I finally decided to make public my plans to take a raft from Cuba to Florida on TeamClint.com and The West Volusia Beacon very swiftly followed up for details & broke the story. In about 24 hours, the report went around the world and the feedback has been tremendous.
There were a lot of very supportive words from former refugees who were excited to see their story shared as well as advocates for a more open relationship with Cuba & lifting the antiquated embargo. There were also some not so supportive words from pundits & critics. I’ve found in prior adventures that there are always a percentage of people who are somehow offended when someone does something outside of their comfort zone.
Two responses really caught my attention:
The first was from a man named Mario who quickly pulled my lofty adventure plans into a place of empathy and humility with a salute. Unlike most of my other trips, this one has distinct roots in an emotional and life changing experience that has shaped entire families & generations.
The other was from the Coast Guard who initially told me that there was no relevant law pertaining to my plans & “vaya con dios” but decided to take a more conservative stance as the idea became reality. In a phone conversation with the area Captains, they were extremely professional and respectful, even offering to take me on one of their boats to share first hand the dangers and experiences of their regular rescue efforts.
In preparation, I went to a local salvage yard and collected some barrels, boards, and miscellaneous parts to construct a sample raft for purposes of testing. I wanted to keep the design extremely simple & replicable so I built a 2×4 frame with eye hooks for ropes to tie off the barrels between the boards. I added a narrow piece of plywood for a deck and fashioned two oars from some metal posts. I splurged on two oar locks because I’ve never rowed a boat and thought they would help shorten the learning curve. (I was wrong)
With the boat seemingly ready, I brought it to nearby Lake Monroe Thursday morning and put it in the water. Fortunately, it floated. Setting off from the lake bordering city of Sanford, I began rowing towards the city of Deltona on the opposing side, roughly 3 miles away. Within minutes, one of the oar locks broke but I was able to fix it. Soon after, the other broke and I used a shoe lace to get it back in service. Quickly breaking that, I decided to use the wind/waves to move forward and spend my time testing the buoyancy and stability and attempting to paddle with 1 oar.
The trip took roughly 5 hours. As a first test run, I found several adjustments to the design that will help make the raft more stable, and used the time to invent a sail system and pedal/prop mechanism that I intend to create and implement before my next test. I will also redesign my oars to be lighter and more authentic with less moving parts.
The larger lesson learned that day was one of tenacity. I realized quickly that this raft is one I would have taken untested if I lived in a country where constructing and owning a vessel of this sort is illegal. The courage and intensity of those men, women, & children who set off on the great journey across the Florida Straits with little more than a dream and something that floats is tremendous!
My focus during the next few weeks in preparation will be 3 fold:
1- Education and interaction with Cuban-American immigrants who can share first hand accounts so that I can better understand their circumstances, motivations, & stories. Showing the highest respect to their experience and not letting the media turn this into a PR stunt is my top priority.
2- Cooperation with the Coast Guard to ensure they are not put at physical risk or financial cost in the event of a failed journey. Their recent statement of concern regarding my plans was a righteous one that I do not take lightly.
3- An intensive study of currents and water patterns as well as redesigning my raft with the new propulsion methods to include another test on the ocean sometime around March 20th.
I have no doubt this trip will prove to be an amazing journey and I am extremely excited to share every step of it with you along the way.
On a lighter note, I’d like to invite everyone to a product kick-off party for Havana Sun Quality Suncare Products:
Tomorrow, March 15th, 2-4PM at the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel. (640 N Atlantic Ave, Daytona Beach) &
Thursday, March 17th, 2-4PM at the Days Inn (12818 Front Beach Rd, Panama City Beach)
Their support has been amazing and it is a privilege to share their new product line!
I’d also like to state once more for the record that while I am the elected Mayor of DeBary and the media refers to me as such, this is not a city sponsored or sanctioned event. This, as with all my adventures, is a personal pursuit done on my personal time & money.
Until next week, onward & upward!