Friday, February 23, 2007

Stop the press!!!! Adventure Antigua crew saves lives!

I will get back to the history of sugar and more about our adventure to and from Barbados after today’s news blog about a life even that happened today.

Even before it happened I was thinking about writing about how happy I was with Tony and Francis for their extra efforts last night and today. We had big problems this week again with two things on the eco boat. One was an engine water cooling pipe that burst way back behind the engine. It was impossible to get to without taking the entire engine out. We didn't want to cancel trips so Tony somehow like a great contortionist, managed to squeeze himself in the most terrible position while the engine was still hot in order to stop the water leak. We were there until past 8 pm last night. That was on the left engine. The right engine was fine but had "spun" a prop with all the extra work it was doing. Francis jumped into the nasty Jolly Harbour marina water with tools this morning and managed to change the damaged prop for one that was given to us (free of charge) by the saintly people A1 Marine. He had to hold his breath for ages in the murky water holding heavy tools to get the job done. Neither he nor Tony moaned a bit. They knew these things had to be done in order for the tour to function properly and jumped into action without a question.
That was before the start of the tour today.
At about 11 am today I get a call from Jonathan Cornelius of ABSAR (Antigua and Barbuda Sea and Air Rescue) who is telling me he's just heard my boat calling the coast guard to request medical support. Jonathan said he couldn't hear properly but thought he heard something about "taking on water". Could the unimaginable be happening? How? I immediately got on the phone with Tony who as skipper is required to have his phone on him while at the helm. No reply! I tried three more times before I got through. I asked desperately what the hell was going on.
Tony, almost out of breath, starts telling me that he and Francis had just saved 6 school children and one adult. They just pulled up into the mangrove habitat between Guiana Island and the mainland where there is a small channel that is commonly known as The Narrows. As they arrived, they came upon a chaotic and horrific situation. There were 7 people drowning right in the middle of The Narrows. The water there is between 6 and 12 feet deep and the channel between the island and mainland is about 70 feet wide. Apparently a school group of about 30 kids with between 3-5 adults had been trying to get from the mainland to the island using a kayak. It would appear that not one of the group knew how to swim properly. This fact may be hard for people outside of Antigua to believe, but I assure you that this is the norm here in Antigua. Only a fraction of our population knows how to swim outside of shoulder depth. Sad but true.
Anyway, they speed up to the immediate area, and Tony grabs the boat fenders and jumps off the boat. There is one child almost lifeless on the bottom 8 feet below and two others beneath the surface going down. Three others are flailing on the surface with a helpless adult. All of them appeared to be in the process of drowning. Because Tony had left the fenders on the surface for the people who hadn't yet sunk below, he was able to swim down and clutch onto the almost lifeless girl. As soon as she made the surface she began to vomit water as Tony took her to the mainland. Francis had already left Louis at the helm of the boat and had joined Tony in the water. He also took a child from below the surface. I think Tony made it back for the other and together with Francis managed to help get all seven to the shore. One of the Eco Tour guests actually jumped in to help as well. We had a full boat of guests while all of this was happening. In the bacchanal, Louis had the good thinking to throw an anchor to keep the boat close allowing him to keep the engines out of gear.
Tony tells me that he was totally blown away with the body's ability to hang on to life. He was sure that one of the girls was going to die......but she managed to involuntary throw up all that sea water in order to survive.
After getting back on the boat, Francis called the coast guard to let them know of the situation. One of the adults had a car on the mainland side and assured our crew that they were ok and could go along on their tour. I had called back Jonathan at ABSAR and told him that from the report Tony had given me, I thought an ambulance was a good idea even though everyone seemed to be stable.
There are several crazy things to add to this story which just make you wonder.
The first thing to consider is that I hired Jonathan from ABSAR to do a proper marine first aid course for my crew all day this last Saturday and all day on Monday. Some of the crew had done it before and some were new to first aid and sea rescue. One of the things he told them during the two days of instruction was that if they ever had to jump in the water to save someone in trouble, they should not go empty handed. "Take something that a fender or life ring or jackets". Louis tells me that if Tony hadn't taken the fenders when he first hit the water then there is no way that all of them would have been saved.
The second thing that is strange is that if Tony and Francis hadn't gotten the boat working properly by putting in the extra effort then we wouldn’t have come all the way that far into The Narrows. We hadn't been there this week at all until today!
One last thing that is strange is that the disaster just happened to be unfolding at the exact moment that my boat turned the corner into The Narrows.
I think this episode needs to spur some kind of positive action in several different areas. First I think the guys need some kind of hero award. I will speak to the Prime Minister's Office about that. Another thing that I would like to put some energy into is some sort of Swimming Trust Fund. The kids of this country should be able to swim. This is crazy. I think if the kids did swim the island would be a better place. Anyway, this is something for me and others to think about. In the meantime this is just a bit of news that involves some of my great crew.