Any path to the United States

A recent fishing trip to the Florida Keys included a dose of reality in the form of a homemade boat that had washed ashore several weeks earlier. On the side of the abandoned craft, spray painted in large blue letters, was USCG OK.

The message meant the Coast Guard had searched the forlorn vessel. The OK meant there was no one, or body, still aboard. From what I learned, local boaters spotted the craft drifting several miles out on the ocean on the east side of the Keys. The sighting was reported to the Coast Guard, which flew over the craft to see if anyone was aboard.

Later, the Coast Guard boarded the makeshift vessel. Reportedly they discovered water containers, a machete and some type of Cuban identification but no person or persons. There was only speculation as to what had happened to whoever was aboard the craft. The obvious assumption is that an attempt to flee Cuba for the U.S. didn’t quite work as planned.

The boat, about 25 feet long, was constructed of a crude frame filled with foam insulation and covered with plastic sheeting. It was powered by an aging and rusty motor, the type that might be found on an abandoned and long-forgotten tractor adjacent to an aging North Dakota farmstead.

How far from Cuba the boat managed to get before it became disabled is not known by this reporter. Nor is the fate or whereabouts or intent of the occupants, or how long the boat was adrift.

The story the boat tells though is that life in the U.S., under any circumstances, is far preferable to living in Cuba. If the boat was intended as an escape vessel, you can only wonder about how desperate its occupants were to flee that imprisoned island. They risked death, and may very well have met it, in an attempt to reach the shores of the U.S. rather than continue to live under an oppressive government.

Braving saltwater, a vast ocean, in a good boat is an adventure. Heading out onto the ocean in a homemade craft is inviting certain trouble with wind, sun, food, drinking water, navigation or nagging engines. Seeing the abandoned and homemade boat made me think about just how desperate a person would have to be to even think about climbing aboard that thing. I wondered too about the fate of those who may have been aboard.

The boat made the trip from Cuba to the upper Florida Keys, which is quite remarkable, even if the occupants didn’t. The distance is well over 100 miles.

Did the occupants put ashore somewhere at the lower Keys and then set the boat adrift? Did the motor quit far out in the ocean and leave the occupants to their fate? Were they rescued by fellow Cubans? Eaten by sharks? Who knows?

I can only assume that venturing onto the ocean in that very questionable craft was done by desperate people who preferred taking a great risk rather than to continue to live in the place they had left. I’m also very glad I don’t have to make such a decision.