nervous," he says. "I had to be very clear-minded once I decided to go,
otherwise they would catch me and I would be in a lot of trouble. It would have
meant three or four years in prison if I had been caught. No lie about what I
was doing was possible."
About one and a
half blocks away from the beach was a tower usually manned by guards with
infrared binoculars. Lester, who was sailing without lights, also had to keep
an eye out for freighters and pleasure boats that would be cruising in the busy
Straits of Florida.
"At first I
wasn't able to get my feet in the footstraps," he says, "because there
wasn't enough wind for my sail. But as I got farther out and was able to get
fully powered up, I began feeling more confident. The swells were very steep,
maybe four or five meters, and I was going so fast I had no choice but to jump
As he recalls the
moment, Lester rises from his chair, plants his bare feet on the tile floor and
extends his thin arms, grasping an imaginary boom. He begins in English,
"Wind coming, coming, coming...out, out, out...is very strong." He's
hanging in his invisible harness now, arms stretched wide, eyes lit up, flying
over the waves. "Whoosh!" he cries. "Is good!"
For 10 hours he
rode the wind, never once fearing failure, or drowning. He thought of his
family and how worried they would be when they discovered he was missing. But
he wasn't alone out there. "Ever since I left, I could see the sharks
coming out and in, coming up on the board. I was hoping and thinking they were
dolphins, but when the sun came up, I could see there was no way they were
the aluminum boom broke, separating the connection to the mast like pieces of a
wishbone. He tried fixing the boom with his knife but couldn't, so he sailed
on, clutching the pieces of the broken wishbone. This made control of the board
extremely difficult, and he couldn't rest in the harness he had rigged. "My
arms and hands were getting really tired, but by then I could already see the
big kites of the fishermen, so I wasn't really worried. When I saw the
freighter, I tried to point [into the wind] as much as I could and sail toward
A similar crossing
was made in January 1984, by Arnaud de Rosnay, a Frenchman who boardsailed from
Key West to Cuba as a personal challenge and a publicity stunt. De Rosnay, one
of the best board-sailors in the world, had sailed in daylight with a chase
boat. His trip included two stops for repairs and two stops to rest, and he
completed the crossing in about seven hours. (In November of the same year, de
Rosnay vanished while trying to cross the Straits of Formosa.) But only a month
before Lester's odyssey, another young Cuban had perished attempting to reach
the Keys in a raft.
Hollywood has come knocking on Lester's door. "The story is a natural,"
says Paul Madden, the president of Madden Movies. "It's Rocky and The Old
Man and the Sea in one. If this picture is done right, by the end of it the
audience will be standing up in he theater and cheering." Madden might not
be one of those doing the cheering; he was outbid for the rights to Lester's
story by Ron Howard's Imagine Films.
Lester has handled
the movie offers—assumed to have reached six figures—and the media blitz with
uncommon courtesy and self-assurance. A new acquaintance has even invited him
to spend the summer at Hood River, Ore., where he will be able to jump the
formidable swells of the Columbia River. This sounds good to Lester. But right
now, one of his teenage friends has invited him to go sailing off Miami Beach.
That sounds like the most fun of all.