It was supposed to be a three-day fishing trip at most. It turned into a three-week ordeal, drifting under an intense sun for hundreds of miles in the Caribbean in a small boat with a broken motor.
The two Jamaican fishermen survived by eating raw fish they caught and drinking water from melted ice they had brought to preserve their catch. The Colombian navy finally plucked them from the sea a week ago and delivered them home Saturday after treating them for severe dehydration, malnutrition and hypothermia.
Everton Gregory, 54, and John Sobah, 58, recounted their story in a telephone interview from Jamaica, while the boat owner and the men’s employer also provided details.
The men set off from Jamaica’s southeastern coast on Nov. 20. The water was glassy, the wind was calm and their boat was laden with 14 buckets of ice, 16 gallons of water and several bags of cereal, bread and fruit.
They headed to Finger Bank, a nearby sand spit 8-miles-long (13-kilometers) that is known for its abundance of fish like wahoo, tuna and mahi mahi. The owner of the 28-foot (8-meter) boat said she usually joins them on fishing trips, but she couldn’t go that afternoon.
After spending a couple of days around Finger Bank, the two men set off for home with their catch. But the boat’s engine soon died. The water was too deep to use the anchor and the current too strong to use the oars, so the boat slowly drifted away from Jamaica.
At first, the men got by on sipping the water and eating the food they brought with them. But days turned into weeks, and they began to eat the fish they had caught and drink the melted ice that had kept it fresh.
Gregory and Sobah kept eating raw fish and used a tarp to try to collect water, but the rain clouds remained at a distance.
Back home, friends and family called police and used their own boats to search the area where the men were last seen. The two fishermen work for the Florida-based nonprofit group Food for the Poor, which chartered a plane to search along Jamaica’s coast.
Marva Espuet, the owner of the boat, said she knew she had packed it with more food and water than needed for a three-day trip, but the thought provided little relief.
“If I had gone, there would have been two boats going,” said the 52-year-old woman, a longtime friend of both fishermen.