‘A new lease on life’: Calgary sailor rescued by Russian and Ukrainian oil workers off African coast

A Calgary man is grateful to be back home after a harrowing ordeal off the coast of Africa.

Casper Venter’s sailboat sank near Madagascar, and it was a crew made up of Russian and Ukrainian sailors that rescued him.

Casper Venter and the ill-fated sailboat he and two crewmates were delivering from Langkawi, Malaysia, to Grenada in the Caribbean.
Casper Venter and the ill-fated sailboat he and two crewmates were delivering from Langkawi, Malaysia, to Grenada in the Caribbean. Courtesy: Casper Venter

Venter was transporting a sailboat from Malayasia to the Caribbean with two other men when the boat started to leak on March 19. Soon water was coming in faster than they could pump it out.

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“At first we turned the boat around and we tried to sail back to Madagascar to see if we could keep it afloat long enough that we might make it to land,” Venter recalls.

“But at about 9 o’clock we realized that the ocean was the same level of the deck and we stepped into the life raft. Shortly after, we saw the mast go behind the waves and it was gone. We couldn’t see it anymore, it just went down.”

With the sailboat now completely under, Venter and his two crewmates were stuck on a life raft less than two metres long.

Venter said the men spent a wet and miserable 14 hours bobbing in the giant waves.

Read more: Calgary mom helps rescue men from Bow River in her kayak: ‘The last we saw was his hand go down’

“We got a lot of water in the life raft.  Waves were banging on us through the night so it was definitely hair raising. The life raft is designed for it so from that point of view it was OK. We were all quite seasick,” Venter said.

Venter pictured with the Ukrainian and Russian crew of the Some of the crew on tanker, Petalouda. Courtesy: Casper Venter

The Canadian Coast Guard was one of three agencies that responded to the team’s call for help. But the closest ship was a Russian oil tanker 150 nautical miles away.

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The crew was made up of a team of Russian and Ukrainian sailors who spoke English, and weren’t interested in the war back home that’s pitting Russians and Ukrainians against each other.

“They were all extremely friendly. It was a very heart-warming experience. They told us it was a mixed crew and they worked together and they’re not interested in politics. They’re just doing their jobs. But they felt like heroes, and they were —  because they saved us,” Venter said.

The sailors on the tanker supplied the rescued men with dry clothes, food and a lift to an island north of Madagascar.

Read more: ‘A total selfless act’: Calgary golfer rescues boy from drowning in Sheep River

“They all came and took pictures with us and congratulated us on our second birthdays as they called it. Basically a new lease on life,” Venter said.

Venter being transferred from the tanker to Mayotte island in Comores.
Venter being transferred from the tanker to Mayotte island in Comores. Courtesy: Casper Venter

Venter has been sailing since 2004 and said his training allowed him to keep calm during the frightening experience.

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“That’s what I love about sailing.  Being in the middle of nowhere, where you can’t see land.  You can’t see anybody else – it’s really just you and maybe two other people and the ocean and nature and the stars. Stepping into the life raft, it was the first time for me, but I maintained focus on what we needed to do. To worry is not going to help you. We knew that someone was coming so we just focused on staying positive,” he said.

Venter, who arrived home on Saturday, said he’s  already planning his next sea adventure, thankful for the teamwork of the sailors aboard that oil tanker.

“They were working perfectly together, in perfect harmony, and like the captain said to us right from the start, they’re not interested in politics. They are sailors. It was amazing to see that it can be done,” Venter said.

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