DeBary, Florida Mayor Clint Johnson wants to know what it’s like to be a Cuban refugee.
So the 30-year-old self-professed thrill seeker is flying to Cuba to build a makeshift raft and plans to float back to the U.S. through the Florida Straits, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.
“I love going on adventures, I love living outside the box and really pushing my boundaries and doing stuff that isn’t normally done,” said Johnson, the youngest official ever elected in DeBary.
Johnson plans to visit Cuba with his wife in mid-April and bring along bolts and oar locks, and will fashion a raft out of barrels and other pieces he finds in the country. He expects to leave Havana alone during good weather and drift to Key West in about two days.
He told the News-Journal he doesn’t plan on bringing a safety boat along, but will keep a satellite communication and tracking device known as an inReach Explorer with him on the trip.
During his days on the water, Johnson will “share the experience” of being a refugee” through blog updates and “weigh the pros/cons of a more open relationship with our neighbors 90 miles south,” according to his website, TeamClint.com.
“I want the trip back to be authentic as possible,” Johnson said. “If I’ve got a big boat sitting right there with granola bars on it or where I can just holler and be like ‘Hey, I’m a little tired, I’ll get on the boat,’ to me that ruins the whole thing. So, if I did have a chase boat I would definitely be far out of sight.”
The mayor acknowledges he could encounter storms, or other life-threatening conditions.
“If it didn’t go perfect, I’m thinking it could be seven, eight days. I could get really sick. I could run into a storm or two,” he said. “Then, I would just be hoping that I get close enough to the coast as the (Gulf) stream comes back around and I’m hoping I can break out of the (Gulf) stream.”
Right now, Johnson is putting together a test raft to take out on Lake Monroe, and if successful, he plans to take it out overnight near the Ponce Inlet. Johnson expects to do a final test on Lake Okeechobee, the News-Journal reports.
Johnson said the recently re-established relations between the U.S. and Cuba, as well as a recent bike trip from Tallahassee to Key West – where he visited the southernmost point in the U.S. – convinced him to pursue the trip.
“Out of interest, I started looking into it and thought, ‘What’s it like to come here on a raft?” he told The West Volusia Beacon. “You hear about it all the time, but you don’t really know what they go through. It’s surprisingly unreported.
“I thought, ‘I love adventures; I’d like to see what they go through, and it’s going to be a heck of a cool story.”
Johnson secured a travel visa to visit the country for “professional research and journalism” because he plans to blog about his trip. He also secured a sponsor – sun care business Havana Sun. Havana Sun is owned by Volusia County businessman Ron Rice, founder and former owner of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion.
“He’s doing something very unique,” Rice said, adding that while it won’t be easy he has faith in Johnson. “I wouldn’t sponsor him if I didn’t think he could do it.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, however, doesn’t think he can or should make the trip.
“Mayor Johnson’s trip will immediately trigger a Coast Guard search and rescue response, to most likely include the launch of fixed wing search aircraft, helicopters, and ships,” a Coast Guard statement read, according to the News-Journal.
“We respectfully urge the mayor to reconsider his trip, which will best case result in a search for him,” it continued. “Worst case, his trip may have grave consequences.”
Johnson said he spoke with the Coast Guard in planning his trip, and again this week. He responded to the concerns on Facebook.
“They understood that the response is different than their original one I was given while planning the trip and were apologetic,” he posted. “I will strongly consider their concern and work diligently to maintain a cooperative relationship.”
The Associated Press reports the cost to recover long-distance runner Reza Baluchi from the ocean east of St. Augustine in October cost $144,000.