‘It was a miracle’: Rescued boater tells story of 5 weeks adrift

Edward Hendricks Hyde was on the verge of giving up hope.

He had not eaten for weeks and he could count the ribs poking through his emaciated body.

His skin was flayed from drifting in the open ocean under a scorching Caribbean sun, and he figured he could smell it burning. It smelled like bacon.

He’d torn his shirt into pieces to light fiery beacons to attract the attention of passing ships. If they saw the flames they did not stop to investigate.

A cruise ship had passed so close he could see the faces of the passengers, leaning on the guard rail.

His friend Chadwick Bodden had swum away from the boat in desperation after 23 days at sea, and he had been drifting, terrified and alone, he believes, for three weeks when he sighted land.

Caymanian Edward Hendricks Hyde, who endured more than five weeks adrift at sea before being rescued in Mexico, said the will to see his family again, including his mother Ezona Moore, helped him survive the ordeal. – PHOTO: ALVARO SEREY

Without food, his muscles had winnowed to nothing and when he judged the distance to shore, he knew he was too weak to swim.

“I said to God, ‘Father rescue me or kill me, because I can’t take this anymore.’”

He lay back on the rugged fiberglass bottom of the boat and closed his eyes.

Moments later, he says, he was jolted back to consciousness by the sound of the boat striking something solid.

“I looks up and I sees the boat and I hear this guy say to me in Spanish, ‘You OK bro?’”

“I sit up and I look at him and I am not sure if this is a mirage. Is this real or am I hallucinating?” After more than five weeks adrift, surviving on scraps of seaweed and shark that he had foraged, he realized he had been saved.

Return to Cayman

Three weeks after his astonishing rescue three miles from Cozumel island at a spot known locally as Punta Piedra, Mr. Hyde is still struggling to process what happened to him.

Speaking to the Cayman Compass, flanked by his mother and sisters and the doctors at TrinCay who have helped nurse him back to health, he can only attribute his survival to divine intervention.

In the past weeks he has put on more than 40 pounds, the lesions on his skin have healed and his damaged organs appear to be functioning normally. He is unrecognizable from the skeletal form pictured lying in the well of his 30-foot canoe-style boat less than a month ago.

“There is no way in the world you can experience what I have experienced and be the same person. It makes you look at life through completely different eyes,” he said.

The first Saturday after he returned to Cayman, Mr. Hyde was baptized, fulfilling a promise he made to God during his 37 days adrift. He said it was faith and his desire to see his mum and sisters, his niece and his children that allowed him to survive.

“Physically what I went through was impossible to endure. I can only tell you that it is God’s mercy that brought me back to my family.”

TrinCay physician Alfred Choy, right, said the doctors in Mexico and Cayman saved Mr. Hyde’s life. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Engine trouble

Mr. Hyde and Mr. Bodden were just a few hours out of Grand Cayman when they realized they were in trouble.

They had set off at night for 60 Mile Bank on June 23, with enough food and water for a four-day fishing trip. They had no radio and only a battery-powered handheld GPS to tell them where they were.

When they began to experience engine trouble, they did not have the tools to make the necessary repairs.

Mr. Hyde said they had mixed the gas too thick and it was leaking through the spark plugs. As they attempted to make repairs, a bolt on the engine block broke and they were left drifting.

Over the next five weeks, Mr. Hyde would try 18 times to repair the engine and restore power to the boat, without success.

“At first we didn’t worry too much. I work in water sports and I know there are always cruise ships running that route to Cancun and cargo boats going back and forth. There is constant traffic passing, and I figured one or two days and we are going to get rescued.”

Hope arrived on the fourth day in the form of a passing cruise ship, the first of more than 20 ships to pass by.

The pair would do everything they could to attract the attention of the boats. Some circled within 150 feet but did not stop.

“At night I would put gasoline on the water and light 10 feet of flames. I’m sure that they must have seen us.”

The boats were close enough for him to see the names on the side and the passengers on the deck. He sees the same boats in the harbor now, regular visitors to Grand Cayman, and wonders if they saw the light from his fires and why they did not stop.

Once the first few boats had passed without a rescue ensuing, supplies began to run low and the seriousness of the situation kicked in.

He believes at this time, around a week after leaving Grand Cayman, they were drifting near Cayman Brac.

He could not see land, but the sight of blue-footed boobies fishing in the weed line and the illumination from the electric lights of the island made a distant impression on the horizon.

Propeller planes occasionally buzzed overhead, running the route to the Sister Islands.

Seaweed and shark

With no food and no rainwater, the pair survived by eating seaweed and drinking their own urine.

Mr. Hyde says their fishing gear, in an icebox cooler, had been lost in the chaos as he tried to fix the engine in a rolling swell.

