A Durban sailor who got caught up in Hurricane Irma when it lashed through the British Virgin Islands last week has told his mother he thought he was going to die.
Communications on Tortola, where 25-year-old Raymond Ninow and his German fiancée Steffi Remm are at the moment, were severely damaged when Irma hit the island.
The first his mother Amanda heard from Ninow was on Saturday night, when he managed to get hold of a satellite phone.
“He said the whole place had been destroyed,” she told The Mercury on Sunday.
“His yacht and all of his belongings are gone. The house they were staying in – all the windows were blown out… He said they thought they were going to die”.
Ninow and Remm were staying in a room in the interior for the time being.
Amanda said her son had begged her to help get them off Tortola.
“No planes can land on the island because the airport’s been destroyed,” she said. “I’ve found someone with a catamaran that survived the hurricane and I’m trying to get them to it and then to Puerto Rico, so they can fly out from there.”
Amanda was expecting another phone call from her son on Sunday.
She was relieved he was safe but devastated about the yacht.
“He put every single bit of his life savings into that yacht. He was going to sell it and use the money to do a captain’s course so he could captain a luxury yacht in the Caribbean,” she said.
Durban-born Ninow has been dreaming of sailing to the Caribbean islands for years.
In 2015 he bought his father’s 9m-long yacht – named Schatzi – and decided to make that dream a reality.
A final-year University of South Africa student, studying towards his Communication Sciences degree via correspondence, he spent several months working in Ireland and New Zealand to save enough money to fix up the yacht.
He finally set sail in March, accompanied by crewmates Pieter de Wit and Davin Clarke.
Before making his way to Tortola, he visited Fortaleza in north-eastern Brazil, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Martinique.
Remm had joined him in the Caribbean and that was where Ninow had asked her to marry him.
When Irma hit, Ninow was forced to abandon the yacht and seek shelter ashore.
One of the most forceful Atlantic storms in a century, Irma churned across the ocean last Tuesday on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, bearing down on the northern Caribbean with a devastating mix of fierce winds, surf and rain.
The National Weather Service said the storm made landfall at Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys at 9.10am on Sunday, the Washington Post reported.
More than 6 million residents were ordered to evacuate by Saturday evening, as Irma’s outer bands scraped Florida, forcing thousands to cram into shelters.
At least three people were killed in Florida on Sunday, US officials reported.