When my family first moved to Miami from Philadelphia in 1977 we lived in rented house in Coral Gables. After a year my parents were ready to purchase their first house and we moved to a nice quiet neighborhood in Kendall. This is the part of my childhood that I remember most vividly. A couple of months after we moved in, a new family moved in next door. It was a Cuban-American couple named Luis and Carolina with two kids, Christopher and Carolina. The older of the two, Chris, was my age. Chris and I became best friends and had many adventures together.
But I was always intrigued by Chris’ dad, Luis. He was a very likeable guy who loved being on the water. He knew everything there was to know about boats and he’s the one that influenced my dad and encouraged him to buy his first boat. Luis owned a 30-foot Corsa that he basically built himself. It was a very fast boat and frankly was the coolest boat I ever rode on as a child. One of the coolest things about the boat was its name: Disco Baby. I don’t know the story behind the name but I know that anyone that knew anything about boats in Miami knew of “El Disco”. The name of the boat became synonymous with its captain.
Over time I learned little details about Disco Baby’s life. Like the fact that he played American Football when he was a young man in Cuba. He was a great athlete. I also learned that on one occasion he ran a race against a thoroughbred horse, also back in Cuba. Of course it was a stunt and Disco Baby had a head start but the race was designed for both competitors to reach the finish line about the same time. Don’t ask me who won, I can’t remember that part of the story, but I did see photographs of the event.
One of the other photos that remains seared into my memory was of Disco Baby in camouflage gear with his face in camouflage as well. He is standing on a 23 or 24-foot boat with a 50-caliber machine gun on the back. The picture was taken in the early 60s, when CIA sponsored voyages to Cuba were happening all the time. These trips, from what I remember of the story, were for the purposes of smuggling important people out of Cuba. Anyway that picture of Luis standing so close to a machine gun was really cool to a 12-year old.
One time Disco Baby told me the story of how he had been detained by the Cuban G2. This was before he had left Cuba. He was working in the counterrevolutionary underground and he had been arrested. He was brought into an office for processing and then the man who had arrested him told the other G2 man in the office to “keep an eye out on things, I’m going to lunch.” It was then that Disco Baby realized that the other man was only half paying attention to what was going on and that he probably didn’t realize that he was a prisoner. A few minutes later Disco Baby stands up and says “I’m going to lunch too.” And just like that he walked out of the G2 office. I remember Disco Baby telling me that this was in the early days of the Revolution and that things in the Revolutionary government were really disorganized. But even still he said the walk out of that building was the longest of his life. He was sure that at any moment he’d hear a yell and then the fatal gunshot. Needless to say that never happened. People who tell Cubans “why didn’t you stay and fight against castro?” should talk with people like Disco Baby.
Another story that I remember almost every detail of, after more than 20 years, is the story of how Disco Baby escaped Cuba. Now that his cover was blown, he had to get out. He and some friends were able to obtain the hull of a 13-foot boat. They also obtained two outboard motors. One was 30hp and the other was a back-up in case the main engine failed. It was 15hp.
Gasoline was being tightly rationed so Disco Baby and his fellow freedom-seekers would drive to the gas station and take their 5-gallon limit and then siphon the fuel into saltine cracker cans. Once they accumulated 20 cans of gas, they were ready to go but there was one small problem: getting the boat to the water. Apparently the boat was hidden in a house or a garage several blocks from the water.
One day Disco Baby discovered an old non-working pick-up truck that was for sale. It was quickly purchased and sawed in half. The bed of the truck was converted into a makeshift trailer. When the appointed night of departure came, Disco Baby and his fellows began to push the boat down the street, only to be joined by neighborhood friends that came out to help.
The boat was put in the water and Disco Baby and the rest of the crew (I don’t remember how many came with him, but it was at least 3 or 4 others, on a 13-foot boat!) began to row. The plan was to row out to sea a couple of miles before cranking the noisy engine. But only a few hundred yards out they spotted a patrol boat approaching. They cranked the engine and began motoring north. Luckily, they weren’t spotted by the patrol boat.
The seas that night were terrible according to Disco Baby. He said imagine riding 6-8 foot waves in a 13-foot boat in the dark of night. He also said imagine someone throwing a full bucket of water on you every 3-5 seconds. They motored for several hours until they finally ran out of fuel. They drifted for several hours more until they reached an oil exploration platform off of Key West. Finally they were free.
It’s been several years since I’ve seen Disco Baby, maybe I’ll drop by the old neighborhood and say hello.