Sun Hippie

Boat Information

  • Vessel name: Sun Hippie
  • Arrival: May 22, 1980
  • Captain: n/a
  • Size: 63.6'
  • Use: PL
  • Onboard when departed US: 4
  • Crew: 2
  • Refugees: 190
  • Total people onboard: 192
  • Coast guard remarks: n/a

Memories from the Passengers

Juan F. Diaz's memory of Sun Hippie

My name is Juan F. Diaz, but my birth name is Juan Francisco Diaz Delgado. Like all Cuban immigrants, my name has been shorted to fit into what is customary in our new country. I write this for my children: Brian Pias of Jupiter Florida, Kenny, Crist (read the rest of this memory)ina, and Cynthia of California, whom I know someday will read this.
I came to America on a vessel named “Sun Hippie” on May 22, 1980. We arrived at Key West just after the morning sun had risen over the city, it must have been around 6:30 AM. I was almost 15 years old and I had never been on a boat before. The trip was, and still is, the scariest experience of my life; not because I vomited the whole trip, but because during the night due to the rough seas, we had to seek cover inside the hull of the boat. Being in those close quarters (where typically the shrimp was stored), I had come to the conclusion the boat was going to capsize and we were all going to drown in it.
Back in 1980, “Sun Hippie” was a brand new shrimp boat built in Spain. I remember going into the main steering house and seeing the brass plaque with its build date. She was made of wood and she was very beautiful and clean. Our voyage to the USA started on April 6th when the five of us, my parents, my two sisters and I jumped the fence at the embassy of Peru (that’s another story too!). A month and a half later we were transferred to a concentration camp called “Mosquitos”. It was located on the northern coast of Havana near the port of “El Mariel”. We spent five days on that camp. No restroom facilities, no showers, surrounded by rude and oppressive Cuban military police and guarded by police dogs. We were fed a small of box of rice and eggs only. Our water was our of a gross dirty garden hose hooked up to a water tank, the same garden hose the police dogs would drink water from. It was a horrible experience. Because we came from the embassy of Peru, we were isolated and not allowed to walk around the camp. We were confined to our green tent on the hot and hard soil. We had no bedding or blankets, were treated like animals and left on to fend for ourselves on the floor, surrounded by the fowl smell of human excrement and urine. The only thing we had to lay on that hard rocky floor was the clothes we were wearing.
On the fifth day, very early in the morning we were transferred via a bus to the port of “El Mariel”, it was a short 10 minute ride down the coast. As we approached the harbor, I vividly remember seeing hundreds of vessels flying the American flags. Suddenly it became obvious that we were finally leaving Cuba by boat.
Our boat, Sun Hippie, was heaven on earth for me; it was my first experience of the good life waiting in America. There were two gentlemen from the USA, one of then was the Captain. I later found out his name is Captain George Hooper. Captain Hooper to me appeared to me as a very tall, in command, happy faced man, with good spirits and jokester. Captain Hooper is an African-American who did not speak a word of Spanish, but some how he was able to communicate with us during the entire trip and even make fun of Fidel Castro and his regime. He personally walked me all around the boat and gave me tour. He was so happy and seemed very thrilled with what he was doing. He was the first American I had ever seen in person. (In 2002, I was able to reunite with Sun Hippie in Key West and met the Foltz family who owned the boat then and still does today! However, I have never been able to locate Captain Hooper.
