Wow. We had such a good night’s sleep last night. Sound sleep straight through until 7:30 AM. Nice. Today is a full day at sea. There’s just a light wind, and the seas are very calm. It’s hard to tell we’re moving at around 16 knots.
Pam headed off to the gym while I dawdled in the room. Finally headed up for breakfast an hour later, and pigged out on bacon, eggs, ham and grits. And some of the good coffee. Yum. We hung out for a couple of hours on the Lido Deck, trying to help the sun break completely through the partly cloudy skies. It was a nice warm morning, so the break from the sun wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I headed back to the room for a while and repacked my SCUBA gear for Grand Cayman diving tomorrow morning.
A couple of hours flew by, and when I looked out the window I noticed we were almost stopped dead in the water. I looked at one of the ship channels on TV and saw we were circling back to the north just a bit, very slowly. That’s odd. It was a little before 1 PM. I heard the ship’s bell and the cruise director came over the speaker system. He announced there was a small boat off our starboard side, apparently in distress. I walked out onto the balcony and there it was in the distance. Hmmm. I headed up to the Lido Deck and had a discussion with Pam about promptness (and my lack of it). Oops.
But just then I was saved by the ship’s bell. The cruise director came back on and let us know what he knew. It’s a small boat, they’re in some kind of trouble, we’re in contact with the US Coast Guard, awaiting instructions. Interesting. Drama at sea. I headed back down to the cabin and grabbed the cameras. Snapped a few pictures then uploaded them to my laptop. Zoomed in a bit more using the editing software and could count twelve people on board. And there probably were some more folks that I couldn’t see.
Some time passed and as we drew a bit closer the people on the boat started yelling and waiving, pointing off in the distance beyond their boat. And then we could see – there were three people in the water, one around a mile away from their boat, and two more even farther off in the distance. Jeez. That’s not good. What are they doing? Why would they abandon their perfectly stable and safe boat?
We watched the drama unfold over the next hour as the first swimmer made it safely back to his boat. Then, a while later, the other two finally made it safely back. Whew. Thank goodness. There’s no telling how long they’d been swimming. It was at least two hours, cause that’s how long they’d been in the water after we first saw them. Could they have been swimming toward our ship, trying to signal us? Crazy. Individuals are so small in the water, almost impossible to see unless you know exactly where to look. A boat is so much bigger, so much easier to spot. And as our ship came to a stop, we had circled around to the opposite side of the little boat, which left the swimmers a long way away. Maybe that’s what they were doing, but regardless, they’re very lucky to have made it safely back.
The ship’s bell rang again, and the cruise director made another announcement. For security reasons we can’t take the folks on board, but we’re going to send some food, water, and sunscreen over to them. Then he lets us know there are 22 people on board the little boat. Man, that’s packed. They’ve run out of gas and unfortunately our ship’s fuel isn’t compatible with their outboard engines. I snap a few more pictures and upload them. As I enlarge them
I notice the boat had a FLORIDA REGISTRATION.
Our rescue boat came around the stern of our ship. I looked at Pam. She had tears streaming down her face. These pitiful people, trying to escape from Cuba. This wasn’t people on TV news for just a couple of minutes and then gone to be forgotten. . . These were people we’d been watching for a couple of hours. At 3PM our rescue launch, loaded with supplies, pulled aside their boat. The people looked so relieved. Our boat made a couple of trips back and forth from our ship, carrying more goods and a doctor, to make sure they didn’t have any life-threatening problems. They were sunburned and dehydrated, and all but one looked to be in OK condition. One guy didn’t look so good, though.
The cruise director made another announcement. We still can’t take them on board. But there’s no way we can just leave them behind. The Coast Guard has a cutter on the way, and we’re going to remain in position until we hear otherwise from the Coast Guard. They’ll be here in seven hours or so. Wow.
We wait and they wait. They look a bit more comfortable now that they have food and water. We can hear them talking to each other and can see them smiling and laughing a bit. I’m sure they were terrified, drifting out in the middle of nowhere, uncertain of any rescue.
Hours pass. We move closer and refugee boat is now within a few feet our ship, right below our balcony. We hear someone from our ship having a discussion with them. Some start putting on shirts, shoes, socks; getting dressed. Someone throws something into the water. Then another. Fishing knives. A couple more go over the side of their boat. The ship’s bell sounds again, and the cruise director makes another announcement: the Coast Guard ship is having mechanical difficulty and will be severely delayed. We’re going to bring them on board. They’ll go through a security checkpoint, checked over in the infirmary, then moved to an isolated area of the ship and kept separate from everyone else. We’ll continue on to our next port (Grand Cayman) and they’ll be turned over to the proper authorities at some point.
More tears flow as they climb one-by-one from their boat onto the ship. As the first one safely makes it, people on our ship start to applaud. With three people remaining on board, one of the guys is passed a bucket of fluorescent orange paint and a roller brush. He is instructed to paint the bow of the boat, which will make it easier to spot. The last three people make it aboard and their boat is once again set adrift, this time without any passengers.
We’re now booking along, doing 23 knots, making up time. We’re still scheduled to arrive in plenty of time at Grand Cayman, so no delays there.