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A convoy of Nordhavns set sail yesterday from Key West, bound for Havana, Cuba, marking the first time a group of Nordhavns has explored the waters around the island nation. A second group of Nordhavns is set to converge in Cuba later in April, while still others will make the trek solo over the coming months.

Chatter amongst Nordhavn owners regarding a “Cuba Rally” has run rampant ever since the U.S. and Cuban governments announced a renewal of diplomatic relations last year. While several Nordhavns have individually been able to freely visit Cuba, now American owners – who make up the majority of Nordhavn ownership – are finally able to take advantage of the unique cruising grounds and discover what it is that has made Cuba a popular tourist destination for the rest of the world.

The owners of more than 30 individual Nordhavns gathered at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show last November to meet and discuss final details regarding a Nordhavn rally to Cuba. It’s been months and months in the planning, said Cuba Rally Committee co-chair John Phillipson, culminating with the countdown that started in Miami last week. There, boats provisioned and readied prior to making their way down to Key West where most of the participating boats departed en masse. Meanwhile, others set out from other parts of the U.S., the Southern Caribbean and even Europe.

Once in Cuba, the boats will be together, though each with an individual itinerary, according to Phillipson, since some are restricted by the number of weeks they are able to stay. In those instances, the boats will spend most of their time in and around Havana while boats staying longer will visit Varadero, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Despite the legal Cuba travel opportunities that now exist for Americans, there is still a great deal of risk and many regulations must be adhered to. “The risks are many,” said Phillipson. ““Boating in Cuba is still in its very early stages of development. Infrastructure for yachts is just starting to be built. Marinas are not yet up to the standards we see in most other western countries and on-shore services and supplies are non-existent for boaters.”

Still, in the opinion of Phillipson as well as those in the group – the risks don’t outweigh the rewards. “We are well prepared. We are very self-sufficient. Cuba is changing very quickly right now with thousands of U.S. tourists flying in to Havana daily.”

A second fleet of Nordhavns is gathering steam for an early April departure to Cuba. Unlike Phillipson’s group which is strictly owner-organized and self-directed, this second rally will be under the guidance of Peter Swanson, editor-at-large for AIM media group (which includes Passagemaker Magazine). For a fee, owners will pay to participate in what Swanson refers to as a Legal Cuba Rally via one of 12 general licenses that authorize U.S. citizens to travel by boat – effectively eliminating the “risks” of visiting Cuba faced by those who ad-lib their trips. AIM will be overseeing America-Cuba cruises under the current regulations of the “people to people” exchanges, which don’t require a license or paperwork, but do include guidelines Americans are expected to follow. As their tour leader, Swanson becomes the “person subject to U.S. jurisdiction”, meaning if anyone in the group isn’t following the rules – knowingly or unknowingly – it’s his head on a platter.

The two Cuba rallies make an important commentary on the Nordhavn brand, said Jim Leishman. “The fact that so many Nordhavns have banded together to visit this previously inaccessible cruising ground shows the adventurous spirit as well as the camaraderie that exists within our owners,” he said.

For more information regarding participation in organized “Legal” Cuba rallies, please contact petercswanson@gmail.com.

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