Trio remembers 3 days lost at sea
Brothers, woman describe sinking of boat, jellyfish, sharks hallucinations
For the first time, three fishermen who spent three days floating in the the Atlantic Ocean miles from land are telling their stories.
Lost at sea videos: Part 1 | Part 2 | Boating safety
Brothers John and Elias Nevarez, along with John's girlfriend Rebecca Sullivan, followed a charter boat out about 10 miles off Mayport on May 16, 2010. They picked a spot to spend the day fishing.
"It was a really nice day," Elias Nevarez said.
"We were fishing for anything," John Nevarez added.
They had just put their lines in the water when John said, "Two rogue waves came out of nowhere."
The waves swamped their boat and forced them to jump into the ocean.
"From the motor starting to sink to the boat actually flipping (was only) 8-10 seconds. It was fast," says Elias.
"I'm hysterical. I panic, literally panic," said Rebecca Sullivan.
While the three tried to grab whatever they could, it happened so fast they were not able to send a mayday call and they were not wearing life vests.
"It got hot as we were heading out and we took off our sweaters and off came the life vests, too," Elias said. "We stowed them in the cabin."
Now in the water, all they had with them was their blue Coleman cooler. In it was a case of water, one large bottle of Gatorade, some ice and a bag of squid that they were using for bait.
Pictured, right: John Nevarez and Rebecca Sullivan
talk about their three days lost at sea.
The three knew they had not told anyone else exactly where they were fishing that day and it would be at least sunset before anyone would start looking for them.
There was enough room for Rebecca to balance on the nose of their capsized boat, so she was spared what would happen next.
Elias and John were helpless in the water as waves of jellyfish rolled right into them.
"Something hit me in the back of the leg and I swear that thing felt like electricity. I almost jumped out of the water," Elias said.
"They'd wrap their tentacles around you and you'd feel millions and millions of stingers all over the place," John said.
Their next fear was the dark.
"The first night was awful," John said. "We had lightning and on top of that everyone's initial fear is that jaws is going to come out of the bottom and tear you in half."
Although they made it through the night without seeing any sharks, Rebecca said "the sun finally came up, which is the most beautiful thing you can ever see in the whole world, followed shortly by fins in the water, which is the scariest thing in the world."
Those fins began to circle the three of them.
"Whatever it is, everyone just hold onto the side of the boat, no kicking, no splashing and stay still," Elias (pictured, below left) remembered telling the others.
As the fins neared to within arms reach, they realized they were dolphins, not sharks. A short while later, a shark pup did start nipping at Rebecca's pants, but they were able to spook it.
Their fear of attracting sharks or even barracuda was so great, they were extremely careful when they would grab drinks out of their cooler as they floated. Their water was floating in the cooler along with their squid, which had become very smelly. They did not want to chance even a drop of that water, dripping into the ocean around them and attracting something dangerous.
"We'd be careful to knock off all the excess water into the cooler before we drank," said John.
On their second day in the water, they decided to ditch their capsized boat and swim towards an orange tower they could see off in the distance.
"We had all day to do it. We figured it would take about eight hours," John said.
What they didn't anticipate is the ocean's power. Elias, who was using a small cooler they retrieved from under their boat, was moving faster in the water than his brother and Rebecca, who were holding onto the large, blue cooler.
"I was kicking and kicking and kicking and all of a sudden I look up and they are no where to be seen. I couldn't believe I got that far away from them," said Elias.
John Nevarez still has the cooler
they used to stay alive during
their three days at sea.
Elias said all he knew to do was to keep kicking towards the tower and hopefully he would meet up with John and Rebecca at the tower. But because of the strong current, they never reached the tower. After 12 hours, Elias is hoping his desire to see his wife again would give him strength to continue kicking.
Meantime, John and Rebecca think they are close to land.
"So we get close enough to one of the lights and I start screaming, 'Is anybody out there?' and someone replies," John said. "So I was like, 'Shine your flashlight so I know exactly where you're at,' and Elias goes, "If I had a damn flashlight, we would have been rescued by now."
Somehow in the middle of the night, the currents had brought them back together.
As the sun rose on the third day, all three began to hallucinate.
"We saw buildings in the clouds," said Rebecca.
Each time they would swim to the "buildings," they would disappear. Just as they were starting to lose hope, Rebecca spots a boat.
"Becca's yelling and waving her arms. I'm swinging my orange shirt. And, low and behold, the boat stops," said Elias.
"Yes, yes, he saw us," said John. That boater, who was on his way to Charleston, told them he saw something orange in the water and had to check it out. The captain radioed the Coast Guard, who arrived to pick up John, Elias and Rebecca.
Their first steps back on land two years ago this month were captured by news cameras. Each spent two days in the hospital, but they have fully recovered.
Channel 4's Jennifer Waugh asked them if they though it was a miracle they were found.
"Yes, absolutely," John replied. "The minute we hit the water I knew that we were going to get found. It was just a matter of time. We need to make it to that point of time."
The full story of John, Elias and Rebecca's survival will be told in a one-hour special, "Lost at Sea," that will air on Channel 4 on Memorial Day from 5-6 p.m.
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