Six years ago I visited Cuba for the first time and although I came across some decent boards & rigs, it was impossible to get a harness & boom lines.
This time, on April 2012, I arrived with my own harness/lines, sure that on my second visit, I would enjoy the perfect conditions. To my disappointment things instead of improving, they have become hopeless. The already aged boards are now realistically obsolete, and so are the rigs, with the usual 4,5m sail as the only option – and when the wind was strong enough to plane with a water-soaked board and the storm sail, then the watersports center would close down & go for a nap, as the authorities would ban sailing on rent equipment. Yes, it was a disaster!
I tried both in Varadero & Cayo Largo.
I checked the Varadero beach from the Golf club up, and the situation was the same everywhere, up to the end of the beach at Paradisus Varadero. Even the Cuba Kiters center (close to Melia Las Antillas hotel), that advertises windsurfing, has nothing better to offer, although kiters are more lucky.
The cubawindsurf.com speaks honestly about the situation (2014 – sorry the site has been deactivated), but in the meantime, I have come across the interesting community page of CubaWindsurf, of Osvaldo, whom I will definitely contact next time I plan a trip to wonderful Cuba…
Of course there is some reasoning for the windsurfing mistreatment by the security authorities. During the hard times of Cuban suppressive isolation, there were quite a few brave ones who sought their freedom on a sailboard:
|April 23, 1990
A New Dawn
Lester Moreno Perez fled Cuba by boardsailing toward
Florida under cover of darkness
In the annals of great escapes, the flight by 17-year-old Lester Moreno Perez from Cuba to the U.S. surely must rank as one of the most imaginative. At 8:30 on the night of Thursday, March 1, Lester crept along the beach in Varadero, a resort town on the north coast of Cuba, and launched his sailboard into the shark-haunted waters of the Straits of Florida. Guided first by the stars and then by the hazy glow from concentrations of electric lights in towns beyond the horizon, Lester sailed with 20-knot winds, heading for the Florida Keys, 90 miles away.
Two hours past daybreak on Friday, Lester was sighted by the Korean crew of the Tina D, a Bahamian-registered freighter. The boom on his craft was broken, and he was just barely making headway, 30 miles south of Key West. The astonished crew pulled Lester aboard, fed him spicy chicken and white rice, and then radioed the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent the patrol boat Fitkinak to take him into custody. After five days in the Krome Detention Center in Miami while paperwork was being processed, he was issued a visa by U.S. immigration officials and released into the welcoming arms of his relatives.
Except for his rich imagination and broad streak of courage, Lester could be any 17-year-old who decides to leave home, He was raised in the shoreside town of Varadero, the second-oldest of five children in his family. “As soon as I started thinking a little bit—when I was seven or eight years old—I wanted to come to America,” he says. Independent thinking ran in the family; his grandfather, Urbino, had been imprisoned for attending a counterrevolutionary meeting early in Fidel Castro’s regime and spent nearly five years in jail. Furthermore, Lester’s sister Leslie, who had been on the national swim team and had traveled to several foreign countries, had told intriguing tales of life outside Cuba. Lester also did not like the idea of serving three years in the Cuban army and then facing the possibility of having his career chosen for him by the Communist Party. There was also trouble at home; he and his stepfather, Roberto, were at odds, mostly over politics. So Lester decided he wanted to go to America, not Angola.
When he was 10 years old, Lester taught himself to windsurf by hanging around the European and Canadian tourists who rented boards on the beach at Varadero. “If you made friends with them, they would sometimes let you use their equipment,” he says. As he grew older and got better at the sport, he found he liked the isolation and freedom of the sea. “Sometimes I would sail for eight hours without stopping, and go very far out,” he says. His windsurfing to freedom seemed destined.
Recently, Lester sat in a big easy-chair in the Hialeah, Fla., apartment of Ana and Isidro Perez, the great-aunt and great-uncle who took him in. Lester is so skinny—5’6″, 130 pounds—that it seems there is room for two or three more of him in the chair. On his head he wears Walkman earphones, which he politely removes when a visitor enters the room. He has been in America only a few weeks, but he has already been interviewed several times and has been chauffeured all over Miami in a limo on a radio station-sponsored shopping spree. The tops of his feet are still covered with scabs, the result of the hours he spent in the sailboard’s footstraps; but his hands show no blisters, only hard, white calluses.
