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Mar 11, 2012 News
Having survived the fury of the Atlantic Ocean for four days by clinging on to two life preservers tied together, Elbert Jack, 25, and Deochand Massidas, 17, have vowed to remain friends.
The pair, who met on Tuesday last for the first time since their life preservers separated two Saturdays ago, told Kaieteur News that it was each other’s strength and courage that kept them alive until they were rescued.
Jack and Massidas were crewmembers on the ill-fated tug, Chrisann V, which sank in the Atlantic Coast near the mouth of the Moruca River two Wednesdays ago. Unable to grip the rope, which once connected the barge and tug, the strangers tied their life preservers together and began drifting with the waves in the dark expanse.
Days after their ordeal, the young men recapped events leading to their rescue and even joked at some encounters that now seem amusing.
Though happy to be alive, memories of the great Atlantic swallowing the tug and men screaming for help still haunt them. The duo has revealed that the trauma has affected their ability to get a full night’s rest.
Jack, who was rescued by a crew aboard a speedboat, one day before some people rescued Massidas, said that he constantly jumps out of his sleep believing that he is still on water. This has been happening since he returned home two Saturdays ago.
Meanwhile, Massidas, who reached land before Jack, but was found a day later by a rescue team, finds it difficult to fall asleep; he watches television to tire his eyes and blank out the memory.
Reflecting on the accident, which has impacted their lives immensely, the pair expressed happiness to be alive, but quickly added that death was never an option since they were determined to reach land.
According to Jack, who was heading to the interior to work in the “gold bush”, the tug was scheduled to leave for the North West district three Saturdays ago but owing to it being grounded the journey was pushed back. Throughout the voyage, the tug experienced minor hiccups and eventually capsized on Wednesday evening.
Massidas reasoned that the amount of water that had rushed into in the boat made the disaster inevitable. He was making his second trip with the tug.
“The boat was taking in plenty water while I was in the engineer room helping to fix the engine. I left and go to my bunk and when I pressed my hand on the mattress, the force of the water spring it up and squeeze my hand. I pull out my hand and rush up to where the Captain (Vansluytman) was and I tried pulling him to jump off the boat. He didn’t move and I take a life ring and jump off the boat,” the teenager said.
The men recounted that in the water they responded to each other’s shouts for help. Tying their life preservers together after they met the men drifted with the waves, unable to determine where they were heading in the darkness.
Even, under the sun, they found it difficult to swim against the huge waves and powerful tides. Clinging on the life preservers the men allowed the waves to carry them but once the ocean was somewhat calm they began swimming to the “green bush” in the horizon.
“When we catch ourselves we realized that we kept going backwards instead of forward but we kept giving each other courage and continued to contemplate how to reach land,” Jack noted.
According to Massidas, on Thursday (the day after the mishap) they noticed a fishing vessel about 100 feet away. Utilizing Jack’s red trousers the duo tried feverishly to signal the boat but competing with the waves and the noise emanating from the engine of the vessel it was difficult to get anyone’s attention.
He added that they saw no crewmembers aboard the boat and suggested that the men were sleeping in their cabin. However, after five minutes the boat was out of range and once again they were alone – exhausted, thirsty and hungry.
Call it a miracle if you may, a pack of Mak C drink mix crossed the men’s path in the ocean. They opened the sealed packet, sweetened the saltwater and had their only source of energy for the next couple of days. That was the last thirst quencher Massidas consumed but Jack who has malaria in his system drank the saltwater occasionally.
Though the more they swam it seemed like land was further away, the pair continued their mission. Unknowingly, a strong bond developed between the two; they were no longer strangers.
Massidas recalled that in the wee hours of Saturday (fourth day of the mishap), he saw land and awoke Jack and they plotted how to swim in. But his partner was too tired and decided to continue sleeping, leaving Massidas to paddle both of them to shore.
However, in the midst of being heroic, the teenager too fell asleep. He awoke closer to land and realized that Jack was no longer with him. Apparently, Massidas’ life ring rope was rotten and eventually burst separating the life preservers.
“I shout for him but after I didn’t get any response, I swim to shore ((Kamwatta Beach). Even when I reached land I didn’t stop thinking of Jack wondering where he could be and if he alright. Being alone scared me,” Massidas stated.
Jack related that he too had awoken closer to land and suggested that it was probably Massidas’s efforts that led him there.
“From since the incident me and he deh together. When I wake up and I didn’t see him I start fuh shout for him. I was worried and scared because I didn’t know which part of the water he deh,” Jack said.
After several hours, Jack was rescued by a crew aboard a speedboat. Weak and unable to get into the speedboat on his own Jack told his rescuers about Massidas and the possibility of him being close by.
He was handed over to the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard and later transported to the Mabaruma Hospital. Even then, the thought of Massidas being lost at sea while he was on land affected him emotionally.
Meanwhile, Massidas was on Kamwatta Beach eating coconuts to curb the hunger pangs. He went in search of residents but did not find anyone. He was forced to sleep on the beach. The next morning he was rescued by a search team that comprised the dredge owner, for whom the tug was transporting the excavator before the tragedy took place.
Minutes after his discovery, the GDF coast guard which was also part of the search team arrived at the location.
Massidas has decided never to work again on sea while Jack said if he has to he would go. The young men are glad that they are both alive and rescued. They are worried about the other two missing crewmembers Captain John VanSluytman and Julian Garraway. They are optimistic that the men could be alive.
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