When Brad Cavanagh and his four shipmates were two days into a trip to deliver a yacht from Maine to Florida, a storm forced them to abandon their sinking boat, says Kevin Koczwara in Boston magazine. The 21-year-old was on the Trashman with fellow American sailor Debbie Scaling; Mark Adams, a boozy Englishman in his mid-twenties; the boat’s chain-smoking captain, John Lippoth; and his girlfriend, Meg Mooney. Suddenly they found themselves clinging beneath the yacht’s upturned inflatable dinghy, using wires Cavanagh had desperately rigged across its underside to haul themselves out of the water.
Only when they righted the tiny dinghy did they notice “three tiger sharks circling”. They had no water or food. On day four, thirst drove Lippoth and Adams to drink seawater. The hallucinating captain soon jumped over the side, saying: “I’m going to get the car.” A raving Adams was next into the water, which “churned wildly” as the sharks took them both. Mooney died the next day from an infected cut and her body was pushed overboard.
Cavanagh fell into the water on day five, and had to haul himself back out while Scaling just sobbed. That day Russian ice traders rescued them, In the US a few months later, Cavanagh confessed his love for Scaling. But she recoiled at the sight of him: “I’m sorry, I can’t be around you.” She wrote an account of the ordeal and became a motivational speaker. Then her son, also a sailor, drowned in 2009; three years later she died in Mexico, aged 54. There were “whispers of suicide”. Her daughter later gave Cavanagh a frame. Inside it was the coiled metal wire he had rigged to suspend their shivering bodies under the dinghy.
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