The Boat that Launched a Rev­o­lu­tion

Granma and the Voy­age that changed the world

Passage Maker - - Contents - Peter Swan­son

We are driv­ing on a coun­try road, dig­ging into the his­tory of a sto­ried mo­to­ry­acht—the 58-footer named Granma that brought Cas­tro to power. We’re in a 1956 Ford that orig­i­nally be­longed to my driver’s grand­fa­ther. Ivan is a nice kid. He’s well ed­u­cated. He’s not a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party, but he is a Cuban pa­triot and a be­liever in the Rev­o­lu­tion. “Ivan,” I ask. “Do you know what ‘granma’ ac­tu­ally means?” “Of course. Granma is the name of the Co­man­dante’s boat, the one that brought the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies here from Mex­ico. It is also now the name of the prov­ince where the boat landed, and it is the name of our na­tional news­pa­per.” “Did you know that ‘granma’ is an English word?” “I did not,” Ivan says, sur­prised. “In English, it means abuelita, lit­tle grand­mother. They say it was the name given to the boat by the Yan­kee that owned her be­fore Fidel.”

1943, A BUILDER IN BROOK­LYN Find­ing Granma’s ori­gins turns into an Easter egg hunt. Par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing is the fact that the Cubans, de­spite a pas­sion for schol­ar­ship and a de­vo­tion to Revo­lu­tion­ary mythol­ogy, appear to be in­sti­tu­tion­ally dis­in­ter­ested in Granma’s life be­fore she comes into Cas­tro’s posses­sion.

Mex­i­can accounts sug­gest she was built in Louisiana, but maybe that’s be­cause Ba­ton Rouge is the last ad­dress of her Amer­i­can owner. Granma’s pic­ture is passed around to var­i­ous naval ar­chi­tects, boat builders, and re­stor­ers, au­thors and his­to­ri­ans. Maybe she’s a Higgins, some sug­gest. That’s the famed New Or­leans builder of PT boats and land­ing craft. Oth­ers say she looks like a Huck­ins, a Jack­sonville, Florida, builder who also built de­fense craft dur­ing the war.

A tip­ster from Poulsbo, Wash­ing­ton, pro­vides break­through in­for­ma­tion. From a 1950s list­ing of “Mer­chant Ves­sels of the United States” which in­cludes yachts and cer­tain govern­ment ves­sels, he knows that Granma was 58 feet long and built in Brook­lyn. And he knows her U.S. doc­u­men­ta­tion num­ber.

A staffer at the Coast Guard Doc­u­men­ta­tion Cen­ter checks the in­dex-card record from the 1950s con­nected to No. 258549 and re­ports that the boat named Granma was built by Wheeler Ship­build­ing and owned by a Schuylkill Prod­ucts Com­pany un­til she was trans­ferred to Mex­i­can reg­is­tra­tion in 1955.

A deeper dig into the ar­chives re­veals that she was one of 10 “bomb tar­get boats” built by Wheeler be­tween ‘42 and ‘43 for the U.S. Navy. As a bomb tar­get boat she looks very dif­fer­ent. There is no elab­o­rate deck­house, just a small helm sta­tion. These boats would dodge and weave as dive-bomber pi­lots tried to slam wa­ter-filled “bombs” onto her steel-plated decks. Granma’s Navy des­ig­na­tion is C-1994.

Af­ter the war, she is skill­fully con­verted into a yacht. C-1994 has a cam­bered deck with toe rails where the deck meets the hull. Granma has bul­warks, and by their ad­di­tion, the ship­wrights in­tro­duce a sweep­ing sheer onto what had been fairly flat lines. She be­comes a yacht. Jim Moores of Moores Marine, one of the na­tion’s pre­mier re­storer of wooden yachts, says that who­ever de­signed Granma’s house has to have been in­spired by Huck­ins and its trade­mark flat pan­els and shaped glass. Maybe Granma was con­verted into a yacht by an exHuck­ins em­ployee, he says.

At this point, it should be men­tioned that Granma lives. An icon of Cas­tro’s armed strug­gle, she is re­stored and on dis­play be­hind glass and steel at the Rev­o­lu­tion Mu­seum in Ha­vana.

