Two sib­lings aban­don ship in the Caribbean Sea.

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - MATTHEW HALVERSON FROM SEAT­TLE MET

WA­TER CAME FROM EV­ERY DI­REC­TION. It fell from above in fat, cold drops and crashed over the sides of the boat. It drenched Dan Suski as he fought to keep his bal­ance in the stern of the Reel Irie, a mid-sized recre­ational fish­ing boat that ran char­ters in the south­ern Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Saint Lu­cia. But he wasn’t about to let wa­ter dis­tract him from his prize. Dan, 30, knew he’d hooked some­thing big when his fish­ing line be­gan un­reel­ing. But it took a good 40 min­utes be­fore he saw his catch: a 180-­kilo­gram mar­lin, with eyes the size of cricket balls.

It was just past noon on April 21, 2013. The sky was dark, the air heavy and cool, the waves three and a half me­tres high. While Dan and the first mate, Tim Cooper, fought the fish in the boat’s stern, Kate Suski, Dan’s 39-year-old sis­ter, sat in the helm. She was try­ing to film the tug of war with the mar­lin, but the Reel Irie heaved, mak­ing it hard for her to get a steady shot. No one no­ticed the wa­ter that ran past her feet and to­wards the bow.

The cap­tain, Grif­fith Joseph, steered the boat west, to­wards land. A long­time char­ter fish­er­man based in Saint Lu­cia’s Rod­ney Bay Ma­rina, he was un­con­cerned about the tu­mul­tuous seas. But he hadn’t protested an hour ago when the Suskis asked to head from the At­lantic side of the is­land to what they hoped would be a calmer en­v­i­ron­ment on the Caribbean side.

Dan was still reel­ing in the mar­lin when he heard the bang. It came from be­hind him, loud and with a hint of sizzle. For a sec­ond he won­dered if they’d hit some­thing, but the sea floor was more than 900 me­tres be­neath them. In the helm, Kate turned to Joseph, but the cap­tain shook his head as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” He left the wheel and opened the door to the cabin. Kate looked over his shoul­der and stared.

The sea had in­vaded the cabin. And when Joseph opened the hatch to the en­gine com­part­ment, they could see the space was al­most com­pletely flooded.

Still in the stern, Dan didn’t have to look back to know some­thing was wrong. First, there had been that bang. Plus, Joseph was down be­low. Though Cooper was at the helm, the Reel Irie was trav­el­ling in a wide arc, out of con­trol. As the boat changed di­rec­tions, the pro­pel­ler cut through the line to the mar­lin, set­ting it free.

Sud­denly, Joseph sur­faced and be­gan hand­ing out life jack­ets: “We have to jump in.”

IT WAS A typ­i­cally grey April day in Seat­tle when Kate re­ceived a text from

Dan: “Wanna go deep-sea fish­ing on Sun­day?” She in­stantly bright­ened. Her brother was pre­par­ing to hous­esit for a friend on Saint Lu­cia, where she’d join him in less than seven days.

Kate had seen Dan only spo­rad­i­cally since he moved to San Fran­cisco in 2012. For six years prior to that, they both lived in Seat­tle, where she worked as an ar­chi­tect and he had an on­line mar­ket­ing busi­ness. They had been in­sep­a­ra­ble.

She dashed off a re­ply to her brother: “Can’t wait.”

“KATE, JUMP. NOW!” While her brother bobbed in the wa­ter off the Reel Irie’s stern, Kate was try­ing to con­vince her­self that maybe a pocket of air would keep the sink­ing craft afloat un­til help ar­rived. The ur­gency in Dan’s voice shat­tered her fan­tasy.

The wa­ter was warm, but she shud­dered as it sur­rounded her.

The archipelago of which Saint Lu­cia is a part acts as a bar­rier against the strong trade winds that blow from the north-east and south-east. When those winds find a gap through which to push – say be­tween Saint Lu­cia and its north­ern neigh­bour, Mar­tinique – they speed up. And as the winds go, so go the cur­rents, which get more un­pre­dictable as they ap­proach land. It can be chal­leng­ing to nav­i­gate the eastern coast of Saint Lu­cia in ­tem­pes­tu­ous weather. With­out a boat, sur­vival is a dicey propo­si­tion.

That’s as­sum­ing the Suskis and the Reel Irie crew were off the is­land’s eastern coast. Un­der the stormy skies, us­ing the sun to ori­ent them­selves was out of the ques­tion. If they’d al­ready made it into the chan­nel be­tween Saint Lu­cia and Mar­tinique, the fast-mov­ing cur­rents could wash them out into open sea. Trav­el­ling in a straight line from there, the next clos­est beach was in Nicaragua – more than 2400 kilo­me­tres away.

Be­fore aban­don­ing ship, Joseph had called a friend in Rod­ney Bay to re­lay the boat’s co­or­di­nates. He as­sured the Suskis they would be res­cued in less than 45 min­utes.

