3 Kayakers Paddle From Cuba to Florida to Promote Open Borders

Cuba might seem like a world away from the United States, but in fact it’s only 113 miles from Key West to Havana across the Straits of Florida.

President Obama eased the US embargo in 2016, creating a path to diplomacy between the two nations. But President Trump reinstated some of these sanctions in 2017, eroding the short progress that had been made.

Which brings us to three friends: Andy Cochrane, Luke Walker and Wyatt Roscoe. On May 29, 2017, the trio landed their kayaks on Stock Island in Key West 27 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds after leaving Havana. It is the first documented “unsupported” single kayak crossing from Havana to Key West.

ASN caught up with Cochrane, who is recuperating from blisters, callouses and chaffing, to see how Tropical Storm Alberto altered their plans, what it was like on the open water and what they hope comes of their efforts.

How did Tropical Storm Alberto change your plans for the excursion?

It was a little bit bigger than we thought (wind and waves wise). Overall though, we got somewhat lucky with how it all played out. It was supposed to hit in Havana on Thursday, but it didn’t really hit until Friday. So essentially, we were dealing with it the entire time. It was cooling down and we knew the waves might lie down a little bit after the storm passed, but it just sat in the Gulf for a long time. It didn’t push north, so it meant the wind started going north, which was super helpful for us.

How do you know Wyatt and Luke?

They grew up in Jackson and have known each other for a long time. I’ve paddled more with Wyatt when we both lived in the Bay together five or six years ago.

You guys attempted the paddle last year also, right?

We did pretty much the same thing last year, unsupported. I mean there’s a support boat, but we don’t interact with it at all. It’s a contingency if things go south. We attempted and got hit by a big storm and some food poisoning last year. And pulled out less than halfway. Wyatt paddled the furthest last year, he got some 40 miles in.

So you learned some lessons from last year then?

Nutrition, pacing and a whole litany of things. Overall, we gave ourselves a lot better chance. And we had to follow a game plan but also adjust it along the way. The single biggest variable was weather. At any given time, it’s going to be a lot different how you handle that and adjust for it.

We had a pretty developed nutrition plan – we had a coach who was helping us. She’s an elite distance runner, 100-miler and ex-Olympian, and very talented runner. So she coached us in how to handle 25 hours of straight activity. The plan of how to eat and when to eat. It could be as short as every half hour or every two or three hours we’d stop to eat. But we had it dialed enough to where it didn’t take you that long. Each boat had close to 25 liters of water in it, and mostly goo in powder form mixed in. During the day when it was really hot, it’s really hard to eat and get calories. But you still need carbs, so we were getting most of our carbs by drinking.

Every once in a while we’d stop and eat bigger meals of pasta and peanut butter and jelly. With most of those, the key is to actually eating like a 12 year old. White bread, nothing processed, you don’t want your body to expend energy putting anything down. So you don’t get any protein or fat, it’s just really simple carbs and sugars.

Did you guys have any serious issues this trip?

No big issues. All three of us did puke a little bit, which was similar to last year because it’s just hard to keep food down. I think it’s just heat and exhaustion and your body not wanting it. That became a big issue, just having enough energy. We have blisters and callouses and chaffing to show for that much time in salt water.

What was it like being on the open water like that for so long?

Paddling for that long is surreal. A wave of ups and downs, much like many people describe an ultra marathon. You’re in control of your mind, but not many other factors, like the weather. Our coach, Magda Boulet, reminded us to “control the controllables” and let everything else go.

We had moments of pure bliss – surfing waves, riding a high, and moments of stress or worry that we wouldn’t make it, and almost everything in between. Ultimately the trust between the three of us was what we relied on, paddling through a stormy night and into the next morning.

Did it give you any sense of what refugees attempting this venture may have gone through?

The paddle gave us a little taste, yes. I think we understand the struggle a little bit better, at least in a physical sense – and some sense of what it might have felt like to finally land in the U.S.

The time in Havana and with Cubans in Miami helped a lot, too, as far as understanding what political refugees have gone through for the hope of the American dream. I’m definitely not saying we’re all-knowing, but I do think we were successful in opening our minds to what the Straits mean to so many refugees.

Tell me about the project’s goals.

The goal when you do anything this big and dumb is to challenge ourselves. I think the question of what are you going to feel and how are you going to deal with that is pretty cool to take on and experience. What are you going to feel like when you’re 12 hours in and hate your life? Are we going to be able to support each other and pick each other up when someone goes through one of those moments?

The bigger one to us was that we developed some pretty cool relationships with Cuban-Americans and feel like this is an opportunity for us as experienced paddlers to use this skill and knowledge to advocate for open borders.

At its broadest extent, to respect people of different backgrounds. We wanted to raise the voice of past and future immigrants. Cuba is this weird geographically close country, but people consider it so far away, and sometimes third world.

You mentioned a film project, any details on that yet?

The film is still super early – we are planning a 6-8 minute short doc about our time in Havana, the paddle and the inspiration … all tied together with stories from three actual Cuban refugees.

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Oars and Canoeing in 2017: Two Oarsmen Paved the Way

Ángel Fournier and Serguey Torres, in effective duo with Fernando Jorge Dayán, held on their shoulders, with remarkable yields, the oars and canoeing in 2017.

Besides being the same age, both really yearn to climb on the Olympic podium that has eluded them. With three appearances in the summer competitions, for many reasons winning a medal has been impossible so far.

Perseverance is Written with the Oars of Fournier

Specialists classify him as one of the strongest and stable rowers for over a half decade. The gods of Olympus have not touched him yet with their wand. Let’s remember that his first presence in important competitions was in Beijing 2008, when Fournier integrated the crew of sprint kayak four that finished sixth in the Final-B.