A horse! A horse! My king­dom for a horse! -KING RICHARD III IN THE SHAKESPEARE'S PLAY OF THE SAME NAME

1950-55, ROBERT ERICK­SON Once de­scribed as “an in­ven­tive, in­tel­lec­tual busi­ness­man who spoke seven lan­guages,” Robert Erick­son makes his for­tune in lead smelt­ing and pro­cess­ing lead as a gaso­line ad­di­tive. In 1940, he moves his fam­ily and busi­nesses, Schuylkill Prod­ucts Com­pany and Schuylkill Lead Cor­po­ra­tion, to Ba­ton Rouge, near Louisiana’s oil-refinery in­dus­try.

Schuylkill Prod­ucts is listed as Granma’s owner when she first ap­pears on U.S. Coast Guard doc­u­men­ta­tion records in 1950. Cuban records show that Granma vis­ited Ha­vana twice in the pe­riod of 1950-51, so Cas­tro’s 1956 voy­age will be her third “cruise” to Cuba.

Erick­son’s cruis­ing also in­cludes the Gulf Coast of Mex­ico, along with the port city of Tux­pán. He and his wife like Tux­pán so much that they de­cide to buy land and build a house over­look­ing the river. Dur­ing con­struc­tion they an­chor out and sleep aboard. One night thieves row up in a launch, en­ter their cabin, threaten to kill them, and es­cape with their valu­ables.

The crime sours the Erick­sons on life in Tux­pán; he and his wife move across the moun­tains to Mex­ico City. Ac­cord­ing to accounts writ­ten decades af­ter these events, Granma is wrecked dur­ing a hur­ri­cane in 1952, but ex­am­i­na­tion of storm tracks sug­gests it ac­tu­ally hap­pens when Trop­i­cal Storm Florence lands a di­rect hit on Tux­pán in 1954. The Erick­sons make no ef­fort to re­cover their dam­aged yacht.

At last, Erick­son’s grand­daugh­ter re­turns my phone call. Maris Harry is 74 and re­mem­bers be­ing on her grand­fa­ther’s boat at St. Petersburg, Florida, when she was six. She lays to rest the as­sump­tion that Granma is named for Erick­son’s grand­mother. “Granma” is Erick­son’s af­fec­tion­ate name for his sec­ond wife. Think about it: If Erick­son’s sen­si­bil­i­ties had been slightly more con­ven­tional, Cubans to­day might be get­ting their news from a pa­per named “The Hazel.”


Cas­tro en­gages in anti-govern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties through­out the early 1950s, cul­mi­nat­ing in a failed at­tack on the Mon­cada army bar­racks. He is im­pris­oned with a group of left­ist fol­low­ers, in­clud­ing a navy war hero named Nor­berto Col­lado, who is of African de­scent. In May 1955, Cuban dic­ta­tor Ful­gen­cio Batista re­leases the lot of them as a public­ity stunt, which later will prove to be his un­do­ing.

Threat­ened with re-ar­rest, how­ever, Cas­tro and his brother Raul flee to Mex­ico in late May, 1955. Things are worse for Col­lado, who lacks the pro­tec­tion of an af­flu­ent white fam­ily like the Cas­tros. He is re­peat­edly beaten and tor­tured by po­lice. Col­lado, too, flees to Mex­ico, whose cap­i­tal be­comes a hub of anti-Batista ac­tivism as more Cuban left­ists ar­rive.

An­to­nio Del Conde owns a gun shop in Mex­ico City and does a lit­tle gun smug­gling on the side. Cas­tro needs guns and vis­its his shop in June 1955. Del Conde is smit­ten. “I of­fered to help him—and from the be­gin­ning it was some­thing sin­cere, I could say on a per­sonal level,” Conde writes in his book Mem­o­ries of Granma’s Owner. “His need for help was so great that I could per­ceive it. I was not just go­ing to help him a lit­tle bit, or par­tially. No, it had to be my com­plete and ab­so­lute help.”

Del Conde helps arm, hide, fund, feed, and train Cas­tro’s grow­ing rebel band. For his ef­forts he is even­tu­ally ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the Catholic Church and serves time in a fed­eral prison. Del Conde’s code name is El Cu­ate, slang for “the friend,” and he turns out to be quite the swash­buck­ler in ser­vice of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion.

