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Every month we will be scouring the surfing world for unique untold stories of woe, hilarity or just damn right stupidness. This month we speak to surfEXPLORE’s John Callahan.

John Callahan: “Haha. Maybe the boat disaster in Haiti, as I don’t think that story has ever been published. Definitely in the category of ‘not so funny when it happened’.

On our second trip to Haiti, we made plans to take a boat and explore some of the many offshore islands near Les Cayes, on the theory there could be good unridden reef waves out there in the Caribbean Sea. Everything went well, as we looked at a number of locations and found an offshore left reef, long and hollow, much bigger and better waves than anything available on the Haïtian mainland.”

Emiliano Cataldi loading the boat before the fateful trip. Image: John Callahan

Emiliano Cataldi loading the boat before the fateful trip. Image: John Callahan

We had a great session and got back in the boat as it was getting dark. We were an hour or so from our base at the Ile a Vache, the largest of the islands in the area. After a few minutes of the return trip the 200hp outboard motor suddenly seized violently and the boat came to a complete stop.

Floating along in silence, we were without an engine in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Some engine work followed but the motor was frozen solid – an oil leak had drained the lubrication without anyone’s knowledge. A number of rather loud phone calls in Haïtian Creole followed as we were still within cell phone range. It was now completely dark.

We had a GPS coordinate, but nobody on that boat could read GPS

A boat used to bring guests to the hotel on the Ile a Vache started looking for us. We had a GPS coordinate, but nobody on that boat could read GPS. They only used compass bearings to motor back and forth to the mainland. So they had to spot our light, and we had one tiny flashlight to signal our location!

After several hours of drifting and many phone calls on a declining battery, in what must have been a minor miracle, the hotel boat saw our fading flashlight in the darkness and arrived on the scene. A rope was tied from their stern to our bow, and we set off again.

An island appeared an hour or so later and we prepared to disembark, but as we got closer it became apparent – it was the wrong island.

A stern conference with the boat captain followed and along with the confused and seasick guests he had picked up in Les Cayes on the mainland before rescuing us, we set off again to find the Ile a Vache.

After another hour we finally arrived at the hotel dock at midnight, congratulating the boat captain for finally getting it right and looking forward to a cold beer. Crikey.

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