Return of the Americans

billy-the-kid“Billy the Kidd” outdueled a fleet of 25 boats representing seven different countries to take top honors in the 65th Hemingway International Billfish Championships, held in Havana Cuba. In three and a half days, the American boat released a tournament record eleven billfish amassing 5200 points.

Consistency played a key role as the American boat owned by Bill Pullman of Sarasota, Florida released at least one billfish each day of the completion.

For the first time in forty years American boats were granted permission to compete in the Cuban tournament. Over one hundred boats applied under the category of sports competition. In the end only 11 were granted licensed by the State Department.

At the Captains meeting held at Club Natico, located in Marina Hemingway, Commodore Jose Escrich welcomed the American contingent which included Patrick Hemingway, grandson of the Pulitzer Prize winning author. Ernest Hemingway founded the tournament in 1950 while serving as vice president of the newly formed International Game Fish Association and is considered a pioneer of big game fishing.

Outdoor writer and tournament veteran Captain Phil Thompson presented Commodore Escrich with an appreciation award on behalf of the returning American competitors. Addressing the first time visitors to Cuba Thompson said, “Next week you will leave this beautiful island… but this island will never leave you.”

For more than two decades Commodore Escrich – the founder of Club Natico – has battled politics on both sides of the Florida Straits to keep Hemingway’s legacy contest alive. The tournament is the oldest billfish competition in the world.

Stiff East winds countered a strong inshore current producing eight to ten foot swells for the first three days of fishing. “I’ve never seen the Gulfstream in so close.” Said 63 year old Peter Calvo, considered one of the most knowledgeable captains in Havana. The royal blue water of the stream brought with it the marlin and sailfish. A tournament record 52 billfish releases were recorded including Unclaimed’s 5 marlin releases in one day, also a Hemingway tournament record.

Top boat, “Billy the Kidd” took the lead the first day and steadily widen its winning margin, finishing with a total of 11 marlin and sailfish releases.

Second Place finisher Triple F from Key West made a valiant charge on the last half day of fishing releasing two blue marlin and one white.

Third Place went to Unclaimed owned by American Joe Colabela. Unclaimed’s captain and crew was composed of some of Havana’s best offshore fishermen.

Key Player, out of Orange Beach Alabama won the trophy for the largest dolphin weighing a 39 pound fish.

The trophies – works of art – are broadbill swordfish bills hand etched by island artist. It takes a full year for the talented Cubans to carve the intricate designs featuring images of Hemingway and leaping billfish.

An astounding awards ceremony show featured the world renowned band, The Buena Vista Social Club. Their rocking performance of traditional Cuban music brought the crowd to its feet. “They even had the waiters dancing.” Said 20 year old Eric Bowden from New Jersey, enjoying his first visit to the island.

Next year’s Hemingway tournament is scheduled for June 13th 2016 and is expected to draw an even larger group of American anglers.