While away from the city do­ing er­rands for the rebels, Del Conde passes through Tux­pán, where the Erick­sons had lived. There in the marsh on the edge of the Tux­pán River, he spies a wrecked white hull. The name on the tran­som is Granma.

“She was big … alone and aban­doned. I don’t know if I felt sorry for her be­cause even though aban­doned, she looked beau­ti­ful,” Del Conde writes. He is in­spired. He imag­ines him­self at the helm, cruis­ing through the Panama Canal and north all the way to the Sea of Cortez. He learns the iden­tity of the owner and vis­its Robert Erick­son at his Mex­ico City apart­ment. In early 1956, Erick­son agrees to sell Granma for $20,000, half up front, and Del Conde plans to re­store the boat over time. The diesels are in­un­dated, her keel is bro­ken—the boat is a mess.

Cas­tro, ac­cord­ing to Del Conde, learns about Granma’s ex­is­tence while they are on a drive through Tux­pán af­ter shoot­ing prac­tice. Cas­tro sneaks up be­hind Del Conde, who has ex­cused

him­self to go down to the river to check on his re­cent pur­chase. Only re­cently Cas­tro had failed in an at­tempt to buy a sur­plus PT boat in the U.S. Now he smashes Del Conde’s cruis­ing dreams.

“I was a bit sur­prised since I hadn’t re­al­ized he’d fol­lowed me,” writes Del Conde. “I told him that it was a boat I had pur­chased in pay­ments, that I was go­ing to fix her lit­tle by lit­tle be­cause she was in very poor con­di­tion. ‘If you fix this boat, then on this boat I will re­turn to Cuba,’ he said. I got up like a rocket, and I told him, ‘Sir, the boat does not work. I must even re­place the keel. Ev­ery­thing is use­less!’ And again he re­peated him­self, more slowly as if to hear and un­der­stand him­self bet­ter: ‘If you fix this boat, then on this boat I will re­turn to Cuba.’

“He could not be any more clear. It was an or­der he knew I could ful­fill. He had known me for more than a year now. I did not say any­thing. I turned around and started walk­ing to­wards the car.”

Like Granma, Del Conde lives. He is 92, still re­sid­ing in Mex­ico City.

On the phone, Del Conde in­sists on speak­ing English. He lived in New York City un­til he was five when his fam­ily moved back to Mex­ico. Now, his hear­ing is bad, and he doesn’t want to talk long. He has one point that he in­sists on mak­ing, how­ever, be­cause it is im­por­tant to him to cor­rect a com­mon mis­un­der­stand­ing.

Del Conde in­sists he is not a straw buyer for Cas­tro. He bought Granma for him­self. He alone owns Granma right up un­til the day she is sum­mar­ily con­scripted for the Rev­o­lu­tion. “My yacht Granma,” he says.

1956, REFIT Del Conde has al­ready be­gun Granma’s refit when Cas­tro dis­cov­ers the boat and ef­fec­tively takes posses­sion. Cas­tro is de­ter­mined to jump-start an in­sur­rec­tion in Cuba be­fore the end of 1956, and he is run­ning out of time and trans­port op­tions. Now, in­stead of months or years to work on the project, Del Conde has only weeks to get the boat in shape.

Cas­tro speechi­fies about the im­por­tance of Del Conde to the fu­ture suc­cess of the Rev­o­lu­tion. “If El Cu­ate does not fail me, I will leave. If I leave, then I will ar­rive. If I ar­rive—and I sur­vive 72 hours—then I will tri­umph.”

The two big­gest items on the yard list are go­ing to be re­plac­ing the keel, which was bro­ken in the storm, and both en­gines, which have been un­der wa­ter. (The keel to which he refers may ac­tu­ally have been a so-called “false keel,” a tim­ber that at­taches to the un­der­side of the keel on larger wooden boats.) In ei­ther event, Del Conde is de­ter­mined it be made from a sin­gle hunk of wood, and sends his car­pen­ter look­ing for a suit­able tree.

There are planks to be re-fas­tened, re-caulked, or re­placed al­to­gether. Del Conde is also wor­ried about wood-eat­ing toredo worms, the scourge of wooden ves­sels in trop­i­cal wa­ters, so he pur­chases sheets of cop­per to tack onto the hull.

