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April Sinking Leads to New Friendship for Sailing Couples

Roger Culverwell and Lucyna Dziemian left St. Thomas on April Fool’s Day this year on Dreamcatcher of Jersey and headed east toward their wedding planned for Antigua April 8. After a windy night, they started motoring towards Saba when they heard a Mayday call at about 8.30 a.m., a call also picked up by CROSSAG (the French rescue service from Martinique). Despite the very weak signal, Roger and Lucyna understood that a boat named Helen Mary Gee had sunk and its owners were in a dinghy, whose position they calculated as about eight miles away.

Alerting the distressed couple, CROSSAG and other search and rescue boats that they were on their way, Lucyna and Roger saw a red flare and, soon afterward, the dinghy itself, despite the extremely sloppy seas. With Dreamcatcher’s low freeboard, and a handy boarding gate on the side, it was relatively easy to bring aboard a very shaken Helen and Paul Glavin and their salvaged belongings.

Helen and Paul had been on their way to Antigua, pleased to have received an invitation to crew on Lone Fox in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. At around 2.30 a.m., while travelling at about eight knots, their Sovereign 470 yacht Helen Mary Gee hit something that stopped them dead in their tracks. Both were slightly injured by the impact but at first noticed nothing amiss until all the electrics shorted out at 4.30 a.m. They realized there was serious water down below and there was no way the bilge pumps could handle this.

The night of the collision was very dark and it was impossible to tell exactly what the object was that they hit – but it had to be something big and heavy for Helen Mary Gee to come to a complete halt at eight knots, perhaps a container or even a whale.

Faced with the inevitable but nonetheless well prepared (thanks to a similar sinking incident experienced by friends), they watched Helen Mary Gee disappear beneath the waves at around 6.30 a.m. Armed with flares, hand-held GPS and VHF (as well as essentials such as passports, money, mobile phones, protective clothing, food, water, charts and a bucket), they awaited rescue that arrived in the form of Dreamcatcher.

The two couples then headed for nearby Saba (having alerted the other rescue services) where they spent the night on board, then for St Kitts. Upon learning of their plight, the very helpful Harbourmaster immediately put every amenity at their disposal and Helen and Paul, Roger and Lucyna were able to go ashore at last. As well as winding down and recovering their forces, Paul and Helen were able to meet the coast guard and establish a report for insurance purposes. After two days of much appreciated Kittitian kindness and hospitality, all four left on Dreamcatcher bound for Antigua.

Forced confinement at close quarters, especially in traumatic circumstances, can make or break a relationship, and in this case, the two couples rapidly became good friends – so much so that Roger and Lucyna asked Paul and Helen to act as witnesses at their wedding. After the ceremony at 10 a.m. on 8 April at Jolly Harbour, followed by a wedding breakfast, Paul and Helen flew back to London the same evening with the memory of a positive ending to a negative and life-threatening experience. Lucyna and Paul hope that Helen and Paul will return to Antigua and come sailing with them in the Caribbean next year.

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