As he waits for a translator to arrive, Lester rocks back and forth in the chair like a hyperactive child. He clicks the television on with the remote control, passes a Spanish-language station and stops at a morning show on which a man is explaining, in English, how to prevent snoring by placing a Ping-Pong ball between your shoulder blades, a move that forces one to sleep facedown. When a visitor demonstrates this to Lester through gestures and snores, the young man rolls his dark eyes, smiles and says in perfect English, “People are all crazy here.”
A few minutes later, the translator, who owns a windsurfing shop in Miami, arrives, and Lester begins to tell his story through him.
“I had only been thinking of making the trip on a sailboard for about a month,” he says. “Before that, I’d been thinking of leaving the country by marrying a Canadian girl—every couple of months a few would come that were pretty nice-looking. But I decided to sail because I was training hard and was confident I would be able to make the trip easily. I had wind-surfed in bad weather, and even surfed during Hurricane Gilbert, so I was already out in really rough conditions and wasn’t worried about it.
“Right before I left, I was watching the wind patterns. A cold front had passed by and it was pretty strong, so I waited until it subsided a little. Usually after a cold front passes, the wind shifts to the east, and it’s just a straight reach to the U.S., so I waited for that. Then I told two of my friends, who said they would help me. I wasn’t hungry, but I ate a lot—three or four fried eggs, some rice and half a liter of milk—so I would be strong for the journey.” His friends also persuaded him to take along some water, a can of condensed milk and a knife.
At 7:00 on the evening of March 1, Lester, who had said nothing to his family, slipped out of his house and went down to the Varadero beach, where he worked at a windsurfing rental booth by day, while attending high school at night. Earlier that day, he had carefully rigged the best mast and strongest boom he could find with a big 5.0-square-meter sail. Then he had lashed the sail rig in the sand with the rental boards. Under cover of darkness, he unlocked the shed where the privately-owned boards were kept and removed his sleek and durable Alpha model. It had been a gift to him from a man who sympathized with his plight—a generous East German whom Lester called Rambo for the camouflage hat he always wore. Lester fastened the sail rig to the board and carried it to the water. He waded into the ocean until he was knee-deep, glanced over his shoulder to make sure he hadn’t been seen, and stepped onto the board. His ride on the wind to freedom had begun.
“I wasn’t nervous,” he says. “I had to be very clear-minded once I decided to go, otherwise they would catch me and I would be in a lot of trouble. It would have meant three or four years in prison if I had been caught. No lie about what I was doing was possible.”
About one and a half blocks away from the beach was a tower usually manned by guards with infrared binoculars. Lester, who was sailing without lights, also had to keep an eye out for freighters and pleasure boats that would be cruising in the busy Straits of Florida.
“At first I wasn’t able to get my feet in the footstraps,” he says, “because there wasn’t enough wind for my sail. But as I got farther out and was able to get fully powered up, I began feeling more confident. The swells were very steep, maybe four or five meters, and I was going so fast I had no choice but to jump them.”
As he recalls the moment, Lester rises from his chair, plants his bare feet on the tile floor and extends his thin arms, grasping an imaginary boom. He begins in English, “Wind coming, coming, coming…out, out, out…is very strong.” He’s hanging in his invisible harness now, arms stretched wide, eyes lit up, flying over the waves. “Whoosh!” he cries. “Is good!”
For 10 hours he rode the wind, never once fearing failure, or drowning. He thought of his family and how worried they would be when they discovered he was missing. But he wasn’t alone out there. “Ever since I left, I could see the sharks coming out and in, coming up on the board. I was hoping and thinking they were dolphins, but when the sun came up, I could see there was no way they were dolphins.”
