After 58 years, The Granddaddy of all Sailwatercraft Regattas Returns

Snell Isle resident Bill Ballard was 16 and also a junior in high institution as soon as he sailed right into Havana, Cuba, as component of the six-man crew on the Celia, the late George Pearson’s 39-foot cruising yacht. It was 1954, during the heyday of the timeless St. Petersburg Yacht Club-funded “St. Petersburg to Habana” Sailwatercraft Regatta. First introduced in 1930, the regatta was commonly recognized as the premier “granddaddy of all sailwatercraft races.”

“Havana was an off-the-charts good location for a cruising race,” states Bill. “It had actually a large herbal harbor with a protected entrance. The city was exceptionally European via a 400-year-old background and also beautiful structures. It was an impressive tropical destination.”

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Sailors came from all over the country to participate. The timing of the race in late February and March, when it was still snowing up north, was a great opportunity for civilization in colder climates to come south and lug their yachts, Bill recalls.

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Havana, when a deluxe playground for the well-off and also famous, was also a city that kbrand-new exactly how to party – absolutely a large part of the alentice. The rum flowed freely and also the dancing, entertainment and parties were over-the-height glamorous. “Heady stuff” for the adolescents, choose Bill, that crewed on the yachts.

Rictough Winning, president and also chairguy of the board of Derby Lane, flourished up in Snell Isle. His household was a huge component of the cruising scene. “Back in the day thousands of human being would certainly watch from the Pier as the boats took off and it was the exact same in Havana once the watercrafts came in,” states Ricdifficult.

His mom, Mary Margaret, is 92 and also remembers flying down for the awards ceremonies and the parties. “One time, my mom was sitting at the bar alongside Ernest Hemingmethod,” says Rictough. “My father said to her, carry out you understand who you’re sitting following to? She hadn’t been paying attention and had actually no concept.” Hemingmeans, of course, was an iconic number in Havana at the moment and organized court at the city’s many waterfront bars and also restaurants.

The Rdevelopment Approaches


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Leaving Havana


Unfortunately, by the late 1950s, political and army unrest in Cuba started to escalate, developing unsafe problems for the sailors. In 1958, the unrest had been so excessive that the fleet of watercrafts leaving St. Petersburg had to be diverted to Miami, states Ricdifficult. A year later, 37 boats sailed, yet 1959 was destined to be the last regatta. Richard’s father, Dick Winning was commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that year. Fidel Castro had simply seized power in a transformation overthrowing the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

“People came back via every one of stories of encounters via young, armed revolutionaries patrolling the streets,” states Bill. Two years later on, the US would certainly cshed the Amerihave the right to Embassy in Havana, sever before diplomatic ties via Cuba and also put in location strict travel constraints.

Last year, as the US and Cuba restored diplomatic relations, St. Pete Yacht Club members began talking about a resurgence of the race, says Rictough. Now 58 years later on, the historic St. Petersburg to Habana Regatta is ago. By the means, the spelling of Habana is not a typo. Bill points out that early on St. Petersburg Yacht Club files provided the Spanish spelling for the city and the race organizers are proceeding to honor this heritage.


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1957 Havana Race start off St.Petersburg


In an interesting rotate of events, Richard was the yacht club commodore in 2016 as soon as the Yacht Club made a decision to revitalize the race. It’s a nice testament to his dad’s legacy. “We’ve come full circle,” says Ricdifficult. “When things via Cuba opened up, we shelp ‘let’s execute this.’ The timing was right. It’s always been about fun and also great fellowship.”

I talked via Bill and Rictough a few weeks prior to the race. In Bill’s office he had actually maps of the Gulf of Mexico spread out in preparation for his job as navigator of the Orient Express, owned by Joel Taliaferro of Bradenton. “The race is a wonderful occasion to be happening. The normalization of connections via Cuba is exceptionally a lot in every one of our finest interests,” states Bill. “It’s a good race in regards to the background, the course to be cruised and the destination. But the majority of of all, I simply really gain offshore sailing through the camaraderie and cooperation.”

Bill was about nine years old once he started proactively racing. But he remembers being much younger the first time he walked from his family’s home at the corner of 12th Avenue and Oak Street to North Shore Park and also observed the sailboats out on Tampa Bay.


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Start of Annual St. Pete Havana Yacht Race, 1935


When he was a teenager he began working afternoons and also weekends for Charley Mbody organ, the renowned sailor, boat designer and also founder of Morgan Yachts. “Charley hired me to be one of his racing crew and I was exposed to world that owned the big racing yachts,” claims Bill.

Bill sailed with the crew to Cuba in 1954, yet left for college after that. When he went back to raise his family members and practice legislation, the embargo with Cuba was currently in location. But he ongoing to sail and was commodore of the Yacht Club in 1978. More newly, he raced to Mexico in 2013 and 2014 on the Orient Express, the same watercraft he was on for the Cuba race.

