Alex and Sarah’s rescue mission
A Bermudian sailor started a race against time to get a schoolboy from one of the world's most remote islands to a hospital for life-saving surgery, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
Alex Brooks, from Pembroke, was on a round-the-world trip with his wife, Sarah, and in the Pitcairn Islands, like Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, in the South Pacific when his yacht, Bob, was pressed into service as a hospital ship for an 11-year-old boy, Ryan Christian, who was suffering from appendicitis.
Mr Brooks, 35, who returned from the trip just 11 days ago, said: “There's just no airstrip there or anything so his best bet was us, which is quite a scary thought.
“The closest airstrip was 300 miles away in Mangareva and there was no wind. We motored for two days and got about 200 miles.
“The British Foreign Office was trying to find a ship, and they managed to get a French Polynesian ship to join us.
“We were able to transfer the boy and his mother, Nadine, at sea, and they took him to Tahiti, which had the closest hospital.”
The couple later found out that the child had survived the ordeal and had been operated on to remove his appendix.
The drama began in July 2016 after the Brookses had sailed about 340 miles from the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia to Pitcairn — and then had to back-track on the mercy mission.
Mr Brooks, a marine contractor, said the experience was one of the most memorable on the epic three-year-plus circumnavigation.
He added he was inspired to sail around the world after he toured the British tall ship Picton Castle when it visited Bermuda for the Tall Ships 2000 event.
Mr Brooks said: “I caught the bug. When I finished school I worked for Four Star Pizza for a couple months and saved up enough money to buy myself a berth on the same ship.
“That took me as far as the Cook Islands.
“I remember standing on the dock, looking at the ship sailing away and I thought one day I'm going to come back and do this again on my own terms.
“It was a pact I made myself, sitting on a dock in the middle of the Pacific.”
Mr Brooks said he saved up enough to buy Bob, a 36ft sailboat in 2007, and persuaded his wife to join him, despite her lack of sailing experience.
Mrs Brooks, a 34-year-old originally from Britain, said: “I've always enjoyed travelling. I've always been up for adventure and new experiences.
“When we got together, I thought what an amazing opportunity to share an adventure with a person I loved.”
The couple went on a “test sail” to the Caribbean and learnt that more preparations were needed. Mr Brooks said: “We didn't have fresh water in tanks, we didn't have power, we didn't have self-steering. We didn't have much.”
But the couple stuck to their plan and Mr Brooks set out on the first leg of the journey in December 2015.
Mr Brooks said: “Sarah was stuck in the UK for a couple months, so I sailed down to St Maarten.
“I hated that sail. I discovered that I am not cut out for single-handed sailing. Everything went wrong.”
Mrs Brooks joined him in Colombia and the couple sailed on to Panama, traversed the Panama Canal, and then to the Galapagos Islands and then across the Pacific.
The couple worked on several conservation projects around the world, including fish population surveys, coral reef health assessments and a statistical analysis for the Galapagos Research Station.
Mrs Brooks, a trained ecologist, said: “It's was great to do that throughout our voyage, and to see the state of coral reefs has changed as we headed west and the impact of humans on our seas.”
She singled out a stop in Madagascar, where the couple tracked down aye-ayes, a species of nocturnal lemur, as a highlight of the trip.
Mrs Brooks said another was standing at the edge of a lake of lava on the Pacific island of Vanuatu.
She added: “It was just black ash and plumes of smoke in the background. Everything had a yellow hue because of the sulphur and we had to wear gas masks.”
Mr Brooks said anyone interested and thinking about an around-the-world adventure should not put it off.
He said: “A lot of people who would love to do this don't manage it, because they are always waiting for the right time, or the right boat, or for everything to be right. Don't wait for everything to be perfect. Take a risk.”
Mrs Brooks added: “Go to your local yacht club and volunteer to sail in a race.
“There are also a lot of cruises out there looking for helping hands. We met a lot of people who are hitchhiking across the world in sailboats.”
• For more information about the voyage, visit www.voyagesofbob.com