Marina industry group plans trip to Cuba
By Doreen Hemlock,Sun Sentinel
Richard Graves dreams of the day when South Floridians can take their yachts for a weekend in Cuba.
That's why the Fort Lauderdale-based marina consultant is helping organize a trip to explore the island's marine scene, hoping to prepare for a time of open U.S-Cuba travel as Cuba seeks to develop marinas.
Graves aims to accompany more than a dozen U.S. marine industry specialists to Cuba from Feb. 18 to 22, just after Miami's international boat show. He hopes some participants at this month's mammoth boat show in Fort Lauderdale may sign up for the trip.
Their group aims to meet folks from the veteran Marina Hemingway and the expanding Marina Gaviota in Varadero, as well as Cubans in the arts, budding businesses and other fields.Washington's 52-year-old embargo on Cuba restricts most U.S. business with the communist-led island, but the Obama administration allows people-to-people tours, such as the one Graves is developing with licensed travel group Other Cuban Journeys.
"The idea is to make contacts and get a visual. You have to start understanding the culture to do business there one day," said Graves. "This is a long-term process."
The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba now has just 15 marinas with roughly 800 slips, an inventory basically frozen for half a century. But the government has plans to add 23 marinas with more than 5,000 slips, working with foreign investors.
Projects include expanding Gaviota Varadero marina to 1,200 slips to become one of the Caribbean's largest, Cuban officials have said.
A University of Florida study has estimated 60,000 U.S. vessels over 25 feet long would visit Cuba the first year after Washington lifts restrictions on U.S. boat travel to the island.
"For boating and the marine industry, Cuba is a perfect gateway to the Caribbean, eastern and western," said Graves, who has done studies to boost U.S. boating to the Caribbean overall.