Tragedy Strikes.

Monday 1st February : We ended up having a wonderful evening last night. We anchored off a sand bank of a tiny island. Some local fisherman were there and Chaps, being the gregarious, generous soul he is, offered to buy a healthy portion of their catch and have them cook for us.
So I had a divine entree of lobster straight from the sea, followed by fish and locally grown rice, simply scrumptious compared to shop bought rice.
We slept on Ibis, not at all well, I might add!!
We got under way about 6am, all of us being awake anyway. There were light winds initially, through the sand reef area. Once we got into the Mafia channel the winds and sea picked up quickly. The waves were bigger than what we experienced coming from Kalifi, but were big slow rollers and Ibis was taking them in her stride. We were having a blast. I have some great video. My only concern was we hadn’t been able to get the centre board down. It’d got stuck. But we were careful to balance the boat and all seemed fine.
Then at about 1130 a simply huge wave struck us on the port quarter and flipped Ibis right over. We fought hard to get her over again. Ali and I balanced on the centre board casing and hauled on a line to pull her up and Chapsie did the same from the rudder. Nothing doing. She tried but wouldn’t come up. Chaps dived under to see what the trouble was. The mast had been driven right through the cabin roof and wedged in the hull. Also since the sail was reefed it was holding water, making it heavy. We tried and tried. But Ibis was sinking and we realised we were going to be in deep trouble very shortly. I told Chaps to get the life jackets but he was on it already, and got our bags with passports etc too. He was an absolute hero, diving over and over. We also grabbed a plastic bag floating by which contained 3 tomatoes, a cucumber and an onion!!
Then Ibis disappeared beneath the waves and we were on our own. Ali was shivering already which worried me enormously but I said nothing. We were 10nms off the coast of Mafia Island and I knew we had a fight on our hands. I thanked God for my Naval training. I also didn’t mention I had a water bottle in my pack. My first priority was to stress we stay together, so we put on the very substandard life jackets and tied ourselves together. Chaps also was strong and positive, but Ali already showed signs of hypothermia.
Fortunately it was cloudy so at least we didn’t get burned that first day. Ali and Chaps prayed, and I was content to listen. They know I don’t believe in God but I wasn’t going to debate theology right then. I did say, somewhat tongue in cheek, to Chaps saying we could only place our lives in God’s hands, that I felt we could help ourselves too!!
We could just see land as darkness fell. It was going to be a long, uncomfortable night so we shared a tomato, saving more for later. Around 1am we gave Ali one tomato and Chaps and I had the other. I then announced we had water and again we gave most to Ali. He was seriously cold and we were encouraging him to keep going. We took turns towing him and cuddling him to warm him up. Chaps was cold too but I wasn’t too bad. I never thought to be pleased to be menopausal!!!
More than once I could tell by the look in Ali’s eyes that he was telling Chaps to leave him behind. No chance.
Suffice to say, dawn was welcomed enormously. Breakfast was the last sip of water and a few bites of cucumber. The first thing we saw was a little island. We tried swimming to it but the sea was taking us the other way and we realised we were using precious energy. So we kept on towards the shore.
Between us and land was a reef and the tide was going in so no chance of it being a short distance once we’d got through that. Ali was seriously weak and Chaps and I so tired also. I could see the massive crazy waves leaping on the edge of the reef and was frightened for us all. I knew this hurdle would be the biggest of our test for life so far.
Chaps and I tried to decide how best to get through. He suggested putting Ali on his back but, for better or worse, I vetoed that. Who knows if it’d have made a difference. I had tried swimming on my back but found if a wave swamped me it went straight up my nose and into my lungs. Somehow, the body seemed to cope better front on. Ali had already swallowed too much seawater.
So we tried to lever him off the water as much as possible with the life jacket and my wee backpack. Then Chaps towed him and I swam alongside, holding him up and begging him to hold on. We just went for it, as fast as we could.
But after a time Ali’s face kept laying in the sea and I couldn’t hold him. I yelled for Chaps to help and he came beside me. You can imagine our desperation. Ali panicked and tried to climb on top of Chaps. I learned about this in training and got behind him and pulled him off, trying to calm him. Chaps told him to relax and trust us. It was as if Ali heard us and made a decision of his own. He went floppy and his face went under. We tried to pull him up, so exhausted ourselves. Chaps was pleading with him not to leave us. But he died there in that thrashing sea, in our arms. It is no small thing to watch a healthy young man die. My heart broke for his family and Chaps, his cousin.
For me, the next few minutes were cruel and play on my mind. Chaps wanted to be with Ali, saying prayers as is their custom, and hold him. I had to be firm with him and say we must keep towing him or drown ourselves. We needed to get out of that maelstrom. I had to get him to come next to me, with Ali’s body between us, and help me swim us out of there.
We made it through that biggest part of the reef. So so weary. Chaps spotted a buoy. We swam to it and untied the two buoys attached to the line, resecuring the line to a floating container Ali had round his neck, with bufti in it!! We didn’t want the fisherman who owned it to lose out. Chaps was cold and I knew shock was setting in on us both. I wasn’t really cold so Chaps climbed onto the buoys to get his torso out of the water and I swam beside him. We made the decision to let Ali go, in his life jacket, and let the tide take him into shore. Chaps reckoned it was about 11am so we’d been in the water for 24 hours.
It took us till 5pm to reach the beach. We’d shouted and whistled but no one heard us. We came out of the water slowly, in case our legs failed us. Chaps made me walk behind him, a precaution against standing on something nasty. Such a good man.
There was no one on the beach. We stripped off our wet clothes and dried them in the last of the sun and wind. It was blissfully warm. I checked my dry bag, unsurprisingly full of water! But my money was dry enough for Chaps to take some down the beach to the village and buy us water and kikoi to wear. When he got back I’d dried things off a bit more and rested a little. Chaps had brought a couple of young lads with him and they took us to their home where we were given chai and chepati. We only had a little, as I was worried our tummies would rebel if we had too much too soon.
Then we were taken to the village chief who gave us a letter for the police and agreed to get some men to look for Ali. Next stop was the police station. It all took too long. We were shattered but everyone was too interested in our story to think of our welfare!!
Finally we were taken to Samira’s sister. She gave us food and drink. I felt really faint and told Chaps I needed bed. Sauda got her brothers to take us to Samira’s house. Another sister, Hadia, was there and put a mattress on the floor for us. Chaps said he’d sleep on the floor. I said not to be ridiculous. With half a mattress each, we crashed.
So ended Tuesday.

