Shipwrecked and stranded off the coast of Panama

The Darien gap between Columbia and Panama is renowned for drug traffickers and kidnappings. So, surely, a licensed, rather pricey boat trip with an international company is a better option, right?

Pete and emma, shipwrecked and stranded off the coast of Panama

The elegant catamaran, by the name of Nacar 1, designed for 13 people set sail from the colonial city of Cartagena on a calm Sunday night. We were assured that boats would not be over crowded and that our company only worked with the most professional of captains. It did start off well. On the first day we enjoyed the freshest sashimi possible, relaxed on deck and settled into a good nights sleep. Shipwrecked and stranded off the coast of Panama

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad EmmaShip wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

The Crash

03.00, I awoke to a thick thud and water hurtling through the overhead hatch. I was sure it was only high waves and wiped the unwanted seawater from my face. The ship was shuddering quite violently as I sat up. It looked as though the door in our claustrophobic box cabin had fallen to the floor. Startled and confused, I took a closer look. My stomach sank as I realised that that was actually the floor breaking away and rising.

Then came the most fear inducing words, ‘Life Jackets, grab your life jackets.’

Grabbing my life jacket from the inbuilt shelf to the left of our tiny bed, I threw it over my head, grabbed my small bag and ran up to the top deck. Optimistic that the life jacket must just be a precaution, it was surreal to find the boat was tipping drastically to the left and fully flooded on one side. 18 people and 4 cats were darting around in a panic as waves crashed in dragging the back left section further down.

Nothing seemed real and I couldn’t fight the flood of disaster movie images as I tried to steady myself amongst waves, avoid broken furnishings and assess the situation.

My parents brought me up to be someone who doesn’t panic. The thought of them boosted my motivation to kick into survival mode. No family deserves the news that could come from this disaster. I was trying to think through all the Bear Grylls survival tips I had enjoyed watching but thought I would never have actually use.

The boat was sinking rapidly and we knew we had moments to gather people, life jackets, anything that floats and drinking water. A sobering moment for Pete was when he threw his laptop from his bag in exchange for a half full water bottle.  Value as you know it changes beyond recognition.

The lights flickered and went out, I could hear the captain shouting that they had lost the life raft. The waves were dragging and thrashing everyone around, it felt as though everything had gone into slow motion as I looked around at people’s faces, now lit only by spare torch light.

Then came the sentence, ‘we have less than 10 minutes before the boat will completely sink; when it goes down, it will go fast and can drag you with it.’

Pete prayed out loud with the group, encouraging everyone to pray from the heart and asked that God would somehow get all of us through this.

Within minutes, I heard someone shout ‘we’re on reef… we’re on ROCK’

Not quite comprehending just how good this news could be and still clambering around the thrashing boat for a better vantage point, it became clear we were no longer going down. Though too dark to fully work out what was happening it became clear we were somehow more secure and no longer rapidly sinking.

Knowing we had more time, we started to scavenge for more survival things. We salvaged and shared snorkeling gear, better fresh water supplies and clothing to insulate as many as possible.

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

We found places to sit on the very top of the boat, poised for if it suddenly shifted. Incase we had to suddenly orientate ourselves in the water and somehow swim to shore Pete and I dug the compass out of our of his bag and shot a bearing to where we could see a few small lights on the shore. We knew the swim could be anything up to 5 miles, so this was of course a last resort.

Waiting for Rescue

Focusing on terror achieves nothing, it only drains, blinds and divides you.

After you have ran out of flairs and gone past the initial estimate of 1 to 2 hours for rescue, you resided to the fact that you may be on the wreck for a long time. The three hour wait for sunrise felt like a timeless eternity. You find the strangest of things to do to keep spirits up and pass time. As surreal and morbid as it may sound, there were moments where some were singing songs from Titanic. We had a delightful break from the tension when the Baileys turned up. Pete even filmed a science lesson on how the emergency GPS emitter worked and would bring safety to us. You can hear laughter in the background of this.

Nothing makes sense, but you know you have to do everything you can, to keep panic low and spirits high.

I was desperate for it to get light, believing it would be better as we could see and better assess our situation. Alas, this was my lowest point. As it became light, you could better sea the colossal height of the waves that were crashing down on to rock only meters away from where we were. Seeing the force of these 15 foot waves draw back powerfully and crash down of the edges the offshore table reef made me feel dizzy for a moment. I had to choose not to fixate on how it would simply smash you to pieces if you got caught up in it.

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

The daylight made yet another impending danger ever more vivid. The mast was badly damaged and twisting at such an angle it was clear that it could snap and hurt people at any moment.

The Rescue

In the distance we started to see the vague shape of hope. Initially it was so vague you do everything you can to not let your emotions run wild. BUT as the fishermen came firmly into view, we went ballistic, an ecstatic blur of waving orange and whistles.

