I had been traveling in and out of Cuba since the very early 1990s, and held the first shipping license allowing Project C.U.R.E. to ship donated medical supplies and pieces of medical equipment directly from Miami into Havana. That had been quite an accomplishment, since the borders of the island compound were tightly closed by Fidel Castro, and the U.S. continued a very strict embargo against the Communist regime.
No regularly scheduled flights were allowed between the U.S. and Cuba in those early days because of those economic and political sanctions. The only way to travel into Cuba from the U.S. was by a very unreliable airplane charter service. At the Miami airport the rag-tag ticketing process was absolutely crazy. It took nearly half a day, starting at 4:30 a.m., to negotiate for the tickets and finally board the plane.
When the plane dropped down low enough for the landing procedure, I could see the green countryside surrounding Havana. Everything was so grown over and run down! The runway landing lights were wired on either side of the runway with extension cord wires running on top of the runway. When the planes came across the runway, they had to run over the top of the heavy black extension cords.
By 1999, I was quite comfortable in traveling in and out of Cuba. By then I had discovered a more convenient routine for entering Cuba. My contacts had shown me how to travel to the Casuarinas Hotel on Cable Beach on West Bay Street in Nassau in the Bahamas. At the hotel would be waiting for me an official letter of invitation from Cuba’s minister of health. I would take the invitation letter to the Havanatur’s desk at the Nassau airport, show them my passport and board a prop-driven Aerocaribbean plane to Havana. Upon arriving, I would be met by special VIP services, issued a Cuban visa, and hustled through Cuban immigrations and customs.
On my 1999 trip, I was picked up at the airport by Julian, a Cuban gentleman in his Russian Lada car, and taken to the Hemmingway Marina area of Havana. It was an area of Havana I had never seen before. The marina was surprisingly filled with international sail boats, fancy yachts, and interesting tourists. My hosts had secured a small hotel room for me to stay for two nights near the activity.
Before we went to dinner my hosts introduced me to a fellow from the U.S. who had just sailed his yacht around the world and had dropped anchor in Havana. He invited me on board his breathtaking vessel, and I thought I was once again a little boy on his first trip to a candy store. It had taken the owner twenty-two years to design and build his spectacular blue water yacht. He had commissioned the Royal Huisman Shipyard in Vollenhove, Holland, to create the vessel under the watchful eye of master shipbuilder Wolter Huisman. World renowned co-designers Ron Holland and Pieter Boeldsnijder implemented the inception from what was virtually nothing but a dream into probably the world’s most magnificent piece of floating art and technology.
The magnificent yacht was 145 feet long, its main mast was 160 feet tall (the height of a 16-story building) and it weighed well over a half million pounds. During construction, no corners were cut in the design or creation of the finest and most technical floating vessel of the 20th century. When not under sail, it was propelled by three Mercedes industrial diesel marine engines. The cost of the yacht to the owner was far in excess of 100 million dollars. I asked and found that the owner had acquired his money, in part, by building and selling a very prestigious shoe company.
I tried to express to my new friend my appreciation for his quest for uncompromising excellence. Indeed, it inspired me. He was very curious about Project C.U.R.E., and he invited us to sit down at their dinner table and share with him and his dinner guests about Project C.U.R.E. Before we left, the owner slipped away from the table and invited me to take a complete tour with him below deck. It was a thrill of a lifetime for me. He stopped at one desk and pulled out a 200-page memorial picture and textbook entitled, The Creation of a Masterpiece. Only a few of the books were published. The text and photos documented the entire story of the designing and building of the yacht. I thanked him deeply for the gift and the opportunity to experience his work of art. The book was a very valuable gift to me.
The following night included the sheer joy of returning to the prodigious yacht. The owner had invited us to have some dessert with him. I was sure to take the coffee table picture book back with me for my new friend to autograph. I had stayed up until 1:30 a.m. the night before reading the book and discovered he had chosen anonymity throughout the book, and had requested that he be referred to as “the client” or “the owner.” However, he did include a lovely picture of his 80- year-old mother in the book on the day of the christening.
I asked him about his reason for never having his name mentioned or his photo included. He said, “Jim, people just don’t understand the inconvenience and burden there is attached to being rich … it’s really hard.” We talked about how the things we accumulate always have a way of spinning webs around us until we are nearly totally possessed by the possessions we have accumulated. We mused at how we only add more care and concern to our lives as we add the “stuff” to our lives. “It seems that when we really need to be adding peace and quiet we only attract more anxiety and dissonance to our lives.”
I asked my new friend to please do me the personal favor of at least autographing my personal copy. The following is what he inscribed:
Jim, The greatest joy of living and traveling on the yacht has been the wonderful new friends we have made along the way. Your dedication and work with all the; needy of the world isa real inspiration. For all those whose lives you've touched, a thousand thanks.
After I had thanked him again for his example to me of excellence, I shared with him about my brother and I having owned the old steam locomotive and train, the “GW 75,” which had been in the different movies with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, and others. He then asked about what business I had been in before Project C.U.R.E. that would include owning an entire steam train.
I went back and told him of how I had decided at an early age that I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was twenty-five. He interrupted and said he had the same dream to become a millionaire by age thirty-five. I went on to tell him about getting involved in real estate developing, and how I had greatly surpassed my goal of wealth, but discovered that even so, I was not a happy man. Then I told him how God had radically changed my life and I had vowed to give away my wealth, start over again, and never use my talents and abilities to accumulate wealth again for myself.
I confided in him that I believed God had given me a chance to move from success to significance, and Project C.U.R.E. was only a symbol of what had really happened inside me. “I really respect you, my friend, for who you are and what you have accomplished in your life. But at some point, as you are sailing, I wish you would think about the excitement of moving from obvious success to the adventurous phenomenon of significance. There is a difference. I know you are a man of character and would respond to such a concept.”
The two of us hugged each other on the deck of his masterpiece, and I walked down the ladder to where my shoes were and waved goodbye to my new friend.
The old philosopher and economist, David Hume, once said, “This avidity alone, of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends, is insatiable, perpetual, and universal.”
It just might be insatiable, perpetual, and universal . . . but it doesn’t necessarily need to be unchangeable.