50 years ago: Dramatic sea rescue by three men in a skiff

In the Jan. 11, 1967 edition of the Caymanian Weekly, a precursor of the Cayman Compass, Birney James provided a report on a dramatic rescue at sea:

“The chill wind of a waning northwester was howling through the trees at White Hall last Thursday evening and the long white-crested rollers of a storm-swept sea pounded with monotonous fury against the coral shore.

“The three men, silhouetted briefly against the headlamps of a parked car, shoved their tiny skiff through the surf and soon disappeared into the inky blackness of a rainy, moonless night – their destination, the twinkling lights of a foreign ship lay to off George Town harbor.

“There had been a call for help earlier – actually, a cablegram from Jamaica – informing Government here that a seaman aboard the motor-tanker Varvara was seriously ill from accidentally swallowing a caustic chemical while siphoning a tank.

“Jill Bodden and his friend Irvin Bodden, were visiting at Pat’s Texaco Service Station when they heard the report of a man in trouble aboard the ship. Chief of Police R.S. Besant was having difficulty in finding a boat to bring the sick man ashore. Two readily available boats had been smashed by the passing storm. Others had sought safe harbour at South Sound and Spotts.

“‘I asked Irvin if he wanted to go out. He said, yes so we called my brother, Jack, at home and he decided to go too,’ said Mr. Jill Bodden.

“The three volunteers bought some gas and oil for their seven and a half horsepower outboard motor and it wasn’t long before they launched their skiff – only 12 feet long – and took to sea.

“‘We signalled the ship that we were coming,’ Mr. Jill Bodden said. What kind of signal?

“‘Just a signal with a flashlight – they knew it was help on the way,’ he added with the assurance of a man long familiar with the sea.

“Powering under the leeward side of the waiting vessel, the trio all wet to the skin from the rain and the sea, helped to bring the seaman into their rolling and pitching skiff.

“Walter Teixeira Froto, a 20-year-old ordinary seaman from Brazil, was soon under emergency treatment at Government Hospital, thanks to these men, and was discharged yesterday morning.

“The men thought little of their sea saga – to them it is the tradition of the sea – and of all Caymanians – that a vessel in distress or a man in need aboard a ship, be given whatever help is possible. These men have proven their devotion to their tradition on other occasions.

“While the Boddens were bringing their man ashore, Chief Besant, not knowing that the seaman was already on his way to the hospital, made rendezvous with Captain Bobby Soto – after futilely attempting to contact the ship through Earl Lonn’s Seaview Radio – and they were soon on their way out of South Sound aboard Captain Soto’s 53-foot charterboat, Cayman Pilot.

“They were halfway to the tanker when they noticed it heading seaward and realized the someone had already come to the aid of the sick man. There was a report of another small boat heading for the tanker at about the same time but it also turned back.

“While the Bible quotation – which is also the motto of the Cayman Islands – ‘He hath founded it upon the seas’ probably does not apply to this story, it still recalls the tradition of the Cayman Islands, famous throughout the world for its sailors and for the daring rescues from its shores.

“Ordinary seaman Froto will probably never forget these islands or the Boddens.”

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now