​Hemingway fishing contest reels in U.S.-Cuba relations

HAVANA -- Three miles off the coast of Cuba, the crew of the American boat "Therapy Two" creased the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean on a hunt for marlin. Captain Kurt Winters saw it first.

"Fish on the right rigger!" he yelled.

Winters' boat is one of several American vessels legally participating in the billfish contest for the first time in decades. The tournament is named for Ernest Hemingway, who fished these waters during his years on the island. The famous author's two grandsons -- Patrick and John -- were aboard as John tried to reel one in.

The multi-million dollar high tech American yachts docked in Havana contrasted sharply with the more modest boats the Cubans sail -- when they sail at all.

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Ernest Hemingway's grandsons, Patrick, right, John, left
CBS News

Only one government-approved Cuban team was permitted in this contest. And authorities were out in force just in case along the docks matching and re-matching passports to every passenger, one of whom was former Navy man Joe Sweeney, whose only other trip to Cuba before this was to the U.S. base at Guantanamo.

"Being a sailor all my life and being loyal to the American flag all my life, there's so many emotions that go through you," said Sweeney. " I don't think we're part of something political, but in a small way I believe this is something political."

Scientist Jeffrey Boutwell was onboard as well. He thinks when people visit Cuba they'll see positives and negatives.

"It's finally a normalization of relations that should have happened decades ago," said Boutwell.

With vintage cars clogging the streets and slums lining the roads, the Cuba of 2015 looks a lot like it did when Hemingway lived here in the 40s and 50s at his home -- Finca Vigia. Parked in back is the novelist's famous boat - "Pilar."

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Ernest Hemingway's fishing vessel -- "Pilar."
CBS News

"He (Hemingway) created deep-sea fishing," said Hemingway's grandson John. " The Gulf Stream is the undersea river that unites us, not divides us. It's the same water, same fish."

As the tournament got underway, the Americans were having some tough luck and many thoughts about the one that got away. But there's more going on here than a tournament. The peaceful presence of Americans in Cuban waters is about a lot more than catching fish.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.