Both Captain Hooper and his deckhand greeted us in a very friendly manner and showed us where all of the food and drinks were kept. My family was the first family to board Sun Hippie and I had a blast eating everything in sight. For the first time in my life I had an apple, as apples do not grow in the tropics. I had always wanted an apple as to me it was a symbol of freedom that one day was to come. Growing up in Cuba, I always dreamed of coming to the USA, this was due to the influence of my dad who hated communist Cuba and had been a police officer for the Batista government. I knew that the day I was able to eat an apple, it would represent a day of freedom. I did not stop eating just apples on that morning in El Mariel harbor on Sun Hippie; for the first time in my life I also ate a ham sandwich (Jamon que rico!) and I drank my fist Coca-Cola. Then there were the Vienna Sausages, hundreds of little cans, so tasty and delicious. I was in dream land! I ate all morning and afternoon. I must have eaten dozens of those little cans. Boy did I pay the price! All night during the voyage, all I did was vomit all of the food and all of the sausages (sorry to gross you out). In fact, still today, 30 years to the date, I detest and cannot eat a single Vienna sausage.
Our entire day was wasted at the harbor and not being able to depart because the Cuban government kept putting people in what was to me “my boat”. It was not until 5 PM that we departed in a flotilla of about 10 boats, all in a single line, being closely monitored by Cuban coast guard ships. For the first time in my life, I was able to see my little island of Cuba from the distance. I remember seeing the Havana skyline, the palm trees and slowly it all began to shrink as my past was starting to fade away and all I had known was being left behind, then the night set in and the ocean was a dark hole.
Sun Hippie was packed; there was very little room to move. We had to be on the deck of the boat, there was no other place to stand. I remember the Captain pointing out that we should not stand by the edge (which was only a couple feet in height) as we could fall over board. But there was no other choice because there was no other place stand. There was 200 people standing on a deck of a medium size shrimp boat that was meant to only have a handful of “deck hands” and was meant to carry shrimp and not people. These circumstances meant we were all in peril, but unknown to me we were in a much safer and better situation than most refuges because our boat was solid and formidable for what it was being put through.
Once we were in the open ocean, the Captain began to chant “USA Yes – Castro No” and all of us joined the chant. I remember the American flag was tangled up on the main centered mass and a bald shaven Cuban man (most likely a person from the Cuban prisons which Castro dumped on the USA) climbed the 50 foot mast as if he was climbing a coconut tree to untangle the American flag. When the flag was freed and moving about in the sea air, the crowd of refugees in the boat just shouted and applauded in happiness. It was a symbol of our freedom and our first expression of appreciation and respect for the country we were about to be part of. All of this occurred by the watchful eye of a Cuban coast guard ship, which made a couple of turns right in front of our boat as to intimidate us or threaten to sink us. Many of us laughed and gave them a friendly single handed goodbye if you know what I mean.
To me, our boat was simply overcrowded making it unsafe. It had way too many people in it, but this was how Castro wanted it, he packed us in there like sardines. This unsafe situation became very obvious to me when the Captain began to lower the two outriggers; one at a time as the boat leaned real hard towards the sea at a steep angle on each side as the outriggers were lowered toward the water. That was my first realization that we were too close to the water line, over weight with people, and still in very calm waters just outside the harbor. I remember people pointing out to the shark fins being seen above the water. I tried to see the sharks but it was getting darker. The thought of being in shark infested waters raised my concerns and elevated my anxiety; although I wanted to leave Cuba, I did not want to die doing so.
