ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Fishing buddies David Mendes-Wynter and John Watt are stressing the importance of packing safety gear and equipment when venturing out to sea following a recent mishap that caused their boat to capsize, leaving them stranded in rough waters for hours.
Had it not been for the waterproof handheld radio they had packed, the two are certain the worst could have happened – death.
While acknowledging that safety measures are probably practiced by most fishermen and others who go out to sea often, the duo reiterated that a good quality radio, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) navigational aid, a flare gun and flares, food and life jackets are “must have” pieces.
“We had a grab bag which was strapped in the boat and in it we had a hand held water proof radio, life jackets and stuff to eat. When the boat overturned we retrieved the bag and some fishing equipment because we expected we might have been stranded out there for at least a night if we didn’t make a mayday connection,” Captain Mendes-Wynter said.
He said it was nothing short of a miracle, that after trying to make contact over the radio for more than an hour, they got a response from Antigua & Barbuda Search and Rescue (ABSAR).
“We were out about 20 miles north east of Antigua and the radio is rated for a range of only five miles so we weren’t certain we’d make contact. We were expected back about 10 pm so no one would have realised we were missing until after that time. So for a while we were getting hopeless. When we heard a voice on the radio asking us our location it brought tears to my eyes,” the young seaman said.
The voice was that of Jonathon Cornelius who heads ABSAR. Cornelius picked up the signal on channel 16 on the VHF radio feed off his antenna atop Mount Hill.
“We told him our co-ordinates off the GPS and learned we had been drifting between Barbuda and St Kitts when we thought we were closer to Antigua. From then on we were in contact via radio and were told an oil tanker would help. But when that failed Jonathon said a helicopter from Guadeloupe would rescue us,” the seaman recalled.
Less than an hour after the successful mayday call, the friends were safely landed in Antigua following the rescue operation organised by ABSAR, MT Tromso and the Guadeloupe Rescue Helicopter Team.
“Many, many thanks to those who rescued us. We shook hands already but many, many thanks again,” the seaman said on his and Watt’s behalf.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)