The voyage that went wrong and more wrong and even more wrong...

Sad and sorry - Tavarua on Ponte Vedra Beach, Photo by Daron Dean
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Disaster rarely happens when just one thing goes wrong, it usually happens when many things go wrong at the same time, or they pile up one after the other. What was meant to be a simple voyage of around 50nm in their sailing boat Tavarua, a 1976 Down East yacht, has ended up with two elderly sailors and their dog washed up on a beach - seven days later!

One can only too easily imagine their growing distress. First they got a a head sheet tangled around the propeller. In trying to retrieve this together, they lost their point of navigation reference. No doubt embarrassed by the loss of orientation, they failed to call for help and sailed on. Then their electrics failed and with no charging system their communications equipment ran out of battery.

Not giving in, they continued sailing. After several days of drifting they found a coastline again, and decided to wait for daylight and come inland. However, they got that wrong as well, washing up on a beach at around 11.30pm.

Officials got them out of the boat safely the next morning.

'They’re very fortunate. It was 4 to 6 foot seas out there...,' said Joy Hill, spokeswoman for the local Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Tavarua's crew is assisted by rescuers - photo from video by Phillip Whitley
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Francis Saunders, who is 86, and Jerry Lawrence Willis, 71, and Saunders’ dog, Alfy, washed up on Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, USA according to the County Sheriff’s Office report.

They set sail from Port St. Lucie in Florida, Hill said. Saunders told a deputy that he and Willis were heading to Grand Bahama Island, the nearest island to Florida in the Bahamas, and 'somehow got turned around on the way there,' according to the report.

The two men 'were hanging onto the side of the aft end and looked to be tired and confused,' according to the report. 'The owner of the sailboat, Francis Saunders, was clinging to the aft life rail and was with his friend Willis. Both of the men were wet and looked like they needed to be checked out.'

'I don’t think they really knew where they were,' the report said.

A local holiday maker, Bob Wason, of Albany, N.Y., told of finding the two sailors still on their sailing boat on the beach.

One of the men was concerned about Alfy and passed the dog to Wason, but it wasn't until officials arrived that the men were safely removed from the boat.

'They were pretty rattled,' said Wason.

'I feel like I’ve been hit by Joe Louis,' one man was heard to say as he moved toward a stretcher.

Both men were treated at the local hospital and then released.

Alfy was taken to an Animal Control’s Pet Center and was being held there for a couple of days until Saunders was able to get him, said Paul Studivant, animal control division chief.