Tread­ing wa­ter with the help of their life jack­ets, tossed up and down on the rolling seas, they watched the Reel Irie slip un­der the sur­face, stern first.

CAP­TAIN BRUCE HACKSHAW was at his home near Rod­ney Bay when his phone rang. The man on the line, a friend who was at the ma­rina, spoke quickly: “Some­thing must be wrong. Peo­ple are jump­ing in their boats and


tak­ing off with a lot of speed.” Hackshaw called his brother and busi­ness part­ner, An­drew, who made some ­in­quiries and learned of the Reel Irie’s predica­ment. Within min­utes, ­Hackshaw was board­ing one of his recre­ational fish­ing boats.

Like the other fish­er­men who had joined in the search, Hackshaw had very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion: the Reel Irie’s last- known lo­ca­tion was roughly 20 kilo­me­tres off the east coast of the is­land. It was about 1pm, less than an hour since the boat went down, but in those seas the sur­vivors could have drifted al­most two kilo­me­tres, and they’d likely drift even fur­ther.

Hackshaw fig­ured there were five hours of day­light left, and he knew that if the search didn’t suc­ceed be­fore sun­down, the cast­aways’ chances of last­ing the night dropped sig­nif­i­cantly. The Caribbean had be­gun its an­nual warm­ing, but they could still suc­cumb to hypothermia. A ship could fail to spot them and run them over. Or tiger sharks could pick them off.

THE BOATS WERE TAK­ING too long. By Dan’s es­ti­mate, it had been al­most two hours since the Reel Irie sank. He was get­ting anx­ious.

They had to start mov­ing. He was a strong swim­mer; so was Kate. If they were go­ing to stay alive, they’d have to make it to shore them­selves. Dan’s sur­vival cal­cu­lus didn’t al­low for vari­ables like help from oth­ers.

Joseph dis­agreed, in­sist­ing they re­main close to the co­or­di­nates he’d given out, but Dan was res­o­lute. Ear­lier in the af­ter­noon, at the top of a swell, he’d caught a glimpse of what he thought was the is­land, and the four­some be­gan mov­ing in that di­rec­tion.

Bat­tered by waves and un­able to see the hori­zon, the swim­mers had a hard time de­ter­min­ing their pro­gress. But then, kilo­me­tres ahead, they spot­ted a he­li­copter hov­er­ing above the wa­ter. It must be look­ing for us, Dan thought, and he pushed the oth­ers to move faster. Joseph and Cooper strug­gled to keep up; each time Dan looked back, they’d fallen fur­ther be­hind, un­til they dis­ap­peared al­to­gether. The sib­lings were alone.

And just as sud­denly as the he­li­copter had ap­peared, it was gone. Panic tight­ened Kate’s chest. “How do we know we’re go­ing the right way?” she asked. “Can you feel the wind?” Dan replied. She nod­ded. “Re­mem­ber what di­rec­tion it’s com­ing from. We’ll let that be our guide.”


KATE RE­CALLED HEAR­ING him say that on one of the sail­ing trips they’d taken to dis­tract them­selves from the pain of their mother’s death in 2009.

They drove up to the San Juan Is­lands in the Pa­cific North­west for a sleep-aboard sail­ing ex­cur­sion. Dan went to sail­ing camp as a kid and Kate had a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, but this would be an in­tense trip. Once out on the wa­ter, Kate was re­ac­tive, ad­just­ing the sail when she felt the boat pull to one side or the other. Dan, how­ever, could sense sub­tle changes in the air and turn the sail at just the right time. “Feel the wind, Kate,” he’d say.

Now, swim­ming blindly for her life, she chose to trust her brother when he said he knew the way.

NIGHT WAS FALLING, and the weather was get­ting worse. Hackshaw headed back to the ma­rina with­out any proof that the Reel Irie’s crew or pas­sen­gers had sur­vived. He made plans to re­sume his ef­forts the next morn­ing, but by then the search area would have ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally.

The Suskis guessed that the set­ting sun meant the search would be sus­pended. Dan fo­cused on what hope­fully lay ahead of them – land. Kate couldn’t help but think about what might be be­low. Ear­lier in the day she’d felt some­thing large move past her foot.

Fi­nally, as calmly as she could, she asked her brother, “Do you think there are sharks here?” “Not in this part of the Caribbean,” Dan replied, not en­tirely con­vinced. He could tell she was scared and wanted his ­an­swer to be de­fin­i­tive.

Kate was buoyed by Dan’s strength, but she kept go­ing be­cause she knew she had to – for her brother. If she gave in to the ter­ror and the ex­haus­tion, he’d want to pull her along. And that would only slow him down. Even­tu­ally he’d have to let her go, and the guilt and the grief would over­whelm him. If he was go­ing to sur­vive, she had to as well.

With a layer of clouds to blot out the moon, they swam on in al­most com­plete dark­ness. And then, up ahead, a bea­con cut through the night.

