Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friends nearly lost at Sea

This blog is sponsored by Caribbean Real Estate Run by Derek seen here in the company plane which is part of the story below.

What a crazy afternoon I had yesterday. The afternoon before, captain Red, who does sailing on private yachts, happened to pass my apartment just as Captain Glen from Creole Cruises pulled up. Glen needed to get one of my phones as he had lost his somehow. I keep a small stock of mobile phones for my crew as they keep destroying them, and Glen came by in need. Anyway we got to talking and Red mentioned that he may about to be hired by Kokomo catamaran to be the skipper of their new boat which had just been launched in St. Vincent. Anyway, he mentioned to Glen and me that apart from the monstrous delays in building the boat there was now a delay in bringing the boat back. He said the boat had been launched on Saturday and was supposed to come straight to Antigua. That was Tuesday evening and there had been no sign of the boat. He also told us that Festus Isaac, the manager of Jolly Harbour Marina, was the one bringing the boat back with a small crew. It’s usually a pretty easy sail usually reaching across below the islands. The longest you would have to be in the open sea is about 50 miles on the last leg from Guadeloupe. Anyway, we finished our beer and said goodnight. Yesterday I had business to do in town and just got back into Jolly Harbour when I got a call from Derek, the owner of Caribbean Real Estate which is the company that sponsored our fishing Team as well as this blog. They own a small plane and employ Bruce who happens to be Festus Isaac’s son. Derek told me that nobody had seen or heard from Festus since he left St. Vincent on Saturday afternoon. Derek who was in Miami heard about this from his pilot Bruce and gave him permission to use the plane to go look for his father. Derek wanted me to go since I knew about boats and the passages. What he didn’t know was that I had been involved with another search for a missing friend who was on the same route many years before. I immediately hoped we would have better results. On our last search we spent two days in a plane scanning the ocean looking for Inigo Ross and his lovely girlfriend. They had left St.Vincent on a hobie cat bound for St Lucia and had equipment failure. The St. Vincent Coast guard dropped the ball and didn’t notify the St. Lucia Coast guard. We only heard about it in Antigua after they had been drifting over night. Even though we had a good idea of where and when they started drifting we never found a thing. Looking at the rough sea below was extremely stressful and depressing. We tried various heights and search patterns and saw some bits and pieces of unrelated flotsam, a few families of dolphins and even schools of flying fish, but in the end we returned home without success. IT was awful and losing Inigo Ross who was the co-founder of Wadadli Cats was a huge blow to me and the island. He was a hero to many.
This time I was very worried once again because we had no idea when they ran into trouble and even worse we had no idea where to start looking. Even the computer searching models that ABSAR had couldn’t really help us. I grabbed Jordan from JHR Caribbean who speaks French in case we needed to speak with any authorities in the French Islands and took off to the airport. Festus’ son Bruce is actually the co-pilot as Martin is the main man behind the helm. I had grabbed a hand held VHF radio from Jolly Harbour Marina. All the employees there were in shock. Everyone loves Festus and we were all very worried. The first people to be concerned about the late arrival were actually Festus’ family. The owner and manager of Kokomo didn’t seem or appear to think that anything was wrong. Bruce was quite frustrated over the phone as you would imagine. I made about 20 phone calls trying to get as much info before we got into the plane. The boat had never had proper sea trials. They didn’t have a life raft. They didn’t have a dinghy. They didn’t have life jackets. They didn’t have an EPIRB which I spoke about on my big crossing blog. They didn’t have a satellite phone. They guys on board didn’t have visas to enter the French islands in between (Martinique and Guadeloupe). They didn’t have roaming on their cellular phones. The picture wasn’t looking pretty at all, but I told Bruce that the last two facts could be very positive reasons why we hadn’t heard from them. If they had run into a little trouble and ducked into one of the islands where they couldn’t use their mobiles and couldn’t clear customs and immigration, then maybe they just couldn’t get in touch. I told him that they were probably just off shore limping back into Antiguan waters as we spoke. I was hoping this would be true. The fuel was finally topped up and we boarded the aircraft. We didn’t get proper clearance so the plan was actually to return to Antigua that night whatever the result. If we had to look more we would leave Antigua early the next morning. While they were doing their last checks and speaking with the tower I sent a text to my crew, family and girlfriend to say that I would be returning later that night. I was waiting for the last of the texts to be delivered when a call from the Manager of Kokomo. As I answered it, Bruce was instructed to tell me to turn off my phone. Interference was coming through on their headphones as they were speaking with the tower. It didn’t matter……..Her words were clear to me: “They have been found!”
I grabbed Bruce as he turned to tell me off and have him the good news. It’s a good thing I had been a little naughty with my phone otherwise we would have been out there searching in the Caribbean Sea until dark seeing nothing but haze and unforgiving waters.
Up until now, I don’t have the story but obviously something went very wrong for them to end up in Saba over four days after they left port. I am so happy that this story had a happy ending. I don’t need to say what lessons should have been learned here as it’s pretty obvious from the facts above. This was a near disaster and I think there needs to be a day when all boats going off-shore are required to carry EPIRBS. I don’t leave home without mine.

1 comment:

libertyful said...

It's always so easy, particularly in the Caribbean, to be seduced by the crystal clear turquoise waters around our coastlines, but we should never forget that the sea is a cruel mistress and anyone who deals wih her should be constantly vigilant. I have had several friends and aquaintances lost at sea. The nighmarish quality of the panic that sets in when the 'missing at sea' call comes in is hard to describe. Well done to all who heed that call, whether it's by plane, helicopter or rescue vessel. Thank goodness, in this case, your friends are safe. I hope they will be better prepared before they set out on another inter-island voyage.. and I hope that this blog serves as a cautionary tale to all those who believe 'it could never happen to me'. Never underestimate the power of nature....