Around daybreak, the aluminum boom broke, separating the connection to the mast like pieces of a wishbone. He tried fixing the boom with his knife but couldn’t, so he sailed on, clutching the pieces of the broken wishbone. This made control of the board extremely difficult, and he couldn’t rest in the harness he had rigged. “My arms and hands were getting really tired, but by then I could already see the big kites of the fishermen, so I wasn’t really worried. When I saw the freighter, I tried to point [into the wind] as much as I could and sail toward it.”
A similar crossing was made in January 1984, by Arnaud de Rosnay, a Frenchman who boardsailed from Key West to Cuba as a personal challenge and a publicity stunt. De Rosnay, one of the best board-sailors in the world, had sailed in daylight with a chase boat. His trip included two stops for repairs and two stops to rest, and he completed the crossing in about seven hours. (In November of the same year, de Rosnay vanished while trying to cross the Straits of Formosa.) But only a month before Lester’s odyssey, another young Cuban had perished attempting to reach the Keys in a raft.
Not surprisingly, Hollywood has come knocking on Lester’s door. “The story is a natural,” says Paul Madden, the president of Madden Movies. “It’s Rocky and The Old Man and the Sea in one. If this picture is done right, by the end of it the audience will be standing up in he theater and cheering.” Madden might not be one of those doing the cheering; he was outbid for the rights to Lester’s story by Ron Howard’s Imagine Films.
Lester has handled the movie offers—assumed to have reached six figures—and the media blitz with uncommon courtesy and self-assurance. A new acquaintance has even invited him to spend the summer at Hood River, Ore., where he will be able to jump the formidable swells of the Columbia River. This sounds good to Lester. But right now, one of his teenage friends has invited him to go sailing off Miami Beach. That sounds like the most fun of all.
Cuban windsurfer rides fair breeze to freedom
MARATHON, Fla. — A 21-year-old Cuban windsurfer who waded ashore on the Florida Keys on Tuesday night said he had gone for a spin around the Varadero beach resort nine hours earlier and headed north on a whim.
“I went surfing, to catch some air, to have fun,” Eugenio Maderal Roman said after the 110-mile crossing. “Look where I ended up.”
Mr. Maderal, who said he windsurfed daily in Cuba, said he has wanted to come to the United States for a long time. But he didn’t plan for it to happen this way.
He said he set out from his girlfriend’s house in Varadero about 1 p.m. Tuesday, heading for his aunt’s home a short distance to the east. With winds blowing from the northeast, he had two choices: tack back and forth furiously, or sail out into the Atlantic and turn around, letting the wind blow him straight to his destination.
He opted for the ocean, but he didn’t turn around.
“Something was calling me,” Mr. Maderal said. “When I saw water all around me, I just kept on going.”
A water bike and windsurfing instructor at the Club Tropical hotel, Mr. Maderal made a better living than most of his friends. But he was tired of Cuba’s hardships, he said.
Although the crossing was often frightening, it was easier and shorter than he had expected, Mr. Maderal said. He was encouraged because a friend of his had been able to pull a similar stunt in 1990.
Mr. Maderal said he oriented himself by the sun and, later, by the North Star.
When he saw lights glowing on the horizon, he thought at first that he was hallucinating. He rubbed his eyes, then headed for the Sombrero Reef lighthouse.
Mr. Maderal knew he’d made it when he got to a Marathon beach and saw an American flag on a light pole. He yelled for help.
Bettye Chaplin, a Marathon businesswoman who lives on the beach, heard his cries and went outside to investigate.
“I ran downstairs with a glass of water and said, ‘Where’s your boat?’ ” Ms. Chaplin said. “He pointed at this windsurfer, and I couldn’t believe it. He kept saying, ‘Si, si, si.’ ”
Mr. Maderal’s pained and cold look and his swollen hands and feet convinced her that he had crossed the water on a windsurfer, she said.
Mr. Maderal’s childhood friend, Lester Moreno Perez, windsurfed most of the way across the Florida Straits in 1990. A ship picked him up about 30 miles from Key West. For about a week after that, Mr. Maderal thought of following, he said, but he decided it would be crazy to attempt it and settled down. His plan was to leave by plane or sailboat one day.
