My Narrow Escapes at Sea - Part 2: Boat Capsizing

Author: 
Mahendra Rathod

After completing his M.Com., Mahendra Rathod joined the Customs department in 1990 and won promotion to Superintendent in 2002. Having served at various stations in Gujarat, he is currently posted in CGST at Ahmedabad.

Mahendra is an avid explorer of places for wildlife photography, trekking and traveling. Reading, writing and painting are his free time hobbies. He is also heavily into long-distance running, working out at the gym and yoga.

Mahendra is the author of e-book Through My Lens: Wildlife and Tribal Culture published on www.inourdays.org.

Mahendra and Jyotika got married in 1995. Jyotika is a practicing dietician and yoga coach. Their daughter, Rucha, is a civil engineer and a state level table tennis player. Their son, Milind, is a computer engineer and a wushu, taekwondo and kung fu expert. Milind has been a great asset to his father in completing his e-book. His new passion is modelling photography.

My second narrow escape at sea made me realise how fragile our lives are. It was a nerve-racking experience.

I remember, it was a late summer time, with monsoon knocking on the door. In the wake of the monsoon’s arrival the sea on the western coast becomes very rough, with extremely high waves.

In the beginning of June, the fishermen on the coast of Gujarat stops fishing and return from the sea to their docks, due to prevailing bad weather conditions.

On one such day, when strong waves were hitting the coast of Porbandar together with monsoon winds and swell, I was prepared, along with other officers, to board and rummage a vessel, which was anchored outside the port.

Rummaging of vessels is thorough checking of foreign vessels by Customs Officials to prevent any attempt to smuggle prohibited and restricted goods into Indian Territory.

 
Samples of seized silver slabs smuggled through sea (Customs Division, Porbandar)

Samples of seized silver slabs smuggled through sea (Customs Division, Porbandar)

 

We all left in a tiny Dinghy Boat (in local language known as “Pilana”), driven by a small motor, to board the vessel lying at the outer anchorage late in the afternoon.

Our dinghy was chock full as we were in total 11 persons including shipping line personnel. It was a long bumpy ride before we reached the foreign vessel. After reaching at the vessel we had to negotiate the difficult task to board the vessel anchored in the rough sea. Anyhow we boarded the vessel but it took lot of time to rummage the vessel thoroughly.

By the time we returned to our dinghy after finishing our work it was already one in the night.

After our boat started, we realised that the situation in the sea conditions had gone from bad to worse and the risk to danger had almost doubled. On top of it it was pitched dark. The waves were bigger and appeared dangerous. As if that were not bad enough, by chance it happened to be high tide time. This made the waves not only more powerful and violent, but were also breaking closer to shore. We were very worried about all this.

Amidst fear and anxiety we passed half of the way on the bouncy surface of the sea like being on a roller-coaster. Getting closer to the shore the waves appeared very fierce and insurmountable.

 
Giant breaking waves

Giant breaking waves

 

Breaking of waves near shore made us worrisome because the force of steep breaking waves could knock down our tiny boat in the rough sea. It appeared that sequence of waves seemed to constantly chase our boat like a number of predators chasing a small prey.

We had to continue our return journey as return to the foreign vessel was not possible. We felt like as if we were caught in a trap, as we were unable to move backward or forward. The shore was still far away.

The humming of the waves made our blood run cold. As it has been said that what you fear will come to pass, but the next moment an enormous wave came over the boat and filled it with water. Now we were in dangerous situation.

At any time a mass of boiling white water of breaking waves could be roll over the little boat, which could be resulted in boat capsizing (overturning). If it had been one wave, we would have been fine by shedding the water, but we were in the middle of wave after wave. We did not know whether we would survive this slow dance of worry and scare.

I will never forget those horrible events of being so close to death.

Everybody was in panic and worried.

Some of us screamed at the top of our lungs for help, but it was all in vain, as there was no one around to help.

I felt helpless in the face of onslaught of the waves. I learned that only 2-3 persons on the boat knew swimming. But they too, except the boatman, were not courageous enough to swim in the rough sea.

I of course did not know swimming. We felt helpless in front of the mighty forces of nature.

Finally, the terrible moment came. A monster wave struck our tiny boat on us with full force. Gallons of water, just rolled over us. Consequently our boat overturned upside down and continued to roll with the waves.

 
Boat capsizing

Boat capsizing

 

I fell off the boat and got submerged into the water. I was fully covered with a mass of foam. I didn’t think I was going to survive this ordeal.

My mind was flooded with a horrible thought. I was going to die.

While falling into water, I could manage to hold on to the tip of the boat, as that was the only way to save my life. I was aware that eventually that the empty boat will float on the water.

Thanks holding on to the boat my head reappeared on the surface after a while.

I felt alive.

I suddenly noticed that everybody on the boat done the same thing although it was a small vessel.

But it is said that a drowning man will clutch at any straw. The people who knew swimming also clung on to the boat, except the boat man.

Some of us were washed away from the boat amid the foaming waves. As I experienced, when you drown, your instinct tells you to kick, you’re so desperate to get back to the surface.

It looks as if you’re running. I followed that instinct. The mightier wave pushed me towards shore.

Next was the miracle moment.

I could suddenly feel the touch of sand below my feet. Adrenaline rush powered me to run for my life at my fastest speed, because I was not safe yet.

When multiple waves crash on the shore in certain conditions, the strong flow of water tends to rush out back to sea as rip current. This powerful flow of water can pull even strong swimmers back into the sea.

I was already in neck-deep water and did not know swimming. For me, the situation was still dangerous.

I then decided to run with full force towards the sea shore. Soon I reached the shore.

I had the euphoric feeling of defying death.

It is definitely the best feeling in the world. In fact, actual sea shore was still away, but dumping of dredged sand of sea created the shallow depth there, which became life saver. Then I looked for my companions. Surprisingly, all of us were alive and reached to safety. After reaching land, we were badly shaken up and dumbstruck.

We just looked at the stormy sea and waves. And then we walked away from it all towards shelter and safety

All in all, all of us had survived a horrible nightmare.

Comments

I had no idea that Customs work at the ports was so dangerous. Glad that you made it safe back to shore.

Thank you so much sir, for great appreciation and wishes. Sir, even in recent time, you might have have read/seen news and video taken by Custom officer which became viral in the sea of Bhavnagar, a boat used by the Customs officials, sank in the sea completely. Luckily, the officers, before few seconds boarded a ship through that boat.However three crews on the boat were not so lucky they vanished with the boat into seawater.
https://youtu.be/rLX27n1h6Fc

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