Navigating Cuba – and Washington

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of ME (far right) recalls her own recent visit to Cuba. On stools (L-R): boat owner Phin Sprague, American University Professor Bill Leogrande (obscured), Ocean Passages President Greg Belanger and Harvey Gamage Capt. Christopher Flansburg

As she sailed home from Cuba, our schooner recently moored with our friends at the Capital Yacht Club and hosted a small town-hall discussion, weaving stories of our winter programs with speculation on the future of American travel to Cuba.

The DC event kicked off with a welcome from Phineas Sprague, owner of the Harvey Gamage and a 22-acre shipyard in Portland – and closed with remarks by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, who lauded the boat’s work in the context of changing US-Cuba policy.

Each port of call along the U.S. east coast is chosen for a specific reason, whether it’s the slavery history of Sullivan’s Island, SC or the personal perspective of Boston’s Cuban-American community.  Obviously, Washington plays a unique role in any conversation about Cuba. 

All agreed about the challenges of preserving Cuba’s extraordinary environmental achievements while ushering a new era of American engagement.  Fundamental to Ocean Passages is mutually respectful dialogue about our shared maritime heritage with Cuba – and how that helps overcome political obstacles that have plagued relations for nearly six decades. 

Boris Luis Gómez (R), First Secretary in the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba, tours the ship with boat owner Phineas Sprague

Living and learning on the ship is a life-changing adventure, but there’s more to our program than just sailing aboard a Tall Ship.  Our DC gathering of Congressional and Cuban officials, Cuba scholars and marine environmental experts, together with crew and students, was another step toward mutual understanding – in our own country as well as in Cuban waters. 

To keep the sea stories going, the Harvey Gamage will now call on Washington twice a year, with each Maine-Cuba passage.  We look forward to her return this October for the grand opening of The Wharf – and for many years to come.

Photo credit: Jocelyn Leighton