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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 it 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 we knew it changing 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 sparse 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 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 when 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 see 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 I found myself doing everything I could to not let my 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.

 

Always More

If this is your first time of reading about this, please know it was a very raw and ready write up straight after everything that happened. More recently I took time to go into a bit more depth about what it took to get back to safety and how it has began to impact us over time.

One Year After the Shipwreck >>>

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51 Responses

  1. Katie Casson
    | Reply

    I’m almost lost for words after reading that!!! Those Kuna fishermen, what wonderful men! How brave and selfless. So very very glad that you all (including the cats!) made it to safety. What a story and what a great God. Thankyou for sharing what you all went through. Hope and pray that the physical and mental scars from this will heal soon.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Still a little shakey, i think with all the love and support and a bit more time, we’ll get to the point where we are able to look forwards and work out whats next. Thank you for your prayers 🙂

  2. Jude
    | Reply

    It’s an incredible story. Glad you’re home and safe. Still can’t quite believe Pete did science lessons on a wreck!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      lol! only Pete! Thank you, there is so much more too it, but just wanted to let you all know a bit more

  3. Jan
    | Reply

    Grateful for your story… and your honesty and vulnerability. You are teamed with an Adventurer Who Rescues and one who is a prayer warrior and who encourages laughter with depth. Prayer does make a difference — because of Him Who Hears! Courageous people, those Kuna; God bless them! I’m sure it was an unexpected Christmas-with-family that became all the richer, because of what went before. Looking forward to hearing of more adventures! <3

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      LIFE IS ONE BIG ADVENTURE! We’re just so grateful to be alive and want to live with more faith than ever.

  4. Jake Mendoza
    | Reply

    So terrifying the pair even found time to take cheesey obligatory selfie. Where does the money come from to fund such jollies – siphoned off from the children’s charity? So happy the Lord kept the sharks at bay.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      I don’t expect you to know what it’s like to go through something like this, but please don’t presume the worst of ANY of us. Just because we survived doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, just because we smiled and kept our spirits up doesn’t mean we weren’t terrified. There’s no rulebook on how to keep peoples spirits up during a shipwreck.
      As for asking about money, which isn’t any of your business, I work for it, I never take from the charity. Again, you don’t know me, but if you did, you would know what I gave up, not took to go look after those children. It runs on the goodwill of many wonderful people … you should try goodwill some time.

      • Jools
        | Reply

        Well said Emma. I can’t help feeling sad for some people are who simply search amazing stories such as yours to find something in them which doesn’t exist and then invent their own versions. Thank God people like this were not on the ship with you, it could have been a very different story indeed.

        • Globemad Emma
          | Reply

          I know its all very abstract and 18th century, but you’re right, it is sad and hurtful when people know roughly what you have been through and assume the worst. Thank you for being kind.

  5. Lisa Mangle
    | Reply

    Wow…you always wonder what you would do in those life threatening moments. How amazing that you experienced this with a group you and Pete had probably met only a few days ago…yet you pulled together…incredible! I’m sure Pete’s prayer was comforting to everyone onboard…I pray this event brings people the knowledge of a loving God, who is with us in times or need…but also in those mundane, every day events. I am thankful you and Pete have been saved…giving you more years to do his work. God bless you both Emma xx

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      It seemed both unreal and the most real thing we’ve been through. Everyone we went through it with was amazing and so selfless, we joked at the end about if we had to choose a crew to be shipwrecked with, we would choose each other. The timing between prayer and been secured on the rock, followed by the fishermen who rescued us later insisting we thank God not them will stay with me always.

  6. Jo Crabtree
    | Reply

    Such a pleasure to spend the last few days with you watching you survive the storm, mentally, physically and spiritually. You rocked up barefoot, shocked and stunned. This morning you both looked beautifully radiant still mending and still with a servants heart. Don’t worry too much about the haters, feeding their comments will only be the equivalent of letting a bluebottle lay their maggoty eggs in an open wound. Spend the rest of your Christmas in the bosom of your amazing family and get that knife sharpened for your next escapade Mr Tryon. Love you both – The Crabstix xxx
    Light the candle babies xxx

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      lol! The knife is polished and ready for action … we may need another week! thank you for being so kind to us and understanding of being a bit dazed and out of it 😉 and YES … Light the candle!

  7. Di Cornish
    | Reply

    My son Rhys was with you on the boat .!

  8. Di cornish
    | Reply

    My son Rhys was on the Nacar with you

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      He was amazing!!! He kept to calm the whole time and it was his idea to hunt out the flippers for swimming! You would be so proud of him

      • Di Cornish
        | Reply

        He has nothing now , they have bought shoes and some clothes and will continue their journey .

