Eyewitness Account: British Sailor Rescued at Sea

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A British sailor nearly delirious after he was stranded at sea for two days was saved in a dramatic rescue in high winds by a cruise ship captain who turned out to be his neighbor from a town 4,000 miles away.

No one would believe it if it weren't true. Solo sailor John Fildes probably would not have survived his ordeal if the giant luxury cruise ship Crown Princess had not canceled a planned stop in Bermuda because of the same high winds that disabled the sailboat.

The rescue took place Monday, May 14, a little more than 100 miles south of Bermuda. The Crown Princess ended its nine-day cruise Monday in New York.

Fildes, 32, an experienced yachtsman, was sailing his boat, "Dangerous When Wet," alone from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to Rhode Island battling stormy conditions at sea when his sails apparently collapsed. He became ill as he bobbed around in the water for two days unable to keep down any food.

According to Crown Princess Capt. Alistair Clark, Fildes had been making Mayday calls on his radio for two days, but no other ships were in range to hear his pleas for help.

The Crown Princess would not have been there either, except for the fact that it canceled a planned port call in Bermuda because of high winds. So the ship headed a day early to San Juan and was in position to hear the distress call.

The 113,000-ton, 950-foot-long cruise ship raced to the aide of the addled 40-foot sailboat. The dramatic rescue in high winds was part skill and part luck, according to one of the ship's officers.

Hundreds of passengers, including myself, watched in awe from open decks and balconies as the cruise ship slowly approached the sailboat. The high winds and 12-foot swells made the rescue quite dangerous.

The ship's crew made a decision to let the sailboat drift over and come into contact with the side of the cruise ship to make the recovery a bit safer. The Crown Princess launched a small rescue boat to pluck Fildes from his damaged vessel as the rescue boat and the sailboat bounced up and down in the high waves.

After Fildes was taken aboard the rescue boat, his sailboat rocked back and forth, its mast hitting the side of the Crown Princess as surprised passengers looked on. Its mast snapped off as the boat drifted along the side of the cruise ship and was left behind. The crew believes the sailboat, said to be worth more than $100,000, took on water and soon sank.

Clark said the ship's doctors, who treated Fildes, believe he probably would not have survived another day stranded at sea. Fildes left the Crown Princess in San Juan.

As an unexpected ending to this dramatic rescue story, it turns out Clark and Fildes live about a mile away from each other in the coastal English village of Warsash but had never met.

Clark told passengers on the ship he plans to visit Fildes back in Warsash. "He probably owes me a drink or two," he said.

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