Royal Cayman Islands Police Marine Unit crews believe a 26-foot canoe carrying five boaters began taking on water in the North Sound Sunday morning but didn’t actually become swamped until it got outside the sound’s protective reef near the Rum Point channel.
The craft was found capsized, but marine crews said it was likely the low-riding canoe simply took on too much water and sunk.
Captain Hugh Bush, pilot of the 65-foot Guardian patrol boat – the largest in the Cayman Islands fleet – gave the Caymanian Compass a first-hand experience of some of the conditions those missing boaters may have faced last weekend.
Major swells of eight to 10 feet hammered the Guardian as it pulled close to the North Sound reef during searches Wednesday morning. Waves were so fierce that boat passengers were lifted from their seats and waves crashed far over the gunwale and into the windshield of the large craft.
‘And this is 65-foot of boat,’ Captain Bush said Wednesday. ‘Now, imagine a 26- or 28-foot canoe in 17-foot swells. It’s crazy.’
Inside the Guardian, Captain Bush has a detailed chart of the North Sound pinpointing where the 26-foot canoe was located and the currents moving away from it.
Police and volunteer crews are now searching these areas in hopes of finding any clues as to the five missing boaters’ fates.
The five, identified as 36-year-olds Raynel Wood and Astor Range, 28-year-old Josh Gilman, 19-year-old Jeamie Avila and 13-year-old Michelle Wood, have not been seen or heard from since they left Newlands dock in the canoe Sunday morning.
All of the boaters lived in Cayman, but 13-year-old Michelle Wood was attending school in Honduras from where her family originally hails. Michelle was due to return to Honduras today.
The group’s cell phones were last pinpointed to an area of the North Sound near Rum Point around 9.40am Sunday – some two-and-a-half hours after they departed.
Searches by both police and volunteers continued Wednesday, but the weather had worsened and smaller craft simply couldn’t traverse the huge swells in the northern section of the sound.
A Department of Environment crew searching near Rum Point found a pair of pants and the RCIPS patrol boat Tornado located an orange shirt during Wednesday morning searches. But it was unclear at press time if those clothes belonged to the missing boaters.
Three lifejackets and a jacket found in a dry bag during Tuesday’s searches did not belong to the boaters, police said
Divers were able to operate within the North Sound, but Wednesday morning the weather remained too rough to allow divers near or outside the reef.
The police had no shortage of volunteers for the task
During the early morning hours Wednesday, marine unit officers were met with a steady stream of volunteers offering their assistance.
Two brothers from the UK, Matt and Mike Hare said they were taking a couple of days off work at their welding company to pitch in.
‘We got plenty of work to do, but we just wanted to come help out,’ said Matt, who knew Josh Gilman from the marina where he worked.
Joey Scott also stopped by the RCIPS AvCom building Wednesday, offering to participate in dive searches,
‘To me, it’s my civic duty,’ Mr. Scott said.
As searches continued, it appeared some family members of the victims were starting to lose hope of finding their loved ones. Arrangements were being made at press time for a memorial service for Mr. Gilman.
Police also said that numerous – apparently false – reports of human remains being found around Grand Cayman since Monday were beginning to wear on the families as the search wore on.