Tapping into what seems like thawing relations between the United States and Cuba, the Sarasota Yacht Club is hosting a forum Thursday to discuss steps to rebuild nautical ties between the two nations.
The club has applied with the federal government for permission to compete in a sailing regatta off Cuba’s coast — something the club last did 15 years ago, before the U.S. prohibited virtually all travel to the island nation.
At Thursday’s forum, Timothy F. Ashby, an attorney with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in Miami and national expert on Cuban-American trade issues, is scheduled to discuss potential changes in U.S. policies toward Cuba, and how the club’s support for bi-national sailing competitions, education and marina development programs could lead to stronger ties between this region and Cuba.
“We expect widespread interest in our forum in light of the new climate in Washington,” said yacht club Commodore Bill Chastain in a statement. “Allowing U.S. sailing teams to participate in the 2010 Havana Regatta would be a natural step toward renewing more normal U.S.-Cuba relationship.”
Jose Díaz Escrich, vice president of the Cuban Sailing Federation and commodore of the Hemingway International Yacht Club in Havana, invited SYC to compete in the annual Regatta Castillo del Morro.
Chastain said, “Ongoing discussions will hopefully lead to a cooperative agreement between the youth sailing programs of Havana and Sarasota, which will be supported by the creation of an offshore regatta from Sarasota to Havana.”
Ashby will examine the international significance of yacht club’s regatta plans.
“Private-sector organizations like the SYC can build important bridges and focus private-sector attention on the need to restore relations with Cuba,” Ashby said.
He is providing pro bono help to the club as to regulations set by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“President Obama has announced a comprehensive review of U.S. relations with Cuba,” Ashby said. “We have already seen some small steps toward relaxing restrictions for U.S. residents traveling to Cuba, and that incremental approach is likely to continue.”
Ashby noted that Congress also is moving forward with a series of bills that would unfreeze relations.
“I think we’ll see a lifting of the travel ban for all Americans in the near future,” something that would make it easier for yachtsmen to visit Cuba without the current need for a license, Ashby said.
In March, Jay Meyer, the yacht club’s regatta chairman, filed an application with OFAC for permission to travel to Cuba to participate in the Regatta Castillo del Morro on June 12. The application has not yet been approved.
Now, the club’s focus is on conducting an offshore regatta that will raise money for youth sailing programs in Havana and Sarasota.
“The Sarasota Yacht Club is committed to strict compliance with all governmental regulations,” Meyer said. “We are making excellent progress toward conducting an excellent regatta of some 100 boats next May, 2010.”
The Thursday forum is open to the public and will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception. Tickets for the reception are $20 and include two drinks along with Cuban appetizers. The club’s dining room is open for dinner, and credit cards are accepted.
The club is at 1100 John Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota. For more information, call 365-4191 or visit the Sarasota Yacht Club website.