Student sets sail to Cuba over break


Donald “DJ” Schwartz sailing to Cuba through rough conditions.

Wiregrass Ranch High School (WRHS) senior Donald “DJ” Swartz sailed with his yacht club, Tampa Sailing Squadron, through the Florida Straits on a five day race to Havana, Cuba last month. While he did not place in the race, Swartz claims it was an “experience of a lifetime.”

Before Swartz could even set sail to Cuba, he had to acquire a visa.

“On registration day, when we got our visas, half the names were spelled wrong,” laughed Swartz. “I was like, ‘this isn’t going to work.'”

Luckily for Swartz, however, there was an envoy on hand at the docks to assist with any visa related issues. Once their visas had the correct information, Swartz set off to Havana.

“The waves were so bad because, I swear, Straits of Florida are guarded by a satanic Neptune,” laughed Swartz. “The wind’s coming from one way and the current, which moves at four or five miles per hour, is going the other way; they rub up and you get twenty-five foot waves.”

Swartz’s did get to finally relax when he was greeted by the much more relaxed security of Hemingway Marina, Cuba.

“In an airport you’re funneled through a line and have to wait like three hours, but in a boat, you just pull up,” said Swartz.

While visiting Cuba, their communist government very much surprised Swartz. Cuba is one of the few countries that still operate under communism,  a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.

“There was this bar at the marina; there were about three people working there, but there were no patrons,” elaborated Swartz. “They just show up to work because in communism you’re guaranteed your job, and it doesn’t matter how much you sell because everything is state owned; so, there’s no incentive to sell, market, or advertise.”

After spending a good while in Cuba, Swartz was excited to be sailing home, but before he could leave, he encountered a problem.

“Everyone wants to leave as soon as possible, but they wouldn’t let you because the waves were so bad,” said Swartz.

Schwartz had to wait 2 additional days before he could leave the country. Despite this minor inconvenience, when asked if others should take the trip, he had only positive things to say.

“Yes,” said Swartz. “But it’s dangerous to just go out there; I mean, the sea has killed people.”

Swartz recommend that people wanting to sail to Cuba build up a few years of sailing experience before attempting the treacherous waves of the Florida Straits. However, Swartz encourages for everyone to visit Cuba, just not by sailing.

“I would recommend people visit Cuba; it’s interesting, full of culture, and the people seemed like the best I had ever met. Their relentless optimism is something else.”