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Sailors race from Florida to Cuba with US permission in latest sign of improving relations

  • In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, five 16-foot-long Hobie Cat sailboats line South Beach in Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015,  prior to the beginning of the  Havana Challenge. The more than 90-mile-long race is believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing regatta between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. (Bert Budde/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

    In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, five 16-foot-long Hobie Cat sailboats line South Beach in Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015, prior to the beginning of the Havana Challenge. The more than 90-mile-long race is believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing regatta between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. (Bert Budde/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Hobie Cat sailboats and support boats head towards Havana after departing Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015. Five 16-foot-long Hobie Cats are participating in the the Havana Challenge, believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing race between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. (Bert Budde/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

    In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Hobie Cat sailboats and support boats head towards Havana after departing Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015. Five 16-foot-long Hobie Cats are participating in the the Havana Challenge, believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing race between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. (Bert Budde/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, crews aboard two16-foot-long Hobie Cat sailboats sail past the Southernmost House in Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015, just after the start of a more than 90-mile race to Havana, Cuba. The Havana Challenge is believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing race between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. Five Hobie Cats are participating in the event. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

    In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, crews aboard two16-foot-long Hobie Cat sailboats sail past the Southernmost House in Key West, Fla., Saturday, May 16, 2015, just after the start of a more than 90-mile race to Havana, Cuba. The Havana Challenge is believed to be the first U.S. government-sanctioned sailing race between Key West and Cuba in more than 50 years. Five Hobie Cats are participating in the event. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)  (The Associated Press)

U.S. sailors in are making history as they race across the Florida Straits to Cuba.

An amateur race billed as the "Havana Challenge" is taking place for the first time with U.S. government authorization thanks to the historic easing of tensions that began in December.

Five 13-foot catamarans departed early Saturday from Key West. They were expected to reach Marina Hemingway in Havana by sunset — and perhaps sooner if strong winds in the 90-mile-wide Florida Straits helped them gain speed. They planned to race Cuban sailors on Tuesday.

Organizers have staged the race in the past without government permission, making it technically illegal. Organizer Joe Weatherby says they received a Commerce Department license this year and now hope to make it an annual event.