MIAMI (Reuters) - A Cuban man who attempted to windsurf across the Florida Straits to the United States was rescued on Friday after four days at sea, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The man was one of three who left the communist-ruled Caribbean island on Tuesday, only one of whom reached Florida unassisted.
Under the “wet foot/dry foot” policy of the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban migrants who make it onto United States soil are allowed to remain while those intercepted at sea are returned to their home or a third country.
On Friday afternoon, the man was spotted by a boater on the Marquesas Keys, an outcrop of small, uninhabited islands about 20 miles west of Key West, according to U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Peter Bermont.
“He was unable to move himself and the officers had to use his surfboard to carry him,” Bermont said.
Many Cubans have died trying to cross the Florida Straits separating the southeast coast of Florida from Cuba and known for its sharks, difficult currents and sudden squalls.
The windsurfer who completed the crossing, identified as Henry Vergara Negrin, 24, said he left Jibacoa, Cuba, near Havana at 9 a.m. Tuesday with two companions on separate boards, according to a report by the Key West, Florida, police.
Negrin is the first reported Cuban windsurfer to make the treacherous crossing in two decades. Half a dozen windsurfer attempts were documented during the 1990s, including Lester Moreno Perez who in March 1990 attempted the crossing aged only 17, and was rescued by a freighter 30 miles from Key West.
Negrin took 9-1/2 hours to make it ashore at Key West’s luxury Reach Resort. A hotel spokeswoman said guests and a bartender helped him.
Negrin told police his companions’ sails went down and he lost sight of them four hours into the journey. He said he knew his companions only as Amando, 28, and Dwarta, 23. Dwarta was found disoriented and drifting Thursday morning about seven miles south of the Florida Keys, the Coast Guard said.
Editing by Grant McCool