I’ll never forget the day: I helped rescue a runaway RIB

A lazy day in a secluded anchorage in the middle of nowhere was interrupted by a runaway RIB and a rescue mission to reunite it with its owner

MBY reader Eric Sanford shares his most memorable day at sea…

We were bobbing alone in our own private anchorage in Puerto Ferro on the south side of Isla de Vieques, a barren island off the south-east end of Puerto Rico.

It’s a place that I can’t imagine more than a dozen boats visit every year, so we looked up in surprise when a sleek powerboat entered the bay.

It anchored up about 150 metres away and we went back to doing whatever it is we were doing – absolutely nothing.

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A couple of hours later we decided to launch our tender and cruise around the tiny bay, but as we passed by the boat someone appeared on deck and waved wildly at us to come over, which we did.

In a thick French accent he explained he needed a ride to shore. I looked where he pointed and there, out of view from our boat, Indigo, was a group of six men dressed in orange shirts standing next to a truck with a trailer. On the trailer sat a smart little RIB. What on earth was going on?

“Well you see, I have lost zee boat in St Barts ten days ago and ‘ere it is.” My wife Debbie and I exchanged glances. His name was Pierre and he proceeded to tell us the tale of the wandering RIB.

The tale of the runaway RIB

It transpired that he owned a small charter boat company in Saint Martin. There were five boats in his fleet and one had gone missing. As an afterthought he said: “I zink I need to learn to tie better knots.”

So the boat (a very nice 14ft AB mini-RIB with a 70hp outboard) had made a break for bluer waters and greener pastures.

Ten days and 135 miles later, it washed up on a tiny beach on the south side of Isla de Vieques! That was a miracle in itself since 95% of the island’s south coast is ringed with jagged reefs, rocky cliffs and crashing waves.

Some honest person had found it and rather than thinking, “Wow, I just found an abandoned £16,000 boat with the keys in the ignition,” they had contacted the police.

The police had in turn discovered the registration papers in the forward locker and tracked down Pierre. Since it’s a full 135-mile open ocean crossing to Vieques, Pierre had to find a way to get to his RIB and bring it back to Saint Martin.

As luck would have it, his friend called an hour later asking if he’d help deliver a new 39ft boat that he’d bought from St Thomas to Saint Martin. You couldn’t make it up!

So Pierre flew to St Thomas (30 miles from where the RIB was) and met his friend. They had taken his new 39-footer over to Puerto Ferro to meet the officials and claim his RIB, which is where we came in.

The two men were waiting on their motor boat in the middle of the bay, with no way to get to shore to meet the officials and the mini-RIB. Since the AB’s battery was dead, the officials couldn’t get the RIB out to him either.

Had we not happened to be there, they would have been completely stuck. Another boat might not have passed for weeks!

Rescue job

We ferried Pierre to shore, where he thanked the officials profusely and then towed the AB back out to his friend’s boat.

Next he casually looped the frayed polypropylene rope from the RIB around a cleat at the back of the boat. “Uh, you’re not really going to tow it back like that, are you Pierre?” I asked with a frown.

“No, no, no,” he insisted. “I am going to make zee knot, of course.”

“Oh good, because I don’t think you’d make it 500 metres out of this bay without losing it again,” I said, seeing the frothing seas at the entrance to the bay as another 30-knot gust ripped through the anchorage.

Pierre spent the afternoon cleaning his runaway RIB and, I assume, scolding her profusely for her wayward odyssey.

Personally, I’m quite impressed: covering 135 miles of open ocean in ten days with no GPS, chartplotter, radar, depth-sounder or compass, not to mention making a soft beach landing. I don’t know many captains who could do that!

Have you had a particularly memorable day at sea? Email us your story and we’ll pay £100 for any we use.


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