Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lost at sea

 My father’s first powerboat was an 18 foot Glastron built by a man named Lee. We named it C Ghym -  from the initials of our names, and pronounced Jim for the youngest of us. C Ghym was small and fast. There was no bigger thrill than to sit on her bow and bounce over waves - turning choppy in the late evening – on the way back to the Yacht Club from Scotland Bay. 

Dad entered C Ghym in the Production Class of the annual Great Race which went from Trinidad to Grenada in those days. He won trophies, but the stories were the real prizes. The one that stuck with me was the return to Trinidad in driving rain, losing sight of the flotilla of returning boats. I believe my mother and Jimmy were with him that time, huddled under towels, water whipping their faces as they headed into the wind, until the patrol boat came back to find them. Were there life vests? A radio? Emergency supplies?

"The sea have no branch," my father used to say, a warning when - as kids - we would venture too far from shore on our holidays at the beach. He himself felt no fear in his boat. After the C Ghym, there was Cannon, an unsinkable Bowen 24-foot fibreglass hull and inboard engines. This is the boat that carried him towards Venezuela in late 1983. 

It started out as the usual Saturday fishing lime. His partner was supposed to bring a battery to start the inboards. Ranji and his friend Kenny were the crew. Even though they had said they would be back before dark, I waited past eight before contacting the Club where a fete was in progress. It was probably the only time I ever looked at an entire Best Village Queen Show on local television. When, after 11, the person at the Yacht Club kept insisting that Mr Wongchong was at the bar, I asked to speak with him - it was my uncle! He was despatched to check whether Cannon was back in its shed. No, the cars were still there. 

Raising an alarm at midnight raised only eyebrows at the Coast Guard. "Ma'am,  the fellas must be liming in a bay somewhere," I was told with a wink and a smile. That night a few powerboat buddies did go out, but even the full moon could not light every hidden bay. And by that time, they were halfway to Grenada on a rising tide. 

Minutes crawled into Sunday. Without sleep, I worried that the three-month child in my womb would be born without father or grandfather, but didn't give up hope. We hired a light airplane and my sister's husband and a friend went up to search from the sky. The Coast Guard was searching Trinidad's territorial waters; as were other boat owners. My husband's brother arrived. Everyone worrying, making a plan to send the light airplane up again when daylight returned.

It was past nine on Sunday night when Kenny's girlfriend called to say that the lost had been found and were at the Coast Guard station in Chaguaramas, towed there by a Venezuelan pirogue.

The drifters' adventure is a story by itself. Who brought the half dead battery? The anchor didn't hold when the engine wouldn't start, but dragged at the end of hundreds of feet of line, acting as a drag as they drifted north to Grenada in the deep; and then turned south in the current running off Venezuela. The fish they caught was put to dry - stinking up the boat. Using the hood as a sail to slow the drag of the current and to be visible. Going a hair's breath away from the prow of a big tanker. Waving t-shirts to catch the attention of other boaters - who waved back. The Venezuelan fishing boat coming straight to them, turning at the last minute, and only by chance someone in the back spotted the desperate crew.

What they saying, Dad asked. You hungry? You thirsty? Say yes, say yes, tell them to tie us on. And so they were towed to the Venezuelan coastal village, Guiria, where my father went ashore, bought rice, and arranged for another boat to bring them back to Trinidad. Such are the mishaps that make adventures.  

1 comment:

  1. My favourite story as a child and now as an adult.

    But stories like this are only great because everything turned out ok