  9. Erick
    | Reply

    I’ve been in Costa Rica for 13 years
    I have met Four of the people that Were on this boat that’s where I found the story. Of this crazy accident. I own a boat myself this is crazy I can’t believe you all made it through I am so happy.
    You always got to be careful of what happens in what you go through in life but the most important thing is that you made it. I will not mention their names but I took them out for drinks tonight and they were just happy and had big smiles that they made it through.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Thank you so so much for doing that!!! the kindness of strangers helped us feel more human when we were heading back too. Its the best feeling to have friends and family love and support us, but when you cant be near them and a someone you have never met is kind to you, it really helps restore you your faith in humanity (I’m sure they would have told you about some of the less than lovely people we had to deal with trying to get back to a city)

    • Di Cornish
      | Reply

      That was probably my son and his girlfriend !

      • Globemad Emma
        | Reply

        I hope so, they are such wonderful people and have been through so much! i love to think of people being kind to them. We stuck together till we got to the first hostel and swopped details so we could help each other if needed. Then all made very difference decisions on how to move forward. Some were understandably shattered and went to sleep, a few of us did all nighters to arrange flights back. I understand them continuing their journey as a way of moving forward, we just needed to come home. …when we get it together, we get back on the road too.

  10. Matt B
    | Reply

    So glad to hear you and Pete are ok. Incredible story! Ignore the haters like Mendoza. Some people live in self-loathing misery disguised as wit and confidence. We hope to see you again in Cambodia sometime.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Hey Matt, we hope to be in Cambodia again in the new year. Would love to catch up! At first the comments on the online papers were hurtful, but now the haters just make me feel sad that there’s people living such miserable lives that wishing people dead is a past time for them.

  11. Cida Rix
    | Reply

    Emma, this is crazy!!!! I was terrified just by reading about the wreck, can’t believe you went through this. Thank God you are safe!
    Come back here for safe bbq!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      I was terrified at the time. The whole thing is just surreal. Would LOVE to come back for bbq! Best bbq in the world!

    • Pete Tryon
      | Reply

      On my way! 🙂 your bbq is exactly what i need now. Love to you and the family

  12. Stephanie
    | Reply

    Thank God! He really kept watch over all of you. I’m a ex-student in the school where Mr Tryon was before you both went on this adventure.
    I read about this shipwreck in the news, some of my friends shared it with me, we were all surprised to see familiar faces in the pictures. Really inspired by how much you both kept your spirits up through it all – the smiles in the pictures definitely don’t match with the fear one would have had in such a situation. Thank God again and may He continue to bless you both in the coming days!

    • Pete Tryon
      | Reply

      Hi Stephanie. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you are well. There were definitely some terrifying moments- God’s peace was so tangible. We are so thankful to God for keeping everyone safe. Have a lovely new year

  13. kari reinan
    | Reply

    Your smiles show relief and thankfulness. I wonder what you shall learn by all this physical experiences, or maybe teach people around you…
    Showers of Blessings,
    Kari (Bergen, Norway)

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Yeah, Sheer relief, exhaustion, thankfulness and excitment. After we saw the fishermen, everyone was smiling and laughing for ages. Best feeling imaginable.

  14. Clive
    | Reply

    It was that great prayer and then the ‘we,re on a reef’ just after that tells me God replied. I haven’t seen the troll comments and I’m not going to bother to either just gonna give God some glory and ask Him for much grace and blessings on you both for 2016 and beyond. Love your way of using His breath in your lungs to achieve so much.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Thank you Clive 🙂 I loved it ‘we’re on ROCK’ God is good! …and now, we don’t want to waste a breath!

  15. Quyen
    | Reply

    Hi Emma,

    You may not remember me. We met in Siem Reap several years ago. I was walking along the road and saw you biking to the market. We spent some time that rainy afternoon playing with the children at the orphanage that YOU brought to fruition with your blood, sweat, and tear. And then we happen to run into each other at Angkor Wat the next day. (I still have a photo we took there.) Anyhow, I’ve been tracking your awesome work and adventures over the years.

    This story scared me even though I knew the ending. I can’t imagine how you all found the courage to survive between 0300 and 1600 hours on first a rapidly sinking ship and then stuck on a reef with the waves not knowing whether rescue would come or when. Like so many others, I am very thankful that you all are alive. I’m sending you prayers of healing and gratitude. Please be kind to yourselves as you heal from this trauma.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Hi Quyen, So nice to hear from you! thank you for helping us and the children LOVED playing football. Your message is wonderfully kind, the children are worth everything and are growing up happy and healthy. Also thank you for your prayers, pray is powerful. Being grateful to be alive is an epic feeling and I really want to make the most of life.

