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Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Survival at Sea

The crew of the Silver Muna

By Shay Roddy

CAPE MAY – Two Cape May men and a dog were rescued 214 miles offshore from a 30-foot sailboat that they spent 10 days stranded on, drifting through the massive swells of the Atlantic Ocean, without fuel, power or sails.
Early afternoon Dec. 13, the sailors, Kevin Hyde and Joe DiTomasso, spotted a glimmer of hope on the horizon – a ship making a transatlantic voyage – and used what little remaining energy they had, waving their arms and a flag to try to get the attention of someone onboard.
The captain of the Silver Muna, a 600-foot tanker, transporting gasoline from Amsterdam to New York City, said when he decided to investigate something out of place his crew spotted in the deep ocean, he wasn’t expecting to come across the overdue Atrevida II.
“We didn’t receive any distress signal. Nothing. My second officer just noticed there is something, some boat,” the captain, Neerah Chaudhary, said. “Immediately, I don’t know what comes in my mind, I turn the ship. It was on my starboard side, the right side, and I just turned the ship just to have a look. Like what is this? Deep sea, small boat. Why it is here?”
As he approached, he saw the men, then the bubbly lettering of the boat’s name painted on the stern.
“I saw the name of the boat, Atrevida II, and then realized for that we received a distress message Dec. 12, yesterday, but that position was 500 nautical miles away from our ship.”
In 15-foot swells, Chaudhary said he successfully lowered an onboard crane holding a cargo net down to the sailboat and eventually brought Hyde and DiTomasso onto his ship.
The pair had embarked on a planned trip to Marathon, Florida from Utsch’s Marina in Cape May Nov. 26, but after making a port call in the Outer Banks Dec. 3, Hyde and DiTomasso were not heard from again. They were reported overdue by their family Dec. 11 when they had not arrived in Florida as planned and the U.S. Coast Guard began a search.
Two days after the search began, still without results, the Coast Guard expanded the search area to include waters off the north shores of Florida up to New Jersey, making up 21,164 square miles of ocean. They were assisted by the U.S. Navy and maritime partners, like the Silver Muna, who found the survivors far off the Delaware coast.
The two survivors joined the Silver Muna for the rest of its voyage to the port of New York. At a press conference in a Coast Guard station on Staten Island, New York Dec. 14, the rescued men described the harrowing days stranded at sea.
“It was hunky dory when we left out of Oregon Inlet. We were sailing along having a good time,” Hyde, 65, said.
They recalled that they had almost made it to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where they were planning to make a turn, but then as night fell and a storm rolled in, the turn they took was not as expected.
“Just as we got to that point, a huge storm blew up and just blew us off course and I lost part of my mast, so I didn’t have the power to make the turn, so at that point we were just being pushed out to sea farther and farther,” Hyde said.
It was a trip Hyde had made in the past and it was his boat, the Atrevida II that the two set off on. For DiTomasso, 76, it would have been his first time sailing to Florida.
He said the scariest part of the experience came when the mast completely snapped and was hanging off the side of the Catalina sailboat, which was powerless and in waters it was not designed for.
“Kevin ran up and cut the lines to get [the mast] off the boat because it was hanging over the side. A 50-foot mast. Once we cut that mast off, 40-foot seas. There were mountains,” DiTomasso recalled. “You don’t know what 40-foot waves look like.”
The sailors said they ran out of water and cut the boat’s water lines to suck up and drink what little was left in the line. DiTomasso said they were so desperate and thirsty they would sip the water from cans of beans they had on board and were without water the last couple of days.
The lead keel in the boat kept it upright and afloat over the peaks of the waves, DiTomasso said, but the two men were drained just trying to stay upright or move about against the constant rocking and tossing at the hands of the sea.
“That boat rode so good. That boat could take it, but guess what, we couldn’t,” DiTomasso said. “I’m very tired. My legs are like rubber.”
Hyde and DiTomasso were without an emergency position indicating radio beacon, commonly known as an EPIRB. An EPIRB is a device available for about $500 to commercial and recreational boaters for use only if the unthinkable happens. The device uses satellites to alert a worldwide network of first responders, while sending a continual signal with the distressed boater’s location, to assist in a search and rescue.
On the cold, lonely ocean in those moments of little hope and crippling exhaustion, the two said they kept each other alive. Asked what was going through his mind, Hyde pointed at DiTomasso.
“I don’t want to be responsible for somebody else. That was a major factor in the whole motivation, to keep on doing what I was doing, was to keep me from being responsible for losing someone else’s life. I did everything I could to make it better. Fortunately, it worked out. I couldn’t live with knowing I was responsible for somebody else being injured or lost,” Hyde said.
DiTomasso also held his 21-month-old granddaughter and credited her with helping find the strength to persevere.
“All I asked the Lord was to see my granddaughter,” he said.
The captain of the Silver Muna, a vessel sailing under the flag of Hong Kong, said the high seas rescue was not easy because the men had little strength and maneuvering the massive ship next to the relatively tiny boat was tough under the conditions.
“That was also very difficult. I was praying, God save them,” Chaudhary, recalled of the three-hour rescue. “When I completed the rescue operation, I was literally crying.”
The men thanked the captain profusely. They said when they got aboard, they were fed, given warm clothes and care from the tanker’s crew. The dog was a champ through it all, they said, and was also pampered once abord the tanker and appeared at the press conference.
“You and your crew are the best,” DiTomasso told Chaudhary, embracing him. Chaudhary recalled emotional talks he had with the man after bringing him aboard.
“Mr. Joe, I think he has cried 10 times on the ship,” Chaudhary said.
While the captain couldn’t help but be touched by the emotion of the situation, he didn’t see what he did as anything extraordinary. He said he was just doing his duty and following his training that day. He credited his crew for doing the same.
“It is our duty what we have done. We have not done any extra thing,” Chaudhary said. “I am very happy here. I have saved someone’s life.”
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com or call (609) 886-8600 ext. 142.

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