HAVANA -- A half-dozen boats from Key West, Fla., weathered high seas to arrive at Marina Hemingway yesterday, carrying much-needed medical supplies for the Cuban people.
The flotilla of private craft was smaller than expected. Some would-be participants backed out Saturday from the 90-mile journey because of conditions in the Florida Straits -- 40-mph winds and 20-foot swells.
Although the United States has not allowed travel or trade with Cuba since Cuba's communist regime came to power more than 30 years ago, the flotilla was licensed for humanitarian reasons.
U.S. Customs inspected, cataloged and sealed crates of supplies before the flotilla left.
The first boat to arrive was Southern Cross, a ketch out of Ramrod Key, Fla., carrying 30 boxes of vitamins, hospital mattresses and other supplies. The second was Taurus, a sloop out of Washington, carrying 50 boxes of supplies and captained by George Hoch.
"Why did we do it?" he said. "First, it's humanitarian. Second, relations between the United States and the people of Cuba could be much better. Third, I enjoyed the sail."
Under the gaze of Cuban customs officials, the supplies were loaded onto trucks flying Red Cross flags.
Conditions for Cuba's 13 million people have deteriorated markedly since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost an estimated $5 billion a year in aid.