Mike Russell and Anthony Douglas cling to the hull of their
capsized vessel as a Coast Guard MH-65 rescue helicopter
crew make their approach. Photo U.S. Coast Guard
Eight days after their boat tossed them into the sea,
Mike Russell lost all hope.
Anthony Douglas already had to save his friend several times.
Clinging to the slippery fibreglass hull drained their
strength. Neither man had slept. They had no water, just
seaweed to suck on.
Russell told Douglas it was over.
"Let me go," he said.
"We're going to get out of here together," he replied.
Hours later, on September 14, a tow boat spotted them and a
Coast Guard helicopter circled above. The next day, a photo
taken from the chopper spread across the web: two
50-something Bahamian men, desperate, soaked and isolated on
a vast, blue expanse.
Details of their ordeal first appeared in The Bahamas
Tribune, but until now a full account has not reached the US.
Speaking from Abaco Island, where he is recovering at his
home, Douglas described what happened when he and a friend
simply wanted to go fishing one morning.
In Freeport on September 7, they packed some fishing gear
into a 16-foot white boat. It was a two-hour crossing to
Bimini, which Douglas had done several times, in boats even
smaller than this one.
Douglas, 57, says he has fished since he was 10 and makes his
living that way now. Russell, 58, who declined to comment
when reached by phone, is a Freeport businessman. The two met
recently through a mutual friend.
They set out that day to catch grouper.
A storm caught them first. Drenching rain rendered their
little pump useless. Douglas said there was nothing they
Then "the wave came," he said.
It pitched their little boat upside down, and the two fought
churning seas to stay on it. When the storm passed, they were
adrift and tired. The current had carried them "like we had a
motor," Douglas said, and they were far off course.
That night, they did not sleep. To sleep was to slip off the
hull. So they watched the moon and the lights of Bimini
shrink in the distance.
Back in Freeport, the brother of Douglas' girlfriend was
waiting for a call from his friend to let him know they made
it. When he never got the call, he phoned the family in Abaco
and the police. Search crews mobilized.
"We were looking out for them," said Michael Checkley,
inspector for the Bimini Police. "But of course they didn't
The U.S. Coast Guard publishes a manual on how to survive in
"the most inhospitable place on our planet" - open water.
Chapter one is called "The Will to Survive."
"The most predominant psychological barrier to survival,"
according to the Coast Guard, "is fear: fear of the unknown,
fear of discomfort and fear of one's own weakness."
Douglas says he has always been fit. He grew up playing
sports, and he is dive certified. He set his mind to being
seen. The days brought harsh sunlight but raised the
likelihood that they would be spotted.
Douglas could hear the revving engines of distant freighters.
Occasionally one would pass within a mile or so of them, and
Douglas would scramble to his feet as best he could. It was
nearly impossible to keep his balance standing on the hull.
And he was so small.
At night, they took turns sleeping - for a minute or two -
while holding the other in place.
On the fifth day, the water turned to land. A house
materialized around them. Douglas was alone and safe. Such
hallucinations continued as the men grew weaker. They sucked
on seaweed for sustenance. It offered precious doses of
potassium, calcium and iron.
But they were severely dehydrated. Their skin was thick and
inelastic, like putty, as their blood worked to keep their
vital organs alive. Their eyes were sunken.
As their desperation grew, Russell slipped off the boat and
told Douglas to let him sink. Douglas dragged him back and
used his shirt to tie them together.
"Mike," Douglas said, "Are you praying?"
"Yeah," Russell said.
"Pray some more," Douglas said. "Pray from year heart; don't
pray from your belly."
He knew that if they reached the powerful Gulf Stream, it
would drag them north to death. Douglas prayed: "God, if you
could save me now, this is the time to save me."
Near Riviera Beach, Florida, they were saved. The crew of a
tow boat came close enough to see them and rushed to bring
A helicopter whisked them off the sea to Delray Beach Medical
Center, where they remained for another three days.
They flew home on Friday (local time).
The sun and salt water left their skin damaged, and their
hands are raw from gripping fibreglass. On Sunday, Russell
went to the hospital for back pain where a layer of skin had
ripped off. He is hoping his story becomes a movie.
Douglas is resting a lot now. He said he has no immediate
plans to go fishing again.