But within the soul of the idol from rested the desire of becoming a great single kayak oarsman. In fact, he had made his debut in a distant August 2005, when he finished sixth in the Pool A of the juvenile World Championship of Brandenburg, Germany. His timing then was of 7:40.950 minutes and the winner was the Serbian Milan Uznovic (7:13.550).

A lot of time has passed since then and Fournier, besides winning technical experience, strength balance and knowledge on the toughest rivals in each race, he has won three medals in World Championships and many others in World Cup circuits.

Year 2017 was not an exemption in that sense. Most of the season he vied against Neo-Zealander Robert Manson, (let’s remember a nightmare from that country named Mahe Drysdale), until at the world championship he showed all his weapons.

To arrive in Sarasota in the best possible shape, the pupil of Yoan de Paula started with a bronze medal in the World Championship of Rowing-machine that traditionally hosts the Agganis Arena of the American University of Boston. Fournier had already won the gold medal in that scenario, but his time of 5:49.00 minutes won over the Polish Bartosz Zablocki (5:45.600) and Pavel Shurmel (5:47.800).

Later he saw the twice backs in World Cups circuit to Manson: in the second segment of Poznan, Poland, Founier registered a respectable 6:38.670, but Manson won with 6:30.740 that classified as the best time in history. Later in Lucerne, history repeated itself. The margin this time was of 6:49.080 by 6:52.940 favorable to the New Zealander.

The redemption for Fournier came in northern waters, in the world competition of Sarasota. There he was head to head with the Czech Ondrej Synek who was won a lead in the last 500 meters. The outcome? Synek (6:40.640) golden, Fournier (6:43.490) silver, and Manson (6:52.480) fifth after being exploited after covering the first thousand meters.

Times, privilege positions, third medal in World Championships, solid arguments of our first "Master and Commander."


Serguey and Fernando Jorge Dayán: Following the steps of the "hairy" ones

If anyone doubted the binomial Serguey Torres-Fernando Jorge Dayán, surely this year have completely discarded them.

It’s maybe too soon to level them with Ibrahim Rojas and Ledys Frank Balceiro, our hairy sportsmen, but they have begun the cycle with outstanding yields and aspirations.

Their time 3:30.960 minutes won a gold medal in the World Cup of Montemor-or-Velho, Portugal, according to Torres from the journal Juventud Rebelde, they were only a second behind the 3:29.60 which is their personal record, attained in La Coronela, besides far greater than the 3:48.133 they timed when crossing the finish line in the lagoon Rodrigo de Freitas of Rio de Janeiro last year in the Olympic Games.

There they began to chain success after success, because in 1000 meters they came first than the Ukrainian Dmytro Ianchuk and Hangups Mishchuk (3:33.580), third in the Olympic Games; and the Spanish Mohssine Moutahir-Gonzalo Martin (3:34.205). They also ended first and second in the C-1 at 5 000 meters, with times of 22:36.920 minutes (Torres), and 23:14.040 (Dayán), while Rui Lacerna (23:40.440) won the bronze medal.

That was just the beginning. They fought hard against Germany, Serguey and Fernando joined efforts to finish second in the C-2 1000 meters. They stopped the watch in 3:31.955, hardly a bit behind the Germans Peter Kretschmer and Yul Oeltze (3:31.613).

I have seen the video of that race several times and in my opinion Serguey and Fernando were overconfident and stopped rowing a few meters ahead of the goal line, unaware that the German team was coming in hard to pass their prow with a slight advantage.

Torres competing single won another silver medal in C-1 5000 meters. His 23:37.312 was close to the outstanding German Sebastian Brendel (23:34.796 in the C-1 1000) but that wasn’t enough to defeat him.

Anyway Serguey who stretched his wins to in World Championships to four silver medals and three bronze medals, gave another hint of perseverance to opponents and skepticals, and sets his canoe next to Fernando Jorge Dayán toward Tokyo 2020. He is undoubtedly our second Master and Commander.

Cubasi Translation Staff / Amilkal Labañino Valdés

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Americans to kayak from Havana to Key West

Ten Americans plan to attempt the daunting journey across the Florida Straight in kayaks - covering 113 miles (180 kilometers) from Havana to Key West in just 30 hours.

The team, led by Joe Jacobi, who won the gold medal in slalom canoeing in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and kayaker David Smith, hopes to set out from Havana's Marina Hemingway on Friday at around noon and arrive on the coast of Florida's Key West just over a day later.

At a news conference at the marina on Thursday Smith said the 10 kayakers who will cross the straight in 5 two-man kayaks hope their adventure will help bring Cuba and the United States closer together just as the nations have improved relations.

"Really, the motivation for us was beyond just doing some kind of athletic feat. We were looking for a way that we could connect with people, especially the Cuban people, it's been 60 years since our countries have had normal relations and we felt that this was a perfect opportunity especially since things are changing so quickly to be a part of this, a part of this change," Smith said.

Diplomatic ties between the former Cold War adversaries were restored this year with a détente announced in December between Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro culminating in the raising of the American flag at the American embassy in Havana in August for the first time in 54 years.

"It is so clear to me, after just being together here in Cuba for one week that I think we are all four of us at this table and all of us in this room we're planting new seeds that are going to enrich the relationship between the United States and Cuba in ways we can't even imagine," added Jacobi.

The team of kayakers have been in Cuba for a week and plan to remain in their kayaks the entire 30 hour trek across the straight.

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