Latin America & the Caribbean

Sailboat race is latest sign of better US-Cuba relations

HAVANA (AP) — U.S. sailors raced across the Florida Straits to Cuba on Saturday in a regatta propelled by strong winds and an easing of tensions between the two countries.

Second place sailor Seth Salzmann waves alongside teammate Wade Miller on their catamaran decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags as they arrive from Key West, Florida to the Marina Hemingway at the end of the Havana Challenge in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 16, 2015. The amateur race took place for the first time with U.S. government authorization thanks to the historic easing of tensions that began in December. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Second place sailor Seth Salzmann waves alongside teammate Wade Miller on their catamaran decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags as they arrive from Key West, Florida to the Marina Hemingway at the end of the Havana Challenge in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 16, 2015. The amateur race took place for the first time with U.S. government authorization thanks to the historic easing of tensions that began in December. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

An amateur race billed as the “Havana Challenge” took place for the first time with U.S. government authorization thanks to the historic easing of tensions that began in December.

Five 16-foot catamarans departed early Saturday, along with 14 support boats, from Key West. They began to reach Marina Hemingway in Havana by sunset, propelled by strong winds on the 90-mile-wide Florida Straits.

They planned to race Cuban sailors on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a historic event, a reunion of the sailing communities of Cuba and Florida,” said Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the Cuban Nautical Club.

Diaz said the last regatta of this kind was in 2000 but couldn’t be held with formal permission again because of U.S. restrictions on pleasure craft traveling to Cuba.

One of the organizers, Joe Weatherby, said he and other participants have raced to Cuba in the past, but without the license required by the U.S. government. They received one in April from the Commerce Department and now hope to make it an annual event.

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