This was a feat to make even the old man of Ernest Hemingway envious. Almost a month before cyclone Phailin hit the Orissa coast, 18 men had set sail for some deep sea fishing. And as the storm raged, they managed to come back — after a harrowing 20-km swim.
It had started as a routine trip for Eugene, 45, and his team —18 to 22-year-olds from Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district.
Leaving Paradip on September 21, they had gone 350 km deep into the sea, armed with a set of global positioning system and a radio. But on their way back, on October 12, as Phailin was barreling down on Gopalpur, the trawler ran out of fuel. They were 30 km off the shore from the adjoining Puri district.
“It was a calamity,” said Eugene. Gathering about 20 jerricans, they bound them together with ropes. No sooner the makeshift raft was ready, the trawler sank.
The raft turned out to be useless, tossing and turning in the choppy sea. Finally they just started swimming. “We did not know where we were heading,” said 21-year-old Bosco. “Death stared at us but we kept on,” added Eugene.
This was when the cyclone came to their aid. With the waves pushing them towards the shore, around 3 am, they touched ground in Ramatara, a tiny hamlet in Jagatsinghpur.
On Wednesday, the group finally headed for home. “They had sought help but frantic search by the Coast Guard had failed,” said Odisha agriculture secretary R Santgopalan, who facilitated the journey.