“On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift.The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day.”
The size of the refugee flotilla was staggering.Trailered boats were lined-up 50 to 100 deep at Key West, waiting their turn to be launched. This went on for 36 to 48 hours; local residence could hear the activity around the clock.Hundreds of trailers were scattered throughout Key West.One thousand craft were observed southbound on the afternoon of the 24th.For the most part, these were Cuban Americans who owned their own boat, typically a 20 to 40 footer relatively well equipped for local pleasure boating.Reportedly, the tanks in numerous craft had inadequate fuel capacity and the vessels were carrying additional fuel in portable containers.This, the first wave, resulted in the transit of 1,000 to 1,200 boats to Mariel in relatively short order.
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