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2 Cuban Americans that wear our hats.


Captain - thought you might enjoy this.  The men think the caps are absolutely great.  Feel free to use the story and picture on your website.   



 Escape From Cuba – The Voyage of Freedom Raft One

 The plan called for a moonless night, favorable winds and five men with unlimited courage.  When panic overwhelmed one of the five, even before they had carried the raft to the water, the escape was aborted.  Frantically, they hid the raft as best they could, swore the unstable one to secrecy and “tried” to return to normal life as if nothing had happened.  Were they seen?  Would the weak link give up the others?  Arrest and imprisonment could be hours away!!

 Days later, this time with a new, more courageous comrade, they tried again.  The moonlight and winds were left to chance - they had to go!  Courage, guts, willpower and luck would have to do.  The quest for freedom demanded desperate actions.

 It was midnight, the 18th of April 1994.  The raft was constructed of inflated inner tubes from two large truck tires, canvas, various pieces of wood and timbers, all securely lashed together.  Loaded inside the raft were drinking water, food, clothing, oars, and a full scuba air tank.  Located under each inflated inner tube was a spare – in case of emergency, the scuba tank was to be used to quickly inflate the spare tube located underneath the ruptured one.  Remaining afloat was a life or death matter.  Also onboard were the hopes/dreams, of not only the five, but their extended families as well.  The vision of a future in America drove them into the water – it was only 90 miles away – only 90 miles.

 The fear of capture and punishment was ever present.  Never dry – the cold of the night and the sea chilled them to the bone, their muscles became knotted and unwilling to respond to command.  Originally thought to be a hazard, it turned out they prayed for sun and relished the warmth of the dawn.  Seasickness and dry heaves for hours made rowing nearly impossible and sapped their strength.  Rest, if you could call it that, came when it was your turn to mind the rudder and the makeshift sail while the others continued with the oars.  The intended course to make good was 350 degrees by magnetic compass.  Rudder control was marginal, the wind drove the raft at will and the Gulf Stream moved them relentlessly in an Easterly direction.  Once the lights of Havana faded, they really had no idea how far they had gone or what direction – would the dream come true or would they all perish at sea?

 Always watching out for each other to make sure they were securely tied to the raft with a safety line, they rotated positions, shared the food / water rations and pushed each other to keep rowing – freedom was only 90 miles away.

 Exhausted beyond the point of reason, they hailed a fishing boat they saw at 11 AM on the 22nd of April.  Waving white shirts and shouting they tried to get the attention of the fishermen – “no response – they didn’t see us” – despair flooded the raft!!  No- they are turning toward – they see us!!

 They were ten miles from Marathon, Florida.  Freedom Raft One had served her purpose and was cast away to her fate in the open sea – the American Dream was about to become a reality.

 Copeland Shelby has been fortunate to have two of the five courageous men, whose story is told above, working for us for the past few years.  Ozzie Diaz and Rudy Fernandez were onboard Freedom Raft One in 1994.

 On the 22nd of May of this year, friends from Copeland, family and neighbors gathered in Ozzie’s back yard to celebrate the Ten Year Anniversary of their escape.  Traditional Cuban food was served and everyone had a great time.

 In honor of their voyage, Ozzie and Rudy received US Navy style ball caps complete with the ship’s name -USS Freedom, Hull Number FR-1 (Freedom Raft One) and their names on the back.  Captain Shya at TOTALNAVY.COM provided the customized hats.