Six Cubans who washed ashore on South Padre Island are working to understand American life. The men survived 20 days at sea. The men on Monday recalled the dangers they faced during their passage through the Gulf of Mexico.

“Above all else, we’re just grateful that we’re alive. It’s a miracle that we’re alive,” one of the men said. The group left Cuba on Aug. 13. Their plan was to cross the Caribbean and arrive in the Yucatan Peninsula.

“The idea was to get to Mexico, cross through it and try to get through the United States border,” one of the men said.

They packed a small boat with crackers, sugar, condensed milk and water. Three days into the journey, they ran out of gas for their motor. They built a sail out of a shower curtain and tossed the motor overboard. “The days got longer. The amount of food and water wasn’t for the amount of days at sea. Everything changed from that point on,” one of the men said.

The men range in age from 28 to 65. They are now at a shelter in San Benito. The group eventually ran out of water. Some resorted to drinking their own urine. The group’s impromptu spokesman, also dubbed the captain by his peers, said he barely slept in those 20 days. He worked the makeshift sail the entire journey. “Basically, my job was to protect their lives,” he said.

The men said boats and cruise ships passed near them and always ignored them. The youngest, Charlie, became the most frustrated. “I was starting to regret it. I just wanted to be with my daughter,” he said. The men said sharks circled their small boat.

At one point, they all believed they were doomed. “I would lie down on the floor and I would ask God that if it was my time, that I was ready and I would be faithful,” one of the men said holding back tears. Thirst turned into overwhelming pain. “I would lie down on the floor and I would spray myself with seawater so I wouldn’t feel the pain of not having water,” one man said.

The group landed on the beaches of South Padre Island under darkness on Sept. 1. A fisherman stopped to help, after two other cars passed them by. “We are confronting a new reality. It’s nothing like Cuba; it’s a new world … it’s like being born again,” one of the men said.