“It was a bucket list experience,” says Bob Moran of the Conch Republic Cup race to Cuba. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
After finishing fourth in the one-design fleet at Quantum Key West Race Week, Moran and his team spent four days preparing his C&C 30 One Design BobSled for offshore racing. This included loading up the life raft and safety equipment, beefing up the onboard electronics, and storing all the gear needed to accommodate a six-person team for a week in Cuba.
The Conch Republic Cup began with a 90-mile offshore sprint race from Key West to Varadero, Cuba. Winds for the race ranged from 15 to 23 knots from the north, setting up perfect downwind conditions for the C&C 30.
cuba1“It was fantastic. It was the best sailing,” says Moran. “You know those days when you go out, and you have a great run and you wish you never had to go upwind? Well, we didn’t! We just kept going.
“A lot of boats didn’t even jibe – they just sailed the rhumb line,” he says. “We jibed twice and then followed the rhumb line in and passed everybody. We crossed the line second, right behind a J/125. But we corrected to first.”
How was it crossing the Gulf Stream in a 30-foot boat? “The boat was sturdy and actually more comfortable in the crossings than I would have guessed,” says Bob. “The seas were confused, so it was not a dry ride. There were leftover waves coming from the starboard bow, as well as the waves from behind. And it was dark.
“We had the biggest waves I’ve sailed this boat in; we saw up to six-foot seas,” he says.” We were surfing at 18 knots in the pitch black in these waves. It sounds scary, but it was fun. Once you got settled in, you could time the waves to surf. And the boat loves going downwind. When you’re going fast, the foils are incredible. When sailing in breeze, you have incredible control.”
This first race finished in Varadero, which Moran describes as “like a European resort, or a cruise ship stop. There were resorts, and a very nice marina.” But, he added, “We decided that this didn’t count as ‘Cuba.’ “
While in Varadero, the team competed in a buoy race, finishing sixth. Two days later, the fleet raced the 70 miles from Varadero to Havana. “When we got to Havana, that’s when we hit culture shock,” he says. “We were totally off the grid. Our phones didn’t work and the internet didn’t work. They just don’t have the infrastructure. But getting there, it was the best racing any of us have experienced.
“There was just barely enough wind for a start – it was almost slow motion,” he recalls. “The breeze built over the day, then some showers came through that left glass-outs for a little while. The speedo was at 0.0 knots. Then the breeze built to about 15.” This was when BobSled began a match race with the J/125 Double Trouble. “We crossed jibes with them, then sailed off and didn’t see them for an hour, and when we jibed back we crossed just ahead of them again. The last 15 miles were a drag race at night into Havana. We finished seven minutes ahead of them after 10 hours of racing. It was really exciting. We beat them and got line honors – none of us expected it.”
In Havana, things looked very different from Varadero. The marina was made up of cement docks, some of them with exposed wiring. “It’s more dilapidated than you can imagine,” he says. “The roads are torn up; you’ll be driving, and then have to turn around and find another way.” But, while the infrastructure was very rough, “the people were incredibly friendly, welcoming and helpful.”
While in Havana, the BobSled team rented two 1950s convertibles for a tour of the city. “These cars haven’t had a true spare part in 50 years,” says Bob. “The cool thing is how resilient the people are with what they have; how they keep those cars running is amazing. They look beautiful outside but the inside is literally hand-made pieces. Their ability to improvise is amazing.”
The regatta was cut short for team BobSled when a huge cold front was predicted to hit at the scheduled start time for the race back to Key West, resulting in a last-minute schedule change. “They announced on Wednesday that the race would start on Thursday instead of Friday,” says Bob. “We didn’t have time to provision – you couldn’t just run out and get stuff.” So the team opted out of the race and had a leisurely sail home ahead of the anticipated weather. “It turned out to be a great ride,” says Bob.
“Overall, the sailing was great, and Cuba was as different as any exotic country I’ve visited,” says Bob. “We couldn’t have asked for better conditions for the boat. I wanted a one-design boat with a good fleet that could do the occasional sprint race when conditions were right…Wow! We hit the nail on the head with this boat.”