As the sun set and the ocean became rougher with huge waves, our Captain ordered all of use to lay or sit down. He did not want anyone standing because of the obvious possibility of falling overboard. The ocean got real dark; it must have been a moonless night. We couldn’t see much beyond the deck of the boat and all of the boats that had left with us, were no longer visible. In the middle of the night our boat came to halt, its engine at idle and we were not moving. I thought we had broken down and my nightmare of drowning was taking an emotional toll on me, I was already sick and nauseous, I just wanted to live but I also wanted this nightmare to end. Our boat was moving up and down, side to side and out of control. Waves were splashing us over the top and over the side. It seemed that our boat was out of control. Then out of no where, we can hear the screaming and begging for help from another boat. It was very small boat, maybe something you would see at a lake and not meant for the ocean. I estimate that it must have been between 20 to 25 feet long and it had like 15 people in it and just floating with no lights, no engine running and obviously broken down. From time to time I could see a red flare. Our boat turned around and began do make circles trying to get near the disabled boat. Eventually, we got near it and all the refugees were pulled aboard by hands of other refugees on to Sun Hippie. I remember our Captain tied a very thick rope from Sun Hippie to the small boat in an effort to save it and we were again on our way. That rope did not last very long, snapping suddenly and the disabled boat disappeared.
The next chapter of the voyage that I remember was the scariest of all. This is when it got so rough that we had to seek refuge inside the boat. I don’t know how big the waves or the ocean swell was, but I know that it must have been real bad, as Captain Hooper ordered all of us into the hull of the boat. In the middle of the deck, there was access hole. It was about 4 feet square and all of us went down into the inside of the boat. I felt like I was like climbing inside a coffin and although I wanted to be optimistic about surviving this ordeal, it seemed against all odds. We were packed inside the hull with no room to move and my back was pressed hard against the curved wall of the hull. I was able to tell that it was single wall boat. I could feel the waves crashing on the side of the boat and I could hear the wood beams and side planks stretching as if the boat was going to disintegrate. I kept looking up and praying that the room would not turn upside down and the hole we had just been through to get inside the hull of the boat was not going to be filled with water rushing in. I remember my poor mom was so sick that she was almost unconscious. My dad was standing over us and my little sister was so scared, my dad told me to hold her so I held her very tight. I don’t know what happened next, all I remember next is that my dad woke all of us. I felt so bad for him, he had been standing there all night over us and he looked so tired. But now, the rocking, shaking and the noise of the waves were gone and people were climbing back out to the deck. We all climbed out and it was still dark. We could see light in the distance and we shouted in happiness because it was Key West, or at least we thought it was. It turned out to have been a huge American naval ship. From it, a helicopter flew and an American seaman was lowered to our boat. He had with him a metal stretcher (known as a stokes-litter). I remember that he landed hard on his abdomen on the deck of Sun Hippie and he packaged an elderly lady that was unconscious into the stretcher. The seaman and the elderly lady were raised to the helicopter and taken to the naval ship.
It seems that it took forever to reach Key West. I remember seeing the City approach and the sun rising over it, but it was not coming fast enough. It was such a beautiful sight to see land again, but not because it was land but because it was American land. A land I only dreamed of coming to for so many years and now it was real.
As we approached the docks, hundreds of people were looking at us through fences. I could hear their screaming and clapping for us. I was so happy to see their emotions and feeling so welcome. Men and women in military uniforms helped us climb out of the boat. I remember looking back because I wanted to remember the name of the boat “Sun Hippie” and then seeing Captain Hooper who had climbed to the roof of the wheel house. He was looking right at me, our eyes connected and he gave me the biggest smile. I will never forget his only words in Spanish during the whole trip, he said to me… “No mas Fidel” and we waved goodbye.
Juan Francisco Diaz,
Cuban Refugee USA Arrival May 22, 1980