“If I’d thought about it twice,” he said, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
3 Cubans Windsurf To Freedom
May 01, 1994|By Knight-Ridder/Chicago Tribune.
MIAMI — Three Cuban refugees who escaped the island on sailboards glided for 12 hours as sharks circled them-then, exhausted, they stretched out and took naps.
Three hours later, at 3 a.m. Wednesday, they heard the rumble of a boat and sent up a flare. It was a group of American fishermen on their way back from a tournament in Cozumel.
“I was thinking, `Please, let a boat come by and pick us up. Enough with the heroism,”‘ said Alexander Morales, 21, a professional windsurfer. “And the boat did come.”
Hitching a ride with the fishermen, Morales, Carlos Lopez Gonzalez, 26, and Roberto Gonzalez Ortiz, 22, arrived in Key West Wednesday morning.
The men first concocted their plan more than two months ago.
They rigged their sailboards for the trip across the Florida Straits with special seats, similar to swings, and sturdy sails. And they trained every day, at least four hours a day, often longer.
But they lost a powerful ally the moment they left the coast of Santa Fe, their hometown, at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The wind died, leaving them idle and impatient for long stretches. The sharks edged in closer. At night, the predators never left them alone.
“It’s very risky, very tiring,” said Morales, who competed on Cuba’s windsurfing team. “You are nothing compared to the sea. So insignificant.”
Cuba’s border guards never suspected a thing. Windsurfers sail along the Santa Fe coast all the time.
“We had done this all our lives, so the border guards couldn’t say anything to us,” Morales said.
Just to be safe, he and the others hugged Cuba’s coastline as they sailed toward Mariel. They each carried a liter of water. Twenty miles offshore, they changed course and headed to Key West. They didn’t feel safe from Cuban authorities until nightfall.
Their conditioning served them well: During 12 hours of non-stop windsurfing, their feet and hands throbbed, but they didn’t think about the pain. Only at midnight, after they nearly collapsed from fatigue, did they let down the sails to rest.
“I had trained my whole life for this,” Morales said.
The men aren’t alone. Three other Cubans have windsurfed their way to South Florida this year, according to the Church World Service resettlement agency.
On Friday, Morales was reunited with his father, Alexander Morales. Father and son hadn’t seen each other since 1979. Morales’ mother and half his family are still in Cuba.
The Full Story of Raydel Armas
Article from the Windsurfing Magazine
Here’s the full, unedited transcription from our interview with windsurfer Ray Armas about his many attempts at a journey from Cuba to the US. Ray would like to thank Big Winds for their generous help in getting him his brand new windsurfing gear.
First off, I am 27 – born in 1980.
My first contest with windsurfing was when I was ten years old . I grew up in Varadero, which is the main tourist town in Cuba – there are some really rich people there – 98 percent hotels, 2 percent people’s house . If you live there, you work with tourists. In Cuba, working with tourist is a huge issue – you go to a KGB-type process before you’re allowed to work with them.
And when I was ten years old we had a hifly longboard. In those days we didn’t have monofilm , jus Dacron sails – it wasn’t until 2000 that two friends of mine – the only way to get new gear is through friends who work in Varadero – but two my friends and I bought some gear – and we started with windsurfing – while one was sailing, the other two were waiting. It was a 1990 bic Veloce, and the sail was still Dacron with nylon in the middle – the booms really old and repaired.
It was in April in 2004 when I left Cuba.
Everything in Cuba was black market- I had a baking business – my situation with the government was getting very hard – I was a dissident, openly against the government, some people would say that was stupid. – but a lot of pressure – so I was considering any kind of escape. When I was escaping on the windsurfer, I had tried already six times to escape. After the windsurfing board I tried in a catamaran – the mast broke, I sank the mast and sail – spent 14 hours trying to reach the coast.
Eventually, I tried the windsurfers again. I asked a friend for help, but I didn’t tell him what for.
