My Narrow Escapes at Sea - Part 3: Caught in the Storm

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.

The near-drowning incident in part two looked ordinary as compared the third incident. Nearly two years after the incident of boat capsizing, one fine day I was on sea patrolling duty along with my senior officer Shri Goplani, Superintendent.

We left docks in the afternoon. From Porbandar we headed in a wooden patrolling boat towards open sea and then turned southward towards Veraval.

It was a nice day without much wind. The sky was cloudless and everything appeared to be fine. Then in the evening, just as the sun was going down, suddenly a wave of dark clouds appeared on the horizon.

In no time the sky blackened, the wind picked up fiercely, like I had never seen before. Within the next half an hour the wind turned cyclonic, accompanied with thunder, lightning and rain.

Dark clouds hid the sun. They churned grimly in the darkness after the sunset, as black as a witch’s Sabbath. Violent wind fermented, rippling the surface of the calm sea. We were caught in a cyclonic storm in the open sea. In the raging storm our boat was badly battered around by the strong winds and swell of the sea.

It became very scary.

As a safety measure we were compelled to deviate from our planned route. We diverted our boat towards the nearest port i.e. Veraval Port. But in any case it would take almost 5 hours before we could find shelter in a port. Thus we were in the mid sea, far away from land.

 
Tentative location of incidents near Veraval Port

Tentative location of incidents near Veraval Port

 

From experience I was aware it would worsen before it became better. The sky started to rumble loudly. Total darkness prevailed as the clouds thickened. Rain had began to hit our boat badly.

The streaky lightning emblazoned the sky. The intensity of the storm increased. Not just that, the violent waves started lashing against our small boat. The boat started rolling from side to side like a leaf. The echo of raspy rumblings from the enraged sea brought tremendous fear to us.

The waves rose like mountains and our small boat was lifted effortlessly and dropped back constantly. Fast flowing water was streaming in from the front end (bow) of the boat. The bow was literally going under and coming up dripping, creaking with sea water flowing down the sides. It was sounding like “a waterfall” leaking into the boat at its forepeak, up near the bow. I had never before seen the sea in such a rage. In this furious sea conditions our marine staff tried desperately to steady the boat but it was an impossible task.

To make the things worse, the nonstop heaving and tossing of the boat in the rising swell triggered my sea sickness. I started vomiting uncontrollably. It was a matter of great concern for me, because I had to frequently go to the side of the boat to vomit violently into the sea. I had to bend my half body to throw out the vomit completely out of the boat.

I was at the risk of being tossed out into the sea. It was difficult to keep the balance on the floor. Not only that, I saw the ship store material and equipment, including gas cylinder, were rolling on the deck horribly.

Some mariners were trying to manage, but all in vein. I hold to tightly onto the side planks, onto ropes, onto any part of the boat, so as to avoid being tossed over the side into the sea. It was difficult to hang on.

When I was vomiting out of the boat I saw a horrible scene. A mountainous wave rose before me, which blotted out my view completely. Nearly a vertical wall of water stood before me. Next moment, the boat turned turtle on a huge wave.

From the top of the wave I was able to see many mountainous waves all around our boat. I felt I was extremely unlucky and terribly fortunate at the same time. I was afraid I was going to be tossed around.

 
Mountainous waves

Mountainous waves

 

With both my hands I gripped a wooden plank with all my strength. My heart starting pumping several times faster than normal. I thought if I would be able to see tomorrow, it will be with a new nightmare to recall.

The turmoil of the sea caused a hectic activity in my blood. Due to excessive vomit, my stomach began to pain. Weariness was overcoming my senses. So I returned to the cabin and lay down to stop nausea and vomiting but it was in vain. Due to constant heaving and tossing of the boat my problem just worsened.

I remember, at one point the vicious waves tossed our boat like a cork upon the enraged sea. The timber planks buckled and bulged, then creaked and shuddered, but the boat righted herself once again.

However the frightening thing was that when the boat lifted and fell we heard a strange sound as if something had broken.

And very next moment we were all got cold feet when the navigating officer screamed loudly that the steering chain (iron cable strands) had broken inside the boat and boat’s steering system had failed.

