Two-man crew was run-ning out of food, water
Update 10am Friday: Royal Cayman Islands Police officials confirmed that Westley Dixon and Jorge Diaz arrived home safe on Grand Cayman at around 9.30am Friday.
Westley Dixon fishes for a living.
He knows what he’s doing and often makes trips for days out on the open sea in
his watercraft, the Renegade.
But Mr. Dixon’s and crew mate Jorge
Diaz’s ordeal over the past week-and-a-half would have pushed the limits of
even the most experienced Caymanian seamen.
“It don’t matter how good you are,
you’re going to be worried,” Mr. Dixon said over the telephone from Cayman Brac
on Thursday. “I had no power, so I never even had lights. If one of them big
tankers crosses too close, a wave will hit you and roll you over.”
Mr. Dixon and Mr. Diaz left Grand
Cayman on Monday, 9 August, for a fishing trip out to Pickle Bank – 50 miles
northwest of Little Cayman – and on Wednesday, 11 August, they became stranded
when the Renegade’s battery died.
The men had planned on a long
fishing trip — about five days. They ended up getting stranded at sea for 10
and eventually had to be rescued by the joint Marine Unit with assistance from
the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service helicopter. Mr. Dixon said he’s never
been stranded at sea for so long.
“That was my longest stay,” he
said. “I don’t want to make that stay again.”
The two men were properly supplied
for the trip and had taken an extra weeks’ worth of food and water with them.
However, by Wednesday, 18 August, they had just about a day’s supply of fresh
water left and enough food for the rest of the day.
Contingency plans were in place. If
the need arose, the men could have allowed ice in their coolers to melt for
fresh drinking water.
And they are fishermen, after all.
“You can just put a line in the
water, get a fish and eat that,” Mr. Dixon said.
But the veteran seaman admits that
nervous-time began to set in.
“We were looking west all day,
looking for someone to come,” he said. “(Jorge) was getting panicky. It was
Mr. Dixon said an oil tanker passed
fairly close to their position on Tuesday. The fishermen couldn’t reach the
tanker because the small craft wouldn’t start and the larger craft wasn’t able
to come so close in to Pickle Bank, which is in shallower water. He fired a
distress flare in the ship’s direction and hoped for the best. At that point,
the idled Renegade began drifting.
“The hardest part in actually
finding a vessel is when it starts to drift and that’s the importance of the
Air Support Unit (helicopter),” said RCIPS Inspector Bennard Ebanks, who helped
coordinate search and rescue efforts from Grand Cayman on Wednesday.
By Wednesday morning, RCIPS had
been alerted to the situation by Mr. Dixon’s daughter, who had become worried
about him being gone so long. The helicopter headed toward Pickle Bank and spotted
the men just before 2pm Wednesday, but it took another 10 hours to get the
fishermen and their boat to Cayman Brac, where they spent most of Thursday
trying to get the craft repaired.
Mr. Ebanks said another fisherman,
Darwin McLean, had heard reports about the missing fishermen Wednesday on his
radio and came into the marine unit to inform officers of where he had spotted
the two men the week before. Mr. McLean provided approximate coordinates of
where Mr. Dixon and Mr. Diaz were last seen.
“It was a great help and gave us an
area to pinpoint,” Inspector Ebanks said.
Also assisting in the rescue
efforts were the preparations and planning by the two fishermen, who had flares
and proper supplies on board with them. In this case, Mr. Ebanks said, it probably
saved their lives.
“It was just a situation where
everything came together and many people were able to assist in rescuing these
men,” he said.
For Mr. Dixon’s part, he said he
intended to leave Cayman Brac around midnight Friday, assuming he could find a
battery for the watercraft. If all goes as planned, he would be back home by
mid-day Friday, 20 August.