6 AM of april 22nd, 2004, I took all my gear, and we went to the this light house – Faro de Maya – everybody who lives in matanzas knows this unique lighthouse. We woke up at my house at 6 AM – at eight thirty at Fayo de maya – tried my gear – in matanzas the Cuban coast guard – you can’t cross past the harbor – only inside the harbor. If you go beyond the point, it’s illegal. Every single fisherman boat has to be upriver. It’s quite far away from the harbor. At eight thirty in the morning, there was no wind, nothing, but I go into the water because I knew the wind was going to take a while. When I assembled the gear was when I told my friend what I was thinking. His face was going through seasons – first smiling, then silence, then red, then worried. I told him to wait three days, and if you hear nothing, then whatever happened, not tell nobody. I told them my family I went camping with my gear. And I used him an excuse. But in this case I had him call my mom from different places. Una poquite mentira.
Of course, as soon as I left, he opened his mouth. He didn’t believe me still.
The first moment I got the wind, three flying fish was with me the whole time, jumping in front of the board. I was concerned about it – what happened if one of the animals went in my sail. In the middle, the water turns very purple – it’s very deep – being in the water – I couldn’t see my feet. When the water was green again, I knew I was getting close. The wave was so huge – slow, huge, ocean waves. I had a backpack full of water, it made almost impossible to water start – once I was up out of the water – the back pack became much lighter.
My harness line were just a piece a rope , tied right to the boom with a hand knot – all the lines in Cuba are hand-made.
At this point sailing for a while, at 4, I realized the horizon was light, at first I thought it was a lighthouse, I realized it was an US coast guard boat. The whole ocean full of this – it was impossible to keep going – I windsurfing three miles out of the way – put my sail down, took all the sea out of the fin – at this point, I had just two fingers of fresh water in the bottle – the water just full of seaweed – some of the salt water just eats our face. One way or another salt water gets into you mouth, you get thirstier and thirstier. My brain was going crazy at that point – you have two personalities – the optimist and the pessimist. I decided to try to find the coast guard. They finally realized I was trying to ask for your help – and they told me in English – and I had to answer him in Spanish – a lot of my friend asked why I didn’t answer in English –
The US coast guard found me, they assumed I was a US citizen because at this point, I was quite close to the US – they knew I was just 20 miles or so from the Florida Keys.
When they realized I was Cuban they started shouting he’s Cuban he’s Cuban – but they grabbed my gear and when we got to Cuba the security was trying to blame me for a boat robbery.
The boat was the USS Confident or Confidence – I am trying to get in touch w/ somebody from them – I remember there was people taking video and pictures – of me and the gear.
I came back to the US Sept. 6 of 2007 – this time in an airplane – but as Cuban refugee. I lost my house, my clothes, everything – because I was coming to the US empire- so I was a traitor. And as a consequence, they took everything.
I used to do modeling in Cuba when I was very young, and I met a photographer who became a good friend – he is from Europe. I have been his roommate – here I am working as a housekeeper – and soon will start at barber school. My life has turned 180 degrees. The guys from Big Winds gave me a huge discount to be able to sail – the people on iWindsurf have really helped out – I just want to see my friends face when they see this.
I’ve only had the gear for a couple of weeks – to be able to and sail I need my girlfriends help – just because I can’t carry the stuff alone to the subway – girlfriends aren’t always able to help – so far just once – but soon more.
I met some other sailors too, in NYC, and I see a guy putting the gear on a car, so I went and talked to him.
80 percent of windsurfers in Varadero, they just do it too show off – it still is a strange sport. When it becomes more normal, they will do something else. But the passion people, they will really appreciate it. I’m breathing here in the US thanks to windsurfing. It’s the first time I’m using real harness lines! It’s very unusual in Cuba to find a boom that has foam – you have to take wrapping tape, then paint it with epoxy resin, then sand it down – it’s a really heavy boom but it works perfect.
I won’t tell you how many telephone booths we broke to get the acrylic used to make fins. We had to make everything, like the mast base pictured here. I don’t recommend it, it’s very dangerous!
