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Bequia youths set sail, despite warnings not to venture out

Bequia youths set sail, despite warnings not to venture out


As Richard Ollivierre, 18, and Warren Hunte, 31, sat aboard a damaged sailboat on the open sea, in tropical storm conditions, from Friday morning to Saturday night, Ollivierre did not draw inspiration from the seven days in 1997 his stepfather had spent drifting at sea before being rescued.{{more}}

“I was relying on my life itself — to take it back to shore,” the Bequia resident told SEARCHLIGHT on Sunday.

Ollivierre spoke shortly after he and Hunte had returned to Port Elizabeth aboard a speedboat from Kingstown.

The MV Barracuda — a ferry that sails between Kingstown and the Southern Grenadines — rescued the men Saturday night and took them to mainland St Vincent.

They had spent around 36 hours at sea, after a trip that should have taken them and 10 other young sailors — aged 12 to 31 — some four hours to sail to Carriacou.

They were hoping to win prizes in the regatta there, slated to end today.

But Hunte, the oldest of the group, told SEARCHLIGHT they were irresponsible in setting out around 9 a.m. Friday, while a tropical storm warning was in effect for this country.

The 12 youths were equally divided between the two sailboats: the “Iron Duke”, which dates back to 1876, and the smaller, 24 feet long, 6 feet wide, 15-year-old “Limbo Dance”.

Kimani James, an 18-year-old student who has been sailing since he was 7 and captain of “Limbo Dance” for five years, told SEARCHLIGHT on Sunday of their ordeal — a story of poor judgement, defiance, disobedience, skill, and luck.

He said that he did not want to sail to Carriacou Friday morning, but did so because of the urging of the crews and the owner of the boats, who sailed to the Grenadian island on a yacht.

On the way to Canouan, James said, wind broke “Limbo Dance’s” rigging and the men continued to sail, using the jib, with “Iron Duke” towing the damaged craft in the hope of making it to Union Island, south of Canouan.

After the sailors failed to reach Canouan, they tried to make it back to Bequia, towards the north.

“After we see we can’t make it, we camp back to Bequia,” James said, adding: “The tide been carrying we farer and farer [and] we [were] missing (failing to reach) land all the time.

“But it was “real[ly] gusty and [the] water [was] rough,” James said, adding that when they set out from Bequia, the water was calm, although it was raining.

“After we see this boat can’t mek (make) it, we say some can go over in the other boat (“Iron Duke”) and we could leh go tha’ boat (“Limbo Dance”) leh it drift ‘way.

“But some of the other guys decide not to come,” James said of Olliverre and Hunte, who, he said, were “drinking” and did not want to abandon the damaged “Limbo Dance”.

“They ain’t been want to listen and Warren is the oldest,” James said.

But as a squall came in, the rope connecting both boats snapped and “Limbo Dance”, with Ollivierre and Hunte on board, was missing when the weather improved.

James said that the sail mechanism on “Iron Duke”, with 10 men aboard, later broke.

They contacted residents of Canouan by cellphone, who said that they were seeing the boat at sea.

But no one, including the Coast Guard, which James said they also notified, came to their rescue.

“We say if we reach anywhere, St Vincent, St Lucia, anywhere,” James said of their attempt to reach land.

He said that while they were distressed by the failure to reach land, they were also “real[ly] upset” that Hunte and Olliverre were missing.

The youths were making their trip without any navigational equipment and had just 25 loaves of penny bread and eight litres (2 gallons) of water, in addition to some biscuits and juice.

“We don’t know how we mek it, but we mek it,” James said of their return to Bequia around 11 p.m. Friday night.

He said the water was still rough, but they saw the airport lights and knew that a beach was at one end of it.

It was the second time that James was experiencing a mishap at sea this year. The rudder of a sailboat broke on the way to Canouan and the “Iron Duke” had to tow the vessel to the Southern Grenadine Island, he said.

‘Scary’ experience

Kamal Bess, a 17-year-old mechanical engineering student at the Technical College, said that the experience was very scary.

“It felt really bad that those guys were not there with us. And the last moment that we saw them, the sight was in my head.

“… When we eventually got home, I was just seeing the image of the last time we saw the boat and of the time when we were telling them to come with us. The image was just there. … The image was just stuck in my head,” he said.

But Ollivierre, who studies carpentry at the Kingstown Technology Institute, maintained that “Limbo Dance’s” sail broke because of how it was rigged and not because of the weather.

“It wasn’t so bad. It was good. It had just enough wind,” he said of the sea conditions.

Asked why he disobeyed the captain’s order to abandon the damaged “Limbo Dance”, Ollivierre said: “I had my high hope that I could take the boat back to land.”

He further said that “in a kind of way” it was important to him to sail the boat back to land.

Ollivierre said that after being at sea for more than 24 hours, he saw the MV Barracuda and began sailing towards it.

“I sail the boat to them and they saw me and I hailed out to them and I told them I am in distress and I need some help,” he said.

“… We didn’t panic, we [weren’t] scared. If you panic and [get] scared, you can’t make it … You’re just going to give out,” he said of his hours aboard the damaged sailboat.

And after his second mishap at sea this year, Hunte said he is “happy to be back.”

While at sea, he felt “not too bad because I tell myself not to panic.

“I said man, this is the second time, so I had that experience already,” said Hunte, who, along with another man, was rescued by a yacht earlier this year after drifting for four hours, when the propeller of their powerboat fell off during a trip from Bequia to Kingstown.

He said that the group could learn “a lot” from last weekend’s experience.

“… Most likely being more safety [conscious] and being more responsible,” he said, adding that while he thinks it was irresponsible to set sail in those conditions, “we had hopes”.

The names of the other occupants of the boats were given as Mickel Joseph, 19; Enrique Gregg, 15; Kelly Bess, 21; Giovanni Chambers, 16; Devern Morgan, Javan Adams, Percival Miller, and Romario Ollivierre.