Rare visitors to the island of Tobago, between Central America and the Caribbean, are usually intrigued when they arrive at the small fishing community of Lambeau and find a large sailboat stuck in the sand on the beach, visibly abandoned.
But the state of the boat is pitiful.
The hull of the once beautiful boat, which was once immaculately white, is now rough, grimy and gray, the glass in all its windows is broken, the grass on the shore now envelops it, and, inside its cabin, it no longer only one piece of furniture remains.
The ship’s mast is still standing, but it lacks the keel, a component as fundamental in a sailboat as the sails – which also no longer exist.
On the front, however, it is still possible to clearly read the name of the boat: Vagant. And, at the stern, its origin: Gdansky, a port city in Poland, as shown in a video posted on the Internet last week by the Trinidad Express news portal.
If it were new, that boat would be worth about a million dollars. But even in that sorry state, it’s still worth some money.
However, for five years, that large sailboat, almost 15 meters long, has been abandoned in that forgotten fishing village, rotting on the beach and its owner has done nothing to rescue it.
The answer lies in a tragic fact that happened on that boat, exactly five years ago.
dream of your life
In November 2017, after a lifetime dedicated to work and family, retired Pole Stanislaw Dabrowny, then 74 years old, finally began to put his life’s dream into practice: sailing around the world.
With only his wife, Elizabeth, a quiet 67-year-old housewife, he left the Canary Islands for the Caribbean, aboard the sailboat he had bought and baptized with a humorous name, like himself: Vagant – “Vagabundo “, in English.
It would be the first journey on that great journey: the crossing of the Atlantic.
The sail tangled and…
The trip went smoothly and smoothly until, 19 days after departure, in the early hours of November 21, 2017 (five years old last week), when the couple was sailing about 800 kilometers from the island of Barbados, Stanislaw Dabrowny he had to untangle one of the sailboat’s sails, which had become tangled in the mast.
He then walked to the front of the boat and, under the watchful eye of his wife, who knew nothing about boats, tried to loosen the sail. But one end fell into the sea, soaked and became too heavy for the septuagenarian to handle.
But he didn’t give up and kept trying to pull the sail back into the boat, despite his wife’s apprehension.
‘There was no time to say’
“I just thought why didn’t he drop that candle in the water and that was it. But there wasn’t time to say that”, Elizabeth recalls today, half a decade after the tragedy that would mark her life forever.
With the effort – a little too much for his advanced age – Elizabeth’s husband lost his balance, spun on the deck and fell into the sea.
It was night, the sea was pitch black, and Stanislaw Dabrowny wasn’t even wearing a life jacket.
It was the end.
Disappeared in the dark sea
Despite the accident, the boat kept moving forward, pushed by the remaining sails and by the autopilot, equipment that drives boats autonomously, which Elizabeth did not know how to turn off.
Terrified, she found herself alone on board a boat that was still sailing, not knowing how to manage it, or how to turn around to help her husband at sea.
The most Elizabeth managed to do was throw a float and a sail that lay folded on the boat’s deck into the water, in the hope that her husband would grab the objects and stay afloat, while she tried to stop the boat’s progress – both in vain.
Soon, Stanislaw was left behind, until he disappeared completely – and forever – from Elizabeth’s eyes, in the darkness of the sea.
Never again was Stanislaw Dabrowny seen, nor was his body ever found.
‘I didn’t want him to go alone’
It wasn’t until long after her husband had fallen overboard that Elizabeth was able to switch off the autopilot and stop the boat’s progress – only to discover later that she didn’t know how to manage it in order to return to the crash site.
She was then left floating in the sea, alone, adrift and desperate.
“I should have learned the basics of navigation before I went on that voyage,” Elizabeth would later admit.
I went because I didn’t want him to go alone. But I couldn’t help at all.
I didn’t know how to use the phone
Alone on the sailboat, Elizabeth also soon discovered that she did not know how to handle the satellite phone that the boat had, and which was used to communicate with her children during the crossing.
That is, she also had no way to call for help – and the boat was too far from any islands for the VHF radio to work, although she didn’t know how to operate it either.
Only two days later, when even the boat’s electricity had already run out, forcing Elizabeth to spend the nights in the dark (because, from time to time, it was necessary to turn on the engine in order to recharge the batteries, but she didn’t know that either). addition), is that the Polish woman managed to make the satellite phone work.
And he called his daughter, Agnieszka, in Poland.
something was wrong
The call was fulminating, it lasted only a few seconds and then it was dropped, because, without a power source to recharge the boat’s batteries, the mobile phone’s charge had also run out.