10 thoughts on “Tragedy Strikes.

  1. Sending my love right now. What an ordeal. So so sorry to hear re Ali. Wishing you a speedy recovery. Penny Fisher. Xoxox


  2. ohhh my my…. i heard this story right from the horses mouth from sarra and chaps when they came to my clinic in Mombasa but still it appears like a movie,really terrifying …. I thank God for you! ur an iron lady ,i salute chaps too! my condolences to Ali and family.


  3. Wow Sas! This has been more than a life experience for you. Words fail me, very sad about Ali but it could of been you too. Come home safe! Xxxx


  4. Oh my goodness!! So glad to hear that you and Chaps are ok!!!! I can’t even begin to imagine what you have been through! So very sorry to hear about Ali 😦 My best wishes go out to his friends and family.


  5. That was one of the most intense things I have ever read, especially when it was my mother!?!? Reads like a movie script………what are your parents going to say!? Sorry to hear about Ali 😥


    1. The parents say…….you grew up in the high country, you were adventuress, you served in the Navy, you were very disciplined, you are a Nurse, you are very dedicated. You would have said ‘I have two fantastic boys, don’t mess with me, and we are going to reach shore come hell or high water. Sadly you did not all make it, but you did all you and Chapsie possibly could for Ali, but you did make shore and so did Ali. He was able to return home. You can be very proud that you both helped to make that happen, so important for his family. We are very proud of you Sas you are a truly Awesome daughter, who we forever love past the stars.


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