KEY WEST, Fla. – Organizers of a flotilla originally expected dozens of boaters to join them Friday on an ambitious journey, but they only ended up with half a dozen.
Osdany Veloz was on one of six boats — part of the SOS Cuba flotilla.
“There’s people that have messaged me from Cuba, so they are expecting us over there,” Veloz said. Speaking of the handful of boats in the flotilla to Cuba, he said, “We were expecting a lot more people. I’m not going to lie to you.”
Sky 10 cameras were rolling as they sailed out of Bayside in Miami early Friday morning. And Local 10 News cameras were at the scene in Key West where the small flotilla stopped to fuel and undergo a voluntary inspection before starting their voyage.
They wanted to get as close to Cuba as they were legally allowed, which is some 15 nautical miles off the shore of the island nation.
“We’re not going to get into their waters,” Veloz said.
U.S. Coast Guard volunteer Jim Gillerman explained, “Where these boats are going is into the straits of Florida. Folks that have been into the straits of Florida know the straits of Florida can be a pretty treacherous body of water pretty quickly.”
The mission of the boaters is to be seen by the Cuban people, the thousands that have been hitting the streets protesting against their Communist regime.
“I feel happy, scared, but it’s a journey to show our Cuban people over there that we are behind them,” said Dayani Diaz, who was on one of flotilla boats.
The U.S. Coast Guard said they would monitor the voyage and will be on standby in case of an emergency, but they are not escorting them.
“I was born in Cuba and my family is Cuba and I just hurt for the Cuban people and I just want to help get their message out there,” said Luis Machado, part of the SOS Cuba Flotilla.
Cuban government officials reacted to the planned trip and warned the White House to seriously act to avoid any incidents.
Members of the flotilla planned on setting off fireworks in hopes that people in Cuba would see them. But that was something the U.S. Coast Guard was concerned about. Flares sent into the air are usually a signal to the Coast Guard that a boat is in distress.
As of 11:15 p.m. Friday, the flotilla had not returned.