He built a makeshift hook from a piece of cable and rope and dangled it over the side, making it dance like a feather jay. Using this technique, he says, he caught three jacks. When a small Oceanic whitetip shark showed up, circling the boat, he saw an opportunity.

“I tore one of the jack’s heads off and threw it alongside the boat and the shark rushed in. I breaks up two or three more pieces and puts it by the boat.

“When he comes in, I grabs him by his copper knife and his tail and I flips him and throws him into the boat, lets him kick till he dies. Then I uses a screwdriver to pierce in the back of his gills. I shoves my hand down to take out his liver, his heart, his guts. That is the softest thing to consume.”

The shark satisfied their hunger for a while, but soon they were out of the current line. No fish, no more seaweed, just miles of endless ocean.

“We were watching ourselves start to crumble away.”

Mr. Hyde believes it was 23 days in when he lost his friend, Mr. Bodden. He did not want to speak in detail about the incident.

He said Mr. Bodden swam away from the boat, in desperation.

“Honestly, he made his decision to leave the boat. Picture what I told you – 23 ships pass you. Imagine the desperation in your mind, how you would feel. A lot of people would not understand. It is very deteriorating physically, mentally, emotionally.

“There are things you have to accept in life are out of your hands. I feel sad because he was my friend, but I have to accept there was nothing I could do. I was stronger in the moments out there and I barely made it myself.”

Debilitated and alone, he says, the next days were the most terrifying of his life.

At night he would wake gasping and pound his chest with his fist, sip saltwater to stop his dry throat from sticking.

“I would say this is just a bad dream, I’m going to wake up and smell my sister’s pancakes and drink all the water I want. Then it is morning and you are living the same day over and over.

“In the day time it is like a desert. I could smell my skin burning. Then at night it is so cold it is unbearable.

“I kept saying to God, you are not going to make me die. I am going to see my family again.” On several occasions he found himself drifting amid a pod of dolphins, stretching as far as the eye could see. He says he would jump overboard and swim among them, seeking escape from the sun.

“I would swim 20 feet down, close my eyes and open up my arms and feel the coolness of the ocean. There were dolphins as far as I could see …. I knew I had God with me.”

Rescue

When he sighted land, he says, he believed he had circled all the way back to Grand Cayman. He estimated he was three miles from shore and far too weak to make the swim. It was then that he uttered his final prayer and lay down in his boat, waking to the sight of the Mexican fisherman and his son staring down at him from their vessel.

It was not until much later, when they had sped back to shore and passed him into the hands of the paramedics, that he realized he was not dreaming and that he had really been rescued.

At first he could not remember the names of his family. He scrawled “black candy” on a piece of paper for his rescuers. His nickname for his sister was all he could remember.

It was two days before he was lucid enough to tell them who he was and where he was from. His mother and sister flew out immediately.

“It was a miracle,” said his mother, Ezona Moore. “I have my baby back.”

His sister Stephanie Williams said the family never gave up hope during the long wait for news.

“Words can’t describe getting to him, seeing his condition. There are no words to put that in perspective. We were overwhelmed. We were happy and just grateful, and know God is a mighty God and he answered our prayers.”

She said the family wanted to publicly thank everyone who had supported her brother, in particular the doctors at TrinCay and the Health Services Authority and family friend Marcel Archer who had offered “tireless support” coordinating with doctors and police in the aftermath of the rescue.

With the help of some good “home cooking” and support of the doctors, Mr. Hyde has made a rapid and remarkable recovery.

He has spoken to his children in the U.S. over Skype and hopes to be reunited with them soon. For now he is recovering in the care of his mother, his sisters and the doctors at TrinCay who continue to monitor his recovery.

Dr. Alfred Choy said, “Overall it was a miracle for anyone to survive without water for so long. It is potentially fatal to be without water more than a couple of days. Physically and mentally it has been an ordeal for him, but a strong belief in God and family support has played a part.

“The Mexican team did a great job to stabilize him and he has come on in leaps and bounds in the last three weeks.”

Amid the family’s joy at the return of their lost loved one, they are conscious that Mr. Bodden’s family does not have the same relief.

Mr. Hyde said, “I have the privilege of seeing my kids and be with my family and I wish he did too.”

The ordeal has not prevented Mr. Hyde from going back to sea. He has already been back to work with his family business, Ezona’s Aquatics, running tours to Stingray City, and despite his mother’s concerns, he says he will go offshore again.

“I’m a seaman. On the water I feel at home. It is my playground, my workplace, my passion. I love the ocean and I want to be back out there soon.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. I wonder why not a single ship stopped to investigate. He couldn’t master SOS sign, but there got to be some unwritten rules for boaters when they see a drifting dinghy with a lone person to at least investigate.
    Glad to see the happy ending to his misadventure. He has a story to tell to his children.
    I believe it was written in the stars that he would be rescued.
    My sympathy to the other man’s family.

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