The last time Peter Goldsmith staged a sailing race between Key West and Cuba, he and his late wife Michelle Geslin were hauled away in handcuffs and charged federally with trading with the enemy.
A judge later dismissed the case, but not before prosecutors and the federal government sent a clear message.
“They wanted to scare us and it worked,” Goldsmith said of the 2004 arrest. “I had just pulled out of my parking space and my wife was still in her nightgown when they arrested us.”
Goldsmith and Geslin staged races between Key West and Cuba between 1997 to 2003 before the feds effectively shut down the race.
But 12 years later, the political climate has changed drastically, much coming from President Barack Obama’s easing of travel restrictions last year.
Goldsmith has resurrected the Conch Republic Race and a fleet of nearly 60 boats will leave Key West for Veradero, Cuba on Jan. 28. The event is the largest sailing regatta between the two countries in recent years.
Five different classes of sailboats will participate in five races during the 10-day event. The race is timed so that boats participating in the annual sailboat races in Key West can participate.
Marina Hemingway Commodore Jose Eschrich will be in Key West for the start of the race. Marina Hemingway has partnered with the organizers of the Conch Republic Cup and will host racers while they are in Cuba.
Commodore Eschrich has also petitioned the Cuban Ministry Of the Interior on behalf of several Cuban-born American citizens who wish to participate in the Conch Republic Cup. This would mark the first time in decades that a Cuban-born American has been able to enter their home country by boat. Three of these people would be traveling aboard their own boats while several more will crew on the vessels of others.
Shake-A-Leg, a Miami organization providing boat access for children and adults with disabilities, has entered a 60-foot wheelchair accessible custom catamaran called the “Impossible Dream.”
Race organizers are working with Commodore Eschrich so disabled Cuban citizens can sail in Conch Republic Cup events.
Generally, Cubans are prohibited by law from accessing boats. Boat captains, mates and fishermen do have special permission to access and use boats.
“This doesn’t involve politics,” Goldsmith said of the Conch Republic Cup. “This is true people-to-people travel.”