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

The reef was so dangerous; they had to circumnavigate it for some time before working out how to get across. They owed us nothing, yet, the Kuna fishermen swam into the raging waves on the reef edge, using harpoons to steady themselves as they neared our wreck.

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

The first four bravely joined them and ventured back to the fishing boat.

Then, the wait continued.

Although we knew we were found and rescue must be returning, when it takes hours, it feels like days. With the impending reality of the boat being swept out to sink at any moment, doubt creeps back in.

Eventually, a military boat came into view, but it stayed at the edge and they showed no signs of coming out to us. We had to swim through the raging reef to get to the boat. Had we not seen the brave fishermen pick out a route with the first four, we may not have picked out the best route ourselves.  We teamed stronger and weaker swimmers together. Naturally I swam with my hero, Pete, no matter what happened we were never going to let go of each other. As we swam with all our might and eventually neared the boat they dragged us up. We knew the worst of it was over. Eventually the last few made it aboard, complete with 4 soggy but safe cats.

Ship wreck Panama San blas Globemad Emma

It was 16:00 before we reached the military base on the first island.

13 long hours. Barefoot, with nothing but a handful of soggy belongings.  Though our lives were no longer in immediate danger, the ordeal was far from over and it took days to get to civilisation and work our way home.  We later found out that the captain had gone to sleep, leaving the boat on auto, with much confusion about who should be on watch.

We will share more over time, but for now, want to leave you with a few little thoughts

What we learned

You never think you will be the one to live through many peoples’ worst nightmare. But, humanity is found in the darkest of places and bleakest of moments. Not a single passenger was selfish, at one point an apple floated by and we just picked it up and shared it. You can choose to survive; you can choose to be selfless and you can choose to pull together.

Everyone can choose faith, don’t leave it too long to reach out to God.

12 Responses

  1. Kati form Ms B Travels
    | Reply

    Wow, what a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing. God is good!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for reading it, we learned so much from it 💜

  2. Jan Laszlo
    | Reply

    What an amazing story of strength, courage, survival and I sensed your spirituality appearing before your very eyes.
    Thank you for sharing your story with the world.
    I wish you the very best life has to offer…
    Jan Phoenix Arizona USA ✌🏻️😀

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Hi Jan, You’re such an amazing encourager and thank you for such kind words, we really do want to keep making the best of our Life! 🙂

  3. Lisa Brieach-Weeks
    | Reply

    Wow, what an amazing experience! So good to hear that you found humanity in the midst of such terror. 💗

  4. Lisa Brieach-Weeks
    | Reply

    Wow, what an amazing experience! So good to hear that you found humanity in the midst of such terror. 💗

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      It really was, forever grateful we all survived. I love the way you put, there really is a lot more good in humanity than the Media would have you believe.

  5. Maureen
    | Reply

    Just LOVED this story of how we as humans are truly our BEST when things are at their WORST! What a frightening ordeal! And the BEST thing of ALL is knowing that if you just ask God for help…He will be there (Of course He does have 3 answers I’ve always been told😉 Yes, Not now, No bc I have something totally different in mind!😂😂😂)! Thank you for a beautiful recount of a harrowing experience!
    You two stay close 😉❤️!
    Maureen

    • Pete Tryon
      | Reply

      Hi Maureen, thank you for your kind words. It is so encouraging to know that we can pray at any point no matter how high or low. And I know what you mean about the yes, no or later thing- he knows best 🙂
      Take care and God bless,
      Pete

  6. Alex
    | Reply

    Bonjour Emma et Pete , encore une fois je viens sur votre blog, car je suis passionné par vos aventures , et je découvre cette aventure poignante et cauchemardesque de votre naufrage au large des côtes du Panama, et votre expérience me rappelle celle des migrants qui meurent par milliers dans les eaux froides de la méditérannée ,et ce dans l’indifférence totale. Votre témoignage est plein d’humanité, il nous rappelle combien même tout le monde peut se trouver dans cette situation et qu’on a besoin les uns des autres , sans différences de races ou d’origines, car avant tout on est des créatures et on appartient à un même Dieu. Soyez bénis et protégés chers amis et vous souhaite plus de découvertes, et que votre route soit remplie de fleurs et de merveilles . ALEX @tweets_art

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Bonjour Alex! SO happy you have found our blog, this is definitely where we put our best adventures. I’m so sorry I can’t reply in French, but thank you for writing to us 🙂

  7. local handyman london
    | Reply

    Hi Maureen, thank you for your kind words. It is so encouraging to know that we can pray at any point no matter how high or low. And I know what you mean about the yes, no or later thing- he knows best 🙂
    Take care and God bless,

Leave a Reply