But the daughter was sure that something had happened, because it was always the father, not the mother, who called.
And she just screamed into the phone, desperate.
Five days adrift at sea
Even knowing what could have happened, the daughter called the Polish maritime authority, which, after tracing the origin of the telephone call, made contact with the maritime rescue base on the island of Martinique, in the Caribbean, which, in turn, , dispatched a reconnaissance plane to the region.
Soon, the sailboat was sighted and the nearby ships were called to carry out the rescue.
Five days after the tragedy, a large oil tanker flying the Liberian flag, which was heading from the United States to Brazil, pulled up alongside the Vagant, and rescued Elizabeth, already almost in a state of shock.
Only then did the world — and Stanislaw’s children — learn of the tragic fate of the Pole, who wanted to fulfill his life’s dream, but didn’t make it past the first crossing.
Brought to Brazil
On board the ship that rescued her, Elizabeth was taken to the port of Santos, on the Brazilian coast, where she disembarked a few days later.
But not the Dabrowny’s sailboat.
As determined by the international rules for rescues at sea, only the occupant of the boat was rescued — not the sailboat, which was abandoned at sea, so that, over time, nature would take care of sinking it.
But that’s not what happened.
Found by fishermen
Days later, when they went out to fetch their nets from the sea, the Tobago fishermen from Lambeau saw a beautiful boat, with no one on board, stuck on the coral reefs in front of the beach: it was the Vagant, the Polish captain’s sailboat that the sea carried away. .
Unaware of the story behind that mystery, the fishermen towed the sailboat, already damaged by the loss of the keel in the collision with the coral reef, warned the authorities, and left it on the beach – where it is today, five years later.
Another abandoned boat on the beach
But the Dabrowny’s sailboat is not the only boat with a sad story to tell that lies abandoned on a beach in the region.
Nearby, to the amazement of tourists from the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean, also rest the remains of the trimaran boat Teignmouth Electron, which, in the 1960s, became world famous for having been used by the English sailor Donald Crowhurst to perform the greatest hoax in history. of sailing competitions, by simulating a trip around the world that never happened.
Discovered, the sailor abandoned the boat at sea and committed suicide – click here to find out about this story, which, four years ago, even became a movie, starring the English star Colin Firth.
In the case of the Dabrowny family sailboat, the future could be the same.
‘The boat is what matters least’
“We still don’t know what we’re going to do with the boat”, says daughter Agnieszka, who, since losing her father to the sea, has been dedicating herself only to taking care of her mother, who is now 72 years old.
“I’ve been there, I’ve seen the boat, but we haven’t decided what to do with it, because that’s what matters the least”, completes Agnieszka, with surprising indifference to something that is still worth good money – but, on the other hand, brings back bad memories.
‘Go back!’, ‘Go back!’
The mother, Elizabeth, an eyewitness to the tragedy, still suffers from what happened that night, five years ago, and for not having done anything to prevent her husband’s death.
“I should have learned to use the boat, the telephone and all the things that involve safety at sea”, repents the captain’s widow that the sea took away.
“To this day, in my nightmares, I hear him screaming: Go back! Go back! And I didn’t know how to make the boat go back.”
A grain of sand in the desert
Although it may seem trivial, falling into the water is the worst thing that can happen to anyone who sails on the high seas.
In the immensity of the ocean, a person with only their head above water is as difficult to visualize as a needle in a haystack – almost a grain of sand in the desert.
Even worse if you’re alone on the boat, because you won’t have anyone to try to rescue you.
In such a situation, involuntary falling into the sea is almost like a death sentence – if the boat is moving, it will be practically impossible to reach it.
Fortunately, however, there are exceptions to this macabre rule.
A rare case that worked
Two years after the disappearance of Stanislaw Dabrowny, another sailor, even older – and sailing alone on the boat -, experienced the same misfortune of falling into the sea, but survived to tell the scare he went through.
Australian Bill Hatfield was already 80 years old when he decided to sail around the world solo, much to his family’s apprehension.
What he didn’t count on is that, in the middle of the trip, during a banal change of sails, he would trip over the cables and fall into the sea.
Bill Hatfield only survived because he clung to the same sail that dropped him into the water, and slowly climbed up the hull in a desperate life-and-death maneuver.
If his fingers could not support the effort, or the weight of his own body, he would be irremediably condemned to death.
The affliction lasted for several minutes, until the Australian’s fingers managed to grope a small rope, which, pulled vigorously, lowered a ladder onto the hull.
Only then did he manage to get back on board, escaping the terror of certain death, as can be seen in this impressive story by clicking here.