Cas­tro as­signs Je­sus “Chuchu” Reyes to work with Del Conde as co-project man­ager. Chuchu can best be de­scribed as a hench­man. Chuchu of­ten acts as Cas­tro’s body­guard and driver, but in the con­text of Granma, his me­chan­i­cal skills pre­scribe a new role. He ef­fec­tively be­comes the ship’s engi­neer. A close read­ing of Del Conde’s book sug­gests that Del Conde and Chuchu don’t care much for one an­other.

Nev­er­the­less they co­op­er­ate, all the while com­pet­ing for the Co­man­dante’s ap­proval.

The saloon floors are re­moved to al­low the ex­trac­tion of twin Gray Marine GM diesel en­gines, pre­cur­sors to the now leg­endary Detroit Diesel, which are trucked to the GM fac­tory in Mex­ico City for a com­plete re­build, ex­cept the trans­mis­sions. Turn­around takes about a month. Granma also gets a new generator, lights, and wiring.

Granma must carry enough fuel to cover more than 1,200 nau­ti­cal miles and ar­rive with a small sur­plus. Af­ter ini­tial fuel burn and speed cal­cu­la­tions, Del Conde re­places the fuel tanks with new ones, de­signed to fill as much un­used space be­low decks as pos­si­ble and fabri­cated at his own ar­mory.

“I didn’t sleep in my bed again un­til the work on Granma was fin­ished. The work sched­ule was re­ally in­tense, leav­ing only a few de­tails such as paint left to be done once the boat was float­ing,” he re­calls. Sea tri­als were con­ducted. At one point Granma is dep­u­tized by Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties to res­cue some lo­cal fish­er­men ma­rooned dur­ing a storm on a nearby is­land.

As the day for de­par­ture nears, Cas­tro for­bids Del Conde from join­ing the ex­pe­di­tion. Cas­tro tells Del Conde that he is more use­ful as his agent in Mex­ico. By now Batista, the Cuban

dic­ta­tor, has learned about El Cu­ate’s ex­is­tence and is of­fer­ing a $20,000 re­ward for his true iden­tity. “I was sur­prised I couldn’t go. She was my boat,” he later tells a TV in­ter­viewer.

HIND­SIGHT Granma’s voy­age to Cuba can be seen two ways: sim­ply a bad idea or a dread­ful one. The term “best prac­tices” doesn’t en­ter the lex­i­con un­til the 1990s. Back in the 1950s peo­ple use the phrase “com­mon sense.” Cas­tro’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing ap­plies nei­ther.

One of the worst mis­takes novices can make is to let a man­made sched­ule dic­tate the tim­ing of ocean pas­sages. For ex­am­ple, say your rebel plan­ners have cal­cu­lated that it will take five days at 9 knots to reach a land­ing zone in east­ern Cuba. The plan is to have your am­phibi­ous force ar­rive on Novem­ber 30 be­cause that’s the date cho­sen for an at­tack against the Cuban mil­i­tary, which is to be co­or­di­nated with rebel al­lies al­ready on the is­land. Rather than build in a cush­ion for bad weather or me­chan­i­cal prob­lems, the de­par­ture date is set for Novem­ber 25—ex­actly the min­i­mum num­ber of days to get there and get in the fight.

Sea tri­als are con­ducted to es­tab­lish fuel burn statis­tics, but with­out dozens of men and gear on board, per­haps 7 or 8 tons lighter than Granma’s load dur­ing the voy­age. Pre­dic­tions of ac­tual burn would be no more than guess­work.

Com­mon sense dic­tates that ocean pas­sages be un­der­taken when a weather win­dow is open­ing, not di­min­ish­ing. In Granma’s case nei­ther ap­plies. Bad weather is al­ready upon the west­ern Gulf of Mex­ico as a frontal sys­tem sweeps down from the U.S. These “northers” are pre­dictable; they bring clock­ing winds that blow most in­tensely from the north and north­east and take three to five days to pass through. In Tux­pán, port au­thor­i­ties is­sue or­ders for­bid­ding any boat to leave the river.

Just days be­fore de­par­ture, the trans­mis­sion on the star­board engine acts up. Trans­mis­sion spe­cial­ists are rushed to the boat and work on the fail­ing clutch mech­a­nism right up to the time of de­par­ture. There is no time for an­other sea trial.

