Yesterday there was an announcement by our cruise ship captain saying that we’d received a mayday signal and we were changing course to assist. The distress call had come from a yacht that was visible slightly to port about half an hour later. The boat was bobbing madly in the waves, without sails and apparently out of power, towing a damaged dingy and with a fluorescent life-vest hoisted on the main mast for extra visibility. It had taken a hawk-eyed bridge officer with binoculars to even find them, and that was after the diligent crew had accidentally come across a crackled SOS radio signal in the first place. On a clear day, you’d be lucky to radio a short distance of ten or fifteen nautical miles, probably a little further than can be seen with binoculars.
There were six people on the boat, they were obviously in bad shape, and extracting them was by no means a simple task for the rescue boat that was sent for them from the ship. The waves were throwing both boats around the place like ping-pong balls, and it took several attempts to approach the vessel in order to throw a rope to them. I suspect that there was also a need to circle around the boat once or twice at first for security reasons. Only people and passports were allowed, and a few questions were shouted from one boat to the other before anything else happened. Once the officer in charge of the rescue was satisfied that was no security risk, they started carefully transferring the passengers off the broken yacht. Luggage was left behind, as was the yacht, possibly to be dealt with later by the Coast Guard. Hundreds of cruise passengers were watching all of this intently from the upper decks, and there was a loud cheer for the crew when the six people were safely on board.
We later found out from the officers of the ship that the stranded passengers had been adrift for a whole month, and the last six days without food and water. The French-speaking passengers were all from Haiti, probably bound for a better life elsewhere in the Caribbean, but it’s equally possible that they were just on a weekend trip that went horribly wrong, who knows. The yacht had been overrun by a storm, it had run out of fuel, its rudder was smashed and both sets of sails were ripped in the attempt to reach Guadeloupe. Not only had the yacht been stranded for since the middle of November, but several other ships had apparently also passed by without stopping, either not seeing them or hearing their distress call.
The yacht’s hull had also been damaged the day before and the vessel was slowly taking on water and if we had been three hours later, the boat would have sunk. The captain of our ship later informed everyone about all of these details, and she also said that two of the women were pregnant. All were safe and had been given medical care, food, phone calls home and accommodation.