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Sailboats Race to Cuba

May 30, 1999

HAVANA (AP) _ The first of 230 yachts from the United States cruised into the Marina Hemingway early Sunday in a race that draws more attention for its finish line than winner.

The fourth annual Havana Cup regatta is opposed by Cuban exiles in Florida, who say the race makes light of their families’ suffering and helps Fidel Castro’s communist government.

But the sailors say they see it as a way to better understand a country and people most Americans know little about.

``When we left Florida, there was a guy in boat with a bullhorn shouting: ``Don’t go! You are helping Fidel Castro!″ said Steve Hasting, a personal injury attorney from Corpus Christi, Texas.

``But we wanted to see Cuba, to meet the Cuban people,″ said Hasting, 43, co-owner of ``Passion,″ a Santa Cruz 50 sailing vessel that was the third to dock at the marina early Sunday morning.

``The only think I think we are supporting is racing,″ said Constance Ledicke, another Corpus Christi attorney in Passion’s 11-member crew.

``We want to smoke cigars,″ said Susie Loyd, a disc jockey for GT 108, the Good Time Oldies radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. ``We want to go to the Floridita,″ she added, referring to one of writer Ernest Hemingway’s famous hangouts in old Havana during the 1950s.

Among those who voiced their opposition to the regatta last week was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who called it an ``insult″ to Cuban Americans living in his state.

Members of the powerful exile lobby, the Cuban American National Foundation, gathered at Tampa Bay to protest as the boats began leaving Friday morning.

Because of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the sailors are prohibited from spending any money on land. Thus, as in past years, the Cuban government will not charge them docking fees, electricity or other services associated with their stay at the marina.

None of the sailors said they planned to spend their entire time on their boats. Everyone wanted to see what was outside the marina.

``I see this as an adventure in a foreign land, support for racing,″ said Bill Liles, a Corpus Christi engineer in Passion’s crew. ``This is not about politics.″

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