Here is Rydel’s posting at the iWindsurging forum, where he also speaks about the old equipment he used:
armaswindsurfJoined: 25 Apr 2008
Location: Manhattan or Brooklyn,NCY Posted: Mon May 05, 2008 1:41 am Post subject: The RAY STORY ABOUT CROSSING THE 90MILLES OF OCEAN
May 4th 2008So my dudes!!!… I will try to do it good and short with my english: April 22th 2004,8:00am,… I was In Matanzas Cuba,and the day after I was sailing as usual with my friends… and the idea of escaping just came to my mind,when we finish windsurfing,I ask to one of my friends to sleep that night at my place cuz I will need his help for something (I didn’t tell him what fore) at 6:00am we toke all my gears and put it on the bike trailer that I use to have there (and I’m planing to rebuild here) and we went to “FARO DE MAYA” = “maya lighthouse” a very secluded area at the coast of Matanzas city, the wind start blowing a little bit at 8:30am and around 9 was kind of good enough,So.. then I told my friend what fore we where there (hahahahaa, you just miss his face!!!!, I bet you hem didn’t believe it till I just disappear in the horizon… hahhaaaa) So… from that point was all sailing and sailing till I reach the middle between Cuba and Florida THEEENNNN you just imagine the size of the waves (OCEAN WAVES DUDES… OCEAN ONES!!!!) Those don’t brake like use to happen close to the beach… this are like titanic elephants,slow but HHHHHHuuuuuuuggggeeeeeee… and because of that, I crash 1 of the 3 times that I crash, cuz i told myself “where and when the hell are you going to see waves like this” so… I ride couple of it… but cuz my gear wasn’t the right one (nothing new,back in Cuba we never had “the right things”) OK,MANY OF YOU MOS BE WANDERING WHAT KIND OF GEAR I WAS USING THAT DAY. Take a sit first..,this is going to be hard to believe it: (remember this was in 2004) I was in my 1990’s “BIC VELOCE” 3.10 cm (several repairs on it…of course) with just a 30cm fin (wrong one), the foot-straps where just old foot-straps skeletons tided with scotch-tape, the boom was full of epoxy and repairs, the harness line was just 2 pieces of rope covered with plastic host and tide to the boom with no more than hand knots (don’t make fun of me please… I told you guys,we do and repair and invent anything, just to keep sailing) the sail was a 6.5 bic freelite… no compass,no maps, just a bar of a kind of peanut butter and 1L of fresh water. (sailing and stopping 15min/h the all trip will be around 8 or 9h) but around 4pm and around 20 miles from one of the Florida keys (I guess Marathon key) US coast guard don’t give much info, the USS CONFIDENCE COAST GUARD catch me, and toke me back to Cuba (with all that means) but not without give me some documents that finally after 3 years of interviews, the us gov give me the VISA has a political refugee with permanent residence and all the benefits from the gov. And I become a FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE of communism and dictatorship !PERSON! … but this my friends is a veeeeeeeery reduce part of the story…. But, if tomorrow one of you want to know more, I finaly are going to be around Conney Island beach and Brighton beach SAILING, that… if I don’t get arrested first for carrying all my stuff on the subway… I will be there around 3pm,I don’t think it will be hard to find me, not many windsurfers are going to be sailing at the same time…hahahaha….
See you around guys!!!!!!!! good winds for all!!!!!….
PS: If there is any doubt about if all this is true, try to check with the US Coast guard, maybe some one know some one that knows how!!!.. what I remember when I get on board of the coast guard.., more than one of the crew was with video camera and photo camera… and believe me, I will love see some of it!!!!!!!!!!!!! or have some copy!!… who knows!!… maybe thanks to “iWindsurf” I finaly get it!!!!!!!!!!
3 Cuban windsurfers made the crossing to USA
Cuban windsurfer rescued after four days at sea by U.S. Coast Guard
Article from Chicago Tribune
|United States Coast Guard officers arrive at their base with a Cuban man they rescued in Key West(HANDOUT, REUTERS / February 22, 2014)|
But Cuba is always marvelous and inviting, so I look forward to the next visit, with my own FULL equipment…