When one is at sea high seas during a storm, loss of steering means that the boat is rudderless and we were at the mercy of the storm. We had lost control over the boat and started drifting helplessly. We had no idea where we were going.

Our boat was likely to be overturned (capsized) at any time in the sea water. Those were the worst conditions I had ever seen.

We were at the death’s door and it was the time to call for help. I forgot my sea sickness and went to work.After consulting my senior, I opened the Wireless Set.After few seconds we heard connected to the Veraval Communication base.

I briefed him about our precarious situation and gave him the coordinates. The ex-army officer understood our plight quickly and decided upon the action promptly. He asked to stay open and keep feeding the updated situation.

After few minutes the communication officer gave us a ray of hope by informing me that a boat is being despatched to rescue us. Even then, I was unsure about the chances of our survival.

There was a question mark over the very survival of the boat with no steering control in a major storm. Also, as per my knowledge, Veraval Customs had only one patrolling boat, a modern fibreglass boat which had joined the customs fleet recently.

But the problem was that the officers of our Marine Wing were hesitant to operate this boat, since they were habituated of using the traditional wooden boats. One of their arguments was that the fibreglass boat was not fit for rough sea as it was lighter in weight with a narrow base.

Due to these features the said fibreglass boat was prone to overturning in stormy conditions. Thus with no hope we waited for this unsuitable boat to rescue us.

And all along we were drifting aimlessly with no control over the direction. All sorts of bad thoughts flooded my mind. Stories of Ghost Ships, also known as phantom ships, found adrift with its crew missing or dead. Even the stoutest hearts had cause to fear. There was hope, but it was faint.

In the meanwhile the boat continued to drift for a couple of hours. All we could do was to wait for a miracle.

Then out of the blue I heard sound of a boat’s engine. Within a few seconds I was able to see the lights of a boat coming towards us cutting through the hilly waves. I was astonished to see that the fibreglass boat had arrived against all odds to save our souls.

A sudden streak of joy ran through me. Our fear turned into joy. Everybody on the board burst out clapping with huge relief.

We became cheerful and joyous and happy.

It became clear to us that we weren’t meant to die that night. The fibreglass boat came close to our boat. And with the help of ropes our steerless boat was tied safely and securely to be towed along with the rescue boat.

We reached the port at one and half hours past midnight. In the meanwhile the cyclone had abated but it left a trail of destruction on mainland also. I thanked the marine officers, who had rescued us from near death by putting their lives at risk.

Only and only those brave officers of marine wing stood between us and our death. It felt so amazing to be alive.

Above and beyond, I experienced many more lucky escapes from death in my life. Some were even more horrifying.

I have shared these three experiences as a testament of the sea’s power, a power so strong as to change my view of the sea and of life. As it can be seen, I am a veteran of close encounters.

Near death experiences make me feel that one should not worry about dying.

It’s only a small part of life.

If there is any conclusion I can make from these death defying experiences, that is: don’t be afraid of life but lead a full life.

You don’t have to live forever.

You just have to live.

Comments

I agree. Who knows what's next?

Thanks a lot sir for quick review and appreciation. Your kind words may behelpful to me in building my confidence.

Very interesting and knowledgeable information.
Keep it up.

Thank you so much my dear friend for your words of encouragement.

This is an unbelievable tale of survival at sea

Any person near to death can have a spiritual experience. I've seen it often
These amazing experiences come to dramatic and life-transforming realizations.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.

Spiritual awakening involves moving beyond your limited reality and gaining a broader and clearer perspective.
Just like a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, when you finally reach that state of spiritual enlightenment, you’ll be able to spread your wings and find your true self and your true path.

Once your inner transformation to a higher level of consciousness is complete, you’ll be happy that you went through the whole life changing experience.
All the best and please keep writing

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your insightful comments on my articles. You have such kindness to take the time to write me such loving words. I would have never had the courage to share my personal stories and exposures if I wasn’t for the strong support and love from generous and thoughtful readers and friends like you. You made me happy to do what I do. Thank you for supporting me and helping me grow as a writer.

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