Key West, Cuba collide in celebration

Over the weekend, hundreds and hundreds of sailors, along with their friends and family, participated in both the Havana Challenge Hobie Cat race and the 25th anniversary of the Hemingway International Yacht Club at Marina Hemingway on the outskirts of Havana. While there were some scheduling challenges, overall, at least from my perspective, it looked like everyone had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Friday night’s event included an over-the-top Cuban-style throw-down of food and drink and an awards ceremony, as the host and driving force behind the club, Commodore Jose Escrich, dedicated the evening to his late wife, Marisel.

Also on hand were nine students from the Key West Sailing Center. The young sailors had the opportunity to sail in and out of Havana Harbor and along the Malecon aboard the Schooner Jolly Rover 2.

Beyond the marina, I must say, it’s really weird to see Key West people in this once “off-limits” town. On Saturday, it was Key West dance sensation Lucy Mularz who called out to me at the Hotel Nacional. An hour or so later, in the heart of Old Havana, here comes Steve King of “Zombie Ride,” “Fantasy Fest” and “Papio Parade” fame. This guy can build some really far-out forms of transportation, tailor-made for Key West.

On Sunday, the scene at the Hemingway International Yacht Club couldn’t have been cooler. No one is quite sure how Captain Rhondi Opiela was able to position the Schooner Jolly Rover 2 longways (if that’s a word) against the dock, but it made an incredible backdrop for the weekend’s events. 

During Sunday night’s celebration of the 25th anniversary, scores of yacht club representatives from around the United States and the world presented Commodore Escrich with gifts of appreciation. Key Westers George Bellenger, Paul Gallagher, Bill Malone, Jane Rohrschneider and Jim Gilleran individually thanked the Commodore and his staff for their continual hospitality. Gilleran’s time at the microphone was centered around the “Friendship Cup,” which is a special trophy created in memory of his son, Matthew. It was a deep and heartfelt moment.

So anyway, I’d say that’s enough for one article. I’m now off to share with my group the unforgettable town of Vinales, in the province of Pinar del Rio. While the place is definitely growing with new construction, new restaurants and large tour buses (yawn), it is so gorgeous that it simply doesn’t matter. My dear, longtime friends from the region, Francisco, Anita, Aleida and Roberto, among many others, always make my groups and me feel much more like family than just another group of gringos. So after breakfast, we’ll visit the Vinales valley for a few hours on horseback. The looming mountains, (called mogotes), bright, red soil and lush flora provide a color palate that is beyond belief. As is true with Key West, Cuba is a great place for someone with a camera or three.