Year in review: Five missing boaters never found

The Cayman Islands saw a grim start to 2010 with a marine
tragedy believed to be one of the worst in the country’s history.

Five boaters, 36-year-olds Raynel Wood and Astor Range,
28-year-old Josh Gilman, 19-year-old Jeamie Avila and 13-year-old Michelle
Wood, left Newlands dock in a Jamaican canoe Sunday morning, 10 January, 2010
and headed into the North Sound.

They were never heard from again.

All of the boaters lived in Cayman, but 13-year-old
Michelle Wood was attending school in Honduras.

After about a week of
steady, continuous searches of the North Sound and the sea outside its barrier
were only able to recover a few articles of clothing believed to have belonged
to the missing boaters. 

The condition of the seas Monday, 11 January – indeed –
throughout the entire week – made many volunteer and professional rescue crews
wonder why the boaters decided to go out in swells as high as 12 feet.

The answer to that question – why – began around the
holiday season, according to Josh Gilman’s father-in-law.

“They were planning on taking that boat to Honduras,”
said John Gaustad. “Josh had made that trip before in a dory (type of canoe).

“He was definitely itching to go on that trip. He had
that look in his eye – a young man going to Honduras on a boat. He was

Mr. Gilman was a well-known boat repairman, particularly
known in Cayman for his excellent work in painting watercraft. His biological
father, Charlie Gilman, did the same work in the Islands decades ago.

Mr. Wood, who owned the craft, sent it to Mr. Gilman to
fix. Work in shoring up the hull and outfitting it with a new engine was under
way during the two-week Christmas holiday period – and by the first weekend of
2010, the 26-footer was apparently set.

Mr. Gaustad was
keeping the craft tied up to the sailboat where he and his wife – Mr. Gilman’s
mother – stay in the Rackley’s area of Newlands. The canoe was kept tied to the
larger sailboat on the water side so the low craft wouldn’t float under the
dock and get stuck or damaged.

He said he heard someone Sunday morning untying the canoe
to take it out.

‘It took him eight
times before he could get the engine to start,’ Mr. Gaustad said.

Mr. Gaustad said he didn’t realise Mr. Gilman had gone on
the boat with the others until Mr. Wood’s wife and Mr. Gilman’s girlfriend came
looking for them on Sunday night, 10 January, after 10pm. According to friends
of the Wood family, Mr. Wood’s wife was due to go on the trip but didn’t
because she had to work on Sunday.

Mr. Avila, who worked
as a fire fighter at the West Bay station, was initially scheduled to do a
Sunday shift but took time off to go on the trip.

‘At this stage, I’m just hoping that they find him,’ said
Chief Fire Officer Dennom Bodden, adding that there have only been two
firefighters who have died while they were still in the employ of the Cayman
Islands Fire Service in his 37 years there. ‘I don’t want him to be the third.’

Mr. Range was a long-time employee of LIME (formerly
Cable and Wireless) where he worked in IT. His young son spent most of the day
Monday, 11 January, standing on the Newlands dock awaiting news.

‘I’ve known Astor for 20 years,’ Mr. Ian Tibbetts, a LIME
executive said. ‘I don’t want to think about him being gone.’

Royal Cayman Islands Police Marine Unit crews believe a
26-foot canoe carrying the 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.