Four Nova Scotians returned home yesterday to tell the tale of “the best possible outcome of the worst thing that can happen to a sailor.”
Economics professor Maurice (Tug) Tugwell was one of three faculty and one professional crewmember onboard the tall ship SV Concordia whose plane landed in Halifax yesterday. Tugwell shared with reporters his tale of the ship sinking last week off the coast of Brazil.
Officials believe a “microburst” of vertical wind pushed the ship down onto its side until windows broke, flooding the ship. Tugwell, 63, was in his cabin at the time.
“There’s a 20-second clip that keeps replaying in my head now that I’m safe, and it is the feeling of knowing the ship is continuing to go over. It’s not coming back,” the Wolfville resident recalled.
“I felt disoriented in the cabin. Picture it: what used to be the wall is now the floor. And you could hear things smashing and crashing.”
Tugwell went into autopilot. Within 45 minutes the 64 staff and students had grouped together, slid down the sails into five lifeboats and watched the Concordia flip totally upside down.
Then began two days of endurance. One of the large, circular lifeboats was broken and taking on water. They tied it to two other rafts but still had to bail continually.
For two days they floated in the ocean in an uncomfortable, cramped state. Many soaked passengers got saltwater rashes. They sang shanty songs like Farewell to Nova Scotia and tried to focus on the positive.
But Tugwell recalls how, in quiet moments, students would ask him if anyone was coming to rescue them. “You wonder,” he told reporters. “It’s a great big ocean, and we’re 500 kilometres, I think, off the coast, and it’s 3,300 metres deep. Are they going to come?”
About 30 hours later, at dusk on Thursday, they finally heard the drone of search airplanes and “gave them a rocket show” with the flares.
Tugwell is now home and plans to spend the next several weeks with his wife, son, daughter and “the Tuglets” — his two granddaughters.
He thinks his sailing days are over, but he’s keeping a lifejacket from the Concordia as a souvenir.
Maurice (Tug) Tugwell now wonders about the “what ifs” in the sinking of the SV Concordia.
He said yesterday things could have been much worse if the timing was different. “What if the largest classes that we had there … hadn’t been in session at the time?” he said.
“The classroom was filled with the largest class and the mess was filled with the second-largest class, which meant that all those students wouldn’t have been down in their living quarters below deck.”
Tugwell said if that was the case it would have been “much iffier” and taken longer to evacuate the ship.