Past and Present

The initially race on March 30, 1930 attracted 11 watercrafts, starting from the St. Pete Pier and also ending at Morro Castle at the entrance to the Havana harbor. George Gandy, Jr., much better recognized as ‘Gidge,’ arranged the race as way to promote the City of St. Petersburg, which was feeling the impacts of the Great Depression.

This year, 80 watercrafts collection sail from the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront on February 28 after a champagne toast for excellent luck. Sailors from anywhere Florida, and also Canada and also Texas, pertained to get involved. An added couple hundred people flew down to gain the festivities.


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Capitol structure in Havana, Cuba


In full, the race is about a 36-hour run to Havana, a distance of 284-nautical miles, states Richard. That’s about two-and-a-half days of competitive cruising about the clock. Then there’s a series of ceremonies, parties and also tours planned, consisting of a nautical parade and also a second regatta, the Torreon de la Chorrera Regatta, an 11-mile competition from Morro Castle in the Havana harbor to Hemmingway Marina and ago. Dancing and entertainment at the renowned Tropicana Club and the firing of the cannon at Morro Castle are likewise on the list.

David Caras, the chief administrator for St. Petersburg-based Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, and 11 various other injured military veterans from anywhere the nation, were also among the sailors this year. The veterans cruised on the Grand also Nellie, an 80-foot yacht owned by a Key West resident who will captain the boat.

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All of the sailors have at leastern basic cruising experience, says Caras. They additionally have some kind of discapability sustained from their time in the service, varying from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder to visual handicap. Three of the seafarers are amputees, consisting of Caras, that is an experienced sailor and has completed on the US Sailing Team.

Was he looking forward to the race? “Sailing right into the Havana harbor will certainly be a bit stselection – a surreal experience for me,” states Caras, that was in the US Coast Guard and also stationed at Guantanamo Bay – not the jail side, he says, however on the various other side via fences and a mine field. “The last time I remained in Cuba, I can climb the tower and also usage high-powered binoculars to see Cuban soldiers through rifles.”

A Cuban Native’s Perspective

Dr. Julio Ochoa, a retired St. Petersburg hematologist/oncologist, remembers seeing the many beautiful yachts anchored offshore out in the crystal clear waters of Cuba. He thrived up tright here on the south side of Havana in a community referred to as Vibora. His family members belonged to Club Nautico, among the many kind of private clubs that lined Marianao beach. The Habana Yacht Club was located following door.

“The regatta was very well publicized in the files and everyone was enthusiastic around it, states Dr. Ochoa. “Our club had actually a large pier that extfinished way out and also from tright here, we could see the beautiful watercrafts go by. My cousin and also I would jump right into the water from the pier and also swim out to take a look. The boats were beautiful and so extremely varnished that you could watch your reflection like a mirror.”

All of that readjusted via the Cuban radvancement. It was an extremely dangerous time, Dr. Ochoa recalls. Many type of of his friends sindicate disshowed up, never to be heard of aobtain. “My mommy felt it was urgent that I leave the country,” recalls Dr. Ochoa, that was 21 at the moment and also had just completed six months of clinical school. “I had an uncle in Miami and also requested permission to leave the nation to go live through him.”

At the embassy wbelow he applied for a passport, the line of human being waiting wound approximately and about the block, he says. Everyone wanted to leave. Dr. Ochoa feels fortunate that he was among the lucky ones. In February of 1962 he was apconfirmed for the Freedom Flights, a US regimen that transported an approximated 300,000 world from Cuba to Miami from 1965 to 1973.


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Dr. Ochoa


Once settled in Miami, Dr. Ochoa states he was among 5,000 young Cuban exiles recruited by the US federal government to be component of an enigma training mission to overthrow Castro and libeprice Cuba. “We were sent to Ft Knox, Kentucky for training,” states Dr. Ochoa. “It was a very intense month-long training in the hills by Special Forces officers. I remember it was freezing cold, especially for Cubans who had actually never viewed scurrently prior to.”

After the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy put the soldiers on stand-by and then cancelled the mission. “It was a very tense couple of days. We were extremely emotional at the thought of taking our nation ago, yet additionally concerned that this crisis was unfolding,” Dr. Ochoa recalls. “We didn’t know at the time exactly how grave the case was.”

The rest is background. Dr. Ochoa went on to end up medical school and also then private exercise in St. Petersburg. In 1979, he went back to Cuba for the initially time with his wife and children to visit his parental fees and also sister. He says reviving the regatta and also restoring diplomatic ties through Cuba is a really positive action. He simply really hopes that it will intend more opportunity for the Cuban civilization to reget their liberty.

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by Janan Talafer

Editor’s Note: Just as the Northeastern Journal was being yielded to location residences and businesses, the Yacht Club announced that the seafarers had actually changed house and also the race was a good success. Congratulations to Lloyd Thornburg and also crew on FOMO who came in first, through Douglas Fisher and crew on Conviction simply behind in second location. We understand also that weather problems were complex – limited wind initially and then strong winds and choppy seas as the seafarers attempted to rerevolve house. It’s interesting that this historical signature sailwatercraft regatta is ago up and running again after all these years.