Cra­zi­est of all: The boat is too small for the mis­sion. In his book, Del Conde sug­gests that Cas­tro is so de­ter­mined to fight that he sus­pends dis­be­lief and imag­ines the 58-footer to be a much big­ger craft. He has 140 trained fight­ers hid­den in vil­lages through­out the Mex­i­can coun­try­side. At last rec­og­niz­ing that he can­not fit them all in Granma, Cas­tro set­tles on 81 men be­sides him­self, still too many. The rest he leaves be­hind.

So for­get best prac­tices. The voy­age of Granma is es­sen­tially a ro­man­tic, am­a­teur un­der­tak­ing. The re­al­ity is de­void of ro­mance, how­ever. Eighty-two men squeeze to­gether on a boat de­signed for 12, pound­ing into seas for days, soak­ing in each other’s vomit, un­able to defe­cate, and wait­ing for war­planes to strafe them at any mo­ment.

Cas­tro ap­points Nor­berto Col­lado, one of only a hand­ful of real mariners in his band, to serve as one of two ti­m­o­nels, or helms­men. Col­lado ar­rives at Granma as she sits along the river­bank be­ing loaded via gang­plank. He is be­mused at the big crowd of fel­low Cubans milling about. “I had thought that many of these men were here to trans­port equip­ment, and that at most we would travel with about 30 peo­ple, be­cause the yacht had berths for ten, but it was not like that,” he says.

A half cen­tury later, Col­lado writes that many of the rebel rank-and-file think they are board­ing Granma to be taken to some big mother ship wait­ing off­shore. “They had no idea they were go­ing to be packed in like sar­dines,” he says. Col­lado also notes the com­plete ab­sence of life­jack­ets or lifeboats: “ab­so­lutely noth­ing.”

1956, VOY­AGE FROM HELL An­to­nio Del Conde, who has been win­ing and din­ing the port cap­tain, gains his tacit ap­proval to break the pro­hi­bi­tion on leav­ing Tux­pán dur­ing the storm, but Granma’s de­par­ture must be done covertly none­the­less. On the night of Novem­ber 25, she is pi­loted slowly down river and into the ocean. She is run as qui­etly as pos­si­ble on one engine and with­out lights so as not to alert other Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties in the area. Thanks to rain she is able to sneak past a Mex­i­can fri­gate on pa­trol.

Out­side, buf­feted by winds gust­ing to over 30 knots, Granma takes a pound­ing. “Many feared the yacht would not with­stand the fu­ri­ous seas,” Col­lado says. “But she man­aged to stay afloat, even though on some oc­ca­sions the sea lifted her and threw her from a crest­ing wave so hard that it seemed like she would never rise again.”

Within eight hours the worn trans­mis­sion is act­ing up again. The only way to de­liver power to the prop is to throt­tle way back on the star­board engine. Rather than 9 knots, Granma only makes about 6.7—so much for get­ting to the bat­tle on time. The bilge pump fails and the boat takes on dan­ger­ous amounts of wa­ter. The men bail with buck­ets un­til Chuchu fixes it.

Those able to defe­cate may have been ex­cep­tions. Thanks to a phe­nom­e­non called “trav­eler’s con­sti­pa­tion,” even some cruise-ship pas­sen­gers find them­selves un­able to have bowel move­ments be­cause of the move­ment of the ves­sel. Granma’s pitch­ing and rolling would likely have proved even more dis­rup­tive to reg­u­lar­ity.

The good news, ac­cord­ing to Col­lado, is that the ex­tra weight is ac­tu­ally mak­ing Granma more sta­ble, much in the way that a dory filled with a fish­er­man’s catch gains sta­bil­ity. “The over­load­ing … was a help to­ward ad­di­tional re­sis­tance to the seas, with­out which the yacht could not reach her des­ti­na­tion,” Col­lado writes. “If we had sailed empty, we surely would have ‘turned around the bell.’ That is, flipped up­side down.”

Sam Devlin, de­signer-builder of semi-dis­place­ment wa­ter­craft, says the ben­e­fits to sta­bil­ity would have come with a sig­nif­i­cant down­side. “With the over­loaded yacht lum­ber­ing about in the wa­ter with her un­der­sized rud­ders and op­er­at­ing at a speed that was well be­low the op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency of a semi-dis­place­ment de­sign, the helm­ing of her must have been al­most of su­per-hu­man ef­fort,” Devlin says. “Hold­ing her to any con­sis­tent course would have been al­most im­pos­si­ble.”