John E Adams's memory of Sun Hippie
7 hours ago

After some wonderful years of service the Sun Hippie has sank and falling apart in Brunswick, Georgia. I have a final tribute photo at:

Sandra Rodriguez's memory of Sun Hippie

I came to the US as a 7 year-old along with my parents and sister, Jackie (6). Since I was so young, I only have vague recollections of that journey. I lived in a small town in the southeast of Cuba (Victoria de las Tunas), the jouney for me begin (read the rest of this memory)s at my grandparents home. It was a typical weekend day and I remember all of the grown-ups were crying and they were hugging me so hard. I did not understand why they were acting this way, I would be back the next weekend, as I aways did. I remember after many hugs, waving goodbye to them from a bus. I never saw my grandparents again. This has always been a very painful memory for me, but I am sure it does not compare to what my grandparents went through. I cannot imagine the pain of saying goodbye to a child/ grandchild you know you will never see again.
I remember our house was egged many times, being transferred to what I think was a stadium. The stadium was surrounded by people yelling at us for desserting the revolution, they would also throw things (fruits) at us while they processd the paperwork. I myself ended up with a dark eye as a result of an orange that was thrown at me. What kind of a person would throw food at someone else just for wanting to leave a country? We took several buses to finally arrive in "El Mosquito". I remember telling my mom I did not want to eat the awful unsweeted yogurt, but she told me there was no sugar anywhere to be found. My next memory is of stepping into the ship. I was concentrating real hard because the ship was moving back and forth and I wanted to make sure I did not miss it and fall into the water in between the boat and the port. Next, I only remember my mother sitting indian style with a daughter on each leg. We were not in the freezer, but in a much smaller room, I was so nauseaus. They gave us food (Vienna sausages and such) and just like Juan in the previous story, I have never eaten them again. The smell is enough to make me want to vomit. At some point, I must have fallen asleep from the exhaustion. My father tells me they sent the women/ children to the area they normally keep the shrimp. The men were left outside to fend for themselves. I only have flashes of being in Key West but do remember sitting in a hanger in Opa-Locka waiting for our aunt to pick us up. My sister kept saving all the plastic cups they gave us with water and medicine until a gentleman came up to her and said "you can throw these away, you're not in Cuba anymore".
I love this country and all of the opportunities it has given us. When my mom gets sad thinking about how much suffering she went through (she didn't want to come) and the family she left behind, I try to console her by reminding her that it was not in vain. Her daughters have taken advantage of all the opportunities and we would have never had this life without her "sacrifice".

Yaquelin Rodriguez's memory of Sun Hippie

The spelling of my first name was changed to Jaquelin went I got to this country; I left Cuba with my family at the age of 6, so I do not recall as many details as other passengers. I do however have some memories. I don't remember being separated f (read the rest of this memory)rom my parents, but my sister, who at the time was 7, and I were separated from them and placed in what I suppose now was the infirmary of the boat and I would see the empty water gallons being used for people to throw-up into and then we were finally reunited with my mother whom had been sent to the freezer storage areas. I don't recall much more but I do remember seeing the boat sway from side to side and I like, Juan F Diaz, remember seeing a helicopter and like him, also detested the vienna sausages for many years. I remember the black man, whom now I know to be the captain and I thought he was so strong and tall. The "mosquito" place is also a vague memory, but I remember there was plain yogurt being served and the scrambled eggs were greenish and cold. I don't remember were we took showers, but I do remember all the women together naked, since there were no curtains or partitions to divide us. My mom says I was interviewed when I got here and I was given some medication due to stomach pains but I do not recall any of that....I will be telling my sister to post her memories, since I know she recalls more.

