AN Aussie sailor has told his wild survival story after fell overboard in shark-infested waters and had to swim ten miles in the dark.
John Deer became stranded without a life jacket off the coast of Panama in an area known by locals as “shark point”.
John, from Victoria, Australia, had sold all his belongings in 2019 to sail around the world in a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
He was sailing his yacht from Cartegena, Colombia, to Panama’s San Blas Islands – a 30-hour voyage – when he lost his balance while letting out a fishing line.
On autopilot with its sails up and motor running, the 40ft boat named Julieta sailed off without him and John found himself alone.
“Having talked about this many times with fellow sailors as the worst imaginable thing to happen, suddenly I found myself in the water, my boat and home and safety sailing away from me at an alarmingly fast rate”, he wrote in an online post.
“I was 9 nautical miles offshore – about 17km. I had no life jacket on.
“I was convinced I was dead. No one knew I was there. It was 5 pm and the sun would set in an hour. I panicked and screamed out “Nooooo!!!!” as I watched my boat sail away gaining more and more distance with every second.”
With no other option but swim, Deer set off towards land, as daylight dwindled.
As John’s survival instincts set in, he used the straight side of the moon as a navigation aid while it was visible and then the stars.
The single-hand sailor began to wonder if he was making any progress at all, as he explained he felt he was moving slowly.
“I just had to keep going.”
However, encouragement soon turned to panic after the sailor felt something bite his feet.
“I went into a frenzy of panic thinking it was a shark, screaming and kicking and punching in all directions trying to scare it off. But again I couldn’t afford to waste energy so decided I had to keep swimming at any cost.”
John added: “Fortunately not a shark, those damned fish stayed with me, biting me almost the whole way to shore.”
Police later told him the spot where he fell off the boat was known locally as “shark point” due to the predators often spotted there.
After a frightful ten-hour swim, John touched rocks in the faint starlight. He had safely made it to shore.
” I immediately felt the exhaustion upon feeling my own weight and gravity for the first time in so many hours,” he said.
“I had been running on pure adrenaline.”
John passed out on the sharp rocks and only woke up “what felt like 20 minutes”.
The next morning, Deer found a stick to make a flag with his T-shirt.
The first boat that passed failed to spot or hear him, and the crew of the second waved but kept going.
Finally the third one stopped and agreed to take him to a border town.
Unfortunately for John Panamanian police, who had found his crashed and sunken boat, took him in for questioning.
Failing to salvage a boat can lead to fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Without identity documents, the sailor is currently stuck in Panama, with only the clothes he fell in the water.
He said he felt “elation and joy to be alive at having survived, mixed with the devastation of having lost my floating home that has taken me halfway around the world over the last three years.”
Because the adventurer sold and then lost everything, one of Deer’s friends, Fou Ruesch, has set up a GoFundMe to raise funds to cover the costs of salvaging Julieta, get his legal documents back, and travel back home to his family.
“At this point, we have no idea what it will cost, but I know it’s not cheap and penalties, if you don’t salvage a sunken boat can be in the hundred [of] thousands,” Ruesch wrote on the fundraiser page.
“He is stranded in a foreign country with absolutely nothing left.”
For John, now comes the daunting task of dealing with the boat, “which in the blink of an eye has turned from my greatest asset to an enormous liability”.
He added: “Above all, I’m glad to be alive. And it’s been a hell of a journey up until now.”