Travis Welcome, 50, wasn’t expecting to end up in Houston, Texas today.
But according to US marine officials, that’s what is supposed to happen after Mr. Welcome and his five shipmates were rescued in western Caribbean waters some nine days after their boat ‘Miss Janice’ sank on 17 July.
By sheer chance, the six men were picked up by the CPO Sweden tanker on Tuesday around noon.
“We give God the credit,” Mr. Welcome said from a satellite phone on board the oil tanker Wednesday. “He helped us.”
Mr. Welcome and his crew, including Caymanians Ernest Rankine, Elvis Welcome, and Chad Ebanks, and Hondurans Ted Woods and Michael Garcia were heading to Roatan with an overloaded 37-foot craft sinking beneath them. Mr. Welcome admitted the boat was overloaded when the weather turned foul and the boat began taking on waves. Mr. Welcome said two huge waves swamped the boat and it went down “in seconds”. It was just five hours after they left the Cayman Islands.
The 37-foot craft eventually capsized, but the crew was able to take an emergency lifeboat and raft, as well as a small amount of food and water supplies from the sinking vessel. Mr. Welcome said they attempted to tie up to the Miss Janice, but had to cut loose when the vessel completely sank.
They had gone adrift for two days without water when it started to rain. The men collected some water in a two-litre container, Mr. Welcome said, and rationed it until Tuesday morning came.
“We made a promise to God, to fast from 6am to noon [on Tuesday],” Mr. Welcome said. “We were praying.’
Mr. Welcome said there were several ships that passed by during their days adrift that simply couldn’t see the men. He said they were working signs and using emergency mirrors to try and signal the craft with no luck – until Tuesday.
“[On Tuesday] we saw the tanker,” he said. “We thought they were going to pass, but then the ship slowed down and started to turn.” It was Mr. Welcome’s daughter – one of his four children – who received the first phone call about the rescue from the tanker’s satellite phone.
Janice Welcome, Travis’s wife and the person for whom the boat was named, said she also had been praying for her husband’s rescue. “I knew in my heart he was alive,” Mrs. Welcome said. “This has been a nightmare.”
The families of the six boaters celebrated news of the men’s rescue on Tuesday, after nine days of not knowing their fate. East End Community Development Officer Delmira Bodden said, “Travis called his daughter’s phone at around 2pm, at which time she started screaming and had to give the phone over to his niece. He told her he had been found and was aboard an oil tanker bound for Houston,” Ms Bodden said. She added that Mr. Welcome said the six of them had been floating on a raft for nine days.
Family members said they were initially told the tanker would arrive in Houston on Wednesday, but later said the arrival was not expected until Thursday morning.
“I have been crying and praying for days now. I couldn’t even look at the sea. I was filled with resentment for the ocean,” said Mrs. Welcome.
She explained that her husband Travis had been trying different things to make a living and was trying something new. His plan was to sell the items taken over the Honduras on the Miss Janice, then buy some fish to return to Cayman and sell. He turned to the sea because times were hard and carrying down cargo to Honduras seemed like another option.
“I never did like the idea,” she said.
Her worst fears were realised after not hearing from her husband, even though she said she was receiving reports from Honduras that the men were there.
According to Ms Bodden, “The people in Honduras were saying they were there, but after Janice had not heard from her husband for some time, knew something was wrong, as she knew he would call as soon as he reached land.”
Dayon Connor, mother of missing boater Chad Ebanks, said she refused to accept anything had happened to her son and kept praying with the faith that the men would be returned safely.
Allan Turner, a journalist with the Houston Chronicle, assisted on this story.