Back in 2009 I was living and working on the Island of Nevis, a small sister Island to St.Kitts which was separated by a small body of water called the Narrows, I regularly ran day charters between the Islands and had a contract with the Four Seasons in Nevis and the Marriott Hotel group in St.Kitts to take their guests on snorkel and sightseeing tours, it was a dream job for a sailor from the UK, steady trade winds, warm waters and an endless supply of happy hotel guests looking for a sailing adventure, my favorite time was at the end of the day sailing back to my anchorage after a full day trip with some money in my pocket, the sun going down and some cool reggae playing one the boats sound system, life was good.
So one day I hear that the local water-sports company was selling off some old sailing tri-marans as business had become tough after the 2008 financial crash, they were very reasonably priced so I decided to buy all three and make one good one out of all the parts, I looked up the manufacturer on line and the boats were called Windrider, a 17’ three hull design with a center hull two outrigger hulls and a space for the “pilot” with a windscreen that looked like a Spitfire cockpit, the yachts were touted as unsinkable so what could possibly go wrong?…
At weekends or when I did not have a charter I started sailing the Tri in the waters around Nevis, I know the area pretty well by now, I became more and more confident sailing just for fun, sometimes venturing offshore and pushing the little boat to its maximum performance and sometimes beyond, it was a lot of fun and often very wet as the design was really aimed for flat water and not boisterous trade wind conditions, the area I sailed was between two reasonably sized Islands so the current and tides accelerated through the narrow gap and often caused the sea to become quite large and confused with wind over tide situations, this would be exaggerated during Spring tides when the moon was full and the tides at maximum flow.
One Sunday afternoon I decided to go out for a sail, totally impromptu and not telling anyone where I was going, I jumped in the car, drove to the beach, rigged the boat and off I went, it was blowing around 16-17 knots that day, I knew as the waves were just starting to cap and and billow little white bubbles off the surface, it was going to be a great sail, I set off to St.Kitts at a brisk clip the Easterly trades accelerating through the gap between the Islands, I must have been doing close to 7 or 8 knots not really sure it did not matter I was having a blast, whilst sailing I noticed the boats performance starting to drop off a little, I was sailing hard on the wind, tacking back and forth but it seemed one tack was favorable to the other, the boat was a good bit faster on a starboard tack than on a port tack, I did not pay too much attention and carried on sailing, eventually growing tired and about two miles from my anchorage and heading out past the channel I turned back onto a port tack and headed for home, immediately I realized sometime was wrong, the starboard hull was low in the water and the boat was slowing down, and then as if someone had just slowed down time I watched the starboard hull snap off and disappear below the surface, followed by the canoe centre hull that I was sitting in, literally filling with water and sinking beneath me, it took seconds, I was in trouble…
I only had one option and that was to ditch the hull and swim for Booby Island, even at that time I did not think I was really in that much trouble, I should have headed back to St.Kitts but I was not thinking rationally, I could only think of getting home, so I started swimming, it was not easy as the waves were kicking up a bit and I was swallowing some water, every drop was phsically draining me and I could see that it was easy to get into a panic, but I focused on my task in hand and got on with it, all of a sudden I felt a wave of what I can only describe as a complete calmness and serenity pass over me, I knew nobody was going to save me, it was up to me, drown here in the water or swim home, stark reality, nothing else, so I swam, I concentrated on my breathing, sang a song in my head to keep a rhythm and had just one focus, to get home and see my daughter again, that’s the only thing I could think of, seeing her again it kept me going.
I was soon close to Booby Island, the little Rock is named that from the Booby birds that use it to spot for fish, a lonely outcrop covered in guano and surrounded by sharp reefs and rocks, I stopped for a bit, treaded water and decided not to try and land, my thinking was it would be dark in a few hours and nobody would see me there or start searching until the morning, Nevis did not look that far, (it was actually another 1.5 miles to the anchorage) so I decided to carry on, I had got a rhythm, the sea was starting to settle as the afternoon heat from the land moderated the trade winds, I knew I could make it, I had one focus to get to the beach. As soon as I left the safety of the little Island I could feel the pull of the current sweeping my sideways away from my destination, I had to swim at an angle of about 30-40 degrees upwind of my destination to make any good progress, that meant I was going to have to swim further but I never decided to turn back, I had to carry on regardless and get back to land before dark, the thought of swimming in the dark started to scare me, I did not want that, I knew the water was warm enough to stay in indefinitely but what lurked beneath started to play on my mind, fear would unsettle me I had to stay focused on the task in hand, a small airplane flew directly over my head, I stopped swimming and tried to wave but it was hopeless, he could not see me, not even a spec in the ocean, at that point I started to worry again, I swallowed a bit of water, I lost my rhythm and realized this was it, sink or swim so I carried on.
I think it took me about 4 hours in total, I’m not really sure looking back but the sun was setting as I pulled myself up on the beach, I was totally exhausted, physically spent, I could not walk my legs were jelly, as the adrenaline wore off I started to collapse, I knew I could get secondary growing from water in my lungs so I had to be careful, the guys at the beach picked me up and drove me home, I slept for 24hrs.
I have not told many people about this episode nearly everyone the few people I told asked me the same question, did you panic but one person a spiritual guy when I told him about the calmness that swept over me, he was not surprised and said maybe I was a sailor in a previous life that had drowned, who knows but it gave me a strange sort of comfort to hear that as I had been searching for a reason to why I felt so calm, but now its out there and you all know my story, I would love to hear your thoughts.