DC: Old and New Friends

We had such a productive and hospitable week in Washington that we’ve decided to return to the nation’s capital twice a year, on every voyage to and from Cuba – and to help promote D.C.’s new waterfront as a premier Tall Ship port, nationally and globally.  

Over the course of just a few days, we met personally with each of our congressional delegation, briefed key Administration officials and made some new and very good friends along the burgeoning Washington waterfront.  These were substantive discussions that advanced both our educational objectives and operational logistics – precisely the kind of encounters we’d like to show our students as we pass through the capital in the future.

A week ago, the Harvey Gamage sailed up the Potomac River (passing under a Route 395 bridge at midnight, the only hour it’s permitted!) and docked within a mile of the U.S. Capitol.  After briefing the State Department Cuba Desk, we sat down with each member of the bipartisan Maine Congressional Delegation: Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin.  Each brings different expertise to the policy and logistical challenges Ocean Passages faces during our voyages to and in Cuba.  And all strongly encouraged our work to strengthen ties between Maine and southern Cuba and our long-term vision to offer marine skills training for Cubans in coastal communities.  

U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine with Phineas Sprague, owner of the Harvey Gamage (center two), with Steven Schwadron, Counsel (L) and Gregory Belanger (R), President of Ocean Passages

It was a good chance to brief the legislators and their senior staff on our deepening roots in Cuba and how, in our own modest way, Ocean Passages is breaking new and constructive ground.  We go way back with each of our representatives, so it was gratifying but not surprising that each was so personally engaged.  In these days of cynicism about politics, it is refreshing to enjoy the support – from both sides of the partisan aisle – of such outstanding public servants.  

Our visit to the nation’s capital was also worthwhile for the opportunity to dock at the Capital Yacht Club (CYC), which offered the Gamage and our crew an incredibly warm welcome.  Even with the facility under major reconstruction, we were treated like kings.  Monty Hoffman, Project Director of The Wharf development, joined with two long-time Tall Ship friends and club members, Carl Cole and Scott Berg, to host all of us for a long evening of food, drink and waterside fellowship that can only happen among fellow sailors.  While docked, we also met some other pretty interesting people (including a U.S. Senator) who live on houseboats there - its own small political universe on the water!  

Capital Yacht Club was originally formed in 1892 by nine yachtsmen who met on the naphtha-powered launch Alert in order to hire a watchman to keep an eye on their vessels anchored in the newly formed Washington Channel.  It’s certainly come a long way – with impressive plans for a complete overhaul.  As Carl said, under Mr. Hoffman’s vision for the CYC and the overall Wharf neighborhood (a 3.2 million square foot mixed-use development on the Potomac River, with Phase One opening in October 2017), Washington will soon offer one of the most inviting waterfronts on the east coast.  And we witnessed again how Maine seems to be everywhere: the general contractor for the massive project is Cianbro, the world-class, employee-owned construction firm run by our friends, the Cianchette brothers – based in Pittsfield, ME, just a few hours north of our home office in Portland.   

It was a pleasure to tour the new waterfront and we can’t wait to return to participate in the Capital Yacht Club’s grand opening this spring as we sail home from Cuba.  Meantime, we thank our yacht club friends and government colleagues for such a warm welcome and have already adjusted the ship’s floatplan – sailing both south and north – to always include an extended stop in Washington.