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A tale of faith and survival

Story by Lara Pickford-Gordon

The things we love challenge us and at times even seem to turn on us. Christopher Bugros found this out in the place where he feels most at home—the sea.

“If I could get to live underneath the sea, I [will] live underneath the sea. I always tell people no matter what happens I just love the sea,” said 24-year-old Bugros in an interview with the Catholic News at his Maraval home May 13.

It was as if his loyalty was being tested on April 10 when he went diving with friends and ended up stranded for 17 hours in choppy waters and having to swim more than half mile.

Bugros, who runs a plant rental business, can fix cars, paint, do landscaping and welding. “I do a lot of stuff to keep myself occupied,” he said. Diving is for sport but also provides an income when fish and lobster are caught to sell.

Nice day for a dive

He began diving at 17 years having been taught by an uncle and his father Anthony Bugros, an experienced diver and fisherman. Before living in Maraval, he lived in Gran Chemin, Moruga, opposite the Catholic church and RC school.

Bugros said April 10 was “a very nice morning”; he got up at 3 a.m. and along with two friends, Anthony Graham and Brandon Serrette drove to the northeast coast. They joked about what fish they would catch.

Diving on the East coast was common although the currents of the Atlantic made the sea “rough”.  There were days dives had to be called off because the conditions were just too adverse.

Bugros, his friends, the boatman and another passenger ventured out from a spot before Cumana on a 28 ft boat. He recalled the water was “so nice, everything was beautiful”.

The three friends dived and Bugros thought they were all descending together. “I just feel my body go ‘Whoosh!’ And gone so when I do so and look back, I done hit about 50-60 feet already…I do so and look for my ‘pardners’, I not seeing my ‘pardners’; I watch up and watch around, to see if I hearing anything I stop breathing”.

He used the speargun to see if it came into contact with anything in front. He said the “number one” rule when diving with others is to ensure they were visible, “when I coming up you tap me and we come up together”.

Bugros could not see his friends and decided to surface, bobbing on a wave he realised how far he had drifted because the boat looked “very tiny”.  He began praying, “I ask God to cover me with his blood, keep me on a straight and narrow path and to reach land and to see everyone and laugh”.

He remained calm. “Maybe a big fish will come, a shark and that is the only way I will get frighten … fear of currents, I don’t really fear those things although you really have to respect the sea,” Bugros commented.

Alert for sharks

Bugros next looked for “landmarks” as a guide; they were about 25 miles out, near ‘Damien Rock’. He saw a mountain and reasoned that if he swam to the right, he would end up passing Toco and that was “trouble”, swimming to the left was also risky.

Bugros dumped the weight belt used for diving and began swimming toward the middle of the mountain. He swam hard with the current and prayed someone would find him. While remaining alert for sharks, he distracted himself playing with small fishes.

Thoughts of death were not entertained as he swam and calculated time and distance using his dive computer, boosting himself with thoughts “I have ten more miles, five more miles…”.

At 6 p.m. darkness came and he saw the boat once but blowing the whistle and waving the speargun did not attract attention. The water got rougher with waves repeatedly hitting Bugros. He removed the regulator—this controls the air pressure delivered to the diver to breathe, and held the tank as a floatation device.

A light was sighted in the distance. Bugros was ingesting salt water every time a wave hit and began having trouble breathing. He improvised a snorkel using the regulator hose from the dive tank, this helped him swim faster. He secured the regulator and held the loaded speargun in his right hand.

Around midnight he detached the tank, and secured it to his lower body. He was getting tired and there were wounds on the back of his legs caused by chafing from the edge of the wetsuit and heels from the flippers. Bugros was determined to get home and said to the sea “you ain’t taking me back 25 miles where I come from, I seeing land”.

Bugros had to battle cramps and fatigue as he continued swimming. There were many lights on shore so he focused on one. He landed at Dead Man’s Bay, Toco.

“As I come out the water I say ‘Thank you Jesus I reach home’.”  His legs finally gave way with exhaustion, after swimming 44 miles. He arrived on land 3 a.m. and waited until 5.30 a.m. before attempting to find help.

May 26 marked the young diver’s return to sea.