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Sailor Swims 17km In Shark-Infested Waters In Pitch Black After Falling Off Boat

Niamh Spence

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Sailor Swims 17km In Shark-Infested Waters In Pitch Black After Falling Off Boat

Swimming through shark-infested waters sounds like something in an adventure movie, or at least a Pirates of the Caribbean style saga.

Yet it's what one Australian sailor faced when he fell overboard in Panama and was forced to swim 17km through the shark-filled sea.

Sailor John Deer ended up swimming with sharks in pitch darkness after falling overboard. Credit: Instagram/johndeer
Sailor John Deer ended up swimming with sharks in pitch darkness after falling overboard. Credit: Instagram/johndeer

John Deer fell overboard while fishing during his 2019 attempt to sail around the world, and was left stranded in what locals called 'shark point' due to the many predators spotted swimming there. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was in darkness too.

Sailor John had been fishing when he lost his footing on his boat and fell in. He watched as his boat sailed away on autopilot, leaving him stranded.

Speaking in an interview with Daily Mail Australia, he said: "I just remember hitting the water and as I saw my boat sail off I just thought, this is it, I'm done, I'm going to die.

"It happened so quick. I put my foot in the wrong place and suddenly I am in the water watching my boat sail away and completely helpless.

"I don't know if it was panic as much as denial in the beginning. I just started screaming 'no, no no!'."

As John found himself in deep water, with no boat and needing to find land he realised he had little time left as the sunlight started to go. On Instagram, he has shared the story and the moment reality dawned on him. He wrote: "Having talked about this many times with fellow sailors as the worst imaginable thing to happen, suddenly I found myself in the water, my boat and home and safety sailing away from me at an alarmingly fast rate. I was 9 nautical miles offshore – about 17km. I had no life jacket on."

The wreckage of John's boat was found by Panama police. Credit: Instagram/johndeer
The wreckage of John's boat was found by Panama police. Credit: Instagram/johndeer

However, his survival instinct kicked in and he began to swim towards where land was. Yet the journey wasn't easy, as he swam through waters known for sharks and predators.

At one point, the unlucky sailor felt something bite his foot setting him into a panic. He explained: "Fearing it was a shark I went into a frenzy. I started screaming, kicking and punching in every direction to scare it off. I just knew I had limited energy, I was getting so tired so I decided to keep swimming.

"I soon realised it was fish that were nibbling at me. They just wouldn't leave me alone, they were about the size of my forearm and just kept biting my body and legs. I have bite and scratch marks all over my legs from them."

Exhausted and worn out, John continued to swim and used a savvy sailing trick to work out how far from land he was. He shared: "I held my arm out and the land fully covered my hand at first. I checked again at what I thought was about an hour later and I could see a bit of the mountain on either side of my hand. 

"Then next time I checked I saw about 30 percent of land either side of my hand and I started to think I can do this, I can do this."

John has been attempting to sail around the world since 2019. Credit: Instagram/johndeer
John has been attempting to sail around the world since 2019. Credit: Instagram/johndeer

Eventually the exhausted sailor reached rocks safely. "When I got to the rocks I was so relieved but then I almost slipped and thought OK I need to just lay here for a bit, imagine going out like that after managing to make it to shore," he said.

However, it took hours before he was rescued. From building a signal fire and waiting, it took three boats before one stopped and gave him a ride back to civilisation where he could let friends and family know what had happened.

While he had been swimming for his life, police in Panama had found the wreckage of his boat.

John is now currently seeking an emergency passport to get back to Australia. "I have literally lost everything I had. I only have my T-shirt and pants, that is it," shared the unlucky sailor.

However, he's already keen to get back to finishing his sailing attempt that he started in 2019. He added: "As an Aussie, you have to love a story where you beat the odds and that is what I did!"

Featured Image Credit: Instagram/johndeer

Topics: World News, Animals

Niamh Spence
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