javier sotolongo de Placetas's memory of Sun Hippie

Yo tambien vine en el Sun Hippie.mayo 22 1980
sali de cuba con 18 años asi que si recuerdo todo perfectamente.
Mi mama siempre quiso salir pero nunca tuvimos la oportunidad.
hoy ya tengo 50 años y miro la vida un poco diferente. Esta histori (read the rest of this memory)a la hago para que mis hijas y mi esposa y nietos la puedan leer un dia.
prefiero hacerlo en español para que se esfuercen y no olviden la lengua de su padre y abuelo.
En el año 1979 antes del mariel ya yo estaba asistiendo a la iglesia evangelica "Los Pinos Nuevos" en Placetas, Las Villas.
Esto por supuesto me trajo algunos problemas con las autoridades de la escuela y me vijilaban constantemente y me cuestinaban.
en una ocacion les dije que yo queria ser pastor pero no podia entrar en el seminario porque era muy joven.
Cuando oimos del mariel enseguida pense que esta era la unica manera de salir del ostigamiento.
Nuestro plan era salir toda la familia junta, mi mama y mi hermano y yo , (mis padres estaban separados) .Una prima hermana de mi mama nos apunto en un barco para que nos fueramos,nosotros llenamos unas planillas en un lugar dejado ver nuestra intencion.Esto trajo una movilizacion, y nos dijeron que yo tenia que irme primero y luego los demas irian (no vi a mi mama hasta 10 años despues y a mi hermano 11) en mi caso como era menor tuvieron mis padres que ir a firmar a Santa Clara un permiso.
En pocas horas estaba rumbo a la Habana y por todos los pueblos que pasabamos nos gritaban , escoria!! gusanos! !traidores!
y no acababa de entender porque mi intencion de irme de mi pais me convertia en un traidor o escoria, pero eso era lo que le decian que tenian que gritar.
Llegamos a un lugar que le decia "cuatro ruedas" en la habana. Alli me di cuenta que estaban trayendo personas de todas parte de Cuba y de todo los estractos sociales.
En aquel lugar estuve como una semana, porque me decian que los mas joven eran los ultimos, no me podia bañar y no me podia cambiar la ropa.
Finalmente me llaman ya habia perdido la nocion del tiempo. Pero si "las cuatro ruedas" estaban malas peor estaba el proximo lugar, "el Mosquito" al principio no sabia lo que era pero en la noche supe porque el nombre del "Mosquito" . era una casa grande como una mancion que debe haber pertenecido a alguien que se fue del pais. al entrar habia uan piscina sin agua donde nos ordenaron entrar, me parecia que estaba en un capitulo del Libro de Sarah Anne Franks donde los judios eran metidos en los baños y luego eran envenenados con gas. Ahi en ese horrible lugar donde se dormia en el patio al interperie, se bebia agua de una manguera de jardin una poblacion de 300 personas en transito, sin excusado ni ninguna medidda sanitaria estuvimo otros 4 a5 dias,yo c
trai conmigo un Nuevo Testamento y le leia a los que querian escuchar, sobre todo a los que veia mas aflijidos y que me hablaban de regresar por que no soportaban mas. Al fin una madrugada (despues supe que era el 21 de mayo) me llamaron y fui con un grupo para el "Sun Hippie" alli nos reunieron con otras personas algunos presos y otros familias enteras, despues de esta un dia entero salimos como a las 5 pm, tambien pase por las experiencia de las salchichas, hasta el dia de hoy no las puedo comer tampoco, pero mi mirada estaba en irme por fin, recuerdo al alejarse el barco de la costa cubana un niño como de 13 o 14 años mirando hacia cuba y le salian lagrimas de sus ojos ( quizas era Juan F Diaz , quien sabe?) pero fue al unico que vi llorando. Los mas atrevidos y en un grito de escape de tantasentimientos reprimido comenzaron a gritar a los barcos de los milicianos que estaban cerca, Abajo Fidel, abajo el comunismo!!!, las lanchas guadacosteras empezaron hablar por parlantes que se cayaran, que si no podian hacer virar el barco. se calmaron por unos minutos pero luego siguieron, depronto recuerdo unas lanchas con bandera americana que se aproximaro y nos empezaron a lanzar coca cola, y otras comidaspor el aire, lo que hizo que comenzara una griteria de esntuciasmo, esta fue la primera prueba que ya todo comenzoba a cambiar. Recuerdo al capitan como lo describe Juan es su escrito.muy alegre y amistoso, En una ocacion creo que trato de decir qque Fidel hablaba, hablaba y que los cubanos siempre aplaudian, todo esto por señas.
la trayectoria en el Oceano fue indercriptible me parecia estar un mundo subrealista, donde veia a mi derecha y ami izquieda paredes de agua de mas de 50 pies y el barcoalla en un abismo. comenze a bomitar un bomito verde, y sentirme muy mareado, el centro de la nave donde estaban las mujeres y los niños era como una piscina de vomito, personas y agua salada y quien sabe cuantas otras cosas, yo fui al baño del barco y por la ventan podia ver las rafagas y de las olas y las personas agarradas a los postes y las sogas.
seguia confiando que Dios me traia a E.U. con un proposito y no permitiria que nos ahogaramos, recitaba el samo 23 y el salmo de 91 de memeria y esto me daba una calma y tranquilidad increible.
tambien cai rendido y desoerte al amanecer cerca de Cayo hueso, me desperte muy entuciasmado empece a despertar a las personaspara que vieran la tierra de Washington y Lincoln.
en otro momento escribire sobre el viaje a Indian Town gap el refugio donde me llevaron.

SERGIO MEDINA's memory of Sun Hippie

i was 11 years old when i came from cuba in the sun hippie,