Life was on the line for Leslie McNish and John (Sugar) Flanagan on the afternoon of May 14. The schooner Pride of Baltimore had capsized and sunk beneath them, and four crew mates were lost. They were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean 250 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico with six other survivors and a life raft that would not inflate.
Then, as First Mate Flanagan recalls, bosun McNish swam around the deflated life raft and said to him:
"If we ever live through this, you and I, we're going to get married."
Flanagan, treading water, immediately agreed.
But first they had to live through it. A few hours after their engagement, they were able to inflate the life raft. Days passed with the crew surviving on just a little water and a piece of biscuit every eight hours.
On the fifth day, signaling SOS with a flashlight, McNish attracted the attention of a Norwegian tanker she spotted on the horizon.
And so at the end of August in McNish's home town of Somis, Calif., the former bosun and first mate will tie the knot. The wedding details have not been worked out yet, Flanagan said yesterday. Next month they will serve as crew aboard another replica of an old sailing ship, the topsail schooner Californian.
The sinking of the Pride did not take away their love of sailing and the sea, Flanagan said from his father's home in Connecticut, where the couple are now "taking it easy" after their ordeal. He said they have found some part-time work on a small schooner in the area.
Flanagan, 27, said he met McNish, 30, when they worked together aboard the Pride four years ago and have "basically sailed together and lived together since then." The couple "kind of held off" on marriage for a while, he said, but the sinking of the Pride "kind of brought our minds to it. This was the time in life to do it."