HISTORY OF CONCH REPUBLIC CUP

By Peter Goldsmith

I got snookered into being the fleet captain of the Key West Sailing Club in 1996. There are a few guys out there to blame, namely, Bert Bender.  Being in charge of racing at the club and plotting my revenge, I decided that the sailing club was going to put on a race to Cuba. I figured they would do all the work and I would get all the glory. At the time I did not know that the sailing club had already run two races in the 70’s to Varadero. I was talking it up around the club for a while and was planning to bring it up at the next board meeting. While waiting my turn, Robert Padron, one of the clubs first members came in and was given the floor ahead of me. He had a letter from Commodore Escrich inviting the sailing club to do the race to Varadero again. I was shocked but I guess I could not have asked for a better introduction. Being politically ignorant and incorrect and just wanting to have fun, I contacted Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, Commodore of Club Nautico at Marina Hemingway and the rest is history as represented on the front pages of the Key West Citizen.

Michele Geslin, my partner for twenty three years until she passed in ‘09, and I put the race together in 1996-97 with the help of Key West Sailing Club, Mark Lindas, Mark Milnes & Glenn Sykes among others.  We successfully put on a number of races from 1997-2003. During this time the race took on a life of its own. After two years of running KW to Varadero, Commodore Escrich would propose the Conch Republic Cup (CRC) four race series, which is the format we use today. The first two races were from Key West to Varadero 1997 & 1998. Then from 1999 thru 2003 it was the CRC.

Seven years later the government had had enough. They came down and tried to intimidate us at the skippers meeting at Kelly’s in Key West in 2003. With guns on their hips they made a little speech about how and why we couldn’t go to Cuba. By now everybody attending was well versed in what was going on and that our right to travel was a big issue. So on the way to the start of the CRC2003 we were escorted out of the harbor to Sand Key by many government boats and a helicopter taking our pictures. We were not trying to sneak to Cuba! They did not stop us on the way out but for the first time in seven years they boarded most boats returning from Cuba and confiscated cameras, GPS systems, and charts.

So sometime in 2003 they convened a grand jury in KW and subpoenaed people from the race to testify and they got an indictment. Both Michele and I were charged with “Trading with the enemy”. They arrested us and took us down to the Federal courthouse on Simonton St. We were out an hour and a half later – no bail, no bond. Shortly thereafter, when we went to court at the Federal Courthouse in Miami the case was tabled giving the government three years to present a better case which never happened.

At this time it feels good to be able to start the race series again with the blessing of the government and renew the spirit of racing with the advent of the 8th edition of the CRC! Enjoy!