THE LIGHTS WEREN’T GET­TING any closer. Arm over arm, Dan swam, but they still seemed so far away. Hope be­gan to drain from him. Not only had he been wrong, his mis­take was go­ing to cost his sis­ter her life.

It was Kate’s turn to lie; she could tell they were trapped in a cur­rent that was sweep­ing them along­side the lights but wouldn’t let them get close. “We’re to­tally mak­ing progress,” she said. She wanted to be­lieve the lie, too. Af­ter more than 12 hours in the wa­ter, her shoul­ders and an­kles felt like they might rip from her body. The edges of her life jacket were dig­ging bloody abra­sions into her neck and shoul­ders, the pound­ing from the salt wa­ter had cracked her lips and swollen her tongue.

Sud­denly the wa­ter’s sur­face be­gan to glow, as if lit from be­low. As Dan and Kate pushed for­wards, the eerie, green light en­veloped them, bathing their faces. “Phos­pho­res­cence!” Kate shouted, al­most gid­dily. They’d hap­pened upon a huge swath of bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent plank­ton, and once again she was back on the sail­boat with Dan in the months af­ter their mother’s death. At night they’d take the dinghy out to en­joy the wa­ter in peace, and along the way the mo­tor would churn up the tiny, glim­mer­ing sea life. See­ing it now, they were re­vived by the mem­ory of those heal­ing mo­ments.

Heart­ened, she and Dan turned their at­ten­tion back to the light they’d been swim­ming to­wards and started pad­dling again, al­most will­ing them­selves home. Even­tu­ally, they es­caped the cur­rent that had held them, and the light did start get­ting closer. As they made their way, Dan and Kate be­gan to hear scar­ily loud waves. They saw the foamy edges of the wa­ter first and then the cliff face the waves were hit­ting. “We made it! We can climb this,” Dan yelled. “Maybe you can,” Kate an­swered, pic­tur­ing her­self hurtling against those rocks.

They had to look for an eas­ier way to get on shore. “We’ll swim un­til we can’t any­more,” she told Dan. “And if we haven’t found any­thing bet­ter, we’ll climb.”

Then the cliffs fell away, and just enough moon­light poked through the clouds for the sib­lings to see a small strip of land tucked be­tween rocky out­crops. Dan and Kate rode a wave onto shore and hud­dled un­der sea grass to keep warm and rest.

They guessed it was shortly af­ter 2am, nearly 14 hours af­ter the Reel Irie sank. They had swum al­most 20 kilo­me­tres.

DAN LAY IN HIS BED at Ta­pion Hos­pi­tal, in Saint Lu­cia’s cap­i­tal, Cas­tries.

As his sis­ter re­cov­ered in a sep­a­rate ward, he was pro­cess­ing the news he’d re­ceived ear­lier that day.

Af­ter gath­er­ing strength on the beach for two hours, Dan and Kate be­gan hik­ing west. The for­est even­tu­ally gave way to a dirt road. There, near the vil­lage of La Bourne, they ran into a farmer, who called the po­lice.

Be­fore set­ting out on their hike, though, Dan had hung his orange life jacket on a tree to mark where they’d come ashore. He re­layed that in­for­ma­tion to the au­thor­i­ties, who passed it on to the fish­er­men still search­ing for Joseph and Cooper.

Once Hackshaw spot­ted the life jacket, he re­cal­i­brated his search. At noon – 24 hours af­ter the Reel Irie went un­der – he found the cap­tain and first mate alive, a few kilo­me­tres from shore.

The Reel Irie was never re­cov­ered. No one is sure why it sank.

CHEAT­ING DEATH AT SEA was only the first step of sur­vival for Dan and Kate Suski. They re­turned to Saint Lu­cia in Novem­ber 2013 to thank those who had helped them and to find clo­sure. It was elu­sive.

For more than a year af­ter her 14- hour swim in the Caribbean, Kate lived in fear. She came home from work, shut her­self in her house and watched TV. Dan strug­gled, too, gripped by in­tense anx­i­ety that made oth­er­wise man­age­able sit­u­a­tions im­pos­si­ble. It wasn’t un­til al­most two years had passed that the anx­i­ety grip­ping the sib­lings be­gan to fade. In late 2014, Kate made a big move: she left Seat­tle for a nearly nine-month trip around the world.

Dan joined her in In­done­sia, where they once again char­tered a boat and de­cided to fi­nally con­front the fears that stalked them.

Though they had been on the wa­ter since Saint Lu­cia, this time they were go­ing to dive into it. Kate sat on the edge of the boat, brac­ing for the shock she’d felt when she slipped off the Reel Irie. With a sud­den burst of con­fi­dence, she fell back into the wa­ter and dis­ap­peared.

Dan waited a sec­ond, and then he slipped un­der, too.

The Suskis in Saint Lu­cia in 2013, with the farmer who found them near the vil­lage of La Bourne

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