With a heav­ily laden ves­sel strug­gling against waves, wind, and cur­rent, Cas­tro must have been “sweat­ing fuel” as any think­ing skip­per would when push­ing the lim­its of a ves­sel’s range. Un­like mod­ern au­topi­lots, hu­man helms­men steer­ing to a wet com­pass tend to zig and zag to their des­ti­na­tions. That kind of me­an­der­ing wastes fuel, and over 1,200 miles, the amount of wasted fuel can be sig­nif­i­cant. Granma’s helms­men must come as close as pos­si­ble to achiev­ing the al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Col­lado mans the wheel, al­ter­nat­ing with one other man. Along­side him at the helm are the Cas­tro broth­ers, Che Guev­era, and other lead­ers. Col­lado alone seems im­mune to sea­sick­ness. Noth­ing can hap­pen to him that is worse than what he’s al­ready suf­fered in Batista’s tor­ture rooms. He was the son­ar­man on a Cuban pa­trol boat (also built by Wheeler) that sank a U-Boat in the Florida Straits, the small­est boat in his­tory to ever sink a sub­ma­rine. His ears are so good that doc­tors have de­ter­mined he can even hear high-pitched dog whis­tles.

By the third day the sun shines and seas mel­low. The frontal sys­tem has passed and winds di­min­ish to 20 knots. Trade winds; con­trary but man­age­able. The nav­i­ga­tor takes a noon shot with his sex­tant.

Chuchu’s tin­ker­ing im­proves the per­for­mance of the trou­ble­some star­board engine, and Granma now makes 7.5 knots. Col­lado re­calls “the clamor of hun­gry guts.” Too bad, much of the food is still in Tux­pán, left be­hind in the rush to em­bark. For­tu­nately the men of Granma have a cou­ple thou­sand or­anges to suck on. They wash them­selves down with buck­et­fuls of sea­wa­ter.

At one point, Chuchu pleases the crowd with car­tons of cig­a­rettes he has hid­den with the en­gines.

The Cuban govern­ment has learned of Cas­tro’s “in­va­sion” plan and alerts its naval and air forces to hunt for a white mo­to­ry­acht. Granma is most vul­ner­a­ble to in­ter­cep­tion when she passes through the Straits of Yu­catan, in which only 104 miles sep­a­rate the west­ern­most tip of Cuba and the is­lands off Can­cun, Mex­ico. She thun­ders on through, un­ob­served.

Guided by the Cape Cruz light, they reach the coast, but not where in­tended. The rebels re­al­ize their charts for this coast are wrong. Low on fuel and with dawn ap­proach­ing—with the po­ten­tial for dis­cov­ery by en­emy air pa­trols—Cas­tro or­ders full throt­tle and runs the boat aground about 100 yards from man­groves.

The mor­tars and ma­chine guns are loaded into the dinghy, which promptly sinks. Then the men lower them­selves into the wa­ter and, chest-deep, carry their ri­fles over their heads into the swamp. Batista’s air­craft ar­rive and ran­domly strafe the man­grove for­est through which they march.

Still, Cas­tro has achieved his first two goals. His force has left Mex­ico and eight days later ar­rives in Cuba. Now, as he says, they must sur­vive 72 hours. He is pre­scient. Three days af­ter com­ing ashore the rebels are be­trayed by their guide and am­bushed by govern­ment troops, and most are killed.

Only 20 or so bedrag­gled sur­vivors, in­clud­ing the Cas­tro

"The orig­i­nal in­va­sion, and the ul­ti­mate suc­cess of the Rev­o­lu­tion, seems to me the most ro­man­tic story of our hemi­sphere 'ro­man­tic', as my dic­tionary puts it, 'in the sense of the mys­te­ri­ous ap­peal of some­thing ad­ven­tur­ous, he­roes or strangely beau­ti­ful'" - JOHN THORNDIKE, NOV­EL­IST

broth­ers, reach the safety of the Sierra Maes­tra moun­tain range. Col­lado is among a hand­ful spared upon cap­ture. Back to prison he goes. Chuchu Reyes also man­ages to sur­vive.

