Thursday, June 30, 2016

Flights between Cuba, Key West truly 'unreal'

Flights between Cuba, Key West truly 'unreal'
BY ROB O'NEAL Citizen Staff

After 17 years of traveling to Cuba, I can honestly say that my most
recent return on Sunday was by far and away the most exciting and
amazing ever. Countless hours of driving north to Miami only to fly back
south over the Seven Mile Bridge en route to Cuba was the norm. In the
early years, we would fly from Key West, to Miami, to Nassau, Bahamas,
then on to Cuba, just to skirt travel restrictions to Cuba. I think my
record is about 12 hours to traverse the 100 or so miles from Key West
to Havana, so Sunday's 45-minute, direct flight from Havana to Key West
(by way of Marathon) seemed unreal, but it was. It was gorgeous, too.
Without exaggeration, we were out of sight of any land for about 20
minutes, tops.

As part of the Key West Yacht Club's first "all-in" journey to Cuba last
week, several Keys aviators filed paperwork, paid some fees and joined a
very small club that was officially chartered in 1913. A Canadian, J. A.
Douglas McCurdy, was the first to try to make the crossing in 1911, but
failed, crashing within sight of thousands of Cubans stretched out along
the Malecon. He was quickly rescued and it's said he never even got his
feet wet. The hope of adventurous pilots and, indeed, both the U.S. and
Cuban governments, was to break Frenchman Louis Bleriot's over-the-water
record of 22 miles, which he did in 1909 when he flew over the English
Channel. Bleriot's record held until a Conch of Cuban descent and his
competitor, a full-on Cuban, set their sights on the $10,000 peso reward
(roughly $200,000 today) for the first to cross from Key West to Cuba.
Whoever came in second got $5,000.

If there's one thing I have learned since being asked to write stories
to accompany my images, it is that the Internet truly is an "echo
chamber." Lots of folks play fast and loose with the facts, so when I
tell you that some say Domingo Rosillo had a pet monkey on board, you
mustn't take it as gospel. Most do agree, however, that both Rosillo and
Agustin Parla, (the Conch), were aiming for first place but had
different ideas on how to achieve the goal. Rosillo, by most accounts
seemed a tad more practical as he had three ships stationed some 45, 30
and 15 miles off the Cuban coast to help guide the way with the smoke
from their stacks. Parla, who chose to use a seaplane, a decision that
would hinder him due to a snafu during takeoff in choppy seas, and only
a compass for guidance, was nonetheless driven. While he came in second
place, arriving two days later due to necessary repairs, his
overshooting of Havana put him, quite literally, according to most
accounts, into Mariel Harbor, dozens of miles further to the west. Parla
survived and inadvertently became the record-holder for most miles flown
over open water. There are monuments for both of these Cuban pioneers of
aviation at Key West International Airport.

Back to 2016, with relations continuing to warm between our countries,
American pilots are slowly becoming welcomed to Cuba's main airport.
Last week, it was announced that regular commercial flights will resume
between South Florida and several popular Cuban cities.

This is going to get really interesting, really fast.

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