Family survives at sea

John and Jean Silverwood set out on a sailing trip of a lifetime, only to have it end in a drama that is the subject of their new book “Black Wave” and a recent CBS “Live to Tell” special.

Last week they shared the story with an audience at the Del Mar Library.

The Silverwoods, who live in Rancho Santa Fe, had planned to travel around the world on a 55-foot catamaran.

“We had this dream of taking time to be alone with our kids for as long as we could, and to have that memory, to hold onto something like that forever because everything in life is fleeting,” John Silverwood said March 5.

The adventure began when the couple and their children Ben, Amelia, Camille and Jack set sail from New York, headed for Bermuda and beyond. They eventually visited Panama, Ecuador, Galapagos, Polynesia, Tahiti, Bora Bora and St. Thomas.

‘We were doomed’

But when they were sailing through French Polynesia, in the late afternoon on June 25, 2005, “this horrific kind of shrieking sound came from the bottom of the boat, and was followed by this evil rumble, and I heard my soon Ben yell, ‘Reef,’ from the cockpit, and I left up there to look over the side of the boat, and I could see that red coral in the lights of the ship, and I knew in that instant we were doomed,” John Silverwood said.

The situation quickly worsened. John Silverwood took a knife and attempted to cut the line that was holding the sail that was pulling them further onto the reef. The family desperately tried to radio for help as the boat began to sink. Breaking waves periodically covered the boat with water.

“And in the next moment, I found myself lying flat on my back, and the mast, which was an 80-foot mast, was laying across my leg. It had cut it across just like that, in the blink of an eye,” said John Silverwood.

Saved by the French

He attributed the quick thinking and sheer willpower of his oldest son and his wife for saving his life.

He lost almost three quarters of his blood, he added, and now wears a prosthetic leg.

After escaping to a nearby reef and several harrowing hours, the family was saved by a French Navy crew and flown to Tahiti.

Despite the unexpected end to their trip, Amelia emphasized she took away more from the experience than the trauma of the shipwreck.

“There was the 18 months of memories where I was meeting people and going to so many different countries and islands and places, and living with my family in such as small place, I know what the world has to offer, and a lot of kids my age don’t get to experience that,” she said.