AF­TER­MATH Cas­tro fights on with a force that usu­ally num­bers no more than 300 in­sur­gents. They win a suc­ces­sion of vic­to­ries against larger govern­ment forces, whose num­bers na­tion­wide to­tal more than 35,000. With ranks swollen to around 1,000 fight­ers, Cas­tro’s revo­lu­tion­ary army seizes the cap­i­tal.

In April 1959, Cas­tro goes on an 11-day vic­tory lap in the United States, a trip that hap­pens be­fore he iden­ti­fies him­self as a Com­mu­nist and be­gins na­tion­al­iz­ing Amer­i­can-owned prop­erty. On a de­tour to Texas, a Cas­tro charm of­fen­sive con­vinces the gov­er­nor to in­ter­vene on be­half of “friend” Del Conde, who is re­leased from prison af­ter serv­ing only 11 months. He and his fam­ily live and work in Cuba un­til the mid-1960s when they re­turn to Mex­ico. To­day, Del Conde is cel­e­brated as a hero at home.

Cuban rebels free Nor­berto Col­lado from prison in 1959, and he is re­turned to mil­i­tary ser­vice as a naval of­fi­cer, some­thing he says could never hap­pen in the World War II navy be­cause of the color of his skin. He rises to the rank of cap­tain, and one of his spe­cial du­ties is care­taker for Granma, now be­come the Old Iron­sides of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion.

“Granma had com­pleted an in­cred­i­ble tran­sit,” he writes. “Although over­loaded and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing me­chan­i­cal prob­lems, she han­dled the an­gry sea like a big ship. She was my boat!” He dies on April 2, 2008, and is buried with mil­i­tary hon­ors.

Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, who prom­ises to re­tire in 2018, may well be the last re­main­ing sur­vivor of the Granma ex­pe­di­tion. NOV. 25, 2016 For bet­ter and worse, Fidel Cas­tro rules for more than 50 years. He out­lives his most pow­er­ful en­e­mies. Fa­mously, he once says, “His­tory will ab­solve me.” His­tory, for sure, will judge him, and the ex­am­i­na­tion be­gins well be­fore the Co­man­dante dies at his com­fort­able Ha­vana es­tate near the sea. Throngs of Cuban peo­ple line the roads as a jeep car­ries his ashes to a place of in­ter­ment at San­ti­ago, Cuba’s east­ern­most ma­jor city.

Be­liev­ers in an af­ter­life, which Cas­tro was not, will of­ten as­so­ciate death with a sea voy­age or river cross­ing. On Novem­ber 25, 2016, Fidel Cas­tro leaves the world stage and em­barks on his fi­nal pas­sage. His death hap­pens 60 years to the day af­ter Granma slipped from the Tux­pán River into the Gulf of Mex­ico, head­ing to the fray. ■

54 pas­ Septem­ber 2017

Septem­ber 2017 pas­ 55

Granma is moored at a Cuban port be­fore be­ing hauled out and put on per­ma­nent dis­play at the revo­lu­tion­ary mu­seum.

A U.S. Navy Bomb Tar­get Boat on sea­tri­als in what ap­pears to be Long Is­land Sound. It may well be the fu­ture Granma.

Right: Nor­berto Col­lado Abreu wears a civil­ian suit at a cer­e­mony for CS-13, the Cuban pa­trol boat that sank a Ger­man sub­ma­rine dur­ing World War 2. Be­low: The U.S. Navy build­ing in Miami, where Col­lado was trained to be a sonar op­er­a­tor.

Above: Che Guev­era, Raul and Fidel Cas­tro and An­to­nio Del Conde sit to­gether at a restau­rant in Mex­ico. Bot­tom: The route Granma took on the ex­pe­di­tion from Mex­ico to south­east­ern Cuba.

Above: This 83 footer is the same de­sign as pa­trol boats built by Wheeler for the Cuban Navy.

Right: Granma lives in Cuban pop­u­lar cul­ture. This mu­ral by artist Jose Fuster de­picts key fig­ures of the ex­pe­di­tion.

Above: In the only photo of its kind, Fidel Cas­tro’s rebel force dis­em­barks from Granma, aground, and wades into the man­groves on Cuba’s south­east coast.

A replica of Granma passes by dur­ing a march to mark Cuban Armed Forces Day and com­mem­o­rate the start of the rev­o­lu­tion in 1959. Ha­vana, Cuba, Jan­uary 2, 2017.

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