Maurice Tugwell recounts sinking of S.V Concordia
ALBERTON - "It's the best possible outcome of the worst possible situation." That was the assessment of Maurice Tugwell, an Alberton native who was teaching aboard S.V. Concordia when it sank off the coast of Brazil last week.
S.V. Concordia hosts a Class Afloat program out of Lunenburg, N.S., which sails for months at a time allowing students from all over the world to learn to sail, see the world and take courses at the same time.
As a 63-year-old retired university professor, Tugwell was the oldest one aboard Concordia. There were 48 students, eight professional crew and eight teachers on board when it sank.
"I was laying in my bunk below deck in my cabin when I felt the ship start to heel, then it came back, then it went over completely on its side," said Tugwell.
The power went out and he could hear laptops and windows smashing.
"Children were being thrown against the windows and when they hit, the windows broke and water started to pour in."
By the time Tugwell got above deck, the students were already organizing to abandon ship. He said they had practised rescue drills several times and everyone knew to line up in front of the life pods.
The ship had eight life pods. Two were underwater and one got caught up in lines so they were left with five for 64 people. Luckily, it was enough.
The crew, teachers and students had to climb down the masts that were half submerged in water at this point, to get into the floating life pods.
"Luckily, we all had lifejackets on because a lot of us were missing the life pod when we jumped from the masts," said Tugwell.
Once everyone was in the bright orange life pods, they pulled over a roof that protected them against three-metre waves.
For the next day and a half they bobbed around, setting off flares and hoping to be found.
"Some threw up into bags due to sea sickness, some used the bathroom in their shorts but we didn't care, we were alive," said Maurice.
"We did have water with us which we gave mostly to those who were getting sick so they could stay hydrated. We had food but we never ate any of it because we didn't know how long we would be out there."
The ship went under around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and life pods were spotted by a plane at 7 p.m. Thursday. By 2 a.m. Friday they saw the lights of a cargo ship approaching.
"I'll never forget that sound in the distance," said Tugwell.
They were rescued by two sister ships returning to Brazil from China.
All 64 people aboard Concordia survived with no serious physical injury.
The school is reuniting this weekend in Lunenburg for the first time since the sinking.
Tugwell has had an emotional week but is embracing every moment he shares with his wife, son and daughter and two granddaughters, who he calls his "tuglets".
"I remember saying to myself when I was in that life pod, 'I would really like to have more time with those little girls'," he said.