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Posted May 31, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Travel

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The first annual Sail-Cuba Regatta, scheduled to begin May 3 from Tampa Bay, went to the bottom, a foundering wreck, before the start. At the closed skippers meeting on May 2 at the St. Petersburg Bayfront Center, the attendees—each of whom had a minimum of $350 invested in the event—voted to a man to cancel the race. They also wanted their money back.

This writer was present to cover the meeting but was denied entry by Gilles Rancourt, a Canadian citizen who was behind the regatta. Rancourt runs a Canadian company called Exit Solutions.

On April 19, I wrote about the Sail-Cuba Regatta in this column. I explained that attempts to get clarification on how many boats were in the regatta had failed. I said I had talked to a man in Canada who never identified himself.

What I did not know at the time the article appeared is that the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had, on April 18, posted a notice on its Web site about incorrect information that Rancourt was putting out on the Exit Solutions’ Web site. The sum and substance of the notice was that “ a U.S. boater cannot claim fully hosted status if he or she is prepaying a third country entity to cover his or her travel-related transactions in Cuba.”

People who went to Cuba, under Rancourt’s plan, would be breaking the law, the OFAC posting said. The penalties are draconian.

There are no restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans, but people who have no specific or general license to do so cannot legally spend money there. That was the core issue Rancourt had hoped to skirt. He failed.

On April 21, OFAC sent Rancourt a letter telling him that U.S. citizens or people under U.S. jurisdiction could not legally participate in his regatta. However, Rancourt apparently did not immediately inform the people who had signed up for the race and coughed up their money.

For example, Don Parmer of Panama City, who paid in $700 for both his boat—a Beneteau 381—and his own entry, wrote me the first he heard that there were difficulties with the race was after he had sailed down to St. Petersburg and talked to Rancourt on the phone. Frank Walker, one of Parmer’s crew, said that some skippers had received a fax of an OFAC letter to Rancourt—in which OFAC told Rancourt that his plan, as it related to U.S. citizens, would not wash—but others had not.

The skippers—I have been informed that there were but five—and their crews socialized for a spell before the meeting got under way.

Then Rancourt got up to address the group and complained that a former race official, whom he named, blew the whistle on the race. There was a canvassing of the people present, and the vote was unanimous to cancel the race. According to Walker, “Rancourt side-stepped the issues other than to say the cancellation (and return of the fees) was (the former race official’s) idea. The discussion went on for over an hour and all he (Rancourt) did was go around in circles.”

Three days after the race had failed to start, Rancourt released a statement that he e-mailed to a number of sailing publications. In it, he said the regatta had been postponed.

The truth was that the participants had voted to cancel the race. Cancellation and postponement are not the same course of action, but Rancourt ignored the distinction. He put the blame for the problems with OFAC on one person (the former race official) and took none of it himself. He also stated that talks with OFAC regarding the race were ongoing.

Both of the statements were incorrect. First of all, Rancourt had no evidence whatsoever to back up his statement that it was the aforementioned race official who lodged a complaint with OFAC. Secondly, in my discussion with an OFAC official in Washington a few days ago, I was told that there was, as far as he knew, nothing for OFAC to discuss with Mr. Rancourt. There is another inconsistency, too. The e-mailed statement from Rancourt came from Exit Solutions in Canada at a time when Rancourt was supposed to be in Cuba.

Rancourt e-mailed me, too. In answer to my question about the regatta being black-flagged by OFAC, Rancourt replied: “In OFAC’s sole opinion it was not a fully hosted event. This view is not shared by many others including our membership and ourselves .”

I asked other questions. Had he gone to Cuba in early May? No answer.

Had he, in fact, danced around the issues of refunds at the skippers meeting, as people there claimed? No answer.

Did he once have problems with a boat charting enterprise in Varadero, Cuba? No answer.

The reality is this: Regarding fully hosted travel to Cuba, it doesn’t make any difference what the opinions of the participants or Mr. Rancourt are. The United States Department of Treasury makes the rules, and it is the entity that the participants would have had to deal with had they gone.

While the people who put up $350 each to get in on the regatta may have shown poor discernment in sending money out of the country on what amounted to no more than a lick and a promise, I believe they showed excellent judgment in not going to Cuba. It may not be easy to kiss off $350, but it is a cheap price indeed, compared with getting into a major hassle with the United States Treasury people, which, after all, is holding what amounts to a royal straight flush against a pair of treys.

You don’t want to bet on it.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 02, 2006 by Gilles Rancourt

    This Regatta was postponed and a refund was returned to all registrants of this regatta to Cuba.

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