Three Kayakers Set Record Paddling From Cuba to Key West

Thousands of Cubans over the last half-century plus have taken to the seas of the Florida Straits in route to the U.S. Some were successful, some not, but to all it’s been a huge life-changing undertaking. Now, after a failed first attempt last year, three American kayakers have successfully traversed this same route, setting a rowing record and forging bonds between the two countries. More specifically, on May 28, Andy Cochrane, Luke Walker and Wyatt Roscoe bid goodbye to Commodore Escrich as they paddled away from the Hemingway International Yacht Club, in Havana, Cuba, and after 27 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds of solo, non-stop, unsupported paddling the trio successfully reached Stock Island, Key West. It’s a tale of fortitude and friendships.

“When we failed last year, after being plagued with food poisoning and unexpected bad weather, it was the first challenge I couldn’t let go,” explains Roscoe, who credits Cochrane with coming up with the idea for the record-setting row. “A few months later, I was talking with Andy who felt similarly, and we committed to the suffer-fest yet again. We brought in Luke first for his strong paddling ability and secondly because we knew it was going to take someone who like us could commit to an obsessive training schedule.”

The trio tried not to let the scale of the 113-mile open-ocean crossing take a toll on their psyche as they waited for an ideal weather window. Instead, they filled their days with training paddles, exploring the vibrancy of Havana, and even learning to salsa dance. An attempted crossing like this allowed the men to connect with the Cuban population in a new way and relate in a small but real fashion to the thousands that have made this crossing before them. It also motivated them to ask questions they wouldn’t normally.”

“At Andy’s suggestion, we let them know our opinions and experiences of some aspects that ultimately contributed to their success,” says Hemingway International Yacht Club’s Escrich, who with fellow Club members met with and befriended the American kayakers.

Once underway, the trio’s top challenges were fighting mental and physical fatigue.

“You have a long time to sit with yourself and convince or dissuade yourself of what you a capable of. The mind games you play are endless. We celebrated as we heard the safety boat announce that we were only 30 miles off the reef and from there it was 5 miles to the shore in calmer waters. After paddling 80 miles these distances seem like good news but as you sit there and calculate that you are moving at 4-5 mph anther 8 hours of padding seems borderline unbearable. Another full work day on top of the 19 you just put in,” Roscoe explains.

Similarly, keeping down liquids and food was just as difficult. Exhaustion vomiting proved to be the hardest obstacle to push through, according to Roscoe. The kayakers went into the attempt with a clear plan to each drink 25 liters of water and take in 300 calories per hour or 8000-plus calories during the trip. None came even close. Only Cochrane came close with 8 liters of water.

At the end, there was a raw emotional moment when the men realized they had successfully paddled to Key West and that the trip was over.

“We joked up until we landed and through the humorous and wobbly exits from our kayaks, but when I hugged Luke and heard a sniffle of joy I lost it as well. With hands on my knees I looked over at Andy who also had a tear about to drip off the edge of his smile. It wasn’t until that moment did it truly hit me it that it was over, and we could allow ourselves to feel the pride of having we gotten each other through something like that. It was a surreal moment,” says Roscoe.

For more information and to stay tuned when the documentary comes out on this record row, visit www.kayaklibre.com

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.