U.S. Boats Take Part in Hemingway Billfish Tournament

For the first time in 35 years, fourteen fishing boats from the United States have been authorized by the U.S. Department of Commerce to sail to Havana and take part in the Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament.

Commodore of Cuba’s International Yacht Club, Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, said that the participation of American teams in this year’s tournament is the beginning of the establishment of closer ties between Cuban and American sports fishing.

This has been possible thanks to the interests both countries have in re-establishing diplomatic relations, as announced on December 17, 2014.

After those announcements, the Hemingway Marina in Havana has hosted two international events which have been attended by American participants: the Havana Challenge Regatta from May 16-21, and the Bone Island Regatta.

For the billfish tournament, participants must pay a 450-dollar registration fee, and they can either come to Cuba in their own yachts, or rent one from the Yacht Club for 3,000 dollars.

In February 2015, when it was announced that the 65th edition of the tournament would take place in May, Commodore Escrich said that ten Cuban boats were expected to participate, and that the Hemingway Yacht Club would be covering some of the expenses for Cuban nationals.

“We cannot cover 100% of their expenses, neither can we exempt them completely from paying the registration fee, but we are going to do everything we can to get more Cuban boats to participate,” the Commodore told the press.

For the second consecutive time, the Santy will be the only privately owned Cuban boat in the competition. Olguita, the yacht of the Cuban Sports Fishing Federation (FCPD), which receives government funding, will also be taking part.

These two yachts, Olguita and Santy, will be the only representing Cuba, so the country’s chances to retain the title, currently held by the Fonseca brothers, the owners of the Olguita, are slim.

Their mark last year was of five mahi-mahis and four marlins, using the tag and release fishing method. In 2014, they defeated the ships Odds and Ends and Tag and Release.

Félix Leonardo, one of the Fonseca brothers, on board of the Santy. Photo by Julio Batista.

This year the conditions have not been as favorable for Cubans. “On the 26th and 27th, the waves were over two-feet high, too high for the size of our boat. To be able to catch anything, we had to keep sailing on only one side and move in a straight line,” said El Chino, the younger brother.

So far, the Cubans on board of Santy have tagged two blue marlins, one per day, since there was no competition on Thursday and then they didn’t compete on Friday.

Leading the competition are United States’ Billy the Kid, Triple F and Unclaimed, in that order, with 10, 5 and 5 catches.

In addition to the fourteen American boats and the two from Cuba, there are teams from France, Canada, Sweden, Lithuania and Puerto Rico in the tournament.

Although the number of participants is the largest of the last decade, the initial estimate of 80 American participants was not met, nor were the expectations of the organizers for this to be the biggest Hemingway Tournament ever.

New rules were implemented this year as well, including the use of 80-pound fishing lines, as is common in international competitions now, and a new scoring system based on the species captured, since not all the fish offer the same resistance.

Blue marlins are now worth 500 points; white marlins, 400; and sail fish, 300, while the points obtained for catching tunas and wahoos will be calculated based on the fish weigh.

According to Hemingway Marina reports, during the first three days of competition (May 26th, 27th, and 29th) various mahi-mahi have been captured already, including a 10.5-kg one, the biggest so far, by Tormenta Ramera from the United States. The biggest tuna, an 8-pound piece, was caught by Canada’s Costa Azul, with which they won the First Catch Prize of the tournament, registered at 9:44 a.m. on Tuesday, May 26th.

The final results will be announced by the end of May 30th.

Felix Leonardo and Carlos catching their last white marlin in the 2014 tournament. Photo by Julio Batista.

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