Yearning to Breathe Free…the Miraculous Moment Cuban Refugees Land on a Florida Beach. In Photographs.

by Owen James Burke


Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

On Saturday, May 2nd, 8 Cuban refugees showed up on Hollywood Beach in a homemade skiff, soaked in the spilled oil of their broken down engine, which gave up the ghost halfway through their voyage across the Straits of Florida.


Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

Photographer Will Forshee was at the beach that day taking photographs with his wife, but there was too much light and he really “wasn’t feeling the vibe,” and decided to put the camera down. But then, at around 4:30pm, Forshee recalls, a small boat appeared along the shore right in front of he and his wife. The boat was quiet; there was no motor running. Just eight men, making for shore with nothing but their hands and paddles. Forshee grabbed his camera and captured the whole scene as it unfolded.


This old diesel engine looks to be well over 30 years old and probably didn’t stand a chance one way or the other. Fortunately, the Gulf Stream current sets just about anything adrift from Cuba’s north shore on a rough course for Miami. Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

Scuttlefish editor Chris Dixon had a quick chat with Mr. Forshee, who told us that the “engine broke half way through and they used the oil to protect their skin from the sun.” They paddled the rest of the way, with the advantage of the northward-flowing Gulf Stream at their backs.


Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

The entire beach, including lifeguards, rushed to help the men, who’d been at sea since the previous Monday and were likely suffering from severe dehydration and sunburn. Beachgoers offered drinks,


Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

The image generally associated with Cuban refugees approaching land near Cuba is on of police or Coast Guard personnel detaining them before they make land, at which point they’re granted political asylum. Instead, the men were met in the surf by lifeguards with–quite literally–open arms. They sat the weary voyagers down and called for water. Beachgoers rushed over and brought every thing they had to offer–ice, chips, twizzlers and juice to get their blood sugar up. “Poquito a poco” (little by little), you can hear the lifeguard hollering in the video below.

Forshee’s wife, Camrée captured the event on her cellphone:

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The men were then brought into the shade where police seemed to be serving them in their best interest, judging by the smile on one man’s face below as he chats with a police officer.


Photo: Will Forshee/Star Image Photography.

While each week hundreds, sometimes thousands of refugees cross the Mediterranean for Europe only to be turned back around, this story brings a glimmer of hope to humanity when, not so long ago, refugees from Cuba would never have made shore in broad daylight without being intercepted by the Coast Guard or Feds and being immediately repatriated.

It’s nice to see people being treated like people, especially those so valiant in their determination, who attempt (let alone complete) the treacherous trip across open water with little more than a faltering diesel engine and their own ingenuity, all honorably in search of a better life.

I witnessed something you can live in south florida 100 years and never get to witness.Went to the beach today with my…

Posted by Will Forshee on Friday, 1 May 2015


See more of Will Forshee’s photography on Instagram (@starimagephotography) and visit his Facebook page to see more photos of the refugees’ landing on the beach. –OJB

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