Fishermen tell of 10-day battle to stay alive
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June 11, 2010
Fishermen tell of 10-day battle to stay alive

They drank their own urine, ate raw fish, fought depression, battled lightening and thunderstorms, and still managed to survive to tell their tale.

This is the story of Mark Dennie, Amron “Johnny” Simonett and Walter “Colonel” Lynch, the three Vincentian fishermen who were stranded at sea for 10 days.

On May 24, 2010, at 5:30 am, Captain Dennie, of Rose Place, along with his crew set out to sea in a in a 25 foot vessel, ‘Jah Love’, as part of the annual Fisherman’s day activities. On June 4, the three fishermen were rescued off the coast of Puerto Rico.

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday evening via telephone from Puerto Rico, two of the men told SEARCHLIGHT their gripping tale.

Dennie, 47, said when they set sail looking for fish on the fateful Monday, they headed east of St. Vincent towards Barbados. The fisherman with over 30 years experience said that things were going well until dusk set in.

“It was kind of late and the tide was carrying us to the North East, onwards to St Lucia,” Dennie recounted.

They tried to get back to St. Vincent, but Dennie said it was dark and to make matters worse, they couldn’t see the navigator as there were no lights on board.

“After all the darkness, we got hit by a lot of rain and thunderstorms, so we just decided to chill out until the morning,” Dennie said.

When the sun rose, Dennie said they tried once again to head for home but kept getting pushed in the South East direction, which landed them at Balliceaux.

That is where things took a turn for the worst.

Approximately 10 miles off Balliceaux, Dennie said they ran out of fuel. Adding to their misery, they only had a small quantity of water and eight bakes.

“We were there six to seven hours…we tried opening our sail so that the wind could help to move us, but only more bad weather came our way,” Dennie said.

“We were just drifting, hoping that someone would pick us up, but no one ever came to our rescue,” Dennie told SEARCHLIGHT. Dennie recalled being hit by another thunderstorm on Wednesday.

“I gathered my men and tell them to take down the sail so we could lay in the middle of the boat with the sail covering our bodies to keep the water off our backs and prevent us from getting struck by lightening.

After the storm cleared, Dennie said they saw a Coast Guard vessel and began shouting and whistling to them, but to no avail. “They weren’t flashing any lights and we did not have any lights to flash, so they just kept on moving, Dennie stated.

As their vessel continued drifting, so did their hopes of being rescued. “I had to keep encouraging my men to keep the faith and continue praying to God. I know that we were going to survive despite what we were up against,” Dennie noted.

Their food had to be rationed as it was quickly running out.

“We prayed for some rain to come because we needed water to drink and the Lord answered our prayers,” Dennie said.

Ate raw dolphin and tuna

When their food supply ran out, Dennie said they caught one dolphin and seven tuna so they could satisfy their appetites. “We had to clean them and soak them in the water, sun dry them and munch on that for a while and we would drink it with some sea water…just like how God fed the multitude, that’s how we had to eat,” he said.

When the rain was no more and the food was diminishing, the men did what may be frowned upon by many. They drank their own urine to hydrate their bodies.

“We just had no choice because as a captain I had to keep my men in high spirits. I had to do whatever it took for me to survive… I am a believer in God,” Mark asserted.

Felt like giving up

According to online research, when faced with life-threatening dehydration, drinking urine may make some sense, since the temporary benefits are likely to outweigh the risks. Urine is largely comprised of water that has been filtered through the body as part of the body’s ongoing process of flushing out waste products.

Asked if he and his crew ever felt like giving up, Dennie replied: “Of course! We are humans, but I know we had the will to survive, even though one of the men was already saying we ain’t going to make it,” Dennie noted.

At the point when they no longer knew where they were, their hopes were raised when they saw a vessel travelling nearby.

“We again shouted and yelled for help. I know they saw and heard us, but just because we didn’t have any light on our boat, they immediately took off their lights and went on their way, Dennie said in a low voice.

Already mentally battered by roller coaster emotions, Dennie said a container ship passed slowly alongside them, but due to the fact that they were so exhausted from the rowing and suffering from starvation and dehydration, they were moving very slowly.

“We put up our sail so the wind could assist us, but no breeze at all was blowing and the ship just passed us,” Dennie said.

Another of the rescued fishermen, Walter Lynch, told SEARCHLIGHT he was just thankful to be alive after such an ordeal and lauded his captain for the tremendous work he did in not only helping to keep their spirits alive but also being a strong minded man.

“Mark just had to help we a lot because the other man been done get depressed and we just did not know what to do,” Lynch related.

“God is no joke!”

Lynch, who has been fishing alongside Dennie for the past 20 years, said that it was the first time he has ever experienced such an ordeal. “I was really tired from all we had to go through, but I know that our God is not no joke God,” Lynch boldly declared.

He said that one of the most frightening experiences for him came when a jug filled with water fell overboard and his captain jumped in to save it.

“I started to cry when I see he jump in the water because I couldn’t use the the compass like how Mark could, so I just throw out the rope and make sure I pull him back in to safety,” Lynch recalled.

Redemption for the men finally came on Thursday, June 4.

The men said they saw several lights flashing late that evening.

“I began to tell my men ‘This is a search party from St Vincent come to rescue us’,” Dennie said.

At the time, Dennie said that he had been thinking that they were in Canouan or the Tobago Cays, little did he and his men know that their assumptions were wrong.

They were off the coast of the island of Puerto Rico, which lies over five hundred nautical miles north west of St. Vincent.

Dennie said he saw more and more lights and knew that it was more than just people looking for them; it was civilisation.

“When we saw land, we began pulling (rowing) harder, but it seemed like the harder we pulled, the more the tides held us back,” Dennie admitted.

“Before we could say anything, we saw two men on a beach with a dog waving to us and we just thanked God for rescuing us. When I ask the man where are we, and he said Puerto Rico, I asked him if it’s the real Puerto Rico,” Dennie chuckled.

A woman who was living near where the men were found, gave them clothing, coffee and a warm meal shortly after they were rescued.

Clean bill of health

Dennie informed the men what had occurred and the authorities and medical personnel were called in to assist the men. Dennie said after they were examined by doctors, they were given a clean bill of health. After giving the police authorities all their information, the first thing the men said they did was call their families in St Vincent to let them know that they were safe.

The men were provided with shelter at the Anchors Inn Guest House and were also seen by a counsellor. They were provided with a vehicle and money by the owner of the Inn to get around in Puerto Rico while awaiting their trip back to St Vincent.

Both men thanked the people of Puerto Rico for all their assistance and all the persons in St Vincent and the region for mounting a huge search for them.

Men not giving up fishing

This is not the first time Dennie has been lost at sea. In 1992 he was aboard a fishing vessel that encountered difficulties and overturned. Luckily, the men were able to sit on top the overturned boat and swim ashore to Mustique.

Despite staring death in its face, Dennie and Lynch say they will continue plying their trade as fishermen. “This is what we know. It is our life. And we are still going to be the same persons,” they said.

Dennie has one regret though.

He is sorry he did not kiss his girlfriend and children before he set out to fish.

“This is the one thing I always do before I leave and I regret that I didn’t do that. I forgot my phone home, too, but i know that will not happen again,” Dennie assured. He is also dispelling claims that he and his men were involved in drug trafficking.

“I am no drugs man, I earn an honest living, so I don’t care what people have to say,” Dennie said.

The men returned to the state on Wednesday evening.