Rescued boaters make triumphant return
Nine days at sea aboard an inflatable raft with little water and almost no food might tend to change one’s perspective a bit.
For Chad Ebanks, the disastrous trip aboard the ‘Miss Janice’ fishing vessel that sank on 17 July has certainly done so.
“I ain’t going back [to the sea],” Chad said Thursday, holding his son in his arms at Owen Roberts International Airport in George Town. “If it ain’t a plane, I ain’t going.”
Less than three weeks have passed since the ‘Miss Janice’ sank in the Caribbean Sea with six men aboard. They were rescued about nine days later by an oil tanker.
For Travis Welcome, Elvis Welcome, Chad Ebanks and Ernest Rankine, it probably felt closer to a year. The four Caymanian boaters flew into Grand Cayman aboard a United Airlines plane that departed Houston, Texas, Thursday afternoon.
The other two men aboard the vessel, Michael Garcia and Ted Woods, flew back directly to their native Honduras from Houston. “I feel amazing, but I just want to sleep now,” said Elvis as he was surrounded by friends and family outside the airport terminal. “It was scary … but all that was on my mind was Cayman.”
Chad Ebanks was clearly shaken by the experience.
“I wouldn’t want to see nobody go through that in life,” Chad said. “Plenty of times I felt like I wasn’t going to make it.”
Boat captain Travis Welcome summed it up: “We been from home too long.”
Travis has said he was making the trip to Roatan, Honduras to sell items carried aboard the ‘Miss Janice’ and purchase some fish for sale back in Cayman. “This trip and the whole plan with the boat was just trying to make a life for me and my family,” he said.
His wife, Janice Welcome – for whom the sunken boat is named – said she never did like the idea of the Honduras trip. Travis isn’t sure if he’ll ever return to the sea. “I thought it over and I don’t know if I’m going to really bother the sea again, it’ll be a long time before I do,” he said.
All six men were processed through US Customs and Border Protection in Houston on Wednesday morning and were assisted by their respective British and Honduran consulates.
Wasting no time upon finding a computer Wednesday, Elvis Welcome posted on his Facebook page: “1345 help me, thank God imma live!”
“Gotta thank God,” he said Thursday after arriving in Cayman. It’s been a long, strange trip for the six boaters aboard the ‘Miss Janice’.
The 37-foot fishing vessel set out for Honduras on 17 July. It capsized five hours after leaving the Cayman Islands.
Captain Travis Welcome said all six men aboard spent nine days floating on an inflatable raft, eating limited food supplies and drinking rainwater before they were picked up by the oil tanker CPO Sweden. He said they were able to grab just enough supplies off the boat before it sank.
The rescue occurred around noon on 26 July. The crew was scheduled to be dropped off in Houston on 28 July, but had to be redirected to New Orleans because of dock space issues.
After waiting in the waters outside the New Orleans port for about four days, the oil tanker that rescued the six boaters was turned back to Houston. According to a New Orleans attorney for the tanker CPO Sweden, the vessel received orders to proceed back to Houston late Monday.
All told, the six men spent more than a week aboard the oil tanker – nearly as much time as they had been on the raft floating in the sea.
“People really showed a lot of kindness to us when we were picked up by the ship,” Travis said. “They took care of us very well.” “The CPO Sweden, they’re very nice people,” Chad said. “They treated us like we were one of theirs.”
Janice Welcome, Travis’ wife, said she never believed her husband had been lost.
“It pays to serve the Lord,” she said. “God has proven to us that he is real.”
About 100 people, family and friends, waited on the airport viewing platform and watched the four men come in on the 4pm flight from Houston. Everyone then scampered downstairs to greet the boaters.
The throng around the men lasted for a good 20 minutes to a half hour as hugs and kisses were exchanged, welcome home signs waved and the group sung religious hymns.