Going backward was the captain’s only course after boat took on water
Four local fishermen returned home safe and sound last week after a dramatic rescue at sea.
East End sea captain Sidney Jackson, 64, and crew Richard Bodden, David Bodden and Barthwell Bodden were rescued by marine officers assisted by helicopter last Wednesday after their 65-foot vessel El Tigre started taking on huge amounts of seawater about 74 miles off Grand Cayman.
The men were on their way to Pickle Bank for four to five days of fishing when the problem occurred.
“We intended to stay until Friday and be back home by Saturday morning…,” said Captain Jackson.
How it started
After getting clearance from Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority and picking up fuel, the crew took the vessel out of the North Sound Canal about 2.30pm Monday afternoon.
“We took our time and headed out the channel, everything was running smooth and fine and dandy. The weather was not the best so we were running the vessel about eight-and- a-half knots, not over-speeding, just taking our time,” said Captain Jackson.
Sometime around midnight, Captain Jackson said he checked the bilges and they were dry. “It was not until about 4am that morning Richard ran up to the wheelhouse and said water was down under the deck plates in the cargo hold.
“We stopped the vessel and started pumping, but by that time the bilge pumps in that section of the vessel had already killed the batteries and they would not work anymore,” he said.
“I scrambled to get the gas pumps, which we only used in an emergency and started pumping, then I got out the two-and-a-half ton discharge submersible 110 pump and that would not work. My engineer David Bodden then took it apart to see if he could get it working; when he finally got it started that also failed us,” said the captain.
With one failed pump after the other and to make matters worse, he said, something went wrong with the foot valve on the gasoline pump and that fell apart.
Never abandon ship
But there were no thoughts of abandoning ship for the seasoned sea captain, who said he has never been scared on the water because he always believed in God.
“In my lifetime I have dressed a lot of bodies, there comes a time when everyone has to die. I have never gotten panicky or was scared in a situation that I can remember. When God abandons me, it is time to go.”
So the crew kept busy picking up trash in the bilge room that was floating around while the engineer worked to get the pumps started again.
Captain Jackson took hold of the wheel, but because so much water had collected in the bow, he could not get the vessel to go forward -”That was when I made the decision to take the boat backward into Cayman from about 72-74 miles from land,” he said.
To make matters worse, he could not get contact with anyone on land because the boat was out of VHF radio range.
“We were just a few miles off Pickle Bank but I had no choice but to turn around because if we pushed it and made it to the bank, we would not have been able to get in contact with anyone.
“I tried calling Cayman Brac port and Raymond Scott but got no reply. It was not until I made contact with the Port Security in George Town 47 miles off Grand Cayman that we informed them of the situation.”
All that time, Captain Jackson said, they were moving backward at four knots and crewmen were trying to get the water out of the vessel the best they could.
When port security did get back to him, he gave them Mack McLean’s number.
He came by helicopter with two pumps, but unfortunately the influx of water was much more than the pumps could discharge.
“All this time I was coming backward until they came with a bigger pump and pumped some of the water to lift the bow. I turned the boat around and came in under the power of one engine assisted by marine officers to the North Sound dock,” the captain said.
Captain Jackson has nothing but praise for the people who came out to assist the stricken vessel. “I am proud we have people that are dedicated to their jobs. The Marine Division, Harbour House, Customs, Port Authority, Chris Briggs, Mack McLean – they were really helpful.
Captain Jackson’s advice for other fishermen that run hard on the water is fairly simple: Things like this can happen. “Going out in a smaller boat and a log or something goes through the bottom of the boat can be drastic. In the night or daytime accidents can happen. You don’t know what is out there until you hit something.”