El Cid

Boat Information

  • Vessel name: El Cid
  • Arrival: May 15, 1980
  • Captain: n/a
  • Size: 41.8
  • Use: Pleasure
  • Onboard when departed US: 7*
  • Crew: 3
  • Refugees: 100
  • Total people onboard: 105*
  • Coast guard remarks: *2 came back on another boat, shared cost of fuel and food/ no action taken

Memories from the Passengers

alicia dominguez's memory of El Cid

I was 46 years old.

We had been following the news about the 10,000 refugees that had overtaken the Peruvian embassy in Havana and we knew that something big was going to happen. Fidel would have to allow the escape valve on the pressure c (read the rest of this memory)ooker that is Cuba to work.
We saw the news that people were leaving Miami in boats to rescue their family members and that the dictator, Fidel, was allowing it. By the next morning, we had our boat gassed up, our supplies bought, and our captain and crew organized for the trip. We left Miami towards Mariel.
When we arrived at Marathon in the Florida Keys, I thought we were already in Cuba.. it turns out the journey would be much longer. The US coast guard stopped us and took our information and allowed us to proceed.
The journey through the Florida straights at night time with a bad storm was treacherous. I don't know how to swim. But that fact didn't cross my mind at the time. All I could think about was my brother whom I'd made a pact with that if the opportunity ever arose, I would rescue him from Cuba. After so many years, the opportunity had finally arrived.
When we approached the island, the Cuban coast guard stopped us and took our names and the name of the boat and questioned us before we were allowed to proceed. There were so many other boats around us, heading in the same direction. We approached Mariel harbor and saw the massive number of boats anchored there. It was overwhelming. More and more arrived each day. We anchored our boat and soon a Cuban boat approached us and took information from us about who we were, and who we were there to get. The boats would be called on large speakers to approach the dock when their passengers were ready for pick up. We waited for one month in the harbor for our boats name to be called. For supplies, the Cuban govt had little boats selling food and other wares going from boat to boat in the harbor. We were also allowed to take water taxis into Havana to buy things we needed.
El Cid's engine died at one point and we had to get word back to Miami that we needed a new engine. My son in law made the trip to Mariel and brought us a new engine and installed it. These were tense times.
The refugees were being bussed to the harbor from a concentration camp called El Mosquito, where the refugees were being "held" prior to their departure. My brother, told me that while there, they were fed uncooked rice or uncooked potato and dirty water.
Finally on the morning of May 15, around 6 a.m., El Cid's name was called on the loud speakers. We approached the dock and I aw my brother standing there in a line of 50 people.. with another 50 people right next to them. Our boat was less than 50 feet long. They loaded our boat with my brother and the 50 in his line.. then started to load the other 50. I stopped them and said that we couldn't carry so many. Then the Cuban official said, "then they can all stay" and started to unload my brother and his group. I looked at my captain and asked him if we could do it. He said it would be difficult but he thought we could make it. So I agreed to take all 100.
The 16 hour trip back was horrible. The women and children were placed below deck and the men above. We only had 50 life vests.. which were given to those below deck. The men shoveled water out of the boat with cups and buckets. Large waves blew over us and left water on deck. At one point it seemed like we had a mutiny on our hands. People were tired and hungry and desperate. Thankfully, as we made it out to high sea, we saw a coast guard cutter - that was so large, it looked like an island from far away. they approached us and dropped water and a large bag of sandwhiches to us.. and yelled out "keep going, keep going"..
we had hope.
a few hours later.. we approached Key West and there was a long line of boats waiting to dock and drop off their passengers. We heard how they would announce the arriving boats on a loud speaker and they said "el cid!".. we knew our family would be there.. but there were so many people you could just see the mass of people and no faces.. as we got closer.. i saw my family.. waving at us hysterically happy to see us. We got processed and spent the night at the Holiday Inn on Key West before driving back to Miami.
I don't know the names of all of the souls that my husband and I along with our captain and crew, helped bring to freedom. I hope that this database will help record that information forever.
Today I am 76 years old - and the Mariel experience is one I have never forgotten and will ever forget so long as I live. The faces.. the fear, the hope and the deep sigh of freedom felt when we came back home are emotions that run very deep.

Lazara Maria Tamayo's memory of El Cid

I was 16 years old when I was in the concentration camp called El Mosquito. It was a very bad expierence, the food was rotten eggs and dirty water, the children were given the same food. We couldn't go to the bathroom because of guard dogs were being (read the rest of this memory) used to attack us every time we tried. There were also criminally insane people mixed in with us. We had to sleep on dirt floor and had no way of taking showers or keep ourselves clean, this went on for several days I can't remember everything it was a terrible time. Fortunately, we finally left on the boat El Cid. At first we were thrilled but then we realized there were too many people on board and the vomitting was non stop on each other. I remember helping Alicia hand out medicine and water and when the water ran out we drank lime juice, and the waves just kept coming over the boat. I finally arrived in Key West, half passed out and I remember President Carter placing an apple on my stomach but I couldn't even speak or see him to well. Even this day I give thanks to everybody the came with me and shared our experience no matter how bad and I always think about that day and tears still come down my face. God bless everybody no matter where they are and light our way throught dark times. Thanks to the Captain and Alicia for their sacrifice. Never Forget.