  16. CruisingEditor
    | Reply

    I’ve covered a few stories of boats lost on a reef. I am thankful that all survived your ordeal and that your survival skills “kicked in”! We cruised the San Blas and saw too many wrecks on the reefs. It’s so outrageous that a captain taking a paid charter on his yacht would be so irresponsible as yours was, by failing to keep watch… It’s just deplorable!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      I’m deeply greatful we all survived, at the beginning it really didnt look like it would go that way. I’m going to put together a warning and do what i can to spread the word. It could have been avoided and people need to know its not safe with these companies

  17. Heidi
    | Reply

    Hi Emma,
    Thank you for sharing your story of courage and of the best of humanity. I have been on a 10,000 nautical mile sail over the last four years from Maine, US, to Raiatea, French Polynesia. It was a dream I had since I was 14 (and I’m now sixty).
    I wanted to add that I spent four or five months in Kuna Yala and am so grateful for the amazing people there. Once a friend and I walked around an island and met a native who lived there. My friend said, “Thank you for letting us visit your island. I will be returning to the US soon and can bring you something. What do you need?”
    The man replied, “We have ua (fish), dulub (lobsters), suga (crabs), quiquir (octopus), masi (bananas), ogop (coconuts).” Then he smiled at us and said. “I already have all I need. Paradiso!” It was so refreshing to talk with someone with very little material possessions and such amazing wisdom.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Wow what an inspirational story! It truely sounds like the adventure of a life time. I’d love to hear more. Do you have a blog? If you would like to send your story and some photos we could do an interest piece. Thank you for your kind words and I love that you’re doing this at sixty. I hope we are as inspirational as you at sixty

  18. Phatdad
    | Reply

    Great time to take selfies. The Bro who feel asleep on watch is no Captain. Boat full of young kooks. You are all very lucky Mother Ocean did not kill all of you.

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      So greatful to be alive. The shipwreck selfies are truly ridiculous looking back, at the time we did anything to keep our spirits up whilst holding out for rescue. Terror and humour are strangly linked

  19. Patricia
    | Reply

    Dear Emma and Pete
    We are all so glad you made it home and it was an honor to meet you both on the flight from Panama to Houston. You should know that your ordeal has become the story we have all told our family and loved ones (and many a tear was shed about the beautiful couple who created a miracle in passengers wanting to help them)! Also know that many of us are keeping in touch now! Cheers to you and your shipmates making the best of a terrible situation!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Cant put into words how greatful we are for you, you made us feel human again, like we had worth. I want to to write up that part of the story soon and was thinking of calling it ‘brought back to life by the kindness of strangers’, but as you felt like family by the end, it doesnt quite capture it. I love telling family and friends how kind you all were, it reasures them of the good in the world.

  20. Amanda Connolly
    | Reply

    Wow. Intense! Great story, very well written. Can definitely feel the emotion. Glad all turned out well!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Hi Amanda, means a lot to know it’s well written, I’m still really new to developing a writing style, so thank you for being so encouraging! 🙂 … help to have a crazy intense story to tell 😉

  21. Tales of Travelling Sisters
    | Reply

    Such a terrifying experience!! Glad your all safe and made it back home.:) Take care and much love from the Travelling Sisters 🙂 xx

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Hey girls, so lovely to hear from you. Very happy to be safe and sound to! Just gearing up for our next adventures 🙂

  22. Kirsten
    | Reply

    Insane. This is not something you expect to happen when travelling and indeed, most people only talk about good things. The good thing about this is though, that you survived and now have your story to share with the world. Thanks for sharing it. I was just wondering. Are you scared to go on boats now?

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      You’re so right!! In a strange way I’m grateful it happened, I learned a lot through it and thankfully EVERYONE did survive! …and I have been on a few boats since, …and I can’t lie, I was pretty shaky, I suddenly became aware of how many safety things are overlooked, but I don’t do fear, so I am persisting and I am getting better!

  23. Gil Sousa
    | Reply

    That moment when you read an article hoping to read “this is only fiction” but it isn’t… That’s a really scary experience, thank you for sharing and I’m glad everything ended up ok!

    • Globemad Emma
      | Reply

      Haha! I know what you mean, the whole thing is so surreal! So glad it all worked out too 🙂 Thank you for your message 🙂

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