Cuban windsurfer rides fair breeze to freedom

February 11, 1994|By Susana Bellido | Susana Bellido,Knight-Ridder News Service

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."

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