Found at Sea

On Friday May 13th, 1994, two friends, two other SCUBA divers and I were lost at sea after a dive off the coast of Fiji. That day, an act of luck in the form of a yacht from Boston plucked our soggy bottoms out of the Fijian ocean. I can't recall if in the excitement of the rescue I managed to thank our unnamed heros, but it was their superb navigation that allowed me to be here today. We
Author:
Updated:
Original:
LOST@sea

On Friday May 13th, 1994, two friends, two other SCUBA divers and I were lost at sea after a dive off the coast of Fiji. That day, an act of luck in the form of a yacht from Boston plucked our soggy bottoms out of the Fijian ocean. I can't recall if in the excitement of the rescue I managed to thank our unnamed heros, but it was their superb navigation that allowed me to be here today.

We had set out for a drift dive, which would be the last dive of our eight-month, post-college adventure around Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. It was a bit of a windy day, but we trusted our dive master as we donned full kit and headed out to sea. The dive was spectacular—sharks, schools of fish and a high-speed current that made you feel like an aquatic superwoman. When we surfaced, our boat was fairly far away, which is not unusual with a drift dive. If it drifts, the typical procedure is to inflate your dive signal tube, wait for the boat driver to notice you, and then get picked up. In our case, there was one tragic piece missing: our boat's driver had fallen asleep. We drifted away. The current that had made our dive so exciting now served as a swift ride into the open ocean, as mainland Fiji slid away into a shadowy hill.

The first hour was mildly entertaining. We were sure the boat would come, so we sang and took pictures. At 21, we all thought we were indestructible; a little drifting was just an annoying delay to our next fruity beverage.

At hour three, we started to shiver and to panic. We hadn't seen a boat and we could barely see land. To add to the excitement, the dive master spotted some fish turbulence in the distance and called us into a "shark huddle." We had no option to swim around the fish scrum, so we joined arms, lifted up our dangling legs and floated through the frenzy.

LOST@seaflipper

At hour four, we started to swim for mainland. In retrospect, perhaps we should have done that earlier, but a combination of "the bends" and the exertion it would have required had our dive master emphatically refusing to do so. Besides, he said, if we made it to Fiji, we would only be crushed on the reef. That was reason enough for me to postpone, but with dusk creeping in, we were getting nowhere except for a great deal further from land.

By this time the winds had picked up to create 10-15 feet swells. Our tired, thirsty and discouraged bodies could barely put out the effort to carry on, so I flipped onto my back to swim. I was more comfortable swimming that way and it kept my face out of the water.

And that's when I spotted our miracle. Through the troughs I saw it—a big, beautiful boat. We started screaming and flailing our arms as our bodies bounced through the roller coaster waves. It took us about half an hour to get their attention and have them turn toward us. They had heard the distress call about some lost divers, happened to be in the area where we surfaced, and were familiar with the Fijian currents. That was enough for them to track us down. There were 10 local boats, two planes and a helicopter searching in an entirely different place and the only boat that tracked us down was visiting Fiji from Boston. What are the odds?

shirtlessmen

While we were drifting, we promised that if we were rescued, we would live a good life—be good people, contribute to the world, tell the people we love how much we appreciate them. As often happens, we returned home, the shock wore off, and we kept only some of those promises.

Still, every May 13 I am reminded of my promise to celebrate life, and of the importance of diligent navigation. I don't know if we ever thanked our unnamed heroes that took the time and had the skills to find us, but if anyone recognizes these guys, please give them a hug for me and thank them for being excellent seamen. Then, hug your family, your friends, your dog. Smile at a stranger, pursue your dreams and have your best day ever – every day. Then repeat. If you ever get lost at sea, four hours is a long time to review your list of wishes and regrets.

Related

QuarterdeckBuildingWatercolor

Bitter End Yacht Club 2.0

Amid the widespread devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria when they swept across the northern Caribbean in September 2017, the destruction of the iconic Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands was particularly keenly felt by sailors. The ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com The back door Satisfied with your headsails? So was I, until one day I took a long, hard look up the luff of my genoa, making sure I inspected the leeward side as well. The sail had plenty of life ...read more

02-Lydia12-01

Losing Sight of Shore

I arrived on the docks of Beaufort, North Carolina, in late April with two backpacks filled with new gear—everything I’d need for my first offshore passage. Though I’d been sailing for 16 years, graduating from dinghies to keelboats to a J/122, I’d spent my time racing and, in ...read more

Squall

The Face of a Squall

They are the worst of times, they are the best of times There’s a fabulous line from an old Paul Simon song that I often sing to myself while sailing: I can gather all the news I need from the weather report. It is part of the magic of sailing, this ancient process by which we ...read more

ntcktshtrstk

Cruising Southern New England Waters

One of the most wonderful childhood vacations I can remember was back in 1971 when my best friend invited me to his family’s summer home on Nantucket Island. For a 10-year-old kid, this was a thrilling trip for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact it was also my ...read more

IMG_8287GR16Mykonos

Cultural Charters: Mykonos

In last month’s column, I covered the amazing mix of cultures that have called the Dalmatian Coast home over the centuries. Croatia cruising is like a smorgasbord of intertwined centuries, and the islands are a movie set. A little farther south, though, you’ve also got Greece, ...read more

cookinglead

Cruising: No Oven? No Worries

Many cruising boats, especially smaller ones, don’t have a conventional oven. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have all the baked foods you want, from bread to brownies to breakfast rolls to casseroles and even a roast chicken. All it takes is the right bit of gear and a ...read more