‘God saved me’
Fisherman recaps missing-at-sea ordeal
Fisherman Noel Armstrong, who was missing at sea for six days before being found adrift off the Grenadines island of Mustique and rescued by two Vincentian fishermen, arrived home by plane this morning. However, he is not happy with his treatment by Vincentian authorities, saying it was as if he were a criminal.
“The men called the Coast Guard for me and then from there I went up to Mustique and spent four days there. Then, Immigration transferred me from there to St Vincent where I spent the rest of the time,” the fisherman of 39 years told Barbados TODAY in an interview at his mother Antalene Armstrong’s Pine, St Michael home.
“In Mustique, it was okay because the men treat me very good, but when I get to St Vincent, up in there was something else man. Eight men had to sleep on a bunk at the police station. I had to do the same thing as the criminals had to do: get up 5 o’clock on mornings, eat prison food and if I want to go to the bathroom, I got to call somebody to go to the bathroom. I thought I would have some sort of comfort and put up some place safe,” he added.
Armstrong complained that at least three times he requested a phone call to his Member of Parliament Chris Sinckler but Vincentian police denied him.
“I begged for a phone call about three or four times to contact the Minister or his secretary and they would not give me a phone message at all at the police station,” he said.
“I feel very disappointed because if I had gotten in contact with Mr Sinckler, I would be from down there every since,” he added.
Armstrong’s unforgettable ordeal started on May 21. It was around 5:30 a.m. when he left his 5thAvenue, Holders Land, Black Rock St Michael home, collected his fishing boat the “Sea Cat”, which was berthed at the Shallow Draft, and went out to sea for the usual half-day trip.
He said he went behind the Bridgetown harbour wall, caught some pot fish which he was busy scaling when his drifting nightmare began around 1 o’clock when strong winds came “out of nowhere”.
“The wind just pick up carrying the boat out south in the clear blue sky. I don’t know where part this strong wind come from. I don’t know what happened that morning at all boy, things just didn’t go right,” the glad-to-be-alive fisherman said, shaking his head.
Armstrong explained that he usually took his cellular phone and flares on his fishing trips to call for help in case he got into difficulty, but forgot them that particular morning. As the hours turned into days, the boat drifted further south and the fisherman saw no land or any other boats along the way. He constantly hoped, especially at nights, that no big ships came his way.
Only able to see water and fish, the fisherman said at one point, he threw his hands in the air and said “whichever part this wind carry me I going”.
“The first two nights I did giving up, but I tell myself I can’t give up because my mother, my friends and my family got to be worried about me. I just put the Lord in front, had faith and that was it,” he said.
He said that by day two when full survival mode kicked in, he was forced to start drinking seawater, his own urine and caught fish which he dried in the sun and ate in the raw state. Floating Sargassum weed, which has become a nuisance on local beaches, became a meal for Armstrong who ate it along with the fish.
“I feel I lose about 15 pounds,” he said.
Fully exposed to the elements, the fisherman said when he was not preparing a meal, or using a bowl to throw out water hurled into the boat by waves, he used a piece of canvas to protect his body from the elements.
On the fifth day, before sunset, Armstrong recalled seeing signs of land ahead when he looked west, but dismissed what he saw, suggesting that his eyes may have been playing tricks with him. He eventually drifted off to sleep. However, when he awoke on the sixth day, his eyes were not deceiving him when he saw “some big rocks and land”. As he got close, he saw the fishermen whom he called out to for help.
“I was never so happy in my life like when I see them old fishermen. They wanted to know which part I come from and I tell them. Them told me that they don’t know how I get that do. In Mustique, they calling me ‘the Mighty Gabby’ and see me as a hero,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Thanking those who prayed for him and officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force and Barbados Coast Guard which went searching for him, Armstrong said: “I have faith, man. I know God was with me and I know I wasn’t going to die.”
The fisherman indicated that he was going to stay away from the sea for the next three weeks before returning to his livelihood, which he has been doing since he was about 12-years-old. Especially overjoyed by his safe return was his relieved mother, who admitted that at one point she thought her only son and second of three children had died.
She said during the time when his whereabouts were unknown, she even anticipated that the worst news would come her way. “I was worried and I give up because I say I ain’t seeing my boy again. I always tell my two girls that I know if anything happen to me, one of you will give me food and the other one going to give clothes but I trust that ‘Rat Cat’ (Armstrong’s nickname) gine bath me when I get old,” the mother said.