Encouraged by a voyage to Cuba aboard a wooden schooner

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The Harvey Gamage schooner, operated by Ocean Passages, is on a four-month study voyage to Cuba with students and crew.
The Harvey Gamage schooner, operated by Ocean Passages, is on a four-month study voyage to Cuba with students and crew.
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

The U.S. State Department's travel warning recommending that U.S. citizens refrain from traveling to Cuba due to unexplained sonic attacks that harmed U.S. embassy workers in Havana, hasn't appeared to stop the Harvey Gamage.

The ship, a 130-foot wooden schooner, is on a four-month voyage to Cuba, from Portland, Me., to Cienfuegos. The trip is operated by Portland, Me.-based Ocean Passages, which says it offers a "world-class sailing education in Cuba's marine environment" primarily to gap-year students.

But the ship stopped in Washington, D.C. for a week as the five students aboard the sailing, aged 18 to 24, met on Capitol Hill with a dozen members of Congress. The students, most of whom are taking a gap year after high school or college, along with representatives of organizations involved in people-to-people travel to Cuba, used the deck of the Harvey Gamage as a platform to discuss the impact of the travel warning.

Greg Belanger, president of Ocean Passages, explained in a statement that this trip would mark the company's third year sailing from Portland to Cienfuegos "to engage in people-to-people exchanges and ecological research assessing long-term sustainability."

"Students and crew visited Congress to explain why we believe our work as citizen diplomats is so important, especially at this critical time," he said.

Belanger said that the charter yacht company had assessed the safety of students and crew following the State Department warning. "We are confident in our decision to continue our mission, despite the Trump administration's changes in U.S. policy," he said.

The decision of the schooner's owners, crew and students to continue the trip was applauded in the statement by other U.S. organizations and tour operators.

Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters and co-coordinator of Responsible & Ethical Cuba Travel, said he was in Havana when the travel warning was announced. "Based on all of our members' experiences and the lack of evidence of any actual health threat to our travelers, we concluded that the warning was unwarranted, and we have continued to send our clients to Cuba," he said.

Martha Honey, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel, said, "Many tour operators we've spoken with, while apprehensive about Washington's recent actions, are encouraged by Ocean Passages' resilience."

However, she warned that until Cuba and the U.S. can work together cooperatively to determine the cause of the diplomats' health problems and to reestablish positive relations, "the travel warning will continue to have a chilling impact on people-to-people exchanges."

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