Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State

                               Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State

Behind the tag line Adventure with Purpose is a resolution to structure our voyages to engage constructively with the communities we visit.  This is particularly true in Cuba, where we’ve made a five-year commitment to use educational programs to help rediscover our shared maritime heritage; enhance collaboration on marine conservation; and accelerate the development of sustainable maritime enterprise.

Fueled by improved relations with the United States, the Republic of Cuba is undergoing significant transformation.  Many more Americans are traveling by plane and cruise ship to Cuba, just 90 miles away.  Studies project that in the years ahead, tens of thousands of U.S. boats will cruise the many cays and reefs along Cuba’s breathtaking coastline.  But today, Cuba lacks the basic infrastructure and services to handle this boat traffic while also protecting its marine environment.

For 55 years, the sea has been a barrier to interaction with ordinary Americans.  Soon, a tsunami of American yachts will forever alter the waters of the Florida Straits and the nature of Cuban coastal communities.  Done properly, it could yield extraordinary economic development, transforming Cuba into the yachting capital of the Caribbean.  But done poorly, it could degrade and even destroy the most unspoiled marine environment left in our hemisphere.  Cuban officials, long committed to responsible marine stewardship, are keenly aware of this challenge.

The deck of a traditional schooner is a perfect platform to play our own modest role in this transformation.  Life aboard a traditional ship, buffeted by wind and waves, fosters deep reverence for the ocean.  The teamwork needed to operate its 19th century technology forges personal bonds among shipmates that last a lifetime.  The prospect of American and Cuban young people – tomorrow’s leaders – sailing side-by-side can help overcome a half-century of distance across a blockaded sea.

Moreover, in many small Cuban communities, our ship calls will constitute the first time Americans have ever visited by sea.  Our extended presence in these shore-side ports will necessitate a variety of transactions with local residents.

Anywhere else, such practical encounters are routine – but not for U.S. entities in Cuba.  After five decades of estrangement, the rules are finally beginning to change. But from navigational aids to spare parts, repairs to provisioning, port hospitality to ground transportation – each of these operational practices needs to be recreated consistent with evolving law and regulation.  That’s exactly what we’re doing.

In winter 2016, we sailed our schooner to Havana for President Obama’s historic diplomatic visit, and then conducted a series of exploratory voyages along Cuba’s coast to plan our educational voyages.  In August 2016, Ocean Passages received official approval from the U.S. government to proceed – explicitly encouraging us also to use our program to establish these new systems, many for the first time since diplomatic relations have been restored.  We were also invited to attend an event at the White House for the two-year anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in December 2016.  Key U.S. and Cuban speakers at the event stressed the importance of continuing to strengthen the ties between our two nations.

When we open a bank account or hire a Cuban, we’ll actually be breaking new ground in U.S.-Cuban relations and clearing a path that others can follow.  This means that as our schooner sails from port to port within Cuba, our crew will enjoy a life-changing ship experience – while personally advancing rapprochement between our nations.

Anticipating the expected demand from U.S. yachts, we are also planning a formal job training program for Cubans.  We have assembled a consortium of U.S. companies and schools in the marine trades to provide Cubans with hands-on training on state-of-the-art equipment previously unavailable on the island.

Inspired by collaboration with American students and empowered by the latest technical training, enterprising Cubans will have a unique economic opportunity.  And by adopting the best practices of modern marine operations, Cuba’s waterfront communities can thrive while preserving the most pristine marine environment in the Caribbean – in the end serving as a model for all of us.

This is a tangible chance to be the change.  That’s what we mean by Adventure with Purpose.