ON THE WATER: Cuban Chugs Carried Would-be Americans – Gazette Newspapers


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Numerous news outlets reported a 40-foot cabin cruiser used in a suspected human smuggling operation capsized Sunday off the coast of San Diego.As a boater, I’m curious about the particulars of the boat, how far they traveled, and how they prepared. These are details that we are unlikely to ever learn.Last December, when reports of a small open-bowed fishing boat carrying 23 Mexican nationals came ashore near 55th Place in Long Beach, there was great interest. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials took the “boaters” into custody and had the vessel removed.

I wondered about that voyage too.The news of the San Diego accident broke while I was vacationing in Key West.Earlier that week, I toured a collection of Cuban Chugs and, according to the sign at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, “The handmade and modified boats were used by refugees. The name ‘chug’ comes from the sound of the ingenious use of any motor available to power these boats including lawnmower and car engines.”The 90-plus mile journey people made from Cuba to Florida might be compared to Mexican Nationals traveling to California.One of the key differences would be something also noted on the signs posted near the Cuban Chug display, “Under the now defunct United States “wet foot, dry foot” policy Cubans who made it to land were allowed to stay. Those taken by sea by the Coast Guard were returned to Cuba.”The display in Key West included some boats that were made inside homes and canvas that was sewn together as part of the hull and a boat that had a cleverly modified lawn mower engine for propulsion. Some people arrived in stolen fishing boats, others took their chances on inner tubes.The signs explained that for decades, the abandoned boats were disregarded and according to some of the exhibit’s write-ups, “The vessels, which frequently contained unused oil and gas, were considered a threat to marine navigation and sensitive ecological areas. The Coast Guard would usually sink or burn the boats, and the parks would dismantle them and haul away the pieces. The more unusual ones might end up as decoration in someone’s front yard, but even that was rare.”
Looking at these boats, I thought how desperate those folks were to board vessels like these that are so small and have so many people on board. It is something I am fortunate enough not to truly comprehend.Youth SailingAs we get closer to summer sailing season, I want to share an opportunity for young people with no experience to learn how to sail. Alamitos Bay Yacht Club teaches youngsters the basic fundamentals of sailing. The focus for this class is to get the sailors comfortable in their boat and understand the concepts of wind direction and points of sail.The boats, provided by the club, are called Sail Cubes. The program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the minimum age is 7. A 4-week session is a thousand bucks for non-members. That is what is so special about ABYC’s program — members and non-members are welcome.Via the Alamitos Bay Sailing Foundation, there are need-based scholarships available.ABYC’s Rear Commodore Mike Van Dyke told me, “The program is 85% subscribed with 22 kids in the basic program and only two of those are club members.”ABYC Commodore Dan DeLave explained, “We enjoy having a youth program to introduce kids to sailing, new friends, (and it) may also help increase membership.”DeLave added, “Our youth sailing program is not a profit center. We feel it needs to be reasonably priced to incentivize parents to send their children. We are willing to take that hit. Sailing is not for everyone, maybe only for the bold and the brave.”I am just pleased that every local kid has a chance to experience this wonderful sport.

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